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Buback

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

 

Chill air rustled through the field, reviving Boo. She struggled against twine cutting into her wrists and wrested herself free of the post where the bullies had left her. As she fell to the ground, her overalls ripped. With a sigh, a golden haze fell like lint from the tear and disappeared into the nutrient-depleted earth. Boo scrambled to catch its threads, but they slipped through her fingers like youthful regret. She punched the earth where it disappeared and cursed. “Damn!”

As she examined the damage to the motley patchwork, a storm of anger flooded through her. She raised aching arms toward obscured stars, shaking a fist. She pulled her trembling hands through her straw-coarse hair, plotting. “Fools tied me to a post instead of setting me on a throne as I deserve.”

Clouds raced through the sky, revealing an amber moon sunk low on the horizon. A bonfire on the next hill sent sparks heaven-ward, giving her a beacon. She’d find people there, people who might know who did this to her, people crouching like Neanderthals as they shared roasted meats, mugs of warmed cider, and spine-tingling tales.

Her nostrils flared, and her stomach rumbled. She licked lips cracked from wind exposure and set off across the field of shorn maize. Dried husks crunched like autumn leaves as she made her way. She scooped up a discarded harvesting scythe. When rested upright, it stood taller than her, but its wood felt substantive as decision in her hands.

She checked that her change purse remained in her pocket. Moonlight reflected off of the silvered metals of needles and sharp scissors. She fingered a spool of crimson thread in the bottom of the bag. Necessary items to repair her oft-patched garments. A cold breeze stole the word, “perfect” from her lips.

Something warm and furry brushed against her legs, and she startled. A huge black tom cat bumped his head against her again, as though begging for attention. Boo greeted the feline. “Oh, aren’t you a beauty?”

He purred his approval. With tail held high, he scampered toward a fence, pausing to look over his shoulder and meow.

“Follow you? But my friend, I have a busy evening before me and must use night well.”

The cat yowled again, insistent.

Her laugh rustled the night breezes, causing the revelers atop the next hill to shiver. “Fine, for but a moment. I haven’t time to waste.”

Beneath a goat cart parked by the fence, a dozen cats, all black as pitch, huddled around a fallen nest. With noisy gulps, they feasted on two large crows. When Boo approached the birds, they reached their talons as though to ward her away. They opened their pointed beaks in fear, but the gloss in their beady eyes dulled as the cats tore into their meat. The cats lapped up the blood and purred at their work.

The tom worked a figure eight through Boo’s legs, pausing to swat at a stray bit of straw dragging from her hem. She stooped and scratched behind his ears. “You and your friends are a clever lot. I could use your help this evening, if you’re willing.”

Thirteen cats licked gore from their whiskers as she fashioned a loose harness about their chests and bellies. “You’ll have more to eat this evening, I promise. I’ll scare some more crows your way.” She grabbed the reaping sythe and stepped into the cart. The cats leapt over one another, eager for their feast.

The people at the bonfire atop the next hill laughed with the abandon only intoxicated people can manage. They clung to one another without regard for personal space, or perhaps because their own legs need assistance holding them upright.

When Boo entered the glow from the fire, the group blinked with slow-dawning dread. The praise leader pointed and screamed, “The devil’s come!” Her husband backed away into the cover of a stand of trees, abandoning his wife and the others as tactical war-remembrances flashed through his subconscious. Several people stumbled away from Boo and her strange conveyance team, but the farmer stepped forward, scratching his head. “Wait, you’re my scarecrow, aren’t you?”

A smile streched across her canvas face as she hoisted the scythe. “How nice of you to admit your guilt,” she said, swinging the blade into his flesh, relishing his look of slack-jawed incomprehension. “Should like to hang you on a post for a season. See how you like it.” Blood sizzled as it splashed into the fire. Boo licked a splattering that colored her cheek. She savored its metallic tang. Reaching into the farmer’s chest, Boo cut his soul free and formed it into a patch. She slipped the patch into her front pocket and stepped over the farmer’s corpse. “This will replace the one I lost. Let’s see what else I can collect.”

With another swing of the scythe, she freed the cats from their harness. They fell upon the farmer with gusto.

The farmer’s wife threw a bottle at Boo, but it missed. Boo stepped forward like a ballplayer and cut the woman’s soul free. The body slumped at her husband’s feet, a look of shock frozen upon her features.

Two young men leapt at her, sons hoping to avenge their parents, but with ease, the blade passed through them. Their intestines bloomed from their severed abdomens, spilling into the stone ring meant to contain the fire. Flames singed them, browning the intestines like a string of fresh sausages.

The parish praise leader trembled under an unblessed wooden cross. “Get behind me, Satan.”

Boo admired the tarnish that mottled the woman’s soul. To comply with the request, Boo stepped to the side and sliced her open along her spine.

The rest of the bonfire company fled, but Boo had collected enough souls.

She licked chunks of flesh from her fingers, enjoying every mouthful as she considered placement of her new acquisitions. She flattened her newest patch and decided on irony. She chose the back of the overalls near the base of her spine. “Get behind me, praise leader with the tarnished soul,” she chuckled. She threaded the needle, stripped off her garment, and sewed. When finished, she held the newly repaired overalls at arm’s length to admire her handiwork. “This will do nicely. Don’t see how any farmer could resist asking me to guard their field when I’m such a well-dressed Buback.”

She patted the cats fondly. “Thank you, my friends. We’ll do this again next year. After all, every harvest some fool unwittingly sets me free.”

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