Fiction,  Issue 10

The Cobbler by Jay Bechtol

Finn snorted his disapproval through a nose eternally out of joint. He’d seen better rainbows tattooed on the forearms of dead sailors. The mural covering the old cinderblock wall appeared as if it had been applied by a couple of eight year olds on a dare. The word “Libertad!” highlighted in a burst of gold paint across the midsection of the rainbow. He leaned against a telephone pole held together with rusted staples, threads of duct tape, and faded scraps of paper.

“Freedom?” he muttered. “Hmph.” 

It was a complete waste of gold, he thought. Not to mention the lack of respect for the history, the mythos, the glory of the rainbow. Now nothing more than a hastily slathered… nothing. And where the end of the rainbow touched the aging sidewalk were those damn candles with Jesus and his “virginal” mother emblazoned boldly on the cheap cylinders of glass. Having no more meaning than the “Made in China” sticker affixed to the bottom. 

Finn snorted again and approached the wall, studied it with disdain, then turned and rested against it. A most worthless trip, but he could feel the gold warming him through his coat, just barely.

Freedom indeed.

A group of school-aged children hurried past, giggling as they avoided the cracks in the sidewalk, backpacks bouncing in unison. Their lively discussion slowing as they stared suspiciously at the tall redhead man who had clearly missed a turn somewhere. A weary face not of their neighborhood. His arms and legs too long for his clothing and his skin much paler than their own. 

Finn instinctively tensed, ready to escape if any of them made a move toward him. Instead, one of the children pointed, whispered something to the others, and they all turned away. Giggling even more loudly than before. He debated tossing one of the candles in defiance, a need to teach them about respect and truth. Letting them in on the real story of Jesus and that whore Mary of Nazareth. He wanted to point at the gold on the wall and the rainbow that summoned him and let them know what they mocked. But he’d learned that in America, humans weren’t to be trusted. Those wide-eyed innocents were all very likely carrying guns in their backpacks.  Fucking Americans and their guns, he stewed. Getting caught by a human would burn. Bullets on the other hand, would do significant damage. Even to him. The kids bobbed away allowing him to relax with no real satisfaction. He rested his hand against the gold spray paint, seeking relief from everything his life had become. He pulled what he could from it. 

“Freedom?’ he whispered. The irony hurt. He grimaced, hardly anything left in the layer of gold paint.

The children heard the sound behind them, a dry whoosh, as if something clogging a vacuum hose had finally given way. They turned to where the strange redheaded man had been standing but only a small cloud remained, barely a wisp. It dissipated and a flurry of papers with pictures of lost dogs and ads for homes purchased for cash detached from the telephone pole and drifted to the ground.

***

The girl’s name was Seuador, but everyone on the bayou around Milford called her Sue. She found happiness in a shanty that had been built by her father’s father’s father over one hundred years earlier, after slavery had ended. At least on paper, her father had once said, his voice layered with disdain. It was one room with a door and a three windows, one square table in the middle of the equally square building. Plumbing and electricity still a distant dream. A small bed in one corner, a smaller cot pushed up next to it. The home and its worn furnishings dulled by age giving the impression of filth. The bathroom was twelve steps outside the front door to the left. Eight steps in an emergency. 

A smaller building leaned precariously away from the shack in the opposite direction of the outhouse. It had been joined to the cabin at some point in the past, but wind and rain and time had slowly divorced the two.  Her father had called it the garage, but as far as she knew, no car had ever parked there. The roof of the garage, however, remained true, and because of this, everything of value to Sue was stored there. 

She spent most of her time in the garage. Like her father, she collected things. Treasures. It wasn’t stealing, her father taught her, if it was found. Boxes full of old clothing and toys and appliances and car parts. Scarves piled into the baskets of two rusted Schwinn bicycles. A rocking horse with a broken rocker. And the books. Stacks and stacks of books that she collected perhaps more religiously than anything else in her world. The ones she could read, she had; the ones that were a little more advanced, she anticipated. Knowing that the stories they held waited for her.

But the garage was more than just a vast repository for her treasures. She’d set up buckets and old hubcaps and coffee tins to collect rainwater for the times she was too tired to take a bucket down to the river. She’d stored boxes of cereals and crackers in one of those old Coleman ice chests, the kind with the lock so the mice couldn’t get in and steal it all. She kept her two dresses hung neatly on a rafter, only reachable by a carefully crafted staircase of milk crates. The garage, more so than the shack, was her home.

Her father, known as Rainbow throughout the bayou, had no recollection of his given name. The moniker following him, long after he stopped wearing the multicolored suspenders from his childhood. The kind that an alien named Mork once wore on television. Rainbow and Sue had never seen a television. At least not a working one. He had taught her to read, a television would be redundant.

On most days, Rainbow would scoop her up and throw her in the small wagon fashioned for the back of his bike. She would squeal with delight riding back there. Her eight fraying pigtails waving wildly in the wind as he pedaled the back roads searching for the treasures that filled the garage. Rainbow would sing or tell stories as they wandered. His songs reverential and spiritual, his stories like orations from a backwoods preacher. And almost as good as the books.

On Sundays, he would load the wagon with an assortment of their stock and head into Milford, the closest town, and stand outside the First Pentecostal Church to sell what he could. Sue would help, her big brown eyes and bigger smile greasing even the stickiest of sales. On a good day they could make ten or twelve dollars plus some hustled leftovers from the post service fellowship. Donuts, homemade slaw or beans, biscuits, and the like. 

Every now and then Marcus Hilderbrand, the man that owned the only pizzeria in all of Milford, would bring in a leftover pie or two. Pizza was the little girl’s favorite. And when the haggling was done, they’d pedal home and Rainbow would toss her into the garage, a pile of couch cushions catching her. There she’d sleep. Worn from a hard day’s work.

***

Finn sat on the wooden bench in his dank hut, hammering nails through a never-ending parade of ungrateful souls. The souls trickling in from countless portals, filling his small cottage. They were all basically the same, flat, leathery, misshapen things, no bigger than a slice of soda bread. The only thing that really distinguished them from each other was the odor. Some smelled of flowers, usually roses. Some smelled of fire, smoky and acrid. Others smelled of undrinkable alcohol. Regardless of the stench, the parade never stopped. Stacks of waiting souls teetered in every open space of flooring, many reaching higher than the red hair on Finn’s head. When he wasn’t sleeping or chasing those infernal rainbows, Finn was cursed with the task of nailing souls to planks of wood. When he got tired of hammering, he’d take all of the planks outside and throw them into one of the sixty-three ancient brick fire pits in the bog surrounding his dark home. Souls attached to planks, planks assigned to fireplaces, the fires sending the souls on to their final glory. Or whatever. 

While he hammered, he’d talk to himself, cursing his luck, cursing the names of those that had tricked him. 

“Enki! Sumer was better off without you. Hmpf.” Finn twirled the hammer expertly between fingers better suited for magic and mischief than the dogmatic nail driving of the immortals, and a soul was attached to a plank with indecipherable lines cut across the top.

“Dagda, you Irish prick…” he pounded two more souls into a piece wood labeled with an ornate D. The souls reeking of cold and whiskey. “Getting stuck with you…” Finn’s grumbling trailed off. 

His thoughts turned to his gold as usually happened when he was alone. He muttered about his gold more than anything. He hadn’t stolen it from them, he stewed, “I tricked them out of little bits and pieces…fair and square. Nary a rule about tricking…”  

It had taken centuries, but he had gotten some from all of them. Bits and pieces here and there. Filling up his bucket. It was, by all rights, his gold. He hammered two more souls into a length of wood, barely noticing if he had placed them correctly. 

“It is their greed and jealousy at my cleverness. Their greed. They stole it from me. I earned, they stole. Arrogant, amoral bastards.” His hammer moved with speed now, the silver head nothing more than a shadow itself. “They stole, they hid, they punish.” Four more souls were hammered. “Now I have to search, I have to search? What would those idiots, those humans,” he spat, “have to say about all of this? You think humans would be impressed with the way you treat your servants? Your prisoners?”

His fingers and hands moved with a dexterity incongruous to his appearance and demeanor. Nails, souls, planks, the hammer spun in a ballet of cobbling. His fingers moving with a grace not echoed by his shrill voice, rising in pitch with every blow of the hammer head. “I have to search for my gold now. Forever. And ever. And EVER!?!?”

He dropped his hammer defiantly on the table as if expecting a response from somewhere. He breathed heavily staring through the thatched ceiling of his hovel. Waiting for their answer to his charges. Silence mocked him until another soul plopped through one the portals. Rancid fish soup filled his nostrils. Finn closed his eyes and rubbed his head. His mutter returned with incoherent apathy.

Finn twisted his body away from the table, swinging his feet over the bench and letting his timeworn shoes settle onto the floor. He stared at his stone hearth, embers glowing there, a small pot of stew bubbling quietly. His jug of beer nearby. Maybe it was time for dinner. Those fools could wait for their souls. He stood and shuffled toward his dinner, the grace of his youth long gone.

From somewhere far away, a rainbow tugged at him. Drawing him toward some unknown location where a rainbow and some gold met. He didn’t want to go. No longer were the trips outside the small cottage a welcome relief from the monotony of cobbling souls, no longer did he have any real hope of finding his treasure. Finn was certain that one of those arrogant immortals, or probably all of them, had conspired to this torture. Of sending him on chases for rainbows and his bucket of gold. They once valued his cleverness, now they used it against him, sending him on endless quests for their own amusement. The eternal search nothing more than cruel mockery. The real trick wasn’t that his pot of gold was lost or hidden, the real trick was making him question if there ever had been one. His belief faded. And Dagda or Enki or Mohammed or even that simpleton Zeus had gotten their revenge by hiding nothing. Cursing him to walk the earth in search of that which wasn’t. Finn dreamed of wrapping his fingers around Zeus’ neck. Just once.

The rainbow tugged again. Stronger. And he knew the likelihood of avoiding this one was minimal. He was cursed to be drawn to some forsaken location, pull a little strength from some insignificant golden idol, and then be back in his home, sorting souls for those that couldn’t do it for themselves. For a moment hope glimmered in his embittered mind. 

“Of course this was their plan all along,” he picked up his plate, knowing his plan to fill it with stew and have a few moments of happiness was probably vanishing. “Make me hope, make me wish. Fucking gobdaws.” He simmered, and spun his plate on the tip of a reed-like finger. Wondered where this draw might take him. 

“Not to one of those damn parades,” he complained to his empty shack. “Hundreds of rainbows and chanting and horrible music. Inevitably some idiot dressed in gold lamé waving the colors around.” The plate wobbled on his finger, slowing its rotations. 

He knew there was never anything to pull, no strength to gain from a human dancing in a golden outfit. Sometimes instead of a costume, the human was gilt in body paint or some sort of make-up. That was worse.

He set the plate back on the table.

At one of the parades, he recalled a human dressed in some stretched gold material highlighting every unfortunate bulge and ripple of slothful inactivity. He had escaped that trip as quickly as possible. Patting the gyrating fool on the back and whispering “Your god rescinds the rainbow order.” 

A rare smile creased his ancient face at the memory, still doubting that his comments were heard, let alone understood. The humans of today had no idea the power a rainbow held, how it had been used. His smile uncurled, the humans were no more advanced than the centuries of humans before them. No understanding of history…the real history. Self-absorbed in their ability to see themselves and nothing else. They deserved the immortals they were stuck with.

The memory of the parade faded as he was tugged one last time. Almost tumbling him to the ground. He groaned, not wanting to go, but powerless to stop it. 

“Aye, the gold had to be out there somewhere…doesn’t it?” He asked his dinner plate. “They’ll have to run out of hiding places at some point. Those bastards.” He could smell the stew and it made him hungry. As did the lure of his gold. Why else would he keep being drawn? Why else would he be able to pull what little magic he could from the miniscule amounts of gold he did find. The small amounts of gold could sustain him for months. Years, really. He could pull enough out of the gold to continue. 

Finn imagined all of those power-hungry fools he had worked for sitting somewhere together. Gathered around some celestial table and gibbering about doctrine while mocking him. He knew they would be laughing, like those kids with the backpacks. Snickering at his efforts, his plight, his ineptitude. Mohammed probably wouldn’t laugh, Mohammed had never laughed at much.

Finn rubbed his eyes and looked at the dinner that would have to wait, the beer that wouldn’t be drunk. He realized he was missing something and reached behind him for his hammer, still on the table. His fingers wrapped around the haft just as his cottage blurred and disappeared around him. 

He was drawn.

***

Sue was lifted into the wagon. Another Sunday. She wore her yellow dress, the pink one in need of a good scrubbing down at the river. It had been a productive day at the First Pentecostal Church of Milford. She and Rainbow had sold fourteen dollars and twenty five cents worth of treasures. Plus it had been a pizza day. They had been given almost four slices to take home by the condescendingly kind Pentecostal Preacher. Admonishing them with a less than authentic laugh to, “waste not, want not!” Rainbow pedaled toward home.

When the ride ended, she was lifted, twirled, and dropped into the garage. She snuggled into a pile of her favorite worn pillows. And picked up the book she was currently devouring. Its cover had long since worn away, but the story of a beautiful horse in London resonated with her. She wondered if the preacher in Milford had ever read this book, he might learn a thing or two.

She finished off her last piece of pizza and sipped some water from an old coffee can and heard her father head into the house. His singing carried in the afternoon air making a perfect soundtrack to the story of horse drawn cabs in London.

As the day wore on, her eyes drowsed and she eventually slept. The smile on her face mirrored the dreams in her head.

***

Finn blinked in, facedown. As if being drawn blindly across time and space at the whims of idiots wasn’t insulting enough. Even in this position he could tell that he was in a remote area, deep grass brushed his hair and his nose pressed into a layer peat moss. The wet rot not much different than his bog at home. He could hear nothing save the high pitched whine of an insect near his ear. The stillness was all about him, he could sense it. There was no urgency in this place. 

He pushed himself up, drew his knees forward and rocked back onto his heels. The front of his shirt blotched with the wetness of the peat and he swiped his hands across his chest with no real purpose. The tops of the thick blades of grass level with his shoulders, purple wild flowers bursting through every few feet. He raised his eyes to the sky, looking for the rainbow, the clouds, or the sun. Any tell-tale signs of what had drawn him here. The sky was clear and blue. Giving no dimension to the space above the unmoving leaves of the mangrove.

He turned his gaze to his surroundings and stood. About sixty feet away, a small shack leaned among the greenery. In such a state as to make his own cottage seem positively cozy. Finn turned a full circle, the shack being the only thing to see.

 “Oh good,” he muttered sourly, “humans.”

Finn waded through the grass, serrated edges catching the bare flesh between the top of his shoes and the bottom of his trousers. The grass thinned as he approached the ramshackle hut, and a road, or at least what might be mistaken for a road, made his walk easier. He had given up thinking that there might be anyone home when the front door of the shack opened and a man, likely of African descent, emerged. The man had to duck a bit coming through the door, and when he stood upright, Finn could see just how tall and thin the man was. 

“Help you, sir?” the man hailed through yellowed teeth, his voice as thick as the bayou air. 

Finn felt for his hammer in his back pocket and wondered just where in the hell the fucking rainbow was.

***

Sue could hear her father’s voice and the voice of another person. Likely standing by the front door. There was one little chunk of peperoni left and the pizza kid popped it in her mouth and slurped the last bit of water from the old coffee can. She popped out of her den of pillows and peered around the front edge of the garage. 

A very white man, almost as tall as her father, stood with his back to her. The two men were talking, the stranger’s voice sounding odd, probably not from around here, she thought. The expression on Rainbow’s face was one of confusion. She knew immediately what to do. The only reason any man ever came out this way was to buy something or to hire Rainbow for some odd job. Either way, she knew her smile and her big brown eyes could certainly help the negotiation. 

She approached carefully, not wanting to interrupt whatever work her father might be haggling for. Neither Rainbow nor the stranger noticed her approach. The left hand of the pale stranger waved at her father for a moment, then dropped back to his side. His other hand was behind his back, his fingers caressing the head of a hammer. From the looks of it, a very expensive hammer she thought. It was all silvery and appeared to have some words or pictures etched into it. She might be able to get two dollars for it at the Pentecostal church. Maybe three. The hammer confirmed what she already suspected. Obviously the man was looking for help on a building project. 

***

Finn’s thoughts raced. Running through the names of all that he had served. Trying to remember if any of them had been from Africa, the Original Place.  Maybe find some way to connect with the human standing in front of him now. Newet, maybe. She might have been from Africa…Egypt? But the man in front of him looked as though he would have no knowledge of Newet or Egypt.

Finn realized that the only way any of the humans wandering the earth now might vaguely recognize him was in his Irish role as servant to Dagda, the Father. He doubted that this son of Africa with yellowed teeth knew anything of Dagda, or Erie, or Finn’s work. And even if he did, it was likely so skewed as to be useless. Finn’s truth had become mythology around the village fire; then becoming fantastical books; then becoming picture shows on televisions; then becoming boxes of cereal. 

Finn shivered. Guns and televisions. “America has certainly raised the bar,” he whispered to himself.

“Pardon?” The man asked, a hopeful smile on his face.

When Finn did not respond, the man tried again, “Can I help you sir?” 

Finn was in no mood to smile back, he spoke slowly. No need to make things harder for a human than necessary. “I’m searching for the rainbow. If you can point me in the right direction, I’ll be on my way.” 

Finn hoped that his instructions were easy enough to follow. But there was a look of confusion of the black man’s face. Finn sighed and rolled his eyes, trying to ensure that the man could see how inconvenient this all was. The only thing worse than searching for the damn gold was searching for the rainbow. Giant colors in the sky should be easy to find. But they, the idolized idiots, had been making it harder and harder over the last few hundred years. 

“A rainbow,” Finn repeated, even more slowly. He arched his left hand in a sweeping motion to illustrate. “Pretty colors. In the sky.” 

The confusion remained on the dark skinned man’s face and his yellowed teeth disappeared behind his lips that had turned from a smile into a quizzical line. 

“Lots of colors?” Finn threw out hopefully.

The man brought his hand to his chest and, speaking slowly, as if to mimic Finn, said, “I am Rainbow.” He tapped his chest again for emphasis, “Rainbow.” The yellow teeth returned as he smiled. “Mebee you lookin’ for me, sir?”

Finn didn’t want to put this one together. A black man named Rainbow? This had to be the silliest chase the idols had sent him on yet. He wanted to respond to the man, let him know that he didn’t appreciate, nor did he have any interest in playing this game. But as he was preparing to respond, the man’s expression changed and his eyes darted to something behind. Something that had approached while Finn was so easily distracted. He prepared to jump, to get away, but before he could move, something took hold of his hand. A searing pain ran up his arm. Burning, burning. He looked down, to where the African man stared. A child, small and innocent stared up at him. She had taken hold of his hand. Pain filled Finn’s body. 

Incredibly the child was smiling. “Hi, mister,” the grinning demon girl offered, “My daddy can do anythin’ you need. He’s very strong and very capable.” 

In the moment before Finn fainted, he realized he’d been caught. It had been over two hundred years since anyone had laid a hand on him. And the pain was as awful as he remembered.

***

Finn awoke lying on a musty cushion of some kind. His first instinct was to get up and run. Maybe the girl had not actually caught him. Maybe he could still get away. Blink away. But as he raised his head, he could feel it. The pain was receding, but the tether was there. Not an actual visible chain of iron, no, but he was attached to the girl until he could trick her into releasing him. Once upon a time he could have given her some of his gold. A bribe of sorts, but at the present time, his gold storage amounted to none. He imagined Dagda’s mirthful glee at the scene playing out.

Finn scanned the surroundings, trying to formulate an escape route. The two humans were sitting on boxes a few feet away. Staring intently at him. He rolled his head back down onto the cushion. He seemed to be lying part way inside some wooden structure that was piled as high with trash as his own cottage was piled with souls. 

The girl spoke from her box. “You okay, mister? You just went and fell right over there in front’a the house. We’re both worried about you. Need some water? There’s some right there.” She pointed to a spot next to his head.

Finn rolled his eyes in the direction her finger indicated. The cushion, he could now see, was of brown corduroy. At least it was brown now, from the smell of it, he thought, brown was not its original color. Next to the cushion was a red can, about the same size as his beer mug at home. He reached for it and discovered it to be full of water. Most of which he sloshed on his face as he tried to drink from it. From the direction of the boxes he heard a giggle. Then a “shush!” 

Finn set the can of water down on the dirt where it had been, the hint of metal still flavoring his mouth. But it helped. He propped himself up on his bony elbows, which only added to the incongruity of his arm’s length to the shirt sleeve. He realized the tricks and games he once played so easily now no longer manifested. He didn’t want to be here any more than he wanted to be back in his own cottage. Thousands of years working for the amusement of others. Thousands of years of dodging the humans and then mocking them when they couldn’t manage his tricks. The whole thing was a sham, a show for…for…for no one. No one cared any longer. No one understood. Time had moved well past an era when there was anything closely resembling fear and respect for those that were worshipped. Now, if anything, Finn and his masters were the punchlines of jokes, or worse, the bastardized hucksters for a world of throwaway products. 

Maybe that was the real trick.

He focused on the two humans. Somehow they knew. They had conspired to catch him. They were scrutinizing him with something that looked like concern, but he knew better. They wanted his gold, the wishes, everything. They weren’t concerned. They were greedy. 

“Well,” Finn offered, sarcasm hanging like moss in the trees, “what can I do for you?”

“Are you still going to hire my daddy?” One of the girl’s pigtails had come undone. Leaving seven little twigs waggling about her head and one giant puff of unmanageable curls. “I’m sorry about scarin’ you like that.” And then as an afterthought. “You feelin’ any better?”

There was a sincerity in her voice that Finn was unused to. He dismissed it, she was trying to trick him, clearly. 

“You caught me, so you must be very clever colleen,” he offered, hoping to lull them. He bent his knees and wrapped the spindles that were his fingers about his shins and pulled himself into a sitting position resting his chin on a knee. “So here’s what I’m prepared to do for you. I’ll give you two of the wishes, right here. No tricks, no cleverness. Just two wishes. But then you release me. We’ll be done with the whole thing before we even get it started.” His chin stayed on his knee, but his eyes wandered back and forth between the man and the girl. “However, if you insist on three wishes, I will trick you, I will escape you, and you will get nothing.” He hadn’t raised his voice or indicated in any way that he was bluffing. Humans were daft, but not that daft, two wishes was a huge victory, much better than no wishes. But humans were greedy, and two wishes were not three.

Finn watched them watch him. They appeared not to have understood any of the words he had just spoken. Their looks of concern and scrutiny, now only blank stares. As if he had just told them that purple and orange had changed places. He began to doubt himself. They might be more clever than he originally gave them credit.

The man, inexplicably named Rainbow, Finn remembered, opened his mouth and then closed it again. There was a moment of silence then the man offered, “Sir?” 

The girl took the man’s hand and squeezed it. The look of concern had returned to her face. “Mebee he really bumped his head harder’n we thought, daddy. Mebee he’s really hurt. ‘Member that time that nice woman at the Church went and slipped on the stairs and bumped her head? She sat up talkin’ about her trip to the moon and back…?” 

The man nodded sagely. Considering his daughters words.

Finn watched them closely. If this was a trick, it was a fine trick. He couldn’t see the lies they were stitching together.

“I’m not sure if you understood me,” Finn tried again, “I’m offering you two of the wishes. No strings, as they say. No questions.” This time he picked his chin up off his knee. He rolled his fingers in front of his face and a small silver coin appeared there, twirling from finger to finger. Then with an almost invisible flick, he launched the coin toward them. Late afternoon sun glinted off of it as it twirled, landing in puff of dust at the girl’s feet. “Two wishes…”

Rainbow looked at the girl. She shrugged ever so slightly and picked up the coin. She turned and shook her head at Finn, her expression wiser in years than it could possibly be. “Mister, I wish I understood what you were talkin’ about, ‘cause I’m sure…” the little girl’s voice trailed off. 

Her eyes closed, the coin glowed, and she got her first wish.

***

She saw more people than she thought could ever be counted. Dressed in strange clothing and standing outside what could have been the First Pentecostal Church of Milford. If the church had been a hundred times, no, she thought, a thousand times bigger. And made of stone. A man stood on the steps of the church, or whatever building it was, hollering at all the people. She didn’t recognize the words, but she recognized the pattern. It was no different than the orations her daddy practiced when riding on his bicycle. The man chanted and spoke and the people seemed entranced by his words. Behind the chanting man, she saw him. The strange man that sat in the doorway of her garage. The strange man that promised her wishes. She could feel that his name was Finn now, but it had been many different things at many different times. His skin was much, much darker. Not quite the color of her own, but pretty close she thought. And his hair was dark too. Trimmed into a funny pattern. The chanting man turned and smacked Finn, knocking him across the floor. Coins scattered everywhere and Finn rolled to his feet and bowed in obedience. She blinked. 

And then she was watching Finn hiding in a forest. He carried something very shiny in his hands. He was mocking men on horseback. They had beards and large weapons and they were howling in some very loud language that she did not understand. She watched as he disappeared in a wisp of smoke. She blinked again and Finn was being set free by a mob while another man (looking very much like the pictures of Jesus she’d seen at the Pentecostal church) was being attached to a cross. She blinked, and blinked, and blinked again, each blink taking her somewhere else where people chanted, chased, sacrificed, drank, let blood, prayed, lied, screamed, wailed, tortured, went to war, rolled on the ground, and judged. Rarely did any of them express any joy. She could feel tears filling her eyes. Her body still sitting on a box outside a garage holding all of her treasures. But her mind was travelling, and each time she blinked she was somewhere more beautiful and more horrible than previous. And at each place there were people, just like the people at the church in Milford, worshipping someone, or something. Finn was always there nearby whatever or whomever was being worshipped. He often looked different, sometimes blending with the people rolling on the floor, sometimes not. But she could always see him. He’d been there. In all of those places. Those horrible, wondrous places. She could feel the duration of his solitude. The tears that had been welling in her large brown eyes spilled.

She blinked and Finn was caught by two men. He was much shorter than he was now. They wanted his gold. But that didn’t matter, what mattered was the pain. His pain was her pain and she felt it when the two humans touched him. The burning so intense she couldn’t cry out. The pain shackled him to the two men. And for a time they owned him. But then she saw him trick people to escape. He lied to people to free himself. He was selfish and mean and rude and angry. He searched for something. The man that smacked him and the man that looked like the picture of Jesus had stolen something from him. He searched for it. He burned. He lied. He burned again. 

Then she was in a cottage. Not dissimilar to her own. It was not wondrous. It reeked of sadness the way the bayou smelled of peat after a heavy rain. She stood on a table and watched the strange man. The silver hammer he carried in his pocket now banging incessantly. Pounding nails through slabs of something and into planks of wood. They looked like ugly old burnt pancakes, she thought. She didn’t know what they were, but she knew what they had been. They once were people. Her tears flowed now, unabated. She saw all of this and she understood none of it. Except for the part that her eight year old brain could understand. Finn was a prisoner. Like her father’s father’s father’s father had been. Forced to do the bidding of the worshipped for as long as there had been things to worship. She understood pain. And that was enough.

She opened her eyes. Had she been sitting there for ten seconds, or ten minutes? She could not tell.  Only aware that she had cried hard enough to wet most of the front of her yellow dress. She stood and walked toward the strange man. Behind her, Rainbow called her name. She did not stop. She saw the strange man flinch away from her, but she smiled through her tears. “Don’t worry, Finn,” she whispered. “I wish you were free.” 

Then she took his hand.

***

Finn rolled backward from his siting position, letting his head fall onto the cushion. It was his turn to cry. He still held the human’s hand. It did not burn. It did not hurt. It simply was. It filled him with something he hadn’t felt in a very long time. Hope, longer than his wandering, a real hope. He opened his eyes and looked up at the girl in the yellow dress, her pigtails surrounding her head like a crown. 

“Your father spoke your name just now…I couldn’t hear.” He watched her lips turn to a grin. 

“Seaudor,” he heard her say, “Daddy says it’s Creole. But everyone around these parts calls me Sue.” 

Finn smiled. There was no cynicism in it. No fear or anger. 

“You like it? My name?” She asked.

Finn did not know of Creole, but he had a knowledge of most human languages, including French. And he knew the French word seau meant bucket and that or was gold.  

“Yes, I do like your name,” Finn nodded. Then laughed. For the first time in nearly a thousand years.

***

In a faraway cottage, souls continued to gather. No one nailed them to planks, no one sorted them into piles. No one took them outside to feed them to the fireplaces that burned on the lonely bog.

One of the fires burned down to a warm glow. Anyone watching might have seen the final orange ember waver then vanish in a hiss of thin smoke, but there was no one to witness this. 

Absent fuel, the remaining fires slept as well and in time the ancient brick fireplaces crumbled to nothing.

____________________________________________________________

For the last thirty years Jay Bechtol has been a social worker helping children, adults and families navigate the world of mental illness, substance misuse and trauma. He has learned that everyone has a story, and more often than not, several stories. He can be found (currently or soon) in Deracine Magazine, 49 Writers, The Literary Hatchet, Toasted Cheese, Penumbric and on Twitter @BechtolJay. He can be found in person in Homer, Alaska.

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