By F.J. Wilson
A spirit was released the day the huge virgin pine was felled. Dislodged from its nesting place in the three hundred year old tree; the spirit emerged slowly and followed the great tree as it was floated down the Pascagoula River to the lumber mill twenty miles away. Large muscular men hauled the giant log out of the water and deposited it on the riverbank. The spirit; confused and angry hovered around the dead thing that had been its home. It watched other souls coming out of the water, lingering and mingling around trees that were living one moment and dead the next. The big spirit gathered those souls into itself and grew. It grew in strength and it grew in anger and it vowed to stop the men who destroyed its nesting place. Some spirits felt the evil and escaped its power by going back into the big woods to find new trees and new lives. But the great Pine spirit was not as easily assuaged as the young and began to take his revenge on the humans who were murdering the trees on a daily basis; ignorant and uncaring of the souls being displaced and abandoned. These men, blind to the devastation of the land, and the little universes living among them, continued making a living off the misfortune of these unseen worlds.
The Pine spirit’s first victim was an old man, carelessly working the great saw after too many years. It was an easy job for the angry spirit; it took no energy at all really, just a quick breath of evil and the old man, lost in his own reverie of collard greens and corn bread for supper, looked up too soon and became part of a lady’s dresser.
The funeral was sweet and conventional and only the little widow truly mourned. No one suspected foul play.
“It was bound to happen sooner or later, and don’t we all have to go sometime? He was too old; he should’ve retired years ago. I warned him, but he wouldn’t listen.” The old man’s boss told everyone at the funeral.
The young strong workers thought nothing of an old man’s tragic death. It made morbid stories, telling of the blood and body parts strewn around the mill yard. The story was told again and again over beers down at the local juke joint, until a wreck on the highway captured their sick attention and the old man became a bar tale forgotten.
So the little mill continued to kill the beautiful trees and the young men took over the saws from the old, and no one noticed the number of accidents produced by the big saws and the logs. No one noticed that the young men were dying as well as the old, and their wives were dying in childbirth taking the babies with them.
As the years passed, the Soul Eater Vigilante as the other trees named him lost his soul to the essence of evil. What once was revenge was now a way of life. His evil continued to grow and continued to be joined by the souls of other trees, especially the old and confused big virgin Pine, who didn’t make a quick transition from death to eternity, but were caught unaware by the evil. Their goodness trapped by their own fear, within the large evil. The young Pine souls made quick their leaving; in the presence of such powerful hate, any good strong spirits that could’ve helped to release the caught souls, were swept away into the Universe to come again as young innocent saplings, but all remembered the Soul Eater even in their reincarnations.
Over the years, even the furniture and lumber made from the original Pine of the Soul Eater took on an ominous feel and began to rot and fall apart; floors began to sag and in the end, all became compost for a landfill. But the huge evil kept growing until it spread passed the little mill, long since deserted due to the countless accidents and tragedies, and into the surrounding countryside.
Crops began to fail and farmers moved away, selling their small parcels of land to the modern developers to be used for large gaudy Mac’mansions. Little communities and towns talked of the Pine Evil, and scared children into being good, but only a few believed its true powers. The little communities became deserted and the young moved into the cities. The old community became known as ‘the country’.
The evil liked the solitude he’d created. Going into the cities for his mischief was too frustrating. The evils that lived in the great cities were more powerful, and made fun of his country anger; so he found his victims among the campers and hikers who dared enter his woods and vowed vengeance on the evil spirits in the cities. Some of his victims lived to tell the tales of his work, but most found death to be a sweet release from the torture he gave in large helpings. The Soul Eater was good at his work. Getting into the minds of his victims, he would discover their fears. He could produce death by fright in a heartbeat, or in most cases a stopped heartbeat. Only the very ignorant could escape his mind play as their minds were too removed from the spirit world to fear it, but they became easy victims of their own carelessness… around snakes and old well’s hiding under thick carpets of pine straw and dead leaves.
Lizzie bought the little deserted farmhouse in the piney woods so she could have quiet days and nights for her painting. She’d been six years in New York, and had loved the energy, and taken advantage of the excess. Everything anyone could want she’d had, but she had to work every minute of every day, of every week of the year, just to keep herself in the fast lane she’d chosen. The last year was hard, over bearing and senseless. Her creativity had stopped and nothing inspired it to start again. She came home for her father’s funeral and to mend a broken heart by a man who’d taken advantage, and mistreated her. For the first time in six years, she realized how badly she’d abused the beauty of her roots and how returning to them could mend the spirit.
Her soul had to recuperate and the little farmhouse was the perfect haven. She bought it with the money left to her by her Father. She knew he’d have loved it here in the shadow of the tall Pines, they both loved. His stories of the evil Pine spirit that roamed the area terrified her as a child, making the “boogieman” seem harmless in comparison. She’d bury her head in his chest when hearing the last moments of a man’s life being filled with the odor of pinesap and fear. But, with her face buried in his chest, all she could smell was ‘Ole Spice’; his last cigarette and safety. She’d forgotten these stories of so long ago, but moving into the little house brought them all alive to her again, and she thought she might paint the woods and capture an image of the horrible spirit in the trees. Lizzie always knew there were souls wandering the earth, but she’d never taken the evil Pine spirit as truth. It was just a local legend to scare children, and make little girls feel safe in their daddy’s arms. Other people believed it though; enough to move away and start new lives elsewhere. She’d started a new life, but she came from elsewhere to start it here.
Lizzie used her painting as a catharsis for her pain and she depended on it to help her now. She was left by her lover, bewildered and deeply hurt, not understanding how a man can say such wonderful things from his heart; make you believe you are loved, and then walk away. Times like these a girl could use her dad’s chest in which to bury her face. Maybe if her mom hadn’t died so young, Lizzie would‘ve known better how to live in a relationship, how to watch for the pitfalls, recognize red flags, and know how to tell when a man lies. But her mom died young and her dad was not the sort to give advice on romance, so she’d muddled along on her own, getting hurt more times than not. Her father used to worry that she was too vulnerable, but he was her dad, he was supposed to worry.
Maybe this little house was just the place for her. It’d already begun to smell familiar. The smell of pine straw and a faint odor of old cigarettes from the last owners wafted around her head as she walked down the hall, or as she was going to sleep. She knew she should have the walls cleaned to rid the old house of the nicotine, but she didn’t want to just yet, at this time in her life she needed the smell of her dad.
The first night in the house, she dreamed of her mom’s funeral. She was walking up to the front of the church, so large to a four year, the box the adults call a coffin is so big and her mom so small, there must be room for her to get in and go along too. Then the black lapel with the white carnation bends down and picks her up and lifts her over to say good-bye to her mom. Her mom is asleep and pretty in her beautiful white satin gown and robe that was for ‘special’ times. She is lying in white satin on a little satin pillow, and someone has placed red roses around her dark hair. Her grandma’s gold cross and chain are entwined in her hands, folded over her chest, like she’d sit up and put it on, as Lizzie had seen her do so many times, sitting at her old pine dresser.
Then her dad’s voice.
“Kiss mama, Sugah.”
Lizzie’s dad can hardly speak for the tears… love… and death, in his throat; all caught there, not knowing how to escape and release the pain that has settled and made a permanent home. He lowers his little girl over the side of the open box into the arms of her smiling mom, who takes the little girl and kisses her over and over, laughing and squeezing her tightly. Lizzie can feel the smooth satin of the robe and the loving arms of her mother, but she can still smell the elegant, fresh scent of her dad’s carnation mixed with the fresh smell of his clean suit, and once more, her life is good and blessed like it was a long time ago. Then the dream changes and she melds into something resembling a lost fog, seeping through damp matted pine straw covering the ground in an old woods and she knows it has something to do with death.
When she woke the next morning, she expected to feel better. Such a beautiful dream about her mom should soothe any pain, but she felt worse, somehow empty for the remembering.
Lizzie began to write each morning in her journal about her failed relationship, and the first few days the pain was heightened by the attention it was getting, but then over time… a soothing release, as the memories began to fade and she could face the wind of a new beginning. She looked forward each morning to having her coffee on the little porch, writing in her journal and letting the truth unfold from her heart. She knew she had made a wise choice in coming here, close to her roots, close to the Pines and their soothing whispers in the wind.
She’d been in the little house a few weeks when the dream came again, but this time she was in the coffin and a little girl was crying over her, tears falling onto her face and ruining the make-up so meticulously applied by the undertaker’s assistant. She was irritated that the make-up was itching and running onto her pretty satin pillow. Then her dad was looking down into her face with so much worry and pain that she woke immediately and turned on the light. She hardly had nightmares, but the look on his face had really knocked the breath out of her and she needed reality in huge doses. Lizzie turned on each light as she made her way to the kitchen. Her heart still pounding, her hands shaking, she reached up into the liquor cabinet and pulled down the brandy. She picked a juice glass out of the strainer by the sink and poured it half full. She had all intentions of downing it in one swallow, but the fire that came with the first taste held her in check for a single sip. The second sip was easier, and the third was beginning to do the trick. Not enough Xanax in the world to calm what she just felt from her father’s face, only the liquid power in the brandy bottle. The soothing smell of the carnation on her dad’s suit came up from the bottom of the juice glass as she downed the last bit of brandy.
Sitting in the little rocking chair on the front porch of the little house feeling the effects of the drink, losing the effects of the dream, she began to form another painting of this place as she’d been pleased with the first one. As she rocked, she wondered if spirits still lingered and why. The breeze moved the old swing on the porch and it took on a slight and ominous sway that was not of the breeze, but she was too lost in her ideas and brandy as she rocked and thought. She noticed neither the breeze nor the evil that sat so close to her, there, on the swing, next to her rocking chair. The moon frowned at the mist of the bile colored Pine evil moving the old swing, smiling and playing with Lizzie’s very soul. How many would have to die before the moon could look down and not see pain on this land? But, the moon and the smell of the woods and the brandy had done their jobs, and Lizzie could return to sleep and dream again. She had not noticed the Pines had stopped whispering days before.
So, the weeks passed and the dreams came more frequently and the ghost filled paintings found a good market, and were sold. She painted more and more and the paintings became so terrifyingly real that the public went crazy over them and couldn’t get enough. She began to write instead of paint and over the years, the books were made into movies and they all had the same ending; evil always won. People said it was a new expression, a new art form. Lizzie didn’t know anymore what it was; because it’d been so long since she’d had a thought of her own, she wasn’t sure she was writing. She felt she was just the fingers on the keyboard. The computer had taken on a life of its own. She didn’t know when or why, but she was as much a slave to the little gray box as she’d been to the lover who abused her and made her so unhappy.
But Lizzie wasn’t unhappy anymore, she was ecstatically happy. She lived in a state of euphoria, in love with a feeling that came so naturally and so lovingly to her bed each night; she trusted it with her soul. It made love to her in her sleep; a handsome succubus, and kept her drugged with pretty words, beautiful images and good feelings, and promises of more. She had no reason to eat, and no reason to take time for anything but writing the books on the wonders and sexual beauty of evil.
There were bad things happening in the world relating to her stories and books. Young people unhappy in their own lives from body and mind-changing hormones began to act out from the written evil in the books and on the screen. The evil was so lovingly portrayed and promised a better world to these loved starved teens that many were killing their parents, because one of her characters told them to. They were killing their classmates, because the books said, “Yes, do it.” The parents became outraged at the irresponsibility of the writer; the schools banned her books; and the churches banned her movies, and her sales doubled.
Lizzie was very rich and very ill and no one could contact her. She stopped answering the phone and wouldn’t answer the door. She hadn’t bathed nor combed her hair in weeks and she was down to ninety-eight pounds. Her teeth were rotting and her fingernails were misshapen and broken. The house smelled of rotting food, urine and un-flushed feces. The cat died from starvation and was lying halfway out of the bathroom window, decaying and awful. The bedroom, however, was pristine white with an un-worldly quality of freshness. Her beautiful white satin sheets and pillows were perpetually clean and fresh with the sweet smell of pine, as was she when she entered the room. She became a goddess for the evil spirit, just for the walking over the threshold. She was cleansed and made beautiful again each time she entered the room, the sweet vestal virgin going to her rape, surrounded by the sweet intoxicating smell of fresh pine and the safe smell of carnations. Each time she left the room, she became, again, the scum of her own undoing.
Her publisher was frantic to hear from her. Other than the manuscripts and movie treatments that kept flooding into his e-mail, he’d had no contact with her in months. Her friends gave up months before, assuming in her newfound fame and fortune; she had snobbishly ‘outgrown’ their friendships.
The great evil Pine soul was happy living in the little gray box on the filthy desk in the little house by the big Pinewoods. He’d found a home to replace the great Pine he was forced to desert and he was winning over the city evil which made fun of him hands down. He could reach more people through this system, and all he had to do was keep this human happy and satisfied in her own unhealthy need for romance and abusive love. He could enjoy this vessel, but she’d been getting weak and her fingers were not as strong as before. He doubled his attempts at seducing her, he’d even added her father’s carnations to keep her off her guard, but she was getting weaker in the beautiful bedroom he preserved for her. He had to get her to eat more food, but the rats and birds he killed and brought to her made her sicker. If he could only get her to eat something, he could continue his work. He’d have to think on this and decide what to do, and he knew he’d have to do it fast. But the great evil had not counted on God’s wisdom and mysterious ways of fighting his nemesis.
The Baker family had lived in these Pine woods since deserting the militia in the Revolutionary War. Two brothers, John and Arnold ran through Virginia and across the mountains of Tennessee in their desire to get away from their responsibility and the fear of being shot by the British. They hadn’t stopped, except to sleep and eat, nor looked back until they were safely hidden in the great Pine forest of South Mississippi. They found wives among the Choctaw… propagated, and became known over the generations as fore fathers of the country and veterans of the Revolutionary War. As their fore fathers before them, the sons came down in the bloodline, thieves, deserters, cowards and drunkards until the last generation had I.Q.s lower than the catfish they tried to raise and couldn’t.
Jake and Zeke Baker were double first cousins and brothers. No one asked what that meant for fear of the real answer. Suffice it to say, they were the two stupidest men in the world. They’d taken Zeke’s car on this particular venture driving up to see what mischief they could find at the little deserted house on the edge of the woods. Neither knew why, nor questioned the strange need, just felt strongly compelled to take this little journey. Jake wanted to take his pick-up since there could be things to sell from the little house, but he asked while Zeke was cutting his toenails with his big hunting knife, the one he used on people who crossed him, and would hear no more on the subject, so Zeke was driving. Zeke’s trunk was full of junk and stolen contraband, all cluttered in together for so long, some of the sellable items had rusted and ruined and blended in with the old food cartons tossed in with his fishing gear and the old clothes picked up on the sides of highways. Zeke was always defending the things in the trunk, as valuable and worth a lot of money.
“Things back thar is valuble, and I don’t want’um stole out the house while I’m gone. Now shutup bout my things.”
Which usually brought about the end of the argument, as Zeke outweighed Jake by a hundred pounds.
“You aint got no clue what’s in ‘arre.” Jake whispered to himself as he spat a long stream of tobacco juice out the window at a stray dog on the side of the road.
Zeke drove half way up to the little house and turned off the engine to coast the rest of the way into the neglected yard. Jake got out quietly first.
“Jesus God, Zeke, whatchu been a eatin? You rotten.”
Zeke laughed, thinking Jake was trying to blame him for one of his own horrible just-ate-possum-yesterday, farts.
“First hen that cackles, Jake.” As he stepped out of the driver’s side door, the smell nearly knocked him down.
“Damn, Jake, what’s that smell?”
There is no danger more frightening to a stupid man than the smell of death and rot.
Lizzie had crawled to the bedroom door before she died, just two feet from the beauty and love waiting for her in the wonderfully sweet smelling room. One hand reaching for the illusive love and safety that she’d sought all her life. She died looking up, seeing her mother lower the lid of the beautiful white satin coffin over her, safe in her mother’s love. The evil one had been thinking of his next book and hadn’t noticed that she hadn’t been near the desk in awhile. He knew how to summon her when he needed her though. He wasn’t worried; he just needed that next plot, the next great American novel, the Pulitzer Prize that had eluded him until now. He knew this next one would bring followers and the prize. He just needed the right venue.
Zeke went around back to see what was dead. Jake went up on the front porch, both men frightened of finding something that’d make them vomit. Dead bodies couldn’t scare them as they both knew ghosts didn’t exist; they had robbed enough fresh graves to know that. But a rotting corpse, now that was different, that could make you lose a nice lunch and a few beers to boot. Jake walked in the front door and called to Zeke. The smell was the house itself, the fresh body stunk from being unwashed and the death stink hadn’t settled in as yet. Zeke came around to the front door pulling his shirt tale over his face and stepped inside.
“Jesus, some people sure live like pigs, look at ‘is mess. Anything worth takin?”
Jake didn’t want to take anything. This smell would linger on anything in the house for a long time and he was already beginning to gag.
“Naw, man, let’s get the hell outa here ‘fore they blame us for that.” Jake pointed to Lizzie lying almost in the bedroom.
“What’s a matter wit at?” Zeke was looking into the fresh clean bedroom and comparing it to the rest of the house.
“I donno man, but I’m gonna puke if ‘n I stay here.” Jake was out and taking deep breaths before Zeke even crossed to the desk.
The computer was sitting open and idle with the moving stars saving the screen, keeping life going in the machine. He reached down and typed with two fingers, searching for the right keys.
“M,Y, D,O,G, H,A, S, F,L,E,A,S, hey this could be fun. C’mere Jake, look at this computer. I myte just tek me a lesson or two one day.” Zeke closed the little lap top computer and reached for the plug; pulled it out of the serge protector and wrapped it around the little gray box.
The great evil, fearless and strong felt, before he saw, someone other than Lizzie handling the computer. He released the toxic odors so familiar for driving off unwanted visitors. But they came back on himself; there was no escape for the smell. It’d been trapped with him in the box. Just as in the great virgin Pine, he was encased again, but with no escape and no power over this man who was so impertinent as to handle him and entrap him and defy his great evil. The great soul, was dazed, how had this happened? Where was Lizzie? But his powers were fading, becoming soft and wispy; he couldn’t remember who Lizzie was or why he needed her. He was drifting off to sleep. He’d come back, as soon as he got out of this box, he’d be back. Someone would open it and he would be…
Zeke stepped over Jake vomiting over the side of the porch and opened the trunk.
“I got myself a ‘puter, Jake. I’m gonna take some lessons.” He tossed the gray box into the back of the trunk where it landed next to an old typewriter, with no keys; that he was going to fix and sell one day.
“Get in Jake, and try not to hurl.” The two drove down the lane and Jake wondered if a beer would make him feel better. He picked up an old flannel shirt from under the seat and blew his nose, trying to get rid of the smell in his nostrils.
The state of Mississippi took Lizzie’s estate, which was considerable. The National Fan Club bought the little house from the estate and made a museum: The Elizabeth Wallace Museum, but there was always the question of Lizzie’s computer. It’d been reported missing from the house the day they found her body. The board of directors of the little museum knew there must be other stories and even a novel left in the computer, so they offered a large reward for its return and advertised it for a solid week on the local TV and Radio stations.
Zeke was drunk again, watching the news on the Friday of the last announcement of the lost computer, and had just raised himself on one elbow to see what the reward was about when his wife came in from the bedroom (the resemblance between the two was uncanny, they looked like twins, though no one ever mentioned it) and stood in front of the TV.
“Hey,” she screamed loud before his head could adjust to her volume.
“Don’t you ever wanna screw me nomore? You just gonna set round an drank the rest of yore life?” And with that, she turned off the TV and went back into the junk filled, filthy bedroom and shut the door. Zeke, farted and went back to sleep.
The first blast of thunder didn’t wake Zeke or his wife. The rain came down like water poured out of a bucket. A tall Pine sapling swayed and bent almost double in the wind in Zeke’s yard. It swayed so hard it finally snapped and hit the old car, crushing the trunk. The rain began to pour in on top of the little gray laptop which in turn began to fill with water puddling in the floor of the trunk. The storm stopped soon after and the whole woods felt clean and safe. The moon smiled.
Zeke eventually took the computer to the museum for the reward, but the rain had destroyed it. Once again in his life, he was the object of ridicule and laughter for trying to pass off this mildewed mess as Lizzie’s valuable computer holding stories not yet published, never knowing he was a hero to the world for the stealing.