JACOB LEVIATHAN: The Dogwood Legacy, Part I (Sample chapters)

jacob cover

[Opening chapters]

Prologue

     At the edge of a glade deep in the Ozark mountains, there stands a cabin of hand hewn planks.  Inconspicuous by design, it seems as natural a part of the scenery as the rocks and trees which surround it.  Scattered grasses grow in the thin, stony soil of the glade as they gradually retreat before an intrusion of red cedars.  Eastern fence lizards, gray squirrels, and other small creatures periodically dart in and out among the sparse ground cover, and white-tailed deer are sometimes heard rustling through the adjacent brush.  Aside from the cedars, a mixture of oak, hickory, and shortleaf pine encompasses this balded patch of hillside.

     The only piece of furniture on the front porch of the cabin is a wicker couch with a frame of cut branches, each roughly three inches in diameter.  On the wall above the couch, a harpoon is mounted, its rusty blade and shaft protruding from a wooden handle gray with age.  A large, equally rusted ring is anchored in the base of the handle, and to this is tied a dark, thick rope which sinks into a substantial coil on the floor by the left arm of the couch.  Seldom far from this coil, a silver-muzzled hound sleeps and occasionally furrows its brow.

     The cabin, presently unoccupied, shows signs of deterioration, but it is entirely livable for one hardy enough to partake of its rudimentary comforts.  Save for the harpoon, this ramshackle domicile seems unimpressive when viewed from the outside.  It remains, however, a wonderfully mysterious place, for it once was the home of Jacob Leviathan. In years past, certain of the neighboring hillfolk claimed that Jacob’s harpoon could cover nearly a quarter of a mile on the fly, but memory of the unsubstantiated legend now lies buried beneath generations of unfamiliarity. 

     Sentinel to change and changelessness, the couch serves as an ideal resting spot from which to observe the passing of the seasons.  Deep greens of spring fade into the drier, lighter shades of late summer.  Prior to their autumnal fall from grace, leaves of muted gold and scarlet crown the hills, and the grasses in the glades turn tawny.  From between the bare trees, a light brown carpet of decaying foliage crackles underfoot and accentuates the depth and contours of the undulating landscape as the sky turns cold and gray.  Strong, stubborn oaks cling to their deadened leaves and shiver like dried out wind rattles, heralding the approaching snows and stiff winds of winter.  Then there are the mists and cold rains of early spring before the stirring of buds laces the woods with blossom and new leaf.  And so it continues, one year much like another up in the hill country. 

Chapter 1

     The Ozarks of Jacob’s habitation were far more remote and unsettled than at present.  Earlier in the twentieth century, few agricultural or industrial conveniences had penetrated the forested hills of this region.  The women were durable and stout of limb, and the men were of the sort who walked the earth before the advent of canned vegetables and packaged meat.  One could best have described them as able.

     Roads were few and of poor quality, and rivers formed the most efficient network of transportation when one was not particularly inclined to walk.  People poled about in long, slender johnboats with characteristically square bows and sterns.  Here and there, an enterprising pilot might ferry passengers, take grocery orders, and deliver mail.  Larger johnboats were used for transporting livestock and other bulky forms of cargo. 

     Where the land could support the growth of a few crops, meager and widely scattered farms dotted the countryside outside the small towns, and plowing was typically done with a good view toward the back side of a mule.  Hunting and fishing were more a livelihood and less a form of recreation since few working adults could afford the luxury of taking Saturdays off.  But as difficult as life might have been throughout the Ozarks in general, it was especially dangerous in the environs of Jacob’s cabin. 

     To this day, there exist corridors between our physical world and the spiritual, passageways between hidden kingdoms and that part of ourselves which we have all but forgotten.  Their openings, in the past perhaps more common, may be associated with certain geographies or with opportune instances when the apparently irrational elements of the universe converge upon western logic.  For reasons unknown, the entrance to one such corridor opened repeatedly into a creek roughly one mile downhill from Jacob’s front door.

     The remainder of this account could commence with any of a number of unusual incidents, but perhaps its best beginning would be the morning of September 19, 1921.  The previous day had witnessed a pronounced lowering of darkened clouds, and the ensuing night had been split asunder by lightning bolts lashing repeatedly down at the hills.  Giving angry, thunderous voice to the dampened atmosphere, each electrical discharge appeared almost reptilian in its course and timing.  By morning, a dense fog covered the lower parts of the hollows, including the creek below Jacob’s cabin.  As Jacob prepared and ate his breakfast, the corridor opened once again. 

     Something resembling a pale, green seed swept unobtrusively down the creek and caught itself on a gnarled tree root exposed by erosion.  Had he been there, Jacob could have easily destroyed it, but such was its nature that he would become aware of it only after it had become more terrible in form.  A few days later, a split seedcase washed silently downstream, and an organism the size of a beetle clung to the steep bank of the creek and sunned itself dry.  It burrowed into the mud, feeding on worms and such else as it could find before resurfacing and hiding in some weeds near water’s edge.  Small problems left unattended slouch ever toward the catastrophic, and this tiny animal trembling beneath the protection of but a few flimsy leaves would grow to fateful proportions on a diet of hatred and creatures weaker than itself.  In some respects, one could say that it bore resemblance to the consequences of  bad decisions made by human beings.

     No amount of speculation can determine just what it was that brought this miniature monstrosity into being.  Perhaps it was the pop of a cork from a jug of illegally brewed liquor or the stiff-necked defiance of the wayward individual who consumed the contents of that jug.  Then again, it could have been the bitter emotions of the woman who drove this individual to drink.  Maybe it had nothing to do with one person more than another but was allowed in accordance with higher and more unfathomable designs.  What can be said is that something inherently wicked had just hatched and that nearly a year and one month would pass before Jacob could perceive the first hint of its significance. 

Chapter 2

     There are those who believe that nothing ever happens by accident, that there is purpose, honorable and otherwise, to every event that occurs on the face of this earth.  If this is indeed true, then such should be said of the periodic and unwelcome intrusions that initially manifested themselves in the creek below Jacob’s home.  For all his diligence, Jacob was nonetheless ignorant of the exact positioning of this portal and of the scheduled arrivals of its denizens.  He simply knew that it opened from time to time, for the evidence of its opening ultimately resulted in dire circumstances for various unfortunates among his neighbors.  The recorded dates of past attacks, observations of the  weather, and some rough calculations had led him to suspect that these openings followed dramatic atmospheric disturbances, but he could never be totally sure that a particular storm was a sign of trouble to come. 

     The fact that the eventual incidents which attracted his attention always occurred within a certain radius of his cabin told Jacob that this gateway from the infernal was probably in reasonable proximity to where he lived.  This undoubtedly was why Gabriel Solomon, his elderly friend and mentor, had instructed him to build the cabin in its present location.  How Gabriel had divined this strategic position was a bit of a mystery, but it most surely had something to do with the avian messengers which frequented his lodgings.

     The abomination born into physical reality in September of 1921 continued to feed and grow while escaping notice by Jacob or any other member of the human race.  All too soon, it would make its presence known.  In the meantime, Jacob still had to contend with the consequences of previous openings of the corridor.  As a case in point, there was the spring of 1922.

     The events occurring during this season were no more unusual than those from other similarly bleak periods, but their mention here fits within the time frame of our story.  Some livestock and a man disappeared in suspicious sequence.  Women cowered with their children behind locked doors while the more courageous or less sensible of their husbands labored warily outside with at least one eye to the woods.  As usual, Jacob was contacted by someone delegated to make the trek to his residence.  It happened to be Luke McGinnis on this occasion.

     It is the plight of some men that their company is preferred mainly by dogs and small children.  Unless his services were needed, folks tended to avoid Jacob due to an ill-defined but strong superstition about the ominous nature of his trade.  Requests for assistance were usually accompanied by offerings of meat and vegetables or promises of future payment.  These were accepted without thanks or comment as polite banter was mutually considered both inappropriate and unnecessary.  Everyone understood the risk Jacob would take in return.

     Only a handful of adults knew him well enough to be accepted as friends, and they were about as many as he was willing to make time for, anyway.  Outside of his professional dealings, he sought solitude in daily living, stocking his larder with rabbits, squirrels, and occasional deer and wild turkeys neither quick nor clever enough to avoid the aim of his rifle.  Time not spent hunting or preparing meals found him on pleasurable though suitably armed walks with his hound or in study and quiet contemplation. 

     Late one afternoon, Jacob was preparing to fix his supper in the black kettle over his hearth when a loud knocking interrupted his thoughts.  He took a few quick steps to the door and swung it open to find Luke McGinnis standing on his porch.  Lying in its customary place by the coil of rope, Jacob’s hound cast a disinterested glance in their visitor’s direction.

     Luke was a farmer who worked an uncooperative plot of land just level enough to justify the effort.  More properly, he was a ploughman who found satisfaction walking steadily behind any mule of a mind to work, and his strong hands were favorable to the vibrations that the heavy blade sent up through the plow handles as it parted the soil.  Short, slightly graying hair gave him the look of a man in his mid-forties.  He was relatively clean shaven, his face receiving a good once over every third day or so, and his loose shirt and coveralls hid a surprisingly youthful physique.  He had walked over ten miles to reach Jacob’s cabin, but this was not the reason he looked so pale and drawn.

     “I’ll not take much of your time, Jacob,” he began in a tone of voice that was not in any way apologetic.  “Trouble’s down our way this time, just like two years back at Jim Everett’s.  My woman won’t leave the house, and it’s too dangerous to work my field.  I can’t pay you just yet, but I will when my first crops are in.  I’ll likely get some others to chip in, too.”

     Leviathan nodded sternly.

     “It’d be dark soon.  Can’t risk sending you home in this.  I expect you’d better put up here for the night.”

     Luke looked back over his shoulder and thought a moment before reluctantly stepping across the threshold.  Men sleep best in their own beds, and it was humbling to show up empty-handed and accept hospitality from someone he normally avoided.  That night, both men partook silently of a modest meal originally intended for one but divided in half.  As he slept fitfully, Jacob’s hunger fed a sharp anticipation of the upcoming day’s activities.

    Call it stubborn male pride or anything else which seems suitable, but Luke declined his host’s offer for an escort home.  He left without breakfast just as the sun peeked over the hills to the east.  Jacob watched him disappear into the innumerable noises of the waking forest then intently surveyed the surrounding countryside. Everything around him – the sounds, movements, and colors, the very rhythm of the hills – intensified.  He moved over to the coil of rope and hoisted it over his left shoulder.  The hound, ever at his post, raised his head and set his tail to thumping wildly on the wooden boards where he lay.  He was on his feet the instant his master reached for the harpoon.  Like the deck of a rolling ship, the front porch seemed to be in motion, and the hills resembled the green waves of an enormous sea frozen in time.  Once again, Jacob Leviathan was setting out along that vaguely defined border between the commonplace and the supernatural.

     The following week, the plowman found a handwritten note nailed to his stable door with what looked to be a thorn about eighteen inches in length.  The job was finished, and he could resume his spring planting.  He would have to work longer hours to make up for lost time, but the danger had been eliminated.  Breathing just a little more easily, Luke opened up the stall and harnessed his mule.  His greatest problems were once again the uncertainty of the weather and his wife’s unpredictable yet entirely permissible changes of mood.

Chapter 3 

     Business was lean for Jacob throughout the remainder of that spring and summer, and his free time was spent reading, making regular forays into the woods, and sitting on the front porch with his sleeping hound.  In this manner, the months passed uneventfully until the sixteenth of October.

     It was a clear, crisp morning, the kind that makes your breath stand momentarily in front of your face, and the leaves were at their changeable best.  Jacob was standing just under his porch roof, leaning with one foot on the split log rail, and smoking his pipe when a little girl happened into his glade.  She walked along, head down, with the uncertainty of one who was lost and the persistent confidence of one who did not know how lost she was.  Her legs wobbled a little from apparent fatigue.  Talking softly to herself all the while, she would have proceeded on her course, oblivious of Jacob and his cabin had he not called out to her.

  “Haven’t seen you before, child.  Would you be lost or wandering?”

     She looked up and hesitated some fifteen feet from the porch steps.  Her tangled, red hair streamed messily onto a green and white checkered dress, homemade by its appearance.  Tall for her age, she was not quite five years old. 

     “Dunno maybe,” she replied softly as if it were all one word.

     “Maybe lost or maybe wandering?”  Jacob responded cheerfully.

     The child eyed with uncertainty the tall, ragged man in front of her.  He was almost handsome, in an unrefined, neglected sort of way.  His prominent forehead hinted at a receding hairline, invisible beneath the dusty, wide-brimmed hat he was wearing, and what remained of his unkempt, reddish-blonde hair was trimmed well off his ears and collar.  Piercing blue eyes, curiously gentle, were set on either side of a sturdy, gracefully-bridged nose.  The lower half of his face was framed by a full, scraggly beard kept just short enough to outline a square jaw which ran forward into a somewhat fine yet rugged chin.  The tone of his neck muscles was lean and hard, and his Adam’s apple jutted out strongly from above his open shirt collar.

     His wardrobe had a certain lived-in look about it.  The shirt on his back, now a bit gray, had once been white, but it was clean.  His angular frame was draped to just below the waist in a dark suit coat of undetermined lineage, giving him the look of a vagabond country gentleman.  Nondescript trousers, worn loosely over long legs, covered a scuffed pair of leather walking boots down to the ankles. 

     Jacob’s eyes narrowed slightly, and he stroked his beard as he studied his little visitor.  His soft, stern gaze drew her slowly, almost unconsciously, to the foot of the steps. 

     “Might be inclined to feed a little girl who’d be lost.  What would you say to that?”

     “Lost!” she blurted, unleashing someears she had so far managed to keep back.

     Jacob stepped down from the porch and scooped her up in his hands. Still sobbing almost silently, she buried her face in his coat.  He smelled of smoke and autumn leaves.  The hound, only mildly interested in the proceedings, rose and stretched slowly, one leg at a time, then padded stiffly over to the steps.  As his master brought the lost child onto the porch, the dog sniffed at her shoes dangling by the tall man’s waist.  Setting the girl down, Jacob led her through the front door next to the right arm of the wicker couch.

     The room they entered was in some ways consistent with the outer appearance of the cabin.  Rough and unfinished, it was still cozy, with a glowing hearth at the left end as they stood with their backs to the door.  A bare, wooden table with simple chairs stood in front of the fireplace.  Another door led to Jacob’s larder on the other side of the far wall.  To the right of this door, a single bed with rough, wooden posts was against the wall, and a rolled-up sleeping bag was stashed underneath in anticipation of infrequent overnight guests.  Sunlight streamed through two windows on either side of the fireplace while two more windows on the opposite wall looked out from the shade side of the cabin.

  Two features, however, gave the room a distinctly unusual atmosphere.  The first was a ring, or crown, of immense thorns suspended from the vaulted ceiling by twined cords tied to the rafters.  This odd decoration, roughly six feet in diameter, loomed like a floating apparition overhead but somehow did not detract from the cheerful warmth of the room.  Then there were the books, impressive not for their individual appearances but for their sheer numbers.  Shelf upon shelf of old, leather-bound volumes with faded gold lettering covered most of the available wall space and even the mantle above the hearth.  Many looked as if they had been prepared by hand.

     “What would your name be, child?”

     “Dessie,” she answered shyly.

     “Dessie?”

     “No, Dessie,” she insisted.

  Jacob frowned.  This conversation wasn’t moving in any particularly useful direction.  He ticked off a list of possible names in his mind and tried again.

     “Would you be Jessie?” he asked.

     “Uh-huh,” she nodded.  “Dessie.”

   Jacob showed his small guest to the table, procured a wooden bowl and spoon from behind the adjacent door, and ladled up some stew from the black kettle over the fire.  Staring downward, the child sat, embarrassed and uneasy, with dirty cheeks and runny nose until her host placed the bowl in front of her.  She fell hungrily to her work, and for a few minutes the only sounds in the cabin were the clack of spoon against bowl, audible gulps, and short breaths strained with the labor of eating.

     During this time, Jacob studied Jessie more closely.  She had numerous scratches on her legs, and her dress was torn in various places, especially near the hem.  A small thorn framed by cuts and abrasions was stuck in her left arm.  Jacob removed this carefully when the little girl had finished her meal.

     “Mean bushes,” she sniffed, her voice wavering.  “Bite Dessie.”

   Though he did not show it, this last statement and its concurrence with his own observations worried Jacob.  He knew what had attacked Jessie, and he estimated its age at about one year based on the size of the thorn.  Brushing a tear from her cheek, he inadvertently stroked her hair back to reveal a black and blue welt just behind her left ear.

     “No bush would’ve done that,” he said gravely.

    Jessie lowered her head and blinked. Her face quivered slightly.    

     “Uncle Will got mad,” she murmured barely above a whisper.

     “Will Franklin?”

     The child stiffened at the mention of that name.  Jacob sat back in his chair.  His countenance went dark while his eyes fixed on some far off point beyond the window nearest the table.

     “Well, now,” he thought aloud.  “Sounds like someone could use a little talk.  Yes, sir. That’d be exactly right.”

     Being careful not to startle her with any sudden movements, he smiled and patted Jessie softly on the head before leading her away from the table and back to the porch.

     “Ho, Methuselah!” 

     At the command of his master, the old hound sprang to his feet with surprising agility and whined expectantly.  A few moments later, Jacob was striding quickly away with Methuselah in obedient and eager pursuit.  His tiny passenger sat clutched in his right arm, normally reserved for carrying the harpoon, and the coil of rope was about his left shoulder.  He held the attached weapon firmly in the grip of his left hand.  Except for when he was hunting with his rifle, Jacob seldom walked anywhere without his harpoon, but he wouldn’t think of going anywhere without his dog.  He considered Methuselah’s nose essential for his own survival out of doors.

     Jacob was impressed by the stamina of the girl he now carried.  She had come a full six miles from where she lived, and the going had not been easy.  The trio travelled up steep inclines and down taxing descents as they headed toward Will Franklin’s abode.  Judging by the time Jessie had arrived at Jacob’s front porch and taking into account her age, it stood to reason that she had been out all night. 

     One more thing became obvious to Jacob during the course of their journey.  The girl used the stunted speech of a child who had been taught and loved but little.  She spoke as one even younger and less mature than her years should warrant.  Jacob’s misgivings about returning her home grew steadily until an idea took form in his conscious deliberations.  He now had an additional element in his plan, the original intent of which had been to make Will Franklin deeply concerned for his own mortal soul. 

     They arrived at a shack with peeling white paint by the middle of the afternoon.  Jacob set Jessie on her feet and motioned her on without any further amenities.  She looked back at him once or twice with a hint of supplication in her eyes.  As she timidly approached the dilapidated house, the front door slammed open and then almost bounced shut behind the scurrying form of Ida Franklin, Will’s wife and Jessie’s aunt.

     Jessie had only recently come to live with Will and Ida after her own parents had run off in search of what they considered a better life.  Her proper name was Jessica Franklin, for she had been fathered by Joshua Franklin, a man of only slightly better character than his brother, Will.  It was actually Ida who had agreed to the current arrangement, and that for purely self-serving reasons.  She simply wanted an extra pair of hands about the house, and that was it.  At the time he returned the lost girl, however, Jacob knew none of this.

     “Where you been, child?” Ida scolded in a voice harsh almost to the point of extreme dislike.  “Now go fetch that uncle of yours.  He’s over to Sample’s still.”

     She swatted Jessie on the hind end.

     “Ought to take a switch to you, runnin’ off like -“

     Her voice stopped short in her throat when she finally saw Jacob standing by the edge of the trees.  Her hand went instinctively to her left eye, where a darkening token of her husband’s tantrum from the previous night resided.

     “Afternoon, Jacob,” she said with nervous cordiality.  “Jessie, you come on inside.”

     Jacob Leviathan did not know much of proper manners, nor did he much care, but his was the heart of a gentleman, nonetheless.  He said nothing, tugged politely at the brim of his weathered hat, and slipped silently back into the woods. 

     Put simply, Will Franklin was a lazy, abusive individual overly given to strong drink.  Eli Sample ran a still less than half a mile from Will’s shack, and Will evidently considered it his personal duty to guard this facility.  Of course, a certain amount of the fruit of Eli’s labors always found its way down Will’s gullet, and being as how Eli was generally nonviolent and could not risk staying long on the premises, Will helped himself regularly and with impunity.

     To be truthful, Eli didn’t mind all that much.  Will’s belligerent presence pretty much guaranteed that he would be the only one stealing Eli’s merchandise, and this in effect provided Eli with a fairly inexpensive watchman.  There was a limit to what even Will could consume, and the product, while profitable to sell, was reasonably cheap to make.  The theft of illegal moonshine was hardly a matter to call to the attention of the county authorities, so the loss in profits was more or less regarded as part of the cost of doing business. 

     Will was, in fact, imbibing from one of Eli’s jugs when he heard movement in the underbrush behind the still.  This sound always annoyed him because it meant that Ida had sent Jessie to bring him home.  He glanced angrily toward the sound of leaves rustling in the bushes.  Then he coughed, losing a good bit of his last swallow.  The sight that greeted his eyes was neither what he expected nor wanted to see. 

     Some might argue that the presence of a man standing six feet three inches high with a harpoon in his hand might inspire reverential fear in many a wayward conscience, but such an effect would have been magnified ten times over by the squeezings from Eli’s still.  Clutching the jug like a prayer book, Will fell forward off the log on which he was sitting and unintentionally ended up in a kneeling position.  The blade of the harpoon sank into the soil in front of his knees, and the jug went flying.  Before the inebriated bully could make for the woods, a strong hand went quickly to his collar and raised him to his feet.  For several minutes, the two men stood in the clearing and worked out their differences of opinion.  The discussion was mostly calm and reasonable, but the relative postures of the participants indicated that Jacob was getting his point across the more effectively.

     Later in the week, Ida ventured out into her small garden to gather what late-growing vegetables she might find for the noon meal.  The beautiful, sunlit morning escaped her attention as she grudgingly set about her task.  It was her opinion that a woman married a man for help with the chores, and the one she was stuck with wasn’t keeping his end of the bargain.  He knew she had an aching back – she certainly wouldn’t let him forget that – but he still refused to help in the slightest way. 

     Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a scarecrow backlit by the sun.  By the time she remembered there was no such thing in her garden, the scarecrow moved.  Squinting her eyes, she made out the unwelcome features of Jacob Leviathan. 

     “Like to take the little one with me,” he stated calmly.  His face remained expressionless and still after saying this.

     “She’s ready,” Ida snapped, no longer making a pretense at being polite. 

     She straightened herself and placed both hands on the small of her back.  Moaning almost imperceptibly, the shabby woman walked back to the house with exaggerated difficulty then reached inside the door and yanked Jessie out by one arm.  Jacob noticed that the child was wearing the same dress as the last time he had seen her, and she held in her arms a burlap bag stuffed with what few articles of clothing she owned or had been given. 

     Ida watched her niece walk over to Jacob.

     “Now who’s supposed to help me with my chores?” she fretted.

     Jacob said nothing but held her in his unflinching gaze.  He stood there, motionless, with his hand on Jessie’s shoulder until Ida lost her nerve and turned back toward the shack.  When she stopped by the door to look back over her shoulder, they were gone. 

   Unaware of how significantly her life was about to change, Jessica Franklin thus entered into the most awe-inspiring and beneficial of worlds.  She rode contentedly in Jacob’s arm as, in reverse, they retraced their journey of a few days previous.  Feeling the security of finally being in the presence of someone she could trust, she clung closely to her mysterious benefactor with the quiet fervor of one formerly unfortunate and currently blessed.  Methuselah walked along behind and occasionally sniffed Jessie’s shoes in the same manner as he had when Jacob had first carried the girl onto his front porch.  

     They eventually arrived at Jacob’s glade but continued on past the cabin.  Jessie looked about in confusion.

     “Where Dessie goin’?” she asked.

  “Over the next hill,” Jacob answered.  “Like you to meet someone.” 

     The first thing to catch Jessie’s eye as they entered the next hollow some minutes later was a simple but not unattractive house covered from top to bottom with wood shingles.  It was a comfortable and inviting home with a roomy front porch, and embroidered white curtains ruffled slightly behind partially opened windows.  To the near side of the house, an old woman stood bent over a large metal tub mounted above a fire.  She was stirring its thick, bubbling contents with a large stick.

  Jacob greeted her with a familiar nod of his head.  She straightened up as if annoyed by this interruption, but her face brightened considerably at the sight of Jessie.  Posey Van Pelt was a widow with no children of her own, and though she had complained about it initially, she was delighted with the prospect of caring for a small girl.  Jacob made the necessary introduction. 

     “Jessie, this’d be Posey.”

     The old woman held out her hands. 

     “What Posey doin’?” Jessie asked as she took an uncertain step forward.

     “Making soap, honey. Oh.”  She glanced over at the tub.  “Hand me the lye, Jacob.” 

     She continued working, all the while asking questions and laying down rules before asking more questions and laying down more rules.  After much activity and an even greater amount of talk, she finally stopped. 

     “Now get out of here, Jacob.  This little one needs a bath.”

  From that time on, Jessie was bathed regularly, and every morning her beautiful, red hair was brushed and braided with a care bordering on fussiness.  The clothes Posey made for her were simple but functional, and the kindly widow was soon teaching her to sew and to mend her own socks.  Between Jacob and Posey, she never lacked for attention, and the latter made no end of cautioning her as to the dangers of walking about in the woods alone. 

     “Just ask Jacob,” she would always finish.  “He’ll tell you exactly the same.”

     And tell he did.  If the weather was suitable, he often came by to take Jessie over to his cabin for an early supper, and after their meal, they would sit on the porch until well after sundown while Jacob poured tale after tale into the ears of his young listener.  Many were the nights that he carried the sleeping child over the hill and home to the next hollow, knowing full well that Posey’s scoldings awaited his arrival. 

     Jessie loved the cabin.  She often pointed inquisitively to the crown of thorns, and even though she could not yet read, she thought the books were wonderful.  That is to say, she thought Jacob was wonderful.  She would sit with him for hours on the old wicker couch, nestled in the crook of his arm and listening, wide-eyed, to his stories while mythical creatures and all manner of things unspeakable swirled and floated in the darkness just beyond his outstretched hand.

   He was, in his own way, quite eloquent.  His speech was measured, his tone emphatic, and his eyes were bright and fierce.  He would start out softly, his voice rising steadily as he spoke.  Sometimes he would spit into the night, though not too often and only to register strong, negative emotion or otherwise punctuate his account.  Through his words, tyrants were deposed, kingdoms subdued, and humanity rescued from dangers and atrocities too terrible to recount on these pages.  Posey often complained that these renderings were too graphic and that it was entirely improper to fill a child’s head with such ideas, but her protests went largely unheeded.  The stories continued, much to Jessie’s approval, and it was during one of these sessions that Jacob was to receive his next plea for help.

     It was April of 1923, almost six months to the day since Jacob had taken Jessie to live with Posey, and his diminutive dinner guest was just nodding off to sleep when he heard approaching footsteps and the sound of someone crying.  This was not frightened wailing.  It was sorrowful, angry crying, and it was mixed with the snapping of twigs and the brushing aside of tree branches.  After a few more minutes, the sounds came to a stop, and a dark-haired woman entered the light emanating from a lantern Jacob had set on his porch rail.  Her thin face, lined with years of hard living, was hauntingly beautiful in its anguish.  Trying to compose herself, she dabbed at her eyes with a shawl that was pulled around her narrow shoulders.  She stood in front of the porch for a moment, struggling for words. 

     “Over at Bart Crick’s,” she finally managed in an unsteady voice tinged with hatred for something or somebody elsewhere.  “It got my boy.” 

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5 thoughts on “JACOB LEVIATHAN: The Dogwood Legacy, Part I (Sample chapters)”

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ROBERT LAMBERT JONES III

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