The Dogs: Hath A Familiar Spirit

Story by Aux Chiens on SoFurry

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Anyone who has ever lived in West Virginia, or even travelled through the state, can easily see what an ideal place it would be for ghosts. _________ Ruth Ann Musick, The Telltale Lilac Bush

Moonshine is the drink of the mountaineer - it is not found in the respectable restaurants of Europe, it is a foul, noxious liquid, it is only for those brave enough to drink it and brave enough to live, the mountains. Both - the mountains, the moonshine - bring tears to the eyes, one eventually, the other immediately...and yet both, without question, fortify the soul, thicken the blood. The last small glass of it went down Lynch's throat and he thrust the empty vessel down hard on the table where it met with a clank. Long days - long nights. Dark nights. The life of the chief in the telegraph office - that was him. Lynch - his name was Bligh Patrick but everyone save Martha his wife called him by the family name, Lynch - was far less of the mountaineer than his father had been, with his magnificent chest-length beard and booming Gaelic voice, who had somehow sired thin, gaunt Bligh Patrick and a sister who lived in Charleston he never spoke to anymore. At the thought of his father and his great beard, Lynch stroked his own bare chin - he was not his father, painfully: a neat shirt and trousers and suspenders, sitting at his desk in his tidy office, filling out his forms, tinkering with his contraption, linking his little hamlet nestled amidst the Greenbrier with the larger world. A company man who was given a salary, and going nowhere. He, Lynch, was of the new kind of animal for a new Nineteenth Century - a new America, more stable and more sure but duller, less friendly to a man like his father for whom adventure was not merely a state of being but an entire life, lived in rapture and ecstasy. The mine in their town - Tempest, but in his father's day it was called Dog's Creek afore that terrible storm blew through twenty years gone - ran rich with coal which was sent to Pittsburgh to smelt to make steel: in a way their little town was already_connected to the world, for that steel was made into bridges, bridges which spanned rivers and tamed their powers to divide. The bosses in Pittsburgh, Keystone Company, big men Lynch had never met, they only cared for yield, output, quantity - numbers, mathematics in the raw...every day at prescribed times Lynch and burly, blonde-haired Bernard Barnes would man the telegraph, and transmit the day's business, what would be put on the trains at Lewisburg and shipped up to the furnaces. Sometimes there were messages - not often - but there was a boy, a chubby little thing named Dorsey, who would deliver the telegraphs on foot. Lately, very lately, they had wanted to know if the miners were happy or unhappy and if the Workingmen's Party had gotten hold of any of them like they supposedly already had in Martinsburg - Lynch had abandoned politics after the surrender of the Rebels down South but he had heard repeatedly that Pinkterton and his creatures had gotten the ear of the bosses up in Pennsylvania: they were going to root out the troublemakers, hook or crook, and try as Lynch might he could not shrug it off, he knew that no good would come of it. What good came of anything, anyway? He had married for love a plump woman from Lewisburg, Martha, and had a son Allen who worked in the mine, like everyone in Tempest seemed to - a foreman, a step above the poor boys with the pickaxes but he was down there with them, face smudged a doleful black like a minstrel. This was Lynch's life - day in - day out. A trap. His life was a trap that had been set since the day he departed his mother, Wilhelmina's womb - his wife Martha, good woman, knew his melancholy, his strange sadness that never left him and that he never explained to anyone, not to him or his gone sister or his son who was, thankfully, a lot like his grandfather, a boisterous take-charge firecracker. But sad he stayed - sad and haunted, a nagging of dreams that he could never be sure if they products of waking or sleeping. He sighed, he winced - he did not want to think of that right now - he moved the empty glass that stank of the moonshine in a circle on his desk, up late here at the office because the saloon was too noisy for the noises in his head...and he just didn't want to go home. The weather had been fine lately, too fine, a warning of something evil to come, the sunniness getting clouded over with talk, talk, always _talk_but thank God little else, from those fools in Martinsburg. _Damned fools! All of them - so what if they had their wages cut? What of it? What would they actually do about it? Was not the Baltimore & Ohio vital to their town? Had not Mayor Shutt assured them the company was not as avaricious as they claim, that the cuts were necessary, that these were the dreadful necessities of American Business? Lynch shut his eyes - he sighed - he opened them again. They trailed to the window, the street outside, the one saloon in their town where a jangling piano and whoops of laughter, miners off shift - suddenly burst onto the dirt street in tandem with two men, two, arguing with each other, but the argument had turned to confusion. And then - were they, O Irony, drunk as well? - agreement. That bastard! That bastard, Garrett! Garret - John, John Work Garrett - his parents must have had both precognition as well as a deeply facetious sense of wit to name their child something like that, for he, Garrett, that bastard Garrett, was president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and people, drunk men on the street and polite ladies in their parlors, up here in West Virginia, they all called him a bastard, bastard, that bastard Garrett. It was about B&O, it was always about B&O, it was a sore issue to the point that it had become the only issue, there was talk of little else anymore. Cut wages, soon cut throats, cut, cut, cut - soon there will be no pay at all, the men at the railway yard will have to work for free! Mountain politics - some politics, always, politics without action til the very last minute came. This is how it was a decade ago: Secession - union - treason! The Year of Our Lord 1860, America set ablaze - ah, the firebreathers in Richmond never had it in their minds that the poor yokels out west could form their own government! But then - then they did. He did. He helped - he was there. His name was on the paper that they sent to Richmond, that they sent to Washington - in flowing ink, Bligh Patrick Lynch, Tempest, County of Adkins. That stately old coot Lightfoot's name was on it too, at that time more of a corpse than a man, he was so old, and three months later he was a corpse completely - stole from the poor and stole from the rich,gone to Hell, that son of a bitch!_His son Nicholas should have gone to Wheeling in his stead, but Little Nicky had disappeared out California-way, shooting Mexicans for a nickel and cheating Texians out of gold and robbing Chinamen of their life's savings. Now _there was a bastard, born in wedlock though he'd been...Nicholas Stephen Lightfoot, fourth of the name, from the Devil he came, to the Devil he'd go. He always hated Lightfoot and he never knew why - something in him would never let himself tolerate him, father or son, even after all the decency and good taste was gone there was still, something, about that family Lynch hated. But with or without the Lightfoots, son and father, they did it - they, the Wheeling Convention, they appealed to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for the rectitude of our intentions and by that same God they got away with it, made their own state, split off from the bad decisions and bad governance of Richmond's moneyed vanity. He'd been one of the nine on the Third of December, 1861 - he remembered the day, even - to vote to name it Kanawha, but like a child who cannot throw away his toy the rest of them insisted on keeping it West Virginia, for their own useless nostalgia. He, Bligh Patrick Lynch, had helped found an American state - and here he was, working thankless for Western Union, a lackey of an enterprise for men he had never seen and would, he often thought, never see at all... ...he took back his glass, took back the jar, poured it into the glass, sent away the jar. And into his mouth went more of the drink his father had made as hobby and profession and yet he, Lynch, was barely, barely eligible as a man to imbibe. Sometimes he felt he was barely a man at all. The liquid went down - horrid, nauseating, it made him gag - the miners drank this like damn water, but Lynch cringed every time. Even his son was made of stronger stuff than he. Drinking on the job - were he a conductor up in Martinsburg he'd put lives in danger, but no, here he sat, as usual, as nothing, at his desk. Had he wasted his life? Could he have been a better man? Not the raven-haired pasty-skinned bumbler that he was but someone, some_thing_else - a politician, first at Wheeling and then down to Charleston where his sister was...he could have stood up to that demon Lightfoot and demanded money to prop up an election for Congress, he could have gotten out of Tempest, to Washington - to... He stopped himself with a slow, deliberate headshake. No - no. He was mad, he was mad and he was sad - and it was a miracle that anything had gone his way at all, let alone the fanciful nonsense that the drink, foul as it was to his tongue, allowed his mind to make. Not that he needed anything to make fanciful nonsense - he could do it all by himself. He was known to be a man harassed by dreams, his whole existence awash with puzzles and questions that were swallowed in town gossip, where in its belly even basic facts about his life, his family's life, waxed monstrous and confusing. Always - always was he haunted by dreams, dreams he wanted to drink away, when the bourbon from Kentucky was too expensive and the moonshine around here not plentiful enough, when the notion that he was less of a man for doing what he was doing when his father was so much more a man than he was crept on him, late at night, the sky dark, Bible black, no stars. There were parts of Adkins County you didn't go late at night - that was commonsense, there were lonesome places all over these mountains, places where travelers and peddlers were wont to get robbed or worse, and that was usually what people not from here thought was meant by the admonition: there were parts of Adkins County you didn't go late at night. For this was a kingdom of haints, ghouls, goblins, ghosts - all manner of devilish hosts, went the banishing rhyme his father had taught him from an Ireland that vanished into fairy-mist. Everyone knew that, Hell the people in Wheeling knew that fifteen years ago and asked him, straightaway, was it true what they said, that all of that county is spook's country? Rather like Botetourt, so those rumors went, but - worse? And Lynch had cracked a joke about - something, he didn't remember, but the other men laughed and the subject was changed. He never answered their question - had he, it would have been a nervous, emphatic yes. And now his eyes went distant, past the saloon, to the great mass of shadow beyond it, above it - the mountain, the mountain where his mother Wilhelmina and his father Patrick were both buried. The pair of drunkards had departed down the street, melting into the dark - he knew their names, their families, and they knew his. And though they and the rest of the townsfolk must have hinted - must have whispered - they did, could not know, just how mad, just how sad, he truly was. For years and years growing up Lynch had seen them - nobody else did, nobody believed him, and he learned to stop talking about it altogether. Eyes. As a boy he had seen them, as a teenager with his father and his great swaying beard chopping wood and stalking deer he had seen then, and as a man, now, he would see them still: Two of them. A pair. Looking at him. Watching him. Then, still a boy, he had asked his father: can't he see them eyes? In the woods? Them were shiny - shiny eyes, look like lights, big bright blue lights lookin right at us, right yonder! And his father would seem like he wanted to answer but said nothing, he would shake his head gravely - no eyes, boy, ain't seen no lights, ain't seen no shine. Paltry excuse - a lie. He would see them, sometimes, he would see them when he was awake, those two glowing circles, that foxfire, that - what was it his friend had called it, the professor, from Morgantown? Phosphorescence - what a ghostly, ghoulish word, yet it fit, there was no better way to describe it: blink-blink, blink-blink, two points of glowing light, light that was thrown out from unseen eyes... ...eyes that watched him. Blink-blink, blink-blink. His father was protecting him from something, something he never knew but his sister did, enough that it bothered her far, far more than it did Lynch to hear the town gossip about their family. And at least, he knew_his father knew, what all that talk was about behind their backs. The whispers of the townsfolk about his mother who died looking as though she had never aged a day from the time she married his father - why, they said she weren't human...and the eyes proved it, right there, you could look at her, you could see. Blue eyes, eyes like ice, like water, _ain't no man ever had them eyes afore, weren't no man's eyes,no sir - he got tired of hearing that as a boy, got tired, weary, then angry, of the claptrap, the nonsense, the insinuations. It was more, far more, than just being Irish - that alone being a sin in America as bad as being a was something else, something that vexed Lynch all his life and that he feared he would never know. There were questions he asked his father that he got no answers from, he was told to ignore what them other boys said and know his Ma and Pa loved him. And there were questions - plenty of questions. Why did his mother have the same eyes? And why not his sister? Why did his mother speak so little English but looked like a Teutonic beauty rather than an Iroquois squaw? Why did the other children insist she weren't human - and neither was he, her son? And why - why did his father seem so uncomfortable and furtive when he would bring up seeing things, seeing those eyes, hearing those howls some nights - why did his sister become so violently religious after their mother passed, and spent her husband's money to build a church over that lovely spring that they used to bathe and play in as children? ...why did it seem like everyone wanted to keep him in the dark? In the dark. It got dark out here, Sweet Lord did it get dark. It was in the dark that he saw them - the eyes - in the dark he wanted to find himself, be swallowed up by shadow and live in the dark with his own eyes closed...but someone, somewhere, had shut his eyes for him, long ago, and he could not see the truth that everyone else seemed to know. Lynch was not overly clever but he certainly - by the estimate of others in addition to his own - was not a dim one, he knew a lie when it was told to him and he knew when something was being withheld. He knew that what he was seeing and hearing was not madness - he knew that something was at that spring where his sister built a church - he knew his father had a truth that he took to his grave. And what he saw, what he heard - eyes, howls - they were for him. They watched him - waited for him. He would see them leer from the woods walking home, in an alley where the shadows crawled too deeply, the space where light did not meet atween two buildings - he would see them, he would stop, and stare, and the lights would stare back. And then they would vanish. Some nights - some nights he dreamt about them: the eyes would appear, then disappear, no explanation, no preface, the placid narrative of a vision of hunting with Abraham Lincoln or flying over a vast city, some surreal phantasm of the night's mind, abruptly interrupted - blackness, eyes, blink-blink - and then a crashing howl, up from the fiery lake down below in Hell itself...and then he would awake. Bolt upright. Sweating. His wife Martha, good woman, had not left him though she ought to have, as his sister had, for being this way, such that no amount of rest or reassurance could assuage him from the dread of being constantly watched. Now, back in reality out of his drunken introspection - suddenly he was nervous, he was aware of how quiet the saloon outside was getting, how still the night was, how dark it was, how he was alone, all alone, in this cozy office. He felt queer - he did not like feeling this queer, like he was not supposed to be here, like this wasn't his life, that Bligh or Lynch were not who he was, not his names...that he had another name, older - older... How very like suffocating. How very like drowning. A trap sprung for an animal, digging into his leg, piercing his scrawny flesh and keeping him pinned down, he would have to chew it off if he ever wanted to escape but he knew - in his bones, broken by this life, by his own insecurities that would kill him, he felt, mercifully, soon - that there was never an escape. Because not only did he see them - he dreamt about them. Once a year - maybe twice - he would hear faint howls, somewhere, somewhere off the mountainside, echoing to nobody but him, because nobody else ever heard them...but him. And he would dream. The eyes would appear, the two circles of light, an impenetrably pure glow of a kind of blue he would never, ever see anywhere else - it would be like the other dreams, with the shattering howl, but this time it would be different, this time it would be his own voice... Now he leaned back in his chair and his eyes, blue like his mother's, blue like Winter, that inhuman blue...they went distant, facing forward, the door to the office - he took in a small, shuddering breath as his mind's eye played out the images. He happened to catch a glance at his hand, at his fingers. He stopped to look at them, how fine and dexterous they were, his nails seemed to be. Were they always like that? He would need to cut them when he got home. He was staring at his fingers, now - his nails were never this sharp, he was sure of it - no, no, they were always this sharp, just not like this...not ever before tonight. Had he drunk too much? Seeing things? No, this was - this was real, so real, closer to real than he had ever known real to be... He was deep in his own head - Lynch being Lynch, being quiet and strange and keeping to himself, why that was he was known for, were it not? And so - it startled him, he started badly, when Barnes burst open, a crash, a thunder, the door swung open and in he came, broad-shouldered Barnes, eyes enormous as though he had seen a haint himself. He was breathless, he stunk - stunk of sweat, he had rode hard from whence he'd came, in a flicker Lynch's eyes darted to the outside where he saw the liquid-shadow shape of his horse. He almost shook but he summoned to his father's strength to steady himself - he rose to greet him: "Barnes!" he exclaimed. "Great God, man, why--" "Strike!" The man, Barnes, cried back at him. Lynch's mouth fell open. "What?!" "Strikin!" Barnes roared. "Strikin - blockadin the trains! Nuthin comin in or out!" He blinked several times at Barnes - he leaned forward, the woozy feeling of drunkenness a creep he was trying to fight, and with a hesitant breath, he asked: "What - what they want us ta do?" Barnes threw out his arm, accusing the telegraph, then swooping up to accuse Lynch too. "On the wire! Now! It'll spread, dammit all, it'll spread! Martinsburg first - Pittsburgh - Baltimore! Tell everyone, anyone who'd listen, they hafta know, they hafta know!" Lynch lifted his hand - it shook, he made a fist, trying to steady it, he could feel the fine points of his nails into his palm. "Y-ye--" "Dammit, man! I ain't got time for this!" His arm made the same motion the opposite way. "They done blocked the office up yonder, ain't nobody been able to send nuthin! Now git on the wire! On it!" And with that he stormed out, cursing, a little typically: "That bastard - that bastard, Garret! He did this!" Lynch sighed - once - twice. This was his job, this was his duty, this is what he was paid to do - company man, salary man. He would send the telegram at once to his bosses in-- He stopped. Barnes had left the door open in his haste and Lynch could see the outside it was all dark - a hole from which no light came in...or out. He did not see the eyes, he did not hear the howls. But the darkness outside - it called to him - for the first time in his life he was not scared or haunted or sad or mad about what had been hidden from him, what he did not understand, because now he understood it, in his bones, in his heart. He looked down at his hands. His nails were larger - definitely larger, sharper, longer. His nails were claws. Slowly - slowly - his head rose to the open door. Darkness - soundlessness and void, cold but not empty - skeletal, he felt, to his whole being. Who had he been all his life? Who? A nobody - he would die, obscure, forgotten, his body would rot inside the mountain that birthed him and his headstone would be eaten by the forest that covered it, like so many others before, like so many others to come, and it was all his own fault. He had given up so much for the steady job, his blood had betrayed him and passed over all the traits that made his father such a hero, such an impeccable man - down to his son. But not he. Not Lynch. He was barely a man at all. The phrase turned over - and over - in his head. He smiled - the smile turned into a grin. Now he paced forward - his gait was unsteady with the moonshine but every step, every inch, his nails, his claws, grew, longer, sharper, deadlier. He was indeed, he realized at last - an epiphany, an annihilating truth, a curtain rent and a soul in flames - he was indeed, he was indeed... ...barely a man at all. He was in the dark - he was in the dark. He - was - the dark. He swam in it and he drowned in it, and with those dying breaths he would surface, he would be a new, terrible, awesome creature, the creature he could not be as a man. All the rage and the inferiority and the inability to be a man - it was tearing him, Lynch, right apart, he would wear the lordly robes of the dusk and the dark and be king, elsewhere, where here he had a been a pauper...he would wait, he would wait and have his revenge as his blood commanded. The resentment and the distaste for Old Lightfoot made sense now - perfect, dreadful sense. And he would have his revenge for everything - life, and death. He laughed - slowly and softly, then rising, shrill, a cackle, an unending jest. And the last Tempest, West Virginia, heard of Bligh Patrick Lynch that night, when he went missing into the mountains leaving his family behind, never ever to be seen again, was that same laugh - his shrieking cackle, that faded aching into one, long, final howl.

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