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September 5, 2017 at 9:26 pm #3538
It is October 31, 2142.
Seven o’clock in the evening.
Asheville, NC. Population roughly 80,000.
462 Lynn Cove Road – Sassafras Mountain.
They call it the Tea House because they think that’s clever.
These are just the facts, however, and facts don’t lend themselves to good storytelling. But details…why the Devil himself is in those. That’s why I’m here in any case, watching them…
…to enjoy those diabolical elements.
I like Tea House. It’s a charming Victorian, endearingly out of place, thrust up on the mountain side, ensconced in a forest of all manner of twisted trees, a lonely gravel road takes you to the easement. There’s a family cemetery down by the tree line. The old iron gate is groaning out steady complaints as the wind,liable tonight to cut a man in two, batters it against the stone enclosure. There’s not another house like it up here. Well, there’s not another house for a mile or two in any case.
It’s a damn shame how poorly it’s been tended. The grey paint on the siding has grown thin, the once white posters on the porch are gouged at the corners in treacherous places, vicious splinters awaiting a clumsy hand. It’s gables have held up nice but I can see the wood has started to swell and the trusses groan in a bad wind or when the snows pile up. Tea House boasts three stories. There are tidy little windows on all sides, in all sorts of interesting angles and a jumble of octagonal glass on the east wing. There’s a kind of widow’s walk just on the second story. That’s where I am now.
Oh no, I’m not inside. I ain’t allowed, you understand.
They’ve got jack’olaterns burning on the stoop.
I do fine to see in, though. How could a body not with all the careless fires they’ve laid. And they’ve not spared one stick of tallow the whole house over. Orange lights quiver in every corner, on the tables, the floor, the window ledges. I smile at this as I see the blue glow of the television against the wall. It’s simple enough for them to turn a dial or flip a switch and the whole place would hum with light…but that’d destroy the ambience they’ve crafted. After two-hundred years and the marvel of men on the moon, it’s still fire that fascinates.
There’s a crack in the woods behind me. I don’t turn to it. Deer more than like and not much raises my hair anymore. Course, it could be one of THEM. The mountains dry this autumn and you can’t turn turn a bend or brook a ditch without hearing them crunching every leaf underfoot. You rarely see them though, but you can’t help but hear them one way or another. Most folk chalk it up to deer. Most folk prefer those sorts of easy answers.
No, I keep my eyes turned inward. That’s where the details are.
They’re sitting in a circle now surrounded by a veritable orchard of dark bottles and plastic cups. There’s scraps of pizza by the couch and disemboweled boxes of cookies and candies all over. A wispy miasma of smoke lingers just over there heads. I don’t catch the scent but I’m certain it smells like skunk weed and Jim Beam in there. One of them reaches over to turn up the radio. It’s a chorus of crooning and plucky tunes. She sings along and sways a bit before returning to the circle.
That’s Ms. Black. Ms. Albertine Black. They call her Teeny.
Her daddy owns this house. Her mother neglects it. It’s one of the three homes they own in Asheville, a little toy of wood and old brick for their daughter to play with. Mr. and Mrs. Black much prefer their loft Downtown. For as puny as it looks on the outside, the inside is plush and polished. Generations of Blacks glare down at visitors from the walls in the drawing room and ascend the staircase that leads to the second second floor.
Ms. Black reigns supreme up here.
Her folks keep their bedroom and other privies secured behind a fortress of locks down the hall. They’re not uncaring people, they just dislike some of her chosen playmates.
They’re an unlikely congregation, to be sure.
Each one of them is plucked from a different clique, different class, different stratum altogether.
You see, aside from Ms. Black’s hospitality, they’re drawn to these hazy gatherings and each other by a sentiment that that someone looking in might find strange given the mixed company.
This isn’t just a get-together to celebrate all the spooks and haints shifting just outside their door.
This is a meeting…
….of the Dead Of Dixie Society.
Now that all sounds real ominous, I’m sure. The function of this little circle isn’t to cut up dead kittens or summon Leviathan. Each of these young people are plagued by things normal folk just don’t give much mind to. Dark thoughts, sins, secrets, tragedy, all those diabolical elements I spoke of before that you’re average head doctor wouldn’t waste a good prescription pad to treat.
Garden variety bad shit.
It’s just that unlike most, these kids have the good sense, or perhaps just the distinct inclination, to purge themselves of the worst of it instead of letting it crawl up in some fold of their skull and fester as a mental illness.
That’s why I come here.
I am very amenable to darkness of all shades.
As often as they can manage, since they were yea high,(or so I understand) they’ve come together to tell their secrets to the dead.
Their others friends don’t know about this and hell, even I ain’t sure how it all got started or why they truly trust each other in the first place. A person could just as well keep a damn diary or Heaven-forbid visit one of the granny-witches up in the Corn Holler. I’m certain one of them would be happy to tell dear departed Papaw all about stealing that pregnancy test from Gibson’s drugs – for a nominal fee.
But young folk delight in strangeness the same way I like knowing all about what makes them strange.
I suppose it’s not enough to write it down or shrive themselves to one another. The dead don’t gossip. The dead don’t judge. They use Teeny’s old talking board and scrawl out the filthy tidbits with the planchette. That’s where trust comes in. Things don’t leave the circle. What they offer is for them and the deceased alone.
At least that’s the idea. But I give credit where it’s due. For as long as I have watched them, and I DO watch them, I’ve never known a secret to leave the sacred boundaries of Tea House.
And aside from the rare gem of self-mutilation or the salacious details of that time someone played “mommies and daddies” with their cousin, it never gets too gritty.
And that’s what keeps me skulking on the shingles…one night it just might.
But right now, they’re busy with another sort of ritual. Confessions inevitably come after mischief.
I enjoy this one too. It might as well be Russian roulette to someone like me. Ms. Black places an empty bottle of Jim in the circle.
I climb over the pediment and peer into the vented louver. The wind is wailing through the frame and inside the attic I can see it drawing in leaves through a fissure in the roof. It’s want for patching but there’s been little rain this summer and Teeny is the only Black that it would trouble in any case. Boxes, full of forgotten things crowd the corners and there’s an enormous carpet rolled against the far wall. There’s little dust up here, the drafts won’t let it settle for long. The security light just outside casts an unsettling green glow about the place. It only makes dark places seem darker.
I like it. Reminds me of mamaw’s spot.
There’s an old couch, threadbare and frayed at the corners with a grotesque checkered pattern that they push into the middle of the floor. A weary looking chair and other discarded furnishings soon follow. Teeny lays the board on a table while they take their seats around it, towing liquor, smoke and a clutch of candles with them.
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