Life in Rockwood
The Weeping Woman had haunted Jack since he was a boy as she had haunted all the men of the Banfield family. Sometimes, when alone, the phone would ring, and he’d answer to the sounds of gentle weeping. Or when flicking through the channels of the TV, he’d come across a static-filled outline of the gaunt, pale woman, her face hidden behind the her burial shroud. Once, he’d seen her under the flickering streetlight beside the Gas N Guzzle. Mostly shadow, though she grimaced with her pointed yellow teeth and wrung a bloodied cloth with her claw-like fingers. He’d almost confronted her then, but a car horn distracted him. When he turned back, she was gone.
Although she was never really gone.
The Woman had followed the Banfields long before they’d come to Rockwood. Jack’s ma said that one of the Banfield ancestors had killed his wife in a jealous rage, and that this was God’s punishment for the crime. His grandmother said it was the ghost of a spurned bride who’d thrown herself into the sea. His sister had heard that in Ireland, one of their ancestors had pissed on the Blarney Stone.
There were dozens of stories, but that was all they were. Stories. Nobody knew. And the why of it, lost to history, was irrelevant. All anyone knew was that the Weeping Woman followed the Banfields, and that she brought death with her, killing the men only after the next generation was conceived.
Jack’s own father had lived to thirty before making that mistake.
Jack was thirty-three, which was a record as far as anyone could recall.
He stood on his back porch, drinking a beer. The moon was a dull gray tonight. Its thick light cast shadows across the overgrown brush covering the three acres of neglected property. He paced restlessly, staring out into the distance now and then, waiting to see her.
His cell rang. The caller I.D. told him it was Carlotta. The Weeping Woman always was an unknown number.
“Hey, babe,” he said.
“Where are you?” she asked. “I thought we were meeting at Busy’s tonight?”
“Something came up,” he said.
“I’m just really tired.”
“Are you sick?”
Jack paused. Longer than he should have.
“Just tired,” he said.
“Do you need me to bring some soup?” she asked.
“No, I’m fine.”
Shamrock barked in the background. The red and white settler was always with Carlotta. Nobody minded as the dog was well-behaved.
“She’s worried about you,” said Carlotta.
“Is she now?” He smiled. He loved the dog, almost as much as Carlotta. Fortunate, as they were a package deal. “Tell her I’m fine.”
“She says you’re lying.”
“Look, babe. I think I’m just going to bed early.”
“I’m coming over.” she said.
He was about to tell her not to when he saw the shape rising out of the brush. The Weeping Woman stood silent vigil. Her yellow teeth shining in the gray.
“I’ve gotta go,” he said.
“I’m coming over.”
He knew better than to argue with her. He’d lost every argument he’d ever had with her, starting when she first arrived in town and asked him out. He’d turned her down at first, but she’d worn him down. Not by insisting, but just by being around. By being her.
“I love you,” he said, then hung up.
His phone didn’t ring again, which meant she was already on her way over. He didn’t have much time. The Weeping Woman was there to remind him of that.
Jack chugged the last of his beer and waded into the overgrown brush. The sharper stickers poked through his pants, but he pushed through the pain. He expected the Woman to disappear when he got close, leaving him with nothing but torn jeans and bloodied legs for his trouble. Instead, she waited patiently.
As he drew closer, the moon reddened and the air chilled. He shivered, but more than that, he felt her misery and cold, cruel hate, like invisible icy daggers pricking at his soul.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his teeth chattering. “I’m sorry for whatever we did to you.”
She wrung the bloodied cloth in her hands as she softly wept.
“What can I do?” he asked. “What do you want?”
The Woman held up one gnarled finger and pointed at him.
“There’s this woman,” he said. “I didn’t want to find her. But I did. And I want to be with her. And I didn’t think I’d ever feel like this.”
The Weeping Woman turned from him. In the light, deep red stains covered her shroud. He’d never been close enough to see them.
“It’s not right,” he said. “Not fair.”
She stopped crying, and the air stilled. His fingers went numb, and he could barely breath. Her endless hate and sorrow and agony overwhelmed him. He fell to his knees in the tangle. And he cried for her, for himself, for both of them bound together by unknowable forces beyond either. There was only her pain and his bloodline.
“I understand,” he said softly to her, but she was gone. But it was a promise that would free them, and he would keep it.
He dragged himself from the overgrowth and tended his cuts, waiting for Carlotta to arrive. He didn’t have to wait long.
Shamrock jumped out of her pickup and ran over to him. The settler licked his hand and whined. She turned toward the brush and growled.
“It’ll be okay, girl,” he said.
Carlotta walked up to him. She was tall and thin. He made jokes of her being a dead ringer for a scarecrow. Especially with that straw hat she liked to wear. He’d bought it as a joke, saying it helped her fit in with all the folks who’d lived in Rockwood for generations. Then she’d started wearing it without shame, just because he’d bought it for her. It was another argument he’d lost, and one he’d been glad to.
“I brought you some soup and beer.” She held up a bag but lowered it. “Oh, Jack, what happened to you?”
“This? Just chased a coyote through the brush. It’s no big deal.” He wiped a lingering tear from his cheek. When his fingers came back with red on them, he tried to downplay the cut on his face.
She reached for him, but he stepped back. “Listen, there’s something I have to tell you.”
She almost smiled, taking another step forward. He moved back again.
“It’s complicated,” he said. “But I can’t see you anymore.”
Shamrock whined, sitting by his foot, and nuzzling his hand. He petted her twice before thinking better of it. He gently nudged her toward Carlotta, and Shamrock, her tail hung low, slinked to Carlotta’s side.
“It’s not you,” he said. “It’s just . . . I can’t risk it. It has to end, and the only way for it to end is with me.”
“Is this because of the Weeping Woman?” asked Carlotta.
He wasn’t surprised she knew. Everyone knew. There were few secrets in Rockwood, and secrets like this were especially hard to keep. But she’d never brought it up before, and he’d hoped her being new in town would keep it from her. Her knowing didn’t make it any easier.
“I don’t care,” she said. “I never cared. I’m not scared of her, and you don’t have to be either.
He wanted to believe her, but she didn’t get it.
“Just tell me,” she said. “Do you love me?”
He thought about lying, but she would’ve seen through it. She always did.
“I love you.”
“And I love you too,” she said. “And Shamrock says all the other guys in this town are morons.”
Shamrock barked twice, wagging her tail.
“You can’t argue with that, can you?” asked Carlotta.
He smiled. “No, I can’t, but–”
She stepped toward him, and he didn’t have the strength to move away. She wrapped her arms around him. Her stupid straw hat fell back as she touched her forehead to his, and he wanted to believe she could fix this.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
“But, how? We took precautions.”
“Things happen,” she said.
The fact rattled around in his gut. He was happy but miserable. He’d fucked it up, and he didn’t want this. Except he did. He just didn’t want what would happen next. He didn’t want to pass the Weeping Woman onto his son. But maybe he wouldn’t have a son.
Shamrock hopped and barked. Carlotta pulled him close and kissed him, and Jack dared hope maybe things would work out.
The moon disappeared from the sky as the stars blinked out one by one. A green fog rolled forward, and Shamrock growled.
The Weeping Woman stepped from the mists. She wrung her cloth, spilling fresh blood at her feet. She unleashed a mournful shriek.
Jack pushed Carlotta and Shamrock behind him. “It doesn’t have to be like this.”
The Woman pulled back her hood to reveal the top of her face, a bare skull with a tangle of long white hair drifting in the breeze.
“I didn’t know. It just happened.”
The Woman laughed, a hideous, malignant cackle. His chest tightened, and he couldn’t breath. He fell to the ground. She would kill him, and his unborn son would carry forward the curse. And there was nothing he could do about it.
Carlotta stood over him, placing her hand on his straining heart. “It’ll be all right.”
Shamrock jumped forward and howled to the empty sky. The long, low sound echoed endlessly. The dog ripped out of her skin and underneath the red and white coat was wild black fur. She grew to the size of a horse and snorted fire. The giant black dog howled, and the Weeping Woman fell quiet.
Shamrock pounced on the Weeping Woman. She shrieked as his monstrous jaws crunched into her. He worried her back and forth, sending shreds of cloth floating in all directions.
Jack could breath again, and Carlotta helped him to his feet.
“Didn’t I tell you about my family curse?” she asked.
Behind him, the Weeping Woman’s cries had stopped, though he still heard the ripping of her shroud.
“Oh, I’m pretty sure I mentioned Shamrock was a barghest at some point,” said Carlotta. “You probably just weren’t listening. You know how you get when you’re watching football. I could come out naked, and you wouldn’t notice.”
She wasn’t wrong.
“Shamrock is a demon dog?”
“Barghest,” she corrected. “Caused no end of grief for my family until my grandmother made friends with her.”
Hot breath, stinking of rotten flesh and burning hair, stung the back of Jack’s neck.. He turned to look into the her bright yellow eyes and mouth of fangs. She dropped the Woman’s skull at Jack’s feet. The lingering fire burning in her sockets dimmed, then disappeared.
“I told you it would be alright.” Carlotta scratched the hellbeast between the eyes. “Good girl.”
Cautiously, Jack scratched under Shamrock’s chin. Her tongue rolled out of the side of her mouth, and she closed her eyes and leaned into his hand.
“So what do you say, Jack?” asked Carlotta. “Up for making an honest woman out of me?”
“I dunno. Just got rid of one family curse,” he said with a smile. “Not sure I’m up for taking on another.”
She kissed him, dropped her straw hat on his head. “It’s a package deal.”
It was another argument she’d win.