"With the right words at the right time, magic is possible. Paw paw knows."



"'Das what him tol' me," Wilfred Cowl spat into the fire and stirred embers onto the sultry breeze with a crooked stick. His spit bubbled in the ashes, surrounded by hissing flames, and a tendril of yellow-white steam chased the embers like a ghost chasing fireflies through evening skies. Beyond Wilfred's back, framed by the silhouettes of countless tree trunks, the sun set slow and bloody, its face shaped by the form of the Earth and magnified cold and crimson near the far western horizon. The smoke of their tiny fire betrayed currents of the wind, which scattered wild and willful beneath the boughs of the endless groves of pecan trees that surrounded the two fugitives and their pitiful camp. Above their heads where the boughs twisted and creaked, however, the air scarcely stirred, so the smoke and spit-steam hung there, brooding and anxious.

Joline leaned close to feel the fire's meager warmth. She rubbed her delicate hands together fitfully, and pulled the rags of her clothing closer. Her unhappy eyes turned the darkening sky fearfully, and she longed for proper shelter. "What did he tell you?"

"Mmmm hmmm, das right. Him tol' me, him said, 'Son, das da way dey fix it fo' ya.'" Wilfred shifted his bony haunches atop the stone he had taken for a seat, while his tongue worked through the gaps in his teeth with a soft, wet, hungry sound. "Firs', dey give ya da rules like riddles, see, dat don' make no sense. Den, dey give ya all da facts an' figures ya need to figure dem riddles, but by dat time it's been s'long ya done fo'got the questions in da firs' place!"

"I don't understand, Grandfather," Joline squeaked pitifully. The old man stiffened to hear his granddaughter talk like the white overlords, but he knew she could no more help her way of speech than he could help his own. Neither slang was a native tongue for either of them. "I don't think I believe all that."

"Sho' ya don'! No, sah! Y'ain't had no schoolin' in da old ways. 'Cause, if ya had been schooled proper, ya might know somethin' you shouldn't. Ya might solve one o' dem riddles." Wilfred sucked his gums and shivered. "Like dis here one, I 'member from da old times like it was yesta'day. Him tol' me, said:

"Like a lon' walk on a sho't day,

Got dem get-dere shoes!

Got dem harried feet!

Got dem do-dat wants!

Got dem souls t'keep!

If ya wan' dem sho'tcut sweets,

Get some fat back tallow!

Get dat velvet wick!

Get yo' mi'night crackle!

Get dat have-dat quick!"

Wilfred sucked his tongue and lips, grunting, "Mmm hmm, ya say dem words da right way at da right time, and you get one thang… jus' one thang… dat ya wan'!"

Joline trembled before the stiffening breeze and huddled closer to the tiny flames of their campfire. She turned her dark eyes on the growing shadows of dusk, and she wondered what her grandfather had wished for them from the dark. "What are we going to get, Grandfather?" She hoped it included hot food, whatever it might be.

Wilfred sniggered softly under his labored breath, and the silent merriment tossed him back and forth atop his rock. He poked the ashes and embers with his crooked stick, and the cool breeze seemed not to bother him at all.

"Dis ain't da right time, and dat weren't da right way. 'Sides, dem weren't da right words, neither." He patted one gnarled hand against his breast just above his heart, and he said, "I got it all right here, chil'. Ever' word him ever tol' me. See, I might be da firs' one of 'em all dat learnt how to write proper, so I wrote it all down. Das how I was gonna beat 'em, ya see, 'cause I figured I could 'member da words long 'nough to solve dem riddles in time." He sniggered softly again, and the sounds of it faded into the soughs and sighs of the wind in the barren pecan boughs. "But 'tain't never so easy, chil'. No, sah! Never so easy!"

The girl bent low over her knees and wrapped the tattered remains of her shawl about her shins. Tucking her chin into the cleft formed between her knees, Joline's head bobbed with every word, as she said, "I'm scared, Paw-Paw, and I'm hungry, too."

Smiling toothlessly, the old man answered, "I likes it betta' when ya call me dat way."

Joline smiled, too, but she repeated, "I'm real hungry. Can't you say some words that would feed us?"

Wilfred stirred the embers, and then he tenderly placed another fractured bit of wood onto the delicate flames. They needed heat and light, but they needed to be careful, too.

"Sure, chil'," grunted the old man. "Sure I could do dat and mo'! But tain't never s' easy, like I done said! When I was a young man, it all seemed easy, though! It felt like a free meal, usin' da power o' da words. Free! Ha!" He sucked something slimy and vile from his tongue and spat it into the fire, where it sizzled deservedly. "Das da las' thang da conjure ever was, is free, chil'! Ain't nothin' free! Ain't nothin' easy!"

Cackling madly, his head jutted across the tiny fire, and he prodded the girl, saying, "Go on, ask me why I ain't filthy rich! Go on, ask me!"

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