The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson Read Online (FREE)
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Now, Myshka, I will tell you the truth. Let my voice bury my words deep inside you. Before the sun sets, I will tell you secrets you have longed to know. For I was a girl once, too, and like you, I have known sorrows so great there are no words to account for them.
In a Certain Kingdom, in a Certain Land
It was after midnight when the boatman and his daughter brought the witch out of Sabbath House and back onto the river. Old Iskra sat astride the johnboat’s center plank, wearing a head scarf and a man’s baggy britches damp with blood, their iron reek lost to the night-fragrant honeysuckle that bowered the banks of the Prosper. In her lap: a bread bowl, wide and deep and packed with dried eucalyptus sprigs and clods of red earth broken around a small, still form covered by a white pillowcase. The pillowcase, like the old woman’s clothes, stained red.
They angled off-river at the mouth of a bayou and were soon enclosed by the teeming wall of night. Cries of owls, a roar of bullfrogs, the wet slopping of beaver among the stobs. Miranda Crabtree faced into the wind, lighting Hiram’s way with the Eveready spot mounted on the bow. The spotlight shined on branches closing in, cypress skirts scraping like dry, bony fingers along the johnboat’s hull. Spiders in the trees, their webs gleaming silver. A cottonmouth moccasin churning in the shallows. Miranda held up arms to guard her ears and cheeks from the branches, thinking of Alice down the rabbit hole, one small door opening upon another, and another, each door smaller than the last.
“Push through!” the old witch cried.
Branches screeching over metal, they did, the boatman breaking off fistfuls of dead cypress limbs until the boat slipped free onto the wide stage of a lake. Here, Hiram cut the motor and they drifted in a stump field, a preternatural silence descending over frog and cricket and owl, as if the little boat had somehow passed into the inner, sacred temple of the night itself.
To the west, purple lightning rolled thunderless in the cage of the sky.
In the water were the twisted, eerie shapes of deadfalls. They broke the surface like coffins bobbing in flooded graves.
“What is this place?” Miranda asked, angling her light all around.
But no one answered.
Ahead, a wide muddy bank stretched before a stand of trees, tall and close, and when the boat had nosed to a stop in the silt, the old witch got up with a pop of bones, stepped over the side, and staggered off along the path of the light, bowl in her arms. Her shadow long and reaching.
Hiram brought up a shotgun and a smaller flashlight from behind the stern seat. Miranda knew the double-barrel to be her grandfather’s, the only gun Hiram had ever owned. She had never seen him fire it. They were bowhunters, the Crabtrees. Always had been.