I’m on a revising spree apparently. Not a substitute for new material to be sure, but a productive exercise nonetheless. The following is a marginally-more-presentable draft of a piece I did based on the prompt to emulate the style of a particular writer. I will not deign to guess how well I succeeded, but I had some fun rolling it around.
I have seen the bones of dragons. They litter the culling fields of my childhood home like a parliament of gargoyles. The big house, the capitol of our Louisiana barony, is the skull. Its many eyes lidless yet unseeing, shuttered by bleached cataracts. This place, this land, is a great corpse. A vast tract of carrion. Its sinews and humors have been pulled apart and strewn all o’er. Cats feral as to have never beheld so strange a thing as man crawl over the groves and fields thick as maggots on an overripe fruit. Chestnut groves of which tall tales yet linger on the fattened, dusty tongues of old men, lie arthritic and sickly as those same heralds. They twist and groan, afflicted of a terrible blight. The end of their race. The flesh of their bark blisters and lesions without dignity, exposing meat yellow like tobacco-spittle. The old slave quarters, later a shantytown of sharecroppers, now nothing but broken wooden teeth through which the wind whistles in ominous chords. Adjoining this city of the dead is the true necropolis, the mausoleums and tombs of my kinsmen, freestanding yet lashed to the very earth by cloying vines of kudzu. They are stoic, defying me silently to uproot them, as if the shallow dirt should itself rise up to inveigh me.
That is why I am here. I am an undertaker. It is my business to swaddle the dead as once they were babes and then return them to the ground from which the lord God did first draw them. I am also the last of my line, our family tree now another blighted chestnut. It falls to me to pay the ferryman, to reap the final stalk. I was not the first choice for this task, nor the second, nor should I have been chosen at all, save that I am now unique. In my blood swims a curse of darkness. It makes itself known in different ways through my clan; a tinge of copper, a twilight cast. I however bear it in uncommon abundance. An octoroon, a man and yet not a man. I bear the shame of ancient sin, a walking monument to my family’s inequity. Mother would often warn of retrieving Old Man Jed, our former overseer, to whip the darkness from me. In my fledgling years, I was weaned on tales of the old ways. A Greek chorus of widows and spinsters would fashion stories of forgotten chivalry and gentility. To hear them speak of it, the coming of the Yankeeman was a plague worthy of Moses.
Theirs were not the only stories I knew though. Mammie, a titanic black shape like a storm cloud, had as much hand in raising me to manhood as did my mother, some might say even more. She too had stories, very different stories. Whenever mother would threaten me with Jed, Mammie would never fail to repeat the tale of how the toothless old overseer had whipped her brother straight to death. Mother always thought this was added encouragement for me to behave, but more than once I saw a fire in Mammie’s eye as she told it. Mother was too proper a lady to look a servant in the eye, so she never caught Mammie damning Old Jed. She also spun more fantastical stories, which never failed to delight me as I grew. Ghosts and ghouls and the devil himself filled our heavy evenings. Most of all I remember dragons’ bones. If a man could find a cache of this sacred marrow, he could perform feats both mighty and phantasmagorical. I heard Mammie attribute everything from headache remedies to the resurrection of Christ to these miraculous pieces of carrion. I would find old chicken bones and run shouting to Mammie about my spectacular find, and she would dutifully play along. I always imagined one day finding the true thing, making myself a famous juju-man with their secrets. Now, looking across the wasted land, I know that I have indeed found them. There is nothing miraculous about these bones, however. They are vast in proportion, but like all bones, like my bones, they will someday crumble to dust.