Absalom Jones

This is a story about the things that hap­pen to you when you do things you didn’t know you weren’t sup­posed to. It con­tains murk.


 

Haunt End was not the sort of place a man wanted to find him­self at mid­night on a Witch­ing Eve, when the moon is dark and the stars cold and dis­tant. Yet it was Haunt End that Absa­lom Jones found him­self walk­ing through, with a hurry in his step, as the clocks struck twelve and the cats cackled mirth­lessly in the rooftops – for Witch­ing Eve is the one night when cats shed their every­day forms and ride in the skies on curse­wood brooms. Absa­lom Jones pulled the tattered ends of his coat tighter to his chest against the cold and strode onwards, when a sud­den voice pulled him short. 

Spare a penny, Absa­lom Jones?” it rustled from a dark door­way. It soun­ded like many-legged things slither­ing through dead leaves. Many many-legged things.

Who’s there?” asked Absa­lom Jones. “How do you know my name?” He peered into the dark­ness, which was like a clot of ink. As he stared, it slowly formed into a man who unpeeled him­self from the doorframe and stood within it – a short, dark man with long, dark hair, the col­our of leaf­mould and smelling the same, wear­ing no shirt but a huge fur coat, and no pants but huge brown boots.

Who are you?” asked Absa­lom Jones.

I asked my ques­tion first,” replied the man peev­ishly. Absa­lom Jones reached into his pocket and pulled out a cop­per penny, which he offered the man, all without tak­ing his eyes off him. The man grabbed it. His hands were slick and clammy and cold, and Absa­lom Jones shivered.

That’s bet­ter,” creaked the man, apprais­ing his coin. Then he returned his atten­tion to Absa­lom Jones.

My name is Dee,” he said, and flicked a black tongue over his lips. “And yours is well-known about these parts.”

It is not,” replied Absa­lom Jones. “I’ve never been here.”

Then,” said Dee, “your fame pre­cedes you.”

I’ve no fame neither,” replied Absa­lom Jones. “I’m just a grave-digger.” He turned to leave, but a gaunt, hairy hand shot out of the clot of Dee and grabbed him by the forearm.

Get off!” shouted Absa­lom Jones, pulling sharply. Dee’s grip was strong and heavy and chilly, like old roots. Absa­lom Jones struggled more, tottered back­wards, and pulled Dee out of the door­way, from where he came with a wet tear­ing crunch. The dark clot remained in it. In the light of the stars, Absa­lom could see that Dee’s skin was dark; not dark like the skin of the gypsy dock-workers, but dark like mud, and death, and the water in still ponds. In some places, it seemed to show through to the bones beneath, and the bones were mottled and mossy.

What man­ner of demon are you?” yelped Absa­lom Jones in ter­ror, and crossed him­self with his free hand. “Let go, hag!”

Your fame does pre­ceed you,” nod­ded Dee, finally let­ting go. Absa­lom Jones backed into a wall, and crossed him­self again.

Please let me go,” he whimpered. Dee appraised him with still eyes.

You have done much wrong, Absa­lom Jones,” Dee spoke softly, and each word slithered from his lips and dropped like heavy beetles to the cobbles. The rare night air thickened – thickened and begun to smell of the things that have no eyes, that live by sound in moist places, and are nameless.

I’ve been an good Chris­tian man,” moaned Absa­lom Jones, to whom no sal­va­tion was forthcoming.

Yes,” agreed Dee. “You have done much wrong.”

I’m not really Chris­tian,” back-tracked Absa­lom Jones, teeth chat­ter­ing in fear. “I’m a Jew!”

What you are,” spoke Dee, and pulled him­self into the air till he stood like Death and fury, “is of little con­sequence to the crimes you have com­mited. Repent, Absa­lom Jones.”

I repent,” screamed Absa­lom Jones, as Dee of the roots and the dark places slunk towards him. “I repent, I repent!”

But why repent when the crime is not known?” whispered Dee in Absa­lom Jones’ ear. “Shall I tell you?”

Absa­lom Jones whimpered some­thing in a lan­guage only the ones soon to die can speak. The air filled with rot; it hung from the wall behind Absa­lom Jones in thick sliv­ers of moss, in white stringy roots that crawled into his ears. Huge pale mush­rooms burst from the pave­ment. Absa­lom Jones crawled with sweat and beetles, with worms and mag­gots. He screamed, and mould tumbled from him.

You’ve tombed men in the ground,” spoke Dee in a voice that men only hear once. “Women, too. Chil­dren, too, Absa­lom Jones. You’ve shut them in the loam. They have no place to go. They have no place to be. They rot and decay, Absa­lom Jones, rot and decay. And their souls rot with them till they look like black mush­rooms. And still they stay souls, Absa­lom Jones. Rot­ten souls with no escape. That is your crime.”

I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he screamed. “I’m sorry!” But it was far too late for Absa­lom Jones, for inside he was already crawl­ing with rot, and his eyes turned white and murky, and he slumped like a rag of swamp water to the cobble­stones, and stirred no more.

Dee smiled a hor­rible smile, then limped and slunk away from the alley in Haunt End, and noth­ing was left there the next morn­ing but the rot­ten body of Absa­lom Jones, and a small pale mush­room, and an old parch­ment card, on which was scrawled the name ‘Dee Kay’.

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