by K.B. Carle

Tyn, a man the color of the coals that collected under his mama’s good cooking pot before turning to ash when the fire got to them, digs his hands deep into the earth, letting every bit of pain loose through the tips of his fingers. Hurt enough to be digging a hole for his baby girl, long enough in this world to cry and have the sun sting her eyes but not long enough to be given a name, to lay in. He hears the soft pops her lips make as they suckle the air, searching for the milk bleeding through her mama’s dress.

Hurts Tyn even more to glance up, eyes catching the way Master Laide, a skinny man with thick brown hair combed and tucked under a straw hat, lets his thumbs dig into the still soft skin the same color as Tyn’s, nails threatening to puncture the child’s swollen belly. Better for his baby girl to be stirring in the ground, thin layer of dirt covering her stomach, to see if the insects take to her or not.

He feels every bit of the earth in his hands to keep from looking at the Master too hard and long, listens to his wife, Abigail, standing close behind him murmuring words to a bird’s song mixed in the wisps of the night Mississippi Spring air.

Tyn is the fourth able to hear the whisperings of insects. His daddy, grandmama, and a man whose name and memory were stolen before his grandmama’s birth, could hear the voices loud enough to teach themselves how to bend their tongues the same way.

However, the eyes of the Laide family were cursed with greed. A greed that stole Tyn’s grandmother as she birthed her fifteenth child, Master hoping her talent would pass to another. Tyn’s daddy, after a time ignoring the warnings and threats of caterpillars, was whipped every day until the third day when his body just leaned against an oak post and released his soul, the caterpillars making quick work of the Master’s tobacco crops.

Now Tyn’s daughter, legs kicking the air between her and a man she doesn’t recognize as Master, waits to be tested. Tyn hears Master Laide come forward, feels a pain so bad crack the flesh and bone of his ribs. Abigail releases the gasp he is struggling to hold in his chest.

“Move, boy.”

Tyn goes to Abigail’s side, surrenders himself to her honey-and-tobacco scent, taking her trembling hand in his. Should the baby hear the whispers, Tyn knows there will be nothing but a growing want coming from Master Laide. A want not one of his folk been able to fill.

Should his baby girl fail, Tyn keeps it in his mind to grab hold of Abigail, make her only see and hear him, since Master Laide been known to crush a useless baby with the soles of his muddied boots. Though Tyn can’t find the words, he wonders which fate would be worse.

When K.B. Carle is not exploring the realms of speculative, jazz, and historical fiction, she avidly pursues misspelled words, botched plot lines, and rudimentary characters. Her work can be found in Pennyshorts, Sick Lit. Magazine, 50-Word Stories, The Offbeat, Fiction Southeast, and the WomenArts Quarterly Journal.  Follow her on Twitter @kbcarle or visit her website: http://kbcarle.wordpress.com/.

Image by Nicola Fioravanti via Unsplash.