Working on new material for both the Charlie Stone series of short stories/novelettes and the novelization I’m making out of last year’s A Thousand Little Deaths, I’ve been sifting through old stories and fragments of stories never finished looking for inspiration or just narratives that could be salvaged, repurposed as something new. That’s when I came across this gem called Harbinger. I had a very specific image run through my head one night several years ago listening to the Asylum Street Spankers rendition of If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day. Borrowing a paragraph I’d been floundering on for several months, I wrote a little flash piece that really ended without resolution. Here it sat in my files until tonight. Enjoy.
The Tower of Babel rose up from the kudzu strangled hillside, the disembodied spine of a giant bleached by the sun and picked clean by decades of neglect. Vines crawled in and out of the cracked mortar, buried themselves in the divots and creases in putrefied veins clawing at every vertebra as if their growth would revive the dying whole. Trees, their bare branches waving in the autumn wind clawed with gnarled fingers up along the concrete body. There were no birds, no burrowing animals or anything to suggest life at its foundation. Everything was dead, choked by the vicious weeds. This was the New South, a wasteland of decaying farm and plantation slowly receding into the suburban ideal of paradise. The old grain silo loomed over the highway, the keeper of life and nourishment made into a hollow epitaph for the end of an era.
The old GMC rumbled over the crest of the hill and pulled to a stop on the side of the highway next to the silo. The twang of a steel guitar thundered from the cab of the truck, an old blues tune. If I had possession over Judgment Day, Robert Johnson wailed. There were a handful of old men in overalls and dirty hats sitting on a porch at the house across from the old silo. They all looked up together at the cherry red truck idling on the shoulder. The driver’s door opened. He wasn’t what the old timer’s expected. He was pale and thin dressed in a black suit and red tie. His boots were high and leather and didn’t quite match the rest of his outfit as he took a few steps into the roadway towards the house. His sunglasses were mirrored, reflecting the crowd staring at him.
“You a little lost, son?” one of the old timers, a chubby, leather skinned man with thick glasses called from the porch.
“Nashville.” the thin man answered. His voice had a gravel texture that seemed to boom from the sky above him. “Think I got turned around somewhere.”
The old timer grinned and nodded his head. “Yep. What ya’ wanna’ do is turn ’round and follow the highway about ten more miles north. You’ll see a sign by the red barn next to the gas station. Can’t miss it.”
The thin man looked back, smiled. “Thanks, gents.”
He slid back into the truck and turned around, waving as he drove north towards the Music City. As the truck crested the hill and vanished, the old man began to cough and sputter. Soon, the others joined him. Within seconds they were all convulsing on the porch, foaming at the mouth as blood began to drip in large tears from their eyes. They were dead but not as dead as the landscape around them. If I had possession over Judgment Day, the words echoed into the countryside. That woman that I got wouldn’t have no right to pray.
Slowly, the old men stood up and began to follow the music towards the city. The thin man smiled broader, rows of shark teeth glimmering as he looked in the rearview mirror.
“Oh if I had possession, over Judgment Day,” he sang along.