In the Fields of Sin, Down Among the Dead

by Brian Winfrey

When Ben reappears in the kitchen doorway, the weight of the work ahead has already made him a stranger.

They say there’s a look that comes over Weavers when there’s a job to do, a look that’s sly and cautious and terrible.

I can vouch for that.

“I’ll be back by sun-up,” he tells me.

He tucks the gun he’s chosen—some queer heirloom that’s been fiddled and fussed with going back years—beneath his duster and studies me a moment. I sweep the last fragments of the shattered dish into a neat pile before meeting his gaze.

“Sorry about before,” he mutters.

His voice may carry a tinge of regret, but little enough touches his eyes. He squeezes my hand and kisses my cheek, then heads for the door.

He doesn’t ask for good wishes or kind thoughts, and I’m ashamed to say I have none to offer.


Shadows swallow the foothills as the fading sun paints the valley in streaks of crimson and rust. Through a narrow window, I watch the pickup circle the dirt road down into the deep woods.

Once I’m certain Ben won’t turn back, I hurry up the stairs, glancing over my shoulder, a thief in my own home. The old farmhouse creaks and groans the whole time, like it’s pained by my decision.

The brass key remains in the bottom drawer of the desk, right where Ben placed it months ago. Where I’ve returned it after each time I’ve put it to use.

It feels warm in my hand, even though the house has a distinct chill. An omen for sure, but I waste no time trying to figure out if it’s for good or ill.


The room the key unlocks once served as an upper parlor, back when the Weaver family cared about such things. Later, it became storage for dusty bric-a-brac.

Now it stands empty.

It’s not supposed to be that way, of course. Ben and I, we’d had our plans. But all we managed was to paint half a wall a weak shade of blue. The paint can still sits in the corner, abandoned, its contents long since congealed.

Plans don’t always work out.

I kneel in the room’s center, my fingers tracing the wood beneath me. The floorboard I want doesn’t yield without some struggle. I don’t begrudge the effort; it reassures me Ben has kept out of here, just as he’d vowed he would.

I slide a hand into the recess I’ve uncovered. Everything is as I’d left it. I draw out what I need, murmur a short prayer, and then spend a good few minutes making certain I’ve left no trace of myself.

By the time I’m ready, the mist has settled thick and low across the valley, like a shroud.


I step off the porch, and the temperature dips a good ten degrees. That sets my teeth chattering, so I clench my jaw tight. Then I get moving before I lose my nerve.

The first thing I notice is the silence. You put your mind to it, you’ll always hear something in the backwoods. The cry of a bird, the rustle of cicadas, the snap of a twig. Something.

Not this night. Of course not. It’s dead quiet.

I shuffle through the mist, which waxes and wanes across the length of the yard. I know I’ve made it halfway down the hill when I spot the dogwood. It flowered last week, and its silk-white blooms stand out in the darkness.

But they’re not what’s gotten my attention.

No, I’m looking at the ghost jars.

They hang from every branch, dozens of them. There’s a pattern to their placement, but I don’t know what it is. Only Weavers know that. Family secret. I do know there are hex signs etched into the skin of each jar, and that the mouths are rimmed with ash and tears.

I’ve come to recognize the sight of a haint trapped inside one, too. They look like silver smoke that twists and writhes of its own accord, lit all the while by some inner flame. In a normal week, the jars catch two or three before they get up to mischief.

Tonight, every vessel holds such a spirit.

Ghost jars and haints, charms and wards, shotguns and hex signs. These things have become my life, but, in so many ways, they remain mysteries to me.

I am a Weaver in name only.

I shudder as I pass beneath the dogwood’s long, spidery branches. The stone wall that encircles the farm lies just ahead, the boundary between one world and the next.

The dead and the damned wait there, tucked in shadow, and they jeer and hoot and howl as I approach.


The Weaver farm backs up onto a corner of hell, that’s the simplest way of putting it. Everyone in there wants out here. A crafty few manage that on occasion—and then a Weaver sticks ’em right back in. That’s what Ben’s off doing now, rounding up strays.

“There’s nothing they won’t do to get across,” he once told me. “They’ll make any promise, whisper any lie, offer any reward. Time doesn’t mean a thing to ’em, either. They might as well be water wearing down stone.”

My husband’s not a man prone to tall talk, so I’d given his words the weight they’d earned when he’d warned me, “Don’t ever go near that wall when it’s their night.”

Their night. Walpurgis Night. When the skin of the world thins out and the dead roam with ease.

This night.


Everywhere I look, I see decayed faces and withered limbs, ravaged bodies and shriveled souls. They pace the wall. Looking for weak spots but finding none.

At first, they all speak at once, shouting over one another to make themselves heard. The smarter ones start with a little flattery, but the minor damned go straight to threats and temptations.

“Help us or suffer our wrath!” they wail.

“Riches!” they cry. “Youth! Power! Yours! All yours!”

As their cries wash over me, my heart thuds slow and heavy in my chest. Every instinct tells me to turn tail then and there. Instead, I force myself to meet those terrible, hungry gazes. To stare them down.

That’s what Weavers do, after all.

I can manage as much, I reckon, for the span of a single night.

Bear the name, shoulder the load.

In truth, it’s not the first time I’ve crept out this way. But I’ve never dared tread so close to the wall before, not when the damned have roused themselves. Instead I’ve contented myself with studying up on them from afar, with chasing down a haint here and there.

That’s not enough, though. That’ll never be enough.

Not for a Weaver.

So here I am.

I figure I’ve about got the hang of facing down the horde—so long as there’s the wall in the way, anyhow—when a hush falls across the congregation. The ones in back go quiet first, then the silence ripples outward.

Without so much as a glance at one another, they part to allow the approach of a late arrival.

Josiah Root saunters past the assembled damned, right on up toward the wall, and tips his hat to me.


The Weavers have a book, a crumbling folio bound in the hide of one of hell’s great beasts. It holds all the lore they’ve gathered about the damned. I’ve read it through more than once (on the sly, mind you), and most of those listed rate only a paragraph or two.

Mr. Root gets an entire chapter all to himself.

He was spreading misery and rot a hundred years before I was born. In life, he made wealth his religion, with other folks no more than tools or obstacles to that end. After death claimed him, he found hell to his liking and set up shop there.

They say he sits at the right hand of Old Scratch himself these days. And just about the only feather left for his cap would be finding some way to damn a Weaver. He’d do anything for his chance at that.

Even tarry with the likes of me.


He brushes a speck of graveyard dirt from his fine suit as he looks me over. At a distance, you might take him for normal. Up close, though, you can see he’s too pale and too bony to be among the living.

Even as piss-ignorant as I am, I know to run; I just can’t get my legs working. Mr. Root circles closer and closer, and I may as well be nailed to the spot. His doing or my cowardice? All I can think is, He shouldn’t be here. Not this night. Hell’s gentry have plenty enough to tend to when their time comes round each year. Too much to walk the wall on a whim. I know this; I made sure when I laid these plans of mine.

He shouldn’t be here.

But here he is.

His thin lips curl back, displaying ivory teeth in a wolf’s smile. “Welcome, welcome, Weaver wife,” he says, and his voice is whiskey-smooth, the soft purr of the southern gentleman he once claimed to be. “Oh, how it warms our cold hearts to have you with us.”

The wall stands between us, waist-high and a foot across. Charms and wards line the stones, and the ground beneath is strewn with salt and thornapple.

But as Mr. Root’s milky white eyes flick across me, that starts to feel like slim protection indeed.

I have a few talismans of my own, mostly what I’ve pilfered from Ben’s stock and squirreled away under that floorboard. They aren’t meant for the likes of Mr. Root, though. Not by half.

He shouldn’t be here, I think again, for all the good it does.

“Little Lee Ann Massey, all grown up,” he says, his words barely rising above a whisper, but full of poison just the same. “Oh yes, I know you. I know you well.”

He nods to himself. “You’re the farmer’s daughter,” he says. “The girl who danced with fireflies and sang hymns to the stars and the moon. Your first kiss came ’neath the shade of a juniper tree, and your last summer sweetheart pines for you still.”

I can’t say how long he goes on like that. Long enough so he hits the high points of my short life and makes every last one sound small and worthless.

His words slice me to the core, and when I try to push them aside, they slither right back in my head. By the time he’s done, it’s all I can do to meet his gaze.

“Now we’re acquainted,” Mr. Root says, as the first ice-cold rain of the night seeps through the mist. He licks his lips with a wormy black tongue. “Now we can chew the fat the way civilized folks ought to.”

He spreads his hands, and the wolf’s smile reappears.

“Be at ease, be at ease,” he says. “We’re not so different, you and I. Both farmers, in our way. You tend the soil, I tend the soul. Planting seeds and watching them grow. You see?”

A shrug seems the safest reply, so I offer him one.

Amusement flickers over his long face. “Very well,” he says. “I concede you may not find the comparison a pleasing one. So, let us cast away metaphor and analogy and have plain words and straight talk.”

He holds up a long, bony finger. “One question, ma’am. That’s all I got. Answer me full and true, and I swear those legs of yours will carry you far from me and mine. Fair enough?”

He lets my hush stand as agreement, and his smile sharpens. “Tell me why you wish your husband dead.”


What slips my lips barely rates as a croak.

“Come now,” says Mr. Root, all cheer, “it’s graven right across your heart. Right alongside so many other secrets and delights.”

Out slithers that long black tongue again, like a snake testing the air. Mr. Root makes a low, wet noise then, some awful mix of hunger and delight, and I lurch back as my stomach heaves. I only just manage to swallow my gorge before I paint the dirt with my supper.

“Ah, fear and fury and guilt,” he murmurs. “That’s a fine, heady blend, to be sure.” He lets a note of commiseration seep into his tone. “I myself admit to having had similar thoughts about Ben Weaver, but no occasion to act upon them.”

“You’re wrong,” I mutter, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. “I wish no harm on my husband.”

“Oh? I’d judge you were well within your rights to.”

Something must show on my face, because he nods.

“Ben Weaver, what’s he done for you? Why, he’s hollowed you out and cast you aside,” Mr. Root says, and just maybe some of that anger in his voice mirrors my own. “He blames you, and you know as much.” He nods again. “Blames you for Daniel. For the boy who never was.”


All I have left of my son is his blanket.

I kept it, even though I wasn’t supposed to.

It’s handmade, as precious things ought to be. My mother and grandmother wove it, and it’s as fine a piece of craft as you’ll ever see.

It’s light blue, just as his nursery was meant to be. My grandmother sewed an enormous silver moon for its centerpiece, and my mother added a hundred twinkling stars. Spread it out, and you’ll think you have a view straight into Heaven.

I cried the first time I held it.

And the last time, too.

My gran told me it was bad luck to keep it after I’d lost the baby. My mother just said it “likely isn’t healthy.” They promised to stitch me something new, and I swore I’d do away with it.

But I didn’t.

Instead I kept it hid there in the nursery, alongside everything else that still held some weight in my life.

As a reminder.

Plans don’t always work out.

Seeds don’t always grow.


“How do you know that name?” I manage to whisper.

Mr. Root chuckles, low and dark, the sound of ice cracking beneath unwary feet. “I have eyes and I have ears, ma’am. Here, there, and everywhere. And pain that runs true and deep, well, that has its own sweet, soft melody. I cannot help but listen… and be drawn.”

He settles himself on a dead stump and folds his long arms over his chest.

“You sure fooled ’em, you know that?”

I haven’t any idea what he’s talking about, and I say as much. That only seems to egg him on.

“The Weavers,” he explains. “You can be dead certain the women threw their bones and read their leaves long before they ever blessed your marriage.” He snorts at that. “They foresaw you’d likely bear Ben Weaver sons and daughters aplenty. But you bucked those odds, and it didn’t turn out how they planned, did it?”


“You are cursed.”

Those were the last words Lila Weaver ever spoke to me. She said them the day after I lost my son.

Ben may guard the wall, but his grandmother guides the Weaver clan. She’ll turn ninety-eight before she sees another summer, but she looks half again as old. Her stare could curdle milk, and her tongue could cut tin. She had her heart set on Ben marrying Polly Galloway, and she was never shy about letting me know it.

She came out of the hills and down to the farmhouse that morning. Marched right into the parlor, which Ben had turned into a makeshift sickroom, and ordered the midwife out. Then she hushed my protests with a grunt and set to her work.

Twigs were snapped and bells were rung. Oily smoke curled from a dozen black candles. Lila spent the whole time muttering words older than the mountains around us. When she was done, she just shook her head.

“You’ll have no children,” she said, and packed up the bells and the twigs and the candles. “And if you remain with my grandson, it will mean misery for you both.”

She’s been right to date.

Wonder if that’s any comfort to her.


“Weavers put some heavy stock in offspring,” Mr. Root says, hauling me back to the present. “I expect you know that.”

I do. Ben reminds me often enough. The knacks and the knowledge the family’s collected get passed down the Weaver bloodline. It won’t work any other way, he tells me. Without an heir, the wall has no guardian.

“You shamed your husband, oh yes, you did,” Mr. Root tells me, as if I didn’t know as much already. “Reckon he’ll have to call for some cousin now, teach the Weaver ways to one whose blood may be a mite thin. After all, what other path is left open to him?”

He lets out his breath in a slow whistle. “Situation like that, you suppose shame might just turn to hate?” His dead eyes glitter with malice. “Or has it already?”


Lose a child, and you either draw together or find yourself paired off with a stranger.

Ben and I, we’ve chosen the latter course. The darker path. I think we both knew we were headed that way the first time we stood over that empty crib.

He took a hammer to it then and there.

Me, I just turned my back. On it, on him, on the whole damn world.

These days, we’ve learned to harden our hearts and withhold what little we have left that is good and gentle. Sharp words and empty gestures, that’s what we have for one another.


I tell Mr. Root none of this, but one look at his eyes says he already knows.

“You don’t wish Ben Weaver dead?”

His tone calls me a liar, but he at last offers a rueful shrug. “Well, as you say.” He taps his chin in thought. “Then what does bring you to our little slice of paradise on this fine, fine evening?”

I try hiding my heart on that score, but Josiah Root made his bones reading other folks’ tells. I’ve little doubt that the tilt of my head or the tremble of my hand lets him peer straight into my soul.

His next words bear out those fears.

“Lee Ann, Lee Ann, Lee Ann. Still a Massey, not yet a Weaver.” Then: “Not ever?” He wags a chiding finger at me. “You can’t bear his child, so you reckon you might help shoulder his burden. He won’t thank you for your efforts, ma’am. Take my word on that.”

I don’t give him the satisfaction of a reply, which only seems to tickle him.

“You’ve come to beard the lions in their den, eh?” He nods to himself. “To test your mettle? To look sin in the eye?” The wolf’s smile again as my cheeks burn. “No shame in it; no, ma’am. You’d not be the first to try and prove your worth by walking such a path.”

He climbs to his feet and dusts himself down.

“Thing is,” he tells me, “you still got half the race to run. It’s all well and good to come take a squint at the likes of us. But what’s real sin without a little forbidden knowledge? Without a bit of temptation?”

The chiding finger crooks itself into a “come hither” gesture.

Josiah Root sets his long legs in motion, and over his shoulder he calls out, “Come along, Weaver wife. Come have a taste of the apple, why don’t you?”

After the briefest of hesitations, after the last of my sense and reason has fled, I stumble along in his wake, hewing close to my side of the wall.

He leads me down a familiar path.

I can’t see much for the mist, of course, but I already know there’s nothing about but rocks and weeds.

It was all farmland once, though. The best in the state, back before the Weavers took up their strange vocation. Before the soil filled with poison.

Mr. Root halts beside a section of the wall that seems to me no different than any other. He snaps his fingers, and one of the damned, an elderly woman with a ruined face, shambles forward to present him with a rusted lantern. He accepts it with a nod and then sets her some other whispered task, which she turns to carry out.

He holds the lantern high and speaks a word that hurts my ears. Something sparks inside, and light the color of a winter sky spills forth.

“Look there,” he says, gesturing ahead of me, at my side of the wall. “Just at your knees.”

At first, I don’t see anything worth a second glance. But then I spot it—a chunk of stone darker than the rest. It’s speckled with pale moss and centered in a cluster of hex signs. Even with no knacks at all, I can feel the power in it.

“That’s the keystone,” Mr. Root says. “That’s what holds the whole shebang together.”


Over the years, Ben’s told me a lot of stories about the wall.

About how the border between the farm and hell got wider and wider, until twenty men couldn’t have kept it guarded. About how the Weavers decided to bring granite down out of the hills and build a barrier against the damned. About how those with knacks and talents came from far and wide to shape the stones. About the blood that got spilled as the wall was built.

He still walks its length each day, and sometimes I go with him. We look for the bits that need mending, the charms and wards that require strengthening.

We used to talk as we walked, and that’s when he’d tell me those stories. He’d tell me all sorts of things. Not these days, of course, but back then.

Ben has his secrets, though. Weavers always do. He’s never spoken of any keystone, for instance. That shouldn’t sting like it does, not with how things are, but the heart’s a funny thing. It takes so little to wound and so much to mend.

I only wish I knew for sure which of those I ought to be spending my efforts on.


“Some say you’re looking at a piece of the heavenly throne, chipped away when the rebel angels got cast down,” whispers Josiah Root. “Others hold it’s old Bram Weaver’s heart, and they allow it was still beating when it was set in place three hundred years ago.” He shakes his head. “Nobody knows for sure anymore, and it don’t matter anyway.”

He nods for me to take a closer look, and I do, kneeling down beside the wall.

I dare to brush a finger across the stone’s surface, and I’m rewarded by a mild shock. But more than that, I feel it shift under my touch. Just a hair, mind. Not visibly. Not noticeably. But I know what I felt.

“It’s loose,” I murmur.

“So it is,” agrees Mr. Root. “To the right touch. At the right times. That’s partly why your husband’s so busy these days. The looser that old stone gets, the easier it is to slip from one side of this wall to the other.”

The rain makes it look like his dead eyes are weeping as he turns his gaze back to the wall. “You can surely see why this would be of some small interest to me.”


Ben does not share his nightmares easily.

But they emerge nonetheless, piecemeal, in grunts and groans during the small hours of the morning. I know he fears the collapse of the wall above all else.

My own worries are smaller and quieter, and I share them with no one.


I rise and let out a sigh, my breath steaming in the frigid air. “You got no words, magic or otherwise, that’ll convince me to yank that stone out.”

Mr. Root chuckles, holds up his hands in mock surrender. “No, ma’am, no. I can already tell you would never do any such thing.”

He leans in, like he’s about to share a choice bit of gossip. “But suppose I don’t want it pulled out.” The ghost of a smile flits across his face. “Suppose I just prefer it a bit more loose than it currently is. Not much, just a tad. Enough so a fellow who knows the trick can slip across when he wishes.”

He snaps his fingers again, and the woman with the ruined face reappears. This time, she bears a small mason jar about the size of my fist. In the lantern light, the liquid it holds shines a deep amber.

“Oh, and suppose I’m willing to pay for services rendered?”

“What is that?” I whisper, and my voice shakes.

“Three tears an angel wept,” Mr. Root says, tilting the jar gently, so the liquid flows from one end to the other and back again. “Seven grains of sand from the shore where the great ark came to rest. Twelve fond wishes snatched from the night air. Drink it, and barren ground grows fertile.” He nods to me. “This is my offer to you.”

“That could be anything,” I tell him. “Poison.”

“It ain’t, though,” he replies, “and you know it.”

I do. Don’t ask me how, but I do.

“No tricks, no traps,” he says. “No need.”

He steps up to the wall and lays his hand on it.

The wards do their work. The effect is immediate—dead flesh begins to scorch and flake away. Greasy, rancid smoke rises from Mr. Root’s burning hand, and I gag. But he holds it steady until he’s set the jar upon the stone.

“Yours,” he whispers. “A favor for a favor.”


I am not a woman given to visions.

Lila Weaver confirmed that the first time we ever met. She said she’d never seen anyone with less potential for a talent. (Ben did not take that well, though he knew the truth of it.)

Her pronouncement came as no surprise to me. The only knack I’ve ever shown involves growing plants and livestock, and I’ve always considered that blessing enough.

So, you can knock me over with a feather when, clear as day, I see before me a girl I know is meant to be my daughter. A vision, an apparition, a harbinger of things to come. Call it what you will.

I make her out to be maybe six or seven. She has corn-silk hair and Ben’s vivid green eyes. Her smile is crooked, but I’ve still never seen anything half as beautiful.

My glimpse of her lasts less time than it takes to whisper her name, which I already know in my heart.

And then I’m left with Mr. Root and the rain and the jar of amber liquid that promises so much.


I can’t rightly say how much time passes before I make my choice. Longer by far than I’d hoped or intended. Longer by far than would bring Ben any comfort.

Mr. Root nods his approval as I set my hand atop the wall.

Only I don’t take up his jar.

Instead, I swat it away.

With a chuckle, he whips out a clutch of bony fingers and plucks it from the air. Then, with an exaggerated flourish, he presents it to me once more. “Are you sure?” he asks softly.

“Get it away from me.”

He doesn’t, though. He keeps it close. Close enough so I can see the swirl and tumble of its contents. “Are you sure right down in the pit of your heart, ma’am?”

It’s not lost on me—nor him either, I expect—that we stand in a wasteland, as near a desert as we’re likely to get, and that this is the third time he’s offered temptation.

I’m under no illusions, though. I have precious little grace in me, divine or otherwise. What I have is a mulish streak and a tangle of scars where my heart ought to be.

Which is how come I answer Josiah Root with my middle finger.

“As you wish,” he says, with a shrug.

He takes a step back from the wall, the lantern hooked over his elbow, the jar still in his outstretched hand. With exaggerated care, he proceeds to unscrew the cap, making sure I don’t miss a second of what follows.

The amber liquid goes like molasses, so it’s the span of a long, long breath before the first fat drop tumbles to the dirt.


My daughter’s name slips from my thoughts forever before the jar’s half-empty. Then go her eyes, then her face. Leaving me with only a few hollow phrases to try and commemorate her.

“No point staring down sin,” says Mr. Root, with a wink, “if it’s got no sting.”

He tosses the jar away, and it’s lost in the night and the rain. I hear it land somewhere with a soft thud. I’m surprised about that, surprised I can make out anything beyond the rasp of my breath and the rapid drum of my pulse.

“Look close, Weaver wife,” whispers Mr. Root. “Look close at what you went and threw away.”

Even in the gloom, it doesn’t take much to see what he means. The ground went muddy the moment the drizzle began, so you’d expect to have a hard time picking out exactly where the jar’s contents got spilled. But that isn’t the case. Because here and there, the soil has taken on a new hue.

From lifeless gray to rich brown.

From barren to fertile.

“Might be I’ll start myself a garden,” purrs Mr. Root, as he lingers over my misery like a fine, fine meal. “Tell me, what sort of flowers take your fancy?”

I hear all this, but only vaguely.

I mutter, “You got your own sting coming, you know.”

Something sparks in his eyes. “Is that so?”

“I’m going to tell Ben.” I have to draw a breath then, and it rattles, cold and wet, in my lungs. “I’m going to tell him about your precious keystone. That’s over and done, Mr. Root. So I guess we both come up short.”

He rubs his jaw as he weighs this. “Answer me this, though, ma’am—just how do you plan on explaining you even know such a thing as the keystone exists?” He lets out a low whistle. “Oh my, what I’d give to be a fly on the wall when you ’fess up that you been down here consorting with the likes of me. You truly willing to break what you still got to deliver a jab or two?”

“What I got’ll hold,” I tell him, and even I’m surprised by the certainty in my voice. Ben’ll likely throw a fit, I know that, but he’ll come around in the end. I’ll make him see my side, damn it. I will.

Mr. Root spends another moment sizing me up, silently prodding at my resolve with those dead eyes of his. At last, he shrugs. “Well, then. Pardon so crude a compliment, ma’am, but you got some gravel in your gut. Yes, you surely do.” He taps a finger to his forehead in a little salute. “Should you ever care to shoot the bull again…”

The withering look I offer makes him snort.

“Now, now, don’t be so quick to spurn. I find that, with open eyes and an open mind,” he murmurs, “all sorts of paths present themselves, Mrs. Weaver. A word to the wise: Best rule nothing out.”

Before I can say anything further—if there’s anything further to be said—he claps those bony hands together and waves me on my way.


I come away from that wall bearing a fresh scar.

I can even see the thing in my mind’s eye: Jagged and raw, brushing here and there against the earlier one left by poor Daniel. Siblings now, as they never were in life.

The pain’s sharp, but it will fade.

Not vanish, though. Never that.

Weavers bear such disfigurements with pride, as marks of their deeds. Maybe mine wouldn’t earn much consideration from the clan, given how it’s hidden from sight, but that’s little matter to me. I know what I’ve done.

I’ve faced down the monsters.

I’ve come away with their secrets.

That’s worth a bit of pride, I reckon.

And if I can manage that, if I can bear the load a Weaver ought to, just maybe I can figure a way for Ben and me to mend what we once had, too.

Our scars—our wounds—have earned us that much.


I’m halfway up the hill when Mr. Root calls out. He wants me to know what flowers he’s chosen to plant.

Lilacs and honeysuckle.

In my honor.

I don’t look back.

I quicken my pace, though. Just a hair.

By the time I reach the dogwood and its ghost jars, I’ve begun to shiver a little.


Ben’s as good as his word, returning while the morning sky’s still a misty gray. It’s my turn to offer a kiss on the cheek, which he accepts with an honest-to-God smile.

Whatever’s brought on his fine mood, I don’t care to spoil it. Not straight off, anyhow. The damned have no love of sunshine, so I’ve got a bit of time. I figure maybe I’ll circle around to what needs saying, put the best light I can on it.

In the meantime, I turn the conversation back to him.

“Fewer crossings than I’d expected,” he says, when I ask about his night. “Ran a couple down over by the Blackburn place. Caught a straggler wading the creek at Mills Point. Most of the others didn’t stray too far from the wall for some reason.”

A frown clouds his face as he considers this. Before he can ponder it further, I tell him to go on inside and get himself cleaned up. I’ll have breakfast ready by the time he’s out of the shower.

“Where’s your coat?” I call after him.

“Front seat,” he says, over his shoulder. “Gonna need some stitching.”


I sit at the kitchen table and pass my hands over the duster again. Ben’s still in the shower, which is good, because I haven’t even started breakfast.

Three long gashes run the length of the coat’s right sleeve. The heavy fabric hangs in tatters there. But the damage doesn’t worry me. I’ve mended worse.

Ben’s in good shape, too. Some nights, I’ve done my share of stitching on him. The worst he has this morning, though, is a bruise or two.

So you might expect my heart to be somewhat lighter than where I started. But you’d be wrong.

Because Ben’s duster smells of lilacs and honeysuckle.

Faint, so faint. A trace, a whiff. But easy enough to peg if you’ve already had the hint.

The honeysuckle doesn’t mean a thing, of course. You can find it all over the valley. But lilacs, those aren’t so common. Not at all. Fact is, I can only think of one place where you’d end up smelling of lilacs.

The Galloway farm.

Polly Galloway’s parents passed a couple of years back and left the whole thing to her. She still grazes cattle on the land, but some of it’s given over to greenhouses and flower gardens. You could find yourself a whole lot of lilacs there.

Ben didn’t mention any trip out that way. Of course, he likely wouldn’t, since he knows how I feel about Polly. It’s probably that and nothing more.

But I keep thinking about what Mr. Root said. About thin blood and open paths. About forbidden knowledge and the sting that comes with facing sin.

About scars.

About wounds.

About planting seeds and watching them grow.

Brian Winfrey has written everything from ad copy to magazine articles to fortune cookie messages. When he’s away from his keyboard, he’s likely to be found somewhere along I-40, in search of yet another roadside attraction. Otherwise, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two dogs, a ferocious cat, and far too many books.

“In the Fields of Sin, Down Among the Dead” by Brian Winfrey. Copyright © 2020 by Brian Winfrey.

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