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Kudzu Prayers

January 22, 2010

January 23, 2010: Special thanks to David Shrock and Anton Gully for astute suggestions that I’ve now incorporated into the piece. Thanks! 

Miriam loved to take walks. Long walks. It was the only way to escape the incessant demands of her increasingly unwieldy life. One part of her habitual neighborhood route was special. Not much to look at—a jumbo of electric wires and overgrown kudzu. But whenever she got near it, things changed. The whirring in her mind slowed a bit and she could breathe deeper. Sometimes she stoppedand prayed there. There, where the kudzu leaves levitated in the wind, everything seemed okay. And lately nothing in her world had been okay.
She was within sight of her special place when a man dashed out of the woods into her path. She jumped.
“Sorry, ma’am. Didn’t mean to scare you. But I was wondering, could you spare some change? My car broke down about a mile up the road and I really need to get home to Gainesville.”
She thought he must’ve passed at least 50 houses where someone could help him, but decided not to question his story. He looked homeless—dark brown matted hair, sun-battered skin, bloodshot eyes, and one front tooth missing. What was a homeless man doing all the way out here?
“Sir, I don’t have anything with me to give you.” She really didn’t. She didn’t carry money with her and today she’d even decided to forgo the iPod.
The stranger looked her up and down and then up and down once more, stopping his gaze at her sports bra. She squirmed. She hated when men did this. Time to move on. She walked forward.
The man stepped directly in front of her. “I don’t believe you.”
She felt a faint tremble inside. “I’m serious. I would give you something if I had it. I don’t even have pockets, see?”
After the man’s eyes passed over her hips and then over the cell phone in her right hand, he said, “Okay, ma’am, sorry to have disturbed you,” and moved off the trail.
She let out her breath slowly—not realizing she’d been holding it—and walked past him. Now just a few feet away from her favorite spot, she decided she would stop on the way back—when she hoped he would be gone.
She heard steps pounding behind her.  Scarcely a second later she was tackled to the ground. “I told you I didn’t believe you,” the man said, pointing a gun in her face. His body was twitching. Her mind went completely blank. All she could see was his face, as if permanently imprinted on her retinas—even as she felt herself dragged across the dirt path and into the edge of the woods.
Then she was high above it all, watching. Watching as he pulled down her pants, watching as he clumsily tried to pull her sports bra over her head. Watching as—
The gun. The gun was beside him. No longer in his hand. If she willed it, if she could move her…Suddenly it was in her hand. A huge explosion rang in her ears.
She wasn’t exactly sure what happened next. All she saw was a man holding the side of his face as he ran. On the ground was a huge red stain. Blood sure does look brighter in person than on TV, she thought vaguely. Her pants were down at her ankles. She pulled them up and readjusted her sports bra. It took all of her mental energy to do these tasks because her hands were shaking so badly.
Off to the side she thought she saw—then heard—movement. She was terrified, but couldn’t help turning her head. A little boy stood silently looking at her. In his hands, butt end towards the ground, was a gun just like the man’s. Theboy saw her eyes rest on the gun and sensed her fear.
“Paint gun, ma’am. My friends and I were in the woods and—” he looked uncomfortable. He stepped towards her and reached to pick up the gun on the ground beside her. “Reckon you won’t be needing this anymore.” He took the gun into his other hand and began walking away.
She called out, “Have I seen you somewhere before?”
He turned around. “I don’t know ma’am, maybe.”
“Do you live in the neighborhood?”
He seemed to hesitate. “I live,” he pointed towards the kudzu, “back in there.” She followed his finger into the mess of kudzu. When she looked back, he’d disappeared.
33 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    January 22, 2010 3:25 pm

    GP Ching says-
    Nice work! Entertaining read. I was worried for her and somehow relieved that it was a paint gun. I’m not sure why but I wanted to spare her the added trauma of potentially killing someone.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    January 22, 2010 3:30 pm

    I Felt like GP did too – I like the concept of the kudzu ghost answering the unspoken kudzu prayers!

  3. Anonymous permalink
    January 22, 2010 3:31 pm

    friday flash
    Oh, this went from soothing to heart thumping to relief!
    I know that kudzu is being cultivated for many things, including medicinally.
    It was a clever to use as a place that stopped main character’s whirring mind and brought peace.
    And also added to the mystery of the little boy.

    • January 22, 2010 6:22 pm

      Re: friday flash
      Thanks! There’s actually a place like this where I used to walk. (I still walk there occasionally). I was always struck at how something society considered to be such a nuisance inhabited what seemed like an almost magical place. I was also intrigued because everywhere around it was developed, but this place was left. Anyway, I’ve seen kudzu differently ever since I walked that path over and over again for years. 🙂

  4. Anonymous permalink
    January 22, 2010 3:35 pm

    Great story here!
    “Paint gun, ma’am” – nice!

    • January 22, 2010 6:23 pm

      Re: NICE!
      Thanks, when I wrote that line I could “see” him and “hear” him say it…and I think that’s when I simultaneously realized that there would be a paint gun and where the story was going…

  5. Anonymous permalink
    January 22, 2010 3:37 pm

    I am relieved she was saved and I hope that the episode doesn’t ruin her enjoyment of the kudzu “sanctuary”.

  6. January 22, 2010 6:23 pm

    Ooo — you really managed to run us through a gauntlet of emotions in such a short piece.

  7. Anonymous permalink
    January 22, 2010 6:25 pm

    Oh thank goddess…
    Only a paint-gun… relief. Very tight and taut, great read. Nasty old man ;^) Peace, Linda

  8. Anonymous permalink
    January 22, 2010 7:37 pm

    This was a great story. I too was relieved that it was a paint gun – a little anyway. The mystery of the boy in the kudsu has the making of another story.

    • January 23, 2010 3:02 am

      Re: Excellent!
      Thank you! It would be fun to do another story, or re-do this one into something more…

  9. Anonymous permalink
    January 22, 2010 9:01 pm

    Kudzu Prayers
    This is cleverly done Melissa. At the point that Miriam’s fears are made real the prose becomes detached and dreamlike, “…high above it all, watching.” She’s outwardly passive, but not so passive that she can’t conjure a protective guardian angel from a gentle herbaceous stand.

    • January 23, 2010 3:05 am

      Re: Kudzu Prayers
      Thanks! I was going for the type of detachment that can happen in a traumatic situation but also leaving it open to an interpretation more magical, one where she is conjuring…

  10. Anonymous permalink
    January 22, 2010 9:06 pm

    Love it
    This is absolutely brilliant! Nice pacing, “hold-your-breath” tension, just perfect. So glad it turned out well.

    • January 23, 2010 3:05 am

      Re: Love it
      Thank you so much! I’m glad the pacing worked and wasn’t too rushed. 🙂

  11. Anonymous permalink
    January 22, 2010 9:42 pm

    Excellent edge of the seat storytelling. Glad that it had a happy ending.

    • January 23, 2010 3:06 am

      Thanks! I’m glad, too, although I had toyed with it not having one. It just wasn’t suiting me…

  12. Anonymous permalink
    January 22, 2010 9:54 pm

    Tough material and you handled it well. Emotional ride. I was nearing the edge of my seat there for a moment.
    A little rough spot here: “readjusted the sports bra the man had decided to leave on” where “the man had decided…” unnecessary or could use rewording to describe that it hadn’t come all the way off. –There’s an extra quote mark in “Paint gun, Ma’am” line.
    Nice work!

    • January 23, 2010 1:19 pm

      Thanks! Thanks for the suggestion, too. I think I’m going to go ahead and incorporate it here. I wrote this quickly, probably too hastily wanting to get it posted–so I really appreciate it.

  13. January 23, 2010 12:03 am

    Great story and you caught me out yet again where it was going.
    “Soon she heard running steps behind her and was tackled to the ground. “I told you I didn’t believe you.” The man said, pointing a gun in her face.”
    Soon…behind her AND was …the ground – a LOT going on in that sentence. Soon is a spoiler in this sentence, it’s like: soon…… BLAM. You should drop “soon” and just BLAM!
    eg, “She heard steps pounding behind her.” then and probably distinct: “She was tackled to the ground.”
    Just nit-picking!!!

    • January 23, 2010 1:25 pm

      Re: Gripping!
      Haha! The funny thing is that I wasn’t happy with that sentence, so I’m glad you made the suggestion. As I said in the post before, I wrote quickly–and I think I too hastily wanted to get it up (I felt I was late)–so this is great. I’m going to incorporate your suggestion as well.

      • January 23, 2010 1:28 pm

        Re: Gripping!
        p.s. Love how you put “She heard steps pounding behind her.” I’m definitely plagiarizing here. 😉

        • January 23, 2010 1:43 pm

          Re: Gripping!
          I tried a couple of ways before I went with your suggestion verbatim. I agree with the need for breaking it up and for emphasizing the tackle, but I’m still not quite happy with it. I can work on it later when I’m not being interrupted constantly by two little ones. 🙂 (Or maybe I’ll spend a little more time on word craft next #fridayflash. 😉 I really do appreciate it, though. 🙂

          • January 25, 2010 12:40 am

            Re: Gripping!
            Changed once again. Still not happy, but I think I’m giving this one a rest. 🙂

  14. Anonymous permalink
    January 24, 2010 6:23 pm

    Ahh, kudzu
    There’s large growths of kudzu on either side of FAR Manor. Odd, but sometimes when I’m out walking, I’ll stop and look over the bright green covering the ground and climbing the trees. The story was well-done, relative calm on either side with a frantic middle.

    • January 25, 2010 12:41 am

      Re: Ahh, kudzu
      Thanks! There seems to be something fascinating about the stuff, whatever else one may think of it. 🙂

  15. Anonymous permalink
    January 26, 2010 3:48 pm

    This was beautiful, I’ve never been relieved to read about a paint gun before 🙂

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