The Intercession, a short story by Phil Cline

The Intercession, a short story by Phil Cline



Miles to the north another man was just arriving at the peak of the coastal mountain Range. He, like Jeff Davalos back at Dorn’s restaurant, also knew the identity of the man killed on Morro Rock. The victim was his brother.


The man was tired from the drive. He had been fast asleep at his apartment in Sacramento when the phone rang at four in the morning.


After the long drive, the ocean was a welcome sight. The crest presented a panoramic view of the entire coastline. From there the road began its descent toward Highway One, the Pacific Coast Highway. Keeping his eye on the winding mountain road, he hazarded a glance south. Morro Rock, emerging out of the ocean in the early morning sun, was visible to him even at that great distance,


Like Nick Easley, Wayne Caster was a lawyer. Unlike Nick he was a very ambitious and wealthy.


He knew his brother was dead. It had been Jeff Davalos who had called him. Jeff was an old acquaintance.   As a child Wayne, along with the rest of the family, part of the dust bowl migration from the Oklahoma, worked on the Davalos farm in the central valley. It was obvious during the call that Jeff had been drinking. He had handed the phone to his housekeeper, Maria, who explained to Wayne what she knew. She had a name of a police officer from the Morro Bay police department. Wayne had called the officer. Although the officer had been evasive about what had happened, the words, “possible homicide” did slip out. Wayne had gotten dressed, packed a bag, got in his car and now he was at the coast to see why his brother had died.


He had known this day was coming for a long time. Ever since the intercession.


In the 1950s, Wayne, his brother Andy, his sister Kathyrn, and the rest of their family lived in a small wooden house in the crossroads migrant town of Farmersville. A family of farm workers had originally occupied the house. They had abandoned the shack and followed the seasonal fruit picking on up the coast to Oregon.


His father had watched the house for 2 weeks after the farm worker family left. He had a plan. One day the house was picked up, balanced between two flat bed trailers and moved to an open dirt lot by their father and some of his mother’s brothers. No one ever said anything outside the family, but there was plenty of joking among his uncles about the Caster house being stolen property.


Purloined or not, the house sat on concrete blocks about a foot off the bare ground. There was no indoor plumbing, no running water. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room. Their father and mother slept in one of the bedrooms; he and his older brother Andy, shared the other bedroom. His younger sister, Kathyrn, slept on a fold out couch in the living room.


When Andy, was twelve, he contracted the measles. In the Fifties it was a serious disease. It could scar and cripple and even kill. Large pink welts started first on his back and shoulder, spreading up his neck and on to his face where they became red and angry. He was miserable and demanding. And he and his mother, who could do nothing to make him comfortable, became combative.


They were at war from morning until night. He was insulting and demanding and she was cutting and pitiless. They fought over everything. Their words were harsh and unforgiving. But then, as the days passed with no respite from the sickness, Andy weakened. He became less combative. He became more compliant. And somehow that was scarier, more serious. But still the days were filled with plenty of noise from their arguments and his complaints. But he couldn’t keep it up.


At the end of the day as the dusk turned to darkness, silence and an uneasy peace finally, thankfully descended on the house.


And that is when his brother, Andy, normally, the most self-assured, the bravest of the family was at his weakest. His usual singular determination was always just below the surface during the day, However, when the darkness came, his brother whimpered and cried in his sleep, other times cowering down in his blankets, fully awake. He would whisper “they are here” and Wayne, would reluctantly look to where Andy pointed. He didn’t want to look. But when he did nothing was there.


“They are trying to steal something from me.”


“Huh, what? And what’s trying to get it?”


“Please stay over here.”


And Wayne would crawl in bed beside Andy, scared too, but not seeing anything at all at the place, the corner, where Andy’s eyes were focused. Wayne was kept to his own side of the bed. He didn’t want to touch his brother. He was also afraid of the red bumps and welts.


And then there were times Andy would scream out, like he was being stung and trying to fight off something.


That’s when his mother, so tired from lack of sleep at night and mentally warring with Andy during the day, would call their grandmother and knowing it was on the party line whisper, “Please come,” without saying more.


Wayne’s grandmother lived just up the street. She was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian. Or so people said. Wayne use to be skeptical, but the pictures he found of her as a young girl and which Wayne kept in a plastic box on the top shelf of his closet, seemed to verify her lineage. They showed a firm, stocky woman with a dark, ruddy complexion. She had stern, slanted, Mongolian eyes.


His grandmother maintained she was a devout Christian. She enthusiastically shouted her testimony in church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. She quoted the Bible copiously, if a little inaccurately. None of that mattered since her beliefs and superstitions were of such variety that Wayne, looking back, wondered if her true religion was something other than Christianity.


The night before the intercession, Wayne’s mother had called. And thirty minutes later, their grandmother was walking through the front door, carrying bags and her Bible. She stayed the night, sitting next to Andy’s bed, holding a cool cloth to his forehead.


The next morning, she sat at the kitchen table as Wayne’s mother bustled around making coffee and cleaning the breakfast dishes.


“The Nightgoers want his days”, she quietly told his mother.


Neither knew Wayne was behind the door, listening


“You need to protect him from them. Only you can do it. I lost the power. It never lasts to my age.”


“I can’t.   It still scares me. I can’t move. I hear him whine and still I can’t move. I don’t want to see them again. I saw them when I was little. Never all of them, just shadows. I closed my eyes. I wouldn’t look. Your vision, yours’ to see. I never wanted the sight. I never wanted to look. I never wanted to see. I wouldn’t look; I hid under the covers and kept my eyes closed. I still want to hide.”


“It’s in you. Only you,” the grandmother said. Then she paused, thinking. “And one other besides. Among all the children. One other. You know this. One other. But, not yet. She’s not ready. I don’t think so anyway. But you need to do this. You know you can do this.”


“No. I’ve never seen like you. To me they are just shadows, mists, half there.I hate it. All of it. I won’t do it. I can’t.”


“You can. You never did as I tell you. Talk them verses I gave you. You have to sing the verses. The devils must obey. They have always obeyed when we are say the words.”


“Then let her do it.   She’s old enough. Teach her the words. I’m not going to do it.”


Out grandmother didn’t say anything for a few moments.


“Maybe you’re right. The power must be passed on to others in line. It could die out if we don’t give it over.”


“I was the wrong one. It shouldn’t have fallen to me. They scare me. I hate them. I don’t want to see. I saw. I saw plenty and I don’t want to see ever again.”


“Someone must. They are here now. In the next room. You son suffers. He is tortured. It happens. Men sometimes see what we see. They can’t handle it. We have to make them believe the things are gone. If we don’t they end up in the crazy house, the asylum. It falls to us. It’s our lot. Tonight they will be here to take more of his days. His life is already shortened.”


A movement caught Wayne’s eye. His sister, Kathryn was on the other side of the door, hiding and listening. He glared at her and stiffly shook his head and mouthed “NO!”   She just sneered her upper lip at him and pointed outside.


He quietly, stealthy, followed her. The conversation Wayne was eavesdropping on fell to a murmur as he moved father away and eventually through the screen door, it slamming shut behind him. He walked into the yard where his sister stood, a hand on her hip, still sneering.


“Sneaky. You sneak! I’m going to tell.” she called out.


He was about to punch her, but she laughed suddenly out loud and slapped him hard on the side of his head, knocking off his ball cap and fled. Wayne followed in hot pursuit.


Fast on her feet, she was easily fleeing out of his reach, but as he always did, he spotted something in her gate, her pace, something that told him which way she would veer off. He never figured out what it was that always told him such a thing about Kathryn, but he knew all right and he went that way, cutting the angle before she made her turn and was suddenly on her grabbing her waist and taking her to the ground, she flailing at him with both fists and him knowing which hand was coming first, He seized her wrists and held her and pinned her back on the ground. Straddling her, he continued holding her until the fight and the struggle went out of her.


“Stop it. Let me up. I’m telling.   What were you doing? What were they talking about? What’s a Nightgoer?”


So she had heard.


“Do you see those things?”, she asked, “I’ve never seen those things. Sarah says grandma is just a crazy old Indian coot and Mom’s crazy just like here. She said that’s what her mother said.”


“Just you never mind. Andy is sick. Real sick. He could die. He sees things. Things that aren’t there. Maybe grandma can help him.”


“She is crazy.”




“She calls me names and tells me, if I let boys play with me I will get rot sickness and die with boils and sores all over me. And no one will come to my funeral because I will be so disgusting, so ugly, and they will leave me out for the owls and wolves to eat. She’s crazy.”


“Kathryn, you just make that shit up. Grandma always treated you special. You know that. She’s got something special in her mind about you. Besides you really are already ugly and disgusting.”


“Do you think Andy will die?” she asked, no longer interested in continuing a conversation where she was the disgusting subject.


“Are those things going to eat him? Do you see them? What are they?”


“I don’t see them. Sometimes Andy will start talking about them before he does see. I don’t know how, I just know he will and then he starts whispering and whimpering like when the dog’s alone and afraid locked in the chicken coop back of the lot.”


“I want to see them. Can I see them? Tonight. I will sneak in you guy’s room tonight.”

“No! We will get in trouble. Mom will yell at us. Besides, Andy doesn’t want anyone to know he’s scared of ‘em. He won’t talk about it during the day, but he dreads the nighttime. I know he does.”


“Okay”, she said, but Wayne could tell she did not mean it. He knew right then, she would come that night and there was nothing he could say to keep her from doing so. Kathryn did what she wanted to do. Always. And usually she managed to figure out how to escape punishment. Even though she was the youngest of the three, she was the smartest when it came to avoiding consequences. She seemed to know most times what other people would do, even grown ups. She didn’t care, she did exactly what she wanted.


That night he and his father went next door to watch the fights on Television. The neighbors were a Mexican family. They were also the first on the street to get a T.V.


The family was friendly, gracious and he and his Dad appreciated being asked over to watch the Tube. Wayne’s mother didn’t like “foreigners” as she called them and would always say No. But not his Dad. He liked the Friday Night Fights.


He would sit on the edge of a chair and flinch like he was taking the punches himself as he watched the blows of the Heavy Weights land to ribcage, forehead and sometimes below the belt. Between rounds, the Gillette commercials would play. Snappy jingles that stayed with you, bouncing around in your head. During the commercials the fathers would talk of work, cars, and sometimes, if the wife wasn’t within earshot, of women.


After the fights, Wayne would watch Disneyland with Margie, the 12-year-old girl. She was his girlfriend sometimes. Once, sitting on a blanket playing canasta, she undid the top of her swimsuit and let him see, furtively glancing around to make sure no one was watching. On fight night, she sat at the kitchen table as his father and him and the Mexican man and his wife watched the fights. Margie glanced at him often. While his Dad flinched and simulated a punch or two Wayne smiled back at her. He never forgot that little secret smile. It warmed him to this day like no other woman’s smile had ever warmed him.


After Disneyland was over, after Tinkerbelle made her last sprinkle of fairy dust from her magic wand, he and his father went back to their house. It was time for bed and Wayne went to the bedroom. Andy, his brother was there, quiet, lying facing the wall, the blanket lying lightly over his shoulders. Wayne couldn’t tell if he was asleep. He doubted he was.


As usual, Wayne faded off into a sleep, but came awake, knowing it was about to begin. He felt a presence next to him in the bed; it was Kathyrn lying there beside him, watching Andy. She had crawled into Wayne’s bed and under the covers, her back toward Wayne. He could feel the bare skin of her legs. She was watching Andy intensely.


Andy’s breathing had started getting deeper like he was trying to catch his breath and then his legs began moving under the bed, like he was running. He was sighing. Suddenly, he sat straight up and looked to the furthest corner of the room. Wayne noticed Kathryn was already looking at the same spot. He looked too. It was hidden in the shadows. He couldn’t tell if anything was there.


Kathryn slowly pushed the covers back and got off his bed and walked toward the corner with a small box of some kind in her hand. She was naked. Andy saw her and watched her, but didn’t say anything. She looked over at him once without expression and moved on to the corner.


She opened the box and Wayne could hear her mumbling, chanting singsong indistinguishable words. He couldn’t make out what they were.


Andy looked, his eyes wide, wild, the whites showing, flicking back and forth between Kathryn and the corner. She took something out of the box and held up her hand. He couldn’t make out what was in her hand. All the while, she was still mumbling words. The moonlight through the uncovered window was reflecting off her skin. It didn’t look like the skin of a little girl. More translucent. After a few moments she became still. Then all was quiet and the moments passed without any sound or movement.


Finally, Kathryn turned away from the corner walked back across the middle of the room and stood next to Andy’s bed.


She said quietly to Andy, “They are gone.”


“For good?”


“Gone. They took some from you.”




“It’s okay. You have many. If it had gone on longer that would have been bad. Burning years. The next deep is many years. Some is gone and that’s too bad, but it’s not so many and you have many left. Many years left.”


“Okay.” He nodded. “It’s better. I feel smaller somehow. Less. But it’s not too bad. They won’t come back? You sure, they won’t be back?”


“I don’t think so; they are gone. They’ve gone hunting someone else.”


Kathryn’s eyes found Wayne’s. He was still sitting there on the side of the bed in his underwear. She looked at him, but the way she looked at him, he thought, was different. She was more serious now. She was more distant. She had changed. He looked at her body. He had seen her naked before, but even that was different now. Her body was that of a kid, but wasn’t. He knew then there would never be anymore times when they chased each other and wrestled and fought and made up for no other reason, than that they were kids. She didn’t smile. She didn’t frown. She just looked at him. Like there was regret there, a missing, already a longing for a happy innocence they just had that afternoon, but which for her was gone now. Gone forever.


She turned then and walked through the door and just as she crossed the threshold, Wayne saw his grandmother. He hadn’t realized the Grandma had been there in the hallway watching the whole time. She looked at him, smiled and turned to follow his sister into the other room. She was carrying Kathryn’s nightgown. She paused in the doorway for just a moment. Her head turned slightly as she looked back over her shoulder at Wayne before she gently closed the door. The latch clicked.

As he drove down the mountain and on toward the Pacific, Wayne was thinking of how, as a kid one looked across the endless time of youth, when the decades stretch out before you, time lost at the end, even years never seem too many. If you’re young, brief decades are forever. But now that Wayne was older and his brother was dead, those long years from the time when he was twelve until now had passed like a snap of one’s fingers. He thought of his brother, who he had been told might have had his life taken from him on Morro Rock, and he thought of the many miles and years they had traveled from the house where his sister Kathryn had interceded with whatever was tormenting him.


The last time he had seen Andy, he was composed but sad; he seemed to often stare elsewhere at something unseen. He wore a look of resignation. Like something was coming he wished to avoid; something inevitable he couldn’t stop. When he questioned Kathryn about it, she had shrugged her shoulders. She looked off in the distance, but Wayne had the feeling she was seeing something much closer. Something internal. Her only comment was, “Andy has been troubled for a long time now.”


He thought back to that night Kathryn had opened the mysterious little box and mumbled her incantation. And he remembered after it was over, what was said. Kathryn had used the words. She had said the words to Andy “not so many”.


Back when they were kids it didn’t seem like so much. But now his brother was dead. And yes, the years taken from him were not so much in the arc of a life. Unless you were at the end. Unless you had none left. Unless some evil had, at an appointed hour, come to take you. And all along you knew it would happen. What would you do then? If you knew?




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