The Cratch, Thy Keeper

When that Cratch am watchin’, you better do right.

Suck a corncob if them striped birds go over. Cranes pass on high, you best bury you some young mouse teeth. Wear radishes round you neck.

You see leaves blowin’, best get gone quick.

If it a odd number day, stay away from metal. Don’t move no chairs. Hear toad grunt? Dunk you head in a cold gray river. The Cratch see all.

If a fish bleed, throw salt at salesmen’s eyes.

Me, Hake Jones, I am Sheriff in this valley. I am Reverend. I am Judge. I am Law. Wear me a cassock, carry a long hay blade. I tell man, woman, child. Fear that Cratch. Do as the Law command.

I tell that old Sam Butlin, look out. Sam won’t rattle no can of dried peas. Sam don’t watch for no striped birds. He don’t care a snip for no Cratch.

Me and my Alice see blood smear on the dirt. Skull in a tree, ass-bone on a shed roof. Cratch got you good, Sam!

Only one road into this valley. Only one road out. Thou shalt not flee the Cratch, thy keeper. Thou wilt not make it past the wild, waving corn.

Guy show up from city. He Anthapologist, he say. He got tape deck, he got note-book in him pants.

He say I’m researching the unique religion practiced by inhabitants of this valley. Tell me about the Cratch.

He click on him tape deck. He whip out his damn pencil.

Git out! I ain’t tellin’ you bout no Cratch!

He say You shun the Christianity indigenous to this region. Instead you follow a primeval, animistic cult centered around worship of an unseen agricultural spirit.

I say what? I say You better watch you ass! You don’t go poke you beak round this place. The Cratch am watchin’!

He say I understand you adhere to a strict set of apotropaic rituals which purport to ward off the wrath of your corn god.

That the last thing Anthapologist say. He come round in him fancy hat. Won’t suck no corncob. I thy Cratch am a wrathful Cratch.

Sure enough: damn fool pass by corn. Teeth on road, ditch full of blood.

Empty a pitcher to the west, urinate to the south. Greet the northern sun with a cry of Horses?

Were a time missionaries come thru. Wavin’ Bible, preachin’ Glory. I got no beef with Jesus. But you tell me, when last time Jesus show up in a gust o leaves, twist you up like a chicken fence? The day Jesus start kickin’ ass like that, we all suck corncob for Jesus.

Missionaries get out quick. Leaves blow in a dim Fall sky.

The Cratch rise from tore up hay ricks, float out of wasp-blown mills, curl round stoven crofts where the crows move in.

I see Slocum Joe on a barn roof at midnight. Flashin’ a light at the stars.

Joe! What the hell you doin’? Hope you brung a corncob up there!

Joe freeze up. He come down,  pull me into shadows.

There somethin’ big out there, Hake, he tell me.

Big? What big?

Bigger than us. Bigger than…

Shut you cake pit, fool! Don’t be talkin’ like that!

I done it, Hake! I flash my light up at the Milky Way. An somethin’ flash back!

Over Joe shoulder, I see scarecrow turn a head our way.

Best you hush, Joe.

Somethin’ flash me back, Hake! It comin’! It comin’ to save us! We just got to tell it the way! Hake, ain’t you tired? Ain’t you tired a suckin’ corncob, dunkin’ you fool head in the river? Ain’t you tired a worryin’ every time you trot by corn, somethin’ gone tear you up a treat?

Leaves blowin’ round my feet. Shut it, Joe!

We can fight it, Hake! We can be free of that ole Cratch!

Beam of moon light catch me. Joe look. Cloud of leaves blow round my body. I pick up a ax. Me, I can feel the Cratch. He work thru me. I do right by him.

Hake, what you doin’?

Sun come up next day, see bone on the roof. Blood on the dirt. Me suckin’ a corncob, watchin’ them striped birds blow by on a sinister wind.