June wiped a sweaty lock of hair off her forehead and pulled it behind her ear. Mugginess stuck in her lungs with each breath. There was a web between two wooden railing posts at her knee—or at least there must have been a web, because little blue mosquitos and moths were trapped in it. One moth kicked tiny blue legs and bounced all the other bugs. She folded her arms flat on the railing. Men on stilts waded through the bog with nets, dredging up glowing blue raspberries and placing them in satchels on their back. From where June stood, they had the shapes of slender giants; long at the knee. Beneath her chin, a candle burned green in a brazier off the back deck, with galaxies of moths swarming its glow. She swatted at a horsefly buzzing around her head. The candle cast a sickly green light out over the water. Snapped fishing line hung down from a branch, dangling a metal hook in open air. It shined like a ghostly green J floating just out of her reach off the railing. Beneath the candle, a fat toad—the size of two bricks of horse feed—squatted on a diagonal log sticking out of the water. It made attempts to jab its tongue at the flies above.
“It’s out there tonight...” said the deepest voice she’d ever heard.
“What?” she asked. A small giant turned sideways to fit himself through the door. His muddy foot pressed the deck an inch into the mud as he stepped out beside her and looked out to the swamp. The top of her head was lower than his elbow. She felt like a child standing beside him. He stood with his hands clasped together in front of his crotch, and had an anxious slouch to his posture that dogs do after they shit on a bed. She looked straight up to see the man’s face. He set two big hands on the railing. It sagged until she leaned off of it. His shoulders were so thick, they seemed to begin at the bottom of his ears. Two black eyes on either side of his nose looked as if they were always swollen, but his face had a calm nature. He released a long, deep breath that blew mosquitoes clean off the web and seemed to deflate his shoulders away from his ears. The entire deck sagged as he leaned forward onto the railing. She relaxed, the bastard was too drunk to notice she was out of place. “What’s out there tonight?” she asked, again.
“Well, It, goes by many titles,” the man said, resting a forehead on one arm and untucking a black shirt from his pants with another. More sweat drenched the back of his shirt than she’d drank water in a week. “Some call it the Specter, fellas at the brothel call it the Hacksaw.”
“This ain’t the brothel?” she shuddered.
“It’s known long-tail as the Vesper Banshee.”
“What is it?”
She followed his gaze out over the still green water.
“Ain’t nobody ever seen it,” he said, rocking his head in his arms. He was drunk all the way through. “They say it could be around us at all times, just outta sight, but definitely there. The Banshee, they say, can’t be harmed by a sword.”
“Men have a way of describing things a bit bigger than they actually are,” June replied. In her head, she applauded herself for the dumb joke; it was exactly the kind of flirty crap her gypsy persona would say. The giant laughed, and his breath smelled of that awful lip chew, with a bit of hickory and whiskey. She wasn’t looking at him anymore but he kept right on talking.
“The Banshee lives along the Hollow trail,” he said. “One man once claimed to have seen the creature—claimed it’s got wiry fur the shade of darkness itself. It’s got twenty-six legs that drag its thorax across dry leaves silently. It is a shape like none other.” The toad hurled its tongue towards her and snatched a moth in front of her nose. It sat with the insect half crushed in its mouth, blue ripples of water pushing out from the log. She could have sworn the toad was smiling. “I’ve seen the carnage it leaves behind,” he said. “They say that’s why Gallows leaves corpses along the trail; to let the beast shred into that meat instead of shredding into his men.”
He turned his head and looked down into her chest. He didn’t seem ashamed that she could see him looking; he didn’t even seem like he was looking for pleasure; he looked down with the disapproval of a father. Then he looked in her eyes. Above wrinkles on his forehead, his brown hair was thinning back over his scalp. He looked exhausted beneath the liquor.
“Aren’t you too young to be dressed like this?” Oscar Fenwick asked her.
“Aren’t you too drunk to respect women?” she asked, stepping backwards out of his shadow.
“I’ve got a daughter not much younger than you, and I’d kill anyone who put her in clothes like the ones you’re wearing now,” he said.
“Does she know you kill for money?”
He pushed off the railing and took a rabbit step to balance himself. A floorboard snapped beneath his bare heel. The broken pieces fell into the water below with two plunks. As if this were a regular thing, he lifted his heel and placed it on another board.
“I kill for her,” Oscar whispered, looking back into the doorway to see if anyone was within earshot. “I need the money to buy her out of a brothel Jimmy Gallows runs.” He fell back onto the railing and the whole right side of the deck sunk a foot into the swamp. “It’s all spinning,” he said, straightening his legs along the floorboards. “Some of these men, they kill for money but forgot why they needed it. They aren’t Daddies like me. I got no other option but to find Wesley Chambers and lay him at Jimmy’s feet.” She’d mistaken a desperate father for a villain. June reached a hand forward to help him to his feet; it disappeared between both of his. He pulled her down, slowly, until she was kneeling beside him. She couldn’t see exactly what color his eyes were in the darkness on the porch, but they shined in the green candle, and they were the most scared eyes she’d ever seen. “I almost had Wesley Chambers on the border of Hastings a few nights ago. Gallows knows Wesley Chambers is in Hastings, he left with an army to burn that sorry town to the ground.” She slipped her hand out from between his and wiped it off on her skirt. “If they find Wesley Chambers in Hastings, I’ll never see my little girl again.”
“I’ve got a brother in Hastings,” she said.
His eyes narrowed.
“Then what the hell are you doing here?”