It happened for the first time, the summer the girl with the pigtails went missing, abducted from a small town along the interstate. Manny was just a little boy and staying with his Big Momma for summer vacation. His trips down south were the tapestry of his youth, but his memories of the summer of his ninth birthday would always be special.
Big Momma’s old farmhouse, and the sprawling Louisiana bayou that surrounded it, were the perfect setting for Manny’s active imagination. Catfish and trout swam in the lakes and streams. He’d catch tadpoles, and crawfish. He’d find buried treasure and pirates' booty that was revealed to him through child’s play and make believe.
That summer, when he reluctantly left his buddies and toys in Chicago, he didn’t miss a thing. The best part was playing with Max, Big Momma’s old grumpy Chiwawa. It took a minute for the old girl (Max was short for Maxine) to become accustomed to Manny’s rambunctiousness and kindhearted ruff housing. He was Just a young boy playing and having fun and before long, they were as thick as thieves. Max was better than any PlayStation, X Box, and Chucky Cheese birthday party put together.
She knew her way around the dense swampland behind Big Momma’s house. So, they went exploring early one morning with Big Momma’s ok. Fully equipped with his GI Joe Survival Pack, and Paw Paw’s Walkie Talkie, Manny and Max took off on their adventure before dawn. Besides, by 12 o clock, it got too hot to play outside.
He smelled the sweet morning dew on the Pecan trees, and he stepped lightly on the ground covered with pinecones and branches. He played a game of crushing the shells beneath his feet. A smoky fog hovered above the ground like a blanket, and he surveyed his next target before he attacked. He was about to jump and crush another shell when Max started barking.
He looked up to see a girl with pigtails standing about 30 feet away, beneath the weathered vines of a weeping willow tree. She looked out of place in her catholic schoolgirl uniform and high white socks. Her gaze was fixated on something far beyond him.
Max stopped barking, sat on her haunches, and cocked her head to the side. She too felt the sudden chill in the air that gave Manny goosebumps despite the morning sun that shimmered through the trees.
“Are you from around here? Are you lost?”
And suddenly the girl in pigtails was gone, leaving nothing but an empty space under the weeping willow tree where she had been standing.
Big Momma’s government name was Clara Jean Hudson, but most of the simple folk in Panchanan Parrish called her Miss Clara. She would have a smiling photo published next to her obituary in the Panchanan Daily News. Manny saw it all, decades removed from his childish days of play. His visions had revealed the future, again, hours before it happened, miles away, ensconced in a dream.
Big Momma had just died.
He wept alone, Shaking off the broken fragments of his dream. His new Reality seeped through his soul Like venom.
His bedroom was cold. The sliding glass door to the terrace had been left open and he stumbled out of bed, grabbing his robe to sit outside.
His extraordinary gifts had afforded him all this luxury and opulence. Who couldn’t marvel at the magnificent view overlooking Chicago's lakefront and his lofty condominium in the sky?
Did they know He’d give it all away if it would bring his Big Mamma back.
Between his tears he laughed aloud and lost himself as the morning dawn lit up the sky. He wouldn’t become complacent with his memories. In a few hours Pawpaw would be calling from Louisiana with the terrible news.
He’d travel by train, like he used to, during the summer vacations of his youth. Although his gifts had financially rewarded him well and he was blessed with a plethora of options, it was his fame and notoriety that was an unpleasant fact he struggled to live with.
He couldn’t explain his psychic gifts and he often wondered Why.
But even the atheist who needed proof, or the naysayers that called him a charlatan, paid handsomely for a private reading. They couldn’t dispute the facts. He assisted in solving over 300 missing person cases. He had a waiting list, a podcast, 2 best sellers and options for a reality series.
He told them NO. No to the Cameras following him every day, judging his psychic gifts. No to his life on display for the world to see.
His landline rang In the bedroom. Before he answered Pawpaw’s call, he prayed for a quiet train ride down south alone with his memories to lay his Big Mamma to rest.
Big Mamma was walking back inside after grabbing the mail and her morning paper. She was grateful for the morning reprieve with Manny and Max gone exploring in the dense wetlands that boarded her property.
She gave a casual glance to the sky and her third eye saw relief coming soon to Paw’s worrisome questions about his thirsty corn crop. Yes, it would finally rain. Just a little drizzle this evening but she saw a storm coming. Something fierce was brewing on the horizon, and it wasn’t good.
Big Momma was a whole lot of Woman with a fondness for turbans, bracelets, and all things dramatic and brassy. She made a jangly noise as she shuffled down the graveled driveway to her farmhouse tucked in the bayou. Her furry slippers and dusty feet had seen better days and they stirred up the seedlings she had planted along the driveway.
It took a minute for her to get situated at the fancy kitchen table and chairs. One of the rich white families she had cleaned for, had given it to her, and she was grateful. She liked the loud green colors, and the chairs were spacious enough for her big behind. Fresh coffee and rolls lay ready to be enjoyed and She turned on the TV and set the channel to 12 for Oprah at ten o’clock.
She was surprised to see Max come prowling through the screen door alone without her new companion.
“Why yawl back so soon?”
She wondered about it aloud, as the question set off alarm bells in her head. She half expected to hear an explanation from the beady eyed Chiwawa when She remembered Paw’s Walkie-talkie and snatched it from the counter.
“Manny?” Click. Silence followed by static.
She waited for a response, pressing the hissing radio closer to her ear.
The First-Class attendant was a handsome fellow that directed Manny to his cabin tucked away on the second level of the Amtrak Superliner. His ride on the Delta Concorde from Chicago to Louisiana would take 20 hours. Although he half hoped to do some writing during this quiet time, he already knew that the gentle rolling motion of the train would be his lullaby.
His e-ticket opened the door, and he surmised the cramped yet suitable accommodations. He dropped his luggage to the floor, with a grateful exhale. A private restroom was available through the door to his left, and a semi comfortable looking couch and table, converted into 2 bunk beds and a night table to his right.
He instantly kicked off his loafers and grabbed the fresh pillow and linens off the couch. He swaddled himself in the sheets, awaiting his disappearance from the world that sped by his window in dingy shades of gray.
“Manny! Manny! If I gotta leave my show to come git you, it ain’t gonna be PRETTY!”
Good thing Big Momma was shouting into Pawpaw’s Walkie Talkie or else he wouldn’t have heard a thing. The girl with the pig tails hadn’t stopped talking, begging for his help. Not really out loud, but in his head.
It freaked him out so much he ran back to Big Mamma’s barn and tried to make sense of what was happening. He didn’t mean to, but he threw his Survival Pack and Walkie Talkie at the barn doors, hoping to silence the voice in his head.
He found a place on the barn floor. Even Max had grown tired of his erratic temperament.
“OK girl, don't fucking play with Me.”
Manny shouted his threats to no one in particular.
Wonder if he wasn’t crazy. Could her voice in his head be true?
Could there really be a man who drove the interstate. A trucker perhaps… and he killed little girls. He tortured them for days and when they died, he fed their remains to the alligators in the swamp. The dead girl had shown Manny visions of her rotten flesh that had floated to the surface. Her pigtails were muddy tentacles pieced to her skull. Her face was barely human in the moonlit swamp.
“Boy, Who you think you cursing at? Because it CERTAINLY couldn’t be Me!”
Big Mamma’s wide shadow eclipsed the sun.
She looked around the barn to see if Manny was fooling around with one of those fast ass gals from town when she stopped. Manny’s face was shaken with an expression part terror part crazy. Red eyes wide as frisbees.
“What’s wrong child? Did Something bite you. What happened?
For a moment he couldn’t speak. How could he describe to Big Momma the horrible things the girl had shown him?
“There are some people born to do certain things.
Some people were born to sing. Some were born to change the world.
Manny You were born to see.
God gave you this gift.
You did your work.
Time to Come home.
Big Mamma’s words echoed in his dream as the jarring motion of the train woke him up. For a moment he was disoriented as he heard a knock at the cabin door. He looked outside. The window was slick with rain. The train raced alongside a highway; Busy Traffic stalled behind ringing Railroad Crossings. In a flash, lighting crackled in the night sky. Thunder soon followed.
He staggered against the rocking motion of the train to open the door to see the handsome first-class attendant standing there. With a sincere and humble approach, he held a copy of Manny’s first novel: They All Belong to Him
“Mister Hudson, I hate to disturb you, but I’m a big fan. I listen to your Podcast all the time, and I kept looking at you and comparing it to the book cover and your Google Profile, it’s got pictures of you there, and I’m thinking: Is that Manny Hudson, the famous psychic, on my train ….”
Manny forced a weak smile.
“Yes. It’s me…”
“Oh my God, Kevins not going to believe this….
The train was racing along the tracks now and the dim lights in the narrow hall flickered, then went dead. In a few seconds of realization, Manny wondered to himself, Should the train be traveling this fast?
the horrific crash. Welcomed
Then Screaming that wouldn’t stop.
The twisted wreckage of the train was on fire.
Manny was above it all.
Gone traveling he was.
Destined to meet his Big Momma
On the Other Side of Eternity
Because Love lasts
Pawpaw’s government name was James Louis McKay, but most of the simple folk in Panchanan Parrish called him Mr. Jimmie. His little corner store and sausage shop used to have the sweetest corn and the best homemade sausage on this side of the Mississippi River. He closed that store a long time ago.
With Manny and Ma gone he spent most of his days in silent reflection and enjoying his last days on earth in comfort. Shame that sometimes he felt living was just time spent waiting to die.
Pawpaw was ready, that was for sure. He knew something better was waiting for him on the other side.