The Secret South

An Ambient Codex

(Pan to Murphy asleep on the forest floor. Flutes trill and lilt, signaling the diffusion of thought into dream. Murphy rises, not into the corporeal realm of the woods, but into the phantom landscape of dreams. A presence, strangely familiar in this, his unanchored state, hovers in the intersection of two branches. Its carriage seems deferential, as though waiting on Murphy for direction. Murphy, thoroughly confused, albeit by all the wrong things, probes his companion for answers).

Murphy: Where do the dead go?
Ghost: Away, away!
Murphy: How long will they be there?
Ghost: To stay, to stay!

Murphy: What are their names?
Ghost: Who’s to say? Who’s to say?

Murphy: Where does a mind go?
Ghost: To fray, to fray!
Murphy: Roots rot in topsoil-
Ghost: – December to May!

(Without warning, Murphy finds himself seated on a sagging porch, in a half-dismantled rocking chair. His view is oriented toward a furtive sunset, only barely visible through the trees. Noticing that he is very old, Murphy laments).

Murphy: House eats your home
Ghost: Every day, but we stay!
Murphy: How long will we live here?
Ghost: You pay just to lay!

Murphy: House eats our things
Ghost: But we stay anyway!
Murphy: How long will we live?
Ghost: Till tomorrow’s today!

Murphy: We must find, we will find
Ghost: A way, away!



This has always been the final house. You were born to die here, to fade into the swamp. You do not pause at the foyer of reeds, the strange gate of arching tendrils pushing up from the soil like frozen flames. You simply shuffle onward, stumbling in, to bleed into its coolness. It opens you with every agency available to it. In your prone and exposed ending, you shall know those secrets so common here, so ubiquitous. They are living, laughing spines of dirty deeds not worth knowing, subjects and lessons a sane man would only pay for the absence of. Spread from trench to canopy. You will trade your voice for this. Vines, smooth and aching, caress your memories into patterns of ants and other such incidentals. You will be left with that ancient silence. Recall and recoil, you fall to the soil. They’ll fell you like an old-growth tonight.



We passed each other on the streets, nervous and spiteful like two old dogs. I didn’t dare point a finger at Murphy – my voice was still missing and my fear spoke loud enough as it was. And so I was led into my new life looking over my shoulder. I could not see them, those bored, red women who stuffed me with food and showed me off. I could not see those smooth-faced children, those blooming girls and sneering boys, whose trifling games I was expected to invade without cause or invitation. I could not see the men, for they could not see me; fathers are only fathers as they need to be, and are blind beyond that to children.


Every day he returned again, with sticks and spells and witching salves, to extract the secrets of the stone. Time, though, was a tool he used without cognition, and it was by this that the secret finally spoke.

(Murphy)When we…


When we met, he was still so small. His father held his hand, but without tenderness; instead it was like he was leading a horse. They didn’t speak, except when I asked, and barely then.

What’s your name?

His name’s Ward

Caint he talk himself?

My talking will do.

What’s that there by the tree?

Not sure.

You look just like William Walker.

Good thing, too.

Willy Walker wandered off.

Ain’t that a funny thing.

Him and his boy.

What’s that you were doing by that tree?

Off with you now. We’re no concern of yours.

He tried to stop me, but I am of course well known for my draw. I only meant to heat him up about it, but that phantom of a man entangled himself in my limbs like a great snake, and the only muscle I had to save myself with was the one that sat by the trigger. The boy was gone, off and running like steam into the pale dusk day. The stone burned bright behind the new corpse, though, and I figured best move forward as there ain’t no going back.

(Ghost)Silent s…


Silent seasons fade into each other. The breath of the earth lets loose a secret, speaks in another tongue. The breathing of beasts, the silence of men. One man, that is, and his boy. I hang, haunting, in the span of trees that splits the woods: owls over here, wolves opposing. But here, says the earth, the sponge of the soil, here comes a man. They may peck his eyes, they may, one or two here or there, rip from him a piece of flesh to end his days, oh sure. But this is just a savage snip, a bit of bitter acting-out. They will lay down at his heel, flock slowly tentatively toward his refuse. He holds them in his thrall. Maybe he will die by them, but his kind will be bowed to all in all. Wouldn’t that make you red with it?

The child leaks dreams in the night, swimming mirror dreams that glint off the leaves and keep the deer from grazing. The father’s dreams are sunken ships, black sands and blood-red soil and they never bother a soul, they’re simple weeping dreams that can never be gotten back from. But the boy, each day, drags another toe across the unsaid lines we’ve been tracing and retracing here. He makes contact. He looks them in the eye: the birds, long beaked and short, glassy-eyed owls and all. He touches even strange worms with tenderness. It is causing quite a scandal.



By the time they found me, I’d lost my name. My father had taken me by the hand, I might have been ten, and we walked out of the house where her body was slowly taking over and into the darkness of the woods behind, the mountains and hills and density of trees where we had come from. Where we had come from. Always we were to hear and acknowledge our lineage. In the years of our wandering, one line connected us to our old life, stretching through the spooked and spoiled trees, across unmade gardens, around the sharp corner of that house she had consumed in her dying, into the dirt-washed town that would forget me before I returned to it. And that thread was this: We Came From Them Woods. In the church, in the brothel, in the last gasps and first breaths of old friends and otherwise, they were saying what I was hearing, that spirit spell of failure called We Came From Them Woods. Never mind the ships our thieving fathers had taken from whatever lands the Catholics had blackened with their popery. Never mind how many of our children it took every year – took back home.

But Pa did right by his witchery. He led us back in. We built no cabin, nor furnished a cave; we simply moved on, each day. By the time I was fifteen, I knew we were going in circles.

(Ghost)Not only…


Not only moments in time. All like things stack on each other. You can see it all, back here behind the veil of the world. Where I lived, there was moss you could eat, and not swamps but moors in their stead. Open, endless, unprotected space. You could collect a bit of moon’s-light, but that meant casting your shadow. Only on account of a ghastly intervention did I escape my hunters. But that place lives inside this one, through it, woven into time by it. They are sister swamps, sister silences, sisters of every kind. You can see it all back here: all like things stack on each other. Not only moments in time.

(Murphy)The sec…


The secrets of the south are like a flood of ghosts. Where could I be free of them? Everything is distant. A cold symbiosis. No; it’s quite warm, actually. The processes of death generate more heat than the processes of life. The swamp eats everything, everything. Souls.

In the dream, I see myself die here. Water falls somewhere near, and the moss becomes my pillow as my head meets the forest floor. Somewhere, in a moment folded timewise into this one, my last breath is escaping into that strange brush. I think of all I’ve lost, in some future that might still be mine, all the final breaths and drops of blood. All those futures, passed. Hiding in the moss. And then I feel my life diverge, split from these potentials, like a ship gaining distance from another ship, and I by my porthole, watching them drift. It’s dividing into halves: death here, death elsewhere. On this ship, it has been deferred, while over there it happens now. Either way, I will never leave this place, this vortex of wetness and shadow.

It makes me laugh.

Why is it so colorless? Why is it green alone? The moss does not flower. Its spores simply paint the viable earth. Even grey rocks are at risk of this greening. Sometimes, fighting back, they blacken in suicidal resistance. That last breath which will not be mine echoes through the corridors of time. Everything I found, all my memory, seeping into the soil, buried underground.

The words become whispers which won’t leave your mouth.
Don’t mutter, don’t utter the secrets of the south.


(Ward)It may no…


It may not be a complicated job, but it is a difficult one. Sitting here forever. Back when the stone first fell, these woods would be full of any kind of action. Whole encampments of soldiers. Vagabond cities, floating through the lostness, slow as wetland water. Runaway children. Runaway slaves. At night, you’d hear laughter, if you were brave enough to be here; you’d smell fire and smoke. They both have a scent. Now, you just hear the old freight road, and that only sometimes, lumbering trucks rolling stupid through the days and nights.

I told Murphy I couldn’t let him at the rock. I reminded him about the rules. He’s running, now, limping through the maze, though I do not know to or from what. He got a strange gait, that he does. But he is still alive.