Part 1 here
And I could see…
I picked up the flashlight and shined it full on the jellyfish.
I could see inside the thing; its skin or hide or whatever was transparent. Red threads ran all through it, spoking out from a dark spot in its center. And the dark spot moved. Stopped. Moved. It was–
“Well, I’ll be…”
The jellyfish had a heart.
I reckoned whatever else it might be, it was a living being. And the poor thing was cold.
I pulled off my apron and wrapped the thing up in it.
Then somehow I got back up on my feet with the jellyfish snugged in the crook of my arm. And holding the flashlight in that hand and steadying myself on the cane gripped in my other, I made it out of the woods, across the rocky ground, back through the corn patch, up the steps and into the kitchen without so much as a misstep. Now, if I’d been a Godly woman I would’ve thanked Him for seeing me safely home; but since God had let that drunk jackass run over Josh and kill him when he was just twenty-seven years old, I didn’t thank Him for nothing no more.
Penny close at my heels, I passed straight through the dark kitchen into the equally dark front room and plopped down in my recliner. After spending the better part of a day in a hot kitchen, then traipsing about in the woods, I was worn smack-dab out.
The house was too warm but I didn’t feel like getting back up and switching on the fan. ‘Course it was most likely best that I didn’t anyway; the blue-eyed jellyfish still felt coolish.
I tugged the faded red-and-purple afghan off the recliner’s back that Isabelle’d knitted for me when she was a little girl, and tucked it around the jellyfish. I didn’t suppose it minded the color or uneven stitches no more than I did.
Penny stretched out on the floor at my feet. And we both shut our eyes.
Sometime during the night I woke and saw Penny at the window. Moonlight streamed in through the screen, turning her yellow hair to silver. And that silver hair was all bristled up.
“What’s wrong, old gal?” I had no more than got the words out of my mouth before my nose caught the sharp tang of a skunk.
Penny glanced back over her shoulder at me, then turned back to the window.
Let her look all she wanted to. Just looking didn’t hurt nothing. Just looking didn’t get a body skunk-sprayed.
I felt movement against my ribs. The jellyfish. It was all warm now. Snug as a bug in a rug.
I kicked off Pap’s boots and put up the footrest on the recliner. Up went my feet. I closed my eyes and wriggled my toes.
And somewhere out in the August night a whip-poor-will called…
Then it was morning.
I remembered right off about the jellyfish. It made itself remembered. Under the red-and-purple afghan, the heat of it was wiggling around like crazy.
I turned back the afghan. Yellow sunflowers bobbed around on my swaddled apron. Looked like the thing was anxious to get out of its covers now that it’d warmed up.
Penny appeared at my side and watched as I unwrapped the jellyfish as carefully as I’d wrapped it up the night before. With each peel of fabric, I wondered if I’d uncover in daylight the same thing I’d covered up in the dark, wondered if what was inside was what I thought was inside.
And it wasn’t.
The jellyfish now had a mouth, and little bow-shaped, rosy-red lips. And it weren’t as white, or as see-through as I remembered it being last night. Seemed to be taking on a pinkish hue like…skin?
“Well now, you ain’t no jellyfish no more, are you?” I said to the thing jiggling around on my lap. It was becoming something else.
Over the next several days, every morning I woke up to changes in the thing: a nose, then arms, legs, and last, girl parts. It became a baby girl, and by the looks of it, perfect in every way. Except it didn’t cry. Or gurgle. Or smile. Or make no noise of any kind. It was as quiet as a church mouse.
But the thing weren’t an it no more, so I gave it a name: Grace. I’d always been partial to the name, even though it’d been my granny’s on my daddy’s side who’d scared the be-jesus out of all us kids with her stories about winged devils that hid in the corn and stole bad girls and boys. If I’d been able to have more kids after Josh, if I’d had a girl, I would’ve named her that. Grace. A pretty name for a pretty girl.
Then it–Grace–took in growing. And eating. Lord could she eat. And by the time something else came down out of the night sky a week or so later, Grace was the size of a year old youngen.
This time I heard it before I seen it.
I was washing up the dishes after I’d put Grace down, humming a little tune to the old woman looking back at me in the black window glass when I heard it. At first I thought the rolling rumble was a summer thunderstorm off in the distance; but it kept getting louder and louder till it sounded like a freight train running through the middle of the house. And then I thought tornado, and was turning from the window to go get Grace when the whole room lit up. Light poured in through the kitchen window, bright and white and blinding, like the sun had fallen out of the sky and was heading straight for my little place.
I needed to get to Grace.
The light’s glare washed out everything, but I was able to make out the door to the bedroom and hobbled toward it. I was halfway there when the light cut off and the rumbling stopped like someone had throwed a switch that’d turned them both off at once’t. The suddenness of it left me seeing spots and my ears ringing. And more than a little skeert. Been my experience that what a body couldn’t see or hear coming up on them was worse than something they could.
But then over the ringing I heard Penny barking nearby, and I realized I weren’t alone, that she was there, and the skeert begin to drain out of me along with the ringing in my ears. And by and by I was seeing right, and I saw Grace standing in the doorway, her small hand on Penny’s back. There weren’t no expression on Grace’s face, but Penny’s was another matter: her forehead was a mess of worried wrinkles. And that made me worried too.
That night, Penny and me didn’t go out to see what might have come down out of the sky.
I was pouring my second cup of coffee the next morning when somebody knocked on the front door. Telling Penny to “Stay,” I put her and Grace in the bedroom and shut the door before I peeled back a corner of the window curtain and put my eye to the crack.
A man and woman looking all official in their dark suits and sunglasses stood out on my front porch. I knew right off they were government people; they all had the same look about them whether they be city, state, or federal.
I figured they were here about last night. Weren’t nothing I could tell them about it other than I’d heard an awful racket and seen a light that’d pret’near blinded me. And that’d be the truth of it. But if they asked me about what I might’ve seen a few nights back, I’d flat-out lie. I’d seen them alien autopsies on TV; they weren’t carving up my Grace.
But as it turned out, they didn’t ask nothing about the night Grace had come to me; all their questions were about last night. “How bright was it?” and “What did it sound like?” and “Where did it go?” and “Did you see anything, like a craft of some sort?”
I sat in my recliner and they on the couch, and I answered their questions as best I could. I didn’t rush them none, didn’t want them getting suspicious. Why, I even offered them a glass of iced tea and got two no-thank-you-ma’ams for my trouble.
And all the while, there weren’t so much as a peep out of Penny. She was a smart old gal.
When they got up to go, I asked them something that’d been on my mind: “What is it you’re looking for anyway?”
The woman shook her head. “Maybe nothing. People saw lights, heard noises…”
“Did something come down out of the sky?”
Again, it was the woman who answered my question. “Not that we’re aware of.”
The dust had no more than settled from their leave-taking when another vehicle came rattling down the road, stirring up brown, gritty clouds all over again. And when it got close enough, I recognized Isabelle’s rig–no wonder Penny hadn’t wanted to come out of the bedroom when I’d opened up the door–and if I weren’t mistaken, a couple of days earlier than usual.
I shut the bedroom door again, and went out on the front porch.
The Explorer’s wheels hadn’t quite stopped rolling when both back doors flew open, and a boy poured out on each side. My chest tightened as I watched Caleb and Will slam through the gate and run across the yard toward me. They looked so much like Josh had when he was a little boy, Will most especially.
They clattered up the steps, both jabbering ninety-to-nothing so I couldn’t understand either one, and threw their arms around me, pret’near knocking me off my feet. I put an arm around each, and hugged tight.
A brown bag of groceries in each arm, Isabelle hiked up the steps at a slower pace. She smiled at me, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. She looked frazzled.
“Turn Nana loose and get the door, Caleb,” she said. It was always Caleb she called on to help. I reckoned it was because he was the oldest, but to my way of looking at it, there weren’t much difference between ten and eight.
Caleb started protesting the way youngens do, so I patted him on the head and told him to get the door for his mama. And like most youngens, he minded me better than he did his mama.
“Where’s Penny?” Will asked as soon as we got in the front room. “Under the bed?”
He had his hand on the doorknob and was fixing to go in the bedroom when I said, “No!”
All three of them stared at me with their mouths hanging open. I’d never before stopped the boys from going in and trying to sweet-talk Penny out from amongst the dust bunnies, as long as they stayed out from under the bed themselves.
“She’s a little under the weather,” I said. “Best to leave her be.”
To be continued…