“What was it, child?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but–but Caleb saw it too.” Will turned his face toward his brother. “Didn’t you?”
Caleb shrugged. “Dunno.” His eyes looked a little wild and boogery too. “I guess…something…” He looked back at the night, then sidled up close to me. I put my arm around him and he pressed close.
On the other side of the yard fence, the corn patch lay still and black. Nothing moved amongst the corn stalks that I could tell. But there was something there, all right; I could feel it. And Penny did too. Her hair bristled from her head to the tip of her tail, and she was whining and growling, both at the same time.
“Let’s go inside,” Grace said softly. “Now.” She took my elbow, and with Caleb and Will tucked up against me, guided us all up the steps with a steady hand.
When both my feet were on the porch, I took a good look at my jellyfish-gal, and it came as no surprise that she was now pret’near as tall as me. And Isabelle’s tee shirt barely covered enough to keep her decent. I reckoned I’d better hunt up something to cover her bottom part ’cause at the rate she was going, by morning she’d be full growed.
Grace reached around me and pulled open the screen door. “We’ll be all right in the house, Nana,” she said. “It doesn’t like the light.”
It took me a spell to get to sleep that night, and it weren’t because every light in the house was blazing. I kept thinking about It what was out in the corn. And Grace. What was she and where had she come from? And what was It that’d come down after her? And why?
Earlier, after Caleb and Will had drifted off, I’d asked Grace about herself and It. She’d told me she wasn’t sure, but things were beginning to shape up in her mind and soon, everything would become clear.
I hoped everything come clear ’cause now everything was as muddy as creek water in late summer. I had me a jellyfish that’d growed into a beautiful, sweet gal, and an It in my corn patch that was up to no good. And I didn’t know what to make of either one.
But Isabelle’d be here tomorrow evening and I’d tell her everything, like I should have to begin with. She was a smart gal, like her daddy’d been. She’d know what to do.
I fell asleep with the memory of his sunburned face grinning up at me. And the sound of his sweet voice: Look, Mama, I found a sand dollar…
And woke to the noise of breaking glass.
I’d no more than took in the rock that lay on the floor and the shards of glass littering the braided rug around it, than another one sailed through the broken window and landed a few feet past the first. And as the boys were stirring on their pallet that was spread out on the floor beside the bed, and I was sitting up, and Grace who’d been sleeping beside me was jumping up, another good-sized chunk whizzed into the room. It hit the overhead light, bringing down a rain of glass. And it brought the dark. Least ways, near dark. Light spilled in from the door that opened into the front room, but for the most part, it hunkered in a tight yellow puddle on the floor just inside the door.
One of the boys squealed, and I saw…something…a dark shape blacker than the dark outside the house, slithering over the windowsill. Will and Caleb started trying to climb up in the bed with me. “Get in the other room,” I said, pushing them away. “To the light.”
Caleb grabbed my arm and started pulling. “Go on.” I shook him off. “I’ll be right behind you. Get Will and go!”
He minded, latching onto his little brother, and I heard the crunch of glass under their little bare feet as they ran for the front room.
I made to swing my legs out of bed, but they were wrapped up in the covers. Tearing at the bedspread with my hands and kicking with my feet, I kept my eyes on the blacker-than-black shape that was skimming across the floor towards me. It was a tall, skinny thing, and near Its top that pret’near brushed the ceiling, glowed two red coals. Eyes. And they were fastened on me. I could feel them burning my skin.
Then Penny got between me and It, and she was barking for all she was worth. It turned, Its eyes settling on her, and something kind of arm-shaped separated from the blackness of It and swung down at Penny. In a golden blur, she dodged the arm and ran around to Its back, snapping at Its heels–or at least the place where heels would be if It had heels.
And through the fear knotting my gut and jumbling my head, a thought climbed up out of the mess: Penny was stove up with arthritis; how could she move so fast?
I felt the covers rip away from my feet, and heard Grace’s voice. “Come on, Nana.” Then my jellyfish-gal tugged me out of bed, and half carrying me, made a beeline for the pool of light where Caleb and Will stood washed in its glow, clutching each other.
Behind me, Penny yelped. She was hurt. Dear lord, that thing had–
And she yelped again.
“Wait!” I dug in my heels, bringing me and Grace to a stop.
Then Penny squealed, the awful sound of it cutting right through my heart like a rusty-bladed knife.
I started to turn back, but Grace gripped me tighter and pushed me forward.
“Stop! It’s killing her! It’s killing my Penny!” I tried to shake Grace off, but she was having none of it. She forced me on across the room, the sound of Penny’s whimpers following us every step of the way.
I was crying like a baby when we reached the light.
And Penny was silent.
Grace pulled me close. “I’ll get her, Nana,” she said in my ear, then set me away from her. And before I quite knew what was going on, she turned and went back into the darkness.
I’d lost Penny; I couldn’t stand losing my jellyfish-gal too. “No!” I took a step back into the bedroom. Hands grabbed me, hauled me back into the front room. Two trembling bodies pressed against mine.
Will and Caleb. Isabelle’s babies. And she was depending on me to take care of them.
Bringing the boys with me, I moved back a few more steps from the bedroom door. Grace had said we’d be safe in the light and I believed her. Whatever was in my bedroom, whatever had killed sweet Penny, couldn’t tolerate the goodness of light. I knew that as sure as I knew the sun rose in the east and set in the west. It was a thing of blackness…evil. A devil.
Granny’s voice rose up out of my memories. A devil caught me once’t, she told me the night my little brother, Jasper, had died. I had to promise it a bad thing for it to let me go. It came back to get what I’d promised. It came back and got Jasper.
When I’d repeated to Mama what Granny had said, she told me Granny was crazy, that Jasper got sick and a devil had nothing to do with it.
Now, as I watched my jellyfish-gal moving toward the blackness of It, I got a feeling that my crazy old granny wasn’t as crazy as everybody had thought she was.
I could barely make out the pale shape of Penny’s still body lying on the bedroom floor. Then I couldn’t see much of anything for the fresh tears welling in my eyes. Oh, my poor old gal, why did you have to go and do such a foolish thing? Why did you have to…to…
A screechy hum of sorts, the likes of which I’d never heard in my life, vibrated inside the bedroom. It sounded somewhere between a cross of human and machine, robot fingernails scraping a blackboard.
I swiped the tears off my face, and squinted through the doorway into the darkness.
Grace stood between Penny and It. I could see her clear as day ’cause she glowed. All over. From the top of her head to her toes she shone golden. And she was beautiful, a beautiful full-growed woman. I’d always wondered what people meant when they said the beauty of something-or-other took their breath away. Now I knew. As I looked at my jellyfish-gal, my chest swelled up and pret’near cut off my wind.
And It, well, It seemed to be looking her over too. But the burn that blasted out of Its red eyes didn’t hurt Grace the way it had me. And along about then I realized the queer noise that was getting louder by the minute was coming from the blackness that was It, and lord-almighty, did It sound pissed off.
Now, a body’d think the light Grace gave off would make It a little easier to see, but that weren’t the case. And the only thing I could figure was that It weren’t colored black or any other color of this earth. It was a nothing. It was an unthing. Like Granny’s devil, It didn’t belong here.
It moved one way like It wanted to go around Grace, and she moved with It. Then It went the other way, and she did too.
Its mad screech rattled the rafters, ice-picked my ears and hit the few teeth I had left like they were all rotten stumps and I had a mouthful of snow. Caleb and Will both jumped and I knew they were feeling it too. Then It swelled up, Its blackness covering the entire back wall of the bedroom and the ceiling, and arms rose up on each side of It. No, not arms. Wings. Wings! And them wings spread wide, busting out holes in the walls like they were made out of paper.
And It roared.
My hair whipped the air. My lips peeled back from my gums. I had to struggle to stay on my feet and hold onto the boys.
To be continued…
Photo from Fotolia