Part 1 here
I knew what It was up to: It was trying to scare Grace and get her to move from between It and Penny. Grace was of the light and that blacker-than-black unthing couldn’t touch her.
Again, they did their dance–It moved left, Grace moved left, It moved right, Grace moved right. Then one of Its great wings sliced down toward Grace and I hollered and Caleb hollered and Will hollered, all three of us thinking that she’d be flattened under that slab of black. But when it touched Grace’s head, the wing burst into flames.
With another roar that shook what was left of my little house, It pulled back the blazing wing into Itself, snuffing out the fire. Then, It folded, and folded again, and kept on folding until It was no bigger than a sheet of paper, and slid in a blacker-than-black square across the floor away from Grace.
My jellyfish gal’s voice rang out, filling the night with its strength. “Go, and do not come back to this place! And tell your father that your kind will no longer be tolerated here!”
It inched up the wall and over the windowsill.
None of us moved. We all watched that busted window for any sign of It trying to slink back in. ‘Course, truth be told, It could’ve slid inside in a dozen different places if It was so a mind to. But I didn’t think It’d be back ’cause Grace had told It not to.
Then a rumbling started, rolling through the night air, rattling everything in its path. Light poured through the busted window and the knocked-down places in the walls, and squeezed through every crack and cranny, turning the bedroom bright as day. Just like the night before.
Lord, had it only been last night? So much had happened in so short a time it didn’t seem possible that only a little over a day had passed.
The noise and light began to lessen. And through the gray spots dancing in front of my eyes, outside the busted window I saw a trail of fire shooting straight up into the night sky. Then it was gone.
Grace turned away from the window and knelt down next to Penny. She scooped up the limp body and stood. Smiling, she closed her eyes and laid her cheek on Penny’s head.
Now that It was gone, sorrow filled the places in me that the skeert had left empty.
My Penny…her and me had rattled around this old place nigh on to eleven years. She’d stayed with me when Isabelle’d gotten pregnant and married Jack Fisher ’cause Jack Fisher didn’t want no dog. And Penny was already getting up there then, long about eight years old. We’d growed old together. Well, really older would be a better word for it; we were two old gals when we’d become friends, and now we were two older gals.
No, only one of us was older. The other one, the best one, was dead.
I couldn’t help it, silly old fool that I was, I started crying again. And it weren’t the kind of crying that slips out of your eyes and down your cheeks without making a sound; it was the kind that tears up your insides and leaves you bawling like a baby. I’d lost Josh, then Pap, and now Penny. How much more could a body take?
Little fingers pried at my hands, and I realized that sometime or another I’d covered my face with them.
And that I was sitting on the floor.
Even though I didn’t much care to look out on a world without Penny in it, I let my hands be pulled away from my eyes. And I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “It can’t be…”
Grace was still holding Penny, and they were both glowing now. Grace was grinning from ear to ear and Penny, my Penny, was licking her face. She wasn’t dead after all.
And that set off another gusher.
Wet slathered my face, but it weren’t tears: it was Penny’s tongue. Always before, I’d pushed her away when she licked my face, but not this time. And not ever again.
Finally, I dried up enough that I could get a good look at my old gal. I ran my hands along her body, feeling for broken bones while I eyeballed her hide, looking for cuts or some such. Nothing. Not a hair out of place. It had walloped her good and she didn’t have even so much as a scratch on her. I thought that was a pretty peculiar thing. Then I saw Penny’s face and peculiar changed to amazing ’cause she was looking at me with two good eyes. Two. Eyes. For years a white film had covered the blinded one, and now it was shiny bright copper again. How?
I grabbed the sides of her face and looked hard at them two good eyes. “How?”
“Grace did it.”
I glanced over at Will, who was hunkered down beside me. “What?” I asked.
“She was dead,” he said, his blue eyes big and filled with wonder. “Penny was dead and Grace fixed her back up.”
Long about daylight Caleb and Will settled down enough to sleep. I knew that soon enough the government people’d be showing up again, but for now the world was a quiet and peaceful place, and that was a good thing ’cause the boys needed their rest. The longer I live the less need I have of it, though, so I tucked them in, one on each end of the couch, and fixed myself a strong cup of coffee and went out on the back porch where Grace and Penny were.
Grace sat on the top step, looking out over the corn patch that was now just an ordinary corn patch and not a hiding place for devils and what-nots. Beside her sat Penny, her thick shiny tail swishing back and forth. Both sets of eyes turned to me when the screen door slapped to.
Grace stood up. She didn’t glow yellow no more, but she seemed to shine nonetheless. Something from inside lit her up, and just looking at her, I felt a calmness in my heart.
And my old gal, well, she weren’t old no more. Her golden hair rippled over taunt muscles as she padded across the porch to me with a young dog’s lightness of step. I carefully set my coffee on the table beside my rocker without spilling too much, and reached down and stroked her head.
“I can do that for you too,” Grace said.
I believed her. I pretty much figured she could do anything she set her mind to. But first things first.
I eased down onto my rocker, then looked up into Grace’s beautiful face. “Who are you?” I asked.
She smiled. “Grace.”
I shook my head. “That’s just a name. Maybe I should’ve asked what are you?”
My jellyfish-gal sat down cross-legged on the old gray boards in front of my feet. She had such long legs that the old dress of Isabelle’s she had on hiked up to the middle of her thighs. Penny lay down beside her. Right up against her. And I knew that whatever else Grace might be, she was good. Penny wouldn’t of had nothing to do with her otherwise.
Grace reached up and took my hands. “First I want to thank you, Nana. Most people of this world wouldn’t have taken care of me as you have. You saw a creature that needed help and you helped. And I thank you.”
“I just did what anybody–”
“No, you didn’t.” She squeezed my hands and let go. “If you’d done what anybody would’ve done, I wouldn’t be here now. I wouldn’t be in a position to do what I was sent here to do.”
“And what is that, child?” My hands felt empty with hers gone.
“My Father sent me here to lift the curse.”
“Somebody put a curse on me?” I asked, though I didn’t believe in such.
“Your whole world is cursed.”
“You can say that again.”
“Your whole world is cursed.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “I was just agreeing with you.”
She nodded her head.
I wanted to chalk up what she was saying to crazy talk. But she wasn’t crazy. I knew it in my bones. Still…I just didn’t know. “Tell me the why of it. Why are we cursed?”
“Long ago, my sister did the unthinkable: she took the sacred life of another. She killed her unborn child, and she and her mate tried to hide it from Father. It was a foolish thing they did, for Father knows everything, and He knew the terrible thing they had done. He banished them to this planet, and cursed them with misery and sickness and death that would be passed down to their children and their children’s children. Father says they have paid for their sin, that all in your world has paid. He sent me here to lift the curse.”
I thought I knew what she was talking about. Could it be? “But that happened, what…over two-thousand years ago? Ain’t that a long time to be carrying a curse?”
A tiny smile crossed her lips. “What is two-thousand years to a people who live forever?”
I didn’t know what to say, what to think. I felt like I’d seen too much and heard too much, and my mind just couldn’t take it all in. “What?”
“I was to be born here and grow, in the way of all children of your world,” Grace said. “But something went wrong, my ship crashed and my guardians were killed and–”
“Your folks were killed? I–I didn’t know. I’m sorry, child.” My words of sympathy sounded pitifully poor to my ears.
Grace’s smile widened into a dazzling grin. “Oh, there’s no need to be sorry, Nana. Their essence returned to Heaven. They are with Father now.”
Heaven? Oh, my lord, did she say Heaven? “It exists? Heaven really exists?”
“Yes, it is our home world. The place where all people one day return to be with Father.”
My heart caught in my throat. “All people?”
Grace once again took my hands. Her blue eyes looked deep into mine. “Yes, Nana, all people.”
“Pap and Josh?”
She nodded her head. “Yes, they are with Father. All here who have died are with Father on Heaven.”
So, Heaven was a real place and not a made-up place. Like Earth, a world. And Pap and Josh were there. And soon I would be too. Wouldn’t that be a grand thing, the three of us together again. When Josh was a youngen that’d been the happiest years of my life, me and Pap working around this old place, and Josh playing in the creek and the woods and the corn patch.
The thing in the corn patch…what in the world was the blacker-than-black It that’d come down from the sky and killed my Penny? I leaned down with my head close to Grace’s, and in a voice barely above a whisper, asked, “What was It?”
“It came from the Places of Darkness,” she said. “You know them as black holes. But It and Its kind will never return here, for in Father’s name, I sent It from this world and It can no longer enter.”
That was a good thing to know–no more devils in the corn patch. And no more hurting and sickness and dying before your time. But how was this gal who was looking up at me with her shiny eyes and beautiful smile gonna fix things?
“You believe what I’ve told you, don’t you, Nana?”
“Of course I do, child.” And I did. With everything in me, I did.
“You have faith in me?”
“Soon, people will come, and I’ll go with them. In Father’s name, I’ll lift the curse from each and every soul…as I will lift it from yours, Nana.” She squeezed my hands. I felt the goodness of her enter my fingers and spread out through my body on a warm wave of white. It was like getting washed on the inside, scrubbed of all the bad in your life that’d come before, leaving you clean and pure and…
So this was what happy felt like: a bone-deep contentment of mind and body. Had I ever felt this good before? Ever?
“Nana?” she said softly.
“What, child?” I answered absently.
“Before the people come and I leave…”
I gave my jellyfish-gal my full attention.
“In Father’s name, I can heal you, make you young again. You can live in this form forever.”
Now wouldn’t that be just fine and dandy, to be young and strong and never grow old. To not have the arthritis eating away at my joints. To not have my heart go crazy like it wants to jump out of my chest every so often. To look in the mirror and not wonder who in the world that wrinkled-up old woman staring back at me is.
But then again…
I looked away from Grace’s sweet face and out over the corn patch. Up above the tassel-tops, the sun was coming up on another day. “If I die, will I go where Pap and Josh are?” I asked.
“Yes, but it may not be like you think it’ll be.”
“Well, I reckon I can live with that.” And die with it.
“All right, Nana.”
I took a sip of coolish coffee and leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes. Every joint in my body whined and griped and complained, but I didn’t mind. God knows, it weren’t gonna last forever.
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