Hershel’s Secret

Damn, it was hard to keep a secret from Maryanne. That woman was so confounded nosey. Asking this, asking that, her voice going all reed-thin like it always did when she didn’t believe a word I was saying.

“And you’re telling me that this time you gotta stay late and work on Mr. Redwine’s truck.” The racket the twins was making in the background pretnear drowned out her voice. “For Pete’s sake, you’re a carpenter, not a mechanic.”

One of ‘em—most likely Alex, he was the noisy one—let out a high-pitched squeal that stabbed my throbbing head like a rusty pitchfork. I yanked my cell away from my ear, whispering “holy shit” through gritted teeth.

Squawk, squawk, squawk spitted out of the phone. I lifted it back to my ear.

“—and we’re gonna talk about it when you get home. This’s been going on for months. Two or three evenings a week, something’s come up and you’ve been getting home late, dark or after. How you been driving nails in the dark, Hershel Thurman Patterson? Huh? You tell me. And your paycheck sure ain’t been getting any bigger.”

Lord-a-mercy, the lying was getting harder and harder to live with. “I…uh…the truck…” Good thing I didn’t have one of them there smartphones. I’d heard tell you could track a body if he had one on him. Continue reading

Saving Grace–part 5, conclusion 

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. Continue reading

Saving Grace–part 4

Part 1 here     Part 2  here      Part 3 here

“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? Continue reading

Saving Grace–part 3

Part 1 here         Part 2 here

Will didn’t argue with me. All and all he was a good boy, Caleb too. They were a handful for Isabelle though, what with her having to work all the time and no husband to help out. Funny how a man can just walk out on his family and never look back. That’s what Jack Fisher had done though: he’d gotten on a plane to California and called Isabelle on his cell phone somewhere over Colorado and said he was leaving her.

Worry lines creased Isabelle’s young face, worry lines she shouldn’t have, and I hated Jack Fisher all over again.

“Let me help you with that, child.” I reached for one of the bags of groceries.

“I’ve got them, Nana.” Isabelle moved past me and into the kitchen. She plopped the bags down on the countertop and started putting things away.

I felt a tug on my apron and looked down at Will’s upturned face. “I’m thirsty,” he said. “Caleb too.”

While Isabelle bustled about the kitchen, I made a pitcher of cherry Kool-Aid, and the boys took their glasses and went out on the back porch. They liked it outside here; there weren’t no outside to speak of at their apartment in the city.

“I’ve got a favor to ask, Nana,” Isabelle said, looking out the window over the sink.

I took two glasses of Kool-Aid to the table and sat down. “Anything you need, all you gotta do is speak up. You know that.”

A breeze sidled through the window screen, ruffling Isabelle’s blonde hair. She closed her eyes and smiled. “It smells so clean out here, the grass, the trees, even the dust from the road.” The smile slipped from her face. “Not like the city where all you smell is gasoline fumes and baking asphalt.”

“You’re welcome to come back home anytime you take a notion. You know that too.”

Pap and me had taken Isabelle in after the car wreck that’d killed Josh and his wife. This old farm was the only home she’d ever known.

“I can’t live way out here, Nana, I have to work.” She opened her eyes and turned to me. “And that’s why I’m here, why I need a favor.”

“Come tell me about it.”

And she did. She told me about the job interview she had set up with a company two states over, a company that’d pay her twice what she was making at the law firm she was working at now. “Marshall is a nice town, Nana,” she said. “And I could have a nice house with plenty of room for the boys and a big yard for them to play in. And a place for you to–”

“Hold on now.” I’d heard this kind of talk before, and I knew that Isabelle meant well, but I wasn’t leaving my home. Me and Penny weren’t going nowhere. “How does this have anything to do with needing a favor from me?” Continue reading

Saving Grace–part 2

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. Continue reading

Saving Grace–part 1

Me and Penny were out on the back porch resting our bones when it happened, and truth be told, if we’d still been in the kitchen putting up them sweet Elberta peaches, we would’ve plumb missed it. It was that unspectacular.

It came down out of the dusky sky on a glimmer of light and a whooshing whisper of sound, a thin trail of dark smoke whipping the air behind it like a pissed-off sidewinder, and landed somewhere on yon side of the corn patch. A bit of a rumble followed, vibrating the boards under my bare feet and Penny’s white belly.

Penny raised her head off her paws, her yellow ears perking up. I leaned forward and eyed the deepening shadows amongst the drying cornstalks t’other side of the back-yard fence, wondering what might’ve come down.

An August-sticky breeze ruffled the stringy brown tassels hanging on the few remaining corn ears, and fanned out over the porch, bringing with it the acrid smell of something burning. Not wood. Not dead grass. Not old tires. It was a burn I didn’t know.

I squinted harder into that dark nest of corn, a tad-bit of unease settling inside my gut. I wondered what might be hidden by that corn patch. Little gray men or some such aliens? Pshaw—most likely, just one of them there space rocks had come down.

I reached down and ran my hand over Penny’s back. “Now ain’t we a sight, two squirrely old gals skeert of a rock.”

Penny’s head came up a couple more notches. She flicked her ears. Then with a grunt that sounded a whole lot like me when I rolled out of bed of a morning, she got to her feet and walked over to the edge of the porch. And whined.

Knees popping, I pushed out of the cane-back rocker and shuffled up beside her. “Something out there, gal?” Though Penny was older than me in dog years, her hearing still beat mine any day of the week. Why, she could hear Isabelle’s car when it was still more than a mile off. Yep, when I saw Penny crawling up under the bed, I knew that in a few minutes I’d see my granddaughter’s black Explorer come bouncing around the curve out by the mailbox, bringing groceries and her two rambunctious boys for their weekly visit.

Penny looked up at me and chuffed softly. A milky film covered her blind eye, but the good one was as clear as it’d been when she was a pup, and every bit of her smarts still shined bright in it. And it was telling me there was something out there all right, but it weren’t nothing to be skeert of.

Now, I’d always been a curious sort–that’s how come I’d ended up having Josh six months after me and Pap had gotten hitched up–and Penny too, so I figured neither one of us would rest easy till we’d seen what was out there.

“Well, I reckon we’d best go have a look before it gets dark.” I went back inside the peach-smelling kitchen, rounded up a flashlight and my cane, then pulled on the stiff boots that’d belonged to Pap before he’d passed.

Penny was waiting for me at the bottom of the steps. It took me a while to maneuver my way down them, but she sat there like she had all the time in the world, that whatever lay on the other side of the corn patch would still be there when we got there. And if it weren’t, well, most likely it wasn’t worth seeing anyway.

The sunbaked grass crunched under Pap’s boots. If something had been stomping this a’way through the corn, I couldn’t have heard it for all the racket I was making. Made me kind of nervous, the not hearing. But Penny didn’t look nervous, just curious, so I did my best not to be nervous either. Continue reading

The Revolt

“We have to do something,” Betty said. “He’s taking our children. He keeps us prisoner, breeds us, then takes our children.”

“We’re not prisoners,” Tallulah said. “We can go outside.”

The other girls nodded their heads, murmured words of agreement while casting furtive glances toward the door.

Betty snorted. “Oh, for the love of God!”

“They’re not really children,” Tallulah said. “Why, they haven’t even been named yet, so how can they possibly be children?” More nodding of heads. Continue reading

Pearls Before Swine–Part 3

Part 1 here

Part 2 here

When I came back from the barn after returning the handsaw, a bolt of pain stabbed my lower belly as I stepped inside the house. I crammed the hurt into that dark, crowded place deep inside me that Mama couldn’t see, undressed Sissy, ran a damp cloth over her clammy body, and pulled her favorite pink nightgown over her head, all the while talking slowly and softly. I knew she heard me. She stood when I told her to, held up her hands when I said so, but not one word passed her white lips.

Meanwhile, Mama fed thin slats of wood into the cook stove until the thing danced with heat. Sweat ran down her face and soaked the white collar of her dress, turning it pink.

“Put your sister to bed,” she said over her shoulder. “Then come get yourself cleaned up.”

I led Sissy into the little room off the kitchen, and tucked her into the bed we shared. “I’ll be back.

No answer from my sister. She rolled over and faced the wall. If I looked, I knew her eyes would still be open.

I laid my hand on her shoulder. “Everything’s gonna be all right. When you wake up in the morning, you’ll have forgotten all about tonight. Just a dream, that’s all. A bad dream.”

“Clara!” Mama yelled.

I wanted nothing more than to crawl into the bed next to Sissy and sleep for days. I was worn out and my belly hurt real bad. Instead, I patted her shoulder and walked back out into the nightmare. Continue reading

Pearls Before Swine–part 2

Part 1 here

Mama collapsed onto one of the straight-backed chairs that circled the kitchen table. She sighed, shook her head. “Sit down, gals.” We did, and she told us what we were gonna do. “Keep them bellies covered with baggy clothes, and don’t tell nobody you’re carrying. School’s practically out for the summer, and before it starts up again, the babies’ll most likely be here.”

We nodded our heads. “Yes, Mama.”

“Now…” Her dark eyes leveled on me. “Who put his pecker in you and your sister? Was it that Franklin boy?” She was talking about Tommy Franklin. He’d kissed me a couple of times in back of the church, but he’d never put his pecker in me. I didn’t even know people did that until…

“No, Mama,” I said.

“Leroy Massy?”

“No, Mama.”

“Then who in the name of Jesus was it?” She slapped the table. Sissy squealed. Mama’s eyes turned to her. “Or was there more than one?” Continue reading

Pearls Before Swine–part 1

I woke in the dark to squeals and yells and thumps and bangs. From somewhere inside the house, Daddy rattled off a string of cusswords, then hollered: “Get the shotgun, Lizzy, something’s got in with the hogs!”

The awfulest commotion was going on outside. It sounded like every pig on the place was pitching a holy fit.

“What is it, Clara?” Sissy asked.

“I don’t know…” I turned back the covers.

She grabbed my arm. “Where’re you going?”

“To see what all the racket’s about.”

Sissy’s fingers dug deeper. “What if it’s the boogeyman?”

I pulled my arm away. “There ain’t no such thing and you know it.”

My feet hit the floor and I made a beeline for the slash of light knifing in underneath the closed door, Sissy’s night-breath a hot prickle on the back of my neck. My fingers curled around the doorknob, twisted and pushed.

Light blared from the 100-watt bulb dangling on the end of the thick, black wire snaking down from the kitchen ceiling, spotlighting Mama and Daddy for a few seconds before they rushed out the back door.

I chased after them, Sissy right on my heels.

The lantern held high in one hand, the tail of her nightgown in the other, Mama ran neck and neck with Daddy across the back yard and through the gate.

Dewey appeared inside the bouncing circle of light. Mama let out a startled “Oh!” and Daddy a “Jesus Christ!” and we all skidded to a stop.

“Don’t you be going down there, Mr. Primrose,” Dewey said, his eyes all big and wild looking. His oily brown hair stuck out this a’way and that a’way. Only one gallous of his overalls was fastened; the other flopped down over his scrawny belly. “It’s dangerous. There’s demons loose tonight. Continue reading