Sequentials

NaNoWriMo: Day 30 Aaaannnd done!

Epilogue

The whistling of the tea kettle brought me back to my senses. I shook my head, stopped looking out the window at the blue house next door, and turned the gas off. Then I poured the steaming water into my mug, and dropped a pouch of mint tea in it. I tied the string around the handle of the mug, as is my habit, and let it sit and steep on the countertop.

I hadn’t realized just how much of my childhood I had forgotten, how much had slipped through the cracks, and never resurfaced. How could I have gone through the rest of my entire childhood and adult life with that just stewing in the back of my mind, unaddressed and unnoticed?

I picked up my mug, and took a sip. The tea was still too hot, and burnt my lip, but I swallowed it down anyway. It was good, refreshing, and it warmed me up from the inside, as it settled in my belly.

I never did see Ms. Cleary again, I realized, standing there with my tea. The last that I saw of her she was walking into that house, and closing the large, sliding glass door. She must have moved out, though, because I remember having other neighbors, many, in fact, in that old blue house next door. None of them ever stayed more than a year, either, and most moved out after several weeks, or months. My parents would say that it was because they didn’t like the location, or got a new job, or were short on money and couldn’t afford the mortgage, but I always thought that it was haunted, and that there was some ghost or ghoul living inside of it, that drove everyone out.

It occurred to me then that that was how I had transformed, and distorted my memories of the house. I came to believe that it was haunted, and even then, remembered pouring salt around my house in a circle, so that I could keep any ghosts from coming in to get me. But all along it had been the opposite. The details were all there, they were just mismatched and scrambled. It made me wonder as to exactly how many of my memories were in this skewed state. Were these the only ones, or was I still not remembering more, even now?

I stared out the window again at Ms. Cleary’s old house and yard. What had ever happened to her? Where did she go to? I remembered the days after with astonishingly sharp detail in the moment, but as I riffled through them, like flipping pages in a photo album, I did not see any picture of her leaving, or moving out. She had just been gone. I’m sure that if she wanted to, she could have flown away, in the middle of the night, and left with no one being the wiser. But maybe that wasn’t it. Maybe she hadn’t made Owd Hob disappear, but just thrown him into her home, and then gone inside to grapple with him again, a battle that perhaps had ended with the destruction of the both of them. Maybe she had been pulled inside of that house, and been lost from this world forever. The only thing I was certain of, was that I would never know, and could never be sure of what exactly happened to Ms. Cleary, or the one she had called Owd Hob.

Or could I?

After a long drink from my mug I set it down on the counter, and went to grab a jacket and shoes. I was still in my pajama pants, and an old t-shirt, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t that cold out, and I wouldn’t be gone for long. I made sure to shut off the porch light before leaving.

I slipped out the door, closed it quietly, and  crept over to the hedge, and moved along it to the end of the yard, turned back around, and came back up the yard next door. The night was cooler than it had been earlier, and the air humid, from the rain. I didn’t know who still lived on the street, and did not want to be recognized or seen, sneaking around the neighborhood. Up above me the moon shone light down, peaking its glowing white face from behind a thin layer of cloud.

There was no car in the drive of Ms. Cleary’s old place, and a ‘for sale’ sign staked at the edge of the lawn, so I assumed no one was at home, and that the house had still never changed from what I remembered it to be. I passed the tree where I had first seen Clara sitting, up in one of the taller branches, wearing her overalls and smacking gum. That was how I would always remember her. When I reached the wooden gate, it was unlocked. I pushed it open, and the hinges creaked, and groaned in protest. They had probably not been oiled in years, if ever. I stepped into the garden, and it was nothing like the way I remembered it just moments before.

The whole thing was like a barren wasteland, and there was more dirt in the yard than grass. It looked like a vacant lot, the kind kids would play baseball and soccer in, and kick up dust as they ran around. A few weeds rose above the flat land, and were especially clustered around the cement porch, poking through the cracks that had developed over time. They were the only life in the entire yard, and even they were wrinkled, and dehydrated, although it had only just rained. It was as if there was something underneath the ground; something with an unending thirst, that sucked up every last drop, and left no water for anything else to live off of.

I walked into the middle of the yard. the ground was damp from the rain, but already drying faster than it should have been. My sneakers left tracks in the ground behind me, and I stopped in the very center, where I remember setting down my dead uncle, and watching as he came back to life in front of my very eyes.

It all seemed so surreal and impossible now, as an adult. I had lived my whole life up until now, not believing in magic or monsters, or ghosts, or anything out of the ordinary. By the time I reached a certain age I had stopped believing in all that nonsense, and grown up. It was only for stories and daydreaming, and only existed in our heads. I began to start convincing myself then that what I had remembered in one long flash of recall, had been some sort of delusion, or hallucination. Maybe I was still grieving over my dead mother, and my mind had not yet moved on. It seemed by far more likely than the possibility that all of those impossible things that had happened to me were in fact real.

I knelt down, and wiped my hand along the wet ground. It felt like damp sand, drying out in a hot sun. I stood back up, and made to leave. I didn’t know what I had expected to find there. Not a thing had changed since I left for college, and I had not come back in all that time in between now and then.

And then I heard something, and it was very faint. So faint, that I almost did not hear it at all. It was a wandering, wavering humming tune, low and distant, and muted. It sounded as if someone were standing just on the other side of that glass door. I turned toward the noise, and walked up to the glass door quickly. The humming did not get louder or softer, but rather stayed where it was, at that annoying, just out of reach level, where I could hear it, but not all of it, and some notes were still lost in the wind, or the scuffling of my feet.

I was up at the sliding door, with my face pressed against it, and my hands cupped around my eyes, trying to see in at who was humming. But there was nobody there. The place was completely empty, and it did not  look a thing like I remembered Ms. Cleary’s kitchen looking like. There was a counter built into the wall, and a refrigerator, along with an open space where a table could go. But there was no wood-burning stove, no jars along the walls, and no Ms. Cleary sitting there humming, and waiting for her apple crisp to warm, as I’d thought, and secretly hoped. But the humming was still there, only it actually was growing fainter now, as if whoever had been doing the humming had walked away, into another room of the house, and was walking down the hall.

I backed away from the house, and shook my head, turned back around, and walked away. There hadn’t been anyone humming, I decided. It had only been the wind, or some combination of other sounds, along with my own deep desire to actually hear something, and confirm the wonderful but impossible things that could never have happened.

I went through the squeaky gate again, and back around the hedge that separated the two yards. I went inside, turned the porch light back on, and returned to my mug of tea. I had not been gone long, and it was at the perfect temperature. Not too hot, but still far from lukewarm. I brought the tea with me into the living room, with all of my still packed boxes, and sat down in the middle of them, opened the one closest to me.

I reached my hand in blindly, and grasped around for something to pull out. My hand brushed something cold and metallic, and I grabbed hold of it, and brought it out.

I didn’t remember packing it, but there it was, solid, real, and unchanged by the years: the rusted iron key that Clara had given to me as a child.

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Sequentials

NaNoWriMo: Day 29

Chapter 15

 

Cold, wet drops smacked me on top of my head, dampening my hair, and a flash of lightning tore across the sky, followed several seconds later by the rumbling of thunder. The rain was only coming down half-heartedly, in a thin drizzle, but soon enough the ground was slick, and my shoes slid as I held onto my uncle’s feet, wrapping one arm around each ankle, and walking between them, as Ms. Cleary dragged him along by the shoulders. His butt sagged to the ground and dragged along it, making one long track, that I stepped on either side of as I walked.

We set him down in the middle of the garden, on the damp grass. His white shirt was wet and stained with  blood, that ran together to make the white bits pink. Ms. Cleary lowered his head , and stepped back.

I stood there and looked down at him, and I was sure that he was dead. With the boggart gone, his face seemed more like I remembered it, and, while I was never the best of friends with my uncle, we had just been getting to know one another better, and I had thought things could be okay between us. Now, there wasn’t any way that that could happen. I’d lost another member of my family.

Ms. Cleary closed her eyes and bowed her head, and started humming in a soft, low tone. She hummed a wandering tune, with no real melody or theme to it, and it varied in both pitch and rhythm, and seemed to hit every possible note and tempo. She sped up and slowed down whimsically, and the tune bounced between minor and major, not lingering long enough in either to be characterized as mostly happy or sad in quality.

The pitter-patter of raindrops on leaves matched Ms. Cleary’s rhythm, and the branches and flowers swayed in the wind, each bobbing along in their own way.

As I watched all of this, the colors of the garden all began to fade. At first I just thought that it was getting darker, and that the sun was going down, but then I noticed that neither Ms. Cleary or my uncle had been changed, and when I looked down at myself, saw that I looked no darker than I had a moment before. But the vibrant purple of the lavender buds, and the bright yellow of the daffodils were being drained away, as if someone had a vacuum that sucked away color, and was aiming it at each and every plant in Ms. Cleary’s garden. And all the while, Ms. Cleary continued to hum away.

Then my uncle’s foot twitched. It was the smallest of movements, just the involuntary tensing up of the leg that caused it, but it was a movement nonetheless. I stared in wonder, as tiny streams of yellow light curled out from beneath the ground, and flickered and twined up and down my uncle’s body. They were each like miniscule sparks of electricity, that sizzled and traced lines up my uncle’s chest, and through the hole in his abdomen.

More and more of the plants in the garden were withering, and growing dry, and the more they did so, the more sparks flew out from the dirt and onto my uncle. Remembering the incident with the snail, the tiny flicker of hope in my chest blossomed into a roaring bonfire, and I knew my uncle was saved. The garden had healed the snail, at the cost of a few dandelions, and I realized then, with a pang of guilt, that Ms. Cleary knew exactly what was happening, and was fully willing to sacrifice every living thing in her precious garden for my uncle to come back to life.

Everything around me was shriveling and shrinking, and crunching itself down into dust. Soon, I could see clearly the boundaries of the yard, the fence, the sliding glass door to the kitchen, everything. The jungle of leaves was melting away before my very eyes.

When I looked back down at my Uncle Martin, his eyes were open, and he was breathing long, deep breaths. He looked at me, and his eyes were full of questions.

“Wha–” he began, but Ms. Cleary cut him off, kneeling down low beside him, and placing a finger on his mouth.

“Shhh,” she said. “Just lay back, and close your eyes. Everything is going to be all right.”

And he did, almost immediately, as if he had no choice in the matter. A glazed-over look came onto him, and he yawned, and smacked his lips, and fell into a deep sleep. He looked content and at ease, with not a care in the world.  Every so often, a snore escaped.

By now there were no more plants in the garden. Everything had collapsed, and all that remained were dried up twigs and grass, brown and dead, and already decaying into the earth.

“Thank you,” I said, and hugged Ms. Cleary as hard as I could, burying my head in her dress, and blinking back tears. “I’m sorry about all of your plants.”

She patted my head, and said nothing for a short while. The rain had stopped, and the storm was passing. I could still hear the rumbling of distant thunder, but it was further away now, and moving on.

Then, “Don’t worry your little head about the garden, child. These things happen.” She said it like it was a simple truth, like stating that the sky is blue. “When he wakes up, he won’t remember any of this, as he shouldn’t. Your mother will forget as well, and in time, you will too.”

I stopped hugging her, stepped back and looked her in the eye, and shook my head. “No I won’t,” I said. “I’ll never forget any of this. How could I?”

Ms. Cleary shrugged. “Time happens. It stretches and warps things, and most of what you do will get swept under the rug, and you won’t even think to think of them again. They’ll just be there, inside, and if you remember them at all, you’ll remember them as foggy dreams, or things you’d only just imagined.”

She then started walking back to the glass door, as if that was all that had to be said.

“Wait,” I said. “What happened to Owd Hob? Is he gone forever? What did you do to him?”

She stopped, and turned to look at me, sized me up, as if trying to decide whether or not she was going to tell me the truth. “He’s not gone, no,” she said at last. “But so long as you never come back to this house, he’ll never be able to bother you again.”

I paused. “But,” I said. “but what about you?”

Ms. Cleary smiled, and wrinkles swallowed up her eyes. “Oh, don’t you worry for a second about me. I’ve never been better. And there are far worse things that have happened in my lifetime. This one will not be a smidgen of trouble.”

And then Ms. Cleary turned her back on me. I watched her hobble her way to the door, slide it open, and disappear inside.

As soon as the door had closed, my uncle’s eyes popped open again, and he sat up, and looked around, confused and disoriented.

“Wha happened?” he asked, to no one in particular. Then he saw me, and his eyes lit up with recognition, and he smiled. “Hey buddy. Did I fall asleep, or what?”

I smiled. “Yeah, just for a little while.”

He stood up. “Well,” he said. “We should probably get going, get you back to your mom. It’s almost dinner time, I think.”

We walked out of the yard together, and back to my house. He did not remark on the strangeness of taking a nap in the neighbor’s yard, and neither did I.

My mother was no longer lying passed out on the porch, but was inside, and putting the finishing touches on a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, with garlic bread. No one mentioned anything odd about the day, and when my mother and uncle talked to one another, it was more polite, and guarded, and she didn’t touch him on the arm, and paid far more attention to me at the table, than to him.

After dinner my uncle stood up and stretched. He thanked my mother for the meal, but stated that he should really be getting back home, and get some rest before work in the morning. They did not hug, or kiss, and before he left he ruffled my hair, like he used to, and said he’d be by the next weekend to help me get that treehouse started. Then he walked out the door, and backed the green truck out of the driveway, and took it off down the lane.

The rest of the night seemed so normal that it was almost surreal. I helped my mother wash the dishes and pack away the leftovers from dinner, and then we both sat in front of the television, and watched several game shows together, before she told me that it was time to brush my teeth, and get ready for bed.

Already the events of the day were fading away. I tried my best to hold onto them, but it was like they were tied to a string, and every time I reached out to touch one it was plucked away, by some invisible hand on the other end. Eventually I only found it tiring to try, and stopped trying to remember all together. Things were good now. That seemed to be all that really mattered, when I thought about it.

When I tucked myself into bed that night, and turned out the light, there was little on my mind. I thought that tomorrow I’d ask my mother to take me to the library, after she got off from work, and pick up a new book. Maybe a ghost story, or another fantasy adventure one. I pulled up the covers, and snuggled my head against my pillow.

And later this week, my uncle would come over, and together we’d work on that treehouse he had promised me.

Sequentials

NaNoWriMo: Day 28

I floated in nothingness. I tried to raise my hand to look at it, but could not see it, and felt nothing there. There was a buzzing, static hum in the air that surrounded and absorbed me, until I lost all sense of where I was, and drifted. Thoughts moved around through space, swirling in the black, and I could not tell if they belonged to me, or someone else. Maybe some version of a boy that was lost and scared, but I did not recognize who he was, or if there was really anyone there at all.

It was unpleasantly warm, the air stifling and muggy, and I felt as if I were choking, and could not breathe. Everytime I tried to, it only felt like I was sucking on a velvet rag that was shoved in my mouth, and down my throat.

Other than the mild discomfort, it was almost something like sleeping, almost like how I imagined death would be like. This was it. The end of the line. Nothing and nothing, forever. But if there was nothing, and I was dead, how was I thinking these thoughts? I tried to follow a line of logic, but could not keep more than one thought from creeping into my mind at a time. They were frayed, and disconnected. Random spurts of memory and feeling. A snapshot here, a fragment there. Images of a man vaguely familiar to me, getting into a car and starting it. Pangs of sadness, a tugging at my heart. A picture of a ruined birthday cake, candles smashed in and crooked, frosting smeared, the number seven on it warped and smudged. I wondered who it belonged to.

Then back to nothingness again, and it stayed that way for some time, I was not sure how long it was. It could have been seconds or minutes, or days or years. But however long it was, eventually, I heard something. A voice. It spoke through the darkness, ringing loud and clear, like a shot through the night.

“Hold on to yourself, boy.”

It was the voice of Ms. Cleary, and then suddenly, I came back to myself, was no longer slipping further away, and into the dark. My mind clung to those words, and repeated them over and over, like a mantra. And every time I repeated them, I heard her voice again, and I could see her face, and knew that she had arrived at last to help me. But she was too late. There was little she could do to help me now. It was over. But still I repeated the words, and still, I held on to my hope. That was all that I had left then. All that I was.

Then, a pinhole of light. A faint star in the distant black, light years away from me. It flickered and shone, and was growing, gradually. I could see nothing else, just the blinding white light, or the suffocating black sea, there was no in between. The white light grew and grew, until it enveloped me, and swallowed me whole, and I was forced to stare into it. All the while, I repeated the words of Ms. Cleary in my head. Hold on to yourself, boy. I knew, that if I ever stopped listening to those words, and did not repeat them to myself, I would be lost once more, and never be able to find my way out.

Suddenly I was cold again. I could feel. I raised a hand to my face, and saw it there this time. Light pooled outward from my hand, and when I looked down, I saw that it was coming from my entire body. I glowed, and shone, with a light that blended into the dazzling whiteness around me.

As I stared closer at my hand, trying to see the point where the light from it stopped and the whiteness began, it started to blur, and vibrate, making a small, humming noise. The humming grew, and turned into a large, thrumming rattle, that shook my whole body. I was jolted upward then, one great shake up, and then back down. Again, the jolt, but this time larger. The third time, I felt something like a hand grabbing hold of the scruff of my shirt, and yanking me up and out. The whiteness vanished back to its small dot, then briefly, I was in the dark, until at last I was being coughed out, and thrown up, onto the grass and out of Owd Hob.

Ms. Cleary was there, and already at my side, and she was holding me. Owd Hob was crouched on the ground just above me, on his hands and knees, and panting.

“I told you, this is it,” she was saying to him. “You’ve done what you came for, what I brought you here to do. Now get!” I could hear my uncle behind me, no longer frantically scooting away. His breath was harsh and ragged. It came slow, and was unevenly spaced.

Owd Hob snarled. “You can’t stop me, wench! You have no power to send me back.”

Ms. Cleary hacked back something in her throat, and spit it on the ground.

“Maybe not,” she said. “But I don’t have to.”

Owd Hob lunged forward, and then there was a sound of a thousand whips all cracking at once, and he was flat on his face, on the ground. Another crack, and he was lifted up, and into the air, laid flat, wis arms and legs out. Then with a slow, grinding sound, he was stretched out. He made a sound like screeching tires and power tools, whirring and screaming in pain. He was stretched, further and further, until he was so thin and so fine, that he was not much else but a line.

Ms. Cleary was standing now, and her hands were held out, fingers twitching in the air. The line wiggled, and contorted, and then flew, straight as an arrow, and through the walls of Ms. Cleary’s house. And then there was silence, and Ms. Cleary lowered her hands. She looked down at me, and smiled.

“It’s okay now boy,” she said to me. “It’s over.”

I had no energy at all, and felt as if I were only a cloud of smoke, that could be blown out into nothing with the wave of a hand. It was then that I realized that I was still gone from my body, but it was only a passing thought, as weariness overcame me, and I fell back. I felt my eyes closing, and then a sudden rush of motion and wind.

I hit the ground hard, as if I had fallen straight down, and landed on  my back. The breath was knocked out of me, and I gasped, strained for air. My eyes teared open to the sight of trees and branches above me, and a dark, cloudy sky. I was back in the forest. Back in my body, at the fairy ring.

I struggled to my feet, and managed to stand still, and steady, hold my balance. I felt dizzy, and slightly nauseous. I picked up the mirror from the ground, looked into it, and thought of Ms. Cleary.

She was kneeling above my uncle, staring down at him. He was gasping for breath now, and looked very pale. She cradled his head in her hands, and was speaking so softly, that I couldn’t hear what exactly she was saying, or if she was saying anything at all, and not just mumbling to herself.

My uncle’s eyes were foggy, and distant, and seemed to be looking just over Ms. Cleary’s shoulder, and into the mirror, as if he could see me watching him. There was blood running down his chin, from out of his mouth.

Then Ms. Cleary spoke.

“You should come now,” she said, and I knew she was speaking to me. “And fast. We need to move him, and I can’t do it by myself.”

I was taking off then, down the path and through the forest, as fast as my legs could carry me. My knees pumped up, and my mind was focused, and centered. I tore through the winding path, holding tight to the mirror in my hand, cupped it like a football to my side. I broke through the line of trees, and out into the field, speeding ahead now that I could see the fence across the meadow.

When I reached the fence I jumped up, and clung onto it like Spider-man sticking to a wall, and clambered up and over it as fast as I could carry myself. I held onto the mirror the whole way, and was careful not to drop it, and when I swung over to the other side I dropped down, nearly the whole ten feet, and stumbled on the ground, and fell. Then I was back up, and running again.

Ms. Cleary was still there, kneeling down next to my uncle. His shirt was covered in blood, and his hands were clasped over his stomach. His eyes were open, but they looked glassy, like they weren’t really seeing anything. Ms. Cleary’s face was grave, and she barely inclined her head in acknowledgement at my arrival.

“Come on, and help me lift his legs,” she said to me. “We’ve got to get him into the garden.”

I walked around the side of her, and she stood up. When I grabbed onto my uncle’s legs they were stiff, and cold. She and I carried him around the hedge and through the fence, and an awful stench followed us as we brought my uncle into Ms. Cleary’s garden.

Sequentials

NaNoWriMo: Day 27

I watched in horror as Owd Hob lowered a single finger down, and touched my uncle on the forehead. My uncle’s eyes lolled back in his head, and he collapsed in a heap on the ground. Behind them both, on the porch, my mother fainted, and fell as well. Owd Hob bent down, and prodded my uncle with a finger.

As I watched, I knew that Owd Hob would not stop, and intended on doing something awful to my uncle and mother, probably would eat them too. I wondered where on earth Ms. Cleary was, and why she wasn’t already there, and helping to keep them safe.

My uncle’s eyes flickered open, and he tried to scramble back when he saw the monster in front of him. He didn’t get the chance. Owd Hob took one long-nailed finger, and stabbed him through the heart.

Blood spurted out from my uncle’s chest, and he grimaced, and squirmed on the ground. Owd Hob took his finger out, and chuckled, lifting his hand to lick the blood off. He was kneeling down, and his other hand crept toward my uncle, spider-like, on the ground. My Uncle Martin was clutching his chest, trying to keep the blood in, and backing away as well as he could, scooting himself across the grass. Owd Hob was playing with him, enjoying the frightful look in his eyes, and chuckling to himself the whole time.

I knew that I could not just sit there and watch. Owd Hob would only kill my uncle, and then turn to my mother and kill her too. Then he would find me, and kill me as well, and probably Ms. Cleary too. There was little that I could do to help, and I was not sure that I could get there in time to save my uncle, even if I could. But I did know that I at least had to try. If I didn’t, I was for sure going to die, or lose my only family, or both.

I set the mirror down, and laid back on the cool, soft grass, and closed my eyes. I found the little fire in me, the essence of me that was entirely separate from my physical body. I plunged myself into it, and felt my body stiffening, and fading to the edges of my consciousness. It was even easier to grasp this time, for I knew that I had to act, and act quickly, if I wanted to have any chance at all of saving anybody.

I lost all sense of my body, lying there on the grass, and willed myself to rise above the ground. When I opened my eyes again, I was floating there, above my body, an ethereal being in space. Light streamed from my fingers, and spilled out around me.

Wasting no time at all, I immediately rose above the treetops, and flew towards my home. The sky above me was dark. A summer storm was coming on, and lightning flashed in the distance; a spark that lit up the sky for a single instant, and then plunged it back into gray and darkness once again. I kept going, moving as fast as I could, and hoping against hope that Ms. Cleary would get there before I did.

I flew past the graveyard and over the fields, past the hill, and over the fence I had once had to climb up and over, with a lame hand. I saw my house just a couple hundred yards ahead, but no silver Buick, and no Ms. Cleary. What could be taking her so long?

Then I arrived, a hundred feet above my house. My uncle was there, still trying to gain distance between himself and Owd Hob, who followed him with two walking fingers, and giggled to himself. There was no one else who could do anything, except me. I allowed myself a moment to gather my courage, and then flew down, over the ring of salt, to my uncle, and Owd Hob.

I put myself between the my uncle and Owd Hob. It was fairly obvious that my uncle could not see me; he made no indication that a flying boy made up of light had just landed in front of him, seemingly out of nowhere. His eyes were still fixed on Owd Hob, and they were wide and staring, and filled with fear.

Owd Hob could see me though, and he stopped walking his fingers toward my uncle, and blinked at me, surprised. I tried my best to strike a heroic pose, hands on my hips, and legs spread apart, as much like Superman as I could appear. Which wasn’t much at all, really. I imagine I only looked like exactly what I was: a little kid, trying to seem brave, when in reality he was so incredibly close to wetting himself, that if he was still in his body, he would have done so already.

It was as if Owd Hob could sense this, sense all of my false bravado, and saw right through me, with his piercing yellow eyes, and knew all of my fear. He paused, staring at me like this for several seconds, so long that I actually thought that he was a bit hesitant. Then he let out a great guffaw of laughter.

“Hee hee, hoo, hah!” He giggled and crooned, clutching his hairy stomach. “Ah foolish boy, foolish boy. Did you have a plan to stop me, or is this as far as your little mind could think ahead?”

I blanked, didn’t know what to say. Truthfully, I hadn’t thought it through at all, had only known that I had to try and help, in any way that I could. I had absolutely no idea how I was supposed to stop this giant monster, when I couldn’t even stop the boggart from coming in, and making my world a living misery. At the very least all I could hope to do was buy some time for Ms. Cleary to get there.

Owd Hob leaned way down, until he was laying flat on his stomach, with his head propped up on his elbows. “Do you know what I’m going to do?” he asked.

Speechless, powerless, all I could think to do was shake my head at him, dumbly.

“I’m going to pick you up, put you in my mouth, and swallow you whole, until you’re nothing but memory and shadow. You won’t die, no. You’ll still be alive, a part of you, at least, but you’ll also become a part of me, and everything else I am.” He smiled wolfishly, sticking his head out, so close to me now. “He’s in there too, you know. The one I just took. And I’ll let him out a bit, so that he can play with you, and have his fun. And when I take the rest of the ones you love and care for, they’ll all be there, and nothing will have changed.”

I was paralyzed with fear. Things had all seemed like they would work out just a few hours ago, and now everything was wrong. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go. If I had only listened to Ms. Cleary, done what she said, and stayed behind, I would be safe. But no, I had to go and play the hero, trying to act like the ones I had read about and played in games. But I knew then that real heroes didn’t exist, not really. There was only the strong and the weak, and everyone everywhere only strove to protect and care for themselves.

There was still time, I thought. I could try and get away then, and fly so fast back to my body and then run, and keep on running, until I left everything I knew behind: my uncle, my mother, this home, everything.

I almost left then. Almost obeyed that sudden, fearful impulse. But I looked into Owd Hob’s eyes, just before, and knew that it would be useless. His eyes were glued to me, and the fingers of his hand inching closer, twitching in anticipation. He would catch me as soon as I tried to leave. My fate would be the same, whether or not I tried to play the hero. And as soon as I realized that, I decided that I would rather go out, swinging and defiant; would rather my last act in this world be one of bravery, that emulated the heroes I loved, rather than one of cowards and children.

So I raised my fists, and stepped forward, and glared at Owd Hob with all the hatred and courage I could muster. I thought of what Spider-man would say to one of his enemies, when he was afraid.

“Come on, fuzz-face,” I said. “The worst you can do is give me fleas.” My voice wavered at first, but grew stronger as I spoke. Owd Hob wasn’t anything really, but a big hairy dog, trying to be the alpha. There wasn’t anything to be afraid of.

Owd Hob blinked, and recoiled, shaking his head in confusion. I doubt that anyone had ever spoken to him in such a way. Without waiting for a better chance, I launched myself into the air at him, aiming to punch him straight in the jaw.

Then I was plucked out of the air, and he was holding me in between his long, hairy fingers. I wiggled and thrashed, trying to free myself, but it was no use.

“Quite spunky for such a little guy,” he said, and opened his mouth wide.

The last thing I saw, as he shoved me into his gullet, was a blackness darker than space, and a chilling cold that seized me with icy claws, and dragged me down.

Sequentials

NaNoWriMo: Day 26

Chapter 14

 

I stood in the forest paralyzed, just outside of the fairy ring, clutching Ms. Cleary’s hand, as the thing revealed itself, and stepped out from the rip in space.

His hand had been the first thing that I saw, all knotted and hairy, skin cracking around the knuckles. The fingers were long, spider-like, and colored a muddy-brown, but tinged with a sickening yellow that reminded me of vomit. Then he stuck his head through the widening hole. It was big and hairy, shaped much like that of a dog, or a bear. He wore a wolfish grin on his face that stretched up to his pointed ears, and his eyes were a blazing yellow, with small black pupils, that looked like two little bumblebees on his face.

Owd Hob stepped through the tear. His legs were long and spindly, but his feet were surprisingly large, the scraggly toenails sticking out well past where they should, and curving down so they resembled claws. The ends of them looked as if they were chewed on periodically, and were jagged and torn.

When he had stepped fully out, the gray world from which he had come from was lost, as the two edges were drawn back together, as if sewn shut. Owd Hob was long and tall, and his body was covered in a brownish, yellow fur that was short and matted. Everything about him was long, too long, and he towered over me, easily nine feet high, but I was guessing closer to ten, if you counted the points of his long ears, which stretched straight up in the air.

He sucked in a lungful of air, taking in as much as he could before letting it out again, in a deep sigh of contentment. He looked down at me and Ms. Cleary, and gave another wide, wolfish grin.

“Who so summons Owd Hob to this world?” he said. I heard his voice twice, through my ears, and speaking in my head. He spoke in a deep baritone, that was as smooth and clear as river water, and the last kind of sound I expected coming out of him. Listening to it was beautiful and entrancing, and his words were all that I could hear, or concentrate on.

My arm shook, as Ms. Cleary snapped me out of my thoughts with a squeeze of her hand. Then she spoke. “I did. One of yours has overstayed his welcome here, and I’d like you kindly to remove him. I don’t care what else is done to him, other than he begone.”

Owd Hob listened as she spoke, and then bent his long legs, and crouched down, with his arms dangling, resting on his knees. He leaned his big head forward, so that it was right in front of us. His eyes flicked over to look at me, and I pulled Ms. Cleary’s arm over my face to hide. I could feel his hot breath ruffle my hair as he exhaled. Then he chuckled.

“What about the boy?” he asked. “He is fresh, and full of fear.” I felt him addressing me then. “Aren’t you?” he asked. “You don’t want to be afraid anymore, do you?”

His voice tugged, and pulled at me, and I shook my head. He was right. I did not want to be afraid, ever again, and wouldn’t it be easier to just forget all of that fear now, and just let go? To be free from fear, and pain, and to simply disappear in darkness and rest. It would be as easy as going to sleep.

Ms. Cleary held fast to my hand, and kept me from pulling away. I blinked, realized I had been trying to free myself from her grasp.

“You stop,” she said, and her voice was steel on flint. “He’s not for you, and neither is anyone but the one who forced himself here in the first place. Take him, and do what you want with him. I brought you here, and I can send you right back.” Her voice faltered there, at the end, as if she was unsure of herself.

Owd Hob laughed, a deep, booming rumble that matched the rolling thunder that was now all around us.

“Do not overestimate your control over me, woman. I do what I please.” Then a pause, as he sized her up. “But yes, it is true, you brought me here. For that I am grateful, and will take  the worm away for you. He will make an appetizing morsel.” He stood up, and raised his head to sniff the air, his long muzzle bobbing about. “I smell him,” he said, and stepped out of the fairy ring, taking long, loping strides. He soon disappeared through the trees, slipping in between them, and hardly making any sound at all.

Ms. Cleary waited, and then let go of my hand, and released a long breath of air. She ran a hand down her face. She looked her age then, whatever it was. I was sure that it was far older than anyone I had ever met before. Her face looked tired, and drawn, like she had just physically exerted herself well past her limit. She sat down on the grass.

I sat down next to her. “What happens now?” I asked.

Ms. Cleary let out another sigh. “Now, we wait. And hope that he keeps to his word. There is nothing else to do.” Her eyes stared out into space, just over the ring of stones.

“But what if he doesn’t?” I said. “What if he makes things even worse? What then?”

She turned to me and smiled, a sad smile. “Oh, don’t you worry your head about such things,” she said. “I still have one or two tricks up my sleeves.” And she winked at me. Then she stood, pushing herself up with her hands on her knees. “Well, suppose we should keep an eye on him then, make sure he’s not getting up to no good.”

I made to stand up, and follow her, but she stopped me with a raised hand.

“No,” she said. “Be best if you stayed here. I’ll go, and see that things are taken care of.” Then she reached again into the monstrous tote bag on her shoulder. She brought out a long, flat oval mirror, with no handle, and handed it to me. “So that you can watch,” she said. “Just think of who you want to see, and it’ll be just like you’re there.” Then, without another word, she turned, and marched swiftly away.

I sat there in the grass, and watched Ms. Cleary leave me. Once again, I was alone at the fairy ring, where this had all started. I held the mirror in both of my hands, and looked at its surface. It was not a mirror, not really, and did not even look to be made of glass. It looked more like a mirror of polished marble, a wavering, blurred white, with streaks of gray that seemed to sway and shimmer, almost like water.

With the firm image of my mother in mind, the surface of the mirror shifted and warbled, until I was looking in on her in the kitchen. She was scrubbing the counter furiously. She always cleaned whenever her mind was on something, and she didn’t want to think. I could hear my uncle’s voice in the other room, shouting something. My mother turned, and the camera of the mirror followed her out onto the porch, and her face held a look of terror, as she screamed.

I could not tell what was happening, so switched my perspective, and thought of my uncle instead.

He was in the yard, and looking down toward the fence at the end of the lane. His eyes held pure terror, and recognition in them. The camera followed his line of sight, and I was able to see Owd Hob there, climbing spider-like down from the fence. He only needed to lift one long leg up, and used his hands to crawl over the top. Then he was striding toward the house, and his eyes were fixed on my uncle, the boggart. He smiled a toothy, wolf-like grin.

My uncle was frozen to the spot, and did not move, could not move a single muscle, I suspected, out of sheer terror.

Owd Hob stepped over the line of salt, and bent over my uncle, still smiling.

“My,” he said. “How you’ve grown since coming to this place. And look, the little life you’ve made here.” He turned to look at my mother, screaming on the porch. He clucked his tongue, and shook his head. “All for nought.”

Then Owd Hob reached a hand out, and my uncle’s body began to convulse, and thrash back and forth, as if invisible puppet strings were yanking him about, by a Parkinson’s puppeteer. His eyes rolled back into his head, and his body raised up off the ground. Then, a thin tendril of black smoke escaped his mouth, and was drawn to Owd Hob’s outstretched hand. He twisted his fingers around the black smoke, and gave a sharp tug. My uncle let out a feral scream, one that sliced through the air and was not of this world. The scream changed, as more of the black substance poured out of my uncle, until it lowered in pitch and intensity, and became the human scream of my uncle. It was him now, I could tell, and his face was in pain, as if he had just been stabbed in the gut.

Owd Hob took the wispy black stream in his hand, lifted it, and thrust it into his mouth, smacking his lips, and licking the last of what remained from his long, spider fingers. Then he turned his gaze onto my uncle, who was on his knees staring at him, and smiled.

Sequentials

NaNoWriMo: Day 25

Ms. Cleary was still in the kitchen, where I had left her. She was gathering up all sorts of things in her great beige tote bag on the counter. I saw her put in candles, the jar that held the heartstone, and a sharp knife that she drew from the drawer. The blade was long, and it had ragged teeth that ran down its edge. She turned, still holding the knife, and saw me standing there in the doorway.

She smiled sweetly. “You need a little bit of everything to call out Owd Hob,” she said, dropping the knife in, and reaching for a jar of olives. “That’s the trick. We’re going to be short a few things though. Breath of wind and morning dew won’t be possible with our time frame. But more than anything, it’s the thought that counts. It’s all a matter of confidence, really. You’ve got to mean it.” She clucked her tongue, opened the freezer, and threw a handful of ice cubes in a jar, then put the jar in the bag as well.

“Ms. Cleary,” I said. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yes child, go right ahead.”

“Why are you a ‘Ms.’, and not a ‘Mrs.’ If Clara’s your granddaughter, wasn’t there a Mr. Cleary?”

Ms. Cleary fell silent, and stopped putting things into the big tote. She inclined her head as if thinking, deciding how best to answer. Then she said, “That’s quite a rude question, you know, asking an old, grown woman a thing like that.” She paused, waiting for a response.

“Sorry,” I eventually said. I thought it was a perfectly reasonable question to ask. I didn’t see what the problem was.

She nodded curtly. “As you should be,” she said. Then she went back to putting random things into her tote. Another candle, and a jar of fireflies, which had been sitting on the counter, glowing faintly. They both disappeared behind the canvas bag.

“That should do it,” Ms. Cleary said, and scooped the whole tote up and onto her shoulder. “Let’s go.”

We went out to Ms. Cleary’s car, a silver Buick. I sat up front, and she handed me the tote bag to hold onto while she drove. It was heavy, and I set it on the floor between my legs. I resisted the impulse to check the armrest between us. It was the same kind my grandmother used to have, where she would hide sweets underneath, in a secret place for me.

“You can check it if you want,” Ms. Cleary said. “But you won’t find anything except empty candy wrappers. Clara cleaned me out before she left.”

I wondered then if that was some requirement, or standard of grandmothers everywhere, to leave hidden sweets in the car to be found and enjoyed later.

As we drove down and out of the lane, turning past the big brown steeple at the corner, a warm spot began to grow in my heart. There was something there, a tiny flame of hope, that was growing, and gaining strength. I had faith in Ms. Cleary, that she would deliver me from the evil that threatened to engulf my family, and my life. I had hope that I would sleep in my bed tonight, and that my dreams would be peaceful and my sleep deep.

When Ms. Cleary turned down the winding road that led to the little chapel and the graveyard, I started thinking about my father again, and then I started talking out loud, without even realizing it, telling Ms. Cleary everything that happened with Clara that night in the graveyard.  I was still curious about what had happened, when I had seen him as that pale green light above his grave. I was sure that he had shown me the night he died, when he was in the car accident that took his life. What I didn’t know was why. Why had he wanted to show me that, and not talk with me, or ask how my mother was doing? It didn’t seem right.

I stopped as soon as I realized that I was speaking my thoughts out loud. I had ended with that same question. Why?

Ms. Cleary was quiet as she parked the car. She gestured for me to hand her the tote bag, and I did. Then she opened her door, got out, and shut it, leaving me in there. I followed suit, and then together, we began walking through the graveyard. It was still daytime. There were no little pale green lights, and no disembodied whispering cries. It was a pleasant day, but I could see tall clouds on the horizon, moving toward us, with shapes like anvils.

Then Ms. Cleary spoke, and her voice was low, and somber.

“That wasn’t your father you saw that night, only a fragment. Only a shell of what he once was. All that part of him wanted to do, was share his pain with his family, and the world. It’s what they all want, when they go, to some extent. It isn’t always just how they died,” she added, noticing my questioning look. “It’s what they hold on to, before they go. The things they just can’t let go, that keep pieces of them lingering here. Clara should never have taken you. She can be foolish, and headstrong at times, but she only thought she was helping. You’d do best not to come back here the way you did.”

We were way out in the field now, and making our way toward the line of trees. Ms. Cleary walked with purpose, as if she knew exactly where she was going, and the shortest way to get there. Wind ruffled my hair and made the branches on the trees sway, and I heard a distant rumble of thunder, as we moved forward and into the trees.

I was following Ms. Cleary through the forest, following a path I do not remember seeing. It was completely clear of any thorns or brambles or underbrush, and the going was easy. I tried to hold a picture in my head of where the fairy ring was in relation to us, but kept getting turned around. The path curved and doubled back on itself at times, and I thought we must be going in circles.

Then, suddenly, the path ended, and we came out into the clearing. The fairy ring was there, as it had always been. The circle of ancient stones looked older, and more weathered, though it had only been several days since the last time I had seen them. Without one moment’s hesitation, Ms. Cleary walked right into the middle of the ring, and began unloading her bag.

She took out three candles, and shoved each of them into the ground, making a triangle around the center stone. Then lit them with a match, and blew it out. She took out the jar of olives, opened it, and grabbed one, then smashing it on top of the smooth rock. Then the jar of fireflies came out, and they did not fly away as she opened the jar. Ms. Cleary cooed to them, in a low, crooning voice, and stuck out her hand. Three fireflies landed on her outstretched palm, and down they went, joining the olive in a neon, yellow-green smear on the stone. The ice cubes had melted, and she dribbled the water on top, then sprinkled it with dirt from the ground. Crushed flower petals joined them. Then she brought out the knife, and turned to me.

“Come here, and hold out your hand,” she said.

I hesitated. I did not want to get cut by the knife. I knew that that’s what would happen.

Ms. Cleary gave me a soft smile. “It’ll only hurt for a second, one small drop is all we need.”

I stepped into the ring of stones, and stuck my hand over the one in the middle, with the dust and flowers and firefly guts already on it. The knife flashed, and there was a moment of sharp pain in my hand. Blood dripped on the crushed flower petals. Then it was over, and the pain faded quickly. When I looked at the cut, I saw that it was only about an inch across, in the center of my palm.

Ms. Cleary reached into her bag again, brought out a bandaid, and handed it to me with a wink. I put it on, and stuffed the wrapper into my pocket.

Then, she went back into the big tote one last time, and brought out the glass jar with the heartstone in it. She opened it, and placed the heartstone on the very top of everything, balanced it there. Scooping up the bag, she grabbed my hand, and we both walked to stand on the outside of the fairy ring.

Still holding onto my hand, Ms. Cleary began to speak. Her voice was soft, and came in a harsh whisper, but I could hear the power behind it, and everything in the forest stopped while she spoke, and the clouds rose above us, and darkened.

In candlelight and open flame,

Fruit of earth, and fire’s bane;

Breath of wind, and stuff of light,

Dust of men, and blood from knife;

 

A taste of all, that is what you want.

I give to you now, as a father to son.

Death you bring and sleep you’ll rob,

Come here to us now, King Owd Hob.

 

Her words hung in the air, and made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and the flesh on my arms prickle. There was nothing after she spoke, and I thought at first that it hadn’t worked, that we had failed.

And then the air around the fairy ring became hazy and distorted, and I heard a high-pitched, whine, as a piece of the sky above the ring of stones was ripped open. It was like someone had taken a knife to the fabric of the world, and shown what was behind. Inside the hole that opened up was a gray, formless void, like the static screen of a television.

A hand reached out from the void, and grabbed hold of the other side. It was gnarled and hairy, with long, yellow-tinged fingers, and I knew it to be the hand of Owd Hob.

Sequentials

NaNoWriMo: Day 24

Chapter 13

Ms. Cleary set the jar on the table, and the thing inside rattled against the glass.

“This,” she said,”is how we get Owd Hob to go after what’s inside your uncle.”

I looked inside at the tiny sphere, like a marble, and remembered the feeling of it being lodged in my hand. “That?” I asked, “How?”

“”It’s the heartstone of the boggart. When he meant to use you as a vessel, he stuck it in with his bite. It was a gamble on his part, but I’ll bet he was so desperate to get here, he was past caring for such risks.”

A heartstone. It had such a pretty, magical sounding named, but it looked so normal. It was a dull, steely gray, and did not shine, or emit a pulsing glow, as I would have expected. It just sat there, looking like it belonged on the ground, forgotten.

“We also have to go back to the fairy ring, boy. That’s where we’ll call him. That’s where he’ll come.”

“Okay.” I swallowed back a lump in my throat.

“And there’s something else I need you to do too,” said Ms. Cleary, standing up and walking to the counter. She fished around, and opened a few cupboards before returning to the table, with a blue cylinder in hand. She set it on the table with a small thud. It was a normal container of salt.

“Salt?” I said.

“Yes,” she said. “Salt. You need to take this, and draw a circle around your house with it. It should keep your uncle from getting away.”

“Salt?” I said again.

“Yes. Make sure there are no gaps in the line, and that the circle completely connects.”

“How big should I make the circle?”

She shrugged. “As big as you want to make it. But remember, you only have so much.” And she tapped the side of the salt container with a finger.

I grabbed the salt container, and looked at it. The covering was blue, and there was nothing on it, except ‘SALT’ in big, white letters. A swarm of resting butterflies began to flutter their wings in my stomach. I was nervous, but also strangely clear-headed. There was something for me to do now, something that would help. I could recognize that, and though I was indeed afraid, I knew that this was what I had to do, and did my best to quell my nerves.

“Go now,” Ms. Cleary told me, “and come back once it’s been done.”

I held the salt close to me, and got up from the table. Ms. Cleary showed me to the side door, and out to the garden. I prepared myself to make my way again through the labyrinth of leaves and flowers, but Ms. Cleary took care of it. I couldn’t see whether or not she waved her hand, or nodded her head. I didn’t hear her say any magic words. But she must have done something, for the plants parted, down the middle, making a clear path from where I stood to the wooden gate in front.

I turned back to her, and smiled. “Thanks,” I said.

Ms. Cleary said nothing in return, just looked at me, and gave me a reassuring smile, and nodded at me to go on.

I walked quickly down the grassy path, making sure to watch my step. When I reached the gate I turned back again, hoping to see what Ms. Cleary had done to bring the plants down, and if she would do it again to put them back. But all I saw were towering bushes and branches. The house was already blocked from view, and Ms. Cleary was gone.

I hefted the salt container with both hands, trying to guess at how much was in there. A good bit, I figured, easily more than half-full. I planned on going around the outside of our fence. I could hide behind the trees in the back, and had less of a chance of being spotted. With my mind set, I didn’t give myself another moment to second-guess what I was doing, and plunged into the hedge, and out to the other side.

I was at the side of our house, and there was a thin gap between the two fences that I could just squeeze through. I opened the spout on the salt container, and began trailing a thin line of salt behind me. The going was slow; I wanted to make sure that I was keeping an even, uniform line, and poured it as sparingly as I could. I reached the corner, and curved around it. It would not be a very good circle, and I hoped that that would be okay.

As I continued around the outside of our fence, I made frequent, darting glances to my house, fearing that at any second I would see my uncle tearing out of it toward me. I was still baffled by how easily he had given up looking for me. I wondered what it was he was up to in there, and if my mother was safe, and unhurt.

I came around to the other side of the house. I was more than halfway done now, and could even see the hedge, where I started. I let the heavy weight that I had been carrying on my shoulders to ease somewhat, and relaxed a bit there. But, knowing that this last part would be the most dangerous and risky, I made sure to not let my guard down completely.

We usually kept the front window with the blinds open, and anyone sitting in the living room would easily be able to see if someone was spilling salt down the sidewalk. I had to go up close, underneath the window, and onto the porch, to remain unseen.

I crept slowly, across the driveway, in front of my uncle’s green truck, parked so that it was nearly touching the garage door, and squeezed through the gap. Then I turned back to connect the line of salt through it as well, and continued to the porch.

There was a step to get up onto the porch, and I stopped there, and stared at the spot where it met the cement drive. I would have to go around, on the outside of the porch. I wasn’t sure whether or not I would be seen there, and it was a large gamble to make. I’d have to run if spotted, and hope that I would not leave a single hole in the circle of salt, otherwise I would be done for.

I took a deep breath, and crouched as low to the ground as I could without crawling on my belly. One hand moved along with me, like a third foot, keeping my balance, while the other held the salt container, and kept the steady stream going. The container had grown considerably lighter, and I prayed that it would have enough to close the circle. While I crawled, I kept my eyes trained on the door. I was fully prepared to bolt for the hedge again, the second I saw the handle move.

Nothing happened, though. I was not seen, and I passed the front porch, and then the windows of my bedroom and playroom, respectively. I was just reaching the corner of the house, when the door burst open.

I jumped in surprise, and the salt dropped from my hand. I fumbled for it, but my eyes were fixed on the porch in fear. My uncle was there, and he was staring right at me.

“There you are,” he said, and started walking slowly, toward me. He walked like a wild cat stalking its prey, raising its haunches and getting ready to pounce.

I lowered my eyes for one second, and picked up the salt, and started pouring again. I was close. I was so close to the end now, could see just a few feet away, where the other end lay in the grass.

“What are you doing with that?” My uncle asked, still taking long, creeping strides.

I didn’t answer, and kept pouring. I was going to make it, was inches away now. But my uncle was closer too, and moving faster.

“It’s time to come inside,” he said, and reached out a hand for me, just as I dropped the last bit of salt, and completed the circle. I had made sure to close it while staying on the outside of the ring, not knowing or wanting to find out if it would trap me as well.

There was a sizzling sound and a spout of steam, and my uncle shrieked. I hadn’t seen what happened, had been too concentrated on making sure to connect the circle of salt. When I looked up he was holding his hand, which was still steaming, and cradled it against his body.

“What is this?” he hissed, and it didn’t sound like my uncle’s voice at all. It was feral and grating, like his laugh. His eyes were all-black now too, and his face contorted with rage. He was not fool enough to reach out the other hand, or try and cross over the line of salt. He then covered his face with his hand, and took some deep breaths. It looked like he could have been sobbing, but I heard no noise.

When he lowered his hand, the black eyes were gone, and my uncle’s face was back to normal, smiling and sweet. He reached out his hand, the uninjured one, and held it out to me, just shy of the line.

“Come on, buddy,” he said. “Let’s go inside, and get some ice cream.”

I did the something rude then, something I had seen boys do on the playground at school. I stuck my tongue out at him, and showed him my middle finger.

Then I walked calmly away, around the hedge, and up the walk to Ms. Cleary’s door.