What Grandma Done
by Tim Simmons
Found cave at last... The book was there just as I reckoned it would be... That dead Injun near ’bout wouldn’t let go of it... But now it’s mine... Won’t be long now... Just gotta bide my time...
“It seemed to be some kind of diary. I turned to the last page that had writin’ on it.
Almost ready... Ring is right shiny... I reckon the words came out right... Can’t rush it... Heart of purity will give me all the time I need...
“Ring is shiny? He done gone and bought her one of them engagement rings! I slammed that book closed and commenced to lookin’ at them other things that was lying on that table.
“Like I told ya before, there was some mighty strange pieces on that table. One was dark gray and all shriveled up. It was tied to the quill of a big black feather. Reminded me of a dead mouse but I couldn’t see no tail on it. There was some strange rocks that looked shiny like someone had polished ’em, but they sparkled deep inside, glitterin’ in that dim candlelight. Dirty pieces of bark and some dried peas were spread out in a little cardboard plate. I’d seen enough for one night.
“I turned to leave but movement caught my eye.
“At the back of the table, almost hidden in the dark, I saw somethin’ — a jar. It was a mason jar with one of them metal clamps to keep it sealed up tight. Looked to be filled with some kind of dark liquid. Maybe it’s tea, I thought to myself. But I soon ruled that out. I could just make out somethin’ dark a floatin’ in that jar. It didn’t look right. That candle, the way it was makin’ all the shadows jump around made it seem like somethin’ inside that jar was a-movin’!
‘But I knew that couldn’t be true. Just one of them optical illusions. Just a trick of the candlelight. So I plucked up my courage and reached out... And I brought it up to the candle to get a closer look.
“I held it close, squintin’ my eyes to see if I could make out what it was but the liquid was too dark and murky. Just some dark thing in there. Maybe it’s one of them animals like they keep in jars for experiments, I thought to myself.
“Then an icy cold chill shot down to my feet as I stood a starin’ at that jar. That’s when I knew it wasn’t no trick of the light. Somethin’ in that jar was movin’! But movin’ ain’t quite the word for it.
“A loud creakin’ of the barn doors near ’bout made me jump out of my skin. They’s comin’ back! I set that jar down and ran out of that stall, hopin’ the beam of that flashlight didn’t catch me as I made my way back around to my hidin’ place.
“I heard one voice comin’ closer. It was Ma. Sounded like she was complainin’. I crouched down and watched while that flashlight danced around the barn and then out again. She was gone and I was in complete darkness. Near ’bout exhausted, I leaned against the wall and rubbed my hands across my face, thinkin’ to myself. Tryin’ to make sense of it all.
“Sometimes the mind just plays tricks if’n yer under too much stress, I says to myself. I’m just mighty tuckered out from all the excitement, that’s all. I know there can’t be nothin’ in that jar alive. And that diary or whatever it was... Maybe if I read some more from it I can make some kind of sense of it but the candle’s out and I’m just too tired to worry with it no more tonight.
“I decided I’d better sneak that blanket out from the bed and sleep on the couch that night.”
* * *
Grandpa turned and looked at Hannah, who was standing with her mouth still open. “Hannah, I know this is all hard to take but you’ve got to believe your Grandpa. I ain’t never lied to you and I ain’t about to start. What I got to tell you now, the rest of the story, ain’t gonna be easy for me. But I have to tell someone and if I told any of the grownups... I think they might put ole Grandpa in the crazy house.”
The old man scratched his scraggly beard and gazed over at the makeshift grave once more before continuing.
* * *
“I don’t think we said two words over the next couple of days. A few words over dinner was about the extent of it. I wondered if she knew I was suspectin’ somethin’.
“That night at the dinner table, she was reachin’ for the chicken when I noticed she had a bandage on her left pointin’ finger. And at first, I reckoned it was curled up under her thumb but then I saw. Half her finger was plumb gone! ‘Ma! What done happened to your finger?’ I asked.
“She waved my question off with her good hand and said, ‘Just a little accident in the kitchen. Carvin’ knife is a mighty sharp. Managed to chop it right off cuttin’ up the chicken!’
“I didn’t see no blood on the bandage and I started to see how strange everything was a gettin’. I figured it weren’t no kitchen accident. I didn’t recall hearin’ no screamin’ when she was a choppin’ up that chicken before supper.
“For all I knew, it might have been one o’ them weird vows people make between each other. Sort of like writin’ it in blood. One thing I do know: she was lyin’ to me, sure as the world. And if she was gonna lie about one thing, she wouldn’t have no problem lyin’ about her new boyfriend.
“I confess it was a couple of days before I got up the nerve to go back into that barn. But I figured maybe I could find some clues in that diary. Maybe I could piece this thing together. And I figured my time was short if my guess about her getting’ me outta the picture was on the mark. Ma and me hadn’t used that old barn in years and I didn’t want her gettin’ suspicious so I had to sneak out there at night.
“I waited till I knew she wasn’t goin’ out there herself. Then I took my lamp and shotgun with me and headed out to try and figure all this out. But this time I put on my coat and cap. I knew I’d be out there for a spell. Everything was right where it was before. The table, the books... And that jar.
“I set my lamp down on the table but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to look at that jar. If somethin’ in it was alive, I didn’t want to know. I ’spec’ I might be a bit superstitious but I took off my cap and dropped it over that jar so I couldn’t see it. I didn’t come out to look at that thing noways. I came out to read that diary and see what kind of plans Ma was makin’.
“I commenced to readin’ and trying to remember all what went on in recent days. I remembered that part about findin’ some book in a cave... That’s when it finally dawned on me.”
Grandpa looked over at Hannah and asked, “You ever hear of Black Claw Cave, Hannah?”
Hannah shook her head left and right, still looking as if she might turn and run any second.
“Ain’t no wonder. People ’fraid to even talk about it ’round here. But they’s a cave a couple miles south o’ here. Hid back among the pines at the bottom of a small hill. It weren’t easy to find but used to be everybody knew ’bout it but most steered clear o’ that cave.
“Reason bein’, this old crazy Injun named Black Claw took to livin’ in that cave some years back. Lots of rumors were makin’ the rounds ’bout that Injun. Some said he was one of them medicine men. Every now and then you might hear whispers in the local shops... ’Bout them magic spells he was a-doin’. Works of the devil, some said.”
Grandpa looked up at the ceiling and continued. “Some said he knew how to make a man live well beyond his years. That’s how he lived so long, so they said. Those what seen him said he looked to be most of a hunnerd but some said in truth he was double that old if he was a day.”
The old man rubbed the back of his neck then looked over at Hannah. “And there was some mighty strange things a-goin’ on. Two young-uns come up missin’. Not long after ole Black Claw settled into that cave. We figured he done killed ’em but not a one of us was goin’ to up and enter that cave.”
Grandpa let out a deep sigh. “But Black Claw finally up and died. Well, leastways that’s what the rumors said. We never saw him no more down at the store. Nobody dared go inside that cave to find out. Some said he took them dark secrets to his grave but they’s a few who said he wrote ’em down in a book.”
He stared at Hannah, his face distorted in the lamplight. “Hannah,” he began, “that’s when your grandpa knew that it weren’t no French book she was a learnin’ from. That book was the very one old Black Claw used to write down them dark enchantments. Your grandma went and got that book out of Black Claw Cave!”
He turned and stared blankly for several moments at the mound of dirt beneath the old work hat. “When I think about how she must have gone in there, inside that cave in the dark, and pried that book from the cold, dead fingers of that ole Injun... I get the shivers just thinkin’ ’bout it.”
He turned toward Hannah and took a step toward her. “Like I told you, Hannah, this ain’t easy for Grandpa to tell, but I have to git this off my chest.” He looked away again, pausing as if to remember where he’d left off.
“I kept readin’ from that diary. I was hopin’ to learn what she needed that book for. I read a few pages that didn’t make much sense. But then she kept repeating somethin’ about a ring. She called it a ring of innocence. Then what I read next... I swear it made my blood run cold.
Finally done it... I made the ring... That little Hoskins girl won’t miss one finger... Not now, anyhow... one finger was all I needed... Three little pieces... But I couldn’t ’llow for nobody to find out...
“I stared up from that diary and tried to make sense of it. Then I felt sick because I knew then what Grandma had done.
“About a month back, a little girl just up and disappeared. I wondered if that’s why you never came by anymore. Your Momma didn’t want you up and disappearin’, too.
“The news report said the sheriff found her in the woods not far from here. It was that Lisa Hoskins girl. They reported she was missin’ a finger — and her head was all bashed in.
“I shivered and looked down at Ma’s diary. I knew right then and there who killed that little girl. I don’t know why but it just kept a poppin’ into my head. Ma’s necklace. That necklace I saw her a wearin’ at the supper table... That trinket danglin’ at the end... Three little white bones tied in a triangle. The finger bones of little Lisa Hoskins!
“I came out of my thinking and decided I’d better keep reading in that diary so I started reading from where I left off. Page after page... Then I come across somethin’ that I couldn’t b’lieve. I simply wouldn’t b’lieve it.
It was worth a finger... Hurt like hell but it worked just like that crazy Injun said... All I needed was the heart... From someone pure... someone young... Now I got all the time I need...
“It was all starting to make more sense now. I recalled the news was sayin’ another girl, the little Norlander girl — I think her name was Carla, rest her soul — she was no more than about eight, they said she was found in the woods about a quarter mile from the other.
“News said she’d been layin’ there for weeks. But they didn’t report on how she died. I figured they was protectin’ the family from hearin’ it. But rumor was goin’ round that when the sheriff found her, she had a big gapin’ hole right in the middle of her chest. Bones broke out and her heart missin’. Sheriff said it was probably wild dogs had torn her open like that.
“Well, just the thought of poor little Carla layin’ there with... and when... but that was...”
* * *
Grandpa’s words merged and blended, faded and blurred, and they were no longer at the forefront of Hannah’s consciousness. Something about the image of the murdered girl had triggered a memory. It was last year and Hannah saw herself running toward the pond.
Squeezing carefully between the barbed wire fence, she raced up the embankment and yelled out, “Grandma!” She was eager to catch a few fish, and Grandma loved to fish just as much as she did. Hannah could see her on the bank, kneeling and hunched over, looking at something in her hand.
“What is it, Grandma?” Hannah shouted. “Did you catch one?” Hannah bounced up beside the old woman. On the ground beside Grandma was a dead turtle. It was on its back with its underside bashed open. A bloody hammer lay nearby. Hannah saw something in Grandma’s outstretched hand. It moved.
Hannah stared wide-eyed. “What is it?”
“Turtle heart,” replied Grandma. Hannah wanted to look away but couldn’t. She watched while the heart spasmed again, over and over. “Amazin’ thing,” said Grandma. “You’d ’a thought once you got that sucker out, it’d quit beatin’!”
Hannah turned her scrunched up face from the turtle heart to see Grandma’s face contorted in what might have been a smile or perhaps a grimace of pain — just staring at that turtle heart with a look that made Hannah want to run back to the house.
“This thing might beat forever for all I know.” Grandma looked over at Hannah. “Here,” Grandma said and thrust the beating heart up close to Hannah’s face, causing her to fall backwards with a yelp. The old woman laughed.
* * *
Copyright © 2013 by Tim Simmons