What Grandma Done
by Tim Simmons
“Hannah? Hannah, are you okay?” The voice had changed. It was no longer Grandma’s voice. It was husky and deep, reverberating in the empty barn.
Hannah’s thoughts flowed back to the present and she saw the old man once again, staring down at her.
“Looks like you went off in a daydream. I was just talkin’ ’bout that confounded diary and how I was a frettin’ somethin’ fierce over that line Ma wrote sayin’ it was worth a finger. Then I recalled how Ma had told me she’d chopped off her finger cuttin’ up that chicken.”
Grandpa looked from Hannah over to the stall where Grandma’s body was buried.
“I stood in that dark barn with the diary staring back at me and right then I knew. Right then I knew it was a lie. Weren’t no chicken she’d been cuttin’ up. She accidentally chopped off that finger while she was a cuttin’ a hole in little...
“I shuddered and kept a readin’ in that dreadful diary.
No need to rush it... I’ll find somebody suitable in good time...
“All I could see was that little Norlander girl... lying there on the ground with a big hole in her chest. I looked over at my cap, still coverin’ that mason jar. Two little girls murdered and I knew who done it. But now it sounded like Ma was up to somethin’ else and I figured romance didn’t have much to do with it at this point. So I kept readin’ in that awful diary. Just prayin’ I could find out what she was up to.
Must find suitable host... Don’t want to be found out before the spell is complete... But heart of purity will preserve this body...
“Heart of purity, I repeated to myself. Killin’ them two little girls was bad enough, but Ma was up to somethin’. But what? I felt a tinglin’ on the flesh o’ my neck.
“That’s when it hit me. It weren’t somethin’ I could understand directly but somehow I knew. I reached over and snatched my cap off o’ that infernal jar. What I saw made my jaw go slack and I felt near ’bout ready to faint.
“Somethin’ in that jar was movin’, back and forth, jerkin’ over and over without stoppin’. And this time, I knew it weren’t no trick of the candle light.
“Chokin’ down my fear, I picked up that jar and held it up to my lamp so I could see into that dark liquid.
“It was a round shadow. Looked like tubes stickin’ out of it. Just a-twitchin’ over and over. Right then — against everything sacred — I knew. It was the heart of that little Norlander girl, just a-beatin’ and beatin’ and beatin’!
“All the rumors were true. That old Injun wasn’t crazy after all. He’d met Beelzebub on a dark road at midnight, and now Ma was learnin’ that black magic he’d wrote down in that infernal book o’ his!
“‘So!’ came a voice right behind me like a gunshot, making me drop that jar onto the table. Near ’bout gave me a heart attack. I spun ‘round to see Ma, just a standin’ there in her nightgown with a right terrible look about her, hair all messed up and her eyes sunk in.
“You found my little hideaway, did you?”
“I reached over real slow and grabbed my shotgun. ‘Stay back, Ma. I got my shotgun and I don’t wanna hurt ya.’
“She just stood there grinnin’.
“I raised my gun level. ‘Why’d you do it, Ma?’ I asked her point blank.
“‘Why?’ she repeated, then she folded her arms over her chest. ‘Why would anybody do it?’ She stared at me with eyes that I didn’t recognize anymore. ‘You git one shot in life. Leastways most people do. That ain’t near ’bout enough.’ She tapped her temple with her good hand. ‘I knew it would work. How else could an old crazy Injun live for hunnerds of years? But he was too scared to go all the way.’
“I knew she was too far gone to listen to reason. Just pull the trigger and it’ll all be over, I tried to say to myself. Like wakin’ up from a bad dream. But I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it.
“‘But I’m not scared,” said Ma, pullin’ that ring up and lettin’ it dangle from that necklace while she held it up in front of her. Her eyes looked like fire, but I reckoned it was just the reflection of my lamp. ‘I was countin’ on findin’ a proper host,’ she said, fondlin’ that ring of bones, ‘but things don’t always go just like you plan ’em, do they Pa?’
“Then she started mumblin’ in that crazy language and I thought I was seein’ things when that ring of bones started to glowin’ a strange green color. Right then, my thoughts started goin’ a bit foggy.
“My mind clouded up and my thoughts were a-jumblin’ around and I was seeing things I’d never seen before. But the one vision I couldn’t get out of my head was those two precious little girls, little Carla Norlander and Lisa Hoskins, just lyin’ there dead, never to see another sunrise again.
“I pulled the trigger.
“The blast knocked my Ma backward and she hit the far stall and fell. The sound of my gun seemed to echo in that barn forever with my ears steady ringin’. Right then my mind cleared up and I had my wits again.
“But what happened next, I’d never believe it myself ’less I was there to see it. It was Ma. She rolled over and got up off the ground! She just... got up. I know I put a hole in her a foot wide, but with God as my witness, she just got up! I couldn’t see no hole, no blood, nothin’.
“‘You can’t kill me, Pa,’ she said in a calm, low voice.
“I couldn’t hardly look her in the face. That wasn’t my Ma anymore. Then she brought that ring of bones up and started in with that crazy gibberish. Them bones commenced to glowin’ green and she was walkin’ toward me real slow-like.
“I could feel my mind growin’ numb again. Then I looked back and saw that jar. There it was, little Carla Norlander’s heart just a-beatin’ and beatin’ without ever stoppin’. My own heart was racin’ so fast I couldn’t even feel it beatin’ no more.
“My thoughts were growin’ thick as molasses and I felt about ready to black out when somethin’ just came clear to me. The heart: a line Ma had wrote in that blamed book of hers came to me for some reason. The heart would give her all the time she needed. It was the heart what was keepin’ Ma alive!
“I swung my shotgun down on that jar, shatterin’ it with a hollow pop sound. And lyin’ right in the middle of all that glass was a small dark lump — just a thumpin’ and thumpin’, over and over.
“Seemed like I watched that thang a-beatin’ forever till a shout snapped me awake. ‘No!’ I heard Ma yell, and I saw that green glow dim a little. My mind seemed to clear up a bit then she started mumblin’ again.
“My hand shot down into my coat pocket, fumblin’ around till it closed around my old pocketknife. My thoughts were closin’ down on me but I knew what I had to do. I got that knife open and just stabbed that heart right into the table. But it just kept on beatin’!
“‘What did I tell ya, Pa? You can’t kill me.’
“Ma started in with them crazy words again, holdin’ that ring of bones up in front of her, her whole body now green from the light. My mind seemed to melt and shift. Visions... memories not my own...
“But when I looked at that ring, the hand she was usin’, I saw that stump where a finger should have been. It must have shocked my thoughts enough to remember... remember what she wrote: It was worth a finger!
“Ma didn’t cut her finger off by accident! And I knew where that finger was!
“I turned around and drug that knife right down the middle of that heart and reached my finger inside. That’s when I felt it. I pulled out a bloody finger. Ma’s finger!
“She’d stuffed her own finger down into that poor girl’s heart and cast some dark magic over it to keep it beatin’. As long as that heart kept beatin’, she couldn’t ever die!
“Soon as I pulled that finger out, the heart quit jerkin’ and just lay there. My thoughts cleared right up and were my own again. The green glow was gone and I heard a crumplin’ thud behind me.
“I turned to see Ma on the ground, just a clutchin at her throat and coughin’ somethin’ fierce and there it was — a huge gaping hole all the way through her chest. After a bit, she finally stopped movin’.
“All I could do was just stand there a starin’ at her, waitin’ for my mind to stop reelin’ and my hands to quit shakin’.
“When I finally got my wits back, I decided I best not tell the sheriff. Like I said, they’d just lock me up in one of them crazy houses and throw away the key. So, I made up my mind to bury her right here in the barn and not tell a soul what happened. If’n they asked, I’d just tell ’em she run off with old Cletis.”
* * *
Grandpa rubbed his face and with great difficulty, knelt down on one knee at Hannah’s level and grabbed her gently by the shoulders.
“Hannah, I know what she was a plannin’ on doin’ with that ring. She was hankerin’ for another girl. She was a plannin’ on swappin’ bodies! So she could live a whole ’nother life again! But she killed them first two to make the ring and give herself time to find a ‘host’ as she called it. Lure her in, like she probably did to those other two. Maybe offer some apple pie and milk, too.” Grandpa closed his eyes. “But it’s all over now. She’ll never hurt anybody else ever again.”
He let go of Hannah and looked down at his hands, old, dry and calloused. “Three dead and gone... all because of that devil Black Claw and that infernal book of his!”
Hannah put a hand on his arm. “What happened to the necklace, Grandpa? You still have it?”
Grandpa looked up, his face contorted as if Hannah had taken the Lord’s name in vain. “Land sakes, child! No! I made certain I destroyed that horrible necklace. And I burned those books. That ring won’t work for nobody but the person who created it noways.”
Grandpa paused and looked away. “Least that’s what Ma wrote in her diary and I didn’t know before but she also wrote that the spells weren’t no good durin’ the daytime, but I wasn’t takin’ no chances so I destroyed them all. That blamed book, the diary and that ring especially.”
The old man gazed out through the barn door. The evening sky was taking on the soft velvet pastels of sunset.
“I took that horrible ring and put it inside an old sock, gold chain and all. Then I went out to the barn and put the thing on the old anvil and grabbed a hammer. I took a good long look at it before I commenced to smashin’ it up into a thousand pieces so no one would ever be able to use it again, even though I figured it was right useless without them crazy words to go along with it.
“I walked down to the old pond and poured out the remains into my hand. Just lookin’ at the crumbled pile of white, shiny chunks sent a chill down my spine. I couldn’t help but remember those poor little girls. I flung that dust as far out into the pond as I could. The water began to boil and a fog started to cover the surface. Then all of a sudden, it was calm again. Ain’t seen a fish in there since.”
Hannah’s brow creased. But I heard fish in there today, she thought. Hannah stood motionless, gazing at the old man.
He smiled suddenly and put a hand on her head. “But let’s not talk about Grandma anymore.”
Hannah looked out through the barn doors. She could see the last of the daylight fading into soft shades of orange and pink. She remembered what her mother had told her.
“Oh, gosh, Grandpa! I need to get home. Momma said to be home before dark.”
“Well, if I can get up I’ll walk you back to the house,” said the old man. “I wish I could just bounce up like you do. This darned rheumatis’ has my knees near ’bout useless!”
The old man pushed himself up from his kneeling position and Hannah trotted out of the barn and through the barnyard. She was already through the gate, yelling, “Hurry up, Grandpa!” The sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon as they reached the house.
“You sure you can’t stay a while longer?” he called back as he exited the barn.
“I’ll get in trouble, Grandpa!”
“Well, let me just lock this here barn and I’ll come see you off.”
After securing the barn doors, the old man shuffled up to the house and onto the front porch. “Sure wish you didn’t have to go,” he told Hannah.
“Me too, Grandpa.” Hannah rushed up to the man and hugged him around his waist. She felt a large hand settle onto her head, caressing her gently. She let go and raced for the driveway.
The old man waved as Hannah ran across the yard and toward the driveway that led back to the main road.
But then, she stopped. Turning around, she ran back up to the house and climbed the steps of the porch where Grandpa was standing.
“Grandpa?” she asked, breathing hard.
“Well, change your mind about staying the night?” Grandpa said with a chuckle.
Hannah looked down. “I’m sorry you had to kill Grandma.” The smile on Old man Renfro’s face faded.
“I am too, Hannah. Your grandma weren’t evil. She just... got off track a ways. Then findin’ that spell book of that old Injun Black Claw...” He shook his head in disgust. “Just made her go completely crazy, I reckon.”
A quizzical look washed over Hannah’s face. “Grandpa... do you think Grandma’s in Heaven?”
The old man scratched his chin for a long moment and replied, “No. No, I don’t think so.”
Hannah’s mouth dropped open.
“I think she’s right here,” stated Grandpa, tapping his chest with a bony finger. “And she’s right in here,” he said, pointing toward Hannah’s heart. Hannah smiled up at her grandfather who was grinning down at her.
“Don’t you worry none, Hannah,” he said, “Grandma ain’t really gone.” He placed a wrinkled hand on her shoulder. “Say! I almost forgot. How ’bout a slice of home-made apple pie before you go? Bound to be ice cold by now but I can heat her right up for you! That and some ice cold sweet milk. Won’t take no time at all.”
“Well...” Hannah began. She whipped her head around to see the fiery red hues of a sun that had already dipped out of sight. “I better get home, Grandpa. It’s almost dark and Momma said be home before dark.”
A frown clouded the old man’s face. “Well, you best run along home then. I’ll save you a piece of pie for tomorrow. Maybe your momma will let you spend the night with old Grandpa tomorrow.”
“That’d be great, Grandpa,” Hannah said.
“And Hannah...” Grandpa began, his face becoming stern. “Remember what I told you.”
“I won’t tell nobody. I promise,” she said. She looked out across the yard. The sharp contrast of pine trees against the glowing sky had become muted. The sun was gone. “I gotta go, Grandpa!” Hannah turned and bolted down the gravel driveway, her hair bouncing to and fro. When she reached the road, she turned and waved. “Bye, Grandpa!” she yelled.
The old man squinted in Hannah’s direction, waving as she disappeared behind the pines that lined Renfro Drive. Then, still staring in Hannah’s direction, he reached inside his shirt and pulled out an unusual ring that dangled from a golden chain — three bone-white pieces that began glowing an eerie green as he mumbled something under his breath.
“No, don’t you worry none, Hannah,” he said with a malevolent smile, fondling the glowing ring of bones between his bent, gnarled fingers. “I ain’t really gone.”
Copyright © 2013 by Tim Simmons