Nothing To Be Afraid Of
by Catherine J. Link
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Long before Carly awoke the next morning, Lorna was up reading the newspaper in the quiet of her kitchen. The only sound was the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hallway.
She had eaten most of a ham and cheese omelet, and now she sipped on Earl Gray tea spiked with gin to keep her fragile nerves sedated. So far, she had not needed another pill.
The night before had been a nightmare. Betty called several times, leaving frantic messages. When Lorna felt she could stand it, she picked up.
“That’s terrible, Betty,” she’d said. “Why would someone want to harm him?”
“He’d been attacked before,” Betty said. “He often mentioned that it was one of the hazards of his job. It’s on TV right now.”
Betty hung up and Lorna tried to watch the news, but the story was so gruesome, she turned it off. What little she saw haunted her all through the night, that and Carly’s latest dream, filled with the savagery of a survival of the fittest scenario.
Somehow, reading about the murder of Pastor Dawney in newsprint seemed less traumatic. “Maybe it’s the morning sun. I’ve always been afraid of the dark. Or maybe it’s the gin in my tea,” Lorna said with a snicker. She took another big gulp before reading on.
There were multiple witnesses to the attack. One witness described how Pastor Dawney was knocked in the head with a blackjack, then had his hands tied behind him. He was forced into a tan, late model SUV and driven away. Later, according to police, Dawney’s body was found hanging on a replica of gallows erected last year as part of The Stockyards Summertime Reenactment Events.
Several men were taken into custody at the scene of the murder. One witness to the hanging, who asked not to be identified, said there was a mob assembled and waiting for the victim. As Pastor Dawney was walked toward the gallows, people were spitting on him and throwing rocks. Someone hit him in the face with a raw egg.
“He kept asking why, but no one seemed to be in a talking mood until an elderly gentleman stepped forward and told how his home had been broken into and robbed of guns and ammunition, even food. His wife, who was home alone at the time, was killed. He said it was Dawney’s fault for scaring everyone with his talk of end times.”
Father Matthew Kemp of Houston just happened to be on the scene, and gave a brief, but poignant statement. “When I saw what was happening, I tried to intervene, but no one would listen. I was allowed to climb the gallows and speak with Pastor Dawney. I offered to pray with him, but he said that God knew his heart. He looked down on the crowd and said, ‘I feel sorry for y’all.’ Those were his last words. Next thing I knew, the trapdoor popped and Pastor Dawney dropped down hard. He seemed to die instantly from a well-broke neck, so he didn’t suffer. That’s something to be grateful for.”
“Executed by a mob, yet there’s something to be grateful for,” Lorna said, putting the newspaper down. She bolted to the bathroom and threw up her breakfast.
* * *
“What shall we do today?” Lorna asked.
“I’d like to go for a ride in the country. A picnic, maybe,” Carly said.
“Just us girls, or should we take Uncle Andrew?”
“I want him to come.”
When Andrew returned to the house, a basket of drinks and sandwiches sat on the kitchen table.
“Where are you girls off to?”
“A picnic, out by the old mill. Carly wants you to come.”
“I’m not up to it, Sweet Pea. My arthritis is bad today.”
“I’ve had another dream, Uncle.” Carly handed him the basket. “The sun will be good for your bones.”
The mill was dilapidated, but picturesque. The water from the stream gurgled past, no longer pushing the big wheel, merely rocking it gently. The sun was warm, and the wind insistent. They laid out a tablecloth, holding the edges down with rocks to keep it from blowing away.
“So, tell me. What do you remember?” Andrew leaned back against a tree trunk.
“Do you believe me now?” Carly handed him an opened bottle of ale.
“I’ve always believed you.”
“I dreamt of time.”
“What the hell does that mean? How do you dream about time?”
“By dreaming about people evolving. Changing.”
“Are the aliens coming to change us?”
“Yes. Us and themselves. They will experience time. I think it will be new to them.”
“This is confusing, Carly. You must help us understand,” Lorna said.
“See the haze over the valley?” Carly pointed to the horizon.
“The dust from the Sahara,” Uncle Andrew said. “It’s been over us for months. Meteorologists say this is the worst year in a century.”
“The worst, or the best?” Carly said. “Depends on your point of view.”
“What’s good about it?” Uncle Andrew said.
“The wind carries particles from all over the planet. Dust from Africa, smoke from wild fires, ash and gases from volcanos, salt from the sea, and all of it harboring bits of microscopic life. From outer space this time.”
“What are you getting at?” Lorna said.
Carly stood and walked to the top of a nearby hill, looking up toward the sky. “The aliens. They are all around us.”
“Are you saying this is the invasion? Dust particles from outer space?” Uncle Andrew said.
“They cannot be avoided or defeated. Satellites were exposed first and became their breeding grounds. Alien life is swimming toward the Earth, like sperm to an egg, and something new will soon be born.”
Andrew looked at the horizon, seeing haze that looked like smoke. In another direction, he saw what might have been rain far off in the distance. He felt an unpleasant stinging sensation all over his body. He looked down at his hands. He had six fingers on each, and his nails had become claws.
“Did you see this in your dream?” He held his hands up for her to see.
“This is my dream.”
* * *
Carly woke up with a gasp.
Carly heard her mother cry out and hurried to her bedside carrying a glass of warm milk. “I’m here, Mama.” She had a pill bottle in the pocket of her jeans. It was empty.
“I’m sorry to be such a bother,” Lorna said. “But my chest, and my neck. They hurt so much. Maybe I should go to the emergency room.”
“You could never be a bother. I brought you another pill,” Carly said. She put a nitroglycerin pill under her mother’s tongue. “You’ll feel better soon. Then drink this warm milk. It will help you sleep.”
Carly put the glass of warm milk on her mother’s nightstand.
“Aliens are not what we thought they would be, are they?” Lorna said. Her face was ashen, and she was having trouble catching her breath. “Not like in the movies. Scary creatures with futuristic weapons. Smarter than us, yet we somehow manage to defeat them. All those stories seem so ludicrous now.”
“Like children’s fairytales.”
“How is Uncle Andrew? His arthritis was so bad he could hardly walk.”
“I heated up a glass of milk for him, too. He didn’t want to drink it, so I bribed him with a piece of pecan pie,” Carly said, glancing into the next room where Andrew’s body rested on the sofa. “He’s not in pain anymore.”
“Thank you, sweetheart,” Lorna said. “You’ve been such a dear. Taking care of us. And you look so healthy. Positively radiant. No more bad dreams?”
“No, Mama. No bad dreams. Drink your warm milk, and soon you’ll feel better. I promise.”
Carly watched her mother drain the glass. Then she took it to the kitchen, and as she washed it, she got a glimpse of her reflection in the window over the sink. She thought her eyes looked different. It was subtle, but they appeared more almond-shaped than usual. She rather liked it.
She examined her hands. Carly had kept one hand hidden in her pocket. She didn’t want her mother to see it. It would needlessly frighten her. Uncle Andrew saw, but that was after he had finished the milk. His eyes grew big and grim with fright, and he tried to speak, but his last words were obliterated by a death rattle.
When she awoke this morning, Carly saw that her left hand had evolved. It was wider and smoother, with six fingers. In place of each nail was a distinctive claw. She hoped that by tomorrow the right hand would look the same.
Copyright © 2019 by Catherine J. Link