Night came slowly to the rural home, the sounds of the wild surrounding the secluded house. Grandma went out into the garden to work with the plants under the light of sunlamps, while David was left with his schoolwork and the few books he’d brought along for himself.
Choosing to not go over anything he brought, David was now walking in the freshly cleaned den, looking over it with new eyes. If his Grandma was a Witch of some sort, he’d find the evidence around the house sooner or later. Stopping in the middle of the room, he turned to look at the strange bookcase with the bizarre collection of bookends he’d been forced to dust. Sitting higher up then he’d been able to reach were several shelves full of dark, leather-bound books. They didn’t need cleaning though, as the top two shelves were clean of dust; it would seem they were pulled down often enough.
Smiling as he grabbed the spine of one that seemed to call out to him, he leaned into the shelf and gripped the edges of the book with his fingers, sliding it out of its spot easily enough. Pulling it down, he carefully grabbed another book from one of the lower shelves and placed it in the missing book’s place, just in case his Grandma went looking for something on the shelf.
David ran to his bedroom with the book under his arm, ready to look through the book to see if there was anything suspicious. Closing the door, he slid down against it, opening the book as he hit the ground. He spied faded yellow pages, and gold trimmings on each page… but no words.
Flipping through several pages, he saw that the book was devoid of words, images or any combination of the two. It was just full of blank pages of thick gold lined paper.
Closing the book, he turned it over to look at the cover. Thick dark leather with no lettering, only three droplets arranged in a loose triangle decorating the middle of the cover. The spine bore no words or images, and the back merely held a long scratch. Overall, the book was just a mystery.
“Why would you have a book with no words?” David asked aloud, opening the book once more.
Flipping through the pages slowly, he stared at them for what felt like hours. Looking up after losing himself to the blank expanse of the parchment, he saw that nearly forty minutes had passed and he was feeling a little tired from the day. Closing the book, he crawled over to his bed and slid it between the bed frame and the mattress. He would look at it some more later… for some reason he felt as if there was something more to the text than what he would normally attribute to an old book.
Stepping out of his room, he padded softly to the kitchen, stopping short when he heard his Grandma scraping around within the room, mumbling under her breath. Tip-toeing closer to the edge of the kitchen, he paused to listen to her, slowly peering around the corner into the well-lit room to see what she was doing.
She’d rolled up the sleeves of her shirt and, after turning on the faucet, was lathering her arms in sudsy water. Where the water drained off of her David could see inflamed red skin, as if she’d thrust both arms bare into a bush of poison oak. She was gently rubbing a bar of soap over her arms, the steaming water rinsing away the film with every pass. She seemed to whimper at what was obviously painful to her.
David stepped out from around the corner and walked into the room, grabbing his Grandmother’s attention. She looked at him, for a half second furious, before her face melted into a smile.
“There you are David! I was wondering where you’d snuck off to,” she said with a smile.
“Just been reading,” he said, looking at her arms. “What happened?”
“Oh, nothing serious. I’ve just been trying out some Chinese herbs in my garden, designed to keep pests away.” She said, scrubbing at her left arm gingerly. “I guess I’m allergic to them.”
“That sucks,” David said, doing his best not to stare. He walked over to the counter where the plate of cookies sat and grabbed one. “What kind of herbs do you grow?”
“Mostly medicinal herbs and teas that I can brew, though I do have a few tubers that I grow for cooking,” Grandma said, wincing as she scrubbed at her right arm. “Listen, do you think you could do me a favor?”
“Sure Grandma, what is it?” David asked around a mouthful of cookie.
“If I point out which herb caused this, do you think you could pull it for me? I would do it myself, but I can’t imagine actually touching it. I just got close to the plants around it and my arms began to swell up.”
David paused, thinking of what the kids from earlier in the day had said. Jesse had told David how he’d planted Witch-Hazel in his Grandmother’s garden, to cause her burns and suffering for being a Witch. Now, here she was with swollen arms and peeling skin, asking David to remove the herbs for her. He pondered what this could mean.
“What if I’m allergic to them?” David asked, trying to sound worried.
“Oh I doubt that my dear,” Grandma said with a smile. “But just to be safe, we’ll have you wear some rubber gloves.”
David couldn’t think of a reason to turn down the request from the plump old woman, and merely smiled before nodding. “Yeah, of course I’ll do it. You just give me the gloves and point out which herb it is and I’ll pull it.”
“Oh thank you David! You have no idea how helpful that would be to me… I can water the plants afterward to get rid of the pollen from those nasty Chinese herbs and soon I’ll be able to work in my garden again.”
“It’s nothing Grandma, I would love to help you.” David said.
She tilted her head, smiling. “What a sweet boy. Tell me about your day out while I clean up.”
“Oh, I went down to the pond, like you said.” David shrugged, his mind racing now. What should he tell her?
“And were there any children there?” She asked, plunging her arms into the steaming sink water to let them soak.
“Some guys I could hang with, sure. They’d built a little campfire and were toasting marshmallows.” David said before he could even think not to.
“Oh how lovely! Did you get to know any of them?” She asked, looking at David with her dark eyes.
“Yeah, I sat and hung out with them for a while. They all seemed pretty cool. They seemed to love hanging out at the pond.” David said, the words rolling off his tongue just as they popped into his mind.
“That’s good. I told the locals that the pond on my land was for the youth to enjoy, so I’m glad to hear that they are. Did they clean up after themselves?” Grandma asked one thin eyebrow rose higher than the other.
“Yeah, we cleaned up and put out the fire with dirt before getting up to leave. They made sure to make everything as clean as possible before leaving.”
“Good! What kind children,” Grandma said, pulling one of her arms up out of the water. Swollen and red with swathes of purple streaks, it looked like it was about to fall off. David winced; it had to hurt!
“How is it? Do you need anything for it?” David asked, looking at her sympathetically.
She smiled. “I could use some aspirin, if you don’t mind. It’s in the bathroom in the medicine cabinet.”
“Okay,” David said, moving quickly out of the kitchen towards the guest bathroom. It was down the hall, at the end, past his doorway. Opening the door, he flipped on the light. The stark brightness of the fluorescent bulb against the white linoleum and ivory counter caused David’s eyes to burn for a moment. Blinking back tears, David walked over to the sink, staring at his reflection in the wall mounted medicine cabinet’s mirror. He looked pale, his hair disheveled; his blue eyes were wild and bright while skin seemed waxy and clammy. Holding a hand to his forehead, he tested his own temperature.
“I don’t feel bad…” he said, pulling his hand back. Pulling open the mirrored cabinet, he muttered beneath his breath as he grabbed the bottle marked aspirin.
Closing the cabinet, he turned and took a step from the sink before he heard it. A low, sucking breath. Turning, he looked to where he’d heard the sound and gasped. Pressed tightly against the ceiling, arms splayed wide, was an old woman, her eyes wide and blank. Her gray hair was pulled back into a bun, her features drawn taut as if the hair bun was pulling her skin back as well. She was pressed against the ceiling, as if something was forcing her into it, with billowing black cloth fluttering around her in tatters. Both hands were braced against the wall, her fingers splayed wide, her long talon-like nails dark and red, the color of rust.
David, too scared to move, merely stared at the old woman. She pushed her head closer to his, her mouth moving as if she were speaking, though no sounds were coming out. David could feel that she was trying to tell him something, trying desperately. But she just didn’t seem able to say anything.
“What do you want?” He asked, his voice wavering.
The old woman blinked, her eyes focusing on him. Her mouth closed, leaving her to take long, deep and rattling breaths. David stared at her for several long seconds before he heard his Grandma call out.
“David, have you found the aspirin?” She called, her voice echoing throughout the house.
The old woman whipped her head at the sound, the bathroom door slamming shut as she looked at it. David immediately dropped the bottle of pills and grabbed the door handle, twisting it. Somehow, the doorknob was stuck solid, as if someone on the other side was holding it steady.
Turning to look at the old woman, David shrank back when he saw that she’d crawled along the ceiling and was now on the opposite wall, head turned up to look at him at an inhuman level.
“What do you want?” He repeated, bending down slowly to grab the bottle of aspirin.
She stared at him, her clawed hands sliding along the wall as if she were being pushed skyward.
“Go… up… come and… see…” She rasped out, her voice distant and echoing.
And like that she was gone, in the blink of an eye. David heard his Grandma call for him again and turned to open the door, running out into the hall to deliver the medicine.