A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 31

Birch, rowan, pine and dwarfen junipers on Krå...

The junipers, along with some small trees, as seen from Sara's kitchen window. ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sara turned on the hot water at her kitchen sink and let it run a minute to get to the right temperature, piling her dirty dishes on the counter while she waited. When the water was ready, she let one side of the double-sink fill and added soap to it, then filled the other side with straight water and went to work. Plates, silverware, cups; sudsed, rinsed, stacked in the rack. Water dripping, dishes clinking. In five minutes Sara was on her last dish.

She pulled the plugs in the sink and wiped the counter, then her hands, with a dish towel, then reached for a bottle of lotion she kept on the window sill above the sink. She glanced out at her flower garden and the hills beyond and smiled.

She blinked, and her smile faded a bit.

What was that?

She looked again. Her tall flowers swayed with lazy ease in the gentle wind. Her smile returned.

She left the kitchen and went into her bedroom to straighten up some things. After bustling about for a minute, she grew a bit warm. She went to her large window and lifted it open. The breeze slipped in and curled around the bare skin of her arms and legs. Fresh. She could see the flower garden from here, too, and a patch of juniper bushes past the edge of her lawn. The junipers were decorated here and there with the skinny trunks of young poplars thrusting up, white poles in a sea of grayish-green. She turned away … then quickly back, gazing out over her yard, eyes intent, focused.

The stiff-bristled junipers wavered; the poplar leaves flickered.

Must’ve been a juniper. Calm down.

She finished up in her bedroom and went into the livingroom, plopped onto the couch and picked up her newest magazine, which she hadn’t yet had a chance to look at. One by one she flipped through the pages, thinking, at times giggling. She then looked up from her magazine. Through the open windows all around her the pleasant sounds of the birdsongs tickled her ears, and the pulsating essence of life mesmerized her. Sunlight beamed onto the carpet and her feet; the warmth was delicious. The fluttering shadows cast by the fluttering leaves outside lulled her into a happy trance. Their movement was unpatterned yet rhythmic, an endless number of possibilities within a well-defined boundary. She stared.

Another shadow flitted by.

Her eyes flicked to the window nearest her. Tree branches, leaves, her sunlit driveway. After a moment she stood and walked, barefoot, to the window. A small sigh passed her lips – a sweet sigh borne of the beautiful creation in which she was nestled.

Never do I want to move away from here, especially now that I have–

A brief clicking noise reached her ears from the porch. She looked towards the door, waited a moment – nothing. She stepped lightly to the door and looked out, then down.

A leafy stick was lying in front of the door – the breeze, no doubt, having carried it there from a nearby tree. She opened the door and stooped to pick up the stick.

The clicking noise again. She looked to her left as she grabbed the stick. The porch and everything on it was as still as could be. She stood, tossed the stick onto her lawn. She turned back into her house.

I drank too much iced tea at lunch.

She went to the bathroom and washed her hands, then looked at herself in the mirror.

I wonder what he thinks of me?

She played with her hair a minute, studied her eyes, the skin of her face. Something caught her eye – in the mirror, over one of her shoulders. She looked away from it, frozen.

No.

She looked again. The mirror reflected the window directly behind her; she swore that she had seen them peering through it.

Orange eyes.

There was nothing in the reflection now, though. She looked away, breathing a bit harder, then gathered her courage. She spun towards the window.

Just a window, her front yard beyond.

With halting determination she moved towards the window. With each step she could see more of her yard, nearer and nearer to her house. At last she was next to the window, looking out at the ground under the eaves. All clear.

She turned away from the window but then felt a tug inside her, pulling her. She glanced at the mirror, but the reflection of her head was blocking that of the window. She turned around. The window was still clear.

Yet the tug insider her persisted. She hesitated, considering. She inched closer to the window, moving in until her face was almost against the glass. She peered down.

“Aaaaahhh!”

She reeled back, panicked a second time when she ran into the sink counter, then threw herself against the wall, paralyzed.

A gasp escaped her. The windows!

She flew from the bathroom and down the hallway, then came to a sudden halt when the front of her house came into view; that’s when her guts wrenched.

The front door was ajar, and a steady click-click-click approached from outside.

* * *

Darrell ripped his way down a dirt road.

“I should’ve read through all those pages sooner,” he said.

Wade sat stiller than a knot on a tree, scared for Miss Kremshaw, scared for his own safety, scared at how angry his dad was with himself.

“Stupid! I can’t believe this! I should’ve known something was wrong when she told me her uncle wanted her to move out.”

Wade didn’t know what his father was talking about, but fear overrode his curiosity. He knew the gist of what was going on, anyway; in his hands he held the pages from Mr. Schaefer, the topmost being the one that had set Darrell off with the following lines:

“I have blessed it with your utmost blessing, my lord, a blessing that is fit for an object of your use. It will stand for many years, this house, and your blessing along with it, and she will be there to maintain it for me – for you – and be none the wiser, and so the great gift you have blessed me with, and my bond with it, will stand for many years and be used for your glory.

Wade shivered the first time he read it, and shivered again now as he thought about it. In his mind, whenever he thought upon that passage, an image appeared – terrible black and red, an impression of heat and discomfort, a despairing sense of separation pounding against him. He could not think long on it, yet he could not forget it.

* * *

Sara took a step towards the door.

I’ve got to close it.

Click-click-click.

I won’t make it in time.

YES YOU WILL.

Her fear abated. What?

GO NOW.

She looked at the door.

Click-click.

I can’t.

YES YOU CAN.

I want to, but–

YOU CAN.

She stood immobile, eyes locked on the door, ears fixed on the clicking sound.

GO.

* * *

“Dad?”

Wade bounced in his seat as they pounded their way along.

“Just pray, Wade.”

He stared at his father.

“Pray we get there in time.”

* * *

Hank and James marched along the stream. Hank’s ankle was doing better, his limp less noticeable. James stayed a couple paces behind him, feeling the need to conserve his energy, that he was going to need it later. It was warm, and he would’ve loved to jump in the stream – the cool liquid’s gurgle was a constant invitation –

JAMES. PRAY.

He flinched, almost coming to a stop.

Was that

YES.

What am I supposed to pray about?

SARA, DARRELL, WADE.

A moment of thought, then he began. Father, I come to you in Jesus’ name; please keep Sara, Darrell and Wade safe, Lord. Take care of them, and help them with whatever’s goin’ on right now. Give them wisdom, give them peace, give them strength, I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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