Authors Note- Sorry it cuts off so suddenly towards the end, I'll be away for the weekend and wanted to make sure I got this in on time.
Grandma found a scratchy old crotched blanket for me. It was huge, big enough to entangle five full grown people. I’d wrapped it around myself at I sat at her dingy kitchen table.
Though the outside of her house was dark and forbidding, the inside was rather cozy; as I suspected, there is a large brick fireplace cackling off to one corner of the room (though it flickered as though it was about to go out.) At the stove, the tea kettle hissed full force, but Grandma had become sidetracked cooking a slab of meat for me. I want to tell her that it wouldn’t be necessary, that I was too ill to keep anything down anyway, but the grumbling in the pit of my stomach says otherwise.
Despite the blanket and the fire, I shiver terribly. It’s begun to storm outside, and I can picture the rain sloshing against Moms windshield. How could she have left me? Of all her lies, saying she loved me was the most wicked.
Grandma slid a plate of steak onto the table and returned to the kitchen to tend to the kettle. There is only one chair here, and I wonder if I should give it up so my elder can sit.
But the smell of the steak is too intoxicating- I haven’t eaten since the gas station food this afternoon, and I’m sick at the thought of it. I lift my fork and dig in- wishing desperately I was at home, tucked in bed.
My grandma returns with a mug brimmed with tea, and sets it down beside me, “No allergies, right?” She asks. I shake my head, and she nods in acknowledgement.
“Where will you sit?” I ask.
“I can stand.”
She waits in the kitchen while I finish eating the steak. The tea, I eye wearily, as it smells suspicious, and is a strange color indeed. Though, when I finally do take a ship, I find that it’s just bitter enough. I wonder if it has caffeine in it. Mom never lets me drink caffeine.
When I finish the last of it, I turn to my grandma. “Mom says you have answers.”
Grandma raises her eyebrows, “I don’t know what she’s told you.” She says, “What kind of answers are you looking for?”
My throat dries, and I realize I am not so sure either. I don’t know what my mom hoped to accomplish by sending here. Finally, I say, “Frogs.”
Somehow, this confuses my grandma further, “Frogs?” She asks.
“Frogs.” I affirm. “A whole ton of dead frogs came to life in my science class today.” For the first time, it dawns on me just how strange that sounds. I rush ahead, “The police thought I had something to do with it, can you believe it? I guess Mom thought I’d be arrested or something because she sent me here.”
“Well,” Grandma says, “You did have something to do with it.”
I furrow my brow, “What do you mean?”
“Kim, you’re a necromancer.”
She pauses dramatically, but I’m just confused. I shuffle uncomfortably, fidgeting with my mug, “I don’t know what that means.”
“You know what death is?” I nod, insulted. She continues, “Well, necromancers can breathe life into dead things. Reanimate them, if you will.”
“You can cure death?”
“No, not really.” She says, “But that’s a discussion for another time. Your mother caught me unawares, so I haven’t prepared a room for you. You’ll have to make-do with the library.”
“You have a library?” The blanket falls to the ground as I jump to my feet. For the moment, all my anxiety is forgotten.
“Right this way,” she says as I follow quickly behind her.
Grandma drags a decades-old mattress into the room, along with a few pillows and the blanket I’d left carelessly strewn in the kitchen. “Please, get some sleep.” She says, “It’s nearly midnight. A kid your age shouldn’t be up so late.”
I nod, but the moment she leaves the room, I’m over by the bookshelf. When she said ‘library’ I let myself imagine a place like the public one back home. But I supposed this one was more of the personal variety, as it was only one (very large) shelf decorating the wall of the room.
Not only that, but the kind of books housed here appeared very different. They weren’t the neon-colored textbooks found in Louis Library, or even the cheesy romance novels Mom sometimes checked out; Grandmas books were massive tombs, covered in dust. None of them had been touched in years. Most strangely, there were no titles on any of them. All of them were uniform, leatherbound books, each heavier, yet more delicate, than the last.
I pulled on from the shelf at random, this one weighing more than a baby pig. I turn the pages carefully, as not to rip them, until I reach the first proper page.
Unfortunately, the words marking it were far beyond my vocabulary. I struggled through the first paragraph before slamming the book shut and returning it to its proper place. Tears brim in my eyes, and I return to my mattress, raging at Mom for leaving me here.
Just like the blanket, the mattress Grandma gave me is itchy and unpleasant, and I have the eerie suspicion several somebodies died on it. Still, sleep finds me easily, and it isn’t long before I pass out.
I wake to the sun shining through a small, round window near the height of the wall. In stories, I always read about characters not knowing where they are when they rise somewhere new. But for me, memories flood my mind straight away. I’m filled with dread before I even open my eyes.
Mom, I think, tears welling up. But I’ve cried enough in the last twenty-four hours. I don’t want to cry anymore.
I slide from beneath my blank and off the mattress, assessing my surroundings, wondering what I might have missed in the dead of night. There’s an old-fashioned vanity across the room, with a very small chair that looks like it might have been built for a toddler. I wander over opening the drawers to find my clothes folded neatly into piles.
My reflection watches me as I do this, judgment in her eyes. My hairs a mess of tangles all the way down my scalp, and my bulging eyes look a little like Grandmas with so little sleep.
The bookshelf taunts me from its wall, all the books I can’t yet read. I wish bitterly that I’d have thought to pack my own things to read. Now, I didn’t know when I would get to return home.
There’s a noise from outside my door and stop. I didn’t notice any footsteps. I don’t move, pressing my ears to hear it again.
It’s a ribbit. I run to the door and swing it open, finding the frog from my science classroom staring up at me expectantly.
“Woah,” I say, amazed, “Did you follow me here?”
I bend down to pick it up, and it hops straight into my hands, just as it did yesterday. It somehow seemed less shriveled, less dead, than it had just a couple hours ago.
“I guess you found your way home after all.” I pause, “Or, well, not home-home, but I think this is a swamp, anyhow. And you’re too dumb to know the difference.”
“That’s one way to address your familiar.”
I jump, turning to see Grandma hobbling down the hall. “Good morning,” I say, trying to cover the fact I was just talking to a sorta-dead frog.
Grandma chuckles, “It’s alright, talking to the deceased is part of our job.”
My mind is buzzing with a dozen different questions, but I went with, “What do you mean by familiar?”
“First thing a young necromancer reanimates.” Grandma says, “They generally form some greater connection with their creator.”
“So?” Grandma asks, “What are you going to name her?”
My eyes widen, “I haven’t the least idea! That’s such a big decision!” I look down at the frog, “Clover? Lily?” I dismiss the names quickly- they’re too easy. “It needs to be something special.” I say, mostly to myself.
“Why don’t you think it over after breakfast?” Grandma asks, “I have eggs in the kitchen.”
In the light of the day, I find that my grandmas living quarters are in much greater disarray. Stacks of untouched trinkets line the walls, and dirty plates cover the sink. Without the fireplace on, I find it also smells rather moldy, like there’s something decaying in the walls.
But the eggs are good. They’re exactly like how Mom makes them. I wonder if Grandma taught her the recipe, or if it was the other way around.
When I finish my food, I ask, “What now?”
“Now,” Grandma says, “We’re going to lay down some ground rules.”
A chill goes up my spine. I was starting to get used to Grandmas imposing presence, but her biting voice reminds me who she is, where I’m at, and who left me here.
Sometime during the night, she must have found another chair for the table. She sits down across from me, folding her long, shriveled hands in front of her. “Your mother tells me you’re a very inquisitive girl. Know that that trait will not help you in this swamp. Curiosity will and has killed many good people.”
“But you can just bring me back to life, right?” I ask, but Grandma is already shaking her head.
“Not as you are.” She says, “Not in the slightest.”
I want to ask what she means, but she’s already talking again. “First, you are never to go outside this house past dark unless I am there to accompany you. If you disobey this rule, I can’t promise you won’t be eaten.” Her mouth quirks in a slight smile, but she might not be joking.
“Second, necromancy is not a game. It is terribly dangerous, and costs more lives than it saves. You are to never, ever resurrect something unless I’m right there beside you to assist. This is of the utmost importance for you to remember; we are not gods; we are sins against nature. Thus, we must use our gifts properly and with respect, lest we become the devil inside of us.”
My head throbbed. I was reminded of the language used in the strange book on her shelf, the one too complex for me to read. I wondered if, unlike my mother, Grandma was religious.
“Third, I expect you to complete chores around the house. I’m older than I once was, and it may be good to instill some discipline in you.”
“Is that all?” I ask.
“Yes.” She says, either missing my sarcasm or choosing to ignore it. She eyes my empty plate, “I was planning to get groceries sometime soon, but since you’re here, I’ll have to make that now. I trust you will handle yourself?”
I glance about the room, unsure about being left alone in this strange house. “What do you want me to do?” I ask.
“You may play outside if you wish, so long as you do not stray too far.”
That didn’t seem anymore appealing than waiting here all alone. I really couldn’t tell what Mom had planned, whether she hoped I might learn something, or whether she just wanted me out of my sight. More than anything, I felt abandoned.
“May I go with you instead?” I ask. Grandma seemed surprised.
“If that is what you wish.”
I worried Grandma didn’t have a car, but a short five-minute walk brought us to what seems to me like a decades old truck. It was half sunken in the mud, and I didn’t think she would be able to start it. Still, I get in and buckle my seat belt. A short while later, we are on the same road Mom drove me down last night.
The swamp is far brighter during the day. Sunlight soaks the leaves, bathing the bumpy path before us in golden-green light. It’s quite beautiful, actually.
Pretty soon though, we’ve come to a more rural looking area. Most of the buildings look abandoned, either boarded up or destroyed completely. I’m reminded of the downtown area back home in Louis and wondered if this is the fate of my home, some forgotten place no one’s heard of.
Seeing the look on my face, my grandma says, “This used to be a popular tourist spot before a highway was built, just North of here. Probably the same one you drove down on.”
Despite how rundown it was, I noticed there were still gaggles of people about. A group of kids, all around my age, chased each other around the corner. For a moment, I thought one of them might be Catherine. It’s dumb, but part of me wants to run after them.
We nearly drive by the grocery store- it’s an old looking establishment sandwiched between a closed toy shop and a shady looking restaurant. Beneath it’s rusted awning, the supermarket doesn’t look much better. Unlike the one back home, there are no mothers toting screaming toddlers, nor kindly looking grandparents trotting about with their trolleys.
We park the car on the side of the road. I follow Grandma as she selects a rather small shopping cart. She seems to take particular care with the decision, even though they all look the same.
We step into the store. I startle, as the bell above the door jingles. “They still have those?” I grumble, “I thought those only existed in movies.”
Grandma smiles kindly at me, but before she can respond, another voice juts in.
“Beatrice! Good to see you again! Who’s your little friend?”
Assuming the ‘little friend’ is me, I turn to face the counter, where an old white man with square glasses peers over at us.
The man’s hair is partway bunched up into a ponytail, and I can tell by his face he smiles often. But I disliked the condescension in his voice when he said ‘little.’
“My name is Kim.” I say, addressing him directly. Forgetting my earlier apprehension, I approach the counter, and shake his hand. He seems surprised, and all too amused.
“Kimberly is my granddaughter. Kim, this is Sam.”
“Is that so?” Sam says, raising an eyebrow, “In that case, it’s nice to meet you, Kim. Your grandmother is rather famous around these parts.”
“How so?” I ask, but Beatrice is already ushering me away.
“We’re just here to pick up the essentials.” She starts to say, but Sam cuts her off.
“I’m really the only one in town who will come in a miles radius of her.” He says, “Maybe since you’re her blood and bone, you can tell us what really goes on in that damn forest, and about those screams we hear at night.”
The blood drains from my face, “Screams?”
“Now that’s enough there. Really, are you trying to give the child nightmares?” Grandma chides. “I’ve told you before, and I’ll tell you again dear boy, it’s just the wind sending these good townsfolk into whirlwinds of rumors and superstitions. I pray not what should happen Sam, if I find it is you perpetuating these wild flights of fancy.”
Goosebumps rise along my arms. The room was colder than death itself. Then, Sam laughs, and so does Grandma, and the chill between them melts away.
Grownups are so confusing.
Grandma, who’s face is now merry, turns to me, “Kim, why don’t you help me browse the shelves. I’ll let you pick out something sweet for yourself.” I nod and follow her through the store.
I want to ask Grandma more about the alleged screams the towns people heard, and whether it was really the wind. (Afterall, she was a necromancer. How great of a leap was it really to think she might do light murder on the side?) But despite Sam being all the way across the shop from us, he’s still way within ear shot.
It occurs to me that I should maybe be a little more frightened. Of this strange witch woman I was placed in the care of, or this terrible place my mom saw fit to drop me in, willy-nilly. My grip tightens around the jar of pickles Grandma passed to me, and I bite my lip to stop myself crying.
Why pickles, I think, focusing my attention on that matter instead, Mom never got pickles. I hate pickles.
The front doorbell jingles again. And I startle. Again.
I peer through the shelves, holding the jar of pickles to my chest. Heat rises to my cheeks as I realize it’s the same group of kids I saw earlier, including the girl who reminded me of Catherine.
Close up, the two looked nothing alike. They had the same oval glasses, but that was where the resemblance ended. This girl had dark, unruly hair that stuck up in every direction, and her skin, whiter than the glowing sidewalk outside, is already sunburned, despite it not being summer.
She’s smiling wide and is out of breath. She and her three friends, all about my age, chime a chorus of “Morning Sam!” as they enter. There’s a pang in my chest as I listen to their mindless meandering.
My heart drops as one of them catches my eye through the shelves. He’s dark skinned with a tie dye shirt and is smiling just as much as the other girl.
“Hi!” He calls over. There’s a gap between his teeth, and he has a slight lisp, “Do we know you?”
I realize I’ve been holding to the shelves tight enough; it’s made an indent on my skin. Feeling I have little choice, I rise to my feet, “Hi.” I say, choking the word out.
“That’s Kim, she’s new in town.” Sam chimes in.
“I’m Benjamin, you can call me Ben.” He says, “This is Susan, Gabriel, and Jasmine.”
He gestures to each of them in turn. Susan is a blonde girl with bangs and too many freckles, and Gabriel is a roundish kid with pink skin and big ears.
“Hi.” I say, again.
I find myself looking towards my grandma, but she’s across the store examining every single carton of eggs in the fridge. I gulp, turning back to face the group, still clutching my jar of pickles for dear life.
“When did you get here? There’s still a month of school left, why didn’t your parents wait to move until after the year ended? Don’t you miss your friends?” The Susan girl asked in a shrill, grating voice. My head began to throb.
“Special circumstances.” I said, shuffling my feet.
I could tell they were growing impatient with me. Kids my age always did. But it wasn’t like I made any effort with them either. I was suddenly desperate to make that right. My mind groped for something, anything I could say that could salvage this conversation.
“What’re you looking for?” I blurt out.
Jasmine lifts a crisp ten-dollar bill from her pocket, “Ice-cream.” She says, smiling like she’s about to commit theft. Or tax fraud. One of the two. Of course, it would be ill advised to steal ice cream with the salesclerk standing three feet to the left of you.