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What Lurks Beyond the Indiangrass

what lurks beyond the indiangrass


Estimated reading time — 23 minutes

It was almost Halloween. Leafless tree branches swayed in the crisp breeze. The grey overcast sky hinted at yet another day of rain. Yellow-grey cornstalks flitted past and dead leaves scattered as the big, brown Buick carried us down the empty country road.

I looked forward to seeing Granny, even if she would be working most of the time I was staying with her. Grandpa agreed to watch me during the daytime. He received a stipend from a back injury he received in the army. It wasn’t much, but between the monthly check and Granny working it was enough. He always enjoyed the company. He would tell me stories about his time in the army and he knew the funniest jokes I ever heard. When he did his daily chores like cleaning the house, he let me explore the empty fields and small woods near their house. I looked forward to trying to find arrowheads, playing on hay bales, climbing trees… Maybe not that last one.

The only downside to my visit was I had to spend it with my cousin, Kasey. My grandparents became her legal guardians after her mom left. Mom and dad never explained where she went. I always worried she might have gone to jail or ended up like those people on Unsolved Mysteries. I might have felt sorry for Kasey if she didn’t bully me whenever the adults weren’t around.

“We’re only going to be gone three days for this business retreat, so I expect you to behave yourself.” Dad looked at me in the rearview mirror. “I don’t want you in the hospital again.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be good.”

Mom turned in her seat to face me. “If you’re a good boy, maybe we’ll bring you back a present for good behavior. You’ll make sure he’s good, won’t you Teddy?” She held my stuffed bear and made him nod his head like a puppet. I was old enough to know Teddy wasn’t doing it himself, but I played along.

“Teddy gets a present too, right? For good bear-haviour?”

Mom smiled before turning around. “Of course, sweetie.”

The once smooth, quiet ride suddenly became rough and loud as dad’s car transitioned from pavement to the dirt and gravel leading the rest of the way to my grandparents’ house. Granny would take me on long walks down this stretch of road, and I would look for little round rocks she called “Indian Beads”. I showed some to my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Smith and she told me they were actually fossils from a prehistoric plant.

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As we came to a stop at a four-way intersection I noticed the abandoned house on the corner. It was the only neighboring house to my grandparents for miles. Most of the year it was completely hidden from view by the trees and overgrown vines covering the chain link fence. Even now, after many of the leaves had fallen, I couldn’t distinguish much other than the chipping paint and wrap-around porch. A few windows on the upper floor peered over the trees, their screens torn and shutters unsecured.

“Somebody really ought to fix that place up.” Mom said.

“Too late for that,” Dad said. “The roof is caved in. It’s not safe.”

“That’s a shame. It must be over a hundred years old.”

After the fence row to the abandoned house, an empty field came into view. It probably belonged to whoever owned the house, but the only thing that grew in it were clusters of Indiangrass, cattails, and most notably, a massive oak tree in the center of the field. It was so big two grown-ups couldn’t reach all the way around it. Several of the limbs were low enough I could reach them without any help. I nearly forgot all the fun we had playing in this field when I realized my grandparents’ house was coming into view.

Grandpa was smoking a cigarette on the front porch as we pulled up. He was jolted from some reverie as Maggie, the black lab shot up and barked, wagging her tail. The car wasn’t even parked before I bolted out the door.

“Grandpa!” I ran to hug him. I nearly knocked him over. He laughed as he steadied himself on the porch railing. A tube of grey cinders fell from the tip of his cigarette as he laughed.

“What are they feeding you, Bucko? You get bigger every time I see you.”

I shrugged, and he let out another loud laugh. “You know what? I got some cartoons recorded for you!”

“Really?” We only got local channels at my house. The only cartoons were the ones on PBS, and that was only when they weren’t broadcasting boring home repair shows.

He smiled. “Your grandma left the videotapes next to the TV for you.”

Mom and Dad came up to the porch, Dad with the suitcase, Mom with Teddy. Grandpa bent down to whisper something to me. “I hid something for you under your pillow.”

“Really? What is it?”

“Don’t you spoil the boy, dad,” Mom handed me Teddy.

“Spoil him? It’s Halloween isn’t it Johnny?”

“Uh-Huh!”

“Well, we hate to drop him off and run, but we do need to get going.” My dad looked at his watch. “Johnny, you behave now.”

“I will.”

I hugged my parents goodbye. They waved as they backed out of the driveway and pulled onto the road. The big brown car slowly vanished in a cloud of dust. I picked up my luggage and went inside.

“I’ll be in there in a few minutes,” Grandpa said, settling into the lawn chair and sipping his coffee. “I just want to finish this newspaper article.”

I walked through the living room and saw the VHS tapes just like grandpa said. One of the labels read “Speed Racer”. I couldn’t wait to watch them. When I got to the guest bedroom, I set my suitcase on the floor next to the bunk bed. Kasey always slept in the top bunk which left me on the bottom. I set Teddy down and reached under the pillow. To my surprise there was nothing. Confused, I moved the pillow and found the spot underneath was bare. I looked under the bed thinking maybe whatever Grandpa left for me had fallen on the floor.

“Looking for this?” Kasey was hanging upside down from the top bunk. She dangled a bag of assorted candy while biting off a piece of taffy.

“Hey! Grandpa said that was supposed to be for me!”

“Not anymore.” She chomped the sticky mess in her mouth between words. A few tootsie rolls fell out of the bag as she rummaged for something else.

“Oh, you can have those.” She grimaced. “I don’t like those anyway.”

I picked up the pieces of candy from the floor and put them on the bottom bunk.

“They’re better than nothing,” I thought, as I set Teddy on top of the pillow.

“Why couldn’t you just go with your parents?” Kasey was scowling, still upside down.

“They’re going on a business trip,” I said. “Kids aren’t allowed.”

“Whatever,” Kasey said, disappearing over the edge of the bed. I wondered if Kasey was going to be this way the entirety of my stay. No, she couldn’t be. Not with the grown-ups around. Even when they weren’t she could be alright sometimes. Maggie’s barking from the porch interrupted the thought. From the window next to the bunk bed, I saw Granny’s car pulling up the driveway and into the lean-to carport behind the house. I ran through the kitchen and out the back door to meet her. Kasey shoved me aside as she rushed past me into the carport.

“Granny, Granny! You’ll never guess what I did at school today!”

“I’m sure it was wonderful sweetheart.” Granny fumbled an unlit cigarette to her lips.

“Hi, Granny!”

“Well, hi there, Johnny!” Granny hugged me. “Are you hungry for some cheeseburgers?”

“You make the best cheeseburgers in the world, Granny.” She smiled as I said this and slammed the back door shut behind us. It was an old door, possibly part of the house’s original construction. The latch didn’t work most of the time, and there was about an inch between the bottom of the door and the threshold. I remembered how scared I was last summer when I spent the night. I could see coyotes’ feet under the door as they walked through the carport. Occasionally, one would bump the door and it would open slightly, only to be stopped by the chain holding it shut. It was terrifying to see one of the wild dogs’ muzzles through the small gap as they howled.

“Damn this old door.” Granny slammed it again two more times before kicking a wooden wedge under it to keep it shut. The chain jangled as she fastened it shut. Turning around, I could see her look of exhaustion give way to anger as she looked over the messy kitchen.

“Daniel Lee!” Grandpa hurried to his feet and ambled inside, the screen door slamming behind him.

“Why didn’t you do anything while I was gone today? This place is a wreck!”

“I did plenty while you were gone, woman!”

“Oh, like the dishes?” She gestured to the overflowing sink of dirty cups and plates.

“I had to pace myself, so I took out the trash, emptied the ash-trays, checked the mail, made some coffee…”

“And then sat around listening to music and watching the weather channel.”

“Don’t be mad Granny,” I said. “He has a bad back.”

“I know sweetie.” Granny sighed. “Why don’t you and Kasey go outside and play?”

After dinner, Granny took us to the field with the oak tree. Kasey and I used sticks we found like swords, slashing through the occasional cluster of tall grass. You couldn’t tell from the road, but trash littered the field, smashed beer cans, worn-out clothes, and who knew what else. Kasey and I prodded at a large black bag, ripping at the seams.

“Stay out of that, kids! You don’t know where it came from or what it is,” Granny said as she lit another cigarette.

Kasey and I bolted off ahead, “fighting” other imaginary pirates until we came to the oak tree. We ran around it, played tag under it, and swung from the low-hanging branches. Kasey even helped me reach some stray acorns from a branch I couldn’t reach. I was a bit nervous, climbing. When I broke my arm last summer, Kasey and I were trying to get her kite out of the spruce tree in the front yard. This felt eerily similar, but I got down with no trouble. We divided the acorns between ourselves and pretended they were doubloons. Kasey could be alright, at times like this. Neither of us had siblings and it was fun having someone to play with. I had to admit, even if she was terrible sometimes, Kasey could still be a lot of fun.

“Eww,” Kasey said pointing between a couple of the tree’s exposed roots. “What’s that?”

“What is it Kasey?” Granny looked down from the clouds she was looking at.

“It’s moving,” Kasey said, pointing.

A clump of ladybugs the size of a football crawled around and over top of each other. I couldn’t believe we missed it when we were playing our game of tag. I had no idea why these ladybugs were doing this. I wondered if Mrs. Smith would know. She knew about lots of things.

“They must be huddling together to stay warm,” Granny said. She turned her head upward to the darkening sky as thunder rumbled in the distance.

“Come on, you two. It sounds like rain is on the way.”

“Aww, Granny! Can’t we stay a little longer? We’re still trying to find the X where the treasure is.” Kasey pouted as she said this.

“Kasey,” Granny said with a stern look on her face.

“Come on, Johnny! Let’s race back to the house.”

“O.K.” I ran as fast as I could after her, but it was no use. Kasey was taller than me and a faster runner. I could barely see her magenta jacket between the sporadic growths of grass and the odd bush. Finally, she was out of sight. I gave up and tried to catch my breath. The distant rumble of thunder became louder as I walked the rest of the way back to the house.

Granny made us take baths before we went to the living room to watch TV. I forgot to pack my pajamas, so Granny gave me one of Kasey’s old ones to wear. They were red flannel with a zipper and built-in feet. Ky’s pajamas were almost identical, just bigger. Granny thought us wearing matching outfits would make a great picture. She snapped one of us on the couch with her polaroid. Granny had to get up early, so she couldn’t stay up with us long.

“Don’t stay up too late.” She said, hugging us goodnight. Kasey got up and left the room. I decided to get one of the VHS tapes ready. I checked the cartoon channels, but nothing good seemed to be on. I just started the “Speed Racer” tape when Kasey plopped down on the couch with a bowl of popcorn. I reached for a handful when she jerked the bowl out of my reach.

“Don’t wipe your hands on my pajamas.” She gestured to my borrowed outfit.

“I wasn’t going to.”

“Good. Because they’re mine.” I could already hear my grandparents snoring in the small house. I tried to enjoy the cartoon, despite realizing Kasey now had free reign to torment me as much as she liked. She made fun of how the people’s lips didn’t match what they were saying. She mocked the characters and made me wish I had just gone to bed. Between her comments and the howling wind outside I could barely focus. We only finished one episode when I decided to go to bed. I could always take the tapes home and enjoy them there.

“At least she won’t be able to bother me while I sleep,” I thought.

I was wrong. The overcast, rumbling skies from earlier had given way to a thunderstorm. Lightning flashed against the skeletal tree branches out the window and I held Teddy tight. Kasey’s long black hair hung from her upside-down head as she peered down from the top bunk. Her pale face looked at me in the dark.

“I bet you don’t know about the witch that lives in those woods.” She pointed at the woods behind the house.

“There aren’t any witches around here.”

“Are so! Kathy Connors showed me a book all about them at school.”

“Goosebumps are just made-up stories.”

“It wasn’t a Goosebumps book, stupid. It was about a town nearby with a bunch of witches. They were caught casting spells and making sacrifices in the woods. The townspeople found them after hearing the cries of children they were killing.”

I didn’t say anything. I just shuddered at the thought.

“Then,” Kasey continued, “a bunch of angry villagers chased them through the woods until they caught and executed every witch but one. She escaped and was seen flying on her broomstick in the night sky. She hovered over the gallows and said she would avenge the death of the other witches in her coven.”

“Stop making things up. None of that’s true.” I shuddered.

“It is true. It was in that book. It said bad things happened to the people who tried capturing her. Their crops didn’t grow, their animals died, their children vanished without a trace. They never found her, and she still haunts the woods to this very day.”

I held Teddy tight as thunder clapped and wind raged outside. I couldn’t wait for this visit to my grandparents to end.

Birds scattered from behind a bush as we ran through the empty field. The thunderstorm of the previous evening had given way to a crisp, foggy morning. We found stick swords and decided to pick up our game of pirates from the night before. Once we got through the overgrown fence row, however, our attention was immediately diverted to the oak tree. It had fallen. We looked at each other before throwing down our sticks and running to see what happened. Granny told us the tree was over 200 years old, I couldn’t believe it collapsed. I gasped for air as I tried keeping up with Kasey. Without the tree sticking up in the center of the field, I realized how easily I could get lost. Most of the tufts of grass were taller than I was. Besides a few trees in the fence row, nothing else was visible. Kasey was no help. She ran so far ahead I could barely catch a glimpse of her magenta jacked as I rounded a cluster of grass before she would disappear behind the thick fog and foliage.

My lungs burned and my throat was hoarse from breathing the cold air when we both stopped at the terrible sight. The once-great tree lay on the ground, its massive trunk splintered a couple of feet above the ground. Most of the branches were crushed or broken off as they fell. Kasey and I looked at each other before getting closer. The cluster of ladybugs was nowhere to be found. The limbs I swung from just yesterday lie shattered beneath the weight of the wrecked tree. Worse still, inside the jagged stump, I could see the wood in the center was dead. Frowning, I grabbed a handful of waterlogged, decomposing wood. Only the outer few inches of the tree beneath the bark was actually alive. I realized it was probably on the verge of collapse since I first saw it.

“You see,” Kasey said, as I wiped the rotten wood from my hands. “It’s the witch.”

Kasey jumped up on the collapsed tree trunk and walked its length like a balance beam. “She’s still haunting those woods. All these years later, she’s still making bad things happen.”

I felt a chill, but couldn’t tell if it came from Kasey’s story or the strong breeze which seemed to come from nowhere.

“A witch couldn’t have done this,” I said. “She’d be a hundred years old by now.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Kasey jumped from the trunk. “Witches live hundreds of years on the blood of children just like us.”

I desperately wanted this to be false. I tried to think of a way to prove Kasey was lying.

“The witch couldn’t live all year in the woods. What about winter? She would have frozen to death.”

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“That’s why she killed the farmer who used to plant this field. Why don’t you think anyone lives in the house at the crossroads?” Kasey gestured to the derelict house at the opposite end of the field. A window from the house’s turret peeked ominously through empty tree branches and rising fog.

“My dad said nobody lives there because it isn’t safe. He said the roof is caving in.”

“Has he ever been there before?” Kasey wore a terrible smirk on her face.

“I don’t…”

“Of course, he hasn’t! Because he knew the witch was living inside.” The wind was picking up again and I felt cold standing next to the old oak tree.

“I’ll bet none of the grown-ups have gone to that house. They’re probably all scared, just like you.”

“Am not!” I felt my brow furrowing.

“Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat!”

“I am not.”

“Then come with me.”

“Where?”

“To the witch’s house stupid.” Before I could say anything, Kasey took off through the fog. Her bright jacket almost completely vanished before I tried catching up with her. I didn’t want to go to the house, but I definitely didn’t want to stay by myself in the fog. At this point, I had no idea where Kasey was. I just knew the direction she went. The occasional crow erupted from a hiding place around the clumps of grass as I struggled to keep up. Their loud caws were the only sound I could hear besides the squishing of wet grass and my strained breathing as I ran. The fog seemed to thicken at the far end of the field. In some places, I couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead of me.

I finally reached the tree line before the house’s yard when I saw Kasey’s magenta jacket. She was moving slowly toward the back porch of the house. I ran the short distance to catch up with her. She must have heard my footsteps because she turned to face me with a finger to her lips. She gestured for me to come closer.

“Somebody is inside,” She whispered.

“Stop telling lies.” I shuddered at the thought. I felt exposed in the relatively empty, albeit overgrown yard.

“I’m telling the truth.” Kasey’s eyes were wide. “I saw a shadow move behind the upstairs window.”

I looked at the dilapidated house and realized it was in even worse shape than I thought. Wooden siding hung loosely from the sides of the house. Several of the windows were shattered. Vines from some wild plant grew through the collapsed portion of the roof. The porch was riddled with termite holes. The door on the back porch stood halfway open, giving us a view of the hallway. Wallpaper hung, peeling from chalky plaster. The wooden floor was covered with moss, scraps of paper, and broken ceiling tiles. The staircase had several broken steps. We stopped in our tracks at bottom of the porch steps.

“Come on aren’t you going to come inside?” Kasey looked much less sure of herself.

“Nobody could live in this place. Not even a witch.”

“So, you say.”

Kasey took the first step onto the porch. I followed close behind, keeping a watchful eye to the trees around the house. I felt like we weren’t alone as we advanced on the back door. I tried thinking of some way to get Kasey to leave this place as the porch creaked under our combined weight. We avoided the broken boards until we were at the threshold of the ruined house. With an uncertain foot, Kasey stepped into the house. Stray pieces of glass crunched underfoot as I followed on the filthy carpet. I looked through a doorframe to my right and could see light streaming in from the holes in the roof. The vines I saw outside disappeared into a large sink filled with decaying leaves and blackened water. Debris under my feet made more noise as I walked into the tiled floor of what I now recognized as a kitchen. The plaster from the walls left coarse white dust over most of the counters and floors. I was about to turn and find Kasey when I stopped in my tracks. There was a muddy footprint on the floor. I looked down at the wet mud around its edges and felt suddenly sick. It was at least twice the size of my own foot. I followed the muddy outlines and realized they went up the stairs.

My eyes followed the stairs up to the landing and fixed themselves on a weathered door on the top step. A door creaking echoed through the house. It came from upstairs. Kasey ran past me in the hallway and out the back door. I heard noises like a cat hissing loudly as I bolted from the kitchen after Kasey. I felt my world spin as I slipped on some of the trash and hit the wooden hallway floor with a loud thump. I gasped and clutched my chest as I felt the wind knocked out of my lungs. Large clumps of plaster ground loudly against the wood and forgotten leaves of paper crumbled as I scrambled out the front door. A door somewhere in the house slammed as I jumped from the porch. Kasey was standing at the fencerow waving for me to run. Her eyes looked back in horror. I turned to see a shadowy figure behind the curtain at the top of the turret move.

We avoided the field the rest of the day. We didn’t even leave the house, we just stayed on the couch and away from the windows until bedtime. That night, Kasey left her blanket hanging over the edge of the top bunk to cover the window looking into our room, and got into the bottom bunk with me.

“I’ll bet the witch saw us,” Kasey said.

“Maybe she didn’t.” I knew how foolhardy the suggestion was before I said it.

“Didn’t you see her moving behind the upstairs curtain? She had to have seen us.”

“Then why didn’t she come after us? Surely she wouldn’t let us get away.”

Kasey thought for a minute. I could hear the flap, slap, flapping of the worn-out screen door in the carport. I reassured myself. I checked the back door before I came to bed. The chain was in place. Nobody could open the door from the outside, not even with a key.

“Maybe the witch only comes out at night. Like a vampire.”

“Maybe.” I lay there holding Teddy tight. That morning I hadn’t believed anything about witches. Now I was having a serious conversation about the possibility one could be just across the barren field next to my grandparents’ house.

“What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

The wind billowed past the window near the bunk bed. I cringed as a low branch scraped against the glass. “I’ll ignore it,” I thought to myself. I wasn’t about to let a little wind bother me, not when I had a real problem.

That’s when I heard the doorknob to the back door rattle. I could hear the loud thumps as something slammed into the back door. We screamed in our beds as the chain rattled with each attempt to shove the door open. Maggie, the black lab barked and started growling at the back door.

“Someone is trying to get in!” Tears ran down Kasey’s face. I could hear the mattress in my grandparents’ room groan as they got out of bed. With speed I wasn’t used to seeing, Grandpa rushed past the open door to the guest room with his shotgun. The glow of the floodlights in the carport shined through the blanket covering our window. Granny ran into our room and tried her best to comfort us.

“Shhhh. It’s alright,” She said, hugging us. “It’s just coyotes.” In all the commotion, the blanket fell from the window. Now the once familiar yard and fence row looked menacing in the blueish light.

“Granny it’s not coyotes. The witch is trying to get in!” Kasey cried again.

“That old wives’ tale? Sweetie, there’s nothing out there but those wild dogs. Grandpa is locking the door, don’t you worry.”

“By lock, she means shoving the wooden wedge under the bottom to keep it closed,” I thought as I looked outside. I stared into the darkened tree line and field beyond. It was impossible to tell if anything was out there, but my eyes kept playing tricks on me. Shoots of grass looked like a crouching witch. Empty tree branches looked like emaciated hands. Every rustling leaf and swaying tree left me more uncertain about whether something lurked just beyond the reach of the floodlights outside.

We gathered enough courage to venture outside the next day. The blue spruce swayed in the breeze. I could still see the yellow splinters where I broke a branch off trying to get my cousin’s kite last summer. I remembered her telling me to go out on the limb alone because it was too small for us both.

“We need to come up with a plan for what to do about the witch,” Kasey said as she climbed on top of the platform of the old well.

“Grandpa said not to play up there! The platform isn’t safe to stand on!”

Kasey grabbed the long pump handle on the well and rocked on the balls of her feet. It creaked as she pumped rusty water from the spout.

“But… Granny said it was just coyotes.”

“She just wanted to keep us from getting scared. Would you want two little kids to know a witch was trying to get into the house?”

I shook my head. “No.”

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“Exactly. She probably had no idea how to get rid of a witch in the first place.”

I looked up at Kasey. “Do you?”

“Um,” Kasey looked down as she jumped from the platform. “Salt! That’s it. Witches can’t cross a trail of salt.”

“How do you know that?”

“My cousin Jeremy told me so. He’s the one who let me borrow the book about witches.”

“I thought you said Kathy Co…”

Kasey looked angry. “Shut up. I told you I read it didn’t I?”

“Yes.” I looked down at my feet. “But how are we going to put salt all the way around the house? We’d need a huge bag!”

“Not if we just do the doors and windows. Here’s what we’ll do: We can wait till Grandpa and Granny are asleep. Then, we’ll get into the cupboard and get their can of salt. Then We can spread the salt. It’s that easy!”

“But what if the witch gets us while we’re outside?”

“She won’t get us. Not if we finish before the witching hour.”

“The what?”

“Midnight? That’s when witches come out.”

Suddenly grandpa appeared on the porch. “Kids… Lunch is ready.”

Kasey and I trudged through the yard and back to the house. Climbing the steps to the house, I noticed something odd: the radio was off. Grandpa might have turned down the volume during the day while he watched the weather forecast and local news, but he almost always kept it on till Granny got home. The TV was also off as we walked through the living room. If felt wrong for there not to be some ambient noise in the house. I pulled up a chair at the kitchen table and started crushing crackers into my chicken noodle soup. Grandpa was quiet as he sat down to eat. His usual, laid-back demeanor was replaced with alert eyes and silence. He was wearing the olive drab jacket from his army days and I could see brass and waxed paper cylinders in his pocket. I realized they were shotgun shells. Kasey and I looked at each other as we ate our soup. I wondered if she noticed this when the police scanner screeched to life in the living room. Grandpa got up and turned the volume down after the dispatcher said something about a suspect being “at large”. I wondered what that meant.

“Why aren’t you listening to music grandpa?”

He made a small smile. “I have a bit of a headache. It’ll go away with a little quiet.”

We finished eating and Grandpa asked us to stay inside while he made a phone call. I thought it was unusual for him to take the call outside, but he said we could watch TV while he was talking. He spoke in hushed tones as he paced the porch, occasionally looking over his shoulder. I wondered what had him acting this way as I turned on the TV. Grandpa left it on the news and there was a hand-drawn picture of a man with long, scraggly hair and strange-looking eyes. I didn’t give it much thought before changing to a cartoon channel. Scooby-Doo was on and I always loved watching them solve mysteries. I hoped another episode would be on next because Fred was pulling a mask off a supposed “wolf-man”. It was always just a man in a mask. There were no real monsters, no matter how real they seemed.

Kasey plopped down on the couch. “Just checked. There’s plenty of salt in the cupboard.”

“Why can’t we put the salt out now? In the daytime?”

“Do you remember how mad Granny was when you used all her spices on ‘Experiments’ that one time? Besides, Granny might see the salt and try to clean it up.”
I felt embarrassed thinking back to the time I dumped the whole spice cupboard into a mixing bowl. I thought I was doing a chemistry experiment, but in reality, I was just making a mess of nutmeg, cinnamon, and garlic powder.

“Are you sure it’s safe?”

“Of course. I read that book. I even did a show-and-tell about it.” We were interrupted by the rattling of the screen door.

“Well, Johnny,” Grandpa said. “Your parents are coming back a day early. The retreat ended, so they’ll be here late tonight or early in the morning to pick you up. They’re on the way to the airport right now.” He ruffled my hair as he walked through the living room, lighting another cigarette.

“Your Granny is coming home early from work today too. Maybe we’ll have some more cheeseburgers for supper.”

Grandpa smiled as he said these things, but I could tell something was off. Kasey and I kept watching TV until Granny got home. Even with her back, the house was quiet. She didn’t get onto Grandpa for not doing the dishes or cleaning up around the house. My grandparents stayed barely even spoke, except for a few whispered words. My parents called while I was in the bath to let my grandparents know they were on the way, but it would be a few hours before they showed up.

“We’re going to head to bed,” Granny said as she rubbed her eyes. “Johnny, your parents are going to be here late tonight.” She glanced at the clock. “You and Kasey can watch cartoons until they get here, just promise me you’ll wake me up when they get here. OK?”

“OK, Granny,” I said giving her hugs before Kasey and I settled back onto the couch.

“One more thing,” Granny said from behind her bedroom door. “Keep the doors locked.”

I thought this a weird request, but Ky and I both agreed. Granny went to bed. I looked at the clock near the TV. It was almost 11 o’clock. I wondered if I could get out of Kasey’s crazy idea. It didn’t take long before I could hear my grandparents snoring in their room. I pretended to be interested in the movie on TV. It was a kids’ movie about witches trying to capture a small girl about my age. She had a big brother who was trying to keep her safe. “I wished my cousin was more like him,” I thought as I watched Kasey disappear into the kitchen. I thought she was making popcorn until I hear the faint sound of a chair dragging across the floor to the cupboards. I thought about what she was doing when the movie suddenly had my full attention. One of the kids in this movie shook salt all around her just as the witches were closing in on her. Kasey hadn’t read about salt keeping witches away. She must have watched this movie and assumed I had never seen it. I felt betrayed. The same feeling I had as the branch of the spruce tree cracked under my weight while I tried to get Kasey’s kite. This was just another one of Kasey’s tricks.

She returned to the living room with a can picturing a girl holding an umbrella.

“Here, you take this.” She held out the salt shaker from the table. “Now, it’s simple. We go out the front door I’ll go around the left side, you go around the right side, then…”

“No,” I said. Kasey looked taken aback. I think it was one of the few times I ever confronted her.

“What?”

“I’m not going to that side of the house. It’s closest to the empty field where the witch’s house is.”

“Yes, you will.”

“If you try to make me go to the right side of the house, I’ll wake up Granny and tell her what you’re up to.” Kasey’s lip quivered with frustration.

“F-Fine,” she said. “You take the left side since you’re such a fraidy-cat. You cover the windows on your side of the house, and I’ll cover mine.” She threw the salt shaker at me and waited next to the door. I looked at the clock before I joined her. We still had almost an hour I thought, although I was considerably less confident in this solution. I realized Kasey was just trying to use me again. As I put my sneakers on, I had an idea. Why not simply act like I was putting salt around the windows until she was out of sight, and then sneak back inside. The door to the carport had that large gap under it. I could spread salt under it from inside the house.

The front door of the house opened silently and Kasey gingerly closed the screen door after us. “Meet back here,” she said. I nodded as I climbed down the left side of the porch and salted around the window on the front of the house. The cold night air made my breath fog up as I kept an eye on Kasey. She already finished her window and disappeared around the corner of the house. Once I was sure she wasn’t coming back, I tip-toed up the porch and carefully slipped inside the screen door. I kicked off my shoes and walked to the back door to spread the salt onto the threshold. I felt somewhat proud for standing up to Kasey. I tried to think of another time I had done this but couldn’t.

The shaker was almost empty as I took the top off. I knelt to the ground to pour the last of my salt along the threshold. The white salt shone in the light of the clear night. I admired the job I had done, even if I thought it wasn’t effective, and I knew Granny wouldn’t be happy when she found it in the morning. I was about to stand up when I froze. Beneath the door were two muddy boots. I was so shocked I didn’t say anything until the door creaked open slightly and I saw the sharp blade of a knife hook into the links of the chain holding the door closed. I yelled for my grandpa as I realized what was happening.

I scrambled away from the door and under the kitchen table as I heard grandpa jump out of bed. Through the crack of the door, I could make out vague features of the man outside as he shook the door violently, trying to get in. With the long hair, the thin face, the wild, deranged eyes I realized it was the man on the news station. Grandpa ran into the kitchen with nothing but his boxers and the shotgun.

“Get the hell out!” He pumped the shotgun and the arm with the knife disappeared through the battered door. Grandpa knelt down. “What happened? Are you hurt?

Where’s Kasey?”

We heard Kasey’s high-pitched scream. From the kitchen floor, I could see through the window in the guest bedroom. The crazed man had run into Kasey trying to get away and grabbed her. Grandpa ran out the back door with the shotgun after them, but he couldn’t move fast enough, not with his bad back. The last I saw of my cousin was her pale face screaming in horror and outstretched hand reaching for grandpa as she disappeared into the overgrown field of Indiangrass beyond the reach of the floodlights.

Credit : Midwest Horror

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