She sat on the back patio inspecting her worn fingers, her skin dirty and cracked from the garden. There was enough in that garden for both of them. Barely enough. She had checked the gauges on the water tanks before her gardening, and thanked God for the snowy winter and wet spring. There was enough for drinking and bathing. And she checked the drums of gasoline in the garage her husband acquired for the generator. Enough.
Looking down the sloping backyard, Becca made out the form of her son, lying on his back, feet crossed at the ankles, holding the book above his face. Becca laughed at that book – cover gone, pages ripped, that kid had memorized that book by now. She watched her son roll over and point at the sky.
“It’s going down,” he said.
Becca nodded and told Greg to hurry up. She had a supper of potatoes and beans prepared and then it was time for bed. Greg sat up and turned pages. Becca looked past her son at the metal fence rusting in the tree line, three live wires spooling through it, electrifying it. Becca worked hard to build that fence, and even harder training Greg to never, ever touch it.
Beyond the fence and trees Becca could make out the dead road.
“Beans, again?” Greg said, standing, his clothes hanging off him.
Becca looked down at her own famished thighs and told Greg to be thankful for what was provided.
“Don’t we have anything else in the – “
Becca waited for Greg to finish his complaint, and when it didn’t come, she lifted her eyes to her son who stood rigid in the yard, eyes white, chin drooped.
“What?” Becca said.
Greg shook his head, tears bulging, a smile teeming with panic rising on his cheeks.
“What?” Becca said.
“There’s someone back there.”
Greg’s hushed tone bored into Becca’s sternum. She shifted in her chair looking past her boy at the trees and fence, the green shoots and foliage bursting at their bases. A patch of the weeds rustled and crunched, and Becca shot up straight, looked at Greg who still wore the sickened smile, a stain forming on the front of his jeans.
Becca charged through the sliding screen door to the living room and the mantle above the fireplace next to the wood stove. She grabbed the half full plastic bottle on the mantle and marched into the yard. Greg was locked in his stance. The woods at the fence were still. Becca grabbed Greg’s wrist and pulled him behind her. She scanned the trees and undergrowth before honing in on the spot that moved. She listened to her own breathing. She focused her senses and heard Greg heaving at her back. She stared at the weeds for what seemed like years until she felt her muscles and joints loosen, Greg’s forehead pressing against her spine.
A voice Becca hadn’t heard in months, over a year, slithered up her torso and into her ears. I am going to take him, it said.
Becca winced and went cold, thrusting the bottle in front of her, hearing the hideous laugh that had tormented her for so many days and weeks. She saw the misty silhouette in the trees and shook her head in defiance.
I am going to take him, Becca. All I have is time.
The events of five years ago stabbed through her head – reports of shadows and silhouettes haunting whole towns and communities, taking possession of men, leading to the wars over the children, wars that eradicated the men. Becca remembered the images on the news of crazed men invading homes and taking away children. Her husband, Adam, fended off everything the road had sent them, until Adam turned and she had to deal with him. Word came late in the conflict that holy water drove away the shadows and rendered the men docile. Not the same as before, though. Just docile. The wars stopped and Becca converted her exurban home into a compound. She hadn’t talked to her neighbors in months, hadn’t seen a full-grown male in years.
She held the bottle of holy water toward the trees, but the laughter continued.
I’m going to take him, it said. You’re almost out of that water. Almost out. Then I’ll take him and make him my pet. All I have is time.
Becca sat in the rocker in the middle of the family room clutching Greg to her lap like she had so many years ago when he was an infant and she could watch the wars and the fires from the front window. She sat in the dark, having learned to never turn the lights on, rocking her boy, urging him to sleep, praying for time to pass.
Malley Hayes is a writer, actor and teacher living in upstate NY. He recently had work published in Fear and Trembling magazine.