Monday Myth & Mayhem: The Back Yard, Part Six

Posted on April 26, 2010

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The tent went up. Daddy, Junior, and Porter went into the house, and locked the gate and the kitchen door behind them. Mama and Daddy watched from the kitchen window until Jubal and Lola crawled into the tent. They huddled close to each other by the open tent flaps, and waited for darkness to come.

“We’re going to die tonight,” Lola said.

“Maybe,” Jubal said, “but maybe not. We won’t get much sleep, that’s for sure. We could play a game to make the time go by.”

“I don’t feel like playing a game.”

So they watched as the sky turned violet, as shadows filled the yard and the fireflies started blinking. The scent of honeysuckle hung in the humid dusk, mingling with the sweet smell of grass and the aroma of rich, loamy earth. The last birds flew home to roost, singing, and the last cars passed in the street. Then there was quiet.

“Mama’s right about one thing,” Lola said. “It’s a pretty yard at sunset, if you don’t know what lives out here in the dark.”

Jubal put his arm around her and did not answer.

They listened to Junior and Porter wrestling in the attic, and heard the noise of the television in the front room. When the kitchen light went on, it cast a dull glow on the side of the tent, and they closed the flaps and moved to sit in the glow. They could hear Mama talking on the phone in the kitchen. When she hung up and left, she turned the light off, stranding them in the dark once more.

Before long all the noise in the house faded away as their family settled for the night.

Now there was only silence.

“This is it,” Jubal whispered. “Are you ready?”

“No. I guess so. It don’t really matter, does it?”

“Don’t worry, Sister. Whatever happens, I’m here with you. If we die, we die together. We have to be brave now. You can be brave for me, right?” He felt her nod in the dark.

“I-I just hate them. They’re my family, and I know it’s wrong. We watched for them and kept them safe, and they’re throwing us away just like Katie. So I hate them for it.”

“Yeah, I know. I feel the same way.”

There was a soft movement of leaves and undergrowth in the bushes at the back of the yard. Lola took his hand.

“It’s starting,” she whispered. They crawled to the back of the tent, away from the opening, and fell silent, listening, waiting.

They heard the grass shudder as though a large bird was flying low just above it. They heard a quiet breeze ripple along the side of the tent. A moment later, it was murmuring through the leaves of the elm tree.

Something touched the tent then, just enough to make the canvas tremble. It moved slowly around to the tent flap and pulled it aside. Jubal and Lola clung to each other, unable to move or tear their eyes away from the shadow at the open flap. They watched the shadow enter the tent, pouring inside like water. It stopped just before it touched their feet, which they drew up close to their bodies.

Then the shadow receded into itself. It withdrew from the tent and dropped the flap. They were stunned that they were not dead.

The shadow was still out there. They heard it drifting slowly over the grass toward the house.

Then Jubal understood.

“They’re not after us,” he said to Lola. “Come on.”

They left the tent and stood up. They saw the shadow reach the house, where it stopped and gathered itself into a tall, smoky column. It hovered beside Lola’s window.

They felt the cold chill at the same time, and whirled to see other shadows flowing between and through them, then past them. The yard filled with them, a sea of black, roiling shapes. The children were rooted where they stood; there was nowhere to go. They watched as the shadows gathered and took form and floated, waiting, beside Lola’s window.

“They’re going in the house,” Lola said. “We’re not there to stop them.” She moved, almost broke into a run. Jubal stopped her.

“We’re locked out, remember?” He took hold of her hand; it was cold as ice. Lola stared at him, this truth settling in her eyes like stones.

“They don’t believe us anyway,” she said, and Jubal shook his head.

They watched as the shadows disappeared through the window one by one. Soon the yard was empty, slumbering in the warm summer night. The shadows were all in the house now.

Junior cried out, and the shadows swallowed his voice. They heard a thump as Porter fell out of his bed. Another hoarse shout before the black claimed and silenced it.

Through the bathroom window, they saw a faint glimmer as the light went on in their parents’ bedroom, too late. Kenny and Brenda uttered no protest, and the light went out.

The house was dark again, silent again. Jubal and Lola waited, breathless, and saw the shadows issue like smoke from the windows. They dispersed across the yard and lingered behind the children.

They heard a loud electric snap, then a sizzling sound. In a moment, they saw flames lick along the cheap carpet in Lola’s room, then spread down the hall, past the bathroom and into the kitchen. When the flames reached the gas stove, there was an explosion that knocked them onto the ground and woke the neighbors.

The fire trucks came quickly, but it was already too late. The house was small and made of wood, and the fire devoured it whole in a matter of minutes. Jubal and Lola stood in the back yard and watched grimly until the skeleton of the house groaned and collapsed on itself. As the flames slowly died in a thick cloud of smoke, they saw the shadows withdraw to the hedge at the back of the yard. Jubal took Lola’s hand and looked at the rubble, where the firefighters were beginning to search for bodies.

“We told them, but they didn’t listen,” he said.

“Everything will be all right now,” she said. “We’ve got each other.”

She looked back over her shoulder. The shadows lingered under the hedge, watching them.

“Thanks for saving us,” she whispered, and saw them shift like water, like smoke. The back yard belonged to the shadows, as it always had. She turned away and went with Jubal toward the fire trucks, where the future waited.

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