“Adelaide get over here!” He whisper-shouted across the backyard. She exhaled, releasing the arrow with the breath.
“Daaad,” she said, turning as the arrow sailed past its mark and stuck into the back of the neighbor’s shed. “Do you have to do that?” She tossed the bow to him, dropping the quiver at his feet. Practice arrows rattled to the ground. Knocking his shoulder harder than she meant, she charged past him. Before she could yank the door open, his hand pressed it closed. She turned, staring up into his red-rimmed eyes.
“One, little girl, distraction. You’ll never be using that thing for real without it,” he said. “Two, and you better not forget this, you are not allowed out here on your own. Not now, not ever.”
Addy stuck out her bottom lip and blew a stray brown hair from her forehead. She crossed her arms. “Fine, dad.”
He nodded, releasing the door. As she turned and pulled the screen open, she looked over her shoulder.
“You should get some sleep sometime dad.”
After dinner, they sat around the kitchen table. The silence stretched like taffy. Addy looked from her dad to her brother, both men staring into their plates. She knocked over her glass and both jumped, hands going to their respective hips. She smiled without mirth.
“Can I go to Janney’s?” she asked. Her dad’s head had begun shaking even as she opened her mouth.
“You know the rules,” he said, hands easing back to the table. He didn’t look up from his empty plate, sandy locks of curly hair falling on his forehead.
“Dad. I’m seventeen. You have to let me go sometime,” she said.
“You’re still living in my house, you’re still my child, you’ll do as I say.”
“But dad, I-”
“Adelaide Murphy Cook you will not talk back to me.”
Her mouth snapped closed over her retort. She glanced at her brother, eyes wide and questioning. He sat like a statue, staring into his plate. Two peas could not be that interesting.
“Jim,” she said. He started and peeked up at her. “Help me out here.”
“It’s dark, Addy. You know you can’t go out after dark.”
“Urauuughhh!” Slamming her hands down on either side of her plate, she stood, her chair rocking back. With the speed of a rattler, her dad reached out and grabbed it before it tipped. “Fine, Robert, I’ll stay here. But,” she said, raising a finger, “you can’t keep me in forever.”
The dark night sky stretched overhead. She lay on her back in bed, head hanging upside down and over the side, staring out the window. The stars twinkled back, like they always had, no matter how messy it had gotten down here on Earth. She considered them, burning millions of miles away, uninterested in whether or not she could go out at night. And whether or not it was right.
“Jim!” Her father’s shout from the backyard jerked her from her reverie, and she slipped from the bed to the floor as smooth as greased ball bearings. She slid to the window, grabbing the bow from under her bed and leaning on it as she raised herself to the sill. She peeked into the back yard.
“Get behind it,” her dad said, stage whispering to his eldest. Jim slipped behind the thing, towering easily over it. It couldn’t have been more than five feet tall. In the dark, all Addy could see was its white night shirt, glimmering in the moonlight like a lamp. She couldn’t tell who, or how old, it had been. It reached for her dad. Her hand clenched on the bow, the other questing for the quiver hanging from her bedpost. She heard the arrows rattle inside but could not seem to disentangle the strap. Looking over, she pulled three arrows from it and knocked one. Peeking back over the sill, she fogged up the window.
“Damn.” Pulling her pajama sleeve down, she wiped the warm breath from the window. In the space of five seconds, her father had knocked the creature down, pinning it under his boot. Her brother stood over it, knife in hand, attempting to weave between its grasping hands.
“Don’t let it scratch you, Jim,” her dad said. Jim nodded, but she couldn’t see his face.
“Yeah dad, I know,” he said. He tried slipping to the side, but its hands kept trying to reach.
“I can’t seem to get in there.”
Her dad shifted his weight, and the thing began to sit up. He readjusted, crushing its larynx with a bootheel and stopping the incessant moaning that had been coming from its blue lips. Its hands scrabbled against his blue jeans, attempting to find purchase but sliding off.
“Dad,” Jim said, “I think we need to regroup.” Robert nodded, removing his boot. The moaning started again. The men backed off, weapons raised, eyes wary. The creature struggled to gain its feet, slipping in the dewy grass. The men moved forward again, mistaking its clumsiness for weakness. As they flanked it, it leapt forward, newly dead muscles contracting with such swiftness it knocked Jim from his feet before he had a chance to shout. It crawled on top of him, scrabbling to dig its nails and teeth into his unresisting flesh. Mouth set, he lifted the knife, slashing toward the tendons in its wrist. Partially congealed blood dripped onto his chest from the new wound, the hand flopping like a fish. As it pushed a cloud of dead and stinking breath into his face, Jim closed his eyes and turned his head away, sucking in a whistling breath through flared nostrils. Its teeth chomped together, an inch from his ear.
As its drool and something green dripped from its mouth and pooled in the cup of Jim’s ear, Robert raised his machete with a groaning shout. Just as his swing began its arc down, an arrow hummed through the creature’s skull, slamming through brain and bone, flying through the other side and coming to rest an inch from Jim’s eye. The creature went limp, all its weight collapsing onto Jim’s chest. He woofed out a breath and smacked the back of his head on the grass. Rob’s arm relaxed, machete falling to his side. The men looked at each other, the arrow in the creature’s head, and up to the window on the second floor. Adelaide blew a kiss to them, turned, and closed the window.
“Hey Jim,” she said, walking beside him on the way to Janney’s the next morning. He nodded, eyes on the trees next to the road. “Who was that, last night?”
“Don’t worry about it, Addy.”
“I’ll worry about it if I want to. I’m seventeen years old. You can’t hide it from me.” She kicked a rock. He stopped and turned, one side of his mouth twitching. Like he was suppressing a grin.
“It was Crazy Old Rhea,” he said. She frowned.
“Well that can’t…what happened?”
Jim shook his head and began walking again. After a moment, she caught back up to him. She chewed the inside of her lip, thinking of the old woman more than half the town was at least 75% afraid of. She had seemed so strong, so full of life when Addy had seen her just the day before. Frowning again, she touched her brother’s shoulder.
“Tell me, Jim.” He shook his head again.
“I don’t know, Addy. Dad’ll probably know.”
She sighed, flinging another rock into the woods with her toe. She heard a wooden knock as it bounced off an old dead tree. The siblings walked on in silence, both watching their sides of the road, ears trained deep into the woods. Once Janney’s house came into view around a bend, Jim stopped, hand on the hilt of his axe.
“Addy,” he said. She turned to him, re-situating her meteor hammer around her arm. She let the single weight dangle, swinging it in an arc next to her knee. It was hypnotic, the way it swung-
“Addy,” Jim repeated. She started and looked up at him, brows drawn together. “Don’t tell you friends,” he said. She shook her head.
Jim said nothing, placid eyes locked to hers. After a moment, she dropped her gaze.
“OK. But I’m going to talk to dad when I get home,” she said. Jim nodded, turned, and began to walk back down the road. For six foot two, he walked with remarkable silence. She could barely hear his feet hitting the dirt.
“Be careful,” he commented over his shoulder, as he rounded the corner and went out of sight. Addy grinned with her lips closed, turning towards Janney’s. She skimmed one more rock across the road and speed walked to Janney’s front porch. When she was alone, she often felt like there was someone right behind her, cold breath going right down her collar and onto her back. The meteor hammer’s chain swung back and forth from her right hand, the comforting weight of the handle curled in her left. As she mounted the stairs and knocked on Janney’s door, she chanced a peek behind her. The road, and the woods beyond it, was empty.