It was the kind of pointed pin prick into my senses that sent each tiny hair up toward the heavens. Up, up, up my ivory arm and into my black hairline in procession, one after another, a wave of an alert that something or someone was near.
I knelt on the ground before my great garden box, knees pressing into the soft thick evergreen blades of grass, and carefully bundled herbs in one hand and snipped them with the other, watching the earth for shadows, but seeing none.
“Of course,” I thought. “Of course there’s no one come to see me.”
I felt silly. Rather, I wanted to feel silly. I wanted to go back to the time when monsters were just make believe and didn’t really live in your closet, under your bed, or at all. But with the state of things lately, the quick escape, the heavy, pressing heartbreak, having to reinvent ourselves under such circumstances, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were being watched. The peripheral flickers were becoming more and more prominent: a shift, a movement, a shadow, but more than that, it was a flicker of my own internal warning system.
Pulling twine from the pocket of my soft, faded blue apron, I stole a glance at the faded grey fence line before Snip! I cut the little brown cord with more bravery than I felt. The snip I heard, but with my eyes, I looked beyond the task.
A shadow darted, soundlessly but so loudly just beyond the picket line, just out of sight. I wished I could see beyond the fence as if it weren’t there at all, but was grateful that it stood tall and protective, only small slivers of light perforated it.
I remembered my mother on the day we planted the garden before the first frost of last year. She pulled back the thick still-green grass at the base of the fence to reveal a crystalline white row laying on the brown dirt.
I smiled at the thought of what she did next.
She sat like I did now, feet tucked under her with the tops of her feet, slender ankles, and skinny calves directly on the ground, her skirt cut knee-length so she didn’t have to contend with tucking it away or muddling up her feet as she walked (or ran).
She sat so calmly, but carefully, oh so carefully, divided the thick blades of grass between the Here and There to expose that line to me.
She opened her mouth, stuck out the tip of her damaged tongue and pointed her finger at me, then at her own tongue again. She rarely spoke after the witch finder caught her as a young woman and cut her tongue almost in half, claiming she spoke against God’s word by expressing her own belief in the power of Mother Nature’s flora and fauna, but she was poor and couldn’t afford to fix it, and eventually she grew tired of her speech impediment and all that came with it. I wasn’t exactly sure what was coming, but I knew her expression was too silly to show caution, so I poked my tongue out, too.
The memory of us made me laugh out loud, mother and daughter, sitting in the grass near the fence sticking tongues out at each other. I could imagine the perennials whispering about us after we went to bed, a pair of strange women new to their home who took it upon themselves to pull back their weeded blanket, packing their beds with fresh soil, and tucking them in with vegetable seeds, then sitting around poking their tongues out at each other.
Then she struck the tip of her finger to wet it before dipping her now-damp finger in the upmost layer of the white substance under the fence, but just before her finger touched her tongue again and I leaned in with anticipation, she spun her hand around and wiped my tongue instead, so I’m the one who licked it off.
I jumped to my feet, expecting a surge of acridness, but instead was met with the sharp taste of salt.
“Salt?” I asked, not because I didn’t recognize the flavor, but because I was confused why there would be salt under our fence.
She explained that it was the salt that protected our little cottage from the Darkness and the fence that protected us from people, and when coupled together, Darkness and people were something to be afraid of. The culmination of the two is what first took my mother’s voice from me, and later my father who was charged with treason and killed for helping us escape the townspeople who were charged by hatred and fear and that damned witch finder.
My father knew we would be safer here, tucked away in the protective shroud of the woods, where this house - the house of his grandmother - was all but forgotten, its rocky narrow trail from the main road had been overgrown for some time when we arrived, but, as happenstance would have it, we were on foot when we arrived, not in a car, which wouldn’t have made it farther than the fallen tree not twenty yards up and would’ve caused alarm with local officials and led them straight to us.
In our town, we were now officially known as The Accused. In the town of my late father’s grandmother, we were Nobodies, or, more specifically, the Duines women, the name a tribute to my own maternal ancestors, which translates as just that, Nobody. A perfect name for who we needed to be during the time where our kind were unwelcome.
A cool breeze fluttered the tree leaves and a long shadow cast on the ground near me. Its sudden appearance drew my attention, and before thinking that I shouldn’t turn, I did.
Her bare feet were dirty and swinging above my head, back and forth, back and forth, the rope squeaking under her weight as I scrambled backward away from her, shutting my eyes against the sight of my own mother hanged above me, scooting frantically as I could with my eyes closed until the sunlight stroked my face.
The tree branch from which she swung hung under its own dark olive green canopy and overlooked our gardens, but the tree trunk itself was outside the fence, outside of the chalk line, where the Darkness can grow up from the twisted roots, take shape in the canopy, and drop down on its victims.
“Ego lux vobiscum est. Hic non habes potestatem,” I said in the direction of the tree and of the Darkness. “His non hates potestatem! You have no power here!”
As if called, the door to the back of the house shut, and my eyes were met with the sight of my mother, alive. The corpse was gone, the rope that hanged her was gone, even the shadow.
At sixteen, I shouldn’t have been so needy of my mother; I knew that, she knew that, but she was all I had left, and the Darkness knew it. I ran into her arms before she could cross the stone patio.
She patted my back until my breathing slowed, then signed “What happened?”
“Did you see it?” I asked her. “Just when you came out, did you see it, too?”
She shook her head. “No,” she signed. “What was it?”
I couldn’t tell her. What if she saw my death and didn’t tell me? What if I were seeing a premonition? What if she is? What if we are seeing each other’s deaths? And if we are, should we tell each other to prevent it? Or does that give it more power? Or should we dismiss it as we have in hopes it’s nothing more than the Darkness personifying our worst fears.
“Why don’t they like us?” I asked her.
She cupped my face in hers. Her hands were soft and smelled of rich dirt.
“They are not afraid of you,” she signed. “You are sweet, and kind, and good. They’re afraid of themselves because they’re not like you. They don’t have…” She cupped my hands in hers now and blew lightly between my palms, making my hands tingle before breaking a stem from the Rosemary pot behind me. The clipping lay at rest for a second in my palms, and then stood on its own accord and sprouted roots from the clipping, ready to begin a new life.