Chapter 8: Early morning adventure
“It’s about the proper amount,” Nana said in broken English and smiled mysteriously at me.
She dipped a finger into the pungent spice bowl, then wiped her finger on my nose.
“Go, go, go.” She urged my finger to my nose.
I rubbed my finger across my nose and presented her with the results.
“Good, good.” She beamed. “Now tell me, what do you have on your finger?”
Wide-eyed and young, no more than seven or eight, I replied that I did not know.
Nana burst into laughter. “You must learn. Yes, you must. Your mother never wanted to understand.” She turned stern. “That is why my cookies are better.
“This,” she said cleaning the paste from my finger, “is what your mother throws away.” She wiped the spice off her finger and back into the bowl. “Too much, and cookies are no good. Too little, and cookies fit only for dog.” She broke into laughter.
Nana emptied the spices into the rice flour mixture. She reverently scraped the bowl clean, making sure all the paste made it into the mixture.
“See?” she asked when she held the clean bowl up. “If you have a recipe, follow it. Promise me, won’t you? Don’t think about shopping, or playing, or boys while you prepare your recipe. Respect what you make, and others will respect your cooking.
“If you can’t cook well, how will your mother ever find a suitable husband for you?” The old woman smiled knowingly, and then leaned over to hand me a cookie.
“Come on, Anna, get up. We’re going out.” Dad shook me awake.
I stretched in the dim candlelight. Susan moved in the shadows while she dressed. “What’s this about?” I asked.
“Dunno.” She shook her head. “But Dad’s in a hurry.” She studied me for a moment. “Another dream?”
“Yeah.” I yawned. “Me and Nana again.”
“You really need to do something about these dreams.”
“Like what? I’m open to ideas.”
“I don’t know. Talk to Mom or Dad?”
“Yeah, right. Dad would want to talk about my feelings. And Mom? She’d accuse me of endangering Nana’s soul. You’ve heard her; we have to let them go, let the dead move on.”
“Well yeah, Anna, that only makes sense. It’s no good brooding on the past.”
“I don’t need her guilt trip. If Mother wants to believe that crap, that’s fine with me. But I refuse to lead my life based on some backwoods, third world superstition. The dead are dead, period. There’s no coming back from the afterworld or whatever the hell it is she believes.”
“You don’t know that. Just because you’re too sophisticated to believe doesn’t make it wrong.”
“Do you really want to walk around the house for the next month choking on incense smoke while Mom makes me do her voodoo crap?”
Susan sighed. “It’s Buddhist meditative realigning of your inner energy flows. And who knows, it might help.”
“I’ll keep it bottled up if you don’t mind.” Before Susan could protest, I hissed, “Not a word to Mother. You promised.”
I armed myself with my usual weapons. My gift from the night before came to mind so I dropped one of my knives onto the mattress and slid the longer of the two blades into my boot.
I flipped the lid open, removed the broken arrow, and gazed at it for a moment before sliding it into my left boot. I removed two quivers of arrows from the closet door and slung one across each shoulder. Pulling my bow off a hook, I waited for Susan.
She pulled two quivers of arrows from the hooks on the closet door. I nodded and followed her up the stairs. Dad and Chris were in the kitchen arguing.
“Don’t understand why I can’t go,” Chris whispered in the candlelight.
“I’ve already told you; this has to be quick and quiet.”
“That leaves you out.”
Dad ignored the jab. “Listen, son.”
‘Listen son’ was Dad’s way of putting his foot down, to indicate discussion was over. “I know Mark, and you don’t. So I’ve got to be there.”
“That’s not what I mean. If they’re dead, we’ll be back in an hour. If they’re alive--” Dad paused. “Well, it’s been a while since I‘ve seen them. There might be problems.”
“All the more reason--”
“No. I can handle Mark if it comes to that.”
“We’re ready, Dad,” I said when we entered the kitchen.
Chris relented. He leaned against the counter and glared at us.
“All right, we’re headed up to the Bulger’s. I don’t expect trouble but keep sharp and be prepared for anything.” Dad spoke calmly, although his expression belied his words.
“What kind of trouble?” I asked.
He grimaced, bit his lower lip and glanced from Susan to me. “I don’t know what waits for us, honestly. At the best of times, Mark and his boys are a little off. These are most certainly not the best of times. So it’s best to go up there as non-threatening as possible.”
Just in case they might think we left them out to dry when the herd came through. So that’s why Susan and I were the only ones going with Dad, he counted on some code of chivalry from the Bulger boys. Great, what could possibly go wrong?
Dad turned on his small pen light and led the way down the front walk. “I checked earlier,” he said. “It’s frozen. Just enough, can’t even move its eyes. But it’s going to defrost fast when the sun comes up. So we have to move quick.”
Without having to ask, I knew Dad meant Calvin.
We made it to the street and found all to be silent and dark. The faintest promise of sunrise stained the horizon. A chill breeze knifed along the empty road. Aroused by the impending sunrise, the occasional chirps of birds and muffled noise of hidden animals stirred around us. The small critters of the neighborhood prepared for a new day.
At last, we came upon the Bulger home from the side. “So far so good,” Dad said.
“Dad?” Susan said.
“Yeah?” Dad whispered, as if afraid the slightest sound would bring unspeakable danger upon us.
“Did you get the flash last night?”
“No. Chris didn’t,” he said while he scanned the Bulger’s yard.
When we reached the front corner of the house, Dad stopped and pulled out his big flashlight. He swept the bright beam across the two-story house. Nothing appeared amiss. Except for the trampled bushes, all seemed normal.
Ever so quietly, Dad pulled the latch to the still intact chain link gate which barred our way into the back yard. He cringed while he eased it open. He cursed under his breath. The rusted hinges creaked disproportionately loud in the early morning silence.
Dad shined his light around. Someone had put up a fight. The stench of decayed flesh reeked strong among the fresh corpses. He moved amongst the dead and checked the bodies. All had gruesome holes in their skulls.
Dad panned his light across the exterior. One, then two windows came into view. Starkly illuminated by the harsh beam of light, both windows were intact. We moved under the windows and Dad trained the light onto the patio and back door. What I saw froze my heart and stopped me in my tracks.