Written By Shelly Moore
In the large back yard of the house I grew up in, hanging from a massive Cottonwood tree is a handmade wooden swing that seats three quite comfortably; four uncomfortably. Its color is primarily white, but my favorite thing about this swing are the numerous chips and nicks throughout from its decades of use by four generations of the Pittman family and friends.
The rainbow-colored grooves were caused by things like children’s Easter baskets, bottles of cold beer, pocket knives and other such objects in back pockets as they pushed through the many layers of paint that had accumulated over the swing’s lifetime, making its surface just ever-so-slightly soft enough to bruise and reveal little peeks into its cherished history. I picked at a nick on the handrail, flecking a small piece of the white paint aside to reveal a grassy green color beneath.
Grassy green had been hand-painted by my grandmother, Elizah “Lady” Pittman, who had become the family matriarch just shy of her forty-first birthday, loved to sit on the swing, smoke just a hit or two from her tiny marijuana pipe that easily fit down into a lipstick case she kept in her purse at all times, and watch the passing traffic.
The Pittman house sat down in a valley with trees surrounding all sides of the four acres property. Much of the yard was a bit offset from the back of the house and to its left, as if someone had bumped the artists hand as he created the property lines on official papers.
The road the house sat on was commonly used, but I wouldn’t jump as far as saying it’s a busy one. It all depends on the season, the time of day, and what’s going on in the city just ten miles south. If there’s a sports game or big name band in town, traffic could get a bit stopped up because it was the main route to the highway which took you into town, and that’s when people-watching was at its best for Lady.
Six children between the ages of ten and thirteen months were inside the house, likely coloring on walls or shaving doll’s hair off, or any number of things that Lady preferred not to think about while she was sitting out on her swing, far enough removed so the kids wouldn’t see her when they looked out, and she’d have a seconds notice if one of them came out the front door because of the noisy metal storm door which squeaked wildly on its rusty hinges at it opened, and slammed shut with enough force to amputate a finger, or so the eldest joked with her younger siblings.
This was Lady’s spot. This is where my spectacular grandmother would hide from the world, if only temporarily, smoke a bowl, people-watch, and remember what it felt like to be free. We buried that way-beyond-her-years-wonderful-woman six feet underground today, I thought.
Returning my mind to the present, I reached inside my pocketbook and pulled out my own cigarette-shaped metal one-hitter and lighter.
“This one’s for you, Grandma,” I said as I lit the end and took a deep hit, in loving memory.
Exhaling the thick, swirly medicinal haze, I began gently picking at another spot on the paint, revealing a rich barn red color beneath the grassy green, and beneath the red; a sunny yellow.
The air was warm and thick with humidity, and the smell of cookies baking, which must have drifted from a neighboring house, lightly tickled my nose.
I stood and walked toward my grandmother’s overgrown garden. I cleared away a few large branches that must have fallen during a storm from the trees above it, then dropped to my knees and began to break of small twigs of rosemary and bail, which were still doing quite well although the garden hadn’t been tended to this year, nor the last, by my grandmother’s loving hands.
“Darcy, go pick yourself some of those little tomatoes over there and shove your pockets full. Grandma grows those just for you, you know,” I can clearly remember her saying to me more times than I can count as she would in the garden, bottom planted right on the dirt, with her wide-brimmed sunhat and gardening gloves that were pink on one side and floral on the other.
I smiled as I picked some pineapple sage and added it to the collection I had been stashing within the front pocket of my hooded sweatshirt.
“Smell this, Darce. Smells like pineapple! Can you believe it? One of the ladies down at the farmer’s market sold me this. How fascinating, right?” she asked a then fifteen-year-old me.
“Pretty cool,” I had replied, rolling my eyes as teenagers who don’t yet realize the precious value of a moment do.
“Makes me wonder if I dry it out and burn it will it have the same effect as my white sage does, hmm? Will it help clear my house of the bad energy? Will it send the demons away smelling like a pina colada on a warm summer day?” she laughed to herself.
Suddenly, I heard the unmistakable sound of brakes screeching to a sudden halt from about twenty yards behind me through the trees where the road curved slightly.
The sound of brakes was nearly as common as that of leaves rustling on trees or birdsong in this area because of the curve in the roadway. Every once in a great while, the sound of brakes would be followed by metal scraping and crunching into more metal; the sound of the front bumper of some unfortunate bastard’s speeding vehicle making sudden contact with the metal guard rail which separated the road from my family’s property for this very reason.
This time, it was the latter.
The crunch was loud and a bit bone-jarring. I brought my hands up to cover my ears and turned around toward the direction of the noise, and then…
It was like time stopped.
No, it didn’t stop.
It slowed down.
S l o w e d w a y d o w n . . .
Something hit my neck.
The wind had been knocked out of me…
Then something hit me from behind, and I fell hard to the ground.
I woke up a few moments later to the sound of police sirens and people yelling over top of one another. I heard one man tell another to go grab the “Jaws of Life” for an “extrication.” The bottoms of the tree leaves and pine needles above me flashed red and blue.
At first, I felt nothing, and when I say that I mean it. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel any pain; well, I didn’t feel pain, so really, it’s a bit accurate either way, but it was that I couldn’t feel anything at all. It was almost as if it had taken my mind an extra moment to reconnect with my body when I came back from unconsciousness.
Then suddenly the pain in my neck was excruciating. Something had hit my neck with such force that it must have broken it.
I realized pretty quickly I was unable to move my body from the neck down. My mind told my hand to rise to my neck as a reflex to inspect the damage, but my arm would not reply. I tried the other arm with the same result.
I could move my eyes.
I looked around. About ten feet away resting at the base of a tree was a metal hubcap. A few feet away near the base of another tree laid a rubber car tire.
I tried calling out for help but had no voice. When I tried to form words in my mouth and push them forth from my vocal chords, I’d hear and feel only the gurgle of thick blood.
Tears fell from the corners of my eyes, wetting my temples and hairline.
I could hear emergency services shouting their orders, but they could not hear me.
They were just beyond the trees.
If I could just get their attention.
“Darcy, come on now, darlin’…”
I swear I heard my grandmother’s voice call to me, but it couldn’t be.
I looked around.
Red and blue lights flashing on the tree limbs and leaves rustling in the wind.
The sun was setting.
I was hallucinating. I must have suffered a head injury. I needed help. I was a stone’s throw from dozens of people but no one knew to look for me.
I was finding it more and more difficult to breathe.
I tried to calm myself so that I could think clearly. I needed to get someone’s attention, but I quickly grew exasperated and desperately emotional when I realized the only motion I was capable of making was with my tear-filled eyes.
“Darcy, punkin’….” I heard again, as if she were just beside me.
My eyes darted to my left, then right. I thought, maybe I’m hearing one of the first responders out searching for the wreckage and because I have a brain injury my mind is hallucinating my grandmother.
I cried harder, but took solace in the fact that although I had an apparent brain injury, I was still able to think rationally. The fact that I felt as if I were breathing through a clogged coffee stirrer was definitely more concerning.
“Mine…” a low, deep growl said from my right. The voice sounded as if it were shouted from the depths of a hollow cavern filled with screams of tormented prisoners.
The breath that uttered the breathy word was hotter than the late summer sun and smelled of decay and rot.
My body began to convulse but my mind, although overwhelmed by both confusion and terror, was still fairly sharp.
I felt another warm, moist exhale on my cheek and my body shuddered in direct response. I wheezed deeply, gasping for air.
“Mine soon… very… very… soon,” the creature whispered into my ear. My body convulsed harder. I couldn’t get the air in. I was dying.
“Darcy, quit playing!” my grandmother’s playful voice admonished, but things had gone dark. The curtains had fallen, and the show was nearly over.
The sound around me was fading as if someone had their hand on the universal remote’s volume button.
Then it was as if someone laid a blanket of peace over me, and I stopped fighting.
I felt no pain.
I felt no fear.
I knew my body was being ravaged by convulsions, the same way that I now knew that a man, who had made the decision to shoot heroin into his veins after leaving his son’s soccer game twenty minutes ago, had lost control coming around the bend, thereby smashing into a mother of two in the opposing lane head-on. The man was pronounced dead on the scene.
The mother survived with minimal physical injuries, but the emotional injuries of losing her two young children; just four and thirteen months, would be a scar she would never recover from.
I also knew that because the man had crashed at such a high rate of speed, a tire had somehow become unattached and flown into the woods beyond the guard rail. Subsequently, the hubcap separated, subjecting an innocent bystander, which happened to be myself, to (two) traumatic injuries.
The hubcap had been the weapon in the first injury; catching me with its edge just enough to slice into and sever my esophagus and with enough force break a few vertebrae.
A fraction of a second later, the second blow came; the shredded rubber tire smashed into my back as I was turning toward the noise of the crash, with such force it nearly severed my body in two just below the rib cage.
“Enough of this, now,” my grandmother’s voice said.
Like the snap of a a rubber band, without so much as time for a passing thought, I was back in my body. My eyes were open and I was looking directly into the darkened eyes of a beast I can only use what words I have in my relatively decent grasp of the English language.
Hateful, malicious, and vicious. Ugly and heinous. Destructive, vile, and deeply, deeply unpleasant.
Its mouth was on my own and its long, bony, claw-like hands held either side of my face as it hovered just inches from my mangled body.
I could feel its pull. It felt as if my skin were being ripped from its muscle; as if my fingernails were being plucked from their tender groves, my teeth from their sockets, and a rake of rusted nails were being dragged slowly down every nerve ending on my body.
It felt like fire.
It felt like ice.
There are no real words, however, in the English language to adequately describe the pain.
I had already lost my fight for life; I was aware of that, and had already completely surrendered to my fate. I was now fighting to save my soul.
My soul cried out for my grandmother in a final act of desperation.
What I saw next was a pink, floral glove pass over my eyes and push the darkness away as if a fly had been shooed away by a hand too gentle to hurt it.
My vision faded away again like the gradual surrender of a pair of tired eyes.
I blinked open and pushed the heaviness of sleep away gently.
Above, I watched the bottoms of leaves rustle in the summer wind.
“Well, good morning, darlin’,” my grandmother smiled as she pushed my hair from my face and lovingly tucked it behind my ear. “Fancy meetin’ you here.”