By Patrick M. Tracy
(Yet another Magnum-Sized Flash! Enjoy!)
Mama told LeeLee that Uncle Gill was possessed by the devil sometimes, and LeeLee knew it was true. They used to let Uncle Gill babysit the kids, but he locked her little brother Mort in the cellar, and he used to touch her in naughty ways when he was drunk. She hated Uncle Gill, even when it was early in the day, and he hadn’t been drinking, and he would smile and laugh and tell jokes. LeeLee thought that maybe he was possessed by the devil all the time, and the booze just made it show out real strong.
LeeLee held onto one of the support beams as hard as she could. The old wood pushed against the side of her face, and there was no comfort. Down here in the cellar, it was cool and smelled like wet dirt. The only light came from a tiny window high up on the wall, and she’d have been scared to death to be down here in any other circumstance. Right now, she had worse things to be scared of.
Uncle Gill was yelling at Mama, and Dad wouldn’t be home for hours. She just hoped Mort wouldn’t come back from the frog pond and get into the middle of it, not with Gill waving a pistol around and drunk as he was. He’d already been smackin’ Mama around, and Mort would just try to help her, even though he was only nine. Poor Mort. Uncle Gill had always hated him anyway. He threatened to cut Mort’s peter off with a jack knife a bunch of times. That was about the time the little guy had started peeing the bed and having them nightmares.
“Don’t come home, honey,” she begged. “Don’t come home until supper time.”
The shouting rose ever higher, and LeeLee knew the devil was in Uncle Gill’s soul, hot as the Merryweather’s kiln where they baked the clay pots. LeeLee prayed to God to strike Uncle Gill down so he wouldn’t hurt Mama, but she knew it was a sin to wish harm on anybody, even when the devil had ’em firm in the grasp. That was the catch. Seemed like there was a catch to everything, like God made it real hard to win. You had to be clever and brave. Granpa Ulysses always said stuff like that, before he got the angina and went off to heaven.
LeeLee closed her eyes hard against it and knotted her hands until she couldn’t feel her fingers. “Please, God, maybe you can’t strike Uncle Gill down, but don’t let him hurt Mama or Mort. If he has to hurt somebody, he can hurt me. You know I cheated on that math test at school, and I had bad thoughts about Linda Hilchee down the street when she got that new bike. I know it’s all in your plan, but don’t let Uncle Gill hurt ’em.”
There was a sudden silence upstairs, then an awful bang as something heavy hit the floor, right above her. Dust filtered down into the air like smoke too heavy to float. LeeLee crouched to the floor next to the upright. Tears burst from her eyes and everything got blurry around her.
It sounded like bodies rolling around on the floor, and something made of glass broke. A big, complex crashing sounded as the pots and pans came down, all together. Uncle Gill shouted, then the sharp crack of a gun going off shook the house. There was silence, then five more cracks. Just a few feet from LeeLee’s head, blood started to trickle down from the floor joists. LeeLee wanted to reach out and let a drop fall into her palm, even though she knew she’d puke if she touched blood. Her stomach had always been weak like that. She wanted to be brave and clever, but it didn’t come to her like it was supposed to.
She heard footsteps, slow and halting-like. The blood kept dripping. The dirt couldn’t drink it as fast as it was comin’. The cellar door opened. Mama leaned hard against the door frame. LeeLee saw her as a frazzled shadow on the sun from the back door, hair all pulled from her careful braids.
“You okay down there, baby?” she whispered out, gasping. She was all out of breath, but didn’t look hurt.
“Your Uncle Gill ain’t never gonna hurt you or Mort again, okay?”
LeeLee brushed at her tears. “Okay, Mama.”
“Now I want you to come up the stairs and go straight out the back door. I don’t want you lookin’ into the kitchen at all. Come on,now.”
LeeLee did what Mama asked, and she had stopped crying by the time she got down to the frog pond. Mama wouldn’t want them underfoot when the sheriff came calling.
“Mort?” LeeLee asked. He looked up from his little fishing pole, just a stick with some three pound test tied to the end.
“You eyes is red, Sissy,” he said. The therapist hadn’t gotten him talking real good yet.
“We’re gonna pray extra hard before bed tonight, hon.”
Mort blinked at her, his clear, brown eyes empty of any concern. “K, Sissy. I pray hard as heck.”
“Sissy? What’s for eats?”
“I dunno, Mort. We’ll see.” LeeLee reached down and hugged him. He made a disgusted sigh, but didn’t squirm away. They were going to be all right now. They weren’t under the shadow of the devil no more.