Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Century or Centuries (02/17/11)
TITLE: Nothing Ever Happens Until It Does
By Michael Throne
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I stroke her hair, gently, patiently.
“Peace, peace for our time. That’s what they’re saying.”
She stares off in the distance, as if she’s watching Chamberlain himself.
“Times have changed, grandma,” I say, trying to bring her back. “The war’s been over for years.”
She shakes her head, still staring at Chamberlain, a wistful smile on her lips.
“No, dear. It hasn’t even begun.”
I drive back home, a wreck. Grandma, who’s really my great-grandmother, isn’t doing well. Small wonder, she just turned a hundred, but she used to be so smart, so confident, so righteous and giving and kind.
I grew up idolizing her. It hurts to see her like this.
Jerry has a roast ready when I get home. Evan, my son, is doing his homework.
“You’re late.” Evan has this thing about punctuality, a weakness of mine.
“Sorry.” I quickly feed my cat.
We have dinner and I do the dishes. Afterwards, Jerry tucks his son in while I deal with Evan, whose recent nightmares have made going to bed much more difficult.
“Will anything bad happen tonight?” he asks.
“Do you promise?”
How can I promise?
Friday afternoon, I’m back at the nursing home.
“How are you today, grandma?”
She gazes at me blankly.
“Are you feeling well?”
“Evil…,” she says.
“Such evil is almost upon us.”
“Uh-huh. Would you like some cookies, grandma?”
“We don’t have much longer.”
“How about some juice?”
She runs her hand over her eyes; it’s shaking.
“Are you cold, dear?” I touch her arm.
“No. I’m scared.”
I try to sooth her, calm her. “You’re safe, grandma.” I stroke her hair.
“No.” She bows her head. “We’re not.”
She’s getting worse.
Evan’s grades have been falling. He seems anxious. I’m wondering if there’s a problem at school. When I ask him, he just shakes his head.
I drop him off at his father’s house and drive back to the nursing home.
She looks at me uncertain. “Do you feel it?”
She closes her eyes. “The pulsing.”
I feel nothing.
“The pulsing.” She begins rocking, slightly. “The pulsing of the world.”
“It’s been building for years.” She sighs and looks at me.
Her eyes close.
“It’s almost time,” she whispers.
Jerry’s on a business trip and our kids are with our ex’s. It’s just me and my cat.
But even my cat’s hiding.
They say that animals can sense things, can tell when something’s about to happen, a storm, an earthquake, a catastrophe. Mine’s been scampering from under one couch to another. I can’t coax her out.
I heat up a TV dinner and watch the news alone.
“You need to go. Now.”
She’s gazing at me with an Alzheimer’s stare.
“Get out. Leave!”
“Take Evan and flee.”
“I don’t think….”
She’s barely coherent.
I hurry home. Jerry’s still out of town.
The cat’s nowhere to be seen.
“I don’t feel good,” Evan says.
“I just don’t feel good.”
To be honest, neither do I.
“It’s coming,” grandma says. She starts humming to herself and then blurts it out again. “I feel it coming.” She looks at me. “Don’t you feel it, too?”
“Feel what, grandma?”
“O-h-h-h,” she moans. “It won’t be long, now.”
Jerry calls from California. He’s had an unexpected job offer. He’ll send for his stuff.
“He’s not coming back?” Evan asks.
“No.” We’re both disappointed.
Evan goes to his room.
My cat’s disappeared.
Grandma’s shaking, her eyes are alert.
“It’s starting. I know it is.”
She stares at me, wide-eyed. “The war.”
“We’re at peace, grandma!”
I plead with her. “The war’s been over for years. We’re safe!”
She pauses. Her hand goes to her brow.
She asks absently, “Peace…and safety? Is that what they’re saying?”
“Yes, grandma, almost everywhere.”
Her whole body again begins trembling violently.
“Peace and safety.”
“Yes.” I try to sooth her; to comfort her.
She whispers. “It will come suddenly.”
Her hand forms a death-grip on my arm.
“Do you hear?”
“Grandma, let go!”
“Do you hear me?”
“Stop it, Grandma!”
She’s shouting. “Flee! Flee this place!”
“Stop it! You’re scaring me!”
She lessens her grip. “Just now?” she asks, calmly. “Just now, am I scaring you?”
“Yes, you are.”
She lets my arm go and looks me full in the face. Her head shakes almost imperceptibly.
“Oh, sweetheart,” she says. “Haven’t you been paying any attention at all?”
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