The Boy Who Would Know Tomorrow, by Ralph Greco, Jr.
“Real hauntings have nothing to do with ghosts finally; they have to do with the menace of memory.” Ann Rice
It was the last Saturday night for us. There in the safety of Artie’s brown and beige bedroom we sat; knees banging low tables, shawls and jackets piled precariously on the bed, watching my nephew color the last bit of his picture to perfection.
“The trees are nice,” Tini said as a thin, pale smile crossed her pinched porcelain features.
Like so many of my weak and beautiful relatives, Tini’s descent into madness had started half a century ago, when she had been in her late teens. The terrible finite import of this night bothered her despite her mania, beyond a point she could even recognize.
“Hurry up, Artie,” cousin Seth said, through a cough. “Not much time you know.”
“Let the boy be Seth,” Ray scolded, his own tight-lipped smile playing across his broad face, as Seth looked up at him. “And you to Be,” Ray added to Beethen, who had just begun to open his thick, chapped lips.
“I’m almost done, just the barn to color,” Artie declared, not looking up as he deftly reached across the floor (and over Seth’s knee) for a brown crayon.
“A barn!” Tini exclaimed. “With horses?”
“Of course Te, of course,” Seth lightly chided, coughing twice this time.
“Uncle Fran…” Artie said, looking up and across the room to me, his liquid hazel eyes glowing under his bright yellow bangs. “…is it okay if I put your truck here?”
“Sure,” I said, as the boy quickly drew my Mercedes SUV into his picture. “But hurry Artie, there’s not that much time.”
Ray leveled me with his patented piercing stare, but with a quick turn of my head I had him follow my gaze out the window. He could see the pink of dusk sneaking its way across the horizon as well as I. When he managed to look back at me, there was only regret in his green speckled eyes.
“Real horses and a barn…” Tini said, lost in a frail remembrance none of us dared address. Her big green eyes were staring out the window as well, but I knew she had no idea of the hour.
“Tini we…” Seth tried as Beethen just placed a big arm around my crazy cousins’ shoulder. Tini hung her lithe frame into Beethen’s broad side, mumbling about horses through her daydream as Seth retreated.
“Done,” Artie suddenly announced, thankfully taking us from our elder cousin’s unfortunate display.
“Good,” Ray said, too calmly for my tastes. “Now, place it on the bed.”
I was glad Ray was here to be sure, but I silently damned him for his resolve. Thirty years ago that same quiet calmness had talked me out of the very deed my young nephew was now about to attempt. Ray had sat on the edge of my bed, his curly hair just as much a mop on his younger head, and had ‘helped’ me weigh the consequences of actions that would have forever taken me from him and the rest of my family. We had all taken our turn at the bait, Ray included, and all of us had been convinced by the others of the disadvantages of engaging the power and none of us had gone. Now we sat here convincing Artie the opposite, wishing like hell that we were in his place and had another chance at it.
“We could all hold onto hi…” Beethen whispered, taking his arm from around Tini and helping her to stand as we all did.
“No Be…” I began. “…it’s got to be him alone.”
Truth was; I really had no clue! Maybe it was possible to jump through with the person jumping. It had never been attempted, so who knew if it couldn’t work? And really, how bad could failure be? We would all have been in no worse a state then we were now. But there was a code here, an unspoken course of action to be followed; we had had our chance, we weren’t children any longer.
This was the boy’s time, Artie would go alone.
I placed my arm around Tini’s waist. She looked up at me and smiled, then at Beethen and smiled. She was now thankfully quiet in the dual support my cousin and I provided…and Beethen quieted by my added help.
“I can do it,” Artie proudly declared and placed the bright pastel picture against his fluffy blue pillow.
“Now, Artie, you know what you’re doing?” Ray asked; he was so calm, I wondered if it had been his son would he have…
“Yes, Artie,” I added. “This is for real. No coming back. This is not pretend.”
“I know everybody,” my nephew said, his tiny beautiful eyes to the ceiling, eyes that would never turn the limpid green all of ours were.
We had briefed the poor child to boredom: Fear is a wonderful teacher.
“We just want you to be sure…” Beethen began, but his words caught in his protruding Adam’s apple.
“…very sure,” I completed, not looking at him, or my nephew.
I loved this little kid as much as I would have had he been my own; he was my life and had been for the past six years. It had always seemed so cruel to me that the power had left most of the line sterile, but I now knew it was a blessing that only a handful of babies were born to our family. How many of us could have gone through this pain with our own sons and daughters? It made the cousins closer for sure, but I often wished I could have had one child and hid him or her away, forever, far from this house and its secrets.
I have no idea how my cousin and cousin-in-law would have raised Artie if that plane hadn’t crashed: if Rachel and Dane would have taken him away from the affluence and quiet tragedy of this family; if they would have forbade him to ever seek us out; if they would have tried to run to the far corners of the globe to avoid the power that resided here in this mansion, and there in Artie’s blood. I had heard of relatives running: a gray-haired aunt spiriting away in the night; cousins joined in secret marriage attempting a non-ostracized life; it was even rumored that my grandmother had tried to flee a few times. But everyone always came back to the largess of the plantation and the current of the pulsing power they, and we all, shared.
In Arties’s case, we all simply did our best in an impossible situation, as we had with the impossible situation of our birthright. When the time had come to tell my nephew, to quell his suppositions of the family powers, he digested the information as he had Dr. Suess and Shakespeare. Of course, I had kept half of truth from him and even now couldn’t tell him. He could never have lived with the knowledge that once he was gone, that now that there was no one young enough to use the power (or the power to use), and no one else but this group of sterile cousins left of the lineage, the power would cease to be…as would the family.
“I’m going,” Artie blurted and in a flash (and there actually was a flash) he interlocked his little fingers and thrust his joined fists through the picture, falling forward into away.
A second he was sitting between us, the next it was just my cousins and I surrounding the colorful picture with the fat cows, the bright red tractor and my new truck. No hug, no good-bye, no…
It was better this way.
It was better this way.
“Well,” Ray said and took Tini from me, heading out of the room.
“I’ll put this with the others,” Beethen said, swallowing hard. He lifted Artie’s picture gently in one large hand.
Artie was someplace in the high grasses now, sitting on the green picket fence or splashing in the stream that I could see just peeking out from behind the little chicken coop. We couldn’t see him though, our eyes had long ago lost that ability. This picture would hang right next to great-uncle Paul’s underwater fantasy house of glass and steel and over Ruth Ann’s big green and white house on the mountain. I knew more about Ruth Ann and Paul by those pictures then by the portraits of those stern children that leered at me in the family gallery.
“You’re gonna need a ride,” Seth said.
“Guess I am,” I agreed, walking with him to the door. “The question is, where do we go?”
“Maybe go get a good bottle of scotch,” he said and flipped the light switch to off as I shut the door.
In the distance I could hear the sound of thunder and smell the ozone in the air. The outer-banks country would experience the most fantastic storm of its damp dark life this night, as a violent electrical storm rippled across the vast tree-lined acreage of my great family estate. This wonderful brick house would burn to the ground tonight-impossible yet true-taking the last heirs to the great family fortune with it. Even with the power, I had never yet been able to see the future…save for this night!
There is a price to be paid for great power. I sometimes wondered if my great great grandfather ever considered that price or if he simply took his mulatto mistress’ hand as she led him into this hell. Had that lady such a spell over the man, or had my great great grandfather been too guided by his lusts for the little black slave to have ever worried about the legacy he would leave behind?
Maybe the temptation was too much for the old guy, the promise of abundant, ripe youth in body and ownings; your property anew and stronger each season, cotton as full and thick each turn; no sickness coming to you and yours, smiles and robust hearty youthful laughs forever. Of course the old man had been too old at that point to try the most dangerous aspect of that perverted ‘Fountain Of Youth’, to be able to step into a picture and stay a child for the rest of one’s days, (was it eternity?…no one knew since no one ever came back from their pictures to report).
But now, with no one left to cajole, trap or entice, the power would consume itself and its users with it. There was no place for us to go…Seth was right, let’s get rip-roaring drunk! The power lived within us all, it would coil and blister, feeding like cancer inside us, even if we ran as far as Paris, or Africa.
There really is no weakness in acquiescence, I mused.
As I walked down the carpeted steps to our driveway, I silently hoped Artie would never tire of horses.
Posted on January 20, 2014, in Issue 12: The Shadows Only Hide the Monsters: Poe & Lovecraft Tribute and tagged e-zine, Edgar Allan Poe, genre blender, H.P. Lovecraft, horror, monsters, short stories, The Were-Traveler, Tribute. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.