NIGHTCRAWLERS

Sarah couldn’t sleep at night because of what Jim said about the old man, and how Sarah shouldn’t never go there to that end of the property.

“That farm always is nearly wholly dark,” Sarah said.

“The old man is the only one who wants for light,” Jim said. “The old man, he goes to the store on off-hours. He buys cans of food, and he buys kerosene for his lamps. It don’t even have electricity out that way. But they don’t need light. The kerosene is for the old man, that’s all.”

“But how come people let the old man live like that. How can he live with ‘them’? How come nobody says anything? How come nobody does anything about ‘them’?”

“Does what?” asked Jim. He pointed his chin at Sarah and waited her out. She turned away, back to cooking.

“That’s your outsider talk again,” Jim said, “Up here, we are all related one way or another. The old man keeps a good eye on things. It is just the way things have always been. Don’t expect anything to change.”

“The old man, though. How does he stand living like that?” Sarah was heating peas, and she let go of the ladle. She stared at the steam as it rolled up the handle.

“I expect he’s used to it,” says Jim. “He takes them out at night when they want fresh air. I’ve heard the old man cleans out the barn, the one with no windows, while they do what they do…”

“Do what?”

“Well… They like to scratch, I’ve heard,” said Jim.

“Scratch?” her voice got hung up in her throat for some reason. Sarah’s throat felt awful dry. She took a deep breath near the steam.

“Scratch for bugs. Scratch for worms. They have extra-long fingers and nails. Like a climbing lizard. They pick through the dust. There is also… like, this little pile of smooth stones… this little pile of smooth stones in the corner of the yard… I hear they suck on the stones. That’s something else they like to do. They have little sharp teeth and lots of space between them, and they are always sucking on their teeth…” he sucked on his own teeth and made an awful wet sound with his spit. “Or they suck on the stones. On account of their gums being raw. Their new teeth growing in. Old ones falling out.”

“Like a shark,” Sarah said. She didn’t really know what she meant. She just knew that sharks always grew new teeth. And now she pictured their mouths like shark mouths.

“Maybe…” said Jim.

Sarah shuddered and began serving up. She tried to sound real casual and unbothered as she came to the table. No matter how Jim liked to rattle her, he hated to see her looking rattled. He was a cruel one, her Jim, more than half the time. He was watching Sarah, she was sure.

But Sarah couldn’t shake them from her mind. And from the time she was born, she couldn’t keep quiet what was on her mind.

“And they haven’t got any faces? No other face at all?” She asked.

“No eyes. No ears, no noses, no hair,” said Jim. “No faces.”

“Are they gentle?” She asked. A quaver. A little shake came up in her.

“I expect not,” said Jim. “That’s why the old man has them locked up most times. I expect they aren’t gentle at all, given the chance.”

“I hate them,” She said. “You said he buys kerosene? I want to take that kerosene and burn that farm up. Like a hive of wasps.”

Jim chuckled. “I didn’t expect you to understand.”

“I hate them. I want to burn them up.”

“Just don’t go near that end of the property. In the day… the old man doesn’t know you. He might shoot you. And at night…” Jim sucked on his teeth again.

Now there Sarah lays in bed. Not sleeping. She can hear Jim being noisy in the kitchen. His books scuff. And every scuff of his boots brings to her mind the sound of something, one of them, scratching in the dirt. The floor creaks. And Sarah imagines every creak of the old floor boards is a sound coming out of their throats. It’s the satisfied groan of something, one of them, raking a juicy beetle out of the dirt.

“He’s a liar…” Sarah whispers to herself. Soft, so he can’t hear. Just to herself, just for comfort.

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