by Erin Eddison
Five year old Nathan is overjoyed to spend a week with Grandma, then things get scary...
|The first thing Grandmother did for Nathan was make him a cup of tea.
The little boy giggled delightedly as she set the kettle on the stove. "Mom always tells me I'm too young to have tea," the five-year-old told her. "I'm too young to have a lot of things."
Grandmother smiled. "You're never too young to have tea."
Not too long later, the boy was yelling with delight as the kettle gave a piercing whistle. As she poured the water into two cups, she told Nathan a story. "There's an old saying that good things come when the kettle sings," She told him. "It goes back to the time when everyone would always be inviting people over for teatime. They say that when the kettle sings, something good will happen. One of your guests will give you some good news, perhaps."
Nathan looked at her with wonder as he blew on the cup to cool it down. "Do you believe it?" He asked.
Grandmother nodded solemnly. "Some of the best things that ever happened to me came when the kettle sang." She leaned closer to the boy, as if she were sharing a deep secret. "I think more good things will be coming for me soon." She leaned back again, smothering a cough with her arm.
A cool breeze came in through the window, and she hastily stood to shut it. "Can't have it getting to cold in here," She remarked to Nathan, who was watching her with interest. "It'll ruin the tea."
Nathan smiled back and gulped down the rest of his tea.
Two days later, Nathan believed even more in the phrase "when the kettle sings". It seemed that whenever Grandmother made tea and the kettle sang, something good would happen. His mother would call and ask how he was doing, or the ice cream truck would come by. He told her that he would make tea every day when he got home, so that good things would happen. Grandmother gave him a knowing smile.
It was a long, fun week. On the second to last day of the week, it rained. "Can we go outside and play in the rain?" Nathan begged. She just gave him a tired smile and shook her head. "Please? It'll be fun!"
Grandmother shook her head again. "We'll catch colds," She told him. She coughed a few times into her sleeve. It was a thick, gross sound. "I may have already caught one." She gave the boy a small smile. "I'll make tea, but then I should lie down for a while. I wouldn't want you to catch anything."
Nathan waited expectantly for the kettle to whistle. When it did, he looked keenly around, waiting for the good thing to happen. Grandmother coughed several more times, than shook her head at him. "I'm sure it's saving the really good things for tomorrow. I should lay down now, before you catch this bug." She smiled at him. "You can watch TV if you like. I'm sure I'll feel better by evening."
But she did not feel better by evening. Nathan could hear her coughing as he ate a peanut butter sandwich and watched Spongebob. He had tried to see if she wanted to play a game, but when he went into her room she quickly made him leave. "I just need a nice long nap," She reassured him. "I'll be better by morning."
It was around nine thirty when he tired of watching the cartoons. He hesitated as he walked to his bedroom. "I'm going to bed!" He called. There was an answering series of coughs. Finally, he heard, "Goodnight, sweetie! Make sure you turn out the lights!"
Nathan did so, but he couldn't fall asleep. Usually he was asleep within minutes, but that night he sat up in bed and worried. Grandmother had been coughing all week, but this was the worst he had heard it. As slowly sleep took over, he promised himself he would mention it to his parents if they called in the morning.
As he slept, he melted into a dream that was all too realistic. He was in Grandmother's kitchen, but he was alone. The kettle was on the stove and he somehow knew it was getting close to singing. He looked around for Grandmother, but she wasn't there.
"Grandmother?" He called, and listened hard. He heard nothing. After a few moments, the kettle began to shriek. It did not make its usually pleasant, whistling note. It shrieked with all the sound of a screaming woman. He yelped, jumping away from it as the sound grew even louder. Black smoke jetted from the mouth of the kettle and swirled around him, making him dizzy. The sound grew louder and louder, until his pressed his hands firmly against his ears to make it stop.
But the sound was stubborn, and seemed to burrow under his palms to shrill all the louder.
"Stop!" Nathan shrieked, stumbling backwards. "Grandmother make it stop! Grandmother!" His head pounded as the shriek of the kettle continued and the smoke wrapped him in a burning, prickly blanket. "Grandmother!"
He woke with a start, thrashing and kicking. As he calmed down, he heard a door squeal open and loud, wet coughs. Grandmother opened the door and peeked in at him.
Nathan stopped whimpering and gaped at her. She was thinner than she had been the day before, he thought, and she was shivering beneath a thick knitted blanket. She opened her mouth to say something, but was bent over by more thick, hard coughs. When she stood up again, she was shaking even harder and seemed to be gasping, but she still managed to smile at him.
"Nothing a little medicine won't fix," She croaked. "Or perhaps all I need is some tea. She led him to the kitchen, still huddling under the blanket. He offered to help, but she waved him away.
She moved slowly, often stopping to wipe and blow her nose, then washing her hands. Finally she got the kettle boiling, but she looked exhausted. "I'm going to rest on the couch in the living room," She told him breathlessly. "You make yourself some cereal. I'll get the kettle off once it sings."
Nathan nodded at her seriously. As she turned to go, he spoke in a small voice, saying, "Grandmother, I hope something good happens when the kettle sings."
She looked back and smiled. "Oh, it will, honey. Something will happen that will be better than anything! I can feel it," She assured him. She wiped her nose again and grimaced. "Perhaps it will even cure me of this dreadful cold."
"I hope so," Nathan said honestly. She gave him a small smile, then walked into the living room.
Nathan was halfway through a bowl of Cheerios when the kettle gave its whistle. He smiled, thinking of the good thing he was so sure would happen. He could see it already: Grandmother would walk into the kitchen, suddenly healthy, and she would get out the scrabble game or the cards and they would play as they ate breakfast and drank tea.
Grinning, he looked keenly at the door to the living room. After a minute, the kettle was still singing and the door was still empty. Nathan bit his lip, than called, "Grandmother! The kettle is singing!" when still she didn't come, he frowned and yelled again, "Grandmother!"
He waited a moment, but still she didn't come. Perhaps she fell asleep, he thought, but for some reason he was nervous now, and the singing kettle had taken on an ominous note.
"Shut up, shut up," He hissed to the kettle as he pushed himself to his feet and walked to the living room.
He paused in the doorway, peering in. Grandmother was lying on the couch wrapped in the blanket. She was staring out the window, and she was smiling.
Nathan felt a surge of relief. "Nice joke, Grandmother!" He told her walking to her side. "You really got me!"
Grandmother didn't respond. She didn't even seem to see him. her eyes were glazed, staring emptily at the window. They didn't flicker and didn't blink, and her smile was odd and fake-looking, as if someone had come and pulled at her lips to shape it.
Nathan felt a cold pit in his stomach. "Grandmother?" He whimpered, and he cold feel tears in his eyes. He grabbed her and shook her. "Grandmother! Get up, Grandmother! You have to finish the tea! You have to finish the tea!" All of a sudden, it seemed to Nathan that the most important thing was for Grandmother to get up and finish making the tea.
But Grandmother's head rolled limply on her wrinkled neck, and when he stopped shaking her, it rested so that it seemed she was staring up at him. He cried and wanted to not be seeing it, to go back to when she had woken him up, to have her cough, to have her do something...anything...anything but this!
But as much as he wanted to not see it, he couldn't take his eyes off of it. Her glassy eyes seemed to hold on to him, and as his vision blurred he seemed to fall into them.
He spun dizzily in blurry oblivion, and when he settled, he saw her sit up.
She looked at him sadly, then reached to wipe away his tears.
But he felt nothing. Not even the gentlest touch.
He stared at her through tears and fright. It was her, but it was too gray to be her, too watery and thin and translucent. It is her, he thought, but she's not here anymore.
She gave him a tiny smile. "This is good," She said in an airy whisper. "The kettle has sung, sweetie. The kettle has sung."
the tears overflowed once more, and everything was watery and salty and gray. Then the world snapped back into place and his limp grandmother was on the couch once.
It wasn't the high pitched wail of the kettle that caused the neighbors to come running a minute later, though that wail was there. They just hadn't heard it. All they had heard was the terrified scream of a five year old boy.