|Elizabeth locked the door of her little item shop and started walking to her house not far outside of town. She had been distracted today thinking of what might happen tonight. This year, she promised herself, she’d be ready.
When her small two story house was in sight Liz hesitated. Last year Peter her beloved husband was still alive. He was always such a great source of strength an comfort. Him dying in that awful accident at the lumberyard, just months after they had adopted Janus, the East Indian boy only nine years old, nearly crushed her under the sorrow. If it hadn’t been for Janus she may have decided to join Peter. Liz took and deep breath and rubbed her face. The past was the past. She hurried on to the house; things to do.
“Janus.” She called as she went in the front door. There was no answer even though he should have been home from school for a couple of hours. “Oh, no.” She whispered. Walking quickly from room to room, “Janus?” Her several layers of underskirts rustled as she turned the corner to the kitchen. Still no answer.
Liz went out onto the back porch. From there she could see that the door to the shed they kept her late husband’s brown horse, Mr. Jack, was open. She went out and saw Janus patting Mr. Jack’s neck as he ate his newly received feed.
Mr. Jack stomped his front hoof as he always did around Liz.
“Oh. Hello Mom.”
“Didn’t you hear me calling you?” Liz sighed, she was so relieved.
“No.” He picked up , Mr. Jack’s water pail. He started to the hand pump a few yards from the back door.
“I’m going to go start dinner. Would you bring in some extra wood for the fireplace, before dark?”
Out the kitchen window, Liz watched him carry the pail back to that stupid horse that never liked her. She probably would have sold it if it weren’t for Janus clinging to it. Noticed a small yellow mushroom just outside of the shed door.
She was just finishing peeling the potatoes when Janus came in with an arm load of cut wood. “Good, thank you.”
After dinner Janus asked Liz to help him with his math homework. She tried but it would be dark soon. As evening turns into night, Elizabeth goes around and locks all the doors and windows on the house securely. She looks worried, taking a storm lantern and having lit it, places it on the floor near a corner of the living room to light the corner better.
Janus is confused by this odd behavior. “Mom? Why are you so uneasy? What’s going on?”
She puts a chair cushion and some quilts in the corner, before lighting a candle in each room. Janus watched this odd behavior quietly. Liz disappears into the kitchen, coming back a moment later with a water canteen and a small burlap sack.
It was dark outside on this chilly Autumn evening. Liz flops down on the pile of bedding, spreading her skirts out and leaning against the corner. She motions for Janus to sit by her, hugging him close. She calms a little before Janus repeats his question.
“What’s going on, Mom?”
“I didn’t want to frighten you Sweetie, but strange things happen at this time of the year. When a certain yellow mushroom starts sprouting from hay piles, a darkness sweeps through that part of town the same night.”
“What do you mean?” Janus got a pain of worry in his stomach.
“When we just moved here from your dad’s father’s old house, people from town warned us to keep keeping a light on in the house all night and not venturing outside. But we didn’t listen. Peter was working late at the lumberyard, this was before we adopted you.
When I was cooking dinner I heard a groaning in the living room. I rushed to look and saw the armchair in a different place. When I returned back to the stove, all the vegetables in the stew were gone, even though I remembered clearly cutting them up and putting them in earlier. Later, I heard footsteps upstairs; I was afraid but I dared to investigate and found no one. When I was coming back down I saw that something had smashed my mother’s lamp. Then, something invisible attacked me on the stairs, leaving thin red scratches and large rips in my dress.” Liz said.
“That’s really…scary, Mom. Do you think it will happen again, this year?”
“I don’t know. I saw a yellow mushroom out near the shed. I think we should be ready just in case.”
“Yeah.” Janus scooted closer to her. Silence followed as Janus was beginning to feel even more scared, he held onto Liz’s arm.
“I’m sorry if I scared you but I thought you were a big boy and should know. I thought you’d be scared, so I brought some candy.” She pulled a small bag from a skirt pocket.
“Candy?” His eyes brighten a little.
“Yes. I thought we’d play a little game.” She smiled at him.
Janus knew she was always coming up with some game to take his mind of scary things. “What game?” The candle flickered a bit even though all the windows were closed.
“Well, it’s a sort of truth-and-tell game. We ask each other questions,” She pulls out of the pile of blankets a tiny jar of mixed candy. Emptying some into one of her large apron pockets she continued, “and the one to ask pulls a piece from the pocket. A jelly bean will be a truth, while a licorice will let the picker ask anything they want.”
Janus smiled, he knew what his first question will be.
“You go first.” Liz offered.
He reached in an pulled out a licorice. “A question. Why do you wear so many underskirts, especially if it’s difficult to wear at times?”
She blushed and explains, “ It’s a family habit, we women enjoy the comfort, warmth and security they provide.” She also explains, “Over the years my mother and I have used them for makeshift bandages, markers when she was lost and at one time even as sacks (by tying both ends closed).”
“You did use part of one that time I cut my foot over by the stream.” He popped the licorice piece into his mouth. “Your turn.”
Liz picked a jelly bean from her pocket. “A jelly bean, tell me true, was it you or was it your friend Jimmy that broke my vase last month?”
“Oh, no fair! … It was me, but it was an accident, really.”
“I believe you.” She ate the jelly bean.
Despite the looming pretense they go back and forth for a short bit, eventually just talking with each other and eating the candy.
Soon the idea of a haunted house leaves their minds. They have a snack out of the burlap bag, with a hunk of bread, some cheese and oiled sardines still in a tiny tin. As it approaches midnight Elizabeth puts more wood on the fire before retreating quickly back to their cozy corner.
It gets quite late into the night as Janus drifts off to sleep, head on her lap. Liz pulls her skirt aside then drapes it over Janus’ lower body as a quilt, causing him to snuggle closer into her padded lap. She starts to doze off as well.
She jerks awake and the sun is just coming up. Only the clock Peter had made is off center on the mantle.
Janus wakes, “I gotta go pee.” He mumbles as he heads for the back door.