Something moved below the bandaging, pressing out against the cotton. Could he be bleeding that much? Was it a rib bone, sticking out with his breathing?
A broad headed, orange snake burrowed out of the bandaging. The binding stretched and broke apart, revealing a wound in Alestender’s side.
Snakes, orange and yellow, writhed inside the boy’s ribcage, tearing at the bandaging as if to display their gruesome work.
Snakes the color of Lakeside Drive when autumn hasn’t quite settled.
Chrysthema covered her mouth as Alestender sobbed, his eyes a mix of pain and fear.
Alestender and Chrysthema sniffled at once.
“The spiders are the worst,” Poly said at last. “Well, look.”
Spiders, the same bright orange and yellow of their slithering siblings, scampered over the bed surface. Alestender squeezed his eyes shut against the sight of his body.
“What did the—” Chrysthema turned to address Poly, but she was alone in Alestender’s room.
A whisper, like a cold autumn wind, crossed the girl’s cheek, raising goosebumps across her neck.
She spun to look at Alestender. Perhaps she’d felt his death, perhaps that’s why they called it “passing away.” Perhaps one felt the person’s spirit pass by as they left the world.
Chrysthema gasped and backed up, her knees going wobbly.
The Old Woman stood at the foot of the bed, watching Chrysthema. The Old Woman’s hair was grey and stringy, grown past whatever final fixing it received for her funeral. The Older Woman stared at Chrysthema as if insulted by the young woman’s presence. Like Chrysthema was the unearthly interloper.
Chrysthema backed toward the door as the Old Woman advanced upon her.
“Don’t leave me alone again,” Alestender whimpered.
Chrysthema reached back for the door. “I’m not. I didn’t. I’m taking some initiative.” She threw open the bedroom door to face Poly, stone faced. Poly’s eyes went wide and she gruffly pushed Chrysthema aside.
Poly held up a shotgun, just a little .4 10. A gun for young men to learn to shoot.
“I was coming back to use this on you,” Poly growled at Chrysthema, then glowered at the Old Woman, grinning at the foot of her son’s bed.
What are you going to do?
The Old Woman held a snake aloft in her left hand, then sank her teeth into the snakes wriggling body. Alestender writhed in time. The Old Woman threw the snake down upon Alestender and reached for Chrysthema. Poly fired, and fired again, then shook out the chamber to reload.
God damn toy gun made for babies, where’s your big kid gun? Chrysthema thought as she ducked against the wall, covering her ears too late against the gun’s report.
The Old Woman’s twice-corpse dropped to the floor. Grey hair and mush for brains sprayed across the carpet.
Chrysthema looked into Poly’s steely gray eyes. Like the sky above the lake water in Alestender’s. Poly sneered at Chrysthema, then reloaded the gun.
“Please,” Chrysthema cowered against the wall as Poly advanced, wild look of vengeance dancing like lightening through the mother’s eyes.
Poly shoved the gun at Chrysthema, then turned away. “You better do it.”
Chrysthema regarded the weapon in her hand. She’d never held a gun in her life. Nerf guns, video game guns. Never a real one. It gave her the same kind of chill as the Old Woman. Chrysthema dragged her eyes from the gun, to the pile of Old Woman on the floor, to Alestender.
His skin and hair were the same pale yellow in the waning light. Under artificial light he’d be the color of mustard. His belly was swollen, the snakes and spiders crawled through him, forcing him to watch the consummation of his consumption by these creatures of decomposition.
She aimed the gun and fired, then fumbled to reload, fingers unfamiliar with the action. She thought very long and hard about what she was doing, and fired twice more.
And that’s why we don’t let our boys down by the lake.