Danny-Do-Good pulled a clump of creased pages out of his pocket and held them out. He half expected her to reach back, over the six feet of space between them, and extend her bony arm and snatch them up.
The old woman—Gram, Martha, whatever name she may have had, stood upright and raised her left arm. In it was a thick, leather-bound volume. It was inscribed with the title, The Life and Times of Martha Gram Silver, By D.D. Good.
Oh I knoowwww you’ve finished it. I did, too, and so has half the reading public, I imagine. What filth!
How did you get a copy of it so fast?
Goodness me! You should be asking who hasn’t read it by now!
And you really didn’t like it?
Oh I loved it! At first I was carried away by it—wrapped up in the pictures that you painted of my life, of love and laughter, of fairies and monsters, of strange places, but you ruined it! You. RUINED it!
What. What didn’t you li—
The ending! My. Sickness. My. Pain. Those were the only things that were ever mine. My pain. And you ruined it. You banished it. You replaced it with nonsense. Do you think that stories end that way? Is my suffering a game to you, boy?
Danny said nothing and let the pages in his hand drop to the floor. As they hit the floor they turned black and bubbled into a tar. The tar sizzled. Fumes that smelled of death reached Danny’s nose, and he gagged.
In an instant, perhaps a fraction of a fraction of an instant, Martha, or something that used to be a Martha in another life, was facing him. Inches from him, and the pink and rosy cheeks were gone. There was something like flesh on this face, though it was thin and clung much too close to the skull, and it was far too grey and black to appear human. The surface of this flesh flowed as if it were some kind of lava. This movement put Danny in a trance, and in that trance he saw that the eyes of Martha were sockets now. Deep sockets. Pits of darkness.
This thing, this Martha, opened her mouth wide, revealing scattered, rotten teeth. Behind the teeth a clump of snakes, in the formation of a tongue, slithered under and over each other. The snakes hissed, and the breath of Martha’s mouth was heavy with death.
I will swallow you, boy, she hissed. You have taken my pain. I will take you. I will swallow you, and spit you out, and erase you. You won’t be a memory of a memory. You will be around your friends and your family and your teachers, and they will look through you as they look through the wind.
Martha’s mouth widened, from top to bottom, and advanced over the scalp of the boy, and in his trance, there was nothing to be done on the part of Danny Do Good.
* * *
Once, in a little town, in a very ordinary middle of the road part of the country, much like the one that most people grow up in, where childhood memories are centered on a village common and a bandstand, there was a little boy who never quite fit in. Everyone looked at him as if they knew him, but their minds always decided that he was, in fact, just a look alike. A familiar face with a confused look in his eyes. That was all.
The boy had no memory of growing up in this town, though it seemed to him that he must have always been there. And in the meanwhile, the boy wandered from home to home, but nobody knew him, though there was a married couple that looked at him strangely, fixing their gazes longer than most.
He found residence in a Catholic charity. He never quite knew what to put for his name at school, and teachers always handed back his work as if he wasn’t really there. Other children would hear him, but not really respond, and it was no matter to him, as he always felt as if he were in some kind of dream.
Sometimes, without knowing why, he would venture off into the woods. One time he found a box of stories there, and they were wonderful stories indeed! Bad things happened in them, but this boy did not mind. There was something painful about them, but real, and in truth, this box of stories was the only place where he felt like something more than a living ghost.