“What are you waiting for? Come on down, James!” Grandma Higgins called to me, beaming from inside the center of the pitch black aura that glistened around her.
Finally, dimly, I forced my legs to continue down the stairs, carrying me towards her waiting arms. I almost expected to feel that horrible aura as I got closer, the blackness closing in and sucking me down like sticky tar.
But I didn’t, of course, and instead just got the normal smell of old person, combined with the hint of flour and the touch of starch that she used on all her clothes. She wrapped her arms around my middle, giving me a squeeze.
“Oh, you’ve grown so much since I last saw you!” she exclaimed, even though she’d been over here last week. “Look at you! Now, your mother tells me that you’re not feeling so great?”
“No, I’m not,” I muttered, releasing her as soon as possible. I needed to get out of that blackness.
But as I stepped away, Grandma Higgins planted her doughy little fists on her hips and frowned at me. “James, what’s gotten into you?” she asked. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Me? What’s wrong with me?” I tried in vain to keep my voice from cracking. “What’s wrong with you? What did you do?”
I saw her frown. “James, honey, I just got here-”
“No, you did something else!” I felt my voice climbing. A little thought inside my head warned me that I ought to stop now, that maybe it wouldn’t be the best idea to bring this up, to tell her that I knew whatever her secret might be. That my grandmother, my sweet little grandmother, was-
-was what? Evil?
It had to be some mistake or something. Something wrong with my head. This whole thing was crazy. I felt my legs suddenly wobble, and I reached out unsteadily for the bannister as the world spun and rolled around me.
I saw my grandma’s face twist in concern, and she hurried forward to put out a hand to try and catch me. “James! Here, come lie down. You look pale!”
She led me over to the couch, and helped me into a half-sitting, half-slumping position. I opened my mouth, looking at her warm, soft face.
“Grandma, I think there’s something wrong with me,” I burst out.
“Let’s see.” She pressed the back of a small hand against my forehead. “You don’t feel feverish, although it feels like you took a big bump here! What was that from?”
“Soccer,” I answered. “But Grandma, that’s not what-”
“Oh, soccer, I always get so worried when I see all those boys running around.” Grandma Higgins tutted her tongue, shaking her head. “So risky, although they do look like they’re having fun.”
“Grandma, that’s not what’s wrong,” I tried again. “Look, ever since I fell the other day while playing, I keep seeing, well…” I took a deep breath. “Auras.”
I waited for her to tell me that I was crazy, that I needed to go to the hospital. But she didn’t say it.
Instead, she tilted her head to the side, peering at me with a suddenly calculating look. “Auras?” she repeated, not saying anything more.
I nodded. “Yeah. White or black, or gray, mostly, around people. And it seems to, um, correspond with whether they’re a good person or a bad one.”
Again, a long pause. The kind, friendly smile with its creases was gone from my grandmother’s face. I’d never seen her look so… cold? Was that the right word?
“Late,” she murmured. “And I had hoped that it skipped this generation.”
“Grandma? What are you talking about?” I pulled myself up a little more, trying to sit up. “What did you do?”
For a moment, I saw her eyes lose focus, gazing off into the distance. “So long ago,” she whispered, shaking her head a little. “And in the war, they told us that we had to follow orders, that this was the only option, the only way to succeed…”
Suddenly, she snapped back, once again smiling at me warmly – although now, looking at her, there was something not quite right in her eyes. Although her whole face glowed with that warm smile, it didn’t seem to penetrate the wintry cold behind her pupils.
“I could escape again,” she murmured, still sounding like she was talking to herself. “Try to make a new life.” Her gaze dropped down to her wrinkled hands, holding them up before her eyes. “But at this point, it’s not even worth the trouble. Won’t be long, now.”
“Grandma?” I asked again.
Finally, she returned her attention fully back to me. “Oh, James, I’m so sorry that you got this burden,” she said, shaking her head a little at me. “I thought that it missed you, but perhaps that hit awakened it. I can’t tell you everything, but I can give you one gift, at least.”
“A gift?” I repeated. My thoughts felt as slow as molasses, and I tried to muster them to move faster. Grandma Higgins knew something of what was happening to me?
“Yes,” she nodded. “The gift of oblivion. Trust me, it’s what I would have wanted, back when I learned what I had.”
Oblivion? Did she actually mean-
And then, before I could even finish that thought, that pitch-black aura came rushing forward, swimming around me, cutting off my air, my sight, everything. I felt like I was suffocating beneath its heavy, almost wet weight.
No, wait! I really was suffocating!
I swung my hands frantically, gasping for air, but they found purchase on nothing. Of course, idiot; it wasn’t a real thing, just something I saw! It wasn’t real!
But for something not-real, it certainly seemed to be doing a real enough job of killing me!
I lashed out, struggled, but I already felt my vision fading, my thoughts scattering. In amid the growing blackness, I could see my grandmother’s face, still looking sorrowful, but almost… happy? There was a strange, horrifying twist to her lips, like a smile was attempting to break free.
“I’ll tell your parents that it happened suddenly, a brain clot,” she whispered, her words strangely echoing as the light faded away. “Just let it happen, James. Go to sleep.”
And I felt myself fading away. All of me, besides a tiny little voice, wanted to do as she said.
But that tiny little voice resisted. It lashed out.
And suddenly, I felt the blackness around me recoil as my thought shot out and struck at it.