For Jacob, the greatest mystery about visiting Great-Grandma was her hands. In her face Great-Grandma portrayed the illusion of a tired, feeble old woman, but her hands betrayed her terrible power. They were tense blue claws riddled with hard bumps; just a thin layer of flesh barely repressing the skeleton coiled in thick blue veins underneath. Her throat bulged out like a frog’s, her hair jutted out in fierce patches of white tufts checkered upon her head. Her skin seemed stretched and dropped, like it had once been worn by a much larger thing, since discarded. But above all, it was the hands, the hard blue claws at her side, that gave her away.
Great-Grandma slumbered in an enormous building that shot out of the ground and above the highest trees, hidden in an inconspicuous suburb in the west end. She lived like royalty, attended at all times by servants in blue robes who looked after her every need. She’d filled her home with old people like her — strange spectres of a mysterious origin, each with lairs of their own, wandering the halls, unresponsive, indifferent to mortal concern.
She, however, never left a single sixth-floor room that she’d chosen as her own. It was a seemingly plain room not unlike the others, decorated only in drab plastic sheets, a TV that was never on, and a large sign reminding her of the date. The reason she had chosen this as her lair for her great hibernation remained a mystery to Jacob, but there she stayed, quiet and still on the plastic bed in the centre of the room.
Jacob was always intimidated in his Great-Grandma’s room. She was there, motionless at the head of her bed, poised to strike like a python waiting for her prey. Her eyes seemed to be closed, but there was a flicker that came through, a life peering through the slivers between her eyelids.
He never went to visit his Great-Grandma without his mom and his grandma beside him. Not that he was afraid, no — but he never had the heart to leave them behind. Their lives seemed to revolve around him; Jacob couldn’t imagine what it was they did when he wasn’t around. And so, in his magnanimity, he’d let them each take a hand as he led them into the mysterious tower in which she slumbered.
Mom and grandma would gather nervously around Jacob’s Great-Grandma to offer her small words and brief talk that Great-Grandma never deigned to answer. At times she might stir mightily, or let out a discontented growl. At others, she would mutter small words of apparent nonsense — agreement when none was requested, comments on women who weren’t present. Jacob’s mom and grandma never understood, could never see past the apparent senselessness, but Jacob knew. Jacob saw it for what it was. Great-Grandma was in constant communion with a greater power than they could understand. The matters of the earth were beneath her.
It was all clear to Jacob — Great-Grandma’s silence, her stillness. This was the time of her slumber. She was a creature of the night. He knew she was a fearsome force, waiting for the moment when she’d be awakened and the twilight hours would be hers once more. Often, in hushed voices, Jacob’s grandma and his mom would talk of Great-Grandma’s time, in distress that it was coming soon. They, too, knew what Jacob’s Great-Grandma was. They knew to fear the day of her rise.
Jacob returned every week to bravely face his Great-Grandma, to keep his stoic vigil over her through her period of hibernation, until her great hour came and the need had passed. It was in the fall when it happened. His mom was the one to tell him. He knew before she’d said a word — she moved differently that day, seemed so silent and afraid. It was no surprise when she told him Great-Grandma’s time had come.
Jacob wasn’t afraid. He spent the whole night awake, staring out the window, watching, waiting to see Great-Grandma flying through the night.
Mark Oliver is a writer living in Toronto, Ontario.