“I really hate going home to my parents’,” Nina said. I wasn’t sure if she meant the actual act of going back home again or if she meant the drive to get there. It had been nine hours and she was crawling the walls of the car.
“Tell me why you’re inflicting it upon me again?” I asked.
Leaning towards the driver’s seat, Nina grabbed my hair in a fist – it felt insanely good – and smiled at me. But the muscles around her eyes were tight and nervous. “You want to marry me, don’t you?”
I clicked on the signal light for our exit. My voice held all the certainty her eyes didn’t. “For sure, Hummingbird.”
The driveway to her parents’ house was long and dusty, hedged closely by a dark tangle of trees. The trees, dark sentinels, funneled us to an iron gate that slowly opened for our car.
As an inventor, I leaned forward to catch a glimpse of the mechanism that had opened it for us.
“Impressed, Gadget?” Nina asked. She knotted her fingers and unknotted her fingers around mine.
I had caught a glimpse of the weighted pulley that had opened the gate. Large, black, dull with infrequent use. “Only by you.”
Behind us, the gate slammed closed.
“They’ve rolled out the red carpet as usual,” she said sarcastically.
I squinted at the house through the sideways light. Analyzed the number of windows, the pitch of the roof, what I would’ve done differently if I’d built the structure myself. “Maybe they were expecting us later tonight.”
I got out of the car; Nina was already spinning round outside the car in her usual ceaseless motion. She stopped spinning long enough to grab me around the waist and say, “I love you.”
Nina hit the lightswitch. Nothing happened. “Not again,” she said miserably.
“You don’t call them Mom and Dad?” I asked.
Nina ran halfway up the stairs and then back down again to my side. “Not when I want to please them. Come with me.”
I followed her up the stairs; they were silent beneath her small feet, but beneath my weight, the wood creaked and sang. I looked at the shape of the hand railing, considered the structure of it, decided that if I had done it, I would create something more likely to support the weight of a full grown man falling against it. I was not much for decorative flourishes.
The mostly decorative handrail had a dark stain running along it for several feet; Nina ran her hands along the wall instead. In the sideways light, I could see the smudged oily prints on the paint where she had done it hundreds of times before.
I was aware of only the sounds of our feet, my steady gait on the floorboards and Nina’s more frantic pace. I looked over the balcony to the first floor, far below, and saw the shadows deepen and lengthen, out of proportion to the setting of the sun.
We stepped off into another bedroom off the main hall, this one small and deeply mulberry. “Is there something wrong, Hummingbird?”
Nina looked at me, and as she did, there was a tremendous cracking sound from the stairs outside. Her eyes were wide. “Gadget, shut the door.”
My fingers matched.
I turned to look at Nina. I didn’t say anything, but I knew my face held a question. One that I couldn’t answer by observation.
For once in her life she held perfectly still. “Lewis,” she said. She never called me by my real name. “Lewis, don’t let them bite you.”
It smelled of danger.
The only warning I had was Nina’s scream: “Father, no!”
The dark form looked like a demon and flew like a raven, but I knew, logically, that it was neither. I waited for it, watched the path of its simulated half-running, half-flying, analyzed the breathless speed of its plunge towards me.
And then I took a single silent step to the left.
There was no warning for Mother. She flew at me from above, landing on my shoulders and rolling me down the stairs to the first landing. I was choking in the long black fabric that wrapped around her like a shroud, and I was burning under the touch of her freezing fingers.
I lay on the landing, eye to eye with the chandelier, her teeth flashing in front of my face. Taking a handful of her black fabric, I reached out and grabbed the very edge of the chandelier. With a deft twist, I wrapped the fabric once around the chandelier and I jumped.
I slid the final few feet to the first floor beside Father and landed hard on my knees.
“Hummingbird?” I called up, badly out of breath.
s watched us leave, fabric streaming around them both.
“I hate going home,” Nina said.
Author’s Note: A supernatural metaphor for bringing my husband home to meet my parents for the first time. (aw, you know I love you Mom and Dad. And you know it’s so true!)
photo courtesy of basilisksa