The Shadow Girl Excerpt © Misty Mount 2017
The entire family agreed that the meal was delicious, and my mother sat at the other end of the table beaming. I looked from her and around at everyone else and thought, “I did this.” Somehow the astonishment of me having a dinner guest had brought the whole family together at our very best. It was the perfect evening, like one you might see on an episode of the television series that Terra and I had just watched. It was funny how they were those same annoyingly hip shows that I had previously mocked, but was now reluctantly opening to.
Grandmother dropped her fork and it clattered against the tile floor. The metallic clinking was a portentous sound that brought silence to the room. Each person at the table turned in attention to the older woman, but Grandmother’s gaze was leveled with mine alone.
She can see right through me, I thought as I matched her stare. Those dark, sunken eyes of hers seemed more shadowy than ever before, and she was so still I thought she may have been catatonic.
Somebody say something, I begged internally, feeling frozen and mesmerized. Somebody say something.
My grandmother opened her mouth, and I regretted my irrational wishing. “Angelica, you’re back! How did you make it through the shadow?” Her voice sounded odd. It was still raspy with age, but a higher, lighter note resonated through it as though her vocal chords had shed a few years.
My mother stood up and quickly walked around the table behind my grandmother. She placed a hand on her shoulder and said quietly, “Mother, are you feeling well?”
“Well, of course I’m well! Angelica’s back! Isn’t it exciting?” Grandmother lifted her arm and pointed a knobby finger at me. “She’s here with us. Right there.” I stared in dread at her trembling hand and the brittle nail at the end of her targeting index finger.
“Mother’s just a little tired today.” My own mother’s voice was apologetic. “It looks like you’re done eating, so how about you lie down for a bit?”
“No!” Grandmother shouted, slamming her palms against the table and tossing the rest of her silverware to the floor. “Don’t you see? She could disappear again! She’ll go away if we let her! We have to pay attention!”
I couldn’t remember having seen Grandmother so out of control. It was chilling to watch, like another more commanding being was exploding out of her.
“You’re getting yourself worked up over nothing,” my father spoke up. He stood as well, swooping in and removing her plate and glass from before her the way a parent might do to prevent further damage during a toddler’s tantrum.
I didn’t dare turn my head to look at Terra, but I could sense that her form was rigid and alert beside me. I was positive she was regretting her visit and plotting her escape.
“Hold on to her! Hurry before she disappears again. Angelica! Don’t go, Angelica! We miss you so much when you’re away!” Grandmother’s eyes were wide and frenzied, her arms gesturing madly. She tried to stand but there was a tremor that seemed to rock her body from head to foot.
My parents each took an elbow and pivoted her away from the table and toward her bedroom. The old woman fought against them feebly, but her frail arms didn’t do much to alter her course. She kept her bird-like gaze aimed at me for as long as she could until it became too awkward or uncomfortable to extend her neck in my direction.
We could still hear muffled ranting coming from Grandmother’s quarters even after she was out of sight.
“Whoa, that was so weird,” commented Keane in one long exhale.
“I’ve never seen Grandmother act that way before,” Ivy chimed in. She looked frightened and there were tears sparkling at the edges of her eyes.
“I bet we’re all gonna be that loony when we’re old,” Bram said rudely with an exaggerated chuckle.
I heard Terra speak up, “This is the most exciting dinner I think I’ve ever been a part of—no offense.” I turned toward her and noticed she was grinning from ear to ear.
I laughed in a combination of nerves and relief. “Sorry about that.”
“Maybe we should clean up after dinner because Mother will be upset,” Ivy suggested empathetically.
No one objected. We all brushed shoulders in a quiet dance around the kitchen, scraping food into the garbage disposal, rinsing dishes, and putting away the leftovers of what had almost been our perfect dinner.
“I should probably go,” Terra said once the dishwasher was humming and my siblings had scattered.
I felt a stab of worry in my chest. “Please don’t think this will happen every time if you decide to come more often.”