The message went like this:
M: Come home.
J: Am busy. What do you need?
M: The men are here.
J: What men?
M: Men from town. Scared.
Even with the new CCTrain, the trip would take about forty-five minutes. Janny had given him a cell phone when she escaped their small town for Atlanta. Martin lived with their daddy, which was good because they both needed each other. Momma died a year or so ago. Daddy retreated to his workshop, where he tinkered. Martin did his best to get the old man to eat. Janny wanted to think that Daddy cared for Martin, but after this, she wasn’t sure.
J: Why are men around the house?
M: They saw me outside picking blackberries in the woods. I miss Momma.
J: I know. Was Daddy with you?
His non-response answered her question. The train couldn’t go fast enough now.
Martin liked to walk. Momma would take him for long walks in the woods behind the house. She said they made him sweet. They would look at flowers and birds, and pick blackberries and scuppernongs every summer to make jelly. After Momma died, he continued to walk. He said he could feel her with him.
When Janny visited in July, Martin was different.
“Let’s walk,” Janny said, taking his hand, which was strong, and still bigger than hers.
He shook his head and said, “Don’t feel like it.”
He pulled away, sat in the window-seat, and stared out at the woods.
“What are you looking at?” she asked as she stood behind him and touched his broad, mismatched shoulders.
He started rocking back and forth.
She glanced over at Daddy, with his rough hands and sharp green eyes.
“Martin is scared, Daddy,” she said.
“I’m working on something to help with that,” he said.
“Maybe if you worked on being with him—”
“I’m working on something!” he said.
“Not again, Daddy,” she said.
He got up and stomped downstairs to the workshop.
Daddy always worked in the workshop. Most of her memories about him and Granddaddy revolved around the workshop. Janny remembered how she was afraid of the workshop when she was a girl. The steps leading down from the house were dark and steep. Screams of electric tools and a constant humming came up through the floor, sometimes after she went to bed. When she was four, she made herself go as far down the steps as she could. As she went down, she could hear her daddy and granddaddy talking.
“She’s small,” said Daddy.
“So we make it bigger than she is,” said Granddaddy, in his beautiful accent, which was so different from Mamma’s or Daddy’s.
“Yvonne says we should stop trying…”
“Having children…it is important…we keep trying…” said Granddaddy.
Janny heard a moan from the bottom of the stairs, which made her turn and run all the way back to her room. She wondered why Daddy and Granddaddy weren’t scared.
When Martin appeared in the kitchen, Janny thought he was weird, but loved him.
“Momma, he don’t look like me,” she said.
“He doesn’t have to look like you, darlin’. He’s family,” Momma said. For Momma, family was all that mattered.
The neighbor ladies, who’d always been so nice, no longer stopped to talk to Momma at the Big Apple when she shopped on Wednesdays. Instead they stared at the pale, heavy-built boy with a long scar going from one temple to the other who walked alongside her.
At school, the kids never let up about Martin, most especially Jonah Hawkins. He had bright orange hair and a mean-streak.
“I seen your brother. Did he get hit by a lawnmower or somethin’?” said Jonah. Janny tried to move as he stepped close to her during recess.
“Martin ain’t ugly…” Janny answered, feeling her heart beating faster and her face getting hot. She kept hearing her momma tell her to ignore the boy. It was the same thing she’d tried to practice all year. She tried to step back so she could escape.
Jonah leaned forward, grabbed her by the arm, “Nawwww, he ain’t ugly---, He’s a FREAK! My daddy says he ain’t even—”
Be nice. Don’t fight. Be---
The world went white-hot and filled with howling. Then she was sitting with her parents in the principal’s office. A siren repeated in the distance. Momma was seated next to her, wearing a red floral house frock, which complimented her dark wavy hair.
“She didn’t kill him,” she said, gazing Mr. Smith with her dark brown eyes.
“She sent him to the hospital,” said Mr. Smith, frowning seriously.
“He said Martin…was a freak…” said Janny.
“Look at her arm! That Hawkins boy hurt her!” said Momma.
After that, Janny made sure to avoid fights because she didn’t want to hurt anyone else. She became bookish and quiet. Soon everyone seemed to forget about when the tiny brown-haired girl with glasses beat the school bully within an inch of his life.
M: People from town are here.
J: Coming as fast as I can.
M: Daddy is in the workshop.
J: Go down there with him.
Janny called him. When he answered, she could hear the catch in his breath. He whispered, “Janny…I …I…can’t…”
She could the familiar squeak of the door to the basement. Martin’s crying got heavier and his breathing got more out of control.
“Go on down there. It’s safe down—”
“NO! NO IT’S NOT!”
Martin’s breathing escalated to a howl, and then she heard the phone drop.
She tried calling her daddy. No answer. He never could hear the phone ring. She called Martin again. He was no longer howling, but still crying.
“Martin, how many men are outside?”
“Lots,” he said. She could hear voices in the background, then a gun shot.
“They’re gonna kill me, Sis,” he said. He only called her “Sis” when he was upset. “They brought fire…I saw gas cans too…”
“Stay with me,” said Janny. “I’m coming.”
Janny stepped off the train. She was less than a mile from the house now, and, for once, was thankful that the coming of a major sports team had finally availed her part of the metro area transit even into the more rural parts of the county. She slipped on her blue tennis shoes and ran toward home. Fire? Who brought fire? She called 911.
“State your address please.”
Janny gave the address.
“There are men trying to set my house on fire,” Janny said.
As she got closer, she saw a group of men surrounding the house—men who had been her classmates and church mates. Emptying a gas can around the perimeter of the house was Jonah. His hair was streaked with white now, but the same anger lived in his blue eyes.
“MARTIN!” she yelled, pushing past the men. Some of them grabbed her. Jonah approached her, but stayed just out of reach.
“You can’t stop this, bitch. The freak is gonna fry,” he said.
Janny looked at him. She could see that his nose was still crooked and his jaw still held the scars from being sewn back in place.
She pulled herself free of the hands that held her back, and stepped toward Jonah. “REALLY?!” She looked around at all of the men. “Are all of you really this stupid?”
“It hurt someone!” A voice yelled from the group.
“Yeah! Yeah! That’s what happened!” said Jonah.
Janny started trembling, and the edges of her vision started to go white. “YOU MEAN MARTIN?!” she said, trying to hold herself together. She pointed to the house, “My brother. HIM, idiot. HIM!”
Jonah said, “That thing you call ‘brother’ is not a person, Janny. Never has been. It’s…”
Janny looked up and saw Martin looking through the living room window. His face was grey and sported scars that had come from work Daddy and Granddaddy had done to help him be better over the years. Tears were running down those scars, and his eyes were redder than normal. He locked eyes with her and shook his head.
“What is he?” said Janny. She could see the white spreading from the edge of her vision as her body shook harder.
“It’s DEAD people parts. It’s…”
Janny heard screams and the word STOP, but she couldn’t stop. There was heat, and fire, then screams, howls and an unending world of white. This had to be finished once and for all. She would end these idiots…for Martin…for Daddy…for Granddaddy…for Momma…for herself.
Jessica Nettles is a native Georgian, born and raised in Powder Springs. She currently lives in Kennesaw, Georgia with her two black cats, Ninja and Luna, who tolerate her writing, which they believe is a distraction from her life of eternal feline servitude.
She has a deep love for all things Southern, gothic, and supernatural. When she's not writing, she is teaching English at a local technical college, playing all sorts of games, singing at karaoke, knitting and crocheting, and baking. Her two grown children, Gina and Stuart, are the loves of her life, and make her very proud. Unlike her cats, they understand her writing life and support it because it makes her happy.