The demon who has haunted your family for generations pays you a visit to tell you you’re next.
“Now, remember, children: Aunt Millie will be here in five minutes. No; don’t you give me that face! Robbie, don’t groan like that. You aren’t going to do that when she comes, are you? No, you’re not. Owen, get over here and let me tuck in your shirt.”
I pretended focused interest in my book as soon as Deb began talking. She always thought I couldn’t hear her, but my poor body automatically came to attention whenever her pinched nasal tone rang through the halls. If only she’d not decided to stand in the foyer to command the boys, then I could have slipped upstairs or out back.
“Jim, honey,” she paused behind me, gathering patience. She’d recently read a marriage book that recommended communicating in a way that made each of us feel acceptance. So far I’d had decreased yelling, but increased audible sighing.
“Jim, did you hear about your Aunt Mildred?” I heard her footsteps come around the couch, then hazily made out Deb’s body shape beyond my mystery novel. She had a hand on a hip.
“Yes?” I asked, neutrally. I shouldn’t have.
*Sigh* (That was Deb)
“I said Aunt Mildred would be here in five minutes. You’re the one who told me about it last night.” She gave me her stern face. “At eleven o’clock last night.”
My face betrayed my attempts at nonchalance as I felt it scrunch into a guilty expression. “Oh, yeah.”
I smiled sincerely up at Deb. “Thanks, Deb! I’ll go make sure the front porch looks inviting.” I got up and was outside before she could realize I had escaped. I heard another exasperated exhalation just before I pulled the door carefully closed.
A car noise nearby made me jump. I turned to look, but the offender was merely a passing VW. She wasn’t here yet.
Despite what assurances my wife gave us, I was with my boys: Aunt “Millie” was not an event to look forward to. I thought to run an errand or request an out of town convention from my boss, but knew that wouldn’t work.
My dad used to try avoiding her. But If he ran to the store, Aunt Mildred would wait. I still remembered her stiff, high-buttoned, lacy-collared form sitting disapprovingly straight in our front room chair, waiting with a stern frown for his return.
And no matter how impromptu my dad planned business trips, his dear aunt would always plan a surprise return visit the minute his car came home from the airport.
I realized now, upon reflection, that I had also heard my father ruefully exclaim, “I should have known better.” When pressed, he’d mumble something about Uncle Earl never being able to shake Mildred, either.
I frowned. Something wasn’t quite right.
A robin called to his friend from across the yard. Another bird answered cheerfully.
From inside the house, I heard a yell, scrambling feet, and “M-o-o-o-o-m!” Deb’s high tones soon followed, plus a smack that may have been something falling and not a love pat to some offender’s rear end.
Tuning it all out, I set my book on the front porch bench. I pulled my phone from my pocket and dialed.
“Hello?” My mother’s unsure voice asked, although I knew she would have seen my name on her screen.
“Hi, Mom!” I said brightly. “It’s Jim.” I paused, then joked, “Your son.”
“Oh, hi, Jim dear. How are you?” Mom said. I could hear her smile. She was always willing to play along, which made her a fun grandmother for my children.
“I’m good.” I studied the hideous flip-flop and water balloon wreath on our front door. “I was just calling to ask you a question, Mom.”
“Okay, dear. Shoot.” I could mentally picture my mother settling onto whatever chair she was near, even if she was out shopping.
I toyed with a stray balloon. “I just wondered if you could tell me about Aunt Mildred.” She didn’t respond, so I continued, “You know, is she my great aunt? Dad’s? Earl’s?” Nothing. “She’s been around for a while,” I added, teasing.
“Mom?” I asked, then frowned and looked at my phone screen. The call had dropped.
“Hello James,” a familiar female voice clearly enunciated behind me. I froze, then turned.
I hadn’t heard a car, but her suitcase sat by her feet. I hadn’t heard footsteps, though she still wore those black antique boots with the hard soles. I should have at least noticed the birds were no longer chirping.
“Au-Aunt Mildred,” I managed, pocketing my cell phone. She hated them and refused to have them in her presence.
“Yes,” she stated. Her ageless eyes bored into mine. “I’ve come, just as I promised, James. You’re next.”