Black Grammie by Walt Giersbach

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Black Grammie by Walt Giersbach
Illustration by Sue Babcock

Grammie was the one who first warned me about the black dog, up in the Forgotten Corner of Connecticut. “You hear that black dog, child, you know you’ll be dead ‘fore the week’s out’.”

Mama pulled me away and said, “See, you made the child cry! Why’d you go and tell a six-year-old such things!”

“’Cause it’s God’s own truth, whether you want to believe it or not! ‘If a man shall meet the Black Dog once, it shall be for joy; and if twice, it shall be for sorrow; and the third time, he shall die.’”

Grammie was about a hundred years old. Least that’s what Pa said. “Grammie’s not my ma. Goes back farther,” he told me more’n once.

“Your great grammie?” Mama used to tell me about our early people what had come down from the Deerfield area after the Indian massacre of King Philip’s time. But Pa just went on rememberin’ old times he knew about.

“She used to be sweet as honey, but somethin’ happened. Don’t rightly know what. Turned her into the devil itself. She’s a black grammie, but someone’s gotta take care of her.”

Well, sometimes she’d be honey and sometimes as bitter as a crab apple. Never knew when one was gonna come out on top. Until that time I was up in the woods pickin’ wild blueberries. Thing is, I’d seen the black dog from far off, not once, but twice. I swear it left no footprints and it made no sound as it looked at me.

I had near a bucket full of berries when I heard some dog howlin’. Turned around and kind of forgot where the path home was, so I just kept truckin’ through the brush thinkin’ downhill was best. But the howlin’ got louder’n louder.

Then I saw it, standin’ under a beech tree. That dog looked to be big as a bear and it began walkin’ slowly toward me. I felt warm pee tricklin’ down my leg and I dropped my bucket, turned to run when I seen the dog go into a trot with spit drippin’ out of his jaws and its teeth all white under the gums.

I knew I was a dead child, whether I died with that dog’s teeth round my neck or Grammie’s superstition that would take me later. I screamed as I ran, trippin’ and my arms swingin’, and then somethin’ rushed by me like a witch from hell. I seen Grammie runnin’ at the dog and shriekin’, “You’ll not take my kin long’s I’m alive.”

The two rassled and howled and shrieked at each other while I skedaddled fast as I could toward home.

“What’s got into you?” Pa shouted as I fell into his arms.

“The black dog’s got Grammie and near got me! Up that pig trail there.”

Pa grabbed his shovel what he was muckin’ the corral with and took off runnin’. I fell in a heap cryin’ like a baby and Mama rushed outta the house and kept sayin’, “What’s happenin’? What’s happenin’?”

It was more’n half an hour ‘fore Pa came back carryin’ Grammie in his arms. “Help me lay her down inside,” he told Mama. “She’s hurt bad and may be dyin’.”

“Are you hurt?” Ma asked.

He gave a little shake of his head. “No, but the black dog’s dead. Just pray that Grammie’ll make it.”

She didn’t. I cried all night after I saw her laid out on the table in the parlor. She was cold and white as a sheet.

Next day the preacher came and said a few words real quiet like to Mama and Pa, then he went away. He touched my head on the way out and said, “Someday you’ll understand. Meanwhile, don’t say nothin’. Not a word.”

That was the end, I thought. Grammie was moved out of the parlor and Pa took her away. I asked, “Will she be buried up in the cemetery by the church?”

He just shook his head, and said “Don’t think about it, little darlin’.”

And that was the end of it. So I thought, till some months later when fall was turning the trees all gold and the nights were full of ice crystals. I went down to the root cellar under the barn lookin’ for apples. I cried out when I saw Grammie lyin’ on a pallet with her arms crossed.

Then I saw her eyes pop open, and I screamed like a hellhound.

“Shut up, child. Help me up,” she said with a voice all screechy and full of cobwebs. Her arms unkinked and a leg fell over the pallet edge. The wounds on her face I saw in the parlor had disappeared, but her dress was still tore up.

“You’re alive,” I said all in wonder.

“No black dog’s gonna kill me or my kin,” she whispered like the wind blowin’ through the leaves. “I’m too mean to die.” And she kinda smiled on me. “Best thing is, child, you got my blood and you’re gonna live to be a hundred too.”

If I remember rightly that all happened when President Wilson was in the White House and boys from our town were goin’ to fight in France. Now Mama’s gone and so’s Pa. Grammie finally gave it up and left this world too. Maybe. She just walked away one day and wasn’t seen again. I like to think my Black Grammie’s still up in the woods. But it’s up to me, protectin’ the young ‘uns should that dog ever come back.

 

BIO: Walt Giersbach bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance with a little historical non-fiction thrown in for good measure. His work has appeared in print and online in over two dozen publications. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other online booksellers. He’s also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries.