Short Story Prompt: “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
I don’t usually write Sunday’s post, using a prompt. But the story I created here I do think is a good Father’s Day story. So here goes.
“It’s just me, the wind,” the wind howled, trying to calm our fears. It was not working. No, the bewitching lie of that West Texas wind was not working on my ten-year-old brother and me. Ralph and I buried our heads under the bed sheets, shivered in our pajamas and hugged each other. We were barely breathing, trying to keep that wind from finding us all alone in the house.
“Th-th-that wind d-d-d-don’t like us, do it?” Ralph said. There was a hope in his quiet, chattering voice that I would contradict him. But I knew that he was right. That Old Devil Wind was outside, circling our house and hankering to come at us inside. I swallowed hard and there was nothing to swallow. My throat was dry.
Just then my brother surprised me. He buckled up his courage, wrestled himself free from my hold and threw the covers off us to face the dark. Sitting bolt upright in the bed, he said to the wind, “You’d better leave us alone, or we’ll tell our Daddy.”
Still the wind howled. But its words changed, “I ain’t none too scared of your daddy, but he should be scared of me,” it laughed. It was not anything near a human laugh. More like a banshee screeching at us.
I sure wished my Daddy was home to prove it wrong. He would prove it wrong. At least, I could hope. Mother and Daddy had gone out to a party for the evening and wouldn’t be back until past midnight.
Ralph ducked back under the sheets and pulled them completely over us. He scrunched up beside me and grabbed a tight hold of my twelve-year-old body. I wrangled myself free. The wind’s screech turned into a wail. A tree branch clack-clack-clacked against the bedroom windowpane. I reached for my brother and we held each other close. I felt him shiver; he felt me shiver. The smell of his sweat filled the bed. His strategy had not worked and now the wind knew where we were. It smelled our fear. It was coming, and it was coming for us. It was just a matter of time.
“Do you have to sweat so much?” I asked. “That Old Devil Wind is going to smell you. It’ll know exactly where we’re at. We’re going to be goners. It’s going to eat us alive.”
“I can’t help it. I’m scared and I sweat when I’m scared. That thing out there scares me. ‘Sides you’re sweating too. More’n me actually.”
I hadn’t realized. My pajamas were soaking wet with sweat.
Everything went quiet. The house. The tree branch. The wind. Nary a sound, not even a whimper. No wind wailing at us. Just a dead silence, the kind of silence you hear in a cemetery in that evening twilight after everybody has departed from their loved ones’ gravesites and before the spooks come out to go on their nightly haunting. Seemed as if the wind had left us in peace, and maybe, just a big maybe, headed out across the West Texas plain that reached out and shook hands with the sky.
“You think?” Ralph whispered into my ear.
“Shhhh.” I was taking no chances. Could be that Old Devil Wind was lying outside in the grass like the snake it was, waiting till a cloud slipped over the full moon and dowsed its bright light. In the darkness, it would strike. “Boo!” It would be out again and on the hunt for my brother and me. We couldn’t drop our guard. We had to keep scared. That wind loved to eat brave boys. At least that was what one of my friends at school had said. Said he knew a boy that stood up to the wind. Rumor was that his scream from the wind’s bite could be heard across three counties.
I whispered back to Ralph, “It’s just waiting on the moon to slide behind one of them clouds. That’s cause the moon and the wind ain’t friends and it ain’t coming out till the moon has disappeared. You know that, don’t you?”
“No, I never heard.”
“Oh, it’s true,” I said, trying to keep my mind off the thing that scared me most. “Those two, the moon and the wind, they don’t get along at all. ‘Least that’s what Daddy says. And he ought to know. He’s had dealings with the moon.”
But it was quiet and, after a while, we were feeling a little safe, relaxing our grips on each other.
“Look,” I said in my quietest voice, “and see if it’s gone.”
“I’m not about to look. What if he catches me looking?”
“He won’t ’cause he’s gone.”
“If you’re so sure, you look.”
“Aw c’mon. Be brave.”
“You be brave. You’re the older one. Mom says you’re supposed to watch out for me. I’m just a dumb little kid. I’m allowed to be scared. So you be brave and look.”
Well, it was quiet. Seemed like it was safe enough to slip the covers from over my head and down to my neck. Couldn’t hurt anything. My head peaked out from the bed. The moon filled the window. The shadows grew longer and longer as the moonlight reached across the room and shone in my eyes.
“I got to go pee,” Ralph said, throwing the bedding off of the two of us.
I grabbed his hand. “Are you crazy? He’s probably waiting to ambush us like some outlaw gang when he catches us by ourselves. You stay here, y’hear me?”
“But I can’t wait. I got to go.”
I choked back my fear. Maybe it would be all right. We hadn’t heard from Old Devil for quite some time. Maybe it was in Amarillo by now and wouldn’t be back. I released my brother’s hand.
“Well, go,” I said. “But you get back here in a hurry, y’hear? Before you-know-who…before it’s back and at us again. And leave the lights off so it won’t know you’re up.”
Ralph jumped out of the bed and lunged for the hall. The moonlight was fading, a cloud passing across the sky. A shadow crossed my face. Then the room was dark, then chilly. It seemed like a good idea to go all the way back under the covers to warm up.
The wind rose from the grass, then whistled its way across the field and toward our house. Under the sheets, I heard that hunter coming for its prey and prayed that my brother might make it back to the bedroom before the wind go to us. Maybe together we could fight it off. Alone there was no hope for Ralph or me against the beast.
I thought about giving a yell out to warn Ralph. But he could hear the wind and would hurry back to the bed as fast as he could.
The whistle outside grew stronger and transformed itself into an even scarier howl than before. The tree branch tap-tap-tapped against the window. The howl became a banshee scream just the other side of the window. The branch kwak-kwak-kwak, and it broke the glass. The wind was inside our bedroom and slammming the door to the hall shut. Every board in the body of the house creaked under its weight.
Under the covers and shaking, I heard Ralph from the hallway. He turned the doorknob and pushed at the door. “Let me in,” he said. Let me in.”
The demon of a wind laughed, knowing it had me trapped.
“Let me in, Door. Please. Let me in,” Ralph said, struggling with the door.
The banshee was coming for me. I could feel its cold breath and it was turning frosty under the sheets. If I didn’t move, maybe.
“I’ve got you,” the wind’s words seeped into the bed.
But it was not talking to me. It was talking to the door. It was threatening Ralph. It was readying itself to let him fling the door open and rush into its arms. Then that would be the end of my brother.
“No,” I said and threw the bedding off my body. “You leave my brother alone, y’hear me?” I jumped out of bed and made for the door. I grabbed the knob, turned it and jerked the door open. Suddenly the wind was gone.
“Dad?” I said.
My father’s silhouette stood behind Ralph in the dark hall. I hugged Daddy’s waist as tight as I could.
“What’s the matter, boys?”
“The wind, Daddy,” I said, relief surging through my body. “The wind was coming for us.”
“Ah, the wind.” He looked down at me and, even in the darkness, I could feel reassurance in his voice. His fatherly smell of Brut Aftershave calmed my nerves that had been all shot up with fear from that Old Devil Wind. “Where is it now? I don’t hear it. Do you, guys?”
I had to agree that my Daddy was right as he usually was when it came to things that go bump in the night. “No,” both Ralph and I said.
He took my brother and me by the arms. He ushered us back into our bedroom, still dark from the lack of moonlight. “Get back into bed.”
Ralph and I did as we were told. Tucked into bed and under the sheets, I looked up at my father standing at the end of the bed. Though I could not see it, I could feel his smile. I knew that there was no wind in the world that could challenge that smile.
“Haven’t I told you boys not to be afraid of El Diablo. It can’t hurt you. That is unless you let it scare the fear into you. James, when you suspected your brother was in danger, you stared it down face to face. You wouldn’t let it bully you. Now, look. It’s gone, and it will stay gone as long as you don’t let it get at you.”
Daddy reached down and mussed my hair, then Ralph’s. Then he said, “We’ll repair that window tomorrow.” He walked out into the hall.
“Is everything all right, Alan?” I heard my mother’s soprano ask my father.
“No need to worry about our boys. They’re brave boys.”
Their steps receded down the hallway and outside onto the back porch. Safe in my bed, my brother already dozing, I looked through the broken windowpane and saw the moon peak out from behind the clouds. My mother and my daddy gazed up at it. Then my parents, two werewolves, raised their heads toward the sky and bayed their love song for that moon.
Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers.
Next Wednesday’s Prompt: “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” by Richard Wright