I wonder if Lilly-Anne is still afraid of the dark. When Gretchen used to baby-sit her, that little girl would tell wild stories, horror stories if you ask me, things she dreamed up about life right here in our village. There’s the old tale about our lake monster, but everyone knows that’s just a fun fib we stole from Loch Ness. Besides, our little lake is way too small for a dinosauric monster. Well, Lilly-Anne took that one to a new level, and when she was just a child, too, barely reading her own picture books. She said she’d seen the monster — in her dreams — and that’s when she’d go runnin to Gretchen straight out of a deep sleep, saying she’d seen the lake monster again, and Gretchen would ask her questions just to egg her on, and Lilly-Anne would describe what she’d seen. Said it was more like an octopus than the Loch Ness monster, except she couldn’t count the number of arms there were so many, and that little bulbous head, and all but one time she said the eyes were closed but she could still feel the monster looking at her, through closed eyes — and this is Lilly-Anne saying this stuff, not my Gretta — and she said the monster was hungry, and she said it sat at the bottom of the lake licking its lips. That doesn’t sound like a kid thing to say, and that’s what’s downright scary about Lilly-Anne’s horror stories — like they weren’t coming from a child’s head.
She had another nightmare, about a wolf. She said it prowled around the village, open-jawed and slobbery — another hungry monster, I guess — with sharp teeth and deep-set eyes. I think it was her fear of the wolf that made her turn on all the lights, but I reacted differently when Gretchen told me about this one: made me want to turn off the lights and jump in bed and go to sleep — I guess I was a little bit afraid, too, we just reacted differently, her being a little girl and me knowing that a night’s sleep would put an end to such silly fears. But her horror stories really got to me for some reason. She said the bats that would swoop around the Lukas’s kerosene lantern were a mom and pop — well, she said it funnier than that: she said they were our mom and pop, I remember. And what made it scary was this little child’s seriousness when she would say that we need those bats to watch over us. There was a plea to her voice that I haven’t forgotten, and to this day I take special care each year to watch for the return of those bats. I admit I’d be scared if they didn’t show up. Kinda funny how fear can build on itself that way.
Maybe, in fact, that’s what got me to say those funny things about the grape vine, the Breckendales’ grape vine, which I swear to you is its own sea creature — that’s it, it’s a hungry monster. Now that I think about it, I remember Lilly-Anne refusing to walk that path, too scared. I guess it’s kinda shady, but that’s not it: it’s the damn grape vines, out of control; I can see how a child would think they’d want to grab her and haul her into the pines. I really ought to tell Jerry Randy to take his pruners back there; he’d do it; I bet he’d do it by cover of darkness and the Breckendales would be none the wiser, and we’d all be better off.