Mikey Hope

Nikia sprawled upside-down across the quilt Gramma made for her. It was as unabashedly teal as her eyes, and just as busy with designs. Gramma liked to say that no one else in the family had eyes like her “Nikki” and that they must have come from that milkman she liked back when she was young, and she’d laugh. Nikia smiled thinking about it as she lazed about in her hand-me-down Volunteers jersey and her Daisy Dukes, feet on the pillows, staring at the chipping teal polish on her toenails. Gramma called them her “junebugs” even though it was August now, and she wasn’t a little girl anymore.

“I need to paint them again, ugh,” she said out loud, leg raised, wiggling her toes to make the glitter in the polish sparkle in the light of the bedside lamp.  She wasn’t good at painting her nails, or coloring inside the lines, or most things that required careful focus and a steady hand.  Who had time for all that?  She liked to do different things to her hair, color her nails, draw, paint, but why did it have to be perfect to be good?  Who cared if the polish was perfect when it was just going to start wearing off the second you got done putting it on?

She flopped her leg down and huffed in annoyance, causing South West, her dog, to raise his head up from his nap-curl position and snuffle. She’d named him after North West, in honor of Kanye, or in mockery of him, maybe both.

“Sorry, Sowf.”

She patted the velvety fur on the top of his head, and he breathed out softly and went back to sleep.  She’d been waiting, bored, all day for the eclipse that was supposed to happen almost right over her head.  Totality, as they called it, was going to go right over Tennessee and people were going nuts about it. They called off classes, threw watch parties and cookouts, and she mused at how all of it was for less than three minutes of show. Everyone sitting out in their yards like fools looking up at the sky with those stupid paper glasses on.  Her daddy had – well, he had had some welding goggles that she looked at the sun through one time when she was real little, and that was enough for her.  She didn’t see what the big deal was and everyone being so crazy about it made her nervous.  She had no idea where those goggles were now anyway. Maybe Sowf had the right idea.  Let everyone else in town burn their eyes out if they wanted.  

The day had started out hot as usual, but the fading light as the eclipse progressed made it seem later than it was, and the combination of a merciful breeze coming through the window in her bedroom and Sowf’s rhythmic breathing were lulling her already stultified mind into silence. She relaxed her body alongside her dog. She could feel herself sliding over into a dream, she knew she was on her bed with Sowf, and she knew she was talking to people who weren’t there, and she could hear Gramma yelling into the house through the screen door on the back porch, telling her she was gonna miss the “’clipse” but she didn’t care…

She jerked awake with Sowf going absolutely apoplectic right beside her head, eyes crazy with fear and rage and mouth slavering, fangs bared, barks becoming shrieks, hackles up, tail between his legs.  He gone apeshit, she thought. Her hair must have stood out a foot from her head and shivers flew up her spine as she slowly, glacially, forced her head to turn on her neck to see why...to see what...it couldn’t be anything good, she knew that much.  Several terrors flew through her mind as she remembered where she’d left her baseball bat – all the way across the room behind the door she’d left open. She forced herself to look, and recoiled, nearly fetal, beside Sowf’s shaking, slobbering form.

Crawling across the floor, through the open door, down the stairs as far as she could see from this angle, were things like men, almost silhouettes of people, but with swirls of color and stars running all through them somehow, like the clouds in space she’d seen on Cosmos and in her science textbook.  They stalked purposefully along in sync on their bellies in lines like a trail of human ants. She stared as wide and white-eyed as the dog for too long, however long, until finally she screamed, scrambling up onto her feet, atop the wobbling mattress, like she was eight again and the floor was lava. 

The...nebula people? made no sound as they moved, and seemed not to even be looking her way until one shadowy, iridescent hand clamped down on the foot of the bed, sending a sunburst pattern of creases across Gramma’s quilt. The mattress made a pong sound.  She screamed again and with just a glance made a desperate choice.  Her window was wide open and she knew the front porch was right below it, having snuck out of her room more than once at night.  She’d always been super quiet and carefully planned every step down the porch roof, picking her way down the wooden lattice on the edge, dropping beside the flowerbed and into the mound of mulch that so far had kept her from breaking an ankle, and then scampering away before anyone could notice.

This time she was not going to be able to be careful, she stepped over onto the nightstand and kicked everything off it into the floor, grabbed onto the window sill and stuck her bare legs out into the shadow of the day, the eerie light and relative chill.  She lifted her hips and was through, hand barely catching her from falling.  She rolled over toward the edge of the roof, to the column she would shimmy down. She cringed at leaving Sowf behind and his yelps above her stopped suddenly and she knew that she would never forgive herself.  The sound outside was nothing but crickets and her sobbing, panicked breath.  She clamped onto the lattice and quickly worked her way down, the right-angled diamond shapes made by the wooden strips hurt her hands and feet and some wicked splinters stabbed her, but she dared pay them no mind.

She plopped into the pile of mulch in the flowerbed and stepped in a clump of Gramma’s purple coneflowers. She bolted behind the house to where Gramma and her cousins and some of the neighbors were watching the eclipse but in an instant realized her mistake.  Crawling through the grass in a sinuous line were more of those nebula people.  And one of them had a piece of cloth dragging behind its leg. Her Gramma’s apron.  She screamed again and doubled back running for the front yard and maybe toward the street. She was in pure panic mode now, running past the carport, across the yard and toward the street. 

From every house, trailer, and yard came line after line of creeping, hunched, shimmering silhouettes, following some invisible compulsion like iron filings drawn by a secret magnet, all of them seeming to be heading in whatever direction she wanted to run.  She ran into the street, then into the neighbor’s yard and doubled-back toward the street when her foot slid in the grass and she fell face first, catching her stumble as well as she could, but knocking the breath out of her.  She gaped like a fish and struggled to push herself upright as one of the swirling-clouded faces crawled right up to hers and stared into her teal-green orbs.

Its eyes were black as the void between stars and each iris was a perfect image of the ring of fire, the corona of the eclipse overhead.  Each stared into the other as the window of totality passed, and then the piercing light of the Sun blazed out again from behind the flat disc of the Moon and she was forced to shut her eyelids.

She let the greenish stars fade before she opened her eyes again and calmly pushed herself back up onto her feet. With measured steps she crossed the deserted street and empty yards, entering the old woman’s house, and padded up the stairs to the upper bedroom.  There the dog bounded towards her, tail flying, tongue flapping. He stopped short and looked up at her quizzically. She stood and stared down at him with her void-deep, fire-ringed eyes.

Her face flat, she intoned automatically “6 years. 7 months. 18 days. Eight April. Carbondale.”

South West’s fur began to stand up as a low, guttural growl emerged from his throat.

Mikey Hope appeared one day in the South and lived there for many a moon, sharing art, writing, and tabletop gaming with all the people of the land until one day he got a wild hair somewhere a wild hair ought not to be and moved to New York City.  This came as a great surprise to everyone, but especially to Mikey Hope.  Since then he has inflicted his storytelling notions upon innocent high schoolers and their teachers alike.  Even now he foments his schemes to unleash upon an unsuspecting populace!

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