The slack-jawed woman haunted my fever-dreams but my mother remained at my bedside and helped me to fight her off. But whether this, too, was a dream I knew not as I had never thought of my mother as a warlike woman. But in my dreams I saw her standing next to the bed with my father’s pistol in her hand, pointing it at the slack-jawed woman and making the sign against evil over and over with her free hand.
The woman grabbed the teddy bear from the bed and plunged her sharp-nailed hand into the teddy’s chest as if she wanted to crush it’s heart.
My whole body convulsed. Mother shot at her and she disappeared.
I tried to ask where father was, but I could not speak and could not form the words. I could barely move even my fingertips and I could not wake from the nightmare. At one time I was sure that I heard shots outside in the street.
It took me seven days to fully wake and sit up slowly in bed. I saw that I was not lying in my own bed, but in my parents’ bed. The room smelled like burnt sage. Mother was sitting by the bedside, dressed in simple gingham, but I saw her hide the pistol in the drawer.
She praised God when I was awake at last and there were tears in her eyes.
“I dreamed,” I said and tried to explain, but she shushed me and tried to get me to eat some clear broth. It tasted like heaven in my parched mouth. She nodded with every sip I took, as if it was the proof that the world was slowly returning to normal.
When I ventured outside our door, I saw that the town had changed. The sigils were everywhere, carved into the direction stones next to the road, carved into the wood and stone of the houses. Fresh marks. Small sigils of iron hung around the necks of the children who passed our home. They pointed and whispered and then ran on, frightened. I thought I caught the word ‘witch’ before they ran out of earshot.
“You are safe. We are all safe. That is all that counts,” mother said before I could say anything.
Then I saw father. He was walking towards us from the crash site, his shotgun in his hand and a bloodied rag bound around his one arm. I wanted to run to him, but was too scared to pass out of our little garden gate that was now also carved full of fresh sigils.
When father saw us, he smiled and his eyes wrinkled at the corners. And somehow I knew that everything was all right in the world again now that he, too, was back.
As he hugged me, the smell of meadowsweet and sweat enveloped me.
“Meadowsweet?” I asked.
“They will bother us no more,” father said, motioning to the crash site.
“Then all I saw was true?”
“And the teddy bear?”
“What bear?” mother and father both asked and I saw the blood drain from mother’s face.
“My teddy bear. I found it on the plane. I brought it back here -“
“Inside,” father said and I obeyed immediately. The smell of meadowsweet clung to me.