It was a pack of blue dogs that tore down the doors to Pappy Dan’s barn – that I remember. I wasn’t but yay tall back then, what? five foot nothin’. Fifteen, sixteen years old? But I remember it clear as day. I remember it all, even the yellow of the flames that set the whole damned place afire.
Billy was wearin’ his overalls that mornin’ – the dark blue ones, almost black. He come runnin in the bedroom hollerin’ som’n ‘bout “Grady, you gotta come! You gotta!” He come runnin’ up to the bed with his hands shakin’ all kinds a crazy like one a them salesmen who just gotta tell you somethin’ about what they’re sellin’, but they ain’t too sure you gonna like it, so they just sit there twiddlin’ their thumbs or scratchin’ their knees or somethin’.
“Come on, then!”
I moaned. “All right, then.” Course I was already transfixed on the smell of Mama’s pancakes from somewhere down in the kitchen. So, I get out a bed and dress myself in som’m I felt presentable enough for pancakes – them old worn out jeans from yesterday’s crop walk and my hat, the one I work in, and I go downstairs.
Mama was down there standin’ at the stove, flippin’ jacks like she never done before in her life. The smoke come from that stove was white as any quick-movin’ cloud you ever seen, and just as quick. Mama had on her white-and-pink farm apron, the only one she ever did like. She wore it like she wore her own hair atop her head.
“Siddown Suga’ Boy; these flapjacks almost done.” Billy come down the steps like a damn elephant just when I get to my seat. Still he sat there all kinds of fidgety, and babblin’ on about this and that.
“Grady, I ain’t lyin’,” he said. “You NEED to get on out there with me. You have got to see these damn things!”
“Billy Dean Gansey!” We both looked up and seen Mama turned starin’ at Billy with her black-tar spatula up in the air and the white smoke of the fryin’ pan still skippin’ on up into nowhere behind her. Cursin’ was considered an O-ffense in Mama’s eyes and he know he was guilty. His eyes were two white saucers when I turned and got a glance of ‘em.
“Sorry mama,” he said. He seemed sincere enough, bowin’ his head. Seemed like it was good enough. Mama always taught us to be polite and respectful. When she turned back around, he lifted his head up and looked at me. He started raisin’ his dark brown eyebrows up at me in funny ways and jerkin’ his head back toward the porch screen door. I wish I was good at secret languages, ‘cause then I sure as hell wouldn’t be sittin’ there lookin’ like I was tryin’ to put together one o’ them puzzles with a lot of pieces.
“Now,” Mama came back to the table. “You boys go on ‘n eat up. It’s another God-given-gift of a day outside. Sun shinin’ ‘n all. Y’all need to be out there soakin’ it up ‘n whatnot.” She dropped a pile of jacks right down in front of us and let two long silver forks fall from her hand and clank on the smooth oak of the kitchen table. Righ next to that she set a hot glass bowl of maple syrup with a big spoon for spreadin’. The table rarely had anything on it that wasn’t supposed to be there. Mama was real good about keepin’ it clean. Said it wasn’t good to live in squalor, unless we wanted to fashion ourselves a house of swine, which I found out was another word for pig, and not a kind of drink grown-ups had a dinner parties.
Breakfast filled me up and I was still thinking ‘bout it as Billy was draggin’ me out through the screen door and haulin’ me across the front drive space to the barn.
“Billy, you remember to keep that barn door locked; you hear me!?” We stopped and turned to see Mama’s stern form full in the open doorway of the porch we had just left. That white and pink apron seemed to be a part of her – a part of her that I still remember. They were hues of the colors that seemed to blur and resonate at the same time, shouting through the air and growing stronger the longer one’s eyes held onto them.
“You ain’t never gonna believe this, Grady. These things ain’t nothin’ that belong to this earth.” We walked up to the rusty red of the barn and he stopped to turn back to me as his hand rested on the door.
“You ready?” He asked.
“Just open the damn things,” I said, waved his hand away and pulled the door open, even against the creaks which told me better.
They were a deep and sick yellow – the eyes of the damn things, and I’ve never known my body to react in the way it did next. I slammed the door shut and yanked on Billy’s overalls. “Run you idiot!”
“Grady, dammit!” Billy yelled, running, I know now, ‘cause I caught him off guard. “I’m supposed to lock the damn –“
And the dogs didn’t wait for him to finish. There was a shotgun blast behind us as they tor from the barn, and I was startled into shock. The rest of it all happened so damn fast, I ain’t even sure I can tell it right.
There were just streaks, lines, of blue, I guess is the best way to say it. Dust and flame is what I remember, and in one half blink of my eyes, my house, my family, my room, went up in a hay bale of fire. There were two streaks of blue blazing straight into the side of my house, the white and green house I had known since, well the house that had been there since my granddaddy, and splinters and chunks of wood exploded from the side as these blue-blazzin’ sons o’ bitches blew right past everything. They were in and out of the house walls leaving nothing but an instant yellow flame.
The barn was next. The place I never shouldda opened. The chicken coop, Daddy’s two Cadillacs, and the John Deere…every bush, every tree in a 100-foot span, all went up.
And the blue devil dogs burned their way out of there, and left me and Billy starin’ behind our open house, and the barn I should have kept closed.