Crackling of the Beetle’s Wing

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I pace around the hearth, trying to keep myself up despite my weariness. I only have a
petticoat on me and I’m starting to shiver in the cold even though it’s late autumn. I don’t want to
give into sleep lest the dream will come haunt me again.
It is that dream that I get when the memory seeps into my mind. I will be in Goody Fenton’s
cellar. There is a candle beside my hand that has burned through most of its wick. The strong smell
of wine in barrels hits my nose and I have difficulty breathing. There are footsteps above me and
are pacing the length of the common room. My ears hear a rustling, like voices sighing, coming
from all around me. It is soft and faint. It gets louder and it sounds like the crackling of a beetle’s
wing or the throbbing carapace of an insect on a shaft of wheat. Slender roots start groping their
way to the center of the cellar where I sit. Slowly, they wrap themselves about my feet, ankles,
wrists, then hands. With a delicate embrace, they continue their way up to my waist and chest.
Tightening and clasping, they reach upwards to wrap around my face as the candle flame gutters
and goes out. My ears are plugged into silence and my blinded eyes wide and unseeing.
I shudder at the thought of the dream and feel fatigue creep into me, shutting my eyelids
closed. I try filling my mind with happy moments of my life, but there is only so many happy
moments that I can think of. I am always a sad thing. Life used to be simple and joyful. Afternoons
in the barn milking cows are often interrupted by Grandmother’s calling to eat some lemon cakes.
Days are spent picking berries from the forests and following Richard hunting. But it all fell apart
one day. That one day.
I was out with Richard, in the fields, harvesting corns. Distance away, a figure with a hat
stood among the field. I squinted my eyes to see the figure’s face, but the light was piercing into my
eyes, blocking the image. The man walked closer towards the house in a fast pace. I tapped on
Richard’s shoulder and pointed to the man’s direction.
“The Thornbers. Troublemakers. Let’s get back to the house. I’ll race you!” Richard stood
up and sprinted. I sprinted too, and stopped when a loud booming voice coursed out the house.
“My mother was the eldest! This is my house, you howling old witch.”
“Tyler, I’m your grandmother. Please,” pleaded Grandmother. Why was she pleading to this
The man opened the door and saw the two of us gaping. He glared at us fumingly, then
stormed to his horse.
“Thornber! Have I ever told you that your horse is as ugly as a toad?” yelled Richard to the
man who rode off.
Grandmother was sitting at the table, sobbing. When she saw us, she quickly wiped her eyes
and smiled. “We shall forget about this,” she said.
That night, I crept into Richard’s bed to seek comfort from this afternoon’s intrusion. He
rubbed his eyes when the door creaked and said, “Hey little miss, what is the matter?”
“Richard, who are the Thornbers?” I asked, while climbing onto the bed.
“They are the greedy ones. Mother despised them, even her sister. Go to bed, Lizzy.” Even
though I wasn’t satisfied with Richard’s answer, I pulled up the blanket and said a small prayer.
I dreamt of Mother picking blackberries that night. She was in a garden across the river
before me. She turned to me as if she just realized I was there, then she called out something to me.
She pointed to something behind my shoulders urgently. The words slowly flushed into me.
“Lizzy, Lizzy! Wake up! Fields are on fire! Fire!” Richard shook me frantically by the arm. I
was slow at grasping what was happening around me and rubbed my eyes. Seeing the house about
to be burned down, Richard scooped me up and ran out of the house. I saw the fields lost in a wall
of smoke. Our harvest. Grandmother’s hard work. Grandmother.
“Grandmother!” I dashed to the house, but was pushed back by Richard’s strong hands.
“I’m going in. Stay.” His determined face was a mixture of fear and hopelessness. I watched
him ran into the house, which had now been swallowed by fire, I said a prayer. I felt panic rising in
my throat as a tongue of flame slithered towards my feet. I ran further to the back of the house, and
Richard was still in there with Grandmother. Why was he taking so long? I started crying
because that was all I could do at the moment. There were someone’s fingers, they clamped around
my arm and lifted me up. It was our neighbor, Henry.
“Lizzy, they’re gone.” I watched the house crumble into pieces with the raging fire. I
remembered kicking Henry and screaming Richard and Grandmother.
It’s been years since this happened. Richard and Grandmother have been the only ones I’ve
ever known. Father and Mother died from smallpox when I was two. I am always a sad thing. A
very sad thing. I now shut myself out into the world, but perhaps one day I will go out and meet
people. Hopefully good people. I never really understand how people, no, family, can wish or even
do foul and malicious things to their own family. Tyler Thornber has always wanted Grandmother’s
house, believing it is to be inherited by Grandmother’s eldest child, his mother. The fire has not
been an accident nor a punishment from God.
I have not allowed myself slip into this memory for years, but now it’s the only thing that
keeps me company. A very sad thing. It is now late autumn, while days are warm, evenings grow
cooler until the earth puts forth a moldering smell like a sodden blanket. The waxing and waning of
embers in the hearth bring about visions of places primitive and dark. I still have those dreams,
crackling of the beetle’s wings. And I still wake up with a cramped and yearning pain in my chest. I
am always a sad thing.

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