Coffee Break Read – Faces in the Fire

Ma and Pa left Effie at Grandpa’s house when they went to the city for a winter of work. She halfway heard them whispering to Gammer, but she was too busy keeping her chin from wobbling to pay too much notice. Ma kissed her and Pa ruffled her bright curls.
“You be a brave girl and grow big enough to come with us next winter.”
Effie clung to his leg for a moment before smiling her gap-toothed smile.
“You be brave too.”
Ma kissed her one more time and then they were gone, walking along the dusty track that would become a sea of mud in the winter rains.
Gammer gave the little girl a shrewd look and swung the kettle over the fire.
“Us’ll just have a nice cupper.”
Grandpa nodded his agreement and took Effie on his knee.
“You all right my chick?”
“I is. I knows Ma and Pa has to go work.”
“Good girl.”
No more was said, and the day passed in the work of the small farm, with Effie helping wherever such a little girl could.
When the sun went down, there was hot food to be had and after they had eaten they sat by the fire. Grandpa read to Gammer and Effie as Gammer sewed and Effie knitted. When the little girl’s head was nodding like a poppy on its stalk, Grandpa pulled a bunk bed down from the wall and Gammer helped her out of her dress and shoes. She scrambled into bed and Grandpa covered her with a feather quilt. The old people kissed her soft cheeks and watched as she fell asleep.
It was dark and the fire had died down to no more than a glimmer when Effie awoke and saw the red eyes glinting. She sat up clutching her quilt high up under her chin. 
“Go away,” she quavered.
But the eyes just came closer. Beside the banked fire, Bess, Gammer’s old collie dog sat up straight and growled a warning. The light-sapping bulk that was the owner of the red eyes hissed, but the dog was brave and set up a ferocious barking. The eyes turned away from Effie, but she was afraid the creature would hurt Bess so she shouted as loud as she could.
“Go away. Go away…” 
She couldn’t think what else to say, and was astonished to hear a voice behind her.
“Begone.” The thing grew larger, but the strong calm voice merely repeated itself. “Begone.”
With a howl of rage the creature turned its eyes back to Effie, but she grasped her courage in both chubby hands. 
“Begone,” she said firmly and watched as the blackness folded in on itself. 
“Well Done Effie,” it was Gammer who spoke. “Well done my brave girl.”
Effie turned to face her grandparents who stood in a square of yellow light cast by the open door. She noticed they were holding hands and wearing their nightshirts. Grandpa’s bare legs were very skinny and for some obscure reason that comforted Ellie more than anything else could have.
“Will un come back?” she asked, proud that her voice was steady and strong.
“No.” Gammer smiled. “Not now. We banished it and you did too. So the door is closed.”
Effie thought that one through carefully.
“How did un come here now then?”
“He come because your Ma and Pa had to leave you. In the mind of the faces that do make you fair game. But you ain’t. You has us. And your own bravery. And us’ve sent in home.”
Only it didn’t feel to Effie as if the thing was really gone. It seemed to her to be lurking. She thought some more then got out of bed. Walking over to the fireplace she stood looking up towards the chimney-breast. 
“I isn’t fair game for nobody. And if you comes for me again us’ll just send you home. Only us’ll be angry next time.”
For a moment she felt a strange sucking sensation then the flames in the fireplace leapt into life. A dark face with eyes like burning coals looked out of the heat at her. She placed her dimpled knuckles on her hips and stared right back at the creature in the fire.
Effie heard a laugh like crackling flames and smelled woodsmoke. 
“Very well little one. We can appreciate courage. We shall leave you in peace.”
This time when he left Effie couldn’t sense him any more. She turned her head to look at Gammer and Grandpa who seemed to be staring at her with round eyes.
Gammer found her voice first. “Well, I never did. A liddle scrap of a thing like you sending a face back to the gates of hell.”
Effie grinned. “Wasn’t nothing. I just knowed what to say.”
She climbed back into her bed and was almost instantly asleep.
The old couple watched her for long moments before seeking their own slumber…

© Jane Jago 2019

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