"I had that dream again," Bobby Pinchot said. It was a reasonable enough topic of conversation for the breakfast table but it caused the entire family to freeze in fear.
"The one about the witch?" Annie asked. She was five years younger than Bobby and absolutely fascinated with his life. All the more so because, with the cumbersome leg braces that helped her walk, she knew Bobby would get to do things that she would never be able to do.
"Don't worry about it. It was just a dream," Evie Pinchot said. The incredible imagination of her oldest child both amazed and frightened her. Why couldn't he be like her and not dream at all?
Lily, the baby, cooed and gurgled in her highchair. Mrs. Pinchot's hand shook as she fed the baby a spoonful of applesauce.
"Remember what I told you to do when you have that dream?" Grandma Nettie said.
"Mom-" Vince Pinchot began.
"You know I know what I'm talkin' about!" Grandma Nettie said. "You ain't so far from the hills that you've forgotten how we do things back home!"
"We ain't in the hills anymore, Ma," Vince said. "This is Tidewater, Virginia."
"It's just a dream, Mother Pinchot. There is no witch," Evie said.
"If a witch is givin' you nightmares-" Grandma Nettie continued.
"Mother Pinchot! There is no witch!!"
"Now, honey, if what she says helps Bobby sleep-"
"You listen to me, Bobby," Grandma said. "If you dream a witch has you paralyzed, you must break this spell. Concentrate on moving one finger. Don't try to move your whole body; it'll just wear you out. If you can just move one finger, you can break the spell and the witch will leave you."
"There is no spell!!" Evie cried.
"If there isn't any witch, why are you so scared?" Bobby said.
"Mommy, what is an abortion?" Annie asked.
There was an abrupt silence. Annie chewed a bit of toast, waiting for an answer. After a few minutes, she added, "Ashley Stevens says you should have had an abortion because I have a handicap."
"Ashley Stevens ought to have her behind beat," Vince said.
"Ashley's daddy said if you know something's wrong with the baby, you should have an abortion. He says that's what we're gonna have to do if we want to get portable health care."
"Affordable," Evie said. Her face was frozen so as to show no expression. "Affordable, not portable."
"But what is an abortion?"
"It's a very, very bad thing and no one should ever do it," Grandmother Nettie said.
"It means you kill the baby," Bobby said. "Ashley means you should be dead."
"Oh. Because I can't walk good."
"Yeah, because you can't do stuff."
"Don't say that to your sister," Evie said.
"Annie, what is the reason I told you that all people are important?" Grandmother Nettie said. "No matter what they can or cannot do?"
Annie thought a moment, her blue eyes looking far older than her five years. Those eyes flashed excitedly and she said, "Oh! Because any of them could be the Ffydd Myn Mo!"
"Oh yeah!" Bobby echoed. "The Ffydd Myn Mo! Maybe you're the Ffydd Myn Mo, Annie!"
"What-uh- what's a Ffydd Myn Mo?" Evie asked. She spooned more peas into Lily's mouth. Out that came too.
"Have you ever eever iver in your leaf life lo," Vince said. "Seen the diver deever devil best the Ffydd Myn Mo?"
"No!" the children shouted, giggling
"That's not how the rhyme goes," Evie said.
"That's the way we say it," Grandmother Nettie said. "I learned it from the old people."
"See the Good Lord is so good at beating the devil that sometimes he likes to get creative with it," Vince said. "Right. Ma?"
"That's the way the old folks tell it," Grandmother Nettie said.
"Yep. The Ffydd Myn Mo is an unlikely event or a series of unlikely events that work together to defeat evil," Vince said. "It's kind of like God is messing with the devil's head."
"You're making that up."
"I'm serious! It's a real thing, Honey," Vince insisted. "How can you think I could make up such a hoity toity definition?"
"Do I think you would go to a library and work all afternoon on a definition for a word you made up just to convince me of something stupid? Yes. Yes, indeed. I think you would come back from fishing early just to do that. I do think that."
"You are a very distrustful woman!" Vince said. "I swear on my momma's bible. It's true. You know, like when some punk kids decide to beat up a homeless guy and it just so happens the homeless guy has a black belt in karate and he kicks their butts."
"Does that ever happen?" Evie asked.
"Sometimes it does," Vince said.
"That's the Ffydd Myn Mo," Said Grandmother Nettie.
"Oh! I know a good example of the Ffydd Myn Mo!" Bobby said. "Alexander the Great conquered the known world and spread the Greek culture. That doesn't seem important to us but 300 years later Christ comes along and can spread His word that much easier because everybody speaks Greek. Who knew Alexander the Greek would be part of spreading the word of God? And- and here's another one: Joseph of the Coat of Many Colors! Who could imagine when his brothers sold him into slavery that he would become a ruler in Egypt and be bringing the Jews into Egypt. All so Moses could lead them out of Egypt and in that journey get his hands on the Ten Commandments. So his brothers' punk behavior lead to the Ten Commandments!"
There was another stunned silence across the breakfast table. Evie Pinchot said, "Bobby, what the hell are you talking about?"
"I heard it in Sunday school."
"You heard about the Ffydd Myn Mo in Sunday school?"
"Not exactly, Ma'am-"
"Well, stick to what you hear exactly and not what you choose to make up. You got to pay attention, boy!"
"But Ashley Stevens is wrong, isn't she, Mama?" Annie said. "Couldn't I be God's Ffydd Myn Mo?"
"You don't know karate," Bobby said.
"Maybe I could learn it."
"But you can't kick anything."
"You could, girl. You could," Grandmother Nettie said. "God is tricky like that. You never know who might be part of the Ffydd Myn Mo. That's what makes it a clever trick."
Annie grinned broadly. She finished her breakfast happily, never noticing how hard her parents tried to continue smiling. She never saw how hard her mother worked to keep from crying.
Bobby didn't want to go to sleep. He was afraid he'd dream about the witch again. He lay in the bed staring at the ceiling. There was a water stain that looked like a bird. He often watched it at night and contemplated how a leak in the attic could cause a water stain that looked so very much like a bird in flight.
Everyone in the house was asleep: his parents at the end of the hall, the baby in the room next to them, Annie in the room across from Bobby and Grandmother Nettie downstairs.
Bobby felt a sinking feeling in his stomach similar to the one he felt when riding an elevator. Something was in the room with him. Bobby wanted to turn his head, wanted to look at something other than the bird-in-flight stain. But he discovered he couldn't move- just like in his dream.
The bird stain took on a sinister quality. It now looked like a bird of prey, swooping down to pluck out his eyes. He couldn't move, not even to shut those vulnerable eyes. Terror crawled on top of him like an old hag, lying on his defenseless body, intending to suck his life's breath out of him.
Bobby became confused as to where he was. He no longer felt he was in a familiar place. The question wasn't so much 'where' as it was 'why'. He kept thinking to himself, 'There are worlds within worlds', but he didn't know why he thought such strange words.
But these were strangers in the most unfriendliest meaning of the word. Bobby felt there were two of them. Not that he could see them. He just sensed there was a twoness about them.
They were gray. But not the gray like his mother's church coat. Not even the gray of death. It was the misty gray of nothingness, as their physical body was beyond anything Bobby's mind could describe.
Bobby realized their large black eyes were not truly black. Those dead eyes simply lacked any spark of light that resides in anything living in this reality.
Was Bobby in his room or on their ship or was their ship in Bobby's room? He now understood why he could not move. He had seen such things on sci fi movies. It was as if he had shifted out of phase with his reality. He couldn't move because he was not truly connected to his body. If he could establish the connection enough to move his finger, the rest of his mind would click comfortably back into his body and the 'spell' would be broken.
Bobby concentrated on attaching himself to his right hand's little finger. If he could move that tiny finger ever so slightly, he would be back in his body and this would just be a really weird dream. He thought hard.
A rush of excruciating pain jolted through Bobby's entire being. The aliens understood what he was trying to do and they were able to punish him for his actions. Touching his body meant horrible pain. He could no more will himself to embrace his own body than he could force himself to firmly grasp a white hot poker. He pulled his mind away from the attempt.
Bobby became aware of everyone in his family. In one way, he was in every room in the house. In another way, all of them were in his room. Time and space were different here.
Bobby's father thrashed about in his own mind like a wild animal caught in a trap. He didn't have the mental discipline to focus on moving one finger. He fought so ferociously that Evie feared he would kill himself, but he accomplished nothing.
The aliens did not think in words. At least not words that Bobby understood. But he could understand what their intentions were. They seemed to think they would be able to break Vince Pinchot like a wild horse could be broken. Then they could come back again and again for all sorts of unnamable purposes. Bobby thought of all the adults he knew that seemed broken to him. People who had no love or concern for anything. Had aliens visited them?
Bobby's mother was paralyzed by fear. She made no attempt to move. The aliens compared her to a rabbit. Silly little rabbit.
Bobby's grandmother lay quietly in her bed. Her mind was calm. She concentrated on moving…one…small…finger.
The aliens brought her pain. A horrible pain that coursed through his grandmother's body. Bobby could feel it too. Grandmother Nettie held strong. She understood the gravity of their predicament.
Then they hit her with a wave of despair. They amplified the weight of every failure she had endured in her life. The weight of her own fast approaching mortality. She tried but she was so tired. She had lost so many people in her life it was impossible to believe she could save these children now. Defeat consumed her. Her concentration broke down.
The aliens introduced Bobby to what must have been the ship's computer although it seemed like another entity. It seemed that this was the reason they were here. Bobby was to serve some sort of purpose for the computer. He was to become the computer. He blended with it until he could see the inner workings of the ship.
Bobby was afraid. He didn't want this. The aliens were strong. They could make him do things. Things he didn't even understand. They filled him with despair. It was hopeless. He could not win. They were too much for him.
He felt the knowledge of the computer. The aliens were from so far away, they had to bend space to get here. But their space was not the same as his space. In another way, they were very close to Bobby. They came from a place so familiar to Bobby that it haunted him in his nightmares and frightened him in his waking moments.
They came from hell.
And they wanted Bobby to go back there with them. Terror tore through Bobby's thinking like a shrieking wind. He didn't want to go with them but they were pushing him, bonding him to the machine. Over the shrieking din, he heard a tiny little voice:
'Have you ever eever iver in your leaf life lo,
Seen the diver deever devil best the Ffydd Myn Mo?'
Annie's thoughts echoed through the house. They were clear and calm. They were focused. As if answering a question from their catechism, she thought confidently, 'No.'
All intelligent alien life focused on the small child. Excruciating pain burst into Annie's mind. It was so harsh, it lit up lights in Bobby's head. His mother cringed in empathy for her invalid daughter. It was a pain like Bobby had never felt before.
It was quite similar to the pain Annie dealt with almost every morning. She dismissed it lightly.
'Have you ever eever iver in your leaf life lo,
Seen the diver deever devil best the Ffydd Myn Mo?'
A tiny pause and then, 'No.'
A wave of crippling despair was sent through the entire Pinchot family. A feeling of hopelessness rippled through the house. A feeling that was so overbearing that Bobby could think of nothing but failure. He wanted to die.
Annie dismissed this too. She had lived with many forms of hopelessness. This was nothing new.
'Have you ever eever iver in you leaf life lo,
Seen the diver deever devil best the Ffydd Myn Mo?'
There was a pause. A pause full of energy. As light as a breath. As deep as the mysteries of time. One small pause as a little girl came to grips with why things are the way they are in this confusing world and aliens considered nuking the Pinchot home. Then she cried:
"I am the Ffydd Myn Mo!" and she sat up in her bed.
Reality seemed to slip down a drain as Bobby found himself reconnecting to his body. His stomach lurched and he threw up in his trash bin. Usually people break the alien grip by moving one finger. Annie had sat up. She had moved half her body. What affect did this violent breaking of their grasp have on the aliens?
So much was going on. The baby cried. Annie yelled for her mother. Evie ran to her daughter's room. Vince ran for the baby. Grandmother Nettie came into Bobby's room. She opened the curtains and pointed to a falling star streaking across the sky.
"I've seen this witchery before," Grandmother Nettie said. "But I've never seen anybody destroy them before."
"Grandma," Bobby said. "Before we left them, I saw things in their computer."
"What kind of things?"
"Wonderful things," Billy said. With trembling hands, he tore a page out of his math notebook and drew a square. Then he put another square inside it. Then he covered the page with symbols neither of them understood.
"What is that?" Grandmother Nettie said.
"This is a beautiful engine."
"What's a beautiful engine?"
"It's so simple; it's beautiful," Bobby said. "But it can get us out of the solar system. It has an infinite specific impulse."
Bobby placed another square on top of the other two and enclosed it in parenthesis.
"What does that mean?" Grandmother Nettie asked, pointing to the parenthesis.
"That part of the engine doesn't exist in 'real space'."
"What do you mean by 'real space'? What is 'infinite specific impulse'?"
Bobby's eyes glazed over and he trembled. He muttered, "Listen to the music. Listen to the music. Listen to the music of the Ffydd Myn Mo."
"Bobby! Bobby!" Grandmother Nettie shook him hard. "Don't leave us!"
Bobby's eyes focused on her again. He steadied himself and said, "I'm okay, Grandma. It's just- I think I can make the things I saw. Of course, I'll be careful. Of course, I'll have to study hard in school." His eyes glazed over again.
"Don't get lost!" Grandmother Nettie said. "You have to make yourself stay here! Stay with us!"
"I will. I have to," Bobby said and he meant it. He had a purpose now. As his grandmother left the room with his trash can, he muttered under his breath, "I am the Ffydd Myn Mo."
x x x
The centerpiece (June's story) of the year goes to another of AR's mainstays during the time I've helmed the 'zine. Welcome back, Adrienne. Thanks for all of your great tales. Readers: thank her yourself at our BBS -GM