With a razor blade, Jake made a small incision in his mother’s shoulder. She sucked air through her teeth as he pressed a gloved finger against the dark object embedded beneath her skin and guided it toward the opening he’d created, where it emerged effortlessly.
“Got it,” Jake said, studying the bloody thing in his palm. It was black and hard as a stone, about the size of a deer tick. “Mama, you have to see a doctor.”
She snorted. “As if a doctor around here could make sense of it.”
“These… growths seem to form when you’re stressed. Are you worried about something?”
“I’m worried about that creek rising.”
To reach their house, Jake and his mother had to cross a wooden bridge spanning Willow Creek. On his walk home from the bus stop that afternoon, he’d seen the water running high and fast as a result of the day’s heavy rain.
“You got another letter from a college,” Jake’s mother said as he swabbed her wound with an alcohol wipe and applied a bandage. Their gazes met in the bathroom mirror, and he noticed a worry line appear between her eyebrows.
“Mama, that’s just a brochure I sent off for. I won’t even start applying till next year.”
Before she could respond, the phone rang. “I’ll get it,” she said, pulling on her shirt as she left the room. Jake washed his hands and the object he’d extracted.She had no idea he saved each one. Over the past several months, he’d collected at least a dozen in a small jar.
Jake heard his mother’s voice rise in alarm, and he hurried to the living room where she stood at the window, holding the phone’s receiver to her ear. “We can’t just leave,” she said.
He drew closer and could make out their neighbor Mr. Winslow’s voice. “Addie, I’m telling you the creek has jumped its banks, and I’m heading out before it covers the road. You and your boy need to do the same.”
“But it’s never reached the house before!” She tugged at her long braid, the way she did when she was anxious.
“There’s a first time for everything.”
Jake joined her at the window. Rain fell in a blurry curtain, obstructing his view of the bridge, but he could see water edging into the yard.
“Thanks for letting us know, but we’re going to stay put for now,” she said, then hung up the phone before Mr. Winslow could protest.
“Mama, he’s right,” Jake said.
She stared out at the encroaching creek. “We can’t just let our house get flooded.”
“How do you think we’re going to stop it?” His voice was sharper than he intended, and she winced. “I’m sorry, but we should leave.”
She gave her braid a vicious yank, and Jake spotted another dark lump beneath the skin of her forearm. He grazed it with his fingertip, and when she saw the new growth, her eyes widened. “Jake, you have to get it out.”
He led her to the bathroom, trying to ignore the rain slapping the window pane and pounding the roof. As he worked the object from her skin, the power went out.
His mother swore and grabbed his hand, causing him to drop the razor blade. “Promise you won’t leave me,” she said.
“Mama, I’m not going anywhere. If you want to stay, we’ll stay.”
“That’s not what I meant!” Her words betrayed the panic that had lurked beneath her calm surface for months, taking the shape of black seed pearls he couldn’t crush between his fingers.
Jake squeezed her hand until she cried out and struggled free of his grip. “I promise.”
That night he sat on the porch and watched the deluge surround their car in the driveway, splashing the tires as it inched closer to the house. When it lapped at the bottom porch step, he almost called for his mother, but the rain slacked off and then ended minutes later. He went back inside and found her curled on the sofa, her breathing even and deep with sleep.
After Willow Creek retreated to its banks the following morning, Jake made his way to the bridge and stared down at the raging water. Mr. Winslow’s truck approached and halted alongside him. “It’s a miracle you and Addie didn’t drown last night,” the man called.
“Yeah,” Jake said, “a miracle.” He opened his fist and tossed the offerings from his mother’s body into the creek.
M. Stone is a bookworm, birdwatcher, and stargazer living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in San Pedro River Review, UCity Review, formercactus, and numerous other journals. Find her on Twitter @writermstone and at writermstone.wordpress.com