"I don't wanna go to Gramma's!" Joey complained the entire car ride to his grandmother's house. "She smells funny. And I don't even know her."
"She's your father's mother, it's about time you did," his mother answered. "This is the only weekend you'll spend with her. Just so I can go through training."
"But mom, then every day this summer afterwards?"
"Only week days, Sweetie. There's nothing else I can do. She's the only relative we have left. I need this new job if we're going to stay in our house. When daddy died there wasn't much money left."
"I still say it stinks."
"It does stink, baby but your Grandmother is doing a really nice thing for us. She's helping us. We couldn't do this without her. She's going to love you Joey, and maybe you will her too. Just give it a chance."
Silence filled the car as Joey's mother remembered the night the police called about her husband. Torn apart were the words they used. Unlike anything they'd ever seen. She barely kept it together when the dial tone hummed in her ear.
She tried not to think about it, instead she let her gaze wander about the regal maple and elm trees that lined the streets, casting them in shadowy relief.
Joey stepped out of the car to see the simple cape house with its brown-shingled walls and contrasting white shutters waiting for him in ominous silence. Before he even got to the front steps the front door creaked open. An elderly woman with white hair stepped into the sunlight. Despite the heat of the day she wore a floor-length floral print dress with a shawl wrapped snug around her shoulders.
"You must be Joseph," the old woman chortled. Joey said nothing. "I haven't seen you since you were a baby. A little tadpole squirming in your father's arms."
Joey frowned at the association.
"Lillian, I can't thank you enough for this." Joey's mother said as she walked up to Gramma and put her arms around her. "If it wasn't for you, I don't know what I would have... "
"Hush," Gramma answered. "We're family. You do for family, no matter what."
Joey picked a stray branch from Gramma's yard and slashed it through the air, pretending he was a valiant knight doing battle with an evil hag and Gramma was the hag.
She turned to glare at him... somehow knowingly as if she knew what he was thinking. Joey froze. "He is the spitting image of his father, isn't he?" she said to mother.
"I know." The reply was soft and distant. Joey saw that sad look in mother's eyes again. Had seen it off and on for so long now.
"My son loved you very much. I hope you know that."
"Of course. I really must go before I'm late. If he gives you any trouble call me. He's going to need time to get to know you."
Oh don't you fret. We're going to be the best of friends. Aren't we Joey?"
She gave him a wink and a shiver shot straight down Joey's spine as if icy fingers tickled his skin. When his mother started back to her car panic nearly set in. It was really happening. He was stuck with the old lady. He was in her domain now and there was no escape.
Joey moved the food around his plate over and over again resisting eating the odd looking mush for as long as he could. Gramma called it a casserole-a mystery meat concoction with specks of color that were supposed to be vegetables and topped with crushed potato chips. It couldn't have been more gross.
Gramma looked up from her empty plate and grinned. "Alright young man, if you clean your plate after dinner I'll tell you all the scary stories I know and even let you stay up late to hear them."
His eyes looked up with widening surprise and excitement.
"That's right," she continued. "And these scary stories are true."
"Really," he said almost breathless, his chest swelling with an excitement he hadn't known since last Halloween when his father took him to his first haunted house. His plate was clean within minutes.
"My, my, I'm impressed," Gramma said. "Come Joseph. Let's go into the parlor and turn down the lights. It's the perfect setting for the first story... "