Clara hadn’t learned much English yet but she knew how to turn a smile into a friendship. Clara had often gone across the road to the closest neighbor's house and stared into the windows. She smiled and waved at the woman who lived there. The woman eventually came out on the porch to sit with Clara for a while. Soon, the woman took Clara back across the street to the Kent farm to get Martha’s blessing on the visits. They had lived across the street from each other for years, but Martha had never seen Mrs. Hastings leave her property or even come out of the house if anyone was around. Martha had taken food over on more than one occasion and had never been able to get anyone to answer the door. She had almost talked to Mr. Hasting once, but his cold, menacing stare had made her rethink whether to speak or not long enough for him to disappear inside his barn.
Now Mrs. Hastings told Martha that Clara kept showing up and seemed intent on helping her do chores. Mrs. Hastings admitted that she could use any help that she could get because her husband insisted on the house being immaculate and she was often too sick to make that happen. Martha was concerned that Clara might do something in front of Mrs. Hastings that would reveal her special abilities. But Mrs. Hastings seemed to be in genuine need. Martha had the feeling that Clara would be a welcome guest but that Martha wouldn’t be. Martha had a special talk with Clara about not showing Mrs. Hastings or anyone other than Jon and her what she could do. When she was confident that Clara understood the importance of what she was saying, she called Mrs. Hastings and told her that Clara could visit anytime that Mrs. Hastings wanted her to and to send her home if she became a bother in any way. She also warned Mrs. Hastings never to ask Clara to go into any tiny rooms or spaces.
One day Clara came home from a visit in her normal, happy mood. She looked especially happy because she had a large cookie that she had been given. Martha saw what she thought was a shadow on Clara’s face … then decided was make-up of some kind. When Clara came close for her welcome home hug, Martha saw that she had two black eyes and went to find Jonathan. Jon examined Clara and gave Martha a strange look. Clara’s eyes were normal.
Days passed. Sometimes Clara came home holding her arm in a strange way. Sometimes she walked with a limp. Martha was concerned that Clara was mocking Mrs. Hastings who was known to be accident-prone. One day Clara showed up and it looked like she had been burnt with a lit cigarette. Every time, the injuries faded quickly. Clara never acted as if anything was wrong. She was happy to go see Mrs. Hastings and happy to come back. Clara started cleaning around the Kent house doing chores she had never been asked to do before and doing them correctly without any instruction from Martha or Jon. Martha was sure that she was learning things from Mrs. Hastings and that she was actually doing cleaning work at the Hastings house. There was no reason for suspicion, except for the strange bruises and marks that Clara had after her visits.”
Martha had decided that she had better get to know Mrs. Hastings better, so she called Mrs. Hastings and invited her over. Every invitation was met with some excuse. Martha finally said that Clara wasn’t being careful enough crossing the street so Clara wouldn’t be allowed to visit her anymore unless Mrs. Hastings came to get her and walked her home at the end of the visit. Mrs. Hastings agreed without hesitation.
The first time that Mrs. Hastings came for Clara, Martha was shocked. She had never suspected the truth. Mrs. Hastings eye was black and blue and swollen shut. Martha said nothing. When she returned with Clara, it was Clara that had the black eye. Mrs. Hastings showed no sign of an injury. Every few days, there was a new injury, but Martha noticed that Mrs. Hastings looked younger and more energetic every time she came over. Mrs. Hastings began staying longer when she returned Clara. Martha was becoming a good friend with her reclusive neighbor. Mrs. Hastings was soon known as Maxine to Martha and Auntie Max to Clara. Martha was convinced that Maxine was unaware that Clara was having anything to do with how quickly she recovered from her injuries. Maxine was a little slow in some ways, which Martha attributed to being punch drunk from years of physical abuse. Maxine would often start crying when she described how much of a blessing Clara had been to her. She said that the only way to get Clara to stop working was to announce that it was story time. Clara would squeeze into a big chair next to her so she could hear a story before her Auntie Max would walk her home. Maxine said that having a sweet, young person like Clara around the house lifted her spirits and made her feel better than she had in years. She also said that her husband Ned was happier with the house and less angry with her than normal.
Martha liked Maxine more and more, but she got increasingly divided about whether or not to keep Clara from continuing to visit her. Whatever was going on over there wasn’t pretty and it was only a matter of time before Clara was there when something happened. On rare occasions, she saw Clara get outraged by an injustice and how Clara had a hard time keeping in control of her anger. She knew that Clara loved her Auntie Max and was frightened what might happen if Mr. Hastings hit Maxine when she was at their house.
Before Martha could make a decision about stopping the visits, a decision was made un-necessary. Maxine knocked frantically on the door one day and told Martha that she couldn’t come over any more and that Clara should be kept from visiting her. She said that Ned had come to the conclusion that she was visiting Jonathan – not Martha. She told Martha to caution Jon that Ned was a dangerous man … and more dangerous than ever before since the meteor shower. Clara wanted to go with Maxine, but Maxine shouted, “No, you can’t!” and limped hurriedly off the porch and back across the street. Clara was upset by being rejected and ran off towards the woods. Martha didn’t know what to do. She considered calling the police. Again, she didn’t have time to decide. The phone rang and Maxine shouted at her to get Jonathan and Clara and leave home before it was too late.
Martha rushed out of the house only to see Ned Hastings walking towards Jonathan. He seemed to have a strange glow to him. Jon reached out his hand in friendship only to have Ned pick him up over his head and fling him 100 feet into the side of the barn. Boards cracked as Jon’s body bounced off the wall and landed in the yard. Martha screamed but she wasn’t the only one screaming. As she rushed to Jon, Maxine was limping towards Ned screaming for him to stop. Ned was on his way towards Jon, but when Maxine caught up to him, he turned long enough to slap her to the ground. Maxine laid on the ground in an unconscious heap. As Ned resumed his advance on Jonathan and Martha, Clara marched up to him and punched him in the gut. He doubled over in pain for a moment then rushed at Clara. Clara grabbed Ned’s hands and pushed back against them to stop him from getting any closer to her parents.
Jon tried to stand and realized that one of the bones in his leg was fractured. He said, “Dear God in heaven. He’s as strong as she is. She’s trembling from the strain of holding him back.”
Martha said, “No she isn’t Jon! She’s trembling from anger. If we don’t do something fast, I think she’ll kill him!”
As soon as Martha had said those words, Clara let go of Mr. Hastings hands and allowed him to fall forward into the blur of her fists as they pummeled him mercilessly. The last blow she struck sent him flying 30 feet away. A red aura was emanating from her body as she walked towards him. Jonathan yelled, “CLARA! Come here! Honey, Daddy NEEDS you – NOW!!!”
Clara’s head turned in a jerk to face her parents. The intense anger she was feeling was still plain on her face, but she obeyed. She was walking towards Jon and examining him from as distance when Ned stood up. He stretched out his hands in front of himself and put them close to each other with the palms facing Clara. Before Jon or Martha could say anything, A ball of light shot out of his hands and flew at Clara. It hit her squarely on the back then bounced back and struck Ned Hastings. He fell to the ground and didn’t move.
Jon shouted, “Clara, do NOT turn around. Come to me. Come to me NOW!”
Clara continued to walk straight into Jonathan’s waiting arms. As she held him tightly, her leg gave way and her weight was fully upon him. Without thinking, He lifted her and stood. He said, “You’re my good little girl. I love you, Baby.” He carried her into the house and put her on the couch in the living room. He said, “Wait here and take a little nap. I’ll be back real soon. The front door will be open and Mommy will be coming in to sit with you.
Outside, Martha was checking on Maxine. She was hurt, but not seriously. When she woke up, she was able to walk home without help leaving Jon and Martha to carry Mr. Hastings across the street and upstairs to his bed. Looking down at him, Jon was shocked at how old Ned looked. He didn’t bare much resemblance to the man that had lifted and tossed him like a rag doll.
Mr. Hastings never regained consciousness. The doctor decided that he had died from a stroke. The Hasting had been required to hold life insurance on their farm’s mortgage, so with Ned’s death, the mortgage was paid. Maxine auctioned off the farm equipment and hired Jonathan to farm the land for her. She also sold her husband’s prize possession to Luthor Corp – a meteor rock the size of a bushel basket that he had found the day of the meteor shower. Maxine had enough savings from the proceeds and from the farm income to live comfortably. Clara continued to visit her Auntie Max, but Maxine insisted on doing her own housework after Ned’s death. She decided that a house that was too orderly made her uneasy. Maxine lived alone, but she never felt lonely. She found a new tranquility that she had never known before. A year later, her first book, “Stories for Clara” was published.