Loss Alive

October 27, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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* Writer’s note – Originally published 2006 in Dark Fire Fiction. I am the author and own the story rights.

“It’s time I told you about loss, boy.”

We sat, my Pa and I, beneath the old great willow that marked the end of our property and the beginning of God’s country. It had been a glorious day. The midafternoon sun had chased away the rain clouds, bringing spring’s balmy touch to an otherwise inclement week. My Pa had met the morning with our fishing rods and tackle, as if knowing the day’s meteorological outcome beforehand, and together we headed for the lake, splashing through the mud puddles like two boys who didn’t have a care in the world.

“Are you listening to me, son?”

But the day had slipped by (as all days must) and I knew the night would regenerate the cold. The smooth bark of the willow I was sitting against suddenly felt too hard, digging into my back as if it was trying to push me into the lake. The shadows from our fishing rods had changed position, and I felt a chill as the willow branches swayed in the breeze.

My Pa was staring at me; I could feel his eyes, but I couldn’t look at him, not with that strange remark hanging in the air between us. Instead, I glanced over to the water and the fish we had caught this morning. Six largemouths were hooked to the chain stringer, mostly tranquil, but occasionally one would fight for position and send the others into a swishing frenzy. I wondered if the familiarity of the water soothed them, or did they actually know they were being held captive and destined for the fire?

I heard the striking of a match and smelled the exhaled smoke from my Pa’s cigarette. The story was coming… whether I wanted it or not.

“Yes, Pa?” I said timidly, still not looking at him. A lone shad swam by, searching for food along the bank. One of the bass made a grab for it despite the chain in its gill.

“A terrible loss, son,” my father began, “is something you can never forget. Some people will tell ya’ otherwise, but those people either are fools, or they be people who’s never lost anything that ever had any meaning to ’em. Now your auntie Vera knows loss, though you never could’a known it ’cause she’s always walking around with that smilin’ apple pie face—bless her sweet heart, but what happened to your uncle Jarvis is tearing her up inside.”

My uncle Jarvis had been killed on the Mekong, another statistic of the Vietnam war. His body had been railed in from Council Bluffs, and was now buried at Cedar Hill Memorial along with two other boys who had given their lives for our great country. After the funeral, Vera had stayed with us for a few days, helping my Pa with the chores and baking and cleaning house just like my Ma used to do. I understood Pa’s statement—auntie Vera had looked like the happiest woman alive when she was with us—but I also understood about death (as much as any 10 year old could understand) and I had seen Vera crying on my pa’s shoulder while they listened to the taped messages my uncle sent home before the grenade fragment had taken his life. My father still listened to those tapes, and on one occasion I had spied on him while he sat drunk and weeping, listening to my uncle talk about how much he missed his family.

“I understand,” I said, believing I knew the procession of my father’s thoughts.

“No, son,” Pa said slowly. “I don’t think you do.”

And then I did look at him—though my heart told me not to—and what I discovered was a stranger who had cast off all apparel of parental congeniality. The stranger was wearing my father’s checkered flannel shirt—the coffee stains much in evidence in spite of the constant washings—but the fabric clung to skin that seemed hardened by doubt, by decisions that had blasted away the carefree naivete of youth. The balding pate was the same, twin wisps of graying hair flattened back over the ears, but this forehead was crossed with tight lines, their engravement enhanced by his furrowed brow. The smoke from his cigarette obscured his face, weaving a filmy cobweb where only his eyes could find purchase. They locked me in their gaze, hard and unblinking blue orbs which knew neither respite nor forgiveness.

“Because loss is something you can’t understand,” the stranger said. Then he gave me a gentle smile; a smile my pa might have given me if the day had remained unchanged. “It hurts too much. It burrows down into your insides like a worm, gobbling up everything you are, until all that’s left is the loss.”

I nodded my head, secretly hoping something would grab my hook: another bass, a bluegill, a mermaid, I didn’t care what, as long as it freed me from the stranger’s spell.

“It’s like you get a new puppy for your birthday,” the stranger continued, and I cringed as my fear began to follow his words. “And it’s just a scrawny thing, no bigger than your hand, but you’re overjoyed just the same ’cause the puppy takes a liking to you, and you to it, and right away you know you belong to each other.”

The stranger paused in his recital. For a brief moment I thought I could see the Day’s father peering from underneath. “That’s a special feeling, son. A good feeling – knowing something so intimately you feel it belongs to ya’.

“After a while you start to love that puppy: you love the way he plucks food from your hand; you love how he twirls around in circles, chasing his tail and yapping all to high heaven; and you be deciding that he’s just the best damn thing since long underwear on a blizzard night. You name him—he belongs to you now—and he becomes another part of your life, like he’s been there from the beginning.

“But there’s other things, too, that have been with you since the beginning; other appetites fighting for your attention: your need for learning and your needs for maturity; your desires for play; the innocence we all have that scoffs at responsibility and the necessities of everyday life.

“Time passes; the years roll by like boxcars in a train; and you get older, the puppy becomes a dog, and the world becomes a bigger place as you discover it has more to offer a boy than just his own backyard and the friendship of a pet.

“Finally, one day, you grow tired of the dog’s company. I won’t say bored—that’s like saying you get bored of those stories you’re always writing, and I know that ain’t the truth—but you do put your pencil down sometimes, to go off and do other things. But you always go back to your stories. You don’t actually give ’em up for dead, right? You just get tired of the same old rigmarole, so your mind starts a’wandering, and you take off in pursuit of other fancies.”

The stranger’s voice dropped a tone. Images of my own dog, Rufus, were spinning in my head, and I found myself leaning forward to hear the rest of his words:

“What you don’t stop to consider is that dog of yours gets tired, too. And if you ain’t around, he’s gonna wander off on his own, maybe into unfamiliar territory—some place where you can’t protect him. He might get lost, or—and I know this ain’t something any child should have to go through—but… but he could even get hit by a truck, or caught in one of those muskrat traps the Haskal brothers have been putting out.”

There it was: as blunt as a poor man’s gravestone. In that moment of final revelation, the day lost its glitter, fading from a father-son affair full of camaraderie and mutual passion to a sugarcoated tragedy. Rufus had been missing for a week now, his food bowl untouched, the mornings undisturbed by his barking as he hailed me off to school. But today’s warmth had dismissed all thoughts of his absence. I tried to call up a picture of him in my mind… and failed. Even the memories eluded me. Something else pervaded on my thoughts, and I remembered the muskrat traps, those steel jaws spaced around the lake like the fangs of devils that had invaded paradise. The grown-up-bud inside me (something alien and as yet just a seedling) earnestly hoped he hadn’t suffered.

The child prevailed, though, as my hands balled up into fists and covered my eyes to join my tears in blocking out the world. I was dimly aware of the stranger watching my reaction. I hated him at that moment. I wanted him to go away, to pack up his tale of woe and return to whatever terrible place he’d come from. But I knew he would not go away until I asked the question neither one of us wanted to hear:

“Rufus is dead, isn’t he?”

Silence followed my question; even the breeze was still. I felt lost. Alone. With the exception of the fecal worm smell wafting from my fingers, my senses were dulled, as if I was enclosed in a vacuum.

The reply stunned me back into awareness: “No, son, he’s not.”

I pulled my hands away from my eyes, daring to hope. The stranger was gone, replaced by my Pa, his form outlined by the light of the descending sun, and I noticed for the first time how old he’d become, not only in his physical appearance (the crow’s feet and wrinkles were a gradual process of age, and I accepted this), but also in the manner in which he resolved himself, as if he was comprised of words and experiences that said: “Here is what I am; a vessel of years and nothing more.” Faced with this utter absoluteness, a spark of wisdom ignited inside me, and I caught a brief glimpse of what it truly must mean to be alone. I became ashamed of my tears, knowing my Pa had lost so much more than me when my mother passed away.

“My dog’s dead, ain’t he?” I said concedingly, feeling like a boy who had unexpectedly stumbled upon his manhood. “I can take it, Pa, you know I can. I’ve been thinking about ma, and how—”

“He ain’t dead, and I don’t want you fretting about it,” Pa interrupted.

“Then why—”

“Why’d I tell you a story like that one? ‘Cause I thought it was time, son,” Pa said flatly, and I heard the truth in his words—or, at least, the truth he wanted me to hear. “First, I ain’t too old to know when a boy is speaking from his guts ‘stead his heart, and I appreciate that, but the gut don’t always speak the truth, and that can lead to trouble later on. I’ve been thinking about your Ma, too. Ain’t a day goes by that I don’t. I try to remember all the good times we had, but for some reason all I can think about is how powerless I was to stop the pneumonia from taking her away. Sometimes I think I should’ve done something else to save her, but that’s my gut talking, ’cause I know in my heart there ain’t nothin’, boy, nothin’ I could’a done. And that’s the worst feeling in the world.”

Pa put another cigarette to his lips, and closed his eyes. I remained silent, afraid to speak and shatter his confession.

“Powerless,” Pa repeated. He shook his head violently, as if he was battling some inner turmoil. A vacant emotion slithered across his face, a thing that had nothing to do with the midafternoon sun or the glorious day it produced. “That’s loss, son. That’s true loss, when something happens and all you can do is stand there and wish it hadn’t. I’d do anything—anything at all—to protect you from that terrible feeling.”

Twilight enfolded us. The crickets in the brush began their nightly chirping, seeming to invoke the dark as they sang to their mates. It was still too cold for mosquitoes, but I felt as if they were already buzzing around my head, trying to force me to seek cover. The catch of the day were fading into shadow, reclaimed by the murky lake. The glorious day was escaping, and I ventured a question, hoping to reinstate its glamour before it vanished completely:

“Is Ma in Heaven?”

The answer drifted from the darkness: “No.”

No? That simple statement shocked me more than anything else my father had said. We were never churchgoing, not even when my Ma was alive, but I liked to think there was something out there—heaven or not—where the dead could go to find peace. “But Pastor Simmons says there’s a heaven,” I said, “and when we die we go there if we’ve been good.”

“Let me tell you something about preacher Simmons, boy.” (And my father sort of sounded like a preacher himself as he spoke to me.) “He’s a dreamer. Mark my words, son—he ain’t going nowhere, and neither are we. Simmons is like those Commies they got runnin’ all over Asia right now; the ones who killed your uncle Jarvis. Now they talk a big tale, talk on about changing the world and such, but they’re just the same—just dreamers. And dreamers ain’t nobody lessen they be asleep.”

He started reeling in our lines then, and I figured we were done for the day, that we would pack up and head home to clean the fish, but Pa had other ideas. He tied larger sinkers to the end of each line along with another leader, baited the hooks, and recast. The weights sailed through the gloom, making nearly inaudible plopping sounds as they broke the surface of the water. Pa lit the lantern and placed it beside me. “I want you to keep fishin’ for awhile,” he told me. And then, as if in answer to the question he knew I was going to ask, Pa said: “Do as you’re told, boy. Those fish’ll keep, and I got some repair work to do for Mr. Campton before the ‘morrow. If you catch anything—and I think you might if you got the patience to keep your pole in the water—string ’em with the others. Take my word for it, those bass won’t mind.”

Presently, he turned and strode away, my thoughts following his footsteps. Pa’s repair work—everything from overhauling tractor engines to fixing the Gurney twins’ bicycles—was our meat and potatoes, and I guess I should have felt lucky with having a father who worked at home, but it took up so much of his time, and I had no desire to join him in his mechanical tinkering. Besides, Pa’s work shed (along with the local tavern and the chicken farm run by girls out on Route 1) was one of those places that were off limits to me and my friends, and I respected his wishes. I knew it was his private place, like the stories I dream up are my private places, and I believed (and still do) that everyone should have a hideaway they can call their own.

The lake had once been one of those special hiding places, before the farmers on the east side sold their land, paving the way for the city’s extension and the intrusion of out-of-state businessmen whose ideals of privacy differed from us country folk. The war had put a halt to their invasion, but I knew it was only temporary. They’d be back, rending the earth with their machines that smelled like sulfur and belched black smoke into the air, destroying another hideaway. Perhaps this was why my father insisted I continue fishing; to enjoy the moment while it remained. Time was a fleeting thing, and the good times were fleeter still, slipping away to progress and death alike without so much as a considerate good-bye. I think he knew—as I knew—that time was definitely not on our side.

But time was all I had as I sat alone in the dark with only the bass and the echoes of my father’s story to keep me company. The feeble glare from the lantern did little to illuminate the jollity that had set with the sun. In fact, it seemed not to be illuminating anything at all, but rather allying itself with the night, and everything the night hid, compressing me into myself and forcing me to look inward at secrets I never knew existed. It was a time for self-analysis, and I realized I had never completely accepted my mother’s death, that a small part of me was always searching for signs of her presence. If she wasn’t in Heaven (as my father professed) then where was she? It wasn’t fair she had been reduced to photographs and hazy memories. It wasn’t right that I would have to spend the rest of my life without her. Selfish thoughts, I know, but I was also thinking of my father’s interests, and I’d come to the conclusion my Pa was wrong when he stated that the helplessness of loss was the most terrible thing in the world.

How the survivors responded to that loss was far more terrible.

Suddenly, the end of my pole started to bend, and I leapt out of my reverie, grateful for the distraction. So intent was I upon the catch, that I didn’t notice my father coming up behind me.

“Yeah, I thought they might be biting tonight,” he said, nearly startling me into dropping my pole. “Fight it, boy, fight it!” my Pa hollered, laughing as I strained against the weight. “That’s the morrow’s dinner, so don’t let it get away.”

My little arms went rigid with tension. My father ignored my cries for help, sipping at his flask, chuckling as I gasped and pulled and finally brought the catfish to shore. He tousled my hair and beamed at me as I unhooked the cat and displayed it with triumph.

“Ten pounds, Pa,” I said, beaming back at him. “Ten pounds at least.”

Pa took the fish, weighed it with his hands like all the true fishermen seem to do, and nodded in agreement.

Using chicken liver and patience we caught three more cats, though none as large as that first one, until Pa finished off his flask and started to yawn. It was the signal for our departure. “We’d best be getting home, son. I don’t want your Ma to have—”

Pa caught himself then and turned away, exhaling his whisky breath in a mournful sigh. The night hid his face, but I’m sure he was crying—or doing his best not to cry. I stumbled over words of reassurance, but fell short of the comfort I wanted to confer. There was no use denying the obvious. He still loved her—just as I loved her.

But when he turned back to me his face was dry, and I was pleased because I did not want this night to be spoiled as the day had been. We headed back to the house, Pa letting me carry the fish as if they were some sort of trophy, but he stopped me at the door.

“Mind your feet, boy. I don’t want you tracking mud all over the kitchen floor,” Pa said. He slipped his own boots off with a practiced skill I could not duplicate, and I was left on the stoop, fumbling with my own bootlaces.

And then I heard what I’d been longing to hear for the past week: the sound of Rufus’ barking. I called his name, steadying myself for the inevitable charge that would send me sprawling to the ground under a barrage of fur and wet dog licks, but the reunion never came. The barking continued, however, and I noticed how weak it sounded, as if Rufus’ voice was coming from the squawk box and being transmitted from far away. Fearing that my dog had been hurt after all, I tore off my boots and rushed into the kitchen.

My words of greeting never carried any further than my throat. Rufus was standing in the kitchen corner, next to the stove—just standing there. His tail lay limply against his hind leg, stiff and devoid of the wagging joy I had expected. His eyes were open, but empty of activity. Barren and glazed, they stared from above a blood-caked snout at surroundings without meaning.

“Rufus,” I muttered, taking a step toward him, my hands shaking uncontrollably, my mind reeling from the morbidity of the situation. I reached out to touch him and encountered the cold steel of the chicken wire that was spiraling up his legs and around his neck, supporting his broken body in an upright position. Tufts of his matted hair protruded from between the netting, brushing against my fingers with all the warmth of a terminal disease. Searching for a heartbeat, scanning madly for some sign of life, I bent down to peer into his face and saw my helplessness reflected in his dead eyes.

The barking sounds abruptly stopped, and my Pa picked up the tape recorder, carrying it into the parlor and sweeping past me without a word. I followed him to the entranceway, unable to speak, as he substituted the tape for another and placed the recorder on top of the book rack adjacent to the sewing chair. My mother’s sewing chair.

“C’mon, son, and give your ma a kiss before you go to bed,” Pa told me. He pressed the play button, all the while staring at me with an eager anticipation.

The significance of my father’s words became clear as my sight fell on the mass of tangled hair poking obtrusively over the back of the chair. A feeble shriek escaped my lips; the sound of a mouse caught in a trap. I backpedaled toward the kitchen, my sight fixed on my Pa as he leaned over and whispered a tender intimacy into the ear of that thing sitting before him. But I should have been watching where I was going. As I turned to flee, I ran into the motionless slab that was once my best friend, my hands flailing but too slow to stop my fall. Lying in a heap, my dog’s inanimate body beneath me, I struggled for breath and escape.

My father stood over me, scowling. “Let’s go, son,” he said harshly. He held a cleaver in his hand, pointing it at my face, its honed edge a warning against disobedience. “It’s getting late, and your Ma needs her rest. You can play with Rufus tomorrow.”

He strode past me, and began to align the fish on the cutting board.

“Hey, there, little man. I hope you and your pa had a fun day,” a voice said, and it was my mother’s voice, distant and autonomic, but carrying the same undertones of mirth I had stored in my memory. It made no difference that her speech was coming from the past. It alleviated my fear just the same, creating the wholesome image of my mother as she was before her death, tugging at my heart, and, before I knew what I was doing, I was shambling back toward the parlor.

Behind me, I heard the condemning whack of the cleaver as a fish head was severed.

“Go on, boy,” Pa said to my back when I hesitated at the threshold. My sight had restored my common sense. Whatever was sitting in that chair was definitely not my mother. “I don’t need no help cleaning these fish.”

Whack. The cleaver took off a tail.

As I dragged myself forward, I closed my eyes, sealing myself in darkness, attempting to hide myself from the horror that was waiting for me.

Whack. Another fish lost its head.

My Ma’s voice continued to call me: “Okay, I love you too. A kiss and then it’s off to bed.”

I tried to recall the setup of the parlor as my feet nudged me further into the room. I clenched my eyes even tighter, reaching out to my right to grasp the divan, using the edge of the cushion and the singsong messages of yesteryear to guide me—

“Mrs. Appleton tells me your studies are going well. I’m so proud of you. She says you’re her brightest student.”

A smell assaulted me as I drew closer, an odor like rotting cabbage in a storm cellar, and I imagined (for the sake of my sanity) that it was coming from the fish, although I knew that no fresh fish, live or dead, could emit a stench like that.

Whack.

Groping blindly, I stumbled into my destination, reaching out to anchor my balance. My eyelids inadvertently cracked open, and I pulled my hand back in disgust when I saw that the greasy support I was clutching was the back of the corpse’s skull. I quickly resealed my eyes, but not before I saw the skeletal claw gripping at the armrest, my mother’s wedding band hanging loosely from one bony digit.

The recorder—still continuing to spout nonsense: moments from Christmasses and birthdays past—was deafened by my father’s shout: “Soon as you give your Ma a kiss, I want you in the bath. Those chicken livers will stink you up for days if you don’t wash ’em off now.”

Giving in; knowing it was the only way to end this distasteful nightmare; I bent down and planted a kiss on what I assumed was my mother’s cheek. Something small and furry scurried across my lips, and I slapped it away as I drew back. My mouth filling with bile, I turned away and forced my eyes open.

Pa was standing at the parlor entrance, the slime-covered cleaver dangling from his hand. “All right, upstairs with you now.”

As I hurried up the stairs, I could hear my Ma calling to me: “I’ll be up later to tuck you in.”

* * * * *

I scrubbed. I scrubbed and brushed until I thought my hands and teeth were going to fall off. But it didn’t do any good. I can still feel that dank perversion pressing against my skin. I can still taste the stale decay in my mouth. And I can still hear my Pa, downstairs, speaking to that thing in the chair. Occasionally, I can hear my ma answer him.

Rufus is up here with me. Pa decided it was all right if he slept in my room tonight. I don’t mind. I need a friend right now more than anything, and although Rufus’ cold stare continues to disturb me, I know he means me no harm. He’s just scared, that’s all. And I’m sure he’ll come around.

Won’t you, boy?

He has to, because he’s coming with me. I’ve got my bags packed and, as soon as I’ve finished writing today’s events in my journal, I’m going to do what every kid has thought of doing at least once in his childhood: I’m going to run away from my… my family.

C’mon, Rufus. C’mon, Rufus.

I’m going now; I have to. I keep imagining tomorrow’s events: sitting captive at the dinner-table, eating fish, listening to the past, sitting next to it in the full light of day. I have to get out of here, because if I don’t I’m going to die. And if I die I don’t know where I’m going to end up.

Credit To – madinverse

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A Murder of Crows

October 27, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Athene Hibou walked through her childhood home slowly. Her hand trailed gently along the mahogany banister as she climbed the stairs. Subconsciously, she jumped over the squeaky third step from the top. The carpet upstairs was no longer the deep blue she remembered. It was faded to more of a light periwinkle and was worn through to the floor in spots. She opened each door as she passed, looking in to rooms full of furniture covered in white sheets. In the light of the fading sun, it was somewhat eerie, as if a parliament of ghosts had taken residence in the house.

She stepped into the room that used to be hers and slowly turned around. It looked like after she had left home her mom had turned it into a sewing and knitting room. There was a cubbyhole in the wall, each one with a different skein of yarn in it. Some were thick and fluffy. Others were coarse and spindly. She lightly touched one that was tagged as midnight blue. It reminded her of what the carpet outside used to look like. Athene sighed. There were so many things she had to sort through, it overwhelmed her a little.

Walking down the stairs, she flipped open her cell phone and called her husband, Shay. He answered on the third ring. “And what does the goddess of wisdom want with her lowly acolyte?” he asked. She could see the curve of his lips and his mocking bow in her mind’s eye and she laughed.

“I just wanted to let you know I made it to my old place safely,” she said, walking towards the kitchen. The window over the sink faced west towards the sun that was quickly slipping away. It lent a red tint to the woods behind the house. Wheeling above the trees she could see dozens of black shapes. She smiled remembering many an autumn day spent wandering amongst those trees, listening to the caws of the crows who called that woods home.

“You’re sure you don’t want me to help you sort through all the things down there?” he asked. She could hear the concern in his voice and her heart warmed at it. She didn’t know what she would do without Shay. “No,” she said. “I want some time alone to adjust to the–idea of mom being gone.” She closed her eyes and grabbed a firm hold on the counter. Her mom’s last couple of years had been lonely when dad passed. Athene had visited often, but her mom and dad had been friends and lovers for over fifty years. And as much as Athene had loved her mom, she just couldn’t fill that kind of void in her mom’s life. Her mom had died in her sleep with a smile on her face. Athene couldn’t have wished for a more peaceful outcome. Yet, still, she gripped the counter hard enough to feel wooden splinters digging into her palm. “It’ll probably take me about a couple days to get through everything,” she said in a remarkably steady voice. “The auction company will take the majority of the contents and sell them. I just have to pick out what I want to keep.”

“Well, I’m only a couple of hours away if you change your mind,” Shay said. “Good to know,” Athene said opening her eyes again. The trees in the forest behind her house cast long shadows now, the tips of which nearly reached the house. “Sleep well, love,” she said. “Only if I dream of you,” he said. She laughed lightly. “Good night.” She hung up the phone and stared outside again. She could see the black crows still wheeling above the trees.

Moving to the back door, she opened it and stepped outside. She could hear the caws of the birds clearly now as she walked across the grass towards the forest. She had no intention of exploring the woods. It was too close to nightfall for that and Athene had no desire to spend the night lost amongst the trees. But there was a tree, not a hundred yards into the forest that she used to practically live in every summer of her childhood. Athene had grown up in a time when parents feared less that a stranger would snatch their child away and she had spent the long summer days wandering the forest behind her house to her heart’s content.

But it was the large knotted and gnarled tree that Athene now stood under that she had spent the most time at. The many knots and gnarls had made it easy for her to clamber up, even when she was small. The branches curled and reached up and up forever, or so it had seemed. She had spent hot summer afternoons under the shade of the tree, exploring every inch of its gigantic form. The crows had seemed to like this tree in particular for their nests and Athene had observed many.

“Don’t disturb them,” her mother had said, watching Athene from the base of the tree once. “You wouldn’t like it if someone climbed into your room and moved your things around.” Her mother had looked off into the sky then, a distant look coming into her eyes. “And they will remember. Every hurt and every sting.” She had smiled to herself. “Takes the bastards forever to forget an insult.” And then her mother had suddenly remembered she was talking to her ten year old daughter and had blushed red. “Don’t ever let me catch you using that language though!” she had said shaking her finger at Athene. “Yes, mom,” Athene had said, mentally noting to herself not to let her mom find out just what she had called Jon “Butthead” Cawford at lunch the other day.

Present day Athene smiled, a hand on the tree. She sighed and leaned against the trunk. “I miss you, mom,” she whispered tears in her eyes. “I hope you’re with dad now. I hope you’re happy.” She stood there for a few moments as the forest darkened around her. Then, with a sigh, she pushed off the tree. She needed to get back to the house. Pushing off the tree with a sigh, Athene moved forward. As she moved away from the tree, she heard a loud crunching sound and something gooey under her foot. “Oh, come on,” she muttered to herself. She lifted up her right foot to see what she had stepped on. What looked like black downy feathers and bits of bone stuck to her foot. “Oh, no!” she exclaimed sitting down. She looked from her foot to the ground. What was left of a baby bird was smooshed across the bottom of her shoe and on the ground. “That’s just awful,” Athene said, slipping off her right shoe. “I hope you were dead already…”

A loud caw caught Athene’s attention. Looking up she saw a large black crow sitting on the lowest branch of the tree. It had a grey streak down its back. It was puffing itself up while its black beady eyes stared into hers. It cawed again, leaning forward looking ready to leap at her. Athene scuttled backwards from the tree, dropping her shoe as she did. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” she said, holding up her hands. She turned and scrambled to her feet as she heard a rush of wings. “Ah, shit,” she said, starting to run through the undergrowth. She ducked as she did and felt the whoosh of the crow’s body just missing the back of her head. She brought her hands up over head as she ran. She staggered slightly as she exited the forest, her foot without a shoe throwing off her balance slightly. As she made for the back door, she felt something sharp rake down her right arm and wings beating against her. “Stop it! I’m sorry!” she yelled waving her arms in an attempt to get the crow off. It flew up and above, giving Athene just enough of an opening to dart into the house through the back door.

She slammed it behind her. As she did, she heard a loud thump on the door. She peeked out the kitchen window and saw the crow land in front of the door in a heap. It rolled itself up, wings flapping awkwardly as it turned, and stood in front of the back door. It cocked its head back and forth. Finally, with another caw, it took off and headed back for the forest. Athene let out a great whooshing breath.

Only then she became aware of the pulsing pain in her right arm. Looking down she saw a three inch gasp starting just below her wrist. It looked like the bird had driven its beak into her and pulled down. Red blood welled from it and ran down her arm and was already making a mess on the counter. Athene turned the sink on, her now slick right hand slipping slightly on the handle. She stuck her arm under the running water and hissed. It stung like a dozen tiny needles jabbed into her flesh. She stood and watched as the water washed the red away and more red welled up to join it. She crossed her left arm over her body and pulled open one of the kitchen drawers. Inside were several white dish towels. “I hate to do this…” she muttered pulling out one of the towels. She wrapped it around her right arm. Immediately, the white became scarlet as she held the towel firm.

“She had to have a first aid kit around here somewhere,” Athene said, opening up every cabinet and drawer she could find. She really didn’t want to leave the towel on her arm as she did not relish the idea of the fibers in it getting stuck in her open wound. Ten minutes later she found some disinfectant and bandage dressing in the upstairs bathroom. Carefully she washed the wound again and gave short little cries as she applied the disinfectant. “Oh, hurts, hurts, hurts!” she said as she bandaged her arm up. With a sigh, she looked at it. She should probably get a doctor to look at it. It might even need stitches. But it was getting late and she didn’t really feel like a trip to the emergency room (or an emergency room bill for that matter). “I’ll call someone in the morning,” she said, waving her right arm and then immediately regretting it as it stung again. “Stupid bird,” she muttered.

Athene trundled back downstairs and took a look at the time. Eight o’clock. “Well, I guess I could sort through a few things before I go to bed,” she said. She started in the living room. It was fairly easy. Her and Shay’s place was well stocked so they didn’t need any of the furniture. She sorted through the few books on the mantle and put them in a box for the auctioneers. She pulled down the pictures of her father, her mother, and herself and put them aside to keep. From there she moved to the kitchen. She kept a few odd utensils and bowls here and there, but for the most part she left things as they were. “This might be easier than I thought,” Athene said as she moved to the garage. She flicked on the light. “Nevermind,” she said when she saw all the boxes stacked inside. “You guys can wait until tomorrow.” She flicked the light back off.

As she did she thought she heard a tap on the garage door. Athene paused. “Hello?” she asked. She listened in the darkness, straining to hear. Nothing came back to her ears except the soft sighing of the wind. Athene shrugged and closed the door.

From there she quickly sorted through the downstairs and upstairs bathrooms. She kept nothing from either. After that Athene’s arm began to throb. She rubbed it was she walked down the hallway upstairs. “I’ll just take a quick inventory,” she said, poking her head in the rooms. There was no attic, thank God, just a spare bedroom, a hall closet, her mom’s bedroom, and the sewing room. The hall closet and sewing room didn’t look like they held anything of interest, although Athene would go through them more carefully the next day.

Athene paused in her mom’s room. She closed her eyes and took in a breath before turning on the lights. The scent of apple cinnamon potpourri lingered in the room. For as long as she could remember, Athene had associated the spicy smell with her mother. Her dad used to complain about how frou frou it was, but he would always be the one to show up with a refill just before mom’s current stash of potpourri ran out. “Mom,” she said, eyes watering slightly as she flicked on the lights. The lights seemed to bounce off the white walls and the white bedspread. Athene shielded her eyes slightly. “Ay, mom, how did you get any sleep in here! It practically glows!”

She walked into the room and sat on the bed. She lay back and stared at the ceiling, remembering all the times she did this as a small girl. Whenever she had a problem, or worry, or just wanted to talk, she would come in here and flop herself on the bed and her mom would flop down next to her. Sighing Athene sat up. She pulled open the nightstand next to the bed to see if there was anything in it. She found a rosary, a small prayer book, and a thick unmarked book. Curious, she picked it up and page through it. “A diary!” Athene exclaimed. She flicked back to the beginning. “Oh wow, she kept this for decades!”

She flicked to the end and saw the last entry dated just a couple days before her mom’s death. I think it’s almost time now, it read. It’s okay though. I’ve had a long life. A good life. And I’ll get to see Stephen again. Sometimes I swear I can feel him besides me. I feel like I can hear him calling me in my sleep. Perhaps, I will answer him next time. “I hope you are with dad,” Athene said, lightly tracing the page with her hand. She shut the book and took it with her as she left the room. She was definitely keeping this.

Shortly afterwards, Athene settled into the bed in the spare bedroom. She supposed she could have slept in her mom’s room, but it wouldn’t have felt right. She turned on the small reading light that was clipped onto the bed and twisted the poseable neck so she could read for a little while before going to sleep. “I wonder what kind of things mom wrote about,” Athene thought. Her hands stopped for a moment as she began to open the book. This was her mom’s private diary. Maybe she should just throw it away. Curiosity overwhelmed moral quandaries, however and Athene opened the book.

She chose a passage at random. I met a young man named Stephen Dansler at the town hall meeting today. it began. And he surely had the finest behind I have ever seen on a man. Athene laughed. He asked for my phone number. I gave it to him but I tried to seem bored. Hard to do when I felt a blush coming every time I looked at him but… Athene chuckled. She read through the next few pages and roughly was able to follow her dad’s courtship of her mom. She started in on the passage describing the honeymoon and the stopped. Her face turned scarlet. “Oh my God, mom!” Athene exclaimed. She hurriedly turned a few pages and tried to think of ways to burn the words she had just read out of her mind.

When her eyes focused again, she found herself reading a passage from not long before she had been born. Athene/Anthony, darling, I love you but I cannot wait for you to pop. “Guess I was going to be an Anthony if I was a guy,” Athene said. Especially since you make it hard to maneuver. Running from birds with a tummy that sticks out to the next county is not fun. Athene raised an eyebrow. Running from birds? Huh, weird. I just thought it would a nice day to eat outside. I go inside for a moment to refill my tea and come back out to find a crow pecking at my sandwich. It wouldn’t shoo when I swatted at it, and when I moved in closer I accidentally dumped my tea on it (my special green tea brew, stupid bird). Well, it got mad and I ended up making a strategic retreat into the house. Guess the thing got my sandwich after all. And my tea. Athene yawned and stretched. It felt comforting to know her mom had had a similar incident with a crow. In an odd way it made her feel closer to her mother. Reaching up she turned out the light.

A few hours later, something pulled Athene out of her sleep. She lay still in the darkness and listened. A tap-tap came to her hears. Sitting up, she looked around. Where was the sound coming from? She closed her eyes and listened. Tap-tap-scratch. She opened her eyes and looked toward the window. A dark shape huddled close to it. With a gasp, Athene turned on the reading light next to her bed and turned the neck towards the window. A glimpse of a beady black eye and a rush of wings and the crow that had been sitting outside the window flew away. With a hand on her chest, Athene took a steadying breath. She turned the lamp back around and switched it off again. “What’s next, Athene, gonna have a heart attack when a squirrel prances across the road?” she asked herself as settled back under the covers.

The next morning, Athene pulled out a spare pair of shoes and then shuffled through a phone book looking for a local doctor. She found one and set up an appointment to have her arm looked at. Then deciding that breakfast sounded good, she headed towards the front door. She opened it and was about to step out when a slight rustling caught her ears. Looking down, she saw a large black crow standing on the path that led to the front door. A grey streak ran down its back. It gave a screeching caw and launched itself toward the door.

“No way!” Athene said slamming the door. She heard scratching on the other side. “Really, bird, really?” Athene asked, moving to look out the window next to the door. The bird had settled itself back on the walk. As Athene watched another crow joined it. They cawed at each other for a moment. Then the second one flew off, leaving the grey streaked one behind. “Maybe I’ll just look in the fridge…” Athene said, backing away from the door.

After fixing a small breakfast of scrambled eggs and some toast, Athene grabbed a couple boxes. She made short work of the sewing room and hall closet. After that she moved to the spare bedroom. She moved the diary to her keep box and unclipped the reading light from the bed and put it with the diary. The rest she marked for the auctioneers.

She moved more slowly through her mom’s room. She found a neatly organized box with her mom’s bills filed in it. She put it to the side to go through more carefully when she was done with everything else. She kept a few pieces of her mom’s jewelry, such as an emerald broach with a lock of her mom’s hair inside, but decided to give most of them away. The family Bible, with her birth and her mom’s marriage and anniversaries recorded inside, went inside the keep box. The rest of the books she let. She sorted through the closet, taking a few sweaters and blouses. The shoes she didn’t bother with as her mom’s feet were smaller than her own. Closing the closet door she looked at the time. It was close to when she had set up her appointment.

Walking downstairs, she stopped by the front door. She pulled opened the blind on the window next to it and looked outside. Dumbfounded, she realized the crow from earlier was still there. Cautiously she opened the front door a crack. Instantly, the bird’s head snapped to the sound and Athene closed it again. She scratched her head. Her car was parked out front and she didn’t feel like battling a bird to get to it. Feeling slightly embarrassed, Athene retreated and headed for the backdoor. But, as she opened it, she found another large black bird standing outside in front the door.

Athene stared at it dumbfounded again for a moment until it screeched at her. She shut the door as it began to spread its wings. Athene moved to the window over the sink and looked outside. The bird had settled down again but was still staring at the door. “What am I supposed to do?” Athene said, throwing her hands up in the air. “Call the doctor and tell him birds have me trapped in the house?” She tapped her foot staring at the crow and thought. “Well, mom’s car is still in the garage…” she said.

Feeling even more foolish than she already did, Athene went upstairs and snatched her mom’s car keys from her room. Heading downstairs more quickly now that she was edging on late, she trotted into the garage. She fired up her mom’s red Volkswagen and opened the garage door. As she backed out a small black streak flew by the car. At first Athene thought the crow was attacking the car. Then she saw it subtle inside the garage and stare balefully at her. “Oh, come on!” Athene shouted at the bird. She pulled forward trying to get the bird to move. It stared at her and hopped out of the way of the car but stayed in the garage. “Fine!” Athene said, backing out. She closed the garage door. “You just wait there until I get back.”

An hour and a half later found Athene walking out of a corner drugstore with prescription antibiotics for her arm. The doctor had decided stitches weren’t necessary. “Been a while since I’ve seen a bird attack,” he had chuckled as he rebound her arm. “I’ll run a few blood tests, but I think you’ll be alright. Just take the antibiotics and call me back if there’s any redness or swelling.”

Her phone began to ring and Athene fished it out of her purse. “Hello,” she said, answering it.

“Hey, goddess, where are you?”

“Oh, Shay!” Athene said, opening her car door. “At the drug store. I had to pick up some antibiotics.”

“What did you walk? Your car is out front?”

Athene paused. “Where are you?”

“Standing outside your childhood home, waiting patiently at the door, and wondering what on earth is trapped in the garage.”

Athene laughed. “That’s the reason I had to pick up some antibiotics. What are you doing down here?”

“It’s Saturday, I was lonely and I brought some dinner,” he said. “And what’s this about antibiotics?”

“I’ll tell you when I get back. I’m only ten minutes out.”

Athene pulled her mom’s Volkswagen up behind her own car and got out. Shay was walking down from the front door with a picnic basket on his arm. He took a look at her right arm and his eyebrows came down. “What happened?” There was a clang on the garage door and a caw.

“That,” Athene said pointing at the door. “A crow attacked me yesterday. It was waiting outside for me this morning so that’s why I took mom’s car. It flew into the garage when I left and refused to leave.”

“If I was any good with a gun I’d shoot the little bastard,” Shay growled.

Athene patted his arm. “I think I stepped on its baby, though, so I just want to let it loose and hopefully it’ll fly off with its crow buddies.”

Shay grunted. “Here, you give me the garage door opener and go inside. I’ll clear it out.” He handed her the picnic basket and she gave him the opener.

She slipped inside and watched as Shay opened the garage door. The crow burst out, flying into the late afternoon sky. It circled back for a moment and seemed to stare and Shay. Then, it turned away and flew into the distance. Shay turned towards her and shrugged. She did the same and opened the front door for him. “Guess it knew it was no match for me,” Shay said, striking a pose and flexing his arms.

“My hero,” Athene said, rolling her eyes. “What’s in here?” she asked peeking in the basket.

“Well, let’s go in the dining room and see,” Shay said, wiggling his eyebrows at her. Athene giggled and followed him in.

Over a dinner of wine, casserole, and honey wheat rolls, Athene recounted her last couple days, including the crows. “I swear, it was like having the gestapo waiting outside,” Athene said, pausing to down her wine glass. A slight buzz filled her skull. “Oh, that feels good.” She shook her head. “It was weird enough having the one crow outside, but having its buddy out back too?”

Shay tiptoed up to the kitchen window and looked outside. Athene followed him. “Looks like the coast is clear,” he whispered looking out the window. He looked left and right and flattened himself against the wall. “If we hurry we might be able to rescue your shoe!” he said. Moving with exaggerated stealth, Shay and Athene snuck outside.

“Birds in the air at twelve o’ clock,” Shay said, pointing up. “Keep an eye out on them Codename Goddess.”

“Roger,” Athene said, sneaking behind Shay. They slipped into the woods as the dusk darkened around them. Athene led him to the tree. As they drew closer Athene tensed slightly, but neither caw nor crow met them as they walked up to the tree.

“Ooo, it is gooey,” Shay said, picking up her shoe. He picked up a stick and tried to scrape it off. “We might have to right this off as a lost cause.”

“Mission failure then? Never!” Athene said. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him lightly on the chin.

Shay put the shoe down and pulled her close. “A kiss on the chin? Is that all the ravager of crows gets?”

“Oh, I think I can give more than that,” Athene said leaning back. Shay followed her down, his lips meeting hers. The twilight deepened as they lay on the ground beneath the tree arms wrapped around each other.

Night had fallen when Athene rolled away from Shay. “Oh my God, what are we, teenagers?” she asked buttoning up her blouse. Pine needles from the ground scratched against her skin and she knew she and Shay were both going to need baths.

He leaned on an elbow and looked at her with a goofy grin on his face. “Just an acolyte in the throes of ecstasy,” he said. Athene whapped him slightly and he chuckled.

A flapping of wings made Athene look up. A large black bird sat looking at her from a few branches up. Athene couldn’t see if it had a grey streak down its back or not. “I think we should go inside now.”

“Sounds good, I think I need a shower,” Shay said, picking up Athene’s abandoned shoe. All the way back to the house Athene felt eyes at her back. But when she turned to look back at the door she saw nothing.

As she slept that night Athene heard a voice whispering to her in her dreams. “Mom?” she had muttered in her sleep. Athene woke and snuggled closer to her snoring husband. She had heard her mom’s voice, but it hadn’t sounded like it was calling her name. Athene frowned as she fell back asleep trying to remember what it had said. Something like Darren maybe? But Athene didn’t know any Darrens. Yawning, Athene let the dream slip from her fell back into a dreamless sleep.

Shay helped her sort through the garage the next day and by two pm they were ready to go. “That did go quicker with you helping,” Athene said, loading the things they were keeping into her car.

“Crow ravager and box sorter. I should put it on my business cards,” Shay said as he shut her trunk. “Alrighty, I say we got eat at Antonio’s when we get home in celebration.”

“Sounds good to me,” Athene said She gave Shay a high five and them climbed in her car. She waited while Shay got into his car and pulled out ahead of her. She turned to look at her childhood home one last time. As she stared up at it, a small black form on the edge of the roof caught her eye. If she squinted, she could’ve sworn she saw grey on its back. Athene shook her head and sighed. “Adios o vengeful one,” she said with a wave of her hand. She turned on the car and pulled away from the house.

It amazed Athene how quickly life fell back into a normal rhythm when she got back home. The rest of the world didn’t stop because Athene’s mom was gone, and Athene didn’t either. She caught herself dialing her mom’s number sometime, or nearly buying a book she thought she’d like, but even this began to stop as time passed. Athene didn’t know whether it made her happy or sad.

About two months after going through her mom’s things, Athene realized she had missed her period, almost twice now and was feeling queasy and awful lot. A quick trip to the drugstore and a pregnancy test later confirmed her suspicions.

“So,” Athene said that night as Shay came home from work, “How do you feel about the name Samantha?” Shay took off his coat and raised his eyebrows.

“It’s okay, I guess,” he said, tossing his coat on the back of the couch. “Why?”

“Oh, because there might be one joining us soon. Or maybe a Samuel. It’s too early to say.”

Shay stared at her for a moment as if she had gone crazy. And then a light dawned in his eyes and he laughed. He rushed over and caught her in a tight embrace. Then he loosened his grip suddenly biting his lip. “Oh, sorry did I hurt you. Either of you?” He patted her stomach.

Athene laughed in turn and hugged him again. “I’m not a china doll, it’s okay.” “How far along are you?” Shay asked, bouncing his heels.

Athene shrugged. “I’m not sure. I have missed about two periods though.”

Shay counted on his fingers and a delighted grin crossed his face. “Ooo, you don’t think when we–”

Athene laughed. “Could be. Wouldn’t that be a story to tell?”

Shay rubbed his hands. “I cannot wait. I gotta call my mom!” He winced then and looked at Athene, concern crossing his face.

She waved a hand, even though her heart sunk a little. “It’s okay. I’m okay. I’m sure my mom is watching delighted too.” She smiled. “Go ahead, call your folks.”

Shay practically bounced out of the room as he pulled out his cell phone. “I’m okay with Samantha if it’s a girl, but Samuel?” he made a face. “How about Darren?” he asked, as he dialed his mom’s number.

For a moment, Athene’s heart ran cold, and she didn’t know why. “Sure,” she said, slowly, as Shay turned his attention to the phone. Shay spent the next two hours calling everyone he could think of to relay the good news too. Athene watched in amusement and sometimes took the phone to talk with friends and family who wanted to relay good wishes.

Athene slipped into bed next to Shay that night, a warm happiness suffusing her entire being. She had made an appointment with a doctor for tomorrow to confirm what she was already pretty sure of and to find out how far along she was. As she closed her eyes, she thought she saw a shadow against the blinds across her window. But, when she opened her eyes, she didn’t see anything there.

The next day Athene’s car chugged up the steep hill to the hospital her doctor practiced at. He confirmed Athene was about seven weeks along with a blood test. “We’ll want to get you scheduled for regular visits,” Doctor Carlington said, handing her a huge sheathe of papers. Athene glanced through it and saw it was information about the various stages of pregnancy, birth, Lamaze classes, and the like. “And you’ll have to decide if you want a natural birth or not. But that can come later.” He smiled at her. “Enjoy the moment for now.”

Athene walked back to her car with an appointment schedule on top of her huge pile of papers. And then she stopped. Three black crows sat on the roof of her little white car. And the one in the middle had a grey streak. Athene stood and stared at them. She blinked a couple times and rubbed her eyes. No, she wasn’t hallucinating. She took a tentative step forward. She saw the birds bodies begin to puff out and she stopped. “Oh, this is just ridiculous,” Athene said, stomping her foot. “There is no way you followed me all the way here!” she said, pointing at the grey streaked crow. “What are you, a mafia don or something?” The grey streaked one cawed at her and Athene sighed.

She walked back into the hospital and walked up to information. “Excuse me,” she said, blushing slightly. “This is going to sound kind of silly…” She explained about the birds on her car and asked if they had a broom she could borrow to swat them off. The elderly man and woman manning the reception booth laughed and flagged down one of the janitorial staff. A hefty middle-aged woman followed Athene outside with a good-sized broom.

The crows stared at them as they approached. “Nasty looking buggers,” the woman, who introduced herself as Sally, said. She lifted her broom up, but before she could get any closer the crows took off. “Guess I showed them,” she said, grinning at Athene. “Thanks, Sally,” Athene said gratefully. “Anytime! Beats mopping up vomit,” Sally said, using the broom to salute Athene.

Athene settled in at home and began researching an article she was writing for National Geographic. She heard a car door slam a couple hours later and stretched. She went to open the front door to greet Shay. As she did, her gaze went to the small oak tree in their yard. As she looked into it, she saw a small black and grey streaked monstrosity sitting in it. “Shay, look!” Athene shrieked pointing at the tree. But even as she did, the bird took off.

Shay, not having seen the crow, looked back from the tree to Athene. “What?” he asked.

Athene opened and closed her mouth. “I– I thought I saw a raccoon,” she said faintly. She was sure she would sound quite mad if she told Shay she thought a bird mafia don had put a hit out on her. Did that mean the grey streaked crow was male? Could females be dons? Shaking her head, Athene put a smile on. “Anyway, the doctor confirmed I am seven weeks along or so.”

“Awesome!” Shay said, kissing her lightly. “This calls for wine!”

“For you maybe,” Athene said, slapping him lightly.

“Oh, right,” Shay said, patting her stomach. “Well, some red Kool-Aid that looks like wine maybe?”

After Shay went to bed that night, Athene grabbed her mom’s diary and sat down on the couch in the living room. Keeping the light dim, she opened the diary to the bits where her mom was pregnant with her. She read through, looking for insight on what to expect and how her mom had handled her pregnancy. “I wish I could just ask you,” Athene sighed, as she read. As she read, she came to the part about the crow again and made a face. “Finding those birds wherever I look today,” she said as she turned to the page.

To her surprise, she found the crows mentioned again and again in the following pages. Apparently, they had started harassing her mom after the tea incident. Athene raised an eyebrow. She didn’t remember crows harassing her mom as a kid. She kept reading, and found a passage set about six months after her birth. Was out watering the lawn a couple days ago. Darn crows attacked me again. I turned the hose on them, but they kept circling until eventually I ended up drenched instead of them. One of them landed next to me after that and gave a self-satisfied little caw. And then they all flew off. I haven’t seen them since. I guess they just wanted to get me as wet as I had gotten one of them! Spiteful little bastards! Athene felt a chill run down her spine. Spiteful little bastards. Athene had done much more than get a crow wet.

Shaking her head Athene turned off the light and began to head to bed. She paused by the front door. Quietly she pulled it open. She poked her head outside. Slowly her vision adjusted to the darkness. She gazed into the oak tree out front. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought she saw a bird shaped black mass sitting and staring at the house. Athene quickly shut the door and went to bed.

Athene took to carrying a broom in her car. Everywhere she went now, she could swear she saw the large black birds stalking her. They never approached her when there were other people around, which Athene made sure was all the time. She timed leaving and going to her car at the doctor’s office to make sure she did it when other people were near. She would sit and wait for up to ten minutes if she had too. Still, as the months wore on, she grew more and more nervous. She told Shay it was just nerves because of having her first baby. She was afraid to admit she thought crows were stalking her.

The date of her birth drew close and Athene went in for her last appointment. “Everything looks good,” Doctor Carlington said, smiling. “You’re due anytime now, but if it hasn’t happened by this time next week, we’ll have you induced.” He smiled and patted her back. “Have you decided on a name?” “Samantha if a girl, Darren if a boy,” Athene said, waddling off the exam table. “And for the last time, no we don’t want to know ahead of time,” Athene said, cutting off the question with a grin.

“Watch a lot of Bewitched, huh?” he asked, smiling.

“What?” Athene said.

“Nothing,” he said, shaking his head and holding the door open for her.

Athene maneuvered herself into her car and got the door closed. The inside of the car was stuffy so she rolled down the window as she backed out. As she turned onto the hill and headed down, a fast moving black object caught her attention. Before she could do anything, a large black crow burst into her car. She couldn’t see if it had the grey streak or not, but she could feels its wings, beaks and claws as it thrashed at her. Instinctively, she threw up her arms to defend her head. She tried to jam the break with her foot, but hit the accelerator instead, the car racing down the hill. Her left hand grabbed the wheel and tried to steer as she tried to beat of the bird with her right hand. A flurry of wings blocked her vision and then Athene heard a horn and screeching tires.

There was a jarring impact and then everything seemed to slow down as Athene felt the car roll over on its side. She watched as the crow came down at her and she tired to shield her face. But then she felt claws not on her arm, but on her stomach. Time snapped back in place as the car landed and the airbag blew out and hit her. She snapped back in her seat and all the air left her lungs. Athene then slumped over the horn. She could feel blood rolling down her forehead and down between her legs. Her eyes rolled in her head, and the last things she remembered consciously doing was awkwardly moving her arms over stomach to keep the bird away. She thought she heard her mom’s voice as she blacked out, calling for a Darren again. And then she knew no more.

Sound came back first. Athene heard soft beeping coming from next to her. Someone shifted in a seat nearby and sighed. It was a sad sigh. Athene wondered what was wrong. She tried to ask, but her mouth felt like she had been sleeping with it open for the past week. She croaked and tired to open her eyes. Encrusted sleep dust made them feel heavy. The lights were dim, wherever she was, but they hurt her eyes nonetheless. “Where?” she finally managed.

Someone stood up next to her and she saw Shay, looking sadder and happier then she could ever remember all at once. He looked at her about to burst. Then he darted to the door. “She’s awake,” he bellowed out the door. Then he was back at her side and holding her hand, telling her how much he loved her over and over. He burst into tears and collapsed into the chair next to the bed.

Athene stared at him, trying to figure out what was going on. Then she remembered. “The baby, oh God, the baby!” she said trying to sit up. Shay eased her back down.

“The baby is fine, Darren is fine,” he soothed. He ran a hand through his hair. “It was a little touch and go, but they got him out okay. You were the real problem.” He grabbed her hand and kissed it as a nurse came in. The nurse took her vitals and then called Doctor Carlington.

Doctor Carlington explained that she had been in a coma for the past three weeks. Athene gaped at him. “Did they get the bird?” she asked. He looked at her quizzically. “A bird flew in the car. It’s why I lost control.”

“Oh,” he said. He pondered. “That could explain the scratches on your stomach. They did look like something from an animal rather than like something from the crash.” He shook his head, amazed. “But, no, there was no bird there when they pulled you out.” He smiled then. “And Darren is just fine. As a matter of fact,” he said, looking back at the opening door.

Athene looked up and saw a small blue bundle in the nurse’s arms. She felt tears roll down her face. “Darren,” she said, trying to hold out her arms. Gently, the nurse placed the baby in her arms, and for the first time Athene looked into the face of her little boy. She rocked him gently, and with the help of the nurse undid her gown so she could feed him. When he was done the nurse took him away again, much to Athene’s displeasure. She was assured, however, that Darren would be brought to her for all feedings now, and more as Athene grew stronger.

A few more weeks passed as Athene recuperated from the crash. Shay was eventually allowed to take Darren home but he brought him up for feedings and visits so often that they might as well have lived at the hospital. The discharge day came and Athene felt ready to run from her bed straight home to her son and husband. A nurse wheeled her to the front door. She stood up from the wheel chair where Shay and Darren in a stroller were waiting. Darren slept contentedly in his stroller, the awning drawn up to protect him from the sun.

“If you want to wait with him, I can go get the car,” Shay said, worriedly. “The lot was full so I ended up parking at the top of the hill,” he said, pointing.

“No, it’s okay,” Athene said, taking in a deep breath of non-hospital air. “I want to walk.” Slowly, they walked to the car, Shay pushing the stroller. Athene looked down at Darren and smiled as he yawned in his sleep. “I’m sorry,” she said, kissing Shay on the cheek.

“For what?” he asked, surprised.

“For ruining your first few weeks of fatherhood.”

He hugged her. “I’m just glad you’re both okay,” he said, as they came to the hill. Shay began to turn towards the car.

As he did, Athene heard something fluttering overhead. She looked up and saw something black with a gray streak descend towards her. She shrieked and stepped back, waving her hands madly. “Leave me alone!” she screamed.

Shay turned and darted forward, trying to get the crow off of her. As Athene dodged she saw a crow land on the stroller handle. And then another one next to it. The stroller wobbled forward under their weight. “No!” she screamed forgetting the crow pecking at her head and lunging forward. Her legs gave out under her and she fell just short of the stroller as it began to roll down the hill in earnest. Athene forced herself to her feet as Shay ran past her with a cry.

She tried to follow him down the hill, but her legs, still tired from disuse, gave out from under her again and she fell. She began to roll down the hill, unable to stop herself. As she rolled, she saw the stroller approaching the street at the end of the hill with Shay in wild pursuit. She didn’t actually see it enter the street at the bottom. But she did hear a blood curdling metal shriek and the sound of tires screeching.

She finally came to a stop three quarters of the way down the hill. A large black pick-up blocked her view. Shay was scrambling around it, and the driver opened his door and fell out of his seat, his face an ashen gray. The crow with the grey streak landed next to Athene. They stared at each other for a moment. Then it puffed itself and gave a self-satisfied caw before flying away. Athene watched it go and then slowly looked back to the pick-up. She began to laugh as she lay on the ground. She laughed until her throat went hoarse and her laughter turned to what sounded like rough caws.

Credit To – Star Kindler

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Empty House

October 24, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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Even years later I can still remember that day. It was the first and last time I ever went out to the movies alone. The last time I went out to the movies ever. I don’t feel like I’m missing all that much really, the movies had never been a big part of my life. I vaguely recall going out to the theater a couple times with my Mom and Dad when I was little but, other than that, I had never really cared much about seeing movies in the theater.

That day, however, was different. I had seen the trailers for “Massacre at Willow-Peak” and, despite the somewhat cheesy title, it looked good. The trailers promised that it was more than just some cheesy slasher movie and several critics attested that the movie was the most legitimately frightening horror movie to come out of Hollywood in years. I’ve never been a huge movie-buff, but it looked good to me, and I didn’t want to wait for it to come out on DVD, so I decided I might as well go out to the theater. I could use a little outing anyway. Of course, first I’d actually have to find a way to get out to the theater.

Looking back it’s actually rather funny how adamantly my mother didn’t want me going out to the movies that day. It’s been years since then, and she still says that she ‘Had a bad feeling’ that day. That’s all rubbish of course, in reality it was just mom being her usual overprotective self. It just so happened that this time her paranoia was justified. You’d have a hard time telling her that though. Even today she still uses that day as a cautionary tale for why ‘Boy’s should listen to their mothers’.

When I first told my mother I wanted to go out she simply told me that my Dad was tired and wouldn’t be able to take me. I asked my Dad though, and he said it’d be fine, he needed to pick up some groceries anyway. My mother next said that it was too late, she only ever went to movies during the matinee hours. I said that I would pay for the movie myself though and, so she was forced to relent on that front. That was where things started getting nasty as they always did when my mother didn’t get her way.

“Who goes to the movies alone!” I remember she said “You’re supposed to go to the movies with friends or with family. You look like a freak when you go to the movies alone!”

I had no idea why she was being so adamant about it, but her attempts to stop me were only strengthening my resolve to go. I was a sixteen year-old boy for crying out loud, and it was a Friday night.

Luckily, Dad was on my side and, after a few more minutes of vain arguments, we were grabbing our coats and getting ready to go. Mom gave me a bottle of pepper-spray as I left which I reluctantly shoved into my pocket.

I pulled my coat around me a little as I stepped out of the car and into the cool autumn air. It had rained recently. Technically speaking it still was, but it was only a drizzle. The air was still humid and moist. Cold and humid was a combination I could do without, I hated the odd clammy feeling that it gave me, and so I said a passing goodbye to my Dad as he drove away and quickly made my way into the building.

I didn’t go so quickly though that I forgot to stop for a moment and take in the silhouette of the Golden Reel theater. The Golden Reel had a long history in the town and had been there nearly since it’s inception. It was sad that the theater had fallen on hard times recently, Netflix and the newer movie theater across town having taken away a significant portion of it’s clientele. That being said, it wasn’t in any serious state of disrepair. If it had been I probably wouldn’t have been going to it. It just had a few little problems. There were little cracks in the woodwork and the bricks were rough in places where the paint had fallen off. The giant sign that was supposed to read ‘Golden Reel’ in golden letters had lost some of it’s sheen and was fading day by day to a dull yellow.

Normally I wouldn’t mind such small imperfections, but the dim orange light of sunset seemed to exaggerate the buildings flaws, stifling it’s old-time charm and giving it an ominous feeling. I couldn’t help but think that this was the perfect place to see a horror movie since the place looked like it might very well be haunted. That feeling didn’t decrease in the slightest as I entered the building, having seen a sign at the ticket-booth reading ‘PLEASE PURCHASE TICKETS AT CONCESION STAND’.

I guessed that it was because of the clammy whether and didn’t think twice about it as I went inside. It did feel strange though, just walking past the deserted podium where they normally take your ticket.

When I got inside there was a single worker standing behind the concession stand. Our eyes met as I walked up to the counter. The manager must have gone home early.

There was something haunting about the sight of an empty movie theater. A movie theater is supposed to be a bustling place full of people excited about the movie they were going to see or had just gone to see. Seeing it empty the way it was, devoid of a single soul other than the man at the concession stand and myself, was more than a little sad.

“It looks so hollow.” I said, more to myself than to the clerk at the counter.

“Empty House tonight.” Replied the man tapping out one last message on his cellphone before pocketing it. Those words, ‘Empty House’ I still remember them even now. The way he said them so nonchalantly completely apathetic to the sadness they contained.

“There’s nobody here at all?” I asked. He sighed, seemingly annoyed at the thought of actually having to deal with a customer.

“There’s like… two other people here.” he said and, after a moment, rolled his eyes at me and added “So I guess you want tickets, right?”

When I first walked into the theater, I thought I was the only one there. I was a bit early as I tended to be, and screen-vision was still on. I sat there, closing my eyes and reclining in the old yet comfortable seat. It was only after a few minutes that I detected something strange. I could hear an odd sound, a strange current underneath the inane chatter of screen-vision. At first I thought the sound was mechanical, a broken vent or something giving off the rhythmical breathy sound. It was low and I could just barely hear it, but it still worried me a bit. I looked around seeing if I could find the source and, as I looked behind me, I saw that I was not alone in the theater as I had originally thought. In the very back row, there was a man. I assumed he was homeless when I first saw him because of the way he was dressed. He was garbed in layers of tattered rags that looked like they had been worn to the point throwing away, on his outermost layer he had a thick black coat that looked like it had been made of nice leather at one point. His long and tangled black hair was for the most part covered by a large brown hat that he, somewhat rudely, was still wearing inside. His face was almost wholly obscured by the combination of a ratty old scarf and what looked like a medical mask.

It struck me as odd, a homeless man being in the theater. I wondered what he was doing spending what little money he had on a movie rather than food and shelter, but it quickly dawned on me that he most likely sneaked in. It wasn’t as if it would have been that difficult with one lone employee manning the concession stand. I don’t know why but, his presence disturbed me somehow. Maybe it was the fact that he seemed so out of place, or maybe it was the fact that I was alone in the theater with him, but I just didn’t feel right being near him. That, along with the strange sound that I had still yet to place was starting to make me a bit nervous. I wondered if maybe I just should have taken my Mom’s advice and stayed in.

I sat there for a few moments trying to regain my calm while waiting for the movie to start. It was a vain effort though as every breath I took only made me feel more anxious. After a bit, it dawned upon me that I had forgotten to buy snacks. Really it was just an excuse to get up and walk around but; nonetheless, I decided to go and get myself some popcorn from the concession stand. As I got up, I saw the man turn to look at me. Our eyes met, and I thought I heard him say something in the distance. It wasn’t a very large theater, but he was in the back row and I was near the front. Once more he attempted to say something and this time I was sure I heard him. I didn’t really want to, but he was obviously trying to say something to me and so, against my better judgment, I walked up the aisle towards the man.

As I got closer to him I started to notice several things. He was indeed wearing a medical mask, one that was splotched with some yellow stain, I preferred not to speculate about what it was. His entire body was covered in sweat. Most of his skin was hidden by clothing, but I could see the perspiration beading up on his face and there were dark stains forming on his chest even through the multiple sweaters he wore. What skin he did show was pale and ruddy. His eyes were jaundice and, despite having rather broad shoulders, he had a general look of sickliness about him. I assumed this was the reason for the medical mask. I’ve always been a bit of a germaphobe and so even being around this guy was starting to turn my stomach.

The most sickening thing about him though was his breathing. I’d originally thought that the sound was something mechanical and, listening to the eerie noise emanating from the man’s throat, I realized that no one could fault me for not recognizing the sound as being human in origin. It was a low, slow, wheeze that poured rhythmically from his throat, but there was also a wet gurgling sound underneath it. It was the type of wheeze you get when you have a lot of mucus in your throat, and I was briefly reminded of my aunt Valerie who’d had whooping cough. He wasn’t coughing though, just sort of… gurgling. The yellow stain on his mask suddenly made more sense.

“W-Where are you going?” he asked. I suddenly snapped to attention, realizing that I had been staring at the man.

“To the concession stand.” I replied automatically. It never even occurred to me that it was none of his business.

“C-Can you g-go for me too…?” the man asked. It took me a few seconds to realize that he wanted me to go to the concession stand for him. There was something off about the way he spoke. His voice was rather high-pitched and soft, he never seemed to speak above a whisper. That wasn’t the most peculiar thing about it though. No, the most off-putting thing about his voice was the pain it seemed to cause him. As if it hurt him just to speak. It almost reminded me of the time when I was young and had strep-throat. I remember, back then it hurt even just to swallow something as simple as water, let alone speak. The pained expression in his yellowing eyes combined with his rather severe stutter made me feel bad for the man, it didn’t ease my apprehension though.

“I have m-money.” he said, apparently seeing the look of uncertainty on my face. He began digging around in his trouser pockets but seemed to be having some trouble. I noticed that he seemed to be wearing more than one pair of pants and that the outer layer seemed to be straining at the seams. After a bit of struggling he finally stood up in order to allow himself easier access to his pockets. I hadn’t realized before now just how large this man was. I noticed his rather broad shoulders, but I hadn’t anticipated just how tall he’d be. As he stood there digging in his pockets I estimated that he must have been at least 6’7, but I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if he was over 7 foot. He found his money and then, much to my dismay, began walking over towards me. He seemed to get taller with every lumbering step he took in my direction.

I looked up at him, and he held out a large hand with a few dollar bills in them. Without thinking, I reached out and took the bills from him. His hand was thick and calloused all over. He seemed to have sores on his palm, and the tips of his fingers were crusted with what looked to be some sort of rash. I took the money from his hand never even thinking about the fact that I had never actually agreed to go to the concession stand for him. At that point, with his massive form towering over me, I probably would have agreed to anything.

“Um, what do you want?” I asked him. He looked down at me. For a moment, there was silence. I looked into his jaundice eyes as the abnormal sound of his breathing spread throughout the theater.

“T-Two large lemonades… and… a c-c-chocolate b-bar.” he said eventually. I nodded in reply. Now that he was standing so close to me I was beginning to pick up a rancid scent coming from the man. It was slight, but it was there, it smelled almost like spoiled milk. Like everything else about the man though, it was layered. Underneath the spoiled smell, there was something else. It was familiar, but I couldn’t quite place what it was. I honestly just wanted to get away from the man as quickly as possible.

“Th-Thank you.” he said.

“You’re welcome.” I replied, smiling as best as I could manage. With that, I turned and did my best to maintain a normal walking pace as I walked down the stairs and out of the theater.

A huge wave of relief came over me as I walked out into the lobby. I looked down at the money that the man had given me. It was darkened and soggy with what I couldn’t only hope was sweat. Not only that but it looked like he had only given me about four dollars, not nearly enough for the snacks he wanted. As I walked up to the concession stand I considered what to do. Honestly if I had a car I probably would’ve just dumped the money in the garbage, driven home, and washed my hands about a thousand times over. I didn’t have a car though. If I wanted to go home I would have to call my father and ask him to come get me.

Normally that would be no big deal, but my dad wasn’t at home at the moment, he was at the grocery store and that was in the opposite direction from the theater. If I was lucky, assuming he just dropped everything and came immediately… He might get there in about forty-five minutes if the lights were with him, an hour if they weren’t. It wasn’t so much the wait that bothered me so much as it was the fact that an hour would be more than enough time for the large man in the theater to get irritated and come looking for his snacks. He might even think that I’d run off with the money he’d given me. I did not want to make than man angry.

As I walked up to the concession stand the man at the counter gave me yet another disdainful look, clearly upset at having to actually do his job. His expression changed though when I put the damp money down on the counter along with some of my own.

“So, I guess you met him.” said the concession worker, a knowing look in his eye. He seemed to get a bit nervous at mentioning the man.

“Man, that guy came in here earlier and paid for his ticket with a bunch of soggy money. I would’ve turned it down if the guy wasn’t the size of a house.” I nodded as I ordered the man’s concessions. I wasn’t feeling very hungry, and so I just ordered a water for myself.

“I mean did you see the guy! He’s wearing all these clothes that look like they came out of a trash-can somewhere and he’s got all those sores. It’s like he was deformed, like he was a leper or something. And did you smell him? Guy smells like fish! Like rotting old fish! Seriously! All the years I’ve been working here, and I never seen a freak like that.”

The concession worker continued on as he went about preparing my order. It was hard to make out his tone. He seemed both amused and nervous at the same time. This was clearly the most novel thing that had happened to him the entire evening, but at the same time it seemed like the man scared him a little in the same way that he scared me. I personally couldn’t help but think about his choice of words. ‘deformed… like a leper’ I started to think about the man’s circumstances. Maybe he couldn’t help the way he looked? Maybe he had a genetic disorder or something? If that was the truth then what right did we have treating him the way we were? He had just as much right to enjoy the movies as anyone else did.

I took the concessions when the worker gave them to me and began to make my way back to the theater. I still couldn’t help but feel nervous as I walked back into the now darkened theater. There was just something about the man, a sort of aura of uneasiness that he gave off. I walked up the stairs and realized that the man was sitting a few rows closer than he had been before. I tried to shrug this off as nothing but my mind wouldn’t let me.

I noticed the smell again as I got closer to him. He had stripped off his large leather jacket which seemed to unleash the smell. Just as the concession worker said I could indeed smell the unique aroma of fish. It wasn’t quite as bad as he had made it out to be, but it was definitely there. I also noticed the way his shirts were pulled tight around his thick arms. Now that the jacket was gone I could clearly make out his massive shoulders and barrel chest moving rhythmically with his obscene gurgling breaths. He had removed his scarf as well, and I could see that the same red rash that was on his fingers was also covering his neck giving it an almost scaly appearance.

Summoning up my courage I walked over to the man and handed him his food. He thanked me in his pained whisper of a voice. I then went back to my seat making sure that it was decently far away from the man. I tried not to think about the man, tried to concentrate on the movie-trailers that were flashing across the screen. It was useless though, putting him out of sight only seemed to set him more firmly in my mind. All I could think about was him sitting there behind me. I couldn’t see him, couldn’t see what he was doing. For all, I knew while I was watching the screen he could be watching me.

My hands were starting to sweat, and I realized that they still felt sticky and odd from handling the money the man had given me earlier. I remembered the crusted rash that had been on his fingers and decided that I desperately needed to wash my hands. Using this as an excuse to myself I got up and walked out of the theater, this time not even trying to hide the speed with which I did so. As I turned to leave I looked back and, perhaps it was just my imagination, but I could’ve sworn that the man was sitting a row or two closer to me than he had been when I sat down.

I washed my hands as thoroughly as possible when I got to the bathroom. I made the water as hot as I could without scalding myself and used a liberal amount of soap. By the time I was done my fingers were starting to prune up. I splashed some water on my face and grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser. For a few minutes, I just stared down at my cellphone, wondering what to do. Dad would probably still be at the grocery store at this point. I felt nervous but also childish. I had made such a big deal about coming here, and now I was going to call my Dad to come and pick me up because I couldn’t deal with a stranger. I sighed to myself and thought about what to do.

When I walked back into the theater I realized that the man had moved again. He was sitting in my row. I had no idea why, but I knew it was my row because he was sitting just a couple of seats away from where I had left my drink. I thought briefly about what to do. I couldn’t sit in a different row. If I did it would be obvious that I was just doing it to avoid him, especially since my drink was still in that row indicating where I had been. This guy was about three times my size and I really didn’t want to make him angry. Reluctantly I went back to my seat and sat down. The man said nothing although I could see through the corner of my eye that he turned in my direction. I kept my eyes firmly pointed at the screen.

The movie began quietly and so it was easy for me to hear the crinkling of the man unwrapping his chocolate bar. I’m really not sure why but somehow curiosity got the better of me, and I found myself slowly turning my head to look at the man. He had taken his medical mask down in order to eat, and I saw, much to my disgust, that the same rash that covered his fingers and neck had also spread to his mouth. His lips were dark like a lifetime smoker’s, and his nose seemed hang awkwardly on his face as if it had been broken at one point and healed improperly. None of these things are what made me leave the theater though. What made me leave the theater was the fact that, as he leaned in to take a bite of the chocolate bar, I saw inside his mouth a row of sharp pointed teeth.

Without hesitation, I instantly got out of my seat and headed for the door, not even bothering to grab my drink. As I left I saw the man putting his mask and jacket back on. I felt a pang of guilt go through me as I thought that I might have made him feel bad about his appearance, but my fear overcame my guilt and I walked out of the theater, out of the building, and to the far end of the parking lot without further delay. There, I called my father and asked him to come pick me up.

When my Dad asked me why I wanted to leave I told him that it was because I felt really sick, something that wasn’t entirely a lie. I didn’t really notice it until I got out into the open air but being stuck in that theater with that man had been making me steadily more and more nauseous. I didn’t know whether it was the sight or the smell of the man that had done it, but I knew that, had anything been in my stomach, it most likely would have been splattered all over the pavement at that point.

My father made good time and got there in about thirty minutes, I never asked him, but I’ve always had the feeling that he drove a bit faster having heard the fear in my voice on the phone. I didn’t tell him about the man straight away. I still felt childish for even calling him to get me. A sheltered little brat that couldn’t deal with a stranger. I honestly hoped that I could just go to bed and forget the entire incident. That maybe someday I would look back on it and laugh. That didn’t happen.

Two days later the police showed up on my doorstep. They brought me in for questioning and asked me to tell them everything about my night at the movies. I wondered why they cared or how they even knew I had been at the movies, but told them everything I knew regardless. I told them about the man. About his rotting smell, about his deformities, about his whispering voice, and about how it made me physically ill just to be around him. They didn’t believe me at first, but a similar looking man showed up on the movie theaters security cameras, the few that actually worked.

Eventually, they told me that they were investigating several disappearances that occurred that night. Specifically all twelve of the assorted staff and patrons that had been at the movies that night had gone missing with the exception of the clerk that had been working the counter. He was found mauled as if some animal had torn him apart. He was still in critical condition at the hospital and in no state to answer questions.

It was the first time anything like this had ever happened in our small town. The public ate up the mystery, and the demand for information made me into somewhat of a local celebrity much to my disdain. People were constantly asking me for interviews and every time I told the story I started to wish more and more that I could just forget it. I kept hoping that something else would happen that would grab people’s attention that the story would just quietly fade away so that I could go back to my normal life.

Two years later I moved out of state for college. I was always intending for it to be a temporary situation, I thought I’d move back home once things quieted down a little bit. But they didn’t. Quite the opposite actually, the story of that night grew into sort of an urban legend among the youth of the town.

I still go home sometimes for holidays and such to visit my family. I visited the clerk in the hospital once. He was better, but he seemed to have contracted some strange disease. He had developed a strange rash on the tips of his fingers and around his mouth. He didn’t talk much either because, according to the doctors he’d developed painful sores in his throat and mouth that oozed a strange yellow pus. The doctors were baffled. I didn’t visit him after that.

For the most part, I’m happy where I am, nice and far away from the coastline. I’ve managed to build a good life here away from the rumors and the talk. I’ve got a decent car, a good job, and some average friends. A nice normal life. The only odd thing is, whenever my friends ask me out to the movies I always decline. I’ve never told them why and I don’t intend to anytime soon. Whenever they ask me I just look off into the distance and tell them, “I’ll catch it on DVD.”

Credit To – Kitt Novem

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The Final Hours: Party Girl

October 20, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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The Final Hours: Party Girl

The door slams behind Monica as she stumbles into the hallway of an apartment complex, mascara streaming down her face.

“Asshole,” she says. The word hisses out between her clenched teeth.

Fiona steps out of the apartment. Through the open door, Monica hears a snatch of conversation.

“What’s up with your friend?” the drummer asks.

“I don’t know. PMS?” Katie says. They laugh. Katie, Becca, and Serena laugh like they weren’t her best friends only minutes ago. They laugh to look cool in front of Adrian’s band. Smoking cigarettes and drinking booze she bought them, wearing the expensive clothes and jewelry she loaned them.

“Assholes,” she repeats, fresh tears ruining her carefully-applied makeup.

Fiona shuts the door behind her. “They’re jerks,” she says. “Forget about them.”

“I can’t believe Casey would do that to me. She knows I like Adrian. Stupid whore.”

“She probably got caught up in the moment and didn’t know how to turn him down,” Fiona says. But Monica isn’t interested in sympathizing. She wants to rush back into the apartment, bust down the door to Adrian’s room, claw at Casey’s face, drag her out of the building naked, and let the bums have their way with her.

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” Fiona says, guiding her down the hallway, past graffiti, heels catching on the stained, threadbare carpet. They lean against each other for support, walking in a jagged line.

Monica curses that last drink. Her brain is ice in a blender–gray matter spinning and pulverizing against the spiny blades at the base of her head. The flickering, murky lighting isn’t helping. Beside her, Fiona takes deep, steadying breaths. She doesn’t look so hot either.

Just beneath the sizzle of dying bulbs overhead, a buzzing nags at her ear. Only when they’ve reached the bottom floor does Monica realize the sound is coming from her purse.

“Shit! It’s my dad,” she says, fiddling with a crystal-studded phone.

“Are you crazy? Don’t answer that! We’re screwed if he finds out where we are.”

“I’ll just text him. I’ll say I don’t want to answer because I’m on the can.”

“Is he at home?”

“No. My parents are out of town at PR seminars. As usual. It’s fine–he was just checking up on me.”

“That’s a first.”

The frozen air hits them at the same time as they lurch out the door and onto the street.

“It’s because of the San Gabriel Stalker,” Monica snorts. “Dad thinks anything that gets publicity is worth caring about.”

The San Gabriel Stalker was the big word on campus at Lakewood Prep. Everyone tittered endlessly about the serial killer, excited by the sudden media frenzy that had burst their manicured, suburban bubble. Monica had tried to keep the news out of her house, but her dad didn’t just have a finger to the media’s pulse, he tapped into that vein like a junkie. Just as she’d expected, a sudden outburst of fatherly protectiveness almost convinced him to cancel his business trip.

Monica’s patience for a few nights to herself, her friends, boys, booze (and anything else she could get her hands on) had run dry. She convinced the old patriarch that he was worrying over nothing. Her mom helped out with a reminder that he was supposed to be making important connections at the conference in New York while she worked the conference in Los Angeles.

Monica breathed a sigh of relief when they were whisked away by matching Bentleys. Costumed kid-killers were the least of her concerns. She only had a couple of hours to get ready, and she still had to find an older man in desperate need of attention from a young girl–in other words, any old man–to buy her alcohol. Anyway, the guy had only knocked off a handful of girls from the Christian academy on San Gabriel. Nobody she, or anyone in her circle, knew.

But out on the dim city street in front of Adrian’s apartment complex–police sirens screaming in the distance, trash clogging the gutters–a visual of the killer processes like a Polaroid in Monica’s imagination. They should find the car and get home. Screw the other girls. If they don’t have money for a taxi, it’s their own damned fault.

“This place is seriously creepy,” says Fiona.

The girls huddle closer as they walk down the street. They should’ve brought jackets and a change of shoes, Monica thinks as their sky-high heels smack against the pavement. They’re loud against a charcoal backdrop of grungy buildings and streets. Their colorful party dresses snap at a chilling breeze as they hurry along. Monica tries to soften her step, but her legs are so heavy even balancing is tricky.

The streets are empty except for a few drifters rubbing the cold night off their hands over garbage fires. They stare at the two stumbling girls on the opposite sidewalk. Monica doesn’t make eye contact. Fiona’s heart beats faster against her arm.

“Monica.” Fiona draws out the “a” in Monica’s name until it thins into a whine. “I think we’re being followed,” she whispers. Her voice is so soft and tremulous Monica almost doesn’t understand. And then she hears them. Footsteps not far behind. Dogging their path.

The girls speed up, but they keep tripping over their own feet and Monica is having a hard time catching her breath. Her stomach pitches.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” she says.

“Shit! Where’s the car?”

“I don’t know. Is this where we parked?”

“I’m not sure. Jesus–I can’t remember.”

Fiona is blubbering so Monica tries to be the calm one. She ignores the churning in her stomach and looks around, still walking as fast as she can, certain she can feel someone’s breath on her neck, the heat of an outstretched hand. There’s a door on the side of a building only a few steps away. They can bang on the apartment doors until someone lets them in. Monica can call a cab and be in her pajamas watching Cheers reruns before midnight. Maybe she’ll make herself a hot cocoa to chase all memory of this night.

“Come on. In there,” she says to Fiona. They break into a tangled almost-run through the door and tear up the steps as someone shouts behind them.

“Wait!”

The girls scream and keep running, not wanting to look back. But the stairwell ends at another door. Monica twists the knob. It doesn’t give. She pulls at it with what strength she can muster, but no luck. Fiona joins her, fingers scrabbling at Monica’s.

“Angels of mercy!”

Monica and Fiona hug each other and flinch as an old homeless man joins them on the platform, dropping to his knees.

“I know who you are,” he shouts. “You have come to bring about the end times. I beg of you: save my soul. Let me stand beside God’s throne and pray for humanity boiling in torment below. Save my soul!”

Their shoulders drop. A broken fever pushes small beads of sweat to the surface of Monica’s skin. She leans against the door and lets relief wash over her.

“You scared us half to death,” Fiona shouts at the old man. Monica turns to her friend. Fiona looks like crap. What the hell was in those drinks?

“Holy shit, Fiona. I think we’ve been roofied,” she slurs.

Something like cannon fire rocks the stairwell. A moist explosion sprays across Monica’s face. The homeless man face-plants with a wet thud. Fiona’s shrieks echo in Monica’s ears. Another man stands at the foot of the steps, holding a gun. A black latex mask with rough holes for the mouth and eyes hides his face. A pair of plastic Halloween demon horns crowns his head.
Monica drops to the floor. Fiona is still shrieking when the masked man reaches the platform and grabs her by the dress straps. He wheels her around, but Fiona struggles and manages to free herself. Her heels scrape against the granite floor as she shuffles backward, putting a hand out to push the man away. Monica sees it coming before Fiona does. One of Fiona’s heels latches onto the ledge of a step. She rests all of her weight on the back of that foot to lean away from the man. She reaches out again and pushes off on his chest. Fiona’s body and the stairs are at an angle. It becomes more acute with each slowly-passing fraction of a second.

Fiona locks eyes with Monica who bears witness to the full evolution of her friend’s realization before she hurtles headlong down the stairs. Monica hears a crunch and a groan the first time the body hits the steps. She presses her palms against her ears for the rest.

While her eyes are closed, as she feels the wind knocked out of her, Monica tries to force sense out of the moment. She reels back in time to protect herself from the ugly, immediate future and stops on a memory.

Standing on the corner of Evergreen and Carol Street, Adrian had asked her to come over that night. He wanted her to hear the band, tell him what she thought. Monica had been waiting for this moment. He wanted her. She knew it. He’d been hesitant about getting close to a high school girl, but she was a senior and freshly eighteen. She agreed to stop by; he told her to bring her girlfriends along.

Monica walked home in a heat, fretting over what to wear, wondering how the night would go. Imagining her first time. The other girls thought she was a pro, but she always chickened out at the last minute. It would be different with Adrian. She’d let him.

Wandering down Evergreen, past San Gabriel and flocks of girls with gold crosses hanging from their necks, Monica clutched her books to her chest and daydreamed.

Monica looks up at the killer. He saw her then, mingling with the academy students, clutching her books like a naïve schoolgirl. He thinks she’s one of them.

“Wait, wait–I’m not–”

A sharp, warm sensation floods Monica’s chest. She gasps, surprised, but instead of air, she’s taking in water. She coughs up. Monica’s eyes bulge as she stares at the splattered blood. More sputters out of her throat as spasms rip through her ribcage. Her arms give out and she meets the freezing floor. Monica’s head rolls to face the ceiling, to look up at the San Gabriel Stalker. But she can only see dark shadows swimming above her head, and pale light reflected off a blade raised high like a sickle moon.

Credit To – This is a “Final Hours” vignette excerpted from dark graphic novel Beatrice is Dead, a coming of age story set in the afterlife, written by S. Zainab Williams and illustrated by Robert Burrows.

Beatrice is Dead @ Facebook
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The Crawling House On Black Pond Road

October 17, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I can’t sleep. I have to share because maybe I won’t feel if I share. Dr. Kirsch says to write and get it off my chest. Writing about it might release me from it. What should I title this? “Therapy”?

I’m currently seated at a computer terminal in a little, white, sterile room. There’s about a half dozen other computer terminals here, all facin the same way like a classroom. There’s posters on the walls with medical information. Everyone in em looks happy and complacent. Zombies. This place is called Sleep HealthCenters, just outside of Boston. It’s a clinic for people with sleepin disorders.

I’m feelin a little loopy from the eszopiclone, so if my writing gets all garbled just deal with it and I can edit it when I’m clear-headed.

The doc wants me to do a little writing. He said that repetition can help with insomnia, and I gotta admit, if things were normal, this room and the clack of these keystrokes would probably make me pass right the fuck out.

Things ain’t normal though.

It’s not that I can’t sleep, it’s that I don’t want to sleep. I actually doze off pretty frequently, but then I realize I’m falling asleep and I snap myself out of it. When I don’t, when I drift off and can’t stop myself, I dream, and that’s what I want to avoid. If I could control what I dream about, I would sleep right now and not wake up til fuckin October. But I can’t control it. And ever since May, ever since

Tom

That house on Black Pond Road

Fuck, just thinkin about it makes my skin crawl. And writin that makes me see it all again in my head. I don’t wanna relive it. But Dr. Kirsch– he’s my doc. Nice guy, smiles a lot, practically whispers when he talks– Dr. Kirsch said that if I write about the experience, it might “release me” from it. Like there’s some sorta mental hold on me, torturin me. Guilt? I was as much a victim as Tom was.

Tom.

Tom was my friend from college. We both attended BU. Freshman year, his room was right across the hall from mine. I remember runnin into him on a bench late one night when my roommate was spending too long talkin on the phone to his girlfriend from home. Tom bummed me a smoke and we just sat and talked about our roommates’ idosyncracies for a couple hours. After that, we just hung out all the time. Even after college we stuck together. Both got jobs in the city, lived near each other in Somerville.

When was it? It was May. Right. Friday the fucking 13th of all days. And Tom called me up after work and said

“Whatcha got goin on this weekend?” and I said, “Nothing.” and he said, “Any chance you can help me clean out a house?” and I said, “Who we robbin?” and he said, “My dead aunt.” and I said, “Friends help you move, good friends help you move bodies.” and he said, “Unfortunately somebody already moved the body, but she’s got a lot of other shit in her place and I need to clean it out so it can get sold.”

So he picked me up that night and we drove and listened to tunes on the radio, stopped and ate and chilled and just drove and drove. And I asked him as we were goin,

“How’d she die?”

“She hung herself.”

“Well I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Don’t be, she was batshit insane.”

“I’m sure she loved you, too.”

“Hardly. But she loved her brother, and he just happened to be my father. He needs to get the house sold but they live out in Washington now, so I agreed to clean the house.”

“What a good son.”

“Well, I’m gettin paid for it.”

“Oh, I see. I help do the work and you get all the reward.”

“You get the reward of my company for a weekend in some rat hole.”

“I guess that’s better than what I had planned.”

Black Pond Road. That’s a hell of a name. Her house looked like it was going to collapse. It was one floor, one large living room connected to a tiny kitchen and two tiny bedrooms. The bathroom was practically a closet. There was a screened porch off the side lookin out into woods.

It was after 1 in the morning when we got there. I remember suggestin we sleep in the car just in case the house collapsed. Tom pulled out a flashlight, we gathered our bedrolls and backpacks and went inside. I was

the floor moved

It was dark, but when Tom shone his light in, I swore it looked for a moment like the floor… moved. Fuck that floor. It was the kitchen. Greasy, stained white tiles. Everything in that room was greasy and stained. Even the windows. They were so gross, the reflected light from Tom’s flashlight came back like a mustardy puke yellow.

Was it clicking? Tapping. I can’t describe it, but the feeling when we walked in was like a couple crashers walking into a chatty party and everyone stopping what they were saying and lookin at us. Almost the faintest echo of a final sound, like a hundred fingernails tapping on a tabletop and then quiet.

“Did you hear that?” I asked.

“No.”

We shoulda slept in the car.

My room was like a prison cell attached to the living room. Tom’s room was only accessible from the screened porch. I took a look in and told him we should switch.

“If I’m not getting paid, at least give me the nicer room.”

“You don’t want this room, this is the room she hung herself in.” We just stood there for a bit.

“The only thing missing from my room are bars on the window.”

“That’s so you can escape when her ghost comes for us.”

“A ghost wouldn’t be caught dead here.”

I went and unrolled my sleeping bag on the tiny bed in my room, then climbed in and lay there in the dark. After a while of everything bein quiet, I started hearin this sound. It was like chittering. And buzzing. Fucking mosquitoes, that’s what I thought. I pulled the sleeping bag over my head and tucked it under me to keep anything out.

God

If I hadn’t been so tired.

Somethin bit me. On the web of skin between my fingers. I woke up and was instantly in pain all over my legs, like a hundred needle pricks. And my feet felt like I was standing in the sand at the beach with the water coming in and the mud squishing between my toes. I jerked out of the sleeping bag and fell on the floor. I hurt my chin on somethin, I don’t know what. I got up yelling and checking my hand. There was a tiny red dot of a bug bite between my index and middle finger. And then I looked at my legs and they were dotted like a bad case of chicken pox. Hundreds of little bite marks. And I looked at my sleeping bag and

bugs

just skitterin out of the bag like

It was a stream of them, crawlin over each other. Earwigs. Hundreds of earwigs slithering out of the bag I’d been sleeping in. And house centipedes with them, wiggling along. This just tide of glistening bodies crawling out of the bag with me. I felt like I was going to puke and I ran from the room, slamming the door shut.

It was morning. I went out through the porch and into Tom’s room and shook him til he made a sound.

“Get out. You gotta get out of your bag.”

“Dude, what time is it?”

“It’s morning time and you need to get out of the fucking sleeping bag, dude. My bag was full of bugs. I’m covered in fucking bug bites. Get the fuck out of the fucking fuck bag!”

“My stomach hurts, just give me a second.”

He didn’t have any bugs in his fucking bag. I almost hated him for it. But then he complained again about his stomach hurting and pulled up his shirt and I saw these swollen marks all along the waistline of his pants.

“What the fuck, dude?”

“We’re not sleeping in this fucking house, man. Look at my legs.”

My bites weren’t swollen but they itched so bad. I wasn’t taking my bedroll home. No way in hell I was keeping it after seeing all those bugs crawl out of it. Burn it. Burn the whole house.

Burn it

That’s my dream. When I fall asleep, I’m back in that fucking bag, only I can’t get out, and the earwigs and the centipedes are covering my feet and my legs and crawling up into my underwear and all over my chest and then they’re on my neck, on my arms, in my ears and wigglin toward my nose and I can’t scream because they’ll be in my mouth and no matter how much I thrash the bag won’t open and they just keep crawling back over me. I can’t dream that anymore. I spent a week telling myself it was just a dream but I know they did crawl over me. They had to have been all over me as they slithered into the warm, dark comfort of my bag.

Maybe I wouldn’t dream it if Tom hadn’t

I’m getting off track.

We didn’t find any bugs in Tom’s room. He gave me his car keys and I went into town and bought some Cortisone for him to put on the bites. When I got back, Tom was outside. He had his flashlight and was looking under the porch.

“Come here.” So I went. I looked under the porch at what he was pointing at. The porch was raised on these concrete blocks because of the tilt of the ground, and we could see all the way under the house. On the far side, there was this gray shit. It looked like crusted, packed mud.

“That’s a hive.” Tom said. I remember it felt like I just hit the peak on a rollercoaster and now the world was flying down at me.

“It’s huge.” There’s no way I can do the enormity of this thing justice. It was spread across the underside of the house from the edge of the base on deep into the darkness. Nothing was moving on it, but I looked at it a long time and I could see the little passage holes in it. Hundreds of holes.

“We’re leaving.”

No shit we were leaving. I wanted to be home already. I waited while Tom used the cream I’d bought on his bites which I knew now were stings. It was unnatural, I swear, the aggressiveness of the insect life in that house.

I ended up driving us back. Tom got awful cramps

awful cramps

He eventually had to lie down in the backseat, doubled over in pain. I pulled over at a rest stop and made him let me check the spots out, but the swelling had gone down. He had these stabbing pains in his gut though. I told him we needed to take him to a doctor. I wanted to see one myself. Fucking bites all over my legs.

“You gotta tell your parents to burn that fucking house to the ground.”

“Believe me, I will.”

I went and had the bites checked on Sunday. I was fine. I had my first nightmare that night. Back in that bag, being consumed by earwigs and centipedes.

I called Tom to see if he had gotten checked but he didn’t answer. I called him again on Monday. When I talked to him, he sounded … he sounded distant. Like he was thinkin about somethin else. I asked if he’d told his folks about the house and he said he hadn’t.

I took the day off and went to see him on Wednesday. I buzzed him, but he didn’t answer. I got into the building when someone else came out, and found his door was unlocked. He was sittin on his couch, staring at the far wall. He looked gray. His skin, it wasn’t pale or rotting or anything, but he did not look healthy. He hadn’t cleaned up in a couple days, the place stunk. He just sat there.

“Tom, we gotta get you to a doctor, dude.”

“I’m fine now, thanks.” he still sounded distant. I don’t think he even saw me.

“You’re not fine, dude. This isn’t fine. I’m getting you some clothes and we’re going to the hospital.”

Oh god, I let him out of my sight. This is my fault.

I’m so sorry, Tom.

I– when I came back, he was gone. His door was open. I went outside and looked for him, but he wasn’t anywhere. I waited for hours on the step to his building. Finally I went home.

I went back after work on Thursday, but his door was shut and locked. I buzzed him but got no answer. I called his cell and was directed straight to voice mail. I didn’t know what to do. I was strugglin to think. I’d been havin the nightmare for days and had started refusing to sleep. I couldn’t think straight. I shoulda called the police, but when I got home I fell asleep on the couch and dreamed of being trapped in the bag again. I swear, when I woke up it felt like the bites on my legs had returned.

Friday. It was a week after that awful day. I was a zombie the whole day. My supervisor told me to go home. I was so tired I missed the stop for Davis Square and found myself wandering out of Alewife, not even thinking about where I was going. The walk helped me think though, and when I got home I called Tom’s folks. I told them Tom was sick and I was worried about him.

“He did sound odd when he called last night.”

“He called you? Did he tell you about the house?”

“Well I assume that was a joke.”

“No, Sir, you need to have that place razed.”

“Razed? No, he didn’t say anything about that. He joked about going to live there.”

I honestly don’t think that was Tom. I don’t think he was in control at that point, and whatever was in control intended to take him back to the house to live there. Poor Tom.

Poor Tom.

I went back to his place that afternoon and got in again. His door was unlocked, but he wasn’t there. He had left a note on his fridge. You could tell he was fucked up, it was so hard to read. It said

i can feel them moving
inside me
i can’t stop it
i don’t want to
go

bye

My friend Tom shot himself that weekend. They found his body in Cambridge with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Just a body in an alley with a hole in its head. I didn’t even know he owned a gun. The police didn’t suspect foul play, but they did an autopsy because he looked like he’d been on drugs. When I called his folks to give them my condolences, I asked them if they’d found drugs. They told me that the coroner had found dozens of large wasp larva living inside him.

Oh God.

They had been feeding on him from the inside, burrowing through his body.

I told his parents to get that house burned to the ground. I wanted to add that they should piss on the ashes. I wanted to piss on the ashes. I don’t know what they did about it. It may still be there. Buzzing with life.

the floor moved

The house took Tom’s life. The bugs. And I can’t sleep. I’m trapped in a bag and they’re getting in my mouth and my nose and my ears. They’re moving across my skin, consuming me.

I don’t feel better. I just want to forget. How do I post this thing I can’t stand this room anymore

Credit To – William Dalphin

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All The Swans Are Gone

October 14, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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I used to go out for walks along the canal next to my flat; waving to the canal boats, and watching the swans. I used to hear children; laughing in playground across the canal from my sitting room. I used to buy lunch for the vagrant that lived under the bridge. I used to call him “Hobo Baggins”. He used to refuse to tell me his real name, incase *They* found him and took him back to run “some funky science on him and hatch aliens out his belly”. Yes, he used to be one of those, but friendly enough.

It’s quiet now. There haven’t been swans here for a two years. The canal boats have been abandoned, marked with a red council notice stuck on the doors, and you rarely see anyone passing through.

After the swans, the town started getting covered in missing posters: dogs and cats mostly, a horse once. They never stayed up for long, not after the owners found the body parts; dumped around the bins after the bags had been ripped open. I remember back then, I’d find foxes’ tails out the back of my flat. The fox calls at night stopped soon after that. Cruel as it sounds, I was a little glad at the time; those calls were creepy. I’d do anything hear them again now.

The police started investigating those in connection to the swans. They couldn’t conclude what attacked them. The bits of animal that were left were usually too small to discern any teeth or claws marks from, according to the newspapers. People in town were too scared to leave at night, convinced something had escaped a zoo. The police debated introducing a curfew. I saw a lot of animal control guys around. Then I didn’t.

One evening, about a year ago now, I started thinking about it. There had always been roadkill around town. You’d often see a discarded squirrel carcass when walking through the park; bird feathers scattered around hedgerows; the remains of a duck stuck in the reeds. The authorities only noticed a predator when the swans were all gone. Before, that was probably just people’s cats, right? Or the foxes? I don’t think so anymore. I think, whatever it was, it needed bigger prey.

Bigger prey. I called the police the day after to report Hobo Baggins missing when I didn’t see him on my usual walk along the canal. They said they couldn’t do anything; he could have just moved on to somewhere else. Who would blame him? I didn’t even have a real name to report anyway.

Months went on by, and the nights got quieter and quieter. There’s no sounds of birds to wake you at dawn. There isn’t even drunkards stumbling about after a night out. Most of the pubs and restaurants have shut down; people just don’t feel safe leaving home anymore. The police are still “investigating”, but I never see them out of street any more than anyone else.

It’s a pretty lonely town to walk around in the last few weeks. A lot of people have moved out of town. The only ones who stay can’t afford to leave, like me. I would if I could, but I’m barely covering the bills as it is. You only see people out during the day, and they usually drive. By sundown, there’s no one on the streets, all the curtains are closed and people keep their lights off. They put their bins as far from the house as they can without blocking the paths or the road.

By morning, the bags will be ripped to shreds. Anything edible in them will be gone, and anything inedible is chewed up and unidentifiable. The streets are full of crap people have thrown out into the street; the council have stopped sending bin men. I’ve phoned them but the only response I get is that “This service is suspended due to department restructuring. Sorry for the inconvenience”

Last week, I got two phone calls.. Any other place, any other time they would have been a godsend. Instead, they just add to the growing dread shadowing the town. The first was my boss. “Don’t bother coming in anymore. We’re shutting the shop. I’ll try and get your last payslip to you as soon as I can.” He paused, “I- I’ll try and get you some redundancy pay too, make up to three months pay. Use it to get out of town.” I never got that money.

The second call was from my landlord. He just left a voicemail: “Hey, it’s [NAME REDACTED]. I’ve cancelled your direct debit, don’t give me money anymore. I feel bad taking it, just get out of town.” We all know that’s what we should do. Maybe if I had ever gotten that money from my boss I could have gotten away, not that I had anywhere to go. In hindsight, maybe just walking out of here would have been better than staying.

I took my last walk along the canal on Tuesday. As I approached the bridge, I noticed something in the water. A ribcage. Practically picked clean. It looked like it had been floating there a while too. I hoped it didn’t belong to who I was thinking, but I knew. You just know sometimes.

I called the police. I already knew what I would hear. The officer on the end of the phone made an incident report, told me that I couldn’t know who it belonged to, not to jump to conclusions, an officer will investigate… I knew no one would. We both sounded exhausted, worn down, weighed down by the knowledge that nothing could be done. We went through the motions, trying to maintain a sense of normality. He wouldn’t even tell me his real name.

I was talking to my neighbour yesterday, an older gentleman. He was living here when I first moved in. He’s on the same boat as me; no friends, no family, nowhere to go. He tried to convince me to leave. “Pretty girl like you could get themselves far away from here. Don’t need no money when you look like that.” I scoffed. There’s no one left here to take me anywhere.

“It’s getting closer to the houses.” I said to him, as we stared out our first floor windows over the canal.

“Yeah. You hear those sounds it makes? I ain’t heard sounds like that from no fox or badger.” He continued to stare out the window, slowly shaking his head.

“Nah. They don’t sound like that.” I looked down out the window. The trees along the canal bank had scratches on them and broken branches, like something big had been climbing up there. “Did you see the window on the ground floor?”

“Yup.” It had been ripped from the frame. The brickwork underneath had been gouged out, leaving a big gap in the wall. The inside of that flat had been trashed; smashed furniture, blood, hair, chunks of meat and bone all over the front room.

“Who lived there again?”

His hands trembled as he spoke, “That Dad who looked after his little girl. Remember? I walked her to school once when he was ill.”

I said nothing in response.

“George,” My neighbour said, “I called it George.” He gestured to the scratch marks outside.

I was going to ask why, but why bother, “What else.”

Last night was the worst night. The cries and howls I heard were like nothing I had ever heard. I had left my window open but the blind shut, it was just too warm to sleep. Just as I was drifting off, I heard heavy footfalls, and a snorting sound. I froze, terrified. I could feel my eyelids peeling back into my skull, and my whole chest felt cold with fear. My legs and arms retracted into the foetal position, then I just waited with my back to the window.

After several minutes, the whole room shook, as a heavy thud hit the wall behind me. A growl reverberated through me as the scraping started. It rapidly became more pronounced, more vicious. The scraping, snarling, scratching; I went through the motions of reassuring myself. It’s the wind, it’s the trees, it’s the rain; It’s anything except what it sounds like. “This is it,” I thought. “This is my night.” I really thought it was going to get in.

Eventually I must have fallen asleep. When I woke the next morning, I hoped that it might have all been a dream, a nightmare. I went out to check on my neighbour. His door was locked up and he wasn’t answering. I went outside to see if I could see him through a window. Then I saw them, outside my window. I saw where the scratches had come from. Big foot long scars under my window. Under my window on the first floor. There big prints in the flowerbed. Not that they looked like anything I had seen before.

I’m scared this time. Not just creeped out, not just worried. Really scared this time. I called the police again. I didn’t even get an officer, just an automated message.

“[LOCATION REDACTED] Police Station is unable to process calls at this time. We advise residents to stay with family or friends away from [LOCATION REDACTED] if possible while we investigate these events. If this is not possible, please remain indoors and barricade your home. Avoid unnecessary journeys. Under no circumstances leave your home at night. Do not investigate any strange noises or events. Keep calm; we are investigating.”

Are you fuck.

You know, I’m glad I haven’t seen it. I’m glad it’s only been scratches ,and noises ,and footprints in the flower beds. What if I saw it and it couldn’t be unseen? I’m used to living with fear now, I don’t want to live with nightmares.

Whatever it is, it’s getting bigger. How does something get that big without anyone seeing it?

So here I am. I’m sure this is my last day here, and while I still have a means to communicate to the outside world, I’m telling you all of this. All of what happened here. About how easy it was for me to stick my head in the sand and hope it all wasn’t happening, until I pulled my head up and realised I was trapped. So here is the last thing anyone will hear me say, a warning:

If you hear of a quiet town, famous for it’s beautiful canals and swans, don’t go: all the swans are gone.

Credit To – Kerrima

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