Estimated reading time — 26 minutes
Note: The first five parts of this series can be found in the And Mira series tag.
There is my father. He staring at me, and I staring at him. Absent throughout my entire childhood, and yet, as an adult, he has become my most important, my only, source of support, at my most critical time. I feel surges of fear, and unbridled adoration, all at once. I want to cry. I also want to scream at him, because he is my father and dammit I should be entitled after eighteen years.
But the many emotions conflict amongst themselves, with passivity the final victor.
So we stare. Each digesting a lifetime of love with each glance, but for hours we only stare. What would we talk about? The Blackhawks won, but so did the damned Packers. I don’t terribly care about that, but those seem fitting topics to discuss with a father.
In this moment, Smoke decides to make his presence known. He says to me, with even tone, “Mira, who is this man? Is this our Father? Have you brought me all this way to meet our Father? It was no small satisfaction to take the life of Joseph, the man who took mine! And Mother! She allowed him to kill me. But, to be able to also punish the man that left us, with Mother, and that animal Joe? Oh Mira, Mira…I simply cannot wait to kill him!”
I wait a few moments. I have been here before, connecting with another human being solely for Nathaniel’s giddy pleasure at killing them.
I’ve given up on being able to save anyone. It is likely my other father, my birth father, will die tonight. Perhaps I can reason with Nathaniel, though. He has killed so many now in such a short time. Perhaps he tires of it. I know he is curious about himself, so maybe…
I speak to Nathaniel with my thoughts, as in a dream. “Nathaniel wait. Don’t kill him. Don’t kill our Father. He has had nothing to do with your pain, and besides, there is so much to be learned from him!” I hope it’s enough. My brain functions separately from my heart now. I’ve seen so much death. I don’t even consider the consequences any more, but only seek to find a strategy to keep my loved ones safe. It hasn’t worked so well up to this point, and it never even occurred to me to protect Doppelmacher. No, not Doppelmacher…
“Nathaniel. You are Nathaniel. That’s your name. Is that right?”
He shifts in the loveseat in our living room. Uncomfortably, the photo of Mother and Joseph Mirras, my stepfather, is in view. Even more disturbing is that the photo album, previously mine, with two “M’s”, on its cover signifying my name, Mira Mirras, is also in view. What makes it disturbing however, is that the upper “M” has lost its right leg, making it in fact an “N”. My life belongs to the killer Nathaniel Mirras, my ghost, who up to this point I had been certain was this man sitting across from me. I now know that is not true.
He considers me, my question, tilts his head and smiles, concealing none of his adoration for me, and answers. “Yes, Mira, I am Nathaniel. Nathaniel Rauch. Senior.”
The weight of his words is as light as the words that would soon be used by a President to encourage the nation to ask what they could do for their country rather than themselves. Father’s last word, “Senior” carries as much weight as a President’s inspiration to millions. But only to one. To me.
I have a brother.
Nathaniel Mirras is my dead, twin brother. And he is a killer. And now the events of my life begin to make some semblance of sense, as an angry sibling would surely torment his twin, even in death. And yet, Nathaniel Mirras has now killed way too many of my friends, and the family of my friends. And my family.
My stepfather, Joseph Mirras. Killed right in front of me. And Mother, mutilated beyond recognition. These were not simple sibling rivalry pranks. Nathaniel Junior is pissed off. I need to know why.
Patience. Learn. Must first learn.
I query, “Nathaniel…sorry…Father…I was told you were dead. You died in war. How are you here? Where have you been?”
The unspoken question hangs. “Why did you leave us, to endure the murderous intentions of your son!”
He seems to understand, rubbing his chin over and over. He knows. He knows what I need to know. He just doesn’t know how to say it.
“Mira, schatze, the day you were born, was the happiest, and saddest day of my entire life. Your mother had a horribly difficult pregnancy. Many times we went to hospital to ease her pain, and determine if you were both okay. It was the two of you in your mother’s womb. Nathaniel, and you. Nathaniel was born after you, but would have been the elder child. Except, Mira, in utero, you…dominated him. By that I mean, we were told, that you took up most of the space in the womb, and much of the nourishment in the process, without intent of course except for survival. But you harmed Nathaniel. Nathaniel was born…underdeveloped…damaged.”
So there it was. The Chalky Child was Nathaniel, Nathaniel the second. My brother. Injured before his poor little life even began.
By me. This is all my fault.
Father continues, “Mira, when your brother and you were born I wept uncontrollably. You were the most beautiful child to ever have been born. Nathaniel however became a creature that no other human, outside of your Mother and me, could possibly love. He was born with substantial deficiencies. His cry was profound. He would destroy the souls of any with his enduring screams of misery and torment.
“But, of course, you know that already, don’t you?”
I remain attentive, because I do not have the luxury of guilt right now. But now I know.
This is all my fault.
“Soon after you both were born, I was taken for war,” he continues. “I didn’t want to go of course, with my two new babies and Nathaniel’s incredible need. But, war is war, and I had to go. I was called. I wasn’t worried about you. You were healthy and happy. You were a complete joy to your mother, that could sustain her through Nathaniel’s need, and my absence. But Nathaniel…it just would not be so. Nathaniel, as I understand it, continued with his misery, and his tortured cries. He never slept and wouldn’t nurse. Imagine, a baby that never slept and never ate! But poor Nathaniel was in constant agony. Your mother, bless her very soul, could not manage you both on her own.”
I understand, but, “So, dad, Joseph Mirras. He came while you were gone?”
“Oh no Mira, no. Your mother was so strong, loving you and nurturing Nathaniel the best she could with his constant pain and need. But, Mira, I was a warrior. The day came when my unit was attacked, and, reportedly, all killed. In truth all my men were killed in that attack. I couldn’t save them, but I survived. Your mother remained strong, waiting for me. She would have been told I was dead, though, and certainly lost all hope. For me, for you, and for herself.
“Joe Mirras was my good friend. You were named after him! At the news I had died, he came in and loved you, and your mother, in my absence. Only after they were both certain I had died did they fall in love. And his love for your mother and you reflected his love for me. I am eternally indebted to Joe for his care that brought you to me today!”
There is clearly something missing. I attempt a loud silence.
Nathaniel Rauch knows what is missing from the story. Love for his son. For Nathaniel. For Smoke!
“Mira, this will be hard to hear. Nathaniel wasn’t only physically scarred from his birth. His scars were psychological. Emotional. Nathaniel from birth needed to control your mother, and you, with how miserable he was. He promised a life that would pay you for your sins in the womb, for dominating him, and damaging him. Nathaniel was your twin and in so many ways connected to you. But at the same time Mother was sure he hated you and he hated her. He was only a baby, but it was clear how much he hated Mother.”
This sinks in. Joseph. Mother. His only two adult victims so far.
“When your mother thought I was dead, Joseph came and cared for the three of you. I learned this from your mother when I returned from my self-imposed exile not that long ago. She told me that Nathaniel’s cry would echo in her head while she slept. It haunted her every moment of the day, whether she was with Nathaniel or without. His cry was inside of her. In her head when she slept, when she woke, when she fed him, when she worked, and while she made love. Nathaniel hated and haunted her, and after only a few months in the home, Joseph realized that Nathaniel’s influence was more than just of a child to its mother.
“Nathaniel intended to harm your mother, to kill her. That is why Joseph did what he did. He knew he would lose his entire life, but he also knew that Nathaniel would kill your mother, and likely you, in time. Certain of this, Joseph did what needed to be done to protect you, and your mother. He smothered him gently with a pillow. Nathaniel did not suffer, and was almost ruled as a victim of pneumonia. But, Joseph was caught, sent to prison, and paid the ultimate price it seems.”
Joe. Joseph Mirras, the baby killer. It all makes sense. He killed Nathaniel, as a baby, to protect Mother. To protect me. Joseph Mirras actually gave up his own, entire life out of love for Mother, and out of love for me, and out of love for Nathaniel Rauch, his friend and my father. As much as I feel love for my Father in this moment, my heart breaks for the man I met not long ago, my stepfather, Joseph Mirras, the man who gave his life for me. And my heart breaks that much more knowing that his sacrifice would come to nothing as the evil he would protect us from in life would continue to torment us in death. Smoke. The Chalky Child.
Nathaniel Mirras. The ghost. The killer.
But. There is more. I am sure. And there is now a faint smell in the room. Familiar. I have no time. Desperately I implore, “Father, why does he kill my friends? I understand Joseph, I suppose, but why did he kill Mother? Why my friends? Children? How could he hate me so much in death that he would kill children and innocents in the name of revenge? I don’t understand!”
Nathaniel Rauch, not Mirras, is silent for a moment. He begins stroking his chin again, clearly nervous, and clearly concerned. There is something still about Nathaniel the first, named Rauch, that I do not know. So much of my story involves only his absence, but I sense there is more I do not know. The key to the puzzle of Nathaniel Mirras.
Nathaniel grows deep worry lines on his forehead as he considers what next must be shared. He waits a few moments, and then considers that there is no way I would be able to intuit the truth.
My Father speaks. “Mira. I know why your brother torments us…you…even in death. He suffers for crimes I committed in war.”
The countenance of my brave warrior Father changes entirely. He has been strong and sure up to this point. But the reality of what he is to say next breaks him. His shoulders slump, along with his features. The smile carried by his love for me is now replaced with anguish and the pain of his guilt.
“Mira. I…I was a warrior. A soldier. In the Great War.
“But, I didn’t fight for this country.
“I was the enemy. I was a hero to our people, but in this war, our people were the enemy. I was a champion, and I delivered many…thousands to their deaths. And Mira, many of the people I brought to die were women. Many more were…children. They were families. The shame of that fact is why I disappeared when my unit was destroyed. I escaped, but I couldn’t escape my guilt. So I hid. Like a coward. When Joe married Mother, she had no choice but to change her name and yours…and Nathaniel’s, because Rauch was the name of a child killer and a coward. You would have been ostracized from society had you kept my name.”
I knew of this. I’d studied the war in school, and it was very clear who the enemy was, and the horrors inflicted on not only the other side, but on its own people, including children. There were many camps famous for these atrocities. He, my Father, had brought numerous men, women and children to their deaths at the hands of monsters. The men in my family are monsters…
My Father was a monster!
This was unexpected, and suddenly I am ashamed of the man sitting across from me that I’d waited my entire life to meet. I cannot speak. What could I say? Yet, there is more.
“Mira. Has your brother ever mentioned seeing others, or hearing voices?”
I nod. Yes. Yes, he is not alone where he is.
“Schatz…this is all my fault. I believe that where Nathaniel is, are also the voices and spirits of the children I brought to their deaths. Wherever poor Nathaniel ended up after he died, I think it is likely he is tormented by the cries of those I killed. The children. The ones that were…that died in the war. I imagine Nathaniel is haunted by the voices of those that lost their lives due to my actions. I believe he cannot silence their voices and is compelled to kill here in this reality. By harming you, he harms me, and I believe that may quiet the voices for a time. They seek your destruction because they seek mine. And…I deserve that. But you do not. You have spent your entire life paying for my crimes, and I’m so very sorry!”
At this, Nathaniel Rauch, Nathaniel Senior, collapses into a babbling mess. Of course he never intended for this to happen to me, but he is fully aware of his foolishness in buying into the politics of hate so many years ago. As hate often does, it devolved into even deeper, deadly, mindless hate. And now, my life and his, and the lives of Ellie and Andrew, are in the hands of a killer that can only quiet the voices of the dead by killing and exacting revenge on the living for decades old sin by punishing me. My father is to blame. He was a killer too. He is a fool.
“Father,” I finally say, as his words seep into the reality I’ve known my entire life, “What do I do now?” He already knows the answer. I do as well. I can do nothing.
But he can.
“Mira, my baby,” he finally states between uncontrolled sobs, “There is nothing for you to do. These are my crimes. I must pay for them myself, and free Nathaniel from his torture.”
I admire his courage despite his cowardice during the war. I know what is coming next, and so does my Father. And he embraces it. Though he fears his impending death, his conscience welcomes it. Even now I can smell a faint smell, escaped possibly from the smallest hole in the smallest pipe. At that moment, Nathaniel appears before me, seated next to our father, his grotesque excuse for an arm casually draped around our Father’s neck. Nathaniel Senior does not perceive his dead son, but he does perceive the sudden stifling fog.
Our home is a deathtrap. I need to leave. I need to leave my father.
As if reading my mind, but actually speaking from his heart, he states, “Mira, you must leave right away, and never come back. Do not ever look back. Do you have somewhere, anywhere you can go?
I nod. Yes.
Rhode Island. Ellie. I can go there. But will she be safe if I go to her? Will I also be too close to Andrew and put him in danger?
“Good,” says Nathaniel, “Mira you must go. You cannot stay here. And you cannot keep your name Mirras anymore. Like your mother many years ago, you must take on another name yet again. You cannot align yourself with the name Mirras any longer”. At this, Smoke leans in very close to Father, as if to listen though he has no ears to hear. He gets close to Father’s face and appears to smell our Father’s fear, and taste it, though missing nose and teeth. His toothless mouth curls up into a cruel grin.
Father does not see him. He perceives danger is near, but cannot see his son’s chalky form as I can, and so continues to encourage me. “Go to the ones you love. Be happy! You must go, Mira. I have something that I must do, now, to protect you.”
I know what that something is. I want to stop it, but also I consider that this sacrifice, decades after the war, will silence Smoke’s oppressors, and in turn also silence Smoke’s relentless madness. I do not want to lose my father so soon after realizing his existence. I don’t But, his loss may save the lives of everyone important to me that is still alive, and, truthfully, I would trade the life of this coward for theirs. For Ellie. For Andrew. That sounds cold, and it is. It is also a lie I tell my heart…
My Father’s features change suddenly. The adoring eyes of my true father go dim. Smoke’s pathetic webbed hands begin to caress our Father’s face at the ears, sickening, as though sizing them up to remove. I know that Nathaniel has him, has possessed him, my father, and will now kill him due to his crimes, and in the way that so many died at his hands. This, well, could be Nathaniel the second’s final revenge for the many that died, to silence the voices of the many children he brought to their deaths, so that they, and Nathaniel, could find peace.
The smell is stronger. Gas. It is loose in our home, permeating every corner, and I will lose both my Father and my house shortly.
Father, now one with Nathaniel Mirras, looks at me with Smoke’s eyes, clouded and dim, and says “Mira, it is not your time. You may leave. The business here is mine, and not yours. Go to Ellie. Go to Andrew.
“I will follow…”
With this, the body of Nathaniel Rauch, my father, convulses slightly. He indicates the door, and as he does, Smoke again touches Father’s face with his warped hands. With a quick matchstick motion, the entirety of Father’s skull is engulfed in flames. His hands reflexively move to protect his face, but as they do, Smoke also grabs them and they combust into nothing.
Father’s eyeballs melt and become flaming sockets before me, yet stare me toward the door of my home, encouraging me out while offering no opportunity for a final goodbye. Nathaniel Rauch is now to be punished for crimes long past, and it will be profoundly brutal. I am sure Father is allowed to feel the sting of each flame even though his body and mind are no longer his own.
My father screams as he is given his consciousness, his head and hands set ablaze, forced to be burned alive completely lucid. His is a mixture of begging for relief, and an understanding that the only life to be saved is mine by getting me out of my home, that is sure to burn quickly. Like an oven.
At the door, Father looks at me one last time, gasps, and states, in Smoke’s voice, “Mira, go!”
So, quickly I exit my home. I look back briefly to see the body of my father, on his knees, with flaming hands raised above his head ablaze, only to clutch briefly at his eyes and collapse. I run probably 500 feet without again looking back until I am well into the neighbors’ yard. From there I see my home, not yet engulfed in flames, but with smoke pouring from every exit. I no longer see Father, but know his body, now under the control of the killer, his son, Nathaniel Mirras, is melting inside. A proper death for his particular sins, yet still grisly nonetheless, and my heart breaks at the thought of his last action being to protect me.
A large plume of black smoke pours and rises from the center of my home, and I know that Nathaniel Rauch has now died. I can only hope it is both Nathaniels that have perished, finally paying back the atrocities performed so many years prior.
And then, as expected, Nathaniel Rauch’s torment and terror end, along with, hopefully, the terror of the killer Nathaniel Mirras, as my childhood home expands and erupts in an orgasm of heat and flame, only to calm seconds later. The spot where my home used to sit is a heavy panting of smoke and nothing more. All is gone. My memories. Mother. My photo album. My last photo of my hero, Joseph. My Father. All gone. I hear the echo of the chalky child’s laughter. Not his cry. His laughter. He has won.
I watch for a few eternal moments. Then I walk.
I must be away from this massacre and quickly before any connection is made between me, the home, and old Dopplemacher, my Father Nathaniel. I walk. I soon realize that I must have somewhere to go, and a means of getting there. I walk the major road out of town, with my thumb stuck out to entice, hopefully, a passing Samaritan that has not yet seen the smoke of my family’s final devastation. I must go. Go to Ellie. Go to Andrew. They are now my only hope.
The next few years are unremarkable. I am surprised to find that travel comes easy when one puts out their thumb. Particularly a girl, it seems. I am fortunate, as this mode of travel could easily end in tragedy, but, hell, who are you kidding? My brother is a killer ghost that destroys all in his path. I now, when asked, go by Mira Frank. I go by nothing when I am not asked.
As fortunate as I am to not be picked up by anyone with impure intentions, I am just as grateful that Nathaniel doesn’t possess and kill any of the kind strangers that help me. And I’m worried every time. Each driver that offers to take me some distance is unbelievably kind to me, exactly the kind that Nathaniel would relish killing. But, thankfully, it isn’t so, to my knowledge, and I begin to allow myself the small hope that perhaps the Chalky Child has found his peace in revenge and is gone forever.
It is, however, only a small hope.
I never realized how beautiful our country is. Driving through Indiana, stopping in the cafes of the small towns, the endless fields, the urban curiosities of Ohio, and the beauty of the East Coast charms, I feel for the first time in many years that I am safe. It takes nearly three years to traverse the distance to the microscopic Rhode Island. All that time, however, I am forced to live off of the kindness of strangers. But for each mile of the journey, a kind stranger is there. With food. With transportation. With a place to safely lay my head and sleep, though I hardly sleep, and never feel safe. And without danger and perpetually imminent death. I feel almost disappointed when at the end I finally reach Ellie’s college. She can’t possibly be expecting me, but I can hope that she will be happy to see me nonetheless.
She must. I have no other choice. But I truly hope Nathaniel Mirras is gone. Because I do not want to lose Ellie, and this puts her in a direct path to death. If I lose Ellie, I lose my truest friend in life. Then I have no other choice but to go to Andrew, my heart and true love. And that will probably cost him his life as well.
And then, if that happens, well, I will finally have no more to live for. There will be no one else to protect…
But neither Ellie nor Andrew deserve that. My small hope rears up again, that Nathaniel is gone amongst the ethereal vapors. I desperately need it to be true.
With little difficulty, I am ushered to Ellie’s room. Not surprisingly, Ellie is well known and loved on campus. The very first person I asked knew precisely where to take me, and it is at this moment I prepare to knock, and enter into the room of my best girlfriend that barely knows me. I take a very deep breath.
As I ready to knock, hoping beyond hope that my childhood friend will accept me now, after years of disconnect, and having stolen or essentially murdered all the loves of her life, the door swings open. I hear a very strange voice bellowing “Yessss! May I help you???” from presumably a television within. Through the door to Ellie’s room exits a small man, who stops to consider me thoughtfully, then turns to the occupant within and states, “Hey sweetheart, let me know if you want me to hook up your friend!” With that, he ambles down the hall, and a voice within moans, “Okay Timothy, whatever the hell you are talking about…”
My Ellie. No tolerance for the male foolishness, yet surrounded by males.
Then she sees me. She breathes, “Mira!”
But she does not get up from her comfortable spot on the loveseat in her dormitory abode. She remains still, save for her facial features, mostly her eyes that twitch and sparkle at my appearance. She begs me to come in and sit with her. She still loves me. She seems so tired though. So weak. My Ellie. My poor Ellie. I can only pray that this visit will rejuvenate us both, and not end in death for her at the hands of Nathaniel Mirras.
I find an open spot on her bed, otherwise covered in books and paraphernalia, and I sit. I consider Ellie for a moment, but she considers me for many more.
Finally, she speaks. “Mira, what are you doing here? I thought you were set at home. Maybe going to school. You had so many people taking care of you.”
It occurs to me that Ellie, my closest girlfriend in the world, actually has no idea of my struggles. She has no idea that I’ve met either of my fathers, let alone both. She would have no idea that either were found…or that they died, nor how.
So. I lie.
“Ellie, it’s just so great to see you. I’ve missed you more than you know. You invited me to visit you, and I’m so excited to be able to do that now!”
She smiles at this, but it is a dead smile. For a moment I am concerned that Nathaniel already has her. I don’t see him though, or sense him. Her eyes are strange, but not the dead eyes of Nathaniel’s prey, so for the moment I assume the best. I am wrong, of course, but not for the reasons I think. Ellie speaks. Her words are slurred and slow. Her head bobs awkwardly with each syllable.
“Mira, you know I love you. I have wanted the best for you since we were children. I still remember how you played with me in nursery school, after Bing died, when no one else would. I remember, and I love you for it. But Mira, you have stolen from me every hope of love my entire life. Bing was not your fault, of course, but Frank. You stole Frank from me. I understand it isn’t your fault that he did not want me, but dammit Mira why would you go with him? Why would you kiss him?
“I loved you more than myself, and yet when it came to boys you seemed only to care about the ones I wanted. Even over Andrew, which just didn’t make sense. And Cooper! Not only did you steal the boys I wanted, but they all died. Why Mira? Why?”
I check her eyes for signs of Nathaniel. There are none, and yet Ellie acts possessed. Curious, and frightening. Also she doesn’t move to try to harm herself or me. Maybe, just maybe…
“Mira. What happened to your ear?”
Oh. I’d forgotten about that. My ear had been mutilated in the incident with Cooper. It occurs to me now to just tell her. Dammit I’ve only had my father for all of ten minutes to talk about Smoke, and here is my best friend!
A silence. But not loud. This silence waits for me, is patient. Ellie seems stuck between wanting to know and her current stupor. I must tell her.
Just that. Ellie, from her perch, breathes in and out an effortless sigh.
“Oh. Yes. The ghost. The chalky one, yes I know.”
“Andrew told me all about it. I was pretty sure he was mad, but are you telling me it’s true?”
How in the living hell could Andrew know? How? Why tell Ellie? What?
“Mira, honey, you are both totally crazy. There’s no ghost! Please! It’s just that you two fought over Frank, and it was a convenient excuse to stay apart, and…Mira…Oh no Mira I just…I…”
I check her eyes. I still can’t tell if Nathaniel has her. But then I spot the syringe lying on the opposite side of her adamant form. She is using. I don’t know if it’s Nathaniel or the many ways I’ve destroyed poor Ellie’s spirit, but she has spent her recent life trying to end it with chemicals. Her breaths are shallow and slow. This is new to me and I don’t know what to do. And I do not see Nathaniel near her. With Nathaniel I had no power, but I knew what was happening. This is a reaction to something she took, from Timothy most likely, and I suddenly feel more out of control than ever before.
Ellie coughs slightly and I go to her. Her pupils are small as the points of a pin. She slowly speaks of how her chemistry final was ruined by the ghost, and by Andrew. And by me. She tells me to be careful of my chalky ghost. That he will kill me. Oh, please, Ellie, she’s completely delusional! Then, she coughs again, a dry dry cough and I see the discoloration of her tongue and lips as her narrow eyes begin to twitch. As though in a sickening dance, her entire body twitches. Then convulses. I cannot hold her!
Then she goes still. And there she is. My Ellie. Not alive, but not dead. I don’t know what to do. So I scream. I scream for help and I cry Ellie’s name over and over. I have gone from building forgiveness from my dearest, sweetest friend, to losing her in an instant.
She isn’t moving, and has only shallow breaths, which finally after moments of laboring, end completely. A thin trickle of blood exits her nose, traveling to its endpoint at her open, discolored mouth. My Ellie is gone and I scream and I cry until finally help arrives.
It is too late. And I am not sure if it was Nathaniel that took her, or if she was unprepared for the concoction given her by Timothy and in effect took herself. It appears an unfortunate accident, and yet how could it have happened at the exact moment of my arrival! And of course, now I have no other course but to seek out Andrew, the very last person in my life I want to bring danger to.
Of course. I have no choice.
There are questions. Did the drugs come from me? Who is this Timothy? Did I know she was using? How did I happen to be here at this moment and was I using? Did I need medical attention and what was my name?
Damn what is my name? “Andrews. Mira Andrews” I stammer. It is enough. Unfortunately, drug deaths are not that uncommon, and I am clearly not using myself but appear to be an unfortunate bystander. I’m released back into the world to seek out my only last hope, the end of all of my trials, and possibly the end of all hope of happiness.
Andrew. Please forgive me. I have nowhere else to go.
Properly, from the room of one of Ellie’s dorm-mates, I hear the song “Hit the road Jack” play on the radio.
And don’t you come back no more. I steal a last look at Ellie. She had the hardest life. From her early childhood all but me were stolen from her. And I was the cause. I weep over her body, wetting her hair and her brows, and the blood collected at her lips, with the endlessness of my tears. And I still have no idea if Nathaniel took her from me, or if she took herself from me. But still my fault. Then, they cover Ellie, take her from me, and I am never to see her again. My Ellie. And I am alone.
I may no longer have even my ghost.
It isn’t far. The men’s college is close. After only a few directions asked I walk. After seeing Ellie eaten alive by either heroin or host, I decide to remain solo – no hitchhiking. I’m not even sure I want to approach Andrew. It is possible that Nathaniel no longer exists, but it is also possible that he is clever, hiding his involvement in my poor Ellie’s death to lure me to bring him to Andrew. Bastard…
I become very spiritual in my walk toward the men’s college. I think of my lessons from childhood in Sunday School. I recite the various verses forced upon me to learn and memorize for use later in life. I could use that help now.
I pray. Not for myself.
Suddenly, I am filled with hope. The lessons give me some small hope, as though of the verses themselves I have the solution to a decades old puzzle. I smile with a sudden confidence.
I arrive at the school needing Andrew now more than ever, but with hesitancy in my heart. I shouldn’t go. I should turn around and find the tallest bridge or building and jump. Certainly my death would save Andrew for good. But, Nathaniel is insatiable, and it may not make a difference.
Plus. I need him. I need Andrew now. So I go to him. It isn’t nearly as easy to find Andrew as he isn’t the talk of campus, but some small perseverance gets me to his door. As with Ellie I prepare to knock. But, this time, I actually must knock, and the process of deciding takes longer than it should.
But I knock. Andrew answers, opens his door. He considers me for a moment. It is clear that he recognizes me, but as one out of place in his current reality. His entire countenance changes when he sees me.
He is happy!
He notes, however, my worn appearance, from years of travel, and the day’s tragedies. He speaks my name softly, then gathers me up, and brings me in. He doesn’t lounge in a chair alone, but sits with me in his lap, holding my head, and waiting for the inevitable. He knows my visit brings bad news, but has only concern, and, yes, only love for me in this moment. He waits, then sighs. He is still smiling slightly and sweetly! The television rings with the sound of “Yabba Dabba Doo!”
I say it. “Ellie is dead…”
Andrew ceases stroking my hair for a moment. He considers. He then says, “I know. The college called here. I was on her list”
He seems to know damn well everything!
Now, Andrew gets serious. “Was it your ghost…that…chalky thing?”
He really does know. But how?
I’m at my most vulnerable. This is the moment I’ve longed for since I was a toddler, and yet so close to being the most traumatic moment of my oft-traumatized life. Since he already knows all, I can only give him all the truth that I own in this moment, and hope. I can only hope that it remains like this.
“I don’t know. She was using heroin I guess. I don’t know if Smoke killed her or if she killed herself accidentally. I just don’t know, but Ellie is gone. My Ellie is dead!”
He says, “I know. I’m sorry Mira. I’m so sorry.”
Comfortable as I am, I must know. “How do you know about Smoke?”
Andrew tilts his head slightly and ponders, “Smoke? Who is that?”
Ah. “Smoke is my brother, my twin, died as a baby. His name is Nathaniel Mirras. He was…he died as a baby. He is a killer, a horrific, disfigured chalky monstrosity. He killed Mother, my Father and Stepfather, and the twins. Cooper. Bing…”
Andrew nods, and again holds me close.
Please, Smoke, please don’t take him. Please be gone!
“Mira, do you remember when Frank died?”
Yes. Of course. I nod.
“I was there. Or at least I felt I was. I saw Frank and you, I saw you kiss…”
When he says it, it hurts. That he saw it is so uncomfortable, and I’m again ashamed.
But he doesn’t dwell on it. “Somehow, I saw you, in a dream, I thought, in the path of a train. I thought you were going to die, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I was stuck in place. I was also so wounded that you chose him over me.”
I start to speak, to try to correct him, but he continues.
“I saw the train approach behind you, the speed and the lights becoming ever closer. I thought you would die, and I wanted to take your place. I couldn’t bear the thought of you dying. I tried to look away, thinking it was a dream! I tried to look away but was compelled, compelled to watch, and I braced for the train to hit you and tear you apart and my heart nearly died. But, as you know, you didn’t die. At just the moment before impact, this horrible creature comes out of your body. He is hideous, chalky, missing most of his face! He exits your body, smiles at me, and disappears!”
Suddenly I understand why Andrew avoided me for so long. And I’m grateful.
“Mira, as soon as he exited the body I thought was you, you turned into Frank, and the train…”
And that’s it. Andrew knew. The entire time.
“Mira, I thought it was my fault. It seemed to be a dream at the time, but it was so real, and when Frank was really dead I thought that I caused it! I couldn’t go to you. I didn’t know if the ghost was mine, and if it would kill you. I had to stay away. I’m so sorry Mira!”
And at this I’m reduced. I’m lost. I collapse in tears, both in joy and in sadness over the many years we lost, afraid for each other’s life. It seems unfair and yet in this moment it is all right. Andrew knew. He protected me the same way I protected him. By staying away. And now, many years later and hopefully absent the interference of the meddling, klller Nathaniel, I am finally reunited with my heart in this world. With Andrew. It will all be okay. I look deeply into his eyes. It will be okay.
But no. Suddenly, it is not.
Andrew, while even holding me, like Frank, and like Cooper, becomes the victim of Nathaniel’s possession. I see him. I feel him. Nathaniel is not dead, but as promised, has followed me to Andrew, so that he can complete the mission of destroying my life by killing him. Nathaniel will force me to witness the way he decides to mutilate Andrew’s features, his eyes and his ears. His mouth. How will he damage his hands? After my entire life, of dreaming for Andrew, and protecting him, and hoping, that damned bastard Nathaniel will take him from me! Then his revenge will be complete. He will have nothing left to torture me with.
Andrew, now become the visage of the eyeless noseless monster Smoke, looks at me, and with the evil in his socketless eyes says “Mira. It is time. You must be the one to end this, as you should have so many times and so many years ago. Kill him. End this, so that I may have peace!”
Bastard. I don’t care about your peace!
It’s okay. I wrap my hands around Andrew’s neck. It’s simple as he appears now the visage of the killer Smoke. Andrew’s eyes are far away and he’ll never know. I will then find some way to take myself. Nathaniel will have nothing more when I’m gone, and that is only some small comfort. The beautiful moment is gone. I was given so few.
Nathaniel Mirras’ hatred for me has no bounds. And he will destroy me by causing me to destroy Andrew. Nathaniel will certainly have me mutilate him as he did Mother. Only his intense hatred for me would induce him to have me do it myself. I won’t die right away, but will be responsible for the death of my heart. The laugh of the chalky child permeates the room as I prepare to separate Andrew from the habit of oxygen. It is over.
Except it is not. Nathaniel you fool! You cannot control me, and you cannot cause me to harm Andrew. You never could! I have the answer, and had it even before knocking on Andrew’s door! I know how to keep Andrew safe. I was not sure I could hide my intentions from Nathaniel long enough, but it seems that I have played this gambit perfectly. I leave my despondency and give a little smile of satisfaction, as Nathaniel realizes what I’m about to do.
In the background, a commercial intuitively speaks “Sorry Charlie.”
I have some power over Nathaniel in this world, and as I grasp Andrew’s neck, I draw Smoke into me. Out of Andrew. I have always had this power over Nathaniel, and I draw him into me. I began to realize it when he possessed me to kill my Stepfather Joseph Mirras. I see the twisted façade of my deranged dead brother leave Andrew and enter me, powerless.
Andrew returns, quickly shaking off the stupor of possession, and gazes at me. I can’t hold Smoke like this forever, so must act quickly. Andrew’s eyes are again mine, so I look into them and say, “Andrew, you idiot just kiss me!”
Genesis 2:24. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and they will join together. And they will become one flesh.
Andrew’s father and mother are definitely not here.
And, with Nathaniel safely stashed inside of me, powerless, I give myself to Andrew, and take him as mine. We become one flesh. And, in doing so, Andrew is now safe forever. He is of my flesh. Of me. One person. Like a twin, and in the same way Nathaniel cannot mortally harm me, he will no longer, ever, be able to mortally harm Andrew.
This is how, finally, I keep Andrew safe. Andrew, and all of my hopes and dreams for us, becomes mine. Becomes me. Our love of an entire lifetime becomes real, and will endure. Nathaniel is finally beaten.
I wish I had thought of this sooner…
As we love, I hear the voice of the Chalky Child. But it is not his laugh as he claims another victim, but rather an elongated, bestial cry of pained defeat, as he loses one forever. He is then silenced.
My name is Mira. My life, and the life of he that matters most to me in this world, is no longer in the hands of Nathaniel Mirras…