Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
Eliza was in her bed upstairs. Mother cleaned her up. She made her look very pretty. Like sheʼs sleeping.
I donʼt know why we didnʼt expect this to happen. Not because of the way she was. More because of what we did to her.
My brother James and I, we always knew tell there was something unusual about her. When she was born, she never once cried. Mother and Father thought she may have had scarlet fever. Dr. Coffett, our family doctor, made house calls regularly for the first four years of her life. I overheard him telling my parents what he thought was wrong with her. He called it “Neurasthenia”. He thought it seemed to explain her symptoms: the quietness, the staring straight across the room, never seeming to notice you even if you were right in front of her. And the long bouts of mumbling after Mother put her to bed at night.
I was five when she was born. James was nearly seven. What was odd was that our entire family has chestnut brown hair, but Elizaʼs grew in blonde.
As far as Eliza and I went, we werenʼt very alike at all. Apart from the way we look (my eyes are Kelly green, and Elizaʼs were steel gray, as Father put it), I was always told I was bold, the adventurer type. Mr. Ainsworth, my schoolteacher, once told me, “Martha, you got a lotta gumption. Thatʼs a rare thing for a girl to have. You put that to good use, youʼll be all right.” One of my favorite things to do was climbing trees as high as I could go. Iʼd leave a marker at the spot (usually a ribbon), and return to see if I could climb higher. I always tried to get Eliza to come out to see if sheʼd be a good climber like me, but she’d never listen.
No one in the family knew if she would ever change. We wondered how she would get on in the world as a grown-up if she never spoke to anyone or asked for help. Once I overheard Mother and Father talk about sending Eliza away. To a special school if she didnʼt come out of whatever she was in.
To our surprise, she did. Even stranger than her behavior was how abruptly it stopped after four years. Like coming out of a dream, she transformed. Once sullen and absent, she suddenly became a lively and sociable girl. It was Christmas Day.
Father had gone out all day Christmas Eve, and came back with gifts for the three of us. We were to wait until morning for them. James and I argued. Eliza said nothing.
Christmas morning arrived. The three of us went downstairs to join Mother and Father for breakfast. Ham, eggs, and tea, our Christmas tradition. After breakfast, we went into the living room and waited on the couch. Father had us close our eyes, and placed the gifts in our hands. James was given a brass pocket compass. The arrow quivered as he smiled down at it. I got a jade necklace. The cloudy green stone was sanded in the shape of a heart. I fell in love with it. Eliza, however, did not have anything put in her hands. Father said, “Eliza, open your eyes.” We looked. Father was holding a kitten. Tawny brown, with faded white stripes and gray-green eyes, the tiny thing looked up at Eliza as her eyes filled with tears. “Oh Father, thank you! Thank you!” she sobbed, kneeling on the floor as the kitten tottered over to her. We all looked at each other. We couldnʼt remember the last time Eliza had spoken of her own accord.
As I watched her cradle the kitten, I smiled. I couldnʼt help but marvel at the look she had in her eyes as she stared at the kitten’s gray-green ones.
Sometimes, I would look in her eyes, and see something that made my spine tingle. I couldnʼt always see it. But sometimes I could. It was darkness. Some deep abyss in her black pupils, something that made me think of only one word: foreverness. I couldnʼt stand looking at them for too long. James saw it too. Once, I tried to explain it to Mother. She smacked me on the behind and told me I was a sinner.
But now, watching her, I saw something different. There was some happiness, unearthly happiness in her pupils. The darkness wasnʼt there. In fact, I felt like I could see light coming from them, like a glowing sun.
She named it Eirene. None of us knew where on earth she had gotten the name from. Eliza said she read it at school.
From then on, Eliza and Eirene were rarely without one another. The two would sleep, eat, and sometimes bathe together. Eliza constantly tried to bring Eirene to school, only to be caught by my Mother or Father.
For two years she beamed when she was with the cat, and sobbed when it had to stay outside because it had gotten ear mites or something. In two years, we nearly forget how Eliza used to be. We were happy. Until Eliza fell ill.
Like a plague of locusts, the darkness that once surrounded her swarmed in again. The hours of idle staring, the incoherent muttering, and the sinister, cavernous look in her eyes returned. She began ignoring our parents and had to be forced out of bed to school. The only difference was that the darkness she emitted wasnʼt quite as dark as before. At least not when she had Eirene.
We were quickly trained to respond to her removed looks and sinister demeanor by shooing Eirene into the room, while we watched from the doorway. Eliza would notice the cat, and her eyes would glass over. Her brow uncrossed. She smiled at the little thing, cradling it in her arms.
Dr. Coffett determined her Neurasthenia had been addled by a nasty gastrointestinal infection. He would treat her as best he could, but we were to watch her for signs she was getting worse. Eliza was confined to her bed.
For weeks she remained as she was, never quite cheerful but never distraught either. Eirene stayed upstairs with her, unless she needed to go outside for the bathroom.
It was one of these times when it happened. I was with Mother and Father in the kitchen, while James was in the front yard. Eirene was at the back door, meowing gently. Her brown tail quivered, a sign that she needed to go out. “Martha, would you mind taking Eirene out to the woods?” Mother asked. I got up from my homework and strode to the back door.
At the border where our backyard met the woods, I sat on the grass, looking up at the sky. It was bright blue, almost devoid of clouds. I tried to find shapes every time one happened by. It must have been so warm, the grass so soft, I fell asleep.
I jumped up from the grass, looking around wildly, to see James near the back of the house. He saw me and grinned. “Hey Martha, didnʼt see you there!” he said.
“James what are you doing?” I yelled at him. “You scared me half to death!”
“Iʼm sorry, but like I said, I didnʼt see you.” He was holding Fatherʼs rifle, the tip still smoking.
“You can be really rotten sometimes.” I glanced over at the woods. “Whereʼs Eirene?”
“Eirene, James!” I shouted, a panic rising inside me. “Eirene, I took her out here to the woods! Where is she?”
Jamesʼ face went white. “I…I donʼt know…” He looked over at the woods.
Without another word I sprinted into the trees. “WHERE DID YOU SHOOT?” I screamed, searching the brush covered floor.
“Uh…over there!” he shouted, “Somewhere over there!”
I didnʼt need to look where he was pointing, though. My eyes caught a brown gray mass near the base of an oak tree. I skidded to my knees. Eirene was lying there, panting, red muck clinging to the fur on her left side. Her legs twitched, and her eyes stared up at her forehead. Seeing me, she meowed.
James ran up to my side. “Oh…no…” he said. “Oh no, oh no, what did I do?”
Eireneʼs breathing quickened, became more shallow. We both kneeled there, frozen, watching blood dribble out of her side and disappear under the leaves. She looked up at me. I saw pain and fear there, like a fear of something ominous, something inevitable. Then they lolled back to their place, looking straight ahead, and stopped.
At that moment, adrenaline rushed through me, driving out my frozen shock. I scooped Eirene up and bolted out of the woods to the house. Maybe it was the tears burning my eyes or my concentration on that back door I had to reach, but I didnʼt see Eliza watching me from her bed behind the upstairs window.
Dr. Coffett arrived later that afternoon. Eliza had been overcome with a bout of vomiting, only this time she started vomiting blood. Dr. Coffett told us this had to do with ulcers in the lining of her stomach.
Eirene was wrapped in linen and placed in a shoebox. Mother asks us not to tell Eliza what had happened. She didnʼt want her condition getting any worse.
We could smell the vomit from her room. It seemed to float through the entire house. She made horrible retching sounds through the evening. Mother and Father and Dr. Coffett stayed up there with her. We all wondered why she didnʼt ask for Eirene.
At 10:16, and as crickets and peepers chirped outside, Dr. Coffett came down the stairs. “Iʼm very sorry to have to tell you this,” he said to James and I, “but your little sister has died. I know you both loved her very much, and I know she loved you as well.” With that, he donned a black bowler hat and left without a goodbye.
James and I went silently up the stairs to Elizaʼs room. It was just opposite Jamesʼ. Inside, Mother and Father were leaning over Elizaʼs bed, crying. Mother beckoned us in for a final goodbye, and there we all wept.
Sleep didnʼt come easily to me that night. Mother and Father told us they were leaving her in her bed for the night, and would make arrangements for her tomorrow. I laid in bed for what felt like hours, until finally, I slept.
I woke up. Not knowing why though, the house seemed quiet. I stared off into the pitch black, waiting to fall back into sleep.
My stomach dropped. Did I really hear something? Was it my name? My spine tingled as I pricked my ears up, waiting for anything.
My breath caught in my throat. I heard that, clearly, drifting into my room from down the hall where Elizaʼs and Jamesʼ bedrooms were. A door creaked open, and with it, an acrid smell wafted into my room. I choked. The smell was metallic, like that brown rusty water we sometimes get in the drinking fountain at school. My eyes had adjusted to the dim of the room, helped along by the moonlight casting in through the window behind me. I stared, transfixed, at the open door. Beyond it, I couldnʼt see. But I could hear…something…
My ears strained to pick up the sound. My sweat chilled me as it soaked the linen of my pajamas and grew cold. The metallic smell grew stronger, stinging my nostrils. I gagged, but my eyes never left the doorway.
The sound was growing louder. My body was pressed against the backboard, trembling. I tried to scream for my parents, but only a hoarse squeaking left me.
It was right outside my room. The smell was making my head spin. It was a familiar smell, but worse than I had ever known it. This made me realize what it was. When I realized, I let out a high-pitched moan. My throat dried up.
It was the smell of vomit, saturated with blood.
Eliza dragged herself around the doorway. She was wearing the nightgown we had dressed her in. The white fabric was covered in a gray and red mess. Curdled chunks of food and bits of intestine dripped from her chin. Her face was ashen-white and sunken, and her blonde hair was stuck around her mouth. But her eyes frightened me more than anything. The steel gray irises of her eyes were whited over from the hours of disuse, but her pupils were blacker than anything I could have ever imagined. She dragged herself by the arms along the floor, leaving a trail of steaming vomit and blood behind her. She reached my bed, and slowly pulled herself up over the side, never taking her eyes off me.
I held my breath, knowing if I breathed again, the full power of that odor would kill me right here.
She yanked my bedsheets as she hoisted herself on top of me, closer…closer…
Now sheʼs here, inches from my face, that smell of decay burning my eyes, the red and gray stew spilling onto my chest and neck. I stared into her eyes.
In them I saw nothing. I saw the coldest, outermost limits of foreverness. I saw the void.
“No!” I screamed, “I didnʼt kill her! I didnʼt, please! I didnʼt see James had the gun! Iʼm sorry! I didnʼt mean to let her die! Please! PLEASE!”
This last word I screamed. Her pupils grew bigger, grew around me, swallowed me whole, and I fell out of the universe and into the abyss, forever.
“Wake up…” My Fatherʼs voice. “Martha, wake up…”
I opened my eyes. I was staring at a ceiling. My ceiling. In front of it were my Mother and Father. They looked down at me, concerned, as I groggily tried to put words together. “You had a bad dream, sweetheart,” said my Mother. “You were crying.” I swiveled my head. My wall. I swiveled it back. The underside of my bed.
“Eliza…she was here…” I said, trying to fight off dizziness.
“No, sweetheart, sheʼs in her room.” Mother starts to tear up. “I know how hard this must be for you. Itʼs hard for all of us. But weʼre still a family, and we still love each other.”
“Would you like to sleep in our bed tonight?” asked my father. “Come on, honey, letʼs go.” He picks me up, my hands absently reaching around his neck to hang on.
Lying between the two of them, their warm bodies holding me in place, I canʼt think of anything but sleep.
Sunlight poured in the windows when I woke up. I looked down to the end of the bed at an unfamiliar wall, and an unfamiliar door. Then I noticed my parents on either side of me. The fuzzy memory of being carried came back to me. With that, the dream came back. Eliza was alive. She was in my room. I fell into her eyes. I canʼt remember anything more than that.
I slid to the foot of the bed, and hopped off, careful not to wake my parents. I tiptoed down the hall, past my room, and stopped outside Elizaʼs. There she was, lying on her bed with her eyes closed, in her clean white nightgown. I sighed.
Turning around, I walked into Jamesʼ room. I wanted to wake him to tell him about my dream, and ask him if he wanted to come with me outside to pick flowers for Eliza before my parents wake up. That would make them happy.
“James, wake up,” I said, pulling off the covers, “I want to tell you ab-”
James was lying on his back. His eyes were gouged out. His jaw was ripped halfway off his face, leaving him with a gaping openmouthed scream.
I stepped back. My knees buckled, and I hit my head on the foot of his bed. The world swam in front of me as I lay there on the floor. I stared out through the door into Elizaʼs room, where I saw her lying there, her head turned towards me. She had a smile on her face, and her eyes were open. In her black pupils I saw a deep abyss. It made me think of a word: foreverness.
Credit To – Colin’s Home for the Damned