On June 22nd, I returned to my hometown in the southern area of Alaska. My childhood home was falling apart, again. I bought it for fairly cheap. Despite ten years having passed since I last saw the neighborhood, it was still the worst part of town. I remember, when I was younger my bike got stolen. It was my own fault, for blindly trusting the town; and always leaving my bike unlocked.
I paid the electric bill but still needed to pay a few others, at least I won’t be in the dark tonight. The house was barren, no furniture or knick knacks, only my memories. I don’t know when it got like this. I never got a call to pick up my old stuff, though I wish I had. The only call I got while I was away was on the day my mom died. I thought of going to her funeral but I stayed out of state. Another regret… but funerals were never cathartic for me, more so a capsule for the grief in my mind during the entire procession. It was in the end probably best to have stayed away.
I bought a sleeping bag and a lamp and went to my old room. The window was broken and the wind winnowed through the curtains and suffused dust into the air. It is summer and thus I’m not too cold. I have a slight chill, however, I cannot say whether that is because I’ve been away from this climate for so long, or something else entirely. Even when I was younger I found the house to be discomforting. The dramas and tragedies of then could be a part of that, but I also always felt like something weirder lurked beneath all of the regular human pathos.
My markings: writing, splotches, and amateurish drawings remain upon the wall where the head of my bed once was; I used my mom’s makeup brushes to make them. I must’ve been at the end of elementary school when I did it. I see a sad face, it was the most faded out of the couple dozen things I drew: I guess I’ve been like this for longer than I thought.
The hours passed, night came, and the only light was a single streetlamp and my new lamp. Even without my phone, insomnia possessed me. I lay palsied upon the lino, staring at the ceiling where shapes form upon the wrinkled plaster. I see vestiges of times I can’t place. There’s a blissfulness to them that’s painful….Nostalgia?
Noise. From downstairs.
I thought I’d find a squatter or drunk. But there was nothing in the empty living room. The windows were still intact, the front door was still locked. And yet. I heard the noise again, clearly this time. Glass…clinking? Bottles, yes, bottles. Coming from the bedroom I just left. I ran upstairs. And, again there was nothing there.
I returned to my sleeping bag, doing the opposite of what it’s made for, thinking over and over whether I’m still all here. Time paused. There’s nobody here but me and my overthinking. I’m reminded through the shapes in the ceiling, of somewhere I never was: indigo waves crash upon a face I don’t know, yet it’s also a reflection of my own visage. Fancy-speak of my father. His funeral was held long before my birth. He was the origin of our endless bereavements. At least for me, and for my mom too I think.
Though death marches through everyone’s lives, regardless of the living’s wishes of otherwise. God, I’m such a thoughtless philosopher.
The sun finally arrived…four hours after I was able to sleep. It woke me up nearly instantly. Four hours is better than my average. I need to get food, and pay more bills. I don’t want to though, I want to rest more, though I know I can’t, I won’t, and I`ll just be here in this hollow home of mine. I do this for a few hours but eventually my stomach and minor dehydration brings my hand to the handle of the front door.
I hauled a small fridge home. It can’t even hold a pack of soda. But I quit soda so long ago. It’s mostly for the fruit and vegetables I bought. Healthy gut, healthy mind as the therapist says; I think…I haven’t seen one in years…put them on pause for my mental health. I paid for the city to turn the water back on, I tested it with a newly bought water bottle: the water tastes crisp and clear, but I can taste the chemicals still, so many years later and that’s still an issue. Guess problems aren’t always resolved with time, especially without enough effort. There I go again, speaking on things I know nothing about at all. Opinions opined, is all I know.
Second night alone. Nothing stops the sudden cease of time in the midnight hours. My thoughts continue to plod into their boring diversions. I’m still hearing the glasses clinking downstairs. Every now and again I hear the sound climb the stairs. I see figures at the edges of my eyes sometimes, making me more and more anxious with each little glance past the door’s opening. My heart beats faster with each blink and clink, the figures go in and out of my vision. As I write this I feel better, calmer, and so I’ll just keep doing this until I fall asleep.
I finally fell asleep during a brief pause with the clinking. I had a dream. It was pleasant, mostly. It was me and my friends playing with my neighbor, in their yard, on their knoll. We were using a plastic wagon that could fit a couple of us inside. We went down the rocky side and into the gravel road which all our houses were stuck to like mussels. It ended with us going into the road again, but this time someone was speeding towards us: I heard the crash, my eyes shut, and there was screaming from afar; when my eyes opened again I was back in my bedroom.
I went on a walk today. I walked around the house first to see if I needed anything. I bought what I needed to fix my broken window. Surprisingly no other window was damaged. The washer and dryer were still there in their defunct state. Some floorboards downstairs have rotted into themselves making little black holes. So a lot of work that I really don’t want to do. But I bought what I needed and kept walk a while longer. For some sightseeing of my old haunts.
I first went to an old fort. If you could call it that? It’s a popular tourist destination, and the tourist season is currently piquing. I should have honestly gone at night, like I had done before. But those are bygone days now I suppose. It was crowded…I don’t remember the town ever being this popular…then again it was just in a trending ad. Guess it’s good for the local economy. I sat down on one of the benches. There was a couple sitting next to me. They were laughing and taking pictures of themselves smiling with the panorama of islands on the Sound behind them.
Once I began to feel invisible I decided to leave. I stopped at the bottom of the stone stairs. There was someone slouched right next to them. Someone I knew: my sister. There was a bottle in her hands, cupped in her lap, not even in a paper bag despite it being alcohol…though the label was scratched off. I put my hand out to touch her shoulder but before I could do that she groggily opened her eyes. A shocked look came to her face, reflecting my own expression to this whole situation. She grabbed my hand, and I grabbed her arm and pulled her up. She slumped forward into my arms, I steadied her, though even when straightened she still swayed to and fro. Sleep doesn’t cure a drunk.
“What’re you sleeping in public for?”
Her breath smelled like vomit and bottom-shelf vodka.
“Yep, that’s my question. Where are you staying?”
“Want to come home?”
“Okay, come on.”
I took the bottle and threw it away. I wrapped her arms around me, in a piggy-back style and started down the stairs. She’s really light, uncomfortably so.
We got home and I softly set her onto the bare living room floor. She’s passed out. I returned to my room. I feel stupid for doing this, honestly. I left here, my home, this town, everything, just to escape my family. Now my sister’s downstairs. She’s a looks just like mom now, though she’s only thirty now. Aged twenty years from alcohol, and maybe something more? Ain’t that just terrible? Even with this little exposure, I can feel my migraines returning. I go to open the window, but it’s still broken…there’s just not enough air for me right now.
My sister left during the night. It wasn’t a surprise, I heard her leave. What scared me was it sounded like she ran from something. First I heard her mumbling, whispering to herself, asking if anyone was here, for some reason I kept quiet, and I could hear her crying as she struggled to find her way out, I heard the door open but not close, but not long after her departure some footsteps followed her and slammed the door shut. That’s when I went downstairs, and the door was still open, the wind blowing hard. I shut the door and locked it for the night. I went back to bed and awaited dawn. Somehow it felt like I was going into retrograde.
I fell asleep at around 3AM. My thoughts and the past kept me up. The clinking remained, so it was not what followed my sister out. I somewhat hoped she’d take this haunting with her, but that ain’t how it goes I suppose. When I wake up later it’s only been four hours, but that’s better than most nights, I may even call it a good night. I couldn’t see though. The fog somehow got into the house. I call it fog because it was scentless, almost formless, yet also heavy. I heard a door shut downstairs. I froze for a moment, wondering what to do if there was an intruder. I stared at my hands, opening and closing them into fists. Then I grabbed the lamp and held it on my chest while staring at the window, where nothing was visible through the fog. There’s a figure at the foot of the bed, standing before the window, back-facing me. My eyes eventually adjusted and I realized it was my sister. I don’t know how, when, why she returned but there she stood, staring out the window. I opened my mouth, hesitated, blinked and she was gone. I rose and went to the window, I opened it and looked down, there was nothing there. I shut the window and my reflection scared me. I looked more disheveled than ever before. Waifish. I go to shut the curtains but they’re not there and the window glass disappeared again, broken before me. I stopped in shock, wondering what was staring back at me. I returned to my sleeping bag and sat down, staring back at the window, it was empty again, only the neighbor’s eaves draped in fog.
I found my sister downtown later. Downtown was a short street, so it was easy to find her. She was passed out again, again with another bottle. I tapped her temple with the half-empty bottle, she swiped at me before she groaned awake and looked at me.
I don’t know why I brought her back. I prefer to be alone but yet I struggled with her tangled legs to bring her here again. Last night she ran screaming, but now she was mute. You’d think that she’d be quick to speak of whatever horrified her, but no. Perhaps that is more due to her suffering from some kind of ataxia, I would’ve said alcoholism but she’s been dry for hours, so that can’t be it. But then again… there’s the possibility that she’s dry-drunk or however the term goes.
“So why’d you run away last night?”
She doesn’t respond.
I pull her bottles out from my jacket and clink them together. “You want these back?”
Again, silence from her, eyes staring back corpse-like.
“You don’t actually have to tell me,” I put the bottles in front of her. “But can you stay here tonight? Upstairs with me if you want even.”
“Really?” her first words since her return. “You’re okay with that?”
“Yes, yes I am.”
Come night we were together in my room now. A broken-down cardboard box filling the hole of the broken window now. I asked myself why I am so kind to my sister. Perhaps because with time I have realized the vectors of addiction were more hard-wired than I had thought when I was child. My thoughts had been blinded by hatred in my adolescence. But after my own skirmish with dipsomania, I knew how difficult addiction was to defeat. I guess my sister realized this, because even though I never forbade her in drinking tonight, she never touched the bottles she bought.
In the last minutes of midnight we both wished we were at least even a little tipsy, for the noises returned. The clinking bottles ascended the stairs and stopped outside my bedroom door. My sister clung to me fearfully, her anxious hold made me nearly forget she was the older sibling. I pushed her behind me and watched the door slowly open. What I called fog earlier, entered through the growing gap. The door fully opened and the foglike presence sighed inside. My sister’s face pressed against my back, frightful hands bunching parts of my shirt.
“Make it go away,” she begged.
“I don’t know how.”
Those were my final words to my sister. I awoke in the local jail. No injuries on me but I had an agonizing headache. The jailer had to take multiple breathalyzer tests on me before letting me go. Apparently I was way beyond the legal limit when they found me. I asked the jailer where my sister was now.
“Dead. Alcohol poisoning. But there were some wounds on her, too. So we’re suspecting foul play. I-”
The jailer was called aside then and talked to someone out of ear shot. I only heard a couple words.
The jailer did not return and instead a man in a suit stood before me. I asked him who killed my sister.
“That’s impossible…how? I was too drunk to do anything.”
“When we found you, yes. But we suspect you did it before you drank.”
“I don’t drink though. I…I don’t even remember anything last night.”
“Save it for court.”
He left. I sat in a corner of my cell. The silence was deafening. The screech of metal on concrete slowly became screaming in my head. My hazy memory painted my sister’s final moments. She was running in the woods with me. The unknown fog followed. My sister fell and I tried to help her get back up. But it was too late. We were engulfed by it. We could not see. I heard my sister crying but then it turned into screaming. The fog dispersed and my sister lay before me, dead and dismembered. Her head was gone but as I collapsed before her broken body, I saw a shadow next to mine. Long hair like hers, but no body. I knew what it was, and so I was too afraid to turn around. A voice spoke at my nape: This is what you wanted, right? You wished for your family to die for the suffering they caused you, yes? Are you happy? Smile, please.
The shadow dropped and I heard a wet thunk hit the forest floor behind me. My memory stopped there. The dead surround my cell at night. Some forgotten, some forgiven. I tried to sleep. They breathe in my ears, clasp my limbs, and choke my throat. I want to die, I’m ready. The dead only bring me to the brink but never kill me. They laugh and laugh and the laughter never stops.
Credit : Devina Byrne
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