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Frank’s heart sank as low as it could go before he even finished reading the email. Another job opportunity was out of his grasp before he even had a chance to make it to a second interview. And he knew why.
“It was Rudy. I know it was. That fucking bastard.”
Rudy was his old manager from his old job. The one he had gotten fired from over ten months ago. He pictured the recruiter calling Rudy for a reference, and he could see in his mind the smug look that Rudy must have had as he listed all of Frank’s flaws and expressed in great detail the reason that Frank had been let go.
“It’s bullshit. I didn’t do a damn thing wrong,” Frank muttered as he pulled out a Marlboro from the pack on his computer desk. He lit the cigarette with his lighter as he stared at the computer screen in front of him, his glare directed toward his email inbox as though it had done something bad to him.
After slamming the lighter back onto the table, he took a very long drag from the cigarette. Blowing out smoke, he pointed at the screen. “I didn’t do anything to deserve this!” Frank screamed, the words barely audible with the cigarette dangling from his lips. “Fuck you, Rudy! Keeping food off my table for a couple of pictures? You dirty rotten piece of…”
Frank refrained from screaming more once he realized that it would be pointless to chastise a computer. He only wished Rudy was around so he could punch him right in the nose. The image of a bloody-nosed Rudy gave him a chuckle, which he suppressed with a cough that lasted longer than he would have liked.
Once his lungs were clear, he took another long drag. Then he sat back down at the desk, knowing that he would have to continue his search. He wasn’t sure how much longer he would last. His savings were being depleted slowly but surely. He’d been out of work for far too long. If he didn’t find something soon, he’d be in trouble.
He began to go back to one of the job boards online. As he skimmed down some job listings, he came across the one he had just been turned down for again. Rudy’s smug face popped back into his mind, a little less bloody in his imagination this time. A strong feeling of discouragement came over him like a tidal wave. Frank stood from his desk and began to pace his living room, continually taking drags on his cigarette as tried to walk off his anger. But the anger would not pass. He was really pissed off. At Rudy, at the recruiter for believing Rudy’s horseshit, and at the summer heat that filled his apartment.
“God damn, it’s hot in here,” Frank muttered as he turned his oscillating fan to its highest setting. He stood back and stared at it as it hummed and vibrated, unable to enjoy its lukewarm breeze within the confines of his steamy apartment.
“Forget this,” he said, almost growling his words.
Frank didn’t even bother to turn his computer off as he stormed out of his apartment, slamming the door hard behind him. He needed to clear his head. A walk on a sunny August day would hopefully do just that.
As he exited the front of his apartment building, he took a deep breath and tossed his cigarette butt into the bushes that adorned his building’s front yard.
It was a very bright afternoon and he felt much better just being outdoors. He had been cooped up in the apartment far too long, sitting at his computer, typing away, filling out endless applications. All he ever seemed to look at lately were applications. Each one filled with menial information sent to prospective employees who never even met him, yet had no qualms about turning him down and rejecting him coldly.
And of course it was always coldly. All of them were judging him based on an innocent pastime that had hurt nobody. Still and all, he felt the familiar pangs of guilt begin to consume him again.
“Should never have had those pictures at work,” he thought as he started to leave his block. He needed to get his mind off of things. But a mere walk down the very boring city streets he saw day in day out wasn’t enough. He needed tranquility. He wanted to immerse himself in nature, and escape to a new environment somewhere, not only physically, but emotionally as well. He wanted to find peace.
But his mind fought him at every turn, particularly with the job that had been taken from him returning to the forefront of his thoughts. How could he find peace when the world was against him? He figured the only peace he would ever find was when he was dead and buried.
That was when he thought of the cemetery. It was only a few blocks away and he remembered there being a duck pond located somewhere on the grounds. What sounded more tranquil than that? Peace, nature, and barely anybody around to bother him. Deciding that that was where he wanted to be, he turned left at the upcoming corner and headed toward Cedar Hill cemetery.
The large gateway greeted him as he arrived at his destination. As he walked in he scanned the area to see if there were any people out and about. He saw no one, figuring that because it was a weekday, most people would be working. They would be too busy slaving away for a company that didn’t care about them to mourn anybody, which meant he could mourn his own pathetic life without any gawkers present.
It only took him about twenty minutes to get to the center of the cemetery. Frank was happy to see only one single groundskeeper riding a tractor in the distance as he walked past the many tombstones on his path to the pond. He would be able to be by himself and stew in his own misery. But maybe not complete misery.
He approached the duck pond and cracked a slight smile. There were about six ducks wading slowly across the pond, and the water fountain in the very center was spitting two cascading streams of water back into the pond itself. This flow of water made the whole area seem to cool by about ten degrees, particularly in the shade of one of the trees looming over the side of the pond. It was the very definition of tranquility.
Frank sat down on one of the benches and took in the sunlit sights. His problems wouldn’t find him here. He could be at peace here. He fixated on one of the ducks that waded close to him. He grew envious.
“Lucky little duck,” he said. “Get to swim around all day with your family and get fed by people. Wish I could join you.” That was when he heard her voice.
“Hello,” the soft voice said.
Frank turned around and saw a little girl standing a few feet behind his bench. She smiled at him as she nervously twisted her upper body the opposite direction of her lower half, her hands coyly clasped behind her back. He made her out to be about eight years old. She wore a pleated pink skirt topped with a white sleeveless blouse adorned with a kitten design embroidered on the front. Her long hair was brown and straight, and her smile was warm and friendly. He addressed her in kind.
Hi, there,” he said with a smile and a nod.
“Are you here for the ducks?” she asked as she took two steps closer. “To feed them?”
“No. No, I’m just here to relax. And watch them swim.”
She seemed to take this as an invitation as she sat right next to him. She looked at him with an eager curiosity. “I love to watch them swim around. Sometimes they walk on the grass. But never close enough to touch. I want a duck for a pet. Do you have pets?”
Hearing her light airy voice amused him. “I used to have a dog a long time ago,” he said, actually enjoying the simplicity of the conversation they were having.
“Dogs are too big. And you have to walk them. And they eat too much. Then you have to clean up after them when they go in the grass. I’d rather have a duck. You just throw bread and they eat it and they’re done.” She had looked at the ducks with an appreciative awe in her face as she spoke.
Frank leaned in to look at her closer. “Do you ever feed the ducks?”
She shook her head. “No. I never did. But I saw the man that works here do it.”
Feeling at ease, Frank placed his arm against the back of the bench so he could get a better view of her. Watching as she swung her sandaled feet just above the ground, he asked what her name was.
“Sophie Larson,” she said, matter-of-factly.
He extended his hand for her to shake. “Pleasure to meet you, Sophie Larson. I’m Frank Tulley.”
She placed her small hand in his as he shook it gently. “Hello, Frank.”
Frank looked around to see if anyone else was present, but he saw nobody except the groundskeeper driving his tractor many yards away, almost on the other side of the cemetery. He leaned a little closer to ask her a question. He deemed it an important question but almost forgot to ask as he couldn’t help but pick up the sweet scent she wore. It must have been a body wash or shampoo. He loved it. It reminded him of some type of fruit. He couldn’t figure out which fruit, but he didn’t dwell on it long. He had his question.
“Is your mom or dad around?”
“My mommy is nearby,” she replied, pulling a tiny flower from off a bush beside the bench.
“Oh, yeah?” He looked around again, this time for effect. “I don’t see anybody.”
“What about your mommy? Where is she?” She asked this as she stood up from the bench, only to kneel down near the edge of the pond and give all her attention to the ducks. She put out both her hands as though she wanted to grab the ducks if they would come close enough. It was typical childlike behavior.
Frank shifted his body forward on the bench and tilted his head slightly. “My mother…passed away many years ago.”
Sophie turned her attention back towards him and now walked over to the other side of the bench and sat beside him. “Oh. Do you miss her?”
Frank shifted his body on the bench again to remain in her eye line. “Yes. But she was old and very sick, I’m afraid. It was her time to go.”
“I’m sorry.” She placed her hand on his arm to convey comfort. “Don’t be sad.”
Frank smiled and touched her bare knee. “Thank you. But I’m not sad. Not if I have friends like you. We can be friends, right?” His hand remained on her knee.
Her eyes lit up. “Can we be? I never had any grown up friends before.”
“You do now,” he said, smirking ever so slightly.
He suddenly noticed an elderly couple walking down the path that surrounded the pond and moved his hand quickly from her knee. He continued to talk to Sophie as he carefully kept ticking his eyes at the couple until they had finally walked out of sight. He was relieved they didn’t stop at the pond. It gave him the chance to get to know Sophie. They talked about games, and toys, and their favorite animals, all for a good twenty five minutes. Until Sophie got up to leave.
“I have to go now,” she said. “To see my mom.”
Frank looked disappointed. “Can’t you stay a little longer?” he asked, watching her start to walk off. “I could help you find your mom for you.” He figured she must be nearby visiting a departed relative.
Sophie laughed. “Silly, I know where she is. We can see each other again next time, Frank. I always come here to play.”
Frank sighed. “Okay. Well, it was nice meeting you.” He waved at her as she reciprocated with a wave of her own.
“Bye, Frank!” She started to skip off down the path.
Frank turned forward in his seat and looked at the ducks. He felt good. He hadn’t felt that good in a long time. Sophie had lifted his spirits during a brief period of despair. But now he had something to look forward to: Seeing his little friend again.
When he turned back around to get another glimpse of her, he saw that she was nowhere to be found. He tried to see where she could have gone, what path she could have taken to get out of his sight so quickly, but he didn’t think about it too much. Kids were fast. And Frank was hungry. It was time for lunch. He took one last look at the duck pond and walked off, heading to the nearest pizza place for a slice.
The next day Frank decided to visit the pond again. He didn’t feel like filling out applications at his computer when there was another beautiful summer day awaiting him. Besides, who knew if he wouldn’t get lucky and run into Sophie again?
Luck was on his side. As he approached the pond, there he saw Sophie, kneeling down at the edge of the pond, splashing the water toward the ducks that were several feet away. He approached cautiously at first, but once he saw that there was nobody else nearby, his enthusiasm kicked in.
“Hi, buddy!” he said in a loud, almost high pitched voice.
Sophie turned around and got up from her crouched position. “Frank!” She jumped up and down as she got nearer to him, signaling to Frank that she was happy to see him.
Frank sat on the same spot on the bench as the day before and Sophie stood directly in front of him. She could barely contain her smile. He felt the same way.
“Did you miss me?” he asked.
“Yes!” She sounded like she meant it. Frank liked that. It gave him confidence.
“Awesome!” He reached into his pocket. “And I have a surprise for you…”
Sophie clapped her hands as she jumped up and down in place. “Ooh! What is it? What is it? Tell me!”
He pulled out a small Ziploc bag with bread crumbs and held it in front of her. The joy that filled her was overwhelming. She could barely contain herself. With her eyes wide, she accepted the bag as Frank placed it in her small hands.
“I brought bread for the ducks,” Frank stated, emphasizing every syllable. “You can feed them all you like today!”
Sophie seemed speechless. She only let out a happy sigh. This appealed to Frank.
“Thank you, thank you, oh, thank you,” she finally uttered, as she seemed to have trouble opening the bag.
“Here, sweetie, let me.” Frank took the bag from her. He opened it and took out one of the bread pieces as he stepped with Sophie toward the edge of the pond. “Now watch,” he said.
Frank tossed the first piece of bread far into the water and Sophie got all excited to witness all the ducks converge on the bread. The first duck snapped it up as the others swam toward Frank and Sophie, each looking to get their share of the lunch that had been brought to them. He handed her back the bag. She dipped her hand in.
“Go on, throw it like I did.” Frank couldn’t stop smiling as he watched her.
Sophie threw in her first piece, almost screeching with excitement as one of the ducks went aggressively for the floating meal. She threw in another, then another, clearly having the time of her life. She was jumping up and down, laughing and smiling. It was amazing how thrilled she seemed to be while taking part in such a mundane task.
Frank in turn was having his own fun. He couldn’t take his eyes off her silky smooth legs as she leaned over the edge to throw the bread to the ducks. He took notice of the fact that she was wearing the same exact outfit as the day before, but dismissed it on account of her having such a good time.
“I can make them go wherever I want!” she exclaimed with glee, continuing to throw the bread pieces into the water. “I can make them fight, too.”
Frank sat back down on the bench and reveled in her enjoyment. It was like he had created a work of art and was now able to take in what he had created. The young girl was a sight to behold in his eyes. So full of life. It was what he liked about kids. He pulled out his cell phone.
“Sophie, turn around so I can take a picture.”
She turned and posed with the bag of bread in her hand, smiling so wide her eyes were shut. Frank aimed the phone’s camera lens at her and took the picture. Then he took another.
Frank stood. “Sophie, why don’t you pose with one hand holding your skirt while pointing your toes?” Here, like this…”
He demonstrated the pose he wanted her to take, getting into a very feminine stature. She laughed when he did it, as did he. But she listened. She listened to every one of his suggestions, being sure to give him every picture he wanted. Once he felt he had enough, he sat back down. Content, he swiped through the pictures he had saved on his phone. He was very satisfied with his direction and particularly his subject matter.
“Don’t use up all the bread too fast,” he said as he leaned back in his seat.
“I won’t,” she replied, barely paying attention.
He watched as she threw more bread at the ducks. When she had used up most of the bread and the bag was looking empty, she sat next to him on the bench and they talked some more. He told her all about what he used to do when he was a kid, thrilling her with his stories of the movies he went to see and the fun things he used to do like camping, and fishing, and making model rockets. He had her complete attention by this point.
He was also quite impressed that he had captured her attention for almost two hours. With no interruption. Only one or two people had passed by the pond during the time. But not to intervene. They probably had mistaken her for his own daughter as they went about their business. But the question he kept thinking about was where her actual parents were. He decided to approach the topic.
“So tell me, Sophie… Where is your mommy? Does she mind you being here alone?”
Sophie played with one of the flowers off the bush next to her again, fiddling with it between her fingers, but not plucking it out. “No. She knows I’m a big girl.”
Frank started to stroke her hair. “That you are. But she must live nearby, right?”
Sophie nodded. “Yeah, we live over there.” Sophie pointed over the rear of the bench.
Frank looked over into the distance and could see the direction she was pointing: Past the graves and over the tops of the trees he could make out the apartment buildings that were just across the street from the cemetery, well past the fence on the other side of the grounds.
“Oh, okay. That’s not far. Do you have any other people that you live with? Brothers or sisters?”
Sophie shook her head. “Nope, just me and my mommy.” She got up and seemed restless as she started picking small flowers from out of the grass surrounding the area.
Frank was curious to know more. “But isn’t your mommy at work, right now? It’s a weekday.”
Sophie didn’t look at him. She just continued to pull flowers as she spoke. “She’s sick. Like your mommy was. She always stays home.”
Frank nodded to himself. It made sense. Sophie didn’t live far. Her mother was probably bedridden, sleeping while her daughter came outside to play for a few hours.
A few hours. That was all he would need.
Frank sat up straight and spoke with enthusiasm. “Guess what, Sophie? I have another surprise for you.”
His tone and words drew her attention from the grass. She stood and looked at him with pure eagerness filling her innocent face. “Another surprise? What is it?”
“Remember when I said I collected lots and lots of toys?”
Sophie’s eyes widened with anticipation. “Yeah…”
“Well I saved all of them over the years. I have a huge collection at my apartment. And I would love to show them to you tomorrow. What do you say? Wanna come back to my place and play?”
His heart raced as she jumped up and down with excitement. “Yay! I definitely want to! Can we go right now?”
He would have loved to go away with her right then, right there. But he had already spent two hours with her. Any further time spent away from her home could cause people to worry and come looking for her. He didn’t want to worry anyone. If he could spend two hours today, he surely could do the same the next day. That would be enough time to play. Plenty for what he had in mind.
“Not right now, but definitely tomorrow. I don’t want you to be away from your mother for too long. Besides, that will give me time to get some chocolate chip ice cream!”
She clapped her hands in delight. “Oh, yay!”
“That sounds good, right, sweetie?” He placed his hand on her shoulder, rubbing her arm up and down as he watched her nod in agreement.
“Oh, yeah, I love ice cream. I used to eat it all the time.”
He couldn’t contain his smile as he cupped both her hands in his and pulled her closer to him as he remained seated on the bench. “Well, tomorrow, you can have as much as you like. Just one thing…”
He paused, making sure that the most important instructions be made absolutely crystal clear. He spoke slowly as not to lose her attention. “Make sure this stays our secret, okay? Don’t tell anyone, not even your mommy, okay?”
She looked puzzled. “Why don’t you want me to tell her?”
He swallowed before speaking. “Well…she might not like you hanging out with a stranger. You know how adults can be. So it’s better if you don’t tell anyone. Because we know better. We know that we’re really good friends, right?”
She smiled. “That’s right. You really are my friend.”
“Super,” he said as he tapped the tip of her nose. “And that leaves more ice cream for us!” He grabbed her belly to gently tickle her as she laughed. “So meet me here tomorrow at 1:00 in the afternoon. Then we can walk back to my place. When we’re done playing with all my toys and games and stuffing our bellies with ice cream, I’ll bring you back. Okay?”
She nodded in agreement. “Okay!”
He placed his face closer to hers as he put his forefinger up to his lips and he whispered, “And remember… It’s our secret. Shhhhh!”
“Our secret!” She mimicked him, barely able to match his shushing noise as she laughed uncontrollably.
He watched her walk off after that, keeping his eyes on her the whole time as she disappeared down the path that led to the trees in the distance. Once she had moved out of sight, he turned and walked away, his heart beating faster than it had before. He was excited. There was much to do. The first stop on the way home would be the supermarket. He bought five different flavors of ice cream and rushed home with them as though they would melt if he didn’t hurry.
Once home, he pulled out all his game boards and collectable toys, set his video game console up to the TV in his bedroom, and tested a spot on the bed where they would both sit as they played. It was a small bed, but he got enough pillows and smoothed the sheets out to make sure it would be comfortable for two people to lay down on. Everything was perfect. There was just one more thing to prepare. Perhaps the most important ingredient.
He got his bottle of sleeping pills out of the bathroom cabinet. They were prescription strength. He knew they would work. But he had to test something. With a spoon from the kitchen, he mashed one of the many tablets into fine dust. Yes. That would work. Four or five of those would easily mix in with the ice cream he had bought. He was set for his visitor.
He could hardly sleep that night waiting for the next day to come.
He arrived fifteen minutes early at the pond. He sat on the bench and kept looking all around. The cemetery was as empty as ever. Once the time had reached 1:25 he began to worry that she wouldn’t be coming. He found this to be extremely disappointing.
He stood and paced around a bit, taking full notice of the dark storm clouds that were beginning to form. It looked like it was going to start to pour soon. But he hadn’t thought to bring an umbrella. And just when he thought she wasn’t going to show, the very second that he had the notion of forgetting about the whole thing, he turned and she was there, full of smiles and laughter.
“Hello, Sophie.” He stepped over to her and gave her a hug, dismissing the fact that this was the third day in a row she had been wearing the same outfit. It might have concerned him had he not thought it made her look absolutely adorable. The skirt was always a nice touch in his opinion. It showed off her slender legs, of course.
He sat with her on the bench. Eagerness filled his face as he heard the thunder start to sound above him. “Are you ready to have a good time?”
Sophie’s smile was present, but it began to fade as she looked up at the sky. “Yeah,” she replied, halfheartedly.
Frank noticed her sudden loss of enthusiasm. “What’s wrong, Sophie?”
She looked at him earnestly. “Maybe… Maybe we should go to your house another time. It looks like it’s going to rain.”
Frank waved it off. “Oh, it’s okay. By the time it starts, we’ll be at my place. Nice and dry. As long as we leave now.”
He stood and held out his hand for her to take, eager to get moving. Another faint rumble of thunder drew her attention toward the darkening sky. “I don’t know if I should. I can’t be out in the rain.”
Again he dismissed her concerns. “Oh, a little sprinkle won’t hurt you.”
She looked at him with a serious expression. “Oh, but it can. I should go home.”
Frank was getting a little irritated. But he didn’t want to show his emotions and scare her off so he laughed. Then he said, “Sophie, I promise you won’t get caught in the rain. But only if we leave now. You do want to see where I live, don’t you? I mean, after all, I bought all that ice cream just for you.”
She looked at the sky again for a few seconds as though debating on what was more important, rain or ice cream. She stared at Frank and then, with the faintest hint of her smile returning, said, “Okay.”
Frank smiled back. “Great.” He grabbed her hand without any warning or consent and began to walk off with her behind him, trailing him. His eagerness to get her home was growing. But she just wouldn’t make it easy.
Sophie halted, causing Frank to stop as well. “But I have to get an umbrella first. Just in case.”
Frank sighed, his impatience showing even through the polite tone of his voice. “But that’s only going to delay us. We’d save time if we just…”
Sophie took the lead now, pulling him by the hand as she walked down the path toward the apartment buildings on the other side of the cemetery. “Come on, Frank. I don’t live far. I just want to stop home for a second. Only a second.”
Reluctantly, he followed her, his hand firmly in hers as they walked down the path. “Are you sure…? Sophie, we really shouldn’t go…” He didn’t know how to convince a little girl that he didn’t want to be seen by anyone while with her. Especially not her mother.
He worried that if she went into her apartment she wouldn’t come back out. He envisioned her mother being awake because that was just his luck. Then she would ask about the strange old man and want to know what he was doing with her daughter. Or what if somebody that knew her saw her with him outside in the street? What would they think? What would they do? This little unexpected detour would surely ruin his plans.
“Sophie, it would be best if we didn’t go back to your house. Remember about our little secret? We don’t want to ruin the secret, right?”
“Don’t worry, Frank,” Sophie said confidently. “Nobody is going to see you with me. You don’t have to be scared about people finding out about you.”
Frank thought her words to be odd. It almost didn’t sound like her. The voice was still soft and airy, but Sophie’s words sounded too insightful. It was like she knew. Like she had peered into a part of his soul that he had never shared with her.
Not only that, but how could she understand? It sure sounded like she understood. At only eight years old? It bothered him. But her turn to the right, off the path that led to the apartments and onto the smaller path that led deeper into the cemetery immediately took his mind away from that former thought. Was this a shortcut?
Another, louder rumble of thunder roared overhead as she led him past tombstones and angel statues and crosses made of marble. They walked down the hill into the depths of the graveyard. The sky grew darker.
“Uh, Sophie? Where are we going?”
“I told you. Where I live. Before it rains.”
Frank noticed her pace increase as he followed her downhill, still hand in hand. “But don’t you live back there?” he asked, pointing at the building tops that were now shrouded by the leaves of the trees. Leaves that began to blow to and fro more fiercely now that the storm was approaching.
“Back where?” she asked, her pace steadily increasing as they rounded an upcoming row of mausoleums.
He increased his steps to keep up with her and get side by side, never letting go of her hand which suddenly felt icier than he had remembered. “Back there. In one of those apartment buildings.” As he spoke he looked up and could tell it was about to rain very hard very soon. The sky was getting much darker now. It almost seemed like dusk.
She giggled. In an almost a sinister way. “I don’t live there. I live here.”
He looked at her, confused as she started to slow her steps. “What do you mean? Where?”
She stopped in front of one of the mausoleums. “Here.”
He pulled away from her hand when he read the name inscribed in bold letters on top of the stone edifice. It read LARSON. Sophie’s last name.
The thunder rumbled once again as he looked at Sophie. She just stared at the mausoleum before her.
“Come inside with me, Frank,” she said in an unusually assertive voice. She was actually beginning to creep him out a bit. And she continued to do so with every further word she spoke. “Come and meet my mother.”
She looked up at the sky, then at Frank with a faint smile present. “It’s going to rain. I have to go inside.”
She then slowly started to walk down the thin walkway that led to the mausoleum’s front gate.
Frank reached out toward her halfheartedly, deciding to abruptly pull his hand back to his side, as though he didn’t want any part of his body near her all of a sudden. What a big change that was from only a few minutes earlier.
“Sophie, come on. Quit playing. You shouldn’t… You shouldn’t go in there.”
She reached the metal gate and swung it open toward her, turning back to look at Frank. She had an unnerving smile on her face. “Come on in. It’s about to rain really hard.”
She slipped inside leaving the gate wide open as if he were supposed to close it after following her in. He stood there, dumbfounded. She was acting so out of character compared to the girl he had spent time with the past few days. He looked all around and then back at the mausoleum. The open gate seemed to be calling him. But he really didn’t want to answer.
He wanted to leave. But his legs wouldn’t move. The thought of passing up a great opportunity like this kept him planted right where he stood. If he left now he would likely never see Sophie again. Girls like her didn’t come along that easily. Maybe she was just playing a game with me, he thought. I can follow her in, play along, and then bring her back to my place. He thought this just as he felt the first raindrop. Then another. Then another.
It began to pour. He didn’t want to stay out in the rain so he walked down the path toward the mausoleum. His steps increased as the rain beat down against the pavement and grass even harder. Upon touching the gated entrance he felt the chill of the crypt come over him. Once inside, he peered to see Sophie with her back to him, staring at the wall in front of her.
“Sophie,” he called out. “Sophie, what are you doing in here? We can get in trouble for being in here you know.”
She just stood, staring at the wall. He slowly approached.
“Sophie? Why won’t you answer my…?”
That’s when he noticed the tomb. She was looking at the plaque in front of her. He couldn’t make out the name because it was too dark.
“Come closer, Frank,” she said softly, almost innocently. “I want you to meet my mommy.”
He didn’t want to move so he remained halfway to her, and halfway to the exit. He looked back to see steady streams of rain falling like needles outside.
“So let’s go to your house and meet her then.”
“This is my house,” Sophie stated.
Her words were causing Frank more than just a tinge of nervousness. He wished she had led him to an apartment building. What he would give to shake hands with her mother and turn around and leave Sophie and totally forget all the things he had dreamed about all night long right now this instant. Oh, what he would give. But instead he was here, immersed in this macabre joke she seemed to be playing. He didn’t know what was worse. The creepiness of it all or how good she was at playing it.
He needed to talk sense into her.
“Sophie, this is a crypt.”
“I know. For my mother. Because she’s dead.” Her voice was different that time. It sounded more adult. More serious. Devilish even.
Her voice sounded so dark, so devoid of anything remotely human at that point. Was this a trick? Was somebody setting him up? Did they know his intentions? Frank tried to swallow, but he could not.
Frank felt adrenaline start to run through his veins. He spoke feebly. “Are you playing a game with me?”
“Yes,” she said as she turned her face to reveal the reddest of eyes. They resembled embers of coal lodged in her sockets. “I am playing a game. And men like you always play along!”
Her face had seemingly withered away. Her skin was pale and looked like a rotting carcass in the little light that illuminated the crypt. She lunged toward him with snapping sharp teeth. She sank her bite into his arm as he let out a howl from the pain she was inflicting. She was like a rabid animal. Frank tried to push her off, but she would not release him. She shook his arm in her mouth like a shark would do with a seal. Frank stumbled onto his back, trying desperately to pry her off. She would not relent.
Her growls resembled that of a wild animal as she sunk her teeth as deep as they would go. He pounded on her head to get her off but that only seemed to enrage her more. She viciously clawed at his face with razor sharp fingernails. He could tell she drew blood. A great deal of it in fact. But the terror he felt as he pushed himself along the floor while on his back helped him overcome any feelings of pain. All he could feel was pressure from her bite and the overwhelming desire to get her off.
He continued to pound on her skull as she sliced at his throat and cheeks. This caused him to raise his head backwards. Upon doing so he saw the outside rainstorm. He suddenly remembered her apparent fear of the rain. It was like a survival instinct had kicked in at just the right moment.
All he would need is one burst of energy. One great rush to the door would do it. The threshold was only a few feet away. He reached down deep and screamed as loud as he could in order to psyche himself up for the action he was about to take.
He grabbed a hold of her tightly and rose up, running toward the exit with her still attached to his arm by her teeth. As soon as he reached the threshold she released him. He would not be as kind. He tightened his grip and pushed her forward out into the rainstorm.
She screeched in agony as the falling pellets of water hit her. She writhed in his grasp but he wouldn’t let her go. He knew he couldn’t hold her long as she thrashed about in his arms, the rain making her more slippery by the second. He would have to act quickly. She was fast, she had shown him that. So he would have to be faster.
With all his might, he shoved her to the wet grass. She went down but seemed to bounce off of the ground after barely touching it. Her unearthly movements terrified him. He darted back into the mausoleum and slammed the gate shut just as she rammed her feral body into it. She ravaged at the bars of the gate, screaming like a banshee as she reached her grey arm through the holes. Her claw-like hands tore at his chest, ripping cloth and flesh alike, but Frank did not release the gate handle. He pulled at it and kept her from forcing her way in. He caught a quick glimpse of her demonic face as she thrashed about, the rain apparently burning her skin. She smoldered with a thick vapor that appeared to be smoke emanating off her body.
Her screams were inhuman. He wanted so much to cover his ears but that would mean taking both hands off the door. That he would not do. Not until the beast before him was dead. The rain would see to that. Her struggles to get in were weakening as she began to slump to her knees. The legs which once looked so smooth and silky were now looking like grey rotted tree bark.
There was a smell present as well. Like burning flesh. He wanted to be sick. But he had to wait. No moving, no breathing until it was dead. Whatever it was.
And then it stopped. With one final whimper, the thing formerly known as Sophie the eight year old girl, slumped like a half charred corpse to the wet ground. The body seemed to be melting as the rain washed away the remaining flesh onto the grass. After about a minute, Frank released the grip on the gate handle. He fell onto his ass and clutched his arm, noticing how bloody and torn it was. He would need to get medical attention as soon as possible.
Before he could process anything else, he heard the voice.
“What did you do to my little girl?” The evil sounding voice came from behind him. Inside the crypt. It chilled him to the bone.
Slowly he turned his head. He saw her. It was a dead body dressed in a long torn gown. The dead woman approached him menacingly, her eyes as red as the thing he had just killed. She was literally foaming at the mouth. The dirty brown foam dripped from her rotted teeth down to her white tattered dress as it tore at him with ten times the ferocity that the thing’s daughter had just done.
The last words on earth he ever heard were spoken in a hellish monotone. “How could you do that to my daughter? She was just a little girl! Just a girl!”
There were other terrible words that followed. But they were drowned out by the sound of the raindrops as they beat against the cold stone walls outside in the unexpected darkness of the afternoon.
The next day was sunny and beautiful. The police officers watched in astonishment as the coroner carted out Frank’s remains from the mausoleum. Rumor spread that a wild animal of some kind had gotten loose on the grounds. But a search had turned up no such evidence.
Nobody could ever figure out why Frank Tulley had been in the cemetery that day. He had no relatives buried there; no acquaintances that could account for his being there at all. And so Frank Tulley died, causing an investigation that only led to inappropriate pictures being found on his phone and computer.
All of underage girls in compromising positions. All except for a select few pictures on his phone of the duck pond in Cedar Hill. Nobody in them. Just empty shots with the pond in the background. A place he likely had visited shortly before his death.
Credit: Jayson O’Neill
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