My girlfriend and I had been going through a rough patch for a few weeks, arguing continuously, having screaming matches with one another, or not speaking at all. It all started when she brought up the topic of conceiving a child, and trying to be logical, I shot the entire idea down. I didn’t believe we were financially stable enough to provide for the child’s basic needs, let alone be able to give the proper affection and tedious care that a child needs and deserves. She argued that she could be a stay-at-home mom and provide the proper care for the child while simultaneously maintaining the home responsibilities so that some weight would be lifted off my shoulders, but I saw it for what it was: wishful thinking. I’d have to work sixty- to seventy-hour weeks just to make ends meet without pulling money from savings. I wasn’t having it; I barely got any time to myself as it was, and as of late I had barely been able to spend as much time as I had wanted to with my girlfriend. There was no way I was going to have a child. Not only that, but I respect and value the role of a father, believing that it wouldn’t be fair to either of us or the child to barely have the time to be a valuable presence in my child’s upbringing. We argued on and on, trying to force one another to give in to the other’s resolution, but we were both stubborn, so that resolution never came. Anger, resentment, and sadness filled the silent air for weeks since that day. I wanted to end this bitterness between us, but I didn’t know how to fix it.
While driving home from another exhausting fourteen-hour shift at the construction site, I pondered how I could fix the situation between Maria and me, but nothing came to mind. Agitated yet determined, I decided I wasn’t going home without a firm solution. I took a left turn onto a rocky backroad leading into the serene country forests, hoping that the calming scenery would clear my head and spark an idea.
After an hour or so of cruising on the empty, snow-covered road, I finally felt the tension in my body and mind begin to ease up and settle into a relaxed state the more I admired the natural beauty ever expanding around me. Suddenly, I realized I had not let Maria know that I would be late coming home, so I shot her a text saying, “Hey babe, I need to clear my head; I’ll be a few hours late.” I wanted to say more but didn’t know what else to say. Almost immediately after I sent it, I heard the ding on my phone with a reply of a rolling eyes emoji and her stating that dinner was wrapped up in the microwave for me. I smiled despite the sarcasm and put my phone down, deciding to pull over into the base of the tree line so that I could sit and think. I closed my eyes so that I could concentrate, but that only made me drowsy, and I ended up drifting off to sleep.
A loud bang rang throughout the inside of my truck, snapping my eyes open and towards the direction the sound had come from. Although I had left my truck running, it did not provide enough heat to melt the snow blocking the driver’s side window, so I was unable to see who or what had made the startling noise. I stared anxiously at the sheet of snow between us until I saw a pile of snow get swiftly scraped off my window. Instinctively, I began to roll down my window and was immediately greeted with a wide-eyed stare from an odd-looking gypsy. I had to stare pretty hard to make out his features since a black sky stretched overhead and this backroad in the deep country lacked street lights. We gazed at one another for awhile as an uncomfortable silence permeated the air between us—my gut instinct grew very alarmed. He suddenly raised an old lit up gothic lantern, which revealed the intricacies of his face and made me push myself away from him. He looked ancient and rather sickly; his sharp face was covered in a thin layer of wrinkled, pale skin that looked extremely oily despite the freezing temperatures and his age. Before I could say anything, he began to speak, and to my surprise, he spoke quite fluently and with a tone of elegance, saying, “I’m glad to see you’re healthy, sir. I’ve been traveling with my daughter out in the country for… many years now.. and whenever we stumble across a lone vehicle in the night.. well, it’s never a pretty sight.” As he was talking, I took a quick peak over his shoulder due to a moving light behind him, and I saw the shadow of a young woman’s pale ghostly face with shining emerald eyes peak from a small circular window of a camouflaged black caravan. I averted my eyes quickly towards another moving object—fastened by ropes was a pitch black horse staring straight into my eyes and breathing abnormally heavily. I brought my attention back to the sickly man in front of me and muttered out, “Oh yeah, I imagine it’s not safe out here during these hours, but..” before I could finish speaking, I interrupted myself due to a shift I saw in the man’s eyes. It was only for half a second, but it was as if excitement washed over his entire face, which made the blood in his body rush around the tight skin around his eyes, making the purple veins pop out, but his face had shifted back to normal just as quickly as the shift had started. My body from the neck down was stricken by paralyzing fear, and I knew in that moment that he was a threat, yet I attempted to showcase courage and quickly stuttered out, “Uhh.. thanks for checking on us. “Get up on me; I have to go home now; I fell asleep for too long.” Before I could say more, he interrupted me with a soft chuckle while looking dead into my eyes while slightly raising his lantern, revealing his own pale silver eyes. He quickly reached his hand through the window, grasping my shoulder, and began to give it a pat. His hand was slick with what appeared to be slabs of oil and smeared with dirt, and he quickly turned away towards his caravan while saying he’s got a gift he’d like to give me. My thoughts were damn near screaming for me to get out of there; I was surprised they weren’t echoing out of my head. Rampant anxiety and nervousness intensified within me to a degree I had never felt before in my entire life. I was unable to control my shaking limbs; it felt as if I had lost all control of my motor functions while that urging voice in my head grew louder and louder: “Get out!” “Leave now!” “Get the hell out of this place!” But I couldn’t move my limbs on my own; it was all involuntary. I had lost all control. The only thing I could do was keep my hyper-focused attention on him as he approached the caravan and reached his dirt hand through the black shade entrance and remain in that position, jostling his hand around. All the worst-case scenarios played through my mind as I wondered what he could be reaching for—was it a gun? Was he going to blow my damn head off? Was it a knife or machete so that he could cut my head clean off and then cut my lifeless body open to eat me? I could do nothing but wonder and watch; eventually he pulled his hand back, revealing a radiant emerald-colored candle that shone radiantly through the black of the night. The old man’s face wore a wide, tight-lipped grin, and when he stood next to my evidently shaking body, he said, “Ladies love a nice gift every now and then; take this, my friend.” I don’t know how, but surprisingly, my paralyzing fear and nervousness emptied out of my body almost entirely after hearing those words. My eyes fixed on the ethereal glow of the emerald-colored candle; it seemed otherworldly. I had never seen anything like it before and was quite surprised that it was a candle in the first place, but more importantly, I knew Maria would love it. Part of me still felt weary about the odd man; I mean, how did he know I had a girlfriend? How did he know this was exactly what I needed? I must’ve been admiring the candle and being lost in thought for awhile, because when I turned back towards the window to thank the man, I saw no one; only the straps connecting the caravan and the horse rose and snapped, and the caravan seemed to glide away, blending into the vast darkness of the night.
I just sat there in my truck, taking a big sigh of relief. It took me awhile to console myself as I contemplated the events that had just occurred. I condemned myself harshly for allowing myself to be so careless. “That could’ve been a goddamn murderer, and you just rolled your window down to some stranger in the middle of nowhere… you are truly a different breed of moron, and you’re lucky to be alive,” is what I told myself before taking a long journey back home. I had checked my phone and saw no missed calls, no texts, not a single notification. I don’t know why, but that made me uneasy. I tried calling Maria but got no answer. I figured she had just fallen asleep, so I let it go, yet my mind kept replaying the strange interaction I had just undergone. The more I thought about it, the more I thought about how disastrous it all could’ve turned out, but ultimately, part of me was thankful to be alive. At least I had a gift for my girlfriend; I knew she’d like it. What kind of girl doesn’t like candles? Although I didn’t know what to say to her, I believed the gift would speak the words that I couldn’t and would help reconcile the two of us. With that thought, I retained hope and enjoyed a rather peaceful drive home.
I had finally pulled into the driveway, breathing a huge sigh of both relief and exhaustion. No lights were on in the house, which brought a little tinge of sadness to me; part of me wished that Maria was still awake so that I could give her the gift and put this whole stressful situation to a close. Before disengaging the truck, I glanced at the time—it was 2:22 a.m. A memory shot through my mind of the time Maria told me it meant I had guardian angels looking over me. I didn’t believe in that mumbo jumbo nonsense, but I couldn’t help but crack a smile as I said to myself, “I hope you’re looking after me; I’m going to need it if I have any hope of fixing this.”
Stepping out of the truck, I took another glance at the house, and I felt a strange sense of peace wash over me along with the urge to smoke a cigarette, so I reached into my jacket pocket, pulled one out, and lit it as I leaned against the tailgate of my truck looking up at the ethereal night sky. I can’t explain it, but for the first time in a long while I had been completely enamored by a feeling of existential exaltation instead of grueling agony. As I watched the slight twinkle of the stars, I counted them silently through the mist of my cold, smoky breath. I felt my body begin to subtly vibrate as the rare feeling of joy washed over me. I smiled up at the heavens, feeling as if they were returning countless smiles to me. A sudden tap on the back of my shoulder had startled me. I shot my eyes behind me and saw Maria smiling at me. Her beautiful pale complexion was illuminated by streaks of moonlight, and her eyes were now a luminous silver staring into mine. She wore a black bathrobe that subtly teased the naked body beneath, which added to the intricate beauty of her. I hadn’t seen her smile at me since before our fight, and I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing it until that moment. We gazed into each other’s eyes for awhile, soaking in one another’s presence, which could only be compared to ecstasy. Without a word, she slowly walked closer, never shifting her gaze from mine, until she stood right before me, reaching her pale hand up and gliding her soft skin up my neck, which sent chills all throughout me. She rested her touch on the corner of my mouth, caressing it, then sneakily took the cigarette from it and proceeded to take a drag as she turned her head towards the heavens—all while my eyes remained fixated on her, with heaven standing before me. Raw, limitless passion coursed through my body as I admired her; she didn’t seem to mind; she was looking away from me, but she knew what I was doing—a slight smile peaked out of the corner of her mouth, but I noticed an iridescent tear swell in her eye then proceed to drip down her pale cheek. She wiped it away before I could reach up and do it for her, then she carefully turned her face towards me and broke the comforting silence by saying, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” I could tell she wanted to say more, but more tears began to fall as she lowered her head in grief while backing away from me. She attempted to raise her eyes towards mine, but it seemed as if she couldn’t bring herself to do it, for reasons I didn’t quite understand at the time. As she looked at the ground, overcome by hysteria, she managed to mutter out, “I made a mistake I can’t fix… I love you more than anything in this world, and I’m sorry I can’t take it back. ” Mere drops of tears turned into overflowing streams; she cried more than I’ve ever seen from anyone in my entire life. Concerned and confused, I tried to take a step towards her so that I could embrace her, but she hastily backed away further and then began sprinting into the dark house. I was caught off-guard and beyond bewildered, yet instinctively I took off after her. She was abnormally fast; she had already made it to the front door when I had just started running after her, proceeding to slam it shut.
I made it inside while calling her name with concern in my voice. Not a single light throughout the entirety of the house was illuminated, and I heard no frantic sobbing or any indication at all that somebody was home; only the white noise droning from the air conditioner could be heard. I looked around while shouting her name in the dark but still heard nothing. This behavior from Maria was not normal; the feeling of dread began prickling underneath my skin; something was very wrong with this situation. I turned towards the lamp in the living room while continuously shouting for her name, but to no avail. I scoured around downstairs looking for her, but she was not around. The knot in my stomach was pulled even tighter as I took a glance upstairs. That’s when I heard something I’ll never forget: a familiar voice possessed my inner voice and stabbed icicles into my spine as it said, “It’s never a pretty sight.” I knew exactly who that voice belonged to—the man from the caravan. I began hyperventilating once more while frantically pacing my head all around me, utterly afraid that the sickly odd man was lurking in my home. I shouted at the top of my lungs for Maria as I ran upstairs towards our bedroom—the higher I ascended, the more I noticed a faint aroma of patchouli, which grew more potent the closer I got to the closed door.
I reached my hand onto the doorknob but violently shot my hand back as I screamed in agonizing pain as I watched melted skin from my left hand begin to peel; it continued to burn until I vigorously wiped my hand on my jacket. As I did so, I caught a strong whiff of patchouli. Snapping my head towards the doorknob, I noticed a dripping, glistening fluid. I couldn’t believe what was happening as I realized what it was: candle wax. I glanced at my aching hand and was shocked to see that it had quickly turned bright red with tinges of purple as chunks of skin peeled off, producing a wet, sloppy noise as they stuck to the floor in front of me. I jumped a little at what I heard next—the sound of splashing water coming from the other side of the door. Powered by adrenaline rushing through my veins, I got up and gave the door a mighty kick, which snapped the hinges, sending it flying backwards. I ran inside the dark room and towards the bathroom, and that’s when I saw her.
Maria’s head was just barely peeking above the bathtub, and my voice cracked with worry as I called her name while rushing towards her with outstretched arms, yet she remained still and silent. The bathroom was almost completely dark, barely being illuminated by the light of four candles placed in the corners of the tub, and that is the moment that I was confronted with true horror. I grasped Maria’s half-sunken head, raising it up and facing it towards mine; her throat was slit wide open. I began to whimper and sob as I held the lifeless, cold face of my dear Maria, the love of my life, in my trembling hands. “No, no, no, NO!” was all I could utter out. Maria’s body was laying in a tub filled with fresh blood; not only that, but it was bubbling and steamy, producing a haunting aroma that I could only describe as a mixture of patchouli, burning metal, and overdone rotting steak. I covered my nose and began gagging profusely as tears fell down my face and chunky bile built up in my throat. I had to get her out of there carefully. I grabbed a handful of Maria’s hair and dragged her limp body down over the edge of the tub and onto the tile floor. My state widened when I glanced over her body and saw the transparent red wax that had covered her entire body from the lips down—through the thin coating of wax, hundreds of thick, jagged slashes littered her body, and in her wax-sealed hand protruded a long black chefs’ knife. I screamed out in inconsolable rage and was ridden with terror. I began slamming my fists onto the bathroom floor as I cried and shouted. My teeth were grinding with such force that I cracked a fragment of one of my canines, and it fell right on Maria’s wax-covered lips along with a wet string of spit and blood. The sight of it made me cry more; I felt as if I had desecrated my precious Maria’s body. Something odd happened: the spit and blood mixture that fell onto the wax covering began to simmer. I reached my shaky, burned hand down carefully towards her still lips to remove the impurity that I had just laid on her. The slightest touch of my finger into the bloody tooth caused the wax barrier to crumble, and I watched in disgust as wax and the tooth fragment slipped between her parted lips and fell into her throat. My rage and sadness became uncontrollable. I began punching the tile floor, then the tub, and eventually began wailing at my own face as streams of fresh blood began splattering out of me and onto the embalmed corpse of my lover. I didn’t understand how any of this was possible; I had just seen her outside, and it didn’t make any sense. Endless questions with no answers piled up in my mind, and my sanity was broken. I began hollering for Maria to wake up, pleading that if she woke up, we could have a baby and fix everything if only she’d open her eyes and look at me. I kept repeating “Just please come back” over and over again on a continuous loop until I once again remembered she had my tooth in her throat. I started shouting only inches from her face, “Please wake up, you have a tooth in your throat!” “Let me get it out; I NEED TO GET IT OUT!” I went on for who knows how long, lamenting and producing more tears than I thought possible, all while shaking Maria’s head aggressively in the hope that it would spark her back to life, of course to no avail. After some time, or maybe a lot of time, I decided I needed to get the tooth out because I thought she deserved better than that. I banged my bloodstained and battered face onto the floor as hard as I could to punish myself for being so careless, then swiftly stuck my entire hand down Maria’s throat to find the tooth. Her wet, warm tongue and slimy gums pressed against my hand as I felt around the deep recesses of her mouth and throat. I was more than a wrist deep when I felt the tooth, but I also felt something else. I tried my hardest to expand my fingers enough to get a solid grip on the tooth, but I was growing frustrated by my inability to get a proper grip on it, and due to my frustration and shaky hands, I ended up pushing the tooth farther down her throat and could no longer feel it. Momentarily, I clenched my fist out of anger, but I could still feel something else lodged in her mouth. It felt like a firm yet delicately thick string brushing against my fist. Twisting my fingers carefully along the deep fleshy walls of her mouth, I managed to get a grip on it and pull it out slightly until about three inches of it rose out of her mouth into the dim flickering light. I immediately knew what it was and became absolutely convinced that Maria had not committed suicide or suffered a tragic, unknowable accident; rather, I was convinced that my dear Maria had been murdered, mutilated, and had been dead for hours. This realization contradicted the experience I had just had outside with her and sent my mind and sanity into spirals. The only answer I knew for certain was that she had somehow been murdered by the man from the candle caravan. The black, brittle string-like object that rose out of my girlfriend’s mouth was a giant wick. All I could do when I saw it was stare in horror as my body trembled and piss leaked out of my pants, adding to the horrific smell permeating throughout the bathroom. I had never felt so many chaotic sensations course through me at once, and eventually I became caught in a paralyzing stasis from being overwhelmed by true raw fear.
I don’t know how much time had passed just blankly staring at the gruesome sight before me when the memory of Maria crying outside and apologizing played vividly in my mind. Despite my frozen state, I softly asked my dead girlfriend, “What are you sorry for?” Tears began to swell as I continued, “It should be me who’s sorry; it should’ve been me inside of that tub… it should’ve been me…” As soon as I finished uttering those words, my visions snapped from outward to inward as I saw a white candle be lit to life in my mind’s eye, and in the light I saw the oily face of the odd man. He was looking straight into my soul with those fierce silver eyes, enlarged by the purple protruding veins around them that seemed to pulse and throb like a heartbeat, yet his face was no longer ancient-looking; he looked significantly younger. Despite his eyes, his skin radiated an ethereal glow just like Maria’s had outside. His expression was neutral, impossible to read, and we stared at one another until he spoke slowly. “Do you see that lit red candle in the far left corner?” Grab it and look at the bottom.
Somehow, I could see the man in my mind’s eye yet also see the red candle in front of me, as if I were stuck in two different realities. I didn’t consciously decide to follow his command, yet my body obeyed his words as if I were being controlled. My injured hand reached towards the candle, and as I did, I was struck by confusion. There was a sigil branded into the palm of my hand, which I had not noticed all this time; it was of a circle with lines that pointed outward like the directions you’d see on a compass, and in the middle of each of those lines was another line forming the shape of a cross. I picked up the big candle, turned it over, and nearly dropped it to the floor when I saw what was engraved on the bottom: “The Antidote for Adultery.” The expression on the man’s face changed, and to my surprise, he began to cry, and as he did, it looked as if his tears had caused his face to slightly melt. I watched until he spoke again. “I gave her that candle this morning after I witnessed an unforgivable act. She was “well acquainted” with a man in an alley next to a bookstore in town. “I did what was necessary; I know that pain.”
I felt like I had just been stabbed in the gut as tears fell down my face, but only because I actually believed him; something in me knew he was telling the truth. Tears began swelling once more as I recalled the bookstore and the man who Maria had been with one day when I was picking her up from there. She was in that alley right next to the shop and I watched as she hugged a man rather intimately until she looked over towards my truck and immediately let go and made her way towards it. I remember addressing it to Maria, and at that time she had said that the guy had given her amazing advice that she really needed and that she only hugged him to thank him. We argued for a few minutes afterward, but she ended up convincing me that I could trust her, and I gave in. But now I knew that my trust had been displaced. My gaze refocused on the corpse on the floor; only this time, my eyes briefly narrowed in with judgment and malice, only to widen again as I let out a giggle and a wide smile. Grabbing a handful of hair from that cheater’s head, I pulled her face towards mine until our noses touched and began to laugh even louder as I mentally degraded and mocked her, then gargled up some fresh, thick phlegm and spit it across her face, then smeared it all over. I dragged the body aggressively back into the tub and bashed its filthy head into the hard marble surface, hearing a loud cracking sound as some teeth fell out of its mouth. I began to laugh again while the odd man in my mind’s eye synchronized with my laughter, forming a horrifying, distorted symphony, until we stopped simultaneously. With humor and joy still emanating from his face, he said, “C’mon now, lad, it’s more of a treat when they’re alive… “Take it easy.” I don’t know why, but the reality of the situation hit me and I started freaking out. I exclaimed, “How would I explain this?” How could I get out of this? It looks like I had done it; for god’s sake, my tooth was in her throat, and the police will surely suspect me… “What the hell am I supposed to do?” To my terror, the man’s face changed instantly from lightheartedness to stern anger; his silver eyes darkened, and I felt a burning sensation spread rapidly across the entirety of my body. I screeched in pain as I collapsed to the floor, frantically kicking and digging my nails into my damaged face. It had felt like I was cooking from the inside out until it suddenly stopped. The odd man’s eyes returned to their normal silver color, and he gently said, “I told you to take it easy.” “You need not to worry; I’ve taken care of all the provisions. You must simply ignite the wick, and her presence will live on forever, like she never left.” I clumsily lifted myself up against the wall while trying to wrap my mind around what he had said. What the hell did he mean by that? As if reading my thoughts, he said, “Ignite the wick and place the symbol on your hand on her head, and she will come back to you and remain loyal for eternity.” I was shocked by the implications of his words, looking back at Maria for a few long moments until I heard a clank on the floor next to me—my white lighter had dropped out of my jacket pocket. I picked it up and crawled closer to the side of the tub, ignited it, then put it towards the wick as I placed the symbol branded on my hand on her forehead. The entire wick caught fire upon contact and produced a loud crackling noise like you’d hear from a firework. I backed up instinctively and ended up falling onto the floor once more. The man laughed at me mockingly and then said, “You’re welcome lad, watch the magic of creation, the birth of eternal loyalty.” I got back up and watched as the symbol from my hand began to engrave itself from underneath Maria’s skin, and it spread itself from her forehead to the entirety of her visible body. Her mouth was engulfed in flames; I could smell her melting gums as they cracked and popped like hot grease; they smelled like rotting chicken liver coated in insecticide. I covered my nose and tried my hardest to keep my eyes open as I watched the flame spread throughout the entirety of her face and singe her hair, only adding to the horrid scent as the fire spread across the entirety of her body. The wax and blood mixture in the tub began to swirl and boil intensely, forming unnatural geometric patterns. It was faint, but I could hear the faint whispers and barely audible screams of Maria masked behind the bubbling and popping of melting organs. The foul odor was becoming unbearable; my eyes were burning, and it made me run out of the bathroom, gagging and attempting to breathe fresh air. I heard the bathroom door slam shut behind me as I dropped to my knees in the bedroom, coughing profusely. When I tried to get back up and watch what was unfolding, I was forced back down by the excruciating and burning sensation that I could only describe as maggots covered in lava crawling underneath the skin of my entire body. I tried to scream, straining my throat and voice beyond their capacity, but no sound filled the air except for the faint clicking of the bugs crawling within me. It felt like days of enduring severe punishment straight out of oblivion until it all stopped in an instant and I once again heard the voice of the man say, “The worst part is over; you don’t need to witness anything more until our creation is complete.” Next thing I knew, my body went limp, and a wave of drowsiness crashed over me as my eyes flickered until eventually shutting completely. I could’ve sworn right before going unconscious I heard him say one last thing: “The gift of eternal loyalty comes with the cost of it. You belong to me.”
That was the last time I heard or saw the candle man face to face.
I woke up to the smell of cinnamon and soft bed sheets against my face as my eyes opened, watching smoke swirl in the shining light peering through the window beside my bed. Groggy and confused, I moved my eyes towards the grooves in the ceiling until that vague memory of slamming Maria’s head into the bathtub replayed through my mind. My grogginess faded immediately, and I felt the blood rush through my body as I felt fingers dance softly on my lips, tasting faintly of vanilla. I shot out of bed and stared in amazement at Maria, laying in bed like a playboy model, seductively smiling at me, intentionally batting her eyes gently. I wanted to say something, yet shock overtook my anxious brain and left me blank as my body became possessed by intense uneasiness. I felt my legs shaking and going limp under me. I had no idea if I had dreamt everything that had occurred the night before or if a miracle appeared before my eyes. She must have recognized my discomfort, because next she stood up slowly and walked towards me with a serious gaze that was both unrecognizable and familiar, not once averting her eyes from mine. I had never seen Maria make that face before; just the sight of it brought on a minor headache. I backed away from her, bewildered at how any of this was possible. She stood right in front of me, then stepped onto my feet while looking up at me. She reached down slowly and grabbed my previously burned hand, which was still slightly damaged, confirming to me that everything I had experienced was indeed a reality. We both stared at my palm, which was somehow mostly healed, and out of nowhere, the sigil etched itself into my hand once more, causing me to grit my teeth and try to pull away, but before I could, Maria had gripped onto me tighter with the strength of a horse rearing up and stomping onto me. She swiftly leaned in, pressing her lips to the edge of my ear, then quietly whispered, “You need not fear me as long as you obey him.” I am yours, and you are his. Loyalty is not a request but a command. “I obey you, you obey him, and in the end we are all satisfied.” She gave a little giggle and then kissed my cheek, which gave off a faint aroma of pomegranate and sent a subtle wave throughout my entire body, then proceeded to say, “I still want a child, y’know?” She stepped back with a warm smile that seemed more familiar now and then walked out of the room, and I heard her make her way downstairs.
I plopped myself onto the edge of the bed, replaying her words over and over, doing my best to make sense of them, until I ultimately came to the conclusion that this entire situation could’ve gone a lot worse. I mean, I could’ve been charged with a murder I didn’t commit; my future could’ve been to rot in a prison cell, but here I was with a miracle before my eyes: my girlfriends were alive. She smelled so good and was conversing with me without screaming or rolling her eyes; she said she belonged to me. That thought turned my confused expression into a wide grin. I could smell sausage and pancake batter downstairs, and my happiness turned to ecstasy. I thought, “Wow, she’s cooking breakfast; it’s been ages since she’s done this.” I could get used to this. Everything’s going to be okay; this is normal. This is normal.” She shouted playfully from downstairs, calling me down for breakfast. Her voice was hypnotic and enticing; I felt my body move towards the kitchen before I even decided to move. I got downstairs and saw Maria putting the last of the ground-up sausage on my plate as I approached her and kissed her on the cheek. We sat in comfortable silence, eating our delicious meal; it was perfect, and the sausage was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before. I was about to ask Maria what brand it was until I was interrupted by a thought that had invaded my mind. I heard a distorted woman’s voice in my head say, “Get in the car now and drive away.” The tone of it threw me off; Maria must’ve noticed my expression because she told me to obey his command with that same unfamiliar and contorted commanding face. The air around me became suddenly hot, and I swear I could see a flicker of light behind her eyes swirling around. The smell of fresh breakfast was replaced with the scent of burning sage and char, making me scrunch my nose. I know what she meant, but the voice I heard didn’t belong to the man. Regardless, I got up immediately and did my best to appear calm as I grabbed my keys and got the hell out of there without taking another look at that horrid face. I kept repeating over and over again, “What the hell was that?” “What the hell was that?” I wondered as I drove down random roads. I wasn’t receiving any directions, but something within me knew where to go. As I watched my hands become clammy and my stomach start growling and beginning to ache, I knew exactly where we were going now. I was being controlled by something that was leading me back down that backroad into the forest that I never wanted to visit again. My anxiety turned to genuine fear, which made my limbs turn heavy, and my thoughts became corrupted with images of all sorts of possibilities for what or whom was awaiting me. As we drew nearer, the sight of the towering forest seemed to suffocate me, and I found myself antsy and unable to stop the car, even though my mind was screaming for me to get out of there immediately. I was totally helpless, a victim of my own flesh. The culmination of all these triggering sensations and chaotic thoughts caused me to screech at the top of my lungs, and I felt my hand shoot up toward the radio, turning it on, and then instantly, the sound of the news anchors’ voices replicated those of angels. I was at peace hearing them, even though I wasn’t paying attention to what they were saying at first. I just needed something to block out all the noise. I breathed in slowly and started laughing as I heard a joke the two news anchors were making about dogs dressed in cute Christmas apparel slipping while trying to run on wooden floors. I laughed hard as I imagined a variety of dogs in ugly Christmas sweaters sliding around on the floor. I desperately needed that laugh. I refocused on the environment around me when I heard a strong whistling wind and noticed the giant trees begin to sway violently above. As I peered through the thin crack in between the trees, I noticed a monstrous storm cloud lurking in my direction. I knew this wouldn’t be good; if I continued driving under the branches, my truck would inevitably be damaged or crushed altogether by the debris of falling branches. I had to get my truck somewhere safe, and as soon as that thought appeared, I felt my hand jerk the wheel to the right towards a small space in between the trees, barely large enough to get a clear view of the darkening sky above. My foot pressed down on the brake without my consent, and it made a sudden, jerking stop. I heard the radio’s volume rise. Glitchy, distorted voices masked by white noise rang throughout the inside of the car until I willfully turned the knob slightly, and with full clarity, I heard one of the news anchors say the following: “Breaking News, here in Minneapolis, a local bookstore owner was discovered brutally murdered within his personal office within the bookstore premises by a work colleague.” Authorities have identified the victim as Jason Grimm. Authorities have also stated that the victim was found around 9:00 a.m. this morning sprawled out on the floor with hundreds of slashes across his body yet nearly drained of all his blood. The authorities and forensics department were baffled by another horrifying discovery: the victim of this terrifying act of murder was found missing large chunks of flesh along with numerous vital organs. The family of Jason Grimm is in complete shock. I wailed at the radio continuously until I heard the voices fade out, then began projectile vomiting all over the dashboard and onto my lap. As I did so, the memory of Maria making sausage replayed throughout my mind, only this time her face was staring dead at me with a horrifying grin. I knew immediately what I had eaten and began crying and screaming uncontrollably until more vomit shot out of me. My muscles were clenched and clammy as I began hopping and shifting frantically in my seat. I couldn’t think straight but knew how damned I truly was. The horrifying reality was starting to set in, and the thought of prison or death itself seemed more comforting than the hell I was currently experiencing. My conscious awareness was shifting from first person to third person back and forth; I could see the entire unnerving and disgusting scene play out from multiple angles as if I were in the backseat and the passenger seat beside me. Streams of tears kept leaking out as I hunched down into a ball and gripped my head with my wet vomit-covered hands as I shook in my seat for what felt like an eternity. As I looked down at the floor, I saw the shades of light shining in quickly vanish, becoming replaced by an unnatural darkness. The wind grew mightier, not like a howl but rather like a ferocious roar echoing throughout the forest as branches began slamming to the ground around the truck. I became so hyperaware of my surroundings, yet somehow another fragment of my consciousness was disassociating. Shivering relentlessly and unable to control my motor functions, I stared blankly at the puke on the dashboard, feeling myself drift away, until I noticed a shining figure slightly move in the tree line in the blur of my vision. I focused in and saw a woman in the distance, about 30 yards away. She had black hair covering most of her face, and she was wearing a white dress. I could tell she was staring directly at me. My red eyes widened as I realized who it was—it was Maria. I blinked my eyes, and in an instant, she had disappeared. I rubbed my eyes frantically, nearly getting puke in them, and shot a glance back at where the familiar figure was standing, yet saw nothing but the swaying trees, but then I felt a wet and bitter cold touch on my cheek. I screeched and shot back towards the door and looked beside me to see Maria. She was sitting beside me, looking into my eyes with sorrow. The sound of the wind seemed to go silent as she looked at me. She was practically glowing amidst the dark atmosphere, and the closer I looked, the more I noticed that her skin was slightly transparent. I was too confused to speak; I could only stare, but somehow I felt safe and calm. Something in me told me that what I was seeing was pure. I knew what I was witnessing; it was abnormal, but the best kind of abnormal that I had experienced recently. I examined her carefully and noticed the green candle I had intended to give her placed in her lap, amazed that it had been forgotten about. She looked down at the luminous candle in her lap then back at me. She slowly leaned in and whispered, “I’m sorry. I’ve felt the love you’ve had for me like I never could have before, but it’s all over now.” I’m sorry that I can’t fix my mistakes; I can only help you with yours. Never go back. “I am what you’re seeking, and I will always protect you, but you will never see me again.” She pulled away from me with a weak smile, and in her hand was my white lighter. She looked up at me again with that faint, beautiful smile, and the next thing I knew, my body was sent soaring through the air and into the forest, until my body smacked into a hard surface and my senses shut off completely.
I slept without a nightmare, no other-worldly visions; I was pure awareness in a black void of silence. When my eyes had opened, I was surprised to wake up on earth, temporarily forgetting what being alive meant. The sound of birds chirping and leaves swaying must’ve woken me up. Looking down, I saw piles of white maggots piling up to feed on the vomit smeared across my soaking wet clothing and across my cut up skin. When I reached to swipe them off, my ribs and arms protested by sending waves of aching pain that seemed to stab into my bones. I could still move them and managed to get the disgusting little worm-like creatures off of me, so I was at least pleased that I hadn’t broken a bone. When I tried moving my legs, I was even more surprised that I could wiggle them without so much as an ache. I stood up a little wobbly and gazed around; when I had turned my head backwards, I had noticed my body had slammed into a thick oak tree. I couldn’t believe I was even alive or had the ability to stand after colliding with it. It was truly a miracle. I shot my glance back and noticed my truck—or what was left of it anyway—as a heaping mess of scorched and jagged car parts along with broken fragments of black stained glass littered the dirt road. It looked like a bomb had gone off. I was utterly confused as to how such a thing could’ve happened. Mary wasn’t in sight; there was nothing suspicious at all, only stupid auto parts. I dug through the wreckage tediously, trying to find a hidden letter or some sort of answer, but there was nothing to be found. Eventually, I gave up and wandered ever so slowly out of that forest and far away from my home. I had this intuitive knowing along with Mary’s advice that I should never step foot in that house or in that town ever again, and I listened.
Hours passed of walking along the empty backroads, battling excruciating pain and using every bit of my willpower to keep marching forward, when I finally came across a truck stop diner right when darkness began to permeate the sky. This is where I am now, sitting alone and damaged while sipping crappy coffee while I write this. I have only a few dollars in my wallet, no cellphone, no vehicle; I don’t know what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go next, but I’m sure I’ll figure something out, at least I hope. There aren’t many customers in here; a few have given me odd glances due to my disheveled appearance, but one of the waitresses here has kept staring at me over and over again, and she doesn’t even try to hide it. She’s walked by me a few times, and each time she does, she smells different. It reminds me of Maria. I think I need to get out of here. I just watched her gift a small blue candle to a trucker who walked in, and after she did so, she looked straight at me with a menacing smile that sent chills throughout my body, and I swear I saw her eyes shift from a light green to silver. If you ever come across a caravan or an old man selling candles, get the hell out of there. If someone ever gives you a candle, smash it on the ground or refuse it outright and never light it. If someone smells like a variety of different candle scents, never speak to them and leave immediately. I still don’t know what I’m going to do about the old man, and I don’t think there’s anything I can do until he takes control over what belongs to him.
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