When a heart fell out of the medicine cabinet, Carrie Pickett screamed.
Not two seconds ago, she’d wandered in, relieved herself, and opened the swing-door for her sleeping pills.
Out it rolled, rebounding off the sink and against the floor with a sickening plop!
The sudden movement startled her, and the realization of what it was caused her to reel back in ghastly shock.
A human heart. A human heart on her floor.
One of her hands clasped over her mouth and the other searched blindly for the doorknob behind her. Twisting it open, she lunged out of the room as though the heart were about to give chase.
A moment or two later, she gingerly peaked back into the bathroom. The heart was still on the floor, its wet creases reflecting tiny pins of light. Its red shape flexed and a second after, loosened. Once. Twice. Several times.
A low, muffled sound similar to a dove’s coo slipped out of Carrie’s throat. It was still beating—pumping nothing but air out of its dark chambers.
Mechanically, she rushed to the kitchen and clutched a handful of napkins. For whatever reason, she felt better holding them.
When she returned, the heart was gone, arteries and all. It left no blemish on the floor or cloudy splatter on the sink where it had ricocheted off.
Fright and relief flushed through her system. She shuddered, thankful that the thing was gone, but horridly perplexed at what had just transpired. Did she imagine it? Or had it actually happened?
For the next few hours, ranging minute to minute, she’d poke her head through the door, checking if the heart had returned.
When enough bravery accumulated, she opened the cabinet and sifted through it. No weird marks. No heart-sized trap doors. Nothing deranged at all.
Just your imagination, the soft voice of coping whispered. You need more sleep. No more scary movies for you at night. The sleeping pills—check the expiration date on your sleeping pills.
Reassuring as the thoughts were, she could not get the image of a heart on her floor out of her mind. So vivid and wet and horrifically corporal. A visual fallacy was one thing, but she’d heard it smack wetly against the floor, watched it beat with some ungodly pulse.
“No,” she said out loud from the hallway, no different from her ten-year-old self toward anything she disagreed with. No, no, no. Hearts do not fall out of cabinets. Sane people do not see these things. Just the thought—the idea of such a horrible thing happening in her home—offended her entirely.
But despite the flux and flow of panicked thoughts, she was still able to sleep thanks to the pill she took.
Having convinced herself the heart was some strange hallucination, she got up bright and early and tidied up the house. That was the only therapy she needed in times of stress—a clean, quaint home. Not only that, book club was tonight.
Carrie loved the meetings and found them to be the only thing she looked forward to throughout the week. It reminded her of how far she’d come in her lovely life, in a lovely neighborhood, with lovely friends. I belong here, she told herself often, I deserve this.
Skipping the bathroom entirely, she decided to clean the sewing room, where her mother’s ashes sat on the oak sewing table. The urn was navy blue with a white flower grafted into its design. Next to it, a picture of Marianne Pickett smiled, hair a perfect Farrah-flip. She was once an avid dressmaker, before the Alzheimer’s set in. The word sat in a row of ugly letters within Carrie’s thoughts and still made her shudder.
Draped lazily over a chair was her mother’s favorite cottony white shawl. It was rarely not hanging over her thin shoulders. She’d found it in a rummage sale and instantly fell in love, “They were practically giving it away!” she had declared.
Carrie used to despise the shawl and used to groan when it accompanied them on every one of their outings. The unsettling pattern was stitched so it resembled hollow-eyed faces with grimaced open mouths, silently wailing. It was neither cute nor lovely.
The Alzheimer’s had struck so fast, it was frightening. The first Carrie noticed was the rapid shift in her mother’s personality. Memory was the first to go, followed by a sheer cliff of paranoia. She was convinced that someone was sneaking into her house and stealing things or moving them to different rooms. Then she believed someone, or something, was in her closet, scratching at the door. “It’s coming back!” she’d shriek, “Back again! I don’t want it; I don’t want it anymore!” No matter where they moved her, the episodes only grew worse until a heart attack took her in the night.
Carrie swallowed bitterly at the thought of that very same condition someday entering her own world. Her mind being stretched so thin it would inevitably start to tear. No, thoughts like that were ugly and didn’t belong inside of her. However, witnessing a heart fall out of the medicine cabinet, did make her anxious.
As the sun set smoothly behind the hills, Carrie waited for the set of knocks at her door. First came Joyce, cradling her toy poodle. Then came Marie with her strong perfume and gold bracelets. And came Elizabeth with the bottles of wine.
The biweekly book club started at eight and often went till late as the ladies laughed, sipped their wine, and discussed the latest novel.
As wonderful as it was to read, the real enjoyment came from pairing the perfect wine with the perfect book. Light, zesty white wines for dramas. Dark, juicy red wines for allure. Book club was certainly not just about the books.
But tonight, was all wrong—dreadfully, wrong. When Elizabeth’s knocks came, there were two voices on the other side. And when Carrie Pickett opened the door, she’d found that a blight had returned her life, awaking like a dormant cancer.
“I hope you don’t mind an extra,” Elizabeth beamed, “but she said you both knew each other.”
Blair Wilcox. The witch, the usurper, the spreader of rumors and bullshit.
Yes, they knew each other.
For years, from grade-school to college, Blair had made it her life’s work to make Carrie miserable.
“Careful, she’s got crabs,” she’d whisper to the boys Carrie liked.
Whores don’t go to heaven, notes read that hung on her locker, always in the same handwriting.
And any girl Carrie attempted to befriend would soon be converted otherwise after Blair was through with them.
Blair had moved back. She and Elizabeth were old classmates who finally reconnected. Elizabeth told her about this fantastic book club with her closest friends. Yes, of course, she could join.
Still, throughout the evening, Carrie laughed, sampled her glass, and played the social fiddle. If there was one thing she’d become good at over the years, it was how to play pretend.
At the end of the evening, as Carrie took the glasses back to the kitchen, Blair stepped up. “Let me help,” she smiled, already grabbing her own and following Carrie to the kitchen.
The moment they were both alone, Blair let out an uncomfortable sigh. “Hey, I know how heinous I was to you back then, and frankly, there is nothing I can do to take any of it back.” She paused and looked away remorsefully, “I want to apologize. You didn’t deserve any of it, and I wouldn’t blame you if you hated me for the rest of your life.”
“No problem,” Carrie said with a stitched-up smile, “It’s all water under the bridge, honest.”
Blair’s face blossomed into a smile, and as everyone said their goodbyes, she pulled Carrie into a hug and whispered, “I like your friends.”
Finally, alone, Carrie stood swirling her wine glass. Yes, all water under the bridge, where your hair disappears beneath the waves and the piranhas gnaw at your lips.
What was that last thing she threw in like some nefarious warning? I like your friends.
Carrie thought about it more, and irritated, she washed the thought down with a gulp of wine.
That night, the quiet acoustics of the hallway were disturbed by her pacing feet. She took a deep breath and stared reluctantly at the bathroom door, thinking herself ridiculous for even feeding such a fear. But there was fear, nonetheless.
Stop it, there is nothing to be afraid of, She snapped at herself, reaching for the door.
Nothing out of the ordinary, just her same old regular bathroom—pristine and white. When she looked toward the cabinet, the awful memory filled her brain.
I repeat, her thoughts nipped, Stop imagining things.
Sticking to it, she moved to the sink and opened the cabinet.
The hand holding the swing-door reeled back. Her jaw dropped open and hung there while her eyes glazed over, void of all things sane.
A heart, still pulsing, was hanging in a flask-shaped sack anchored to the back of the cabinet. Red, webby veins spread like tendrils over the shelves, stretching and twining over Carrie’s toothpaste, her razor, her mouthwash, her medicines. Their branch-like tips were still growing, and inched their way down toward the sink, like vines on an ancient temple.
Carrie wanted to scream (and perhaps in some part of her, she did), but instead ran to her room, grabbed her cellphone, and leaped back to the bathroom. By the time she set the camera and clicked the button, the cabinet was empty once again. No heart to be found or photographed.
She thought to call the police but wondered how that conversation would go. Yes, operator, a beating human heart was in my bathroom! Sure, I’ll hold. Next, the neighbors would see the police cars in front of her house. Then the gossip would start, with Blair leading the charge, she thought.
What did I do to deserve this? She asked gloomily as she slid to the floor and rubbed her temples. Why am I being tormented? What does it want? Whose heart is it?
Everything was off-center, and her reality was growing more slanted by the minute. Soon enough it would go vertical and there it would be: a descent to madness.
As she took a few breaths to calm herself, a petulant voice crept from inside the cabinet. “Wh … mmm … shawl …”
As if by itself, Carrie’s body left the floor, and ended up in the garage where she grabbed a box of nails and a hammer.
Slamming the cabinet closed, she nailed each and every side shut. “No,” she punctuated every smack of the hammer, “No! No! No! No!”
Once finished, she stepped back to marvel at her work, realizing only afterward that she probably should have taken out her things first.
Shawl, she thought. That was the word she had heard moments ago. It was clear as day.
Carrie marched into the sewing room and grabbed the thing.
This ugly thing she’d allowed into her home had no doubt played a part. It did not belong. But just as she went to toss it, a realization struck her.
The texture of the shawl was nice.
Strange, she thought, that a shawl so ugly could feel so pleasant—comforting even. Perhaps that’s what her mother had seen in it.
Sighing, Carrie tossed the shawl into a trunk in her bedroom. Out of sight and out of mind.
For the next ten days, Carrie was blessed with silence. Every so often, she’d lean an ear against the cabinet, listening for any muffled thump or wet, crawling sounds. When she heard nothing, she’d smile and mutter softly, “I won.”
Her life had returned to its usual charm.
When book club rolled back around, she figured Blair would be joining them again—why wouldn’t she? Her friends were making themselves at home, pouring wine, when Carrie stepped out to get the novel where she had left it laying. Hearing their whispers, she first thought they had started without her. But that wasn’t it.
They were leaning in close, whispering. And who was leading the quiet chatter but Blair and her voice, spreading like poisonous vapor—whispering things to her friends, on her couch, in her home.
As Carrie entered, the mutters dissipated. “What were you all talking about?” She asked as she took a seat.
“Just some book ideas,” Marie giggled before turning back to the novel, leaving Carrie in a wake of doubt.
It had gotten especially late by the time her friends left, and this time Carrie was thankful to see them go.
Just as she poured out the last glass of wine, there was a knock at the door. It was Blair Wilcox again.
“Forget something?” Carrie asked, completing the question in her mind, something else you’d like to sink your fingers into?
“No, no,” Blair said waving a dismissive hand, “I was just wondering if you’d maybe like to grab coffee sometime and catch up one-on-one.”
Carrie fought the look of repulsion in her eye, “That sounds great, but I have such a busy week ahead, it’s hard to tell when I’ll have a free moment.”
Blair frowned, “How about sometime next week?”
Trying to think of an excuse, Carrie heard a muffled thump somewhere in the house. She turned her head to listen for it again, then whipped back toward her guest, “Next week? No, no, that isn’t looking good either. Anyway, I should head to bed now.”
Another muffled sound, this time much louder.
A look of concern crossed Blair’s face, “Is everything all right?”
“Peachy-keen! Goodbye!” Carrie all but slammed the door in Blair’s face and made her way toward the hall where another heavy thump resonated. An anxious bubble welled up in her chest. Go outside, the voice begged, go outside and bring her upstairs with you, prove that you aren’t crazy.
“But what if there’s nothing there?” Carrie wondered out loud. That’s just what she needed, to give the bitch even more leverage to work with. “Carrie’s really lost her mind; she made me check for monsters in her bathroom!”
Instead, she reached into her pocket for her phone and made her way to the bathroom.
She hit record as she slowly opened the door. The cabinet hung there menacingly, and just as her sock brushed the tile, a loud thump battered the inside of it. She drew back sharply, not daring to take another step. Two of the nails she’d secured looked like they were rattling out of place.
“Leave me alone!” Carrie yelled, and for a good two minutes, she thought it had worked. Suddenly, the entire cabinet sagged as the fasteners pulled away from the wall stud. Its integrity was yielding as the woodwork stressed and splintered.
The door ripped open and broke right off its hinges. Wood scattered in fractured chunks. Nails clattered on the tiles. The shelves and all their contents barreled out in an avalanche. But Carrie noticed none of that.
She was staring at the large shape that was unfurling from the cabinet. A woman flopping onto the bathroom floor—or rather, the upper half of one. Her skin was a muted, septic color so thin that the grooves of her spine protruded. Black, mottled hair hung wet over her shoulders and her milky eyes. The bottom half of her jaw was gone, leaving a blue, shriveled tongue to swing and wriggle. And although her mouth hung loosely open, that same petulant voice oozed out, “Where’sss… my… shawl …”
The arms—thinned down to their joints—dragged the torso closer. The fingers, grotesquely long, scraped against the porcelain. No legs trailed behind it, but ragged stringy endings. And lying exposed in the cavity of her ribcage was the pulsing heart.
“Alzheimer’s take me now,” Carrie uttered, stumbling toward the hallway. The phone slipped from her grasp.
She slammed the door closed. This isn’t real! It’s crazy! It can’t be real!
The hands scratched at the door. An ugly finger slipped out and felt its way around the carpet. “Not real!” Carrie screamed, bashing at it with her heel. The finger snapped to the side as its bone jutted hideously outward.
“Where’s … my… shawl…” The voice repeated, so close now she could feel the nip of cold breath at her ankles.
Screaming as she ran, Carrie careened down the hallway, grabbing her keys and racing to the car.
Even as she pressed on the gas and raced down the street, she could not stop screaming.
At first light, the glow of the rising sun crept sluggishly over the house. Birds had started to chirp and the grass was heavy with morning dew.
Carrie Pickett slowly pushed the door to the house open and uneasily slipped inside. She was holding a knife—the price tag still on it. The house was quiet like nothing had happened. When she was certain the coast was clear, Carrie darted into her room, ripped the shawl from the trunk, and tossed it into the gas fireplace.
It took mere seconds before Carrie was watching the flames creep over the embroidered wailing faces. Not my shawl! Not my beautiful shawl! Her mother’s voice was shrill.
But the thing did not burn. It defied all logic, all physical rationality.
Carrie watched in a blend of amazement and horror as the flames seemed to waft away from its woven texture. “You are cursed,” she muttered to it as she twisted the valves and waited for the flames to die. “You cursed my mother, now you’ve cursed me.”
She left the shawl and went back upstairs where the bathroom door was still shut. Hoping she’d find the bathroom spotless like before, she hesitantly opened it. Everything was still a mess, with bits of marred cabinet and contents spread all over the place, reminders what she had experienced really had happened. That it was all real. That it existed.
Using a broom, Carrie retrieved her phone to watch the cabinet door rip from out of its socket. She heard her own yelling, but there was no woman in the frame. No voice calling out to her. What had it been demanding the shawl, a ghost? A demon? She wanted to wallow, to bury herself in a new crooked reality. What if she threw it out completely? What if that only makes it worse?
Then pass on the curse, a voice whispered in her thoughts. Sell it in a pawn shop. Have a rummage sale. Get rid of it. Horrible as the gesture sounded, she’d be lying to herself if she said it didn’t provide a bit of comfort. It’s a way out, however wicked. But could she really, live with herself?
After some thought, Carrie made up her mind.
It was noon when she pulled up to the white house. The yard was neat and pleasantly green, with lurid flowers that bunched up at the curb.
Box in hand, Carrie made her way to the door.
It took only a minute for Blair Wilcox to open up, surprised at the sight of Carrie. “Oh, hey there!”
“Hello,” Carrie smiled, “Elizabeth gave me your address, I hope you don’t mind the intrusion.”
“Not at all. How can I help you?”
“Well, I’m moving and I thought it awfully rude to fall off the map after we had just reconnected.” Her gaze fell to the box, “Your apology meant the world, and I thought what better way to thank you then give you something in return.”
“Oh, you didn’t have to do something like that.” Blair shrugged dismissively.
“Please,” Carrie said, holding out the box. “I really want you to have this.”
Blair took the box and nodded, “Well, thank you, I appreciate the gesture.”
To which Carrie smiled and said sweetly, “So do I.”
Credit: Michael Paige
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