The Untold Story of Sarah Lavender
Today is Thursday. Wait, or maybe it is Friday. I lost track of time and what day it was because I have been working so much lately. It could even be Monday, for that matter. But I don't want to tell you about today. I want to tell you about a time that happened earlier in the week.
It was a frigid and slightly windy morning. I was walking to my car to leave for a typical day of work. Well, not to normal because I don't have your average everyday job. I work for the government as a member of the C.S.I.
When I arrived at my car, I had noticed a folded-up piece of paper sitting on my windshield under one of the windrshield wipers. I took the note from the windshield and read it.
"I can always see you. So do not do anything you will regret later."
I flipped the small wrinkly piece of paper to see if it was for me, but there was no name on it at all. So I slipped the little slip of paper into my coat pocket and began to look around, checking to see if anyone was watching me or lurking from the woods surrounding my house, but I couldn't see anyone. What I did notice, however, was a very faint but familiar smell. I just didn't know where I knew the smell from or what it was. Then it finally hit me. It was blood. So I followed the scent. It led me down a pathway that feeds into the woods near my house. The path it led me down seemed like it was never going to end. When finally, I came to a fork in the course. I stopped in between both paths and smelled around to see which one smelt of blood more potent than the other. I concluded that the way on the left smelled of nothing but outside, so I ventured down the right way.
As I walked down the right path, the smell of blood grew stronger and stronger. I continued walking until I saw something shimmering on the ground. I walked over to the shimmery object to see what it was and the smell of blood flooded my nose and the air surrounding me until it was the only thing I could smell. It was a knife that was so clean I could see my reflection in the blade. It looked as if it were brand new, which didn't make any sense because it was sitting mere inches away from a trail of blood. I grabbed the knife off the ground and added it to the pocket that contained the note from my car.
After I picked up the knife, I decided to follow the trail of blood. The path led me to an old, abandoned house. The house was big, white, and two stories tall. It only had a few windows on it, which were all covered in thick metal bars. Almost as if someone was locked away from the rest of the world. As I slowly walked up the steps of the front porch, each stair made this horrific creaking noise. I began to walk towards the front door when all of a sudden, it swung open as fast as lightning. I decided to be a big girl and do my job. So I slowly walked through the doorway.
As I walk into the house, I could just barely make out this girl singing, but I couldn't make out her words. So I walked deeper into the house, chasing the sound of this girl's song. As I venture deeper and deeper into the place, the music grew louder until it came in crystal clear.
"I rest here in this house because my murderer wanted me to be his wife. I told him no, not until the end of life. So in return, he took mine to be his wife forever. You shall beware though, my dear because as I lay there dying, he whispered into my ear: Fear not my love for I will not rest until they all areas you are my dear. That is why I rest here; to protect all the other women from him."
As she sang this beautiful unknown song, I followed her voice up the stairs and down to the end of the hallway. I followed her voice until I was standing outside an old, dirty white bedroom door. I stretched my hand out towards the door, but as I went to grab the doorknob, the bedroom door swung open just the same as the front door had. The door led me to a bitch black bedroom. The only thing that I was able to notice was the closet because it was all lite up. I walk over to the closet door, heart beating faster and harder to where it felt almost as if it were going to pond out of my chest the closer I got to the door. I slowly wrap each pale white finger around the knob of the door and slowly pulled open the door. As I make my way into the closet, I see a girl who looks to be in her early twenties. She was sitting in the corner of the closet with both arms wrapped tightly around her legs, and she was rocking herself back and forth. This girl had those eyes that could just hypnotize someone. Her hair was as red as the blood that covered her beautiful white as a snow nightgown. It went about mid-thigh and flowed down her body, gripping tight at each curve. She looked almost like a model straight out of a magazine. The only difference between her and a model was the fact she somehow got covered in blood. Oh yeah, and the fact that she was dead. The girl did not look as if she had gotten murdered, though. She looked young, vibrant, and ready to take on the world. The only way you would know she was dead would be if you watched her chest and noticed that it didn't rise nor fall in breathing like a manner. The way she looked at me with those mesmerizing deep blue eyes, everything this poor girl had been through, I could see and feel. That included all the pain and suffering she had felt and seen. At that moment, I knew I was her only hope, not for revenge but to make sure nobody else ended up like her.
The girl suddenly got up and walked over to me. She then, as gracefully as ghostly possible, laid each hand on one of my cheeks. Underneath where her hands laid on, my cheeks began to grow in warmth. I stood there with concern in my eyes, not knowing what was about to unfold before me. When she removed her hands from my face, she said, "Now. Now you know what I know. You will see, hear, and remember everything that I do. You will know my life from start to finish. You will know HIS face, name, and story as well as mine" I just stood there for a moment with this blank look on my face. I didn't know what to say or think about what had just happened. She explained to me that her name was Sara Lavender. She also told me that the man who had killed her had been in her life ever since she could remember. Once she finished, she sat there like she was waiting for something to happen. When all of a sudden, my vision started to get fuzzy until I could no longer see her sitting in front of me in the closet. I felt my body go numb for just a brief second. When I finally got my vision back, I noticed I was no longer standing in the tiny closet with Sara anymore. I was now standing in a hospital room with two ladies. One of the ladies was giving birth to two beautiful baby boys. The other lady was big and looked as if she could go into labor at any given second. Once the doctor finished helping the first lady deliver her sons, he told the lady who looked like she was about to pop that he was coming to help her have her baby now. Not even five minutes go by, and she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. The lady named her baby girl Sara Marye Lavender. Once the lady said that name, my eyes got fuzzy once again, and I was back in the closet with Sara.
Once my vision settled and I gathered myself, Sara began to explain to me what exactly it was that I just witnessed in the hospital room. She told me that the lady who was delivering the two baby boys in the same room as her and her mother was her aunt. So that made the two little boys her cousins. She explained one of the boys had to have surgery on his brain because a tumor was starting to form on his mind. The boy made it through the surgery. At the time, his mother did not realize that as her son would grow up, the brain surgery would have a drastic effect on her son's man.
As the boys grew older, the boy who had brain surgery would grow fonder and fonder of poor miss Sara. Sara tried to tell her mother about the encounters she had with her twin cousin, but her mother would never believe Sara. Sara's mother, whose name is Jewels Nikole Lavender, would always brush it off like her daughter was just silly. All of a sudden, it was happening again. The vision was going blurry until it went completely black. When I regained my sight, I was standing in a closet quite like the one I was just standing in moments ago with Sara. This one was slightly a tad bit smaller, though. As I glanced around, I saw a very petite teenage girl. She was maybe sixteen years old. The girl was sitting in the corner, slowly rocking back forth, almost identical to the way Sara had been when I found her. The girl had a black bandana that looked like someone had tied it just a little tight, covering her eyes. She had these black fuzzy handcuffs that were almost falling off of her small wrists. I then noticed the blood-red hair that is matted to her face and in a tangled up bun matted to the top of her head. I instantly realized the teenage girl I was looking at was the same girl I just left. It was from Sara. I jumped, startled by fear, as I became more aware of my surroundings. I could barely hear a lady calling for Sara to come out because they were getting ready to go home. Sara tried to scream to her mother, but the bandana muffled any noise Sara tried to make. The lady down the hall who was yelling for Sara was, in fact, her mother Jewelz like I had assumed moments ago. Jewelz thought the kids were playing an innocent game of hiding and seek, not that her only child is now trapped in the closet upstairs. Then out of nowhere, I heard this awful shriek of a voice scream," NOOO! We didn't finish our game yet, aunt jewels." So Jewelz gave them thirty more minutes to play and said, "But that is all the time we have to spare Nick." So Jewelz disappeared back down the hall the way she originally had come. Nick darted back into the room once his aunt was out of eyesight. He slammed the bedroom door shut and dashed straight for the closet. He grabbed Sara by her messy bun and ripped her out of the closet from where she had sat anticipating his return. Nick threw her across the room onto his bed. He walked to his radio set up on the bookshelf across from his bed and turned on the music. Nick went back to the bed to make what he called love to Sara. She tried her hardest to scream louder than the music blaring from the radio, sitting on the bookshelf near the bedroom door. But nothing she tried seemed to work. The music was just way too loud. So she stopped fighting nick and just laid there like she was lifeless. Allowing Nick to do whatever he wanted to do to her. After thirty minutes of nothing but pure torture, Sara was back to looking just as beautiful as she had when she walked into her clueless aunt's house. Sara brushed her once matted out, so it perfectly framed her face. The bruises that were scattered all over her body like freckles, hidden by her tight dark blue skinny jeans, her pitch-black American Eagle sweatshirt, and by her makeup that was beautifully caked to her already naturally gorgeous face. Nick forced her to put on makeup so that when he and Sara went downstairs to say their goodbyes, nobody would know about the rape that had taken place mere seconds ago. I was then violently yanked back to the original closet that I had been standing what felt like hours ago. I felt cold wetness running down my face. I had just realized that tears dampened my eyes and cheeks I did not know had fallen. I knew they were building up in my eyes as I could only watch the memory dance across my vision like a movie. It's not like I could have done anything to stop him. It was merely a memory. I could no longer control the flow of my tears as they poured down my face on to my freshly dry cleaned pants suit that I would wear to work that day. I then looked over at Sara, who was now sadly sitting criss-cross on the floor in the closet with sorrow-filled eyes. She was starring at me; eyes damn near like the ones I was using to look at her, except hatred and envy boiled in her eyes. Now instead of looking like the beautiful angel, I knew she looked like a demon with a massive grudge and a tad bit too much revenge in her little broken heart.
Sara had finally regained control of her emotions that were going haywire just moments ago, and that is how I could see them in her eyes but also flashing across her face. In a very soft and gentle whisper, she said, "The closet we are standing in is in his mother's house. This house is where it all started, and this is where it is going to end." Sara continued to tell me that what I had just seen would become a routine for her and Nick. She would go over to his house with her mom, and they would hang out in Nick's room for hours at a time. Jewelz never figured out that her baby girl was continuously getting raped by her nephew. Jewelz died, still not knowing that this was happening to her daughter.
It had been saying many times that Sara hated her life because nothing was going the way she wanted them to, and she took matters into her own hands and ended it all by committing suicide, but that's a lie. That's not how she died at all. Not even close. Sara hated life, but it was not her own. Anyone who knew Sara knew thought she had a picture-perfect life, but they were on the outside looking in. Sara made fantastic grades in school, maintaining an A average in all of her classes, most if not all of her high school career. She was the captain of the cheerleading team at her high school. Most of the students at her high school loved Sara because she was not your average everyday cheerleader. Sara never had a boyfriend. Don't get me wrong, Sara had plenty of offers, but Nick made it very clear she wasn't to have one. Nick had told her that if she ever had one, he would make sure it was her last one ever. He told her he would put a very permanent end to it. Nick made poor Sara petrified of him. Sara tried a repetitive amount of times to tell her mother, but Jewelz never believed her. Each time they went to her aunt's house, they grew to stay longer and longer until she got forced to move into her aunt and the boy's home.
It was Sara's senior in high school. Jewelz was on her way to her sister's house after a shift at work that had her there longer than she had expected. It was about ten o'clock at night, and a drunk driver was distracted by a text he had just received; because of this, he failed to see that the light had turned from green to red. Of course, he was flying down the road. The police report says he was doing at least ninety-five miles per hour in a forty-five miles per hour zone. He started getting closer and closer to the median until the front of his car clipped the front of Jewelz car. He hit her car so hard it made the car flip on its side, and it rolled down the road. The car hadn't stopped until it had crushed poor Jewelz inside of her car. The police and the firemen worked as fast as they could at peeling the car open so they could get Jewelz out of the grasp of the vehicle. Once she was out of the car, the fireman checked her pulse to see if she was still alive, but just touching her already cooling wrist, he knew that she had been gone for at least 45 minutes. So they labeled the cause of Sara's death as the car crushing her as it rolled and crushed itself.
Before Jewelz's death, Sara had realized that her period was running a little later than usual. Sara told herself that if pregnant that she would keep the baby because then and only then would Sara have the proof needed to show her mother and her aunt that her cousin raped her like she was trying to tell her the entire time. The problem with that is nick somehow caught wind that Sara's period was late. Nick found a way to burst any ideas she was even thinking about attempting because he had a better idea of what to do with the baby his gorgeous cousin was carrying. Within the next few days, nick found Sara standing at the top of the stairs, so he pushed her down them. Nick had shattered any hope Sara had with every bounce of her body down those hard wooden stairs bruising Sara's faith a little the closer she got to the end of the staircase. Nick lied to his aunt Jewelz and told her that Sara had tripped over her own two feet. From that day forward, nick never forgot to wear a condom. Sara had no idea what to do now. Her mother wouldn't ever believe her, and she couldn't tell anyone else about it because she was terrified that Nick would kill her or the person she talked to about the situation. So she never even attempted to reach out to anyone.
This everyday ritual went on and on until one day; it went just a little too far. Nick decided to propose to Sara. It was the middle of the summer. Nick and Sara had graduated from high school for just about two years now. Nick had invited Sara out to dinner on a Friday night. Of course, Sara agreed to go. If she hadn't gone, Nick probably would have seriously hurt her if not killed her. So in Sara's head, it was the most logical thing to do. So she got all dressed up and met Nick at the most excellent restaurant there was in Virginia.
Finally, she arrived at the restaurant. The wait staff left one table in the room; the wait staff moved all the others into a storage room. Almost instantly, Sara knew Nick had reserved the whole restaurant for the 2 of them. The main dining room area appeared to be lit up by candles scattered all over the room. Nick was sitting at the table and had one single candle placed correctly in the center of it. He already knew what Sara ordered at this specific restaurant because Nick forced her to come here several times. Nick forced her to come to celebrate an anniversary that she did not want to celebrate.
When Sara finally joined Nick at the table, all he had to do was snap his fingers, and a waiter with silver treys containing their food emerged from the kitchen doors that Sara could see right behind Nick. Once they finished eating, Nick again snapped his fingers, and the same waiter that brought the food emerged from the kitchen and removed the almost empty plates from in front of Sara and Nick. Once the waiter was back in the kitchen, Nick got up from the table and walked over to where Sara was sitting and got down on one knee. Before he could get the words out of his mouth, Sara shook her head no and tried to get Nick to stand back up. Sara's rejection did not go over very well with Nick. He threw enough money on the table to cover the bill and for the waiter to have a decent tip. He grabbed Sara by her hair and drug her to his car. He popped open his trunk, and he threw poor Sara inside the back of his car. At this point, Nick could care less if people were watching him. He was red with anger, and he didn't care about anything at this point. Nick drove straight to the beginning of the pathway of the house his mother left to him when she and the oldest twin had died in a horrible eighteen-wheeler accident. He jerked Sara out from the trunk of his car by her already mangled hair. Nick gave her one last chance to save herself. He asked her one more time if she would marry him. This time instead of just saying no like she did when he asked her before at the restaurant. Sara looked him straight in the eyes and said, "Noooo! Not until the end of my life." Nick looked at Sara with eyes full of pain from his heart, which she had just unknowingly crushed. He slowly turned and went back to the front of the car and grabbed the knife he kept in the glove compartment. Nick strolled back to where Sara was standing. Once he was standing face to face with Sara, he looked her in the eyes and proceeded to stab her twelve times in her stomach and her chest. Nick then drug her bleeding body down the gravel pathway. He was not stopping until he was upstairs in his old childhood room. By the time he got Sara up the stairs and in the room, tossing her in his closet, Sara was taking her last breath. Nick bent down to where Sara laid dying and whispered in her ear, "Fear not my love for I will not rest until they all are as you are, my dear."
Nick slammed the closet door and left the house to only return on the eve of his wife's death. Nick had tried to find a girl to date, but they all rejected him like Sara had all them years ago. None of the girls he tried to date lived in Virginia. Which is the same town that Nick was born and raised. We assumed that when he talked to the new girls, he would speak of his wife's death that happened back home. We also thought that he was referring to Sara Lavender when he talked about his wife's death. The anniversary of Sara's death was coming up soon. That meant Nick would be returning to his childhood home in Virginia very soon. On the news the other day, I saw that women close to twenty were getting stabbed twelve times in the stomach and chest area. Then they were left in their closets to die, the same way that Nick had left Sara. These women only had two things in common with Sara, their age, and the fact they all knew Nick. We followed nick through his murders. The closer the murders got, the closer we knew he was getting to Virginia.
I could hear the sound of tires rolling up the gravel driveway. I looked at Sara full of fear and muttered the words, "He has arrived. Why does he keep this house if he is not going to live in it?" Sara told me that he keeps the house specifically when he comes to visit Sara here at his childhood home. Except he NEVER goes into the room. Nick left his poor cousin dying body in. Nick has his mother's old bedroom set up, so when he does come down to Virginia, Nick has no reason whatsoever to go into his old bedroom, which he referred to as the room that held his cousin's weeping soul. Nick is scared to death to go in that room because Sara would mess with him while he was even in the house, so he could only imagine what she would do if they ever came face to face. It was never anything as severe as what was about to occur in Nick's childhood home tonight. Sara usually just would cut the power to the house and wander around singing and making these horrendous shrieking sounds. She also tended to say his name in this almost zombie-like way, or she would let out a wrenching ear scream that would last for hours on end. But tonight, she was not just going to mess with Nick; she was going to finally get her revenge on him by having me kill him.
You are probably wondering why she is having me kill Nick instead of just doing it herself, aren't you? Why have some girl who just so happen to walk into the house you were haunting help you kill your cousin who brutally murdered you? Well, that's the thing; no matter what Nick did to her, Sara still looked at nick as family. She didn't dare to kill him herself because of this.
When Nick finally was in the house, I was lying in his bed, looking precisely how Sara had looked on the day she died. I had also made it where once nick was in the house, he couldn't leave. Nick made his way through the house, trying to figure out why his power wasn't working. He knew he had just paid the bill. Nick tried to go back out the same way he had just come. Nick was astonished to find that the doorknobs got turned around, so the keyhole was now inside the house. So nick spun around as fast as he could without losing his balance and darted back up the stairs running straight for his mother's old room. He slammed shut the door and locked it as fast as he could, not realize that I'm lying on the bed, and Sara is watching from the closet like she is watching an epic movie scene unfold. Nick backed his way to the bed, keeping an eye on his locked bedroom door the whole time. Once he bumped into the bed, he crawled in with his eyes closed, rolled over on his side, and let out a sigh of relief. When Nick finally decided to open his eyes, it took Nick a second to realize there was someone else in the room with him. Now he was starring me dead in my eyes. He softly muttered, "Sara?" I let out the most heart-wrenchingly horrifying scream you have EVER heard. Nick jumped so far out of bed; he landed in the middle of the room. He quickly got on his knees and crawled as fast as possible to the opposite side of the bedroom. I let out another heart-wrenchingly horrifying scream and asked him in a more of a screech than anything, "Why? Why Nick? Why did it have to be me, Nick?" I screamed for the third time. He looked at me, not with eyes full of horror like I had hoped, but Nick looked at me through eyes full of sorrow, and he managed to stutter out the words "S-s-s Sara I-I-I'm s-s-sorry…" I cut Nick off with a fourth heart-wrenchingly terrifying scream and said "Do not dare lie to me, Nick. I, Sara Lavender, can not be fooled by your weak acting skills, you idiot. You did what you did to me for a reason. I do not want your sorry excuse of an apology." I stepped closer to nick until I was standing right beside him. I squatted down, so I was mere inches from his ear and whispered, "Fear not my love, for I will not rest until you are like I am." Nick tried to plead and bargain with me. He beggingly said, "Sara, all I wanted was for you to love me the way that I love you. I just wanted your attention." Neither one of us had noticed that the real Sara had emerged from the closet she had been hiding. Sara was now standing behind me. She was looking at Nick with her hand stretched out towards me. Sara said, "I can bear this no more. Darling, give me that knife you have hidden there behind your back." Then Sara walked over to where Nick had been sitting on his knees, begging us to spare his life, and said to him, "Nick, what you did to me was more than wrong. There are no words to explain why you did what you did to me. Nor an explanation good enough that you could think of that would even remotely make me consider forgiving how you have treated me since we were children." Now that she was face to face with the coward of a man who raped and murdered his cousin. She looked him square in the eye, and she said to him, "You loved me in a way that I could never love you, so you took my life to pay the ultimate price of breaking your heart. I tried for years to let you down easy. Yet you insisted on forcing me to love you. So now, I am standing in front of you because I want your life to take mine." Sara began stabbing Nick repeatedly in his chest and stomach area until she had counted twelve times just as Nick had done to her and other helpless women. Sara then grabbed Nick's dying body and drugged him to the closet. She crouched down beside him and whispered in his ear, "Now you will burn in hell for what you have done.."
Out of nowhere, there was a flash of very bright light. It was so bright it almost seemed as if it were white. The next thing I knew, I passed out. When I finally woke, I was on the floor of Nick's childhood room. I looked around to see if I saw anyone, but there was no one. I looked over at the closet and saw the once open door was now closed. I walked over to the door and slowly began to open it. I was scared of what was hiding behind the door. Once I had the closet door open, I noticed the only in it was Nick's now limp and lifeless body. I began to make my way across the bed floor to leave when I saw a folded up piece of paper just sitting up on the mantel near the bedroom door. So I turn and walk towards the mantel, grab the piece of paper, unfold it, and try to read it. The letter, which I couldn't figure out who wrote, looked as if whoever wrote it did so while the writer was crying. Tear stains were all over the paper, making it almost impossible to read.
The few words I could make out on the piece of paper made me realize two things. Sara wrote this herself. She planted it on the mantel so we could make it look as if Nick wanted to kill himself or that Nick had wanted to die and had already planned to kill himself because what I was holding in my hands was Nick's suicide letter. It said something about not being able to live with the burden of being his only cousin's murderer. I could only make out bits and pieces of the letter due to all of the tear stains that Nick or Sara produced as one of them wrote this farewell letter. After a failed attempt to make out a few more words on the barely legible letter, I noticed the note's handwriting looked similar to the note I collected earlier from my windshield. I retrieved the note in my pocket to compare the writing to the one in the letter. They were perfectly identical. I knew now that it was Nick who had written both the note and the letter. Which then made me realize that Nick had been watching me.
I sigh in relief as I know it's all over. Soon I knew that I would have no reason to worry. So, I put both the letter from the mantel and the note from my windshield, folded the papers back up the way they had been when I found them, and placed them back into the safety of my pocket to be sure not to lose either of them. I head out of Nick's room, down the hall, and made my way through the rest of Nick's house until I was outside breathing in the fresh air that I hadn't smelt in what felt like days. I head back towards my house. Everything outside seemed alive now than when I had walked down the gravel pathway to Nick's house earlier. As I get closer to my home, I could barely make out a car parked on my other side. I walk more comparable to the car and realize it's my partner's car. I looked down at my watch and realized that I spent a few days at nick's house. That also meant that I missed a few days of work as well.
Once my partner noticed I had come from the long line of woods beside my house, they hurried to my side to make sure I was okay and see why I was walking out of the woods. I pulled both the note and the letter from my pocket and began to lead my partner back the way I had just come. I was going to give them a tour of Nick and Sara's house. I began to explain to my partner what exactly I had experienced while I was gone. I started with the note I found on my car's windshield, went to the knife I found walking, and everything else that had taken place up until the letter I found on the mantel.
Once back at the lavender residence, I walked my partner up to Nick's childhood bedroom, opened the closet door, and showed him Nick's dead body lying on the floor. I just hoped when I told them what I saw, they felt and were able to see what I had when I went through it all mere hours ago.
Demon Dance of the Fire Children
I was twelve years old when I experienced the event that changed my life. We had just come back from a trip to Savannah, one of those day trips that departs from Atlanta far later than you wanted, so by the time you make it there, you only have enough time to soak it all in to an excessive degree. You forget all the essentials for your lilywhite skin; sunscreen, the umbrella, the beach chair that complements it, but it’s the late 90s, maybe the early 2000s and you don’t yet realize that the professionals haven’t yet figured out that the things that eat us alive with cancer are the things we consume. We still risk a visit to the old sunny outside a few times a year without protection at the expense of a good family outing.
The trip back was sticky as it always was. My mom, single at the time despite my dad always being an active, loving and most importantly, present part of our lives, had only given us just enough of a spray down at one of the communal beach showers so that we might get back to a Midsomer Atlanta in all of its comforting embrace.
I can remember my two divorced parents being happy to be back in each other’s arms when they first saw each other again after almost a year of bitter separation. Sure, they had fought, but they’d always kept it behind closed doors, and they were definitely still friends. Friends. That’s what they had always been, and always should have been. Just friends. I wouldn’t understand this concept until I was an adult. Young me always wanted to know why parents just couldn’t love each other and stay together?
They dated other people, but there wasn’t even an attempt at suckering money from one another and weaponizing me and my siblings to do it, and it showed at the beach. I don’t think I’d ever seen my mom that free of stress in a long time. Dad helped her apply the remainder of the only bottle of sunscreen we’d had in the car. We didn’t get any because we played outside more than her, and our skin was more accustomed to the sun. He helped her set up the beach umbrella, and the politely pulled the folding chair from beneath her. “Sugar cookies!” He shouted, rolling my freshly slathered mom around in the sand, making us all laugh. He landed on top of her accidentally, and for a moment, I thought they were going to take things a little too far.
“Get a room, you two!” I said.
“Hey, where’d you learn that!?” My dad snapped at me, wanting to be offended, but he simply couldn’t be.
“You dad, you used to say it all the time!” It was true, he’d playfully say it to teenagers he saw acting inappropriately at the movie theater, or to my drunken aunts and uncles at family gatherings.
“Great job!” I remember mom smiling and shoving him off of her, before they both lay by one another in the sand.
“Go watch your brother and sister, make sure they don’t drown, you little snitch.” Dad smiled and sent me on my way. Man, some people really were just meant to be together all the time, but only as friends.
On the way back home, after becoming sunburnt, I remember dad looking into the back of the car via the rearview mirror, “You guys wanna go get a movie?” My dad never rented a dang thing from Blockbuster, a company that was still king in Atlanta back in those days.
“Yes!” My brother and sister were both younger, with my brother being four years my junior, and my sister being two years his. They fought all the time, but I was always there to mediate. However, we all agreed this time. Dad never rented movies, he said it was a scam. He always complained about how they just wanted to upsell you on a tub of greasy popcorn and some candy, and yeah, he was right, but even he knew that it tasted amazing and you had to buy these things sometimes.
“What about Pizza Hut?” We screeched with joy, and mom elbowed him in the chest even though she was driving. Dad always wanted to drive, but she just wouldn’t let him touch the Caravan, ever since he'd wrecked his Mercedes. He swears it wasn't his fault, but he also wouldn't let her see the police report.
“Babe, save that for later!” I remembered him smiling at her. Ya know, I get it now. I eventually knew what he meant, but at the time, I thought it was some precursor to a fight.
“You can’t feed them junk!”
He intentionally ignored her, “With the cheesy crust also?” He looked at mom out of his periphery, causing her to giggle sweetly.
I remember my mom’s natural beauty back in those days. She had this long, full, greasy, auburn hair, and these big, tired brown eyes, but around dad they were always so full of life. She had such a glowering peachy tone and chubby cheeks, the rest of her face thinner and kinder. You could tell by its creases that life hadn’t been super sweet to her, despite her having been kind to everyone else.
I knew my pops had always treated her like an angel, and I always knew the hard work they went through to make sure we never saw them going at each other’s throats, and despite how hard they tried to hide it, I'd always known when we were struggling financially. You can always tell when you’re broke, because the first thing your parents do is cut off the cable, then pretend they don’t notice the empty fridge, and send you to the neighbors place so they can “babysit” you while they panic.
Those days, dad was working as an actuary, and was making enough money to put us up in that nice house that he didn’t even live in. Mom was a pediatric nurse, who’d moonlighted at Scottish Rite Hospital, and spent all the money on making sure we were always happy.
Dad lived in a nearby apartment in Chamblee. It wasn’t some heap, or a crappy basement room, but a three bedroom in a genuinely nice, gated complex, right across from this art store that I can’t even remember the name of. I remember he took us over to the art store once and we looked at these incredible, highly detailed miniature scenes for hours before he bought us all a massive bundle of art supplies, including some pricey clay that melted into mom’s carpet. I can still remember dad shaking his head at me one morning, as he dumped paint thinner onto the gooey smudge we’d made, mom standing over him in her pajamas, fuming. If dad hadn't been there, she might have actually whooped my butt.
I came back to the present and saw dad answer her, “We don’t, baby.” My dad smiled at her, “We never let them eat junk.” He was right. The worst thing I can ever remember us eating was white bread with an occasional Coke, and that was only when mom was in a hurry, and the three of us had to share it.
“What do you call this?” Her face was so twisted into such an animated and unrealistic smile, that it was almost like an emoji. I could tell how hard she was trying not to laugh.
“What you’re doing!” She pretended to be angry, but gosh, mom didn’t have an angry bone in her body.
“I call it a family night.” Dad. Man. He really did know how to get onto her nerves in all the right ways.
“Feeding ’em trashy food.” She smiled and nudged his elbow with her right arm, but kept her eyes on the road.
“You always make sure they eat right, ya gotta let ’em cut loose every now and then.” She stared at him with that same innocent smile and stole a kiss. That’s why I loved my parents. They may have hated each other, but as an adult, I’d realize it was when they were legally bound together. My two parents, the friends, were the two happiest people on earth.
Mom looked at him for almost long enough to drive us off the road, but she seemed to keep things lined up in her periphery. “Alright.” She smiled wider and I can remember how happy we all were, especially when the smell of the real, original, traditional Pizza Hut filled the car. There was even a promotional where we got a PlayStation demo disc that came with five demos on it, the only memorable ones being Final Fantasy VII and the original Crash Bandicoot.
Dad had bought us a PlayStation years prior, and mom didn’t approve, so she sat and monitored what we played, and made sure that dad didn’t expose us to anything inappropriate. They were still married then, and weren’t the happiest around one another, so mom’s angry countenance wasn’t something playful and benevolent. Normally afterwards, in total silence, dad would hug us and kiss us before leaving, then mom would unplug the PlayStation and lock it up somewhere until the next time he came over.
We'd gone to Blockbuster, got our three movies, and had our big blue tubs of greasy popcorn, Milk Duds, gummies and soda. It was all things only our grandparents gave us, but just like we didn’t see our grandparents often, we didn’t see dad often enough, and this was our cause celebre.
“Shouldn’t they wait until we get home?” Mom asked in a meekish voice.
“Of course not, dig in!” So we did.
Man, I can remember dad ducking his head to get into the car while my siblings fought over candy and junk food. Normally he’d have intervened, but mom, with an armful of even more crap food and movies she refused to let my clumsy dad hold, ducked her head at the same time and the tops of their heads met, causing mom to drop it all. I can remember their smiles. I can remember mom flinging all the stuff at him and them laughing as they rubbed each others heads. I hadn’t seen them like this since I could hardly remember memories, and for the first time, I was as happy as they were. Why do we all grow up?
Yeah. I know. Maybe it doesn’t mean a lot to you, but those things had ended at some point then returned so suddenly on that day, and despite knowing nothing, I unconsciously knew that it would end again.
My sister was tired and grouchy, and my brother was wearing down by the time the front door opened, with my sister becoming mouthy as she clutched a stuffed animal she carried with her, eyes barely open, thumb in mouth, and my brother trying to harden up like the man pops had taught him to be.
“Alright, get ya dang thumb out of your mouth, you’re too old for that, and you quit trying to act tough!” Dad told them as he led them inside.
“Go hop in the shower and get into your jammies.” I remember dad still saying jammies back in those days. I can still see him swatting my two siblings on the butts, causing them to screech and scurry along.
“That means you too!”
“No, I’m not tired. I wanna watch a movie.” It was still light out despite the sun inching almost past the horizon.
“Since when haven’t you been instantly tired?” Dad hadn’t been there in a whole year, only having visited a few times, but he always made up for time lost in the most spectacular displays, even if mom wouldn’t go outside to meet him when he arrived to pick us up, simply watching through the blinds to make sure the local creep didn’t try and run off with us.
“Since you haven’t been here.” I didn’t mean for it to sound like that, but I could tell it hit him. I could tell it hit mom too. She wanted to side with him, but also seemed like she it would have been inappropriate, because it was true. I was just too young to understand the power behind certain words, but damn did dad know how to dance around it all.
There was a long silence and a pause. Mom stared at his profile, and he approached me. “Well. I’m here now!” I know it wasn’t a whole lot of effort, but the shake on the shoulders and hug he gave me meant everything. He really just didn’t let he and mom’s issues tear us apart. Few men like him exist.
He was muscular, and tall, and tough when he had to be. He liked to dress in sturdy button down shirts, with thick denim jeans, and hybrid dress-work boots. He'd grown up a farmhand in North Georgia, but had inadvertently turned into a city boy, but his inner tough guy never left him.
He had always spanked us lightly when words and other punishments weren’t enough, and spoken to us softly when a more heavy handed approach wasn’t correct. He had taken us for long walks when we were too energetic, and laid us down for naps when we just needed to rest. He always had an answer for us when we were sad. He was my dad. Can you really be better than a man like that?
No, I had no idea what I’d said, I really hadn’t, but it didn’t ruin our evening. It didn’t ruin mom cracking open the box of pizza and heating up the popcorn. It didn’t ruin the PG-13 movie they finally let me watch, and it didn’t ruin the two glasses of wine they let me try. In hindsight, I think those two glasses of wine were given to me in the hopes that I’d saunter off to bed so my two handsy parents could pop another one of us out, but those two glasses didn’t work, so they gave me two more, and I felt nice. Damn, I wish they’d have drowned me in booze. I wish that night had ended right there, and I wish the world had lied to me about everything.
We lived in a nice neighborhood within the Perimeter of Atlanta, somewhere northeast of the city, and southwest of Emory Saint Joseph Hospital around Byrnwyck. I can’t remember anymore.
If you’ve ever been to Atlanta then you know that it’s drowned in green, an ocean of trees the color of emeralds in the summer. It’s every part too, from drab ghetto, to upper class suburbia, it’s like the only city on earth where the people who built all the concrete and steel blights forgot to tear down all the natural growth. Atlanta then, just as now, was a great city to simply have a back and a front yard. Everyone had tall stands of trees that they tied hammocks to, and in the evening before the sun set, you’d hear old men mowing their lawns, and kids screaming during summer water balloon fights.
One of the last things I can remember in vague detail of that day was going to the brightly lit kitchen that had been built across from our living room couch, to the right of our big-screen, oversized TV, that almost blocked the doorway to get into it. Through the arch of the open kitchen bar, I could see that mom was lying in dad’s arms, her head in his lap as she softly mouthed something to him. The movie was about to begin. I’d run out of pizza and needed another slice.
Back in those days, carpet was still king, and our carpet was a light gray, easily stained, and we were forbidden from having food anywhere in the living room save for a strip of linoleum near the back door. Mom and dad only drank white wine so even if they got too wasted, they could still set it on the coffee table between the couch and the TV and pretend it hadn’t been knocked over and stained the place up. Silent stains, as dad called them. Out of sight, out of mind!
As an adult, I realized that the reason mom had stretched her legs across the couch was in order to subtly kick me off of it, so I was forced to sit on a tall bar stool that was placed around a tall table near the back sliding glass door, on the linoleum strip. I can still remember setting my pizza down on a cheap paper plate and looking out at the neighbors backyard.
They lived up a slight incline, a perfectly manicured lawn surrounded by tall pines, bright green, with a concrete patio, all of it only about fifteen feet away. To the left side of the single story, aging, ranch style home was a party of moms and dads gathered around grills, or sitting around heavy steel tables, leaning back in uncomfortable steel chairs. The mom’s all drinking wine, and the dads drinking watery beer. In those days, people weren’t as fat, mainly just the moms.
The dad’s all kept their figures and bragged about their cheap crap that each of them bought and tried to ignore the glaring issues of; boats, Mustangs and fake Rolexes, all from some estate sale, all glorified yard ornaments, all knock-offs bought at a beach in Mexico. I can remember them passing cigars and staring at them as if they were fancy, none of them knowing a single thing about what they were smoking, and probably all counterfeits, and lighting them with reeds, probably made of hardware store wood.
I can’t remember what was on the television, what movie we had rented, only that we were eating the only pizza I could stand, which was pepperoni, but at some point, my eyes peered through the neighbors black sliding glass door. They were notorious safety freaks, and perfectionists. I can remember them bragging about their gas burners, and double paned, Plexiglas windows on everything, with slide-down “riot shutters” that could take a hit from a rocket, which of course probably wasn’t true, but when mom and dad had met them, all they wanted to do was show off their house. Mom and dad had left, nonplussed and never really made it back over there.
Inside, beyond the Plexiglas back door, I could see dozens of children, aged anywhere from two to fourteen, all running around, screeching with joy, and I wondered why I hadn’t been invited.
I felt something wash over me, “Mom, I wanna go next door.” I was compelled, the words were almost not my own.
Mom spoke before dad could, “No sweetie, it’s almost bedtime.”
“It looks fun.” It was also still relatively early.
“Come on, let him go have some fun.” Dad interrupted.
"Yeah, mom." My eyes were fixated on a point in space and my voice almost came out as mechanical and hypnotized, "Let me."
They would run from one side of the living room to the other, back and forth, over and over again, the oldest kids making it first, with the next oldest making it second, and the youngest making it last, half of them at a near crawl, and some of them crying for being excluded, as the mouths and hands of the oldest moved in a chastising manner. I could see it all on their faces. I was so annoyed that I couldn’t be included. Why had they not invited me?
“No, he’s not going over there!” Mom seemed more serious than she'd been all night.
The grills smoked, cooking cheap meat, the dad’s raised their beers with each syllable in their speeches as if they were their own personal Caesar, and the mom’s raised their glasses too, so they could let out uproarious laughter over stuff that they apparently found funny. I looked from each situation to the next, then it grew hurried and rapid.
“Come on, he hardly has any friends.” It wasn’t true, but dad hadn’t been there in a while.
I could feel something, something that to this day, I don't know.
I don’t know.
“Just two hours, babe.” Dad was swaying mom in my favor.
“How about just an hour?” Mom was still silent, the back of her head in dad's lap as he stroked her hair, her face pensive.
I don’t know.
“Thirty-three minutes?” She finally said trying to come to a deal between deals and be a little ridiculous.
I don’t know.
“Forty five?” I can’t tell you what I felt. I looked at the grill, I looked at the living room, I looked at the grill, I looked at the living room. I felt something coming over me and my breathing increased. I can't tell you what I felt. I don't know.
“Okay.” Dad had won.
“You can go.” They both spoke at exactly the same time
Suddenly, a boom shook the entire world, WOOMF! Everything rattled with an amount of violence, immeasurable to anything I’d known up to that point.
Evil is a demon that seeps between the cracks of everything. He knows no solid walls, or protection from the insane world beyond your secure barriers. He doesn’t care if you coat yourself in armor. He is indifferent and unfeeling, and even beyond the confines of that Plexiglas sliding back door, of which the parents had locked, the demon struck.
I can remember the house ballooning outward almost a foot, somehow failing to explode into shattered splinters, the flame being contained inside before it sucked back in slightly. I can remember the children being lapped up in a mere moment, I can remember their shadows like black silhouettes running this way and that as if they were an ancient fire worshiping people dancing to their evil gods, their hair instantaneously erased from their bodies.
They were all suddenly burning alive, a gas leak having ignited, the double paned Plexiglas having done its job to keep the house from falling to pieces, but some parent, of whom I never found out, didn’t even know where they’d put the damn key.
To describe the screams I heard on that day, I can’t. I heard children dying, children my age and younger, I saw the flames burning them alive without remorse. They ran through the fire as shadows, their little minds unable to comprehend a way out, fighting for any reprieve.
A primordial instinct within me wanted to leap up and help, an instinct of which I had no control over, but when you see what I saw, it’s no different than if you see the entirety of a thirty story building come down on a man’s head, or a plane slam nose first into the ground from thousands of feet, or a knife stab a heart a thousand times. Another instinct kicked in, one that told me not to bother with trying to save those that were irreparably destroyed beyond repair.
Their little bodies ran and ran futilely back and forth, and the parents ran around outside, screaming horrible screams of true pain that forced me to cover my ears as my eyes grew wide. They fumbled for the key that no longer seemed to exist on this realm, grabbing for chairs that couldn’t break the barriers that had been erected to protect them, and watching as their children crumpled into stiffened black forms, like over -charred meat. For the first time ever, I learned of something that most people would never learn of, and that was the abysmal point of no return.
“Don’t look!” My mom let out the worst scream I'd ever heard come from her and she grabbed me, and with a violent yank, drew my face into her stomach, clenching me tight, just as my siblings came screaming from down the hallway, before she pushed them back into their room, and with a fury in her voice, told them they needed to go back to bed or they’d be whipped harshly, a punishment my mom hated to use against us. She tossed me down the hallway, and yanked the blinds shut, but dad wasn’t there, I didn’t know where he was.
The world became different after that moment. My dad disappeared for quite a while after this. I never found out the precise details of what had truly transpired after that day, or why dad only appeared here and there, completely transformed into something unrecognizable. Mom became forever silent. The neighbor’s house became a husk, the interior scorched black. I was old enough to know what I saw, but my developing brain would fight with me to tell me it wasn’t real, and my mom never confirmed nor denied it, but it never answered the nagging question, where was dad?
We moved out shortly thereafter, because even putting a tall wooden fence up wasn’t enough due to it being on a hill. If we were going to fence it off, we’d need a fence two, even three stories high.
I can remember dad only coming over after that point to build that fence, because he looked stressed, and his craftsmanship was lacking. It was like he was trying to build the wall as fast as humanly possible, and he and mom argued in hushed tones, with dad looking as if mom's presence was just annoying. I saw him downing powdered Aspirin to ward off what I'd later identify as severe hang overs, and a belly began to fall over his belt, despite the rest of his frame being skin and bones. His beard was gruff, his clothes were dirty, and his physical form was unkempt and shaggy. Every time I approached him, he’d give me some mumbled answer to a question I hadn't asked, refusing to look at me as if ashamed.
A for sale sign would eventually pop up in our yard, but only after the house behind us had been torn down and its memory forgotten. Mom was always glad it wasn’t our home, because if that home had not been torn down, and allowed to turn into a wood lot, we didn’t have to be honest with the next people who would move in, “Hey, is that the one house where all those kids caught on fire and got burned to a crisp? I heard there were like twelve different families here when that happened?” they could ask all they wanted, but we didn’t have to give an honest reply. “I wouldn’t know, it’s not my house.”
It wouldn’t be until I was in my late twenties, as my mom was on her deathbed, her liver failing from drug and alcohol abuse to cope with it all, that she finally told me more about that day, and that I found out that my dad had rushed up that hill and fought tooth-and-nail to get inside. He never made it, instead being there when a police cruiser smashed its way in through the front door way too late, most of the flame having been snuffed out due to the lack of oxygen.
Dad hadn’t died in that house, and he hadn’t died in the flames, only his resolve and spirit had died. Mom had tried her best to console him, but he always believed that he’d almost killed me. He died not too long after when he’d been found in a pool of his own vomit. He’d stared through that back door after having used all of his strength to try and smash open a hole with a steel chair, he’d seen it all, only inches away from little hands grasping out towards him, with only inches in-between, their skin sticking to the melting panes of Plexiglas.
By the time it was all over, he was the only one there, on his knees, staring into the empty eye sockets of the lost innocents, like little black statues of Pompeii, their parents having all been forcefully shoved into ambulances and whisked away screaming so savagely that I rocked back and forth in my bedroom, with my fingers shoved into my ears. Dad was the last one to have a blanket thrown over him, but he’d lost no one. He’d been so lucky where they hadn’t.
That wasn’t what stuck with me though, no. What stuck with me was what no one else saw, the thing that had compelled me moments before. I had seen it, a shadow standing behind them all, tall as the ceiling, with a mask of stolen flesh stitched together, and grinning. I could hear his growl and felt that his power was waning at that moment. He needed to feed. He flexed his ab muscles, and then clenched his fists, and as if at some Mister Universe competition, flexed his arms to show off his raw might and ancient power. Oh he was so ancient. An evil that had been with us for a very, very long time.
He looked me right in my eyes, the eye sockets of his own mask drooping and black as I saw his shadow standing over all of them, silent, unmoving, only moments before they were cooked alive, and I could hear him, he did not speak, he growled, and through him, I could hear them sizzling and popping, and I could feel their pain and anguish, and I could see him grinning, knowing that he’d almost taken me.
Man versus ?¿
He stared at the piles of paperwork that needed to be completed. The sounds of cars flying around the city made him want to scream. He had told his guardians he would be moving to the Megalopolis to start a new life, a new job/career, & hopefully even find a new wife. Although the latter was something he was trying to not find right away, not with the current state of the economy! He had kept sharing slides with his own virtual projection of himself in the living room to his guardians about the total cost of starting a family— not to mention the other unexpected bills for an emergency to the hospital if either him, or his loved one(s) fell ill with a virus…
His mind stopped to focus back on his work. More random cases, audios, & videos that were like finding a single button in a roll of lint! His secretary stepped into the room. He took a quick look at her, even if she was not a real human…every other person in the company always had to do a double-take. She had such a warm smile, one that felt like being at home. A thought ran through his mind, maybe he could take her to meet his folks. Would they be glad at least he has a companion for life? She was perfect…and he did not need to worry about any costs for a future bany, or babies with her.
She told him there was someone in the lobby area waiting to see him. He whispered to her, “Tell them I’m on vacation…”
She waltzed out of his office, her stride placing him in a trance. He did wonder who had created her & if the inventor had been inspired by someone famous, or local.
The sound of the door being slammed startled him. He leaned back in his chair and faced his guest.
Suddenly, the office room felt like a Hurricane was about to hit. The papers went flying into the air. His drawers were opened by a gust of wind, but all the windows were tightly sealed shut. To make things even more odd, there were some dark clouds gathering in his office.
His guest still did not speak. Then he was whisked away in a tornado, and tossed right into an alley.
He was bemused. What had just taken place? He tried to find his belongings that were in the pockets of his suit. Every pocket was empty.
He heard the sound of someone call out, “Taxi!” Taxi? He had not used one in well…had it been decades..the current fad was flying cars. Who wanted to book, or ride a taxi when a flying car could be much more accessible to use…anytime, anywhere in the world!
Someone had been standing behind him, and they scooted past him. He felt sheepish…and then called out, “Hold on…I’ll ride with you.”
The taxi driver hummed as he drove. He did not stop at any of the red lights. This made his passengers alarmed. The taxi driver swerved from one lane to the next, not even checking his blind spots!
As they continued to drive around town, the young professional scratched his head. He was not sure what part of town he was in.
The taxi driver made a quick stop. His passengers nearly fell out of their seats.
The young professional reached for his wallet, & realized he did not have it— he forgot about that. The young lady who had been sitting by his side paid the fare- his & her own.
He promised to pay her back. She smiled at him. He slowly smiled back.
She stepped out of the taxi, and he followed her. She picked up her pace as she walked, & he picked up his pace as he followed her tail.
Then he stopped for a second. Why did she have a tail anyway? Or was he just too beat and seeing things?
She stopped in her tracks, too.
By this time they were surrounded by a garden of plants. He waved at her seeing her turn to face his way.
She did not wave back. He cleared his throat. Why had he followed her all the way here? He needed to find his way back home.
He started to turn around back in the direction the taxi had dropped them off. As he began his march toward the main road, he felt a sudden weight on his shoulders, and back.
He screamed. The lady had jumped on him. He felt drops of something fall on to him. His skin started to burn!
She was hissing, and her tongue stuck out into the cool air. He waved his arms— trying to get her off his back, but it was as if she was glued to his body.
He felt her teeth sink into his neck. He tumbled to the ground spinning like a tumbleweed in the Sahara desert.
She spat something at him like a dilophosaurus. Her neck looked quite like something straight from a Dinosaur exhibit.
He felt dizzy, and lost all control of his body. His fingers could not even flick.
His eyes began to close. He looked on at the young lady. Her face…it was the same one her had seen in his office. Except he had thought it looked quite much less feminine in his room, here he had thought he’d been following a young woman. Whatever this thing was it was definitely not human!
It roared and he felt the ground begin to quake. Was it an earthquake? A horde of similar creatures arrived in formation. Each staring down at the young man.
He shut his eyes, ready to meet his final fate. The creatures ripped the flesh off his bones using their shark like razor canines.
Meanwhile, back at his office the secretary was on a call. She was typing away at lightning speed. Once she was done…she hit send.
TO: “jurassic” <email@example.com>
From: The Shadow Man’s outreach coordinator
Subject: Welcome to The Shadow Man’s Megaverse!
’Tis a pleasure to have you join us, ‘n’ be a part of The Shadow Man’s army! Feel free to rampage whenever, wherever, any day, any time. But please be advised not to create a time loop of mayhem with another group caught in the same pocket of space.
P.S. My human “boss” is going to be send to the Dino quadrant by a dear friend of The Shadow Man. Please, do not rush as you have him (over) for dinner.
P.P.S. Also, remember to carefully wrap his heart and send it to The Shadow Man as a token of gratitude.
#Manversus?¿ (c) 09.10.2022
The screen went white and that familiar circular motion began in its center. The WiFi in that house always struggled to keep up, but rarely buffered this late at night. I assumed that I was the only member of my family still awake and scrolling endlessly. My seat in the beanbag often became my dwelling after the daylight hours, when all the others' eyes were shut and all the lights killed. From here I gazed up at the door, cracked open, allowing the faintest strip of yellow to spread across the floor. I had forgotten to turn the stove light off once again. With my head leaned back against the wall, directly below the window, I sighed. Soon enough the screen switched to the all too familiar sign which read “No Internet Connection”. It was then I heard the footsteps.
It must be known that the house I lived in was elevated slightly from the ground, meaning the floors shook a little when walked on. This made late-hour excursions quite noisy to the sleeping family. But this minute, creaky bumping seemed to be an attempt at stealth nonetheless. So, someone else was awake. As it often did, my brain calibrated in mere seconds the possibilities of who could be doing what, and for what reason.
My dad, although I recalled hearing his droning snore a few minutes ago.
They could be getting a drink…
Using the restroom?
Perhaps that stove light was bothering them, in which case I would probably be confronted sooner or later.
That last guess looked to be spot on. I kept my eyes on the door in case anyone appeared. Then the stove light switched off…
Ah, so it must be my mom. She hated the faint light and she didn’t even have to see it for it to bother her. Expecting the footsteps to thump their way back to the other side of the house, I directed my eyes back to the screen, sliding the cursor towards the refresh button. The black, pixelated arrow glided over the white like a blurry little airplane through the sky.
I didn’t hear any footsteps.
Thinking it was odd that anyone should remain standing in front of the stove stationary, my eyes were once again drawn to the opening in the door. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the same loading screen with the circle spinning round,
The footsteps resumed and I realized my heart had begun pounding. Throbbing, almost. It seemed odd, then everything stopped. The loading screen disappeared and I didn’t even bother to gaze down at the same error notification. My globes were fixed like glue on the door, adjusting to the new darkness. I folded the laptop screen half-way in order to aid in the adjustment.
The floorboards outside my room strained under something’s weight. I was going to get that confrontation that I deserved. At 1:18 a.m., too. Yet none came. I squinted, raised my line of vision, then froze.
I was stuck. My temples thumped and throbbed as my heart pumped double time. I drew short, nasally breaths as the figure grew more visible to me. My mouth remained ajar and I felt my fingers drop in temperature. No doubt about it, that was a face. But it wasn’t my mother’s.
I blinked speedily, trying to clear my eyes and focus. What was it? What was going on?
The figure was dark and shadowy up until the top of the door. There I saw a pale palette holding a glowing eye. The pupil was small and dark. The eyelids seemed nonexistent. I could see what I thought was a mouth. Not smiling. Emotionles…
The longer I glared the harder it stared back. I felt like screaming. My chest felt like it would explode, my body stayed paralized. For what seemed like years my gaze never left the unsettling horror.
It slowly moved its pupil. Uncannily, eerily it slid its pupil in an upward direction, as if looking out the window behind me. When I thought the bulging eye couldn’t have gotten any wider, it grew. When my heart couldn’t beat any faster, it accelerated. I heard scratching on the door. Then it smiled.
A slow, crazy smile. That blazen, drunken smile.
The one visible eyeball once again made its way down to my poor frame sitting in the beanbag chair. I was frozen solid, trapped in arctic ice, having been there for thousands of years. And now it was smiling at me.
At the same time, I heard a little clank of metal from somewhere behind me. Not daring to let the grinning creature out of my line of sight, I gripped the sides of my laptop with claws of iron. Behind the door I heard another aoft kreeeeak. My teeth clenched and my breaths became heaves as I listened in horror. The familiar squeal of the window opening behind me filled the room as I felt the chill autumn night’s breeze sweep over the top of my head.
Shuffling, shuffling, shuffling, shuffling, silence…
He sat there, on the old floorboards. He sat there, in the dim light in the dark of this night. The moon had long since gone to sleep and so had the sun. So he sat there, holding a deck of cards in his hands. Shuffling, shuffling, shuffling, shuffling them.
A card fell out, flipping around chaotically before landing face down on the floor before him. A shaky hand reached out towards the card, deftly picking it up and bringing it closer to him. He flipped it over, looking at its face that was now staring him down.
There was no movement, no shuffling of cards or heavy breaths, just silence in the dark room of his. Until there was no longer silence. The deafening noise of nothingness was replaced with a discontented hum and the shuffling, shuffling, shuffling, shuffling of the cards in his hands. Those cold, white hands. The hands that were so skilled at shuffling, shuffling, shuffling, shuffling cards.
Time went on, the night growing darker at its peak and then becoming lighter as dawn broke into the sky. More cards had flown out and landed around him, always face down. Each time it happened his cold, thin, ghost-white hands would reach out and bring it closer to him. Staring the card down as it stared back at him. He would hum in discontent, before placing it in a row with all the other cards that had stared at him. Once the cards had been placed he would go back to that shuffling, shuffling, shuffling, shuffling of cards.
And then again, as the night finally faded, there was once again a deafening silence. It was only now that I dared to sit up and stare at the spot on the floor where he had been sitting. There was nothing, no deck of cards, no shuffling, no eerie moonlight when there was no moon out.
I stood up on shaky legs, staring at the spot where I had always seen him. He had never left anything behind when dawn broke, but this time he had. In the middle of my bedroom, sitting there face down on the floorboards, was a singular card. I quietly kneeled on the floor and reached out with shaky hands, slowly and fearfully picking it up before bringing it towards me and flipping it around.
I stared at the Tarot Card in my hands for a moment, confused as it had nothing on its face. In the place of the usual picture that would normally be on such a card was a small mirror. I stared at my own reflection, not realizing that that deafening silence had returned. I didn't realize anything until I heard that shuffling, shuffling, shuffling, shuffling from behind me.
The last words that were spoken to me were the only words I ever heard him say. “You’ll make a wonderful card for my collection.” Before everything went back, and then I felt the shuffling, shuffling, shuffling, shuffling of his deck.
Good Morning Sidesdale
The pan sizzled as Daisy pushed the bacon into it, letting grease release into the pan. The early morning sky greeted her from the window, making the floor a golden hue. She flipped the piece off of the pan and onto the plate. Pancakes, bacon, and eggs, it's what she makes her husband every morning.
She set it down on the table with a fork and knife and turned the dial on the radio.
"Good morning Sidesdale! It's currently 7:30 on the dot, and it's a beautiful Tuesday morning, and expected to stay beautiful for the rest of the day." She smiled and put on her rubber gloves to start cleaning up.
Daisy heard the chair pulled against the floor. "Good morning Dear. Ready for a good day of work?"
Jim didn't respond. She laughed. He barely ever responds. "Alright, I'll make your coffee. Heaven knows you can't function without it."
She tugged the gloves off and grabbed the tin that sat on the counter. She turned around and was greeted by the Devil sitting at her table.
Daisy shrieked and clutched the cross that hung around her neck letting coffee grinds spill onto the floor.
He took a bite out of the bacon. "What's the matter, Honey? Is there something on my face?"
She held the cross out in front of her. "Get out of my house! Where's Jim?!"
The Devil smiled. "Let's have a conversation. We can start with small talk, or get straight to the business if you prefer."
Daisy sobbed and cross dug into her palm.
"I'll talk and you just chime in whenever you're ready." He cleared his plate and got up. Daisy darted to the side as he placed it in the sink. "Jim is just a pain, isn't he? Like this morning, if he saw you didn't have his coffee hot and ready for him, what would he have done?"
"Black and Blue would have been you!" The radio chimed in.
"Why do you even stay? A smart, strong woman like you could do anything she likes, any man would be lucky to court her! So why?'
Daisy shook her head. "I won't listen to the lies of the devil. I demand you to leave my home."
"Ooh!" The radio mocks. "She 'demands' does she?" It started laughing and rocking, and a black substance started to leak from its corners.
"I'll leave, but you have to make me. Prove that you're strong enough to make me leave, by any means necessary."
She glanced at the knife the Devil had left on the table.
"Do it!" The radio gurgled, almost completely covered in black. "Take him before he takes your soul!"
Daisy walked towards the table while the Devil stared out at the golden sky. She felt the plastic handle in her grip as she walked forward.
With a risen hand, Daisy lunged forward and fell onto the floor of the empty kitchen.
The knife landed in the pile of blood and coffee grinds.
"And with that, let's get some music playing for all you folks! Once again, it's 8:00 on a sunny morning, so go out and try to enjoy it." The red-stained radio started playing a peppy piano.
Daisy stood up and brushed off her skirt, smearing blood on it. She walked over and saw the plate she made untouched. She left a footprint that shone in the golden light of the sky.
"Huh." She picked it up and discarded it into the garbage. "I suppose he wasn't hungry."
I wiped the mirror clean, staring at the reflection in the mirror - a man with a cheesy grin.
"Now just remember, smile!" he said.
I took a deep breath and forced the two sides of my mouth to lift upwards.
"Much better," the reflection said. "Oh look! They're coming."
Quickly I prepared myself as a boy and his mother came strolling through the door.
"Docter S'Miles thank god you're here!" the mother said. "Timmy's got another cavity."
"Ah yes," I said. "Mrs. Fern you can go and wait outside."
The mother stepped out of the room and closed the door, leaving Timmy with Docter S'Miles.
"Now Timmy," I said, "could you go lie down on the bed for me?"
Timmy laid down on the bed.
"Good...very good." I then proceeded to strap his arms and legs tightly to the bed. "Now, remember, this won't hurt a bit."
I smiled and reached my hand into my mouth. The set of false teeth I was wearing teared off, revealing my bloody, sharp teeth. I could see Timmy struggling to get out of the bed. I could see him trying to scream with the voice he once had.
"Shh..." I whispered. "Go to sleep now, little one."