Dark Echoes of Heritage- Chapter One
The hallways rattled with cackling laughter, slamming locker doors, and screeching sneakers. I scowled at Mrs. Arnold. Just my luck that it was the English teacher’s turn to monitor detention. Rolling my eyes without grabbing her attention, I gazed out the window. Kids were racing towards the parking lot like they’d escaped a ten-year prison sentence. Surely, they chose this room so the detainees could watch as all their jail mates happily ran free.
It’s also the start of spring break. I clenched my fist in pure disgust. Not only am I stuck here at the beginning of a holiday week, but I’m also on the verge of failing English. I huffed at the thought of her. Mrs. Arnold. She had to assign a ten-page report due the week before a break. On what planet does that make sense? I had a game that week. There was absolutely no time for me to get it done. I’ve had no time for any paper or reading this semester, but none of that matters now because I’m kicked off the team.
Grumbling, I unzipped my backpack, pulling at a notebook and pencil. I should start writing apologies. My eyes felt wet. I jumped at the sound of the moving desk. I glanced up to see one of the kids that smoked out back during lunch. I hadn’t noticed him sitting there before with so many thoughts swirling through my head.
“You okay, man?” He said, leaning in, moving his desk closer to mine. “Never thought I’d see you in here.”
I grimaced, “yea, dude. Fine.” I turned my head towards the window, signaling for him to shut up and leave me alone. I never thought I’d be here, either. My mom is going to be furious. I needed to fix this. If I fail English, I won’t graduate. I pushed the pencil hard into the paper, cracking the tip. I smiled. It was an excuse to get up. I couldn’t write with a broken pencil. Mrs. Arnold was head-deep in the pile of papers on her desk. On the right side behind her was an old dusty pencil sharpener screwed into the wall. I could fix this. I could talk her into giving me another chance. Then when I break all this negative news to my mother, I could at least say I’m working on it. I glanced over my shoulder at the smoke kid, who was deadlocked on me, smiling.
“What?” I said, annoyed.
“You up to something?” he said in a whisper.
I narrowed my eyes, ignoring his accusation, and stood up. As soon as I did, Mrs. Arnold’s head lifted. She didn’t say anything, only quietly watched as I walked up to the front of the classroom. The smell of old books and dust caused my stomach to stir. I wondered if these rooms were ever cleaned. All the desks and bookshelves looked stale and unmanaged. I held up my pencil, showing the snapped black lead. She nodded as I maneuvered around her to the sharpener. Slowly I placed my pencil in the tiny hole and twisted the hinge. The noise was unbearable. The screech shredded to my core, but she didn’t turn around. The relic seemed to adjust and quiet down as I rotated the handle.
Mrs. Arnold was attractive. I’d admit that. She had to be in her early thirties. I spun the handle again, scanning the back of her head. Her long blonde hair fell beyond the back of the chair. It had highlights and low lights. I wondered how much that cost her. My mom always complained about the prices at her salon. She shuffled in her seat, and I noticed I’d stop spinning the handle bringing attention to myself. The smoke kid wasn’t trying to hide his interest in my situation. His thin dark hair floated just above his eyes. He started tapping his fingers on his desk, insinuating that I needed to get to it.
My shoulders sank. I couldn’t believe I was here. This is my life now. I got stuck in detention with a smoking kid. He was right as much as I couldn’t stand him, and he had no idea what I was attempting. I pulled out my half-sharpened pencil and moved to the front of Mrs. Arnold’s desk. My tongue caught. I wasn’t sure how to start, so I stood there, unmoving. A few kids walked past the door, grabbing my attention. I stared through the glass window, imagining I was one of them.
“Can I help you, Edwin?”
Startled, I looked back to Mrs. Arnold. I’d gotten lost in the world beyond the glass window. She had a stern face, unamused. Small wrinkles formed on her forehead between her eyes as she waited for me to answer. Most people called me Eddie. Typically, I only heard Edwin when someone was pissed-off. Her top was nice. It was a silky royal blue. It complemented her hair. “That’s a nice color on you,” I said with a smile.
She frowned, “what do you need, Edwin?”
I could feel sweat forming in the palm of my hands. I shouldn’t have mentioned her shirt. The smoke kid was right. I need to speak my truth. I wiped my hands on my jeans and stood a little straighter. “Mrs. Arnold…” She held up her hand, stopping me. My heart sank, and I felt defeated. I opened my mouth to speak again, but her strict facial expression stopped me. She stood up, attempting to meet my eyes. At 5’ 3, she didn’t have a chance. She pushed her hair behind her shoulders, flipped the paper she was reading, and placed a paperweight on top of it. My anxiety was beginning to peak, and my breath felt like seeping lava. The hot wings at lunch were definitely a mistake. My chest tightened. She lifted her hand, signaling me to step to the side. I did immediately.
“Devon,” she shouted. The smoke kid sat straight in his chair, acknowledging her call out. “I need to speak with Edwin. We will be stepping out into the hallway for a moment. Please behave yourself.” She finished by tilting her head forward towards him while raising her eyebrows. He nodded rapidly. She looked at me and then at the door.
I sped to the door, ripped it open, and parked outside against a locker without a second thought. I’d avoided any eye contact with Devon on my way out. I am miserable right now. This wasn’t me. My mind raced as I waited to hear my sentence, yet I was unsure what I’d done. I thought about my dad and what he would think.
It had only been my mother, grandfather, and me when he'd passed. We’d lost him to cancer when I was only two years old—no other relatives. My grandfather mainly became nonexistent after that. I’d see him on birthdays, holidays, and occasional brief encounters at the house. That’s about it. He lives and breathes the family business. He started a peanut company years ago. My mom and I live on the estate with him, although he’s about two acres away from us. It was something growing up surrounded by acres and acres of peanut crops. Luckily, I didn’t have an allergy. It did cause problems when I was young, as some kids couldn’t come to parties at my house.
“Eddie,” Mrs. Arnold said in a softer voice. Her eyes had changed. They looked more forgiving. I went to speak, but she interrupted. “I know this isn’t you. You’re a good kid. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I could guess why you approached my desk.” I tried to interrupt again, but she stopped me. “Look, I don’t want to fail you. I get it. It’s senior year, you’re distracted, and you have whatever’s happening with that football team. How about this? Spring break starts for you when you leave this classroom. That’s one whole week. Write me that ten-page paper, but on whatever you want. She held up her hand again. I know not many kids want to write an essay over their break, but this is the chance I want to give you. Ten pages, whatever you want, on my desk the Monday morning we return. Deal?”
She held out her hand. I stared at it. She was right. I did not want to write a paper over spring break, and I didn’t care that she gave me an open topic, but I had no choice. I smiled wide and grabbed her hand, shaking it rapidly.
“Thank you, Mrs. Arnold. I promise I’ll have it done by Monday. I swear.”
She smiled sincerely, “Now, get back to detention and use your time wisely.”
I nodded nervously and stormed back into the room. Devon quickly turned his head down to the papers on his desk, acting as if he wasn’t aggressively staring at the door, wondering what our conversation was about. I sat at my desk and turned to him, staring hard. He looked up passively.
“Well?” he whispered.
“Shh!” I said, holding my finger to my mouth. He rolled his eyes and went back to scribbling. I looked down at my tattered notebook. The blank pages were daunting. What in the world was I going to write about?
The room went silent. I peeked over at Devon. He was sound asleep. It had only been five minutes at most since we last talked. He accomplished undercover sleeping so fast and well. He had balanced a World History book, the thickest we received senior year, perched just right to cover his entire face, leaving room to tuck his hands beneath his head. The angle at that Mrs. Arnold was sitting portrayed the idea that he was fast at work, nose deep into studying. I chuckled to myself. As unpleasant as this kid seemed at times, he was savvy.
The ticking of the clock was never-ending. I could even hear the small battery-powered motor controlling the hands. Now and again, Mrs. Arnold would sigh, look outside, scan us, then sink her head back into her papers. She was right, and I should use this hour to my advantage. I watched as the tree branches against the window lightly shuffled in a tiny gust. It was a beautiful day. I knew everyone was at Emma’s pool party. She handed out secret invitations to a select group one week ago. I’m sure she didn’t want me there now, even though she did give me one last Friday. I zoned out, staring deeper at the tiny white flowers beginning to bloom on the swaying branch. It had only been a few days, and I missed her. I think I did love Emma or still do. I wish I could talk with her and explain what happened, but I can’t. There’s no way it would land well with anyone. Goosebumps trailed down my forearm as I thought about her perfectly smooth, light brown skin glistening in the Georgia heat. We’d been together for three months, a lifetime in high school. She’d gotten into NYU and would be going there in the fall.
I, on the other hand, am staying local. I got into a few schools, but my grandfather offered to pay my tuition with one stipulation, I needed to stay in state and be a Bulldog. The University of Georgia, here I come. I don’t know why he insisted on that school, but he did. Most would think failing English was a hard stop from getting into any college, but I had stellar grades throughout my four years. I received my acceptance letter two weeks ago, and we’ve already sent in the down payment. This semester has been weird for me. If I could fix my English grade, I would be home-free.
There wasn’t a soul in sight outside, and the parking lot was barren. I flicked my pencil up the blank page, deciding what to tell my mom. She knew my issue with the team, well that I was kicked off, but she had no idea about English. Since Mrs. Arnold had given me this last-minute assignment, maybe I’ll keep it to myself. My family isn’t big talkers, so it’s not like I’ll need to tell her much. I flicked my pencil again.
This past Christmas, I asked her to tell me an old story of hers, something that she remembered about my dad. My grandfather stared ahead, never acknowledging my question, and my mother just started crying. Her crying was controlled, though, lighter than in previous years. That outcome hadn’t been my intention and still left me feeling awful. I rubbed her back and said don’t worry about it another time. She gave me a forgiving smile, patted my cheek, and left the living room. My grandfather still sat silently in an oversized leather chair consumed by the light of the fire. My mom gets the dinner catered yearly for just the three of us. We eat, open a few presents, and then go our separate routes. I can’t remember any other way.
A few years back, we’d done our usual split, and I’d heard loud music, furniture moving around and off noises. I went to check on my mom. Her room had been torn apart. Chairs tipped over, sheets pulled off the bed, a vase broken, and the shower was running. My heart raced when I hadn’t seen her anywhere. I stood there momentarily, contemplating whether I should look in the shower. I didn’t want to see my mom naked, but I was terrified that something may have happened to her. Unable to contain the stress cracking my outer core, I charged into her bathroom. She was scrunched in the corner of the shower with her back against the wall, holding her knees tightly against her chest, crying. “Mom,” I said, but she didn’t look up, so I shouted, “MOM.” My body ached in sadness as I could not figure out what to do. Quickly, I grabbed my mobile and called my grandfather. Time froze as I stood there powerless, watching her helplessly. The next thing I knew, my grandfather had held my shoulders, guiding me back into the bedroom. It’s like I’d blacked out.
“It’s okay, Ed. Go to your room. I’ll help her. It’ll be okay,” he whispered.
Flustered beyond belief, I left the room without looking back. We have yet to talk about it. Neither of them has ever brought it up, and I never asked. She was just okay.
When she scurried off this year, I’d joked with my grandfather, muttering, “Wondering if she’s got a boyfriend?” His breath was his only response, along with the rattling ice in his glass of bourbon. I’d sat there for a bit, unphased by his lack of interaction staring at the sparkling gold Christmas tree, taking in the scattered wrapping paper and a few dessert plates filled with crumbs. At least I wasn’t alone, and there were no weird noises. My grandfather hangs around a touch longer each Christmas now.
He stood up, stretched his back, smirked at me, and said, “I’m going to bed, kid. Merry Christmas.” I think he liked my joke because I rarely ever see him smirk. He set his empty glass on the side table and shuffled passed me, pausing briefly to touch my shoulder. I watched him cut through the hall and listened as the front door clicked shut. I sighed, collected my few gifts, and headed to my room.
“Okay, everyone, the detention is officially over. You’re free to go,” Mrs. Arnold said a touch too loud.
She stood and began to collect her things as Devon was startled awake. I looked at the clock. Already? I picked up my blank notebook and huffed. Good start, Eddie.
“Nice detention-ing with you, bro,” Devon said fist bumping my arm.
“Yeah, dude,” I smiled.
He wasn’t so bad. He threw his bookbag over his arm and went out the door. I lingered a bit, not wanting to go home. I gathered my things, jamming them into my bag. Mrs. Arnold had a face that read hurry along now. She wanted to start her holiday just as much as any kid here. She followed me through the door, pulled it shut, waved, and wished me luck walking in the opposite direction. I watched as she yanked out her phone and never looked back. With my shoulders hanging low, I headed to the parking lot. I stopped on the sidewalk to stare at my lone car. Emma loved my car, and so did I. It was my dad’s vintage emerald green Jaguar. My mom gifted it to me on my eighteenth birthday this past November.
I opted to take the long way home. I wasn’t up to explaining why I was late, and if I could sneak in through the back, my mom may not even notice. The white shells that formed the driveway crunched louder than usual as I slowly pulled into my spot. I turned off the car, grabbed my bookbag in the front seat, and creaked the door open. My face dropped. My mother was standing there with her arms crossed. I smiled and waved like everything had been expected, “Hi.”
“Edwin, where’ve you been?” She stomped closer.
Edwin, I sighed, rolling my head to the right to crack my neck, “I had to stay late.”
“Why are you out here waiting for me?” I said, slamming the car door shut, feeling my
defense walls grow thicker.
“We need to talk,” she grabbed my arm, pulling me to the side. She wore a loose-fit white silk button-up shirt along with fitted khaki-colored pants. She’d gained a little weight this past year and looked better. She needed it. She never wore much makeup and had her usual faint smell of self-tanner mixed with Chanel perfume.
“About what?” I said, not wanting to sell myself out, not knowing the topic of conversation.
“Okay,” she said, stepping closer, “Mrs. Arnold called.”
“When?” I said, irritated. When did she even have time? I stared at my mom’s stacked gold necklaces clanging into one another. She must’ve walked in the opposite direction for that reason.
“Eddie,” she lifted my chin, “What is going on? This isn’t like you.”
“Nothing,” I wasn’t ready to discuss anything with my mother. “I’ll take care of it. Okay? I was just distracted. I’m fine.” I yanked my bookbag up on my shoulder and stared past her at the giant pink roses lining the front of the house. They’d gotten so big with the brighter spring sun. She touched my arm lightly and then squeezed it.
“I have an idea for your paper.”
Her concern and interest took me aback. She’d never been this intrigued by anything, at least that I’d seen. When Emma and I started dating, I thought she’d be nosey, ask questions, and maybe want to meet her, but nothing. When I got kicked off the football team, she shrugged it off and said their loss.
Three days ago, I asked her to join me on a stroll through the fields. I suggested we check out the lake. There was one on the property that was about a fifteen-minute walk. She used to take me there when I was ten. It was a summer I’d never forget. We went every day, and she taught me how to fish. It had been the most time we’d ever spent together. She wore a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers and pulled her hair back into a high ponytail. I was impressed at how she could pull a fish off the hook without a wince. We had peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, of course, and spent a whole hour together. She’d turned me down and gave me no reason.
“What’s your idea?” I said, shaking her hand away from my arm. I tightened my lips, ready to say no to her thoughts, even though I knew I had nothing.
“Why don’t you interview your grandfather?”
“What? No way. He barely talks to me. I’ll end up with nothing.” I yanked my bookbag strap tight to my chest and pushed past her.
“Eddie,” she shouted, “Stop.”
I stood with my back to her and rolled my eyes. My white sneakers dug into the shells as my hands squeezed hard around my bag’s straps. I took a deep breath, unintentionally wafting my mouth full of rose scent, making me nauseous.
“Eddie,” my mom said in a lighter tone. I turned around to see her staring at me with concern. “Please, talk with your grandfather. He has a fascinating past. Your father used to tell me a few things here and there, but I think he could help you,” she waved her hand, “With whatever you’re going through. Before you say no again, I already talked with him and told him the situation. He agreed.”
“What?” I shouted, “Are you serious?” Without giving her an answer, I stormed down the driveway, kicking shells with every step. I couldn’t help but glance back at her when I reached the front door. Her face was kind, but I was frustrated. How could she? I said I’d handle it. I slammed the door shut and ran to my room. My eyes suddenly felt wet again.
I sighed. By God, it stinks in here. The walls were littered with custom gold Carrara subway tiles coated in a film of disgust, and there he was, just sagging on the toilet, unaware. This couldn’t be any easier. I stood in the corner of the bathroom and watched him. His expensive designer jeans were so effortlessly thrown to the floor as his floral mesh thong dangled between his ankles. I grimaced at the sink. Greenish-yellow vomit stained the white grout lining the stone finish. A gooey stretch clopped as I lifted my foot, stepping forward. The noise startled him, causing him to look up at me. I couldn’t believe it was my hundredth anniversary as a reaper—100 years of this. 100... years... Sometimes I question my decision. Was collecting this filth of a rockstar better than Hell? Had it been easier to take a young mother away from her children? Halt a boy from getting the chance to finish high school? Steal a queens crowning? I guess I’d been a bit selfish. I pulled the small hankey from my pocket and wiped my face in an attempt to ease the stench.
I recalled the first one I collected. I knew her. The assignment was most definitely on purpose. A deal with the devil is never cut and dry. In the heat of the moment, no pun intended, most are willing to sign anything, and I had been one of them. Diane Santiago. She was my mother’s best friend and confidant. She’d been like a second mother to me. At sixty-one, she had a heart attack. I’d been pushed through a door and plopped into her kitchen. I watched as she grabbed at her chest, gasping for air. Strands of greyish-blonde hair covered her face, and her shirt had risen above her belly in the struggle.
I’d gotten no instruction for this. Papers were signed, and no words were said. They’d dressed me in a black cloque and handed me a wooden rod. A monstrous creature with red skin said, “Good luck,” that was it. I approached her in a panic. Unbeknownst to me, I didn’t look the same. I thought Diane was seeing me, Carl, the kid she’d always known, not a blurred-faced being in all black. I terrified her. Every word I spoke was muddled with demon scripture and slang.
A clear entryway appeared after a few minutes. Unsure of what to do and wanting this to end, I grabbed her arm and yanked her through. It was all white, and a very regular-looking man approached us. He had light brown skin, a buzzed haircut, and brown eyes. His teeth were impeccable.
“Diane Santiago?” he said, reaching for her hand.
She stared ahead, frightened to silence. I could tell her pain was gone, though, as she breathed normally. It made me feel better about the yanking.
“I’m guessing by the lack of an answer, you are,” he said, nodding at her. She unintentionally nodded along. “Ah,” he looked at me, “you’re the new one. I’m Mitch,” he reached for my hand.
“Carl,” I said, shaking it.
“Ah, Carl. You must’ve gotten one of the red ones. They don’t like to tell anyone anything. Just a moment.” He looked back at Diane. “Miss, could you step over here, please.” Stunned, she complied. “Diane, that black blob there,” he pointed to me as she nodded, “that’s your boy Carl. He didn’t mean to scare you. He’s new. You’re going to a beautiful place. They’ll explain more there.” Her face twisted in confusion as he'd snapped his fingers without allowing her to speak, and she was gone. That was the last time I’d see Diane Santiago and the first time I’d deliver a soul.
“Carl, is it?” Mitch said with a hint of a British accent. “Lucky you landed me, chap—a few things. The black cloque look, you can change that. You can wear whatever you want. The wooden rod is a touch more difficult and might take some practice, but you can change that too. Many of you reapers don’t read the fine print and just sign. They know how to pick you. Anyhow, you always have access to that document.” He reached into a pocket and pulled out a small slip of paper, “Here. When we depart from the white space, you'll return to Diane's kitchen. Go to the address on the paper.”
“Yes. What's the white space? Why are you helping me?” I said, severely confused, pleading.
“Sorry, chap, but no time for details here, and eh, I like to irritate the other side. You know? It’s like a coworker that makes you angry. They don’t train their people well. It trickles down. We can’t stay here much longer. The white space crumbles after a few minutes, and I prefer not to get lost in the void. Good day, Carl. I’m sure we’ll cross paths again.”
I blinked and was back in the kitchen just as he said. I unfolded the paper and read 28 Rue du Sergent Bauchat, 75012 Paris, France. Diane had lived right outside of Shelbyville, Kentucky.
I sighed again. The rockstar was on the way out. That noise usually signifies organ failure. “Hiya,” I said, leaning slightly to meet his eyes. He stared at me in delirium. I’m sure he’s assuming that he’s tripping right now.
“Who are you?” he muttered.
“Carl. You’re dying, and I’m here to take you to the afterlife.” He tilted his head and chuckled. The ability to communicate in this role has been life-changing. It’s a nice reprieve from the curdling screams and tears in my earlier years. That trip to France had been well worth my time.
“Yeah, okay, guy,” he laughed and reached for a syringe hidden behind his left foot. His long dark hair was caked to his forehead and highlighted how pale he was beginning to look. As awful as his appearance was, the guy was still handsome. Chiseled jawline, sculpted abs, and tattoos placed just right. Some people are meant to be famous, and some of us average-looking folk land reaper jobs. I stepped back and watched as he injected the contents of the dirty floor syringe into his arm. Not many clients blatantly ignore me. Most encounters include a long conversation, the entryway appearing, and me dragging or walking them through. His eyes glossed when the fluid hit his vein, and the entry appeared. The opening surprised me. It was the white space but no essence of hell. I thought for sure this guy was going there. I shrugged it off. I didn't care. My hundred years were up.
“You have to come with me.” I left it at that. He didn’t seem to need much more of a description, and I wanted to wrap this up.
“Okay,” he said, standing up in a wobble. I turned my head to avoid the visual of his hanging dong.
“Pull your underwear up, man,” I said, slightly irritated.
“Oh, yea, yea, all right. Ya, square.” He reached down, grabbed the pink flowered thong, swerved, and shuffled it up. “Do I have to find my pants too? You, Lucy,” he laughed.
I rolled my eyes, “through there.” I pointed at the entry. He mocked me as he walked through with no question wagging his ass in my face—deep breath. Don't care.
A woman was in the white space this time. One I'd never met. It must be my send-off person. My heart raced. I couldn’t believe it. I was done—hundred years, thousands of souls, and I was done. My eyes watered slightly in the excitement of it all.
“Are you crying, you pansy?”
My eyebrows furrowed as I looked at the tattered rockstar, “what is wrong with you?”
“What is wrong with you?” He spouted back, stumbling forward and giving me the finger.
“Boys,” the woman shouted, “please. Tyler, come here.”
The nerve of this guy. He moved away from me and stood by her eyeing her from head to toe, smirking. Disgusting. He wasn't wrong, though. She had auburn hair and the body of Jessica Rabbit. It was wild. He stuck his tongue out to me just as she snapped her fingers. That son of bitch. I rolled my neck in irritation. Deep breath. Who cares? He’s gone, and I’m done.
“Carl, is it?” She said, looking at me.
“Yes,” I said, with glee, “so you’ll be snapping for me then or what?”
“There’s an issue with your contract.”
“Oh, did you not hear me? THERE’S AN ISSUE WITH YOUR CONTRACT,” she shouted, leaning closer to me.
I winced, “No, I heard you. I’m confused as to how there would be an issue. I’ve read it multiple times. I did everything listed.”
She reached out her hand, “I’m Connie, by the way. We’ve never met.”
My mouth went dry as I shook it, “Hi, Connie.” I watched as she pulled a scroll from her leather side bag that I hadn’t noticed before. She allowed it to drop from her hand a roll along the empty white space. She sat the back half down and walked about fourteen steps forward, pointing to a line on the scroll.
“Here,” she said. I met her and looked down. “This tiny dot. It's subtext," she moved her finger from the dot to the fine print a few rows down. Very, very fine print. "At least seventy-five souls need to be delivered to Hell. Out of those seventy-five, thirty must remain for thirty years. Sorry, but your contract is extended until further notice.”
My mouth dropped open as I slid down to the white space. My head fell to my knees. I should’ve known better.
“Are you okay?” She said.
“No, Connie. I’m not okay.” That bastard. I’m never getting out of this. How would I ever accomplish that? Rarely does a soul stay in one place for an eternity anymore. Thats old school. My contract was meant for a hundred years in total. This is shit. Of course, there was a clause. How could I have missed that? My cheeks were hot, and my body ached. I felt a slight brush on my thigh. I looked up to see Connie had joined me on the ground or this floor of white nothing.
“Your Mitch’s Carl, aren’t you?” I stared at her. I’d never realized that Mitch and I had an extensive relationship.
“I guess,” I shrugged.
“You know,” she whispered, “you’ll never get out of a contract, but you could probably land a new job if you want. I heard working for Hell blows.” She chuckled.
I stared ahead. I knew I only had a few minutes left in the white space. I thought about Mitch. I thought about my first visit to France. I thought about all I’d learned in the past hundred years. I thought about just staying here and finding out what the void was. I thought that maybe I could find a way at of the contract still and that maybe Connie didn't know shit. I did know that if I took too much time thinking about an opportunity, I’d lose it.
“You’re hot as hell, Connie,” I said, scanning her whole physique.
“I’ll take that as you interested?” she said in a sultry voice. I nodded. She handed me a slip of paper. “See you here in three hours.”
I was shocked that I’d received another piece of paper a hundred years later. I was beginning to wonder what kind of game I was in. We looked at one another as the white space was starting to disappear. I let out a huge breath and threw my head back. In a blink, I was staring at the bathroom ceiling. I didn’t need to look around. The smell confirmed that I was back in Tyler’s bathroom. I yanked the paper and read Rua Balbino, 4, R. Van Erven - Catumbi, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 20211-320, Brazil. I sighed. God forbid these people plan to meet me anywhere local. I pushed through the bathroom door and strolled through the house. Two people rushed past me up the stairs avoiding eye contact. Even though that guy was a dick, I still feel bad for the ones left behind to find them. I slammed the front door and made my way to my car.
“Who are you?”
I looked over to see a man standing in the driveway, “no one,” I said, getting in my car and closing the door. I've found it's not worth indulging in the ones that notice you.
“Hey,” he shouted, racing to stop me. I took a moment to stare at him. He won’t remember a thing about me—a hundred freaking years of this if I could only have that luxury. I pushed the gas pedal hard, hearing the roar of the engine. I allow myself to daydream briefly about crashing right into the tree ahead. I touched the paper in my pocket with the address confirming I still had it, and sped down the road.
I'd wake up in sheets that were woven in 14K gold, to a three course breakfast and speaking a language that I only dreamed of. I'd request the jet that I'd reserved the night before and head off to my morning coffee in Colombia. I'm hoping I was privvy to the no limit thing-or this wake up would be dreadful. Wink :)
I want to go to work. I really do. I know that’s what she wants and it’s what I want. In my gut, I know I want that too. I really do. I want that. I can make it work. I can. I know I can. I can make that work. I want to make it work. I want to make it work because I know I can. I love her so much. I love everything about her. She talks to me like no one else does. I really love her. I like her. I love her. A Lot. God, I love her. I feel like everything smells like her. Sometimes when I look at things, I think about her. Is that weird? I don’t think it is. I mean, it’s meant to be. I exhaust myself sometimes, but I love her so much. I must protect her. I’ll follow her, make sure she’s okay. I don’t want anything bad to happen to her. She’s perfect. The way the wind blows that one strand of hair she has that lays so perfectly from her right shoulder is unreal. I breathe her. She is me. I’ll do anything to keep her safe.
The house was quiet. A few more hours and the kids would be up. I pushed myself further into the green velvet couch my husband and I picked together. It was comfortable. Fluffy, yet stiff. The fabric was exhilarating against my fingers. We bought this couch three years after trying to conceive with no luck. We hadn't given up, but when the couch arrived we were definitely more consumed with it. We'd had sex on it for five nights in a row. A few weeks later, the nausea I had was so intense I decided to take a pregnancy test. Positive. The only thing that helped my nausea was peppermint tea. My life was filled with peppermint tea.
The fireplace flickered in my eyes and I pushed my back deeper into the couch. We had three children now. Only God knows why kids two and three came so quickly. My husband and I agreed that was it. Three and done. Five of us on this planet was enough. My chest rattle and an unintentional breath escaped me as I took a big swig of warm peppermint tea.
My wife and two children stared silently at the television, submerged in the latest news story splayed across the screen. The volume had increased at least three or four times since the story began. I was amazed at their laser focus and amusement with the topic.
Hello, folks. If you’re just tuning in with us, the police have found the body of a long-time drug lord and known tormentor, Marco Nicks.
“Can you believe it?” She shouted back to us wide-eyed with a mouth full. My wife remained silent, aggressively chewing her overcooked sirloin steak. I appreciated that she cooked for us every night. It’s just that the food wasn’t good. Since she’d seemed so lost in the moment, I took the lead and shrugged at our daughter’s comment.
The city has begun to shiver with the number of bodies that continue to pile up with no known leads.
Rolling my eyes at the comment, I wondered what the big deal was. All the bodies were of terrible people entangled in corruption, murder, and drugs. If anything, the city should be pleased. A small sigh seeped through my lips as I jammed more overly salted mashed potatoes into my mouth. Any fast-food restaurant would’ve been a better choice than this. “You like it?” I looked up to see m wife’s desperation. “Delicious,” I said, “may be the best meal yet.” I was, of course, lying, but I’ve gotten very good at it. The girls turned away from the television and agreed with me. I knew they were also excellent liars. They took after me.
The news switched to pictures of local pets, and the girls collected our dinner plates. The wafting smell of dawn dish soap started to seep into the living room. “Remember, I need to go in tonight for a supply order,” I said, nudging my wife as I stood. “I remember,” she said with a confident smile, “you leaving soon?”
I glanced at my watch, noticing a tiny red smear on the left side of the face. Without acknowledging it, I wiped it hard against my leg. I’d planned to leave two hours later but seeing red inspired me to head out immediately. My body grew angst. ’You know,” I said, “I’d better head out now. Then maybe I can get back sooner.”
“Good plan,” she said, kissing my cheek, “see you in the morning, my love.” I left her side and headed to the kitchen, hugging the girls goodbye.
The car rumbled as the engine started, igniting a rushing burn through my core. I knew that soon the police would find another trash body cast into the street by my hands, and we’d watch another lovely news story tomorrow night. Suppose they see it that fast. They’ve gotten slower, or perhaps I’ve gotten better. One day I’d tell my ladies the truth, but I’ll keep my little secret to myself for now. My grin widened as I exited the driveway.
The color purple is really something unique. It beamed in this new painting. I tilted it slightly, straightening it on the wall. I'd wanted this particular one for months. I couldn't believe he'd actually gotten for me. Leaning into the canvas, I huffed a deep breath in. The wafting smell of acrylic was still there. Boy, it was a beauty. Dark lines and fine details. It had to be my favorite piece. I continued to stare at it in awe.
The door rattled, interrupting my moment. Rolling my eyes into the back of my head and sighing loudly, I headed to the tiny peephole to see who dared to interrupt me. To my surprise, a young woman around my age stood there in a frustrated stance holding her hands on her hips. I paused to take her in. Blonde barrel curls fell below her shoulders, and her jeans sat high on her hips, synching her waist. I narrowed my eyes. Who was she? She lifted her hand and pounded on the door again, startling me. Intrigued, I cracked the door, "Can I help you?" I said sternly.
Without notice, she heaved the door into me, "Are you, Nikki?" She screamed, storming past me, but stopping in front of the painting.
"What?" I said, confused.
She laughed, "You know, that was supposed to be mine!" I looked to see her pointing at my new gift, my painting. Stunned, I had no words. I was unsure of what to do, hoping she'd just leave. She rushed towards me, backing me into the wall.
My head ached, and I was slightly dizzy as I came to. She was gone, along with my painting. The door was also still wide open. Slowly, I gathered my bearings and caught my reflection in the mirror above my sofa table. My right eye and cheek glistened a bright red, turning the whole side of my face deep purple. I winced, rubbing the wound. The color purple is really something unique.
The blooming scientist.
I'd been waiting for months, and it had finally arrived. My mother called me to the kitchen, pointing out the dust-covered window. Unable to control myself, I sprinted to it. I peeked back at the window, noticing she was more annoyed than ever with my excitement. She was so simple-minded at times.
I couldn't believe it had arrived. I'd saved every penny for it. My mind rumbled at sight. It shined bright, clean, and new. A hot, crispy metal stench singed the hairs in my nose as I pushed against it breathing in. A small sigh escaped my chest as I leaned in tighter, wrapping my arms around the belly of my brand-new galvanized tub.
Irritated that one dared to interrupt my moment, "none of your business," I shouted, not turning around.
"Mom said you have to share."
Rolling my eyes in total disgust, I yanked my body away from the base and stared at him. Then paused. He wasn't too tall yet. He'd fit quite well in the tub. He blinked back at me like an imbecile. His blonde hair caused slight nausea in my gut. My brown hair was considered "distasteful" to our mother, whatever that meant.
"Fine," I said, grabbing his arm and yanking, "get in."
"In there?" He whispered, pulling back.
My body burned as I squeezed my fists, but I was committed to this plan now and needed to stay calm. I wanted him to do as I wished. "Yes," I squeezed through my tightly gripped teeth, "in there," I said, loosening my grip.
I watched as he climbed over the side and plopped square in the middle. I often wonder if my mother cheated. "Stay there," I said, holding up both hands as I backed away. He nodded in agreeance, and I moved quickly, worried he'd change his mind. My legs wobbled, unwilling to proceed with the surge of passion.
This might work. Oh, boy, what if it did? I could be famous or, even better, rich at fifteen. I was at the back of the house, grabbing the first bag. It was unbearably heavy, but it wouldn't stop me. Heaving it over my shoulder, I went as quickly as I could. Bag one. Bag two. Bag three. All slammed as delicate as I could against the tub.
"What are those?"
I could feel my body burn as I started to twitch, "just wait and see, will you," I said sternly.
"I'm getting out. Mom!" He shouted.
"No, no, no, I was kidding. Come on. You're my science guy, right?" I nodded at him, "helping with my projects, right?"
He smiled widely, nodding back in agreement. Idiot. I sliced the first bag open with the pocket knife from my belt. There's something whimsical about a bag of sand. It's unexplainable. The puff of powder, the huff of dust, and the glimpse of sparkle make me stiff. I yank the bag from the base and begin dumping it in the tub, circling as it spills.
"Cool," he beamed at me as it began to cover his tiny legs. Ignoring him, I continued emptying bag two and bag three. Bag three was unique. It had the new mix I'd found along the road: a little dirt, some fine grey pebbles, and more sand.
I stood back, placing my hands at my waist. This was going to be good. An everlasting mud. He smiled at me. He was now covered up to his waist, hands-free mucking around in the gravel. "Enough," I shouted, "you're moving it around too much. Let it settle."
He straightened, losing his smile. "Patience," I yelled loudly as a magician would, imagining an audience, but it was only him staring blankly back, confused. I sighed. "Water," I said, appalled, "just don't move, okay?" He nodded eagerly.
I felt giddy again when I grabbed the bucket close by and jogged to the small stream behind our house. Oh, boy, what if it works? One bucket, two, and three buckets, four, five, six, seven, and eight. I wiped the sweat from my forehead. "It feels heavy," he said. I could barely contain the forced smile I had been stretching on my face to keep him entertained. "That's the point," I said, reaching for the large stick I had from another project nearby, beginning to stir. I watched as the muck got darker and darker as it combined.
"This is boring. I'm ready to get out."
"No," I shouted, holding up my hand. "Come on, buddy," I said calmly, "just a few more minutes, then I'll do whatever you want. Okay?"
I nodded. Moron. A breath escaped me. It was happening. The dark was beginning to change, becoming lighter and more complex.
"Hey, I can't swing my feet anymore in here. I want to get out."
I didn't answer. I didn't care. It was working. We could get him out later. He'll live. It was hardening. It was permanent. I think. I pumped a fist into the air. "Woohoo," I shouted.
"Moommmmmm," he let out a shrill. I shook my head. This kid has no patience. I thought as I crossed my arms.
Pain suddenly surged through my shoulder. I immediately knew it was my mother's razor-sharp fingernails digging into my bone. I've never understood how she managed to keep them so pointed.
"What have you done?" She seethed.