Archive for October, 2010
Celeste pushed her silver Mercedes through the fog, her lights baring only a light spray of mist and a few feet of red clay road.
They had tried everything, she and William, and now the desperation had pushed her over the edge…all the way to Blunt County, Georgia. Blunt was a speck of a town at the end of a thin dirt road with four sheriff cars, two funeral homes and one dark secret.
Checking her iPhone GPS once more, Celeste mashed the gas pedal up a hill and pulled into Hammish Park. The fog thinned. The sun was retiring. The pine needles on the trees surrounding the lake were on fire with the sunset. Celeste stepped one black heel on the gravel lot and then the other, shut the door and walked to the lake. Water soothed her. She had always preferred the surreal effect of the sky’s reflection in water over the stark real thing.
Suddenly a large black shadow swept over the lake, startling her. She reached for the gold and diamond cross tucked in the soft indent at her throat. Celeste glanced up quickly. Peach hues of emptiness and silence greeted her. Confused, she moved her gaze back to the lake. The shadow swept by again, a black form with a wing span as large as a bus. She fell back as she once again quickly looked up. Nothing. Scrambling to get back to her feet, she couldn’t help but look forward. Now hoards of shadows moved on silent wings, riding on the surface of the lake, circling, crossing paths. Still nothing above to cause such a display.
Celeste threw the car in reverse, kicking up gravel as she backed up and tried to breathe through the panic. There was no way she was waiting for her contact there.
A mile down the road, she hit the town. Charming white houses with peeling paint and sagging porches were planted in neat rows. She parked under a tree and killed the engine. She could find the house herself. As she searched the net, the sidewalks began to come alive. Tiny witches, cats, superheroes, fairies, big and little kids began to appear from the fog with glow stick necklaces and loud, palpable excitement.
She couldn’t help but smile.
Her resolve stiffened and after another few minutes of searching, she found the story and address she needed. Only two blocks away. She decided to walk, the fog was too thick and she didn’t want to take the chance of running over any kids.
By the time she reached 617 Banyan Drive, her feet ached and her heart beat in her ears. She knocked with a shaking fist, stood up straight and stepped back.
Footsteps. A sliver of yellow light escaping as the door creaked open. A hand pushed a basket of candy through the opening.
“Take just one, please.”
“Oh.” Celeste leaned to peer inside. “I’m not trick or treating. I,” she paused as the door opened a bit more and pale eyes peered at her from beneath cottony gray hair. “I came for your help.”
“I see,” the words delivered on a sigh. “Come in, then.”
The sound of distant laughing and taunting ceased as Celeste stepped inside and shut the door.
“Have a seat in the living room. Chester is harmless.” Celeste glanced around the quiet, one room home, lit only by candles flickering on every surface. Didn’t the woman need to know anything about her? “Well, go on. I’ve got some baking to do.”
Shrugging, Celeste removed her heels and left them by the door. She suddenly felt overdressed.
She swept her hands under her gray pencil skirt as she took a seat next to an elderly gentleman reading the paper on the sofa.
He smelled musty and looked at her with large, watery brown eyes. Was that pity she saw?
“Lovely of your wife to help people the way she does.” Her voice sounded too shrill. She cleared her throat. “It’s an amazing gift.” Was she trying to convince herself it was real and not just tabloid fodder?
The doorbell rang and Celeste startled, then laughed at herself. “Trick or treaters. How fun.”
Was that a black shadow sliding across the wall? She blinked hard but that only made it slip into the kitchen. She rubbed her eyes hard. The stress was really getting to her.
* * * *
An hour later, her eyes flew open and she sat up, unable to remember where she was.
“Oh!” She cried, embarrassed as the woman sat patiently in a rocking chair across from her, holding something in her lap. “I fell asleep? I’m so sorry. How rude of me.” She stood and then sat back down, feeling the room spin. “I don’t feel very good, actually.”
“You need to eat something.” The woman pulled a red cotton scarf from the plate in her hand and Celeste stared at the tiny golden pastry.
“It smells delicious.” Indeed it did. Scents of honey, cinnamon, nutmeg. “What is it?”
“Soul cake.” She stood slowly, balancing the plate carefully as she closed the gap and held it in front of Celeste like an offering. Celeste picked it up carefully with a thumb and forefinger and placed it in her palm. It was still so warm. “It is very important you don’t chew it.”
“Don’t chew it?” Celeste felt it swell in the palm of her hand, like a rising breath. “What’s inside?”
“Put it on your tongue and let it melt. Keep your mouth closed.”
Celeste did as she was told. The outer pastry melted like sugar. She was expecting something like pudding or maybe lemon filling, but there was…just heat. Fire that moved down her throat, her stomach, filled her lungs…her womb expanded, fluttered, pulsated with new and unfamiliar warmth.
“I can…feel something,” she whispered, laying her palm against the flatness of her belly. She rose, feeling stronger and full of energy. “It worked? Just like that? I don’t know how to thank you.” She reached up and felt the gold and diamond cross. She slipped it from her neck and tried to give it to the woman.
The woman’s eyes darkened, swirled like oily smoke as she grinned.
“No, you keep it, my dear.” Chester chuckled, opening the door to reveal a toddler in a red devil costume holding out his candy bag. “You’re going to need it.”
Death is inescapable. Or so Bruin Bailey thought.
Heavy breathing, the scent of wild mushrooms, being dragged over roots.
Being buried alive.
These things he remembers.
Or was he alive?
You’d think it was so easy to tell, right? You’re either breathing or you’re not breathing. But, no.
When you hear things like “Shit, you killed him” while someone is stuffing you in a cold dirt hole and you can’t move or scream, but you can hear and feel, well, then the line is a bit blurred.
So, here’s what happened. We smoked a little weed, we rolled a few houses. It was Halloween. We were high off the prospect of being seniors, graduation and all the freedom that comes from not needing to get up at six in the morning and spend every day in the same smelly rooms with worn out teachers that forgot how to smile.
Freedom. In a few months it would be ours.
Oh, another important point. Anise Foster was a witch.
What? I’m not calling names. She was proud of it.
When we’d get bored at lunch, we’d invite her over and pretend to be interested in all the shit she’d spout off about the cycles of the seasons and oh, yeah, especially around Halloween how she’d get all excited about the “veil” between the physical and spiritual world being thin so you could communicate with the dead. She even told us her mother left a place at the table for her dead dad. Ashley snickered too loud at that and Anise got up and left.
I saw her later at the lockers and felt bad. She looked sad.
“Hey,” I said. “You believe all that stuff that you told us, or is that just your mom’s religion?”
She looked at me then. Really looked at me for the first time and I realized how amazing her eyes were. Perfect gray circles in milky skin. I don’t think anyone has ever really looked at me before her because it was so intense I had to look away.
“This is the time things go beneath the ground. They wait to be resurrected. Winter is about death, about dying. It is not about religion.”
“Okay, all right,” I tried to be cool, even though her words had sent a chill from the tip of my tail bone to my hairline. It didn’t help when she added the words, “I’m sorry, Bruin.”
So, getting back to Halloween. Graveyards are seriously not the place to get high on Halloween and try to contact the dead because “the veil is thin”.
The ground was hard, freezing. I was feeling too good to care as I stared up at a fat, glowing moon with one star to keep it company. Lots of clouds around the sky bowl. Noises that I didn’t even care to try and figure out.
The bunch of morons that I hung out with chanting and calling out things like, “Hey, we want to see a ghost tonight.”
Someone pulled out a knife and drew a pentagram on a tree. This is where things went totally wrong.
Not because a demon showed up or anything. Just because I got pissed. Irrationally, drug induced kind of pissed. What did the tree ever do to Evan Martinez?
“Dude, you can’t just cut up a tree. What’s wrong with you? It’s alive.” Upon reflection, I realize this was Anise Foster’s influence on me.
His girlfriend called me some names and everyone laughed.
“You’re an idiot,” were my last words before a wicked, sharp, hot sensation filled my stomach.
Fast forward to: “Dude, you killed him.”
Lots of panic. The morons dragging my body through the woods to softer ground. The moon really was fat.
Dirt flew at me from all directions. It covered me slowly at first, building up until the organic smell became smothering. Until darkness blocked out the moonlight and I realized I wasn’t breathing. But I was something because I could still think.
I heard her words again, “Winter is about death. This is the time things go below ground and wait to be resurrected.” I silently wished she would put a place at her table for me.
And I knew that come spring, I would push up through the dirt like some giant freak crocus and Evan Martinez was going to pay.
What if you don’t stop? What if you just keep going? Crash right in the back of that unsuspecting car?
This was the first incident, the first time Nona realized something else occupied her head. She broke free from the Voice at the last minute and slammed on the brakes, sending out a loud screech and cloud of road dust. Wide eyed fear greeted her from the rear view mirror of her intended victim. Her body trembled. The Voice chuckled softly.
Nona went home and stared at herself in the mirror. Tiny flecks of gold muddled the grey. She pressed in closer to the mirror. The flecks turned red and sparked. Nona jumped back and ran out of the bathroom.
The second time happened in her best friend’s kitchen. Nona stood, pouring olive oil over steaming noodles in the sink. Linda was stirring her famous sauce.
Nona suddenly wheeled around and said, “What do you mean?”
“Didn’t say anything,” Linda answered, her lips just leaving a wooden spoon full of sauce.
Nona stared into that steaming bowl, briefly unhinged, watching a smile materialize in the steam as it rose, the moist warmth touching her face. The large butcher knife on Linda’s cutting board suddenly took on an otherworldly glow, shimmering like moonlight reflected on a lake. Nona blinked, reached out and rested a finger on the blade. Wrapped a palm around the handle.
The Voice whispered one word, ‘flesh’, and in that instant she needed to know what it would feel like to sink the blade deep into flesh. Nona glanced at Linda’s back, partially exposed by her tank top and the hunger grew. If only Linda knew the battle, the violent war Nona raged with the Voice in those moments, Linda would’ve known real fear. Nona won by rushing out of the house, carrying the Voice far from her.
She went home, threw all her kitchen knifes in a shoebox and duct taped it shut.
The Voice began to taunt her with a sweet little sing-song of, “Where ever you go, there I am”. She tried meditation to calm her nerves. She was greeted there, in the solitude, by a humming darkness. It had no form, but it had a presence that was separate from her own mind.
Am I possessed?
You are shared.
What are you?
Sometimes paths cross accidently. Things get stuck.
Nona came out of meditation two hours later holding a paring knife and bleeding from a dozen wounds on her left arm. Meditation was out.
I’ve gone mad, Nona thought, like the dad in The Shining.
Halloween evening, dusk fell and the doorbell started ringing. She could see the little ones peeking in the window as she cowered in the dark, afraid of herself, afraid of what the Voice would try to make her do.
She couldn’t take it, finally screaming, “Why don’t you just get out of my head!”
And It obliged.
A soft swooshing noise tickled her right ear, then all hell broke loose in her house. Plants flew against the wall, the impact spraying dirt everywhere, kitchen chairs fell over, drawers spit out their contents, drapes ripped from the windows. She screamed and screamed until someone began pounding on the door. Shaking, she managed to stumble and get it opened.
“Are you alright, Ma’am?” The father of a tiny witch asked, trying to see behind Nona into the house. “We heard you screaming.”
“Oh, thank heavens,” As she was trying to figure out what kind of help to ask for… the police? An exorcist? The voice whispered in her ear. She could feel heat radiating behind her but didn’t dare turn around.
“Pretty little thing,” It said. Nona looked down at the blue-eyed, blond haired toddler with green face paint and a sagging black hat. “Mmm…bite sized human.”
Nona knew at that moment, the Voice was hers to bear. She couldn’t let it out in the world. She was its prisoner, but she was also its jailer.
“I’m sorry. I must have had my Halloween CD up too loud.” Nona said, her heart sinking. “Here you go. Happy Halloween.” She reached over and grabbed a handful of candy from the full bowl, putting on her best non-crazy woman smile.
“You stay safe tonight.”
The soft, throaty laugh of my new bride, the steady beat of a tropical October rain on our rented beach bungalow walls, the gurgling of champagne being poured in the candle-lit room…these are the things I heard before the noise in the closet.
A muffled thump, like a sack being dropped on the floor, startled us. Both of us held our breath. I could feel her heart flutter against my arm.
“Did you hear that?” Sarah whispered.
“Shh.” I strained to listen. The candle flickered wildly. A musky scent filled the room, like wet fur.
“What’s that smell?” I turned to her just as a flash of lighting illuminated the fear in her dark green eyes.
“Smells like an animal. Do you think the owner of this place has a cat or something?”
Bump. Thump. The noise taunted me.
She was now trembling. I had to act. There was definitely something moving in the closet.
“Where are you going?” She grabbed my arm as I carefully shifted the sheets off my legs. “Let’s just wait until morning to open it.” Her lip quivered, her eyes shone in the candlelight.
She made me want to be brave. Beauty does that. Probably some damn trick of evolution, keeping the child-bearing women out of danger and sending the replaceable males out to face the beast.
But, this was just a closet on a very populated island in a very populated strip of beach houses. No beasts here, right?
“It’s probably just the wind shifting the house. It’s blowing pretty good out there.”
A low growl and loud bang on the door answered me. I jumped back in bed and reached for the cell phone. The candle blew out and we both screamed.
“Sh, sh, it’s okay.” I pressed the buttons, hitting ‘back’ numerous times as my shaking hand refused to cooperate. The deep rumble of thunder and crack of lighting close by made Sarah jump and slide deeper under the sheets.
Relief at finally hearing the landlord’s voice quelled some of my fear, made it almost seem silly.
“Mr. Crawford? Hi, I don’t mean to bother you in the middle of the night, but we’re in Bungalow number six and heard a strange noise in the closet. We’re wondering if someone might have possibly left a cat here? Oh, okay. Yes, that’s probably it, thank you.” I hung up and relit the candle.”He says there are strays around and one could have gotten in. It’s happened before.”
“I did notice the cats hanging around when we first got here,” she said. “But still, in the closet?”
We both stared at the closet. I thought seriously about just leaving the thing in there until morning but what if it was hurt or hungry?
With a sigh, I slid my arm from Sarah’s death grip and picked up one of the shiny black rental shoes that came with the tux. Really, this was just to make me feel braver. I’ve had spiders laugh at me when I swatted them with a shoe, I knew it would be no match for a scared, trapped cat.
I grabbed the door knob and pressed an ear to the door.
I held my breath. Still nothing. Hm. Maybe I could just wait until morning. What would we do with a cat tonight anyway? Put it out in the rain? Better to just let it sleep in the dry closet.
“I think it’s settled in for the night, now,” I said, sliding back into bed.
“Oh, no,” Sarah said, climbing out of bed. “There’s no way I’m falling asleep without knowing what’s in that closet.”
* * * *
Harold Crawford let himself into Bungalow number six.
“Here kitty kitty,” he called, moving into the bedroom. The candle had burned itself out and he stared at the items strewn about the room; a wedding gown thrown over the back of one chair, a tux jacket hanging on another, shoes, open suitcases. He slowly moved to the closet, where a woman’s nightgown lay by the door. Shoving it aside with his foot, he carefully opened the closet door and peered in.
“Ah,” he chuckled, throwing it open wide. The morning light shone on two trembling black cats. The one with green eyes hissed and howled, pushing itself closer to the body of the other one.
“Well, that’s an awful noise, my pet.”
The cats pushed their way passed him and out the opened door.
Harold Crawford watched them go and then began to gather up the abandoned things in the room. “Well,” he sighed, lifting the wedding gown from the chair. “At least you will be keeping your vows. ‘Til death do you part.” This is the one thing he told himself to feel better.
Only four more couples and his debt would be paid.