She pauses, her back turned to me. Her shoulders are drooped more than usual, her frame wispy. She’s so light this time it looks as if a large gust of wind would knock her down.
She sighs and then turns around, leaning on the brick outside of the door. Her breathing is labored like she had just run from the house. She had only dropped off our little girl in her bed and used the restroom. She was winded walking from the bathroom to the front door. Now I’m really worried.
“Are you taking your medication?” Her features stay in that mask she wears when she can’t talk about her feelings, smooth, and lifeless. “Yes,” she answers, her tone taking on the same emotionless effect. A few seconds of silence pass before she makes eye contact with me. Her eyebrows raise as if to say, ‘anything else?’
Jenna is every bit as stunning as the day we had promised each other forever. Her smooth, creamy skin hasn’t changed and I’ve never seen her have a bad hair day. Her blonde hair has a slight wave to it and if you catch it in the sun it has bits of red. Strawberry blonde, I think I overheard one of her friends call it once. She’s always had one of those small frames, even after Karis was born. She just bounced back into her pre-maternity clothes no problem. Secretly, I think many ladies envy her for it.
Even now, with her face lacking emotion her beauty can’t be hidden. It’s always been a mystery to me, how she’s stayed looking youthful all these years. She’s pushing 40 and hasn’t aged a day since we met. I don’t mean that in an emotional sort of way that a husband sees a wife as beautiful at every age, I mean I’ve tried to find any sign of it and damned if I haven’t found any. I know that’s a thing men aren’t supposed to notice, or I guess be happy over─ but it’s just always struck me as odd. You know?
Well, I say wife. I’m still not used to this next part. She’s going to leave, head back home to her place near downtown. She got a job working at Baylor. Which was both good and bad. It meant long hours and being on-call at any time of the day. Why she chose to be a trauma surgeon, I’ll never know. The horrors she sees, I can only imagine.
The divorce finalized earlier this year. Ten years gone, I can’t believe it. It’s my worst nightmare.
Karis mostly stays with me. We decided given her mother’s hectic schedule, it would be best that she have a stable environment for home and school. It wasn’t traditional, but it worked. I can’t remember wanting to be anything other than a husband and a father. It is my life goal. I don’t really buy into that ‘ball and chain’ nonsense, never have. I’ve loved every step of the way.
Well, except this part.
Her face draws up into a tired smile, one of those forced ones she gives all of her patients when she has just pulled an eighteen-hour shift. It isn’t that she doesn’t mean them, it’s that her body starts to shut down most of the unnecessary functions. Such as excess of emotions. I’ve seen this woman shut down in mid-cry with razor-sharp focus and attentiveness that would rival any politician. It’s an amazing trait to have, I do envy her that.
Without realizing what I am doing, I place my hand on her shoulder. “Hey, you alright?” I feel her tense slightly, but she doesn’t move from my grip. I’m tempted to hold her, but I do the gentlemanly thing and back away, clearing my throat. Jenna had made it very clear that things were done, no sense in putting myself through all of this a second time. She relaxes and slowly bobs her head up and down. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just tired,” she pauses and then adds, “you know, with the new place and all. Moving and work has been draining.”
I don’t buy it. Not completely, but I know exhaustion when I see it. “Listen, Jen─ don’t drive. If you need me to get you an uber or drive you, let me. I don’t think you should be driving in that state.” She bristles, her chin raising a degree. A bit of her stubbornness flairs, and I’m reminded of the side of her that really turns me on. I know it’s not an appropriate thought, and I quickly flip the switch in my brain. Whoa, boy, shut it down. This venue is closed up for good, windows boarded.
She must sense my hesitation, or something in the way I look. “Who would watch Karis?” Her words are soft, inviting. It reminds me of simpler times. She’s looking up at me with those big doe eyes. I know she isn’t doing it on purpose, I know when she’s trying to seduce. This is different. Then, as quickly as it comes, she turns away and walks over to her small honda civic. I’ll never understand why she doesn’t buy something better, she’s owned that car forever. She easily makes enough to drive anything she wants. Yet, she sticks with this tiny, white car. My guess is she’s saving for an early retirement. Can’t say I blame her, my parents taught me well. I’d only need to put in another 7 to 10 years at most and I’d have enough to retire on. Even if I live to be 150. After that, well, I guess I’m fucked. But I’ll be old as hell and probably shitting myself, so who cares?
She leans on the door for a moment, her hair picked up by the breeze. “Tom, I just want you to know─” she trails off, her brows press together and she bites her lip. I want to be impatient with her, yell and scream and demand to know what’s going on. Problem is, I can’t anymore. I’m no longer entitled to an answer and it kills me inside. I’ve gone from anger to sorrow in seconds, depressing myself. What I want to say is, Spit it out, god damn it! Instead, I smile and say, “What is it, Hun?” Her eyes dart from the house to my face, no doubt looking back at Karis’s window.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers.
Then she’s gone, driving down the road and turning onto the main street. I stand there for a long time. Long after the dust has settled and my neighbors have turned out their lights. All I wanted was to be a husband, a father. Why is that so hard?
“When do I get to see mommy’s new place?” Karis asks. Her legs are dangling from the stool as she stuffs the waxy chocolate donuts into her mouth. I don’t know why those things taste so good to kids. It’s basically solidified fat and sugar. The film on your teeth is the worst. I don’t let her have them too often but today was the first day back to school and I wanted her to have something comforting.
Karis, much like myself at her age, is showing all the signs I did. She has bad anxiety. Yay genetics.
I can tell she’s already dreading school, her face falling as I usher her along to finish her breakfast. I can’t believe she starts 3rd grade this year. Seems like yesterday I was chasing a bouncing, squealing kiddo running in her diapers. I frown as I check my watch. Jenna was supposed to be here 20 minutes ago. Normally, Jen would have Karis giggling and forgetting about her first day jitters, excitedly telling her how much fun she’s going to have for the year. She was famously a few minutes late, but never this much. If she didn’t get here soon, I’d have to leave without her. This wasn’t like her at all. She always made time for Karis. Especially on the first day of school. It was a tradition for all of us to walk with Karis hand-in-hand to class and wish her a good day.
10 more minutes go by and I can’t wait much longer. I text her one last time, hoping that maybe she had slept in, or that she would respond with an immediate apology, explaining herself. Then a full 5 minutes go by, and then 7. This time, I really can’t wait anymore. For the first time ever, Jenna will miss Kara’s first day at school. I look over to Karis as she downs the last of her milk and smile, “You ready honey bunny?” She grins ear-to-ear at the nickname and nods her head.
I blow Karis a kiss from the hallway as she sits at her desk. She’s already chatting with a girl across from her and laughing. I recognize the girl from Karis’s 1st-grade class a few years back. Glad to see that Karis has already found a friend. Maybe it’s true what they say, kids are simple and they don’t think about things as much as we do. She seems to be adjusting just fine in her new desk, all smiles, and semi-toothless grins. I stare at her from the hall, she really is a spitting image of her mother. Except for her eyes. Her eyes are green like mine and she’s tall and lanky. Jenna and I would always joke about how Karis would be as tall as her in a few years. It wasn’t an exaggeration. Karis was easily going to reach six feet tall in her teens and she would be strong. Real strong. Every sport we’d put her in, she was number one on the team. I don’t mean to brag, but in this case, she actually is a hardworking kiddo.
Now if she would apply herself more to reading, we would be all set. I’ve never seen a kid that could melt to the floor the way she can when she has to sit at a table and focus on letters. $1500 dollars and a reading tutor took care of it this past summer, but damn if the girl wasn’t stubborn about it. Took that from her daddy too.
I’d almost forgotten about Jenna’s odd behavior as I walk out to my car. Then the rage hits me. How the hell does she promise to be here and never show? How could she do that to Karis? No call, not even a text. At this point, I’m not sure if I should be angry or worried. But in the end, the anger fizzles and worry creeps in. My mind switches back to her face last night and her words. I’m sorry. What was she apologizing about? Was it because she knew she wouldn’t be able to make it this morning? If so, why didn’t she just tell me? I pull my phone from my pocket. It vibrates and I get excited. Maybe this was her. I frown at the text message alerting me that my phone bill has gone through─ and nothing else. What the fuck is going on?
I can’t worry about it too much, so I head into work. I’m hopeful that in the next few hours she’ll call, or text before I really start to freak out.
It’s not too bad of a day and nearly 2:30 when I get the call.
“Mr. Holloway?” the woman croaks. It’s one of those smoker’s voices, the stereotypical kind that you hear in cartoons.
“Yes, speaking,” I respond.
“This is Leslie Smith from Hawthorn Elementary. I’m the school nurse calling about Karis.”
The blood drains from my face. “Is she OK?” I ask. I stride across my office and then shut the door. Best that no one hears something else to give the office gossip. She sighs on the other end, and then is silent for a moment. It’s as if she’s carefully weighing her words. “Karis is fine, no cuts or bruises.” More reluctance and then, “It’s more what happened that really concerns me” she says. “Ma’am?” I’m confused for a moment as to why I’m getting a phone call if Karis isn’t hurt. Then my chest tightens. “Did─ she harm someone else?” I silently hope this isn’t true, it’s the last thing I needed after this day. “Heavens no, that girl is as kind as they come. Never seen her get upset even when she ought to,” the nurse chuckles despite her earlier reservations. “Ms. Smith─” “Mrs. Smith,” she interrupts. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Smith─ if my daughter isn’t harmed and she hasn’t harmed anyone, then what is the nature of this call?” I’m beginning to lose my patience. She’s silent on the other end again, but I can hear her shifting the phone. “Look, maybe it isn’t my place, lord knows I’ve had my fair share of problems, but, Karis said some very strange things today. Is everything OK at home?” I tense up. So, she had been paying attention to what happened this morning. “Well, normally her mother and I walk her in on her first day and her mom never showed” I finish. I feel the heat rising in my cheeks as I finish the sentence, it’s awkward having to say it out loud. “Well, now, that’s exactly what I mean” she sounds genuinely confused. “I’m not following” I say, trying to get her to the point. “Mr. Holloway,” she clears her throat and shifts on the other line. There’s that odd crackling that comes with a landline, they must still be using one of the ancient ones with a cord that connects to the base. “Karis was sent to me today because she asked the teacher if she and mama could go to the restroom together.” I’m still confused and even more so now. “You mean Jenna came up there? What’s wrong with that?” Relief floods my system. So she had finally got up there and had sat in with Karis. The relief is quickly replaced with anger. Why hadn’t she made an attempt to text me or call me back? I had been worried sick.
The silence on the other end makes me rethink my assumption. Something is wrong. I don’t know how I know it, something in the shifting, in Mrs. Smith’s sighs and heavy breath on the other end. My mind swims with the possibilities, but in the end I just ask, “What is it?” The nurse finally speaks at my question, “Mrs. Holloway never came in to see Karis today. As a matter of fact, Karis has been very cross with the staff and all of the other children are, frankly, afraid to go near her. During recess she sat on a bench and talked to an invisible person next to her. The teacher, bless her soul, tried to give the girl the benefit of the doubt─ first day jitters, you know that sort of thing. But as the day has gone on, she still insists on it.” I sit quietly, soaking in what she has just told me. I know Karis might have been upset, but I didn’t realize she was this upset. I am going to have to have a chat with her, see what’s really going on. Finally, I say, “Mrs. Smith. I know if this divorce is hard on me, it’s got to be harder on an eight year old.” I slowly start warming to the thought.
This isn’t some abnormal thing, it’s probably fairly common with children of divorcees. I hate thinking of that word, I hate that it applies to me and I hate even more that it includes her. Another broken family, nothing new─ welcome to America. Suddenly my lunch turns sour in my stomach and I’m unsure if it will stay put. I put on my best reassuring voice, the kind I use with my own mother, “Let me have a chat with her tonight and see what’s really going on.” I hear Mrs. Smith shift again and then a sigh, “See that you do, Mr. Holloway. Dr. Norris thinks that transferring her to a different class would be helpful as well. Children can be quite judgmental, as I’m sure you know. It may be good for a fresh start.” I bristle but the anger gives way to weariness. She’s right, as much as I hate to admit it. It would probably help ease her into the school year. I nod before answering, “I think that would be for the best. You have my permission.” She’s smiling as she says the next part, I can hear it in her voice. It’s forced, but I know it’s out of sheer politeness, she wants me to feel at ease. “I think that’s wise of you, Mr. Holloway. We’ll need you to fill out a transfer file, but we can send it via email. Just be sure to sign it before tomorrow.” “Thank you,” I say, quick to be done with this conversation. “Of course,” she says, then adds “and it’s a real shame to hear about all of your struggles. I hope it gets better for the two of you.” I awkwardly mumble a thank you and then hang up.
Karis is all smiles as she rushes up to the car. The crossing guard calls out for her to slow down, but she’s already at the passenger door. I wave and mouth sorry to the portly, scowling woman. She nods curtly, red-faced and then turns back to her duties, guiding the others across. “Daddy!” she gushes as she hops in the front seat. Her bag gets tossed and she reaches for her seat belt. “Let’s go home, I want to play VR!” I laugh at her eagerness. I’m ready to celebrate too, another end to a long work day.
Less than ten minutes later, we’re home dropping our things by the front door. That’s future us’s problem. I adjust the visor and goggles to her small head and then step back, knowing that she’s about to tear up the room on Beat Saber. I shake my head as she starts her latest pop obsession, really getting into the dance. Girl’s got some moves, just like her mama. Then I think about that and frown. I silently send out a warning to any and all potential suitors with a death threat so vile Fidel Castro would cringe at its savagery. I used to feel that way about anyone that looked at Jenna when she rocked Dance Dance Revolution at the mall arcade.
After dinner, I tell Karis to go brush her teeth and change into her jammies. I’ve avoided it all day, but it’s time for the chat. I know it’s probably normal so I make a mental note to not be overly serious, but enough that I get my point across. No one ever tells you about this part of divorce─ the ugly parts where you have to accept and understand how your child processes the inevitable change.
“I’m ready for my story, daddy!” she calls from her room down the hall.
“Karis, stop it.” I snap. Her green eyes are brimming with tears as she shakes her head at me. “No. Mommy was there, in class with me. No one else saw her, but she was there.” I let out a long sigh and squeeze the bridge of my nose, closing my eyes. I thought for sure this would play out way easier in real life─ how naive of me. I really want to be an adult about it, but in the end, my tiredness wins. I try a different approach, a more human one, “honey, I know today was tough and we’re going to have a lot of those, but I need you to be honest with me right now. Was mommy really there today, or did you just pretend like she was there?” Her chin raises and she squares up to me, “I am not a liar-liar pants on fire, daddy.” She crosses her arms in a huff and turns toward the wall, her little jaw trembling but held firm. I have to stifle a laugh by moving my hand over my mouth. The only time she ever gets this worked up is when she believes in what she is saying.
This is her truth, and while I don’t believe that her mom was actually there, I know that Karis believes it. After a few moments, I speak carefully, “Sometimes, when we get upset we see things. Things that aren’t really there.” Her shoulders stiffen and she still won’t look at me, but I sense a hesitance. “Daddy, Mama was there.” Her words are so soft, they almost come out a whisper. “Why won’t you believe me? I saw her.” Little droplets spill down her face as she presses her eyes together. I wince as she starts ugly crying, the kind that sends her whole body into shakes, and snot dripping down her mouth and chin. “Shh, shh,” I say, running my fingers across her back. I stand briefly, grab the box of tissues from her desk and then offer them to her. She grabs a handful and blows noisily into them. “I swear,” she says between sniffles, “I’m not making it up. I don’t know why, but no one could see her but me.” The last sentence seems to calm her and she relaxes, finally able to get it all out.
Poor girl. I continue to massage her back as she lays down under the covers. I draw them up to her chin and then tuck in the sides cocooning her the way she likes it. I massage her back until her breathing comes out heavy. I stroke her hair, then bend down and kiss her forehead, “I love you, bunny.” I whisper. She still smells like she did as a baby, that faint hint of baby powder and lotions and some unknown floral scent that has stuck with her for years. It’s that scent of youth, indescribable yet everyone knows what you mean.
I’m in bed when I hear the sound. The t.v. is up loud, so I tap the mute button and listen. The only sound is the wind outside rustling the grass next to my window. There’s a few creaks and pops, the house bending in the unforgiving September winds. I exhale and press the button. I jump as the movie blares into my room and I quickly turn it down. Apparently, I’ve been listening to it much louder than I thought. The main character is jumping into oncoming traffic, guns and car horns blaring. Finally some action. I’m tensing and balling my hands into fists as the bad guys squeal next to Detective Peterson. You got this, I scream mentally. He makes a quick decision and then he’s down a dark alleyway, the bad guys zoom past, losing him. Yes, I think, pounding my hands on the comforter. The detective gets out of his car and makes a call to the local PD. He’s one of those traditional grizzled types weathered from a career of seeing too much of humanity’s bad side. He lights up, and exhales a large puff of smoke when I hear something again. It’s almost perfectly timed to the scraping noise the detective hears in the dark alley. This is no movie sound, it’s here─ in my home.
It sounds closer this time and I can make out new details. Before it sounded like tapping, or a crinkling bag. Sometimes Karis sneaks out of bed for a cookie or some chips. My room is located right across from the kitchen and living room. So I’ve almost always caught her. The back door is attached to the breakfast area, it’s a design for parents to be able and keep an eye on their children in the backyard while they cook. We haven’t gotten a puppy yet, but there is a dog door installed. Recently Karis has been asking for a dog and admittedly, I would welcome anything to keep me company. Especially tonight. I frown as I hear it again. It’s a wet noise, like dripping onto my tile floors. Annoyed, I pause the movie. The sound stops. I’m probably just tired, I reason. It’s the wind or maybe it’s starting to rain outside. A couple of beats pass and I’m starting to doubt myself again when there is suddenly a few more droplets, and then it’s pouring rain.
It’s nearly three in the morning when my phone goes off. I jump at the invasive jingle. Light spills into the room, bathing everything in a dull, green hue. I know it’s a text, I’ve disabled all of my email alerts and all the other crap alerts that come with apps these days. It was a text, or a voicemail. And since the ringtone never went off, I know it has to be the former. There’s only one person that would be texting me this late. A lump forms in my throat as I reach for the phone. It jingles a few more times and vibrates in my hand. What on earth? I wonder. I stare at the name on my phone, shaking as I swipe at the lock screen. It’s her. I stare up at the repeated message as it continues to fill the message screen, over and over:
“Daddy?” I let out a howl and the phone drops from my hands and onto the floor. It makes a loud clack and then slides to the wall under my window. Karis jumps and screams, scared and confused at my outburst. She pauses as I quiet and then bawls. I sigh in relief. “Karis, honey I’m sorry, you scared Daddy.” She continues to cry but walks toward my bed. “I’m scared,” she moans, “there was a monster in my room.” I pat the bad and wave her over. ” Now, baby, there’s no such thing as monsters.” She cries harder and wails, “There is so, and it was in my room.” she’s almost as hysterical as she was when I yelled. I look at the bright red lights on my alarm clock, 2:45 a.m. Best to just let her sleep in here or neither of us will get a wink. “Alright, alright” I say gruffly, “Come on up then.” She pulls herself onto the bed and dives beneath the covers. Karis’s tears dry up instantly in that annoying ability that all kids tend to have when they get their way. I shake my head as I get out of bed and scoop my phone up from the floor. The jingling has stopped, but the message has not changed─ just a few more of the same thing, I’m sorry.
I’m not sure how to respond. Is she sending this out of guilt? It was the same thing she had said last night before she left. Is she apologizing for missing Karis’s first day? That has to be it. Jenna probably just got off her shift and sent a message in a dead zone. Sometimes it takes a while for a message to send so it stores it until you hit an area with signal. It probably just sent a bunch after an attempt to send it the first time it didn’t go through. My gut reaction is to attack her, ask her what she was thinking, not even bothering to send me a text, or at least call. Even if she had to work overtime, she could have let me know─ something.
I take a few breaths, steadying myself. No, maybe something happened. Jenna isn’t the sort to make up excuses, that is one thing I know for sure. Finally, I send: is everything OK? I expect the response to come later, but one comes immediately: come find me. I stare at the message for a while. Is she standing outside of the house? I sneak out of bed and look down at Karis. She’s fast asleep, her head tilted back and mouth hanging open. I’m not sure what is going on, but I know it has to be serious since Jen is at my house at three in the morning. Not that her being awake at that hour is odd, just that she is here. She normally waits until at least six to call or message. I slip out of my room and turn toward the front door. I grip my sides as I walk across the cool tiles. The rain really dropped the temperature outside.
My teeth are chattering as I pull on the front door. My feet hit the cold porch and I’m tempted to go back inside. It’s absolutely freezing. When did it get this cold? I walk down the covered path and turn to the driveway. Her car isn’t here. I look up and down the street to see if maybe she parked further down. The only thing visible on the street is the streetlight three houses down. The wind picks up and I shiver, running my hands up and down my arms. My body is shaking uncontrollably. I’m not sure if it’s from the cold, or the sudden urge to run back inside and lock the door. My phone goes off again in my pocket, it sounds small and thin in the approaching storm.
Confused, I pull it from my pocket.
Come find me
Come find me
Come find me
Come find me
Come find me
Come find me
Come find me
Come find me
Come find me
A scream fills the house. The blood drains from my face as I spin on my heels and charge through the front door. It’s Karis, I know that scream anywhere. It’s the same one she does when she falls or hurts herself. I’m nearly to my room when the shadows bend toward the back window in the living room. They jerk, twist upward and tower over me. I stare at the dark swirl in awe. Not shadows, I realize. It’s more of an ooze. A moment of insanity takes hold of me and I reach out, extending my fingers. I should run, I should scream─ but what good would that do? If I am going to die to it, I want to know if it’s tangible. Perhaps this is a dream, I convince myself, some vision my brain has concocted from the film earlier. I frown. No, that can’t be right because there was nothing like it. Only people. This isn’t a person.
I take one step. Then, another. It’s staring at me. I say stare not because it has eyes, but because I can feel it. I know it’s looking at me. It’s crazy, I realize, but it’s the only way I can describe what I’m sensing. I’m five feet from it, maybe less and it’s taller than I realized. It’s nearly to my ceiling. I stop as a streak of white light screams across it and branches in several directions. It almost reminds me of…“Lightning” I murmur out loud. It lurches away from me, diving toward the back door. My voice must have startled it. I hear the dog door crash open and the thing pushes its way through. It makes the same sound that a bathtub does when the last of the water drains out. Almost a suction noise.
I want to move, but I can’t. I’m shaking all over. I want to say that I am completely in control and I have convinced myself that I’m simply tired. That the noises are the rain outside and what I just saw is the result of stress and sleep deprivation. Deep down, I know this is a lie. A smaller scream comes from my room, more of a scared whimper. Karis. My feet finally cooperate and I’m in my room. Karis is pressed against the headboard, the covers drawn all the way up to her chin. Her eyes are bulging, stuck wide open. I flick on the light and scan the room. Whatever that…thing was has left but it’s not going to stop me from searching the entire room. Now gaining some courage, I drop to my belly and scan under the bed.
If there was something here before, it is gone now. I know it to be true. Whatever it was left earlier through the back door. I stand and look down at Karis, my voice comes out heavy, tired, “was that the one?” She blinks at me a few times, her eyebrows pressed together in confusion. “What do you mean, daddy?” she whispers. “Was that the monster in your room?” A heavy silence fills the room and Karis’s lips quiver. Her teeth start to chatter. Suddenly, I don’t want to know the answer. I just want to lie in bed and close my eyes. I want to dream of simpler times when it was Jenna, Karis, and me against the world. I want to forget that any of this has happened. I glance at my phone and check my messages again. I frown at the phone, close my messages and then re-open them. I try it once again, and then a third time before finally closing them for good.
The messages from when I was outside are gone. All of them are except for a single: I’m sorry.
Maybe it’s best if we just call it a night. We were both upset, the storm caused the sounds, I reason. Tricks from the lightning outside had created a shadow. Yes, that must have been it. I reach over and switch on the lamp. Then I walk to the other side of the room and turn off the overhead light. Karis hasn’t answered, but she is watching my every move. I curl up next to her and pull her into my arms. She rests her head between my chest and shoulder. I can tell the exact moment that she falls asleep. Karis’s breathing deepens and her body goes limp.
I stare up at the ceiling hoping, praying that all of this is a nightmare. I’m frightened to sleep, but it finds me anyway. The last of my thoughts drift to Jenna’s warm eyes and kind smile.
Part II coming soon. xoxo
I watch from the window as the tall, dark-haired woman walks to her car. She’s dressed smartly for the summer in a cool white dress and matching shoes. Her coral colored toes peek playfully from the crisp, white heels. Coral nail polish is mama’s favorite too. I have a sneaking suspicion that there exists a secret witch’s coven dedicated to destroying children’s lives, all of them standing in neat little rows with coral painted feet. I stick my tongue out and make faces at the woman behind her back. Ms. Cathy’s neat little brown bun, like the last of my hope, disappears into the green ford explorer. The wheels crunching over the gravel sounds like rain beating across our thin roof. This time she stayed less than ten minutes. She spoke in that annoying tone that adults do when they think you are pulling one over on them. Most of the women that came out would simply say ‘mind your mother now and be a good girl’. They have never witnessed mama’s wrath or that look in her eye. The look that could melt all of Antarctica with a single glance.
“Katherine-Anne- Thomas you get out here right now.”
I sulk at Mama’s tone, she always sounds like she is screaming at me to come inside. No matter how far I stand from her. I take my time, dragging my fingers along the familiar dips and bumps on the wall. I pause at the entrance to the living room and then drop down to my knees and peer around the TV stand. Her blonde mane is perfectly groomed, each strand of hair curls to frame her heart-shaped face. Her bangs had been feathered just right to hover over magazine quality blue eyes. The rich seductive curve of her lips is outlined in a fiery red and she is clothed in a silky string top the same color over black slacks. If it is one thing mama is good at, it is finding stylish clothes on a budget. She once found a pair of real leather boots miss-marked at twenty-nine dollars. Not only did she get the boots at a reduced price but also a complementary matching purse and wallet. Mama always wins.
I cringe at the giggles and coos of my half-brother as he stands to point in his bouncy chair from the kitchen doorway. I hadn’t noticed him since he is on the left and mama is on the couch to the right. “Shi-Shi” Logan squeals in full force. His sing-song voice bounds from wall to wall sealing my fate with the happy jingle, tingle of the bells on either side of him.
“Katherine, now.” More than her usual yelling spree, it was the calm, collected voice she sometimes uses that scares me the most. And today is one of those days. I gulp and rise up on shaky knees. My teeth, no matter how hard I press them down, will not stop chattering. I round the corner I stare up at the fierce, flush face of my mother. I bring my gaze to the floor a millisecond too late and her hand clamps over my cheeks.
“Don’t you look at me that way, you know exactly what you did,” she spits, tightening her grip.
I haven’t done anything, it was more than likely our neighbors that called, but there is no
convincing her of that. Besides, apologizing only ignited her anger further. I wisely remained
silent and locked my gaze on the pearly glow of her coral nail polish. Each toe was dug firm into
the ground, straining to break free of their wooden captor. I became mesmerized by the gleam,
the unending sea of peachy-red and I tried to imagine what the color would feel like wrapped
around my arms. Maybe it would comfort and warm me, sprinkle cinnamon and peach kisses
across my face like grandma. Grandma’s kisses were always the best, proud and solidly planted
on my forehead. But grandma was dead, long dead from cancer that had spread throughout her
chest and stomach. There was no sense in wishing for her now. Logan’s preoccupied giggles
peppered through seconds before I felt the repeated pounding of numbing blows. He must have
lost interest and began playing with his toys.
My body lay as still as a statue, not moving until I heard her slowly pad toward the baby.
Cracking my eyes a tiny slit, I watched as she bent down and picked Logan up from his bouncy
swing. His eyes scanned the room and then looked down at me. He made an uncertain gurgle,
patting mama’s face and pointing to me. Laughing she nuzzled him to her face and walked into
the kitchen. I heard him say shi-shi as mama gently lowered him into his high chair.
“Now, now” I heard mama coo, “Shi-shi is taking a nap and it’s time for your lunch. How
about sweet peas for my sweetie?”
I counted the grooves in the wood. I looked as
far away as my eyes could without opening further. This was a way for me to gauge time, once I
was able to count them ten times it was okay to get up and go to my room. On the tenth pass, I
heard the key enter the front door and quickly stood up, dusting my arms and legs. Mechanically,
I walked to the front door and smiled as my stepfather came in. He had dark rings under his
chocolate colored eyes and his normal neat crop of black hair was tousled and unkempt. He
smelled of sweat and metal, no doubt from his long night shift. I knew it was almost time for his nap before he had to turn around and go to school.
My stepdad is a good guy; he never touches me or beats me in any way. That makes him
pretty decent in my book. I know that he knows about mom’s beatings but he cleverly avoids the
topic. Mom once confronted him and asked him to use the belt on me, but he said it wasn’t his
place and she snatched the belt away tearing it across my legs and back.
“James,” Mama says, her cheeks glowing like the color of her toes. His deep laugh
rumbles through his chest as mama hugs him tight.
I slowly inch toward the hallway as they talk about each other’s day. I am almost to my sanctuary when Mama calls from the kitchen. She must have finished lunch because when I return to the living room my stepdad is flicking through channels on the TV and eating a sandwich. My stomach grumbles in protest as I step into the kitchen. I look down at the off-white tile and marveled again at the
perfection of Mama’s handy work. The toes seem to be getting brighter as the day passed, shining
like the surface of the sun in the afternoon light. I silently wonder if I hack them
into tiny pieces what I would find. I began to seriously believe it
was her natural toenail color. Grabbing a patch of my hair she twists until I am down on one
knee whimpering. I hate giving in, hate it so much I bite down on my tongue and fight not to
scream. I stare blankly at Mama’s blouse, careful to not cry or show anger.
“You listen well you little brat. I want you to do the dishes” she yanks harder until
I am sure my whole left side of hair would rip off. “Logan’s father and I are going to sleep, understand?” I nod my head, gritting my teeth through the white-hot pokers in my skull.
“Your brother is also laying down, so I expect not so much as a clang from this kitchen.
Are we clear?” She gives my hair one final tug and throws me back into the stove. I drop to a fetal position on the floor and stare forward. She slowly walks toward me, each reddish-pink nail on her pristine feet slowly coming into focus. I can feel her staring down at me, watching every microexpression on my face. Finally, there is a shift in the air and then she is gone. Just to be safe, I slowly count to ten before getting up. I pace back and forth, imagining that each step creates a tiny groove in the tile. That would get her, if I just dent the floor enough she would trip and maybe put a chip in her flawless
toes. I pause as something occurs to me, why haven’t I thought of it before? The color, the c-
o-l- o-r. I drew it out in my mind, each syllable burning worse than the last. I have to rid her of
the nail color. It’s probably filtered into her bloodstream, polluting her mind with its filthy lies about me. A bad, bad girl− it would say. Looks too much like her deadbeat dad, it would snicker in its low
raspy taunt. No, not the sweet warmth of cinnamon and peach, it has tricked me all along. It has to be fooling Mama too.
Tears wet my face for the first time in two years as I pre-rinse each pan, bowl, and plate,
placing them into the dishwasher. It is our newest appliance, one that has eaten up most of my
Stepdad’s savings. I lean over to place the final two bowls in the washer when one
slips from my grasp. I stare in horror as it shatters into a thousand porcelain pieces, dusting the
floor like newly fallen snow. I freeze, my hands clamping over my mouth. I draw a shaky breath, my eyes glued to the doorway. The mountainous roar that follows confirms my worst fear. There is a flurry of movement, all yellow, red and black. Cool, clammy hands wrap around my neck and squeeze. “You-did- that-on- purpose, you little bitch.” I try in vain to speak to her. I try to tell Mama that it was the nails, the vile color she painted on them from the little glass tube was controlling her mind. Instead, the only thing I manage is a puff of air and a squeak as I slowly lose feeling in my legs. I claw at her vice-like grip sinking to the floor. My eyes lock with her tempests of blue. But somehow they look purple now, with ribbons of red snaking through. The coral has won, they have tinged her eyes. I must look like a stranger in our home and she is trying to protect all of us.
Maybe I am in my room, playing with the Barbie she gave me for my fifth birthday. It is probably just a dream and I will wake any moment to my other life. My real life. My lungs are about to burst, I can feel the coral sinking into them through my windpipe from Mama’s fingertips. My vision fades as I hear a soft voice calling to me in the distance. I smile at the calm, beautiful woman that reaches out to me. There she is, my real mother. I can see her in our backyard, looking at me with a profound sense of love. Tears spill down my cheeks as I call to her. From the distance, I hear my stepfather yell. A smile forms on my lips, my vision darkening but still present enough to make out what is in front of me.
I have finally done it; put a chip in the perfect peachy color. Just beneath Mama’s feet a rich, vivid red spills onto the floor. I grin as I feel the warmth of the color wrapping my body and drawing me close. It weeps softly, rocking me to sleep.
I made it, I did it, and whew are conventions hard on me! For those that aren’t aware, I am what’s known high-functioning autistic. (Formerly known as Asperger) Large, crowded events really aren’t my thing. But, strangely enough, I love presentations. For reasons even unknown to me, I’ve enjoyed doing presentations since I was a kiddo. Especially when I get to talk about the things I love. Like scary, spooky things that go bump in the night.
After years of CBT, I’m able to make it through walking around but these events have always felt alien to me and extremely uncomfortable. The only way I can truly be happy is behind a camera, or up on stage. Two extremely odd things for most people─ but somehow, I’m one with the goat and much enjoy sitting in high places above people as I talk about my childhood loves.
I’ll have con footage up soon, and show all the great people I saw at this year’s event. In all honesty, A-Fest has been one of my all-time favorite shows and still continues to be. It was very well coordinated, and the staff was on top of things and quick to help and answer any questions that I had.
Book two is finally here! Get ready for its October release in a big way. I had a few people at the convention ask when book two would finally be out and I will have an official release date this week. For those that aren’t aware, Hell’s Gate is a series comprised of three books. You can see my interview covering my adventures here:
Suffice it to say, if you like J-Fashion, J-Culture, Urban Legends and Mythology mixed in with adventures, this is your cup of tea. It is what is known as a Dark Fantasy and because of my love for genre-bending, it has horror elements and urban legends.
Enjoy, my friends and as always, stay creepy. More announcements on HG coming soon.
From the sub-genre, to main genre, horror has had some pretty great times─
To downright deplorable moments.
But if you look at the genre all together, it really does have a bad reputation. Why is that, and is it merited?
The answer is more complex than you think. My personal favorite are thrillers and shows with thriller/horror like elements. For example, in shows such as Westworld, The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones, the horror elements are fleshed out─ they’re balanced. But notice how I said that. Elements. The average person does not like to constantly be underestimated with cheap thrills, or jump scares. We like depth, we like just the right amount of complexity without over-thinking the scene.
The director and casting director have a tough job. They have to not only convey the entire story within a reasonable amount of time, they have to embody the feeling through a combination of images, background, and good actors. This is a huge over-simplification of the process, but bare with me.
The main reason for disdain with the genre is the director’s focus. Much like the adult industry, horror gets caught up in ‘the money shot’ if you will and wants to creep-out or scare the audience as much as possible. But there is a huge piece of the picture they aren’t seeming to get.
Horror fans are changing. We don’t want two dimensional characters as cliche as something you’d see on the CW. (and in my defense, I liked Supernatural so keep your pitchforks at bay.) What does better, time and time again are shows with elements of creepy/unknown because it’s alluring. No one wants to see the whole thing at once. And the whole ‘bad guy coming to get you’ is just over-done. Found footage? C’mon, that died years ago. The problem, I find, is that the whole industry is just outdated.
We live in the information age. If I can pick apart every issue and guess the film’s ending in the first 10-15 minutes of it, there’s a problem. Not everyone has to have that surprise element, or a twist. You don’t have to have a boogie man that just won’t die. Don’t make flimsy characters whose sole purpose is to die. I can’t tell you how frustrated I get with weak/pathetic characters that just stumble around and cry.
“Nope! I’m gonna die. Guess I’ll just walk down this road in a straight path and bawl my pretty eyes out. That’ll work.”
Build an atmosphere. Make competent characters that try their hardest and still fail. The Green Room actually came pretty damn close to this, and I enjoyed it. The people weren’t helpless, it felt real. Like it genuinely could happen.
Nightcrawler? One of my all-time favs to date. But, I am admittedly a little biased since I love Jake Gyllenhaal. If you haven’t seen this, do yourself a favor─ watch it, like, yesterday.
But what do I know? That’s just my two cents.
What are some of your favorite horror films? Comment, share!