Country: United States
August 25, 2018
09/12/2019 03:01 PM
A PARALLEL UNIVERSE
The lightning blinked in and out like a flash from a camera. “It’s just the angels taking pictures of heaven,” Andy’s mom would always say whenever it stormed, “just the angels taking pictures.” The lightning turned Aunt Maggie’s house into a blinking lantern—on, off, on, off, on, off—flashing every few minutes, spilling in through the big bay windows and skylights. Andy thought the house was spooky enough during the day, she hated being there for the summer. Her parents insisted it was just for the summer, that they were just taking care of it while Aunt Maggie was away on her honeymoon (whatever that was), but Andy was six, a summer was a lifetime for a six year old. Aunt Maggie’s house was cold and dark and old, and it made Andy feel like she was living someone else’s life for the whole two weeks she had been there already, but it was always worse in a storm. The lightning was not the worst of it, though; it was the thunder that followed.
The crack of thunder that came after the next flash made Andy’s bones dance under her skin. She was in one of the back hallways on the first floor, wandering around holding back scared whimpers as she navigated the dark. The light switches were high on the first floor and she couldn’t reach them without a chair, so the only light she had was what little drifted in from the outside and the occasional big flash from an angel’s camera. Bare feet bounced over the cold tile, perked up on the balls to keep her footsteps light. Andy Barclay pranced—partly to keep quiet and hide the fact that she was out of bed when she wasn’t meant to be and partly out of fear. Anxiety built up in her, tensing up like a can of coke that was just vigorously shaken. Her little heart pounded against her chest, filling her throat as her mind raced with when the next flash of lightning would come.
“Chucky, where are you?” Andy asked, calling out into the darkness down the hall ahead of her, the darkness she was scampering toward only to escape the darkness behind her. “It’s not funny! I’m going to get in trouble!” Her voice was a loud whisper, an attempt to let it carry to the ears she wanted to hear it but avoid the ones she didn’t.
The house lit up like Christmas and collapsed back into shadow. Andy chirped with fear, eyes widening and she hurried forward faster, counting in her head the seconds until the thunder would come, a trick dad showed her to demonstrate to her how far away the storm was and if it was getting closer or farther off. The last gap between lightning and thunder took six seconds. “Three mississippi, four mississippi, five—”
It was getting closer! Andy was almost running now, speeding down the hall, reaching the end and hugging the wall close as she made her turn right into—
“AHH!!” Andy screamed as she crashed into her mother’s leg.
“Whoa, whoa, slow down, kiddo.” Karen Barclay held Andy’s shoulders to calm her down, keeping her in place and dropping down to her level to make eye contact. She was a soothing presence in the storm. “It’s alright. Hey, it’s alright, it’s just me. What are you doing out of bed?”
“I’m looking for Chucky! I told him not to run out like that, especially in a storm but he didn’t listen, he never listens anymore, NEVER!” Andy’s big blue eyes welled up with tears as she talked about a million miles a minute. But mom always knew what to do, always, just like she always knew what to say, but this was definitely more of a doing moment than a saying moment, and she knew that too, because that’s what moms did; they knew things, they did things, and they said things. Without hesitation, Andy’s mom softly ran her hand down her daughters slick cheek. She hummed and cooed and shared her mellow, peaceful energy with her daughter, letting her feed off of it as she came down from the height of fear and frustration. Lightning flashed and thunder cracked again all in the interim, and Andy sniffled and cried a little more, but her mother set the example and she followed it. Within thirty seconds, Andy calmed. She still trembled, but she calmed.
“We’re still on this Chucky thing, sweetie?” Her mom said when things were more subdued. She brushed some of Andy’s hair out of her face. They had the same long brown hair and pale complexion, though Andy didn’t expect she could ever grow up to be as pretty as her mom. “He’s just a doll. He doesn’t talk.”
“He does too,” Andy said, a little righteous indignation poking through the cloud of the doldrums she wafted in.
“Only what he’s been programmed to say,” Mom said. “That’s about three things, I think. ‘Hi, I’m Chucky, wanna play?’ Ummm, what are the other ones? ‘I’m your friend to the end?’ something like that? Maybe ‘hi-de-ho’?”
“He also says other things,” Andy insisted. “Like how Eddie roy-lly f***ed him over and how Aunt Maggie is a skank bitch!” Andy struggled getting the word royally out of her mouth but she did her best to quote her doll for her mother. Chucky, an old Good Guy doll that went off the market five years ago and was sitting in a discount bin when Andy’s parents picked it up, was meant to be a soothing present for the young girl, something to help her make it through the summer in this creepy house. It started out alright… but alright went out the door days ago.
Andy’s mother’s face sank with confused disgust at the words coming out of her daughter’s mouth. When she next spoke she did so with a firm mother’s tone. “Andrea Barclay,” she said, “Where have you been hearing language like that?”
“Chucky! I mean it, I’m telling the truth,” Andy pleaded.
“Lies are bad enough, sweetie, but insisting on a lie is worse.”
“I’m not lying!” Andy tried to pull away but her mother held her arm. “I’m not. Chucky is bad, he’s bad and he’s going to hurt someone, he’s going to hurt daddy!”
“Andy!” Her mother was firmer now. “You can’t— Why would you say something like that? I—”
The ground creaked in the darkness behind them. Both Barclay women turned and a flash of lightning lit up a closed closet door at the end of the hall that disappeared again when the lightning went away. A few seconds passed and the thunder rolled through. Andy and her mother blindly stared at the door.
“William?” Her mother called out. Silence answered her. When Karen Barclay stood up she remained holding on to Andy’s hand by the wrist, staring at the door like staring was going to make a difference and do anything. “William, is that you?”
“It’s Chucky,” Andy said, her voice low. “I know it is. Why won’t you believe me?”
Another creak came from the closet, and a third followed. Something shifted its weight behind the door. There was a pitter-patter of small footsteps and then silence. Andy’s mom waited for more, but everything went still and quiet.
“William, this isn’t funny.”
“Chucky, don’t!” Andy screamed at the closed closet door.
Andy’s mother sighed, losing her patience by the second. “For Christ’s sake, Andy, it’s not your doll. It’s just your father being a big jerk and— You know what? I’ll show you. Big joke, Will, you’re scaring your daughter.” She let go of Andy and started for the closet. Andy screamed out for her to stop but she didn’t listen. “Deep breaths, kiddo, there’s nothing scarier tonight than the angels taking photographs.”
The closet opened with a squeak from the hinge and Andy’s legs became warm and wet from the pee that slipped out of her. Mom clutched her mouth in horror and held back a scream. Daddy was propped up on a pile of junk in there, thirteen holes in his chest that turned his grey pajama shirt red. His head was slumped over to the side but his eyes were still open, non-blinking and lifelessly staring off at nothing. Sitting in a puddle of blood on his lap was Chucky, the red headed Good-Guy doll who clutched a long, dripping kitchen knife in his plastic hand.
“WILLIAM!” Her mother screamed.
Chucky sat still like he did when the adults were around, but when Andy’s mother stopped screaming the mechanisms in his neck clicked into place and his head turned. The doll blinked twice and in his pre-recorded, fake voice he said, “Hi, I’m Chucky. Wanna play?”
Malice slipped in, contorting the silicone face of the doll into a grimace of evil and hate. “Well?” Chucky said in his more gruff and honest voice. “Do ya, mumsy?” Chucky stood up on daddy’s lap and mom took a step back, locked up by shock. He lunged out of the lap, knife held high, and he buried it in Andy’s mom’s gut where he landed, stabbing deep and twisting the handle of the knife. Red spilled down mommy’s legs stealing all the color from her skin.
“No!” Andy cried. “Stop hurting them, stop hurting them!”
But Andy’s mom was already on the ground now, jerking against the force of every stab that Chucky brought down on her. The doll kneeled on top of her, stabbing down into her chest and gut over and over again. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed and Chucky kept stabbing, laughing with a demonic cackle as he did so. Andy cried and her mother rolled her head over to look at her. There was no more soothing calmness in her look or touch. The light left her eyes and the peace went with it.
“STOP!” Andy turned and ran away. The laughing stopped behind her and Chucky gave chase. She ran back down the hall, away from daddy, and mom, and the blood, and Chucky. Lightning flashed and Andy forgot to count and the next crack surprised her. She ran and ran and ran, taking every turn she could until she didn’t know where she was running too anymore. She was lost, spinning in the hall as lightning flashed again. A pitter-patter of footsteps came right behind and Chucky swooped in, cackling along the way.
“Time to be an angel,” Chucky laughed. “Time to take some pictures!”
27 YEARS LATER
Panicked, tearful eyes shot open in the dark room. Andy’s breath hitched with fear, but she kept from crying out. The residual effects of her nightmare—her relived trauma that played on a loop in her mind night after night—shot up and down through her body like a tremor. She buried it, or attempted to anyway, swallowing down the grief and fear of that night so many years ago, and her body shook, her face fidgeted, she bottled it up and contained it for later, careful to not wake up the woman sleeping beside her. Thoughts of her mother helped ease her back down. That soothing touch she had always eased her back down and pretending to feel her fingertips against her cheek, brushing hair out of her face, it allowed Andy to gently slide into some makeshift sense of peace.
When she released the breath it came out in a broken vibrato, but it was soft and quiet. She sat up and Claire rolled over beside her. She had been staying with her girlfriend all week but this was the first time one of her nightmares got her worked up like this. She had been seeing Claire for a few months now—they both worked at the same Wal-Mart—and even though Andy had gotten closer to Claire than anyone else in her life before, she still wasn’t ready to share everything. Their relationship was too young for Claire to see the damage hiding under Andy’s surface.
Claire made a soft groaning sound and rolled over again, her face hidden by a mess of brown hair. “Kay?” she asked, her voice heavy from sleep and unable to get out more than half a word.
“It’s okay,” Andy said quietly. “I’m okay. Go back to sleep.” Claire didn’t need to be told to go back to sleep, she was already back asleep. Andy eased the covers off of her and threw her legs off the side of the bed. She got up, fished her cigarettes from the pocket of the pants slung over the back of her chair, and snuck out of the room.
Heading down a narrow hallway, Andy passed the bathroom and passed Mollie’s room. Mollie, Claire’s teenage daughter, was still up, or at least her lights were on, but she didn’t come out or make a sound when Andy passed. She could hear some music on the other side of the door but didn’t linger enough to hear what it was. She went to the window at the end of the hall, hoisted it open with a little elbow grease, and crawled out onto the fire escape where she could have a smoke in the chilly night air.
The city blotted out the stars in the sky but it was cloudy anyway. Andy didn’t go out for the clouds though, she went for the noise. Buses, trains, cars, people, the city was a living breathing thing, and it helped Andy not feel so alone. Feeling alone and being alone, those weren’t always the same thing. Andy was never really alone; first she had her parents, and when they died she had Detective Norris who took her in, and a string of people after that who always made her feel like a person, like a part of something. Claire was the latest link in the chain, and Andy wasn’t really alone with her, but feelings didn’t care about facts.
“Maybe somewhere out there there’s a version of me that doesn’t feel so alone,” she thought as she smoked and stared up at the starless sky. “Maybe another Andy is doing better.”
09/06/2019 02:29 PM
SEPTEMBER 6, 2019
Mulligan’s was a dive bar on the Southside of Necropolis — a supernatural city hidden in the shadows where monsters could be monsters. Andy posted up across the street, smoking a cigarette and watching the different creatures come in and out through the bright red door. She bounced as she stood, jittery like she gulped down a pot of coffee in one go, but her anxieties were rooted to the bone and the cigarette wasn’t helping her settle the way it normally did. “What are you doing?” She whispered to herself. “What are you doing?” The guilt was taking over. This was wrong, she shouldn’t have been out. Andy should’ve been back home with her family, in bed with her wife, but she couldn’t sit still. This was wrong, but there was no way she would be anywhere else.
A man came up behind her, whistled after giving her a once over, and leered over his shoulder as he passed by and went to Mulligan’s. Andy ignored him, took another drag of her cigarette, and convinced herself that this was what she should be doing. She smoked the cigarette down to the butt and stomped it out on the ground before reaching into her jacket pocket to grab another. The pack slapped against her palm but before Andy could grab a second cigarette the person she was waiting for exited Mulligan’s.
Carrie Creed was a pretty blonde werewolf in a leather jacket with a Detroit Lions patch on the sleeve. She was one of the newest members in Claire’s growing pack — the Northern Lights — and she was already proving herself useful. She dug her hands into her jacket pockets when she stepped through Mulligan’s red door, looked around, and nodded and smiled a big toothy smile when she saw Andy across the street. The leerer whistled at her too when they passed each other and she wrinkled her nose and barked, “F*** off,” before crossing the street to meet Andy.
“Can I get one of those?” Carrie asked, eyeing Andy’s cigarettes. Andy held out the pack and Carrie took the cigarette Andy was going to take for herself. Andy chose another one and grabbed a lighter from her pocket after putting the pack away. “You called and I came running, left my f***ing smokes on the nightstand.”
“Anything?” Andy gave the lighter a flick and held the flame over the cigarette dangling out of Carrie’s mouth. The wolf cupped her hands to keep a breeze from extinguishing the flame and took a healthy drag before blowing smoke out her nostrils.
“Not here,” Carrie said.
“But she was there?” Andy lit her cigarette and put her lighter away.
“Oh, she was there. My sniffer doesn’t lie.” Carrie tapped her nose. “Just missed her though. I asked around. Apparently the good doctor drinks there most nights.”
“But her scent ends here?” Andy asked.
Carrie pulled her smoke out of her mouth and looked around. “I mean, it doesn’t end here, the problem is there’s so much other sh*t going on around here, it’s easy for the scents to get mixed up with others. I can try to track her some more but I can’t promise we won’t get lost and spend half the night chasing after some taxi she used to get home.”
“I thought your nose doesn’t lie?”
“And neither do I, that’s why I’m being upfront with you,” Carrie said. “My nose got you this far but it can’t get you farther. Lucky for you, I have more assets than just my nose.” She shimmied her shoulders a little and her chest bounced. “The bartender there was quite talkative once you turned on the flirt. That’s how I got this.” Carrie pulled out a piece of paper from her pocket and handed it to Andy.
“Her address?” Andy eyebrows shot up. “Why didn’t you just lead with that?”
“I was building to it.” Carrie laughed and ashed her cigarette. “Want me to stick around and come with you? I can’t imagine she’s going to be thrilled about someone showing up in the middle of the night. Can’t hurt to have some backup.”
“No, I’ll be fine.” Andy dug into her back pocket and pulled out a crumpled up fifty. Carrie shook her head when it was offered though. “C’mon, it’s what I promised you.”
“Forget it,” Carrie said. “Consider it a favor. You’re the Alpha’s wife. I’m happy to do it.”
“Take it.” Andy forced the bill into Carrie’s hand and closed her fingers around it. “Head back in there or go to a bar you actually like and buy yourself a round on me. If it makes you feel better you can give me back the change.”
Carrie laughed and tucked the money away, either happy to take it or unwilling to keep up the fight. The two finished the remainder of their cigarettes together and stood around in silence for a bit before Carrie asked, “So what’s so important about this lady that you need to track her down in the middle of the night like this?”
“It’s not about the importance of this lady,” Andy said. “It’s about the importance of my lady.”
After parting ways with Carrie, it took Andy twenty minutes to take Necropolis’ El-Train to get to the other side of town. The Jawbone neighborhood was a little more put together than the Southside, and it was flatter two. Andy got off the train and walked a couple of blocks west past a series of flat, one story houses with wide wrap-around porches. Some of the homes were boarded up but others looked like they weren’t a terrible place to live. The street lights actually worked, there didn’t seem to be a ton of pot holes in the street. It was one of the few places in Necropolis where Andy actually felt safe.
It took another half block of walking before Andy arrived at the address Carrie procured for her. She stopped across the street and sighed, staring on before moving in. The porch light was on and an older woman in her late sixties sat on a rocking chair smoking a joint and staring back at her. Her hair was nice, her eyebrows looked amazing, and the woman wore dark lipstick that curled around the joint she brought to her lips. Andy crossed the street and stood at the end of the path that connected the sidewalk to the porch and the woman smiled at her.
“It’s a little late for pop ins,” the woman said. She nodded to a shotgun leaning up against her front door. “You see that? I’m faster than I look so if you’re here for trouble you best try one of the other houses.”
“I’m not here to stir the pot,” Andy said. She held her hands up to show she wasn’t armed to trying to cause trouble. “My name’s Andy Stoddard-Barclay, I—”
“Stoddard-Barclay?” The woman’s eyes narrowed. “You called my office earlier today. I believe I have a house call with you tomorrow, do I not?”
“With my wife,” Andy said. “Claire. And me too, I’ll be there, I mean, but it’s for Claire. I’m really sorry to bother you, Dr. Lucas, I know I shouldn’t be here but I feel like I need to be here.”
Dr. Lucas stared Andy down for a good long while like she was reading the lines on her face or seeing something in her blue eyes that wasn’t otherwise apparent. Almost a minute passed before Dr. Lucas reached out to offer a toke from her joint.
“If I come up there are you going to shoot me?” Andy snickered.
A smile was shared between the two of them and Andy cautiously ventured down the path, climbed the stairs to the porch, and took the joint from the psychologist she ambushed in the middle of the night and inhaled the smoke deep into her lungs. Dr. Lucas nodded to an open seat beside her when she took her joint back and Andy took it.
“I only glanced at the file we started before I left the office tonight,” Dr. Lucas said. “In the overview you provided my secretary you listed depression as the issue at hand with your wife Claire? Crying outbursts, manic swings associated with your children not needing her as much and her pack needing her more? Am I remembering this right?”
Andy nodded. “She’s been hiding it from me. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention. My daughter had to be the one to make me wise to it, my daughter. Claire has nightmares, she wakes up in the middle of the night and goes off into a corner to cry… it’s worse than I even know, I’m sure.”
“I see.” Dr. Lucas rocked back and forth in her chair and stared off at one of the streetlights beyond her porch. She rocked two or three times before continuing. “I see that there’s a problem but what I don’t see is why you came all the way to Necropolis in the middle of the night to track me down when I’m coming to your house tomorrow afternoon to deal with this very thing.” Dr. Lucas reached over to pass back the joint.
“Tomorrow is about helping Claire,” Andy said, bringing the joint to her lips but stopping before she got there, getting distracted by the thoughts spilling out of her. “I’m there for moral support but tomorrow I want your full attention on Claire and how you can help her manage what she’s going through. I don’t need any of the attention tomorrow, but… but that doesn't mean I don’t need attention.” She paused to take a hit. “I came to you tonight because I need to know what I can do to play my part. I know there’s more I can do, I know there’s some way I can help Claire, but I’m lost. I feel useless, and I’m terrified of her slipping away into this mental hole she’s digging and getting lost there.”
Dr. Lucas reached for her joint back. Andy obliged.
“There’s no good answer here,” Dr. Lucas said after a long pause for smoking. “I’ll know better after I sit with Claire, after I get a feeling for what she’s going through, but there isn’t an easy fix. Partners of those struggling with some sort of mental setback don’t have it easy. It’s a different sort of struggle than the kind your wife is dealing with, but it’s still a struggle. I don’t ignore that. But here’s the thing; the secret to being a good ally.” She coughed and covered her mouth with her free hand. “It’s already something you got going on.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Sure you do,” Dr. Lucas said. “It’s why you’re here. No matter the details or the struggles that come, an ally only needs one thing to get them and their partner through the dark sh*t: love. If you have love it means everything you do will be done with love, which means it’ll be done purely, it’ll be done right. Now, I don’t know you, Mrs. Stoddard-Barclay, you’re just a stranger who showed up on my doorstep in the middle of the night like a f***ing crazy person, but I know you love your wife. Only love can make you this crazy.”
“So that’s it?” Andy asked. “Love. That’s the best you got?”
“Until tomorrow? Yeah, it’s the best I got. Love is all you need. Now, I’m tired and I got an early day tomorrow. Please leave.”
Andy sighed but smiled. She stood up and said, “Sorry, again,” before stepping down the porch steps while Dr. Lucas went to her door.
“Andy,” Dr. Lucas said. Andy turned back. “I’ll see you and your wife tomorrow. Try to get some sleep in the meantime.”
“Yeah,” Andy said. “Yeah. See you tomorrow.”
Dr. Lucas disappeared into her house and the porch lights went out. Andy dug her hands into her pockets and started back down the street to head home. She needed to get some sleep. She needed a lot of sleep.
08/19/2019 04:54 PM
CAN YOU HELP HER?
Squeaky leather chirped and groaned under Andy as she shifted her weight in the uncomfortable chair across from the Professor’s desk. The Professor was a big man, bald and pale. He wore a white lab coat, the kind you’d expect doctors to wear in a place like this, but his was yellowing with age, and it was tattered a little along the sleeves. The Professor smoked a thin cigarillo that he ashed into an empty coffee mug sitting on the desk between them, and he made the whole office — a grand room with mahogany walls and high ceilings — smell of smoke. Maybe it was the smoke that made Andy squirm in her chair, but probably not. The Professor didn’t squirm, though as the smoker he’d be used to the smell. Dr. Fig, the Stoddard-Barclay’s general practitioner when it came to all magical health concerns, was sitting beside her in a similar squeaky chair but he didn’t squirm either. Even Andrea, Andy’s youngest, who insisted on coming with her mother to this place so that she didn’t have to bring her sister Mia alone, seemed content. She was sitting in a stiff wooden chair by the back wall near the door, contently reading her book, staying quiet, and being very well-behaved without an inch of squirming. No, it wasn’t the smoke that made Andy squirm, it was this place, the Institute for Paranormal Trauma. She hated this place.
“Interesting.” The Professor flipped through the files on his desk, reading over Mia’s case file, smoking and thinking his way through it. Andy leaned forward, a bit too eager, trying to get a glimpse of what he had read that made him remark out loud. They had been there for almost five minutes, sitting in that quiet room with him reading and smoking, and he hadn’t said as much as a peep the whole time. But Andy couldn’t read upside down, and Dr. Fig put a hand on her arm to settle her back down into her chair. He trusted the Professor, he trusted this place, and she trusted Dr. Fig, even if she couldn’t shake this horrible, horrible feeling.
“My colleague here is the best in his field,” Dr. Fig said after a few more minutes of silence passed. He must’ve sensed Andy’s apprehension and felt the need to repeat his friend’s credentials. Where the Professor was wide and pale, Dr. Fig was short and dark. His naturally curly hair had been chemically straightened and was sticking upright and to an angle like a crooked candle wick.
“I’m sure he is,” Andy said back. “We need the best.”
“Of course, of course,” Dr. Fig said. “Nothing but the best. Nothing but the best.”
A few more minutes passed. More reading. More smoking. More thinking. Andy tugged nervously at the hem of her skirt. What was making this all so much worse was that Mia wasn’t there with them in the room. From the moment they arrived at the Institute, nurses and orderlies were swarming all around them to check Mia in. It was a chaotic swirl of energy and Andy felt like her attention was being drawn and quartered, pulled in every which direction. There was the paperwork, the attention she was giving Mia who she pushed in a wheelchair, and she needed to keep her eye on Andrea. Andrea may have looked like a teenager but she was still very much a little girl, a little girl who cared deeply about her family and was prone to getting swept up in emotions. Andy had to balance that out and make sure all of her exits were counted.
“It seems to me that young miss Mia is in the right place.” When the Professor finally spoke he did so with a big, booming voice, more of a contrast to Dr. Fig’s gentle, sing-songy way about him. Andy lit up when the Professor finally finished.
“Can you help her?” She asked.
“If anyone can, it’s me.” There wasn’t arrogance in the Professor’s voice, simply confidence. His smile eased Andy some. “I’d like to walk through this with you if you don’t mind, it’ll help me better treat her. She hasn’t spoken in how many days?”
“Since Friday,” Andy said. “Friday night. Since it happened.” It was Monday now. Andy slowly closed her eyes and swallowed down the pain of that before getting back to the strength she needed as a parent.
“And no one was there in the room when it happened, correct?”
“Where were you?” Again, the Professor’s voice didn’t hold malice. He wasn’t accusing Andy of anything, he was simply fishing.
“Asleep,” she said. “Asleep on the couch with my wife. Mia had been sick all day and her sister Avery was sitting with her.”
“Was the witch a… blood sister?”
Andy shook her head. “No. Avery was adopted. Mia,” she sniffed and wiped her nose, “Mia is too, though she’s from another world, a parallel world. She was the daughter of a parallel version of myself and my wife and when her universe was destroyed she came here.”
“So this isn’t the girl’s first run in with substantial trauma involving the supernatural?” The professor asked.
Again, Andy shook her head.
“Tell me about the day leading up to it?” The Professor asked, jotting some things down in his notebook. “You say that Mia had been sick all day. Sick how?”
“We thought it was just a cold,” Andy said. “Or a stomach bug or something, she had been up since early in the morning. She couldn't keep anything down, that’s why I was asleep by then. I had been up with her and was drained.”
“Then they found the mark on her arm,” Dr. Fig added, waving a wispy finger around.
“Right,” Andy nodded. “In the afternoon. It appeared under her skin and it didn’t take us long to figure out it was a hex. Avery wasn’t just a witch, she was… she was a very special witch, and a very clever girl. She cut the hex out and we thought that was the end of it. We thought Mia would get better after that and for a little while she was, she was just tired, you know? Sleeping a lot.”
“And then… it happened.” Andy swallowed and closed her eyes.
“The hex was already enrooted in her soul,” the Professor said. “Cutting the mark away, clearing her in the normal sense, it only held off what was already inevitable. This hex, it commanded her to kill the witch? Her sister?”
Andy’s eyes stung with tears and turned red. She sniffed and took a moment to gather herself. Then another. And another. Dr. Fig put a hand on her back to soothe her. She couldn’t stop the tears from falling but she had to hold herself together. She knew Andrea was near by and even though she never hid her emotions from her children, she knew the importance to be strong for them too. Andy nodded, unable to get any words out, but she answered the question anyway.
“And soon after it was over, that’s when you found them,” the Professor said, as if he was learning more from Andy’s emotional reaction to recounting what happened on Friday night than he could just reading it on the page. “Mia, controlled by the hex, pushed her sister down the stairs and cracked her face in with the shell of a pet turtle until the turtle and the face turned to soup in her hands. She witnessed the whole horrible thing, felt powerless as she watched herself murder her own sister, and she shut down soon after, once you managed to pull her away, yes?”
Andy managed a weak, “Yes.” And she nodded along to accompany it.
The Professor ashed out his cigarillo in his mug and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his desk. “Mrs. Stoddard-Barclay, I can’t promise you that any of this is going to be easy, but what I can say is that Mia is in good hands here. We will work through her trauma, have her come to terms with what happened, what can still happen, and what is outside of her control, and we will give her the tools to manage the aftermath of this horrible… tragedy.”
“How long?” Andy dug tissues out of her bag and was wiping her face clean now.
“Hard to say.” the Professor shrugged. “My normal answer is as long as it takes. We’ll keep her here, treat her well, and get the ball moving, and we’ll discharge her and send her home at the earliest possible convenience. The work I do is only half of it. The strong family support system, that’s the rest. I want to get Mia talking and back home as soon as we can, but it’s important we don’t rush this. The last thing we need is to set her back even more.”
Andy nodded and contained herself. “What about visiting? Will we be able to visit?”
“Of course,” the Professor said. “Though realistically, it should be limited encounters. You and your wife are welcomed for a short check in daily. I’d recommend not bringing any of Mia’s siblings more than once a week.”
It was another fifteen minutes of conversation until the paperwork was signed and the professor was walking Andy, Andrea, and Dr. Fig through the polished white halls of the Institute toward the exit. Everything looked so clean there, so clinical. But why did that make Andy’s stomach churn even more aggressively? Andy had her arm around Andrea as they walked and the Professor was walking through the list of things he’d be calling to update Andy with daily, and Andy committed it all to memory.
“Would… would it be okay if I said goodbye?” Andy asked before they reached the main lobby.
The Professor looked skeptical of the idea at first, squinting and thinking, but eventually he relented, saying yes, but it was best if she went alone. Andy explained why Andrea couldn’t come with her best she could, and then told her to wait with Dr. Fig while she followed the Professor to where they were keeping Mia. It was a long walk through identical hallways but eventually, Andy got to where she was going. The big metal door was locked when they got there — for her safety, the Professor assured — and when he opened it up for Andy, she went inside and cautiously approached her near catatonic teenage daughter.
“Hi, Mia,” Andy said softly, trying to keep from crying. “It’s mom.”
Mia said nothing back. She stared off at nothing on the wall, rarely blinking, a blank look on her face.
The room was even whiter than the hallway had been. The walls were padded, so was the floor. Mia sat on a basic looking white chair by a basic looking white bed. There was a shower stall and a toilet and sink on the other side of the room, but the rest of it was bare, blank, and empty just like her traumatized daughter. Mia was pale beneath the star field of freckles on her face. Even the orange of her hair seemed to be missing some of its natural shine. Andy approached Mia slowly and got down to one knee in front of her, taking her hand and holding it tightly. Her skin was cold to the touch.
“We’re going to get you better, sweet heart,” Andy explained, unsure if Mia was even listening. “I promise you, we’re going to get you better. We all know it wasn’t you, we all know you didn’t mean to do what happened. We’re… we’re going to get Avery back, I don’t know how yet but we will. And we need you back, too. We love you, Mia, my brave, strong girl.” Andy dug into her purse and pulled out a plain looking circular wooden necklace made out of Buckthorn. It belonged to Mia’s namesake, Mia Allen, the woman who gave her body so Andy could continue to live. It was a symbol of strength in the Stoddard-Barclay family, one that had a deep symbolism with Mia, and she curled it up in her daughter’s fingers for her to hold on to while she got better. “We love you, Mia,” she repeated. “We love you.”
Leaving the Institute for Paranormal Trauma was harder than Andy thought it would be, and she had been preparing for it to be pretty damn hard. She walked through the gates holding Andrea’s hand as they stepped out into the perpetual night that was Necropolis City. They had to travel to the dangerous city of the dead — the city between cities — in order to find Mia the help she needed, and now that they were leaving the Institute behind Andy wondered if maybe this was what was causing all the dread inside of her. It wasn’t the building, or the Professor, or any of the treatment her daughter would have to undergo in order to get better, it was this place. Necropolis wasn’t the safest place in the world, especially for humans like Mia, and leaving her there only meant that Andy was not going to have a good night sleep again until she was back home.
“C’mon, sweetie, we’ll be home soon,” Andy said to Andrea as she quickened her pace. Andrea nodded and held her hand tighter.
“Okay, mama,” she said, clutching her chapter book under her arm, careful not to lose it.
They reached the end of the driveway, that fed into a group of alley mouths, just before the main road that would take them to their exit, when Andy noticed a familiar looking blonde woman sitting on a motorcycle in one of the alley mouths. She smoked a cigarette and gave Andy a wave when they made eye contact.
“Morgan?” Andy squinted.
“Morgue,” the woman said back to her in a thick Australian accent. She blew smoke over her shoulder and slid off her bike, moving to meet Andy and Andrea half way. “Just Morgue is fine.”
Morgue ‘N Graves, as she liked to call herself, was a human hunter of sorts who focused on the migration patterns of an Australian pack of werewolves that she kept promising would cause Claire a world of trouble. She also happened to be related to one of Mollie’s girlfriends — er, ex-girlfriend? It was hard to tell anymore — and although Morgue had a bit of a foul mouth on her and was rough around the edges, they were on the same side. Surprisingly, it made Andy feel a little better seeing a familiar face in a place like this. It didn’t make Necropolis any less dangerous, but maybe it meant her and Andrea were a little safer.
“What are you doing here?” Andy asked, approaching and reaching out for a handshake.
“Looking for you, actually,” Morgue said. “Kept me ear to the ground, had a feeling you’d be turning up round here sooner or later. Happy it was sooner rather than later. Haven’t had a good sleep in some time. I reckon I’m overdue.”
“Andrea, I don’t know if you met Morgue before,” Andy introduced her daughter. “Morgue is Ophelia’s aunt.”
“Oy, little ankle biter, good to meetchya.” Morgue went to shake the kid’s hand too. “You look just like yer mums, you do, bloody uncanny.”
“So you were looking for me?” Andy refocused the conversation.
“Right, right,” Morgue flicked her cigarette away and dug into her leather jacket to pull out a few photographs she had. “I know you and yours have been having troubles the past couple of days. I think what I’ve been getting on with might help ya with that.” She handed Andy the pictures. “I’ve been tracking this bloke for days now, ever since he got into Texas. Caught him snagging that bloke late last week. Bagged him, tossed in his boot, and carted him off to New Orleans where he sold him off to some vampy.”
“Copy,” Andy sighed when she flipped through the photographs and saw that the man being kidnapped was a man she called Copy, though if he had a real name it was Andy. Copy was a soul duplicate of Andy. She hadn’t heard any updates about him in some time, but she knew he was out there. If the vampires had Copy they were probably able to use him to learn more about her, which meant they learned more about her family, which explained how the witches knew how to use Mia to get to Avery. “Do you know where they took him?”
Morgue shook her head. “Not a clue,” she said. “I’m more interested in the big bloke with the scruffy beard. He’s a mean Dingo, the second to his dad... Goes by Junior. He’s back in Texas. Just figured you’d want those photos, maybe show them to that Alpha wife of yours.”
“Yeah, hey, thanks Morgue. These… these are huge.” Andy smiled.
“Ah, I reckon you’d have done the same for me if you had something that helped me out in a time of need. Answers are important when we don’t got any. Hey, you lot need a ride back? The streets down here aren’t the safest and you two are small enough to fit. I got room for three on me bike.” Morgue leaned in to Andrea. “What do you say, kiddo, ever ride a motorcycle before?”
A degree of pain still lingered as they left the Institute behind and Necropolis soon after. Andy would ache with pain and regret with every night Mia spent there, but the answers were out there, she knew they were. As Morgue sped Andy and Andrea back home, Andy told herself that she was going to find the answers she needed to make sense of all this. She would put her family back together sooner or later, and when they were whole again, she would figure out what she had to do next.
08/01/2019 02:43 PM
NOT LONG FROM NOW
A FUTURE THAT CANNOT BE
The desert stretched in every direction, a dry and dead thing with an infinite horizon that sizzled and warped in the intense heat. A man in rags, face speckled with chapped skin spotted by the sun and a few days growth on his cheeks, shambled through a shadow patch created by the tallest hill he could find. It was a slight reprieve from the blistering heat, one that would be over soon, he could already see the glowing ground ahead, but he savored the shade while he could. The man walked through the desert; the last man on earth.
A bag slung over the man’s shoulder felt heavier than it was. It was a simple pouch, twice the size of the water jug the man carried on his hip, and it was filled to the brim with silver. The coins jingled some as he walked, a high-hat accompany to the percussive crunch of his feet on the sand. It was heavier than it actually was because the man knew the true weight of the silver. It wasn’t the number of coins or the tug of gravity that made the bag heavy, it was what was really in the bag that mattered and what was really inside was the cost of humanity, the price of power. Power was not something that should be light.
The man paused at the edge of the hill’s shadow, his toes poking out into the sunlight. He stared off at the stretching desert ahead of him, his destination nowhere in sight, and he swallowed hard at the walk that was far from over. Tiny grains of sand cut his throat on the way down. He grabbed the water jug from his waist, unscrewed the cap, and tipped his head back to have a drink. The weight of the coins threw off his equilibrium. He hadn’t noticed that the water jug was light until he was already going for his drink and only a few trickling drops rolled out. He tapped the side of the jug, trying to milk it for all there was, and he licked his peeling lips when he was done. The last man on earth screwed the lid back on, put the jug back on his hip, and stepped out into the sun. Journeys could only be completed as long as the traveler kept walking.
The walk went on and on. The man’s muscles screamed and sang, his legs turning to stone with every step, but he didn’t stop. He couldn’t stop. Sweat pooled in his boots, turning the sand stuck under his toes into mud, and it dripped off his face, stinging his eyes that squinted to see through the bright sun. The discomfort didn’t matter though. It would all be over soon.
After an hour, the ridge curved up into a hill and although it took some doing, the last man on earth managed to climb the hill and look down into the valley to see what there was to see. A small black dot of something very far away sat a few paces away from another distant and unfocused smudge of a thing. The man jostled his shoulder to hear the jingle of the coins he brought and he smiled. He slid down the hill, easing into the valley, and walked another three hundred yards or so until the dot took shape into something that resembled a man, but this was no man, this was a god, and he sat on a stool in the middle of the desert, smoking a cigar and drinking rum from a glass jug.
Baron Samedi chomped down on his cigar when the man approached. The skull paint around his face cracked in the sun, but he looked generally comfortable even in the heat. The man approached and then looked beyond the Loa, the god, to what had been the other smudge he saw in the distance. It was a cage, a tall metal structure with seven-foot-tall bars shooting straight up out of the sand. In the cage was a woman who sat on the ground, crumpled up around herself. She was chapped, sun-burnt, and her face was hidden by dark red hair. The last woman on earth refused to look toward the man.
“I’m surprised you went through with this, Baron,” the man said, his voice hoarse and his eyes still on the woman and the cage. “I’m glad, but I’m surprised.”
“Anything for you, Shadow,” Baron Samedi said around his cigar, his thick accent drifting away from him like smoke and sand. “Do you have my silver?”
The man let the bag fall from his shoulder, and he caught the strap. He held it out, but pulled back before the Baron could make a move to reach for it. “That’s not my name, and you know it.”
The Baron stood up and tossed his cigar into the desert. He washed the taste of smoke down with some rum and took a few steps toward the man. “You have no name, my friend. You only have my silver.” He grabbed the bag but the man didn’t let go.
“Once she’s dead, I’ll have my name,” the man said. “Once she’s dead, I won’t be her shadow anymore.”
“Maybe,” the Baron shrugged and yanked the bag of silver out of the man’s grasp. “Not sure how it’ll matter. You already shaped the world to look how you feel on the inside, Shadow. Then comes vengeance. But what comes third? I’m not sure you’ve thought that far ahead.”
The man chewed his chapped lip and looked down into the sand as the Baron walked past him. He thought of a thing to say, a thousand things, but nothing seemed to carry the weight he needed, nothing had enough sting. That was the problem when going up against the truth of a god. They were hard to get one up on. “You,” the man turned to try anyway, but the Baron was gone. There was only blowing sand behind him that covered up the footsteps of where he had been. The man sighed and turned back to the cage. Quips didn’t matter. He still had his vengeance.
The woman sat up when the man approached, but she didn’t turn to him. She didn’t give him the courtesy. The man stopped a foot away from the cage and drew a knife from his belt. For a while, they stood there in silence. Wind whipped and whistled around them, but neither spoke. The man didn’t open his mouth until he was ready. The woman was in no hurry to speed things along.
“It’s been a long time coming, this,” the man said, his voice a whisper above the breeze. “You had to know this was how it was going to end. It started with you casting me away, stripping me of my name and my life and my choices, and now it is going to end with me doing the same to you. We’re on the other side of the mirror now, Andy. This is it. No big speeches, just a knife through your heart. I’ll drag your body out of the cage so the vultures can have a last meal.”
The woman’s shoulders bounced. It took a moment for the man to realize what was going on but soon he heard the laughing. She was laughing, cackling almost, but her voice sounded strange, like it was echoing in her own throat. The man reached into the cage and grabbed the woman by the shoulder, spinning her around, forcing her to face him. He gasped and took a step back when he saw her face. The woman looked like the source — she looked like Andy Barclay — but this wasn’t her. Black blood drooled out of the thing’s mouth and her eyes turned yellow with bolts of cracking red shooting through the iris.
“Shaitan…” the man whispered the name. The demon in the cage only laughed more. Shaitan, Taker of Souls, the man’s tormentor in hell, and the inspiration for all of this. Shaitan was the man’s muse for the end of the world, but there she was cackling in his face. “This isn’t right. This isn’t what— I… I paid him, he took my silver. She’s supposed to be here!”
“You thought you already won,” Shaitan’s voice echoed around the man, as if the sky itself was speaking. “You thought it would be easy. The end isn’t the end. She isn’t done fixing this yet. She isn’t done fighting!”
“It’s too late!” the man shot back. “I did it. I destroyed the world, her family, everything. She can’t undo what I’ve—”
“If you honestly believed that to be true your heart wouldn't be racing right now.” Shaitan spit black blood into the sand. “You know what she’s capable of. You are her ilk, her shadow. If there’s a half-chance in Hell that Andy Barclay can save the day, you know that she is going to take it.”
“Hell?” the man’s brow furrowed and he collapsed onto his knees in the sand.
Shaitan laughed and laughed and laughed, her cackling echoing through the desert like a song on the wind.
SOMEWHERE IN HELL
The tunnel narrowed like a closing throat. Andy Stoddard-Barclay marched down the cold stone, blood dripping off her skin and clothes and hair, leaving a trail of footprints behind her. The chainsaw in her hand was still purring, rumbling, but the blade was no longer alive with righteous anger. Chunks of flesh stuck in the teeth along the blade. It had done its job, now it was Andy’s turn to do hers. It felt like the tunnel went on and on — that it would never end — but that was a trick of Hell. Nothing went on forever. Andy walked, and walked, until her feet bled and her blood mixed with the blood of her fallen adversaries that coated her, but she never stopped, not until she reached the chamber she was heading for, not until she saw him sitting there on his throne of bones, metal claws clicking up against a polished white skull on his arm rest.
“You’re working pretty f***ing hard to die, bitch,” the being on the throne said, his yellow eyes hidden by the shadows under the brim of his hat. A part of Andy thought she would get some joy out of spinning up her chainsaw again and burying the blade through his ratty red and green sweater until his chest turned into ribbons, but she salted that urge and watched it shrivel up like a snail. She needed this monster for something.
“We’re in hell, a**hole,” Andy said back to the guy. “Dying is sort of the least of my concerns right now. You know who I am?”
The f***face on the throne nodded.
“I need your help making things right. Earth’s dead, we need to undo that.” Andy was straight forward, she didn’t mess around. “There’s no dreams for you to haunt or teenagers for you to kill if the planet’s empty and there’s no one up there to have nightmares. So I need your help to undo it.” Digging into her pocket, Andy pulled out a severed finger, Baron Samedi’s severed finger. She tossed it to the f***face and he caught it with the hand he wasn’t wearing a clawed glove on. “That’ll give you a boost to reach through time. I couldn’t stop this before because I didn’t have the right sort of help. I need you to reach through time and connect my dreams to someone else’s, a vampire named Minzhe. We can only stop this together, and you’re the only one left to make this work. You’re our last redo button.”
The skulls on the throne began to laugh and the f***face sitting on them laughed, too. Freddy Krueger leaned forward into the light and looked at the finger of the god that Andy Barclay tossed his way. His burnt, shriveled face twisted into a smile.
“Let’s get this f***ing show on the road then…”
07/02/2019 12:23 PM
SWEET CHILD O MINE
A long black wick drooped out of the top of a purple wax candle. Andy struck a match and when she brought it over to the slanted wick it sprung to life against the flame. She waved the match out and set it down on a decorative plate beside the plate the candle sat on. Wispy gray smoke snaked up to the ceiling of the living room, disappearing high above her head, and it made the room smell of lavender and fire. Andy closed her eyes and took a deep breath in. The house was quiet. There was peace. In that peace, Andy hoped to find some resolution.
The room was dark, which made the glow of the candle that much brighter. Andy’s set up was simple. There were a handful of ceremonial plates spread out across a folded cloth. The burning candle sat on the center plate and dripped wax down to it. A knife sat beside the plate on the far right side, and a palm branch lay at the top, parallel with the folded cloth. The only other noise besides the crackling flame of the candle was the soft hum of the baby monitor that sat on the couch just above and to the right of Andy. The twins were calm and sleeping. The rest of the house was empty. Andy reached out and took the knife to get started before everyone came home and interrupted her.
“Mwen rele ou, gwo Ayizan, metrès nan komès,” Andy chanted in Creole and dragged the sharp edge of the blade over her palm. She squeezed her fist and bled into the open flame of the candle. “Mwen chache bon konprann. Mwen chache repons yo. O, gwo Ayizan. Ede m jwenn komès pouvwa. Koulye a! Koulye a! Koulye a! Give me the power, I beg of you!”
Shadows danced and a breeze rolled through the living room. Light wiggled and took shape and a shadow that stretched out from the candle across the floor in front of her widened and raised into a rounded edge. It reached to the far wall now and pushed up toward the ceiling. It was nearly seven feet tall, massive, but not intimidating. It had gentle curves and the faintest features that seemed human, but Andy knew she wasn’t looking at the shadow of a human. This was the shadow of a Loa — a goddess — the Loa Ayizan, ruler of the marketplace. Andy set the knife down and lowered her head to show respect.
“Why have you summoned me, child?” the shadow asked. She had a soft and calming voice that echoed across the room.
Andy raised her head. “I seek your guidance, great Ayizan. All other roads were blocked to me. I didn’t know where else to turn.”
“A few days ago I encountered an anomaly in the sewers here,” Andy said. “There was a tear in the universe and things from another world were slipping out. Creatures, small swamp dwellers mostly — an alligator, a couple of frogs — nothing too dangerous. I closed the breach but it wasn’t the main one. I’ve been trying to track down the first tear but for some reason it’s been hidden from me. I don’t know why. I believe that it’s caused by some object somewhere, some enchanted item that’s seeping power from this other world and tearing open the space between worlds in the process. That’s why I called you, great Ayizan. There’s an unmonitored trade of magic from this world and the other, and I need your help to find a way to close it.”
There was a long pause before the shadow answered.
“I see,” Ayizan said. “I sense that the rift is near. It’s not just an opening to any world, child, it’s an opening to our world.”
“Your world?” Andy scrunched her face. “I don’t understand. Why can’t I find the source?”
“The source isn’t hidden,” the Loa said, “You just haven’t looked in the right place. Your eyes look out, but it’s time to look within. Only an object carved from holy wood could steal energy from my home like this, only an object charged with fear and anxiety could bind my world with yours without calling too much attention.”
“My home with yours…” Andy repeated her words and thought about it. A small croak caught her attention and she looked down as a tiny green frog hopped across her living room floor. “The rift’s here… the object is here… it’s in the house.”
“Flush the negativity away from the charged object and the bridge between our worlds will seal. But hurry, child, my presence here is a heavy stone to the fabric between yours and mine. The rift is tearing ...” An army of frogs, dozens of them, hopped all along the floor, swampies sneaking in from another world. Andy blew out the candle and the god disguised as a shadow disappeared. The baby monitor crackled and the cries of her twins waking up from their deep sleep filled the living room with a cacophony of wails and croaks. The rift was here. It was widening. And Andy needed to do something about it.
The upstairs hallway was dark and humid. Mosquitoes buzzed around Andy’s head and she had to swat them away as she marched down the hall — screaming baby monitor in hand — toward the nursery. Reaching the nursery, pushing open the door, Andy anticipated to walk into the panicked cries of her twin daughters, but when she rounded the corner and flipped the lights on the only crying came from the squawking baby monitor. Andy froze and looked at the machine that filled the room with staticky whines and wails from babies, but when she peered into the crib that the twins shared out of a desire to stay close to one another, the babies weren’t crying. They weren’t even awake.
Andy flipped the switch on the monitor and turned it off, and the room went quiet. Little Julia, with her tiny tuft of short blonde hair on her otherwise bald head, yawned and stretched, but kept her eyes closed. Andrea, mommy’s little redhead, slept with her mouth open and made adorable whimpering sounds as her chest rose and fell with each tired breath. Andy took a minute to admire her daughters. They were what she fought for every day. They were the reason she needed to find this riff and close it. They were her responsibility.
The pile of toys on the far end of the crib croaked and Andy squinted when one of the plush toys moved. A tiny emerald frog, green skin slippery and wet, hopped out from the middle of the pile, jumped on Julia’s chest, and hopped off. Andy caught the frog and removed it from the crib, setting it down outside the door of the nursery. It hopped down the hall. In theory, once she closed the rift everything that came through it should be sent back. Or at least she hoped that would be the case, because a frog infestation was probably just as bad as having a rift to another world open in your house.
A tiny cry pulled Andy back toward the room. She looked down at the baby monitor but it was silent. Sitting it down, she went back to the crib and found Julia stirring; the frog had woken her up. Andy scooped her baby up and comforted her with gentle shushing and humming and she managed to contain the cry before it grew into anything too big. Andrea slept through it all. In the hallway, Andy could hear more croaking, and buzzing, and dripping. She had to deal with this problem before it got worse.
“I need you to be a good girl for mommy,” Andy said in her soft mom voice while bouncing Julia on her hip. “Momma Andy needs to go fix a simple problem and make everything alright again. I just need you to stay calm for me and don’t wake your sister until I handle it, okay? Okay, who’s my good girl. Oh, Julia’s mommy’s good girl.” She set Julia down in her bouncer and made sure she was secure. She’d be content down there and she could squirm and play a little without waking up Andrea. Andy handed her the plush alligator she liked so much and Julia immediately stuffed it in her mouth. “Such a good girl.” Andy smiled, slicked back Julia’s blonde hair with her thumb, and leaned down to give her a kiss atop her head. “Mama loves you. I’ll be right back.”
Andy left the nursery and closed the door behind her. Had she known what was coming, she would’ve stayed put.
The hallway was a swamp by the time Andy returned. It was sticky and hot and the mosquitos almost tripled since she had been out there last. When she took a step forward her foot sloshed in damp carpet. It gave her pause, but she really wasn’t sure what to make of all of this. She needed to find the object that was tethering earth to this other world, but where to start?
A low rumble bubbled down at the end of the hall and Andy froze in place. Rushing water, it sounded like rushing water, but that was impossible, even with all of this there was no way that this rift could be opening up that quickly. She took another step and noticed all the frogs and lizards and swampy things that had occupied her home were scurrying away. When she brought her eyes up from the floor again she saw a wall of white and brown rapids pushing down the hallway. It was nearly up to the ceiling and it barreled down on Andy like a freight train racing down the tracks. It left no time to react, no time to hold your breath. Andy widened her eyes and it took her, swallowed her, knocked her off her feet, and then… it was gone.
Andy landed on her ass, back hitting dry carpet. She sat up and gasped. The rushing water was gone, and so was the humidity and the creatures. She patted herself and searched for evidence that what she just saw actually happened, but her clothes were dry. There was no rhyme or reason to this. The barrier between earth and the other world was thin. It wasn’t just that things were coming out, it was that things were intertwining. Time was of the essence before but now it was critical. If she didn’t close the rift soon, there would be apocalyptic problems on her hands.
Sitting up, Andy looked down the hallway and saw the mirror hanging above the stairs fogging up. There was a buzz and a sting on her neck and she swatted at herself, catching a mosquito mid-drink. A soft rolling thunder clapped from within the house, and something splashed against Andy’s cheek. She blinked and looked up. It was raining inside. She could almost see the gray clouds gathering around the ceiling, and then everything went dark. The water was back — turning the hallway into a river — and Andy was submerged.
“Gah!” Andy gasped when she surfaced after kicking up off the ground. She was able to stand, but the water was up to her chin and she felt herself being tugged and pulled down the hallway like the sudden river had a current. She held onto the door that led into her step-daughter Mollie’s bedroom, and tried to blink the water out of her eyes and think of a way to deal with all of this, but just as her vision cleared a new problem became evident. Something was splashing down the hall and it was coming right for her. Andy only had time to see the flick of a long scaled leathery tail before it dipped below the surface.
Sharp teeth clamped down on Andy’s calf and pulled her under. It was a gator, a nasty sonofabitch that had more leverage than Andy in the swampy hallway. Andy screamed and her lungs filled with water. The alligator had his jaws wrapped around Andy’s leg and he thrashed back and forth, blurring Andy’s vision and slamming her up against the wall over and over again. Andy fought, and struggled, and kicked, but she was stuck, and the alligator pinned her under. The world went bright and dark, and bright again, and it was all slipping away. Andy could feel herself slipping away.
Luck — or maybe just a desire to stay alive — found Andy’s thumb gouging into the gator’s eye. There was enough pressure to catch the beast off guard and it let go. She twirled in the water, bleeding everywhere, no idea of which way was up and which way was down, and the world continued to blink light and dark as she slipped farther and farther away. Then she tumbled, and her head popped up over the surface. The water was more shallow here. Andy coughed up water and gasped for air while she held onto her torn leg. Looking around, she saw that she had been thrown into Mollie’s room. Luck… now this time it was certainly lucky, because sitting on a desk just ahead of her was exactly what she had been looking for.
The old statuette was carved out of dark wood. It was a statue of a crone, maybe a foot high — crudely done — and it had a noose around its neck and nails dug into its face. Andy didn’t understand the how, or the why, or the what of it all. None of that mattered though. Whatever that was, and however it got there, it was Andy’s way of turning this all around. She could reverse it all if she cleansed the figurine like the Loa told her to.
When Andy stood up in the shallow water if felt like her leg was going to snap in half. She cried out in pain but didn’t let it stop her. She grabbed the figurine and yanked the noose off from around its neck. The nails needed to come off too but when she pulled at them it only cut up her finger tips. She tried though, yanking, and yanking, and yanking until her fingers came up bloody. The water was getting higher and higher. More thunder cracked somewhere far off in the house. She could feel the foundation of her home shake beneath her feet. No, not just the house, it was the world. The world was coming undone as two realms became one.
Andy screamed and flipped the figurine over in her hand, grasping the wooden statuette by the feet. She bashed it up against the dresser, water rising all around her. BANG! BANG! BANG! Over and over again she hit it, slamming it down, desperate to stop all this and then… BANG!
The head popped off and the house went quiet. Andy looked around her. The water was gone. The bugs were gone. The thunder was gone. Some of the furniture in Mollie’s room was turned over, and there was a dent in her door, but everything was dry, and normal, and… safe. Everything was safe. Andy let out a sigh of relief and fell to the floor. Her leg was bleeding pretty bad from where it had been chewed up, but she’d live. She got to it in time.
She got to it in time…
A cry echoed from down the hall and Andy’s head perked up in the way a mother’s did when their child needed them. She dropped the broken figurine, content to figure out the mystery of where it came from and why it was in Mollie’s room another time, and she used the dresser to climb to her feet. She hobbled out into the hallway and saw that it was much the same as Mollie’s room. Some of the photos had fallen off the wall, but the carpet was dry and everything was normal. There wasn’t a mosquito, or a frog, or an alligator in sight. All was normal, but Andy’s heart sank when she got close enough to the nursery to see that the door had been ripped clean from its hinges. It was peppered in bite marks.
The pain didn’t stop Andy from running down the hall. She left a trail of blood as she ran and spun into the nursery. Andrea was wailing from the crib, and she ran to her and scooped her up and held her in her arms, soothing her and patting her back, trying to get her to calm down. The adrenaline left her blind though. She shushed and hummed and sang for almost fifteen long seconds before she turned and realized that she couldn’t hear Julia. The baby bouncer that she left her daughter in before leaving the room was crumbled up and chewed to bits in the corner of the room. It was empty and Andrea cried louder and louder.
Andy’s eyes stung but she refused to blink.
She got to it in time…
She was supposed to get to it in time…
06/26/2019 07:06 PM
TWISTED BOB ROSS: COOKING
The chaos was manageable until the smoke detector began to chirp. That’s when the proverbial sh*t hit the fan. The chirping smoke detector set the babies off and once they got to crying Andy’s brain rattled in her skull. She turned down the heat on one burner and bounced over to make sure the oven wasn’t on fire. She shushed and cooed at the twins and climbed on a chair to waft the smoke away from the annoying machine screwed into the ceiling as she looked back for Rory, who was supposed to let her know if the room got too smokey.
“Why didn’t you tell me that…” but when she looked back she saw the frustrated look on Rory’s face. She had been signing and apparently giving Andy warnings about the smoke all along. “Oh… okay, I got this. You try and distract the babies and calm them down, I’ll make sure the house doesn’t burn down.”
SO DARK: Signing
“Oh no, I learned when I was a kid,” Andy spoke with her hands as she sat down across the table from Jai. When they had met back at her cabin all of those months ago things were too hectic and nonsensical to really get a flavor for one another. It was much nicer without all the violence and screaming. “I picked up ASL when I was ten or so. I had a foster sibling who was deaf and unlike a lot of the other kids I met in the system we actually got along. I’m a little rusty though, so sorry if this is only half making fork. I mean sense. Sorry.”
RAVEN TALONS: Summoning
The whirlwind on the ceiling was only getting bigger and thicker and purpler and scarier with every passing second. Some thunder-adjacent noise boomed from within it and blood and frogs rained down, splattering and croaking on the table in the middle of the room. Andy backed away and looked to Samuel with the expectation that he was going to do something about this. “Any day now, buddy,” she said, “I’m not sure what other signs you need to know that this is backfiring on us but… I’m pretty sure that a rain of frogs means quitting time under most summoning circumstances.”
Every bone and muscle ached in Andy’s body, even the ones she forgot she had. Why did her elbow hurt? What was up with that? But the twins were finally down and resting like angels even if they were crying up a storm only a few minutes earlier. Andy collapsed onto the bed and nuzzled into her wife’s arms. They were both frazzled — hair a mess — and covered in spit up, and drool and a tiny amount of baby pee. The exhaustion was so strong and pure that Andy couldn’t imagine ever getting up from the bed again. Maybe she would die there. Then, she felt a gentle kiss on top of her head, and listened to the steady, calming heartbeat that thumped under Claire’s chest, and she knew where she was going to find her strength to get up again when she had to. She had everything she needed right there.
DEATH DEALER: Fighting
“The thing about chainsaws is that you can’t think of it like any other weapon,” Andy said, pacing around Aurelia while the chainsaw in her hand hummed and rumbled in its idle setting. The chainsaw Aurelia brought with her to learn how to use it in a fight did the same, though the teenage werewolf held it in a crooked, odd sort of way. There would be time to work that out later. “It’s not a sword or a fist or anything that you should think of as an extension of yourself. It’s a tool, a beast of machinery made for intimidation. It chews up anything that gets too close, and that’s the key to it, kiddo. You’re not fighting with grace… you’re fighting to f*** sh*t up.”
06/14/2019 08:33 PM
Claire’s words still rang in the back of Andy’s head. She had to hurry and be safe all at the same time. That was easier said than done under normal circumstances. Circumstances were not normal. She got out of her truck, slammed the door behind her, and grabbed the double barrel shotgun out of her pickup’s bed. She wore a strap on her back that fit the gun nicely and she eased the boomstick into the leather holster back there as she walked off from her truck that she was leaving off on the side of the road that cut through the cemetery. The squat stone mausoleum she was looking for was down a cobblestone path about twelve yards away. It was old and mossy and had no windows. Whatever name had been carved over the entrance to the mausoleum had been lost to time, ground away by weather and years. The only thing of note about the structure was the statue of the hooded figure standing guard in front of it. Charon — the Ferryman — held out a great stone fist in warning. Andy bypassed the warning and pushed open the squeaky metal door to the mausoleum so she could disappear into the shadows inside.
Ha. She was going to do her best.
The inside of the mausoleum smelled of dust and cob-webs. Andy closed the loud metal door behind her and stepped in. Light seeped in through cracks in the ceiling but Andy could see exactly where it was spilling out of when she looked up. All in all, the mausoleum wasn’t very big. There was a stone floor that had grass poking out of it and a concrete casket sat firmly planted in the center of the room. A second statue of Charon stood above the casket, this one’s hand was open, waiting for an offering.
This was the way to Necropolis, a city of magic and monsters, a city hiding between the cracks of reality. Andy and Claire needed help, they were desperate, and help could be found in Necropolis. Days earlier — moved by love and a choice to expand their family — Andy used a voodoo ritual that channeled the power of the Loa Ayida-Weddo. Through her power, Andy and Claire were able to conceive a child that was their own, but voodoo pregnancies had consequences. Claire was pregnant almost immediately and after only a day she was already swelling up and showing signs that shouldn’t have been showing for at least three months. The magic of the Loa was speeding things up and the Stoddard-Barclays were in over their heads. They needed a witch doctor, so Andy was going to find one.
Digging into her pocket, Andy pulled out a strange looking silver coin — an obol. She turned it over in her hand. One side showed a skull, and the other showed a boat. She sat it in the open stone palm of the Charon statue and muttered the words, “Epitrepste mou to thanato,” and the walls began to rumble. Andy took a step back and the statue’s hand closed around the coin just as the room sank down, and down, the walls stretching. Andy was on her way.
The room sank and sank and sank until there was no more wall left around it, just darkness, but even the darkness didn’t last. Soon, the room wasn’t falling anymore but lowering, and light flickered through the darkness. The room was more of a lift now, hovering down through dark sky and clouds as a strange city took shape below. Necropolis was a twist of stone and steel — tall buildings and massive structures complete with cars, and railroads, and even a few winged creatures fluttering about. It was modern. It was ancient. It was insanity made reality. Andy took a deep breath as her ride eventually lowered to the ground on the outskirts of the city limits. Necropolis was like any city — dangerous if you weren’t careful — but Andy was always careful. That’s why she brought the shotgun.
It was a long walk into the city, but Andy walked it without complaining all while doing her damndest to look like she fit in. She lit up a cigarette as she made the long walk into town among skeletons, and zombies, and ghosts. Vampires and ghouls of all sorts were there, too, but Andy kept her head down, she kept moving. She thought of Claire and the answers she needed to find and that made it easy.
A train ride came next, a bumpy jaunt across town on a track that reminded her of the L back in Chicago. She stood up, holding onto a pole for support. Andy avoided eye contact the whole way, but there was a goblin sitting two seats down who kept giving her the eye. She stared at the floor. She kept quiet. When her stop came, she got off without trouble and made her way down Bone Street. What she was looking she was sure to find there.
Bright neon signs flashed down Bone Street. Pink! Green! Blue! Flash-flash-flash! There were boutiques, and diners, and strip clubs with women dancing in the windows. Each sign was brighter and flashier than the rest. Like all the people, Andy ignored them too. She found what she needed at the end of the block. There was no flashy sign or color drawing her in. In fact, there was no sign at all. An African mask hung over a door at the bottom of some steps. It was a witch doctor’s office tucked away in a cellar. Andy took a deep breath and walked down the steps. If this didn’t work, she didn’t know what would.
The inside of the nameless office looked like any doctor’s office Andy had ever been in, though maybe a little more dimly lit. She stepped into an empty waiting room that had six chairs lined up against the wall. It smelled like sage in there. Andy went up to the receptionist desk and found the chair behind it to be empty, too. A little bell sat on the desk so she dinged it. It rang and echoed in the air before it died into silence.
“We’re closed,” a deep voice spoke out from behind Andy. She spun on her heel and saw she wasn’t alone, even though the space where the man was standing had been empty a second ago. He was an older black man, maybe in his late sixties, and he lit a match to spark up a cigarette when Andy turned toward him. He shook the match out, puffed on the cigarette and squinted at the redhead who walked into his office.
“Are you the doctor?” Andy asked.
“I said,” he ashed his cigarette. “We’re closed.”
“My wife is pregnant,” she went on anyway. “It’s a voodoo pregnancy and… she’s only been pregnant for a day and she’s already showing signs. We need someone to help us walk through all this. We need your help.”
“I don’t see no wife,” he looked around.
“I wasn’t going to bring her here,” Andy said. “I can bring you to her. We can pay you. We can pay you a lot.”
“Do I look like I need money?”
“Well,” Andy looked around the empty waiting room. “It doesn’t look like you’re doing a lot of business at the moment.”
The doctor laughed. “Voodoo pregnancies are different for everyone. No one human handles it the same.”
“She’s a wolf,” Andy said.
His eyes lit up. He took a long drag of his cigarette and crossed the distance between them. He blew smoke from his nose before extending a hand to shake. “Name’s Fig,” he said. “Doctor Fig.”
“Andy Stoddard-Barclay,” Andy shook his hand. “Are you going to come and help me? What’s happening to my wife?”
“Child,” he smiled. “Let’s go find out.”
06/11/2019 12:40 PM
I GOT SOUL, BUT I'M NOT A SOLDIER
FORWARD OPERATING BASE GHAZNI
The caravan kicked up dust along the perimeter rode on the outskirts of Ghazni. Three Humvee deep, it was a shallow show of power — a mechanical chode serpent slinking along the horizon — a reminder who had control. They were liberators, conquerors, invaders; they were in charge. Private First Class Andrew Barclay bounced from his seat inside the back of the truck pulling up the rear, squinting to keep the sand out of his eyes, M4 Carbine strapped to his chest. It didn’t matter how they dressed him up or made him look strong. He didn’t feel powerful. He was a cog in the war machine, a piece, decoration. Andy was a tool.
Children begged on the side of the road. Maybe they weren’t begging, maybe they had some other reason for being there, but Andy didn’t see them until the caravan was already driving on. There were a dozen of ‘em, maybe more. They shouted and waved at the trucks rolling by. Andy made eye contact with a little boy they passed. He couldn’t have been older than six or seven. Their eyes locked for a fleeting second that felt like an hour. He was a piece of the machine, too. They were just boys from opposite sides of the world playing a part in someone else’s game.
Then the caravan moved on and the boy stayed by the road. Andy did his best to not think of that boy again, but it was impossible to not take a piece of him with him.
“This whole god-damn sh*t hole only needs one thing. BLA-OW! BLA-OW! BLA-OW! Hahahahaha,”
There was no such thing as quiet chow time in the United States Army. It didn’t matter if Andy sat alone at the end of his table, or if the only company he kept while eating his evening meal was the book he liked to read when he was done patrol, the noise always seeped in. Most of the time, that noise came from one source. Gould was a first-class sonofabitch from some town in Missouri that Andy had never heard of. He was always the one going off on some tangent or another during chow, performing for his boys — Finch, Johnson, and Ramirez — standing and pacing around the head of his table while he ate, gesturing with wide, sweeping swipes of his hand under the big blue sky, and spouting his sh*t loud enough for the whole damn region to hear.
“Seriously, these f***ers should be thanking us,” Gould continued. “They living their lives backwards. They lucky we’re generous enough to come over here and fix it for ‘em.”
There was only so much bullsh*t that could be shared before Andy was forced to look up from his book to acknowledge the nonsense around him. He was surprised to see that Xanders was among Gould’s tribe, sitting there and nodding along with a half-smile on his face like the a**hole was speaking truth to power. Xanders was a good guy, about Andy’s age, nineteen or so — handsome with these sharp green eyes — but he was the sort of guy who would follow a bad crowd into badder times if it meant fitting in. He was as desperate for friends as Andy was desperate to avoid them. It was sad but understandable. Today it was Gould’s crew, tomorrow he’d be sucking up to the C.O.’s. Yeah, it was sad, but Andy didn’t blame him much. For most, it was hard to get through all this without friends — especially during down time — but maybe Xanders would get lucky. Maybe he’d catch on quick and learn that Gould was a no-good friend and he’d find someone else. If he needed someone, he deserved someone.
Things got cold when the sun went down. It didn’t stop some of the other off-duty officers from enjoying some of the festivities on the base. A new crop of local trainees had come in to help form what would, in theory, one day be the Afghan National Army, and in the spirit of solidarity some fun was being had, or, at least as much fun that could be had without alcohol. Andy chose to sit it out; the fun, the cold, all of it. He sat on his bunk in the barracks reading his book in the dim overhead light that shone down on him. The noise was muffled in the barracks, it made it easier to focus. But his focus was determined to not last long that night.
“Whatchya reading, Barclay?”
Looking up from his book, Andy saw Xanders standing in the threshold of the barracks, back-lit by the moonlight. Even in the dark, Andy could see that he wasn’t wearing his camo. Dog Tags dangled down over his sweat stained sleeveless undershirt. Andy wondered what pulled someone like Xanders away from a social event like tonight, something that you’d imagine he’d be pretty into given his proclivity to try and make friends.
“It’s uh… Childhood’s End,” he said, holding up the paperback. “Arthur C. Clarke. It’s about aliens and stuff.”
“Aliens and stuff, huh?” Xanders took a few steps into the room. In the light Andy could see the sunburn on his cheeks. “We talking like UFOs?”
“Sort of,” Andy shrugged. “At first, but, it’s more about the bigger questions. Our place in the universe, that sort of thing.” Andy scooted over when Xanders sat down on the bed beside him. His jaw tightened and his heartbeat quickened.
“So what’s our place in the universe?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Andy shrugged. “Haven’t gotten that far yet.”
“What about your place?”
“I’m not sure I have a place,” Andy said.
“That’s why we’re here, right?” Xanders said it like it was the most obvious f***ing thing. “Purpose. The army gives us purpose.”
Andy set his book down. “It gives us structure. I’m not so sure that’s the same thing as purpose.”
“You’ve seen the sh*t already, haven’t you?” Xanders eyes lit up a bit. “You got that look in you, Barclay.”
“I’ve had that look since I was six, Xanders,” he said. “I’m not sure if it has anything to do with this place.”
“But you have seen the sh*t, right?” Xanders pushed. “You were there for the ambush last month. That’s what the others said.”
“The others talk too much.”
“Maybe you don’t talk enough,” Xanders shrugged. “Talking is important. My uncle, he went through ‘Nam, he said talking about the sh*t to people who have lived through the sh*t, it’s the only thing that kept his mind from eating itself. He said, if you’re not careful you come home with that look in your eye, the one you already got.” He waved a finger in his face.
“I didn’t see the sh*t,” Andy swatted Xanders’ hand down. “I heard it, though. I… experienced it. We were in town, I was clearing a house with Finch when we heard gunfire. I’m not really sure what happened but we got separated. The insurgents they, they were everywhere or it felt like they were everywhere but I never saw them, not one, they were like ghosts.”
“I got pinned down in the back bedroom of the house I was clearing,” Andy went on. “Some debris fell in front of the door, so I couldn’t get out that way and the windowsills, they were being peppered with blind fire every now and then so I didn’t have a choice but to keep my head low, radio in my position, and wait to either fight my way through whatever was coming, wait to die, or wait to be rescued. It all ended up being just a lot of waiting. The gunfire was still there but eventually it was sort of easy to drown it out, to disassociate, you know. I was low, on the ground, there for hours.
“It’s weird, like… I almost forgot where I was. I almost forgot that this was a war. The noise and radio chatter and gun fire, it was all there but it was like I wasn’t. I looked around that room and it was like it was mine. It belonged to some kid, some girl, probably our age, I don’t know. The whole thing was very dissociative. It’s like it wasn’t me. It was like I wasn’t a soldier but just some kid caught up in this, like it was my room, like I was hiding in my own room.
“There was this dress hanging from the door. It wasn’t like anything I had seen over here, you know, it was like western. It wasn’t flashy or showy or anything like that, but it came down to the ankle and had this pretty little flower pattern. It wasn’t something that could be worn outside, not something the Taliban would’ve approved but this girl — whoever lived in that room — she held onto this dress like a dream, like it was something she had for hope, a ‘one day this’ll be mine’ sort of thing. It was hanging from the door but in the chaos it fell down. I’m not sure why I grabbed it but I did and I held it tight. It was my room, my dress, I wasn’t me, remember. The dress felt like a second skin and I just held it close until the bullets stopped. I protected it, I saved it, that precious ‘one day’ sort of thing.”
Andy forgot that he was talking. He stared at the canvas wall of the barracks and blinked for the first time in he wasn’t sure how long. He hadn’t planned on opening up. That was a story he never told anyone. In his report from the ambush he left it simple, explained that he had just been pinned down, nothing else.
“You kept the dress, didn’t you?” Xanders was staring at him with this look in his eyes like he finally found a friend that made sense to him out there.
“I—” Andy turned toward him just in time for Xanders to lean in and press his sun chapped lips up against his. It was a rough and crooked kiss, one that lasted for a little over ten seconds before Andy’s hand pushed lightly on Xanders’ shoulder, nudging him away softly. “I… I don’t…”
The thought didn’t have to be completed. Xanders stood up, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and left the barracks like he had never even been there. Andy sighed, exhaling a breath he forgot he was holding, and leaned back against his bunk, staring up at the light.
Andy and a few other members of his company were out fixing the perimeter fence before dawn. It was cold out there that early but the soldier still managed to work up a sweat doing the hard work. He hit the showers mid-morning and was coming back to the barracks to change before getting into his standard duties for the day when he heard some laughing and rough housing going on in there. He stepped inside to find Gould, Finch, Johnson, Ramirez, and Xanders all standing in front of his bunk, red faced and laughing. The trunk at the foot of his cot was crooked and opened, and Gould held a floral print dress up to his shoulders.
Bones turned to ice. Andy’s heart slipped into his gut.
“Well look who’s here,” Gould pointed. “The lady of the house.”
Andy’s jaw tightened.
“What’s the matter, Barclay? A man’s talking to ya, be a proper lady and show some respect.”
Xanders was smiling with the others, but he avoided looking at Andy. The gang moved closer. Andy was a statue.
“Cat got your tongue, fag?” Gould’s face was purple with vicious hate. Andy could see it boiling behind his eyes. “Wanna say it ain’t yours?”
Fist balling up, body tensing with righteous anger. Andy didn’t remember throwing the first punch, or knocking Gould to the ground. He didn’t remember the second punch either, or the third, or the fourth, or the flurry to follow. He only remembered the hatred coming from his fellow soldier, the pain and sadness that it stirred in himself, and the relief that came when they finally pulled him off.
A single car drove him back through the desert road. It wasn’t a caravan, or even an armored Humvee, it was just a car. He had no power before — no real power anyway — so how was this different. He sat in the back of that empty sedan, C.O. driving him to the airfield, having nothing of value to say so choosing to drive in silence, and he just stared at his bruised purple knuckles. He must’ve hit Gould so hard that he knocked the hate right off his face. Andy never had power, he was just a piece of the machine and like any piece he was replaceable; plucked from the machine and tossed aside for another.
They said his discharge papers would be there waiting for him at the airfield before he even saw the plane, said the rest would be done when he got back to the States. Children stood by the edge of the road as the car drove by. They weren’t begging or working, they were just children. Andy’s eyes met a boy as they passed. The boy looked away first.
06/05/2019 04:30 PM
I MADE DADDY AN ANGEL
A RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE (PART ONE): https://tinyurl.com/y4f3w739
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a continuation of an older drabble I wrote a short while back. This is the story of the death of Andy’s father, but from the perspective of the killer. The first section is pulled from Discord banter. All of Claire’s dialogue, actions, and choices were written by her writer]********************
Things started normal, as often was the case just before everything went to sh*t. Claire had spent a chunk of the day napping while Andy did some work on the house. Things were quiet, nice, peaceful. The thing about calms before storms was that at least people usually knew storms were coming. They had a chance to prepare. Andy and Claire Stoddard-Barclay were not so lucky. They were in the middle of a normal conversation, discussing where in the house they were going to hang their wedding photographs, and then everything went to sh*t.
“I’m surprised I didn’t wake you up. I was hammering a few studs into—” Andy’s button nose twitched. “Is that cigar smoke?”
Claire sniffed the air. “That or pot.”
“No,” Andy said, her face going pale as she looked around. “I know that smell anywhere. It only means one thing. The Baron, he’s—” Andy turned and there he was, Baron Samedi, the voodoo god of the dead. He was sat on their bed — having appeared out of thin air — smiling and smoking his cigar.
“Oh fun,” Claire crossed her arms over her chest. This wasn’t the first time this particular deity appeared out of nowhere in their bedroom.
“What are you doing here, Baron?” Andy asked calmly. She was sweating under her arms as if she somehow knew the answer.
“It’s time,” the Baron shrugged and took a puff of his cigar. “It’s time for my debt to be paid.”
“I got a dollar, will that cover it?” Claire shot back.
The Baron smiled a big bright smile that he directed to Claire. “You’re funny,” he looked back to Andy. I like her. She’s a good match for you, An-Dee. I’m sorry, my wolf friend, it is not that sort of debt, I’m afraid.”
“What is it?” Andy asked, not blinking. “What do I have to do?”
The Baron held his cigar in his mouth and reached into his jacket, pulling out a revolver. “I need you to kill a man.”
“Nope. Nope,” Claire held her hand out for the gun. “I’ll do that.”
“Tsk-tsk-tsk,” the Baron clicked his tongue and shook his head. “My debt is with her, not you, woofie. An-Dee is the only one who can do what it is I am asking. It is so.”
Andy forgot how to breathe for a second. She sucked in a breath of air and asked, “Who?”
The smile left Baron Samedi’s face. “William Barclay.”
Andy almost fell over.
“I take it that’s someone we know?” Claire asked.
Andy didn’t blink. Her eyes turned red, filling with tears. “That’s impossible,” she said flatly. “He’s already dead.”
“He is,” the Baron nodded. “So says time, but if he is to remain so da killer must take her gun and go do the deed.”
“The killer?” Andy tightened up. “I can’t… it’s not… I’m not the one who… You want to send me back in time to kill my father?”
“Wait, so you want her to go back in time and kill her father?” Claire wrapped her arms around Andy’s waist. “That’s pretty f***ed up.”
Andy was numb and quiet. Whenever she tried to speak only silence came out. She wasn’t sure how long she was standing there, staring, empty, blank. Her head shook from side to side. “No. No. F*** that, no way, I’m not killing my dad.”
“You owe me a debt,” the Baron sat up and swung his legs off the bed. “Dis is the price.”
“I don’t owe you sh*t. What I asked for you didn’t give me. You gave me some bullsh*t about Mia coming here, which I don’t f***ing understand. I’m not f***ing killing my dad for you!”
“Not for me,” he stood up. “For… the cosmos. It is done. So it has to be done.”
“F*** you,” Andy said. “F*** all of this. I say no. That’s my f***ing answer. No. If I don’t play your god-games my dad gets to be alive? That’s the easiest choice in my life.”
“How does your life change if William Barclay lives?” the Baron asked. “Are you willing to lose the life you have for the life you’ve already lost?” He pointed to Claire.
“Why does the cosmos need her father dead?” Claire asked.
“Some things are beyond knowing,” The Baron answered. “Answers may come later. They may never come at all. It doesn’t change the fact that William Barclay was gunned down some time ago on his way home from buying a pack of cigarettes and the shooter is standing just before me.” He gestured to Andy.
“I’ve… I’ve already done this?” Andy’s face wrinkled in confusion.
“Time is... fluid. Nonsensical. Deviate and it all changes course. Deviate and you as you exist now disappear. No Chucky. No new body. You can live a semi-happy life in poverty, always feeling off, always feeling like you’re in the wrong skin, never knowing true love.” He nodded to Claire. “Or you can do what is already done.”
Claire started pacing, the way Claire always paced in situations like this. “This sounds like crap.”
“I… I… I can’t do this,” Andy was frozen. She couldn’t move, she tried but she couldn’t. Her heart beat in her throat.
The Baron looked to Claire. “You know her best, woofie. Is she strong enough to do ‘dis?”
“Yes,” Claire said without hesitating, “But she shouldn't have to. I’ll take her debt, let me. If it has to be done let me do it.”
“Her debt is not the only debt in play here,” the Baron said softly. “Through it, I pay off a debt of my own. If I could send anyone else, I would. You may not believe that, but it’s true. An-Dee is the only one who can pull the trigger.”
Andy looked to Claire, tears running down her face. “H-How? How can I do this?”
Claire put a hand on Andy’s shoulder and gave a light squeeze. “I’ll go with you.”
Again, the Baron shook his head. “I’m afraid she can’t.”
“Well, that’s bullsh*t,” Claire protested before falling into a series of angry grumbles.
Andy shook. She was physically trembling, but when she looked into Claire’s green eyes she knew what she had to do, and she knew that if she waited too long or spent too long thinking about it that she wouldn’t make the right call. Stepping forward, she cupped Claire’s face in her hands and kissed her. “I love you,” she said softly. “Put me back together when I come back.” She turned toward the Baron, and he offered her the gun. Her jaw tightened and she reached out to take it, and when she did, she disappeared.
Everything was cold. A breeze rolled by that hadn’t been there a second ago. Gone was the bedroom she had been standing in a moment before. Gone. Gone. Gone. Everything was gone. No, no not gone, not yet. That’s… that’s what this was about. That’s why she was there, why she had to do the unspeakable, why it had always been her and why it would be her when the time came. If she didn’t do this… if Andy turned her back on the favor she owed the Baron then everything she loved, and held dear, all of her life — the good and the bad combined — would be gone. That, that was not something she could risk. Her wet, red eyes blinked and she thought of her wife. Andy had always said that she would do anything for Claire. Now was her chance to prove it. She looked down at the .45 in her hand — the gun Baron Samedi handed her — the weapon that was meant to set history up to play out how it always had been, and she started to weep.
The bedroom had given way to an alley — a dark and cold place where Andy was truly alone. She had her back toward the street and was facing the deeper shadows of that alley, but her eyes were fixed on the gun. A part of her thought that if she avoided looking away that it wouldn’t all have to start. It was a certain type of hell to stand in one place for eternity staring at a single object, but a part of Andy believed that it was a hell she would endure if it meant she didn’t have to ever turn around and slay her father.
A second ago she had been standing in her bedroom in Texas, laughing with her wife in the year 2019. Now she was in Chicago, she could smell it in the air and taste it in the cold. November 23, 1982. She didn’t need a calendar. Andy had always known the day her father died, the day her mother became a widow. Would knowing that she had been responsible all along have changed the way she grieved growing up — missing the father she never knew? Who was to say? Would she ever be able to look her mother in the eye again when she came back from this? Could she come back from this? The revolver in her hand was a thousand pounds. The weight of it felt as though it would drag her to the center of the earth. Standing there staring was hell, but maybe a worse hell waited for her if she looked away.
Free will. What a f***ing a joke. Andy’s choices didn’t lead her here if she was going to end up here all along. She made a deal with Baron Samedi; find her a way to stop the Vision — the bastards that tortured Claire — and in exchange she would owe him a favor, but this… this causality time travel nonsense, it was a bullsh*t. Andy’s father had been dead for thirty-six years before Andy made that deal, which meant Andy was always going to make that deal. She was always going to end up here standing in a dark alley, an adult in 1982, holding the gun that would kill her father. What would happen, she wondered, if she turned the gun on herself. If she pressed the muzzle of the revolver under her chin and pulled the trigger would the universe tear itself in two? Was she even capable of playing chicken with fate and the cosmos? Anyway she squared it, she was f***ed. She either lost her life — her family, wife; her reasons to live — or she lost her father, a man who had been lost to her since she was two weeks old.
All she could do was weep in the dark.
“You okay?” a deep voice called out to her, stretching from the street and into the shadows where she wept.
Andy had never heard her father’s voice before, not in a way she could remember, but those two words were enough to know it was him. It struck her down in her core and split in two. Fingers tightened around the grip of the pistol. Breath trembled in her throat, panic setting in. She was panting, losing sight of why she was there, how she was there, what this all meant. Closing her eyes, Andy thought of Claire. She pictured her wife’s smile and spun around on her heels without opening her eyes again. Her arm extended and a forefinger curled around a cold trigger. The revolver shouted and reverberated back through her arm.
Numbness set in. Andy opened her bleary eyes and looked past the smoking gun to the man at the mouth of the alley, standing there with a bleeding hole in his abdomen. He looked so scared, hand moving down to his wound and coming up wet and red with blood. Andy had never stared her father in the eye before but there she was, the last person he would ever see, and she cried, and trembled, and shook the gun that she was still aiming at him because she didn’t understand why it had to be her.
“Please…” he begged, his voice soft and haunting.
Andy closed her eyes again and pulled the trigger until the barrel was empty.
There was shuffling, and tires screeching, and horns blaring before the loud crash and the sound of a body being tossed over a car. Andy didn’t open her eyes. She knew her father’s fate, she knew it from the stories her mother told her when she was old enough — how her father was murdered in a random act of violence, shot six times in an alley before stumbling back into traffic and being struck by a car. It wasn’t so random anymore. It was close. It was too close, and Andy felt every inch of the pain she had been too young to feel at the time.
Panic flooded the streets beyond the alley. Andy remained in the shadows, trapped by the panic attack that was setting in. She opened her eyes and hyperventilated. There was no way to maintain control of her breathing. The world spun in the wrong direction and when she looked down at the gun in her hand she could see blood under her nails, even though she had been too far away to get bloody. The world was just noise, and light, and cold, and Andy’s knees buckled with pain, grief, guilt — it was enough to choke on. Then she smelled the cigar smoke.
Finding the strength to turn around, Andy spun back on her heel and looked into the dark pit at the end of the alley. Baron Samedi stood, leaning on a cane, a fat cigar dangling from his chapped, painted lips. Her eyes were red and blinded by tears but it didn’t stop her from glaring at him.
“I hate you!” she yelled, the words almost inaudible through the shrill call of her cry.
“The debt is paid,” The Baron waved a hand.
Andy cried and dropped to her knees, but she fell out of the cold. She landed on the carpet at the foot of the bed, weeping openly, the empty gun still in her hand. She was back. She was home. But all she could do was cry.
05/19/2019 03:35 PM
A RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE
NOVEMBER 23, 1982
Daytime never felt too far away in the city. Bright lights buzzing atop lamp posts, and spilling off of tall buildings and out of the headlights of suffocating traffic made it so the night could never feel too dark. The sun had long set by the time William Barclay stepped out of the front door of his apartment building and into the chilly late autumn night, but he wasn’t left in the shadows. Will buttoned up his jacket, scratched his beard, and stepped out into the glowing yellows, oranges, and reds of a night in the city, as he ventured out to the corner store.
Will — by all accounts — was a good man. When he was young he was a good son, someone who took care of his mom when his dad had too much to drink and got a little rough. He was a good brother who set an example for his younger sisters to follow. He was a good soldier when his country needed him, even if he was fighting for a war he didn’t believe in. The only time he had ever left Chicago was when Uncle Sam shipped him off to Vietnam to put together trucks that took his friends off to get killed. Will Barclay was a good worker, boss, friend, and husband, but now he had to figure out how to be more. Now, Will had to figure out how to be something new. It was time for him to learn how to be a good father.
Being a new father was something that took a lot of getting used to, but Will knew he was up to the challenge. Andrew Barclay was only two weeks old, but already Will knew that there wasn’t a goddamn thing he wouldn’t do for that kid. His wedding day had always been the highlight of Will’s life, the one special moment he could take for himself, but the day Andy was born Will found that these moments didn’t have to be one offs. That baby filled Will and his wife Karen with so much joy and love they didn’t know what to do with it. The sleepless nights, the normal worries that came along with being a new parent, none of that mattered. Their son was everything.
“Hey! Watch where you’re goin’, pal!” a driver yelled out of his window with an accompanying hand gesture as Will jaywalked in front of his Ford Pinto.
Will waved apologetically back at the driver and hustled across the street the rest of the way. He dug his hands into his pockets to keep them from getting cold and made it to the corner store where he stepped out of the artificial light of Chicago’s night into the blinding, artificial fluorescent light of the convenience store.
“Hey, William, how’s it going, man!”
“Hey, Samuel,” Will smiled and nodded toward the Haitian man who worked behind the counter.
“Long time no see, my friend.”
“Yeah… yeah, life’s been crazy,”
Will walked down one of the long aisles, eyes glancing left and right for what he was looking for, but he soon realized he had gone the wrong way. He doubled back, plucking some chips from a rack on his way, and then worked his way over to the back freezer display where he found the ice cream. Karen didn’t have any cravings all throughout her pregnancy but now that the baby was here she had been craving up a storm. Tonight, her cravings came in the form of Double Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. She had been a champ through all of this, and there was nothing Will wouldn’t do to make sure the mother of his child was happy. She felt bad sending him out so late, but he promised her that he would always make sure she had everything she needed. She sent him out to get a carton. He picked up two.
Stacking the ice cream, Will set the chips down on top of the stack and was coming back around for the counter, but he stopped when something caught his eye. There was a pile of chachkies sitting on a rack to his left. Most of it was dumb — useless trash — but among the nonsense was a tiny stuffed bear, white with little black eyes, and it wore a blue Cubs hat on its head. It was the perfect size to set in a crib. He thought for a minute, trying to figure out if he had enough cash on hand to cover it. He put the chips down and picked up the little bear.
“Wanna add the usual?” Samuel asked as Will set his stuff down on the counter.
Will nodded. Samuel dipped back to get a pack of cigarettes and Will gave the little black and white cat sitting on the counter a scratch behind the ear, “Hey, Brigitte. Good girl.” Samuel came back around and set the cigarettes down beside the stuffed bear. “It’s not gonna be my usual anymore though,” Will told him. He held up the cigarettes. “This is my last pack. I’m quitting.”
“Good for you,” Samuel said cheerily, almost as if he was just playing along and didn’t believe it.
“Karen had the baby,” Will beamed. “I gotta start being a good influence now.”
“Congratulations, man, boy or girl?”
“I was praying for a girl,” he shrugged, “but I think Karen might’ve been praying harder. We got a son. Andrew, little Andy. Two weeks old.”
“That’s beautiful, man, really beautiful. A future Cubs fan in the making.” Samuel gestured to the bear before packing it away in a plastic bag with the rest of Will’s purchases.
Will nodded and paid in cash “Have a good night, Sam.”
“You too, William, you too, and best of luck with fatherhood, man. Give my love to Karen.”
The night felt colder, even though it had only been a few minutes since Will had last been out there. The wind picked up and it nipped at him a little. He hustled, eager to get home to his family — his wife and child — but also wanting to get warm again. He looked both ways and crossed the street on an angle, cutting through the reds, and oranges, and yellows, of the night, expecting to make the two blocks between the corner store and his apartment in no time at all.
When Will reached the other side of the street he dug through the plastic bag in his hands and fished out the pack of cigarettes he bought. He wasn’t joking when he told Samuel that it was his last. His vice had one last hurrah before it went away for good. Will was a man who gave up drinking at twenty-two, after seeing how it shriveled and morphed his old man. He walked into a bar, ordered one last beer, and enjoyed the hell out of it, but hadn’t touched the stuff since. It was going to be the same way with the smokes. He was doing it for himself, for his future, for his kid, and that made the hard stuff easy.
Will tucked the cigarettes into the pocket of his jacket and carried the rest in the bag. He was a block away now, almost home, when the skin on the back of his neck prickled up. He didn’t know what it was or what it meant, but he felt off — strange. Things felt, dangerous. He stopped, as if acting on some sort of instinct, and he noticed that things were kind of dark. Will was at the lip of an alley, where shadows spilled out, in one of the few small pockets where the stretching glow of streetlights, business signs, and the rest of the light pollution of a city didn’t reach, and it was cold in the dark.
A soft whimpering cry leaked out of the shadowy alley. Will had to squint into the darkness to make out the shape of a small person standing just out of visual range with their back to him. It was a woman, maybe, but it was hard to tell. They were just standing there, crying to themselves, alone.
“You okay?” Will called out to the stranger. It was the sort of man he was.
The person in the shadows didn’t respond, but the crying continued. Will was a half dozen yards away, maybe, and he just stood there. He wanted to help a stranger who looked like they were in need, that was who he was, but he didn’t know how to help this person. He wasn’t sure if he could. He was seconds away from starting on back down the street, seconds from heading home to his wife and son — to his life — when the person in the alley turned around.
There was a flash. There was a bang. There was a biting pain in the lower left side of Will’s abdomen.
Will reached for the pocket where he had tucked away his last pack of cigarettes. He put pressure on a fiery pain that hadn’t been there a second ago, and when he lifted his hand again it came back red and slick with blood. His eyes were wide. His heartbeat was somehow steady. The person down the alley stared at him, tears in their eyes, and he could see the smoking six-shooter still aimed in his direction.
The plastic bag filled with Karen’s ice cream and Andy’s bear dropped to the concrete as five more bullets ripped Will apart. Lead bullets tore into his chest, gut, shoulder and throat, and he stepped back into the artificial light of the city. He stumbled off the curb, into the street and managed to hear the car horn but not see the car itself. He was hit on the side and the world flipped over, though his vision was already blurry and stained with blood from where his head hit the windshield of the car that struck him. He flipped and rolled across a pot hole in the street. Everything was sounds, and shapes, and smells, but nothing made sense. He choked on the fumes coming out of the tailpipe of the car that hit him, and his body shook a little as he lay face down in the street. People were scattering, rushing in a panic — voices, noise, voices — it was all blood, chaos, and nonsense to a dying man.
“Karen,” he choked out, spitting out blood. “Andy…”
Shadows moved above him, people coming to see if he was okay. He wasn’t.
William Barclay choked on blood, but when his dying eyes looked up, he could see something cutting through the shadowy shapes of the onlookers and washing out the artificial lights of the city with a bright, sunny white light that made everything else melt away. There was a person in that light, swooping down from above, drifting on big and beautiful wings.
The last thing he smelled was cigar smoke and rum before the light took him away to become an angel.
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