She emerged out of the dark void, a wounded soul, her face gaunt, her figure so terribly thin. The fall had been voluntary for it was safe in the darkness. Safe from the pain, safe from destructive and humiliating thoughts, safe from the barrage of guilt which constantly bombarded her mind with the harsh reality of her utter naiveté and lack of strength. She remembered occasionally seeing blue skies, but they had been fleeting, lasting only for moments. She remembered echoing voices calling to her and she remembered a legend that ran in a never-ending loop, a legend of an old lady living with a white wolf in a cave in the Badlands of South Dakota. Who told her this legend? Where had she heard it? She could not recall but she remembered that the old woman sewed beads made from porcupine quills in intricate designs on a soft buffalo-skin robe. The white wolf visited frequently to encourage her. He told her, “If the old woman completes the design on the robe, your life will cease to exist. But it will not be completed. You will return to your loved ones until your time has come. Do not be dismayed. The battle is yours to win. The manipulator will not go unpunished.”
He hadn’t legally raped her, but yet he had. It began with whispered words and feigned, accidental caresses that grew bolder in time. She fought against his seduction and yet he overcame her barriers. This wasn’t the way she was raised and she inherently knew it was wrong. Yet he persevered. She wished for a transfer. He objected. It was not part of his agenda. He lied and cajoled until she gave in. His manipulation was persuasive, polished, and she was ensnared before she understood what was happening. It was their secret, he said. She could not tell a single person. And she did not, not until the shattering truth of his deception became known to her.
His playground was not the playground where children played. His playground was the classroom. His prey the teachers, the female staff members, not the children. The narcissist knew how to read them. He targeted the vulnerable ones, the trusting, the gullible looking for love. Confident women were not left out of his warped game. Quite the contrary, he viewed them as a greater challenge and he knew that with the greater challenge came the possibility of sweeter gratification. His high was the chase, the win, the exploitation, and the tossing aside when his conquest was complete and his desires fulfilled. But he couldn’t just let them go. He was the epitome of egotistical. At first, he dangled the hope of love coming at a later time. He made excuses when his calls and texts grew dim. He would always care for them, he cherished their friendship, he just needed time, he had a daughter to consider. With words like that, he neutralized their doubts. But the master manipulator’s words were false. When a new challenge became his obsession, the narcissist could not completely relinquish his hold on those he was already discarding. He reveled in the power he held over them. It fed his arrogance, and for a while, the superior feeling allowed him to set aside his own lifelong insecurities and inadequacies. He never considered his own daughter when engaged in his despicable escapades. Will karma pay her a visit because of him? Will a man disrespect her, like the way her father disrespected and shattered the lives of the women he used for his own gratification?
His cold, toxic history is not an isolated truth. The ugly playgrounds are fluid, the ugly playgrounds are widespread. The self-absorbed behavior is unchanging, as is the psychological damage many victims–women and men– endure in their struggle to overcome the abuse and demoralization inflicted upon them. Do some victims end up choosing death over the long, gut-wrenching psychological battle?
As I near the end of my life, two random events keep popping into my thoughts. I know there is relevance here but I can’t quite grasp what it is. Medications cloud my thinking process. Perhaps if I didn’t need to take the medication, if I could stop, focus would return and I could at least hazard a guess as to what they could be signifying. I’m resting in bed at the moment, looking out a big window at the magnificent red landscape that is Sedona, Arizona. Mystical red spires reach skyward, like ancient beings encased in stone and time worshiping an unseen entity. Gazing at them, I’m reminded of how brief life truly is and how fragile. I’m hooked up to a medical contraption that drips morphine into my veins to help ease the pain that ravages my forty year old body. Cancer. I’ve tried everything out looking for a cure but it is not to be and I have come to accept that. I am at peace with what is before me. I don’t fear death anymore. Not since dreams of a beautiful trail came to comfort me. The dreams reach out with a promise that pain does not contaminate the pathway. Its magnificence offers only love. I am eager to take the trail.
The flashbacks are intensifying and I questioning why? The first event involves my very first plane ride. Aunt Cassie died. Her death was sudden and devastating to my mother who was her only sibling. Cassie was Mama’s dearly loved older sister, so we were definitely attending the funeral. Work prevented Daddy from going so only Mama and I would make the trip. I was six then. We flew from Dallas, Texas to Phoenix, Arizona, and there pick up a rental and drove the few hours to Aunt Cassie’s home in Sedona. My aunt was an artist, an oil painter. Her realm was the mystical Red Rock Country. The towering pinnacles inspired her, the sparkling babbling Oak Creek soothed her, the glorious sunrises and sunsets filled her imagination and gave her life purpose. She never returned to Texas. The red canyons and stately pinnacles became her forever home.
We left a week after the funeral, taking a night flight back to Dallas. Aunt Cassie left a will bequeathing everything to Mama. There were two stipulations in the will: Uncle Fred, her husband, must be allowed to live in the house until his death and the land and house must never be sold. It had to stay in Mama’s family line. That is how I ended up living in Sedona. But what I remember most about the trip was the night flight home and the lights of cities way below us that sparkled in the inky night as the plane flew over them. I found comfort and security seeing those lights. If you ask me why, I would tell you that I don’t have an answer. Air travel and being off the ground frightened me so much that I almost stayed home with Dad. But now, when I close my eyes for a moment to allow the pain to roll over and through me, or if my eyes close in sleep, I might find those glittering lights reaching out to comfort me once again.
The second event has to do with the unwrapping of a gift sent posthumously by Aunt Cassie. In a note explaining the late delivery, Uncle Fred said that this painting was being taken to the post office the day Aunt Cassie had died. In his grief, he had placed that boxed painting in her studio and had simply forgotten about it. A few months passed before he had the heart and will to again enter the studio. It was only then that he remembered the painting still resting against a wall. It is a gorgeous painting of Cathedral Rock and Oak Creek in Sedona. When I first opened the package I could have sworn that an enchanting rainbow crowned the formation, but it was not so. Mama swears my imagination went into overdrive that day. Aunt Cassie had not painted a rainbow in the painting. Still, throughout my forty years on this earth, the enchanting rainbow that never was bothered me. The vision returned periodically in flashes, as if something was trying to convince me that what I saw that day was correct. It makes no sense, I know.
Periodically… until recently. Like the memory of the glittering city lights that sparkled comfort in a scary dark night, the memory of the rainbow intensifies. Are these two childhood events an announcement of imminent death? And why do dreams of the beautiful trail now consistently follow these flashbacks? I do not fear the dreams. I welcome them. The stately trees of the forest, the lovely bright wildflowers that border the winding trail, and the glorious sunlight that warms the land all promise a loving welcome. What is there to fear?
My beloved husband stands next to my bed, his hand gently caresses my gaunt, weary face. “Do you see the pinnacles in your dreams? Is the landscape red and magical, like in Aunt Cassie’s painting? I love you, you know. I always will.”
It is and it is not. The landscape of the trail is ethereal and of all colors. But I only nod and smile up at him.
Dreams of recent events, images of the past, haunt me, invading my mind like a marauding swarm. Sometimes the dreams and images roll in like a cruel wind that scrapes the soul raw. Bewildering nightmares awaken me, chilling me so that I tremble almost uncontrollably. And yet, baffling as it may seem, there are times when beauty and serenity and sunlight flood my emotions, and I am happy. But I want it all to stop. It has to stop! I can’t survive this emotional roller coaster that at once condemns me, then woos me with delightful promises. I don’t want to succumb to the wooing, so I fight it with every ounce of determination I possess. It is a continuous battle. It weakens me and I feel like I can’t go on. Yet I feel compelled to seek it out. I must see these dreams, these images, with my own eyes, to determine if it is reality or just my imagination spiraling out of control. Is it truly a magnificent place or are my instincts correctly sensing a darkness living just behind the sunlight? Insanity laces the edges of my conscience, yet I know I am not crazy. I am not delusional.
Unbidden thoughts drag up faces I’ve not considered in ages. Like the face of a wife whose husband I took because I could. He was a handsome man, proclaiming to be dedicated to his family, and he was, until he asked me to dance. I didn’t pursue him, but I did take his wealth and then I discarded him. Not once did I tell him that I loved him, so I felt no guilt when I heard he put a .45 to his temple and blew his brains out. Weak, foolish man. I’ve been condemned but I suffer no guilt. Why should I? He thought to use me but I won the game. He fell, I did not. Beauty and intelligence, enhanced with confidence, is not a crime. I did not place the semi-automatic to his head and pull the trigger, now did I? Nor did I encourage him to do so. My only crime was that I grew bored with the relationship and I walked away. Like he did with his children and wife.
Charles Welton. Now why is my mind dragging up his image? I don’t care if he is rotting away in jail. He scammed a bunch of senior citizens and I turned the cops in his direction. Anonymously, of course. He never knew what hit him when the police arrested him. I took the money he scammed and left town. But I must give credit to poor easy-to-manipulate Charles. He remains steadfastly loyal to his one true love–me. He believes his scorned girlfriend turned him in. She doesn’t know about me, and I made sure she had another female to hate, and Charles, well he thinks I’ll be waiting for him when he gets out of prison. I won’t. I promised that I would but I can scam as well as he. He doesn’t even know my true identity. So do I fear retaliation from him? Nah. Plastic surgery today is marvelous and five hundred thousand goes a long way. And the old coots who lost their life savings? It’s their own fault for trusting a felon and besides they have Social Security and old people homes to go to. No worries there.
Like products moving on a conveyor belt so do faces move in and out of my mind twenty-four seven. Long forgotten faces just remembered. But why? I feel hunted, confused. Where is this coming from? I don’t do drugs and I’m not suffering from a guilty conscious. I don’t feel bad for anything I’ve ever done. Like, do I feel bad for stealing a puppy from an impoverished blind girl a few years back? No, I laughed. Know why? Because I knew there would be another charity willing to get her another puppy, and if that didn’t happen, there’d be plenty of saps eager to fork up dough to a GoFundMe for her. Hell, I’ve done the GoFundMe scam for myself and lived high on the hog for a year. Who cares about hurt feelings? We all have to look out for ourselves, don’t we? But I’m thinking that these plaguing dreams and unwanted images are associated with this trail I can’t seem to shed. I don’t know. It’s a trail that alternates between beautiful and evil, sunlight and darkness. The trail persistently whispers to me. It won’t let me go, so I’m going to go there this weekend to put a stop to this bothersome problem. I need to figure this out, and if I can’t, I’ll burn the damn forest down.
The weekend has come and I find myself at the trail’s head, a trail strangely named Trail of Disappearing. What is that name implying, I wonder. It is magnificent here, truly magnificent, so I’m thinking folks come here to disappear from the ugliness of the real world if only for a few hours. Tall trees dapple the sunlight that falls upon the ground and bright beautiful wild flowers border the trail that leads to a gentle bend. I’m seduced by its beauty, its offer of serenity, but I’m hesitant. My gut warns me to run away but the attraction overrides my instincts. I want to go, so I am. I check the backpack I carried with me for my cell phone, water, and snacks. I’m good to go.
The Marlow Register. Steel magnate, Stephen Marlow, is offering a million dollar reward for information leading to the recovery of his beloved daughter, Somi Holdbrook Marlow, who went missing last Saturday in the Judgement National Forest. She left word with a neighbor that she was going hiking in the National Forest. Ms. Marlow did not reside in the Marlow mansion but traveled the world and country like the free spirit she was. She was last seen standing at the mouth of a rarely used trail by several persons also out hiking.
I don’t know where the trail goes and if there is even an end to it. The trail goes on for a bit before vanishing around a bend, that much I can see. The trees and foliage are thick here but abundant sunlight manages to get through to fall upon the pathway. It is scenic, magical, definitely alluring. Is its beauty continuous, or does it stop somewhere on the other side of the bend? Standing at the mouth of the trail, a sense of comfort, and of fear, descends upon visitors. I feel it. Others have said they have experienced the sensation.There is a definite pull on the one staring down the pathway. Its beauty tempts and provokes a longing to journey down the path, especially if a loved one has succumbed and gone around the bend. It’ll steal your soul and run away with it, if you allow it. So far I’ve managed to resist its temptation but the longing is heavy. The trail has become my rival. It called to her. She went. I want her back. I’ve wondered if the trail goes on forever or does it cease at some point? Collective imaginations claim it ends at the gate of eternity. Some say it leads into another dimension. Does it? Are there unexpected dangers along the way? Is fear a companion? Or is the sense of comfort with the individual who takes the trail with them to the end?
I know she won’t be coming back. They never do. All I want to know is if her journey is good. And warm. She deserves goodness and warmth. I deserve to suffer the heartache I inflicted on her. She loved me. I love her still. But like so many other, I hurt her. I betrayed her. I have no excuse. Only a shitload of bitter self-condemnation and painful regret.
The jock and ghost girl, that’s what the idiots at school started labeling us. Okay, the jock title fits me but ghost girl for Abbie? Why? Because she had to take on two jobs when cancer took her mother and then her father who couldn’t cope with the loss and took to drinking and losing his job. She worked to make sure her little sister had lunch money and decent clothes. She worked so Ranni could participate in sports and go on field trips. Taking on two jobs didn’t leave her much time for socializing. Abbie Lynn Waith, the love of my life, wasn’t always so tied down. Prior to her mother’s death, she was like all other teenagers–absorbed in school, with partying, with me. But she had always been a responsible girl and that trait took over when her home life drastically and abruptly changed. She never grumbled about the responsibilities that fell to her. I did. Abbie didn’t. I missed our carefree days together. High school had been fun for us, right up to the day death stole it away and her father sunk deeper and deeper into the bottle. The change in our relationship was gradual. We still loved each other but Abbie was a working girl now and my time with her was limited. I grew resentful and provoked petty fights, but I steadfastly refused her offers that would end us. I did once try to help out a bit but that went sour. I slipped a hundred dollar bill into her locker. She returned it to my locker the next day with a note written on a Post-it. “Appreciate it but please don’t.”
Ranni died almost a year to the day their mother had passed. Drunk as usual, Mr. Waith chose to drive Ranni to a school function and right into the path of a delivery van. Abbie was working that night but she had made arrangements with her next door neighbor to drop Ranni off at school. Abbie would pick her up when the program ended. But something happened that prevented the neighbor from taking Ranni and it was Mr. Waith who ended up driving her. Ranni lingered long enough for Abbie to get to the hospital to hold her and to kiss her goodbye.
Abbie called and texted me many times from the hospital. Much later, when I listened to her voicemails, I heard the desperation and overwhelming grief in her voice and in her words. Would I ever get over the guilt and shame her voice carved into my heart? I was at a party being pissed off at my always absent girlfriend. I didn’t want to hear the same old excuses from her, so I turned off my phone and gave my attention to a girl who had been stalking me at school for weeks. I needed a diversion, an outlet for my petty anger, so I gave into her advances. No harm in that, I thought. My pants would stay zipped up, and they did, until the girl placed an E tablet on my tongue and I chose to swallow it and not spit it out. I recall what happened next. It’s forever embedded in my wretched soul. Abbie came looking for me. When she found me cheating on her with another girl, she fled, but not before I saw absolute devastation etched on her face. Life had betrayed her. I betrayed her. I shattered her. I saw her at Ranni’s funeral, not once before that day. I hunted all over town for her, burned up her phone and mine with calls and texts, but she hid from me. She hid from everyone. At the service, I stared at the back of her head, wishing, hoping, she’d feel my touch and would turn to look my way and see how desperately sorry I was. She didn’t. She listened and watched but as far as I could tell, she didn’t shed a tear. When the service at Ranni’s grave concluded, she quickly left. Alone.
She didn’t leave a note. Not for me. Not for her father. Her car was found parked at the Trail of Disappearance. They found two empty prescription bottles written for Mrs. Waith left in her car. They were prescribed for pain. Abbie was gone and so were the pills. I tell myself that coming here is not helping me, that I should stop. But my girl took the trail and I want to go get her back. I want another chance. I want a chance to beg for her forgiveness, to tell her I had made a colossal mistake, that I love only her. I know that chance is gone forever. The Trail of Disappearance does not relinquish what it has gained.
***The beautiful picture is not mine. I could not find a name to credit.
The river running under the yellow bridge was angry. Its waters bashed contemptuously at the pylons supporting the old structure. The bridge creaked and groaned against the onslaught but she stayed poised on the yellow bridge minutes longer, before descending the steep bank to enter the dark forest. She stopped, listened once again, her eyes scrutinizing the trees. Nocturnal creatures rustled leaves that carpeted the ground and above her head, ghost wings brushed the still night air. Time passed, and except for the noise of the raging river and the stirring night creatures, the world was eerily silent.
She moved deeper into the trees. When she came to a small clearing, she sat. Evil was here. She felt it. It drenched the night. Fear is evil’s companion. She sensed its strong presence. Not long did she have to wait before a cry of terror shattered the quiet. It was a sharp cry coming from a young voice. The cry quickly dissolved into sobbing pleas. Innocence was in grave danger. She raced to the sound.
The child was a small, thin boy, clothed only in white underwear. His outer clothing lay scattered on the ground as if they had been viciously ripped from his body. Terror filled his eyes and shook his small frame, and she could see bruises already beginning to discolor his face. Her rage intensified.
A large man had a hand clamped around the child’s neck. The man’s eyes were sadistic, and aroused. He murmured words to the boy as his other hand grappled with the zipper of his pants. She knew his diabolical intent and attacked, taking the unsuspecting man to the ground. His own terror satisfied her, fueled her, and her attacks became more brutal, more ferocious, even as the deviant screamed and fought to get away. Her objective was to kill the monster but the child was crying uncontrollably. He needed her. She allowed the monster his life and observed him crawl away into the night. She’d find him again, of that there was no doubt.
She returned to the terrified boy. His thin arms were wrapped around his bare chest, as if trying desperately to keep himself together. He was trembling, violently. Her heart went out to him.
“He won’t hurt you, I promise. I won’t hurt you. I came to find you and to take you to your mommy and daddy.”
Gulping back his fears, the boy ran to embrace his savior. He held fiercely onto her and she comforted him.
“Let’s get your clothes on, Michael, and go find your mom and dad. It’s cold out here and they have been looking for you.”
“You know my name?”
“Lots of people have been looking for you. We all know your name.”
The boy held tight to her as she pulled him up the steep slope. When they reached the yellow bridge and the road, they began their walk in silence. The child’s hand remained fastened on to her. They walked a good distance before the lights of the search party came into view.
“The policemen are coming for you. They will take you to your mom and dad. Stand here on the side of the road where it is safe. Wave your arms until they see you. You are going home now.”
When the boy became concerned and asked if she would wait with him, she replied, “No, child. I must go now. You are safe. Wave your arms now so they will see you.”
“I don’t know your name,” the boy said.
“I am a Seeker. My name is not important, only your life.”
The boy waved his arms up and down as the headlights of police cruisers and other vehicles and flashlights grew brighter and brighter. The Seeker left and the boy again became fearful. When he heard his name being shouted, his fears eased, and he ran to lights and to the people who had come for him.
The Seeker raced through the trees to a house which she entered through a back door. A man in a crimson robe and holding a steaming cup of tea, looked at her. “Were you successful?” He asked, and when she nodded her reply, he said, “Good. Very good.” He disappeared into another room.
The Seeker returned to the outside to listen to the night. If the police were competent, they would find the vile monster who stalked the little ones. She had made sure that his wounds were severe enough that he must seek medical help.
Back on the lonely stretch of highway, the boy, now wrapped in a blanket and surrounded by a jubilant crowd, spoke with the officers as they waited for the paramedics to arrive. Sergeant Sunday was the officer in charge. He lowered down to the boy’s level and asked, “How did you get here, son? Did you get lost? Tell me what happened to you.”
“A bad man grabbed me from my mommy and brought me here. I was scared but she came and saved me.”
All heads whipped up and turned to Sergeant Sunday who appeared just as stunned as the rest of them to hear that a woman was somehow involved.
“A lady found you? Did she tell you her name? Where is she now, son?”
The child shook his head. “Not a lady lady. It was a police dog. She bit the monster and chased him away. The monster was bleeding.”
Sunday’s head jerked back in shock. “A police dog?”
“Yes. A police dog saved me.”
Sunday stared down at the little boy, as did the others. The boy looked backed at him with wide, innocent eyes. Sunday called on his radio. “John, your canine with you?”
A voice came back. “He’s in the car. Why? You need him?”
“No…no, that’s fine.” The Sergeant’s attention went back to the boy. “A police dog, huh?”
“She came to save me but she had to go,” the boy said, before leaving with the paramedics. Sunday and the people gathered around him remained perplexed and mystified, and skeptical. They scoured the trees and roadway with beams of light but saw nothing out of the ordinary.
Another policeman approached the Sergeant. “What’d you think, Sir? You think a woman is involved here? The kid looked sincere.”
Sergeant Sunday ran a hand over his weary face. “I don’t see a woman and I don’t see a dog neither, but twenty years at this job, hell I’ve witnessed many strange things. So maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. Maybe it’s all in that poor kid’s head. His way of coping, you know?”
“We gotta find that sick son of a bitch, Sarge, before he hurts another child.”
Sergeant Sunday nodded. “We will. But tonight we can all return to our homes and families and give thanks to the Almighty that little Mikey was found safe and alive.”
***Because someone asked. I blog every three Sundays. Well, I try to anyway.
Rogue Conway is an ass!
Just because he caught us spying on him and his brothers didn’t mean he had to go stand on a table in the middle of the cafeteria and yell out that me and my friends were perverted peepers. It’s not like we were hiding behind bushes and peering into their windows. No, we were upstairs in my house, in my bedroom, looking out my window. So what if the lights happened to be off and the window opened. My room was hot and stuffy. We just wanted to let some fresh air in. And it’s their fault my binoculars were out. The Conway boys were causing another big ruckus out in their front yard and it was only natural curiosity that took us to the window. They’d never have found out about our little pastime if my noisy mother had just minded her own business and had not barged into my room and flipped on the lights. She lit us up like the freakin’ Fourth of July!
We are not “peepers.” Or “spooks,” which is another name the kids at school now throw at us. And we are not “night crawlers,” or “mooners.” Jackass Rogue Conway flat out lied when he said I was mooning them. It’s not true! Not true at all! All I was doing was trying frantically to get my mom to kill the lights. I wasn’t throwing my butt out there for his benefit, and for him to accuse me of “mooning” them is a flat out lie. And I was not naked. That’s another lie he’s been perpetrating. I was in my nude sleep shorts, for crying out loud! I told him that to his face and asked him to stop spreading vicious lies about me and my friends but he just laughed and kept the lie going. He’s a freakin” jerk.
My mother is part of the Neighborhood Watch. Dad wants nothing to do with the group. He says he just fine with Mr. Glock at his side. My friends and I sort of belong to the NW. We keep our eyes on the Conway boys who live across the street from me. They’re so loud but I guess that’s how it is when you have a house full of rowdy males. Mr. and Mrs. Conway have five, ranging from eighteen to sixteen. Rogue is sixteen, like me and my friends, so that makes him a sophomore too, and we all attend Twining High School. When the Conways moved in to the house across the street last summer, I was in heaven. Good looking guys living across the way from me…Jackpot! Not anymore. Now I spend a lot of time wishing I could be a stealthy ninja so I could climb unnoticed into Rogue’s room and beat the hell out of him for all the hurt and humiliation he’s caused my friends and me. I can’t believe I used to have a severe crush on that a-hole. I can’t believe he’s convinced that my feeling for him are unchanged. He is mentally damaged, I’m sure of it. He may need closer watching.
There’s Mary Rose, Meilee, Bree, and me. I’m Jamie, which is just perfect for Rogue’s snot-nosed friends who laugh at me and call me “Jamie Bond.” Oh, hardy har har. Not even original! We’re not part of Rogue’s popular group. We don’t even qualify to be called nerds because our grades suck and we don’t care and we’re not moody enough to be lumped with the emo group. We are members of the group the masses ignore. We used to crave attention but we don’t anymore. Thanks to Rogue Conway, we’re now like the biggest freak show at Twining High. Even some of the dorks and nerds think they can get away with insulting us. I decked Descart Owens in the hallway the other day because he asked me to share my “goods.” He thought he was being so cool in front of his two lame-ass friends. I got detention because the bum ratted me out.
Mary Rose used to be a Scientologist. She said her family was deprogrammed a few years before coming to live on my street. She an atheist now. Meilee is adamant she has psychic abilities but she has yet to successfully foretell anything. Two weeks ago she predicted that things would change for the better for us. I’m still waiting for the “better” to come along. The harassing has only worsened. Bree is religious but I don’t buy it. She hangs out with an atheist and is always badgering Meilee for a reading. Isn’t that against the Bible or something? Me? I’m just me. The only child of Juliet and Sal Romano. I’m quiet, really just a tag along, but sometimes my Italian temper flares up and I throw a mean right hook. Descart’s busted nose is proof of that. My mom blames my Uncle Tony for my occasional “unladylike” conduct, which is ridiculous. Granted, Uncle Tony is a rough character but I highly doubt I’ll ever start a brawl in a bar and end up on the city’s chain gang. Uncle Tony and seven other troublemakers have to troll the roadways in lime-green jumpsuits picking up trash. Uncle Tony likes to fight. I like to stay by myself and get lost in books but sometimes a girl has gotta stand up for herself. Tony taught me how to swing a fist when I was in middle school being bullied. He said to always aim for the nose. He said that people don’t like to see their own blood spilled so it’s an excellent way to get their attention and to bring a fight to a fast halt. Well, it sure did get the principal’s attention and me detention.
According to school chatter, the Conway parents are going out of town for the weekend so the boys are planning to throw a huge party at their house. We’re not invited, of course, but I’m thinking this would be an excellent time to get revenge on Rogue. The girls and I need to get together and come up with some ideas. I’m thinking blackmail, A video of some nefarious kind that I could upload to his Facebook page. Maybe we could buy some paintball guns and blast him with red paint but I have to be careful here. I don’t want to be charged with assault or destruction of property and end up in jail with Uncle Tony. There’s always the laxatives in their drinks possibility, but we’d have to gain entry somehow. Maybe Uncle Tony has some ideas. I may have to go visit him in jail. But it’s gotta be done. I’m beyond the point of caring about consequences. It’s time for war! This bullying has run its course. I’m getting kind of hyped about this revenge thing. Might be an Italian thing. Who knows? I’ll let you know what happens.
Until then, stay Blank.
***A few years back a neighbor’s home was burglarized and nobody saw a single thing. We have Neighborhood Watch signs proclaiming vigilance but…yeah. Our solution was to all get bars on our windows. Happy March lst.
I live among pretentious fools. Eleven families, thirty-six humans total, adults and children. It’s a rather ritzy dead end called Nightingale Place. The cul-de-sac is long and wide. The houses are for the privileged, large and looming, occupied by homeowners whose average income rocks the higher six digit figures.
I enjoy my foolish neighbors. I enjoy their guests, their offspring, their friends. I attend high school with seven of their teenage children. We hang together, party together. We’re top-dogs at school. Football and basketball stars who gets away with just about anything. We’re jackasses. Pricks. Bullies who keep the unpopular, the outsiders, out of our clique. Little do my buddies realize they hang out with the ultimate outsider. But I’m their friend. They know me. At least they think they do. But, like I said, I so enjoy them. I thrive living on Nightingale Place, among the elite. I thrive because I eat them and anyone else I desire, and no one suspects a thing.
I’m a zombie-shape shifter, you see. I never sleep. I just pretend that I do. My father is over two thousand years old but he looks late thirties, thanks to the body he stole a few years ago. My mother is long gone, no doubt morphed into so many others that even her scent probably wouldn’t reveal her. That’s how we find each other–by scent. But she’s gone and I don’t care. We’re not loyal in the least. I remain with my father because it’s convenient and life is easy. I’m a leech in more ways than one.
Believe it or not, human females desire me. My kind releases a chemical, pheromones, that attracts them like blow flies to a corpse. But I can’t do anything with a girl. Lustful stuff, that is. But I play with them and string them along until, and if I wish to, I can feed on them. We treasure most the liver and the head and all that the head contains. Father guesses we’re much like bald eagles that relish fish heads. But because we want to keep suspicion down, we eat the entire body. The crunch of the skull is exquisite. We have no problem in pulverizing bone with our teeth. It’s a delightful necessity. Human bones sustain my kind. They make us stronger. Bones are our calcium.
I had a serious girlfriend once. Father frown upon that and when I refused to give her up, he ate her. He said he doused her liver in soy sauce and found the taste quite delectable. After that I refused all involvement in serious romantic relationships. It’d never work anyway. Sooner or later we have to move on. Cases of disappearing citizens begin to pile up and that attracts the attention of law enforcement. So we relocate. But no matter what, we always live on a dead end street. We consider it a clever joke. Like it should be a hint to those who reside next to us. It’s the end of the road for a few of them, a no exit, unless we allow the exit. And even if we allow it, the owner will be dead because we take possession of the body. The original inhabitant is discarded. And if you are thinking that we are fools because someone can identify the missing person and report a sighting, let me tell you that we only possess the identifiable body for a brief period before trading it for another. We tend to hunt among the homeless, the unwanted and unknown, and even though they might be filthy and skin-and-bones, we look beyond that and pick a being who with care and maintenance will prove to be attractive. We are not into scrawny or ugly, and we are not worried about money. We are rich. Over the years, creatures like me know how to work the system. We steal.
Dead ends. A word of caution to you. Think hard before purchasing a home on a dead end. I could be your neighbor and you could be my dinner.
“What the hell is she doing out there? It’s gotta be past two.” It was. A glance at the clock on Jake’s nightstand verified the time. 2:21 a.m.
“The question is, where the hell is that slut of a mother?”
We stood at the window of my brother’s bedroom, peering down at the little five-year old girl who was sitting on a piece of cloth in our backyard. She was staring up at the full moon, hugging something tight to her chest. Most likely the little stuffed giraffe she always had with her, the one her daddy had given her. Her mother didn’t comfort her. The stuffed animal was her only friend.
Jake and I had just returned home from attending a high school party. I came in to grab the backpack I had tossed next to the window earlier. The bright full moon drew me to the window and that’s when I saw her.
Mari. She lost her daddy just over a year ago. Her mother had replaced him with my father long before he had passed away. They had moved into our house only yesterday–the rich man and the conniving bitch. Jake hated her more than I did. But Mari, she was innocent, and frightened. With a mother like hers, who could blame the child? Her big blue eyes held a nightmare in them.
“I think she’s talking but I don’t see anyone out there. Do you?” Jake was sweeping the backyard with his eyes. We both became alarmed.
“A pretend friend, maybe?” I didn’t see anyone out there either. “We better go check on her. It’s obvious that useless woman is oblivious to her daughter’s whereabouts.”
We went quietly down the stairs and out the back door. We stood silent for a few moments, listening. Mari was talking to the moon. My brother and I exchanged a look before going to sit on either side of her.
“Whatcha doin’?” I whispered. I didn’t want to frighten the child.
Her little face stayed gazing up at the moon. She appeared enthralled by it, so much so that I took to staring up at it, too. It was full, clear as could be, not a cloud in the sky to get in its way.
“I’m talking to my daddy’s friend. He came to tell me that I shouldn’t be afraid anymore. Mommy won’t hurt me again. My daddy is watching over me and one day he will come to get me.”
“Your mommy hurt you?” Jake spoke softly, but I heard the seething undertone in his voice.
Mira turned toward Jake. “I was in the hoss-a-ple. My daddy came to get me. But daddy went to heaven. I miss my daddy.”
Shit! I felt all choked up, my throat hurt, and I swore if that woman ever touched Mira again, I’d kill her. Jake cleared his throat. He was feeling the same as me. We shot each other a look and nodded. We were on the same page.
“We remained out there for a few minutes longer, all of us just staring up at the moon. My gut was churning with anger and sadness for Mari, but Mari…Mari was smiling and nodding her little head as if some secret conversation was going on between her and an unseen friend.
Mari stirred. “Daddy’s friend is gone. We can go back inside now.”
Jake threw a meaningful look at me. I nodded, and then took Mari’s little hand. Jake gathered up the small blanket.
I leaned down to look into Mari’s eyes. “No one is ever going to hurt you again, Mari. Jake and I promise.”
I felt a chill race through me. The bright, clear moon turned suddenly hazy, and a shimmer moved into the far trees and vanished. I grabbed Mari up and shot through the back door. Jake was on my heels. We stared wide-eyed at each other. He had seen what I had seen. But Mari, still clutching her giraffe, showed no fear. She rested her head on my shoulder, sighed contentedly, and fell asleep.