Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mama


The waves of wind broke against the panels on the outside of the house. Window shutters smashed together like wicked hands clapping excitedly. Beads of frozen rain bombarded the windows, creating a chilling rhythm to accompany the beat of the clapping shutters. Then the thunder began to sing in its deep voice. A flash of lightning illuminated the room, and the shadows cast onto the wall seemed to be dancing with the song of the storm.
Spindly fingers climbed the walls and dark blobs like spilled ink slipped over the white paint. The silhouette of a person with crazy hair danced from one corner of the room to another, occasionally locking arms with another silhouetted figure. The shadows of the rain slid to the floor and vanished into the darkness cast over the rug. Something that resembled the thin leg of an enormous spider swept across the ceiling, and over the plastic face of a doll. The doll’s eyes seemed to sparkle as the shadow swept over them.
Sarah’s wide eyes shimmered with fear as they watched the dancing shadows and the doll’s briefly sparkling eyes. She felt a shiver crawl up her spine and a lump of unscreamed terror gather in her throat. The song of the storms filled her ears and deafened her to any noise that wasn’t the drumming beat of her own heart. The small breaths she dared to take lifted away from her lips in small puffs of vapor.
Then the doll’s plastic lips slid apart and a voice slithered out. “Mama!”
Sarah ducked beneath her covers and pulled her stuffed polar bear close to her chest. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to sleep, but the doll continued to call for it’s mama and the storm continued it’s raging symphony. Her breathing became irregular and coldness like the Winter air began to sink into her skin. She pulled the bear closer and the blankets tighter, but her flesh would not warm and the noise would not stop.
Mama,” the doll wailed as the world began to spin and shake out of control. A numbness began to climb Sarah’s legs and the fingers of fear pulled at the hair on the back of her neck. She pinned the bear tighter against her body and crunched her knees against her chest. She wrapped her arms around her legs and tried to warm them, but the numbness only seeped into her fingertips.
Another burst of lightning illuminated the room and made Sarah’s thin blanket, for a moment, almost translucent. She saw the shadows that should have been on the walls, they stood over her, or so it seemed. She tried to force out the screams caught in her throat, to call for her mother or her father. But the screams would not come, and her breathing began to slow. The numbness had crawled over her body now, and her shoulders. It was finding its way up her neck and she felt cold fingers caress the underside of her chin. Her lids slowly slid over her eyes and there was darkness. Then the cold fingers reached past her neck, and grasped her face with their freezing touch.
Mama.”

……

Finish your cereal before you get dressed,” her mother said from behind an unfolded newspaper. Cassie had never understood how her mother knew what she was doing without having to look at her, but she did. Mumbling quiet complaints, Cassie slid back into her seat and swirled the milk with her spoon.
She shoved a spoonful of fruit shaped cereal pieces into her mouth and slowly chewed them until they were little more than mush. Her father paced back and forth from the table to the kitchen counter and back again, a slim cell phone pressed to his ear. Every couple of seconds he would nod and say something to show that he was listening, but his voice wavered when he spoke. His face had been drained of all color as though a clean sheet of paper had been glued to his flesh. After a few moments he snapped the phone shut and slowly slid it into his pocket.
What’s up?” Cassie’s mother asked, looking up from the newspaper.
Harvey’s daughter,” he spoke slowly then glanced over at Cassie. He wiped his brow with his palm then leaned over to his wife and whispered in her ear. Cassie tried to hear what they were saying, but their voices were too soft for her to distinguish the words. An expression of shock came over her mother’s face and Cassie tilted her head in confusion.
That can’t be true!” her mother exclaimed.
Harv told me himself,” her father replied.
Told you what?” Cassie asked her head still tilted to one side.
Her parents exchanged awkward glances. It seemed as though something had been said that Cassie could not hear, then her mother leaned over the table and placed her large hands over Cassie’s tiny ones.
Cassie,” her mother began but her words became a sobbing whisper.
Mommy?”
Cassie,” her father said as he walked around to her side of the table, “Your friend Sarah, her heart stopped working.”
Her heart stopped working?” Cassie spoke the words as if she didn’t understand what they meant, but she felt the warmth drain from her body. She began to feel empty, as though her skin concealed nothing but cold air. She knew what the words meant, but she wished she hadn’t.
She’s,” he took a breath, “Sarah’s dead.”
Cassie didn’t want to believe it. Sarah, her best friend, was dead. Just yesterday they had been playing tea party with their dolls and their teddy bears with the matching blue ribbons. The smile Cassie remembered on Sarah’s face had been so alive and happy. How could she just suddenly die? Cassie couldn’t choke back her sobs, and the salty warmth of tears stung her eyes.
I’m sorry, Cass,” her father told her kneeling to match the level of his daughter’s eyes, “Bad things like this happen sometimes. They shouldn’t, but they do. Do you want to stay home today?”
Cassie shook her head and sniffled.
Are you sure?”
She swallowed her sobs and fought away the tears. Slowly she nodded.
Alright then, we’ll bring you to school. But if you feel like you need to come home, we’ll come get you.” He patted her on the shoulder and smiled, then he turned to her mother, “Is Chelsea up yet?”
No. I’ll go get her ready,” her mother replied before she turned and left.
Cassie’s father turned back to her and smiled. “Let’s get you cleaned up then.”

The gray clouds from the night before had not yet passed, and the weatherman had predicted another series of showers but nothing severe. A black minivan pulled up in front of the red bricked Elementary School. Cassie and her sister climbed out and slung matching backpacks over their shoulders before Cassie slid the car door shut.
Take care of your sister,” her father called from the window of the black car, “And remember, we’ll pick you up if you need to come home.”
Cassie nodded and waved as her father drove off. She suddenly felt sick and wished that she had taken her parents’ offer to stay home. She sighed quietly and stared at the car until it vanished around a corner.
The wind tossed Cassie’s blond waves around wildly and her bangs danced before her eyes. The faint roar of distant thunder echoed across the sky and tiny droplets of water began to splash on the sidewalk. Several drops splattered against Cassie’s forehead, but she could hardly feel them. The thunder boomed again, more loudly this time, and Cassie felt warmth close around her hand.
Let’s go Cass!” Chelsea tugged on one of her sister’s hands.
Cassie nodded and turned away from the storm and the road and her sad thoughts. She clamped her own fingers around her sister’s tiny hands and soaked its warmth into her own palm. Together they walked into the building but once they had reached Chelsea’s kindergarten classroom, their hands released and the two went their separate ways. Cassie could feel her sister’s warmth leave her fingertips as she made her way to the fourth grade classrooms. A sudden feeling of cold loneliness replaced the familiar warmth.
She walked to her classroom in silence. She slipped behind her desk without greeting anybody and tried to bring the warmth back into her fingers. A girl with a pair of pigtails sat in the seat beside her and smiled. Cassie wondered if the girl knew about Sarah’s death. She wondered if anybody else in the room knew. Her teacher, Ms. Teal, stood before the window.
So much for no severe storms,” Ms. Teal muttered as rain pummeled the glass and thunder crashed overhead. “Let’s see who’s here today!”
The students announced their presence as Ms. Teal called their names. One by one in alphabetical order she called them until she reached Sarah’s name. “Sarah Trout? Sarah Trout?” Ms. Teal lowered the attendance list from her eyes and looked around the room. “Has anybody seen Sarah today?”
Cassie didn’t speak. She could feel the tears return to her eyes at the mention of Sarah’s name. She squeezed her lids shut and battled against the tears. She would not cry here, not in school. Not where the other students would point and laugh if they saw tears slide from her eyes. She turned to the wall and squeezed her lids shut until the sadness had passed.
But the feeling of loneliness would not go away. Just as it would begin to fade Cassie’s eyes would fall upon the desk where Sarah had sat and the loneliness would return. And the loneliness brought sadness. This cycle continued throughout the day, until Cassie could take it no more and surrendered to the overwhelming desire to go home.


Harvey, I’m sorry. I-” he stopped for a moment and tried to think of something nice to say, but nothing came to him, “I don’t even know what to say.”
It’s fine, Dave. You don’t have to say anything,” Harvey told him.
The men grew silent as their wives walked into the room, each of them holding a cardboard box. Dave finished taping off the box that was on the floor before him and he added it to a pile of similar boxes. Harvey had told Dave the plan was to move right after Sarah’s funeral and they had spent the day preparing. The wives dropped their boxes onto a pile of boxes that had not been taped shut and left the room. A stuffed polar bear teetered on the edge of one box for a moment before it toppled backwards.
It’s not fine. Your daughter just died and I don’t have anyway to help.”
You are helping. You and your wife both, helping me and Sal get through this.”
Dave was about to say something but the beeps and boops of his ring tone melody drifted into the air before his words could be said. He apologized to Harvey and checked the caller ID. “Brook Bridge Elementary School” scrolled across the screen in tiny, blocky letters. Dave apologized again and told Harvey he had to take the call. Harvey nodded and Dave pressed the phone to his ear.
Hello?” he asked, but he was already expecting the voice that replied.
Daddy?”
Yep, it’s me. Are you okay?”
Daddy, can you take me home now?” Dave thought she sounded like she was holding back tears.
Of course Sweetie. I’ll be there soon.”
Okay.” She hung up before he could say good-bye.
Cass?” Harvey asked as Dave shoved the phone back in his pocket.
Yeah, she wants me to take her home. Sorry Harv.”
It’s alright. Could I ask you to do me a favor though?”
Sure! Anything! What is it?”
Harvey dug through a couple of the boxes that had not been taped. After a few moments he pulled a doll out of the box the polar bear had fallen into. The doll was plastic and wore a flowery dress. Silver hair fell from its head in waves and its lids flipped open or shut depending on the angle it was held at. Harvey handed the doll to Dave.
It was one of Sarah’s favorites. We want Cassie to have it. I’m sure she’ll take better care of it than we would.”
Of course. I’ll give it to her,” Dave said.
When their wives returned with another pair of boxes, Dave explained that Cassie had called. Harvey thanked them and walked them to their car. As they began to pull out of the driveway the doll, now cradled in the arms of Dave’s wife, called out for its mama.


Cassie stood behind the glass doors of her school building. She squinted to see through the falling rain, but her father’s car could not be seen. Chelsea stood at her side with her face pressed against the glass. Cassie took her sister’s hand and the warmth filled her own fingers. The loneliness she had felt began to fade and a restful ease slipped into her being.
You two wouldn’t happen to be sisters, would ya?”
Cassie spun around to see who was talking to her. Her eyes found an older gentleman dressed in a blue uniform. The man held the handle of a mop that he sloshed around the inside of a white bucket. She nodded a response, but did not speak.
You wouldn’t know it just by looking,” said the man, “Her hair is much darker and straighter than yours.”
Cassie nodded again then glanced at Chelsea. It was true; her hair was dark and almost straight. A near perfect contrast to Cassie’s light blond waves.
The man smacked the wet mop against the floor tiles. “But that’s not what I came to tell you,” he said, “I came to warn you, little girl. Not everybody you trust is your friend.”
Cassie stood puzzled trying to figure out what the man meant. She asked him, but he simply smiled and offered her a tootsie roll. He began to whistle and without mopping up the water he had splattered on the floor the man picked up the bucket and walked away.
Who was he?” Chelsea asked. She didn’t take her bored gaze away from the storm outside.
Just the janitor. Here.” Cassie handed her tootsie roll to Chelsea as she turned back to the door. “Are they here yet?”
No,” Chelsea said before she popped the tootsie roll into her mouth.
Cassie thought more about what the man had told her and she wondered if he had meant it literally. Her eyes flickered to Chelsea. Suddenly the girl beside her seemed more distant than she had before, and the warmth their hands shared seemed to freeze despite the fact that their fingers were still tightly wrapped around each other. Had the man meant Chelsea? Was she not her friend?
Cassie had little time to ponder the trust of her sister; a black minivan had pulled up outside the school. Her parents climbed out of the car and ran toward them with their arms covering their heads from the rain. Chelsea pushed open the glass door and stepped outside, tugging Cassie with her. The rain had begun to freeze and it stung as droplets crashed down upon her face.
Come on let’s hurry back to the car,” her father said and scooped her into his arms.
They ran to the minivan, Cassie cradled in her fathers arms. He tossed her into the backseat and buckled her in tight; Chelsea was soon beside her. Cassie shivered and her teeth chattered as the cold water ran down her flesh and dripped from her bangs. She held her small hand over the heater, but it did little to warm her.
Her parents climbed into the front seats, equally soaked. A bubble of water slipped beside her mother’s eye, like a cold tear. Her father turned the heater up and waited for his shivering to cease before he began to drive. Her mother turned around in her seat to face her daughters.
How are you?” she asked.
Cold,” Cassie muttered.
Sarah’s dad wanted you to have this,” her mother said, and handed Cassie a doll that wore a pink and white dress, “He said it was her favorite.”
Banshee,” Cassie said as she took the doll from her mother.
What?” asked her father; his eyes flickered to Cassie’s reflection in the rearview mirror.
That’s her name,” Cassie said as she stroked the doll’s silver hair, “Sarah said so.”
Her parents exchanged concerned expressions, but nothing more was said about the doll or her name.


They arrived home shortly before dark. A vanilla ice cream cone sat uneasily in Dave’s stomach, and its remains coated his lips. He rubbed the wet drizzle on the back of his neck, but the water only smeared. Sighing heavily, he pulled off his coat and hung it beside his daughter’s.
Cassie sat quietly on the sofa. She cradled Banshee as though the doll was alive. She swooned over it like it was a baby. Dave shuddered as his eyes fell upon the doll. Something about it didn’t sit right with him. The way the lamp reflected off its silver hair. The way its eyes flicked open and shut at the slightest movement. The way it seemed to absorb the warmth right out of his very soul. No, he did not like this doll.
And yet he was compelled to watch it. No matter how much he wanted to he could not turn his gaze away from the doll. A nagging fear in the back of his mind, an irrational fear, told him that if he turned away for even a second his daughter would no longer be there holding the plastic doll in her arms. And as he stared unwillingly at the doll he became aware of the dimming of the lamp. His ears picked up on the rising volume of the thunder, and the rapidly increasing pitter-patter of rain against the windows. He began to feel himself growing cold and his breath rose away from his lips in frosty clouds. And then the world seemed to shake and vibrate as it was filled with unbearably loud noise, like a hammer pounding against wood. The noise came again and again, and his world quaked each time.
Aren’t you going to get that?” his wife asked him. Her voice knifed through the trance and the world stopped shaking. The coldness he had felt vanished into the air and his fingers began to thaw. The sound of hammers beating wood became a quiet knock on his front door.
He nodded but didn’t say anything as he tried to put his mind straight. With a step unbalanced by confusion and fear he crossed the room and pulled open the front door. Two officers stood in the doorway; the icy rain ricocheted off their blue caps.
Are you David Richards?” asked one of the officers. Small whiskers on his chin tossed bubbles of frozen water as he spoke.
Yes.”
May we come in for a moment?”
Of course,” Dave answered and took a couple steps backwards.
The officers followed him into the home. The one that had not spoken, a young-looking man, shut the door behind them. Dave heard his wife whisper for their children to go dry off, and in the corner of his eye he saw Cassie and Chelsea rush out of the room.
I’d like to speak to you alone, Mr. Richards. If you don’t mind that is,” the officer with the whiskers said.
About what?”
We’ll see if you know the answer to that.”
Dave didn’t know how to answer what the officer had said. Before he could reply the young officer had brushed by him and followed his wife out of the room. The officer still in the room told Dave to take a seat as he paced slowly around the room.
You were at the Trout residence earlier today, weren’t you?”
Yes.”
Want to tell me what happened while you were there?”
What do you mean?”
The officer scowled at Dave, his eyes ignited with anger. “Don’t screw with me, just tell me what you were doing there!”
I was helping them pack their thing! They’re moving soon and I wanted to help.”
Why would it matter to you if they’re moving? What’s your relation to them?”
I’ve been friends with Harv since we were children! Please, what’s this all about?”
Sally Trout’s brother went to visit them around three o’clock. I’m sure you know what he saw at their house.”
I honestly don’t.”
He found their dead bodies on their living room floor!” the officer barked at him, “He found his sister and his brother-in-law dead! Their faces twisted in agony and fear! But you know what was more peculiar?”
Dave shook his head. He tried to say something but a sick feeling had begun to rise in his throat. How could Harvey have died? They’d been gone for only a few short hours! And what if Dave had been there when they were dying? Could he have stopped their demise? He felt even more sick at the thought that he could have prevented his friend’s ill fate.
Nobody else had visited them that day. Nobody else except for Mr. And Mrs. Richards. Now explain that to me, Dave.”
I didn’t kill them!” Dave said choking down the sickness.
The officer watched him with disbelieving eyes until the younger man returned from the kitchen. The young officer shook his head at his partner’s questioning glance then made his way to the door.
We’ll be back later, when there’s enough evidence to haul your sorry ass in.”
The officer stalked across the room and joined his partner before the door. He flung the door open and the two of them stepped out into the freezing rain and booming thunder. Dave watched them leave though his eyes barely saw the officers. He was submerged too deeply in his own thoughts to notice them. He barely noticed his wife walk back into the room. She sat beside him on the sofa, and frowned when he gloomily turned to face her.
Are you okay, Dave?” she asked him.
I don’t know. I just don’t know. If we had stayed there for a few more minutes, maybe we could have saved them. Harvey might not be dead right now if we had been less hasty to protect our daughter from her own depression.”
Yes. Or we might also be dead. The officer told me he didn’t know how the Trout family died, but whatever killed them scared them into death. That means they saw it right? If we were still there, don’t you think we would have seen it to?”
What’s it?”
It doesn’t matter now,” she wrapped her arms around him, “It didn’t get us.”


Cassie sat Banshee on her dresser and brushed a strand of silver hair away from the doll’s eyes. She smiled, the doll felt like Sarah. It was as though her friend had never left, and the loneliness that had filled Cassie most of that day was gone when the doll was in sight. And when she held its plastic hands she could almost feel warmth sink into her fingers. She wished the doll good night before she climbed into bed herself.
She pulled her teddy bear close to herself and snuggled into her pillow. The blue ribbon, tied in a bow around the bear’s neck, reflected her bedroom light as she tucked the bear in beside her. She twirled the bear’s ribbon around her finger as her mind eased itself away from awareness. Her lids began to sink over her eyes, but just as sleep had begun to grasp her, the bedroom door creaked open and her lids lifted apart. Her eyes flicked in the direction of the door, and found her father standing there.
You left the light on,” he told her as he crossed her room.
I didn’t mean to,” Cassie replied tiredly.
I’ll get it on my way out,” he told her. He sat on the edge of her bed and kissed her lightly on the forehead. “Good night, Sweetie. Take good care of my daughter, Teddy.”
He stood away from her bed and walked to the door, pausing briefly to glance at the doll that sat on Cassie’s dresser. She saw him shake his head before he flicked the light switch down and left the room.
Cassie snuggled the teddy bear in her arms and listened to the sound of the rain as it pelted her bedroom window. She found the steady song of the rain soothing, and she was soon slipping into sleep. Then the rain became louder and less harmonious and the booming voice of the thunder cried out as lightning flashed into the room.
Cassie’s eyes snapped open as her room illuminated. She took a wary glance around, frightened suddenly, and cold. She shrugged as the room faded back into darkness and she pulled the blankets tighter to her body. Then she heard the faint sound of footsteps and whispered conversation. Her eyes slid open again and she had a second glance around the room. Still she saw nothing, but the noise she heard steadily grew louder.
And the rain grew louder as well. And the thunder’s voice seemed to make the entire world spin and shake. And when the lightning flashed again, she saw them on the walls. Shadows of things that didn’t exist. Long fingers and spindly spider legs and strange blobs that had no form. They slid over her walls and floors. She gasped and blinked, hoping the shadows would vanish like a nightmare.
But they remained, and they danced, without harmony, from wall to ceiling and back again. The sounds of footsteps and conversation deafened Cassie to all other noise except for the beating of her heart. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to pretend it wasn’t there, nothing was there.
And then the voice called out from across the room, “Mama.” Cassie’s eyes flew open at the sound of the doll’s voice. “Mama,” it called again. This time she screamed. She screamed for her father, or her mother. Her screams were muffled by the noise of the dancing shadows and the song of the storm. So she screamed again, louder, but still she could not hear her own voice.
The doll’s eyes glimmered as a shadow passed over her face. Silver and blue sparkles, as though glitter had been spilled into its eyes. The door flew open and her dad rushed in and he opened his mouth, to speak or to scream Cassie could not tell, but no sound climbed out. His eyes rolled back in his head as the dancing shadows ripped themselves from the walls and cut through her father like paper-thin blades. But there was no blood, no cuts, her father did not bleed. He simply dropped to the floor and did not stir.
The doll called out louder, it’s voice carried over the sound of the dancing and the storm. Cassie’s eyes narrowed on the doll on her dresser and she pulled the teddy bear closer to her chest. “It was you!” she pointed an accusing finger at the doll. “You killed Sarah, and now you killed Daddy! It was you!”
The doll’s eyes glimmered again as another shadow passed over its plastic face. The shadows tore themselves from the walls and swarmed around Cassie like a great black tempest. Then they dove at her, swimming in and out of her flesh. She felt herself growing cold, and then numb. She wondered to herself if she would see Sarah again. Then the cold consumed her, and she slipped into darkness.
Mama,” the doll said quietly.
The rain stopped and the thunder faded. The lightning flashed once more, and as it fell away the dancing shadows sunk into the brown fabric of the teddy bear. The red glow of its button eyes faded to black once more and it lay beneath the covers as though it were sleeping.

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