My alarm is ringing. I hear her. I know her incessant rattling is for me. But what was it that I needed to get up for?
So warm is the blanket and bed in which I lay what If I let her arms coddle me a while longer.
And just close my eyes…
I sit up in a hurry. In a panic I check the time.
She reaches and gently pulls me back down
I argue with her “ let me go” I say “I have many important things to do today”
She reminds me that I am happy here
Content… ecstatic even
Oh god I’m late and I won‘t be able to make that meeting
It’s the third time I had to reschedule
If I get dressed now, maybe I -
She shuts me up and lays me down
I know I belong here now
who am I for thinking it would end up any different
*bing* A text from my husband asking me If I brought the car to the mechanic yet
One little thing that he asked me to do
just one little thing
all I do is lay here, all I do is sleep
no help to anyone
it doesn’t get better
it doesn’t go away
and the day is all done now so I might as well stay
she hugs me with a smile as I snuggle in
If you travel down State Route 20 in West Virginia, you’ll see miles and miles of rolling hills and mountains stretching off into the blue tinted sky. The hills and valleys are strewn with cities and towns, villages and abandoned waystations on old forest roads. History runs deep here… history and forgetfulness.
I come from a small town called Melinda. We always say it’s the kind of place you would never be able to find if you didn’t already know it was there. Your eyes would be blinded by the smoky vistas and misty overlooks and you’d miss the exit that looks like nothing more than a turn off to a run down oil-change shop. But if you somehow find it and turn down that road, you’ll find the red brick buildings, abandoned quarries, and aging schoolhouses where I grew up. It’s quaint in that Appalachian kind of way, but small and sparse.
Most travelers that do find their ways to Melinda find nothing worthwhile there. Honestly, most people that live there don’t either. There’s not always a lot worth finding in these hills, and some of the things you do find… well… maybe the better part is in the forgetting.
My name is Dave, and it’s been 9 years since I left Melinda. I spent some time working as a casual longshoreman at the Port of Philadelphia before saving up enough money to go back to school at Temple. I’ve been living off campus in a rowhouse with six other guys. They’re the closest thing I’ve had to friends since moving to the city. We’re not exactly close, but they’re good company for drinking and the occasional joint. And it’s nice not to have to fall asleep in a quiet house.
This Friday night we’re out on 2nd Street at a dive bar with a broken digital jukebox and that kind of sticky bar floor that always makes it sound like you’re walking on packing tape. Rob, Derek, and I get a seat by a closed up fireplace full of LED candles. Derek has two girls in tow, I don’t get their names, but he’s clearly playing them off each other. That seems complicated.
Rob has a little piece of eye candy he picked up at the last bar named Emily. I don’t think much about any of them, to be honest. I lean back in my chair and nurse my lager and let the hum of conversation wash over me until I hear Emily say, “Oh yeah! I’m from a small town in West Virginia called…” Then I hear her say it like we say it, “Me-leenda”. No outsider pronounces it right. I snap to attention.
“No way!” Rob shouts. “That’s where Dave is from! Man, what are the odds of that?”
I lift my glass and nonchalantly say, “Go Tigers.” She woos.
A town of 800 people and of course I run into another expat here in a dive in Philadelphia. What are the odds, indeed? I don’t want to make a big thing about it, we make a little small talk and move on. There’s not that much to say about Melinda, after all.
But an hour passes. And then Rob shows back up with a tray of Lagers and shots. Here they call that the “City Special.”
“Drink up, ladies!” he shouts as he downs the Old Overholt.
Then he drops back into his seat. They’ve been talking about the case in North Philly that recently broke where it turned out a man had kept two girls in his basement for 6 years. Somehow, against all odds, he managed to keep that secret for that long. They talk logistics. How did he feed them? How did he handle medical care? How did he get them to go to the store for him and not immediately run for help? (Derek and his two girls both seem very into true crime). That’s when Rob turns to Emily and says, “So what about you guys, ever have any action like this back in Me-LEEN-da?” He over enunciates.
Emily shoots me a glance, and for a moment a single word hangs between us in the air like a lead weight tied to both of our necks…
Then she looks down at her drink.
I take a sip of my lager. “Oh, you know every town has their shit,” I say, and I hope to leave it at that. But the whiskey is warming her up. Her head is swimming, I can see it.
“Well, we had one thing…” She begins. Farrhouse. A shudder runs through me. I don’t want to think about it.
“Outside of town there was this old swimming hole…” And she starts talking. She talks about the missing girls. The fingernails and hair that would float to the top of the pond in heavy rains. The brute that was responsible for all those murders. How they found his bloated body hugging the last girl in the flooded hole. That’s the stain of Melinda, the rot that runs deep in our little hidden valley. And some of it did happen that way. But I sigh, because I know she’s going to tell it wrong. There’s no way for her to know, of course. She’s younger than I am. She wasn’t there like I was. And she has no idea how deep the rot truly goes.
First of all, it wasn’t a swimming hole. It was an abandoned cistern. If we’re really going to tell this story, it matters to get the details right.
Schooley’s road heads West out of Melinda through the foothills of what we called Jagged Peak. You can imagine how that got its name. Look, we’re not all poets. Schooley’s runs through fields of bushy bluestem and switchgrass and rises a few hundred feet above the valley before falling back down into a lush meadow. On the Northeastern edge of the road is the river, which you can continue to follow north until at some point it merges into the Tygart.
But to the west and south of the road is the old Farrhouse property.
The Farrhouses made their money in timber and copper in ages past. But their mines eventually dried up. Meanwhile, timber got too competitive, and old man Lyon Farrhouse got too drunk, for them to keep up with the business. So they say, at least.
That left an interesting predicament for the modern day Farrhouse family. They had some 3,600 acres of land left, and the old estates, but not that much in the bank. I used to imagine them up in that old manor chopping wood to keep the rooms warm while eating fish they caught themselves. They probably could have sold a bunch of that land to live an easier life, but who knows why people do what they do.
Lionel Farrhouse still ran the family timber business. I suppose that was enough to keep the lights on, I was just a kid when all this started, so I didn’t really know about such things. The Farrhouse kids were Rory, the oldest. I think he was 7 years my senior. James was 3 years older than me, Lorelai one year older. Mrs. Farrhouse lived somewhere in Pennsylvania. They were estranged, but still married, and she kept the family name.
The Farrhouse property itself extended across a large swath of western Melinda. It covered a lot of ground, but without the money and staff to landscape and maintain it, much less use it for business purposes, a lot of it fell into disrepair. That included an old cistern that was part of a blast furnace 80 years ago not far off of Schooley’s road.
The blast furnace had long been dismantled by some combination of weather and thieves, leaving little more than burned foundation blocks and the occasional scattering of ingots. The cistern had lost its cover and the foundation had cracked open, but otherwise, acted kind of like it always had. It was around 40 feet across, and 12 feet deep. It was surrounded by a perimeter of switchgrass, and kept drained, but it would flood whenever we got heavy rains as old piping and gutters funneled water into it. The family knew this was a hazard and boarded it off. They closed up the gate and put barricades up to stop cars from getting down that road. But that would never stop kids. And they didn’t have the money to decommission it entirely.
From when I was a kid I would hear about what we called the Farrhouse Well, and how kids would sneak out there after heavy rains to swim, or in the night when it was empty to haze each other by pushing each other in and dangling a rope just a little higher than the kid in the well could reach to get them to panic. Kids are little shits. But that’s where our story really starts.
The first time I remember hearing about a tragedy related to the Well I was 10. A couple of high school girls had gone out there on a dare (or so the rumors said). Only one of them came back. Supposedly they got separated in the woods and, terrified, the other girl ran all the way home. Police searched the area and interviewed the Farrhouses but no one had seen her. They combed through the cistern and found nothing. But they didn’t expect to, of course, there had long been rumors of the Farrhouse monster and nothing had ever been found there. It was just an urban legend to most of the Sheriff’s deputies, and it had been some time since they looked as closely as they should.
Anyway, we didn’t know any of that at the time, we were just kids. We were over at Mason’s house for a sleepover when we heard our parents talking about it. We just KNEW it was the Farrhouse monster that had gotten her and pulled her into the well. We spent the rest of the night teasing each other and making up the scariest stories we could to try to see who would break first.
It turns out the truth is harsher than fiction.
The Farrhouse family hated these rumors, and worked hard to show there was no truth to them, for whatever that was worth. But every time this happened, there were the questions and the investigations, everyone seemed to turn against them. James was only thirteen at the time, and Lorelai was eleven. They responded by fleeing into their father’s arms in the walls of their estate. But Rory took in the hardest. He was a junior and almost grown, and took the brunt of the bullying. He never graduated.
Some say he killed himself, but there was absolutely no evidence or reason to think that, except that he left Melinda. It turns out he went voluntarily to a military academy in Maryland. Anything was better than staying where he was.
The next time I heard about a disappearance related to the Well I was 14. Thinking back on it, there may have been other disappearances that I heard my parents mention, but they were out of towners, and I didn’t worry too much about that back then.
I turned 14 right before my Freshman year of high school and two important things happened that year. The first was the disappearance of Valerie Parakeen, who Jeff, my best friend since childhood, had been dating at the time. We’ll get to that in a minute.
The second thing, though, was the new arrival at our school, Leslie Farrhouse.
Apparently Mrs. Farrhouse had recently moved back from Pennsylvania and brought the youngest daughter back with her. She had been the baby of the family when Mrs. Farrhouse left and had wanted to stay with her mother, but here she was, back in Melinda.
To this day I’m not even sure I could tell you what it was about her that mesmerized me. She wasn’t stereotypically gorgeous like Valerie. She wasn’t tall, she didn’t dress nice. But she was beautiful under those ill-fitting clothes and I had an irresistible urge to be close to her.
I sat with her that first day at lunch when I found her alone in the cafeteria and we got to talking. I would have sat with her every day if she would have allowed it, but she was private. And Mason and Jeff weren’t that interested in being around her. No one really was. Everyone seemed to think she was strange, but I thought she was wonderful.
I lived a parallel life for part of that year, hanging out sometimes with Mason and Jeff, and sometimes with Leslie whenever we could find the time. We weren’t lovers, or anything like that, hell we were only 14, but I wanted to spend all my time with her.
That made it all the harder when Valerie disappeared. Jeff had somehow been dating Valerie, who was a Sophomore that year. She was one of the most beautiful girls in school even at 15.
She didn’t show up to school one day. Jeff was confused because he’d been talking to her just the night before, but he figured she was sick. She didn’t show up the day after that, or the day after that. Jeff called her parent’s house, but no one really had the time to talk to him. He even tried to file a police report but they told him they were already looking into it, and besides, he didn’t have any standing to do a thing like that.
As far as anyone could tell, she hadn’t even been anywhere near the Well or the Farrhouse property. The last time anyone heard from her she was catching the bus to school, but Jeff was so sure that was where she was.
“It’s that damn Farrhouse family!” he shouted, pacing back and forth out back of the school.
“Hey, they’re not all responsible for this!” I looked down at my feet after I said it, cowering from Jeff’s glare. “I mean, you don’t even know she ended up out there like the others. And no one’s ever proven any of the Farrhouses have ever done anything wrong.” I was thinking of Leslie, her shy smile, her quiet giggle. After the latest disappearance people had turned against her more than ever.
“What the Hell are you even talking about?” Jeff screamed. “I’m going out there tonight, with or without you and Mason. Someone has to get to the bottom of this.”
He stormed off into the parking lot.
I sat shivering on the stairs.
Normally I would always have Jeff’s back. I would be out there in the woods with him all night long chasing fireflies and ghosts, but this was madness. There was no evidence this had anything to do with the Farrhouses. And I was worried about Leslie. I called her when I got home. She assured me her family had nothing to do with this. She sobbed through the phone for what felt like hours.
A storm rolled in that night, fast and vicious. I thought of what Jeff had said and called his house, but no one picked up. I watched the rain drive in sheets across my window and thought about Leslie.
“Shit,” I muttered into the window pane. “I’m coming.”
I grabbed my jacket and checked downstairs to make sure my parents were asleep. I snuck out and grabbed my bike and pedaled off towards Schooley’s. I don’t know how long it took me to crest the hill by Jagged Peak and make it down towards the boarded up turnoff to the cistern. The rainstorm was torrential and the mud gripped the tires all the way up the shoulder of the road and onto the pullover.
I ditched my bike and charged over the barricade, screaming Jeff’s name into the howling winds. It was far too loud to hear anything in return. I ran through the woods, pushing branches and leaves out of my face until I reached the cistern.
I saw Jeff sitting at the edge of the overflowing cistern and ran to his side.
“I knew it, I just fucking knew it,” he said as I stood over him. He was holding something in his right hand, running it through his fingers. I fell to my knees next to him.
“What happened, Jeff? What did you find?”
He looked up at me with hate in his eyes, and raised his hand full of thick black hair, the same color as Valerie’s. “I found this in the Well” he said quietly, just loud enough to be heard over the wind and rain. And then he was on me.
I was never much of a fighter, nothing like Jeff, even if I was prepared. But there was nothing I could do now against this ferocity. He slammed me into the mud and kicked me hard in the ribs. “Why do you defend them! Why would you do this to me!”
I tried to defend myself but I couldn’t breath, much less speak, through the pain in my gut. I tried to push myself up when Jeff’s fist slammed into the side of my head, pushing my face back into the mud. I lay there breathing in rain and dirt as I heard Jeff’s footsteps recede. Eventually, I pulled myself out of the muck and crawled back to my bike.
The cops searched the area shortly after the storm when Jeff reported what he’d found, but they discovered nothing. I never really spoke to Jeff again, and Mason took Jeff’s side. Amidst the backlash, even Leslie retreated into herself. We still spoke on the phone occasionally, but those conversations grew fewer and farther between. High school got lonely after that.
But the worst part was the nightmares. I started having nightmares of the old Farrhouse Well. I would be running through the woods at night, as tree branches grabbed and tore at my shirt like gnarled claws. The mud would suck in my boots until I could barely move as I emerged into the clearing around the old cistern. There, stuck knee deep in the grime I would watch as tangled black hair slowly floated out of the surging well, followed by pale hands, with bloody pads where there should be fingernails.
Then I would wake. But I could swear, every time, it would feel like what was crawling out of that hole would get closer.
I was there in Melinda for one last incident at the Farrhouse Well. I was 17, and a junior then. I was also a loner, though I don’t think I had much choice. Jeff hadn’t spoken to me since the beatdown at the cistern two years ago. I think he still blamed me in part for Valerie’s disappearance, even though there’s no way I could have had anything to do with that. But Mason went with Jeff. They both played Football now, and they probably didn’t give me any thought any more.
No one did much, everyone kind of thought I was in some way unhinged. So I ate alone. I walked to and from school alone. Kids would push their desks a little bit further away from me in classes. No one liked the weird kid.
Except Leslie, of course.
But our relationship was a strange one. Leslie never recovered from the bullying over the last rumor that another girl disappeared at the Farrhouse Well. James had already gone off to college, and Lorelai responded by getting into drugs and raves. If you already hang with the rejects, you don’t have as far to fall. Leslie didn’t have it in her to head off to the academy like Rory, but she ended up being homeschooled. I didn’t often see her, but we usually talked at least once a week.
There were rumors in the meantime. Anyone who was late to school or missed a hangout or stayed out too late one night and worried their parents triggered rumors of the Farrhouse curse. But the next girl to really disappear caused quite a stir.
That girl was Rachel Morse. Rachel was pretty, and popular. She played volleyball and was in student government, but that’s not really what mattered. What really mattered is that Rachel's father was a state senator.
Senator Morse didn’t live in Melinda, of course, don’t get the wrong idea about that. No one with any kind of clout would stay in this town, but she was still his daughter, and divorce or not, blood here runs thick.
When Rachel Morse disappeared the town went ballistic. Obviously the town had dealt with disappearances in the past, but nothing this high profile. Sheriff’s deputies were out in force even before the normal 72 hour window for missing persons, and the state even lent troopers. The Senator showed up with his personal task force to help look into things.
The rumors started immediately that Rachel had been taken at the Farrhouse Well, first in the halls of the high school and the local diner, then between the adults, and eventually all the way to the ears of Senator Morse. He put the screws to old Lionel who protested most fiercely that his family was innocent of this madness and always had been. This happened every time someone went missing, and there was never any evidence that anyone had been found missing at the Farrhouse property.
Senator Morse and the police couldn’t search the property (yet again) without evidence, and they couldn’t barricade Lionel’s land, but they stationed impromptu checkpoints all along Schooley’s road leading north to the Tygart and south to Jagged Peak.
I’m ashamed to say that my first thought when I heard about the disappearance wasn’t for Rachel at all. She was beautiful, popular, and rich. I knew who she was, for sure, but she wasn’t remotely that kind of person that would even look twice at me. We had nothing in common and I knew the town would do whatever it took to get her back.
My first thought was for Leslie.
I called her as soon as I heard about the disappearance and she was already in tears.
“I didn’t do anything! I don’t deserve this!” She said through heaving sobs. “Everyone just needs to leave me alone!”
“Just keep your head down, Leslie,” I responded, “this is gonna pass.” And we talked through the night about movies, comics, and old times.
But it didn’t pass. The storm got worse. Lorelai almost got assaulted at a rave. Someone threw a brick through the window of the Farrhouse Timber offices downtown. And Leslie sank deeper and deeper into despair. Two days later they still hadn’t found Rachel.
It was a Thursday night. A great beast of a storm was rolling in in the late evening hours. I sat in my bedroom in silence on the edge of my bed thinking about Leslie. Something was wrong. I called her. She picked up. It sounded like she was pacing.
“It’s coming to a head, Dave. It’s time to sort this all out. I’m going to the old ironworks tonight.”
“But there’s nothing there, Leslie! You said so yourself. Why go out there? Tonight is going to be a nightmare of a storm.”
“Everyone says that’s where the nightmares are. That place has haunted my family. It’s time I go back and see for myself. See you later, Dave.”
She hung up, and I sat there in shock. Leslie was going to the well to look for Rachel. I don’t know why, but I knew I had to follow her.
Once again, I grabbed my bike and my jacket and followed the path I’d followed two years ago while storm clouds rolled in from the west.
This time I couldn’t go straight over the Jagged Peak crossing at Schooley’s though, I saw the Senator’s checkpoint there from the turn-off on main street, so I cut up Meadowlands road and ditched my bike by the trailhead to take the rest on foot. The climb up Jagged was steep and unkept, but I knew those trails like my own backyard.
I circumvented the checkpoint and came in the back to the grassy road that led to the cistern just as the rain began to fall. I kept off the path and crept through the undergrowth. I couldn’t risk being seen by the Senator’s men.
When I was about 100 feet from the cistern I froze. I saw a figure with long black hair crouched some way ahead of me behind a fallen tree… Leslie.
Then I looked up towards the cistern.
I saw two figures standing at the edge of the well in the increasing rain. The first I recognized immediately, it was Rachel Morse. She was in just her underwear, with her hands bound behind her back. The other figure was lean and tall, thin and shirtless with muscles like whipcord. He was holding Rachel by the neck six inches off the ground. It was Rory Farrhouse. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but Rachel was shouting something and struggling with futility against Rory’s strength. Leslie was tensing up behind the tree trunk. She didn’t know what to do. Neither did I.
Just then time slowed to a crawl. Rachel had something behind her back, it looked like maybe a sharpened rock? She was sawing at her bindings. And then she was free.
In a smooth motion she released her hands and swung the rock around into Rory’s neck. He released her and she landed on the ground on her feet while he fell to his knees. She said something and raised the rock to deliver a killing blow when Leslie sprinted from the undergrowth. She had a rock of her own.
Rachel’s face was pure shock as Leslie closed the distance and slammed the rock into Rachel’s head. I heard the crunch of bone and Rachel immediately went limp. She tipped over and fell into the hole. Then Leslie was on her knees next to Rory, saying something to him. Then he slowly tipped into the hole as well.
Leslie stayed there, quiet for a moment in the intensifying rain, then she was up and running off into the woods. I sat in my hiding place in shock for what felt like an hour, then I stood and walked to the cistern. Rachel’s body was in the bottom of the well, and Rory fell on top of her. It looked like he was holding her. Next to them was a hole big enough for a person to stand in, and a sick feeling washed over me. Rory had been burying the girls up to their shoulders in the hole before rain storms so they would drown as the cistern filled. Sometimes they would try to claw their way out and lose hair or fingernails which would float to the top of the well and he would come clean up later.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
I thought about that night Jeff beat me senseless here on the edge of the cistern when Valerie was missing, and how she must have been below us that very night, shrieking for help with a voice no one could hear beneath the crushing weight of water and sin.
But I didn’t have time for this. What about Leslie? I saw the rock she used to kill Rachel, still lying on the ground covered in blood. I had to look out for her. This was our secret. I used another rock to smash the murder weapon to pieces and push it into the filling cistern. Then I ran as fast as I could home. The cops would certainly find something this time and I didn’t want to be there for it.
I ran home and showered and threw out my clothes, then got in bed. I called Leslie once knowing no one would pick up, and no one did. The next day the cops found the bodies in the well and it made all the headlines. But I was already planning on getting out of Melinda.
I left as soon as I turned 18, even before I graduated. I never spoke with Leslie again. We had a secret to keep after all. But I’d come back to check on her. Eventually she opened a flower shop in town and lived a quiet life. I was glad. She deserved that, even if I did know what she had done.
Emily is finishing her story.
“They fished Rachel and Rory’s bodies out of the hole. He was still hugging her. The police figured she’d gotten in a kill shot before he drowned her. But in the end it was pretty cut and dry. They searched the property and found an old shed with remains of the fourteen other missing girls. Rory must have been squatting there.”
“DAMN!” Rob shouts. “That’s quite a story. You knew about this Dave?”
“Yeah, man.” I say calmly. “That was a hell of a thing,” and I give a solemn nod and sip my lager. They move on.
But I knew she would tell it wrong. Not that she would know any better. She even left out that another girl has recently gone missing in Melinda, though maybe she doesn’t know that either.
But even though she’s telling it wrong, I can’t correct her. What could I do?
I can’t go to the police, it’s too late now, especially with another girl missing. I already know what they would say. They would say things like, “Why did you wait this long before coming forward?” and “Leslie Farrhouse isn’t even a real person, she never existed, there were only three Farrhouse kids,” and “What were you really doing there the night that Rachel and Rory died in the hole?”
And what could I say? I have no proof. Sure, I could lead them to Leslie at the flower shop, but she’s changed her name and dyed her hair. She pretends she doesn’t even know me, she says we’ve never met. So that wouldn’t help. And we have a secret we have to keep together after all, her and I.
So I stay silent and drink my Lager. Derek goes home with one (both?) of his girls. Rob goes home with Emily. Eventually I’ll walk home alone.
But sometimes I still make the drive down State Route 20, and I see the exit to Melinda. I always know it’s there. And sometimes maybe I’ll go check on Leslie (from a distance of course), but mostly I just drive on. I know what’s there, after all: red brick buildings that just get more run down every year, an old dynasty scrambling to redeem itself, and somewhere, a deep and rotten pit that still stands as a monument to calamity and grief.
But I hold out hope. I hope that one time I drive that route my eyes will be drawn to the blue tinted mountains in the distance and I won’t notice the old exit, or I’ll think it’ll be just an old oil-change shop, and I’ll continue on. And that will mean that the history there is no longer my history, and that I’m free, and that I’m right.
History may run deep in these valleys, but the better part is in the forgetting.
I am accompanied with darkness. Never walking through the sun. Lingering in the morning, to see what the world becomes. The audacious acts of humans. The flippant acts of a child. A vacation from the quiet, but silence is versatile. It slips into the crevices, and hides into little slits. Then it rises every time a lonely person happens by.
Right now I am in a phase of trepidation. An anxious way to live life. Though, I guess I am immortal, and life only comes with the ability to die. Soon, once again, there will be a red moon, and I will have the glory. But the beauty only comes from the sun's shadow. The canny, overrated sun. The kind of person you can only wish to hate, but will never try to push away.
I can see him inching closer. A nefarious grin on his face. Never knowing why I disliked him. Or why I never seemed to wave. He didn’t get that I had no rays of light to surround me, or the steadfast craters that punctured my metaphor of a heart.
For he was drawn with a smile, not a sad man that sat in his midst. So of course there was a voice of morbidity, whispering in my ears, but better had never known me, and I hadn’t bothered to say hi.
And then he finally saw me, and there grew a smile on his lips. One so sincere I couldn’t resist.
“It's been awhile since we last met,” you could hear the lack of happiness in my voice, for there was an arrogance that surrounded him. One that made you want to cry.
“It’s been awhile since you’ve met anyone,” The comment was callous.
I could see my skin starting to tingle. I was in the shadow of the sun once again.
It felt unsavory. I was helpless to generate my own beauty and authority, but when I looked up I saw something unexpected. There were tears trickling down the sun's face. A scene so unheard of that I gasped.
“You can never tell a soul,” he choked out, more powerless even than I. “I can’t disappoint the world,”
He was tired. He’d been for awhile now, but all those who saw him couldn’t look past his light, and neither could I. I had never even tried. Though it looked like the brightness that surrounded him was a shield from the world, emotions were as versatile as silence, and slipped into the light. The world would watch him cry, and he couldn’t take a break when he was tired, because the hiatus would be enough to end a life.
“Stop,” I said, as he went to wipe his eyes, “I’m in the light for a little bit longer, so just let your mind go wild”
And he did, but no one ever saw him, for their eyes were on the red moon, the sun’s shadow blanketing the craters, the sad sitting man blocking the tears. Finally, two sides of the world had met in something that could only be described as a hug. So now when you see the red light you will know that it is two friends,finally having a chance to reunite.
"You're about to ruin a perfectly good friendship."
Her last comment to me before she took her fourteen year old daughter with her on vacation. She was headed south, Atlanta, Georgia, to visit family. No one has heard from her since.
After three days, the police went through their procedures. Both Georgia and New York states had been notified. The school had been asked by the police to make certain that they be informed the moment that the daughter was seen.
A week turned into two weeks, then a month, then two. Each time I speak to any of her friends, they have no new information to add. Her family down south said that she stayed for a week, then that she was driving back to New York; sight seeing along the way. Her work by now must have been distributed among the people that she manages.
Life continues in the way that it does. Soon, she would become a memory. People have to get on with their lives.
I thought that we were better friends. What a selfish thought on my part. We never discussed dating exclusively. That was a conversation on reserve for when she got back from Georgia. I honestly felt at the time that we had a chance at being happy together.
Her daughter and I seemed to be getting along. I remember vividly the look on Genevieve's face when she had mentioned wanting to go to that restaurant that serves the four hundred dollar stakes, how Amada looked at her mom and exclaimed, "Four hundred dollars!"
I had tapped Amada's shoulder and said, "For a piece of meat."
We paused then. Burst into laughter and leaned on each other for support. Genevieve had stared, not knowing how to react.
I can only imagine that she felt happy that her daughter and I were getting along. Confused that it had happened so quickly. Afraid because the possibility of permanence with our own relationship was becoming more of a probability. Afraid as well because both she and I had been in prior relationships that were supposed to be permanent, but ended.
Our first coffee date had been a blast. We talked for three and a half hours. The only reason why we had to stop was because her daughter called her, reminding her that she had to go home.
"I didn't know that you have a curfew."
"Apparently, I do."
We had laughed at the notion that the tables had turned. The teenager scolding the mom When I suggested that we get together again soon, she replied with, "Definitely."
Later that evening, when I had returned home, just before I took off my coat, I received a text thanking me for "an awesome date."
Three other outings later, we were still talking for hours at a time. The excitement of the new? Had we really connected so deeply, so quickly?
"Where did you go?" I stare out of my window at the night. Eleven storeys below the traffic on the parkway flows steadily. A horn blares; her face disappears. I sigh and notice my own eyes staring back at me in the reflection on the window.
I need a distraction. All of this not knowing isn't good for me. I need to exercise.
What if you're hurt or trapped? What are you doing to keep yourself and your daughter safe? I'm too distracted to exercise. I'll go for a run.
Somewhere, near a quiet town reminiscent of decades past, under broad, clear skies, and amidst oaks and aspens shedding their leaves once again, a woman named Melanie arrived at the lake. There was nothing particularly striking about her: middle-aged with thinning hair and sallow skin, who had no ambition nor strive in her youth, and now reported to an office as a secretary for a large insurance company that cared neither for its clients nor its employees. Her life was dull: unremarkable, planned out, methodical, predictable.
She had never felt any significant desire to be daring or spontaneous, instead choosing to settle down into a mundane but sufficient life. However, something changed yesterday. Melanie had seen a picture of the lake the day before in a discarded travel catalog on the sidewalk close to her home, now hundreds of miles away from where she stood. On a whim, as if it was almost calling to her, she had booked a flight to Vermont and immediately set out to see the lake.
The drive through the forest to get to an open area of lakefront in her old, rented Ford had Melanie grasping the steering wheel with wet palms, her nerves fringed with anticipation for a reason she could not quite place. Thoughts raced through her mind as she reflected on the past twenty-four hours. Hastily booking a flight and departing with only her purse and a coat, she now realized, was something absurdly out of character for her, something that she would never have imagined herself doing. “Why?” she wondered to herself. Why did her heart pound so rapidly within her chest? Why did she desire so strongly to see this lake? As she drove through the forest with her empty stomach and stale clothes, she found that despite her rash choices, she didn’t seem to care.
Finally, after reaching a secluded part of the shoreline, she abandoned her car and hiked up a short way till she stood on a small, cliff-like ledge. The strong blue currents lapping against the rocky shores of the lake entranced Melanie as she stared at the rhythmic movement, almost unable to take her eyes away from them. “How beautiful!” she gasped aloud to no one. From where she was standing, she could see the expanse of water spread out far and wide under the cloudless sky with the occasional cluster of oak trees scattered along the shore. A thought quickly flitted across Melanie’s mind. She remembered that the travel catalog had depicted many groups of families and friends laughing and traversing the water in boats, but where were they now? No cheers of laughter, no creatures swimming beneath the surface, and not even the songs of birds were present. The water was beautiful yet barren. A heavy, leaden feeling settled in her chest before her mind suddenly cleared and she remembered why she was there. “To see the water, of course,” she exhaled with a grin.
She stood on that small ledge for hours. The sky grew darker and the temperature cooler as night approached, yet Melanie had no urge to leave. Everything in that moment felt completely right- her underlying hatred of herself and her unexceptional life soothed and disappeared as she listened to the waves crashing against the rocks below her.
Suddenly, in the dimming light, a flash of movement in the water caught her eye. “What was that, there, in the distance?” she thought to herself, her pulse quickening with concern. “A hand? A child’s hand? Oh god, was someone stuck here all this time?” Without hesitation, she suddenly began making her way down the steep ledge, tripping and stumbling over rocks in the dark. Loose stones seemed to evade her feet as she sought stable ground, cutting her calves and causing her to wince in pain as her ankles twisted and bent at unnatural angles. She didn’t care. She needed to know what she saw. Finally, she stepped into the lake. One foot at a time, she trudged into the cold, inky water, gasping from the pain in her wounded legs and seeing her blood create red swirls in the water she left behind her. She didn’t stop. She couldn’t stop. Further and further she went, as if in a daze, unable to stop as she felt the frigid water rapidly rushing up her body.
Whatever she saw in the water, she could see no longer. There was no hand, no child, no one on the verge of drowning in the dark. There was only Melanie, now struggling to keep her head above the water, coughing and sputtering as the lake water seemed to tug her further out. Her heart felt like it could nearly explode with panic, yet Melanie could feel her fear being placated by a strange, muddled state of mind. Something wanted her to go deeper, yes, deeper into the water below. She could feel her body protesting with all its might. Somewhere deep in her mind, she could hear cries of “No! No! Please, no!”, yet the urge to comply with that inviting feeling overpowered that small voice of consciousness, so far off lost in the sea of her thoughts now.
At last, with an unnatural sense of calmness, Melanie allowed the desire of the water to slowly sink her to the bottom of that frigid, dark lake.
All we left behind
Maybe years or months passed by, I don't count anymore. Your voice is still in my head, and the way you made coffee in the mornings, then came and woke me. You're still here in my dreams, you're still mine in my dreams, sometimes it's like another reality. I don't know if it's better or worse, since you left, I'm questioning everything.
You left here your scent, maybe the only reason I can still smell it is that I still buy your favorite candle, even though I don't really like it. I bought the candle yesterday because I missed you a little more than usual, and that scent is you. It's just as refreshing as you were in the mornings.
I have to leave this room too since I know you won't come back. I left all the windows open for you, hoping you would fly in, like a bird, like that burd you caught so carefully one day. Why was I even waiting for you? You can't come back to me anymore, you're a ghost now.
I packed my bags, and I'm ready to go now. I have to leave everything behind too. Everything is just a memory now, there is no reason for me to stay here. It was harder letting you go than I ever thought it will be. We went through so much together, I knew you for so long, I thought it gonna take forever to let you go, but I did. It was hard, it broke me, but I let you go.
I still didn't drove since the accident, I couldn't. Who knows what could happen if I drove again? Maybe I would go after you, maybe I would send someone to you, which I can't handle again. One innocent person died because of me, which is more than enough. They say it's not my fault, but then who else's is? If I look more closely, I could've seen the other car, if I looked more closely, you're still with me.
I have to leave everything here. If I don't you gonna be stuck here, but you need to rest. I just need one more moment here, then I never gonna talk to you again. I love you. I know I didn't say this enough, while I could, but I really love you. Goodbye, my angel.
Don’t Leave. Please.
Rushing through the alleyway, I routinely checked to see if they were catching up. They were.
Forcing myself to run faster, I could barely hear the sound of my shoes hitting the concrete as it was getting drowned out by the heart pounding in my chest. “Faster, come on, faster,” he repeats, practically shouting. Looking behind again, I see his eyes seeping with desperation.
We continue running while surrounded by brick buildings, never seeming to reach the end. Their calls get louder, my breaths get shorter. I slow down a little, allowing him to catch up with me. We exchange glances and he can tell that I’m in pain. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re friends with someone for most of your life.
The road starts to get closer and closer, giving me a little bit of hope. Slightly wincing as my feet stumble over a rock, I keep going. The thought that we might succeed powers my legs which are yearning for rest. With the end so near, I start to go slower, not thinking about anything else but sleep. He notices this and slows down until he’s right next to me. “What are you doing? We’re almost there,” he questions me.
“I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up,” I tell him, taking short, sharp breaths in between some words.
“Come on. Once we finish this, we’re done. We’ll be able to get out, for good this time,” he says and starts to run ahead again. I nod and hold back the tears, just like how he taught me to. My brain yells at my legs to pick up the pace, but they don’t listen, almost stopped at this point. The road is so close, and yet I remained paralyzed.
“Go. Go and give it to them. Then you’ll be able to live the life we always talked about,” I yell ahead and stop. “Don’t worry about me.” He stops as well and rushes back to my side to try and help me move again. “No, stop. Please just go, you’re so close,” I tell him.
“I. Am. Not. Leaving. You. Got it?” he says, pausing in between each word. I jump as I hear their boots hitting the ground and lessening the distance between us and them. I look up at his face and can tell that he’s plotting something.
“What are you planning?” I ask. He just shakes his head.
“Promise me you’ll get out of here, ok?” he says, more so telling me than asking.
“You have to promise me that you’ll get out of here.”
“I-i promise, but you’ll get out of here too. R-right?” I trip over my words. He stays silent and pushes me towards the road. My body goes into flight mode and sends me running away, away from them and away from him. ‘Please say he’s following,’ I think to myself. When I finally reach the end I look back, expecting to see him right behind me. However, he hasn’t moved from where we were before, which concerns me. I can slightly see him reach into his pocket and then hold his hands out in front of his chest. He’s pretending to have a... “N-no!” I shout. He looks at me and his eyes are urging me to go. I want to stay, I don’t want to leave him. But apparently, my brain has another plan because I move backwards and turn the corner.
Then I hear the gunshot.
And then come the sirens.
I pull the hood of my jacket over my head and shove my hand into my pants pockets. “I thought you said you wouldn’t leave me,” I mumble, finally letting the silent tears flow.
The Last Good One
Death, long enamored of his mortal charges, watched them ceaselessly. He loved them, in his own way; the way an immortal, ageless being unconstrained by time and space can love the tender existence of a finite and flawed creature. He loved them like the fragile things they were. He was buoyed by their triumphs and burdened by their losses. Their quirks and strange habits brought to him a sense of wonder, though at times he could be heard clucking to himself, not unlike a broody mother hen, as his charges were up to something one might describe as 'no good.'
But...all things considered, they were largely good. Their love could be unconditional, boundless, unending even in the presence of Death. It was often he would come to call and, beckoned closer by the waning cadence of their heartbeats, would feel the pull of their devotion to one another. There existed between all those who were loved a cord of spider-fine silk, nearly invisible and stretched tight between them as if to keep them from his hands just awhile longer. The taut string would sing with his gentle tug, plucking from it a singular word, an imploring and tremulous, “Stay.” And often Death allowed it, for just a while longer, because he loved them.
Oh, the good ones were always the hardest to take. Not because Death was frightening or malevolent because, really, Death was neither of those things. Dying could be, of course, but Death...was like slipping away to another room from an overcrowded party, one where the good cheer is choking and the revelry a miasma and the small talk almost metastatic. It is the studious defection away from the noise, a flight from the clammer of those busy with the brilliance of living, through the door that allows you, finally, out into that brisk night. Death is the first inhalation where your chest burns with the cold of it, your face stings with the chill of it, and beneath a sky tossed heavy with stars, you are free. You are at last unbound, undone from the mortal coil and unleashed into the endless. Death had always been fond of an Irish goodbye.
When Death would arrive, punctual to no fault and precise to the second, it meant we must close the book, shutting for good its well-thumbed pages and worrying ourselves no more at how the story might end. For here our end stood, not at all as we pictured. Perhaps it was just the finality of our own conclusion, of our brightly burning final chapter now extinguished, that made the thought of Death so fearsome. To gaze upon that countenance meant we had arrived at the terminus, end of the line, time to depart. It meant that all we had dreamed about, hoped for, wished of…all of the things that could possibly be had already been and there were no more things that could be….Perhaps this was what made Death so maligned to us, made us dread his attendance and resist his attentions.
The heart of Death was heavy, as he understood he must now take The Last. He knew it must be done and he knew where he would find her, as sometime before Death had claimed that which was most dear to her, the Last One's most Beloved. When Death had come for her Beloved, he had felt the familiar ache, the pull of the silk, heard the trill of the string. But it was all sharpened, almost too painful to be near, and when Death leaned closed to listen, he had understood. The Beloved had known that with his parting, the Last would truly be alone, the singular mortal soul left behind in a world that had very nearly finished dying. The Beloved wanted nothing more than to remain here beside her and he had often hoped that Death would come for her first so that she would not be alone, that she would not end her days only waiting for his return, but even Death did not decide these things and so he had come for the Beloved first.
Death had taken the string in one hand, lamenting in his own silence that he must mar the gossamer sheen of it, that he would quell forever the sweet, familiar song of it. The Beloved had kissed the Last one more time and, taking her face into his hands, pressed his forehead to hers, desperate to memorize the face he had loved in life and would carry with him now into Death. He looked once more into her eyes, finding them empty of guile or malice and full only of love, and here Death had quieted the aching in his heart. Death gifted him with stillness, allowing the Beloved a moment of memories in place of the terrible knowledge that she would be alone in a way that no mortal soul had ever been. It was just a moment of kindness, but it was enough. The Beloved was taken back to the day when he and The Last were first brought together, and the memories that should have faded with time like well-loved toys were still vivid, kept vibrant through the unexplainable sorcery held by all the things we cherish.
It was when the Beloved had wrapped himself in these moments, saw himself with his hands cupping the sweet face of The Last, that Death had taken him by the arm, severed the ties that held him to life, and they had simply stepped away. It was in this hushed lacuna, after the last lingering echo of a single word had withered away into nothing, that she had become The Last.
Now, Death had come for her. Settling next to the small soul who had been left behind, he wondered at how such devotion had endured in a thing so slight. Death was forever enthralled of them, these good ones, and he marveled at the strength that nestled in such frail beings. And they were frail, weren’t they? The eyes of The Last had once been dark and shining, lined with bristly lashes and quick to chase the form of her Beloved to whatever far reaches he might venture. Now they were dull, milky orbs that could make out only shapes, the vaguest of forms that were all some variety or another of gray shadows. A dying world emits little noise, and this was perhaps a blessing, as her hearing had almost entirely deserted her as well. It might have been less cruel if it had gone completely, as sometimes The Last was certain she heard someone calling for her, very faintly and from very far away. She would rise, stiff joints shivering to hold her thin body upright, and she would twist her face towards the sound, hoping to catch it on some rising wind. But it would fade away, always, as if it never were, and likely, it hadn't been and she would lay herself down gently, once more sheltered in the place where he had left her, and she waited. It was here that Death had found the Last, still waiting for whatever it was that would bring her Beloved back to her.
Death reached out to trace the graying fur that speckled the dog’s muzzle, following its path from her nose across her cheeks to where it finally spread out like the wings of some snowy moth to encircle her eyes. As he did so, The Last lifted her head, an enormous task with what little life her body still held, and laid it across his knee. Death placed his hand on her head, feeling the angles of her bones and the lightness of her being, and heard the labored drumming of her tail against the ground. Once, twice, and then The Last could do it no more. She only gazed up at Death patiently, her heart, so soon to be stilled, comforted to no longer be alone. Death stroked her head, and she closed her eyes, and as the time between her breaths grew longer and longer, he knew it was time.
So they sat this way, Death and the dog, in the backyard of the house on a planet in a world where nobody lived anymore, only this little soul, tired and on the precipice of the end. Death listened and was surprised. For the first time in all time, he had no need to quiet a restless mind. He had no need to bequeath the mercy of memories to her. She was waiting. Only waiting.
Death reached for the string as he had always done, expecting her to cling still to life and this grizzled world because it was all she had known, but this time, it was not the word ‘stay’ that sang out across the universe. There was no mournful beseeching, no doleful imploring. It was only her name. It was clear and brilliant as it rolled across the void, cutting through it without hesitation and she heard it. For one brief moment, unfathomable to we who can be ushered away by Death, the entirety of the universe existed only as her name.
She would wait no more. Her Beloved was calling her home. And so she went and she was no longer the last.
And so our world was emptied of its last good soul, and it was only the lingering ripples of our dying that prove we ever lived at all. All was still and quiet as Death thought of the dog, missing quite suddenly the weight of her head laid upon his knees. Death felt very empty and he sighed, but there was no one to hear it.
At noon on July first, everything stopped. In that instant, everything in the universe became permanently stuck in place.
It happened on a golf course whilst playing a round with my brother Michael. Our weekly hacking excursion was therapeutic; a chance to swap stories and ponder what advice our father might give, if he were still alive.
The morning was clear, but now storm clouds and thunder was approaching. It was getting closer.
"This looks bad, we need to leave," Michael said. I knew he was right, but I was winning. As if to prove his point, winds picked up suddenly and the cloudburst hit. We ran for cover under a nearby oak. As always, he was right.
The last thing I remember was the blinding flash.
I woke up on the ground, soaked to the skin. I sat up and was relieved to see Michael sitting in the golf cart nearby. But something was wrong, he wasn’t moving. At all. Nothing was moving, everything had stopped. I wiped my eyes as I stared. Raindrops hung motionless in the air like a film on pause. Overhead a bird was suspended mid-flight and my brother sat unblinking, a stone statue with a look of surprise on his face.
“Michael! Are you OK?” I tried to shout, but no sound came out. My throat went dry as panic rose; surely this was a nightmare? I closed my eyes tightly to make it go away, but it didn't.
In the distance a lightning bolt was stuck to a flagpole and cars on the freeway sat parked. I tried again to force myself awake, but it didn’t work.
I looked down and saw something familiar: my body. It too was perfectly still, lying face-down on the ground.
As I entered inside the auction house or maybe I should call it palace cause the outside view was breath taking. I believe that it used to be a castle or something back in the century past or more and now it became a place where people, rich and billionaires can have an expensive party or gala with the finest wines and alcohols with cigars only the greatest.
Inside the building, the view was way much more beautiful and velvet. Candles on the wall, statues of soldiers in the corners and in the middle shields and arts. I imagine rich ladies and gentlemen talking, drinking the expensive wines and the waitresses going here and there offering drinks and food while other billionaires having cigars on their hands. Ladies with old fashioned dresses talking about who cheats who, who got a divorce and yet still showing their pity faces to other women. In this building I can imagine ladies with taste on good men or ladies that are looking at the most dangerous mafia guys because that type of men is what they go after.
I now, as I try to keep picture another life, I here someone talking and I come back to reality, only to see a guy who tries to offer me a glass of champagne. I smile at him as I take one and before I try to thank him he leaves quick with an awkward smile on his face.
With my one arm fulled by the finest champagne, I keep walking to find me a place to sit. I do hate to talk in this fake people who believe that because they have money, they can buy you too with the funniest flirt lines you could ever hear. As I go to find me a sit, I spot a beautiful, good standing man staring at me. His total dirt black hair makes a perfect pair with his dark eyes and suit. He still staring at me as he takes a sip of his drink and other men still talking to him but he keeps staring at me.
Great! Another probably billionaire man who shows off his money and power to others and maybe thinks he can have every girl he wants. Why would I bother to profile me anyway? It's not even my type of guy. He probably has a bimbo, giving her money to buy her dresses and anything she wants. The more I look at him, the more I get annoyed.
I finally found a chair to sit down and the auction was only 5 minutes away. I was very nervous, I needed to take this rose no matter the cost, otherwise I would lose my head or worst any other limb of my body or I would end up dead. People like Fernando don't like to lose, oh but when they do, you could be found dead in an ally or in an accident and him getting away with that. I can't believe how I became one of his puppets but I have to do this perfect or else I'll be dead.