|TITLE: A Crack Of Light
GENRES: Drama, occult, emotional, thriller/suspense, psychology.
SUMMARY: Forgotten secrets are remembered one night...
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2001.
LENGTH: 6000+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Mild violence, mild adult language, adult themes.
COPYRIGHT: This story and all characters, unless otherwise stated in the Disclaimers, are copyright © tehuti_88 and may not be used or distributed without permission. The reader is free to print out or download a copy of this story for offline reading as long as the author's copyright information remains upon it. Please do not distribute; if you wish to share this story, send a link to this page.
DISCLAIMERS: Various cult names were taken from nonfictional sources. Be aware that much of this fiction is about criminal Satanic cults, and is NOT what I think about Satanism as a valid religion (the same as a story written about a criminal Christian cult should not be taken as criticizing Christianity as a whole). Although this story may make use of actual locations and names, artistic license has been taken as this is a FICTIONAL story. Please take note that this story was written around 2001 and that my writing style and understanding of the mythology I created may have changed vastly in the meantime.
ADDITIONAL INFO: Award "For excellence in suspense, memory & sensitivity," Writing.com.
RELATED STORIES: "Lucifer" (novel), "D Is For Damien" (novel), "Minot" (novel), "The Three D's" (short stories)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This short story ties in with the novels and other short stories listed above; as such, it might not make much sense out of context. This story hopefully explains some of my character Det. Max Kristeva's (see "Random Scene 3") motivations. I started it a long time ago, and it took me a long time to finish; there's a lot more to it, but I couldn't bring myself to write any more as it was too difficult. I'm not happy with what there is, as it ends too abruptly and leaves too many things unsaid, but as hard as I tried, I couldn't write them. Perhaps another day. I hope that what little there is makes sense. This was one of the hardest things I've ever written.
* * * * *
She blinked in the darkness and pulled herself up in the bed, hearing the broken voice on the other end of the line. There was something familiar about it, yet the desperate tone in which it spoke was something she'd never heard before.
"Max?" she asked, uncertainly. Beside her, David sighed and rolled over.
"I have to talk to you," the voice said.
"What is it?" she asked, turning and putting her feet on the floor, pressing the phone closer to her ear. She switched on the lamp. "What's wrong, Max?"
"I'm...I'm remembering things," the voice said, breaking again. She felt her heart break along with it. "I can't get them out of my head now. I need to talk to somebody."
"Where are you?"
"I'm at home..."
"I'm coming over." Even as she said it she was standing up, reaching to pull the closet door open. David rolled over again to look at her, as if to ask what she was doing. "You stay right there, I'll be there as soon as I can."
She couldn't make out the last word or words he said, but he hung up before she could hang up on him, which was some measure of a relief. She let the phone drop noisily into its cradle and finally pried the door open, leaning in and pushing around until she found her jacket. She put it on over her nightgown and slipped on a pair of sandals.
"What was that?" David murmured.
"My brother. He's having some problems. I'm going to go see him."
"At two in the morning?"
"It's kind of important." She leaned over to kiss his forehead. "I'm sorry to wake you up. I'll be back when I can."
"Well, no hurry, if it's important..."
"Thanks, honey." She pulled the jacket closer to her and stumbled toward the door, somehow making her way down the stairs and through the den. It wasn't long before she was in her car and pulling out into the street, driving away from home a little faster than the law allowed.
* * * * *
A crack of light in the darkness.
That was what she saw, as soon as she opened her door, just a tiny bit, to look out into the hallway. Why had she opened her door? What had awakened her? Or had she even been sleeping at all? Had she expected something to happen?
And then, shapes passing her doorway. One tall, one small, like herself. The briefest flash of gray eyes, like her own, looking back at her. Seeing her looking back. Then they were gone, gray and shapes and all. She kept peering out into the hallway, straining her eyes, listening for any sound; nothing more. And nothing to do.
She shut the door.
* * * * *
Why the hell did I ever shut my door?
Chrissie Kristeva scowled at the rain streaking the windshield and wished it would just stop already. When a strand of hair fell in her face she viciously swept it aside. The wipers raked across the glass but didn't seem to do any good. What neighborhood did Max live in again? She didn't know this area very well; she'd never even been to visit him. After high school he'd moved away from the family and had never gone back, not even for the ubiquitous reunions they always seemed to have. The Kristeva family was a large family, as well-to-do families go. Yet there was always one conspicuous absence at their gatherings.
The Kristeva family was a gossipy family, too. She couldn't count how many times she'd had to make excuses for him not being there. "He's a detective. You know how that job is," was the most common one. This story usually brought sympathetic looks or barely concealed sneers as if this were something to be ashamed of. Kristevas simply didn't become cops. She didn't bother trying to argue with them. Maybe he had more than one reason for not attending.
She believed she knew the reason he'd called her tonight, though.
I shouldn't have closed that door. Why didn't I leave it open? Why didn't I do something?
If I made a mistake then, maybe I can do something now. He called me. He knows I'm here for him. Maybe I'm not too late.
She located the residential neighborhood he'd once told her he lived in. He'd given her a picture of his house as well, for some reason. When he'd said "home," she hoped he meant the same place. She hadn't even talked to him in over a year now, and the few times they had spoken had been brief and uninvolved. She'd never sensed any hostility toward her, but she couldn't be certain.
He has every reason to hate me too.
She turned a corner now, squinting around. In the dark and rain it was almost impossible to make out street addresses, much less houses. She finally located one, because it was the only one with a light still on. She leaned over the steering wheel and saw the right name on the mailbox. M. KRISTEVA. Locating the driveway next to it, she pulled in and parked on the lawn.
She felt like she'd be washed down into the ditch as soon as she got out, the rain was so hard by now. Was it just poor timing? She had a feeling it didn't matter. With the way he'd sounded on the phone, she knew she had to get there as fast as she could.
Hold on, Max.
Shielding her eyes, she found the porch steps and made her way up, slipping once, pulling the screen door open and letting it slam behind her.
When she got inside she shut the other door more carefully, pulling the hood down on her jacket and looking around. She had no idea about the layout of the house, or where he would be. She wiped water from her face as she passed through what was some sort of laundry room and made her way toward the kitchen.
No reply, though a light was on in there. She reached the doorway and peered inside. He was there, at last, at the table; his head rested upon it, one arm covering his face. His gun sat next to his elbow.
She felt her heart struggle up into her throat.
"Max," she whispered, moving swiftly toward him, kneeling beside his chair and touching his arm lightly. When he gasped and jerked up and away she was filled with relief. His eyes were wide and pale gray--the same color she'd noticed they had always turned when he was afraid--and the pupils dilated. As soon as he recognized her he let out his breath and his muscles relaxed, sinking back into the chair again. He looked completely different from how she last remembered him; he seemed to have lost some weight, and the shadows under his eyes hinted at long nights spent without sleep. Her first instinct was to hug him, but she knew he detested being touched. So she took his hand instead.
"Are you all right?"
He ran his other hand through his hair with a shuddery sigh. His glance kept darting around like that of a small animal. "Y...yeah, right now...I'm not so sure about before or later...I'm sorry I bothered you."
This last line came out so unexpectedly that she blinked. "What? No. You know I'm there for you. I'm not mad. What happened?"
"I can't get them out of my head, now..."
"What were you doing with your gun out?"
He glanced at it as if just remembering it was there. "Oh." He blinked a few times, then rubbed his head. "I...this is stupid, I feel like an idiot." He gave a strange forced laugh. "I'm sorry I bothered you. You didn't have anything more important to do, like sleep?"
"It doesn't look like you've been sleeping."
"Not much, lately..."
"I'm going to make you some coffee and you'll tell me what happened. No more apologies."
"I...all right, sure."
Thankful that he didn't put up a fight, she stood and went over to the counter, seeking out the coffeemaker. She knew also, despite what little time they'd spent together, that he wasn't a big fan of coffee, and the machine looked little used; but she doubted that mattered anymore, either. He sat in silence at the table while she brewed some, and she didn't like when he picked up the gun, turning it over and over in his hands, staring at it. He didn't do anything with it besides that.
When it was finally done she poured two cups, though she didn't intend to drink any herself. She brought them in to the table and took the gun from his hands, replacing it with the mug. He didn't protest, and she pushed the weapon over to the other side of the table. He took a drink while she watched, not heeding the heat. She waited until he'd finished the entire drink.
"What were you going to do?" she asked softly, once he'd set the cup back down. He stared into it as if to read his future there. She wasn't certain she wanted to hear his answer, if he would give one.
"I was going to end it."
She bit the inside of her mouth, but tried to keep the worry from her face or her voice. "Why?"
"I don't think I can take it anymore. And it's only been one day. I'd be dead by now if the phone hadn't rung."
"Phone? Who called?"
Chrissie frowned. "Are you two...together again?"
"No, not for a long time...I'm not sure why she called. She wanted to know how I was doing, just out of the blue. I think maybe Dev put her up to it or something."
"My partner. Devetko. I think he was worried about me when I left the station."
"You gave him a reason to be worried? And to have Natalie check up on you?"
"Well...I didn't know I looked that bad." He shrugged and gave a rueful smile, then sighed and rubbed his eyes.
She sat silent and waited for him to continue but he didn't. He took the cup now as if it were the gun and rolled it around in his hands. She sensed he wanted to talk, yet couldn't.
She spoke up for him.
"How have you been doing at work, Max?"
"Work?" He continued rolling the cup around and his eyes grew a shade darker. "That's the only thing I've been doing. Only thing I can concentrate on."
"Don't you ever get tired of it?"
"I think I'd go nuts if I didn't have that to fall back on."
"You just told me you were about to kill yourself...doesn't that sound nuts already?"
She knew he wouldn't take offense. The corner of his mouth twitched but he didn't look up.
"Well, I thought it was the sanest alternative, myself..."
"How close were you?"
He paused. The cup stopped moving in his hands and he stared at it as if he were far away. For a moment she thought he'd drifted off to sleep.
"My finger was pulling the trigger."
Chrissie let out her breath. She reached out and put her hand over his.
"Tell me what's been happening, Max. What would make you want to do that. Was it something from work?"
"No...no, of course not. I see that kind of thing every day." He shrugged one shoulder. "Used to it by now."
"What do they have you doing over there?"
"Missing persons, domestic violence...things like that. I guess they think I'm good at it. Who knows."
"If that's not what it's from." She left the sentence incomplete, then after a moment said, "How are you starting to remember things?"
He shut his eyes and made a face. "On a bust I shoved some guy's head down a toilet. They made me see a shrink after that."
"You shoved his head down a toilet?"
"He was pissing me off."
Her mouth screwed up. "What did they say you needed to see him for?"
"Her. Anger management or something. Impulse control. I've been having some...problems...or something." He opened his eyes again and scowled at the cup and she got the feeling he wanted to throw it. She let go of his other hand.
"Something like that."
"So they sent you to a psychiatrist?"
"They tried sending me to the in-house one. I'd rather see a private one. Word has a way of spreading fast."
"It doesn't mean you're nuts."
"I know that," he snapped, before sighing and rubbing his eyes again. "Sorry. Sorry. I guess that's what they mean."
"It's no problem...so did she help at all?"
"Well..." A long pause; he didn't seem to know how to answer.
"She helped me remember things," he said, finally; "as for whether that's help, I can't say."
* * * * *
A crack of light, just a sliver in the dark.
Somehow he had the feeling this wasn't the first time, and he knew it wouldn't be the last. As soon as the crack of light appeared dread filled him, but as soon as it grew wider, he felt an odd calm settle over him. He'd expected this.
And a voice, familiar, from the light:
"It's time to go."
* * * * *
"For all I know, that was the first and only time," Kristeva said as he rolled the cup around on the table, always scooping it back toward him before it could roll off the edge and shatter. "I haven't remembered anything before or after yet."
"Your door opened?"
He nodded. "I've had this dream that this little bit of light comes into my room, and it always freaked me out. I never knew why. I just knew it meant something bad was going to happen. Which do you think is better, knowing something bad is going to happen and knowing what it is, or knowing it'll happen but not even being sure what?"
"I don't know, Max...I couldn't tell you, honestly."
"Well, I think I've felt both and I don't like either..."
"So what happened? When was this?"
"I was five. That would make you eight, right?"
She nodded, unsure why he'd brought up her age. "How did you remember this? As something that happened and not just a dream?"
"The shr--Dr. Applegate. I talked with her for a while. Come on in and get your weekly head-shrinking, et cetera ad nauseam. I guess I qualified as extra screwed up, so I went in twice weekly."
"What'd you talk about?"
"Things...stupid things. Why I get mad and shove people's heads down toilets." He gave an odd smile which quickly faded. "Other things I never really noticed...why I hate elevators, why I practically rip someone's head off if they brush against me, even the kind of cases I'm working on."
"What cases are you working on?"
In response he stood up, stretching his arms behind his back; she'd never known he had a tattoo before. She'd noticed the fox head on his lower arm and had meant to ask him when he'd gotten it, but now she noticed a second one on his right shoulderblade. Some sort of circle with squares and triangles in it in repeating pattern. He hated being touched, so she wondered how he'd even gotten them.
She got up as well and followed him into the den. He'd gone over to the computer nestled in a cluttered corner, and here he stooped down to examine what appeared to be a small corkboard attached to the wall. He looked it over a moment before plucking a tacked paper off of it and handing it to her with a yawn.
She took the paper--it was a newspaper clipping--and looked at it. It reported some animals that had been found, gutted and hanging from trees.
"Do you remember a horse, Chrissie, or was that just something I made up?"
"Huh?" She looked back up at him.
"A horse. Didn't I have a horse, once? I can't be sure. That showed up in my dreams too. But I can't be sure if it was ever real."
"I...yeah, yeah, you did have a horse, when you were a kid, Max. You mean you don't remember that? You really liked him, too."
"How long did I have him?"
"I'm not sure...it wasn't that long." She frowned. "I think he was killed...I don't remember how. Dad said the coyotes got to him."
"Coyotes killed him?"
"He didn't say that...just that they got to him...you were upset...you don't remember any of this?"
"No. That's just it. I don't remember any of that." He shrugged, again with the odd slight smile. "Here's another one." He pulled down another clipping and let her see it. It had a picture of strange symbols painted on the outside of a building. He handed her a third, and a fourth, and these had to do with people who had gone missing, only to show up with their bodies carved up and the same symbols etched into their skin.
She shuddered. "This is the stuff you're used to, Max?"
"They'd keep me away from it, if they could find someone else willing to look into it. They're stuck with me until then." He almost laughed. "The lieutenant seems to agree with me, and Dev goes along. So far. But I think the rest look at us funny when we're not paying attention."
"This psychiatrist, Dr. Applesomething, did she ask about any of this?"
"Eventually, I mean, of course she had to ask about my line of work, since that's what got me in there in the first place." He yawned again. "So of course I had to tell her..."
"What are these all about, anyway?"
"You don't get this where you are? I thought it was all over Minot..."
"No, well, maybe an animal now and then, but this is the first I've heard of people."
"Some of these are old cases. A few from elsewhere. Nobody else will even look at them." He stuck the clippings back on the board. "They'd rather believe they didn't happen."
"Why? People are murdered around here--well, not all the time, but often enough. Why don't they want to face that?"
"Not that people are murdered. That people are murdered like this." He traced a finger over one of the symbols. "Cult killings. Ritual killings. All right, you can start laughing now."
She stared at him until he looked back at her. "Why am I supposed to laugh?"
"This sort of thing doesn't happen, right?"
"What do you mean? You've got pictures of it."
"What I've got pictures of is of dead people with stars and hearts and green clovers and purple horseshoes carved in them. Don't you think the whole cult thing is kooky?"
"I don't know enough about it to say."
He stared at her for a moment as if he thought she were nuts. Finally he snorted and turned back to the kitchen.
"Well, that's more openminded than most of the people on the force..."
"So what does this have to do with you?" she asked, following. "You said she mentioned how your line of work seemed to have something to do with what's wrong with you. If anything's wrong," she added, when he glanced at her over his shoulder. His look humored her.
"It's okay. I think we both know by now that I've got a screw loose." He sat back down at the table and she joined him. "But she didn't tell me anything. She got me to talk a lot, and I figured it out on my own. I don't know, maybe she wanted me to do that."
"So you mean that with these cult cases or whatever...you're the only one willing to investigate them...and this has something to do...?"
"Not just willing, obsessed. At least that's what they say." He waved back toward the den. "That board, that's just the start of it. I won't even mention what I've got on the computer..."
"How long have you been looking into this stuff?"
"Pretty much from the start. Rhoades--the sheriff--wanted me out of the department because I wouldn't stop looking at it. That's sort of why I went to work for the city. They have a...'task force' now. Ritual crimes. I bet a lot of people get a laugh out of that." He reached out for the cup again.
"You know, you've really changed the subject here, Max..."
She moved to the seat opposite him this time, locking her fingers. "You've been putting off telling me since I got here. What is it? What would make you want to kill yourself? What did you do?"
His eyes darkened. He stared at the cup for a while.
"What someone else did," he said after a moment. "Not me."
"Who?" Chrissie asked softly.
He just rolled the cup around in his hands for a time. She didn't press for an answer. He tipped it on its side and rolled it back and forth until the handle stopped it.
"This little bit of light came in my room," he finally said. "Someone told me it was time to go. That was how the dream went. I never remembered anything after that."
Chrissie sat silent, listening.
"I don't remember the next morning either. I don't remember six years."
She blinked. "Six--six years--?"
He nodded. "Five to eleven. I have a few vague memories...going to school...going to church...things like that...but nothing specific. Just these vague things that I know MUST have happened, since they were so regular. Everything else, blank."
"Do you remember your birthday parties? You got Thunderhead when you were six."
"Your horse," she said, blinking again with a strange sinking feeling.
"I don't remember that."
"You got pneumonia when you were ten."
"I don't remember that."
"Well...besides those general things...what do you remember?"
"Nothing. Until I took a look at that dream. I thought it was a dream. All these years I wondered why it bugged me so much."
"Yes...sort of...not the whole thing." He held up one hand flat and placed his other hand, upright, behind it, the tips of his fingers peeking over the back of his first hand, his wrist and arm beneath. "What's this remind you of?"
"Um...I'm not sure?..."
"I'm lousy with charades...that's supposed to be an iceberg."
"What was the part beneath the surface, then?"
He sighed and leaned back on the table, poking the cup so it rolled and tripped on its handle. Again he took his time answering, and she sensed he didn't wish to, yet did, at the same time; what could be bothering him that greatly? He'd never shied away from stating what was on his mind before; the few times she'd seen him interact with other relatives, this was what had disfavored him in their eyes. What kind of thing could cause someone to remain silent for so long?
"We walked down the hall."
She looked up at him again, her gaze having fallen to stare at her hands. He didn't look at her, so he couldn't see her inquisitive look that asked, Who? "It was nighttime, so I'm guessing you were probably asleep."
She didn't interrupt him this time.
"We went out to the...stables. Stables? I didn't even remember any stables until I remembered this. Why did we have stables when I didn't have a horse? Only now you tell me I did have one, I just forgot about it...or something...but anyway, that's what this looked like, stables. Frankly at that age I shouldn't even have known what stables looked like. You said I didn't even get the horse until I was six? I was five then. So...already this doesn't make any sense."
"Well...it looked like stables, even if we didn't have any, and I shouldn't have known what stables looked like...it should've been dark out there too, but it wasn't...there was some kind of light. Not electric or flashlights. Candles. I remember thinking of a birthday cake. I do remember my fifth birthday. That was the first year I didn't have a chocolate cake, I had a yellow cake instead."
"I remember I was surprised, too, because we weren't the only ones there. There were some other people. I don't know who they were. I couldn't see their faces. Maybe I saw them later, but I didn't want to remember that far.
"I remember looking up at them as we walked by, and a few of them smiled. Now how could I have seen that? I just said I couldn't see their faces...maybe I made this all up after all. It seems real enough now that I remember it though. Maybe it was just the light, I could see their mouths but not their eyes? They wore these...hoods...something dark. A few of them nodded at me like they were expecting me there. I was a little confused, but I don't think I was afraid of them. They all acted like it was some kind of party for me. I think that's it. That's why I went along with it, at first. I'd had a birthday party, I didn't know what this was for, but it had to be for something.
"We stopped and there was...something...beside me. A table? I don't know why a table would be in the stables. That's what it looked like though. Only solid. I can't remember seeing legs. Maybe it had something draped over it. I think it did. He picked me up and put me on this, so I was sitting there. The others smiled at me again...I still can't remember faces. Maybe I just don't want to remember?
"I do remember looking around me...and there was something white and round and pointy off to my side..."
He paused for a moment and looked at his mug. Chrissie rose and went to the kitchen to refill it. She returned and set it down in front of him and he took a sip, making a face.
"I don't even like coffee."
"Hasn't stopped you before."
"What was I talking about?"
"Something white," Chrissie said. She wasn't certain why he would have forgotten so soon. He nodded.
"Something white...sitting off beside me. It was round like a ball, but it had points on it, too."
"Round with points? You mean like spikes?"
"Yeah, sort of. Two of them. Two spikes..." He trailed off again and stared down into the coffee, as if she didn't exist anymore.
She sat and waited for him to continue. When he didn't, she cleared her throat quietly. He sat up and shook his head abruptly, blinking and then rubbing his eyes.
"Spikes...horns. They looked like horns. Only I didn't know that back then."
He nodded. "A white thing with spikes and holes in it...either it was a really weird Whiffle Ball, or a skull."
Another nod. "With horns...that was sitting off beside me, at the end of this...table or whatever it was. Oh, get this. He gave me my own uniform."
"Uniform? What do you mean?"
"Exactly what I said. I was wearing my pajamas and somebody put a uniform on over them. So I was dressed like them. Just my size too. How they knew it I don't know."
"You mean they put you in a little robe or something?"
He nodded, took another drink. "With a hood and everything."
Chrissie chewed on her lip but said nothing.
He slowly tapped one finger against the mug and his eyes grew distant again. "This is where it gets strange," he said in an odd, quiet voice.
Chrissie sat forward.
"I know I was sitting on that table, with those people standing around...yet for some reason I keep seeing myself, the way somebody else must have been seeing me...like I was standing over to the side, closer to the stalls. That makes no sense."
"Maybe it doesn't...but what did you see?"
"I saw me. And them. Us." His gaze drifted toward the ceiling. "I was kind of up. Higher, floating like. So I could see. But it's like I'm not feeling anything."
She noticed how his speech had changed from past tense to present but didn't point it out. She only nodded at him.
"Go on, Max."
He looked back down, at the floor, as if something were lying there. He held out one of his hands slightly, palm down, gesturing.
"I'm sitting on the table, and they're all standing around me saying something. Singing."
"It sounds like singing. But I don't understand the words." He drew his hand back in and looked to the side, then to the other side. "The white round thing has candles sticking out of its eyes."
Chrissie suppressed a shudder.
"One of them tells me what it is but I don't understand, and then they tell me why I'm here but I don't understand it either. The way I get it, I'm important for something and they need me. I can't figure out why. When I tell them this they just smile and tell me I'm special."
She knew her brother well enough to know how he would normally react to such a comment, even when just remembering something that had already happened. She waited for the sarcastic sneer to come to his face, for him to make some sort of wry comment about his specialness...but he just continued looking around himself with a distant stare. She felt she could have put her hand directly in his face and he wouldn't have noticed.
Finally he shrugged and faced forward again. "If they say I'm special, they must mean it, because they're adults...right?"
She didn't know how to answer that one. She shrugged back.
"And so they tell me they have to prove that I'm special." He blinked a few times, and his eyes cleared, focusing again. He shut them for a few seconds, held them that way, and when he opened them again they averted to the side and she noticed they were wet. His whole expression changed--he seemed embarrassed about something--his shoulders and head lowered as if he were drawing in on himself, further away from her. He seemed to grow smaller in his chair, and within a few seconds she felt she was staring at a completely different person. The abrupt change frightened her a little.
He turned his head to glance over the tabletop, and he reached out to push aside a few coasters. One fell to the floor. He found a random toothpick lying on the table and put it in his mouth, chewing on it furiously, still avoiding eye contact.
"Max?" she asked. "Are you all right?"
He nodded, still chewing. Shut his eyes again, and then offered her the sort of smile she'd expected earlier, only it seemed forced.
"The past can't hurt you, right?"
"I don't know."
He let out a shuddery breath and pulled the toothpick from his mouth, twirling it around in his fingers. He stared at the floor. She expected him not to speak again, but he did.
"I know that it hurt, but I didn't feel it. It wasn't me. I wasn't there."
"I only watched."
She nodded again.
"Don't ask me how, but I did." He took a breath. "That was somebody else. I don't know how he got there. Or why he looked like me."
"What did they do to him?"
His eyes clouded again and his fingers slowed. He appeared to be staring at something she couldn't see.
"He's sitting on the table," he said, his voice quiet and monotone. "In that little robe... He isn't wearing pajamas. Anymore."
"What happened to them?"
"I don't know. I wasn't looking." His expression didn't change. "They're singing again. He thinks it's for his birthday even though his birthday isn't until March. Maybe it's an early present. Or a new holiday. That must be it. He lies down on the table because they tell him to. He doesn't want to get in trouble with them." He held up his left hand, looking absently at his fingers. "Someone has a knife...a funny knife. They cut his hand...just a little bit. Right on the thumb. It hurts but they tell him not to cry. There's a bit of red on his hand. I think he's crying a little, but not much, and he doesn't say anything. They tell him he's good and he believes them. And someone takes the knife away."
Chrissie sat listening.
"Then they come around him in a circle, like. It's hard to see him sometimes. They're still singing even though there's no music. I think he's wondering again. About his birthday. Someone gives him something funny and red to drink but I can't tell what it is. He doesn't seem to like it, but he drinks it anyway, because they say he's a good boy. He believed them before. I don't think he would believe them now."
His eyes glazed further and his hand lowered. Chrissie reached out and took it in her own. She squeezed it and this seemed to bring him slightly back to reality.
"I feel tired," he said in a quiet voice. "He looks tired. Someone has something in their hand. They make him lie down flat. They pull up his robe." He broke off and his eyes closed. His breath hitched a few times and it looked like he was in pain. Chrissie squeezed his hand again but received no reaction. His head lowered a little bit but the look on his face didn't change.
"The...thing they're holding...they put it inside..."
Her grip tightened around his fingers until she thought they would break. Kristeva's head sank further and he drew in on himself again. She felt her touch was the only thing keeping him from sinking entirely.
"...And then one of them inside him...and then each of them...and then him..."
He lowered his head to the table and shielded it with his right arm, a strange strangled noise escaping him. His breath hitched again and she sensed he would have sobbed, but the sound came out pathetic and broken, as if he were too afraid to voice it completely, to give the pain life.
"I watched," his voice came to her, muffled and small. "He hurt. I hurt. I'm going crazy."
"You're not going crazy."
"I had to have made it all up. Work or something..."
"You didn't make it up, Max," Chrissie said, willing her voice through to him. "I saw it too. My door. A crack of light. You didn't make that up."
"Everything afterward then. Why can't I stop remembering?" He twisted his head around, mouth still muffled, but she could see his eyes, shut tightly and streaming with tears. She knew he was afraid of what he would see once he opened them. If he would see her sitting beside him in his kitchen with the rain pouring outside...or if he would see the bit of light make its way into his room at night...or if he would see himself, as he had before, with those other people, willing himself away so he didn't have to feel anything anymore. He whimpered like a frightened child and his own grip finally tightened on her hand. "Why can't I forget it again? Why do you have to hear it too? Why are you even listening anymore?"
"Max..." Chrissie spoke his name, and realized she didn't have anything to say. Nothing could give back six lost years, or take away what awful bits did remain of them. She looked at his hand clasping her own, and agonized over what to tell him. Anything was too little, too late.
Her gaze fell on his fingers, knuckles turning white as his grip tightened. She leaned closer, turned his hand about to look at it more carefully. She stared at his thumb. A thin, faint white line descended from just below the nail and over the first joint. A hairline scar, years old.
I shut my door on him.
I didn't help him then.
Maybe I'm not too late.
She squeezed his hand and said the only thing she knew for certain anymore.
"Because I believe you, Max."
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