by M. Soensou
The successor to "Part I: The Gorgon."
Jonah stood behind Elizabeth, watching for a reaction. Her black hair poured over her shoulders, the light from his spotlight shimmering on the surface. He couldn’t stop himself from admiring her when her attention was diverted. She was impressive in a statuesque sort of way – possessing a classical, well-proportioned beauty – whether she wanted to believe it or not. Added to her staggering intelligence, it seemed even more unreal to him that she even existed; even more so that she ever spoke to him.
His obsession distracted him from noticing a few things. Primarily, that she was frozen in place. The others were considerably less significant but it was all related.
“Hey. Are you okay?” He asked. She was completely unresponsive. He nudged her shoulder to no avail. “Come on, Lucy,” he said, using her least favorite name. He knew she would have turned and glared by that point. When she didn‘t, an inkling of concern crept into him. “Elizabeth?” He said softer, grabbing her shoulder. He pulled her just a bit away from the wall before she shifted mannerisms completely. She stared into his eyes with a wild look in her own.
“It’s alive,” she whispered. “I need to get out of here.” Jonah looked after her, bewildered as she stumbled and ran to the door. He put his eye to the hole to see what she was talking about but saw nothing beyond the wall that he could identify. There was a sharp something with a spot of blood on it that he assumed she had cut herself on but that was hardly anything to freak out about as long as she was up to date on her vaccinations.
Without her presence, the place grew quiet and cold and he felt a million eyes boring a hole in his head so he started to pack up his gear. With Elizabeth gone, despite the gruesome details, the place wasn’t interesting enough to keep him. But just in case he should find more interest in it later, he searched the desk and found a few books. He took those with him when he left.
Everything was loaded up in his curbside van and he was crossing the lawn with his camera when a Black Mercedes pulled into the driveway. He stopped and watched as the engine cut off. A second later, Steve left the car and closed the door behind him.
“Hey,” Jonah said, masking his distaste. Steve waved back as he strode to meet him. “This is a beautiful house,” he added, conversationally. Steve nodded.
“Yeah. It definitely is. They don't make them like they used to,” he said when he reached Jonah. They walked in together, Jonah trying his best to curb his frustration with the man.
“So, is she on a historical register?” Jonah asked. Steve seemed taxed for a moment.
“No, it isn’t. I checked when I was looking to buy it. There isn’t any information about this house whatsoever. Kind of strange but it’s not like it’s in bad shape. I had it pretty thoroughly inspected and I don‘t plan on making any changes to it outside of that bathroom. It‘s really only the color that irritates us.”
“Well, that’s good,” Jonah commented as they walked through the great double door. No changes,he thought. He couldn’t help but find humor in it.
As soon as they were in, Ashley greeted Steve with a kiss. He was easily their dad’s age and her kissing him kind of grossed Jonah out. About the time the far too long kiss was through, Elizabeth rounded the corner. She seemed somewhat calmer than she had been when she fled the cellar but Jonah wouldn’t have put much stock in her sanity. She was covered in dust and still had that wild look in her eyes. Steve took one look at her and cocked his head.
“What’s her deal? Why is she covered in dust?” He asked. His eyes grew nervous but Ashley lit up. Jonah had the feeling that it wouldn’t go well so he walked over to Elizabeth before Ashley started her unintentional confession.
“It’s the most amazing thing!” Ashley said before, no doubt, unloading everything about the wall, the door, the cellar, and any other detail she noticed while they were below the house.
“Elizabeth,” Jonah said softly. “What did you see?” She had been looking at a decline from the position of her face and only had to adjust her eyes slightly to meet his. She said nothing for awhile.
“You wouldn’t believe me,” she said. Jonah furrowed his brow and bit his lips. He had a feeling he wouldn’t so her words put him in an awkward position. Steve tore across the entry way, past the stairs and started for the hall.
Jonah knew that meant something bad was about to happen. Steve was pretty hot-headed and while Jonah could easily subdue him, his first thought was to remove the already stressed Elizabeth from the house. He knew Ashley would be fine, she always was – Steve wasn't abusive – It was Jonah that Steve would go after.
“Well, we need to get out of here. We are about to be kicked out,” Jonah said, grateful for the subject change and hoping she wouldn’t notice. She nodded and followed him out of the house.
“I don’t have my keys,” she said, once outside, after a moment of feeling in her pockets. “I probably put them in my messenger bag which I left in the house.” Jonah admired her practicality but the very technique she used to keep prepared had cost her preparation in this instance. “I need to go back for them,” She added. As she turned to go into the house, Jonah saw a livid Steve in the entry.
“Forget it. He’s not going to let you back in the house, believe me. I have a plan,” he called, getting into his truck. As much of a plan as he could muster was to drive around for awhile and call Ashley when he thought Steve had left. Elizabeth turned and ran to join him. He started the engine and they focused on putting as much distance between them and the situation as possible. Before long, he was on the highway, comforted by the familiar rattle and clanging of the equipment behind him in his work truck and wondering how long he would stay in contact with Elizabeth this time.
As he drove, Elizabeth stared out of the open window, allowing him to steal glances at her. The setting sun cast a beautiful orange glow to her cheeks – despite how pale they looked without it – and contrasted sharply with her emerald green eyes. He realized that there wasn’t a single other way he’d rather have spent his afternoon.
When Ashley had first called him, he wasn’t too interested. It wasn’t until he heard Elizabeth mentioned that the project seemed like a worthwhile use of his time. Sure, he would do a lot for his sister but knocking out a wall in a restored Victorian home was precisely the kind of thing he hated to see done. While, upon retrospect, that had turned out to be awesome in its own right, he still wouldn't have wanted to on principle before Elizabeth was mentioned. He reflected on that and realized how pathetic he was.
“Huh,” he said, unintentionally loud. Elizabeth stirred as it was the first sound created in the cab by either of them. He looked over and saw her looking at him, her exquisite lips struggling to pronounce. It finally came out.
“Do you want to eat?” She asked. He was pretty sure it was a cop out but couldn’t deny a meal with a beautiful, interesting woman.
“Definitely,” he replied. “Where?” The farther they drove from the house, the more herself she seemed to become.
“I simply don’t care.” She shrugged. Her answer struck him as odd; Elizabeth always cared. Was it a bluff? He listed off the worst restaurants he could think of. Either she saw his bluff or she truly didn’t care because she agreed to every one. He needed to bluff harder.
He eventually pulled into the parking lot of some corny chain-restaurant; the type that served fish and expressed it by hanging fish nets on the walls, making Elizabeth cringe every time she drove past one. He looked over to her and saw that she was getting out.
“Huh,” He said. She turned back. Her face carried a quizzical expression.
“Yeah?” She asked.
“You just surprised me,” he said and grinned. She made a noncommittal gesture and closed the door behind her.
Dinner was strange. She ordered the first thing she saw and just sat quietly after that while they waited. He knew she wanted to talk but something was holding her back. What she wanted to talk about, he could only imagine but certain imaginings sent his heart into conniptions.
“What’s on your mind?” He asked after awhile. She shrugged. After a moment, she finally said:-
“Doubt,” then moments later, “I must be crazy.” Jonah decided that whatever she said would sound perfectly reasonable to him even if he had to drink to reach that point.
“Why?” He asked, not wanting the answer. If Elizabeth doubted it, it was obviously absurd; she had never lead him astray before.
“I don’t even believe it anyway. I don’t know why I am so wound up about this.” That was the Elizabeth he was familiar with. The Elizabeth with a practical nature that could rival that of any serial killer’s.
“Just tell me,” he said, trying to sound more patient. “I doubt you’re crazy.” A few moments went by – too many to be considered a mere pause – and she leaned over her crossed arms across the table. It was as if a dam had broken when she began speaking. All he caught was:-
“-and then it opened its eyes and I know I sound crazy I doubt it even happened but that’s what I saw and I try to remind myself that it was only a light trick but-”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Jonah said, debating whether it would be safe to put his hand on hers which had moved during her torrent of emotion. He started to but drew back. She was already wary of him.
“I’m losing it,” she said, shaking her head. She was, more or less, her old self under stress. The quiet and dead expression were what had bothered him when it all came down. Those were gone now so he could relax somewhat. The news she gave him was irrelevant considering. She felt more human for sharing so it didn’t matter how he felt on the subject or, for that matter, what the subject even was. “Did you not see what I saw in there? Didn’t you see the body?” Jonah shook his head.
“I only glanced in there before you. After you left, I just packed up; didn’t look after that,” he said, shrugging. She had no reason not to believe him as far as he was concerned and he sure as hell wouldn’t tell her he looked in and saw nothing. There was just as much chance that he was wrong about what he saw. “So, tell me again. What exactly was it that you saw in there that had you so bent out of shape?” She looked down, sipped her water, and waited a beat to speak. When she spoke, her tone had changed from pleading to frustrated.
“I saw a dead, dried up body. As soon as I realized what I was seeing, it opened its eyes.” Jonah could tell that she was struggling to keep her tone down. “I know you find this crazy. You don’t have to hide it,” She said, looking back down. “I don’t even really believe it myself. I’m beginning to doubt everything about this whole afternoon.” Jonah cocked his head.
“What about the mist? We both saw that,” Jonah said, trying to restore her faith in her perception. She shrugged. “Don’t think about it. It will drive you crazy if you do. Things down there were weird for any number of reasons. It’s behind us now.”
“You obviously don’t know me too well,” Elizabeth commented, grinning slightly. She never had been one to stop obsessing over a puzzle before a conclusion was reached. Jonah thought maybe she was coming around but he could never be sure. “How am I going to get into my apartment?” Elizabeth asked after a bit. Jonah hadn't really thought more after his initial idea struck him. Without thinking, he described another plan.
“It’s not like you’re stranded with anyone else. I will get you into your apartment tonight.” Elizabeth smiled for, possibly, the first time since he had shown up at Ashley’s house.
“Thanks,” she said.
“No problem.” He hated accepting thanks. If it wasn’t for his rush to get her out of the house – which, upon retrospect, seemed really stupid – she wouldn’t need his help in the first place. The fact that she hadn’t brought that up concerned him. Of course, the fact that she let him in the first place, concerned him more. The only other time she had fallen back and let him take the lead was when they had been caught by a cop back in high school, spray painting a series of reasons why God couldn’t exist on the side of a church. She was genuinely afraid.
The food came and she hardly touched hers. Jonah watched her closely between eating and talking. She opened up a bit more when they left the subject of what was under the house. Despite his efforts not to, he was becoming more and more interested in that very subject. She was always right. If she saw a dead body in the wall, there was a dead body in the wall; he wouldn’t question it. With the blood and the desk and everything else, how could he seriously doubt it? He decided to look on the National Register of Historic Places regardless of what Steve or Ashley said. He wasn’t exactly sure where he was going to go from there but it was a start. Perhaps, he could find some sort of history of the place; a previous owner or maybe some news articles. Of course, if anything had been discovered there, the house would be clean, right? Whatever the case, these people had covered their tracks. If Steve brought the authorities into it, they’d find more out but Jonah was becoming too interested and the law would keep him out of the loop.
As he pieced together his scheme, Elizabeth jarred him out of his distraction.
“If you want to go, we can go,” she said. It was then that he realized he had been staring at her food the whole time he thought. She probably mistook it to mean he was growing impatient.
“Whatever you want to do is fine with me,” Jonah replied. She seemed distracted for a moment but came out of it and looked into his eyes with a longing expression that threw his heart out of rhythm.
“I think I’m ready to go home,” she said. Jonah nodded and waved for their waiter at the first opportunity.
At her place, he set to work on picking her lock. When he was through, he looked up to Elizabeth.
“Here you go,” he said, standing up. Fritz was by the door, ready to greet Elizabeth when she walked in. No doubt he was excited about a meal, a tummy scratch and a nap, curled up in her lap.
She smiled and threw her arms around him. Her body felt so comfortable against his and, for the first time in a long time, she seemed to be really opening up to him.
“Jonah, you’re awesome. Thank you so much,” she said.
“No problem,“ he tried to say but his mouth was held shut against her shoulder. She was quite a bit taller than he was and hugging her required unnatural stretching. She let go of him and as she did, his chest seemed to lose a bit of warmth where she had been. He was worried that he was falling in love with her all over again. The thought amused him since it seemed pretty obvious that he would have to have already been taken with her in order to be able to notice the things that he did to come to the conclusion that he might like her in that way.
“Huh,” he said, unintentionally aloud. Elizabeth cocked her head.
“Are you alright?” She asked. “Do you want to come in?” She added before he could answer. He thought about it awhile. How long he had waited for those very words. The more he thought, Yes, I could want nothing more,the more he remembered how often he was wrong in the past. He knew the smart thing would be to decline. He needed to make up a reason why he couldn’t stay. All he could actually come up with was:
“I have work early tomorrow. I should just go now.”
“Alright. Well, whatever works for you works for me,” she said and smiled. He left but couldn’t bear to leave without one look at what he was leaving. When he turned back, he caught her beautiful eyes before she hid from view.
He was so mad he was using words she’d never heard him say before. All they did was open up the house to more possibilities!
“What’s the big deal?” Ashley asked. Steve puckered his entire face as it went red.
“We are going to need to put this wall exactly like it was before you two destroyed it! Do you have any idea how hard it’s going to be to match this wallpaper? We’ll probably need to find some other Victorian design and just redo the whole hallway! This is….wow.” He was pacing and his arms were flailing, attacking nothing in particular. Ashley hated anger but found herself trapped in it with those she loved way too often.
“Or we could just leave this out in the open. It doesn’t look that bad-” Steve cut her off with a glare. “Once the dust is gone, it won’t.”
“You have no idea how hard I work,” He muttered and stalked into the next room.
“She could hear him pacing and wailing as she made her way into the kitchen. Elizabeth’s messenger bag was sitting on the island and her keys were on top. She made a mental note to make plans with Elizabeth to get all of her stuff back.
As she was running over plans in her mind, Steve marched into the kitchen.
“Alright. Out.” He said, walking around her and herding her to the doorway. She grabbed up Elizabeth’s things as he nearly pushed her away from the island.
“What? This is my house too, you can’t just push me out!” She said, her feet fighting for purchase; Steve was much stronger.
“I can’t trust you here when I’m not here. While I’m gone on business, you need to simply stay out. It’s the only way I know to prevent you and that brother of yours from tearing down more walls.”
“You’re being unreasonable!” Ashley protested. Steve didn’t care; he was too determined to push her out of the house. She eventually gave up fighting, gathered up her purse and walked out on her own.
She didn’t want to go to the hotel with Steve. She was far too mad to deal with him for any longer than she needed to. She decided to sit on the front porch.
“Come on. Let’s go,” Steve said, walking to his car.
“No, thank you. I’m going to sit here until I think of anywhere else to go,” she replied.
“Oh, come on. It’s dark out. Any number of things could happen to you.”
“This isn’t the big, scary city of New York that you’re used to. I grew up here. I know most of the people in this very neighborhood. I’ll be fine,” she said. He stood and stared at her for the majority of a minute before laughing and turning back to his Mercedes. He knew about every childish fear she had and, apparently, found amusement in them.
“Whatever,” he called back. “You know where we’re staying. I need to go now. My flight leaves at nine-twenty.” His door slammed and his car slid out of the driveway like the shadow it was.
Ashley sat on the large porch for quite awhile before she started to get nervous. It wasn’t the darkest of nights with the street lights and porch lights on but the newfound emptiness of the neighborhood was starting to get to her. Then, just like always, she was inspired to remember the last disturbing thing she had witnessed. In this case, it was the blood on the ceiling of the cellar. Her mind raced with gruesome possibilities and, before long, she had constructed a haunt all of her own. Regardless, it felt real and she definitely had eyes watching the back of her head. After turning around a few times, she stood up and called Elizabeth. There was no way she was staying alone after what her imagination had sentenced her to for the rest of the night.
She’d never been to Elizabeth’s building; it had been built recently and since she came into town, Elizabeth always met her somewhere else. Perhaps she was self-conscious about her living conditions. It didn’t matter; they had been friends since forever so those things were irrelevant.
It occurred to her after she started the car that it was because of the aforementioned reasons, that she had no idea where she lived. She couldn’t call Elizabeth back or she’d look silly so she called Jonah and got the address and apartment number from him. She felt ridiculous for a moment but got over it as soon as she got on the road.
It wasn’t too long before she reached Elizabeth’s place. It was one of the newer apartment buildings on the very edge of town; a huge brick on the side of the road with windows and a parking lot. She much preferred the older ones, charming stone and wood structures with cute window fixtures and pillars. They had beautiful architectural features and had most likely housed a single family in the late 1800s. She hated to see the cultural integrity of her hometown diminish to nothing. Regardless, she was happy to see this place. It meant she could stop driving.
She found Elizabeth’s place and knocked. Elizabeth was at the door in no time, as if she was waiting by it. Ashley found that strange but didn’t bother with it. She walked in and was greeted with the calm that was Elizabeth's aura.
“What, exactly, are you doing here?” Elizabeth asked. Ashley shrugged.
“I can’t just visit my friends?” She asked.
“We just spent nearly all day together,” Elizabeth replied. She was wearing a long t-shirt and shorts; something that seemed somewhat inappropriate for how cold it was in her apartment.
“Correction: You spent all day with Jonah,” she said, teasingly. Elizabeth rolled her eyes, perhaps fighting a blush.
“Whatever. Do you want some water or anything?” She asked. Ashley shook her head.
“No, I’m fine,” Ashley replied, “well…okay…I don’t want to go home,” she added. By that time, Elizabeth was on the couch, petting Fritz. He was basking in the attention, happy not to be alone. After a few moments of stroking Fritz, Elizabeth turned her intensely green eyes to Ashley.
“I guess you want to stay here then? Sure. You can sleep on the couch. I’ll get you a blanket,” Elizabeth said, looking once at Fritz then standing up. She left the room, giving Ashley the opportunity to replace her on the couch, next to Fritz. She really was someone Ashley could admire. They had made plans in high school to find a place together once they graduated. She was secretly glad that life had played out as it had and stopped them. Could they even be friends after that? She knew that Elizabeth was probably resentful of her for doing what she had but what other options did she have? She wanted to live in a big city with a rich husband and maybe have one cute, little, perfect baby. Then, somehow, her dreams lead her back to her home town – with her rich husband – to the quiet Victorian neighborhood where she had grown up. She couldn’t say enough how grateful she was to Elizabeth for taking her back. Thinking about it choked her up a little.
As she lost herself in thought, Elizabeth returned with a blanket.
“Are you alright, Ash?” She asked, her voice full of concern as she strode across the room. Fritz moved, giving her a place to sit next to her.
“Yeah,” Ashley said, perking up. Ashley could usually turn it on and off and Elizabeth seemed to believe her. Elizabeth brushed Ashley’s hair from her face in one gentle motion. When Ashley looked over, Elizabeth’s eyes were glazed over in thought.
They sat like that for a little while, Elizabeth looking through Ashley while petting her hair. It was somewhat uncomfortable for Ashley to know that Elizabeth’s eyes were on her but not really seeing her. It was the kind of invisibility that she always dreaded. She situated her body, snapping Elizabeth out of her trance. She recoiled immediately upon noticing what she was doing.
“You know…I should be going to bed. I have an early day tomorrow,” Elizabeth said, looking everywhere but into Ashley’s eyes. Elizabeth stood up, gave Ashley a weak smile, and left the room. As she walked out of the room, she looked back. Ashley was sliding down onto her side as she caught the unreadable expression Elizabeth shot. Ashley winked, to break the moment. Elizabeth laughed then turned off the light and went into her bedroom.
Ashley was alone in the dark as she had been before. This time was different though. This time she was in the safety of shelter. It was always embarrassing having people know how uncomfortable darkness made her. How many adults seriously struggled with such a childish fear? She closed her eyes and tried to force herself to sleep but sleep wasn't easy. She was constantly reminded of the bloodstains under her house. What had happened? The thought chilled her to know that people had been murdered in her very home. Were there still ghosts hanging around? Maybe that's how the last owner died.
Steve never told her but he acted as if he knew. There were a lot of things she suspected him of knowing. The fact that he treated her like a child helped her hide her suspicions. It helped her hide a lot of things if she needed to. That's exactly where she wanted him too. She couldn't have him involved in her life anymore than necessary. She loved him but he could really be weird with his thousands of business trips to places like Istanbul and Rome – what kind of business would he need to conduct there? She was glad she had no idea what he did – and how particular he was about every little detail of everything. He was controlling but mostly harmless and he could be a pain sometimes. Every month, he revised his will and stipulated that Ashley would get everything except whatever was contained within a wooden box in his closet that would go to a Dr Ibrahim Hussein in Alabama. He had no family, no friends besides, perhaps, the doctor, and no other ties outside of that. He was truly a strange man. Ashley had married him for money, really.
Her husband's spookiness was probably wearing off on her. She found herself becoming more paranoid the longer she stayed with him but if she hadn't, she probably would have never moved back home and that was proving to be a good decision. Elizabeth's cool presence was what Ashley had been missing most while she was away. When they were together, she felt tons healthier in the mental department. Around Elizabeth, the world sort of slowed down and became manageable. She never should have moved away. She concentrated on Elizabeth's calm demeanor for awhile until she felt herself drift off. Her last thought before sleep enveloped her was a question. “Is there something I'm not telling myself?” Then the world swirled away, at least, for a few hours.
Fritz pounced her, waking her. He was frantic as cats usually are but something seemed different in his composure. His tail was lightening rod, excited with nervous energy and his eyes were wild. Ashley pushed him away, turned over and tried to sleep but Fritz attacked her with his claws, leaving a deep scratch on her cheek. Bewildered and enraged she sat upright and glared at him. He ran into the hall, scratching Elizabeth's door.
“You want in her room?” Ashley asked, wondering how that would provoke him to scratch her. “Are you sure she lets you in there?” Ashley asked him, feeling somewhat dumb for talking to a cat but stranger things have happened so she figured it would slide.
Elizabeth probably slept with him. Most single girls with cats let them in the bed, right? At least, Ashley assumed as much. She walked over to the door and started to turn the knob. Elizabeth said something inside.
“I'm just letting Fritz in,” Ashley answered. Elizabeth seemed more urgent in her response. It was gibberish. Was she talking in her sleep? If so, what kind of dream was she having? Ashley cracked the door and peered inside. Elizabeth was laying in bed with the covers thrown to the side. There was a thick darkness surrounding her writhing form. Something had come over her and the turmoil it caused was evident in her face. Ashley threw the door open, stumbling inside. When she looked up, Elizabeth lay alone in bed, sweating and crying. Moonlight poured in through her window, hitting her abundant tears to throw light in a thousand directions, her soft skin, kissed by the same light, took on a new pallor, and the skin of her throat was distressed where Ashley noticed a mottled bruise.
Elizabeth leaned against the wall as Jonah worked on the lock to her apartment. A few other tenants passed, rubbernecking as they did but she didn’t care. She just offered them a bored wave, hoping they would take offense and leave her alone. They always did.
“Here you go,” Jonah said as the door swung open. Fritz was nearby, more than likely attracted by the sound Jonah made in the lock.
“Thanks Jonah,” she said, hugging him, perhaps, a little too long. She felt a little bad afterward but it came perfectly natural so hopefully he wouldn’t take it the wrong way. She took a step back inside.
“Do you want to come in?” She asked. It seemed like the polite thing to do. He had been really sweet and helpful despite how coldly she had regarded him up to her discovery in the wall. A shudder swept over her as she thought about those eyes she had seen beyond the wall. Only a few hours and the memory was changing; at least she felt as though it must have been. It was foggy as to why she was so frightened. She couldn’t remember feeling fear as much as she felt fear when she remembered what she saw.
“I really do need to go,” Jonah said, picking up his kit. Elizabeth shrugged.
“Alright. Well, thank you. I really appreciate it.”
“Any time,” he said and backed up a few steps before turning around to leave. Elizabeth watched him walk halfway down the hall then turn to steal one last glance before she backed into her home and closed the door. By then, her cell phone rang. She pulled it from her pocket and answered.
“Hey, Ash,” she said. Ashley’s voice came over the speaker with a mix of anxiety and melancholy that was unusual for Ashley.
“Hey, I’m coming over in your car,” she said. Before Elizabeth could protest, the line went dead. It looked like Ashley was spending the night if she could figure out how to get there. Elizabeth considered Ashley’s chances of finding her then sighed and straightened her couch before looking for her book in her bedroom.
It was close to an hour before Elizabeth heard a knock at her door. She stuck the bookmark into her book then went to the peephole out of habit. Though it was definitely Ashley on the other side of the door, she was immediately reminded of her discovery under Ashley’s house. She shook the images out of her head and opened the door, unleashing Ashley into the room.
“So, um…why did you come here?” She said as soon as Ashley bounced in. Ashley turned a stricken expression to her.
“That hurts. Why can’t I visit my friend?” Elizabeth sighed and shook her head.
“Do you want a drink or anything? I have water and…water,” Elizabeth said after closing the door.
“Okay…I didn’t want to go back to the hotel with Steve and I didn’t want to stay there after he left.” Ashley unloaded while Elizabeth sat next to Fritz on the couch where she had been reading before Ashley arrived. Fritz purred when she sat down, satisfied with closeness. Out of everyone she knew, he was probably her favorite companion.
“Well, I guess you can stay here tonight but tomorrow, I have work so I might not be here when you wake up. You can sleep on the couch. I should have a blanket around here somewhere,” Elizabeth said, rolling her eyes to Fritz then standing up. Ashley amused her sometimes with her spontaneity. While generally childish, that was what she loved about her. It was as if they were falling back into some groove. While their lives had grown sharply contrasted, they were still compatible. The thought was somewhat comforting to Elizabeth. Truth be told, she wasn’t looking forward to staying alone either. Ashley’s bubbly presence could do wonders for her mood. She had spent all afternoon mucking around a dusty cellar with the ever melancholy and uncomfortable Jonah, perhaps some time with Ashley was a good thing.
She went to her bedroom to find the extra blanket she had used over the winter. She couldn’t recall putting it away for the season so she expected to find it folded a few times, sitting at the foot of her bed. It was precisely where she remembered it being so she had no trouble at all finding it. As she reached for it, she noticed a slightly odd smell to her room; a sweet smell. She considered it for a moment before disregarding it and taking the blanket to Ashley.
When she entered the living room, where Ashley was sitting next to Fritz on the couch, she tossed the blanket, barely missing Fritz. He stood up, stretched, and got out of harm’s way regardless.
Ashley looked up, her blue eyes reddened. Was she crying?
“Are you ok?” Elizabeth asked. Ashley smiled a little too much.
“Yeah! I’m great!” She said manically. Elizabeth couldn’t grasp her mood swings. She suspected half of them were fake. What was it about Ashley that begged to be protected? Her fair skin and blue eyes, while matching her brother’s, suggested an inescapable innocence. She could be overwhelmingly giddy, annoyed, and overwhelmed all in one conversation, riding her emotions from point A to point B much like a child. It came as no surprise when Elizabeth found herself with her arm around Ashley’s shoulder. Ashley looked over, into her eyes for a brief moment, a question on her lips but she looked away before she could ask.
Before long, Elizabeth found herself falling into habit. Like she was accustomed to doing with Fritz, she caught herself stroking Ashley’s lustrous hair. The whole situation seemed absurd once she snapped out of it and she untangled herself from her friend, avoiding eye-contact.
“I need to go to bed. I must be tired,” Elizabeth found herself spitting out as she struggled to regain somewhat of her composure. She left the room, looking back in time to see Ashley slide down into the couch with her blanket and wink. There was just something endearing and unusual about that girl.
Elizabeth closed her door behind her and slid out of her shorts. The window was open – of course – and the breeze against her bare legs was delicious. She slid under her cold sheets and basked in the tranquility of the moment. Surprisingly, the entire afternoon was nearly dissolved from her memory and despite its prelude, the night was starting to look perfect. The strange smell was the only thing that didn't fit under the circumstances. She had no idea what it was but had the idea that it was wafting in from outside. With Fritz's companionship, and the aide of complete exhaustion, she fell right to sleep, the gentle breeze carrying any bit of stress away from her body.
Sleep was easy for Elizabeth until the dream came. In her dream, she was laying in her own bed, stroking Fritz and enjoying the weather in her room when a darkness lighted the flower box just out of her window. She was more than happy to see the creature there. Its form was human and a striking representation of the specie at that. She was still unsure as to the sex of the creature. In beautiful lilting tones – with closed eyes – it implored her invitation. She scanned the flawless white skin of its gorgeous nude body and was particularly fascinated by the lack of genitalia or sexual identity in the least. Was it an angel? The utter beauty of the creature brought her to tears.
“You are the single most beautiful creature I've ever witnessed,” she said, forgetting herself. It was a dream and what consequence could come of unabashed flattery?
“You flatter me,” the creature stated. Light began to radiate from the beautiful marble skin that coated the exquisite form, dazzling her. “Please, beautiful girl. I beg of you, give me the opportunity to but feel the warmth of your living body. My own coals died long ago!”
“But you are so glorious! So beautiful! What coals could have died but to be replaced by the very essence of fire? If anything, I would beg to be like you!” The classical flavor of their dialogue would make her laugh were it applied to the world she was familiar with. As a dream, she felt purely comfortable with its use.
“I yearn only to feel life once more,” the creature said. Then added, “But I could, most certainly, grant you my radiance in exchange.”
Without a moment's hesitation, Elizabeth exclaimed, “Then by no means should you stay perched on my flower box any longer. I insist, you must come in!” The creature extended one beautifully crafted, ghostly leg to the floor and then the other fell beside it.
“Thank you,” The creature said and dissolved into a heavy mist, quickly rebuilding its form six inches over her. It lay in mid air staring down at her through its eyelids – the eyes, having remained closed – and Elizabeth could see the piercing blue it must be hiding shimmer just under the surface. A sweet scent fell from the body and burned on her skin, enticing fantasies she could previously have never imagined.
It was then that she recognized the scent. She remembered it from her room. Was this a way for the smell in infiltrate her dream? The she realized, for the first time, that she understood this to be a dream. She was shocked by the realization and suddenly the light under the creature's skin flickered off then on. The expression on its face changed from admiration to confusion to curiosity.
Stricken by fear, Elizabeth looked into the closed eyes of the being she had, just moments prior, wanted more than anything and couldn't stop herself from asking; “Are you an angel?” The creature furrowed its brow.
“Far from it.”
“Is this a dream?”
“I'm afraid it isn't.” Realization crept into her, electrifying her core.
“What now?” She asked. The creature opened its eyes. They were the same eyes that stared into her soul from beyond the wall. A stream of conflicting emotions poured into her mind through those eyes, choking her, throwing her eyes open. The illusion shattered without provocation and, while she still stared into the pained eyes, the image surrounding it fell to pieces. The darkness of her room filled the gaps left by the light that fled and the body hovering above hers was the very corpse she fled that afternoon.
Now, she heard inside her head, I desire the feel of life you, so graciously, promised. The creature fell onto her, light as a feather, and straddled her waist, resting its hands lightly on her bosom. It bent down, exhaling sickly sweet breath that smelled of the rot of decades past, and brought its face to within inches of hers. She was paralyzed, sweating, crying, and soon, she knew she would be vomiting or urinating; perhaps both. The creature opened its mouth, unrolling a dry, leathery tongue that was much too long from between rows of broken, rotting teeth. With it, it felt the smooth contours of her face, licking every inch of the surface. Then it let the tongue fall along her jaw, the tip, resting near her ear. It was cold and lifeless, leaving chills where it passed over. It moved the proboscis along the side of her neck until it found a spot near her clavicle. The face lowered, blowing cold breath as it hovered from over her mouth to over her throat. She felt the breath trace her vein from there back up to her ear then to somewhere near the middle of her throat. Then, in an instant, she felt an indescribable pain and warmth poured over her throat followed by cold. The tongue worked as lips created suction over the wound. She didn't remember making a sound but as the creature drained her life, Ashley threw her bedroom door open. The creature above her, with the insanely beautiful eyes, collapsed into a mass of blue and black specks and swarmed around her a moment before fleeing through the open window.
“Are you alright?” Ashley asked, falling into the room.
“Yeah,” Elizabeth said, fighting back tears of panic and fear. She was so shaken, it was impossible to hide.
“Are you sure?” Ashley was definitely keen to Elizabeth's condition.
“No. Not in the least,” Elizabeth admitted before breaking into tears. Ashley rushed to her side and stroked the side of her face, moving her hair and discovering the bite mark.
“Oh no.” Ashley ran to the window and closed it then slid into her bed beside her and put an arm around her shivering body to comfort her. “What happened?” She asked. Elizabeth was unsure how to answer. She let her quiet sobs suffice, held onto Ashley's hand and squeezed it against her chest tightly, wide awake. She could feel Ashley's gentle kisses on the back of her neck before tightening their embrace and settling in. “It going to be okay,” she assured her.
Elizabeth couldn't believe it; not while that apparition was fresh in her mind. She felt the side of her neck and confirmed the presence of two small holes. When she glanced at the closed window, there was a pressure in the pit of her stomach that implored her to vomit. She rolled over in her bed to avoid seeing it again and felt Ashley's warm breath on her lips. Ashley kissed her softly as she stroked her hair, trying to comfort her. Elizabeth buried her face in Ashley's chest and the two lay like that until long after Elizabeth's alarm went off the next morning.