The Night Terrors are coming for Jessie but not in her dreams.
|Jessie knows she has knocked on death’s door for a seventh time when she wakes up in a nursing home, and she can feel the night terrors that have been tormenting her since she was three were waiting.
The dream door she had been hiding behind will not open, but a new friend shows her another way and the Terrors are furious.
They are coming, but not in her dreams, and they will never give up.
Friends in Dark Corners
By Jill H. O'Bones
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission.
December 22, 1987
Karla’s blonde hair was damp with sweat. It stuck to her wet face and scalp feeling like cold worms lying over her skin, but she didn’t care; she wanted to hold her baby. She tried to get out of the bed, but her husband, Daniel, kept his hand pressed against her shoulder as he pushed the button on the small controller to raise the head of the bed. All she wanted to do was go to the small table a few feet from where she was lying, that was where her child was. The doctor and nurses blocked her view; all she could see was the movement of their arms, hands, and heads as they tried to revive the infant.
As she watched the group of four all dressed in green scrubs, she felt her husband’s hand squeeze her shoulder as a nurse handed another needle to the doctor. There was a small space between two of the nurses, and now she could see one of them forcing air into the child’s mouth with what looked like a bottle, squeezing it after another nurse pressed on the baby’s chest. Everything in the room slowed down to a crawl, and around the edges of Karla’s vision the room began to go grey.
They started CPR as soon as Karla delivered the infant, and that was minutes ago, but it felt like hours to Karla. She longed to hold her baby in her arms, but the doctor cut the umbilical cord and scooped the child up and took it across the room before she could get even a small glimpse of the child she carried for almost nine months.
It was only four hours ago that Karla refereed her oldest two children as they fought over which movie they were going to watch that night. A contraction ripped through her, and she doubled over gasping for a breath; as she rose a few seconds later, she felt a warm wetness in her underwear.
“Daniel!” she yelled as she began to walk to the bathroom. He came down the steps, having changed out of his work clothes. “I think my water just broke,” she breathed.
“I’ll get the car started,” he said, running to the front door.
She nodded and kept walking to the bathroom, and with every other step she felt a small tightness in her abdomen, each one seeming to be a little more painful than the last. Leaning in the little nook where the counter met the wall, she started to take off her pants, and as she let her underwear slide down her legs, she saw a thick dark red blob in the crotch. As she looked at it, her stomach felt as if someone had punched it. The pain made her cry out and she doubled over, almost losing her balance. The door flew open and her husband rushed in. His eyes first met hers then traveled down and watched a thick red blob run slowly down Karla’s leg. Daniel’s eyes froze on the bloody underwear and his face went white. He rushed over to her, pulling her pants back up, his short blond hair softly brushing against her now freezing cold skin.
Allen, her son, watched from the hallway as Daniel half carried her out of the bathroom.
“Allen,” Daniel yelled at the ten year old, his panic beginning to take control of his voice. “Get your mother’s bag to the car.”
The boy did as told, running to the front door, grabbing the small blue suitcase that sat beside it. He was out the door, leaving it open, letting the cold winter night’s air into the warm house.
“Mommy?” a young girl’s voice cried out from the living room, one of her fingers twisting a lock of her long blonde hair.
“I’m taking Mommy to the hospital,” Daniel said.
“I want to come, too,” the five year old cried, running towards her mom, wrapping her small arms around her mother’s leg.
“Christine,” her father scolded. “You know you can’t come. Grandma and Grandpa will come and get you.” He yelled out, “Allen, get in here!”
The boy ran into the house, leaving the front door wide open. “Call Grandpa, and watch your sister until they get here,” his father yelled over the little girl’s screams, and Allen pulled her away from their mother and towards the phone. He blew the bangs of his blond hair out of his eyes as he dialed the first number on the list next to the phone.
The hospital was only ten minutes away, but Karla was in so much pain. With each punch in the gut she could feel her underwear becoming wetter.
The doctor didn’t seem too concerned when she arrived at the hospital. Karla was only three days early and the baby had a strong heartbeat, but because of the bleeding he wanted to get the baby out right away. Karla changed into a hospital gown and was lying in bed, hooked up to machines and to the IV that held the drugs that induced labor. Contractions ripped through her stomach, and she pushed when told, trying not to use her panic and fear to force the baby out.
“I see the head,” the doctor said, his voice calm. “One more push,” he said, and Karla bore down one more time and felt the baby leave her body.
Two of the nurses were on either side of the doctor handing him equipment to clear out the baby’s nose and mouth, then Karla saw the change in their movement. They became quick and jumpy. The doctor cut the cord and took her baby away.
The low voices of the doctor and nurses whispered around the room, and tears ran down Karla’s cheeks as she watched helplessly as they tried to get her baby breathing. She moved as best she could, her body still numb from the delivery, trying to see around one of the nurses who stepped into her line of vision. Daniel’s grip tightened again, telling her that he wouldn’t let her move.
She looked up at him and could see the pain in his face. He too was watching the commotion around the table under the bright light. Her throat clenched as a tear made its way slowly down his cheek, finding its way around the stubble.
The doctor stood straight and announced the time. He turned his sweat-damp face to her. “I’m sorry,” he said softly.
Karla took a short breath, and it came out as a painful moan.
The doctor walked over to the bed, and she reached out for him. Through sobs she said, “I would like to hold my baby girl, my Jessie.”
A frown threatened to form on his lips, almost hidden by the wrinkles that lined them, but he slowly nodded then looked back at the nurses who were still standing by the lifeless child, one wrapping a blanket around the body. They nodded, even though both had frowns on their lips.
The doctor stood at the foot of the bed, and a nurse joined him with a tray covered with a white cloth, but Karla didn’t care what they were going to do. She was watching the heavy-set nurse lift the small covered body into her arms, holding it with the same care she would’ve taken if the child had lived.
The nurse brought the infant over and placed it into Karla’s arms. She cried out as she hugged the child against her chest, its face resting against her throat; the fingers of one of her hands gently stroked the fine light colored hair. Daniel looked down at his wife and dead child, tears flowing freely from his eyes, and he placed his hand gently on the baby’s head. With a shaking breath Karla placed a kiss on the child’s forehead, and Daniel bent down and did the same.
The nurse stood next to Daniel, looking down at the child as its mother held it. The soft and innocent face looked almost peaceful, except for the blue tint of death. The nurse could feel her own tears threatening; it tore her up when a baby died. She blinked them back, telling herself she could cry later.
Karla’s cries were ragged, and she was beginning to lose the strength in her arms; she could no longer hold the baby’s body to her chest. The nurse came forwards, taking the child. Karla’s strength returned for just a second, not wanting to give the baby up, but the nurse eased her hands around the child and took it from its mother’s arms.
Gently the nurse laid the baby back on the table and started to turn to go back to Karla’s side. Goosebumps raced over her arms as if a breeze caressed them. It wasn’t warm or cold, it was just there, then gone, but chills still raced down the nurse’s spine. There was a soft moan behind her. She turned and looked down at the child and shivered violently. It happened sometimes: Air would leave a dead body, racing over the vocal cords just right, making a noise. She reached down to pull the blanket over the baby girl’s face. The baby’s lips moved and the nurse heard it take in a deep breath of air. Just as the word ‘doctor’ started to leave her lips, the baby shrieked a blood-stopping scream.
As soon as Karla and Daniel walked into Karla’s parents’ house, four women gathered around them, waiting for their turn to look at the swaddled infant in Karla's arms. Daniel left his wife’s side and sat on the couch to give the women room to coo over his daughter.
The baby’s grandmother was the first to look into the baby’s eyes. “She is beautiful,” the old woman said, her voice cracking just a little.
“Thank you, Mom,” Karla said, her voice full of life.
The child looked up into the old woman’s face, her eyes not yet able to make out the details, but they still stayed on the woman, taking in everything she could.
“Take care of her. God has plans for this child,” the old woman said. She stepped away and in her place another old woman stood, the child’s great aunt.
“I still can’t believe you’re holding her in your arms.” She softly touched the baby’s hand with her finger. “Did they really say she was dead?”
Karla nodded. Even after two months, the memory was still too fresh and painful.
“Do they think she’s going to have problems?”
“They are afraid that she may have some learning difficulties,” Karla whispered.
The baby’s eyes slowly went to each face as they chatted, not understanding what they were saying. Different voices spoke, and different faces appeared before her. There was so much going on, so many different faces and voices around her, but they kept moving and she wasn’t able to study them for long. The baby girl closed her eyes, and a whimper escaped from between her lips.
Every female voice oohed at the baby’s cry of frustration.
“Dad?” Karla said, turning to the man who sat in a large recliner in front of the TV. “Would you like to see your granddaughter?”
“I’ve seen babies before.”
She walked over to her father, and he looked up from the TV, only meaning to take a quick glimpse of the child to satisfy his daughter and to not make his wife angry, but as his eyes slid over the infant they couldn’t help but stare. The child’s face was flawless white, her eyes a dark blue. Everything about the child was perfect, and he didn’t like it. He quickly looked away, focusing on the TV. “I hope you had it baptized.”
“Yes, Dad, two weeks ago, while she was still in the hospital.”
He grunted and turned his attention back to the TV, but the images were just flashes of colored light. It was hard for him not to allow his eyes to follow his daughter as she walked away with the infant in her arms. He didn’t know if it was knowing that the child had been born dead, or what, but something about it bothered him.
Jessie turned out to be a very curious little girl, always staring at the people who were around, and everyone thought her inquisitiveness was adorable. She started to walk just before she turned a year, and she was the center of attention when she was around other people. Jessie traveled from person to person, and even animals, to be close enough to them to look into their eyes and to hear their voices.
But Jessie quickly learned to stay away from Christine; Christine did not like her little sister. Every chance Christine got, she would push her little sister; giggling as Jessie landed on her butt with a thump. She hated Jessie, hated her because she now got all of the attention. Jessie’s brother didn’t seem to like her either, but Allen wasn’t as mean as Christine. He would ignore her, but if Jessie kept bugging him, he would knock her to the ground, smiling as Jessie cried.
There was another who didn’t like to be around Jessie: Karla’s father. When Jessie went to her grandparents, he would say hi to Karla and the older two kids then leave the house, hiding out in the garage. Most of the time he wouldn’t even glance at Jessie, but those few times Jessie did get to look into his eyes, she felt scared.
Her grandfather was the reason she almost died when she was three.
Opening her eyes should have been easy, but when Jessie tried, the lids only lifted a fraction, just enough to let in a sliver of light. They felt so heavy she couldn’t keep them open. She tried again, fighting against gravity so she could see where she was, but they still fought against her.
The sounds around her, the beeping, the echoing of voices on a speaker, and soft footsteps squeaking on polished floors, gave her an idea of where she was, but it was the smell that told her she was right. The scent of bleach and other cleaning chemicals tried to cover up the smell of urine, feces, and death, but failed; it was still there, lingering. She swallowed, and it felt as if she’d swallowed rocks as the muscles of her throat moved.
Jessie tried to open her eyes again and was just able to make out her surroundings. A creamy white wall, a dim light attached to it above a small white sink, the glow made yellow by an old plastic cover. A slight tremor of panic went through her. This didn’t look like a hospital room; she’d been in enough to be able to recognized one. She tried to move her head. Her neck was tight, as if her bones had fused together and the pain, like knives, made her stop.
The pain brought sights, sounds, and feelings that flashed through her mind like a strobe light. Jessie was screaming. She could feel her body trying to thrash but something was holding her down. A man’s voice yelled to sedate her. Darkness followed and let the terrors in. They didn’t pause, not even for a second, and they started the chase. A blinding light flashed, and when it was gone a woman’s face was before Jessie, smiling lovingly. Her voice was sweet as she told Jessie she was safe.
The sounds of the room she was in filled her ears, and again Jessie attempted to make her eyes open. First just a slit, then she forced them wider, but there wasn’t much more to see, just more of the white wall, but she could hear the squeaking of shoes on the polished floor. If she was right, and if she was in some kind of hospital, someone should check on her, but it could be an hour or more. Her eyelids wanted to drop. She forced them to stay open. She needed to get someone’s attention, but her eyes felt dry and hurt when she moved them, like they were coated with sand. Even though her vision was blurry she knew she was looking at her left hand. It was lying at her side, but it didn’t look like hers. It was very thin and very white; the blue veins were dark against the white skin. When she tried to move her fingers, they didn’t want to respond; they only twitched and then tingled. Her skin felt tight when her fingers did move, almost as if it had dried and shrink-wrapped itself around her bones.
Again she tried to swallow, but there was no spit in her mouth to wet her dry throat and it locked, making her feel as if she was choking. Clearing her throat hurt more than the swallow. The vibration sliced at the tender skin, and that made her swallow once again, locking her larynx midway for a second, before the muscles relaxed enough to allow it to return to its natural position, but now it felt twice the size it had been.
Jessie’s eyes won, and the lids lowered.
She didn’t know how long she had slept, but she could hear movement next to her. Forcing her eyelids open, she could see white fabric just at the edge of her vision, shifting as the wearer moved. Jessie laid there and watched for a few seconds, her fear of strangers making her freeze. A part of her hoped they would look down and see her eyes were open, but she was afraid, afraid of what the person would do to her. She swallowed, but the dryness in her throat stayed, burning with the movement. Most people ignored or avoided her, but there were a few who would go out of their way to torment her, and Jessie was afraid this woman was one of them.
Jessie stared at the woman as she hung a bag on a rack, completely ignoring her. With the bag hung, the woman hooked a tube to it then brought her attention to Jessie. Even when she looked at Jessie, right into her eyes, the woman didn’t pause; instead she reached for Jessie’s arm. Jessie’s reaction was automatic, and as soon as the gloved fingers touched her skin her arm tried to jerk away.
“Oh!” the old woman gasped, her eyes going so wide that Jessie could see that they were dark brown. “Hi?”
Jessie blinked and opened her mouth to speak. The vibration raked over her dry throat.
“No, don’t talk,” the woman yelped. “Let me get you something to moisten your mouth and throat first.” The woman turned and went over to the sink, her black and silver hair twisted in a braid that hung down to her waist, and it swayed slowly left to right against her back as her hands moved.
Jessie watched the woman’s mirrored reflection as she opened what looked like a pink sucker, and then stuck it under the running water for just a second.
Coming back over to Jessie, the woman brought the pink sucker to her mouth. Jessie parted her lips, allowing the woman to place the sucker into her mouth. But it wasn’t candy; it was a piece of foam that tasted like lemon.
“My name is Rhonda,” the woman said holding the end of the stick as the foam rested on Jessie's tongue. Whatever the thing was, Jessie could feel spit now filling her mouth, drawn to the lemon flavor.
“Can you tell me your name?” the woman asked after she pulled the foam out of Jessie’s mouth.
“Jessie, Jessie Smith,” Jessie whispered.
“Hi there Jessie.” The woman’s smile faded just a hair, “I’m sorry to tell you, but you were in an accident, and you’re at Jameson Nursing Home.”
‘I figured that,’ Jessie said to herself.
“Are you okay?” Rhonda asked as Jessie stared off into space.
“I,” Jessie stammered, “I can’t remember what happened.”
“That’s nothing to worry about, very few people do remember.”
Jessie's heart started to pound in her chest.
“Take a breath my dear. I need to call your doctor to let him know you’re awake. You can ask him all of your questions when he gets here.”
Jessie nodded, and then asked, “Can you call my dad?”
Rhonda tried to keep her expression calm, but her wrinkled face failed to stop the solemn expression. “You just sit back and relax.” She placed her hand on top of Jessie’s, and again Jessie flinched. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” The woman turned and quickly walked out of Jessie’s sight, but she could hear her shoes squeaking on the floor fading as the woman walked farther away.
Jessie looked straight ahead, trying to remember what happened, but nothing came to her. The last thing she could remember was having breakfast with her father, and dreams of a woman with long dark brown hair and even darker brown eyes smiling. There were other things, voices yelling, the feeling of being held down, but nothing else. She remembered the other times, why not this one?
The squeaking of shoes came quickly back into her hearing, and it only took a couple of seconds before Rhonda was back at Jessie’s side. “Your doctor is on his way. Would you like to try some water?”
“Yes,” Jessie whispered.
Rhonda went back to the sink and returned with a small paper cup. She lifted it to Jessie's lips, and Jessie got a few swallows down before the nurse took the cup away. “How about we try and get your fingers moving?” Rhonda said, taking one of Jessie’s hands into hers.
Jessie felt Rhonda’s warm skin rubbing against her fingers, slowly bending each one at their joints. The first couple of times hurt, and the more they moved, the better they felt, but her skin was so tight. When Rhonda put Jessie’s hand down and took the other, Jessie kept moving the wakened fingers, feeling the stiffness of the joints and muscles as she made them move herself.
“Take it easy, you don’t want to tire yourself out,’ Rhonda said, placing Jessie’s hand back down.
Jessie started to move those fingers, just to make sure she could. “Why is it so hard for me to move?” she asked.
“You’ve been asleep. Your doctor will talk it over with you. How about another drink?” and she brought the glass back up to Jessie’s lips.
As she drank, she knew there was something, other than what happened to her, that the nurse wasn’t talking about. After Rhonda put the glass down, she said, “Why don’t you get some rest. I’ll wake you when the doctor gets here.”
Jessie looked at the woman and nodded, but she didn’t want to rest, she had just woken up, but she let her lids close to moisten her eyes…
When she opened her eyes, Jessie didn't know how much time had gone by. Rhonda wasn’t next to her, but Jessie could hear her voice close. Her neck still wouldn’t move so she could only shift her eyes to the sound. Rhonda was talking to a man in the doorway, who was writing on a clipboard, a man Jessie recognized. He was the only one, other than her dad, who Jessie trusted. He looked up, met Jessie’s eyes, and smiled.
“Jessie,” he said coming towards her. “How are you feeling?” he asked, reaching the bed, and sitting down on the edge. But that didn’t really bring him any closer to Jessie; she still had to look up to see his eyes. Doctor Bob had to be close to seven feet tall. When Jessie first met him, he seemed like a giant, and it scared her, but with each visit she discovered that he was a gentle giant and honestly seemed to care about her.
“Tired, stiff,” she whispered, her eyes shifted to Rhonda who stood a few feet from the bed. Looking back to Doctor Bob, she asked, “What happened? I can’t remember,” her voice cracking from both sorrow and dryness.
“Rhonda, would you help Jessie get something to drink?”
The woman went to Jessie’s other side and brought the glass to Jessie's lips.
As Jessie took a sip, the doctor asked, “You know who I am?”
Jessie swallowed the warm water. “Yes, you’re Doctor Bob.”
He nodded and wrote something down on the pages on the clipboard. “And how do you know me?”
“You’re my doctor.”
He took what looked like a pen from the clipboard and pointed it a Jessie. A small beam of light came out, making Jessie blink from the brightness. “When did we meet?” he asked, touching the side of her face where the beam was shining to keep her steady.
She forced her eye to stay open and answered. “When I was eleven, after I almost drowned.”
He nodded, pointing the light at her other eye. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
That question brought a frown to Jessie's face. The light went out, and she closed her eyes. “I was eating breakfast with Dad.” She paused for a minute, and her eyes opened, “I think I went to school.”
“It’s all right,” Doctor Bob said. “Can you tell me what year this is?”
He nodded, but there was something in the way he moved that she didn’t like. “What? How long was I out?”
Doctor Bob drew in a deep breath and let it out as he took one of Jessie’s hands, his fingers going around her wrist, feeling her pulse.
Jessie looked at the man she’d known for years, but he looked different somehow.
“Jessie,” he said after a few seconds. “You sustained massive injuries, and we kept you in a medically induced coma so your body could heal, but when we tried to bring you out of it, you kept having seizures. The last time we tried, the seizure was so severe your body put itself into a coma. I was worried that if you did wake up, there’d be brain damage.” He smiled a big smile, “But so far,” he gently poked her forehead with his finger, “it looks like you’re all there.”
“How long have I’ve been asleep?” Jessie asked, fighting tears, afraid of the answer.
The room was still. It seemed that everyone was holding their breath. “Three years,” Doctor Bob said softly.
Every ounce of moisture in Jessie was gone. Her throat was instantly dry, and the breath she took was cold, and burned as it went into her lungs. She understood what he had said, but she didn’t want to believe it. “Is my dad here?” she asked, so there was something else to think about.
Doctor Bob looked over at Rhonda. “We’re in the process of contacting him,” she replied.
“So what now?” Jessie asked, still not able or wanting to grasp the fact she’d been asleep for three years.
“You get better. We’ll get you into physical therapy; get your muscles back into shape and a few pounds on you.” Doctor Bob frowned and took Jessie’s hand, holding it this time. “I know you’re a strong girl, you’ve shown me how strong you are, but this is going to be hard, and painful. And I know you’re not a patient young lady, but this is going to take time.”
Jessie swallowed. “So when do we start?”
“Right now. You are to take it easy for the rest of the day."
“Doctor Bob,” Jessie said as he got off the bed, “you know what happened to me, don’t you?”
The expression on his face sent chills down her back, but all he did was nod.
“Do you think I’ll remember?” she asked.
He shrugged. “You may remember all of it, bits and pieces, or none of it.”
“Will you tell me?”
Bob put on his best blank doctor face, but she could see right through it. “When I think you’re ready, I will tell you. You rest and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Wait,” she whimpered. “Don’t leave me here.”
“Jessie, I would never have brought you here if it wasn’t safe. Nobody here is going to hurt you.”
Jessie watched Doctor Bob and Rhonda walk out of the room. Jessie knew something bad had happened to her and, with how Doctor Bob acted, it was really bad.
“How about a sponge bath?” Rhonda offered coming back into the room.
Jessie’s body went ridged. “No,” she forced out.
The woman smiled softly, “I understand it's embarrassing…”
Tears, not of humiliation but of terror, started to burn Jessie's eyes.
“Honey,” Rhonda said. “How about tomorrow?”
Jessie nodded, too afraid to say a word.
A loud thump woke her, and she cringed, keeping her eyes tightly closed, waiting for the blow to land on her, but nothing hit her. Slowly she opened her eyes. No one was standing near her, but there was a short woman with long black hair standing at the sink. Jessie watched as the woman sprayed some type of cleaner over the counter and began wiping it down, and she began to hum a soft tune that Jessie couldn’t remember ever hearing.
With the sink and counter clean, the woman walked out of the room, not even giving Jessie a glance. She walked back in a few seconds later, carrying a roll of paper towels which she switched with the almost empty one on the hanger. Again she walked away, and this time when she returned she carried a broom and started to sweep the floor.
Jessie couldn’t move her head to watch the woman as she swept the far corner, but she could hear the sound of the bristles on the floor and the woman’s hum and listened as they came closer. The woman came into view and swept around the bed, not looking at anything but what she was doing. While she was at the foot of the bed she opened a door. Only a few empty hangers hung from the short rod, but what made Jessie stop breathing was the reflection in the mirror.
A pale face with dark brown eyes surrounded by lifeless dishwater blonde hair looked back at her. The hair looked matted as if it hadn’t been washed or brushed in months, but because of the color it had always looked greasy. Jessie didn’t care about her hair; it was the face that horrified her.
The skin was tight against her bones; white as a sheet, even the small clusters of freckles over her nose was pale. Her facial structure was still round, but there was nothing rounding it out anymore; it looked wrong, uneven. There was something wrong with her nose; it looked crooked in a few spots, and she thought that there might be a few new scars on her forehead and cheeks.
But the inch-wide blob that covered her cheekbone and disappeared into her hairline was as black as ever, and it stood out even more against her pale white skin. Where it had migrated into her hair, it had changed the color to black and the texture course and thick. Jessie could no longer see her nose, her eyes, or her lips; that black mark was the only thing she could see on her face now.
The mark had started out as a freckle when she was four, but it kept growing and getting darker, making her the target for rude remarks and bullying by both children and adults. Even her mother was horrified and ashamed.
For those first few days all Jessie could do was lie there and try to remember what had happened to her. The memories of eating breakfast with her father were there, but then there was nothing; it was just like trying to remember the Terrors. She could remember going to bed, but once she fell asleep there was nothing until she woke up screaming, but she could never remember why, just that she was scared. There was one other thing Jessie found herself doing and that was waiting, waiting for Rhonda and the others to start calling her names, to hit her, and to laugh at the mark on her face. She knew she couldn’t defend herself, she could barely move. Every time someone came into her room, she waited, waited for their touch to become painful. When they came in to hook up the bag that contained the liquid that fed Jessie, they were friendly, and they never seemed bothered when they had to dump the other bags that contained her waste. It felt different to have people be nice to her, almost scarier than when they were mean.
Rhonda would come in to administer drugs, with either a pill or needle, and she would ask Jessie how she was feeling, and if any memories had come back. Jessie would answer but not keep the conversation going. Rose, the physical therapy nurse, would come in every afternoon to help Jessie stretch and rebuild her muscles. Jessie had learned that reacting to what people did to her only encouraged them to do more, more evil things. Yelling, getting mad, or fighting back only made things worse, so she did what Rose instructed even when it felt as if her muscles were being sliced apart fiber by fiber. She kept the tears at bay, letting them fall when she was alone; tears seen by others brought them more pleasure.
Years and years of being picked on, singled out for being ugly, and abused, does something to people, something that can’t be repaired. Doctor Bob and her father were the only two people who said she wasn’t ugly, but they were only two out of hundreds who said the opposite.
Jessie could remember when the only people who picked on her were her brother and sister, but that happens in every family, that’s what siblings do. That was also when her mom wasn’t ashamed of her. Her mom would take her to the park and she would play with the other children while all of the parents commented on what a beautiful child she was.
But that all changed after the mark appeared.
Her brother and sister got meaner, not just with words, but with their hands also. They would make fun of the mark and the night terrors. Jessie’s mom stopped taking her to the park, and if she had to take Jessie somewhere, people would stare and frown when they saw it, even with the make-up caked to her face. Other parents would no longer let their children play with her; they would tell their kids it was time to go, pulling them away kicking and screaming. Older kids were the worst; they would comment as soon as they looked at her, and they would laugh and call her names, pushing her to the ground until Jessie ran away crying. It only took a year for her to change from a happy little girl who loved people to one who was always scared to be around them and looked for the nearest hiding place.
After the mark and Terrors came to her, one the scariest places for Jessie to visit was her grandparents’ house. She was scared to death of her grandfather. All she could remember was him standing over her like a giant, smiling while silver circles shined brightly around her. It never made sense, not until she took a peek at her medical file when she was sixteen.
It was the Fourth of July weekend, and children of all ages raced through her grandparents’ yard, their stomachs full of hotdogs, potato chips, and cake, towards the game of football that was taking shape across the bridge in the freshly cut pasture. The adults mostly ignored the yelling and screaming, keeping to their conversations.
Jessie watched the other kids run to the pasture, her paper plate still in her hands. She was only three and too small to play with the big kids. The only one who stayed was her grandfather’s dog that sat next to her, waiting patiently for the next piece of food. Her mom was busy talking with the other adults and a few were making their way to watch the game. Jessie handed the old German Shepard mix the rest of her hotdog, smiling as the mutt pulled the piece gently from her fingers.
“Jessie?” her father’s voice said behind her.
She jumped and turned.
“Are you and Magnet full?” he asked, smiling.
Jessie held up her empty plate, “All done.”
Her father smiled, taking her plate, “Why don't you go play under the oak?” he said, pointing to the large tree next to the house.
Jessie nodded and placed her hand on the dog’s head and started to walk. The dog went with her, his tail wagging.
Pink lady bugs were crawling around the trunk of the tree, and she laughed as they crawled between her fingers, but there was still a sad feeling in her because she couldn’t play with the other kids. After a while the pink bugs got boring and she began to dig into the dirt. There she discovered a large worm. She could feel its slime sticking to her skin as she held it in her hand and watched it wiggle around trying to find an escape. The dog lay beside her, his eyes watching the worm with mild curiosity, as if he was wondering why it was so interesting to her.
Laughter caught her attention, and when she looked she saw her sister Christine walking with two other girls. Jessie didn’t know them, but since they were her sister’s friends they were probably as mean as Christine. The group of girls came right to Jessie. One of the girls tied a rope around the dog’s collar, pulling him away from her.
“We’re going to give Magnet a bath,” Christine said, pushing Jessie over. “He smells like he’s been around something that died.”
When Jessie tried to get to her feet her sister pushed her again, harder, and Jessie’s head hit the trunk of the tree. The tears rolled out of Jessie’s eyes and down her cheeks.
Christine looked down at Jessie, her eyes full of hate. “Stay away from Magnet,” she growled. “Grandpa doesn’t want a dead girl playing with his dog.”
“Chris,” one of the other girls yelled.
Christine gave her Jessie's leg a kick. “I’m going to find a hole and bury you,” she snarled then ran to the road where the other girls were standing as the dog pulled against the rope, trying to get away.
Jessie watched her sister stop as soon as she got to the road. She bent down and picked something up, and when she rose she threw a rock back a Jessie, hitting her in the arm. The two other girls copied Christine when she bent down and picked up more. Three rocks sailed through the air, one hitting Jessie in the head. Jessie cried out and ran and another rock hit her in the back.
Jessie knew that she wasn’t supposed to go into the shed, but she didn’t think her sister and her friends would follow her inside. Reaching up, she turned the knob and the door opened with a creak.
She stepped inside and stood staring at a machine in the middle of the room. Silver disks shined in the sunlight that came in the windows. Behind her she heard a noise like a footstep, and just as she started to turn she felt a hand on her back, pushing her.
Jessie’s arms waved in the air as she fell forwards. A shrill gasp left her throat as she fell into the silver disks. She really didn’t feel the pain when one disk sliced through her skin. Blood gushed out from the wound as her eyes looked at her grandfather who stood just a few inches away.
He took a step back, and Jessie watched as his eyes focused on her and his face went white. A second later he ran outside and yelled, “Call an ambulance!”
“What happened?” a man shouted.
“She fell,” Grandfather said, “into the plow.”
Jessie heard footsteps but she couldn’t see, it was as if someone had turned off the lights. “Oh god,” a man's voice cried.
A woman screamed. “Jessie! Oh my god, Jessie!”
“I’m sorry,” the old man whispered. “She fell.”
A week later Jessie sat on the floor leaning against the couch, the incident mostly forgotten, except for the pain and itch in her neck. She wanted to take the white fabric off, because it was tight and made it hard to swallow and to move her head. A few feet away her brother and sister sat in front of the TV watching a cartoon. Jessie looked up and saw her mother leaning against the doorframe watching her. Quickly looking back down at the stuffed animal in her hands she had brought home from the hospital, Jessie resisted the urge to scratch at the bandage. She had heard a man tell her mom and dad she was lucky to be alive, that a hair width in either direction would have killed her. She didn’t know what he meant and was afraid to ask.
Jessie kept her eyes on the stuffed animal in her hand; she didn’t like the way mom had started to stare at her. Jessie knew her mom was mad at her for waking up everyone in the house, but Jessie didn’t know why she was screaming. When she woke up, all she knew was she was scared.
The words she heard her mom mutter the day before to her father really scared her: ‘Maybe Jessie should’ve died...’
By the end of summer, Jessie was afraid to go to bed. She cried, fighting against sleep, but sleep always won, and Jessie woke up screaming. Some nights were worse than others, her screams louder. Her mom stopped coming in to comfort her, but dad still did. He would hold her while she shook and sobbed, and when she was calm they would both go into the kitchen to make breakfast and watch cartoons until it was time for him to leave for work.
Her mom would send Allen and Christine off to school and leave Jessie with the TV or send her to her room to play while she cleaned the house. Some days they would go shopping together, but after Jessie turned four, things began to really change.
The summer sun no longer liked her, burning her skin when she spent too much time outside. By the end of summer, Jessie had freckles. There weren’t many, just a few on the bridge of her nose that spread out under her eyes, but there was one, a very dark one on her right cheek, that seemed to scream for attention. It seemed to grow more each time Jessie was in the sun. At first it worried her mother, until the doctors assured her that it was just a freckle. But no matter how much sunscreen her mom applied, the freckle multiplied, growing into a black blob. Not only did it disfigure her face, it spread into her hair, changing the color and texture from a fine dishwater blonde to thick coarse black. The freckle wasn’t the only thing that changed Jessie’s appearance. Her eyes darkened to brown and her face rounded out. With these changes she looked less and less like her family.
Not only was Jessie afraid to sleep, she was starting to become fearful of her mom, who was growing more desperate to hide the freckle and the patch of black hair. She would apply thick layers of make-up to Jessie’s face whenever they left the house, making Jessie look pale and sick, but it didn’t hide the mark, it just lightened it. And the hair: Her mom began to shave the black lock off so she didn't have to mess with it. Jessie no longer liked to leave the house, and it wasn't just because of the make-up, it was because of how people would look at her.
The summer after Jessie turned five, her mom seemed to give up and stopped taking her places, leaving the little girl alone with her older brother and sister, and they didn’t ignore Jessie like their mother did, they picked and tormented her until one of their parents returned. The only good thing that seemed to be happening was the night terrors were no longer frightening her every night, but Jessie was still afraid, and the thought of starting school only added to her fears.
It had been an exhausting day for Jessie. It was the first time since she had woken up that she had left her room. She still had the feeling of humiliation because of it. Having a stranger strip off her clothes and then touch her in places where no one but herself had touched was mortifying. Rhonda was understanding and kind, telling Jessie exactly what she was going to do before doing it, but it still brought tears and shame to Jessie.
Jessie used to love long hot baths, but now it wasn’t something she was looking forward to doing again. With all of her hospital stays, Jessie knew people had touched her while she was asleep, but it was completely different being awake. Hardly being able to move while someone was touching her left her at their mercy.
Nothing bad happened in the bath. The water wasn’t the warmest, but Jessie was afraid if she said anything the water would have grown frigid. She feared more than just the people who were in the building; her fear of the Terrors coming back was growing more each time she woke up. The technique she had been using since she was sixteen was no longer working. The door she had created in her mind would not open, and now there was no place for Jessie to hide. If the Terrors came back while she was in this place and started to scream, what would the people do to her?
With the bath over and clean donated clothes now on Jessie, Rhonda pushed her down the hallway, giving her a tour of the facility. Only a few people were in the halls walking in and out of a room, everyone else was sitting in the dining room. Rhonda pushed her into the middle, adding to Jessie’s feelings of humiliation as she introduced Jessie to them.
It felt as if she was back in high school, knowing each and every one of them was looking at her then turning to their friends to laugh and make fun. She kept her eyes focused on her hands as they sat on her lap curled into fists, she didn’t want to see their smiles. But she saw enough to have a faint understanding why she was there; most of the people who sat at the small round tables had an injury that disfigured their bodies in some way.
Doctor Bob was waiting for her when Rhonda brought her back to her room and waited while Rhonda and Mandy, a nurse’s aide, put her into bed. Jessie was happy to see a large TV sitting on a desk in front of a recliner next to the window.
But during his visit, Doctor Bob still refused to tell Jessie what had happened to her.
The rest of the evening Jessie lay in bed, watching TV, trying to catch up on the three years she’d slept through. She watched the news, and it was still as she remembered, bad and political, but the last segment was all about the first day of school, and as the reporter interview the kids Jessie couldn’t help but think about her very first day of school.
Jessie didn’t want to start school. She had gone from being a curious kid to one who would rather hide in her bedroom than be around people. People now scared her. Strangers were the worst. Those rare times Jessie went with her mom or dad somewhere, she would see people stare at her. The looks they gave her weren’t smiles, they were frowns and disgust. Other parents would pull their young children away from Jessie, as if she was a monster. And she started to believe she was. Why shouldn't she? Her brother and sister called her that all of the time, and worse.
Even though she was afraid to sleep, her bedroom became her haven, her small closet her hiding place. Not even school was a safe place for Jessie.
The afternoon was warm, but the sky was cloudy as Jessie watched her mother’s car disappear around the corner. She didn’t want to go to school, but her mother had left her to wait at the bus stop alone. Her classmates were there, waiting with their moms, but Jessie didn’t know any of them. They were all strangers, and they only looked at Jessie once, gave her a dirty look, and went back to playing with their friends.
One of the moms looked over at her as she stood next to a young tree, the trunk too small to hide Jessie’s body. The woman gave her a fake smile, and then looked away saying something to the woman who stood next to her. With a small shift, the woman gave Jessie a quick look. Jessie looked down at the ground, feeling her face heat up as the women looked at her again.
Jessie’s heart pounded in her chest, and the baloney sandwich she had eaten just before her mom had dropped her off felt like a rock in the bottom of her stomach. The other kids were talking and laughing, but the fun was cut short as one of the mothers started to give them a lecture about bus stop safety.
As she stood there, Jessie could see the long yellow bus coming across the railroad tracks. The back end bounced as the back tires went over the metal rails. Jessie’s heart sped up, going faster and faster as the bus got closer. The engine had a deep sound, and the brakes screeched as it stopped at the curb in front of the line of kids that had formed as it approached. Jessie stayed at the tree, too afraid to move any closer.
Inside she could see the heads of the morning kindergarten class. A few faces looked out the windows. The kids inside stood when the doors of the bus hissed opened. The line of children stood to the side as the morning kids came down the steps. Their voices high with excitement bit at Jessie’s ears as they left the bus.
“You need to get in line,” a woman’s voice said sharply.
Jessie jumped, putting the tree between her and the voice.
“In line!” the woman said louder.
Jessie looked around the tree to see the women who was looking at her earlier glaring angrily.
“Now!” the woman growled, taking a step towards her.
Jessie stepped back and quickly walked to the end of the line, her skin crawling as she felt the woman’s eyes watching her.
Step by step Jessie moved closer to the bus as each kid ahead of her climbed up the three steps and went inside.
Jessie hesitated as the boy in front of her went up the steps, turned, and disappeared into the bus. She looked up at the driver as he sat in his seat, looking down at her. She wanted to run, but when she looked to the side she saw the woman who had yelled at her standing only a few feet away, her eyes narrowing as if she was hoping Jessie would run.
“Let’s go,” the bus driver growled.
Jessie took one step back and the woman yelled, “Get on the bus. You’re going to make everyone late for school!”
Jessie went forwards, hitting her shin on the bottom step, and the woman snickered. Jessie grabbed the cold metal railing and went up the steps. As she walked up to the last one, she could see that all of the kids had gathered in the middle of the bus, leaving the first two rows empty.
“You sit behind me so I can keep an eye on you!” the bus driver yelled.
The man’s voice scared her so much that she almost lost her balance on the step.
“Now!” he yelled loud enough that the other kids stopped talking.
Jessie hung her head and watched her feet as they carried her the few steps to the seat behind the driver. When she sat, she looked up and could see herself in the mirror that hung above the front window; she could also see the bus driver glaring at her.
Jessie tried to wedge herself against the bus’s window as the doors closed, trapping her inside the bus with the other kids and the driver. As soon as the bus started to move, she could hear whispers start behind her, and slowly they grew in volume.
The elementary school was a mile away from the bus stop, and each time she looked up she could see the driver’s eyes flicker up to the mirror, to her. She tried to keep her eyes focused either on her lap or outside the window, but every now and again she glanced up, and the stare of the bus driver scared her each time.
The bus slowed to turn into the school’s driveway. The kids grew silent as the bus stopped in front of the school. A woman stepped out of the school, waving at the bus. Jessie recognized her; she was her teacher Mrs. Zee. The door of the bus opened and the kids stood and made their way up the aisle. A few looked at Jessie as she tried to hide in the seat, but most hurried out of the bus to Mrs. Zee as she held the school's door open for them.
As the last kid went down the steps, Jessie started to scoot across her seat.
“Stop,” the bus driver hissed, and Jessie froze. The bus’s doors closed. “There are too many kids,” he said. “I’ll have to take you to the church’s kindergarten program.”
Jessie started to shake as she looked into the mirror. The driver wasn’t looking back at her, but she could see his face. It was pale. She was too afraid to say anything. Nobody told her that she was supposed to go to another kindergarten class. This was the school her mom had said she was going to. There was even a cubby hole with her name on it, and she had left her school supplies in it when she visited the day before.
Jessie’s body trembled harder as the bus left the school. It turned left and slowly drove away. She wanted to cry, to get out of the bus, but she was trapped.
A few blocks away, the bus turned right, then traveled a few more blocks before turning into a parking lot. In the center Jessie could see a tall building, and she recognized it as being a church, but she had never been to this one before.
The bus drove around the building, parking in the back of the empty lot. The driver didn’t turn around or speak; he just sat there, looking up in the mirror at Jessie every few seconds. His face was damp with sweat, and Jessie could see that he was shaking, as if he was crying. She would hear a whisper of words come from him as he sat there, “God please, help me.”
As Jessie sat there, waiting, she wondered what was going on at the school, what games they were playing. There was a crackle of static that made both Jessie and the driver jump. The driver leaned forwards and did something to one of the controls on the bus’s dash, and the sound went away. He stayed there and picked up something and spoke into it, “This is Garrett.”
Jessie could just hear a faint noise over the bus’s engine, it sounded like a voice on the radio.
The driver spoke again, “Let me check.”
He leaned back in his seat, his hand still holding the thing he had spoken into. Jessie could see him in the mirror looking at her. She could see his chest move and heard as he took a deep breath. Still looking in the mirror he lifted his hand to his mouth and said, “Yeah, I found her. She was hiding in the back of the bus. I’ll be there in ten.”
He tossed the thing at the dash and glared at Jessie for what felt like forever before the bus started to move. Slowly it went around the church and out of the parking lot.
Jessie was too afraid to move, and by the time the bus stopped in front of the school every muscle in her body had stiffened, making it hard for her to move. An old man came out of the school, followed by a short fat woman. They both looked angry as they walked up to the bus. The doors opened and the man quickly came up the steps. He glared at Jessie as she sat in the seat behind the driver.
“Let’s go, young lady,” he snarled.
Jessie looked up at the mirror. The bus driver was looking straight ahead out the windshield.
The old man grabbed Jessie’s wrist, “Now!” and he yanked her out of the seat, dragging her down the steps and into the school. The fat woman trailed behind as the man took Jessie into a small room. “Sit,” he said, pointing to a small chair in the corner.
He left the room, only to return a few minutes later, “Why were you hiding?” he asked.
Jessie squirmed in her seat, too afraid to answer.
There was a knock before the door opened; Mrs. Zee poked her head into the room.
“Jessie,” she said, opening the door wider so she could come in. She walked over to Jessie and kneeled down in front of her. “I know that the first day of school can be scary, but you scared me, everyone at the school, and your mother.”
Jessie’s felt the tears leave her eyes.
“Tell me why you were hiding.” Mrs. Zee said.
“I wasn’t hiding,” Jessie whimpered.
“Then why didn’t you get off the bus with the other kids?” the man growled.
Jessie cringed at the sound of the man’s voice.
“Jessie,” Mrs. Zee said softly. “Why didn’t you get off the bus?”
“The driver said there were too many kids. I had to go to a different class.”
Mrs. Zee blinked, pulling back, but the man growled, “He wouldn’t tell you anything like that.”
“That’s what he told me,” Jessie moaned, looking at Mrs. Zee who was shaking her head.
“I’m sorry, Jessie,” Mrs. Zee said. “But you’re going to have to wait with Mr. Parkling until your mother gets here, and we’re going to have to speak about how wrong it is to tell lies.”
Nobody believed her, not even her dad. Beside the look on his face that broke her heart, she found herself grounded to her room, her toys removed, until she told the truth.
Confusion tore at her young mind. She was telling the truth, but nobody believed her. The next morning her father came into her room and asked her again why she stayed on the bus. She told him the same story and he left without a word, but the hurt look on his face almost made her want to tell him the story he believed, even though it was a lie.
Her mom brought her to school that morning but took her to the bus stop the next and waited with an angry look, forcing her onto the bus, threating a spanking if she didn’t get off at the school. The other kids giggled and their mothers smiled.
The bus driver didn’t look at Jessie as she walked by him and down the aisle, taking the second seat back, opposite of the driver. The other kids watched quietly then started to call her names in whispers and laughs as soon as the bus started to move.
At the school, the principal was waiting at the door, glaring at her as she got off the bus, and during class Mrs. Zee had another special lesson about lying. Jessie could feel eyes and hear the snickers as the teacher spoke; her eyes were also on Jessie.
After school was easier. Jessie was able to pick any of the five buses, they all made a stop at that bus stop to pick up older kids. She picked one with a woman driver and rode in silence, ignoring the names and comments the other kids made.
The weekend was long, and she couldn't leave her room or go to the movie Saturday night. Both her brother and sister pressed her all day trying to get her to admit she was lying. They didn’t want to miss the movie because of her, and they threatened to beat her up. Her father stayed home with her while the rest of her family went to the movie. He came up to her room a little while after they left and sat on the edge of her bed.
“Jessie,” he said.
Tears formed in her eyes, and she looked away, “I’m not lying. That’s what he told me.”
Her dad let out a breath before leaving the room. When the door closed the tears left her eyes and she buried her head in her pillow.
Monday she left the house right after lunch, her mom thinking she was walking to the bus stop, but as soon as the house was out of sight, Jessie changed directions and headed for the elementary school. Knowing she had to hurry to be there on time, she jogged until her sides hurt, then slowed to a walk. She made it to the school just as the bus full of her classmates drove by, and she ran the rest of the way to catch up, being able to walk into the school behind the rest of her class.
A week went by and the grounding continued. She heard the TV on and her brother and sister laughing. Many times she had debated to tell them what they wanted, just to end the punishment, but she couldn’t make herself do it.
The knock on her door made her cringe, but she relaxed a little when her dad came into her room. “Jessie,” he said in a soft voice.
The way he looked at her made her feel smaller, and there was no stopping the tears that started to fill her eyes.
“The school called,” he said.
Jessie started to shake as she felt her anxiety grow, wondering what her punishment would be. When he reached out she pulled away, afraid he would hit her, even though he had never raised a hand to her before.
His hand stopped in midair, “Jessie,” he said, his eyes glistening. “You’re not in trouble.” He breathed out and sat on the edge of the bed. “Why aren’t you riding the bus to school?”
The Jessie's lips trembled, too afraid to say why. He never believed what the bus driver had said to her, so why would he believe that she was scared of the man?. Tears of both fear and sadness spilled out of her eyes and she turned and hid her face in the corner of the wall.
Minutes went by before she felt the bed move as he got up. His footsteps were slow as they went across the floor, and the door closed with a soft click.
It took a month before she could leave her room, but she still wanted to spend all of her time in there. It was a safe place, at least while her parents were home, and while she was awake. She still hadn’t found a spot around the house to hide from her brother and sister. School didn’t get any better either. She was picked on daily, and the teachers didn’t seem to notice.
After Christmas, Jessie’s kindergarten class switched to the morning and her mom made her wait at the bus stop with all of the other kids that first day, but the driver wasn’t sitting behind the wheel. She was very scared of the ride back from school. There was only one bus, and she was sure the principal would be making sure she got on it. Her entire body was shaking and she approached the bus. But the man wasn’t staring down at her, it was a woman and she barely even looked at Jessie.
Jessie couldn’t wipe away the tear that escaped her eye. Her hand or her head wouldn't move enough to get rid of it, but she blinked to keep the rest of them in. School got worse and it was all thanks to the mark on her face. Even moving to a new school, where no one knew her, didn’t stop the torment.