A mother seeks answers for her family's murder by returning home.
Love You To Heaven and Back
Sanvi turned the truck off.
Without the rumble of the old vehicle, the silence was rather oppressive. It had taken longer than she’d intended to reach her destination, and twilight made a backdrop for the bare trees. Violet and navy light reflected off the unbroken snow, sparkling. Sanvi glanced passed the surreal surroundings to the cabin that set atop the hill. Empty, as she knew it would be, the two windows peered back with a blank expression.
What the fuck am I doing here? I know better…She turned her gaze away, her heartbeat quickening despite her attempt to keep the emotions at bay. She knew there was no other way—she would not be able to move on if she did not struggle through this pain.
“I might as well get settled before it gets too dark to see,” she muttered to herself. She unbuckled and opened the truck door, stepping into the ankle deep snow. She reached forward, grabbing her backpack of supplies and swung it onto her shoulder. One more glance to the shell of a building, she let out a long sigh that sent trailing mists in the cold air.
It was odd, in a way, that there was no sound—no child’s laughter, no man’s baritone quips. That was all that cottage had known at one point. All that remained now was the rattling wind cut by leafless branches, the occasional animal call. Sanvi knew the truth though—this home had seen happier times.
But, this cottage had also seen its share of tragedy, and she could most certainly also feel that in the air. Such pain this land had felt was bound to leave its mark—a lasting impression that would replay until resolved. That’s what the group had told her.
I can’t let that go on…Sanvi wasn’t aware she’d been crying until the wind whipped and chilled the tear streaks. I can’t let them continue to exist like that. I can’t continue existing like this. They told me this was the only way.
She knew their words—this grief group who truly understood that her suffering was not something that could be cured by medication and useless therapy—were true. Her family, her husband and daughter, would never rest until she knew. “It will not be easy, Sanvi,” the old woman had said. “What you learn may never put you to rest. Death so violent to leave an image sometimes should be left alone.”
But she couldn’t leave it be.
Her hands quivered as she fumbled for the key in her coat pocket. Every fiber of her being was urging her to run. A nasty little voice in her head was screaming, You aren’t strong enough for this, bitch! Run!
The key had to be forced into the door knob and she could barely get the frozen cogs to turn. Everything seemed to be fighting her—she couldn’t get the door to budge. Sanvi let out an exasperated scream and rammed her shoulder into the door. She could feel the ice encasing the door frame begin to give. One more shove sent her sprawling into the living room floor.
Sanvi lay there a moment, her chest heaving, as she sniffled from the cold, her tears, and frustration. She wiped a hand across her nose and cheeks before pushing long auburn hair from her face.
The living room was as she’d left it, albeit colder and dusty. Pictures of a once happy family dotted the walls and a vase of wilted, dried flowers waiting on the hallway table—no doubt a welcome home gift from her husband she never was able to receive.
Stop it, she told herself as new tears formed. This is for them. Come on…get the fire started before it gets dark.
There was no electricity now—it had been cut off over a month ago after the murders, but firewood still waited by the hearth, and for that much she was grateful. She’d brought sandwich meat to leave outside in the cold and bread and water. Other emergency supplies were in the tool chest of the truck, but she prayed she didn’t need any of it.
Sanvi hummed as she busied herself with the fire. Isaac had always been better at getting the fire going, but she knew within a couple of tries she would have it at least winking into existence. After stacking the logs over kindling and lighting it, she let it be to see if it would catch and grabbed the backpack. She took the flashlight and the sage and began the long walk of blessing the home.
She started in the living room. Pleasant thoughts, pleasant memories, she reminded herself. Remember the happy times. She focused on the corner where her husband had marked the remarkable growth of their only child. Seven years of miracles carved into paint.
“Mommy! I’m bigger now. Soon, I’ll be as big as you!”
Sanvi choked back a sob and allowed the sage to waft into the now empty corner. She walked into the kitchen. A pot was on the stove, full of stagnant water. Isaac must have been about to make his nighttime tea. On the fridge was Baela’s drawing of a stick-dog—her only item on a Christmas list.
“Having a dog is a big responsibility, Baela.”…she remembered Isaac telling her.
“Oh, I know, daddy,” her voice had held innocence and seriousness. “I would feed her and play with her and give her a bath every day!”
“Poor dog,” she remembered muttering.
The short hallway held more pictures. Of college graduations and young birthdays. The sage smoke wafted past it all as she allowed each memory wash her breath away. She walked the closet and bathroom, leaving the most painful two rooms for last.
The two rooms that held both the best and worst memories. Sanvi licked her lips as she stopped at her and Isaac’s bedroom. "You will do this," she whispered. She opened the door and shined her light in. The bed remained turned down—the police had touched very little in their investigations. God, she’d wished they had. It would be so much easier if it had been tainted rather than so normal looking.
The flashlight trembled in her hands as her chest shook in silent sobs. She remembered multiple intimate embraces for eight years of marriage—sweet nothings whispered into her ear as she drifted to sleep. She remembered his warmth…
The light flashed across the stain on the hardwood and she let out a strangled cry. No, no…not that memory…not while I cleanse for them…
She closed the door behind her and leaned her back against the wood for a moment.
She’d saved Baela’s room for last. A room bathed in periwinkle and buttercream, she struggled to remember tickle wars and late night stories as she walked. “I love you to heaven and back, my little imp.” She’d almost reached the door when something on Baela’s drawing desk caught her eye. A drawing, shaded in black and red crayon. A massive thing that reached out at a sad little girl’s face.
“The Shadow Man,” she whispered. Her little girl’s imaginary friend—the thing that she’d loved to be afraid of. Until those awful, awful dreams after their deaths, Sanvi had not even given the fictional thing a thought. She picked up the drawing, noting the razor claws and sharp teeth.
She folded the picture and put it in her pocket. She checked the time. Nearly eight—the detectives had reckoned that their deaths had happened between eight and ten. Sanvi swallowed. I can do this.
She wiped her eyes as she walked out of the room and closed the door. She turned to head back to the living room when something in the corner of the light caught her eye.
“Didn’t I close that?” she whispered, walking toward her bedroom. The door was ajar, and she could see the rising moon’s light crisscrossed by branches. She hesitated before swinging the door open and shining her light in. The stain was the first thing she saw but she turned her gaze away and toward the bed where her circle of light shined against dust motes. At first, she didn’t see anything, but her heart quickened as something shifted beyond the light’s reach.
A massive, hulking thing, head and shoulders taller than her. It didn’t move, but she could almost feel it staring.
She swung the light to the corner, but it was empty.
There isn’t anything to make a shadow like that, she thought. Her heart beat in her throat as she shined the light away for a second.
The shadow, hunched and aggressive, was there once more—closer to the door entrance. Her flashlight flickered and she heard a low growl—deeper than any animal could make. Sanvi stumbled backwards and swung the door shut. She heard something crash into it as she ran down the hall and into the living room where her fire was just beginning to build into life.
A scream, high pitched and heart wrenching, caused her to pause.
“No! I don’t want to play anymore! Go away!”
“Baela,” she whispered. She stood, but she knew there was nothing she could do. She’d buried her little girl and nothing could change that. That was not why she was here. I’m here just to know.
Her little girl, all bouncing auburn hair and buttercream skin, stood in the entrance of hall. Sanvi could tell it was only an image—she wasn’t completely transparent, but she could make out the corner of the wall through the night gown.
Baela’s hands were balled up at her sides, angry tears on her cheeks. “I told you I didn’t want to! Now go away! Daddy said I needed to let you go home now because your mommy missed you.”
Baela stumbled, falling on her butt as she let out a surprised gasp. “You hurt me!”
Now, Sanvi could make out a figure in front of her daughter—tall and imposing. She narrowed her eyes and tried to see what it was.
“Don’t be mad at me! I’m sorry!” These words were spoken both in the images and in the room with her. She took a step backward before forcing herself to be calm. I will not give into fear.
Baela stood up, pouting and crossing her arms. “I want you to go away and never ever come back. Not ever!”
“Baela? What are you up to?” Isaac stepped out from her room. “I’ve got your bed ready. Stop playing and go brush your teeth.”
“I wasn’t playing, daddy. The Shadow Man won’t leave like you said he would. He pushed me and hurt me.”
“Baela, go get ready for bed. You’re excited to see mommy tomorrow, right?”
Baela wiped her eyes. “Yeah.”
“Then tell the Shadow Man to go home to his mommy so that he can be happy too.”
“I don’t want to leave!” The words were much too deep to have crossed human vocal cords.
Isaac’s eyes widened, seeing something Sanvi couldn’t. “What the…”
“I don’t want to go anywhere else. I want you both to play with me forever.”
Sanvi forced herself to watch, refusing to blink away as her husband grabbed Baela’s hand and ran. She followed them to their bedroom only to watch the shadow rip at them. They both screamed, her husband attempting to shelter her.
“Do you want to play with us?”
Sanvi looked past the flash light to where three hulking shapes waited at its edge. She understood now that her family wasn’t caught in the loop.
“Please play with us.” This voice, though still deep and inhuman, had a ring of familiarity. “We miss you.”
Sanvi swallowed past the lump in her throat and closed her eyes. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you both. I love you to heaven and back, my little imp.”
She turned the flash light off.
Word Count: 1,992
Initially Submitted to: Journey Through Genres: Official WDC Contest (entered:2/22/2015). Prompt:Create a Thriller/Suspense Short Story. Won Second Place--Received "Journey through the Genre" Merit Badge Link to contest: http://www.writing.com/main/handler/first_in/1/item_id/1803133-Journey-Through-G...
Submitted to: Just One Point of View Contest (entered:3/2/15).Prompt: Story written in single Third Person POV (First Place, Awarded blue awardicon). Link to contest:http://www.writing.com/main/forums/item_id/1992580-Just-One-Point-of-View-Contest