THE HAPPY VALLEY: THE TWINS

I’m taking a break from the gas station book. I don’t know when my job starts up again  but I have a feeling it will be soon. In the meantime, I wanted to squeeze in as much writing as I could. Here is a chapter from my other story. It is pretty badass.

 

THE HAPPY VALLEY: THE TWINS

Deeds woke up and gurgled and gargled and swallowed hard. She rolled over on her back and looked up at the cracked and mottled ceiling of her room. It was then she became aware of the papers affixed to the damp skin of her face as she slept. The moisture caused the ink to run. She swore and peeled them off. She saw her scribbled scrawl had started to run, it was barely legible anymore. She wondered how much of the ink had gotten on her face, but she made no move to get up and check. She had drooled too. Deeds lay still feeling the floor rock her back to sleep like a lullaby. She barely remembered walking home, did she take the back alleys, she wondered. Or did she wander brazenly singing in the middle of the street. She glanced down at her feet and then past them at the door. She definitely did not remember leaving it wide open.                                     

Her stomach sank and it wasn’t just the alcohol when she realized that someone else was in her room. “Hello?” She choked and groaned and wobbled to her feet. Spending the night drinking had been a bad idea and she knew it while she was doing it. She took full responsibility for her actions as she felt her brain catch up with the rest of her body. She was stiff, beyond dehydrated, painfully hungover, and more than likely still drunk. Deeds ambled to the open front door and shut herself in with the intruder. “Hello?” she repeated and started and twirled at a noise that came from behind.

“Hello!” the voice sounded cheerful as the stranger barreled to her. Deeds ducked at the last minute not wanting a repeat of what happened with Max Grander at the house on Abernathy Avenue. How the mad robed man managed to overpower her so quickly was still a mystery. There was a smack as whoever it was hit the door hard with the palms of their hands to stop them from slamming face first into it. She screamed and returned the favor as she stood up and dug her head and shoulders into the intruder’s rib cage and shoved with all her might, pressing her legs against the door for leverage. As she beat the stranger back, hands gripped the side of her face, fingers clasping fistfuls of damp hair at her temples and the stranger groaned in effort and managed to reroute Deed’s momentum. She deflected harmlessly to the left and fought to find her footing. “Take her alive,” she heard the stranger say, and to her confusion she heard the same voice answer back. “I know I’m not going to kill her. She’s all slimy. I can’t get a good grip.”

Unable to stop herself from falling Deeds tumbled and tripped over a pile of dirty clothes and blankets, she ducked and rolled to deaden the fall and stood up too quickly. She swayed on her feet and gulped for the stranger that stood before her now held a gun. Deeds never saw anything like it before; it was narrow, angular, and made of a brightly polished metal. The sharp barrel was pointed at her face as if it was meant to impale as opposed to firing god knows what at her. “What kind of gun is that?” Deeds was dumbfounded and couldn’t help but ask. She also hoped that the slur in her speech did not betray how bad off she really was. “Just don’t impale me with that thing.”

“She’s dangerous.” Deeds heard the stranger say.

“Who? Me or the gun?” She raised her hands in defeat.

“Yes,” the stranger answered.

“What?” She asked perplexed and shook her from side to side as if trying to free the cobwebs from between her ears. The motion made her head throb even more as her brain attempted to crawl out of her skull. She needed to think of a way out but the intruder had the only exit blocked. She looked over at the blue, green, gold, and black of the stained glass windows in her room. She did not want to break them but she would if she had to.

“She’s distracted. Take her out now!”

“Huh?” she asked as she heard the voice come from behind.

“Huh?” the intruder with the mysterious gun pointed to her head mimicked her confusion.

With her hands still raised she turned slowly to figure out where the other voice came from. That was when her face was met with a fist that sent Deeds sprawling back to the floor.

She had never been very good in a fight, despite her stocky stature. Octavia Deeds was ungainly; her center of gravity was off as if she had more joints in her body than she should have. She was also uncoordinated. However there were a couple of things that she was decent at when it came to a confrontation and that was taking a punch and playing dead. That was what she chose to do at the very moment as she laid perfectly still and not breathing as her assailant loomed in closer. She also wasn’t bad with a knife. With luck she found a switchblade in her tumble and tucked it away in her hand. Her cheek stung from the punch as she feigned unconsciousness.  “Is she dead? No. Not dead. She better not be. I mean, she shouldn’t be. I only punched her once and not that hard. You better check and watch out. She has a knife hidden in her hand. I know she has the knife.” Deeds hoped her face did not betray her puzzlement as she heard one voice carry on a full conversation. She felt a boot make contact with her hand and the knife skittered out of her grasp. Her fingers throbbed and she bit her tongue, kept her eyes closed,  and  dared not make a  move to retrieve it as the stranger leaned in closer to see if she was still breathing. Fortunately, Deeds could hold her breath for a long time. “I know it has been a minute. Don’t worry. I’m not worrying. It wasn’t that hard. I swear. It was if she just threw her head right into my fist. This one is an odd one. She’s also intoxicated. I can smell it on her pores. You may have to revive her.”

She felt herself being rolled onto her back, and a head draw close. It was then she brought her legs up and found the stranger’s shoulders on either side of the neck. She opened her eyes, and pain sliced through her temples and down to her neck and shoulders. Her stomach churned from the effort. “Oh Gods,” Octavia Deeds mumbled as she squeezed, “I’m going to throw up.” There was a gurgling noise of a windpipe getting crushed and she closed her eyes with the exertion and to stop the world from spinning out of control around her. Then she felt herself being lifted up off the ground and she tumbled forward as her assailant managed to get their legs back under them and fall bodily backwards, flinging the gun away in the effort.

Deeds lost her bearings, she swore, as the stranger slid from her grip. She groaned and swallowed hard against the bile that threatened to rise. “Not now,” she muttered to her guts. She saw she was closer to the window as she scrambled to her feet and her attacker did the same. To her surprise, the gun was once again pointed in her direction. Seconds before she had seen it sail across the room. There was no way it could have been recovered so soon, she thought as she raised her hands again in defeat. “What are you doing in my house,” she asked her voice was rough.

“Well, we were going to sack it, but it looks as if you already did it for us.”

She sighed and risked a glance around her surroundings; her assailant’s joke was not lost her. What could they possibly be looking for in this mess? Then it dawned on her. “Wait, what? You said we. I’ve only ever seen one of you.” She heard a noise behind her and she turned for a second. “Now,” a voice said and the one with gun fired.

A jolt shot through her and Octavia Deeds crumpled to the floor. She laid there stunned and desperately hoped that there were no profound flesh wounds, not that it mattered, for she realized she could not feel anything at all. It was as if she was still playing dead but for real this time. At least she did not feel sick and she drew little comfort from that notion. Through half closed eyes, she heard her attackers rifling through her room. She could hardly blame them for making her mess even worse. “Check the bag on the bed.” Deeds groaned internally as she realized what they wanted.

“I’m checking the bag.” Her insides cringed when she heard they had found it.

“Where did you get this?” one of the intruders approached her with the relic that Deeds struggled so hard to obtain and held it inches from her face. A string of profanity and questions wound around her mind but she could not form the words. “You’ll have to unfreeze her mouth if you want her to talk.”

“I know,” the other captor sighed, hit a button, pulled the trigger, and shot Deeds in the  face. She closed her eyes tightly and then opened them and realizing with a flood of relief that she could do so. She opened and closed her mouth, cracking her jaw and clacking her teeth. She was disappointed to find that the rest of her body was still very much immobile. But her mouth was enough to get her point across. “Who are you two? What are you doing in my house and what in Gods’ name are you planning on doing with that statue? More importantly, what are you going to do with me?” All of her questions spilled out past her chapped lips.

“Are you done?” Both of them asked simultaneously. “Are there any more questions?”

“Yeah, I have some more,” Deeds couldn’t help it, “what kind of gun is that?” She asked again, “and where can I get one of those?”

“Answer-”

“-our question.”

“Okay fine,” she realized she was powerless. “I got it at a house on Abernathy Avenue. Somehow this crazed guy in a bathrobe and a high grade fever had it in his possession. He called himself a collector and an occultist, a bit of a nut job if you ask me.”

“We are asking you,” they answered, their voice humorless.

“What are you two planning on doing with it?” She added an extra emphasis on their number now that she knew for a fact that there were multiples of them. For all she knew there might even be a third lurking around somewhere and she hoped that wasn’t the case. “If you want it that bad, take it please. All I ask is that you destroy it. Hell, I was planning on doing it myself once I figured out how. Just take the whole bag; I’m done with that place.”

“What happened at Abernathy Avenue?”

“Something bad has opened up in the cellar. Mushrooms started growing, madness inducing spores from another world.” She did not want to go into any more details. “Look, are you finished? It is obvious you two already know what I’m talking about; otherwise you wouldn’t have broken into my house to steal that thing. You have it, it is yours, just please, please, unfreeze me and let me go. I’ll leave town and go far away. You can burn this place down and everything with it, I’m done with all of this too. All I ask is that you destroy that statue.”

“Oh we are,” they said simultaneously.

“But we’re not letting you leave,” the one with the gun added.

Octavia Deeds could not feel her heart sinking as she heard their words but she knew it did. “But why not?” she asked in earnest this time. “I swear I am not going to cause any more trouble. I’m done with that too.”

“Oh, what you are going to do is of no worry to us.”

“It is what you did do that is a cause for concern.”

To Deeds that sounded like a threat and she wondered what it was they were talking about. “Oh,” she added more to herself once she realized what it was. It did not look good. “So you’re not going to let me go.”

“How very astute,” the one with the gun added with the sharp looking barrel aimed on her face.

“It’s about what happened at the canal isn’t?”

“So you do remember?”

“How can I forget? I-I-“

“There was a lot of death that day, and we believe you were responsible for it.”

Deeds swore aloud for she knew she was screwed.

“You were spotted in the town that morning covered in blood.”

“And later that evening you were seen harassing a Spiritualist at the town hall event. After words, you followed her to the hotel bar. Witnesses say your conversation was heated. You were forcing her to do something.”

“I left empty handed.”

“That doesn’t explain the fact that Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge hasn’t been seen since. She cancelled the rest of her tour has gone missing in Knowlton’s Corner. We know you had something to do with her disappearance.”

“That doesn’t look good on your part.” The twins added together.

Deeds still tried to wrap her bedraggled head around the fact that they weren’t just twins but multiples of the exact same person. Their mannerisms and dress were out of place; clearly they weren’t from around here. And that gun, she added, that beautiful and terrifying gun… there was no way she was going to survive. Though she did hear them say as they fought that she had to be kept alive. Deeds wondered what her captors were planning to do to her. “I assure you Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge is safe,” she added in a last ditch effort to clear her name of at least that. She had hoped Ms. Bainbridge was long gone by now.  “She’s a Spiritualist, I asked for help in dealing with that damned house. There is a ghost there too, or a soul that has been separated from his body. He goes by Bracken. From what I encountered with him he seems like an okay guy. I guess she agreed to help him out. She chose to stay at Abernathy Avenue. I bet you that is where she is.  She is a Spiritualist, after all, a piercer of the veil and all of that.”

“That doesn’t explain the death toll.”

“I don’t suppose it does,” Deeds tried to find a way to explain what had happened to her that morning, but she couldn’t get it out. “Just kill me already and get it over with.”

“So you do admit guilt.”

“Yes, no, I – don’t know. I can’t explain it.”

“Try.” They said together.

“It was me, but it wasn’t. Something came out of the basement. The mad robed man must have summoned it or something. Next thing I knew this black water had filled my lungs, combining with what I already had in me. Together it took over my body. “

“Elaborate.”

“It comes from a primeval sea deep underground; every time I fall asleep I drown in it. I know this sounds crazy but I didn’t mean to do it, I wasn’t in control. You have to believe me.”

“Oh we believe you, to a point. Clearly, you are in control of your own body, now, and poorly at that.”

The one with the gun trained on her added, “otherwise we would not have been able to incapacitate you.”

They shared a moment of certain smugness between them that Deeds loathed. But the only thing worse than her current situation was the looming hangover so she kept her mouth shut on that one. It was nice not to feel pain. “I served my purpose, it was done with me. I coughed it up on the water’s edge.”

“Where is it now, this Black Water?”

Deed’s wanted to shrug but she was still paralyzed from the neck down. “Wreaking havoc and eating worlds, floating downstream to the open ocean for all I know. Killing as it goes. Wait, if you believe me, why aren’t you letting me go? It is not like I intended to eat so much. As I said before it was beyond my control.”

“Would you do it again if given the chance?”

The question took Octavia Deeds for a loop. She bit her bottom lip and closed her eyes, her facial expression betraying her words. She didn’t want to have to answer them, for they would know it was lie. Her captors stood shoulder to shoulder looking down at her immobilized form and crossed their arms. Their movements and mannerisms were in sync. The twins, no, she corrected herself for they really were duplicates of the same person, waited for an answer. “I’m pretty sure you know the answer to that,” Deeds replied. “But more than anything, that amount of whatever it was that I had in me- I was terrified the entire time.”

“Terrified that you enjoyed it? The question is-“

“-do you have remorse for what you have done?” The other one finished the question.

“What?! I told you, it wasn’t me. I was powerless.”

“Still, do you have remorse?” They said together.

She paused for a second hoping her silence did not imply culpability. Then guilt sank in through the cracks of her protestations. “Oh,” she said, it was all she could offer them as an answer.

“Good.”

Deeds exhaled in relief that her reply was deemed decent enough. She felt as if she passed some sort of test . She really did feel awful about that. “Look, I can barely handle what I have already. If I could purge even that from me I would. Do you think I want to be like this? I drown in this shit in my sleep. Every. Single. Time. As a result I don’t get a lot of sleep and They are always there with me.” She did not bother to elaborate as to what They she was referring to. Deeds had an idea that her interrogators knew. She didn’t want to go into the subject of the Timeless Ones anyway. “What are you two?” she decided to turn the inquisition around. “Are you twins, duplicates, two of the same one of another? Where do you even come from? More importantly, how the hell do you know so much about me?!” Then part of her answers dawned on her. “Ohhh.”

The twins waited for her to finish the thought. Their expression was impassive and betrayed nothing.

“You don’t come from around here, not this world anyway, some other one, adjacent. Just like that hole in the basement on Abernathy Avenue. I bet you two just stepped right out of it like you owned the place. Did you come from that house too?! Don’t tell me you two are you two responsible for all of this?!” Her voice pitched up a notch as she tried to squeeze out as many questions as she could. She noticed the one with the gun currently had it pointed at her mouth giving her the universal signal to shut up. “What are you planning to do to with me? I heard you talking among yourselves that you had to keep me alive. Let me just say the situation has gone beyond my control, I tried to stop it. I’ve only ever been trying to help, you have to believe me.”

“That is why we have to keep you alive.”

“Regretfully,” one added and received a look from the other one.

“That wasn’t nice.”

Deeds frowned, “yeah, that hurt.” She paused gathering her thoughts. “I see now,” she nodded, “the spores are spreading and with it more mushrooms are growing. Madness has already subsumed Knowlton’s Corner. You need my help in stopping it.”

“As we said before, that is why we have to keep you alive.”

“Regretfully.”

The one with the gun pressed a button, pulled a trigger, and shot her in the face.

Deeds groaned. She realized she had somehow curled herself up on her side into a tight ball on the floor. She clenched her eyes closed for a minute and hugged her head as the earth spun under her. Then she unfurled her body. A flood of relief swept through her as she realized she had control over her limbs once more. She could almost cry because of it, until she realized that with all sensation returning, so did a profound hangover. She opened her eyes to see the twins standing over her. She chose not to make a move against them, for it looked as if there were four of them now. She prayed that wasn’t the case. She closed one eye and there were only two of them again.

“Whatever you do, do not under any circumstance come in contact with the Black Water. Do you hear me?”

“Yes,” Deeds nodded for she had no intention to.

“Do not leave town,” the other one said. She had to frown at that request. Mentally, she was packing her bags and already out the door. Setting everything on fire upon her dramatic exit was looking like a splendid idea.

“We will know. We are watching you. We will be in touch.” They finished each other’s sentences. The gun was holstered and they stepped away from her.

“Are you some sort of inter-dimensional parole officers or something?” Deeds called after them and groaned from the exertion of raising her voice. Her throat burned like hell from all of that talking.

“Something like that.” She heard them say as she as stared after them in wonder as they walked shoulder to shoulder out the door.

DARK DAYS ON THE DIXIE HIGHWAY: DIARY OF A THIRD SHIFT ZOMBIE

At the beginning of the year I decided to take the layoff from my part time employment in the cemetery to get some much needed writing done. For the past two months I slaved away at my computer (and built an awesome bed canopy that I named FORT COMFY) and pretty much stayed in my bedroom during the winter season. I was excited DARK DAYS ON THE DIXIE HIGHWAY: DIARY OF A THIRD SHIFT ZOMBIE was taking shape and really starting to look like a book. I was about ready to have a cohesive rough draft when I realized a word count of about 45,000 wasn’t much of a novel. I figured I’d need at least 30,000 more words for a proper length. Unfortunately, after writing and essentially picking at and reopening old wounds these past two months, I realized that I am running out of material. Getting together something that I can proudly publish will take a lot more work. I am still plugging away at it as well as other stories and scripts I have rattling around in my head. In the meantime, here are two previously unpublished chapters to my grim and gruesome tale.

 

CONDIMENT MAN

 

There was a regular that came in quite a few times; he’d buy a cup of noodles for a dollar and change. He opened it up in the store, poured in the water and popped it in the microwave. He scooped in a bunch of chopped onions and a few jalapeno peppers. He’d squeeze in a packet of sweet and sour sauce or a pump or two of nacho cheese and added a splash of hot sauce. Though I found it to be a cheap and ingenious meal, which he always paid for in change, Condiment Man’s Special Ramen Recipe was a drain to our supply. Particularly, the bags of diced onions I changed over constantly for he always managed to show up just after I threw the old ones out.

The manager blamed me at first for failing to fill them to their proper level. He did not pick up after himself either. I caught hell for that too. She’d yell, pitching a fit about the cleanliness of the sales floor. “Have you even been working? What have you been doing at night? There’s a nacho cheese stain on the counter and just look at all of these onions!” She exclaimed as she shoved the dispenser of fresh relish, onions, and jalapenos aside causing the condiments to splash over with a grating screech across the counter, making an even bigger mess than the one she pointed out to basically everyone else in the store. “How many times do I have to tell you to do your job! You’ve been here long enough!” She stomped and scuffed her feet and yelled as she pitched her fit, blustering and berating me. “There is a stain on the floor! What is that more nacho cheese? This is my store and I want this floor so clean I can lick it!”

“Why don’t you,” I said quietly but loud enough that she heard me.

“What did you say?” Her head perked up and she came toward me.

For a second I fancied forcing her to the floor and making her lick the cheese stain clean. “I said I’d get the mop.” I grinned at the customers who stopped what they were doing and gawked during the  early rush. The store was packed at six in the morning.

After my shift she pulled me into her office and threatened me with the employee handbook and a write up. She didn’t believe me when I told her it was Condiment Man. It was as if he was some sort of convenience store Cryptid, a nocturnal scavenger for ramen add-ins. “That’s bullshit. No one uses that many condiments for anything,” she spat matter-of-factly debunking my sightings of Condiment Man. He might as well have been stealing Tupperware lids, underwear, or single socks.

Then one day Condiment Man came in on a morning that she happened to be there to witness his feeding habits. She was in a mood when she let him have it. Every visit after that I had to charge extra for all of his condiments. A special button was added on the POS machine. Condiment Man stopped showing up as much after that fateful encounter. Some nights when I was alone enough for some semblance of a lunch break, I followed his recipe, including the liberal amount of ingredients, especially the onions. Ramen is, after all, a perfect comfort food and depression meal. I did of course pick up after myself.

 

 

ROPEARONI

 

 

There was a time my freshman year of art school that some friends and I went on an Adderall fueled road trip to the North Country to rescue a friend. We were in the farthest reaches of Upstate New York, the next town over was basically Canada, when we stopped at a gas station to refuel. I squinted in the harsh florescent lighting of the store. It was a stark contrast from the pinpoints of passing headlights we saw for most of the night, and even those grew few and far between as the dark hours drew on.

The walls were a blinding white littered with convenience store propaganda. Posters and decals covered the windows as well, telling all who enter which products to buy for the best deal. One poster on the front glass doors displayed a proud managerial type. Bold lettering on the bottom read Want a career in customer service? All you need is a smiling face!

Something about my surroundings bugged me, the vibe I got, for a seemingly empty store; it was filled two the gills with consumerism, advertisements that practically vibrated and jumped off the walls, targeted to road weary travelers such as ourselves. There were two cashiers working on that desolate stretch of road. For all I knew they might have been just as jacked-up as we were. One would have to be, I surmised, being shut up in a place like this every night. A late night corporate wage slave, paid to bend over and take it from customers, people who intrinsically thought that they were better than you.

Broke and hungry, I wound my way through the isles covered with candy and chips when I stumbled upon a four foot jerky stick. “Holy crap,” I remarked open mouthed for I have never seen a package of dried and seasoned meat of that size and magnitude before, “that is an excessive amount of meat!” For a moment I wished I had the money to purchase it.

I stopped my story to look up at my fellow third shift zombie as he took a break from his security gig for a moment of human interaction. That night, I regaled to him the tale of my encounter with that fateful meat snack. “It was then I decided if I ever ended up working in a place like this,” I waved my hand at the window to the sales floor littered with convenience store propaganda for dramatic effect as we smoked outside, “I was going to fashion it into a meaty noose and hang myself with it. Sadly, I haven’t seen a Ropearoni since.”

“Sadly?” He repeated and I nodded. The irony was not lost on me. “You want to make a noose out of jerky and hang yourself with it?”

“Yes,” I clipped my cigarette to save it for later. I knew I was going to need it.

“You worry me sometimes,” he frowned.

“Yeah.” I shrugged, “look I have to go in and clean some shit. Not real shit this time, thank you Jesus. Oh, by the way, the hose beast of a manager has taken note of our meetings and if she catches me with another ‘late night visitor,’ I’m going to get fired.”

“Damn. I’m not surprised though, I’ve been here when she was here. I’ve seen the way she treats people, the way she treats you. People around here are beginning to wonder which one of you is going to crack first. Why are you still here anyway? I thought you moved.”

“I did, I’m planning on getting out of here soon, don’t worry.” I no longer had the convenience of a five minute walk to work since we moved out of the apartment complex. It grew to half an hour or a forty five minute commute depending on traffic. I had my lines out for different jobs that were much closer to home. Something was bound to bite, and I couldn’t wait to put my time at the Gashole far behind me.

“Yes, you should leave this place,” he put out his cigarette and turned to leave, “but not by making a noose out of jerky,” he amended and went back to his job.

“Many years ago,” I added grimly to myself as I looked off into the night before returning to my expansive workload, “I made a promise to myself and I intend to keep it.”

The Happy Valley: A Wish for Good Fortune

20813823_10211778341267441_520477543_nSo I lied, that wasn’t the last few pages in my notebook. Since I am in the same straits as described in this part of the story at the moment it only seemed apropos that I should write something about it instead. I currently find myself desperately trying to make sense of my bedlam ridden bedroom. Also much like the story, I might even have a drink later and avoid the whole disaster, who knows. Actually, I am making progress and I hope to continue to do so.

 

The Happy Valley: A Wish for Good Fortune

 

Deeds walked home with her head bent forward and hugging her middle lightly. Paying no mind to the rain that pelted the back of her neck, she wandered the rarely tread cobblestone alleyways between the houses and the streets lost inside her own head. Knowlton’s Corner was dead this late at night but she really did not want to be seen by the public; not after the last time she made an appearance on the streets. Before she knew it she was home, a deserted looking old stone church on the outskirts of town. She stopped walking and cautiously regarded her house from the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street.

It loomed above her, a blocky Greek Revival with Corinthian columns rising skyward. It was long abandoned and had fallen into considerable disrepair which was why she bought it for such a price. She was lucky to own any property at all these days, given the market. But she didn’t feel lucky.   Not even the contractors, real-estate agents, and brokers wanted to touch it as they circled the city blocks like sharks snatching up rundown properties and turning them over at a great profit. She had drawn the conclusion that she didn’t want anything to do that godforsaken place either. Not tonight anyway, she thought, not knowing exactly how long she had been standing outside staring at it.

She could picture the rain pouring in from the rotting gutters and leaky roof. She could imagine her living quarters, small and unkempt, her life contained in the only room deemed habitable enough in the whole building. After the past few days she knew that everything she owned was strewn into considerable disarray. Her room was a mess, her life was a mess, and she was fairly certain it was only going to get worse. Even if she did clean and reorganize everything, it would only get trashed again in a matter of seconds. Not tonight anyway, she repeated, and sighed at the thought of getting her life back together. Deeds drew the conclusion that she did not want to deal with it. She raised her eyebrows and looked into the rain as if beseeching the leaking sky for answers, even though she knew she would not find any there. They wouldn’t be in her house, for that matter, and definitely not in a that accursed manor on Abernathy Avenue. Perhaps a bar, she thought as she turned and walked off to find her answers in the bottom of a beer glass. Deed’s decided that she’d even have one for the good fortune of her new friends. They were going to need it.

The Happy Valley: Are You Finished?

20813823_10211778341267441_520477543_n

It is past my bedtime and I should be asleep for I have to get up for work in the morning. Instead, I just transcribed the last handwritten pages my notebook and the chilling conclusion of Part One of The Happy Valley. There is still the rest of the book to translate and transcribe and a rough draft of about twenty chapters that should be whittled to down to about ten, and that is just part one. I decided at work today that I want to call the genre Quasi-Autobiographical Semi-Historic Doom Fiction.  ( I also wrote this paragraph at 12:30 am two days ago, which is late for me.)

 

ARE YOU FINISHED?

“Are there any spirits in the house?” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge called aloud after Deeds went down for an inopportune nap on the couch in the parlor. Once roused from his delirium and realizing the state of his attire, the man who introduced himself as Maximilian Grander bolted up to his bedroom and slammed the door behind him. The spiritualist was, incidentally, left alone downstairs with a ghost. Whether she actually saw him or not was another story. It had all happened so fast and she was fairly certain that she had been dying at the time. “Are there any spirits present?” She repeated aloud, “let yourself be known.” It was then Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge realized she didn’t actually know how to summon a ghost. She was just good at reading people and putting on a show.  “Umm,” she looked down at the floor and nudged a book with the toe of her shoe. It was one of many in a large pile that had cascaded off of the upended shelf. Around her, the manor was quiet. Although quiet wasn’t the right word, she thought, as an impenetrable stillness settled. “Give me a sign?” She regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth.  For all she knew it could be that awful cat that answers. Is it even still in the house? She wondered, last time she saw the bestial thing it had been dashed upon the floor and laid there unmoving aside from the occasional twitch. She hoped it had chosen to hide somewhere and nurse its wounds and was not currently stalking her. It was then she heard a rustling in the other room. “Snake,” she whispered and cringed, appalled at her utterance. The noise was followed by a ringing in her ears, which at first caused her to swat her at cheek as the intensity grew. “I don’t think Bracken is here,“ Max Grander said as he strode up behind her. The noise went away. “Or if he was even here in the first place; he might have been my imagination. I’m sorry I haven’t been myself as of late. I assure you I am on the mend. Thank you for that,” He bowed his head and gripped her hand in both of his in a show of utter devotion.

“I’m not too sure I had anything to do with that,” she pulled her hand away wondering if she should give herself credit, did she really free Grander of his torment?

“Please, you’re Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge famed psychic medium, renowned spiritualist, piercer of the –“

“I’m aware.  It’s just-“she paused for a moment wondering what to say next. “How is your ear?”

“I’d rather not talk about it,” he reached a tentative hand to the bandage wrapped around his head. “You know, I have heard about you. I’m a bit of an occultist, you see, and a collector.” He motioned a broad hand around the overturned room.

“I do see.”

“I have relics from many lost religions and secret societies.”

“Maybe they should have remained lost and secret,” a wet voice growled from behind him.

“Oh Gods!” Grander exclaimed as he turned to face Deeds. “You’re covered in sweat.”

“That’s not sweat.”

“Well then.”

Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge balked as Deeds approached, “are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Deeds grumbled as she pushed past them on her way to the kitchen, leaving behind a trail of soggy footprints. “Do you have any coffee, or tea, or anything?”

Grander followed the rattling, and slamming of the cupboard doors as Deeds rummaged for a tea kettle. “What are you doing in my kitchen? “He asked as he grabbed the kettle from her and set it on the table.

“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m making tea. Look, we’ve all had a rough time here lately; I thought some tea would be nice, okay?”

Evelyn folded her arms and leaned into the kitchen doorway, “tea, does sound nice, actually, while you explain to us what the hell is going on here.”

“I’ll explain to you what is going on here,” she spun around to face her picking the kettle back up along the way, “It’s-“  Deeds had every intention to say more but instead she gasped as she aspirated on her own saliva sending her into a coughing fit.

“Are you okay? You don’t look okay,” Grander took the kettle away from her again lest she dropped it.

“Yeaas,” Deeds wheezed and took a seat at the table, “I’ll tell you what’s going on,” she said when she gathered enough breaths to do so then she inhaled an extra time and held it. Evelyn edged in closer and Grander made the motion that he was waiting for her to continue. “It’s the same thing that I’ve been telling you all along!” she exhaled her breath in the form of a shout.  “But no one ever listens to me!”  She hit the table with the palms of her hands, “Everyone just looks at me like I’m crazy!” She yelled causing the spiritualist and the collector to take a step back. Upon realizing what she had done, Deeds clamped her mouth shut and gazed down at her hands before meeting the questioning stare of the others in the room. “I do realize that did sound crazy.”

“You think?” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge and Maximilian Grander said simultaneously.

Octavia Deeds held up her hands in recognition, leaving wet prints on the surface of the table.

The spiritualist shrugged and took the teapot, filled it with water and set on the stove. Tea really was a good idea. She had felt a presence at her back and silently prayed it wasn’t the cat. “What now?” She asked.

Deeds let her hands fall to her lap and studied them for a second. “You know what?” she replied finally looking up as the others looked onward expectantly.

“No, I don’t know what,” Grander huffed, “and don’t you tell me that you don’t know either.” He had enough and he said as much. “I’ve been terribly ill for the past few days, seeing things, horrible things. I’ve talked to ghosts, well just the one. I witnessed the world end more times than I would like to admit, well twice. But that is more than what I’d prefer. I’ve been raving mad, running around in a bathrobe- sorry about that.” He turned to Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge his cheeks red with modesty and the spiritualist mumbled an acceptance to his apology. “I’ve been in and out of consciousness so often; I can’t tell what is real anymore-“his composure slipped and his words trailed off but he gathered himself to continue. “Something took ahold of me, it was evil and ancient, and oh so powerful… I feel so violated, I just, I just don’t… know anymore.”

“Are you finished?” Deeds asked regarding Grander as he fought to find his words.

“Yes, continue,” he nodded.

“I was going to say, you’re right. I don’t know. I really don’t know what is going on, or what is going to happen next. What I do know is that I did all that I came here to do. Granted, I failed miserably, but I did my best.  The spores have spread because of your indiscretion in the basement, Mr. Grander,“ she shot him an accusatory look.

“I wasn’t in my right mind.”

“A great chaos has been unleashed in the fair town of Knowlton’s Corner and things are only going to get worse from here. If there is any consolation, Ms. Bainbridge, Mr. Grander, is that it is out of my hands. It is out of your hands and your hands. It is out of everybody’s hands. There is nothing left to do but to give up.” She looked back down at her own hands again and slapped them upon her lap bracing herself to stand up, “which is exactly what I’m going to do. You know what? Forget the tea,” she said as she stood up just as the kettle started to scream. “I don’t even know why I’m here anymore. I’m going home.”

“But –but-“the spiritualist turned the stove off as the kettle pitched higher and moved it away from the burner. “What about the cat?” She whispered the word as if she didn’t want the infernal beast to hear.

“Yeah, what about the cat?” Max Grander touched the bandage on his head and cringed. “It has gotten the taste of human flesh, my human flesh.”

Deeds shrugged.

“What about the ghost?” Ms. Bainbridge asked, “What did you say his name was?”
“Bracken,” Deeds and Grander answered concurrently.

“Well, what about Bracken? What about the basement? What is going to happen?”

“You’re the psychic,” Deeds replied as she exited the kitchen. “Good luck?” She stopped and spun to offer them hopeful words of encouragement, “I’m going home.” Octavia Anton Deeds turned back around and exited the house on Abernathy Avenue leaving the spiritualist and the collector to stare at each other in a stunned silence.

 

 

The Happy Valley: Spiritualism and Lies

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Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge rolled her eyes far back into her head and tilted her chin upward, tuning into a different frequency. “You have,” she said her words drawn out and far away as she gripped the hotel bar table with splayed fingers. Then she dropped her head as well as the charade and looked Deeds dead in the eye, “something seriously wrong with you.”

“Don’t we all?” Deeds spit out at the medium looking dead serious.

Evelyn shook her head; she really didn’t have time for this. Lately, there had been a crazed fan in every town she’d been through. Why did she think Knowlton’s Corner would be any different? What kind of name is that? She wondered. She had a bad feeling about this place as soon as she crossed into the city limits.

“You feel it too, don’t you?” Deeds asked as if she picked up on her signal. “Everything looks smooth and slow on the surface, but down below a dangerous undertow rages. Right now it grips our ankles tight dragging us along on one hell of a bumpy ride.”

“That is not exactly how I’d put it,” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge paused and jutted out her bottom jaw, and shook her head. She really did not have the time for this and she said as much. “Look, it is getting late. I have to get going, and the sooner I get on the road and out of this town the better.” She stood up, leaving the rest of the glass of wine behind. She wasn’t that thirsty anyway.  “Excuse me, I have to go.”

Deeds looked up from her side of the table, but made no move to stop the spiritualist’s departure.  “How have you been sleeping Ms. Bainbridge?” She asked calmly to her back.

Evelyn swore as she realized she had only made it one step before she stopped in her tracks.

“How long has it been since you’ve had a solid night’s sleep?  Do the dreams terrorize you every night like they do me?”

Don’t turn around, don’t turn around, don’t turn around, Ms. Bainbridge repeated in her mind. “I’ve been sleeping quiet well, thank you,” she said civilly but her tone was nowhere near polite.  She forced herself to take another step. The rest will come easy, she thought, her eyes focused on the door.

“It’s been eight years for me, Evelyn.”

Don’t turn around. Do not engage. “It’s Ms. Bainbridge,” She said tersely.

“Running away isn’t going to help you, Ms. Bainbridge. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

The spiritualist swore under her breath as she couldn’t help but turn around and face Deeds as she still sat at the table. Octavia Anton Deeds looked like train wreck disguised as a human being. There was an underlying unquiet behind the eyes. Even though she had bathed and a put on clean clothes for a public appearance she still looked grey around the edges and green around the gills. Her wide mouth was drawn down in a frown as she chose her next words wisely. “They always find you.”

“Who?” she muttered flustered.

“The Time-”

“There you go with the Timeless Ones, again.” She interrupted. “And no I don’t need to see that damned relic,” she added upon seeing Deeds reach into that ratty bag of hers.  Creepy snake-lady, she said under her breath. That thing gave her the heebie-jeebies.

Deeds struggled for a second trying to find a new approach; she reached across the table for cocktail napkin and deftly pulled a pen out of her bag instead. “There is a house here in town,” She said scrawling down the address and sliding it across the table towards the direction of the psychic. “There is a hole in the world in the basement. It is growing every day and soon it will be big enough to let Them through. The Timeless Ones are here to finish what They have started. There are mushrooms growing in the cellar, they-“

“Well, that explains it,” Evelyn huffed.

“The owner of the house is desperately ill.”

“Then take him to the doctor.”

“There is a cat that is not a cat,” She blurted out knowing she was losing her. She should just stop talking, Deeds thought, and just walk away. “There is also a  ghost and he’s pissed off because he’s been through this once already!” She paused unsure if what she was going to say next was a wise choice or not, but she didn’t have time for thinking. Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge was mentally out the door. She could see it in her eyes. “You’ve heard about what happened this morning, right? The carnage along the canal? That was me, I did that.”

The medium felt her mouth hang open and her blood pool at her feet. Every instinct told her run and leave Knowlton’s Corner and leave this lunatic Deeds behind for good. “Then you need to be locked up.”

“It gets worse as each night passes. I need your help, Evelyn, I can’t do it alone and I’m terrified of what comes next.”

“Good luck with that. I’m leaving. Why wait until tomorrow? The farther I am away from you the better.”

Deeds looked dejected, “why won’t you help me? It is your job isn’t it? ‘Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge famed psychic medium, renowned spiritualist, piercer of the veil and seer into other worlds; recount past lives and speak with loved ones lost.’ How can you pass something like this up?”

She felt her skin flush and the tips of her ears grow red with anger before she knew it Ms. Bainbridge bore down on Deeds as she slapped her hands on the table in front of her and brought her head down and her eyes perfectly level with Deed’s unsettling gaze. Her  voice dropped dangerously low, “because I do theater!” For one horrible second she silently prayed that she didn’t say that too loud for if word got out that it was all a ruse. Part of her was relieved that it was out in the open. It had been a secret she kept locked away and never once uttered aloud, not even to her own self. “I’m telling you, it’s all an act,” she brought her head in even closer trying to avoid Deed’s wide set and weary watery gray eyes. “I can’t see spirits,” she whispered. “I can’t really speak to your love ones lost, recount past lives or pierce the veil and gaze into other worlds. Every single person that comes to one of my show is just so desperate to believe in something. I give them what they need, closure.”

“What about you, don’t you believe in something?” Octavia Deeds asked as if unfazed by her big revelation.  “Do you want to find closure?”

“No,” she said resolutely and brought herself back up to her full height. “I don’t.” She turned around without another word.

Deeds sighed in resignation for she knew she lost her. She was going to have to finish this alone. Despite the fact the Spiritualist had admitted that it was all an act, that didn’t matter; she still knew she needed her. “You’re not going to help me aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not,” she said shortly and made her way to the door.

Deeds sank into the back of the chair becoming boneless as she watched her leave. “What is the point?” she muttered aloud. She was beginning to wonder if maybe she was turning into one of the religious zealots she was hearing so much about lately; seeming so desperately normal and willfully ignorant but obscenely repressed with a growing and hardening pit of depravity until one day a poisoned fruit springs forth. If only she could be so lucky she thought and her eyes wandered to the forgotten glass of wine at the table. It has been so long since she had known the truth. Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge was probably long gone by now. She didn’t blame her at all. Deed’s remembered being that naïve once, actually thinking she could get away. She held up the glass in a silent toast, wishing her the best of luck as she finished the wine for her. She replayed the words they exchanged in her mind. What she had thought was persuasion just sounded crazy. Maybe she should be locked up, she thought and gulped and cringed. She had no head for wine.

 

Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge stared at her hotel bed. Freshly made, it looked inviting enough. Graced with clean and pressed linens without a crease upon them and topped with a downy duvet and fluffed pillows. She ran her fingers along the along the soft supple surface but she could not bring herself to climb inside and find the comforting embrace of sleep.

“How have you been sleeping Ms. Bainbridge?” The grim words of Octavia Deeds echoed in her head. “How long has it been since you’ve had a solid night’s sleep? Don’t the dreams terrorize you every night like they do me?” Her voice sounded so calm yet cut right through her. She couldn’t help but turn around, how had she known?

She had told Deeds that she had been sleeping just fine and she hoped that she saved enough face for that had been an outright lie. It had only been three days since the night terrors began but it still gripped her subconscious in a tight unyielding embrace. She remembered waking up choking and clawing at her own throat as she forced the air that wouldn’t come into her lungs. Around her the shadows grew solid, there were so many of them, she was surrounded and they clouded her vision. Every dark spot was a soul and she was drowning in a sea of them. They came from all walks of life, spanning every generation through time, and they all wanted something from her. Their demands turned into a dull roar. She could not make an each individual voice out but they all carried a lilting urgency. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t speak back  because they had taken her breath away.

The renowned spiritualist tore her gaze away from the bed and looked down at her body; she imagined the red welts beneath her clothes burning cold. Marks from where the souls had touched her. It had felt that real. She had started off in theater, everything since its inception had been an act. She couldn’t really speak to spirits, but it was as if the dam had burst and they rushed at her. The next night had been more of the same and so had the night after that.

“It’s been eight years for me, Evelyn.” The words of Octavia Anton Deeds echoed through her head again.

“Eight years,” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge muttered aloud and repeated, “eight years.” Absently, she stared off and unwittingly sat down upon the bed. The dark now frightened her, and every speck of shadow was an unfulfilled soul. She refused to sleep with the lights off, “this isn’t going away, is it?” She muttered drawing the grim conclusion as she felt her head sink down into the plush pillows.

The Happy Valley: Not a Cat

20813823_10211778341267441_520477543_nI’m about ten chapters into this incarnation of the same story that I’ve been trying to write for years now. Naturally, I’m looking to get rid of half of the chapters, but I’ll worry about that later. The working title is The Happy Valley and this bit is from chapter 9 or so and it pretty much sums up where this story is heading.

 

Max Grander jolted awake as soon as he hit the floor. He may not have been all together there to begin with but he had more of his faculties about him than he had earlier. He took a moment to shake the remaining clouds from his mind. He looked down at his ratty dingy bathrobe and his filthy sticky flesh and grew increasingly appalled at his surroundings. He appeared to be alone in abominable basement. The latest intruder into his house, Deeds, was sucked into the storm drain. For he all knew, his ghost friend had only been a construct born out of his own maddened mind-

“She’s gone,” he heard the solemn voice beside him and his periphery grew black. Grander jumped, it was one more scare to add to the evening- or whatever time it happened to be. He didn’t know how much more his heart could take. It was as if his fevered imagination had come into fruition. He turned to face his shadowed friend. “Can you-” he stammered in awe and asked in earnest, “read my thoughts?”

“Oh-” Bracken paused and Grander swore he saw him visibly shudder at the thought. “Dear Gods no-nonono… no…” He trailed off as he watched Grander’s face grow etched in worry. Gingerly, he pulled himself to his wobbly bare feet and tugged his robe closer. The fusty fabric offered little comfort. “The mushrooms-‘ he muttered searching his surroundings for the fearsome fungus. “Where are the mushrooms?” The last time Grander saw them they were of infinite size and they were spreading. He ascended into the heavens with them and from there he watched the world burn. From just the thought of it happening he felt his knees give out. For a horrible second he thought he’d never stop falling, but he regained his footing.

“They are still in the coal chamber,” Bracken pointed to in the cramped room that no light dared to touch. “Albeit a bit squished, her fall kicked up quite a cloud, you received a heavy dose.” He said drolly.

“You’re not affected by the spores?” Grader asked and realized it was a stupid question the moment it came out of his mouth.

“Nope,” Bracken said, his tone was dour but there was a hint of relief in his voice, and he held out a hand. “There is nothing to cling to. They just pass through. You and her-” he motioned to the hole in the floor as if the beast that was once Deeds would explode back out of it.

“I don’t like this!” Max Grander shouted after a few seconds of silence. It was clear something was bubbling up inside him ready to blow, suddenly enraged, he screamed at the shadowed form before him, “any of it! The spores, the fever, I keep getting knocked out every night and waking up on the damned floor. There are intruders, and mushrooms, and monsters. I’m shouting at a ghost! I’m- I’m just sick of it!” He whined and opined his laundry list of complaints that had accumulated over the past few days. His spittle sprayed through Bracken, “everything!” He even saw the world end, but he dared not say that part aloud. But deep down there was a part of him that secretly wished it would. “I just want this insanity to end,” he sobbed for a second and managed to gain his composure. Max Grander huffed and fussed with front of his robe.  With new resolve he made his way to the rickety cellar steps that led to the world upstairs. “I’m going to get this off of me,” he motioned to his bare skin. “I’m going to have a long hot soak in the tub, and then I’m going to pet my cat until I fall asleep!”

On a mission, Grander disappeared through the blasted basement doorway. Behind him it appeared as if Bracken had grown ashen.

The Happy Valley: Miss Deeds

20813823_10211778341267441_520477543_nFor Octavia Anton Deeds it started with the dreams, the ones in which she was drowning. Every night they took her to the shore of a secluded reservoir that was once part of her town. The water had just thawed, not to refreeze until the next winter. The bracing cold did not stop her from wading in up over her head and swimming along the bottom. Through the murk she could barely see the seaweed strangled stumps of trees and algae covered foundations that were once her neighbors’ houses. She sensed the large lethargic forms of fish, the bass and bluegill, bullhead and trout that were her neighbors now. They knew well enough to leave her alone for she had as much of a right to be there as they did. Deeds swam out past the ruins of the mills and the old train station. They were grim reminders of a town that once bustled and was hub to all points leading north. They were remnants of a life above land that had not seen the sunlight in a quarter of a century.

She picked up speed parting the seaweed that threatened to strangle her. Gliding along the bottom at a depth of thirty feet, she had no idea how long she had been down there. Had it been five minutes, ten minutes, or an hour? The thought of breathing had not entered her mind. She had more important matters to concern herself with.

The church loomed in the gloom, fully erect from foundation to steeple. The spindly tip thrust upward like an accusatory finger that threatened to slice the surface of the water and the heavens above. She circled around gripping with her fingertips to find a way in on the unforgiving exterior. The stone thrummed with the contact of her skin. It was far colder than the water on the bottom of the lake. She found the slab of door and pried it open a crack. It scraped, dragged, and jarred sending tremors along the lake bed; mirroring the thunder that rumbled far overhead. Unaware of the gathering storm clouds that roiled with electricity, Octavia Deeds squeezed herself through the narrow gap in the door and bodily shoved it shut behind her before the water could claim the space. The air inside was deceptively dry.  The sodden fabric of her nightgown clung to her skin and her stocking feet slogged on the flagstone floor leaving splattered footprints as she made her way to the front. Water ran in runnels trailing off her body. The splattering echoed through the silence that entombed the sanctuary. The sound rushed up the windowless walls to the lofty vaulted ceiling sounding like a waterfall. The interior was devoid of furniture save a singular baptismal font. The raised dais rose over ten feet high with a circumference just as wide. A chiseled staircase spiraled to the top. She reached a steadying hand out as she warily wound her way up. Her fingertips only skimmed the shockingly cold and sheer surface.  She felt the padding of her flesh tingle up through the lines of her palm and jolt up her skin in a current. Though she had only made contact for seconds, it did not take long for the odd sensation to intensify. A cold burn seared up her arm and in a knee jerk reaction she wrenched it away.  Her gasp reverberated sounding like a gale force wind. Despite the lingering pain that radiated something else caught her attention as she crested the top of the well and peered into the water below. All she saw was black, but somewhere beyond the shadows of the dark primordial waters she caught sight of a swirling chaotic myriad of an unfathomable depth.  The underground sea held the seed of creation itself. It was there They called out to her; the timeless ones that cultivated this life and many others. They were vengeful Gods that had every intention to take it all away. Their summoning song started as a low dull rumble barely below the edge of hearing. She watched the surface swell and tremble with the vibrato. She could almost see the surface breathe. Within the shadows of the shadows, she caught a glimpse of her reflection. Wet and matted hair clung to the sides of her face. Her skin took on a blue gray hue and her lips were swollen as if she as if she never made it inside. Instead she floated face down in the water, dead and suspended between the surface and floor. The fish would eventually gather the nerve to swoop in for a closer look and inevitably a nibble. She shuddered at the thought but pushed it out her mind because she knew it was impossible to drown. She squinted and lowered her forehead closer to the pool. She could not see beyond her own reflection. The depths and secrets the water held were unknowable. The wellspring was a mouth of an underground sea. She could almost make out the meaning within the wordless wailing of the Timeless Ones.

Her reflection changed as her head drew closer. The shape of her face grew out of proportion and her hair had disappeared.  Her eyes, which were already large, widened and spread further apart; growing lidless. Her nose receded into her skull and all that remained were two narrow slits that rested upon a gaping lip-less mouth. New teeth tore from her gums and grew to sharpened serrated points; row sprang up behind row after row. She attempted to curse as the pain filled her mouth but it only came out in a gurgle for she was incapable of forming the words. She attempted to reach up and feel her face to see if there really had been a change to her physiognomy and not just a trick of her eyes and the way the shadows played upon the surface water. Her fingertips, hands and arms no longer felt right, as if they were no longer her own. Her knees buckled and ankles gave out and her legs dangled unable to support her weight. The sharp edge of the stone retaining wall that contained the water bore into her midsection and forced her forehead mere millimeters from the water. All of her blood rushed to the top of her head. It ran cold as panic blossomed and filled her mind when she found out she couldn’t move. She had a brief vision of the shore of the reservoir where her journey started so many times before. It seemed so far away. She forced the image from her mind and the wave of panic receded. That wasn’t where she wanted to be anyway. It was then she realized she was falling.

Octavia Deeds had always woken up damp and shaken; she always fell into the well but she never found the bottom. It was as much of a second nature as falling asleep but this time it was different. Her mouth gaped open in a silent scream as the primordial waters filled her lungs. There was an instant in mid fall when she could have sworn that the ground above started to shake, as if the church finally crumbled under the weight of the lake. A torrent of water poured in above her head as she sank below the surface of the underground sea.  The primordial water wound its way through her veins and stopped when it reached her heart.

She snapped awake, gasping, soaked, and shaken. Her eyes shot open as she jolted up in bed. Cold wracked her limbs.  Her breath came in short stunted gasps. Breathing was a foreign concept. She tried to gain control over herself and wondered how long she stopped. The dream must have only lasted a minute, or she hoped. It was dream; she tried to convince herself as she pried at the sodden bed linens that intertwined her.   Her hands throbbed with a cold burn. It was a dream. She tasted blood. Her gums ached and she ran the tip of her tongue across her teeth and was relieved to find they were her own. A chill racked her body and she pulled her covers closer. They drew little comfort.

“In through the nose and out through the mouth,” she muttered reminding herself how to breathe. Counting the seconds between every breath she slowly gained her composure.  Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth and her lungs and nasal passages were parched as if she expunged all the water from her body through her pores. Sher let out a dry cough. With new resolve she extracted herself from the bed. Her center of gravity was off as she wobbled in search of something to drink. She stopped when she caught her reflection in the mirror and remembered how she looked when she fell into the well. Were her eyes always that far apart, her mouth that wide, and her teeth that large?

 

The day was awash in a steely gray and freezing rain pelted the windows when Deeds decided to dress for the weather and venture outside. She hadn’t quite recovered from her dream and doubted if she ever will. The lake was at the end of the road whether she wanted it to be there or not. She still felt the need to see it for herself.  There were only a few roads that her small town claimed and only a few houses that lined her road. A growing number of them were abandoned.   For a few of the inhabitants that remained it looked as if upkeep was no longer a concern. Her next door neighbor was outside hanging up wet clothes as if oblivious to the inclement weather.  Deeds stopped dead in her tracks and stared. Had her face always looked like that? She wondered. They were after all related. Her cousin returned her gaze with a knowing look.  “Are you going to the water?” she asked pinning up the other corner of a bed sheet.

“What no!… Umm- yes.” Deeds blurted out, stuttered, and paused. She was a terrible liar. “How did you know?” There was panic and paranoia in her voice.

“You were heading in that direction, I just assumed that is where you are going,” she replied with a shrug. “The water is real low.” It was not an uncommon occurrence for the water level to fluctuate; it was after all a reservoir. But not in the early springtime and the banks were supposed to swell with the last the snow melt.

“How do you know?”

“Go see for yourself that’s what I did. There was one hell of a storm last night too. I swear the thunder shook the ground. Odd, for this time of year isn’t it.”

As all the color drained from her face, Deeds broke her gaze and turned away from her cousin. She quickened her pace to where the road ended in dirt. There were no signs of life at the last house before the lake and it appeared as if it had been that way for a while. The view of the water was obstructed by a meadow. The grass that grew rampant and wild and just as tall as she was.  She plodded through the field to find the shore following a trampled path that many had taken before her.  As she passed the grasses rustled in the wind and sheets of pelting sleet; they whispered to her in a language she could not understand. The ground grew more saturated with every step. No matter the time of year, the spring-fed water was always cold. Parting the last of the grass she stopped at the water’s edge. Her neighbor was right. The water was low.  The elongated shore was clotted with thick mud, and brown caked rocks, and tree stumps.  It stretched out toward the middle of the lake. She could not see the water at all as she strained to peer over the drop off. Past the point by the old train bridge she strained to see the steeple stretching upward. It wasn’t there. She had a vague recollection that the church had collapsed on top her when she fell into the well. Was that why the water was so low? She wondered and looked upwards into the freezing rain for answers.  Heavy wet pellets smacked her in the face. Octavia Deeds grumbled not bothering to wipe the water out her eyes.  It was the third time she had gotten wet that day.

She trudged home with her hands shoved in her pockets staring at the ground. Her pace quickened like a march into battle.  “No,” she mumbled to herself, lost in thought and shook her head. “It wasn’t there in the first place, that’s why I didn’t see it. It never existed. It wasn’t me, it was a dream!”

Her last outburst caught the attention of her neighbor as she was finishing up with her laundry, determined to see the task through to the end. “You’re right,” Deeds acknowledged her, her voice laden with regret. “I’ve never seen the water like that before.”

“It wasn’t like that yesterday.”

“I swear. I had nothing to do with it.” Deeds shook her head and turned her back on her cousin and quickened her pace home.

Her neighbor stared after her with a growing look of bewilderment on her face as she bent down to retrieve her empty laundry basket.

 

Deeds didn’t know where the rest of her neighbors went; she always assumed they left, and moved on to seek opportunity elsewhere. She empathized greatly and often wished she could do the same. With no new blood, the town was dying and she didn’t want to die with it. Where had all her neighbors gone?  She wondered as she lay awake until the small hours of the morning.  Deeds fought off sleep as long as she could terrified of what she would find on the other side. She knew They would be waiting. She tossed and turned and pulled her blanket up to her chin only to kick the bedding off again when the heat grew unbearable. Her skin felt dry and prickly her sheets were scratchy and starchy. She picked at the invisible insects as she watched the popcorn spackle ceiling ripple. Her fingers still burned with a cold dull throb and her gums still ached from the morning before. Deeds never really did get the taste of blood out of her mouth. She knew as soon as she drifted off to sleep she’d find her way back to the reservoir shore and make the nightly pilgrimage to the church. She was afraid of what she would find at the bottom of the well at the bottom of the lake. What she did know though was that she wanted to be as far away from the church as possible. She made up her mind that night amid the swirling chaos of her mind; it was time to leave home. Sleep came all at once.