Mona holds back from exhibiting her usual face of disappointment in the presence of Izzy, who is yet again, late to the hospital. Flush and glassy eyed, Izzy explains a long drawn out excuse, only half of it making sense, as Mona stares forward, pressing the elevator button until it beams red. Fucking time I will never get back, thought Mona as she forces her lips to curl into a grin, a line of teeth showing, her cheeks risen from its natural spot, pushing her eyelids closer together in a way to make her eyes smile. Masking friendliness. Or hiding the complete despise she has for her sister.
“You won’t believe what happened,” said Izzy and how badly did Mona want to respond.
“You’re right, I won;t believe it, I usually don’t believe those who can’t tell the difference between truth and absolute bullshit. But go ahead, waste my time.” But she held back. This was not the time, not now when there was much to do.
The conversation, as always, is light and one-sided but Mona adds a few ‘uh huh’s’ with a little bit of ‘oh wow’ as the climax of the story unfolds–Izzy’s broken down 05 Hyundai Elantra, which is not in any fault Izzy’s doing. How could she know letting a year lapse before getting an oil change could cause engine problems? How could she know how impaired her driving could be if she drank four or five rum and cokes if no one told her not to? Or that you should replace your brake lights when they begin to dim, not wait until they all go out, changing her life to a schedule or day driving only. This was Izzy’s poison, sheer denial of accountability. It made Mona’s blood boil enough to want to wrap her newly manicured hands around Izzy’s tulum tinted neck, and squeeze, watching the veins pop to the surface like the tentacles of a dead jellyfish.
Instead she listened, patiently as humanly possible, one hand flexing in her pocket as the other anchored itself on the strap of her purse. Today could be the last day of listening to the woes of a woman still stuck in the brain of a teenager.
Today is special.
Today is the day.
“Visiting hours are over at 8pm.” says Mona, flatly. “Doesn’t leave a lot of time but I think we can do it.”
Izzy wrinkles her nose, “Us….right.”
Izzy leaves no more time for silence, craning her neck towards her sister who is at least 5 inches taller but mine as well be looking up at the Empire State building.“You don’t believe me about my car, do you?”
A faint vein from the side of Mona’s forehead begins to bloom, slowly.
There is no time for this, she thinks, the hand in her pocket now balling into a fist.
Mona’s focus remains forward, avoiding her doe eyes and pouty lips which to the opposite sex, has some effect. Not all men of course, only the losers she’s recycled from high school, or through treatment, or because they felt bad and were divorcees looking to fill the void with someone half their age. Izzy was a spider the way she spun her web around them, so delicately and with skill. They wouldn’t know how deep they were in until she tightened the silk around their neck, like a noose.
“I’ll tell the cops you fucking raped me,” she once told a man who had been help paying some of her rent when she got fired. In a drunken bender, she told Mona but stopped when Mona’s face didn’t show the approval she thought was coming, only disgust and second hand embarrassment.
“You never fucking believe me,” Izzy’s voice is rising and at a rate faster than the shitbox elevator taking them to the 12th floor.
“Can you for one moment,” Mona says but she’s cut herself off, the vein beginning to pulse. She touches it as if her finger will soothe it back below, like its crying child needing to be lulled back to bed.
“Jesus fucking christ – I can’t ever do anything right!”
The slick silver doors part and Mona steps out, the stench of sanitizer piercing both their nostrils, but Mona didn’t mind it. In fact it gave her a sense of safety. Cleanliness. Calm.
Izzy is still talking, her words muddled by the clicks of Mona’s red heels, the shuffling of night nurses as they perform their checks, the last of the kitchen staff removing untouched trays and placing them in large stainless steel holding cabinets, entrapping the uneaten food in its metal stomachs.
Room 1204 is pale and empty, the off-white walls toned down against the moonlight coming from the widened windows. All of the lights are off except from the bathroom, showing nothing more than a crescent of brightness etched across the linoleum. Izzy takes the chair on the right of him while Mona pulls a chair towards the end of the bed.
“He’s going to die soon – look at him, he looks like shit.”
“That’s an insult to shit,” says Mona, her eyes cemented onto the frail figure in the bed. “I don’t think we’re that lucky though.”
Izzy lost count of how many times they had stood in that place, sometimes on a different floor or room, but in the presence of their father who seemed to teeter between alive and dead. They had been sure a hundred times it was the last day, their hearts filled with joy and relief. Until it continued. He continued. He kept breathing. The threat was still lingering.
Izzy dances her fingers along the bed until reaching the wall, removing the clipboard of his records from it’s cubby.
Albert Cloy. Sixty-three years old. Height 5’9’. Weight varies but slowly declining, maybe 147 lbs. Maybe thinner. Widower. Father of three. Occupation retired, but former technical writer for instructional manuals. Condition – poor. Pneumonia, heart palpitations, nerve damage to forty percent of his body. Frail, abrasions, bruises, uncontrollable bile spilling from his throat. Do Not Resuscitate.
A colostomy bag hangs on the side of the bed, bone dry.
“I don’t want to be here,” says Izzy, clutching a spare pillow to her chest, her cheap french manicure digging into the fabric.
Cheap ass, thought Mona as she glances at her own nails – red with gold tips from a reputable salon that gives you cucumber water while you wait. Izzy wouldn’t even know what to do with a place like that. With any place like that.
Izzy tosses the pillow to Mona, only for her to toss it back.
How many people have touched that pillow, thought Mona. Hundreds? Thousands? The nurses certainly, and patients, then maybe a few doctors, families of patiences, transport staff, cleaning crew, the staff who sowed it, the one who placed it in a box to ship it.
“Are you going to use the pillow or not?” asks Mona, however it sounds like more of a command.
Izzy drops the pillow onto the floor, a flapping noise following against the deafening space, dust wisping in the air.
“Why can’t Robby be here?” she asks but the question goes unanswered.
They know why Robby can’t be there.
Robby is in prison, a place he belongs for strangling his girlfriend to death four years prior, dumping her plastic wrapped body in a Shaw Pond behind the financial hub of town. He’s held by bars, concrete, the eyes and armored guards because he became impatient for this day to end it all and be free from the sins of our father. The sins of ourselves. The literal monster we created so many years ago. In that house. In that basement. On that night.
Mona doesn’t want to think about it but the memory floods through of the beginning where they packed into their blue Chrysler Minivan and drove 400 miles to to Massachusetts to a sleepy town with only one road in and two Dunkin Donuts, which at the time, was a big deal. Now you can find a Dunkins or variety of cafes in every crevice. The Cloys complete with Robby, Izzy, Mona and their parents, pulled up to the two story Victorian house. It was green and had twin chimneys and two turrets like raised hands excited for their arrival. A gem among the dull houses surrounded it.
“Emerald Palace” said Robby, fourteen, and amazement in his eyes at the size in comparison to the two bedroom ranch they had come from living with their cousins and Aunt Barbara and her array of boyfriends who changed more frequently than he changed his boxers, although he was a boy and was gross so not as often as he should. Robby was fresh coming off watching the Wizard of Oz and enjoyed it, even though he mixed up Emerald City and the Royal Palace. Not that he could go back on his mistake. Boys grow into men and a man can’t be wrong – especially to his little sisters.
It was Izzy who first noticed the flaw in the house. A small hole in the corner by the second floor window in the turret. With each breath Izzy could spot what we first thought was a bee but it was black and moved in a way they had never seen before. Izzy tugged on her mothers skirt but it went unnoticed.
Mona rises from the chair, her eyes still on her father as she approaches Izzy. She reaches down, pulling the pillow up, a firm grip on the edges.
“You ruined us,” she mutters, waiting in earnest for Albert’s consciousness to emerge, to respond to his crimes before justice could prevail. It would be more satisfying that way.
But he sleeps, lost in some other dimension unknown to the wake. Is he in pain? Did he ever feel pain? Mona hopes he is burning in all nine circles of hell, even if just unconsciously. Izzy on the other hand, is divided, like in all aspects of her life, living between fear of this creature before them, and unconditional love of a father.
“Visiting hours are over,” says a voice over the intercom. Something pre-recorded.
The sounds of footsteps near and Mona places the pillow at the end of the bed, her hands clasped together, the white of her knuckles showing.
“All I asked was for you to be here on time Izzy. You couldn’t even do that.”
Izzy sits, flustered and angry but before she can speak, Mona leaves, almost bumping into the night nurse.
She doesn’t wait for Izzy downstairs or outside, rolling away from the hospital, tears beginning to form but dry before a single one can escape, as the radio buzzes in the background.
What the fuck is wrong with me, what the fuck was I thinking bringing her into this, she thought as she pulls over, the engine humming before she kills it. In her peripheral vision, she can see it, the house, the secrets within it that have been kept so well. Kept for so long.
The house is dark but Mona can feel it breathing, almost asleep but could awake at any moment. To swallow her whole again.
It’s not more than ten minutes when Mona’s cell rings from an unknown number. Robby and his connections, she thought, her thumb hovering over the answer button before committing to it.
“Hey, it’s me.”
She nods, although he can’t see that. “The yellow brick road led nowhere,” she says.
There is a long pause, although she really wants to chastise him instead. Only an idiot would call right after a crime, leaving cell tower records and phone records as an obvious trail. They might not have realized it was Robby for a while, but eventually they would.
“I’m sorry,” says Mona. “I’ll try to watch the movie again. Ok?”
Robby sighs hard and it breaks Mona’s heart, what’s left. “Pinky promise,” she says and in her mind, she can tell he is grinning, just a little bit.
Izzy pulls up in a cab, and hops out, moving towards Mona’s car with ease and quickness like a figure skater. She taps on the window hard.
“I got to go, the disaster is here. I love you.”
“Ditto.” says Robby, nonchalant.
“Bye, you ass.”
Izzy walks away, almost dancing to the front door, offering herself up like an appetizer. Mona is more careful, her steps slow and shy, as if the door itself is some curious being–maybe dangerous, maybe magical but that was always the appeal. The trick. By the time Mona forces the extra 40 lbs up the stairs, the hair on her neck begins to salute. The door is unlocked and agape, like the opening of a mouth and for a moment Mona hesitates; muscle memory.
The moment she turned 18, a milestone that should have been celebrated for springing into the unknown of adulthood, Mona was leaving in the dead of night, Izzy trailing along, mascara running as Izzy left all of her favorite things – her flip phone, her new Tori Amos CD, knock off Tommy Hilfigure bag, and of course, her favorite blush pink cardigan. It has ‘senti’ she cried, not able to make out the full word ‘sentimental’. Mona didn’t have any senti, none worth the misery to stay in that house. It was all just things, things that could be replaced in time. But she would have to face it someday. Why not today, she thought.
The smell of staleness fills the air, from the top of the bookshelf in the hallway to the ceiling where the old chandelier hung, an out of place decoration if it wasn’t for all of the other junk–the knights helmet that fascinated a mini bar, a partial set of tattered and moldy copies of The Bobbsey Twins book series – literature for children though neither Izzy or Mona ever remember reading them, two separate gold framed pictures with dirt caked corners, one of Mary and the other Jesus hanging above the walled up fireplace. Dog hair peppers the vents, although they never had a dog, though the strains would levitate once the heat was turned on and would land onto the black leather couch, which is in somewhat good condition if you didn’t mind the lumps.
“I’m not going to sleep, not at all. Not here,” says Izzy, her behavior a complete 180 from outside. She slumps on the couch, in between the larger lump that slightly rose, like a cancer cell.
Mona shrugs, surveilling the picture frames, seeing a few authentic ones among the many store bought families. How did the Department of Family Services not find this odd. How did they, in the one time they visited, sitting across from young Mona, her hair greasy, shirt double stained over, her body thinning from missed meals, not see all of the trouble hung right above them. How when Mona pleaded to take her away, the woman jotted notes and never surfaced again.
I know now, Mona thought, burned out by the many careers–starting with the bleeding heart gigs that take every bit of you starting with the privilege of being on the other side of the clipboard. To judge, measure, to take children away from bad homes and not destroy ones because of a one time incident or accident. To try to measure against agency policy written by people who have never done the job. Then it was the soulless jobs, selling people their own short term happiness until your entire life depends on people being irresponsible. The rest blurred like the years, like a carousel going 100 mph. My good years are behind me, Mona would think, looking up at the drop down ceiling of her condo, the shape of her body in a S, her cat nestled in one of the empty spaces as the latest Tinder date slipped out back into the night. She enjoyed the small treats she gave herself – the hook ups, the spa days, the croissant over the healthy option. The occasional adventures that took her places in the dark. She still felt empty, held back by the past.
“I’m going to bed, good luck not sleeping.”
“I’m not going to, why don’t you believe me?” says Izzy but Mona is already walking upstairs, her hands crouched to her side, not wanting to touch the banister, not wanting to rely on something already broken.
Izzy rested on the couch, watching the ceilings as she counts the cracks. She could remember when this place was brand new–or brand new to her. It still had its spooky charm, the breath taking edges and designs embossed in the framework, both inside and out. There was even a backstory to the house, one grim and unmentioned upon The Cloys moving in. Izzy of course took that as an opportunity. She smiles at the memory of Izzy pulling her classmates through the house.
“If you step over here, this is where the Ghost of Meredith Wyler was murdered by her husband,” said little Izzy as the group entered the kitchen.
“Did he shoot her? My dad says guns killed my uncle,” said a round boy, his thick focals like two coasters.
Izzy laughed and twirled around the kitchen, stopping before the sink with her arm stretched out, palms up, just like the Wheel of Fortune models–part of the presentation she promised the neighborhood kids after she couldn’t ding dong ditch, even when she was double dog dared.
“It was here, over the sink where he bashed in her head with a hammer!”
One kid, Mikey or Jake, or some other plain yogurt of a name, began to cry as Isabell, Izzy’s rival, started to interrogate her.
“How would you know, you weren’t even alive 100 years ago when it happened. You’rea liar.”
The other kids starred, waiting with eyes wide, juvenile as kids are but also instinctual and brutal, all fighting to stay in the clan. At that moment, Izzy had to prove herself against the emerging spotted hyena Isabella of 6th grade.
“I’ll show you! It was in an old newspaper!” yelled Izzy, past the point of acting calm and civilized. She stepped over to the basement door, her hand was grasping the knob. It wasn’t worth the beating to prove anything to Isabell, not that Izzy got a chance. She had tried to open the door but as was, another body was pushing through on the other side. It was Albert, towering over them, expressionless. Izzy pissed herself right there in front of everyone.
In the morning Mona finds herself buried against the wall, Izzy, the big spoon, gripping her skin for dear life. She’s asleep, looking the same as she did as a child — terrified but nearly dead to the world. An earthquake wouldn’t wake her. Maneuvering like an acrobat, Mona frees herself, the light of the window shining bright against the dull yellow walls. Faded posters of boy bands fill one side, the fresh faced groups on an old copy of J-14, who are at this point, are fathers themselves if not young grandfathers. Photographs of friends hang off the mirror but their names don’t surface to her mind.
Purple hair dye, still in its box is in the wastebasket, surrounded by emo and dramatic attempts at poetry. She doesn’t unravel those.
“I’m going to get coffee,” she says but Izzy doesn’t stir, drool piling on to the pillow Mona brought with her along with the comforter.
Does Izzy even drink coffee? Does she need it with her manic personality? She thought, pulling on her jacket and exiting the house.
Her phone rings as she juggles between two large iced coffees, extra cream in both but no sugar. Unknown caller.
“Hey it’s me, it’s Robby.”
` “Hi it’s me, it’s Robby, Mona speaking,” Mona teases, knowing this would be the only opportunity for a lighthearted joke before getting back to first degree murder.
“It’s 7:30 in the morning, the movie theater isn’t open yet for patrons.”
A silence looms on the other end.
“Get it done.” he says, then the line goes dead but Mona doesn’t remove the phone from her ear.
“Okay, love you too Robby. Say hi to the wife and kids you would have had if you didn’t kill your high school sweetheart. Dick.”
Izzy is waiting on the front steps, still wrapped in the comforter which is now getting dirty. Mona kills the engine but doesn’t move, hoping to muster another moment with her sister that doesn’t detonate into a full blown fight.
“You left me!” she yells from the stairs.
No such luck, thinks Mona.
By the time Mona gets to the stairs, Izzy is stomping, like a child, but still accepts the coffee.
“Do you know what it’s like in there?” she wines but merely meant what it was like alone.
“I haven’t forgotten,” spits Mona. “Do you know why? Because I pay the bills. I pay for random strangers to turn the lights off and on once in a while so someone thinks we live here. I pay people to park here occasionally so it always looks like we are here – that we have never left so no one breaks in. No one accidentally finds anything that would put us away.”
She pushes past Izzy, unable to contain the huffing.
“We didn’t do anything wrong.”
Mona turns, glancing down the driveway, seeing a glimpse of the shed. “We did nothing. And that is so much fucking worse. Now get your ass in the car.”
“There’s nothing we can do – try coming back tomorrow or next week,” says Jenine, the patient service coordinator.
“I’m only in town for a few days – can’t leave my cat along for that long. I don’t understand, why can’t we see our father?” says Mona, the word ‘father’ hard to swallow.
“Yeah, why are you being a bitch.”
“Izzy, stop.” says Mona, hoping to turn the conversation around as Jenine ruffles through her drawer, looking for the ‘Closed for Visitors’ sign. An infection or rather what they are pretending is not cross contamination or negligence has blocked anyone from entering the ICU momentarily, including family to ensure no one knows about what happened.
“He’s on death’s door!” wines Izzy. “We just want to be able to say goodbye to daddy.”
She’s actually convincing, thinks Mona, watching as Izzy’s eyes begin to water, her chest heave, her hand beginning to shield her mouth like she is going to be sick. It’s more than Jenine can handle, at least more than what she is willing to deal with at $14 an hour – and she can sense an escalation to a supervisor in the near future.
Jenine’s brow raises as she tries to calm Izzy down. She leans close, placing the sign to the edge of the desk. “Just come back tonight. The night guy is never on time so you can slip in if you want twenty minutes before closing plus we are short staffed in like every department. Like no one wants to work here. The issue is going to be wrapped up soon anyway. Just please–”
“Leave now,” Mona interrupts. “We will go. Thank you, we really appreciate it.”
A smile rises from Jenine’s face as they exit from the automatic doors, and disappear from view.
“I’m hungry,” says Izzy, holding her stomach as if it would subdue the pains.
The two settle on a classic-Pizza Hut–and sit at the furthest edge of the restaurant. In the car Mona made it clear they would not talk about the hospital–who is in it, why they were going and anything six degrees from it. It’s only until the last slice of pepperoni they both realize they have nothing to talk about. No common thread to keep a conversation alive. Izzy didn’t want to talk about her pervert landlord which she is sure is watching her through a camera in the vent, or about getting fired, again. Mona didn’t want to talk about feeling suffocated all of the time, but not finding the courage to seek help, or talk about the latest fuck–the guy with a thick mustache and dick that curved a little to the left, making her feel lopsided as he thrusted against her walls, close to a real orgasm but not quite.
So they only found one thing to talk about–Robby.
“He’s so annoying sometimes. He calls me like all of the time,” says Izzy.
“Yeah, he won’t shut the fuck up half of the time. Why is it so surprising he calls me? Doesn’t he call you?”
She nods, but it’s a lie. Over the past year he’s called less and less, and she assumed it was due to the lack of money on his call card or was running out of favors for private cell use. She knew he wasn’t busy, being in the general population without anything more to do than play the same games he did outside of prison, just this time with limited range.
“What do you guys talk about?” asks Mona, trying to sound sly but desperate for any crumb, mostly if the terrible things she says about Izzy have telephoned its way through him to her.
“Mostly about how exciting prison is or how he’s trying to make it. That and sex.”
“He gets his dick sucked like weekly. I guess there is plenty of ass and drugs so it’s like a party every weekend, you know, when someone isn’t being shanked or he’s in solitary.”
Mona imagines some hussie obsessed with killers sending him nudes, responding back from his letters about his innocence. “How does a woman get weekly access? Is that some kind of conjugal visit program?”
Izzy takes a wide bite of pizza, grease dripping down her chin but her hand saves it before it travels to her shirt. She shakes her head.
“He fucks dudes now. He’s going to be old if he ever gets out at all and that chick he killed, she was upper class Catholic Republican- those people don’t forget and always show up at appeals and know someone on the parole board. He was also in that satan phase”
“Yeah, that didn;t help him at all.”
What was her name again? A sense of shame rises within Mona. The trial had gone on so long it started to fit into their lives like a normal activity. Some people had hobbies like tennis, weight lifting, and crocheting. The remaining Cloys went to court.
Izzy continues, “Got to get some where you can. As long as they don’t have facial hair, he says it’s not different from a girl giving head. He says it’s actually better.”
“He’s living better than me, Jesus and all he had to do was murder his girlfriend.”
Izzy is quiet for a moment. “Do you think that will happen when we-”
“Stop,” Mona says forcefully. “Finish what you have – let’s go to the house for a bit.”
Mona gets up first, slinging her brown leather purse around her shoulder, for a moment seeing her reflection in the window. She looks like a mother – before they moved, minus the complete and gutted despair shrouded around her like a tight sweater. But not like their mother. Helen was light and airy and confident. At least that is how they remember her, or chose to remember her.
Back at the house, the television flickers, not constantly but just enough to get on Izzy’s nerves.
“Is it time yet?”
“No, it wasn’t five minutes ago and it won’t be in five more minutes.”
Izzy shifts on the couch, the lump moving with her.
“Do you think there’s a dead body inside the couch?” asks Izzy but she gets no response. “Why do you hate me?”
Mona is fixated on the window behind the TV and how small it looks, smaller than she remembers the night they fled. The girls tiptoed through the living room in the middle of the night, Izzy clung to Mona’s arm as they stood in front of the window, their father just a room away. If he woke, he would kill them. He had to, they knew too much. Mona leaned against the sill with one hand while fastening the other around Izzy’s foot. Izzy leaned close, unclasping the lock with delegate hands, waiting for another breath of the house before inching it further. Unlocked, they waited again, for the sounds of life outside to become weak- a car peeling off, the sound of an ambulance, drunks walking by yelling loudly to their friends.
Mona, feeling the pain in her legs, leaned closer, her sweatshirt draping the sill, ready to capture any clean air or wind invading. It was another hour before the window opened, inch by inch, the air rising up Mona’s sweater, cooling her skin before going completely numb. When opened, like they practiced although this also involved Robby, rests Izzy on the window, moving their hands into a clasping position as she lowers Izzy’s back to the side stairs, movements smooth and graceful like a dance. Izzy doesn’t let go, something they promised because if the Beast stirred, it would be harder to pull them both in. They don’t bother to close the window, instead using thumbtacks to hook the sweatshirt in place, the wind still being blocked.
By the time they reach the dark road, Mona’s thumb is out, looking for any ride out of there, under any circumstance. They didn;t look back but never felt they truly left, fragments of themselves trapped behind.
“I love you Mona. Say you love me back,” says Izzy, pulling her from the moment back into reality.
The phone rings and Mona is delighted, even though she has no positive news to deliver.
“Is that Robby?!” exclaims Izzy.
The number is recognizable. Mona shakes her head. It’s dick slightly to the left. It goes to voicemail but Mona only reads the transcript. Mona blushes and for the first time feels uncomfortable in the presence of her sister, but not because of anything Izzy did.
“Can we go early?” asks Izzy but she ignores her, leaving the room, dialing the number back, listening to the sultry confessions of a man masterbating to her voice, feeling for a moment, wanted.
Trying to compose herself, Mona re-enters the living room to find the TV showing nothing but static and no Izzy. She walks outside but her car is still parked with no one inside.
She puts her hand on the den door but stops. She’s not in there, she thought. Of all rooms.
“Izzy, where the hell are you?”
She nails her hip against another table, this one with sharp edges, the surface covered in a sepia tinted dolly, once white, and a few dusted animal figurines and a pile of Country Home magazine tipping over.
Moving through the living room, Mona pushes different island’s of messes, her patience growing thin, not caring about the useless garbage in the museum of their past.
In the kitchen, Mona sees it.
The basement door. Open.
The den was their father’s workspace, his legitimate work of pushing papers of what they never really knew but might have been in the realm of authoring technical manuals. It was one of two out of bounds areas. The basement was the second place they were absolutely forbidden from opening, where his other work commenced.
Another inviting stomach waiting for her to be swallowed, though Mona.
She yells for Izzy again but no voice returns.
Feeling cemented in place, Mona keeps yelling, hoping at the twentieth time, she answers. In the backdrop of the living room, the phone goes off but Mona doesn’t move. It’s probably Robby forcing them into another corner while they do the dirty work. Fuck off, Mona thinks, trying to push one foot in front of the other.
When her hand finally grasps the door, sweat pooling at the back of her neck and forehead, she has to swallow the urine aroma clouding her face as the stench rises from the basement. It’s potent, almost fresh but she put her foot down at the idea of fixing every hole and crevice at the back of the house six months ago. Who else would know about the crawl space that leads you directly into the basement and therefore, outside of the house. Who else would know the paint of almost every room was never deleaded. Who else would know there are holes in the pantry that allow small animals into the ceiling and walls. The infestation of both worldly and unworldly insects taking up permanent space.
A squatter, she thought just then. Of course.
“Izzy?” her voice is small.
At the top is a forest of windbreaker jackets and a single string connected to the light. She pulls but the glare is dim at best, only illuminating the first few steps. But it isn’t pitch black. Another source of light lingers below, somewhere between the end of the basement where the washer and dryer is and the light right above her.
Izzy is dead, she thought, oh my god she’s fucking dead and someone is going to notice – her pervert fucking landlord for one.
Vomit sits in the back of her throat as the panic settles, thinking about so many things. About how she told people she was an only child in order to avoid talking about her family. About what happened to her mother and the things in that house–the house as a creature, the most vile and ghastly presence that pumped out madness like a blood to the heart.
About how madness leaves a residue. A spot, sometimes several, patches both perfectly rounded and unshaped, darker, sometimes lighter, sometimes blushed against a soul. It can be shallow, a polished shade of trauma that only blooms when everything else is wrong, maybe for a day. Maybe for longer than a day. For Mona it felt like a lifetime, especially when that madness can turn that spot into a steep pool, expunged from the soul and seeped into the bones, under the skin, through the pupils. It lives and destroys. It’s inherited, passed among families like an unwanted heirloom. If you’re directly untouched, by miracle, you still hold the ricochet of it – lightly peppered on you like freckles. There and you’re not sure why until you remember, vaguely, a moment in time that seems unreal, seems made up.
But it wasn’t – the horrors that unraveled there. It wasn’t made up.
And yet life went on, for all three of them–Mona, Robby, and Izzy who bobbed through life in this pool but never attached to any current, instead fighting to stay above the surface. No exit. No door or window from this house, even when you’re outside of it.
Mona doesn’t notice the tears pouring down her face, the cracking of her voice as she makes each step, the next one more slowly, more painful than the last until reaching the bottom, the last step heavy and true and exhausting.
“It’s there,” says a voice, a familiar voice. An annoying voice.
Mona rushes to her, feeling light as a feather brushed up by a nor’easter. She collides into Izzy, holding her tight, not letting the words I love you out but in her own way. In a way Izzy would understand.
Izzy closes an arm around her, not avoiding this opportunity at sisterly affection. Any affection.
“It’s there,” she says again. This time, and maybe for the first time in a while, in a firm cold tone.
It takes a moment, more than a moment for Mona to release, to follow Izzy’s finger pointing forward to an object suspended in air. It was small, vibrant, and pink. Izzy’s favorite pink cardigan. Still fresh like the day she left it. Right below the cardigan is the hole. A space they feared as children on the few occasions they entered the basement before it became locked for good.
“Let’s go, fuck the plan. Fuck Robby, we need to get out of here,” says Mona, pulling at Izzy’s arm.
“It’s there. It’s always been there.”
“Izzy, who gives a shit, we need to–”
Izzy turns to her, her doe eyes round and wet. “I need it.”
Izzy rips her arm away, the jerking motion almost sending Mona to the cement. Izzy holds her hands to her head, at first only jumbled words escaping. She breathes in hard, her chest rising then falling before trying again.
“You don’t get it- you don’t get it because you’re strong. I’m not.”
Mona wanted to speak, wanted to tell her she isn’t not strong-shes emotionless and thats different, and how she longed to have a fraction of Izzy’s vibrancy, and life and heart. On a reduced scale, but still.
Izzy continues, “I know what I am. I know I can’t follow the same path that you did. I can’t put my shit together and it’s sad and god, its so fucking pathetic and it’s so cold living in your shadow. I need courage and I need that,” she points to the sweater. Izzy never explained until then what the sweater meant and how she came upon it when their father never spent a dime on them.
“I stood up to some bully. Me, weak, scared, crazy Izzy! I beat the shit out of Isabella at the spring fling in 10th grade and it felt good watching the blood pour from her nose and that she cried the entire time. The next week she was wearing it and I told her to give it to me. And she did. She really did Mona. She never fucked with me after that, even though it wasn’t long before we left, it was enough to feel like I was brave. ”
A silence looms as the words cut through Mona. Mona’s lips open and close. She sighs.
“I didn’t know you felt this way or if I made you feel like you couldn’t be brave. Izzy, I don’t have a good fucking life. I don’t have-”
“You don’t have what?” says Izzy, watching her sister’s every move, except she’s not moving. She’s not even looking at Izzy. Only through her.
Izzy snaps her finger, disappointed on what have been a mental picture to relive many times over.
“You were saying?” says Izzy impatiently.
Mona’s lips begin to tremble, her hands beginning to quake as she only says one solitary word. “Mom?”
In the short distance, their mother emerges from the hole, a hand stretched outward, her face filthy. Her eyes black. Izzy looks over her shoulder at the figure rising slowly.
“Sis, mom’s dead. You know that and it’s not funny. We watched her body get tossed in fucking hole. With the others.”
Mona doesn’t speak, trapped in a trance of her memory.
She takes a step forward but Izzy blocks her path. “It isn’t her and if it is, then fath–Albert–then he’s been feeding her. She isn’t our mother, Mona. Not anymore.”
Disgust overtakes her as she pushes Izzy, breaking the glare as she directs all of her energy on the fuck-up of a sister.
“You would risk your life for a fucking sweater but not our mother? How materialistic of you. I almost believed your bullshit ‘this is all I have’ speech. Well, go claim your fucking prize Izz.”
She points forward but the sweater is missing.
Their mother is missing too.
“Fuck.” Izzy grabs Mona’s hand but as soon as they turn, the creature is hanging from the pipes, its face of their mother’s, but the body covered in spotted black fur, and its arms are suited with sharp claws, stained from the years of tearing apart the bodies, some dead, some alive, and all of Albert’s victims. It would be infrequent at first, a few every few months but they didn’t know why he insisted they needed a babysitter, or nanny, or a sick person he ‘found’ and was taking care of them like the Emerald Palace was a half-way house. Inviting all to see what’s behind the curtain.
They didn’t know they would be taken to the basement, bodies suspended over the hole. They didn’t know that every time he brought them new clothes, most not in style or size, that these were from the people he prayed upon. They didn’t know he spent time with the woman, and the girls in the basement before chucking them into the same hole they watched their mother get thrown in.
They didn’t know.
Or they didn’t want to know.
The truth seeped into all of them, destroying their lives because it was better than these strangers, than each other.
“We fucking deserve to die Izz,” says Mona in a panic, tears flowing. She isn’t cold, not right now.
“I’m fucking pregnant, I don’t want to die.” Izzy cries, then putting a hand over her mouth. Mona grabs her sister’s hand, instinctively.
Their eyes stay on the creature that is swaying back and forth on the pipes, black sludge oozing from its deep and sharp cavern mouth. It’s hungry.
The two grab each other’s hands as Mona reaches to the floor for anything, finding a heavy bag but it’s Izzy who is first to lunge, drenching the creature with pepper spray she was gifted the time she dated a (married) cop. She knew it would come in handy, but she was even willing to admit, this particular situation was not on her radar.
“Take that you fucking cuntbag,” she yells.
Izzy parted with their mother long before the night’s first death. Helen despised Izzy, ruining her career, her body and feeling shackled to her and the house before the shackles were made real. It was Izzy who targeted her first. Wishing among the haunted walls of the house that the wicked witch would fall to her doom.
Izzy lunges again, this time throwing a piece of wood from the floor towards it. The creature is barely fazed, only laughing in jittering pitches, jumping down from the pipes, its bulbous midsection moving like something is living underneath it. Its tongue is long and split down the middle, the two sides folding out of its mouth. It raises one arm, coming down hard on Mona. It hits mostly the bag but a few superficial scratches. It’s taunting them, slashing again as the sisters fall, hands still clasped.
Only Robby saw it happen. Say Izzy push Helen down the stairs, her head bouncing off the sides until lying motionlessly on the floor. Izzy looked at her hands, amazed and scared at the unnatural strength she had at her young age. Her mother moved, badly hurt but alive. Until the den door opened.
Izzy looks to Mona, talking in glances as Mona nods.
They rise from the ground and charge the creature, an aggressive red rover, forcing the beast into the ground but it leaps up quickly, blocking the exit.
“Fuck, this bitch is fast,” says Izzy, grabing anything she can get her hands on, throwing hordes of junk at the monster. “Maybe we can appeal to its motherly instinct.”
“I think we’re past that.”
Mona remembers when her mother began to turn. She had always favored Robby more but Mona was a confident second with Izzy barely trailing in third. She showered Mona with compliments and gifts before the move and still was close. It was after Sunday church when they stood in the kitchen, just the two of them, her mother washing the same dish for a few minutes. Then an hour. Mona reached for the faucet. It happened so quickly, Helen’s hands on her daughter’s face until she pushed her into the wall. Her eyes are dark and veins protruding from her neck. She had been steadily declining since the move but this was different. She was infected.
The creature leaps through the floor, running on the first level, barricading the basement door. Izzy and Mona run to the back door to find it’s been barricaded for some time.
“Fuck,” says Mona.
Izzy grabs the first box but Mona stops her, pulling her away, around the hole in the floor, the halo of light shining from above.
“It’s too much stuff – she wants us to go there. She wants to corner us.”
“How do you know?” asks Izzy.
Mona holds back a grin, “Isn;t that what you would do if you were hunting prey?”
“I don;t fucking know dude, I just want out of here,” Izzy responds.
The creature creates a new hole from the ceiling and jumps down, close to the back door.
“Told yah,” says Mona but Izzy ignores her.
They walk backwards, still finding objects–dolls, Newbury Ave street sign, a candlestick bowling ball–which does damage to the creatures eye, but only slows it down.
“I’m sorry Mona for being a pain in the ass.”
“I’m sorry too.”
Izzy’s heel hits the uneven edges of the hole as the creature lowers its body in a crouch.
It was this moment, years before, seeing Albert drag her to her grave after beating her with his bare hands while she laughed at the bottom of the steps, blood pooling from her mouth. Their mother barely fought, her mind too degraded by the house, and no one moved, that instilled this weakness in Izzy, even if it was her doing. That she should always allow things to happen to her and someone else will clean up her mess.
The monster lunges and Izzy, with what little strength she has left, pushes Mona to the floor, the creature colliding into her as they both careen to the bottom of the pit. As they fall, Izzy closes her eyes, feeling like she is flying and for the first time in her life, free.
Still dazed, Mona lifts her body upward, her head still pained from the fall. She’s lost plenty of blood, some of it drying on the washing machine that so kindly placed a kiss on her skull. It’s morning, she is sure of it, but there is no inclination in the basement.
“Izzy!” she calls out, crawling to her feet, looking into the hole.
She is met by silence, worse than screams or cries or the discomfort of having to spend time with her little sister. Upstairs the phone is ringing, Robby, checking if all things are peachy fucking keene and if we’ve reached the ending credits.
Fuck you Robby, thinks Mona.
“Mona!” Izzy’s voice trembles as she looks upward. and only sees a silhouette of her sister’s body. “I can’t find a way up.”
Mona’s chest tightens.
“I’ll find something, just stay there!”
Still clenching the sharp bone on one end, a previous meal of their mother, while the other is logged through its eye socket, Izzy doesn’t shy away from the carnage. She won, afterall, adding to the small list of victories that can never be told. In the day, she will wash off the blood, wash off the memory and bury it deep but not in the same way as she had.
She has been given a second chance.
They both have.
Izzy emerges from the hole, shedding away the sheets turned harness and her old self as the two go through the old crawl space and make it outside.
They sit against the house, breathing in the crisp fresh air.
“I wish I had a cigarette right now,” says Izzy.
Mona laughs, a real one this time which is almost unrecognizable to her sister. “You don’t want to hurt the baby.”
Izzy nods before leaning against her sister’s shoulder, nestling in like she used to as a kid. “That was a lie. I thought it would not eat us if I said it.”
Mona smiles, “You probably made it more hungry.”
“That’s fucking gross!” says Izzy.
They laugh, going through the details and how they will tell Robby. How they will be able to explain their mother had always been there, or some horrific form and that it was almost over. Reminiscing for a moment on how it all started that Friday night as they convened in the basement full of all the cursed items. They weren;t sure what conjured up the evil, as the evil felt like it was in the beams and foundation. It could have been the creepy doll, or antique mirror that seemed to slow their reflection, or the old paintings which depicted horrors and sacrifices. It could have been the urn of the previous owner which somehow ended up in the wave of junk. He was a collector and that was all that was said by the realtor. They were little kids wishing for selfish things. For their parents to go away, for people more prettier or more well off to get what they deserved. The house and its things were listening and remembered. It infected the ones it needed to and spoiled the rest. It was alive, in its own way.
Mona glances at the shed, its metal padlock glistening in the morning sun. her fingers rubbing against one another. She is infected, residue from the Emerald Palace like Robby, except she’s more cunning and knows when the opportunity is ripe for the taking or when to retrain herself. It happens when men take advantage of her, men who are already flighty and come with intentions other than tenderness and that it’s not their first time. Unlucky for them, its not hers either. There is no place like home to keep the souvenirs.
“Should we kill dad tonight? I’m over my fear of smothering a fucking monster out. I’m practically an expert now.”
Izzy kicks her leg forward, only to retract it and wince in pain.
Mona thought about how Izzy could pick up the pillow, her hand grazing against the rough fabric while she grabs the other end, putting the pressure over Albert’s face, watching as the EKG machine shows his heart rate thrust into overdrive, his body twitching, his mind falling away, like sand through fingertips. He’s old and has been dying for years. No one would investigate. No one would really care other than to make sure the bed was cleared for the next body to fill it. And if all went wrong, Mona knew she could get out of it. Izzy on the other hand might not.
Mona wraps both arms around her sister, leaning her head on Izzy’s shoulder. “Let’s have some breakfast first. Deal?”
Izzy smiles wide. “Deal.”
S. Eamma is a North Shore born writer and a lover of all things thriller and horror. At age 2 she watched Killer Clowns From Space and never forgot it. Also passionate about poetry, she has been published with The Bitchin’ Kitsch magazine and Red Skies Magazine.
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