by ADRIAN LILLY
A whisper in the darkness: harsh, soft words. Megan stirred on the bed and flicked her eyes open. Stillness. Dream images burned away, like camera flash afterglow. Sweat beaded on her brow; something had awakened her: a whisper. It lingered on her like cold fingers dragged across her skin.
Sloughing off sleep, Megan scrunched her face in concentration. She was laying on her side, in the fetal position, hands between knees, as she always slept. The voice seemed to come from behind her. But how close? She could not guess. It could have been from across the room or under the covers.
When she awoke, an image of her brother, Tommy, faded from her mind. Certain sensations, fractions of moments, brought Tommy back to her. Smells of creek water and wet earth, cologne, clove cigarettes, the certain way a stranger would laugh; sights of young men with tousled hair and vibrant smiles, an easy style; a husky, caring voice in a crowd; feelings of loneliness.
Again, the voice: soft, high, like a dog’s whimper. Not Tommy’s voice.
Remembering Tommy: Young boy, hair sun-bleached blond, running with a stick after the family dog (a yappy, happy Terrier mix.) Years later, a young man, attractive, blue eyes, hair darker and carelessly flopping across forehead, shaved on one side. Ears pierced to chagrin of parents. Laughter in eyes and voice. Always kind to younger sister.
Howls of laughter from friends in his presence. His wide, toothy grin possessing a duality: inspiring fits of laughter and lust. Girls constantly calling. Tommy often out past curfew, but home early enough to awake for school or work.
The stillness ached, the silence roared in Megan’s ears. Megan felt a scream efflorescing within her, her limbs hollow and listless. (Asleep?) Now: there was no sound. Had the whisper in the dark been a dream? Could it be Kirk playing a joke?
Megan’s eyes pierced the darkness before her. Lying on her side, she had her back to one side of the room—and the window. He could be behind her, this whisperer. Could he even be outside—speaking through the window?
The room felt still and damp. Eyes searching the utter darkness: vague forms, sharp edges of a desk, darkness swirling—was it movement? She tried to focus her thoughts, force her mind elsewhere. Why was she so scared tonight?
And Kirk? Had she heard his car leave? She had given him her house key. If I get scared, I can call you and you can come back. He had assured her he would. She wondered: Would he do this, a bad joke, knowing how she felt, since Tommy?
But what was it, about this exact moment, that was making her remember Tommy?
Remembering Tommy: Pulling on a tan corduroy jacket. Hair longer, no longer shaved on one side, still floppy in eyes. 18. The day he died. College was not his thing. Musician: he loved the guitar. To chagrin of his parents.
Kicked out, but Megan had sneaked him in to eat and shower. She gave him a bag of food to take. “They’re despots,” she whispered as he slipped out the window of the room that had been his less than a week before.
“Despots,” he laughed. “You’re a smart girl.”
Last words. Cops came the next morning. Only memories.
Megan shivered in the dark. So dark. Cool air wafted over her head and skidded across her neck like birds footprints in snow. The window had to be open. Besides, no one could be in the house. No one. She and Kirk had made certain. Room by room. Empty house.
But who was outside?
Megan eased her hands from between her knees, afraid to alert the speaker that she was awake. (Would he speak again?) A faint wisp of smell crossed her nose: creek water?
Remembering Tommy: Curly hair tousled by the wind, smoking a clove cigarette. Little sister, 13, keeping watch for him while he took a last hit under the high school bleacher. He made her feel included, loved. Let her hang out with him and his friends. Though he was four years older. Nobody’s older brother did that. Nobody’s.
Tommy loved her. Sometimes...
Sometimes she was not allowed to go. When he was with girls. She had to stay home with Mom and Dad and be bored. But usually, he was with his guy friends, like—what were their names?—Ron and Tony and Joey. They all spent time together. Smoking. Sometimes drinking.
Tommy never let her drink. Once, he let her hit a cigarette and she coughed, and he said “That’s what ya get. Don’t start.” She remembered the resonating sternness and concern in his voice. That’s what ya get.
Those four boys, they had done everything together. License. Birthdays. Movies. Forts by the creek: smell of fish and damp earth. The creek—where Tommy died. They had not died together.
Kirk reached over and took her hand. “I’m glad you came.”
“Me, too.” She sighed. She watched Kirk staring down the road. “If my parents find out,” she grimaced.
He laughed at her. “How? They’re in Texas.”
Megan chewed on her lower lip. Her parents knew things. An October moon hung low above the misty fields. The sky was cloudless, night cold. Bare trees lined the road; their leaves had all changed to their myriad colors and fallen to the wind. Skeletal branches created a latticework cavern above them, groped toward the car. In the fields, the corn was tall, turning dark, waiting to be harvested. Megan’s breath left a mist on the glass as she breathed.
Stopping in the drive, Kirk asked “Am I allowed to come in?”
“Well, my parent’s aren’t here,” she grinned at him.
Hand in hand, they traipsed to the door. Megan paused at the door and peered into the dark outside: she thought she had seen someone running into the backyard.
Remembering Tommy: Face bloated, arms twisted, and legs in creek. Red shirt muddy. Hair wet and flat with mud. Face down. Never made it out of backyard. Smell of creek: fishy water, damp ground.
Forts. Capture flag. Fishing.
Yellow police line: Do Not Cross. Megan slipped under, past groping hands. Screaming. Ducks flapping wings, stirring water, images racing from each other across air and water. Leaves shimmering in morning sun. Frost on ground. Frost on Tommy’s head.
Frost on jack-o-lantern, morning after Halloween: Everything scary can be beautiful, Meg.
Something in Tommy’s hand. Not bag of food. Piece of thin paper. Note. Suicide? Megan tried to push past cop, clawing at air. Not Tommy? What was the paper? Why didn’t she know? Why drown? (Where was his corduroy jacket?)
Lying parents; there is no God.
Unbolting. Unbolting. Unbolting.
Her parents were paranoid since Tommy. Too many doors were locked.
Strolling into the dark hall, feet padding on hardwood, and at the end of the hall, Megan flipped on the light. “All safe.” She slid her coat off her arms and tossed it to the floor.
Kirk rubbed his arms. “Did you leave a window open? It’s cold.”
“You know I wouldn’t do that.”
“Meg, I feel a draft.” He marched down the adjoining hall. “Meg, come here.”
Rolling her eyes, she followed. Coming up behind him, she gasped. Face puckering, forming an unasked question: how could the back door be open?
Remembering Tommy: Church packed with mourners. Girls, boys, adults crying, crying...Megan wailing...Uncontrollable. Inconsolable. Casket open.
Last words were spoken to her, and darkness closed around him like a bug in a fist.
In blue suit. Tommy hated suits. Loved jeans and tee shirts. Rock tee shirts.
Tommy in garage with friends, playing music. Friends, heads bowed, eyes red.
Hair parted and pulled away from face. Lips closed over smile. Eyes shut. Sleeping. Sleeping in a suit.
Tommy snarling awake: crabbing, awakened too early, crabbing at Megan, then quickly changing his disposition.
(And Megan wondered: how did the suit fit?) Tommy had not worn a suit since he was sixteen.
Tommy: chasing her down the hallway with chocolate smeared across his face on Easter Sunday.
New Suit. Tommy was in a new suit.
Pastor speaking words. What did they mean? Mom. Dad. Quiet and watery eyes. Tommy, my baby, Tommy, Mom said, just once.
Tommy, scowling at Mom from passenger seat, on way home from detention. Don’t call me baby.
Megan, eyes sharp. Eyes: Tommy to Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad to Tommy.
Why a blue suit? Tommy hated blue.
“I think you should stay with me tonight.”
Kirk had suggested. She wished she’d accepted.
She could feel someone in the dark. But how could someone be in the house and outside. How could there be two? Who were they?
Again in the dark, whispering: “Come to the window, Megan. I’ve waited so long in the cold.”
Remembering Tommy: Come to the window, Meg. It’s cold.
Rap. Rap on the window. Scared but seeing Tommy’s face in the darkness, she let him in. “Tommy!”
Shhhh! His finger to his lips. Don’t let Mom and Dad know.
Hungry and dirty. “You shower; I’ll get you food,” Megan whispered.
Getting food. Mom enters kitchen: Late night snack?
“Yes.” Mom, eyes stern: You usually don’t eat late. Into Tommy’s room for clothes. Wouldn’t even let him take all his clothes. Needed jacket; it was getting cold.
Tommy clean. Found a place to stay. Band got gig on Friday. Happy. Megan watched: Tommy slipping out window and shadow moving at bedroom door. Megan flipped the light off.
Screaming as it slid across the hardwood floor, the door opened upon a steep darkness. Side by side, she and Kirk had searched the house: room by room. No one was in the house. Yet the door had been open. Someone had been in the house.
“Come to the window, Megan.”
Remembering Tommy: Police said suicide. Note in hand. Not note. Bible page. No verse circled. Exodus. No verse circled. Megan read page. Both sides.
Over and over. Memorized.
What did it mean? Why Exodus? Goodbye to better place? (Name of his band.)
I’m not safe. Fear heated and rose within Megan, lifting her head from the pillow. Voice whispering in the dark. Rolling over, Megan: eyes to the window. A silhouette moved outside. Fighting the urge to scream. Inside, beside the window, hung on the wall: something light, soft, draping...fabric, light colored. Forcing eyes to comprehend the object in the unforgiving darkness.
Fabric. Shirt. Jacket. Tommy’s tan corduroy jacket. Gasping, drawing her head back, Megan froze.
The sound of footsteps: behind her now. Megan spun—too late—and suddenly was sightless. She flailed her arms, clawing at the figure grasping her. Something, cloth, was over her head. Arms flailing, she screamed. Breath catching in her throat, she gagged: vapors—
—Awaking in a tub: warm water, dripping, tub full. Red. White tiles glaring, eyes blurry. Red. The water was tinted red. Her wrists ached. Eyes shifting: a razor rests on the edge of tub. Drops of blood on tile. Hard to move. Tired.
Moving, arms useless: cuts, long, deep, tendons severed. Eyes searching: paper on floor.
Exodus on floor. No verse circled.
Remembering Tommy: no verse circled.
Remembering Exodus: words, black on thin white paper.
Passage: And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river. Not same passage.
Eyes drowsy. Page on floor. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.
The Red Sea.
Megan cackled as water and blood poured into her mouth.
Adrian Lilly is the author of three e-novels. His first novel, The Devil You Know, is an occult horror story in the dark fantasy genre. Red Haze, his second novel, is a paranormal murder mystery. His third novel, The Wolf at His Door: Book One of The Runes Trilogy, is a werewolf/horror/romance story. Adrian is a fan of Gothic suspense movies and novels, which greatly influence his writing. His writing focuses on strong character development and the nuances of fear that build toward horror. The mansion in his first novel was inspired by houses in the Victorian neighborhood where he lives. Adrian writes novels, short stories, and poetry and has spent many years as a copywriter and editor in the advertising industry. In addition, Adrian has directed two short films and co-directed a feature-length sci-fi comedy. Learn more at http://www.adrianlilly.com
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