by BLAINE VITALLO
“You keep her in your pocket
Where there's no way out now
Put it in the safe and lock it
'cause it's home sweet home” ~ The White Stripes, “You've Got Her In Your Pocket”
t was safest to never look.
She could feel it pass by, not moving like anything else, but there, around her and then not. It was in another room now.
And then it was back, over her again.
It was cold and empty like emptiness eating itself. Not just a void but a sucked back scream, a reversal of life.
But not death either.
She squinted her eyes tighter. Never could she adjust or sleep peacefully, knowing it could come any time.
What if she opened her eyes now?
What if she saw it move?
She almost looked, just to find out.
But she didn't. She was shaking. Tears slid down her cheeks. She squeezed the boy beside her. What if he saw it? Could she carry on alone?
She woke, facing the night light. It was bright behind glass that stained the room pink.
She sat up on the bare mattress and looked at all the stains. It was remarkable, the years it had seen with them.
She stood and stretched and looked at holes in the wall. There was a spider in the corner by the door. This one was big.
She blinked at it and looked down at him.
He slept a lot. He was littler than her, so she let him. She felt older than she probably was, though. She did most of the struggling and caring.
“Hey Coyle,” she whispered, more to herself than him.
She went to the bathroom and ran her fingers through her hair, in front of the mirror. It was hard to see her reflection past the dirt and darkness and cracks, but she saw enough.
Her hair was curlier than Coyle's, and it got tangled more too. It was thicker and greasier.
She peaked through the doorway at him. It was hard to go a minute without checking. He coughed but didn't stir. It sounded thicker lately. It made her heart pound.
She twisted the bathtub knobs, and the pipes growled. Water burst from the faucet. Their footprints remained on the tub bottom as apparitions of dirt. She could barely see them in the darkness.
She went back to the mattress.
“Hey, wake up,” she whispered into Coyle's ear.
He stirred, and when she shook his shoulder, he blinked at her. “Elsie...,” he said. His eyes were baggy and gleaming. His pupils were tiny, since he faced the night light.
“Get up,” she said. “It's bath time.”
He stood and trudged to the bathroom. He jumped up onto the counter and checked his reflection. She didn't know why.
He jumped down and slipped off his shorts. His ribs pressed against his skin, and his legs were thinner everyday. He sat in the tub.
She got in too. The water was barely warm, and bits of dirt or rust floated around them.
“You sleep okay?” she asked, wrapping her arms around her knees and resting her chin on them.
He sat across from her, staring at ripples, arms limp in the water. “Yeah...”
“Any dreams?” she asked.
She looked up at where the ceiling sagged and wondered if it would fall on her.
The bread slice had mold on it, so she tossed it on the floor. The next was stale but otherwise fine. She ripped a bite from it.
“Can't you eat?” she asked.
“I'm not hungry,” he said, staring at the bread.
She sighed. “You want to play a game?”
It was hard to see the board's colors in the dark. The window frames were filled with bricks, and the overhead lamp had no bulb. They could see only by the night light in the living room, which shone through the doorway to the kitchen.
She moved her piece down the path of colored squares. She was winning, but Coyle didn't seem to care. He wasn't so interested lately.
“It's your turn,” she reminded him.
“Yeah...,” he said. He picked a card and moved his piece to the proper color. The flat, plastic game piece waved at him, smiling.
“Are you alright?”
“Are you sick?”
He shook his head.
“If you need, I can ask Andy for medicine.”
Another head shake.
Her heart started pounding. She clenched her teeth, grabbed the game board, and threw it.
Cards went everywhere, and Coyle's game piece flew into the living room. “If you need something, tell me! Just tell me!”
Elsie was breathing hard. Her arms shook.
Coyle stared at her, shocked, and started crying. His face fell in his palms, and his shoulder blades heaved.
Elsie cooled. He was little and weak.
“I'm sorry,” she said.
He didn't show he'd heard her.
“I'll pick up the game,” she said, knowing she should go over there and hug him or something.
The cards took a while to collect, but eventually she had them all in the box. Her game piece was under the table.
But Coyle's was in the living room.
She stared at it awhile, then went to get it.
The living room was cold. Her hair stood as she shivered and bent to pick up the smiling game piece.
“Hello, Andy,” she said to the rocking chair's occupant as her fingers closed around the plastic piece.
She glanced up at the thing that watched her from the rocking chair, and its gray, glassy eyes, made her shiver again. Andy had been in their room when she seemed to be sleeping. She'd felt it. This was the thing death wouldn't touch.
The front door was just across the room. What would it look like opened?
It was warped like someone melted it. Fused with the wall, it couldn't budge. The knob was gone.
Andy was watching her, but she couldn't meet its eyes. She glanced at its wrist, rooted to the chair's arm. The limb was thin and ashen black, like it would crumble at a touch.
“I felt you watching me,” she said.
Those eyes just stared at her.
“I don't like it. Why do you always do that?” She was breathing hard again. “I get that you...that you love us, but I don't like it when you come in our room.”
Andy couldn't move, but it had been in their room anyway. It did what it wanted even though it never did anything at all.
“Anyway, thanks for the bread.” She stared at the game piece smiling in her hand, then at the thing in the rocking chair. Its legs were little more than bones. Its mouth was open like it was screaming, but the cheeks were dried and shrunken and peeling like burnt paper. It never made a sound.
But its eyes were on her forever.
Coyle was still crying.
She went back to the kitchen, dropped his piece in the box, and pulled her chair across the faded linoleum to sit.
They stayed until Coyle settled. Then they went back to their room.
He laid on the mattress, staring at the night light. She walked into the bathroom and sat in the corner, where it was darkest. She saw only black, except for the curtain around the bathtub, which the night light smeared with pink glow through the doorway.
The curtain was foggy, stained brown from mold.
She closed her eyes and listened, but there was nothing to hear except Coyle's breathing. It was slow like he was asleep, but he probably wasn't.
If they could sleep forever then life would be easy. Suffering doesn't matter when there's never a chance to think.
All her dreams were black.
Except sometimes Andy's eyes were there, watching her, so wide.
Coyle started coughing again, really loud, like there was mud inside him.
She waited for the fit to stop, but it didn't. It got louder and worse, and she started to worry.
He was coughing, wheezing, and gagging. His breath sounded like it came through water.
She listened, hoping he'd be okay. She bit down on her lip.
He got louder, so she stood, went to him, and knelt, watching his muscles jerk with every cough. She put a hand on his stomach and rubbed it. His eyes were squinted shut from pain.
“Coyle, can you breathe?”
He nodded, but he hadn't stopped coughing.
“Sit up,” she said. “It will help. Please, sit up.”
She grabbed his arm and pulled it. When he was upright she put her arm around him and let his head rest on her shoulder.
The fit eased, then finally stopped. He panted, shoulders heaving.
She rubbed his shoulder. Her stomach was a knot.
“You're sick,” she mumbled. “I'll ask Andy for some medicine.”
“No...,” he said, shaking his head. “Don't talk to Andy again.”
“I have to!” she said. “You need help! I'm going to talk to Andy right now.”
She went into the living room, saw Andy sitting in its chair, and didn't say anything. Its eyes stabbed into her soul. She stayed for a little, then gave up and went into the room on the other side of the kitchen, where no light reached.
She needed to be alone, soaking in darkness.
When she came back, Coyle was asleep on the mattress.
Guilt washed through her. She'd talk to Andy first thing when she got up. This wasn't something to put off.
Laying beside him, she thought, this was the limit. How much can someone be pushed?
She put an arm around his stomach and pulled him close. The guilt was heavy enough to crush her heart. She stroked his hair, thinking nothing was enough. He'd wind up here again, even if she saved him.
With that she drifted to sleep.
There was a creak in the living room. It woke her up.
Elsie kept her eyes shut tight.
It was in the air, over them, staring.
Andy was here, moving unlike anything else. She couldn't imagine how, but she didn't look to find out.
“Andy, he needs medicine,” she mumbled, not opening her eyes. “Can you please get some. I'll love you forever if you do.”
She could feel its gaze. The silence was perfect.
But Andy heard everything.
She let her tense body relax. Andy would go back to its chair eventually.
Its gaze was ice in her mind, too cold to ignore.
Despite the freeze, she fell asleep.
When she woke Andy was in its chair again, so she opened her eyes and shook Coyle awake.
He sat up and stared at her with eyes that wouldn't open all the way.
“Come on,” she said, smiling and stroking his hair. “Let's take a bath.”
But as she sat in the cool water he sat on the toilet, holding his stomach and crying. She watched him, her face pale. He'd been there for longer than normal, and he was moaning.
She couldn't look away.
He didn't get a bath. Elsie drained the water, dried off, and started dressing. She held her shirt in front of the night light, staring through its holes.
Coyle was still on the toilet, and she'd be back to check on him, but she had to see if there was medicine.
She went into the living room, and her hair stood on end. Andy was in its chair, head tilted back with a silent scream that never ended.
On the floor were a few unmarked pill bottles. The air got colder and heavier with every inch she took towards Andy and the medicine at its feet. She slowed as she neared.
Her legs were heavy and weak. Soon they gave out, so she crawled towards the pills. Almost there...
Her arm stretched to its limit, and her finger was an inch away. She was shivering, and under the pressure of Andy's eyes. It was hard to crawl, and she was gasping for breath. Almost there...
Then her finger brushed a bottle.
She could smell Andy, sharp like the air burned.
Her teeth clenched as she pushed harder, and her hand wrapped around the bottles.
She pulled them back like pulling through mud. Eventually she was far enough from Andy to walk again, and she went back to Coyle.
He was shaking and crying on the toilet. She set the pills on the counter and went into the kitchen.
She came back with a dirty glass and filled it from the rusty sink.
“Here,” she said, holding the water and some pills.
Coyle put the pills in his mouth and drank them down.
She sat in the corner where the tub met the wall, and watched him.
Eventually he stood, pulled up his shorts, and went back to the mattress.
She followed him and frowned at how he lay on his stomach, not really moving. Would the pills work?
“I'm thirsty,” he muttered, eyes closed.
“Alright,” she said. She grabbed the glass, filled it again, and brought it to him. He sat up and sipped. His eyes were distant and dim. He was sweating.
She put a hand on his forehead and felt the heat inside.
This was overwhelming.
When he finished, she told him to lay down. He said, “Thanks Elsie” as she stood and started towards the doorway.
She stopped, opened her mouth to reply, then closed it again and left the room.
The refrigerator light was dim and flickering, but she took a moment to admire the glow it cast over the kitchen.
She pushed aside rotting food to find something edible.
“I hope you got something we can eat,” she mumbled to the thing in the other room.
Shoving aside some long-expired milk, she grabbed a piece of old meat. It was big enough to share, so she put it on a plate and brought it back to the bedroom.
Coyle was lying on his back, staring up at the ceiling like he was gone from the world.
She shooed a cockroach from her spot on the mattress and sat.
She rubbed his stomach and asked how he was feeling, if he could eat. He looked so thin. Come to think of it, he hadn't eaten much lately.
He said he could, so she put the plate between them and tore off a piece for herself. She bit into it, chewing until her jaw hurt.
Coyle didn't eat much. She wound up getting most of it. Then she felt full and a bit more awake. He looked worse than ever.
Then came another coughing fit, not too bad, but scary even so.
She got a rag from under the bathroom sink and soaked it in cold water. She put it on his forehead and watched his stomach rise and fall.
“My belly hurts,” he whined, breathing hard. “I don't feel good.” He started crying again, louder this time.
Elsie ran her hand through her hair and started pacing. What came next? She'd done everything already, and he wasn't better. The pills didn't work.
They couldn't help, and neither could she.
His crying got worse. It was so loud, it reverberated in her head and made her want to scream. She covered her ears, but it didn't help. She couldn't block it out, couldn't make it stop. He went on and on, for so long.
Her eyes were wide, and she was panting. Her hands shook, and she bit down on her lip.
He still didn't stop. It only got louder.
She screamed, “Shut up! Shut up!”
He rolled onto his side, crying and yelling and gagging. Elsie backed away, heart pounding, head filled with pressure strong enough to burst her mind.
She ran to the bathroom and sat in the corner, crying, wishing she didn't have to hear. She'd do anything not to hear anymore.
How much was enough?
She sat in the kitchen, eating a slice of bread and hearing him cry. She was crying too.
She took another bite and exhaled, like it would let out the pressure, but it didn't.
There had been bad times as long as she could remember. She'd taken care of him when he cried, when he was too hungry, or when he bled. She'd always been the one to hug him and say it was okay.
This was different, though.
She went back to the room and laid beside him on the mattress, running a finger across his chest and stomach, down his arms and through the tears on his cheeks. It settled him. He was staring at the ceiling with the eyes of someone in a tortured dream.
“It hurts so bad,” he said. “Where were you?”
“Eating,” she said.
“Don't go again,” he said, hugging her tight.
She put her arms around him and stared at the night light, eyes heavy.
Even in sleep she felt a cold prickle, and there were its eyes, haunting her dreams. Andy was with them.
Elsie woke up drenched.
She sat and patted her clothes. Her whole body was soaked. She stood and looked down at the mattress. There was a giant wet spot.
Coyle was slick with sweat, and he'd wet the bed.
She woke him up to take a bath. He sat, staring at her like he was miles away. He looked so pale.
She took off his soggy shorts and told him to get up. He nodded but didn't move.
She got the water running, undressed, and sat in the tub.
Coyle didn't leave the room. She waited.
What was he doing?
She smacked the water, frowning. She stared at the ceiling and through the door and at her feet underwater.
Then her patience expired, and she stood. She walked out of the tub and into their room, dripping all over the floor.
He was lying naked on their mattress, crying. He looked up at her, moaned, and cried harder.
“Get up,” she said gently. “Come on. It will help you feel better. Please?”
He didn't move.
“Come on,” she said, grabbing his arm. Her hands were wet, and it was hard to hold him, but she pulled him to his feet.
He stood only a moment before sitting again.
“Come on!” she urged, grabbing his arm again. She yanked him up.
“Ow!” he said, grabbing his arm to pull it free. “That hurts.” He cried harder and fell to his knees.
“Get up!” she growled, yanking him so he squealed and stumbled to his feet.
“Stop!” he screamed, pulling against her. His wrist was red where she squeezed it.
Elsie yelled and shoved him.
Her heart was molten, and her arms were possessed. He hit the wall with a thud and fell to the floor in a heap. He was moaning and hiding under his arms.
“I said 'get up'!” she screamed, grabbing his arm and pulling him up. This time she yanked him so he tripped and slammed onto the creaky boards with a bang.
He lay there like he was dead.
Elsie looked down at the droplets sliding down her bare stomach and legs, pattering into puddles on the floor. Her chest was heaving, and sparks flickered across her vision.
Then her heartbeat slowed, and she saw him again and started crying.
Her legs lost strength, and she fell, sitting on them.
She buried her face in her hands, weeping.
“I'm sorry,” she whispered. “I'm so sorry...”
Coyle didn't reply.
She went over to him and shook his shoulder, panting. She'd killed him. She moaned, tears clouding her eyes.
But he wasn't dead. He looked at her, shaking. His mouth was wide from silent weeping.
She put her head against his and said, “I'm so sorry.”
But he didn't reply, so she scooped him up and carried him to the tub. He was still glazed with sweat.
She put him in the water, dried off, and got dressed. While he soaked she flipped the mattress over and sat on it.
“What do I do?” she said, hoping for an answer, even from Andy.
She went to the living room and sat against the wall, looking into its eyes. No matter where she went they followed her. There was no freedom from them.
She looked at the floor and squeezed her shirt, thinking. She could hear Coyle cry in the bathroom, and she ignored it.
He called her name, but she didn't move. Not yet.
She stayed until Coyle's cry turned soft, weak, and defeated.
Then she stood and went to the bathroom.
He was slumped in the water, head almost under. He could barely look her in the eyes.
She stood, staring at him through tears.
How much did she have to do before it was enough?
Maybe just one more thing.
“I'm sorry,” she said, crying.
She put her hand on his head, ran it through his thick, greasy hair, then pushed it under.
She turned away and closed her eyes. When he grabbed her arm with hands too weak to do anything, she bit down on her lip.
But soon the sound of erupting bubbles stopped, and his hands floated apart. She pulled her hand out of the water and stared at him.
He was asleep again, already. Forever.
She lifted him from the water and brought him to the room behind the kitchen, where light never reached. She lay him on the floor and closed the door, ripping old spider webs.
She went to the living room and sat against the wall, feeling empty and cold and lost.
She watched her hand shake, thinking it was just her and Andy now...and forever.
When she fell asleep, arms around herself on the mattress, she felt Andy with her, so close it startled her awake. She didn't open her eyes, but she felt it beside her, where Coyle had been. She shivered.
The tears on her cheeks were nearly frozen. A chill filled the room and made it hard to move.
She lay shivering, and wondered if she was supposed to be awake.
Andy was here, and it loved her.
It loved them both.
But now there was only her, and it loved her more.
Blaine Vitallo is twenty-one, and HelloHorror is his first publication. He has written many stories but has only recently begun trying to get his work out there.
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