Trigger Warning: The basis for this story comes from a very dark experience that a friend of the author had. She gave her permission to write it, but keep in mind that there is implied sexual abuse. There are greater evils in this world than demons.
May blinks at the corner of her bedroom. The corner blinks back.
Her lungs are locked. She cannot breathe, but breath intrudes into the room anyways. The crescent moon bears witness to the tremble of her fingers, folded on the cover of the bed where she, up until now, has been sleeping.
Her heart thumps, a rhythm that eclipses the steady tick of her bedside clock. The Presence lurks just outside the shaft of moonlight that filters in through the window curtain. It is intentional. May knows this like she knows that farm cats hide in the wheat fields when they stalk the crows.
It blinks again, crimson pinpoints piercing the darkness. The crooked grin of the moon seems to be of the same face. Unease trickles down her body at the thought of something from the nightly domain encroaching into her bedroom. The Presence – it smells like the last coals of a dying fire.
Her chest is mocked. It has not risen or fallen in the last minute. Finally, she lets out the breath that she expects will be her doom. But the Presence has not moved by the time she sucks the air back in. It will not move all night.
The staring contest outlasts the moon’s stint in the sky. After a while, the young girl and the thing that has infested her bedroom begin to breathe in sync.
Only when the sun comes up does May realize that the corner is empty.
May brings her mother breakfast in the shape of two sunny side up eggs and a strip of grinning bacon. Her mother does not leave the couch save for calls of nature. It has been two weeks since her husband died. It has been two weeks since May has gotten a good night’s sleep.
Her mother’s husband — it is hard to say the other word.
Whenever May has to get a flu shot, she pulls her body as far away from the needle as possible. She has never once stopped the needle from descending into her flesh by this method, but something about the distance from herself and the prick makes her think that the pain can be lessened.
Mother has aged. Her once chestnut hair has turned gray around the temples. Loose strands sway like the antennae of a praying mantis. Mother’s husband used to point the bugs out to May, when he found them clinging to door mesh. God’s favorite insect, he used to say, made humble — the only creature that Eve couldn’t taint with her sin, I tell you.
May never grew to admire the distorted look of the thin, green hands like he did.
May lays the smiling plate in her lap. She does not expect Mother to eat the breakfast this morning either.
Slowly, Mother turns her head to look at May. Her daughter is afraid that the unoiled sound is her mother’s neck, but it is just the creak of the fan as it goes around and around. Mother’s gaze is as hollow as her stomach.
The backyard beckons.
The insects welcome morning with their piercing chirps. Mother’s husband built the swing that May slumps on. Her Mary Jane-enclosed feet dangle a few inches from the grass. Beyond the fence, the wheat fields whisper a secret language. May wishes she could learn, join them and have no other purpose than what the wind demands. A distant silo reflects the sun, glinting in her eye like a personal attack.
The white paint chips from the fence, and a few spider webs have filled in the gaps. Mother’s husband used to apply a layer every time the seasons changed.
People said his eyes burned when he gave the sermons. May saw it from the pews, the fire and brimstone contained in a ring of iris, scorching the congregation in their seats. And now he lays cold and dead, the flame gone out, beneath the church where he once preached.
May remembers what he smelled like when he wrapped his arms around her. If she concentrates, she can almost catch the stink of the cigarettes that he wouldn’t allow anybody else in the church to smoke. It’s okay, May. (she can see his sly grin, the cloud of smoke blowing out with his words) God and I, we’re like this. Here he would always cross his middle and index finger together to emphasize the bond between him and the Lord. He’ll give me a pass.
Mother and May do not go to church anymore. The distance is too far for Mother, and May cannot bring herself to be in the house of the one who took so much from her.
Her bedroom window parallels her line of sight. Her bed seems so small and foreign from the outside. The quilt that Mother knitted for her lies crumpled on the end of her bed, a sign of someone who left the room in haste this morning. She gets the uncomfortable sense that she is spying on her own life and the even more uneasy thought that someone — or something — is spying back.
She detects movement out of the corner of her eye.
Her gaze snaps to the window pane. She stares at the lace curtain for a moment, not sure at first what causes her senses to quake. Then she sees it.
The curtain has been pulled to the side, bunched rather viciously in the grip of a hand that must not be human, must not because it is as black as tar, the fingers elongated to grotesque proportions.
The violation of the lace by the stain of those fingers causes bile to rise in May’s throat, her disgust tantamount to finding mold on the cheek of a newborn baby.
As if sensing her scrutiny, the hand retreats. The curtain falls back into place, obscuring the bedroom from view.
The swing sways, empty. May runs towards the window to see…nothing. She grips the ledge, standing on her tip-toes to peer beneath the curtain. No one is there, not the faintest outline of a figure, human or otherwise.
She rocks back on her heels, fingernails trailing down the brick siding. They come away crusted with red dust, and May is tempted to sniff them to see if they have the smell of raked flesh that their look implies.
She is surprised at herself; usually, the mere resemblance to blood would set off a wave of nausea. But after last night, after staring into the eyes of a more savage hue than any wound could produce, she is, at the very least, underwhelmed.’
The tips of the grass tickle her knees. Mother’s husband would tend to the lawn, riding on his engine-powered mower like the captain of a ship.
May notices a cloud of condensation on the window glass. The steam of hot breath lingers like the sweat pooling on her upper-lip. A sudden stench hits her—something akin to a match being lit. As the glass clears, a shiver trails down her spine. She looks down to see a spider fall from her dress and scuttle off into a dandelion patch.
Dinner is a can of creamed corn and burnt toast. Mother doesn’t cook anymore, and the only thing May knows how to make is bacon and eggs. People stopped bringing food a week ago. Death is easiest to handle in the beginning when bodies and houses are bolstered by the pity of mourners. Now, left on its own, the roof seems to sag, and Mother is sinking farther into the couch every day.
It is night again. May sits up in bed, studying the corner where the right wall meets the front with every ounce of patience she has. Her teeth chatter. The tick of her clock grates on her ears, and she has the urge to toss it across the room. But if she makes a single sound, she might scare It away. She cannot blame her common-sense from rioting at the thought.
She didn’t know to wait for Mother’s husband that night. If she had been given the chance to expect his coming, she would have snuck a knife from the kitchen to hide under her pillow. It happened in her room, the death. The official story was that he had succumbed to a heart attack. Coming to say goodnight to her, he must have barely gotten the words out when he keeled over on her bed, crushing May beneath his swarthy bulk. That is what people thought. Mother came when she heard the cry of distress; she saw the scratches on her husband’s face from May’s attempts to claw her way free.
Revulsion skyrockets through her body when she realizes that the Presence is sitting on her bed. She feels its insidious weight. Its breath caresses the intimate hairs of her ear. The smell of smoke chokes her. She is frozen and can’t turn to face the creature.
She is brought back to the night when Mother’s husband crept into her room. Those fiery eyes branded her, as his touch, incinerating her will to move. God and I, we’re like this. She remembers his grin, the way his gleaming teeth floated towards her bed, cutting through the dark like razors. His fingers were crossed until they were undoing her legs.
Those sickly fingers brush against her cheek. The touch is startlingly gentle for the coiled threat that they hold.
May pulls her soul away as if she is getting a shot. Just close your eyes and it will be over soon.
She could not call out to God that night. God was on his side. God was going to give him a pass.
So, she called out to the Devil instead.
“And I came.”
Categories: Short Stories