written by: Viviana Benfenati
Chapter 1: The auction
The sound of the clock had just synced with Jerry’s right shoe, which he kept insistently tapping on the cement floor of the motel. He could feel desperation climbing up his throat with every twist of his ankle, as the ocean of vain and pointless reasons that could be keeping his wife from meeting him at the front door seemed to drown him.
-Amara!!! Move it woman!!! We are going to miss it, for fucks sake… – those last words came out in a bitter whisper, as he approached the stairs, clutching the railing in desperation.
-Almost done! – was Amara’s response, in a soft and child-like voice.
Jerry had already started the car and was ready to leave without his wife, almost forgetting there would be no deal without her. Amara finally came downstairs when Jerry’s face was as fuming as the engine.
-Could you not go so fast? – she said, in a voice so pitchy it could cut right through the tension in the car, while Jerry plunged his shoe on the throttle – We could have an accident; there is no point in you rushing like that, we are going to make it on time as long as we are meant to, which we are. I know we are.
Jerry’s sweaty hands grabbed the wheel even tighter, just as his teeth did the same with his tongue, stopping him from answering back, as his mind recalled how much he hated it when Amara brought her esoteric crap about destiny to their everyday activities.
However, his blinding anger disappeared as soon as they got there, transforming into a piercing anxiety, as the place turned out to be crowded with bidders.
The event had already started, but in perfect accordance with Amara’s predictions in the car, they happened to be right on time for the auction of the house.
They found an empty spot somewhere between the entrance and the auctioneer. Jerry peeked at Amara, who stood a few centimeters ahead of him, looking just as peaceful as if she was standing in front of the most relaxing sunset. She blindly trusted they were going to get the house. It was, after all, what her cup of coffee read this morning.
Jerry took a quick glance through the mass of bidders surrounding them and shook his head in disapproval. They were so many, and all of them looked wealthier than this unfortunate couple, who were making miracles to raise a kid in a prefabricated motel lost somewhere along the highway.
-And finally, our most awaited item, a Victorian two-story home at the outskirts of the city, the Porchester Manor!
The auctioneer stared proudly at the crowd, showing an ear-to-ear smile, just as if he was about to announce the Oscar for best picture.
-I have good news for all of you, dear attendees. However, if you have gone this far through the auction, I’m sure you already know more about this than I do. The National Financial Bank has released a programme that holds the key to your dreams, literally. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Pride and Property Social Programme! Granting people who are currently struggling to put a roof over their heads with the opportunity to hold the keys to a dignified life and, well, putting old properties in circulation again, but that’s not really important – He said, letting out a boastful giggle, while fanning his face with his skinny hand – What is important is that the bank will assume eighty percent of the property value and leave the rest for auction! Claps everyone!!!
The over enthusiastic crowd made the walls tremble with a wild round of applause and cheers.
-Social programs like this are certainly not available every day, so you are all very wise for being here. There is no better investment for your future and your family’s! The starting price left to assume by the lucky winner is sixty thousand dollars.
There it was, a photo of that vintage, dark purple walled, Victorian house. The place that made him forget what sleeping pleasantly at night felt like, keeping his mind wide awake with uneasiness, and his imagination wandering pointlessly through the noisy corridors of that filthy motel.
Jerry pictured the photo could be about the size of the main entrance door. Then, upon hearing the auction price, he remembered his father-in-law. How much the man had always hated him, how stubbornly he persisted on humiliating him, mocking his every action, making him a fool for even existing. How he constantly reminded him of how unfit he was for his daughter, and how miserable the first years of marriage were.
And it was right there that Jerry put a brief halt on his panic attack and rejoiced once again under the bliss brought by the news of his passing away. He bitterly thanked that old twat for what was left of his elderly savings, which now constituted the heritage of his only daughter.
-Seventy thousand dollars! – a tall man in the front row shouted.
Jerry’s bittersweet thoughts were abruptly brought to an end, pulling him back down to reality.
-Seventy-five thousand dollars!
Now it was the beating of Jerry’s heart that was synced with the seconds of the clock. The price was still under their budget, but it sure had begun taking off. It was going to be a rough battle.
-Should we call now? – he asked Amara, his voice trembling more than he intended to.
It was then that he really panicked. Amara slowly turned her head towards him, so that he could see her face, although she was not staring at him directly. His wife’s face had adopted the most expressionless shade of white in the pantone of skin color. Behind a galaxy of sunspots, deeply rooted expression lines and a couple of brown hairy moles, was the same color one would find on a porcelain doll’s face.
Amara also seemed to have disposed of the necessity to blink. Had she been laying down; he would have been ready to pronounce her dead. She just stared at the void for a couple of seconds and then turned back towards the auctioneer.
-Amara, we are going to get it, right? – he whispered.
She turned her head to the same side again, faster than the last time, but wearing the same mask of that cheap expressionless bazaar doll.
-I don’t know.
But she said she was sure, Jerry thought in desperation, she said we were going to get it! (That damn cup of coffee spoke!). Thoughts kept raiding his mind, blocking completely the sense of hearing, as his chest turned stiff, making breathing almost impossible. As an avalanche of negative possibilities invaded his brain, his eyes were focused, unblinkingly, on those countless hands that bolted up into the air, threatening his destiny like sparks of fire on a puddle of gasoline.
It was their only chance of ever getting a house like this. This auction was the only possibility they had to quit living in a rented place with puny walls for good.
Amara was a stay-at-home mom, never learned any trait and, for some reason he never really cared to find out, could never manage to keep any of the small jobs she landed. As for himself, he was no more of a businessman than his wife ever was. If only she knew those business trips never existed, they were no more than a much needed escapade he designed for himself to catch a little breath from the results of the errant decisions in his life.
-Ninety thousand dollars! – a hand that showed more rings and bracelets than actual skin was raised in front of him.
Amara seemed to have woken up from her trance and decided to shoot her bid. Jerry had already stopped breathing, as he realized the next bidder was silence itself. Amara turned around, this time to face him, showing her yellowish teeth in a smile overflowed with joy.
Both their hearts resumed their beating, as Jerry instinctively placed his hand on his wife’s shoulder, noticing he couldn’t remember the last time he had any physical interaction with her, of any kind. Maybe now they could actually try to revive their relationship.
-One hundred and ten thousand!
A soft but determined voice came from the back of the room. A sharply dressed man, old enough to be Jerry’s grandfather, was standing by the entrance, thanks to the help of a cane and the benevolence of death who still refused to take him away.
-Oh, what a pity for the couple! So close! Well, one hundred and ten thousand dollars to the gentleman at the back… one hundred and ten thousand at one… one hundred and ten thousand at two…
Jerry stared straight at the guy. He looked so fragile… his neck was the closest thing he had ever seen to a wrinkled twig… it would be so easy to just… break it.
-One hundred and ten thousand at three! Let’s all give a big applause for the new owner of this beautiful Victorian home!
He realized his wife was already staring at the guy, as he proudly limped through the crowd to claim his prize.
-Give it up for Mr. Corbyn! – said the auctioneer, as he passed his arm around the flimsy winner’s tuxedo, surely impregnating himself with naphthalene.
They both smiled for the picture. Corbyn posed, his feeble chest bloated with pride, while his artificially whitened porcelain denture shone brightly under the LED lights.
Everybody left before Amara and Jerry even noticed, leaving both of them with an empty room, a dead hope, and a long road back to the motel.
Once again in the car, they heard nothing but the roar of the engine, a noise not strong enough to overshadow the sound of disappointment. The car had not moved more than just a couple of kilometers, when suddenly, Jerry hit the brakes. If it weren’t for those shabby seatbelts, they would have had the windshield for lunch.
However, there was no need for them to exchange any words, as Amara, after recovering from the shock, seemed to perfectly understand the reason behind such a reckless maneuver. They sat there for a couple of minutes, looking into each other’s eyes, feeling a connection they had never experienced in ten years of relationship.
Amara smiled, and Jerry followed, just before turning the wheel and heading back to the auction place.
Chapter 2: Porchester Manor
The sun shone bright over Porchester Manor. However, the sheets in the master bedroom had been cold for a long time now, as Mr. Corbyn was up before the sun even remembered which side to rise from.
His daily routine began not a minute after four thirty in the morning, which was his favorite time for exercise. That leg of his certainly required a significant amount of care. Despite his grand collection of years, he was convinced he was not going to leave this world being a man who walked on a cane.
At six o clock, the hand of Mr. Corbyn was placed on the left faucet of the shower. His muscles, though fragile, were deeply thankful for this routine of his, for the best possible way to close a morning of exercise was with a nice cold water bath.
The timer on the kitchen had not even finished playing its zingy melody when the clock ticked at seven. The toasts performed their Olympic jump out of the toaster at ten past seven, only five minutes after the coffee maker announced the elixir of attention and performance was ready to drink. However, it was not until seven-twenty that Mr. Corbyn’s hands were placed on the table, the black, shiny cane resting on the chair next to his and his butt was journeying down to the chair cushion, while he closed his eyes and breathed in the fragrance of such luscious breakfast.
And then the doorbell rang.
Three distinctive sounds were heard approaching the front door, two steps and a cane, as Mr. Corbyn was obliged to interrupt the intake of his delicacies to attend the very first visitor to his new home.
He was aware, however, that today his daily routine was to be slightly altered, as a few days ago he had decided to hire some help. He opened the door, gracefully showing his polished denture through a warm smile.
A face with a galaxy of sunspots, deeply rooted expression lines and a couple of brown hairy moles, greeted him on the other side of the door, while teeth as yellow as his abandoned pineapple juice appeared under a forced grin.
-Good morning, I take it that you are… Mrs. MacCaa?
-Amara MacCaa, happy to meet you, Mr. Corbyn – she said, with a little cheesy bow.
-Come in! come in!
Amara entered the house and was walking straight to the living room, as the old man interrupted her.
-Please, I was just about to have breakfast, come sit with me!
Uncomfortable, Amara’s steps followed those of the cane towards the vintage kitchen. She was kindly invited to seat at the table, while Mr. Corbyn decided to begin not by assuming the role of her employer, but of her host. He asked her what she wanted for breakfast, guessing she didn’t have any. She hadn’t.
The sweetness in that strawberry jam must certainly seem sour opposite to this crackpot’s cheesy temper, Amara thought, as she pulled a forced smile at him, while her eyes turned towards the elegant and fragile porcelain mug, resting on the matching knitted coaster in front of her.
-So, maybe you are going to be surprised, dear Amara, which is why I should warn you first – said Corbyn, as he opened the kitchen drawers in search for something out of Amara’s view – You see, I surely like to get very creative when deciding what to have for breakfast. I like the mix of different flavors, all in one bite. For instance, do you know what I did yesterday? Well – he said with a jolly giggle – I decided to mix that strawberry jam you see there on the table with… – He left the speech there, mid-sentence, as he continued looking for something in the drawer.
The limit line between Amara’s bewilderment and disgust was as impossible to find as the mysterious item lost in Corbyn’s drawers.
-THIS! – he said, turning around with surprising quickness for his age and condition, putting on the table a glass jar covered with a neatly embroidered ivory linen fabric, that showed a cute, white bunny eating a carrot while staring at whoever was looking at the jar.
-Pickles!!! – he said, clapping with huge emotion, as if that jar was some prize he had spent his whole life longing for – I’m telling you, dear, you are going to die laughing at my many eccentricities when it comes to breakfast. What would you like to have?
-Uh, just some bread with butter will be ok. Thank you – Amara answered, forcing another smile, even phonier than the last.
-You know, dear, when I was a little boy, I lived with my mum and six brothers. Well, four brothers and two sisters. We surely were broke as a joke, but happy anyway. Our daily breakfast would consist only of bread, like the one I just served to you, and butter. But boy did we look forward to breakfast time every day. We were such a close family.
Amara was amazed to see how much a person could talk about breakfast. Before she could even realize, her attention had already wandered away. While her body remained sitting on that chair, her mind had meandered to the second floor. She pictured herself climbing that long, carpeted staircase, as the lady of the house. She could really feel the lacquered railing under her palms as she smoothly ran her hand through it with every step.
Her chest bloated with pride, as she reached the second floor and turned around, glancing down at the magnificence behind every corner of her very own palace. She then headed towards the master bedroom, and here is where the lead to her every step was entirely crafted by her imagination, as she had never visited that part of the house.
A room as big as an Olympic pool greeted her with its beautiful red satin curtains and windows that reached all the way up to the ceiling, allowing the light of the sun to run free around the walls, which were covered with pictures of her and her family.
She slowly entered the room, almost tasting ever step, and closed her eyes. She kept walking, with her eyes closed and her arms extended to the sides, feeling the warm sunrays on her face, while inhaling the smell of freedom.
A breeze, cold as the fart of a snowman, she thought, froze her smile and disheveled her hair even more than it already was. She opened her eyes abruptly to find herself in complete, utter darkness. She was still in the room, that was a fact, but at the same time, she was not.
The room was different; everything seemed to have been coated with the darkest existing shade of black, even outside the windows. It appeared as if someone had nailed a thick wooden block, completely covering them from top to bottom.
And yet, somehow, she could see. She was unsure where was the light coming from, or if there was light at all, but she could see as clearly as when the sun was shining, just a minute ago. She remembered the pictures on the walls, and slowly turned around to face them.
A million Amaras stared back at her, with exactly the same terrified look on their faces, as every picture had turned into a mirror. She took a step closer to them, still unbelieving of her own sight, as they all did the same. Suddenly, the Amaras in the smaller mirrors smiled, followed by those on the larger ones. They all let out a jolly giggle, and quickly changed their expression to a lifeless one. They were now staring back at her, plainly, without blinking.
She tried to look at them all at the same time, but the wall was too large and they were too many. Anxiety crawled up her chest like a giant spider as she stood there, horrified by the thought that those reflections out of her sight were left free to play games on her.
Suddenly, the pupils of the Amara on the smallest mirror started to grow and kept expanding until the iris turned into a black marble. The pupils of the neighboring Amaras did the same.
As they grew, a distant whistle resounded from the farthest end of the room. It was like the call of a godforsaken tribe of beings that was lost in time and space, somewhere on the vast corners of the world.
The whistle slowly faded, giving space for the sound of silence. After a few deaf seconds, a bouncy and upbeat song savagely enveloped the room, beginning with zippy piano chords and perky cymbals. Amara found this song familiar, although she could not remember when or where she had heard it.
“Joan heard a bang bang bang
Coming from her bedroom door door door”
The instruments kept playing, as the Amara’s on the wall started giggling, amused by the beat. The giggling soon turned into laughter. Strenuous, unruly laughter.
“Gets up from bed and leans on the lacquered wood
She knocks knocks knocks shyly in return
A groan so loud is heard from the other side
Crowned by a sound roar”
The same stanza of the song played over and over, as the pupils kept growing, while their rollicking laughter seemed to know no ending. The pupils grew out of proportion, out of the sockets of their eyes, twisting the eyebrows and melting the skin on the cheekbones. They kept deforming the faces until each skull was left with two holes the size of black ostrich eggs. And they kept growing.
“She’s still alive!!! Cried a voice that drowned
Joan smiled as she slowly opened the door…”
The music in the room was so loud Amara was convinced her eardrums were as big as the eyes on those bloody things on the walls, just about to explode. As this thought crossed her mind, she could feel her whole body began to freeze, while she remained helplessly standing there, petrified, upon a sudden realization that there was something in the room she could not see, only feel.
“… And made sure those voices woke her up no more”
She had discovered that the sound of horror began with a briskly song.
A strong presence at her right side was watching her and moving forward while -she could hardly believe it- dancing fervently to the song. She could hear its amused steps until its breath bristled every hair on the back of her neck.
It was standing out of her vision range, and yet, she could feel it perfectly. In that moment, she was using a different set of eyes, ones that came from her insides. She was unaware of what exactly was standing behind her. But it didn’t matter; she knew it was here for her. It knew… it knew everything…
A stench so revolting it made her want to throw up her entire brain swathed her head, inside and out. The reek of countless bodies, deeply sealed in a chamber of putrefaction, burned her eyes and assaulted her insides.
An electric shock kicked inside of her, allowing her to regain a minimum control over her numbed body. She slowly turned around, feeling like a corpse. The corner of her eye twisted to the side, cautiously, as the noise in the room intensified, ripping her brain like claws on raw flesh.
Her head started swinging to the rhythm of the song, as she felt the tight rope of sanity become slack and follow the beat as well. She understood now that the bizarre music was not being played by anything in the room, but from inside her head.
Suddenly, a grin she could not explain was drawn across her lips, while, at the same time, she mechanically turned her head to face whatever was standing behind her… and then her body followed…
-Do you like daffodils?
Amara needed to close her eyes, adjusting them to the bright rays of the midday sun that entered through the kitchen windows. Corbyn had finally stopped talking and was staring at her with wide open eyes, in deep eagerness for an answer.
-Oh, dear, I was just talking to you about flowers. My favorite ones are also the simplest of them all; purple lilies. However, daffodils stand on second place, but I can’t have them at home because I’m allergic to them. Do you like daffodils?
I must have dozed off, she assumed, as she blamed that twisted nightmare on those countless late nights she spent smoking by the musty motel pool, unable to dive into the realms of sleep.
-Eh… no. I mean, yes, yes, I do.
-Good! That makes it two of us – Corbyn said, followed by some repetitive, amused clapping – Now let me show you the rest of the house.
Corbyn stood up, grabbed his cane, and headed off towards the kitchen door, where he stood, waiting for her. After a few seconds, which felt eternal, a still very puzzled Amara stood up from the table and began following the old man’s steps back into the living room.
As she approached the kitchen door, he stared at her and started mumbling something again. It was then that a sudden realization struck her startled mind.
A vivid memory of her recent nightmarish vision passed through her eyes like a shooting star, as she realized Corbyn was not blinking. Just like the Amaras staring back at her from the wall.
Chapter 3: The squirrel
A light stream of smoke rose from Amara’s cigarette, as she closed her eyes in great delight while inhaling the smell of solitude, sitting on the moldy chaise longue by the motel pool; her personal space of nightly pause.
A dark shadow approached her at a fast pace, interrupting her moment.
-So, how did it go? – Said Jerry, as he sat on another moldy chaise longue next to hers and leaned forward, as some fine employer in the middle of an interview that wasn’t going so well.
-Fine, I guess. Just the average kind of old-dude crazy – She answered, adopting a careless pose while smoking the last of her cigarette.
-Did he ask many questions?
-Not really, not personal questions at least. The guy just never stops talking so there is not much space for me to tell personal stuff.
Jerry straightened his upper body while taking a deep breath, emitting a sound found somewhere between a strive for patience and irritability. He then resumed his know-it-all entrepreneur pose.
A stray cat interrupted Jerry’s question, with a scratchy meow that echoed all the way down the street, bumping along the walls of the neighboring houses. The sound made Jerry mad, as it ruined his dramatic moment, while Amara felt anxiety grow up high as the smoke puffs emerging from her mouth.
-When do you think we can get this done with? – He asked, like a father inquiring his scholar daughter about her poor grades.
-I don’t know, Jerry.
-You don’t know? And what should we do about that? Don’t come here telling me you are getting cold feet! He is old as cheese, he lives alone, how much easier than that?!?!
Jerry closed his eyes as he took a deep breath, then stood from his chaise lounge and sat next to his wife, before placing a hypocritical hand on her shoulder.
-That way we can invest your father’s money on a better school for Levi, on a better life for us! We would worry about everything else, but having a roof over our heads. Nothing is going to just fall down from the sky for us, except the roof. And that is something you very well know.
She wanted to tell him that maybe they should just call the whole thing off, maybe they should just accept their reality and face it, fight to change it, just like everybody else does. How do other people deal with problems like theirs? How do others find their way out of the gutter? Are they not capable enough as everyone else? Are they not strong enough? Was this truly their only chance to jump out of the quicksand? There had to be another way that didn’t involve getting their hands dirty and their souls stained for life. Determined, she put the cigarette down and turned around to face him.
A loud splash sounded a few feet away from them, making them both jump out of the chaise lounge, deeply startled.
Something had fallen in the filthy pool.
Jerry shook it off, instantly blaming it on some neighboring squirrel that had missed the edge, given the frowsty darkness that enveloped the area at that time of the night.
Amara nodded at first, but her uneasy instincts quickly noted that there was too much water moving around for it to be just a squirrel. Impulsively, she stood from her chair and approached the pool, dragged by the movement and the sound of whatever was striving for dear life down in those murky waters.
As she realized what it was, her heart stopped in a movement so abrupt she could feel it turning into a huge black void, sucking out the air directly from her lungs.
Half her upper body was already in the pool, her hands grabbing and pulling up with all her strength.
Their six-year-old son, Levi, was now laying on the floor next to the pool, not breathing. She saw the whole scene in slow motion and in complete, utter silence.
Jerry pushing that little chest up and down, taking his pulse, pushing some more, trying some improvised mouth-to-mouth breathing, taking the pulse again, pushing some more.
The only sound that awoke in her the sense of hearing was the gurgling of water stuck in Levi’s throat, coming out of his mouth, letting air back in. Those gag reflexes were the sweetest melody she had ever heard.
A second wave of happiness enveloped her body immediately after, brought on by the sound of her son’s coughs, for they revived in her the memory of what Levi’s voice sounded like.
The words in Levi’s dictionary were as numerous as seagulls in a desert, because, for some reason that still remained an enigma to both his parents, one day the boy just decided he didn’t want to talk anymore. He was barely learning how to speak, when suddenly he stopped never to try again. And just like that, Levi’s mysterious world of silence is now on the verge of its fourth anniversary; and counting.
Amara thought about all of this while she hugged the little boy tightly in her arms.
-Let him breathe, woman! – Jerry growled, as his still shaky hands tried to clumsily pull him up from the floor.
Levi coughed one last time, spitting out the remnant drops of water in his throat.
-What the fuck happened?
-Jerry, the language in front of the boy! I’ve told you a thousand times.
A now surprisingly calm Levi turned his head towards his father, and stared at him for a couple of seconds, with irritated and soaking eyes. He then extended his left hand towards his head, imitating rain falling down from the roof with his fingers; while a dead serious expression remained on his little face.
-God damn it, those fucking holes on the roof again.
-Let’s just go get him changed, Jerry.
Jerry took the boy and headed straight to their room; Amara walked behind them. However, after only taking a few steps into the garden, a strange force took hold of her body, forcing her to stop for a second. She stood there, half her body drenched in that mucky water, while she watched her husband speed walking to their motel room, holding their child, who was also soaking wet with that same filth.
The ceaseless noise made by those droplets when falling down from the roof started playing in her mind again, following the now so familiar tempo. Two consecutive drops, then a single one, two consecutive drops, then a single one, her mind kept playing.
-I take it there is no other way then – She said, pulling a bittersweet grin she could not explain, while thinking how those drop sounds could be the soundtrack of her current family life.
She resumed her steps towards their room, hoping Levi doesn’t wake up the next day with a stomach infection.
Chapter 4: Babbles
-A little bit to the right, dear.
The bottom end of Mr. Corbyn’s cane was pointed up towards the top right drawer of the kitchen, as he was instructing his new maid on how to properly store vanilla cookies in the right marble colored jar.
-Splendid! Splendid, dear. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go upstairs so you can finish cleaning up the kitchen.
Amara waited patiently, till the sound of the cane hitting the stairs was no longer audible. The absolute silence that enveloped the kitchen served as her personal cue for something that had abducted her entire attention since she got there in the morning, though her body had been mechanically busy attending Corbyn’s whims. She turned around and departed the kitchen.
Her eyes took a quick glance at the top of the stairs, to make sure she was not being watched. After indeed confirming the terrain was clear, she tip-toed across the living room, to the back of the stairs, where the door to the basement was waiting for her in all its splendor of rust and moth dust.
She turned the knob carefully, as if she was performing a high-risk heart surgery, begging for it not to make any noise. A rusty creak, though almost inaudible, was loud enough to accelerate the beating of her heart like a speedometer in a Formula 1 race. As her mind exploded with excuses to justify her being there, she leaned her whole body on the door, pushing inwards in sheer desperation for it to open.
A whimper, far louder than the noise made by the door, escaped Amara’s mouth, as she realized the basement light was on. The brightest light bulb she had ever seen hanged from the ceiling, at the far end of an unusually long wooden staircase, blindingly illuminating the steps. The walls, painted a pristine white, got lost at the end of the staircase, together with her vision frame.
What was Corbyn keeping down there that required so much illumination? Amara realized that was the closest she had ever felt to a moth. Her eyes opened wide, deeply, mercilessly attracted to that light. Losing her ability to think and her sense of caution, she began her way down those stairs, swearing to have heard her name called out of that little glass bulb.
A playful shadow was moving back and forth, bouncing on every wall and corner of the room, although she could not point out exactly what it was. She just kept descending, as slowly and quietly as a scared house mouse, walking by a pathway filled with mousetraps.
She bent her knees and leaned down to peek, and it was then her eyes opened up like plates for the second time that day. The earsplitting sound of sheer terror escaped from her insides, at the same time her legs lost strength and slipped. Amara rolled down the stairs, without interrupting her piercing chant of desperation and horror.
The body of a man kept swinging from a rope, hanging from the ceiling. It kept swinging long after Amara had reached the floor, kept swinging as she came back to her senses, and continued swinging non-stop as she stood up and gathered enough strength to turn around and stare at it again.
And then, it continued swinging some more.
Amara stood up and remained staring at the body in a trance, unable to take her sight away from it. The walls and the ceiling were entirely painted in white, and there was nothing else stored in that basement but the pendulum body.
Suddenly, it stopped.
A few seconds passed, while Amara kept staring straight towards the now still, hanging body; her eyes drying out from the lack of blinking.
And then, slowly, it began to turn around.
The deadly silence that had taken hold of that basement was slenderly broken by the frail sound of the twisting rope.
The time it took for the body to turn around seemed to Amara like hours. Who is that? Do you really want to know? She asked herself.
But you already know…
What was that sound? Amara felt the voice in her head as loud as that of a real person. Who said that?
Yet her thoughts were aggressively interrupted once she saw the face. Jerry’s lifeless body stared back at her, his face melting over an unnatural, crooked grin.
She screamed louder than her voice capacity ever did; louder than a million screams of pain and denial, all raising their voices at the same time. Her hands, violently shaking, covered her face in agony.
-WHAT’S THE MATTER DEAR!? What is it!?!?
Corbyn’s shaky, worried voice echoed up from the basement door. The sound of his cane hit hard on the wooden steps as he put all his effort in getting as close as he could to his beyond disturbed maid.
Amara opened her eyes and followed the old man’s voice. She raised her soaking, bloated face to find her three-legged employer already mid-way down the basement stairs, staring down at her like she was some insane asylum dropout.
-What happened dear? – He asked again in a softer but equally preoccupied tone.
Amara couldn’t even speak. Her countless efforts to vocalize words deemed futile, as she only succeeded at emanating unintelligible babbles.
By the time she understood that no comprehensible language was to escape her mouth for a while, Corbyn had already reached the bottom of the staircase. Amara kept pointing her wobbly finger at the center of the room, right where the body was, while her other hand covered her face.
-There is nothing there, dear. What have you seen? Look, look, there is nothing there…
Corbyn grabbed Amara’s hand, turning it away from her deranged face. Gathering all the courage in the world, she turned her head towards the basement.
Dozens of old boxes, all cautiously labeled with a white tag, surrounded a rather dim room, whose only source of illumination was a cloudy lightbulb embedded on the concrete ceiling.
Right at the center of the room there was a little gymnasium, composed only by a treadmill, an elliptical and a chest press machine.
-I come here to work out every day, dear. Besides, the stairs are good to exercise my stiff leg – He said, letting out his familiar jolly giggle, in an attempt to ease the tension – Now, how would you like to take a deep breath and go upstairs with me to have a nice cup of chamomile? I bet it will make you feel a lot better.
Amara’s gaze was fixated on the gym, only leaving it to look at the ceiling right on top of it and back at the gym again. Now it was Corbyn who was beginning to freak out over her unnerving and unbelieving expression.
Corbyn pulled Amara’s arm for a few seconds, until she finally yielded. They both climbed up the stairs towards the basement door, turning off the light as they closed it.
Chapter 5: Chamomille
-Here you go; a little chamomile, a little sugar and a little something else; my holy mother´s secret ingredient to help us relax after a stressful day.
Amara wasn’t even listening. Her still wobbly hands mechanically received the cup of chamomile, while her now blank mind seemed to be still finding its way back to the kitchen.
-Would you like some more sugar?
-Eh… no, no thanks.
-Take it easy, dear. Don’t worry. Sometimes our mind plays tricks on us. Such a thing happens to everyone and is perfectly normal. You see, I myself sometimes forget where I put my stuff! From things that are very important to me, that hold lovely memories, to things I need for my everyday use. For example, yesterday, someone was calling on the phone; it kept ringing and ringing, but I never answered, you know why? Because I couldn’t find my denture! How was I supposed to talk?
Corbyn roared with laughter on his chair, lifting both his legs from the floor and holding his knees with his hands. Amara stared at him for a while, and then responded with a mild smile.
Suddenly, he stopped. His wild laughter was promptly switched to a dead serious expression.
-You must be under a lot of stress aren´t you?
Amara stared at him directly for a second, paying full attention to a question of his for the first time. But her gaze quickly turned away, elusively.
-What is it, dear? You can tell me. I have no one to talk to, really, and even if I did, I would never betray a friend’s confession. There is something deeply troubling you, something that is keeping you up at night, am I right?
Amara tried by all means to avoid Corbyn’s stare. Her eyes kept fixated on the now empty cup of chamomile.
-What is it?
The old man now leaned towards her and extended his hand, reaching out to her side.
-You can tell me… You can tell me anything… – He whispered.
She could not avoid it any longer. His round, wide eyes stared at her like two bright lamps in an interrogation room; incisive, unflinching, unbearable.
The noise of the doorbell resonated throughout the house, completely seizing the attention of Amara’s personal owl.
-Oopsies! That must be the postman. Be right back! – Said the old man, as he grabbed his cane and departed towards the main door.
In a blink of an eye, Amara was left alone in the kitchen. A sturdy gust of adrenaline possessed her body, her head turned violently towards the kitchen door and then to the opposite side of the table, where the meat knives were.
Like a predator after its prey, she stood up and grabbed the sharpest one, the boning knife, and held it as steadily as she could. As she pointed the blade towards the kitchen door, she found her reflection on the neatly polished steel.
Not once in her lifetime had she seen herself so pale, so lifeless and so freakishly terrified. Suddenly, the adrenaline vanished.
What are you doing? Why are you holding that knife? Who are you? She asked herself.
She had no clue about the weird shit that had been going on, but this was not her. Certainly not me; she kept repeating, now out loud.
She put the knife down and went back to sit at the table, feeling like she had just been hit by a car.
What do you want, Amara? She asked, desperation overflowing her voice. What do you really want?
Truth is, all she wanted to do was forget. She wanted to forget those brain splitting visions, she wanted to forget Corbyn, and the house, and the auction, and the plan.
For a split of a second, she even thought she wanted to forget about Jerry, and pictured herself leaving town with her son towards a fresh start somewhere far away.
But she did love him. She didn’t understand why, she just knew she did. There was a powerful, unexplainable force attracting her to Jerry just as she was helplessly drawn to that blinding light bulb down at the basement.
She couldn’t leave him; and she couldn’t leave Levi without his father. She wanted them to be happy. After everything they have been through for so many years, all three of them sure deserved to be happy.
But, as the faithful believer of karma that she was, she was also fucking scared. Amara knew that such an abhorrent burden would remain forever stabbed on her back, like the knife she pretended to thrust in Corbyn’s chest two minutes ago, in a flash of unruly insanity.
She wanted the plan to stop. Quit everything, throw the whole thing overboard. Go back to their miserable but dignified lives, ruled by scarcity and refrain. Anything but having to deal with whatever was tormenting her mind and soul like that. It was that plan; the whole idea of it was frying her brain and destroying her whole being.
As she realized Corbyn was taking a hell of a long time for just having gone to answer the mailman, her eyes aimlessly wandered towards the wall clock.
And then she knew it was too late, for Jerry was already on the way to Porchester Manor.
Chapter 6: The bowtie
At ten past six in the afternoon, ten minutes past Amara’s leaving time, Mr. Corbyn was upstairs taking his second daily bath. Unlike the morning one, which symbolized the perfect closure for his sporty routine and a fresh start of a new day, the afternoon bath chased the objective of relaxation and equanimity.
The hot steam flowed out of the little bathroom window, getting lost with the last rays of the sun.
At a quarter past six, the yellow glass window on the back door in the kitchen was overshadowed by the figure of a man. The rusty, brass doorknob was turned, slowly, just like the hot water handle in Corbyn’s bathroom.
Jerry tiptoed into the kitchen, while his eyes scanned the area, making sure he was alone. He walked forward to the kitchen’s swinging door and pushed it open just enough to peek into the living room.
Seeing that it was empty, he proceeded to get himself, and the brown bag he was carrying on his shoulders, through the door.
-Where the hell are you? – He said, attempting to whisper but failing.
-Shhhh! Keep it down! He is right upstairs in the bathroom – Said Amara, all the way across the living room, at the back of the stairs.
Jerry rushed to meet his wife, without taking his eyes off the second floor, right where the old man’s room was.
-Where’s the basement?
Amara was standing by the basement door, staring at him nervously; her hands shaking as much as they did the first time she was down there. Her pleading eyes, wide open like a couple of golf balls, stared at her husband with extenuating despair, in hope that he would read between the lines and understand the message she was conveying with all her energy. But reading had never been Jerry’s mastery.
-Where is it?!?! For today, woman!!!
-Eh… it is… it is right here.
Jerry fiercely pushed the door open and proceeded to run down the stairs, taking two at the time.
One thing Amara was sure of was that she would rather wait in the shower with Corbyn himself than go down into that basement again. Without leaving space for Jerry to complain, she shut the door and fled back to the kitchen.
At seven o’clock in the evening, the macerated steam in the old man’s bathroom finally found an exhaust source, as he opened the door. The sound of the hair dryer, which Corbyn refused to abandon in honor of those last five grey hairs still faithfully attached to his scalp, concealed the steady footsteps of his newest house guest, who had opened the basement door and was heading towards the master bedroom.
Jerry placed his hand on the wooden sphere on the railing, as he proceeded upstairs to the second floor.
The only source of light left in the house was coming from the small lamp on the old man’s nightstand, Jerry noticed, as he stood on the last step of the staircase. He then struck up a close friendship with the shadows, who provided him with a perfect place to hide, as he watched his naive victim rest his cane next to the table, take off his fluffy white bunny slippers, and place his denture in a glass of water, before getting into bed.
The acute darkness that engulfed the feeble nightstand light, as it was turned off, was the cue for his feet to start moving out of his hiding place and into the master bedroom.
Men that age sure fall asleep fast, he thought. A jaunty, yet heinous grin spread across his face, as he stood by the side of the resting man, who calmly slept the dream of the innocent.
The rope on his hand began its journey, steady, severe, unforgiving, towards the old man’s neck, stopping right at the top of his head, ready for the sharp move that would grant its position as the deadliest bowtie ever worn.
Jerry reassured himself, feeling strength and confidence gather up inside of him, as he knew, positively, that this old man was the closest he would ever be to a human raisin.
Time is running, his mind said, as he proceeded to make the move.
A whisper, that could have been perfectly lost with the sounds of the night, bristled every hair on Jerry’s neck, as it came all the way from the bedroom door.
-Don’t wake him, young man, please, listen to me.
Jerry turned around, slowly; his legs had begun to tremble far more than those of a man with a cane.
The old man was standing by the door, his index finger placed over his mouth, while his eager eyes, open as those of an owl, stared right at him, pleadingly.
-Don’t touch that, come here, stay away from it.
Jerry, who had already forgotten how to blink, tried his best to adjust his sight to the dark, making sure it was not his eyes, nor his mind, who were playing tricks on him.
He turned around towards the bed again, facing what was supposed to be the same person that was now speaking to him from outside the room, and saw a black shadow, that still resembled a sleeping man, although he could not sort out who it was.
Almost as in a trance, Jerry began walking towards the door, as his startled eyes could not move away from the black lump resting on the bed.
-What are you doing, son? Don’t mind that, it will be gone by morning – Corbyn said, still whispering, as he began walking across the corridor, towards the furthest room of the house, waving at Jerry to follow him.
Jerry didn’t know what to do. He stood like an idiot at the top of the staircase, staring back and forth between the master bedroom and the steps taken by the old man, across the hall.
Instead, he rushed downstairs looking for his wife. He called her once, twice, nothing. He went to look for her by the basement door, nothing. Then he went over towards the kitchen door.
-Hey, what are you doing down there? The kitchen door should not be opened at this time of the night. Trust me, you don’t want to see what rests in there – The old man was now standing in the middle of the staircase, showing him a light, relaxed smile. Jerry turned his back on the still closed kitchen door, while his mind froze in horror, not knowing which Corbyn was this; the one in bed or the one standing at the bedroom door.
-You know what? Forget it, I’m sorry I broke in, I was just looking for my wife and…
Suddenly, the old man’s face went back to a dead serious expression, his index finger flew through the air again and rested on his lips, telling Jerry to lower his voice.
-Keep it down! – He said, whispering, while he completed his journey down the stairs – It is too late, son. At this time of the night it is better if you do not open any doors at all.
Jerry just stood there, the mask of bewilderment and confusion now completely worn all over his face.
-Come on, lad. Just follow me, you can leave at dawn – He said, tapping Jerry on the shoulder before heading back upstairs.
Jerry hesitated for a few seconds, and then decided to follow him.
Midway to the second floor, however, he stopped in his tracks. The old guy continued walking and got lost in the darkness, as Jerry was struck with a realization. This Corbyn version was not walking on a cane; he climbed downstairs and up again like a twenty-year old.
-Screw this – Jerry said, as he turned around.
-NOOO!!! DON’T GO!!!
As if he had been observing everything, Corbyn emerged from the corridor shadows on the second floor and began chasing after Jerry, who flashed down towards the kitchen door.
-DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR!!!
Even this unusual cane-less version of Corbyn was not fast enough to catch Jerry. The old man kept screaming from the stairs, as his unsolicited tenant reached the kitchen door and flung it open.
And then there was silence.
Jerry held the door open and stared inside. The kitchen was dark and empty, just as any other kitchen at night. He immediately turned around to see if the old man was still standing on the staircase. But the house seemed empty; there were no signs of Corbyn anymore.
He needed to find his wife. He was about to raise his left hand in search for the light switch, but something interrupted the plan, as his left hand seemed to be busy holding something.
Jerry’s legs trembled for the second time that day, far worse than they did the first time, as he saw what his hand was holding. Losing complete control over his body, he collapsed on the floor.
The black, shiny cane now lied on the floor, tangled between his legs after the fall. Still astonished, he put his hands on each side, in an attempt to lift his body up.
And it was then his eyes opened so much they almost fell out of their sockets. His hands were no longer as he knew them. Wrinkled, yellowish hands now stood on the floor right before his eyes. While still kneeling, Jerry raised both his hands towards his face, and toured through every inch of his skin with his skinny fingers.
His raisin-like fingertips travelled through countless deep grooves and creases, impregnated on his skin due to the passing of years he never lived through. He violently stood up, feeling the stiffness on his left leg, the explanation for the cane.
He stumbled on the kitchen counter, in search for a mirror or something of the sort. The meat knives greeted him from their wooden case. He took the sharpest one and placed the blade in front of his face.
The dead silence of the neighborhood was broken by the screams cast by Jerry’s foreign throat. He remained there, petrified, holding the knife in front of his face, watching his toothless mouth open in a never-ending scream.
While submerged in the deep ocean of paralyzing despair, he didn’t realize there was someone approaching the kitchen door. A rope was held in his hands with a tight grip, steady, severe, unforgiving.
Chapter 7: A man of his word
Jerry went silent, as he heard the rusty hinges of the swinging door. The corner of his eyes turned, slowly, to meet the most recent visitor of the kitchen. Before he could fully turn around, the rope, tightly held by a couple of strong hands, reached his neck and squeezed it tight, attempting to leave the room for air as narrow as Jerry’s hope to escape unharmed.
He leaned back, while gathering all of his strength and concentration into violently sinking his elbows into his attacker’s ribs, a retaliation that deemed pointless, for the man continued standing like a sturdy tree.
He turned around; his frail strength pushed far beyond its normal capabilities, as the strive for survival forced him to focus in both, fighting the attacker and keeping his stiff leg up with the rest of his body. He stumbled over the kitchen chairs, pushing the table forward in a deafening hustle, and falling, flat on the ground. The attacker lost balance too, an event that granted Jerry with an opening between the rope and his neck, where he could successfully place his fingers, and his hope.
Both of Jerry’s knees leaned against the cold kitchen floor, as the attacker remained standing behind him, stretching the rope. His bony fingers pulled away in slow motion, desperately trying to broaden the space between the rope and his crinkly neck; fighting hand to hand with death, literally.
And he was losing. His feeble strength began to yield, as the thought of letting go was speeding fast towards becoming the most sensible choice. What chances did he have against this young, strong man, anyway? While still holding the rope, he lowered his elbows and stared deadly at the kitchen door, waiting for destiny to happen.
And then the door swung open.
A shock of light was revived from the deepest corner of Jerry’s soul, as he saw Amara come into the kitchen.
He wanted to cry his heart out, tell her how happy he was to see her, and just how extraordinarily timely her appearance was. He wanted to tell her how sorry he was for all the times he treated her like trash, for all those times when he neglected and disparaged her. There were no words to express how much he wanted to thank her.
Amara screamed and covered her eyes, which gave Jerry a chance to finally push his attacker away. He lied on the ground, coughing his brains out, as air finally poured into his lungs again, like a wispy stream of water running down the throat of a survivor in the middle of the desert.
-Jerry, please, we should just call it off.
He raised his head and, for the first time in his whole life, was about to fully agree with his wife, when he got interrupted.
-Are you nuts? We have gone way too far now. There is no turning back.
Those words felt like the most abrasive iron burning every inch of flesh in Jerry’s brain, for that voice was no one’s but his own. He looked up at Amara and reached the farthest point in his personal journey of horror, as he realized she was not speaking to him.
With the only force left in his drained body, he turned around to finally face his attacker, who was standing about a meter behind him.
The confident smile he had worn his entire life to show off in moments of triumph, was now cast back at him with no need of a mirror.
Desperation took hold of him like a million ants crawling everywhere around his body.
-Amara, what are you doing?!?! It’s me, Jerry!!! IT’S ME!!!
Amara turned her eyes down towards him. Horror had possessed her entire being in a way he had never seen before, not ever, since the very first day he met her, almost fifteen years ago. Almost automatically, she turned around and pushed the door, in an attempt to escape not the kitchen, but the vision inside of it. However, instead of taking a step outside, she stopped and turned around again, this time with a totally different expression.
-No, not again. You are not going to get me this time. Not another fucking trick of yours, Mr. Corbyn. Not another vision like the one in the basement.
-What vision? – Asked the now stronger and younger man of the house.
-Something this one placed in my mind. I don’t know how he does it, but man he can meddle with people’s minds. And that was not the first time…
Jerry had already stopped listening to his wife’s words. Instead, he chose to remember the meat knives. Those silent witnesses of the entire scene, who innocently observed everything from that neat wooden case.
He stood up as fast as he could, throwing himself on the counter. His hand tightly grabbed the handle of the boning knife again, pointing it, with a more than wobbly hand, towards his newfound alter-ego.
-I don’t know who the fuck you are, but you are going to move your ass away from that door and let me through.
-What are you gonna do, old man? – He replied, with the same level of calmness as if he was asking a nun about her weekend plans.
Jerry knew the prize of the game would be his life. A risky as hell move was all he had left. Channeling all of his weight on his right leg, he jumped over his impostor, boning knife on his right hand, travelling through the air like a murder plane.
They both fell to the floor, just as the impostor’s reflexes commanded his stolen hand to send the shiny blade’s flight mission on a crash landing. He held the old man’s wrist tightly, deviating the knife at first, but then, to Jerry’s deep astonishment, he slowly drew the pointy blade back towards his own chest.
-AMARA!!! Please, help me!!! AMARA!!! Get this old man off of me!!! – Fake Jerry began to squeal at the poor appalled woman.
The pocket on fake Jerry’s white shirt dyed into a deep velvet, as a small stream of blood was drawn from the wound he was carving on his own chest. The old man stood over him, feeling the useless tight grip he kept on the knife, for at this point, it seemed that too had turned its back on him.
The impostor let the blade get deep enough to wound him but not to kill him, as he laid on the floor, appointing to Amara, through continuous cries for help, to do what was needed.
She was still standing by the kitchen door, her eyes wildly turning from a fight doomed to become a crime scene and the wooden case on the counter, still filled with kitchen knives.
Jerry turned his head towards his wife, seeing her determined steps heading in slow motion towards the counter. In a flash of retrieved youth and strength, he released himself from the impostor’s grip and stood up, grabbed the rusty brass doorknob, pushed the kitchen service door open and ran outside the house.
Despite his stiff leg, he managed to reach the end of the backyard, when the sound of a heavy object cutting through the air would rule his astounding marathon a worthless effort.
The boning knife happened to have departed the house behind him, slashing the air until it reached his neck, and gracefully ending its flight by diving into it.
Amara run through the door and, after a few seconds in the backyard, she smiled in relief as she saw the old man’s motionless body lying right in front of the short wooden fence.
-I didn’t know you were so skilled with knives – Said Amara after a short pause, proudly staring at her husband’s face.
Jerry decided not to ruin the moment with any replies and just kept smiling, proud of being a man of his word.
For, like he said before, he surely was not going to leave this world being a man on a cane.
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