Ghosts

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Italo Calvino said: The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts. Describe the ghosts that live in this house:  Image credit: “love Don’t live here anymore…” – © 2009 Robb North – made available under Attribution 2.0 Generic

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Brick by brick, Thomas laid down the foundation for his life. Brick by brick, Elsa felt the links added to her chains. It weighed her down, his smile and gentle kisses. She felt like she was drowning at the bottom of the lake she could see from her bedroom window.  She loathed the way her soul trembled at his touch or the way she would twist and moan when he nibbled upon her flesh. Each night she would cry out for more and each morning she wanted to smother him with his own pillow. Elsa would spend hours just watching Tom sleep, imagining how he would thrash and gasp for air as she stole it from him, inhaling his breaths in silence as he slept. Never had he raised a hand against her or given her false hopes. Thomas had been everything a family could want. A loving husband and a dedicated father, but it didn’t change the matter whenever she closed her eyes all she saw was the man’s demise.

“He left us…he’s not coming back..” Elsa stated firmly, not a  glimmer of remorse as she muttered a half assed explanation on the whereabouts of the children’s father.

“Why? Why would he leave? Where did he go?” Glen pleaded, desperate for answers while his younger brother Joseph sat on the floor before the fireplace screaming for their father.

“SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP JOE!” Elsa screamed back, her delicate hand flying through the air to leave a small, reddish welt upside the child’s cheek. “He left us! He didn’t love us! He’s not coming back, so we just have to learn to survive without him!” The mother’s eyes, normally a bright emerald green, were almost black in the shadows casted across the walls by the flames. The detached and cold glare that penetrated through the boy’s skin, commanded them both to cringe and huddle together in fear from their mother’s anger.

“No…Daddy..loves us…” Glen whispered bravely, his voice trembling and cracking as his mother’s arm snapped outwards to grip the boy’s arm. Elsa squeezed his shoulder to firmly keep Glen in place, Joe intertwined  around his brother’s other arm, thus commanding both into unquestionable obedience as she crouched down to their eye level. When Elsa locked with her boy’s baby blues, the familiar green of her eyes glistened like starlight, acting like a shroud harboring a desolate darkness to reveal tiny flecs of black tearing through her irises. Something wicked had escaped the woman’s facade.

“..Then..why did he leave us, if he loves us?” Elsa whispered back to Glen, her voice slicing through the silence like a hot knife through butter, venomous and deceit dripping off her meaning. When the boys didn’t answer the woman smiled, a condescending sweetness against her frightful stare. “..Because….my boys…he does….NOT…love us…maybe ..maybe he couldn’t take you two anymore with your lies and mischief? Maybe he found himself a  WHORE…to keep himself warm. Think of whatever reason you want…it doesn’t change the fact that he is gone..and he’s not coming back.” Elsa cleared her throat, gently releasing her grip as she pushed herself back to her feet. “Now, run outside to play while I finish dinner..”

The boys hesitated for a moment until their mother turned her back to them and they bolted out the door hand in hand. Glen did not even slow his pace as he picked up a lantern on his way out that sat beside the front  door. There were only a few moments of sunlight left as that distant beacon hovered over the horizon. Strange on this day, the reflecting light cascading down the hillside and shadowing down the treeline, mimicked a blood red, mirroring the sky’s swirls of violets and blacks in the lake’s murky waters. The sun popped out, painted almost and foreboding with wisps of red clouds clustered around the light, dripping like blood off a wound, as it faded behind the earth.

“Glen…” Little Joey whimpered behind his older brother, tugging lightly on his sleeve. “Why would Daddy leave without us?”

Glen was silent for a long time as he watched the sun disappear and the stars begin to flicker down from the indigo blanket above. He casually lit the lantern that hung at his side, raising it beside his face as she lead his brother down towards the lake, the sounds of crickets and katydids chorusing into their familiar song that brought a strange amount of comfort, however brief. Finally, the boy turned to his brother with a sigh, picked up a rock and skipped it casually across the lake. His blue eyes rippled just like those waters with tears he struggled to hold onto as he answered with a ‘matter of fact’ tone to his brother’s question. “Dad…left ‘Her’. He didn’t leave us. “

“He..didn’t bring us with him, Glen…he left us with her…” Joey began to sniffle, copying his brother by picking up a rock and trying to skip it across the water’s surface.

“Maybe he’ll come back…” Glen whispered, unsure of his own words.

“Why can’t we go look for him? I want to go with Daddy.” Joey muttered.

Glen looked away from Joseph, his shoulders slumped in a defeated gesture when he didn’t have an answer for his brother. He felt the same as he did. Glen wanted to leave and search for their father, but he was afraid. Afraid of the world, afraid of their mother coming after them, and afraid that he wouldn’t be able to protect his little brother. “Maybe..” He began, his voice cut off from sudden snaps and snarls of wild animals coming from behind a small shed next to their house. It startled the boys, but nothing unusual for them except that it was a sudden and violent noise. It was common for wild animals to come close to their home at all hours, and even more so in the evening looking for food. The shed over the hill a little ways, was where their father would butcher any game he caught from either traps or a daily hunt.  The smell of blood was enough to attract other predators to come scratching at the door and if they got inside, it was possible for them to fight over a nice piece of venison.

Motioning over to Joey, the boys ran up to the house, Glen handing the lantern over to Joey so that he could pick up an axe that laid against a tree stump by the back door. Sometimes they found racoons fighting over the innards left over from gutting a carcass, but most of the time they would find coyotes. The moment Glen and his brother were seen though, whatever the beasts were, scattered and yipped off into the tall grass towards the woods, flickers of amber in their eyes catching the light from the lantern. The door to the shed was open and not broken into, but as if someone forgot to click the latch. As the boys moved in closer to inspect their surroundings and insure that no little creatures were left inside, Glen turned to close and lock the door. At first, he didn’t notice anything. It was dark, and the light from the lantern only sent a tunnel beam of light between the floor and the ceiling. It was when he almost slipped that he noticed the  pool of blood that had spilled from inside the shed and escaped from the gaps beneath the door. He bent down to inspect the blood further, noting how it had thicken and was cool to the touch.

“Joey..hand me the lantern…”

“What is it, Glen?” The boy gawked in a disgusted expression, handing the lantern over as asked and stepped back a bit to give his brother more room. Glen raised the lantern over his head as he stood, illuminating the hooks that hung from the shed’s ceiling, and instantly dropped the lantern to clang and snuff out from the force. In the few seconds Glen’s eyes focused, he had witnessed a large human torso, skinned and missing all appendages, hanging from several hooks, blood overflowing from two buckets that had been lazily placed beneath. He wasn’t sure his eyes were telling him the truth nor was he certain his brother had glimpsed the same horror. The second the light disappeared and the kids were draped in darkness, Joey squealed, causing Glen to spin around. The silhouette of his mother was outlined in the shadows, one hand gently petting Joey’s head in a loving gesture while the other hand  carried one of his father’s meat cleavers. For a moment, the mother and son just stared at one another in silence until Joey’s whimper brought Glen back into reality.

“You..left the shed door open…” Glen whispered accusingly, using his foot to close the door behind him, not needing to look as he instinctually latched the lock.

Elsa snickered, a dry laugh echoing into the darkness causing Joey to squirm where he stood, the woman, gripping a tuft of his hair to coerse Joey to a statue stance. “…I know..” She answered with a hint of fake regret. “…I had my hands…full…I was coming back out to lock it…but I see you boys were being helpful. Coyotes again?” The woman asked, tapping the blade along her thigh in a look of impatience. Before Glen could answer, the wind did so for him, as it carried an eerie and ravenous howl from just beyond the lake. Elsa stiffened, loosening her grip some on Joey when he yelped in fright.

“…No…Wolves…” Glen muttered, somewhat amused by the answer but too uncomfortable for his discovery and the awkward and threatening position his brother was currently in. He wanted to scream or curse. He wanted to demand answers to a sickening ache that was curdling at the pit of his stomach, but he was scared. He didn’t need to see the look in his mother’s eyes to know his brother was in danger.

“Well…we best get inside then…dinner is almost ready.” Elsa said in an overly cheerful voice, placing a guiding hand on Joey’s shoulder as she pushed him towards the house. Elsa waited until Joey was past the back door before turning back towards Glen, unworried that he still held the axe. A clear confidence was in her smile as she leaned against the doorway and waved Glen forward. “Come on, hun…come inside and sit down to dinner with your mother. Trust me, you are better off here with me than with your father…”

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