by tara vanflower
There could have
been a lot of things different. Maybe the mood. Maybe the way the light
sifted through the blinds. It could have even been some inane scent that
was neither good nor bad. But nothing was different, it never was. The
same day that bled to night that bled to day again.
She pulled herself
out of bed after having slept the bulk of the day. Why bother getting up
just to stare at walls? She never left this place, it was never an
She slinked across
the sterile room—it wasn’t sterile really, it was opulent—and she turned
the shower on waiting there naked in front of the mirror for the steam
to come. She liked the way it settled on her skin like a faint touch. She’d
never been touched. The water would be ready when she could no longer see
her willowy frame in the mirror.
Maybe ghostly? As white as milk and frail as onion skin. She studied herself,
same as yesterday, same as the night before that. Her strawberry blonde
hair hadn’t changed a lick her whole life. No sun-kissed highlights, no
geometric cut. Just long and silky like they wanted it.
And why did they
want her? She didn’t even know who they were. She’d only ever heard the
vague whispers through the door when it closed before she’d had a chance
to see who had opened it. She saw a shadow once cast beneath the crack
between the floor and the bottom of the door. Male, had to be male.
She turned around
gasping quickly. Someone there? No. There never was. She was going to die.
Alone. She’d never seen anyone.
She turned back
to look at the mirror. Her breasts disappeared first. They always did,
it was where the steam stuck for some reason. And she watched as her stomach
was devoured, the hair below there that never seemed to fully come in,
her thighs, her legs to the floor. Her face was always last. Always.
She peered into her own eyes. Why was
she alone? What had she done that was so horrible that no one loved her?
She didn’t even know another soul and yet she knew she was alone. Utterly
alone. How can one miss what they don’t even know? Maybe if she never heard
the whispers? Maybe if she never saw the door close? Then maybe she wouldn’t
Her wide, blue
eyes seemed to pulsate, the iris contracting and growing so wide it swallowed
the shimmering blue. She blinked and looked into herself, pretended to
see him, the one who came to her in her dreams. He hadn’t always visited,
only recently, and his face always disappeared as soon as she opened her
eyes not to be remembered again until the next night.
But what was
recently? She had no concept of time here. Recent could mean a lifetime,
it could mean nothing.
That was why
she slept as much as she could. Because of the dreams. Because she wasn’t
alone there even though he hadn’t ever spoken to her.
She dipped her
fingertip tracing the outline of her cheek the way he could—if he wanted
to. She pressed her palm against the wet, warming glass. She watched as
her eyebrows knit together, fear of crying, the moment so beautiful as
she leaned forward pressing her open lips to her own reflection. Her tongue
tasted the dusty steam, just barely, as gently as he would she was sure.
She sighed and
stepped into the water content to warm herself again.
Endless. She’d heard them through the walls this time and felt a sudden
rush of air as something seemed to pass over her as she lay naked in the
center of the bed. There was no reason to dress. Why?
She’d eaten the fruit and half of the
roasted meat and vegetables until she felt she’d burst. She wanted sleep
to come again. But sleep eluded her.
In the last few
years she’d started wondering if she was dead. Maybe she was a ghost? Maybe
she was trapped here reliving some loop, some unresolved issue forcing
her to stay? Maybe the dreams were the other side, another world and life
waiting for her? But she’d tried to figure it all out. She couldn’t unlock
the door to get out of this room and no one was coming for her, obviously.
She never even knew how the food appeared. This added to the questioning
of her mortality.
Yes, she was
dead, she had to be. This was some kind of retribution. But for what? Had
she locked someone away a millennia ago—forced them to be alone—and this
was her punishment? If it was, it wasn’t all bad. It wasn’t painful. And
at least she had the blissful sleep and him to go to. Still, why?
“It must be that
I’m no good.”
She closed her
eyes for the six billionth time and finally slept.
She was sitting
on a patchwork quilt in the middle of a green, green field. Funny, she’d
never been outside and yet she knew what a green, green field would look
like. She looked around her, stood and fumbled in a circle taking in every
sight, what little there was. Only one tree standing alone off in the distance.
It was tall, very tall, and full of lush leaves the size of her head. The
breeze was warm, the air sweet and almost candied. Though she’d never felt
the sun she knew she loved it. She loved it here. And she knew he gave
all of this to her.
Somehow she knew
She sat down
and waited. He would come. She lie back and spread her arms and legs wide
welcoming the strength of the earth beneath her. To her knowledge she’d
never set foot on real soil. She liked that too, she knew. She stared into
the too-blue sky until silver lights flickered like dancing stars and melted
into the peripheral. If she was dead, and this was the other place, the
place she could go once she’d finally paid her price, then she couldn’t
wait much longer.
She jumped up
clutching herself. She’d never heard a real voice. The timbre thundered
in her chest—reverberated through every limb and settled in her stomach.
He stood with
one pink balloon tied to a white curly ribbon in one hand and an elegant
white cupcake with purple icing flowers in the other.
stuttered testing her voice and trying her best not to smile like a giddy
“Hello,” he said
again handing her the cupcake. He kneeled before her on the edge of the
blanket in the grass and tied the balloon around her tiny wrist.
“Eat it,” he said motioning towards the cupcake.
“W-why are you
talking?” she asking licking the icing, savoring the sticky sweetness.
“Today is your
birthday,” he answered sitting down completely.
There was a look
in his eye that she loved. He adored her—maybe he was afraid? Maybe he
knew she was dead and that’s why he was afraid?
allowed a slight smile.
She looked down
hiding the latent grin on her face. Was this really happening? A real birthday
party? A real conversation? In the real sun?
he offered lifting her chin with his finger.
His hand was so warm and soft. A real human finger touching her.
“Is that why
you’re talking to me today?”
He wore a look
of bewilderment. She’d never seen any expression on his face—or any face—and
this was transfixing to her. Was he handsome? She assumed so because her
belly fluttered every time she saw him, but how could she know having no
frame of reference? The truth was he was beautiful to her. He had the deepest,
darkest eyes. Dark like the sky gets outside at night--she assumed, she’d
never seen that either. And his hair might have even been a shade darker
than that. His skin was dark tan, smooth, so much different than her own
skin. Her fingers reached out and she smoothed the delicate pads over his
skin. Like an angel maybe? Maybe he was coming to take her to Heaven?
How did she even
know about Heaven? Maybe that was innate knowledge too?
He flinched then
seemed to warm to her touch, almost as though he feared her. He shouldn’t
fear her; he’d been waiting since she was but a few months old. But still,
this was real now. So perfect.
“Why didn’t you
ever say anything before?” she asked following the swell of his bottom
There it was,
that rumble in her belly again, the low lull of his voice. She’d never
heard anyone speak. It was something she could only ever imagine.
She leaned forward,
just like the mirror, her lips pressed to his, her tongue tasting, barely.
like a cat and rubbed her eyes. Why did she always have to wake up? He’d
finally spoken to her. She didn’t want to wake up ever. She would die—again—if
she had to keep waking up. What had she done to deserve this Hell? It was
Hell, right? She looked over at the clock which always remained ticking.
2:22 PM. Ah, yes, the second day of her twenty-second year. Perfect.
had an awareness of energy. Something stirring. Something out of place.
It was as if the air particles in the room were different. She sat up,
her eyes darting immediately towards the door. It was open—just a crack—but
open. She tipped her head to the side, brows drawn together, and then stood.
Maybe she’d get
to go to Heaven today? Maybe he really had come to take her?
She crept toward
the door and peered out. She turned and looked back at her room—lush fabrics,
rich wood, ornate and sumptuous—then back out into the rest of the house.
Was it a house? She carefully placed just her fingertips against the door
and pushed cautiously.
How? Had she
been in Heaven all along and this was now Hell? She hoped not. Fear welled
up in her stomach. She’d never felt fear. It hurt.
She stepped out
into the room and looked around. There was nothing here. The floors were
worn with age, the walls cracked. Windows were broken and ragged curtains
billowed. She wanted to cry. She couldn’t recall ever doing that either.
The door shut
behind her. She turned around quickly and shrieked from the sound. She
allowed her frantic heart to slow and then looked away from the door. Her
eyes roved every surface. This was the first time she’d ever seen anything
but the walls of her room and the places he took her to in her head.
Him. He must
be here somewhere.
She stepped forward
lightly, feet seeming to merely skim the surface of the dirty floor. Splinters
threatened to pierce her skin but somehow her skin was too strong. She
continued through the place wondering where she was. Maybe she should just
go back to her room? No. There was a reason the door was left open. A reason.
She walked through
what she knew was the living room into a large kitchen. It looked as though
everything was in place—just disheveled. A petrified meal still sat, fossilized
and gray, on the round kitchen table. On the stove still sat the frying
pan that had cooked whatever the meal had been. She walked over to the
window where through the gaping yawn of shattered glass sweet air beckoned.
The green field.
The lone tree.
She knew she
should go out there and wander off over the horizon. She knew it. But she
turned around anyways and headed for the collapsing stairwell.
There was a vague
memory here. Children singing a song. Happy Birthday? A cake. A woman in
a white dress with yellow daisies. The smell of roasted pork and onions.
Faded photos ascended the stairs with her on both sides. Yellowed and curled.
She recognized these people somehow. Maybe they were her family? Yes, probably
so. She’d probably done something horrible to them and that was why she
was trapped here! Or maybe they’d done something horrible to her that she
just couldn’t let go? It was all making sense.
But why today
of all days could she finally leave the room?
It didn’t matter.
She came to the
landing at the top of the stairs. Four rooms beckoned, two on each side
of the hallway.
Whispers. She heard the hushed whispers
that she could never quite hear all the way. She’d only ever caught a syllable
or two, never enough to even form a word. She knew that she needed to go
into the last room on the right.
Her heart pounded
in her ears. Why didn’t she just go back to her room? She could lock herself
back in again and go to sleep and wake to the same drudgery that she’d
awoken to the last twenty-two years of her life. Had it really been so
long? She swallowed hard hoping the sound of her heart would be muffled,
or drowned by her own saliva.
The floor felt
so cold against her feet. She’d never felt cold a day in her life or her
death. Shouldn’t she be cold? He was never cold. Though how did she know
he was never cold? She’d only ever touched him once. Thinking of him calmed
her. Maybe he was waiting in the room?
the edge of the tattered runner on the floor. The rug was so dirty from
years of neglect the pattern was muted, no longer discernible. Her fingertips
smoothed over the surface of the worn wallpaper as she made her way to
the room. She needed the feeling beneath her fingers to ground her. Touching
something real gave her courage. She stopped in front of the open door.
Peered inside. Would she really go in there?
asked, her throat nearly closing before the words could escape.
She stepped inside
tilting her head to the side to survey for sound. She moved like a stalking
bird hunting a worm. Her heart pounded louder, more forcefully. She knew
this place. A memory flooded—too fast to catch. A sound, a thumping, wet
sound she remembered hearing. Then crying, wailing, screeching. Her voice?
She turned to
look at the bureau with the large mirror. Dust speckled the glass making
her look like a ghost. She was a ghost. A pale girl who never changed.
But she had changed.
She had once been smaller. She had been thinner with shorter hair with
no breasts or hair down there. She looked into her own eyes. Yes, she remembered
being smaller. The steam used to cover her face first not her breasts.
And she remembered...But how? She’d been a baby! Only a baby.
She covered her
ears as the ringing started. The sound of punching flesh. The sound of
screams. The sound of gurgling blood in a closing throat. Glistening eyes
and a gaping mouth. Mother.
She had tried
to hide her twin sisters too, and the brother. She’d only just stuffed
her into the dresser drawer when he got to her too. There hadn’t been any
The sounds stopped.
The swirling dizziness stopped. She sat down on the floor hugging herself,
arms wrapped around her own torso. She wasn’t even sad. It was as though
that had happened to someone else in a storybook. How could she be sad
for people she hadn’t remembered before now?
again. The whirring of electrons as they stirred in a still room. She looked
up and there he was, all tall and handsome.
“You saved me,”
she said with sudden recollection.
He said nothing
but moved forward squatting before her. He leaned forward brushing the
stray hair from her face.
“I remember you
then as you are now,” she said catching his hand and pulling it back to
her as he started to pull it away. “He came for me because I couldn’t stop
crying and you stopped him.”
“Yes,” he finally
said squeezing her tiny hand. His voice was low and rumbling.
She pressed the
back of his hand to her cheek and closed her eyes relishing in the feel
of him. “But why am I still here, I’m dead?”
he said tilting his head to the side wondering how she could have reached
“But why am I
here then? Who are the people who keep me here?” Her wide eyes were wet
with the anticipation of finding out.
“No one keeps
you here,” he answered standing up and leading her to do so as well.
“But the voices...”
said pushing her hair over her shoulder.
asked as her brows knit together in confusion. “My family?”
He didn’t answer
only continued feasting on the sight of her. He had waited so long for
this moment, the day she would have her freedom. It had been two
decades, one year and six months.
“Why are you
talking to me now?” she asked taking his other hand into hers as well.
“It was your
birthday,” he answered taking in a deep breath that didn’t feed his blood—it
only helped him hold onto her internally.
“So, she was
twenty-two,” he said looking back to the faded brown stain on the floor
where her mother had lain.
She leaned forward
into him; the bulk of his body seemed to comfort her. She knew she should
understand all of this, but she couldn’t put the pieces together. “What
is my name?” she asked not daring to put space between her and him. She
closed her eyes waiting for an answer.
“Emmy,” he answered
stroking her long, silky hair.
Yes, she remembered
her mother cooing the name to her. Her father screaming the name to her.
“And what is
your name?” she asked.
“I don’t recall,”
he said quietly.
She leaned back
and looked up into his dark face. Eyes so dark, face haloed by thick, lush
waves of black hair. “You’re the one who’s dead,” she said, her insides
He said nothing.
He knew the day would come when he couldn’t take care of her anymore. He’d
been dead all those years ago trapped here by a brutal death of his own.
He couldn’t have let her father do that again. He couldn’t have left her
here alone. It had been a miracle he’d been able to do anything at all.
“How could you
take care of me? You feed me every day. My room is perfect. And why now
can I leave?”
“I don’t know
the answers. I don’t feed you. It just happens somehow.”
She finally let
of him and ran back to the room she’d been trapped in her whole life. Her
life, she’d been alive. She was alive. She raced there knowing he followed
behind. She got to the closed door and touched the handle, twisted and
She gasped as
she saw her bed. Tattered, rotten blankets, dust, and rusted brass. The
stagnant smell. The bassinette in the corner. Her bassinette. She turned
to look at him not understanding any of this.
“Why?” she asked
wanting an answer. Her whole life, all twenty-two years. Alone. “Why?”
“Because I couldn’t
let you die. The magic happened. Somehow.”
She left the
room wanting her heart to stop pounding. She wanted to understand—really
now,” he said trying to smile.
“Free?” she said
delicately. What did that mean? Free. Of course, she’d only been a baby
then. She would have died all alone here in the house.
She walked towards
the front door. She peered through the broken glass. The green field. The
single tree. She touched the handle. It was warm, molten in her hand as
though the sun from outdoors was heating it. A searing brand to her palm.
She opened the
door and took in a deep breathe. The air was sweet. The sun felt so warm...warm
like her shower never felt. And the lush grass looked so soft...just like
in the dream.
“Go on,” he said
stepping behind her, just far enough that the sun didn’t touch him.
She turned around
with a wide smile on her face and then cringed when she looked at him.
His features vacillated. He was growing dim. “Come with me,” she begged
knowing the truth.
He tipped his
head to the side, a sad smile kissing his lips. “That’s not my world, Emmy.”
“And this house
is?” she asked frustrated by him. He didn’t have to stay here! He was just
as free as she was—she knew it.
He said nothing
but took a step back further into the house. His features solidified. She
felt the tears rising over her pupils and then they fell down her cheeks.
“I liked it way
better when I thought I was the ghost,” she said turning to look back outside.
“You’ve held yourself to this house all these years for me,” she said staring
hard at the elegant tree on the horizon. “To protect me.”
was startling. He could have gone on to Heaven. That place that dead souls
He said nothing
only watched her, bathed in soft sunlight. It was true. He could have gone,
but there was no way he could have left her here to die...to pay the price
for something that wasn’t her fault.
She looked back
over her shoulder at him studying his forlorn expression. “And what if
he said with sudden fear in his eyes.
“I can. What
if I stay here? Will you stay?”
“The house won’t
feed you anymore,” he said stepping towards her. “We were on borrowed time
She looked at
him for a long moment and then turned back towards the green, green field
and the honey sky. She reached out and shut the door. She would never open
the door again.
“Emmy,” he said
lowering his voice, “you can’t stay.”
“You mean you
can’t stay,” she said sadly and tried to smile for him.
“No, I can’t
stay any longer. They’ve been calling me for months now...or maybe years.”
“And if I go
back to sleep? Will you be there?”
His voice sounded
so sad and tired it broke her heart...literally broke her heart. She rushed
forward throwing her arms around him—the only person she’d ever known—and
buried her face in his warm chest. He cradled her head and rested his chin
on the top of her head. He wanted to stay—would give up anything to stay
even just another day.
She leaned back
looking up at him. Her eyes were filled with tears and glittered like some
rare jewel. “Kiss me like in the dream,” she said pressing her eyes closed.
He took her face
in his hands and gently kissed her—tongue barely tasting—just as she’d
imagined. And even as her heart swelled to life again and her breath quickened
he was dissolving. She held on ferociously, but it didn’t matter. He was
She threw herself
down to the filthy floor and cried. She cried for hours, her body racked
with pain, every muscle contracted and locked. The house was dark when
she’d finally exhausted herself. She wiped her nose and face, tear stained
from the dust of the floor and her salty tears.
“The house won’t
feed me anymore?” she muttered going onto her hands and knees. “Then I
will feed the house.”
She picked herself up and walked as though
she was inebriated to her room. The same tattered bedspread, the same musty
“I’ll sleep until
I wake no more.”
She lay down
on the bed, arms straight at her side, legs outstretched and soft, and
waited for Death. She should have died all those years ago...a sacrifice
to the house...and now she would.
Her eyes rolled
in their sockets to the clock which had frozen.