Some things are supposed to be a secret. Kept from people and left to fester in the dark. One of these secret things had gained the ability to look into the world, it watched and bided its time. It smiled in the darkness, as much as it could be described as doing so, drawn as it inescapably was. Smelling the vulnerability.
“Look you cannot keep on like this forever, he would have wanted you to carry on and live your life. You have so much time left,” the voice was falsely honeyed and told her all the platitudes and helpful advice people think they need to give out, advice that is not sought from those grieving. Rachel had not expected this from her mother of all people. The phone carried on making noises and at some point, without realising it, she had turned off the invasive little plastic and glass box.
Thirty two, thirty two and a fucking widow. Rachel wanted to throw something, to beat the walls and wail to show anger and rage but she could not. She had not felt anything apart from sadness and the yawning maw of depression. She was listless and despairing. They had moved out together, her and Michael, only a year ago. To leave the States and surrender themselves to Spain, the land she had fallen in love with during her time at college. Michael was the guy she asked to go with, he did just that. Went. Simply because it was what she wanted. Not so much as a question or a doubt in his mind.
That cough, when it arrived, was innocuous it was more of a throat clearing sound really. Family and friends had said on their photos that he looked tired and could do with some fattening up on good Spanish food and cheap Spanish wine. They had giggled at that. She remembered wrapping herself in his arms. Hoping for the warmth and vitality he had possessed as they posed for an ironic selfie. Her hopes were left unfulfilled, he had felt… hollow.
Within two months of that she remembered a distorted facsimile of that particular image. He was now wrapped in wires and tubes. Things beeped in the sterile room. She could not even hold his hand without putting on gloves and scrubbing up. The cancer had killed him, first his immune system then his humanity. Each day that passed he thinned, stretched out and became more corpse like. She could not visit the last two weeks, bare to look him in the eye. Michael passed alone and in pain because she could not deal with it.
A letter had been left for her. It remained unopened, not even hidden in a drawer, Rachel left it out on the kitchen table. A paper monolith, testament to her guilt.
She had printed out photos and stuck them around the apartment. All the ones where she and Michael looked happy and he looked alive.
The sadness and waves of guilt suddenly crippled her and she collapsed into a heap on the floor. She clutched at the nearly empty green bottle and reached for a cigarette. The box was empty so she picked up a remnant of one from the terracotta tiled floor and lit the nub. Ironic at how short it was, ironic as it reflected the time she had with Michael. He had died alone. She asked herself again how she could have been so cold.
Days passed without any change of feeling. Days and days and days.
The crippling despair hit Rachel one evening, harder than most. For most of the bad days, well all days, she could function enough to work, to write for a local English American website about living in Spain. It really pained her to write five to seven hundred words every other day about local customs and how to survive. At least it covered rent and enough so she could live on the calories in alcohol.
“Fuck it,” she declared to herself and switched off the laptop. She giggled morosely and looked at the keys. From a furred brain she remembered something about a board and contacting the dead from one of those campy eighties movies. She never really cared for them.
She prodded a the letter ‘Y’, heard the click as plastic moved spring. She held her hand over the keyboard eyes half closed waiting for some unseen force to come calling.
“If you can hear me,” soft voice slightly slurring. “Michael I am…” she was weeping now. Rachel moved her hands in front of her tipping a glass. Its contents spilled shattering into wicked glistening teeth. Instinctually moving her hand to clean the mess she gently lacerated the tips of three fingers. She could not finish the apology. She felt bile moving into her throat and ran to the nearest waterproof container. Fortunately, this time, a sink.
Had this not happened, Rachel might have felt the subtle tug on her forefinger directing her to the old laptops keyboard, she might have noticed the iridescent drops of blood seep into the keys and disappear.
She tended her gentle wounds and fell asleep. Something that lived in the dark corners of the world moved seamlessly, a fluid malevolent thing.
Rachel awoke to the sound of something buzzing in the background. Her phone had been alive during the warm evening and showed the glint of messages and calls that she could not be bothered to answer or respond to. She walked over to her laptop to get her workday over and done with. To get back to focussing on missing him. She did not even bother to look at herself in the mirror, brush her teeth, do anything except reach for a cigarette. She smiled briefly at a warm memory as her hands caressed a matchbox, it was one he had brought for her. A replica of those old ones called Lucifer matches. He had made it by hand and gifted it to her for a birthday. His “little sinner,” he called her. The smile remained as the memory faded, it turned bitter, like coffee grounds left too long in hot water.
The cigarette drooped in her mouth, leaving her with one smouldering and elongated canine as she stared at her laptop. Some of the keys were removed and left on the table.
I SE3 YOU RACH, M1C4’@L
She stood there, mouth agape, until the smoke irritated her left eye, making it weep. The other had followed suit without the smoke. She immediately felt anger. Some bastard had… while she was finishing the thought she glanced round the small apartment, windows still fastened, and door bolted. No one had come in.
She felt the tingle of movement down her spine, exactly the way Michael had used to run his fingers along her back to her neck, mixing the tickling with something more sensual. It was only brief but she knew it had been there. In the midst of wonder she did not feel the thin beaded line, more subtle than a scalpel’s caress along her back.
She waited by a chair next to the window. Closed, to blot out the sound of life and vitality going on below her first-floor window. The pleasant heat of the autumnal Spanish sun had become stifling but she sat there, drinking and smoking and waiting. It must have been Michael, he was trying to get a message through to her.
He once mocked her for the little candles and semi-precious stones she said could channel things to her it was finally real. The harmless trinkets and rituals she had picked up on her visits to Egypt and Europe.
Michael, she remembered, had always been such a dick about it. She even convinced him, not long before the end to try something. They had sat in the small living room, candle burning, and crystals aligned the way she thought she remembered they should be. Part way through Michael had blurted out “If there is anything here, please come to me…” ruining the incantation and he came over to her kissing her neck and they had ended up, well doing what young grown-ups do by candlelight.
That chink in concentration did not seem much, but all something needs is even a partial opportunity. An invitation made and unknowingly accepted.
As she fell asleep in his arms that night her fingers traced several thin lines across his back, she had not remembered being so deep in the throes of well, grown up things. She did not give it a second thought.
Her phone flashed into being, alive again, she read the caller’s name, Richard and immediately switched it off. He was the worst, always telling her about the life hereafter, not taking no for an answer. She needed to think about something else than that seemingly benevolent bastard. She wondered, not without a grin how long it would be before he was caught out by someone and ended up a social pariah. No, she thought, not him, never him. He was too careful in all his ‘dealings’ she had done well to avoid him.
From the recesses of the room the presence waited again. It knew it had found a way in, the last time, with the man, it had tried to physically manifest within him. Choking the body’s cells as it tried to rip its way into reality. No, that had not worked. It had liked the reaction in the female, the crying and tears. It instinctually knew she was vulnerable and knew it could take a more methodical approach. It was learning, it manipulated her delicately, she believed it was the man who was in contact. It had managed to shift her reality, so she did not notice the increasing signatures it left on her skin. Furrowing runes and markings along her body.
Rachel caught sight of herself, true self, for only a moment and reacted like when you think someone is in the corner of the room with you. Flesh hung from her gaunt face, she moved slowly like an old man with arthritis. In the moment it took to register, a sound came from the bathroom, glass breaking. It sounded too violent to have fallen naturally. She glanced away from the mirror; reflection immediately forgotten.
She had not noticed the swell of her belly as something began to grow. Something that was not benign. She was isolating herself, shutting out the world. If she had been a mammal, dog, cat, even a mouse the behaviour would be called nesting.
All it would take now was time. It had laid the foundations for plenty of that. Something within it flexed and it knew that it had sown seeds, sown a very particular seed.
Time had passed, as it always does. A Spanish landlord forced open the door to an apartment on the first floor, upon entering, he said something in Latin, that even to the uninitiated sounded like a desperate prayer, the bile rising in his throat. He saw things that he could not comprehend, would never want to comprehend, at least he had not turned on the light, so most of the scene was in shadow. It was however, enough. He turned back to drink after being sober for over ten years.
Booze killed him within the month, or so people thought. He remained tight lipped about what had happened even unto the end. He had not even called the police, merely locked the door. He did not know what else to do.
As he lay dying, he thought he felt the tracing of a finger along his side, something bubbled within him. Something more than just liquid from the tubes that pumped things into him to keep him alive longer than he should have been. He could not scream. His eyes rolled, a monotone warning burst through the silence. People ran to him.
In the darkened corners of the room, a being watched, no longer needing to bide its time. It smelled vulnerability all over this world. Now it was taking form.