I only realized Melanie Houdini was related to the famed magician and entertainer Harry after I asked her to marry me and she disappeared in a puff of smoke like a fart through hemp pajamas.
It wasn’t always like this.
I wasn’t always like this.
I remember a time when I wore a younger man’s face, when I discovered what true happiness was, when the word love took on a whole new meaning, when the world finally made sense.
When you were still alive.
If any patch of land was truly haunted, it was Moppet Forest. According to legend, the woods were originally purchased by a plangonologist before it was part of any U.S. state or territory in the post-Civil War years but during the Westward Expansion, the government seized the land after the dolllmaker met his end under mysterious circumstances.
Near the dollmaker’s house, land surveyors discovered a doll nailed to one of the trees and beneath it, carved into the bark was a phrase written either in sigils or an indecipherable language that many believed to be a curse.
Over the subsequent decades, horrible fates befell every owner of the property until the forest eventually became ownerless and it remained unoccupied to this very day. Those foolish enough to venture into the dense woods on a dare, for social media views, or as a satanic cult tourist destination, claimed to have seen all manner of eerie apparitions, such as floating human corpses dismembered and stitched back together to resemble stringless marionettes, a transparent man carving a child-sized effigy from wood, and paths of mysterious doll footprints that led to the dollmaker’s home; as well as hearing the pull of a drawstring followed by the echo of a tinny, almost childlike voice, saying, “We shall bring the vengeance of hell upon those who trespass our home.”
It was truly a shame that she remained unable to make a single friend in her neighborhood or at school because Beatrix Hortence Willow was quite a kind, caring and loving child despite the resting witch face she inherited from her sorceress mother.
“If you want your life to be better, you need to take action to begin the process of transitioning into a more positive state of being,” the therapist said.
John mulled over this piece of advice and decided since he enjoyed preparing food above all else in the world, he would tackle his current problem the same way he would a complicated meal, so he wrote:
Recipe To End A Sibling Rivalry
1 Treasure Map (rendered as detailed as possible on parchment or a leaf of crumbling yellowish-brown pulp paper to add authenticity)
1 Fantastic Tale based on a local urban legend detailing the account of some nefarious criminal who needed to bury their ill-gotten riches while evading authorities (don’t make the story too far-fetched and be sure to include the fact that the criminal met their untimely demise before retrieving the loot or revealing its location)
1 Gullible sibling
1 Sports drink
1 Lighter or book of matches
Approach the gullible sibling in a frantic state, babbling about the urban legend and how you came to be in possession of the map and invent a sense of urgency (ie. someone else made a copy of the map–make it someone your sibling despises–and they’re gathering supplies to head to the location at this very moment). Grab your sibling, the lighter, the sports drink and the shovel and set off. Follow the map directions until you reach the X, where you will discover a hole roughly 36 inches wide by 8 feet long and 6 feet deep (some prep work is involved in the fact that you will need to dig the hole ahead of time).
Exclaim, “Oh no! That bastard got here before us! Did they leave anything behind by mistake? Maybe something fell and they didn’t notice it?” (rephrase this to make it sound authentic to the way you speak, naturally). When your sibling peers into the hole, grip the shovel like a baseball bat and follow the instructions Mel Gibson gave to Joaquin Phoenix in the movie, “Signs” and “Swing away, Merrill!”
With your sibling situated in their new resting place, fill the hole as quickly as possible. When completed, burn the map entirely and scatter the ashes, consume the sports drink to replenish your electrolytes and return home confident in the knowledge that you are Daddy’s favorite, now.
The two things John forgot to add to the recipe instructions were to burn the recipe as well and not discard the empty sports drink bottle containing his DNA at the gravesite, mistakes that eventually led to his arrest.
I was once foolish enough to fall in love with a water elemental, Aquanetta was her name, and we were happy, mostly. The only problem, the major problem, was our difference of opinion which sparked arguments. Little rows created thunderstorms, full-blown domestic fights resulted in maelstroms. When I finally ended the relationship, she called forth a tsunami that changed the city, and my life, forever.
Yes, she was an antisocial, oddly shaped peg that didn’t fit into any hole but was Florence evil? Not a chance. She was actually chaotic neutral, which meant she pursued the ideals of her personal freedom in defiance of authority and societal harmony.
Good and evil? That came in a distant second to a determined 8-year-old’s need to be free.
William should have done the deed by now and Fiona begged him to do it but he held steadfast to his faith, hoping against hope for a last minute miracle, a one in a billion chance that his wife had been blessed with an immunity to the infection. His countless nights of desperate prayer had been for naught, but even now, as she was turning, he couldn’t bring himself to end her wretched existence.
When the world knew without a doubt that Heaven no longer existed and everyone feared the worst, Sherman Critchlow should have called his daughter but he felt confident that she had taken the revelation in stride just as he had. Self-identifying with one of his favorite Bible verses, Acts 10:2, he believed himself to be A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always. He accepted the fact that Heaven was no more and knew deep in his heart that there was a purpose. God always had a plan and the reasoning behind some of His plans were simply beyond our limited ability to comprehend.
And when the great fog fell upon the Earth, ushering the return of the spirits of the righteous dead, he should have called his daughter but he knew she like himself wouldn’t have batted an eyelid, accepting it was all part of the grand design. Having said that, Sherman was startled when Adina first appeared in the house. It was one thing to know something was true and quite another to experience it firsthand.
Nothing had changed. He was still attracted to her even in her current ghostly form. It was a heady trance with the right blend of shy and sweet, accented by a slight confidence and just enough ego that had him muddling his words and blushing uncontrollably whenever she was around. He had to admit to himself that he was afraid when he first saw his late wife. Afraid of her disappointment in seeing that he had grown older and softer in the passing years while she looked just as young and beautiful as ever.
When Sherman finally called Myra, it was at his wife’s urging. Perhaps that was what she was trying to communicate from the very first moment she returned home but for some reason he wasn’t able to hear what she was saying. Not that he was ignoring her but no sounds came out of her mouth when her lips moved. And then this morning he was filled with a knowledge as certain to him as his own name, the same way he knew that Heaven no longer existed, he now knew that a brand new heaven was on its way and his daughter was carrying it. The moment the information planted itself in his brain, that was when he heard Adina’s voice.
“Call Mayra,” his specter wife said, her voice airy and barely above that of a whisper.
And so, he did. He expected the conversation to be awkward the way it had always been between them but when his daughter answered the phone he found an uncommon ease in communicating with her. Although it was nothing he detected outright, he sensed that Mayra had changed and perhaps he had as well.
Sherman tilted the phone away from his ear enough so Adina could hear as well as he and Mayra made their way through familial pleasantries and catching up on recent events since the world tilted on its axis. He noticed that Gavin’s name hadn’t been mentioned once and decided not the press the issue at the present time.
“It’s so strange, Dad,” Mayra said. “First, I had a hard time wrapping my head around that fact that I was having a baby, and then discovering my baby is actually a new heaven…I mean, how do you process something like that? There’s not even a baby bump yet so I must look like a complete lunatic when I keep stroking my stomach but every time I do it a sensation of peace sweeps over me and I can’t help but think it’s the baby Heaven trying to help me, like maybe that was simply the way Heaven made everyone feel. I feel like I’m rambling. Does any of this make sense to you?”
“Perfect sense. Your mother was the same way when she was pregnant with you, minus the heaven bit, naturally,” Sherman said. “Now, as much as I hate steering you to more serious topics, honey, we need to address the fact that you’re going to be in a lot of danger.”
“You’re starting to sound like Bethy,” Mayra said.
“She’s smart, you should listen to her.”
“Okay, now I know the world’s going to end. You’re agreeing with Bethany?”
“Just because I think she’s too mouthy doesn’t mean I can’t see how good a friend she’s always been to you. And you’re going to need someone to watch your back because people are going to want to control you in order to control the new Heaven.” As Sherman spoke the words, fear flooded through him.
“I can come down to stay with you,” he continued. “Or, you can come back home. You realize that’s an option, right? I know living with your old man may not seem like the ideal situation for you at the moment, but this is your home and it always will be. You can show up any time, day or night, no hassle, no questions asked. Besides, it’d be nice to have you in the same house as your mother.”
Sherman glanced at Adina who smiled and nodded but didn’t speak, which he found odd. Why wouldn’t she say something to her daughter? Could it be that he the only person his wife could verbally communicate with?
“That does sound nice,” Mayra said but there was something in her tone that made it seem like his daughter dismissed it as a possibility, like no matter how badly they wanted things to go back to the way they were before, it was no longer a possibility.
Then a niggling doubt tickled the back of his mind: was his caring genuine? It was an odd thought, to be sure, because of course he cared about his daughter’s well being but there were powerful forces at play here and how could he be sure he wasn’t one of those people who wanted to, if not control, then steer the direction of the new heaven, if such a thing was even possible. Was his faith strong enough, was he himself a righteous enough man to avoid the temptation of trying to lay claim to the afterlife?
“You’ve always been a headstrong girl, like your mother,” Sherman said, shaking the crazy thoughts from his head. “So, you’re going to do as you please, but just keep in mind that it’s an option.”
“I will, Dad,” Mayra said. “But right now, I don’t have a plan and absolutely no idea of what I should do.”
“Well, when you do devise a plan, remember to keep it simple. Keep a low profile from the world for as long as possible. Everyone and their mother knows about your situation so in order to protect yourself from what’s coming next, the best thing you can do is plan for the worst and hope for the best. Once people find out where you are they’re going to want more from you than you’re willing to give and the last thing you need is for some nutjob zealot to try to kidnap you, or worse.”
“You think it’ll actually come to that?” Mayra asked and he could hear the fear in her voice, fear that he placed there, which he regretted immediately.
“I don’t know, honey, no one does for sure. I think it’d be a wise thing to get you out of that apartment and into somewhere safe where no one will think to look for you. Once we’ve done that you should try to lay low until it’s too late for anyone to interfere in the birthing process, and hopefully by then everything will be okay.”
Still feeling guilty, Sherman tried to steer the conversation onto lighter, happier topics and even somehow convinced Adina to join in on the conversation and it almost seemed like old times. When he eventually hung up the phone he felt mostly positive that the conversation ended on a good note and he was able to maintain a positive outlook on the situation…until he watched the Six O’clock News.
A group of field correspondents were reporting from outside Mayra’s apartment building.
“It is believed that some sort of explosion occurred,” the female reporter said. “Though there is no preliminary evidence to suggest a gas leak or explosive detonation occurred. According to building management and rescue official, the building has been evacuated successfully with no casualties listed as of this moment. The building has been classified as unfit for human habitation pending an proper inspection, leaving dozens of people without a home tonight.”
Though no casualties were listed, Sherman knew his daughter was in trouble. He called her landline, which was busy, called her cellphone which went straight to voicemail and he left numerous messages for her to let him know she was safe. He dialed and redialed the number until her voicemail box was full. He even attempted to call Bethany before realizing he didn’t have her number.
Pacing the living room, his head swam with the worst thoughts imaginable. She knew he and her mother would be worried, so she would call, why wouldn’t she call? The only logical explanation was she wasn’t able to call. When he couldn’t bear it any longer, he grabbed his coat and started for the door. Adina was suddenly in front of him, blocking his way. Sherman knew better than to walk through her after the he tried to hug her when she first appeared and nearly went into a coma.
“Adina, I don’t have time for this,” Sherman said. “Mayra needs my help!”
“Not yet,” Adina whispered and in the blink of an eye she bridged the distance between them and kissed Sherman’s lips.
It happened so quickly he had no time to react. Frostbite brushed his lips and the color drained from his face as if his heart had suddenly stopped beating. He swayed for a moment, staggering backward with his mind swirling. His breath became shallow when nausea crept from his abdomen to his head and the world went black.
To Be Continued…
©2017-2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys
To allay her son’s fear, Apinya made the unbreakable vow to protect him from the ravenous monsters who nightly dwelled beneath his sick bed and though the cost was her life she was satisfied that even in death she would not break that promise.