Wednesday, December 11, 2013


A Bloodscape Original Short Story

Day One

Out of habit, he parks the car at an angle so the oak tree in the front yard stands between the double doors of his parents' house and the passenger-side window of his Volkswagen. Shutting the car door with barely enough force for it to close, Richard stands in silence as he surveys the house in front of him. Ten clumsily-maintained hedges lead to the entrance, each hedge a different shape. The gardeners who used to maintain the front and back yards were skilled with doing heavy yard work efficiently, but were unfortunately quite heavy-handed. Those hedges may have once been six perfect squares and four nicely landscaped rectangles at some point in time, but they certainly had not been since Richie's parents moved in almost 30 years back. His mother and father passed away a little over 2 months ago, but it's hard to tell because the house looks exactly the same as it always did.
At the end of the hedge-lined walkway, just before the double door in the front, asymmetrical metal numbers on the wall read "957." Across the street, an elderly man washing his car in his driveway briefly pauses to watch. Richard still remembers the day his family moved in; he was in third grade at the time. Having grown up without any siblings, Rich had hoped that the new neighborhood would have lots of kids that he could befriend and go on spontaneous adventures with, but every other kid on Grant Avenue was several grades older than him. The elementary school he once attended is only a 3-minute drive from the house, with his middle school just two blocks from there. At the opposite side of town, Richard's high school is about ten minutes away. Around the corner of the middle school he went to, his community college is a short 6-minute drive from the house he grew up in.

Full of enthusiasm, Heather bounces out of the passenger seat and smiles at the slightly worn 3-bedroom home. Each one of her perfect white teeth are visible, and though she's wearing her favorite pair of designer sunglasses, Richard is sure that his wife's uncommonly blue eyes are wide with excitement. Heather never had the opportunity to flip a house before, and it's a project she had always wanted to take on. 

"What do you think?" she asks.

"I hate this place," grumbles Richard. His hometown of Glendora is the last place he wants to be on the planet; He had always hoped he would die before ever having to return.

Inside, the house still looks lived-in, as if Richard's parents stepped out for lunch and will be back at any moment. A coffee table in the living room is topped with a ceramic bowl half-full of pistachio shells, two disposable plastic cups, and a shoebox-sized organizer containing at least four dirt-encrusted remote controls. A guest in the house could point to any number of things that are clearly expensivesuch as the elegant hardwood floors throughout the home and the handsome marbled counters in the kitchenthough nearly every item in the house is slightly crooked and disheveled. Every picture frame askew, every plant half-dead and tilted to one side. Even the birdfeeder in the backyard seems to be stuck into the Earth at a 45-degree angle. Walls the color of expired milk, with tacky decorations and knick-knacks everywhere as if a toddler was hired to style the place. All the medicine cabinets (and even some kitchen cabinets) are stocked with hundreds of pills that neither Rich or his wife had even heard of: cyclobenzaprine, alprazolam, vimovo, zolpidem, hydrocodon, oxycodone, carisoprodol, sertaline, phenobarbital, depodur, simvastatin, lorazepam, levothyroxine, atorvastatin, amoxicillin, naproxen, tadalafil... if they decide not to sell the house, they could probably make a couple thousand dollars from selling the drugs to friends and coworkers.

"It's not that bad," says Heather, "the house itself looks like it's in pretty good condition, we just need to clean it out and update some of the fixtures... How cute!" she exclaims, while pointing to one of 42 pictures of baby Richard on the mantle. The framed photograph opposite her finger features a 5-year-old Richie wearing a Mickey Mouse sweater and holding an American flag while sitting in front of a Christmas tree. Unamused, Rich leers at the gaggle of photos and wanders off. Down the familiar hallway, past the guest room and the bathroom, Richard awkwardly makes his way to the room at the end which used to be his. He attempts to turn the doorknob, which doesn't move more than a centimeter. Fumbling with the jingling mess of keys in his pocket, Richie locates a new-looking silver key with the same color finish as the doorknob in front of him. Following a metallic cla-cack, he twists the knob to the right and pushes open the door. To Richard's surprise, his former room has been transformed into a home office. His father had told him that he would reclaim that room after Rich moved out, but he had never seen the renovated office in person before. With his left hand, he gropes at the wall until his middle finger locates the light switch. A bright flash of light fills the room for a nanosecond before the office plunges back into darkness; Not pitch black, but as dark as a room can get while the curtains and blinds are drawn during the day. Staggering towards the window at the other side of the room, Rich clutches the curtain in one fist as he feels something cold brush against his shoulder. With urgency, Richard shoves the curtains to one side and yanks the blinds open. Spinning around, his eyes stare right into the eyes of the intruder: his own reflection in the full-length mirror.

Day Two

Heather is already fast asleep by the time Richard enters his parents' former bedroom and joins her in bed. For some reason, his wife picked up a new sleeping position in which she lays on her side and sticks her knees out as far as they'll go. There's already so much on Richie's mind, and his wife's knees digging into his ribs only makes the task of sleeping more difficult. With a long day of junk removal ahead of him, Rich needs as much sleep as he can get. Within minutes of finally dozing off, his mother's cat wakes him up by hopping onto his chest and ravenously licking his nostrils. The pressure on his abdomen and burning discomfort of sandpaper on his nose are terrible surprises made far worse by the fact that Richard had assumed that the cat had died ages ago. Annoyed and disoriented, he puts the cat in the hallway and closes the door in front of it.

In sleep, Richard takes the form of a child. Sitting in the back of a moving car, Richie looks down to see that his feet aren't touching the floor. Above his head, he observes that the ceiling is 2 or 3 feet higher than it should be. In the front seats, a man and a woman sit silently and gaze unwaveringly at the road ahead of them. Focused on his lap, the child gingerly raises the left side of his shorts to expose the pasty skin hiding beneath it. Raising his right hand, he momentarily studies the grime beneath his chewed-up fingernails before placing his hand on his thigh and pressing his nails into it with increasing force. Maintaining pressure, the child slides his nails down his thigh, shaving off a thin layer of skin like Parmesan cheese at a fancy Italian restaurant. The boy's thigh is streaked with pink lines, but the skin hasn't broken. He looks up to see if the adults in the front seats heard anything, but they're both still fixated on the road, staring in silence. Dragging nails through flesh once more, another layer of skin peels and flakes off, revealing tiny red splotches where the pink lines intersect. With angst, the child digs his nails into his tender leg and tears through it. Crimson splotches darken and begin to pool when Richard suddenly awakens and sits up in bed. His heart pounds rapidly in his chest; every inch of his body is drenched in sweat, and his thigh feels slightly warm. Rich gets out of bed and rushes to the bathroom. Under the fluorescent lighting, he pulls up the left side of his boxer shorts to see discolored markings running lengthwise along his inner part of his leg.

Day Six

"This place is gonna look amazing when we're done," she tells her husband while laying out tile samples in the master bathroom, "by the time we're through, I think even you will want to keep the house."

"What time is the landscape designer coming?" Richard asks while extending an arm to give Heather one of the two beers he's holding. Pulling open the tab on the beer can, she takes a sip with one hand while checking her wristwatch on the other. "Any minute now. I can't wait to tell him my ideas for the backyard!" Doing his best to be pleasant, Richard gives his wife an encouraging smile before leaving to continue painting the living room. 

Crossing the master bedroom, Heather checks her phone to find a missed call from her landscape designer. As she's about to return the call, Heather looks through the office window across the hall and spots a young man in black walking towards the backyard. Jogging through the hallway and out the door to the garage, Heather makes her way to the front yard to catch the landscape designer and introduce herself. She comes to a sudden halt when she reaches the front of the house, confused as to where the boy could have gone. Heather walks across the front yard, her socks becoming damp from the wet grass beneath. Making her way to the far side of the house, she cranes her neck to see if the landscape designer wandered in that direction. With no sign of the person she saw, Heather walks towards the front door when she sees a young man standing by the window with his back towards her. Wearing a black tshirt and black shorts, the teenager stands eerily still, not looking into the window or really looking at anything at all. Elbows arched at an angle hide his arms from view as though the boy his holding something in his hands.

"Hello?" says Heather, somewhat stunned. "Can I help you with something?" The young man's shoulder-length black hair ripples slightly in the breeze. A puff of cigarette smoke rises above his head. No response. "A-Are you okay?" she asks, walking towards the figure. Her socks squeeze water like a sponge with each step she takes. Within feet of the boy in her yard, Heather feels her stomach sink to her feet when she peers over his shoulder and sees that his the upper part of his arm is riddled with puffy pink burns. Each one is surrounded by a bright red circle and swells like a blister on the verge of popping. Before Heather can say a word, the teenager drives a lit cigarette into his flesh, making a sizzling sound like bacon in a frying pan. Doubling back in terror, Heather is too shocked to scream. Or breathe. Turning around, the young man in black gives Heather a sadistic smile before flicking his cigarette towards her face. With her eyelids shut tightly, Heather trembles for what feels like a long time. When she opens her eyes again, she finds that she's alone in the front yard.

Looking around in confusion, Heather makes eye contact with the woman living in the yellow house next door. Watching through her window, the neighbor glares for another couple of seconds before drawing her curtains.

Day Nine

Setting the laundry basket down in front of the dryer, Heather hastily scoops articles of warm clothes into the basket so she can take the laundry to the living room and fold while watching daytime court shows. Emptying the lint trap with her fingers, she crumples the mass of purple-gray lint in her hand and places it in the nearby trash bin. As she grips the handles of the laundry basket and straightens her legs to return to a standing position, Heather's throat instantly goes dry and seizes up as she stands face to face with someone or something kneeling on top of the front-loading dryer. A dark silhouette with glowing red embers in place of eyes gazes into Heather's widened blue pupils. The figure stays crouched like an animal with its hands flat on the dryer and its knees bent to be level with its ears. Heather is able to make out details on the black figure such as bared teeth and scars, but its skin is translucent enough that she can clearly see the pattern of wallpaper repeating behind the shadow entity. The snarling, humanlike beast doesn't look like anything she's ever seen or imagined before, yet something about it seems intensely familiar.

Unsure if hallucinations are a side effect of taking her new medication with a glass of wine, she shuts her eyelids for a second. As Heather's eyes open, she's relieved to see that the frightening vision has disappeared. Walking in from the opposite end of the hallway, Rich catches his wife staring blankly above the dryer. "You're checking out the wallpaper, huh?" he asks his wife. "It's a hell of an ugly pattern, we should definitely paint that wall instead."

"Oh definitely," replies Heather, trying to disguise her uneasiness, "this wallpaper is ugly and nasty." With the basket of warm clothing in her hands, she exits the laundry nook and walks towards the disheveled living room at the end of the hall.

Day Eleven

Gently rinsing a badger-hair brush under the faucet, Rich sets it down with the rest of his shaving supplies. He angles a silver straight razor and brings it to his face, then abruptly pauses to look over the blade that he had been using for so many years. Considering the amount of use he had gotten out of the razor over the last 15 years or so, it still shimmers as though it has never been touched. Staring down at the shining blade in his hand, he imagines what it might look like if he were to slide it along his forearms and drain himself into the stylish new bathroom sink he had just installed two days ago. The flawless argent razor, drawing lines down his olive-skinned arms in crimson ink, expanding and dripping into the blankness of the porcelain basin beneath. Tightening his grip on the razor in his hand, he contemplates if the actual scene would be as beautiful as he imagines it to be. Blinking several times, Rich reminds himself that the house puts strange thoughts in his head, and proceeds to shave the frosted whiskers from his chin.

Day Fourteen

In addition to being incredibly dated and unattractive, the drywall ceiling in his former bedroom stirs up bad memories for Richard. Hard manual labor in the midst of a classic California heatwave only adds to the misery. Taking a break from power-sanding down the popcorn-shaped stalactites, Rich steps down the ladder and shakes the bits of plaster out of his hair. Removing his goggles and painter's mask, he steps out of the room for a glass of water. Passing his wife in the hallway, Heather sweetly informs Richie that she's going to use the office computer while he's taking a break. Entering the dusty office, Heather exhales a cloud of vapor before putting the painting mask over her nose & mouth and removing the plastic tarp from the swiveling office chair. Sitting down, she pulls the covering off the desktop and slides out the keyboard. Waiting for the computer to boot up, Heather watches the animated loading icons on the screen as they repeat over and over in an ongoing loop. The monitor goes dark for a moment, and Heather stares in a daze as she sees the clear reflection of a man walk right behind her chair. Simultaneously spinning around and jumping backward, Heather observes that there is nothing and no one behind her aside from plastic-covered office furniture, an aluminum ladder, and the power sander her husband is using. Exhaling a small cloud of visible breath, she rubs her hands together for warmth as she spins the chair back around to face the computer.

Day Sixteen

Around 4 in the morning, after tossing and turning all night, Rich gets out of bed and walks down the plastic-tarped hallway. Passing through the partially-demolished living room, he enters the stripped-down kitchen to get a glass of water. Standing before the steel refrigerator in the darkness, Richard swallows his saliva when two gleaming yellow eyes appear above the fridge. His heart momentarily stops beating, recovering a second later when the body attached to the shining pupils purrs innocently.

"Ugh. Fucking cat. So sick of you."

Standing silently in the dark kitchen, Rich drinks half of his glass of water before topping it off and walking back down the plastic-coated hall. As he closes the bedroom door to keep the cat out, Richard looks into the room across the way and notices something moving on the ground. Inching forward, his vision adjusts to the darkness and makes out the outline of what appears to be a man laying on the floor. Curled in a fetal position next to the office chair, the man digs his nails into his left wrist and tears downward. Rolling his head back to gaze at Richard with red eyes that glow like hot embers, the man across the hall shreds the skin and flesh of his forearm with nothing more than the course fingernails on his right hand. Maintaining eye contact, Rich gently shuts the bedroom door and walks into the newly re-tiled master bathroom.

In the dim glow of the nite-light, he sets his glass of water on the counter and examines the large and discolored patch of skin on his left forearm that has been stinging for the last 45 seconds. Shortly after tracing his finger around the rubbery quarter-inch circles near his shoulder, he opens the medicine cabinet and reaches for a bottle of aloe vera to ease the slight burning sensation. As he puts the bottle back behind the swinging bathroom mirror, Richard eyes the masses of multi-colored pill bottles that take up huge chunks of cabinet space like blocks in a Tetris game. He re-reads all the cryptic names on the bottles, pondering what each one does and why his parents had so many pills. Remembering how late it is, he reaches for a green bottle of valerian root and swallows a caplet before going back to bed.

Heather's bony knees stick into his waist, causing Richie to fidget in discomfort until the valerian eventually kicks in and relieves him of consciousness.

Day Eighteen

With his back towards the office, Richard sighs deeply before lifting his heavy legs and walking into the master bedroom. He practically drags his feet across the forest green carpet as he makes his way to the nightstand on the right side of the bed. The 2nd drawer from the top hardly makes a sound as Rich slides it open and stares down at his collection of underwear. Reaching his hand into the pile, he roots to the bottom of the drawer and removes the Smith & Wesson M&P9 he keeps hidden beneath his undergarments. Believing that guns are useless for protection unless they're loaded, Richie keeps a full magazine of hollow point rounds in the handgun; all he needs to do is pull back the slide, press the muzzle against his temple, and squeeze the trigger to end the pain forever. Instead of using light-green eggshell finish to cover the bedroom, he could paint the walls with his brain matter using only his index finger. Gripping the cool polymer pistol in his right hand, Rich visualizes the scene; after the bullet exits the opposite side of his head, would the hollow point round stay lodged in the wall like it's supposed to, or would it go all the way through the guest bathroom and living room too? Would it shatter the bathroom mirror? How will Heather react? She'll probably be traumatized for the rest of her life. Using his finger to trace the etched logo at the end of the barrel, Richard thinks to himself that he doesn't want to hurt the only person he loves. Despite his undying hatred for himself, his love for his beautiful wife outweighs the burning desire to snuff himself out.

Releasing the magazine from his pistol, Rich uses his left thumb to slip the bullets out and onto the bedspread. Pulling back the slide, he locks it in the open position and sets the weapon down next to the hollow points. After carefully placing the ammunition into the plastic ammo case he also keeps hidden in his underwear drawer, Richie removes a padded gun case from underneath his bed. Unsnapping the black plastic hinges, he opens the case and takes out the cherry red gun lock that his M&P9 came with. Threading the bright red metal cord through the open chamber of his pistol, Rich uses a tiny key to close the padlock sticking out from the bottom of the gun. Placing it on the gray foam inside the padded case, he shuts it and scrambles the built-in numerical lock on the handle. Standing before the large safe in the garage, Rich grips the gun case in his left hand while fumbling with the spinning lock near the center of the safe. Finally, after failing to open the safe four or five times, Richard manages to unlock the heavy steel box and places his locked gun case inside. Shutting the door of the safe, he spins the built-in combination lock on the front and re-enters the house through the garage entrance.

Day Nineteen

It feels as though every single person at the hardware store is staring. Pushing his cart up and down the aisles, Richard tries to ignore the strange looks he always gets in his former neighborhood, but he can't help but feel annoyed at the fact that he doesn't even know the overwhelming majority of these people. He wonders whether he's being paranoid or if his reputation still precedes him after all this time. A living urban legend. As Rich loads a can of primer into his cart, he catches a glimpse of the off-color blotches of skin along the length of his forearm and decides to keep it pinned at his side in an attempt to prevent additional stares.

Handing money to the cashier at the front of the store, Richie notices that the cashier's friendly tone changed to one of awkwardness after noticing the distinctive scarring on his forearm. Leaving Hammer & Sons with his cart full of supplies, Richie feels particularly on edge when two men in a white pickup truck pull up behind his car. "Hey man," says a tan-skinned guy with a mustache in the passenger seat, "I can fix that dent in your bumper for you."

"No thanks."

"That doesn't bother you, man?" replies the passenger in the truck.

"No, I think it bothers youThat dent is physical evidence that my car has been through some shit and isn't afraid to go through more. That imperfection that irks you so much only alleviates any stress I would have about driving an otherwise pristine car in Los fucking Angeles. Do you want me to be ashamed of it? I mean, if you were a dermatologist, you wouldn't just walk up and offer to remove the scars and cigarette burns from my arms because that would be considered rude and presumptuous. So unless you want a dent in that pretty truck of yours, kindly step off and go bother someone else."

Eyes shifting to Richie's left forearm, the man in the car looks simultaneously frightened and respectful as he says, "My apologies, man. I didn't mean it like that. You have a good day, OK?"

Driving back through the village, Rich notices that the city still trims the trees to be shaped like gumdrops. All is jolly and well here in Glendora; never think otherwise. Perhaps it's cute during the holiday season, but he never understood why the trees were cut to look like that all year round. At the traffic light just a block from the hardware store, Richie's car slows to a halt. As a torrent of cars and trucks zooms through the always-busy intersection, he slowly shuts his eyes. "I don't want to go back," he thinks to himself, gently loosening his grip on the steering wheel. "I can't go back." Daydreams of finality fill his head; he partially smiles as he sighs. A tear pools in the corner of his closed eyelid and drips down the side of his nose. As a young child, Richard used to try and imagine what death or an afterlife might be like, often envisioning people in formal clothing floating through the clouds on their backs. The people look the same as they do in their open caskets, down to the fact that they can't move or open their eyes. He lets his hands slide down the steering wheel and onto his lap. His own vision of an afterlife had always frightened him, fearing that he may be conscious but blind in death; eternal darkness and deafening silence, alone with your thoughts forever and ever. Not quite Hell or Purgatory, but certainly not Heaven. A larger tear streams down the other side of his nose as he thinks about where he's driving back to. As Rich grew older, he stopped believing in an afterlife; now he believes that when someone dies, they are no longer conscious of anything metaphysical and simply cease to exist. The same way one's mind and essence never existed before their birthday, they return to being non-conscious and nonexistent after death. A lifetime of memories, experiences, and pain all gone in the blink of an eye, almost as if they never happened at all. Ignorance is bliss, and nonexistence is peace. In this moment, all Richard can think about is taking his foot off the brake and slamming it on the accelerator.
Unbuckling his safety belt, he visualizes himself driving through the intersection and being catapulted through his windshield as his car makes contact with one to four vehicles who thought they were being protected by the safety of a red light. With his eyes closed, all he would hear is his own engine revving up followed by a loud, metallic crunch. The accident probably won't kill him. He'll more likely end up with serious injuries, in a hospital bed, with mounds of new debt from medical and legal bills... but at least he would be away from Grant Avenue. Not wanting to take any more time to talk himself out of it, Rich steps on the gas and flies through the intersection.

Surprised to be alive and uninjured a mere 1 and a half seconds later, Rich opens his eyes and grabs the steering wheel with just enough time to miss a cement light pole in the median of the street. Contemplating the irony of catching a green light at that exact moment, he quickly snaps back to reality when he sees flashing red and blue lights in his rear-view mirror. Pulling over the car, Richard discreetly puts his seatbelt back on in hopes to lessen the hefty fine he's undoubtedly about to receive.

Day Twenty-Two

Taking a moment to plan updates to the house exterior, Heather walks into the office and sits down in a faded black rolling chair. Sliding open the squeaky desk drawer that shrieks like a paper-cutting machine, she pulls out a blue pen and scratches on a yellow notepad to make sure the pen still works. It doesn't. After repeating the process two more times with two more blue pens, she finds one that hasn't dried out and begins doodling the front of the house with rose bushes in place of the blocky hedges outside the office window. 

Feeling a slight tapping on her shoulder, Heather spins around in her chair and is rather surprised to see that her husband is not behind her trying to get her attention. In fact, there is absolutely nothing behind her aside from a run-down bookcase overflowing with outdated catalogs. "Heather!" Richard yells from across the house. "Come here and take your antibiotics." She springs to her feet and scuttles to the kitchen to find Rich with two pills in one hand and a glass of water in the other. One at a time, Heather swallows her medication and walks back down the hallway to continue working on her doodle. 

Placing Heather's prescription bottle back in the medicine cabinet, Richard pauses to study the collection of pharmaceuticals he's inherited. Once more, he re-reads all the names: oxycodone, carisoprodol, cyclobenzaprine, alprazolam, vimovo, zolpidem, hydrocodon, lorazepam, levothyroxine, sertaline, phenobarbital, depodur, simvastatin, amoxicillin, tadalafil, and atorvastatin. Richard still hasn't researched what each of the pills will do, but he daydreams about swallowing every one of them. Every single one. Every single solitary pill. There are so many of them that it's quite possible he'll die before he gets the chance to swallow half of the collection. Perhaps the most efficient way would be to crush all the pills into powder, pour that into two or three glasses of cranberry juice & vodka, and chug it all down. Blinking the thought out of his head, Rich shuts the medicine cabinet and returns to painting the dining room.

As Heather takes her seat and picks up the uncapped blue pen, something unusual about the drawing catches her attention. Slightly to the left of one of the rose bushes she had drawn, the one next to the office window, is a stick figure drawn in black ink. Though Heather is certain she did not draw the long-haired figure in the front yard, she can't be too sure as she has been in something of a daze since beginning her new medication. The desk drawer makes a scratchy, squeaky sound as Heather wrenches it open, digging through the graveyard of blue pens in attempt to find any other color. Slamming the drawer closed in frustration, she turns back to the notebook and leans in for a close look at the black ink stick figure. Without breaking her stare, Heather reaches her left hand towards a smaller, slightly less-squeaky drawer in the desk and opens it to remove the magnifying glass inside. Raising the monocle between the notebook and her quivering blue eye, she looks at the face of the drawing and notices two tiny dots. In red ink, two little eyes look back into Heather's.

Day Twenty-Seven

Waking in terror, a sweat-riddled Richard tiptoes across the hall to the office and dashes out nervously with a laptop cradled between his crossed arms. In the living room, he turns on the reading lamp and sits in his father's old recliner with the computer open. After hours (or possibly just minutes) of researching ghosts, spirits, and other related entities, he saves a couple of paragraphs which catch his attention:

It is believed that when a person dies after extended or intense periods of despair and suffering, residual energy will linger at the site of death, sometimes manifesting as a full spectral apparitioncolloquially referred to as ghosts or "demons." It's said that sometimes, in very rare instances, a living soul (aura) can reach a level of despair equivalent to those who have suffered intensely before death; In such a rare case, a profoundly tormented person sometimes excretes dark energy which attaches itself to nearby objects and walls. These manifestations, known within the paranormal community as "copies," behave similarly to ghosts or demons and have often been mistaken for such throughout history.

While most hauntings fall under the category of either Residual or Intelligent, hauntings involving this type of apparition tend to be both Residual AND Intelligent; In other words, a copy primarily reenacts the traumas that led to its creation, but also has a 'personality' and may interact with the living in any number of ways. Multiple cases have shown that copies are especially attracted to the living soul they were born from (sometimes referred to as the "curator" or "original" by paranormal experts & historians): in many of these cases, curators with prolonged exposure to their copies become filled with violent or suicidal thoughts which become increasingly difficult not to act upon.

A safe & effective method for eradicating these bodies of energy has yet to be discovered; many curators ultimately choose to cleanse their residence by flame. 

Day Twenty-Nine

Shutting the refrigerator door, Richard coolly turns around to face the handsome wooden knife block that rests on top of the newly refurbished kitchen counters. He and his wife are both quite fond of the knife set; they had received it years ago as a wedding gift from Heather's parents. Supposedly a high-end Japanese brand of steel. Rich has since found out that the knives are actually American-made and given a Japanese sounding name for marketing purposes, but they're quality knives nontheless. Stepping towards the counter, Richard gawks idly at the polished silver handles before stretching his arm to remove a small steak knife from the bottom row. Tilting the knife back and forth in his right hand, he watches the light's reflection dance up and down the blade. Bearing his left forearm, Richie places the point of the blade near the opposite side of his elbow and gently pokes at his skin with it. He slightly applies pressure then releases a few times; not enough pressure to draw blood, just enough to feel the tip of the knife. Slowly dragging it down his arm, Rich draws a very fine and solid white line with the steak knife. After inspecting the serrations for a moment, Richard slips the knife back into the block and removes a large slicing knife from the top row. The sharpest one of the set. Running his finger along the oval-shaped indentations on the blade, he imagines how efficient the tool would be for cutting through his arteries.

Heather just had the knife sharpened a little over a month ago, but neither she nor her husband have had an opportunity to use it since that time. Picturing its effect on fresh tomatoes, Richard visualizes the knife moving effortlessly through his skin and blood vessels. Standing barefoot on a plastic tarp, Rich feels as though bleeding out over the temporary floor covering is more courteous than staining the new hardwood with his death. It shouldn't hurt too much as the knife is as sharp as it gets. He'll definitely feel some pain and discomfort when he switches the knife to his right hand and raises his bleeding arm to carve through the other, but he figures that's no more than two or three seconds of pain. If he doesn't exert any extra energy in setting the knife back on the counter and simply lets it drop at his side, he won't be moving any arm muscles and won't experience additional pain. A warm, wet, sticky finale, made sightly less messy by the fact that the coroner could wrap his bloody corpse up in the tarp and toss him out like a hamburger wrapper. It could all be over in less than 60 seconds; Richie will no longer be a burden to himself or the rest of the world. Listlessly, Richard blinks twice and uses the slicing knife to sever a large cucumber laying on the cutting board in front of him. Doing the same to 2 apples, 2 kiwi fruit, a stalk of celery, and some ginger root, he turns on the juicer before loading in a couple of apple halves with a handful of parsley.

Day Thirty

As sunset approaches, Heather and her husband stand outside with their hands on their waists and survey her hard work. "The back yard really does look amazing, I have to admit," mumbles Richard.

"Do you mean it? Because I was really hoping you would like what I did with the flowers," Heather responds.

"Yeah, they're gorgeous," he says, walking towards the handsome new waterfall fountain in the far corner. "I love the fountain. I always thought this backyard would look much nicer with a fountain."

"I knew you would like it!" squeals Heather, almost more excited than she should be. "Oh, and you see the climbing plants I put across the fence there? In a month, those are going to grow thick enough to block our view from that old man in the white house next door who's always staring into the yard."

"Awesome! I hate that guy. Maybe we should put one of those retracting canopies here so the people in the brick house behind us can't, like, look down at us when we sit on the back patio."

"We?" exclaims Heather. "Do you mean we're going to keep the house?"

Laughing, Richard responds, "No, no. No way in Hell. I don't want a house in California. Especially not SoCal. Especially not this place."

"OK," Heather replies, "well there's a prospective buyer coming to see the place this Friday."

"That's great!"

"What is it about this house that bothers you so much?" Heather's husband continues smiling and looking around the backyard, pretending he didn't hear the question. "The paint in the living room and bedrooms looks really good, by the way," adds Heather, changing the subject.


"I wasn't sure about that eggshell finish, but you were right, it turned out really nice."


Day Thirty-Four

With a final stroke of the vacuum cleaner, Heather unplugs the noisy machine and rolls up the power cord. "Richard!" she shouts, "Did you remember to take those cookies out of the oven?" He doesn't respond. Shuffling over to the kitchen, Heather grabs a potholder, hastily removes a baking sheet of well-done chocolate chip cookies, and sets it down on the new kitchen countertop. After turning off the heat, Heather pinches the side of one cookie with her bare hand and tugs at it. Breaking in half, it crumbles slightly and splashes dark brown crumbs across the silver baking sheet. The cookies did not come out chewy like she had planned, but at least they weren't burnt. Rushing to move the hot cookies onto a plate, she tosses the baking sheet back into the oven and marches down the hallway to find her husband.

"Richard!" she whines, "You forgot about the cookies! They came out too crispy!" 

Entering the master bedroom, Heather is surprised first by the fact that Rich is nowhere in sight, and secondly by the eerie silence that hangs in the air. On the bed, the polo shirt and khaki pants she picked out for her husband to wear lay untouched. Heather's tongue glides nervously against the back of her teeth as she takes soft footsteps towards the closed bathroom door. Underneath, a reflection of light from the bathroom spills onto the new carpeting, with two gaps breaking it up as though someone is standing on the other side. "Richard? Are you okay?" 
Knocking on the door, Heather pauses for a response before gently turning the knob and slowly pushing open the door. Facing the mirror, Richard stands in a daze with a straight razor in his hand. Still damp from the shower, he stares into his own eyes reflected before him, hardly an expression on his face. To the left of her husband, in the mirror's reflection, stands a young man in black with glowing red eyes. His obsidian skin glimmers under the florescent light, though his body is translucent like a shadow. The figure stares directly at Heather as she struggles to maintain her composure in the doorway. Glancing over at her husband's lifeless stare, she croaks, "Honey, what are you doing?"

Slowly shifting his eyes to meet with Heather's in the mirror, he stares coldly for another few seconds before blinking and smiling at his lovely wife in the reflection. "Just shaving, babe." He opens a drawer and pulls out a can of shaving cream, followed by a badger-hair shaving brush. As Richard lathers his face, he glances at Heather's reflection and notices a strange, almost troubled expression on her face. "Are you okay?" he asks. Pausing momentarily, his wife smiles and nods her head over-zealously. Sliding the sharp steel blade against his lathered throat, he peeks at her while rinsing off the razor under the faucet. Noticing that she is fixated on some point in the mirror, he reverts to his initial blank expression and makes eye contact with her reflection. "You see him too... don't you?"

"What? S-see who?" stammers Heather. 

"In the mirror," he says, jerking his head towards the shadow on his left. "You see him. Don't you?" It was more of a statement than a question. Heather stares at the figure next to her husband, which looks back with glowing eyes the color of molten steel. Rich continues shaving, concentrating on taking short strokes with the straight razor. 

Years Earlier

Always doing his best to keep to himself, young Richie stayed in his room all day and dreaded the moment where he would need to walk past his parents in the living room to get to the kitchen. Unless their favorite program was on, his mother and father's eyes would steadily follow Rich as he crossed the room, fixated on their only son, every time he made the trip. After so many years, he had no reason to ask, "why do you always stare at me like that?" because he had heard the answer far more times than he had even asked the question: "because you're all we have." Each time he entered the living room, where his parents spent their days and evenings watching television or working from home, Richard felt as though the room blacked out and two gigantic spotlights would follow him on his mesmerising journey to get a glass of water. "There he is," they must have thought as they craned their necks to keep him in sight, "our only son. My son. All we have." They smiled at him as if they haven't seen him in years; As if it was a miracle that the boy existed at all. As if it was the last time they would ever see him alive. That night, however, the latter thought was, in fact, the appropriate thought to have. Dressed in a black t-shirt and black shorts, Rich kept his head down with his eyes fixated on the glass of cold water in his hand, and exited the room without looking up to see the suffocating expressions on his parents' faces.

The psychological pressure accompanying Richie's existence as his parents' only child had become unbearable. As if knowing that he was the only one who could continue the family name & bloodline wasn't uncomfortable enough, growing up with only adults for reference had caused him to feel extremely alienated all his life. Rich didn't quite fit in at school because he was more used to living in his own head than playing with other children; He didn't fit in at home because he was decades younger than the other people he interacted with on a daily basis, and he didn't fit into the neighborhood because most everyone thought he was just plain weird. Feeling that he was unable to confide in anyone his own age and unable to relate to any adult, Richard developed an astonishingly complex relationship with himself. A sibling, a parent, a friend, and a nemesis: withdrawing from the influence of the condescending adults and conniving classmates he could never really trust, Richie became his own positive and negative influence. His own family. His own god. No word out of any other human's mouth could ever have more meaning to him than his own thoughts and ideas. What began as a coping mechanism for loneliness had solidified into his way of life.

When Richard stepped into his room, he overheard his mother and father react to some sort of violent event in the news before he quietly shut the door behind him. Empty, and alone, his knees gave out and Richie softly collapsed onto his bedroom floor. The plastic cup of ice water dropped from his hand and spilled across the carpet. With silent tears streaming down the sides of his face, he nervously chewed on his fingernails. Bite-marks at the ends of his nails formed sharp serrations, which Richard briefly admired before digging the jagged claws through his left forearm. Holding his arm up so he could see it while laying on his back, Richard scratched into it with anger, lifting and repeating as many times as necessary before the chalky white lines peeled open to reveal pink flesh. With ferocity, he pierced his wrist with his fingernails and tore through his skin and flesh with as much pressure as he could apply. Arms laying at his sides, he stared up at the dry-wall ceiling as streams of cold tears slid down his temples and pooled in his ears. With teeth stinging from numbness, he rolled his head to the right and spied a silver straight razor peering off the edge of his desk. His father had given him the razor last month for his 17th birthday, though Richie had no idea how to shave with it. A very strange gift choice considering the fact that his dad never taught him to shave, let alone with a straight razor. He was almost entirely certain that his dad didn't know how to use a straight razor either. Richard sat up, tears dripping out of his ears as he stretched his arm to reach the birthday gift on his desk. Eyeing the blade as the light twinkled along the razor's edge, he gently placed his index finger on the sharpened bottom and slid it downward. With little resistance, Richie's fingertip had a clean cut down the center and began to well up. Still on his back, Rich raised his left arm and watched through puffy, pink eyes as the corner of the straight razor sank into his wrist with a spurt, and continued downward to cut a smooth red line along the length of his forearm. Following a rapid knock, the bedroom door swung open and Richard's father entered to find his only son halfway through severing his arteries on his bedroom floor.
Slapping the razor out of his son's hand, Richie's father yelled to his wife to call 911 as he dragged Rich out of the bedroom and into the hallway. Unable to form words, young Richard only cried as his parents yelped out variations of, "how could you do this?" and "we love you, son."

Upon their arrival, paramedics cleaned and bandaged Richard's wound, but needed to transport the boy to the emergency room for stitches. Contributing to the panic, EMTs had to try to come up with a new plan to get Rich out of the house when their attempts to put the teenager on a stretcher were met with violent kicks from steel-toed combat boots. Insisting that he was perfectly capable of walking, Richard gave everyone in the house an incredibly threatening look before he helped himself up and casually walked down the hallway. Two police officers were just entering the front door as he was approaching it, and subsequent to a short and curt, "Move!" from young Richard, both cops immediately scooted aside to allow the bloody and bandaged teenager to walk outside.
Strolling past the crooked hedges in the front yard, he tried to ignore the fact that every single neighbor on the street was out front watching him as he stepped into the back of the van and patiently waited for the others to catch up. From outside, he watched the light from his bedroom window flash and go completely dark. As he sat in the rear of the ambulance, he couldn't help but sneer at the fish-eyed faces of his gawking neighbors; They had always looked at him as if he was a freak in a side show, and that incident was all they had needed to justify their years of staring.

"Good," he thought. "Let them stare."

Day Thirty-Four

"W-what do we do? Should we get, like, an exorcist or one of those psychic ladies or something?" asks Heather, noticeably trembling. 

"I don't know, I don't really believe in that shit," groans her husband.

"Maybe we could burn some sage or something?"

"What good will that do? Nobody's gonna buy the house if it smells like hippies live in it."

"Well fuck, Richard! I don't know! You're the one haunting the damn place so you tell me how to fix it!"

Rich sighs deeply. "I don't know." He takes a pause. "Maybe we have to burn this house to the ground. 'Purification by fire,' ya know?" He holds a solemn expression on his face.

"We should probably just stay in a hotel until we figure something out," she says.

The ring of a doorbell echoes throughout the house, followed by the faint sound of rhythmic knocking on the door. Both of their eyes wide with realization, Richard hurriedly resumes his shaving while Heather scrambles out of the bathroom and anxiously treads down the hallway to greet her client at the front door.

"Welcome, Mrs. Bonnington! It's so wonderful to finally meet you in person! Please, come on in."

The prospective buyer, a short & stocky woman with shoulder-length black hair, stands in the doorway wearing a maroon pantsuit. Following Heather's invitation, the elderly woman gives a kind smile and steps inside the house. "Good afternoon, dear," says the client. "These double doors are so chic. Oh my, and the foyer looks even more beautiful than the photo I saw online!" Admiring the elegant details and tasteful decor of the room, Mrs. Bonnington almost seems entranced as she follows Heather into the newly renovated living room. It doesn't smell like paint or fumes, but the house does have the distinct scent of a new home. 

"This is of course the living room," says Heather, "We just installed this new hardwood flooring, and it's throughout the whole house. As you can see, this is a very spacious room, and we've updated it with recessed lighting and this marble fireplace here."

"What a gorgeous fireplace! Does it burn wood or gas?"

"Both! And you can see there's plenty of space above the fireplace to mount a flat-screen TV. You can imagine how cozy this place feels during the winter. Now if you'll follow me to the kitchen, you'll see we've just put in these beautiful granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. I just baked these cookies, Mrs. Bonnington, please help yourself if you'd like. Uh, this part is also new; we added a kitchen island in the middle here than can be unlatched and rolled away if necessary."

"Very interesting," says the client while taking a cookie from the plate. "So tell me dear, what exactly is the purpose of an island?"

"Um, it's just some extra counter space to fully utilize a large kitchen like this one. There are some drawers here for knives and cutting boards and whatnot. Or you can make yourself a pina colada and come here to your private island whenever you need a little vacation." They both laugh at the corny joke. "Around the corner here is the dining room and parlor; this area is the perfect space for a large dinner table, and there's plenty of room in the parlor there to entertain guests before dinner. We just installed this wet bar over here, and there's even a mini-fridge beneath the sink for chilling wine or beer bottles."

"Very lovely. Though I'm not sure I understand the difference between a bar and a wet bar," says Mrs. Bonnington.

"A wet bar includes a sink for washing glasses. I guess they call it that because 'bar with a sink' doesn't sound as hip." Both women share a laugh as a clean-shaven Richard enters the parlor and introduces himself to the prospective buyer. 

"I'm glad you like what you've seen so far," says Rich. "If you think the inside of the house has charm and character, wait until you see the backyard." Unlocking the sliding glass door, Richard allows Heather and the client to enter the backyard before closing the door behind him. The weather has been very hot and humid over the last month or so, but today happens to be the perfect day to step outside. The aging gentleman in the brick house up the hill from theirs sits in a lounge chair next to his pool with an auto magazine in his hands and a cigar in his mouth. His dark aviator sunglasses would have made it difficult for Heather and Richard to tell that he was watching them, but the movements of his "Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran" cap give him away. Despite being at their breaking point for the incessant voyeurism, the couple puts on their friendliest faces and wave at the man sitting poolside. With a subtle smile, the neighbor politely raises his hand to acknowledge their greeting before casually getting up and ascending the long flight of stairs back up to his home.

"Mr. Johnson over there is such a sweetheart," Heather tells the prospective buyer, "he's had us over for his poker nights a few times before." Heather doesn't actually know the man's first or last name, nor has she or her husband been invited to the poker nights she suspects he holds every Wednesday. Delighted by the idea of a small neighborhood community, Mrs. Bonnington smiles as she admires the beautiful perennials planted near the water fountain in the corner. The cat struts tranquilly along the edge of the wall separating their house from the neighbor's.

"All of these plants and decorations are brand new, of course," Richard tells the woman. "We left space in that corner to put in a koi pond or gazebo or anything else you might want there. As far as privacy goes, the plants along the bottom of the fence there will grow to cover the whole thing in another couple of months, and we're going to install a retractable awning over this whole section of the back patio tomorrow."

Climbing the short set of stairs to the large parking area adjacent to the backyard, they walk past the basketball half court to look around the spacious 2-car garage attached to the house. Following the quick lookaround, the three of them use the door along the side of the garage to re-enter the house. Taking a right, the young couple leads their prospective buyer into the master bedroom. "As you can see, we have beautiful crown molding throughout the room." Mrs. Bonnington compliments the tasteful decor that marries the walls to the ceiling. "Back here," continues Heather, "we've made some renovations and turned this whole area into a walk-in closet; Take a look!" Astonished by the volume of the closet's interior, the mature woman's jaw temporarily drops before curling back up into an excited smile. "If you like that, wait until you see the master bathroom! Here we have 2 separate vanity areas, each with its own sink and lighting. Over there we have a brand new shower with an adjustable ceiling-mounted rain shower-head. Next to that is the piece de resistance; a brand new sunken Roman tub with an elegant waterfall faucet. Isn't it beautiful? You'll feel like a million bucks every time you take a bath in here."
Noticing the mirrored cabinet on the wall, Bonnington curls her thumb around the edge and swings the mirror open to reveal the mosaic of colorful prescription bottles inside. Momentarily surprised, Rich immediately breaks the tension with an awkward laugh and says, "Oh, those came with the house. Don't worry, they're included in the asking price." A bit of a risky joke to tell to a potential buyer, but it pays off as the client seems to genuinely find it amusing. 

Exiting the master bedroom, the three of them convene in the hall where Heather proceeds to point out the other two rooms and the guest bathroom. "This one can also be used as a bedroom," Heather says, gesturing towards the room across from the master. "We've been using it as an office, but you can pretty much do anything with this room."

"Now, this whole place comes fully furnished?"

"Yes, that's correct," replies Rich.

"I have to say, dear, this house has greatly exceeded my expectations. I was hesitant to look at homes on this side of Grant Avenuewhat with all the stories you hearbut this place is simply divine. I'd like to make an offer; I'm very happy to give you your asking price plus a little extra to lock it down immediately." Mrs. Bonnington reaches into the bright red clutch she's been carrying and removes a checkbook along with an engraved silver pen. A mixture of exuberance and anxiety washes over Richard and his wife; the sort of feeling one might get upon nearing the end of a finish line in a race. "Oh my, this is fantastic news!" exclaims Heather "Are you absolutely sure about that?"

"Oh yes, my dear, I'm sure! Assuming, of course, there isn't some terrible, potentially fatal flaw to the house that you haven't told me about yet," the older woman laughs. "There's nothing like that, is there?"

Taking a brief moment to come up with an appropriate answer, Richard and Heather continue to smile in silence. The fact that the couple didn't immediately respond with, "no, of course not," worries Mrs. Bonnington. The cheerful grin on her face quickly begins to fade into an expression of concern. Behind the client, the far corner of the room becomes gradually darker. A thin, gray shadow near the center of the wall expands vertically, becoming heavy and black as it begins to take the form of a silhouette. Richard opens his mouth to speak, but is unable to form a coherent sentence. The shadowy figure in the corner quietly steps out of the wall behind the mature woman and slowly makes his way toward her. Now looking quite frightened and confused, Mrs. Bonnington shifts her worried gaze to Heather's smiling face. Standing inches behind the prospective client's back, the dark figure stares down at her with its burning red eyes. Though the shadow entity is crystalline, the light reflecting off of it makes it glisten like glass or oil. 

"My apologies, Mrs. Bonnington. You see, my husband grew up in this house and he's, um... he's very attached to it. I think Rich is just excited that you like the house so much, but he's sad to see it go. Is that right, baby?" asks Heather, fondly stroking Richard's back.

Feeling as though he may faint at any moment, Richie watches as the figure in black raises a heavily scarred arm and rests his hand on the client's shoulder. "Yes, that's right," he says, "I'm so thrilled that you're interested in the house. It justit just means so much to me and, uh, this is all happening so fast. Please, excuse me." Rich warmly shakes Mrs. Bonnington's withering hand, desperately avoiding eye contact with with the shadowy man in his likeness behind her, and retreats to the master bedroom. 

"So there's nothing else I should know about the house?"

"No, no. Richard and I already took care of the problematic plumbing and the raccoons in the attic, so she's good to go." Heather says through a pleasant smile.

"Excellent, excellent! This house is just perfect for my son and his fiancé; I've been tying to find a nice home for them as a wedding gift."

"Wow, that's incredibly kind of you. Well this is a very special house indeed," Heather replies with tears welling up in her eyes. The older woman's eyes glaze over as well, unaware that the actual reason Heather is becoming emotional is due to the fact that the ghostly figure of her husband is grinning and leering directly at her from over Mrs. Bonnington's shoulder. "I just hope your son and daughter-in-law will love this home as much as we do."

"I'm sure they will, dear. I'm sure they will!"

Day Thirty-Five

Both thrilled and mortified, Heather and Richard hurriedly pack up the remainder of their personal belongings. As Richie grabs up wads of underwear from his nightstand and shoves them into a large gym bag, his hand brushes against something hard at the bottom of the drawer. After taking the last few pairs of briefs out, Rich feels cold droplets of sweat bead on the back of his neck. In the empty drawer, next to the case of ammunition, is his M&P9. The gun lock is gone, and Richard can see that the pistol is loaded with a magazine. He picks up the gun and releases the mag to find that it has a single hollow-point bullet inside. Setting the firearm on the bed, he opens the box of ammunition to find that only 1 round is missing. With an acute, morbid sense of amusement, Rich scoffs before replacing the bullet in the box. Following 4 unsuccessful attempts to open the safe in the garage, Richard opens the door and removes the black plastic gun case. Inside the padded case, Richard is not surprised to find the red gun lock. Taking no further time to contemplate or wallow in the situation, Rich sets the case on his bed, packs the gun inside, coils the red lock around the case handle before closing the padlock, then places it inside of a cardboard box full of clothes with the ammo on top. There's no time to get hung up on suicidal thoughts now; in just two more days, he'll be away from Glendora forever.

On the way to their hotel, Richard drives by Grant Burger, a local restaurant that he often missed and daydreamed about over the years. Aside from the renowned donut shop on the other side of town, Grant Burger may be the only thing that could redeem his hometown in any way. But Rich is very eager to get to the freeway and away from Grant Avenue. Besides, it's Sunday and the masses of churchgoing families in white SUVs with "Not Of This World" stickers on the back have virtually taken over the restaurant. The best cheese fries on this side of planet Earth aren't enough to make Richie pull over; he continues driving with intent until they reach the hotel they've been staying at in the neighboring city of Claremont.

Day Thirty-Six

Hours after sunset, the house at 957 is dark and empty. Aside from a cricket chirping in the backyard somewhere, the silence is nearly deafening. A quiet sniffle is heard in the darkness. Awakening from its resting place on the living room couch, the cat hops onto the floor and casually walks down the hallway towards the sound. Muffled sobs are heard as the cat sits in the office doorway and watches the man made of shadows laying on the floor as tears stream from his slit red eyes. With his mutilated left arm spreading burgundy liquid across the wood flooring, he softly sobs and sniffles with his mouth wide open and teeth bared. Without hearing the subtle cries, one would assume from his facial expression that he's screaming. Purring loudly, the cat approaches the young man in black with it's tail pointing up. Attempting to nuzzle his cheek, the cat's face repeatedly goes through him and touches the wood floor. As the cat plops down on the floor next to the shadow's head, it purrs noisily while trying to put it's paw on the boy's face. The silhouette continues weeping in the dark.

Day Thirty-Seven

"Time to go," says Richard as he encourages the cat to leave through the sliding door on the back patio, "Have a nice life." The puffy pearl-colored feline saunters out to the backyard. In all the time that Rich and his wife had lived in his parents' former home, neither of them had ever fed the cat or set up a litterbox for it; the creature always took care of itself. Even in the time between the death of its owners and Rich moving into the house, the cat essentially lived outside. Richie shuts the sliding door and locks it.

Pausing to brush some lint off her purple cardigan, Mrs. Bonnington rings the doorbell and adjusts her glasses. Answering the door with an uncharacteristically big smile, Richard greets his client and welcomes her into what he refers to as "your home." Heather, who put extra time into her makeup, donned fancy jewelry, and dressed up for the special occasion, emerges from the hallway in a blue sun dress with blue high heels and a comic book smile. "Hi! Welcome, welcome! Can I get you some coffee or tea?" Opting for the tea, Heather shuffles to the kitchen to steep an infuser full of oolong in a cup of hot water for Mrs. Bonnington. "Please," says Richard, "Have a seat in your living room." Sitting down on the brown leather couch, Mrs. Bonnington thanks Heather as she hands her a teacup on a saucer. The coffee table directly in front of her has nothing on it except for several fanned-out sheets of paper with colored flags pointing to blank lines to be filled, a pair of house keys, a blue pen, and a plate of fresh baked cookies. About 18 minutes and a cookie & a half later, all that remains is a single blank line.

"And we just need one more signature and date right here," says Rich, "then we're good to go." Setting the uneaten half of cookie down on the tea saucer in front of her, Mrs. Bonnington presses the blue pen to the paper and scribbles her name. "Congratulations," exclaims Heather as she dangles the house keys in front of Mrs. Bonnington, "it's all yours now!" Smiling big, Heather leans in to give her client a warm hug before releasing hold of her to say, "Thank you so much, Nancy. It was important to us that this home went to the right person, and I know your son and future daughter in law will love it the way we did."

"My pleasure, dear. Thank you both so much for making it so beautiful, they're going to love it soexcuse me." Mrs. Bonnington removes a handkerchief from her bag and wipes the corner of her eye with it. "I'm getting choked up."

"Aww, well you save that for the happy couple," Richard says before he takes her frail hand in his and shakes it carefully. "Thanks again!" Exchanging goodbyes, Heather and Richard continue waving until they shut the front door behind them. Inside, the mature woman removes a paper banner and some clear tape from a manila envelope she brought with her. Standing on a wooden chair, she posts the banner along the back wall so the new inhabitants will read "Congratulations Steve & Jennifer" when they first enter the home.

As Richard drives the Volkswagen, his wife in the passenger seat peers into her side-view mirror to catch a glimpse of the silhouette with glowing eyes watching them from the parlor window. "Not that I care at this point, but is what we did, like, illegal?" asks Heather. Laughing, Richard responds, "Nope, I looked into it; It's illegal not to disclose deaths on the property within the last 3 years, and if they specifically ask, it's illegal not to disclose deaths that are older than that... the law doesn't say shit about, like, ghosts and shit. We're clean. Thank you, State of California." Turning up the radio, Richard rests his hand on Heather's as they drive towards the sunset.

Day One

The bride and groom sit at their table near the center of the room with a crowd of close friends and relatives surrounding them. It's a lovely and decadent reception to follow a lovely and decadent wedding. Unraveling the delicate blue ribbon around the white box on the table in front of her, Jennifer carefully removes the lid from the top. Inside the box, resting on top of a small silk pillow, are two sets of housekeys. Each pair of keys has the same keychain: a silver pair of wedding bells with a laser-etched photo of Jennifer & her new husband on the back. Shocked, she looks up at her new mother-in-law for an explanation. "It's your new homeclose to us in Glendora! A spacious, newly-remodeled 3-bedroom house in a very clean neighborhood. And it's above Sierra Madre Ave!" The expression on the couples' faces change from one of polite appreciation to genuine excitement. Mouth agape, Jennifer's hands cover her heavily-blushed cheeks as she exclaims, "Oh my God! Thank you, Nancy! Thank you so much!"

"Thanks, Mom!" says Steve. "Wow, I can't tell you how much we appreciate this. This is unbelievable. I can't wait to see it!"

As Steve and his new bride were unaware they'd be living in a new home by the end of the day, hardly any of their personal belongings are packed; all they have is the luggage for their week-long European honeymoon that begins tomorrow. Upon arriving to the house, Steve is still wearing his tuxedowithout the jacketand Jennifer is still wearing her bridal gownminus the veil. The couple pulls through the driveway and parks in the garage. Beginning to carry Jennifer in his arms, Steve decidedly sets his bride back down when he realizes the garage entrance to the house is too narrow and awkwardly shaped to safely carry his wife over the threshold. Taking her hand, Steve and Jennifer skip across the back deck, past the half court, down the steps to the sliding glass doors at the back patio. Supporting Jennifer's back with his left arm, he lifts her from behind her knees with his right arm and pulls on the door handle. It's locked. Lowering his right arm, Jennifer's feet touch the ground, and the couple wastes no time in joining hands and jogging back up the steps and past the basketball hoop. Scampering down the driveway, they cut across the front lawn, pass the rose bushes, and stop at the double front door. Using his brand new house key, Steve unlocks the main door and attempts to push open the other half of the double door. Realizing it's latched in place, Steve quickly undoes the latches at the top and bottom of the door and swings it open. With a sense of pride, Steve sweeps his wife off her feet and carries her across the threshold of their brand new house. He leans in and presses his lips against Jennifer's, both savoring this perfect moment signifying the beginning of their new lives together. Back on her feet, Jennifer suggestively says, "let's find the bedroom," and stomps down the hall while beckoning to her husband with one finger. Spinning around on one foot, Steve hurriedly shuts the open door, latches it back in place, shuts the main door, and turns the deadbolt before speedwalking down the hallway after Jennifer. Turning the corner to the master bedroom, Steve's lips part when he finds his bride already laying on a king-sized mattress. With one leg bent, she waits wearing nothing more than white lingerie, white leggings, and white heels. Loosening his tie and kicking off his shoes, Steve walks towards her. He presses his forehead against hers and runs his fingers through the mahogany brown hair on the back of her neck. Tilting his head to the left, he leans in and kisses her ruby-colored lips while slowly moving his hand down her neck and shoulder. Momentarily pulling apart, Steve and Jennifer gaze into each other's eyes and smile affectionately.

"I love you, Jenny," whispers Steve as he adoringly strokes her back.

"I love you so much, Steven."

Removing his tuxedo pants, Steve places a knee on the foot of the bed and climbs up next to his bride. Sliding his left arm underneath her head, he rests the arm on her back and pulls her towards him by placing his right hand on the rear of her silk panties. Jennifer closes her eyes tightly as her husband passionately kisses her neck and gently nibbles on her ears. Feeling her hair being tugged at, she passively pushes the hand away and places her arm back around Steve. Touching tongues once more, Steve tenderly bites her lower lip and slightly pulls at it while endearingly running his fingernails down the length of her back. Enjoying the physical sensations, her lips break contact with her partner's as she tosses her head back and softly gasps in pleasure. With her left hand on Steve's cheek, she presses her moist lips against his. Fingers run through her hair a few times before tightening into a fist and pulling at her long, brown locks. Grabbing the hand, she pulls it away by the wrist and takes her lips off her husband.

"Stop," she exclaims, "I don't like it when you pull my hair."

Steve's eyes squint with confusion. "I'm not pulling your hair."

Jennifer takes a beat to absorb the fact that her husband's left hand is on her back, and his right hand is resting on her thigh. Sensing pressure on her hair strands again, she slowly rolls her head to the left to see a heavily-scarred, translucent black arm extending from the bedside.

© Copyright 2013 Ramsey Doudar. All Rights Reserved.


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