Since I pitched in the most I got first taste. Needed it, too. Last night’s spirits were awful, couldn’t sleep a wink. Birds became planes, car horns were bombs, and every kid stumbling home was another Charlie with a rifle. Them. When Randy final got up, he took one look at me, then shoved our syringe in my way, announcing that he’d start the laundry. We were camped not too far out from what the city called a river. It was frigid at the best of times, but it served its purpose.
I floated nearby as Randy scrubbed our good shirts. My bubbling blood and the whirling of the water were sweet on the ears. Soothing moments are so hard to come by. It was in times like that, I felt so high that not even the past could catch me. All too soon he tugged me back to earth. Snatching the spoon out of my limp hands muttering to himself. I was still a bit hazy, not quite steady on both feet, but I got his message, shift change.
Despite being on wash duty, I candidly watched as Randy made show of slipping in the needle slow. He was dramatic like that. But I sobered up quickly as he began packing up our little kit.
“Hey, you best be burning that needle before you go and pack it up,”
Randy raised both brow and hands as if addressing God and me, “Why?”
“Because I don’t wanna catch some second hand shit from you.”
That got me a burst of laughter in response. In between chuckles Randy wheezed out, “If anyone’s contagious it’s you. I heard you with that infectious thing, Daisy – no wait Debbie, whatever.”
“Oh is that how you get your kicks? Listening?” I wouldn’t have put it past him.
Randy gave a shudder, “Euk, I’m happy to say that neither of you are my type. Unlike some people, I have taste.”
With that he began burning the needle, and I went back to scrubbing. Unfortunately it was a fools dream to think that he was done talking.
“Was she good?”
I threw my hands down, sloshing the water, pissed that I was brought down to soon, pissed at Randy’s stupid curiosity, and pissed that I couldn’t get that fucking mysterious stain out of my only good begging shirt for Sundays. Religious folk always give more to a bum who looks like he wants to change.
“Would you shut it?” I hollered.
Randy scrunched up his face but didn’t say a word, so I went back to scrubbing vigorously. Yet I felt those damn eyes boring into me, pleading, I crumbled quicker than I’d like to admit.
“She was good enough.”
That had Randy perking up, “The hell does that mean, good enough? I need details, come on Hank give me somethin’!”
Pointing a dripping pruned finger, I tried to stop him before he got off on another one of his tangents. “Now don’t push your luck.”
Randy barked out another laugh, a little less real. “What luck, Hank? We don’t got a lick of luck between the two of us. Come on we need to make tracks.”
As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. So once the clothes were dry enough we went north. Following Randy’s grand plan of becoming high cotton, well more like a well-fed bum really. The thing was, in the city people were either made of gold or on the streets, but in middle of nowhere towns, we would be the only ones begging, so less competition. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Trudging through open fields, the city shrank out of our existence, and we grew twitchier. There was nothing to hide behind when the terrors sought us. Still we kept moving.
. . . .
It looked a lot easier in the cartoons. Once your legs turned to lead all you had to do was stick a thumb out, or leg, but that was only if you were a real looker. After a few hours of freezing our nuts off, some big rig took pity on us. They always did. We must’ve been quite the sight, lips blue and clothes that needed a good wash a week ago, but what can you do? While Randy coxed for a ride, I stood off to the side with a firm grip on our bags, just in case. The guy seemed nice enough, but so did everybody.
“I can take you as far as the next rest stop.”
Randy shot him a big car salesman smile. “Perfect.”
We rode in silence after that, it didn’t matter. I was never that big on small talk anyway. Besides, I was too consumed by the field of white that seemed to stretch on forever in every direction. It surrounded us. My eyes stung, but I was too afraid to blink. If I blinked I could miss them coming. Despite the cold, I felt sweat bead across my forehead. Have to stay quiet, can’t blink. A pained groan brought me back, and I shook away the dread. Sparing a quick once over it was clear, Randy wasn’t doing so well.
“You two alright? You’re looking awfully pale.”
I gave a snort, “You might not have noticed, but it’s snowing out.” It wasn’t the reason, but it wasn’t a lie either, the snow wasn’t helping anybody.
“Ha! You two must be some kind of crazy, wandering about in this weather.”
It was stupid is what it was. Randy was an idiot for leading us this far north during the winter; even worse is that I followed him. All too soon we reached the stop, but considering how violently he was shaking, it probably wasn’t soon enough. Not wanting to freeze we began working in shifts. While one begged for shelter from the public, the other found euphoria out back by the shitter. Out of the kindness of my heart, I took first the shift, but hell if I wasn’t ready to double over by the time Randy finally took over. Took his sweet time, the ass.
The darkness felt thick around me, and it was so cold that I swear my breath was made of snowflakes. Huddled up and wet from the snow beneath me, I was sent back to the trenches. I had to hurry up before they came through the trees. My hands were shaking so bad I nearly dropped the spoon. Lighter burning the most beautiful brown you ever did see. With a quick prick, that heavy weight eased in a second, and breathing didn’t seem like such a burden. Could have stayed in that snow for hours. I was contemplating snow angels for the first time since preschool when Randy rushed toward me.
His eyes followed my lazy wave before continuing.
“We’re in! Some hot cougar actually said we could stay with her! …You think she’s using, too?”
Honestly I couldn’t have cared less.
. . . .
Apparently I wasn’t moving quite as fast as I felt, since Randy’s grimy hands began pawing at me. Pulling every which way and swiping away bits of frost, as if that would somehow make me look presentable. It would take a lot more than a quick dusting to clean away layers of our filth. I smacked his hand when Randy began smoothing my hair.
“Would you quit it? If she already said yes then she doesn’t need us to be all prettied up.”
Randy’s rolled his eyes, “Fine, I was just trying to at least make you look decent since you tend to make a person cringe with that personality of yours.”
“It hasn’t gotten rid of you unfortunately,” I whispered right back.
“Whatever. Come on, she’s up front waiting.”
He led me by my collar like some pathetic kitten. So I smacked him again. Just for a moment I looked back at the trees, wondering if where we were going there would be more. Trees made me uncomfortable, since you never really knew what was behind them. Them. They. They had visited me through the trees last night. They always visit, but it was more real than when they hid behind concrete skyscrapers. They hid behind trees before, waiting to catch us off guard. Different trees, but trees all the same. A shiver licked its way down my spine as I caught back up to Randy. Knowing my luck there would be even more trees.
. . . .
Constance was a petite thing. All legs, with a waist one could wrap a hand around, yet she looked untouchable. Like new snow, pale, with eyes so bright it hurt to hold her gaze. Yet her eyes kept darting around, and she kept an iron grip on the steering wheel. I might’ve felt sorry if she hadn’t been the one offering housing instead of money, but now I wonder if it was really nerves.
True to himself, Randy kept up a steady stream of questions, which she skillfully evaded. Giving plenty of information, that gives you a thimble full of the desired information. She was a clever one, so I couldn’t help being confused.
“Now you seem like a smart woman, so why would you play Bed and Breakfast to a couple bums like us?”
Ignoring Randy’s frankly amusing hand gestures trying to shut me up, I carried on.
“Didn’t your Mama warn you about bringing home strays?”
Constance pursed her lips. “Who ever remembers their Mama’s warnings?”
I stifled a bark of laughter at the hooded glance she gave me. Even without knowing her reasoning it seemed like it would prove to be a very entertaining little stay. My musings halted, when I looked up at the house the car was pulling up to. Well calling it a house would be a disservice. After living around apartments for so long it was dumbfounding to see a place surrounded wide acres of trees. I didn’t even throw off Randy’s hand that was gripping my shoulder to express his own amazement. Despite not knowing a thing about architecture, I could tell this house was a classic beauty. Tall white pillars connected the multiple stories, while a line of trees and black iron isolated the property. It was the only house I could make out against the blinding ice. Walking across the threshold I felt grimy in comparison. As if reading my mind Constance offered us to take a bath while she started dinner.
“There is one tub on this floor to your right, and three more on the second. But before you scurry off may I make a request?”
Already feeling like this was to good to be true, we eagerly nodded for her to put limitations.
She gave a polite smile before continuing. “I’m a very private person. Each and every open room is available for use, but if you find a shut door please leave it be.”
Feeling bolder than I should have looking like as I did I tried my luck, “And what if we need anything? Will your door be shut?”
“Just give my door a knock if you need anything. Now go clean up dinner will be ready soon.”
Giving a small nod, Constance left to what I assume was the kitchen. Randy and I shared a look. In silence we wondered why someone with such a fancy place had no personal chef, better yet why buy a house so big for one person? With a shrug, we went to freshen up. Despite my sore feet I took to the stairs while my eyes wondered about the odd collection of nick-knacks lining the walls. Children’s knitted gloves, wood carved animals in various stages of completion, but what really caught my attention, was the battered swiss army knife. It was well used, but still working, marked with the same embellishment that Randy’s and mine have. The government shipped off all their puppets with one of these in hand. Like I said, odd collection.
. . . .
It had long since grown dark by the time my feet silently made their way to her door. Randy would throw a fit if he knew what I was up too. Whether out of jealousy or fear of me getting us kicked out on our asses, didn’t matter. He wasn’t the one being eyed up all through dinner. After giving a small knock I began wishing I hadn’t made it all up out of a fools hope. As I was trying to come up with any excuse, a dainty hand pulled me into the room. Constance’s earlier meekness was gone. Her cool eyes pinned me to the door, as did her white-knuckled grip. As I opened my mouth to say anything, she swallowed my words with a biting kiss.
Something came over me. My mind felt fuzzy, but I didn’t want to question it, because my mind was quieter then it had ever been. Her body tasted sweet, dare I say sweeter than what any bottle or needle can give. The swell of her breasts was heavy in my hand. Our rhythm was unrelenting, nearly erratic. I wanted to stay in that foreign feeling forever. We hadn’t even reached our peak when muffled cries broke through my fogged mind. I almost thought it was Randy, but it was too shrill.
“You have a kid?”
Eyes scrunched up and backed arched she asked, “What’s that?”
“Your baby, it’s screaming something fierce.”
Normally I wouldn’t even think about stopping till I was damn well pleased, but it takes full concentration to please a women right; the constant wailing made that impossible. Constance went unnaturally still beneath me; I swear she wasn’t even breathing. Through the cries I could hear Randy knocking and hollering about where all the children were. I almost hadn’t noticed that it was too much noise for one kid, no matter how annoying. Aren’t mothers supposed to rush to their babes? Yet she just kept staring at me motionless. Finally the maddening crescendo finally got to me, and I flung out of bed, grabbing clothes as I went. I figured someone had to shut them all up. My action seemed to put life back into Constance, as she hurried after me night slip in hand.
She pawed at me pleading. “Wait, don’t go out there! Come back to bed.”
Shaking loose of her I swung the door open, barely missing Randy’s knocking fist. The cries seemed to come from every direction, my face scrunched up tight against the unfamiliar onslaught. Too many hands gripped onto me as Constance and Randy fought for my attention. One franticly tried coaxing me back to bed – it’s just the wind – the other demanded me to get them to stop – wind doesn’t scream like children in pain. I pushed them both away shouting, enough.
Shrieking cries became choked sobs, almost to soft to hear. They no longer filtered around us, but seeped out from every door in the hall. No one moved, the three of us held our breath, but soon enough Randy had to shatter the stillness. He was trembling.
“Well if none of you are going to do shit, I’ll get them to shut up. Fuck.”
That said, Randy made his way towards the door that the sounds of the first wail came from. When he touched the knob, Constance had started to follow, but then took a step back before, spitting fire from where she held her ground.
“Don’t you dare open that door,” she said it with such venom, it was hard to believe it came from her tiny frame.
Either not knowing or not caring, Randy went in. With what little light the hallway provided, I caught glimpse of an old metal crib. The room was too dusty. Movement caught my eye; the door was closing quicker than I could speak. With a slam, Randy was locked in. The crying stopped. Constance just shook her head as she turned away. After failing to open the door I put me ear against the smooth wood. I could hear Randy taking slow steps, my heart pounding, and in a trembling voice I heard the least religious man call for God.
Giving the door a few more pointless punches, I called out, “Randy? Randy!”
In frenzy I spun around. Emotion must have blinded me because it took me minute to relocate Constance. Standing by the window, her figure was tense like an archers bow, while there was barely light inside or out she seemed luminous. Unthinking I gripped her tight making her spin, too. I made her body face me, but her head was cast down. She was murmuring.
“They never understand…I’m a good mother…Its not my fault…Its better if they stay…Stay with me…I took care of them all…”
I didn’t feel right, I started shouting over her weird words, “Why can’t I open that door? What happened to Randy? Why did all the cryin’ stop all at once? What the hell is going on here!?”
Slowly Constance raised her head. Her eyes were so wild and so chilled when she looked at me; I swear my soul still has frost on it. In that moment, that women scared me more than they, them, ever did. So I did the only thing I could think of. I ran.
. . . .
Everything rational is thrown away in the face of fear. I didn’t grab our bags, I didn’t have a coat, and I didn’t care, I just rushed toward the snow and the trees. I didn’t even really know what I was running from, none of it made any sense, but that had never stopped me before.
Through the snow I could see the streetlights. Adrenaline was beginning to fade, leaving my muscles weak. I collapsed onto the frozen asphalt, not even concerned with the possibility of becoming road kill. Tears escaped me, and the wind burned them to me as if to brand my shame. I was free, but I didn’t feel it. I had left the crazy house. Okay yes, I left Randy, but I didn’t even know if he was alive or not. I wanted to leave, flag down the first car and hightail it out of there, but all I could think about was Randy when he was still wet behind his ears. He was trembling like a leaf. I remembered cursing to myself as I called him over to my fire, and how since then I was never alone. From my spot on the ground I tried screaming, but my throat was already hoarse.
I cursed all the way back to that damned house.
It looked just as I had left it. Too large with a heavy darkness around it that made me struggle to breath. I stumbled back into the house by the still open entryway. Being a coward I could only whisper his name, wanting him to hear, but not wanting to be heard. Wandering around the house it was too quiet. There were no more cries. My weight didn’t make the stairs creak, my breath silent, it was as if the shadows sucked up all the noise. The upstairs hall was dark. Constance wasn’t by the window, adding to my anxiety. And all the doors were open, even the door to the baby’s room.
The familiar sensation that kept my eyes open for hours washed over me as I crept towards the room. Despite the dark I could still make out the shape of the crib. I have no clue what made me do it, but I found myself reaching for the crib. There was something under the blanket. Just wanting it to be over I ripped the thin fabric away and was confused. Inside was a porcelain doll. It was an old thing, the kind that looked so real and fake at the same time. Its glass eyes bore into me and I wanted to scream and cry alongside the weeping noises that erupted from the babe’s porcelain skin. It was stupid to have lingered there. One minute I’m gawking at the doll the next something is being smashed into my skull.
For the second time that night, the sound of wailing surrounded me. My head was pounding, and my face stung from where it was pressed up against the snow, but I didn’t move. I just looked with half-open eyes. More snow, dirt, rocks – no tombstones, and Randy slumped down near me, a nasty gash to the head. Over the moaning was mumbling and the scrapping of a shovel. I strained to hear.
“They always cry, even when I get them all the company they could need…never happy…No one appreciates my efforts…Would you stop crying!”
As silently as I could, I began shifting to my feet. Begging for Constance not to notice. The steadier on my two feet I grew, the louder the crying became, drowning out any noise I would have made. I chanced a look around, but couldn’t see anything but us. Constance seemed to be arguing with the distressed invisible crowd, claiming it was their fault, but I wasn’t really paying attention to all that. Once I finally pulled myself up right, they, them? They went quiet. Taking one last deep breath I body checked her. And before she could recover, I smacked her in the head with her own shovel, I didn’t hold back. She was as stiff as the stones that surrounded us.
Limping I made my way towards Randy, eyes never leaving where Constance laid until finally reaching him. Pressing close I could feel Randy’s breath. Sure enough once I shook him, he shot up, almost smacking me right in the kisser, but I didn’t have it in me to say anything about it. I simply pulled him up, and half-carried us the hell out of there. Before reaching the iron gate I froze in place at a shattering scream. Against my better judgment I looked back. Constance was reaching out to us crying for help. Dozens of bright translucent hands, young and old, gripped her everywhere pulling her down, down to the earth. Those eyes of hers looked genuinely scared, pleading with me to save her. Save her from the hauntings of her creation, from the voices of men and children screaming. Looking away, I gripped onto Randy a bit tighter as I pulled us towards the main road.
My dreams changed that night, and for every night after as I am sure they did for Randy. We never talked about it. Hell, Randy barely spoke again. Although I always wondered if he saw the doll in the crib, or if it was something else that made him beg for God to save him? Honestly I don’t think I care to know.