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Are You Still There?

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The cigarette tasted delicious as I inhaled the smoke. Oh, I needed this. Holidays were always stressful. I wondered why Mom invited me to her house for Thanksgiving this year, and as much as I didn't want to go back, I knew I had to in order to get some money out of her this year. She eventually figured out that it was the only reason I wanted anything to do with her anymore and didn't seem to care. Our relationship was past the point of being repaired, but she seemed to be fine with it. Oh, well. I got money out of it, so why the hell did it matter?

I was sitting outside on her porch when I saw our next door neighbor's son Richie, whom I used to have a crush on growing up, checking his mailbox. He looked at me and smiled. I smiled back. My friend Sarah told me that he was with Georgina now, that whore. How many men is she going to go through before she realizes that she's a slut? I laughed to myself as I snuffed my cigarette butt out on the cement. I left this town for a reason, but something always pulled me back to it. Something other than the stupid gossip. And Mom.

I stood up and started to walk back into Mom's house when I heard Richie call my name.

"Yeah?" I asked, turning around. I jumped as he was only standing a few feet away from me and I should've seen him walk up to me in my peripheral vision. I stared into his glacier blue eyes, expecting to see the same ambitious, passionate, and charismatic Richie that I knew before. But they were empty. I was paralyzed in fear to see his chalky face up close. He looked fine at a distance. "What's wrong...?"

"What are you doing here?" he whispered.

"I...I'm visiting my Mom," I said.

He shook his head and shot a fearful glance towards the house.

"You have to leave. Things aren't the same here anymore. The...the town, it's..." he said.

"Richie, what the fuck is wrong? You're scaring me," I asked.

He put his hands on my shoulders and leaned into me.?

"Things have changed. For the worse. When you look at things here without really looking at them, they appear normal. But...they're not. They're..." he said, trailing off. I heard Mom whistling in the background.

"Daniella, sweetheart. Who are you talking to?" she asked. He must've lost his mind.

"Richie," I replied.

"Leave and don't come back. It's too late for me," he whispered.

"Dinner's ready," Mom said. I gently pushed him away from me.

"Want to join us?" I asked. He shook his head.

"Daniella, don't go back in there. No one is who they say they are."

"Not even you?" I asked.

"No. Not even me. You wonder why you keep coming back, don't you? It's this place. They lure you in," he said.

"Daniella, come on before the food gets cold," Mom said.

"I'm hungry. It was nice seeing you again, Richie," I mumbled, turning and walking back into the house.

I saw Mom in the kitchen taking lasagna out of the oven and setting it on the counter, which was my favorite but an unusual Thanksgiving dish. "Lasagna, huh?"

"Yeah. Why not?" she asked, smiling. I sat down at the kitchen table and watched her cut me a piece of it, putting it on a plate and setting it down in front of me.

"So, Richie's really lost his mind, huh?" I asked, trying to laugh about how fucked up he was now but failing miserably.

"Oh, honey. Richie's been dead for years," Mom said, laughing.

"What?"

"If you had visited often enough, then you would know that Richie died years ago. Freak accident," she said as she cut herself a piece of lasagna.

"But...I just-"

"You just saw him? Don't give me that shit, Daniella. You always used to say that you could see dead people when you were a kid, but you're a big girl now. Eat your food," she said.

I grabbed my fork, trembling, and looked down at the lasagna. It seemed to be moving. I leaned in closer to it, slowly peeling off the first layer and gasped when a huge spider scurried out of it, off of the table, and across the room. I kept peeling off layer after layer and found more bugs.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"What did you put in this, Mom?" I asked. I leaned in, removing the last layer of lasagna and gasping at what I saw. A finger.

"What do you mean? It's the same lasagna I made when you still lived here," she said, sitting across from me and taking a big bite of her piece. I squirmed as I heard her chomp down on of what sounded like a huge insect inside of her mouth.

"Mom...what's wrong with you?" I asked.

"What's wrong with? Me? What's wrong with you?! Lasagna is your favorite food," she said.

"I have to go," I said, standing up. She raised her eyebrows.

"Oh? Where?"

"Home," I said.

She smiled.

"This IS your home," she said. She grinned at me, flashing pieces of the bug she ate between her teeth.

"No, it isn't."

"You were never satisfied with what you had," she mumbled, standing up and walking towards the kitchen drawers.

"Mom, I'm sorry. Just please stop acting like this."

"Like what?" she asked, getting a knife out of a drawer.

"What happened to you? To this place?" I asked.

"Things change, honey. People leave, die, disappear. This town is the only town that's changed for the better. But you just had to go and leave, didn't you? Had to fuck everything up. Had to fuck up The Plan. If you would've stayed, like I asked you to, you would've changed with us. You would've gotten everything you ever wanted. But you never listened. You still don't."

"Please stop," I mumbled, covering my face. Warm tears filled my eyes and my heart skipped a beat as I heard Mom walking towards me.

She removed my hands from my face and leaned in closer to me. As she got closer and closer, her face began to contort and become disfigured.

"I never wanted you to leave. But now, you never have to. You're one of us now," she said, jamming the knife into my stomach. As I slowly began to fade out of consciousness, I saw her for what she really was. Well, for what IT really was.

Mom was right. I never listen. Not even to dead people.

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