I am awake. I don’t recall falling asleep and am not real sure how I got into bed, but I am awake now. There is a very distant ringing in my ears, sort of like the aftermath of a concussive blast that makes you deaf, only this ringing seems far off inside my head. Must have had a rough night I suppose, although honestly I can’t really recall the previous evening or any evening for that matter. Yep, must have been one hell of a night.
I roll out of bed and my feet hit the cold, hard tile floor of my bedroom. Rubbing my hands over my face I try to shake the cobwebs of sleep – and whatever I may have drank last night – out of my head. Glancing out of the nearby window of the bedroom I see a gloomy, overcast sky and a light rain falling on the leafless forest of trees that surrounds my property. Is it fall? I honestly cannot remember. Ugh! I swear God, I will never drink that much again. I have made that same hollow promise a hundred times before I am sure.
Moving off of the bed, I walk down the hall and descend the staircase that leads to the main level of the house, the top three stairs creaking under my weight as they always do. Moving down the stairs, I can see outside through the Amityville Horror-style windows over the entryway that the drizzle and clouds have settled in and are likely going to be hanging around a while. I’m not going to go to work today.
Wait. I don’t have to work today, right? It’s the weekend, isn’t it? I shake my head vigorously and make that same hollow promise to God again. This day is going to be far worse than my night must have been.
The kitchen has a digital clock, so I stumble into it to check the day and time just to be sure I don’t need to call in – ahem – sick. Clock says 9am – I’m late if it’s a weekday – and it is Sunday. Excellent. Time to crash on the couch and do nothing. My God I am tired. That couch is calling my name right now.
I leave the kitchen and move through the archway into the living room, noticing that the hardwoods are just as cold as the tiled floors upstairs. A small shiver moves up my spine and I make a turn towards the thermostat to crank the heat up before lying down and covering up with the throw blanket hanging over the back of the couch.
The worn, cold leather of the couch creaks under my weight. I hear the familiar click of the thermostat as the heat kicks on and pull the blanket in tighter, close my eyes and try to fall asleep. Maybe this hangover – worst one I ever had and I still can’t remember the party. Hell yeah! – will be gone after a good late morning nap.
The whispers start immediately. I bolt upright on the couch, throwing the blanket aside as I do, and scan the room. Aside from me, the living room is empty.
The upstairs bathroom fan is running. Did I leave it on? Did I even go in the bathroom this morning?
I sneak quietly from the living room, through the kitchen and peek around the corner. Silent as a church mouse. I had to have been a ninja in a past life or something. I look up the stairs and see that the bathroom light is on and the exhaust fan is definitely running. Maybe I destroyed the toilet last night and left it running to kill the smell before stumbling to bed, I think.
But the whispering starts again and it is coming from the bathroom. No time for subtlety now, so I bolt up the stairs – the top three creak as usual – and burst into the bathroom. If there is someone in here they are about to get their ass kicked. But the bathroom is empty and the whispering has stopped.
Okay, I am far more hung over than I thought. I flip the bathroom wall switch to kill the lights and the fan then realize my bed isn’t far away at all. Sleep. I need sleep. I am so tired. The bed is there, in my room, dark and inviting. I will just sleep this off and wake up feeling much better. Time for that nap.
I lay down on the bed, sinking into the mattress like butter melting on a hot pan, pull the covers up to my chin, close my eyes and sleep.
Or at least I think I went to sleep. I am definitely awake but I don’t recall falling asleep or dreaming. The darkness has crept into the room like a stealthy thief, casting shadows on the far wall that look like little demons ready to jump out of their two dimensional wall canvas and attack as full blown three dimensional horrors. Must be night time because I can’t see anything through the window, but I can still hear the faint pattering of the rain on the roof.
I throw the blankets back, sit up and rub my face again. Still tired and groggy. And hung over. I leave the demons behind me on the bedroom wall and head to the bathroom. The light is still off so I flip it on. The light from the molded glass fixture dances all over like little crystal ballerinas and the exhaust fan comes on. I sneak a peek into the toilet – Nope. No prayers offered up to the porcelain god in here, I think to myself.
As I turn to the mirror to face myself and dreading the site I will behold in this rough state, sounds from downstairs freeze me in my tracks. It is the unmistakable sound of silverware on plates. Someone is eating dinner in my house.
The top three stairs creak once again as I fly down to the first floor, burst into the kitchen – throwing the door wide as I enter – and head towards the dinner table by the bay window. There are plates here, remnants of a half-eaten meal on each of them. But whoever was here, eating my food, left in a hurry when they heard me coming.
The hardwood floor leading to the front door sounds like a herd of elephants is holding a track meet on it. The bastards are running out the front door. As I quickly head to the entryway, I see the door close and hear the deadbolt click into place.
They have a key? They must have because they just locked the door from the outside. I peer through the stained glass window slits that sit on either side of the front door but I cannot see anyone in the cold, black, rain-soaked night. Enjoy the weather you pieces of shit.
The idea that someone was in my house, eating my food and has a key disturbs me. There were clearly more than one and while my past life ninja skills might help me fight them if they return, I don’t want to pin my survivability hopes on reincarnation theory. Besides, I am just so tired. Let the cops do their job.
I grab the phone off of the wall and dial 911. Nothing. I hang up and try again. Still nothing. There is no dial tone. Did they cut the lines? Bastards.
Now I am pissed. They were in my house, eating my food and now they have cut the phone lines? Well, they don’t have a car because I would have heard it fire up and drive off. Their asses are mine.
As I storm out of the kitchen towards the front door, I leave a trail of dinner plates, silverware, half-eaten food and anything else on the counters strewn on the floor. That dull ringing in my ears has intensified a bit, I am tired and groggy, but I don’t care. I am pissed.
I open the front door so fast I don’t even feel the brass handle in my palm. It slams shut behind me. Taking long, determined strides into my fog-covered front yard – seems the rain has let up – I start scanning for assholes and elbows because I am sure those fuckers are running away. I spend the next hour searching the yard along the tree line but don’t find any sign of people. Whoever they were, they are long gone now and dammit I am still tired as hell. I don’t have time for this.
As I head back to the house, I notice that the lights in the entryway are on. They cast a glowing image of those Amityville windows above the doorway onto the stone slab porch and front yard.
And the front door is open.
I don’t remember closing it but I know I heard it slam shut behind me. I break into a full run and charge into the house, stirring up a vortex of wet, dead leaves in my wake. I notice that the ringing in my ears has increased in intensity and I can hear the din of whispers over the tone in my head.
As I storm onto the cold, slick floor of the entryway I see three people. The first is clearly a priest of some sort. He is holding up a rosary with one hand and has a small, opened bible in the other. The second person is a short, sad looking woman with a floor length coat pulled tight around her, its fur-line trim and collar cinched closed with little wooden pegs.
The third person is my daughter.
I almost forgot I have a daughter. How could I forget her? She is beautiful, standing there in front of me. I have a tremendous sense of loss and realize I miss her so much, but cannot figure out why. Didn’t I just see her the other day? Well, didn’t I?
Images of a beach, the warm salty air on a windy day flash through my mind. My little girl is there and we are flying a kite. I can hear the waves crashing onto the sugar-sand shore and my daughter laughing as we run through the surf flying a kite. It was a great day. And she was so young, beautiful and full of life.
She is crying now, mouth covered by her hands as she scans the area of the entryway we are all standing in. She looks at me quickly then her gaze moves on, searching, but for what?
The sad, little woman with the fur-trimmed coat, however, looks right at me. She has a grim look on her face as she pats the priest on the shoulder and shakes her head. The priest stops waving that stupid rosary around, goes silent and then moves to hold my daughter as if to console her.
“He is here,” says the short woman.
My daughter lets out a sob and the ringing in my ears gets loud.
“He is confused and angry. He doesn’t understand yet.”
My daughter uncovers her mouth and her lips quiver. She squints her eyes as if to hold back more tears. “Can he hear me? What’s he saying?” she asks.
The short woman shakes her head. “It doesn’t work like that. He can hear you, yes. But I don’t hear what he says. Just emotions. Feelings. You can speak to him.”
My little girl, little no longer as I realize she is a full grown woman now, wipes tears away from her eyes, sniffles and offers a smile. I sort of laugh because she must think she is looking at me but instead she is looking just off to my left. But why wouldn’t she be able to look right at me? I am standing right in front of them all.
“Dad, you can go now. We are going to be okay. Mom and I love you and miss you so much but you have to go. You will be better off.” My daughter laughs a little and smiles that smile I always loved to see. “Don’t worry, I won’t let Mom sell the house. I know you love it.”
The ringing in my ears is nearly deafening now but I do not care. Why is she talking to me like this? Why does she want me to leave? And why is she not the ten year old girl from my memory?
I begin screaming these questions to her. The ringing has become full blown pain in my head but I don’t care. I press my hands to my ears trying to block out the noise and continue screaming my questions at my daughter.
The short woman shakes her head again. She casts a sad look towards my daughter. “He is angry. He is screaming at you – I can’t hear the words – but he doesn’t understand why you are saying these things. He is very, very confused. He doesn’t know it is time to move on from this life.”
Wait. What did she just say? I stop screaming and lower my hands. The ringing in my ears is subsiding and instead begins a slow decent into a single, harmonious tone. What does she mean that it’s time to move on?
My daughter smiles again. I have missed that so much. “Daddy, we love you. It is time for you to move on. You can’t keep scaring the hell out of Mom and I. We appreciate you staying with us to make sure we are okay – and we are – but you need to go.”
Behind my daughter, the kitchen doorway suddenly flares to life with the brightest light I have ever seen – pure, clean and inviting. That harmonious tone grows louder. Not painful, but inviting. I look away and to the three people standing before me. They do not see the light. It beckons me, so I begin to walk towards it.
The short woman pats my daughters hand and nods her head. Her smile tells me she knows what is happening even if I do not. I move closer to the light, its beams of white falling over me like long, loving arms pulling me into their embrace. The tunnel entrance is so close now but I stop and turn to look at my daughter one last time. I mouth the words I love you knowing that no sound will come from my lips. The short woman whispers to my daughter. She sobs briefly then says “I love you, too, Daddy.”
I step into the tunnel and let the light take me. The tunnel isn’t very long and the light near the end begins to shift. I can smell warm, salty air and I hear the crash of waves on a sugar-sand shore. My little girl giggles.