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The Neighbor's Girl

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It was dusk when my flight finally landed in Tampa, Florida. I stepped out of the bustling airport, and for the first time in months I felt heat. The warm air of the Sunshine State took me by surprise, sending ironic shivers down my spine. The weather here was nothing like the icy northern cold of Seattle, where I come from.

I felt a feeling of joy I have never experienced, and I felt I could do anything I wanted. My new life here was already beginning quite smoothly, and with my new job waiting for me, I was beginning to feel the dawn of a new era.

It amazed me that I finally had a safe job. Before now, most of my jobs included a frying pan and a silly little hat. And, of course, that’s only when I did work. Most of the time, I was lounging off my unemployment with a bowl of cereal and watching TV in my mother’s house. After 3 solid years of doing this, my mother suddenly fell ill.

I have always loved my mother. Even in my adolescence, where you aren’t supposed to even acknowledge your mom, I was always by her side. It just seemed like she understood me better than anyone else in the world. If I was going through a rough time, she was always there.

Sadly, my siblings never really felt the same way. My dad walked out when I was 5, so I never really knew him very well. My sister, Janet, was 15 when this happened. According to the stories, they had the same relationship that I had with my mother. Janet didn’t like our mother because she blames her for father’s departure.

It wasn’t really mom’s fault. Father met somebody else who he simply loved more. But Janet was always bitter about it, and her and mom got into really cutthroat arguments over it. I believe she’s living in Wisconsin now, happily married, but sure as hell she won’t try to support mother in anyway. I don’t really keep tabs on her or my brother, Gene, anymore.

Gene was always the smart one in the family. I was a decent student, B’s and C’s, but Gene would always get A’s, and it seemed to just come naturally to him. It looked like he had a promising future until the tenth grade. Gene got involved with real scum after failing to pay a debt he owed them. They made him his bitch. All of a sudden, Gene was into drugs, stealing, and I think he’s in jail for murdering a different scumbag over some drug thing. He is obviously in no shape to support our mother, being in jail and all.

In college I majored in  psychology, which is how I ended up becoming a school psychologist. Can you believe I had to extend my search all the way to Tampa? That’s ridiculous. They interviewed me on the telephone, a business practice I never heard of and a flawed one at that. And they accepted me. It wasn’t an extravagant school, however, and due to the surplus of crime, I‘m guessing they were desperate for anyone to come in and work. It was an elementary school/middle school building with a population of only about 200, with kids all through eighth grade. I actually already found a place, a nice little apartment not 2 miles from the school.

Granted, I would have to bike to the school until my first few paychecks, which I’ll save for a little junky car. I arrived at my apartment a few hours after getting into town. I got my key from the landlord, nice guy but perhaps a bit unstable, and entered the room. It was sad that I was in my mid thirties and this was the first place I owned on my own. The only reason I could afford it for a few months was the money my sister lent me. Just because she won’t help mother doesn’t mean she won’t help me. It was a bit dark and a bit empty.

Luckily, the last people who lived there were kind enough to leave their couch, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to sleep on it until I disinfected the thing. And, perhaps even more lucky, there was a little kitchen with a working fridge, stove, and oven. The kitchen will only be used to cook the noodles I’ll be living on for the next few weeks. Despite the otherwise emptiness, I liked this place. It felt like… me. Like I was meant to live here. This place was specifically designed for me to live in.

I met the neighbor’s girl as soon as I stepped out of my apartment (saying “my apartment“ gives me joy even to this day). She was just sitting there playing with a few dolls, which were frankly a bit disturbing. The girl seemed normal to me, and I should know. I‘m a psychologist. At first glance I would’ve guessed she was about 7 or 8, and I later learned that she was indeed 7.

She had medium length blonde hair, falling straight down on her back, just slightly past the shoulders. She looked about 4 foot and 2 inches from where I was standing, and she was wearing pink overalls (which were adorable, to say the least) over a blue shirt. She had a pale little face spotted with freckles, and on her ears were two little earrings that I believed were clip-ons. She spoke to me first.

“Are you our new neighbor?” She asked, her voice laced with curiosity.

“I would suppose so,” I answered, trying to sound as polite as possible.

“What’s your name?” She asked, after a brief pause.

“Um, Robin. Robin Baker. What’s your name?”

“Ummm…” She sounded generally confused.

“Can’t remember your own name? That’s interesting.” I said this trying to convey a feeling of humor and good heartedness.

“Yes, I can! I’m Cynthia! Cynthia Tyler!” She said this with sheer frustration.

“That’s a pretty name. Nice to meet you Cynthia.”

“Nice to meet you too.” 

“What are you playing with?”

“These are my dolls.”

“Those are some nice dolls there. Do they have names?:

“Um, this one is named Gretchen, her name is Jacqueline,” she paused for a moment, “and her name is Carol, I call her Donna, and his name is… um … Jack. I hadn’t named this one yet, but I think I am gonna call it Robin. Like you.”

I laughed. “Wow, those are all good names! My mother’s actually named Donna.”

“Hmm,” she thought for a minute. “Do you like your mother?” She asked, the whole tone of her voice taking a swift turn from a perky to a macabre undertone. 

“Of course, I do! I love my mother!” I was a bit taken aback by the question.

“I don’t. I hate mine.”

“Don’t say that. Of course you don’t.”

“I do! I really do!” She stood up. “I hate her!” 

“Why would you say such a thing?”

“She’s such a… such a… She’s a bitch!”

I was shocked at the language. “Where did you learn to speak like that?” 

“My mother!”

I felt like there was a serious problem here. I naturally switched to psychologist mode. “Now why would you say that about her?”

“Ever since my dad died, she’s been so mad. All she does is yell at me. I wish she would’ve died instead.”

Her dad died. This was definitely in my job description. Me to the rescue. “Now don’t say that. Your mother loves you just as much as your dad, I’m sure.”

“You don’t know my mom.” She said, with a tone so upset and a single tear rolling down her face. “I have to go inside now.”

Neither said goodbye to one another.

Fast forward to my first day at my new job as a psychologist. I hadn’t seen much of Cynthia since our meeting, but I knew she would be going to this school, and with the events of the conversation in mind, I knew I would be seeing her in my office (I got an office!). Let me be the first to say that this school was no Harvard. The walls were a peeling turquoise green, and the coffee stained tile floors were missing about a tile a row.

There was various debris all over the ground, and the walls had distinct stains of mustard, horse radish, marker, and blood. I feel bad for the principal. I met him first thing, before I did anything else in that school. He is a big fellow, who I learned wore the same flannel shirt and pants combo every day. He was not a man to wear a tie. I feel bad though because he obviously cares about the school and the students. “We are the forgotten school,” he has said time and time again.

While meant as a joke, there was a reality in this. This school gets granted almost no money, ever. All the other schools in the district do, but the government either really did forget us or they just didn’t care. I would honestly have to lean towards the latter. I do really admire Mr. Miley (the principal) though.

Although he works at a school turned to shit by vandals and unruly students, he’s always positive and he always gives a friendly “good morning” to everyone he passes, even the known troublemakers who he has problems with time and time again. On the first day, he showed me around the school, I met the different teachers, and then he showed me to my office. 

It really took no time at all after I settled in my office for a student to come in for examination. It was a neat little place. The walls were painted with blue, and on the floor was a nice, big rug with various patterns and designs on it. On one side of the room was my desk, and on the other side was a comforter, which is where the kids sit during our interviews. Anyways, this first person to come in was a little 8 year old girl in the first grade, just like Cynthia.

I already felt bad for the girl when she walked in. She was not a film star beauty, and it looked as if there was not hope for her unless she went under the needle. She had curly red hair, with a face so freckled it looked like her natural face color. She was a chubby little thing, and her cheeks stuck out far enough to look like she was intentionally doing this. Her name was Gretchen.

The name Gretchen was oddly familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. She was in here for physically attacking another girl, which I thought was more the job that a principle or counselor should handle, not a psychologist. I interviewed her anyway. This was my one and only interaction with her, as she will be moving a week from that day. 

“Hello,” I said in my most calming voice.

The girl was looking away, silent.

“How are you today?” I asked.

Silence.

“Do you wanna talk?” 

Gretchen shook her head no.

“Why not?”

“Well I…” she began, but realizing what she had done, she quickly covered her mouth.

I laughed. “I almost had you there for a second, didn’t I?”

The girl flashed a little grin, but she still wouldn’t speak to me. 

“Well, I got you smiling. That’s something.”

The girl continued her smile. 

“Well, I normally give out prizes to the people that talk. You wouldn’t be interested in that though, would you?”

That caught her attention.

“Unless, maybe you would enjoy this Hershey bar I got in my desk…” I wanted that Hershey bar. But my job was more important. 

“I’ll talk! Gimme!” She suddenly yelled.

“No, not yet. You gotta answer some questions first!”

She looked disappointed. “What kind of questions?”

“I just need to ask you a few questions about yourself, ok?”

She pondered this for a moment, until she finally said “Ok.”

“So why are you here today?"

“I got into a fight.” She answered almost immediately.

“I don‘t normally deal with people just because they‘ve gotten into a fight. Are you sure that’s the only reason?”

She looked confused. “What do you mean that’s not what you deal with?”

I stumbled around looking for an answer that won’t offend her. “I normally deal with… other things. Never mind that.” Smooth, Robin.

“I already saw Mrs. Irwin…” Uh oh. Mrs. Irwin was the school counselor. That most likely means she got stuck in here for something else.

“What did she say?” I asked.

“That I needed to see you!”

“Ok. Ok. Let’s talk about your fight. Can you tell me about it?”

She waited before she answered. “She called me ugly,” she finally spit out.

“And what did you do about that?”

“I told her to leave me alone.”

I believed that was an appropriate answer. “That was an appropriate answer. Then what happened?”

“I attacked her with scissors,” she said with a certain playfulness that was really disturbing to me. 

“And why did you do that?”

“She called me ugly, stupid!”

Although I was actually kind of offended, I let it slide. “Then what did you do?”

“I got her. Right in the back. She’s in the hospital now.”

“Who did you get into a fight with?”

“Cynthia Tyler.”

Cynthia! The little girl I met! The poor devil was in the hospital because of a scissor wound to the back! That was the climax of the conversation. A few weeks later, Gretchen got shipped off to God knows where after some interviewing with someone who wasn’t me (I never told you, I’m not actually very good) and I never truly saw her again. 

A boring two weeks went by. It wasn’t till the end of those two weeks where my first incident happened, the first in a long line of many. I arrived home from work after a tedious day of doing nothing and looking at YouTube videos. I walked in the door of my apartment building, and I immediately noticed that something was off. The building had a different… atmosphere. It was differently lighted and something was changed about the… sound. It was the kind of deathly quiet where you truly could hear a pin drop. “Hello?” I shouted, trying to make sure I wasn’t the only one here. There was no response. I proceeded cautiously up the stairs, and with each step I began to hear more and more. At first, all I could hear was the faint whisper of… something. Somebody, some creature, I couldn’t tell. As I continued, I began to hear that it was a little girl’s voice… singing. I couldn’t hear the words at first, but I could distinctly tell that the tune of the song was to “Ring Around the Rosy,” which was always creepy if you did it just right. I slowly began walking up more stairs. I started to begin to make out the words. 

Gretchen…. School again…. Don’t like her…

The rest was inaudible. I very slowly walked up a few more steps, and I could finally make out the entire song. I was horrified.

Gretchen, Gretchen, never went to school again

If she‘s gone, they won’t care, they don’t even like her there

I wanted to walk out, but I couldn’t. My curiosity was too overwhelming.

Gretchen, Gretchen, never went to school again

If she’s gone, they won’t care, they don’t even like her there

My heart was pounding and my face was turning red as I went farther up.

Gretchen, Gretchen, never went to school again

If she’s gone, they won’t care, they don’t even like her there

This was it. I was nearly there just … a few more… steps….

Gretchen, Gretchen, never went to school again

If she’s gone, they won’t care, they don’t even like her there

At the top of the stairs was a horrifying sight. Splattered with blood on the walls was a big GRETCHEN written out. The blood must have been fresh, it was still dripping down slowly. And in the corner, the source of the noise, was Cynthia Tyler. She was sitting there, still singing, playing silently with her dolls. She must’ve  noticed that I was there, and she stood up and looked at me. She had no pupils, her eyes became a deathly black, and down one cheek was a little trickle of blood coming from her socket. She was paler than normal. I noticed she wasn’t really playing with her dolls. She was mangling their bodies, although she specifically paid attention to one in particular. She must’ve stripped it, the doll was naked. It was one of those American Doll girls, which always creeped me out, anyway. It’s neck was dangling from it’s body and on the stomach was a big “X” painted with human blood, while there were obvious slits through the eyes. Through the back was a pair of scissors, and the doll appeared to be bleeding like a human. The worst part was the face of this doll. Besides the slits through the eyes, the doll wasn’t smiling like it used to. The doll had a look of sheer terror on it’s face, like it just experienced something very real. And the whole time Cynthia was staring at me, singing her song.

Gretchen, Gretchen, never went to school again

If she’s gone, they won’t care, they don’t even like her there

Cynthia just stood there with her dismantled doll in the blood splattered room, staring at me with her black eyes and the single trickle of red down her pale cheek. She didn’t move an inch. And in her right hand was a lock of orange hair.

And then I woke up. Of course it was a dream! It must have been! That could’ve never happened in real life! I was disturbed at myself for even dreaming such a thing. I shook it off as a night terror. I used to get those, when I was a kid. My mom would always help me through them, and if I ever had a bad dream, I would put it in the Bad Dream box where no evil could ever escape. I was longing for that box right now.

The weird thing was, I don’t remember falling asleep. But I must have, here I woke up in my bed. 

Did I drink last night? Where did I get the money to drink? Did I go to a cool bar? What did I get? Did I maybe pick up a girl? I looked next to me. There was no girl. Why couldn’t I pick up a girl? Am I not attractive enough? Dammit, Robin, get your life together! You probably did something really embarrassing! I should call mother. And then I smelled my breath. There was no traces of alcohol. That was good. But ugh. I felt like absolute shit. I should get up. I went and brushed my teeth and started the shower. I checked the time. 3:45. 3:45!?!? I missed work! Oh but wait, it was Saturday. That’s good. All these bar thoughts and the idea of maybe picking up a chick was enticing. I decided what I would be doing that night. I got showered, got dressed in my finest clothes and watched Netflix for two hours. I head out around 7.

You ever watch The Simpsons? If you did, you would know of a place called Moe’s, a stinky little dive in Springfield. For those of you not familiar, Moe’s was a place where the same five or six guys would always go to drown out their sorrows in that sweet, sweet poison. The bar was dirty, ugly, smelled like shit, and no girls would ever get a drink there. Those were the only bars I knew where I come from. I didn’t actually live in Seattle, like I said. I lived about an hour away in a suburbs.

I’m sure the bars in Seattle would’ve been much better. But I liked my bars. Those bars were the bars I knew. Which made it such a shock when I went into a club in Tampa which was actually a nice place, for once. Their was a big dance floor (I’m not much for dancing) in the middle, with disco balls and strobe lights and a really obnoxious DJ who played (what sounded to me, at least) the same thumpa thumpa thumpa song every single time he switched tracks.

There was another section with tables for the dining guests. And all the way at the other side of the room was the bar, where I would be headed. I had to walk through all the sweaty, dancing people to get there, which sucked. I finally got to the bar and ordered an appletini. 

“How gay are you?” the pretty blonde woman sitting next to me asked.

“Excuse me?” I replied.

“How gay are you?” She said with more force.

“I don’t understand.”

“An appletini.”

“Yeah.”

“An appletini,” she said in disbelief.

“What?”

“Everybody knows that the appletini is the gayest drink.”

“Well, it was my mom’s favorite drink, and…” I got cut off

“Oh, it was your mom’s favorite drink!”

“Yeah.”

“Let me ask you again. How gay are you.?”

“I’m not… I’m straight. I’m straight. I’m not gay.”

She examined me for a minute, her blue eyes staring right at mine. “You sure about that?”

“…Yes.”

“Ok. I can buy it. Gay guys wouldn’t get so red when talking to a girl at a bar anyways.”

Jesus, I was red? What do I say now? “Uhm… Yeah. I guess… I guess so.”

She stared at me, smiling. “Well you’re obviously pretty smooth with girls.”

I didn’t reply.

“What’s your name, slick?”

“Um… Robin. Robin Baker,” there was a familiarity in my voice when I said that, like the first time I met little Cynthia. 

“Robin?”

“Yes.”

“Like the freakin’ bird?”

“Um, yeah. I guess so.”

“Well, that’s a cool name. I’m Carol. Carol Harold. Yeah, I know. Carol Harold right? What kind of rhymey ass name is that?”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you Carol.”

“I’m gonna make this easy on you.”

“What do you mean?”

“This is obviously very hard for you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Take me back to your apartment?”

“Why?”

“Why do you think, dipshit?”

“…Oh.”

“C’mon Robin. Let’s get out of here.”

“Um… Ok."

So we did just that. We went back to our apartment. We did things with our private parts.  

Naturally, we fell asleep after we were through. Which is why I was sure that this one was definitely a dream. I mean, it must have been. I do indeed remember falling asleep. But again, the incident felt so real, like the first time. I woke up around 1:30. And something was off. It was the same quiet as the first time, the same deathly quiet. I turned to see Carol.

Carol was there. She just wasn’t… alive. Her eyes were rolled to the back of the head, and on her naked body was the word “whore” written in fresh red blood. There was a tiny stream of vomit rolling down her mouth, like she had been strangled. I was naturally shocked and I jolted up and looked around the room. And in the corner of the room was Cynthia Tyler. Her eyes still as black as the soul of Death. The same trickle of blood out the same eye, but the stream was longer and appeared to be flowing as she was watching me.

She was paler, and her veins were clearly visible running up her neck. She just stared at me, never breaking eye contact. In her hand was another mangled body of one of her dolls, this one even more gruesome than the last. Again, instead of it’s normal face, this doll was shocked, like it had feelings. The hair was all torn out, and there were thick red scratches all throughout her body. The doll had the same stream of vomit that Carol had running down it’s mouth. I stared, absolutely speechless. But this time she spoke.

“Whore,”  she said, almost in a whisper.

“What? What? What do you mean?” I let out.

“Whore,” she said, now slowly walking towards me.

“Get away from me! Go away! Get!” I screamed out in terror.

She continued walking. “She’s a whore.”

“How do you even know what that word means!?” That was strange to me, that of ALL things I could be thinking about right now, I was wondering how this little girl knew what “whore” meant.

“She’s a bitch, she’s a slut, she’s a WHORE!” And with the word “whore,” Cynthia violently slashed Carols back with her fingernails. I felt the blood on my face. Like it was real.

But it couldn’t have been real. I woke up, just like last time. Carol must have left, she wasn’t there next to me. She called me Bluejay last night, like she was funny or something. I never did see Carol again. Never cared too. She annoyed the hell out of me, anyway. But hell, if she didn’t look DAMN good naked. What time was it?  7:30? She woke up and got up at 7:30? Did she have work today? Who works on a Sunday? Does she not love me? It doesn’t matter. Like I said, she annoyed the hell out of me anyway.

I was lounging on the couch when I heard a phone call. I, annoyed, got up to go get it. “What?” I answered, with some off-putting scorn. 

“You shouldn’t sound so scornful. It’s off-putting.” 

“Who’s this then?”

“I am the death of you.”

What? WHAT? This is not what I needed with all this crazy dream shit. The red blood, the black eyes, I was already kind of nervous. This didn’t help.

“Wh…Who… Who are you?” I stumbled out. 

He laughed, “Wouldn’t you just love to know.”

“I’m gonna hang up!” And I did hang up. I believed that was sensible. Nobody ever hangs up.

That’s when the doorbell rang. 

I was cautious at first, but I figured it was just merely a coincidence. I slowly opened the door and there was my childhood friend Jack. He has had the same sense of humor since 8th grade. That son of a bitch, I should have known it was him!

“Aha! The death of you! How retarded are you?!”

“Shut up, Jack. How the hell did you find me?”

“Ah, your sister told me where you were living.”

Oh yeah, I did tell her. “You got in contact with my sister?”

“I would bang her every which way imaginable. Is she still married?”

“You disgust me.”

“You haven’t answered my question, yet.”

“Yes, dammit. Yes, she’s still married. Happily, might I add.”

“What are you doing in a shithole like this?”

“I work at a school just down the block… Wait, you traveled all the way from Washington to see me?”

“Well…Remember how I said I would bang your sister?”

“That was like… two seconds ago.”

“And she only lives a few hours away from here…”

“I know…”

“I did bang your sister.”

I was shocked, “What the hell does that have to do with anything?!”

“Nothin’, just proud. And as I said, she only lives a few hours from here so I figured why not come visit my ol‘ pal, eh?”

“You didn’t really have sex with my sister,” I began, “… Did you?”

“Yeah.” 

“YOU HAD SEX WITH MY SISTER?!?!?!”

“Settle down, man.”

“I cannot settle down!” 

“Maybe you need to have sex with your sister. You’re so uptight.”

“I need to have sex with my sister.” I said sarcastically.

“Maybe not, maybe your little peacock will make her forget about me and she wouldn’t want to do me anymore.” I don’t know if this was a joke or not. That worries me. 

“My married sister.”

“I know. I was so glad when you said she was married.”

“Why?”

“I don’t like when bitches get clingy. Having a husband will stop her from being all over me. Also, I like sneaking around. The danger of getting my neck snapped excites my testicles.”

“You called my sister a bitch, just then.”

“Would slut be better?” He found this funny. 

“Is this a joke to you?”

“Ha, your sister in the sack is a joke. But I regret nothing!”

“Stop. Just stop.”

“That’s what your sister WASN’T saying to me! Ha ha!”

“I don’t want to hear this! I just learned that my sister is an adulterer!”

“Good thing she’s an adult. Last time I had sex I got put onto a list.”

“Son of a bitch, dude, are you for real a sex offender?”

“I thought she was an adult.”

“You need to be more careful.”

“And third graders need to look their age.”

“HOLY SHIT, DUDE!”

“Relax, I’m only kidding. About the sex offender thing. Not about banging your sister.”

I just stood there looking at him. There was not a shred of good humor in my eyes.

“Get out,” I said,

“This is the greeting I get?”

“First of all, a greeting is when you… never mind! Get out! Why is everything is a joke to you?!”

“Fine, dude. Fine. Whatever.”

He left. And later, Jack was dead.

It was different this time. There was a very playful approach to Jack’s killing. It started when I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I came back and my living room was transformed into a happy, circus-like atmosphere. And again, there was Cynthia. Same blood trickle from her black eyes rolling down her pale skin. But something changed. Cynthia was smiling this time. And in her hand was a stained-red knife. 

“You said he joked too much.”

“What.. Who?”

“Your friend, Jack. I like jokes. But I also like you!”

“So what?”

“So I made him sad! Just for you!” And she pointed to the corner where I saw his lifeless body. I ran up to it. Sure enough, she made him sad. Above his eyes were two upward slashes, symbolizing the way that your eyebrows look when upset. And his mouth was carved curving downwards, with red teardrops slashed under the eye. 

“How did you kill him?!”

“I didn’t,” She said with a wink. “I wanted to show you, silly!”

And just as she said that, Jack sat up.

“Ro…Robin…” He stuttered on with some gravel.

“I’m here, Jack… It’s me…”

“You… You…. You did this to me.”

“No! No! I didn’t!”

“Let’s make him more sad, Robin!” announced Cynthia, with a smile curving all the way to her ears. And as she said that, she grabbed what looked to be… a dog. What was she doing with a dog?

“Scruffy! Scruffy, no!” yelled Jack, with tears rolling down his face. “Don’t do anything to Scruffy! I love him! I love him more than anything!” 

“Does Scruffy make you… happy?” Cynthia said with pure evil.

“Yes! Yes! Scruffy makes me so happy! I make him happy! He’s the only one I can ever please, no matter what! Don’t do anything to him, I beg you!” cried Jack.

Cynthia turned from a smile to a frown. “Well you need to be SAD.” And on the word “sad” Cynthia cut Scruffy’s throat, opening the wound and spraying the blood on Jack. Scruffy’s cries were more than I can handle.

“No! NO! Scruffy no!!! Why did you do this to me, Robin? Scruffy was the only thing in this world I truly loved!” Jack choked out, speaking through his wails. “Why did you do this you little BITCH! I HATE YOU! I HATE BOTH OF YOU!”

“Now, now! Hate’s not a very nice word! I think you need to be punished!” Cynthia began. “Oh dear… where did I put it… Ah! Here it is! Now tell me, Jack. Have you ever seen Indiana Jones?”

“Shut the hell up!”

“My, who taught you to speak that way? Well anyways, in the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Indie uses a gun… of course. But he also uses a WHIP!” And “CRACK!” As soon as Cynthia said it, she sent a mighty thrashing down Jack’s back. The blood splattered everywhere. Jack was screaming. I was screaming. Eventually, Cynthia said, “I’m bored. Let’s do something else.” And from her box of props, she took out a long, wooden bow and arrow. “Ah! The arrow through the head! That’s funny!” She backed up. “Ooh, I hope I’m a good shot!” And she drew the bow, and just like that, she released and the arrow went straight through Jack’s skull. “I knew I was a good shot!” And from Jack’s hand dropped another doll, with drooping lips and sad eyebrows.

And that was the third dream I had in a week. Maybe I needed to see a psychologist.

Although I was impressed at her knowledge of Indiana Jones. 

Not much longer after that, I finally met Cynthia’s mom. I was just leaving my apartment, going to work. And in front of Cynthia’s door was a tall woman, brown hair, blue eyes, smoking a cigarette. 

“Mornin’” She said, dryly.

“Mornin’”

“You new?” she asked.

“Been living here for… like 4 months.”

“Woah. Shit. Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. Met your daughter before.”

“Oh no.”

“Hmm?”

“What’d she say about me?”

“She said that… that… that she hated you.”

“Normal people would avoid telling me that.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s… it’s not a problem. We don’t get along too well.”

“Figured.”

“What’s your name?”

“Umm… Robin. Robin Baker.”

“Jacqueline.”

“What?”

“My name is Jacqueline.”

“…Oh.” Why was that name familiar?

“You’re not much for being smart, are you.”

“You’re not the first person to say that.”

“It’s understandable.”

“I didn’t come here to be insulted, though.”

“You didn’t come here to talk to me.”

“I guess so.”

“Want a smoke?”

“I don’t smoke.”

“Are you a pussy?”

“Am I a pussy because I don’t smoke?”

“Well… Are you a pussy anyways?”

“I plead the fifth.”

“What?”

“That’s when you decline answering what you’ve been asked. Like ‘no comment.’”

“Look at you, smart boy. Teaching me, now.”

“It’s really common knowledge.”

“Can’t be all that common.”

“Well. Yes. It is.”

“Don’t be Condescendent boy.”

“What?”

“Condescendent. Talking down to me.”

“You mean condescending.”

“Don’t tell me what I mean!”

“I can’t let you walk around and say ‘Condescendent’ to people.”

“You can’t let me do shit!”

“But ‘Condescendent’?”

“Shut up! You think you’re so much better than me.”

“That’s an understatement.” Uh oh. I shouldn’t have said that.

“Get the hell out of my apartment building.” Her voice was overflowing with fury by this point.

“You can’t kick me out!”

“I’m the landlord!”

“I met the damn landlord!”

“So you know I’m not the landlord.”

“…Yes.”

“Well.”

I was silent.

“I’m gonna go now.” She finally said. 

“Alright.”

And just a few seconds afterwards, Cynthia came out. 

“I told you she was a bitch.” She said.

I was silent. 

“She’s just mean to everyone.”

I nodded my head.

“I hate her.”

Still silent.

“You hate her.”

I neither denied nor confirmed her claim.

“I can take care of her.” 

I didn’t know what she meant by “I can take care of her.” It couldn’t have anything to do with my nightmares. Those were just dreams after all. I went to work and home and nothing out of the ordinary happened. And eventually, I finally decided to visit my mother in the hospital.

After all, she was sick, and I hadn’t seen her in a very long time. I decided to leave this Saturday. It was morning when I decided this, so I was on my way to work. When I left out my door, I noticed little Cynthia Tyler playing with her dolls. I didn’t speak to her, but I noticed there were less dolls than normal. I wondered why.

For some reason, when I went to work that day, I remembered that poor little girl Gretchen. I wondered how she was doing and wondered if anyone had an update on where she was and what was going on with her. It must be tough, moving like that, away from all of her friends (if she had any) to a new school and everything.

I knew the school kept a record of every student’s phone number and address, and I was hoping a cell phone number would be in the record. I went to the secretary of the school, who has been apparently working here for years, who kept these records.

“Miss Vanuernum, looking lovely as usual”

“Oh, Mr. Baker, you know that’s not true.”

“Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself. You know I would propose on the spot if you weren’t already married.”

“You’re too kind Mr. Baker. Can I help you in any way?”

“Yeah, do you still keep former students phone numbers?”

“We even get their new numbers after they move.”

“Oh, Miss Vaneurnum, that is better than I even imagined. Can you look one up for me?”

“Of course, Mr. Baker.”

“You are a saint.”

“Who are ya lookin’ for?”

“Little… First grader I believe… Gretchen Peabody?”

“Who?”

“Gretchen Peabody.”

“I don’t remember her… I’ll see if she’s here.”

“Thank you.”

A few minutes passed.

“I can’t find who you’re looking for, Mr. Baker. Are you sure that was her name?”

“I’m positive.”

“Well, I’m sorry, she’s just not here.”

“Not there?”

“Nope.”

“Oh… Ok. It was no big deal anyways. Thank you.”

I boarded the plane and got  a drink. I needed a drink. An alcoholic drink. One with alcohol. And then I fell asleep. Almost immediately. It felt unreal. And the strangest part was that I woke up in the waiting room of the hospital. I don’t remember ever walking into the hospital, or even leaving the plane. I just wrote it off, which was stupid of me to begin with, but it was the only thing I wanted to do. I was ready to see my mother, so I went to the front desk.

“I’m here to see Mrs. Baker,” I said to the receptionist.

“Oh hun, it could be a while, ya know?”

“Why?”

“She’s getting treatment did.”

“Care to elaborate?”

“Was that Spanish, hun?”

“…I’ll just wait then.”

“We got magazines, newspapers, and if you want some crayons there’s a whole lots of crayons, ok hun?”

“Um, alright… Thank you.”

“No worries, darlin.”

I went and sat down and called my sister to tell her I was here. Even though her and my mother are at odds, I believed it was the nice thing to do. 

Ring*

“Hello?” said my sister.

“Hey it’s me.”

“Oh. Hello.”

“I just called to tell you that I’m here to see mom in the hospital.”

“…”

“Hello?”

“So you’re there to see mom.”

“Yeh.”

“Great.”

“Anything else?”

“Nope.”

“Oh.”

“Yup.”

“Oh, hey! I heard what you did!”

“What?”

“You cheated on your husband you bitch!”

“…”

“Got anything to say?”

“How did you know?”

“He told me!”

“How do you even know him!?”

“I’ve known Jack since I was in grade school!”

“Who?”

“Jack!”

“Jack?”

“Who you had sex with…”

“I don’t know a Jack. His name was Ed.”

“What?”

“His name was Ed!”

“…”

“…”

“What?”

“His name… was Ed.”

“Well.”

“Well.”

“Don’t do it again.”

“Meh.”

“Goodbye.”

“Bye.”

And that was the end of my conversation. I guess Jack was lying after all. Anyways, I decided it was time to go see my mother. I bet her treatment was done. 

“Mom?” I asked when I walked through the door. I saw her under the blankets, so I walked up to her. “Mom, it’s me, Robin.” There was no response. I lifted the sheet and she wasn’t there. But Jacqueline Tyler was there. And her throat was slashed. I stumbled back in shock. And I bumped into Cynthia. She looked exactly the same as she always did. Black eyes, pale skin, blood stream down the mouth. In her hand was the knife dripping with the red goo of her own mother. But where was my mother? Was she here? 

“What the hell is this?!” I screamed at Cynthia.

“I told you I would take care of her for you.”

“Where is my mother?”

She pointed to a corner. My mother had befallen a similar fate. Her throat slashed just as wide. But she was still alive, still breathing somehow. 

“MOTHER!”

My mother coughed and looked at me… she was almost lifeless, like a walking corpse. She said nothing.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no you can’t die God damn it NO!”

Her pale face still looking at me. She shut her eyes and I started to cry. Her breathing discontinued. She was gone. 

“Please, oh god please let this be a dream! I’ll do anything!”

Cynthia looked at me. “These aren’t dreams.”

“What? What the hell do you mean?”

“These were never dreams.”

“Why would I wake up from them?! WHY?”

“None of these people existed.”

“What?”

“None of them existed and they all brought onto you some misfortune. I rid the world of them. After this you‘ll just wake up again. But your mother won’t be here. She’s gone. Nobody will even know she existed. I rid the world of them for you, Robin.”

“I don’t believe you!” And I turned to my mother again and the tears continued flowing. I was holding her bloody hands in mine when I noticed a doll next to my mother. Cynthia’s doll. Named Donna.

And I understood it.

Cynthia knew these people were going to go.

That’s why she named her dolls after them.

And there was one more doll left.

She named it Robin. After me. 

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