Friday, April 30, 2010

I have a guest blog up at Emma Lai writes. You can check it out here:
http://emmalaiwrites.blogspot.com/2010/04/writing-rituals-with-pembroke-sinclair.html#comment-form

As promised, here is the rest of my story.

At Wit's End
(Continued)

Officer Pelos showed up the next morning at 7:30. Lydia was surprised to see Stephen awake and dressed when she unlocked the door. He was sitting on the edge of his bed wide-eyed and pale. She furrowed her brow and glanced out the window. For a brief second, she thought she saw a face in the glass. It was faint but she could see the wrinkles around the man’s eyes and the crooked yellow teeth behind his smile. She shivered. She asked if he had slept all right, and he answered her with a soft, “Fine,” before making his way downstairs. He took a seat on the couch and stared at Pelos with indifference. Lydia offered some coffee before pouring her own cup and taking a seat next to her son; Robert stood behind them. Pelos sat in a recliner across from them. He leaned back and folded his hands over his stomach.

“So, tell me, Stephen, when is the last time you saw or spoke to Lou or Sam.”

Stephen shrugged. “The night I was arrested. My mom took my phone away.” He stared at her out of the corner of his eye.

Pelos directed his attention to her. “And you, Lydia, Robert, have they tried to contact you?”

She furrowed her brow. “No. Why would they?”

Pelos reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out two photos. He handed the first one to Lydia. “Have you ever seen this man?”

She looked at the photo but didn’t recognize the wrinkled face with the beak-like nose and tousled white hair. She shook her head and handed the picture back to her husband. Robert, also, had never seen the man.

“Perhaps you would recognize him like this.” Pelos handed over the other photo.

Lydia’s stomach flip-flopped as she looked at the same man, but this time one eye was swollen shut, his nose was kinked to the left with trails of blood running out of each nostril, and his lips were twice their normal size. She swallowed down the bile and handed the picture to Robert. Was it possible her son could do something like that to another human being?

“No, we haven’t seen him. Who is he?” Robert asked.

“That is the man who was beaten by your son and his friends. He has left the hospital under mysterious circumstances, and both Lou and Sam are missing. We suspect he might be looking for revenge.”

Lydia furrowed her brow and stared at the officer in disbelief. “How could that be? It’s only been two, three days since the incident. Is it possible he could be up and walking?”

Pelos shrugged and placed the pictures back into his pocket. “Who knows? All we know is that two boys are missing and Stephen might be in danger. If you see or hear anything out of the ordinary, please give us a call right away.” He stood from his chair. “Thanks for your help.”

After he left, Lydia turned back to her son sitting on the couch. “You see what you’ve done? I hope it was worth it.”

Stephen rolled his eyes and stood from the couch. Lydia expected him to stomp his way up the stairs and slam his bedroom door, but instead, he went into Ben’s room and started reading him a book. Lydia turned to Robert. He had watched his son retreat to the second floor and was staring blankly into space, his hand on his chin in deep contemplation. Lydia placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Robert? Are you all right?”

He turned to face her, his eyes glassy with tears. “I think I might have cursed our son.”

Lydia removed her hand and pushed her eyebrows together. “What are you talking about?”

“I know that man in the picture.” He whispered.

Robert explained that he had gone to the bar a few weeks earlier, right after Stephen had been caught with the alcohol at school. He needed to go somewhere and think, figure out where he had gone wrong as a parent and how he could fix it. He and this other man were the only two in the place, so they started a conversation. The man said his name was Straf, which Robert thought was odd but didn’t question it. Robert told Straf about Stephen and how he had been acting out lately. He explained that Stephen had fallen in with a bad crowd and started doing things he wouldn’t normally do. He reminisced about the good old days when Stephen was a little boy, when the worst thing he did was flush a toy down the toilet. Robert told Straf that he was at wit’s end, that he didn’t know what to do with his son, and that he blamed everything on Lou and Sam. He told Straf that he wished something bad would happen to those two. He didn’t want Stephen hurt, but he wanted him to witness it so he would be scared back into being the good boy he used to be.

“He offered to teach the boys a lesson.” Tears dripped onto Robert’s face. “He told me that he had had problems with Lou and Sam in the past. Apparently, he caught them breaking into a neighbor’s house. Of course, he reported it to the authorities. You remember last year when the boys were arrested? Anyway, a few weeks later, he got a call from one of them saying that they knew it was him who called the cops. They had taken his dog, and, to teach him a lesson, broke two of its legs. Believe me, if I had known something like this would have happened, I would never have agreed to let him do it.”

Lydia’s eyes grew wide and she glanced up the stairs, checking to see if anyone was listening. She ushered Robert into the kitchen and sat him at the table. She pulled a chair next to him and whispered.

“Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

“I didn’t think I could.”

Lydia pursed her lips. “Even after last night? I sat in that bar and pretty much told you that I felt exactly the same way you did. You could have said something then. What exactly did Straf tell you he was going to do?”

Robert wiped the tears from his face and sniffed. “He didn’t. And I didn’t want to know...but I think it went terribly wrong. I think he might have underestimated what Lou and Sam are capable of.”

“Did he take any money? Is there anything that will tie him back to us?”

Robert shook his head.

“Then I suggest you never mention this to anyone else. No one will blame you if anything happens to Lou and Sam. God knows they’ve done enough to deserve whatever they get. I think we need to find out from Stephen exactly what happened that night.”

They called their son into the kitchen, and he flopped himself into a chair at the far end of the table. He stared at them with a blank expression.

“Stephen, we want you to tell us what happened the night you were arrested.” Lydia folded her hands on the table to keep them from shaking.

Stephen hesitated for a moment, then explained that he, Lou, and Sam had been hanging out at the park. They had discovered that the lock on one of the maintenance sheds was broken, so they went inside to drink and smoke dope. While they were in there, some homeless guy thought he could come in and get warm too. They told him to leave, but he took a seat on the floor in front of the door and smiled. Stephen shivered slightly as he spoke.

“It was the creepiest smile I’ve ever seen,” Stephen explained.

They decided to leave, and when they headed for the door, the old man grabbed Lou by the ankle. He flipped and both he and Sam began to beat the old man. When they realized what they had done, they took off.

“I was frozen,” Stephen said, “I couldn’t move from the back of the shed. They tried to get me to go with them, but I couldn’t.” He lowered his head. “I can just imagine the names they called me later that night.” He took a deep breath and looked at his parents. “I couldn’t leave the guy there, so I started dragging him through the park to find help. I got him about twenty feet from the shed when a cop spotted me. He started yelling at me, and I got scared, so I dropped the old man. I thought he was unconscious, but as I turned to leave, he grabbed the back of my coat. I freaked. I tried to get him to let go, and I might have kicked him a couple of times. I don’t know. You know the rest.”

“Do you think he’s coming after your friends?” Robert asked.

Wouldn’t you?”

Lydia and Robert looked at one another and back at their son. His head was hanging low and he was picking at his fingernails. He looked back up at them and asked if he could leave. They nodded and he disappeared upstairs.

* * *

Two days later the bodies of Lou and Sam were found. Lou had taken sanctuary at a cousin’s house ten miles outside of town. He had been living in the basement and was found in front of the TV, an Xbox controller in his hand. Sam had been hiding at his grandmother’s house, just a few blocks from where Lydia and Robert lived. He was found at the kitchen table, a full bowl of cereal sat in front of him on the table. Both of the kids’ skulls had been removed and were placed next to them. Pelos explained that they had been painted in some tribal fashion, and that there wasn’t a drop of blood at the scene.

Lydia stared at him in confusion. “You mean their heads were removed. Not their skulls.”

Pelos shook his head. “No, I mean their skulls were removed. Their heads were still attached to their bodies. Whoever did this was very meticulous and had a lot of time on their hands. I suggest you don’t let Stephen out of your sight.”

Lydia thought that Stephen handled the news of the death of his friends rather well. He had been in the backyard with Ben, pushing him on the swing, and after Lydia told him, he just quietly stepped away and began to build a snowman. He was silent and sullen until after the funerals.

It was seven at night and Lydia was following Stephen to his room when he stopped abruptly in his doorway. He stood staring into the darkness for several moments before speaking softly.

“Mom, do you believe in the supernatural?”

Lydia furrowed her brow and tried to look at his face. “You mean like ghosts?”

“No. Like demons.”

She grimaced. “I don’t know. Why?”

“No reason.” He stepped into his room, and laid down on his bed.

Lydia closed the door slowly and pushed the padlock closed.

An hour later, she was still bothered by what her son had said, so she decided to go talk to him. She pulled the key out of her pocket and slid it into the lock. The shackle popped open and she placed both the key and the lock into her pocket. Lydia pushed the door open and noticed Stephen sitting on his bed facing her. Her breath caught in her throat when she realized he wasn’t alone. Straf stood next to him with a hand on his throat and the top of his head. She squeaked out a cry and in response to her voice, Robert pounded his way up the stairs. Both he and Lydia stood in the doorway, waiting for what would happen next. Straf’s mouth pulled into a smile that revealed crooked yellow teeth. His face was no longer covered in cuts and bruises, and the wrinkles around his eyes became more defined the wider his grin became. He glanced from the pair at the door to Stephen.

“I do believe that you won’t have anything else to worry about with Stephen. But if you do, just remember I’m a wish away.”

Straf’s body became translucent and drifted toward the window. The last thing they saw was his face as it faded into the glass. Everyone was frozen for several moments. When they finally regained their composure, both Robert and Lydia grabbed Stephen and Ben and hurried out of the house. They went to the neighbors and called the cops.

Pelos and the other officers went through every inch of the house and canvassed a three-block radius. They found no trace of Straf. They couldn’t even figure out how he had gotten into the house; Stephen’s window was still nailed shut and there was no sign of forced entry on any of the other window or doors. But Stephen knew, Robert had his suspicions, and Lydia refused to believe. Pelos glanced at Robert and Lydia when he discovered the lock and nails, but he didn’t say a word.

As the night wore on, Robert decided it would be best for them to get a hotel room. They checked into the cheapest place they could find and settled down for the night. Lydia sat on the bed across from her sons and stared at them while they slept. She rubbed her hands slowly on her thighs for a few moments before sliding under the covers. She clicked off the light, and got the best night’s sleep she had had in years.

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