The Lonely Road

Oatman, AZ

The desert seems more barren in this area than in the previous. Jack is in the back seat looking out at the ocean of sand passing by at speed, my wife sits passenger, silent as well.

It wasn’t always like this. We all used to be a family of chatty best friends. My son would be bouncing around in his safety seat, and my wife would turn around and play along with him. My daughter would be humming in the back seat to some tune she found on YouTube. It was always perfect.

Not everything lasts forever. Not traditions and certainly not life. Not long after her fifth birthday, the doctors diagnosed Liliana with lung cancer. Within a year, she passed away.

Although any type of cancer can attack anyone, my daughter’s lung disease wasn’t abnormal. Well, it was, but it wasn’t just a random occurrence of cancer. It resulted from my smoking habit. I never gave a second thought as to how dangerous it could be to smoke in the car with my children in the back seat, even with the windows open. My stupidity was my daughters end.

My wife, Kelly, looks at me and then at the gauge cluster. She says, “You better fill up before we get stranded out here.”

She’s right. Plus, I’m incredibly tired. I need to get something to wake me up if I plan to drive through the night. So, I nod in agreement, and she doesn’t say anything further. We aren’t a catty couple. She doesn’t nag and I don’t pick fights.

Ahead, the road appears fluid, a river through this Egyptian-like desert. To the right of the lemon-lime horizon is a small gas station. The giant sign twisting languidly at the top of a long pole had once presented the name of the station. Years of weather and neglect caused one side to break apart and reveal the lamps inside. The other still had the name, but it had faded to a light pink logo that I couldn’t read.

Pulling into the station, we transition from tarmac to gravel. Small pebbles kick up and tick inside the wheel well. I stop at the first pump on the right, and the hot desert wind carries a cloud of dust past us. For a moment, it twists into a dirt devil, and then dissipates as quickly as it appeared.

“I’ll be right back,” I tell them. They know I’m coming back, but I feel like I have to say something. I want to interact with them because we all need it. Silence is a killer. Perhaps it won’t actually kill anyone, but it will destroy relationship, and I needed to break that silence to make sure that they’ll be okay while I’m gone. To let them know that I’m here for them, and that I will always return.

The inside of the station is much cleaner than the outside. A quick glance through the door behind the attendant reveals that he lives here. My guess is that he originally didn’t want to drive every day, so when he bought this station, he decided to move into it.

“Twenty, please,” I say as I hand him a fifty note. “Can I also get one of those energy drinks in the cold case back there?”

“Yes, sir,” the man replies.

As I wait for him to start the pump and make change, I walk back and grab one of the cherry flavored drinks. Returning, I spy something to my left. My eyes dart over there, but I see nothing more than a rack full of flavored jerky.

I thought it was my daughter. This isn’t unusual, though. I’m used to keeping an eye on her in my peripheral, as one must do with children of any age with so many creeps in this world. Even now that she’s gone, I still see her everywhere.

“Son, are you okay?”

I meet the old man’s lazy blue eyes, and smile weak and thin. “Yeah, I’ll be okay.”

With my change and drink in hand, I return to the car and start pumping the fuel. As the LED screen indicates that I’m nearing the end of my twenty-dollar credit, I hear for the first time in months my son screech with laughter. It warms my heart so much that I almost drop the pump and cry with joy. Thankfully, I’m able to maintain composure as I kneel down to see what has him so excited.

My wife is gone from the car. I don’t know exactly where she went. I don’t recall hearing her exit the car. My brow furrows, and I turn my attention to Jack.

He has his mother’s deep brown eyes that are reminiscent of crystal rather than mud. The light allows the small golden flecks in those pools of joy to twinkle with life. He looks away from me, and laughs again. I’m not sure what enamors him so, and although I want to study him for a moment to figure it out, the pump handle clanks hard letting me know it finished.

I get back in the car, and my wife is sitting in the passenger seat again. However, this time she’s facing the back seat, playing with Jack.

She says, “The bathrooms here are so clean. I expected to walk into some kind of CDC death trap, but I have to hand it to the guy, he really knows how to scrub.”

She hasn’t shown this much affection or attention to either of us in a long time, so I don’t respond. I know I’m still broken even if she has suddenly become okay, and I don’t want my dour mood to sour hers. So, I remain quiet as I pull out of the station.

Jack continues to play. Kelly lightly claps her hands and urges him on. I glance over at her, and I want to caress her skin, to feel her warmth, but I know I don’t deserve to touch her. Instead, I look in the rear view mirror to steal a glimpse of my son, and I see my daughter sitting next to him.

Slamming on the breaks causes me to lose control of the vehicle for a moment. I wrestle it back into a straight line on the road, and then I stop the Chevy entirely. I try to turn around and look at my daughter, but the seat belt stops me. I fight hard with it, and finally release the latch. I look back, and see her sitting there as alive as ever.

While Jack has his mother’s eyes, Liliana has mine. They’re azure, but warm. The light haloes from her blonde hair and filters through the fuzzy peach hair on her cheek. She looks scared because of my reaction.

Kelly says between panicked breaths, “What the heck was that?”

I shake my head, unable to speak.

“Babe, are you okay?”

My heart pounds in my chest, and I step out of the car. With my hands on my head, I try to control my breathing. I look out into that hot abyss. A lizard skitters from one dead bush to another. A fly buzzes near a pile of coyote droppings; it lands for a moment and then takes flight again.

I know this can’t be real, but it’s too vivid to be a dream. It has to be a reality, but then, how is my daughter alive? I don’t know, and because I figure that it can’t be real, I fear turning around because I worry she won’t be there.

Eventually, I gain the courage to turn, and gasp in horror. The car sits overturned in the embankment, fluid dripping from the hood. It takes me a minute to process what I’m seeing, and then I run to the car.

“Kelly!” I scream, and I fall to my knees to look through the window.

It is there I find my wife crumpled in the passenger seat. In the back, my son lays silent, still hanging in the safety seat. I search for my daughter, who is supposed to be in the car. She isn’t there. However, someone else is in the car. Me. I sit there with blood all over my face, teeth smashed, and eyes bulging and staring through the cracked windshield.

I look anywhere but there and find my daughter standing a short distance away from the wreckage. She smiles warmly, and beckons me with her hand. Her mannerism isn’t that of a child but of someone with finer motor skills. She smiles again, and I go to her. When I arrive, I find Kelly standing next to her with little Jack sleeping peacefully in her arms.

Advertisements

Twice the Trouble

th

She walked up to me, her finger wagging in the air like an excited puppy, but she was anything but happy. “Ooooh, I am so mad at you right now.”

“Me? You’re the one who decided it was a good idea to go outside!”

“Ugh! I can’t even with you right now!”

“Bitch, please. Had you stayed inside like I told you, they wouldn’t be hunting us down.”

“Whatever, I could turn you in as the fake, and then I wouldn’t have to hide, like ever.”

“You can’t do that, they would know.”

“How? Unless your ass grew three sizes too big since I last saw you,” she said, eyeing me. “Look, we both know you created me to be perfect. Better than you’ll ever be, so I’ll never be the one they figure is the clone.”

I gasped, and looked out at the ocean. Okay, maybe I was looking at the profile of my ass in the shadow. She didn’t know that, though. A good thing, too, because it meant I would be inadvertently admitting that she was getting to me.

“Don’t you look away from me when I’m talking to you, Missy.”

“I created you,” I said, and finally met her eyes. “I’ll do what I want.”

“I’d like to know how you plan on doing that?”

“Chronos.”

Now she was the one gasping. “You wouldn’t.”

“I would.”

She eyed me, as she usually does when she doesn’t trust me. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

I smirked and pulled a small device out of my pocket. It was about the size of a car remote, but instead of alarm buttons, it had a small screen with buttons to set a date and time. It was Chronos, a time-travelling device I created for emergencies. Just then, it seemed like a good time to use it.

I started typing the new time, and she said, “You can’t do that or I’ll use the black box!”

“The what?” I said, and looked up.

With wild eyes, she produced her own small device, and started typing on it. I said, “No, you can’t do that! It’s not fair!”

She laughed maniacally as the sky started to darken. The wind howled through distant trees, and the clouds raced across the sky. Then, just above us, as the black sky gave way to purple, the clouds swirled as if the small epicenter of a hurricane.

I returned my gaze to her and then to the device in my hands. If I could just get back in time to stop her and destroy that black box, then none of this would ever happen. If I failed, then the world would perish.

After a moment, I finally entered the time, three weeks prior to this day. The small red button in the center of my device blinked in and out, and just before my thumb pressed the button, she knocked it out of my hands.

“No!”

“Yes!” She screamed, and looked at the sky. The winds descended upon me, the clouds reaching down like large hands. They grasped me, soon to take me to unknown places. I had lost the battle here and now, but the war was far from over.

I screamed, “Mom!”

“What are you doing you little brat?” Loretta said.

I called again, “Mom!”

“What, honey?” she said from under the shade of a nearby picnic umbrella.

Loretta tried to cover my mouth but I fought her as I said, “Lori’s not playing fair!”

“What did she do, honey?”

I didn’t know how to explain that my bitch of a sister had cheated, so I said, “She said a bad word!”

She gasped. “Ugh! I did not!”

“Did, too!”

“Uh, huh! She said it! I swear!”

“Did not! Momma, she’s lying!”

“Both of you stop it right now!”

By then, Loretta had me laying in the wet sand and was trying to push my face into it. We both looked up, and our mother was staring at us over the rims of her dark sunglasses. Loretta quickly crawled off me, and started playing in the dry sand. I stared at my mother, who continued to stare at me. I scowled, puckered my lips, and then after picking my Tamigotchi off the ground, I ran off to play in the tide pools. There was a giant sea creature living down there, and I didn’t have time to pay mind to my mother’s neutrality. The world needed me.

The Ghost of a Murder Past (Part II)

Read Part I here.

Lacey looked through the frosted window as needles of rain tapped against the glass. The world beyond was a wet wonderland of glistening reflections of a city continuously moving into the future. For Lacey, however, it reflected the past, too, for her sister Beth stood out there in that cold dank world.

She often saw her sister, and this night was no different. Tonight, Beth wore Lacey’s lucky blue jeans. The cream blouse she wore under it all was her own. The neckline was torn and hanging from her shoulder, and spots of blood mottled it in all the places that Chris had stabbed her.

“Why are you still wearing my pants?” Lacey asked, but Beth didn’t answer. She never answered anything Lacey asked. She just remained silent, smiling, and staring. Always staring.

Lacey sighed, exhausted that Beth still hung around after all this time. Watching her sister, she brought her steaming tea to her lips and sipped the hot brew. She held it in her mouth, allowing her tongue to bath for a moment, and then she swallowed. She smiled as the warm feeling spread through her chest.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Knowing that the sound wasn’t the rain’s symphony upon the window, she looked around the room. The tapping was hollow with a subtle baritone flavor to it.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She leaned down and put her mug onto the nearby glass coffee table, and her sister’s worried face stared up at her.

Lacey looked toward the kitchen. She could have sworn the sound came from over there, but unfortunately, all the lights were off. She saw nothing more than dark shadows and the soft green glow of the clock floating over the range.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

No, it wasn’t coming from the kitchen. She whipped around toward her bedroom, and slowly crept toward the open door. The room beyond was even darker than the kitchen as if all light ceased to exist beyond the threshold.

Beth watched her sister from the glassware and mirrors as Lacey crossed the living room. Beth smiled occasionally, sometimes she frowned. Beth always had animated features, always able to convey exactly how she felt without a single word. When Lacey looked at her sister, she saw worry. She saw fear. She saw something in Beth’s eyes she hadn’t seen since she first appeared to her the night after she was murdered.

Lacey stopped when she reached the door. She peered into the darkness, and watched a shadow dart across the room.

“Who’s in there?” She said, “I have a gun!”

She did, but it was in the nightstand next to her bed. At least she hoped it was still in there because she hadn’t moved it since she visited the man that killed her sister.

Lacey back up just far enough to snatch an angular piece of art made of chromed iron from the table next to her couch. She’d picked it up on a whim while at the local flea market while looking for handcrafted goods. There wasn’t anything particularly interesting about it, but she had an affinity for things with highly reflective surfaces, and this one, with its rigid and polished exterior, was amazing.

Now, it had another purpose, though. More than just a mirror with which she could see her sister, it was a weapon for fighting off her intruder.

As she entered the room, Beth followed her. She tried to turn the light on, but it didn’t work. After toggling the switch a couple more times, she moved to the window and yanked the cord. The blinds shot up with a loud stutter, and the light from the street lamp poured into the room.

The closet door was ajar, and she saw nothing in there but clothes and shoes. The nightstands remained untouched, and the bed was without wrinkles. Everything on her desk appeared where she left them, and no one hid underneath it. If it wasn’t for Beth stamping her foot and urging lacey to leave, she might have thought no one was there after all.

She frowned and looked at Beth who was standing in the long mirror by the closet. Her sister frowned back, and was no longer wearing Lacey’s pants or jacket. Instead, she’d changed into Lacey’s light-blue teddy and white lace undershorts.

“Why do you always wear my clothes?” Lacy asked, and then watched someone materialize from the shadows behind her in the mirror.

Lacy started to turn, but she wasn’t quick enough. The man grabbed her and threw her to the ground. The man turned her over, and she looked up at her attacker.

It was Chris. Maybe it didn’t look like him anymore, but she was certain it was him. He had unnaturally straight, white teeth behind his sneer. Only one of his eyes moved, the other remained slack, staring at nothing. His lips looked melted, partly healed and partly scarred from the burns caused by the gun she shoved in his mouth.

“You’re supposed to be dead,” she said.

He leaned close to her, and as he spoke with his dark, raspy voice, she felt the hot stickiness of his breath against her ear. “You thought you could kill me, bitch?”

Lacey closed her eyes, bucked hard, but couldn’t fight him. He was too strong. “What do you want?”

“You,” he said. “I miss your sister. The way she felt. You being her twin, you probably feel just as good. Of course, after what you did to me, I won’t let you off as easy.”

She was about scream to alert her neighbor, but he suddenly let go of her. He flew across the room, and crashed hard against a long mirror. An invisible force held him against the glass, and two hands coated in a tar-like substance slipped through the surface of the mirror. The glass rippled as if it was made of water, and they snared him.

Lacey scrambled back along the floor as the hands pulled him into the mirror. He screamed as if in pain, and a moment later he was inside. He looked around the reflected version of the room, and as he approached the glass, someone suddenly appeared in the room with him.

The woman was small, thin, and nude. She didn’t have any sort of pigment Lacey had ever seen before. Her skin was as black as the sky on a starless night. It was as if she was a shadow, only she wasn’t because she had blonde hair that seemed to have a soft phosphorescent glow in the moonlight.

“Beth?” Lacey said as the woman stepped toward the man.

He retreated until he pressed against the wall with nowhere to go. He said, “Stay away!”

Lacey thought she heard a laugh echo through the room, and the Chris’s shirt ripped open. The sweat on his bared chest glistened as deep fissures appeared in his skin. They were two inches long, and blood poured out of them as if they went in deep. Finally, a long slit traced across his neck, cutting deeper and deeper until his head barely clung to the existing meat.

The woman standing in the mirror turned as Chris’s body crumpled to the ground. The light illuminated the woman’s face, and it was Beth.

Lacey approached the mirror and placed her hand on the glass. Beth did the same, almost as if a perfect reflection of lacey. The surface felt warm. They smiled at each other, and then Lacey wept.

She didn’t know how it was possible, but Chris had survived her revenge attack. He’d come back to do to Lacey what he did to Beth, but her sister had somehow come back to save her life. She wondered if Beth knew this whole time that he was still alive, and that’s why she’d appeared to her.

Lacey blinked the blurring tears from her eyes, and Beth was gone. Chris was gone. Only Lacey stood in the room with one hand on the cold mirror.

 

 

The Ghost of a Murder Past (Part I)

Chris was asleep in his bed when he felt someone straddle him. At first, he thought he was just having a good dream, but then someone forced something cold into his mouth, and he woke immediately.

“Hey big boy,” the woman said, her voice salacious, reminiscent of overacting in an expensive pornography.

He squinted his eyes, but it was too dark to see her. The moonlight barely outlined her blonde hair, which appeared soft and slightly frayed by split ends. The whites of her eyes seemed to glow abnormally, and she wore a fragrance with which he wasn’t familiar.

“Wha’ you wah’?” His voice trembled and the gun kept him from making hard consonants.

She pulled the hammer back, and the hard click caused the small of his back to tighten. He felt the vibration against his tongue, and the taste of oil and metal made his stomach turn sour.

“I just thought you should know,” she said, looking deeper into his irises than any woman had ever done, “that I think you have the most gorgeous eyes.”

His heart slammed in his chest, beating hard against its cage of bone. Black tentacles pulsed at the sides of his vision. He knew those words. He’d said them before, and he knew what happened the night he spoke them.

“Oh, so you are familiar with that pick-up line, aren’t you?” she said, and pushed the gun further into his mouth. The tip of the iron sight scraped the skin of his roof, and he tasted blood as it climbed down his throat.

The woman ground her crotch into his as she repositioned herself, and because he was wearing nothing but thin boxer shorts, her jeans rubbed him raw. He winced and accidentally bit down on the metal. He felt the muscles of his jaw burn, and tears laced his eyes.

“Oh,” she said, and clicked her tongue. “Poor, boy. Did that hurt?”

“Who ah’ ‘ou?”

She reached up with a finger, placed it over her lips, and shushed him. Then she moved the same hand down along his muscular body, and he felt her graze him with something cold. A short moment later, her hand returned with a bloody knife, and he felt his face turn cold.

“That’s two out of three,” she said. “So, you remember the pick-up line and this knife.”

He shook his head in disagreement, but he knew all too well, but he wanted to deny it. He had to deny it, because if he could do that, then he could make himself believe that night didn’t happen, and he figured that if he believed his own deception, then it never happened.

The gun scraped against his teeth as she moved the knife to the right. He slammed his eyes shut, just waiting for her to bury the knife into the side of his skull. He waited for that moment, which seemed like forever, but it never came. Instead, his eyelids filled with a bright red glow when she turned on the bedside lamp.

When he opened his eyes, he saw her. He knew her, but he knew it couldn’t be her. That blonde hair with blackened roots. The soft black and blue eye-shadow accenting those gorgeous grey irises. The deep red lipstick and the subtle lines at the edges of her mouth when she grinned. It was Beth, but it couldn’t be—it just couldn’t.

“How…” he said, but she choked him off by pushing the gun even deeper. The iron sight scraped more skin, and he gagged as the tip poked his uvula.

“How, indeed,” she said, still able to sound sexier than ever, a curse of his overactive sex-drive. “Tell me, how does it feel to be controlled?”

He couldn’t respond with more than a soft choke, and she knew it. He gagged some more as he pressed his tongue to the underside of the barrel. Tears dripped toward his ears, and she moved her mouth close to his ear.

“Beth Barnes,” she said, the soft sticky sound of her sexy voice tickled him, and his skin tightened with gooseflesh. She took a deep breath, and blew softly on his neck.

He never believed in ghosts, but he was sure Beth had died. He was positive she died because he killed her. No way was she straddling him in his apartment. So was she a ghost? Was he still dreaming?

When she moved her head away, she was no longer smiling. Malice twisted her face, turning her brows inward and encircling her eyes with rage. Her upper lip seemed to twitch as if tugged by a thread that, at any moment, would unravel her into pure madness.

“You killed my sister.”

Instinctively, he shook his head in denial, but the truth was unavoidable. She had the knife. She had her face, but was it her face? Only Beth knew what he did, so it had to be her! He shook his head again, but this time with disbelief.

She let out a soft laugh, and said, “It’s funny. Some people don’t get it. In fact, the only people that get it are twins. There’s a connection between us, but me and my sister? We had a strong one. The kind where trauma comes as nightmares. When one of us experiences something that hurts us in some way, we feel it and see it in our dreams. I saw what you did. I felt what you did, you sick son of a bitch!”

She wasn’t just becoming mad, she was mad. She was damn psychotic. She proved it a moment later when she squeezed the trigger, and blew the back of his skull into his pillow. She smiled, pulled the gun away from his broken teeth, and kissed his burnt lips.

“A kiss from Beth to you,” Lacey said, and wondered if, even in death, Beth might dream about the moment that her sister killed the man that ended her life.