I’m not sure where the seed of this story originated. The idea found me this morning and I’ve been playing with it off and on, until about 45 minutes ago when I actually sat down and pounded out the flash fiction below. There’s no prompt. Nothing I can point to and blame for the weirdly twisted way it plays out.
No, folks, this darkness was born of my mind.
Sometimes a friend will ask me how I come up with sick shit like this. To that, I generally give two answers:
1. Everyone thinks dark thoughts. When I think them, sometimes I do what everyone else does and bat them away. Those dark thoughts disturb us–that we could consider, even for a moment, pushing a friend off the subway platform just as the train approaches, for example. We’ve all had thoughts like that, but we politely decline to admit to their existence. They are mean and disturbing and improper. And they might be, we fear, telling. What if thinking those thoughts, even if only occasionally, means something inside of us is deeply flawed?
I’m over that fear. I think we’re all a bit broken on the inside. I’d even go so far as to argue that it’s the cracks that spiderweb across our souls that make us unique, beautiful snowflakes.
But getting back to the question, when dark thoughts cross my mind, I don’t usher them right out the back door, careful none of the neighbors spots me. Nope. I throw the front door open and welcome them in. I serve them coffee and offer them cookies. I give them the good chair and sit and visit with them for as long as they want to stay.
In truth, most of them are quite quiet. There’s rarely more there than the initial thought. They take a few sips of coffee, shifting uncomfortably the whole time, don’t even nibble on a cookie (my cookies are damn good), and are gone in a matter of minutes. But occasionally one of them feels like talking. When that happens, I listen.
2. As for why those dark thoughts show up on my doorstep in the first place, I have no idea. Don’t know, don’t care.
The phenomenon is universal. Everyone thinks dark things. I just don’t run from the reality. I’m not even bothered by it. I’ve found acceptance to be cathartic. Allowing these ideas to play themselves out (only in my mind, sicko) serves as a sort of therapy. I can’t explain the intricacies of it, but I always feel lighter afterwards.
Once–only once–I had a friend look at me askance, even after my explanations, and ask, “But how do I know you’re not going to, you know, do that stuff?”
I assured her that I would never. That I’m not even tempted to. That I delight in helping others, and even view horror as a genre capable of delivering hope. My desire is to be a light in dark places, even if those dark places are sometimes of my own design. I spoke in soothing tones and repeated myself a few times, trying to convince her that I’m the same nice, sane person she’s always known.
She still looked at me funny for a while. And honestly, that made me reconsider how I answered her question. There was no assuring her. I might as well have had some fun with it.
When she asked how she could know I wouldn’t “do that stuff”, I now wish I’d merely smiled and said, “You don’t, cupcake.”
The first time Aubrey told her mom about the creepers, Megan was genuinely concerned. More to the point, Megan freaked the fuck out.
“Mommy,” Bree said. “Can I sleep with you tonight?”
“No, pumpkin. I’m not going to bed for a while and you need to get some sleep.” Megan tweaked her nose for playful effect, but Bree didn’t react. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“The creepers,” Bree said.
Megan knelt before her daughter, bringing them eye level. “Sweetie, what are you talking about?”
“The creepers,” she said again.
“What are those?” Megan asked. Already the wheels were turning. Bree had seen a spider or had a nightmare. This was standard parenting 101. Calm the kid, give ’em a glass of warm milk, and send ’em to bed. One, at the most two, nights of uneventful sleep and they’ll forget all about whatever it was that got them so upset.
“They come at night,” Bree explained. “But only when you’re not there. They come to my window. They’re hungry, mommy. They scare me.”
Okay, Megan thought. So, maybe a dream and maybe some kind of exhaustion induced hallucination.
They lived in a gated community. The HOA even paid some college dropout to drive around all night in a shitty little Dodge Dart, complete with security decals and a flashing yellow light that meant absolutely nothing. What’s more, Bree’s room was on the second floor and faced the street. Even if a nocturnal peeping tom were roaming the neighborhood spying on little kids, he’d need a ladder and balls of steel (or a severe lack of functioning brain cells) to access Bree’s window.
Without a trace of condescension, Megan laid out the facts in four year old lingo. “Babydoll, there’s nothing at your window. You probably had a bad dream, but I promise there’s nothing there. I wouldn’t let anything hurt you. Ever.”
“You can’t stop the creepers,” Bree said with absolute conviction.
It stunned Megan, every bit as much as if Bree had hit her across the cheek or spit in her face. She flinched. Her daughter’s brow furrowed and she balled her hands into tiny fists. Whatever she thought she’d seen, she believed it.
“Honey, there’s nothing there.”
“They whisper,” Bree said. “From outside, but I can hear them. It hurts my ears. They told me you wouldn’t believe. They said you can’t save me. They said–”
The child’s breath caught and she stammered to a stop. But Megan’s curiosity was piqued, the part of her that considered a career in psychology demanding answers.
“What, baby? What did they say?” she asked.
Bree braced herself and answered. And when she did, it was the sound of the lid lifting off of Pandora’s box.
“They said I shouldn’t even be alive. That your ovaries were dead when you and Daddy conceived me. That he left because he could smell death on us. They said they’re going to make it right. They’re going to take me to the cemetery, like we took Nana, but they aren’t going to wait for me to die because I’m already dead. They’re going to dig a hole and put me in it and climb down beside me and hug me with their creeper arms and bite me with their creeper teeth and cover me up with dirt and you won’t even be able to find the spot. And after they take me, they’re going to take you.”
Megan felt the first tear, simultaneously hot and cold, make its way from the corner of her eye to her mouth. She tasted the saltiness on her lips.
“Sweetie, I promise you–”
Bree cut her off, her eyes burning into Megan. She no longer looked like a little girl. She still wore her Disney Princess gown, still hugged her teddy, still had her hair pulled back in fucking pigtails, but her eyes. Her eyes were not the eyes of a child. They bore into Megan, leaving her with the sense that her very soul was naked before her daughter.
And it was then, when Megan felt as vulnerable as she’d ever felt in her life, that her daughter delivered the final blow.
“And you can’t save yourself, either,” she said.