Time stands still. Was I fully dreaming or just partially? I swallow down the puke in the back of my throat forming from the realization that I may have just made out with a little boy; a dead one. I want to break away from George but he has me pinned by invisible arms much stronger than any living six-year-old.
Stay calm, I remind myself, Trevor is still going nuts and I didn’t answer Sage, so he should be coming over to check on me any second now.
George’s form materializes over me. He’d be adorable if he wasn’t so menacing. He has blonde curly hair and blue eyes, with heavy purple bags underneath them; chubby cheeks, a button nose, and full lips. He’s smiling down at me. I try to scream, but my screams are muffled by his hand. The more I look at him the more his face starts to change, no, burn. Blisters cover his little frame and his skin seems to be melting off of his face, in some places his skin is charred. George stretches his mouth wide open. It grows and distorts until it’s large enough to swallow my head whole. He is getting ready for the kill shot. Any second now Sage!
I close my eyes. I’d rather not see this. I brace myself for the searing pain I have yet to bear, but it doesn’t come. What is taking Sage so long?
Get up you idiot!
I open my eyes to see what’s delaying his attack. I wish I hadn’t. I see that George’s attention is preoccupied by something over by Sage’s corner. Sage. He whips his grotesquely enlarged head around. “Shh,” he whispers at Trevor who is growling. Now Trevor starts going berserk, barking and gnashing his teeth. I snap my eyes close before he turns his attention back to me.
“OH MY GOD!” Sage yells. In a split second, the fully formed apparition dismounts me. I open my eyes again. He’s now at my feet standing over me. He begins to laugh as he lowers through the carpet and under the floorboards. Everybody except Marisol is awake at this point, freaking out but too terror-stricken to move.
“Where’d he go?” I’m afraid to hear the answer. I pull myself up on my elbows and I feel inside my sheets for my flashlight that was lying beside me. My hands grasp the cylindrical case. I flip it on and frantically search around the room; everyone else is doing the same.
“I think it left?” Sage assumes.
Guess again. My mattress begins to move underneath me as if it’s breathing. It lifts me up with each inhale and on each exhale it puts me back onto the ground. My flashlight suddenly dies as the light fixtures begin to flicker on and off. As I look into the faces surrounding me, I notice all their eyes fall to their flashlights that are suddenly drained of power.
“Papa!” I yell as I jump off the moving mattress. The second my feet hit the floor I’m dragged backwards by my ankles. I scream as I try to grab for anything, but everything’s out of reach.
Sage recovers from his initial shock and sprints towards me at the speed of light before anybody else has had the chance to slip out of their sheets. Trevor is right beside him. George pulls me fast, in a split second I am dragged screaming through the entrance to the hall. I grab onto the doorway in an attempt to give Sage more time to reach me.
“HEELLP ME!!!” I shriek before he yanks me hard, forcing me to let go. I dig my nails into the wooden floor, desperate to get away. I ignore the blood and searing pain in my fingertips as my nails are bent backwards, some of them are torn away as they get caught between the floor board panels. My endorphins are set into overdrive as I enter the debris zone. Shards of glass scrape and dig into my body as I am swept across the floor, my body becomes numb.
My initial thought was that he was going to drag me upstairs, but instead George tows me towards the cellar. There is an excruciating short distance between Sage and me, but George seems to keep me just out of reach.
My desperate plea for his assistance seems to give him the extra boost needed to close the distance. He makes a dive, and miraculously he catches my hands. Trevor takes a hold of his pant leg. This does nothing to stop or slow down George, he’s too strong. Sage and Trevor are being dragged along with me.
“Don’t let go,” I plead.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he assures me.
We just pass the great room when Sage’s hands begin to slip.
“Don’t let go,” I plead.
“I’m trying not to,” he says grasping my hands tighter. His hands begin to slip more and more. Even with the combination of my blood trickling down my fingers and the sweat on our hands, Sage holds on. George jerks me sharply to the left going around the wall to the breakfast area; slamming Sage into the corner of the wall. He lets go.
“Sorry!” he shouts after me.
I hear the kitchen door fly open before we reach it. It closes behind us blocking Trevor who had almost caught up to me. As we enter into the kitchen I turn my head to see the cellar door open like a giant gaping mouth preparing to consume me; presenting the ever looming darkness that hides inside.
“No, no,” I whimper as I am dragged down the steps. I’m immersed in the darkness. My body slams hard against each step. When I reach the last step I’m flung aside into the middle of the room like a rag doll. I hear him come towards me. He saunters in a circle around me. Fear envelops my whole being. Compared to this the whole suffocating thing doesn’t seem so anguishing. I can hear my family promising me that they’ll get me out. I have no doubt of that, but will that be before or after I’m dead. The door lets out a slight groan as either Papa or Sage or both are slamming into it. In my mind I scramble to come up with a solution to save myself, somehow I do. Pray. I have to pray.
I start a silent prayer, “God, if you’re there, please save —”
“Shut up,” George growls, striking me across the face with enough force that I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my back teeth were dislodged. My mouth tastes like blood. My tongue probes my mouth and I find that my teeth had sunk into my cheek. My face stings where he struck me and on top of that there is a burning feeling. It’s not until I feel the blood trickling down my cheek do I realize that he had scratched me.
“Do ya think he can save ya? No one can save ya,” he taunts. “Like no one saved me.” He stops circling me. “I begged ‘em to stop. I swore I’d be a good boy from then on, ‘cept they wouldn’t stop. They burnt me alive.”
“I’m sorry —”
“Shut up! They gave me no mercy, and so shall ye have none! I figured it’d be mighty nice to start off where we left off, don’t you?”
I know that you should never run. That it would embark some primal instinct to kill. But what choice do I have? He’s going to kill me anyway. I bolt up and towards the door. I run up the steps, keeping my hands on the railing to ensure my balance. When I reach the door, I start pounding.
“Let me out!” I yell. I grab onto the door knob only to be knocked backwards. I fly through the air nearly half way down the staircase before my hand grasps the railing. I feel George grab onto my calf, his nails sinking into it. Still I have no intention of releasing my hold. My fingers are pulled back to the point of almost breaking, forcing me to let go. I am dragged back down the steps. I twist around trying to feel the rail when I feel him bite into my upper leg. The endorphins couldn’t save me from feeling it.
Blood seeps down my leg. He rolls me over. The more I struggle, the tighter he squeezes my leg where he bit me.
“What’s the matter, Mar? Scared? Don’t be frightened, quit yer fussing and this’ll be over in a bit. I don’t get why yer hollering so. Why, ya seemed to enjoy yerself the last times. Don’t ya recall us sharing sheets?” A memory of my nightmares materializes: My sheets being lifted off of me and a small figure crawling on top of me.
I feel George’s weight moving up my legs. FLASH! I see a huge blinding light appear in front of me in the shape of a man. It brings with it comforting warmth that I have never in my life felt before. George shrinks back in what appears to be fear. For a moment it stands in place and then it brushes past me, as it passes I feel a feathery touch like a wing. Behind me I hear what sounds like a skirmish. Sage and Papa burst through the door and take me to safety.
Papa carries me out of the house and straight to the minivan. I see his shirt is covered in blood; my blood. He lays me on the third row seat. Mama is rummaging through the trunk for the first aid kit. Marisol is still sound asleep, oblivious, even after Sage swooped her up in his arms and followed Papa to the van at a full sprint. Mama appears at my side with the first aid kit in hand. I wished there was some morphine in it, but I know that would be a false hope. I wish even harder that I could go to the hospital and be drugged but we can’t. It wouldn’t look good since I just recently had been there for being shoved off the stairs. They would call Adult and Family Services for sure. So Mama does the best she can
“Take these,” Mama says as she hands me a couple of leftover pain pills Papa had stashed in there, just in case. Thank God.
“I am so sorry,” Sage repeatedly says. I ignore him. I’m in too much pain to deal with him. How could he let go? My fingers were bleeding and I still held on. So much for, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Sage and Papa run back and forth loading up the van with the bags we already had packed.
Mama carefully rolls up my pant leg to address still more injuries. “The lacerations don’t look deep. The skin just seems to be cut on the surface layer, but we need to make sure they don’t get infected. This is going to hurt a little bit,” Mama warns, but her expression reads; brace yourself.
“Aaahhh!” I cry out in agony as she begins cleaning my wounds.
“I’m sorry, this has to be done,” Mama says. Couldn’t this wait until the painkillers take effect? Sage offers me his hand, but I don’t take it. I bite down on my lip, trying not to scream. I close my eyes trying to focus on the bigger picture. If George is strong now, what will he do when we try to get rid of him and what was that thing down there that saved my life?
The doors slam, the van pulls away, and exhaustion overtakes me.
I’m pulled out of oblivion by the sound of Papa’s booming laugh. I can hear Sage laughing along with him. Half-asleep, I still know that’s weird. I turn my head just a little bit, just so I can get a good look at them. My head still rests against the window. I take in the sight of Papa driving with Sage riding shotgun, they are engaged in deep conversation. I incline my head towards my left and find Marisol sandwiched between Mama and I, Trevor is by her feet. They are all asleep. That isn’t such a bad idea. My eyes begin to get heavier and heavier. I begin to drift back to sleep.
I feel someone gently shaking me awake. I open my eyes to see Papa. “We’re here,” he announces. I squint and look around; the bright Texas sun scorches my eyes. It takes a few seconds to adjust. Everybody is already out of the car. I look up at Papa. He has on a new change of clothes, no blood. No proof of the horrors that had taken place this early morning. I look down at myself. I’m wearing a totally different outfit. Mama must have changed me while I was passed out.
I unbuckle and step out of the van. I stretch, not realizing how sore I am from sitting in the van so long. Then I realize most of the soreness is coming from my injuries. I’m able to walk but slowly. Besides both my hands being bandaged most of my injuries are covered, except my face, which Mama did a great job covering with makeup. There is an enormous difference from the cool air that had radiated from the van to the hot and humid air that reigns outside. I hope my makeup doesn’t melt off.
Sage walks over to me, probably to apologize all over again. His head is bowed in shame and he’s running his fingers through his hair. I divert my attention to anything but him.
“There are no words to express how sorry I am.” I look up at him; he’s standing over me. His eyes look into mine pleading. I open my mouth to comfort him. But that unsettling moment flashes into my mind. How his hands slip out of mine and he lets go. It was the only thing I asked from him and he failed miserably. “I feel lower than a bow legged caterpillar,” Sage says smiling. Not funny! Anger flashes through me like a red haze. “I really do feel like crap,” he says quickly realizing the joke didn’t work.
“You should. It was your fault that it dragged me into the basement. Some knight in shining armor you are! What happened to; ‘I’m not going anywhere’? Or, ‘Don’t worry, I got you. You’re safe with me’?” I mimic.
“I don’t remember saying that last part,” Sage mumbles; his cheeks getting redder. He looks back down on the ground and kicks a rock around.
Well, maybe he didn’t say that last part, but he did promise that he wasn’t going anywhere.
“That’s not the point!” I yell. I’m about to yell some more when Papa steps in.
“You shouldn’t blame Sage. It wasn’t his fault. Casper dragged you around the corner and smacked Sage’s head into the wall,” he says calmly.
“Oh, so now you’re on his side! I see how it is. When did you two become buddy-buddy, huh?”
“Calm down, you’re making a scene,” Mama pleads. I don’t respond.
I look around at the people passing us. They’re gawking at me like they would a two-year-old throwing a tantrum. Embarrassed by my outburst, I storm away into the motel, not bothering to look back at Sage.
The motel room is light and airy. It will be a little crowded since Sage is staying in the same room because Papa doesn’t want to spring for another one. There are two queen size beds. Sage will be sleeping on the floor. There is a small table with a coffee maker on it and two bedside tables. I immediately collapse on the bed to my left and spend the rest of the afternoon napping.
When I wake up I’m not in the mood to talk to anyone.
“Hey Mama, it’s too crowded in here, I’m going to hang outside,” I say not wanting anything to do with Sage. She is sitting at the edge of her bed playing a card game with Marisol. Papa is already under the sheets snoring away.
“Do you want me to come —?” Sage starts to offer.
“No!” I answer cutting him off. I walk out of the room, avoiding Mama’s eyes.
I loiter outside by the main entrance. I need a breather. I have to come to terms with my thoughts.
Every time I look at Sage I can’t help but feel total disgust. What he did was unforgivable. He left me for dead. I counted on him and he wasn’t there for me. I feel a hot angry tear run down my face; I speedily wipe it away.
Whoosh. The door opens; to my great relief it’s not Sage.
“That’s that girl from earlier,” an elderly lady whispers to who I assume is her husband.
My mind replays mine and Sage’s heated exchange from earlier.
“What happened to, ‘I’m not going anywhere’? Or, ‘Don’t worry, I got you. You’re safe with me’?”
“I don’t remember saying that last part.”
His last sentence bangs around in my head. He didn’t say that last part, did he? I feel my cheeks flood with color. I’m starting to see this situation in a new light. Am I really mad at him for letting go of my hand, or is it that I can’t look at him without remembering what had happened between me and George? After deep reflection, I conclude it’s the latter. Driving that notion home is the fact that Sage’s mere mental picture brings to surface the memory of my dream, giving me an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, and fresh tears.
I can’t seem to shake George’s words. “What’s the matter, Mar? Scared? Don’t be frightened, quit yer fussing and this’ll be over in a bit. I don’t get why yer hollering so. Why, ya seemed to enjoy yerself the last times. Don’t ya recall us sharing sheets?”
Is he speaking the truth, or is he lying? If so, why didn’t whatever saved me down in the basement save me all those other times? Could I have possibly imagined the celestial being’s presence?
I shiver just thinking about his cold body pressed against mine. When I woke up from dreaming and found him over me. God, he looked so young, so innocent. How could he do those things? Why would his parents burn him alive? A memory from yesterday afternoon comes to mind …
“Shhh. Ya wouldn’t want yer mommy to hear. That’s a good girl. Be nice and quiet. Don’t try and resist, you’ll only make this worse on yerself.”
Thinking back, all of my recurring dreams were actual events. So keeping that in mind, the dream where I saw myself as a child attacking Papa must have been a scene which had taken place with George and his father. It’s making some kind of sense now. George’s father must have abused him. But that still doesn’t make any sense. He said they burnt him alive. Which means his mother had to be involved somehow … right?
I find myself torn. Half of me sympathizes for his pain and the other half can’t help but feel loathing and disgust towards him. I’m starting to piece the puzzle together, but something still isn’t quite fitting. If his parents were the ones to have killed him then why isn’t he after Papa or Mama? Why me?
My thoughts are interrupted as a vehicle catches my eye. It’s an all black suburban with very dark tinted windows. Just like the one at the library that seemed to be following Sage and me the other day. I try to look inside but the tint is too dark and the front windshield too high for me to look in. I walk around it and notice a small AC/DC bumper sticker on the left rear bumper. Not wanting to be anywhere near the car when the owner returns I head back to the motel’s main entrance. My foot has just reached the pavement when the door to the motel is thrown open and out comes Sage. He scans the area and his eyes meet mine. He heads over to me.
“Look, before you jump to conclusions; no, your parents didn’t send me out here to babysit you. I’m out here on my own accord. I know that I’m probably the last person you want to see but in my defense, I tried my hardest to save you. I’m sorry that he hurt you, but it wasn’t my fault. I swear on my mother’s life, I tried my hardest. And if that’s not good enough for you, then I’m sorry.”
“Fine then — Wait, what?”
“Okay. I know it wasn’t your fault. I’m the one who should be sorry —”
“No, no. Let me finish. I was unfair to you. Totally unfair. I was being a bitch, so don’t even try to defend my actions.”
“No worries, I wasn’t.”
“I was kidding.”
“So you forgive me?”
I sit down at the edge of the pavement. Sage seats himself beside me.
“Now are you going to tell me what is wrong or are you going to make me guess?” I don’t answer. “I’ve got to tell ya, I suck at guessing. We might be here all day.”
“Trust me, you don’t want to know.”
“Try me. What’s bothering you?”
“Everything, this whole thing with George. It’s draining me emotionally and physically. I want to get this over with, and it seems like …”
“It won’t ever end.”
“But it will. We’re going to get through this. You’ll see.” I try to force a smile but he’s not convinced. “What’s wrong? There’s something else bothering you isn’t there?” He tries to pull me close to him, but the action causes memories of yesterday’s episode to manifest so I cringe away. He drops his hands into his lap.
“When I was dragged down into the basement —”
“It’s all right, you can tell me anything.”
“That’s not it,” I sigh. Here goes nothing. “Right before he dragged me down there, I found him on top of me … and then down in the basement he told me … he told me ... ” I can’t finish. I rest my head against his arm and he puts his arm around me, drawing me closer to him. When I continue I am hardly audible.
“Let’s go back inside. It’s getting hot out here and you can go splash some cold water on your face. Okay?” Sage says after a long period of time elapsed. He gently kisses the top of my head and we head back inside.