By Samantha Lynch
Victoria Ave was like a siren song in the afternoon light. She pulled down the street and could not be more thankful. After forty five minutes of traffic Josie was fed up. It had been bumper to bumper from Prexiam Knowledge Publishing to Bartimus Elementary School. On any other day, the drive would have been twenty five minutes.
Josie looked to the rearview mirror at her snoring boy. His rounded cheeks were rosy and his hair was an absolute mess. No matter how many times she combed it to the side, those brown curls always bounced back. She couldn’t believe how old he was already. He just started fifth grade this year. It seemed like just yesterday she was watching him walk into preschool for the first time.
As she pulled into the driveway, she almost came to a halt. Her husband never made it home until an hour after she got in. But yet, there was his Jeep. Once she put the car in park she took out her phone and quickly scrolled through the notifications. She sighed, he always texted her before leaving work.
Jacob stirred behind her. A child’s sense of knowing that they arrived at their destination. She heard as he groaned behind her. She gots out and grabbed their bags, making for Jacob’s door. She couldn’t help but smile as he slowly got out of the car. With a small yawn, he trudged to the door. Josie followed a foot behind him.
Once they were inside, Jacob perked up. Suddenly he was awake enough to go about his afternoon. The ball of revived energy inside of him was trying to get out. She managed to snatch the remote before his butt landed in the blue bean bag in front of the TV.
“No way, mister.” Josie said with motherly sternness, “You know the rules, homework first.” As she walked through the archway that separated the kitchen from the living room, she hears him groan with annoyance.
“Mom, I don’t even that much have homework. Plus, Miss P. says it’s important to take time to do things for yourself.” Jacob spoke with such conviction and followed after her.
“Aha, But Miss P. isn’t your mother and you know homework comes first.” She answered.
“Please mom,” He begged, “just a little bit. Please please please please please.” He dragged, his green, puppy eyes stared up at her.
“Okay okay, fine. One hour, Jacob. Then homework. But that means no TV tonight before bed.” She handed over the remote in defeat.
“Yes!” Thanks Mom! I love you!” He exclaimed as he took the remote and raced back to his seat. The theme song of some game spilled from the TV.
Josie puts their stuff away and goes to make dinner. At the stove, she chopped onions and peppers along with garlic. Then slid them all into a skillet on low heat. It was late in the afternoon. She was behind schedule with dinner. The soft sound of footsteps padding down the stairs grabbed her attention.
She recognized the footsteps, “Ben, how did you make it home before me?”
Her husband had come into the room, still in his black pants and button down shirt. His eyes were dark as he studied her. A sense of uneasy passed through her, he was being quiet.
“Babe are you okay?” She pressed. She knew he had anxiety and constantly was overthinking everything. Usually all he needed was time and reassurance. But she could tell, something was off.
“I guess I just drive faster than you, Jos.” Ben said, “You look lovely today.”
She leaned with puckered lips, but he skipped around her kiss. As if he could not touch her. Josie brushed it off.
“Will you be careful, Ben? I need you to make it home safe. Jacob needs you.” She chided him as she added chicken into the stirfry that sizzled on the stove and turned the heat up to medium. Her husband ignored her altogether and went to take a seat at the table.
Josie looked at Ben, who now just stared at her. Vacantly. As if he was not actually in there. She stared at him for a long moment, trying to figure out what could have been going on in his head. Her own anxiety had begun to tick at the back of her head.
“Ben, what happened?” Her voice seemed far away. Her mind ran through all the reasons why he could have gotten home so early.
But he did not answer. Instead, he fiddled with the twine of the napkin basket. He still stared at her. If the air could choke, she wouldn’t be breathing right now. She crossed the room, going to him.
She ran a hand along his shoulder, and he winced. It took all her strength not to pull away. She leaned her head against his. “Whatever happened, you know you can tell me.” She spoke softly. She did not want to upset him anymore. It was like approaching a deer in the wild, and not wanting it to run off. “Whatever it is,” She continued, “We can figure it out together. I love you, Ben.”
The twine in his hand stopped spinning. He looked up to her with furrowed brows. “Nothing is wrong, Josie. Why would you think something is wrong?” He said it with such confusion that she took a step back.
“What do you mean? You’ve been quiet and brooding since you came down.” She retorted. Annoyance started to tick.
He just shook his head. “No. I’m fine?” He said it like a question.
The doorbell rang and with narrowed eyes at her husband, Josie slowly turned to make for the door. She could make out the familiar blue and black uniforms through the glass panels of the front door. As she made to open it, she heard Ben go back upstairs.
“Hello Officers. How can I help you today?” She asked.
Their faces looked dark. They hesitated. One was a younger man, with a strong form and clean face. The other was an older woman. Her hair tied back, and her face coated in makeup.
“Hello Ma’am. I am Officer McRoy. This is my partner, Officer Anderson. Are you Josie Onley?” The young man asked.
“I am. Have I done something wrong?” She asked, confused.
“No Ma’am. May we come in?” Asked Officer Anderson.
She hesitated for a moment, “Of course.” She opened the door completely for them to enter. Then lead them to the living room, where the game was still humming. However, Jacob was nowhere in sight.
“What can I do for you officers today.” She asked as they sat across from each other on the leather couches.
“Mrs. Onley, we are very sorry to be bringing you this news. Your husband has died today.” The woman, Officer Anderson said.
“What?” Her heart stopped for a second. She thought of Ben right upstairs. “Is this some kind of sick joke?”
The Officers exchanged a weary look. Their heavy expressions filled with pity. Officer McRoy started, “Mrs. Onley, I know this is hard to believe, and it does come with a shock. But Benjamin Onley was murdered today at 2:38pm at Charter Incorporated. We are doing everything we can to catch the person responsible.” She felt numb. She stood and held her face.
“No… You don’t understand…” She hesitated, “My husband is upstairs.”
Her mind went immediately to Jacob, he was just in here. The officers were saying something, but they sounded as if they were underwater. She stood, her mind ran through every place Jacob could be.
“Jacob…” It had come out barely more than a whisper. Her mind ran through the afternoon. She thought of Ben talking to her. “Impossible.” The world moved so slow. She could not think right. “No…” She barely felt the tears on her cheeks. She did not feel her lips as they quivered. “No” She rasped. Her heart pounded in her chest, in her ears, in her stomach. Yet she felt numb.
She turned towards the stairs, her husband had just gone up there. Her son could have been up there. She could not make sense of it. “Is this a joke?” She whispered as she slumped on her knees to the floor. She barely felt the floor beneath her. Her arms were limp at her side.
A hand touched her shoulder and swirled on her knees. She looked upward like a cowering animal at Officer McRoy’s worried face. “Ma’am, what do you mean your husband is upstairs?”
“My husband…” She started. She could not form her thoughts.
“He was here. His car is out front…” She felt so lost.
“He seemed so off tonight. I asked him what was wrong and he said nothing was wrong.” She was stammered.
“How can my husband be dead. How can Ben be upstairs but be dead?” She said more to herself.
Officer McRoy looked back at Officer Anderson with remorse. He glanced up the stairs, at the same time, someone walked down the hall. Anderson had begun up the stairs without hesitation. Officer McRoy had come up behind her.
“This has to be a big misunderstanding. Could they have identified Ben by mistake?” Josie asked.
“My husband is alive. My husband is here. How could he be a dead man walking?” She knew Officer McRoy could not have an answer. But she did not care.
“He was so off…” She was quiet.
Time was so slow. It felt as though a year had passed in the time Officer Anderson was upstairs. . Finally, he came down. Looking somehow annoyed and pitiful. He looked at her with disdain. “Ma’am, there was no one upstairs.” Anderson said.
Josie could not answer, she was too shocked. They looked at her as if she were crazy. She looked at Officer McRoy, hoping for some reassurance in his face. But there was none. She knew they had all heard whatever was walking down the hall.
“Ma’am, is there anyone we could call for you? A family member perhaps?” Officer Anderson asked. It seemed she wanted to leave as soon as possible.
“No, no… My son.” Josie started, “My son, was he up there?” She asked.
“He was here! Where could he have gone?” She interrupted. She was scared.
“He may have gone to a friends house. But there is no threat here. If he does not return by tomorrow, then call us. Are you sure there is no one we can bring you to?” Officer Anderson stated, in a tone like she was reading from a book.
Officer McRoy look pained, “Mrs. Onley, we are only trying to help. We could bring you to a hospital?”Josie just looked to the stairs.
“I just gotta… Go upstairs for one…” She ignored the officers as she started for the stairs, her only thought was of Jacob.
Everything was drowned out. Darkness clinged to the walls as she made her way upstairs. She was so very aware of every breath she made. Heavy and ragged. The darkness spooled in coils against the walls. They seemed alive. But her husband wasn’t. But he was? The hallway stretched. She felt like she was walking through thick oil.
The only light coming was coming from the last room in the hallway. Jacob’s Room. The light spilled from the crack between the slightly ajar door and the frame. The hallway seemed to have stretch longer than it was. She felt as like she was walking through thick oil.
A trickle of sweat slipped down her spine. Her clothes turned suffocating. Her feet turned to lead and her mind told her to stop. But she kept moving. Her eyes remained wide as she laid her clammy palm against the smooth door.
She pushed it open slowly.
Light flooded her vision as she stepped into the room. Josie was barely held herself together as she saw Jacob sitting on the edge of his bed. He looked back at her with a tilted head.
“Hey Mom, I’m really hungry, is dinner-” He began. But she cut him off.
“No, baby” She shook as she shut the door behind herself. She thought of how vulnerable and innocent Jacob was. She thought of Ben, or not Ben. She had no idea who the person was. But she was sure that he was real. She crossed the room and knelt in front of Jacob. She held his sides as she looked into his deep, green eyes.
“Mommy? What’s happening?” His voice was small, her eyes began to well up. “Mommy?” He said again. He barely whispered.
“Baby, Mommy loves you, know that please.” She knew she had to be strong. She could not break. “Mommy loves you, but something happened to daddy.” As she spoke, Jacob’s eyes got wider. “I’m not exactly sure what happened. But the man we saw was not Daddy.” She took a deep breath. “There are some nice officers downstairs. We need to leave, Jacob.” Her voice cracked on the last word.
The sound of something sharp trailed against the walls. Jacob jumped up from the bed as she stood. She placed herself between her only son and the door. Clicking sounded on the other side of the door. Like shells that clacked together in a rhythmic beat. Josie backed into the corner with Jacob. She shielded Jacob as much as she could.
“Josie, darling.” Came her husband’s voice behind the door in a melodic tone. But it was not her husband. “Jacob, my boy.” The voice continued.
Behind her, Jacob was silent. He shook as he held onto her waist with all his strength. She shushed him, as she reassured him everything will be okay.
The nails against the wall grew closer this time. Somehow sounding as if it was right behind them. But on the other side of the wall was outside.
Josie grabbed for Jacob’s hand and held it tightly. She had hoped he did not feel her shake. The knob on the door turned slowly. It was as if whatever was behind it was feeding off the panic that grew quickly between her and Jacob. Tears fell from her lashes. She quickly knelt before her pride and joy, her beautiful boy.
She took his face in her free hand, “Close your eyes, Jacob. Keep them closed until Mommy says, okay? Can you do that? Her voice was rushed. Jacob nodded as he closed his eyes tightly. As Josie faced the door once more, it had slowly begun to open. Fear could have stripped her bare right there.
Tendrils of darkness spilled into the room.
“Mommy loves you, Jacob.”She whispered only for Jacob to hear.
His hand tightened around her own.
The man, creature rather, that had come into the too-small bedroom was not of this world. Not of any world. It was not possible. It was grotesque and haunting. Josie prayed. She had never prayed before in her life, but she did now. To any God that would listen. Old, new, any God that could have helped her.
Darkness swirled around the creature, as if the abyss answered to it. The man-like creature stood tall. She felt so small against it. It had soulless white eyes that swirled like cloudy milk that were surrounded by hollow pits of black.
Its’ mouth was formed in a deviously, terrifying smile. A black void with barely any teeth. Its’ teeth were long and needle like. Teeth that could shred. It looked like nothing of this world yet, the creature still had features of Ben. Instead of Ben’s full head of brown curls, the creature’s head was bald. Save for a few greasy strands that hung past its’ shoulders. Josie prayed that Jacob had listened to her and still had his eyes closed.
The creature’s skin was horrifying. It was gray and clouded. Bruised all over and cracked throughout. Deep purple filled those cracks that spread from the left side of its’ face down it’s neck and over that almost bare chest. The button down shirt was now in ribbons. It had claw-like hands worse than any animal. Hands that could only have been formed in the depths of hell.
When the creature spoke, it was like nails on a chalkboard, “Mmmmm…. This will not do.” The voice came out slow and rough. Those claws clicked together, a click for each word; like shattered bones. “Josie Onley, how I wonder what it would feel like to wear your skin. To feast on those bones.” The creature crooned on.
She felt so bare. Defenseless and cornered like a sheep protecting a mouse in front of a wolf. In that moment she had no idea what to do. No idea how to face this. She had nothing to defend herself and Jacob with. A quick survey of the room proved fruitless as there was nothing in there that could be used to fight this creature off.
“What are you? Why are you doing this?” She wanted to scream. Demand it to leave at once. But her voice cracked as she spoke. Her courage wavered. She was not a brave person. Ben was though. She thought of how Ben would have fought for them. But this creature had got him. Now only she was left to fight for their son. If only there was a way to get to the officers downstairs. She could call for help. She knew they thought she was delirious. She may as well have been.
“No, no, no. You are wondering… So desperate… Why you?” It spoke slowly, as it took a step closer. “I am… A… Carcarus. Hmm….” It continued.
“Stay away from us.” She said in the boldest voice she could. She would not let this monster hurt her boy.
“Josie Onley…” It stepped closer. Only a foot away from them now. “You will look so beautiful once you’re dead.” It ran a clawed finger down my cheek. The bite of its’ sharpness forced a tear of blood spill down her cheek.
“Why are you doing this!?” She screamed. She could not think of a way out of this. She hoped the officers would hear her.
“No… Do not think… That you… Are special… You are not…. The first… Or the last. It is the order of life.” It was toying with them. It could have killed them at any moment and been done with it.
She heard Jacob stifled a sob behind her. Her heart shattered. She could not protect them here.
“You will not survive…. Josie Onley… Your son will not survive.” The creature smiled so wide, its’ face could have split.
She took a step back. She squeezed Jacob between herself and the wall. As if that could save him.
The Carcarus took a final step closer to her. It lowered its’ face so it was leveled with her own. Its’ forked tongue flicked out of that void of a mouth and licked the dripping slash on her cheek.
“Mmmm.. Goodbye Josie Onley. I will take my time devouring your son.” The creature moaned.
Just as it claw was raised in motion to slash at her, the piercing sound of the smoke alarm went off. The creature groaned as the loud beeping rang throughout the whole house. She thought of her chicken stir fry.
This was her moment. The creature covered its’ ears, screeching demonically, trying to protect itself. Her heart raced faster than ever. Over the creature’s shoulder, she could see smoke billowing from the stairwell. Were the cops not there anymore?
It let out another scream that sent fear deep into her core. It withered in pain, but it was slashing its’ claws aimlessly. Josie dodged under one, and managed to kick the creature down. She did not stick around to see if it got up again. She grabbed Jacob in her arms and ran like hell.