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The Face Of A Child MAG
Denny tried to run ... to get out of the suffocating nightmare that held him captive. All he thought of was the acrid stench in the air and the sticky, rust-colored fluid covering his body. Then he saw the girl, her legs dangling lifelessly over the foot of the bed. Denny bent to touch her face but discovered instead, a gaping hole. Suddenly a wave of nausea washed over him and he could look no more. His eyes fell to the small revolver beside the girl's body. Denny's hand caressed the cold steel. He looked again and saw that the hand was no longer his own, but a child's.
Denny slowly walked to the bureau. It seemed as though some tremendous weight was holding him down. As he moved past the girl, he could barely stand. Finally he reached the mirror. The face he saw wasn't his own but that of a young boy ...
Denny woke with a start. He was breathing heavily and his heart was racing, beads of sweat had formed all over his body, but he felt deathly cold. He quickly rushed to the bathroom where his stomach erupted in a stream of vomit.
When he felt well enough to stand; he cautiously inspected his face in the mirror. The thick black hair was disheveled from a sleepless night of tossing and turning. He touched his cheek, his face had a ghostly pallor, but at least it was the face of a seventeen-year-old boy and not the young child of his hellish nightmare. He wearily sagged to the floor and sighed, relieved to be awake ... finally.
This had been the routine for the past two weeks. The dream was always the same ... the blood, the smell, the girl, the face of the child. Every night he would go to bed praying fervently for a comforting, dreamless sleep; and every morning he awoke to fear, exhaustion, and nausea.
Denny waited patiently until he felt almost normal, then he went downstairs to join his mother in the kitchen. A tiny, delicate woman in her late thirties, her slight frame bustled around the kitchen. Soon she had hot, steaming oatmeal and thickly buttered toast waiting for him on the table. Denny still felt queasy but he forced the food down, to please his worrisome mother.
"Dennis, are you feeling all right?" she questioned. "You look a little pale."
"Yes, Mother, I'm fine. Just a touch of the flu probably," he assured her, putting a muscled arm around her thin shoulders and lightly kissing her soft cheek. "I have to go now or I'll be late for school. I love you."
"I love you too, honey," she closed the door slowly behind her only child.
Denny's mother ran a graceful hand through her stylishly long ebony hair. She was exhausted from a sleepless night. She moved through the house, mechanically picking up things and depositing them in their rightful places.
Soon the attic door loomed ominously above her, its shadows creeping into her grieving heart. She opened the door and stepped into the musty garret. The morning sunlight streamed through the dust-covered window, giving the room a faded luminescence. Moving several boxes near the window that uncovered a chest, she knelt to the hardwood floor and slowly, methodically lifted the lid.
Several stuffed animals and other baby toys lay on top. She took them all out, gently caressing each one. Next, folded neatly, were tiny sets of clothing, worn by a young girl, years ago. Then a porcelain doll, midnight-black hair, and rosy red cheeks. Finally, a picture album which contained snapshots of a beautiful girl between infancy and about six years of age. The very last photo was of the girl smiling sweetly, a hint of pink gloss on her lips, just below her face was a birthday cake with six candles on it ...
"Okay, class, listen up!" Mr. Johnson spoke sharply to a uninterested psychology class. It was the last period of a sweltering June day. Denny lay his head listlessly on the desk and nearly fell asleep. He'd desperately tried to pay attention in his classes, but finally the heat had overwhelmed him and he only thickly heard what the psychology professor was teaching over the loud ringing in his ears.
"Class, we are going to talk about amnesia today. The definition of amnesia (WRITE THIS DOWN!) is: a dissociate experience in which the person's recollection is lost or split off from the conscious recall. An example of this is an old man picked up while meandering aimlessly. When asked his name, the date, or even the happenings of the previous five minutes, the man simply could not remember. This phenomenon may last ten minutes or it may be years before even the simplest of details comes back to the man's memory.
"The most common type of amnesia (WRITE THIS DOWN ALSO!), called retrograde amnesia, is a loss of memory due to shock or injury to the brain. An example of this is a Vietnam War veteran who cannot remember the horrible details of his best friend's death. While it may not have been the soldier's fault, somewhere deep inside he blames himself. Sometime later this event may come back to the man's memory in the form of nightmares or flashbacks."
With a steady hand and dry, unblinking eyes, she drove the fifty miles to the cemetery. Unwilling to pierce the wall of her hardened heart, she cautiously opened the car door and haltingly stepped out into an abyss of grief and guilt.
The small village nearby had been the birthplace of her husband and was a beloved place to the children when they were young. She could still hear the children's carefree laughter as they frolicked in the cobblestone streets of the old town, long since abandoned and left to decay. When she lay her husband to rest, the cemetery had been ironically alive with color and beauty, but of late, it too had fallen to neglect. Only the rosebush beside her daughter's grave remained, blooming with life.
She silently knelt between the two graves, wishing she had never come, memories of earlier times only widening the deep chasm of despair in her heart.
Many moments came and went as she gazed absently at the names and dates on both tombstones. She meticulously studied each indentation of the stone, slender fingertips tracing every curve and crevice of each letter. Her whispers of love and loneliness were carried away in the soft summer breeze.
"Oh, my sweet, lovely daughter," she crooned bitterly, "today was to be your sixteenth birthday."
Finally she placed a red rose on both graves. A lone, crystalline tear could be seen falling as she painfully stood to leave. She prayed to a god whose righteous justice she had never witnessed, that the joy of her life, her innocent son, would never discover the pain he had inadvertently caused.
The child walked slowly into the room, eyes wide and questioning, entranced by the obvious changes the house had undergone since she was there last. It seemed as if everything were real and yet she knew ... she knew, that it was only a dream.
On a bed in the far corner of the room, her elder brother lay peacefully sleeping. As she approached, his eyelids fluttered and he stirred, as if aware of her presence. She leaned forward and spoke softly into his ear, "Denny, Denny, wake up, sleepyhead ... Mother says you must get out of bed and play with me."
"No!" he replied in groggy anger. "I can't play with you. I'm too tired! Why don't you go back where you came from. Leave me alone!"
The girl stomped her foot in childish rage, "No! No! No! I won't go away. Mother says you must play with me! I want to play Cowboys and Indians. I can be Annie Oakley and you can be a mean, old Indian chief. And I can shoot you with my gun, see?" She proudly held up a shiny, black pistol.
Denny woke that morning feeling flushed and feverish. His head was pounding. The face of the girl lingered before his eyes like an icy breeze after a turbulent storm. He was silently thankful when his mother announced there would be no school for him. And after laying a cool hand a top his forehead, she brought him a steaming cup of herbal tea.
As she carefully handed him the tea, Denny noticed how his mother's hands shook and how the dark shadows danced beneath her eyes. It seemed she had aged decades overnight. Despite concern over his mother's well-being, he was soon carried away on clouds of fatigue.
The two children had always played well together. Their favorite game was Cowboys and Indians. This time they had crept into their mother's room to play. Soon the game became dull and curiosity overcame them. Searching through her mother's drawers, the girl chanced upon a new plaything. Resuming their game, the brother and sister chased each other around the room, squealing with childish delight.
With a terrifying bang, the gun went off. The girl, who had been bouncing on the bed, clutched her face and stumbled backwards. Seeing the blood dripping on the floor, the boy fled from the room, screeching in horror.
Denny gasped, gulping in air as if every breath were to be his last. He was trembling with fear. Slowly returning to reality, he noticed his mother sitting beside him on the bed, concern etched on her face.
"Another nightmare?" she questioned, lightly touching his forehead once more.
"The girl ...," he gasped, "why doesn't she go haunt someone else? What does she want from me?" Then, seeing the knowing look in her eyes, he leaned forward until his face was close to hers. "Who is she? You know, don't you?"
"Dennis, I never wanted to hurt you. I didn't want you to go through life feeling the guilt and pain that I have gone through. You wouldn't have survived."
Then he knew that it was not a fading dream, but a horrifying reality. A few days later, he visited the grave where his sister and his memories had been buried. n