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They found her in a basement closet with a shard of glass by her feet and rope binding her limbs together. How she got there remained a mystery for years, all that she was able to understand was that somebody put her there, and the basement she was stowed in was none other than her own.
It was late December, only a week prior to the holidays. The sun was setting earlier, enveloping the home in a blanket of unsettling darkness only minutes after four-thirty. The house was everything but comfortable, offering four spacious bedrooms to one woman and her cat.
The house couldn’t have been worth much and was often ridiculed by the neighbors for its peeling, faded exterior and overgrown shrubbery. The driveway was nearly hidden by a six-foot bush that extended into the street. Most of the neighbors tried to reason with the woman in earlier years, but as time passed and the house’s condition grew worse, the neighbors either resided into their homes or relocated to another neighborhood all together.
The woman was nearing fifty, but her features reflected that of an elder with protruding cheek bones and hallowed eyes sinking deep into their sockets. The little hair she had left drastically transitioned into white cotton located in small, disheveled tufts along the top of her head. She wore a pair of spectacles in the morning, but never at night. She once convinced her cat that darkness was enough to blind even the strongest of men; glasses didn’t stand a chance against its power. The house was surprisingly organized; save for a mound of bills and ancient Christmas cards that littered the dining room table. The west wing of the old house had gone unoccupied for over twenty years. She had grown accustomed to the festivities that December encouraged but never once took part in the celebrations. The fake Christmas tree she spontaneously attained from a dumpster fifteen years ago always remained bare. Every year she attempted to drag out her deceased parent’s ornaments, still locked away in the basement closet, but could never quite make it past the last step of the staircase. Trying to get out of the front door was an even greater challenge. The woman relied on her out of date television set to keep her involved in society, watching the news and the reruns on every channel each night before retiring to her bed. She had little family left and those who were still alive were either succumbed to hospital beds or pretending she didn’t exist. Friendship was a foreign term to her and the closest she had ever come to a relationship was through romantic movies that often had to be shut off twenty minutes into the film. The only thing that had stuck around in her life was an old tabby cat that had shown up on her doorstep one day. That cat had been a part of her life for over ten years and as far as she was concerned, it wasn’t going anywhere.
It was 2011 when circumstances started to change. December twenty-first rolled around the corner just as the media exploded with stories regarding the final countdown to the end of the world. The woman watched irritably from the couch, her feeble hands clutching desperately at the afghan. Loraine, the attractive and informative news anchor, nodded at her from behind the television screen and smiled reassuringly.
“This is going to be a year long celebration and many people are taking the opportunity to scratch those goals off of their bucket lists.”
The woman grimaced at her words and reached shakily for the remote.
She pointed it towards the screen and hesitated, watching as Loraine cocked her head and grinned at her.
“Don’t turn me off just yet, Margaret. I’m not finished.”
She paused with her trembling lips parted slightly and slowly lowered her hand. She recoiled from the remote and sank back into the couch.
“It’s the end of the world, Margaret. Don’t you think it’s time for you to change? Everyone else is doing it.”
The woman averted her gaze while shaking her head with detest.
“Look at me, Margaret. When was the last time you left that deteriorating home of yours? I think we’re going on fourteen years, yes?”
“What are you getting at?” The woman grumbled.
“Take a risk. This is your last Christmas. Get out for once, sing some carols, cook a dinner. Maybe put those damn ornaments up.”
“Get off my back, will you?” She snapped.
“I’m just trying to help you, Margaret. Don’t you trust me?”
“I said enough!” She muttered and changed the channel before Loraine had a chance to respond. On the other channel, the weatherman had just started his segment. He pointed towards the East Coast indicating a forecast offering snow. He took one look at her and paused, lowering his hand from the projection behind him and smirked.
“I haven’t seen you for awhile, Marge. You never seem to show much interest in me these days.”
Her cheeks were flushed with color and she forced herself to inch closer to the screen. “My apologies, Jonathan. I didn’t mean any harm.”
“Well let’s try to not let it happen again, alright? Anyway, I have a forecast just for you,” he smiled and pointed towards her home state. “Bright and sunny all week. Talk about perfect weather.”
“That says snow and rain,” she frowned.
He took a second glance and chuckled to himself. “I’m a weatherman,
Marge. I can make it do whatever I want. I control it all!”
“So you say,”
“Tell you what, why don’t you try to get out for once? Get a breath of fresh air. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, Marge!”
“Oh, not you too. What is it with you people?!”
“I’m just trying to help you, Marge. Don’t you trust me?” He inquired gently reaching his hand in her direction.
“I don’t trust anyone,” she grumbled and turned off the television.
The room grew uncomfortably silent. “I don’t trust anyone.”
She peered uncertainly at the tree collecting dust in the corner, its bare branches taunting her from afar.
“Not tonight,” she muttered and got to her feet. “Not tonight.”
She passed by the back door and pressed her eye warily against the peephole and withdrew shortly for it was too dark to see anything. She double checked the lock and retired to her bedroom. The cat trotted behind her and slithered through her legs towards the bed before the woman closed and locked the door.“Where were you all night? I kept food on the table for you.”
The cat blinked at her and rolled onto its back sluggishly.
She frowned. “You never listen to me. Nobody does.”
The tabby lifted one paw and licked casually at the fur, twitching its ear in response.“Stop ignoring me.” The woman exclaimed irritably.
The tabby paused and looked at her. “I’m not ignoring you.”
“Don’t talk to me like that. You know I hate it when you get sharp like this.”
The tabby went back to grooming itself as the woman changed into her nightgown. “They tried to get me out of the house today. Did you hear that?”
“That’s probably a good thing.”
“Excuse me?” She snapped.
“I said it’s probably a good thing. Maybe you should get out. It would be a nice change.”
“Not you too! You’re all scheming against me aren’t you? You’re working with them, talking about me behind my back!”
“Oh, shut up you babbling idiot. Nobody is scheming. We’re just concerned about your health.” The tabby lowered its paw and stretched on the bed. “Besides, I would like to go out once in awhile.”
“Well, if you want to go out so badly then why don’t you just leave?”
“We both know I can’t do that,” the tabby responded calmly. “Will you stop pacing and just lay down? You’re going to have another fit if you keep this up.”
“So what, you’re my doctor now, is that it?”
“Well somebody has to be, don’t they?”
The woman glared at the cat and pushed it towards the end of the bed as she climbed beneath the covers. “I’ve heard enough from you.” She grumbled in a groggy manner before slipping into a light slumber.
She dreamt of a series of distorted images, puzzles yearning to be solved. The sun hadn’t yet risen when she awoke.
The cat was scratching at the door, its tail twitching irritably in different directions. The woman slid out of bed, unlatched the door, and proceeded into the kitchen. From the hallway the Christmas tree grimaced at her, its bare branches shifting slightly, folding into what appeared to be two arms resting firmly on the artificial trunk.
“Don’t start with me.” The woman spat and waved a shaky finger at the tree.
The tree trembled slightly at her words before returning to its original shape. Loraine was anchoring that morning, calmly reporting about the recent festivities and minor local felonies. She didn’t bother to check on Jonathon that day. It was snowing by noon which sent her into a crazed state. She pulled the shades down on each window and cranked up the heat. The cat was nowhere to be found that afternoon.
She turned the television back on at six to watch the evening news. Loraine was no longer there. Instead, she had been replaced by a hefty man dressed in an unflattering suit. He grinned at her and nodded.
She frowned in response.
“Why the long face?”
“Don’t you talk to me,” she grumbled, reaching for the remote. “You don’t know me. None of you know me.”
“Just a minute, Margaret,” he began and outstretched his hand to stop her from changing the channel.
“Loraine has been talking about me hasn’t she?”
He chuckled at this. “You think I listen to a single word that comes out of that bimbo’s abused lips? Please.”
“I’ve had enough of you,” she muttered irritably and switched the channel. The screen briefly settled on a young reporter standing beside the local Christmas tree, now brightly lit, before quickly transitioning back into the bulky man at his desk.
“We all know you, Margaret,” he said with a smile.
“You stay away from me. I don’t want anything to do with you.”
“Oh come on, Margaret. I’m just trying to help. Don’t you trust me?”
Don’t you trust me? Trust me. Trust me…
“I’m just trying to help, Margie. Come on, now. Open up for Mama.”
The young child shook her head wildly, clenching her lips shut.
“It’ll just take a second. Come on, now. Open up that little mouth. It won’t hurt, you won’t feel a thing. Do it for Mama. Do it for me, Margie, please? Don’t you trust me?”
The woman outstretched her hand and waved the spoonful of brown liquid in her daughter’s face who shook her head and knocked the spoon out of her mother’s hand.
“Dammit, Margaret!” She exclaimed as the spoon clattered to the tile. “What am I supposed to do with you?”
The child blinked back her tears, struggling to claw her way out of the rope binding her to the kitchen chair. “Mama, let me go.” She cried.
“If I let you go, they’ll take you. They’ll snatch you right up and never let you free.” She muttered quietly and withdrew a nearly empty bottle of white pills from the cabinet. “Never let you free. A prisoner in white. Now open up.”
“You need to go, Margaret.” The man said carefully. “You need to get out of this house, see the world; talk to the others.”
“Mama won’t let me do that.” She replied darkly. “I’m not allowed to leave.”
“Your mama’s gone. The only one keeping you here is yourself.”
“Maybe I want to stay.”
He raised both eyebrows in response and stared at her carefully. He remained silent for a long time before flashing a fake smile and saying “Back to you, Jeff.”
Margaret called for the cat but got no response. After a moment, Loraine appeared on the screen again.
“What do you think you are doing, Margaret?” She inquired bitterly. “What did I tell you about that tree? It looks pitiful.”
“The tree looks fine.”
“To you maybe. What will the neighbors think when they see that?”
“Nobody is looking.”
Loraine laughed wildly. “Don’t fool yourself. Everyone is watching. Everybody wants to know about the woman who never leaves. The children dare one another to touch your front door, for Heaven’s sake. Of course they are looking, Margaret. They are always looking.”
“Let ‘em look, then!” She screeched at the television. “Make me an animal behind bars! Let ‘em look!”
She chuckled at this. “It’s never the person they are interested in. It’s the story that defines them.”
She cradled her face in her shaking hands, placing her head between both thighs. “What do you want from me?”
“I don’t want anything, Margaret. You’re the one who comes to me.”
The woman skipped the eleven-o-clock news that night.
The tabby was lounging on the living room couch early the next morning. The woman cast a wary glance at the animal and glowered. “Where were you?”
The cat turned its face away from her and began grooming itself.
She clenched her jaw with irritation. “Is there something you’d like to tell me?”
“Anything at all?” She could feel her heart start to race.
Lick. Lick. Lick.
“Very well,” the woman muttered and retreated slowly to the kitchen. She opened up the cabinet, withdrawing a small glass. The cat jumped at the opportunity to get fed and quickly darted beneath her feet, tripping the woman and causing the glass to shatter on the floor.
The sound reverberated off of the walls, snaking through her ears and vibrating against her skull. Her vision grew blurry as the kitchen slowly faded into blotches of darkness.
“Not my good China, Margie!” She screamed and ran to the kitchen where a series of delicate plates now lay in shattered pieces. She retrieved the shards from the tile and threw them into the garbage can. “Why, Margie, why? Why you gotta do this to me?”
“I saw ‘em, Mama. They were comin’ for me.” The child stuttered, looking wildly at the kitchen window with a jagged piece of the broken plate in one hand.
“Who’s coming for you?” She inquired in a tone tainted with exhaustion. “Margie, this has got to stop. I don’t know what else to do with you. I can’t live like this anymore.”
“But Mama, the voices. The people…”
“Enough.” She sighed and grabbed the child by her wrists. She shook the shards of glass loose from her grip and pushed the child to the floor. The glass threatened to slice open her flesh, now growing moist with sweat. She stared at the trembling child and grabbed her by the neck, allowing each finger to tighten its grip. She dragged the writhing child down the stairs and into the basement, toppling over boxes and obscure clutter. She turned the handle to the closet door, opened it, and threw the child inside.
“I’m sorry, Margie. It’s the only way.” She said aloud with all of her might before raising the curved shard of glass above her head. “They’ll take you from me. They’ll keep you until they test you dead.”
The child’s relentless screaming could not be heard from within the closet. The door slammed shut several moments later followed by a promised life of darkness and a gradual, painful passing. That is, however, until the poor mother was found hanging from the shower railing three days later by a far too curious neighbor.
“It’s the only way!” The woman screeched and fell backwards. Her fleshy bottom collided with the tile causing the table and chairs to tremble. She blinked warily and peered around as the kitchen trickled back into view. She cleared her throat and rubbed at her head that now rang and pulsed in an uncomfortable manner. As her palms slid away from her forehead, a sticky residue moistened the flesh. She wiped at it with her free hand, revealing a smudged stain of crimson. Her gaze dropped to her right palm, cradling a puddle of warm blood. She spread her fingers apart in shock, watching as the liquid oozed between the cracks and dribbled onto the floor. Her vision blurred as her head grew light with overwhelming.
It took several moments to regain her focus and when she did she immediately fixed her gaze on the tabby lying still only a few feet away from her. She crawled towards the animal and probed it with one, shaky hand. The body shifted slightly as the head, cut clean from its neck, rolled a few inches away.
She scooted herself over the bloody shards of glass littering the floor in a desperate attempt to free herself from the horrid nightmare unraveling before her. The living room carpet cushioned her fall as she collapsed backwards.
“You’ve really gone and done it this time, Margaret.” Loraine said in a dreadful tone from the television screen. She shook her head at the woman and turned away from her. “What will the neighbors think now?”
“Such a pity, Marge,” Jonathan sighed as he took Loraine’s place on the screen. “And the snow will be transitioning into rain this evening.”
“Oh, Margaret. Why didn’t you listen?” The hefty man interjected as the camera flashed to him. “Why couldn’t you just trust us?”
“Why couldn’t you just trust me, Margie?” Her mother’s voice snaked through her ears from a distant place that she couldn’t quite pinpoint. “Trust me, Margie. Just trust me.”
Trust me. Trust me. Trust me…
“You’re going to be alright, Honey. I’ll be back with help, I promise. Just trust me, okay?” A young woman of about twenty said as she slowly backed away from her neighbor’s closet.
A mangled child, just barely breathing after nearly bleeding entirely out from her wounds, lay on the floor with her limbs bound and a bloody shard of glass lying not far from her. She croaked at the sight of the pale woman standing in the doorway, struggling to avert her gaze from the light.
The woman hurried up the stairs and grabbed the telephone. It took her three tries until she successfully dialed the emergency hotline. She sat with the child until the paramedics came. The dying child was only able to move her eyes as they unbound her from the stained ropes. Her eyes, the woman recalled years later, were unlike any she had seen before, dilated and red, eternally frightened. As the paramedics fastened her onto a stretcher and rushed her from the room, her trembling lips parted. Not a word came out. It was a silent scream.