Occam’s Razor, My Ass
The shrieking of my phone woke me with a start. I’d fallen asleep on the couch a mere 2 hours previously, and I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes hastily as I checked the screen. Fourteen missed calls and thirteen voicemails, all from Evie’s school.
“Fuck.” I hissed as I opened the final message and listened to another inquiry about why my daughter hadn’t made the bus this morning. If he found out about this, Eric would have a heyday with this in court. My ex-husband had delighted in raking my name through the coals and continued to hold my lack of reliable parenting skills as a Sword of Damocles over my head, threatening at every turn to move my kids into his custody. The sad part about this was, despite all of my failings, of which there were many, I cared more for our children than he ever could. He knew this, he just wanted to torture me with the knowledge that he’d played the system and won. I groaned as I moved from the couch to the floor and stood on shaky legs, feeling my vertebrae pop with each motion. Twelve years in a field that required me to lift 100-pound dogs from floor to table daily had ensured that my body and I were in complete disagreement about our age. I pegged myself at thirty-three, which my birth certificate confirmed. My body, on the other hand, had decided to place us somewhere in the mid-seventy range.
As I slowly shuffled down the hallway, working out all the kinks in my back, I made a mental diagram of how I wanted to approach this latest of failings. Evelyn, my oldest, had gone from making the honor roll every semester to making about half of her classes on a daily basis. At fourteen, she’d reached the years where her mother was her greatest enemy, a fact she liked to bring up constantly. It hadn’t helped that I’d been forced to move her out of our upscale neighborhood and into a more cost-efficient (read low-budget) apartment complex a few towns over. During the divorce, and because my low-scale paycheck had been greater than his nonexistent one at the time, Eric had taken me for a ride. Figuring that half of something was better than all of nothing, my lawyer had advised me to settle with him outside of court. He’d declined the offer, and as the judge exchanged pleasantries with his team of lawyers after our case I understood why. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Eric had been planning our divorce for quite a while and had stashed a substantial sum of money he’d acquired from various sources, one of which being our joint savings account.
Now, three years later, I walked a teetering wire between losing my children, my world, forever and forcing myself to swallow bile every time he knocked on my door with another list of demands. It didn’t help that we were still using his address, the home we’d shared, to send Evie to school so that she didn’t had to leave all of her friends and start over.
Despite all of that, however, I’d tried my best to be there for my struggling teenager, whether she wanted me to or not. I had my apology ready by the time I made it to her room. As I reached for the door handle, however, it turned of its own accord, swinging open to reveal Jonah, my seven-year-old, clutching his teddy and rubbing tired eyes.
“Mommy?” His voice was still coated with sleep.
“Another nightmare?” I asked as I picked him up and carried him down the hall to his own room. He’d been spending more and more nights in his sister’s room of late. He nodded blearily and laid his head on my shoulder. “Wanna talk about it?”
“Monster, again.” I nodded, expecting it. He’d had the same one for the last three years. I may have been the one fighting his father in court three years ago, but he’d had his own battle every night since. Almost every night, anyway. I snuggled him close and stopped just short of his doorway in the hall.
“What do you say about having a sick day?” I asked him. He smiled up at me sleepily before laying his head back down. “Evie? How about it?” I asked the open door behind us.
“We had a sick day last week. And three the week before that.” Came her reply a few seconds before she appeared, already dressed. “Mom…” she trailed off before shaking her head.
“Baby please, I’ll call the school and get it all set up. That way you don’t have to get a late start today. We can phone Aunt Emmy later and get the work you missed from Anabelle.” Emily was Eric’s sister and the only member of his family who still had anything to do with me. Finally, after some internal debating, Evie nodded before returning to her room. I sat Jonah on his feet and instructed him to go put some comfy clothes on before returning to the living room and my phone on the coffee table. Time to make the doughnuts.
* * *
“----Ms. Stogen. This is Evelyn’s fourth unexcused absence this month.” The nasally voice of the secretary droned on the other side of the line. I contained my sigh of frustration, but just barely.
“No but, see, I’m contacting you so that I can excuse the absence. We’ve all been sick all weekend” It was Monday, right? “and Evie still has a fever.” I knew it was a no-go before I’d finished speaking, mostly because I could hear the woman huffing before the words had come out of my mouth.
“Unfortunately, Mz. Stogen, we have a strict policy that states parents must call before 8:30 AM in order to excuse their child from the day.” I glanced at the clock on the microwave, 8:34. I closed my eyes, pinching the bridge of my nose, and smiled brightly, attempting to make my voice mimic my expression.
“What if I have a doctor’s note?” I asked. There was a slight silence in which I could hear the woman practically whirring as she tried to shut me down. Eric was still on the school board. Finally, after what seemed like ages, she sighed.
“A doctor’s note should be…. sufficient.” I fist pumped the air and stamped my feet silently, barely uttering a quick thank you, ma’am before hanging up the phone and doing a happy dance. As I spun to face the entrance to the kitchen, I found Jonah, dressed in his superhero pajamas, eyeing me concernedly from the hallway. I smiled brightly before ushering him in to a seat at the table.
“Mommy’s just excited to spend the day with her favorite kiddos.” I stated. Jonah smiled before setting his teddy bear in the seat next to him. “What do you want for breakfast?” I asked. Evie entered and took the seat opposite her brother. I was pleased to see she’d donned a pair of pajamas also, meaning she’d decided to go along with the day. My girl was good at going with the flow, always had been.
“Pancakes!” Jonah shouted excitedly. “No wait! Waffles! No! French Toast!” He clapped his hands, grinning from ear to ear.
“Why not all three?” Evie asked slyly. I rolled my eyes.
“All three it is, but you have to have some protein with all that sugar.” They both nodded and I got to work.
“A doctor’s note?” Evie asked twenty minutes later around a mouthful of pancake. I shrugged.
“We’ll talk to Emmy about it when you pick up your school work this afternoon.” Emily worked with a doctor who wanted desperately to become her kids’ stepdad. He’d written sick notes for them before and even given her a blank letter head for just in case. It wouldn’t hold up against an actual inquiry, but should be enough for a rural high school. I hoped. Evie eyed me for a few more seconds but didn’t comment further. Jonah, having missed the exchange, continued slurping his syrup from his plate.
* * *
The day passed uneventfully enough. We stayed on the couch and watched movie after movie until Jonah fell asleep around mid-afternoon. Then Evie and I continued the next few hours with manicures, pedicures, and facials. It was truly one of the best days we’d had together since the divorce had split her world in two, and I was grateful. When Jonah woke up in early evening, we piled into the car and began the hour or so drive to Emily’s house to pick up Evie’s missed assignments.
I could tell something was off when we pulled into Emily’s driveway. Both kids raced to greet their cousins, and the four of them continued into the house together, talking animatedly. That just left Emily and I on the front lawn.
“Have you heard from Eric?” Emily began nonchalantly. I eyed her suspiciously but shrugged.
“Not for a few months. Why?” Emily’s turn to shrug, trying to continue her charade of indifference. I softened. “Look, Emily, I know he’s your brother and I would never expect you to give up any ties to him, least of all for me, I just don’t want to discuss him.”
“Of course, of course, I know….” She trailed off, biting her lip, and I sighed.
“But…” I prompted.
“But we haven’t heard from him all weekend. You know Eric, he stops by mom’s at least once a day.” For the record, Eric’s mother was perfectly capable of making due without her big strong son around every day. He mostly did it to stay in the will, a fact he’d made no secret about when we were together. I sighed.
“He hasn’t called?” I asked. Emily shook her head and I could see real worry shining in her eyes. Before I could comment further, a commotion from the front door drew both of our attentions. Emily’s youngest, Tommy, was racing out of the house, Jonah close behind. Hot on their heels, however, were both girls.
“THAT’S MY DIARY!!” Anabelle shrieked. Both boys giggled as they made the driveway. They were out of room, however, and the girls realized it first. As the boys skidded to a halt, gravel flying, their older sisters pounced, taking both to the ground. The four of them rolled past us in a ball of fists and maniacal laughter, until finally Anabelle stood, a battered leather journal clutched in her hand.
“Oh Travis!” Tommy mimicked, causing his sister to lunge for him again. Emily was faster, catching her daughter by the arm.
“Tommy…” She warned. A few years older than Jonah, Tommy was already developing quite the wild side, a fact that kept both women in his life on their toes. At nine, he was still no match for his mother, however, and wilted under her stern gaze, until she winked at him. “Don’t antagonize your sister.” Emily finished. Tommy smiled sheepishly, a look that fooled no one.
“Did you get everything?” I asked Evie, who nodded. “Alright, long drive. Pile in.” I instructed, and my two complied. I glanced at Emily only to meet her determined gaze. I sighed again.
“If I hear from him, I’ll let you know.” I promised, which was really the best I could do. Emily nodded, accepting, before herding her kids back into the house. The three of them waved from the open doorway as we backed out of the driveway and headed for home.
* * *
When I woke up from a dead sleep on the couch several hours later, I had the distinct impression someone was watching me from the shadows of the room. When he loomed out of said shadows, that impression became a horrifying reality. If I hadn’t spent the better part of 12 years by his side, I may not have recognized the man I’d once loved through the gore coating his features. When he ran a hand down his face to clear his eyes, however, I preferred the gore to the monster lurking beneath. Eric had shown his true colors over the last three years and I had no doubts about the quality of his character, but he’d never actually looked the part. Until now.
His usually meticulously kept hair was straggly and matted around his face. His eyes, once a striking blue, were too wide for his face and now a glowing yellow in color. While I’d seen his mouth bared in a snarl toward me before, it had never been accompanied by the blood-stained fangs he showed me now. As he stalked forward, toward me, I felt my muscles seize up in sheer terror. When he made it to the arm of the couch, however, I had decided I wasn’t going to just sit there and die. That decision came a split second before he pounced.
He landed on top of me, effectively pinning me in place. I felt the weight of one of his clawed hands sink into my shoulder as his other covered my mouth, grazing my cheek and drawing blood. “Hush little Ellie, because if you scream. I’ll rip those brats from their sweet dreams.” He sang, his breath washing over my face in a hot wave of blood scented air. I gagged behind his hand but said nothing. He smirked before leaning forward and sniffing my shoulder where his claws had made yet another slash. I froze, my eyes squeezed tight. “You always smelled sooooo good.” He groaned, “Good enough to eat.” He chuckled as his own joke and I swallowed bile.
Just then a noise from the hallway caught both of our attentions. The squeak of a floorboard. Jonah, making his nightly trek to his sister’s room. I exhaled a shaky breath as Eric turned murderous eyes toward the hallway just as Evie’s door closed. I’m not sure what made me act next except the sheer force of my mama bear instincts. It’s the only explanation for why my brain, frozen in terror moments before, suddenly kicked into high gear. As Eric moved his weight forward, preparing to spring into the hallway and freeing my lower body in the process, I kicked my legs up and around his upper body before rolling us both off the couch.
We landed in a heap on the hardwood floor, me catching most of Eric’s weight as he landed on top of me. He snarled (like an animal) as he flung me away from him, shoving me into the base of the couch. My head cracked against the leg and stars winked in my vision but I stood up quickly, keeping my self between Eric and our children.
“Wha…. what are you?” I was proud my voice didn’t tremble more. Eric bared his teeth again, giving me a better view of his disfigured mouth. A mouth that had elongated more in the few seconds since we’d hit the ground. I gulped, swallowing more bile.
“I’m better.” He hissed, his mouth and teeth distorting his voice slightly. He lunged again, and would have made it around me, if it weren’t for the half-wall separating the part of the living room we were in and the entrance to the hallway. To think I’d discussed tearing that down. He slammed into it; his motions slightly jerky. Almost as if he wasn’t used to his modifications any more than I was. As he stumbled back slightly, shaking his head. I lunged forward, bringing my high school soccer knowledge back into play as I slide tackled him, taking his feet out from under him and ending up, yet again, under his considerable weight. “Ellie….” His voice merely sounded annoyed. As if I were a particularly bothersome fly and not a woman fighting desperately for the lives of her children. That tone sparked an anger that, while probably not altogether helpful, was enough to propel me to my feet.
“Eric, stop.” I tried to put authority into my voice but Eric’s laugh suggested otherwise.
“They’re not even mine.” This statement, while not completely out of character, was new. He’d yet to use this tactic in all of our battles over the last few years. I guess he’d been saving it for a special occasion.
“What are you talking about? Of course, they’re yours.” He was shaking his head before I finished, tutting like I was an unruly school child.
“You think I don’t know what you are? What you were the entire time we were together. You’ve always been a whore but I never thought you’d let the scum get you pregnant. And twice. I allowed your behavior for long enough and now you face the consequences of your actions.” He lunged again, and this time he was too fast for me to catch. As he reached the door to Evie’s room, however, I used my last, desperate bargaining chip.
“Of course, I slept around. Have you seen yourself? I know they say size doesn’t matter but that’s only when you have something larger than pencil lead. I mean, come on! What was I supposed to do? Poor little Eric, you couldn’t even get a hard on without medical assistance. What was I supposed to do, wait for three hours while you coaxed yourself into it?” I was breathing hard, my heart hammering in my chest. If he didn’t take the bait, I didn’t know what else to do. I could see him digesting the lie and felt my stomach unclench the moment I saw that he believed it. Right before he moved again, pinning me to the wall with one clawed hand around my throat. He’d moved too fast for me to see again, and therefore I was unable to prepare myself for the blow to the back of my skull. As I saw darkness creep into my vision for the second time in twenty seconds, I felt his hot breath on my face again.
“I’m going to rip out your throat, you devious slut, then I’m going to strangle those bastards in their beds until their skulls split from the pressure. And just before they die, they’ll know it was your fault.” I brought my knee up just as he finished speaking, connecting with his groin and praying that at least hadn’t changed. He grunted from the impact, bending forward briefly as he regained his breath. I plunged both of my thumbs into his eye sockets as he regained his footing, causing him to howl, literally, as he back handed me across the room. I crashed into the coffee table, shattering the glass top and splitting my side open in the process. Before I could stand on my own, Eric yanked me to my feet with my hair in one clawed fist before jabbing my ribs with his other. I felt something crack and gasped as blood bubbled up from what was no doubt a punctured lung. He yanked my hair further, angling my head so that my throat was bared to him.
I coughed again. “Have you considered Viagra?” I managed, trying to keep his attention focused on me. I was hoping Evie had heard the considerable commotion and had called the police. When she was eight, her school had sponsored a police officer to come in and talk about forming a safety plan. Ours had revolved around getting to a meeting spot, but if we were ever separated, she was to call for help immediately. Why was I thinking about that right now? Because your life really does flash before your eyes before you die, I guess.
Eric snarled again, slamming my head forward onto the glass coated ground before yanking me to my feet again. This time I couldn’t stop the darkness from taking over, and I came back a few seconds later as he placed both of his hands around my neck. Just as oblivion beckoned again, however, the pressure around my neck eased as Eric moved away from me. Or was flung away from me, as the snarling would suggest. I blinked my vision clear in enough time to see four men converge on my ex-husband as he backed into the corner of the room. I coughed more blood and the one closest to me turned, meeting my gaze with a striking green one.
The connection was instantaneous. Heat flooded my system, coating my nerves with a comforting warmth that chased the pain to the farthest corner of my mind. I still couldn’t breathe and was no doubt bleeding out on my living room floor, but I just didn’t seem to notice that so much anymore.
Mine. The voice was in my head but it wasn’t mine. I knew because it was distinctly male. I opened my mouth to agree, but instead gagged as bile rose, flooding from my mouth on a torrent of blood as my wind pipe severed fully. The last thought I had was for my children, and how I hoped this stranger with striking eyes was here to help them, before the darkness returned and I knew no more.