Anger in Four Parts
Fall passed into Winter, Winter was starting to fade into Spring. This particular afternoon Michael was going straight home. He sat on the bus, noticing subtle signs of spring showing, like the first buds on trees and bushes. Most houses had crocus pushing up their heads in flower beds, and other bulbs were starting to send up shoots. Spring was in the air, and he just felt good. He hadn’t felt this good in a long time. Even Thea sitting two seats ahead of him and pretending he didn’t exist didn’t bother him.
Suddenly a cold hand was holding his. Mariah smiled at him and rested her head on his shoulder. He wished he could put his arm around her and rest his head on hers. He missed spending the night with her. The thing or whatever it was, had not re-appeared and he hoped its absence would bring Mariah and him back together again.
When he got home he kicked off his Vans and stretched out on his bed, wondering why he felt so tired. Mariah materialized next to him, became solid, and held him in her cold arms. “You’re not mad at me, are you?”
“No, I couldn’t be mad at you for long. I was really freaked out by what happened to Thea, and seeing something that looked like you on the course, that’s all. I was afraid it was you, but later I realized it wasn’t.” He wrapped his arms around her more tightly. “I have to meet Kit at six when she gets off the bus—will you come with me?”
“Don’t you ever let yourself just be a kid, Michael? I didn’t have much chance to have a life and enjoy myself, but with you it’s like you’ve taken the burden of the world on your shoulders. You’re too young to be so old.”
“I wasn’t always this way,” Michael turned on his back so he could see her. “I was a real slacker, except for school. Then Dad lost his job, and even though he got unemployment and Mom was working, they could barely manage the bills. He found another job, but the pay was way less than he made before. I’d hear them at night, talking about which bills they should pay, how much the insurance was costing. Then, one day, they didn’t have the money for the house payment, and they realized they might have to go into foreclosure.”
“Kit doesn't get it, she can't understand why we don’t live the way we did before. There were some other kids in the school that had the same thing happen, but it doesn’t make it any easier to go from being upper middle class to having to struggle day-to-day. I figured it was my job to make it as easy on Mom and Dad as I could so there’d be one less thing for them to worry about.”
He sighed and sat up. “They’ve put a lot of money into this house and it’s beginning to feel like home—I never thought I’d say that. My run-in with the guy up the street shook them up, but I don’t want them to love this house any less. It’s their refuge from all the stuff they had to go through. Now it’s my job to be as good a student as I can so they can send me to college, and find ways to support myself so they don’t have to worry about me. If I can keep an eye on Kit and keep that creep away from her, then they can think the neighborhood is safer than it really is and live in their comfortable little world again.”
“You know that can’t happen,” Mariah countered, “Not as long as he’s here and alive on this earth. Maybe we can find a way to scare him and chase him away, but he’s after your sister and he won’t stop until he gets her. I’m being unfair to you, but you’re the one who’s going to have to do it. There’s no one else.”
“Like you think I don’t know that? Every time I walk up the street, every time I walk down it, I’m on the lookout for him. He could grab me and maybe I couldn’t get away, but if I succeed in fighting him off and run—he knows that I’ll call the police again, and he’s done for. I’ve promised you your bones.” He paused for a moment, “Mariah, I’m terrified to go into his basement and get them, but I intend to keep my word. You’re right; I do have the weight of the world on my shoulders, but who’s going to take it off them?”
Mariah squeezed him tight. “You have me,” she said, “and Crazy Girl will help. I don’t know how much we can do. We surprise ourselves all the time, doing things we don’t even try to do. But we’ll use what we have for you—and your sister if it comes to that.”
“Better hope it doesn’t,” Michael said grimly, “I don’t want to find myself in that basement, and I don’t want him to get his hands on Kit.” He paused for a moment, “Mariah, that thing, what was it? It attacked me that night when I went up to check on his house. It was like a storm of branches and debris, but it had a mind, a focus. It shredded the hell out of my hands.”
“Don’t think about it now,” she told him. “Let’s just get your sister home safe tonight. Leave tomorrow to tomorrow.” She watched Michael drift off and then flew out of his bedroom to the house where her bones lay.
The monster was watching the clock. He was waiting for it to be time for the girl to get off the bus. The clock flew off the shelf, hit him in the face, and fell on the floor and broke. His bald egg head looked around and saw her standing there. “I can get another clock,” he sneered.
“Then I’ll break that one, too.” Mariah was surprised; it was the first time she had materialized, been able to speak to anyone living but Michael. “You think you’re going to get away with it, but you’re not. You’re not afraid, but you should be. If you had any sense you’d get as far away from this house as you could. It’s not only my death that’s in this house—yours is too. You’ve unleashed something you can’t control now.” She shimmered and disappeared.
He looked around. Nothing. No trace of that girl. Suddenly those mounds of earth didn’t seem like trophies anymore, but he wasn’t going to be chased out of his home. She didn’t know about those little secrets hidden in the back yard, or the other places. Let her threaten him. Then his bravado left him and he realized he was afraid.
Mariah re-appeared in Michael’s bedroom and looked at his clock. It was funny how all these humans measured their lives by a clock, as if keeping track of time were important. For her, a day could be a week or a week a month. She remembered setting her alarm for school, fearful she would be late. So what if she had been late? Nothing really bad ever happened to the kids who never could quite make it to school on time. Some of them were good students who just couldn’t manage mornings well. So why did it matter?
It mattered now, but this wasn’t about her. She sighed, reluctant to wake Michael, but knowing that she’d committed to helping him with his sister. She looked at him, peacefully sleeping, looking at the blue grey circles under his eyes. He always seemed tired lately. “You worry too much, Michael,” she whispered, “You forget you’re not alone and think you have to do it all yourself.” The clock said five thirty and she shook him gently, then harder.
"Come on Michael, wake up!” she said.
Kit stepped off the bus, looking for her brother, not seeing him. He’d been late once before, and it made her nervous. She looked at her watch—he was only five minutes late. She decided that she wouldn’t worry-- she wouldn’t move, she’d stay in the safety of the street light and Mike would come running up and apologize and he’d walk her home like he’d promised.
Michael suddenly opened his eyes and looked at the clock, then at Mariah. “I tried to wake you Michael, I tried. It was like something put you to sleep.” He started to throw on his clothes and lace up his shoes. Mariah held out her hand, and they made their way down the tree outside of his window and began to run up the street to the bus stop where Kit would be waiting. Mariah suddenly released his hand and flew out of his view, looking for the monster and hoping he had not found Michael’s sister yet. Michael looked at his watch and hoped that Kit had waited, maybe Kit was all right.
Kit started to panic. There was no sign of Michael and she had waited almost half an hour. She counted the number of blocks to her house, wondering if she could get home safely. Ever since Michael had been attacked she had gone in mortal fear of walking down this street. This night, when she really needed her brother, he was nowhere to be found. “No, not fair,” she thought, “he’s taken every precaution for me. He believed me when Mom and Dad wouldn’t. He wouldn’t forget me.”
She would have to do something soon; she just couldn’t stand there on the corner. Then she made the decision she dreaded most, and started walking carefully down the street, looking around her with every step. She started to count first the blocks, then each cautious footstep that she took. Each step took her closer to that dreadful house, the source of her fear. If she could just keep going, maybe nothing would happen after all. Didn’t the police say he was nowhere to be found after he attacked Michael?
Out of nowhere and quick as a snake’s strike, a hand suddenly covered her mouth. “Thought you could get away from me, girlie girl? I’ve been watching you for a long time, and now I’ve got you. You’re brother’s nowhere around to help you, so you and me are gonna have some fun.” He twisted her arm behind her back and started to drag her into the bushes. She tried to struggle, but his grasp on her arm hurt and she could not break free.
“Let go of my sister you asshole! The only people who are going to have some fun are you and me.” Michael appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Kit smiled, in spite of her fear. He hadn’t forgotten her after all. The man hesitated now, unable to make up his mind. He hadn’t forgotten the beating that Michael had given him. Michael could outrun him, and follow him wherever he tried to take her. He was like a dog with a bone that, afraid if he dropped it, another would take it.
Caution was not on Michael’s mind, only fury. The monster was trying to drag Kit away, but Michael put his arms around her waist and pulled, trying to free her. He tore his sister out of his grip, and tossed her carelessly to the side. He grabbed the older man’s shoulders and viciously butted his head, then kicked him between his legs, watching with grim satisfaction as the monster doubled over in pain. A black shadow suddenly flew overhead, and Michael ordered Kit to run. She didn’t need to be told a second time and he and Kit ran as fast as could to their parents’ house.
The monster disappeared into the bushes, and Michael followed Kit, listening for the sound of footsteps behind him. “If you ever touch her again, I’m going to kill you,” he yelled, “I swear, I’ll kill you.”
He was so angry that he didn’t notice at first when Mariah appeared by his side. “I was so scared,” she said, “I warned him to leave you and your sister alone earlier this evening.” He stopped for a moment, then throwing caution to the wind he embraced her tightly, not wanting to let go. They were hidden from view in the bushes and they kissed brazenly in the shadows.
“I appeared to him tonight, and I scared him. I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly he could see and hear me.” Mariah’s voice sounded breathless.
“You what? He could really see you?” Michael’s jaw dropped. This was something new, Mariah was invisible to most people. Short Round had been the only other person who saw her.
“Yes, he could. I don’t why he could, but it just happened. He was scared, Michael, he was really scared. It scared him more than when Crazy Girl and I made things fly around in his house. I don’t know if I could do it again, Michael, but he was afraid, I could feel it.”
“God, I don’t believe it,” Michael said, “The only other person I know who’s seen you is Short Round. Do you think you can do it again? Will it only happen this once?”
“I don’t know, but the look on his face seemed to say he didn’t want to see what was in front of him.” Mariah loosened her grip, saying “Listen, I hear police sirens.”
“Kit. She told must have told mom and dad, and they called the cops. I’ve got to go, I don’t want to, but I have to be there.” He hadn’t told Mariah--and he wouldn’t tell anyone--that he was growing more fearful for Kit’s safety. There were too many things to factor in, and the monster had probably gone to ground again, to a hiding place no one could find. He kissed Mariah on the lips. “I gotta go. The cops are at the house, I bet.” Mariah watched him sprint down the street, wishing she could go with him.
It had to be his bad luck. Sitting in the living room were the same two cops who had come when he had called after the monster had ambushed him. Kit was cuddled up in their father’s lap. She had stopped crying, but her eyes were red and her cheeks displayed two bright red blotches. His mom and dad were white-faced—first one child had been attacked, then another suffered an attempted kidnapping. Michael felt his anger ready to come boiling out. There were things on his tongue that he wanted to say to the cops, and this time he let them come out.
“Do you believe me this time?” he cried in a shrill voice, “Or am I still another punk kid making trouble? Look at my sister, do you think she’s lying, too? Or do you believe her? Are you going to do something about that bastard up the street before he kidnaps my sister again, or some other girl? Aren’t you guys supposed to catch criminals, aren’t you supposed to be the law? As far as I can tell you aren’t good for anything.” He stood with his fists clenched, and his mother saw the first signs that her son was about to burst into a rage.
She knew Michael. He had never been a difficult child, but there were times when she wished he’d come with a manual. As he’d grown into his teens, she’d learned just when to hold him, or put her hands on his shoulders as she did now.
“Shhhh,” she whispered softly in his ear, “Now’s not the time to let your anger out, Michael.” She slid her arms deftly around his shoulders, holding him so softly he could barely feel it. The officers watched in admiration as she transformed adolescent rage into sullen compliance. His fists unclenched and he started to breathe more quietly, his body softening as he stood quietly in the protective circle of his mother’s arms.
“We’re going to start canvassing the neighborhood,” one of the officers said, “The trouble with this guy is he seems to have the ability to disappear. We need to find the name of the owner of the house, and then we can get a search warrant. Maybe we can get a “John Doe”, but we have to prove he attacked you on his property. We’ll try to drive by when your daughter gets off her bus, but that’s the most we can offer you now. I hate to say it, but our best chance to find him may be when he makes another attempt.”
“Wonderful,” muttered Michael, but his mother squeezed his arm in a signal that meant, “Be quiet”.
“Thank you officer,” she replied, and the cops let themselves out.
Michael sank down into a chair. His head was throbbing despite the fact that his mother had calmed him down. All he wanted was to take about four Tylenol and go to bed. He was starting to get up when the phone rang shrilly, disturbing his uneasy peace.
His mother answered it, and handed the headset to him, “Here, it’s for you,” she said, “It’s Short Round.”
“Mike, what happened?” The signal sounded fuzzy; Short Round must be on his cell.
“You’re something else, dude—the cops just left here. That creep tried to grab my sister, only he didn’t think anyone else would be around. I got her away from him, but we’re pretty freaked around here at the moment.” A buzzing sound interfered with the signal again—Michael wished Short Round’s family would change carriers.
“I knew it, I had the weirdest feeling, like something bad was happening to you. None of my brothers were around to drive me, so I couldn’t try and find you. Sorry.”
“It’s okay, there’s not much we could have done together that I didn’t do by myself. Kit’s okay—that’s all that matters. The cops have promised to do drive-bys, but I don’t think it’s going to make any difference. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”
“Cool.” A pause, then almost hesitantly Short Round added, “I saw Thea today at the old library. She’s not so freaked out as she was; I think she’s going to be at the skate park tomorrow.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I’ll be there. It’s getting close to Kit’s recital, so I won’t have to meet here at the bus too many more times. I need to get some skate time in. I’ll talk to you later.” Michael hung up the phone. He didn’t really want to see Thea. She flirted with him and once that had been okay, but what she wanted from him wasn’t really his to give. Mariah had his heart, had had it from the beginning. What Thea wanted, he couldn’t give her.
Both he and Mariah seemed to sense their time together may be coming to an end. He didn’t want it that way, Mariah didn’t want it, but there was an inevitability to it that seemed to hang in the air. They were clinging desperately now to the time that they had left. When the monster was gone, she would be gone. Michael started to wonder if she wanted to leave. There was a sadness, a longing in her eyes lately, like being here, even with him, was starting to drain her. Michael wondered if she wanted to go someplace where the nightmarish memories would disappear and all the pain would go away. He’d never seen anyone look that way before; he felt sad for her, and helpless, like he wanted to do something to help but didn’t know what.
“I’m going upstairs,” he announced to no one in particular. He went into his room and lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling. He felt like a storm was brewing, something was going to happen that was beyond his control. He hadn’t had this helpless feeling since he had found out about his parents’ financial problems. He was on the edge of a whirlwind that he didn’t want to be sucked into. Pretending it wasn’t there was not going to help him, or Mariah, or Kit. It sounded lame, but he wondered if he was being tested, and if he would pass or be found wanting.
His mother knocked on his door, bearing a plate of food and a glass of milk. He ate while he did his homework, focusing on words and numbers on pages that seemed so insignificant, but had to be done to satisfy the others that he was truly okay. When he finished, he threw his books on the floor and Mariah materialized next to him. She took him in her cold arms and the dam that held his feelings back broke. He did not cry, but shook uncontrollably and she seemed to take it from him and absorb it into herself. At last he relaxed, sighed, and pulled her down next to him. “I don’t know if I can do it,” he whispered.
“You’re not doing this alone. You’re strong, Michael, stronger than you know. You’re like Saint Michael fighting the dragon. You’re going to beat him, Michael, I promise.” Mariah kissed him, holding him tightly.
“What if I don’t want to? What if I don’t want this? What if I just leave it to the cops?” He looked into her eyes, seeing if she understood.
“If you leave it to the cops, nothing will get done. And your sister and that other girl and god only knows who else will find their way into the basement. I’m not religious and I know you’re not, but have faith. I know this sounds crazy but I think there is a reason for all of this. It’s your time. You’ll pass through the fire and come out stronger. I believe in you,” she repeated.
“Well, maybe I don’t want it.” Mariah was startled by the anger in Michael’s voice. “Maybe I don’t want to be a hero, or a savior, or a rescuer, or be like some damn saint. Maybe what I want is to have my life back. I don’t want to be attacked anymore, have to rescue anybody anymore. All I want is to compete on my skateboard and win everything I can get my hands on, go to school, get scholarships, and go to college like a normal teenager. I didn’t sign up for the part of hero, and if someone nominated me, I’m abdicating now.”
“I thought I could count on you,” said Mariah, and floated out the window, leaving him alone with his misery.
Michael turned over and began to cry softly so no one could hear. He was losing his energy and his natural zest for life, and for once he was going to allow himself to wallow in self-pity. All he wanted right now was for the world to leave him alone.
He didn’t bring his skateboard with him the next day. He sat on the bus, checking his math homework, when he looked up to see Thea sitting next to him.
“Hey, where’s your skateboard? Aren’t you going to the skate park with us?” She smiled at him. She looked especially appealing today. She’d cut her hair in a pixie cut and wasn’t binding it up in a scarf. She wore an orange sweater, short black skirt, tights, and her Doc Martins. Her face displayed her usual roguish expression. She was getting stares from other men and boys on the bus, but Michael paid her no more mind than he would Short Round or Dewey.
“I’m going to the library after school. I have to study. I have a chemistry test and a Trig quiz coming up, and I want good grades. I don’t feel like company today. School is gonna max me out—at least at the library I’ll be alone.”
Thea got up and left him, and stomped off in her Doc Martins. She found a seat close to the front of the bus where she wouldn’t have to look at him. She’d never known him to be so rude, she thought, or to make anyone unwelcome. He was definitely starting to act strange. She didn’t believe the story he’d told her about the man in the house. Maybe she’d been wrong about him from the moment she’d met him. She had actually thought he might like her She wouldn’t let herself be fooled again by his blond hair and cobalt blue eyes.
Michael was glad she was gone. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts. He’d gotten angry with Mariah, and had been a real jerk. He just wanted to get to school now and lose himself in his classes, then go to the old library and do his homework—and