Chapter Four: Something Wicked
It was three houses up from Michael’s; the kind neighborhood kids call “the haunted house”. There was an air of decay about it, it seemed to be falling in on itself, but the owner did nothing to stop it. There were little signs, like a van that would occasionally come and go, and mail that would be dropped into a curb side mailbox that indicated the old house might possess an occupant. This house was not a place that anyone on the street cared to walk past. Passersby would cross to the other side of the street to avoid it.
In this same house, the house the living seemed to shun, Mariah sat in the soft dirt of the basement floor and stared at the pitiful mound of damp black dirt. After all these years it was still hard to believe that was all of her that remained. She curled up on top of the earth and began to cry. Once she had been full of hope, life had held promise, then all was gone in an instant. She wished the memories would go away, but they wouldn’t. She could remember being dragged downstairs, the knife at her throat. He’d tied a length of rope in a slip knot, putting around her neck, and pulled it so tightly she couldn’t breathe.
Then she noticed something she hadn’t seen before--an imitation of a photographer’s studio: drop cloths, lamps and a video camera staring her in the face. She started screaming, her mind refusing to accept what was happening to her--then she saw the shovel propped against the wall.
Foolishly she tried to run, but the he dragged her back.. He bound her hands tightly and laughed when he saw her start to cry. He heard her begging and pleading, the camera recording everything. The nightmare seemed to go on and on, and just when she thought she couldn’t take anymore, he jerked the rope around her neck with a sudden hard pull. She heard the crunch of the bones of her neck, then everything went black and her ordeal was over for good.
“The most horrible day of my life,” she said softly, not wanting to wake Crazy Girl. She had first seen Crazy Girl a couple of days after she had died. The girl had risen up out of the dirt and started talking; but the earth in her mouth made her words seem little more than nonsense. Mariah had wondered if the girl had gone mad before she’d been killed, but now she knew better. She was the one who had gone temporarily insane. Crazy Girl, as Mariah had nicknamed her, had brought her back to sanity and taken care of her.
All she wanted now was for her parents to have what was left of her, and to somehow kill her murderer. As the years passed, her wish passed from desire to obsession. Sometimes she would see a white light above her, brimming with love and healing, and the promise of the end to her pain. She could feel part of her start to give in and drift slowly towards it, but in the end, no matter how peaceful the light felt, she always resisted. She was not going to be denied her revenge.
She could hear voices upstairs, that meant his flat screen television, his pride and joy, was on. She decided to go upstairs and break some of his crockery and whatever else she could manage. Ever since Crazy Girl had shown her how, she’d destroyed so many of his plates that he had started buying paper plates to avoid the expense of replacing the ones she broke.
Crazy Girl rose up out of the dirt, “Hey girlfriend, feel like a little action? Let’s party.” She smiled, showing white teeth. Her dreadlocks were matted and Mariah wondered if she would wind up looking the same way. She and Mariah were the same age, but Crazy Girl looked much older. She had been a teenage prostitute who had walked the streets of the downtown section of the city at night. The monster had found her and taken her to his secret place where she met the same fate as Mariah. Her body had lain in the basement for years before the monster had added Mariah’s grave to hers.
Mariah had been taken a few blocks from her house. She’d gotten off the same bus she’d ridden a hundred times before, but the autumn evening’s early darkness had given her kidnapper a cover. He’d snatched her off the sidewalk, hand covering her mouth, dragging her into his house before anyone had even seen.
She’d replayed the scenario so many times, trying to figure out what she could have done to prevent it; but always came up with the same answer. It was like someone had spun a giant roulette wheel and the number that had come up was her. There was nothing she could have done, even though she fought to the end.
“Let’s go have some fun,” Crazy Girl whispered, and they materialized upstairs, watching him stare at his wide screen TV. “Don’t look, girl, don’t look,” Crazy Girl tried to put her hand over Mariah’s eyes, but she was too late.
It was her. He was watching the video of her. Every little thing he had done to her was being played out before her eyes. She could feel the anger building up, and wished she could make his TV explode. The best that she and Crazy Girl could do was to make crockery and video cassettes fly off his shelves, though one heavy mug put a crack in the television screen. Crazy Girl managed to hit him quite hard in the head with a dinner plate, and he fell from his chair.
He looked around him, frightened, not seeing, yet knowing they were there. “Get out of here and leave me alone,” he whispered hoarsely. Crazy Girl laughed out loud, took Mariah’s hand and they returned to the basement.
“He’s planning to do another one,” she told Mariah, “I can feel it. He’s acting like he did before he got you. It’s like feeding a habit; you maybe can go a while without, but eventually you gotta have a fix. He’s going to get himself another girl, for sure. Only a matter of time now.”
“We’ve got to stop him. We can’t let him do it again.” Mariah was horrified.
“You gotta plan?” Crazy Girl asked her, “You know someone with a Glock Nine or something? All I could do when he killed you was watch. Now you saying we can do something about this?”
“Maybe,” said Mariah, “Maybe. I can’t let this happen again. I’ll send my soul to hell before I let him hurt another girl. I was his last victim, and I don’t want there to be any more.”
“You mean you think you were his last victim. You want to believe you were his last victim. How many victims do we really know about? Are you going to tell me you think you can control what he does? And you think I’m crazy? If you think we’re his only victims—I can tell you for a fact that we’re not. I’ll catch you later when you start thinking and talking sense.” Crazy Girl disappeared into the earth, leaving Mariah alone.
It was late evening, and Kit was walking down the street, holding tightly onto the bag that held her ballet slippers and leotard. If Michael disliked this neighborhood for being rundown and shabby, she hated it because it frightened her.
Streetlights and houses with lighted porches comforted her, she felt safe when she walked past them. But there were houses with dark empty porches, torn curtains, and dark windows that seemed threatening by their very emptiness. She’d hurry past these as quickly as she could, wishing that someone would meet her at the bus stop, or that one of her parents had picked her up from class.
The worst house was one that she had to pass shortly before she reached hers. It was the most dilapidated, ramshackle house on the street. The lawn was overgrown, the gutters and the front steps sagged so badly that it seemed like they might separate from house at any minute, although there were signs someone lived there. A light glowed in a large window that could have been from a lamp or TV. Every so often a corner of a curtain would lift briefly, then fall, then she would run as fast as her feet would carry her until she reached her house.
She had taken the move harder than Michael. When her parents announced that they were going to have to sell their house and move, she burst into tears and locked herself in her room. She couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. All her friends were here, what did her parents expect her to do?
For the next week she had argued, pouted, cried, begged, and pleaded. No, they couldn’t move. Why in the world would they want to leave this neighborhood? How could they even think of doing this to her? Never, ever, did she dream in a million years that something like this could happen. It was like a nightmare that was still there though she was awake.
One night Michael came into her room and grabbed her by the arm. “This stops now,” he said, “Mom and Dad are having a hard enough time without you whining and making it worse. Mom is really upset, and you aren’t helping things. We have to move and that’s that. Stop thinking about yourself, and think about how Mom and Dad must feel.”
After that things got worse. One night her parents asked her which of her after school activities meant the most to her. This took her by surprise. She played soccer, belonged to Girl Scouts, took ice skating lessons, and ballet. Something told her that she was being asked to make a choice.
“Ballet”, she said. Soon afterwards soccer and ice skating lessons were dropped. She stopped going to Girl Scouts. Michael stopped taking Karate, participating in soccer and baseball, and focused on his skateboard instead. Her parents traded their cars for cheaper ones, and their house was put on the market and sold.
She had begged and pleaded with her parents to not buy the house they chose. Michael had done the same, but her parents seemed set on it. Her mother gave her a book of wallpaper and paint samples to choose colors and trim for her room, but she’d only looked at them halfheartedly. She hated her new room in spite of its view of the large back yard with its magnolias, old fashioned roses, and lilacs.
She found herself counting steps now, breathing heavily. She was approaching “the house”, and she grew ever more fearful as she drew closer. She was horrified to find that she could see a hand lift the curtain, and to make things worse it stayed open longer than usual. For a brief moment, she thought she saw a face peering at her.
She ran home, screaming. Her hands trembled so hard that she had trouble unlocking the heavy front door. When she finally succeeded, she ran upstairs to her room and threw herself on her bed. She lay there sobbing, shaking violently; she was so frightened she could not speak for a long time.
Michael found her lying on her bed. “What’s wrong Little Bit?” he asked, using her childhood nickname. She said nothing but held onto him tightly and her tears came in torrents. He gently stroked her light brown hair, guessing that something was horribly wrong and waiting to see if she would tell him.
“Michael, I’m scared. We have to convince Mom and Dad to move out of this house and get away from this neighborhood. Something bad is going to happen if we don’t, and I’m afraid it’s going to happen to me.”
Michael wanted to protect her, say something to make it all right, but he didn’t know how. He had thought her fear hysterics at first, but the words “I’m afraid it’s going to happen to me” had been said with a grim conviction that made him take notice. This was not the whining of a selfish brat, she was genuinely afraid.
He held her by the shoulders and looked at her. “Whatever it is, you tell mom and dad. Tell them what’s making you afraid, and why. Tell them you don’t want to walk down the street after dark. Ask if someone can meet you at the bus stop.” Her sobs had slowed down to gentle sniffling and she nodded.
He kissed the top of her head and went to his room.