Second Dead

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Chapter 14: Today’s the day

The next morning, Mom and Dad huddled in the foyer. Both gazed out the windows. They argued in hushed whispers. Mother stopped and stared at me until I walked into the kitchen to brush my teeth. I headed toward the sink and the whispers resumed.

I settled at the kitchen table. The snow on the skylights did not allow much light to penetrate to the room. I lit a candle and passed my hands across the flame for warmth.

I thought about the dream that had disturbed my sleep. This dream had been different. No Nana, no pool of blood, absent were the voices of tormented souls intruding on my subconscious. No, this dream had been, I don’t know, hopeful.

Yet, I had been lost, that much stayed with me. Lost where? In the woods? I could not be sure. There had been great fulminations of lightning, accompanied by peals of thunder. Such thunder, it seemed to have shaken the very earth itself.

This dream, like dreams should, faded fast. Unlike so many of my dreams of late. There had been a voice. Yes, I remember a voice of reason and hope. Solitary and distinct, it had told me something. But what? I sighed. The dream receded to leave me with a vague sense of apprehension. My mind turned to Chris. Hadn’t I told him were I to hear voices talking to me he would be the first to know? No way in hell would he hear about this.

Mom entered the kitchen and said, “Annabel, wake everyone up.”

“Yeah. Okay.” I continued to warm my hands over the flame while I tried to recapture my dream.

“Now,” Dad barked.

Startled, I jumped. “Yes sir.” I treated him to the most sullen expression I could muster.

“Anna, I’m--”

“Yeah, I know. Sorry, right?”

Everyone assembled in the living room. Dad stood by the fireplace, poking at the embers. He didn’t allow a fire in the daytime. Smoke might attract unwanted attention.

“Listen.” Dad turned to address us. “We’re leaving.” Long pause. “Tonight.”

We gaped at each other in disbelief. Only Klara showed no emotion at the announcement. She just stared into space, inscrutable as always.

“Its seventeen degrees right now,” Dad continued after the murmurs died down, “and the temperature’s falling. That means colder weather tonight, maybe down to zero. Those suckers out there are going to be frozen solid. Just as important, any survivors in our path should be hunkered down to stay warm.”

Dad paused to let the news sink in. “We’ve prepared for this day to arrive for a long time. We’re ready. I know we’re going to make it.”

Sure, what could go wrong? We were still alive. Well provisioned and strong, we had learned to survive in this deadly new world. Dad was brilliant, with his wonderful, beautiful plan. We would conquer whatever lay before us and reach our destination. I felt invincible.

Struck with the strangest of realizations, I burst into laughter. My body shook. I knew everyone in the room must have thought I’d gone mad. Didn’t they get it? No, probably not.

Yet there it sat. This joke, the ludicrousness of our situation, piled up in front of us day after day while we went about our lives like this absurd situation didn’t exist. I opened my eyes to stares of concern. I broke into laughter again.

“Annabel, stop,” Mom said.

“All right there, sis?” Chris asked.

Yeah, never better. Time to share this last unacknowledged absurdity thrust upon us by this cruel, unforgiving reality.

“What,” I struggled to speak for the laughter, “a fucking dump.” I pointed my finger along the wall. Heaps of refuse piled up, no safe place to discard this trash of a failed world.

“What?” Dad asked blank-faced, too confused to tell me off for dropping the f-bomb.

“Look around. We’ve been living in a pigsty,” I exclaimed.

Chris and Theo broke into laughter, at last in on the joke. Moments later the twins joined in, just because. Klara even managed a weak smile.

Mother did not seem to find the humor in it. No, she wouldn’t. She had no doubt been aware of the trash which marred her once pristine abode. She, the suffering homemaker forced to come to terms with the squalor surrounding her on a daily basis, could not face the reality.

Yet, we walked on it without a second thought. Accumulated grime had turned the floors filthy, stained, and matted with dirt, left untouched for lack of water. The walls; oh man, don’t touch the fucking walls.

“Well, I,” Dad’s voice trailed off.

Nothing to say there Dad? The proof piled all around us. Finally, even Mom smiled. Then an abashed grin, as we broke out into renewed laughter each time one of us caught sight of her un-amused mien.

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Wallis. My house was a mess, too. Mama wasn’t much on cleaning.” Klara stared at her for a moment and then dropped her gaze.

What a beautiful voice. My laughter ceased. The entire room fell silent. Klara had something to say.

“It wasn’t so bad at first, when Mama was sick and all. Papa would keep the house tidy. I would help when I could. When he wasn’t drunk or….” Klara kept her head down and wrung her hands while she cracked open the door to this particular family secret.

“What did you do when he was drinking?” I asked.

“Hide up in my room mostly. I liked being in my room. I could look out my window and see everyone. I used to watch you guys play in your yard.”

“Why didn’t you join us?” Susan asked in a strained voice.

Klara’s eyes widened. “Oh no, I couldn’t. I had to stay home and take care of Mama because sometimes she couldn’t get around so good. Besides, Papa said nobody wanted me around. Because of my brothers and all, I guess.”

Klara stared at her feet and sighed. “After the power went off, Mama got real sick. Said she was dying. Three weeks later she did.” Klara spoke volumes by her lack of emotion.

“What about your brothers?” Chris asked.

“Hmm, not much. Kurt spent his time drinking, too. Mama said he had a sickness. Just like my Mama had, I always thought. Couldn’t help himself, she’d say. Kevin spent most of his time looking for food and stuff.” Klara heaved a sigh. “The day all them moaners came, I was in my room watching Susan in her tree.

“I liked to watch you.” Klara smiled at Susan. “You always looked like you were having so much fun. I like to climb trees, too. Anyway, Papa called me downstairs to make ’em dinner. Papa and Kurt were both drunk. But Papa was real bad, never seen him so drunk. By the time I made dinner Papa had fallen asleep. So I went back up to my room. Susan wasn’t in her tree anymore.”

Klara’s eyes widened. “Then I saw them. I ran downstairs to warn Papa. But he wouldn’t wake up.” Klara stared at nothing, close to tears.

“Kurt grabbed his gun and ran out the back. He tripped and fell. He must have hit his head because he didn’t get back up. I think I started to scream.” Klara closed her eyes. “Yes, I was screaming.

“I ran out to get him. I started to shake him and called his name like I did with Papa. He wouldn’t move either. I tried to pick him up. But I couldn’t. Kevin grabbed me and pulled me back into the house. He threw me in my closet and locked the door.”

“What happened to Kevin?” Susan asked; her voice choked.

“I don’t know.” Klara’s eyes widened.

In a whisper that rang loud in the hushed room, I asked, “What did you do?”

“Well, I did what Kevin told me to. I stayed real quiet like and real still. I waited for him to return. Just like he said he would.”

“Did he?” Chris asked.

“No.” Klara frowned. “I guess he ran off and couldn’t make his way back.”

Chris and I exchanged dark looks.

“I stayed in there for a long time and got cold and real hungry. The house was very silent and still like. So I decided I would leave the closet and get some food. I knew Kevin wouldn’t like it, but I promised myself I would be super quiet. That’s when I found out Kevin locked the door.”

Klara gazed around. She seemed surprised at how enthralled we were with her account. She finished with the world’s greatest understatement. “It made me very unhappy.”

“We found you in a car,” Dad said.

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot. And it’s the best part, too. ’Cause I did it real quiet, just like Kevin told me. “I clawed through the walls. See?” She raised both hands for all to see her fingers.

She said it so calm, so oblivious to the visions of horror conjured up. Shivers ran up my spine.

“I did it real slow and quiet. I used one fingernail at a time.” She moved her hooked index finger up and down to show in detail how she escaped. “Sometimes I broke a nail, or a finger would start to hurt real bad so I changed fingers.”

“Oh Klara, I’m so, so sorry,” Susan croaked between sobs.

“Anyway, Mr. Wallis, all this talk of moving out got me thinking.”

“Yeeees?” Dad replied with a hint of wariness.

“Well, I’ve been thinking. Before we leave, could we stop by my house so I can leave a note for Kevin? He doesn’t know I’m with you and I don’t want him worrying when he finds me gone.”

“Absolutely,” Mom said in a voice thick with emotion. “You can leave the biggest note you want.”

“Oh good,” Klara beamed. “Now we can leave.”

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