I tensed up again, but at least managed to keep my eyes open. Oh no, another jogger! I winced, but this one smiled at us. “Is he your big brother?” Violet nodded and smiled back, even though to my knowledge we’re unrelated, so the athletic looking woman continued.
“My bro lives with me too. I wish I could get him off the couch to come jog with me, he’s just so tired after work. Hey, where’s your light?” She gestured to the little light source on her headband. “I have no idea how you see anything on this trail without a light, it gets dark out so early this time of year. Besides, aren’t you afraid of what might be lurking in the shadows?”
She did some sort of boogity boogity thing at us with her hands. “Not really” I answered, putting my arm around Violet. “She’s actually a nice and okay lady once you get to know her.” The jogger looked confused, then bounded off into the night.
Violet had a laugh about it afterwards, but yet again, she wouldn’t tell me why it’s funny. At last we came out of the woods into a clearing in which, by moonlight, I could see a strange concrete structure jutting up out of the ground. Partially buried by the looks of it.
“I used to sleep here all the time” Violet explained. “I think it was for utility access at one point. There are holes in either wall inside where large diameter pipes used to go. I could fit maybe three or four...meals...down there at once.” It wasn’t clear which part of that I was supposed to be familiar with but I nodded as I listened anyhow.
“I know it seems weird, but I felt really safe here. I still do. That’s rare for me.” I asked if she felt safe with me. She looked at me with glistening eyes and nodded. I told her that I would like to be a shelter for her, and that I will protect her from now on if she promises not to leave.
To my surprise, she scoffed. “Have you forgotten how I saved you from those bad men the night we met?” This only tickled her more. “I already told you dude, I was never in any danger. I pretended to be so I could feed.” Oh. Of course, she pretended.
I grew quiet and grim. Of course she never needed my help. I can’t really protect anybody, can I? I couldn’t even protect myself from a jogger. “I understand. I don’t have a nice concrete house like this one, I only live in a crawlspace with a dirt floor. I don’t even have a real job.”
Perhaps recognizing her own words, she took my hands in hers. “You protect my heart, and make sure I’m warm.” I somehow felt warm right then as well, though I was shivering. “You know” I began, “I was so scared when you were gone. I didn’t know if you’d ever come back. It’s strange. I was fine living by myself all those years. Only after you showed up did I stop being okay with it.
I guess I really was lonely all along, I just didn’t know how lonely until I found out what it’s like to care about somebody more than I care about safety. More than I care about comfort. That’s a really tricky thing, you know.
Comfort and safety seems like the right path. The safe, gentle path with no chance that people will laugh at you, and no chance of getting hurt. But once you go far enough down that road, you discover a different kind of hurt you never could’ve anticipated. The pain of a wasted life.”
She held me. “It doesn’t have to be wasted” she cooed. “You could come with me.” I pulled away. “Out into the world? For good? But what about my Mommy and Daddy? Who would flip the breaker for them?”
She again seemed on the verge of telling me something. It’s so maddening when she does that. I told her to just come out with it already. “Alright. It’s just...How many times has the breaker blown recently? In the past year, let's say.”
I focused, trying to remember the last time it happened. She didn’t wait for an answer. “In the last two years? Three?” I answered that I couldn’t remember exactly when the last time was, but indeed it was many years ago.
“They don’t need you then. They’ve clearly...fixed whatever was causing it.” They don’t need me? I wrestled with the idea. How could they not need me? I’m their little breaker monkey. “I...guess so. I mean, I know I shouldn’t stay down there. I can feel it. I just...I can’t leave. You know? It keeps pulling me back. The only thing about it I don’t regret is that I wouldn’t have met you otherwise.”
She mournfully stroked my hand. “There is one thing though. When I was much smaller, my Mommy and Daddy used to take me on a car trip every Christmas Eve to look at the colorful lights that perfects put on the outside of their houses.”
She rested her head on my shoulder as I spoke, her soft black hair spilling down my back and chest. “I always got so sleepy near the end. But when my eyes were full of sleep, everything got a little bit blurry, and I think I saw something incredible.
The lights expanded into something else. Six sided, with differently shaded streaks. Like crystal ornaments. They were so beautiful. I’ve never felt so secure. So at home. I figured they must be crystal palaces, which only I could see. Only at that special time of year, and only when I grew sleepy.
They are a secret I have kept from everyone, until now. It keeps getting colder out, doesn’t it? Christmas Eve can’t be far away. We will need a car, so we can go looking at the lights. So we can re-create everything how it was back then.
But if we do that, I think I can take you there. I don’t know exactly how but I know those palaces, they are real. They are so beautiful and perfect. I can take us to live inside of one. We’ll be safe there, no bad men-”
She abruptly pulled me in close and kissed me hard. She was convulsing as if crying, but no tears were coming out. When she pulled her lips away, she just threw her arms around me and buried her face in my shoulder.
“What the fuck is this?” We both turned as the uniformed man brought his flashlight to bear on us. He had grey hair on his head, and some beneath his upper lip. There was a big ring of keys on his belt, one of those black boxes important people talk into, and he wore a suitably important looking cap as well.
Violet and I, still holding one another, couldn’t find words just then. He approached us, face scrunched up in apparent disgust. “Just what in the hell have I stumbled onto here. Son, do you know how old she is?”
I didn’t answer, still stunned. He got between us, pushing us apart. He then took off his jacket and put it around Violet. “Sweetie, you didn’t run away from home did you? Maybe this fella told you he loves you, but you can’t trust the promises of men like him. They’re only looking to use you.”
He then turned to me, got real close and started whispering at me. Not in the nice, soft way that Violet does it but harshly, as if he meant to hurt me soon. “I don’t wanna hear whatever bullshit story you’re coming up with. I know what’s going on here, I knew it when I seen it. You sick fuck, I’ve got a daughter that age.”
I just stood there wide eyed and mortified, glancing over to Violet for guidance. What did she say? Be friendly. They just want to let you into their world. “Hello friend, I do not mean any harm. We are just out walking, and-”
He prodded me in the chest with an outstretched finger. “We ain’t friends. You’re a pervert, taking advantage of this poor young girl. What are you, thirty five? Six? Jesus man look at yourself. Pawing at a girl half your age, out in the fuckin’ woods at…” He checked his watch. “One in the gat dang morning.”
I wracked my brain trying to remember what Violet said to make the last jogger go away. “You’ve misunderstood. You see, I’m...her big brother!” Behind him, Violet held her face in one hand and shook her head slowly. In embarrassment? What did I do?
The man scowled more severely. “Yeah, I bet you are. We don’t go in for that shit around here. If you give me your parent’s number, maybe I won’t call the cops.” Behind him, in the moonlight, I saw Violet’s pupils expand until the whole of each eye was black.
Her face then began to distort, her jaw stretching further and further open as her hair began to float freely. As if she were underwater, or in space. Black veins spread across her face and every inch of exposed skin, her limbs grew impossibly long and thin. Soon she loomed over him, drooling scant droplets of the black goo.
One of the droplets landed on the man’s shoulder. He stopped scolding me long enough to look behind him. He wheezed and stammered, trying to make words come out...but before he could shout for help, Violet was upon him.
He only regained his senses and started struggling after he was halfway down her gullet. Her unhinged jaw slid around the contours of his wriggling body until he was entirely inside of her distended belly.
I just stared, more fascinated than anything else. It made sense of certain things I’d seen earlier, and I suppose even then I suspected it. Still, it’s another thing entirely to watch it happen. Her jaw then retracted back into place until her mouth was how it should be.
The veins then slowly faded, and her pupils returned as her bodily proportions shrunk back to normal. She fidgeted and gave me a series of furtive, sheepish looks. “For sure you’re scared of me now. Don’t lie to me.”
I was still standing there stunned, mouth hanging open. But when I next spoke, it caught her off guard. “That’s easily the coolest thing I ever saw.” She burst into laughter and struggled to waddle close enough that she could hug me.
It was an ordeal getting her home like this. “I’ve never run into anybody out here before. Maybe somebody reported me for sleeping there? It is municipal property after all. Based on his uniform, I bet he worked for the city.”
I furrowed my brow. “You can...work...for a city? How does it pay you?” She giggled and pinched my nose. I don’t really like or dislike that except for how it briefly obstructs my breathing. I mentally add it to a list of things I tolerate from her because she is special to me.
When we got home, it was even more troublesome trying to wedge her considerable bulk through the trap door. Somehow we managed, and soon she clung contentedly to the ceiling, her big veiny tummy hanging down.
The next morning I arose to find the pit of sludge had been expanded some time during the night. There were also sirens in the distance again, this time what sounded like three or four at different distances.
The sirens continued all day. Even by the time the sun went down and Violet finally descended, they were still going strong. She looked anxious. “I really hoped they would’ve given up by now.” I asked what the matter was.
“It’s just...I’m scared, that’s all.” I told her that when I’m scared, I sing a little song to calm myself down. When I began to sing it, she cut me off. “That’s not what I need right now. I mean, thank you but no. Do you have anything like a TV, or a radio I could listen to the news with?”
I showed her the old radio. She was briefly excited until I pointed out the rusted, leaky old batteries still in the rear battery compartment. She sighed. Impatiently I think. Was it me? Did I do something wrong again? No, I decided. She’s just scared, and it’s making her grumpy. I get grumpy when I’m scared too.
Then again, she might just be grumpy because she wanted to leave sooner. I didn’t like this possibility much but once it occurred to me, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Maybe she feels stuck here? Stuck with a loser who lives in a crawlspace.
However I tried to talk her into staying before, she shrugged it off as if I’d said nothing. I suppose I’d do the same in her shoes. I thought I had so much to offer until I saw her place, and how perfects live. They have real houses. They have dogs. They have flashlights.
Why would she pick me over one of them? Even in my own defense, I could imagine no good reason. All I have down here is junk, broken dreams and the abortive ruins of a life I was too scared to live. Just a filthy nest of painful memories now. Of course she doesn’t want to stay here. Neither do I, but even now I feel powerless to leave.
I don’t want to leave with her. I want her to stay down here, with me. What can I give her to change her mind? I know full well by now that I have nothing she wants. My face grew warm as the unbearable feeling of humiliation swelled within me.
Maybe if I bought her a beautiful dress? Is that what she wants? Or jewelry. I already gave her all my coins and paper dollars, I can’t afford to buy anything like that. I might be able to steal it though. It shocked me that I would contemplate such a thing.
Theft isn’t what good boys do. It’s what a bad boy does. But I only felt more and more certain that I would gladly become a bad boy for her, if only she would stay. There’s really not much I wouldn’t do if I thought it would convince her to stay.
The next day brought with it more sirens, not less. Likewise the day after that. Whoever that bad man was who attacked us, evidently the police were eager to find him. When I asked Violet about this, she rejected the notion.
“He looked like a run of the mill security guard to me, or some sort of inspector maybe...but I don’t think that’s the real problem. I might’ve...gotten a bit greedy as of late. Usually I space my feedings out, so that the media and police attention following each disappearance dies down before I feed again.
I guess I went so long without stirring up any real trouble that it made me sloppy. Too many, too close together. Now they know something’s up. Probably they think it’s a serial killer or something. Listen, I can’t go out there for a while. They’ll be looking for me. But if you could go get me some batteries for this radio, I could get a better idea of how close they are to finding us.”
‘Us’? She confirmed my fears. “That’s the other reason I have to leave. It’s not because of you. How I wish I could convince you of that. I’ve just always had to keep moving from one hiding place to the next, to confuse the people searching for me.
If they find this place, it won’t only be the end for me, but you as well. Even if they don’t kill you, do you really think you could continue your life as it was before we met?” I answered that since meeting her, I no longer wanted to go back to that life. She sighed.
She’s been doing that more lately. I don’t want to frustrate her. I want to give her the butterflies hatching out of her stomach, and the sleepy Christmas lights car ride feeling. I’m doing something wrong but I don’t know what, and I know if I keep it up she will leave.
I peer into the pit she dug under her spot on the ceiling. Only half full. She really goes through that black stuff quickly. Maybe she’s just cross with me because she’s hungry? When I ask her if I should go find her more of it, she seems exasperated again. I wince.
“What I need is a set of batteries. Can you do that for me? It’s a special mission.” Oh, a mission! If it’s one of those I can do it. She dug the jar of coins and paper dollars out of her bag and gave me an amount she assured me would be enough.
“Do you know which batteries to buy?” I told her I’ve taken everything electrical down here apart and put it back together a hundred times just to learn what all the parts do. “I’m good with electrical stuff. I know all about batteries.”
She shrugged. “Whatever. There’s a convenience store about six blocks from here, the same direction we went last night.” I didn’t remember passing any stores, but then she knows more about the outside than I do.
The clothes she brought didn’t have any pockets, so once I climbed up through the trap door into the house, I borrowed one of Dad’s jackets from the closet. It was dusty and stiff. He probably doesn’t like this old jacket anymore, so he never wears it.
I don’t like it much either, but it’s warm. After walking for some time in the direction she told me to, I began to worry I’d gotten some detail wrong until I spotted the sign. It glowed brightly, as did the huge windows comprising the outer walls of the building.
I warily eyeballed the man at the counter as I entered. He studied me in passing, then went back to watching his little television. The lights overhead are strange. Flickering at an almost imperceptibly high frequency. I felt a headache coming on.
“Anything in particular you lookin’ for buddy?” I seized up and my mind raced, struggling to put together the right words. All I managed was “B...batteries…” He pointed to an aisle full of little wires that said “USB charging cable” on the packaging and flimsy tree shaped foam cutouts that smell like the stuff Mommy cleans the floors with.
At last I found a set of six D cell batteries. Eleven dollars?? I carefully counted the money Violet gave me. I was worried for nothing, I had nearly twenty dollars here. Five of it’s in coins though, which seemed to irritate the man at the counter when I brought the batteries to him for purchase.