Mariel had been acting strangely since she brought her newborn son, Isaac, home from the hospital. Even the night before Isaac was thrust forth into consciousness, Mariel’s mental deterioration was foreshadowed by a very strange dream.
In this dream, Mariel was standing in front of a mirror that was as tall her, about five-and-a-half feet. She looked at the glass and stared at her reflection. Her curly black hair was unkempt and sticking out in many directions. Rubbing her hands over the watermelon-like protrusion where Isaac was housed, she noticed that her skin was paler than usual. Her tiny hands felt a light kick, bringing a smile to her severely dried, chapped lips. The rest of her petite body was not effected by the pregnancy. Despite that maternal smile on her face, on the inside she knew that she looked like death. She looked down next to the mirror, on the floor, where a violin case sat. The violin belonged to her husband, Simon, who had bought it for their soon-to-be-born son. The violin, according to Simon, is the most angelic and serene instrument, a perfect fit for their heaven-sent child. Neither Mariel nor Simon could play as much as a note of any instrument, let alone a violin. Despite that, Mariel removed the violin from it’s case very gently, along with the bow. Placing the wooden frame under her chin, she lifted the bow, gently running it across the synthetic strings. To her dismay and confusion, the instrument emitted no noise. She pressed the bow down harder, but still no noise was heard. As her agitation reached it’s peak, she smashed the violin to the floor, and continued to stomp it until a pile of splinters was all that was left. As she lifted her leg high to deliver one last fatal stomp to the remains of the violin, a debilitating pain in her stomach stopped her. Hunching over in pain, she tried letting out a scream, however, like the violin, not a single sound was heard. Gripping her stomach through her clothes with one hand, the other hand was extended to the mirror to support her weight. Another spasm of torture ensued, even worse than the one before. She tried again to call out her husband’s name, but it only led to an increase in her panic. The veins on her neck were popping out and she couldn’t breathe. Her chest was on fire while her midsection felt like someone struck her with a sledgehammer. The hand on the mirror couldn’t hold her weight up, and she crumbled to the floor, a frantic, suffocating mess. Amidst her terror she noticed a thin stream of blood running down the inside of her leg. This stream increased in both size and speed, turning into a rushing torrent flowing in the opposite direction of the tempest that raged within her. Her sight was beginning to blacken. She needed air. She groped the floor around her blindly in an act of desperation. Her fingers, which somehow had thinned down to the bone, came across a dagger-like splinter of wood. Without thinking twice, she raised her trembling arm as high as she could and brought it down with full force into her stomach, the source of her agony. When she removed the shrapnel, a burst of air entered her lungs, not through her mouth and nose, but through the gaping, mangled hole in her stomach. It was as if the dark, dilapidated room was resuscitating her, filling her with whatever negative energy it could muster. She laid back and closed her eyes, allowing herself to become one with the rest of the room. She began to feel a faint, odd sensation near the self-inflicted wound in her midsection, but she was so exhausted that she didn’t have enough energy to satisfy her curiosity and open her eyes. She knew what was happening though, she could feel it. In order to confirm her macabre suspicions, she opened her eyes and saw her baby passing through the hole in her stomach. Within this dream, she couldn’t realize that what was happening was medically impossible. First the head, and then the rest of it’s tiny frame followed. Lifting her weak arms, she grabbed the baby and moved it toward her chest. The baby’s mouth was wide open and his eyes were shut, signifying that it was screaming, but just like the violin, no sound was heard. Grabbing the violin bow in her free hand, with the baby in the other, she placed the bow on the umbilical cord and began sawing back and forth. As she did this, the baby’s cries became audible, and nearly shattered her eardrums. This caused her to saw back and forth, faster and faster, until the umbilical cord was almost cut. It was at this point that Mariel woke up, drenched in sweat, her heart racing, demanding that Simon take her to the hospital immediately to have the baby.
Call it maternal instincts, call it a sign from God, call it what you want, she was picked the right time to go to the hospital. She hadn’t been in the car for ten minutes when her water broke, and panic set in.
All of that was behind them now. Due to some slight complications during the birthing process, Mariel was heavily sedated, and remained unconscious as Simon drove her home the next day. Looking at the passenger seat through his glasses, where his wife’s sleeping body was slumped, the passing streetlights illuminating her beautiful physique for brief instances, a smile of pride, as well as love, was implanted on his face. The tiny yawn coming from the car seat in the back only further solidified his state of happiness.
The lulling sound of the SUV driving up the long, undulating, uphill driveway, lined on both sides by dense woods with towering trees, almost put Simon into the same state of unconsciousness as Mariel. The only source of light within the car was the speedometer and digital clock. The car was enveloped in a sea of darkness and eerie silence. Minus what the headlights exposed directly in front of them, all they could distinguish in the blackness were the outlines of the trees surrounding them. Simon was always a very jumpy, nervous person, so whenever he ascended this stretch of asphalt, he would refuse to look out the window next to him, for fear of seeing a face on the other side staring at him, close enough to fog the glass with it’s murderous breath. Or perhaps, even worse, someone would be lurking stealthily behind the trees, following parallel to the car. That thought entered his mind at that moment. “Don’t look, just don’t look,” he said to himself. The temptation was too much. He needed to look. He had to know. His hands began to tremble. Without moving his head, facing straight towards the windshield, he moved his eyes all the way to the left. He still couldn’t see enough out the window. Gripping the steering wheel as tight as possible he jerked his head quickly to the side and let out a brief gasp as his heart stopped for a brief moment. He was startled by his own reflection. He fixed his gaze back on the road in front of him and chuckled lightly to himself, shaking his head as his heart rate began descending to normal levels.
This soothingly ominous driveway led up to a luxurious, secluded home, a stunning example of modern architecture. The perimeter of the house was a series of tall, rectangular windows that stretched twice as high as Simon stood. These windows overlooked the thick wooded area that separated them almost two miles from their nearest neighbor.
Once inside the house, Simon placed Isaac in the bedroom he designed specifically for the new baby boy. The walls were painted blue and the name, “ISAAC,” was written in wooden letters hanging on the wall above his crib. Leaving Isaac sleeping in the crib, he entered his bedroom and laid down next to the sleeping body of his wife, giving her a kiss on the forehead before closing his eyes.
He awoke almost three hours later when a bloodcurdling shriek reached his eardrums. Jumping up in bed, he saw his wife standing at the large window at the wall of their bedroom, screaming with her hands over her mouth. Simon shot out of bed and Mariel ran to him, almost throwing herself at him. She cried out, in between convulsive sobs, “Quick!….Qui….qui….quick there’s p-p-p-people outside! They’re c-c-c-coming towards the h-h-house!” She tried running out of the room, but she crumbled to the floor and began sobbing.
Needless to say, Simon was petrified. He approached the window slowly, expecting to see several menacing, hooded figures storming the house, but he saw nothing. He turned around to ask Mariel where the intruders were headed, but she wasn’t in the room. He looked at the only source of light in the room, the digital clock on the nightstand, and saw that it was 1:12 a.m. “Mariel, where are you?” He called out in a half-shout, half-whisper. Picking up the phone he dialed his doctor’s home phone. After three beeps, the doctor answered, “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s Simon. I’m sorry to be calling this late, but it’s about Mariel.”
“What seems to be the matter?”
“She just had a complete meltdown! She’s sobbing uncontrollably, she’s mumbling nonsense about home invaders, I don’t know what’s wrong with her!”
“Alright, the main thing you can do is remain calm. From what you tell me, it sounds like it might be postpartum psychosis, however that is a rare condition. I could be wrong, but it’s best not to take any chances. Drive her to the hospital, it’s a temporary condition and they have the means to treat her. It’s very important that you keep her away from the baby! Mothers in this condition sometimes harm their own babies, their spouse, and even themselves.”
“Should I call the police?”
“No, it’s best not to scare her. Just get her in the car and take her to the hospital. But you cannot let your baby out of your sight!”
“Alright, but what happens if…” Simon was not able to complete this sentence, because the power went out, severing his phone connection. He was left alone in the pitch-darkness of his home, miles from anybody.
In the distance, out of the silence, he could faintly hear his wife crying. He opened his mouth to call out her name, but he restrained himself. “Am I really trying to hide from my wife?” He thought to himself. He was frozen in place. He didn’t want to move a millimeter for fear of Mariel finding his position. His thoughts grew more stricken with panic when he pictured his sleeping son, Isaac. A seemingly infinite number of macabre scenarios involving his son entered his head. “Would Mariel really harm our child?” Once this seed was planted, there was no stopping it. Images of his baby in various states of mutilation and dismemberment worked their way into his brain. He grew nauseous with every second that passed.
It is hard to tell in any extremely stressful and dangerous situation what to do first, but in this case, Simon knew that he had to see if Isaac was still alright. He entered the hallway, his footsteps silenced by the carpet floors. He had only taken three footsteps when his bare feet stepped in something wet. Bending down to touch it, he realized, by the coppery smell, that it was a small patch of blood. The fact that this fresh stain of blood was situated a few steps from Isaac’s bedroom caused his hair to stand on end. Looking back up, he saw Mariel standing at the end of the hallway, at the top of the stairs, but due to the darkness he could only see her outline. Not a sound came from either of them. Simon squinted his eyes and was able to tell that Mariel was actually facing away from him. He took a step forward and, as slow as he could, began inching toward Isaac’s door. Upon taking his third step, a sound shattered the silence. The sound came from behind him, and caused him to jump and shout, “Fuck!” Upon turning around, and looking out the window at the opposite end of the hallway, he saw that the sound was a “hoot” from an owl perched on his windowsill. The owl’s glassy, almost crystal eyes seemed to be looking straight through him. When he turned back to look at his wife, she had disappeared.
Simon began to question himself, “Was she holding Isaac?” He didn’t hesitate this time, and snapped into action. Sprinting to Isaac’s door he swung it open and looked at the crib. He could clearly see the outline of his son’s body underneath the covers. Now that he knew his baby was safe, he could go look for Mariel. As he was walking out the door, those grotesque images that flashed in his mind involving Isaac returned with a vengeance. He pulled at his hair, closed his eyes tightly, and began hitting himself in the head to try and prevent the thoughts from taking root again. He failed in his attempt, and went rushing back to the crib. As he pulled the blanket off of what he assumed was Isaac, his heart stopped. He could feel his mouth salivating, indicating that he was about to vomit, which he did, directly onto the violin that lay in the crib right where his baby was supposed to be.
As she crept quietly through the woods outside of her house, Mariel was quietly reassuring Isaac, who was sleeping, cradled in her arms, “Shhhh. Don’t worry, Isaac. Everything is going to be alright. Shhhh. Baby.”
Mariel was headed in the direction of the wooden shed a few hundred yards away from the house. In her mind, it was the only place to hide from the hooded men chasing her. Looking down at her feet, she realized that her left foot was bleeding from having stepped on a nail. She stopped in her tracks, and looked back at the path she had taken. With only rays of moonlight to illuminate this dense forest, she could see a thin path of blood following her. In a fit of panic, she began kicking the leaves beneath her bare feet wildly, trying to leave the blood trail at a dead end. When the blood on the ground was obscured with dirt, she continued her trek toward the shed, this time at a much faster pace.
Upon reaching the door to the shed, she entered and slammed the door behind her. The inside of the shed was big enough to fit a small car, so there was plenty of room for the two of them, but the only light came from a single lightbulb dangling from the ceiling. Mariel cleared a space on top of a table and, laying her jacket to cover the tabletop, laid Isaac down. She took off the sweater she wore over her t-shirt and bunched it up to serve as a pillow for her son. She placed it under his head, and left him sleeping on the table. She paced back and forth in the shed, talking to herself in a whisper, “What do I do? What do these people want? They want to kill my baby, that’s what they want,” she said assuredly. She looked down at Isaac’s face, analyzing it for the first time. Upon doing do, she noticed that Isaac bore no resemblance to her. The longer she stared at him, the more suspicious she grew. It was a most puzzling and terrifying suspicion, one that spread throughout her like a malignant cancer, poisoning her slowly, rotting her away from the inside. It was when this petrifying contemplation reached it’s peak that the absurd notion came to her, “This isn’t my baby.” She spoke the words in a gasp. Outside the shed, she thought she heard the shuffling of leaves and deep, unfamiliar, almost demonic voices calling, “Isaac! Isaac! Come out, come out, wherever you are!” However, these voices morphed into even more sinister voices calling, “Mariel! Mariel! Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
She backed away from the baby slowly. “I knew it,” she said quietly to herself, her heart pounding furiously. “I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!” She repeated, this time much louder. She began slamming the back of her head into the wooden planks that comprised the wall behind her. She was now howling, “I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT!” Blood was oozing down the back of her neck, but her adrenaline was pumping too much for her to feel pain. “You aren’t my baby! You aren’t my baby! You brought them here!” She charged towards the baby, who was now crying, and began shaking it, “YOU WANT ME DEAD! YOU ARE THE ONE WHO BROUGHT THEM HERE!” Isaac’s face was an intense shade of red as he wailed. “Why did you make me take this with me?” She asked in a more interrogative tone than her previously indignant one, revealing the violin bow she had concealed in her waistband. The voices outside were now pounding on the walls of the shed, causing it to shake, throwing Mariel off balance.
“We want you Mariel! We want your skin! We want your blood!” Their deep voices bellowed, “That’s not your baby! He’s not yours! Your baby is dead! He killed your baby, Mariel!” Mariel was curled up in a ball on the floor of the shed, weeping violently. She let out one bone-chilling screech “STOP!” The voices listened, and, slowly, the shaking stopped.
If it wasn’t for Isaac’s sniffling as he descended from his state of terror, and Mariel’s voiceless sobs, a dropped pin could’ve been heard. Very slowly, she composed just enough to sedately pick herself up from the floor and lean against the wall for support. She was just beginning to feel the pain in the back of her cracked skull. The excessive blood loss left her unable to walk straight, her vision was specked with gray dots, and her head was thumping as if her heart resided within her skull. She stumbled her way over to Isaac who was still crying. “You know what you must do,” a voice said, coming her left side. This monstrous voice sounded like a mixture of white-noise and nails scraping a chalkboard. She turned and looked. Only a few feet from her, inside the shed, stood a tall man wearing a black suit, his face completely obscured in shadow. “You know what you must do,” he repeated.
She was too delirious from her head wound to show fear. She merely fixed her slowly deteriorating gaze on Isaac, mumbling nonsense to herself. “Bury me….bury me…..bury me….bury me….bury me……”
If it weren’t for Mariel’s screams, which echoed through the trees, Simon would have lost her forever when he came to the end of the bloody trail. He was unable to decipher exactly what she was saying, but he was able to follow the noise in the right direction. The woods still injected him with paranoia. He was constantly turning 360-degrees to see if somebody was following him. He had the constant feeling of being pursued. Was his wife really delusional? Were there actually people after them? In this bleak, vacuous environment, surrounded by nothing, anything was possible. The worst kind of predator is a predator unseen.
It wasn’t long before Simon reached the shed. He hated the shed and almost never used it because of how deep into the woods he had to go to reach it. He hated everything about these woods. He hated these trees, which allow cover for all of the evil that lurks around him. Above all, he hated the unknown.
He pressed his ear against the door, hoping to hear even the faintest whisper from either his son or his wife. Nothing.
Applying light pressure to the wooden entrance, it opened, creaking loudly because of the rusty hinges. His head brushed against a spider web, causing him to flail his arms erratically. He unintentionally struck his hand against the wooden beam, which ran from the door to the ceiling, the same wooden beam on which the lightbulb hung. As blood trickled down his hand, he watched the lightbulb swing back-and-forth like a pendulum. His eyes, having been accustomed to the black emptiness of the woods, needed a brief moment to adjust to the light, but when they did, he wished they hadn’t. In fact, had he a knife on hand, he would’ve slashed his own eyes just to avoid looking at the heart-wrenching sight that lay before him. Just a few feet in front of the door, Mariel was hanging by a rope around her neck that was tied to the same wooden beam as the lightbulb. A thin stream of blood ran all the way down from the back of her head to the inside of her leg, and down her feet. The droplets of blood, as they danced off the tip of her toes, created a metronomic drip sound. As they body moved in the breeze, side-to-side, he noticed the gaping hole in the back of her skull from which the blood poured forth.
He stared at his love hanging from a rope before his eyes, the inside of her head exposed, her pale-white, lifeless skin. This wasn’t the woman he loved. This was just the shell. Her life was her smile. Her life was her voice. No more smile. No more voice. No more. All of that was gone. All that remained was a decrepit memento, a requiem of the brutality of nothingness.
Just as he thought he could not be broken further, he saw something that shattered him to an irreparable state. As tears streamed down his cheeks like crimson rivers of blood from his eyes, he stumbled past Mariel to the table against the wall. On which laid the remainder of his life, with a violin bow protruding from it.
The only sound in those lonely, malevolent woods besides Simon’s laments of the most excruciating emotional torture, was of an owl flapping it’s wings, letting out one final “Hoot” before flying far, far away.