“I’m so exhausted,” Mom said after we got the groceries put away and she sat down on the couch. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, “It feels so good to sit.”
“I thought today was your day off though?” I asked with furrowed brows as I took a seat in the recliner, laying back.
She waved her hand in front of her face. “That means nothing when you have laundry to do, cooking, cleaning and three interviews in one day.”
“Oh. Sorry mom,” I frowned, kicking myself for being so lazy, “I can start doing my own laundry if you want.”
She raised her head and opened her eyes to raise her brows at me in surprise. “Not that I don’t love that you’re being so helpful all of a sudden, but really, what brought on this change?”
I sighed and shook my head, “I guess I didn’t realize until now how much you do for me. I want to help. Really.”
“And you don’t want anything in exchange for said help?” she narrowed her eyes at me, suspicious of me.
“No,” I answered and smiled.
“Well, thank you, hun. That’s sweet of you,” she beamed at me, her eyes full of pride.
“I know we just went shopping, but how about we order take out tonight?” she said laying her head back down.
“Really?” I said, sitting up excitedly, “We never get to eat out anymore.”
“I know. It’s expensive to do it all the time, wasteful even, but I want a break from cooking.”
“Sweet! What do you want to get?” I said, all but bouncing up and down in my seat.
“Um I don’t know. I was thinking pizza. Might be the cheapest option.”
“Okay. Do you want me to order it now?” I said hopeful. I was always starving after grocery shopping for some reason.
“What time is it?” she asked, staring up at the ceiling.
I tapped my screen and looked at my cell phone’s display, “Almost six.”
“Yeah, go ahead. Get pineapple on half or something for me if they don’t have any decent specials,” my mom said in a sleepy tone, followed by a huge yawn. “Wake me when it gets here, okay bud?”
“Will do,” I said getting up and grabbing the flier from the fridge of the local pizza joint to get their number.
They had a special going on and I ended up getting two mediums for the price of one, plus free breadsticks for being a new customer. I was pretty jazzed. As soon as I hung up the phone and stuck my cell into my pocket, it rang. I groaned, thinking it was the pizza place calling back to say there was a problem with the order. My face lit up when I saw my best friend’s face flashing on the screen.
“Hey, what’s up?” I answered, thrilled to be talking to someone from back home.
“Hey bro! Not much, not much. How about you? How’s the cast?” Preston’s thick Chicago accent boomed out from the other end of the phone.
“Same. The cast is driving me crazy! Speaking of, I’m going to have to take something for the aching. It’s been throbbing all day. Also, I tried drawing with my left hand, but it was awful,” I complained, thankful to have someone to vent to that knew me so well.
“Oh man that sucks! I guess your art will have to wait. How much longer until you get it off?” The phone sounded staticky, like he was outside in the wind.
“Yeah I guess. Shoot like three more weeks,” I groaned, “What are you doing? It sounds like you’re outside or something.”
“Dude, that blows. Yeah I’m on the track field practicing my sprints,” he coughed.
“And you’re talking on the phone?” I asked incredulous.
“But you don’t even sound winded. How do you do that?” I said going into my room and plopping on my bed to let my mom rest.
“I’ve got skills,” he bragged.
I laughed, “Yeah, I guess so.”
“I missed you dawg. I hate that you had to move in the middle of the school year,” he said.
“You going soft on me? Yeah, I know. I hate it too,” I said, feeling saddened.
“Nope. Missed my best friend. It’s not the same here without you,” he said, breathing a bit heavier from exertion on the field.
“Missed you too,” I said, laying back on my bed. I began wriggling around to try to find a comfortable position with my cast in the way. My arm twinged in pain and I gritted my teeth to keep from making any weird noises that would cause him to make fun of me.
“So, listen, I did call for a reason other than just to check up on you.”
“Okay, what’s up?” My eyebrows lifted, my curiosity peaked.
“Well, my parents want to go on a cruise for Christmas in the Caribbean and invited me along.”
“Yeah? That sounds pretty cool then,” I said, not understanding why he didn’t sound more thrilled about it.
“I told them I didn’t want to go, that I wanted to go see you instead for my Christmas vacation or at least until they got back.”
“Really? What did they say?” I said, forcing myself to sit up against my headboard with the pillows piled behind my back.
“They’re fine with it, but they want to talk to your mom. Christmas break is two weeks long. I think they’ll be back before then. We need to schedule the flight soon, though,” he grunted, finally starting to pant, “Whew. I need to sit for a sec.”
“Don’t hurt yourself. That sounds awesome though!” I said as the doorbell rang, “Bro, I’ve got to go. Pizza is here.”
“Okay, enjoy. Hey have your mom call my parents, tonight if possible. They want to make sure it’s okay with her firsthand, you know. Parents,” he scoffed.
“Yeah. Alright, I will. Talk to you later,” I grunted as I got up.
“Later,” Preston said, hanging up.
I stuffed the phone back into my pocket as I opened the door, “Hey.”
“Hi. Two mediums, one with pineapple, one with pepperoni, plus sticks?” The guy read off the receipt, squinting in the dim lighting outside.
“Yeah, sounds right,” I said with a nod.
“Cool. That will be eleven dollars and twenty-seven cents.”
“Thanks. Keep the change,” I said digging out some cash and exchanging it for the pizza.
“Hey thanks. You sure you’ve got this?” He said looking at my cast.
“Yes, I do,” I said with a small smile.
“Right on, little dude. Have a good night.”
“You too,” I closed the door behind me with my foot, nearly dropping the boxes.
Thankfully I figured it out by using my cast and other arm as a makeshift tray, putting it on the kitchen table rather unceremoniously.
“Mom!” I called, “Pizza is here.”
“What?” She grumbled, wiping sleep from her eyes and yawning as I walked into the living room.
“The pizza is in the kitchen,” I repeated and pointed.
She blinked at me, processing what I said, “Pizza? Oh right, I forgot for a second.”
“Come on,” I laughed, “I’m starving.”
“Oh, I know, me too,” she got up and smiled at me, grabbing plates from the cupboard and waters out of the fridge.
We sat at the table and snarfed some pizza. My mom chatted about her job prospects, one of which seemed like a sure thing. I told her about some applications I had put in, which seemed to shock her.
“Honey, I told you I was going to take care of this. You don’t need to get a job,” she said in a reassuring tone, setting down her pizza to give me her full attention.
“I know, mom, but I want to,” I said sitting back and rubbing my stomach, “So stuffed.”
She chuckled, “Oh me too. Let’s clean up. I’m so ready to hit the hay.”
“You just woke up though,” I said, laughing. I consolidated the pizza and sticks into one solitary box for easier fridge storage.
“I know, but I haven’t been sleeping well for some reason. At least since your accident,” she said, tossing the used up boxes away.
“Sorry mom,” I wiped off the table.
“It’s okay. I’m just relieved that you’re safe and alive. It could have been so much worse,” mom said washing and rinsing out our glasses, “Done.”
“True. Oh, before I forget, Preston called. He wants to know if he can come here for Christmas break.”
“Oh, cool. That sounds okay, I suppose,” she said, hand on her hip as she thought about it.
“And he wanted to know if you could call him back, possibly tonight, to work it out with his parents, assuming you agree,” I said with a grin.
“Crap,” mom sad with a sigh, “Okay, yeah I’d better do that tonight or else I will most likely forget.
“Sorry mom,” I said, pulling the corners of my lips in.
“Oh no, it’s fine. I’m just tired is all. It won’t take long,” she said as she dialed the number from my phone into hers, hitting the call button.
“Hey Preston. Can I talk to your parents please? I hope it’s not too late there. Oh okay,” she said sitting back down at the kitchen table, propping her head up, “Yeah I’ll wait.”
“Sorry,” I mouthed to her, sitting with her while I waited. She nodded at me with acknowledgment and smiled.
“Yes, hi. This is Kai’s mom, Hannah. Yes. Oh wonderful. Yeah we’re doing pretty good, too. Thanks for asking,” she listened for a couple of minutes, then laughed, “Sure, sure. That sounds fine. Just text me with the details. Yeah, this is my cell. Okay. Yeah thanks so much. Oh you too! Bye now.”
“Thanks mom,” I muttered as she hung up the phone.
“No problem sweetie. Let’s go to bed now, please?” she laughed weakly as I helped her up.
“Okay, night mom. Thanks for pizza, it was good.”
“You’re welcome. Night kiddo,” she said, pulling me in for a hug before we separated to go to our rooms.
“Jude?” I whispered, laying in the darkness under my covers, “Can you hear me? I can’t sleep.”
“You rang?” Came his disembodied voice, causing me to gasp as he shimmered to life in front of my very eyes.
“Whoa! I totally didn’t think that was going to work, but it did. Nice,” I whispered loudly.
“Glad I could be of amusement,” he smirked, sitting on my bed, lacking the ability to make any sort of indentation. “So, what’s up?”
“I wasn’t sure if you heard or not about my friend coming to visit or not,” I rushed out, sitting up in my bed to turn on my lamp.
The light seemed to simultaneously bounce off of him and soak into him, making him glow even more so.
“How would I have heard this then?” he asked, wry amusement on his handsome features, “What, do you think I’m always around you? Do you think I follow you around or something?”
“Well yeah. I mean no. I mean aren’t you though?” I squinted at him, trying to gauge his expression.
“No. I’m not always here,” he said with a huff.
“Well then where do you go if you’re not here?”
“Where exactly, though?” I pressed, trying to delve into the innermost workings of the other side.
“I don’t know. I’m here, or I’m not here. I don’t go anywhere. I just...am. It’s hard to explain,” he said, his eyebrows pressing together to form a deep, wrinkly V.
“Huh. Weird,” I commented, feeling even more curious than ever about this mystery ghost of mine.
“Yeah. So, you said you have a friend coming?” he said, sitting cross legged on my comforter.
“His name’s Preston. I’ve known him since Kindergarten,” I grinned over at him.
“Oh have you now?” he said jealously, narrowing his eyes that were growing darker with each time I saw him.
“Are you okay, Jude? You look different,” I frowned at him, noting not only his eyes, but the lackluster luminescence of his skin.
“I’m fine,” he said in a brooding tone as he leaned forward for emphasis before he blinked, his mood changing just that quick. “You should get some rest.”
“But I can’t sleep. I’m too excited. Can’t you stay a bit?” I pleaded.
He looked around like he expected something to pop out at him suddenly, “I have to go. I can’t stay tonight. It’s not safe.”
“What do you mean? How’s it not safe?” I opened my eyes wider and sat up straighter.
“I can’t explain, I’m not allowed,” he said in a fearful hushed voice, “I’ll see you soon. Rest.”
“Okay. Night,” I said, utterly confused. What did he mean?
He was gone before I knew it. Whisked away into the night. Leaving me with the same shadows that plagued me constantly and the same strange sense that I was being watched. The feeling increased when I turned off the lamp by the side of my bed. The shadows seemed to play on the wall, gyrating in the light of the moon shining through my window. The dark shapes seemed to morph and change into frightening images. A large shadow with wings melted onto my floor seeming to breathe with life. I inhaled sharply, fear creeping into my chest, tightening my heart. I stared at the floor and looked towards the window, hoping to find the source.
What I saw was two glowing orbs for eyes staring at me, unblinking, unmoving. I was so startled that my cry got caught in my throat. When something jumped through the window, I gasped and did the only thing I could think of to do. I threw the covers over my head like a little baby. I could swear I heard the fluttering of wings, then radio silence. I waited, the sound of my breathing becoming louder and louder as I panted under the warm covers. The bed shook. When something soft and warm touched my leg, I shrieked like a little girl and threw the covers off of me, preparing to run away or fight for my life. As my heart raced and my vision became blurry, I began to shake all over, a panic attack surely on the horizon. Once my feet hit the floor, I was met with a soft growling sound from the bed.
The thing under the covers moved erratically and I grabbed the baseball I kept under my bed. The one my dad hoped I would use someday. I had never thought about it until this very moment. No time like the present right? When a furry, black head popped out of the blankets, I shrieked again and threw the bat at it. Let’s just say that it wasn’t my proudest moment. When my eyes finally caught up with what my brain told me was some sort of grotesque monster, I breathed a sigh of relief and laughed out loud. The little black cat with the moon charm on it’s collar sat there staring at me, innocent witness to my mass hysteria over a cat.
“You scared the crap out me, kitty. What are you doing in my room?”
It responded with a loud meow and a glance at the window, just as the sky opened up and the rain poured down, followed by a loud clap of thunder. I regarded the cat warily, my lips pressed together as I contemplated what I should do. The last time I saw this thing, it hissed at me. Now it was in my room wanting shelter?
“Come on. I’ll set you up with a bed on the floor.” The cat protested loudly and jumped onto my bed, curling up at the foot of my comforter and closing its eyes. “Or you could sleep there. I guess. Whatever.”
As I crawled back under my covers, taking care not to disturb the sleeping monster kitty that could surely bite off my toes, I kept replaying the things Jude said. What could he have meant? Why did he look so odd? I never got the answers I was seeking. Soon I was under the spell of a deep and restless sleep, full of nightmarish figures with hooded robes, wings and sounds of Jude screaming. A whisper caused me to sit straight up in bed, in a cold sweat, chilled to the bone, the words percolating in my brain.
“You can never escape.”