The field of brown grass spread out wide before her with the lone tree swaying in the listless wind behind her. Its rust colored leaves whispered warnings but she didn’t understand them. Stringy spun cotton clouds obscured the steel blue sky and shielded the sun from her sight. Nothing however blocked the distant screaming from far away. Wishing to escape it, she sought refuge and found that the door in the small farm house ahead of her stood open. The paint on the cedar shingles of this house cracked and peeled as she walked near to the porch. Sirens blared far away for reasons she didn’t understand.
She took the steps up leading to the door and went through the door. This farmhouse had been converted into small apartments. This one was a single bedroom unit with the kitchen, dining, and living room as one room as she entered. She knew that directly to the right of the entrance that she’d find the bedroom and in back of that was the bathroom. This was her home but the room harbored an unsettling gloom while the lights flickered. Everything remained in its perfect order just like she had left it. The kitchenette to the left was clean. Dining table set for dinner right in front of her with the love seat, recliner, and entertainment stand all undisturbed to the right of that.
Dread filled her as she looked at the bedroom doorway. Something dark moved across the floor and walls that was darker than the burgundy paint. Reluctantly she came to the door frame. It moved across the floor in front of the large refrigerator and up the walls around the windows. Traveling across the ceiling, it pooled in the center of the room to drip down. Horrified, she refused to accept that blood behaved like this in her home. Yet the blood continued to drip down from the ceiling onto something near the bed, at the foot of the cradle.
Apprehensively, her feet squelched through the sticky blood as she stepped over to see. Her heart clenched tight to see the perfect little hands and feet but that the face was gone. No eyes at all for they had been gouged out in a gory mess and the little mouth tore open into a scream. The screaming she had been hearing grew unbearably loud now. It was her screaming. This was her fault. She had not been able to stop this. She failed to protect him. She was a wicked, terrible mother to allow this to happen to her baby. A dark demonic figure peered around from the bathroom corner as the sirens wailed closer.
“It’s pretty sad when you realize that the one time you actually love someone is the time you need to run away,” he said.
Clarissa woke with a gasp, drenched in sweat and tangled in the sheets. Years away from that time and safe in a new apartment, she dropped back into the pillows to study the ceiling. Tears flowed as she choked back the sobs. Punching the mattress, she forced herself out of the bed and plodded her way into the kitchen to pour herself a glass of wine.
“Fuck this shit,” she said, carrying both the bottle and the glass to the couch with her.
Staring at the black screen of her television, she polished off the bottle of wine. Sure, she got away from the bastard but he shot their son. If she stayed he might be still alive. If she hadn’t filed for divorce he might not have lost his shit the way he had. Then again they might both be dead instead. No one ever believed her and they were so shocked when it happened. Some blamed her for waiting too long while others accused her of driving him to it. She couldn’t fucking win. So she packed her shit and drove out to the middle of no where to live alone and in fear like she always had. The only thing that’s changed was that now she wasn’t getting hurt by anyone.
“Not on my watch.”
Grateful she had the day off, she plunked the bottle down on the coffee table and next to it she set the glass. Maybe someday she would open up to people and make friends again. She had real friends once, before that asshole came into her life. Clarissa sighed and rubbed her temples as the wine clouded her head. She wished it would hurry up and relax the knots in her back already. Leaning down with her elbows resting on her knees, she stared at the coffee table in the numbness of her mind. The ashtray in the center of the table was near full with all the butts on one side and the ashes on the other. It sucked feeling this defeated at the start of the day. She rolled herself a cigarette and was about to light it up when there was a light knock on the door.
“What the hell.”
She stumbled over her shoes to get to the door. Opening the door, Clarissa found a tall curvy woman wearing bright yellow sweatshirt with a long blue knitted scarf and jeans. Her pixie style charcoal hair complimented her wide bronze eyes, giving her a fresh and determined appearance.
“Hello new neighbor,” she said. “I’m Donna. I just moved into 102 down the hall this week and thought we could get to know each other this weekend.”
“Morning people should be shot,” Clarissa said, cursing her brain to mouth filter for failing.
Donna scrunched down her thin eyebrows as she studied the mess of curly black shoulder-length hair and rumpled flannel pajamas. “Have you been drinking?”
“Are you my mother?” Clarissa said as she felt her knees try to buckle under her.
“Do you need me to call her?” Donna pushed past her as she walked in.
Donna picked up the empty bottle of wine. “Did you drink this whole thing this morning? It’s enough for two people.”
“Get the fuck out.”
“I’m just saying it’s a lot for first thing in the morning,” Donna said, putting the bottle back.
“You wouldn’t understand,” Clarissa said, crossing her arms. “Just leave already.”
Donna clasped her hands behind her back. “Well we all have our demons.”
Clarissa caught her breath as the demon from her dream stood in the shadow by her living room window behind the couch. He just leaned back in the corner, facing the window. The hood of his cloak concealed most of him and Clarissa wasn’t sure if he was real. He turned his scaly gray iguana-like face to gaze at her with his narrow lemon-yellow eyes. A small spiraled horn protruded from his forehead. Her tanned skin chilled under his scrutiny.
“You know what?” Clarissa said, “I think I’ll go with you. Let me change my clothes.”
“Wonderful,” Donna said.
Throwing on a pair of dress slacks and black sweater, she quickly ran a brush through her hair. Returning to the living room, she slipped on the black flats while refusing to check the corner for his presence. The dream and wine triggered the hallucination Clarissa reasoned to herself.
“Where we going?” Clarissa said.
“To the mall,” Donna said. “Where else?”
“Nothing. Sorry,” Clarissa said, giving in and checking the corner. The demon was gone. “Let’s go.”
Donna drove them into town just before the lunch rush so the mall wasn’t too busy. Clarissa appreciated not having to deal with the crush of the crowds. The noise levels were a bit much already though. They enjoyed ice cream and browsing the clothing racks. She didn’t buy anything but Donna sure did.
“Shopping therapy does the spirit good,” she said.
“Not the wallet,” Clarissa said. “I can’t afford that shit.”
“Oh live a little will you?” Donna said.
“Sorry, I have to pay rent somehow, can’t do that if I blow it all on clothes I don’t need.”
“Then just buy one little nice thing for yourself,” Donna said.
“I don’t know,” Clarissa said, watching the crowds grow, “I’m really sorry. I should just go home.”
“Come on we haven’t even had lunch yet,” Donna said.
Clarissa’s heart skipped a beat as she caught a glimpse of the demon’s cloak in the crowd. He wasn’t very tall, so he disappeared quickly but she was sure it was him.
“Fine let’s go this way,” she said and hurried in the opposite direction.
Not caring where she went, she quickly wove her way through the waves of people.
“Hold up,” Donna said. “Wait. What’s wrong?”
Ducking into a jewelry store, Clarissa closed her eyes to calm her breath. She felt clammy and sick all over. Donna set the bags down to put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Clarissa jerked her shoulder away. “Don’t touch me.”
Holding up her hands, Donna backed up a step and said, “Whoa okay. What’s got you all freaked out?”
She shook her head and walked over to a glass display case. “I’m sorry. Just thought I saw someone.”
“He hurt you?”
A long pause was shared between them.
“Forget I asked,” she said. “Now you really deserve something nice today. My treat.”
“What?” Clarissa said, squinting at Donna.
“We can’t let the assholes win. Doesn’t matter who they are,” Donna said. “So today pick something that will remind you to stand tall.”
“Okay,” Clarissa said and smiled.
Donna told the store clerk they were just looking for now as Clarissa wandered through the store. She gazed at the rings, bracelets, and necklaces displayed in the cases. All of them were pretty and most of them were expensive as far as she was concerned. Finally a case drew her attention. Filled with small simple animal pendants, Clarissa found them delightful. The turtle with the mosaic tiger-eye shell was particularly cute and not too expensive.
“I like this one,” Clarissa said. “If that’s okay?”
“The turtle?” Donna said. “That’s a good choice. Wisdom, endurance, and long life. You’ll need a chain for it too.”
Wearing her new trinket, Clarissa felt a little lighter as they walked out of the store.
“Thank you, Donna.”
“Hey no worries,” Donna said. “Look I know we got off on the wrong foot this morning, but I hope we can be friends.”
“I’d like that.”
“Think we can do lunch?”
“Well there is a coffee place over that way,” she said. “We don’t have to do the food court.”
“Coffee place sounds good.”
“Great.” Donna beamed and led the way.
The coffee steamed from the cups as they sat down with their muffins.
“So how well do you know the two geezers that live in the building with us?”
“I didn’t think they were that old,” Clarissa said, “but I don’t talk to them much. I keep to myself mostly.”
“I noticed,” Donna said and grinned. “We’re going to change that.”
“Today is a fluke,” Clarissa said. “Consider yourself lucky.”
“I’m lucky all the time. You’ll see,” Donna said, dipping a piece of her muffin into her coffee. “We’re going to be the life of the party.”
“Fuck that. No parties.”
“Not even a little party?” Donna said.
“No. Parties suck,” she said. “There is always that idiot that says something stupid like oh I like your sweater it would look even better on my floor.”
Donna laughed. “I know, right? Who falls for that shit?”
“I did,” Clarissa said. “Once.”
Awkward silence lingered in the air for a moment as they stared at their cups.
“But not anymore, right?” Donna said, nudging her in the shoulder.
“Right,” Clarissa said.
“That’s how you win. You learn from it and move on,” she said. “You don’t let them drag you down.”
“It’s not that easy.”
Donna studied her cup, tapping her thumb on the handle. “I know. Some things don’t let you go,” she said. “Ready to bail?”
“Yeah,” Clarissa said.
As they left the mall together, she didn’t see any hint of her demon. Donna jacked up the radio on the ride home, leaving Clarissa alone to ponder the things she and Donna discussed. Arriving home, Clarissa thanked Donna for the outing and for the necklace again. She promised that she would make plans with her in the future. Although it was still late afternoon, fatigue hit her hard. Locking the door behind her, she kicked her flats off and checked the time. She went to the kitchen to take her afternoon medication. Then she made her rounds through the apartment to make sure all the windows were secure and the curtains were drawn tight. She ended in the bedroom.
Without bothering to change into her pajamas, she crawled back into bed. She didn’t notice the demon lingering by the closet as sleep came this time without dreams. Without a sound, he stepped lightly across the carpet to perch at the foot of her bed. His whip like tail, tipped with a bony club, twitched like a cat as he watched her sleep.