The shadows were alive. There were men on fire inside of them. They were waiting for her and reaching. With her eye pointed straight ahead, Rachel could see their arms waving and wisping just out of her direct vision. They were there in the corner of her sight, and each time she turned to try and capture them her vision, they fled. They darted around corners. They became part of the shadows of earthly objects. They were waiting for her to let her guard down so that they could envelop her with their darkness. Their forms were so black that they stood out sharply, even against other shadows. They were deeper than shadows. They were darker than anything.
Rachel followed Helene and Tierney to the car. She wondered when she might see her Nan again. As she climbed into the backseat of the vehicle, she realized that she was inside of herself again. When had that happened? She hadn't even noticed. She wasn't just watching herself. She was a part of the girl that was actually Rachel and the girl that was actually Rachel was her.
Tierney pulled away from the curb, and as the car began to move, the fleeting light of the late afternoon, caused a quick darkening of the car window. Rachel saw a face in the reflection. She knew it was hers and still the thought surfaced; Who is this girl? Why is she looking at me? And immediately Rachel was terrified. Why had she felt so disconnected from her own reflection? Why had the inside of her mind become so strange and terrifying? It was always pretty scary inside of her head, but all of this was something new. She needed to get. She couldn't live inside of her own skull anymore...
"I'm sorry about your grandmother, Hel," Tierney said. "You okay?"
Helene shook her head.
"It's fine. That woman was horrible. Do you know when I was ten she..."
Helene screwed her mouth up tight and waved a hand in the air. Rachel watched Helene's face reflected in the rear view mirror.
"What?" Tierney asked.
"We....ugh...I can't even believe I'm about to tell this story."
"It's fine, Hel," Tierney insisted. "I'm not gonna judge you or anything."
"Okay...We went down to Georgia to visit her, and she took me to the grocery store to go get some ice cream. It was sort of late. Not really late, but if we weren't on vacation I would have been asleep already. It was like ten o'clock or something. We almost didn't make it into the store, but the manager was just locking up and he let us run in real quick to buy a pint....Anyway, as we were leaving, there was this group of teenagers and she..."
"What?" Tierney asked. "What happened?"
Helene slouched, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
"Nothing," Helene muttered. "I think maybe I'll you another time. Just trust me when I say that this woman was horrible. If you think my mother is uptight and nasty, you ought to see her mom. She's a real fucking piece of work. She would start problems with everybody. She wanted to hurt people she didn't even know."
There was a long pause. Tierney started to fiddle with the radio, bringing the volume up and then putting it back down, as if she couldn't decided the level of noise that she wanted to have around her.
Then she turned the radio off completely with a soft click.
"Hey Hel," she said. "You doing anything tomorrow?"
"I was just thinking, I have the next two days off work, and it's been so long since we've gone up the old house. I'm going to drive up tonight either way, now that I know I need to take the planchette off the Ouija board. I'm not going to be able to sleep until I do it. Now, you've got Rachel for at least a few more weeks. We should take her up there for the next two days. She always liked camping with you when she was little. At least until..."
"You can say it," Helene said tightly. "Until I let her get her face all burnt up."
"Well, that's not gonna happen again," Tierney said. "You're older now. You're not a teenager anymore. And Rachel is big enough not to go throwing herself into a fire."
Something hot began to scorch the temples below Rachel's ears.
"Is that what happened?" Rachel asked. "I threw myself into a fire?"
"Tierney. Stop," Helene muttered.
""Hel, this kid wants to know what happened. She didn't spontaneously combust, and you're giving this kid freaking psychosis by not telling her the truth. All of her fear, fear that she doesn't need to have, has attracted some kind of an icky to attach itself to her. You know how dangerous an attachment haunting can be."
"I just don't want to talk about any of it," Helene whispered.
"Hel, I just figure we can kill a few birds with one stone. Going up to the old house always cheers you up. It will take your mind off of your grandmother and everything. You'll also get the chance to bond with Rachel, and you can tell her what really happened. I'm surprised Nita didn't tell her already. That kid has a real loose trap."
"That's true I guess. And we can read up on the Ouija and see if we can connect with whatever is stuck to her."
Helene jerked an elbow back in Rachel's direction.
"Sure," Helene continued. "Let's go spend a couple nights up at the old house. I guess I have to come clean sometime. It's making me crazy..."
"What's making you crazy?" Rachel asked.
Helen's next words were thick with tears. They were high-pitched and crackling.
"It's just...it's my fault that you look that way," she whimpered. "I did that. I'm not a good person. It's like I never want to hurt anyone. I didn't have kids just to h-hurt them. But your face is all burnt up and then I don't take very good care of Nita and Amorey. Amorey burnt herself on the kiln because I wasn't watching her...And it was just like what happened to you! It was because of me..."
Rachel started as Helene's voice broke and she began to sob. Tierney kept one hand on the wheel, and with the other she reached over to rub Helene's arm.
"I keep doing it too!" she cried. "I don't pay any attention to my kids. I'm so selfish and even though I know it, I can't stop doing it!"
She bent forward burying her face in her hands.
"I shouldn't have had kids....I shouldn't have had kids.....I made humans just to ruin them and I can't stop doing it.."
Rachel tightened her fists in her lap. Her breath was hot. It was so hot that it was burning her nose, scorching holes into the inner lining of her throat.
"I'm glad that you're going to tell me," she said. "I really want to know what happened."
"Okay," Helene whispered. "It's Tierney's house that her mom left her when she died. It's a really old b-beautiful house. I used to take you camping with use when you were little. The house comes with a huge piece of land and it's way out in the middle of the woods."
"That sounds good," Rachel said.
The shadows were beginning to lighten in the corner of her vision. They were no longer jet black. They were a light smoky gray.
Rachel wondered if she would be able to sleep any better in this old house. She looked again into the face of her reflection in the car window. The bags under her eyes were such a dark purple they were nearly black. Her gnarled and distorted skin was slick and shiny on these crescent moon patches. It had been at least a week since she'd slept through the night. It was so hard to sleep with the man on fire watching her.
YOU ARE READING
***Long-listed for the Watty's 2018***Rachel lives in constant fear that she will burst into flames. She can feel the heat building in her gut. She keeps buckets of water under the bed. She keeps them to fend off the flames that her body may create...