I Can Fix You
by Sammy J. Riddle
Annalise’s apartment lies on the 9th floor of a complex. Bleached by fluorescent lighting, the counter was white, the bed was white, the walls were white. The simplicity, the unanimity made her feel at peace. She locked the door and walked down the hall past the bathroom on the right and her bedroom on the left. The hall opened into the main area: a living room with a couch and a centerpiece, a kitchen with a stove and fridge. Between was an island of white tile where she chopped veggies and sipped wine. On the right of the kitchen was Brendon’s room, and straight ahead was the glass door to the balcony, covered by blinds. There was a heavy wind outside, and the blinds were floating and brushing the couch. Did I leave that open? “Bren? Sweetheart? Where are you?” At first she heard nothing but the howling of the wind. The sun was setting outside and the air was cold, and faintly, just under the roaring wind, she heard him singing.
“I wish that I could fly,
way up in the sky,
like a bird so high!
Oh I might just try.”
Bren’s voice carried from the balcony. She dropped her purse and hurried over to the blinds. She brushed them aside to find Bren sitting on the lip of the railing. His feet dangled below him, swinging around over the Chicago streets one hundred feet below.
“Honey… get down from there, you know mommy doesn’t like it when you sit over the edge like that,” she said, trying to remain calm. Her voice squeaked, though, and she was holding onto the blinds so tightly that she heard them rip a little. “Honey, it’s very windy. Come back inside and mommy will make you some chicken soup!” He didn’t turn around, but kept singing.
“Oh I might just try.” And he slid forward and out, into the cold, windy air. He stretched out his hands and fell. Annalise rushed forward, nearly tripping on her flats. She leaned out, over the rail and grabbed at the boy who was already far below her. Her heartbeat pounded in her forehead. The wind blew her hair across her face, her mouth gaped open and let out a shriek. The boy fell slowly, tumbling through the air, arms and legs spread. She remembered the call from his teacher about how good his grades were lately, how she was going to take him to the zoo this weekend, and how excited he was this morning about it being Wednesday. It didn’t take much to make that boy happy. He didn’t fly like he wished; but hit the ground with a sickening thud. Her arm stretched out into the air as the sun vanished behind the horizon. Her scream flew out across the city, echoing off hotels and banks and company skyscrapers. She kept reaching out into the air for nothing, and the boy lay face-down on the cement below. She pushed off the railing and back through the apartment. She raced down the hall, never looking back to see the shadow leaning against the wall by the fire exit. She flew down, down, down the stairs with tears running her mascara. She tugged at her white blouse and almost tripped down the last flight of stairs, restrained by her skinny jeans.
She ran through the lobby, past the front desk and through the glass doors. She ran out into the street to see her precious baby boy splayed just as he had been when she left the balcony. He lay on his stomach, his limbs bent unnaturally, his face to the side, blood running out of his nose, blood matting his dirty brown hair. His eyes were open, staring at the ground next to him. She ran to him and dropped to her knees, screaming his name. People were already gathered when she got there and more came, an officer ran up and talked into his radio. He tried to calm Annalise, but she pushed him away. She rolled Brendon onto his back and shook him. Her mascara ran down to her neck, her tears dripping off her nose. Her hair hung below her face, and all she could see was Brendon.
“Where do you work, Miss Kelly?”
“I’m a secretary at Baxter International for Mr. Merion.” She pushed her hair behind her ear and stared at the table between her and the agent with the wispy, childish moustache. The room was dark, and her chair was cold, hard metal.
“And what time did you leave work yesterday?”
“4:30, sir.” She answered. Her head was still ringing.
“What time did you get home?”
“5 o’clock, sir.”
“Where was Brendon when you got home, Ms. Kelly?”
“He was on the balcony, but I didn’t know he was there until I heard him.”
“Singing. He always sings. Every day. For his 7th birthday next month, I was gonna get him a guitar.” She kept staring at the table, but she couldn’t help smiling a little, thinking about her baby boy playing that guitar. Somewhere, she was still convinced that would happen. She wasn’t ready for her baby to be dead.
“Did you leave the door to the balcony open when you left for work?”
“What? No. But he knows how to unlock it, he’s very clever…”
“Where is Brendon’s father, Ms. Kelly?”
“He left when I was six months pregnant. I woke up on a Sunday and he was gone. No note, no phone call. His mom told me he moved to Colorado when she came over later that week.”
“And what’s his name?”
“Terry Anderson. He wouldn’t even recognize Bren, though.” She clenched the arm of the chair. Terry had nothing to do with this.
“Did your boy ever exhibit any tendencies toward self-harm?”
“Well… he’s a boy, he had scrapes from being rough with other boys, but it was never a big deal to him. But… no. I… I don’t know why he would…” Her voice broke.
He gave her a sad, well-practiced smile. “What was your relationship like with Bren?”
“Well… I don’t know. He’s a quiet kid… He was. He always smiled at me, though. He helped me cook, he could chop things and stir things and measure things out for me. I love him. He makes… he made me so happy.”
“Did you ever want to hurt him, Ms. Kelly?”
“What? No I… I got angry when he was being bratty or… whiny or… do… do you think I… pushed him? You do not! How!? What — he’s all I have! What the hell?” Annalise stood up.
“Ma’am I just need to-“
“Fuck off! I would never hurt him!” She pounded her fist on the table.
“Ma’am please sit-“
“No! No! I would not hurt my baby!” Two burly officers came in and grabbed her by the arms, calm but firm. She screamed, but the officers didn’t seem to hear her. They dragged down the bright, cold hallway and shoved her back in her cell, where she stopped screaming, fell on the floor and buried her face in her hands.
The cell door opened, and Annalise put up her hand to cover her eyes. She had been here for a few hours, she thought, and her eyes had adjusted to the low light. “We’re letting you go, ma’am. You will be contacted about funeral arrangements and transporting the body in a few days. Try to take it easy,” the officer gave her a sad smile.
Back on the street, she made her way through downtown. It was dark out, and one storefront read 10:36. She had slept the day away, though, and she wasn’t sleepy. She walked through the shouting and bright colors, the neon signs and tall bridges, the glass doors and cement parks. She walked for 3 miles, all the way home without a taxi or a bus. She walked through the rotary door, past the front desk, where a young man looked up at her briefly and then back down at his computer, embarrassed and nervous. She walked into the elevator, where another tenant was on his phone. She got out on the 9th floor, and made her way down the cold, white hallway and back into her cold, white apartment. She took off her flats and went to the stove to make tea. And as soon as the kettle was on the burner she lost it. She began sobbing, letting the tears fall from her face onto the counter. “Please, I want him back,” she said to the air in front of her. She backed onto the island, where she sunk down and sat on the cool linoleum. “Please, bring him back, I can’t do this without him, I want him back.” She sat there and cried, and when the kettle began to scream she cried some more. “Sweetheart, come back, please.” She shut her eyes and sobbed until she forgot the room around her.
“I can fix you.” A voice whispered in her ear.
She jerked, turning her head toward the noise, and upon seeing nothing she lifted her eyes to the kettle, which was gone. She looked to where she had heard the raspy whisper, and saw nothing. She shook her head. I need sleep. She sat up and found the kettle on the drying rack, already cleaned. There was a cup out, filled with tea, still hot. She stared at it for a long time, feeling a sense of dread in her stomach. She called out into the house, but no one answered. She looked out onto the patio, and saw a shadow. The silhouette of a hooded figure, blurred and shrouded.
“I can fix you.”
Annalise felt her stomach drop and her hands clench, her nails digging into her palms. She looked at the clock above the TV: 11:14. She looked back and the shadow was gone, but the glass door was still open. I wish that I could fly. Shaking with nervousness, she walked out onto the balcony and leaned out over the rail. Down below, where Bren had been, she saw the shadow, a tiny dot in the middle of the street. And somehow, she knew it was looking right back at her. “Go away!” she screamed, and went back inside and slammed the door shut. Way up in the sky. She made her way back to the island, and the tea was still there. Annalise wondered how that thing could’ve gotten into the apartment, or down on to the street. What was that thing? She shook her head and rubbed her eyes, letting out a sigh, and looked over to Bran’s room. There, she saw the shadow again, but now she saw eyes: fireballs with no pupils, just red and orange, each the size of a clementine.
“I can fix you.”
Screaming, she grabbed the tea from the island and threw it, and the shadow disappeared before the mug made contact, leaving only an empty room. She walked in, staring down at the white shards of the cup on the white tile that matched the kitchen. “Leave me alone!” she slammed Bren’s door shut too. Like a bird so high. Annalise did not believe in ghosts, not since she was a child. But what else can explain that shadow? She dragged herself into the bathroom, turned the lights on, grabbed her toothbrush and brushed her teeth. I’m hallucinating. I just need some rest. I’m a total mess right now. I’ll call Lexa tomorrow and she will know what to say. Lexa had been close to her since junior year of college, and had been there for her ever since, even through Terry leaving. She spit out her toothpaste and looked into the mirror, just as the lights flickered, and went out. In the darkness she saw those eyes, the red and orange.
“I can fix you.”
This time she screamed much louder. She threw her arm back where the thing had been and ran into her room. She turned on the light, but nothing happened. She ran to the door that opened to the rest of the complex. She found nothing but a cold wall.
“I can fix you.”
She was trapped. She ran down the hall, into the living room. The door to the balcony was open. She ran outside into the cool night, and put her hand on the railing. Oh I might just try. She looked over the railing again, into the street where, of course, the thing had disappeared.
And then she looked back into the apartment.
It was glowing red. She rushed inside, and her perfect, simple, white living room and kitchen were now crimson with fire and blood. The centerpiece was aflame with color, the walls dancing. Hovering above the centerpiece was Brendan, wearing none of his clothes. Oh I might just try. She screamed. His arms and legs were spread, just like they were while he fell. The red light radiated from Bren, the same red light in the thing’s eyes. He was like a fiery glow stick, almost blinding her. The thing was across the room, reaching out to Bren with its black, clawed hands.
“What do you want with my baby!?” she screamed across at him. He did not move, but briefly shifted his gave to her.
“I will fix you,” the thing whispered in a raspy, crackling voice. It shifted its gaze back to Bren. The boy’s naked body glowed ever more intensely. She screamed again and tried to reach him, but when she touched his arm, it burned her. Annalise screamed and put her hand to her chest, falling to her knees. The room danced in the red flame. Her prefect little island was red, her walls were red, her couch on fire. In the dark corners of the room, she saw shadows moving, dancing, and running. There was a ringing in her head, and she screamed and reached out to her son, once again helpless to save him. She whimpered at the pain in her arm.
And then all was silent and black.
She sat up in her bed, her breathing heavy. She was sweaty. She shook her head, looking at the sunlight shining through the window. Just a stupid dream. I should call in sick. I need a day. But her arm still stung from the burn. She got up slowly, opened the blinds some more, and heard shuffling in the hall. Her stomach dropped once again. She wanted to scream, but thought better of it. This time she was going to scare the shadow. She looked around desperately for any kind of weapon and settled for the bottle from the wine Lexa had brought her last week, which she had neglected to move from the room since. With a deep inhale, she opened the door, with the empty bottle raised…
And across the hall stood Brendan, brushing his teeth. He didn’t turn his face to look at her. His eyes were flat and emotionless; he stared into the mirror. She choked, dropped the bottle and ran up to her son, who was standing on the stool she kept in the bathroom so he could reach the sink. She grabbed his arm, but he didn’t react. “Honey, honey are you okay?” He spit out his toothpaste and rinsed his brush. Brendan turned to her, and stared through her indifferently, not even seeing her. She let herself start crying. “Sweetheart I’m right here! It’s me!” He pushed past her, into the hallway. She whimpered, standing again. She followed the boy, walking through the hallway. The mug she had thrown sat on the island, the tea now cold. Brendan walked into his room and shut the door. She started bawling and leaned on the island, staring down into the murky black tea.
The shadow watched her, just out of sight. Always just out of sight, unless he wanted to be seen. Brendan had been a far better gift than anything the shadow had given yet. Most of the gifts he gave were nothing but breathing corpses. Sometimes they moved on their own, but Bren was able to eat. Unlike the others, he ate and drank, he bathed himself and brushed his teeth. Each morning he put his clothes and even seemed to be seeing the TV when he watched it. But he never talked, he never showed emotion, he never acknowledged his poor mother. That made the shadow upset. Brendan was still a failure, he was not human. The shadow observed the boy — alive but not living — go about his day. He didn’t leave the house — the shadow had told him he couldn’t. But all the same, the boy lived. He stared at the TV, he stared out at the city on the balcony, stared at the ceiling of his room.
A day after the shadow had given his gift, the police showed up to regretfully inform Annalise that the body had been stolen and they were doing everything they could to find it. She started crying, and then she started screaming, which drove them off. A week later, she left Brendan at home, as usual, and went to his funeral, where there was an empty, closed coffin. She and the mortician were the only ones who knew of the missing body that the police had given up on.
Annalise tried every day to get the boy to talk, but he simply wouldn’t, yet she kept feeding him. It was at least some sort of accomplishment that the mother wanted him alive, at least for the time being. Much as she might be hurt, she cared for Brendan, which brought the shadow some hope. Eventually, she stopped crying, after she had accepted that he wouldn’t acknowledge her. She tried to smile at Brendan but she couldn’t, because he never smiled back. She never had anyone over; she was almost always out.
The boy never noticed her, and eventually, she didn’t notice him either. They both went about their days, his at home and hers in the outside world, and neither one acknowledged the other. She washed his clothes and left food on the island for him, but they stopped eating together, or doing much of anything with the other person. The shadow wanted Annalise to be happier, to be grateful for her gift, but she wasn’t. The shadow felt his heart sink whenever he watched her care for the boy less and less. He knew how this would end, how it always ended. One day, Annalise would wake up and kill the boy; and if she couldn’t bring herself to do that she would kill herself. It happened every time, and the shadow didn’t have the strength to watch it again. Depressed and dejected, the shadow left to try again, somewhere far from here.