by Yuvi Zalkow

This work of (creepy) fiction was originally published in Verdad Magazine.

It was hot that day, sitting in the backseat of our mother’s car in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot. She was in the grocery store. She had told us, “Don’t talk to a soul,” before she left. She said it to us with her long index finger nearly in our face. That finger with the crooked joint.

When he approached, with that smile and that cute wrinkle down the middle of his forehead, we smiled back. “Unlock the door for a friend,” this stranger said to us through the glass window.

Of course we did unlock the door. But as Mom instructed us, we did not talk. After all, this man only wanted us to unlock the door.

“That’s a good girl,” he said to us. His voice was more cough than voice. Then he opened the door and he held out his hand. We grabbed his warm hand. The man took us far away from Mom and the Piggly Wiggly.

We always believed in heaven. Our mom taught us about heaven, but we believed in a different kind of heaven than what she told us. Our heaven had no fancy gate or angel wings or holy men. Our heaven had no hell to point and laugh at. Our heaven was just like earth. But we had a voice in this heaven. We would say all the things we always wanted to say. All the things that people on earth said were wrong to say. Everyone had their voice in heaven. Even the man with more cough than voice.

His house was darker than our house. It smelled the way it smelled if you stuck your head in our dirty clothes hamper after we tinkled in our underwear but didn’t tell Mom. The only two windows in his house were covered in duct tape.

He was rough with us. We were scared. And it hurt in that place. And in other places. We cried quietly and when he was done, we covered our hands over where it hurt most. He threw us in a place he called the dark room. It was a lot darker than the rest of his dark house. It was all wall, all stone, all cold, and all dark. He made us stay in the dark room for a long time. We missed the light. But we missed our mother the most. And then he let us out. He hurt us again. But this time, we didn’t even need to cry.

“I like you,” he said as we quietly held a hand over the hurt place. “You know how to keep your trap shut.” He kept a knee on our stomach as he said this to us. “Unlike the others.”

We were glad to hear this. We wanted him to like us.

The hurt got to be less over the next few days. And once he saw we were good, he didn’t even make us stay in the dark room all the time. One night, he made us a fried egg. He ate with us and this made us feel less lonely. We listened to police sirens that were far away. We thought about our mother, we pretended that she was still inside the grocery store, not worried at all.

One day, he brought another girl home. This girl was scared. She yelled and she cried. He put her in the dark room with us and we tried to calm this girl. We put our hand on her forehead. She yelled even worse when we tried to kiss her forehead to calm her.

He was not nice to her. He pulled her out of the dark room by her hair and told her he knew a way to quiet her down. “I’ll take care of her,” he said to us. We never saw the girl again. We hope that he did take care of her. Because she was very scared.

Once he brought home a rose for us. One petal had fallen off before it got to us. We loved it even more because of this. It made the house brighter than it was to hold this rose. We smiled and he said, “Just a little something.” His forehead wrinkled in that place like when we first met him.

On the last day, he brought a girl home who wasn’t even moving. We followed him as he dragged her across the house by her feet. Her lips had bright red lipstick even though she looked just as young as we were. Her longest finger had a silver ring on it, and it scraped against the hardwood floor. Her long black hair dragged on the floor in the shape of a peacock with its wings all spread out.

“She’s no one,” he said to us. “She is nothing.”

The girl didn’t say a thing, even with her head banging on the floor. So we could understand that he might mistake her for no one.

Cassandra, we decided, was her name. Just like in our favorite story that our mother read to us. Cassandra’s fingers were long and skinny, just like Mom’s.

“Stay away,” he said to us as we followed him. But we peeked in the room where he took her. We saw him drop the quiet girl in that big freezer where we thought he kept Popsicles. That girl with the peacock hair.

He wasn’t in a good mood. We wondered if it was because the girl was so quiet. “I’ll be back,” he said to us.

We saw blood on his cheek. As he stood next to us, we tried to wipe it off. But he smacked us across the face. We fell to the floor and closed our eyes. We learned how to think about heaven at times like that.

We were sad for him and we wanted him to still like us.

“Now we both got blood on our faces,” he said to us, and he left the house. We expected him to put us in the dark room, but he must have forgotten.

We worried about him. He was upset. And we wanted him to be happy. But we also worried about Cassandra. It would be cold in that freezer. It would be bad for her hair. And so we opened the freezer. It was so bright in that place. We tried to get her out. But this little girl was too big for us. Or we were too weak for her. We think her shoulder wasn’t working right either. Her face was a funny color too. We thought she might be very sad.

So we did something else. We got inside the freezer ourselves. We let the door close over us. But it still stayed bright in the freezer. And we hugged poor Cassandra.

“Can you talk?” we whispered to her.

She didn’t say anything. But we could see our voice in the cold. Our voice was a cloud that disappeared right into Cassandra’s body and made a beautiful sound against her pretty cheek. We hugged Cassandra tight. We felt strong. We would take care of Cassandra.

“Can you talk?” we whispered. “Can you talk?” we whispered again and again.

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