Savannah Wingo is a writer from Austin, Texas. She graduated from Texas State University in 2015. This is her first publication credit.
Ingrid’s eyes flickered open. It was dark. Yellow light slanted through the slats of her blinds from outside and the sound of crickets filtered through the window screen. Upstairs, she could hear the familiar noise of her mom and dad arguing. Ingrid settled deeper into her bed, pulling the covers to rest beneath her nose. She held her breath and counted the stomps upstairs. Slowly the yelling became louder, a steady crescendo layered over the beat of her parents’ footsteps.
Unlike the layout of most of her friends’ houses, Ingrid’s bedroom was downstairs and her parents’ was upstairs. Before she was born, her parents had knocked out all the walls upstairs to make one big room, their love nest. The stairs, instead of ending on a landing, stopped dead at her parents’ bedroom door. Up until recently, she had assumed all two-story houses were like hers.
The stomps upstairs were centered right over her head now. It had been about a year since her father, Herbert, and her mother, Lucy, had begun their nightly brawls, the sounds seeping through the floorboards of their massive upstairs suite to disturb Ingrid’s sleep.
Ingrid’s parents were very different people, but had always seemed stable up until about a year ago. Her mother was pale, elegant and fashion-conscious. She spent her time decorating the house, cooking meals, tending her plants and taking care of Ingrid. She carried herself with a kind of careless grace. Her father, on the other hand, was tanned with a muscular frame. His hands were rough and calloused from hours working at the lumber mill he owned. He had an aura of competency about him—it was like no matter what they were doing, he immediately knew the right way.
Ingrid sniffled. The sounds stopped for a few seconds until, suddenly, her mother wailed violently. Lucy might as well have been right in Ingrid’s bedroom with how loud she was. Ingrid pulled the covers all the way over her head. A few moments later, she could hear her father grunting and roaring like some kind of animal. Tomorrow, her mother would have new bruises like purple constellations across her arms and legs, and sometimes even on her face. It had happened often enough for Ingrid to establish a cause-and-effect. At dinner, if Herbert sat on the couch instead of at the table and drank his whiskey instead of ate, then later she would hear the both of them yelling in their upstairs bedroom. Sometimes, Ingrid would spot thin red cuts on her mother’s wrists, too, but she was never sure if her father had inflicted those marks or not. The one time she had asked her mother about the cuts, Lucy said they were her own fault. She said it in a way that Ingrid knew not to ask anymore.
Another wail rang through the house and Ingrid dug in even deeper into her covers, squeezing her eyes and trying desperately to think about anything about her parents. She imagined the blanket covering her was a tent and she was a giant on display at the circus. She imagined all the people screaming in terror at her, throwing their tiny boxes of popcorn at her feet.
At school, they’d been learning about ancient cultures and mythology. She loved learning about the different monsters and creatures people had once believed in. Lately, all of the made-up stories she told herself, all of her dreams and even all of her nightmares featured these mythical beasts. She spent all her time in the library. First she started with mythology books, since that was what she initially loved. Eventually, she got bored and moved on to sci-fi and fantasy. She was obsessed with ghouls, demons, weres and monsters. Now, she read at least a book a week. This week she’d been reading about possession. She’d even sneaked her dad’s old VHS copy of The Exorcist out from the cabinet in the living room and watched the whole thing through one night, volume turned low as her parents yelled upstairs. She’d become convinced Herbert was possessed by a demon.
He hadn’t always been like this. Ingrid cocooned herself in her blankets. Before, her dad had been overworked and stressed, but still gentle and kind. When he got home, they’d sit on the little couch handed down from grandma and watch Tales from the Crypt or Twilight Zone.
“They don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” He’d say, ruffling Ingrid’s hair.
When she hugged him, he always smelled like sawdust and Big Red gum, which he always kept in his truck’s cup holder. When he got home from work, Ingrid would bury her face in his chest, breathe in that smell and know she was safe. If he still smelled like that, Ingrid wouldn’t know— she didn’t hug him anymore.
When he came home now, her dad left a trail of cigarette smoke and booze smell in his wake. He didn’t sit on the couch and watch old TV shows. He lorded over the couch, filling as much space as he could by spreading his legs out wide. He sipped whiskey out of highball glasses and watched shows about war, hunting, or fishing. Sometimes he’d just watch the weather channel for hours on end, eyes unfocused and empty, hand still unconsciously ferrying glass after glass of Jameson Whiskey to his lips.
Before bedtime, she and her dad used to play hide and seek. She’d hide and wouldn’t have to go to sleep until he found her. She liked to pick dumb hiding spots, like behind curtains with her feet sticking out or under a blanket on the floor. No matter how silly her hiding spot, Herbert would pretend he couldn’t find her.
“Now where in the world could that girl be?” He’d address the room, eyes somehow managing to avoid the laundry basket Ingrid was crouching in.
When he finally did find her, he’d always pick her up, swing her around, and blow a raspberry into her stomach. She’d laugh, he’d give her a kiss on the forehead, and then she’d go to sleep, no noises in the night around to wake her.
Now Ingrid could hear her mother sobbing from upstairs. Her father was yelling, and it sounded as if he might be throwing things. Ingrid squeezed her eyes tight. She dug her fingers into her belly. Once she came to the conclusion that her father was a monster, her next thought was that she might be one too.
Ingrid imagined herself as an adult, terrorizing her husband and child the same way. What if one day she sat on the couch, legs splayed, drinking scotch over ice, eyes vacant and cold? What if one day her daughter would lie in bed, listening to her roars? She imagined herself grey-skinned and foul-mouthed like the girl from the exorcist, a loud snarl ripping through her chest. Or if it turned out she wasn’t a monster after all—what if she ended up stuck with one? What if one day she wore long sleeves to cover her bruises? Ever since she had decided her father was some a monster and that she might be one too, she had the almost uncontrollable urge to peek in and at least see what he looked like during his rampages.
Suddenly, there was a loud shattering noise upstairs, then a heavy thump. She ripped the covers off and sat up. The sudden silence caused a leaden ball to form in the pit of her stomach. She swung her legs over the side of her bed, stood and crossed the dark bedroom. She slowly pushed her door open. The little notches in the doorframe where Herbert had once marked her height slowly revealed themselves as the door squeaked on its hinges. The noise made the hackles on her neck stand on end, but didn’t stop her from peering out of the doorframe. Everything looked fine. The staircase leading to her parents’ room was just down the hall, and everything downstairs was quiet and still.
She left her bedroom door open as she ventured out. Everything looked slightly sinister. The fronds of the potted plants her mother loved so much morphed into strange appendages in the dark and the floral-printed couch her father and her used to sit on together looked stained with dark blooms of blood. Ingrid hurried past the living room and towards the stairs. She put her hand on the cold banister. She thought she could make out some low noise coming from her parents’ room.
Ingrid steeled her will, it was too late to turn back. She began to climb the stairs. They were steep, ascending straight up and ending at the door to her parent’s bedroom. Ingrid slowly climbed to the top of the stairs and hesitated outside the imposing black door. Now that she was right by the door, she heard a muffled sobbing.
Palms sweating, she grabbed the door knob and slowly turned, pushing the door open just wide enough so that she could see into the room. The room was unbearably bright after the darkness of the rest of the house, and the fluorescent lighting beamed off of the white tile flooring.
In the center of the room, just underneath the ceiling fan spinning like a dervish, was her father. He was bent over something, his dark hair hanging limply in his face. His back was heaving as little hiccupping sobs escaped from his mouth. He didn’t look like a monster, but she couldn’t see his face. Around him, the room looked as if a tornado had passed through, with her father crouching right in the eye of the storm.
When she had entered the room before, it had been neat and stately looking. Her mother had a vanity in one corner always draped with shawls and hats and long ropes of pearls. Ingrid had sometimes sat in front of that vanity with her mother, watching Lucy methodically apply red matte lipstick and spritzes of perfume from jeweled bottles. She would perfume on Ingrid too, dabbing little droppers of fragrant yellow oil into the crooks of her elbows, her wrists and her neck. Now, the mirror in the antique vanity was smashed, and glass littered the floor in a million shards. The white tile of the floor was totally exposed, the gorgeous Persian rug she remembered so vividly flipped over on itself, rough underbelly facing upwards. The lush ficus plants that had framed the entryway were upended, and loamy soil speckled the pristine tile. The heavy velvet curtains, usually left open, were now drawn, blocking out the lights from the street. Throw cushions and covers were tossed helter-skelter across the room, torn from their place on the bed.
She took this in within seconds. It was as if she was protecting herself from looking at her father, already knowing on some level what she’d find there. Unable to distract herself with the periphery of the room any longer, Ingrid finally followed her father’s gaze downward. Shards of glass crowded the floor and tangled themselves in the light strands of hair that pooled around and over her father’s lap. He was cradling Lucy’s head, sobbing. Ingrid’s gaze followed the thin curve of her mother’s neck until, finally, it came to rest at a dagger-shaped piece of glass embedded deep into the depression where her collarbones met. There wasn’t as much blood as she imagined there would be. It was nothing like those old TV shows, fake too-red blood and gore coating the entire scene. A few scattered red-black drops were the only evidence to Lucy’s wound.
Her father twitched a little, as if startled out of deep contemplation. Slowly, he lifted his head and leveled a gaze at Ingrid. She took a step backwards, terrified at the unfamiliar expression in Herbert’s eyes.
“Ingrid?” He called. “It’s past your bedtime, sweetie.”
He almost sounded like his old self again. Lucy hesitated, unsure of what to do. He didn’t look like a monster. But her mother’s still body said otherwise. Ingrid wondered if maybe she had done it to herself, like the thin red cuts across her wrist. Ingrid looked through the door crack at her father. His face was placid and empty. It was the same face he made sitting on the couch for hours on end, watching the weather. She could almost see the blank grey light from the television flickering in his eyes. In one fluid motion, Herbert bent down over Lucy and put his hand on the glass shard embedded in her throat. Blood immediately bloomed out of his palm, running down his wrist and into the bends of his arms. Slowly, he withdrew the shard, the stream from his palm mingling with Lucy’s already thickening blood. The same spot that Lucy had once delicately dabbed amber perfume on was now pooled with gore. Herbert straightened, glass dagger grasped firmly in his dripping hand.
“Alright, honey, why don’t you go hide? I’ll give you a head start.”
Ingrid could see the monster now. Herbert wasn’t a werewolf or vampire or demon, but if she lived through this, she might become a monster too. She ran down the stairs.