Heart convulsing, breath jagged. The smell of burnt toast stings my nostrils. My mouth feels like I’ve been eating dry cotton, and the taste is like I’ve been sucking dirty nickels all night. The terror hits me when my eyes open. After the dreams with whispering double-voices and solid black eyes and bodies contorted in shapes they should never take. My heart thrums evenly. Sure, I gulp, I know I’m no longer in the dream, but I still feel the hot breath of that thing escaped with me into reality.
“Mary!” it half-yells, half-whispers. But I don’t know any ‘Mary.’ My mother named me Trista – because it sounded a lot prettier than “depression” or “sad” and still means the same in Spanish.
“Trista,” the sound of my name rolls of the tongue of my asshat boss. He knocks on my desk, bringing me back to my cubicle – only slightly better than those dreams. “You know we don’t do overtime here, right?”
That’s my cue. I shrug and the computer screen in front of me fades to black with the groans of a dying robot. I breathe deep, the smell of burnt coffee and warm printer ink waft through my nose and a wave of wisteria floats over me.
“Mary….” That unmistakable hoarseness – I know it’s that damned creature again. But it’s never followed me to work before. A quiver runs down my spine and the inflammation in my wrists starts aching again. I snatch my keys and bolt. I’m sure Mr. Asshat’s face is one of offense – that I didn’t give him the time to mansplain to me the job I’ve been doing since before his first wet dream – and right about now, he’s scoffing about what an old bitch I am. That demon creature is telling me I should care, but something in me – the thing that cared about that kind of thing – was broken a long time ago.
Before I even realize I’ve reached my car, I pull into my driveway like I’ve been catapulted into a time loop, fast-forwarding until I step out of my clunky old Subaru. “You should’ve gotten the Mazda,” my sister had complained the last time I picked her from the airport. But she was dead now, and this old Subaru had outlived her by five solid years. Toldya so, Nadine! I shouted silently. I chuckled at this. Not at my sister being dead – God, no! One of the most horrid experiences of my life – but at myself. The lifelong family joke I was – and only once they all died away, did I ever redeem myself. Was it really redemption when there was no one left alive to be compared to? I shrugged and chuckled at myself again.
I was thinking again about how there must’ve been some mix up at the hospital at my birth when I reached my door, going to my purse to fish out my keys when the door creaked. Nausea slithered into the pit of my stomach. Oh shit…had I not locked my door? Had I not even shut it? “Of course not, Mary,” that thing whispered again. “You never forget to lock your doors. But that’s how I got out.”
I shook myself, trying to shake that thing back to hell. “I’m not Mary, damnit!” I shouted and barreled through the front door. “Who the hell is in my house? I have a gun!” I said louder, lying.
“Relax, Mary,” the thing cooed. “It’s just our friend. The one you’ve been waiting for.” And then the thing chuckled.
I stomped through the house, all the way past the shattered-glass frames lining the floors in front of my walls, through the dirty kitchen – with dirty dishes piled high and black mold growing from the drain of the sink upward; food from two weeks ago when I’d last bothered to cook, chicken and rice, clumped around the mold – and down the hall with more glass from frames I’d bashed in a fit. Loneliness was a killer, you know. That’s what they. But what did they know? I’d been alone for half a decade and my breathing was just fine. Plus, well, I wasn’t dead like they were either.
I stomped past pictures of my baby brother who died serving this God-forsaken country when he was nineteen. I slid a little once I reached the edge of the hall, right up to my door. Almost smacked myself in the face with it, too. I yanked at the doorknob, the cold metal hitting my old bones with a loud clang. It hurt, too. I huffed, angry at myself for the pain and angrier at whoever the hell was in my room!
I burst through the door, yanking a screw from the bottom hinge, and stopped short. There she was, Father Time’s wife. “See, Mary! See. I told you it was a friend,” the thing whispered more.
“Trista, dear, it’s a pleasure.” She stood, tall and gorgeous. “Crass little bastard,” she grimaced at the thing on my back. The whispered melted to silence under her gaze and her nostrils flared. “They never remember anybody’s name.”
Her eyes snapped back to me and her crinkled face morphed into a gentle smile and twinkling eyes. “But Momma Death, does. You’re tired, darling. Come give Momma a hug.” She stretched her arms out and warmth emanated from her like an open oven at 450 degrees.
I obliged her. I hoped this wasn’t just another strange dream.