D.C. Eden was born and raised in British Columbia, Canada. Since childhood, she's had a fascination with all things a little bit dark, and turned to fiction writing as an outlet for her imagination very early on. Eden lives on Vancouver Island with her husband, where she writes fiction in her spare time.
House of Reckoning
The city at night is either bleak or beautiful, depending on who's looking. Tim Tucker rubbed his hands together and stuffed them in the pockets of his threadbare coat. It was cold out, real cold, and when the sun went down it took with it all traces of warmth. For him, the city always looked bleak. It began to rain a little. Rain was the only weather that really aggravated him. It got into everything, took forever to dry, and it seemed to make bad smells worse, everywhere. Tim could just imagine what he smelled like. There was a time, in a former life, when he spent good money on things like deodorant and soap. Now, he took those items where he could get them, usually in hygiene packs from one of the many missions and neighbour centers around the city. He blew out a breath of warm air into the cold night, and watched the raindrops fall through the cloud he'd made. Tim needed a place to sleep for the night. Tim needed a lot of things. "Hey man, gotta smoke?" "No man, sorry," he said, turning to see who'd asked. Cindy was about 5'2" and somewhere between 32 and 65. She'd given him a blowjob for some moonshine once, and it still made him feel bad. There were a lot of things that made him feel bad. Cindy was just one of them. "Hey you seen Randy anywhere? Fucker owes me," she said. She was slurring her words and a bit wobbly on her feet. "No man, sorry," said Tim. Cindy was barely dressed, he saw; worn-out flats and bare legs drew the eye to a purple skirt with a stain on the hem. She wore just a light track jacket overtop. Tim stepped forward and did the zipper up while slipping a hand into her pocket. "Cindy, man, you gotta stay warm." She nodded, her eyes reeling just enough that Tim knew she'd be passed out before too long. She turned and left, and Tim watched her go, thumbing the $10 bill he'd swiped from her. It sat in his pocket, and it made him feel a little warmer. He didn't feel bad about it. He knew that if roles were reversed she'd do the same damn thing. It was just the way things went. Ten dollars. What the hell can I do with ten dollars? Tim ducked under a storefront awning and considered his next move. He had a fiver in his other pocket, he remembered. That put him upwards of 15 bucks. Tim bent over and picked up what was left of a cigarette butt just under his shoe. It was dry under the awning, and the butt still had plenty left. Lipstick rimmed the filter. It reminded him of someone he used to know. # "Timothy!" A little boy, no more than eight, crept slowly from the fort he'd made in the closet. His mom was angry again. There was a loud crash from the kitchen, the sound of glasses and plates breaking against the tile floor. Knives and forks and spoons clanged metallically, over and over. Every noise rung in his ear like a gong. DING, DING, DONG. Timothy put his hands over his ears and rocked back and forth, too afraid to get up from the floor. "Where are they?" she screamed from downstairs. Timothy tried to remember what he'd done with them, Mom's smokes. Three things she needed to get through the day: drinks, smokes and food. The first two she choked down from morning till night, the third, he could hear her throwing up into the kitchen sink, usually not long after eating. It made the kitchen smell like sour milk and bile. Tim thought that if he could make her stop smoking, she'd maybe stop drinking. And if she could stop drinking, maybe she'd keep food down. "Timothy!" This time the angry voice was followed by heavy, angrier footsteps thudding up the stairs. The little boy started to shake. Seconds later the door to his room burst open, and in she flew wearing her rage like a crown. "Why won't you answer me?" She got down to her son's level and grabbed his chin, hard. "I asked you a question." Timothy couldn't move. He looked at his mother's face, a face he loved more than anything, but couldn't see the person who used to cuddle him to sleep. He started to cry. His mother's features softened and for a moment she realized what she was doing. But then the rage came back to fill in the cracks. "Timothy, mummy's smokes are very expensive, do you understand? How would you feel if mummy hid your things? What about Mr. Boo Bear?" she said, holding a ragged stuffed bear. Timothy grabbed for it but she held it out of his reach. "How would you feel?" "Sad," he sniffled. "Please mom, don't take him." Tears ran down the little boy's cheeks as he thought of his dad, the wonderful person who'd tucked him in with Mr. Boo Bear each night. "Maybe I should keep him until mummy finds her smokes." Timothy sobbed. "Please mom, no, please let me have him. I need him." The boy's face was streaked with tears and his cries became wails. "Where are they Tim?" "Where are they Tim?" "WHERE ARE THEY TIM?" Tim let his little body fall prostrate onto the floor where he sobbed for several, gulping minutes into the carpet. He clenched his little fists and thought about his dad. He wanted the bear more than he wanted his mom to quit smoking. "They're in the plant," he said finally. The words were barely a whisper. Tim's mom tossed the grubby little bear on the floor before getting up to dig the pack of Players Lite from the only potted plant in the house. Tim heard her go downstairs and bustle about as she dug them out. The fridge door opened next and he heard the familiar clink of glass bottle on the rim of a glass, the pouring of soda, the plop, plop and crack of ice cubes falling and thawing into drink, the sound of a lighter igniting, and finally, he could almost feel her relief at sinking into the couch with her vices. She normally turned the TV up loud to muffle the sound of her vomiting, but only when her boyfriend was over; her boyfriend, who usually never left the spare bedroom next to the living room, only ever played video games and smoked weed until the early hours of morning. But he wasn't there now, and so his mom was loud and Tim could hear everything. Tim heard the fridge door open several times over the course of the night, heard her prepare food in the microwave, heard more drinks get made and more smokes get smoked. Finally he heard the sound of her stomach turning itself inside out into the sink where she washed her hair during the day, and knew that it was almost safe to come out. He waited longer than usual, and didn't flinch when he heard another crash come from downstairs. Tim put his bear under the pillow. He'd never make the mistake of leaving him vulnerable again. It was time to put mom to bed; not physically of course, he couldn't lift her, but he could turn the TV off and make sure nothing was burning on the stove, make sure there wasn't a cigarette burning in the ashtray. Tim took the steps slowly and carefully, as the business of cleaning up after his mom was a solemn one and the last thing he wanted was to wake her. When he got to the bottom of the stairs he knew something wasn't right. She wasn't in her usual place, though her cigarette, rimmed with lipstick, still burned in the ashtray. # Tim pocketed the butt. He'd smoke it later, when he was out of the rain. He started walking, looking at his feet as he went, and when next he looked up he saw a small crowd gathering near a dumpster at the entrance of an alleyway. It was cold and wet, so maybe there was a dumpster fire in their future. "What's going on?" he asked to nobody in particular. A man with wide eyes and an uncontrollable jaw answered first: "Chick's dead." Tim shrugged but tried to get a better look. There was someone on the ground, just lying there in a purple skirt with a stain on the hem. "What happened?" The Jaw shrugged. "She was lookin' for Randy. He owed her, but she owed The Alien." The Alien. The Alien was everybody's friend until you owed The Alien, and didn't pay up. Tim clenched his fists and got down on his knees, down to Cindy's level. He had to push people out of the way. She was dead all right. There was a wound above her eye and it had done most of the bleeding. The sound of sirens dispersed the small crowd, everyone but Tim, who stood up and waited for the police to arrive. He couldn't shake a bad, bad feeling. # The police finally arrived after three days. Tim's mom was still lying on the floor where he'd found her, 72 hours prior, lying in a stink of dried vomit and decomposing. Timothy was watching TV, eyes blankly staring at the screen. He hadn't slept or eaten in that time, hadn't even gotten up to use the bathroom. The police officer that found him like that, sitting in his own piss and shit, had to undergo some therapy afterwards. Tim was taken to the hospital, but not before he stopped screaming for his bear. # "What's her name?" asked the cop. "Cindy. Don't know her last." "How'd you know her?" Tim shrugged. "She was just around, like everybody else." "Was she a prostitute?" Tim shrugged again, remembering the blowjob. "No more than anybody else around here." The cop was taking notes while Cindy's body was being loaded into an ambulance. It would not be putting its lights and sirens on for her. "She was a nice lady," Tim added. "Uh huh. Did she use?" "Look around," said Tim. "Did she owe people money?" "That's what Randy says." "Who's Randy? What's his last name?" "I don't know anybody's last name." "Uh huh. Who'd she owe?" "The Alien. That's what Randy said." The cop looked up from his notepad. "The Alien? That a code name or something?" Tim shrugged. "Probably. Who's actually gonna be named 'The Alien'?" The cop raised one eyebrow. "Where can I find this Randy individual?" "He's probably at the centre." "Which one?" "The one on 10th." "Uh huh. Is there a way I can get a hold of you, find you, if I have more questions Mr. Tucker?" "I'm always around." The cop frowned. "Ran your ID. You don't have a record. You must be one of the rare, good ones," he said without humour but with a little contempt. Tim didn't laugh, but he clenched his fists; there was something he needed to know. "I took some money from her before she died," said Tim suddenly to the cop, who just shook his head in amazement. "Do you think she died 'cause of me? Like maybe she could have had the money to pay back but I took it and that was it, that was the last straw?" The cop looked hard at Tim's face. "Like I said, one of the rare, good ones." # The foster home they'd put him in wasn't one of the good ones. The parents were nice people and they lived in a nice, big house overlooking the river, but it made no difference to Tim what kind of view he had; there were enough bedrooms so that each kid only had to share with one other and there were good meals on the table every day, but it made no difference to Tim how big it was or what kind of food he ate. It still wasn't one of the good ones. There were a few things that bothered Tim in that house. The first was the dog. His name was Brood. The second was his foster parents. The third was another foster kid. His name was Dean. Brood was a monster of a dog, and Tim was convinced the beast was summoned from hell's terrible underbelly. It watched him with an intelligence that scared him, grumbling every time Tim moved a muscle. The dog was never far from Tim, and over time the boy became convinced that the dog was trying to kill him. The possibility that Brood was simply being protective never crossed Tim's mind. Tim's foster mom had the same name as his mom, Cindy, and she liked to sing while she worked in the kitchen. She sang often and she sang loud, turning up the radio while she danced to the music. Cindy wasn't so bad but she hugged with a fierceness Tim had never felt before, like she was trying to make up for something. Her husband John's hugs lasted too long, and it wasn't that Tim didn't like it; it's just that the feeling of his foster dad's embrace tickled at something unpleasant that he couldn't quite remember. Dean was a bully, a kid who'd seen too much for his young age, like Tim. Only, unlike Tim, who channeled his feelings into isolation and imagination, Dean pushed it outward, as though he wanted everyone to feel as hopeless and deeply miserable as he did. Dean was his own disease, and Tim had known someone like that before. One of the things that Dean liked to do was watch people. He'd watch and observe, really listen and take note of what frightened people or made them react. He was horribly devious, Tim knew, and so he tried to avoid him. Unfortunately for Tim, Dean liked a challenge. Tim really loved his bear. Cindy really loved her dog. And on one rainy Saturday, Dean got bored. # Tim was just about done with being cold, wet and outside. He stayed at the scene until everyone had left, lighting the butt with a borrowed lighter and smoking it down to the filter. Someone just died over there, he thought as he looked at the dumpster and the concrete. There was blood on the ground from the wound on her head. The rain would wash it away in no time. And then it'll go back to just being another part of the sidewalk.Somebody carried Cindy for nine months a long time ago, gave birth to her and loved her, maybe. And she died on the sidewalk beside a dumpster. The thought made him sad, sick to his stomach with a feeling he couldn't quite explain. Maybe this meant that he was one of the good ones. A bad person wouldn't really care either way, right? He thumbed the $10 bill again and wondered what to spend it on. # The rain was pounding the windowpanes outside, and Tim felt glad to be indoors. It was Saturday, so no school, and he hadn't seen Dean all morning. Cindy, his foster mom, was vacuuming downstairs and consequently Brood was cowering upstairs, the loud vacuum the dog's only nemesis in the world. Tim didn't see his foster dad very often, and he was glad for it. Tim sat, curled up in blankets, drawing, trying to ignore the fact that Brood was right outside his bedroom door but enjoying the sound of the rain and the knowledge that he had a whole afternoon of doing nothing ahead of him. But Dean was bored. "Hey retard, seen your bear lately?" Tim flinched, but didn't dare let Dean see. Instead, he poked his head out of the blankets and gave the bully his dirtiest look. "Shut up Dean, you're not funny." Dean walked with the confident swagger of someone much older, or at least someone that knows something his victim doesn't. "I said, 'where's your bear'? What's his name, Mr. Poo?" Tim's cheeks burned hot. "Nice try Dean. He's right h..." Eyes wide, Tim couldn't find his friend under the covers, where he always was. Mr. Boo Bear was only ever under the covers where nobody could see, or under the pillow at night. Where nobody could see. Dean stood still, smirking. Tim clenched his fists. "Give him back Dean." "I don't know what you're talking about." "I said give it back Dean," said Tim. He pushed the blankets off and got out of bed. "Give it back," he shouted the words now. "How'd you like it if I took something of yours?" Dean laughed cruelly. "I told you I don't know where it is, I was just asking if you saw it, seeing as how you're so obsessed with it. Dumbass." Tim started to shake as he advanced towards Dean. "I said give it back. Give it back!" "What you gonna do? Hit me? I didn't take your stupid bear you fucking baby." "Give it back!" Tim went at Dean with both fists, screaming his tears and anger and frustration. Dean's laughter died on his lips before his shock turned to fury and he fought back. The boys pulled at each other’s clothes and hair, trying to land punches at all the soft parts. Dean finally nailed him, good, after getting a fat lip from the side of Tim's raw knuckles. Tim moaned and rolled on the floor while Dean popped up and walked out of the room. "Here boy," he said. Tim peeked through his fingers to see Dean give Mr. Boo Bear to Brood. Dean turned to Tim. "Don't worry, I put some peanut butter on Mr. Poo just to make sure Brood would like it. Maybe he'll be your friend now." Tim watched in horror as the big dog first shook the stuffing out of Mr. Boo Bear before trying to devour the bear whole. Dean kept laughing, watching Brood, while Tim's nose kept bleeding onto the carpet. Tim looked down, and next to the growing bloodstain was the freshly sharpened pencil he'd been drawing with. Without a moment's hesitation he picked it up and then everything went red. Timothy drove the pencil with all his might right into the flesh of Dean's horrible, bullying neck. Dean stumbled forward, shrieking and slapping at the pencil, but it was in there to stay. Tim watched in silence as the boy's blood poured out of the wound to soak his clothes and the carpet beneath his feet. Dean stumbled forward, tripping on Brood. The noise and the reek of blood and urine - Dean had pissed his pants, Tim saw - had put the dog on high alert, but Dean was in too much pain to notice. He fell onto the big dog, grabbing its snout for dear life, but it was the worst thing Dean could have done. The dog snapped, crushing Dean's hand between his powerful jaws with a growl so ferocious Timothy thought he'd piss his own pants. # Tim headed toward Church Street. It was a long walk in the rain, but it was the only place he liked to go when he was feeling desolate. There was something about having so many religious buildings clustered together in one place that made him feel safe, even if he was just sitting on the sidewalk outside, drinking. He spent Cindy's $10 on a bottle of moonshine, purchased from a woman who sold it cheap from the back of her 1964 Cadillac hearse. He patted the remaining fiver, pleased to remember it was there. A sudden, inexplicable feeling of doom tingled up his spine as he pressed the bill into her hand, the feeling that somehow, by spending the money, his fate had been decided. Feeling out of body, he tipped the bottle to his lips and drank the greasy liquor. It burned, but after the burning subsided it left him feeling warmer at least. Don't be so paranoid. It's just money. "Don't drink it all in one night," said the woman. "This new stuff will make you see God. I like to keep my customers comin' back." Tim shivered. "You make it yourself?" "Yep." "Must be nice to be your own boss." The woman eyed Tim wearily. "Nobody out here is their own boss. I answer to The Alien just like everybody else," she said. "Need a bag?" "Uh, sure," said Tim. While the moonshine seller's back was turned he deftly pocketed another bottle. "Here," she said, holding out a bag. "Drink too much, you can always puke in it." "Thanks," he muttered. "Hey, can I ask you a question?" "Sure." "How do I find The Alien?" "You looking for The Alien?" "I guess so." "You shouldn't be. I went looking once. Now look at me." # Dean passed away the same day Tim stuck the pencil in his neck. Brood got put down not long after. Cindy had gone into shock after bringing the vacuum upstairs to do the carpets - she never heard a thing. Tim was taken by the usual authorities and placed in the usual place. They kept him there until his 18th birthday, when his file was sealed and he was sent out into the world to carve a path for himself. The problem was he had no tools. Tim had no money, no family, and no real friends. And so following his release from juvenile detention and its medical care, warm bed and good food, Tim became homeless. And he stayed that way, until the cold morning that a wallet appeared in his path. # Tim turned down Church Street, and though it was twilight, there were no lights to be seen anywhere. The street lamps were dark, and there were no lights on in any of the many dated churches lining the shabby little road. Odd, he thought; he hadn't noticed a power outage anywhere else. Just then, the street lamp nearest to him flickered on. A quiet hum accompanied it, and grew louder as every other street lamp along the road flickered on in turn. There were no people, and there was no other sound but the rain and the hum, and the hairs on Tim's neck stood up as though charged with the same electricity that illuminated the street. He stood still, gripping the moonshine, and blinked hard. It was just another street, he told himself - just another empty street on a rainy night. The lights must just be on a faulty timer, or something. Tim remembered the strange moonshine seller and looked critically at the bottle in his hand. He'd had several swigs but couldn't yet be that drunk. Still. He'd better find a place to hang his hat before it was too late, he thought. # The wallet contained a $10 bill, a few cards and pieces of paper, and a driver's license. Allan Rudy was the man's name, the one to whom the wallet belonged. Tim warred with himself that day, between taking the money and pitching the wallet, or walking it to the address on the license in case of reward. Tim also wanted to be better. He wanted to be the kind of person who returned the wallet just for the sake of decency and goodwill, and not because there might be something in it for him. His greed masqueraded as goodwill, he thought; but who cares, right, if the end result is one that helps someone out? Tim took the wallet to the address on the license. The man who answered the door was flabbergasted. "Wow," said Allan Rudy, scratching his head. "I mean, thank you so much. To be honest, I was in the bad part of town, no offense. I never thought I'd see it again. I was just about to call and cancel all my cards. Do you know how expensive it is to lose your wallet?" he said with a laugh. Tim stood there blank-faced with his filthy clothes but nodded like he understood. "You're a rare one, one of the good ones," said Allan. Tim's reward was a job in Mr. Rudy's sheet metal shop. Unskilled though he was, Tim worked hard and earned his pay. It wasn't long before he was renting his own little apartment, buying his own clothes and food, and even picking up his own toiletries. No more hygiene packs from the shelter. It lasted until Tim took his first drink. The downward spiral back to the streets didn't take nearly as long as it took to get off them. Eventually Tim's drinking outpaced his pay, and gradually, in dribs and drabs and over time, he managed to steal a worthy sum from the shop's petty cash, only getting caught, hand-in-the-drawer, when Mr. Rudy's secretary remembered that she forgot something in the office late one evening. She called the cops of course, and Tim was taken away in the back of a cruiser, the lights flashing red and blue. The sirens were even turned on for him. Allan Rudy's opinion of poor people solidified itself that night. "I suppose it serves me right," he said. "Christ, it would've been cheaper just to replace the damn wallet in the first place. What was in it, ten bucks? And now I'm out 100 times that, you piece of shit. I gave you a chance." Mr. Rudy spat. "How'd you like it if I took something of yours?" At least Allan Rudy didn't press charges. # There was a loud hiss and pop that preceded the hum getting louder, like someone had turned a dial up to a higher frequency. Tim smelled ozone and panicked - wasn't ozone what you smelled and electricity what you felt right before being struck by lightning? He searched the sky, but it was only rain that fell. Still, he wanted to get inside as fast as he could. His gaze fell back to the street, and he nearly swallowed his tongue. The churches were gone. It was as though he stood on an entirely different street. In an entirely different time. The lampposts were even different. Gaping, and clutching the bottle of moonshine, Tim took a few steps forward in case simple movement would knock him out of whatever reverie he'd fallen into. He shook his head, blinked hard, and rubbed his eyes. When he opened them it was the same, different street, with the same, different lampposts. He took another swallow of the booze, and walked on. Now, the street was just lined with houses, old houses, shabby and made of brick, and at a quick glance they all looked the same. He stopped in front of the first house. It had a big maple out front, and a red flyer wagon just beyond the stoop. A piece of the concrete steps leading up to the front door was missing, the broken-off piece lying carelessly on the ground. A deep crack ran from the middle of the gaping concrete wound, all the way to where the stoop met the siding. Tim remembered how that happened. His dad smashed it with a baseball bat, right after tripping on Tim's wagon. This was Tim's childhood home. Except it wasn't. It couldn't be. Kids had wagons. Stoops sometimes broke apart. Maple trees grew in yards. Tim didn't even grow up in this city. He shook his head. Nuts, he thought. Tim decided to keep walking, and took another swig. Tim had walked several more paces when something red caught his eye. Another red flyer. He stood in front of the next house. It had the same Maple tree, the same stoop, the same damn wagon. Tim's heart started to race as, for the first time, he really looked at the street before him. It wasn't just a collection of shabby houses any more... it was just one house, over and over again, as though he stood in a funhouse looking into a trick mirror. There was only one thing to do. Tim turned around to go back the way he'd come, only stretching out as far as the eye could see was an endless row of brick houses, lining each side of the street. Every way he turned, in every direction it was the same; each house a perfect replica of the one before it, with not a leaf or blade of grass or even the scratch on the side of the red wagon out of place. There was nothing remarkable about any individual house, the shabby little brick houses that they were, except that there were so many. It was impossible. Sweat dripped down Tim's temples and spine, and he realized that it had stopped raining. The mostly-full bottle of moonshine slipped from his hand to smash on the sidewalk, but he didn't notice. Tim stared at one house in particular, the only house on the street with a light on. It shone like a beacon against the dark backdrop of all the houses that sat dark as though empty; but this one was different. The light came from the attic window he knew. But why would anyone want to go up there? Tim shivered. The hum and hiss and pop had disappeared at some point, just like the rain, but he hadn't noticed that either; the only sound he heard now was the complete and utter silence, a sound that wasn't exactly wholesome or reassuring, with his own racing heart filling the spaces in between. It rang in his ears. No part of him wanted to go in that house and yet, a dreadful knowledge came upon him that he was the only one for whom that light shone. Tim Tucker knew that he would go in, even if it took him a hundred years to gather the courage; it was as inevitable as his next breath. Perhaps if he got it over with, the uncanny scene would go away. The voice started with the first step Tim took toward the house. Take. Take. Take. That's all you do, Timothy. Take what's not yours. How would you like it if I took from you? It was a female voice, a familiar voice. Tim shook his head and kept on walking. He was at the edge of the yard, the edge of his sanity. You took it all from me, Timothy. Everything. Guzzled me down like a bottle of milk only to spit it out, just like the baby that you are. The grass was long, too long. He was supposed to mow it. The little red wagon no longer looked as he remembered it; the paint was worn and patches of rust spread out like a rash. One of the wheels was broken. You never did take care of your things. The block of concrete still lay crumbling on the ground from where it was smashed from the stoop. The porch light flickered on suddenly, as though triggered by a sensor. It threw the entire scene into sharp relief. And there it was. All the blood he'd forgotten to remember. His dad's baseball bat lay on the ground where he'd tossed it, the metal bent and scratched to shit. And there was dad, right where the bullet had left him - face to the ground and the whole back of his head through a meat blender. That's on you, Timothy. "Shut your fuckin' mouth about that shit," Timothy yelled. "I was just a kid." Tim took a few more steps. The stoop was only a few feet away. The door was open, only slightly. Just like he remembered. Knock, knock, who's there? Tim squeezed his eyes shut to fight off the tears he'd kept from weeping all those years. They came anyway. "No, please, no...," he whimpered. "I didn't mean to do it. I didn't mean to do it." He took the steps up to the front door and pushed it open further. Tim fell to his knees. His brother Michael's cherubic face was grey, not pink, like he remembered. His eyes were open but hazy, and his clavicle poked out beneath his tee-shirt, so soaked in blood he could barely see what his memory already knew; he'd been wearing his favourite Ninja Turtles shirt. Blood pooled beneath his body, and Tim saw, as he had then, that his legs were bent oddly. Tim wept over the scene, remembering. "He took Mr. Boo Bear," Tim whispered. "I wanted him back." Mr. Boo Bear was never yours to begin with. "Yes he was. Dad gave him to me. I remember." You never learned to share. "I didn't mean to! I didn't mean for any of it! He just fell!" Tim's eyes ran the length of the staircase. Saw in his mind's eye his dad coming upon the scene; his dad, seeing his youngest dead on the floor, his eldest at the top of the stairs. And what was the look on your face? Tim whimpered again, for whomever or whatever was talking knew the depth of his soul contained in the space of mere seconds after seeing his beloved brother tumble to his death. The smile he'd smiled before he knew anyone was looking told the truth within his heart. And in that second, his father knew, knew that his son's darkness was malignant. His dad missed Tim by only inches when he'd swung the bat and hit the stoop. It wasn't his fault for missing; after all, he'd tripped on the wagon. The neighbour's bullet, however, met its mark. Domestic dispute turned fatal, read the paper. Son nearly murdered by father if not for quick action of neighbour. Tim wanted to be sick. He looked at the ghost of his brother's corpse. But how can it rot? Tim swore the skin looked greyer than it had. There was a greasy, almost shiny appearance to the brow and cheeks. Michael's clothes looked tighter. The body was bloating. It rots from the inside out. "This isn't real. Mike's been gone for years," he said to nobody. It rots from the inside out. "Stop this, I want to wake up," Tim sobbed. "I want to wake up." Tim cried out suddenly as pain seared down his forearms. He jumped up with a yelp. He'd seen the wounds before. But they'd healed long ago. What did you do Timothy? What have you taken now? Monica. Monica was a prostitute he'd tried to stiff. She'd had long nails, he remembered. She used to scratch them down his back and when she figured out that Tim couldn't pay, she scratched those nails so hard down his arms that she drew blood. And what was it like? Tim sobbed. It's very hard to strangle someone to death. Much harder than it looks in the movies. "She hurt me first," he said to nobody. Knock, knock. Which door are you looking for? "Door, what door? I'm not looking for anything!" He stopped, startled by the vehemence in his own tone. But it rang a bell, somewhere. He had come for a reason, before everything turned upside down. "I was looking for The Alien," he whispered. No voice replied this time. All was quiet. Tim looked back to see his brother, but Michael was not there. No grey, greasy corpse skin, no bloody tee-shirt. No broken clavicle. Gone. So why didn't the rest of the apparition disappear? Tim turned and looked outside the front door - no wagon, no broken step, no blood, no body, and no bat. But the house was still the same, and all the houses on the street were still the same. He walked out onto the front yard and looked up at the attic window where he'd seen the light glowing like a beacon. There it was. It was still the only light on in any of the houses on the entire street. Tim went back inside. He half expected the horrible vision of his brother's corpse to return, but it didn't, and he took the staircase up the two flights to where the attic door was. He turned the familiar knob, but to his surprise, it wouldn't turn. The skin of his scalp crawled with creeping dread. He took a deep breath and knocked; the sound was immense and filled his head and filled all the dark spaces in the house. It sounded like it was not simply a wooden door that he'd knocked on, but a cast iron one, with knuckles not really made of flesh and bone but heavy metal. That's how loud it sounded in his head, like Tim existed in a strange vacuum where noise was amplified six times the norm. He staggered back, holding his ears. The ringing finally dissipated, and disproportionate to the loudness of the knock came a small voice from within. "Come in, dear," it said, the voice cracking. Tim pressed his ear to the door. Someone inside was crying. He heard a soft click and knew the door was unlocked, and tried the knob again. As soon as he entered, the light went out. All was silent but for gentle sniffles coming from a dark corner of the attic. Tim relaxed a little. "Who's there?" he asked. "Why has the light gone out?" "The light was never on," said the voice. "That's not true," he said. "I followed it here. I saw." "Come closer," said the voice. "I don't think so," said Tim. "Why are you crying?" "I'm crying because I've lost all my children. Come closer." "Who are you?" "You're looking for someone. Who?" "The Alien." "Well then, you're in the right place, my child. Come closer." "You're The Alien?" "Come closer." This time he did move closer. A little bit of light shone in from the streetlamps, and he made out the worn, old face of a woman. She sat on a rocking chair with a blanket over her knee. Now that he knew what he was dealing with, he laughed nervously. "You're The Alien. I don't believe it. An old lady." The old woman buried her head in her hands and sobbed. She sobbed and sobbed, until the noise became so great, like the knocking of the door, that it was all Tim could do not to strangle her; he thought of Cindy and shuddered. Old lady or not, she probably had muscle - tough guys - hidden in the dark spaces to do her dirty work for her. Tim took a seat on the floor and, remembering something he used to do for his mother sometimes, took the old woman's feet in his hands and began to rub them. The crying stopped. "You surprise me," she whispered. "I am glad. I have lost so many children already today." The old woman reached out and smoothed the hair from Tim's brow as if he were just a child himself. Something about the way her tears stopped so abruptly made Tim think she'd been faking it. "I've been looking for you," he said, rubbing around the dry skin of her heels. The old woman moaned softly. "I wanted to know something about Cindy." "Which one?" she asked. Tim thought about it for a moment. Which one? It dawned on him then that Cindy was also his mother's name, but he hadn't thought about his mother for many years. Actually that wasn't true; he'd thought about her today after seeing the lipstick on the cigarette. And just now, that he used to rub her feet. "Cindy from the street," Tim replied. "They say you killed her because she owed you money. I know you sort of run things." The old woman clicked her tongue. "What do you want to know, my child?" Tim took a minute to gather his thoughts as he rubbed in between the old woman's toes and around the bones of her ankles. "I took something from Cindy, and I just want to make sure she didn't die because of it." "What did you take?" "Ten bucks. I know it's not that much, but it might have been enough to get her killed if she owed that to you." The old woman sighed deeply. "It was her time, that is all." "Her time? How was it her time? I saw her lying in the street. She was murdered." "Yes, but it was also her time. Her death in that moment I had seen many, many years ago. Everything in her life led up to that point you see. Nothing could have changed it." Tim stopped rubbing. "What are you talking about? She owed you money I heard, and didn't have enough to pay, and so you killed her, or had her killed. Either way, she's dead, and I want to know if I could have stopped it." This time, it was Tim's turn for tears. "I've been fucking up all my life, but over something like ten fucking dollars... Cindy didn't deserve that." "You really surprise me, Timothy. And things rarely do. Yes, you killed Cindy, but in the same way that everybody else did, through everything that happened to her and by every decision she made throughout her life. And so everyone is responsible for everybody's death everywhere, always. You are responsible for Cindy's death as much you are responsible for every other thing that happens in this world. If you exist, you are culpable for the whole organism of which you are apart. But if you want to know if the ten dollars you stole triggered her death, no; her death was always coming to her, just as yours is coming to you." The way she said that made Tim's skin crawl. "What do you mean exactly?" The old woman began to cry again. As she did, Tim noticed for the first time movement in the dark - two large shadows flanking both sides of the old woman's rocking chair. They seemed to rise up and move towards him, bringing all the darkness in existence. Tim looked harder, and saw that it was not simply darkness that moved toward him in that attic, but that it carried, like a View-Master, horrible, faded images of his past, moments of terror, moments he'd inflicted pain, moments he'd known sadness and terror and pain himself. It reached into his soft parts and stabbed them right through with grief; the pain he felt was, for the first time, shame, raw remorse, and a deep, aching sorrow for what life he could have lived instead. The bleak images jumped from year to year in a non-linear way that conformed not to time, but theme: patterns of thoughts and feelings and misdeeds played out like one long, sad, evening news cast that lumps first all the stories of child abuse together, followed by instances of addiction, then stories of brutal violence followed by murder and then, finally, rape, in one easy to compartmentalize showing of all the worst parts of humanity. And Tim was the star of the whole show. In vivid detail he relived everything he'd ever done but with one brutal difference: he felt what his actions had felt like to those on the receiving end. Every little decision he'd ever made that benefited himself but hurt another, decisions that he'd justified at the time in all of the many ways people - whether selfishly or not - justify their actions, stabbed him right in the heart. Tears flowed freely down his cheeks as his right hand groped at the place in his chest where it hurt. As the last of the images played, Tim saw his body lying on a cold, dark floor - the same floor upon which he now sat. So this is how he would die, he thought: a heart attack. He felt his own fear of death keenly, for it spread further with every beat of his dying heart. Every beat pushed the pain further, like wind blowing burning embers, and as it did, so the darkness closed in. Tim lurched forward and let his body fall, prostrate, in front of The Alien. He wept for all of it - for all the sadness and hurts he'd caused, all of the anger and disappointment he'd manifested, and for his misdeeds and transgressions and everything he'd ever said or done that could have hurt or maligned or damaged. He wept for the man he'd become, and then wept for the small boy he'd been before any of it, and then something dawned on him just before he gave himself up to the darkness. Tim had suffered too. Suffered tremendously. The View-Master left out nothing of his past, but of course he'd only been looking for those pictures that validated his own deep-seated sense of self-loathing. He'd forgotten just how abused he'd been as a little boy, and by whom, and how badly it twisted him up. He'd done his very best to forget. But these things are never really forgotten. At the brink of death Tim understood what the old woman meant by what she'd said. And he forgave. And he was remorseful. And he forgave his mother. And he was remorseful. And he forgave his father. And he was remorseful. And he forgave the world, and he asked for forgiveness in turn, for he knew now, how the one had everything to do with the other, how everyone is interconnected and responsible and culpable for each other and their actions and consequences forever and ever and ever. Tim's heart sang despite the pain, as if this special knowledge had come to him on a breeze wafting through a gentle night, and not at the feet of an old condemner in the impossible attic of his childhood. "Get up," said The Alien. "I can see that you see. I said you surprised me, and you continue to do so." Tim sat up, the pain in his chest having evaporated. He blinked and looked around the room. The malignant darkness had evaporated too, leaving behind just a dim emptiness and the old woman, still sitting in her chair with the blanket on her knees. The room was different. "Come closer," she said. Tim looked around with wonder, seeing the world as if for the first time. The pain in his chest was gone, and he drew several deep breaths for good measure. Had he imagined it? No, he couldn't possibly, for The Alien still sat in front of him. He looked at her differently now. "I'm... I'm sorry," he said. "I think I passed out. I'd better go..." "Come closer," the old woman said again. Tim looked at the woman, still amazed that she was The Alien, the same one who ruled the streets. Something had happened to him though, and she was at the centre of it. But he wasn't scared anymore. Her weathered face was capped with smooth, white hair pulled back in a bun, and looked out with crystal-blue eyes that had friendly crows-feet at the corners of each; she could have been his own grandmother, for all he knew. And yet... And yet as he looked at her, Tim found a sense of youthfulness about her mouth that he hadn't noticed before; it was disconcerting. Whether it was the changing of the light in the room or the strange visions he'd had, when she opened that mouth to speak, it made him feel a vague sense of horror. "I said come closer, my child. Just a kiss and then you may go, redeemed." Her lips reddened while her tongue grazed two brilliantly white front teeth ever so lasciviously. It was a young mouth, Tim decided, the teeth just ever so perfect. He'd wanted her forgiveness, and now he just wanted to leave and get on with life anew. Only a kiss stood in his way. Tim sat up and rested his hands on either arm of the rocker, thinking only about his next steps - what he needed to do to clean up, get out of the city, and move on. "Closer, dear, my back isn't what it was." Tim nodded and moved his face nearer. Then, he stopped. A putrid smell wafted into his nostrils but before he could register what it was, the old woman leaned forward. The two rows of perfectly white teeth tore into the flesh of his nose. Tim screamed. The pain radiated out and through his face. She bit down harder, and shook her head like a dog. Hot blood gushed down the front of his face and into his screaming mouth, but still those perfect white teeth didn't let go. They clamped down like a thumbscrew until bottom met top and then it took very little effort to rip the whole thing off Tim's face. Tim fell back onto the floor, blood pouring out of the wound where his nose used to be. The old woman spat the nose into her hands before tucking it away in the folds of her blanket. It was the last thing Tim saw before blacking out from the pain.
When Tim finally awoke his nose was still gone, but he was alive, and free.