Just as the homeroom bell rang, signaling the tardiness of the morning stragglers, Taryn in a qualmish state inconsistent with Fridays, slipped into the girls’ bathroom. A train of bumptious fellow seniors paraded passed her making for their homeroom classes, with an air of negligence for time and consequences to which suburban teenagers seemed mightily entitled, as they sprayed the last of the perfumes and put the final feral strands of hair into good place.
Inspecting each stall carefully, Taryn pressed her fingers into the doors, swinging them open to ensure that she was alone. Over the years Taryn had been shamelessly lied to, told that things would get better, that the gut wrenching anxieties and insecurities that came with being a teenager would ease more with every passing day. Years had gone by and here she was, 17 and still no closer to this self-embracing nirvana than the piss-smelling cells of Alcatraz were to the rosy shores of San Francisco.
When she was sure that she was alone, she pulled her journal from her bag and began ripping out the pages, tearing them to shreds and stuffing them into the garbage. It wasn’t long before she was crying and the acknowledgement of the tears were only cause for more tears, as sadness was always more pathetic upon the discovery of itself, the weakling of the emotional spectrum. Crackling between her fingers, the pages came apart, dismantling her words and her most profound thoughts, only out of the necessity to prevent the contents from further vulnerability to the prying eyes of her mother who had been violating her privacy for years but only decided that what she read most recently was heinous enough to reveal her unequaled betrayal in a moment that swiftly turned into fierce battle that morning soon after her father left for work. Once the book had been gutted, Taryn yanked out a wad of bristly paper towels from their container and stuffed them in the trash to further conceal the secrets that were the atoms of her otherwise inconsequential existence. Committing herself to the last stall, she studied the cacography that the narrators of high school reality had scrawled on the walls which held such crude and cynical conviction that from the inside it would have been hard for a person to tell the bathroom walls of Forest Falls High school from those of London’s Bethlem Hospital. “Holley Blythe’s mom gives bjs to Coach Franklin in the fieldhouse on Tuesday afternoons after jr varsity football practice”, someone else documented that they were, “To high for this shit.” Another writing appeared to be started by one schizophrenically quixotical adolescent, “Kale and Lydia 4…” Taryn guessed that the word under the blob of cobalt blue Sharpie scribble was, … “ever”, but it was tough to see and the words, “…like 2 weeks because Lydia is a whore.”, had been jotted underneath in the same incriminating blue marker and last, the most precious pearl of high school insight was set dead center on the dirty foot-printed bathroom door, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.”
That afternoon as Taryn strode toward her neighborhood, the sun seemed to be sliding down early and the sky was becoming infused with a rich burnt orange color that was usually reserved for a time still hours away. With about 20 minutes until her afterschool tutoring session, Taryn took her time to admire the masterpiece composed of the seamless combination of colors in the sky.
On her street, Taryn took a customary pause and gazed up into the window of the Dodson home across the street. DC smiled timidly from his window as he waved. Sweet, but simultaneously terrifying, DC reminded her of a tamed circus animal, one moment cooing for treats and cuddles from the oblivious onlookers, but in the next powerless against its baser instinct causing it to rip off the arm of some silly human that got too close. Before deciding that they would be better off as friends, Taryn dated DC briefly and soon realized his aptitude for irrational anger. Likely a seed planted in the womb, but grossly overwatered in the last two years since a car accident put the budding soccer star permanently in a wheelchair. At times, DC’s anger became ravenous beyond recognition, the raging Audrey II to the sweet Seymour of him. No matter how benign, Audrey II sometimes found ways to rear her ugly head into situations, devouring the enchantment and belching out only blame.
Taryn recalled a particularly troubling occasion when DC had taken her out to the new little Italian restaurant in town. The overdressed host had taken them to a tiny little table in the back of the restaurant, complete with red and white checked table cloth that Taryn found cozy, but soon learned through his spine-tinglingly terrifying rant that DC regarded the placement as an obvious indignity targeting them only because they were an interracial couple, a rant she thought would have been more authentic coming from the actual minority of the pair. In the majority of times that he was not in a rage he was genuine and sincere, which is what Taryn liked most about him, but even then he could be emotionally exhausting, always wanting to know what she was thinking and needing her to confirm his feelings. Most girls would have loved a guy that cared about her feelings to the point of emotional Spanish inquisition, but that along with the bouts of blinding anger had been too much for their fragile teenage romance to endure, yet they still remained close and Taryn cherished him as a friend.
Waving with one hand, Taryn imitated a phone with the other which she then placed to her ear, indicating that she would call him later. She wouldn’t, she had already undergone about all of the psychological collapse that one girl could take in a day and she still had to get through this evening.
Hoisting her backpack, Taryn charged toward the Krepa home so as not to be late.
Ms. Krepa answered her knocks as if she had been standing by the door waiting. “Today is payday.” The woman shoved two crispy $20 bills toward Taryn’s face with her veined hands. “Reza’s math has improved greatly.”
“Yes, she’s doing really well, Ms. Krepa.” Taryn confirmed. “She’s a very smart girl.”
The woman’s chocolate eyes dragged the floor as if searching for words, “I was no good in math.” She finally offered.
The uncomfortable silence was thickening when Taryn finally spoke. “Well, I should get started with her.”
Ms. Krepa nodded in solemn agreement before vanishing into another room of the house.
At the end of the hallway deliberately kept black as night was the girl’s bedroom. By the time Taryn neared the door she could barely see her own hands in front of her. They performed an awkward dance in search of the door knob and when they found it, she knocked and turned the knob at the same time, “Reza? It’s me, Taryn.”
“Come in.” the petite girl’s tiny voice chirped as she turned languidly, moving like smoke, from one of many of her beloved natural landscapes that were taped to the wall.
Reza was radiant under the tawny glow of the dismal lamp light in an otherwise dark room. Her chamber had only one window which Taryn had attempted to peek out of once, early on, only to find that it was covered by three layers of heavy duty aluminum foil under the impenetrable blackout curtains that ensured that the room was free from even the tiniest speck of light.
Sunsets, beaches, mountains and other natural landscapes that Reza would never see plastered the walls and heralded the type of mind numbing sorrow that only extreme hopelessness could deliver and that only other extreme hopelessness could recognize, a nebulous namaste. The paralyzed pictures lived only in the shallow breaths of the now flickering lamplight that showed them in one moment and shadowed them in the next.
“You need another light bulb.” Taryn started toward the dresser where she knew they were stockpiled.
“What’s it like out there?” The girl asked, her powerful mane of curly black hair somehow managing to shine even through the dusty amber light that filtered through her room.
Two years ago an eccentric woman, short, with long black hair tickled with grays moved in next door to Taryn’s family in the middle of night, with a small girl in tow, which earned them the, not so special honor of being the target of suburban gossip for at least 6 months after their arrival. Taryn was forced to admit to herself, though she despised suburban scandalmongering, guised often by adults as just good natured concern, that she too was intrigued by the midnight woman who spoke to others little and moved most fluidly in the dark, a direct opposition to the colorful ethnic smocks under which she was always cloaked. One boiling summer afternoon, Taryn perked to her window when the woman dropped a punched colored item from one of her shopping bags. In the couple of seconds that it took for the woman to recapture the seemingly meaningless item and return it to the bag, Taryn made out that it was a dress for the ghostly girl that no one ever saw. Taryn ducked into the wall as the woman scanned her surroundings before shuffling into her house.
Just one week after Taryn’s photo appeared on the front page of the community newspaper (you know the one, bursting at the seams with dismal narratives of the local teacher of the month and the groundbreaking for the new strip mall parking lot) for winning the state math competition her mother answered the call of the doorbell and called hesitantly to her daughter.
Facing the peculiar neighbor lady in the doorway, with her mother standing only a few feet behind her created an awkward tableau infused with such an odd silence as to make the moment a lifetime memory.
“Tutoring for my daughter.” The woman finally said, holding up her copy of the newspaper that had been made partially wet by some spill. Ms. Krepa explained how her enigmatic 10 year-old daughter was homeschooled and rapidly surpassing her mother’s mediocre math skills. Agreeing immediately, Taryn would worry later about the mystery that shrouded her neighbors or even if she would be paid. Having any reason at all to get out of her house and shove a break into the mind-crushing, Preston, Idaho-like monotony was a good one.
When Taryn first began tutoring Reza, a girl who had not seen sunlight since she was 4 years-old, she was given a list of firm directives that were conveyed without a hint of joy, blunder or confusion. Every word to be not only heard but absorbed and fully ingrained, like instructions given before the fictional annual Purge, they were serious business. One of those directives was to NEVER talk about the outside. “It depresses Reza”, Ms. Krepa told Taryn simply.
Pausing at the girl’s request, she was sure that all of the thoughts milling through her head could be seen easily on her face like film on a projector.
A child of unparalleled insight, so much so that her acuity was at times unnerving and intrusive, Reza read Taryn’s mind, “I know my mother asked you not to speak of it, but I won’t tell her. I promise.”
“Reza, I shouldn’t.”
“It started 6 years ago. One day, I went outside and the sun was so bright that I could not see, but it was not the normal, momentary blindness that comes from stepping into light after prolonged darkness, but an endless blindness that blocked everything out. Pounding in my head would start, not stopping for hours even after returning to the forged darkness of my home. My skin would burn to blistering pulps and soon I could not go out at all. I haven’t seen the sun since I was 4 years old.”
“Reza-” Taryn began.
“My mother used to take me out at night, but stopped when I could no longer come into the house easily, I would throw a fit like a child forced to leave the park, but couldn’t help myself. I am lonely. In here, there is nothing to see and no one to talk to, but God. Only thing is, God doesn’t talk back. In a way, with this illness, I have been given infinite sight, but, even still, sometimes I fear I will go crazy. I am grateful for you, but I can barely even remember what it all looks like. Please.” The girl begged. “What’s our street like?”
First, studying the eyes of the fishing girl, then the sad sceneries that covered the walls, Taryn grieved for the child. Already, her life had been a tough one with her father leaving when she was 3 and this disease afflicting her at 4. Years in the darkness and yet to come were the most trying times of her life, jumbled with hormonal passions and a vexing relationship with a mother, who, herself who would be lost in the lunacy that was mothering a teenage daughter. Those years were similar, in chilling effect and difficulty to emerge from, to the hedge maze of The Overlook Hotel and Reza would be doing it all not only metaphorically, but literally in the dark.
Relenting, Taryn spilled the humdrum details of their street like bloody guts unto pristine white carpet. “Houses of different brick colors line both sides of the street. At the entrance to our neighborhood is a small but pretty rose garden.”
“Red roses?” Reza pressed, devouring Taryn’s every word, her eyes moved rapidly under closed lids as if in some exotic dream far away. Taryn supposed the girl’s imagination had been sharpened to a razor’s edge by years in darkness. Fluttering heavily now, the lamplight washed Reza’s beaming face in full glow then shied it once again into the shadows.
“All colors.” Taryn lied. “Red, pink, white and yellow.” Immediately tensing at her fib, she wondered why she would tell a lie so simple that it only varied the colors of flowers and she could extract no better reason than wanting to give a little more beauty to the world and she wasn’t sure if that fact made her more part of the solution or the problem.
“Are their kids my age? Of course there are. I hear them playing every day.”
“There are kids.” Taryn confirmed solemnly.
Rising from her seat with the elegance of a queen off her throne, Reza floated across the room to review one of her beaches ripped from the pages of a magazine.
“Is there an ocean?”
“Reza, we should get to work.” Taryn stated suddenly feeling remorseful for her psychological indiscretions with the child.
“Is there? That is it, the one last thing that I need to know.”
“Yes, there is an ocean close.”
Reza turned with tears budding in her eyes and she was almost bursting with a tempered joy. “Do you think I’ll ever see it?”
Taryn’s face dropped and before she could speak the lightbulb gave its last passionate pump, then died.
As soon as Taryn fumbled through the door, her hefty backpack weighing on her, she smiled. By feeling alone, Taryn could intuit exactly who was in the house. Both Taryn’s mother and father had distinct auras. Her mother’s was insecure, alarmed and agitated similar to the group sentiment of a crowd of overworked professionals evacuated mid work day from their building due to a false fire threat, somewhere between anxious and annoyed, but tense nonetheless. On the other hand, her father’s aura was relaxing but high-spirited. Today the house felt airy and kind and balanced her mother’s steely cold, her father was home early.
Animated chatter floated into the hall from her father’s television room and she hurried to drop her backpack next to her father’s golf bag before heading to greet him. Passing the kitchen, she hardened at the marmoreal figure lurking reticently inside, cleaning an imagined stain from the already spotless countertop.
“Hi mom.” Taryn spoke with a noticeable sigh.
“Taryn. How was your day?” Her mother asked, not bothering with eye contact or with giving her time to answer as the object of her conversation was not in the preamble. “Were you with Holley today?”
“Of course I was. She’s my best friend.”
A familiar tension grew between them eating up any feelings of maternal intimacy. Not long ago, Taryn came to the startling realization that it was not just her mother’s fault, but hers as well. Over the years her mother had tortured her with the constant bombardment of pink tutus when all Taryn wanted was tennis shoes and the roll of her disappointed eyes when Taryn expressed interest in Chess instead of pom poms. Taryn, not one for the bench, jumped fervently into the game of familial cold war with her fierce and open dislike of her mother’s (perfectly fine tasting) famous chicken lasagna and the extra-long all black fashion phase. It was an ignorant war of passive aggressions within which neither side ever seemed mature enough to want to cease fire and all in a daedalean quest to obtain love, pride and recognition from one another.
“You should start hanging out with Lisa again.”
Lisa Bradshaw, her mother’s teen dream. Bradshaw had been Taryn’s best buddy since the time they were tots tumbling over one another at local Easter egg hunts and birthday parties, but as the end of middle school approached, they, as do so many other adolescents who have recently configured their own pubescent stench, smelled each other, ewl’d and grew apart.
An 8th grade Lisa Bradshaw could have been summed up in the juxtaposition that was the gross overgrowth of her makeup and the serious shrinkage of her clothing. To Taryn’s mom, Lisa Bradshaw had blossomed into some exotic, flowering phenomenon, but to Taryn the transformation more resembled chocking vines, growing unchecked until they swallowed completely what was once a striking and unique home. Why can’t you be more like Lisa? Taryn’s mom frequently said without saying, pointing out Lisa’s picture on the school’s website as Cheerleader of the Month (Seriously? What does that even mean?), but hardly acknowledging the fact that Taryn herself was a state math champ. “Is that Lisa’s boyfriend driving that Mercedes? I hear his parents are very well off.” She stated casually on another occasion as if driving a luxury car made you a good person, as if any of the superficial BS mattered. And while Taryn had zero aspirations to being anything like the fatally flawless, little miss perfection, small town USA otherwise known as her former best friend, Lisa Bradshaw, the incessant comparisons hurt. It was a feeling of fundamental inferiority like that of a woman who quietly nursed one failed pregnancy after another sitting in the office of her OB/GYN surrounded by sunny women sporting rounded bellies and their crazily grinning husbands, carrying within them magical little bundles of joy while she carried nothing more than a raging yeast infection.
“We haven’t been friends for years, Mom”, Taryn said before shuffling toward the den without her mother ever looking up.
“Hey there!” her father’s smile took up half of his face.
“Hi, daddy.” She said, falling unto the couch beside him and into his arms as he brought her in for a monster side hug and a kiss. On the tube, a mousy anchor woman whose exasperated disposition revealed her cognizance of her menial local crap reporter status, rattled on inexpertly about a dismal group of doomsdayers in the background that had come together in the middle of downtown to prepare for the rapture that was to take place the next day.
“How long will you be home this time?” Taryn asked, fighting back the tears. Even at his age her father was gifted with the rambunctious charm of a middle school homecoming king. Daring and gracious, his eyes flashed with a ferocious enthusiasm that seemed blissfully out of step with the world around him or at least with the sphere inside of this home. Perhaps, Taryn thought, his frequent business trips were filled with hookers and whiskey. She didn’t know and hardly cared as long as he was content and continued to come home accompanied by that peaceful aura that seemed to be one of the only things that made her life bearable.
“A week, maybe two if I play my cards right. What is this garbage?” He asked hypothetically as he fumbled with the remote before changing the channel to football.
He could feel Taryn’s upset. Paul was bonded to his daughter since the day she was born and their connection had only been cemented in her teen years unlike the relationship with her mother that had been strained from the beginning, the workings of which now reminded one of a loveless but lasting marriage with no end in sight.
“She reads my journal.”
“Look at me, skittle.” He said, skittle, a nickname that Paul gave his daughter the summer she turned six when it became apparent that the colorful bits were her favorite. “I get that things have been rough between you and your mother, especially with me being gone so much, but I promise that things will get better. Listen, if things don’t get better within three months, I will look for another job, one where I can be home.”
“Really?” Taryn questioned in surprise as she had never heard her father speak of changing his job.
“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it anyway. I’m getting older and all of the travel is getting to be too much.”
Cocking her head, Taryn studied her father’s expression, she knew all of them. The curve of his lips drawing perfectly the perimeter of disillusionment and the always powerful glint in his eyes momentarily dulling into candor then brightening insincerely like the flickering light of Reza’s room.
“I just want to be here for you, honey.”
“She told you!” Taryn cried, fleeing to her room, the slamming of her door sealing the fate on the tone of the evening.
As expected, dinner was awkward as even her father had trouble initiating durable conversation. Breaking the silence, its thickness filling everyone’s mouth like the dreadful salt water taffy of roadside carnivals, Taryn gave up and spoke, “I’m done. May I be excused?”
“Of course, honey.” Her father agreed against the silent but screaming objections of her mother.
Taryn thanked her father, grateful for his willingness to turn a blind eye from the tower on her jailbreak from the prison of their family dinner table.
As Taryn undressed to shower, her computer belched a piercing ring and she hurried to silence it before her parents heard. Holley’s name was broadcast in big letters in a bubble on the screen.
“Don’t tell me you’re already in bed; it’s Friday night, Taryn. You want to catch movie or something?”
“I can’t. Besides the fact that this has been one of the longest days of my life, I have an early tutoring session in the morning.” Taryn spoke dryly to the girl that she could hardly understand how she had become such close friends with. Not that Taryn was getting her head flushed in the toilet or anything but she wasn’t the type that hung out with girls like Holley, the gorgeous, but studious type that was somehow so uncharacteristically comfortable in her own teenage skin that she was magic to be around to everyone from the thespians to the jocks, right on up to the principal.
“Haven’t you heard? It’s the rapture tomorrow. Stay up as long as you want, you can sleep late.”
They both laughed, “Yeah, right.” Taryn responded.
“I know for a fact that I’m one of those horrible sinners who will be left behind.” Holley joked.
“Yeah, me too.” Taryn said. A jest half filled with humor and half with fear.
Coughing gently, Holley rubbed her throat. At once she was having trouble breathing, desperate calls for help choked in her larynx before they could do any good.
An eggplant shade of purple flushed through Holley’s face and she slumped unto her bed.
“HOLLEY?” Taryn felt her body lift from the bed as she prepared to scream for her father.
“The…rapture…” Holley croaked before breaking up.
“Hilarious.” Taryn quipped drearily.
Holley laughed, “You really are a dud tonight, aren’t you? So do you want to get lunch tomorrow or what?”
“Later.” Taryn closed her computer as she wondered how she would get through tomorrow let alone the rest of her life. Being a teenager was a phase hard to grow into, a transition filled with the breathtaking angst of an impatient 5th grade girl studying the mirror daily, waiting for the physical revolution that would graduate her from bare chest to full buxom bosom glory. For a stage that took so long to grow into it had not been at all what she expected yet it was a part of her life that seemed even more difficult to emerge from due to the fear that she may never fit into anything else. At least she now knew “teenager” and as disheartening as it was much of time it had grown strangely comfortable like a ratty old quilt from grandma’s house, stinking of moth balls but always warm.
Breaking lethargically from her trance, Taryn slid from her bed and finished undressing. She wrapped herself in a towel and opened her door to see her mother standing staunchly as if she had been waiting, “You do know that Holley is not that way, don’t you? When she finds out about your feelings for her, she will want nothing to do with you and do you think that Ms. Krepa will want you around Reza?”
Before the cemented routine of conjoint coldness could bring her to her senses, Taryn lunged toward her mother. As far as Taryn could tell, she was not strangling her but hugging her mother which burned her eyes with tears of relief. Immature teenage emotions of hate were an inelegant phase of life that Taryn was sailing passed like slumber parties and prank calls. What she feared now was the powerful indifference, the “that’s just the way things are” that fed parasitically on many significant relationships, eating them away while people turned their heads like pressing medical symptoms ignored because pretending that they didn’t exist was easier than diagnosis and treatment. Indifference was worse than hate because at least with hate, there was hope, with indifference there was nothing on the dry road ahead but cringe-worthy, emotionless courtesies.
There was solace in the virtue of taking ownership for her part in everything in the universe including relationships that had long been off-kilter. A couple of weeks before, Taryn found herself watching Dr. Phil over her mother’s shoulder from the kitchen. A man child rambled on teary eyed and red-faced about the shamble that had become his life because his mother loved him too much, a helicopter mom, he called it, doting on him and giving him everything that he ever longed for, including love, too…much…love. What a crock. It was then that she realized that you could blame anyone for virtually anything, especially your mother, loving you too little or too much, giving you all of the freedoms in the world or none at all, picking you up from school or letting you ride the bus, pancakes as opposed to French toast for breakfast. Apparently, the list was endless. Despite varying circumstances life had a way of tainting us all no matter how innocent our start, like a house cat escaping down into the neighborhood sewer then returning home to track shit all over the carpet. We all had shit on our shoes, real or imaged, the only difference was how we chose to deal with it. Taryn had heard her mother sniffling as she watched the man continue condemning his mother for his life before she slinked back to her room.
Releasing her mother, Taryn stepped back to look at her. “I love you.” She said before pressing passed the painfully thin woman, into the bathroom where she closed and locked the door behind her. In the mirror Taryn saw not someone saddled with a title of trivial categorization, but a regular girl who only ever wanted for something, someone…anything to rock her soul. Wasn’t that what everyone wanted?
After dangling under a hot shower until the water began to run cold, she returned to her room and her eye was immediately drawn to the nightstand where her mother had left her Bible, it was pink with green flowers.
Just as Taryn pulled on her gown and crawled into bed, there was a knock on the door, “Just came to tuck you in.” Her father peeked inside.
“Daddy, I’m too old to be tucked in.”
“Skittle, you’re never too old to be tucked in.” He said as he kissed her hand. “Things are going to get better, I promise you and no matter what, no matter what, I will always love you and I will always look at you with the same awe and wonder that I did when I first held you. Nothing will ever change that.”
Taryn nodded without a word as she knew if she spoke, the sound of her own faltering vocals hobbled by emotion would kick off a wave of tears she had recently lost her once masterful ability to control. All she wanted tonight was peace.
After her father left, she reached out to turn off her bedside lamp but instead her hand found the Bible that had been left for her and she began flipping through the pages.
John 8:32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
1 John: 4:7-8 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness
James 4:12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and destroy. Who are you to judge another?
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
Taryn knew that she had been sleep only because she woke.
Eyes fluttering, Taryn struggled to hold tight to pieces of a dream that were vanishing down into the untouchable parts of her psyche like ghosts returning to the grave before sunrise. Before she knew it everything was gone, but the still dissipating echo of a distant blare that sounded as if it were spit from the mouth of some mechanical beast. Turning into the sunlight that seeped in through the drapes, she basked in its brilliance and even through closed eyes the light from outside penetrated into her brain, down her neck and through her whole body filling her with warm, sparkling cracks of light, heat and new life. She rose to peek through the blinds, the abandoned streets still silent except for the eager prattling of automatic sprinkler systems. Few were the animations that made the street outside of Taryn’s window still seem alive, the wind ruffling the heads of the trees, the twinkle of the sunlight on the pavement as it ascended into the sky like a lazy child rising for school on the first day after a long break. Had it not been that Taryn was reveling in this illusory peace she would have recognized the unnatural consistency of the quiet. Even at this time of morning, Mr. Harrison would have been nearly done mowing his perfect lawn or at least one or two cars would have already hurried up the street in route to some forgotten appointment. Taryn looked at the clock on her bedside table that still read 12 a.m. “Great” She mumbled to herself, realizing that the power had gone out during the night.
Shuffling up the covers she found her cell phone whose screen was unapologetically black. “You have got to be kidding me.”
After throwing on a pair of torn jeans, a navy shirt and boots she grabbed her backpack on her way into the hall. If she could get some coffee and a breakfast bar before her mother woke and she was forced to suffer the hodgepodge of fiery emotions tempered with cold greetings that in some discombobulated way formed what she and her mother called a relationship then the day would be a success before it had even begun. Pulling a k-cup from the pantry, she heard a gurgling that reminded her of the bathtub drain sucking down the last of the water into the pipes.
Following the noise to one of the windows that overlooked the backyard, Taryn spotted her mother, the back of her rode covered in grass and patches of dirt. She stumbled in an aimless frustration like a person recently blinded struggling to navigate the home they once knew well.
“Mom.” Taryn called as she pulled open the back door.
With a surly grunt of surprise she turned to her daughter who was nothing more to her now than a source of satisfaction for the deep hunger that gave her new existence feral purpose, unfettered with the lesser emotion of love, made from the fibers of memories like her daughter’s birth and the way it felt when she first lay Taryn on her chest and felt their heartbeats come into sync. Vacant, milky white balls rolled lazily in her eye sockets trying to focus. Once rich in color, her mother’s skin was now drooping and pale, awash with the indigos of inflamed veins rising up with perfect clarity. Before plunging toward her the monster released a shrill wail that smashed through the morning quiet with wrecking ball ferocity. Taryn slammed and locked the door just before the creature could come sailing through. As she backed away she looked down to her legs now trembling so violently she felt like an amateur wobbling on stilts. “Mom…” she whispered, as if her pleading voice alone could return the rabid beast, now throwing itself violently into the back door with full power before backing up to repeat the behavior, to the mother she had known just the night before.
Her heart sputtered when she heard labored wheezing close behind her. Vertigo crashed over her like a tidal wave and it took her a second to realize that she was not going to faint which left her with but one choice. Turning, she faced the thing that was now trespassing in her father’s body having drained him fully of color and life. Her idea of making a run for it was short-lived as the thing lashed out, tripping her after only one step. Sailing to the ground, she managed to take the buffet of kitchen counter items down with her. Flipping unto her back with ninja-like precision, her fundamental yearning for survival was activated. Perspective shifted and she toggled helplessly between performer and spectator in what had transformed from mundane morning routine to fierce fight to the death. Against her forearm, Taryn felt her father’s now rubbery neck skin as she fought with every strand of her being to keep the rotting teeth from taking a huge bite. With her strength waning, Taryn knew she would not be able to keep the thing from gnawing through her neck for much longer.
All of the knives were just out of reach as the hot aroma of decay crept closer to her lips from her father’s mouth. Taryn reached her unrestricted arm further and just as her forearm gave, she clasped her free hand to the roundness of the familiar object and slammed the pointy end of the meat thermometer through her father’s chin until she felt it rip through the back of his skull, pulling the plug on the vicious chomp of his jaw just as his mouth came to final rest on her face, she pulled herself from under the only man that she had ever loved. It wasn’t the time, but by now she had little more control over her emotions than a child had over their bike freshly stripped of training wheels and she collapsed into chest convulsing sobs.
Only in the repeated splintering crack of the door was she able to find reason to rouse herself. Grabbing one of her father’s golf clubs she threw open the front door and she felt herself being grabbed and pushed up against the wall. “Quite!” the voice demanded before she could scream.
Taryn did her best to adjust to the blocked visuals of her surroundings cast under layers of shadow then sunlight, momentarily seeing the world through a psychological View-Master. After concentrating her sight, she found DC standing before her, his hands grasping her firmly.
“Are you ok?” The pair stared into each other’s eyes for only a second before embracing fiercely.
“Your legs?” Taryn said, pulling away.
“I can’t explain it, I have no idea what’s happening.” It was the only response he could offer for the sudden and unexplained functioning of his legs.
“The rapture.” Taryn exclaimed.
Taryn stuttered trying to clarify, “The rapture. It’s today. It’s…it’s when God returns to take his children back to heaven, but only he leaves the sinners behind.”
“Sinners? Taryn, you don’t believe-” DC started.
Ignoring the confusion that then took its turn rolling over his face, Taryn pressed, eager for spiritual companionship as they dredged the mayhem, “What did you do?”
Surround sound of screams and guttural groaning kicked in with astounding clarity.
“Where are your parents?” He asked.
“My father is dead and my mother is outside but she’s coming through that back door any moment.”
DC looked into the house and closed the door.
“Your phone?” Taryn looked down to his hands but there was only a bloodied bat where any normal teenager’s phone usually docked.
“They don’t work. None of them work.” DC informed her. “I think this is happening everywhere.”
Their eyes met at the sound of the back door crashing down.
“We need to get to my dad’s truck.” DC instructed as he grabbed her hand tightly and led her across the yard. “Stay down.” He warned. “There aren’t a lot of people on the street yet, but they keep coming.”
The shrill and uninterrupted ringing of the National Emergency Alert System blared from someone’s open window. As they crept across yards littered with bikes and basketballs, it struck Taryn that what just yesterday was ordinary was now foreign as these objects reflected a population of living, breathing, reasoning animals that were now swept from the planet as easily as dust out the front door. A young neighborhood girl walked aimlessly across the street, lychee balls rolling in her eye sockets, blood covering her powder blue robe, in her hand a stuffed bunny, the single, subconscious strand of the day before.
“Oh my god.” Taryn whispered.
“Don’t look, just follow me.” DC instructed.
A sweet, candied voice came down from the sky, “Good morning,”
Taryn and DC spotted a tranquil Reza sitting Indian-style on the roof of her home staring up into the rising sun.
“Reza? What are you doing here? You’re outside.” Taryn whispered in amazement.
“Come up.” Reza invited them. Taryn looked into the darkness that awaited them through the open front door of the Krepa home.
“Where’s your mother Reza?” Taryn inquired subtly.
“She was gone when I woke this morning. Sometimes she had trouble sleeping and went out to the 24 hour mart in the early morning hours to get a soda. I imagine that is where she was when this all started. There is no one here but me.”
Another chorus of monstrous wails on the street pushed them into the home without further risk assessment. They navigated up the stairs of the darkened house to the room with the open window.
“It’s a pretty day isn’t it?” Reza asked as DC and Taryn climbed onto the roof.
“Do you know what’s happening Reza?”
“I do.” The girl responded serenely.
“Is it the rapture?”
“Yes, it is.” Reza confirmed.
“But why? Why are you still here? You’re just a girl, what sins can you have committed to deserve this?”
“Sins? What does this have to do with sins?”
Ignorant of religious studies that went beyond 8th grade Sunday Bible school, the point at which Taryn had thrown fits that eventually allowed her to stay home with her father on early Sabbath mornings, Taryn hesitated, “Well isn’t that how this works? All of God’s children are taken up to heaven except for the sinners? They get left behind.”
“We’re all sinners. What God quibbles in qualitative analysis of human sin? We are all members of this realm by God’s specific invention. Sure, in inferior human perspective many things, abnormalities, defects, or straying of any kind from the needlepoint of standard can distort our view, but there is no useless piece to this masterfully designed mechanism. We were all to face challenges, some more openly than others. Failure does not equate to doom, only re-assimilation into the upper, outer world. But be sure that you two are not part of the failed ones, you are strong beyond measure and you are left behind because you are the chosen.”
“Chosen? For what?” DC interrupted.
“You and others like you are the soldiers of the last epic war. You now have heroic tangible strengths that you lacked in the day before.”
“There are others?” Taryn asked.
“Yes, of course, but you will lead. Your power is love, it can heal the living and so can you now too.”
“What about you?” DC asked.
“I am your seer. Where I once lived in the dark, my sight will now guide you. DC is your strength.”
“What about those things? My mother?” DC asked.
“Flesh only. Reanimations of the enemy. Your families, like mine have been taken and root for you from the outer world.”
“What is this war about?” Taryn needed to know.
“This war is about everything that life was about. God reclaiming the lost children, especially the one that got away.”
“You don’t mean…” DC began.
“Yes.” Reza confirmed.
“This can’t be real.” DC countered.
“Look around you.” Reza reminded him.
Taryn had a million questions, “But if he is our enemy. How can we defeat our enemy and reclaim him at the same time?”
“The answers will be revealed to us along the way.” Reza said as she stood studying the dark clouds in the distance that began to roll in on some possessed tide. Taryn and DC stood behind her.
“Let us prepare. The war has begun.” Reza commanded as the deafening screams of masses of demons rose up.
Taryn spoke the only words that made any sense at all, “Holy shit.”
Jean Nicole Rivers
@jeannicole19 (Instagram and Twitter)
Amazon Page for BWT: The Unwanted: http://tinyurl.com/hqnhrj2
Amazon Page for BWT: The Secret Keepers: http://tinyurl.com/hnyztjo