Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What Remains, part 8

Jim sat in the driveway, listening to the ticking of the engine as it cooled. The shade of Lisa was still there, her silent company was both healing and unnerving. He was afraid she would slip away, again, but as often as he'd seen her.

It was almost eleven at night when they drove up, and they had sat for a moment longer, in silence, listening to the children breathe. He had the windows down and could feel the breezes picking up as the night cooled. The moon was near full, now, and it made the plains shimmer as the swaying grasses reflected the light.

He looked at the attic window, then noticed pale light coming from beyond the children's room.

"It's a little late for Janice and Rachael to be up." He said.

"I'm not sure. It is probably Rachael, she keeps odd hours." Lisa paused, "You did shake them up a bit. If you could help them calm down, it would mean a lot to me."

Jim nodded.

"I'll get the kids inside," he said.

He leaned into the car door and moved outside.

"Oh, that's just weird." Lisa's voice murmured from the front seat.

"What's weird?"

There was no response.

He looked through the window and Lisa had vanished. His brow furrowed and his heart sunk a little. Then he realized he should roll up the windows in case any bugs decided to make the car their home. He opened the door and the shade jumped as he sat in the seat.

"Oh! You're back."

"I didn't leave, you... disappeared."

He turned the key to start the car, then rolled up the windows.

"I disappeared? Huh."

He opened the door again and watched the shadow as he backed out of the car, there was a moment where the cohesion of her image started to blur and all he saw was the doll sitting in the seat. He moved back in and the darkness coalesced again.

She let out a yip as he moved back in.

"Now that is scary." She breathed, "What are you doing?"

He wasn't sure, but there was a tug in his memory that told him it made sense.

"I'll tell you about it when I make sense of it." He paused, "So, uh, is that you?"

He reached toward her, pressing his hand through her darkness, in response, she let a disconcerted grunt.

"Please don't do that." She said with aggravation, "I feel unreal enough as it is."

He gripped the doll and pulled back and Jim looked it over. On the back of the doll was a small stitched name.

"Lisa." He read in the moonlight.

They were silent for a moment.

"It's not a very good likeness, is it." She said quietly.

Jim shuddered as realization hit him.

"All of the dolls? All of them?" He pressed his hand to his heart, feeling its tempo throbbing in his temples.

"I had an interesting childhood." She said.

"You sure did a good job at not saying anything about it." He said, incredulous.

"Would it have made a difference? Being crazy doesn't really reel in the guys." She said, sullenly.

He nodded at that. The reasons why she left were coming together. It made him think of how this would also affect him.

"I'm afraid to take this out of the vehicle. Do you think you'll be OK?" He asked her.

"It was how I got in, wasn't it?" The shade shrugged against the moonlit backdrop and Jim responded in kind.

He tucked the doll under his arm and stepped out of the vehicle. He leaned in and picked up Daniel first. The boy stirred warmly against him as he moved through the night air and opened the front door. As soon as he stepped through the door and Lisa's shade appeared to meet him, standing uncomfortably by the stairway, but she said nothing.

Jim moved upstairs, and saw the light from the hallways, where the Aunts kept their room. Janice's head was up and looking into the darkness of the hall and Rachael was laying back in the bed, wearing her usual nightgown.

He moved quickly into the bedroom and laid Daniel down, the moved back down the hall to where Rachael lay.

"Is she OK?" He asked.

Janice dabbed at her eyes and looked up.

"She collapsed shortly after you left. She's resting now, but I'm worried for her."

He looked over her features, she seemed barely more than skin and bones. He'd noticed since the first day that she had an uncharacteristically waif-like build to her.

"Is she sick?" Jim asked.

Janice shrugged, but didn't elaborate.

"I have to go get Abigail, she's in the car. I'll be right back."

She nodded and turned back to her sister. There was a mix of emotions, but a sense of loss bubbled above them all.

He unbuckled Abigail from the seat. Her dark hair spilled over her skin and the freckles that splashed across her nose and cheeks and darkened more from playing in the sun. He breathed deeply and pulled the string of her necklace up until it lay he could look at it more closely.

Then slipped his hand around the stone and squeezed it. He waited for a moment, stroking the stone between his fingers, but he felt nothing untoward. He thought back to Adam, and how it nearly stopped his heart. Jim could almost believe it was coincidence, but, likely, there was more to it. He let the stone slip from his fingers and gathered Abigail from the seat.

Abigail stirred.

"Jim?"

The word sounded odd to Jim. He looked at her, concerned, the word sent a chill down his spine.

"Yes?"

"Rachael needs me." She said, leaning back and looking up at me.

The moonlight caught her eyes, and they appeared darker than her usual bright blue.

"What can you do for her?"

"Be there. That's all." She said, then pulled into me, snuggling under my chin.

Jim's nerves jangled as he pushed through the front door and carried her up the stairs. She struggled a little as they neared the top and he set her down. She turned, without looking back, and put her hand to her chest. She fingered the red stone unconsciously as she down the hall toward Janice and Rachael.

Janice cupped her hand over her nose and mouth and tears began to stream over her hand. She shook her head as she watched Abigail come close to the bed side.

"No. Not yet." Janice said, heartbreak trembling in her voice.

Jim turned at and sat at the top of the stairs, he turned and watched quietly from the darkness.

Abigail spoke, but barely above a whisper, and Janice began to sob. Jim's earlier chill coalescing into goosebumps and his hands began to shake.

She put her young hand over Janice's that leaned against the bed. She removed the necklace and put it into Rachael's hand and they held it together.

Rachael shuddered, her form tensing for a moment. Her eyes fluttered opened and her back arched, then she slowly settled back, her eyes closing as she sunk into her bed as if she were sleeping. Jim watched for a moment. Rachael's chest was now still.

There was silence until Janice's voice, sounding thin and reedy, began to wail.  She dropped to her knees at the foot of the bed, gripping the quiet Rachael's feet through the sheets that lay over her.

Abigail took the necklace, replaced it on her neck, then leaned into Janice, where they both shook with sobs together.

Tears filled Jim's eyes, but he wasn't sure if it was for the loss of Rachael.

It was now impeccably clear that whatever was in that room was not his daughter.