I heard them out there. Something moving around on the front porch.
I turned the volume down on the TV and poked two fingers in the blinds, opening just enough to take a peak. The light was on over the covered patio; a bare bulb hanging from a single fixture that only lit up the space directly in front of the door. There was nobody there, I thought. Just the wind.
Something moved along the back wall, and then I saw her step out of the shadows. Just a little thing and so thin. She was only seven, and Lori hadn’t changed much since they put her in the ground.
She still wore the same white dress, not so pretty anymore. Age and ruin had turned it a nicotine yellow and there were streaks of dried mud all down the front of it. Lori’s hair was caked with dirt and hung limp in her face, which was lowered so that all I could see were her eyes. They were dark eyes, hollow and flat. That was the worst thing, I think. Her baby blues used to shine.
She tilted her head and I saw a smile creep up on her colorless lips. She saw me, and suddenly I didn’t want to be seen.
You’re dreaming Sara Ray. That’s all this is.
But I knew that was wrong.
Lori dug her nails into the wall, leaving long, deep gashes in the wood. Her eyes never left mine as her hands worked. Her nails were broken and yellow, and there was something feral about the way she moved. She cocked her head and laughed.
“No, baby,” I said. “You’re dead. I know that because I killed you.”
I remember everything about that day. The accident. The busted glass. The screech of rubber tires on wet pavement. The sound of my kids screaming. I’ll never forget those things because I carry them around inside me, every day, every sleepless night.
It should have been me. I was the one drinking. It was my fault, so why was I the only one to walk away?
The paramedic told me my blood alcohol level was 2.3. I had been at a going away party for my baby sister, who was heading off to college. I underestimated how much I drank that night. By the time I picked the kids up at the babysitter, I thought that I was sober enough to make it home. We didn’t live far away. Only a couple blocks.
I was wrong. I went to the hospital and my children went to the morgue.
The door opened in the kitchen. I heard the latch pop and I froze. I glanced at the front door. Dead bolt where it was
supposed to be. Thumb lock turned in the right position.
The door in the kitchen opens onto the back yard. Lori was still on the front porch, making those horrible mewling sounds. If she had come back, then that probably meant they were all out there somewhere, and one of them had just come in through the kitchen.
I waited, listening, holding the air in my chest until it hurt.
The old rusted hinges creaked as the door was pushed open wider. I shuddered and swallowed the breath I was holding. Throwing a hand over my mouth, I told myself to be quiet. Just be quiet.
The house was utterly still, but I could hear whoever had come into my kitchen just standing there, breathing. Low, hoarse and rapid quick. Open mouthed breathing. Then footsteps, soft and clumsy. Then nothing.
I stood there like an idiot, trying to breathe, trying not to breathe, wondering what to do.
It began to laugh, a high pitched, playground kind of sound. Exactly how I would imagine a dead child would laugh.
I bit my hand to keep from screaming, but it was no good. I screamed.
A thump at the front door and I jumped. I lifted the blinds and saw Lori’s face, only inches from the window glass. Her teeth were exposed, her lips curled around her gums. Asa stood behind her, his hands on her shoulders. The big brother. Raven hair and intense eyes, just like his daddy. He lifted his head into the light just enough so that I could see the stitches across his throat, black thread that no longer held the rotting flesh together.
I felt something creeping up behind me, but when I turned there was nothing but air between me and the kitchen. Whatever was hiding in there wasn’t laughing anymore. It wasn’t doing anything, and somehow that was worse.
Asa moved around his sister, his damaged face leaning into the window.
We’ve come home, Mama. Let us in.
I pulled back off the couch and almost tripped over my own stupid legs. I looked toward the kitchen, but I knew I couldn’t go out the back way. Something was waiting for me there.
I looked toward the stairs, but that felt wrong somehow. A bad decision.
That only left the basement. I could lock the door from the inside and wait until morning. Concrete walls. Concrete floor. Maybe things would be better when the sun came up. That’s how it was done in the movies anyway.
I ran for the basement door. As I did the window behind me shattered and I heard the blinds come down with a crash. I didn’t turn, knew that if I did, if I saw what was coming through that window, I would lose it. I reached for the basement door, threw it open and flung myself into the darkness.
I ran down the wooden stairs, heard them groaning underneath my feet, and almost forgot to lock the door. It was so dark I couldn’t see a thing. Not even my own hand in front of my face. I didn’t want to go back up those stairs, but if I didn’t lock that door they would follow me.
This was a stupid idea, I thought, feeling around for the door knob. Just as I found the lock one of the kids hit door from the other side.
Mama! Open the door, Mama. We need you.
Down the stairs again, clinging to the wall, not wanting to fall. Once I reached the floor I put my hands to my ears.
“Jesus help me.” I said this under my breath. A prayer. A curse.
I sat cowering in a corner of my basement, listening to my children laugh up at the top of the stairs.
Let us in, Mama. I’m so cold.
I don’t like the basement. It’s cold and always moist down there. There is a light, just a single bulb that can be turned on by pulling a long string. I tried it but it was burnt out.
Open the door! We want to play.
An icy shiver passed through my body as a thought occurred to me. I saw Lori on the front porch. And Asa. Ginger was in the kitchen. I had seen her there, crouching behind the wall, before I went down the basement stairs. But where was Anna? Where was my baby girl?
I heard movement along the far wall of the basement. Something fell to the floor and rolled. Maybe a ball.
Anna was my precious little girl. Strawberry blonde hair and the deepest emerald eyes. I try to remember her this way, but when I close my eyes I see the other image of her, after the accident. Her body was broken, twisted in places that it shouldn’t be. Her face, oh god her beautiful face! All cut up from the glass. She was thrown, you see, because she wasn’t wearing a seat belt. I forgot to fasten it.
The air shifted just in front of me, movement just as gentle as a sigh. I was trembling so bad I could hear my teeth rattling against each other. My face was wet with tears.
A hand fell on my arm and I screamed. The hand was small and cold. Its fingers curled around my wrist softly.
Mama, don’t cry.
My baby girl had come home. The sobs ripped out of me then like waves.
I felt Anna sit down next to me, her hand still on my arm. There was a sudden, shocking chill coming from her body, and she smelled like the earth we buried her in.
At the top of the stairs, my other children were throwing themselves at the door. I could hear them hit it with a meaty thud, hear the door rattle in the jam, hear them laugh like it was a game. They would break it down soon. It was only a matter of time.
I love you Mama.
“I love you too, Anna.”
She let out a heavy sigh, as if the weight of the world were on her shoulders, and I smelled the foul air coming out of her useless lungs.
I’m sorry Mama.
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry too. I’m so very sorry.”
The door at the top of the stairs buckled. Not a very heavy door. Cheap.
Anna shifted next to me, and I sensed her rising up on her knees. She pulled her hand away from my arm, her touch still lingering on my skin.
The lock broke and the door banged opened. Footsteps coming down, bare feet slapping on wood.
I closed my eyes, breathing. Just breathing.
We want to go for a ride, Mama.
“No. No, please.”
A pain so sudden and bright hit me at my knee. Was that a bite? I leaned back against the concrete wall, put my hand to my leg and felt something warm and wet.
Take us for a ride, Mama. TAKE US!
Anna had begun to growl. I could picture her there in the darkness, my blood on her lips. All around me I heard the shuffling feet of my children, closing me in. Hearing was worse than seeing, I think. Their presence was bearing down on me, but I didn’t want to die.
I flung my hand and hit one of them. I heard a thump as the one I hit fell to the floor. My leg was throbbing where Anna had bit me, but I had to get up, had to get out of there.
I’m gonna die, I thought. She bit me and I’m gonna die! Turn into one of them!
Too many horror movies.
A floorboard creaked and I heard a grunt, and then something slammed into me, hard and cold. Ginger, clawing at my face. Her teeth were clicking together as her small jaw opened and shut, and I could smell her hot breath washing over me. Putrid, like rotten dairy. I shrieked, pushing as hard as I could to get this child off me.
The other children giggled.
You killed us Mama. You let us die. But we want you back.
“No!” I yelled. I hit Ginger in the face, cut my knuckles on her teeth and felt my heart break when I heard her jaw crack. It was a horrible thing to have to hit your child, even if they were dead and trying to eat you.
I managed to grab hold of Ginger and I threw her, and then scrambled toward the staircase. I reached the bottom rung of the stairs when a hand curled around my leg and tripped me. My head cracked on the wooden stair, and I tasted blood in my mouth. Asa stood over me, laughing, and I hated him. These weren’t my children. They were devils. Bad memories. My children are dead, and the dead cannot come back.
I half turned my body and kicked as hard as I could. I didn’t care if I hit anything or not, I just needed to attack. The door was so close, I just needed to get there, to get out of the basement, out of the house.
I hit Asa and he stopped laughing. I heard the cracking of a bone breaking.
I turned and started to crawl up the stairs, missing steps and slipping, then regaining my grip. They were behind me. No more childish giggling. These were monsters and they were done playing with me.
The light from the living room illuminated the smashed basement door. I kept my eyes on that doorway. They were no longer working together, but were fighting each other to get up the stairs behind me, snarling at each other like a pack of dogs.
I racked my knee on the third step, and almost fell again. But I clung to the wall, and then I was up and through the door and scrambling across the living room.
I hang my car keys on a clip next to the front door. My license was suspended after the accident and I had just gotten it reinstated. I ran to the door, stepping through broken glass from the shattered window, cutting my feet. I unlocked the door, snatched my keys and then I did turn back around. I wanted to see them again. I wanted to see them in the light.
They stood at the basement doorway, watching me, and for a moment it was them, my children, all bunched together, and I longed for them. Then Anna’s bloated lips snapped open, baring teeth and swollen gums. She lunged at me like a rabid weasel, her tongue hanging from the side of her broken jaw, and her eyes burned red.
I ran out the door, slamming it behind me, down the stairs and across the yard. My car was in the driveway. In seconds I was behind the wheel of my car, fumbling with the key. The engine turned over and I put it in drive. I turned my head and saw Asa standing on the front stairs, watching me, the moonlight shining in his eyes. I’ll never forget the way he looked at me then. Not in a million years.
I still hear them at night. No matter where I go, or how many miles I drive, they seem to always find me.
Just last night I heard something in the alley behind the apartment I’m renting. Could have been a bum, looking through cans of garbage for something to eat, but I don’t think so.
So I’m moving on again, and this time I don’t know where I’ll stop. There are days when I think it would just be easier to give up and let them have me. Other days are better.
So I’ll run. I know they’ll follow me, because they’re my children. They’re still mine, you see, and I’ll always be theirs.
Sean Ealy is a writer of speculative fiction. He picked up a copy of The Shining by Stephen King when he was 10 and has been lost in the words ever since. He is an avid Red Sox fan living somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. You can read his blog at seanealyfiction.com or find him on twitter @SeanEaly