By Jason Warden
Tia’s bones creaked as she stood from her place on the floor. She wiped her face on the sleeve of her shirt, her hands on what was left of her jeans and walked into the hall. Where the hall ended, the family room began. There she saw the light. If running had been an option she would have. Instead, she shambled on a leg she couldn’t even feel. The leg was bent and twisted, green with infection and rot, yet it no longer hurt, nothing did and for that, if nothing else, she was grateful.
As she reached the end of the hall she found that the light, like everything else, had abandoned her. Only the pre-dawn sun lit the way ahead. Her bottom lip trembled, but she didn’t know why. For a moment, she only looked about the room, confused, angry, needing. The last was all she understood and all she had. It had kept her and comforted her all these days, weeks… months?
Back in her dark room, she could fulfill the need. Out here, she could only feel. It hurt to feel. She turned back to the dark, to her comfort, when another sound, an insistent and alarming sound, buzzed its way into her ears. It was familiar and called out to some deeper part of her. She moved further into the room, curious despite the need that called out to her from the dark.
“Phone,” she managed to croak from her dry throat.
The sound of her own voice startled her. She tried to remember the last time she heard it and couldn’t. She picked up the receiver, pushed buttons randomly, and was again surprised to hear her own voice, “Phone,” she said.
A man’s voice, a man she knew, was it panic she heard in his voice? She thought maybe it was. She’d heard it before.
“Are you ok…?”
She didn’t answer. The words she needed were gone, had been gone since she awoke feeling empty and violated on her childhood bed.
“Are you ok? Please answer me.”
Tia felt her lip start to quiver again, the anger building. It wasn’t fair. She knew it was more than just the words that had been stolen. Her memories, her very life had been taken as well. The more she tried to remember, the bigger the wall in front of her mind became.
“Tia… are you there? Please,…”
‘Tia,’ she thought, ‘Am I Tia?’ Her mind raced around the word, circled it, but still she could not remember.
“Oh my god, Tia, are you ok?”
“O…K…. Tia, O…K…”
“Are you sure? Just stay there, I’m coming and whatever you do, stay inside. I love you, baby.”
The phone went dead in her hands. She pushed it tighter against her ear, tighter, no words came. Anger, disappointment, rejection; she slammed the phone on the cabinet, splintering the plastic. She looked down to find a jagged piece of the battery cover sticking out of her hand. She pulled it out and dropped it to the carpet, waited, but the pain that should have come didn’t. It was drowned by the hurt of those words. Alien as they seemed, their power was immense. She turned away, limping back to the dark, to the comfort of forgetting. She thought maybe words had been a thing she loved, but now they were gone, and so was the voice that had taunted her with them.
She slammed the door. In the dark, she found her own power; the power to forget.
“Tia, you here?”
The voice roused her from her daze. She tried to stand, but her hateful leg collapsed under her. She landed on it and shards of broken bone shot through the rotten flesh. She crawled, dragging her bottom half to a hiding place behind the door.
She sat up, pulling the dead flesh of her leg toward and under her.
“Tia, please! It’s not safe, please come out. I told her it was over. I promise I’ll never leave you again. It will be different now.”
The thump of his shoes grew louder. She felt him, could hear his breath as he drew closer.
He pushed the door wide. She heard his sharp intake of breath. Through the crack at the doors hinge, her eyes gleamed in the afternoon light from the hall. It silhouetted his form and her anger began to rise. Behind her, the darkness of the room was still nearly complete. It comforted her to feel its blackness closing around her as he stepped into the room.
Eric flipped the switch on the wall. A great, awful glow filled the room. The door slammed shut behind him. He had time to turn, to see her, but before he could comprehend what he was seeing, she had his leg in her hands pulling it toward her. He kicked once, twice, but she held, pulled, held. She looked up at him. He froze for just a second, a second too long.
Hot blood, alive and sticky splashed her mouth, her throat, her face. She bit deeper. His stunned paralysis broke. Kicking violently, he knocked her back then pulled away. His pained scream reverberated in the empty room as the muscle was torn from his leg. Bits of it hung from her teeth when she smiled. Her grey tongue shot out to catch what dripped from her lips. His pain felt good, tasted good, as did the anger and distrust in his eyes.
“Awwwhg! Tia… Stop!”
He backed, backed, and…
Beside the bed a body lay on the floor, it was sunken, rotten and mottled with black spots. The face was the only part still completely intact. The grey hair her father had been too proud to dye was now tinged red where the skull had been cracked and opened. It fell over his face in a comic comb over. Beside his head lay the instrument she had used to put him down.
“This is what you came home to? God I’m so sorry, please, just stop.”’
He held his hands toward her palms out.
She moved, dragged forward, still smiling.
Eric picked up the lamp. The base was sticky with dried blood and gore. He backed into the wall; nowhere left to go, nowhere to run. He swung the heavy lamp toward her but missed. She paused, watched as he lifted the tool that she had used to cut, break, and kill. Then she understood, and advanced.
Tia had a moment of cosmic clarity just before her head hit the floor, a beautiful understanding of words and Eric. He had never loved a thing unless he couldn’t have it, but she would never miss what she had never had.
Eric’s leg was pulsing, screaming with fever and pain. He made it to the door, but fumbled the knob and collapsed against it before he could make it out.
Sometime later he sat with his back against the bed trying to think what he had done to deserve the hell he’d been given. Reason faded. Words eluded him.
His cell phone began to ring.