Autumn (Halloween) 2019
No matter how quickly the leaves seem to be changing into their fall suits, the sun always seems to slouch itself awake in the slowest of manners in those clear, first days of autumn when it’s too cold for lemonade, but not cold enough yet for hot chocolate. It was on such a day, just as the sun’s rays were enveloping a particular street in golden fire that a young woman opened her eyes and instinctively tightened her clammy hands around the fist of her three-year-old son.
They woke up in a foreign house, on a foreign bed, wearing a foreign and unsettlingly pitch black blanket. Her eyes were languishing under heavy bags and she found her voice hoarse and pained. Her arms where she carried her son ached most uncomfortably.
She was the kind of mother who carried a sleep monitor in her purse and had for the first year after her son's birth always woken up in the middle of the night to check if her son was still breathing. Her nightstand at home was cluttered with parenting books and Mozart CDs. She sat on the musty bed and remembered as if in a trance, “Don’t waste a second of time with your children, for they will no longer be children by the time you have energy,” Dr. Hoffman, from Parenting after the 9-5. She missed that nightstand terribly, and longed to brush against it on her way to bed, to roll over and grab a cookie from her stash of late night snacks in the second drawer.
“Good morning, Mommy!” snapped from her thoughts, the young mother shifted her attention to her little boy who had moved from beside her to nestle snugly in her lap. He looked up at her and smiled, showing a row of bright white baby teeth, sprinked freckles, dimpled cheeks, and sky-high blue eyes. All these he got from his father. His mother smiled softly. She admired the way his summer tan had started to wear off and left his skin a unique oaky golden.
“Morning my munchkin,” she whispered.
Abruptly the woman’s cell phone rang its shrill call. She picked it up hastily, glanced at the familiar number and took a deep breath. “Hello, my love.”
“Morning, babe. Is he up?” The voice at the other end was deep and slightly out of breath.
“Of course,” the woman.
“Keep him well for me.”
“And remember, don’t leave my parents house, the neighborhood’s not safe.”
She hung up the phone and inhaled deeply, resting her head back. She scooped up her child, deciding it would be okay to spoil him this day. After all, being stuck inside her late in-laws’ house didn’t lend itself to much fun. Why her husband sent her and her son spend the weekend there she still could not fathom.“It’ll be a fun weekend trip, you know, a change from everyday life,” he insisted.
The house was old, but sturdy. It was fairly modest as most houses go: wood floorboards lined most of the interior and often found itself creeping into part of the walls, the tops of which were scattered with petrified heirlooms and antiques forever frozen in a time that had been forgotten. Most were inexpensive, the exception being an upstairs armorium and a loud grandfather clock propped against the second floor landing leading to the stairs. It was quite a beautiful looking clock, well kept and glistening as most such elegant clocks were. Upon its face—a sure sign of its expense—someone had delicately painted lovely young children frolicking through a meadow with gold gilded wings. Children our Angels was written neatly below. Its arms, perhaps the most peculiar attribute did in fact very much resemble human arms, though much smaller than average and possibly a bit less delicate, but other than that the clock was magnificent.
All this, the mother passed without a care. She was not into antiques and was much too busy with her son.
Downstairs an antenna radio droned lazily, its sounds creaking languidly through the dusty floorboards. “Police report the disappearance of a five-year-old girl from Westbrook county. The child was last seen on the corner of Hearthen and Streep road. Authorities ask anyone who has information to speak out.”
The mother spent the day making waffles and scrambled eggs, mac and cheese, and strawberries dipped in chocolate— any child’s greatest dream. She and her son watched his favorite TV show, his favorite movie, sang his favorite song, and she even ran around the house with cushions on her back as the newest installment of the teenage mutant ninja turtles, falling to a dramatic, twitching, end when her son jabbed a cracked broken sword towards her.
She didn’t even worry about the news reporters’ voices wandering through the halls the whole day, knowing well that the radio remote would be hidden somewhere impossibly difficult to find in the house. Her in-laws had been unusually paranoid people.
Her husband called her often to check up on her. “How are things my love?”
She would always answer the same, “Fine, as always.”
“Bored at all?”
“No, just spending some mother son time.”
“Well enjoy it while you can. I’ll try to come visit you guys tomorrow.”
Her husband was a surgeon and he was often away during the day. Had they been at their usual home she would probably run some errands and been busy doing housework. She had always wished for just one day to spend to its entirety with her son. Perhaps this is the perk of his parent’s creepy old house, she thought.
She kissed her son too many times to count, and made him laugh until they both tumbled onto the foyer rug like shapeless blobs.
The mother and son moved throughout the house like a candle illuminating the darkness. They broke the dull rhythm it had maintained since the previous inhabitants had died and caused the dust to rise up in gusts and fall in wicked, twisted ways.
Towards the end of the day the mother noticed some of the neighbors taking out their trash can for the next day.
She called her husband and asked, “Do you want me to take out the trash?”
“No, no don’t worry about it, I’ll do it when I get there.”
“When are you coming?”
“Looks like it will be tomorrow morning, I have an amputation to do tonight.”
“Alright, see you then, love you.”
By dusk her son’s energy had begun to reach the bottom of its reservoir, and he sat lazily in the master bed. She combed his hair lovingly and in the luminance of the setting sun she adored even more the bronzed glow of her son’s skin.
At one moment she thought she heard the sound of a door closing downstairs, and though she strained her ears she never heard anything else. Right then her son put his head down on her lap.
“Mommy my head hearts.”
She felt his forehead for any sign of a temperature, and feeling none decided that he just needed some rest. “Looks like we had a little too much fun today huh? Why don’t I sing you a lullaby to sleep, you won’t be hurting anymore in the morning, okay?”
“Okay, Mommy.” Her son moved drowsily. “Is Daddy coming, too?“
”No darling, he’s coming tomorrow morning probably.”
“I think he’ll come early just for me.”
“Hmm, maybe, now shhh close your eyes.” She sang to him in a soft voice that almost disappeared into the walls and in the process didn’t even realize as she slipped off into slumber as well.
* * *
In the morning the mother woke up with a start. There was something wrong about the house. Its air hung stale and low, and the whisperings and creakings of the woods the day before ceased to a sickening silence. The mother felt her arm limp on the blanket and realized her son was not there.
She got up and felt unwell, her head spun with some invisible fog that reeked. It curled in through her nose and muddied her mind. She staggered out of bed and stumbled down the staircases coughing and dizzy. The rooms spun around her like a carousel. In her haste she passed by a carbon monoxide detector that beeped faintly. In her haste she passed by the clock on the second floor landing without looking close enough.
Outside, this day was almost the same as the day before. The grandfather clock on the wall had been changed slightly. The little arms were now golden.
Priyanka Shrestha lives in Cleveland, Ohio and will be a senior at Beachwood High School. She has previously won numerous Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, including three Gold Keys, two Silver Keys, and five honorable mentions. Though she spends more time thinking about what she’s going to write than actually getting to writing it, Priyanka enjoys writing mostly short stories and poetry. If she’s not writing or daydreaming she can be found practicing Karate, playing the piano, or spending time with her family. Her hidden talent is being a master of all types of DIY braids and hairstyles.