23 December 2004
Alethea was sitting on the shore of Lake Michigan, staring out at the water that had not yet begun to freeze, when a massive black dog walked up and sat next to her. She turned and looked at it. It wasn’t just black, she realized; it was almost as if its fur was composed of shadow rather than hair. Its eyes were red, and seemed to burn from inside its head, as it looked directly at her. In that moment, she was certain that not only did it know she was there, but it knew her, could see her in a more true and powerful way than anything else ever had. She recoiled at the notion.
“Now now, I know he’s imposing, but he’s just curious.” Alethea turned to find the source of the voice and caught sight of a massive woman, at least nine feet tall, with skin that shone like bronze and three faces with different crowns on each.
“Have you come to take me away?”
“Where to, my dear?”
“Well, it’s...I haven’t crossed over yet, and I thought that’s what was next for me.”
“Crossed over? Oh you poor thing, you should know by now you can’t do that until your business on Earth is complete” Alethea turned back and looked out at the lake.
“But he’s dead.”
“Is that all you wanted, though? Did you really stay bound to this world for so many years just to kill an old man?” Alethea rested her hands on her belly and looked down.
“I...well, no, but—” She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to find the three-faced woman now a normal height and kneeling beside her.
“Roger was not the only man who let you down, was he?”
“How do you know?”
“I know much, my child. I know about you, and I know about John Matteson; and I know how to bring you together, if you will let me help you.” She removed her hand from Alethea’s shoulder and stood, then held her hand out as if inviting Alethea to take it. The girl began to reach out, then stopped and looked up at the woman.
“What do you get out of helping me?”
“Is there a price too high to finally bring your child into the world, and be free of all this pain and these men?” Alethea paused, then took her hand, and they vanished.
15 December 2004
You know you have this coming.
“Unappreciative little brat,” Roger muttered, his eyes glazed over and staring into space. “I fed you, clothed you, did everything that was asked of me. You could have had it so much worse!” He suddenly found himself clear-headed, his vision normal, and sitting in a wheelchair. The nurse walking along beside him was looking down at him with concern, holding a clipboard and a set of keys. He was moving, and as he looked back he could see that another nurse was pushing his chair.
“Mr. Bilson? Can you hear me? Who are you talking to?”
“I...I was having a bad dream.”
“I suppose it must’ve been.” They were passing through the lobby, Roger realized, and about a half dozen people were staring at him as he passed.
They know. They all heard you.
“No, no,” he whispered, lowering his head and holding up his hands to block his face.
Do you even remember what you just confessed to? He didn’t. Everything was now a blur since the hallway of his apartment.
“What...where are we going?”
“You’ve been approved for some more direct care, sir. We’re taking you to a new apartment where you can get the help you need.”
No, they’re not.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
“It’s a nursing home, Mr. Bilson. You’re going to need a lot of help with that ankle and the nasty hit to your head. We’ll take good care of you there.” They passed through the doors to the cold night outside, where a van was waiting.
They’re not taking you anywhere. It’s time. Roger gasped as he felt his entire body go cold and then begin moving without his control. An elbow to one nurse, a punch to the other. It all happened so fast, and so much harder than he thought his body could hit. He heard screams but couldn’t place them. Then he had the keys, and he heard his ankle snap as he ran around to the door of the van. He wanted to scream, to stop, to sit down and let them take him and just pray his final days would be comfortable, but his body climbed into the van and started it. He raced away from the hospital, tearing through the neighborhood with reckless abandon.
When the van slammed into the side of a building, he could feel bones shatter and the wind get knocked out of his lungs. Everything felt like it was on fire, blood trickling down his arms and legs. He kicked the door clean off the van and stumbled out, walking straight for the water.
“No, no, please! Not like this!” He suddenly had his voice again, but nothing else. On a telephone pole he found a coat left for the homeless, and his body grabbed it and put it on as he passed. He continued to plead, but heard no answer and felt no change. He made promises, laid curses, screamed in agony as the pain from all his wounds continued to grow.
When he came to the wide rocky shore, he began grabbing rocks and shoving them into his pockets as he yelled for help. No one came as he crossed the distance from Chicago to Lake Michigan. No one came as he stepped into the lake and walked forward. No one heard his last scream for release before his mouth went under the water.
No one ever saw Roger Bilson again.
29 March 2005
There was a knock on the door to Lori's apartment. She glanced from around the door to her broom closet, then closed it. After checking that the latch was secure, she opened the front door to find Mark Hendricks.
"Lori! Are you okay?"
"You missed trivia night again. Last week you said you were sick but this week no one could even get a hold of you and we've been a team for two years and you've never missed a night and we were all concerned." She sighed and leaned on the doorframe.
"I'm sorry, Mark. I was hanging out with Matteson and I guess I forgot."
"And forgot to answer your phone?"
"Is this really about trivia?" He opened his mouth as if to speak, then stopped and exhaled hard through the nose as he looked at her.
"Look, can I at least come in? If we have to do this I don't want it to be in the hallway." She stepped aside and dramatically waved her hand to point him in. He walked past her and turned to the living room, where he sat down on the couch. She closed the door and made her way to the recliner.
"What's going on with you?"
"With me? Nothing. But there's clearly something going on with you."
"What do you mean?"
"Look it's, these past two weeks, you've been acting really weird. Blowing people off, forgetting names. You've seemed a bit more...tense, as well. Now I don't know if it's this guy or some other thing in your life that happened around the same time, but the timing-"
"Are you accusing Matteson of something?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.
"I don't know, okay?" he nearly yelled, slapping his hands on his thighs. "Whatever it is, I'm not trying to judge anyone. I just want you to talk to me. Or Beth. Or anyone, just...something is wrong, we can all tell. And we care about you. Whatever is going on, we want to be there for you." She leaned back in her seat and stared off toward the window for a moment.
"Okay. Thank you. I've been under a lot of stress lately. It will pass, I promise, and this new thing with Matteson has been helping. Just...have some patience with me? I'll explain when I'm ready." Mark leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and rubbing his hands together. Finally, he turned his head up to face her.
"You promise you'll talk to one of us?"
"I promise." He sat up, took a deep breath, and then nodded.
"Okay. Just try not to be too much of a stranger during this time?" She nodded and smiled, and he stood. "Alright. Thanks. Look, I gotta go help Bob with something. Should we expect you at Beth's tomorrow?"
"Yeah. I'll be there." He nodded, then walked out of the apartment. As soon as she heard the door close, she groaned and laid the recliner back.
14 December 2004
Roger jerked awake with a scream, and found that he was in the hospital. He sat upright and his eyes darted around the room, crazed and bloodshot. A nurse ran in and began trying to calm him down, but he could barely hear her through the haze of pain medication and his own focus on finding something no one in the room could see. It was a full three minutes before the nurse managed to get him to focus, and he then learned that he had been found by maintenance. There was concern about the notes the previous workers had made about the state of his bathroom floor, and they had arrived to take measurements and make an exact list of things they needed to buy to have it fixed. When they found him they had called an ambulance, and he had arrived at the hospital unconscious five hours earlier.
Now that he was awake, the police wanted to talk to him about what they suspected was a break in. They found no evidence of forced entry, but the severity of his wounds and the obvious struggle told them someone else had been there. He told them he couldn’t remember, that he hit his head after slipping in the shower and nothing after that was clear. The officer left with no answers, and Roger wanted to fix that, but he had no idea how to explain what he could recall.
Every time he tried to sleep that night, he saw Alethea, sitting on his chest, or standing by his side, or floating on the ceiling. It didn’t matter where she was, she was always watching, always smiling that cruel smile, always startling him awake. Usually she was just on the corner of his eye, and if he turned to look she’d be gone. By morning, he was delirious with exhaustion and the night staff were eager to hand him off to someone else. Sometimes, when a nurse came to check on him, they’d find him muttering to himself. Sometimes he’d just stare off into space. But they hardly found a way to interact with him either way.
Over the course of that day, other people made decisions on his behalf. His landlord, after being briefed on the state of the apartment when he was found and the running shower and the water he dragged out that was making the damage to the bathroom worse, moved to evict Roger. The doctor in charge of his case recognized where things were going and, in light of his mental and physical state, submitted an insurance request to move him into a nursing home on his release. With no family to contact for approval, and given his apparent inability to speak for himself, arrangements were made to find him a place to go. His wounds, though extensive, were not something that required any supervision from the hospital that he could not get just as well at a long-term care facility, and frankly they needed the beds. It was decided that Roger Bilson would be released into the custody of a new home as soon as the insurance allowed it and a pickup could be arranged.
Roger, for his part, would find sleep no easier that night than the one before.