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.
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.
13 December 2004
The television was not plugged back in come morning. It seemed too much of a risk at this point. Roger took the note he had written, reminding himself to turn off the water, and placed it directly opposite his bathtub so he could see it when he emerged. He turned the shower on, checked that everything was where it needed to be, and climbed in.
It was while washing what hair remained on his head that he noticed the change. He closed his eyes to rinse, and when he opened them, the water coming down his face was red and thick. He raised his hands to look, and saw the liquid pooling in his palms and rolling over the edges of his hands. It had every semblance of blood, down to the smell of it, and as soon as the thought registered to Roger he screamed. He tried to back away from the water, find some way to stop the liquid from continuing to rain on him, and in his efforts he slipped and fell out of the shower. The shower curtain came down with him as he tried to catch himself on it, and he hit the corner of his sink with his head and collapsed onto the floor.
The sound of the thick drops still pouring down in the shower echoed through the room and, with his vision blurred by the strike, disoriented him. He groaned and tried to stand, but his ankle gave out as soon as he tried to put pressure on it and he fell back onto his chest with another scream, this time of pain. Taking a deep breath and trying to focus, he remembered that his phone was on the other side of the apartment, back on the small table next to his chair. He needed help, and that was the only way he knew to get it.
His vision was still blurry and he couldn’t tell if the blood dripping from his head was from the sink or the shower. He reached out and began to pull himself, slowly crawling toward the bathroom door.
Have you ever known what it feels like to be helpless? Roger froze in place as his face went pale. He knew that voice, but there was no one around. He hadn’t heard that voice in decades, at least not outside of his own dreams, but God how could he ever forget it?
Crawling like the worm that you are, old man? Roger took a deep breath and continued, inching his way into the short hall. The room was spinning. That must be it, all of this, just some kind of delusion.
“No, no, it can’t be you. There’s no way it’d be you,” he yelled out, pulling himself further along. He flopped down, his face in the carpet, and tried to catch his breath. This was so much harder than it had any right to be. How hard had he hit his head? “You’re not real! The real Alethea is—”
“Dead?” The voice sounded more real, almost like it was spoken by an actual person instead of just inhabiting his head. He lifted his face and was met by hers, young and solid as the day she died, her hair dripping wet and her eyes red from crying, her nose almost touching his. Despite how blurry their surroundings were, she was perfectly clear and vivid. The whole world seemed to be revolving around her, but she remained fixed and unmoving before his eyes. He began to take quick, shallow breaths, and his eyes grew wide. “Oh, you did well enough at that, Daddy.” Her lips curled into a threatening, almost maddening smile, as she cocked her head slightly and stared with unblinking eyes at him. “You didn’t honestly think I’d forget a detail like that, did you?”
“Have—have you come to kill me?”
“Yes.” He swallowed hard, then closed his eyes tightly and tried to slow his breathing. When he opened them again, she was gone.
“Then do it!” He screamed. “If you want to kill me, why don’t you just kill me?”
You didn’t just kill me. His breath grew more rapid and his vision more blurred. He knew he had to get to the phone, and continued pulling himself along as quickly as he could. You only killed me when it was no longer convenient to keep me as your toy, remember? The edges of his vision were beginning to grow dark. Roger cursed under his breath and tried to push with his good leg to speed his progress. Do you remember the time I tried to say no, and tried to fight back, and you kicked me? I believe it was the fourth rib on the left that time.
“No, no, please,” he pleaded, pulling himself forward. He screamed as he heard a rib in the left side of his chest snap and the pain shot through his body. Tears were rolling down his cheeks and he grunted as he forced himself forward.
Or the time I wasn’t fast enough, and you grabbed me by the arm and threw me onto the bed?
“Please! I’m begging you, I’ve changed!” He collapsed into the rug as his arm was pulled out from under him. He couldn’t move it, as though it was being held away from him, but there was no one there to grasp it.
No you didn’t. You just ran out of victims.
“No, no! I swear! I’ve changed!”
I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether or not you’ve changed, father. Because I haven’t. You took that opportunity away from me. His shoulder popped out of its joint as he was lifted by the arm and hurled across the room. Roger blacked out before he hit the wall.
12 December 2004
Roger spent the rest of the day obsessively checking every spigot in the apartment. If he got up for anything, he tested each one to be sure it was off. He found no signs of a leak, no indication that the spigot in the bathtub was loose or moving on its own. He had to consider the possibility that he really had forgotten, somehow, and after the guys were done cleaning up the bathroom and taking note of any repairs that would be needed, he wrote a note for himself and left it outside the tub.
Aside from the visit and his new ritual of checking the water, the day went the same as every other, and ended with Roger sitting in his armchair half watching the news and counting out his pills for the week. The image and audio on the screen flickered, and Roger looked up to see the news. He looked down again to resume organizing his pills and noticed another quick change to the screen. He looked up to see the news again. He scratched his cheek and continued watching, hoping to catch it this time and see what was happening with the signal.
He watched the news anchor hand over to the weather, then return. Just as he was sure the problem had passed and was about to look away, the video cut to a bathtub. He could hear soft crying, and see a pair of knees pulled close to the screen and the water in the tub. For a moment, it looked like someone else was there, a pair of boots on the edge of the bathtub. Before he could make sense of that fleeting image, he was distracted by the setting. It only took him a moment to recognize it as the tub from his old apartment, back before…
The camera looked up at a young black man standing partially phased into the shower curtain in jeans and a hoodie. The sound of a door opening. The sight of the strange man started to fade and as he realized what was about to happen, Roger grabbed his remote and began trying to change the channel, but nothing happened. Footsteps drew closer to the tub and the camera slowly panned to the shower curtains, those old, off white, shower curtains. A shadow was moving on the curtain, growing larger. Roger screamed and tried to turn the TV off and while the light on the remote flashed every time he hit the button, no change was made. The figure was right up to the shower curtain now, and the camera was trying to move away but had nowhere to go. Hands reached around the curtain. A girl’s scream. Roger stood, unsteady, and hobbled forward. He tripped, catching himself on the tv and sending some of the figures and a glass clattering and breaking on the floor. The image was coming from under the water now, thrashing, churning. The shower curtain was pulled tight until it came down. He reached his hand around to find the plug. The shower curtain fell, pulling its bar down with it, and for a brief moment Roger stared into the eyes of his younger self, and saw only hatred and disgust. He pulled the plug and the screen went dark, the image of his face mid-murder replaced with the reflection of a frightened old man.
Roger knelt in front of the television taking rapid, shallow breaths and holding his chest. Slowly, after a few minutes, he grabbed the old television with both hands and pulled himself up. He haltingly made his way back to his armchair, collapsing into it as soon as he was close enough and taking a large drink of his water. He stared at the blank screen, trying to talk himself down, for about twenty minutes until he drifted off to sleep.
He awoke with a start after a half hour, certain he heard Alethea’s scream, but found the apartment dark and the television still off and unplugged.
12 December 2004
Roger was awakened by banging on his door. Charles Osgood was on the television, introducing some segment or another. Roger grabbed the remote and turned the volume down, then called out to know what was going on as he made his way to the door. When he opened it, he found his landlord, who looked grim.
"I need to check your plumbing," Mr. Helms, the landlord, explained. Roger stepped aside and watched him enter, before closing the door and following him to the restroom. When he got to the door, he found Mr. Helms scowling and reaching for the running faucet on the bath tub. The tub had overflowed, and the floor was soaked.
"What...," Roger began, leaning on the door frame.
"Roger! Do you have any idea how much damage you've done! I got called by the tenant below you because the water is in their unit! Why the hell did you leave it running?!"
"I didn't...I didn't even turn it on last night."
"Well it sure as hell didn't turn itself on! I'm gonna have to charge you for this, you know! I've had enough complaints about your forgetfulness that I'm tempted to break your lease!"
"Joey, I promise-"
"Don't 'Joey' me, Roger! One more fuck up like this and I have to get you out, you understand? I can't have this on my hands!" He stormed past Roger, then stopped as he opened the door out of the apartment. "Look, I know you won't be able to clean this up. I'll have one of the guys come around in a bit. But I'm serious, Roger, you need to get your act together if you want to keep living here." He closed the door behind him as he left, and Roger was left with a flooded bathroom and the dim voice of the television.
11 December 2004
Roger Bilson had lived alone ever since his wife died. He sold the house a few years later and moved into a little apartment downtown, where he wasn't responsible for all the maintenance and had relatively easy access to all his necessities. The money from the house gave him a bit of a head start and the retirement checks kept him afloat, but the apartment was beginning to show the effects of his limited income and mobility. His armchair was ragged and vaguely brown, the pictures on the wall hadn't been dusted in at least five years, and the table next to the chair was covered in medications, remotes, and the containers from three tv dinners.
The pictures were old, but a close examination would reveal a significant gap. There was a remnant from his wedding, in 1938, but then nothing until the 1970s. Then assorted pictures of church events, retirement, and vacations all the way up until shortly before his wife's death. Then, nothing again.
The television was showing the nightly news with the volume cranked up. Roger still kept the station on for the national news, but had started to lose interest in the affairs of the rest of the nation some time ago. Besides, by the time Dan Rather came on, Roger was growing tired, and he would usually fall asleep in front of whatever came on after. As the latest news from Washington was being explained, Roger was in the restroom, brushing his teeth.
He looked up from rinsing his toothbrush and suddenly saw Alethea in the mirror, standing behind him. He screamed, dropped his toothbrush, and blinked, and she was gone. When he turned, he saw nothing. He held the edges of the sink tightly, staring at the mirror until he was certain there was nothing there. Once he had caught his breath and calmed down, he slowly turned and made his way back to the chair and his nightly medications.
11 December 2004
The murder-suicide of Rufus and Elaine Matteson drew the attention of the local news, not least because the circumstances seemed highly unusual. The damage to the apartment and the way Rufus was damaged was enough to prove that forces other than the knife in her hand were involved, and no one could quite place what they were. A local paranormal blog had begun offering suggestions, but police were disinterested in those suspicions.
In their attempts to get the best coverage of the event, the local news had turned to interviewing anyone who might have had insight into Rufus, Elaine, or the event itself. One neighbor was of particular interest for having claimed to hear terrible noises coming from the apartment, noises that seemed entirely unnatural. He was an elderly man, a widower of twenty years, who had not drawn the attention of anyone since his daughter went missing in 1961. He explained to the news crew, as well as the police, that it sounded like a tornado had ripped through the Matteson apartment, along with screams no earthly voice could muster. There was, of course, significant doubt about his story. It made for good television, but the police could hardly do anything with ethereal screaming.
One thing that did catch the attention of the people walking past one little electronics store uptown, however, is that when he came on screen and his name was given, they heard a similar scream which shattered the windows of the shop. Without any discussion among them, each witness quietly chose to forget the incident and get home quickly. From a nearby rooftop, two ravens observed the shop and then one's gaze followed down the street, tracking something no mortal eyes present could see. The other looked to a massive black dog, hiding in an alley and watching.
10 December 2004
Rufus Matteson was a young man who, as it happens, had absolutely no connection to John Matteson. His ancestry was completely unrelated to John's, and was actually given their name on purpose. Really, the ways that completely disconnected bloodlines can end up with the same name can get fascinating if you're into that sort of thing; but let's assume for the moment you aren't. What matters here is that Rufus had very little in common with John. He was a fairly responsible young man, for one thing, and not given to ghost hunts or other trappings of the paranormal. He had married young to a woman named Elaine, picked up a stable job, and due to a medical condition they had no children but had discussed the possibility of adopting someday. The only reason that Rufus and Elaine intersect with our story at all, in fact, is that he happened to be named Matteson, in Chicago, when Alethea was seeking a new way to accomplish her goals and thought maybe the name was what mattered.
Rufus had noticed over the past few weeks that Elaine was acting odd. She was forgetful of things he knew she cared about, distracted, moody, and wasn't sleeping well. This was paired with a heightened libido, almost hypersexuality, which he didn't much mind but did note as unusual. He had attempted to ask about the whole package of changes, but she was resistant to acknowledge that anything was off and he wasn't sure how to help her see it without upsetting her.
He grew more worried when he found her crying. He tried to comfort her, but when she demanded to know why they weren't conceiving, he sat down and tried to remind her that they couldn't. This was the last straw, he knew it. If she couldn't remember even that, then something was deeply wrong. He reached for his phone and she screamed at him to stop. The noise had a tangible force behind it, and he fell to his side and hit the floor hard. When he turned back, she was floating, her eyes glowing and her hair gently waving away from her as though she was underwater. He crawled backward away from her as she began yelling, in two voices, about how he'd failed her, how all men knew how to do was fail her. He begged her to stop, to leave, to do anything other than this. She lunged at him.