Her skin puckered at the edge of the gash and blood dripped from the ravines of skin, staining the pale lilac dress mahogany red. Asher’s tiny hand clung to the doorknob, which echoed with brassy light from the dim street lamp that shone in the dawn. Asher coyly put a hand in his yellow sleep shorts and scratched, mesmerized by the dripping liquid that never seemed to pool below her. Indeed, before the blood’s dripping globules touched the stoop, they evaporated like fire, or smoke, leaving no trace behind.
However, the woman’s heavy breathing and raged groans, as well as the balled up fist clenching the rouge on her dress called for better attention.
“Excuse me Mrs.—” Asher hesitated, disquieted to the woman’s jerking movement as her neck craned mechanically towards the young child, as if it had only just noticed the boy. “Um, do you need the police?” The woman did not move. Her deep-set eyes regarded him as an obstacle that she had not foreseen and must avoid. All Asher saw was that she said nothing back.
“If you can wait right here, I’m gonna get Mommy.” The woman nodded almost imperceptibly and Asher quietly closed the front door. He tried pulling on the doorknob with both hands to see if it was locked. Knowing nothing of keys or door bolts, when the door did not open upon the first tug, Asher assumed it was locked.
The young boy fumbled his way up the waves of carpeting of the stairs on all fours. When his foot stepped on the fifth step he heard the creak of the door from from the entryway. When he peaked at the shadows distorting the walls and remembered the bloody woman below, he called down to her, hoping not to wake his parents, “You should come in and sit in the living room. It’s safe in there.” As he turned a hand back to the stairwell, he added, “Just lock the door or Dad’ll be mad at me!”
He was surprised to hear the woman speak up the stairwell in a too calm voice the texture of wet bar soap, “I would not want to ever get you into trouble.” Confused, Asher peaked his head over the balcony; the woman sat weeping noiselessly in the farthest couch, her face buried in crimson hands and shoulders heaving.
“It’ll be ok, Lady,” Asher said, smiling nervously.
She ignored him.
Clambering up the rest of the stairs, Asher pushed open the white wooden door to his parents’ bedroom. He was glad that it was open, unlike some nights, when he woke with a nightmare. On those nights his father opened the door with force and huffed back to bed, leaving his wife to calm Asher down. For dealing with his monsters she had a system, one she tried to employ after Asher woke her up on this night.
“I heard something downstairs—like a thump-thump-thump- like a drum or something.” His mother’s eyes widened and her cheeks pinked.
“That was hours ago—Mommy and Dad were playing a game and you were asleep!”
“No,” Asher pouted. “Not like when you and Dad play pillow Ping-Pong” His mother grimaced and over in the bed, the sheets rustled as Asher’s father shifted uncomfortably. “It was knocking, so I went downstairs and I–”
“Asher! No one was knocking on the door. Your father and I would have heard—“
But just as she spoke, the third stair, the one made of dry pine, creaked. His mother turned to him sharply. Her eyes were so wide.
“What happened when you went downstairs?”
Asher backed away a little from his mother. In the dark the highlights in her hair shone blue and there seamed to be silver coins in her eyes from the reflected light of the bathroom. At the sound on the stair, Wes Hunter had bolted wide-awake, into the bathroom where he rummaged for something.
“What happened, Asher?” His mother’s voice was strained and her breath sour from sleep. Tears glossed over Asher’s eyes. He wanted to be like his Buzz Lightyear toy, brave and a hero and the woman downstairs had needed help, he was sure of it.
“The lady was bleeding—I thought… I thought I’d get her a band aid and we could help and I could join star-command.”
“The one who was knocking!”
“Where is she now?”
“Did she wear a lilac dress?” Asher’s father stood as a shadow lit from behind by crimson light reflecting off the bathroom walls.
“N-no,” Asher stuttered. “It was blue and she was hurt like, real bad, Dad.” Asher looked from his father’s obscurity to his mother. Her face was still and staring but her chest moved rapidly. With mute eyes she turned to look at her son.
“Where is she now?”
“I let her in… And… And I and um and I told her to sit on the couch.”
A smack left a ringing pain to unravel across Asher’s face. Tears leaked involuntarily down his chin and he shrank back from his mother. Her face was livid, her eyes terrified.
“How- how could you- be so- we told you—“
Asher’s father walked, stiff legged, towards his wife, carrying two sharpened sticks. He gently set one down on the pinky-blue carpet in front of her, patting her lightly and turned toward his son. Asher scooted farther back but his father’s gaze was sad, not angry. He did not beckon his son closer.
“Asher, remember what we told you about the monsters?”
“Tell me. Tell me now so I know you know.”
Asher met his father’s glistening gaze.
“Go into the closet ‘cause—“
“—Cause the last place a monster looks for you is in its own lair.” Asher’s mother finished, her voice wavering.
Asher looked between his parents. He stood up and put his hand on the door of the door of the closet. He turned back to where his mother weighed the sharpened wood and his father stretched, his legs as if he were going for a run. Asher caught their gaze. Father and Mother looked at their son, and the moon seemed to fall out of orbit.
“Don’t come out of the closet until you see the sunlight hit the back wall.”
“And please, Asher, don’t peak. Don’t look until we come and get you.”
“Or the sun comes.”
“To infinity?” asked Asher as a loud footstep hit the landing.
“And beyond,” his parents said in unison.
Asher crept into the closet, avoiding socks and mothballs and those little packets of perfume one slips in a sock drawer. The door shut silently on the carpet behind him. He settled in, wrapping himself in spaceman towels and his mother’s silk robe from Japan. His parents he could hear mumbling for a time. One of them walked towards the closet and said something Asher could not quite understand. Asher hummed in agreement. His father told him to say nothing.
“I love you.”
Asher did not reply.
Something knocked on the bedroom door three times, sounding course and hollow and scratched like bark by bear claws. For a moment the only sound was that of the AC turning off and a gurgle as its motor choked and died.
Then the sound of wind imploding inside a vacuum. The outer door being ripped from its hinges.
For minutes or hours or seconds Asher lay captivated by sound. Surrounded in warm towels, he stared above his head at the hems of Technicolor dresses, all grey in the darkness. His father’s shoes were stacked under his head and their Fritos smell masked the acid of the cacophony of sounds that marched in a twisted parade. Blades hissing in fire. Cold cracking in heat. The squish of something sharp inside a fleshy abdomen. Gurgles and chopping and twisted breath of choking: a splurt: a slice
Screams, screaming, Silence.
So much silence.
Munching. Slurping. A Burp.
Asher could not sit anymore. He had to know. He had to look. Through the slotted bars of wood in the closet, Asher peeped one eye into the bedroom he thought he knew. He caught a glimpse of sun and the carpet and deep red stains like spilled wine. And an unmoving limb, separated. And an unmoving body. And now two unmoving bodies. And a pulsating brown mass, gorging itself with something grey and pink that had been ripped from flesh and blood and life itself.
Asher’s legs gave out and he fell to his knees. He would never be sure if the Monster’s brown mass had mistook his knees hitting the ground as some kind of signal, or if it had finally noticed the sunlight peeping into the room like a watchdog but all the same the beast chose to abandon its steak and retreat. Slow pounding footsteps thudded with separate beats down each buckling stair.
But the sun had not peaked through the closet and there would still be hours to go. The A/C, like his mother, like his father, never came back, and heat and smells wafted inside in a steady breeze.
By the time the sun shown through the slits in the door, patterning the towel shelf like cell bars, the sun was high, the heat beaded sweat under the matted hair of Asher’s head, and the smell that permeated every corner was death.
Asher was found standing in a four-way intersection.
The second hand blood had dried on his shirt. When the middle-aged soccer mom, taking her losing team for ice cream screeched to a stop, Asher was taken in, and deposited like a parcel at the doormat of the police station. When the man in the blue hat came to talk with him, he could not speak. And when he had to, in the cement block room in the back, at the county hearing, at his councilor appointments, no one believed he had seen any kind of monster that was not human.
©2014 Lex Vex
©2014 Lex Vex