Featured October 30, 2020 Horror possession Summer love Big hair

The Best of Our Past, The Worst of Our Future

By Christi Nogle
Oct 17, 2020 · 5,989 words · 22 minutes

11

Photo by Alvin Mahmudov via Unsplash.

From the editor:

A teenager and her mom are no strangers to eccentric family houseguests. But when cousin Owen comes to visit, reality slowly grows hazy and dangers seem to appear around every corner.

Kick off Halloween with this unsettling tale by Christi Nogle. Christi teaches college composition in Boise, Idaho, and her work has appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and many others.


From the author: . . . there’s a sense of corruption—delicious or foreboding depending on how you look at it. Envision the whole neighborhood running this way too, the whole town, the whole world. Why not?


An audio version is available for this chapter. Listen online →

Visualize me draped out in the basement trying to get cool because we’re years away from having air conditioning. I’m lying on a tasteful antique chaise, ornate but understated too, something from an ancestor. Thrown all over that wonderful old piece are the shiny loud and lurid scraps of satin and lace, acid green maybe, deep purple, animal print. It’s a load of our delicates that Mom took right out of the washer and draped to dry because she can’t be bothered putting up clothesline.

Envision the whole big house like this, all the layers of our family’s supposed glory days still here underneath the new stuff Mom and I are accumulating. I like all that trashy stuff, myself, but still there’s a sense of corruption—delicious or foreboding depending on how you look at it. Envision the whole neighborhood running this way too, the whole town, the whole world. Why not?

I’m seventeen years old, lovely, and sweating. I have either finished a few-mile run or I’ve been dancing. I am not in anything pretty. I have a sweatshirt with the sleeves and bottom cuff and neck cut off, grey sweatpants cut so short that the pockets hang out the bottom. OK, looking down or back at it from a certain distance, I am wearing something so sexy it could be a Halloween costume.

Maybe there is a male slightly off limits who wanders through the basement, some handsome second cousin or a friend of the family who just arrived last night to stay for the summer.

Imagine this in a movie. Maybe it would be the start to a horror film. Maybe NC-17.

What wouldn’t be in the movie are the smells. There is of course the smell you get when you forget to do anything about the cat litter for a busy couple of weeks. There is my own reeking sweat and hair a week unwashed because I am seeing if that will help it grow. Potatoes rotting in a corner, mom’s Opium and deodorant skids all over her piles of dirty clothes, some old incense. The combined odor of all of this could be someone’s dead lover rotting away in an unused attic room, who knows?

In spite of all of this in the air, or because of it, the male pauses. He looks down at me lying in the late morning light from the high ivy-curtained basement window. He tells me I look horrid. We both smile. I wonder, in the movie, if it is he who would turn out to be a lycanthrope or I who would be a ghost.

In reality, he doesn’t even pretend to flirt with me. He is Owen, the stepson of one of my uncles, a good-looking boy but with a spare twenty pounds on him. His dark eyebrows raise high in the middle, giving him an open expression.

“Where’s your mom? I need to talk to her,” he says. I wish I did not detect a whining tone.

“I’ll go to the store for you. Hey,” I say, “Even take it if you want.” I fish in my pocket for the Rabbit’s keys, twirl them for him.

“I don’t drive,” he says. He walks back up the stairs.

I’m already sick to death of being still. The disappointment that started last night when we picked him up at the airport just crystallized with this conversation. I’ve been expecting an instant bond like when my cousin Stacy came last summer and we felt like sisters by the first week. We partied, went on road trips, camping trips. I expected the same with Owen, and remembering his beautiful face from when we were younger, I think I hoped for an even better summer, and this all a little bit of a letdown, that’s all, and so I want to flee the house for another couple of hours. I go for another run.

Mom’s dressed and has her eyes made up big and dark but her hair not yet straightened. Owen’s dressed but wet-headed. I’m wearing towels. Mom and I would normally yell from our rooms, but Owen has requested we all agree to speak in the same room from now on, and so we are standing awkwardly in the kitchen.

“He needed to talk to me. That’s the point,” she says. “So you could drive him down to my work.”

“I offered to drive him anywhere he wanted. I left my keys,” I say.

“Jesus,” she says.

“If we all had phones, we . . .” I say.

“That’s a good point,” says Owen.

I’m hating my summer.

Last night, Owen finally came out with me for the first time instead of going out on his own. He didn’t know anyone at the party. What has he been doing when he goes out? Apparently not meeting people. He started off all right in a group with a couple of my girlfriends he’s met before, seemed to be clicking. I was dancing and lost track of him, and then he was gone and no one had seen where he went. I don’t know when he got in.  

This morning, he’s sitting in the kitchen using a clicker to teach the cats to high five. One thing I like about Owen is the way he is with animals, how he makes them into intelligent creatures. In unison, they follow his movements. Now they tense, now they reach and each touch one of his palms, at which instant he clicks the plastic device with his teeth. Now they watch his fingers dipping into the can of tuna. Its smell obliterates all other smells.

I say, “What do you want to do tonight?”

He says without turning toward me, “I assumed another house party. That’s what there is to do here, right?”

He high-fives again, clicks, offers treat.

Mom and I look insane walking together. We’re both wearing size four jeans for the time being, though she fills hers all out and I don’t quite. She’s gotten a haircut, all feathered dark layers.

We’re in the grocery store looking for some new kind of yogurt, and I realize it’s the first time we’ve been alone together all summer, and I say so.

She says. “I’d like to say I would have said no, if I’d known how he’d be, but there wasn’t a choice.”

“Why’s he here anyway? Not to hang out with me.”

She starts to laugh. She shows me the grocery list and on the bottom, he’s written “Higher-end decaf.”

“He also suggested more filling foods, whatever that means,” she says.

I say he’s a little hard to get to know.

She whispers, “Not quite. He’s pouring his heart out to me every time you’re not in the room. I don’t think he has any real problems. They all seem like, worries over wars or who’s going to win the elections. He’s all worried about the economy and shit like that.”

My mom and I, we like to laugh together. We’re both cracking up now.

She says, “I’m like, I haven’t got a clue about what you’re talking about. I’m not a therapist, dude.” She presses her lips together, already doubting that I’ll be able to keep from saying something to him, that I’ll call him pathetic or whatever. My mouth does get me in trouble a lot of the time.

I say, “I really like him. It’s just it takes time to get close to some people.”

She stops and apparently buys it. She says, “So he comes to me the other day, all, ‘People have been complaining about the lack of a police presence in the neighborhood. The old folks are scared about all the noises at night,’ and I’m like, ‘Honey, what old folks?’ and he names off a few.”

“So he’s been hanging out with old people?”

“Apparently.” She doesn’t quite roll her eyes, but she’s got this fantastic expression, and I’m reminded again of how beautiful her face has always been, and how beautiful her attitude is too. I give her a big hug right there.

I hate my mom a lot of the time, but I love her all the way through.

So I’m finally making out with this sexy college wrestler I’ve had my eyes on for, literally, weeks. I’ve washed my hopeless hair and feel stripped of oils, all purified. The wrestler is just a couple of inches shorter than me, and it hasn’t seemed so much when I’ve been hanging out, but up close his arms are tight like the spindles of our front staircase. I’m really into it, or trying to tell myself I’m into it. We’re standing in the lawn out past all the people talking on the patio, in the dark of someone’s parents’ well-watered back yard. It’s more of a barbecue party than a party party, but it’s late, and we’re not doing anything wrong.

So who walks out far past the patio lights to see what’s going on in the dark? Who steps back as though startled to the bone?

I’m sloshing inside when we stumble home later. Owen helps me stand straight and I help him. We have decided for some unknown reason that we’re now friends. And we tell and retell the story of how he found me in the backyard kissing a little person.

“I thought they slipped something in my drink!” he says.

“He’s hot,” I say. “And I didn’t see who you made out with.”

“I don’t think anyone there was my type,” he says.

 “Crowd a little young for you?” I say, not oblivious of the fact I’m betraying Mom’s confidence but unable to stop. I have no self-control.

You can see him sort of deciding not to pounce on that. He says, “Yeah. I guess we always had extended family around. Uncles, grandparents. I would never have thought I’d miss them, but I do. And then I guess I look like a solid citizen just walking down the street. They call to me.” He’s stooping down to tie his shoe now and looks up at me, and there’s something so sexy about his dark eyes. Bedroom eyes, I’ve heard them called.

“That’s actually sweet,” I say. “So why are you here, really?”

He smiles down at his feet, says, “Hiding from something. And that’s all you need to know.”

“Hiding from what?”

“I can’t say,” he says. “You can’t make me,” and he starts to walk away.

“Sounds like you’re trying to make me make you. What do I do, tickle you?”

“Nothing you can say or do will ever make me tell,” he says. He seems to be flirting, but who knows? And the way I think of it now, who cares?

I’m feeling almost sober. I turn all my attention from Owen and back toward my own concerns, and we make the rest of the walk home in near silence. A door has started to open between us, and I don’t know whether to force it or just leave it alone.

With dread, shopping the next day, I see Mom reaching for a gigantic chub of graying ground beef. Cheeses go in the cart, breads, chips. I do not say a word.

We’re speeding toward some secret swimming hole with the sun and the wind drying us out, me and Owen and a couple of girls in the back of the pickup, the wrestler and a couple of his buddies up front. Owen is crouched in the corner of the bed and not speaking to anyone. I feel awkward in a lime bikini and shorty shorts because the girls are all suited up in drab hiking gear. I have flip flops on. They say it’s quite the walk. They say my abs are amazing.

It’s one hell of a walk over lava rock and through scratchy weeds, enough that we are all sweating by the time we see water. The little wrestler holds my hand and flashes this chiseled smile. When the girls strip down to suits I’m gaping at their wide shoulders and rock solid thighs, but he’s all over me, hanging around my neck.

Owen is back a ways, I think, but he never shows. We splash around for a while. One of the buddies leaves the water and pulls a pipe from his shoe, and the wrestler’s like, “None of that.” I feel like it’s partly maybe that he’s not supposed to, but it’s also that he wants a reason for the two of us to go off somewhere, which we start to do, but then I say I better check on Owen. Won’t he come back with me?

“Naw,” he says. He’s squinting into the sun, running his sharp perfect teeth along his bottom lip. I feel him let go of me right then, making the judgment that I am too much trouble, and I don’t mind. The truth is that something has come to me right then, an idea or a force.

All the way back I have my eyes on my flip flops where I feel the wet thong starting a blister between my toes. I keep imagining I’ll find Owen along the trail, maybe making friends with a ground squirrel, but he’s in the back of the truck, same as I left him. He sees me coming back. He stands and drops down and is coming to me.

Owen is cool and soft as a peach, inside and out. His tongue is cool and sweet.

There’s the one kiss, and after that we sit in the shade until the group returns, not talking. He runs a finger along my lifeline. Both girls and one of the buddies crowd into the front with the wrestler, and the last buddy who didn’t get in the cab quick enough, the one with the weed, says “damn” and gets in the back. He has a beautiful body and a mean, stubbed face. He glares at me all the way back, and he mouths something at me when Owen isn’t looking. He puts both hands out in a gesture of “What the hell?”

Now Owen and I are secret summer lovers, or almost, and home life is impossibly charged. He sits like a king in pajama pants and one of Mom’s pre-weight-loss terry robes, chest and belly pooching through the robe’s V. I look anywhere else, afraid that Mom will see my longing. She’s making tacos and wants me in the kitchen to help. Since when do I ever help? But all she wants is gossip.

“Oh, and then my lovely brother calls, which you know how I like that, and he makes it out like we’re living in a slum. Owen doesn’t feel safe.”

“When?”

“Last week.”

“I think it might be different now,” I say. “I think he’s coming to terms.”

Over dinner, Mom is on, standing and gesturing. She is sharing all about her boyfriend who thinks it’s getting serious. He wants to sleep over at our house.

“I told him I didn’t want to give you kids the wrong idea. So then he thinks I’m scheming for a proposal. I can see his mind working,” she says, tapping her temple. I can see her not thinking about the fact that she is filling up a second plate of dinner.

 Ridiculous, I think. She could never be married.

“I think it would be great for you,” Owen says.

I barely notice that I’ve refilled my plate and am eating so quickly I can’t add to the conversation.

Owen stands behind partially opened blinds. There are dog walkers, more dog walkers, the girl from up the street who treats her little sisters like dolls. Then there’s a good-looking kid about fourteen on a skateboard. He’s talking loudly on the phone and drinking a bottle of microbrew. Another bottle sticks out the deep back pocket of his jeans.

The kid looks pleased, Owen more pleased. “See?” he says.

 “He’s having fun. Anyway, you drink,” I say.

“I did drink,” he says, “to keep up with you. But we’re done with that now, aren’t we?” He moves behind to hold me around the waist. He is all moist and breathy.

He hasn’t quite touched me yet. All but.

I tell him about the wrestler’s buddy smoking weed, and a few other little things I’ve seen, to tell him this is no big deal—people like to have fun, is all—and then I have to convince him not to do something about it. Later, he deflates, saying, “I don’t know what I think I’m going to do about it. Not like I can call the cops.”

This takes me some time to think about because A, these don’t seem like things anyone would consider calling the cops for, and B, I’ve been assuming that Owen would call the cops any time he had an opportunity. That has been my fear all summer, that he’d call the cops on one of the neighbor kids—that or get in a fight. Somehow I thought he’d punch someone, one of these days. But now he is saying he can’t call the cops, can’t do anything about anything. Why am I not asking him what he means by that?

Owen and I go out for big sodas and come home to an open front door. We walk in to open cabinets in the kitchen. Owen is striding through the house. He hits his hip on the porch railing and bounces like he’s dodging a blow. Then he’s bounding around the corner, huffing around the block to see if he can catch the perpetrator.

When he gets back he is so angry he punches the air. I laugh at that.

“What am I going to do, punch a wall? You know what a pain it is to fix drywall? You know how many bones you break if it isn’t drywall?” He thumps it. “This is lathe and plaster.”

It might have been me who left the door unlocked.

I turn eighteen on an afternoon in the middle of summer. To celebrate, I go for a run. I know I am a young and spoiled eighteen, never having been challenged at anything. Take the summer off, work a year, and then school. That’s still the plan. The idea is that something else might capture me, trade school, or maybe I’ll really enjoy my work, or whatever. I wonder if when Mom was growing up she had a feeling of endless horizons, and or if she realized she was going to work at the bank and keep living with her family until all of them were dead or gone away.

I’m shaky and exhausted by the end. Still, I shower and go shopping with Mom, this time for clothes, though we don’t take anything. She will not buy a size eight and cannot now fit into anything smaller. The sizes have changed. It feels like all the best was in the past.

“Why don’t the cats like me anymore?” I ask Owen. They stand in the doorway watching us cuddle in the basement because it’s too hot to be anywhere else. My head rests on Owen’s belly. He lifts my face to kiss it. He is hurt that I was away all day. He doesn’t like to leave the house now.

 He finally opens up, why he’s here. He tells it badly and I do not follow it all, but it’s something about the thing he is hiding from. He and his real dad used to be close, but now he’s deathly afraid to see him. He betrayed his dad in some way I don’t understand, and now he’s paranoid that the dad will take revenge, or that the dad is going to hurt himself, or has. He can’t get over this feeling like the dad or some thing is waiting in the backyard.

The thing he was hiding from was his dad, then? Yes and no. No, he settles on.

When we were riding in the back of the truck, do I remember that day? Of course I do; that was when we first kissed. While we were driving to the place, this spooked feeling came over him, this feeling of terror in the middle of the afternoon. Because his dad, or this thing, had a power. There isn’t anyone else who can have power over Owen because he has the power too. Will he need to prove it?

Owen is bawling by now.

“Try to move. You can’t move, can you?” he says. His face is red and wet.

I am sure I can move but do not move.

“Because I’m willing it,” he says. He cries over me and kisses my face some more.

I tell myself that I can move but don’t want to.

He tells me some more about the gratitude and the surprise he felt that day when I came down the trail toward him. He tells me the story over and over.

Owen says there are things afoot. I believe him. I have seen people crouching in our backyard who scatter as I approach the door. No one has come into the house since that one time, but they’re becoming bolder in the yard and in the street.

Owen makes us a big breakfast and lunch, then Mom makes dinner every night. She seems so far away. She keeps asking me things that I don’t quite hear or understand. She seems to be asking for advice, which Owen gives her, and she frowns and asks me again, and again, he is the one who answers.

The wrestler’s buddy comes with a couple of my girlfriends. They want to know why I won’t step outside. Owen is taking a shower; I can’t talk for long. When Owen comes out, he’s pacing and checking the doors because he thinks he heard someone. Because I can’t tell him he’s right and who it was, I have to let him think the worst.

“Look, quick,” I say, holding the blinds open.  Crotch rockets race past side by side, and when they’ve passed there comes a topless Suzuki Samurai filled with kids shooting off bottle rockets. One of the kids falls right out of the back when it takes air on a traffic bump, but it reverses and he climbs back in. I keep calling Owen, but he is somewhere deep in the house.

Older ladies slouch along in leopard print nighties. A group of men stand smoking from a clear pipe in the open, right under our tree. I squint because they remind me of the uncles who moved away long ago. I know they’ll all scatter as Owen approaches.

“I saw someone squat down there,” I say when he arrives. I point at the front steps.

For a moment he doesn’t understand, but then he does. “Did you hose it off?” he says. He does not wipe his nose and the snot and tears are slick on his lips when I kiss them.

Mom keeps talking about the wedding. I cannot hear her well. We finish a practice cake flavored with artificial strawberry. Owen says she says she’s more optimistic about the future than she’s ever been before.

In the bathroom, preparing for bed, I look at myself truthfully in the mirror. The hair is finally growing, abs gone or almost gone. There is a defined line down the midriff, but below the navel the stomach plumps out away from the muscle. The breasts push out in two directions like they did when they were first starting. The entire effect reminds me of the nude Marilyn before she was Marilyn. I rub on handfuls of lotion and use a puff to dust on scented talcum. In a red satin robe that is missing the tie, I walk past Owen’s room on the way to mine.

Maybe tonight he will come to me.

Mom is gone. Owen says she moved into her fiancé’s house and that we’ll have to take over the upkeep here. Maybe he can get his stepdad to help us out for a few months—help him through night school or whatever—or Owen will just start work. It doesn’t matter. When I ask how he’s going to leave the house, he says he will do it for me. He gives me a brave look.

I want to tell him that there’s no point being brave. Whatever he was hiding from, it already found us. But I can’t say much more than those pleasurable mn sounds you say when you have some syrup in your mouth. I can only coo.

Uncles and their wives have arrived and are staying in rooms upstairs. When Owen’s one arrived I could not tell him from the others. His stance was tight when he placed his hand on Owen’s shoulder. The blurry woman beside him leaned in. They murmured together and disappeared upstairs with the others.

When Stacy arrives, Owen has to tell me who she is.

Coworkers and in-laws arrive in cars and seniors from down the street arrive with scooters and walkers. Flesh-colored metal chairs sit in rows on the lawn.

In my room, my arms are lifted above my head, a pink sackdress pulled on, and a crown of ivy placed on my head. My hair is tendriled and praised by Stacy. My mother appears in a dress all busy with roses appliqued on mesh over her deep cleavage, satin ribbons laced up the sides of both bodice and sleeves. She has hair metal hair for the wedding. I can feel her hands on me but cannot hear her words or see her face.

There is a writhing sensation in my chest.

I can’t see anyone’s face throughout the ceremony. I walk up the aisle and stand with what must be a stupid expression, then it is over and we go right into reception activities. I can’t hear the speeches. People try to help me eat, but I can’t. Then the wedding couple is dancing and Owen comes toward me, and I can see his beautiful face in high definition. We’re dancing. I think my feet must be on his shoes. He whispers that our secret love is not secret anymore, that all the people are smiling and wishing us well.

The wedding couple and all guests have gone home, and I seem to be coming awake. In the bathroom mirror I see the line down my stomach is gone. Flesh pushes out in breastlike curves above and below the navel and on my sides. I rub on lotion and dust on powder before returning to the sackdress.

I hope that tonight he will come to me, but when I lie down in my bed a vision plays of the day we went swimming. I rub at the space between my toes where a blister started long ago. It calls to mind something Owen told me about rats and cats and cat ladies, how badly toxoplasmosis wants to be in a cat, so when it gets into some other animal, it makes that animal want to be close to cats. Could a parasite like that be inside me, pulling me close to Owen?

I rise to turn the lock. Back in bed, I pull the foot up and realize I am afraid of what I’ll see. The end of a sinister worm? Some new body part growing? But the skin is smooth and lovely as the rest of me. 

Still, the vision is so clear it cannot be imagination. I look down at myself from a bird’s height, me laughing with the others, all of us picking our way down the path to the water, entering the water, splashing. I see the scene from that height and then suddenly, I look through my eyes at my flip-flops as the feet make their way back to the truck, look up to Owen standing, Owen placing his hands on the side of the truck bed and boosting his body over and coming to me.

The doorknob moves. He taps. “Are you asleep?” he whispers. “I’ve been thinking that tonight. . .”

The desire to rise and open the door comes, but I do not do it. I say, “Why did you say you couldn’t go to the police that time?”

I think maybe he has gone away. Finally, he says, “It’s not that I couldn’t. It’s just best not for me to be noticed, you know?”

“Because of this thing after you?” I say.

“Because of that, and. . . “

“Because of your power.”

“I know you don’t believe,” he says. He rattles the knob again. “Could you let me in?”

“I need you to prove it to me,” I say.

“I’ve already done that,” he says.

“Make me come to the door. That’s what you said you could do, right?”

He says, “I’m doing it. I’m doing it right now,” with that whine I used to notice, but I do not move. I sit until I’m satisfied that he cannot do it.

The thing in me has power yet, which is why when I open my window I see people crouched and leaning in toward the house. But I keep my eyes on my feet. I step right through a man who squats by the foundation. The people can lurch and feint, which they do, but they cannot touch me. I walk through them. The ones in the distance grow dimmer and dissipate, and I recognize the street I’ve known and walked for all my life. There are still people here and there, but none of them scare me. Anyone who might meet me here is a friend.

I don’t know if I am going to the house of a friend or if I’m trying to spot Mom’s car parked in front of wherever she lives now. I am only walking, then running. At first, I think I will sweat it out. I will starve it out. But I feel the thing panic as it realizes the space opening up between it and Owen. It tries to force me back with visions of cars coming toward me. I see them for what they are. I run through them.

I run forward into a drop-off it projects before my eyes. My feet keep hitting street though below me is only a chasm.

A whirring sound starts in my ears like they are going to pop and it speaks to me:

It was a mistake to bring you into this, it says. Or, as I now understand, they say.

We apologize.

We apologize! We hoped only to recover before taking Owen.

We wanted it to be nice when it happened.

It can still happen.

We were depleted, coming from so far away.

We stayed quiet. We did not know we could cause you any harm.

In fact, we haven’t harmed you.

Please, turn back.

It can still happen the nice way.

And then there are pictures of Owen like his life flashing before my eyes.

I have no way of knowing for sure, but I think that one of them may be his father, and if I had a phone and could look it up, I bet I’d find that his father recently passed away. In June, maybe. It was the thing that sent them out looking for us, or for Owen. They need to go along with that other thing or he’ll not know how to use its power. They’ll stay with him and advise him all his life and then pass down to his son or daughter, which is sweet if you think about it.

I almost stop right then, for the truth of it is, when your body is less than firm, a certain nauseating jiggle comes with each impact, not to mention the pain in shins and chest that come from running after a couple months of inertia. It would be easier to stop, but I want out.

It takes two more miles to fully peel from me. The pain is not exceptional. It’s something like pulling a wax strip off your leg.

When it is gone, I jog another quarter mile to be sure, and then I stop and heave. I am outside town by now, but I do not yet turn back. 

It must have taken a piece of me when it lifted because as I continue out of town, passing from gas stations to orchards, I am also seeing the street I just passed from a slow birds-eye view. I see the subdivisions and the darkened rows of businesses closed for the night, the intersection with its open bars and people having their fun outside them, the senior center, the park and then the neighborhood where I’ve always lived and finally my tall old house.

I see Owen pacing out into the yard, clearly still trying to pull up the courage to leave the front gate, when it finds him and begins to settle on him at last.

He screams and claws at the skin of his shoulders as it settles. I can’t feel his pain at first but then I do, all the pain and regret of the thing you’ve wished against coming down on you unexpected and you with no defense, like in a dream. I feel both his panicked, violent struggle and the regret from all of them that it has to be this way.  

I walk no farther than the freeway on-ramp before turning back. The walk home is slow and painful, and when I finally enter the house, I find it empty. I don’t even bother to look for Owen. Once his struggle was over, he simply left the yard. I feel it must be all my fault but can’t say why that is.

With no mother or lover near, no beautiful body anymore, with pain in my heart and all through my muscles, I climb into bed and cry myself to sleep.

The part of me taken was equal, I think, to the part of his father or grandfather or great-grandmother that still live in him. Maybe that part of me will live on when most of Owen is gone. For now, it allows me to come into his life. I see his face when he looks into mirrors, and I see some of what he is doing. He does the best he can, considering. He’s still afraid almost all of the time, still preoccupied with law and order. He’s still a friend of animals. They won’t come near him now, but he still loves them. He tries, difficult as the thing makes things for him. He’s still terrified and has no one to trust.

It took some time for me to realize that the part of me it took will let me hover back over scenes from yesterday. I can enter old drawing rooms and live out times with his ancestors. I don’t do that often because these people aren’t really anything to me. They might have been more to me, if things had gone differently.

Instead I go back to some of the sweet times from our summer. The scene I revisit the most, I think it attracts me because I missed it at the time. Mom’s wedding in the backyard with her brothers and Stacy, all the others. I see their faces when I go back. I hear the toasts. One uncle wishes, “May the best of your yesterdays be the worst of your tomorrows,” and Mom holds her hand over her mouth. The new husband is there. He’s handsome, and the both of them are crying with joy. I hover over the dancers and especially Owen and me, held so close together.

This story originally appeared in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet.


Data?1591969764
Christi Nogle

Christi Nogle is writing dark fiction.