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Mark of Cain
Sammy was too sick to go to church. It was weird, because you could count on Sammy, a vibrant, buzzing, eight years old, to never be sick on a weekend. Even weirder was the fact that he seemed legitimately sick, which was a rare occurence since he discovered the magic of playing "hookey", tought to him by his older brother, yours truly.
On my way out the front door, I waited for my mom, purse in hand, to pass by me, then went to Sammy's door and leaned on the frame. He was lying in bed, propped up and reading a comic book. He looked up at me, his bright blonde hair sticking at odd angles, and frowned.
"What do you want, tubby?" he asked. "Mom's waiting in the car."
"You do realize," I said, choosing to ignore his eight year old wit, " That if you fake sick today, it ruins your chances of staying home from school tomorrow?"
He giggled, and the giggle turned into a hacking, coughing fit.
"Huh, maybe you ARE sick," I said. "You do look really pale." And he did. Thinking back on it, he looked very sick. His eyes had dark bags underneath, and his skin looked waxy, lacking the usual eight year old vitality he always had.
"Isn't Momma still waiting on you?" He said, and as if on cue, two sharp beeps from our Rendezvous horn cut through the Sunday morning calm.
"Oh calm down," I said, and Sammy grinned. "Seeya." He stuck his tongue out at me, and grinning, I walked down the hall and out our front door into the beautiful Sunday sunshine.
Monday morning dawned bright and cold, one of the lazy autumn days that seems to always happen in books but hardly ever in real life. The sky was a poignant, crystal azure, with not a single cloud to obscure it from view. Shrugging my blankets off me, I stumbled to the kitchen in my underpants, grabbing coacoa puffs from the cupboard on my way to the fridge.
"Ick, put some clothes on!" my ten year old sister, Amanda, yelled from behind one of her teen girl magazines. I don't know why she constantly read them, considering she had not even hit her tween years yet, but go figure. Sisters are weird that way.
"Oh, shutup." I said, grabbing my usual seat at the end of the table.
"Shut doors and windows, not people!" My mom cried from the laundry room. My mother has a disease where she thinks it is still the nineteen fifties, and children should respect their elders, or something.
"Sorry," I yelled over the roar of the dryer. "Wheres Sammy"?
"Still sick!" Amanda interjected, grabbing the coacoa puffs from my hand and pouring a second bowl. "Speaking of missing persons, have you seen Cookie anywhere?" Cookie was my sisters pet rat, completely contradictory to all of the Teen Vogues and Seventeen Magazines stacked around its cage. A master of escape, Cookie was constantly on the loose, and Amanda took it upon herself to employ all of us in its capture.
"Oh yeah," I said, stealing back the coacoa puffs," I squished her to death as I got out of bed this morning."
"MOOOOOOOM!!" Amanda screamed, "JASON IS LYING!"
And, as it turns out, I was.
After school, I normally go to the living room and collapse in front of the television, but I thought I would check on Sammy. He hadn't been out of his room, screamed, sporadically ran around, or called me any names since Sunday, a running record for him. I rapped three times on the frame and opened the door. It was pitch black in his room, so I flipped the light switch.
"UUGH!" Sammy cried, and covered his head with his blanket.
"Why did you shut your blinds?" I asked. He whipped the blanket off of his head and I stepped back against the door, shocked.
Sammy was no longer the Sammy from three days ago. His skin was nearly chalk white, contrasting with the black bags under his veiny eyes. "I have a headache!" He yelled, and I saw hate--pure, stinging hate-- in his eyes. Sammy was mad. He was furious. I almost had to fight the urge to bolt from his room.
"Jeez Louise, you look sick!" I said. Grunting, he whipped the covers back over his head and flopped back onto his bed.
"Turn off the light!" he said. Something about the way he said it startled me, and I couldn't place my finger on it until now. He was giving me an order. My little brother was giving me an order.
"Fine, grump." I said. I put my finger on the lightswitch, then paused, noticing something.
"What are you doing?" Sammy said, emerging from under the sheet again. The sight of him shocked me again, and I almost didn't walk over to his bed to investigate what looked like a pink worm emerging from under the pile of clothes and toys beneath his bed. Realizing what I was thinking, being afraid to go near my little brother, I mentally shook myself and walked toward him, hunkering at the end of his bed.
"What is this?" I said, gripping the pink wormish thing, but I think I already knew. Pulling, the body of Cookie, barely recogniseable, emerged from the pile of clothes. I held it up in the air. Cookie was a shrivelled, dry form of her former self, looking almost mummified.
"Oh jeez." I said. This would be hard to explain to Amanda. "He must have crawled under there and suffocated."
"Must have." Sammy said, nonplussed, and hid under the comforter again. Eager to get away from this angry thing that was my brother, I stepped out, and taking one last peek at the lump under the sheets, I flicked the light and closed the door.
I let the honor of breaking the news to Amanda go to my dad, and for the rest of Wednesday afternoon and night, I listened to the cyclical, panicked arguments of a child facing death for the first time.
"Sweetie, i'm sorry. Rats just don't live as long as people do."
"But you said that clothes killed her! She wasn't even old in rat years!"
"Honey, she was buried in clothes, she-she didn't have enough air. But shes in a much better place now!"
"But she always explores in clothes! She never ran out of air before!"
And so forth. Eventually her fevered rationalizations subsided into quiet, hitching sobs. Feeling guilty, considering I had found Cookie, I decided to have a funeral for her in our backyard. I told Amanda about it the next day, and she acquiesced. I planned a short service, even taking the time to find a Bible verse to read from my Teen Boy Bible that my dad had gotten Sammy and I two years back. As the sun started to set, our family, minus Sammy, marched into the backyard, me in the lead, carrying Cookies shrivelled form in a shoebox. Placing her in the pre-dug hole, we all stood in a gloomy, despondent circle. Amanda gave a hearty sniff.
"Ahem." I said. I didnt exactly know how to start, so I launched into the verse I had found earlier.
"And his master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you have been faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your masters joy."
Not the best verse, but I thought it went okay for a rat funeral. Closing my Bible, I looked at Amanda. She was crying again. "Do you want to say anything, 'Manda?"
She nodded. "Goodbye, Cookie. I'll miss you."
We marched inside, a black parade. The sun set, and clouds slowly spread from the horizon.
After the funeral, I decided to check on Sammy again, and see if he was feeling any better. I didn't have high hopes since the last time I checked on him he was so
angry, but he was just a little kid, for God's sake. Rapping on the door, I pushed it open. The room was as dark as before. "Hey. Can I turn on the light?"
"Fine." He said. I flipped the switch, and even though I was ready for his waxy complexion, his bloodshot eyes, and his pale skin, I still had to fight the urge to leave.
"What do you want?" He said, and I could almost feel hate baking off him.
Stop it, I thought. Hes your little brother. Hes just a kid. Why are you so afraid of him?
I discovered my throat was dry. "Well?" He said.
I swallowed, and took a step inside."You missed one heck of a funeral-"
The rest of my words were cut off by a piercing scream. Sammy was shrieking at me, eyes widening, and he was backing up against his bedstand, pointing at me.
"OUT! OUT!" he screamed. Nearly tripping over a pile of comic books in my haste, I fled for the door, and slammed it. I ran to the living room and collapsed against the wall, panting. My heart was beating furiously.
My mom ran in behind me. "Hon, what happened? Whats going on-?"
"I don't know!" I said. I was freaked out. Way, way too freaked out to just have been talking to my little brother. "I just stepped in his room and-and..."
My mother started to say something about how moody he was, with headaches and all, but I didnt hear her. I was looking at my Bible, still gripped in my sweaty hand, and wondering just what was wrong with my little brother.
I stayed up until after midnight, thinking. Finally, I decided I had to find something more solid than just my unnatural fear to base my theory on. Putting on my sneakers, I slid the back door open and stepped into the chilly night. Shivering, I grabbed a shovel from behind the shed and stood over Cookies grave. An owl hooted somewhere.
It only took two scoops of dirt to unearth the shoebox. Hands shaking, I bent down and removed the lid. Cookie looked grotesque. Grimacing, I picked her up by the tail and held her in the moonlight. I searched over her shrivelled body and felt my blood turn cold.
Two miniscule points, about an inch and a half apart, had pierced Cookie right above the spine. I knew then. I knew why Cookie was so dry, and I knew who--What-- had made her that way. Choking back a sob, I lowered Cookie into her shoebox. I replaced the grave exactly as it was, putting the little stone cross Amanda had placed as a marker in the exact same indention. I went inside and lay in my bed, unable to sleep.
The next morning, I rose and sat in a state of stupor at the kitchen table. I didn't feel like eating.
My mom came in. "Hon? You look terrible. How late were you up last night?"
"Not that late, Mom."
"All right. Lets just hope Sammy didn't get you sick too!"
"Yeah." I said darkly.
"Well, its been a bad week for pets all around." My mom said.
I spun around and looked at her. "What do you mean?"
"Mrs. Harbinger's dog has gone missing. I saw a flyer on my morning walk." She looked at me. "You don't look well. Maybe you should stay home today."
"No, I'm fine." I picked up my backpack and walked to the bus stop.
At lunch that day, I knew what I had to do. I waited for my friend Connor to sit down at my table, and tried to explain.
He looked at me. "Your not serious. You CAN'T be."
"Look at me. Tell me I'm not."
He did. "Okay fine. You might be wrong though."
"I'll show you the rat if you want."
"That could mean anything though! That could be a cat, or, you know, anything."
"Connor." I said, almost pleadingly. "First there was the rat. Now Mrs. Harbingers dog. What could be next? I'm the only one who understands, and I need help. Please." I sat on tenterhooks, waiting.
"Fine." he said, after a moment. "What do you want me to do?"
"Ask to sleep over tonight. Bring something religious. A cross, a Bible, anything."
"If your serious- And I think you are," He said, "Then I'm gonna bring my Dad's .22. That will do better that a cross."
"Fine. Just make sure you can spend the night. I can't stay with him alone again."
Connor got dropped off around four, and we sat in the living room watching TV and playing Monopoly until Dinner. I ate mechanically. I didn't know what we would do. We went to my room early and sat on the floor. Connor pulled his pillow from his backpack and revealed the .22 tucked inside. I grabbed my Bible and put the cross on my bookshelf in my pocket. Then we waited.
We watched TV until one in the morning. I was halfway hoping my theory was wrong when we heard Sammy's door creak open. I bolted upright. Motioning for Connor to follow, I nudged open my own door and peeked out. I saw a shadow roughly the size of Sammy slip into the kitchen. I tiptoed along the walkway, heart pounding, Connor close behind. We stopped as we heard the back door slide open and then shut. I looked at Connor.
He paused. "Look at us. Were chasing your little brother- your LITTLE BROTHER- in the dark. I have a fucking gun in my hand, dude. This is bad."
I shook my head. "That...thing... is not my little brother. Come on. You might not have to even fire it anyway."
We walked to the back door. Holding my breath, I pulled it open. Cold wind shook the legs of my pajama pants. We stepped outside. A full moon hung like a swollen fruit in the sky.I looked around. "Where did he-"
"Shh!" Connor said. He pointed to the ground. Along the grass, some dark substance glistened, going in a line from a cluster of bushes by my house to the patio. Then it abruptly ended.
"I think he-dragged something." Connor stammered. His eyes were as big as dinner plates, and I knew he understood.
"Then where did he go? The trail disappears." I said.
We both looked up at the roof above the patio.
" He mighta jumped." Connor said.
"All right, lets check. We can get up from the fence." Our fence ran up to the edge of our house, and we could climb on to get on the roof. We tiptoed over, and climbed onto the fence edge. Connor paused.
"Do you hear that?" He said, in a short whisper. I could. It sounded like someone talking. Like Sammy talking.
Working up my nerve, I lifted myself onto the roof. And saw Sammy.
He was holding Mrs. Harbinger's dog- a big, German Shepard- In one hand. With the other he was drawing something on the roof with some sticky substance. My insides froze as I realized it was blood from Mrs. Harbingers dog. Mrs. Harbingers dog, who had played frisbee with us since we were little. I realized I could hear Sammy chanting something:
"Addo vestri vox , Senior nosferatu, Tribuo mihi vox , Senior nosferatu!"
Connor came up beside me. As Sammy finished his drawing, a seven sided star, he stopped chanting, and put the dog to his mouth. And drank.
"Addo vestri vox , Senior nosferatu, Tribuo mihi vox , Senior nosferatu!"
Sammy was no longer chanting, but I could still hear it; thousands of voices chanting, it seemed, and it sounded as if it were coming from the bowels of the Earth itself, felt as if it were resonating from the depths of hell to come screaming into the night, and I screamed, and I heard Connor screaming, and the chantings were cut short, and Sammy slowly turned to face us.
His eyes glowed red in the darkness, and his mouth and the front of his shirt were stained dark with blood. He grinned, exposing canines tapering to points nearly an inch long. I saw his eyes no longer had any whiteness, just black glowing red in the moonlight; and I reached for the Bible in my back pocket.
"Sammy, what are you doing?" My voice shook. Sammy grinned a dark, malevolent grin.
"HALLOWING THE NAME OF MY FATHER." Blood bubbled from the corner of his lips as he said it, in a deep resounding monotone. Connor gasped from behind me. I ignored him. I was focusing on not fainting as I gazed at Sammy and realized what must have taken control of him. Dull anger throbbed at my temples. Sammy's lips curled into a grin.
"THE BOY KNOWS YOU, B****** SON OF THE SHEEP-GOD. WHAT HAVE YOU LET HAPPEN TO HIM? ARE YOU NOT YOUR BROTHERS KEEPER?" The thing chuckled gutterally and, to my horror, stepped toward us. An audible metallic CLICK sounded from behind me.
"Stop." Connor's voice quivered. Sammy looked at him, ebony eyes like smoked glass.
"CONNOR STREMEL. YOU WERE CONCEIVED WHEN YOUR MOTHER FORNICATED WITH THE POST MAN SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO. DID YOU KNOW SO?"
"YES, YOU KNEW. YOUR NOTHING LIKE YOUR FATHER. DID YOU KNOW SHE MOANED AND ROCKED LIKE A BOAT AT SEA WHILE SHE-"
"Shut the f*** up!"
"WHILE SHE STRADDLED A STRANGER, DID YOU KNOW SHE SCREAMED LIKE A W****-"
"SHUT UP!" An explosion sounded as Connor squeezed the .22s trigger. Sammy stared at him for a moment in ringing silence; a small red hole had appeared above his black obsidian chip eyes. Then, slowly, he collapsed backwards onto the seven pointed star. It immediately glowed a greedy scarlet, and Sammy started convulsing violently, smearing blood everywhere.
"SAMMY!" I ran to him and fell to my knees next to him, cradling him against my chest. His arms, so little and soft, flailed and beat against me. His teeth ground, his eyes rolled up to their whites. Then, suddenly, he was still. The disgusting glow from the star faded and left a ghost of red on my retinas; and whatever had inhabited this blasphemous altar was gone. And it had taken Sammy with it.
"Sammy," I whispered. He was so small. He had never hurt anyone, but the monsters of life preyed on him all the same.
"Oh my God, Jason. I-i'm sorry. I didn't-I didn't-"
"You didn't do it." I whispered. "I did. I couldn't save you, Sammy. I'm sorry."
I hugged his limp form as tightly to me as I could while the first stars started to disappear with the coming of dawn.