Guardians

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Orange sunlight shone through the large window over the stairway, changing the dull brown of the parquet floor to a brilliant gold, dust luminescent as it swirled stark white against the dark shadows. Suddenly, the pattern changed, chaotic, as if someone had walked past. The sole occupant of the house. She was sipping lukewarm coffee and staring blankly at the headlines of the day's newspaper. All the windows of the house were shut tight, the air stale and still. The stuffiness didn't seem to bother the woman. Her long hair hung low, partially covering her face; had it not been for the stray strands that were swaying, one might have thought that she wasn't breathing. The dark eyes behind the black hair widened and she uttered a brief curse. Her three year old niece was due to arrive in less than an hour and the house was in no condition to welcome a hyper-active child.

After some vigorous cleaning, her sister arrived, a quarter of an hour early. As it turned out, young Evelyn was asleep, which spared her having to cajole the child into leaving her mother. She briefly greeted her sister and after a few minutes of awkward small-talk, they said a brief farewell. She then took Evelyn to the guest room on the second floor, which she had been using as a store room. The second her head touched the pillow, Evelyn's head snapped up, her eyes snapped open and stared. A gut-curdling shriek came from her mouth and her eyes were wild and unfocused. As the scream died away, her eyes registered her aunt.

“Where's mommy?” Her voice was hoarse from all her screaming and seemed to belong to someone much older than three.

“She'll be back soon, honey. What happened!?” Her own voice was unsteady. “Was it a bad dream?”

The little girl only nodded, tears began to form in her eyes. Elizabeth picked up her niece and carried her into the kitchen.

After feeding her half a bar of chocolate, Evelyn stopped crying. Elizabeth considered calling her sister, but thought better of it, seeing that Evelyn had already calmed down.

“Do you want to tell me what your dream was about, hmm?”

“I don't think it was a dream Aunt Lizzy, because I was sure you were in it.”

“Oh really? What was I doing, why were you so afraid?”

“Well, I didn't seem to know you.”

'What's that supposed to mean?', Elizabeth thought to herself. 'Never mind,' she resolved. Evelyn was happy enough right now and seemed to have forgotten about her nightmare, 'so I might as well do the same.'

After chasing Evelyn around the house, Elizabeth, covered in a light sheen of sweat, set out to prepare lunch. Failing miserably in her attempts to make macaroni salad, she gave up and dumped ketchup into the pan, 'Evelyn would like this better anyways'. Thankfully, Evelyn was not much of a fussy eater, so the meal was over quickly. While she was clearing away the dishes, Elizabeth found herself spacing out once again. As she came to, she noticed two things: firstly, the house was quiet, which it hadn't been since Evelyn arrived that morning, secondly, the floor was covered in an inch of water. Feeling oddly calm about the situation, she called out, “Evelyn, I'm in the kitchen.” The only noise she got in reply was the sound of dripping water. She turned off the tap and took off her wet socks before leaving the flooded kitchen in search of her niece. The house was vast, too vast for a single woman. There were footsteps of water leading her through the house until the sound of banging came to her ears. The racket came from the bathroom, “Evy, is that you?”

“Let me out! Let me out! LET ME OUT!”
Elizabeth turned the doorknob just to be sure before running off to fetch the master keys. When she came back, she was panting slightly and it took awhile before she found the right key. The second the key turned, Evelyn burst out of the bathroom and bumped into her aunt. Elizabeth chased after her and when she finally caught up and snatched the girl up in her arms, Evelyn tried to struggle free.

“Calm down, Evelyn! Tell me what's the matter!?”

“NO, let me GO! I can't stay here!”

“Why not, Evelyn!? You can't leave either, what's the matter?”

“Someone locked me in the bathroom, it told me to ROT! I can feel it, I can feel it HATING me,
it doesn't want me here!”

“You're not making sense honey, who is “it”? What do you mean “you can't stay here”, you
have to stay with me until your mom comes back.”
Throughout this exchange, Evelyn's tears were falling, her eyes filled with fear. 'This is probably something from her dream this morning'.

“Did you doze off in the bathroom dear? Maybe it was just another nightmare?”

“No auntie, I'm pretty sure it wasn't, I never imagine death in dreams, but just now I was
thinking what it would be like to rot away in a room.”
To hear a three year-old say something like that made Elizabeth feel uneasy to say the least. She found herself sitting on Evelyn's bed, rocking her niece gently on her knees until her sniffling subsided and her ragged breath was replaced by a quiet snoring. Setting Evelyn's head on the pillow, Elizabeth lay down beside her, watching her sleep. She didn't want to go anywhere in case Evelyn had another nightmare. Perhaps that bar of chocolate and the huge lunch they had has made Evelyn prone to having dreams in her sleep.
Perhaps not, as a kindergarten teacher herself, she was accustomed to children having dreams during their afternoon naps. What Evelyn said about her dream was not the same way a toddler would describe her nightmare. Contemplating this, the softness of the pillow and the mental exhaustion lulled her to sleep. The dream was vivid...

She was waking up in the guest room. Her niece was gone, but she wasn't alone on the bed. Turning her head, the first thought that popped up was, 'who the hell put a mirror on the bed'. But then she noticed that her eyes were closed. Elizabeth gasped. At this sound, the reflection opened her eyes, or at least, her eyelids. Instead of eyeballs, there were two little flames burning out of her dark eye sockets, like the faraway light at the end of a tunnel. Dark veins became visible on her tan cheeks; in mere seconds, her skin had transformed from a pleasant, natural hue to a sickly black that suggested multiple hemorrhages. Elizabeth wanted to scream, and when she did, she felt as if a piece of fabric was being stuffed down her throat; she started choking. The creature lifted up its hand, which still looked human, and wagged its index finger, giving an eerie, “no”.

“What the hell!?”

“NO, I am not of Hell, though I yearn for it so,” barked the creature in a multitude of voices that made it impossible to judge what age or gender the creature actually was, especially now that its hair was falling away. Standing up, the creature before Elizabeth had grown in height, possibly reaching seven feet; the blood under its skin has spread throughout its entire body. Elizabeth herself had backed away from the bed but found herself unable to turn and open the door, as if she couldn't bring herself to do it. “Pathetic humans, you whine about how unfair Life is; but all we have to say is, just wait until Death, you'll understand the true meaning of 'unfair'”. The words spewed out like the waters through a broken dam. After a brief pause the creature continued in a seemingly calmer voice, though the menace was still dripping from every word, “The western Corner of this house is dirty, if you don't purify it by the time the light passes the Corner, we will take your niece to join us. Don't make us wait, for we have done that long enough”.

… “We have waited long enough.” The sentence still echoed in Elizabeth's head as she sat upright on the bed, Evelyn still snored away beside her. She turned and shook her niece's shoulder. When Evelyn didn't respond, she wasn't surprised. Her niece only seemed to be sleeping, but Elizabeth somehow knew that no amount of physical stimuli will awake her. Along with this knowledge came the unexplained certainty that her dream was just a dream, but that her dream was true in every aspect.

Soon Elizabeth found herself at the western corner of her house. The same corner where, only a few hours ago, Evelyn was handed to Elizabeth. It was also Evelyn's favorite part of the garden because of the large bush that came up to an adult's waist. Evelyn loved to crawl around in the hollow area by the stems of the bushes. Elizabeth imitated her niece, and with some more difficulty, she disappeared into the bushes. It was beautiful inside, the earth seemed clean and soft like a mattress; the leaves were about a hundred shades of green. With the sun shining through the low canopy, the area seemed to glow yellow. 'The sun...', she had to hurry, it was nearly five o'clock, and the sun was due to set soon. As she came to the house itself, she noticed that the soil at the corner had been shoveled into a pile. On that pile of earth were a pile of rocks, stacked precariously on top of each other to form a dome. Unceremoniously, Elizabeth swept away the rocks to uncover what was underneath. The miniature tomb consisted of snails with crushed shells, butterflies with broken wings, frogs with exploded innards; the largest animal was a bird with a twisted neck, whose yellow plumage was stained with blood and dirt. The last rays of the sun were are less than a meter away, so quickly, Elizabeth scooped up the animals and stuffed them in a bag. She then leveled the earth back to its original flatness. The sun reached yellow corner...and passed it.

“For centuries we have guarded this house, but time has slowed for us; some of us have been punished and trapped here for millenia. And yet, the only reprieve we receive is unjust. Those who commit evil on the house would join our ranks; for each additional soul, one of us would be allowed to pass through the Doors of Hell, whoever can scamper through it first. The longer we wait, the more desperate we become, and we begin to resort to whichever evil we can exploit, even the curiosity of a child. We have made this house a safe haven for every owner, but if they betray the house, they would replace one of us. Your niece would have risen by now, GO!”

Elizabeth jolted awake, nearly scratching her face with the bushes above. From inside the house, she could hear Evelyn's raised voice. Elizabeth crawled out of the bushes and brushed herself off, once again treating the whole episode with a logical mind, she resolved to ask Evelyn about her tomb for the animals. As she walked up the front steps, she noticed that all the windows of the house were open, the cold night wind was beginning to blow. She entered her home only to stubbornly shut all the windows once again, but the cool fresh air lingered for a while longer before turning stale. There was no sign of the creature, only its voices echoed in her head.





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