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· · ·
IT BEGAN at the bitter end of the daylight.
It was almost nine when Teagan had come home from work that evening, unusual as is, of course, that she was almost four hours offset from when she’d usually return home. Rightfully so, seeing as how late traffic had come to run and how long the work set was that she had to further complete. Teagan, as young as she was, worked in a pediatric office as a greeter, which was more tiresome than she’d ever expected when she did, properly, get hired. The work started early, and more often ended around five. She’d gotten used to the ending schedule being shaky.
Teagan was twenty-three.
Upon opening the front door to the main foyer, she was greeted by her elder sister, Clara, who had looked years older than her age from exhaustion at the minute. She was thirty, with amber hair tied back and away from her face, and a child cradled in her arms, whom, in which, she’d named Tavish. Tavish Ronmier. After his father.
At times, Teagan was the one to question whether she was living with her sister, or if her sister, poor and faltered, was living with her.
Clara bounced Tavish further up her arms and smiled to her sister, a rare and cordial thing, “Somebody’s exhausted.”
Teagan spoke softly, shrugging her overcoat off, “Suppose so.”
Tavish gave a honeyed gurgle of his own. He was two. Teagan often spoke about how her and Clara were able to speak at his age, so, seeing as how he only spoke in soft, fathomless gurgles, why couldn’t he have inherited the same trait? Clara often said he was simply behind in his development. Teagan thought otherwise.
“I agree, bud,” Clara responded to her baby boy, kissing him lightly on the forehead before setting him down on the ground. Crawling off, he was out of sight, and not too much later, out of mind.
“Not in the slightest,” Teagan responded, sinking into the couch beside her sister. Her thin lips were sketched with weariness, her pink-brown lipstick worn nearly completely off from the day’s work. She was a rather plain woman, no princess, not completely unsightly either. Her hair was rich, cut often to the bottom of her chin, and a tanned almond in color, a color that matched her sister’s beyond any comparison. It wasn’t that Teagan and Clara would take the idea that they looked alike commonly; looking alike and acting alike seemed to link arms. And in Teagan and Clara’s case, one of those arms was broken.
“You’ve eaten, right?” Clara asked, adjusting herself.
“Lunch was late, Clara, stop worrying.”
“Have I ever?” She stands, finally, shaking her hair from it’s ponytail and wrapping the tie around her wrist in a bracelet-like fashion. She looked younger when her hair was down, more blithe, untroubled.
Teagan laughs a little under her breath, shaking her head.
“Well,” Clara always seemed to go on such rants, describing the day, the life that lead, while her younger sister was off, “Tavvey’s doing alright,” he was, in fact, “Dad’s getting better,” this was a lie, “everything’s doing alright, I suppose. Just peachy.”
Clara stood, wandering to the fridge. She grabbed a fresh bottle of champagne, popping the cork clean off with a twist. The familiar sounds of the off-pink fluid inside fizzing to the top made contact at last.
The thing about the siblings’ lives was that it would never be described as “peachy”, “alright” or even “robust” , at times. Suitable descriptions would conclude as “unfortunate” or perhaps, on the best of days, “untimely”.
However, what created the pedestal of hope for the two of them, throughout thicker and thin, was lies. From the doctors working with their father, claiming that their father was finally recovering from the accident that had not happened three years set before this tale. From Clara, who was, quite possibly, one of the most incontrovertible young women you might ever have the chance of laying eyes on, never thinking a word against the information they fed her. She was eating out of their hands, without a second thought that the food being fed to her might, in a sense, be poisonous.
Clara was not feeding to the lies, nor was she contributing to them. She was a broken embankment, letting heaps of water pass through, damned to flood the river underneath her in a second’s time.
But to somebody like Teagan, Clara’s words were not as such. They were an umbrella.
Clara poured two glasses of the drink, filling each one almost completely full, as she always did, “To another week passed,” she said, handing her younger sister one of the glasses.
Teagan passed a smile, clinking her glass against Clara’s and downing half the glass in a single swallow. Things were whole.
Upon times like this, the two sisters allowed themselves time to sit with a glass of liquid - whether champagne, water, or perhaps the expensive sort of richly-flavoured c***tails that came pre-mixed in a bottle - and they’d talk over whatever happened to be on their mind. Clara enjoyed the times, seemingly, more than Teagan did, although the younger one would always deny it as such when the idea was brought up.
Not that she disliked the idea of spending time with her sister every now and then. It was the time it took itself.
The night we speak for tonight, there was another night full of drink and lawful talk of the times, a pleasant sort of music that lied inside Clara’s voice as she spoke that stuck to the walls. Teagan, without saying, much preferred sitting back with her drink, listening to how her older sister had viewed life at the time. Her words were quite like poetry,
This time went on until dinner.
TO CONTINUE FORTH, it might be important to understand that Clara Ronmier, despite everything against her reasons, wasn’t a bad mother in the very slightest, nor was she unfit to be a parent in the first place. She, as most people are as soon as they are graduated, had once been rather skittish when it came to her son, a habit nearly unbreakable when he was a newborn, a habit much unlike the true character of Clara Ronmier-Delancy. Years upon years had gone by of being as frivolous as she happened to be, widowed, without a cent in her name or her hands. Such, at twenty-seven, she took house with her younger sister, who had her occupation of a pediatric secretary well under way for just about three years at the point. Clara had, in Teagan’s thoughts, no time to lose herself over the responsibility of caring for Tavish alone, unemployed, without a cent for herself. But, as she would, Clara had settled with her sister, pushing away the thoughts and the anxiety of not only caring for a child, who was no older than one, at the time we speak of, but for her job. For the rest of her days.
The night went on in bliss, subjected to wine and a few other glasses of champagne. Being a Friday, only one of the sisters had a care in the world for how the rest of the night would go, whether it would go at all. Clara, however, was loose.
Well enough, they were sober by the time the ninth hour had come to a gentle close.
Teagan stood at the edge of the sink, her mind elsewhere as she washed the used glasses. She brushed her hair away with her fingertips and let the sounds of the running water cleanse her through and through.
Teagan was alright.
Clara dipped her head back into the couch and shut her eyes, stretching out into the faux velvet, “Better?”
Teagan didn’t respond for a longer time before nodding, putting the last of the wine glasses onto the kitchen towel, “Enough.”
“God, it’s late…” Clara murmured, brushing both hands through her hair, most of it getting caught in her old wedding ring. She’d never taken it off. Never.
“Where’s Tav?” Teagan asked, wiping her hands on her dress.
“You were checking on him,” Clara said, rubbing her eyes. Mascara smeared across her fingers. “He’s in his playroom. He set up a game for himself.”
“For himself?” Teagan reiterated, “Claire, he’s three.”
“He’s done it before, remember?” Clara smiled, her eyes still closed, “Quit freaking, everything’s okay.”
Interestingly enough, she was right. For the time being.
Teagan gave a bitter, forceful laugh, “All okay...all okay...guess you’re right.”
I HAD THOUGHT somebody was going to die that night.
It interested me enough. Death, I mean. What was to happen afterwards. Was there light? Or just endless, endless darkness? Was there always to be pain set strongly afterwards? Or was there just a void?
Death interested me more than it should have.
It was a sense, that night, that something was dreadfully, dreadfully wrong. A bit, in a way, like how you feel at the pique of a horror movie, when the characters turn the corner of a deep hallway. You seem to get, you know, that something absolutely terrible is going to happen.
So I had thought something terrible was going to happen that night.
Something like a murder. Or some kind of accident.
I didn’t know anything about the skinner. You’re going to have to believe me.
THE AIR smelled like burnt hair by the time midnight had begun to come to a close. Teagan had been the only one to notice. She didn’t bring it up.
Tavish was asleep; he had been for almost three hours by then, laying with his head embraced against Clara’s shoulder. He was strongly painted with the smell, seemingly the source of it. If Clara had noticed that her son smelled like something as defined as this, she didn’t say anything.
Perhaps it was Teagan’s imagination. She didn’t know.
But would it be truly usual for her to imagine her sister’s baby smelling like something so defined? Something she’d perhaps only smelled a few times before, maybe in a distant childhood. Was it usual to imagine it? Was it?
She chose otherwise.
“Shouldn’t he be in bed?” Teagan asked, finally settling herself into an easy chair beside the window. The outside world was drained of light and covered in indigo.
“He will be, don’t worry,” Clara whispered, her lips pressed against the top of Tavish’s head.
Teagan shifted, tossing her hair through her fingers. More was she glad that she didn’t have a child herself. She’d promised herself. Never, ever.
Her reasons are not to be said.
“Care to hold him?” Clara asked, holding the baby out to her younger sister. Tavish gave a small grunt, his small, delicate hands clenching and unclenching in her wake.
Teagan took a moment, only one, to stare at the child. Her stomach hurt. “No.”
And she turned, her chin resting into her hand and her elbow pressing into the arm of her easy chair, to turn to the window.
A face was the first thing for her to see when she turned.
A face such as the one to press against the window was loose. It was a skinny thing, bones from its collarbone and cheekbones seemingly sucked - in and unrealistically contoured. Its skin was heavily wrinkled, and, if any, appeared like a child covering their body in a sheet, pretending to be a ghost. But it wasn’t a sheet. It was grey - toned, porcelain skin, sucked in around the mouth, as if cut, around the eyes, and hugged around the neck. The eyes were practically white, almost screened in texture, and bare of eyebrows or lashes. Its tongue was black.
Teagan froze with her eyes on the thing’s, watching its hand press gingerly against the glass of the window in front of it. Like its face, it’s hand was dark, loose with skin, and tipped with black, filthy nails that would have reached almost three inches if anybody cared to measure them. The nails, thick, black, and sharp as they were, scratched white lines against the glass with muffled screeching noises that hurt to hear even from the other side of a window. Teagan simply watched the whole ordeal, her throat glued. Surely she was going mad …
A hand pressed against her shoulder. Her heart skipped but she didn’t move. She couldn’t blink if she wanted to. Her entire being was focused on the window in front of her, like a child focused on the climax of his favorite television show. The world is fading - fading - into a blur and a noiseless mess, and the only thing she can see is the creature outside, staring at her, blinking every now and then, scratching the windows with such acute accuracy and precision that it almost scared her. What was it…? Spelling out letters through the glass- yes, surely, spelling letters with destroyed handwriting that was almost impossible to read through and through. SKIN the thing wrote to her, letters appearing almost disconnected with one another. SKIN …. SKIN …. SKIN….. She can feel tears dripping from the corners of her eyes. She doesn’t know why, but she can’t move to stop them. SKIN….SKIN....SKIN.
Clara’s hand wrapped securely around Teagan’s wrist, forcing her clear out of the trance in an almost jarring fashion. She lurched forward, perspiration sliding from her brow to the floor in front of her. Waves upon waves of sickness passed over her. Press your head between your knees, dammit, head between the knees….
“You okay-?” Clara asked, kneeling down to Teagan’s eye-level with the sleeping child still between her arms, “You look like you’re about to be sick.”
SKIN. SKIN. SKIN. It’s all she can see. Teagan was barely able to muster the courage to move her head, just enough to look back to the window from her new standpoint. The creature still stood, its eyes blared into her skull. The scratched words, however, were gone.
She’d lost her mind….surely….she’d lost her mind.
I HAD LIVED eight years without seeing a ghost like that. now, i suppose it’s back to zero and i’m back at square one. i wish i hadn’t. i wish i hadn’t. i wish i hadn’t, dear god i wish i hadn’t.
“You’re alright, yeah? You’re okay?”
Clara kept pressing questions, one hand wrapped into a fist around Teagan’s arm, and the other holding Tavish, the baby, shifting just a bit as minutes went past. How he could be so calm in such a time like this…
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Teagan managed, sitting up with her fingers laced to her temples. Her ears rang.
“You’re okay…” Clara repeated, barely able to see her own sister through rightful eyes.
The scent of burnt hair, now coming from the window and Tavish almost equally, echoed on. There is quiet. Clara sat beside her sister, pressing Teagan’s throbbing head against the crook of her shoulder. Tavish, a gracefully awakened, sat between them, cooing at Teagan and his mother. Not one looked to the window.
PLEASE CARRY OUT
THE FOLLOWING INSTRUCTIONS
FOR THE SAFETY OF YOU
AND THE ONES AROUND YOU
THIS MESSAGE IS BEING BROADCASTED BY THE DEFENSE OF THE REPUBLIC. A PARANORMAL ANOMALY RESPONSIBLE FOR AFFECTING THE ENTIRETY OF THE NATION HAS RECENTLY BEEN DETECTED. WE REQUEST THAT YOU FOLLOW OUT THE CURRENT INSTRUCTIONS IMMEDIATELY...
signal lost, please try again later ****
THE CLOCK struck two.
Anman by the name of Christopher Vonwalles Hantucket emerged from the warmth of his abode to the late November winds of New York,
He was a fine man, one of a rather tall and strength-coated physique. His hair was ash that fell over his eyelids, and his eyes seemed to cry out from the sights that age had given him. He, alone, was nothing too standoffish or overgrown in himself; he was rather modest, actually. A man that stood tight and on edge, always appearing like he knows exactly what he is supposed to be doing. A heavier amount of the time, he did.
Christopher was a fine man in ways that could almost be undescribed. In ways, he looked out of place, in a sort where he lived, with crimped hair and ironed clothes that matched every day. He went off in the early morning, wandering, accustoming himself with the black-painted. Beautiful, in ways, were the sorts he wandered, with his mind trailed offwards.
Christopher was in the possession of two things. A strongly willed secret, and the knowledge of the Ronmier siblings, and their son, shared in care by the both of them. One singular thing seemed to be absolutely certain to Christopher Hantucket. After all these years, the secret was ready to release.
Secrets, to dear Mister Hantucket, were things less sacred than they were dangerous. Dangerous, in ways, that might only comply with his own secrets, to only his own. Those secrets, yes, were dangerous enough for the ways he kept them locked, and, of course, for the reasoning and ways behind them.
Perhaps a secret like this could affect more than Mr. Hantucket.
But it, in his mind, was ready to be released.
His people, Christopher Hantucket’s people, were ready. Ready for their own release. Ready to come home, after all these decades, at last.
DEAR YOUNG NEIGHBOR
· · ·
ACROSS THE STREETLINES, a young man sat staring out the edge of his window.
He’d been a neighbor of the Ronmiers’ for only a few months, at the time of this tale. His mother, Gretta, had been the one to move the measly family of three downwards towards the small place in New York, desperate for a new outlook after living in Nantucket for almost eight years. Her son, timely enough, was twelve at the time of the move, less than enthusiastic about the whole ordeal than his mother would’ve hoped.
“Think of it like a metaphor, London,” she’d tiredly explain, “We’re wiping our slate clean.”
London Rich was no fool to what his mother meant by it. Down in Nantucket, her ordeals were less than plain. Hidden as they were, London was still able to find them; credit cards with the wrong name on them. Checks that looked a bit too rumpled, laid behind the knife holder in the kitchen, and although he knew he wasn’t supposed to find them, wasn’t supposed to bring them up, something still felt so odd about the situation, how his mother refused to give in to why they truly moved so quickly.
He’d wanted something with his life. Never in a moment would he have expected that “something” to be being the son of the infamous.
At times like this, he’d keep his eyes rolling to his neighbors’ houses: out of simplistic habit, almost never out of spite. But now, looking over to the Ronmier household, he was simply staring at the creature walking away from their window. All his mind could conjure up was how… how could the creature be there? For he recognized it, knew its drooping face nearly by heart. He’d remembered seeing it in his window, scratching against the glass, its eyes shadowed and almost ... knife-like.
His friend, Avery, has called it a Skinner.
Avery’s theory, in turn, was that the Skinner was a spirit that tore the skin off of the bodies left in the morgue, to stitch it together into a dark, too-long coat that dragged...dragged...dragged against the floor as it wandered aimlessly throughout the world that they didn’t belong in. Clothed, of course, but simply dragging themselves along sidewalks.
Avery had never been able to tell what the Skinners wanted. But London knew.
London had seen the Skinner when he was six. He’d remembered the night like it was the back of his hand: how he’d woke up screeching, how his mother had taken a look to the window and had made eye contact with the damned thing, but she’d shook it off as if it were nothing…
He was sure, at the time, Teagan and Clara didn’t think it was nothing.
But before he could move to do a thing about it, the alarms had begun to sound and his mother’s screams came through the house again.
AND ALL AT ONCE, the little city of Mill is filled with televisions turning on, with children hustling downstairs from bed, with radios tuning in for the news, with lights flicking onwards again.
Teagan and Clara are locked in the in-between.
Clara, standing with a screaming Tavish in her arms, the television on and blaring light through the mid-darkness covered living room. Tavish, thrashing in his mother’s arms, covered his face from the sudden, jarring light as he always tended to do.
Something about an emergency alert in the middle of the night just seemed so ludicrous to both Teagan, and shockingly enough, Clara as well…
PLEASE CARRY OUT
THE FOLLOWING INSTRUCTIONS
FOR THE SAFETY OF YOU
AND THE ONES AROUND YOU
THIS MESSAGE IS BEING BROADCASTED BY THE DEFENSE OF THE REPUBLIC. A PARANORMAL ANOMALY RESPONSIBLE FOR AFFECTING THE ENTIRETY OF THE NATION HAS RECENTLY BEEN DETECTED. WE REQUEST THAT YOU FOLLOW OUT THE CURRENT INSTRUCTIONS IMMEDIATELY. THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE WILL QUIET FOR YOUR SAFETY. PLEASE STAND BY.
Clara, finally having enough of her son kicking against her, set Tavish down. He hobbled offward, unable to stand the noise of the EAS for a second longer.
CLASS: NON-ORGANIC. THREAT: THIS ANOMALY MAY CAUSE LOSS OF HUMAN LIFE, EXTREME PAIN TOWARDS LIVING HUMANS, COMING TOWARDS INSANITY BEFORE SUICIDE, OR HOMICIDAL LOSS OF SANITY IN COMPLETE.
MAKE SURE ALL POSSIBLE ENTRANCES TO YOUR HOME ARE COMPLETELY BARRICADED AND SECURED.
LOCK YOURSELF IN A ROOM WITH NO WINDOWS.
DO NOT RESPOND TO A KNOCK ON THE DOOR OR THE WINDOWS.
DO NOT PANIC. STAY COMPLETELY SILENT.
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FIGHT ANY UNIDENTIFIED FIGURES IN YOUR HOME. THIS WILL RESULT IN LOSS OF HUMAN LIFE.
DO NOT RESPOND TO ANY VOICES OR NOISES, NO MATTER HOW HUMAN THEY SOUND.
DO NOT EXIT YOUR SHELTER.
IF ANYONE IN YOUR FAMILY GOES MISSING, DO NOT, AT ALL COSTS, ATTEMPT TO FIND THEM.
DO NOT BE AFRAID. THE NATIONAL GUARD AND THE UNITED STATES PARANORMAL RESEARCH AND CONTAINMENT CENTER WILL HURRY TO TAKE THIS UNDER CONTROL.
And Teagan knows she’s crying already. But she can’t feel it. She can’t feel the salty liquid streaming into the corners of her lips. She can’t feel anything.
“We’re...oh my gosh-”
“We’re okay, we’re okay,” Clara’s arms went around her little sister. She could feel her heart pound in the back of her throat. Her ears ring from the finishing alarms. Her everything just trembled...felt so small.
Teagan’s eyes locked to the window beside her. The creature was gone, but the eyes still felt there. The face of that damned creature still stared at her, even if it wasn’t there in the slightest.
“Tavish, where’s Tavish-” Teagan whispered, her voice going hoarse and very, very distant.
Clara, her hands still curling through her little sister’s hair, said nothing for a long couple moments, barely able to enjoy the silence that came afterwards. “He’s okay, I put him down earlier-”
“You put him down?” Teagan’s head shot up, her hands throwing off of her older sister.
“Hey, hey, he’s okay. He didn’t want to hear the alarms,” Clara responded, her hands in front of her, “He’s okay.”
This was a lie.
She should never have promised it.
“Wh-Where is he? Is he-”
“He’s okay,” Clara assured her, “I’m sure he just crawled to our bedroom, you know, like he did a few nights ago?”
Teagan chuckled through the clouds of tears, her entire body trembling as she did.
“Do you want to check…?” Clara asked, raising her eyebrows upwards. Teagan, wiping her face, had the only way to her to nod.
The television kept white.
I HAD A HAND against the door as the alarms had finished their sounding. The creature was there. The creature was freaking there. In front of me. In front of my mother. And yet she just stood there, her eyes fixated on the wall, drinking her soda without a damn clue. Just standing there...with the wrinkly, old thing behind her.
Its hands just wrapped around her neck. And she didn’t see it….she didn’t see it...why can’t she see it...
WHAT HAD OCCURED AFTER three AM had been a little more than ludicrous.
Tavish had laid on the ground with his fingers toying with the edge of the board held against his cheek. His feet, small and curious, kicked at his rear as he watched the small, wooden thing in front of him move across the board.
He was a child.
And he was used to things moving like this, almost mechanically, as if there were batteries at the bottom of the board to keep the thing moving.
Tavish was three, how was he to know…
For it seemed he’d forgotten the blaring sounds of the alarms, how much he’d screamed to get away. Now, he had the entertainment of a printed, eerily unfamiliar board towards him, the oricle moving across the board slowly, sending messages Tavish couldn’t read.
Tavish seemed to know that the thing was not moving simply on its own. A hand was moving it. A hand, a bit too familiar to the adults, to the teenagers of the city sidewalks. And he’d never been able to see the hand for who owned it. But to hell if he knew that the hand’s owner was more than dangerous. The hand...covered in dropping, stitched-together skin, too loose for the bones wrapped underneath it. And it moved the hand on its own with its other hand on the top of Tavish’s head, stroking through his hair, letting time pass. Watching smoke pour from its own hand, sending the scent of burnt hair throughout the air.
Tavish simply believed the hand was safe.
And he didn’t see his aunt at the doorway, shrieking through tears. Not his mother, screaming at her little sister, cursing her for leaving out such a dangerous item and what awful things it could’ve done. The screams, the alarms turning on again for a repeat of the instructions of before, and the Skinner simply looked up, slowly. Its skin drooped and moved along with the movement. And the stitches begin to shake with it. And the stitches begin to loosen.
“The g-guard, the National Guard-” Teagan choked, her knees weak and shrinking down to the edges of her legs.
“They’ll kill my child if they think-”
Tavish glanced up, beginning to feel the sensation of the thing’s hand brushing against his face. His mouth opens.
Smoke pours from the edges of his lips. The scent of burning hair reeling through the airways. Teagan’s screaming. Clara’s crying.
The thing’s skin drips like honey to the ground, surrounding Tavish in a half-presented puddle of brown toned fluid, reeking of burning hair, of skin, of horror…
Tavish laughed. His eyes had begun to turn from a milky blue to a dark, misty grey. They roll aimlessly. They stand on edge. He stands on edge, covered in the fluid, stained clothes draped over his shoulders. He too turns to his mother and his aunt, just in the same fashion as the thing’s.
And there is nothing underneath but darkness.