|GRANITE STATUES AND MARBLE THINGS by Ethan D. Perritt
Silence at the Owens household ended with a bang. It came from outside and shook the foundations of the wooden home. Marigold was playing when it happened, her hands whisking dolls into the air, twirling them—a puppet master—and dropped them. They clattered.
“Daddy?” she asked. “What was that?”
“I don’t know,” Brandon said as he stepped toward the window. Did the Soviets finally drop a bomb? No. It wasn’t that loud.
He grasped the bottom, opened it, and felt the breeze of the cool summer’s evening. His eyes shot to a shiny, black object on the crest of the hill.
“Stay inside,” he said, slamming the window shut. He told her he was going to check it out. It was safer. He didn’t know what was outside and it could be dangerous and she should just play with her dolls. Keep playing with the dolls.
The grass was cool beneath his feet, covered in dew from the previous night. And then he saw it. Clear and defined. Tall, sleek, black like the night, an obelisk—looming over the hill.
What is it? he thought, keeping an arm’s length in distance. A twig snapped behind him. He spun around, moving his hand to the knife on his belt. It was Marigold.
“I told you to stay inside,” Brandon said.
“I wanted to see it.”
“Go back and stay inside, I need to make sure it’s safe.”
“But I want to see it. It’s so pretty.” She reached her hand towards it.
Brandon smacked it away, “Don’t touch it!”
There should have been tears welling in her eyes.
He put his hands on Marigold’s shoulders, “I just don’t want you to get hurt. This thing could be dangerous. Look, it could fall on you or something. Now go back inside. We can keep playing that game when I get back.”
She smiled, turned around, and skipped back to the house, her skirt flowing in the wind.
What is this thing? How did it get here?
Brandon stood at the top of the hill. Was it magic? Was it kids playing a trick? Was he finally going insane? It was tangible, but not something he would touch. If he could just speak to Emelia. All he wanted was for his wife to come home.
“Daddy?” Marigold said.
Brandon smiled and stirred the tomato sauce.
“Can we play with the dolls? I think one of the babies is getting sick. She has black and yellow spots on her.”
Brandon smiled. “I think that might be mould. Did you leave her outside last night? It rained.”
“No,” she said, swaying from side to side and looking at the tile floor, “Mommy told me not to. So I don’t.”
“Okay, Marigold. Okay.”
Brandon brought dinner to the table. Spaghetti and meatballs, a family classic. It sat there, steaming as he sat down and looked at his wife and daughter.
“Shall we say grace?” he said, lifting his hand out towards both of them. They accepted. “Dear Lord, we thank you for this meal and ask that it be used to nourish our bodies. We ask that you help the poor and heal the sick. We ask this in Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.”
Emelia smiled and turned to eat her food.
Later that night, when the dishes had been cleared and the soft hum of the washer ran through the house, Brandon and Emelia sat in the living room. Emelia sipped from a white mug, breathing in the scent of herbal tea.
“Emelia?” Brandon said. “There’s something in the yard. I don’t know how it got there, but it’s there and it’s real.”
“Well?” she said, “What is it?”
“Some sort of obelisk. I heard a bang, checked out the window and saw it. Tall and black. Made of granite, I think. But it almost looks unreal. Like a ghost. Somehow, I feel like it’s see through. But I went out there. I told her to stay inside but Marigold almost touched—”
“You let her touch it?”
“No! Of course not,” Brandon said, sweat pooling in his armpits. He tried to wipe it away by rubbing his arms against his upper body, causing it to trickle out more.
“What if it’s from space? It could have diseases on it, Brandon. I read about viruses and bacteria on asteroids.”
“She didn’t touch it.” He clutched his knee.
“What should we do?” Emelia asked, “Could I see it?”
“Let’s wait until morning. I don’t think it’s a good idea to go out right now. It’s dark and you won’t be able to see it clearly anyway.”
Brandon dreamt of the obelisk that night. He saw the garden, cloaked in shadow. There were hundreds of those granite things, inching towards the house. They moved without obstacles in their way, pushing over flowers and flattening grass.
The sun poured through the window and embraced the remains of breakfast.
“I love you,” Emelia said, kissing Marigold on the forehead, “I’ll see you both tonight.”
“See you then,” Brandon said.
Emelia stepped out the door and closed it behind her. Brandon’s eyes lingered on the handle.
He stared out the window. His eyes were dragged to the obelisk. It stood on the hill, seeming to call his name.
No, he thought, Stay away from my family.
“Marigold?” Brandon said, “I need you to stay inside.”
“But daddy. I want to play outside.”
“It’s just for a little while. How about fifteen minutes? Does that sound good? It won’t be long.”
“I’ll wait, promise.”
“Just play inside for a while. I’ll tell you when.”
Brandon went into the basement to grab the closest and heaviest tool he could find. They sat before him like fruit ripe for the picking. Shovels, axes, rakes, and a sledgehammer. Its yellow handle glistened under the rays of light coming through the holes in the ceiling. The floor was coated with a layer of dust, only to be kicked up when Brandon walked over it. He coughed. There was a stiff smell in the air. One of stale bread or rotten meat. He wondered if the musty smell, mould, and mildew was here before. Ignoring it, he grabbed the handle of the sledgehammer. He left the basement, leaving the other tools behind. All he needed was the sledgehammer.
“Marigold? Stay inside. This might be dangerous.”
“What are you gonna do? Mommy said that thing is dangerous.”
“What thing?” Brandon said.
“The big hammer.”
“Oh, this?” He lifted the sledgehammer up, “It’s dangerous for you, not for me.”
Brandon walked to the door. The wooden thing stood before him, waiting. There was a sense of possibility behind it. As if he could end this scourge. Truthfully, he was scared. He trembled, gripping the yellow, rubber hilt. He yanked the door open. Taking a deep breath, he felt the air of a cool midsummer’s morning. There it was. The obelisk. It stood atop the hill, unwavering in the wind. Brandon started out the door and up the hill, not stopping until he reached it. He felt an immense feeling of possibility at the prospect of smashing the obelisk to bits. In his mind it was already lying on the ground, in chunks, letting water seep down the now-rough interior. But the deed hadn’t been done yet. Brandon hadn’t started to lift the sledgehammer. He wished he did. He needed to. Soon his promise to Marigold of fifteen minutes would be broken.
It started to rain. The bruised clouds rolled overhead. Brandon knew it would storm soon, and he had to finish this. He raised his arms, bringing the sledgehammer high into the air. It swung down, cracking the obelisk.
“It doesn’t look right,” he said, moving his arms up, “It doesn’t look right.”
The sledgehammer smacked into the granite statue again. Chunks of sleek, black rock fell to the ground and revealed the coarse interior. He was unrelenting.
When the war was over, Brandon took in a deep breath and sighed.
It’s over. It’s finally fuckin over.
He headed back towards the house, rain pouring down his face and sledgehammer in hand, knowing it was done.
“Daddy? “Why did you break it? It was so pretty.” Marigold said, sitting on the blue couch.
Brandon panted and grabbing a towel from the kitchen. He wiped it over his face, “It could hurt you or your mom. I’m not gonna take that chance.”
“How would it hurt us? It’s so pretty and smooth.”
“Marigold,” he said, “Look. I love you and your mom. So when this thing appeared here, I didn’t, and still don’t know what it was. It’s gone now, so we don’t need to worry.”
“Can I play outside now?” she said.
“Sure,” he said, laughing, “But it’s raining. You sure you want to go out?”
“I’m sure. I’ll dry off quick.”
“Okay. Just make sure you stay away from the pile of rocks. I need to get rid of them tomorrow.”
Marigold played outside, paying the rain no heed. She enjoyed it. The feeling of cool water on her skin made her smile—more than the hot sun, anyway. Her mother made her wear sunscreen when she went outside, and she hated it. The slimy feeling was horrible. It was even worse when she got it in her hair or, God forbid, her eyes. But Brandon didn’t care as much. “A little sun won’t hurt her,” he would say, knowing it wasn’t true. Still, when Emelia wasn’t home, he let her go outside without it. Besides, did she really need SPF 45?
Marigold wanted to listen to her dad, she really did, but curiosity got the best of her. The granite slabs were ripe for the picking—just sitting on a hill. Her dad was taking a shower. And what really were the chances she would get hurt. They were just rocks. Harmless as they were coarse. Smooth, interesting.
She bolted up the hill, kicking up mud, caking herself in it, not caring. Her mind was focused on the smashed obelisk. It was so pretty before Brandon destroyed it. She didn’t know if she could ever forgive him for that.
When she did reach it, her hands were attracted to the chunks like magnets. She loved the feeling it gave her. They scratched the palms of her hands, leaving them white, then red, but always covered in water. She scratched her fingernails into the rough parts of the stones, grinding them down as white flakes came off.
Her hands clasped one of the rocks, turning it over. She saw her face in the smooth, black stone. It was untouched by the sledgehammer. Pristine. She smiled, looking at her teeth. The mirror she now held had another face in it. One that looked familiar. But Marigold couldn’t tell who it was. It was behind her, looking over her shoulder. As it came into view, it was clear who it was: Her father. His hair was wet again, and Marigold knew he was angry.
“Marigold! I told you not to touch the rocks. Come back inside, now!”
She felt tears welling in her eyes as she walked back to the house. Brandon loomed over her the whole time, stomping through the mud.
“I got rid of it, by the way, the statue.”
“Oh,” Emelia said, her mouth filled to the brim with steak, “That’s good. Marigold, dear, what did you do today?”
She sat there, staring at her food and twirling her fork around in a forest of broccoli without saying a word.
That night, Brandon dreamt of the nearby lake. Its murky water was boiling, bubbling like the breath of a sea serpent. His hand was stuck in the water, burning away his flesh and only letting go once it was charred black, decayed, and mummified like death.
Brandon woke to the sound of vomiting. Emelia was in the bathroom, curled over the toilet, hacking her guts out. She wore the same white dress every day, only now, its chest was coloured a flavourful yellow. Brandon comforted her, trying to forget his dream.
Marigold burst into the room, shouting, “Daddy! Daddy! The statue is back. It’s so pretty! Can I go see it?”
“What?” he said, looking at her, “You’re joking, right? This isn’t the time to be making jokes. Your mother is sick.”
“No, dad. It’s back! I think it’s because I prayed.”
What the hell?
Brandon looked out the window, wondering how it was back. He knew he destroyed it. The pieces were before him. Thoughts of witchcraft raced through his mind yet they always led back to insanity.
Did I destroy it? Was that a dream? No. Marigold knows it was broken. She touched the pieces. So how is it back?
When Emelia was done vomiting and finished cleaning herself up, she looked out the window and saw the obelisk, standing on the hill.
“Brandon?” she said.
He looked up from his book. He looked through her, staring out at the hill. “Yes?” he said, trying to remember what he just read. It eluded him. His eyes had taken in the contents but his mind was elsewhere.
“Are you sure you destroyed it? It doesn’t have a scratch on it.”
“I’m sure,” he said, turning back three pages. “I took the sledgehammer and beat the hell out of it. There were chunks lying on the ground. I know I did. Marigold saw me do it.”
“So what do we do?” Emelia said.
“I have no idea. I could try to break it again. But what’s the point? It’ll just piece itself back together.”
“Well, maybe you dreamt it. It’s hot out, you know how the mind can be.”
“Marigold saw me break it. She cried when I did.”
“So what if you don’t break it? What if we just move it away? Put it in the forest or in the lake.”
“How?” he asked.
“Doesn’t Dale have a forklift? Maybe he could lend it to us. Just for the day.”
“Thanks, Dale. See ya in a bit.” Brandon placed the phone back on the wall.
“Well?” Emelia said.
“He thinks I’ve lost my damn mind, but he’ll pull through—should be here in about an hour.”
The mustard yellow forklift sat atop the hill, next to the obelisk, and overlooked the house.
“Call me when it’s done,” Dale said, heading for his truck and leaving the Owens house behind. Emelia stood next to Brandon, resting her hand on his shoulder.
“I’ll be inside,” she said, “I still don’t feel so good.”
“No worries. Could you make Marigold some lunch? When you’re feeling up it. Don’t rush yourself.”
“Sure.” She smiled, her now-mud-stained dress flowing in the light wind and twirling when she turned around, starting for the house.
I just want to read, Brandon thought, putting on a pair of yellow gardening gloves. He pushed the top of the obelisk as hard as he could. It fell over, revealing a black patch of grass where its base once stood. The patch smelled of a charnel stench, like a morgue or an open grave on a rainy afternoon, just after the procession had left and the undertaker started throwing the dirt onto the casket. He got into the forklift and shifted it into gear, pulling the obelisk into the air. Its teeth wobbled under the weight as it moved forward, rolling towards the lake.
Brandon grinned. The prospect of never seeing the obelisk again excited him. He wished this would work. His fear was that it would appear again the next day.
The forklift balanced on the edge of the lake, peering over the murky water and all its inhabitants. Toads croaked and cicadas sang their song with no end in sight. Brandon saw the reflection of the obelisk in the water and saw his face in the obelisk. He pushed the lever forward, letting the obelisk fall into the lake. Black water turned white as it geysered up, then fell and settled. Bubbles dissipated as the obelisk began to sink deep into the mud.
It’s finally over, he thought, knowing he believed it before.
But it wasn’t, not really, anyway. The water turned from a bubbling to a slow churning, then to a rolling boil. Steam clutched for the sky, hoping to cool down.
“No,” Brandon said, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” He got out of the forklift and fetched a nearby rock, throwing it at the obelisk in the vain hope that it would stop. The water was clearing, boiling away, revealing the body of the obelisk. Brandon saw his face in the water, drenched in sweat and covered in mud.
Then it was done. The churning and boiling had stopped. No more steam tried to escape and the lake was quiet. The toads croaked and the cicadas sang.
Brandon sighed as the obelisk sank out of view. The water was murky again, holding the stone devil behind its bars. He drove away in the forklift. Its muddy tires bounced and propelled him forward as the sun set behind the trees, giving off a soft glow.
Marigold awoke before the sun was up. She felt cold all over. Had she been older, she might have known it was a fever. She tried to shrug it off, grabbing extra blankets and wrapping herself in a cocoon of warmth. The ceiling fan was still running, so she turned it off. She didn’t like the cool air in her face, even during the summer. Her thoughts were with the obelisk, smashed to bits and lying in the lake. They were with her mother too. She covered her ears with the blankets; she hated the sound of retching.
“Daddy, my stomach hurts and I’m so cold!” Marigold said, storming into her parents’ bedroom.
Brandon closed the bathroom door, hiding Emelia from Marigold’s sight. “Let me get the thermometer. You’re feverish.”
Marigold nodded, then waited for him to return, sitting on their bed. There were wine bottles on the floor, some with corks still in them. She wondered if those were “the juice she wasn’t supposed to drink,” as her father put it. Maybe she could try one before Brandon got back.
To her disappointment, he was already in the doorway before she could reach for one of the bottles, thermometer in hand and a bottle of Tums in the other.
“Okay, sweetie. Here, eat one of these.” He handed her a pink pill. “Then put this in your mouth under your tongue.” It was a glass rod with silvery liquid inside. She watched the mercury expand, rising to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Oh boy,” Brandon said, “You’ve definitely got a fever. I guess you won’t be going to Katie’s house today, will you.”
“Daddy, my hand hurts too,” Marigold said.
“What? How does it hurt?”
“It burns. You know how mommy says to not stay in the sun for too long ‘cause my skin will burn? That’s what it’s like.”
“Were you in the sun for very long, yesterday?”
“No. I don’t think so,” she said.
“Then you should be fine. It’ll pass. I need to help your mother now. Go lay on the couch, I’ll get you something to drink in a bit, okay?”
Brandon filled up a cup with cool water and placed it on the counter. He opened the cabinet above him. In it were orange and white bottles of pills. Ibuprofen. Sleeping pills. Antacids. Brandon grabbed the ibuprofen and twisted the cap off. He wondered how much to give her. One pill? Two? Four? He settled on one, hoping it would be effective but not enough to hurt her.
There was a knock on the door.
“One second!” Brandon said, heading for the living room. Marigold was laying on the couch, staring at the crackling fire place. “Here, honey. Sit up and drink this.” He handed her the cup and the pill. “Make sure you swallow this. Don’t chew.”
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“I’ll be right there!” He left Marigold and started for the door. He opened it. There was a newspaper on the muddy doormat. He wondered why they didn’t just leave it and go. Shrugging it off, he reached down and grabbed it, wiping off a leaf stuck on the back. It was coiled into a baton-like shape, ready to be used as a weapon. He closed the door and chucked the paper onto a chair adjacent from Marigold.
“Daddy?” Marigold said, “Can you get me some ice? My hand really hurts.”
“Sure.” Brandon’s palms were sweaty. He wiped them onto his jeans, staining them with darkness.
The freezer opened and chilled the air. Brandon grabbed a handful of ice and dumped it into a yellow bucket. He lifted the bucket up and into the sink, filling it with the coldest water it would provide.
“Put your hand in this, just let it rest. If it gets too cold, take it out. I don’t want you to lose your hand because of frostbite or something.” He faked a smile for her. She smiled back.
Brandon sat in the chair across from her, picking up the paper and taking the rubber band off of it. It unrolled. Splashes of black and white space came into view. One headline caught his eye. All the others seemed needless, superfluous. Chesterfield Man Murders Family in Cold Blood. Sensationalism, he hoped. The sweat from his hands soaked the edges of the paper.
“You did it,” the paper said, “You did it.” The entire article was the same phrase repeating. This ceaseless taunting stabbed at his gut. His face went white as he felt the blood drain to his feet. You did it. Every article filled with the same three words. The other articles—once empty drivel—were the same words again. Over and over. Brandon felt his heart beat in his chest and his arms tingle. He knew what this was—Fight or Flight. He shot out of his chair and threw the paper into the fire. The flames roared and crackled as black smoke flew up the chimney.
“You did it.”
He sat back in his chair, staring at the yellow-tinted flames.
“Daddy?” Marigold said, “Are you okay? You’re talking to yourself. No one’s here.”
“I’m fine,” he said, knowing it was a lie.
“My hand still hurts.”
“Keep it in the water. I need to check on your mom but I’ll be right back, okay?”
“Okay. Don’t take too long.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
The wooden stairs creaked under Brandon’s footsteps. He had always hated those types of stairs. The ones without the risers. They gave him the feeling that something would grab him and pull him under, dragging him to Hell.
“Emelia?” He said. She retched in response. “There was some kind of newspaper that—” He knew he shouldn’t say it. “There was some kind of murder.” He saw the wine bottles on the floor. They were strewn around on the ground and easy to trip over. He kicked them aside, knowing they both needed to stop drinking. The door to the bathroom was closed. A sliver of light peeked into the bedroom from underneath.
“Emelia?” He said, turning the doorknob and pushing the door open. She was curled over the toilet, naked. “Why are you naked? Are you okay? Marigold is sick, by the way. Do you want me to get you clothes?” She didn’t respond. “Here, let me hold your hair back.”
Brandon’s eyes shot to her shoulders. Black veins were writhing under the skin, trying to get out. His mouth went dry and his ears started ringing. “Emelia?” She turned to him. Vomit ran down her cheeks, over her breasts. Mascara was smeared from her forehead to her chin, her lipstick too. She looked like a high school girl after finding out her boyfriend was cheating on her with the prom queen.
“Emelia, are you okay?”
She growled and ululated a sound like a goat bleating mixed with a snake hissing as he she rose to her feet.
Brandon stumbled back as she began to shuffle towards him, one foot cocked back and her arms twisted in ways they shouldn’t.
Startled, Brandon reached for anything, landing on a bottle of wine. It was still full.
“Get back, Emelia,” Brandon said, “I don’t want to hurt you.”
She didn’t hear him. Her feet scraped against the floor, making a chalkboard-like grating noise.
Brandon raised the wine bottle. “Stay back.”
She growled, then lunged and clutched at Brandon’s throat.
The wine bottle smashed onto her head and she crumpled to the ground. Red liquid, both blood and wine, spread across the floor, seeping into the cracks between the tiles. Emelia’s eyes were closed.
“Fuck!” Brandon lifted his hand to his mouth, biting it. “Why’d you make me do that? God damnit, Emelia!”
His thoughts raced, wondering what to do. He knew he couldn’t call the police, they’d think he murdered her. But what if she wasn’t dead? Of course she was just knocked out. Asleep. She’d wake in an hour. Of course she would. But then they’d make it a domestic abuse thing. But it wasn’t. He wondered what she’d dream of. Would she dream? Of course. Why wouldn’t she?
Brandon carried Emelia to the attic, avoiding looking at her eyes, which had black veins writhing around them, put a large padlock on the door, and closed the viewing slit. He’d check on her in an hour. She’d be awake. He knew she would be.
Brandon slept in an empty bed that night. Emelia hadn’t awoken and he was too afraid to let her sleep in bed with him. He dreamt of the obelisk, staring at the house.
“Daddy?” Marigold said, “Where’s Mommy.”
Brandon’s face was covered in soot and dust. “She went to work early. She’ll be back later today.” He stared out the window. The obelisk was back like the killer in a slasher flick. Marigold kept her hand in the bucket, wishing the burning would stop.
“I’ll be right back, sweetie. Daddy has some business to take care of.”
“Is it the statue? I saw it’s back.”
“No,” he said, “No. Just some yard work.”
Brandon went to the basement to get the sledgehammer. He wiped off its head; there was still a piece of the obelisk stuck to it.
He marched outside on a mission from God, sledgehammer in hand and a pistol strapped to his belt. Yard work. It was raining, making the muddy ground even muddier. The dirt stuck to the sides of his boots gave way, returning to the earth like suckling babes, reaching for their mother.
“Alright, listen here you monster. You stay the fuck away from my family!” He pointed the sledgehammer at the obelisk, the yellow handle shining in the sun. “You could’ve killed my wife!” He smashed the obelisk into bits, hoping it would stay dead, knowing it wouldn’t. It was done.
Brandon went back to the house with the sledgehammer in his hand and beads of sweat rolling down his forehead.
“Daddy?” Marigold said, “What did you do?”
“Yard work.” He checked out the window. The pile of rocks was gone and so was the obelisk with them.
He went into the basement, sighing on the way down. Every muscle in his body ached. The weight of his toolbelt didn’t help, either. With a knife on his left and a gun on the right, his jeans sagged. He thought of sleep. Sweet sleep. Where the woes of the world disappear and one can fall into a spiral of dreams, meet new people and live those wild fantasies. Or relive your nightmares. The fear of loss.
The basement was flooded. Spiders and gnats floated about, clutching for their final breath, then they were still. Brandon waded through the mucky water towards the tool shelf. He felt it seep through his pants as he started to place the sledgehammer on the shelf.
Something stopped him. A presence in the room. He snapped to the left, spotting the obelisk. Ripples emanated from the bottom, rolling towards Brandon. He chucked the sledgehammer at it.
“No!” he said. “You don’t get to. You don’t fucking get to!” Brandon dashed for the stairs, water splashing up his legs and caking the walls.
“Daddy?” Marigold said, “I don’t feel good.”
Brandon panted, curling over and dropping his hands to his knees. “What is it?”
“My hand burns and mommy won’t stop hitting the ceiling.” She pointed straight up.
“She’s home?” His face went white. She finally woke up. But what would she say? Brandon hoped she wouldn’t remember being hit with the bottle.
“I think so. She keeps tapping and hitting the ceiling.”
“What makes you think it’s her? I didn’t see her come home. But I’ll go check. Don’t worry.” Brandon said. “You just stay down here. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“My hand still burns.”
“I know. Just let me talk to your mom and I’ll fix your hand, don’t worry.”
The stairs to the attic slid out of the ceiling and a string swayed back and forth next to it. Those steps stretched up before him, reaching into the darkness. He stared up into the blackness, knowing what was up there. His wife. He hoped she wasn’t dead—or worse, somehow resurrected and now scratching on the floor like a beast clawing its way to prey.
“Emelia?” Brandon said, flashlight in hand. He wished he wouldn’t have to go up the stairs—that she would come down and greet him with open arms. But he knew he had to. Even if she was alive, the door was locked.
Brandon started up the stairs, creaking with every step he took. His heart pounded through his shirt as beads of sweat swelled on his forehead, trickling down like the tears Emelia had cried in the bathroom. He saw the door. No taller than him and no wider than a child. Certainly not meant for storing a woman knocked out cold. Brandon saw the padlock and remembered the combination. 21-05-73, Marigold’s birthday. He fiddled with the lock, putting in the code. He stopped before he could get to 73. His eyes shot to the viewing slit. It was closed. He reached for the handle and pulled the metal sheet to the side. Darkness.
“Emelia? You there? I’m really sorry for what I did—I really am—I only did it out of self-defence. But you’re better now, right?” Nothing responded. “Emelia? You’re really scaring me, you know.”
Something moved—a slump to the ground. Brandon heard it, then the sound of a soft tapping from deep within the storage room. He clutched his flashlight, turned it on, and brought it to eye-level. The cone of light shone onto Emelia. She was laying on the ground. Her body was still and pale, but something was off. Her eyes were closed—black makeup still smeared across her face—yet there was movement under the blankets he had wrapped around her. Her skin bubbled. Then stopped. Brandon’s hands twitched.
Her chest burst open. Hundreds of shiny, jet black crab legs flailed about. Blood and bits of guts belched onto the dark walls, making the dark room take on a reddish hue. The crab legs smacked into the ceiling—some cracking and letting out yellow steam. Veins dangled out from the stubs left behind, reaching out in agony. Some of the pincers scratched her eyes, leaving black streaks in her skin. Emelia didn’t react—Brandon knew she was dead. It was relieving in a way. He didn’t have to face her after hitting her with the bottle, but the sadness would come when the adrenaline wore off. The forest of meter-long legs spread out like the leaves on a blossoming tree and reached for him. They pushed for the viewing slit, reaching through and clicking for Brandon’s face. Brandon’s heart started its marathon sprint, rushing for the finish line. He slapped the viewing slit shut. It clanged and rattled as the legs cracked between the metal sheet and the wooden door. They fell to the floor and spasmed, grasping for his ankles. Brandon leaped back, cringing at the sight. He smashed his foot on them. Crack. They burst open, leaving a paste made of meat and veins on the floor.
He sprinted down the stairs and slammed the attic stairs back into the ceiling, locking away the pincers for good. There was no way he’d go back now. And if he ever did, he’d bring a can of gasoline and a lighter.
Tears welled in his eyes. She was gone. The obelisk’s influence had gotten to her. The disease had spread to his family. Then another thought shot into his head. Marigold. She was sick. Sick with the same thing that turned Emelia into the horrid crab-like beast that now inhabited the attic, dwelling like a cave monster.
Brandon heard tapping and scratching through the wooden planks above him. He shuddered and wondered how long this would go on. Eventually she—it—had to starve to death. He hoped it would come soon. The thought of those long and lanky legs made him feel ill. He heard cries from the floor below him.
Oh, God, he thought, Marigold.
“Honey? Are you okay?” He cried out. The sound of her wailing echoed through the house. “I’m coming. Don’t worry.” Brandon ran down the stairs. His footsteps thudded through the floor.
“Daddy, it burns!” Marigold was screaming. Her hand was submerged in the bucket. The water was bubbling, crawling over the rim.
“Take your hand out! Why is it boiling?” Brandon said, his voice trembling. He feared the worst. The water bubbled like Emelia’s skin had just minutes ago. He turned to the window. The obelisk was back, staring at the house and looking out over the hill. The green blades of grass swayed in the light breeze. The sun was setting. Night was almost here.
Brandon’s eyes shot back to Marigold. He saw her hand. Black like a mummified corpse. And she screamed. The charred bone showed through where holes had formed. Not a drop of blood was in sight. His stomach churned at the image.
Not my girl, he thought. Not Marigold.
The phone rang. Brandon tried to ignore it. He gave in, grabbing a towel from the kitchen, wrapping her forearm, then picking up the phone and putting it to his ear. “Owens’ household,” his voice trembled, “Who is it?”
“Yeah, it’s Dale. Think I could pick up my forklift? You shoulda brought it over a day or two ago.”
“Sure, just come and get it. I’m dealing with some stuff right now.”
“I bet.” There was sarcasm in his voice. “Anyway, I’ll be over in a few hours. Wife’s worried. You’re done with it?”
“Yeah,” Brandon hung the phone on the wall. Click. He turned to Marigold. Tears streamed down her red face and onto her pink pyjamas.
Brandon saw the gap in between her teeth and remembered slipping a dollar bill under her pillow. She had slept so quietly that night. Marigold always was a deep sleeper. Even when he had tripped over her stuffed animal and dropped his glass bottle, spilling beer on her carpet—she never woke. She was so happy the next morning. The Tooth-Fairy came! She said. Brandon smiled at her, half not remembering when he gave her the money. Was it at two? Three? Four? It didn’t matter. His head pounded.
But that was then. This was now. Marigold wailed for her mother. Brandon could tell her about the mass of legs stalking just above them. But he didn’t. It was pointless.
Brandon clutched the gun on his belt. Tears welled in his eyes. He couldn’t. What if it wasn’t instant? She’d be in so much pain. Even worse, what if she got better? No. Her hand was molten to the bone. He turned to see her hand. Tears streamed down her face without relenting. Brandon knew what he had to do.
He went to the kitchen and opened the cabinet. Pill bottles stared him in the face. He reached for the sleeping pills. Clack. The ceiling creaked above him under the mass of legs. His heart pounded. He needed to finish this. Now.
Brandon poured sleeping pills into his hand. He didn’t care how many. And later that night, Marigold slept. Her head lying against the pillow, sinking into the cotton. Brandon wondered what she dreamt of. He hoped it was good—of her mother, not him. He slid the pillow out from under her and grasped it with two hands. The creases where her head had been stood out to him. They sunk in like a crater. Tears spilled down his cheeks. He knew what he had to do. Saliva gleamed off Marigold’s face as it trickled to the cushion. Brandon moved the pillow to cover her mouth and nose, absorbing the spit into white cotton. His tears fell on the pillow, leaving small, dark spots where they hit. He pushed harder, covering Marigold’s whole face.
Brandon refused to look at her when he was done. He imagined a cold, pale face—her eyes locked in an unending stare—and the absence of breathing. Red eyes. That’s all it was. Eyes staring from the pits of hell.
It was quiet for the first time in days. All Brandon heard was the buzzing of cicadas. He slumped into the couch, pushing Marigold’s feet aside. The pillow was still on her face. He looked over, then away—she was gone.
But then Brandon remembered. Dale would be over soon. He looked at his watch. 8:13. When had Dale called? At least an hour ago. Brandon looked to Marigold again. What would happen if Dale saw the body?
Oh God, Brandon thought. I’ve really fucked up now, haven’t I?
Lights climbed up the side of the house and shone through the curtains. Brandon ran his hands through running water in the kitchen. Dirt washed away, slinking down the drain, greeting the pipe. He washed away his tear stains, then dried his face. Dale was here.
Gravel cracked in the driveway and sweat fell down Brandon’s forehead. He heard the slam of a car door, then the clacking of shoes against the ground. Dale’s hand pounded on the door and Brandon started for it. He took a deep breath, hoping Dale would believe his lies.
Brandon opened the door. “Forklift’s out back.” He pointed to the door and around the corner. “Over there.”
Dale stared him in the eyes. They were black in the darkness—like two obsidian marbles. “Just wondering if I could get a drink. Left mine at home.” His voice was gruff, hardened from old stories. “Wife’ll want me back soon, though.”
“Yeah.” Brandon scratched the back of his head. “Yeah don’t worry. I’ll get you something.” He went to the kitchen and rooted through the fridge. “Water, Coke, beer?”
“Coke, if you will.”
Brandon handed him the can.
“So Brandon,” Dale said, “I can’t help but notice that you got a pistol strapped to your belt. Knife too.” He cracked the can open. “You planning on a break-in?”
“I was cleaning them. Let mud get into the gun and it dries.”
“Yeah. Of course.” Dale took a drink. “Anyway, you mind if I talk to Emelia?”
“She’s out right now.” Brandon looked up, hoping the crab-mass wouldn’t make any noise.
“Marigold? I’m sure she’d like to see ole Uncle Dale.”
“She’s with Emelia, too.” Brandon shifted his stance, putting weight on his right foot. He wondered what Dale was trying—what game he was playing. He’d done nothing wrong, yet Dale played at detective.
“That so? I best get going then,” Dale said. He looked down, turned away, and said his goodbyes. But he didn’t go home that night.
Brandon knew what Dale was doing—
When the door closed behind him, Dale glanced over his shoulder, sighed, then quickly walked behind the house.
It was dark back there. Dale could smell the rotting swamp. Maybe something else. The only light was the soft, yellow glow of lamps reaching but a few feet outside. The grass was yellow. Everything the light touched was yellow.
Dale stepped over the rusty shovel and tried to ignore it. Why was it there? Deep down, he knew.
He felt the loose dirt beneath his feet and his stomach churned, then dropped. A wave of horror flashed over his face. Someone was below him, not breathing, not alive. He felt cold. It was a cold like no other, he thought, he knew. Then it was hot. Anger, rage, clenched fists, and boiling blood. He stormed back to the door and slammed it open, cracking the plaster wall.
And then Brandon’s imagination turned to reality.
“You killed your wife. You killed Marigold. You sick fuck. Emelia told me you’d hurt her one day, but this? This is a whole ‘nother level. You ain’t even drunk—you’re just evil.”
“I did it to protect them. You don’t understand!” Brandon clutched his head with his free hand. His mind ached. “They turned into—things. Things that I can’t even describe.”
“You’ve lost your mind man. I’m calling the cops, they’ll take you in, it’ll be over.”
Brandon rested his hand on his gun. “I can’t. You know I can’t. I only did it to protect them.”
Dale picked up the phone and called the police.
“My friend killed his wife and child. No this is not a prank. Send over a squad car right fuckin’ now.” He looked up. Brandon pointed his gun at his chest.
“Put the phone down, Dale. Hang it up right now.” Brandon said. His eyes were filled with vitriol.
“He’s a mean drunk and I don’t doubt he killed ‘em. The address is 108 Benefit Street. You’ll have to-”
“Put the phone down, Dale. Hang it up right now.” Brandon held his gun level with Dale’s chest. The phone’s cord dangled back and forth. He heard the operator on the other side of the line. The voice was muffled and flustered.
“Look, man. No one needs to get hurt. You just put the gun down and we all go home. You go with the police and if you’re innocent then great, you get to go home.”
Brandon adjusted his hold on the pistol grip. He felt sweat oozing from his palm and coating the cold crevices of steel. His finger rested on the trigger. “You don’t know what happened. Emelia tried to kill me!” Tears welled in his eyes.
“Yeah?” Dale slammed the phone against his thigh, “Well you murdered your fucking child! Did she do anything to you? Huh? What did Marigold do to you?”
Brandon’s hand was quaking, his gun shaking. “She was sick and I had to help her. Her hand was burning. You would understand if you saw it! It was black and burned to the bone. I only did it to stop her pain. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Dale raised the phone to his ear. “He’s got a gun pointed at me.” He was shaking. “He’s lost his mind!”
“Put the phone down, Dale.”
“Sir, I’m sending a squad car your way,” the operator said.
Brandon pulled the trigger. A flash! Blinding light seared into his vision forever. Etched in his memories. Dale keeled over, clutching his stomach, spitting up blood. The phone clattered to the floor and the operator called for him. Brandon stared at it for a moment, then tilted his head. The black handle ran red with blood as reams of revolting scarlet sank into the carpet. It was over. The sickness was gone! Brandon had done it. His crusade to do nothing but cleanse the earth of this horrid blight had come to its conclusion!
But what of the newspaper? That piece of literature lying in the fireplace, burnt to a crisp and nothing more than ash. It was prophecy. Whoever—whatever—had created it was right. And now more than ever. With nothing more to look towards, he sat down and let the blood stain his pants. Marigold would suffer no more. The amorphous crab-thing, Emelia, had silenced itself. Brandon supposed it was gone. Where had it gone? That wasn’t his problem now. The police would deal with it. The Owens’ household was quiet for the first moment of forever. What could live here after such a heinous crime? What of the obelisk, crawling back from the lake, inching towards the house like some kind of ravenous beast? Did it think? Did it love? Did it hate?
“What was it?” Brandon said, knowing he would get no answer. Dissonant horns sounded in reply. “Why was it here? And now that I think about it, what had I to fear? This trembling in my voice. Caused by nothing but my own choice. That’s what it was—an unconscious beast. Now that it’s gone, I can start my infinite sleep.”
Brandon Owens sat on a white bed in a white room with white curtains and white clothes on his body. Twenty three days he had counted. Locked in Pemsbruth for twenty three days. They used to do experiments here, someone said. Someone told him they still do. Letters from the sanitorium revealed something so long ago. He read it somewhere, maybe a newspaper? It didn’t matter. Those white sheets looked mighty fine right now. An infinite sleep, coming to him. All he had to do was act! The doctor would not know. Much like he would not know.
The obelisk came, and went as soon as it came. A ghost on the wind—not there. An apparition. And what of the crab-thing inhabiting Emelia’s steaming corpse? The police never found it, of course. It wasn’t there, they said. Brandon knew they were lying. Someone set him up. They said she was dead in the bathroom, beaten. And when asked about the obelisk itself, the police never saw it. There was no obelisk, they said.
But it was there. Brandon knew it. He knew it was there, waiting to come again. And it marched. It marched at night like the fiend it was. Shuffle forth. It came for him. He knew it was. It was coming. Right now! He heard its cry from outside the window. A horrible shriek across the grass. A slide.
“What drives you? What is it behind the smooth granite that allows you to be?”
Nothing answered. Brandon heard it.
“Ah. The mystery solved.”
Someone walked through the hallway, coming to get him, he knew. He threw the white covers over himself and pretended to be asleep. A door closed somewhere.
“I know you know I’m here, beast. You won’t get me. I hear you outside, through the wall. You won’t get me.”
When the halls were silent, Brandon shot up in his bed. The sheets were easy to tie together. One knot into the next to the other and soon it might as well have been a rope. A white rope, sitting on a white bed. Then it was simple. Wrap it around the throat. That was easy.
A clang broke the silence. And on that hot summer night, Brandon Owens slept forever.