WICKED CONCESSION by Charles Dunphey
Ruth’s mother had not left her bedroom for over a year.
Darkness consumed her dwelling, blackout curtains swallowing the light and preventing the room from discerning the difference between day and night. Her china cabinets spawned layers of dust, blanketing the once fine finish of the wooden frames with a grey hue soft and hilly. Porcelain dolls stood within glass cabinets, staring out at the hibernating occupant with glass eyes and featureless faces. Their expressions relayed the placid complacency of addiction in a reflecting manner toward the motionless woman.
Every Friday, Ruth would guide her maternal corpse to the scale, legs wobbly and movements drowsy. Every Friday, the scale would tip at a few pounds lower than the previous week. She had lost eighty pounds in total by the last weighing of the year. The once plump and voluptuous woman who had birthed Ruth now stood dilapidated, incapacitated, and ghoulish. It was difficult to find compassion for her mother; the acknowledgement of free will deflected any glints of remorse Ruth knew.
This was her choice. She embraced a vegetative state in the same way a heroin addict would embrace a debilitating high. The opiates in her system bore one difference from the drug Ruth had seen in movies, ruining lives and signifying the downfalls of famous celebrities and musicians. The difference was that the opiates her mother consumed were prescribed. With the signature of a doctor, this heroin was morally acceptable and encouraged by those who claimed to be in the business of helping others.
A combination of opiates, muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, painkillers, and anti depressants culminated into a sickening condition of dependency that Ruth related to the materialistic nature she witnessed in other people her age. Their consumption of clothing, fragrances, technology, all drilling their conscience into a state of dopamine injected elation. Purely psychological triggers infecting their minds with indifference and creating a vacancy where the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’ once inhabited. How was her mother any different than the fiends she despised so much? How could she have sympathy for her when she held none for others in similar situations?
They want this life. They made the conscious decision to choose drugs and things over reality and true happiness. They are addicts. They are wretches.
Her brain often splurged justifications and explanations that suited her own beliefs. Yet these thoughts only fostered the guilt that nestled within her heart. No matter how many times she buried these thoughts into the back of her mind, she couldn’t help but feel that extracting sympathy and compassion for her mother would be the right choice to make. Something in her wanted to hope.
Despite the reality and gloomy vividness of her mother’s increasingly dreadful condition, Ruth would often seek counsel from the woman. Responses were never expected; grumbling and unintelligible droning were the only replies she ever received. Nonetheless, there was something comforting in spilling her guts to her emaciated mother. The heavy, laboured breathing never dissuaded her nor prevented her from adhering to her original objective of venting in the most unfiltered, unrestrained ways possible. Sometimes tears would dive from Ruth’s cheeks, landing onto the quilt that her mother had sewed all those years ago.
Its purple threaded borders crossed diagonally between curving and looping designs crafted with golden silk, shiny but subtle. The quilt apparently took years to finish and now it stood at the foot of her mother’s bed, a divan for the small Poodle she had raised for so many years. The grey hair blossoming from the canine’s underbelly and throat resembled an ashy grey that likely bore the precursors of age and the eventuality of death.
Ruth couldn’t help but wonder if her mother would even remember the animal if it died. Lucy the dog would just become another faded, deformed dream trapped between conceptualization and deletion. Her mother barely remembered anything anymore. Sometimes she would call Ruth by strange names and titles she had never heard before. Often her mother would speak of things in her drug induced coma that would terrify Ruth.
It’s just the drugs, Ruth would reason.
The largest feed of guilt stemmed from the explanation that Ruth’s father gave concerning her mother’s current state. Her father informed Ruth of the suicide attempt and the subsequent letter that arrived directly after she returned from the hospital, stitches on her wrists still lightly leaking crimson. The letter is what led Ruth’s mother to the drug abuse, according to her father. She started seeing a psychiatrist as a requirement from the state after her attempt at her own life. Once the letter travelled into her hands, she ravenously begged the doctor for more and more pills—more suicidal attempts accompanying these requests in a fashion that implied blackmail. Her father said that something had taken a hold of her, wrapping black toxic tendrils around her soul.
‘I’ll be honest with you, hun. I don’t know who she is anymore,’ said her father one night.
It only fuelled her hatred for her mother even more.
The arrival of the letter marked the beginning of the downward spiralling madness that would eventually choke and strangulate the household and family Ruth had come to hold so dearly. As soon as the name ‘Deacon’ was mentioned, everything seemed to change. This person’s obituary seemed to infect her mother with a poisonous, malignant acrimony. Whether this Deacon’s name bore representation of a professional nature or simply that of an oddly chosen name, the designation became synonymous to Ruth and her family with all things malevolent and macabre. When her mother first read the letter, she broke out into tears—violently grasping the hard stock paper edges until bent and hyperventilating, red cheeked and confused.
‘Why are you crying?’ asked Ruth’s father.
‘Because ... he wanted forgiveness,’ sobbed her mother.
‘After everything that bastard did, you want to forgive him?’
‘You don’t understand.’
‘Well, make me understand.’
‘It’s Ruth. It’s only a matter of time before—’
Ruth had been standing in the corner of the hallway, eavesdropping on the conversation. Her parents noticed her in that moment, due to the sobs she began to expel at the sight of her mother. The horror conveyed in her mother’s eyes only channelled inner morbidity within Ruth. Something awful had happened to her. She didn’t need to know what to know how much it had affected her. In those watery, crystalline eyes atop that reddened visage, Ruth stared at her mother for the last time. The soulless, lifeless cadaver she became would never be her mother, but the pill head who became the source of her conversations with others.
Later on, Ruth’s father sat with her and tried to shed light on what her mother was so upset about. He told her that she would be seeing a psychiatrist again because ever since the news of this Deacon character came to fruition, her mother had been trying to hurt herself once more. He informed Ruth of the sexual assaults that enveloped her mother’s childhood and young adult life. Nearly fifteen years of rape and molestation from this Deacon had fractured her mother’s mind, and for some reason, the death of this monstrosity of a being had brought everything back to light. Even events that she had forgotten.
Ruth felt it foolish to blame herself for the initial insensitive reactions to her mother’s new addictions, as well as the current. She hadn’t even been conceived when these atrocities took place. Why should they affect her in any way other than in the form of a residual empathetic sadness?
Guilt pervaded Ruth’s thoughts on the day that marked a year since her mother had left her bedroom. She quietly stepped into her mother’s room, lifting the door while pushing in an attempt to alleviate the creaks. The master bedroom was always dim lit, thick curtains smothering daylight before it reached into the cavernous room. The small rays of light that broke the blinds in places the cloth didn’t shield reached out into the room and up onto the walls, dust glittering and wafting within the breezy illuminations. Lucy stirred at Ruth’s presence but fell back into a deep slumber reminiscent of her mother’s death like rest.
Her mother weakly tossed and turned in her bed, likely feeling the invasion of cool air from the opened door whilst shaking and muttering dark thoughts projected from dreams. Ruth held her hand and caressed it, afraid for her mother in a way she hadn’t been amongst the company of others. Her pride would deteriorate into nothingness at the sight of the rapidly thinning and violently inebriated being that lay before her. Memories of her childhood would bombard her mind, ruminations of swings, fields of grass, and lackadaisically coloured stick figures portraying their once happy family. A tear fell from Ruth’s cheek and landed lazily on her mother’s favourite quilt as they always did.
‘Deacon?’ her mother woefully growled from slumber.
Ruth froze, realizing her mother’s eyes were wide open, her gaze staring through and above her daughter.
‘Deacon, is that you?’ she mourned again.
Ruth’s contempt returned to a festering hatred, and reluctant feelings of love and concern clambered into her thoughts. The girl stood up from the bed and began to depart from the clutch of depravity her mother’s presence had become.
‘A dog,’ said her mother.
Lucy began to growl in a weak, purring manner—though the aggression was remarkably evident.
The words of her mother and the subtle guttural snarling drifted to Ruth’s ears, freezing her in her steps.
Her mother was ... having a conversation. Though her eyes were open and her features bore consciousness, something was wrong. Ruth followed her mother’s hollow gaze, eventually turning ninety degrees and facing a shadowy, indiscernible corner of the ceiling. All colour and shape seemed to dissipate within the darkness. This corner of the room was the one spot that the blackout curtains devoured most.
What terrified Ruth most was the fact that anything could be in that corner, staring down at her from the darkness. She had no way of illuminating the blackness that shrouded the room, seeming to reach out with long ghastly claws across her imagination’s canvas.
‘Ruth?’ her mother asked.
She turned quickly, excited for this episode to be over.
‘Yes, mom? What is it? Are you okay?’
‘She would never,’ her mother told the darkness of the ceiling corner.
Ruth stood petrified. The woman she had known her whole life seemed to wither away before her eyes. Grasping at the mattress to push herself up, bones and joints snapped and crackled like kittling in a fire. The sound perturbed and disturbed Ruth. Every muscle, tendon, and ligament strained and constricted, suffocated by the thinning layer of skin and tissue that concealed it. It seemed as though her insides were screaming to escape from the fleshy layer that was their prison.
When her mother sat up, her head sloped forward, scraggly and unwashed hair slightly masking her skull like features. Protruding cheekbones and sunken eye sockets hid behind her chaotic and mangy mane. The vertebrae in her back poked outward like dorsal fins, ribs tightening around her spine like large skeletal fingers grasping onto a breath of life.
Lucy stood up. Her fluffy hair began to rise and angle in a direction that Ruth found mortifying. The small, weak, old and frail animal burst with energy, barking and yelping at the corner of the ceiling.
Ruth shushed the animal over and over to no avail.
After several seconds of Lucy’s screeches, the small creature silenced abruptly. The dog began to shake and whimper.
The walls behind Ruth seemed to stretch, sounds of fingernails across drywall rattling from the darkness. Scratching sounds clicked and ripped across the ceiling. Ruth gasped as she remembered to breathe.
Her mother began to cry as Ruth turned from her to face the sounds. The darkness in the room was not enough to hide the ghoul that her mother once inhabited. In some ways, the possibilities of what the darkness held were more bearable than the sight of the carcass that pretended to be her mom.
‘Don’t hurt her. Please. Not the way that you hurt me,’ her mother said.
Ruth stared once more into the oblivion above. Suddenly, her mind grew aware of a presence in the room that was not hers or her mother’s. Something sinister. Something petulant and avaricious.
The scratching stopped.
Lucy jumped off the bed and ran in front of Ruth’s feet, hiding and trembling whilst facing her mother’s bed.
‘Those eyes. They ... they are so hollow—don’t turn!’
Ruth gasped. She heard something from behind lurch onto her mother’s bed, the springs screeching and the structure groaning of a thing immense. She knew her mother was talking to her with the last interjection.
‘Your hands ... they are strange,’ her mother suddenly wept a sound morose, ‘Deacon ... what have you become? ... No. No, you cannot. Not Ruth. I don’t care what you—don’t look!’
Ruth shuddered again. Every muscle in her body wanted to turn and face her mother. Fear managed to maintain a vice over her movement, paralyzed by the presence of something nefarious.
Behind Ruth, a vile, insidious murmuring began to spur into existence. The indescribable speech dripped with venom, hysteria plaguing her mind as she began her best efforts to ignore the whispers. The springs and wood in the bed began to moan and sigh as they emanated rhythmically through the air. Her mother grunted on tempo and the reality of the situation began to take hold of Ruth’s consciousness.
‘Mommy,’ the tearful words crept from her mouth.
The incessant sounds began to grow more intense, the bed now rattling and her mother’s grunts becoming more pained.
‘Mommy,’ Ruth said again, her tears flooding down her cheeks, ‘Please stop.’
The whispers grew to audible speech, their malicious tone and dualistic quality electrifying the deepest roots of her fears.
‘Lirg eh tem evig ... lirg eh tem evig ... lirg eh tem evig ... desi morpu oy. Smaer dreh nise moc god eht. Lirg eh tem evig.’
Ruth screamed until her lungs deflated and incinerated with pain.
The bedroom door swung open, the silhouette of her father casting high over the now illuminated bed. Ruth spun around to face her mother only to see a faded cloud of ash drifting out of existence. Her mother’s hands were pinned down, her hair ragged and pulled. Tears flooded down her cheeks.
Ruth’s father stood in shock and bewilderment at what they had both just seen.
Her mother slowly released tension as the darkness dissipated from atop her stomach. She muttered words saddening and disturbing.
‘I told him to take me. I told him to leave Ruth alone. I begged for him to take me but he didn’t want me anymore. He said I wasn’t good enough. I can’t do this anymore,’ said her mother, chin trembling.
With each word exhaled, veins rose beneath her temples and sweat trickled down her oily, pasty skin. Veins squeezed around her anorexic arms like pythons around their prey. The light from outside shone brightly on Ruth’s mother, illustrating her pestilence in a light as yet unseen.
Her father gasped in horror at the thought of his wife reaching a state so decrepit. Emotions of helplessness and sorrow encompassed his mind, looming a dark cloud over his conscience not soon to depart.
‘Ruth! Get out of here. Go to your room. I need to take care of your mother,’ said her father.
‘Why? Did you not just see what I saw? Did you not hear what I heard? Something was in here with us. It hurt mom!’
‘Go to your room!’
Ruth bolted out of the bedroom, rage tightening around her rational thought.
How could he? Why would he just ignore what he saw? I know he saw what was in that damn room. It was ... Deacon! But how?
After ascending the final steps, Ruth collapsed onto her bed. Her mind scattered chaotically between streams of thought and vivid memories of the hallucinatory scene that took place that day. Something sinister slept in her mother’s past; something that neither her mother nor father wanted to speak of or acknowledge. And it haunted her still.
She tossed and turned for several hours, frustration spiking in her mind as she attempted to hush her brain to rest. Eventually, sandy fingers brushed against her eyelids, soothing them to shut. Calm surged through Ruth’s bones as a deep sleep abducted her from the reality she had come to dread so fervently.
Ruth’s eyes opened to the revolving blades of the ceiling fan in her bedroom, circling at a speed that seemed to intensify the longer she stared. Her room was dark; the embrace of night had soared into her dwelling all consumingly. All sound seemed to dwindle beneath the weight of the fan’s blades and the ticking of the grandfather clock that stood tall in the corner of her room.
In the calm embrace of nightfall, it felt as if the house itself was dying.
She rolled her feet over the mattress of her bed, slipping into her sandals before descending the stairs in search of her mother. The memories of what happened earlier slowly embellished into fantastical accounts of the supernatural.
Could it have been real? Could it be that she just wanted it to be true that something was afflicting someone she cared for so dearly? Removing her mother of all responsibility and promises not kept gave her reassurance she hadn’t had in a long time? But she couldn’t help but wonder if any of it was even real.
The only thing that mattered to Ruth now was finding her mother and making sure she was alright. When her small feet caught the last step of the staircase, Ruth noticed something that pleasantly surprised her but filled her heart with disbelief.
Her mother sat in the dining room on the desktop, her genealogy papers all spread across the glass table top. She hadn’t seen her mother work on these projects in ages. The happiness it brought to Ruth’s heart was welcomed but the curiosity and doubt held steadfast within her thoughts.
‘Mom?’ asked Ruth.
‘Oh hey, dear. Just wrapping up on Mrs. Brenda’s ancestry documents. She has over four relatives who were in the Revolutionary War. I can’t wait to tell her,’ her mother said, smiling, but never looking up from her papers.
The light in the dining room was the only source of illumination in the house, her mother appearing heavenly under the white light. Her skinny, wireframe figure was smooth and graceful like an elk in spring. Warmth in her cheeks blossomed into colours that Ruth could only associate with health.
Ruth looked out the window beside the dining table, the huge backyard covered in misty fog and irradiated by the expressions of the moon. The gaseous vapours fogged over the dark grass like ghostly figurines dancing to a haunting tune. Ruth gazed out into the mist, something propelling her to maintain her gaze, unflinching.
Across the field, near the neighbour’s large wooden fence, a shadow began to materialize in the vaporous haze. The dark shadow slowly crept closer to the house in a meditative, patient pace.
The shadow belonged to the largest dog Ruth had ever seen.
‘What is in our backyard?’
‘It’s probably just one of the neighbour’s dogs. They are always loose.’
Ruth turned to nod at her mother in agreement, but as she glanced toward the dining room table, she was greeted by only an empty chair and eerie silence within the house. The lights were all off and her mother was nowhere to be found. In the blink of an eye, she had disappeared. Or had she ever been there at all?
Panicking, Ruth turned back towards the condensation covered window. She leapt back in terror. The giant canine stood mere feet from the house, planted in the wet, moonlit grass. Its head was bowed, fur gleaming with moisture and untidy. The animal reared back and stood upon its two hind feet, outstretching what Ruth recognized now as human like, furry hands behind its back. Its knees bent inwards at an awkward angle until snapping the creature into a completely upright position. Its figure rose and rose as it transformed.
It’s at least twelve feet tall, thought Ruth.
When it finally curved its neck back and revealed its face, Ruth gasped in horror.
Never had she seen something so frightening. Never had her eyes gazed upon something so fearsome and ferocious. The beast before her held no resemblance to man or animal. Its face was a cold, pale white pigment, wrinkles across the forehead bearing darker tints, reminiscent of cracks within a façade of face paint. The cheekbones perked upward, stiff. They elongated the mouth, lips appearing to be at the bottom of the creature’s mien. The hair covering its body avoided the face like small black ants lining a pool of water. Its hands were nude also, five fingers replacing paws in a manner unsettling and horrifying. Light glinted across its mane and the moon seemed to beam all its embrace on this singular, putrid beast.
Yet the feature that horrified Ruth most, the feature that made her heart sputter out of control and the air in her lungs escape into breathlessness, were the monster’s eyes. There was nothing within them! Only blackness that reflected Ruth’s own expression of horror, like peering into a dark cesspool of a baleful swamp. The eyes sunk into nothingness and the surrounding eye sockets seemed to clasp onto the memory of sight in a desperate attempt to retain whatever was left. Those eyes bore into Ruth’s soul, drilling her entire body into immobility and a trembling sweat.
The fiend’s movements seemed short, small, and sporadic as it flexed and twitched before her—like an image convulsing within a broken frame. It reached its massive hairless palm to the window, flattening its hand. The creature tilted its head as its elongated fingers gently screeched against the glass, condensation clouding its shape.
In this small gesture, Ruth could feel a volcanic eruption of intentions streaming from the beast and into her thoughts. Endless volumes of sickening and pervasive sensations burst through her skull like fireworks. Ruth’s knees wobbled, the life seeming to drain from her body like a soul escaping after death. Cries of woe and sorrow bellowed through her core, ripping and severing her connections to all things pleasant and good natured. Ruth fought the desire to collapse and give into the cries.
The beast cocked its head in an inquisitive manner, as if it was aware and curious of the pain it was causing Ruth. Perhaps because it had lost all connection with emotion and humanity. Maybe its expression was that of something that no longer understood human concepts such as pain or misery. Ruth even considered that this gesture may have been because it was amused by her revolting reaction.
Inside of her head, voices chambered like choruses, reciting the same line over and over.
‘Lirg eh tem evig. Lirg eh tem evig. Lirg eh tem evig. Lirg eh tem evig. Lirg eh tem evig.’
The melodic, entrancing vocalizations brought a word shining and eminent within Ruth’s mind’s eye.
With all the strength she had left in her body, Ruth broke from the monster’s hold. She sprinted up the staircase and slammed her bedroom door shut, screws and hinges rattling with tension. She climbed into her bed, and pulled her blankets tightly around her head. Ruth buried her face within her knees, the wallowing cries still within her brain, shaking nuts and bolts loose and sending her into a state of panic and distraught tension.
Slowly, her body went limp and she fell into an exhausted and ephemeral slumber.
Ruth awakened to her ceiling fan off, the lights in her room still illuminating the posters and memories chronicling her life along the wall. Her sweat soaked the sheets beneath her, reminisces of the nightmare still pervading her thoughts. Everything felt as if it were so real. She could feel the beast staring at her, hear the sorrowful moans it communicated telepathically. Thoughts of her mother sprang to mind; the events earlier no longer absent in reflection.
Ruth hurried down the staircase, each step thudding along. Turning the corner of the hallway, Ruth caught glimpse of a note posted on the fridge in the kitchen.
I am heading to an emergency appointment with mom’s psychiatrist. I will be back before noon. Make sure to keep an eye on her. If anything happens before I get back, call me immediately.
Ruth slipped the note from its magnets and studied the chaotic writing. Her father’s panicked message coloured her curious. Had he seen what she saw in the room? Or was he still pretending?
How long have I been asleep? Ruth thought.
As she read over the note again and again, something stirred within the house. She could feel an overwhelming sense of dread fumigating her hollow home. It was obvious that she and her mother were not alone. The absence of her father only swelled her dismay.
A creaking sound broke Ruth’s concentration. She dropped the note, watching it waltz to the floor slowly and silently. Her mother’s door was open. The edge of it broke into view beyond the kitchen.
‘Mom?’ Ruth called into the quiet air with reluctance spilling out in unsteady speech.
She slowly paced to the room, every hair on her neck standing at attention. As she gazed into the darkness of her mother’s room, a horrific sight choked her lungs.
A tall, dark, and hairy figure was mounted upon her mother as she lay in her bed. The creature from her dream had transcended the realm of nightmares and birthed itself into Ruth’s reality. Her mother’s body lay beneath it, motionless and silent. Every tendon and ligament in Ruth’s body seized and her blood drained from her cheeks.
‘L l let go of her, you monster!’ Ruth cried.
A voice clambered inside of her skull. It banged pots and pan in her cranium, the sound scrambling her streams of thought. Erratic and harrowing resonances tore across a placid sea of unknown. A war of attrition had broken out in her psyche, the drums of battle beating to the tempos of her worst fears realized.
‘Lirg eh tem evig. Lirg eh tem evig. Lirg eh tem evig. Lirg eh tem evig. Lirg eh tem evig,’ chanted the enormous wolf like creature.
It postured up, raising its head towards the ceiling; its flat hairless face glistening beneath some ghostly gaslight from origins unbeknownst to Ruth.
The body beneath it that Ruth had come to despise so much turned to face her. She prepared for the relinquished compassion to once again flicker with sympathy.
The war sounds halted. All sound suctioned from Ruth’s ears, a dull ringing replacing the once quiet stirrings of the house. Her hands shook intensely and her heart palpitated uncomfortably within her ribcage, banging against bone and meat.
It was not her mother beneath the beast.
The face that the body underneath Deacon wore was Ruth’s.