BLOODY PALM by Justin Fleischman

Derek jogs completely up the steep road. Once at the top of Berry Road, he places his hands on his knees, taking several deep breaths. This is the fifth time he’s run up this road. He plans on doing it two more times.

He turns then walks down the hilly road at a fast pace, glancing at the white house with a wooden porch. 

“I can make this two more times,” he quietly says, rubbing sweat from his eyes. He jogged up the lengthy road six times two days ago. He’s trying to increase his sprints by one each time he runs. 

He started running again due to the closure of the Brick Wall Gym, where he lifted weights four days a week, due to Covid 19. 

With the gym’s doors being temporarily shut, he needs to do something to keep in shape.

Once reaching the bottom of the hill, he turns and starts jogging. Then his cell rings. He stops, taking it from his pocket.

Holly

He immediately answers his ex-wife’s call. “Yeah, what is it?” 

“Derek, would it be okay if I picked up Aiden a little earlier than usual Sunday evening?”

“Are you freaking kidding me, Holly?” His eyes open wide as he shouts. Aiden is their ten year old son who stays with Derek during the weekends. “What’s so important that I have to spend less time with my son?”

“Hailey’s coming in this weekend. She wants to spend time with her nephew.”

“Your sister wants to visit with her nephew, she can drop by my place.” He shakes his head. “Don’t have a problem with her stopping over.”

“Derek,” she sighs, “we shouldn’t make house visits with the coronavirus going around.”

Then why’s your sister coming to visit from two states over? Derek gargles then spits. He runs his left hand threw his longer than usual curly brown hair before replying. “As usual, Holly, you’re right. Tell me what time to bring him back Sunday and I’ll cut my time with him short to do it.”

“Der, it’ll only be two or three hours before you usually drop him off.”

He gazes up the road, feeling in no mood to finish his workout—or continue this conversation. “Whatever you want, dear.” He disconnects then walks up the hill. One of the many things he’d learned to do since his divorce is know when to quit speaking. 

Approaching the small, yellow rental house he lives in, he removes his phone and presses the Facebook App. He notices a Friend Request from a woman named Rory Rouchburt. Her lips are ruby red. She has bright blue eyes and long, straight brown hair. “Pretty cute.” He doesn’t know her, but presses Add Friend.

“Rory Rouchburt.” Unlocking the front door, he laughs. “Sounds like a stripper’s name.” 

Derek receives a message: Rory Rouchburt Accepted Your Friend Request. That’s odd. Thought she requested me for a friend. 

He looks at the original message. It doesn’t say Sent You A Friend Request it reads: Suggested Friend Request. Derek laughs, wondering who their mutual friends are. He flips down Facebook and notices two different pictures of Rory. In one, she has her hair tied to the sides, her ruby red lips still noticeable. The other is a side view. Her hair is down with the question added: Does my hair look flat? 

Derek responds: Your hair looks good—don’t worry about it.

He grabs a Diet Coke from the refrigerator then is watching a movie on television when a reply comes from Rory. Derek Cronshaw you’re so sweet . But I need to do something with my hair! 

He types: You look beautiful!

Not receiving a reply after ten minutes, he stands, goes into the kitchen and removes another bottle of Diet Coke from the refrigerator. 

After taking a large gulp of his drink, his phone dings. He notices it’s a message from Rory.

I haven’t been working. Damn coronavirus! 

He smiles. That sucks. I’ll buy you dinner sometime. Help out anyway I can.

After sending the message, he believes it quite forward. He sets the phone on the arm rest.

Her response comes through minutes later. 

I live with my aunt.

What’s that got to do with anything? he thinks. Well, maybe she just wants to change the subject.

He starts into another message. Okay, I can take you and your aunt out. 

The screen shows bubbles.

You really want to take my aunt out? LOL!

He laughs. Not really. Just want to meet you. 

She replies: Nothing’s open.

He sips his drink, changing channels with the remote. 

 

The whistle blows inside the garage. Derek, operating a forklift, lowers a large package into the back of the truck. He backs up the forklift, parks it, removes a hankie from his pocket then wipes his face. 

Entering the break room, he pours a cup of coffee. Sipping it, he removes his phone. 

Opening Facebook, he sees a picture of Rory in pigtails, wearing a pink bikini top. His eyes open wide while his tongue slides across his teeth.

Pretty 

Her comment appears minutes later:

Thank you! ♥ So sweet!

He switches to instant messenger, goes to her name and types:

Okay if I have your number so I can call you sometime? 

Almost two hours later, Rory replied: Sorry, I fell asleep. Just Instant Message for now.

Derek arranges the boxes in the truck.

 

Derek steps out of his Nissan, carrying two plastic bags. One holds two Cherry Coke Zero two litres the others contains a half–pound of roast beef lunch meat, a bottle of bar-b-que sauce and a half dozen eggs. 

Once in the house, he sets the groceries on the table. Putting them into the refrigerator, he sighs. I really need to stop eating and drinking this garbage.

Still, he takes a glass from the cabinet to pour the drink into. Then he sits in his chair, sips from the glass, removes his iPhone and goes to Instant Messenger. 

If you and your aunt would feel safe coming to my place one evening, I’ll make dinner. That would really make me happy. Promise to stay six feet away from you both. I haven’t had much company since my divorce. 

After hitting send, he sits the phone on the armrest, stands, unplugs his iPad that rested on the coffee table and skims through the local news. 

Then Rory responds:

Okay, sounds fun! We ain’t been getting out much neither. Really getting cabin fever! LOL! What are you making to eat? 

Hadn’t thought about that. Whatever you’d like, Rory. 

Finishing his soda, he goes into the kitchen and fills his glass. 

Derek has never been much of a cook. He remembers grilling steaks and chicken on the grill at his old house—his ex-wife’s current house. But since living alone, he’d usually fry burgers, cook spaghetti and eat canned vegetables. 

Turning on the television, he searches for an On Demand movie to watch. Then a message comes through from Rory.

We like Italian food! Do you like Italian food? We would love an Italian dinner! 

He grins, thinking she might be as excited as he is.

Since Holly wants to have Aiden back early Sunday, he believes that day would work.

I can make Italian food. I have my son this weekend, but he’ll be going back to his mother’s Sunday afternoon. Would Sunday evening, about six be good? 

He waits for her response. The bubbles show then disappear. After nearly five minutes, her reply shows.

Let me ask my aunt.

Why does she have to check with her aunt? What’s this lady’s story? He sighs, shaking his head. This is freaking weird. Shit, maybe she’s still a teenager. I never checked her age. 

While he watches the action movie The Night Clerk, he gets a message. 

Aunt Pearl said Sunday is good for us. You said you’re making Italian Food? That sounds great! 

He laughs, then replies: Anytime between 5 and 6 is good—then he gives his address.

Unsure if Rory will send anything back, he immediately calls Holly. It rings twice before going to voicemail. 

“Holly, sorry I snapped during our conversation. I do think it important Aiden spends time with his aunt. Whatever time you want me to drop him off at the house Sunday, I’ll do it.”

After disconnecting, he resumes watching the movie. It’s been a while since he had something, besides spending time with his son, to look forward to. 

 

At 2:00pm Sunday, Derek pulls into the driveway of his former house. Aiden, sitting in the passenger seat, unlatches his seatbelt. This is the first time Derek let Aiden sit upfront. He believes his son’s old enough. 

“Thanks for bringing me home, Daddy.”

Derek bites his lip, thinking about when it’d been both of their homes. “You’re welcome, buddy. I really enjoy spending time with you on the weekends.”

Aiden hugs his father. Derek kisses his cheek. “Have fun with your Aunt Hailey.”

Aiden smiles at his father before departing the car. They wave to each other as Derek backs out of the driveway.

On the drive home, he pulls into the small DeSalvo’s’ Supperette. Parking, he takes out his phone, gets on the Internet and looks up the menu for the restaurant Italian Cooking. 

He knew all along it’d be smarter to support this restaurant during these tough times than to try and prepare and authentic Italian dinner himself. 

He then calls the restaurant and orders two pounds of spaghetti and meatballs, Zucchini planks, cheesy garlic bread, veal and salad then enters the store to purchase a 2liter of Diet Coke. 

 

At 6:20, Derek gazes out his bedroom window. A small, blue car creeps along the road then pulls into the driveway. He rushes into the kitchen where the spaghetti and meatballs are kept warm in the oven and the zucchini planks and veal are heated on the burner with the salad in a large bowl on the counter. The doorbell rings. He moves to the door.

He expects to see Rory upon opening the door, but her aunt stands there. 

“Hello, Derek Cronshaw?” the aunt asks. Rory, wearing blue rimmed glasses, stands behind her.

“Yes.” He smiles.

“I’m Rory’s Aunt Pearl.” She shakes his hand. Her hand is bigger than his. “Pearl Davison.”

“Come in.” They release hands. He moves out of the way so Pearl will enter. He then sees Rory and stares at her pink jeans. Then she faces him, smiling. “You have a nice house.”

Derek grins. “Thanks. Hope you like the food. I picked it up from a restaurant, Italian Cooking.”

Keeping her smile, she says nothing and goes inside the house. 

“So, you live here by yourself?” Rory turns and asks him.

“Yeah,” he closes the door, “most of the time. My son’s here on weekends.”

“Did you prepare all this food yourself?” Pearl asks from the kitchen.

“No,” Derek laughs—wanting to build whatever it is he’s getting into on honesty. “I was at the creek with my son most of the day—didn’t have time to cook. I bought it from the restaurant, Italian Cooking.” 

“It’s really nice meeting you.” Rory sticks out her hand. As Derek shakes it, he realises it’s even frailer than he expected. Unlike her aunt, Rory is thin.

“So, would you like to watch a movie later on?” Derek asks. “I don’t have Netflix. I watch movies On Demand.”

Rory glances to the side, blinking. “Could you show me how to pick an On Demand movie?”

Thought everybody knew how to do that. “Yes, Rory, no problem.”

“Hope you don’t mind us coming into your house without wearing a mask.” Rory sits on the couch. “I hate them. Can’t breathe wearing those fucking things.”

Derek chuckles at her expletive then sits directly beside her. “They’re a real hassle sometimes.” He shows her the free On Demand movies then hands her the remote control. 

“Derek, may I speak to you for a minute?” Pearl asks from behind the couch while Rory skims through the movies. 

Derek stands then moves behind the couch to see Pearl.

“In private,” she quietly says. Her and Derek go into the kitchen then sit in the two chairs at the table. Derek realizes he didn’t add another chair. “Okay, I know it’s very strange for your date to come here with her aunt.”

“No problem.” He shakes his head.

“You see, Derek,” Pearl cranks her neck to look out of the kitchen’s entranceway. “Rory was in a car accident, a little over two years ago with her mom and dad. Her mother and father died in it.”

His jaw drops.

“Rory suffered a severe brain injury. She knows what happened—but doesn’t remember it happening—if that makes sense.”

Derek stares into her eyes. “I’m very sorry.”

“I moved into my late sister and brother in law’s house shortly after that. Rory’d been in therapy for six months. I’d been taking care of her since then.”

“That’s very commendable of you.” His head drops. 

“It’s my life now.” She sits back, her dark, curly hair covering the side of her face. “Her old friends, well, they don’t look at or treat her quite the same anymore. And, well, I get a little paranoid when she makes new friends.”

He wonders if it’d be appropriate to ask questions.

“She’s twenty four, but sometimes, she’ll act like a girl much younger.” She sighs. “She doesn’t behave the way she used to.”

Derek gazes down and to his side. “I have a ten year old son. Don’t know what I’d do if something like that ever happened to him.” 

Derek and Pearl then go into the living room. Rory is skimming through the movies. 

“Did you find a movie you like, honey?” Pearl sits beside her. 

“Don’t think so.” She slightly shakes her head, eyes fixed on the television screen.

“Well, don’t worry about that right now.” Pearl takes the remote from her hand. “We’re going to eat now.”

“We’ll find something to watch after we eat.” Derek smiles.

Rory stands and goes into the kitchen. Derek and Pearl follow her.

Derek enters the pantry, removes a folding chair and places it at the table then takes three plates from the cabinet. 



After eating, they watch a free On Demand movie, Dumb and Dumber. Derek relaxes in his chair. Rory and Pearl sit on the couch.

Derek glances at Rory each time she laughs at the picture’s corny jokes. Knowing what she’d went through doesn’t change his feelings. He still wants to see her again—preferably without the aunt. But knows, especially with the quarantine, it’s unlikely. 

Pearl asks Derek about his job. He tells her about his duties of packing the trailers for semi-trucks. He peeks at Rory, who smiles, watching the movie and wonders if she is even capable of holding a job. 

Rory removes her Droid from her back pocket. She glances at Derek then looks at her phone. “What’s your number, Derek?”

As he gives it to her, he watches Pearl from the corner of his eye. She gazes down, slightly smiling.

“What’s yours, Rory?” he asks.

His phone rings.

“You have it.” She holds up her phone, a large smile on her face. “But don’t bug me too much.” She laughs.

“Try not to.” He saves the number.



After the movie, Pearl slings her purse over her shoulder. “Thanks for inviting us over, Derek. You’re a nice gentleman.”

Derek smirks. “Thank you.”

Rory’s arms spread and her eyes open wide. “Do we have to leave, Aunt Pearl? Why can’t we watch another movie? I’m having fun.”

“Honey, Derek has to work in the morning,” Pearl says. “And you probably can’t stay awake for another one. You two have each other’s numbers now, you’ll speak again soon.”

Derek nods. Yeah, hopefully without you around. 

“I had a job.” Rory turns to Derek. “I rang the Salvation Army bell outside Target.”

Pearl goes toward the door. “Thanks again, Derek. Appreciate you spending time with Rory.”

“She’s a very nice young lady.” He tries thinking of a compliment for Pearl—knowing he can’t call her a young lady. “Uh, great meeting you both.”

“Oh,” Rory smiles at him, “what I’d said before, about ‘bugging me too much,’ I was joking.”

Derek grins. Pearl walks out the door. Rory follows.

Derek moves to the window and watches them enter the car and drive away. Then he grabs his phone and gets on Facebook to see what ‘mutual friends’ he and Rory have.

The first is Rob Canner, a guy he used to work with and hasn’t seen in a while. The other is his ex-wife’s cousin Jason. He knows not to bother either one of them over this. 



As Derek drives home from work, a text comes through. He glances at his charging phone lying on the passenger seat. 

Rory 

He drives home before reading the text.

Hey, buddy! Sorry we left early yesterday. But I had fun! 

He laughs. You didn’t leave early. We had dinner and watched a funny movie. I had a good time too. 

He sees the bubbles and knows she must be replying.

Derek’s in his bedroom, tossing his dirty pants onto the floor when his phone dings. He looks at Rory’s text.

We should meet up again. But nothing’s open. 

After reading it, he sets the phone on the dresser then strolls into the bathroom. His cell beeps again so he goes back to the bedroom.

Ever been to Butterfly Falls? It’s off the highway. Used to go there a lot before. 

Is she asking me out on a date at Butterfly Falls? Sure hope Auntie doesn’t come. He types: I know just what you’re referring to. Drove past it, never been back there before. 

He sets the phone down then goes into the shower before another text can stop him.



Minutes after showering, Rory’s latest text shows. 

Let’s go there! Ain’t been there in I don’t know how years.

Derek knows she meant to type ‘how many years.’ Okay. How’s Saturday? I can bring my son if we go then.

He wonders how his son will take to Rory and Pearl—and vice versa.



Aiden gets into the back of the Nissan wearing blue and yellow Pokémon swim trunks and fastens his seatbelt. 

Derek enters the driver’s side then smiles at his son in the rear view mirror. “Don’t want to sit up front like a big boy?” 

“Mommy says I sit in the back.”

“Yeah.” He looks forward then inserts the key into the ignition. “She’s right.” He thinks about when he picked Aiden up the day before and Aiden sat in the back of the car. He didn’t say anything then. He wishes he hadn’t said anything now. 

“Where we going swimming, Daddy?” Aiden stares outside the window.

“Place called Butterfly Falls,” he reminds him. “I didn’t tell you, Aiden, we’re meeting two of Daddy’s new friends there.”

“Boys or girls?” Aiden asks.

Derek’s eyes widen upon hearing that. “They’re ladies. Why do you ask?” 

“Sometimes, Mommy’s new friends are boys when I thought they’d be girls.”

Derek says nothing. 



Derek pulls off the four lane road, into the gravel parking lot. Only a red truck is there.

Once he shuts off the vehicle, Aiden unbuckles his seatbelt then opens the door. Derek steps out, wearing his grey and white trunks and a collarless and sleeveless blue shirt. He wipes perspiration from his forehead, looking at Aiden, who stares at the big wooden sign reading: Butterfly Falls Natural Park in blue letters with three different coloured butterflies painted on it.

Aiden turns. “We going into the woods, Daddy? That where the lake is?”

Derek nods, glancing at the road. “In a minute, bud.” He sucks in his gut as the blue car pulls in.

Rory and her aunt speak for over a minute until Rory leaves the car, wearing a pink bikini and sunglasses. 

“Hello, Derek.” Her arms spread, holding a pink towel in one hand, cell phone in the other.

Pearl backs up then drives away.

“Rory.” He smiles—surprised and happy Pearl isn’t staying. He looks at his son, who walks toward him. “Aiden, this is my friend, Rory Rouchburt. Rory, my son, Aiden.”

Rory crouches to eyelevel with Aiden then removes her sunglasses. “Nice meeting you, Aiden. You ready to swim in the lake?”

“Good meeting you too, Rory.” He extends his hand, smiling. She shakes it. “Have you been here before? Is it fun?”

Derek smiles, feeling Aiden has good manners. 

“I think it’s fun, Aiden. Hope you do too.” She stands.

Another car pulls into the lot. Aiden leads the way as they walk between the trees and along the path. Derek and Rory stay a few feet behind him, hearing the babbling brook beyond the trees to the left.

“Used to warn us about snakes here.” Rory looks at the trees. “Snakes don’t really scare me, though.”

“They don’t?” Derek watches his son.

“No. Don’t know if I’ve ever even seen a snake. I hate crabs though. Those ugly things scare the shit out of me.”

“Yeah?” Derek laughs.

“Yeah. Had a bad experience with them when I was a little girl. I was at a beach with mom and dad. I stupidly wandered away from them. Came upon, I don’t know, five or six crabs on the beach and freaked out. Felt like those ugly things were staring at me. I ran back crying. When I saw my parents they were—I mean I could tell by their faces, they were scared. I thought it was because I saw crabs. But they said it was because they didn’t know where I was.”

They come to an upward slant. Railroad ties are fastened into the earth, making a stairway. Aiden stretches his legs onto the wood going up the trail. 

“You okay walking, buddy?” Derek asks his son, hearing him grunt. 

“Yes,” Aiden answers. 

“I came here when I was in high school.” Rory puts her sunglasses on. “Changed since then. Used to be here a lot with my friends. But I don’t see old friends much anymore.”

Derek nods, remembering her aunt telling him about how her old friends react different to her since the accident. 

They turn a corner and walk further up the trail. Rory rubs her hand along the wooden fence on the left that comes up to her shoulders. They then see water falling twenty to twenty five feet from a cliff into a large pool. 

“This is really nice!” Derek says. “Had no idea it’s like this back here.”

“Can I go into the water, Dad?” Aiden removes his shirt. 

“Yeah, go ahead.” Derek answers, staring at two guys swimming near the waterfall. Then he hears a man and a woman laughing, walking along the path.

“Come on, Der, let’s get in the water.” Rory kicks off her flip flops, takes off her sunglasses, drops them then slowly walks into the water with Aiden. “Burr, this is cold.” 

Derek chuckles, watching his son bend his knees then splash water onto his head. “Chill doesn’t seem to bother Aiden.” He removes his sandals and shirt then goes into the water. Stepping on several small stones, he gets waist length into the water. “A little cold, but we’ll get used to it.”

Rory floats on her back, then backstrokes further out. She stands, then moves closer to Derek and hugs him. “It’s colder in the deep end.” 

He wraps her in his arms and they move deeper into the water. Rory encloses her legs around his waist—Derek smiles, still watching his son. Aiden dunks his head in and out of the water—laughing. 

He faces Rory. She stares into his eyes. “I haven’t been with a woman since my divorce.”

She opens her mouth, slightly. Derek kisses her. 

Keeping her in his arms, he looks at the top of the waterfall. A young man stands at the top of it, spreading out his arms then he jumps from the top and lands inside the pool. After going under, he comes up laughing.

“Did you see that, Rory?” He faces her, smirking. “Kid jumped off the cliff into the water.” 

She kisses his lips. 

After cooling off a little longer, Derek and Rory sit at the shore, keeping their feet in the water. Aiden does cannon balls off a ledge into the lake. 

“Derek, since you invited us to your house, you can come to mine.” Rory’s head’s down as she kicks her feet in the water. 

“That’d be great.” Derek watches his son.

“It’s my house. That’s what Mom and Dad say. But Aunt Pearl acts like it’s her house. Pisses me off. Sometimes, I feel like I really don’t need her around.”

“You being careful, Aiden?” he asks as his son walks out of the water. 

“Yes, Daddy.” Aiden goes to the flat rock. 

“Like, I needed to ask her if it’s okay if I invited you over.” She looks at him, eyes narrowed. “That’s bullshit.”

“She just wants what’s best for you, Rory.”

“But Mom and Dad say it’s my house now.”

Derek glances at her, eyes slanted then back at his son. Aren’t they deceased? Do you mean they said it’s your house?



Derek and Rory kiss near the Butterfly Falls Nature Area sign.

“I could drive you home.” Derek kisses her neck.

“No,” Rory laughs. “Aunt Pearl is on her way. Already texted her. But you’ll come over for dinner.”

“Yeah, I will.” Derek meets her eyes, hearing Aiden laugh.

Minutes later, Pearl pulls in. 

Rory rubs her hand on top of Aiden’s head. “It was nice meeting you, handsome little guy. Your dad better bring you along again.”

Derek smiles as Rory walks to the car, waving to him. Despite the Covid 19 affecting everything, he feels things are going well for him. He hadn’t thought that in a while. 



As the week goes on, Derek and Rory talk over the phone and text often. It consumes so much of Derek’s life that he doesn’t realize the news reporting the coronavirus cases are getting worse.

Friday evening he drives to Rory’s house for a steak and potato dinner that Rory prepared. 

After pulling into the single car driveway, he tosses two breath mints into his mouth. Shutting off the car, he walks to the cement sidewalk then to the blue house’s door. After knocking once, Pearl opens the door.

“Hello, Derek. Glad you made it.” She smiles then laughs. “Believe it or not, I have a date tonight too—if you want to call it that. Guy invited me to his house. Guess he’s tired of being quarantined alone.” 

“Remember to stay six feet away. Oh,” Derek pivots to view his car. “I’m sorry, I blocked you in. I’ll move it.” He goes back to his car then backs up. Pearl enters her car then leaves.

Derek didn’t know Pearl intended to leave—and it makes him happy.

Opening the front door and stepping into the house, Rory is standing in the living room, wearing a blue bikini—different than the one she wore at Butterfly Falls. He smiles, staring at her medium sized breasts on her frail body.

“What do you think?” she asks. “This look better than the one I swam in? It feels better.”

Derek cocks his head, still grinning. 

“Bought this today while out with my aunt. Other one is getting too big on me. She said we may not be able to get out for a while.”

This must be my lucky Friday night. 

“Well,” Rory spreads her arms, smiling, “do I look good in it?”

“Rory,” he nods then moves toward her, “you look absolutely stunning in anything you wear.”

Rory giggles as he kisses her neck, then moves to her lips. She leads him through the hall, into the bedroom. Derek unlatches his belt then unbuckles his pants. 

Rory removes her bikini top as they fall onto the double bed.

“Hope my parents don’t bother us.” Rory removes Derek’s shirt. 

Derek kisses her—not thinking nor carrying about what she’d said. 



Rory is still sleeping when Derek wakes. He runs his fingers across her smooth arm then kisses it. 

He rises from the bed, puts on his pair of red and black boxers then walks to the kitchen. 

Opening the refrigerator door, he’s not surprised that what he wants, diet soda is not there. “This is better anyway.” He removes a blue pitcher of water, opens the cupboards, searching for a glass. He finds one inside the third door he opens. 

After pouring water into the glass, he takes a sip then notices something colourful moving outside the kitchen entranceway, then disappearing. 

Didn’t hear her get up. He walks through the kitchen. “Rory?”

He turns the corner. She’s not there. “What the hell?” 

He ventures into the living room, takes the remote controller and turns on the TV.

A Code Red Alert flashes on the screen for the viewing area, ordering residents to stay inside. “Son of a bitch.” He finishes the water then walks into the kitchen to get more. 

After filling his glass, he opens the refrigerator door. Then everything rumbles. He drops the jug of water. Much of it spills onto the white, porcelain floor and the shaking stops. He sprints from the kitchen.

“Rory! Rory!”

He enters the bedroom. She is still in bed asleep. As he moves toward her, there’s a chill, then a whisper in his ear.

“Lustful heart.”

He does a one eighty. No one is there. He pants and starts sweating. 

“Derek, honey.” Rory sits up in bed. 

“The house shook!” His arms are in the air, eyes wide open. “You didn’t feel that?”

She tilts her head, glaring at him.

He turns away. A yellow orb zips through the hall.

“Did you see that?” He turns to Rory—perspiration flows down his forehead and into his eyes. He wipes it away. “The house shook!”

Not waiting for her answer, he rushes into the hall and flicks on the light switch. A shadowy figure dashes by him and there’s another cold chill. Still, sweat runs down his face.

“Rory, my God, there’s something in your house!” He runs into the kitchen, picks up the water jug then drinks what little bit of water is left. Then the rumbling begins again—lasting a few seconds. “Damn it, what’s going on? Need to get out!” 

The yellow sphere appears before him. His teeth chatter. A vision of a bald man appears. His face has several wrinkles and his eyes are black. “Lustful heart,” he says—but his slit of a mouth doesn’t move.

“Leave me alone!” he screams.

The figure disappears. Rory enters the kitchen, wearing a blue nightgown. “What’s wrong, Derek?”

“The house shook! Like there’s a freaking earthquake. You had to feel it?”

She shakes her head. He realizes it’d only been the kitchen that shook.

“I saw a man! A bald man. He doesn’t like me being here!”

Rory smiles with big eyes. “Daddy? You saw my daddy! I told Aunt Pearl, him and Mom, they’re still here.”

He sprints to the door and goes outside, leaving the door open.

As he makes it to his car, someone yells: “You go back inside!”

He slowly turns to his left. A man wearing a green and light brown shirt and hat approaches him. 

“You’ve been ordered to stay inside,” the national guardsman says. “Go back into the house you just came out of and put some damn clothes on!”

“Why?” Derek shivers. “I need to get out of here.”

“Why?” The soldier places his hand on his pistol attached to his belt. “The coronavirus is at Level Red. Everyone is ordered to stay inside. Go back in!”

Derek quivers then slowly walks through the dusk back to the house. Panting as he tramples barefooted along the grass, he figures Pearl left because she knew something about this. Rory said she spoke about her father still being in the house and Pearl had not believed her. Or did she?

Stepping inside the house, he leaves the door open. Rory stares at him, head tilted.

“Where’d your aunt go?” He goes toward her then wraps his hands around her arms, shaking her. “Does she know what’s here? Do you? Yes you do!”

“Derek—” She’s quickly thrust back six feet. Then Derek is pushed to the floor. He lands hard, face first. His face is pushed onto the floor, breaking his nose and there’s rumbling. He screams. 

When the booming ceases, Derek gets to his knees. He wipes much blood from his face and busted nose. Then he feels blood in the hair on the back of his head and neck. He looks behind him. A bloody palm moves further away before disappearing. 

Rory, sitting on the floor, stares at him, sobbing. 

“What’d I do wrong? Why don’t they...”

Suddenly, the room grows much colder. An older lady stands behind Rory. Blood gushes from the top of her head. Derek knows this is her mother.

He turns and goes out the door.

Once outside, Rory is out too. She clenches his arm with both her hands. “Please stay with me, Derek. They don’t understand!”

He yanks his arm away then bolts into the yard.

The guard, standing in the middle of the road notices him. “Hey, I ordered you to stay inside! And you could be arrested right now for coming out in your underwear!”

Derek’s head bows. He’d forgotten he only wore his boxers. 

“I ordered you to get inside!” The national guardsman moves toward him. Derek turns and sprints to the house, wondering if there’s a window on the house’s other side he can crawl through.

Once he’s inside, Rory screams. 

“Damn it, Rory what’s going on?”

She hollers again. Panting, Derek goes into the kitchen.

Five large crabs crawl on the wet floor. Rory stands against the wall, frozen.

“What the hell—”

“You brought those ugly things into the house! How could you? I told you they scare me, I hate them!”

“I didn’t do it, Rory. Your parents put them there. They’re—”

“Get them out!” she cries. 

“They’re not...” he wipes blood from his face and neck, “Shit, don’t you see? Your parents want me out!”

“No!” She latches onto his arm so tightly that her fingernails pierce his flesh. Derek then sees Rory’s mother and father, eyes and mouth bleeding, wearing torn clothing, standing in the puddle the crabs are walking in.

He hollers, shoving Rory to the floor. He races to her bedroom, shatters the window above her bed then leaps out and dashes through the yard.

“Don’t leave me alone!” Rory screams. Derek knows she crawled out the window too. 

He trips over bricks in the neighbours’ yard then hits his right knee hard on the earth. Cursing, he wonders if Rory’s parents had anything to do with the bricks being there.

“Derek, please come back!” Rory is still chasing him. “I’m so scared!” 

He hears her panting and knows she is closer. He sprints to the next yard.

Sirens blare. He pays no attention to the noise and moves onto the road.

Getting almost halfway across the street, he sees headlights coming his way at a fast pace. A police car, with strobe lights flashing and blaring, pursues it, so he runs faster. 

“Derek!” 

He turns after crossing. Rory runs onto the road then falls down. 

“Rory, no!” His eyes bulge and his hands are in the air.

As she tries standing, the speeding car blasts into her, sending her body flying several feet. She lands on the side of the road. 

“No! Rory!” His sweaty hands cover his face. “Dear God, please don’t let this be happening!”

The police car pulls over. 

Derek collapses to his knees, believing there’s no way Rory could’ve survived that hit, especially with the internal injuries she’d already suffered. 

As the police officer goes to the body, Derek falls on his face, hopping the bloody palm will return and smash his skull into the ground.



Derek returns home after several hours at the police station. He’d told the police someone broke into the house and assaulted them both—because he knew they wouldn’t believe the truth. Still, he knows this predicament is far from over.

As he lies in his bed, with a bandaged nose, the room is dark and tears run down his cheeks while he thinks about Rory. He only blames himself for her death. But now, perhaps she’s with her mother and father in that house, heaven or hell or wherever they are.

He shuts his eyes. He opens them after he feels the coldest chill. Rory is standing at the edge of the bed. Her forehead is cut open and the wound grows larger going to her skull. One of her eyes is puffed up and sealed shut. Blood flows from her lips.

Derek wants to run out of the room and flee the house. But he knows it will do no good. Rory will haunt him no matter where he is for as long as she deems fit.

 

 

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