Continued from: Earworm: Part 36 — Stanley’s Story
There was a flash of the boy from her math class, a reflexive action, something Hope didn’t even notice anymore, just a fleeting feeling like a pause in a conversation, and then Hope sat at her dining room table. Her father sat across from her. Her father no longer the monster from her dream on the cliff’s edge. Instead, he was the same handsome, loving man from her memories. But like a seeping oil slick announcing a sunken ship, the memories of that horrible dream resurfaced, and Hope looked at her father with apprehension. “Daddy?” she said in the low, soft voice a child might use to check if her parents are awake.
“Yes, My Hope, it’s Daddy,” her father said.
“But… What about…”
“The other night?” her father finished for her.
“You were…” Hope choked on the words.
“Not myself. But I’m back now. And I’ll never leave you again. I intend to stay here with you. Like the moon and the stars around your neck, William can give you the greatest treasures.” Hope glanced down at the jewel hanging around her neck as the house’s doorbell dinged. “That must be Joel,” Hope’s father said.
“Joel?” Hope said, looking at her father.
“I’ve been looking forward to meeting him. Come on in, Joel,” her father called.
“But what about the other night?” Hope asked her father.
The house’s front door opened and closed. Footsteps approached the dining room from the front hall.
“I told you,” her father said, “that wasn’t really me. You should know that.”
Hope’s hand went to her moon jewel again. She rolled it in her fingers, feeling its smooth, glass texture, its energy buzzing like an electric charge. She let the bauble fall to her breast. “Yes. I guess I know that now,” she said to her father.
Joel strolled into the dining room. Hope stood to greet him. Joel took Hope’s hands and, with a wink, kissed her on the cheek. “How’s it goin, babe?” he said in an arrogant tone.
“Good,” she said, cocking her head. “Babe?”
Hope’s father stood from the table. “You must be Joel,” he said with a smile.
“Hey,” Joel said to the man in a manner reminiscent of the Fonz. Joel looked at Hope’s father’s hand held out to be shaken. “And you must be dead,” Joel said.
Hope’s father gasped in a desperate intake of air, his neck opening with a crimson streak. Thick, red liquid gushing from the gash, pouring down his chest, spilling and splashing on the hardwood floor. His hands went to his throat, blood oozing through his fingers like water over the edge of a clogged sink. He made gurgling, choked gasps for breath. Hope wanted to help her father, but she was frozen. She wanted to scream, but she couldn’t make a sound. She looked at Joel. He wore a wide—comically wide—smile, and he held a large—comically large—carving knife, its silver blade painted crimson.
“Joel, what have you done?” Hope gasped, barely able to force sound through her numb vocal chords. She grabbed Joel’s arm, but he shook her off, dropping the knife and pushing her father into the china cabinet. The man smashed into the glass doors, shattering the panes, shards of glass raining down on his slumping body.
Joel turned toward Hope and raised his shoulders in a blasé shrug. “Well, so much for Daddy being back,” he said.
Hope ran to her father’s side. Blood bubbles formed in his mouth, exploding in crimson mist. She heaved up his shoulders, trying to help him to his feet. “Please. Get up, Daddy, get up.”
Joel called in a high, mocking voice, “Oh please, Daddy. Daddy get up.”
Hope’s father climbed to his feet, swaying and wheezing, his eyes falling onto Joel. He took Joel by the neck and lifted him into the air. Joel regarded the grim determination of the man’s gritted teeth—the gaping crevasse in the man’s throat still hiccupping spurts of blood—and Joel burst into laughter again. Hope’s father squeezed his hand like a tentacle around prey. Joel’s neck crackling with the sound of his crushing windpipe, his eyes bulging in expanding balloons, his face changing hues like a mood ring—rouge to violet to plum—until, with a sharp, popping report, Joel’s eyeballs burst, spraying scarlet drops that freckled Hope’s face. Air rushed from the eye sockets with a Whoopee Cushion sound as Joel’s body deflated. Her father tossed aside Joel’s flat, limp body. It struck the wall and slid into a heap on the floor. Her father then turned to face Hope, the gash in his neck gaping like a grin. He walked toward her, a soft gurgling rising from his throat. “See what you’ve done, Hope?” he said, his voice wet and heavy.
“No.” Hope shook her head, tears streaking down her cheeks. “I want to wake up. I don’t want to be here.”
“Hope,” her father said, his voice sopping, “Why did you bring Joel here?” Her father reached for her, blood spurting from his gaping wound, his face a white sheet. “Why, Hope? Why did you do this?” He took her shoulders and pulled her toward him, his gurgling breath escaping through the gash in his throat. And Hope tore from her bed’s sheets, sitting upright, her choked squeal echoing in the room’s silence, her heart pounding in her chest like someone on a coffin’s lid. She felt violated, mentally raped, engulfed in a mixture of sadness, disgust, fear. She snapped on the lamp beside her bed. The dark cowered into the room’s corners.
There was a soft, muffled tap on her door. She flinched, clutching her heart. The moon jewel absent from her breast. “Hope?” her mother whispered through the door.
“Uh-huh.” She looked around her room just to be sure. “Had a bad dream.”
“You gonna be all right?”
“Good night, then.”
“Night,” Hope said.
Her eyes fell upon the poster of her castle. She shuddered, fear hanging like curtains over the windows of thought. There was a sense of something darker in the world, something seemingly watching from shadows. The frightened little girl in her urged that she get up and look out her bedroom window, check for supernatural beings gazing in through glass panes. A vampire maybe, or aliens with big heads and giant, black eyes. But the adult in her knew that getting up to look out that window was one step above needing a nightlight. Besides, what if she drew back the curtains and did find the face of a soulless being with dead eyes, rotting flesh, and viper teeth, whispering, Hope, let me in, I need blood?
A flash of her father—throat cut, skin colorless, eyes dying—stole into her mind. She shook it off with another shiver. It was just a dream. And with a final inventory of her room, she shut off her lamp, pulling her blankets over her trembling body.
Continued in: Earworm: Part 38 — Trilogy
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