Continued from: Earworm: Part 37 — Meet the Parent
Grave markers broke from the earth like stone crops. Lives and deaths recorded on stern, unforgiving faces. Hope and Joel didn’t speak as they walked through Saint Sebastian’s Cemetery, strolling along the narrow paths flanked by the well-tilled garden of granite and marble. Joel’s eyes darted from stone to stone, his head craning to read the information chiseled on each. Births, deaths, beloved wives, beloved husbands, the sad markers of children accompanied by tattered, stuffed bears and stone angels. Hope slipped her hand into Joel’s hand and squeezed. She felt so distant lately, not just from Joel, but from herself, her thoughts preoccupied with the sadness unearthed—as if by grave robbers—by her dreams. Images of her dreams held her mind hostage throughout the day, and then chased her into slumber. And the name
turned endlessly in her mind. What was happening to her? Lately, the threads of her thoughts twisted into tangled chords, crisscrossing like the spindles of an insane spider’s web. And all the strands led back to one thing, William Knight. Hope snapped from her thoughts, as she and Joel came to the polished gravestone of: Richard L. Ferretti / Beloved husband and father / We love you. She bowed her head, squeezing Joel’s hand again. “Hi, Daddy,” she said, imagining his voice—recently resurrected in her dreaming mind—saying, Hello, My Hope. “I miss you,” Hope told the gravestone.
Joel draped his arm across her back. Hope put her head on his shoulder. His presence, his touch, his strong grip on her shoulder comforted her. “Man,” Joel said in a matter-of-fact tone, “I’m so glad I killed him.”
Hope pulled from his arm, shock prohibiting her from speaking.
Joel glanced at her. “What?” he said. “I don’t mean any disrespect. I’m just saying I’m glad I slit the dumb fuck’s throat.” He burst into laughter. “You should see your face.”
Hope couldn’t move. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t even cry.
Joel regarded her for a moment and then said, “Oh, c’mon, don’t be mad, I’m just kidding.” He started laughing again, “But, really, you should see your face.”
Hope felt like throwing up. She felt like running away. She felt like smashing Joel in his laughing face. But shock robbed her of the ability to respond.
“Here, watch this,” Joel said, steadying Hope like a person preparing someone for a surprise. He leapt onto the cemetery plot in front of Richard L. Ferretti’s tombstone, kicking his feet, his hands on his hips, his smiling head bobbing back and forth. “I’m not sure if this is a jig, but it’s gotta be close. Oh, wait,” he held up his finger again. “How about this?” He shot into a pose, one finger pointing to the sky, the other hand on his tilted hip. “Ah-ah-ah-ah, I’m stayin alive, I’m stayin alive…” he sang in his best Bee Gee’s voice. “Hey,” he called over his shoulder to the gravestone, “no pun intended there, pal.” He let out a knee-slapping laugh. “Oh, man, I kill me,” he called over his shoulder. “Again, no pun intended.” He turned his back to Hope. “Whew, man, I gotta take a leak.”
“Oh, God,” Hope covered her mouth as Joel painted the headstone in urine.
Joel rocked back and forth, urine splashing the entire headstone’s surface. “Don’t wanna miss a spot,” he said, finishing by jumping up and down. “Leave no drops undropped,” he said, turning to face her and zipping his fly. He smiled his charming smile, looking quite refreshed, “Ah, much better.”
The soil broke open at Joel’s feet and like a springing Jack-in-the-box, an eyeless, gray corpse rose from the earth. It wrapped its hand around Joel’s neck and lifted him from the ground. Hope screamed, recognizing the decaying remains of her father. Tattered clothing clung to the corpse along with the stench of death. Its teeth grimaced beneath thin, deteriorating lips, and its moldy neck still gaped where Joel slashed it open in a prior dream. Hope’s hand fell from her mouth and—again, as if instinctively—she gripped the tiny moon jewel hanging upon her breast. “This is a dream,” she said as the ground began shaking and jostling beneath her, the turf splitting. Rotting bodies climbed from the soil, some of the corpses still fresh and bloody, others black and bloated. A skeletal hand sprung from an opened fissure, clenching Hope’s ankle. “Leave me alone,” she screeched, launching from her bed, snapping on the lamp, the light banishing the dark into corners and under the door, out the window and into the night. She searched her bedroom with darting eyes.
“Hope, are you all right?” Hope’s mother called, tapping on the bedroom door.
“Yeah,” she said in a shaky voice, “I’m fine. I just had a nightmare.”
“Uh-huh,” Hope said, as if it was no big deal. But she realized she’d screamed Leave me alone upon waking—the remnants of the call still hanging in the air—and it must have turned her mother’s blood to ice water.
“You going to be okay?” her mother said. Her mother’s voice seeming to shiver.
I hope so. “Yes.”
No, not sure. “I’m fine, thanks,” she said, forcing the defeat from her voice.
“Okay then, goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” Hope said, surveying her bedroom. At that moment, her lamp-lit room felt like the only protective refuge in the cosmos of night. She regarded that refuge with suspicion, as if, at any moment, it was going to break apart like the walls of a soap bubble and deliver her back into horror. The clock read: 3:02am. A few more hours to sunrise. Only a dream, she assured herself. But the darkness outside her bubble forced its way into her mind, and she couldn’t keep her thoughts from recalling the last three nights of nightmares. The first being Joel slashing her father’s throat. The third, Joel’s desecration of her father’s grave. But it was the middle dream of this horror trilogy that frightened her the most.
In this middle dream, Hope and Joel stood at Joel’s locker. The school was oddly deserted and darkening as the afternoon light quickly faded. Joel ducked his head into his locker. Hope leaned against the other lockers, her books pinned to her breast. Something rolled against her chest, a tiny, tingling sphere, but before she looked down to inspect it, Joel said, “Ah, here it is.” His face reappeared from behind the metal door. He held up the carving knife he’d used on Hope’s father the night prior. “You really wanna see your dad that badly?” Joel said to her, “Well, Babe, I can help.” He grabbed her arm, but she broke from his grip and took off through the corridor. She made it to the side doors, trying to push them open, but they were locked, or stuck, or welded shut—obviously there being no fire codes in dreams. Hope took off through the halls, and with each corner she darted around, through each corridor she sprinted, she heard Joel’s footfalls and crazed laughter. She darted around the corner of one hall and into another. She was in Mr. Grey’s hallway, and she could see a fluorescent glow spilling from his classroom. She ran down the hall and into the room. Mr. Grey was seated behind his desk. His usually pristine white shirt was stained red with blood, and his wise eyes were now lifeless and staring at the ceiling.
“Oh no, Mr. Grey,” Hope whispered.
She then turned to see Joel stopping short in the room’s doorway, his sneakers squealing. Joel’s eyes focused on Hope as she awoke with a screech.
She now nestled into her covers, refusing to click off the light and bursting her bubble of safety. And she spent the remainder of the night watching the clock’s refusal to crawl forward.
Continued in: Earworm: Part 39 — Dorm Life
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