Thomas ended the call with a growl of anger as he let the phone fall into his lap. He’d had this night planned for months and it just fell apart. Pattie would be disappointed, but not as much as him. She deserved this night out. He retrieved the phone and tossed it next to the flowers wilting on the passenger seat. “S**t, s**t, s**t,” he grumbled, tightening his grip on the steering wheel as if it were the neck of the Johnson girl. She’d come down with Strep and was apparently quite contagious.
A horn blasted dream from day, pointing out the fact that the light was green and he wasn’t moving. He waved an apology as he floored the gas, sending his 2001 Kia Spectra into a bucking fit through the intersection. The truck behind zoomed around him, flashing a reply with a single finger as he passed.
The car barely made it through the intersection when it gave a final tremble and died. “Nooo,” he whimpered as he turned the key in the ignition. He pumped the gas a couple of times and turned the key again. No clicking. No lights. Nothing.
He grabbed the wheel with both hands and shook it back and forth with an unfamiliar caveman rage. Stopping to take a breath, he relaxed his grip. A horn beeped to his left and he thought he was going to flat out lose it. He was jumping out the car before he could even tell his legs to move and came close to giving the owner of the other vehicle a piece of his mind, maybe even a piece of his fist when a voice cut into his anger.
“You look like you could use some help Tom.”
Thomas looked up to find Pastor Yeary behind the wheel of his black Cadillac, passenger window down and practically hanging out of it. He sighed, relaxing his fists as he approached the car. “Damn…..darn car won’t start.” He turned away from the glaring eyes of the Pastor, hoping he didn’t hear him curse in his presence.
The Pastor didn’t say a word. Moments passed until Thomas found the nerve to turn back around and face him. The old man stared him down before finally breaking the tension with a great laugh. “Oh Tom…..you should see your face,” he crowed between gasping for air. “You look like you just got caught taking a s**t on some old ladies bingo card at the Y.”
Thomas stared in disbelief as the Pastor continued to laugh, but for only another moment until he realized he was the only one laughing. “Oh, come on Tom, relax. I may be a man of the cloth, but I am still just a man.” He opened the passenger door and said, “Let me give you a ride.”
“I’d appreciate that Pastor Yeary,” Thomas said as he ducked back into the cars carcass for his phone and flowers. He paused as he slammed the door shut, stopping his foot short of delivering a well deserved kick to the door. Turning around, he caught the Pastors smile. A quick nod of the man’s head told Thomas all he needed to know. Just go on ahead and give her a kick. It deserved worse for leaving him stranded, but a simple kick would be enough to convey the disappointment. The Pastor cocked an eyebrow and that was all Thomas needed. He donkey kicked the door closed and hopped into the Cadillac.
“Alright Tom,” the Pastor cheered, welcoming Thomas with a slap on the back. He threw the car into drive and sped away, with enough force to slam the door that Thomas had yet to close. “I’m a firm believer that the things we create are ours to command Tom. Every once in a while, they need to be reminded of the pecking order. Oh, and the names Stan by the way. We’ll save Pastor Yeary for the congregation. Ooh, I love this song.” He jutted his left arm out the window and made a snakes head of his hand, moving up and down like a flying serpent fighting the wind to stay aloft. His snake hand moved in rhythm to the Big and Rich song playing.
Thomas yanked on the seat belt, unable to get the car to give him more than three inches of slack. He let the car take back the slack and pulled again, only gaining two inches this time before the car denied him yet again.
“Don’t worry about it Tom. We’re only a mile or so away from your house,” The Pastor said, pausing for just a moment. “That is where you’re headed right?”
With a decent paying job, seemingly out of his reach since he was laid off six months ago, home was his only destination these days. He yanked the belt one last time before tossing it over his shoulder with a grunt.
The Pastor reached over, turning down the radio and the smile he wore and said, “Tom, I know we’re not close friends. Hell, I think I’ve only seen you and the Mrs. in my church once since you moved here a year ago.”
Great, Thomas thought. Here comes the fire and brimstone sermon. He tried to push his face into a smile as he ran his hand through his hair, but the attempt seemed half hearted, producing a crooked sneer resembling that of a stroke survivor. The few times he’d run into Stan at the school, he didn’t seem like a preachy preacher, but he had a feeling he was about to prove that impression wrong.
He pondered the present, allowing the Pastors statement to go unheard. To any outsider, reviewing the life of Thomas over the last year, was easily defended as failure. Failure to keep his job at the UPS shipping facility. Failure to make enough money to replace the car his mechanic told him six months ago was about to die. Failure to pay the landlord rent for the past two months. Failure to secure a reliable babysitter on their first night out since they moved here a year ago.
With the last thought came a genuine smile. An ear to ear grin that could not be mistaken for anything else. After years of failed attempts, his wife successfully delivered a healthy baby boy almost three months ago. A boy whose arrival signaled a positive change in his life. Sure, they were broke at the moment, but the baby was their salvation. A future waiting to be written.
Thomas looked over at the Pastor as the car slowed down, coming to a stop on the shoulder of the road. Shifting the car into park, the Pastor turned to the right, placing a hand on the passenger chair. “Tom. Any blind man could see that you’re frustrated.”
Thomas laughed to himself as he looked out the window. He thought this was probably a good enough place to get out and begin his walk home. It surely would have been better than sticking around for the private sermon he was to get slapped with. He thought a quick thanks for the ride would be good enough before the Pastor spoke.
“I tell ya what,” The Pastor began, “If I can solve your immediate problem without spouting some proverb or even mentioning God, would you be willing to attend just one of my sermons in the near future? Now, before you answer, there is a catch. Although it does have a tendency to solve a lot of problems, I can’t give you any money, as I simply don’t have any to give, but I can give help. I have plenty of that and I bet you, man to man, that I can help you over whatever hurdle you need to pass at this very moment.”
Thomas half started several times, bits of words just trying to be heard, but getting lost on their journey.
“Come on Tom, just spit it out.” The Pastor squeezed his shoulder for emphasis.
“I need a babysitter,” Thomas stated, the words having found their exit exploded forth.
The Pastors eyes widened and his familiar smile waxed anew. He shifted the car into drive, turned the wheel a hard left and did a u-turn in the middle of the road. Thomas wasn’t sure where they were headed, but he knew it wasn’t his house any longer. Pastor Yeary turned his country music back up and hummed along as they drove on, not offering Tom a single word as to their destination.
The Pastor looked over at Thomas as he pulled the car into his churches parking lot, grinning like he held a huge secret he was finally about to divulge to a close friend.
Thomas faked a smile of his own in return as he realized he’d been duped. It occurred to him that this was the good Pastors recruiting method. Kidnap some unhappy soul from the side of the road and take them back to the church.
He pulled his phone down to his right side, away from the Pastors view, so he could text his wife that he might not be home for a few days as he was being brainwashed at the local church. Sorry babe, kiss junior good night for me.
The Pastor stopped the car in his reserved spot near the front doors of the tall church. He opened his door and turned to get out, when he spun his head around and said, “This is our stop Tom.” He waited next to the hood as Thomas slowly got out.
“I know what you’re thinking Tom, but I’m not the kind of jerk that would alter the wording of a bet after its been made.”
“Uh…O.K.,” Thomas said across the hood of the car. He wondered if the Pastor would give chase if he just turned around and hauled a*s as fast as he could out of there.
“Relax,” The Pastor commanded, “besides, I don’t give sermons on Tuesday night’s. I’m not a greedy man,” he said, making his way to giant oak doors at the top of the steps, “I’ll give you six months to pay up, before I come looking to break your knees.” He paused before the closed doors, hands on the knob, waiting for a response from Tom. “Now Tom,” He said, turning to face the apprehensive visitor, “that was a joke, one that usually garners a chuckle in the very least.”
Thomas walked up the steps, “I’m sorry, I just don’t see how this is going to help.”
“Ahh,” The Pastor exclaimed opening the doors to the church, “so you are judging your solution by what it looks like on the outside, instead of being concerned with what’s on the inside?”
Thomas looked back at the Pastor with a smile, “I thought you said no proverbs.”
“That, Tom, was not a proverb, but I see that it brought your smile back, so call it what you will.” He pushed the doors open and walked in. “Oh, and you can tell your wife we’ll only be a few minutes and I’ll have you back home.”
Thomas looked down at his phone and the half finished text he’d been typing. He shoved the phone into his pants pocket and followed the Pastor inside. After a few turns and another door, Thomas found himself in a hall filled with the singing of a group of happy children.
“Just two more doors,” The Pastor claimed, making his way to the end of the hall. The last door on the left was covered in drawings of rainbows, ending in little clouds, from top to bottom. The Pastor knocked twice and the door opened almost immediately. A small young woman greeted the Pastor with a smile as he requested to speak with Mrs. Hadley.
A moment passed as the Pastor see-sawed back and forth in his loafers. “Almost there,” He said from over his shoulder.
An older woman appeared at the door, easily in her 70’s, wearing a youthful smile that didn’t match her tightly bunned white hair. “Pastor Yeary,” she said with a melody, “With whom do I owe the pleasure?” She extended a wrinkly hand the Pastor did not allow to dangle for even a moment.
He took her hand and covered it with his other. “Mrs. Hadley, the pleasure is always mine, I assure you.”
She covered her mouth with her other hand as she giggled like a school girl. Thomas rolled his eyes at the obvious flirtation between the two, even though at least 30 years divided them.
“Mrs. Hadley,” The Pastor stated, removing his hand and gesturing to Thomas, “This is Tom, a friend of mine who is in dire need of assistance.”
Thomas extended his hand, “Its nice to meet you Mrs. Hadley.”
Her smile became just another downward hanging wrinkle as she looked at Thomas, slowly extending her hand to meet his. “Welcome to Miami Springs Tom.” She shook his hand and didn’t let it linger as she quickly withdrew.
Tom winced for a moment when a familiar sound echoed through his head. He thought his ear was ringing, so he plunged a finger into his right ear and wiggled it. Gone as quickly as it had come.
“Actually Mrs. Hadley, Tom has been a member of our fine community for almost an entire year now,” The Pastor kindly corrected. They eyed each other, eyebrows raising in time with each as they turned to look back at Thomas.
She stared at Thomas for another moment, as if she was trying to place his face from some distant memory. She shook her head slightly and admitted, “No, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen you attend our services here at Christ the King.” She seemed as though she expected an answer as she stared Thom down.
The Pastor, sensing the tension in the air, cleared his throat loudly and said, “Well, Mrs. Hadley, you will be delighted to know that Tom here has agreed to sit in on one of my sermons in the very near future.”
Mrs. Hadleys’ face stretched as her smile returned in full force. “Well, that is great news indeed,” she exclaimed. “It is a pleasure to meet you Tom.” Thomas returned the smile in kind. “But I’m sure you gentlemen have other business to attend to other than introducing me to a new parishioner.”
“Of course Mrs. Hadley,” The Pastor conceded, “We are…I am need of a favor. You see, Tom here has a wonderful night planned for his wife, but his babysitter has backed out at the last minute. I was wondering…”
“Wonder no longer. A child in need has a friend in me,” She replied with joy. She turned to Tom and asked, “How old is the little one?”
“He’s almost three months,” Thomas replied with pride. Three whole months since he was able to scratch another worry from his list. For years, he worried about the health of his wife, as she miscarried every pregnancy, one faithfully after the other. When the last pregnancy stayed longer than the others, the doctor informed them there could be complications. So, for the last six months, Thomas waited on his wife hand and foot, who stayed virtually bed ridden. He lost his job because of the amount of time off he needed to care for her, but in the long run, decided it was a good thing that happened. If he hadn’t stayed with her, something might have happened, and he wouldn’t have been able to forgive himself.
“Oh,” she cooed, “That is just such a wonderful age. What time should I arrive?”
Thomas looked from her smiling face to the Pastors and back to hers. Was she implying that she was going to do the sitting? This woman was old. Incredibly nice and cheerful, but old. Retirement home old. There was just no way she’d be able to watch a newborn. They only had another two weeks until they reached the third month with the baby and he couldn’t risk it.
“I’m sorry,” Thomas said with a frown, “He really is a handful, and I think I’d be more comfortable looking after him myself.”
The Pastor face morphed to a question as he asked, “Although your wife and I would have a wonderful time painting the town red tonight, I believe she’d enjoy your company more.”
Mrs. Hadley crossed her arms over her chest and pouted her lip. “Pastor Yeary, I don’t believe that is what Tom is referring too.”
The Pastor turned his questioning gaze to her. “But if he stays home, who’s going to take his wife out?”
She laughed a sharp cackle and shook her head. “I believe he does not want me to watch his child.”
The Pastor, turning back to Thomas, asked, “And why not.”
Thomas wanted to smack the man across the face. Could he not see the obvious problem with this scenario? She was just too damned old. He’d come home to find her napping on the couch or crippled on the floor with a busted hip. The ringing in his head returned, sending his finger back to his ear.
“Because I am old,” she sniped, not waiting for whatever lie Thomas was in the process of conjuring up for the sake of being polite. Thomas lowered his head in acknowledgment and looked to his shoes for salvation.
“Oh,” The Pastor said, “Looks can be deceiving Tom. You see, Mrs. Hadley has been looking after the town’s children for the last few decades. Not only has she proved quite capable, the children love her. So much so that when those children grew up, they entrusted the welfare of their own kids to her as well. She has run our church’s daycare center since..since.”
“1984,” she stated.
“Yes, since 1984 and has never had a complaint from either child or parent. If I had children, I would not have anyone other than Mrs. Hadley look after them.”
“And, I don’t charge for my services when it pertains to a parishioner,” She added. “Besides, you will probably be gone for only a few hours and your child will more likely than not, sleep through the entire event.”
Thomas thought for a moment and found his issues with her down right silly. Sure, she was old, but appeared perfectly competent and capable. Out of all the what ifs that tumbled through his head at that moment, none ended in the death or harm of his child. Worse case scenario, the baby would cry for an hour or two while the old woman replied with, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
“I’m sorry,” Thomas said, stubbing his shoe into the carpet, “That was just downright rude of me to decline such a generous offer. I would love to have you over and would be forever grateful.”
“Lovely,” She said, “what time should I be expected.”
“Sixish,” Thomas answered.
“Consider it done.” She nodded her head, gave the Pastor a wink and closed the door to the daycare.
The Pastor slapped Thomas on the back and said, “I know someone who owes me a sermon. Oh, and don’t get caught shitting on her bingo card.”
Conversation stayed lite on the way home, with the Pastor complementing the weather and the upcoming fall harvest festival for the end of October. A few uh huh’s and nods from Thomas as the ringing in his ear continued and he was back home with the Pastor waving goodbye from the driveway.
With his wife’s happiness soon to be sated, he ran up the steps to give her the news. He found her on the couch feeding the baby a bottle, both of them brimming with joy. He kissed them both on the forehead and told her he was headed for a quick shower.
Before he could disappear, his wife reminded him, “Just two more weeks my love, two more weeks.”
He stopped and looked over his shoulder. Her eyes reflected joy as she silently mouthed the words, “Two more weeks.”
“I love you Pattie,” He said.
“And I love you too,” She replied, bringing her attention back to the baby in her arms.
Mrs. Hadley pushed her little Volvo a bit harder than usual. It was already after four in the afternoon and she needed time to prepare. There was much to do and little time to accomplish it. Her car tore through the grass as she parked her car at an odd angle in the drive way. “No time for perfection,” She cackled, as she jumped out of the car and ran up the porch.
She made a bee line for the closet behind the couch, without worrying about closing the front door. No time. Mrs. Hadley opened the door and tapped twice on the inner wall to the left. A panel in the wall swung open revealing a shadowy enclave. She pulled a black leather satchel from the hole and closed the door. Holding the bag close to her chest, she sighed and lamented, “It has been some time indeed, but tonight, we get to add another one.” Her happiness was overwhelming as she let it wash over her. It had been too long since the last time. She danced her way back to the car and sped away.
Thomas stood in the shower and let the scolding water wash away his frustration. Pattie was right after all, like she always was. Two more weeks of this life and all would be better. He smiled to himself picturing Pattie feeding his son on the couch. She looked like she was made to be a mother, the way she cuddled the little one in the folds of her nightgown. It occurred to him that she’d probably been in that gown all day, completely engrossed in caring for the baby and needed a shower just as bad he did. Better to cut his shower short than take all the hot water for himself. He enjoyed the heat for only another moment before jerking the handle to the coldest setting. The water seemed to smash against him as he kept his feet from pulling him from the shower head. He quickly scrubbed the bar of soap through his cracks and crevices and jumped out before the water had a chance to wash away the suds.
He wrapped the towel around his shoulders and leaned over the sink, intending to brush his teeth when he heard laughter from beyond the bathroom door. It was most certainly a woman, but it didn’t sound like Pattie. Pressing an ear to the door, he heard the muffled sound of what resembled Pattie and maybe another woman. Someone, other than his wife, was in the other room.
He pulled the towel down, wrapping it around his waist, and inched the door open, just enough to get his ear beyond the frame.
“…and we tried for so long. I swear I almost lost hope,” Pattie said.
“It’s a good thing you didn’t lose hope my dear, because look what the good Lord brought you,” the lady that wasn’t Pattie replied with kindness. “He is going to be a handsome young man Pattie.”
Thomas slid himself from the doorway and crept quietly down the hall until he reached the intersection leading to the living room. He leaned an eye around the corner and caught sight of the white bun of hair, pinned down with a long needle. It was the old woman from the church and she was early. By at least an hour, Thomas thought as he tip toed back down the hall to the bedroom. He’d forgotten about the ringing in his ear when he noticed its return. Or maybe it hadn’t left at all. He shook his head like a wet dog as he made a bee line for the bedroom.
He couldn’t pin point what it was exactly, but something about that old woman was not right. There was no rhyme or reason to the suspicion. She was incredibly polite and came to a strangers aid without question. She was the type of person most parents prayed their kids would turn out like. She was a woman of the church, trusted by the parishioners and the Pastor himself.
He turned to the mirror and said, “Don’t ruin this for Pattie you a*****e.” Whatever his unfounded suspicions were, it would be best to just keep them to himself. His wife needed to get out of the house, even if it was just for a few hours. He threw on a pair of jeans and shirt and headed for the living room.
“…with the kids running rampant, you have to ask, where are the parents?”
“I agree whole heartedly,” Pattie replied. “Oh, honey, I believe you’ve already met Mrs…um…”
Thomas pulled his smile as wide as he could muster as he approached the couch, hand extended in welcome. “Mrs. Hadley, of course.” The weird old Bat from the church not easily forgotten.
“Tom,” She said, shaking his hand gently, “I must apologize for my early arrival. I hope that I have not inconvenienced you in any way.” She smiled, holding his hand until he replied. The ringing in his ear became staggered, taking a pause in its concerto every few seconds. It now resembled a beeping sound, like a dump truck driving in reverse.
He snuck a peak at his grinning wife. She was just beaming with joy. “I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to say that you have inconvenienced me Mrs. Hadley. Thanks for coming,” He said, remaining as pleasant as he could be.
She gave him back his hand and kept her smile. “I just got so excited about meeting the little one, I left my manners at home and drove right on over.”
Pattie said, “No bother Mrs. Hadley, but I do need to excuse myself for a moment.” She motioned to her gown with a frown as she began to hand the baby to Thomas.
“Tom, may I,” Mrs. Hadley asked, holding her arms out in front of her.
Pattie immediately replied, “Of course,” handing the little boy off to her. She turned to Thomas, pecked him on the cheek and asked, “You didn’t use all the hot water did you?”
Thomas feigned in shock and stated, “I was only in there for an hour sweetie. Of course I saved you a few drops.”
Pattie giggled, pecked his cheek again and whispered, “I really like Mrs. Hadley.” She parted with a wink and headed for a shower of her own.
That makes one of us.
He took a seat on the sofa, opposite Mrs. Hadley in the recliner, and watched her making silly faces to his son. The baby just cooed and wiggled, smiling the entire time. He had a few bits of small talk he could use, but it appeared unnecessary. The old lady seemed quite content entertaining the little one.
“Tom,” Mrs. Hadley stated with a soothing voice, keeping eye contact with the baby as if she were talking to him, “I don’t believe you ever told me your last name.”
“Oh, it’s Morgan,” Thomas replied.
“And where does your family hale from Tom Morgan?”
“Pattie and I moved from Pennsylvania about a year ago, but my family is from New York and hers is from Canada.”
“Ah, a true blue Yankee.” She continued to play with the infant as if they were the only ones in the room. “So tell me Tom. Why do you hate God?”
Thomas cleared his throat, and blinked twice. Did she really ask him that? What kind of question was that? Subconsciously, he brought a hand to his face, rubbing his cheek as if she had just slapped him. The beeping sound grew louder.
He jumped when a pair of hands squeezed his shoulders. “Alright, I’m ready if you are.” He turned around to find Pattie standing behind the sofa, wearing her favorite yellow sun dress. Thomas stared at her dumbstruck, not by her beauty, but by the question left hanging in the air.
“You kids have a great time and don’t worry one moment about little Connor. We’re going to have a great time as well,” Mrs. Hadley stated.
“Mrs. Hadley, thank you again,” Pattie said as she bent over and kissed her son on the head. “We should only be a few hours, at the most. I left my cell phone number on the fridge just in case.” She shouldered her purse and told Thomas it was time to go by holding her hand out.
Thomas didn’t move. Didn’t even notice his wifes hand in wait. He just stared at the old cooing woman. Something was wrong. The problem wasn’t evident, but he just knew there was one, hiding below the surface of all those wrinkles.
“Psst, hey, over here,” Pattie said, pulling Thomas’ attention back to her. “We can go now.”
“Oh, right,” Thomas said, smiling at his wife, “Just a moment. Mrs. Hadley, are you sure you’ll be ok?”
The old lady loosed a wild laugh, eyes still locked onto the baby and said, “Your Daddy doesn’t think a little old lady like me could watch after you for a few measley hours.”
Pattie creased her brow, and shot Thomas the stink eye. She mouthed “what” at him as he stood up. He leaned into her ear and whispered, “Something’s not right with that woman.”
Pattie looked at Thomas and told him, loud enough for Mrs. Hadley to hear, “Don’t be a jerk Thomas.”
The old woman stated, “Don’t hold it against him Jane. He is a new father. He’s being protective like a good father should be.”
“Mrs. Hadley, he is protective,” Pattie replied as she took Thomas’s hand, yanking him towards the door, “but he can also recognize when he’s being rude.” She gave him a look that told him to keep quite. She opened the door and pushed him out to the porch. “We shouldn’t be too long Mrs. Hadley and thanks again.”
“You kids have a great time and don’t worry. Mrs. Hadley has your child,” the old woman said as the door closed. She twisted her neck around and watched the Morgan’s walk down to the sidewalk, disappearing when they past the neighbors hedge. She looked down at the little boy and asked, “Well, should we get down to business or wait just a bit longer?” The baby yawned and slowly blinked. “Maybe we’ll wait just a few more minutes. We can’t have mommy and daddy catching me before the deed is done.” She rose from the couch, baby swaddled I her arms and said, “No we can’t.” She spun around the living room on her toes, cackling with each revolution. “No we can’t.”
The waiter returned with their dinners, which smelled phenomenal, but Thomas’ senses were elsewhere. “Enjoy,” the young man said and walked away.
Pattie commented, “Oh this looks so good.” She spun a fork full of pasta away from the grilled chicken breast and brought it up to her mouth, but stopped short of biting in.
Thomas sat there poking his meatloaf with a fork, looking like a sad little boy who just found out the truth about Santa Claus. The beeping reverberating through his head was beginning to dull his senses. The edges of his vision wobbled and blurred. His stomach knotted into itself, no longer grumbling with hunger. The sound was becoming all there was, pushing reality away with each incessant chirp.
Their 15 minute long walk to the restraunt consisted entirely of Thomas’ vague suspicions of Mrs. Hadley. He couldn’t give her one concrete reason why other than the fact that something wasn’t right. She said something about hating God, but who cares. She was old. Old people said strange things sometimes. Nothing to cancel a night out over.
“Sweetie, I don’t mind you moping, but your starting to ruin my night out,” Pattie said to Thomas as she took a bite of pasta.
Thomas grunted to himself before shoving the plate of meatloaf to the side of the table. “I’m trying everything I can to push her from my mind, but I just can’t,” He admitted, running his hand through his hair. “The last time..I felt like this…,” he began, stopping the words with a cuffed hand. It was a familiar sound after all and he could have stabbed himself with the fork for not recognising it.
“My last miscarriage, you told me that night that you’d had a feeling something was wrong, but you were stuck at work,” Pattie said, placing her fork down on the plate.
He covered his face with both hands in shame. It had started as a dull ringing in his ear and almost became deafening when he finally asked his boss if he could leave early that night, months ago. He kept his suspicion of dread to himself though. He just knew, in the pit of his stomach, that something was wrong with Pattie, but his boss wouldn’t let him leave. Later that night, he was apologizing to his wife in the hospital for not being there for her. He should have told his boss to f**k off and gone on home. He should have told Pattie about the alarm hammering his eardrums that night. Then maybe he would have recognized the ringing for what it truly was. An internal alarm screaming about the imminent danger.
“Is that the feeling you have now,” She asked, as she twisted her wedding ring nervously. She wasn’t sure if it was the two glasses of wine she downed with their appetizers or what, but she too was beginning to doubt the night out.
“Yes,” he moaned from behind his hands. “There’s this ringing in my head, like an alarm, telling me somethings wrong.” He pressed his thumbs into his eyes, trying to crush the sound with pain.
Pattie caught the waiters attention with a snap of her fingers and he came right over.
Noticing the meatloaf wasn’t touched he asked if everything was alright.
“I need two boxes and the check please,” She said.
Thomas dropped his hands and began to apologize, “I’m sorry sweetie. I didn’t mean to ruin dinner with..”
“Stop,” she commanded with a wave of her hand, “If you have a feeling, I need to trust in that. No matter how stupid and completely unfounded I think those suspicions are, I need to trust you. I trust in you for everything else in my life, why not this as well.”
“So, we can head back home,” He asked. The beeping subsided to a whisper and he took deep breath.
“Yes, after we pay the check, we can head back home,” She replied. Thomas’ doubts had seeded her head and began to sprout their own theories, all of which she kept to herself. No use in worrying him anymore than he already was. It wouldn’t do either of them any good.
They both stood on the sidewalk outside of the house, catching their breath. If it wasn’t for Pattie telling him to slow down throughout the entire walk home, he probably would have sprinted.
“What now,” Pattie asked in a sharp whisper.
He brought a forefinger to his closed lips and motioned her to follow him. He pulled the keys from his pocket and was about to unlock the door when it occurred to him that he couldn’t see the keys. The porch light was out. He bent his neck to the right, peering in through the window. The lights were out inside as well.
Pattie asked, “Why are the lights out?”
Thomas repeated his earlier command with a shush as he blindly moved the key around the inside of the door knob, trying to find the hole.
“What are you doing,” Pattie whispered.
He answered by opening the door and cocking an eyebrow at her. Thomas poked his head into the shadowed living room and strained to hear the secrets of the darkness. It kept its voice wrapped in pitch and remained a silent host. Stepping over the threshold, he beckoned Pattie to follow with a wave of his hand.
Satisfied the living room was empty, he turned his attention to the mouth of the hallway when someone grabbed his shoulder. Tom grunted in pain as he bit down on the tip of his tongue, and turned to find Pattie mouthing an apology. He was about to wave her off when a low buzzing sound caught his attention. If the house wasn’t already swaddled in a blanket of silence, the low pitched sound would have gone unheard. It reminded him of the electrical transformer perched on a pole in the backyard of the house he’d grew up in. Or maybe it was the bee hive that infested old man Stetsons’ tree that one summer when they were teens. Whatever the sound actually was, shadowed in comparison to the fact that it seemed as though it was coming from the hallway. He’d thought for a moment that the ringing in his ears had returned, before Pattie asked if he heard the noise as well. He ignored her question, trying to dispell the darkness in the hallway with a focused stare.
Pattie pushed past him, running into the hallway and stopping at the door to the nursery. The only light in the house bled through the bottom of that door as the buzzing sound vibrated the air before her. She threw the door open and gasped, swallowing a scream as her mind struggled to make sense of the scene within.
Thomas charged into the room, shoving Pattie aside. The buzzing drone ceased its cadence and exploded into a screech. The room seemed to waver and dance in the flickering candlelight surrounding the wild eyed old lady, who took a breath and released another battle cry of a scream. Mrs. Hadley sat, b**t naked and spread eagle on the floor, staring at the two intruders like a cornered piece of prey. Between her legs rested his son, swaddled in a blue blanket dotted with blood. Thomas cursed his curiousity for hesitating.
He threw himself into the flickering circle of wax, grabbing the bundle from between her legs. Tom grunted in pain as Mrs. Hadley buried the needle into his shoulder. He lost his balance, trying to spin away from a second swipe of that ridiculously long hair pin and fell, back first, into the changing table. He opened his eyes just in time to find the old woman on her feet and just inches from his throat. He tightened his grip on his bundled son as he curled himself around the baby. There was no time to stop her so he closed his eyes and waited, hoping he could take the incoming pain. He heard a shriek and tightened his jaw. A crashing sound tightened his grip on the infant. Thomas took a breath and peeked out from his fear tightened lids.
Two Weeks Later…..
Mrs. Hadley stared into the corner of the room they kept her locked up in. Her stomach grumbled for a meal, but all she could do was listen to its pleas. Her own had gone unanswered for days now. Or maybe it was a week. Or more. There was no way to tell. There were no windows to see the light of day or even a timely visit from another human being to base the hours on. Every once in a while, once a day she assumed, a sliver of light would slice through the darkness from beneath the door, but she couldn’t tell if it was artificial.
She shifted her weight and moaned, as her arm began to throb. She had almost forgotten that they’d come in and taken a rather large sample of her blood a few days ago. Or maybe it was last week. She touched her forearm gingerly, amazed at how tight and hot the skin felt. It was certainly infected, but she didn’t care any longer. They certainly didn’t care. That was apparent when they came in and callously took her blood. Cold hands and hateful stares, accompanied by a hypodermic needle that easily dwarfed her long hair pin. She spit her questions in their stoic faces, only to be answered with sneers and grunts as they held her down, jabbing that needle aimlessly looking for a vein. She swore their eyes were closed on each and every attempt.
The painful throb, keeping time with the beat of her heart, grew tired of its surroundings and began to stretch upwards to her shoulder. She knew it was only a matter of time before the infection reached her heart, but she no longer cared for anything more than a painless death. Shed lived an unnaturally long life with no regrets and knew mortality was bound to catch up with her at some point.
She heard footsteps and whispers as a shard of light stabbed at her dilated eyes from beneath the door.
“Todays the day Mrs. Hadley,” a man’s voice announced from the other side.
She heard a ring of keys jingle about. The scraping of metal as the door bolt withdrew. She covered her eyes as the door was thrown open, washing her tiny surroundings away in fluorescent solitude.
“Lets go you old b***h,” the man barked as he reached in, grabbed a handful of her hair and yanked her violently from her cell. She loosed a raspy scream that no longer wielded any power as she was dragged across the floor. She caught sight of the open door to her cell and laughed. Had they really kept her in that tiny closet for so long? She tried to laugh again, but only produced a dry whimper.
Another door opened and in she was dragged and dropped to the floor. She looked around the room and found the face she was looking for. Her tongue was a dry ocean bed keeping her from spitting at the woman, but her hatred crowned a fathomless sea. If she had the strength, she’d have torn the young womans’ eyes out.
“I can’t believe she’s still alive,” Thomas sighed as he pecked his wife’s cheek with a kiss.
“I told you,” Pattie said with a smile, “She shouldn’t be, but yet, here she sits, begging for her life.”
Thomas conceded, “Fine. You win Sis.”
Pattie eyes widened as she growled, “I told you not to call me that.”
He rolled his eyes and replied, “Whatever, Sis. Its not like she’s ever going to have the chance to spill our little secret.” He pinched Patties a*s for emphasis. “Besides, you were right. Its obvious that she has some kind of power.
Mrs. Hadley stared at Pattie with disdain. What did these two idiots know about true power? She’d served the Dark One for the better part of 145 years and knew of His power intimately. There was no chance in Hell, unless He personally intervened, that she was going to survive. Even if they put her back into that little hole of a closet they kept her in, the portions of power she stole from their infant son would keep her alive for at least another few months. A small part of her wondered what shed look like once the power waned. Would she be able to recognize herself after the breeze of death peeled away the façade of her true age? The anger that radiated from Patties eyes told her she would never receive an answer to that question.
The infant began to cry as Pattie picked him up from the blue bassinet she had him strapped into. “It’s ok little one,” She cooed into the baby’s ear, “but there’s no time like the present.” She pulled a curved knife from the back of her waistband and stabbed her son in the face, right between the eyes, so hard the hilt sank into the wound, and violently yanked the blade downward towards the neck.
“Ooh, that hurt to watch,” Thomas smiled, holding a bucket under the baby’s blossomed skull.
Mrs. Hadley eyes went wide, taking in the grisly scene.
Pattie held the body upside down, squeezing its chest like she was juicing an orange. “We only had two weeks left before our son was of acceptable age for the sacrifice and in you came, with your feeble plans to deprive our master of his due.” Satisfied she’d drained the last drop, she threw the carcass across the room. It made a squishy sound as it hit the wall and crumpled to the floor.
“Now, tell me what you did to our son,” Pattie asked, “and maybe I won’t shove the business end of this blade into your face.”
The old lady straightened her back, and kept her focus on Pattie. If she kept her secrets hidden, the Dark One might grant her a reprieve from punishment for not completing the bargain as she still had another three decades of service remaining.
As Thomas placed the brimming bowl on the floor, he said, “I told you she wasn’t going to talk Sis.”
Pattie fumed as she crossed the room, squeezing the blades handle with each step. She stopped directly in front of Mrs. Hadley and kindly asked, “Really?” The old lady just stared up at her. “I’m gonna ask this one last time Mrs. Hadley.” She crouched down and smiled. With each syllable of her next question, Pattie picked a different part of the old woman to hurt. “What,” sinking the knife into her cheek, “Did,” slashing the blade across her bare chest, from shoulder to shoulder, “You,” only the hilt remained visable as she sunk the blade into her thigh, “Do,” Pattie paused a moment before slicing her left ear off, “To my son!?” The last words were accentuated with three quick, shallow stabs to Mrs. Hadleys’ swollen arm.
Pattie took a step back, watching the old lady whimper in pain. She stopped as she noticed the old woman mouthing something. “See,” She said to Thomas, as she pointed with the blade, “She’s talking isn’t she.”
Thomas knelt down before the gibbering woman, leaning an ear towards the whispers fleeing her mouth. He shook his head slowly as he realized what she was saying. “Oh Sis,” He said as he stood, “She’s talking alright, but not to us.”
“What,” Pattie barked. “Speak up b***h or I’m taking your lips next.” Mrs. Hadley ignored her and continued to mumble. Pattie drew closer until it became quite apparent what she was doing. “Are you praying?” Mrs. Hadley didn’t allow the question to interrupt her efforts. “She’s f*****g praying,” Pattie scoffed at Thomas. He just shook his head in disapproval.
Pattie smiled at Thomas with an idea she could barely keep from exploding forth. “Start the ceremony brother.”
Thomas couldn’t contain the ear to ear smile that broke open across his face. It had been years since she called him brother and he was ecstatic. He picked up the gore filled bowl and approached the corner of the room that Pattie had flung their mutilated child. With one hand holding the bowl, he used the other as a brush, dipping into the clotting blood and smearing it across the wall. Only for a moment did it appear haphazard and sloppy like a toddler finger painting, but soon, those slashes began to connect and form an ancient symbol that hadn’t been seen in this reality for centuries.
As Thomas worked the blood, Pattie smiled down on a silent and watchful Mrs. Hadley. “We’re gonna try this a different way. It’s apparent that you’ll not answer my questions.”
Thomas stood, proud of his handy work. “Here we go,” he announced. He cracked his knuckles and began to contort his fingers into specific designs and configurations. Each one appearing faster than the last until his hands were a blur of fleshy trails. The blood on the wall forming the strange symbol began to smolder and blackened until ash was all that was left clinging to the plaster. Forming one last knotted digit design, he slammed his hands into the wall three times before they broke through. The wall around the small hole crumpled into itself, like a black hole swallowing the plaster and wood. He stepped back, smiling and watched as the darkness beyond the mouth of the hole squirmed with life.
“But, I bet you’ll answer my Master,” Pattie laughed, finally turning away from the shocked Mrs. Hadley to witness the arrival of her Lord.