Take Care of Her – The End

Chapter 11 – The End

“Ow,” Gretchen said, plucking a white strand out of the part of her hair. There were so many white hairs now. She put the tweezers down. It was silly. Let it go. It had been years. The woman had become older and achier and heavier. The little girl hadn’t changed. Still five. Still wearing her bikini with the woman’s green t-shirt as a dress. Still only seen inside their home.

Their apartment was tiny now. Three rooms. They stayed close to home most days. Gretchen had found a job at the convenience store down the block. No one minded that the little girl came with her. Or if they did, no one said anything. The girl still liked to play in water. They left the city with the museum. She never got to play in the fountain again. There was a tub and the girl played in that. They walked to get groceries. They read books in bed. They saw no one but each other.

“Can we have pancakes?” the girl asked.

“Are we ever going to have something besides pancakes?” Gretchen asked.

“No,” the girl said. Then she laughed. It was the high, free giggle of pure happiness. Gretchen couldn’t help but laugh with her. But the work of laughing showed on the woman’s lined face.

“Honey, I’m tired. Is it okay if I lie down for another minute?”

“You won’t be too long?”

“I won’t be too long.” Gretchen shuffled down the hall to her bedroom. Her head ached. It did that a lot these days. They girl was sweet and tried to keep quiet when the woman needed the lights off. That lovely girl. Gretchen didn’t change clothes. Didn’t even take off her robe. I took all her strength to stand, so she lay down in bed, on top of the covers. The little girl was hunched on the edge of the bed. She always liked to stay close.

“I love you,” the little girl said.

“I love you,” Gretchen said. “I’ll see you when I wake up. Just a few minutes.”

The little girl scooted from the edge of the bed up to the pillow. She didn’t lie down, but sat up, holding Gretchen’s hand. The woman had squeezed the tiny hand once. It was tight. Too tight. Then the fingers relaxed.

When the men came to take the woman away in the black bag, there was no one else in the apartment. It took them hours to stomp around the tiny home. They talked too loud and were nosy. Everything got moved. The little girl stayed in the bed, still and quiet. No one saw her. Once they were gone, the little girl climbed under the covers and waited for the woman to come back. She hoped it wouldn’t take long. She didn’t like being alone.

Take Care of Her – Chapter 5

Chapter 5

The little girl sitting across the table from Gretchen had pigtails. She had been there since Gretchen came into the kitchen. There was a scream, but the little girl didn’t seem to hear. She simply sat in the big seat and swung her legs. Gretchen slid into the seat next to her, no longer having the strength to stand. She opened her mouth to ask any of the million questions flying through her head. None came out.

Gretchen backed away from the table, knocking the chair to the floor. She ran into the bedroom for the picture. There it was. Same little girl. Same bikini. Her sweaty hand slid across the picture as her fingers felt for the rigid edges. She was having a bad dream. Not a nightmare. Just a really weird dream. Made sense. She hadn’t slept for shit lately and this was her brain’s way of finally letting go. There wasn’t actually a real child in her apartment. Her therapist wanted her to take care of the little girl inside her, and her screwed up synapses gave her an apparition girl. A ghost guest. Wouldn’t last long. She’d wake up hot and headache-y, sad and alone soon enough.

She decided to wait it out. Since she was up, she figured she’d make coffee. Her hands and arms worked. They usually didn’t in dreams. It was a constant terror that she’d try to punch, and instead her fist floated away from her body and through the air. Or her legs would kick, and never connect with dirt or shins. She leaned on the counter and watched the dark brew drip. It smelled like coffee. Without thinking, she touched the stream. It was hot. Her skin burned and she sucked on her finger. Coffee. She could taste it. She shook her hand and poured herself a cup. Normally. it was cream and sugar. Tonight, it was black.

The girl stared in wonder at Gretchen’s coffee routine.

“You want some?” Gretchen asked.

“My mommy doesn’t let me have coffee,” the girl said. “Did you get a boo boo on your finger?”

The girl could talk. Why not? Gretchen decided she’d play along. She wanted to remember all of this — take it back to Rachel and let her untangle what it meant.

“Your mommy sounds very smart,” Gretchen said.

“She reads a lot,” the girl said, nodding.  “Big books.”

Gretchen stared into her mug. She was right. Her mom always had a book. As a kid she didn’t care. As a teenager, she hated it. Only mom on the bleacher who wasn’t watching. Or at least pretending to watch. Her mom was the one reading. And it was embarrassing reading. Romance. Alien science fiction. Gretchen had tried, begged her not to. Her mom didn’t care. Reading made her feel better. So mom was going to read.

“Are you hungry?” Gretchen asked. The girl shook her head. “Cold?” She shook her head again. “I’m cold. I’m going to get you a sweatshirt.”

There were piles of clothes of assorted cleanliness slung throughout the bedroom. She managed to put on worthy clothes for work, but this search made Gretchen admit that she had been wearing the same boxers and t-shirt around her house for…a long time. Surely there was something she could put on this kid that wasn’t blotched with wine or smeared with duck sauce. Clothes. Drawers. She had drawers. With clothes she’d washed when she still cared.

“Here we are,” Gretchen said, holding out the green t-shirt. The kid was gone. “Honey?” A squeak came from the bathroom. She turned the corner and saw her. The little girl was standing at the sink. The mirrored front of the medicine cabinet was open and her small eyes stared at the bottles of pills. And the small scissors.

The girl reached her hand toward the high shelves.

“Let’s get you covered up,” Gretchen said. She handed over the shirt and closed the panel.

The shirt hit the floor and the finger, opened the mirror and pointed harder. “Want,” the little girl said. “Help.”

“No…no, okay, come on.” Gretchen steered her out of the bathroom. “Let me help you put this on and we’ll get some breakfast, okay? I’ll take care of those later.” The girl lowered her arm to her side. Gretchen slid the shirt over the small body in the tiny bathing suit. The hem hit at her bony knees. “Now, what can I make you to eat?”

The girl smiled. “Panny cakes.”

“Let’s go have pancakes,” Gretchen said. She didn’t know why. And to be honest, she didn’t know how. But thirty minutes later, Gretchen and the little girl sat down to breakfast. They didn’t talk. The food was delicious, and they both smiled and laughed as they ate. Butter landed on both of their hands somehow. The little girl threw her head back with giggles when Gretchen licked it off her own thumb. She closed her eyes to enjoy the last sugary bite. When she opened her eyes and reached for her coffee, the lone grown-up realized she was alone in the kitchen. There was no little girl. Gretchen shook her head at herself and started to clean up. Her plate was empty, except for a shimmery coating. The other plate held two cold, hard pancakes and congealing syrup.

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 4

New horror for your Friday the 13th.

Happy Haunting.




Chapter 4


“Johnnie Walker Black. Rocks,” Carolyn said to the bartender. She sat at the bar and waited. She didn’t know where to look. It had been years since she had been anywhere alone without her phone. She saw an ancient and possibly apocryphal black phone on a lower shelf by the bartender with the long braids. Who would she call? She didn’t know anyone’s number. And she was too stunned to do anything but look straight ahead, seeing her pale reflection in the mirror behind the bar. The woman she saw looked like a ghost.

The word sounded ridiculous. Ghost? Is that why her doors slammed and a make-believe girl hijacked her phone? She stared past the bottles to the mirror behind the bar. Her face. Her short hair. No crazy horror movie blood streaks. No absent reflection. No forced reflection of a goblin or bewitched little girl scout with poisoned Samoas. Just her and her drink. And the woman who was now sitting next to her.

“Johnnie Walker. Neat. You got blue label?” the woman asked. The bartender raised his eyebrow.

“I know,” she said. The bartender shrugged and walked to the back of the bar, reaching on tiptoes for the blue-labeled bottle on the highest shelf. “Every time,” she said. “You think they’d start keeping it lower.”

“Maybe they don’t want it to get broken,” Carolyn said.

“Then they should tread more carefully,” the woman said. “It’s really fucking good scotch.”

“Yeah it is,” Carolyn said. And she didn’t know why she said that. Or why she had even ordered it. She never drank scotch. But she was now.

The bartender placed the really fucking good scotch in front of the woman. And not gently. The liquid tilted and swayed in the glass.

“He’s a shitty actor. I saw him in Medea in some trash theater in DUMBO. He was a lousy Jason. No wonder she killed his kids.”

Carolyn was quiet.

“That I can forgive. Not everyone has talent just because they want it. But not taking care of good scotch? That’s inexcusable.”

Carolyn smiled, still not wanting to talk.

“You’re not an actor, are you?” the woman asked.

“No,” Carolyn said.

“Pam,” the woman said, holding out her hand. “I know. Nun’s name.”

“Are you a nun?” Carolyn asked.

“Yes,” Pam said. Carolyn stared at her.

“Get out of here,” Carolyn said.

“Sacred sisters of booze and tobacco,” Pam said. “So, not an actor. Are you a nun?”

“Not yet,” Carolyn said. She rubbed her shin it was still sore from the crack it took earlier.

“You from the neighborhood?” Pam asked. Carolyn nodded, not giving anymore. Creeped out or not, she was still a minimal-information New Yorker. “Me too. Haven’t seen you here.”

“Look. Before you…I’m not interested.”

“I’m not asking,” Pam said. “But I’m interested.”

“Okay,” Carolyn said.

“Okay,” Pam said. She nodded to Carolyn’s drink. “Phone’s ringing.”

“No, it not mine. I forgot mine-“ Carolyn stopped. Her phone was on the bar, next to her drink. She knew she hadn’t brought it with her. She knew it. But there it was. And it was ringing. A standard old-fashioned phone ring.

“That’s not my fucking phone, “Carolyn said.

“Nope. Not a nun,” Pam said. “Well, honey, it ain’t mine.”

“I could have sworn that I left it-“ She stared at the phone. It stopped ringing. Carolyn took a swig of her drink, draining half of the glass.

“I like you. Too bad you’re not interested,” Pam said. She slowly sipped her own drink. A drop lingered at the corner of her mouth. Pam licked it away with a tongue so dark it looked purple.

Carolyn held her glass in two hands. Gripping the glass helped steady the shaking. She raised it to her mouth, then stopped. The phone next to her started ringing again, but not the old-fashioned ring. Now it was the tinkling, pecking music she had heard before at home.

“You should answer it,“ Pam said. “They really want to talk to you.” The music continued playing.

Carolyn stood. “What are you doing?” she asked.

Pam took another deep drink from her glass. But this time, she didn’t raise the glass to her mouth. She held it in her hand by her chin. From there, she stretched out her long tongue, definitely a deep purple, and dipped it into the amber whisky. She held it there for moment, then curled it back to her mouth, bringing a splash of the drink with the long, spiny tongue.

“They want to talk to you,” Pam said. “They’re going to talk to you. Now answer the fucking phone.”

Carolyn was terrified. She knew that if she tried to run, tried to even move, this woman would hurt her. That tongue, with its points and barbs would be down her throat, ripping the soft tissue and filling her mouth and lungs with her own blood. The plunking of the far away piano continued.

“Answer your phone, Carolyn” Pam said. She put down her drink and turned, facing Carolyn directly.

Carolyn had no choice. She put down her drink and picked up the phone. It looked exactly like hers. The chip out of the top right edge. The rainbow crack curving over the left lower corner. Pam stared at her.

“Hello?” Carolyn rasped.

“Mummy!” the young voice called to her. “Mummy, are you coming to get us? It’s so dark in here. We miss you so much.”

“Who is this?” Carolyn said through chattering teeth.

“You have to go home. You have to take care of Daddy,” the child’s voice said again. “We’ll see you there later.”

“WHO IS THIS! What are you doing?” Carolyn yelled into the phone. The bartender with the braids looked up at her. Just as quickly, he looked back down at the pile of pages he was reading.  The voice in the phone was gone. She could only hear darkness.

“You’d better get home then,” Pam said. She reached past Carolyn and took her drink. She downed the rest of it in one swallow. She licked her lips. “Don’t worry. I’ll get your drink.”

Carolyn looked at her hand. The phone was gone. She looked at the bar. It was barren except for her empty glass.

“I’ll keep this. Don’t worry. You’ll see me again when we need you,” Pam said, smiling. “Kiss that handsome man goodnight for me.”

Carolyn didn’t think. She just ran out of the bar. She looked back as she passed through the door. The woman was gone.