My laughter ceased altogether.
My first instantaneous thought was the obvious one. What the fuck was he doing here? Followed by a flurry of other assumptions — he was just checking on me, he was worried, Oh shit, I was laughing, why the fuck am I in my front yard looking through the window laughing, why is he looking so weird at me, why the fuck is my teacher at my house and he looks so weird when he’s not at school, and why why WHY and OMG SHIT! He’s going to find out about Chloe and James and everything, they are just a thin wall away and the wall will probably turn invisible and I’m gonna die! Of course all this went through my brain in about one billionth of a second, which was how long it took for Mr. Spellman to speak.
“Anna?” he said, “you seem… happy. That’s good.” That’s when I realized I was just standing there like a petrified goober with my mouth hanging open. So many thoughts, and nothing to say… So Mr. Spellman continued. “What’s so funny?” which seemed like a perfectly logical question and the only thing that came to my mind was to pretend that I was insane.
“I don’t know!” I said, before grinning a really huge fake grin, followed by same really fake small laughter. There, I thought, is that psycho-killer enough for you? Mr. Spellman just kept looking at me weird with his face all contorted in confusion.
“What’s going on?” he asked, “are you locked out of your house?” Shit, he wanted to come inside, or help me get inside, or talk to me inside, or something inside and dear sweet Jesus Lord no fucking way are we going inside.
“No!” I answered quickly, “it’s fine, we can talk here, I’m okay, what do you want?” It was right about then that the stupid new bigmouth on the stupid new zombi James dropped opened again, and I should have heard it coming, another big, bawling…
“I LOVE YOU ANNA!”
Clear as day. Mr. Spellman eyes bugged out, then he actually relaxed, and a smile came over him.
“Friend of yours?” he asked, trying to be sly. Thankfully he didn’t recognize James’ voice. I decided quickly to play along.
“Yes! Yes! I have a boyfriend now! He’s my boyfriend! We’re just playing a game! Hide and seek! I’m hiding, see?” I knew my words were coming out really lame and insincere, since I’m a terrible liar indeed, but then again, why wouldn’t Mr. Spellman believe me? Still, I either had to get him away from the house, or go inside and shut James up. I decided that the latter option was easier. “Can you wait out here while I go inside?” I told Mr. Spellman quickly, “I’ll be right back.” I started to walk past him toward the front door but he stopped me, blocking my way.
“Listen, Anna, I don’t have much time. The bio lab was robbed, and I’ve seen the surveillance footage. Do you have anything to say about this?” A new shiver shot down my spine, but my instincts told me to lie. He could be bluffing, I mean, I had never once seen a surveillance camera at school when I was there.
“No,” I said simply, as I tried once again to maneuver around him. But Mr. Spellman stepped with me again, determined to get his point across, in that nice but firm way of his.
“Anna,” he said, “I know things have been tough for you, and, you know, I think it’s great that you seem happy and have a new friend, but I’m afraid the police might get involved here, so it’s best…”
And then, right at that moment, as if things couldn’t get any worse or weirder, that other voice shot through the walls of the house, right from the kitchen to Mr. Spellman’s waiting ears. For some Goddamned unknown reason, the bitch Chloe decided it was time for her to scream, too.
“WHO’S THE BIG BOY NOW!” she screamed, which was followed immediately by James guffawing and snorting and some other guttural noises vaguely akin to laughter. My ruination flashed once again before my eyes, as Mr. Spellman got all bug-eyed for what seemed like the millionth time.
“I’ve heard those voices before,” he said.
I tried to deflect this soon as I could so to delay the gravity of it paralyzing me.
“No,” I stammered, “that’s my mother, she’s just playing the game with me, she’s…”
And then, in another miracle of misfortune, another howl permeated the air, and came from a different locale altogether. And this one spoke in no language but pain. Unlike the frivolity in the kitchen, this voice demanded attention. I’ll try and spell it.
It wasn’t human except in the dying. And it would grip the soul of anyone who heard it, in this case, Mr. Spellman.
It was my mother. Her gag must have loosened. Those kitchen fools made her shriek. “What’s that?” said Mr. Spellman, in an altogether different cadence, tinged with fear. He
wasn’t going to wait for my answer — he started to walk quickly to cry’s source, for that’s what the wail would command to any piteous Samaritan. With blood boiling, I chased after him.
“It’s a cat! It’s the neighbor’s cat!”
“It’s not! It’s a person, and something’s wrong!”
“No! It’s a cat! It sounds like a person! But it’s a cat! It’s fine, it’s…” Mr. Spellman was now charging around the side of the house, while remnants of that initial horror from my mother still emanated from her basement cell.
I had no choice in that moment other than to try and physically restrain Mr. Spellman from proceeding any further, for he was mere feet away from the grass-covered basement window, surely the most porous source permitting those howls to escape outside. I lunged for his arm, which in the whole seemed to shock him.
“Anna!” he exclaimed, “let go of me!”
“Really, sir!” I pleaded, “it’s nothing! You’re just wasting your time!” But Mr. Spellman wrenched his arm away from me, and began his final approach to the basement window, stooping down a little to see. I tried a last desperate volley.
“Okay! Mr. Spellman! I did it! I stole from the biology lab! It was me!” But this only delayed him for a moment, as he looked back at me, gave me his eyes again, then turned back to the basement window, and knelt down to fully take in the contents of the underground. I had failed to stop him, and in that most pathetic of all moments, I was left abject and meek, watching my own tragedy unfold before me. My feral mother, insane to her core, did her part, and flung herself like a banshee toward that basement window, not reaching it, but testing yet again her restraints, and even through that dim and aged glass discolored by years of weather and grass, even though it offered only splotches of shapes amidst flickers of detail — the force behind that wail, a desperate plea for freedom — it was a story enough told, not without mystery, but with impetus big as life, and I knew this all as Mr. Spellman cast himself away from the window, filled with revulsion, then turned to look at me like he had never looked at me before, for now I was foreign to him, with every prior assumption he ever had of me instantaneously dissolving away, leaving no trace of pity, only horror, rejection, and fear.
“What is that thing?” he mumbled outside himself, “What have you done?” Though no answer could ever satisfy, I tried, through tears.
“I can explain! I can explain everything!” though surely I couldn’t. Mr. Spellman gathered himself a little and began to march with resolve back to his car.
“You can do that to the police!” he said to me over his shoulder. He turned around the corner of the house out of my sight. I thought I would follow him, though I had surrendered by then to the fact that it would serve no purpose.
That’s when I heard him scream.
There’s something strange about a man’s scream. Whether it be that society has taught us to expect men to be brave, or we’re just so much more used to the midnight movie howl of the damsel in distress, or perhaps a masculine scream just seems so much more awkward and confused, embarrassed even, like men aren’t supposed to be afraid. Mr. Spellman was very, very afraid.
And yet I knew what would happen to that scream. Like clockwork, before that scream had a chance to evolve into something more brave, it was choked off, made guttural, gasping for air, muted, strangled. I moved with haste around that corner now to behold what I knew to be true — Chloe standing in the front yard, her right arm outstretched, holding Mr. Spellman by his neck at length, his legs kicking nothing but air, his life fastly escaping him, vainly trying to pry loose from Chloe’s grip that effortlessly dangled him above earth with ease. For the briefest of moments, I stood and took in the sight, and as if I could read Chloe’s eyes like they were mirrors reflecting back at Mr. Spellman, I could see the horrible visage of a being in the last throes of existence, that moment when all rationale has been abandoned, and the human turns prey before the kill, as any deer, any bovine, any antelope before the lion, and those eyes, those agonizing pools of dark viscous that know the supreme Darkness, and wail the wail of Death, and fear there is no God. My heart died in increments, yet a more timely fear drove my will, and I remained mortal.
“Bring him around back!” I exclaimed, as the triptych of us displayed on our front lawn for the world to see filled me with a ridiculous unease. Without losing a beat, and without Chloe allowing the dying Mr. Spellman to touch the ground, the three of us moved swiftly as one to the relative cover of the backyard, where any drivers or onlookers would have to make conscious efforts to see what those shapes were up to. Standing now near the entrance to the basement, I turned back toward Chloe, and looked deep into her blank expression, cold as she was, an instrument of deliverance, my sister, my self. Mr. Spellman was still struggling, though by now it had become more spasmodic, more instinctual, like the final writhing of the trapped mammal, the transition from decision to death throe, and with really no sense of mercy at all, I gave Chloe the slightest of nods, and with that she flung Mr. Spellman like the proverbial rag doll to the ground, twisting his neck simultaneous with this, ensuring with force that this fall would be his last. He bounced and twisted and landed on his back — and in his dying gaze, Mr. Spellman looked up at both me and Chloe, for we had both leaned over him, curious as we ever were to know what it is to die — but we remained discontent, as his last breath exited without ceremony, it was just done.
“What’s James doing?” I asked.
“He doesn’t know. I gave him cereal. He might eat the whole box.”
“Cardboard and all.” This made Chloe smile a little. “From now on I’ll double and triple gag mother,” I said.
“What about him?” said Chloe, meaning Mr. Spellman.
“You know I’ll take care of it. Just help me get him in the basement.”
“With our mother?”
“Got a better idea?” Chloe sighed and grabbed Mr. Spellman’s corpse by the arms. I opened the basement door and shooed our mother off into a corner. Chloe dragged the new body in and dropped him on the floor.
“Knock her out for me,” I commanded to Chloe before she left. Chloe obliged, punching our mother in the face and knocking her cold. That’ll teach her, I thought to myself, even though it probably wouldn’t.
“Good,” I said, “now take James to school. Have him phone his parents on the way. Hurry, or you’ll be late.” Chloe didn’t hesitate. She was gone.