Nightmarish Reality (Vol.1) Chapter 3
NIGHTMARISH REALITY contains graphic and disturbing scenes. Content may be controversial in nature and may not be appropriate for younger readers; therefore, you must be eighteen or older to continue.
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July 4, 1997
Caroline hurried outside the MOTOR INN in her sexy red pumps; the ones that were on sale at Gracy’s for only $39.99. A bargain deal she couldn’t say no to. She was a bit of a shopaholic whenever she was going through hard times, but more than ever she regretted buying high heels. For she, in no way could walk in them. Clankety-clank. Her shoes clattered on the concrete sidewalk.
Maybe that $39.99 should’ve gone to paying the rent, she thought.
God knew she needed the money. Yet it was too late for Caroline to reflect on it now. Too late for her to return those shoes to the store; she had already thrown out the receipt. The past was in the past, and Caroline needed to focus on today. The present.
Time was running out. Clankety-clank. The rain began to pour, but Caroline didn’t care if she was standing in a hurricane. She stood in the middle of the street with her arms folded across her chest. The nearest pay phone was a block down the road. It was well after 1 A.M. according to her watch.
Caroline knew she had to call someone and fast. She had no money left. The three hundred dollars in her savings account went out the door within the first three days. She didn’t even have an umbrella. Caroline should’ve bought one at LESS-MART for ten dollars, if only she could afford it. It was unusual of her to be unprepared, and her heart ached for someone beyond her reach.
What am I looking for? Caroline thought. Why can’t I do anything right?
Why did she need to pee so early in the morning? She should’ve gone to the restroom earlier at the motel, but right now she’d just have to wait. Caroline knew she wasn’t meant to be a single mother, raising two children alone without a father; she couldn’t do this on her own anymore, and the sooner she realized that the better.
A car drove past Caroline. It splashed water everywhere. The driver sped ahead, without any regard for her safety. There were no more cars on the road, only silence. Some of the street lights glimmered and then burned out slowly. Moths attracted to the dim glow buzzed in front of Caroline; whirling around in circles, they danced in front of her.
Caroline saw it as a sign that her life was spinning out of control. The moths desperately tried in vain to find a partner before dropping dead. To a moth, sex was its natural drive to populate the species, yet any predator could see its mating rituals as a dinner bell. Caroline’s heels echoed as they clanked louder on the road. Clankety-clank. Clankety-clank.
She saw a glass hut nearby, shaped like a tollbooth. She remembered seeing bright, reddish tollbooths near the airport in London when she was a child. Traveling with her father to Paris, Scotland, and England had been her fondest memories. The only time she was ever happy. She began to pick up her pace. Clankety-clank.
Caroline swatted the mosquitoes swarming around as they besieged her at all sides. The door screeched as she pulled it wide open. Its hinges were covered in rust; the pay phone hadn’t been used in years. Caroline fumbled for change in her pocket; she grabbed the receiver, and then placed it over her ear.
Her cold, numb fingers inserted two quarters into the slot. Caroline heard the dial tone. A mechanical voice from a recording spoke.
“Hello and welcome. To begin: dial the number. Remember all calls must be local and within the United States,” droned the robot’s voice. “Please insert seventy-five cents.”
Caroline put in another quarter; she pressed the numbers 407 for the area code. She knew the rest of the numbers by heart, yet she didn’t know if someone would answer the phone. Caroline took a deep breath and dialed it anyway.
Ring. Ring. The phone rang. Mrs. Beyer, a grandmother of two, was sitting on her silk couch. She’d been fully awake most of the night reading her Bible.
Mrs. Beyer never received phone calls this late, yet some divine entity told her it was an urgent call. Caroline, on the other line, heard someone pick up the receiver.
A woman’s meek voice said, “Hello?”
Mrs. Beyer’s pale hand was covered in wrinkles as she held the phone in her shaky right hand. She put the phone on her left ear, the one with the good hearing aid. Mrs. Beyer was nearly sixty-four years old, and her voice was frail as she was in this state of old age.
“Hello, who is this?”
“Mom, it’s me…”
The tick-tock, tick-tock of the grandfather clock echoed throughout the empty dining room. Mrs. Beyer stared at the clock; the handcrafted, feathered cuckoo bird popped out.
“Cuckoo. Cuckoo.” It chirped at 2 A.M. as it always did for forty years.
Mrs. Beyer responded in a calm voice. “Is that you, Caroline?”
“Is everything all right?” she asked.
“Did they tell you what happened…I mean, about everything?”
“Yes. If you need anything, honey, let me know. We have more than enough room here.”
“I’m sorry if this is short notice. I may have to borrow some money.” Caroline exhaled in. “I don’t have enough to pay off the insurance on the car…”
Caroline sniffled and tried not to cry as she rubbed her forehead. She felt another migraine coming along.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have no money left!”
Mrs. Beyer placed a hand on her heart and remained calm, since Caroline was now crying.
“Your father and I will figure something out. Just come on home. Do you have enough to get here? How ‘bout you tell us where you are and we’ll come and pick you up.”
“Mom, we lost everything. Zander needs to go back to school and Isadora needs a daycare center. I don’t want them to suffer because of my mistakes. I don’t even have enough to pay off our medical. Do you think you can help us out for a couple of months? I promise I’ll pay you back.”
Mrs. Beyer glanced at the grandfather clock; the large swinging pendulum seemed tranquil in a soothing rhythm of motion. The clock’s shorter arm struck another numerical digit. It chimed in the dark, but the cuckoo bird did not come out of its house.
“…Still there?” asked Caroline.
“Yes, yes, come as quickly as you can and everything will be fine. It’s all in God’s hands now.”
“Thanks Mom. I love you.”
“I love you too, sweetheart. Just come home safe. Don’t try to rush yourself on the roads now. Make sure you get plenty of rest before you head on out. Don’t tell the children about anything. You have enough on your plate as it is.”
“Okay. We’ll be there soon. Bye Mom.”
“I’ll see you soon. Bye for now.”
Caroline hung up the phone. She glanced back at the MOTOR INN. It was a wet, rainy day in Jacksonville, Florida.
Its ancient wooden frame was littered with dust mites, and possibly termites, as it stood upright on four battered legs. All its gears were well oiled and toned, like John Travolta’s car in Grease as he was singing Greased Lightnin’. The grand clock’s arms and numbers gleamed in the light within its circular sphere. As I stood there watching the old clock in awe, I could hear the gears in motion. The telltale noise of the swinging pendulum.
Tick-tock, tick-tock. Once the clock struck noon, a tiny cuckoo bird covered in yellow feathers chirped. Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo. A real stuffed canary was on a wooden platform. Its eyes were dead and lifeless as it popped in and out of the small cottage house, its home.
I was haunted by the bird. It was just freaking weird, and many times it scared the living daylights out of me.
“Do you prefer living here, Zander?” Grandma put down the Holy Bible and set it on a small, cherry wood table.
Grandma had a fuzzy, pink sweater top with blue and orange striped kittens on the front. Her long, olive skirt went down to her white ankles. Grandma’s legs were covered in stockings and she often wore rounded, black flats. Almost as if she was dressed to go to a church gathering. I doubted if that was proper attire to wear publicly.
I figured that’s what old people wore most of the time. However, Grandma had unusual fashion sense for someone her age.
“It’s cool…I guess.” I shrugged.
Grandma came over to me and gave me a sugar drop; she put the candy into my hand. Grandma made sugar drops, apple drops, and gingersnap cookies herself. She’d bake everything from scratch, and left fresh baked entrées on the counter in a glass tray. Grandma would put candies in wrappers that looked like tinsel foil. They were bright and shiny in all colors of the rainbow.
“How long did it take you to get all this stuff?” I popped the candy into my mouth, sucking on its sweet caramel shell.
Grandma sat in her lavish soft couch with red and white cushions made of rare silk. I stared at the paintings drawn by Thomas Kinkade; the painter drew lush valleys and small, square cottage homes with chimneys. It resembled old England surrounded by vast forest. I’d spot wild deer, turkey, and rabbits roaming free in the paintings. I glanced at Grandma’s wooden floors covered in various Oriental rugs from across the world.
Blue and green merrily lit up the place: some rugs had puppies, herds of running horses, and adorable baby kittens. Stallion figurines were on tables and counter tops. At every corner of the room were statues of fawns with their mothers laying down. Among all of this stuff, there were family photos in silver frames with pictures of Mom when she was my age. Mom had gone on family outing trips to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. She’d seen the giant clock, Big Ben, and even went to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Mom had gone hunting once with Grandpa in parts of Africa; she got pictures of Stonehenge in the United Kingdom, and traveled to Scotland and Australia all by herself. Mom was a worldly person. She used to have huge birthday parties every year, and enjoyed prom night with her boyfriend. Mom was always very sociable and had a ton of friends. Grandma and Grandpa looked forty years younger; both of them seemed vibrant and so full of life, even their dark, brown hair didn’t have one ounce of gray.
“It took many years to collect these. A decade of my life, I’ve been buying things that are inspiring and beautiful to me,” Grandma said.
Grandma was an art collector of sorts, and bought whatever she found exotic, rare, and even strange looking. She had an anthology of African American literature and shelves full of books. Grandma also had African masks and miniature wooden art sculptures. Tall, black clay art from different tribes of people. The natives were dressed in their traditional clothing of red, yellow, and green.
Grandma watched Mom cleaning the kitchen counter. Mom wore short, faded blue jeans and a white T-shirt; her hair had been pulled back in a ponytail as she went around the house doing odd chores, such as vacuuming and dusting. Mom left to finish washing the laundry. Isa was upstairs sleeping in one of the bedrooms while I sat on a white couch, across from Grandma.
Now that Mom was out of sight, I took this as an opportunity to get closer to Grandma. I scooted to the left, so I could see her face-to-face. We both heard the distant caw, caw of crows nearby; it sounded as if there was a whole flock of them outside in the backyard.
“Do you know what really happened to my father?” I asked.
Grandma was quick with her response. “He died of cancer a few years after you were born.”
“That sucks––I mean––that’s awful. He died of cancer…” I whispered. I changed the subject. “Grandpa will be back soon, right Grandma?”
My real father died before I even knew I had one, I thought. My throat felt dry all of a sudden after eating that candy.
“Yes, Zander. Grandpa will be back soon once he finishes the yard work,” Grandma added, chuckling to herself. “You should watch him when he’s out playing with his friends at the Country Club resort. He plays golf with them once a week. That’s if he ever gets the hang of it. He’s such a sore loser. When he loses, he’ll be fussing and cursing on the practice course. It’s quite funny.”
“Did my father talk about me?” I wasn’t at all amused by her story. “Do you know why he left us?” I meant us as in Mom and me.
“No, your father didn’t talk much. He was a distant and busy man, always working. He was a workaholic. However, he loved you just the same. But…” Grandma paused.
She looked as if she was trying to remember certain past memories she had forgotten long ago.
“He seemed troubled…” Grandma continued. “About a lot of things. That’s probably why he died so young. He was a chain smoker, and had waited years before ever going to see a doctor. But it was too late. The cancer spread to his entire body.”
“He died of lung cancer, didn’t he?”
“Stress and the cancer. It ate him away slowly. Yet, it was the radiation that killed him in the end. He looked so haggard that I thought he was eighty years old. He was dangerously underweight and thin––just skin and bones,” she replied.
“How come Mom never talks about my father?”
“I don’t know. She’s probably still heartbroken. Try not to bother your mother about the history of your father. She still hasn’t forgiven him.”
“Was he a good man, or was he a total jerk?”
“I don’t know much about him myself.” Grandma scratched her chin as she thought more about it.
“I only met him one time and first impressions are always important. He seemed as though he had his head in the right place and he wasn’t rude. He was very polite.”
“Was there a reason why he left? Was he too sick to take care of me…or something?”
“I don’t remember, Zander.” Grandma lowered her head and then rose to her feet.
“You know when Grandpa will be done with the yard work?”
I got up as well. Put my arm around Grandma’s waist and helped her to the kitchen.
Grandma bobbed her head. “He’ll be back. He’s probably somewhere in the shed looking for those cutters, so he can trim the hedges. Your Grandpa wants everything to be ready for his reunion tonight.”
“Family reunion on the Fourth of July?”
“He’s been planning it for years now. A get together with the relatives and some of his friends at the golfing resort. Some church members might be joining us. Would you care to join us, Zander? It’ll be so much fun.”
“Sure, why not? I got anything else to do around here? So, how old was my father when he died? Was he still in his thirties? Did he ever once talk about me or ask Mom how I was doing?”
Mom walked into the living room. She held up a large plastic hamper full of clean clothes. “Zander, I hope you’re not asking your grandmother a million and one questions. Didn’t I tell you how rude it is?” she asked.
“You never tell me anything about him.” I didn’t face her.
Mom stopped at the foot of the stairs and dropped the basket.
“Maybe you’re not ready to hear certain things at your age,” she snapped. “I’ll tell you when you’re older, okay? Now, leave your grandmother out of this.”
“Grandma, please tell me.” I ignored Mom’s warning.
Grandma placed her fragile hand on my shoulder.
“Zander, your mother’s right. You’re still too young to know the truth about your father, and you should accept it.” Grandma took my hand and led me to the stove. “Come and help me prepare for tonight’s celebration.”
“But I don’t want to!” I spat. “Why can’t any of you tell me a damn thing about my own father? What’s wrong with you people?”
Grandma loosened her grip on my hand. Mom shook her head in disgust and marched right up to me.
“Go to your room. Stay in there until I say so,” Mom shouted, hoping that she didn’t awaken Isa from her nap.
I ran up the flight of stairs without another word; I picked one of the doors, and then stormed inside shutting it. In the bedroom, I paced around in circles. I heard Mom and Grandma arguing downstairs. Sometimes, I’d lean against the door and listened in.
My Grandparents live in Gainesville. The house they live in is a Mardi Gras for insects! The mosquitoes are everywhere, having a field day. I’d swat one or two of them, yet more bugs would come to suck out my blood…bit by bit.
I hate Florida. Hate is such a strong word to describe how I feel, but I can’t help it. I hate it! Why do people call this place the Sunshine State? They should call it the Mosquitoes’ State.
The weather here is too humid and icky. The bugs here (the size of nickels) just freak me out. I prefer living back up north in New Jersey. I really want to go back home; everything here is so different, especially the people.
My Grandparents care about us and all, but sometimes they’re really religious. I don’t mind Grandma singing church songs; however, she’s a bit on the weird side. She’ll stay up late all night praying or reading her Bible. That’s what she does most of the time. I think Grandma’s a vampire, ‘cause she won’t go out in broad daylight.
Only if it’s a church day. Mom doesn’t say much since she’s strapped for cash. It’s just not fair! I don’t know how much more I can take and we’ve only been here for three days. And why do we have to go to church this week, Saturday and Sunday?
We never did that before. Isa doesn’t seem to mind living here – it’s ‘cause she doesn’t know any better! I’m glad to be out of school for a change and everything, but there’s nothing to do here. I’m so bored. Our routine consists of eating and praying. Mom doesn’t sleep much, and all she does are chores around the house.
She runs errands and does the grocery shopping. I figure she’s doing all of this ‘cause that’s the only way she can pay back Grandma and Grandpa. I hardly go outside any more. I’m a prisoner inside this house! And I can’t stand to look at that damn clock in the dining room. It’s probably a hundred freakin’ years old!
And don’t get me started on that cuckoo bird. It’s hideous and disturbingly creepy!
Nightmarish Reality © 2012 by W.D. Lady
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