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“And exactly how long have you been vomiting blood?”
“About… maybe three or four weeks.” I clawed through my knotted hair in a failed attempt to tame the mess.
Dr. James scribbled something illegible onto his clipboard and re-adjusted his thick framed glasses.
“And when you vomit, is it bright red or deep red like coffee grounds?”
“Bright red. Really red.”
As he wrote what I’m sure was a very in depth description of the color of my vomit, the severity of my exhaustion really started to set in. God, to lay in a warm bed would’ve fit the description of heaven in that moment.
“Have you had any recent nosebleeds, surgeries, dental work, stomach problems, or severe coughing?”
I shook my head. At this point my eye lids felt as though they had weights attached to them.
“Do you drink alcohol or smoke?”
I knew this was coming. The single question every teenager dreads when seeing the Doctor.
No matter what they say about confidentiality, somehow a couple of hours after I see the Doctor, Nancy spontaneously develops a sixth sense that primarily is restricted to my after school activities. Oh the joys of small town communities.
“Is that really relevant?” I tried talking my way out of answering.
Doctor James sent a disapproving look my way.
“Ok, yeah. I do.”
An exasperated sigh escaped him as he returned to his clipboard.
What else do adults expect children to do in Disney, Oklahoma? Nancy complains that since it’s summer I should spend more time outside, scampering about in the woods looking for Narnia or splashing around in the water.
I suppose this place looks it’d be fun during the summer, if the population didn’t double each June with tourists. The regular standard tourists are alright, they mostly spend their time on rental boats that cramp together to share the lake. They aren’t nearly as bad as the hicks from the Carolinas.
Every summer, trailers full of them stampede down Highway 28, then unload their four wheelers and ridiculous gas guzzling trucks to do some “off roading” in the woods. Most locals tolerate them, but they really just annoy the living shit out of me and I will do anything to avoid any social interaction with them.
“Are you experiencing any other symptoms?” Dr. James snapped me back to reality.
“I haven’t slept in four days.”
He leaned in closer and folded his hands in his lap.” And why is that?”
“I’ve been having these dreams lately.”
“Are you having nightmares?” He questioned.
“No, I don’t think they’re nightmares. I’m not scared, at least.” I replied honestly and cleared my throat.
“What happens in these dreams then?”
I hesitated. I’ve only told two people what I saw in my sleep.
“It’s always the same dream. I don’t know where I am. Just on a rocky cliff somewhere.”
He motioned for me to continue.
“It’s quiet. So quiet, it hurts. There’s this disgusting smell… God, that smell.”
“Can you describe the smell?”
“Death… it smells like something dead. Like when there’s a raccoon’s corpse hanging around somewhere.”
“I look down and scream, but nothing comes out. It’s like I’m there, but at the same time I’m not. When I look down I see hundreds of dead bodies. Corpses. Piled on top of each other. It’s terrible. They’re everywhere. Then I see him.”
I started to get flashes of the vision, almost like I’m dreaming again. I knew for a fact if I had let go of everything going on around me that I could have been engulfed entirely into my sub consciousness.
“Who? Who do you see?”
“I don’t know. I only see the back of him. He’s standing among them. Stepping all over them. He raises both his arms, and then these… gigantic wings emerge out of his back. They’re colorful, like peacock feathers almost. Then there’s a whisper in my ear. It sounds like it’s right behind me-”
Something slammed against the glass window. Hard. The doctor practically jumped out of his chair.
“Holy shit! What was that?” I clamped my hand over my mouth. I would catch hell for swearing.
Dr. James cautiously walked toward the window. He opened it and poked his head out.
“What in God’s name?” I heard him mumble in shock.
“What? What is it?” I swung my legs down and got off the uncomfortable cot every doctor seems to own. Dr. James shuffled out of the way so I could see, apparently still at a loss of words.
A dead crow lay under the window. A very dead crow. It was coated in the blackest feathers I had ever seen and its eyes held a very unsettling stare. Ew. I scrunched up my face.
“Did it kill itself by flying into the glass?”
“I suppose so.” Dr. James frowned. “How strange.”
Something really set me off about that bird. It was more than strange. I couldn’t help but feel like it was a type of omen. I backed away from it and turned to the doctor.
“Does this stuff happen often to you? You could be haunted. This is literally how every horror movie starts.”
He chuckled and returned faithfully to his beloved clip board.
“I believe that’s enough excitement for one day. This was very…informative. I will prescribe some sleeping aids for you and we’ll see if it has any effect on those dreams of yours.” He opened the door for me.
I didn’t move from where I stood. “What about the blood? What’s wrong with me?”
“It could be a number of things. A ruptured vein in your esophagus, most likely.”
Despite my urge to protest, I knew that was the best answer I was going to get.
The waiting room was currently only occupied by my Aunt Nancy and a young nurse. If I were to describe Nancy to someone, I’d tell them to imagine a very proper sweet tea southern lady, who just happened to be one of the kindest women you’d ever meet. But that’s only one side of her. My Aunt could spit pure venom if you rubbed her the wrong way. She’d do it with class though, make no mistake.
Nancy smiled that smile that was known around town as Nancy’s smile, brushed invisible dirt off her lap and made her way to the front counter to be informed of my prescription. On the way to the car, the questions erupted.
“How was it? What’d you guys talk about?”
“It was fine. He asked too many questions. Are crows normal around here?” It had been bothering me. I couldn’t remember seeing any crows, but it’s not exactly the kind of thing you pay attention to.
Nancy pondered this for a moment then responded “No. No, I don’t think so. Why?”
I told her about the unfortunate bird.
“That poor thing! I don’t believe that’s normal at all… very odd. Maybe they’re just migrating or something?” She sounded terribly concerned. We got in and she started the car. “So what did he think of your dream?”
“He honestly seemed more concerned with whether or not I smoke or drink.”
“And you said you didn’t, right? Because you don’t, right?” Uh oh. Nancy’s stern voice kicked in.
“That’s for the sinners. Why I’d never.” I placed my hand to my chest in mock dismay.
“You’re lucky you’re funny. But looks aren’t everything you know.” She retorted without missing a beat.
“Oh ha ha.”
I saw through it though. We could joke around as much as we wanted, but we both felt the heavy concern that lingered in the air. Nancy was worried about me. She’d never admit it. She probably thought she’d just scare me if she expressed her anxiety on the subject.
A few minutes of silence passed by on the way home. The sun was just starting to set, and it looked like it was melting into the horizon. We pulled into our driveway.
“If there are no chores, I’m just going to go to my room,” I said.
“Do you think you could do me a favor and run an errand to one of the guest rooms?”
Officially, our house was called The Parker Bed And Breakfast House, but the locals just call it the B&B. There’s other Inns similar to it, but ours was the first.
“You remember Pete, right? He’s renting a room and lost his key. I have a replacement key and normally I’d just make him come down and get it but he threw out his back recently. Poor guy’s having trouble getting out of chairs. He doesn’t need to strain himself more.”
Pete used to live next door. Sometimes he’d bring us fresh vegetables out of the garden in his backyard. Now he lived up a hill deep into the woods. He was nice enough, but I don’t think I’ve ever carried a full conversation with him where he wasn’t heavily intoxicated.
“Yeah, that sounds easy enough.”
“He’s staying in room 7.”
I suppose the concept of having strangers staying in your home constantly would seem very foreign to most people. But seeing as I grew up here, it’s all very familiar to me. In fact, just the thought of a home where there isn’t an unknown family staying in the room next door is bizarre to imagine.
The Parker House is just too big for Nancy and me, what with the ten extra rooms we rent out to guests. Not to mention, the B&B gives Nancy the two things she loves most: an opportunity to have guests to cook for and an endless supply of gossip. This place is like the social hub of Disney. We know everyone’s business.
The guests staying with us vary greatly from locals who are just needing a little break, hicks from the Carolinas, and the occasional interesting traveler. I like the latter the most. They’re the ones who help me create the best picture of what leaving Disney would be like. I always try to get to know them while I can. One time, we had a guy from New York who was coming to take photographs that would be featured in a list of small towns to visit. I can only imagine how boring this place must have seemed to him.
When we got inside, I picked up the spare room key and trotted up the creaky wooden stairs. I tapped my knuckles against the door and walked in. Pete was snuggled into the La Z boy in the corner. He paused the TV and his eyes lit up.
“Susie! I haven’t seen you since you was 12!” He raised his arms to welcome me.
I sighed. The old man never seemed to get my name right. Or anyone’s, for that matter. “How many drinks ago do you think that was? It’s Drew, by the way.”
He grinned at me and I smiled back; you couldn’t help but like the old drunk.
“Still got that chip on your shoulder, eh? Why don’t you help a crippled man up?”
He leaned into me as I brought him to his feet. He grabbed his cane and wobbled over to the dresser.
“What’d you do to your back? You seem to have injured yourself pretty badly.” I took notice of the empty bottles of beer that decorated the room.
“Yeah, not in the shape I used to be in. That Dr. James said I need to stay up in the inn, doesn’t want me walking up the trail to my house. Says I’m too likely to end up hurting myself. I don’t care. Your house’s closer to the bar anyway. And you Aunt’s cooking, well that’s making me want to stay longer!” He rummaged through the dresser, obviously looking for something.
“Nancy said you hurt yourself going through the woods.”
He gave a triumphant “Ah!” and turned to me. His hands shook as he handed me a 20 dollar bill. “Give this to your Aunt, to cover the mess I’ve made of this here room.”
It was a very kind gesture.”Will do. You never answered my question.” I leaned against the dresser as he sat back down.
“No one person in this town believes me. But I’ll tell you what I saw, is what I saw. No doubt.”
“I saw a panther.” He deadpanned.
“A panther in Disney? I’ve lived here for sixteen years and I have never seen one of those.”
“I saw it. I went after it, and it ran off into the woods. I swear on my mother’s grave, that was no normal cat.”
“It would wait for me, teasing me. Every time I got close enough, it would run further away. Then sit and wait for me again. Right when I think it’s gotten away from me, the thing appears behind me and swats me on the ass.”
I started to laugh.
“You go ahead get your laughs, Susie.”
“What I don’t get is why you thought it’d be a good idea to go after it unarmed.”
“Thought if I didn’t catch it, no one would believe me. I reckon I was right too. Everybody I’ve told thinks I just had one drink too many.” Pete muttered angrily.
I crossed my arms. “You have to admit, they have good reason to suspect that.”
“Ain’t no one believes me. But I’m not crazy. I saw a panther.”
“I never said you didn’t.”
Pete’s eyes lit up with a little too much excitement. “You believe me?”
“I’ve been seeing weirder things than that lately.” Like strange lucid dreams. A shiver went down my spine.
“You alright? You look like you just saw a ghost.”
I shook my head. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“You dating that boy Danny?”
Who the hell was he talking about? “Danny?”
“Danny, the Cherokee boy you always hanging around with.”
I rolled my eyes. “No I’m not dating Devin. Why do you ask?”
“Well if anyone ought to know what’s running around in them woods, it’d be Crittendens. You best ask him if he’s been seeing anything weird.”
“Will do. You go on and get some rest. I’ll give this to Nancy right away.”
I escaped and got no protest from the old man. He probably tuckered himself out.
Nancy was nowhere to be found downstairs, so I assumed she was on the back porch. I started towards the back door and halted when I heard her speaking. I pressed my ear against the wooden frame of the back door.
“Yes. I’ll be leaving right after this. They’ll need an escort here. We’ll arrive around midnight.” A familiar deep voice responded.
“I bet they’ll be hungry. I’ll make sure to have a dinner ready for them.”
My curiosity grew. I pressed on the door and the sticky evening air greeted me. Next to Nancy sat an impressively large and gruff looking man.
“Who’s gonna be here around midnight? Hi Augustus.”
Nancy wore a pained expression for a moment.
Augustus smiled. “Hey there. Your Aunt was just telling me how you visited James today. How’d it go?”
He avoided the question. I took that as a hint that I wasn’t supposed to have heard any of the previous conversation. It still bothered me.
Augustus was 6’2 in his mid-to-late thirties with shaggy blonde hair. His face was hidden behind two-day stubble like usual, the kind that drives women crazy. He doesn’t require any help in that department, though, what with his rugged “I’d fight a bear for you” look.
Honestly, whether or not he and Nancy are dating has always been a mystery to me. All I know is he’s always been here and he accompanies us whenever we go into town to run errands.
“It went ok. Pete told me to give you this.” I handed the money to Nancy.
She smiled weakly. “Well, bless his heart. Drew, do you think you could give me and Augustus some time to talk? We have pressing matters to attend to.”
I raised an eyebrow at her but he face told was in my best interest to not sass her in any way, shape, or form. That didn’t change the fact those two were being extremely secretive about something.
I went back upstairs into my room and decided to take a well needed nap. As much as I wanted to stay awake, my drowsiness was taking a hold of me. My possibility to function was slowly decreasing.
I flopped onto my newly made bed. Nancy always made an effort when I was younger to get me into the habit of making my bed each morning. As soon as my head reached the pillow, I realized how desperately I needed sleep as I almost immediately dozed off.
The disgusting smell overflowed my senses, making my throat burn and my eyes water. It was like I was bathing in it. I felt an uncontrollable urge to gag.
I knew what lay before me, I always knew. Yet, I couldn’t stop my gaze from drifting down to gaze at the horrific mass of corpses below.
My mouth gaped opened, my jaws extended so wide, it felt as if I were about to break them. My lungs tried their best to empty themselves into what should have been an ear splitting scream, yet nothing came out.
The winged figure slowly pivoted, turning to me. His radiant wings glowed, a mysterious mix of every color. They were gorgeous, like the wings seen on the angels plastered across glass in cathedral churches.
Each dream it seemed like I saw a little more of him than before. I wondered if one night I would see his face. I felt the presence behind me.
“Mortus es adest-”
I snapped awake, blanketed in sweat and completely out of breath. I gasped for air, clawing at my throat. My feet did not catch me when I leapt off my bed. I crashed down, shambled back up, and dashed toward the bathroom.
I shuddered in a coughing fit, my stomach wriggled, and my muscles contracted violently.
Bent over the sink in pain, I finally gave in and allowed the huge mass of crimson to escape and fill the sink.
When I finished puking my guts out, I was completely exhausted and miserable. My body seemed too heavy for my knees to support, and I collapsed onto the tiled floor.
After a few moments of feeling sorry for myself, I convinced my legs to carry me into the shower.
I turned the water all the way to cold, to where it felt like ice. The sweat rinsed off my body easily, but my head required more work. My normally light blonde hair was now matted with blood.
“This sucks. This sucks so much.” I said to myself between gritted teeth.
Thirty minutes passed by, and eventually my mind decided I was as clean as I was going to get. I wrapped a towel around myself, stumbled into my room, got dressed, and went downstairs to see what time it was.
The grandfather clock in the foyer read 11:58 pm. I heard someone moving about in the kitchen.
Nancy was standing by the table, over a perfectly baked chicken. “Drew, darling, I heard a lot of noise upstairs. Did you have another nightmare?”
“They’re not nightmares. But yeah, I had another one.”
“This is really starting to concern me. It seems too serious to just be a ruptured blood vessel. I suppose I have to go by James’ word though.”
She carefully arranged lemon slices around the chicken.
I picked at a lemon, only to be swatted by her.
“We do have company coming over, you know. Be considerate.”
“Oh yes, so now it’s okay to speak to me about that?”
She placed her manicured hands onto her hips.
“You need to watch your tone. I know you are under a lot of pressure, but I will not have you be rude when you are living under this roof.”
“I’m sorry. You’re right.”
She let out a heavy sigh.
“It’s alright. Will you help set the table? They will be here soon. They’ll probably be staying with us a little longer than normal.”
“It’s a family? Where are they from?” I said, mildly interested, while I gathered our nicest silverware.
“Augustus didn’t say. All I know is that they desperately need somewhere to stay.”
I took extra care to place the forks on the correct side of the plates.
Our doorbell chimed and filled the house with sound.
“And there they are! Be a dear and answer the door please. I’m sure they are probably tired from their trip.”
I walked over to the front door and grasped the brass doorknob, swinging the door open. Before me stood a very drenched Augustus and three people I assumed to be the guests. I hadn’t even realized it had been pouring outside.
“Please come in. Sorry I would have ran to the door if I knew it was raining this hard.” I backed against the wall to allow them in.
They quickly stepped inside. Our guests included a young woman, with chestnut wavy hair and a round face. She looked to be about in her late twenties. She practically radiated warmth, which is strange considering the weather conditions she had been in. Beside her stood a very tall man with porcelain skin and piercing green eyes. His nose seemed crooked, like it had been broken before and it just never popped back into place. He appeared only a few years older than her.
But most interesting of all was the figure in between them. I assumed it to be a male, but it was hard to tell, as he or she was wrapped up in a maroon hoodie with the hood pulled completely over their head. They stood about a foot taller than me.
“This is a lovely home.” The woman stated. Her voice was deeper than I had expected.
Nancy seemed to appear out of thin air next to me.
“Oh why thank you! My name is Nancy, I own this B&B. And this is my niece Drew. Augustus, why don’t you take their luggage up to their rooms for them? I’ve cleared out two, that’s what you require right?”
The woman nodded.
“My name is Rachael Underwood and this is my husband Gale.”
I found it odd they didn’t introduce the younger guest they had brought along.
“You all are probably starving. Please, go ahead and get comfortable and come down when you’re ready. I’ve made a late dinner.”
“That’s awfully kind.” Gale responded. His voice held a slight accent, one that gave me the impression he was from the East Coast.
“Come on, I’ll show ya’ll to your rooms.” Augustus led them up the stairs, grabbing at least four suitcases at once.
I followed Nancy to the kitchen, where I finished setting the table.
“I can’t sleep. So is it okay if I eat while them or do you want me to go somewhere else?”
“Now why would I want you to not properly meet our guests? Of course it’s okay for you to sit with us.” Nancy smiled.
However, I only got to properly meet two of our guests. The hooded figure did not return with his or her parents. As Rachael and Gale seated themselves, Nancy took note of the absence as well.
“Will your son be joining us?”
Rachael smiled. “I’m sorry, but he has a severe skin condition. Because of it, I doubt you will see much of him. In addition to that, he’s extremely worn out from the trip here. I’m afraid he won’t be joining us tonight.”
My Aunt pursed her lips.
“Well I don’t want the child to be hungry. Is it all right with ya’ll if I were to send Drew up there with a plate of food? Just in case?”
“I see no problem with that. I am sure he will appreciate the gesture.”
“Just leave it by the door for him, sweetie. He’s staying in room 2.” Nancy added as I grabbed a plate of chicken and placed it on the tray. I also poured him a glass of ice tea and decided to bring that up as well.
I trotted up the stairs and made my way to room 2. A little bit of light was seeping through under the door, so I knew he was still awake.
I knocked on the door, but received no answer. I tried two more times.
“Hello? My Aunt wanted me to bring up some dinner for you, just in case you’re hungry.” The only thing that followed was silence.
“I’ll just leave it by the door then, I guess.” I turned on my heel. It was about halfway down the stairs I heard a door open behind me. I ran back up the stairs, wondering if I’d get to see him or not, but the door had already been closed when it came into my view.
I frowned and went downstairs again, unsatisfied.