by Barney E. Abrams
Momma spoke slowly––
“The dead, they’re like parasites. They wait ‘til you’re ill, ‘til you can’t defend yourself. Then they swarm in, like locusts after a bountiful crop. They attach themselves like leaches, feeding off our essence.”
“But where do they come from?” I asked.
“They don’t come from anywhere. They’re always here. It’s just when you’ve been close to death or your time is short that you can see ‘em.”
“And one of them is hurting you right now?”
“A young boy. He’s laying on my chest.”
“Don’t talk like that, Momma.” I grabbed her with both arms, burying my face into her bosom. The tears fell freely when I thought about Momma leaving me.
“Oh, little girl. You know that the doctor said my time here is short.”
“But maybe the doctor is wrong.” I looked up at her, trying to choke down the sobs. “Maybe there could be a miracle.”
“Oh child,” she smiled down at me. “If only you could hold onto that kind of hope when you’re older.”
Poppa entered. “I brought some broth.” Momma started to sit up when she grabbed her chest and grimaced. “The doctor said you should lie still.”
“But I can’t eat my broth lying down.”
“Here.” He opened the bottle of medicine that sat on the night table and poured some of the syrupy medicine into a spoon. Reluctantly, Momma took the laudanum.
“Are they still hurting you?”
“I’m afraid they are.”
“Who’s hurting you?” Poppa asked, looking about the room.
“The dead, Poppa.”
Poppa’s face lost all expression and his eyes became hard. “Sweetheart,” he took me by the arm and led me out into the hall. “Why don’t you go sit in the parlor by the fireplace and read for a bit.”
“But Poppa,” I tried to twist free of his grip. “I want to stay with Momma.”
“You heard me.” He slammed the door shut and locked it. I looked through the keyhole. I could see Momma on the bed. Poppa leaned close. I wasn’t sure if he was going to hug her or whisper in her ear. But I jumped when he drew back and slapped Momma across the face. I never knew what hate was until I saw it in her eyes.
“I thought all your talk about the mystical and fantastic was a passing curiosity. I never realized how seriously you took it. I will not indulge phrenology or palmistry or any other paranormal nonsense in this house. Maybe you should’ve spent more time trying to give me a son. At least it would be a little ray of sunshine in this dark and gloomy house.”
The door opened and I just stood there. Fresh tears flowed over my cheeks. If the entire house had fallen in on me, it wouldn’t have hurt as much as those words did. How could someone I loved so much hurt me so easily. He didn’t say anything to me. He simply went to his bedroom.
Momma tried to comfort me the way she always did. But she didn’t know the words that would make me feel better. I held onto her for as long as I could. But late in the night my eyes grew weary and sleep overtook me.
When I woke, I was nestled in a chair at the foot of her bed with a thick blanket over me. Instantly, I looked for Momma. The housekeeper was stripping the linens off the bed. She looked at me, trying to hold back the tears. I knew then that Momma was gone.
The funeral was three days later. Poppa didn’t shed a tear. His face remained as hard and solemn as that of the statue of the Virgin Mary.
In the weeks that followed, there were many lady visitors to the house. Poppa smiled again, he was jovial and gay. There was talk of boarding school for me and trips abroad for him. He seemed to have forgotten his sadness and his wife.
All of Momma’s clothes were pulled from the bureau and tossed in the burn pile behind the house. Her portrait was removed from the dinning room wall and taken to the attic. And less than two months after Momma’s death, he asked on of his new lady friends to marry him.
I wished for terrible things to happen to my Poppa. And later that night, he fell ill. The doctors said that he suffered what they called apoplexy. I didn’t know what that was, but Poppa was no longer able to care for himself. The house was now quiet. No more ladies came to visit. No one smiled. No one was gay. And my going away to boarding school was postponed indefinitely so I could take care of him.
One night I came into his room. He had been sitting in front of the mirror for hours. Tears fell from his eyes as he tried frantically to form the words to tell me something.
“Poppa, don’t excite yourself. I’m here for you.” I pulled the blanket up around his shoulders and kissed him on the forehead. “You have to remember that patience is the key. The doctor said that a full recovery could take a long, long time.”
As I blew out the candle, I caught a glimpse of Poppa in the mirror. Momma was there with him, her arms draped lovingly over his shoulders. Momma had been right all along, the dead were like parasites. And now she was one of them. Her mouth was stretched wide over the back of his head, feeding off him, like a newborn babe suckling a tit. Her eyes were fixed on his and they sparkled with a joy she had never known in life. And I knew she was smiling just for him.
So I left the room and closed the door. Momma was with Poppa again, just the two of them alone in the darkness. And I was glad.
Barney E. Abrams is a writer from north-east Ohio. His love of dark tales originated while watching the Universal monster classics of the thirties and forties when he was a child. He studied theatre, art and photography while in college. He also boasts a movie collection of several thousand titles.
He is currently working on several longer pieces, including a science fiction YA novel, a cyber-punk graphic novel, and a collection of short stories.