Agnes cradled Ethan in her arms under the glow of the moonlight. She hadn’t been able to take her eyes off of the sweet boy since he’d been delivered earlier that evening, in fact she opted not to remove the umbilical cord. Moonlight that filtered in between intermittent clouds glistened on the now dry connection to her new son gave her some comfort and joy.
“God sent you from above, like an angel filled with love,” she hummed a melody before rocking back and forth, “I will hold you on my arm, away from all the world, away from harm. My dearest boy brimming with hope.” Agnes began to weep over the infant, intense sobs filling the room like a dreary sad chorus. Noah entered the room with a deep frown.
“The ambulance is on it’s way my love.”
“No.” Agnes snapped as she whipped her head toward him with an angry grimace.
“Ethan isn’t well.” He stated, a twinge of fear laced his words.
“Ethan is fine.” Agnes responded furiously as she stood.
“The ambulance will be here soon, it will be ok.” Noah fought the urge to take a step back, fighting to stand his ground as his grieving wife struggled with reality. Agnes remained silent as she stepped toward the open window, eyes locked into Noah’s, and released the infant from her eyes. Ethan plummeted to the concrete below with the placenta quickly following behind and the sickening thud alarmed not only Noah, but several passerby pedestrians on the sidewalk. The ambulance siren pierced the air shortly thereafter and the crackle of white noise as well as a paramedic’s voice audible to them. Before long a paramedic rushed into the room, the couple still locked in an intense eye contact but Noah silently sobbed.
“Ethan was stillborn. We can’t bring him back, especially not now.” The paramedic’s voice called for backup as he attempted to coax the distraught mother to join the paramedic.
“I can’t imagine how difficult this is for you, but I need you to come with me. I can help you.” His voice was so soothing and warm, Ethan almost wanted to go with him despite Agnes’ declining mental state. Agnes remained fixed, catatonic, in place. After several minutes he attempted to step closer, Agnes snapped into a burning rage as she propelled from the window, joining poor Ethan on the concrete below.
“You’re breaking every one of my rules.” Nori said softly, leaning away from him. Nori quivered as Cooper approached.
“Every word,” Cooper whispered, edging closer to her ear: his breath was hot and urgent against her neck. She could feel the relentless pulsing of the one thing she yearned for in that moment.
“Every word, now crossed out. The graces of light on the wall as they crumble to the floor, you are my statue.” She said. Desperately seduced by his charm. “Enlightened risk, how have I fallen so low and feel so high?”
“Pray you stay wrapped in me.” Cooper hesitated as he paused just before his lips caressed the side of her neck.
“Your angel eyes are written in code, your halo of smoke.” A soft sound left Nori’s lips, a moan maybe, too quiet even for her to hear. A single bead of sweat formed, ready to drift down as she leaned forward.
“Yet the waters of forgiveness flood you, blind compassion in your midst as our eyes dance; our voices sing in unison.” He stood still, his breath tickling her neck with the same desperate warmth of his allure. Nori is mesmerized by Cooper, so much so she can feel her climax approaching.
“Cut, that was beautiful. If I didn’t know any better I would say you two were a couple. I can’t wait to see that scene myself.” The director, Louie, called from his chair, rising with echoing claps of his hands. The pair reluctant to release their grip of passion. He drew back first with a shy smile, as she timidly rearranged her hair away from her face. Both panting, both mentioning something about needing a cigarette.
“Yeah, you were great.” She breathed.
“You were too.” he said with a nervous smile.
“Alright love birds, that’s a wrap. I was going to shoot one more scene but unfortunately we have to cut today short. We’ll meet back tomorrow, ten sharp.” Louie said as he pointed at them playfully.
“So what are you doing after this?” Cooper asked, nervously fidgeting as he stood.
“I was going to sing Karaoke with some girlfriends, and you?” Nori smiled, just as nervous as Cooper.
“Oh, that sounds like fun. I’m staying in tonight, maybe order some Chinese food.”
“I love Chinese food!” Nori exclaimed absentmindedly, before her hand met her mouth with a smack just as unexpected as her comment.
“I mean,” Cooper mumbled, “You could join me after you hang out with your friend’s.”
“I hate Karaoke.” Nori felt the blood rushing to her face with excitement and embarrassment cradling each other.
The silence clung to the air with deafening echoes as they exchanged nervous glances and fidgeting intermittently before deciding to leave. Nori brought out her phone and clicked the number to call her friend. At least that’s how she made it seem, she lied. She had no better plans after filming, Karaoke was a lie though she indeed hated it. Cooper had lied as well but now his stomach churned with intensity as every step made contact to the concrete. There was an unnamed tension between the actor and the actress; Cooper and Nori.
“Follow me,” Cooper suggested, the mildest hint of excitement laced his volatile voice.
“Is there decent parking?” Nori asked, hiding her anxiety of being closer to Cooper with the idea of less than ideal parking.
“I have space in my driveway.” Cooper’s voice lowered, almost sheepishly.
“Deal,” Nori said, instinctively holding her arm out to shake his hand but his puzzled bewilderment inspired enough doubt to draw her hand closer to her pockets.
Nori followed closely, not too closely, but enough to pass traffic lights without losing sight of his white coupe, obeying most traffic laws. She murmured to herself about her course of action and what to say. Cooper did the same, glancing occasionally to the pretty face in the red sedan behind him.
He would admire with swift glimpses before a red light stopped him. He peered into his rear view mirror to find that not only was the red sedan not a sedan, but the pretty face wasn’t who he thought. Cooper frowned into his lap, watching the flicker of red from the traffic light turn green as he eased back into gear and drove.
Nori grinned as she was right next to him, a small trick as she still trailed behind, watching his every weave and turn until they turned onto a dark residential street. Nori chuckled to herself as Cooper approached, what she would assume to be, his house. It would be cruel to squander a rare opportunity, so she eagerly honked.
“Nori,” Cooper smiled as he rushed from his car, “I thought I lost you.”
“I wasn’t lost, you didn’t notice me driving next to you?” Cooper smacked his forehead, not even considering that as an option, yet so relieved.
The click echoed in the relatively small two bedroom house he owned with his three dogs. It’s obvious to Nori that Cooper is renovating the side bedroom and kitchen, which is probably why he opted to order fast food. Nori was curious about the three dogs he owned, which was easily explained. They were locked outside for the time being.
“Would you like to watch a movie?” He asks meekly before clearing his throat and asking again more confidently. Nori shakes her head. Containing herself is too much to bear, she removes her leather jacket and it falls to the ground with a gentle thud. Cooper wastes no time as he felt the same way, removing his shirt not caring where it landed.
Cooper and Nori quoted their lines from the scene they filmed earlier, sticky seductive moments as they pushed and pulled against each other in passion. Their indiscretion led them into the living room then to the couch where the culmination boiled to climax of kissing and scratching. Had they been more aware, they would have noticed the door to the guest room creak open, a pair of eyes watching the couple as they were wrapped around each other. They might have also noticed the large butcher knife in his left hand and the pulsing member he stroked. The dangerous voyeur hiding in the guest bedroom had waited all night for this kill.
It started off in the distance, a low drone of whispering. I’ve heard this sound since I was a child. I would point it out and my mother would pat my head and tell me “don’t worry Jenny, it’s probably something outside” and tuck me in before leaving me in darkness. This low whispering, just beyond my ear, behind me, just down the hall. I woke up that night and I could swear I understood a handful of words being said. A jumble of words that made no sense to me, individually. “House, light, need, outside, water,” they could have been talking about anything from needing fresh air, light and outside to swim in my pool. I chuckled at my assumption and fell asleep again.
My mother would smooth my brunette hair and pinch my cheeks with a smile, “it’s just the wind,” she’d say softly. Part of me wanted to believe that but a trickle of fear would drain from the back of my neck to the bottom of my toes at that age, no matter how sweet my mother would console me. My father happily joined in the pleasantries but I merely assumed that was for my mother’s sake.
The years have passed since then, since it began, now it drones softly behind the noises of life. It drones like a whisper behind passing cars and barking orders from management about marketing projections and clients moaning about their projects not looking right to them. The night, it was the first night I never heard the droning sound of whispering in the distant drawing closer.
It became apart of me throughout my life. A hum only I could hear, just beyond my peripheral vision. On my twenty-second birthday it became louder. Instead of forty kilometers away, it was thirty. That’s a rough guess, I never saw the source of this annoyance.
The sun tickled my eyes, waking me gently like the touch of a sweet lover’s hand. I rose to my feet with a groaning stretch. A quick shower shocked my senses to start the day, a soft summer dress and coffee to endure to the mid afternoon. A bagel with cream cheese, and half of a game show later; I was ready for work. I was made aware of the strange silence but was so relieved, I brushed it off quickly enough to be on my way to the office.
Traffic was awful yet I was not phased by the annoyance. I was forced to endure the stop and go traffic that made the morning commute more repugnant, yet I was smiling and singing to the music without discretion. Even the atrocious parking situation was a breeze this fine morning.
“Good morning,” I said as I walked through the reception area toward the administration hallway. It was at the very end where a large glass door stood with a passkey reader that floated by the handle, so employees could enter -only if they have a passkey. Managers, executives, and even one of our biggest clients greeted me as I walked toward my office. The usual nervousness even left me upon their greeting.
I slid my passkey in the groove, with a dance, as I entered the empty office and scanned, as usual I was embarrassingly early. I sat in my chair and gave it a quick spin before turning on my computer. First to fluff my brunette hair to fall in a more playful manner.
I was alone at my cube, as usual, and the silence was music to my ears. The chatty bunch never hesitated, even in the early morning to gossip or discuss personal matters but I enjoyed escaping into my headphones as I checked emails and designed marketing techniques for our client.
“Hey” a low whisper beckoned from just outside my cube. I assumed it was Jenny, so I placed my headphones in before picking my music.
“Do I feel like rock and roll,” I pretended to play air guitar, “or something more playful” I swirled in my chair, dancing to the idea.
“Hey” the disembodied voice repeated. I whipped around before slowly rising to look over the partition. If I weren’t so cynical I’d be more afraid but there was nothing when I checked. I was starting to become frustrated when I checked the other cubes but I was still alone in the office.
Bang! The sound echoed from a manager’s office. I thought it could be possible a manager being in their office this early but the lights were off still. Click, and a light flicked on in the far office to the left. “What the…” I said, removing my headphones. I approached slowly, feeling the anxiety pulsing in my veins as it ran cold. When I opened the door, I saw nothing again. I shrugged in relief. I’m just tired still.
I returned to my desk, logged in and began with the emails first. The nightmare of opening and replying to emails was the absolute bane — and I mean bane- of my existence, but part of my job still. One email struck me as odd, probably spam but I opened it absentmindedly. It had no subject but the body said “hey”… It was from less than a minute ago…it was sent from my email address…with a photograph attachment of me standing by the manager’s office from behind.
“That can’t be,” I said almost under my breath as I felt my chest tighten and knees lock. I placed a hand over my mouth in shear shock.
“Here as usual,” a voice coolly drifted into my ears, calming yet condescending, “I had a feeling. I need you to look for the email from Charles Brandison. He has a special project for you and I want you to come into my office when you’ve read it.” I knew that voice, Brad Marshall, a stern even tempered man with rambunctiously wild eyes and tamed eyebrows and every hair on his body was tiger striped with grey tendrils of vitality.
I settled my nerves, breathing into my lap slowly. I looked up to close the email and the email was seemingly gone, but how? I ignored the growing paranoia, the email from Brad first. I found the email and opened it as I watched Brad in my peripherals. He unlocked his office, the same office that the light flicked on, and watched as the cold nothingness filled to the corners with light. A chill tickled my spine but I read the email to myself.
“Dear Jenny, you’ve been wonderful the past two years,” it began, sounding more like a break up then whatever it was about to be, “that’s why I want to invite you to our office in New York. There is a great opportunity I would like to open up you and hope you can grace us with your appearance. Thank you” it was signed by none other than Charles Brandison. I bolted into the office with the slightest bit of resignation when I passed the threshold. I quickly shook it off as I sat across from Brad.
“What do you think?” He asked mildly.
“It sounds amazing but what about my position here?” I throttled myself internally screaming whereas my external was so cool, I could have made a quick buck working with air conditioning units.
“Actually we’ve been working on it for about a month now, and we’re waiting for a response at this point.” Brad folded his hands, giving the impression that he secretly hoped I would decline.
“New York, huh” I stuttered nervously, “it’s so close yet I’ve never been. Do you know what I’ll be doing?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know exactly but he’s a partner of our biggest client.”
“Wow, and in the ‘Big Apple’ to boot. I’ll do it.” I announced while Brad’s head dropped to stare at the desk.
“I had a feeling,” he said quietly, “I knew you would. Well with your yes, I’ll get in touch with Charles and have more information later today.”
I beamed on the way to my desk. The small crowd of people, the gossip crew I call them, stood over my desk. Did everyone know but me?
“Did you really get offered that position in New York?” One woman asked.
“Yeah, what will you be doing?” A man chimed in, I stood stunned for a moment.
“I don’t know” I said, more like stammered.
“How cool is that? I’m a touch envious.” The woman said playfully.
The flurry of questions was overwhelming, but the one person that made the situation awkward was Heidi. With the “why would they choose you over me, I’m more qualified” sob story that happens at least once in cut throat industries.
“I find out the full story tomorrow.” I said, knowing it could be sooner, but they don’t need to know that. I can be sweet, chatty, and bubbly. I was no doubt very private.
The experience this morning was nearly pushed out of my mind, forgetting about it by lunch. I didn’t forget about the whispering in the distance. It was almost disturbing when I realized for a second time it was gone. I couldn’t tell if I was afraid of what it meant, if I was afraid of it would return.
My food was settling as I ran my typical report, watching at the spreadsheet of five thousand items appeared, populated in numbers and letters on the screen. The report was a list of authors for the magazine we were designing. For the time being, I had to sift through and only approve a thirty possible authors to be picked through. I stretched and adjusted my hand on the mouse . Our resume for writers included their best article in any subject as long as it was approximately 5,000–12,000 words and most included photographs or drawings.
The specific instructions I was given always led me to a difficult decision, some of these writers were delightful but I had to follow my instructions and omit the writers that didn’t follow our guidelines for them. There was one writer I enjoyed the narration and story but it sounded so rushed and was so short, the story was completely lost. “Oh you poor fool,” I whispered as I deleted and highlighted, deleted and highlighted; it seemed like an hour but I was wrong. It was two solid hours of editing.
“My office please,” Brad said softly as he crouched near the mouth of the cube. I scurried behind him, excitedly.
“You’re good to go.” Brad said after he closed the door behind him. I was so happy I could cry.
I threw myself into seat so it spun. How could I possibly sleep tonight? I had one last day in my office, tomorrow, and by Friday afternoon I would be on a two hour flight into New York.
I couldn’t run fast enough to my car when the day was over. I had my keys clenched between my fingers, my bag slung around my shoulder, and eyes glued to the door. The moment I placed the key into the ignition, I felt tension while the engine kicked on then failed. I took a deep breath as I brought my hand away to attempt to start the car again, but a sound rattled in my ears. I sat stick still, waiting for a thump or crash: waiting for another sound to valid my hearing. I turned to check my backseat, I didn’t see anything suspicious. I made a risky decision by jumping out of the car. I checked the trunk and didn’t see anything there either. My heart was racing as I realized the only other place to look is under the car.
I took a deep breath before crouching only to be stopped in my tracks by something or someone in all black crawling from underneath my car. It moved like a shadow stretching toward me, a slow moving absence of light in the glaring afternoon sun. I gripped my keys between each finger as I stepped back slowly, praying someone would walk out to help me, but the door didn’t so much as creak open from the wind. I ran, I ran all the way up the stairs and to the lobby where reception stood to leave.
“Jenny, are you ok?” Morgan asked, concern drowning out the joy of leaving. I was breathless, heaving as much air as I could gulp into my lungs before responding.
“My…car….” I choked between gasps, my hands searching for the desk to lean against.
“what happened? Can I walk you there?” she rounded toward me and grabbed my arm as we walked through the lobby and to the stairs.
“I think someone messed with my car while I was working.” I said as my breathing evened out.
“Oh my,” she said, placing her hand on her chest, “I’d be glad to walk you to your car.”
“Thank you.” I said. She smiled sweetly as she released her grip. I searched all around my car and even popped the hood to check the engine but nothing looked tampered, and the thing under my car was no longer there. Morgan said goodnight and walked to her car which was only a couple yards away and I returned the sentiment.
The engine growled then sputtered as it came alive, I couldn’t have been more relieved as I navigated through the parking lot. The turn was smooth onto the street and traffic was light on the way to my apartment, but about half way the relentless grumble from my car returned as it died. I struggled to turn the wheel to pull off to the shoulder, I didn’t realize I turned too sharply and the shock of force as the car made contact with the guardrail to prevent people from falling down the cliff, yet all I could see is the bottom of the gully. Time stood dangerously still. My stomach dropped while the inertia sliced through me. My last vision before the blackness enveloped me was the shadow stretching the full view of my windshield, smiling at me as I fell to my death.
Some might say whatever stalked her as a child returned that night. She ignored the voice, but the voice never ignored her.
“I adopted Rubin. His mother, the love of my life, died from cancer. Truly a sad day, but not as sad as this day. Rubin became the love of my life, though he was not my flesh, he was my heart and soul. I will never forgive the monster that stole my precious Rubin.” Arnold sniffled with tears streaming down his face as he gripped the podium in anguish. The sweet smell of roses filled the room as the tearful guests wiped their sorrows with tissues and napkins before bowing their heads again waiting for the next sentence.
“Thank you, Arnold. I’m so sorry for your loss sir. It is a sad day to mourn the passing of little Rubin, the life and soul of the community. He was adopted by all of us as our relief from the monotony of our everyday. A sweet smile to match his rambunctious nature that kept us all on our toes. We have kept our eyes ready for updates but none have panned out to anything. IF anyone sees Rubin or his mother, please call the local police and we can move on with our lives normally.”
Arnold entered his home as he caressed every surface before he finally got to his kitchen where a pot boiled almost to spilling on the stove. He extinguished the flame with a wry grin, turning slightly for a spoon to stir the pot. Arnold covered the pot once more, on a mission to the basement. The dust free fell to the floor as the bulb flickered on and the musky odor swirled violently. Arnold inhaled the stench as he entered with deliberate steps.
“You know, I’m almost impressed by you son. It’s been almost two weeks.” Arnold said, clapping his hands together at a doll sitting in a chair by the corner of the basement, wedged between the wall and washing machine to help prop up the doll as it wordlessly, blankly, stares at him.
“You are a fine young man, you know that?” Arnold said as he lifts the doll into the air before rocking it in his arms like a baby. Arnold doesn’t even notice when the doll’s head flops to one side, nearly decapitating it when he sways too quickly. He pirouettes when the dolls head crashes to the basement floor, revealing the doll was none other than Rubin with a doll head on.
“NO!” Arnold screams as he watches the doll head’s pieces settled on the ground, leaving Rubin’s decaying face exposed to the world. “Oh Rubin.”
Arnold brings Rubin upstairs to his “doll room” where another doll head sat on the chair and three other dolls lying on the bed. “Sit still my boy, this won’t hurt. What was I thinking dancing like that anyway.”