Keep It Together, Katie

Submitted into Contest #206 in response to: Write about someone facing their greatest fear.... view prompt

3 comments

Horror

This story contains sensitive content

Trigger warning: mental health, implied violence to children, some gore

“Moooooom! Canaan hit me!”

The voice invading the small bathroom is high pitched and whiny. Go away! I want to yell. Can’t I have just five minutes to myself?

Thud, thud, thud…a little fist hammers on my bedroom door, which—I know for a fact—I locked before sneaking in here.

“Mooooom! Canaan hit me again!” The emphasis on the last word implies that this wouldn’t have happened if I’d been doing a better job. One of my migraines is starting to pulse behind my left eye.

God, sometimes I just wish…

I cut off this thought before I can finish. I don’t need another reason to feel bad about myself.

With one hand, I wipe and with the other, I stub out the cigarette in the ashtray I keep hidden underneath the sink. I’m pretty sure Joe knows about it, but he pretends not to. Anyway, he’s not home enough to fight about it.

I take a look in the mirror and frown at what I see: frizzy, blond hair, puffy, gray circles under my eyes, and pale, lifeless skin. I look old for twenty-four, but that’s what I get for being a mom of three under three and a closet smoker, I guess.

“Mo-oh-om!” This time she manages to squeeze in an extra syllable, and I grit my teeth, squinting at my reflection. Keep it together, Katie. 

Turning the knob, I find Abby standing there, looking up at me, her face flushed, tear streaks glistening on her cheeks.

“Momma, where were you?” she asks.

“Oh, just going to the bathroom, sweetie,” I reply quickly, smothering a stab of guilt.

“Why do you smell funny?” Her bright blue eyes gaze up at me.

“I don’t know, hon. Maybe stinky bathroom?” I say, trying to distract her with a funny face. It works, but only because she has more important matters on her mind.

“Canaan hit me.”

“I know, sweetie. I heard you. But it can’t have hurt that bad, can it?”

Her expression says it all.

I pick her up and head down the hallway. I find Canaan plugged into the TV, his chubby thumb stuck firmly between his two cupid lips. I pull his hand away, which is sure to get his attention.

“Canaan, did you hit your sister?” 

He shakes his head. I look at Abby, who is perched self-righteously on my hip, and I can tell she’s about three seconds from a full-on tantrum.

“Canaan, don’t lie to Mommy. Did you hit your sister?”

This time he nods and shakes his head at the same time. I recognize the guilty look on his face—it’s very familiar.

I sit down on the couch, pulling Abby under one armpit and beckoning Canaan toward the other. 

“I need you two to be my big helpers, okay? While Daddy’s gone. He has to work tonight and he’s not going to make it back before the storm sets in, so it’s just us and Evie.”

Almost in unison, they nod their heads, their sweet faces gazing up at me. It’s one of those rare moments… My love for them swells, despite my earlier exasperation.

“Go on and play now, ‘kay? I have to get dinner started before your sister wakes up from her nap.”  They scamper off and I head to the kitchen.

***

About an hour later, I’m trying to breathe through my mouth as I clean the poop off Evie’s back. It has exploded up out of her diaper and has coated the inside of her onesie. Plus, she has a terrible diaper rash so she’s screaming bloody murder. 

Of course, Joe is never here to help at times like this! It was his idea to pack-up, to leave the only home we’ve ever known—our friends, our family, everything—to move to this God-forsaken place in the middle of nowhere! Just so he could keep chasing after being a fireman. Fat lot of good that did us. Now, he’s gone more than he’s home, and I’m the one left with the kids all the time.

As I throw away the very last baby wipe in the box, I brush a strand of hair from my face and realize that I’ve just smeared myself with shit. I exhale loudly through my nose.

Keep it together, Katie.

I’m picking up Evie when I hear a crash. I put her down roughly in her crib and run. Her shrieks pierce my ears as I hurry down the hallway toward the kitchen. I don’t see the twins anywhere. Smoke is billowing from the stove and there’s shattered glass all over the floor.

“Canaan! Abby!” I yell, panic tightening my throat. 

I hear a giggle from one of the cabinets and step forward. Too late, I remember I’m barefoot and pain lances through my foot and shoots up my spine. A door slams in another part of the house, and my head swivels sharply. What was that? My heartbeat is throbbing in my foot and for some reason, I’m having trouble focusing.

I hear another door slam. My mind races. Did Joe get his shift covered?

“Hon, is that you?” I shout, my head woozy. 

No answer.

Is there someone else in the house?  

“Joe?!” The note of fear in my voice is real.

No answer.

We’re out here all alone. The thought creeps in before I can stop it, followed by another: No neighbors for at least a mile. 

The searing pain in my foot grabs my attention, and I look down. The pool of blood gives off a metallic scent and the fluorescent lights catch the thick, glossy texture of it as it spreads across the blue linoleum.

My head swims, and I only have time for, Keep it to—

Then, I’m out, falling face-first to the floor. 

***

When I come to, I’m in my bed. My head feels raw and my palms are damp with sweat. In fact, my whole body is drenched. I’ve had one of my nightmares, I think, my head thick and groggy. How did I get here? 

The first thing I remember is the blood, wet and glistening, all over the floor. But the other pieces start coming back to me. The crash in the kitchen, Canaan’s giggle, doors slamming. 

That must have been Joe coming in, I realize. He found me and put me in bed. 

I sit up, still feeling the moistness on my hands, and shake my head to clear the fogginess.

That’s strange… 

I can still smell the blood. I reach for the lamp on my nightstand, and I realize that my hands aren’t just damp—they’re sticky. I flick the switch and stare with horror at the blood coating my palms and fingers.

More than that, though. There’s a trail of blood from the door to my bed. Did all that come from me? I feel woozy again, but I can’t blackout—the kids need me. 

Keep it together, Katie.

“Joe?” I call out tentatively. “Where are you?”

I follow the trail of blood, like gruesome breadcrumbs, down the hallway.

“Stop right there,” says a voice, cold as steel, from behind me. “Don’t turn around or you’ll regret it.”

My bowels turn to ice, and my throat clenches and unclenches. “Who are you? What do you want?” 

“I want to help you, Katie.” The voice is silky smooth now, like a scalpel cutting flesh.

“How do you know my name? Where are my children?” Hysteria is rising to the surface. 

“That’s why I’m here, Katie—to help you with your children…” The voice is warm and slippery. 

“Where are they?” I’m gasping for breath.

“I came to give you what you asked for, what you wanted.” There’s seduction in the words, and my stomach turns. Bile rises in my throat and I take a step forward. 

The kitchen is visible now, and there’s even more blood—red pools, red streaks, red splashes. Where did it all come from? 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” 

I take another step forward and fall to my knees. Someone is screaming: an awful, terrible scream. Who is that? Evie? Canaan? Abby? But I can’t put the pieces together and all I see is red.

***

It’s just a little hand, gently curled, resting on the linoleum, flung out as if in sleep. There’s blush pink polish on two of the nails—her favorite color. But it’s covered in blood, lying there so still, so unnaturally still. 

My eyes never leave it, but I’ve lost time again. I’m standing now, at the end of the hallway, and the voice is talking to me, almost tenderly, like a lover.

“I warned you not to do that, Katie.” 

I try to stay focused. Maybe she’s just hurt…maybe the others are safe. 

“What have you done to my children? Please—please—let us go, and I’ll do anything you want.”

“Katie, it’s not about what I want—it’s about you…what you want.”

“What do you mean?”

“I told you—I’m here to give you what you asked for.”

“What’s that?” The words come out in a whisper.

You know,” murmurs the voice, almost in my ear, stirring the hairs on my neck and sending a shiver down my spine. “I want you to turn around now, Katie. Are you ready?”

“I don’t…I don’t know what that means…”

“Yes, you do,” the voice purrs. 

I turn around slowly and see the owner of the voice. Grisly red streaks the pale face, and the eyes are bulging, the bags less noticeable under all the blood. Clumps of brain matter are tangled in the frizzy, blond hair. 

The silky voice speaks one more time, and I watch in the mirror as my own lips say the words…

“Keep it together, Katie.” 

July 08, 2023 17:18

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3 comments

Sarah Martyn
02:14 Jul 21, 2023

I can truly imagine the voices by your style of writing. Well done.

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Angela Ginsburg
17:01 Jul 20, 2023

Really nicely executed. The mixed feelings of love with frustration, loneliness and despair are really familiar and ring true.

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Delbert Griffith
12:52 Jul 15, 2023

Damn! Dark and chilling and, end the end, a horror story. This was a well-written piece; you have some legit writing skills, Christie. You really set it up so well, writing with a genuineness that sucks the reader into this world. Nicely done, Christie. Nicely done indeed. Cheers!

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