Alejandra stepped into the hospital room where her dad was lying, barely alive. She held back a sob when she saw how his dark color had faded and could hear the wheeze of his breath. His eyes were closed, but he must’ve heard her footsteps because he opened them—half-opened was a more accurate term.

“Alejandra,” he said. His voice sounded grated as if he’d walked through a desert for weeks without water.

“Papi,” she said. She hadn’t meant for her voice to crack. She pulled a chair to move it beside his bed when she noticed a cross the size of her hand on the floor. She furrowed her eyebrows and bent down to pick it up. From the corner of her eye, she saw her dad jump with a spasm, and she dropped it to the floor without a second thought. “Papi! Are you okay?” 

He coughed until he calmed. “How are you feeling?” Alejandra asked. She knew it was a dumb question with an obvious answer.

“Como si acabara de pelear contra el diablo.” Like I just fought the devil.

Alejandra winced. “The doctors say they’ve never seen anything like this before, like—” she paused. “Like the life was sucked out of you.”

Her dad didn’t say anything.

“Que pasó?” What happened? She didn’t care that tears were running down her face now.

He sighed. It sounded as if a harmonica were lodged in his throat. “I think a part of you knows what happened.”

Alejandra glanced at the cross on the floor again, but when she looked back up, she said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Her dad only nodded. It was at that moment that she realized how cold the room felt. “Do you want me to get you another blanket?” Alejandra said as she rubbed her free hand on her arm.

“I’m okay, Mija. Hey, do you remember the day the Marlins’ house caught fire?”

Alejandra hated the way he said their last name—as if they’d been neighbors or old friends and not just an unlucky family they’d never known. It was a reminder of how obsessed he’d become with them. 

Alejandra nodded, but not without hesitance. “Don’t talk about that right now. Por favor.” Please. “You don’t have to.”

“I do,” her father replied. His voice was weak, but he’d still managed to use his and-that’s-that tone. “It was the biggest house fire of my career. By the time we’d arrived, most of the house was up in flames. There were five people on the lawn, hugging each other and crying, but I felt a little relief knowing that the family was safe. But then I jumped out of the firetruck, and I heard the parents yelling that their little girl was still in there.”

Apa,” Alejandra said, a warning in her own voice as she used the less endearing term. Is this what he really wanted to talk about right now?

“Let me finish,” he said, wheezing through the words. “Their youngest daughter, Madeline, was trapped in there, so without thinking, I ran in. The whole place was on fire, but I managed to run up the stairs, down the hallway, and that’s when I saw her in a room by the window. Her little arms were wrapped around her knees, and her head was hiding in them.

She must’ve heard me or sensed me because she looked up. She had these gorgeous green eyes. They’re what kill me the most, you know?” He wasn’t looking at Alejandra anymore, but somewhere behind her as if the memory were playing on the television in the corner. “She was afraid, but when she looked at me, her eyes brightened. I ran toward the room, but right before I could get inside—boom! The ceiling collapsed right in front of me. I screamed. I don’t remember doing it, but the boys said it was so loud they heard it through the crackling flames.”

“That day killed a part of you,” Alejandra said. “You lost the light in your eyes.” She noticed the fight in him was dimming right now, too. His eyes looked like they were darkening.

“That’s what I couldn’t stop thinking about. The light in Madeline's eyes. I’d fooled her into thinking I was going to save her life, and then... I didn’t. I wonder what her eyes looked like then.”

“What does this have to do with what happened to you?” Alejandra asked, squeezing his hand. It was becoming colder, but she didn’t say anything this time. 

“I felt so terrible after. You said it yourself, I lost a part of me. I wished I could talk to that little girl and tell her I was sorry I hadn’t tried hard enough.”

“Don’t say that,” Alejandra said. “Did you see any other firefighter run inside the house with you?”

“I should’ve run faster.”

“You were trying to save a life. I know you ran as fast as you possibly could through a home that was on fire.”

“Still,” he said. “I wanted to apologize. Months later, I became desperate. I would do anything to talk to her, so I—“ he paused and gulped. He looked ashamed.

“You what, Papi?” Alejandra asked. She was surprised to realize she felt afraid.

“I tried to contact Madeline… with a ouija board.”

Alejandra felt as though the blood was sucked out of her. She felt like a corpse. “Tell me that’s not true. Tell me you’re not the reason—”

“It's true.”

Alejandra pulled her hand away and stood, scraping the chair on the floor as she did so.

“Ale, please. I need to tell you. I never meant for anything bad to happen. I didn’t know it would work or summon anything. I was a desperate, hopeless fool, that’s it."

“You killed mom,” Alejandra said suddenly. Her hands were shaking.

Her dad looked horrified. “Don’t say that. I did not kill her.”

“We were terrified of that house,” Alejandra said. She could feel herself on the verge of yelling. “Mom and I couldn’t sleep at night. We’d wake up with scratches, and you’d say we just hadn’t noticed we’d hurt ourselves sometime during the day. We’d hear noises, laughter, growling even, and you called us crazy for months until mom started believing it. You laughed at her when she bought all those crosses and started going to church every Sunday. All along, it was you. It was you who brought these—these demons into our home.”

She wanted to yell, but she was still in the hospital, and they’d probably kick her out.

“I didn’t mean to,” Alejandra’s dad whispered. The darkness in his eyes had gotten deeper. Were his pupils getting larger? Alejandra shook her head to focus.

“She was exhausted that morning when she drove me to school,” she said. “She had bags under her eyes, and they were red and swollen. The way she walked around the house, with barely any energy at all, how could you not say anything?” Alejandra asked, but she didn't give her dad a chance to answer. 

She stepped closer and looked him in the eyes. “She was so tired and scared and jumpy that when that bird crashed into the windshield, she pressed the break in the middle of the freaking intersection, and a car hit us from behind, and she flew through the windshield. Since when did mom forget to put on her seatbelt? We would make fun of her because of how extra cautious she was when driving, remember that? But she was so tired because of you that she forgot all the rules and died right in front of me.”

“I tried to contact her,” her dad said.

Alejandra paused. “You what?”

“Your mother. I tried to contact your mamá through the board today. This morning.”

“Estas loco?” Are you insane? Alejandra asked, raising her voice a bit as she tapped her forehead with her finger. “After everything, you still tried it?”

“I just wanted to apologize.”

“They're dead, Apa. Dead! You can’t apologize to dead people.”

“But I did.”

“What are you talking about this time?”

“I saw your mom.”

Alejandra's heart stopped. “No, you didn’t.”

“I did, but... she wasn’t alone. I was up in the attic, begging your mamá to talk to me when all of a sudden, the planchette started moving. She wrote, ‘I’m here,’ and I could smell her honey and almond shampoo. You remember that?” He sounded emotional, but his eyes seemed to betray him.

Alejandra didn’t say anything.

“For a moment, I could feel her. I know it was her, but then the air changed. All of a sudden, there was something dark in the air. I stuck my hand inside my pocket, and my fingers tensed around the cross I had in there. I was prepared to pull it out at any second if I saw anything, but I didn’t know there wouldn’t be anything to see. There was no demon, no red eyes, no horns. It was just evil energy that was suffocating me.” He put his hands to his throat and pressed. His voice was suddenly deeper, clearer. Alejandra didn’t move.

“I pulled out the cross,” her dad said, “and I heard something yelling. It was somehow far away and right by my ears at the same time. I held up the cross, and I thought about your mom, but it wasn’t enough. It was powerful and hungry.”

There was a shift in the air. The lights in the room flickered. The hairs on Alejandra’s arms stood. The temperature dropped to twenty degrees, and she could see her breath forming fog in front of her face.

“Papi?” Alejandra asked, her voice small.

Alejandra’s father looked worse than when she’d walked in. His skin was sunk in as if he’d been starved. No—as if the life had been sucked out of him. The whites of his eyes were mostly black now.

“I tried my best to fight,” he said. His voice was not his anymore. “I’m so sorry, mi amor.”

“Papi?” Alejandra yelled as if her dad weren’t right in front of her. But was he really? His eyes were pitch black, and his body was rising as if something were taking him.

Alejandra started walking backward until her back hit the wall. The lights were still turning on and off, but there was no noise. Everything was quiet. 

Her dad looked like he was standing, but he was floating, facing her. The last things Alejandra saw were his dead eyes and a mouth so wide, it could fit her entire head.

December 07, 2019 04:16

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08:01 Dec 12, 2019

Argh! You can't stop there! What happenend next? You built such great tension. Well done. Thank you for translating the Spanish elements as well. I'm an aussie. Needed that.


Itxy Lopez
20:48 Dec 12, 2019

Hahah, sorry about that! Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and comment. That means a lot!


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