*Not related to the prompt*
Note: This is part two of a different story. The first one is “Going Back” from Contest #75. This story is quite old, so you most likely haven’t read it. Here’s the link: https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/75/submissions/49248/.
This story is for my parents. They’re fortunately nothing like Aina.
I slowly opened my eyes, feeling groggy. The last thing I remembered was Aina, my horrible stepmom, dramatically revealing herself before injecting me with something that made me conk out. My head throbbed and ached as I groaned. Where was I?
A sound engulfed me, and I felt fear rise in my chest.
No. It couldn’t be.
My eyes shot open, and once I saw where I was, I felt like screaming at the top of my lungs.
I was in the room.
God. Jesus. Please help me.
The spiders were everywhere. Everywhere. They surrounded me, scuttling around and filling me with terror. I shrieked as one the size of my palm climbed up my leg. My heart raced, running a marathon. The dank smell of cobwebs and dust became stronger, trying to suffocate me. I could almost hear Aina’s harsh laughter as she watched me through her security cameras.
I was back in the room of my deepest fear.
God. Jesus. Please help me.
My mind couldn’t take it any longer. Haunting memories hung in the room like ghosts. The face of Aina seemed to blend with the spiders. The room spun in circles.
It was too much. It was too much for me.
God. Jesus. Please help me.
I blacked out and slipped back in time.
*Nine years ago*
“Wh-Where are you taking me?” I asked Aina quietly, my voice shaking.
“Somewhere,” Aina snapped back at me. “That’s where. Now shut up and walk.”
My mouth closed immediately, and I straightened before Aina could scold me for my posture. Even back then, I knew not to mess with Aina.
Aina stopped at a door, picking me up with her strong arms.
“I hope you learn your lesson,” Aina whispered into my ear. Her breath felt ice cold against my skin.
Then she threw open the door, tossed me inside the room like I was a sack of potatoes. The door slammed shut, and the sound echoed through the mansion. I heard the sound of a lock clicking.
My eyes fell on the first spider, around the size of a gumdrop. And then I noticed the other ones. Dozens, maybe hundreds, creeping across the room and even the walls. Cobwebs hung in the corners. Huge posters of spiders, some bigger than I, draped the walls.
I would never forget the sound of my first scream in the room. It resonated through my ears until it was the only sound I could hear. My eyes stung with hot tears as my throat grew hoarse, and the spiders surrounded me.
Fear raced through every inch of my body as I lay there, paralyzed. I could only stare at the spiders, wishing for them to go away as tears ran down my cheeks.
I woke up in my room, comforted by the warm blankets that wrapped around me like I was a human burrito. Aina must’ve picked me up and put me back in my room while I was passed out.
I felt slightly embarrassed. I passed out when Aina injected me back in her car and again in the room of spiders. What type of girl was I?
Those thoughts bugged me as I climbed out of bed and headed toward my closet. Staring at my clothes from two years ago all lined up neatly, it all started to come back to me. I had been kidnapped by my stepmother and thrust back into my own life.
What were Isaiah and Ruth thinking? What about Sarah and Jonas and all of my other friends? Did they think I had died? Were they out looking? Were they praying?
All I wanted to do was find my siblings and step-siblings and get out of here and go back to the church. I didn’t belong in this cursed home anymore.
My door creaked open. I braced myself and turned, expecting Aina or my parents to barge in, but Zeth stood at the door.
Before saying a word, Zeth rushed over and hugged me tight with his strong arms. His embrace seemed to make everything feel better.
“I missed you,” he admitted as he pulled away. “One year and ten months are too long to be without my sister.”
I nodded, blinking back happy tears. I couldn’t remember the last time Zeth had shown me such affection. “I missed you too.”
“I heard screams from the spider room last night,” Zeth told me. “I had thought it was impossible, but I checked inside. It was you! So I carried you back.”
I stared at him. Out of my five siblings, Zeth had been the most distant from me. Constant failure seemed to work that way with him. Even before I got kicked out, I rarely saw him. Except for on the news occasionally.
And now he was the one who found me first?
“Thank you,” I managed. “I hate that room.”
Zeth shook his head. “Those spiders creep even me out. I know I wasn't that friendly with you in the past, but you're still my sister. I don’t know how you handle those spiders, Zunairah.”
I winced. “Could you call me Esther? My real name?”
Zeth raised an eyebrow. “Why? What could’ve happened in one year and ten months that would make you want to change your name?”
“I’d rather wait until the other four are with us as well.” I frowned. “Where is everyone?”
“Aris, Alya, Arnaud, and Zizi are at home and still sleeping. They’re all fine. Mostly.”
I sighed in relief. All of them were alive, and none of them were away.
But at the same time, none of them being away was also a bad thing. I didn’t want them to suffer from Aina’s wrath.
Especially Zizi. Her room was nothing special. Just one that was empty, with no form of life or entertainment. Zizi’s fear of being left alone went crazy there.
I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for a girl like her. She was only twelve, the youngest in the family, but she had already gone through so much.
Ziz’s legs had been amputated a few years ago. She didn’t deserve to be stuck in a room with the memories of being alone in the hospital, dying. The only thing good that came out of her hospital time was her kindness and empathy.
I shuddered as I remembered the others’ fear rooms. Germs and dirt plagued Aris’s room. She had studied germs for years, studying to be a microbiologist. Her study had overwhelmed her, turning her passion into her fear.
Zeth's room contained all sorts of memories and photos of all of the times he had failed. All of the lost ice skating competitions, all of the times he tripped and fell on the ice at the most important spin. It haunts him. Zeth sometimes saw himself as nothing but a mistake. His room only boosted those untrue thoughts.
Arnaud’s room was smaller than a closet, and Alya’s room was pitch-black dark. The rooms were truly masterful. It reflected the darkest times of our lives. Arnaud and Alya weren't in the best juvenile detentions. Tiny and dark, it caged them. With no way to escape.
As for my spiders . . .
No. Those memories had to be caged.
I never quite understood where Aina had gotten the idea of fear rooms from. Nor did I understand why Aina trapped us in our own fears in the first place. She never explained her reasons or much of her childhood. Just words to describe it.
My siblings didn’t deserve to be locked up with their fears while I was in the safety of a church with kind people.
For the first time, I felt determined to speak up to Aina and tell her how she’d been ruining our lives for years. We’d been through too much.
The door creaked open, and Aina poked her head into the room. That dissolved any determination and bravery that I had a moment before.
“Breakfast’s ready,” she called. “Get downstairs!”
We immediately ran down the stairs towards the dining room. We didn’t want to disobey Aina.
Hugs, tears, punches, scoldings, smiles, laughter, and wheat bread with butter were the majority of my breakfast. All of my siblings were overjoyed to see me. For just one meal, everything seemed bright and happy. For once, it felt like we were a happy family.
“I was back in my fear room once more, but Zeth thankfully got me out of there. And now, I’m here with you guys!” I finished my story about what happened while I was gone.
“It’s not a happily ever after story,” Alya complained. “Look at our family. We have siblings who don’t get along. Not to mention brainwashed stepparents who we see once in a gazillion years and a mom that hates us. We’re all terrible!”
Arnaud snorted. “You’re calling me terrible? I’m the best guy you’ll ever meet!”
Alya shoved Arnaud lightly, barely holding in her laugh. Arnaud flicked her back, which started a fight of swatting each other like they were seven years old.
Zizi bit off a chunk of her bread, her wheelchair squeaking. “Are you moving back for good? I hope so. You're a good sister."
I shrugged. “I honestly don’t know. I was brought back against my will. But I’m glad I’m back, even if it’s only for a little while. I missed you guys.”
Aris smiled. “I missed you as well. You’re my sister, after all. One year, ten months, two weeks, and four days is an immeasurable amount of time to be without my beloved stepsister."
"You counted?" Alya asked, rolling her eyes. "Wow, what a shock."
Aris ignored Alya. Her eyes wandered over to Aina. "I'm jovial that you've returned, but—" She didn't finish her sentence.
“What about the crazy and psychopathic mom that still miraculously lives in our household?” Arnaud supplied. "The woman who's ruining my awesomeness?"
Alya laughed and rolled her eyes again. Even Zeth and Aris stifled a chuckle. Zizi did a double-take to Arnaud’s bluntness, but she didn’t say anything and cracked a smile.
I imagined that two years ago, I would’ve laughed as well. But my time at a church had changed me; I felt less connected with my siblings. My church had taught me not to hate others. Especially my parents.
Was it right to judge Aina in this way? We didn’t even understand her motives!
As if in response, the memories of my childhood flashed through my mind. In the fear room, the very sight of those spiders overwhelming me; getting yelled at by Aina, feeling the sting in every word; getting hit by her ruler, which I found ironic because I was sure that she never measured how much the things she did to us hurt inside.
How could any motive or past make that right?
Despite my inner conflict, I didn’t say a word. I didn’t have the right to defend Aina when she had hurt us so much. I talked with my siblings for the rest of the meal, enjoying myself.
A few times, I glanced over at Aina, who was sitting at another table just out of earshot. She had been watching us, her eyes filled with sadness and wistfulness. I couldn’t help but wonder why.
When she saw me looking, her eyes would harden again. But I couldn’t miss that other side of her. It was still there.
Summer vacation trailed on. Every day, I went through mind-numbing activities automatically like I was a robot. The same actions meant the same thoughts.
The fear room. My wonderful siblings. The memory of the church that used to be my home: Something so close, yet so far away. Aina. That glimpse of another side of her. The few things I remember about Aina's childhood: Abuse and fear. I wondered if that had to do with my sibling's fear rooms.
All of those things swirled around in my mind.
Day after day, I felt myself get overwhelmed with memories and questions. Even after one year and ten months, I was still going crazy in my own home.