The essence seems different but nothing has truly changed. The crisp autumn leaves become ash under the souls of my shoes as I walk to touch the wooden porch that stretches out in front of me. I reach my hand to touch the cracked paint on the wood. The feeling brings memories flooding back to a time where the world seemed so generous. A roof that looks as though it'll collapse with even the faintest slam of a door. The sun hits the steps, so inviting, almost as if it draws me to come closer. I place my hesitant first step towards something that feels wrong. My pulse quickens as the birds flutter and chirp behind me. The bottom step still creaks as it did five years ago. I feel the pull of curiosity in my fingers, urging me forward. The urge to near the door sings a song in my ears, enchanting me. As I reached the last step out of three, a woman in her mid-fifties appears from behind the screen door. She gazes at me with green eyes, filled with wonder. 

“ Is it really you?” She peers at me for a second longer before the recognition hits. In a blink, the woman wraps her arms around my chest as her grey blouse follows. I'm struck with the scent of honey and cinnamon. At that moment, the air felt thicker. I realize I have not moved to meet her embrace. 

“ Terri, It's nice to see you again.” My voice comes out gruff and unwelcoming. Terri pushes herself away, attempting to grasp her blouse as it falls down her tattered shoulders. 

“ James” she exhales, “You’re back! What a pleasant surprise.” 

“ I only came to visit my sister.” My tone alone has set strict boundaries between me and the frail woman standing in front of me. 

“ Oh, yes of course. Come in please.” She steps away, reaching for the broken screen door. I gaze upon the half-painted door, knowing I'm just a few weak pieces of wood away from everything I had escaped from. I hesitantly step forward to grab the rusted brass knob. I feel the coolness of it touching my skin, sending shocks through my spine into my legs. They feel as though they may betray their natural upright position. I inhale the scent of a childhood I can never forget.

 I urge myself to move through the front passage before I collapse. As I walk into the hallway, I am forced to dodge a racing boy and girl who are playing chase. Stairs lay in front of me unfolding like paper. A kitchen table in the corner catches my interest. The same blue table cloth covers what can never be erased from the depths of my trauma. I force myself to look away. Turning to Terri, she seems to have noticed my pained expression, I didn't know I was wearing. I turn away but can’t help but glance at her fearful expression. 

“ I'm so sorry.. James.. I really am.” Terri’s voice is small and ashamed,” He was sick; deeply sick.. Please know that.” Her voice seems to plead for the forgiveness that she won't find. Anger rips through my veins, my heart beats in my ears. Boom boom boom. Pain grips at my eyes, fears pushed so deep down yet they are crawling their way back in through. 

“ si- sick? That's what you call it.” My words falling from my lips as venom does from a poisonous snake. Terri flushes, her grey hair half blowing through the door I left open. 

“ James.. He just needed help, he's all better now.” 

“ Better now? Has he been released?” My question is answered by the haunting words that come from behind my back. 

“ Hello, little man.” I turn to see the shadows next to the stairs swirl away to reveal my demons in human form. My skin burns, as he steps into the light. Brushing his hand across the timber at the side of the stairs, he steps toward me. I step back feeling the warmth of Terri behind me. 

“ H-h-Harley w-what, how?” I manage to stutter out.

“ Well my dear boy, I'm all cleared. I'm all better!” His lips curl into a sneer as he speaks. He doesn't move from his defensive stance, his body language telling me he's ready for anything. His brick-colored flannel and dirty denim have an ominous feeling. My throat tightens. 

“ Didn't you miss me?” he gleams at me, “ come on James, lets just put the past behind us.” Terri rushes from behind me to his side sensing the tension. She holds his arms with her frail hands. She melts into him like chocolate ice cream on a hot summer day, becoming two of the same evil. The evil that haunts my nights, haunts my life. The memories beckon to be released from the dark places that have made their home in my mind. In the very depths of my subconscious buried behind every unconscious memory. 

“ You’re a monster.” I attempt to catch the air that squeezes through the tightness of my throat, “ A demon in human disguise. Come on Terri, there's no way they let him out of the hospital?” 

“ Well you see James, two of the nurses went missing so the hospital was understaffed, they cut my time down a year.” Harley smiled this time with pride as if he were a child who won the science fair. 

“ Terri!! He cut off my arm don't you remember? How can you still let him in this house with the other children?” My shirt hangs over where my arm used to be. The memories of that night came flooding in.

5 years before

“ James get your butt down here. Now.” Harley yelled from the bottom of the stairs 

“ Oh, crap your in troubleee,” my seven-year-old sister teases me. 

“ Yeah, yeah shut up,” I say sounding strong. Fear racing through my veins, Harley always had a bad temper and had been known to beat the other kids in the orphanage. I walked down the stairs using both my arms to keep from falling down the steep steps. 

“ Where’s my wallet, James? Huh? Where the hell is it?” Harley demanded before I could even reach the last step.

“ Uh,” I pause out of fear, Harley steps toward the stairs, his eyes set ablaze, “ I don’t know.” 

“ Don’t give me that James. Do you know what they do to people who take things that aren’t theirs? They get something taken from them. Do you know what they lose, James?” He bends to my level, in an effort so I can hear his whispering voice.

“ I-I promise I didn’t take it, No sir I don't.” Stumbling over my words. Harley grabs my arm and pulling me to the dining table, covered in a blue cloth. 

“ Well little man, I'll tell you what they lose... Their arms!” Harley shoves me into the table holding my arm out, picking up a butcher knife from the side of the table. He doesn't hesitate to smash it down over my arm just below my elbow.

Five Years later

I can't hold back the tears that demand to flow down my face. 

“ I should have never come here, where monsters roam free, blessed with love,” I state, as I spit at Harley and pull out a combat knife from under my shirt.

August 23, 2019 02:32

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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