In the summer of 1973, Arby, an old man of considerable wit and savvy, twitched nervously in his swivel chair with the ruffle skirt that hid dust balls and small bits of paper. The ice in his glass barely clinked as he calmly swallowed the remaining bourbon before adjusting his belt and standing. He had nowhere to go, nothing to do. He just stayed in one spot, stepping around like a nervous bird on hot pavement. His granddaughter, Sapphira, had left his lap and was now seated on the couch. She moved her head to notice anything other than the strange haze of confusion that filled the room and made her dizzy. Unfortunately, her eyes found his hands, now at a distance, which she noticed were slender and manicured and bulging with veins. Grandpa Arby had regularly taken eight-year-old Sapphira to his craft shop to help him in the back office, and for car rides on his lap so she could help him steer. He pushed her on a swing, took her for walks and showed her things, too many things. Today, she was in his house as she had been many times before. She always noticed the ceiling, the furniture, the grass, the calculator and the stained car seats; but, she tried never to notice him. She was never sure how much of him she should remember and waited for a silly rhyme or his bird whistle to make the haze disappear and give her something simple, something normal that grandpas did, to remember him by. A key slid into the lock at the front door and Grandpa Arby held his straight finger to his lips with the normal message to Sapphira before walking quickly to the bathroom. Sapphira thought, “Granny will straighten this whole thing out.” Granny never did, so Sapphira’s haze spread like a virus that infected every cell of her being which is how she lived for many, many years to come.
Ohio was a good place to live; far away, cold, quiet and friendly. Normal people lived there. Normal, good, traditional, simple people who treated each other with respect. Columbus was all of that, with just enough twist to make it curious enough for curious people. Now in her late twenties, Sapphira lived in a small rented house on the north side and worked three blocks down at a desirable preschool. Although her coloring was strangely monotone, she had grown into a striking woman with hazel eyes and very light brown hair. She was thin, slightly taller than her counterparts, patient and well-mannered. Finding and keeping a companion of almost any kind seemed to always prove a fruitless effort. People watched her; her coworkers, her neighbors, the children and their parents. In her silence, she was loud and even startling. On occasion, she would focus on someone she found interesting, but it always seemed that her word was more like a sentence, and her touch, more like a scratch. It was a failing that Sapphira treated like a condition, nurturing it into submission. She spent enormous swaths of time keeping company with herself, like a daily tea party with a deaf twin. It was now the first week in November, and Sapphira packed her bags for a short visit to her aunt three states away.
Ruthie, Aunt Ruthie, lived alone in a small mansion of a house with several bedrooms, a grand staircase, a lovely garden and many, many picture books. She was a kind woman who suffered the loss of her husband years before and spent much of her time talking to relatives and church friends at a little phone desk she’d created for doing just that. There were papers in neat piles everywhere and Sapphira wondered how much of it was being attended to. Ruthie and her husband had lived in several towns when Sapphira was growing up, but this was her first visit to this house. The garden was lively with designated vegetable areas and flowers around the perimeter. It was difficult to discern where Ruthie’s expertise dropped off and nature took over; but, nonetheless, it was an impressive landscape. They wandered into the kitchen where they stopped and ate apple slices with molasses dip. Aunt Ruthie motioned for Sapphira to follow her into the next room. “This is where Grandpa died,” speaking with assurance and nodding in her niece’s direction with a certain expectation. Thirty minutes prior, pulling up to the house, Sapphira felt apprehensive. Ruthie had always been close with Grandpa Arby making her relationship with her aunt impossible to navigate. She had decided that she would muddle through the visit for the next thirty-six hours and then talk herself off a cliff on the way home. She would think of sand between her toes and the ocean on her skin. But, now this? He died there? In that house? She knew the walls in that room, Arby’s tomb, held many secrets. Who visited him there in his own terrified haze of death? Was it God, Himself? Did Jesus appear? Or did Lucifer pace the room as Grandpa Arby’s stature whittled away along with his mind? Did Arby cry at the sight of his judge? Did he beg and make deals? Sapphira moved backward as Ruthie closed the door. Night had fallen and the two women settled in, Ruthie promising a nice breakfast in the morning. Sapphira slept in a guest room on the second floor while her aunt was in her own room on the first. The guest room had a large bed and a small nightstand with a lamp resting on some newspaper. It was rather dark and difficult to navigate, but Sapphira was exhausted from the drive, drained by the chatter with her aunt, and disturbed by her grandfather’s death room. She laid there in the dark using a small nightlight in the corner as a reference point. Her eyes closed. A slight movement brought her back to the light. She felt her body lurch upward in an arch, her feet and hands dangling toward the bed below her. Sapphira’s breath was being sucked from her lungs and her torso bent further up toward the dark ceiling. A guttural roar came from the tether and filled every part of the room with rage; a vengeful, powerful rage. The entity surrounded her. It suffocated her. It pulled on her with a force that no human body could withstand. It silenced her in a familiar stronghold, then, without warning, released her. Sapphira landed back on the bed and suddenly became aware of the silence, the dark, and the small light in the corner. He had waited. This was the beginning and she knew he had finally found her.
The following Monday, one of the four-year-olds in Sapphira’s class called out to her, “Miss Essie, why doesn’t he have to nap?” pointing to a boy sitting quietly in the corner. Sapphira looked at the small girl with words in her eyes. The girl contemplated her teacher for a fraction of a moment and laid her head calmly back on the mat. Sapphira continued her rounds, walking slowly between the children and staring consistently at the boy in the corner. He kept his eyes glued to the back of another small chair, the whole of his arms spotted in hives. It was approaching three o’clock and the children were gathered around Miss Essie for the final thought of the day. The boy joined the group in silence. “If a dog has a bone, and you take that bone, does the dog have the right to bite you?” Miss Essie asked. ” If a blind person has a stick, and you take that stick, does the blind person have a right to yell at you?” she continued. “If a friend has a toy, and you take that toy, does the friend have a right to strike you?” The children watched Miss Essie’s eyes move around the room. Then, finally, “If a teacher has an apple, and you take that apple, does the teacher have a right to punish you?” The children gazed at their teacher as she skipped across their faces, her wide eyes finding exactly what she was looking for. She could smell the jelly on young David’s fingertips, and the childhood sweat in the hair follicles of young Laura’s scalp. She could feel the quiet boy’s hives on her own arms and controlled her instinct to scratch. Sapphira listened to the mindless chatter of parents outside while keeping the gaze of their children. She stood and opened the door at precisely three o-clock and dismissed the children but kept “hives” for the remaining seconds of chaos at the door. She didn’t speak, just stared at him in silence. Mom came through the door and asked if there’d been an issue that day looking back and forth between the two. Sapphira smiled and assured her that her son had been an angel and, in fact, was one of her easiest students. She smiled at the boy as he kept her gaze. “Bye, Miss Essie.”
Sapphira’s neighbors on Columbus’s north side had grown weary of her, watching her coming and going from her rented house for at least five years now. They made awkward attempts at conversation, held the door for her and left homemade jams on the stoop. One man even offered to replace her old car’s battery for free. She was gracious, but quiet, and offered no insight into her life. Day after day of all the same behaviors left no rumors on the tips of tongues, and the mouths of the North Columbus gossips went dry with boredom. Sapphira kept her pace and, at this point, now in her early thirties, had attracted a number of young professionals whom she kept at arm’s length; except for Ryan. Ryan was a sophisticated, witty, handsome young man, who was born into money; money that was mostly embezzled by his uncles. He handled investments for his father and was the center of every circle. Sapphira made for a beautiful challenge. They had crossed paths on the corner of Tulane and High Street; her usual monotony briefly replaced with a simple grin that Ryan accepted. “Don’t look at me like that,” Ryan whispered to her as he slowly passed. She turned and looked at the traffic light above his head. Then with a quick glance at his intentional expression, “I will assume you want to go my way.” She continued in long strides across the street with Ryan a step behind her, confused by his own surrender. Within days, the two were inseparable and, in the following months, spent an inordinate amount of time together. She stayed at his place, always. They did a lot less of the usual: movies, dinner, family visits, friend visits, bars, and the rest. She was kryptonite and enjoyed seeing him slowly immobilize. He always sensed her presence, even when he was alone. In the bathroom, he would face the door in silence, avoiding a shower or brushing his teeth or even shaving. Sapphira would listen for his sticky feet to lift slowly from the tile, aware he was changing position. She would listen to his breath and, for fun, would take it from him, then give it back before his panic would set in. She waited for the familiar sound of his faint echo as he looked at himself in the mirror before mustering up the courage to open the door. He would find her sitting on the window sill, looking out onto the street, before gliding past her into the kitchen for water, his hair erect with electricity. She moved her eyes to watch him reach for a cigarette, his skinny triceps fluttering in the dimly lit room. On this night, he turned toward her and she smiled at him, her eyes becoming large with dilated pupils. “I’m sorry,” he muttered in shame, captured by her silent interrogation. “I’m pretty sure I’m going away for a while.” She watched him shifting his weight nervously on the same two floorboards, then she stood up and moved rather quickly, first toward him, to which he stumbled, then toward the door. Sapphira smiled as she descended the stairwell and walked out into the night.
In October of 2005, forty-year-old Sapphira married Theodore, an older man who’d avoided the conventional status of wedlock for all of his fifty-two years. Throughout his life, he’d been a practicing Catholic with a scholar’s perspective. A Professor of Religious Studies, there were few things he didn’t question; albeit, for the love of truth, as opposed to the fancy of competition. Before marrying Sapphira, Theodore had kept company with married couples, older Columbus residents, his own limited family, as well as other academics. He was a social man who used gentle words and interesting inflection which made him a welcome participant in most conversations. He was handsome, pleasant, and satisfied with his life. He and Sapphira exchanged vows in an old museum with a handful of more curious than exalted witnesses. She insisted on wearing blue so Theodore wore white instead. Despite their ages, they were lovely and youthful; harmonious, in fact. Although skeptical, their group of family and friends enjoyed a small meal together before the two left for their honeymoon on the Israeli coast.
It was an unusually mild and lovely Sunday in Whetstone Park as they took in the crisp air of winter. Theodore held ten-month-old, Esther, while Sapphira kept watch over Paul, now almost four. The two children were quiet like their mother and full of curiosity like their father. The older parents were often mistaken as the children’s grandparents to which Theodore would chuckle while Sapphira looked on. She never offered an explanation or answered a question so Theodore took the responsibility of communicating with the outside world while Sapphira hibernated within the family unit. Theodore, in the habit of arriving at the university before six o’clock each morning, took to his pillow every night by nine o’clock. Where he once fell into a deep sleep beyond a twenty-minute respite behind the pages of a favorite book, he had slowly developed a certain apprehension before turning in like usual. In all his curiosity he would often quell his concerns with a bit of logic and, each night, decided that old age and parenthood were the culprits for his more recent sleep difficulties. In the deepest crevasse of his psyche laid only goodness and faith, and he never questioned the prevailing philosophy of each. He had learned to trust the world around him and reveled in the mystery of his faithful wife and the flux of his growing children. There had been many nights in their six years together that he would wake to find his wife wandering the hallways, the stairs, and even the yard. On occasion, he would question her the following morning to which she would remind him of her own nocturnal habits of repeatedly checking the locks, picking up the house, reading her books and taking in the night air. Theodore loved Sapphira and she was good to him and the children. He would always leave it at that. He had never known that Sapphira would stand beside him at night, observing him for hours or that she sat endlessly next to each of her children, watching their sleeping eyes twitching from left to right. He had never known that Sapphira’s senses were alive with ethereal prowess. He had never known that, despite her spiritual appetite, he and the children would always be invulnerable. She took comfort in knowing what he didn’t.
On a regular morning, as Theodore gathered up his things to leave, Latka, the family’s black Lab, dropped a bloody and mangled baby raccoon at his feet. He stood there, his hands trembling as Latka growled beneath her breath at him. She had always been a loving and faithful member of the family and her behavior was out of place. Theodore followed the trail of dirt, blood and chunky bits to the dog door at the back of the house. They’d always locked that door in their nightly routine and, for a moment, Theodore was in a state of confusion as he stood there putting the pieces together. “I’ll take care of this, Ted,” came Sapphira’s voice from the hallway. He glanced at his watch, looked quickly at his wife and the dog, then squeezed her hand as he sprinted past her to get to work. It was barely six o’clock, still dark outside. Latka crouched closer to the dismembered animal and gnashed her teeth. Sapphira bent down over the dog, picked up the animal with her bare hands and walked it to the garbage bin which was already at the street. She came back inside and cleaned the floors before the children awoke. Latka had skulked into her usual corner and took a nap. That evening, Theodore made sure the dog door was locked before a quick wrestle with his little ones and a sweet kiss for Sapphira. About an hour later, they were all in bed, including Latka, who snuggled into a ball of blankets in the master where she always stayed at night. As Sapphira’s mind slept, her body, again, left the bed. She rose and moved toward the dog, hovering over her, face-to-face, as she slept. She could still smell the baby raccoon’s carcass deep in Latka’s fur and judged the dog more for its disrespect than for its natural instincts. Latka opened her eyes to see something glassy and large and immediately above her. As if frozen solid, she whimpered quietly without moving. Sapphira slowly moved back into position next to Theodore and joined her mind in sleep. “Good girl,” she whispered.
In the late-night hours of Tuesday, April 3, Sapphira had awoken to a dark figure standing at the foot of their bed and felt a familiar tug on her torso. Grandpa Arby had, once again, grown tired of waiting. For thirty-five years, she had tucked him away in a Pandora’s Box of rage and rotted out revenge, and for twenty-five years, she had barely escaped the spiritual architecture of his sinister confinement. This time, Sapphira launched herself toward the ceiling and in a single motion was on top of the figure in a vertical position. She tilted her head up, staring down toward the floor, down into the eyes, into the spirit of that vile creature. He roared at her and the room filled with a putrid odor. Her eyes had turned black with vengeance and become large with judgement. They were glassy and reflected an otherworldly darkness. In the quiet of the room where her husband slept, Sapphira slowly lowered herself in silent combat while the spirit of Arby howled and spit and erupted in stubborn righteousness. With her eyes bulging from her sockets, her face flat to the floor, and her feet straight up in the air, she remained still in her triumph; a hovering ghost from the pages of an antique horror book. Theodore opened his eyes and sat up, looking at his wife as his mind scrambled for an answer. He called to her as her body pivoted to face him. Fear cinched his heart and a tightness forced him back on the bed. The sweat poured from his forehead as he felt her hand on his arm, “Ted, are you dreaming?” He turned to see her snuggled up next to him, face-to-face. He smiled and said, “I suppose I am.” He turned back around as she watched him settle back into his pillow. She smiled and closed her hazel eyes.
“Immense are the desires that I feel within my heart, and it is with confidence that I call upon Thee to come and take possession of my soul.”
– Saint Therese of Lisieux
I found the opening paragraph heavy with dread and beautifully written. This is a gripping and terrifying story.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you so much!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Clearly your best story yet. Creepy.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks, Mr. B. 😉