karen

About 3,000 words

this is the explicit original version. it will be published in Z Publishing House Upcoming Oklahoma’s Emerging Writers publication. the narrative that will be published (September 5th)  is a much cleaner version. you can check out the publication 👉🏾here 👈🏾

Logline: A family’s fresh start takes a dark turn when their daughter meets the neighbor.

The road stretched for miles before the next convenience store. Toni leaned against the rear door, propping her head on her hand. She glared at the passerby pastors and horses and cows.

“You keep frowning and your face is going to stay that way.”

Toni directed her attention to her mother in the passenger’s seat. Sighing, she turned back to the scattered cattle, grazing. “I don’t understand why we have to move.”

“You never understand, Toni. Try to like it?” Her mother pleaded.

“If you don’t try, don’t expect us to try.” Her dad snickered, steering off the highway. “We’re almost there so calm down.”

“Our neighbors are miles apart.” Toni reminded her parents.

“Yes, which’ll give you reason to get out the house.” Her mother said.

Toni rolled her eyes. Her mother was right, but the idea of moving to the country away from her family and friends frightened her. She was never the social type and it took years, with her mother’s encouragement, before they finally accepted her. Uncomfortable and maddening. She mumbled, “I’ll read.”

The car jerked to a stop. Her father was the first to step out, her mother following. Toni ducked out the car. Her feet met gravel. She exasperated. “This is the big opportunity?”

“Watch it, T.” Her father said. “It was a worthwhile investment. After that last stunt, we don’t have room to complain.”

“It wasn’t my fault.” Toni leaned against the car. She shut her eyes, remembering the ghastly figure in her parent’s room. Tucked in the corner by her father’s computer desk in the closet. The rufescent pool underneath his chair. The pounding in her ears, watching the spirit depart from the body.  She didn’t ask to be there, like she didn’t ask to be here. “Why couldn’t I stay with grandma. You did offer?”

Her mother looked at her father uneased. She did it often when Toni asked about her relatives or anyone for that matter. “Your grandmother is old. She can’t take care of a sixteen-year-old by herself.”

Her father laughed.

“I’m not awful. When do I ever cross the line?” Tonie pouted, agitated.

“You don’t honeybee, which is why we need you here. Your father has something amazing planned.”

“I don’t want to be here, Mom.”

Sharnail lowered her head. “Neither do I. But we must do what we must, Toni.”

Toni shook her head at defeat. “And we’re supposed to pick up our lives… here?”

“Of course,” her mother added. “Where else would we be?”

At home, Toni thought, but dared not to speak. Instead, her attention took to the house. A nineteen seventies duplex. Four bedrooms with two bathrooms and at least two windows in every room. As sold the retailer who hooked her glasshouse-happy father.

“What do you ladies think?” Her father beamed.

“So many windows.” Toni said.

“Isn’t it wonderful!”

Her father checked each of the fire alarms. “Nail, what you think?”

Her mother sat her purse on the couch then ran her hand across the back. “Everything is new, David. How can we afford this?”

“Insurance,” David said.

“Insurance?” Her mother quipped.

Before more was discussed, Toni slipped out the kitchen’s side door. She ran around the house to the front then started heading down the one-way stretched gravel road. She checked her cellphone before leaving, and when she came to the first house she checked once more. “Wow. Forty-five minutes.”

“Yeah. It’s hard at first.”

An unnerving chill washed over Toni. She zipped around then stepped back with a heavy gasp.

“Sorry. Not often I see newcomers.”

“I can see.”

The girl was a few inches taller than Toni with eyes the color of fresh moss. “So, where you live?”

Toni pointed down the road opposite of her house.  “Bout’ a forty-five-minute walk. Are all the neighbors this far apart?”

“Some are farther. I’m Karen.”

“Toni.”

“Nice to meet you. Don’t see a lot of visitors, especially around my age.”

Toni pressed, curious for her own sake. “Because this place is in the middle of nowhere?”

Karen giggled, running her finger against the chain around her neck. “Something like that. Families don’t consider it welcoming.”

Toni squinted at the bone finger dangling from the girl’s necklace. Is that a real? She wondered, amazed. Four disjointed fingers scattered on the carpet in a trail of red liquid forced to memory.

Toni rubbed the cold sweat from her palms on her jeans. She shrugged, “Well, they aren’t wrong.”

Karen smiled. “I hope I see you around.”

“Me too.” Toni said impassively.

It was dark by the time Toni made it home. Her mother was setting the table and her father was behind her with a pan of baked chicken. “Back to normal, I see.” Toni teased, entering the dining room. She sat down.

“You know how much I love your mom.” David placed the plate of meat on the table and embraced his wife from behind.

Her mother grinned, slipping from his hold. “A misunderstanding. How was your walk?”

Toni poked at her green beans with her fork. “Okay. Met a girl who lives up the road.”

Sharnail sat next to her daughter. Grabbing a biscuit from the tray in the center, she looked at her husband and then Toni.

David cleared his throat. “A girl, huh?” He bit into a chicken leg. “You get her name?”

“Karen.” Toni hesitated. She shot a glance to her mother who averted to her plate. Toni turned to her dad. “What happened?”

Her father paused then said, “Listen to everything.” Which meant speak after I’m finished, which Toni obeyed. “By the lake, a couple found a girl’s body. She used to live in that house up the road. The only other house for miles. It happened over ten years ago but rumors have it that her spirit wanders through the woods.”

“How did she die?” Toni said, desperate.

“Her uncle rapped and mutilated her then tossed her body in the lake.” Her father frowned. “Or says the reports. It was tragic. Said people knew for years what the man was doing to that seventeen-year-old and did nothing to stop it.”

Toni went from confused to anger then to sorrow simultaneously. Wide-eyed she appealed to her parents. “You said this was our fresh start. Why would you move us next door to a chop stop?” A hand placed on hers. Toni shifted her attention.

“Honeybee.” Sharnail nodded. “We have no other choice. It was this or nothing.”

Toni peered into her mother’s soft brown eyes. She was telling the truth, but the knowing dissipated into her skin and brewed in her stomach all the same. With her hand over her mouth, she hurried to the bathroom adjacent to her room. Half a day’s worth of nutrients spewed in and around the toilet. At least her mother would clean it up out of sympathy.

Five days passed. Toni stayed in her room, peering occasionally out her bedside window. Each time she saw Karen glaring back at her.  And each time Toni covered the window and prayed until she drifted to sleep.

“Toni. Toni.”

Toni opened an eye as if a penlight shone directly at her.  She raised her arm, blocking some of the light spilling from the hallway. “Mom?”

Sharnail switched on the bedroom light. Toni winced, blinking. “Honeybee. It’s been two weeks. You have to get out. You can’t keep running from what you see.”

“Coming from someone who can’t see them.” Toni combated. Comprehending her imprudent tone, she apologized. “This one is different, mom. The others wanted to go to the light. She doesn’t. I feel it. She’s like…”

Sharnail placed her hand over her chest then hugged her daughter. “Remember they can’t hurt you.” She kissed her daughter on the cheek. “Doctor Malone guaranteed or my money back.”

Toni chuckled, nervously. “Okay.”

Doctor Malone couldn’t feel what Toni felt when the dead came to her for guidance. Entering her body, controlling her actions. The tenderness the next day around her shoulder blades and legs like she climbed and ran for hours. Doctor Malone nor her parents have felt their frigid compulsion to walk among the living.

“Today is the day.” David clapped his hands around Toni and her mother.

She relieved herself from her room. But ventured no farther than the living room. Toni flipped the blanked over her head. “Nope. Not today. How about tomorrow?”

Sharnail pulled the blanket from her daughter, rolling it in to a ball. “Nope. Now, Honeybee. You need fresh air.”

Toni groaned as David opened the front door. “Your mom’s right. You’re wasting your summer away.”

She walked to the door and peeked outside. Karen stood motionless in the fields across their house. Her moss eyes, fixed.  Toni wanted to scream. Instead she popped her knuckles and forged a grin.

Thankfully, her father drove to the other side of the lake. A two-hour drive. It was midday when they arrived. Her mother lay the blanket, while her father wrestled the grill. Toni smiled, slightly embarrassed.

After a good burger and sliced fruits, David proposed fishing. Toni caught the biggest with her mother’s help. They jeered playfully then laid under the stars conversing.

“Mom. Can I ask you something without you thinking I’m delirious?”

They both chuckled. “Go head,” said David.

Toni took a deep breath. “What if Karen tries to harm us? I don’t want a repeat and she feels… negative.”

“Toni. You’re not supposed to be seeing them so regularly. If we’d known-”

David cut her mother off. “Let’s discuss more at home.” He pulled out his phone. “Going on ten thirty. Fresh thing in the A.M?”

Sharnail stretched, agreeing.

Toni lay quietly reminiscing of the stars she didn’t see under the city lights. Here. Everything was calm and serene and the only frightening thing were ghost stories. There, she heard the bustle of traffic and dogs barking all night. Distractions she yearned. She sighed. “This is permanent, isn’t it?”

“For now.” Her father answered. “Come on, T. We have one more stop to show you. You’ll love it. I’m prepared to answer all inquiries,” her father said proudly.

“Are you sure, David? I think we should head home and talk. I don’t think this is good idea.” Sharnail whispered something away from Toni’s earshot.

“It’ll be alright. T just needs a little more fresh air to clear her mind. ‘New location, new perspective,’” he quoted. “Come on.”

Toni didn’t know when, but she had dozed off and woke to her father’s cheesy, “Where here.”

She ducked out of the car. “It’s so dark here.”  A cool breeze tickled her arm. She rubbed the hairs down. “Where are we?” Everything was covered with a darker shade of itself.

“Where Karen is said to appear,” her father announced.

“David,” Sharnail said.

“It’s alright. Once we address the issue everything will be fine.”

“What issue?” Toni asked.

“Nothing. Your mother is all of a sudden afraid of the dark.” He pointed where the black connected with the trees. “They found her belongings somewhere around there.”

“I can’t see.” Toni pulled out her cellphone.

“Put that away, Tonisha. Don’t make us easy prey.” Her father chuckled, tensely.

“Sorry.”

“You’re good, Honeybee. Me and your mother know we will never be able to see what you see. It hurts us when you’re in pain and we’re powerless to protect you. Remember when you said knowing the ending chapter helps. Are you up to it?”

Toni squeaked, “Yes.” But her heart pounded no.

The ground was thick and muddy. Toni stepped in a hole and her mother had to pull her ankle free. The moon beamed through the branches, splaying light here and there. The forest was an unfathomable beauty. If only there wasn’t a spirit lurking. She thought of Karen. Her chest tightened. “I’m ready to go.”

Their conversation drifted, but she never thought they’d part ways. “Mom? Dad?”

She backtracked to the car with her phone as her guide, praying she’d find her parents so they could leave. Toni backtracked through the same way they came. She spotted two shadows, making their way to where they parked. She ran. “Mom? Dad?” No response. She stopped with a gnawing feeling she was being watch. Don’t turn around, she thought, keep running. Keep going. It grew hard to breath with each second. Toni counted to three then looked over her shoulder.

Karen peered blankly from behind a tree. The left side of her face battered. Bashed in by a force that pushed her eye deep in her skull. She wore only the bone necklace. Her breasts were mauled, ripped skin, hanging. A metal rod replaced her right nipple straight through her back. Toni clenched the fluid building. Get to the car, she encouraged herself, sidestepping. When she felt distant, she ran.

Her parents were nowhere in sight. Toni attention drew to the lake. A figure stood on water. She rooted her stance. Her heart thudded in her chest. There’s nothing there she reminded herself, there’s nothing. She closed her eyes counted to ten then opened. The lake gleamed the moon’s radiance free of figures. Toni jiggled the driver’s side handle. Locked. She flopped back against the door then slid to the ground.

Her eyes widen at the dark figure in front of her.

Petrified immobile Toni. She closed her eyes, shuddering.

“My turn.” The figure sneered.

Snatched and tossed on her back, Toni whimpered.  Tight restraints bound her wrists and ankles. She sniffled, begging through the tape stretched across her mouth.

“Not today.” The figure’s voice groaned. It fondled her breast. Unbuttoned her jeans. And then Toni was naked and it was inside her. Each thrust hurt her inside. Warm liquid ran down her thighs. She whined, feeling the ground above her.

Toni swiped across something hard and sharp. Without hesitation, she picked it up and jabbed. She didn’t know where or how deep. She didn’t know if the person was going to live or become rage and hurt her more. All she knew: It had to get off.

The figure stumbled off her moaning. She scooted away, watching as the shadow drop. She clutched her hand tighter. It took a few trying but Toni cut through the tape. She ran her hand up her face, panic and fear, fueling the tremor coursing through her.

“David, no.”

Toni jerked her attention to the devasting scream behind her.

“I told him this would happen. I told him.” Sharnail cried.

Toni reached out to her mother who skittered back. “Mom?”

“Ma’am.” An officer approached. His flashlight danced on Toni’s face. “Are you okay?”

“Yes.” Toni stuttered. “He. I didn’t.”

“It’s okay. Calm down.” The officer held out his hand, gesturing Toni to stay put. He turned with arms still outreached. Toni watched as her mother sat in the back of a police car. A blanket over her shuddering shoulders. Her head in her hands. “Tonisha. May I ask you a few questions?”

Toni nodded, unsettled. “Where is my mom going?”

“She’s going to the police department to answer a few questions as well.” The officer reassured her. He glanced down at his notepad then back to Toni. “Ready?”

Toni nodded.

“All right. How old are you?”

“Seventeen.”

“You had a recent birthday?”

Toni cocked her head to one side, perplexed. “No. My birthday doesn’t come for another three months.”

The officer noted. “Okay. Can you tell me what happened here?”

The second police’s cruiser headlights were like spotlights. Toni didn’t understand herself. One minute she’s running from a dead girl and the next she’s fighting for her womanhood from her father.  “Sir, I was raped.” She cringed at the agony transpired only minutes ago. “He ripped…  everything off me.”

The officer flashed the light up and down Toni and then to her father’s lifeless body beside her. “Rape is a serious allegation.”

Toni exploded. “Officer please.” She glanced down at her quivering hands. “I-I.” Toni took a deep breath, exhaling the tears she wanted to shed for her father’s death. “I know.” Looking up to the officer, Toni recapped the events, leaving out her spiritual encounter. “I don’t know what happened. Why? Why would he do this?” She couldn’t hold the dam cracked by the hauntings prior. She rubbed the tears blurring her vison with her arm. “I don’t understand.”

The officer shook his head as if he understood a bilingual speaking broken English. “It’s understandable. This is a traumatic experience for anyone.” He reached out his hand. “Let’s get out of these woods.”

“Okay.” She followed the officer to his squad car then hunkered in the backseat, her heart thrusting in her chest. The officer shut her door and stepped away. Toni looked down at her trembling clasped hands resting on her lap. She lifted her hands, mouth agape. “They’re on?”

“Toni, can you step out of the car for a moment.” The officer said with a serious yet calm tone.

As soon as both feet touched soil, another officer cuffed and read her her rights.

“Toni. Do you remember me.”

Toni turned to the voice, blinking back tears. “Doctor Malone?”

“Yes, Tonisha. This is Sheriff Monroe. He’s here to help.”

Toni nodded, muddled.

The sheriff asked Toni if she had any weapons on her. She shook her head, but he performed a body search anyway, starting from her feet where he stumbled upon the sharp murder weapon. He shone his flashlight. “Is that a human bone?”

Toni clenched her eyes shut. The lifeless glare of the woman she once called mother came to mind. The aching throbbed in her chest when she realized the drenched knife in her hands. The breathless terror of the ghostly boy reflecting in the mirror.

Not again, she whimpered.

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