That should have ended it. I’d never found her in the dreams, after all. This was the resolution that I’d been pushed to since I was about the age she was. Or had been. Who knows what tense to use when you’re dealing with ghosts?
If she was a ghost. She was solid, having weight as I cradled her in one arm while running the steering wheel with the other. But it was just meat I was holding. Something she’d vacated long ago. A symbol and little else. But symbols had power, and by taking her battered body from the family and the burned, disfigured thing that had held her hostage for who knows how many decades, I’d given her the power to be free.
She wasn’t crying, anymore. I could hear her breathing, though. Ragged and labored at first, then smoothing out to the sound of a sleeping child being broadcast through a baby monitor. In that breathing she whispered to me; I heard her thanking me, and she told me her name.
“Deborah,” the corpse in my arms whispered. “Deborah Daphne King.”
The name gave me a terrible chill. I’d had a sister… or was supposed to have one, at least. But she hadn’t made it out of the hospital. Only lasted three days. Birth defects, something to do with the lungs; I don’t know if I just didn’t remember, or had never been fully told. But she’d been a Deborah, too.
That chill led to a shudder, and that led to the car drifting out of the thin lane. At the same time, a steep curve came into view. A terrible calm fell over me, a sense of resignation and deja vu that told me all I needed to know.
It didn’t matter how things had changed. One thing was going to stay the same. I tried to pull the car straight again, to force it into the turn. I pumped the brake. Neither had any effect, as the car continued to drift, the guardrail growing larger.
I looked down at her, the mangled thing that I’d been looking for my whole life, the thing that had driven me past the point of logic, of sanity. The thing that was going to kill me.
There was no body. No Deborah. Just a filthy, matted rag that might have been a towel at some point. Tears began running down my cheeks, and a strangled sob escaped my lips.
“You always knew,” a familiar voice said from the passenger seat. I drew my eyes up.
The thing from the house was sitting there, trying to smile at me. One arm was dangling between its upraised knees, the other stretched towards me, clenching the steering wheel and urging the car to the left, towards the rail.
I could hear it clearly now. I should have noticed it when it stated I’d finally come. But have you ever noticed that your voice sounds different, somehow alien when you hear it on a recording or an echo?
The thing spoke in my voice. It had always been me. Some lost fragment of myself, calling out somehow through the years, begging me to claim the treasure that it had given its life for, somehow blind to the fact it was no treasure but a wad of broken repressed memories and carefully fabricated lies.
“We’ll be together, now.”
The car hit the rail. I let go of the wheel as the vehicle plowed through with the shriek of steel and the roar of the engine as it surged, no longer powering wheels on asphalt but spinning in thin air.
“Forever,” I whispered to myself, hearing it both in my head as my voice always sounded, and in my ears as the thing had always spoken. Whether I meant myself and I, myself and Deborah, or all three of us together, I don’t know.
The car flipped once, cracking my skull against the roof and sending a freshet of blood into my eyes. I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt. There was no pain. The thing in the passenger seat reached out one claw, stroking the wound.
Another flip jarred me back into the seat and drove me forward. I felt my rib cage give way, my lungs collapse, as the wheel plunged into my chest. The thing put its finger to its mouth.
“Shhhh,” it said. “It’ll all be over soon.”
The car hit the bottom of the ravine below, doing another backflip and landing on the roof. The windshield, designed before safety glass had become the standard, shattered. Thick shards embedded themselves in my face, my chest, my arms. Everything went dark as my eyes were popped like ripe grapes. I felt fluids from the emptied sockets leaking down my face, mingling with the tears and blood.
The roof of the car had been punctured by a rock formation, dragging across it as the car burned the last of its momentum. It dug into my back as well, leaving a ragged gash that left the flesh hanging to either side like broken wings.
There was a perfect stillness to the world, then. A moment of absolute silence and clarity. No birds sang, no bugs hummed. My breathing had stopped, and the thing in the passenger seat had apparently lost its taste for chatter.
That silence was broken by a soft, unimportant sound. “Foomp,” it sounded like to me. But I knew what came next, knew it wasn’t unimportant.
Something had cracked the gas tank. The metal body of the car dragging across the gravel and rocks had provided the spark. Smoke and the smell of scorched earth came first, then pain sank in as the smell of a roasted pig added to it.
I couldn’t vomit, no matter how much I wanted to. Couldn’t hold my breath, even though it was coming only in shallow rasps. I just had to wait, to endure, as I burned alive.
But again, one fresh change. I was spared having to endure it all the way through, didn’t have to wait as I crisped, blackened, and finally died trying to scream. The thing laid hold of me, was dragging me out. Through the undercarriage, back up the hill, passing through the guardrail, which seemed to stitch itself back together as we passed, my eyesight somehow returned.
Back up the hill, a movie running backward. I passed the car going the other direction, then my other self pursuing it. Back to the house, where we were pulled through the hole in the front that it/me had created giving chase.
Like the guardrail, it pulled itself back together like a flower closing its petals against the night. I saw the television I’d knocked over right itself, saw the doors I’d opened on the way in slam shut, the blanket replace itself on the bed and straighten out perfectly. I heard a thud and knew the dryer had slammed shut again, and a moment later the rhythmic thumping of the thing in the dryer started again. Back into the shower stall, where I stood still and watched as the curtain pulled shut in front of me.
The house was as it had been, as it was supposed to be. It looked like a quaint little cabin, but underneath it was just a trap, a honeypot laid out just for me. Just like underneath the scars and claws and demon-like appearance, my tormentor had always been myself.
I was alone. I had become him, and he was me again. Now we would wait.
Perhaps not completely alone, though. Somewhere in the house, I heard the crying start again. Deborah was with me like she always had been.
I waited. I had time. All the time in the world.
I knew I’d come along. Eventually.
This story was originally published at KaineAndrews.com. Intrigued? Find out how it ends, next Thursday!
About the Author
Kaine Andrews was raised in the wilds of Nevada, molded by NASCAR-loving witches, a Catholic school education and typewriter theft, granting a natural fascination with all things dark and dreary and demented scribblings. He currently resides in Oregon, where the omnipresent drizzle keeps him somewhat sane.
2 thoughts on ““Layers Part 8” by Kaine Andrews”
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Thank you — he’s a great writer!