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|Everyone feeds. And everything.||
Dr. Darren Thomas stood at the window of his office building, staring down into the street. People were hurrying home, attempting to make it to the safety of their abodes before the last gray of the evening faded into the darkness of night.
For some time, he watched them, vaguely amused at the way they scurried around, like ants attempting to run back to their hills. Not that he could really blame them, being in the inner city for work, and wanting to get out. He’d be calling a taxi and waiting until it reached a stop outside his office door before leaving after dark around here.
Everyone feeds. He thought to himself, watching the mothers and fathers make their way quickly down the street, going to their warm homes and making dinner. As the last of the light was fading the first telltale signs of gangs on the corners were appearing. And not just on food. The gangs, wearing colors of red or yellow, fed on violence, fear, and acceptance. It was like watching a nature show in action. There’s a mother carrying her baby, quickly moving to the other side of the street to avoid the Ganger with a deep yellow bandana, since he may want to hurt her, and feed off her fear. Akin to a gazelle avoiding the predatory lion. There’s a businessman, making a deal with one of the gang members on the opposite corner, so he can feed off the high he gets on cocaine, try that little bird that eats mites off hippos. And so on. Darren had watched this same movie play itself over and over, every night of the past year he had worked in this office.
He raised his eyes to look at the apartment building on the corner of the street. From his window on the high floors of the office building, he had a perfect vantage into their lives, but they couldn’t see into his. He liked his privacy, as did his patients. Someone had attempted to liven up the dull, broken building by putting a flowerpot outside on the crumbling balcony. Even the flowers feed on oxygen. He mused, shaking his head and finally turning to his desk to sit down and gather up the papers needed for this evening’s appointment.
There was a hamburger from the nearest McDonalds’ and a coke sitting untouched on the side of his desk. The half-nauseating smell of cooling French fries came from the crumpled up bag in his trashcan, but he ignored it. He was used to the smell.
He glanced up at the clock, wondering why he had bothered to schedule this appointment so late. Everyone else in the building, including the cleaning lady was gone by seven pm. He kept telling himself it was because the kids he helped didn’t want to be seen going into the “nutcracker” office. Or maybe he didn’t want to be seen helping them. It was a fair trade off, to be sure. The state had paid for most of his college and post degree education; he put in 2000 hours of unpaid counseling for all sorts of troubled teenagers, from runaways to drug addicts to young mothers. He had worked with one or two juvenile delinquents from time to time, but those usually vanished after a visit, just not wanting to come back.
He hoped that tonight’s appointment wasn’t going to be one of those. Sometimes the runaways would just make the appointment and not show, disappearing back into the netherworld that was the city. He hated that, simply because the time he wasted waiting on them didn’t count towards getting out of his agreement with the state. And he couldn’t move into a more private practice until his time was done.
He had three no shows in the past four months. Last month he simply hadn’t been assigned anyone.
He pulled her file from the pile on the ground, flipping to the picture and name.
Jennifer Mallory. Age 17. Hair: blonde. Eyes: brown.
Runaway. Came to the teenage shelter for help. Recovering drug addict, not sexually active, never been convicted of a crime. Refused to go home, accused parents of beating her. Currently assigned to him because she was having nightmares, screaming about monsters in her room.
At that, he paused, and sighed. Most children from abused homes would have flashbacks. Usually the parent figures would be seen as creatures of horror in dreams, from serial murders to the Joker from Batman, to the boogeyman under the bed.
She looked like a likely candidate.
A light knock on his open door drew him back to reality and he looked up. Standing there was the girl from the picture, but he was taken aback by her looks. Her hair was more white than blonde, and she was wispy, rail thin. She had dark circles under her eyes, and was wearing a shapeless brown dress, and tennis shoes. A weird combination to be sure, but then again, if it was all she had...
A quick glance back at her file told him that she hadn’t been eating all that well either since the nightmares started.
“Come in, Jennifer.” He said, rising from the desk and speaking softly to her. The girl looked like she would bolt at any second. He held out his hand, and after a moment or so, she stepped into the room. And then walked to his desk and took the hand offered to her. She was warm, and had a soft grip, but she did shake it and then stand there, as he walked to close the door behind them.
“Have a seat?” He asked, motioning to the famed shrink couch. She shook her head, and looked at it fearfully for a moment.
“There could be monsters under there.” She said, in a tone barely above a whisper. Her voice had a raspy tone to it, probably from the night screams.
“There aren’t any monsters under here. Let me show you.” Darren walked to the couch, and pushed it back so he could get a grip on it. Bending down, he lifted the edge of the seat, and let her peer at the wooden floor beneath. “See?”
Seeming to relax just a bit, she nodded mutely and then moved to sit down, but perched herself on the edge of the couch, not leaning back into it. Large brown eyes watched him as he moved back to his desk, closed her folder, and then rolled his chair out so he would talk directly to her, and not sit behind the desk like an imposing authority figure.
“Did you want something to eat?” He motioned to the food with a slight chuckle. “I find my appetite for fast food waning these days, I’m afraid it may go to waste if you don’t take it.”
“I’m fine, really.”
He sighed inwardly, knowing this was not going to be easy. “I’m told you have nightmares of boogeymen? Monsters in your room?”
Her eyes flashed anger at that statement, as she stared directly at him. “What would you know about it?” She snapped back, her arms folding about herself protectively.
He gave the girl a small smile, before leaning back in his chair. “Frankly, more than you know. When I was a kid, my parents used to fight all the time, throw things at each other. I kept hearing noises in my closet, my walls, under the bed. I was too scared to look and see what it was, but they kept getting louder, longer. To the point where I heard them over my parents yelling, even.” He stopped, seeing if she was buying any of it. “Is that what you hear?”
Her attention had focused back to him, but the anger in her expression was slowly fading, and one of recognition was coming back. “Yes, but no one else hears it. I can hear them in the walls, but the people at the shelter keep telling me it’s just a rat or two. My closest keeps opening on it’s own. I can’t sleep because they invade my dreams; they keep trying to kill me. I know they are trying.” She whispered, her eyes quickly looking about the room, maybe for anything coming towards her, or for a method of escape.
He blinked for a moment, and then continued, leaning in forward to talk some more. “Did you ever made them a promise of any sort for them to leave you be?”
She gazed back at him, her expression blank.
He moved his hand, as if to make his point. “I guess I was about five or six. My parents were fighting one night, and I saw my closet door open. Nothing came out, but I curled myself up under the covers, and just kept peeking outside. I could have sworn things were coming through the walls towards me, but it may have been the thunder rumbling the building. I kept whispering over and over that I’d promise to be a good boy and not give it trouble if it didn’t eat me and made my parents stop fighting.” He considered, watching something he couldn’t decipher flicker across her features, “and though my parents didn’t stop fighting immediately, it was kind of belated. They did leave me one time, just up and vanished while I slept one night. Purse, some money, everything gone. So in a way, technically, the promise worked. Now that I’m older, I know it was just timing, but it helped me sleep better.”
“Did they come back afterwards?” She asked, but she was looking past him, to the window. He craned his head to see what she might be looking at, but saw nothing that would cause concern. Retelling this story always got him in an odd mood.
He shook his head, and her attention came back to him. He made a quick thought to put down ADD in her file, as he continued. “Once or twice I had dreams about boogeymen standing over me as I slept, but I kept promising them I’d be a good boy and do what was needed if they wouldn’t eat me. They never said anything, but kept happening more and more infrequently. I kept to my words in my dreams. And then they were gone.” He shrugged. “Really that simple. Later I realized I was imagining my parents as monsters, and by promising myself, or my subconscious in my dreams that I would be good, I was able to get rid of them. The promise in effect was me telling myself I was worthwhile. It might work for you.” He trailed off, as her attention had gone off from him once more and she was staring at the closet by his desk.
“You hear that?” She stood up so fast that he thought she might fall, and she took a few steps for the door.
He followed her, listening in the sudden quiet that permeated the room. Nothing but a ticking clock. The sound of the night rain upon the windows. And a tap tap tap tap tap tap. He paused at the last one, looking around his office for the source of the noise, and saw that it did indeed seem to be coming from the closet.
Jennifer was almost by the door. If she got out, he’d lose her for good, and she’d be gone. He could tell. “Wait!” He said, desperate to find the source of the noise. He stared at the closet, and the window right next to it. Tap tap...tap tap...tap tap...he had heard that noise before.
Suddenly, he started laughing. Startled, Jennifer turned to stare at him, trying to figure out what was so funny. “Jennifer, come here.” He walked over to the far side of the window, away from the closet, and pointed at the edge. “This is the tapping.”
She reached for the door, but then stopped, biting her lip. Darren silently rooted for her to overcome her fear and come see what the noise was. After a few more seconds, she turned and walked over to the window, tilting her head to see what he was pointing at. A flurry of wings flapped by the window, the irritated pigeon leaving the scene of the crime. Darren looked at the girl, and she broke into a smile that seemed to light up her whole face.
“Okay...you were right.” She admitted, before looking back at the closet door. “But I don’t believe that something isn’t in there.”
“Make you a deal. I’ll go in there, close the door and come back out, to prove that there isn’t anything inside. If you will at least look in there once I’m done.”
“A face your fear thing?” She hesitated, but then shrugged and looked back at the door. “I...I guess that’s okay.”
He made his way to the closet, and opened the door, pulling out his jacket and umbrella, to sit them by the side of it. Leaning down to fit in the small space behind the bar, he reached for the door, closing himself inside.
Moments passed. Nothing. Jennifer dug her nails into her palms, waiting for him to come back out.
More time went by, and her eyes moved from the clock to the door and back again, as she trembled slightly, taking some steps to the closet. The small girl finally reached for the door, opening it with a fierce yank.
Darren smiled up at her from where he was crouched. “I was hoping you’d do that.” He said, uncurling himself and coming out of it, straightening up. “And yes, face the fear, Jennifer.” He walked over to his desk, as she frowned, looking inside of the dark area, back to him. “Are you sure you don’t want this burger? Everyone feeds, you know.”
“I’m fine, really.” She said, still examining the closet, making sure there were no ripples in the walls, running a hand down the closest bit of wood to her.
“Did you know...” the voice from behind her came to her ears. “That monsters apparently have memories like elephants? They never forget promises.” Strong hands on her shoulders suddenly moved to force her into the closet. With her small bit of strength, she planted her feet on the floor, moving one in front of the other for better traction and twisted her body so that Darren was alongside of her. His face had twisted into something that seemed less than human. She struggled, trying to keep herself from being tossed into the closet, her eyes focusing on the man that had just been telling her that monsters were imagination.
She stepped back suddenly, causing him to lose part of his hold on her, and he stumbled, her foot flying out to catch his leg, forcing him half into the closet, which suddenly seemed much larger in size then the small area it had been moments ago. Almost like a yawning maw, she quickly kicked at him, keeping him from getting up fully. Taking her precious few seconds, she grabbed the door and slammed it to his side, hearing the thud as it hit his body, stopped by the weight of it. She kept pushing, trying to keep him trapped between the door and the wall. She fell forward suddenly, the weight that had been trapping the door from closing gone.
The door slammed shut. She leaned against it, taking a deep breath. The quiet in the room was suddenly eerie, and she swallowed, listening to the sounds. Muffled screams that were cut off without warning and the sound of something chewing.
As something hit the door, she jumped back, a frown appearing on her features. She gave it a few more seconds, and then opened the door. Rolling out of it was an arm, still bloody, tendrils trailing from the open limb.
The closet seemed as small as it had been to begin with. She opened her mouth, but what came out was not a scream, instead, it was a rasping, gravelly sound, that of rocks being scraped together. After a few moments, the closet grew darker, and a shape rumbled towards the call, and the girl standing just outside the door.
She leaned down and picked up the arm, holding it out, a high pitched keening call coming from her lips to the thing inside the closet, something akin to a mother scolding a child.
From the closet came a mewling sound of apology, as the limb was taken back inside by a bluish black tentacle, and little claws rasped the floor where the blood had fallen, cleaning it back up. As the claws withdrew, one of the tentacles wrapped around her leg, with a sated rumbling before it too, vanished back into the closet.
Jennifer put her hands to her heart for a moment, watching as a small smile appeared on her features before closing the closet door again and looking at the empty chair of the former doctor. “Not elephants, Doctor Thomas. Even they forget. But everything feeds. You forgot your promise feed my babies.”
With that, she opened the office door and made her way for the staircase.
|Eye of the Beholder||Musings|