“No, he didn’t come home until after two last night,” Kimberly sighed into the phone. “He apologized this morning and he says he wants to talk when he gets home but…I don’t know.”
“I’m really sorry, Kimberly,” Cheryl replied. “If I hadn’t put that ridiculous idea into your head--”
“No, no…” Kimberly cut her off. “Please, Cheryl, it wasn’t your fault. I’m the one who has issues I haven’t dealt with. That’s more obvious to me now than ever.”
“So, are you going to continue therapy with Debra or somebody else?”
“If I do continue, I’m going to go with Debra,” Kimberly said. “I feel really comfortable with her, and you know how hard it is to get me to open up.”
“So, you told her the whole story, huh?”
“Every gory detail. I hope it doesn’t hurt your feelings that I’ve never told you, I mean, not everything.”
“No, not at all. I can’t even imagine going through something like that. I don’t discuss my experience with cancer with many people, either. Not the details. There are some things you just don’t want to relive.”
Kimberly found herself nodding agreement, even though she knew Cheryl couldn’t see.
Glancing out the living room window, she noticed fresh autumn leaves blowing in the wake of the cars driving by. Across the street, an unlit Jack-O-Lantern was partially hidden by a bush on the front stoop of the neighbor’s house.
“I can’t believe Halloween is only a month away.”
“Tell me about it,” Cheryl said. “Danielle wants to go as a witch this year. I don’t know how I feel about that.”
“It’s only a costume,” Kimberly said, unable to keep the amusement out of her voice. “You don’t take it that seriously do you?”
“Well, she was an angel last year.”
Kimberly laughed. “What’s Tom going as?”
“Oh, he says he’s too old for trick-or-treating, so he’s going to a Halloween party at Steve’s. I think he’s going to be some kind of monster. I’m not sure. He and Thomas are going out to look for masks tonight.”
“What about the little squish?” Kimberly asked.
“Well, we do have a cute little pumpkin jumpsuit for Aidyn. But, Thomas is going to be watching him while I take Danielle trick-or-treating. Is Lynn coming with us this year?”
Lynn and Danielle had been trick-or-treating in pairs since they were three and one. Kimberly could still remember she and Daniel walking around the neighborhood with Cheryl and her husband on their first outing with Lynn. Lynn had been dressed as a clown, and the large red nose that came with the costume kept falling off.
Eventually, she just stopped wearing it, handing it to her mother in exasperation and soon falling asleep in her arms. Kimberly had absently stuck the nose in the pocket of her jacket that night and then hadn't worn the jacket for a few more years.
It was after Daniel had been gone for six months, and she was finally beginning to pack away his old clothes to give to charity that she found the jacket and the nose. All the wonderful memories of that night came flooding back to her, and she'd collapsed among her late husband's shirts, ties, and jackets and sobbed for an hour straight, clutching the red foam ball as if it was somehow a lifeline to the past.
“You know, with everything going on,” Kimberly admitted, “I’ve hardly had time to think about something as normal and ordinary as Halloween.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. You’ve had enough horrors without adding imaginary ones.”
“I’ll ask Lynn, though. I’m sure she’ll want to go.”
“I still can’t believe you’re getting into therapy,” Cheryl mused.
“Paul had the same reaction. He knows how frightened I used to be. It’s strange. These things have been going on with Lynn and somehow, I seem to be getting well, stronger.”
“Well, you’ve always been good in a crisis,” Cheryl told her.
“It’s more than that. It’s like…”
But Cheryl never got to find out what it was like, because at that moment, an ear-piercing shriek shattered the night.
Before Cheryl could finish her question, Kimberly had already dropped the phone and was halfway up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
“Let me out!”
That was the first intelligible sentence to reach Kimberly’s ears as she raced down the hallway toward her daughter's bedroom.
When she reached the door, she shoved it open.
In a frightening moment of déjà vu, Kimberly saw the tangled bed sheets and the writhing little girl of the previous month.
Only this time, Lynn wasn’t fending off the images of a nightmare.
This was real.
Lynn was sitting up in bed, the sheets coiled around her small body. As she twisted and writhed, kicking her legs in an attempt to free herself, the sheets seemed to tighten their hold on her.
Her face flushed, eyes wide with terror, she screamed again, wrenching at the covers with her hands. “Let me out! Let me GO!”
Kimberly raced to the bedside and grabbed a fistful of sheets, yanking as hard as she could.
How the hell did Lynn manage to tangle herself up like this?
A spasm of horror shot up Kimberly's spine like an electric shock as she felt the sheet shift and coil like a snake beneath her hand. She jerked back with a gasp but took hold of it again as the sheet began to now wind itself toward Lynn's throat.
“No!” Kimberly screamed.
“Let GO OF ME!” Lynn shrieked, clawing at her mother in her night terror.
Her sharp nails missed Kimberly’s eyes by inches.
She clutched Lynn to her body and pulled, holding fast to the girl’s arms with her right arm while trying to loosen the sheet with her left hand.
The unnatural movement of the cloth beneath her fingers made her flesh crawl.
What is happening here? Is this real? Is what I'm feeling actually REAL?
Lynn gave one final, desperate kick, and the sheet seemed to relax its supernatural grip, fluttering back to the bed in innocent blue waves of cloth.
Both mother and child fell to the floor in a clumsy heap.
“Lynn?” Kimberly whispered.
Kimberly stared open-mouthed at the now-innocuous sheet on the bed as though it might rear up like a cobra and attack. She couldn’t tell which of them was trembling more.
“Mommy, she keeps hurting me,” Lynn was sobbing into her shoulder. “Make her stop.”
“Baby, it’s OK,” Kimberly whispered, smoothing her daughter’s hair. “It’s OK. I’m here.”
Who was Lynn talking about? Who keeps hurting her?
Kimberly glared at the sheet featuring the characters from the children’s show, ‘Dora, The Explorer’. The way it was twisted up, she could see half of Dora’s face peering from beneath the multiple folds, one oversized eye glowing in the moonlight.
She rocked her daughter back and forth, whispering comforting words as she tried to suppress her own mounting terror.
Long after Lynn had fallen back to sleep in her arms, Kimberly sat with her in the darkness, back pressed to the wall by the window.
She was consumed by the irrational fear that if she made a move to leave the room, the bedclothes would follow, snaking their way across the bedroom floor, grabbing Kimberly's ankles, and dragging her under the bed where a realm more horrifying than Hell itself awaited her.
Gary put his key in the lock and turned the doorknob. He didn’t want to wake Kimberly or Lynn. When he’d looked up at the wall clock at the pool hall, he’d done a double take. It had been nearly midnight when he’d left the bar. He had promised Kimberly they’d sit down and talk. Now, it was too late. Both mother and daughter would be in bed.
He bent to unlace his work boots and staggered a bit, banging heavily into the door frame.
“Shit!” He cursed under his breath.
Gary’s heart lurched.
He snapped on the light to find Kimberly sitting alone in the dark in her nightdress, staring at him. There was a strange, eerie look in her eyes that in other circumstances, he might have found erotic.
“W…what the heck are you doing sitting here in the dark?”
“Thinking,” Kimberly replied, her level gaze still on him.
He tried to read her face. Was it anger? Was she going to start a fight with him right now, in the middle of the night?
No. That’s not how she looked. It was more than anger. It was…primal.
He felt something stir inside of him, belatedly thinking that this was a really inappropriate time to be getting turned on.
To Gary’s further discomfort, Kimberly smiled.
It was a lustful smile but not lust for pleasure; she looked like a lioness about to eat him alive.
“Kimberly?” Gary asked.
“Why do you look so frightened?” Kimberly asked, her voice now tinged with scorn.
Gary kicked his boots off and squinted at her, as if trying to see her from a great distance.
He had an insane urge to grab her and tear her clothes off right there, but her strange smile checked him, making him feel extremely unsure of himself. He felt as though he had stepped on a land mine, and one wrong move would blow him to smithereens.
“Who are you?” He finally asked, trying to force annoyance into his voice. The truth was, he was very confused and a bit scared.
“That’s a good question, Gary,” Kimberly replied, nodding. “That’s a very good question.”
Gary looked at her for a moment before taking a tentative step forward and pulling out a chair. He sat.
“Alright,” Gary said. “I’ve been out all night for days, and I know you’re angry with me. I’m sorry. I meant to come home early tonight so we could talk. I just lost track of time.”
Kimberly took a deep breath and sighed, her lascivious smile finally morphing into something more recognizable. “Gary, just do me a favor okay?”
“Alright?” Gary’s reply was tentative.
“Sleep on the couch.”
And with that, she got up and walked out of the room, switching the light off behind her.