The Tempting of Mr. D
by Craig Stewart
Her focus on the orange was determined and unflinching. She watched as it rolled about the rim of her paper grocery bag, threatening to jump. She dared it to, periodically shifting the bag’s weight from side to side on her walk home from the store. The little orange hurriedly shove its way past the milk and celery, only to linger on the edge. “I’ll do it. Oh, I’ll do it!” The little orange was practically shaking its fist.
“So do it already,” she taunted back. “Just fucking do it.”
As satisfying as it would be to let it fall, to hear the delectable bursting sound as it met the harsh sidewalk, April decided enough was enough. The little orange would live for now, after all, they were Susan’s favourite.
The sun seemed unusually brilliant that day in the most annoying way possible. Its shine gleamed across the suburban street, emphasizing the cleanliness of her surroundings, which was undoubtedly the most polished of all the neighbourhoods, evident by the amount of glare reflecting back into April’s squinting eyes.
Clutching the paper grocery bag, she shuffled her feet down the middle of the road, thinking of her childhood and where it had gone. Seemed a long time ago that she felt a part of this world. Now she was nothing more than a stranger, trying desperately to hide her contrary self from an unwelcoming neighbourhood. She passed an eclectic group of onlookers staring at her from the safety of their yards, some young, some old, but she knew all thinking the same thing: there goes the girl, the girl who knows death. And it was true. April did know death. The two spoke daily. They had been acquaintances for a long time. Ever since her parents died, she knew of the dark, and it knew of her. That’s why it had come for her younger sister, Susan.
April never met the onlooker’s tedious gazes. She could feel them on her; she had an uncanny sense of being watched. But to acknowledge the crowd of wide, cartoon-sized eyeballs goggling at her would mean she would have to find another place for that orange, say right smack in the middle of one of their faces. However, that would be the waste of said orange and she couldn’t allow that, after all, they were Susan’s favourite. So, her solitary parade continued, as it did each day, marching past a frightened and ungrateful audience.
Her house, which used to belong to her parents, came into view, marking the end of her awkward lack of neighbourly interaction. The final stretch of her journey had begun as she marched up the overgrown stone walkway leading to her front door. Everything about the house’s exterior was neglected; the unkempt bushes, the peeling paint, the rotting Christmas decorations, which even now in the heat of the summer, tried desperately to wish everyone a merry holiday. On a street of pristine real estate, April’s house stuck out like a beaten prostitute in the middle of a beauty contest. The desolate façade certainly didn’t help April’s alienation, but she considered the state of the house an appropriate representation of the horrors concealed inside. If the rest of her neighbours were half as honest as she, she was certain those white picket fences would come crashing down.
As she stepped inside the surprisingly immaculate interior of the house, all thoughts of the world outside disappeared like a far off dream. As the door latch quietly clicked into place behind her, worries of her sister flooded her mind, drowning any remaining preoccupations. This was her real life. Not going to the store, not worrying about what other people thought of her. Those were luxuries, small amusements she could indulge in from time to time. In this house with her dying sister, that’s where she and her thoughts belonged and where they always returned.
With the groceries still in hand, her eyes made their way up the dark wood of the stairs toward the bedroom.
“Susan, I’m home,” she said forcefully, but with a sense of calmness. “Sorry I took so long, I’ll be up in a minute.”
With medical precision, the groceries were away, the paper bag folded and placed with the rest of the stack next to the fridge. April’s hands moved quickly readying the orange for Susan. Each slice was displayed like the pedals of a flower inside a small white bowl.
A cough called down from upstairs. Hacking and laboured as it was, April couldn’t help but take comfort in hearing even that feeble utterance from her sister. Despite knowing it was a symptom of her sickness, April preferred that over the reserved silence Susan usually implemented. A cough is at least a reaction; a reassurance that a fight is taking place, that life is not yet conquered.
A subtle tremor awakened in the floorboards beneath her feet and April immediately knew hers weren’t the only ears starved for Susan’s stirrings. The shifting continued as the thing in the floor squirmed toward the stairs, scratching its way toward Susan’s room.
April stood quietly, deliberating what it might look like. The scratching suggested it had claws, or at least nails of some kind and the sudden sharp intake of air betrayed that it was old, very old.
“Just give me today. This one day. You can do that, can’t you?” she pleaded with it. In the months that had past, April had tried almost everything else, screaming at it, trying to scare it, to bargain with it, but it never took any notice. So she thought today she’d try begging, which proved as ineffective as any of her other attempts.
She didn’t really know what it was, but she knew what it wanted: Susan. Her meditation on the nature of the thing living under the floorboards lead her to one stark conclusion that at one time might have terrified her, but she had become desensitized to its horror. She concluded it must be death, or at least death’s minion. It seemed to have no other interest. Considering the time she had spent with it, she decided it only appropriate it be given a name: Mr. D. It made it seem less formidable.
“What’s that Mr. D up to today?” she could think to herself in an effectively disarming fashion, “Oh, that silly thing, he’s at it again! What ever will I do with him?” It made the presence of her sister’s killer all the more sufferable to paint him as an annoying acquaintance. “Still here I see, you just can’t take a hint, can you?”
Susan’s door was always left open. April sometimes worried Mr. D would consider that an invitation, but it’s not like a closed door would stop him. He could crawl anywhere in the house and had no respect for privacy.
Sometimes there’d be no sound, no sign of movement. April would be quietly sitting in a room for hours reading or painting, when suddenly Mr. D would shift his position, revealing that he had been right beside her the whole time. What was he doing, was this meant to torture her? Every once in a while April wished Mr. D would just get on with it, be done with whatever his plans were. Then she remembered what was at stake, and guilt would set in for even entertaining her own impatience.
April stood at the doorway. Despite the terror of the thing scratching around in their house, nothing compared to the sight of her sister, who each day looked less and less like the person she was. At one time Susan had been a rugged sporty type, able to intimidate even the stockiest of boys when meeting them on the field. Her fearless stare and hardened figure made her the secret weapon for every coach she played for. April often thought all that aggression must stem from somewhere, maybe she was pissed about losing their parents, or maybe she was picked on one too many times. It didn’t really seem to matter now, though. The body lying on the bed before her couldn’t intimidate a sixth grader. The new vision of Susan could still give people pause, but only as she was a blatant reminder of death. In contrast to her old rugged appearance, her feeble frame looked as though a sneeze could do her in. Her lips were cracked and dry, her eyes dizzy and unfocused, her muscles were deteriorated showing off the bones wrapped up inside her emaciated form. Her hair grew thin as if the cruel hand of time had been forced upon her prematurely.
“Hey sis. I have arrived with treats.” She raised the orange slices to meet Susan’s gaze. “They’re your favourite, and they’re fucking fresh as shit. I squeezed so many to find the right one. But this one, yeah, I think this one was the best.” April considered her use of language to be of supreme importance. She prided herself on keeping it fun and exciting yet wary not to be too jubilant; it was her best defense against the oppressive mood growing ever thicker in the room.
She squeezed the orange slice between her fingers as she brought it toward Susan’s mouth. April knew the added pressure her thumb and index finger offered would really make the slice pop. Susan’s eyes closed tightly as she enjoyed the juice and texture of the orange. With a creak, April sat hard in the old fold out chair next to Susan’s bed knowing full well of the time it would take for Susan to finish just one of the slices.
As April began to take comfort in the sights and sounds of Susan’s simple enjoyment, the scratching finally made its way into the room. Mr. D scrapped under the floor, dragging himself toward the two sisters. His taxing journey didn’t end until he was located directly under Susan. April watched as the vermin-like sounds slowly pulled her sister out of her blissful escape and back into the room where death was waiting just under her bed.
Susan’s eyes widened, searching the room for the intruder. She looked as though she was returning to some familiar nightmare.
“So, you hungry for some more?” April’s voice seemed blissfully ignorant. “Cause if you don’t finish this plate, I might get a little offended. Or maybe you want something else? Pizza? Raw cookie dough? Raw pizza dough? Literally I can get you anything. I could make you a cookie pizza.”
“No.” She responded without relieving her tired gaze from the floorboards.
“Some music then. Something like what mom used to play.” April’s mind briefly fluttered to the dusty piano frozen in time in the living room. “Yeah, I’ll put some music on.”
Susan’s tired yet troubled gaze finally made it’s way back over to April. She offered her an unconvincing smile and then once again turned to the floorboards.
The most painful failure April had to endure were the times when Susan felt compelled to offer her comfort. The last thing April wanted herself to be was another burden for her sister to bear, yet every once in a while, she felt Susan peer right through her positive façade and find the pain she thought she had hidden so well. April’s pain was for her and for her alone. No one else was ever to know it was there, least of all Susan. All this, wrapped up in a single strained smile.
“I’ll never let him take you.” April’s voice was raw and genuine. It communicated her conviction, a sense that she knew what lay ahead and of the battle she’d have to endure. She said it loud enough so Mr. D could surely hear. April wanted him to hear. She kissed Susan on the forehead and stepped out of the room in search of some music.
It was approaching nine months since Mr. D’s presence had become apparent, which gave April pause; perhaps death and birth were darkly related, if so, something was going to happen soon and nothing seemed even a hopeful remedy. The day he arrived was the day Susan’s sickness took hold. Since then, April knew who was to blame, so the ineffectiveness of medical tests and treatments came as no surprise to her.
Susan’s condition remained as unexplainable and unstoppable as ever. It was as if Mr. D had taken hold of a secret part of her and was stealing it away more and more each day. Still the problem persisted: how to persuade Mr. D from his obsession with Susan. April was convinced the solution lay in the mystery of how Mr. D came to this house in the first place. Was it a random act, or was there a reason to be found if examined closely enough? She feared what was random. Random was meaningless, and you can’t do battle with meaninglessness, let alone figure out its wants and desires. No, April had to believe that Susan was chosen for a reason and in finding out what that was, she could finally meet her adversary on level terms, despite him being beneath her feet.
Whimpers in the night woke April from what she had come to accept as sleep, which could be more accurately described as lying in unrest until the sun rose. The wood floor was a cold welcome for her bare feet, but she braved its deathly chill as she made her way down the hall toward Susan’s room.
Her steps grew lighter as she moved closer to the open door. It was even more rare for Susan to get a full nights rest, so April didn’t want to take the chance of disturbing her should this just be a case of talking in her sleep.
Clutching the dark wood trim of the door, April’s head slowly peered into the room. The deep shadows added a layer of mystery to every space her eyes searched out. She could decipher just enough to suggest something sinister, but not enough to conclude the best course of action.
It looked as though Susan was hunched over the side of the bed, her face toward the ground. She made desperate sounds, like a starving dog caught in a trap. It didn’t even sound like Susan, it sounded like something was broken, something was changed.
April took a loud step into the room and reached for the light. Her finger hovered inches away from the switch as Susan fell silent. Suddenly, the sound of another voice became apparent. Its breathy quality called halt to April’s actions and rendered her limbs useless. She stood there, hand shaking above the light switch, seconds away from revealing the one to whom the voice belonged.
She watched the darkness as it grew like an inkblot across the walls, snuffing out even the faintest hint of light. The voice continued but April couldn’t make out what it was saying. If the wind could speak, she thought, this is what it’d sound like. It was a cold tumbling voice with no emphasis or passion, just a single driving rhythm. Finally, her waiting paid off and she bore audience to one distinct word choked out from its throat above all the others: “Soon”.
The ceiling light burst back to life, spraying its glow across the room. April rushed to Susan’s side and helped her lean back into bed.
“Susan, was he talking to you? Did he say anything, anything at all? What did he say?”
“No.” Her eyes were glazed over as if she was still half asleep. April tenderly wiped the tears from Susan’s cheeks.
“Susan. If he’s told you anything, you need to tell me,” she pleaded, “You have to try. Alright, are you listening? You have to promise you’ll keep trying and tell me what he said.”
Susan’s eyes closed and she let out a burdened sigh as she pressed her head deeper into her pillow. April stood next to her in disbelief. She may never know what Mr. D told her, but for the first time in months, Susan actually looked at rest.
She returned the room to darkness and left, but slept in the hallway that night as if to stand watch should Mr. D choose to return.
In the days that followed, April felt a cold detachment from her sister. It was as if she had turned off. April was used to digging for responses, but she had never dug this deeply before and feared it was a pointless exercise, a kind of grim preparation for the grave. Susan would barely look at her and when she did, it was as if her sight passed straight through, causing April to nervously check behind herself on more than one occasion.
April had just finished reading Susan the last letter their mother had written them before she died. It was a loving note that was simply meant to inform the two sisters on the progress of their parents’ exotic trip, but as it was their last correspondence, it became more than that. It became a sacred artifact as pricelessly valuable as anything material can be. Reading the letter was a desperate attempt on April’s part to pull out an emotional response from her sister. She was willing to try anything to reveal a glimpse of the old Susan. It didn’t work. Annoyed, she forced the worn letter back into the envelope and started out of the room.
“You know I still love you,” April said, “I don’t know what this is about. But I love you. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.” She turned to her sister and allowed her face to express the honesty from which she spoke. Susan’s eyes were focused on the far corner of the room, but April was certain she heard what was said and for a brief moment was contented by it.
She carefully folded the letter under her arm and headed down the dim light of the hallway. She hated removing the letter from the safety of its spot on the bookshelf and secretly kept track of how many times she folded and unfolded the paper in an effort to estimate its precious life expectancy. Every crease brought it closer and closer to dust and the thought tortured her.
Behind her, the floorboards strained resulting in a cacophony of moans. The familiar sound of wood twisting and cracking brought April to a stop. She slowly pivoted around, trying to make the move as elegant and silent as possible.
April judged from the noise that Mr. D had just crawled out of Susan’s room and was now waiting at the other end of the hallway. She wondered what brought him out; when Susan was awake, he always liked to be near her.
“Are you following me, Mr. D?” she asked with an unavoidable smirk on her face. “What’s the matter, you don’t want to talk anymore? You seemed to have so much to say the other night.”
Suddenly, something inside her gave way, as if her façade was breaking down, and she felt free. As it collapsed, she discovered a profound hate and sadness that had been tumultuously building into a formidable maelstrom. The smirk broke apart. Her lips quivered and her eyes grew glassy.
“Fuck you. You piece of shit. You horrible fucking bastard. What gives you the right to take her? You’re rotten. You’re a rotten, disgusting thing and I fucking hate you. I fucking hate you more than anything and I swear I’ll see you burn for what you’ve done to her. Do you hear me? I’ll set you aflame and I’ll fucking watch you burn, and squirm, and cry, and beg.”
In April’s tight fist was her mother’s note, crushed into a ball. As soon as she took notice, a wave of panic obliterated her previous state of mind and carried her into her room where she meticulously tried to flatten out every wrinkle. The effort to return the letter to its former visage proved futile. There was no taking it back, every wrinkle, every rip, was there to stay. The note that lay before her was a damaged version, a shadow of what it once was, clouded and ever more fragile. April cursed her momentary loss of control and after returning the wounded letter to the bookshelf, she decided some quiet time was in order.
The steaming water threatened to overflow at every corner of the tub, but April didn’t care. She sunk her head deep into its comforting warmth until every sound in the house was silenced. There, under the water, April could feel escape. She would allow herself this treat only for a moment, for fear it would become too tempting.
As her head broke the surface of the water and she once again returned to reality, a subtle tapping sound caught her attention. It was almost bird-like in its pace and she couldn’t quite understand where it was coming from.
The bathroom was empty, the elaborate tiles covering the floor and walls dripped with condensation. April remained in the water, calmly tracing every inch of the space with her eyes. One of her hands built up the courage to face the frigid temperature of the air and reached out to grip the edge of the tub.
She was seconds away from returning to her nothingness when one of the small tiles finally popped off the wall and was sent scraping across the floor. The tapping had achieved its goal. Where the tile had been was now a small dark hole.
April froze in the tub, unsure of what she should do. Her eyes locked onto the dark space that peered at her from across the room. It was as if the wall suddenly grew eyes and the whole space became an invasive voyeur. The safety of her seclusion was compromised, yet she couldn’t take her eyes away from their new focal point.
In the darkness, something moved. No light could reach inside the secret place between the walls, but something in its shifting shadows told April that Mr. D was there and he was watching her.
She immediately jumped out of the tub and covered her naked body. He had never displayed this kind of aggression before, especially not to her. April wasn’t sure what it was, but things were changing.
Despite her immediate bashful impulse, her attention remained fixated on the mystery of what lay behind the wall. Perhaps this was her chance to actually confront him, to convince him or even kill him.
She took a step forward and forced her cautious hand into action. Slowly, she reached across the space between her and the opening. April could almost literally see the blood pulsing through her fingertips as her heart beat like an excited rabbit; was she about to find a carrot, or a hungry dog? As her hand moved closer, she felt a cold breeze coming from the darkness. The dead air pushed out into the room, and then sucked back in, like an imitation of breathing. Her index finger was inches away from the hole; making contact with Mr. D was mere moments from being a reality. Her timid touch entered the opening and felt around the edges of the wall. It was dusty, very dusty. She continued her search, feeling around the empty space, terrified to reach further and terrified not to.
There was nothing. He was gone, if indeed he was even there to begin with. All wasn’t lost, however. Though she didn’t make contact, Mr. D did unintentionally confess to April a hint of motive. He had wants, he had desires, and if he had those things, then he could be reasoned with, bribed, or tempted from taking her sister. He was no longer some unrelatable thing; this was proof there was a piece of humanity hidden within him somewhere and now all April needed to do was find it.
Night grew quicker than usual and before April knew it, the day had been spent. Once again, she laid in her bed and stared up at the ceiling, her mind frantically tearing through the thoughts and worries of the day. Finally, she succumbed to the notion that although Mr. D did in some way have human traits, his existence was beyond her. She would never be able to deal with him on level terms; he’d always have the advantage because he’d always be a mystery. He probably knew everything about her, every secret, every habit and every fear. What other power can a voyeur hold other than knowledge? He wasn’t some mindless unstoppable thing on a mission, he was there because, at least on some level, he wanted to be. This was the vulnerability she obsessed over, but exploiting it seemed to be a dead end.
Her thoughts continued in this fashion, a futile battle of theories, until finally they were interrupted by the awkward sounds of an invaded house. She leaned up in bed and became a more attentive audience to the house’s symphony of mysterious rattles and moans. She’d heard the others before, but the thumping was new. They called out to her, a series of uneven bangs, like a child throwing stones at a window.
When April entered Susan’s room, the house fell silent. Susan appeared undisturbed by the violent sounds abound and seemed to be dreaming sweet thoughts of escape. April knew the kind of peace that meant, so when she stepped over to the side of her sister’s bed, she stepped silently.
She brushed some hair from Susan’s face to make room for a gentle kiss on her forehead. While she was asleep, Susan almost looked like a normal girl and it was easy for April to imagine all the pain, the screams in the night, the deterioration, the weakness, the bedpans, the blood, the shit, it was all just a bad dream. “When her eyes open,” April thought, “she’ll be just as she was.”
Nothing disturbed April more than imagining what Susan’s life would have been had Mr. D never come crawling into it. She’d probably be applying for college right now, stressing over what courses to take, making decisions that would undoubtedly lead to whatever life she was meant to live. But April knew to go searching for Susan in that place full of possibilities wasn’t where you’d find her. Susan was here, dying in the bed in front of her, trapped in a house infested by some repugnant creature whose sole interest was in ending her life.
A wet droplet landed on April’s hand and rolled around into her palm. She reached up and felt dampness on her cheeks before she realized she was crying. She turned her back to Susan in an effort to spare her any more sadness should she awaken. The foldout chair made a decent seat as April focused on blocking out these troublesome thoughts.
Her breathing was sporadic and she worried her sniffling was loud enough to wake Susan, but containing herself was not an option. She sat in the dark and wept deeply into her own hands.
Just as despair was about to have its way with her, a moment of comfort came in the form of Susan’s delicate touch. Her sister’s hand found its way onto her back and calmly rubbed in the pattern of a figure eight, just like their mother used to. Almost instantly, April’s weeping stopped.
It had been days since Susan even responded to her, let alone tried to console her. April soaked up the strength this gesture offered and used it to collect herself. The figure eights told April everything she desired to know. It made evident Susan cared about her and about her own life. Despite her struggles, Susan still found it within herself to help her older sister. There was a bond between them that remained untouched by Mr. D’s venomous influence. Finally, there was something that was beyond even him. That’s all the conformation April needed to continue on.
The comforting touch reached her shoulders. It was then April noticed how cold the hand was. There was a familiar chill emanating from it that passed right through her shirt and buried deep into the flesh of her back, splashing shivers through her body.
April’s breath caught in her throat as the hand snaked its way behind her neck. Its fingers were rough like sand paper and scraped across her exposed skin, pulling and dragging across the top of her spine. The long jagged fingernails twisted into her hair, their torn edges snagged lone strands as they combed through.
She kicked the chair backwards and flipped herself against the wall finding solace in the unmistakable concreteness of what was behind her.
Her vision caught a glimpse of a decrepit hand disappearing under the bed. It elegantly recoiled into the darkness like a bird coming in for a landing. Susan remained blissfully asleep.
Terror was overtaken by a fury brought forth from the invasive deceit Mr. D had perpetrated. It allowed no time for April to be frightened, she was too angry to be afraid. The fact he knew about the figure eight suggested he had been watching them for longer then even April would have guessed. Her thoughts went as far as to claim him somehow orchestrator of their parents’ deaths as well.
April pushed Susan’s bed, sending the wood legs grinding across the floor. Still, Susan’s slumber remained unshaken. Underneath the bed was a hole in the wood boards just big enough to fit an arm. She peered into it unsure of what she’d see.
After her eyes had time to adjust, she came to realize what she was staring at was in fact an eye, or at least the absence of one. It was a hollow socket surrounded by dry flesh, like old leather. Although there was no pupil, she knew it was looking back at her. Slowly, it descended deeper under the floor until the shadows swallowed it up.
She stood in silence trying to process what she had just seen. In all the confusion, one thought flew through her mind with total clarity: Mr. D had a face, which also meant he had a head, and April then knew exactly what was to be done about that. She’d have to cut it off.
The final day had arrived. No more deliberating, no more contemplating or being terrorized. April swore that after night had settled and those all too familiar shadows crept their way into the house, she would have her sister back and Mr. D would be no more.
The choice to put the whole situation to rest wasn’t purely her own; she was spurred into it by the intensifying and unpredictable aggression with which Mr. D was now treating her. Angry pounding kept her awake, she’d find walls torn through with scratch marks tracing from floor to ceiling, but the worst development was the whispering Mr. D and Susan had come to share regularly at night. Their secret murmurs were more disturbing for April than any scratched wall or restless sleep. The idea that Susan had developed some kind of sickening rapport with the thing that wanted her life felt blasphemous to April. Maybe it was part of his game to try to win her over before taking her away. Regardless, April knew she was losing her and the time to act was now.
Stepping outside, April was once again reminded of how the world was supposed to be. There was the blue sky above her, the sun drenched street in front of her and behind her was the house of horrors she’d come to call home. She felt the inquisitive eyes of the neighbourhood descend upon her, a welcome change of audience from Mr. D’s deathly gaze.
She walked around back to their father’s old shed, kicking junk out of the way as she went. Some of the junk she knew, some was merely left by people assuming the house was abandoned or a conveniently placed landfill. However, by the end of the night, all of that would change. Once Susan was better, April dreamed of getting the house back into the shape their parents left it. A sense of pride struck a smile across her face, and she didn’t try to fight it, she allowed the pleasant thought to run its course, after all, every reality starts as a dream.
The rusted shed door cracked open with surprising ease, practically jumping off its hinges as if the poor thing enjoyed falling apart. Her father’s hobby was building things and over the years he had amassed an impressive collection of tools. She scanned the instruments making a mental list in her head. There was enough spare wood and nails to cover all of Mr. D’s peep holes, as well as an array of digging tools. April assumed that if she wanted Mr. D, she’d have to go hunting for him, so a surprise attack through the floor was her only option. Luckily, her father kept a superfluous pickaxe that he had never found a use for, but April was planning on remedying that.
The work was hard, but she was thankful for it as it kept her mind distracted. All in all, there were fourteen holes throughout the house she needed to seal, which took up most of the day. The remaining time was spent with Susan, who, although was no longer talking to April, didn’t object to having her around especially when eating or going to the bathroom was on the agenda.
The sun cowardly ducked behind the horizon like it knew of the horrors to come and had to turn away. April was glad the day passed quickly. A dreadful anticipation was building inside her and although she feared the possible outcome, on some level she enjoyed the thought of a conclusion to this nightmare.
April stood like an armed guard just outside Susan’s door. She listened in silence to her sister’s breathing as it slowly drifted deeper into a state of sleep. In her hands she tightly clutched the pickaxe as if she were trying to strangle the life from it. There were no worries Mr. D would see her, she was sure all of his vantage points were taken away. Now, it was simply a waiting game.
The sounds of the house seemed subdued, almost relaxed. April took it as a sign Mr. D had no idea what was coming. He would arrive like usual and whisper in her sister’s ear and once April was sure he was distracted, she’d bury the blade of the pickaxe through the floor and with a little luck, straight into his heart.
The seconds ticked away in time to Susan’s breathing. April stared at the dirty striped wallpaper in front of her. Normally, she wouldn’t have expended a single thought on what was covering the walls, but the garish coloured pattern proved impossible for her restless eyes to avoid. She wondered if it had once lined the tent of a circus, or good old fashioned freak show. No, she was sure it would offend their sense of taste as well. What were her parents thinking, what would possess them to have invested in such a repulsive design? Was it a joke? Who were they trying to scare? As a child, April could remember running down the hallway full speed, the colourful stripes strobing in her peripheral vision. She had to be careful because it had the power to induce an instant headache.
Susan and April used to play in the hallway and despite being the eldest, April was usually the one being chased. From an early age, Susan was stronger and faster, which was something April envied. She was the one bringing home awards for track and field, while April mostly brought home misshapen pinecones for her growing collection of pointless things in a box. The attention Susan received for her accomplishments led April to satiate her childhood jealousy by burying those very awards in an unmarked grave in the backyard. For this, despite it being adolescent and trivial, April was deeply sorry. Any pain, any disappointment or inconvenience Susan may have suffered by April’s hand, no matter how minuscule, now weighed upon her like a shameful secret.
Maybe it was April’s childish ill-wishing that first brought Mr. D’s attention down on Susan. For all April knew, it was her damning thoughts toward her sister that called him forth. Perhaps April was to blame for all this suffering. It certainly wasn’t Susan’s doing, so why shouldn’t it be hers? April took that responsibility onto herself and vowed to make it right again.
From Susan’s room, the floorboards cracked. It sounded as though Mr. D was once again breaking through. April steadied herself and listened.
The squeaking sound of metal nails being wrenched from their home suggested to April that one of her patches was under attack. Most likely, April thought, it was the one under Susan’s bed.
April leaned around the edge of the doorway, careful not to bring too much attention to herself. The darkness of the house helped her spying as she peered into the room. What she found wasn’t exactly what she expected.
Susan’s bed was pushed aside; Susan herself was huddled over April’s patchwork trying desperately to tear it from the floor. The sight of her deathly ill sister now wielding the strength to remove flooring was more than troublesome. Unless Susan had recently made a miraculous full recovery, April was beginning to realize she was victim to a terrible hoax.
Frozen in her profoundly confounded state, April watched in amazement for the horrible truth to unfold. Although she didn’t look it, Susan at a time was sick, that was doubtless, but her health must have been secretly improving. The colour had returned to Susan’s face and she had started to gain weight, but April assumed since she was still bedridden that Mr. D’s influence wasn’t waning. However, if she was able bodied enough to jump out of bed, then the dreaded question remained as to why she kept it a secret.
The wood plank came flying free from the hole in the floor. It crashed against the wall with a few stray bent nails sticking out of it. Susan leaned over the opening as if peering off the edge of a cliff into a cavernous abyss. She took her time examining the seemingly vast space beneath the floor, looking as though she found enjoyment in its emptiness.
“Mr. D, are you there?” Susan whispered softly into the void. “Mr. D, are you listening?”
“Yes.” The cold voice returned sending shivers through April’s body. His voice was almost as bad as his touch.
“Do you wish to hear more?” She asked.
“She’s strong, stronger than she thinks. Stronger than me. She thinks she can best you. I know better, I know now you’re absolute. There’s nothing beyond you, isn’t that right?”
“To claim her would be to choose someone worthy. I have so little to offer. She’s beautiful, smart, powerful, she has convictions. To take those away, that would be something worth extinguishing. She’s loved and has loved. She loves me. She has meaning and purpose.”
April watched in silence as her sister betrayed her. All those whispers, all those secret conversations in the dark, they were all about her. Susan had found a way to persuade Mr. D and the price for her own salvation was as monstrous as the fate she was trying to escape.
“More.” Mr. D beckoned with a disturbing urgency.
“She’s selfless. And she knows you, she knows death. She’s seen your face and still carries on, despite your horrors. She has the courage to fight back, knowing fully well that in the end, it’s your game, and you’ll always win. I couldn’t do that. I can’t. She believes you to be on her level, that you can be destroyed, that you’re just another thing, like us.”
“You know her name.”
“Her name.” He repeated. Even with his voice as empty as it was, it seemed somehow threatening.
“April. My sister, April.”
“April.” For the first time Mr. D’s voice found enjoyment in what it was saying.
From behind the door, April stepped quickly into the room. Susan barely had time to look up before the pickaxe was brought down, cracking through the floor. It lodged between the boards and from the opening came a billowing cloud of dust, whirling around the room like a swarm of insects.
A low rumble took hold of the house as if at any minute it could be swallowed up. Susan covered her ears and pushed herself into the corner.
April ripped the pickaxe from the floor and in a whirlwind of fury sent the spike hurdling into the opening, hoping it to become lodged in Mr. D’s head. Instead, something grabbed hold of it.
With all her strength, April tried to pry the pickaxe free, but it wouldn’t budge. The dust gathered around her eyes as if it knew where it was going. April covered her face with her hands and fell backwards, slamming hard against the floor.
The pickaxe was sucked into the void and the floorboards started to quake.
Despite the threatening display in front of her, April turned to Susan and found a face mangled by a mixture of terror and tears. She appeared to April as a broken child, sniveling in the corner, pitiful and scared just as she was. April understood the depth of Susan’s betrayal, but her first instinct was still to play the big sister. She wanted to hold her tight and tell her everything would be okay. Even if the cost was her own life, even if it was Susan’s love, as long as her little sister would see tomorrow, that’s all that mattered. Everything else was mute. Both of them had been working to the same end, but Susan had the guts to do what needed to be done, and for that, April still loved her.
The floor broke inwards, sinking into itself self until a large gaping crater took center stage in the room. April’s feet kicked at the edge of the crater’s mouth as it continued to grow, swallowing Susan’s bed.
From the blackness emerged a familiar decrepit hand that reached high into the air before slamming its palm down on the floor just in front of April. Another hand spilled out of shadows to help pull Mr. D’s full body from the pit.
This was the first time either April or Susan had seen Mr. D in all his macabre majesty. He had a body like a man and was dressed as a respectable gentleman from the nineteen twenties. A thin layer of soot covered him from head to toe. His face looked mummified and contorted around his eyeless sockets. The gleaming teeth he displayed seemed to be his only prideful attribute; they were large, clean and polished. Compared to the rest of his dry cracking flesh, they positively glowed. His lips peeled back either as an attempt at a smile, or an animalistic threat.
His movements were that of a broken wound-up toy, moving slowly at first, then suddenly snapping into place. He crawled toward April, all the while keeping his teeth bared. His sharp fingernails scratched the wood, leaving deep gouges in their wake. Billowing out of his throat was a strange hum with a simplistic melody, as if he was trying to calm her.
As he edged closer, April realized that for all the time she had spent contemplating the deaths of those around her, she rarely thought of her own. It was an entirely different beast when it came crawling for her. She’d thought she’d be more prepared, unafraid, but to her very core she was terrified. Death wasn’t here to take her away. To be taken away seemed too soft a phrase. Once he reached her, April wasn’t going to be relocated to some mysterious place, or even into the darkness of the pit, she would be ended. This was her end, whatever that meant. In that uncertainty, she could find a shred of comfort. Everyone shared in the torturous mystery that now crawled toward her; facing it was life’s only guarantee. In this one unifying horror, April felt connected at last.
She knew that if she ran, he’d catch her and if she hid, he’d find her. So, as Susan cried in the corner, repenting for the sacrifice she’d offered and Mr. D reached his greedy withered hand to claim his prize, there was very little left to say.
“So do it already,” April taunted. “Just fucking do it.”