Lois was awakened by a soft and gentle pressed lightly against her forehead. She did not open her eyes. The room stunk with the scent of death, a putrid stench of decay so strong it made her gag. She knew if she opened her eyes he would be there looming above her. Goose bumps formed on her skin as her heart stiffened inside her chest and her breath came in heavy, frightened gasps.
"Damn it!" Jeannie called out for the fourth time. She had enough problems without dealing with the brat too. Jeannie was a single mother and it was all she could do to keep going from one day to the next. Lois had always been John's daughter more than her's. Lois was a true "daddy's girl" who blamed her for John leaving. They fought nearly everyday about it. This morning though, Jeannie didn't have the time for it. She was sick of listening to the brat rattle on and on about her crazy dreams of her father. The damn car was acting up again. Its transmission was on its last legs and Jeannie herself had gotten up late. Her head throbbed from this morning's hangover and she felt like shit. Still there was nothing to do for it. She had to go to work and get the brat to school on time. Jeannie cursed again and threw the pan of eggs she'd been frying at Lois's bedroom door. It struck with a loud thump, cracking the flimsy wood.
Lois heard her mother yelling but didn't move. The icy finger removed itself from her forehead and she heard the rustling of rags as the thing of her nightmares slunk away from her. She was only eight years old but she knew the truth of things more than her mother did. Daddy hadn't left them. He died in an accident almost a year ago and he came back to visit every night and morning. She was sure he did it out of love but none the less, he scared the Hell out of her. The dead weren't supposed to drop by for visits.
Jeannie ripped open the door to Lois's room and stood in the doorway staring at her with angry bloodshot eyes. "Get up you little bitch! We're going to be late!"
Lois opened her eyes and threw down her covers. Daddy was gone. She swung her feet over the edge of the bed and leaned down to reach for her clothes but apparently too slow for her mother's liking.
Jeannie stormed over to Lois and yanked her to her feet by her hair. Lois cried out in pain and tears well up in her eyes, streaming down her cheeks. She looked up at Jeannie and whimpered. "I'm sorry mommy, but daddy. . ."
"That's it!" Jeannie roared and struck Lois with a backhanded blow so hard it knocked the girl back onto her bed. "I've had enough of your crap! Daddy's gone and he ain't comin' back no matter how much you cry about it."
Lois saw him then standing behind her mother, blacker than midnight in the tattered rags that served as his death shroud and heavy cloak. Twin burning orbs of red glowed instead of eyes inside the empty sockets of his skeletal face. He had whispered to her many times before about what Hell was like but Lois never fully understood his words except for when she saw him like this.
"Jesus!" Jeannie said catching a whiff of his odor as it crept back into the room. "What have you done in here? Did you crap in the bed, you little bitch?"
Lois didn't answer. She could only stare at her father with a mixture of awe, love, and fear.
He spoke then, a single word. "Jeannie." His voice was hollow and sounded like the sharp hiss of air leaving a ruptured lung. Her mother froze in place, her body gone rigid. Lois couldn't help but smile a bit as she watched. Now, mommy would have to believe her.
Daddy leaned forward, one of his unnaturally long arms wrapping around Jeannie's neck from behind. Jeannie's face had gone pale and she started to scream, howling at the top of her lungs. Daddy's cloak enveloped Jeannie's body as he pulled her even closer. Jeannie's elbow thrust backwards like she'd learned to do in her self-defense class. It struck bone shattering the spectre's ribs and tearing its dark rags but the thing didn't release her of soften its grip. Jeannie erupted into a panic, a mass of swinging limbs as it lifted her from the floor.
"Little bitch?" The thing hissed. "You are the bitch, Jeannie."
Lois watched as her daddy brought one of his boney fingers up to Jeannie's throat and poked it inside. Blood spurted from the wound as the finger slowly raked its way across Jeannie's neck. Then it dropped her spasming body to the floor and showed it white teeth to Lois, vanishing into the shadows.
Lois heard shouts from the hallway as Mr. Allen kicked down the front door and rushed into her bedroom to see her sitting calmly upon her bed above Jeannie's corpse which lay in an ever widening pool of red upon the floor.
Copyright © 2002 by Eric S. Brown.
Previously published in The Murder Hole