A White Picket Fence
by Susanne Thomas
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
The lights in the dining room illuminate the room, highlighting the older photos on the wall of far off places. Rebekah sets down the last of the dinner onto the table and begins to put food on plates. She nods at Elizabeth, who then says a quick blessing. “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. By his hands, we all are fed. Thank you, Lord, for our daily bread.”
“Amen,” comes the chorus.
The twins begin to eat. Isaac wiggles in his seat. “Mmmm, Caesar salad, my favorite.”
Elizabeth looks at the few leaves on her plate and sticks her tongue out. “Do I have to eat it?”
Rebekah sighs, wondering how one twin can eat all foods put in front of him and the other nothing. “One bite, then you can say no thank you.”
Elizabeth sighs at the abuse, and nods. “Yes, Mom.” Noticing her Mom’s bemused expression, she adds, “I like the chicken.”
Micah eats quietly for a bit. “This is good, Mom.”
Rebekah grins and teases. “Well, there is a miracle, a compliment from the giant living in my house.” He shrugs his shoulder at her teasing, and she pats his free hand. “Oh, don’t ruin it with the shoulder thing.”
The meal passes pleasantly for a while until the little girl looks behind her Mom and out the window. “Mommy?”
Rebekah looks up. “Yes?”
“Who’s that man outside?” she asks.
Rebekah feels ice slide down her back down to her feet. “What?” She swivels her head.
Micah is already at the window looking out. “I don’t see anyone. Want me to go check?”
She nods. “Yes, hurry.” She looks back at her small daughter. “Are you sure you saw someone?”
Elizabeth looks at her, eyes wide and mouth serious. “Yep, he was walking by the window. He looked kind of like the guy who gave us the house. He had checkers on his shirt and everything.”
Rebekah looks out of the window, waiting for Micah. He returns out of breath and shakes his head. “Mom, I didn’t see anything.”
Rebekah asks, “Are you sure? You checked everywhere?”
“Yes, I looked everywhere. There weren’t any cars or people or even animals.” He frowns.
The Mom stifles a sigh and nods. “Fine, why don’t you take the twins upstairs while I lock up, okay? Make sure windows are closed and locked.”
Micah doesn’t even try to fight, aware of the angst his Mom is feeling. “Sure.”
The three children climb the stairs together; Rebekah steps outside and walks the length of the wrap-around porch, peering into the darkness. All the other homes are too far away to offer any true light to the yard but seem undisturbed. She shrugs and walks back in and locks all the doors and shuts the windows. She clears the table quickly and climbs the stairs to read herself to sleep.
* * *
As the weeks pass, the family settles into their routines. Rebekah gets home from her night job and gets the kids out of the house to school. She sleeps for a few hours and uses the rest of the time for household chores till the kids come home and need help with homework.
The afternoon is cool but sunny and she smiles. She has been waiting for a good day to use the clothes line in the backyard near the garage. Rebekah has fond memories of the smells her grandmother’s laundry always had from the sunshine and air.
She pushes herself out of bed and gets dressed in her sweats and t-shirt. She enjoys taking care of the large house. She bounds down the stairs to the washer and loads up her basket with sheets freshly washed when she got home from work. Rebekah hangs each one with the clothespins she bought at the store. She hums to herself as she gets all of the sheets up. A slight wind pushes at the sheets, and she walks between them, enjoying the contrast of her dark hands against the pastel colored sheets.
A clanging reaches her ears and she looks around, peering off into the stretch of land around them. No dogs are out, and she sees no signs of cats either, and certainly no people. She turns and looks at her porch, but it’s empty. She glances at her watch and notices that it’s only one-thirty. No children should be home for at least an hour.
She hears the metallic clanging again, louder. This time she can tell that it’s coming from the garage. She approaches slowly. They have not had any real problems yet with wild animals, though she expected some when they came from the city. The door is slightly ajar. She shakes her head at her silliness as she kicks it slightly open with her toe and jumps back.
Inside the garage bopping along to his mp3 player sits Micah, reading a stack of comic books. His foot taps a metal bucket sitting nearby. Rebekah slams the door all the way open, rage filling her. “Micah Andre Willison, what do you think you’re doing?”
Micah jumps, hitting his head on the chair he leans against. “Ow, Mom? Wait, wait, let me explain.”
Micah’s face is guilty and sad. Rebekah shakes her head. “Explain what? Why are you here, skipping school? Are you on drugs, son?”
He stands up. “What? No! Why would you say that? I just didn’t want to go to school today. It’s stupid.”
Her hands are on her hips as she faces him, angry and almost trembling. “What is stupid? Your education?”
“No. It’s school spirit week. Everyone is wearing colors and painting their faces, and you’re supposed to buy stupid lollipops that are blue and gold. It’s so dumb. I don’t have blue and gold shirts. I don’t want to paint my face or buy their gross lollipops. So I stayed home.”
She frowns and growls at him, “Am I stupid? Is that why you’re using that as an excuse? We didn’t move out here for you to throw away the opportunity you’re being given. Get in the house; get in the house now if you know what’s good for you.”
Micah reaches down for his stack of comic books. “Whatever.”
“Don’t take those.”
“They’ll get dirty, they’ll mold!”
Rebekah points at the house. “I don’t care. When you think those stupid comic books are more important than school, they have to go. Don’t touch them; don’t even look at them.”
He frowns and furrows his eyebrows. “Mom!”
“Get in the house.”
Micah marches in front of her, stomping, and slams into the house.
* * *
Dinner and bedtime pass tensely. She kisses her kids — though Micah tries to pull away — and sends them to bed.
The entire house is silent, asleep and dreaming. A crashing sound followed by a bang wakes Rebekah. She blinks a bit before hearing another clang from outside. She pulls on her sweatpants and slippers and runs downstairs. She peeks out back. The garage light is on. Her fear changes to anger, and she opens the door and walks quickly to the backyard. The soft grass rubs against her feet. She reaches for the door to fling it open wide when she hears Micah from behind her. “Mom?”
She turns and Micah is standing on the porch looking at her. His dark face barely visible in the night. She turns toward the garage and swallows hard. The intermittent clanging noise was still coming; she hears Micah walking toward her from behind. She throws open the doors. It is empty, furniture still strewn about, mostly covered by large white and dusty sheets.
Micah touches her shoulder and asks, “Mom? What are you doing out here?”
She turns to him. “I thought I heard you again. I thought you were trying to rescue your comics.”
Micah shakes his head. “I was trying to get to sleep. I heard a clanging sound and then heard you get up. So I followed.”
Rebekah is shaken, certain that she heard some kind of sound, but seeing nothing she looks towards the house. “Micah, look!” she yells.
He turns to look at the house. On the porch is a man. “Hey!” he shouts.
The two begin to run toward the house, as they get closer Rebekah notices that the man is the realtor who rented the house to them. She sees his vacant stare and watches as he turns and walks into the house. “Go, faster!”
They reach the door as it closes. Screams from the twins echo down the stairs, muted by the door. Fright makes her shake the door knob over and over. “It’s locked.”
Micah pushes gently on her shoulder; his voice deeper and more determined than she has ever heard him. “Move.”
Micah pushes at the door several times, splintering it and then breaking it open with his shoulder. He rubs it as they rush in and look around; Rebekah looks at him.
Screams come from upstairs, and Micah shouts, “The twins!”
Rebekah’s voice is shaky. “I hear them.” They run thundering up the stairs; and she screams, “Isaac! Elizabeth!”
“MOMMY!” The word slams into her with almost physical force and then the screams stop.
They open the door and, in the center of the large room the twins share, are four small brown arms showing from the elbows up. The rest of their bodies seem buried beneath a floor that is no longer cream carpeting but has become a swirling blur of putrid colors.
Rebekah looks down at the floor and cries, “What is that?” She screams, “Isaac? Elizabeth?”
Micah reaches down to one pair of the soft, dark-skinned hands and grabs. “Get their hands. Pull.”
Rebekah begins to pull the other set and under her breath pleads, “God please, please, please. I can’t.”
“Pull, Mom! Pull!”
They pull inch after inch of the children until something gives. The two bodies come out of the floor. The room rings with a slurping sound as the twins are brought to safety. The family lies on the floor Micah and Rebekah holding their burdens against them.
Elizabeth and Isaac are dripping with a thick goo. They are slick and smell like hot, rotten meat. The goo clings to their bodies and colors their clothing shades of green and brown. Micah and Rebekah drag the twins to their feet, and the goo slides down their bodies and collects into a puddle that disappears into the still shifting floor. Rebekah sobs, “Babies, oh my babies.”
Picking Elizabeth up, Micah nudges her. “Let’s go.”
They run down the stairs. When Micah reaches the landing, the front door slams. “The door!”
As the door closes, Rebekah reaches the bottom step; her right leg sinks down to the middle of her thigh. The floor around her has begun to melt. She feels warmth around her thigh and a pulsing sensation as she’s pulled further down. “My leg. Micah, Isaac!”
She rolls Isaac gently away from her, trying to save him. He makes it beside Micah, who puts down Elizabeth next to the door and Isaac next to her as they recover. “Mom!”
She sinks further, hips disappearing as Micah tries to stop her. Rebekah can feel growing heat from her legs and she grabs for something to hold onto. The storm shutters close one by one. The sound fills the room, reverberating in the chaos. The sound erupts over and over, shaking her sinking body. Rebekah can’t remember how many windows the house has, but she counts at least eight slams before Micah cries, “I can’t pull you.”
Rebekah notices the shutters closing and points to them. “The windows!”
The twins have become aware of their surroundings; they see their mother sinking and begin to scream.
The floor buries her chest, and she pushes Micah’s hands away and puts them behind her where he can’t reach. She knows her children can escape only if they leave her. The bottom half of her body is beginning to numb. The heat is still there and radiates up from the sickening sludge the floor has become. She smells rancid meat and a sharp scent of ammonia mixed in with the rot.
Micah tries to grab her again. “Mom, no, Mom.”
Rebekah shakes her head. Tears stream from her face; she can taste the salt as they pass her mouth. The warmth from below is pulsing with pressure. She is confused and terrified. The ground pulling her down does not cease. The heat begins to hurt. She is incapable of fighting it much longer. Fear of what is coming threatens to choke her. “Get them out, baby. Save them. Don’t die here with me. I love you; you know that? I love you. Don’t forget. Promise, you promise you won’t forget that?”
He backs away a bit. “Okay, okay, Mom, just hold on. Let me get them out. Hang on, Mom, hang on.” Micah looks around. Rebekah watches him swivel around the room, searching. He finds a chair and throws it through the window. The glass shatters to the ground and a loud groan seems to come from all around.
Rebekah looks around and sees the walls beginning to heave. A wave of what makes the floor around her rises up and covers her completely. Her last sight is that of Micah lifting Isaac through the window.
She finds herself joined to the creature that looked like their home. The walls, the furniture, the floors of the entire structure are part of her now, or she is part of them. Around her is warmth; it covers her. It hurts, a continual ache of too much heat. Acid surrounds her. She pushes and tries to break through whatever it is that she is in.
She finds that, though she cannot see, she can feel what the house around her feels. She sees Micah carrying a screaming Elizabeth over the window, helping her join her twin. His body twists and he searches. His tears fall to the ground, mixing with the still churning building. Rebekah struggles to make sense of everything, as Micah grabs the keys from the table between the door and window.
The smells, sounds, and pressures against her swirl madly. The speed of information is rapid and disjointed. She tries to retreat from everything, and for a moment she feels only blackness. For an immeasurable amount of time, she forgets who she is and where she is. There is nothing but the pain and burning.
When she is able to think again, she pushes herself, searching for the knowledge of her escaping children. There is heat racing toward the creature that has subsumed her. It is a different heat, sharp and threatening. She can feel a thickly viscous liquid covering the house and smells something sharp but sweetly acidic that reminds her of a gas station.
The creature around her warps and pulses. She smells sulfur. Its voiceless body cries out as the fire flashes to life. It grows at an exponential rate, feeding off of the creature.
Rebekah feels a car speeding away and she wants to cheer. Wood planks melt down into puddles. The speed of it surprises her. The entire house seems to shake and tremble. She cannot see the green light that shines from the flaming wreckage, but she can sense anger and pain.
A wrenching shudder quakes everything around her, and she can feel the creature retreat from its vertical state. The pulsing heat around her slowly becomes all that she knows.
* * *
The sun is bright and the sky is blue. The sound of birds chirping is a sweet and happy sound. A man and a woman step out of a car. The woman is pregnant, her blonde hair pulled up in a messy bun. She smiles at the man as they let their two small children out of the car to see the home. A small blonde boy grabs his mother’s hand. The father holds onto the little girl with tiny blonde pigtails.
They look around at the large house listed for so little. The white picket fence extends all around the property. The sidewalks are well maintained; and the road is wide. The grass is so green and pretty; and the wrap-around porch is lovely. Behind the house they can see old-style clotheslines and a detached barn-style garage. The road stretches far before a neighbor’s house can be spied. The woman smiles at the lovely vision the house is presenting.
The father has sandy blonde hair and a rough beard. He looks around. “I wonder where the realtor is?”
The door opens and they are greeted. “Welcome, won’t you step inside?”
The couple smiles and steps into the house to say hello to a brown-skinned woman with braids in her hair and an absent smile.
Deep below the creature that consumed her, trapped and incorporeal, Rebekah screams silently at the family to leave. She cannot see the other souls below her, joining her in the warning; and does not know that her shouts will never do more than give her spirit a way to pass eternity.
Copyright © 2017 by Susanne Thomas