[This recording was found in a house around suburbia Colorado. A transcript has been prepared for inclusion in any reports.]
[The tape starts with a frantic voice:]
This isn’t true; this can’t be true! There is just no way it is possible! It is some mad dream, must be! I- I can’t- Oh God I can’t do it! –Can’t breath.
[The voice takes several deep breathes while attempting to calm himself down.]
Oh- Okay. I gotta start from the beginning. That is the only way I can make sense of it all.
One year ago I was a happily married man. My name is Ben. I had been married for quite some time and I have a beautiful eight year old that looks just like her mother. My wife, Barbara, and I would spend hours just looking at beautiful daughter, Karen. I still don’t know how we made something so perfect. Eleven months ago, I was a widower, trying to raise a daughter on my own. It was a car accident that stole Barbara away from me. I like to blame the car accident for her death, but it was me. I killed her.
[Stifled groan of self-loathing.]
I dedicated myself to raising Karen right. The first few months were the toughest. These past eleven months have been hellish and I doubt they are going to turn better anytime soon. The first few weeks after the accident, Karen couldn’t understand it. She asked all sorts of questions I never knew how to answer. She asked where had mommy gone and I told her that she was in heaven. She wanted to know when she was coming back and I tried to let her down as softly as possible. I told her that she’s gone. She won’t be coming back. She wept for a while and the sounds that came out of her were so heart-rending that I almost broke down myself. I couldn’t, I couldn’t let Karen see me lose it. I had to be strong.
She persisted with those questions for the first few months. I knew that she couldn’t wrap her mind around the immovability of death. To be honest, I couldn’t either. For the first few months I would roll over in the morning, half-expecting to see her angel-kissed auburn hair and empyreal visage on the pillow next to me before I would remember that she was gone. The mantra became my morning laud and evening vesper. She’s gone, she’s gone, she’s gone.
I can only describe my life after Barbara’s death as living with a hole in your heart. It doesn’t completely ruin your heart; it just serves as a constant reminder that there is something absent. I know I felt it and I am sure Karen experienced it. I kept taking care of my daughter, but I stopped caring for myself. My hair has grown shaggy and I can see strands of gray rising up in what was once an obsidian sea. My eyes are constantly ringed with a lack of sleep and my features have taken on a sallow appearance. My once broad and proud face seems to now be constantly bent in self-defeat.
Despite not caring for myself, I expended all my energy in caring for Karen. I made sure she was well fed, attended school, and was emotionally cared for. Most of all; I made sure she felt loved. A day didn’t pass where I didn’t hug her or plant a kiss on the top of her head. The questions persisted daily. She wanted to know what happened to mom. I couldn’t tell her the full story. I could only manage the bits and pieces. We were driving home, there was an accident, and she was too hurt to survive her injuries. She made these questions an omnipresent part of our lives.
I answered the questions as truthfully and frequently as possible. I think how I had my mantra and Karen had hers. They served to re-affirm that her mother was gone. It was three months ago that she asked a question that caught me off-guard.
I was tucking her into bed when she looked up at me and asked, “What did mommy look like?”
After the accident, I had taken our very few photos and tucked them away. Looking at it was just too painful for me, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized how much it had impacted my daughter. She couldn’t remember what her mother looked like. In my desire to guard myself against the pain, I had unintentionally deprived my daughter of a memory.
I told her to get comfortable and I would be back in a second. I left and came back with a photo we had all taken a few weeks before the accident. I sat in the bed with her and wrapped my arm around her so she was in the crook of my arm and showed her the photo. Karen stared transfixed at the photo for a few moments as if trying to memorize every feature and facet of her mom and my wife. I let her study the photo in her reverent manner for a few moments before I prepared to tuck her in, but she had one more question.
“What was mom like?”
I thought for a moment before beginning:
[Ben’s voice continues with an unmistakable quaver.]
“When I first met her, I was so shy. She had a part time job in the library and when I first laid eyes on her, I knew I was in love. We were both in college and I must have spent all of freshman year looking at her over a book. I snuck glances at her and tried to work up my courage to speak to her. One day when the library was empty, she came and sat down at the table where I was sneaking peeks and glances at her. She asked if I needed any assistance because I didn’t look too good. I was about to ask what made me look sick, but she cut me off, ‘You look fine, but you’ve been reading that book upside-down for an hour now.’
We shared a laugh and that was enough to break the ice for me to finally ask her out. She was a kind and beautiful woman. She had a way of smiling that would just light up a room. She was smart and was always able to see the answer to any question. She was the kind of person who gave and gave and never asked for anything in return. She gave me the greatest gift of all, do you know what that gift was? She gave me you and made me the happiest man alive.” I planted a kiss on her forehead and I tucked her in.
She asked me that question a few more times. I tried to tell her little stories that encapsulated our happiness. I told her of our first date that culminated in our first kiss. I told Karen about our wedding and how the whole world seemed to be smiling and sunny. I told her of the happiest day of our lives, when she was born. It was after telling her one of these stories that she asked me a question that concerned me.
She looked up at me with those stunning hazel eyes and asked, “What if you could bring mommy back?”
That question caught me off guard. I paused for a few seconds, trying to think of how I should respond. The truth was that I felt like every passing day without Barbara was a struggle to keep my head above water. I would have given everything to see her one more time.
I wanted to tell her that, but I couldn’t. Instead I told her, “I loved your mother, very, very much… But she is gone. Nothing will bring her back.”
She grew teary-eyed, but didn’t cry. I tucked her in and resolved to take Karen to Barbara’s grave.
That weekend we visited her grave. I was at the funeral, but Karen’s grandparents had insisted on having her stay at their house for the funeral. They had chosen to pretend that their daughter had not passed away. They didn’t attend the ceremony and they watched over Karen while I went. I think it was partially to protect her from the knowledge of the finality of death, but I think it was also because they couldn’t bear to see me. They blamed me for her death; I blame myself. I killed her.
We knelt at the grave and I had Karen lay the flowers we had bought on the earth. I began talking to the granite and had to explain to my daughter how people sometimes will talk at the graves of their loved ones and tell them how they are doing or how much they mean to them. She asked me if she could talk and I nodded. I stepped away to give her some privacy, but stayed close by in case I was needed.
She reached forward and put her hand on the cold granite where the words, “Barbara Jones: a loving wife, caring mother, and adoring daughter.” were etched.
Karen spoke, “Mom, it’s me Karen. I love you. I miss you every day, and dad does too. He cries sometimes… He thinks I can’t hear him in his room, but I can. I wish you would come back to us.”
She wiped a tear away and stood up. I made myself look busy by looking at a nearby tombstone. It simply read, “Judith O’Dea.” We went home and I made myself a promise that I would take better care of myself.
It was a week ago that I first caught Karen sneaking out. I was lying in my bed and listening to the sounds of our house settling when I heard the distinctive sound of her door being opened. I thought she was getting some water and would be back in her room in a couple of minutes. After a few minutes, I figured that she had returned and just forgotten to close the door. I drifted off and when I woke up in the morning to get her ready for school, I found her door closed and the backyard door unlocked. She had gone outside during the night.
I questioned her as I drove her to school, but she just told me that maybe I had forgotten to lock the door that night. She had that guilty look in her eyes. I knew that she was lying. I assumed that she had gone out into the backyard for something, maybe to look for a doll or something and forgotten to lock the door behind her. I resolved to try and be more vigilant.
I stayed up the next night and waited for the sound of her door opening. After tucking her in, I sat in my bed and read while waiting for any sounds as she left her room. After a few hours, I decided to get a drink of water from downstairs. I remember that I was thinking that I was being foolish by waiting for Karen to try and sneak out when I should have just asked her what was going on. I don’t think I was too worried. She was too young to be sneaking out to hang out with boys, drink, or smoke. She was a nine year old for crying out loud. It was when I was coming back upstairs with glass in hand that I noticed her bedroom door was open.
The glass fell out of my hand and spilled on the floor. I had forgotten to close her door. She wasn’t in her bed. She had gotten out of bed and walked by my room without waking me. My heart started to beat faster. I ran downstairs and found the backyard door that I had locked was now unlocked. My heart was beating a frantic staccato in my chest. I went out into the backyard and the backyard gate was open. My heart almost stopped from the sudden shock of it all. Karen had left the house in the middle of the night and now I had no clue where she was.
I ran into the back alley that connected the houses in this suburb hoping to find her, but she wasn’t there. I thought of all the places she could have gone. All her friends lived at least five or more miles away. She wouldn’t try walking that distance. There weren’t any carnivals or fairs in town right now. I thought hard about where she could have gone and then the realization of where she could have gone descended on my brain like a murder of ravenous crows.
I broke into a dead sprint down the alley. It was only two miles between our house and the cemetery, but a lot can happen to a little girl in two miles in the dead of night. My mind raced and invented scenarios that could befall my sweet daughter in-between here and there. I ran in the darkness without a flashlight, without having locked the door, without a thought in my mind other than my little girl. I ran until my stomach felt like it was sloshing battery acid around, my legs were filled with pins, and my lungs were trapped in a steel vise. I kept running.
I found her at the gates to the cemetery. Karen saw me and tried to squeeze through the gates, but I reached her in time.
She cried, “Let me go! I want to talk to mom! I miss mom.”
The floodgates splintered and shattered and I pulled her to me and broke down.
I wept, “I miss her too.”
I think that was the first time I had ever openly wept like that in front of her. We sobbed like that for a few minutes, in each other’s arms before I gathered her up and took her home. As we walked by the gates of the cemetery, I could have sworn I saw two men digging a grave in the center of the graveyard. I never knew that gravediggers worked that late. We made it home before three a.m. and I tucked Karen into bed.
The next morning, Monday, I made a promise to take her to visit Barbara’s grave every Sunday if she promised not to sneak out at night to try and visit her. She agreed and I drove her to school. I took the day off work to root around the basement for my tools so I could fashion a dead-bolt for the doors that was out of Karen’s reach so she couldn’t sneak out at night. I found everything I needed, but decided against putting up the deadbolts. I decided to trust that my daughter wouldn’t try and sneak out.
The next couple of days passed without any excitement. I took care of Karen and I reassured her that we would visit my wife and her mother’s grave that Sunday. The only thing that really stood out to me that week was a news report I caught the tail-end of. Apparently there were a string of crimes in which graves had been dug up and bodies were taken out of their coffins. I remembered the two men digging in the graveyard that night and knew that something shady was going on there. I was tempted to go to the police and file a report, but I decided against it. I didn’t want to try and explain what I was doing out there that late at night. I think I was worried that the police might find me a negligent parent and take my Karen away from me.
Everything seemed to happen all at once. That night, I was preparing to go to the cemetery with my daughter the next day. I tucked Karen in and sat in bed reading, unable to go to sleep. I finally drifted off, but was woken up by my daughter shaking me and shouting something. She sounded like it was Christmas morning. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and asked her what she said. She spit out a rapid series of words that my sleep-stupid brain could barely process. She took off and the last words she excitedly shouted hit me like a one-two punch to the solar plexus.
“Mommy is back!”
I rolled out of bed and made it downstairs to the kitchen just as Karen was fiddling with the door lock. Through the window in the door, I saw her. She was standing on the porch in the backyard. She was grubby and dirt clung to her hair in clumps. Her dress was soiled. She was leaning into the glass and I could see her facial features and her angel-kissed auburn hair. I gasped, trying to catch the breath that felt like it had been knocked out of me. I couldn’t. It felt like something was preventing the air from going back to my lungs and I dumbly realized that it must have been my heart that had leapt up in my throat. It was her. Karen unlocked the door and before I could say anything, she swung it open and let her into the house.
Memories and images beat around in my brain. I remembered the accident in vivid clarity.
[Ben’s voice goes numb as he continues talking.]
We had been celebrating Valentine’s Day. I had had one too many to drink. She insisted on driving us home. I had my head out the window and was enjoying the cold sobering wind swirling around my intoxicated head like a tempest. I pulled my head back in and got Barbara’s attention. I caught her eyes and was telling her how much I loved her when the car hit a patch of ice. It slid and for a second looked like she had it under control before the car twisted sideways and shot off the road like a bullet fired from the gun of a vengeful god.
We were weightless for a few moments before we slammed into a tree. The impact slammed my head into the dash and threw her through the windshield. I don’t remember everything, but I can recall some images from that horrible night. My brain screams to me in painful images: me, stumbling out of the car and finding her sprawled out on the ground, me holding her in my arms while drunkenly and frantically screaming for help, me watching hopelessly as she died in my arms.
It was my fault. If I wasn’t drunk, I would have been driving. If I didn’t try and say something romantic to her, she would have been paying attention to the road. If I had been driving, it would have been me who had been tossed from the car through the windshield like a ragdoll. Now she stood in the portal of the doorway in the same dress I had buried her in. She looked dazed and vacantly stared at the world around her. It was really her!
My brain tried to make sense of it, but it couldn’t. This was wrong. I wanted to say something, but my words rattled loose from my brain like a car losing control on the highway and smashing into a guardrail. More thoughts and words built up behind the initial thought and got caught behind my teeth in the mental carnage. The words and thoughts accumulated like cars in a pile up and no matter how hard I tried to clear it up, the words would not tumble free. Before I could find the words to speak, Karen flew forward and right into her arms. The pale, dirty, gaunt, and malodorous Barbara leaned forward as if to embrace her daughter just before sinking her teeth into her neck.
Karen was too shocked to do anything at first. She screamed as Barbara gnawed at the side of her neck where her shoulder met her neck. She tried to push her mother off of her, but she was far too heavy and strong to be repelled so easily. She bit and chewed tenaciously at my daughter while everything unfolded before me like a nightmare that I had no influence or control over. That scream was enough to clear the blockage in my mind and galvanize me into action.
I charged forward roaring like a wounded animal and seized Barbara by the shoulders and shoved her away from Karen with all my strength. She came loose with a wet tearing sound and slammed against the kitchen table. She bent backwards like she was going to topple over the wooden table before launching herself at me with snapping crimson teeth and horrifying groans that reeked of month’s worth of rot and embalming fluid.
I caught her by the shoulders as she snapped and gnashed her teeth with such force that I thought her teeth would shatter. I had to get rid of her in order to check on Karen. I slammed her into the back of a cabinet so hard that her back made a cracking sound before opening the door to the basement and throwing her down the stairs. She rolled down the stairs like a dervish of broken bones. I watched as she began to crawl up the stairs towards me. I slammed the door shut behind her and turned to Karen.
[Ben’s voice cracks and he breaks down for a few seconds before managing to continue.]
She- She was lying on the ground with a small puddle of blood around her neck like a crimson halo. She twitched and spasmed on the kitchen floor as blood trickled out of her open wound. I slid across the linoleum and cradled her head in my lap. She looked up at me and in that stare, I felt something deep inside of me die. She died in my arms, looking up into my eyes, gurgling her last moments still unable to make sense of why any of this would happen. Unable to understand why her mother would do such a thing as bite her. I still don’t know that answer.
She came back five minutes later. Her eyes fluttered open and for a brief moment, I thought that it was her. She dashed that hope when her mouth dropped open in a snarl and she leaned in towards me. I pushed her away and regained my footing. I managed to lock her outside. She was always so light. I pushed her out the door and she fell off the porch. She righted herself and began to stumble back towards the house, but I had already closed and locked the door.
I am not sure of anything anymore. I am sure of one thing though. That thing is not my wife. That thing is no longer my daughter. They look like them, but they are not them. They are not them. They are not them, they are not them, and I am not me. I died with them. I am no longer myself. I am nothing, but an empty husk waiting patiently for the end. I am waiting for the doors to give way. Do you hear them?
[Ben holds the tape recorder to the door and the sound of moaning and banging are clearly heard.]
I am waiting for the end. I am waiting to rejoin my Karen and Barbara. Those things should be through the doors any second now. I am leaving this recording so you know what happened to us. I hope you can make more sense of this than me.
[The sound of a door splintering is clearly heard.]
I can’t leave. Karen’s gone, Barbara’s gone, there’s nothing left.
[The sound of splintering wood is compounded and grows louder.]
They are gone and I guess I am gone too.
[The sound of the doors splintering open are joined now by a pair of voices groaning. There is the sound of the tape recorder being dropped and Ben Jones mumbling, “Gone.” As the groans grow louder and swallow up his whimpers and tears.]
Written by EmpyrealInvective