Marrie K. Stone
The spells started when Jake was small, sometime after his father died. Mama called them the overtakings. Jake called them his fiends.
The first time it happened, Jake had just turned six. Mama surprised him with a black lab puppy named Carl. Jake squatted in his sandbox, scooping gravel into a plastic pail while Mama hosed the hydrangeas. Carl lay nearby, panting under the hot sun. Mama heard a high yip, then a low groan, and found Jake pinning Carl hard against the ground, driving a shovel of sand down his throat, packing his wet nostrils with dry dirt. The dog struggled, his hind legs kicked, his eyes frantic. Whatever force gripped Jake in those moments made him stronger than any grown man. Mama couldn’t pull him off. She watched, helpless and horrified, as Carl succumbed. They gave the dog a quiet burial in the backyard.
The fiends robbed Jake’s memory. They stole his senses. He saw demons inside innocents and evil inhabiting children. When suffering his spells, Jake told Mama he heard the devil himself speak from the tongues of sparrows. Their wings wriggled with maggots. He saw cats foam from their mouths and squirrels bleed from their eyes. When the fiends finally released him, Jake was left with blood-soaked hands and the entrails of disemboweled carcasses. He couldn’t remember. This scared him most of all, relying only on Mama’s accounts of what he’d done.
Jake’s mother protected him. She buried the bodies, rocking Jake until he fell asleep, whispering, “You’re a good boy.” She knew this in her heart. “The fiends aren’t your fault,” she said. “The overtakings are out of your control.” Even when Jake grew up, became a man, and it went beyond the animals—an old woman, a homeless teen, even after that little boy—Mama still protected him.
Jake pulls the Olds into his automated car wash on the outside of town. It’s past 2:00am, but Jake and his mother own the place. He has the keys. He knows the drill.
The woman’s body is stuffed inside his trunk. The grill chokes with a mess of hair and chunks of scalp, the hood dented and headlights smashed. Blood smears across the windshield after Jake tried with the wipers. He knows not to drive around like this. He calls Mama from the phone in the office. His thoughts are scrambled. His hands shake. No answer.
He powers up the equipment. The compressors and gears groan to life. The brushes begin to spin, the hoses start to hum. The soothing whirs and whines calm him down, the soft blue lights, the comforting smell of soap.
Jake climbs back inside the car, cursing himself beneath his breath. It’s been a while, at least six months, maybe more. He’d hoped he might be done with this—outgrown it the way young men do. Jake craves a settled life. He’s tired of the fear and self-loathing. Tired of living like a man-child with Mama.
He bangs his head against the steering wheel before turning over the ignition, positioning the front wheels onto the steely track. The Olds jolts when they catch, the body rolls in the back. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. He slides the transmission to neutral as the equipment takes over, that familiar feeling of being pulled by a force beyond his control.
He doesn’t remember the moment of impact, but he must have swerved to hit her. He woke from his spell to discover her—broken and bloody—on a sidewalk, his car jackknifed on the curb. Her face smashed so hard against the windshield, the night so black, he couldn’t make out her features. But her body seemed soft with age, more mother than streetwalker, some visceral recognition Jake couldn’t place. She lay prone in a pool of blood on a dark and deserted street with no witnesses on a Wednesday night.
The woman’s purse splays on the seat beside him, both mysterious and memorable at once. He feels renewed shame, but can’t help himself. Inside there are wads of Kleenex, vials of oxycodone and hallucinogens, bottles full of unmarked pills, two tampons, a small flask that still feels full, and a knife he somehow knows. A wallet lies buried beneath, the leather worn from overstuffing. A stack of school photos—a little boy transforming through the years to a teen. Jake sees his own face. His head swims. Pictures of a black lab he knows is Carl. Tucked behind, business cards are bundled together with a worn rubber band. He flips through, stopping when he sees several he recognizes—their own logo from the car wash, his mother’s name embossed in black. And more. People he knows, stacks of cards from those he’s killed. Some just names jotted down.
Suddenly the Olds is engulfed. The cab goes dark beneath the rubber rollers. Brushes spin against the sides. Jake’s mind whirls. He feels trapped, disoriented, like he’s underwater, or buried alive inside a steel coffin.
The car slides to a stop.
Jake feels the fiends. The windshield lights up like a movie screen. The radio snaps on, the station first full of static and then his mother’s voice, in stereo through the speakers. He tries closing his eyes, plugging his ears, but something inside won’t let him.
His own face fills the glass. Jake sees himself slicing his own throat. His mother’s voice pulses inside his ears—“Do it,” she says. “Finish.” Jake hears the sickening squelch of the blade penetrating his flesh. He hears his mother’s voice telling him to twist the knife. “Do it,” she says again. “Be Mama’s good boy.” He flashes back on that moment of impact, feels the accelerator beneath his foot, feels the force of speed, sees his mother’s face as his tires pinned her against the ground.
Her voice inside the speakers: “I only wanted what’s best,” she says. “For us to be together.”
He’d been a good boy all along.
Marrie Stone’s work has appeared in the River Oak Review, the Writers’ Journal, Reed Magazine and elsewhere. In addition, she recently placed 11th out of an original pool of over 2,000 writers in the 2016 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest. For the past eleven years, she has co-hosted the weekly radio show “Writers on Writing.” Marrie has interviewed hundreds of authors, including George Saunders, Tobias Wolff, Geraldine Brooks and others.