The beating was almost systematic, a cog in a machine, a gear that shifted, but never moved. As Adam’s fists laid into her shoulder, Anita found her pain rather banal. She almost laughed as he screamed. What normalcy is this? She wanted to cry, but then she wanted to scream with him. Suddenly she wasn’t accepting, but angry. How typical had it become for her to feel pain? The triteness of the excruciating felt like a sign of failure. It had gotten to the point when the pain was so prevalent it had become uninteresting.
Anita’s life had never been exciting. She was born into a religion, and into a world that believed in godly war and ghost, yet somehow found a way to make it boring. Anita didn’t like boring, but she didn’t hate it either. She went to the church, and she’d listen as the preacher skated past the weird parts in favor of the most mundane stories in the bible. She didn’t complain. Boredom wasn’t anything evil; it was a thing that happened. Anita didn’t mind happenings. Boredom didn’t bother her until that boringness became evil.
How is it possible for abuse to bore me? She thought with a visceral rage that was born in her thighs and spent its life crawling to her chest.
Adam threw another punch. Anita screamed, but no one heard. It was a somewhat new neighborhood, still developing, still adding families to its pile, and after tonight, it would cease to hold anyone at all.
Anita grabbed onto the heat in her chest and looked beside her. They were in the garage. There were a lot of things she could use, the lawnmower, the bike chain, the weed whacker. Anita chose a bat. Adam’s fist blew into her once more before stopping.
“You know I don’t like doing this to you,” he said. “Please forgive me.” He looked down at her, a sudden gentleness brandished itself across his face. Those soft self-serving eyes had worked for many years, but this time, Anita didn’t budge. The heat had already marred itself inside her. She nodded, stood up, and grabbed the bat. The heat’s time was almost up, but it wrestled its way up her neck before retiring at her mouth. Its kids were born there but found themselves work at her hands, and they helped as she swung.
She had never swung that bat before. Adam wouldn’t let her touch it. He said it was a man’s game. Women weren’t allowed to do anything. That was something else boring and evil.
First blow, she missed him, but the second blow came before he had time to be mad about it, and Anita believed he wouldn’t have the capability. She had taken all the rage for herself. She swung again, until the fiftieth blow. Then the red died, and its children found calmer professions. She looked down at Adam. He had died too.
“No,” she finally answered.
She stood in the garage of the ghost town neighborhood, dropped the bat, and went up to the shower. She washed the blood off, put on her favorite outfit, and left.
Peony wanted to get away. She didn’t want to look at anyone. She hadn’t left her room in two days, since she saw her boyfriend, Drew, kissing someone else.
Two years wasted, she thought. Two years of bland untouchable love, and now I’m the center of the universe.
She stepped out of her dorm and pulled her hoodie up. The breakup was bad enough, but the people made her suffocating. Everyone had an opinion. They wanted to console her or tell her off. Peony didn’t know which option she hated more. So, instead of dealing with them, she hid. Except there was no more of that. Her fridge was finally empty.
Peony started to step forward onto the sidewalk when she stopped. She looked out in front of her. At least three opinions were standing, chattering away, hands on their backpack straps. Peony grimaced and looked behind her. She could take a shortcut, but it would have to be through The Neighborhood.
The Neighborhood sat across from Peony’s college and was as vacant as the college was full. Peony had heard stories about The Neighborhood, but nothing real. Something terrible had happened there, but no one had actually guessed what that something was.
Instead, they told stories of aliens and government cover-ups. No one imagined that Anita Corrada-Shivers at the local penitentiary ten miles away had anything to do with The Neighborhood, or how home buyers refused to go there, or how because of this, the development project shut down before The Neighborhood even had a name.
Peony didn’t know the truth, but she knew the lies were lies, and that was enough to curb any fear she could have. The closest she had to fear was a bothersome tingle in the back of her mind telling her not to take the shortcut. She didn’t listen to it. Tingles weren’t warnings; they were nuisances.
Peony grabbed her backpack and walked into The Neighborhood. She passed the first three houses before she was hit with a strange chill. Peony stopped for a moment to zip up her jacket when she felt something touch her ankles. She looked down, but nothing was there. Still, the feeling didn’t go away. It pushed her until she turned around and faced the third house in The Neighborhood.
It was a tragic colonial with an even more tragic foreclosure sign on the front untrimmed lawn. Peony shook her head and began to walk again, only to have the feelings push her back. She fought against it, shaking it off as wind, but the feeling got stronger and harder until she began to sprint, to try and get away from it.
She ran the entire way to the grocery store, and when she stopped, the feeling had vanished. However, the problem with her solace was that in order to get home, she’d have to feel once more. Peony decided while shopping that the feeling was nothing more than the product of the stories she had been told, and that consoled her enough to start the journey back.
For the better half of the walk, there was nothing. It was only when she grew closer to the third house that she felt it again. Something pulled at her, almost pushed her. It beckoned her. At first, she didn’t move. She froze, unwilling to run, but unwilling to move forward. Then the wind switched directions, and she felt warmth. The pull was no longer ominous but inviting. It seemed to say, ‘please, come in. Sit down’.
Against her rational mind, Peony walked up to the house. She stood at the precipice, her foot inches away from the porch step. She felt the pull again. Maybe it was the wind, but the pull didn’t feel like wind. The pull felt like a hand. Peony shook her head.
A hand? Well, Peony give yourself a hand, because that is the craziest thing you’ve ever thought.
Peony turned around and felt the pull push her back.
“Okay, okay,” she said into the silence. “I’m going.” Who knew? Maybe this was her destiny. Perhaps this was the fine wine moment when she becomes who she’s meant to be? This could be the begging of the movie when the hero learns who they really are. Peony wanted to know that. She wanted to become that. She got caught in the curiosity which precedes thought. She had to know, so she took a deep breath and stepped onto the porch.
It creaked at the weight of her heel. She felt a shudder down her spine and heard a subtle moan. She decided that the moan must be one of those sounds old houses make, but something in herself knew she was wrong. It didn’t sound like an ancient house. It sounded like the ancients like her ancestors were weeping for her. She took a step closer, and they lamented. Peony rolled her shoulders, took another deep breath, and knocked on the door.
“Hello,” a man’s voice slithered through the cracks on the wooden door.
“Hi.” Peony suddenly felt embarrassed. Her cheeks glazed red. She had mistaken a windy day for destiny, and now she’d have to make up some excuse as to why she was bothering this man. “I’m sorry.” She said and began to turn around. “I don’t know why I’m here.”
“I do,” the voice said, and she turned back.
“You know why I’m here?” Peony stared into the wood, hoping maybe, somehow, she’d be able to see through it.
“I brought you here,” the man said. “I’m the wind.”
“You’re the wind?” Peony pulled at her shirt collar and looked around. The Neighborhood seemed more like a graveyard. It had houses, but no people, no sounds, no squirrels or birds. “Who are you?”
“Come inside, and I’ll explain.” The door opened, but no one was there. Peony looked around once more and pulled her sweater closed.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I should go.”
“But don’t you want to know?”
“Everything.” Peony leaned in and peeked inside.
“Everything,” the voice said.
“Where are you?” Peony asked.
“You’ll see once you come inside.”
Peony marooned over the possibilities. This was probably how people got mugged, or murdered, or human trafficked. A fan and a recording. It possibly wasn’t anything more than that, but Peony wasn’t a fan of possibly. She wanted to know. The curiosity got the better of Peony, and she found herself inching towards the inside of the house.
She paused, teetered on the outside of the door frame. She felt the wind tug on her, pulling her closer. She took one step in, and when nothing spectacular happened, she took another, and then she was in the house, and then she was nothing at all.
Peony awoke in a windowless room with cement walls and a wooden door. She scoured her body, looking for the point of impact, but found no injury. She had been knocked out, but she had no clue how.
“Hello?” she called. “Where am I?”
“You’re in the old gun safe.” A middle-aged man walked into the room. His skin glimmered, somehow opaque and transparent at the same time. He wore a flannel shirt, French tucked into worn denim jeans.
“Who are you?” Peony scrambled to her feet.
“Adam,” Adam looked down at her and concern flashed across his eyes. “Please forgive me.”
“For what?” Peony looked around her body again, pulling at her clothes. She pinched the fat on her arm and sought for more injuries that didn’t show.
“For keeping you here.” Adam crouched down to her level and looked at her. “I have to keep you here, all I ask is for your forgiveness.”
“My forgiveness?” Peony gawked. “You kidnapped me, and you want me to forgive you?” She stood up. “No, let me out.”
“I can’t do that,” Adam leaned back against the cement wall. “You’re the first person I’ve seen in months, first one to ever come inside the house.”
“Why can’t you leave the house?’
“Same reason you can’t,” he shrugged. “I’m trapped.”
“You’re trapping me,” Peony looked at him. She felt an urge to be angry but had no capacity for it. Something about him seemed feeble, and she found herself feeling sorry for him.
“Because I have no one.” He looked at the ground and shuffled his feet.
“What are you going to do to me?”
“Talk to you,” Adam brushed his bangs back. “I only want someone to talk to. Please forgive me.”
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” Peony stepped closer to him. “I’ll talk to you. I have to go home, but I’ll come back, okay?”
“No!” Adam struck her across the cheek. Peony felt herself fall back, and then she felt the sting. “You will not leave me!” Adam grabbed her by the hair and drew her closer to him. “Never.” He seethed, and Peony recoiled. She looked up at him, her body shaking. He saw the horror in her eyes, dropped her, and walked away, locking the wood door behind him.
Peony gasped, her breath shorter than it had ever been. She had never seen anyone change as fast as Adam had. She rubbed her hand across her cheek. The sting radiated across her palm, almost warm. She took her palm from her cheek and used her hands to hoist herself up.
Idiot, Peony thought. I’m such an idiot. She walked over to the door and pawed at the back of the lock. And now I’m even more of an idiot, trying to break a bolt from the back.
She knew it wouldn’t open, but she had to try. She grabbed the metal back of the lock and hit it. She knew it wouldn’t break. She knew it would only hurt her, but she did it anyway. She slammed the bolt with her fist over and over until her hand began to bleed and giving up became inevitable. Peony sat back against the wall and cried.
Adam came back minutes later, his demeanor demure again. He closed the door behind him, sat down beside Peony, and handed her a wet towel.
“I’m sorry about your cheek and your hand.” He draped the wet towel across her wound and whipped off the blood. “I can’t help it really.”
“You can’t help hitting me?” Peony scowled, but it turned into a wince once the cloth met her hand.
“Well, no,” Adam said. “I’m dead you see, and when a dead person stays here too long they-”
“You’re dead?” Peony cut him off.
“Yes, a ghost, I think.”
“How did you die?” she asked, and Adams lips pursed. “I’m sorry, is that rude to ask?”
“It’s not favorable,” Adam ran his hand through his hair. “But what I’m trying to say is that when someone dies, if they don’t go into the light, and spend too much time on Earth, they go into fits.” He looked to the side. “I’ve noticed they’ve been getting worse, but I can’t help them. That’s why I attacked you,” he looked back at her. His eyes held a subtle gentleness, and ten miles away, Anita felt a shiver scurry her back. “It wasn’t me. It was the fits.”
“Why won’t you go into the light?” Peony eyed him.
“Because I’m pretty sure if I do, the light will turn to fire,” Adam leaned back against the wall. “I’m stuck here forever. I’ll have little fits until I eventually go insane, and by then I’ll walk into the fire, but for now,” he turned to face her, “I just wanted someone to talk to.”
“That’s why you abducted me?”
“I didn’t abduct you,” Adam frowned. “You walked in here willingly.”
“But you won’t let me leave.” Adam ignored this.
“My name is Adam,” he said instead. “I should know your name if you know mine.”
“Peony, it’s short for Pandora,” she crinkled her nose. “I don’t really know how that works, but my mother seemed to think it was a good nickname since they both start with P.
“Named after the Greek myth, I presume?”
“Yeah,” Peony said.
“If only the Greeks were right,” Adam said. “Then I could spend eternity bored in a field.”
“Is that how it works?”
“You’re the goddess, not me.”
“Yeah,” Peony gave a small smile. Adam smiled back, and when Peony saw this, she frowned. He wasn’t unpleasant, but she didn’t want to sympathize with him.
The days became monotonous, and she wondered if her perceived days were even that. She couldn’t see the sun or the sky. The only way she could count the passage of time was through the food Adam brought her. Her food.
I should’ve just gone the normal way.
“Here,” Adam handed her breakfast. Most days he gave her cereal. Today the morning meal was two pieces of wheat toast, two over-easy eggs, an apple, and a cup of earl grey tea.
“What’s the special occasion?” Peony looked down at her plate.
“I want to talk.” Adam usually left after feeding her, but this time, he sat down on the opposite end of the room.
“Because that’s why you’re here,” Adam’s brow furrowed. “I gave you time to process, and now it’s my time.”
“Your time?” Peony stifled a scoff, by shoving toast into her mouth.
“Yes, this is my house, and it is my time,” Adam’s eyes darkened, and Peony scooted back into the wall. “You have no respect.” Adam stood up and walked to the other side of the wall. “No gratitude.” Adam kicked the wall. Peony ducked her head over her shoulder and looked away. “And now you won’t even look at me, huh?” Adam turned to her. “Why can’t you appreciate anything?” He started walking towards her, his fist in tight balls.
“I’m sorry,” Peony looked at him. She put her hands out in front of her. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Adam stopped.
“No,” He slinked down beside her. “I’m sorry.” He released his fists and ran his hand down her arm. Peony winced. “I shouldn’t have gotten angry with you.” Peony didn’t say anything.
Adam frowned and walked out of the room. He came back a few seconds later with something behind his back. He went to pull it out, and Peony flinched.
“No, don’t be scared.” He pulled it all the way out, and Peony saw it wasn’t a weapon, but a book. “I figured you’d be bored.” He handed her the book.
“Thanks,” Peony took it and put it beside her.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” Adam said. “The anger is part of the fits.”
“I’m sorry.” Peony didn’t know why she said it. It wasn’t like she had done anything wrong, but she felt bad nonetheless.
“Don’t be,” he said. “It’s not your fault. I’m the screwup, who’s going to hell.”
“Why do you think that?” Peony asked.
“Because I was a mean man when I was alive,” He said. “It took me dying to become a good person.”
“How do you know hell is even a real thing?” Peony asked, and Adam sat down beside her.
“I had a visitor, the day I didn’t go into the light,” Adam ran his tongue over his teeth. “A demon.”
“A demon?” Peony raised her eyebrows.
“Yes,” Adam said. “He came to me and told me I had sold my soul a long time ago, and my only chance at heaven was…” Adam trailed off and ran his hand down the nap of his neck. “Well, my only chance wasn’t a chance at all.”
“I’m sorry,” Peony said.
“I don’t want your apologies,” Adam looked her in the eyes, and Peony felt a chill down her spine. “I want your forgiveness.”
“I can’t give you that,” Peony pursed her lips.
“Yes, you can,” Adam’s face grew red, and Peony scooted back. “I ask one thing, ONE THING!” He stood over her and pointed his finger in her face. “ONE!” Peony tried to melt into the wall, but Adam banged her head against it before she could even try.
Peony awoke in a different room, a library. She found herself there many times as the weeks drew on. It was where Adam went to apologize, to coddle her after his fits. Adam brought her an ice pack and sat down on the couch beside her.
“I’m sorry,” he sighed. “You know I’m not a bad guy.”
“I know,” Peony placed the ice on her cheek, and Adam’s eyes lit up. In the first week, her words would’ve been a lie, but as time went on, Peony found herself growing close to Adam. He wasn’t a bad guy. The bad came from his fits, and he couldn’t control that.
“So, you forgive me?” Adam wrung his hands together. Behind bars, Anita awoke shaking. Sweat beaded down her forehead and arms.
“No, no, no. Say no,” she found herself whispering, but she didn’t know why.
“You’ll forgive me?” Adam repeated.
“Yes,” Peony said. He had broken her, but she didn’t feel broken at all. She felt together, close to Adam in every way.
The beating came out of nowhere. Usually, Peony triggered his rage by saying something. This time, he walked into the library angry. Peony put her hands up to stop his fist, but it didn’t stop him from pounding them into her shoulder.
“Adam!” she yelled. “Adam this isn’t you!” She tried to grab his shoulders and pull him out of it, but he was inconsolable. “Adam!” she screamed, and he pulled her hair. He threw her into the coffee table, and Peony found herself bleeding surrounded by shattered glass. She tried to sit up, but he kicked her.
“I’m sorry.” His words felt gagged like they were being spoken behind a wall. “I’m sorry.” He threw another punch, and Peony curled into a ball.
“Please,” Peony gasped between punches. “Please stop.”
“I can’t,” he cried as he hit her. “I think it’s over.” He punched her again, and she watched her tooth fly out of her mouth. “I think it’s over for me.”
“You…you have to go into the light,” Peony managed to pull the words out, and Adam pulled her up. He grabbed her by the neck and dragged her up the wall.
“I’ll go,” he squeezed around her neck, and she tried to pry his hands open. “I’ll try, just first, first will you forgive me. I can’t go without apologizing.”
“Yes,” Peony gagged. “Yes, yes. I’ll-forgive-you.” Peony expected him to drop her, but his grip tightened. “I’ll forgive you,” she repeated. “I’ll forgive you.” She clawed at his hands, but they wouldn’t open, and Peony felt herself begin to drift away. “I forgive you.” Her words grew fainter as she felt herself let go. “I forgive you.”
Peony’s eyes fluttered. She didn’t expect to wake up, but if she did, she didn’t expect what she woke up to. She wanted to wake up and realize it was all a terrible dream, but she found herself back in the library, sprawled across the couch. Adam stood over her.
Peony reached for her neck but felt nothing, no bruising, and no blood. She reached for a shard of glass on the floor. She wanted to look at her reflection, but her hand went through the shard.
“Adam,” she looked up at him. “What’s going on?”
“It’s over,” he laced his fingers together.
“You’re not in a fit anymore?” Peony felt a sharp pain in her head. She touched her temples and tried to get her bearings. “Am I dead?”
“Yes,” Adam frowned. “I’m sorry.”
“It was your fits,” she shook her head. “It wasn’t your fault.” Adams’ lips curled up at the ends.
“So, you forgive me?”
“Yes,” Peony felt tears well up in her eyes, but she didn’t want to upset him by crying.
“Thank you,” Adam said, and a beam of light appeared in front of Peony. She watched as it moved from in front of her and placed itself in the palm of Adam’s hand. “It’s over now.”
“What’s over?” Peony asked.
“I couldn’t get to heaven, because I sold my soul,” Adam said. “I needed someone to give me theirs, you.”
“I didn’t sell you, my soul,” Peony sat up.
“You didn’t sell it,” Adam looked down at her. “You gave it to me.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“I took your life away from you. I hurt you, and you let me. You let me kill you. I took your life away, and you forgave me. I took your life.” He leaned closer to her. “It belongs to me now; your soul belongs to me now.” Peony sat frozen and slack-jawed.
“Yes, I get to go into the light,” he started to walk away. “You can too if you want, but I don’t think you’ll like what you see there.”
“You’re a monster.” Peony tried to pick up the lamp beside her to throw at him, but she couldn’t grasp it.
“You’ll become one too,” he stopped but didn’t look back at her. “It’s the only way to leave.” Peony wanted to scream, but before the sound could escape her lips, Adam was gone.
Peony got a grip on gripping. It took her a month, but eventually, she could hold things without them falling through her flesh. She tried to leave the house but found that when she left the porch, she’d lose herself, her body a wisp of wind.
She learned a lot of things dead, like the fact that the fits weren’t real, but the light was. She didn’t go near it.
Peony found herself alone, scared, and angry. Sometimes a brave student would walk through The Neighborhood. She would watch them through the windows, glaring at their happiness. She tried to resist the temptation to steal it all from them, but as the days went on, she felt herself feeling less human. Her body started to feel fizzled like she was more static than substance.
Peony didn’t decide to do anything until she was already doing it. She found herself outside, a wisp of wind, ushering a girl towards the front of the door.
“Hello,” the girl said.
“Hello,” Peony smiled.
“I’m sorry,” the girl started to walk away.
“I’m not,” Peony said, and the girl turned back.
“No, I brought you here,” Peony voice slithered through the cracks in the door. “I’m the wind.”
“You’re the wind?” The girl pulled at her shirt. “Who are you?”
“Come inside, and I’ll explain.” Peony opened the door. The girl looked into the empty house, gulped, and started to turn around. “Don’t you want to know?”
“Know what?” She stopped
“Everything,” Peony said.
“Everything,” she repeated, and the girl walked inside.
When Katherine DeGilio was a child, her goal in life was to be Kissing Kate Barlow from Holes. Since the Wild West has diminished, she decided to be a writer instead. She assumes those professions share equal kill counts. You can find some of her previous publications in Maudlin House and Metamorphosis, among others.