unfortunate epiphany

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
greetings. it has been awhile since i published a story but i hope it is enjoyable to all. this is the third short story for a collection called journal of an insomniac. the fourth and final story, titled angel of no mercy, will be released within the next week or so. as always i welcome your feedback.

Submitted: January 31, 2017

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Submitted: January 31, 2017

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It’s the nightmare, it’s always the nightmare. It’s the kind of nightmare that tears through sleep like paper in a shredder. It’s the kind of nightmare that inspires horror movies and urban legends. It’s the kind of nightmare that makes you jump up out of bed with a pounding heart, soaked in sweat and with paler than normal skin. The kind that makes breathing hard and your hair on your body, all the hair on your body, stand up. But for Randall Einstein Schumocker it had always been the nightmare. When he was small child, the nightmare evoked night terrors. When he was a pre-teen that nightmare produced bed wetting. The nose bleeds started when he turned 20 and still happen every time the nightmare occurs which, as of one year ago, is every night.

His parents, God bless them, had put Randall through every and any possible test to explain the night terrors, bed wetting and bloody noses. Thousands and thousands of dollars in insurance co-pays just to get the same answer, only in different context. The frustrating and worrisome answer that not one test gave any insight into anything Randall experienced because of the nightmare. In college, he took every psychology course he could, volunteered for sleeping medication test group he could, signed up for nightmare support groups and insomnia groups he could find. In Law School, he sought therapy as he hoped that he had experienced some trauma that he suppressed and that suppression was the mother of his nightmare. The day he graduated law school, Randall was no closer to ending that thing that cause sleep to be scary.

Randall was a very successful personal injury attorney for one simple reason, he often stayed awake for three day stretches and would conduct a work marathon at his office. His professional life was flourishing steadily. In personal life, however, was absent of one key factor- a life. He didn’t have a life because he was some anti-social. He didn’t have a life because he couldn’t get his shit together long enough to have one. When the nightmares happen Randall always finds himself standing on the ledge of the roof of the 12-story apartment complex in lived in. When he stumbled off the edge and put his head down and tried not to hyperventilate, a mouse farting would evoke a scream and backwards jumping. The nightmare would make Randy decide not to sleep for as many days as he could maintain the strength to do. He found the best way to get at least three days of not sleeping was to go to his office, sit on the back porch and smoke some weed, and then work until he wasn’t high, and repeat the process until he collapsed from exhaustion of all forms. So, he was tortured by the nightmare four nights a week, and was stoned and annoyed the shit out of insurance adjusters and defense attorneys the other three. This weekly schedule, that was forced on him, left no room for a social or romantic life.

Randy pulled his head back and released his face from the ice water that helped stop the nose bleed. He rolled the sleeve up on his pajama top and stretched his arm to bottom of the ice and pinkish red water, and pulled the drain stopper out causing the water to start swirling in a circle around the drain and the sink to make a slurping sound. The white hand towel that was in his left hand was already stained with blood so he found no logical in ruining another towel. He made his way to the stainless- steel smudge free refrigerator that was being abused. The unpleasant odor that hit him when he opened the door quickly reminded him that he needed gloves that covered his arms and a very large and strong trash bag. The three expandable sleeves were crowded with take-out containers full of substances that would soon complete the transformation into penicillin.  The left door shelves all four of them, were crammed with all kinds of condiments. The right side doors housed a bottle of fermented orange juice and a gallon of milk that was solid insight the plastic jug. On the bottom shelf, just above the vegetable drawer that was now a mold farm, was a third of a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bottle of water. He wasn’t surprised by what he found in the frig. Hell, he had not been shopping since the first week he moved into his apartment and that was three years ago. And he had not shopped, his mother did while he and dad talked about bullshit while drinking beer from a microbrewery. Randall had enough of water for one night, and the toxic smell killed his appetite, so he grabbed the bottle of Jack and reached inside the cabinet he kept his collection of cups in, felt for the largest in the selection, closed the frig with his right foot, and headed for the beige, oversized sectional with a recliner on one end and a lounger on the other.

Randall paid three grand a month for an apartment he could do without but needed for professional image. That same logic had caused his mother to decorate his apartment with his credit card. When she found out he was moving to Denver, Colorado from Point South, South Carolina, his mother had an over dramatic cardiac moment worthy of an Emmy. She could no longer take a leisurely 45-minute drive to see her only child. Instead she had to an hour and a half  minute drive to Charleston, to get on a plane for four hours and fight her way out of a zoo of an airport just to see her son. Randy calmed her down some when he said he would pay for their travel expenses. He regretted that since a month after the deal was done. His mother would call him relentlessly day after day until he answered only to be told when she and dad wanted to come out. In truth, Randy knew the decision of when to come for a visit was his mother pulling up her big girl panties and making a command decision. Randall Einstein Schumocker, Sr. was a South Carolina native from Greenville, South Carolina. The almost retired marine had enlisted when he was 18, and at age 53 he had been promoted to Master Gunnery Sergeant and given the job of Logistics NCO on Parris Island. His job was to make sure his fellow drill instructing jarheads had all the crap they needed to transform young shaved head boys into hard charging Marines, and he loved it. His father didn’t say much but grunted when he was told he was flying out to Denver to see his son. He had seen the damn kid almost every day until he went to college, and four three more years after Randall graduated law school. His son was a successful lawyer and had a life of his on, and for Randall Sr. holidays, the major ones, were enough mini family reunion for him. Yet he lived by the belief of “happy wife equals happy life” so his objections were just one or two grunts.

His mother may not share Randall’s taste, but he had to admit he liked the aesthetic look of his apartment. If he could ever have any company, other than his parents, he would be proud to have them. Opposite of the sofa was a 55” TV that was wall mounted and had a sound bar that rested on the mantle of the faux fireplace. He clicked the power button on the TV and after a short warm up period, the TV came to life. He had no idea what channel the TV was one. He just knew he hadn’t changed the channel since the first time he turned it on. He listened and realized his TV was on the CNN channel, which made sense. The constant rambles of opinionated and pissed off news anchors occupied the room with sound which helped break that silence that would bring the droopy eye syndrome, quickly followed by mouth drooling sleep. He reached over and pulled the small chain on the brass and translucent lamp his mother clapped for when he found it. The living room was rectangular-shaped with an extension, guarded by an oak and glass door, to a small balcony. His mother insisted that lighter colors would complement the dark mahogany wood floor, and make the room seem larger: a philosophy she picked up on watching hours of HGTV while she worked on her next great American novel. To his right was the beginning of the solid wall that framed the living room. The walls had been painted a shade darker than his sofa, except the red brick wall were the TV hung, was left alone for accent. So his mom had said. On his right the wall held paintings that Randy couldn’t tell anyone a damn thing about. He did recognize an Ansel Adams, but nothing else. At the base of the wall, standing four feet higher and seven feet long, was a dark-stained oak sofa table converted to hold too many pictures, all in silver frames outlined by gold. At least the frames had been filled with personal pictures. Sometimes looking the pictures depressed Randy. At 35, all the pictures were family photos. Not one picture of Randy with a female other than mom and grammy. There was no junior or senior photo; no photo of him with a girl and a dog; no wedding photos where he was the groom; no pictures of children that called him dad.

The rest of his apartment was almost magazine cover quality and definitely could be used to show potential new suckers. It was a two bedroom so his parents could have a room when they visited, mom demanded it.  His mother had decorated the “guest” room with a very expensive country-rustic theme. They had a four- poster bed that was stained to look like cracked fence posts. There was a large, six drawer dresser that called home to one wall. It was the same medium oak color as the bed posts and had tiny horseshoes as the drawer knobs. The top of the dresser was an array of pigs that his mother had shipped from home because she ran out of room in the house, and dad said she couldn’t buy another pig until she found homes for the countless she already had.  Each side of the bed had matching tables that one drawer and topped with lamps that depicted farm scenes. His father could not understand how Ole McDonald exploded in his room as his parents were the farthest thig from farmers. The wall opposite the bed had a 52” Plasma TV and was his mother’s bartering chip for the pigs. There was a very large walk-in closet, large enough that you could put a single bed in it. Attached, by a door, to the closet was a master bathroom complete with his and her ceramic bowl sinks, a garden six-jet jacuzzi tub, a tile shower with a rain forest shower head, and a separate toilet with a fan that could make Dad’s worst upset stomach issues disappear. His mother had bugged the property managers for the name of the fan so she could find one back home and get it installed.

Randy’s bedroom was an identical twin to the guest room. Identical in size, shape and aesthetics. However, his bedroom was sparse of any form of life ad had been decorated by Randy. That resulted I him buying a king size bed, that he never slept in, a bedding set that was closest to the store register, and a dresser from IKEA that he could keep in his folded clothes in. The walk-in closet and bathroom saw the most activity as he pretty much wore suits all the damn time. He was so predictable about wearing a suit that he had brought three pairs of jeans a year ago, when he thought about joining in on casual Friday, and they still hung in the closet with the tags on them.  He had more shoes than he needed and he kept meaning to donate several pairs that were still in the box. It was not that he was an impulse shopper. It was that he was comfortable with certain things and found it difficult to expand almost anything in his life. The bathroom counter was home to his toiletries, and an array of hygiene products. The four drawers that divided the two sides of the counter were full of an exhausting amount of prescription medications, some which were well past their expiration date.

Back in the living room Randy founds himself getting sleepy and stood up thinking he would make himself a nice strong pot of black coffee. About an inch from the kitchen he realized that he couldn’t as he didn’t have a coffee maker. He had had one at one time, a really nice one that made expresso too. One night he made a pot of coffee, drank it, put the empty pot back on the coffee burner and forgot about it. The next morning he awoke to a smell of burnt coffee and rushed into the kitchen to find that the bottom of the coffee pot was very black and an adhesive process had occurred between the coffee pot and the machine. He yanked the coffee pot by the handle and threw it into the sink and shook his hand from the temporary burn he got. The coffee pot shattered in the sink and pieces of glass flew everywhere. He found the broom an as he was sweeping slipped on a wet substance on the floor. He reached out to grab hold of something and his hand landed on the hot burner of his high- class coffee machine. He hit the floor knees first bringing the coffee maker with him, and that was the end of coffee at home. Randy had to find some other sleep distractor so he went to the bookcase that actually contained books and scanned for something to read. He enjoyed collecting classic books and books that had a trilogy and more. Sadly, he had read the 250 books he owned many times and really didn’t want to reread what he had pretty much memorized. The top two shelves of the bookcase held double stacked rows of grade school composite notebooks. These notebooks were his journals that every therapist he had had insisted that he had to do. The journals contained more than just describing the nightmare. The entries talked about his true and intimate feelings. He grabbed the latest on the shelf and a glass of ice. He turned on the lamp next to the couch, filled the glass of ice half way with Jack, and randomly opened the journal.

October 21, 2012. At the office today the guys asked me if I wanted to join the celebration for Stan’s huge settlement against a hospital. They were all headed out for the three B’s: Beer, Burgers and Boobs. And, as every time before I declined. I really wanted to go but was afraid that if I drank topo much and started running my mouth I might start talking about some really off the wall, weird shit, and that could cost me my reputation. They left the office at 6:00 and I said goodnight to security at 10:00.

December 24, 2012. I have never really enjoyed the holidays, not really. I faked it well for mom, but I think dad knew the truth and knew why. I came back from court and found a small wrapped package on my desk. The tag read “Randy-Open the box and I think you’ll have a very merry Christmas”- Jenny. He opened the box and found a very seductive pair of crotch less underwear and a key to a cabin in Breckenridge. I really want to be with Jenny. Her blond hair, green eyes and body that could make any man weak at his knees. But what kind of relationship can I give her? How scared would she be the first time she was a spectator to the nightmare? I looked up from my desk to see Jenny standing at my door like a kid waiting to find out if they could go out with her friends. I gave her an approving smile and winked, and she left my door as if she had just won a Gold Medal in seducing men. I have to give her credit as this was the most upfront sexual gift she had given in the five years she had been trying to get me in her bed, and I hated myself for it. I hated myself because she was wasting her time on me. I had already brought a round trip plane ticket home for a trip that I would never take. I will tell Jenny that I had to fly home on an emergency and have the ticket in case she doesn’t believe me. But I need to think hard about an excuse for next time as the plane ticket is the last one I have.

December 26, 2012. The nightmare. I open my eyes and I am standing alone, and I get a sense that I am the only person alive. I am standing on a pile of rubble that were once buildings. I smell ashes and something burning, so I started to walk forward. I get through the rubble and turn to walk on the highway that is littered with cars. As I pass the first car I see that the occupants are still in the car, but are burned so that the flesh has almost completely left their bodies and their skeleton has become the main feature. I keep walking as if the sight of flesh burned off of people is not disturbing. Car after car after truck has the same grotesque scenery inside the vehicle. I turned off the highway and climbed over what seemed like mountains of decimated buildings.  I found what was once my office and I only knew that because the six -figure sign that hung above the door was lying I the street, burned and bent like it was hit by an explosion. I think I hear voices in front of me from what used to be Coors Filed that now resembles the coliseum in Rome.  I frantically run towards the stadium, jumping over small piles of rubble and hopping over cars that got turned upside in the pay to park parking lot. When I reach the service entrance I can see people, normal looking people, waving at me and I think they are doing that for anyone still alive. As I approach the gate there is a combination of clapping and bowing for me and I can’t understand why. Two women approach me and each kisses a cheek and they hold my hands and walk me into the stadium. I am guided by two very attractive and barely dressed women through a tunnel and onto the baseball field where a large wooden podium sits on the pitcher’s mound. I don’t feel afraid or worried. It is as if I belong here and the podium is for me but I doing know why. I am just glad to see people alive and think that things will be okay. The closer I get to the podium the more I wreath in pain. It’s not a pain I have felt before, it’s like my entire body is revolting against me. I stumble a few times and the women help me to my feet. I am getting hot then cold then more hot than warm until finally I feel hot, but it feels normal. My skin feels tight, like it’s very dry, and I have one hell of a headache that appeared out of nowhere. I look down thinking focusing on the ground might decrease the pounding I my brain. My skin has changed. My arms looked like crimson snake skin, and I had long nails that were a dinghy yellow and curved below my hands ending in a sharp point. I notice that my shoes have vanished and my feet mirror my arms. I wonder how long I have been as I am? I can’t remember but it feels like I have always been like this, like this me was trapped inside the other me, the me who is writing this. The walk to the podium seems to drag and time seems to move to the rhythm of clapping and chanting. I can hear the voices clearly and they are chanting, “New World Order!” It seems like a logical thing to say given what I came through to get to where I was. The women let go of my hands and each took turns giving me a very deep and passionate kiss. They bowed slightly and created a path to the left side of the podium. I climbed up and the podium creaked like it was about to break. The entire mass of people went silent and focused their eyes on me. I stood posed and quiet, confused as to what I was supposed to say or do. Why the hell was I here? What did these people expect or want of me? My mind was racing but my thoughts became the thoughts of someone else. I begin to feel pride and my ego was high. Somehow I was the source of all of this, and I enjoyed the spotlight. I was no longer hiding in an apartment afraid of a lot of things, but I was a person of interest. Suddenly I knew what to say, I knew the words that would unleash cries of joy and cheers of enthusiasm. I slowly raised both my arms making fists as I did. When my hands were above my head, I said, “My people. Welcome to Our New World!”

The notebook hit the wall with the paintings on it and tumbled down to rest on a couple of pictures. Randy headed straight to the bathroom leaving a trail of blood from his nose. His clothes were soaked with sweat and his pale complexion had gone almost white. The cold shower water made his gasp and take air deep in his lungs, but his body adjusted to the cold water and he put his head back letting the cold water wet his hair and cover over his face. He could taste the blood causing his nausea to amplify until he dry- heaved. After he stopped the nose bleed, he showered properly, threw on some shorts and a t-shirt and spent until sunrise cleaning out the frig. He locked his door in the suit of the day and dropped the very smelly garbage down the chute next to the elevator. He felt guilt that the trash was his and thought about giving the garbage guys a little cash. The over price coffee bistro was about the only place open and it was the only place that had coffee strong enough for Randy to snap to and focus on the day at hand.

Coffee passed his lips and burned his tongue and Randy found himself lost in translation between the nightmare and reality. He sometimes wondered which was which and perhaps the nightmare was his reality. The puzzle that he never could solve his how much of last night, like thousands of nights, was written in the journal and how much was the nightmare itself. Some people may find his nightmare minor in comparison to others. And he had to admit that he had heard descriptions of nightmares much worse than his. Yet, his nightmare had grown, morphed into something beyond a nightmare. It was not simply a nightmare, but that is what it was classified. It terrified him more than it used to. It never changed, but it was becoming more real. For a long time the nightmare was just that and he was like a spectator at some hellish show. Then the nose bleeds started. Then came the feelings of his flesh being on fire. Then waking up to smells of fire and burning flesh. Over the last year the nightmare left more and more of an imprint on his life, and that scared him.

Sitting on the stairs of his building was George, at least that is the name he gave the homeless guy. He was a bald black man probably in his 70’s. His entire life was neatly stuffed inside a shopping cart. No one minded George because he was almost invisible. Randy had told security to leave the guy alone and even paid the wanna be cops to let George into the basement when the weather was bad.  Randy and George had a morning ritual. Randy would hand him a cup of coffee and George would say. “There’s sumfin special bout you man, you gonna do sumfin big someday.” But today when Randy handed George the hot cup of coffee he was about to give his daily speech to Randy but suddenly turned his eyes away and started to cry. Randy didn’t know what to make of it and hurried it other building trying to figure out what he did wrong.

His morning was normal and that helped normalize his brain. He settled two cases with adjusters that netted him a little over $42,000.00 and had no meetings that morning. At 1:00 he was up for the new client flood meetings. Each of the four attorneys took turns rescreening potential new clients that the paralegals initially screened. He hated these meetings because the paralegals had been brain washed that every phone call was dollar signs when, in fact, over half of the potential new clients did not have a case. He started reviewing the intake information and created three piles: a pile that he would sign up for him, a pile that he put on the newest attorney, and a pile that would get a “we don’t want your case” form letter. One case I particular had his attention.

Frannie Green was a self- proclaimed free spirit who had a small flower business in Littleton. She was on eastbound 470 and was slowed in traffic when a rather large truck failed to stop and severed the rear end of her BMW. The property damage was profound and the bodily injuries were substantial. Ms. Green had hired a billboard attorney and decided she didn’t get the right “vibe” from him. AS she was shopping for an attorney, a customer of hers was a former client of Randy’s and sold Randy like girl scout cookies in front of Walmart. Thus, Ms. Green had specifically asked for him and an appointment was set. When Jenny announced the arrival of Ms. Green there was a tone in her voice of a women introducing a threat. Randy stood up and buttoned his jacket and moved towards the edge of his desk. He had a vision of Ms. Green in his head and when his eyes met her at the door his image was shattered. Frannie Green stood 5”7” with long red hair and sharp green eyes. She wore a pastel dress that hugged her figure and extenuated her firm breasts. Randy had to use a lot of energy to stop undressing the woman with his eyes. “Hello Ms. Green. I’m…” “I know who you are Randy, and please call me Frannie as I hate Francis. He gently shook her soft hand and guided her in the direction of his table. He gestured to a seat for her and sat directly across from her. He didn’t need to review her file as he had memorized the gut of it. Frannie told him what happed and about her injuries: the bulging and herniated discs in her back, the severe whiplash, the surgery on her right ankle with pins and a rod to put it back together. She talked about how the accident cost her income and her battle from a slight addiction to pain killers. Randy wrote down what she said and knew he had to do his best to settle her case with an adjuster because, while she was attractive and pleasant, a jury would find it hard to believe the extent of her injuries. She didn’t show any signs of back or neck pain, and did not walk with any abnormality. “I am tired of talking about this stuff Randy. Let’s talk about other things. I won’t take no for answer as I am paying for your time and I still have thirty minutes.” She gently took his hands into hers and rubbed her thumbs along his outer palms. Randy was taken in by her, more than he had by any other woman he had encountered. He, once again, inspected her with his eyes and as she flipped her hair from the left side to the right he saw a tattoo on her neck. He focused his attention on the tattoo her could see it clearly and burn the imagine into his mind as he knew had seen it somewhere before.

 Somehow he knew that Frannie and the tattoo were not here by accident, they were a piece to a puzzle he was not aware of. Frannie kissed him on the cheek and said she would see him later and left the office in the same innocently seductive way as she first entered.

Randy’s focus was shot for the rest of the day. He tried to work, but every time his door opened he held his breathe hoping it was Frannie. He did sign up four new clients and gave Edward four cases. He instructed Jenny to draft five denial letters for his signature and put together envelopes to return the documents from the rejected cases. A part of him wanted to look up the tattoo and find it what it meant. But he was afraid that if he found out what it meant it might change whatever was going to happen with Frannie. For the first time in months Randy left the office promptly at five with a smile. Jenny made some under her breathe snide remark about his mood and little miss flower girl, but he ignored it and kept going. He knew his night would be the same as always but he was hungry for the first time in days and decided to head to Illegal Pete’s for a bite. Illegal Pete’s was a kind of yuppie/college kid/ young urbanite hang out. They had decent food and cold beer. It was a Tuesday so the place wasn’t packed, but was busy. He found an empty table outside and the moderate fall temperature allowed him to sit outside and enjoy fresh air. The waitress took his order and returned with a cold beer. The first one he chugged, the second he finished in three huge gulps, and the third arrived with his food. His impulsive desire to call Frannie ad invite her to dinner was only contained by listening to the live band playing from somewhere close. He ate half of his order and found himself to be too full to take another bite and declined a “to go” box, but agreed to another beer. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and saw it was close to 10:00, and he could not believe he had sat in public enjoying cold beer and decent food for five hours. He had three missed calls from mom and she was probably on the phone with the police frantic that he didn’t answer his calls. He also had a missed call from a number he didn’t recognize and decided it was too late to call back.

He gave his leftovers to a homeless guy and made his way home. The normal five -minute walk took closer to ten minutes as the beer was having fun with his equilibrium. The doorman helped him to the elevator and even pressed the button for the 12th floor, where he lived. He stumble off the elevator and look down trying to wrestle his keys out of his pocket and played bumper car with the walls. He figured he was close to his apartment and started figuring out which key would open his door. He dropped his keys, bent down to pick them up, and stood up to see Frannie standing in front of his door. “Well Randy, I am glad to see you had some fun tonight as you seriously needed it.” Randy shook his head praying that he wasn’t hallucinating and being grateful that if he was at least it was of her. He hoped that the clear and correct statement he formed for Frannie came out of his mouth in the same fashion. “Hello Frannie. Thank-you and what the hell are you doing here? How did you know where I live? That I am disappointed, but don’t remember giving you my address and its not listed.” She helped support him while he unlocked the door, and was glad that he had hired a local grocery place to fill his cabinets, frig and freezer with food. He was more relieved that he got his cleaning service to come out for double their rate and clean the apartment. There was no question that Frannie was coming in.

The embarrassment of throwing up while Frannie sat quietly on the couch was a feat he would have to figure out how to overcome. The bonus was that he felt soberer, more in control of him which was important as at some point he would have to have Frannie leave. She couldn’t stay because if she did he would scare her to a point that she may never want to see him again. Frannie met him between the kitchen and living room with a large cup of black coffee, the first cup from the coffee maker that he had replaced today. She held his hand and gently guided him to the couch. Her silence was almost as seductive as her body. When he sat down she kicked off her shoes, put her feet on the couch and turned to face him with a smile. After drinking about half the cup of coffee and swallowing the two aspirin that were in his bathrobe pocket he decided to break the silence. “I want to apologize for my yack fest in the bathroom. I don’t drink beer very often and never drink as much as I did tonight. But I promise that I brushed my teeth many times so I should only have coffee breathe now.”  Frannie leaned forward, place her hand on his cheek and kissed him deeply. “Yep, it’s just coffee now.” She winked at Randy ad let out a little chuckle. “Randy you must feel the electricity between us, as if we are meant to be.” He didn’t know how to respond. The only thing he knew about her was the information from her intake file. On the other hand, she didn’t know anything about him except that he was her attorney. For that reason, he could not let anything happen because if anyone found out he could get disbarred. But he felt the same that she did and he could not deny it. It was beyond the physical attraction and it wasn’t love. He felt at ease, safe, when she was near him and he didn’t know how or why. “Frannie, how did you find out where I live? Why are you here? What do think will happen?”

He poured two more cups of coffee as Frannie talked about herself, at his request. She was a Colorado native and had grown up in Loveland. Her parents were very down to Earth people and quite wealthy. She went to a private college and majored in philosopy and history. Frannie didn’t want to go to college but did so to make her parents happy so they would pay her bills. After college, she moved back but settled in Littleton with her boyfriend at the time. He left her and robbed her and her parents were furious with her and demanded she move back home. After three years back home she decided to move back to Littleton and opened a small flower shop. She was his age and had never been married.

Randy returned the favor and told her his boring left and talked mainly about his parents and his mother was on his back about giving her grandchildren. He side stepped lots of questions about him, his apartment and why his bedroom was uninviting. Frannie had kissed him throughout his talking, and had often kissed his neck or nibbled on his ear in hopes of making him tell more. And it was in his favor that they needed something to drink. As he turned around he started choking on the ice water as he saw Frannie thumbing through his journals. “Please don’t Frannie. Just let those be and come sit back on the couch, I’ll tell you more about me, I promise.” It didn’t appear his offer was accepted as she continued to pick up random journals and flip through them. “Frannie, please don’t read those. I don’t want what it is in their ruin tonight, please.” That time she accepted what he said and strolled back to the couch. “Randy, relax honey. I knew about the nightmare before I opened those books.” Randy stopped walking and just looked at her in shock and awe. How could she know what no one except his parents and countless therapists knew. He wanted her to leave and never come back, but he had to know how she knew. He hated himself for being so vulnerable. “Frannie, how can? I mean, how do you? I mean HOW?!?” “Randy, its complicated and when the time is right I promise you will know. Right now, just know it wot freak me out or make me leave. I can make it better.” As she spoke articles of her clothing fell to floor until she was standing beautifully naked I front of him.

The morning came to soon and he didn’t want to leave her. The sex was amazing but her warm body and soft skin touching his was creating a solace that he had never had. He gently slipped out of bed and went into his bathroom for a nice warm shower. As he was half way through washing his hair he felt lips on his chest. The shampoo burned one eye but he didn’t care. He put his face back in the water to rinse the soap out and brought his heads forward wiping the water off his face with his hand. He had never made love in a shower and did not know his body or hers could bend in the way they did. It was the longest shower he had ever taken and he didn’t get to the office until almost noon.

Their relationship raced ahead at an alarming rate. For the first couple of months they stayed at his place three nights a week and at hers the rest. He became an 9-5ish guy, something he had never been. On their four-month anniversary, they celebrated by moving Frannie into his apartment and rented a small shop not too far from the apartment for her flower shop. His parents came for a visit and his mother insisted that Frannie call her mom and asked when the wedding was going to be. Neither Frannie or Randy would entertain that question, but would not admittedly deny the possibility. He still couldn’t say he loved her, but knew he could not have the life he was having without her. His nightmares were gone and so were the nose bleeds. The journals had been boxed away and replaced with pictures of he and Frannie and Charlie, their beagle. That was his favorite picture. Things were changing at work because he was as close to normal as he had ever been and he started seeing more of the things he was morally and ethically against. Jenny resigned and left on a Friday when he was in court. The office erupted and Randy opened his own practice in an office right next to Frannie’s flower shop. They abided by their rule of not interfering with each other’s jobs, but it was nice to be close to her. They spent almost all of their time together and did not grow tired of one another, or feel trapped. They never argued, but discussed differences. Above all, they never went to bed angry.

The nightmare came back, but it was different. It was different because Frannie was in it and she held his hand and never let go. In the nightmare she was pregnant and was strong. He woke up sweating and breathing heavy. He went to the bathroom and splashed his face. He put on some gym shorts and quietly made his way to the kitchen. He got a short glass from the cabinet, filled it with ice, and half way with scotch. He grabbed the cigarettes and lighter he kept in a kitchen drawer and stepped out on the tiny deck. He was holding onto a lit cigarette but not smoking it. The scotch, however, did not have a long life in the glass. He was leaning against the railing trying to erase his mind and fearful that the nightmare had found its way back. He felt Frannie put her arms around him and kiss his back. He picked up one of her hands, kissed it, then put it back on his chest. “Come back to bed Randy. It’s going to be okay, I promise.” “It’s the nightmare Frannie. Only this time you were in it and you were pregnant.” She turned him around and gently kissed his lips. “I know honey, I know.” “But how Frannie? Did I talk out loud? Did I call your name? How do you know?” I his anxious state he spoke more firmly to Frannie than he ever had. “Randy, there are things to come that I know of but I explain, at least right now. You have to trust me that, in time, all of your questions will be answered.” He still felt uneasy and wanted answers but somehow Frannie had him. She had him at a level that he couldn’t explain. She had him at a depth that he didn’t know existed. He knew that he would be with her until death.

One morning as Randy approached his new office he saw George sitting on the steps. Before he continued he turned around, walked two blocks back, and got George a coffee and a breakfast sandwich, and apology for whatever he had done to make the man cry. When he returned, George stood up; something he had never done in the five years that Randy knew him. He gave the coffee and sandwich to George who smiled. “Randy, I need to tell ya sumfin. You need to walk in another direction. Don’t be what you is supposed to be, be what you ain’t. She is bad news man and will lead you to where they want you to go. I swears it on my mammas grave that you need to go the other way.” Before Randy could respond, George was pushing his cart done the street and as he stepped off the curb a taxi cab hauling ass plowed into him. George died instantly.

Randy told his new paralegal to hold all calls for an hour or so and closed the door to his office. George was the closest thing that Randy had had, before Frannie, of a non-judgmental person in his life. George had become a constant in his life, he was part of a routine. Moreover, he had said more to Randy that he ever had. What was George talking about? Who were they and what did they want him to do? Between the nightmare with the new twist and George’s warning, his mind was racing. He needed answers and if Frannie wasn’t going to give them he would find out on his own. Hell, he was an ace at research. His only problem was he didn’t know where to begin. The only person that could give him a clue was Frannie. So, he decided, tonight she would give him some information, something he could use to find the answers.

The television actually got use, more for her. Randy had spent most of his life unable to focus on TV so he never gained a liking for it. He just used it for noise. He picked up the remote and turned the TV off. “Frannie, can we talk for a moment?” Before she could respond he told her about his encounter with George, including the horrible accident. “ I am so sorry that happened. It must have been a horrible sight.” “It was Frannie, but it also ended any possibility I had to get more information from him. To try and understand what his warning was all about. The funny thing is, he didn’t know about us. We never spoke in that manner and he had no knowledge that I was with someone.”  The look in Frannie’s face told him she knew all about George. He could not place what part of her expression gave it away, but she had a look on her face that told him she knew. “Frannie, I need answers. Too many things are happening at the same time to be coincidences. The changed nightmare last night and then George this morning. What in the hell is going on and why do I feel like I am not truly in control of my life” Frannie brought them both back stiff drinks, the cigarettes, lighter and an ashtray. She lit them both a cigarette while he held the drinks. Randy was nervous as this was the most serious he had seen her look since they met. She took a heavy drink of scotch, two or three drags off of the cigarette, a deep breath, and looked at him as if she was getting ready to drop an atomic bomb.

“ I have not been completely open about my life, just as you reserved parts of yours. I was adopted when I was a baby and have no idea who my real parents are. I tried to find them but never could. My parents have been wonderful, but I have always felt like I didn’t belong. When I was a little girl I would get flashes of a place, but could never figure out where it was. I would just get the feeling that I would go to that place someday and I would have a man go with me.”  The scotch got refilled and cigarettes were lit. “As I got older the flashes became images, vivid images of destruction and rubble, and you. I know it sounds crazy, but I knew that you were my future before we met. The images transformed into dreams and while I should have been terrified, I never was. To me the dream was my destiny and I embraced it. One year at a state fair I decided to go see a fortune teller for fun. The women sat across from me, rubbing a glass ball and mumbling something in a poor accent and I was laughing, laughing harder than I ever had before. She took my hands and turned my palms up to read them, an extra $5.00 but I didn’t care. She told me I had the longest life line that she had ever seen and she struggled to find the end of the line. She told me I would find my soulmate many years into my adulthood. Then she stopped speaking, pushed my hands away, gave me back my money and screamed at me to leave.” Randy wasn’t sure how to process what Frannie had told him, He couldn’t be judgmental because of what he had experienced. And he didn’t think Frannie was lying because her brutal honesty was one of her many qualities that he liked. It all seemed so surreal, and yet he believed her.

By the time they stopped talking Randy had time for a quick shower and a review of the case over coffee, extra strong and black. He had discovered that sleeping more normal had its price when you pulled an all nightery.  This morning he really envied and resented Frannie. She decided to not open her shop and would open it next Sunday for a few hours. His Uber ride called to say he was sitting out front. Randy poured more black coffee into his travel mug, gently kissed Frannie on the face and smiled as the sunlight made her naked skin glisten. For the rest of the week Randy didn’t think about the conversation, he couldn’t. He had to focus on the trail with a rather nasty and sneaky defense attorney and a client that had very little social skills and mouth filter what so ever. Randy had spent well over 50 hours prepping his client and it seemed that it was all wasted time. His client was well known in the less favorable part of Denver and had a rap sheet four pages long. Luckily, he hadn’t drank or smoked anything the night he was t-boned. On the down side, his client thought he was entitle to millions of dollars and had refused any settlement offer. The jury was not impressed with how his client described what had happen and the judge threatened contempt several times if the Plaintiff didn’t use more appropriate language.

At home all was normal as if the conversation never occurred. In some ways, it seemed they had grown closer and Randy realized that he could never lose her. One night over dinner, he realized that he did love her and wanted her to know how much. Their sex life was exhausting but had gone to a new level of intimacy. They talked about the future all the time but never did so with any serious tone. Randy decided it was time to get serious about the future and move them forward.

The trial ended on a wintery Friday afternoon and the jury gave his client $500,00.00, of which Randy got a third. He left the courthouse and told his client that has soon as he got the check, barring if the opposing counsel filed an appeal, he would call him to come sign the check. He told his client it could take upwards of thirty days to get and to just be patient. However, he knew that JT would start calling him next Monday and would call every day until the check came. Just as JT was going off about social in justice and how if he was a white man he would have gotten a lot more money, Randy’s phone rang and he excused himself. “Hello. Yes this is he. Its ready? Great! I will be there in roughly 30 minutes to pick it up.” He went by the office and answered a few phone messages, went through a mountain of mail, gave is assistant the rest of the day of with pay, and headed out.

After he took Charlie, their Beagle, for a nice long walk, he called Elway’s and made a 7:30 dinner reservation. He then called a florist and arranged, for a considerable fee, to have a dozen roses delivered to the restaurant at 7:40. Frannie wouldn’t get home until 6:30 so he had time to shower and change. To make his plan work he told Frannie that they were meeting a possible partner and his wife for dinner., which explained his wearing his best suit. Frannie was a whirlwind when she got home and promised to put the mountain of clothes on the bed back in the closet when they got home. She decided on a deep blue dress that had streaks of silver in it, and Randy loved the way the dress hugged her body. The valet had his car all ready to go and opened the car door for both of them. Randy had a nervous smile and blamed it on meeting a possible partner. It was convincing enough that Frannie believed him and just put her left hand on his inner thigh and told him about her day while they drove to dinner.

Elway’s was a popular steakhouse and was busy, but they were seated immediately and Randy ordered a nice bottle of Merlot. They chatted about miscellaneous things and laughed about their days, comparing his client to some of hers. The menus were in front of them but they decided to wait for the potential partner and his wife that would never come because they didn’t exist. The waiter came to the table carrying a dozen roses. “Excuse me Ma’am but these are for you.”  He handed Frannie the flowers, smiled in approval and walked off to another table. “Randy, you shouldn’t have! These are beautiful!” She walked around and gave him a very tight hug and a gentle kiss on the cheek.

After they had ordered another bottle of wine and an appetizer, Frannie held his hands in hers and said, “Are you going to call this potential partner? I mean he is already a half hour late and I thinks its rude of him not to have called.” Gulping Merlot was not the best idea but he needed to numb his nerves and he hoped that the words that were about to cross his lips didn’t sound too cliché. “Frannie, my potential partner is here. And it’s not a he it’s a she. It’s you Frannie.” Before she could drink more wine and digest what he said he got up, pulled her chair so she was facing him and got down on one knee. “Frannie, I don’t know if fate brought us together or mere chance. I do know that I never expected you to come into my life. Every morning as I leave I realize that I love you more than the day before. You are my best friend, my lover, my heartbeat. You Frannie are my partner through all of it, and I want you to always be by my side.” He paused for a second so he could get the ring from his inside pocket. He held it I his hands and opened it so Frannie could see the ring. “Frannie, will you do me the honor of marrying me?” “Yes! Yes! Oh my God! Yes I will marry you Randy!” He slid the ring on her finger and they kissed as the people around them clapped and cheered.

They enjoyed dinner and talked about the future. He promised to call his mother tomorrow and tell her and expected mom to fly out right away. Frannie said she would call her parents as well. At that moment, Randy realized, other than a few times, had never talked about her parents. It was an odd time to think about it but the thought was there. “You know I really don’t know about my future in-laws. Are they going to come off the mountain for the wedding? Can we drive up one weekend so I can meet them?” Frannie became slightly reserved and looked like Randy had just danced on sacred ground. “Randy, can we talk about this later? Please? It’s complicated with my parents and I don’t want to have a in depth conversation tonight.” Randy didn’t want the mood to change either so he did not bring it up again, but would pursue the topic tomorrow. He loved her but the skeletons had to come out of the closet. The waiter appeared and put a very expensive bottle of wine in the wine holder, after pouring them each a glass without asking. “Excuse me. I think there has been a mistake. We didn’t order that.” “It’s compliments of the gentleman at the bar. The one wearing the grey suit with the purple tie.” They both look towards the bar and saw the person the waiter described and neither one of them could say they knew him. The man in the grey suit raised his glass in a toast and smiled. “Randy, we should walk over and thank him.” While he wasn’t hesitant of strangers bearing gifts, he felt as Frannie did.

They didn’t have to walk over to the bar as the man who brought the wine made his way to them. “Ahh. Congratulations to the lovely couple. My name is Aeshma and I am glad to see you finally proposed Randy. Frannie has been waiting a long time for this and deserves what the future will become. Good evening to you both.” Randy tried to find words but he was speechless. He looked at Frannie and she looked like she had seen a ghost. When she heard his name, she looked as if a ghost of the past had suddenly appeared. She knew him, and she could not deny it. As he studied her he looked at her tattoo and shook his head thinking the wine was playing tricks on his mind.  “Frannie, something has happened to your tattoo. When we first met, it was black. Now it’s a strange red color. Strange in the it seems to be moving.” Frannie looked embarrassed and tears welled in her eyes. “Can we go home now?” Randy paid the check and asked for a taxi as neither one of them were in any shape to drive. He tried to hold her hand walking out of the restaurant but she pulled away and buried her face in the flowers. The cab ride home was cold and quiet. The mood even affected the chattery cab driver and he joined in the silence.

Sleep that night was non-existent and welcomed the nightmare with open arms. Only, Randy thought as he stood out in the cold night air, it was different and he didn’t wake up with a nose bleed or sweat soaked clothes. This time the nightmare came with a narrator, someone omnipotent voice telling him which way to go. The voice kept telling him to hurry as they were waiting for him for the completion of what had been done. When he got to the stadium he saw two figures. Frannie was waving to him while holding the hand of a little boy who was screaming “Daddy” as loud as he could. He woke up at that point and the nightmare felt more real than it ever had. Again, oddities occurred that could not be coincidence. The man in the restaurant that somehow knew their names and definitely knew Frannie, followed by the nightmare that was morphing into something else. He walked back to the bed feeling alone and unable to tell Frannie what had happened. When they got home Frannie pushed the clothes onto the floor, put on her “You’re not getting any tonight” nightgown and went straight to sleep. Randy knew it took her awhile to fall asleep, but she was in a place that he couldn’t reach and she didn’t want to be bothered. He climbed back into bed, rolled over so he and Frannie were lying back to back and closed his eyes. He knew he wouldn’t sleep anymore that night but the quiet was adequate to help him try and analyze all of the strange shit that had happened since he met Frannie.

When he returned from the sunrise walk with Charlie, Frannie was sitting on the couch I his Georgetown t-shirt and admiring how the ring sparkled in the sunlight braking through the windows. “Honey, I am really sorry about last night. It is not how I imagined the night would end.” By the time he got the leash off the dog, she had both arms wrapped around his neck and her face was buried on his shoulder and he could feel the tears. Randy was decent at understanding when to talk and when not to, and he knew saying anything would make it worse. She pulled her head of his shoulder and wiped the tears with the back of her hand. She was a train wreck but still the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. They kissed like they had just had a huge fight and the fear of losing each other made hormones race. While Frannie showered, Randy made some breakfast, fed Charlie and turned on the TV. His focus was keeping things as normal as he could and hopefully Frannie would snap out of it. On Saturdays, they would have breakfast and watch something on TV. Around 11:00 Frannie would call her assistant to check I and then they would plan the rest of the day. Neither one of them liked staying home so they always did something.

She carried the two plates of scrambled eggs, bacon and sliced Cantaloupe into the living room and Randy followed with two cups of coffee. He sat down on the end of the couch and Frannie pushed the coffee table so she could sit in front of him on the floor. He handed her a cup of coffee in exchange for a plate of food. He spread his legs just wide enough for her to scoot back so that her back was touching the couching and her arms were rested on his legs. They ate and watched TV in silence as Randy wanted her to speak first. After they had eaten and finished their coffee, Frannie turned off the TV and said, “Get dressed honey. I am taking you to meet my parents.” Randy practically ran to get dressed as he felt that everything was going to be okay. He wore a pair of jeans that required taking the tags and stickers off of and a long sleeve red flannel shirt. Frannie, threw on a pair of sweatpants and his law school sweatshirt and put her hair in a ponytail. They left the apartment with him looking semi-lumberjackish and her without any makeup or care about her appearance which was odd to him as Frannie was always very particular about how she looked even if they just stayed home. She insisted on driving and he didn’t argue. If he was getting to meet the parents of the woman he was marrying than he was content to sit in the passenger’s seat.

He flipped through radio stations and finally decided to go through his CD collection until he found something appropriate and uplifting. After five minutes of flipping back and forth he decided that CCR’s greatest hits would do the trick. Frannie headed south on I-25 and picked the E-470 interchange. She followed E-470 until she got to the exit for Fairplay/ Colorado Highway 285 South. Frannie told him the drive would take about an hour and that was all she said. The tension in her made her knuckles white on the steering wheel and she just looked through the windshield and didn’t turn her head at all. Randy had never traveled outside of Denver  and he enjoyed the scenery. The highway curved and winded through the mountains and every once in a while, gave way to a town. They stopped for gas and snacks and he estimated that they had about another 30 minutes. He admitted that his nerves were up and his fear of disapproval was ramped in his brain. The closeness to her home was impacting Frannie as well, but not in a happy excited way. She seemed to dread getting back in the car and took her time starting the car and resuming the trip. Randy replaced the CCR with Matchbox 20 thinking the more rock sound of “It’s Three AM” might help Frannie ease up. But the music did nothing to improve her sullen mood and so he sang off key and let thoughts run in circles in his head. Just after 1:00 they crested the Continental Divide and Randy was in awe. He had heard people talk about the majestic view of one of the predominate factors of the bi-polar weather in Colorado, and he agreed. He hoped that Frannie would pull over at the scenic view rest area, but she drove pass without a glance.

They tuned off the main road just pass a row of five mailboxes that leaned forward and looked pathetic and ready to be replaced. The road was a dirt one and the dust flew over the car and forced Randy to put his window up. It was the kind of road that required one car to almost go into a ditch so another car could pass. It was a private road which meant its upkeep was the responsibility of whoever cared to maintain the road that lived on the other side of the “Private Road” sign. As the car bounced and jolted back and forth from the holes and unlevel road, Randy decided that whoever was in charge of keeping this country road was fired, period. The road went northwest for three miles then started an uphill path that disappeared by a sharp left beyond the colony of Aspen Trees that guarded the road.

The houses were scattered and not in any organization of the cookie cutter suburban neighborhoods. Looking at the incredibly large houses occupied Randy as Frannie had not yet found the need or desire to talk. He was truly concerned that something snapped in her and he may lose her. The sudden turnaround in her attitude about him meeting her parents was puzzling. Randy couldn’t help but thinking that her parents may hold information that Frannie believed would change their relationship in some drastic manner. Short of her being a former hooker, he really didn’t care and she would know that when he met her parents. They crested the first hill and Frannie slowed down to make the sharp left turn. She pounded on the horn a few times to warn any cars coming from the direction. This part of the road was shaded by more Aspen Trees whose position had been altered by years of snowfall. The canopy of trees blocked the sun and gave an eerie, almost, ghostly aspect to the road. Randy thought that the road would be a good part of some horror movie with some wild maniac who jumps out of the woods and kills people. He chuckled quietly as he was amused at where his mind went.

The road leveled for a short distance then started going downward in a valley before the next uphill and into the trees section. The valley went as far as the eye could see left and right. It was made of tall, green grass with patches of yellow grass. On the right Randy saw Buffalo grazing and tried to take a picture with his phone, but the photograph was a blurry image of green and brown. He made a mental note that on their way back, as long as Frannie was back to herself, he would ask her to stop so he could take a proper picture. They started uphill again and back into another eerie section of the road. Randy hoped they would arrive soon as his ass was going numb from sitting and his legs could use a good stretch. Halfway down the eerie road Frannie slowed to almost a crawl and into a driveway incased in Aspen, Pine and Oak trees. The mailbox was silver and almost completely covered in Earth tone brick. The driveway was partially paved and Randy welcomes the smoothness of it. Frannie pulled up to the end of the drive underneath a basketball hoop that was mounted above a garage door. “This is home.” Frannie said, but she didn’t get out the car but just stared at the house as if she dreaded going in.

Frannie’s house was spectacular, at least I Randy’s opinion. It was a ranch style log cabin looking house. Randy estimated it had to be a good 4,000 feet. There was a concrete from the driveway to the front door. There was a small porch that extended the length of the house. There was a small oval table with two wicker type chairs on either side. The far end of the porch owned a swing suspended by chains. There were two large picture windows on the front of the house were naked of curtains. Although not having curtains on windows was odd to Randy, he figured that if you live in the middle of nowhere you don’t need curtains. Randy peered through a window and noticed that all the furniture was covered with white sheets. He calmed his excitement and focused his energy on listening. He strained to hear someone, something, anything that would indicate that there were more people here than just he and Frannie. He could not hear anything beyond his own breathing. Something wasn’t right and he knew that. Her parents were not here and he was nervous about why she brought him to a house absent of life.

He felt her hand in his and she tugged his hand so he would follow her lead. They walked around the east side of the garage and left the concrete for a small dirt path. They continued past the pool and trampoline and the remains of a garden that only grew weeds. They continued the path into the woods with Frannie not saying a word but gripping his hand tighter with each step. They stopped in front of what appeared to be an old graveyard. There were several markers overgrown by weeds, and the mossy mold had made making out the names almost impossible. The graveyard was bordered by a two-foot decorative fence that had been trampled on one to many times. Frannie walked over the fence still guiding Randy by tugging his hand. On the backside of the graveyard, ten feet from a large oak tree, Frannie stopped in front of two tombstones and fell to her knees as if all her muscles were liquid. “Mom. Dad. This is Randy, my Fiancé.” When Randy’s mind registered what had just happened, he let go of her hand and stumbled backwards several steps. He couldn’t breathe, or think, or anything. His fiancé had just introduced him to tombstones. He was going to vomit, or felt like he was. He turned and headed to the large oak tree just in time to vomit on an anthill.

“Randy. I know I owe you an explanation and I will give you one, the truth, but I am scared that you will leave and I don’t know if I would blame you if you did.” It was the first time she had touched more than his hand in two days. It was the first time she had looked him in the eyes since they left the apartment. It was the first time that he learned that her fear was the same as his, being abandoned and left alone to deal with their inner demons. “Frannie, it will take a lot more than your deceased parents to push me away. I am not exactly normal, in case you forgot.” “ They were my adopted parents, that part is true, It is also true that I have not been able to find my biological mother. But I lied when I said I had never met her. I lived with my mother until I was five and she brought me here and left me with the people who were my parents until they died two years ago. Before you ask questions, there is something else I have to tell you. Remember the guy who brought us the wine the night you proposed?” “Yeah I remember him, why?” “Because Randy he is my biological father who I have been hiding from since I was five. He is also the one who gave me the tattoo, in a dream.” Randy hands were shaking so much that he could not light the cigarette. Frannie gently took the lighter and lighted his cigarette and lit one for herself. She stood silent rubbing Randy’s arm while they smoked. She wanted to ask Randy how he was, but now it was his turn not to say anything. She was really worried how he was going to react to the photo she wanted to show him.

Randy was glad the liquor cabinet was full and had scotch. After three strong glasses he sat down next to Frannie on the sheet covered sofa ready to hear the rest. Over the next two hours Frannie poured out everything. Her biological mother and her adopted mother had become best friends in college. College was where Frannie’s birth mother had developed a crush on an Ancient Languages professor. An affair soon blossomed and Frannie was the result. Soon after Frannie was born the professor simply disappeared. Frannie’s mother. Her birth mother finished college and moved her and Frannie back home. Frannie didn’t remember much about her younger years, really nothing before she was six. At her sixth birthday, a strange man appeared with gifts. Her mother was in the house doing something and the man sat next to Frannie and explained that he was her father and that he had to go away on business. He told her that he had looked everywhere for her and her mother and was glad that he found them. Her mother came running out of the house and jumped into her father’s arms. He moved in with them and everything seemed fine until Frannie turned 10.

The man who claimed to be her father was strange and would often speak in a weird language to Frannie when he was tucking her into bed. She would lay in bed and hear them arguing over her, and suddenly it would quiet as if they were sleeping. One day Frannie followed her father out to the tool shed to see what he was doing. When he opened the door to the shed, there were no tools or junk. Instead, the walls were covered with all kinds of symbols and there was a small table that held a picture of Frannie with colored sand going around it. She went back to the house and told her mom what she saw and her mom, crying, said she knew all about it and they had to leave before her next birthday. Frannie could tell her mother was very upset but had no clue as to why. That night her parents had the biggest fight ever and somebody left the house and slammed the door hard enough to break the glass on the door. Frannie just slid further under her covers and cried herself to sleep. She awoke to her father picking her up out of bed and carrying her outside of the house and to the shed. She wanted to scream and kick but her body and voice were frozen.

It was at that point that Frannie hit the scotch hard and chain smoked until she was nauseous. Randy had absorbed everything she had said like a dry sponge in water.  As much as he tried to make sense of it all, he was still stuck on the image of the tombstones. “Are you okay?” “I am as well as I can be, at the moment. But do not think for one minute I am bailing, you are stuck with me.” For that Randy got the most passionate kiss he had gotten from Frannie thus far and if they had not been intensely involved in a very in depth conversation, the sheet covering the couch may have ended up on the floor. She continued her tale by telling Randy that when her father reached the shed, he laid her down on a small wooden table that was cold and hard. As much as she tried to move she couldn’t. She had tears in her eyes from trying to scream. Her father closed her eyes and when she awoke she was at the house that they are sitting in.

“The last words my mother said to me is that she loved me very much and was doing what she had to do to keep me safe. She left in a hurry and that was the last I saw of her or my father. When I got older I tried to find her. My adopted parents gave me a lot of money to support my search. After a few years I gave up and just hope someday to see her again.” Frannie used the sleeve of Randy’s shirt to wipe her tears. She got up and went to a large oak cabinet and pulled open a drawer. She returned to the couch and sat down. Her hands were shaking and she felt sick. She wanted  Randy to see what her parents looked like, but the only picture she had was them with their best friends at a cabin in Georgia. There was nothing odd about the picture. But she knew that it would freak Randy out and she was afraid. I have to show him, she thought. NO more secrets. She flipped the picture over and looked at it for a few minutes. “Randy, this is the only picture I have of my parents and I want you to see it. It is a picture of them with their best friends on a summer vacation. She handed Randy the picture and walked over to the liquor cabinet to find something stronger than the scotch.

Randy drank the whiskey straight from the bottle as he stared at the picture. There was nothing odd about the picture. Two couples were standing side by side with their arms around each other smiling. Their clothes told him that the picture was taken in the 1960’s. There is a small wooden cabin in the background and the couples are standing in front of a metal picnic table with a permanent small metal grill off the left. It is a seemingly normal picture of two couples having a good time. The problem for Randy is that he knew one the couples. He knew the cabin intimately. The cabin was in Blue Ridge Georgia and he had been there every summer for as long as he could remember. He had been at that Cabin because his parents owned it, and his parents were the other couple in the photograph.

“Please say something. You have been staring at the photograph for over an hour, and you haven’t said a word.” “What do you want me to say Frannie? You tell me about your freak of a father who pretty much knocked you out and then you wake up here and your mother takes off. Then you show me a picture of your parents and mine who, from what you said, were best friends, and were standing in front of my parent’s cabin. I don’t know what to say.” Frannie curled up against him and put her arms around him. “Randy I am just as shocked as you are. I had no idea until we got here. Where do we go from here?”.

He wanted to leave Frannie at this house and return to his solitary and predictable life. Yet, he knew that he couldn’t leave her. It was beyond the love and fear of being alone. They were attached at a level that he couldn’t understand, but he knew that if he left her he would suffer immense physical pain and the nightmare would come back eventually driving him to insanity. “It seems to me Frannie that we are part of some puzzle, or plan, and I don’t like being controlled. We are going to sleep here and tomorrow we will get on a plane to Atlanta, rent a car and drive to the cabin. That’s what we are going to do”. Frannie felt some relief that he was not leaving her but felt like their life had been on hold because of her past and thigs they did not know. They went to the master bedroom, crawled into bed in the clothes they were wearing and passed out, partly from mental exhaustion and mainly from too much scotch and whiskey.

They awoke with the sun forcing its way through the transparent curtains. Randy went to the master bathroom and Frannie went to another in the hallway. He turned on the cold water, cupped the water in his hands, and splashed it over his face. He rewet his hands and rubbed the back of his neck. He got his hands wet again and rubbed his neck and as he was rubbing the left side he felt a series of bumps from the base of his ear to his shoulder and forward to his jawline. He turned on the light and looked into the mirror. In horror, he rubbed and rubbed the left side of his neck and his effort, while exhausting, did not remove his new brand.

 “FRANNIE!!!!!!”. The shear fear in his voice forced Frannie to run at full speed into the master bathroom where she found Randy sitting on the toilet back and forth with his head down. “Randy, baby, what’s wrong?” Without saying a word, he turned his head so that she could see the left side of his neck. “Oh my God! Where did that come from?” “I don’t know Frannie. I mean I had a really weirds dream last night, but it was only a dream, right?” Randy told her that his dream was like the prelude to his nightmare. He was somewhere he did not recognize and there people wearing black robes with hoods so he couldn’t see their faces. He walked to the center of the room onto a weird looking diagram on the floor. The people in robes starting chanting and he picked up a metal rod that had a red hot end. He turned the rod and placed the red end on his neck. “I could feel the pain Frannie. I could smell my flesh burning. But in my dream, it did not bother me at all. I just stood in the circle, calm, and somehow knew when to put the rod down.”  Frannie had no response as her tattoo had appeared after an almost identical dream. And it had happened in this house. “Randy, let’s just go. I own this house but do not want to live here. Let’s just go and never come back here, please.”

They drove at record speed and gained a speeding ticket on the way back. Randy called the airline and booked their flights. They had enough time to get back to the apartment, pack a suitcase and catch the light rail to the airport. As they went by the front desk the clerk handed them to very large stacks of mail. They didn’t even pay attention to the mail hurried into their apartment. Randy changed and put a turtleneck on under clean flannel shirt, and while Frannie was freshening up in the bathroom Randy called their vet and explained they had a family emergency and would need their dog boarded for a few more days. He put the mail in a carryon bag with a bottle of aspirin and some snacks. He felt the back of a dresser drawer and found the key to the cabin. He was anxious to get to the cabin, but for what he didn’t know. He had been at the cabin many times and knew every inch of it. The only room he was never allowed in was a room that his mother claimed for her studio where she spent time writing the greatest novel ever.

The front desk clerk handed them two large stacks of mail as they rushed to the elevator. It was not one day’s worth of mail, not for them. Randy scanned the top envelopes as they elevator made its way to their floor. The return names and addresses were from all over the place, and he didn’t recognize any of them. Before he could ask Frannie, she looked at him in total bewilderment. Neither had any idea who the mail was from or what it was about. While Frannie locked herself in the bathroom to freshen up, Randy called their vet and explained the dog would need to be kept for a few more days, family emergency. He did not like lying but the reason he gave the vet was not necessarily a lie so he was fine with it. He called the cleaning service and told them the same story and when they came in later that day take anything out of the fridge that looked like it was about to or would spoil and get rid of it. They traded places as Frannie rummaged for proper clothes and Randy washed up and cleaned. He grabbed the key to the cabin from a dresser drawer and they headed to the taxi waiting on them. “You know it’s kind of odd Frannie. I was thinking about surprising you with the cabin for a honeymoon. Surprise.”

The 3 ½ hour flight was uneventful, even with the intense turbulence leaving Colorado. They both dozed in and out of sleep and spoke about meaningless and non -connected topics. They were anxious to know what answers the cabin would bring. They were both nervous about what answers the cabin would bring. They were both presently lost in a world they had lived in but now seemed completely different from what they knew. Once they got their suitcase they found several car rental places and picked one with the smallest line. They took an economy car to avoid waiting another half hour for a luxury SUV to be brought from another location. The contract was neatly folded into an envelope while a bubbly young woman chatted about all the great sites and what a wonderful time it was to visit. Randy volunteered to drive ad Frannie didn’t argue. He promised they would find someplace to eat once they were outside of Atlanta as they had about a 2 hour drive ahead of them.

They arrived at his parent’s cabin just before dusk and Frannie was in awe of the serenity and beauty of the cabin and the surroundings. The cabin was what one would expect. It was made of oak logs and the trim was painted red oak. It had a small front porch and a chimney on the left side. Frannie had never been this far East and felt the humid air wreak some havoc on her high- altitude lungs, but she didn’t mind. This was the first time that she and Randy had been alone, truly alone and she wanted nothing more than to forget all of what had happened in Colorado. Even if the fairy tale would not last long.

Randy opened the door and the damp and dusty smell was overwhelming. His parents had not been to the cabin since he had graduated law school. His mother had covered the furniture but the wind, rain and dust had claimed a good three or four-inch home on top of the sheets. They both sighed and laughed. Their plan of just going to the local general store, picking up some supplies, and having a nice quiet evening while going through the mountain of mail, was derailed by the necessity of cleaning the cabin. They carefully folded the mildew infested sheets of and threw them out the front door. Luckily there was a plethora of cleaning supplies in a small cabinet.

By then time they had finished cleaning the cabin it was almost 8:00 and the local store had closed. Randy Goggled the closest Walmart and headed out. He smiled as the Frannie he had fallen in love with had magically disappeared and that’s when his over active brain came up with an impulsive but great idea, at least he thought it was. And while the idea had many unanswered difficulties he was too excited to contain it. “Frannie. What do you do you think about moving far away from Denver? I have a law school buddie who has been asking me for years to partner with him, and he lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.” The look on Frannie’s face gave him the impression she thought he was insane and he believed that she would shoot down his idea. Maybe she should. Maybe the lack of sleep and fear of what had transpired over the last month had put him in a panic mode and he was looking for a quick escape.

They were not fond of fast food, but the huger pains drove them straight into buying meals at the McDonald’s inside the Wal-Mart. “Randy, I think your idea is exactly what we need and I would love to move to North Carolina and get a fresh start.” He was so excited that he picked her up and swung her around. They shopped for about an hour and much of it was getting ideas for a new home. They walked past the baby isle and stopped briefly. The look they gave each other was a silent agreement that soon they would start a family.

There was an annoying woodpecker that decided that Frannie and Randy needed to get their collective asses out of bed at 5:30. The temperamental act of throwing a shoe at a tree did nothing more than intensify the sounds of the wildlife. Randy slammed the front door and found Frannie standing behind him, naked, laughing at her soon to be naked husband frustrated over nature. “C’mon baby. Let’s have some coffee and enjoy the quiet. Well, mostly quiet.”  They threw on some clothes and took their coffee on the back porch. The view of the mist on the lake was eerie and pleasant at the same time. The only sound that broke the almost perfect silence was several Loon birds making their presence known. They sat close and didn’t say anything until the swallowed the last of the cold coffee. “Let’s go see what all our fan mail is for, shall we?”, Randy said as he squeezed Frannie’s ass.

The scores of letters and cards baffled both Randy and Frannie. The letters were written as if the sender was a friend of either one of them or both. Every letter and card that was addressed strictly to Randy all contained a replica of the tattoo that appeared on his neck. It was the same for Frannie. And of the letter or card was addressed to both, the bottom was engraved with both of their tattoos intertwined. The letters spoke of the excitement that Randy and Frannie had finally found each other as if these people knew they were suppose to be together long before they met. There was talk of a grand wedding that had not been planned; a child with a very special purpose that had not been conceived; and a catastrophic future event that would not only change the world, but would have Frannie and Randy as the source of the event. The cards and letters were from everywhere and even a few were from Europe, Asia, and Africa. When the last letter was read aloud they gathered all the letters and dumped them in a large metal trashcan in the back yard. Randy grabbed the lighter fluid for the grill and squeezed every drop onto the mail and lit it. He didn’t stay to make sure the flames didn’t jump out of trash can.

He found Frannie in the shower trying to fight back the tears while she washed her hair. Randy got in the shower with her, forgetting to get undressed, and just held her. They both were trying to figure out what all the mail was about, but neither could wrap their minds around it enough to talk about it. The intimacy in the shower relaxed their minds to plan their next move. They had agreed to not talk about the mail as it would only put them both in a place that would spiral into insanity. Randy had one thing he wanted to do before they left and headed somewhere. In the kitchen silverware drawer, he found the key to his mother’s private room. He almost didn’t unlock the door and Frannie took the key from his hand, unlocked the door, and walked into the room with purpose. “Randy, what are we looking for?” “I honestly don’t know. I am not sure we will find anything, but my mother has always guarded this room like it was full of secrets only met for her”. Randy searched the left half of the room while Frannie scanned the right.

The room was filled with lots of unfinished craft projects. Half-done pot holders, blankets, and other crotched items littered the floor, desk, and office chair. The great American novel that his mother had never finished was stuffed in a trash can. While Randy was amusing himself with random pages of his mother’s novel, Frannie was scanning through shelves upon shelves of photo albums. She giggled and made comments like, “Awww, how cute” and “You were so adorable!” When she was done with a photo album she would drop on the floor and pick up the next. As she grabbed the last album, the shelf rocked back. She dropped the album without looking at it and lifted the shelf up. Her heart raced as she pulled a very large black photo album out. The front of the album had a symbol engraved in it, it was the tattoo that had appeared on Randy’s neck. She held the album against her chest and took Randy’s hand and walked to the kitchen table. Randy saw what she was holding and while he didn’t know what it was he knew that it had the answers he didn’t want to know.

They ransacked his mother’s room looking for the key. The key was not in the room and Randy went back to the table and studied the key hole. His head hurt remembering all his time in the cabin and trying to remember where his parents put keys. He stood by the back door with a cigarette intensely scanning the backyard in hopes of unlocking a memory that would lead to the key. He took the last drag and thumped his cigarette towards a large pine tree, and that’s when it hit him. He had once saw his mother stuffing a pouch in a knot hole in the tree. He went to the tree and found the knot hole that had become the home of some animal. Disregarding the possibility of pissing off whatever lived in the tree, he shoved his hand in the hole and immediately found the pouch. The contents were dumped on the ground and he picked up a ring of five keys. Frannie was sitting at the table staring at the album when Randy appeared and frantically shoved keys in the lock until one turned, a tiny “click” was heard and a clasp popped up. The first picture was the only picture they looked at.

Randy was an infant and it was a photo of him with who he assumed was his parents. It was hard to tell because the people holding him were in black robes with hooded faces. Randy was in a small black robe that was littered with symbols and words in language that didn’t make sense. He wanted to believe that it was a Halloween picture and his parents had decided to go to a party has devil worshipers, for some sadistic reason. Yet, inside, he knew with everything that had happened that this picture was not for Halloween. He knew this because below the picture, in his mother’s writing, a phrase. On parchment paper was written:

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.

He wasted no time in tossing the album in the trash can with the embers from the letters he had burned. He shoved whatever would burn around the photo album and set it on fire. Once he was sure that it was burning, he went inside and told Frannie they were leaving. She didn’t ask why as the expression on his face told her not to ask why. She did not see what was inside the album as Randy had guarded it. Frannie wanted to ask what he saw that made their temporary escape from reality come crashing down. The suitcase was packed in a rush and Frannie would repack it once they got to wherever they were going. The cabin was locked and the headed back to Atlanta. Randy couldn’t speak, he had lost the ability as shock was occupying every part of his being. He was not a Christian but he knew some about the Bible. He knew about the passage that was written because of an elective English course he had taken. What he could not grasp how the passage and the picture connected. The truth was deep in the back of his mind he knew, and had known for a long time, how the picture and biblical passage were connected.

They spent the night in an upper-class hotel not too far from the airport. While Frannie was showering, and getting ready for dinner, Randy went down to the jewelry store in the hotel lobby. It didn’t take him long to make his purchase as he already knew what he was looking for. He stuffed the ring box in his pocket and headed back up to the room. Luckily Frannie was still in the bathroom and had the blow dryer on so she didn’t hear him leave or come back. He had already gotten himself ready for dinner so he had some time to spare. The first called he made was to the airline to book a flight for first thing the next morning. After he checked his email to verify the flight, he then called his law school buddie in North Carolina and asked if the offer was still good. “Great! I’ll need a month to tie up loose ends in Denver. Let’s formalize everything next week. Thanks Brain and I am excited about it too.”  Frannie and Randy had a pleasant meal with descent food that was highly over-priced.  The alcohol helped with the emotional bruises and it also made them both sexually playful with each other. Their clothes were half way off before they got the door to their room fully opened. The short distance to the bed was a blessing and the intensity of the sex gave them a warning from the hotel on the noise level. Frannie avoided very loud moans by mouthing Randy’s shoulder. When exhaustion hit, they curled up and fell asleep.

“Randy, are you sure we are at the right gate? This flight goes to Vegas.”  He smiled and handed her boarding pass. “It’s not a mistake Frannie. Call me crazy but we need to have control of our lives and future. So, I thought we could fly to Vegas, get married and have some fun. If you are not up for it, I will change the tickets.” Frannie jumped into his lap, looked him in the eyes and said, “I don’t think I can love you more than I do right now!”  An old man sitting next to them clapped. “ It is no nice to see young people in love and happy. The world is so full of pestilence, famine, and war that it needs young couples like you.” He stood up and tipped his hat as he walked away. Randy looked over his shoulder to say thank-you and the old man was gone. Where the kindly gentleman should have been standing was a figure that Randy did not want to see. It was the same man that had been at the restaurant when he proposed. The figure was Frannie’s father. He turned his head back pretending that he had heard every word that Frannie had said.

Las Vegas was also known as Sin City, and he couldn’t help to conjure a tragic irony about the nickname. Sin was evil and that is what they had set their sights on and they were in a city that no only welcomed it but promoted it with every casino. They checked into their pre-honeymoon suite at Caesar’s Palace. The suitcase was dropped just inside the door and they headed out to shop, eat and gamble. Frannie found a dress for the wedding and it required no alterations. It was not a traditional wedding dress, but was a sun dress that had the same look of a vintage wedding dress. Randy found a pair of tan Dockers, a plain white shirt, and a pink and gray tie that Frannie picked out. They took the several bags of shopping stuff to their room and found one of a hundred all you can eat buffets. The danger with all you can eat is eating too damn much, and Frannie and Randy suffered the aftermath. When they finally had regained control of their stomachs and bowels they headed out on the strip to enjoy the warm night air and the mass amounts of drunk and loud people. They walked out of a casino with less than had entered with but were laughing and feeling good. Walking back to their hotel was not a likely possibility so they waved down a cab. While drunk sex was on both of their minds sleep trumped the idea and they did not awake until almost noon the next day.

Las Vegas was known for impulsive drunk people getting married and the number one place for elopement marriages, so the city had no less than 25 wedding chapels. All the chapels had their own theme including one where you get married by some guy dressed up like Elvis. They wrote down all the names of the wedding chapels, except Graceland, and put the pieces of paper in the empty ice bucket. They each drew a name and would call to check availability. Call after call resulted in needing to book a date a month or so out and the hunt for a place to get married was not working out. The second to the last piece of paper was for The Lucky Little Chapel. The Lucky Little Chapel was a boutique-style full service chapel. It was a more elegant, get married quick place and did not have a costume theme like many other chapels, and they had a cancelation for 3:00 p.m. Randy quickly reserved the time slot by buying their top price $199.00 wedding package and throwing in a 30% gratuity, plus a $500 tip for the wedding officiate. Randy showered and dressed first, which took all of 15 minutes. Frannie was a little nervous as it was already 1:30 and she only had an hour to get ready. While she dashed to the shower, Randy went down to the lobby and found a Starbucks. He hated the sharpness and bitter taste of their coffee, but it would definitely wake them up. When he got off the elevator he saw a large package outside of their door. When he had the coffee situated on the dresser he returned to the door and picked up the package. There was a card that said “Best of luck to the newlyweds” but there was no signature. He opened the package and found two black robes, one for him that had a very large version of his tattoo on it, and one for Frannie with her tattoo. He quickly took the box with the robes to the garbage chute near the ice machine and shoved the box it to it. He was shaking when he got back to the room and spilled half of his coffee on the floor. “Are you okay? You look like you have seen a ghost?” “I’m fine. Guess it’s just wedding day jitters.” Randy now had two secrets and he hated having secrets. One of his better qualities was being honest. But the secrets he was keeping were for her best interest. At least that is how he convinced himself that keeping the information from her was a good thing.

Their wedding was quaint. Although the staff tried to convince them to rent a wedding gown and tux, they finally gave up and let Randy and Frannie get married in the what they entered the chapel in. Their two witnesses were the couple that got married before them and they learned that was a silent part of the package. After they were pronounced man and wife and they kissed as tradition called for, they were whisked to the back for several wedding photos. The fast pace of weddings evolved into the wedding pictures being ready in less than an hour. When they returned to the front, the couple that had gotten married before them were picking up their photos, and another couple was getting staged for marriage. Randy and Frannie sat quietly I the front row understanding that they would be witnesses for this couple, get their picture and head back to the hotel for an afternoon and evening of consummating their marriage. While the couple standing in front of the wedding official had started going through the quick rehearsal, Randy was staring off trying to connect the dots. Frannie was staring at her ring at her ring and the marriage license. Randy looked over at his wife, finding it hard to realize that they had been officially bonded in less than an hour, and noticed that her tattoo was gone. He quickly rubbed his neck and his was gone too. He smiled and thought that throwing the robes in the garbage chute was a final “fuck you” and whoever was deciding what Randy ad Frannie’s future would be had given up. He finally relaxed, pulled Frannie close, kissed her passionately, and whispered “I love you, always have and always will.”

The consummating of the marriage was the best sex they had ever had and it created a desire for increasingly more sex. The need outlasted their ability and they agreed to order room service and allow time to recharge before trying to satisfy the sexual beast that had been created. They were not very hungry and settled on appetizers. Room service delivered a tray of various snack food and a nice bottle of wine. A gift to the newlyweds from the hotel. There was also a card embossed with the hotel logo. Frannie opened the card and read it aloud:

Dear Randy and Frannie-

Congratulations on the marriage and we are so pleased that it finally happened. I am a little sad that you both keep running and avoiding that which cannot be avoided. However, please enjoy your new beginning and, when the time is correct, you both will enjoy another new beginning the likes you cannot fathom-

Aeshma

The energy for sex and moved to energy to get a fresh start as soon as possible. In the past, any note from him would have put Frannie in an emotional tailspin. But now she did not have to face him alone. She had a husband, a best friend, and a partner that would always stand with her. She too had a secret to hide form Randy and hoped that when the secret was revealed he would not run away.

They spent the rest of that night planning their new start. It was arranged that Frannie would fly to Charlotte and stay with his new law partner, Brian, and Brian’s wife would go house shopping with Frannie. Along with house shopping would be furniture shopping and finding a new store a new store front for Frannie’s flower shop. Randy would remain in Denver for roughly four weeks so he could either settle the cases he had or pass them off to attorneys he knew. He owned the apartment in Denver and it was decided that his parents would be the new occupants for a couple of reasons. Randy knew that his parents were hurting financially due to a retirement account fraud. He also knew that his mother loved the urban life as everything was pretty much in walking distance and she hated riding in a car that his father was driving. Above all, his parents living in the apartment would allow him to have them under surveillance and any strange or odd behavior would be reported to him immediately.

The next four years were perfect for Randy and Frannie, almost too perfect. They suffered no more strange pictures, notes, or visits. Randy’s nightmares had gone away, replaced by a dream of him riding on an ash grey horse. They brought large three-bedroom single level house in Davidson, North Carolina, a suburb of Charlotte. Frannie’s floral business was booming, and Randy and Brian’s personal injury law firm had become the number one firm in all of Charlotte. For their first-year anniversary, they took a cruise to the Bahama’s as a late honeymoon. Soon after they returned the morning vomit episodes of Frannie’s were confirmed that she was pregnant and that August Jacob Andrew Schumocker was born. He was born on August 6th and weighed 6 pounds and 6 ounces. Neither of his parents recognized the significance of when he was born and how much he weighed. They were just happy and scared that they had become responsible for another life.

Jacob grew, both physically and intellectually at an astonishing rate. By the time, he was two he was reading full books, and not books like See Spot Run. He was quick with numbers and spoke like a child twice his age. He quickly outgrew every nanny and sitter Randy and Frannie could find, so the proud parents enrolled him in a gifted preschool program. At three Jacob was tested and put in first grade and Randy and Frannie never grew tired of bragging about their son. They had a great life. Randy was a season ticket holder of all the local professional sports team and he and Brain had joined a group of sponsors on a Chevrolet for the Nascar circuit. Money was fluent, they had an abundance of friends, and Jacob continued to grow in leaps in bounds and by the time of his fourth birthday he had been placed in a gifted third grade classroom with discussions of moving him up to fifth grade the following year. Randy’s parents loved their life in Urban Denver and he had not gotten one report that caused concern. Mom and Dad came to visit as least three times a year, and more often after Jacob was born. It was a life that neither one of them had ever dreamed was possible and they had all but forgotten the strange and unsettling events that had inspired the move. But, as the old cliché goes, all good things must come to an end.

They had just finished cleaning up from Jacob’s fourth birthday party and saying goodbyes and thank-yous to the parents of the party goers when the phone rang. Randy picked it up assuming it was his mother demanding to say Happy Birthday to her grandson and making sure he got his gift. “ What?!?. Okay, we’ll be on the next flight. Thanks.” Randy missed the base of the phone and when it hit the floor, it startled Frannie. “Randy, everything okay?” “I am not sure, the person I have keeping an eye on mom and dad said something very strange happened. He also said he could not explain it but that I needed to come see it for myself”. Without asking any further questions, Frannie started packing a suitcase. “Mommy.  Grandma and Grandpa are dead, aren’t they?” Frannie was shocked but not surprised. “Yes they are, but don’t tell Daddy, okay?” Frannie went back to packing and Jacob went back to playing with his birthday gifts. Her secret would soon be revealed but if Randy found out before they right time all would be spoiled, and she had spent a millennium waiting for Randy.

When they arrived at the apartment the front street was covered with police cars, an ambulance and fire trucks. Randy dropped the suitcase and ran ahead of his wife and son praying his gut feeling was wrong. The door to his apartment was open and there was a cop guarding it. “I am sorry sir, but you can’t go in there.” “This is my apartment and those are my parents, so please step aside.”  The cop and Randy argued for several minutes until the manager of the building cleared Randy to enter. He searched the apartment with his eyes looking for mom and dad and he saw the back of them sitting together on the couch. The paramedics were shaking their heads and the gurneys had been adjusted. “Stop!” Please stop for a minute.” His legs struggled to carry the dead weight he had become. It seemed like hours before he reached the front of the couch and looked at his parents. There was no blood, no gunshot or stab wounds. In fact, there was nothing, just his parents frozen stiff. The only sign that they were dead was their skin had turned ash grey.  He turned to one of the paramedics. “What happened? How did they die?” “The best we can tell is that they both suffered a major heart attack at the same damn time. But this damn peculiar because victims of heart attacks don’t die sitting comfortably on a couch.” Randy nodded for the paramedics to finish their job and take his parents away. He requested a full autopsy on both and wanted a definitive cause of death. He looked for Frannie and Jacob as he really needed them right now, but they were nowhere to be found.  He assumed they were still out front perhaps blocked by all the activity. He stumbled to the refrigerator, found the bottle of scotch, and ignored proper manners of pouring some in a glass. The aged scotch burned his lips and throat but was a quick numbing agent. After his parents had been removed he collapsed on the couch and the tears erupted.

He was not sure how much time had elapsed but the bottle of scotch had been drained and the apartment was quiet and he was the only person in it. The door was still open and Randy decided he would stumble down stairs to find his family and bring them up. As he approached the door, Aeshma appeared wearing a robe identical to the one Randy had worn in the picture he saw at the cabin.  “It is sad that it had to come to this measure for you to understand who you are and what your purpose is. Your destiny was created long before you were and it cannot be avoided. Your three brothers have already been released upon the world. Pestilence has been very busy in parts of South America, Africa, and Europe. Your brother Famine has been wreaking wonderful havoc in Asia, Russia and is moving into Canada. Your third brother War, well just look at the television or read a newspaper and you will see his magnificent work.” Randy shoulder pushed Aeshma out of his way and used the wall to balance as he made his way to the elevator. His head was pounding and his chest hurt. The muscles in his legs and arms were tight and sore. All he wanted was to find Frannie and Jacob and forget the current nightmare he was living. Randy had no brothers that he knew of. And he certainly was not related to any mythical causes of the end of humanity.  He just need to find his family and it would all go away. They would stay at a hotel until he could arrange his parents’ funeral. As soon as they were buried, his family would fly back home and get back to their lives.

The lobby was empty and the two young security guards looked at him and quickly left the lobby. Randy though his appearance must be horrible and he felt the scotch wanting to leave his stomach. It was fortunate that the bathroom was less than ten feet from where he was standing. After vomiting so much that he was dry heaving, he found the strength to make it to the sink. He splashed water on his face and saw that his skin had gone pale, almost grey. Randy assumed that it was from the stress and emotional roller coaster he had involuntarily been put on. His anxiety heightened when he noticed the tattoo that had disappeared years ago, had reappeared and was glowing red. His fist smashed the mirror as he felt a rage that he never did before. Yet, he liked the feeling as it masked all the other shit he was going through. After he had broken the last mirror, he cleaned the blood from his hand. He threw money on the front desk counter as he headed out the front door looking for his family.

He didn’t have to look far as Frannie and Jacob were holding hands in the middle of the street. His mind almost snapped when he saw they were both wearing the very robes that had previously been thrown away. What should have been Frannie had been replaced by something that was not human. Jacob ran across the street and hugged Randy tightly. “Thank-you Randy for letting me into the world.” He was too much in shock to hear the words his son said to him. His wife, or what was his wife, was slowly making her way across the street and Randy could not move. “Hello my darling. My true name is Lilith, the mother of demons.” Her hair was long and black. Her lips were a rich blood red and her eyes were a shiny yellow. She was naked and had the perfect body. Her skin was ash grey and two small horns fought with her hair to be seen. “What the hell is going on? Where is my wife?” “Randy, dear, dear, man I am your wife. I was Frannie as it was easier for you and made you happy. We needed to you to be happy for awhile, to make your transformation easier. You too are someone else, someone very special to our son. It is time that you discover who you have always been, long before you were born and entrusted to the people who were chosen as your parents. The nightmares you had were not nightmares, but you subconscious showing you what would be. The nightmare was a foreshadowing, if you will, and the time has come.” She kissed him deeply, and grabbed their son’s hand. “Come young Abaddon and let us wait for your father at the entrance to his new life.” Before Randy could react, they disappeared in front of him. He instinctively knew where they were before he turned his head. The distance between him and the west side of Coors Field was enough that seeing people was almost impossible. Yet, when he looked that way it seemed as if the stadium got closer. It was close enough that he could see who was once his wife and son standing at an entrance and motioning him to join them.

His mind was crashing like a computer with a virus. All the misery he had suffered played in sporadic pieces in his mind and each frame killed a little of the happiness he recently felt. He began to feel emotionally cold and all the good memories were erased. The feelings of love died, and his desire to take control of his destiny surrendered. He walked out into the street and turned to face the stadium. In part, he was still Randy and was fighting with every ounce of energy he had to stay Randy. It only took two steps before in fell to his knees. He could not handle the battle his mind, the struggle for control was too painful. Suddenly his mind froze on the image of his dead parents and the words that Lilith had said played over and over. He closed his eyes wanting to believe it was all a bad dream. He did not want to open his eyes until he woke up, back home with his real family. Yet, the pain intensified and his ears rang so loud that he could not hear any other sound but his own voice in his mind. He felt a cold that he could not describe. It was not a cold that was a result of weather or an air conditioner. It was a cold that was inside him, a prelude to death, so Randy thought. Suddenly he opened his mouth and screamed reminiscent of a sonic boom. He regained his hearing and could hear glass breaking, building crumbling and people screaming. He could feel the life drain out of countless people and it felt good. The more he felt the life drain from people he could not see, the colder he felt. He did not shun the cold, but welcomed it. Randall Einstein Schumocker was being locked somewhere in an unescapable darkness. The last bit of conscious effort Randy had used was laughed at by his subconscious that was free and in charge. Among the many people killed was the conscious, identity and soul of Randy.

When he stood, and opened his eyes, he smiled at the destruction he had created. He admired the body he occupied as it was strong and would not cause fear. And not causing fear would allow him to bring a coldness to the souls of everyone. He laughed and made fists of victory. His skin was ash grey and his eyes were black. He wore no shirt and his chest was rough with silhouettes of souls that tried to escape. His pants were tattered and torn and he wore no shoes. His hair was gone and his skin was cold to the touch. He was glad to finally be free. He heard hooves and turned with a smile. “Ahhh my loyal steed Khl?ros. Come my friend and let us go forward. Let us make a path for our cousin Hades.”  He mounted the ash grey, pale horse as if he had been riding for a very long time. He gave a kick to the sides of the horse and Khl?ros moved forward at a slow but steady pace. He looked around at his work and felt pride. He had no interest in the buildings he destroyed. But each time he passed a vehicle and saw the occupants frozen and ash grey, he sat up straighter and laughed knowing that he had ripped their souls out of them. He did feel a gratitude for his human counterpart and had decided not to hand his soul over the Hades, but to keep his soul close. He would allow Randy out of the darkness on occasion and restore a small part of his conscious so he could witness the magnificent death that occurred with a touch or a word.

When he reached the entrance to the stadium that resembled the Roman Coliseum, he jumped off his horse and told Khl?ros to wait. He walked over to Lilith and kissed her deeply. The coldness of his breath and the intense heat of hers created a cloud of steam between them. He bent down on one knee and bowed his head. After he gently kissed the hand of the young boy who was once Jacob he said, “Master, I have come home to do as you decide. I have always been your humble servant.” The child released his hand and said, “Come. You have many people who have patiently been awaiting your arrival. As he stood a scythe made of bone and black wood appeared in his right hand. He smiled and took Lilith’s hand as she guided him into the stadium.

There was not an empty seat and many people were standing on the field. Where the pitcher’s mound had once been was a large wooden podium. He walked with grace as if he had been elected president, king, or dictator. When they reached the podium, he climbed the three steps and smacked the scythe one time on the wooden floor. The sound from the scythe was a sinister scream that silenced all who were present. He helped Lilith and the boy child onto the stage. He raised her hand and said, “This is Lilith, mother of demons and my concubine.” He smacked his scythe again to silence the crowd. He picked up the child and said, “And this is Abaddon, ruler of the underworld and master of hell.” Again, the crowd cheered but grew silent when he raised the scythe. “I am Thanatos, the gatekeeper for Hades. My brothers, Pestilence, Famine, and War, have been laying the path for me for hundreds of years. Let those who stand against us feel the tragedy and sorrow for their pitiful opposition. Let us now take control of a world begging for us. Humans have killed each other for power and greed and we honor their work. Humans have wasted and abused their environment and we honor their work. Humans have gone away from their belief in God and we praise them for it. Humans have given us permission to create a new world order, and so we shall.” Thanatos raised his scythe above his head and the crowd erupted louder than they had when he entered the stadium. True to his word Thanatos had given Randy a small part of his conscious back to bear witness to the new future. And when he felt the weeping and regret from the conscious of Randy he returned his human portal to the darkness.

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Jay Michaels. All rights reserved.

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