Chapter 2: The Stranger

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 223

Morgan distantly noted that the missing boat had docked when she made her way out for her first morning smoke. It hadn’t been there when she’d trudged inside at nearly 3 AM. As she settled on the dock, she realized that she hadn’t brought her cigarettes. She sighed heavily, glancing up to the dark window of her room. It wasn’t worth the effort. She ran a hand through her freshly styled hair; inspected her manicured fingers for nicotine stains and ran her tongue along her teeth. Even during her mindless fugue, she religiously showered, shaved, styled her hair, and moisturized her hands each morning and evening; she brushed and flossed her teeth—scrubbing every inch of her body to ensure that there would be no yellow stains from her cigarettes. She even washed her clothes in vinegar and hot water each night in her bathroom sink to purge the smell of smoke from them. Self-care rituals had become ingrained in her. If she had a hair out of place, a speck of dirt on clothes, spinach in her teeth, or any unpleasant smell His blue eyes would flash yellow with anger—She shivered, kicking the water to dash away the intrusive thoughts, her loins twisting with fear and desire. 

That was part of the problem; she sighed heavily, turning her gaze to first beams of the rising sun over the ocean. The longer she was here, the less tightly the nothingness clutched her desperate mind. Specters and shadows from her past were beginning to surface unbeckoned, despite her determination to shove them away. Without a cigarette slowly burning in her fingers for her mind to fixate on, she worried unpleasant thoughts would become omnipresent. Her body shivered at the heavy damp cold and thick morning fog pressing against her. When the sun had risen above the horizon, and the bird’s songs were beginning to fade, the clanging of pots and pans in the distance called for her return for breakfast. 

“Why am I still making breakfast when Ashton is back?” Henry asked as Abby slid platters of eggs, toast, and sausage onto the large table. “He’s the one who is good at this stuff. Morgan’s heart tightened slightly at the once-familiar name, taking her back decades to a time when life seemed simpler.

“Because, Henry, they got in late. And you know Ashton. He won’t be up for hours yet.” Abby turned her yellow eyes to Morgan, who kept a steady gaze despite the shiver of fear that ran down her spine, “I think you’ll like Ashton, Margaret. He’s quiet, likes to sit on the dock and smoke.” Morgan unsuccessfully tried to lift her lips in a smile. 

“Maybe. I had a good friend named Ashton, once, who was a little like that.” He just smoked a lot more than cigarettes. Morgan put silverware on the table. “They must have gotten in sometime really late--after 3 AM.” She added, attempting conversation. 

“Why were you outside at 3? Didn’t it rain last night?” Prudence asked as she set plates and down on the table with little thuds. 

“I hadn’t gone to bed yet.” Morgan shrugged, exhausted by the effort of conversation. “I like the rain.” It had soaked her through and left her chilly; the discomfort felt like both a fitting punishment and a reminder that she was still alive. She only managed to capture a few hours of sleep each night; Morgan was unwilling to face the dreams that lurked beyond the lightest of sleeps. 

“It’s 7:30 now, and you’ve already been outside! Do you sleep? Are you a vampire?” Morgan sat in a chair, unmoving. In this place, that wasn’t a facetious question. The Mansion dealt in magic and the occult. They were, apparently, one of the top providers in the world, and had specialists on staff or consulting in every magical or demonic subject imaginable. As such, it was presumably one of the safest places on earth to hide from Him. 

“Pru!” Jason scolded as he walked into the room, “Lay off, huh?” He kissed her cheek as he walked in. “Look, you’re scaring the poor woman. Hi, I’m Jason. I got back last night; I hear you’re the new girl. Margaret, right?” Morgan nodded, turning her attention to the plate in front of her. 

“She always looks like that!” Pru insisted; Henry and Abby hushed her lightly while Morgan recognized something blooming in her chest that could have been laughter once. She listened to their friendly and increasingly familiar chatter. What had started as a wordless buzz at each meal was transforming into comprehensible words. Their conversations still flew faster than she was able to track, a frustration for her—but she’d spent over a year in that apartment with Him as her only companion, so she supposed it might take time. 

She’d returned to the docks after fetching her cigarettes, but left the pack untouched as she looked out across the water. She hugged her knees to her chest, resting her chin atop her knees. From behind her, she heard low voices, just above the sound of the waves rolling against the shore and was able to pick up a few words. 

“…Somas—almost two months… better than before…Still… thought you might…” 

“I can try.” There was something familiar about that voice, something that called her back to a time before, but she couldn’t quite place it. She sighed heavily, releasing her knees and dabbling her toes in the cool water. She wondered how deep it was. One of the last times she’d seen her oldest son she’d been sitting on a bridge, staring into the river below—contemplating jumping. He’d talked her out of it.

“It’s not your fault, Mom.” He wrapped a strong arm around her shoulders. “Mom. Look at me, please.” She reluctantly dragged her eyes from the lily pads below. “We’ll figure it out. We’ll find a way to save him.” 

She heard a pained hiss escape from her mouth and clutched desperately for the nothingness She needed it. She needed it to prevent her from spiraling further down into her memories. 

“Hey, Margaret! Maggie! I want to introduce you to somebody!” Morgan barely registered Henry’s chipper voice, “Jason and Ashton got back last night—and I thought you might like to meet Ashton!” Satisfied that she had a reasonable handle on the emotional wave that had threatened to overwhelm her she slowly turned and looked up to the approaching men. A spiky-haired brunette sauntered up the dock beside Henry, hands shoved into his pockets. A small line of smoke drifted off above his head. “Ashton, this is Margaret, the one I was telling you about.” 

Her heart stuttered, jumping into her throat, then dropped out of her chest; she wanted to run to him, slap him, hug him, kiss him, cry in his arms, scream at him for leaving her; she wanted him to disappear. It had been thirty-four years, thirty-four years since she had seen that face, and there he was, standing on the dock with a cigarette hanging from his mouth. She scrambled to her feet in a flash—faster than she had moved in longer than she could remember—eyes riveted on Ashton. He cocked his head to the side curiously then his eyes went wide, wider than she had ever seen them and his eyebrows rose into his hairline. She didn’t know what that face meant. Maybe he was horrified that she was here. A fierce combination of joy, terror, and anger coursed through her body. 

“Fuck…” She breathed; words escaped her as she stared into the once-familiar face, their eyes locked. It had aged, of course, but well. Her cold fingers curled into tight fists. 

“What the…?” That was him. That was his voice. She would recognize that voice anywhere. She wanted to run now. She didn’t want to be here. She couldn’t be here. This was too much. He wouldn’t want her here. Her heart was tight, painful, making it hard to breathe. 

His mouth moved; it took her a long time to decipher the word coming off his lips, “Morgan?” He asked, looking uncertain. Hearing her name made her throat tighten. Not Margaret, not Maggie, Morgan. She nodded. This couldn’t be real. She must be dreaming, floating in a world where impossible things happen. The heavy moisture in the air pressed down on them, the dissipating fog added a mysterious aura to the warming late morning that seemed an appropriate backdrop for such an unlikely reunion. The urge to drop to the deck and sob was nearly overwhelming. She wanted to hit him. She wanted to slap him across the face. She wanted to go sit and talk to him. She wanted to hug him; she wanted to cry—she wanted to get away. Her eyes searched for an escape, but behind her there was water and in front, Ashton and Henry stood side-by-side across the dock.

“Heeeey, heeeey. Heeeey, little girl.” Morgan was 6 years old and had been motionless, staring blankly at the wall for a few hours. “Heeey, little girl. What’s your name?” she didn’t seem to hear him, tears welled up in her eyes. “Hey little girl, what happened?” This time, her attention flashed to him, but she remained mute. Ashton was 15 and had spent most of his time alone in this room for months until Morgan had been left there while he was asleep. He was afraid he knew what had happened to her, why she seemed so broken. He shuffled around the room, picking things up, reading a book while pacing, tossing a ball up in the air and catching it, any unthreatening movement he could think of until her intelligent distrustful eyes stopped tracking his every move. He waited a few hours longer before trying to talk to her again. 

“I’m Ashton, little girl. What’s your name?” 

“M-m-morgan.” She whimpered finally, “Are you going to hurt me?” her wide blue eyes met his chocolate brown ones. 

“Oh, God, no. I would never hurt you” he breathed, instinctively attached to this little human. “Did he touch you?” Ashton’s mouth pressed into an angry line. She wrapped her arms around her knobby knees and refused to look at him. 

“He-he….my mommy and daddy and sisters and brother got hurt.” Her lower lip quivered, “They… there was red everywhere and they didn’t get up. They wouldn’t get up. They wouldn’t get up. Mommy and Daddy had holes here.” She pointed at the center of her forehead. “Dara and Tayce had holes everywhere.” Her body shook like a leaf. Ashton padded over to her bed, sat down beside her and wrapped his arm around her. She grabbed his shirt front and whimpered, “Ash-Ashton. Do you think they died?” 

“Probably. I’m real sorry, Morgan. That is real sad.” He stroked her hair as she bawled. She curled up with her head on his lap and sobbed over the loss of her family, and violation of her body. “I’mma take care of you, Morgan.” He promised quietly when she stopped crying; he kept running his fingers through her blonde hair. “I’mma take care of you, no matter what happens.” 

“It’s been a hell of a long time, Ashton.” There was no escape route. She was trapped. The relative strength of her voice surprised her. She thought it would come out strangled and pathetic. Instead, she thought she’d sounded emotional, resigned, tired. He didn’t say anything. She shifted uncomfortably under his gawking gaze but couldn’t rip her eyes away from him. 

Submitted: September 15, 2019

© Copyright 2022 Cody Ryan. All rights reserved.


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