When her father woke her, sometime in the early hours of a still-dark morning, she started to scream. The sound was clamped off by one gentle and grotesquely burned hand smothering her mouth. "Sweetheart, it's me," his voice issued from the lipless and scarred mouth, sounding almost like he had when he was alive, "it's me, Clara...Dad."
She stifled her scream, and her tears, and looked at him with inquistive eyes. He removed the hand from her mouth when he felt that it was safe she would make no sound. "Dad...is that really you?"
"I know my appearance has....changed, and it's been a while, but yes, it's me, darling."
She sat up in her bed, pushing aside the teddy bear she always slept with, the one he had won for her at acarnival two years before he killed himself. Clara couldn't believe that he was actually here, now, in her room. "How did you get here, Dad?"
The figure sat on the corner of her bed, doing his best to keep most of his visage in the lurking shadows of the room, knowing that his appearance was less than becoming, not wanting to scare his teenaged offspring. He sighed. "The first thing when we arrive, is we make a pact. We get one thing, considering that one thing is not being alive again. Anything else, we can have. Well, we can't go to Heaven, either. That's against the rules. But anyway, my one thing was that I could visit you when I felt you were old enough to understand."
"So you're in Hell?" Clara asked.
He nodded. "Yes."
"I'm so sorry, Dad."
Her father smiled knowingly. "Don't be, darling. Maybe, if I had waited for the tumor to kill me, things would be different, but that doesn't really matter now. I'll tell you something, Hell's not as bad as everybody here makes it sound. It's like what I think a military camp would be like. We have a very strict regimen, eat a balanced diet, work out, and train. And the Devil himself? He's not actually too bad a guy, if you can believe that. Just like an average Joe that got a raw deal, like the rest of us, I guess."
Clara looked at the mirror on the bureau, noticing in the glass that her father was wringing his misshapened and gnarled hands together. He, too, was looking into the mirror, meeting her gaze with eyes that had sunken into his head, dim orbs that no longer expressed the encompassing warmth of a father. "Is that...that really like it is, Dad?"
He turned to her, smiling again. "Of course, Clara. Why would I lie?"
She didn't know what to say, so she said nothing at all.
Her father turned back toward the wall. "How's your mother doing these days?" he asked her.
Clara felt the hair on the back of her neck bristle, as if moved by a cold wind. She knew this was a touchy subject. "She's doing fine."
Her father nodded. "Is she still with Henry?"
Clara caught sight of him wringing his hands again, twisting them together into such ravishing knots that she was suprised they didn't tear apart. She coughed. "She says she didn't cheat on you with him, Dad. She says that it happened later, after you guys had decided to seperate."
"It's a lie," her father grumbled, getting up off the bed.
Clara hung her head down, a tear coming to her eye. She let it run down her cheek as she said, "I really missed you, Dad. I wish you hadn't....hadn't...."
Her father tentatively approached her, one red-dyed hand brushing the tear away. "It's all right, sweetheart. Everything's all right. We're here, together, right now. And I'll be able to see you again, you know."
She looked up at him, his monster-image no longer scaring her in the least. "When?"
"Another thirty years or so, depending on how long it takes for the request dockets to clear."
"That's too long, Dad."
He sighed. "Come with me to the kitchen, if you would, Clara."
They moved out into the hallway together, Clara's footsteps creaking on the floorboards, her father's not making a sound. They shuffled past her mother's bedroom, where she rested after another disappointing romantic interlude with her lover, her new man, Henry. Clara and her father walked into the kitchen, standing beside the counter.
"Are you hungry?" she asked him.
"No, thank you, sweetheart," he told her. "There's always plenty to eat where I came from."
She wanted to ask him just what she ate, but decided that she really didn't want to know. "I bet it's always warm," she said instead.
His mouth broke into a gaping smile, an expression that should have made him more appealing, but only worsened the splotches and twisting sear marks on his face even more. "You were always such a funny girl, you know that?"
She nodded, watching as her father's hand reached for the rack of German knives that Henry had given her mother just this Christmas. The pointed blade of the one he chose glinted in the light of the moon filtering through the picture window. Her father looked at his young daughter, and handed her the knife, handle first. "This is the only way to get around all the time, dear....the only way we could be together, for always."
She gulped back the fear in her throat, feeling the weight of the cutting utensil in her hand. Clara searched her father's soulless eyes, eyes that revealed nothing. She turned to leave the kitchen, pausing at the doorway. "Are you sure? Everything you told me about, it's for real, right?"
Her father, a darker figure in the overwhelming darkness of the kitchen, stayed silent for a while, his breathiing gone somewhat erratic with impatience. Or perhaps excitement. "Of course, Clara. Why would I lie?"
Clara nodded her head, and disappeared from her father's line of sight. He waited until the first screams pierced the unholy quietness of the house, then vanished, going back to where he belonged.
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