In which Katy finally catches a break, explores Riverside Park with a gaggle of shadow beings, and comes to a horrifying realization.
The Beginning of the End: A Grocery Store Horror Story
The group stares at me in disbelieving silence. I wasn’t sure how they would react to Tom’s betrayal, but this isn’t too bad, I suppose.
“That motherfucker!” Arnold pushes off the wall. “He was always an asshole, but I never thought he would actually try to kill you.” The heat of everyone’s gaze turns my face scarlet red, and I twist my fingers together in front of me.
“Are you sure?” Regina faces me with a pained look. Rain gives her a fierce reprimand.
“Of course she’s sure!” Her response shocks the group into silence. Regina blushes and mumbles an apology to me.
“Anybody else planning my demise? A head’s up would be nice,” I chuckle to the group, who quickly deny any plans to see me kick the bucket. Rain abruptly stands out of her chair.
“That’s it! Katy, I need you to do something for me.”
“What?” I ask quizzically.
“Think of a thing, like a dog or a cat.” I give her a weird look. “Just humor me on this, please. Think very hard, put everything you have into making the animal in your mind a reality.” I nod, shut my eyes, and focus on the word cat for a straight minute. Not just the word: what it looks like, feels like in my hands, and the sound it makes after a good scratch. I don’t hear anything in my head, so I pop open an eye. I don’t see a cat on the table and sit back in frustration.
“Think about the cat your dad bought you when you were ten,” Guy says with a nod that suggests he’s catching onto Rain’s idea. I squeeze my eyes shut again. The moments rise quickly to the surface: adopting Mr. Potato from the pound, talking to him when I was lonely (so every day), the day he ran away, the day he came back, and reluctantly putting him down months after his cancer diagnosis. I open my eyes and jerk back in shock. The outline of a curled-up feline greets me on the table. The puddle of smoke stretches but flits in and out as my surprise turns into a mountain of questions. What does this mean? What am I? Is this even real? I’m talking to a bunch of shadow beings for Christ’s sake, so their ability to answer my questions truthfully is suspect at best. The shadow dissipates, and I breathe a sigh of relief.
“Here’s my guess,” Rain clears her throat as the others stare at the table in fascination, “your feelings and even ideas can come to life, as we all now know. The catch is that you need to have a strong emotional reaction that lasts. Anger, Insecurity, Happiness,” she gestures to herself, “Sadness and Hate are all feelings you constantly thought about, and then we were born.” That is the most I’ve ever heard Rain speak, and despite my grudge, I can’t help but feel a little proud.
“So the question is,” Guy pauses for effect, “what else do you think about day in and day out?”
“Is being poor a figment of my imagination?” I joke. Arnold snorts, and Guy rolls his eyes. The others shrug their shoulders, except for Rain, who looks scared out of her mind.
“What?” Arnold says with a huff of laughter.
“The thing that’s following Katy is Death. Katy,” Rain turns to me, “I know you don’t like me.” Where’s this coming from? She’s right but her saying it aloud makes me uncomfortable. “Who likes being sad, right? But being Sadness means I’m there every time you think about your parent’s deaths, Mr. Potato, and even your own.” I lean away from her and begin to deny her accusation, but she cuts me off. “You’re so afraid, Katy, but that’s ok. And it’s ok to be sad about death. But you think about death so much that I think you literally brought it into existence.” Unfortunately, her guess makes a lot more sense than I want it to. I’ve attended my share of funerals, obsess over my own, and my dad even made sure I knew what to do in case of his untimely demise on a weekly basis. My grandpa was a gravedigger for crying out loud.
“Maybe you’re right. What am I supposed to do? You can’t fight Death.” My head feels light for a moment, but Guy’s voice anchors me in place.
“Maybe not the real Death, but this is something you’ve made Katy. There has to be a way to destroy it.” Guy’s confidence simultaneously soothes my nerves and raises my hackles before Arnold interjects.
“What was your plan before Rain’s guess?” Sadness sits back in her chair and blushes. Guy shrugs his shoulders.
“Brainstorming.” Arnold’s right eye twitches, and he looks like he’s about to flip the table. I’m so screwed.
I pull my vehicle into Riverside Park and pass the playground my parents would take me to every other weekend as a child. My mama would push me on the swing higher and higher until I could almost touch the clouds, and my daddy would get out his football/baseball/soccer ball and teach me whatever sport was on his mind that day. Secretly, I think he always wanted a boy, but I didn’t mind. I park a few feet away, exit the car, and almost open the backseat door before I realize what I’m doing.
“This is so exciting!” Regina beams as she phases through the car door along with Rain, Guy, Tom, and Arnold. After the debacle with the now-hospitalized Racist, I spoke to Carlos, who was surprisingly chill about the whole thing. After discussing the video and the complaint, and the Racist raving about being beaten up by an invisible man and needing an exorcism, Carlos said I wasn’t in trouble. He gave me the next day off, and I plan to take full advantage of it.
“This is a waste of time. The park’s boring, Regina looks like she’s about to explode, and one walk isn’t going to help you lose weight.” Tom, ever the optimist, plants his feet into the ground.
“Then you can stay here,” I shrug. My boost of confidence from stopping the fight yesterday keeps Tom from ruining my mood. The Voices and I stroll past the Memorial Rose Garden, and Regina oohs and ahhs at the flowers.
“We’ve seen the park a million times before, I don’t see what the fuss is about,” a lagging Tom interjects. Regina smiles back at him with a surprising amount of venom.
“But we’ve never seen it through our own eyes.” She melts through the white fence and touches a petal. After Regina has her fills of roses, we continue to walk along the winding path of concrete. I gaze at the mix of dark and light green treetops as the Voices engage in conversations of their own. The sidewalk dips for a few moments, and I look over to my right. Even though it’s summer, recent sporadic showers keep the flora and the Guadalupe River alive and well. Bittersweet memories play over and over as I shuffle down a grassy hill. I hear the Voices call out to me to wait up, but I’m already at the river. The riverbed is partially dry as I expected it would be, so I step across it. The smooth stones and the trickle of fast-moving water draw me in, and my worries get swept into the current. I bend down, pick up a dark blue stone, and roll it around in my palm. I stay like this for minutes, or maybe hours, it’s hard to tell. The crunch of rocks sinking into mud behind me signal that I’m no longer alone.
“We found a swing, well, sort of.” Arnold looks profoundly uncomfortable.
“Coming.” I put the stone in my pocket and turn to walk ahead of Anger when he coughs.
“So, I’m not apologizing for kicking that guy’s ass.” I stare at him for a beat. He combs his blonde hair between his fingers in frustration. “What I’m trying to say – fuck, why is this so hard,” he mumbles to himself. “What I’m trying to say is: he deserved it, I’m not sorry, but we should have asked you what you wanted before doing anything crazy.” I let Arnold off the hook with a small smile.
“It’s ok.” He gives me a confused frown.
“You had a longer speech prepared, didn’t you?” I laugh as he nods sheepishly. “Show me this swing.” In better spirits, Arnold and I walk along the river bank and duck under a few lopsided trees until we see the gang. Rain is nervously sitting on a thick, dried out vine that hangs from the branches of an impressive tree while Regina pushes her towards the river.
“Katy! You need to try this.” Regina ushers me over as Rain hops off the makeshift swing in relief. I sit and test the weight, and feeling somewhat safe, I cautiously allow her to push me forward. Arnold somehow persuades Tom to throw rocks into the water, while Rain collects an assortment of stones and driftwood. I close my eyes and take a deep breath through my nose.
“Summer shower coming in soon,” I mention over my shoulder. I open my eyes and see Regina skipping, yes, skipping over to Sadness to help her with her collection. Strong hands push me, and I cringe slightly.
“I know,” Guy says. My feet stop dragging on the ground as he rocks me forward to a silent rhythm. We stay like this for a few moments until he shatters what’s left of my tranquility. “Why didn’t you tell Carlos?”
“Tell him what?” He stills the vine swing.
“You were thrown around like a rag doll. You were almost beaten. The verbal abuse. Take your pick.” I tighten my grip on the vine.
“I don’t know,” I mumble.
“What?” Hate asks in an accusing tone.
“I don’t know, OK!” The others are too far away to hear our conversation at this point, and I’m glad. “What do you want to hear? That it’s my fault? Ok, it’s my fault. I should have told Carlos the moment the Racist insulted me in the parking lot. And you know what, I should have told him, ‘Hey, the Voices in my head are real and were planning to kill our customer.’ That would have gone over well.” Blood hums through my neck and blooms across my face.
“Maybe I felt sorry for him. Maybe I didn’t want Carlos or anyone else to know what a loser I am.” And just like that, my pent up anger melts and cools. “Was that the answer you were looking for?” Guy stands still for a moment longer, then pushes the vine forward again.
“I’m sorry, ” he mumbles, “I’m not blaming you-”
“Really? Arnold’s apology was better.”
“Fine,” Guy grits his teeth, “I was, and that’s a shitty thing to do.” He sounds sincere, so I relax into the swing. “I still want to rip him apart.”
“I know.” After all, some part of me feels the same. “If I hadn’t stopped you, would you have done it?” Hate places his hands on my back to propel me forward again. For a split second, I can almost taste blood on my lips, feel bones breaking in my powerful grip, and hear the moans of a dying man.
“What do you think?” I drunkenly lay my chin on my chest, but a shiver brings me back to the present.
“What are you getting out of this? Why are all of you helping me?” I disregard the fact that the Voices’ actions shout WE’RE FRIENDS in all caps. Or at least some of them do. The jury is still out on Tom.
“I told you,” Guy pushes my back again, “we want what you want.” I soar higher into the sky. “Freedom.”
“How are you going to do that…” I trail off as the realization smacks me in the face. They’re becoming more real. First, I could see them, then Arnold burned the cookies, then the assault….oh God.
“You finally figured it out, huh? The five of us will exist on our own.” His next push is smooth, unphased by the small gasp I let out of my mouth. I turn slightly to look into his dark brown eyes, but they’re unreadable.
“What are you going to do with your freedom?” I manage to slip out. I don’t know what I’m more afraid of: what the volatile Voices are going to do when they aren’t tethered to me or the fact that they won’t need me anymore. Guy’s lips twitch upward, but before he can deliver his answer, I hear a shout come from above.
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↪️ Chapter Ten