This story is by Travis Gosling and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Samantha Zielinska rubbed her hands together. “This house is always cold. Basically, an ice cave in the winter. The furnace still moans and bellows when put to labor; like an old man overworked decades past retirement. Barlo found the furnace could run long enough to prevent the pipes from icing, refusing to repair it. He didn’t like anyone going into the basement. The money he saved went towards the alcohol and cigarettes he consumed to stay warm.”
Attentive, Doctor Alicia Graham studied Samantha. “Tell me about that night.”
Jenna was bawling, again. Not that it mattered. The walls were thin enough to hear the mice on the other side. The neighborhood was a derelict of splintered homes and families. A lot of missing kids over the years who were never found. The ones that did stick around learned to ignore the incessant noises that came from here. They knew.
Jenna’s voice strained through her sobs to fill the house. “Why do you do this?!”
“Maybe if you gave me what I needed I wouldn’t have to!” Barlo’s brash voice reverberated against the walls of their small bedroom. He stood near the doorway. Vodka bottle undoubtedly in hand.
You call them by their first names. Why not Mom and Dad?
After what they did? They don’t deserve those names.
“That’s not fair. It isn’t my fault.”
“Not fair?” A wooden box crashed against the wall followed by scores of metal dancing on the old, tiled floor. Jenna’s jewelry box. A Mother’s Day gift assembled in shop class.
Barlo’s heavy feet muted her cry to a whimper. “I’ve been dealing with this since I can remember. Tell me how it’s not fair.”
“You don’t know what it’s like! Imprisoned day in and day out. The suffering.”
Barlo scoffed. “What it’s like? You’re just as useless as Mama was. Lazin’ aroun’ the house. Can’t even bother to put yourself together.”
“You’re the one turning into Tomasz!”
“Shut your mouth!” Jenna’s shrill was interrupted by a blast of shattering glass.
Why did she say that?
Tomasz did the same thing to Grandma, to Barlo. He doesn’t like to talk about him. He calls him The Bear.
“He was a’ least right about you. Good fo’ nothin’.”
“Please, she’s only a child.”
A piece of light plastic clattered on the floor. “Not anymore she’s not.”
How old were you?
“Monster! No, I won’t let you!” The reluctant nightstand drawer rattled before jolting open. Jenna desperately scratched at its contents before drawing out what she was rummaging for.
“What are you going to do? Shoot me?” Barlo’s voice appeared unaffected by the commotion. “You haven’t before an’ tonight’s no different.” The amusement lingered on his tongue. “Plus, I know there’s only one. I thought you were savin’ it for yourself?”
She tried before. Pills. We all knew they were empty threats. As long as there was a needle in her arm, that was the furthest she was getting away from him.
She pleaded with him to take her instead. Her voice was weak and powerless. She knew the answer. She was only doing it to make herself feel better.
He snickered. “You’re all used up.”
They were high school sweethearts. She would tell me he was a troubled kid but had a big heart; that he would do anything for her. He was happy once. They ran away from here. To start a life together. Then the car accident when I was four. Jenna fractured her back and couldn’t walk. Barlo lost his job and then the house. Tomasz was sick. Barlo needed to take care of all of us.
He didn’t have any brothers or sisters?
No. They all died when they were kids. He was the only one who survived.
What about your mother’s side? Any relatives you could have gone to?
No. Jenna only had one brother, Uncle Mark. I’ve never met him. They didn’t approve of Barlo’s family and disowned her when they married. We had to move in with Tomasz. When they couldn’t afford Jenna’s pain pills, he got her hooked-on heroin. She eventually learned to walk again, but it was too late. He blamed himself. For the wreck; for her addiction. But it was me. I was the one that got out of my car seat and distracted him. It was my fault.
Samantha, we’ve been through this. It was not your fault . . . What happened next?
He approached the bed where he had left Jenna’s apathetic body that morning. He told her that she knew why. Why he had to. And why he couldn’t quit.
Jenna ceased whimpering. Her voice still trembled but a harshness formed in the back of her throat, “I hate you. I hate you.”
Barlo didn’t reply. He didn’t need to. I could feel him through the wall. I had seen the monster before. His heavy steps left the room and slammed the door sending a shudder through the house. I knew what was coming next. Where he was going.
Do you have any siblings?
No. Just me. Jenna was unable to have any more kids after the accident.
You’re doing good. Keep going.
I was huddling on my bed in the dark, knees pulled to my chest, biting my lip as I struggled to steady my breathing and calm my quivering hands. My pulse pounded against the razor pressed into my wrist. A simple pull of my arm and I could slip away and escape them forever. Whatever lay on the other side couldn’t be worse than this, right? A black void? No memory? This is no place for a child.
The alarm that was my door groaned and creaked. Light from the hallway assaulted my sight. The stench of cigarettes invaded. My hands were so sweaty it was difficult to grip the razor. He dragged his feet, creeping towards my bed. His panting increased until I could smell the alcohol. My skin crawled. My gut retched. Then he put an icy hand on my shoulder.
Samantha stood over her bed wrapping her arms around herself. She shut her eyes and fell silent. After a few slow breaths, her eyes opened. “Jenna was right. It wasn’t fair.”
Tears swelled in her blue eyes. “What Barlo did. That she didn’t protect me.”
Her hands balled into tight fists. “But why should they live? Why should I be the one cursed to a black abyss. That night, I chose my life over theirs.”
“No one blames you for what happened.” Alicia stepped forward placing a hand on Samantha’s shoulder. The wintry air turning her hands cool.
“I can’t.” Samantha withdrew. “I’m done.”
“Remember why we are here. Why we came.”
“I don’t want to.”
“To heal, we need to explore what happened, examine its effects, and work through your feelings.”
“No.” A sob escaped before Samantha could stifle it.
“Only by dealing with the past does it begin to lose its power, allowing us to move forward.”
“I’m here to help. I don’t work for the police. We can talk.”
“It’s a constant nightmare.” She placed her palms on her temples stretching the skin back. “I still hear their screams, see their faces. But the memories . . . they haunt me worse than any ghost.”
Her hands clasped in front of her chin. “Part of me still misses them, still loves them.”
“That’s understandable. They were your parents.” Both women took in deep breaths.
“Samantha, where are the bodies?”
The furnace kicked in circulating the cool air around their feet. Alicia heard the moans drag their way through the vents; a low rattling growl.
Samantha swallowed the lump in her throat. “Niedźwiedź Zimowy,” she whispered.
Alicia’s eyebrows pulled together. “What?”
“Niedźwiedź Zimowy. He— ate them.”
Alicia shook her head. “Samantha,” her voice tense and quick, “they have been missing for nine months. We found their blood in the basement—.”
“Barlo was going to offer me to him, to the monster.” Her head swiveled back and forth. Eyes locked on her bed. “I couldn’t— I couldn’t let him.”
“Where are their bodies, Samantha?”
Her distant stare focused and caught Alicia’s glare. “I asked him what he desired. He replied— a child of his own. We— we made a deal. He would protect me.”
Samantha glanced down resting her hands on her gravid abdomen. “And our son.”
Her eyes circling back to Alicia. “And I would feed him.”
Alicia took a sharp breath in. She could feel the heat from her face dissipating in the chilly air. “Samantha.” Her breath gradually pushing past her lips, forming a small cloud, “what did you do with them?”
“I can take you. He’s waiting for us.”
Alicia caught Samantha’s cheek slowly tightening the corner of her mouth into a small smile. “Who is waiting? Barlo? Tomasz?”
“Come. I’ll show you. In the basement.”