Silence. For as long as he could remember, there was nothing but silence. Nothingness. Oblivion. If this was hell, then he had it worse than he would have ever thought possible. For him, there was no difference between ‘deaf’ and ‘dead,’ except that the former would have him wishing for the latter.
But all of that changed with a single turn of a knob; a click of the radio dial. Suddenly, music pierced through the air. The irregular thump of the speaker became his heartbeat and he became able to see and hear everything around him.
A man with vaguely familiar features peered at the radio counter. He turned a knob to cycle through the frequencies in search of a station playing the music he liked but only found static on all but one; an old-time, wild west saloon station. It was fused deep within the soul of the radio itself, and it felt like taking a fresh breath of air after staying underwater five seconds longer than the longest you can hold your breath.
“That music sounds as old as the radio,” said a young boy standing next to the man. He lost interest and plopped onto the couch, raising his iPad up to his face.
“It’s probably a lot older than the radio, actually,” said the man. He seemed unsure of the music selection at first, but then smiled and accepted it, nodding his head along with the rhythm.
A woman stepped into the room with a small child following close behind.
“Oh? Is it break time already?” she said.
The man smiled and stood up straight from crouching. “Well howdy tharr, Miss Rachel,” he said, imitating a cowboy accent. He took her hand and kissed her knuckles. “I reckon now’s as good a time as any ta eat some grub. Whadd’ya say?”
The small boy giggled from behind his mother. “Why are you talking like that, Andy?”
Andrew placed his hands on his hips and looked at the boy. “Now is that the young Thomas Chambers I see before me? Come here.” He picked the boy up into the air and stepped towards the kitchen. “A little gunslinger like yourself could go for some pasghetti right now, don’t ya think?”
“It’s SPA-ghetti,” said Thomas, giggling again.
“Well now, talent AND brains. Ain’t that somethin’,” said Andrew.
“Well, I suppose I am starting to feel hungry,” said Rachel. “We can finish unpacking tomorrow.”
“Yeehaw,” said Andrew. He put Thomas down. “Why don’t you go play with Sam over there for a while?”
“Yeehaw,” repeated Thomas as he ran and jumped next to the preteen on the couch.
“What’s with the saloon theme?” asked Rachel.
“Sam found that old radio collecting dust in his new closet. Seems like maybe the previous owners just forgot about it.” Andrew placed a pot on the sink and half-filled it with water. “I’m surprised it still works, to be honest. Could only pick up this station, though.” He set the pot on the stove, covered it with a lid, and lit the flame.
“I’m surprised there’s a station even playing this music,” said Rachel. She sidled up behind Andrew, placing her arms around his waist and her head against his back. “I have some big news for you.”
“Really? What’s up?”
She bit her lower lip and reached one hand to the pregnancy test stick in her pocket. Taking a deep breath, she began to slide it out when she was interrupted.
“Ewww,” screamed Sam. “Go to the bathroom, sicko!”
The two adults turned their attention to the two boys. Thomas was covering his mouth with one hand and holding his stomach with the other. A pool of vomit decorated the carpet and some of the couch in front of him. He looked like he might throw up again at any second.
“You’re so gross,” said Sam. “Get the hell away from me.”
Rachel pushed the pregnancy stick back into her pocket and rushed over. “Oh, honey. Come with me. Let’s get you cleaned up.” She led Thomas away to the bathroom down the hall.
Andrew wet a rag and did his best to clean the carpet and couch. “Take it easy on him,” he said to Sam. “He’s only five years old.”
“Do we really have to live with them from now on?” said Sam.
“Yes, so be nice. He’s going to be your little brother pretty soon.”
“Couldn’t you have picked someone with a better kid?”
‘He’s too weak. You’re the better choice.’
The distorted voice crackled from the speaker over the music on the radio. It sounded sinister and threatening, not like any radio announcer Sam had ever heard before. He turned to his dad, who was looking back at him disapprovingly.
“You know what,” said Andrew. “Put the iPad away and come help me set the table for dinner.”
His father didn’t seem to react to the menacing voice. Was Sam hearing things? Or was it a normal part of the program? This was a pretty weird station, he thought.
Andrew took the tablet away from his son and put it on the desk next to the radio. “Come on,” he said. “You want someone with a better kid, then we might as well start with ourselves.”
‘Yes. Let’s start with you.’
Sam looked at the radio. There was definitely something strange about it. He rose to his feet and suddenly felt dizzy. The floor felt off-balance and askew, and his father’s face warped as if he was looking at him through bent glass. He quickly sat back down and raised a hand to his forehead.
“What’s wrong?” asked Andrew.
‘Don’t fight it.’
“I don’t know,” said Sam. “I just got really dizzy all of a sudden.”
“Probably ‘cause you don’t exercise enough. You’re always sitting on a couch with your face in front of a screen. Not to mention all the crap you eat.”
‘Let’s try again.’
Andrew walked to the kitchen and bent down to open a cardboard box labeled “Dishes and Silverware.” He took out some ceramic plates and utensils and placed them on the counter next to the sink.
“I’m going to give these a quick rinse,” he said, “and then I want you to place them on the table in front of each seat.”
He turned the knob for the water, and in that exact moment, the music exploded into cacophonous ricochets in Sam’s head. It lasted only a fraction of a second, but when it stopped, he felt a strange detachment from his body. Everything seemed normal, but it was as if he was now a passenger in his own body.
Andrew turned the water off and dried the wet plate with a towel. He held it out towards Sam. “Are you really going to make me repeat myself?”
Sam found himself rising to his feet again. His body walked to the kitchen and took the plate from his father. Even though he could still feel and see everything normally, the sensation was weird, as if his brain was on autopilot. He set the plate on the edge of the table and walked back towards his father. His hand rummaged through the utensils and pulled out a sharp steak knife.
Andrew glanced at his son. “We aren’t going to need that one, actually,” he said. “You can just throw it back in the box for now.” He returned his attention to drying the next plate.
Sam willed his body to toss the knife into the cardboard box, but it wouldn’t move. Not even his eyes obeyed his commands. His hand clutched the knife and raised it above his head. This definitely wasn’t autopilot, Sam thought. Something has taken over control of his body. Positioning himself behind his father’s back, Sam realized what was about to happen. A sinister laugh echoed in his mind right before his hand slammed the knife down with all the strength his twelve-year-old body could muster.
Andrew cried out in pain. The plate fell from his hands and broke into pieces in the sink. His legs buckled, and he had to grab the edge of the counter to keep from falling over. He sunk to his knees and desperately tried to grab at the knife jutting out of his back, but it was out of his reach.
Rachel ran in from the hallway. “What happened?”
Andrew gritted his teeth together and grunted through the pain. “My… fucking… back!”
“Oh, my God.” Rachel could not make sense of how something like that could have occurred. “Hang on. I’ll call for some help.” She rushed over to her purse.
Sam was horrified, but he could feel his lips turn up into a smile. His father turned around to look at him and mouthed the word “Why?” Sam had no idea why he had done what he just did. It didn’t make any sense. It was not him. Something made him do it.
That something could feel the presence of anger and rage radiating from Andrew’s body. It had just enough control over Sam, but it wanted more. With that knife wound, it would have no problem at all taking over Andrew’s body. It left Sam and danced around the knife’s edge, tickling the bleeding wound. It offered the promise of relief, of the pain going away, and as it predicted, Andrew fully embraced the pleasing sensation.
Sam, again master of himself, rushed to his father’s side.
“I’m so sorry,” said Sam. “I don’t know what happened. I couldn’t control myself.”
He grabbed the knife handle in an attempt to pull it out.
“Sam, no,” said Rachel, rushing back over to the two of them. “Leave it alone.”
She raised her phone up above her head, waving it around and frantically hoping for a signal.
“Ugh,” she said, exasperated. “There’s no service here.”
“Get it out of me,” said Andrew.
Sam reached for the knife again.
“Stop,” said Rachel. “You might hurt him even more.”
“Well what can I do?” said Sam. “I want to help.”
“Just stay with Daddy while I try to get through to the hospital.” Rachel moved away from the scene. “I’m just going to be out on the balcony, okay? Stay right there.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Sam to his father again.
“Oh, you will be,” said Andrew, slowly rising and steadying himself. He flexed his hands. “Yeah, this is much better.”
Andrew punched his son square against his jaw, sending him straight down to the floor. His little body offered no resistance. Andrew laughed and kicked him hard against his ribs.
“Andrew,” screamed Rachel. “Stop. What are you doing?”
But Andrew did not stop. He grabbed a fistful of Sam’s hair and pulled him back up to his feet. With his other hand, he slapped him across the face with the back of his hand. Rachel grabbed Andrew’s arm and again yelled at him to stop, but he simply shrugged her away and hit Sam again.
“I’m not finished yet,” growled Andrew and pulled his hand back for another punch when suddenly the pain returned to his back.
The spirit that had taken over his body now returned to the knife’s edge and completely out of the body as Rachel pulled the knife out of Andrew’s back. With nothing to grasp onto, the spirit floated helplessly in the air. Vibrations pierced the air and served as a bridge for him to latch onto. It lead him back to the radio where the old-west music was still playing as loud as before. Here, it could refresh and rejuvenate its energy. It would go after the meddling bitch next.
Rachel examined Sam’s bruised face. “Hang on, Sam. I’m going to get help, okay? Everything will be okay. It’ll be okay.” She repeated the words ‘it’ll be okay’ over and over like a mantra to keep her wits about her.
“Mom?” said Thomas, suddenly appearing from the hallway. “Why is everyone fighting?”
“Oh, Tommy,” she said and hugged her son. “It’s okay, honey. Go sit on the couch for now.” She grabbed the iPad and handed it to the boy. “Play a game while Mommy makes a phone call.”
She turned the volume knob on the radio, but the volume remained the same no matter how far to each side she turned it. She tried changing the frequency, but the same music was playing across the entire radio band. Her hand followed the cord and pulled it out of the wall socket, but even with no energy, the radio continued playing the saloon music uninterrupted.
“What the hell…” she said.
Deciding there was no time to figure it out now, she walked over to the sliding glass door leading to the balcony, but no matter how hard she pulled, the door would not budge. She braced her back against the wall and used her foot to push, but it didn’t slide even a fraction of a centimeter.
“Dammit,” she screamed. Noticing Thomas’s concerned face, she put on a smile for him and said, “Just stay right there, baby. Mommy will be right back.”
She trudged over to the main bedroom and tried to open the window, but it too was impossibly stuck. She banged against the glass to no avail. She held the phone against the glass hoping for some service to bleed through, but it was no use.
As she looked at the smartphone screen, her vision began to distort. The display seemed to slowly lift from the phone to her face, while at the same time, the phone and her hand seemed to sink deeper along with the floor. She looked away and out the window, but this made the effect even worse, and a strong sense of vertigo overtook her. Her free hand grasped the frame to regain her balance, but the room began to rotate like a boat about to drop down a waterfall, and she felt something push her against the glass. It wasn’t the feeling of gravity doing its job, but rather like something was intentionally toying with the physics in her mind.
She pushed herself from the window and landed on the bed. The room returned to its normal orientation and down became down again, but as she looked around the room, it seemed bigger than before. The walls expanded and slipped away from the bed, which had now become the center of the room, slowly at first but exponentially increasing until it seemed like there was nothing in every direction except for the music echoing from down the hall.
That music, she thought, is the epitome of evil. Never had she felt more sure that death itself was mocking her, having one last laugh at her expense before casting its scythe down on her neck. She clenched her eyes shut and let the music lead her where it willed.
“Mom,” Thomas shouted from the oblivion.
His voice was a welcome addition over the madness of the music. She tried to latch on to his voice.
“Mom, come quick,” the little voice said. “Hurry.”
Rachel opened her eyes. The room was back to normal. Gravity was operating the way she had always experienced it, and her vision seemed to be back to the way it always was. She took a deep breath and slid herself off of the bed.
Upon returning to the main room, she saw Andrew rummaging through a box in the kitchen. The two boys were on the couch. They looked frightened. Sam held a hand to his face where he had been punched.
“Ah, there we are,” said Andrew in another wild west type of accent.
He pulled a bottle of whiskey out of the box and set it next to a glass on the counter. He noticed Rachel standing in the arch of the hallway but didn’t seem to care. Instead, he cracked open the seal and poured himself a generous ounce, then slammed it down his throat and back to the counter with a bang.
“Ahhh,” he breathed out, satisfied. “Ain’t no Old Overholt, I’ll tell ya that, but damn fine, nonetheless.”
“Andrew,” said Rachel. “You shouldn’t be moving around right now.”
Andrew ignored her. He placed three fingers against the glass and poured the liquor until it reached the top of his index finger. Raising the glass to his mouth once more, he poured most of it in and savored the taste before chugging it down.
“Andrew,” Rachel repeated. “Maybe you should sit down.”
“Woman,” he snapped. “Maybe you should shut yer mouth.”
He looked her up and down and smacked his lips together followed by a slow shake of the head.
“Mmmm,” he said. “I am gonna have fun with you.”
He sauntered over to her and took her hair in his empty hand, lifting it to his nostrils and breathing in her smell. She tried to shy away, but he gripped her hair firmly and held her in place. The struggle caused him to spill some of his drink.
“Woman,” he said. “Don’t you ever get between a man and his bourbon.”
“Dad,” said Sam from the couch, “you’re bleeding all over the carpet.”
Closing his eyes, Andrew lifted his head to the ceiling as if asking God to give him patience. He downed what remained of the liquor and held the glass in front of his face. Breathing out, he let the stench of alcohol wash over Rachel’s face and released his grip on her hair.
“And whose goddamn fault is that,” he said in a rising crescendo climaxing with him chucking the glass at Sam’s head.
The glass exploded right above Thomas’s head. The two boys flinched and screamed instinctively. Part of their faces and arms got scratched trying to avoid the shattering glass.
“What the hell has gotten into you?” said Rachel.
“I know something that’s gonna get into you,” said Andrew as he grabbed his crotch. He laughed and reached for her hair again, but he did not get the chance to grab it this time.
Rachel’s foot came up swiftly and connected with his groin. Andrew yelped out in pain and keeled over onto the floor, smacking his head as he went down. A high-pitched whine escaped from his vocal cords.
Rachel rushed over to the two boys.
“Are you two okay?” she said. “Let me see where you got cut.”
“We’re fine,” said Sam. “But something isn’t right here. I don’t think that’s my dad.”
“What?” she said, struggling to hear his words.
The music from the radio increased its volume dramatically. It was deafening and maddening. Rachel again fiddled with the knobs, trying everything she could think of to turn it off, but nothing worked. In a last ditch effort, she threw it against the glass door leading to the balcony. It bounced off and landed on the floor unharmed.
Again, she braced her back against the wall and used her feet in an attempt to get the door open. She screamed with each kick, but it still would not budge. She picked up the radio again and slammed it as hard as she could against the glass. Nothing happened except that it bounced out of her grasp and back to the floor, still unharmed.
Giving up, she placed her palms on the glass and rested her forehead against the sliding door. She noticed the light coming from the building beside theirs. The room was on the same floor, and inside, a middle-aged couple could be seen watching TV in their apartment.
“Sam,” said Rachel, not taking her eyes away from the neighbors. “Go to the light switch and turn it off and on over and over again. Don’t stop until I tell you.”
Sam did not understand why he was being asked to do that. He looked quizzically at Rachel and remained seated on the couch.
“There’s something coming from the radio,” he said. “It won’t let us leave.”
“Sam, please,” said Rachel. “Just do what I say.”
Sam rose from the couch and walked over to the light switch next to the entrance door. He glanced at his father, who was still on the floor holding his groin and rocking back and forth. His father may have a short temper sometimes, but he would never do anything to harm anyone. Whatever it was that punched him, it wasn’t his dad. Sam knew that for sure. It was the same thing that made him stab the knife into his back. And it all started with that voice from the radio.
He flicked the light off and saw the light from the next building that Rachel must have noticed. Now he understood. Maybe they could still call for help without needing to use the phone. He flicked the light back on again. Would this really be enough to get someone’s attention?
“You need to do it faster,” said Rachel.
She remained focused on the couple watching TV. When the light came back on, her reflection appeared in the glass. It disappeared with the flick of the switch, then reappeared, again and again. The couple did not so much as give one curious look towards their apartment.
“Do it as fast as you can,” she said.
“Mom, look out,” Thomas screamed.
The light came back on. This time, Andrew’s reflection appeared right behind Rachel’s in the glass. He smiled and placed his hand on the back of her head, then slammed it against the glass. The door cracked with the impact. Rachel stumbled backwards and fell to the floor.
Andrew looked at the cracked glass and whistled. “Boy, you have a hard head,” he laughed.
Sam ran to them and stood between him and Rachel.
“Leave my dad alone,” he said.
Andrew placed a hand on his shoulder and easily tossed him towards the couch. He let out an impatient sigh and gave the kids a disdainful look.
“Why are you doing this?” asked Rachel, propping herself on her elbows.
“Why?” said Andrew. He looked away from the kids at Rachel. “Your husband knows the score, ma’am. Thinks he can ride with Quickdraw and his gang, doing whatever it is they please, and get away scot free? Thinks he can murder my whole family and bury me alive without any consequences? Uh-uh. No way.”
“Quickdraw? What are you talking about?”
“Now I know you ain’t had nothing to do with what Frankie did, but he didn’t much care about my family’s innocence, so it’s only fair I show him the same amount of respect, don’t you think? Now this whole family’s gotta pay the price.” He laughed. “Funny I’ll be using Frankie’s own body to kill his family, though. Poetic justice, wouldn’t you say? The devil sure does have a twisted sense of humor.”
Andrew’s face tightened. “Now don’t play dumb. Your husband. Franklin Malone. The soon-to-be dead man once I kill off this body. That is, after I’m done with you and your young ones here.”
“Andrew, please. This stupid game stopped being funny a long time ago.”
“That’s not my dad,” said Sam. “Something is controlling him. There’s some kind of ghost that came from the radio.”
“Smart kid,” said Andrew. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Richard Jackson, and I’ll be your executioner tonight.”
“You guys have a really sick sense of humor,” said Rachel. “Really, this has gone way too far.”
Andrew kicked Rachel against her ribs. She fell back to the floor.
“Mom,” cried Thomas. He tried to go to her, but Sam held him back.
“This ain’t no game,” said Andrew. “But anyway, you’re right. Let’s stop playing around and get to the point.” He reached for her hair and pulled her up to her feet.
“Please,” said Rachel. “We don’t know any Franklin Malone. You’ve got the wrong family.”
“Nice try,” said Andrew and punched her stomach.
Rachel pushed herself away, scratching and slapping Andrew to get him to release his grip. She hugged her stomach and took quick breaths, hoping the hit was not strong enough to hurt her unborn baby. She raised her hand when Andrew took a step towards her.
“I’m telling you the truth,” she said. “We’re not who you think we are.”
Andrew stopped and turned around. He looked at his cracked reflection in the glass door and touched his face.
“Huh,” he said. He looked around the room. “What is this place? This don’t look like no house I’ve ever seen before.” He stepped towards the glass door and looked at the view from the balcony. He quickly took a step back when he realized how high up they were. “Holy! Where the hell am I? This ain’t Hangtown.”
“We’re in Placerville. In California.”
“Placerville…? Ain’t no one call it that. How long have I been out? What year is it now?”
“Say again…?” Andrew could not believe it.
This time, it was he who noticed a new reflection in the glass with no time to react or turn around. Sam held the radio above his head and slammed it down onto Andrew’s back at the precise spot where the knife wound was located. He bounced off the glass and collapsed to the floor in terrible pain.
Rachel pulled Sam back and pushed both him and Thomas behind her. She grabbed the knife from before and held it out in front of her, pointing it directly at Andrew.
Holding his back, he got back to his feet and laughed. “Hurts like a motherfucker,” he said, “but you’re only hurting your dad in the long run. I was almost willing to listen to you good folks, but now I see you’re not really good folks at all.”
“Please just leave us alone,” said Rachel. “We haven’t done anything to deserve this.”
“Deserve?” Andrew spat on the ground. “Let me tell you something about deserve. I work all day and all night to give my family a decent living, and one day I stumble across some gold left behind the back of the saloon. Now, I’m a decent man, I know it belongs to someone, so I resolve to turn it in to the sheriff’s first thing in the morning, but Quickdraw and a bunch of his thugs follow me home and demand that I give it to them. Well, I obliged, but did they leave us alone? No, ma’am. They wanted more. And once they were finished taking everything they wanted, Frankie got it in his head that he wanted to rape my wife right in front of me and my baby boy. I tried to defend her, but they overpowered me. Next thing I know, I wake up as they’re digging a hole to bury us in. My wife and my kid, both dead at my side. It was at that moment that I swore revenge and signed a deal with the devil to avenge my family by killing that whole gang, especially Frankie Malone.”
Andrew shook his head. “Deserve… That word has no place in reality. This world will throw everything it has at you, and you can either take a beating and die or fight back and give it everything you’ve got. Well I’m going to fight back. If I can’t get my revenge, then I’m going to take my second chance at life.”
At that moment, Sam ran from behind Rachel’s back and straight towards Andrew. Andrew moved to the side to avoid him, but Sam had another target in mind. He jumped as high as he could and smashed his feet straight down onto the radio, breaking it in half. He continued to stomp on it until the music finally stopped, then gave it one last bash of the heel for good measure. He looked up at his father with hope to see if his plan to kill the spirit worked.
Andrew laughed. “Don’t exert yourself, kid. What did you think would happen? You destroy that music box and everything goes back to normal? Let me tell you a secret. I haven’t always lived inside of that. I can latch on to anything. But now, I kind of like having a body. I think I’m going to stay right where I am.”
His body suddenly dropped to the floor. Rachel stood over him with the knife in her hand. She had smashed the butt of the handle on the back of his head with as much force as she could muster, hoping it would be enough to incapacitate him without killing him.
“Help me tie him up,” she said to Sam.
Richard Jackson opened his eyes and saw boots walking around on the dirt, kicking up dust with every step. His entire body ached. He rolled his head to the side and saw a pair of tiny hands lying limply on the ground. Squinting against the sun, he recognized the body they belonged to as his son.
“Percey?” he said. “Hey, Percey, are you all right?”
The body lay motionless.
“Lookie here,” said a voice. “He’s still alive.”
“I told you he weren’t dead,” said a different voice.
“Hey, keep diggin’,” said a third.
Spurs clinked against the boots that approached into Richard’s view. A tall, slender silhouette wearing a cowboy hat blocked out the sun. The shadow man spat tobacco on the boy’s corpse.
“You son of a bitch,” screamed Richard. He squirmed to try to break free from the rope tied around his wrists. “I’m going to kill you.”
The shadow lifted his foot and slammed it down onto Richard’s shoulder. The spur dug into his collarbone, breaking the skin.
“You best be shuttin’ that mouth a yer’s,” said the second voice from before. “Else Quickdraw’ll shut it fer good.”
With Quickdraw blocking the sun, Richard was now able to get a good look at the men digging. He recognized the one that just spoke as the man who went after his wife right before he lost consciousness.
“What did you do to Mellie?” said Richard. “Answer me, you son of a bitch.”
The shadow bent down and gripped Richard by the chin, turning his face for him to get a good look. A chiseled face with a few days’ stubble grinned right at him. Two eyes peered on with absolutely no sympathy. The eyes of a person killing for the pure enjoyment of it. The eyes that could only belong to no animal other than a human being.
“Is that the only insult you know?” said Quickdraw. His voice was soft and enunciated perfectly, like that of a college-aged schoolboy. He looked up at his partner. “Hey, Frankie, looks like we’re both sons of bitches.”
“That don’t sound right,” said Frankie.
“No, it don’t,” said Quickdraw with a smile.
“Frankie,” said Richard. “He’s the one that attacked my wife.”
“Attacked, raped, and killed,” said Quickdraw.
Richard backed his head away out of Quickdraw’s grip and spat in his face. Quickdraw kept his composure. The others stopped digging.
Wiping the spit away with his jacket sleeve, Quickdraw said, “Good news, boys. We only need to dig one grave.” He yanked Richard to his feet and pushed him to the hole. “Say hello to your wife.” Quickdraw kicked him into the open pit.
Richard landed on his shoulder and felt the bones snap out of place. His wife’s body did nothing to cushion the fall. Her limp body gave no reaction to the impact, confirming that she was no longer alive. He scooted himself up to see her face. It was mangled and bruised beyond repair.
“Oh, Mellie,” said Richard. “God… Mellie, I’m sorry.”
Quickdraw snapped his fingers. “Yoohoo.”
Richard looked up just in time for Percey to land right on his chest. He felt the wind get knocked out of him and struggled to breathe.
“Isn’t that sweet?” said Quickdraw. “The whole family. Together forever.” He patted his comrade on the back. “Franklin Malone, I do believe the honor is yours.”
“What? All by myself?” said Frankie.
“You pick ‘em, you dig ‘em,” said Quickdraw and turned around to leave.
The others sneered and poked fun at Frankie, then followed behind their leader.
“Aw, hell,” said Frankie. He picked up a shovel and pitched some dirt into the grave.
The dirt hit Richard in the face. Spitting it out of his mouth, he said, “Wait. Just wait a minute. There’s no need to do this.”
“I can’t hear no dead men talk,” said Frankie and threw a bigger clump of dirt. He had no intention of stopping.
“You goddamn son of a bitch. You better pray I don’t get out of here, because I’ll be comin’ for ya.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m a son of a bitch.” He shoveled in a patch of dirt. “He’s a son of a bitch.” Again, he threw more in. “You’re a son of a bitch.” More dirt. “We’re all sons of bitches.”
Quicker than he would have imagined, the sounds were drowned out when the next patch of dirt covered him up completely. The only sensation he could feel was the impact of new dirt arriving on top and increasing the pressure around him until there was nothing left.
Andrew opened his eyes to the flickering of the light. Sam stood near the door, flipping the light switch off and on as quickly as he could. Thomas and Rachel pounded against the sliding balcony door and shouted to try to get the neighbors’ attention. It was no use.
Andrew sat on a chair with his hands tied behind his back. He tried to slip out of the rope, but it was tied too tight. The throbbing on the back of his head prevented him from thinking clearly.
“Sam,” he said.
Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at him.
“Guys,” he continued, “I’m all right now. Whatever was controlling me before, it’s gone now.”
They looked at each other. Rachel stepped close to him.
“Really,” said Andrew. “You can untie me.”
“I think,” said Rachel, “that while we figure this out, for your own safety, it’ll probably be better if you stay right here.”
“Honey, please. At least loosen it up a bit. My hands are going numb.”
Rachel hesitated for a moment. “Sorry,” she said.
“Babe, it’s okay. It’s me in control now.”
“I believe you. I just… can’t. I’m sorry.”
“You,” said Andrew. “Dammit. You fucking bitch. I’m going to fucking kill you. I’m going to make you watch me kill your kids and then I’m going to fuck you before fucking killing you.”
Thomas clasped his hands over his ears and shut his eyes. “Stop,” he yelled. “Stop being so mad.”
Rachel clutched him in her arms. “That’s not Andy, baby. Don’t worry. Everything will be okay.”
“Sam,” said Andrew. “Come over here and untie your father.”
Sam lowered his eyes.
Andrew struggled against the ropes, trying to force them to rip free.
“I know my dad is still in there somewhere,” said Sam. “When it took over my body, I was still able to see everything going on.”
“Andrew,” said Rachel. “Andrew, if you’re still in there, you have to fight that thing. Fight back. Take control.”
“We believe in you,” said Rachel.
“Well, that’s nice,” said Andrew. “Too bad it don’t work that way, darlin’. As long as I’m here, he ain’t.”
“What do you want from us?” said Rachel. “Everyone you want to get revenge on died a long time ago. We have nothing to do with what happened to you.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Honestly, though, I don’t really care about revenge anymore. All I want is a new life. I don’t ever want to go back to nothingness again.”
“You can have that. Just please leave us in peace.”
Andrew shook his head. “You don’t get it. I’m not leaving this body. It’s mine now.”
There was a knock on the door.
“Police,” said a voice. “Open up.”
Andrew looked shocked. “What the hell?” He tried to focus but the throbbing in his head just intensified.
“Your power doesn’t work anymore,” said Sam. “We still can’t open the doors, but we can get service on our phones now.”
“What in the hell is a phone?” said Andrew.
The knock was louder this time.
“Help,” screamed Sam at the door. “The door’s stuck. We can’t get it open.”
Muffled voices talked back and forth through the door, then the original voice returned louder and said, “Stand back. We’re going to kick it open.”
Sam moved away from the door while the police counted down from three and kicked the door into the room. A piece of the door frame burst out of the wall. Two police officers stepped into the room and assessed the situation. They looked from Andrew to the other three huddled together near the cracked sliding door.
“What’s going on here?” said Rodriguez, the cop who had been talking through the door.
“Oh, thank God, officer,” said Andrew. “They attacked me and tied me up. You’ve gotta help me.”
“Liar,” cried Thomas.
“No way,” said Sam. “That thing attacked us first.”
“Ma’am,” said Rodriguez. “You want to tell us what happened?”
Rachel hesitated a moment. A tear rolled down her cheek. “He threatened to kill us. He kept hitting Sam,” she placed a hand on Sam’s shoulder, “so I had no choice but to stop him. He kept fighting back so I hit him hard on the head and tied him up while he was unconscious.”
“But that’s not my dad,” said Sam.
Rachel put pressure on his shoulder and shook her head. “We can explain all that later, dear.”
“Wow,” said Andrew. “They’ll say anything to blame me. I’m the victim here, officers. I’m the one that’s hurt here.”
“The kid looks pretty banged up to me,” said Miller, the other cop.
“That woman sure can inflict some damage,” said Andrew.
“Please,” said Rachel. “Is there any way you can lock him away somewhere safe? He needs a place to calm down.”
“I don’t look calm to you?”
Rodriguez nodded his head at Miller, who then proceeded to untie the knots around Andrew’s wrists. Andrew eyed the gun on his hip.
“Damn, you really tied these tight,” said Miller before finally releasing the tension and freeing Andrew’s hands.
Immediately, Andrew reached for the gun. He pushed Miller away and slipped the pistol out of the holster, only to turn around straight into Rodriguez’s taser. The electricity coursed throughout his entire body and sent it straight down to the floor.
Richard Jackson found himself floating freely in the air again. The body that was his previous host was now too weak to hold onto. He lunged his spirit straight towards Rachel. He would show that bitch who’s in control by using her body to kill the kids. This time, he would be more subtle about it. He entered into her body and prepared to take control, but found himself instead in another state of darkness. It was like before, when he was trapped in the radio, except this time, it felt different. He had a heartbeat, but that was about all he could feel. He tried to move, but there was nothing else. His spirit latched on and refused to leave this body. The more he struggled, the stronger the bond became.
The three of them watched as the two police officers put handcuffs on Andrew and picked him up to his feet. He looked confused and relieved, and too weak to say or do anything other than stumble in the direction the cops lead him.
Rachel felt an uneasiness in her stomach. Placing her hand on her belly, she sat down and thought of her baby, hoping that everything was okay.
Alex Rezdan asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work