THE CREEDE CONUNDRUM
by Mari Wise
It’s been eight months since I have seen my family and it’s about time I got back to them. The stresses of life smothered me again, but this time I succumbed to them. I had to get away from it all and what better place to clear my head, than my family’s summer home in the mountains? The thick, dark, storm clouds are rolling in and gathering above my head. Just horrible weather for relaxing. I will leave tonight after everyone is asleep (it’s the best way to avoid pesky neighbors prying for a destination.) Yes, tomorrow I will surprise them all and we can be together again. They haven’t lost faith in me I’m sure.
A large lightning bolt cracked across the dark sky. I could hear thunder booming in the distance and resonate in my eardrums. The lights suddenly shut off, but I was only surrounded by darkness until the back-up generator spurred to life. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves, placed my pen on the table, and pushed the chair back to stand up. I put the few possessions I brought with me in my green duffle bag and made my way towards the door. I slowly pushed it open and slipped out of my room into the long, ominous corridor.
I crept down the hall, listening to each soft footstep. I could only see by the faint light of the flickering bulbs that lined each side of the hallway. I walked out the front door and closed it quietly behind me. As I stood on the porch of my second home I froze. Rain. Cold rain fell from the sky and rolled off the overhang above the porch. Fear struck me once again. I had no choice; I had to make a break for it.
Don’t think about pneumonia, don’t think about pneumonia. Everything will be fine William. Do it for your family.
I took one more deep breath and sprinted away from the house. I stayed under the trees as much as I could, but getting hit was inevitable. After making my way across the development, I hopped the gated fence and headed towards the road. There I waited for at least two hours before anyone would pick me up. Finally, a rickety, white truck pulled over to let me in. I climbed into the front seat, thankful to be out of the rain.
The man driving the truck was huge. 6’ 7” maybe 6’ 8”. His beard hid most of his face and his neck, but his eyes were gentle. Like killing some poor hitch-hiker would be unthinkable to him.
Trust your gut William. Safe. This is safe.
I looked to the man and said, “Thank you very much sir. You have no idea how long I’ve been out there.”
“No problem man, where ya’ headed?” he replied. He seemed to be scanning me up and down.
“Creede, Colorado. Anywhere around there would be great.”
“Right on my way” the man said with a chuckle.
He pulled away from the side of the road and we were off.
The man gave me a very suspicious glance and said, “Tell me. What the hell were you doing out there?”
“Well, honestly I messed up. I left my family a while ago and I’m just tryin’ to get back to them. I just hope they can forgive me.”
“I see. Well nobody has ever done anything so bad that they can’t be forgiven.”
“I hope to God that you’re right.”
We sat in silence for a moment. It was excruciating. Alone with a stranger in a car, with nothing to talk about. I could feel my pulse race faster. I had to break the silence. I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Normally I would never go out in the rain like this” I blurted out.
“Oh really? Why’s that?”
“Well I could get pneumonia of course. The cold rain like this. It’s just waiting to happen.”
He laughed slightly and shook his head.
“Something funny?” I said.
“Well I mean, the chances of that happening are pretty small man.”
“Oh, it could happen. There’s a lot of shit out there that can kill you and I don’t intend to meet death for a while now. Scares the hell outta me.” I replied.
“What else scares you like that?” he asked.
“Where do I even start? Airplanes, boats, elevators, escalators, the sun, germs, dogs… to name a few.”
He gave me an uneasy look. Suddenly, I felt like I had shared too much. I was very thankful when he changed the topic.
“So, you’re getting back to your family huh? Mom and Dad must be pretty upset you’re gone?” he chuckled.
He smiled his big, dumb smile again. In that moment, I hated him. The hole in the pit of my stomach grew larger and began to consume me. I could feel my blood boiling and my hands ball into fists.
“No.” I said coldly.
I looked out the window and stared at the rain, trickling down the glass. He shot me an uneasy look again.
“I’m only messin’ with you man. Don’t take it too serious” he said.
I didn’t speak to him again. My mind flashed to a small, run-down apartment in New York City. I saw my mother passed out, drunk and drooling on the floor. Then, I saw my father come home from a long day at work and try to shake her awake. She was beyond reaching, so he gave up and melted into the couch. I could see on his sunken face how tired he was. How mad he was. A shudder ran down my spine and I shook the memories away.
The rain. Look at the rain William. Nothing matters except the rain.
We continued down the road in silence. I saw the signs letting me know I was close to home as I watched the lights on the side of the road rush by me repeatedly. Finally, I had arrived.
As I opened the door to get out the truck, the man grabbed my arm and said, “Hey. Look after yourself. Okay?”
I pulled my arm out of his grasp and slammed the door. As I watched the red, brake lights get smaller and smaller, the man’s voice played on a loop in my head. I listened to his words while I walked from the center of town, to my family’s home.
Look after yourself. Look after yourself. Look after yourself. Why the hell did he say that to me? I know damn well that I need to look after myself.
The voice stopped as I stood face to face with my past. I paced back and forth on the doorstep for almost an hour, contemplating what I should say. My focus broke as I heard a dog bark inside.
William! William, did you hear that? A dog barking? We never had a dog. Why is there a dog barking in that house William?
One more deep breath. I mustered up my courage and knocked on the door. The wait seemed unbearable. The barking inside got louder and louder. I heard light footsteps approaching the door. Finally, the door creaked open, but instead of my wife I came face to face with a stranger.
“Hello, can I help you?” she said.
“Um, my family. I’m looking for my family, they live here.” I stammered.
“I’m so sorry sir, I don’t know what you mean. This is where I live.” She replied.
“My family! Where the hell is my family?” I hollered.
“Please, I don’t know! I have no idea!” she said, backing away from me.
I couldn’t believe her. They wouldn’t just leave me. They would’ve wait for me. I started to feel it again. The anger building up inside of me. Taking control of me.
“WHERE ARE THEY! STOP LYING TO ME!” I screamed.
She looked at me, completely frozen. Too scared to move. I knew I was frightening her, but I couldn’t stop. Then, her face lit up as if she recognized me. A spark of hope lit in my gut, but she slammed the door in my face. I heard the door lock behind her and as the door locked, I felt myself fall apart. I kept screaming and banging on the door. Before I knew what I was doing, there was a rock through her window. I couldn’t control the rage.
I heard sirens in the distance. Red and blue lights began to flash around me. Nothing made sense anymore. I dropped to my knees, placed my hands over my face, and wept. They cuffed me and threw me into the back of a police car. Down to the station. For some reason, it all felt so familiar.
When we arrived at the police station, they sat me in a cold room and asked me a long series of questions. Suddenly, I heard a knock on the door. The police officer in the room opened it and talked briefly to his colleague. Then, he slipped out of the room. I was only alone for a moment, when a young woman walked in. She took the seat across from me and stared at me for a while.
Her brown eyes met mine when I said, “Who are you?”
She seemed to wince as she said, “You don’t remember me?”
There was pain in her voice. Her soft eyes seemed to peer directly into my soul.
“No. I’ve never seen you before in my life” I replied.
She started sobbing and ran out of the room. I had never been more confused in my entire life. The police officer came back in to check on my condition.
“Who the hell was that? What is going on? Where’s my family?” I pleaded.
The officer sighed and said, “William. That was your daughter.”
“Impossible” I scoffed, “My daughter is ten years old.”
“William. How long do you think you’ve been gone?” he asked.
“Eight months! I’ve been at my summer home for eight months.” I said. “Please, enough! Let me speak to my family. I messed up. I know that, but I can fix this! I’ll make it better and we can be together again. I just need to explain!”
“Ten years” the police officer replied.
“What?” I asked.
“You’ve been gone for ten years William. You were admitted to a mental asylum ten years ago after what happened.” He said coldly.
“What the hell are you talking about? Where is my wife? Where are my two girls?” I said, growing impatient.
“God, William. They’re dead. They’ve been dead for ten years.”
“What? I don’t…What happened?” I said.
“You were under the impression that your wife was having an affair. Started to doubt everything. Started asking if your kids were really yours. One day, we think, you snapped. Murdered your wife and youngest daughter in a fit of rage. Your oldest survived, she was out of town with family friends. That’s who you just met.”
Silence. My mind was in shambles. I couldn’t even wrap my head around what he was saying. Then I felt it again. The rage. It prodded at me and filled my gut until I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“You’re lying. YOU’RE LYING TO ME! That’s absolutely impossible. There’s no way!” I screamed.
“You called us when you finished. We found you cradling their bodies in your front lawn William… I’m sorry.” He responded.
My vision tunneled. I saw a white, burning light consume the room. I couldn’t think. My world had just been set on fire, and all I could do was watch the ashes drift to the ground. My heart was beating out of my chest and tears fell from my eyes.
“You’re lying! You’re lying! It’s not true!” I screamed through tears.
In my hysteria, I barely felt the needle plunge into my neck. The room started spinning, everything was moving. My eyelids felt as heavy as stone and I was losing the battle it took to keep them open. Still crying, my world went dark.
I woke up and greeted the beautiful morning. Through my window, I saw the sun rise over the evergreen trees. I immersed myself in chorus of blue, purple, and orange, grateful to witness the first masterpiece of the day. God, how lucky I am to live in a place like this? Absolutely breathtaking. I pulled out the chair that was tucked under my desk and sat down. I took a deep breath and began writing.
It has been eight months since I’ve seen my family and it’s about time I got back to them…
About the Author:
Mari Wise says: I am a writer from Santa Barbra, California, currently living in a quiet town in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I am currently working on a collection of poetry and short stories. The topics of my work range from insights about society to human emotions and their perceptions of the world. In my free time, I enjoy creating music with a variety of instruments including the cello, piano, guitar, and marimba. I also spend a great deal of time reading novels from an eclectic group of genres; though science fiction is my favorite.