I’m Glad You’re Here

Horror – A renovation – A researcher

A sister and brother move in together and start renovating their parents’ old house, in an attempt to overcome the past that still haunts them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When tragedy strikes, when the worst happens, that’s when you find out who your true friends are.  When tragedy struck me, I discovered that I had none.  My friends couldn’t handle my grief and loss, didn’t like my reaction to it, and so they pulled away over the years, one by one.  Eventually I was left alone, rattling around my tiny apartment watching reruns of Friends until I could recite them all by heart, or just sitting on my couch listening to the sounds of life going on around me – people laughing and talking with their friends, saying goodnight to their dates (or inviting them in), getting ready for bed.  It felt more and more like my life had ended the night my parents’ life ended, and I didn’t know how to start it back up again.

That’s why I said yes when my brother asked me to move in with him after he was released from jail.  My coworkers told me I was crazy to do it, but I was so lonely I didn’t care.  I think I read an article somewhere about how people die from loneliness all the time.  Moving in with my brother, no matter what he had done, felt less risky somehow.

He was all I had left.

“You want to move back into the house?” I asked him, when he told me what he wanted during one of the visitations at the jail.

“Yes.  It’s the only connection I still have to mom and dad.  I know it’s weird, but I want to go back there.  I’m so sorry for what I did, and I need to feel like I’m close to them again.  Like maybe there’s a chance they will forgive me.”

“There have to be conditions,” I told him.  “I can’t go back there with it looking the same.  It’s going to take a lot of work.  We’ll need to do some…renovation…for me to be able to live in it.”

“Of course, of course!” he agreed immediately.  “Thanks, sis.  Thanks so much!  I knew I could count on you!  I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Me too,” I said, my head on the glass between us, thinking about how hard this would be.  But I could make it work.  I had to make it work.

My brother, Tim, is a schizophrenic.  He developed symptoms at age 22, very suddenly.  He’s not the sweet kind of schizophrenic character you see in Hollywood – you know, the kind that talks to himself and acts a little odd, but solves genius-level puzzles to make up for his eccentricity.  He’s the kind of schizophrenic that thinks he hears demons telling him to murder his parents with an icepick, and so he obeys.  Growing up, he was my hero, my role model, and my best friend.   Having to look at crime scene photos, drawings in blood on the carpet, the mangled body parts of my parents, should have changed that.  At least, my friends told me it should have changed that.  They all thought it was premeditated, told me he’d been plotting it for years, analyzed every little interaction they’d had with him to find guilt.  But I knew better.  Schizophrenia is a disease, and he was sick.  The more my friends accused him, the more I stood up for him.  It’s why I went into research in schizophrenia, and why I keep working every day to find a cure.  It’s also why I sit alone at night, friendless, listening to the world go on outside my door.

Even though I lived in an apartment, we still owned the house.  I mean, it’s not exactly easy to sell a house that was the site of a gory double homicide.  It’s on the market, but no one ever comes to see it.  I hadn’t been there since the murders – I hired a crew to clean it up, after.  I needed to see if I could really be OK with it before I brought Tim home.

It was just a regular house on a secluded lot.  But coming back, there was something almost sinister, like the evil that had occurred there was still in residence somehow.  All the trees had grown bigger and older, the leaves dampening the sound around the house in an ominous way.  The yard was overgrown with weeds, and had a snarly feel underfoot, like they would wrap around your ankle if you stood too long.  The crumbling brick of the porch invited you to step on it, so it could crumble under your feet and push you away.

It had been so long since I’d used my key that I didn’t think it would work in the lock at first.  But my fumbling fingers finally got the doorknob to turn and pushed open the door.  The air inside was stale, and dust hung in the air, reflected in the sunlight filtering through the windows so it looked like there were a million small bugs floating in stasis everywhere I turned.  The carpet was clean, the walls repainted, but all I could see at first was the images I’d looked at a million times in the crime scene photos – blood on the walls, flesh thrown around carelessly on the floor like it was some kind of prop in a haunted house.  And all the time, the suggestion of something in the house, begging to be let out again.   After a minute, I had to race out of the house to breathe the clean air again.

“You have to do this” I told myself as I knelt, gasping, on the porch.  “You have to do this for Tim.”  And after a couple more deep breaths, I went back in.  This time, I refused to let the images come up.  I pretended like this was a new house, one with no history for me, one that I might buy if the price was right.  I walked through the whole house, opening the windows, airing things out, getting ready.  Ignoring my foreboding, and harnessing the power of denial.

The next day, I picked Tim up from jail.  “How does it feel to be a free man again?”  I asked.

“Good,” he said.  “Really good.  I really appreciate you picking me up, sis.  I’m glad you’re here.”

“You’re my brother.  Where else would I be?”  I smiled at him, and after giving me an expression I couldn’t quite describe, he turned and looked out the window.  We were silent on the rest of the drive, each lost in our own thoughts.

When Tim and I arrived, I could feel his excitement, almost like happiness.  “I’m here,” he whispered under his breath.  But after only an hour or so in the house, I could feel myself starting to panic.  It was like I could hear my parents’ screams.  I could imagine them begging me to leave this place – to run and never come back.  And maybe something more – something begging to be let out of the house.  I was sure it was all in my head – old, troubling memories that needed to be made new.  So I engaged Tim in the renovation plans right away.  We would change the whole living room – open up a wall, repaint, pull out the carpet and put in wood floors, maybe add some new light fixtures.  By the time we got done, it WOULD be a new house, and the panicky feeling would go away.  Tim was surprisingly excited about doing the actual work on the project.  He had never been handy before…well, before.  But circumstances had changed him, in many ways.   By the end of our first day at home, we had drawn up some plans.

And such became the rhythm of our days.  I would go to work and come home to find him drawing up plans, or ordering materials.  The table would be strewn with drawings, or books about how to drywall, or pull up carpet, or knock out a wall safely.  His drawings all looked architectural, with triangles and arches, symbols and dimensions.

“How do you know how to do all this?”  I asked.

“Books,” he said distractedly.  And “don’t touch them!” when I went to take a closer look.

At night, I’d lie awake and listen to him talk to himself as he got ready for bed, just like I used to listen to the people around me in my old apartment.  Only now, I wasn’t alone, listening to people on the outside.  It was my brother, and we were together.

“First, we should pull up the carpet, see what’s under there.  Oh, I hope there’s something good under there.”

“Maybe the light fixture needs to come down.  It could be in the wiring.  We should check the wiring.”

“The wall.  Of course, it has to be the wall.  Don’t worry – we’ll get to everything.  I’ll find you, and it will all be OK.”

 “Tim,” I said one day, “who do you talk to at night when you’re going to bed?”

“You heard that, did you?” his eyes hardened for a minute, but then he grinned sheepishly.  “I still talk to myself sometimes.  Old habits.  I promise I’m still on my meds.  I just like to pretend like someone else is with me at night, so I don’t get lonely.”

I knew about lonely.  I knew only too well.  I nodded and changed the subject.  “What about that wall?  When do we get to knock it down?”

“How about tonight?” he said.  “I think everything is ready!”

I barely got anything done at work that day, because I was thinking about the project.  My sense of foreboding in the house had been growing by the day, and I just wanted to make a change, any change.  Something to cleanse the house, let out whatever it was that felt so suffocating.  At the end of the day, I raced home, to find that Tim had transferred his plans to the wall in preparation for the project.  Triangles and symbols, arches and diagrams were drawn everywhere.  I traced one, but pulled back sharply, thinking I could feel it pulsing under my finger.  Tim looked as excited as I felt, as though we needed to get started on something before we both exploded.

He handed me a sledgehammer.  “You do the honors, sis.”  I swung it at the wall once, twice, three times, until it broke through the drywall.

And something black and sticky poured out of the opening.  It slithered to the floor with a thunking sound, then raised up on arms that ended in sharp points that clicked on the floor as it inched toward us, like the tips of an icepick.  It had blank white eyes with no pupils, and a slash for a mouth with black teeth that dripped and oozed.  Panicking, I whirled to the door to run, but it slammed in front of me before I could scramble out.

“Tim!” I shouted.  “Come on!  We have to go!”  But the doorknob refused to open, as the slithering, clattering creature as it continued to advance toward me.

“I’ve been looking for you,” Tim whispered to the creature.  “I missed you.”

I pressed myself into the door now, trying to back away even though I knew it was in vain.  I could feel its sticky breath on my neck as it closed in, before I felt the point of its icepick-like leg brush back my hair from my face.  It breathed in deeply, inhaling my scent before piercing my shoulder with its leg.  The pain in my shoulder was immediate and excruciating.  As I screamed, my brother met my eyes with his hardened gaze and an excited smile, as he whispered in my other ear.

 “I really appreciate you sis.  I’m so glad you’re here.”