I live among a world where there is a broad line between good and evil. Where all goodness is showcased up front with no fear of betrayal. Where inner beauty is more important and family always comes first. Hope is encouraged and love is embraced. Such honesty, and yet to be a part of such goodness, I have to lie. I have to look into the face of my friends and family and lie about where I’ve been all day, who I’ve been with and worst of all what I see. It was easy at first, my odd behavior being carelessly tossed aside with the notion of an imaginary friend. When children often talked to themselves, I did so more often. When children were afraid of the dark, I did so with more reason. I retreated from my home, my world, when I was only six years old. Since that day, I have yet to decide if it was the best or worst thing that ever happened to me.
I kicked around a rock with the edge of my shoe and sighed. I was taking my sweet time walking home, and there was no reason to walk any faster. No one was at home. My parents were picking up my older sister, Pheona, from yet another mental institution and I was completely dreading the weekend visit. I didn’t exactly hate my sister; I didn’t even know her. She had been in and out of the homes for as long as I could remember. I was forced to visit her once a month and the entire time she just sat there. She stared at the wall; her dark hair covering her face. Boney figure like a statue. Cuts all over her arms. She never moved, just sat there like she was enjoying the awkward silence. And she always scowled at me, her eyes full of hate and something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Jealousy, maybe?
The day outside was hotter than normal, I realized. I wiped the sweat from my forehead. I had on at least three layer of clothing; it had been cold this morning. It was the beginning of summer; when the days became longer. It was my favorite time of the year; the only time of year when he visits. In Alaskan summers there are only a few hours of night, days when the skies never darken past a light gray tint. We call these the gray night. They are always my favorite; when he visits and never has to leave. As a creature of the light, he can't exist in darkness, and I can't exist without him.
I pulled my head out of the clouds just in time to see our generic house come into sight. My heart sank. I knew I had to go back “in there”. It wasn't because of the way it looked; our house was modest, clean and looked similar to all the others on the street. The shutters were painted a bright blue, a sharp contrast from red bricks. When I was inside I felt uneasy and unwelcome. Home hadn't felt like home in a long time. My parents were always working or out at the bar. The only time they were home was when Pheona visited Even then I rarely received any attention from them. I sat down on the front porch and waited. I didn’t want to go inside, but they would be home soon and I didn’t want to be here waiting when they did. Of course later on I would have to join them for dinner, but today was the last day of school and summer bonfire. The summer bonfire was a tradition in Clearwater, a small town about an hour south of Fairbanks, Alaska. It was a quiet community, crime was low and children felt safe. Nothing interesting ever happened here and there was never anything to do. I grabbed my long blonde hair and pulled it back into a high ponytail. I leaned over and let the sun shine on the back of my neck, it warmed my entire body. The warmth reminded me of him. It reminded me of his warm touch and the only time when I could feel happy; when I had someone to talk to.
Not like at home.
After a small wind started to chill me, I decided the sun just wasn’t warm enough after all. I went right inside, no need for locked doors here and put my backpack on the bench right beside the front door. I headed towards the bedroom to lie down. I was exhausted after a day of goodbyes and tears. Most of my friends were moving away to college or had jobs waiting for them. As for me, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I wasn’t smart enough or rich enough to get into a fancy college. I bet I would die here.
As I walked through the hallway, an eerie feeling crept up my spine followed by a sickening smell that made my eyes burn and tear up. A smell that I was all too familiar with.
“Impossible,” I thought as I stumbled back away from my bedroom door. It was still day outside, they couldn’t possibly be in the house. They existed only in the shadows, in the darkness. Afraid to turn my back, I backed into the corner and grabbed a heavy picture frame off the wall. My eyes grazed the black wood, a picture of me when I was a baby. I held it tightly ready to swing at any moment. The frame wouldn‘t hurt them, but it may give me an extra split second to get out. I needed to get outside and quick. I moved slowly to my left, closer to the front door that was only a few feet away, but I still had to open the door. And I knew from experience that they were quick. Not unimaginable blurry fast, but faster than me. The old floors inside the house creaked as I slide further and further, but surely it knew I was here. I hadn’t been quiet coming inside, or had I?
Within a split moment, the sickening smell filled my throat and I tried to hide the gag that filled me. I squeezed my eyes shut like I had done when I was a little girl and silently called out to Garrick. I knew he couldn’t hear me but I had to try. I heard a car door slam outside. Someone was home; I could stand it for a few more moments. I told myself.
“He won’t come today,” a slick voice whispered into my ear. It sounded dark and inhuman. Like something straight out of a child’s nightmare. “He won’t come tomorrow either.”
Okay that was it; I didn’t have time for this today. I bravely opened my eyes and looked at the horrible face that grazed only inches from mine. It’s dark eyes like coal, and face as pale and hopeless as it’s life. It was inhuman and cruel to look upon.
“Leave me alone!” I told it. My courage faltered, but I couldn't back down now, this was my home. After months of silence, I was fed up. My entire body was shaking; I tried to steady myself against the wall. Winter was almost over and so were the hauntings. My gray nights would be here soon, and so would my protector.
“Not until he comes to protect you, until then I can do as I please.”
“He won’t be pleased when he hears about all you did while he was away.”
It stopped to consider the possibility for a moment. I took a few steps to the side, away from it. “Then he should be here more often.”
“You know he can’t,” I laughed, though it was cracked and forced. My hands were shaking, so I clasped them behind my back to hide my fear.
“Won’t is the word,” it replied quickly. “Did you find your homework yesterday?”
I groaned softly, no big surprise. I should have known it would do something like that. It wasn’t the last or first time it had happened, but I had spent all day looking for my senior paper. In a last minute rush, I had to write all ten pages over again. Then again they were evil and sneaky and did everything they could to make my life a living nightmare. Of course it left me alone when other people were around; so I was relieved when the front door swung open.
“Gaby?” my mother called out. She motioned for me to help her carry Pheona’s luggage. She didn’t comment on the strange creature that walked past her and out the front door, the horrible smell or cold air that filled the hallway.
Instead she was completely normal; she didn’t carry the extra sense like I did. The sense that heightened all five of mine times one hundred; so I could see things that were unimaginable to the human eye. I sometimes saw creatures so beautiful that I couldn’t take my eyes off them; lately though it was the same dark creature that tortured me every night. Eating away at my sanity like a cancer. I could also hear a bit better than most people and smell better too. Yet, that really didn’t come in handy very much. What would I do with extra smelling power? Besides, smelling sweat and the bad breath of everyone person I walked past at school. Gross. It was as if teenage boys had forgotten how to bathe.
“Gaby, come help!” my mother called out again. I pulled away from my thoughts and nodded. I ran to the door to help carry in the large bags my mother dragged in behind her. On the front porch, my father half carried in Pheona whose face was covered by her stringy black hair. As they entered, I stood in the doorway. My mother gave a sharp nod and I knew exactly what it meant.
“Hi, Pheona,” I mumbled, not sure exactly what to say to the familiar stranger in my father’s arms. Her black hair stuck to the sides of her face, making her look years younger than she was. Her skin was as white as the snow that fell in the winter, and she looked thin, fragile and absolutely mad.
Yet to my surprise, Pheona looked up and directly into my eyes. She gave me a wicked sort of smile. A smile that met her eyes, so they creased into barely there crescents. Sly, yet suddenly I knew exactly what she meant. It was all too obvious, and I don’t know why the thought had never crossed my mind before. Pheona was just like me, and that was when I knew my crazy sister could see them too.
The bedroom door in my room was shut, but I could still hear the pounding coming from the living room.
Thump thump thump.
It was tolerable the first hundred times, but the pounding was consistent and my head ached. Since coming home, my parents had left again to get some takeout for dinner. They insisted on Chinese food. “It’s Pheona’s favorite,” they said. It was sickening the way they always catered to her. I never got takeout from my favorite places.
The closest Chinese takeout was thirty minutes away. That left us alone for over an hour. Scared of her, I had locked myself in my bedroom and left Pheona to sit on the couch bouncing a basketball. I knew she had been doing it to annoy me; she hated me for reasons I didn’t understand. So I turned the music up louder on my stereo to try and drown her out, but the ball vibrated the floors more than the bass did. Ignoring it, I poured through the piles of clothes I had laid out on my bed. I needed something perfect to wear tonight. I was torn between a red sweater with a pair of dark jeans and a yellow sundress with a matching black cardigan. Though it was summer now, most days the temperature didn’t rise above 50 degrees. I held the dress back up against my body and sighed. There was no use getting excited for nothing, I wasn’t sure he would show up today or tomorrow or even the next day. He came and went when he pleased and I always knew better than to beg. Yet, he always came to me during the midnight sun period.
Suddenly the pounding in my head stopped. The basketball had stopped, I realized. I threw the dress back on my bed and went out into the hallway. As much as I didn’t want to, I needed to check on her. If anything happened to her my parents would blame me. I didn’t care about my sister as much as I should and it hurt in a way. My parents loved Pheona more than anything else in this world. I think they partly blamed themselves for her problems. Whether it was bad genetics or some childhood trauma they never spoke of Pheona’s problems; they just treated her like she was normal and away at a boarding school.
She sat motionless and tall on the old leather couch when i came up behind her.
“Pheona?” I asked, my voice was barely above a whisper. “Are you okay?”
She didn’t move or turn to face me. I shook my head and walked around to the front of the couch. What did I expect? She never talked.
“Mom and dad will be back soon with dinner,” I pointed out. I sat beside her uncomfortably. The silence was almost unbearable, but for some reason unknown to me I wanted to try.
“Are you thirsty?”
“You see them,” she accused. I was taken back, not sure what she meant at first.
“See… who?” I said carefully.
“The creatures from my nightmares. The boogeyman, whatever you want to call them. ”
I wasn’t sure I could or wanted to trust her. This secret was mine and mine only. It had been that way my entire life and I liked it that way. I didn’t want people to compare me to…her.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” I told her, grabbing a magazine off the antique coffee table and flipping through it. “I’m not the crazy one,” I muttered.
To my surprise she flew towards me screaming. It was a short distance, but the next thing I knew I was on the floor with Pheona’s arms around my neck.
“I’m not crazy!” she screamed. Her fingers dug into my flesh tighter and tighter she threatened me each time she pounded my head into the floor. It took a few seconds to realize what was actually happening. I threw my hands around her wrists and tried to pry her off of my neck. For being so thin and almost half my size, she was surprisingly strong. I gritted my teeth together while trying to figure how to get out from beneath her. It was all happening so fast, I couldn’t think clearly. I never thought she would attack me. I tried to scream but no sound could pass my lips.
Okay, I mouthed over and over. As tears reached the brim of my eyes, I felt nothing but fear now. This was it; my own sister was going to kill me. I could feel my lungs burning, screaming for air. Pain radiated all along my throat from her grip. Then suddenly, she let go. She stood up and looked at me as if nothing had happened, that same cruel smile on her lips.
I gasped for air and turned to my side, coughing and clenching my neck. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t do anything. I crawled up from where she stood over me and held back my sobs.
“You are weak,” she stated. “You have been babied and coddled too much.”
I gawked at her, afraid to look away. If I did, she may attack me again, I wanted to be ready. How could I have been so stupid, she lived in a nut house for cripes sakes? She was absolutely mentally crazy. Though I knew I shouldn’t have called her crazy, or at least let down my guard.
“They do nothing but terrorize me at night. Every night.” Her words sunk in deep and I tried to make sense of it. Was she referring to the darklings? If she had the same sight I did, what did that mean?
“The darklings?” I whispered, but I knew she could hear me. If she had the sight then all of her other senses would be above normal for a mortal.
“If that’s what they are called. The summer solstice is almost here, my favorite time of the year. ”
I nodded, moving my neck slightly. I had learned what darklings were when I was only six years old, how could she have lived with this sight for so long and not known what it was. I could still remember the day he had come to me and protected me. He stayed beside me each day protecting me; he was my friend and guardian. Did he come to her also? I wondered. I was still afraid to trust her with my secret; he was mine and only mine. My Garrick.