November 1, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Prologue Part 1

Residents from the neighborhood never failed to comment as they chatted over property hedges, or caught up on family affairs with cell phone and morning coffee, on the peculiar goings-on in the well-tended house on Robson Street.

No one could positively say if the reclusive mother and young daughter were actually a blessing or a blasphemy to the close-knit community in Petersburg, Virginia, since no one had ever been greeted with more than a guarded “hello” or hesitant wave from either of them.

Over the years, rumors had made the rounds of witchcraft and devilry—a child of sight or coincidence, a prophet of deliverance or doom. Of little Sara Humphrey’s miraculous recovery from a near fatal tumble down Bucklin’s Bluff after the Hall girl had supposedly laid hands on her.

Of course the only witness had been Sara’s twelve year-old brother, Simon, who had remained screaming in panic at the top of the high cliff. But still, he had sworn, by all that was holy, that eight-year-old Debra Hall had touched Sara, and blood started to run from sudden cuts on her face and arms before she fainted beside a dazed and crying Sara. When rescue had finally arrived, they found Debra asleep at the rocky base, unharmed, without a scratch or drop of blood anywhere to be seen, and young Sara slowly making her way up the treacherous bluff path with only torn clothes and bits of leaves and dirt in her tangled hair to show for the adventure.

No one could say for sure as to the truth of the matter.  The only contention that all could agree upon was that Dorothy Hall and her obscure daughter, Debra, were extremely odd and unsociable.

A point in fact was the house at 4028 Robson Street. The modest two-story dwelling, with cream vinyl siding and newly shingled roof, was separated from the curb by a well scrubbed sidewalk and a trim, tiny plot of grass. Closed curtained windows looking out on the quiet street sparkled cheerily at passersby yet the upshot was perfectly clear:  callers were not welcome.

Austere came to mind when glancing at the square patch of lawn. Always neatly mowed, edges crisply trimmed; a pale green unadorned by a single flower or shrub. Not even a weed or piece of trash to clutter up the plain rigid lines of the property.

The narrow driveway, ending just back of the house at the small detached garage, was spotlessly free of stains as though daily painted with a fresh coating of black sealer. The seams between asphalt and the tall dividing wooden fence had been plucked clean of thatch grass and decaying debris. Even the cracks in the walkway leading to the side door had been relieved of dirt and sprouting weeds.

Other than the Hall woman, who in the hell actually dug out the dirt in their walkway cracks?

The small enclosed backyard was just as ruthlessly cared for; free of toys or tools or any sign that the house was a home of laughter and love. No family ever picnicked out under the wide-stretched branches of the lone apple tree or spread a comfy blanket to simply take in the hot Virginia sun and watch the clouds roll by.

How mother and daughter entertained themselves was a mystery and a smug curiosity to those living nearby . . . destined to remain so, it would seem, since no one had ever been invited inside.

The punishing slap was brutal in sound and sensation as pain exploded across Debra’s tearstained cheek, snapping her head backward like some fragile flower stem. Instinct tenaciously urged her to defend, to fight back with all the strength of her young mind and body.

But Debra was tired of living in hell and desperately wanted an end to it all. So did nothing.

She couldn’t have planned any better her earlier moment of weakness, when Dorothy’s sister, Edith, had seemed to understand and accept the need to share secrets and confusion and a loneliness almost too much too bare. Couldn’t have timed it to the perfect split second had she already known Dorothy would find them alone in her bedroom with the secret words still hanging in the air, with love and sorrow still recklessly shimmering in their eyes.

Another hard blow, this time a closed fist, collided solidly against bruised and bloodied flesh and finished the job of sealing Debra’s eye shut beneath layers of swollen tissue.

The metallic taste of blood filled her mouth, pooled nauseatingly at the back of her throat, while the faint scent of lemon verbena caught in her nostrils, making Debra gag. How she despised the smell of her mother’s perfume, along with the wretchedly sour odor of Dorothy’s constant fear.

Somewhere over the years, hate and dread had replaced a daughter’s love and respect for the woman who had given her life . . . her mother. The word had become like acid on her tongue, rarely spoken let alone tucked like some precious endearment in her mind and heart.

Debra harbored no memories of laughter, tender hugs, kisses. Just angry shouts and punishing fists. More time had been spent confined to her bedroom than all the hours she had attended public schools put together. No doubt she would have been a high school dropout had Edith not enjoyed technology or the ability to convince Dorothy of the advantages of a home computer and online schooling.

Had Dorothy realized the educational site Debra used to eventually achieve her general equivalency diploma was run by the same people she had tried so hard to hide from, the neighborhood would have awoke the next morning to a murder-suicide; left to gossip as to what the hell had set the Hall woman off to commit such a despicable thing.

Dorothy Angela Hall, widowed, paranoid, yet with surprising strength in her lean, compact body, had long ago closed out life’s possibilities and lived in dread of the world beyond her own mind.

And at age 44, what Dorothy Hall had come to fear most was her sixteen year old daughter. Of being hunted as a conspirator, a devil’s disciple; of dying horribly like those she once knew.

It’s why she ran from the family a decade ago. Sneaking away that stormy night, Debra drugged and carefully bundled in a large duffle bag stuffed with a few clothes and her entire savings in cash. Terrified of being found and brainwashed again, she had headed east and not stopped until she had gone from one side of the country to the other. Until her back was to the Atlantic Ocean and she could go no further.

Except for Edith’s rare visits and monthly phone calls, the family had left them alone. No ultimatums came to return to the fold. No one watched their every move. After months of vigilance, Dorothy had cried exhausted tears of gratitude that the evil had been left behind . . . never realizing, until too late, that the evil had traveled with them in Debra.

As the child grew older, so did the power within. Many times Dorothy could sense her daughter probing inside her mind whenever Debra laid those dark somber eyes on her. She could hear the voices urging fists to rise, to punish, when fear made her heart beat so violently the pain took her breath away. If the strength and power had been hers, Dorothy would have choked the nurturing evil from her daughter’s body and stoically suffered the consequences.

But demons were strong and always managed to protect their own. And Debra’s mind and body appeared to be fiercely guarded by an invisible playmate, a lifelong friend . . . a demon lover.

What else was Dorothy to think when the child had constantly brought up the fact that Kalon had said this or Kalon had done that? How he created a world for the two of them to play in. How they shared every thought. Even as a toddler, barely out of diapers, he had been the center of her world, making Debra feel special, protected, chosen.

Make believe or a cunning demon, Kalon’s power over Debra had become a serious threat to Dorothy’s authority and control. Punishment became the rule anytime he was mentioned; any time Dorothy sensed Debra’s guilty indulgence in fantasy, which was often.

It was that fear of Kalon’s fortifying influence that had Dorothy striking quick and ruthlessly at her dazed daughter. At almost five-foot-ten, Debra’s height over her mother did little to intimidate the older woman as strong, work-roughened hands pinned Debra to the kitchen table with enough force to have metal supports creaking loudly under the excessive strain.

Sensing Debra’s vulnerability, her aloneness, Dorothy’s adrenaline spiked triumphantly, filling her with a righteous strength and determination. Long unyielding fingers eagerly tightened their grip around Debra’s slender neck.

“You promised me,” Dorothy seethed through gritted teeth, her face red from strain and covered in sweat. “You’d never tell anyone, you said.” Images of the dead twisted her fears into a justified need to protect, to save the world from the evil that lived in Debra; one death instead of millions, she rationalized. Hands slipped in the sweat and blood, yet her fingers never released their brutal hold. “No demon lover this time,” she cried, gasping air, spittle flying. “No Edith.”

Lack of will allowed pain and exhaustion to restrict impulses to nerve-endings, muscles and ligaments, creating the illusion that Debra was limp from unconsciousness, her body pinned to the table like a deflated doll. Instinct had taken over and withdrew her mind from reality, like so many times before, away from the noise and misery of Dorothy’s perverse tirades.

The sight was no longer needed to know her mother’s pale blue eyes stared wildly down at her from beneath sharply winged brows. Or to know the frenzy of fear had made the older woman’s skin glisten with sweat, transparent as wax and stretched tightly over jutting Slavic cheekbones. Debra had seen that pathetic protecting-you-for-your-own-good look too many times in her life that the images were seared in a brain that forgot nothing.

Protected behind mental barriers, Debra waited for freedom that had twice been denied by inborn survival instincts and Kalon. Now she would let Dorothy’s punishing hands finish the job. Release was finally moments away.

Calmly, the mind watched as cells ruptured and blood raced to saturate brutalized tissue throughout the upper body. She saw bone and ligaments bend to the point of breaking as Dorothy wailed with clenched fist and choking fingers on her battered neck and face.

Like spongy twin bellows, lungs struggled to fill then collapse, frantically overburdened in their need to provide enough rich oxygen to starving organs and bodily systems that were painfully failing and moments from shutting down altogether. In reflex her body jerked wildly and shuddered, a ghastly wheezing-gurgle hissing from between blue-tinged lips.

The rhythm of the heart slowed while the frenzied dance of blood crashed against sensitive filaments of the inner ear and sinus cavity, and swelled to the point of exploding along blinded optical pathways.

“Let me go this time, Kalon. Let me go,” her thoughts softly pleaded to the shadowy presence nearby. Pain and weakness receded, leaving only an awareness of calm. She sensed his strength surrounding, blending with her own life-force. Felt the power of his heartbeat merging with the stillness of her own, forcing the muscles of her heart to contract, pushing blood, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until finally they beat as one. “No . . . don’t save me. Let me go.”

Dorothy grabbed handfuls of cotton T-shirt and long, loose hair in a bruising grip and hauled Debra up from the table. Fear driven rage had her shaking the limp girl for any telltale signs of life. “I should’ve stopped you years ago—“


Dorothy’s eyes bulged in absolute terror; the evil was inside her.

The startling words exploded inside Dorothy’s head, sending panic and adrenaline rocketing out of control. Throat muscles contracted sharply confining hysterical screams to the collapsing chaos of her mind.

A sticky wetness trickled down across contorted lips. The back of her arm came up and hastily rubbed across her mouth and came away drenched in shocking bright red. Stunned, Dorothy stared at the crimson stain rapidly spreading across the front of her freshly laundered white blouse.

Blood, she finally realized. Her blood. Hemorrhaging . . . just like the others.

The others who were all dead.

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