October 23, 1996
“How long are you going to be gone?” She asked.
It was a beautiful autumn afternoon as Graham walked hand-in-hand through the park with his very pregnant wife. He’d tried to tell her that what she needed was rest but she was having none of it. She wanted to go for a walk. And one thing Graham learned through their years together was that once Charity made up her mind about something, changing the tides would be an easier feat to accomplish. Stubborn was her middle name and thought it was frustrating at times and had led to more than a few disagreements, it was one of those little facets of her personality that he adored.
“A week probably,” he replied. “Though I’m hoping to wrap things up sooner than that.”
“I hope so,” she smiled. “I miss you when you’re gone.”
He guided her to a bench and sat her down. He agreed to go for walks when she wanted to but he would decide when they’d stop for a rest. She was carrying their first child and he worried about them both incessantly. She knew that and so, it was a compromise she was willing to accept.
“I miss you too, sweetheart,” he replied. “But I won’t have to travel so much next year.”
She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. “I know. I’m just looking forward to that day.”
He intertwined his fingers with hers and kissed the back of her hand. “Me too.”
They both leaned back and fell silent, content to just share a space for a while. Graham looked out across the park, watched some kids feeding the ducks at the edge of the lake and others running around, screaming and laughing on the playground and couldn’t wait to be one of those parents overseeing their kids with a smile on their face. His heart was overfilled with love for his wife and his child. Everything was so serene, so perfect.
He never saw the old woman until she was standing in front of them.
“Evil,” she rasped, pointing and Charity’s belly. “There is great evil in your womb. Destroy it. It must be destroyed!”
The woman had dark hair, wild and tangled. Her skin was sallow and filthy; the odors coming off of her were pungent and smelled of rotting meat. Graham stood up and stepped between the old vagrant and his wife.
“Get out of here,” his voice was stern. “Now. Leave us the hell alone.”
“Have you not seen the signs?” The old woman raised her hands up and looked at the sky. “Birds are dropping from the sky like rain. Dead. There is blood and violence in the streets. Great evil is coming and your woman bears the tainted soul.”
Graham looked at Charity, her hands were held over her belly protectively and tears streamed down her face and turned back to the old woman. He drew himself up to his full six foot three in height, an imposing figure of a man and pointed his finger in the old woman’s face.
“I said to get the hell out of here,” he snarled. “Right now. Leave or I’ll throw you in that lake myself.”
The old woman cowered like a dog that had been beaten and shuffled off. Graham watched her go, his rage barely suppressed.
“You’d be wise to destroy it,” the old woman called over her shoulder. “Destroy it now before anybody gets hurt.”
When she’d disappeared from view, Graham helped Charity to her feet and wiped the tears off her face. He was furious that the old, crazy bat would ruin their perfect day out like that. As he led his wife out of the park, Graham noticed that a flock of what must have been a hundred birds lay in the grass, some still twitching, most already dead. He suppressed a shudder as they passed.
October 31, 1996
Graham sat in the hospital waiting room, his heart heavy and his nerves frayed. The smell of antiseptics and death hung like thick clouds in the air. The cup of cheap, stale coffee sat between his hands, untouched and cold. It had been a little more than twelve hours since his sister in law had called to tell him that Charity had been in an accident. He’d cancelled the rest of his meetings and got on the first flight available. She’d been in surgery when he arrived and had taken his post in the waiting room. He’d tried to keep his mind busy and off of what was unfolding in the operating room by reading the assorted, out-of-date magazines on the tables, watching the television that hung in the corner of the room but in the end, he couldn’t get his mind off of it. And so he sat and waited.
Graham stood up and looked at the doctor who’d entered the waiting room. One look at his face told Graham all he needed to know and he felt his world crumbling around him.
“I’m very sorry,” the doctor said. “But there really was nothing we could do.”
Tears spilled down Graham’s face and he felt his heart tearing in two.
“The car that struck her caused more damage than we could repair,” the doctor continued. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to save her.”
A choked sob escaped his mouth and Graham quickly tried to wipe away the tears. The doctor put a reassuring hand on Graham’s shoulder, trying to soothe him.
“Fortunately,” the doctor said in a soothing tone. “Or rather miraculously actually, your son is going to be okay. We had to perform a Cesarean and he’s on an incubator but it’s looking good for him.”
Graham lifted his eyes to the doctor, sure that he’d misunderstood. “W-what?”
“It’s going to be a while yet and I want you to manage your expectations but we think your son is going to be okay.”
The doctor shrugged. “Sometimes life is a mysterious thing.”
Graham’s emotions warred within him. He wallowed in a black pool of despair for his lost wife but his son was an unexpected and wonderful light in the darkness. Tears of grief and joy flowed down his face as he shook the doctor’s hand. Graham allowed himself to be led to the neonatal unit to be introduced to his son.
May 17, 2008
“You know that woman down at the store likes you, right?” Max asked.
Graham looked at his son across the breakfast table and smiled. He was a smart kid. Precocious. And entirely too observant for his own good.
“Yeah? Think so?”
Max nodded and scooped another mouthful of Lucky Charms into his mouth.
“She likes you a lot,” he mumbled around his cereal.
“No talking with your mouth full buddy.”
Graham sipped his coffee and took a bite of his toast, trying to hide the color that flared in his cheeks. He’d been spending time with Gina who was a cashier down at their local grocery store. She was smart, funny and Graham had enjoyed getting to know her. She was the first woman he’d spent time with since Charity had passed so he was careful to make sure that Max didn’t know about it. He wasn’t sure how his son would feel about it.
“She makes googly eyes at you.”
“Maybe she’s making them at you.”
Max scrunched up his face. “Eeeewwwww…”
“Yeah, you say that now. Just wait though.”
“No way, dad.”
Graham took another sip of his coffee and looked at his son. “So what would you think if she did like me?”
Max took another spoonful of cereal and chewed, looking thoughtful.
“I don’t like her.”
The boy shrugged. “She’s not mom.”
Graham nodded. He’d been sure to tell Max all about his mother. He gave him photos and told him about how they met and their life together. Graham made sure that he’d know her in spirit if not in the flesh.
“No, she’s not,” he said evenly. “You’re probably too young to understand right now but sometimes, you have to learn to move on. We all need companionship.”
“I don’t like her.”
Several days later, Graham walked into the store where Gina worked. He thought it was time he introduced her to Max. Maybe if his son got to know her, he’d come around. He looked around but she wasn’t at her usual lane. Her friend Maggie was standing at the service counter. Her eyes were red and puffy like she’d been crying. Graham didn’t want to intrude but he wanted to find Gina so he walked over.
“Hey Maggie, you okay?”
She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue and gave him a weak smile.
“I’m so sorry, Graham.”
A feeling like ice formed in his stomach and his heart began to pound.
“You haven’t heard?”
Customers walked past them giving them odd looks but he ignored them.
“Heard what, Maggie?”
“Oh this is just awful.”
“What is awful, Maggie?”
“It’s Gina,” she said as fresh tears rolled down her face. “She was out jogging and was hit by a car. She’s dead, Graham.”
A feeling of numbness overtook every other sensation in his body. Graham simply nodded and walked out of the store in a daze and crossed a parking lot littered by the corpses of dozens of birds. But he barely registered it as he got into his car and drove home.
June 12, 2012
“So are you going to the dance?” Graham asked his son as they snacked on pizza in front of the baseball game on television.
Max shrugged. “I dunno.”
“What about that girl you like? What’s her name again?”
“Christy,” Max said. “Yeah, she’s okay I guess.”
“From the way you talk about her, I’d say that she’s a little more than okay.”
Max just shrugged again and Graham looked at his son. He was still the same bright, precocious boy he’d always been. But there was something else beneath the surface. He wasn’t sure what it was. He wasn’t the typical sullen and surly teenager. Max was outgoing and social. He was motivated and ambitious. But there was something about him that just wasn’t… right, for lack of a better word. Looking into his eyes, you could see it just below the surface but like a fish in a pond, just when you tried to reach out for it, it would slither away back down into the depths again.
“I’ve got cupcakes,” Angie’s singsong voice floated into the living room a moment before she did.
Graham saw Max roll his eyes and he nudged him with his leg. Graham had been dating Angie for several months now and was very fond of her. Now that Max was older and dating on his own, Graham didn’t feel the need to shelter him from the fact that his old man had a girlfriend.
Angie stepped around the couch, her smile wide. Graham could tell that she was working hard to make Max like her but the boy remained cool to her at best. He was trying to bridge the gap between them but so far hadn’t been successful. Angie tripped over one of Max’s shoes that he’d left in the middle of the floor and Graham watched one of the cupcakes, as if in slow motion, flying off of the plate as she stumbled and land on his son’s chest, leaving a large smudge of frosting before it fell into his lap.
“What are you, fucking stupid?” Max shouted as he shot up off the couch.
“Max!” Graham stood. “Apologize to her right now.”
Angie stood there, her mouth moving but no words coming out.
“No, I won’t,” he screamed. “Look at me! I’m covered in that stupid fucking cupcake.”
As if moving of its own volition, Graham’s hand shot out and smacked his son across the face. He looked at his hand, felt the sting and his eyes grew wide with disbelief. He’d never struck his son before.
“I- I’m sorry,” Angie stammered. “It was an accident.”
Max looked at Graham, his eyes intense, full of hate. Graham returned the stare, his shock beginning to wear off.
“Max,” he said evenly. “Apologize to Angie. It was an accident and you’re massively overreacting.”
Max narrowed his eyes before turning to look at Angie.
“No,” he said, his voice frosty. “I hate you. You’ll never be my mother so stop trying. I hate your guts.”
Turning quickly, Max sprinted upstairs, the sound of his bedroom door slamming echoing throughout the house. A long, awkward moment passed between them.
Graham reached out to take Angie’s hand but she stumbled backwards.
“I’m sorry Angie,” he said. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him.”
“No, no, it’s okay,” she said. “He’s right, I’m not his mother. I- I should go.”
“I have to.”
Angie turned and left, softly closing the front door behind her. Graham sat down on the couch and buried his face in his hands. What in the hell had gotten into his son? Was he not supposed to have a life? Had he messed up somehow raising him? Graham knew that the fact that he grew up without a mother was a yawning pit in Max’s soul but he’d tried to soothe it the best that he could. He just didn’t know where he’d gone wrong. He leaned back on the sofa and closed his eyes and let himself drift off.
Graham sat upright on the couch. Something had jarred him from sleep. But what was it? He looked around and was pretty sure that it hadn’t been Max. The voices on the television were low and muted so he doubted that it had been that. A thumping on the roof drew his attention. It was followed by a second. And then a third. Graham walked to the front door and slowly opened it. In the dying light of the day, he looked out across his front yard and saw dozens upon dozens of birds lying in the grass, some of them still twitching, most already dead.
That familiar feeling of ice forming in his stomach returned and his heartbeat sped up. Graham closed the door and walked back into the living room. He picked up the phone and dialed Angie’s number, hoping and praying that she picked up. The phone rang once. Twice. Three times. It was finally picked up on the fifth ring.
“Hello?” Tina, Angie’s roommate answered, her voice was thick and anguished, as if they’d been crying.
“Tina, it’s Graham,” he said, his voice flat. “Where’s Angie?”
She choked back sobs and tried to speak. “Sh-sh-she’s dead Graham. She was hit by a car walking back from your place this afternoon.”
Something inside of him broke. Graham silently put the phone down as images of an old woman with wild, dark hair came to him. He recalled what she’d said about Charity carrying great evil in her womb. Sweat rolled down his face and his heart thundered inside of him as he walked into his study. He remembered the crazy old lady predicting doom and evil should the child be allowed to live as he unlocked the gun safe and removed his .45 caliber pistol. He remembered her saying that they should destroy it before people got hurt as he slammed a clip home and chambered a round.
He recalled her frantic eyes and he dirty wrinkled face as he ascended the stairs. Graham paused outside of his son’s room a moment to remember her insistence that the evil be eradicated. He reached out and opened the door. Max was sitting cross-legged on his bed, smiling at him as the door swung inward.
Graham looked at his son, finally seeing him for what he was. He finally knew what that thing below the surface was, that thing he could never see clearly enough to grasp. It was evil. Pure and unadulterated evil.
“Hi daddy,” he said. “You know I don’t hate you, right?”
This has been my entry for therealljidol Season 8, Topic 34(C) Auguries. Once again, I thank you all so much for your support over the course of the season. I truly appreciate you stopping by to give me a read week after week. If we have a poll, don't forget to swing on by, read some of the other fantastic stuff and spread a little voting-love around! We're down to the final 14 left standing... things are getting crazy so every vote counts! Thanks, guys!!!