The Eyes on the Stairs
Tucked in tight under her sheets, Julie Hornet was not scared of monsters. Not in the closet, in the dresser or even under her bed. She was shielded by the fairies that rested on her bedside table, swinging their skinny legs and fluttering their silver wings. The fairies were tricky. She could only hear them when her eyes were closed but she knew they were there, she knew they were protecting her.
Edith Hornet could not see the fairies nor hear them. Julie had begged, whined and even yelled at her mother to open her eyes, to listen closely so they could hear the wings flutter together and watch the emerald-colored dust fall onto the carpet.
Edith didn’t pander to her daughter’s imagination. Julie was 6 years old, practically a young woman. Her daughter was ready to wash, to sweep, to fold clothes and she was certainly more than ready to stop believing in fairies and monsters.
“If someone breaks into this house, kicks in your door and grabs you right out of your bed. Do you think your fairies will protect you?” Edith asked, standing over her daughters bed, folding over the sheets one more time so Julie’s small arms could be free.
“Yes, mother. They would,” Julie said and turned towards the wall so she didn’t have to look at her mothers cross-armed frame. “And then they would push them, so they fell from a really high up and died.”
“That’s the devil’s talk, Julie. Say your prayers, young lady.” Edith said into Julie’s back.
Edith turned and left the room. Julie listened to her mother’s practical low heels clacking against the wood floors until they dissipated into the sounds of the steep, carpeted stairs.
As she flipped onto her back to sleep, the fairies, with a light, whispering song, warned Julie. They told her of her dark, violent future with heavy flaps of their wings and starry dust on her eyelashes.
Two nights later, Julie Hornet disappeared.
Snatched from her bed, the door kicked in, her sheets discarded on the floor, covered in blood and green glitter.
15 years later, Edith Hornet rarely spoke of her only child, Julie. Instead, most days, she sat in her living room alone, working on her needlepoint and listening to Antiques Roadshow. Edith was nearly blind due to her diabetes, she traced her fingers along her threads having no real idea of what the final product would look like. To the side of her velour armchair, a pile of discarded needle points sat in an erroneous mountain of half-finished, indistinguishable patterns.
Edith had convinced herself if she could complete a singular needlepoint pattern then the degeneration of her sight was really not so bad. Her ex-husband had made such a hullabaloo about her eyes; telling her to go to the doctor when it was absolutely unnecessary.
“You won’t even be able to recognize Julie when she comes back,” Harry would say.
Edith would scoff and reply,
“I would gladly give my sight for her to come back.”
When everything was black, it would not be so bad. She got around well enough, didn’t go many places or have any family. Her groceries were delivered to her by a polite young boy named Gary. Or was it Jerry? It most definitely wasn’t Terry. He was the only social interaction that Edith cared for or needed. After weeks and months of dealing with police and news reporters, she was tired of people.
The phone rang.
Edith tossed the needlepoint into the pile with a soft grunt and lifted herself from the armchair with a Ginger Ale-induced burp. She shuffled through the shag carpet, the soft tops of the rug brushing against her hosiery.
“Good evening.” Edith murmured and repeated to herself as she felt along the kitchen wall for the landline that hadn’t rang in 38 days. Not that she was counting. Edith did not care that others did not care. Her long fingers finally wrapped around the receiver, she pulled it to her ear and said,
It was much too enthusiastic and she cursed herself for being a buffoon.
“Is this Edith Hornet?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, Mrs. Hornet. It’s Detective Lopez. Do you remember me?”
“Lopez? Mexican. With the monstrous, greasy mustache?”
Silence on the other end.
Edith waited, listening to the pewter candlesticks that we’re being appraised on the TV.
“Yes, ma’am. That’s me.”
“Memory is not as bad as you think, Mr. Lopez,” Edith said, putting extra emphasis on the z. “Can I help you?”
“I was wondering if you might come down to the station. We’ve found…” The detective paused. “Well, I won’t waste your time but we’ve found Julie.”
Edith’s grip tightened around the phone. She felt something brush against her ear, she waved her hand in the air, swatting at the house fly. She cupped around the phone like she could snatch the detectives words from the receiver and toss them into the kitchen garbage.
“That’s impossible. You haven’t.”
“We identified the remains this morning.”
Edith slammed the phone down. In fact, she hurled the phone so hard that the bashing of the receiver against the wall, because she missed the base, broke the yellowing tile that covered the kitchen walls. Edith yelped at the sound of the tile crashing to the floor and her heels crunching the shards as she took a step away from the phone.
Detective Lopez was still talking.
“Mrs. Hornet? Edith, are you there? Are you alright?”
“Oh good lord have mercy,” Edith whispered. “My daughter.”
Julie would be 21. Maybe she would have become a veterinarian or a nurse. Certainly, she wouldn’t have been an artist or a writer, Edith remembered the horrendous crayon scribblings that Julie had forced her to hang on the fridge.
Edith crossed her living room and began the treacherous climb up the stairs. She only clambered up the slippery carpet of the steps once every two weeks when the couch became unbearable to sleep on. She hadn’t hurried up the stairs since Julie was alive.
She tripped on the final step. The house dress had tangled up in her ankles and splayed her out over the hardwood floors that covered the upstairs. Her chin came down onto the boards, causing her dentures to pierce through her chapped lips and blood to squirt out and in between her wrinkled skin. Edith groaned and wiped at her lips, feeling the warmth of her own blood spread across her palm.
The house fly had followed her up the stairs. It buzzed by her ear again, Edith, antagonized by her fall and by the call from the detective, began to flap wildly at the air. She felt a small thud against her blood-covered palm and she smirked to herself as the insect squished into the floor. And perhaps it was just the stress of the uncovering of Julie or her realization of how blind she really was now, but Edith heard the fly let out a small, sad cry.
She recoiled her hand from the squashed bug and pushed herself up from the floor. Wiping the blood and the innards on her house dress, she made her way to the bedroom where she located her only suitcase and filled it with essentials.
The police would accuse Edith of terrible things. They would say she was a monster, the antichrist for simply doing what was best for her family. The cameras would return, recording and pasting her ugly, old face into tabloids and on to the 6 o’clock news. At least, she was mostly blind.
She stuffed the suitcase full until the zipper resisted her closing it. Then, thinking for a moment, she unzipped the suitcase and emptied out half of the clothes that she would never use or wear, throwing them onto the floor. This was what stressed her the most, leaving her well-maintained house in such shambles, the tile, the clothes. What would they think of her? Not only a murderer but also, a filthy cretin.
Edith paused, muttered the Lord’s prayer and then stepped back out into the hall, the suitcase wrapped around her skinny arms. She felt her way along the walls back to the staircase, stepping on the dead fly once again, feeling it’s tramped-on corpse under the toe of her shoe. It had been a huge fly. And as if the insects had heard her thinking about their squished brethren, there was a buzzing by her ear, by both of her ears.
“Be gone, you nasty little buggers!” Edith cried as she swatted by her head, making contact with what felt like a dozen flies. Perhaps, she had let something rot. But there was no smell, only the sound of persistent, irritating, buzzing, fluttering wings.
The suitcase dropped. Edith spun in a circle, flailing her skinny arms like a centrifuge, trying to rid herself of the invasive insects. Dizzy and nauseous, she stopped spinning but the flies continued. Now, not only buzzing by her ears but landing on her skin, crawling over top of her bones, in between the wrinkled folds of her skin. Up and underneath the hair at the back of her neck, clambering underneath her house dress, ripping through her hosiery.
They were everywhere.
These were not flies.
Locusts, maybe. God was punishing her. Julie was punishing her.
Edith felt for something solid, something to stabilize herself. As her hands landed against the wall, the walls were moving, crawling with the bugs.
The bugs entered her mouth. They crept inside and under her tongue, flittering their wings against the sides of her cheeks, pulling up her dentures so they could enter her gums. They fell down into her esophagus, vibrating her chest plate like she was on a wooden roller coaster, thrown from side to side, her torso clattering with every up and down wave of the car. They entered her eyes and she said,
“Take them! They’re useless anyway!”
And they did. The bugs detached her optic nerve and kicked out her eyes from her head. The useless, blind eyes rolled down the stairs with an unnerving squelching sound until they landed at the bottom in a pile of mucus, blood and broken wings.
Edith laid herself down. She wrapped her hands together and prayed. As the bugs entered every orifice of her body, as they vibrated and tore apart her insides, she prayed to God for mercy.
Her skin moved in waves, bumping up and down as the bugs pulled and pried her wrinkles apart. Her stomach churned with the taste of them, the burning taste of iron.
These were demons.
Not flies, not fairies but demons.
“Release me. Have mercy Lord, have mercy on my soul, have mercy on Julie’s soul. Amen. Amen Amen.”
Edith finished her prayer.
The buzzing stopped.
The demons seemed to be sucked out of her body like God had plucked them out of her body in one fell swoop. Blood ran down the sides of her cheeks from her removed eyes, her dentures rolled out of her open mouth and onto the wood floor, her feet and hands shook with the anticipation of the demons return.
But nothing came.
The house was silent.
Edith stood from the floor, her knees nearly knocking together from her visceral shivering. She grabbed her suitcase from the floor and thanked the Lord. She thanked him for his forgiveness and his holiness, his mercy in her most horrific hour.
She heard sirens approaching.
Edith stepped towards the stairs, slipped and fell. She tumbled over herself, falling and rolling until she snapped her neck on the second last stair. Beside her twisted corpse, her blinded eyes that had been harvested from her head and a small, ephemeral pile of emerald-colored dust.
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