II        

Ti Connors had always been too stubborn for his own good. His problem was not naiveté; for his time at war in both the military and on the streets had smartened him up to the way things operated. He strongly believed that these experiences gave him a discerning spirit that could separate truth from lies, real from unreal, and clean from unclean. Time had shown him that every person was trying to sell him on one thing or another be it a product, a service, a relationship or a lifestyle. Discernment was a necessity to prevent himself from being taken advantage of. His weakness, however, was that he never quite seemed to learn from a mistake until repeating the mistake many times. The life experience, street smarts and discerning spirit that he had attained he now wore as a badge of honor; for they represented battle scars of the many wars of life. Every instinct within him told him that he had not mistaken the color of the doorknob that was now red to be white. These same instincts were telling him that he knew very well that the ‘Welcome” was not written with red paint. As he had passed the sign on the small gray gate advertising the room for rent to the right of the Mexican restaurant these same instincts had screamed at him to go inside. Everything, in both his physical surroundings and in his heart and mind told him not to return to the hotel. He ignored them and began walking up the plush wine colored stairs with his eyes on the sprawling red paint the entire time.

 

The stairs creaked and moaned more than he remembered the night before. With each step that he took his heart felt as though it was beating eighty times. Eighty beats per step. This thought was amusing to him for some reason. His eyes were still on the sprawling red paint. For a moment he smelled a chemical odor that resembled paint. Hmmm. As he reached the top of the stairs and turned to the right away from the sprawling red paint and towards the black gate that was propped open he noticed that the small set of stairs in that he had tripped over the night before just inside of the gate were clad with a color of carpeting that could be best described as pink. Weird color combinations in this place, he thought dismissively. He stopped dead in his tracks. Where the door with the two parts and the small counter had been was a single concrete slab of walling that didn’t resemble the white walls that were fading yellow around it. It was simply a rectangular slab of concrete. In the center with black spray paint was the number one.  Where was the doorway with the two parts? And the small counter that separated the two? And the row of small television screens? Where was the man named ‘Ethan’ who resided within the hotel and was supposedly always available? Was he dreaming again? With thoughts racing through his head he turned to his right towards the stairway with the four straights steps, two crooked, and six straight that led to the second floor. All he found was another rectangular slab of concrete where the stairway should have been. Written in black spray paint on this slab were the numbers 2/28/15.Wasn’t that the date? No, I got paid on the first, so today’s March second. No, I got paid on midnight of the first so it’s still the first. So I wonder what- He caught himself, remembering his current predicament. Without thinking he reached for his phone in his back left pocket but felt nothing but skin. Looking down at himself he realized that he was completely naked. To his bewilderment, he also discovered on his chest and on both thighs just above the knees a single line in what appeared to be red paint. The red line was at an angle as if it were meant to be half of an x. It was also warm. This was just what he needed to convince himself that this was indeed another dream. After all, who hasn’t had a dream in which they were suddenly and inexplicably naked in a public setting? Feeling assured by this he turned away from the concrete slab and the numbers 2/28/15 to look down the hall to the left of where the door with two parts had been. The girl staring back at him-her face just inches from his own- was no more than eight years old; she wore an airy white dress made of a material that resembled linen; she took his hand. By no means-by absolutely no means- was he physically walking with the girl; and yet he was moving; down the hallway. The hallway of the first floor in which the doors on the right side of the hall were closed and only the scratched golden numbers showed; the hallway in which the doors on the left side were all open. He was moving still; still hand in hand with the girl. As they passed the first open door in the hall he glanced inside; a man about his own age was in restraints on a bed spread eagled. The man had a red blindfold of silk around his eyes and muffled cries escaped his lips; it wasn’t difficult to ascertain the reason for his cries-for these cries were certainly not related to gratification- his genitals had been removed; that is, it appears, ripped from him. The man cried louder and blood left his mouth; his muffled cries were related to the wound that remained from his tongue that was no longer there.

Past the first door; the second is a similar scene with the exception that this boy is Asian; that and the entity that stood between the boy’s legs.  The entity with white-such white- skin that it appeared to be translucent, with dark veins straining against; had the bosom of a woman, but no long, flowing hair. In fact, the entity had no other defining characteristics; it had no nose, no eyes, no mouth. As it stood between the Asian boy’s legs the boy began to cry; the muffled cries. He was being savagely penetrated by something nearly as long as a sword that did not resemble genitilia but a long black tongue.

Past the second door; this scene repeated itself room after room. He couldn’t help but wonder why it was only men and boys uttering muffled cries; he was now doing so himself. He didn’t remember entering the room, being restrained on the bed, or the little eight-year-old girl transforming into the entity with the white-so white- skin that appeared translucent, bosom of a woman and no other defining characteristics.

The pain seemed to last for eternity; it didn’t stop at the penetration; in fact, the penetration was the easy part. What came after the penetration was agony. After seemingly endless thrusts with the nearly long as a sword, black tongue theentity stopped and turned away from him and sat on the edge of the bed. Ti Connors felt an unbearable pressure swelling inside of him; his muffled cries became shrieks; the entity just watched him; curiously, expectantly. Somehow, Ti Connors knew what was next. The pressure he felt on his insides burst, a pink mist came, spraying upon the door, walls and ricocheting backward striking him across the face. The sound of a baby’s cry filled the room and shortly thereafter an even louder sound of a growl that was low in pitch but as loud as a fire alarm filled the hall. This growl lasted a few moments before being muted entirely as the charcoal black mangy dog with the eyes that resembled two blood moons, nostrils that resembled that of a snake and a tongue that was as long as a sword walked into the room and approached the baby, which was now being cradled by the entity. The entity, still seated on the foot of the bed with its back to him handed the dog the baby and the dog took it in his mouth. The eyes of the baby opened as did its mouth and it spoke in a voice as a man: “Eighteen days will be fine”. Its eyes were once again closed tightly as the dog carried the baby out of the room into the hall and to towards the right. The entity turned to face him, stepping between his legs once again. Ti Connors closed his eyes, being fully aware what the eighteen days meant.

He wasn’t sure what day it was. His entire body ached and his mind had drifted to another place some time ago. By estimation, to this point he had fathered over one hundred children and it seemed as if there were no end in sight. On this occasion, after the charcoal black mangy dog with eyes that resembled two blood moons had exited the room with the newest baby in its mouth, he closed his eyes; vainly attempting to recall just how long he had been laying on the bed. A few moments passed however, and he did not feel the agony of the thrusts. He waited; and still felt nothing. Opening his eyes, he stared at the ceiling momentarily before lifting his head and realizing that he was laying on the floor, not the bed, and was staring at the pink door with the scratched golden numbers of room number twenty. Behind his head was a single concrete slab. Contorting his body, he saw the black spray paint of the number two on the slab and climbed to his feet. To his right, as expected, was another single slab of concrete where the stairwell that led to the third floor had once been, and to his surprise, a third slab of concrete was to his left, a mere inches from him obstructing the view of once had been the hallway to the left of room number twenty. The pink door of room number twenty opened slowly, hesitantly and remained. As he stared into the room, still seated on the floor directly in front of the now open door, he peered inside of the room. From his position he couldn’t quite see the entire room. He climbed to his knees and continued to peer into the room. To the right just inside the doorway he could see the bed with the pale blue comforter with the three full sets and one half set of white towels atop. Just past the foot of the bed he could see the small sink with the five tiered cherry colored storage shelf above it. To the left of the sink, attached to the wall, he could see the three foot lengthwise heavily scratched mirror and to the left of the mirror he could see the single padded pink chair. Looking to the left of the pink padded chair, a mere six inches away touching the western wall and facing eastern, he could see the cherry colored armoire with four large drawers and the small scratched black television atop. It looks the same. Determining that the room was empty and appeared the same as the room he had stayed in on the night that he checked into the hotel, and with his options being severely limited, Ti Connors attempted to climb to his feet and failed miserably; he felt as if he were a fighter whom had just been hit with a powerful strike on the chin and was now trying to stand before the ten count; for while his vision felt normal, his legs felt as if they were made of rubber.  The greatest fear on his mind at this point was that the charcoal black mangy dog with the eyes that resembled two blood moons would appear through one of the three concrete slabs. Still on his knees, he began to crawl into the room and upon crawling through the doorway collapsed onto the floor with his head pressed near the foot of the bed.

 

He was thirsty. Bracing himself at the foot of the bed, he stood with relative ease and lifted his head to the small sink with the five tiered cherry colored storage shelves above it; the sink that was, in fact, no longer there. In its place stood a single white wooden door with a golden doorknob. To the left of the single white wooden door with the golden doorknob was a bare small wooden nightstand with two drawers. On the northern wall was a large sliding window and a white window sill and about two feet from the large window was a large wooden dresser with twelve small drawers and an attached mirror. The western wall that had once contained the cherry colored armoire was bare, with nothing placed against nor attached to its surface. Behind him was a second white wooden door that also had a golden doorknob. He was indeed very familiar with this place and without hesitation walked to the first white wooden door and turned the golden doorknob. It was, as expected, a small closet. The clothes inside of the closet were parted in the center-for this was his hiding place from her- and in the far left corner he could see a small flashlight as well as a small paperback book. Reaching to the far left and picking up the small paperback book he knew the title of the book even before laying eyes upon it. Ribsy by Beverly Cleary. Ti Connors had read this book hundreds of times and new every word by heart; for it was the only book within the confines of the room. ‘She’ didn’t know about it. With the small paperback book in his right hand he closed the small white wooden door and turned to the small nightstand. Knowing what he would find, he opened the top drawer. Inside the top drawer of the small nightstand was a small square of blanket- about six inches in both length and width- and atop the small square of blanket were two feathers, one white and one black. Atop the feathers, tucked neatly around them as if a blanket, was a black sock. Closing the drawer quickly, he didn’t bother looking in the bottom drawer because he knew that it would be empty. In fact, saving the top drawer of the small nightstand, all of the drawers inside the room were empty. The white walls were bare, without a single picture or poster and the mirror attached to the large dresser with twelve small drawers was heavily scratched and displayed only a partial reflection. Inside the room there was no television nor radio, no magazines nor toys and no books outside of the one that he had hidden from her in the far left corner of the closet with the white wooden door and golden doorknob. Yes, he knew this room very well. It was the room in which he spent most of his childhood; the one with the lock installed on the outside of the door. Having a creeping suspicion of what would be shown to him, he stepped in front of the large dresser with the twelve small drawers and peered into the heavily scratched mirror that displayed only a partial reflection. Though he could only see a piece of the reflection, it was enough to confirm his suspicions. He was a child again.

 

Each of the things that he had experienced in his adult life had, at the time, seemed to be the absolute worse of what life had to offer. The things that he had been experiencing since checking into the hotel had altered his perception of what the worse that life had to offer truly was. Nothing that he had experienced in his adult life, including his experiences at the hotel, could possibly compare to the misery that he had felt within the confines of this room. Most of his experiences as an adult had involved pain and fear; two miseries, that with time, can be adapted to. The mind in time learns to deaden itself to pain; it releases dopamine and endorphins to minimize it, and if necessary causes one to lose consciousness to escape it. Fear is only a temporary misery; for the mind seeks resolution from fear and quickly determines if the source of the fear is an actual threat. If the fear is deemed to be an actual threat, the mind determines the appropriate response and the body responds. These two miseries provide in most cases, a clear solution to end the misery. The miseries that he had experienced in this room were far more damaging and complex. In this moment, he would have given anything to be back in the alley being tugged along by the arm by the large African American bouncer.

 

Ti Connors pulled the small nightstand directly in front of the large window and rested his elbows on the white window sill.  The window was located in the rear of the house and provided a view of both his backyard as well as the backyard of his neighbors. What was in his backyard never concerned him; it was the backyard of his neighbors that intrigued him. The backyard of his neighbors was actually located on the side of their house and not actually in the back of the house. From his window he could see that to the far left was the wooden entry gate that opened to the neighbors’ backyard. Just in front and to the left of the entry gate was the side of the house as well as a side entry door that he assumed led to a garage. To the right of the side of the house was a large open concrete area; for the yard had no grass. Behind the large open concrete area towards the end of the yard was a large above ground swimming pool. That was the entirety of the contents of the yard. The yard seemed to be the home base of all of the boys in the neighborhood; they all gathered- about eight of them- on the large open concrete area and played baseball, dribbled a basketball and at times just sat or stood around talking and laughing. Sometimes the boys would be in the pool, but most times not. Never once had he seen the pool cleaned; on the surface it looked as a pool should, yet on the bottom there were piles of dirt. The yard was quite plain by most standards but by his was sheer paradise.

 

He sat watching the boys. Today they had been swimming but were now sitting on the large concrete area and talking, still in their bathing suits. The boy whose parents owned the house-Ti Connors referred to him as the lead boy- was standing while all the other boys were sitting and seemed to do most of the talking. Every so often the boys would burst into laughter. About midday the lead boy’s mother brought a pizza box for the boys as well as a small cooler with drinks. After the pizza and what he could only assume were sugary drinks of some sort, the boys seemed to experience a burst of energy; becoming much more animated, talking and laughing much more loudly and ultimately chasing each other around the yard before jumping back into the pool and continuing to laugh hysterically. He wondered what it would be like to be number nine of that group. It just seemed as if…he heard the lock on the outside of the door slide and as the door opened it banged against the wall behind it. ‘She’ stood in the doorway momentarily before slowly walking into the room to where he sat and pushing his head into the glass of the window so forcefully that it cracked and he fell of the nightstand onto the beige carpeting. He lay on his back and squinted up at her through blurred vision.  Be it due to time or the trauma to his head, ‘she’ looked different to him; older. Her hair seemed thinner, her skin more wrinkled and her eyes held less life. Her mouth was moving but he heard nothing, and after a few seconds ‘she’ left the room closing and locking the door behind her. The blood had begun to drip into the corners of his eyes. Climbing to his feet, he stepped over to the small white wooden door with the golden doorknob, opened it and reached inside to the far right of the closet for the blood stained yellow Green Bay Packers t- shirt that his grandmother had given him for Christmas. After wiping his face, he held the shirt on his forehead for a few moments before placing it back into the far right corner of the closet and shutting the door.  A few droplets of blood sat on the surface of the beige carpet. Sitting back on the small nightstand in front of the large window he saw that seven boys were still in the pool while the lead boy walked around the border of the pool with a can of soda pop in his hand. The boys were still laughing loudly; he placed his elbows on the white window sill and leaned his forehead against the glass. This was as close as he could get to being number nine.

 

The lock on the outside of the door slid again but the door did not bang against the opposite wall. He knew that this meant that it was time for dinner. So he walked downstairs and ate. ‘They’ had barbecued in the backyard earlier in the day and were now eating hot links and chicken. As usual he was served his bowl of vegetables; today it was spinach. After returning to his room and hearing the slide of the lock behind him, he sat on the nightstand again. It was now beginning to get dark and the boys had gone inside. Sometimes the boys had sleepovers in the summertime; he knew this because the entry door on the side of the house would be left open until late in the evening with a light shining out of it and he would hear the boys laughing in what he assumed was the garage. He imagined that they were playing video games in the garage until just after ten o’clock when he imagined that the lead boy’s mother would come and tell the boys that it was bedtime. Just after ten o’clock, the entry door would close. He imagined that the boys were in the house now, gathered in a circle on the floor of the living room as the lead boy’s mother served milk and cookies while the father sat in the center of the circle of boy’s and told ghost stories. The boy’s would squeal in frightful delight and after thirty minutes or so head off to the lead boy’s room for bed. The bed and all furniture in the room would be pushed against a far wall leaving a large open space on the floor. The boys would each unroll their sleeping bags-the lead boy would also sleep in a sleeping bag even though his bed was in the room- and they would each lay in their own sleeping bag on the floor. They would stay up whispering and giggling in the dark and the parents would come in and tell them to stop fooling around to and go to sleep. The boy’s would pretend to acquiesce but would resume talking and giggling in the dark once the parents left the room; for while none of the eight boys would admit it, they were too afraid to sleep after hearing the father’s ghost story. Finally, they would drift off to sleep and awaken late into the morning and eat a breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes that the mother had prepared. Or so he imagined. He fell asleep with his elbows still resting on the white window sill and his forehead still leaning against the cracked glass.

 

He felt impact on the left side of his face and again tumbled off of the small nightstand onto the right side of his body, onto the beige carpeting with his head smashing into base of the white wooden door with the golden doorknob. The left side of his face instantly began to swell. Rolling onto his back, ‘she’ was standing over him pointing to her left at the crack in the window angrily. To his amazement, she looked older than she had the day before. Her skin was wrinkled and dull and her hair, more than thinning now, seemed to be coming out in patches. Again, her mouth was moving but he could hear nothing coming out. ‘She’ paused. Lifting her leg chest high, she stomped onto his stomach, driving out his wind. The boy rolled onto his right side facing the closet door. He could hear the door close and the lock slide into place. Climbing to his feet, he again reached into the closet to the far right corner, pulled out the blood stained yellow shirt and dabbed at the left side of his face. No fresh blood showed on the shirt, his face was simply swollen. His left eye had started to water from the impact, he knew that the moisture was due to impact and nothing else; for he had stopped crying quite some time ago. After replacing the shirt in the closet he sat on the nightstand in front of the large window nervously. The boys weren’t outside yet; it was still early and they were probably just waking up to chocolate chip pancakes. He guessed that it was nearly ten o’clock in the morning which meant that it would soon be time for one of his three daily bathroom breaks. The door would soon again unlock and he would be tasked with trying to make it down to the bathroom and back up to his room quickly and without attracting any undesired attention from ‘them’. As if on cue, the lock on the door slid open again and the door did not bang against the opposite wall. The race was on; downstairs he went. As he stepped out of the bathroom, the fist came at him and landed partly on his nose and partly on his upper lip. The boy fell back from the impact and the back of his head crashed against the wall just above the silver towel rack. ‘She’ stood in the doorway pointing angrily at the sink. Though no sound was coming out of her mouth he knew what ‘she’ was saying because he remembered this day; ‘she’ was upset because she didn’t feel that ‘she’ had heard the water running long enough which meant that he hadn’t washed his hands enough. Turning on the hot water, her mouth continued to move. After testing the water several times with her finger, ‘she’ finally jerked her finger away from the stream quickly and a smile crossed her face. Her teeth almost seemed to be rotting. So he washed his hands to her satisfaction under the scalding water and returned to his room with no feeling in his hands. After hearing the lock slide behind him he resumed his place on the nightstand. Will I be here for eighteen days like the other places? He wondered and continued to peer out of the window. The boys still weren’t outside yet; they usually didn’t come out until after noontime in the summer.

 

His summer continued this way. Between nine and twelve o’clock he sat in his closet, on the left side. He left the white wooden door open whilst he was inside of the closet reading in case that he heard the lock slide open on the main door. In that instance he could quickly climb to his feet and pretend that he was simply reaching into the closet for something; for reading or entertainment of any sort was strictly prohibited. At noon he would set down the small paperback book and exit the closet and resume his place on the small nightstand. By this time the boys were usually in the yard. He would watch them- except during his bathroom breaks and dinner- until the boys moved into what he assumed was the garage and the entry door closed for the night. After this he would retreat to the closet, with the door closed now, with his small flashlight and small paperback book until he drifted off to sleep. The closet felt far less isolating than the bed due to the clothes hanging on either side of him.

 

It was well after the entry door on the side of the house had closed for the night and he had long retreated to the closet. As he read, he felt his eyes beginning to grow heavy. He heard the lock slide open. In a panic he jumped to his feet and exited the closet just as the door banged against the opposing wall. ‘She’ stood in the doorway. While he could not make out the finer details of her features- the room was dark except for the streaks of moonlight that crept in through the blinds of the large window- he somehow knew that ‘she’ looked older. What he could see were her eyes that resembled two blood moons staring into the room at him, paralyzing him. ‘She’ walked into the room in a straight line and stopped in front of him. Raising her arm slowly, she reached out and touched his chest with her hand. He felt the force of an animal at the touch and flew backward, leaving his feet and crashing into the large window finally crumpling into heap on his stomach onto the beige carpeting.  As if ‘she’ smelled blood ‘she’ moved closer to him. Her haggard face just inches from his own, her mouth moving with no sound coming out, a tongue as long as a sword poured out. The boy screamed.

 

He awoke in the far left corner of the closet, the back of his head pressed against the wall and the small paperback book to his right. The small flashlight was dead. A dream. It wasn’t until this moment that he realized that he had yet to see the charcoal black mangy dog with the eyes that resembled two blood moons. The sound of laughter could be heard in the distance. It didn’t sound like it was coming from ‘them’. He exited the closet. The laughter was coming from outside somewhere. Looking towards the window he could now see a large crack that resembled a spider web in the glass. After reasoning that the crack from some time ago must have expanded, he found a clear place in the glass and peered out. Everything seemed to be in order in his own yard so he looked next door. To his amazement, standing in the moonlight in the large concrete area were the boys. The moonlight seemed to much brighter in their yard. In somewhat of a circle the boys were talking quietly and laughing loudly. Why aren’t they piled into their sleeping bags on the floor of the lead boy’s room? It’s well past midnight. The boys, all at once, turned their bodies to face his window. He shrunk down. They continued to stare at the window as if in a trance. Then, simultaneously the boys all lifted their right arms and pointed directly at the window towards him. He heard the growl behind him and turned to see the eight boys now standing in his room, faces haggard, pointing directly at him. The lead boy took a step towards him, opened his mouth and a tongue as long as a sword poured out. Tilting back his head, the scalp of the lead boy began to peel back and fall to the beige carpeting followed by the rest of his skin. The dog now stood in front of him. After a few seconds the dog dove at him, placing its giant paws on his shoulders and pushing him backward against the window. He crashed through the glass and tumbled towards the ground beneath, bracing himself the entire time for the impact that never came.

Published by Montrell Carter