The Watchful

 

“Never look at them, Alexa. Never acknowledge that they exist.” Her father had said, his voice trembling with emotion. His emaciated body shook with fear in the cold antiseptic hospital bed. Bone white hands had held hers as hollow eyes had stared through the young girl into the world beyond.

“Promise me.” The words had issued from his lips with a rattle and cough, his last issuance in mortality.

Promise me.

No one had understood. No one would listen to Alexa as she asked about them.

One day, the day after father’s funeral Alexa approached her mother about the subject. Alexa would never forget how her mother’s face changed. She had all but torn away her mourning veil and screamed, “Shut up! Idiot child! There’s no one, there never has been anyone watching us! Will you get it through that thick skull of yours? Do I look a fool? Do you not understand? He was mad! He was a fool!”

She was shaking Alexa now, shaking her to the ground. “A trick of a sick mind! He had no mind! And now he’s left us, left me.”

Alexa had never seen her mother lose control. Sobs wracked the once proud body.  At that sound something within Alexa’s mind shut. Tears rained down from her mother’s raging face. From that moment, everything changed.

. . .

“Alexa, please don’t daudle, we’ll be late for lunch with Grandfather.” They  walked on a thoroughfare, Alexa and her mother. City buses and cars honked and whooshed by as crowds raced around the two.

With hair pinned and tucked tight beneath a neat cap, Alexa stepped quickly behind her Mother. Her head shifted all around her, taking in the hundreds of people passing by. Each one absorbed in their own little world, bustling from destination to destination. Not one raised their face to consider the young woman and her mother. No one except . . .

Who was that? Alexa jerked around as a hooded figure ducked back into a passing alley. She felt her mouth go dry.

Promise me.

She stood, feet unmoving. All around her people gently moved aside. Her mother disappeared in the human sea. She stared at the alley between passing bodies. It’s dark mouth yawning open, beckoning toward her.

It’s them, I know it. But indecision tore at her heart. Keep her father’s promise, or take a chance. Her mother was long gone now, obsessed with her grief and what had been.

She grit her teeth together, and whispered, “No, I must know.”

With that statement, Alexa fled the only world she’d ever known. Dodging past elegantly dressed adults, her thin frame leapt into the alley way. It was much darker than she had expected.

Water splashed under her feet. Alexa watched a large ripple project down the midnight blue passage. Even the sky between buildings shone a muted pale blue.

Alexa hesitated, squinting her eyes down the alley. Every reverberation from the street beyond quieted. Pressure built within the space, pushing Alexa further into the alley.

And as swift as an intake of breath they were there. Alexa gasped, tripping over the uneven ground. The figure did not move, but appeared to grow in size.

“W-Who are you?” She squeaked, feeling her throat constrict.

There was no response, the hooded form stood still. The darkened interior of its hood considered Alexa.

Now on steady footing, Alexa felt a surge of confidence fill her.”Who are you?”

Her words provoked nothing from the form. A light breeze ruffled its cloak. It was almost maddening. All this time, all that watching. Her father’s life had seemed to revolved around this figure. Now even in death his answers weren’t answered.

Words suddenly poured from Alexa’s lips as a tidal wave of emotions crashed over her.” You’ve been following me for years. Me and my father. Why? Why are you doing this? Why have you tormented him?”

Again wind moved the garment, yet no answer was forthcoming. Alexa stepped forward, shrinking the distance. She felt tears prick her eyes and roll down onto her cheeks.

“Please, tell me.” It was a lament. She was a young girl, pleading with the unknown.

A drop fell from her face and landed in the water.

A cacophony of noise filled Alexa’s ears, taking away her very breath. She felt her bones vibrate and liquid trickled from her nose. The world around her dissolved and a voice spoke through the maelstrom.

“TORMENTUM MEUM LAETITIA MEA.”

She looked to the form, a silhouette in the darkening world. It was not alone.

“TORMENTUM MEUM LAETITIA MEA.”

She screamed or tried to, but her voice was lost. Alexa felt herself crouch down, bright red blood ran onto her clothing. All around voices screamed and their sound compressed her into the ground. Water soaked her body and with a weakness born only from death she twisted and writhed.

Darkness fell upon her vision, smothering her senses. Only words could she hear as she entered a void.

“TORMENTUM MEUM LAETITIA MEA.”

Animation provided by the ever talented Jarom Neumann, check out his work!

 

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