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The Offering


You can call this a trigger warning.

The below short is tied to an upcoming novel, Sinner's Pass. The novel, and by extension its universe, include dark topics, to include abuse and drug use. I do not list or describe any of it explicitly here, but I feel I need to be up front with you as my audience.

 

The more normal I want to feel, the more alien I feel, Mia thought. She tried, she really did, in school, but it was impossible. Not with the infliction swelling in her. She missed school, if she was honest. Especially science class. Their last teacher had them growing little plants in Styrofoam cups. It was neat watching the small plants grow, not too dissimilar to the infliction growing in her.

                She hated calling it that, “infliction,” but that’s what her mother called it. She thought it was supposed to be special. That’s what the television made it look like. A unique experience for women. Blessing had been a term that she thought fit, but maybe she was wrong.

                Mia walked along the long road to the apartments, the plastic bag from the market swaying in one hand. Owls hooted loudly in the distance. A chill clambered up her spine. She tried to see the bird, but it remained invisible. She had nothing else but to reflect on how she had ended up like this. That’s all she had time to do now, since she couldn’t stay in school.

                Where things started going downhill, she guessed it was when her mom moved them to the town. She was too young to really recall, and her mom only said it was to avoid her dad, who was out of jail. The apartments were new in this town too, and her mom didn’t think she’d be able to afford such a nice place anywhere else. She guessed things were ok for the most part, but they had a loud neighbor, Mr. Flemming.

                He was always up late and pounding at something in his apartment. Sometimes he was yelling at someone, and then he would go driving off in his old beat-up car. Mr. Flemming was a sweaty man the few times Mia recalled seeing him back then. Always sweating, always swiping himself like bugs were all over. Her mom said just to ignore the man, that his type always went away, eventually.

                  Mia couldn’t think why that stood out to her. Maybe that wasn’t when things went wrong.

                Her mom started to go out into town more. She had met several people who were nice to them. They were kind and had all sorts of fun things. Events with sweets sold, and handmade necklaces. Her mom started taking her out to the church the people belonged to. The people were nice, and they always had food. There was one man who dressed real nice, Mr. Belfort.

                Mr. Belfort was a cheery man to her mom. He always had a real nice white suit on, and a funny looking long mustache like a cartoon. He looked at both her and her mom with a glimmer that just made her feel something bigger was going on. That was back when her mom got more involved with the church. She would spend most of her time there when she wasn’t working. It made Mia feel more like an adult, getting to be home alone more often. But she remembered missing her mom a lot, too.

                Then one day, her mom didn’t even come home for dinner. She started to snack, but she knew if she was full and mom was going to cook, she’d be in a world of trouble. But the hours dragged on and on. It got to the point she thought she should go to bed instead. It was just as she was under the soft protection of her blanket that she heard her mom come back.

                “Mia, baby, are you awake?” her mom asked from the door.

                “I am.” Mia turned on the little lamp next to her bed. “Where were you?”

               “I was with friends, Mia.” Her mom came over and sat on her bed. It was dark, but Mia thought her mom looked sad. Not crying sad, but like failure sad.

                “Mia, I need your help,” her mom started. Mia sat up in her bed.

              “Anything, Mom,” Mia had answered back. Maybe that was when things really went wrong.

                “I really want to be with this church. I haven’t been forthcoming with you, sweetie. I’ve seen some things around here that—that are really scary.”

                “What things?” was a question Mia would come to regret to ask. “Like, ghosts?”

               “Well,” her mom lulled, “yeah, like ghosts. Creepy things, and Mia, Mia, I know the church can help me. But, to help me, they need something from us. I would do it myself, sweetie, I really would, but I can’t anymore.”

                “What do they need?” Mia had asked thinking the only thing people ever wanted was money.

                “Mr. Belfort is here, you remember him, don’t you? He’s here and wants to see if you can help.”

Before she realized what was going on, she was back in their simple living room. Mr. Belfort took one long look over her. “How old is she?”

“Old enough,” her mother snapped before she could rattle off her age.

        Mr. Belfort stroked his long mustache, looking at her. She remembered feeling cold. She wanted to wrap herself in the thickest blankets. Mr. Belfort sighed and turned his old gaze back to her mother. “Ok, we have a member next door.”

Mia was whisked away by Mr. Belfort. She didn’t even get to put real clothes on, they left with her still in her pajamas. They knocked at Mr. Flemmings door.

The door cracked open. The dirty nose of Mr. Flemming stuck out. “What?” he hissed.

“You know why I’m here,” Mr. Belfort answered.

“The Skeleton Man with you?” he rasped. Mia remembered feeling even more scared then. Who is the skeleton man?

                “Jay, open the door,” Mr. Belfort commanded.

                Mia had to put the bags down as she was walking. Her head began to hurt, and she couldn’t remember what happened after that. She looked back behind her on the long road. No one was coming. She looked back up towards the apartments. Mia rubbed her temples. She wished she could remember what had happened after that. She just knew she started to see them afterwards.

                They were many faced. Some of them were unique to some people, or so the church said. Some of them looked like people. Others looked like animals. All were monsters. The worst of them came when everything changed.

                Sometimes things wouldn’t change for a long time. It was like life was normal. She could pretend it was all in her head. But then it would happen, like some mean artist was painting everything to be evil. Nothing would look right. People would die. Die!

                She closed her eyes and took in the brisk air through her nose. Her feet hurt. Her head hurt. She didn’t want to cry. Thinking of them would do that to her. When she opened her eyes, she saw the branches of the bare trees overhead. A fog was rolling in. She would need to get moving, no matter how much her body protested. They always came when there was fog.

                Her feet plotted against the asphalt more than walked. She used her hips to waddle more and more lately. She had to focus on it, or else her knees would start to hurt, and then she wouldn’t have them if she really needed them.

                “Pssst…” someone whispered.

                Mia looked back. The road was empty behind her. No one was ahead of her. She looked left then to the right. She scanned the trees. No one was hiding or calling to her. “I must have imagined it,” she said a loud, but she felt no more confident with the words spoken.

                “You’ll join us or we’ll come for you!” the voice was everywhere. She turned quickly, the voice had been right on top of her. She even looked up, but there was no person to be seen.

                “Where are you?”

                The voice didn’t answer. A million scratches came clawing through her mind. She winced. Like hundreds of rats were crawling through her skull, she dropped to her knees. The noise overwhelmed her. The fog had become dense. Between the tears and pain, it was like she was trapped in a box of grays and whites. Scratching, scratching from within. An itch that never stopped. Forcing her eyes out, she clenched her eyelids shut.

                “Stop! Stop! Stop!” she whacked at her own head. Her fist pounding at her skull. Tears poured out.

                The noise ceased, and the pain followed. The fog was gone. She looked back along the road and among the trees.

                She couldn’t risk it happening again. She picked up her bag and ran as quick as her swollen legs would carry her.        


 

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