I thought that the peace of mind that came with the kids leaving home for good would grant me the serenity I had been seeking. I had raised three girls after their father died and there is nothing quite like having four ovulating women under one roof all cycling through life at the same time. Early retirement from a twenty-five year career of being a customer service representative and then a director of several customer service centers was a God send. I left the city and moved out to live in a wonderful hillside home in the country with no other home for about a quarter of a mile in either direction. The house was nearly one hundred years old, in a town that existed in the history books for over a century and a half. I found it by chance, as I was passing through on my way to a conference about six years ago.
It was the perfect place for retirement, especially for someone like me whose hobby was studying history and collecting frontier antiques. I had acquired a number of very exclusive items over the years; each held a special place in my heart. But I had never found anything as unique as my first find in my new hometown. Being new to the town, I decided that it might be a good idea to go to an estate sale at an old homestead. Buried under several layers of moth eaten blankets was an old hand sewn doll. I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked as though it was old as my home. The dress was frayed and stained and most of the hair was gone but other than that, she looked good. The moment I bought her, I felt as if she should be called Maddie.
I headed home, cleaned her up and gave her a prominent place in my collection of special items. But she didn’t seem to belong on a shelf, or so the little girl in me believed. So, I kept her on my bed, even when I slept at night.
My need to be away from the all the drama that working in customer service and living in a big city could bring, had been the catalyst for my planning to be ready for retirement. I had amassed a fairly nice nest egg by making some savvy investments over the years. So the calm solitude of country living should have brought me to my knees with gladness. Instead, there was a slowly pervasive loneliness that worked its way into me. No ringing phones or whining harried voices. No constant poking from people with questions or complaints. No bosses looking for 100% customer satisfaction, disgruntled customers or grouchy under compensated staff.
There was no traffic, no neighbors having arguments, no loud boom box laden cars driving by with the volume on their bass rattling the windows; no wild teenagers whooping it up or loud screaming children. The peace of this hilltop and the wide open space was deep and encompassing. It was strange, this lack of sound. It unnerved me, some times. The quiet that I had once longed for and now had, was eating away at me bit by bit.
I would wake in the middle of the night to phantom calls for mommy. In the past, I would loathe talking on the phone once I got home. All those years of being on the phone as part of my occupation had ruined me. Now, I was hoping for a call from anyone, for any reason. But the phone hardly rang. The first time that I tried to have a real conversation with a telemarketer should have been a sign that I needed to get out more. One night, it was so quiet, that I counted the seconds as they ticked off on my wrist watch. It got so bad that in the dead of night, I would go look up at the stars with wonder and cry. When the wolves howled in the distance I would join them; singing my loneliness to the universe. Some days, I would sit in my room and watch the sun make its way from the rise to the set. I tried to make friends but most of the people in town were busy with their own lives and their snubs soured me from trying any more. My daughters tried their best to get me to go out more often, to come visit them or join some of the social groups in the seemingly friendlier town a few miles away. But for some reason, that I can’t explain, I sank deeper and deeper into my solitude.
But it was my relationship with Maddie that finally gave them the clear indication that all this time spent alone had seeped into my brain and unhinged me. I showed her to my daughters and insisted that we bring her along everywhere we went. They thought it funny at first, but as time went on and I refused to go anywhere without Maddie, they began think my behavior odd. They would try to convince me to leave her at home but I decided to leave them alone instead.
I would take Maddie with me on walks. We would eat together, snuggle for naps in the late afternoon sun on the screened in porch. I made her new clothes and her giggles of joy filled the house with a laughter that thrilled me. We became inseparable. She would tell me about the history of the town and teach me things that no scholarly historian ever knew.
One day, my oldest daughter came to visit and tried to hide her from me, with the intent to toss her in the garbage. But I heard Maddie’s screams for help and rescued her. My daughter and I got into a tussle and the next thing I knew I had slapped her. I had never in all my days laid a hand on anyone. I was distraught over the whole thing. I didn’t know what to do. Maddie said I had to stop seeing my daughters, just for a little while, so they would learn to respect her and so I did. I refused to take their calls or answer the door when they came. After a few weeks, I don’t know how long it was, they broke down the door with the Sheriff. They made a fuss about the state of the house which was in disarray and about my unkempt appearance.
I didn’t understand it. I mean, Maddie couldn’t take a bath; the water would hurt her, so I didn’t see a need to bathe either. They took me away, to help me find peace of mind. At least that is what my doctor told me, when I was admitted to the Del Rio Clinic for Health. While I was gone, they found my Maddie and donated her to the historical society two states over. Suddenly, I couldn’t hear her anymore. The separation tore at me in ways that they never imagined and I spent a long time in the clinic floating in and out of a medically induced stupor. Finally, I had long sessions with my doctor all in an attempt to help me get well.
After my breakdown and subsequent release nearly a year later, the girls would take turns visiting me and we’d go on shopping sprees, have lunch and go to the spa. They had even bought me a parakeet, that I dubbed Speckles. Speckles would sing in the morning and chirp softly at nightfall. He was great company and according to my daughters, just what I needed. I had to take medication, which I did at first. But when I stopped taking the medicine, I began to hear Maddie’s voice. I had thought that Maddie was gone, but that wasn’t true. She had hid in the walls of the house. At night, she would whisper to me, her voice filled any room that I was in as if it were a stereo surround sound system. Maddie agreed to let me go out with my daughters, but only if I promised come home before sunset.
During one visit from my youngest daughter, we stayed out later than I had promised. This time, when I arrived home the house was dark. And even though the red-orange glow from the setting sun lit up the front yard outside of the window, somehow the fiery light didn’t make it past the panoramic glass. Turning on the light didn’t seem to brighten the room entirely; the shadows just gathered in the corners. Something was wrong, the air was heavy and a musty smell tickled my nose.
Usually, I would see Speckles flitting around in his cage and chirping. But now it appeared empty and the house was filled with a dense quiet. I approached the cage and in the bottom lay Speckles, his little head twisted at an impossible angle. There was also blood from some wound that I could not see. On the cage floor, next to his feeder, scrawled in what I assume was his blood was a message written as if by a child’s hand that read: “don be late”. I cleaned up as best as I could, all the time crying. Not for Speckles, although I was saddened by his death, but I was crying because I had disappointed Maddie. I was never late again.
Things went well for a while. I would go out with the girls and have the best times together. Then, I would hurry up to get home to Maddie and tell her about my day. Everything was fine until the day the doctor told me that she and my daughters had decided that they would have to sell the house and move closer to them. I couldn’t do anything to stop them as they had been made my legal guardians since I was deemed mentally unfit. If didn’t go with them then I would have to live in a special home. In other words, I would be locked up again. Once again, I was devastated only this time I knew I couldn’t leave. I came home that night and told Maddie what the doctor had said. She was just as furious as I was and suggested I come live with her; I agreed.
Maddie told me what to do. I went to the parking lot to wait for the doctor to come out to her car. As soon as she was alone, I knocked her out cold and slit her wrists. I collected some of her blood, took it home. Using the blood, I drew on the wall, exactly like Maddie instructed. Just as the sun slipped behind the horizon, I repeated the words that Maddie had taught me and the wall shimmered as if covered in silver gauze. Maddie was on the other side waiting for me. She was literally a living doll. She had a full head of russet brown hair that fell past her shoulders; her porcelain cheeks were blushed with pink and her glass eyes were bright with an energy that was unearthly.
As she reached out her hand, I took it without hesitation and stepped through the shimmering wall. The moment that I did, I felt a burning fire pierce my chest and radiate through my entire body. The pain was so bad that I wanted to die. I was sprawled on the ground, trying to breathe but the air wouldn’t come. Maddie knelt and whispered to me to stop fighting and to let it happen. Before long, the pain was gone and I realized I didn’t need to breathe. Maddie said that my soul had departed; I had become just like her. I was elated. As the wall closed up, we held hands and walked away and I never looked back. I had found my peace of mind.
Bio: C. A. Griffin’s tales dive into the dark, unexplored and imaginary territories of her “Writer’s Realm” and take you on a tour to introduce you to the inhabitants that reside there. “Rubber Ducky” is another story posted here on short-story.me. You can find more of her short stories and learn more about her upcoming books at www.darksecrets.net