Here to Help


by Trisha McKee


 

Roswell loved adventure. That was how he ended up home-bound with a broken leg and concussion. It had not been his first time sky-diving, but it was his most eventful.

Fortunately, he was given the go-ahead to work from home the next two weeks, and he looked forward to biding his time between work and the afternoon talk shows. Not to mention being waited on by his ravishing girlfriend, Candy.

And as if by thinking of her, he could manifest the beautiful woman, Candy rushed into the room, breathless, her red mane bouncing around her flushed face. “I’m sorry I took so long. So many things to get and so many people just … in the way. I got your favorite magazines. Some beer. I picked up your prescriptions.” She laid the bags beside him on the couch and then straightened, placing her diminutive hands on her wasp-waist. “You should really be sleeping, Ross.”

Candy helped Roswell to the bedroom, and he was asleep before he could even realize just how weary he was. The pain medication and the chaos of the day had finally reached out and pulled him into that dark, immediate sleep.

But then the images came. That familiar nightmare that had plagued him every few months since he was a child. The evil wafting into his home, transforming into a monster, the unexpected menacing presence that took him hostage using his possessions to navigate to him. The vividness always alarmed him.

The colors and movements, the pure fear he felt while trapped in that dream… it was all so solid… undeniable. Then he would wake up, either with a jump or a scream, sometimes both, and it would take several moments to realize it was just a dream.

This time Roswell woke with a start, his upper body moving up and pain shooting up his leg and through his chest. It was not enough to chase away the images from the dream, but it was enough to cause him to scream out in agony.

Candy burst into the room. “What the hell, Ross!”

“I bumped my leg.”

She sashayed over, her breasts jiggling in her tight, fuzzy sweater and for an instant, Roswell was distracted from the pain and the fog of that dream. But only for an instant. When she reached the bed, Candy made a point to glance at her phone. “Hmm. I guess it is time for another pain pill. Then you need to get up. Some things I want to show you.”

The only thing that kept Roswell from insisting she leave and let him return to sleep was the fear of that dream returning. Fortunately the pain pill kicked in quickly, and it was only mildly agonizing to get up and move around. He cursed and pledged to himself and whatever gods were listening that he would give up all the risk-taking adventures if he could just muddle through this pain.

He was becoming used to the crutches, the hop and swing motions required to move, and he followed Candy as she paraded through the hallway into the living room, her dainty hand cupped and waving through the air. “I brought out some blankets. You can lie here and watch T.V. I programmed your favorite shows to record. Gotta love technology. Speaking of that…”

Her large green eyes dropped to the ground as she bit her pink bottom lip, and while his mind wandered at first, he remembered this was a sign of something to come…

“Candy. What?” His usual patience was running low, even with her.

The surge in his tone caused her head to fly up, her eyes narrowing. She was not used to anyone speaking to her with anything but adoration. “I can’t be here all the time. So I know you don’t approve, but I got one of those virtual home assistants. I set her up. Her name is Tabitha.”

“What? No! Listen, Candy, not here. You know they freak me out-”

She rolled her eyes. “Stop being a baby. Not a good look.” She turned to the small table in the short hallway to the dining room, and that was when he saw it. A small disc-shaped device that was beeping and blinking as if already agitated.

“Get it out of here!”

Candy continued to ignore him. “Hello, Tabitha. What is the temperature?”

A robotic voice filled the room and sent shivers through Roswell’s body. “The temperature is 76 degrees Fahrenheit.”

“And Tabitha, what is the best route to take to get to Greenswell?” She cocked an eyebrow at Roswell as the device spouted off local roads and turns, estimating traffic for the time of day.

And as Tabitha’s robotic voice continued, a humming began to persist in Roswell’s head, almost drowning out the words. The humming seemed to connect to that feeling of fear experienced in the nightmare, the same sensation of icy terror prickling his skin. It was as if the humming had wires connected to his nerves, switching on at the sound of that horrible voice.

“Isn’t that amazing?” Candy breathed, oblivious to his trembling.

“Get it out. Now!”

As if he had not spoken, she continued, “I put your contacts in so you just have to tell her who to call -”

“What? NO! I do not want that thing to have my information, my contacts. No!”

She rolled her eyes. “I have to get back to work. Tabitha, remind Ross to take his pills at 6.”

“No. I don’t want- get it out of here. Candy, I’m serious.”

She wiggled her fingers. “Bye. Have fun.”

“Candy!” He cursed as she walked out, then muttered, “6? Where the hell will she be at 6?”

“Do you have a question?”

The sudden question, the blinking as the device spoke made Roswell jump. Then he swallowed his fear and hobbled forward, ready to rip out the cord. But there was no cord, no plug. “Damn batteries,” he muttered, reaching for the device. But as soon as his fingers skimmed the surface, an intense shock jolted his body. The humming increased to the point that he had to bend over, his fingers digging into his hair.

Roswell managed to take a few steps back, the humming decreasing to an annoying background noise. He took a breath, trying to think past the humming.

Carefully balancing on one foot, leaning on one crutch, he took the other crutch and wielded it like a weapon, but before he brought it down on the device, before it even touched the round object, sparks emitted and a force held the crutch in mid-air. A crackling sound broke through the humming and before Roswell could react, the electric shock came back, much more powerful this time, his body convulsing before being thrown to the floor. The last thing he noticed before passing out was that damn buzzing vibrating in his head.

Roswell came to with one hell of a headache and a more intense whirring that left his body vibrating like a tightly wound string. He struggled to his feet and muttered, “Dammit Candy. Where are you?”

“Calling Candy,” Tabitha announced in that flat effect she had.

“What? No! Don’t-”

A crackling hit the air and then moaning. Candy’s moans, he would know them anywhere. He always teased her and claimed she sounded like a sad little puppy when she moaned like that… during lovemaking.. He hopped closer to the gadget and leaned in, listening.

“Oh, Thomas, don’t stop. Oooooh!”

Thomas? Her boss Thomas?

“Candy!” he shouted angrily.

All noises stopped except for heavy breathing and then, “Roswell?” There was a rustling sound and then her voice sounded closer, clearer. “Roswell, are you – are you spying on me?”

“No! That damn machine called you and – Thomas? You’re screwing your boss?”

A pause pierced the air and then a door shutting in the background, her voice softer. “Listen, Ross, he’s not my boss now. He’s my boyfriend. You and I – it wasn’t working.”

“It wasn’t?” He cleared his throat. “Coulda fooled me.”

“Look, I’ll be by next week to pick up my things.”

“Wait. How am I – I thought you would help-”

“That’s why I got you Tabitha. I never understood your fear of those things. So weird, Ross. Really. Anyway, she can help. Because I can’t.”

Before he could argue and plead, the call disconnected and as if taunting him, Tabitha sang out, “Call disconnected!”

Roswell studied the device, lifting his crutch as he considered trying once again to destroy it. Just as he gulped down some air and readied himself, that damn humming increased and the sizzle of electricity served as a warning.

With a heavy sigh, he turned to retreat. If he could not destroy it, he wanted away from it.

“Calling dad.”

Roswell froze, the hair on his neck standing at attention. Then he spun around, almost dropping the crutches. “Tabitha, stop!”

“Calling dad.”

A metallic taste invaded his mouth as he sputtered out another order, strings of spit stretching from his lips. His father was dead. And when he was alive, they had not had contact once Roswell was out on his own. Fortunately, his mother had finally escaped the man’s wrath soon after.

The man had been true evil. He had beaten his wife and son on a weekly basis. Roswell’s mother still dealt with nightmares and migraines as a result of so many damaging blows. He held them at gunpoint, pissed on Roswell as he slept, and generally terrorized his family all while presenting a squeaky-clean image in the public.

Just as he got his wits about him and realized Tabitha could not possibly be calling that monster, that all-too familiar voice boomed through the tiny electronic.

“Where the hell have you been, boy? I’ve been trying to reach you.”

Sounds spouted out of Roswell’s mouth as he struggled to make sense of it, to clear his head. “The medicine. It’s messing with my head,” he mumbled, balancing the crutches under his arms as his hands lifted to feel his head, as if he could pat the confusion away.

“Over here! Don’t stare like some dumbass. Look at me when I speak!”

The humming reached an impossibly high pitch, sending Roswell staggering back, and then he felt that presence. The dark presence that seemed to always accompany his father when he was drunk. The bitter smell of alcohol and puke saturated the air, and he held in a whimper. Because he was no longer that little boy. He needed to face this.

But nothing prepared him. He turned toward the hallway and at first he could only make out a shadow. Then the shadow stepped forward, and Roswell realized it was his father. As large and terrifying as ever, now even more so. Because he was a walking corpse. His skin was gray and hanging, one eye socket was void of anything except strands of flesh and blood and his other eye socket had an eyeball bulging from it. Green mucus bubbled out of his mouth, and as he spoke, Roswell saw the few black, chipped teeth, the gums gray.

“Where have you been?” he repeated, the voice the same. He dragged his feet, his body thumping forward. “You little loser, I’ve been looking all over FOR YOU!”

Roswell broke from the freezing shock and turned, moving his crutches faster than he thought was possible. He was about to run straight into the wall, but somehow it was a tunnel, a long, dark hallway, and he was not about to question it. He hobbled through the darkness, his father’s voice echoing behind him and driving him further into this unknown.

The humming ceased as well as the calls from his dad, so Roswell slowed down and tried to make out anything. He saw a door to his right but saw no doorknob. Adrenaline propelled him forward, and he leaned his shoulder into the door, pushing it open. He stumbled in, and light hit his face. He gasped for air, noticing he was back in his bedroom.

As he made his way to his bed, he noticed the humming return, and he braced himself.

“Don’t forget your medicine, Roswell,” Tabitha robotically instructed from somewhere in the room. His head whirled back and forth as he searched for the device, but it was nowhere to be seen. “Take it. Sleep.”

The air felt heavier, and he realized he was exhausted, his eyes blinking slower and longer.

Desperately he turned back to the door only to find there was no door. The room was four solid walls and no windows or doors. It was his bedroom… if his bedroom were turned into a  trap. A cage.

Tabitha’s voice floated around him, no true localized spot. Just all around. “Sleep, Roswell.”

He knew it was a matter of seconds before he was out cold, so to save himself from another fall, he sat on the edge of his bed, and that was the last thing he remembered.

The dreams were the most vivid, most terrifying Roswell had ever had. He was being chased and kept running through rooms. He was wondering how to win, how to beat this thing that not only terrorized him in his dreams but now was plaguing him in real life.

As he continued to run, Tabitha called out, her voice all around him and in his head, “You can’t win until you stop running. Until you turn and face that fear.”

Roswell left the nightmares and entered into a dark, heavy sleep. And he awoke slowly, feeling sunlight warm his face. He felt Candy shift beside him and smiled. But the second thing he noticed was the putrid smell. He gagged, reaching over to pat her. “Candy, what did you eat?”

He opened his eyes and slowly turned his head, the events of the previous day coming back to him. Beside him was a breathing corpse, a woman with dead eyes and puffs of hair dried with what looked like blood. Half of her skull was crushed in, her skin a dark gray and stretched over bones. Strands of flesh flapped at the ripped corners of her mouth as she gurgled and growled.

“Son of a bitch!” he cried out, grabbing his crutches and diving toward the now-intact door. There was another long hallway, and he remembered his dream.

Turning back to the bedroom, Roswell declared loudly, “I’m not scared of you! I’m not.”

He stepped closer and the corpse sprang up and hissed, its eyes bulging and a flow of puss spraying from her mouth. He turned and raced down the hallway, screaming as he crashed into another door.

Then he was in his living room, and with a quick check, he saw that all doorways and windows were intact. He thumped over to the front door, but when he touched the knob, that electric shock propelled him backwards.

“Good morning, Roswell,” Tabitha greeted, and he glanced over to see the device lit up. The humming intensified and then just as quickly died down.

“Rest up. It’s going to be a long day.”

“Why are you doing this?” he cried out, hating that he had to sit down to catch his breath. Hating that he was at the mercy of whatever this was.

“Please say my name before any question or command.”

He cursed but then said, “Tabitha, why are you doing this?”

“Doing what? I do not understand.”

“This. The corpse in my bed, my dead dad, keeping me locked in here. This.”

“I did not hear my name.”

“Dammit! Tabitha, this!”

“Oh. This. I am not doing this. I am simply the channel.”

Before he could ask anything more, the television turned on, the channels flipping until it landed on a popular daytime game show. He covered his face and bent over, trying to think, trying to make sense of it all. Suddenly he straightened, searching for his phone. Of course it was nowhere to be found, and he did not want to travel through this funhouse again. Not at the moment.

Then he had another idea. “Tabitha, call my mom.”

“I do not understand.”

“Tabitha!” he yelled. “My mom! Call her.”

“I can only call the deceased. Would you like me to summon one of the dead?”

“Tabitha. No. No, just … please don’t.”

Roswell leaned back, weariness dragging through his body. He could not shake the exhaustion, and before long, he was asleep again. He woke every so often, the television lulling him back to sleep. There were no nightmares, no humming. Only blissful rest. It was an escape, and he did not fight the escape.

When he woke up again, it was midday, the sun beating through the window and heating the room. He stirred and sat up, and that was when he heard knocking at the front door. He stood, peeked out, and saw Sally, his coworker standing on the other side, tilting her head and waving to him.

Glancing around the room, Roswell noticed it was quiet. No humming. No dangers lurking around the corner. The heaviness in the air was gone as well. With a long exhale, he made his way slowly to the door, his leg and head throbbing.

“Roswell!” Sally pushed past him when he opened the door. She walked to the center of the room and spun around. “We’ve been worried sick. We didn’t hear from you at all today. I thought you said you’d check in to let us know if you’d be working. I know you were hurt but … you couldn’t send a text?” She stopped and studied him, leaning forward to get a closer look.

“Holy shit, you look like hell. Are you in a lot of pain? Where’s Candy? Is she checking in on you?”

She was firing questions at him faster than he could decipher the words and finally Roswell held up his hand to silence her, and it took a few moments, but her words finally trailed off, and she lifted her gaze to him, her mouth pursed, waiting. It distracted him for a moment. He had always noticed her dark blonde hair drizzled with light blonde highlights, falling around her shoulders in subtle waves. And of course, he had stared into those wide caramel eyes. She was not as drastically curvy as Candy or as tall. She was short with a slim figure.

But what caught Roswell off guard as she stood in front of him was the concern shining in her eyes. And then his gaze dropped to her hands holding a container.

“Soup,” she explained when she noticed where his attention went. “I’ll go put it in the fridge unless you’re hungry now….”

He shrugged. “I could eat. Can you stick around?”

“Yeah,” she studied him for a moment. “You okay? I mean, besides the injuries.”

“Well, for one, Candy left.”

“You mean for good?”

He nodded with a sigh. “She’s found more … appealing opportunities. But she left me -” he motioned toward Tabitha who lit up as if on cue.

Sally’s eyes widened. “But… you’re terrified of those things. Want me to get rid of it?”

“No! I mean, yeah, I hate it, but …” He shut his eyes and took a breath before continuing,

“Weird stuff has been happening. I mean, really weird.”

Sally remained calm, eyeing him with concern but speaking with care. “Okay. But do you think you might be hallucinating? You’re on medication, right? And you never take well to medication. Remember at work, when you had that headache and the guys gave you that powder to take? You got violently sick and swore you could see your brain waves as you spoke.”

Relief washed through Roswell as he paused to consider her words. Cautiously, he asked, “You think? The medicine? Because it’s been a really screwed up 24 hours. Scary. I had no doors or windows in here. And my dad,” he swallowed and added, “He was here but all creepy and dead.”

“Oh wow! Poor Roswell!” She set down the soup and stepped up to him, running the back of her hand down his cheek. “That had to have been so scary and to be here alone! I’ll stay the rest of the afternoon.”

Roswell had known about Sally’s crush on him for months. She leaned toward him during conversation, her hand falling on his arm or shoulder. She laughed at his jokes that were never that funny. And her lips always turned up at the sight of him, a faint blush creeping up her neck and staining her ivory cheeks. He was flattered, even tempted, but the thought of Candy always stopped him. Now… no Candy.

“I wasn’t that scared, I guess,” he fumbled for words, not wanting to come off as some wimp. “I fought him off. All the …. The spirits. Just… it gets tiring.”

She nodded as he spoke, as if she were listening to a child’s rampant story. Then she promised,

“I’ll fix everything. Get you something to eat. Let you rest. I’ll get rid of that thing too.”

She went over and studied it. “Where’s the plug?”

“Doesn’t have one.”

“Weird. Batteries?”

The humming returned, rising quickly, and he called out, “Wait! Don’t touch it.”

But it was too late. She reached out and before her fingertips even brushed against it, that electric current hissed and fizzled, sparks shooting out. Sally was on her ass, a stunned look stilling her features. Finally, she got to her feet. “There’s a short circuit or something.”

“Roswell.”

Sally’s eyes grew even rounder as the device lit up and spoke his name.

“Yes?” he answered with a sigh.

“Say my name, Roswell!”

Avoiding Sally’s questioning stare, he said, “Yes, Tabitha.”

“Tell this bimbo to never touch me.”

Sally’s eyes narrowed as she spun toward Roswell. “Is this some sort of joke? I came here to help you and-”

“Sally! I’m telling you- that thing is possessed or something. Don’t go near it, don’t acknowledge it, don’t speak to it unless … I guess unless it speaks to you.”

Her shoulders slumped and mouth gaped open as she considered his words. He knew she was debating on taking his statement as truth, as some cruel joke, or as the rantings of a heavily sedated lunatic. Finally, she straightened and demanded, “Let’s get out of here then. You can rest at my place.”

But as she turned to leave, she stepped into a moving pit, and Roswell realized in horror that it was moving because it was a deep pile of slithering snakes. Her screams almost drowned out the humming in his head.

Finally he gathered his wits and jumped into action, limping over to her and extending a crutch.

“Grab this!” When she continued screaming and wailing her arms, he ordered, “HEY! Grab this!

Hurry!”

Finally Sally reached for it, and Roswell had to balance on one crutch while extending the other. He had to use all of his strength and dexterity to pull her out as she continued screaming. Finally she was on the floor panting.

“What the hell was that?” she asked, crawling further away from the pit once she regained her senses.

“That’s been my life for the past 24 hours.”

Roswell looked around and groaned. They were in the basement. “Not this.” He had never liked basements, even as an adult with his own home.

“What the hell is happening?”

He glanced down at Sally and calmly stated, “If I were you, I’d stand up real quick and gain some composure. Stop asking that question. I have no idea what this is or why it’s happening. I just know we need to find a way out of it.”

She scrambled to her feet and tugged at his sleeve. “Maybe we can use the outside entrance.”

“No. It won’t work.”

But Sally was walking up the stairs, and all he could do was follow. She waited at the landing until he made it to her level, and then she opened the door and stepped out… and fell into darkness. Her screams echoed, and Roswell knew there would be no saving her with a crutch this time. He bent over the edge, staring, trying in vain to see something. His heart was in his throat, and his stomach dangerously flip-flopped. The pain in his leg and chest intensified.

Oh yes. Roswell loved adventure. As long as it was structured and tamed, in a tight frame of guidelines and safety procedures. He loved adventure that he could take a course on before conquering or be assured that it had been fully checked out. The adventure he could indulge in safely and then brag about to his buddies. Skydiving. Roller coasters. Bungee jumping.

Roswell was not built for true adventure, for danger. As a kid, he had run away from bullies, including his father. He had crouched down in the corner of his closet as his mother received the brunt of that monster’s rage.

The only reason he had dated someone as stunning but shallow as Candy was to convince everyone he was no longer that scared, nerdy kid. And he worked out so that when any guy tried to cross a line with her, he could flash those muscles and scare them off, much like a peacock flashing the most colorful feathers. He could not fight. He did not know the first thing about fighting. The thought scared him. Terrified him.

Much like he was now.

But this was not Candy in danger of being pawed at by some stranger at a bar. This was Sally. In true danger.

“Hey son. Long time no see.”

He bristled but then forced himself to turn and face perhaps his greatest fear. “Dad.”

The monster that was his father came toward him, blood from the self-inflicted gunshot wound he died from gushing out of his mouth. “Son. Where the hell have you been?”

Roswell backed up, aware of Sally’s screams but keeping his gaze firmly on the monster in front of him. “Living my life, dad. Finally.”

“Loser.”

“No, dad, I’m-” He took another step back and suddenly found himself falling backwards. He reached out and grabbed the edge of the landing, silently thankful for all those years working on his upper body strength. He pulled himself up, wincing as he landed on his bad leg. But he had little time to worry about the pain and damage as the corpse of his father was still advancing toward him. Roswell noticed that he was slow. And he forced himself to stand there, to balance on his good leg and wait as the evil approached. He felt the change in the air, the heaviness build as he stood and faced what he could never face before.

“You never amounted to a damn thing. Shitty son. Shitty man. Pansy,” his father grunted, his hands reaching out when he was close enough to touch Roswell.

Roswell gulped in some air and lunged, crying as he landed on the bad leg. But he continued, using all of his strength to shove his father into the abyss, jumping back when his father tried to grab him before plummeting.

He fell back, tumbling into the air before grabbing one of the ropes hanging in the darkness. The rope dropped him down several feet before swinging him like a pendulum. He saw Sally, and he let go of the rope with one hand to grab her, pulling her up so that they both swung. Suddenly the rope broke, and they fell, screaming, Roswell pulling Sally to him. Then they were dropped onto the couch in the living room. Almost immediately Sally screamed and bent over, sparks shooting toward her.

“Tabitha.” He stared imploringly at Sally as she cried, trying to speak his name. “Tabitha, let her go.”

“I do not understand that command.”

“I think you do, Tabitha. I think you understand. I command you out of my house.”

Maniacal laughter punched the air, and the humming amped up to a deafening roar. He grabbed the crutches that were miraculously within reach and moved despite the paralyzing noise. He moved toward the device on the table, trying to swallow down that metallic taste invading his mouth. Pain was never something he enjoyed. He feared it. He avoided it. Sometimes he let others deal with it just so he would not have to.

And as he regarded the device, already shooting out sparks as if it knew his intention, he took a deep breath. He braced himself for pain, for injury, for death if it came to that. Because Sally needed him. And he needed her safe. More than he needed to avoid his fears, he needed Sally safe.

Roswell lunged forward and grabbed the device, gritting his teeth as shocks racked his body. He fought through the pain, the jolts, and he slammed it to the ground. Then he used his crutch to smash it. To continue smashing it. He screamed as he did so, venting out the frustrations and fears and pains.

The humming broke, the sparks died out, and suddenly he was left with quiet. He stared down at the floor and mused that those pieces were not so scary.

“Roswell.”

That breathless voice was the best thing he had ever heard as he spun around and caught Sally in his arms.

“What the hell happened?”

He grinned, holding her close, their lips inches apart. “You have got to stop asking that.”

“Your leg,” she muttered, but her eyes were already on his lips and he was already complying with that unspoken request. The living room was smoky, the television was blown out, and there were pieces of that device scattered all around them, but they were only focused on each other and their survival as they indulged in one long, adventurous, dangerous kiss.