She awoke gradually, her consciousness slowly unfurling itself, reclaiming her body bit by bit. Eyelids still closed, mouth open and dry, she drew in a breath that lit fire to the back of her throat. Cold feet, slipped from beneath the covers, quickly scrambled up and under once again. Swallowing hard, Julie swept her arm across the bed in search of a pillow but came up empty handed. What time was it, she wondered. Better not to know. She rolled over and drifted swiftly back into oblivion.
The interruption, though brief, ignited Enora’s fury and distracted her from the task at hand. Concentrate, she reminded herself. Calm down and concentrate. It had been so long since she was herself of flesh and bone, Julie’s intrusion served as a reminder that this corporeal container was, for now, only a loaner. Enora took a breath and centered herself. Occupy…she thought the word and felt the swell of its power rise up from somewhere deep inside…Occupy…gaining strength with focus…Occupy… the body ceding control to a new master…Occupy. Slowly expanding, Enora filled the bag of skin, marveling at the long-forgotten sensations of touch and feel. She’d lost track of how long it had been. Prevented from crossing over and unable to interact in this physical realm, Enora wept at the unexpected rush of freedom. Warm tears trailed across cheeks as she sat up and pulled back the covers, the chill of night air raising a thousand tiny bumps upon the skin. She stood from the bed, unsure at first of her footing, then padded quietly into the bathroom and peered into the mirror. Long a resident of the darkest corners of this place, Enora was not hindered by the lack of light in these final moments of night before moon gives way to sun.
The face staring back at her, although not her own, pleased her. Julie had been gifted with a beautiful body which she took good care of and Enora felt a certain gratitude toward her, if only for a moment. She reminded herself to keep emotional distance lest she rouse her host prematurely from slumber. Enora was not yet ready to consider relinquishing her hold although she knew this first attempt was only practice. She ran fingers gently through the long, auburn hair watching it cascade around the shoulders in soft waves. She’d seen Julie’s body many times before. Watched her, unnoticed, as she moved through her daily routine. But never from inside. This was different. This was…
Chk. There it was. The faintest of clicks, catching Enora’s breath in her throat. Only a moment before music would fill the room, beating incessantly at the door to Julie’s consciousness. The tiniest fraction of a second before the alarm and yet it felt like an eternity as Enora rushed clumsily back toward the bed. She could feel her concentration slipping. Losing hold, she fought desperately to make it back beneath the blankets before being noticed. She was not yet strong enough to risk being discovered. Not yet ready to defend her position with any hope of winning a struggle. As the music grew louder, Enora could feel herself being pressed toward the corners, Julie slowly reclaiming the body she’d relinquished without knowledge. Enora held on until the last possible moment, slipping out with the stale air of the morning’s first breath. She watched from the far side of the room as Julie reached and fumbled for the clock, silencing it with a swift pound of her hand. Eyes open, Julie stared at the ceiling quietly gathering enough motivation to begin her day. Patience, Enora reminded herself from the shadows. Patience.
“Well hello there. Back for more, are you?” Keys jangling, Julie’s free hand fumbled with the lock while the other clutched an overstuffed grocery bag. The cat, vocal and persistent, twined itself around her legs. He’d been a frequent visitor since Julie moved in last month. Scrawny, his black fur matted, she’d figured him a stray, fed him a scrambled egg and he’d been back nearly every day since. When at last the door swung open, he followed her inside. She offered him last night’s leftovers from a plastic container pulled from the refrigerator and he ate eagerly as she put away the groceries.
His hunger satisfied, the cat meandered through the apartment, searching for the perfect spot to nap. As the tip of his tail rounded the corner and he made his way down the hall, Julie considered the long, thick fur that jutted awkwardly from his lanky frame, dull and matted in spots. “Not so fast, Buddy.” She hurried ahead of him, closing her bedroom door. “You can stay a while, but no napping on my bed. God only knows where you’ve been.” The cat stared at the closed bedroom door. He sat, waiting patiently…obediently. “Sorry, Buddy.” Julie made her way back to the kitchen to put away the last of the groceries. The cat remained in place, staring at nothing as cats sometimes do.
She’d said nothing when she left home. There was nothing to say that would have made a difference and she was past the point of needing them to understand. Julie had finally come to accept that a peaceful existence could not include her family, as uncaring as they were unkind, and no good would come of explaining herself. And so she gathered what little she had and set out to put distance between them, giving herself space to build the life she wanted.
It had been two months since Julie had arrived at this place, falling in love with the character of the tiny little outbuilding. One of two situated on the grounds of the grand old Victorian at the top of the hill. It was simple by contrast but perfect by Julie’s standards. Facing east, the morning light filtered in through the kitchen window and pooled on the small table where Julie enjoyed her breakfast each day. On weekends she’d linger there over coffee and look out across what was left of the field that stretched between her and the neighbors. Most of the land had been sold off years ago, townhomes jutting up from the once fertile ground. Beyond them, a multitude of apartment buildings, sleek and new and completely devoid of history. Just outside her front door, daffodils reached from the earth, bright yellow blossoms ready to burst forth announcing spring with the next rain. Julie was happy here. There was something about this place. Between the many coats of paint that rounded once sharp corners and the slope of the well-worn pine floor, Julie never once felt alone here.
Enora remembered the day Julie arrived. A mix of excitement and uncertain energy surrounded her in a pale yellow aura, muddied at the edges by her recent past. It was enough to awaken the hope that Enora had abandoned so long ago. Julie’s was an open soul, a crack in the veil, a possibility. Enora set to work at once to fill the space with the warm and welcoming energy Julie so obviously craved. It was exhausting, covering the chill her presence created. Exhausting but necessary if she dared to dream of stepping outside these walls in human form ever again. And it had worked. The tiny house felt as Julie imagined a home should feel and she jumped at the chance to make it her own.
Occupy. Practice makes perfect and she now only needed think the word to slip inside without difficulty. Enora had acquired all the information she needed from Julie these past few months and no longer required access to anything but her physical being. Once inside, she now simply gathered her quietly and tucked her away in the special box she’d built in the back of Julie’s mind, the box Julie herself had begun to construct to contain the troublesome memories of her past. Enora had been pleased to find it there one night, in need of only a single enchantment to make it suitable for her purposes as well as Julie’s. And ever since it had served them both well. Julie was moving forward, becoming happier and more whole with every passing day…Enora becoming stronger and more practiced every night. There was a window of time, Enora knew, only so long would Julie remain vulnerable enough for her purposes. Only so long before her strength and Julie’s reached the tipping point and Enora was determined to outpace her. Sometimes, after slipping Julie back into place at the end of the night, she’d leave the box cracked open just far enough to let a few of the old insecurities spill out. Only enough. Only a few that would fade away on their own after tickling the back of Julie’s mind for a day or so. Nothing Julie couldn’t overcome on her own. She was building a life, after all, and it needed to be a good one…it needed to be a life worth taking.
The cat slipped in through the open window and leapt onto the counter, licking drips of drying yolk from the breakfast dish Julie left in the sink. He’d been drawn to the place since first sensing Enora there…drawn to the dead as all cats are….and returned faithfully each day, awaiting instruction. Couriers of dead souls, feline companions have been used through the ages as transport for those who’ve long since sloughed their skin. Enora gathered herself tightly and slipped inside the bag of bones beneath his matted fur. There was no need to confine his being, not that she could if she’d wanted to. He welcomed her presence as part of his earthly duty and provided her with second-hand access to his senses, but he was under no obligation to share control of his being with her. He took instructions, yes, but retained the independence all cats pride themselves on. Together they made their way out the window and across the field. Her thoughts drifted as they traveled and she imagined the day when at last she could open the door and step out into the sun of her own accord…feeling its warmth on her smooth skin, inhaling the rich smell of the earth fresh from a rain just ended the night before. The cat crept low in the grass and sat perfectly still, muscles tensed and waiting. She only noticed when he pounced and the crunch of tiny bones snapping between his jaws sounded through his skull. The taste of blood filled her. She was used to it now, although she much preferred he take his meals when she wasn’t with him. He obliged her for the most part, but hunger occasionally prevailed. They wandered for a while, allowing Enora to escape the four walls and engage with the outside world before finding a warm spot of sun in which to curl up for their afternoon nap. It would not be long now. She comforted herself with that thought as they drifted off to sleep.
The late summer moon hung low on the horizon, bright and full, and at just the right angle to set the bedroom aglow. Eerily beautiful, Julie thought, as she climbed into bed. Enora hovered in the nearby shadows, excited and empowered by the moonlight flooding in through the open window. She’d been preparing and waiting for this night for what seemed like an eternity now. Julie laid upon the bed, watching the massive white orb command the night sky, powerful and all-knowing, as it reached down and brushed the treetops. Silently, she prayed to it. Enora grew impatient and held her gaze on Julie’s eyes, waiting eagerly for them to close. But they did not. Instead, Julie pulled back the blanket and stepped from the bed. Seriously? Tonight? Of all nights? Enora struggled to maintain her composure. What choice did she have?
Julie padded barefoot into the kitchen and returned with a small box of matches. In the bathroom she lit two candles, setting one on the closed toilet seat and another beside the tub as she reached for the faucet and turned on the water. It splashed loudly against the porcelain, in deep contrast to the quiet stillness of the rest of the house. Enora watched as Julie sat beside the tub, her hand under the running water, adjusting the tap for just the right temperature. Satisfied, she gathered her hair loosely with a rubber band and slipped off her bedclothes. Candles flickered in the relative darkness, reflecting off the mirror and casting long shadows against the wall. Julie’s gathered tresses teetered atop her head as she slowly descended into the tub. Bit by bit her milky white skin submerged beneath the water, steam rising up around her. A long hot soak was just the thing to quell the unease that had been growing inside her as of late… the uncomfortable feeling of something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Despite this new life she’d built for herself, Julie had somehow begun to feel trapped, but by what she had no idea. There had even been a few nightmares…boxed in, contained. But she was free here…free to be herself, to pursue her passions, to love who she wanted without judgment or interference…so why now? Enora watched Julie relax into the bath — let it overtake her, hold her, cradle her in warmth and comfort. Impatience turned to jealousy as Enora fought back the urge swelling like a tide inside her. With great effort she contained her emotions, channeling them into a trance-like focus onto which she held tightly, her attention rapt on Julie’s eyes. When at last they closed, her head gently resting on the side of the bath, Enora moved above her and slipped inside without hesitation.
It was an ancient enchantment that required the swell of a low slung summer moon, a moon such as the one just outside Julie’s bedroom window. Enora worked quickly, gathering Julie’s essence with practiced ease. The power of permanence was within her grasp and she needed only to get Julie into the box this one last time. The body lay motionless in the tub but inside its heart began to race with Enora’s growing excitement. The black matted cat, having let himself in through the open bedroom window, now sat beside the bath… watching. He sensed Enora but saw Julie and, unsure, he licked at the hand that rested on the cool edge of porcelain. Julie, her sleep made light by the rapid beating of her heart, felt the rough pull of his tongue against her soft flesh and opened her eyes. It was a strange feeling… seeing the room through eyes not quite her own. As if staring through a bottle, the shadows that danced in the candlelight were now only a blur of dark and light patches that seemed very far away. For a moment, Julie believed this was yet another of her nightmares. She felt her heart racing in her chest although, like her eyes, it felt somehow distant and detached. Panic swelled within her, a panic both doubled and shared and her vision grew even more distant, producing the illusion of traveling backward down a long hall. She was being pushed, quite forcibly, toward the back of her own mind. Back and down she descended, down into what she wasn’t sure…and then she felt it…that uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Smaller and smaller she was forced to become until at last she was contained inside the very box she’d created and the lid slid shut. Stuffed inside with all her old insecurities, she felt inadequate to fight back. Enora chanted in ancient tongue, rhythmic words that echoed inside her head and bounced against the box, beating at it like a drum. Louder and louder still the chanting grew as the box drew life from Julie, stitching itself along the seams, weaving magic with white matter in a permanent embrace. Julie pressed herself against the sides of the box, her screams choked back in a throat no longer under her control. The doubts and insecurities tapped incessantly, pecking at her like a bird feasting on the eyes of the dead as she fell into silent surrender.
Enora awoke, colder even than that to which death had accustomed her. She opened her eyes…her eyes…and saw she was lying still inside the tub, the bathwater now tepid at best. A shiver ran down her spine, tiny bumps spreading across her skin as she pulled herself from the bath. The cat watched from his perch upon the sink and she scowled at him for having almost ruined her plan. Were it not for his years of loyal service she’d have not let it go so easily. Enora reached for the robe on the back of the bathroom door. Wrapping herself inside it, she paused before the mirror and pulled the band from her hair. Long auburn curls bounced freely and cascaded over her shoulders. Brushing a few errant strands from her face, she smiled at her reflection. A small voice in the back of her mind pointed out the slight crook of her nose but Enora knew that small voice was not her own and, as such, not to be trusted. The voice would fade over time, or not, she didn’t much care. It was a small, insecure little voice of the sort Enora learned long ago to ignore. She made her way to the bedroom closet and, choosing carefully, selected a white cotton dress with yellow flowers bordering the hem. She stepped into it, pulling it up around her and setting the thin straps against her shoulders.
When she’d finished dressing, Enora made her way to the kitchen and prepared breakfast for herself and the cat. She feasted on crisp bacon, satisfyingly salty against her tongue, and dragged toast through peppered yolk that pooled upon her plate. The cat leapt onto the table and shared equally in her meal until at last they were both sated. And then, Enora rose from the table and made her way toward the front door of the tiny house to which she’d been so long confined. She grasped the brass knob and turned until the latch clicked free and the door swung open. From the doorway, Enora watched a butterfly dance upon the breeze and settle on a purple coneflower near the corner of the house. The black cat twined around her legs, looked up at her and mewed. The two stepped from the doorway and out into the sun…separately at long last.
© Kelly Rainey and 500wordsandcounting.wordpress.com, 2017. Photo “Trapped in My Own Mind” by the-shadow-of-a-demo @ deviantart.com
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