Read Darkness Online

Authors: John Saul

Tags: #Horror

Darkness (3 page)

When he remained grimly silent, she went on, “Please, Ted, relax. Stop worrying, and stop being mad at the world. You’ve always been able to find work before. You’ll find something this time, too.”

“Yeah,” Ted groused. “And in the meantime, my daughter looks at me like I’m a total incompetent, and my wife—”

“Your wife loves you very much,” Mary finished for him. “And if Kelly acts as though she thinks you’re incompetent, at least she acknowledges that you’re alive. In case you hadn’t noticed, she’s practically stopped speaking to me.”

Ted smiled thinly in the darkness of the car. “Maybe you should consider yourself lucky. At least she doesn’t tell you you’re stupid when you object to pink hair.”

“She did that three months ago, when she dyed it.” Mary sighed. “Besides, haven’t you seen the kids she hangs out with? Some of them have purple hair. And rings in their noses.”

“What the hell are they thinking of? Don’t they know—”

“They know they want to look different,” Mary interrupted. “For most of them, it’s just part of growing up. But with Kelly …”

She lapsed into silence as Ted turned the Chrysler into their driveway. She frowned, staring at the small house. Every light had been turned on. She should have been relieved; usually if she and Ted came home after midnight on a Friday night, the house was dark and empty. But tonight, even aside from the bright lights, she could sense Kelly’s presence.

Sense that something was wrong.

She sat still in the car, making no move to open the door even after Ted had switched the engine off. Her feeling of unease was growing.

“Mary?” Ted finally asked. “What is it? You okay?”

His words seemed to bring Mary back to life, and she groped for the door handle. The door stuck for a second, then opened. She got out, moved along the cracked sidewalk, then stopped at the front door. She should have reached out and tried the knob—Kelly practically never remembered to lock it—but didn’t. And when Ted came up beside her, she reached out to touch
his arm, almost as if to prevent him from opening the door either.

“What is it?” Ted asked again.

Mary shook her head, as if to rid herself of the strange premonition she was having. “It—I don’t know,” she breathed. “There’s something wrong. I can feel it.”

A slow grin spread over Ted’s face, and his voice took on a drawl that was even broader than usual. “What could be wrong? I got no job, and my daughter hates me, and my wife thinks I give the farm away.” He reached out and tried the knob. The front door swung open.

About to go inside, he hesitated. Now he, too, felt a chill wash over him. His grin fading, he crossed the threshold. “Kelly?” he called out.

Silence.

And yet the house didn’t feel empty.

“Maybe she’s in her room,” Ted said, hearing the lack of conviction in his own voice.

Mary, firmly putting aside the fear that was crawling inside her, moved past her husband, starting toward Kelly’s room. But as she reached the hallway she paused, glancing into the bathroom.

She froze, her mouth open, an unvoiced scream constricting her throat. On the floor, lying still in a pool of blood, her face deathly pale, lay her daughter, a large, jagged fragment of the smashed mirror still clasped tightly in her right hand.

The scream died before it left her lips. Only a faint whisper emerged. “Kelly? Oh, no—Kelly—
nooo …”
She moved forward, dropping to the floor, staring helplessly at her daughter’s limp form, and then she sensed Ted standing behind her. “Do something, Ted,” she whispered. “Call an ambulance—”

A numbness seemed to fall over her then, and she thought she must be going into shock. No! she told herself. Kelly needs you! Don’t start crying. Don’t scream. Don’t faint. Take care of your daughter!

She reached out and opened Kelly’s right hand. The
shard of glass fell away, breaking into smaller pieces as it hit the floor. Blood surged from the cuts on Kelly’s palm. Oddly, the sight of blood streaming from the wound made Mary feel better, and then she knew why.

If Kelly were dead, she would have stopped bleeding.

Mary snatched a towel from the bar on the wall, wrapping it securely around the injured hand, then began tearing at Kelly’s bloody clothes.

She found another wound in Kelly’s torso, a deep gash. Kelly had clamped her left hand over the wound as she’d lain bleeding on the floor. Coolly, almost feeling detached from what she was doing, Mary pried her daughter’s fingers away from the cut, then wiped the blood away from the laceration and inspected it for broken glass. Seeing none, she packed another towel against the abdominal cut, then looked up to find Ted standing in the doorway, his face ashen.

“She’s alive,” Mary whispered. “Did you—”

“I called the police,” Ted replied. “They’re sending an ambulance. I—” His gaze shifted away from Mary, fixing on the pale mask of his daughter’s face, and his eyes flooded with tears. “She can’t die,” he whispered. “God, don’t let her die.…” He sank down next to his wife and gently took Kelly’s left hand in his own. Time seemed to stand still. An eerie silence settled over the house.

In the distance they heard the sound of sirens.

Mary felt the ache of exhaustion as she stood up from the orange Naugahyde sofa in the waiting room of Atlanta General Hospital. She walked toward the front doors and looked outside to see the first light of dawn breaking. Had she really been sitting here all night?

No, of course not.

The Andersons had only arrived at the hospital after one
A.M
. For at least two hours Mary had paced nervously around the emergency room until the doctor—she
couldn’t even remember his name—had come out to tell them that Kelly was out of danger. The wound in her abdomen, despite how it had looked, wasn’t deep, nor had the piece of glass with which Kelly had stabbed herself penetrated any vital organs. She’d lost a lot of blood, but the wounds had been stitched up.

She was alive, and she was conscious, and they had been allowed to see her.

With Ted steadying her, Mary had walked down the hall, abstractly wondering how it was that now, when she knew Kelly was going to be all right, she herself was falling apart. Yet when she’d thought Kelly was dying, she’d controlled herself, tending to Kelly’s wounds, shedding not a tear, simply dealing with the situation.

They’d paused outside the room, and instinctively she and Ted had looked at each other. Until that moment, neither of them had spoken aloud about what had happened. Once again, Mary had found herself putting her emotions aside. When she spoke, her voice had been steady.

“She tried to kill herself, Ted.”

Ted had shaken his head. “Not Kelly—” he’d begun, but she’d pressed a finger against his lips, silencing him.

“She did. That’s why she’s been so quiet. She’s been thinking about it. And tonight, that’s all we’re going to do. We’re going to think about it, but we’re not going to talk about it, not unless she wants to. All we’re going to do is let her know that we love her, that we’re here for her.”

Inside, their daughter lay listlessly in bed, her face pale. Next to the bed stood an IV pole, from which hung a bag of blood. A tube led from the bag down to a needle inserted into the vein of Kelly’s right arm. She looked up at them, her eyes large and wary, like those of a terrified rabbit. Mary felt tears threaten to overwhelm her.

Her daughter was frightened, afraid that they were mad at her.

Mary controlled her tears and forced a smile. “How do you feel?”

Kelly licked nervously at her lips, and her eyes went to the bandage on her hand. “Okay.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Ted asked.

Once again Kelly’s tongue flicked over her lips. She shook her head without looking up.

“Well, then I guess there isn’t much to be said, is there?” Ted went on. Kelly shrank back into the pillows slightly, but then looked up.

“Are you very mad at me?” she asked, her voice quavering.

Ted was silent, and Mary could see his conflicting emotions passing through his eyes. Finally, he forced a smile. “I don’t see how being mad at you’s going to help anything. I just guess you must be pretty mad at your mom and me, and maybe yourself, too. But don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about anything.” He leaned over to kiss his daughter’s forehead. “Just go to sleep. We’ll be here.”

Mary stayed a few minutes longer, then kissed Kelly’s cheek. “I love you.”

Kelly made no reply, simply staring up at her mother with the strange, vacant gaze that Mary had never been able to fathom, a look that, at times, made her wonder if her daughter felt anything at all.

Tonight was one of those times.

Now, still standing in front of the glass doors, Mary heard a door open and close behind her. Turning, she saw the doctor from the emergency room coming toward her. She moved back toward the sofa, where Ted had risen to his feet, and slipped her arm through her husband’s. The doctor glanced around the waiting room and, satisfied that it was empty except for the Andersons, motioned them to sit down. He dropped into a chair opposite them.

“Is Kelly all right?” Mary asked. “Has something else—”

The doctor raised his hands reassuringly. “She’s fine,” he said; then, as if realizing the inappropriateness of his own words, he amended them. “Given the circumstances, that is.”

Ted leaned forward. “Has she talked about it, Doctor …?” His voice trailed off.

“Hartman. Yes, she has talked about it.” He paused, as if uncertain whether to go on, then seemed to come to a decision. “She seems to have been trying to abort herself.”

Mary felt a sinking sensation in her stomach, and gripped Ted’s arm, feeling his muscles stiffen under her fingers.

“Abort—” she breathed. “You mean, she wasn’t trying to—” She hesitated, then made herself complete the sentence. “… to kill herself?”

Hartman shook his head. “I think it was both, Mrs. Anderson.” His eyes darted from Mary to Ted, then back to Mary again. “I’m afraid your daughter has some pretty serious problems.”

“Not nearly as serious as the kid who got her pregnant,” Ted said, his voice dark with anger. “She’s barely sixteen years old. When I get my hands on—”

Hartman’s hands rose again, this time in protest. “Take it easy, Mr. Anderson. The thing is, Kelly isn’t pregnant. I’ve given her a careful examination, and there’s no question about it—as far as I can tell, your daughter has never had sex.”

Confusion clouded Ted’s face. “I—I don’t get it. You said—”

“I know what I said. All I can tell you is that your daughter thought she was pregnant. She was afraid to tell either of you, and she couldn’t remember when or how it had happened. So she decided to kill herself.”

Mary closed her eyes, as if the act could protect her from Hartman’s words. “Dear God,” she whispered. “Why didn’t she talk to us?” But of course she knew the
answer—it was the adoption. No matter what she and Ted had ever told Kelly, they had never been able to convince their daughter of their love for her. Reluctantly, Mary had come to believe that from the moment Kelly had learned she was adopted, she had been waiting for her “real” parents to appear and claim her. And in the meantime, it was as if she refused to love them, refused to trust them. Her eyes filled with tears. “Why couldn’t she ask us to help her?”

Hartman shook his head helplessly. “She’s frightened. Frightened, and confused.” He leaned forward, and his voice dropped slightly. “She thinks she’s going to be locked up because she’s crazy. She says nobody loves her, and she doesn’t blame them.” He glanced away, then forced himself to meet the Andersons’ gaze directly. “What she said was that she’s already dead, that she’s always been dead, and that she just didn’t want to pretend to be alive any longer.”

For several moments neither Mary nor Ted said anything. Then, finally, Ted spoke. “What can we do?” he asked.

“Show her she’s wrong,” Dr. Hartman replied.

2

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