Better to not dwell on the past. Its 6 am, and the alarm shatters the quiet with an ear splitting beep that pulses louder in intensity and jolts Cede awake. Sleepily he gropes for the snooze button, but changes his mind and stumbles out of bed. Yawning, he pushes his door open and shuffles down the hallway towards the bathroom. In the kitchen, the coffee machine begins to gurgle as Cede steps into the tiny shower and turns on the water faucet. Lathering himself with soap, he watches indifferently as rivulets of soap run down his chest to collect in little puddles at his feet. The water is tepid and smells slightly of sulfur but Cede has grown accustomed to the odor.
It’s a part of this old Victorian house, the corroded iron pipes, the pine flooring, the narrow windows with their gingerbread fretwork. The few beams of sunlight brave enough to make it through, barely make a dent in the perpetual gloom. Humming, he continues to scrub his back with a rag. He turns the faucet off, grabs a threadbare towel and begins to dry his scrawny frame. Cede needed his morning coffee. Moving barefoot around the kitchen, he reached up to the top shelf of the pantry searching with his fingers until they brushed against his mom’s favorite instant oatmeal. Each morning like clockwork, Cede would make a bowl of Uncle Roy’s blueberry oatmeal, butter two pieces of toast and pour a glass of orange juice. Then he would climb the stairway and leave the tray outside her door.
“Whittlesnap”, Cede muttered as he brushed away the cobwebs that clung to his shirt. He hated going up those stairs, spiders had made this stairwell their home and despite his determined swipes with a broom and a tin or two of insect spray from the hardware store, he could not get rid of them. It seemed as if they had infested the wood and were watching and waiting for him to leave – intruder. He remembered dreaming that the webs were actually strands of his mothers’ hair outgrowing her room and creeping down the stairway.
He chuckled out loud, “I’m just being foolish.” Pitching his voice to carry through the door, “Mom I made your breakfast, be back in an hour, do you want anything while I’m out.” He paused expectantly, hoping for an answer. As usual the silence was oppressive; he could feel the menace emanating through the door, even the spiders dared come no further than the top of the stairway. Stepping backwards and turning around, he spoke over his shoulder, “bye mom, I’ll be back for the tray in an hour”. Cedes’ arms were covered with goose bumps and he was eager to get out of the house.
Cede turns to the left and sets off down the sidewalk. He was a creature of habit, and as he passes the house next to his, he looks up at the right window on the second floor. Charlie Parker used to live here, his father was a railroad engineer, and his mother worked at the local grocery store. Charlie Palmer had been his best friend, a tad bit taller than Cede, with close cropped blond hair, nervous blue eyes and freckles that seemed to smile whenever he laughed too hard. Now the house was falling to ruin, the paint peeling and flaking like dandruff after a haircut.
Looking around, Cede felt the fingers of buried memories, brush the back of his neck. Shuddering, he continued down the empty street. He was glad Eve’s creeper vines covered everything; the streets were deserted as they had been for the past three years. Cars lined the middle of the street, there was Mrs. Allens blue chevy and the one behind it a Toyota corolla that was the pride and joy of Jessica Beelen. Cede had nurtured a secret crush on Jessica all through middle school, now her corpse was twisted by the pulsing roots and fluorescent green leaves milking her essence. Delicately, Cede ran his fingers over the bright purple blossoms covering her car. His fingernails were as coarse as charcoal as the spoor worked its way under his skin and into his bloodstream. “Eve 409” reacted with pleasure to his touch, crawling closer, as the deadly orange blooms, sent puffs of black spoor twirling around his hands and arms. His veins stood out against his pale skin, over time they had become greener and more luminescent, until they glowed just like the plants he loved so much. Eve was death to humans, but she needed a living host to survive past incubation. He was the chosen one.
As far as Cede knew, Charlie Parker and his family had made it out alive, but he had seen Charlie’s father vomiting before climbing into the Land Rover jeep. Mrs. Parkers face was covered in sores, he knew she would be dead soon. Five miles outside of Morlock, her husband collapsed around the steering wheel. Charlie Parker was the last one to die, he was fortunate that the crash had rendered him unconscious. He never heard the sounds of his dad, wheezing as he gasped for breath. He was oblivious to his mom’s crying, before she joined her husband in the last spasms of death, hands beating against the windows like battered chickens.
Charlie’s last clear thought, was the sight of Cede pulling at the vines wrapped around the plastic bucket and the funny noise they made, as if they were being hurt. He had seen Cede’s fingertips as he tried to wash them in the drain. They had been stained black and the inky sap had spread further and further up his hand as he tried to wash them. Then, Charlie felt bile rise up his throat; he fought to breathe but the fight had already left him.
Cede could guess at the cause of his mother’s insanity. The sight of her husband’s shrunken corpse sitting in his armchair, or the sight of Cede staring at his dead papa with smug satisfaction. She had gone to her room and not come out since. But Cede was getting tired of waiting. The voices were sending him on a journey, he needed to leave. For the past three years, he had been brushing a light fingertip across her food. Each day he would check to see if the food would stay uneaten. Whistling to himself Cede headed home. Whistling to himself Cede headed home. Maybe this evening I’ll double the dose; he smiled at the thought, as he saw the vines covering his house sway in greeting.