I awake with a start, fumbling on my nightstand I find my cellphone and when my eyes finally adjust to the retina searing glare of the screen, a sigh escapes me when it reads 3am. This is the third time this week. Looking to my other hand, gripping what should be my blankets, I’m unphased to find the ax in my clammy fist.
Again, it’s the third time this week.
Slowly, I roll my legs over the edge of the bed, careful not to wake the mountain range of snoring dog that’s taken up vigil beside my bed. I quietly sneak downstairs, to where I keep my workout bag. With shaky hands, I change into my running clothes… the whispers from my dream still too vague for me to make out the words. Quickly downing the dregs of the shop’s last pot of coffee from the previous night, I head out into the drizzling predawn hours.
Picking a direction at random, I run full tilt for maybe 15 minutes before hearing the hissing whispers that woke me up. Slipping down a side street, the whispers start gaining substance, I’m hearing more consonants than “H’s” and “S’s”.
Slowing my pace, I find myself standing before a rundown two-story house near the old Landmark brewery. Hopefully when it becomes the Schmidt Artist Lofts the neighborhood will take an upswing.
Looking from the old brick towers to the house, my hand closes around empty air, the spectral ax firm in my grip. Concentrating on the shadows in the empty windows, the ax whispers for the last time.
With a heavy breath to still my nerves, I start at the door with a run. A split second before my shoulder hits the door, the flat top of the ax’s head hits just to the center of the knob, obliterating the lock and the frame as my shoulder swings the door clear and I’m inside.
In the echo of the door’s destruction I’m creeping through the front hall and up the stairs, at the top I stop long enough to hear a rasping, inhaled sob. The owner’s throat too raw from wailing out it’s fear.
It’s coming from the bathroom. The hallway passes by in a blink of my jangled nerves, the ax in my hand is a length of barely contained violence. As I turn into the bathroom I see him there, curled into the same little ball the others were. Shoulders shaking with an unheard cry. Every time I see it I get a little sick inside.
My sneaker crunches on broken tile and the kid jerks, looking up at me, I put a finger to my lips as I make eye contact. Jesus, he can’t be more than 4 or 5 years old. He nods at me for a moment, before his eyes go wide.
Turning, I see her as she’s materializing into the hall. All dark, swirling hair, thin arms and fluttering, white skirt hems coming through the wall, her long fingernails aimed at my throat. As she screams, that silent scream that carries up the length of the ax to my ears, her mouth stretches to take up her entire face. I push into the hall ax first, surprising La Llarona as she finds she’s solid to my touch.
We push back and forth for a few tense seconds, each jockeying for the upper hand on the other. After a few swipes, she manages to rake her nails across my collarbone, a series of small gashes in my hoodie that quickly darken with the blood welling up beneath.
Thinking she has me on the ropes, she screams again as she rushes in to finish me, that’s when I bring the ax around in a whistling strike that takes her head from her shoulders. Both pieces remain there floating with her head spinning slowly from the remaining momentum of my swing, like there’s no gravity.
Dropping the ax, I step back into the bathroom. His terrified eyes look up to me as I hold out my hand to him, going down to a knee.
“C’mon baby… let’s get you back home.”
With a sob, he runs into my arms and we make our way back into the hall. Lifting his tear-wet face from my neck to look at the ghost, his rough voice whispers “What about her?”
“Don’t worry, when the sun comes up she’ll be gone.”
We get out of the house and take side streets to the police precinct where I’ll drop him off, carrying him the whole way. Setting him on his feet in the alley nearby, he looks at my hands as they go into the pockets of my hoodie, “Oh no, you left your ax!”
He won’t understand when I say “I wish”, so I just smile and say, “That’s ok, baby. You’re worth it,” and point to the door. “Alright Jacob, you’re going to go into that door with the police cars in front. They’re going to make a big fuss over you and get your parents here. Ok?”
He nods and gives my legs a quick hug before heading out of the alley. I watch until he goes in the door. Turning to head deeper into the alley, my hand closes around the ax shaft and slinging it over my shoulder I head home to open up shop.
I really hope there isn’t a fourth time this week.