Hereford Middle School
©2023 - All rights held by the author
“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”
- Edgar Allan Poe, in a letter to George W. Eveleth, January 4th, 1848
It starts with a drizzle.
The slow, meandering of raindrops, each one plopping against the hood of Carrie’s car with a soft tink. Not the rushing, thundering torrent of rain that logs up her wheels and clogs up her vision, that washes over her windshield in thin waves of blurred water, (not yet at least), but a measured drizzle, instead. Beads of water running down the passenger side windows, getting lost in the small plastic bristles after racing each other down.
Carrie finds she doesn’t mind it much. If anything, the rhythm of the rain was soothing, the droplet’s beating in time with the songs playing on her car’s radio.
It’s a good distraction, Carrie thinks, from where I’m going.
Where she ‘was going’ could be a lot of things, up to interpretation.
To Carrie, ‘where she’s going’ is a long-term, extended stay in prison. Equipped with the whole, presumably wretched, experience; cool to the touch, wrought iron bars, fingernail-sized soap bars that do more bad than good, as far as smell is concerned. Other inmates, with their bad breath, heavy fists, and hungry eyes.
To anyone else, though, it’s just a visit to her parents' house. (Just, Carrie hates that word, loathes how it suggests that something is meaningless, that you should just get over it. That something is just not that bad. It’s demeaning. It’s something that Mr. And Mrs. Galang, her parents, would tell Carrie all the time, growing up.)
She knows she’s overreacting, that she should be happy, happy to see the people who raised her, fed her, and helped her pay for her first semester in college, happy to be able to have time to visit them over spring break. Overjoyed to meet her nephew, her brother, Henry's, child, who must be at least four, now.
Carrie should be happy. But she just... can’t bring herself to be. Excited, that is, to be back in that house, suffocating on air, drowning above water. Her parents the ones holding her under, her brother too ignorant to notice.
At least I’ll have Auggie, Carrie tells herself, Auggie always helps.
Auggie, predictably, was a cat, with grey-streaked fur and an equally cloudy attitude. His ears were scarred—so much so that it was difficult for the hair to grow back—his hip irreversibly damaged from a run in with a neighbor dog. He was a pain, mostly. A lovable pain. He was smart, too smart, sometimes, and Carrie could swear, in rare moments of weakness, that Auggie could see not only her, but through her, body and soul.
This is why he was named the way he was, after August Dugan. A fictional man, from one of Poe’s works. A fictional man who was equal parts eccentric, clever, and a bit odd. Most men have windows over their hearts, Carrie remembers the quote now, through these he could see into their souls. Carrie thought he was right, and took quite a bit of comfort from it.
The wind picks up with a howl, and Carrie blinks away her musings as she slows down to sixty-five miles per hour, the now rain-slicked highway making her car skid just a bit. Dark clouds loom from above her, and Carrie hears thunder from not too far off.
The rain begins to beat down harder, the drops of water bunching together in large clumps, making the sound of them hitting Carrie’s hood sound less like plop and more of a bang, than anything.
Oh, no, Carrie thinks, only a bit sarcastically, looks like I’ll have to pull off the road.
As Carrie pulls off onto the exit, she fishes her phone out from the cup holder, aiming to tell her to-be-hosts that she’ll be late, and to no, don’t worry, and yes, please just start dinner without me, and click her mother’s name.
The rain rushes over her car, now a full-blown thunderstorm, the booming noises ringing in Carries ears as the phone does the same, and rings, and rings, and--
“--This subscriber cannot be reached, please try again later.”
Carrie sighs, resting her palm at one o’clock on the steering wheel, turning into a small rest stop parking lot. The lights are off, which she finds a bit odd, since the sign back on the highway had said it was open 24/7, but she sees a far-off figure, a customer, she assumes, standing near the entrance.
“This subscriber cannot be reached, please try again later.”
“This subscriber cannot be--”
A scoff, from Carrie, who looks back to check on Auggie, who suddenly has started to curl up in the corner of the seat, his tongue flicking out, like a defensive serpent, and she pats his head.
“No need to worry, Hugh,” she says, dialing once more, if only to leave a voicemail, and frowns, just slightly, when her cat only meows softly in a whimper, “It’s just the storm.”
Or she’s just ignoring me, Carrie thinks to herself, raising the phone to her ear, even if she was the one so adamant for me to visit.
“Hey, mom. It’s Carmen, I’m about an hour out, but a storm came through. It’s pretty nasty.”
Carrie squints, her eyes adjusting to the darkness, and sees that the figure from before has drawn closer, albeit slowly. He’s shadowed in darkness, not a thing visible about him besides the gangly way his arms swing at his sides as he walks.
“I’m probably going to hole up for a while, so I’ll be a bit late, um... oh.”
Carrie trails off as the man draws closer still, her thumb hitting the hang up button, and it’s only now that she realizes no other vehicles are parked in the lot, and the man is getting closer and closer and closer.
She locks the doors, hearing the click of the metal and feeling a bit relieved, but her lungs are still clenched, and Carrie realizes she’s been holding her breath. Blondie is playing on the radio, Debbie Harry’s vocals obscured by the pouring rain, making her sound distorted, the instruments buzzing uncomfortably in Carrie’s ears.
Or it’s just the fear. She thinks it might just be fear. All encompassing, like a fog that’s wrapping around her, and squeezing till she pops.
Carrie feels like she’s going to vomit. Bile already rising to her throat. The taste is tangy, acidic in a way only bile can be.
She leans back against the seat, able to feel the blood rushing around in her, pumping her heart fast. Too fast. Is it normal to feel like your heart’s going to fling from your chest? For it to feel collapsed, clenched up and wrung out, and at the same time, far too loose, like it’ll weave between her ribs and drop to the pit of her stomach? Carrie doesn’t think so.
Auggie is hissing, now. His claws protruding from his little paws, digging into the cloth-bound backseat of the beater.
The man is slow, Carrie realizes, and as she flings her arm out to start the ignition, her mind on a one-way-track, chanting get out, get out, get out, one of the side doors fling open. She thinks it might have been from Auggie jumping around, and Carrie doesn’t have a child lock. An oversight on her part, she only half thinks, because her brain feels bloated, like it was pressing against the walls of her skull.
The cat flings himself out the open door, and Carrie, in a moment of weakness, clambers out after. Because that’s her Auggie, whose she’s raised since he was a kitten, who tried to lick Carrie’s face when she cried, despite her protests, and was more of a support for her than her family ever was. Auggie’s running around, lunging back and forth like a man gone mad, and the guy is walking, walking, walking. Steadily. He’s about ten yards away, and as Carrie scoops up her cat’s writhing form, she gets a better look.
Lighting strikes down, and the small bit of light illuminates his form, and it just feels wrong to call the guy a ‘him’. The word is like an ill-fitting suit, when ‘it’ matches much more.
Its eyes are wide, bulging from its face as if they were about to fall out, with purple veins, broken up and scrawling like the lightning strike. His pupils are wide, blown out, and meet Carrie’s head-on. She feels a chill, itching and burning and freezing, run down the length of her spine, the energy pooling in the depths of her stomach.
She dives for the door, but the wind has blown it shut. She pulls and pulls and pulls, but the doors are still locked, and it is walking nearer.
Its hair is red, actually red, as if it were blonde died with blood, and it’s uneven, overgrown in some places, chopped short in others. It reminds Carrie, not-so-belatedly, of how she would picture the orangutan in The Murders in the Rue Morgue. She pictures that the thing walking, closer, closer, and closer to Carrie, with its gangly limbs and limp red hair, is the same murderous orangutan, wearing the skin of some unfortunate man that he killed.
She thinks of the sailor, the hypothetical orangutan’s owner, with a deep voice and guilty disposition. Is he still searching for his missing pet? Will Carrie be its last victim, or just another casualty in a string of grisly murders?
The thing in front of Carrie brandishes no weapon, and its slender fingers look normal, if a little large. She thinks it would be hard for it to cause so much damage in so little time as that large primate had, enough to make that poor old woman’s head be lopped off.
But that was just a story, hypothetical people she’s imagined from the tale of a dead man named Poe that she read years ago, and never understood.
She thinks, though, that she’s just like Mademoiselle Camille, at this moment. Forced to watch something horrific, being so frightened that sweat makes her clothes bunch and hair feel impossibly itchy on her scalp, the rain, the onslaught of water like the blood of Camille’s mother weighing Carrie down, knowing that she’s next. Frozen in time, with that fact clouding her mind, her body unable to do anything. That she’ll end up like Camille, strangled of all air, dying before she’s ready.
It is close now, only a few feet away, and Carrie feels Auggie cry out. She thinks, then, that she loves him more than anyone, and tosses him away, away, away. Because he’s her August Dugan, who's a fast-thinker and not always pleasant, who never died. Who got away from the dreadful monster.
Carrie thinks that she’s a bit like Madam L’Espanaye, too. The old woman, the mother, who had died. Carrie likes to think the woman had tried to protect Mademoiselle Camille, and that’s why she had been killed first. Why was she so brutally slain, her throat ripped, tossed out the window as if she were a doll, cast out by a petulant child.
Carrie hears, through the squelch of the strangers' bare feet on the pavement, the ringtone of her mother, muted by the car's metal. She thinks, little too late, as the last lyrics of whatever song had been playing mingle with the rain and the wind and the squelching and Carrie’s scream.
As it comes closer,
The ringing stops.