I groan, the sun’s rays peeking through the curtains and drilling a hole into my skull. What time is it? My head feels like it has been put into a vise, my mind a conglomerate of random memories shoved haphazardly together. The world around me feels blurry and intangible. Curling up in the fetal position, I vaguely note that I’m still wearing the same clothes from—Wait, when did I get home from…from whatever that place was? Gods, I can’t even think straight right now.
I roll over in bed, stifling a groan as a wave of nausea hits me. My whole body aches as if I had run a marathon the day before. I blink back tears, and as my vision rights itself, I find myself face to face with my tragic mask. I let out a scream and fly backward off the bed in a tangle of flailing limbs and bedsheets. My impact with the ground rattles my entire body. The sheets are tangled around me like spider’s webs. I kick them off and weakly push myself up into a sitting position. I dare not look in the mirror, knowing full well that my hair is a rat’s nest and my makeup is no doubt streaked and patchy. How long had I slept?
I grab the edge of my bed and pull myself up enough to peek warily at the source of my ever-increasing fear. The mask, like an omen of death and despair, gazes back at me lifelessly. I’ll never be free of it or the darkness inside me.
“The darkness,” I gasp. Memories of that sketchy pawn shop come trickling back to me. The last thing I remember before everything went dark was the fear that gripped my heart. My legs are shaky as I stand and turn to sit on the edge of the bed. The darkness. She took over, and she—
“I need to write this down!” I launch forward and quickly regret it as I immediately feel lightheaded. I catch myself on the nightstand, my stomach turning before I double over and expel the remaining. What did she do? Take me for a celebratory drink after saving me from those men?
It hits me like another punch to the gut. I stagger from my nightstand to dresser. My darkness saved me from those men. I snatch up my journal and—Wait, where’s my pen? I always keep a pen next to it. I move various knickknacks out of the way, seeing if it rolled behind them, and check the floor all around the dresser to no avail. That’s strange. Where did it go?
Shaking my head, I head over to the small desk in the corner of my bedroom. There’s a crunch under my boot that gives me pause. I pull my foot back, my brow furrowing when I find pieces of electronics scattered across the floor. It looks like the remains of—My camera!
I let out a shriek as my phone suddenly goes off in the deadpan silence. I shake my head at myself with a laugh. Girl, you need to get a grip. I toss the journal onto the bed and check my phone. I click into the text from an unknown number, and my heart drops, a chill going through me.
Sorry about the mess, but you were getting far too nosey for my liking. Check your camera app for the rest of the message. xoxo
My hands shake as I pull up the app that linked my phone to my once operational camera. I click into a saved recording labeled Message for Melpomene, and it pulls up a grainy, static-filled video of my bedroom. A shiver goes down my spine as the dark shape of a woman moves across the room, idly swinging a club. As she turns her head to face the camera, I catch the glint of her eyes, my eyes, behind that damn tragic mask. The feed cuts out, and I jump with a sharp gasp, fumbling with my phone as her face is suddenly inches from the screen. My eyes, once a beautiful blue-green, are so dark blue it’s like staring into the deepest depths of the ocean. “Stop searching before you get hurt,” she hisses, her voice, my voice, almost demonic.
She then pulls back and slams her club into the camera, the screen going black. The phone falls from my hands, my shoulders shaking as fear filled sobs wrack my body. Gold ichor tears sting my cheeks as I slide down the bedframe to the floor. I don’t know what to do. I can’t control her, and I can’t outsmart her. I don’t know what to do!!! With my head held in my hands, I bawl my eyes out.
I’m in a zombie-like state as I pull out Christmas decorations and set about sprucing up the funeral home with some festive cheer. A day has gone by, and I still feel like crap. The stress combined with whatever my dark persona did the day before has taken its toll on me, both mentally and physically. I feel like a shell of myself. Coffee and sheer determination are about the only things getting me through the day.
“Are you sure you’re well enough to work? I can hold down the fort another day if need be,” a voice penetrates my haze. I turn to face my trusted funeral attendant and apprentice Ben. His brown eyes, which peek behind a mop of dark brunette hair that always seems to fall in his face, are lit up with genuine concern. I take him in for a moment. He’s got a certain boyish charm to him, and I love how his gothic grunge style attire fits the whole aesthetic of this place that I take such pride in. Most importantly, he’s a hard worker, and his attention to detail makes up for my scatterbrain.
“I’ll manage,” I say with a tired sigh. “It’s just been a rough week.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asks, side eyeing me as he places a sugar skull ornament on the Christmas tree. I purse my lips in thought. A large part of me screams for someone to confide in. I’ve spent several millennia on my own. Mind you, it was of my own volition. I chose to leave in order to protect my family from this darkness inside me, but it doesn’t mean that that choice doesn’t weigh heavily on me every day of my immortal existence. It’s a burden, a burden I’m willing to bear for their sake.
I shake my head. “It’s complicated.”
He nods and doesn’t press the matter further, our conversation shifting to talk of the upcoming holiday party. This is the first Christmas I’ve celebrated since buying the place, and I want to make it special. We’re going to hold an open house, inviting the community to join us. Nervous excitement strums through me as we talk over the details whilst finishing putting up the last few decorations. I plug in the Christmas tree and take a step back to admire our handiwork with a grin.
The lights flash on in a brilliant display of festive colors, and for a split second, everything feels right in the world. And then there’s a popping noise followed by sparks as every light in the entire building winks out right before our eyes. My smile slips from my face. Dammit. I jinxed it again, didn’t I?