by David “Dapeki” King
She let out an ear-stabbing screech and gripped the steering wheel with her soul. But she wasn’t strong enough. The tires of the car screamed as they veered left too sharp. Her leg was forced down onto the pedal even harder as her voice cracked mid-scream, unable to exert any more force. She was terrified, so scared that her life didn’t even flash before her eyes. She shot one last look into the passenger seat, catching a full glimpse of the cause of her tragic end. She had known all along. She knew she could have prevented this exact moment. She was given countless opportunities and wasted all of them, giving something she no longer trusted the benefit of the doubt.
So, with what felt like her last glance, she turned back to the view outside the windshield and took it all in.
Somewhere, her parents were jogging the last bit of their 2-mile run, probably almost back home already. Most likely discussing how it was nice to get up early and enjoy nature. It was a pretty day. The sun was out, but not beaming relentlessly. There was a slight breeze and an abundance of handsome birds floating from branch to branch. Families sat under the shade of palm trees as they watched their children fish in the neighborhood pond. It really was a beautiful day.
And then the tree that was once in the distance appeared right in front of the car, bringing it to an immediate halt.
TEN HOURS EARLIER
Although Jacky stood wide eyed and focused, she felt her eyes begging to shut tight, opposed to the torture of absorbing the stomach-churning scene.
But she couldn’t look away. This wasn’t the first time being haunted by the gruesome images her mind had suggested she was seeing, however this time she noticed how real the moment was.
She had spent a number of treacherous hours daydreaming about gory hypotheticals her mind formed from the true memories she couldn’t erase. Each day she felt like she was crazier than the last, and yet, she was certain about what she remembered seeing that night.
She knew the lengths her imagination would go, so when her own mind tried to gaslight her into believing she had completely made up the memory, she had to remind herself of the individual moments strung together to form a living nightmare. She remembered walking out of her bedroom at two in the morning five months prior. She knew she saw the bathroom door slightly open, light bleeding through the slight crackers. And when she peeped through, she was certain she saw her brother crying, the soft sound of his unsteady breathing lost under the running water. The stench of bleach was potent even outside the bathroom. And when he lifted his hands just for a second, she was able to catch a quick but clear glimpse of a knife so drenched in blood, there wasn’t a single glimmer from the light against the metal.
She silently retreated to her bed that night.
Since that night, nothing seemed to be real to her anymore.
But what she now saw in front of her was too real. It solidified multiple months of her constantly rising suspicions, terrifying dreams, and unproven allegations.
Hours prior, she had watched her big brother sweating and hauling a big suitcase into the bed of his pickup truck. And as she watched him drive off into the sunset, she had to coax herself down from a building panic attack.
Now, as she watched Rome once again, her heart began beating too fast.
He was meticulous. In the darkness of midnight, and with his only light source being the home screen of his unlocked phone held in his mouth, he hosed down his arms from triceps to fingertips. He rigorously used one arm to run down the other arm, taking his time to be thorough.
And that’s when she froze. As she peeked through the kitchen window, her speeding heart hit the brakes, stopping to skip a beat or two. Rome’s head had turned just the slightest and the dim light shining from his mouth angled directly onto his arm at a slant that showed the last of a dark, splattered residue being engulfed by the pressure water, flowing as one liquid into the pitch-black ground.
After some seconds, she realized that she couldn’t move. The needed to turn around and leave before someone saw her. Before Rome saw her.
She forced her body to work and walked away from the door.
When she got to her bedroom, she let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. She landed on the edge of her bed and crawled up under the covers. She wrapped her arms around her knees and held herself tight.
She didn’t know when she fell asleep but her eyes opened, and her body did not move. She had remained in a fetal position the entire night.
The three seconds of peace that comes with waking up each morning disappeared quickly. Immediately, her mind painted vivid and horrid pictures from depictions of her own memory.
She closed her eyes tight and forced a big, deep breath. She held it, then released. She continued to breathe deeply, working hard to take back control of her mind.
But she felt uncomfortable. Her breathing tactics were no longer working. She was getting anxious, scared of what she wouldn’t even seem to identify.
In a quick spurt, her hands went up and slammed down, sinking into the memory foam just shallow enough for her to push her body up. Her torso rose from the bed and her head turned to the side.
Her door was cracked about an inch open. She knew she had closed it behind her before falling asleep.
She made eye contact with a singular-eyed gaze through the crack. The fear she felt made her feel as though her heart imploded in her chest.
She had to stop herself from screaming.
There was a gentle knock and the door inched open a bit more.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.” Rome said as he poked his head into the room.
Jacky’s heart was trying to descend back to a normal rate.
“You up?” He continued. “Mom wanted me to ask you if you wanted to go jogging with her.”
He kept his head and neck past the door frame.
“No.” She said fast but quietly.
Rome disappeared, closing the door behind him.
Her body fell right back onto the bed, her face slamming into the pillows.
She wanted to cry. In the house she lived, she was facing a situation so terrifying, not many other people could ever relate. She didn’t know who she could talk to. She didn’t know who she should talk to. She felt like the literal universe was playing the darkest prank on her.
She brought back her breathing technique. And when she gathered enough strength, she pushed herself back up and swung her feet over the edge of the bed, sitting up.
She had to drag her body out of the bed and into the bathroom. And as she finished brushing her teeth, she could feel the first bit of wetness in her eyes. She rushed rinsing out and hopped into the shower. There, water would flow on her face regardless, so she didn’t think of it as “crying”.
By the time she was out, she was feeling a bit better. And as she dressed up, she tried to give herself positive affirmations, attempting to manifest a positive day. It was a Saturday. There was no school, no responsibilities, and she could literally go anywhere.
Or, she thought about how she could spend the next couple hours “burrito-ed” in a blanket on the couch, eating cereal, and binge watching her favorite Hulu shows.
She bundled up in front of the TV with a bowl of Frosted Flakes in her lap.
After one full episode, she was relaxed. She was on her third bowl and was running low on milk.
She hit pause on the remote and grabbed the edges of the blanket to stand up. She lifted the plastic bowl to her mouth and held it in between her teeth. She didn’t know how she would bring the bowl back to the couch but she figured she’d cross that bridge when she got there.
There was just enough almond milk left in the fridge for one more full bowl of pure joy.
She placed the cartoon in the recycling bin and adjusted the blanket so she wouldn’t have to use her hands to hold it. It took multiple trials and multiple errors, but she got it.
She was ready to return to the couch.
She grabbed the bowl with both hands and made her way out of the kitchen. She turned the corner to continue her journey but almost ran into Rome.
She gasped at the sight of him. In her shock, it occurred to her that just because her mom went on a jog, it didn’t mean Rome went as well.
Rome screamed too many profane words in mere seconds. Jacky looked down and realized that, in her shock, she had dropped the bowl and didn’t even notice.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it, just be careful not to step in it.” He said to her.
“Sorry,” was all she was able to force out.
“Just do me one favor. Grab me the bottle of bleach.’
She inched away from the spreading mess then turned, making her way back in the kitchen.
“It’s under the bathroom sink. I forgot to put it back in the kitchen last time I used it.”
She spun around, unable to remember how to walk normally, and made her way to the couch where she dropped her blanket. The coldest chill ran down her spine. She tried hard to shake it off, then turned and continued her awkward walk to the bathroom.
She knew the bleach was under the sink, Rome had just told her. But when she actually opened the cabinet and saw the bleach, it made her stomach sick.
She grabbed the bottle and moved for the door but stopped at one step. She spun back around and lowered her head to the sink just in time for her stomach to push out its contents.
She immediately twisted the tap on, using a few handfuls of water to wash out her mouth. Then she uncapped the bleach and poured just a touch to cover the smell.
She felt obligated to take a couple deep breaths before exiting the bathroom with the bleach. By that time, Rome had cleaned most of the milk up.
She watched as he finished up. Then handed him the bleach.
“Is Dad awake yet?” She asked as he twisted the cap on the bleach.
“Been. He went jogging with Mom.”
She froze at the words; she was home alone with Rome.
She wanted to leave. But she didn’t want to depart abruptly and make her fear so obvious.
“I’m going out to get milk.” She said, diverting the tension.
“Perfect, can I join you for the ride?” He asked. “I have to pick up a prescription for Dad at the pharmacy right beside the grocery store.”
Jackie wanted to scream. In the last sixty seconds, her perfect day had gone to absolute crap.
“Sure.” She cringed.
She walked off, furious that she had to accept that peace of mind would no longer be an option for her.
She swiped the keys off her dresser and switched her house slippers for her purple crocs.
By the time she came back out, the floor was completely clean, and Rome was ready.
Jacky led the way, walking straight out to the front door and to the car. She hopped in the driver’s seat and Rome entered beside her.
The engine roared to life and her phone connected via Bluetooth.
Her music blasted and she rushed to turn the volume down but kept it loud enough to prevent any small talk or conversation. And although it was only a ten-minute drive, she rather her thoughts be drowned out by R&B music.
Rome exited the car at the curb in front of the pharmacy and Jacky drove to a close parking spot in front of the store.
She stepped out of the car and was on a mission. She entered the store and made a right, going straight for the milk. The almond milk she liked was buy one, get one free. Her lips curled into a tender smile, a small sign of joy.
A sign so small, yet so reassuring it gave her the mental boost she needed to help her believe she could make it back home without cracking.
She took the cartons up to the register, paid, and walked out of the store. And as she placed the milk in the backseat, she saw Rome come out of the pharmacy, bag in hand, and make direct eye contact with her.
He broke eye contact quickly, looking left, right, left then crossed the street right outside of the crosswalk to the parking lot.
By the time he got to the car, the music was already just-under-blasting.
Once his seatbelt was on, Jacky reversed out of the parking spot and drove onto the road.
The first five minutes were boring, and Jacky was more than grateful for that.
But then her thoughts began to scatter, instigating hypotheticals. She began to get visibly nervous and, out of her peripheral, she glanced at Rome. In the split second that her eyes left his face, she saw something that was a bit strange.
Rome had the prescription bag at a slant, trying to hide the label. But Jacky could see a bit of the edge.
At the top right corner, she could see the last three letters of a name. O-M-E
It was almost impossible to keep her mind calm. She had overthought way too deep and had solidified answers she had not yet confirmed were true in reality.
As she approached her turn, she rotated the wheel fast, making the turn sharp. She watched out of the corner of her eye as the brown paper bag slid off Rome’s lap and onto the car floor.
“Sorry.” She apologized disingenuously.
Rome reached down to pick up the bag, and as he lifted it, Jacky caught herself diverting too much of her focus from the road and to the bag. She had to physically turn her head back to the windshield.
She prayed Rome didn’t see her. She knew he was capable of putting two and two together and easily figuring out what she had figured out. Instead, he let out a deep exhale.
It took her a few seconds to realize he was talking to her. She dialed the music down a couple notches. Her heart raced as she approached the street the house was on. She just had to make it home. Another minute and a half, at most.
“Why did you do that?” He continued. “You’ve pretended not to know for months. Should’ve kept going.”
Before she could even gasp, Rome’s right hand reached over and clasped hard against her right knee, driving the heel of his hand down. With brute strength, he forced Jacky’s foot harder down on the gas pedal.
“Rome!” She screamed.
He flinched at the volume directly entering his ear but didn’t relax his grip or force.
With his left hand, he let go of the medicine bag and clamped the second grip on the wheel, pushing it away from his direction.
In what seemed like slow-motion, Jacky watched as the bag labeled Smith, Rome flew to the ground once again.
She let out an ear-stabbing screech and gripped the steering wheel with her soul.
Bio: David “Dapeki” King is a Miami-based writer who loves spending hours upon hours spinning horror, thriller, and suspense stories into a web of creative chaos. Reading the tales written by Dapeki is guaranteed to lift you off your feet and show you sights you couldn’t possibly see elsewhere. With a truly creative mind, it is clear the time, effort, and passion Dapeki puts into all of his stories.
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