Don’t Worry, Little Sis
by Ellen Tremiti
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The following night I listened for the garage door, but I was not lying in my bed like usual. I was lying still, flat, in the very, very back of my parents’ mini van, waiting.
It was freezing, and I tried to keep warm in my winter coat and snow gloves. The garage door slammed open and shut, and my brother got into the van, unaware I was there. Through a crack between the back seat and the side of the van, I could see his breath in the cold night air as he sighed and started the engine.
I thought of the tales of Weird NJ as we flew down Route 80, out of the wooded landscape of Northern New Jersey and into the congested city of Newark. Faster and faster, the car jerked back and forth. Lying on my back, I watched as the massive forests gave way to a cramped, dark city, punctuated by streetlights. We wove through rundown multi-family homes sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with apartment buildings. The city was silent and noisy at the same time. Blocks of silence clashed with blaring basses.
The van stopped, parked. My brother exited the vehicle and slammed the door. I lifted my head and watched him approach an innocuous building. It looked like a rundown Victorian home. It was three floors high, and a slice of light from a streetlamp sharpened its distinctive characteristics, green siding and white trimmed windows.
I was confused. In my head, I thought men would come to the van, exchange something for money through the front window. That’s what I had seen in movies. It would take a second, but then I’d know for sure. I thought, this was enough proof. I crouched down, lower, to remain hidden from the window. As I stared at the front door, something clawed at the edges of my memory.
There was something familiar about this place. And then I heard a scream. My brother’s voice.
I pulled myself into the middle seat and then out the side sliding door. I hopped to the ground and, without thinking, ran around the side of the building. I heard it again. The scream was bloodcurdling. I followed the voice down the alleyway towards a dumpster and a window several feet above me. The dumpster was wet from recent rainfall. I gripped the thick black plastic top and pulled myself on top of it. Standing on tiptoes, I peered into the window.
The room was unfinished and unfurnished. Half a dozen kids, about the age of my brother, were milling around while a few surrounded him. My brother was pinned to the ground, arms and legs held down by strangers. Someone was standing over Michael, and I thought I saw Blake in the circle. I also thought I saw the pointy tips of Marx’s mohawk.
I couldn’t see what they were doing, but I saw what was on the walls: scribbles and symbols in black ink. There was also an old, brick fireplace. I tried to make sense of what I was looking at, and then it hit me all at once: this was the house I saw in the crime scene photos in my brother’s book, Weird NJ. The house the Jersey Devil lived in.
The other teens helped my brother up and handed him a paper bag. There was definitely something sinister about this place, so empty and cold but, before I could think on its implications further, my brother was walking, fast, back the way he had come. I turned and jumped down from the dumpster, landing awkwardly and half-tripping. I had the distinct feeling again of something watching me, somewhere in the darkness. Run, run, run, I told myself as I fled down the alley, rushing to the van.
I scrambled back into the car and swung the sliding door shut as delicately as possible. I hoped he hadn’t noticed, but my brother flung himself into the driver’s seat so emphatically, I don’t think he would have noticed me if I had been sitting in the front passenger’s seat. There was an intensity in his movements and in the corner of his eye, that radiated through me. It startled me, through my bones, to my core. I had never felt his emotion like this. He wasn’t himself. He tossed the bag aside and took off.
I was too nervous to move, and I tried not to breathe. I hadn’t made it to the back of the van or even the back seat. I was crouched down next to the passenger-side sliding door. If he turned his head to the right, he would see me. It was dark, though, and that was good. I wasn’t sure what he’d do when he saw me, but I knew it would be ugly. He’d threaten me or worse — do anything to keep me from spilling his secret to our parents. What, I wasn’t sure, but I knew he would. He’d guilt me, maybe even hurt me. I didn’t know who my brother was anymore. He was his own monster.
I watched the side of his face as we passed streetlight after streetlight, zooming down Route 80, back to the woods and the pine trees. The closer we got to home, the more I saw sweat bead on my brother’s face. At first, the sweat was faint, tiny beads glistening under bursts of light. But, it got worse, along with my brother’s breathing. Perspiration rolled down his face, and it was hard to tell, but his skin paled and just as quickly, began to darken. Veins appeared pressed up against his cheek and neck. They pulsed under the skin. I could see them pushing against their thin captor, like snakes writhing under a silk sheet. He gritted his teeth and glanced at the passenger seat where he had tossed the bag. He turned back and drove on.
When we swung into my driveway, I didn’t recognize home. It wasn’t until the familiar clang of the garage door sounded that I realized, I had made it back. My brother yanked the parking brake and exited the car in a flash, leaping up the four steps to the entrance and hitting the garage door button as he went. My heart was pounding so hard I took in several deep breaths before daring to move. Glad to be rid of the confines of the van, I got out and went back inside, as quietly as I could.
The first floor of my house was pitch black. I went up the stairs and put my hand on the doorknob to my bedroom. I stopped. My brother’s bedroom door was open. A light was on, and the yellow light was filtering out into the hallway, but my brother was not there. I peered through the slice of light into darkness, towards my parents’ room. I could barely make it out. Their door was ajar.
I released my doorknob and stepped down the hall, through the tiny slice of light leading to my parents’ bedroom. I heard rustling and the creak of a faulty floor covered in thin carpeting. Two small lights were on, the nightlights on either side of my parents’ bed. I softly pushed the door open a little more and stared. My brother held the limp arm of my mother in one hand; in the other, he held a syringe.
But my mother was not my mother.
Her arm looked like it was melting into a long grotesque flap of skin. Her face was not her face. It was prolonged and animalistic. Horse-like. Still, she snored. Her feet stuck way out from the end of the bed, from under their paisley quilt. Her legs weren’t human legs. They were spindly, like chicken legs with thick mallet-like knobs at the ends.
I looked over to where my dad should have been. He had no semblance of human left to him. He was ashen and black. A long curved tail, I couldn’t even tell where it came from, lashed and swung back and forth, absently over them. They looked like demons with a flimsy blanket thrown over them, like the devil I had read about, like one of the sketches I had seen in my brother’s red notebook.
Michael hastily went over to my dad’s side of the bed and held a needle at his neck. He plunged it downwards, injecting him with something. He then walked over to my mom’s side and picked up another syringe. Slumping to the ground, panting, he stuck the needle in his arm. His body relaxed as my parents slept on. Their monstrous features were changing, retreating back inside them. I saw my mom’s arm return to its milky white self. Five fingers, one wrist and a soft, human arm. The legs slithered back up under the covers...
“Beth?” My brother said, and my heart stopped.
“Yes?” I said.
He placed a finger over his lips, grabbed his bag and syringes and pulled me just outside the door. I could barely see his face, but he looked like my brother.
“We let them sleep now,” he said. “If they find out you know, they’ll turn you, too.”
“Who are they?”
“They’re our parents, but the Devil’s got ’em.” He paused. “It got a lot of the parents. Some of the kids. Jimmy... But he was too far gone before...” Michael paused and breathed in. “I saw them once, like that, so they got me, too.”
“That’s how it survives. We’re trying to purge it. It takes time, and the Devil spreads when it feels itself dying. But I can get you out of here. Don’t believe what you hear,” he said. “I’m not what they say I am. Me and the guys, we want something better for ourselves. We’re gonna fight this devil to the end,” Another pause. “Okay? I gotta go lie down.”
Maybe he saw the shock and horror on my face, or maybe he could just sense it, but then he did something familiar.
Before walking back down the hall to his room and closing the door, Michael placed both hands on my shoulders and squeezed. He bent close to me and whispered, emphasizing each word, “Don’t worry, little sis.”
And as my brother held me, finally himself again, I took a syringe from his hand and tried my hardest not to.
Copyright © 2019 by Ellen Tremiti