Paranoia! In Maine
Alix was staring at the house, an old white Victorian home in upstate Maine. Unfortunately, she had been dragged here. Her mother had a new job at the law firm, and this was to be her new hell for the next four years of high school.
“Isn’t it beautiful, honey?” Her mother, Mary asked as she turned to face her daughter.
“Beautiful,” she agreed, “But so are flowers in a graveyard.” Her mother gave her a look that said: You better stop with that attitude. Alix threw her hands up in surrender moving to the back of their dumpy little olive-green station wagon. It reminded her of the ugly hooptie station wagon the family in the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies had used. The landscape directly behind their new home was dotted with trees. A sparse little forest.
Woodsy, but not so woodsy. Back woods enough to where you could see a deer in the early morning as you drank your coffee and contemplated if your life was even worth living for another day, but not so woodsy that you were terrified of a bear attacking your house. Did bear attacks even happen in Maine? What did happen in Maine? Anything? Nothing? Maine is the creepy neighbor that seems to be perfectly normal but secretly has a thing for chaining mailmen up in their basement compared to the blatant fucked-up-in-your-face nature of every other state in the goddamn country. These thoughts and thoughts of what other creepy beings might rush out of the forest crept into her mind as Alix grabbed the dusty cardboard boxes, the bottoms threatening to give as they carried the burdens of her new life. The movers would be there any moment to with their furniture.
As if it wasn’t obvious enough Alix didn’t want to live here. She wanted to be back home in Chicago. Back in the hustle of the city where she was lulled to sleep by the soft car horns and the movement of life, here was the opposite. She would need to invest in something like a sound machine to get any form of sleep. The sounds of life would no longer serenade her to sleep at night, no. It would be like going to sleep in a coffin. Only muffled sounds around her, as if they would be lowering her into the dirt.
School started in a week. She was going to be stuck in her home for a week straightening out her knick-knacks as if that would sort out her life. Her mother wouldn’t listen however. Arranging her Paranoia! At the Dance Hall, Radioactive Man, and Their Biological Affair CDS in a meticulous order by their release dates (and lead singer hotness) was as her mother saw- getting her life together. Of course, she did, her mother hadn’t heard a word she had said since she married her new husband (or to Alix, her step-loser).
Her step-loser’s name was Harry Dickensheets (pronounced DickenSHITS thank you very much) a name she had never gotten over. A name her once beautifully single mother now shared, much to her daughter’s chagrin. Her step loser was a successful man himself. A businessman. One that fake baked entirely too often, and his face was stuck in the permanent frozen paralysis of Botox. Not to mention, his teeth were so dazzling white that when he smiled, he would run the risk of blinding you. That is if he could manage to pull his lips up that far at the corners. A grimace-y smile to compensate for the deep worry wrinkles on his skyscraper forehead, of which he kept his wispy hair neatly combed over as if to hide it. She briefly wondered if she was shrunken down if she could end it all from jumping off his forehead.
Heading into the new house it was large, and a bit musty as all old houses tended to be; As if the dust was never truly able to be cleansed, like a sinner in church. This thought was pushed aside when her eyes met the large sparse room that had been dubbed hers.
It was big, bigger than she had anticipated by a long shot. She put the boxes in the corner as she took this quiet opportunity (or as quiet as it could be with her mother screaming at the movers) to survey and familiarize herself with what would be the little lock box of her personality. The walls were white, but they would be covered in various posters when she was done, her bookcase would go against the far wall. Her nightstand would sit cozily against her bed, nestled into the corner. Her bed would go next to but not under the window. Her bedroom was on the second story, but it still gave her the creeps While she was mentally arranging her room, she saw the closet.
She frowned and turned the closet door handle, finding it to be locked. Odd; how many closets locked? She had never come across one that locked. Maybe it was something to do with the age of the house. Some old Victorian weirdness or something. So, Alix decided to rush down the creaky steps (taking note of which steps creaked, the 3rd, and 6th which was also the top step) to ask her mom about it.
That night she was lying in bed, covered in mismatched threadbare blankets. Her actual bedding had yet to be unpacked. She stared up at her ceiling (well, staring up at her poster of Brady Ursin, the lead singer of Paranoia! At the Dance Hall) as she tried to go to sleep in a house that was entirely too quiet. The silence blanketed everything. It was louder than the symphony of car horns, yells, and police sirens she would have heard in the city. She had tried to use her little portable cd player to drown out the screaming silence, but it skipped every time she had to breathe. Alix would have tossed the thing clear across the room if it wouldn’t have scratched her CD. She took her headphones out and kept her eyes on Brady when there was a dull thumping sound.
She blinked. Her mother and stepfather were asleep. Her stepfather was a relatively heavy sleeper, but her mother? She was a light sleeper for the most part, unless she took melatonin, as she did on nights when she struggled with insomnia. The sleeping pills had been her step father’s idea. It couldn’t be them. They wouldn’t be up.
Thank god, because had they been up that dull thumping sound could have only been one thing, and she didn’t have any bleach handy. Whatever it was, it did help lull her to sleep. Alix was a heavy sleeper, a trait she had inherited from her father.
It had taken her some time to grow accustomed to this new environment. The town was small, so small it had two gas stations: Motomart and Shell, Only two, and the signs were old and decaying on them both. Clearly, they had seen better days but were also not hurting for business, they both had their regulars. Alex knew as much; she had gone to both and clearly someone was keeping them both in business somehow. It had one elementary and middle school in the public-school system, Wilson, and Coolidge. One private school for those wanting to keep their children in a more religious environment. Then there was the Hawkridge High School. Hawkridge was the name of the town, and it seemed only fitting to name the High School something so cliché, it was the only intermediate school for miles at any rate. Why shouldn’t they only have one? The town struggled to fully fill one high school gymnasium, there is no way the town would have two.
Then there was a dollar store for quick purchases, like whenever you run out of dish soap at the last minute and it is the very last thing you need to buy. It was full of household essentials, but also carried weird knick-knacks and mylar balloons. Then there was one grocery store, one Hannaford supermarket, which was the more traditional grocery store full of produce, and several flavors of and types of cereals. A few mom and pop shops that sold personalized pressed shirts, ice cream, and vintage clothing. Otherwise, there was only one real hangout for teens in the town, and that was Shrewsbury Lanes, which was the local bowling place. It was where all of the high schoolers went to try and score cigarettes and booze off the older teens, or make out behind the building, a few select others hot-boxed in the bathroom, and nobody seemed to care. It was the hangout, and after hotboxing it wasn’t uncommon to go and order the over-priced greasy burgers, and sodas where the drink was more ice than anything. For Alix this town was incredibly small, claustrophobic even, especially when she just knew that everyone would know each other, and she would be the weird new girl.
Her first week in her new school was rather bleak. Especially since she found repeating her name, where she was from, and searching her brain for one solitary ‘interesting’ thing about herself boring. She was already tired of feeling like ‘that emo new girl.’ So, of course she threw herself into her homework. When that was done (usually before the end of the school day) she had nothing else to occupy her time except listen to her music and ignore her stepfather. It was the same thing every day. It was the same thing every day until the day it wasn’t. See, it was Friday. She had finished her homework in her study period earlier that day. That wasn’t the unusual bit. She had a horrible looming feeling of dread, except this was much worse. It felt as if she had swallowed a bowling ball. It was heavy in her stomach, rolling around all day, but she couldn’t put her finger on why. She didn’t have a test in algebra. Alix had thought that that may have been why, but no. In all senses of the word she was free.
That bowling ball ran up the lane of her chest and struck her heart when she returned home. Inside was a child, A boy with bleach blonde hair and eyes so light blue they seemed translucent. Alix dropped her backpack on the ground when she had walked into the living room. The boy was sitting with his spine eerily straight, unblinking. Her step-loser was sitting beside him with the newspaper open, obscuring his face.
“Uh, hello?” Alix asked swatting her ebony hair out of her eyes.
She received no response, just the crunchy shuffle of the newspaper being flipped.
“Hello?” She asked again furrowing her brows, she had half a mind to wave her hands in front of his face but thought better of it. The thought of the boy grabbing her arm and biting into it suddenly flashed through her mind’s eye and she recoiled. Yeah, no. She was not going to do that, although the thought occurred to just throw her backpack at him and bolt upstairs, as fast as her skinny-jean clad legs would carry her.
“Alix?” Her mother called, poking her head out from the kitchen, “Oh sweetie.” She smiled and bustled out from the kitchen, wiping what appeared to be flour on her Evil Queen apron, the apron Alix had gotten her for her birthday. The substance left white streaks down the black material in it’s wake as well and puffed up into a small cloud before dispersing seemingly into nothingness.
“Mom, hi. Um, is he here to help with a bake sale or something?”
Her mom’s face mirrored her confusion for a moment before breaking off into a smile. Mary laughed.
“Honey, you’re so funny. That’s your step-brother. Don’t you remember? Damien, he spent Christmas with us last year.”
Nothing sparked in her memory, or rather something did, but just as soon as it did it was gone. Like trying to light a flame in water. What? What was happening? Something weird was going on, but judging by the look on her mother’s face, she was serious. Alix feigned a giggle, “Oh right! Silly me! I’m just tired.” She waved it off. The look of understanding and motherly concern clouded her mother’s features.
“I can bring you some tea to your room and you can take a nap?” Mary put her hand on her daughter’s shoulder, squeezing in a manner that was supposed to be comforting.
Alix turned back to the boy who had finally moved and had been staring at her. She felt every muscle in her body tense and then spasm in alarm. The hairs on the back of her neck standing on end. Something was so very wrong. His eyes were just wrong. Mary squeezed her shoulder again, questioning.
“Oh yeah, mom. I would love some chamomile tea,” she muttered.
Mary nodded but as she turned away Alix spotted something on the back of her neck. It was a circular mark, a bruise. An angry red with purple blotches in the middle. Her mom had a hickey! A hickey! She did not need to know what her step-loser and her mom did in any way, shape, or form in their private time! When her mom moved under the light as she passed into the kitchen it got worse. It looked puckered and… like it had…teeth marks? She felt her stomach roll. God, she did not need to think about her fake bake step-loser with his pearly whites biting and sucking on the back of her mother’s neck.
“Alix,” the boy, Damien asked. His voice, just like the rest of him, like his entire existence was wrong. His voice was like broken wind-chimes. Musical, chilling, off. She raised a brow as she turned to him.
“Are you all right?”
“Like I said earlier. I think I’m just tired.” She bit her lip.
“Maybe, you should nap like mom suggested.” The boy, who she should remember but didn’t, calling her own mom ‘mom’ sent shivers down her spine, and alarm bells off in her mind. Why don’t you remember him Alix?!
“Yeah, I think I will.” She nodded, picking up and shouldering her backpack.
“Rest well,” Damien said as Alix was starting up the stairs. She couldn’t get out of that room quick enough.
Alix had dropped her backpack off by the foot of her bed and flopped on it as ungracefully as possible. She turned on her back and glanced back up at her poster.
“So, do you think I should also take a nap, Brady?” she asked, waited a moment as if he would literally peel himself off the poster above her bed and answer her. “WWBD” What would Brady do?” She mumbled to herself, “You would nap.” She muttered again to her poster as she pulled her socks off and resituated herself in bed. Getting comfortable.
Sleep had almost claimed her when a clattering boom cracked through the silence, effectively making her jump and snap back to the waking world.
“Oop! Sorry honey! I just have your tea here!” Her mother squeaked apologetically. Alix instantly relaxed again.
“Thanks Mom.” She smiled sleepily. She reached out taking the tea, sipped it and then placed it on her bedside table. Her mother had bustled into the hall and side stepped past Damien who poked his head into her room. He glanced around before his eyes landed on her, and when he had saw her watching him, he just stood here and wiggled his fingers in a wave. Her eyes then grew too heavy to keep open.
Since she had gotten here it seemed that many people were falling ill, somedays some of the kind-of-friends she made wouldn’t show up to classes, but the next day they would return and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. It must’ve been the stomach flu or something. She had been chatting animatedly with her friend Chloe when they both stopped in the hallway. Jake Hayes was walking down the hall, he had clearly gotten to the school late. It was already third period, but it was clear he had only just arrived.
“Hmm,” Chloe hummed to herself as he walked away.
“What?” Alix asked when she had noticed her friends rather unusually quiet demeanor.
“I wonder if it has to do with that massive lovebite on his neck,” Chloe smirked.
“Whoa, I wonder who gave him that monster,”
“Probably Jamie Chruschial. That big ol’ slut bag.”
“Probably!” Alix agreed with her friend, but that was only because she had found out that Jamie and Jake were dating for only one day when one of the cheerleaders caught them making out under the bleachers during an assembly. That was one plus side to this smaller town. She knew everything that had already been said about her in anyway. News traveled fast, and it seemed in the high school with its linoleum floors, and thin walls that it only seemed to travel faster, like echoes in a cave.
“I heard they went partying at her parents cabin last weekend. It’s why they weren’t in school last week,” Chloe smirked throwing her arm around Alix. Alix just laughed.
“Okay so that’s their excuse, but what’s everyone else’s? It seems that people are slowly starting to skip more and more. Taking turns.”
“Maybe, they are. Shit, who knows? Maybe Jamie is lending out her cabin to people on the weekends.”
“Gross,” She scowled. Not long ago she had noticed some of the other kids in school sporting a similar mark on their neck to Jake’s. Hickeys. Yet she wondered why nobody had eve made any effort to hide them. Surely, even Jamie’s parents would care that their daughter was sporting a hickey.
That next evening her family had sat down to ‘enjoy’ the meal together. Something they didn’t usually do but started at the behest of her step-loser. Alix stayed quiet waiting for her mother to put the meatloaf on the table as she watched her stepfather and Damien chatter about Damien’s new baseball team and how the coach was planning to take them out for Sundays after their game that weekend. Harry turned his hawk-like gaze to her, “So Alix! How is school going? Anything new? Juicy gossip?” He grinned leaning against his hand as he stared at her waiting for an answer.
She played around with the possibility of not answering but decided that was far too rude, even if this was an adult man clearly trying to relate to her. She couldn’t hate him for that. He was trying to include her as part of his family. So, she took a deep breath to prepare herself to answer his question with her long-winded observations of the school’s food chain. That was until her mother set the meatloaf on the table.
“Sorry! I thought it would’ve been done by now. Perhaps it’s our oven.” She stated. Alix furrowed her brows. That was added to her mental checklist of the effect this move seemed to have on her mom. Mary wasn’t a cook; she wasn’t a baker. Yet since they had moved, she noticed her mother doing quite a bit of both and it was resulting in her own jeans fitting just a bit tighter. At first, she hadn’t thought of it as odd that maybe her mom wanted to try a ‘new move, new me’ type movement. Come to think of it, Alix hadn’t even noticed her mother leaving the house at all. Odd considering her mother insisted that she should have a job when they lived in the city. Mary could’ve been leaving the house when Alix and her brother were at school and go do whatever it is that moms find fun. She served herself a serving of meatloaf and then dished herself up some peas and mashed potatoes. Meatloaf was her favorite but of course they normally at the kind you could find at buffets when they lived in Chicago because Mary rarely cooked then.
“I’ve noticed that Jake and Jamie have an affinity for sucking face under the bleachers,” She said having finally answered Harry’s question.
“Alix, we have little ears at the table,” Mary warned giving her that infamous glare only mothers could perfect.
“Sorry Damien,” She muttered and speared some of the meatloaf shoveling it into her mouth. As soon as she did that, she was fighting a gag. Iron, and it was chewy. Chewy and slimy and if she gagged again, she would surely of lost her lunch too. Alix stood and rushed to the trashcan spitting the meat into the can. When she had turned, she noticed the concerned gazes Harry, Mary, and Damien were giving her, “I’m fine,” She wiped her mouth and smiled as she sat down looking down at the meatloaf. Red. It was red. Blood seeped from the meat she had so wanted to eat.
“Is something wrong, dear?” Mary asked leaning around Harry to get a better look at Alix’s face.
“Peachy, I just think I shoveled a pea in with the meat and the different textures threw me for a loop.”
“Oh good! Now eat your meatloaf,” Mary said as she turned back and began eating her dinner again. Alix wrinkled her nose in disgust as she watched them. The meatloaf was raw and yet the other three were chowing down on the meat as if they were starving. As if they hadn’t even registered it wasn’t cooked.
“So, Alix, what is it you’re learning in class?” Harry asked dabbing his mouth. Her stomach rolled when she had noticed the spot of red on his napkin.
That night when she finished the cup of chamomile tea her mother had been preparing for her nightly since they had moved, she had noticed something off. There was a white powder in the bottom. An odd thing to find when her mother sweetened her tea with honey. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. The next day would only get worse.
“This is a lamprey.” Her biology teacher Mr. Anderson droned on as he flipped through the slides. Students were sitting and taking notes, sleeping, some carving crude doodles into the lab desks. “They have a circular mouth and their bites on other animals typically look like this. The most common animal they attack are fish.” Mr. Anderson clicked through the slides. Alix felt goosebumps raise along her flesh. The wound looked almost identical to the mark she had spotted on the back of her mother’s neck.
“Holy shit!” Tommy Moslander yelled, “That looks exactly like the hickey on the back of Alix’s neck!”
She gasped, and everyone’s eyes had moved from the slideshow to her. Alix tried to give a panicked look to Chloe, a silent S.O.S look but Chloe was only smirking with the rest of them. When she turned to whisper to Thomas Moslander Alix noticed the mark on her neck too. She had missed class for a day or so earlier that week, but Alix had only assumed she was sick not shacking up at Jamie’s cabin with Thomas of all people.
Her ears were ringing with their taunts as she clamped a hand on the back of her neck. A shiver of pain rolled through her body, but she could feel it. Her skin was raised, puckered, and the patch of skin was a big round ring on her neck.
“Who has the lamprey lips, Alix?” Another guy whooped. “I could replace him!” He made kissy faces at her from across the classroom. Alix did her best to ignore him. She squeezed her eyes shut and sucked in a breath as she tried to shut out the sudden uproar the classroom was in.
“Lamprey lips! Lamprey lips!” the class had chanted.
“That’s enough,” Mr. Anderson piped up, trying to calm the students, the odd glint now no longer present in his eyes as he tried to calm the students.
That chant followed her for the rest of the day, until she was finally in the library. She would stay after today for a little bit. Anything to avoid going home. Her stepsibling gave her the absolute creeps. She should have been researching the Donner party for her American history paper, but instead she searched lamprey bite marks neck.
She scrolled for a bit, past lamprey bites on fish, lamprey bites, fishermen, until something caught her eye. It was the only thing not concerning lampreys at all. Instead it was a mythology site. She furrowed her brows and clicked on it.
“Changelings?” She mumbled to herself under her breath when she clicked on the page. When she scrolled for a few minutes, she felt her blood run cold. The picture was of two children, pale, bleach blonde, with eyes that were so blue they were almost translucent. Alix felt her skin crawl. Her breath caught in her throat as she read. Only certain phrases had caught her attention causing her heart to race, her breathing growing shallow. ‘Pose as children’, ‘feed on humans’, ‘circular raised bites.’ Alix scrolled a little farther she needed to find an answer, a weakness.
Her hands shook as she scrolled and scrolled.
Her hands still shook as she tried to strike yet another match. “Goddammit!” she cried, as she took yet another match from the matchbook. “When did my life turn into a fucking Stephen King novel, Brady?” She mumbled to the lighter fluid-soaked Brady Ursin poster sitting at her feet now. Sitting in the middle of her room, surrounded by match books. “I didn’t ask for this.” She bit her lip. “I didn’t even want to move here.” She raked her hand through her hair in frustration as another match went out.
That’s when she heard something hit her window. She glanced up and over, eyes wide and bewildered. Nothing. There was nothing. She turned back to her task at hand. Her heart breaking at the thought. She had to burn her poster. She had to burn her Brady Ursin poster to catch this house on fire and kill those goddamn things in the other room. She had to!
Another hit. She jumped and looked at her window again, and again nothing. She bit her lip as she tried to strike yet another match. Her trembling exposing the matches to too much airflow was becoming an increasing problem. Another hit, and then another. She held the match book like she were brandishing a sword and went to the window.
Directly below her was Tommy Moslander. He was crawling up the side of her house like a spider. That’s when movement caught her peripheral vision. She barely had enough nerve to look to the side when she spotted yet another classmate who growled at her. Alix screamed, stumbling back. They were surrounding her house. Her house was an island in a sea of bodies.
Suddenly the ceiling was thundering above her. As if a stampede of bulls was happening just overhead, raining plaster all over her. Tears were sliding down her cheeks now. Her closet door shook in its hinges, as if bodies were throwing themselves against the door. Glass shattered now, spattering the floor with its shards. Limbs scrambling to climb in but the masses blocking each other.
“Let us in!” Damien screamed beating against her bedroom door.
“Alix!” Her stepfather called as he too joined them. “Your mother is not feeling well!” But she knew how these things worked. The spot on the back of her mother’s neck was gone, the spot that had been there not even twenty-four hours earlier.
“Alix! Please!” That thing disguised as her mother chimed in. They knew she was onto them.
“That thing is not my mother!” she yelled and suddenly the door was rattling on its hinges. Shaking, as if under an earthquake. “Alix! Time for dinner!”
Alix looked at the matchbook in her hands and tried once more to strike the match. With a gentle whooshing sound, the match flickered to life. She backed up towards her circle of matchbooks. She backed up to the poster. Without a second thought she dropped the match on the poster unleashing the inferno.
Alix stared down at the poster as the flames licked at the paper burning through it igniting the carpet beneath it. A river of fire.