-By: J.J. Cheesman
When Laura Morgan was young, she would often sit in at the dining room table, placed in front of the sliding-glass door that led into the backyard. She did this after school working on homework, or while coloring or doodling pictures, as she so often liked to do. Usually around this time, Laura’s mother; Betty, would be cooking dinner, and so she had the sliding glass door open, as to make sure it did not get too warm in the kitchen. Often, Laura would watch the curtains billowing in the breeze, and she could not help but imagine some immense beast beyond the door, standing just behind the curtains that hid its form. She imagined, that the beast was so big and powerful, that its lungs were such that it merely breathing caused them to billow about, rather than the changes in weather causing them to move.
Yes, Laura was quite the imaginative little girl. Often, she would dream up a reason for the beast to be waiting beyond the curtain.
Perhaps it stalked from the woods beyond her house, and it was waiting to turn one of the members of her household into a delicious meal? Or maybe it was just lonely, and wanted to make friends with Laura? Whatever the case, it was a fantasy that Laura soon grew out of once she reached her teens, but never forgot. Even when she moved out on her own, she would often recall how she dreamt up what she dubbed, ‘The Beast in the Billows’.
But that was years ago, now. Laura hadn’t the time for such childish imagination. Her mother first received her diagnosis of the cancer ravaging her lungs when Laura was eighteen. From that moment forward, she was her mother’s caregiver. Making sure she was receiving her chemo, making sure she was eating, and most of all, make sure she was staying away from those god damn cigarettes. Betty was a smoker since the day she turned sixteen, a habit which she had regrettably passed on to her daughter. Ten long years Betty fought the damned disease, and Laura watched every bit of horrible pain that it put her through. All the vomiting, all the crying, all of the soiled sheets, it was a living nightmare.
Laura was now twenty-eight. She sat down in her dining room, in the house that she had inherited from her mother. Tears streamed down her face as she lit her eleventh cigarette of the day, a habit which she not only felt guilty for having, but also took solace in. It was the last thing she had.
For ten long years, she watched over her sweet mother, and for ten long years she knew that the day would come when she would pass, but she still was not prepared. How could anyone be prepared for the heavy toll that comes with the loss of someone you love so dearly?
The cherry on her cigarette burned bright as Laura took a long drag, watching the light billowing of the curtain in the breeze beyond the open glass door. She recalled her beast, the one she imagined came from the woods. At the same time, she wondered at her own fate. Was she doomed to suffer like her mother? Damned to die in her own piss and shit, crying for the pain to end? She wished that her beast would come, tear her from her wretched life without her mother. Tears fell like streams down her face, and she put her head in her hands. She was going to die alone. She had spent all her time supporting her mother. She hadn’t built any savings, the only education she had was her diploma, and her dead-end job was going nowhere. It was too late.
But they say, in the darkness, way down deep where no light can ever be seen, that’s where rock-bottom is. They say that, from there, there is nowhere to go but up. A voice within Laura’s mind called to her in this moment. One that she had not paid any attention to since childhood. The voice was loud and defiant, and with indignation whispered,
Laura wiped away her tears, and stared at the cigarette smoldering in her hand. The voice came again.
“It’s never too late.”
With defiance, she stamped out the cigarette in the ashtray. Then she crumpled up the pack beside it, picked them both up, and walked over to the trash can, chucking them both inside. She then walked over to the drawer where she kept the rest of her smokes. She pulled out the carton and threw that away as well.
Today is a new day, she thought. From this moment on, I live for myself.
Just then, there was a knock on the door, which startled Laura and shook her from her thoughts. She walked over quickly, bustling passed the billowing curtains and over to the front door, newfound strength and energy coursing within her, and she tore the door open.
No one was there, just an empty front yard. Puzzled, Laura slowly began closing the door, but then realized something peculiar.
There was no breeze. Not even the slightest hint that there was even a little bit of wind. In fact, the air was humid, and still.
Before she had time to process what this meant, a gnarled, putrid hand covered Laura’s mouth, and tore her bottom jaw from her head.