Trigger/Content Warning: Sexual Assault
She saw the boys surrounding her sister. She saw her sister’s face bloody and beaten. She saw bruises covering her arms. And then she heard her scream. One of the boys dropped down in front of her, knife in hand. He spread open her legs.
And then Delilah shot up in bed, the heat from the sun already beating down heavily upon her forehead. Fear found its way into her sweat. It dripped into her eye and made her jump. She rushed over to the phone to call her best friend.
Dante reached into his bag and pulled out a pair of pink-rimmed glasses, handing them to Delilah. He smiled.
“There’s nothing to be scared of, D. You think I’d let you get hurt?”
“Well, I sure hope not,” Delilah took the glasses from him. “But I don’t know, maybe you’re mad at me about something.”
“And you think I’d ever be so mad at you, I’d lash out in an attempt to hurt you?”
“Okay, I get it. Shut up. I’m still scared.” She looked down at what appeared to be a perfectly normal pair of rose-tinted glasses. But he had told her what he had seen, and she knew that they weren’t. He also told her he found them lying in the park when he was walking home from school one day, but she had her doubts about that. It was just too strange.
“Are you gonna put them on or what?” Dante asked.
“Are you gonna give me a chance to mentally prepare myself first?”
He stared at her blankly.
She said, “Okay, fine, guess I’ll see you back on this side.”
“If you go in too deep, it’s hard to get out. Remember that.”
Delilah felt like she was swallowing a rock. “How do I avoid doing that, then?”
“Don’t walk too far. Come back out after a few minutes. Don’t be stupid. I know that’s hard for you.” He laughed again, and she was able to laugh along, and for a moment, forgot her fear.
When Delilah was in fifth grade, a couple of boys had once picked on her at the playground where she was watching her little sister. She tried to ignore them and instead focused on her sister attempting to push her tiny body back and forth on the big kid swing. The boys her they were going to beat her ass if she started crying, and then they proceeded to torment her for the five minutes before Dante showed up. He was twice their size, and all he had to do was start running towards them. They ran across the sunbeat sidewalks of the summer afternoon, and he only had to chase them for a few seconds before they disappeared into the suburban street. They vanished behind the branches of low-hanging trees that were so common in Sacramento, the City of Trees.
Dante now sat down next to her at the park table, where the benches had holes in them for reasons Delilah could not understand – so uncomfortable. Her head was buried in her folded arms, and when she lifted it, she was smiling at Dante.
“You okay?” he asked her, as she felt his hand brushing away her tears.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” she said, smile still on her face. “Do I look creepy right now?”
This was the first time they laughed together at her expense. He loved her. And she loved him.
But now they were seniors in high school, and Delilah had her sights set on a school in New York, and Dante had his sights set on staying in California and going to a community college. No matter how much she tried to convince him to come with her and be her roommate, and how matter how many times she said “I need you” through her tears, he told her he couldn’t leave his family. That he was sorry, but they needed him, too.
As the day of her departure grew nearer and nearer, she would stare at the ceiling each night and wonder why Dante didn’t think of her as his family.
“If I do go in too far,” said Delilah, bringing the glasses up towards her face, “I just hope you realize it’s all your fault.”
She heard Dante saying, “Wait, what?” in a near-shout, but then the glasses were fully on her face, and she no longer saw or heard him.
Instead, she saw a dark world before her, and her vision had gone fuzzy. She swore she saw lines moving back and forth all around her. She looked down at her body, and she was relieved to see she was still herself – pale skin, long brown hair, still wearing a pink shirt and denim shorts. Delilah decided that her sense of self would be enough. She was going to keep going, see all there was to see before she couldn’t stand it anymore, and not follow Dante’s warning of “only a few minutes.” Dante had told her that he tried to go long than that but had felt such an overbearing sense of dread and paranoia that he couldn’t stand it anymore. Like a horror game, he could save and continue later once it was too rough. But that wasn’t how Delilah played horror games.
She sat her hands down on the park bench, which, although it felt the same as it had in Normal Land, looked now like a black blanket of smoke. She could still stick her finger in the holes of the bench, as she was sure Dante was witnessing in Normal Land with a confused stare. In Glasses Land, she saw her fingers simply dipping in the smoke.
She inched her way down the bench, to the end of the table, and then she stood. When she looked down, she couldn’t see past the bottom half of her lower leg in the darkness. What she could see, however, was the blackness of the air that appeared to be in motion around her feet.
Delilah turned towards the park, but it wasn’t a park anymore. Instead, it had become a jumbled mess of rusty, broken bars. Pieces of old jungle gym stuck out from rocks instead of bark. And the cow that had been for rocking back and forth was now headless, while the rest of its body had been covered in red paint. Yeah, red paint. Just paint.
Delilah then took a long inhale before turning back to the bench. Dante had become a mere shadow. He began to stand, too, and as he did, she couldn’t tell if she was more disturbed that a shadowy figure would be following her or disturbed that he had literally become nothing. He definitely wasn’t nothing in her life.
Delilah hurried past the park, still whispering “just red paint” to herself as she began to walk past the houses. She was surprised to find they looked normal, aside from the black air hovering over all of them. She then came upon her street, where the sign that used to say Half Moon Bay was now covered in a thick, black paste. She could only make out one letter behind it – the letter V. After considering attempting to wipe it off with her sleeve, she didn’t see the point in freaking herself out more when she already knew it would be no use. She continued walking down the street and passed all the houses that led up to her own.
While hers, like the others, looked mostly the same, the door was covered in the same black paste as the sign had been. Plastered over the paste was the same V, with the same red paint that had been on the cow in the park.
Delilah walked to the door practically on her tip toes. As she crossed the cement leading to the garage, a leaf crunched beneath her in the darkness. She froze, eyes fixed on the door of the house. Nothing stirred, but as she continued towards the door, she moved even more slowly and was now so high up on her toes that she was sure she would trip at any moment.
As Delilah approached the door, she felt like the black smoke was creeping up and down along her back, taking the shape of a demon in her mind. When she turned around, however, it was still wrapped around her lower legs.
Delilah’s fingers wrapped around the door handle, but as she began to turn it, she looked inside the windows of the house. She couldn’t see inside, as large blinds covered every bit of the windows, but she was able to conjure up images of her past self running through the same living room, little sister behind her.
Despite her screams, Violet laughed as she fell into the chair in defeat. Delilah dropped to the floor beside her. “You’re almost done with high school,” Violet said. “You’re too old to still chase me around the house.”
“And you’re too old to run away,” said Delilah. “If you didn’t run, I wouldn’t follow you.”
“But then you’d tickle me!”
“You’re too old to be ticklish, right?” Delilah creeped up onto her knees and then charged at Violet with her tickling fingers out at full force.
“Stop! Stop!” Violet screeched, huddling up into a ball.
Delilah released her from her torment and then pulled her into a hug. “What are you going to do when I’m gone? Beg Mom to chase you around and tickle you, right?”
“Even if I did want that, she would never do it. She would just give me The Look and continue on her way without cracking a smile. Have you ever actually seen her smile?”
Though Delilah knew her sister was exaggerating, it was true that a smile out of their mother was rare. Delilah had depended on her stepfather to bring the laughter and fun into the home, but he had passed away in a car accident a few years ago, and the permanent frown on their mother’s face had become even more severe. The only thing worse was constantly hearing sobs coming from her room at night.
“Promise me you’ll take care of her,” said Delilah.
“Of course I will. What kind of promise is that to make?”
“I just want to know she’s going to be okay after I leave. Dante’s staying to take care of his family, but I’m not. Am I a bad person, Violet?”
“Is that supposed to be a joke?”
“No. I’m serious.”
“You need to stop beating yourself up. Go live for yourself for once. We’ll be fine.”
“You sure you’ll be fine?” said Delilah with a smile so wide her back teeth were visible and eyes so wide the top of her eyeballs were nearly visible.
“Uh, are y-” Before Violet could finish her sentence, Delilah came upon her with another attack of tickles.
Delilah turned the handle with much more force than was necessary and ran through the door, slamming it behind her. She then fell to the floor and began to cry. She should have been there. Why hadn’t she been there? Why had she been so selfish?
Her crying was interrupted by the sound of footsteps in the kitchen. She looked up, expecting to see her mother, but only saw more of the thick smoke before her.
“Hello?” said Delilah, hand gripping the door handle again to help her stand up. “Hello? Ah!”
Delilah fell to the ground once more as a creature stepped out from the shadows of the kitchen. She was only able to make out the shape of two massive horns on its head before shutting her eyes tight.
“No, no, no,” said Delilah, breathing quickly. “Red paint, it’s just red paint, red paint.”
She felt it touching her face. She had been under the impression that the glasses only changed what she saw – that matter itself wouldn’t change around her – but the thing she’d seen was definitely touching her. Moving to her hair. Breathing against her cheek.
“What are you afraid of?” Its voice was soft, gentle.
Delilah looked up and found herself looking into eyes with red irises and pink sclerae. She held back her scream as she saw its cow-shaped nose, its horns, its massive claws. It smiled and huge teeth dripping saliva were exposed. She looked at its body, which had no clothing, and saw the striped stomach. Stripes that were red on otherwise brown fur. “What do you want?” Delilah said, voice little more than a breath of air.
“To help you.”
“You want to find your sister, don’t you?” It held out its hand. Red paint. “Come.”
“I can walk myself,” said Delilah, looking away from the red paint. She lifted herself off the floor and followed the monster, who scoffed at her words.
It led her through her own home, which had gone unchanged aside from the red Vs that covered almost every inch of the walls. As she passed her sister’s room, Delilah made the same mistake again. She didn’t look inside. She didn’t know if she would see it as it had looked before or after the incident that took her sister from her, but she didn’t even want to take the chance to find out.
“Here,” said the monster, as they walked up to Delilah’s room. “The closet has the Answer.”
“Thank you,” said Delilah, looking into its eyes once more. “But who are you?”
“Who am I?” The monster smiled, revealing teeth that hooked on each other and would be worthless for actual chewing. “It’s me, Delilah. Don’t you understand?”
The blurry lines all around her became a tornado in her vision, and for a moment, the monster took the form of her stepfather before throwing her into the room and slamming the door behind her.
“Wait!” Delilah rushed at the door, tried to open it, but it was no use. “Charlie! Charlie!”
The world on the other side of the door was silent. Delilah punched it one more time before coughing on her tears. She went to wipe her face, then remembered the glasses and stopped herself. She didn’t want to risk knocking them off.
“Charlie! Charlie!” A twelve-year-old Delilah flung herself into her stepfather’s arms. “Please, hurry! Violet is hurt!”
Charlie, who had been laughing moments prior, set Delilah on the ground and gave her a stern look. She swore she saw fire blazing in his eyes, turning them red. “Where is she?”
Delilah led her to the place under the tree where Violet was screaming through her tears as she held tightly to her leg. Charlie fell beside her and begin to ask her where it hurt and what he could do to help. He eventually concluded that they needed to go straight to the hospital.
Delilah had hurt herself months prior in a similar way. He had never shown that much concern. When she asked if they should go to the hospital to check on her, he said she would be fine. “Suck it up, kiddo,” he had told her.
For the first time since Charlie arrived and Violet was born, the sting of bitterness hit Delilah. Even though Charlie would be nothing but a good parent to her until he would die at the hands of a drunk driver, the resentment would never let itself go.
Delilah turned to face her room, which was tidy except for the walls covered in posters of all the bands she hoped she would be able to see once she went to New York, where the people never slept.
Delilah then turned to the closet. The V on its door was the biggest one she had seen yet, and instead of the red paint, it was written out in the petals from sunflowers.
Delilah had given Violet sunflowers on her birthday every year, telling her that her blonde hair reminded her of them. She walked up to the closet and placed her fingers in the hole to open the door. She paused when she heard noise coming from the other side. It was Violet. She was sure of it. Violet was screaming her name. Delilah pulled the door open.
But she was now standing in front of Dante, who was holding the glasses in his hand. Delilah backed away from him and fell onto the bed. “Why did you do that?” she said in a near-whisper. “She was right there. Violet. She was right there.”
“I know,” said Dante, sitting down next to her. “Please don’t be mad at me.”
“You know? What do you mean? How do you know?” Delilah hit him hard on his arm. “Tell me, damn it!”
“Please, Delilah. Calm down. I did the same thing.”
“But you told me you used them a few minutes at most.”
“I lied to you. I’m sorry. I was hoping you’d just listen to me. That was probably really stupid, huh?” He laughed, but when she didn’t laugh with him, he stopped. “Anyway, I did the same thing you were about to do. My dad was calling me from the other side of the closet in my bedroom. But when I opened the door, it wasn’t him. It was a horrible, disfigured creature. Humanoid but not quite. It started telling me how everything was my fault, and I should just kill myself so I don’t cause anymore pain. Does this sound similar?”
“Yes.” Delilah took the glasses from him, and he didn’t protest. She looked back at the closet, wondering how she could be so foolish as to think she would actually see her sister again. “Where the hell did these really come from? Why did you lie? Tell me the truth, Dante.”
“Well, okay, I didn’t just randomly find them in the park. I found them here.”
Dante cringed. “I’m sorry, D. I saw them on the counter when I was over one time. Your mom had her back turned cooking something. I don’t know, I just thought they were really cool, so I grabbed them. And then I saw what they did, and I had to know I wasn’t going crazy, so I made you wear them, too.”
“Oh my god.”
“They were Violet’s!” Delilah looked down at the glasses again. The pink flowers on the corners of them suddenly weren’t so cute. “Oh my god, Dante, you stole Violet’s glasses, and you made me wear them!”
“I’m sorry, D. Honestly, I didn’t know. I was going to bring them back. I just thought they were neat looking and wanted to take them out for a day to see the world in pink or something. I wasn’t expecting a nightmare.”
Delilah looked back to the door of the bedroom. “Did a monster lead you to the closet?”
“A monster? No. I just walked to it. Why? What did you see?”
“It was my step-dad. He led me here. Why would he do that if it wasn’t actually going to be my sister on the other side?” She shook her head. “Why was it him, anyway? Is it because I said he was a monster that one time he grounded me for being up til 5 in the morning? I didn’t actually mean it. I loved Charlie. I never wanted this.”
“It probably wasn’t him, Violet. It was probably just trying to trick you.”
“Yeah, but… I don’t know. I want to look. I want to know. You know?” She looked up at Dante, who was frowning. “Can’t you at least understand that?”
“Of course I do. I just don’t want you to deal with what’s on the other side.”
“I’m prepared. Just let me do this.”
Dante touched his hand to hers. “Okay. But it isn’t your fault. No matter what it tells you.”
“It is my fault. I should have been there.” Delilah laughed. “Which is exactly why I don’t care what it says. It can’t hurt me anymore than I’ve already hurt myself.”
The world shifted to the darker one, where smoke shrouded her feet. She walked back up to the closet, its door emblazoned with a V made out of sunflower petals.
Delilah opened it.
The walls were pink, as was the bedding. Dead sunflowers were all over the desk, surrounding her computer. Delilah took one in her hands and sat on the bed beside her crying sister, who pulled her into her arms.
“I’m sorry,” she said into Delilah’s ear.
“No, Violet. I’m sorry. I should have been there for you. You wanted me to go with you to get ice cream that night. It’s my fault I wasn’t there to protect you from those guys. I could have saved you.”
“No, Delilah. You just would have died, too. Don’t say things like that.”
Delilah grabbed her sister’s hand and placed the sunflower into it. When her sister pulled out of the hug and looked down at it, her mouth turned into an O. “Why did you give me this? I’ve seen them every single day since I got here.”
“I thought something might happen. Like maybe it would come to life or something.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but nothing comes back to life once it crosses over.”
Delilah looked at the door of her sister’s closet, which had unicorn stickers all over it. Once she had walked through, it had locked behind her. Delilah then turned to the door that led to the room from the other parts of the house. “And you don’t think that if we knock loud enough, Mom will open it?”
“I’ve tried so many times. I can’t tell if this is really the house or if it’s some other dimension of time and space.”
Delilah then pressed her hand to her face for the first time since she had come through. She was no longer wearing the glasses. “How can this be?”
“I have no idea. I have no idea how you even got here. But I suppose your guilt means you’re stuck here now.”
“Does that make you happy?”
“I’ve been alone so long. Trapped in this little room. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t just to make you feel better.”
Delilah stood up again and grabbed another sunflower off the desk. She wondered how long Dante would wait outside the closet door. She wondered what he would say to her mother after twenty-four hours had gone by and she still hadn’t returned. She wondered what her mother would do now that both her children and both her husbands had fallen from her grasp.
And then Delilah looked down into the palm of her hand and saw the bright yellow of living leaves. She couldn’t help but smile.
“Violet,” she said, looking at her sister with a body covered in bruises and blood all over her beaten face. “I’m here for you. Forever.”
Delilah placed the flower in her sister’s hand. It died once more.
Espi Kvlt is a 22 year old college graduate with a B.A. in English-Writing. They are a genderfluid, pan/bisexual sex worker, who writes short stories and novels that are generally horror-focused.
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