One Never Lost
William M. O'Brien, Jr.
Harvey Tillis was hard at work on his computer on a word document when he heard it. The closet door behind him suddenly opened.
He stopped and listened for a further noise. There was none.
“That damned thing always was hard to open,” he said to himself, swiveling around to face the open closet door.
“Millie,” he shouted. “Did you open the closet door.”
The girl appeared at the door to the office. “No, Dad, I’ve been downstairs.” Harvey’s grown daughter abruptly turned and hustled into her bedroom and closed the door.
If she didn’t open the door, then who the hell did it,” he whispered, knowing his wife was at work.
A sudden rush of cold air brushed against Harvey, who had turned around in his desk chair. “What the hell is that? “he whispered to himself. “I told her to keep the AC off when the outside temperature was cooler.”
Now he wondered where his younger daughter was.
He turned back to his document but when he did, he suddenly felt a strong presence on the back of his swivel chair. An intense feeling of anger and hate suddenly manifested itself next to him to the extent that Harvey jumped up, banging his knee on the desk shelf in which sat his computer keyboard.
“What in the name of God is this,” he exclaimed, backing away toward an office window.
He stared at the chair, on which nothing was evident, but as he did the feeling and the cool suddenly dissipated.
When the presence was gone, his chair slowly turned toward him.
Nothing like this had ever happened to him before and as a result he did not have any idea of what to do next.
“Hi, Dad,” youngest daughter Lily chimed. “I’ve been outside in the garden.”
“Yes…Yes. I’ve just had something weird happen here.” Harvey was still looking around, at file cabinets, stacks of papers and folders, his computer desk, etc.
“Like what?” Lily, still a tomboy at thirteen, was inquisitive about generally everything.
“Oh…I don’t know. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Try me.” Lily, munching on a peanut-butter sandwich, spoke with food in her mouth.
“Some kind…Some kind of presence was just here.”
“Presence, huh,” she laughed. “It was probably Sagebrush; you know how he is.”
“No, it was not that tomcat.” Harvey slammed the computer door closed. “I’m going down and getting a drink.
That night he lay in the bed, still thinking about what had happened earlier that day. Something is in this house, he thought. Something bad. But what is it?”
But these thoughts coupled with his wife Jean’s soft snoring put him into a deep sleep.
He dozed off but something heavy weighing on his cheek awakened him an hour later. It felt like a dead weight, one that he could not remove.
He squirmed in the bed, but no matter how much he moved, the weight remained the same. Then, running out of breath, he tried to turn over on his stomach. This he could not do, either.
As a last resort, he screamed as loud as he could.
A sleepy Jean turned over. “Harv…Harv…what in the name of God is going on?” She turned toward her husband and then sat up in the bed.
Harvey lay, breathlessly, on his back. Now what had been on him was totally gone, except for a rancid smell.
“I…I… had a bad dream,” he muttered.
“A bad dream?” his wife exclaimed. “You almost tore the bed apart. And what is that awful smell?”
“I…I don’t know…” Harvey still lay on his stomach, shaking. “I just had the most horrible dream I’ve ever had.”
“Well, it’s all over now.” Jean swung her feet over the edge of the bed and got up. “And what in the name of God is that smell?”
Lily appeared at the door. “What was that noise in here? She asked, a giggle in her voice. “It sounded like the bed was dancing around.”
Jean, not quite to the bathroom, stopped. “Your dad just had a bad dream.”
“And that rotten smell?” The girl looked around the room. “That’s either a world class fart or Bingo took a dump on your floor.”
“The dog hasn’t been in here.”
“Well, it wasn’t Sagebrush. He’s been in bed with me.”
“Go back to bed, Lily.” Jean proceeded to the bathroom.
But Harvey still lay in bed, still frightened. Sure, what he had had to be a bad dream. But what about the previous day? What was that?” He had to figure out what was going on. Finally turning over in his bed, he resolved to share his previous day’s experience with his wife.
At breakfast, the next morning Harvey still did not feel safe, but he decided not to tell his wife anything about his experience in the office. As far as she was concerned, he had had a bad dream last night.
Later, he raked leaves in the back yard while Lily sat three large branches up in a pecan tree, watching him.
“Hey, Dad,” she hollered. “We ought to get the fishpond up and running again.”
He looked up at his daughter and then faced toward the fishpond between him and the house.
He turned toward the fishpond at the end of the yard to see a cloud of smoke all around it, the origin of which he could not readily see.He turned and yelled at his daughter. “Lily, where’d that smoke come from?”
“What smoke? Where?” She began climbing down the tree.
He turned to see the smoke cloud still covering the area of the dry fishpond and obscuring part of the old back yard apartment.
“This smoke over here. Can’t you see it?” He pointed.
Millie appeared at the top of the back stairs. “Hey, you all,” she hollered, and skipped down the back stairs. “Mom’s got a plate of fudge on the kitchen table.”
“And it’s not all for you, fat ass,” Lily charged toward the house.
But Harvey still stood and looked toward the cloud of smoke. Slowly he started to walk toward it.
When he entered the cloud, the same presence he had felt the previous day, encountered him today with a vengeance. Much worse now, Harvey felt like he was held tightly by two strong men.
Held tightly, he fought, freeing his arms, and twisting as much as he could. He thought he could hear a voice, but a voice that was very much muffled in the cloud.
Finally, he burst loose and, tripping as he made his way out of the cloud, fell on his face. When he turned over, the cloud and everything that was in it had disappeared.
Lying on his back now, Harvey looked around the yard to see if any of his family were still in the backyard, but they, apparently, had gone into the house.
“I can’t explain it,” Harvey explained over the supper table. “But it’s there.”
“Dad’s got a ghost on his back,” Lily laughed, and kicked Millie under the table.
“I don’t think it’s so damned funny.” Harvey rose and headed into the dining room to pour another drink, having finished his dinner. “It is pure menace and it’s scaring the shit out of me.” He returned to the table and sat down.
“Ice cream for dessert for everyone.” Jean entered the room with two bowls of ice cream scoops.
“Hey, Mom.” Lily was almost convulsing. “Dad’s got this ghost that lays these terrific farts and…”
“I’m going to put a fist in your face in a minute,” Millie threatened from across the table.
“All right, girls.” Jean set the two bowls of ice cream down and then turned to her husband. “Harv, is this about your bad dream last night?”
“It’s more than just that, Jean,” he answered quietly. “There’s a powerful force, an evil force in our house.”
“Where did it come from?”
“I don’t know. I do not know. It was just there.” Harvey began breathing heavily. “I was typing yesterday, and it just appeared in the room.”
Later Harvey sat back in his easy chair and drank a beer in front of television. On the floor in front lay Lily, flat on her stomach, eating popcorn with the TV control in her hand. Even though he was only half through his beer, he felt sleepy.
He thought about the events of the last twenty-four hours and shuddered. What was next? Another bad dream? How about the smoke? Now, however, he was nodding off.
Suddenly, he awoke to a jolt to the back of his chair. He rubbed his eyes and looked around. When he looked down in front, he had to rub his eyes to believe what he saw.
On the floor in front lay Lily, totally naked, still eating popcorn with the TV control in her hand.
“Lily, what…” Instantly he received a blow to the back of his head.
Her turned to see what had hit him, but there was nothing there.
Now a feeling of extreme hatred began taking shape around him. He felt like he was in the middle of a group of extremely hateful individuals, all of which were concentrating on him.
Now he did the only thing he could think of to do. He rose, turned and raced for the kitchen door eight feet away. When he burst through the door he tripped and fell on his face in front of the refrigerator.
“Wow, Dad. That used to be called a freak out.” A voice behind him exclaimed.
Harvey rolled over on his back and sat up to observe Lily, now fully clothed, standing in the door and laughing. He rubbed his eyes and slowly rose to his feet.
“I…I don’t know what came over me. I just…”
“God, Dad. You sure are acting weird.”
Millie appeared in the door to the hall. “Dad, are you all right,” she exclaimed, somewhat in alarm.
“Pop’s just got weird all of a sudden.” Lily, now sitting on the floor, laughed and looked up at her big sister.
Slowly Harvey got to his feet, immediately aware of his surroundings, which now seemed to be normal.
“I think I fell asleep and that bad dream returned,” he muttered to Millie just in front of him.
The girl reached out and took his left arm. “Do you need a little help?” she asked, soft but loud enough for Lily on the floor to hear.
“No…No, I’m all right.” Slowly, acutely aware of all his surroundings, Harvey got to his feet.
Later, lying in bed, his wife snoring softly beside him, Harvey, eyes wide open, lay awake. Just after he heard the clock downstairs chime two, he became sleepy and after twenty minutes dozed off.
He was used to getting up in the night at least once to empty his bladder as he was on diuretics but when he awoke this morning, in full daylight, he found that he had wet himself and his bed thoroughly.
Rising in bed, in alarm, he again became aware of a vicious presence all around him. He looked from side to side, in alarm, for his wife but she was not there.
Alone in a damp bed, he tried to climb out of the bed but a sudden physical force pushed against him until he lay flat on the bed again, this time with what felt like a two hundred pound weight on his chest.
He could barely breathe. And now the smell was back, permeating the entire room. Where was his wife, his daughters?
Growing more desperate by the minute, he tried to scream, as loud as he could, but nothing came out of his mouth. All was silence, deadly silence.
Only one possibility grew on him, that of death. Was this death?
He tried to scream again. Nothing. Now he could not even move.
He could blink his eyes, however, and now he closed them, and tried to think of a prayer. He remembered suddenly a time not so long ago that he had jokingly told an acquaintance at the gym that he was not a praying man.
He gritted his teeth and tried to scream again.
Now, suddenly, the pressure was gone, and then the smell, and a laugh loud, feminine, similar to a scream, reverberated through the room.
Harvey rose in bed, only to receive a hard blow to the back of his head, which sent him spinning to the floor.
He lay there for what to him seemed an eternity. Then, sensing that whatever was in the room with him was gone, he rose and climbed back in the bed, his head still hurting.
He thought about waking his wife, now back in bed, who, snoring softly, lay in a deep sleep.
Into the morning, Harvey lay awake, ever watchful and expecting anything.
Nothing came. Everything was gone by ten o’clock in the morning, even the wet bed.
Later, Harvey seemed to get a reprieve. Three weeks passed with no further occurrences.
Harvey began to think that whatever the presence was, was now gone for good. But what scared him most was the unknown.
What was the presence? And why had it chosen him?
Daughter Lily thought all he had was bad dreams and still teased him about it constantly. “It screwed up even our sleep-in day,” she giggled.
But the vision of her naked lying close by bothered him almost as much as the presence. What the hell was going on? And where had this monstrous presence gone?
In the back of his mind, Harvey was beginning to believe he was free of it, but the thought that it might return at any time, remained.
Deciding on the positive alternative, Harvey decided to go ahead and begin the spring projects as he always did this time of year.
It wasn’t long, though, before he noticed a peculiar mist at the back of his yard. Morning fog was not uncommon this time of year so he paid it no mind until he noticed the next day during the afternoon, that the mist was still there, and its shape had not changed.
Thinking first that it was smoke coming from a barbecue grill across the alley, he dropped his hoe and headed for it. However, when he got close to it, it vanished.
“What is this shit, now?” Harvey muttered to himself. The mysterious mist had reappeared between him and the house.
Finally, he started for the mist to find out for himself if it was smoke or something else. However, he ran into an area of temperature drop. He was suddenly in freezing cold. He turned and tried to retreat but he could not; something was holding him tightly in place. Even his fingers and toes could not move.
Very faintly he heard daughter Lily yelling from atop the back stairs. He knew she was yelling at him, but he could not move to acknowledge her. Finally, she started for her father, wondering what was going on with him.
She had almost reached him when she put both arms out in front of her and screamed. “Oh, my God! No! No!.”
Harvey heard her but he could not move. Helplessly, he struggled as much as he could, but he could barely move against an unseen force that kept every movement of his body in check.
Meanwhile, Lily had picked up a nearby spade and was striking at something that she could see but her father could not.
Suddenly, the force, whatever it was, was gone, as quickly as it had appeared. Harvey, who had dropped to the ground, raised up and looked for his daughter. Nearby, Lily lay, unconscious.
In momentary panic, Harvey crawled over to her, but when he reached her, she revived and raised up.
“Dad, are you all right?” she mumbled in his direction.
“I’m all right, baby,” he muttered and took her in his arms.
Holding on to his daughter, he looked around for anything that could be left by whatever had attacked him, and then his daughter.
The two just lay there on the ground, afraid to get up, afraid if whatever had been there was still lingering.
“We’ve got to do something about this,” Harvey whispered. “But I don’t know what.”
“Dad…Dad, that thing was horrible. I’ve never…never seen anything like It before.”
Still on the ground and holding on to his daughter, Harvey muttered, “Baby, what did it look like.”
Now Lily was breathing easier. It was…was just a great big blob thing. It had claws…and…and. Oh, I can’t describe it. It looked like something made of shit.”
Harvey could not even imagine the thing his daughter was describing. But the same question kept coming to his mind. What are we going to do when it appears again? The appearances seem to be getting worse.
Finally, Lily stood up and helped her father to his feet.
“That damned thing was gone for a long time, Dad,” she stated.
In the meantime, Jean and Millie had appeared at the top of the back stairs.
“That crap’s back!” Lily shouted.
“What do you mean,” Jean replied. “Are you talking about that thing in the bedroom? That smell?”
“Yes, Harvey walked up to the base of the stairs. “I’m sure it’s the same thing. It has got to be. It couldn’t be anything else.”
“Well, what are we going to do,” Millie said, quietly.
“I don’t know.” Harvey began to climb the stairs. “I’ve been wracking my brain and I can’t think of a single thing.”
That evening, Harvey, drink in hand, sat in the living room. The TV, usually on, now was off. Whatever the thing was, he thought, now was back. But there were some significant differences. For instance, outside the thing was mist; inside he could not see the thing at all. His daughter had described a monstrous appearance that had appeared outside, but he could not see the monster she had attacked with a spade. And the feminine laugh he had heard on one occasion. But the big question was, where would it appear next?
“Pop, there’s a big can of lacquer upstairs in the art room.” Lily had appeared out of nowhere. “I’m thinking if that thing appears again, we can try to douse it with lacquer to see if will appear. It could even drive it away.”
“I don’t know about that.” Harvey rose and headed for the bar to mix another drink. “We would have one hell of a mess while that, whatever it is, remains the same.”
“We’ve got to do something,” the girl whined. “If it comes again.”
“Maybe it won’t.” Harvey poured lemon juice into his whiskey. “It stayed away three weeks. Why not for good?”
“if it does come back again, we need to be ready for it.” Lily turned and headed upstairs.
Harvey was worried, though. Would tonight bring on a nightmare? Or the appearance of the thing itself. Lily was right. We must be ready for it.
After supper that night, Harvey thought about having another drink or two in front of TV. But he was at the point that the slightest noise would spook him. And if he were half drunk, this reaction would be accentuated. As it was, after a glass of ice water, he crawled into bed beside his wife.
Lying in almost perfect silence, he waited for something to happen. Nothing did, however, and by one he was sound asleep.
The next morning found a watchful Harvey working in his office. Apparently that thing originally came from that closet, he thought. Stopping work, he swiveled around and stared at it.
Now, it seemed, the thing was haunting Harvey. He could not take his mind off it. When would it appear next? Where would it appear next? Would it appear or was it gone for good.
He had thought the latter for three weeks and it had appeared again. Would this happen again. If it did, he would have to deal with it. But How?
Daughter Lily interrupted this reverie.
“I don’t think that thing’s going to come back,” she said, collapsing into an easy chair across the room.
“What makes you think that?”
“I just feel it,” she turned sideways, hanging her feet over the chair arm. “I just have this feeling that this thing is gone for good.” She thought for a moment. “I might be wrong.”
“That’s the thing.” Now Harvey swiveled around and faced her. “If it does come back, we’ve got to be ready for it. We have to figure some way to fight it, if that’s possible.”
Time went on. Things in the Tillis household returned to normal. Finally, Harvey, and Lily, began to think that the hideous, invisible thing was gone for good.
But, down the alley, a short way from the Tillis home, a presence occupied the garage of a house deserted by its occupants for some time. A presence seen only by the rats in the rafters above it, the occasional stray cat that found and hunted those rats, or the loose dog sniffing its way around in new ground.
There, this presence waited. And waited.