• Ricky Argenbright

Shielded Deception


Hello everyone! This is one of the first stories I ever wrote, and was the first one I ever finished. It came to me as I thought about what a little girl might consider as she longingly looks out a window at the rain. My imagination and love of fantasy took those details and the tale evolved into what you see here. I'm proud to now make it available to you! Please enjoy.


She squeezes her doll tightly, clutching to the lonely memory. She sits on the old cushioned seat beneath her second story bedroom window, searching the rain-filled darkness.


For them.


How come I can’t see them? Confusion and hurt fill her mind as lightning crawls through the sky. The intense flashing beams through the window. She looks over her shoulder and watches as the light throws her shadow against the crooked closet doors and tattered wallpaper before she turns back to the window.


The rain intensifies.


Why did they take her?


Her bedroom door flies open with a loud creak and swings into the wall. She jumps as the shock fills her with fear and confusion.


“I thought I told you to pick up that mess in the living room!” her stepmother bellows, towering in the doorway. “Why can’t you listen to a thing I tell you?”


“I… I’m sorr-”


I… I… I…” she sneers. “Everything has to be about you.”


Clara trembles.


They sit in silence for a moment, her stepmother glaring at her. Clara fiddles with her doll’s soft arm, trying to deflect the horrible worthlessness that her stepmother’s voice often caused her.


I wish mommy was here.


She looks up at her stepmom with her head down in a foolish attempt to stare back in defiance.


“You better watch that attitude, or you’ll get the belt again,” stepmother says. She turns away and heads downstairs, stomping her feet on each step.


“Yes, ma’am,” Clara says softly. She heads over to the door, stopping just before the doorway and staring down the stairs, an icky sensation tingling inside.


Lightning strikes hard outside her window with a thunderous boom. She checks the wall as usual and sees a second shadow on the wall looming over her own. She turns quickly to the window in a panic.


Nothing there but water running down the pane.


She sighs, grabbing hold of the stair railing. Doing her duty is not at all what she wants to do. Now that the storm is here, she wants to see them. But, she takes the first reluctant step downstairs instead.


And the rain continues to pour.


* * *


“She needs to be broken, Cliff,” his wife spits with determination. “Her mother, that trash, surely did a number on her to have this kind of behavior.”


Cliff cringes at the harsh words about his daughter spilling from her mouth. The storm outside roars and the power cabling beats against the roof. Unfortunately, it isn’t loud enough to muffle the storm inside the house.


“Never anything to say,” she continues. “Because you know I’m right. The two of you didn’t know what the hell you were doing, and that little brat is going to feel both of your utter failures as parents. I’ll make sure of that.”


It was never easy to listen to this. His depression and fear of losing a mother for his child keeps him from saying even a word. And his mind begins to drift as he desires to be elsewhere. He longs for his love once more. They were so happy together… they…


“It’s a good thing I’m here to put her in her place,” she declares as she disappears into the kitchen. “This is my favorite part. Discipline.”


The rain pelts the house mercilessly — a perfect white noise to lose his thoughts in. Cliff tries again to remember the smell of her sweet aroma. Images of her beautiful face flash through his mind as if tethered to the lightning outside.


He looks over at the spot where her reading sofa used to be. His smile shrinks as a tear rolls down his cheek.


Profanities from the kitchen pull him back to the moment. He scrambles up from his chair, rushing into the kitchen to see what the complaint is about. As he turns the corner, he sees his wife staring at the overflowing trash can.


Oh…


“WHERE IS THAT LAZY WASTE OF LIFE?” Her voice seems loud enough to shatter the foundation beneath them. “I swear to… I… if I have to tell her one more time to clean up after herself, she is going to need stitches!”


She storms towards the living room and Cliff steps awkwardly in front of her.


“I’ll tell her,” he says quietly, but firmly. Intervening on his daughter’s behalf is all he can do until something changes. She stands back and crosses her arms, glaring at him. It’s the first time in a long time that he has stopped her, but he can’t handle listening to her curse at his poor daughter anymore. Not tonight — of all nights.


“She’d better crawl in here with a bright red backside and tears of agony as she begs for mercy or I’ll have to enjoy bruising her a bit myself! Who knows? Maybe I will anyway!” The very walls of the aging house seem to warp to her anger as he escapes into the hall to go speak with his daughter.


It wasn’t always this way, he reminds himself. It’s hard dealing with things now that she is gone. When she was taken, the soul of their home vanished with her.


It’s empty now. Hollow. A shell of their former life.


He enters the living room and finds his daughter sitting on the floor in front of the window. She’s standing her doll up on its limp legs, gently grabbing a hold of one of its hands, not a hint of joy in her eyes anymore. He wishes she didn’t have to endure this, to live this empty life without her. But he won’t stop praying. There has to be something better…


“Clara?” he says softly.


She doesn’t respond.


He thinks about what to say, mulling the words over in his mind. They tumble like the clothes in a dryer —not that they have one. He wishes that somehow, someday, he could see her happy again.


He sighs. “Clara, please-”


“Do you love her?” she interrupts.


He looks at her, holding back the well of tears that’s threatening to flood him.


“Of course, little light. You know I do.”


“Then why did you let them take her away?”


She has said things like that before. The doctor mentioned that her mind may be projecting images from her imagination to fill the emotional void that she’s experiencing. He figures that’s a good enough explanation. And he doesn’t blame her one bit.


Sometimes he questions it — questions whether these things she says are real or not. Because he sees her in his dreams too, even when he isn’t sleeping. She would not have run away. It isn’t like her.


And then there’s that part of him that somehow knows. He can’t explain it, but he just knows that she’s out there. It’s a beautiful feeling at least… to hope.


He walks over to her and crouches down to give her a hug, knowing that there’s nothing he can ever say that will console her. Clara loves him, yes. But she had a bond with her mother that always reminded him of the purity of sunshine— warm, golden, brilliant. Clara says that she feels her spirit sometimes. He understands, of course. The heart forces the mind to see what it most desires.


And the sweet memory of her permeates them both.


“I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough, little light,” is all he can manage, and barely able to do so without coming to tears once more. He won’t put her through that again. Not anymore.

Clara jumps up and gives him the biggest hug, and a little of that long lost warmth returns to him.


“I miss her,” she says.


Hearing those words is like a sharp knife sticking through his heart. But he needs to hold himself together. As much as it hurts, it doesn’t make it any less true.


“I know, little light. I know. I do too.”


He feels her pain — he always does. At times like this he often needs to change the subject to keep their love alive… to keep him alive. He leans back and runs his fingers through her hair. Perfect, like her mothers.


“Hey, Agatha wants the trash in the kitchen taken out. Would you like to go with me?”

He smiles in an attempt to cheer her up. She remains still for a moment before nodding her head.


“Great. Go get your raincoat, alright?” he says in as lighthearted a tone as he can manage. Things are still so delicate, and he doesn’t want her to suffer any more than she already is.


* * *


He drags himself to the kitchen to clean up the mess on the floor. Notices of overdue bills, broken dishes and apple cores are scattered all over the moldy tiling. Tomato sauce was splattered on the cabinets from Agatha’s earlier outburst for seeing the trash still in the house.


Amidst the garbage strewn about, he spots a picture frame that he recognizes underneath some discarded cardboard. He delicately picks it up, shards of glass sliding off. His heart races as his eyes trace each and every detail of the photo.


* * *


It’s Clara’s birthday, and the three of them are at the park having a picnic. Clara ate a few bites of her sandwich and was already jumping about, climbing around on the large rocks and playing with her doll.


“Daddy look, look!” she cries out.


Cliff is too preoccupied to look over. He’s staring into the gorgeous blue eyes of his dear love as they sit in the cool shade beneath a large oak tree. It was their favorite place — the tree where they first met.


“Yeah, that’s great, little light,” he says, not truly paying attention. His eyes never left hers. She smiles so beautifully he feels like bursting. How is he this lucky? Giggling as she lets go of his hand, she stands up and runs out into the clearing.


She looks like an angel out there in the midday sunlight. Her white-blonde hair flowing gracefully in the summer breeze. She’s wearing a colorful new dress that she picked out just for this occasion, her slight curves filling it out perfectly.


“Come on, Cliff! Join me!”


He smiles and jumps up. She could get him to do anything… he couldn’t resist. He runs out to meet her.


It’s intoxicating to see her move so freely. When she’s happy, the whole world seems to submit to her. The grass waves as she spins in circles through the field, as if her aura gives renewed life to it.


He reaches out for her hand to join her in a moment of pure bliss, when she grabs a hold of his arm and pulls him close with more force than he’s used to. He’s confused… perhaps she’s feeling devious, or maybe it’s a new facet of her he hasn’t yet uncovered?


The sun begins to quickly slip away, giving in to an odd darkness. The sky opens up, releasing a torrential downpour. Bones crack as her body shrivels up into a thin grey form. He looks at her with complete horror. Black dye runs through the length of her hair until the blonde disappears. As it changes color, it stands up on end and flails about like the arms of an octopus. Her eyes sink into her head, leaving behind empty sockets. Her colorless face dries up to match her cadaverous body.


“Beloved?” What is happening to her?


He tries to get away, but she has him. A blood-curdling scream rings in his ears for what feels like an eternity—the same exact scream from the moment when Clara saw her mother’s mangled body the first time.


The sound is relentless.


It drowns out everything else, even the noise of the unique storm that’s still building around them. The earth shudders under the resonance and begins to break. The rocks split, the trees are set ablaze and the grass turns to ash as the rainwater carries it into new crevices in the ground.


The amalgamation that is his wife grabs his arms and pulls his face to within inches of hers. Her grip is intense, like being crushed in a vice. Her breath reeks of sewage and rotting flesh. This savage, this… monster, is not the wife he adores. Who is this?


He tries again to escape her grasp, but it’s impossible. When did she gain such strength? His heart aches seeing her like this. And now he fears for his daughter’s life.


The creature yells in his face in a deep, demonic voice.


“Come on, Cliff! Join me!”


* * *


Lightning strikes and blinds him, waking him from his nightmare.


Bewildered and heaving painful breaths, he huddles on the ground and begs for the images to leave him. He never saw her like this before, and it frightened him. Tears stream down his cheeks and he sobs quietly as the memory of his love becomes tainted by this unbelievable horror.


He looks at the photograph in his hand and notices the floor behind it—clean. The trash is gone and the bag tied, ready to be taken out to the can.


What?


He stands to his feet, confused and light-headed. With his head spinning, he can’t focus.

His sudden dizziness makes him feel like he’s going to be sick.


The feeling rises in his throat before he makes it to the front door. It swings open and vomit splashes everywhere on the front stoop. He lets out a few heavy breaths, just a little bit relieved.


Once his vision begins to refocus, he notices odd-shaped footsteps in the yard. Agatha never goes outside and he knew the tread patterns of his daughter’s shoes. The footprints lead from the muddy lawn up to his front door and back. Panicking, he checks around the kitchen for more and finds not a clod of dirt anywhere.


“Cliff! Get up here!” Agatha shouts from upstairs. “There’s another dead rat in the tub!”

Hesitant to leave and worried that someone has been in the house, he closes the door and heads through the kitchen. Clara nearly collides with him as he rounds the corner.


“I’m sorry, little light. Could you take the bag out real quick? Agatha needs me to—”


“CLIFF!”


He apologizes once again as he hurries upstairs to tend to her animal problem.


* * *


Clara stares at the bag of trash in disappointment. Is this what life has become? She has to do all the chores herself—the ones she can reach, anyway. She always keeps her mouth shut about it and does as she’s told. Making Agatha angry turns her into a monster.


But it’s still wrong. Mommies and daddies do some chores, right? None of her friends have to do all of the chores. Absin doesn’t even have any chores and her stepmother always buys her new stuff.


Not fair at all.


She sighs and grabs the drawstrings of the bag, dragging it to the door as the clatter of plastic and tin brings her a bit of joy.


Standing in the doorway, watching the rain fall, she listens to the distant thunder and thinks about her mother. She was so beautiful, so loving. Why did she have to be gone?


Clara clicks the button on her flashlight and the light shoots into the dark front yard, rain reflecting it back like strands of falling glitter. She pans the flashlight left and right, searching, but finding nothing.


She sighs.


Dragging the bag behind her, she walks up to the gate in the chain link fence leading to the alley. She lifts the lock and the rusty gate swings open, making a harsh grinding noise. She didn’t like it at all.


The grim alley between the buildings used to be one of the scariest places. She used to get nightmares every night from the things that she couldn’t see, the things that made noise in the dark and in the rain. And then Agatha moved in. Now the alley doesn’t even frighten her.


She’s so mean. Mommy was never mean like her.


There was a flat stone on the way to the garbage with some chalk scribbles on it. The colorful linework that once decorated the otherwise boring stone was washing away from the rainwater. Her dolly’s favorite spot.


Clara leaves the flashlight on the stone and lifts the lid of the can. Struggling hard and summoning all of her strength, she lifts the bag up onto the lip. Her favorite part was watching the bag tip over into the can and the sound of father’s glass soda bottles breaking. She sits the bag down on the edge and adjusts it so that it will fall in after she walks away—like magic.


A crashing sound in the alley.


Clara drops the bag and looks up. An open tin can rolls away from a trash can laying on its side.


Stunned, she tries to be still and watches the alley, like when they watch hummingbirds in the park. Afraid of what she might see, she refuses to move.


But… she was curious.


After a moment of nothing happening, a tiny yellow globe began to glow. Another globe of similar size appeared next to it. They were floating motionless at the other end of the alley at the corner — the same alley that led to Absin’s house.


Clara stares at them, wondering what they are and why they made her so uncomfortable, like eyes that were staring back at her.


Then they moved… together.


She was sure they were moving. No, not just moving… they were getting bigger. Though she was stricken with fear at the odd sight, she couldn’t help herself but to keep staring, watching as the globes grew bigger and bigger. They seemed to be moving up and getting bigger.


Lightning strikes in the distance and sends a dim illumination through the otherwise dark alley.


And she sees it.


The outline of it is hard to distinguish from the dark and rainy backdrop, but she was looking for it. A large, thin shape with two glowing globes in the center of an odd-shaped mass. It was coming towards her!


It’s them!


Her body began to tremble but she couldn’t let this chance slip away. She spins around and grabs her flashlight from the stone where it was resting and shines the light where she saw the figure.


The can of beans was rolling again, but there was nothing else. No globes. No black thing. Just darkness and rain.


Clara searches around. She had always heard noises outside her window that faced the alley. It made her wonder if this thing was causing all of it.


“Get in here right now!” Agatha screeched from the window.


Clara shudders. “But I saw…”


“I don’t care what you saw, get inside now or I’m coming out there and dragging you inside by your ankle!” She walks away from the window, spitting bad things about her like always.

Clara scrunches her face and grabs her doll from the stone. She was so close to seeing it. One question, that was all she wanted to ask. Would it have even answered?


She sighs and heads for the front door, drenched and disappointed. As she approaches the stoop she sees the shadow of the figure around the other side of the house, the glowing orbs gazing at her. Her eyes bulge, but she says nothing. Agatha will get mad again.


Instead of heading for the door, she steps closer to it. She inches forward, clutching her doll, her heart beating fast in her chest. There was something about it that made her curious. It moves its thin black arm, beckoning for her to come near.


“Closer,” it grumbles in a haggard voice.


Startled, she freezes where she stands. The sound of the rain envelops her just as the fear once did. The figure’s voice was so clear, though. Is it in her head? Her instincts tell her to run, but she can’t. She won’t— not when she’s so close.


I have to know where they took mommy…


She hears her mother’s calm voice in her head telling her to be strong. ‘Strength, little lady’, she would tell her. Clara could feel her mother’s presence, her very touch on her skin. It was almost as if she were right there with her.


She missed that… she missed her.


The creature holds out its arm and reaches for her.


Clara steps closer, with every sense tingling and telling her not to. She was scared, but she had to know.


As she got closer her gaze didn’t leave the mysterious shadow  or  those bright yellow eyes that didn’t blink. She comes within a breath of the creature’s dark, wrinkled flesh.


It towers over her, gazing down into her eyes with an empty expression, rain dripping from its odd-shaped head. Immobilizing fear causes tears to run down Clara’s cheeks. She begins to shake, not fully understanding what she was doing there with this thing, but desiring to understand the connection it has with her. Why was it here? Why did it watch her in the middle of the stormy nights? What does it want?


It slowly reaches out to grab her hand.


Clara flicks her wrist and aims the flashlight’s beam up towards the shadow. Her eyes bulge as she nearly drops it.


Mommy?!


Relief washes over her as she stands before a translucent figure of her very own mother. Her mother bends down and gently lifts Clara’s chin. In those eyes that once brought her fear and curiosity, Clara now saw the familiar love and compassion that had so long ago been a part of her life. She did the only thing that made sense and leaned in to give her a hug.


A loud crash causes her to jump.


A kettle full of hot soup had come crashing through the window and was now splattered all over the yard. Agatha had seen what happened from the window.


Uh oh…


“Get away from her, now!” Agatha screams with the most terrifying look on her face that she’d ever seen. Clara looked at her mother and back again at the open window at the enraged Agatha, who was barreling through the kitchen to reach the door.


“Come!” her mother says in a sweet and wet voice. Clara remembers that voice. Sweet, caring, selfless— it was her. She didn’t know how, she didn’t know why, but she was happier than she could ever explain.


She darts across the street, tugging Clara by the hand, her doll flapping about. Running through the puddles in the street causes water to splash everywhere. Loud sounds of things being broken behind her makes her nervous. She glances over her shoulder to make sure the mean Agatha wasn’t catching up to them. Losing her the first time broke her heart. Losing her again…


“Get over here you little brat!” Agatha roars in a monstrous voice as she knocks their chain link fence down. “I’ll tear you limb from limb!”


Agatha’s body was changing drastically as she watched in horror. She turns back around to face forward, focusing on her rescuer — her amazing mommy.


As they were running towards the park across the way, the beam from her flashlight crosses her mother as it swings back and forth. The dark creature was present whenever there was no direct light, replaced by her real mommy form when the light hit her.


What is it about mommy that makes her scary in the dark? She didn’t care. All that mattered was that she was with her now.


As they enter the park, her mommy looks behind them. Clara does the same and catches a glimpse of the tyrant of a stepmother that had now become something much scarier. They were running fast through the play area in a desperate attempt to stay ahead of the… monster… behind them.


“What’s wrong with stepmother Agatha, mommy?”


“She’s not your stepmother, Clara,” she said in her watery voice. “She’s a demon.”


“Where are you going, Clara?” the deep demon voice says behind her. “Get back to the house now or I’ll cast you down to the Lake of Fire myself!”


The dreadful words of her not-stepmother-demon carry over the sound of the storm. A monstrous impossibility that made her realize she was right all along. She just knew there was a reason she didn’t like her.


Lightning strikes near them, thunder pounding in her head, nearly knocking her to the ground. She stumbles in her struggle to keep up with Mommy and stay far ahead of the monster that was stepmother Agatha.


Up ahead, she sees an opening in the fence.


“There!” Mommy shouts in a mangled mixture of voices.


Clara moves her feet as fast as she can, thankful to be with Mommy once again. But she was still so curious. She couldn’t figure out why she was so different now.


What was wrong with her?


They breach the fence on the edge of the forest, hoping to get away from Agatha. The fence catches her doll and she drops it.


“Mommy, wait! My doll!”


“You don’t want it, Clara, trust me,” she says as the doll’s hand slipped through Clara’s grasp. “Please, just leave it!”


“But, mommy!”


“Let it go, baby!”


She did want it. Why would she say such a terrible thing? Did she forget how much she loved that doll? She gives it a last longing look as it dangles on the fence, its red eyes staring back at her.


Wait… they were black before. Weren’t they?


On the other side of the fence, an entire group of dark creatures with yellow eyes were waiting for them, all looking like Mommy’s scary form. Clara panics and stops running, not knowing what’s happening. Mommy turns around and grabs her hand once more, flashlight shining on her to reveal her true form.


“It’s alright, Clara,” Mommy says in a sweet, rippling tone. “They’re called Yulozo, and they’re here to help.” She nods to one of the creatures, who nods back.


Clara worries, but she trusts her Mommy above all. She allows her to take hold of her hand once more and they continue deeper into the forest. She looks over her shoulder as Mommy pulls her along. Demon Agatha’s disgusting form breaks down the fence they just passed through and bellows a deafening roar, pounding her chest before continuing her pursuit.

The dark creatures called Yulozo jump out from behind the trees and stop demon Agatha in her tracks, surrounding her.


Agatha let out a horrible, gut-twisting laugh. “You will not stop me Yulozo, Rejects of Heaven,” she shouts. “I will get my prize if I must slay you all right here!”


The Yulozo leap around like starving monkeys. Clara couldn’t help but look through the gap in the trees at what was happening. She saw the Yulozo attacking demon Agatha from all sides, tearing at her flesh, fire bursting out from inside her body. Clara cries at the sight of it and closes her eyes. As scary and gross as it is, she can’t keep them closed. She has to make sure that she will not be able to get her or Mommy.


When she opened her eyes she could no longer see Agatha. The group of Yulozo leaping around and attacking her were blocking her view. What if they couldn’t stop her? The last glimpse of them before they became hidden in the trees was unclear whether they had succeeded or not. The nearest Yulozo stopped jumping around and was staring at her through the trees with those big yellow eyes. Her flashlight just barely catches a portion of the figure’s face.


Absin?


“It’s not much farther, Clara,” Mommy says. “Hurry!”


They dash through the last of the trees into a clearing where the railroad runs through. She hears the familiar sound of the train’s horn blowing as they near the tracks.


“Mommy, where are we going?” Clara shouts.


“It will be over soon,” Mommy shouts back in her dark form voice, the flashlight no longer shining on her.


They arrive at the tracks and stand on them together. Mommy holds her in an embrace — one that she hasn’t felt in a whole year.


“Mommy, what are we doing? I want to go home.”


“We are going home,” Mommy says. “We will be accepted for what we’ve done here tonight.”


Clara didn’t understand. What did she mean?


She felt the rumbling of the train beneath her feet as it drew nearer, felt the rain falling relentlessly around them.


“Mommy, the train…”


“It’s okay, Clara,” she says, her wet voice calm. “Stay here with me.”


The train blows its horn again. This time it was very close. Clara looks behind her mother at the train as it speeds towards them.


“I’ll see you on the other side, Clara,” Mommy says as she tightens her grip on Clara’s arm. “I love you.”


“Now, hold on just a minute!” a deep voice shouts above the sound of the train and storm. It came from the direction of the forest. Lightning strikes the ground near the figure, revealing its identity to them.


“Oh no,” Mommy whispers.


Clara couldn’t believe her eyes. She mutters the word as if she was seeing a ghost.

“Agatha.”


She grips her Mommy’s legs and squeezes as tight as she can.


“It’s alright, Clara,” she says as she turns to face the monster. “Just stay with me.”


The demon Agatha charges towards them, fire dripping from her mouth and bloody slashes covering her body.


“I’m going to do what I should have done a long time ago!”


“You will not touch her!” Mommy says. “She belongs with us! And as long as I roam free, you will not gain another!”


“You have no power here, Yulozo!” Agatha says, her footsteps pounding as she draws nearer. “You are merely an echo, insignificant to them and to us! You failed once, and you will fail again!”


“But I won’t!”


Clara brightens at the sound of the strong, warm voice cutting through the rain.

Daddy was here!


Agatha spins in a fiery blaze as Daddy stumbles towards them while holding his head.

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