The following is an excerpt from my current WIP “Lamont”, a paranormal/horror mystery. Amalia Barnes is a seventeen year-old girl living with her mother who is often away on contract work. In this passage, Amalia awakes to find herself alone in the apartment, her mother having been absent for nearly a week.
Dull static hissed in Amalia’s ears as the night gave way to pale pink morning. For a few beats, she languished in the calm of knowing she had nowhere to be at eight o’clock on a Wednesday morning. She pulled the headphones off her head, placing the heavy equipment on the small desk crammed next to her bed. Amalia fumbled blindly for the power switch on the bottom of the boom box resting there. In her head, she could hear her mother bitching yet again about the electricity bill for the month.
“Ma?” Amalia called out loudly into the void as she sat up in her bed. There was no response. Somewhere outside of the apartment, heavy steps descended a stairway. It wasn’t her.
Amalia released herself from the hold of her bed, swinging her legs over to touch the soles of her feet to the coolness of the bare floor. In the apartment, the whisperings weren’t as pronounced as they were elsewhere. They are present, certainly, but in other places they were sometimes more persistent, noticeable. One time, she mentioned this to Luis and he laughed. He said it was probably like how other people’s houses always smell weird the first time you go inside but yours never does because you live in your own farts or whatever so you get used to your own stink. She called him an idiot when he said that, but he had a good point. It probably was like that.
Amalia crept into the hallway outside her room. On quiet toes, she passed by the closed door of her mother’s room. It was strange. The place still never felt like ‘home’ even though she’d been living in the apartment for almost three years. It still felt like her mom’s place and Amalia felt like a kid on a long sleepover. Even in her own room, half of her stuff existed in poorly packed cardboard boxes under the reasoning that this living situation was always going to be temporary.
Carefully, Amalia turned the knob of her mother’s bedroom door. It turned, a sure sign that the room lay unoccupied as the door only locked from the inside. Sure enough, the door creaked open to reveal a room twice as large as Amalia’s though not nearly as cluttered. Aside from the unmade bed, it was hard to believe that anyone actually inhabited the room. It’s contents were drastically spartan: a short unfinished pine dresser being the only other piece of furniture in the room aside from the bed. There were no rugs, no mirrors, no nightstand or bedside lamp, no books or magazines or any evidence of human interests existed within the room. Only once she entered the closet did it become clear that the room belonged to her mother.
The closet was quite large. It adjourned Amalia’s own closet-like room and she often wondered if the closet had at one time been a part of it, severed and sectioned off to make the ‘master’ bedroom seem more than it really was. When Amalia at last gained the courage to trek into this sacred space, she found herself in total and unexpected awe at the organized chaos that met her.
Aside from the expected row of hanging canvas and leather jackets, colorful plastic milk crates layered across the floor, each brimming with old vinyl records. Her mother’s taste was antiquated but quite diverse, consisting of everything from Zeppelin to Earth, Wind & Fire to Miles Coltrane to faded salsa and bachata albums in Spanish that Amalia couldn’t quite read.
Beyond this library of music, other artifacts from her mother’s past life resided within old shoeboxes, concert and movie ticket stubs, overexposed polaroids taken in smoke-filled rooms where her mother’s curly hair surrounded her head like an expanding cloud. In several of the pictures, her mother carried with her a laughing smile wider than Amalia had ever seen from her before. There were bundles of handwritten letters as well, the style of the script instantly recognizable to Amalia as belonging to her father. It made her somewhat ill to even think of the contents of those letters and she never could bring herself to even scan the top note. What amazed her most of all though was that her mother could hold onto such things in such a sacred manner.
In the farthest reach of the closet stood a solitary upright metal cabinet, it’s door locked with a combination. Amalia did not need to see inside to know that was where her mother stored the tools of her trade: firearms, ammunition and various bladed and blunt instruments of violence. If she was being honest with herself, the gun safe scared her. She always knew that her mother carried weapons on her person for her work and growing up, her mother had been good at keeping them concealed from sight. In the last few years of living solely with her mother though, the woman had grown more cavalier in regards to brandishing revolvers and pistols in plain sight while either leaving for or returning from a job.
Above the firearms locker sat what were probably her mother’s most prized possessions. They were strewn about a plain wooden shelf drilled into the wall, almost haphazardly placed but their prominent position betrayed their importance. Even now, after years of looking upon them, the silent staring eyes of three taxidermied heads still unnerved Amalia. The first time she had caught sight of them, she understandably screamed a little. They were beyond anything Amalia had ever seen up to that point in her life. They were creatures out of storybooks and urban legends.
The head on the left was dog-like at first glance though its skin was gray and scaled. Long fangs protruded downward from its opened maw along with a serpentine tongue, its eyes completely black and a number of dark-colored spines pointed upward from the top of its crown. To the right, what looked to be the head of a long-snouted farm animal sat, the snout almost like a goat’s but perhaps too long. Long twisted deer horns rose from its head while wide leathery, wing-like ears lay limp along each side.
Between these, a head that looked nearly human stared down at Amalia. In shape, it resembled a bald, caucasian man with one bulging brown eye, the other gone; a black hole in its place. Below this blown-out eye, halfway past the left cheek, the pale skin gave way to an outbreak of dark, bristling fur inconsistently spread down the side of the face and jaw. Its upper left lip, turned up in an eternal snarl, revealed a white curved, sharpened canine.
If she was ever asked, Miranda Santiago made it a point to call herself a bounty hunter. She was one to brag endlessly about her travels while drinking, going on about the various bar fights and amorous conquests she undertook throughout her travels. But Amalia’s mother was never one to be forthcoming about the specific nature of her work. Whenever Amalia asked about the bounties themselves, who or what they were and for what reason they were sought, her mother would swiftly change the subject, launching into another drunken tale that Amalia had already heard a dozen times over.
Heavy steps, boots, stomped up the outside stairway. Amalia panicked. She fumbled to close the closet door, careful not to slam the bedroom door as she escaped. Breathing heavy, Amalia scooted over to the kitchen, scrambling to appear to be in the innocent process of preparing herself a bowl of cereal.