A Darkness Within
Fiction by Alexander Z. Kautz
When the news arrived that my younger sister Veronica had finally passed away from cancer, I can't say that I was as shocked as much as relieved.
She had suffered with it for only a short time but the struggle had been intense. Having never married or had children, she was the last surviving member of our line, leaving me as sole inheritor.
We had never been very close. Though a brilliant and financially successful woman, she had a terrible temper and had always been very willful. It was either her way or the highway. Something that I could never accept or tolerate for long, no matter how hard I had tried....
At the reading of the will I had discovered that within her many years as an insurance agent, she had acquired a rather old house. Which having never told me about, now fell into my possession through inheritance.
There had been a tidy sum of savings and the matter of a hefty life insurance policy. All of these meant very little wherein the loss of her life was concerned. But even if I had attempted to express this to her in life, she would have simply scoffed at the sentiment. Assuming the worst as usual....
Of all the things that had hurt the most within my life. The loss of my mother at an early age and estrangement of my sister had always cut deepest.
It was not long after the funeral that packing my own meager life, I moved into the old house on Crowley Street.
Having been involved in a serious work related accident and existed upon a pension for many years, there was a sudden sense of financial and personal freedom. I had spent a great deal of my time working as an illustrator for a small magazine. The payments had always left much to be desire, but I had managed.
In all truth, I did it more out of the pure love of the craft and those that I worked with rather than the money.
November in Vancouver Canada had always meant one thing. Rain and lots of it! Which in all respects, I much preferred over the bitter cold and snow of the more eastern provinces.
I had always hated snow. So, as I pulled in before the large old home, parking my Kia Sportage with trailer and life in tow, I paused to look upon the place.
She had kept it heated and maintained, but according to the documents had never rented the place in the ten years that she had owned it. Something that I had found odd to begin with as she was well known for pinching her pennies and making financially secure investments.
This particular place within her mind would have been little more than a money trap... All the same I was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth!
It was nothing extraordinary within comparison to many others on the same block. All were of Victorian construction and most were restored or beautifully maintained.
A three story gem, grey with white trim, it had a widow's peak, wonderful second story balcony, twin towers and stood quite separate from the others on a small lot of well kept, forested land.
I sat for several minutes gazing upon the place which, outlined by the dark, cloud filled November sky, almost seemed to fade into it's surroundings.
For a moment it almost felt like the old place wasn't even there to begin with? Perhaps, just some strange extension of my own imagination?
The thought ended swiftly as the rain came and I hurried up the front steps to the porch and fumbling with the keys, let myself inside.
There was a scent of age, but no mildew or anything that one might have expected to find after so many years of being empty.
It didn't take me long as using the little hand cart, unloaded all of my belongings. I had given away whatever larger furnishing that I had owned after having been shown photographs of the old house.
It was entirely furnished and kept in such a manner that I would require little beyond groceries and the usual household items.
I was unpacked and settled into the place just before dinner. I took a seat in a large, brown wingback chair before the hearth and weary from the efforts of the past few days, quickly drifted into a deep sleep.
All was utter stillness within the blinding darkness. Then a pinpoint of light. A pale green mist within the distance as strangely unsettled by the sickly glow, I was helplessly drawn toward it!
The darkness changed, moving all about me while becoming the shadowy forms of doctors and nurses. Which hurrying around a hospital bed within that pale green room, busilly attended to a patient.
I felt my heart pound as though it might explode from my chest! I fought not to look down upon the figure in the bed, but could not resist!
There she lay, struggling and coughing on blood as the cancer ate away at her from the inside! She saw me and beckoned with hands outstretched! Fingers grasping at the air as her eyes, pleading, bulged as she fought for breath!
Helpless! God damn me! There was nothing that I or anyone else could do to relieve her suffering!
She thrashed about, coughing and spewing blood from her nose and mouth! So much blood, so much blood! I could no longer watch, turning in horror as they sedated her, forcing her down while doing everything within their ability to comfort the dying woman!
Indeed, it was her, my very own younger sister, dying before my very eyes!
She screamed out my name in vein, her words showering me in blood as she gasped! I awoke screaming! Grasping the arms of the old chair with white knuckled panic, my eyes wide and by horror filled!
That dream, oh dear God--that horrifying last memory of her final days. It endlessly haunted, tormented, tore at my heart and soul! I threw a hand before my sweat beaded and fevered brow, blinded by the uncontrollable stream of tears, pleaded within a whisper,
"Oh God--please, please." I swallowed hard, muttering,
"Make it stop--I just can't take this anymore..."
Gazing wide eyed and forlorn into the crackling fire within the hearth, I suddenly paused in thought. Did I even light that fire? But surely I must have. For there it was, burning right before my eyes. Am I losing my mind?
My mouth was dry, hot, my lips parched. Much in the same way that a long distance runner might feel in the mid-day sun. I moved from the chair, my efforts appearing almost drunken as I made my way across the large room. Half stumbling while wandering out into the corridor and down the hall into the large kitchen.
The house was in utter darkness as switching on lights, I glanced down at my wrist watch. It was half past ten. I had slept for several hours.
Filling a glass with water and sitting down at the large oak dining table, I stared out into the night through the large kitchen windows.
Not a single sound beyond the rhythm of the gentle rain, tapping like cold fingers as it streamed down the window pane.
Within the glass I noticed my sombre reflection and moved closer to examine what now stared back.
I had just passed my fourtieth birthday that summer. Though looking much younger and still having the same dirty blonde hair, the bags beneath my deep blue eyes had darkened over time.
Those eyes that had seen so much. Since childhood I had slowly witnessed the deaths of everyone that I had ever loved. Places, faces all fading into the distant shadows of time.
This was the price that all children of elderly parents were doomed to pay. Eventually being left alone in a world filled with nothing more than the ghosts of old memories....
It was this same and immediate sense of mortality that Veronica and I had both experienced in early youth, causing a bitter sibling rivalry. It had always been a desperate attempt to attain the most attention and love from those who remained to us.
Having lost our father at a young age and been alone with our mother, who worked long hours, it was just never enough for little Veronica.
Being several years younger, she excelled within my failures. Gaining a greater education through my own academic struggles while listening as I was home tutored.
She learned quickly, astute and intelligent she soon established both career and reputation. Though I had always been proud of her, for reasons beyond explanation I had always sensed that deep down, she had always despised me....
When the end had finally found her I had not been there. Not because I had chosen to abandon her, but because she had been in a coma for several weeks, heavily sedated and mercifully, had passed quietly in the night.
Though she had finally found peace, the memories and guilt of a lifetime lost together forever haunted me. I could never find the words within forgiveness...
Rising from the chair I moved toward the sink, placing down my glass and looking out through the large window and into the night beyond. A gaunt and pale image gazed back. The dark eyes wide and empty as it's mouth widened within a silent scream!
I leapt back, startled, gasping! Then suddenly laughing out loud as I realized that it must have been my own reflection while yawning! Of course, that was all that it had been! My own battered nerves and over-tired mind working against me!
"You better get some rest old man!" I scoffed, pointing to my reflection in the glass while saying,
"You're looking like death...."