SunsetMature

It had been a couple of weeks since Tate shared Steffie’s bed, but she had been a paranoid wreck since then. Almost as soon as a few days afterwards, she felt an unfamiliar fluttering in her abdomen that woke her up out of a dead sleep. Now 2 weeks, and one negative pee test later, Steffie was relieved but no more at ease. Tate’s explanation of events kept echoing in her head but so did the faces of the teenagers he killed.

Steffie grew haunted, obsessed with what was going on in her house.

Rosa worked still more hours and Tate stayed away. Steffie could still feel him nearby, watching her, like an itch she wasn’t able to scratch. She spent more and more time out of the house and in Westfield Public Library, buried in books on the occult. One promising book, titled Mysteries in Sacrilege, she brought home with her. Hidden in the monstrosities penned into the book one night, Steffie failed to notice Tate was in her room until he spoke.

“Why are you reading that garbage?”

She took a sip from her can of Diet Coke and flipped the page. “Where have you been, Tate?”

He slammed the book shut and threw it on the floor. “You think I didn’t see you take that pregnancy test? It was negative, so why are you disappearing so much and filling your head with these horror stories?”

“What if it had been positive? What would have happened to me?” she asked calmly, taking another sip of soda.

He averted his gaze and couldn’t meet her eyes when he answered. “Then we’d have a family, you and me.”

Things were about to get ugly.

“A family of what exactly? Ghosts? Demons? You see, I just don’t believe you, Tate. I don’t feel safe in this house whether you’re by my side or not. Don’t think for a second that I don’t realize your hidden agendas. Every time you encourage my filthy blade habit I can see it in your eyes that you’re hoping I’ll push down a little bit too hard to be saved.”

His eyes glazed over with more raw emotion than she’d ever seen in him. “Don’t say that, Steffie. I love you; I love the life in you. The way you see the world, through morbid colored glasses, is what gives me hope that you could love someone like me. You belong here with me, whether you’re dead or alive, why can’t you see that?”

Steffie looked away—she had a weak spot for Tate that would be her undoing if she didn’t keep a tight rein on it.

“I do love you. Even though I know it’s unnatural, I love you. But you’re wrong; I don’t belong in this house.”

Tate looked as though someone had punched him in the face. His eyebrows were raised in such confusion, like he just couldn’t grasp the words coming out of Steffie’s mouth.

“Just do me one last favor before you go?” He said, his voice quivering slightly. “Let me show you something?”

As much as she didn’t want to go for fear it was a trick, Steffie nodded and gave Tate her hand. He led her to into the basement to a small room off of the main one that she had never noticed, let alone set foot in.

“Tate what is this all about?”

Gently he pushed her towards a busted up old wardrobe. “Open it, Steffie.”

Curiously she opened the old wooden doors and was immediately engulfed with the putrid smell of rotting flesh. Her eyes began to water and she gagged on the odor, but that didn’t stop her from seeing that the cause was the decomposing corpse of her mother.

“What did you do to her?” she shrieked, throwing herself at Tate with claws bared. “What did you do to my mother?”

Tate didn’t even defend himself against the barrage of scratches; he just let her vent her anger on his body. “Steffie, I didn’t do anything to her, she did this to herself.”

“Stop lying to me!” she sobbed, finally sinking to the floor in front of the wardrobe. “She wouldn’t kill herself. She loved me too much.”

“I’m sorry, baby girl, I was weak,” came a soft voice from beside her.

Steffie jumped away from the voice, looking from the rotting corpse to completely healed version that was speaking to her in horror. “Mommy?”

Rosa shut the door to the wardrobe and took a tentative step towards Steffie, who instantly backed away. “I haven’t been working extra hours, Stephanie. I drank myself stupid one night when you were out late, and I ate a bullet. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be the mother you deserve.”

On her knees Steffie crawled over to Rosa and placed tentative hands on her legs to make sure she was solid. “You’re the best mom I could ever ask for,” said Steffie, wrapping her arms around her mother’s legs and sobbing into them. “I can’t live without you, mommy. I can’t stay in this world all alone!”

“You won’t,” said Tate, smiling at her. “You can stay here with us forever. We can be a family, Steffie.”

Rosa eyed Tate with distrust and pulled Steffie to her feet. “You don’t have to be alone, sweetheart. I can’t tell you what to do anymore, but I hope you will take my advice when I say whatever you do…do it right.”

Steffie’s eyes widened as she felt Rosa slip the familiar cool shape of her favorite razor blade into her hand. Without looking back at Tate she bolted for the stairs.

“Steffie!” shouted Tate, pounding up the stairs after her.

Putting every ounce of energy she had into her movements, Steffie pushed herself until she was out the front door and running across the lawn.

“Steffie, stop! I’m begging you, please stay with me!” Tate was yelling as he gained momentum, almost catching up with her.

Once across the street Steffie finally stopped and turned around to see Tate stop on the edge of her front yard.

“Why do you hate me? All I did was love you, pretty girl,” said Tate, his voice laced with sorrow. “The only thing I wanted in life was for someone to love me back, but everyone is the same—everyone except you.”

“It isn’t about hate, don’t you see? I’m doing this for love. I love you, I love my mother, and I love myself purely. To die in that house is to stifle anything as good as the love I feel right now. Don’t mourn for me, Tate.”

Tate shook his head and a solitary tear rolled down his cheek. “Why would I mourn?”

In a flash Steffie opened the blade and sliced two vertical gashes up both of her wrists, just the way he showed her. The last thing she heard as she bled to death was Tate’s screams as his heart nearly broke. Somehow she knew that once her spirit left her body Tate’s memories and the house itself would reset, like some sinister infinite loop.

 Steffie was at peace knowing that hers wouldn’t be added to the murder house’s prolific list of claimed souls.  

The End

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