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Author's note: I wrote this to escape the world for a little while.
Standing on the sidewalk outside the Minewood house, Leah had an image in her head. Long beige curtains on all the windows, carpet that felt like silk when you walked on it, and a beautiful redwood banister leading down the staircase. She could see her mother cooking on the old-fashioned stove she'd gotten from her mother, while her father was busy watching the game. And she saw herself, fifteen years younger, sitting on his lap listening to him tell her everything he knew about football.
"Are you ready, Ms. Minewood?" Pulled from her memories, she turned to see an elderly woman with short brown hair dressed in an all black pants suit. "I'm Mrs. McBrown, the real estate agent."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Leah." Shaking her hand, Leah saw the woman years younger, dancing with a man dressed in a Navy uniform. She saw the joy in their eyes as he twirled her around the room, completely lost in each other. Leah pulled her hand back quickly before she saw deeper into her past, then turned towards the house.
Beatrice smiled, trying to act normal. For a moment, she saw something in the woman's eyes that made her feel like Leah could see straight into her."Well, let's go on in. Are you sure you don't need a minute?"
"No, let's go." She took a deep breath and followed the woman in. As she stepped through the door, though, everything came flooding back, almost knocking her over. She heard the screams, saw the blood, the stranger's masked face as he stared at her with pure evil in his eyes. Before she could stop it, she was reliving the night again, and feeling the utter terror she felt that night.
Leah, five years old, sat on her mother's lap while she painted. She loved watching the process of a few strokes of a brush on a blank sheet of paper become something beautiful. "How do you do that, mommy?"
Heather Minewood laid the brush down and turned her daughter around in her lap to face her. She smiled, seeing both herself and Brian in her child's face. She had Brian's crystal blue eyes and crooked smile, but the beauty mark under Leah's left eye matched her own.
"Well, I just see these images, and all these colors in my head, so I paint them. When I'm angry or sad, or just happy, I'll come in here and something takes over me until I'm finished." As Heather picked up two brushes, she handed one to Leah. "Close your eyes and think of anything in the world, something that means a lot to you."
Leah closed her eyes like her mother said, letting her mind wander. She saw pictures of horses, dogs, and unicorns, but the image that she chose was from one of her favorite memories. She opened her eyes, taking the brush and dipping it into the paint, and turned to a plain sheet of paper.
As she made the first mark, the rest of the world faded away from her. She was so lost in the process that she didn't feel her mother lift her off her lap and leave the room. Heather knew all too well what it was like to get lost in a painting, and she felt her heart swell as she watched her daughter paint, as she watched her fall in love with something for the first time in her life.
Two hours later, face streaked with paint and hair falling out of the perfect ponytail her mother had done, Leah looked at the picture. She saw a sunset on Myrtle Beach the summer before, with her mother and father holding hands as they stared at the water. She had painted with an accuracy that surprised her young eyes. The hurried blue strokes of the water looked almost identical to the windy water that day. She managed to capture the love that she saw between her parents, or at least the best a child could.
Silently looking over Leah's shoulder, Heather studied the picture. Tear's came to her eyes as she realized what it was, amazed at how the careless strokes of a five year old made the picture even more beautiful. There were no mistakes in it, not that her experienced eye could see, and it didn't look like it had been painted by a child. How could a child this young, her beautiful daughter, make something so utterly magnificent that it looked like it was painted by a professional?
"That's beautiful, baby." Walking closer to behind her, she laid her hands on her shoulder.
Looking at her work, Leah smiled. She turned towards her mother and wrapped her arms around her, closing her eyes as she enjoyed the hug. "Thank you, mommy. You said think of something that means a lot to me, and I chose this. It's my favorite memory."
"You've always been too mature for your age." Heather kissed the top of her head and smiled. "Now, go get cleaned up and help your father get the table ready for supper.
After Leah ran off, Heather took the picture and hung it above the fireplace. Another silent tear escaped from her eye and she quickly wiped it away. Taking another long look at her new favorite piece of art, she headed towards the kitchen with her family, knowing this would be the last few moments they had together.
"Daddy, give it back!" Giggling, Leah tried to get the towel back that her dad had stolen from her. Now, he was trying to hit her with it as she chased him around the kitchen.
"Here you go." Holding it out, Brian waited until she reached out for it and then snatched it back. She almost fell over in the process. "Just kidding!"
He picked his laughing daughter up and put her over his shoulder, spinning her around until they were both dizzy. Leah laughed even harder as she got dizzier. As he started to slow down, he thought he saw something moving in the yard, like the shadow of a person, out the kitchen window across from them.
"Get down for a minute, sweetheart." As he looked out the back door, everything was still spinning, so he decided to overlook it.
"What is it, Daddy?"
He turned back towards his daughter and smiled. "Nothing. Now, we better get this table fixed before your mother yells at us."
"I heard that. Come on, Leah, you can help me bring the food. We'll make your dad do everything else."
"But Mom!" Brian said in a mock child voice. When she only laughed, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her. Watching them, Leah laughed and hugged them.
From the corner of his eye, Brian saw a motion outside the window again. This time, he was sure it wasn't his imagination. Pulling away from them, he started walking over to the door, but a crash from another room stopped him in his tracks. The alarm system sounded, making Leah scream out loud.
"Heather, take Leah and go into the bedroom." Looking straight into her eyes, he kissed her. "And lock the door until I come for you." Kissing Leah on the forehead, he started in the opposite direction towards the noise, ignoring the bad feeling he had.
"Okay baby girl, I need you to stay in here. Here's the phone. If you hear anything not right, call 911." Hugging her daughter and kissing her, she put the phone in her hand. "I love you."
Taking the phone, Leah hugged her mother before she walked out. She locked the door and put a chair in front of it, then went across the room and sat in a corner. Tears started running down her face before she even realized it, but she didn't try to wipe them away.
Five minutes later, as Leah was starting to fall asleep, she heard the sound of a gun firing, twice. Frozen with terror, she barely managed to dial the three numbers. To her, it seemed like a forever until the woman finally answered.
"911, what is your emergency?"
"Please, you have to help my parents. They heard something.. They-- I-- there was a gun shot." Her cries turned to sobs as someone started banging on the door. "Please, you have to help us!"
"Okay, calm down--" Cut off by Leah screaming, the woman sent out the signal for the address to be found. "Honey, there's someone on the way right now. I'm going to need you to stay on the phone with me okay? Are you somewhere safe?"
"Yes ma'am. I'm locked in my room. But--" The banging on the door started getting harder and Leah screamed even louder. "Please hurry!"
As she heard the first distant sound of sirens, the door started coming open. Leah put her fingers in her ears and closed her eyes, singing one of the songs her daddy used to sing to her as she was falling asleep. When she opened them again, staring back at her was a masked man dressed in all black. The thing that scared her to death was his eyes, so mean, as they stared into hers. He started to reach for her, but turned and jumped out the window just as the police burst in the room.
Leah sat there, frozen completely still, as the police officer walked over to her. He spoke, but she didn't hear anything. All she kept repeating was, "Where's my mommy and daddy?"
"Leah, are you okay?" Tore away from the memory, Leah felt her wet face and realized she was sitting in a corner, with Mrs. McBrown bending down beside her.
The ache tore through her heart as tears shuddered out of her body. She felt the same terror she felt that night, even though it was over. The image of her parents being carried out on stretchers covered by black sheets made her squeeze her eyes shut. Leah closed her eyes and stuck her fingers in her ears, the same thing she did that night, and sang her song. But this time, when she opened her eyes, she didn't see the mans eyes. She saw Mrs. McBrowns sweet, wrinkled face, with worry and concern in her eyes.
She took a deep breath and, wiping the tears from her eyes, stood up slowly. "I'm really sorry. Just-- I didn't know the memory would still get to me like that."
"No, you don't have to apologize, honey. I know, well I can imagine, how hard it must be for you. If you can't do this right now, we can always come back when you're ready."
"I don't think I'll ever really be ready, but I have to be." Touching her shoulder, Leah looked around and tried to bring back only the good memories of the house. Instead, another vision of Mrs. McBrown flashed through her head.
This time, Leah saw her fighting with her son about something he did in school the day before. The resemblance between them was uncanny, and she saw them stop and stare at each other. A few seconds later, the boy punched her in the face, then turned and walked out. Mrs. McBrown was laying on the floor with blood running down her mouth, crying.
Pulling her hand back quickly, Leah stared at the woman. This was the second time she'd had a vision of her, and it usually only happened for a reason. Usually that reason was they needed Leah's help with something.
Mrs. McBrown was trying not to get too freaked out by the look in Leah's eyes, but it was almost impossible this time. I'm getting way too old for this, she thought to herself. Poor child.
"Maybe we should just come back tomorrow." Leah needed time to think, about the past and this new problem on her hands. She couldn't exactly tell the woman about her gift without her thinking she was a complete lunatic, especially after her breakdown less that five minutes ago.
"Yes, that's a good idea. Does two o'clock sound good?"
Looking towards the hallway, Leah saw the room where her mother did all of her painting. "That sounds great. You can go on ahead, I'll be right behind you."
After they said their goodbyes, Leah escorted her out the door. She made sure not to touch the woman this time, scared of what she would see next. She started walking towards the painting room, running her had down the wall. She remembered her father and her mother, but lately, the memories started getting fuzzier and fuzzier. Besides, the last memory she had of them was when she was five.
When she got to the room, the first thing she saw was the picture that she painted the night that they died. For the first time in a while, she smiled, remembering the look on her mother's face when she showed her. "That's beautiful, baby."
This was the first time she'd seen it since that day, mostly because she was too hurt to even look at it. After the funeral, her grandfather moved into the house so they wouldn't have to sell it, and Leah moved in with her other grandparents. Now, the day after his funeral, here she was, staring at the last thing her and her mother had shared.
Of course, ever since then, Leah had been completely in love with painting. She'd sold a dozen or more pieces of her own to a local art museum, but this particular picture was her favorite. Unlike her other paintings, this one had happiness and love in it. All the others were full of dark colors and violent strokes, portraying the hurt and anger Leah kept bottled up inside of her.
One piece, still sitting in her basement back at her apartment, was of the eyes of the man that killed her parents. She'd woken from a nightmare of him and painted the picture, hoping to get the image out of her head. It worked, just like her mother had told her, but it still didn't take the fear away from her. Leah doubted it would ever go away.
Later that night, while she was sleeping, the visions she'd had earlier that day invaded her mind. This time, though, she saw deeper into the memories. For an instant she was Mrs. McBrown, feeling and thinking her exact emotions, then she was staring into they eyes of a masked man. The eyes of her parents killer. Only this time in her dreams, it wasn't her staring into his eyes, but Mrs. McBrown's.
Leah jerked awake, realizing her clothes were soaked with sweat. She wiped her face with her hands and tried to calm her heart rate back down. For a moment, she just stared at the ceiling, trying to make since of her nightmare. Why did she see them through the woman's eyes and not her own?
She needed to clear her head. Rising out of bed and walking over to the blank canvas, she picked up a brush and started painting. She closed her eyes, letting her emotions rise to the surface, then started painting violent strokes. After the first few, something took over her and sent her into some kind of frenzy. When she was finally through, Leah stood from the stool and layed back down in bed without even looking at the painting.
The first rays of the morning sun were shining through her window, but she didn't notice. Only one thought was going through her mind: In her nightmare, she wasn't just seeing the eyes the way she saw them as a kid. They still had the same evil and hate in them, but they were older. She was seeing them through the woman's eyes for a reason, in her future. She was seeing what Mrs. McBrown would soon see, the eyes of her killer.
"May I speak with Mrs. McBrown, please?" Standing in front of the painting, she could hardly believe she'd painted it. When she'd first looked at it, she actually cried. In the picture, she'd painted the same pair of eyes again. There were differences this time, though. These eyes were still dark black and full of hate, but in them she had painted the faintest outline of blood in them. Somewhere deep down inside her, she knew who's blood it would be.
"Mrs. McBrown, Realwood Real Estate. How may I help you?" The voice of the woman made Leah jump, pulling her out of her thoughts.
"Hi Mrs. McBrown, this is Leah Minewood. I was wondering if you might want to go back over to the house again today?"
"Hello, dear. Please call me Bernice. My last name's kind of a mouthful." Through the other end, she could hear papers rustling and the distant sound of voices. "What time were you thinking? I'm booked solid until tonight, but if you still want to go I can meet you there."
Leah forced herself away from the picture and headed towards the kitchen. She needed to erase the memories for a little while. "How about around seven?"
"That sounds good. Listen, I have to go, I have a client waiting. I'll just meet you there."
After saying her goodbyes, Leah looked at the clock. Since it was only 9 o'clock in the morning, she reached in the cabinet for a cup and started making a pot of coffee. She glanced back at her bedroom, thinking about the painting, then reached into another cabinet. Pulling out a bottle of vodka, she poured it into the cup. Leah needed something stronger than coffee this morning.
Later that night, as Bernice was walking to her car, she thought she saw a figure following her. When she turned around, she didn't see anything, but the feeling that someone was watching her remained. She let out a nervous laugh and forced herself to forget about it, getting into her car and driving off. She didn't even pay attention to the car that stayed less than two car lengths behind her the whole way.
"Hey Leah. I'm sorry I'm late." Getting out of her car, she saw the girl sitting alone on the steps, looking towards the dead garden. A feeling of pity came over her, and she couldn't resist going over and laying a hand over hers.
Leah just sat there, waiting for another vision to come as the woman was touching her, but there was none. The only reason they would stop like that was whatever was meant to happen to her would happen soon. She looked the woman in the eyes, meeting her look of pity. She wondered if Bernice knew what she was thinking.
As if answering her thoughts, Bernice smiled. "You don't have to move in here, Darling. I know what it's like to lose people who mean more than the world to you, but I have no idea what it would be like to have to face the place where you lost them every single day."
"It's not just the place where I lost them, it's the last place I had them. Every memory I have of them, at least some of the best ones, have happened somewhere in this house. This is where I feel closest to them." Looking down at her hands, Leah's mind was split in two. One part of her was trying to figure out what she wanted to do about the house. No matter how much it hurt her to be here, she couldn't just sell it to someone who didn't know how much love was shared there. "I can't just give it away."
"You wouldn't have to give it away. Those memories will always be in your heart, and there's no way anyone can take that from you."
The other part of her mind, the part of her that seemed so completely lost as to what to do, was trying to figure out how to keep the woman safe. Something was going to happen to her, Leah knew that for sure. The only thing she didn't know was when and where.
"You're right." Leah turned towards the woman. "Would you do me a huge favor?"
"Yes, I'll let you look into the families looking--"
"No, not that. I was wondering if you'd stay here with me." Leah managed a smile at the woman's blank look. "Just for tonight. I wanna see if I can deal with staying here, but I don't know if I can be alone just yet."
Understanding came over Bernice, making her heart swell with emotion. She'd been looking towards a night full of old black and white movies with her cat, but the look in her eyes changed her mind as soon as she asked. "I'd love to."
"That was great." Leah pushed away the empty plate that once held sesame chicken and rice from the local Chinese restaurant. She picked up her glass of wine and downed the last sip, watching as Bernice forced the last bite of food into her mouth.
When she turned back around to face the TV, she thought she saw a motion out the window next to it. A feeling of deja vu came over her, but she ignored it with a shake of her head.
"Yes, that it was." Bernice reached for the glass of wine she had barely touched. Despite the feeling that Leah wasn't really all there, she was having an amazing time with her. She stretched her legs out on the beige couch and admired the pictures all around the room. From the distance, she saw the edge of something with bright colors. "What is that?"
Turning towards the direction she was pointing, Leah saw her painting. The image of her mother holding her, watching her paint the piece, came flooding back to her. "A painting I did when I was five."
"Do you mind if I see it?"
"No, not at all." Even though Leah tried to hide it, the woman could see her hesitate. Choosing not to say anything, Bernice quietly followed her into the room.
She was expecting to see a piece of paper with hundreds of streaks of different colors, but what she saw took her breath away. The picture was of the beach, and the way the strokes brought the color to life made it look so real to her. "Do you really expect me to believe you painted this when you were five?"
Leah smiled. "That's the same thing I think every time I see it. My mother was even amazed at it."
"I can see why. It's really beautiful, Leah."
As she started to thank the woman, the sound of knocking stopped her. Suddenly, a feeling of fear crept over her, but she dismissed it. "I'll get it."
She opened the door to see an older man soaked from the rain, which Leah just realized was pouring from the night sky. Barely able to see him, she reached over and flipped on the lights. The man was a stranger to her, but she had a weird feeling she'd seen him before.
"My car broke down a little ways down the road. I was wondering if I could use your phone."
Something told her to say no, but being the kind person she was, she let him in and led him to the phone. "I'll leave you alone while you call."
When Leah turned her back on him, she heard a loud motion from behind her. Turning around, she saw the man's eyes for the first time. Eyes so full of hate, of anger... So familiar. Before she had a chance to scream out to Bernice, he swung and knocked her to the ground. She managed a silent prayer as the blackness overcame her.
Admiring the other works of art in the room, Bernice wondered what was taking Leah so long. Just as she started to go see if Leah was okay, she heard footsteps coming towards the room, only they sounded different than Leah's. She was wearing heels and these steps echoed, like they were from a much heavier person.
Instincts kicked in and Bernice ran to the closet. She pulled the door shut very silently, seconds before the person walked into the room. Through the crack she saw a man dressed in all black, pulling a ski mask over his face and holding a knife in his hand. Her heart almost fell out of her chest when she saw the edge smeared with blood.
The rest happened in such a quick blur that she barely knew what happened. The man heard her breathing from the closet and ran towards her. Locking the door an instant before he reached the knob, Bernice let out a scream that could've woke the dead. Literally.
Leah was frozen in place as she stared at her mother and father. They were so beautiful, so young, and so in love. The light streaming over them made the sun look like the flame of a candle. "Mom? Dad?"
Staring back at her, the two angels smiled. "Yeah, baby, it's us."
"But you're--" Leah stopped herself, not wanting to ruin this amazing dream, but also wanting to hear them deny that that they weren't alive anymore.
"Dead? I guess you could say that." Her father said as he walked over and hugged her, followed by her mother. "I love you, sweetheart. You don't know how much I've wanted to tell you that."
Leah let the tears she'd been holding in for years fall. Feeling her parents hugging her, so warm and real, she didn't believe they were dead anymore. Wherever she was, whatever she did to get here, she didn't want to leave the comfort of their love. Letting go of the rest of the world, all her pain and hurt, all the times she felt like she'd never make it through, she was finally home.
"I've missed you guys so much."
"And we've missed you, but we're always around baby. We've been there every step of your life." Brushing the hair out of her face, Heather kissed her on her forehead. "You have to go now, Leah. You've seen what's going to happen and you have to stop it."
"You know about my visions?"
Heather smiled at her daughter. She'd grown so much over the years, but she hadn't been able to have any part in it. Although she'd watched her grow from a child to a teenager to an adult, she couldn't just reach out and touch her or tell her she loved her. Still, she was so proud of the woman Leah had become. "Yeah, I do. I used to have them too. That's why I let you paint that night, sweetheart. So you could fall in love with it, so you could use it to help people and yourself with your visions."
Leah understood now. She'd awake in the middle of the night to see her mother alone in the dark, painting. The next day, the painting would be gone and her mother wouldn't talk about it.
"Baby, you have to go now." Brian stood next to his wife, staring at his daughter. "You have to end it now."
"What do you mean?"
"You have to go. You'll know what to do, baby girl, you have to." They both kissed her one last time. "We love you."
Before Leah could say anthing, she awoke to the sound of a piercing scream. Bernice! Sitting up, the sharp pain in her head almost made her throw up. Another scream sounded through the air, pushing away every feeling inside her, and she stood. She took off running towards the painting room, ignoring the pain that was coming from everywhere in her body and focusing on saving the woman.
When she got to the room, she saw the man standing over Bernice, holding the knife over her chest. Without thinking twice about what she was doing, Leah reached for a wooden board and struck him across his back. The knife flew across the room as he fell to the floor.
"Bernice, run and call 911! Hurry!" When she'd left the room, Leah walked over to the man. "Why? Why did you kill my parents? Why did you want to hurt that woman?"
The man looked up to her and laughed. "I thought I recognized you. I hope you know, killing your parents was a very satisfying job."
Leah hit him with the board again, making a loud thump as it met his head. "Why did you do that to my family and come back again?"
Still laughing, the man wiped the blood from his mouth. "Because I wanted to ruin someones life. I didn't kill you that night, so I came back. I always finish what I started."
Walking over to the knife, Leah picked it. As she was standing over him, she realized she couldn't take another persons life, no matter how bad or evil they were.
When she turned to walk out of the room, he grabbed her ankle and pulled her down. Leah managed a scream as he climbed on top of her and put his hands on her neck. She thought she was going to die, and she started to accept it, but remembered the knife in her hand. Pushing it into his stomach, she watched his face as he fell to the floor beside her, seeing pain shoot through his eyes for the first time. "Not this time."
Walking through the cemetary, Leah held two single roses in her hands. The sun was streaming down through the clouds and she knew in her heart it was her parents. Placing the roses on the grave and laying down beside them, she closed her eyes and saw their faces smiling back at her. The memories of the night they died and the mans eyes no longer haunted her. She felt free from the nightmares and the tragedy, but she would never stop missing them.
Now, though, she'd found some small degree of peace in her heart knowing that the man couldn't hurt anyone anymore. Leah whispered 'I love you' to the air and when the wind blew, she knew it was them whispering it back to her.