Caitriona’s scream pierced the still night as she struggled to pull air into her lungs. Her eyes searched the shadows in her room, hunting for the tattooed man she knew was coming to kill her. Her night clothes clung to her as sweat dotted her brow and caused her usual wavy auburn locks to cling in damp ringlets to her neck and face.
Light filled the room and Caitriona saw her aunt standing in the doorway, a perplexed look on her sullen and tired face. Caitriona blinked several times, her eyes trying to adjust to the light. She pulled the comforter tighter around her, the familiar faces of Alice and the White Rabbit belying her fears. Despite the sweat that clung to her face and body, Caitriona shivered and fought back tears as the reminder of where she was settled around her like a heavy shroud.
“Whatever in the world has you shrieking so, Caitriona?” her aunt said, frustration lacing her voice.
Caitriona only stared at her aunt, unsure of what to say. This was Caitriona’s home now and she was having a hard time adjusting to her aunt’s unrelenting devotion to Christ. Caitriona was released from the hospital a week ago and while the physical injuries from the car accident were healing, there was an emotional hole in her heart where her mother and older sister, Danika, should have been. She was trying to be brave, but the death of her mother and sister were painful reminders that her once serene life had vanished.
Her aunt walked into the room and sat down next to her on the bed. “Did you say your prayers, Caitriona?” her aunt asked. “You wouldn’t hurt so badly in here,” she thumped her chest, “if you allowed Jesus into your heart.”
“Yes, Aunt Lenore,” Caitriona replied, her voice barely a whisper.
“Yes, you said your prayers,or yes, you’ve allowed Jesus into your heart?” she asked again, her growing frustration becoming more apparent.
“I had that dream again, Aunt Lenore,” she said, ignoring her aunt’s question. “The one where the tattooed man tries to kill me.”
“We’ve been through this, Caitriona. You’re allowing the devil into your soul.” She pulled the covers off Caitriona. “Come on, out of bed and on your knees. Jesus needs to hear your heart and your confession.”
Caitriona climbed out of bed, confused. “Aunt Lenore, I don’t think it’s the devil and I don’t think it’s a dream,” she argued.
“Nonsense, Caitriona.” She pointed to the ground, indicating Caitriona should kneel next to her.
“I see the same man in my head during the day, when I’m awake,” Caitriona told her, the words spilling from her in a rush. “He frightens me.”
“Shush, Caitriona. Let us pray together.”
Lenore Hoffman bent her head, the salt and pepper streaks of hair falling across her shoulders and down her back. Her dress was a plain muslin that hung like a sack on her wrinkled, but fit body. Gluttony was, after all, a sin.
“Get on your knees, Caitriona,” Lenore said, her voice harsh. “And ask the Lord to be here with us and bless us.”
Lenore’s face was plain and pale, devoid of any makeup with deep lines etched across her forehead. Her hands reached and grasped Caitriona’s, the knotted and arthritic looking digits cold in Caitriona’s small hand.
“Bow your head, Caitriona,” she bristled.
Caitriona did as she was told, wondering how she would ever be able to live with this stranger. Her aunt and mother had rarely spent time together, being as polar opposite as two people could possibly be. Caitriona’s mother had often mentioned Lenore’s love of God, Jesus and religion. But she and Danika didn’t grow up in a religious household. When they questioned their mother about their lack of religion, her mother had told them that she chose to do her own thinking; deliberately turning her back on the religion her aunt so dearly loved. As Caitriona became a teenager, she realized there was a distinct difference between spirituality and religion and her mother, although quite spiritual, was certainly not religious. Caitriona never gave it much thought…until now.
Lenore had never married, nor did she have children of her own. Caitriona’s mother had often said Lenore was lonely and that God filled the place in her heart that the absence of children and a husband left behind.
Caitriona took a deep breath and tried to push the nostalgia away. She never wanted to be dependent on a man for her happiness.
She closed her eyes and listened as her aunt began reciting Psalm 23: 1-6. Caitriona moved her lips but didn’t feel the words. She didn’t want to recite Psalms, she wanted to understand what her visions meant.
She squeezed her eyes shut tight as she felt the tears begin to pool. She opened her eyes and stared at her hands as she watched first one teardrop and then another land on the floor in front of her. She wished her mother and Danika were here. Why did they have to die, she thought sadly. She would have to live here for the next five years; until she was legally old enough to leave. The tears came unchecked.
“Caitriona,” her aunt snapped her fingers, indicating she needed to start her prayers.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” Caitriona whispered the words she had only learned a few days ago. She finished the remaining prayer, the words hollow and meaningless as memories of the car accident flooded her mind. She wished she could go back in time and stop her mother and Danika from getting in the car.
When they had finished the Psalm, Caitriona’s aunt stood, smoothing the wrinkles in her plain, ill-fitted muslin dress. “You will learn to fall in line here, Caitriona,” she said, her harsh tone a reminder of how distasteful her aunt found the idea of raising her. “You are having nightmares; nothing else. You won’t speak of this again, to anyone,” she told her. “Do you understand?”
“You will not bring the devil into this house. Your mother may have tolerated your nonsense, but I will not.” Lenore pointed to the bed and Caitriona climbed back in, pulling the covers around her. Her aunt walked to the door, pausing for a moment as if she wanted to say something else. Shaking her head, Lenore left, her responsible loafers clicking softly on the hard wood floor.
Caitriona released her breath and the tears she had been holding back. She nestled further into the covers, the tattooed stranger haunting her once again. She wiped the back of her hand across her eyes and asked Jesus to keep her safe from the tattooed stranger…
To read more about Caitriona and her visions of the tattooed stranger, get your copy of Dark Awakening. Available in print and digital formats.
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