15 May Viaduct of Mourning
“Viaduct of Mourning”Written by N.M. Brown Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 11 minutes
I still get flashes before I open my eyes in the morning.
The air was cold; it carried with it a moisture that seemed to settle right into your lungs with each breath. At times, a strong gust of wind could feel like ice crystals settling right into the outer lining of your lungs, making the cold all the more cruel.
We went ice skating. Hannah was laughing one minute, then the next…she was gone. The only sign of her whereabouts was a dark, foreboding, jagged hole in the ice. My wife Marjorie fell to her knees over top of what would soon be our daughter’s tomb, plunging her arms shoulder-deep into the freezing water that rapidly ran beneath the fracturing layers of ice. Her arms dipped downwards repeatedly, each time coming up holding nothing but air.
In that fatal moment, my mind flashed through the past six years of her precious little life. I saw a tiny, square patch of hair morph into an entire infant with one gigantic, finishing push. I saw two years’ worth of tired eyes and faces as Hannah struggled to find a consistent sleep pattern, toddling steps (the very first) towards her mother across the living room floor of our first apartment. I saw my own eyes in my rearview mirror, red and bleary with tears as I drove away from her first day of preschool. But mostly I felt the disparaging unfairness of it all. All of those moments, a mini-lifetime of events, all for nothing if she died that day…all to become just an empty, jagged hole in the ice.
“Porter!” my wife screamed, breaking me from the torment of fatilistic nostalgia. “See if you can get a glimpse of her under the ice. One more second and she’ll die down there! HELP! PLEASE…SOMEONE HELP US!”
* * * * * *
That was the last time we, or anyone else, ever saw our sweet girl again. Her body was never recovered; not due to lack of trying, mind you. For the next five days after, damn near every fireman, EMT, police officer and concerned citizen was on the borders of that ice helping look as much as possible without causing the ice across the entire pond to cave in, resulting in undoubtedly more tragedy. Still, my wife and I honored an empty, child-sized casket at her funeral despite all that effort. Frozen waters can be deceiving. They’re like an optical illusion; you never realize how fast the water underneath is traveling due to the stillness of the ice. She was swept away by the current, with only a solid surface of ice to greet her as she tried to come up for air.
A breath seems such an infinitesimal action until you aren’t able to take one.
With all the trauma we’d been through, we both thought it best to relocate. I wanted to move us away from anything that had to do with our daughter. The agony of her death haunted us like a ghost. Her teachers would be at the grocery stores, their sympathetic eyes glazing over with tears as they regaled us with tales of how intelligent and sweet our dead daughter was. Once well-lit and joyful, her favorite restaurants now resembled barren landscapes of a life cut short. We didn’t want to forget her; it was the opposite of that, actually. We wanted to be able to get to a place where we could remember her with love, without the tidal wave of suicidal sadness and grief.
We ended up moving two towns over after looking at dozens of houses. It was ultimately me who ended up making the decision. Marjorie was paraded through home after home with blank, soulless eyes. I ashamedly stopped bringing her after touring our fourteenth rental property. The realtor commented on how spacious the residence was, with two other bedrooms accompanying the master. My wife looked at him with tear-glazed eyes and muttered, “I don’t care how many rooms it has…I just want to be with my daughter.”
I was, admittedly, about ready to give up when I came upon a ranch-style house with barn-red shutters. Something about it seemed so welcoming, even from the outside. I flirted with the idea for over two weeks. After all, it was the only residence that I’d revisited. I was more than ecstatic when I found out it was barely a breath’s hair over our allotted budget. By the time all was said and done, the realtor knew me by name and could recognize the vehicle I drove. It took mere moments to sign the paperwork, and before I knew it, I was on my way back to Marjorie to pack up for our new home.
I gingerly guided her through each room, trying to do my best to hide my excitement. It’s not that I was happy about why we had to move; our daughter would grace my every thought and decision until the day that I die. But I wanted this house to represent more than her death; if that was all it was going to amount to, we might as well have stayed at the old house. This house…these empty spaces were full of a luxury that I thought people like us were too old to be afforded: potential. The potential of a new life in a new place was the last straw of happiness that I had to grasp at, and god forgive me…I intended to hold on with both hands.
My footsteps stopped short in the hallway, causing Marjorie’s body to clash into me before bouncing away. “Jesus, Porter,” she winced as she rubbed the shoulder that had taken the brunt of impact.
“I-I’m sorry honey,” I muttered, “it’s just that…” my voice trailed off uselessly, unsure of exactly what to say.
The hallway was interrupted by a large wooden door on the left-hand side, one that I didn’t remember seeing the previous times I’d explored the house. The orange paint that consumed it, although faded, screamed against the cream-colored walls that surrounded the door. Marjorie’s voice quickly grabbed me back from the brink of my confusion. “What’s behind this one? Another bedroom, do you think? You told me it only had two.”
“Ya know…I’m not sure,” I admitted. “I don’t remember this being here before.” My fingers traced the grooves in the Masonite panels decoratively placed in the middle before placing my hand on the doorknob. My wrist twisted and turned to no avail; the door was locked proper. I was pretty sure the realtor hadn’t mentioned anything about extra keys either. I raced to the kitchen mid-thought, leaving a very confused Marjorie unattended in the empty hallway. The kitchen and cupboard drawers yielded no results as far as keys went, and I was pretty sure the key to the front door was meant solely for that entrance. Nevertheless, I still tried.
My wife, who lately hadn’t been able to muster up much emotion for anything, suddenly became enraptured with this door and the possibilities it could reveal. She had broken two credit cards in half trying to unlock the door, a technique she would use as a teenager when her drunken mother forgot to leave the house unlocked for her after work. In no time flat, she was rushing past me to the kitchen, rummaging through the same drawers that I had mere moments earlier before emerging with a butcher’s knife.
She peered into the sliver of space between the deadlatch and strike of the doorknob before gently inserting the blade between them. “What the hell are you doing, Marge? You’re going to chip the paint!” I exclaimed, despite myself. I always had the worst timing, and this incident was further proof of that. “Fuck the paint,” she muttered, her face scrunched in exaggerated concentration.
“Whoa, you are bringing nighttime aggression to a daytime conversation,” I joked. Her facial expression didn’t change, and my heart sagged. That used to be one of her favorites. “Ugh, Porter–” she began to scold me, bringing her gaze up to meet mine instead of remaining focused on where it needed to be. The handle of the knife slipped as a result, peppering the door with dots of crimson as it slashed through the soft flesh on the palm of her hand. “Goddammit!” she shouted. The knife clattered to the floor at her feet, and she placed her injured hand against the door reflexively to steady herself.
A pert series of clicks reverberated throughout the hallway, and my eyes widened in astonishment. Marjorie’s trembling hand, still dripping with blood, reached down and gripped the brass doorknob. It turned effortlessly as she pulled it open, her facial features freezing in abject horror.
“Hannah,” she called out, struggling to maintain proper balance as she began removing her shoes one at a time. “I’m right here! Mommy’s coming, baby!” I reached out and grabbed her by the elbow just as she leapt for the doorway. I had come around the other side of the opened door and finally saw what she was seeing. My breath caught in my throat, unable to travel any further until my mind processed the sight before me.
The room wasn’t really a room at all. The space behind this door could easily have been as large as the entire house by itself. It was the vast, deep blue of water, and our daughter floated happily in the middle of it while looking out at us, expectantly. I stuck my hand inside, expecting to feel the ebb and flow of water. Instead, I became entangled in a pliant substance that acted almost as sort of a barrier to contain what was inside, separating worlds. My wife had decided to take a different approach, jerking her elbow out of my grasp and jumping inside. I, of course, followed, straining through the thick outer membrane as it fought to keep me out, like how the body reacts to a foreign object.
Cold water consumed my every sense as I fought not the urge to scream. Bubbles emerged from my wife’s lips as she held our daughter to her sobbing chest. Hannah reached up and placed a hand over her mother’s mouth before shaking her head back and forth in warning. The words don’t try to breathe, floated through the burbled hydroponics of our atmosphere. My nasal passages began to burn with yearning, as if on cue, and my eyes burned terribly. I hitched an arm under my little girl and began to swim for the doorway, intending to use as much force as the aquatics allowed me to push her through to the other side.
She stopped just before the entrance, marveling in silence at the bright hallway on the other side. Her tiny hand reached back for her mother’s while sadness shaded her features. At the last moment, she placed her small arms in the back of our necks and shoved us through the doorway with an effort she would have never been capable of in life. An inhuman noise of despair rose from my wife’s chest before emanating into the air around us as she tumbled to the cold tile floor of our hallway. The door slammed shut, unwilling to open again to my touch.
As much as I loved my child, I had no desire to go into that room again. Our lives had taken on a dark and sinister feeling ever since we’d discovered it. Marjorie had maxed out our credit cards loading up on oxygen tanks and various scuba equipment, making our house heavily combustible now, among other things. I’d come home to find trails of water-logged footprints leading in different locations throughout the house, knowing there was only one place they could have come from.
Instead of being happy like I assumed she would be, I found my wife becoming darker and more withdrawn, her every waking thought possessed by our daughter and opening that door. She rushed through meals and began to neglect the most basic tasks of self-care. Every moment spent in our realm – in our reality – had become a waste of her time. It was a performance, for her endure the motions of, until she could return to her newfound, aquatic hell.
We would argue terribly and more and more often. The dissolution of our marriage was becoming a tangible entity. I sank into my own hell of drugs and alcohol to understand a truly incomprehensible situation. “They never found her body, Porter!” The words exploded through my wife’s mouth with an iron conviction. “It’s because she came here. She was waiting for us, honey. You told me yourself… You said the moment you stepped inside this house you had an overwhelmingly good feeling that it was supposed to be our home. As long as we aren’t breathing, we can be a family again!”
Tears flooded my eyes, along with a maelstrom of feelings. An overwhelming sadness mixed with the crippling fear that my wife’s mental state was now broken beyond repair. I wasn’t equipped to deal with this. Damn it, I needed her. Hannah was my daughter, too…had my eyes, for Christ’s sake. I longed for the luxury of madness, just like Marjorie had helped herself to. They were very much together in my wife’s mind, and our daughter had not been lost.
* * * * * *
It’s been four days since Marjorie last entered the room to the left of the hallway. That means it’s been over ninety-six hours since she took her last breath. No oxygen tank in the world could withstand that amount of time, not to mention the devastation to her skin and organs. Her words echoed through my mind, becoming more water-logged and incomprehensible as the hours and days passed. “As long as we aren’t breathing, we can be a family again…”
The past months’ worth of events have been akin to living in a drug-like state. I’d become adjusted to a reality that didn’t belong to me, didn’t even belong to this world. As beautiful and intoxicating as it was for my wife, it was high time for us to wake up. Whatever mirage that room contained was not our little Hannah. I knew in my heart that it couldn’t be. Our little girl would have passed away, to enter Heaven with the angels, not to be stuck in a water-filled limbo. No one deserved that, especially not the innocent soul of a child. Marjorie would grow to accept that, hopefully even agree with it in time. This was never the way things were supposed to be.
I pressed my palm against the door, praying it would open for me like it always had for Marjorie. The tumbler cylinder inside of the doorknob clicked, sending a series of echoes through our seemingly empty home. I grasped the knob, turning it tentatively and pulling outward with a shaking hand. My lungs grabbed every spare centimeter of air it allowed as I thrust myself through the elastic membrane. White noise consumed the inside of my entire body, turning my blood and bones to static electricity as I plunged into the icy cold abyss that had now become my daughter’s forever home.
It took me a moment to see them, but I started running the second that I did, fighting buoyancy with every step. Their still, peaceful forms lay cuddled up on their sides in a four-poster canopied bed. The sheets that shrouded their resting bodies billowed in tandem with the flow of the water that had stolen my family. My lungs began to twitch with impatience as I slipped an arm under Marjorie, careful not to disturb the entity impersonating my dead daughter.
Her hair floated like an auburn halo around her face as I lifted her from the mattress. We had almost cleared the bed completely when her left foot became unexpectedly entangled in the pale pink canopy drapes. This small interruption was just enough to gather Hannah’s very unwanted attention. She looked at me confusedly through amber-colored eyes and held her hands up, as if wordlessly asking where her mommy was going.
I ignored her with a breaking heart, averting my eyes to the doorway. It was becoming harder and harder to hold my breath. My senses were becoming warped and fuzzy as my chest began to radiate with a white-hot heat. Hannah drifted towards us, her arms outstretched in a desperate longing. As we neared the door, I noticed Hannah’s face began to change. Her once rounded features were now pointed and angular, giving her face a malevolence that she could never possibly possess. Her eyes were two deep black pits of rage and her jagged teeth gnashed together in a snarl as she attempted to rip at Marjorie’s clothes and flesh. Her small mouth opened wide, her jaw unhinging and emitting a roar that rippled torrents of motion through the water, whipping items wildly around the room.
Once I was confident that I had closed enough distance between me and our way out, I swirled around, positioning myself feet first towards the door.
My lower body wracked with convulsions as I found myself stuck between worlds. My bottom half had made it out successfully, while my top refused to let go of the only thing I had left: my wife. I pulled with everything that I had to get her through the other side, to no avail. What’s worse, the outer edges of the doorway had begun to shrink, making my exit to the mortal more difficult with each passing second. My muscles quaked, shuddering in agony as my strength began to wane. I had mere moments left to get her through this doorway, and my body was failing fast.
Most of the entrance had soon solidified, leaving a space only large enough for my hands to hold onto hers. The rest of my body had been spat through to the other side, but by the grace of all that was holy, I had managed to keep hold of her hands. A final jolt wracked my body as I felt her arms be ripped away from mine, our hands disconnecting for the last time in this lifetime. Sweat mingled with the fresh water and tears that had coated my face, stinging my already injured eyes as sobs wretched through my body.
By the time I rose to my feet, the entire doorway was gone, as if never existing to begin with. Only a thick layer of wood and insulation covered by painted blue drywall remained. I know this, because much to my landlord’s horror, I hammered through it myself to be sure.
My mind feels broken, rendered useless by a constant state of fear. I’m afraid of living a life alone without my family, afraid when I think of the state my wife and daughter are currently in – lost to the ether of an unknown world I couldn’t touch. But mostly, I was afraid of what they’d be like if I ever got them back.
The only thing that can keep me upright through all of this, the only thing that can give me any form of humanly comfort, is that out of everything…at least Marjorie got her wish. Her mind again sounds through my brain, her words holding crystal clarity.
“Porter…I just want to be with my daughter.”
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableN.M. Brown Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A