© Danielle Ohi, 31.01.19
The gravel crunched under the tyres of the old Chevy Caprice ’96 as it groaned to a halt. There was a crispness to the air, like the bristling cold of a not-quite-spring morning merged with the distant scent of ocean spray. Doors slammed in staccato, followed shortly by four feet crunching on the gravel leading up to the sprawling bungalow, two yards away.
Bethany peered out grudgingly through the rear passenger window. The sepia hues of the landscape whispered unintelligible messages of murkiness and mystery. This was probably going to be as awful as she expected.
“C’mon, Beth!” Dad smiled, beckoning her over. “Let’s explore the house.”
I’d really rather die. Beth thought.
With the reluctance of a thousand cats being herded towards a body of water, Bethany opened the door and plodded over to the house. Her dad held the polished mahogany door open for her, still smiling goofily. She could hear her mother already setting up shop in the den. This was their dream come true- but not Beth’s.
She stood in the doorway for a moment and looked up at the overarching trees encircling the compound. They reached towards the sky, tall, wispy and crooked in the branches, and then towards each other as though trying to prevent the sun from looking through. It didn’t matter today though, as the sky was overcast and the meagre sunlight, underwhelming.
Pulling out her phone, she realised she had no notifications- and no signal either, let alone 4G. She tutted.
“This’ll be the last anyone will hear of me.” She muttered, rolling her eyes almost into the back of her head in disdain.
“Oh, don’t be such a drama queen,” Mum sniggered. She was on her way out of the den, carrying a box to the kitchen, and had caught a glimpse of her daughter checking for signal, just then.
“Go make a home of your room, hon, we’ll figure out lunch and call you when we’re done, okay?” Dad kissed her softly on the forehead and ambled over to the kitchen to join Mum.
Beth sauntered past the open-plan kitchen and adjoining, spacious dining/living area, down the dimly-lit corridor, past the other three bedrooms and bathroom, to the room right at the back of the house. The door opened, and in the dim light of the cloudy afternoon, she could see a broad wooden desk, a lot of shelves and another door, leading to her own bathroom.
Someone had already made her bed. She didn’t have the emotional strength to consider how odd that was. All she could think of was how horrible this all was. How helpless she felt. How bored she’d be.
She checked her phone again. No signal. No wifi even. She growled in frustration.
Why did they have to do this to her? How could they be so selfish? Why did it make any sense at all to move a fourteen-year-old from a stable environment where she was flourishing, had friends, and a lot going for her, to some hell-hole in the middle of no-where? She was so angry she wanted to scream.
She decided she would- but into her pillow.
Face buried in the softness, she could hear the distant rolling and crashing of waves. She stood up and looked through her bedroom window.
Not too far away, directly opposite her room at the furthest end of the forest-y garden, a path led to an iron gate, the bars of which, she could see through to a lonely, sandy beach and the sea.
“Beth!” called Mum. “Lunch!”
“Can’t I get two minutes of peace in this god-forsaken place?!” She didn’t manage to catch her tongue fast enough.
“Erm, excuse me?!” The indignance and surprise were intermingled in Mum’s tone.
Well, no going back now- this has become “a thing”. Bethany walked out sheepishly.
Her mother, though an artist and craft-selling whiz now, was ex-military and not one to tolerate disrespect of any kind.
“Bethany, you will not speak to me, or anyone in this household like that, under any circumstances! That was completely uncalled for.” Mum ordered, firmly. This side of her mother, Bethany HATED, but mirrored.
“I don’t understand why if everyone wants to be respected around here, I can’t be too!” Beth fired back, quoting the word “respected” with arched fingers.
“What are you talking about, Bethany?” Mum was getting angry. Dad stood behind the kitchen island, cringing. Retired boxer though he was, this was not the kind of fight he would ever try to get involved in.
“No-one even asked me how I felt about this! I hate it here! Why couldn’t we just stay in Chicago where I was happy?”
“We just got here! How can you say you hate it?”
“I never wanted to come here in the first place! No-one gives a damn about what I think or my life!”
“When you start paying the bills around here, you can start having a say in the decisions! Last time I checked, WE were still housing, clothing and feeding you! And don’t you DARE raise your voice and use such language towards me and your father!”
“UGH! I HATE YOU SO MUCH!” Bethany screamed through burning tears. She dashed out of the front door and towards the garden.
Clara looked at her husband. Keith lowered his brow to his palm and sighed deeply.
Bethany tore open the garden gate with as much might as she could muster in her rage, and ran towards the sea.
She stopped just at the waterfront, and stood there, letting the slightly rougher than normal sea breeze wash over her. Her hair flagged in the wind, and her teardrops flew away in the gusts as they streamed down her cheeks.
There was a purity to being out here like this. A vacuum of feeling in the place, that gave way for her to pour out her own.
The beach was devoid of signs of life- the complete privacy was comforting.
About half a mile to her right, Bethany heard the waves crashing on a rock face. She looked, to discover a Lighthouse perched in a craggy cliff. It was faded and looked abandoned. She reckoned it looked how she felt.
She trudged through the wet sand, losing one of her flat pumps in the process. She wanted to see the world from the top of that lighthouse, and maybe scream at the sky. Because, why not? Maybe someone up there would hear and listen.
She pit-patted up the stone steps to the door of the lighthouse. It was damp, and the wood was rotting. Poor design choice, she thought- wood, near the sea. She jiggled the iron door handle, and then peered through the key-hole. How old was this place, anyway? She tried a couple of times to ram the door open, before giving up, clutching her achy shoulder.
Slightly disappointed that she couldn’t get it open, Beth kicked off her remaining flat, and walked up to the edge of the cliff. She paused for a moment, then looked up, and closed her eyes. She inhaled the sea air deeply.
Just then, a violent force drove her off the edge of the cliff. She screamed. She was barely clinging on by her right hand, and fast slipping. Screaming and crying for her life, she regretted every moment leading to this one. As if in sympathy, or perhaps, in an attempt to further loosen her grip, thunder clapped, and the grey sky finally gave way to rain.
She swung her other arm up and tried to pull herself up, to no avail. Suddenly and inexplicably, she was pushed forcefully on to land again. She couldn’t tell if it had been a wave from the sea, or something else- she was so confused, but so grateful to be alive. Thunder growled threateningly, and the rain began to lash down harder.
She turned and headed for the stairs. If she ran home now, maybe she’d make it before things got too rough. At the top of the stairs, she couldn’t take another step- she heard something. She turned around.
The Lighthouse door was wide open and swinging creakily in the wind. It must’ve blown open in this blustery weather, she considered. Well, shelter until the end of the storm could never be a bad thing, considering the alternative of a half-mile walk back home. She turned and traipsed into the lighthouse, shutting the door on the storm.
All she could see was the stairwell right by the door, agleam with just enough light from above. The storm outside, turned fierce- she could hear it howling through shattered window panes upstairs. She wandered up the stone stairs towards the light room to see. The large bulb was obviously dead by now, but just beyond its’ circular frame, she perceived the glow of another light, and heard the gentle rustle of white noise. She advanced cautiously.
A 1970s wooden box television sat alone, its screen glowing with an indistinct picture. Of all the strange things that could possibly have been in that abandoned room, that was the last thing she could’ve expected. Curiosity overwhelmed her instincts, and she attempted to fix the antenna to improve the picture. Suddenly, the image was clear and a male voice spoke out clearly:
“Missing Person: Local girl Bethany Elizabeth Wilson, aged fourteen and ten months, has now been missing for seven days. Any information would be invaluable as this is a critical time. Please contact the number below if…” the voice tailed off as she tuned out mentally, confused at what she’d just heard.
A gust of wind rushed through the empty panes and struck the pillar-like walls in ripples, producing a sound, something like jeering laughter. The static on the tv returned, the harsh sound increasing until it reached a loud, high-pitched crescendo that sounded like microphone-speaker feedback. It reverberated through her chest and ears. She dropped her phone, which silently smashed on the bare concrete floor. Then, everything went black.
Sunlight streamed in timidly through fluttering eyelids as Bethany came to. She found herself staring at her bedroom ceiling. She abruptly sat up, and looked at the clock beside her, and then at herself. She’d fallen asleep in her clothes again. And she’d overslept! It was 12:30. She jumped up to look for Mum and Dad.
They wouldn’t be in their bedroom. TV was off and there was no one in the sitting room. No-one in the den, either. Everywhere was silent, but in disarray, like they were rushing to go somewhere. Outside, the car was gone.
She entered the kitchen. There was a stale bagel and an ice-cold, half-cup of coffee on the table.
And a newspaper.
She stepped forward to look at it. The headline read:
“Body found identified as missing girl, Bethany Elizabeth Wilson.”
She went cold. Staring in disbelief, she mechanically reached forward to touch the newspaper. Her fingers slipped off the page and pressed against each other.
More alert now, she tried again- the same thing happened. She had no grip.
She touched the table- but slipped and fell through.
Through the floor.
Through to the basement she didn’t know existed, into darkness.
A light came on in a corner somewhere, and white noise could be heard.
Bethany walked towards the light.