It was seven in the morning.
Izzy came thumping down the stairs into the kitchen where her family sat with her hands full of books. She stuffed them roughly into her backpack and kept her eyes down. She ate breakfast slowly and half-watched her mom help feed her grandpa. She said good morning, and then nobody talked for a while.
Grandpa Jim couldn’t walk anymore. His hands shook even when he was resting, and sometimes he couldn’t move them at all. Izzy’s mom was always there to help him, and grandpa Jim never complained, but even Izzy could see that they should start preparing themselves for life without him. They had watched his body run itself into the ground and cannibalize itself and betray him for so long that it was now a normal fear to wonder whether he would die in his sleep tonight or tomorrow night or the night after that. He had the disease that would eventually kill him. Everyone knew it and pretended not to, because grandpa Jim wasn’t about to let anybody worry about him when he was in earshot. The only thing that affected his mind were the medicines he took that made him dull. The Rilutek and an anti-depressant. The disease was satisfied only taking his body from him.
Worst of all for Izzy was a selfish kind of worry that maybe she would catch it, that maybe the doctors were wrong and they would all die of ALS when grandpa did. She felt bad for thinking things like that, because her mom told her not to make everything about herself, so she kept it quiet and stewed in guilt every time it crossed her mind. And she knew in the tiniest part of her mind that grandpa Jim dying would make things easier on her mom, and on her, and even on him. They were all just so tired of it.
It was in this mindset, thinking these thoughts, that Izzy saw her grandfather lift himself out of his chair and sit next to Charles Leigh as he burst into the house and collapsed sobbing and screaming for help on the kitchen floor. He moved faster than she had ever seen him. He gripped her friend by the shoulders and hugged him close as he cried, resolute and stone-like, looking taller and less misshapen hunched on the floor than he ever did in that wheelchair. Izzy watched with – eventually – pride as he comforted the boy and told him to tell us, very slowly, what had happened to make him cry like that.
Charles said that he couldn’t find anybody at his house.
It was empty, and he was alone when he woke up. His parents were gone from their beds and he could hear Matt in the basement, but he couldn’t get the door open. And his sister –
Charles was covered in blood.
Izzy looked up at her mom and couldn’t read her expression. Her grandpa was facing away from her. And she looked and saw the wet eyes of her friends staring directly at her, just visible over the wrinkles of her grandpa’s shirt. She got up because she felt as though she was supposed to get up, and then she didn’t know what to do. His eyes followed her for a few seconds before he buried his face back into grandpa Jim’s shoulder. He couldn’t tell them what happened.
Her mom grabbed her sidearm and went to the house to see for herself. Grandpa Jim followed in his wheelchair. Izzy and Charles sat on the front porch and waited for them. Izzy strained her eyes to see as her family entered the Leigh house and didn’t come out for quite a while. They closed the door behind them, and Izzy lost sight of them. She looked down at her friend sitting next to her.
“Charles,” Izzy said, “tell me what’s going on.”
He didn’t say anything. He was shaking.
“Charles, come on. What happened? Tell me what – Charles? Come on. You’ve got to. Charles! Fucking talk to me, come on! Tell me what happened!”
She hit him, hard, to snap him out of it, and then again when he wouldn’t look at her.
“Charles, come on. What happened? Please tell me.”
She shook him, got no response, and knew that she wouldn’t get one. She got up and set out across the lawn without a thought for anybody but who was in that house. Charles sat where she left him and didn’t call for her to come back. She crossed the street and looked into the window of the Leigh’s living room. She could see –
The door to Chelsea’s room had been ripped bodily off its hinges and cast aside onto the floor. Izzy saw it from the window.
Her mother was talking on the phone – Izzy could only guess that it was to the police.
Grandpa Jim didn’t even look into the room. He sat in his wheelchair, transfixed on the basement door. He ran his hand across it, turned to Izzy’s mom and said in honest fear:
“Get away. Get out of the house.”
Then he turned, stared hard at Izzy peering in the window at him, and wheeled himself away without acknowledging her. Izzy moved. She rushed through the bushes under the windowsill and followed him. He stopped next to Izzy’s mom, standing next to the remains of Chelsea’s door. She repositioned herself next to a new window and saw inside. When she did – when she saw that there was an unrecognizable, naked lump of a body on the floor of her friend’s room – she couldn’t look away. She had been cut apart. Ripped apart. Izzy could see the white of her ribs protruding from the viscera where her stomach should have been. Her mouth was open too wide, and her nose had been bashed in. Stringy hair stuck in long clumps to the congealed blood on her face. Her arms and legs were splayed away from her like a kind of snow angel. Her fingers pointed in all directions. Her knuckles were swollen.
Her grandfather was talking. Izzy didn’t quite hear him.
“Gret, get away from the house,” he said, but Izzy’s mom remained inside, looking into Chelsea’s room and straining her ears as hard as she could. Izzy could hear something. Very faintly from all around her came the sound of music. Slow chords that sounded vaguely familiar. She stood transfixed and, without knowing quite why, felt very dizzy. Panic flooded her as the tones grew louder. She looked around frantically and saw something that caught her eye.
The doorway to the basement opened slightly.
Jim heard it too, and Izzy saw his eyes widen. He was staring at something out of her line of sight, and mumbled a few words that she was too far away to hear. Based on what her mother had done afterward, though, she could guess.
“Gret, get the lights,” grandpa Jim had said, and the house went very, very dark. Her eyes didn’t adjust – the light returned quickly. But in the time between she could see movement in the blackness in front of her.
As the house brightened again there was a blind spot in her vision, like after a photography flash. She looked back and forth for her family, and didn’t see them.
The basement door was closed again, and there was the slimy sensation of an eye on her somewhere. The blind spot faded, and for a brief moment she thought she saw somebody standing in the doorway to Chelsea’s room.
And then she felt a hand on her shoulder.
The next thing Izzy could remember, she was back inside her house. Her mom was telling her that something terrible had happened to Chelsea, and that Charles was going to stay with them for a while. Izzy vaguely remembered asking her mother where the rest of Chelsea’s family was. She got no answer. Then she asked how Chelsea had died, and her mom embraced her and didn’t let her go – Izzy could hear her crying and trying to hide it.
The inside of Chelsea’s room.
There had been blood and body parts everywhere, and Izzy could still see it.