My father had taught me to be nice first, because you can always be mean later, but once you've been mean to someone, they won't believe the nice anymore. So be nice, be nice, until it's time to stop being nice, then destroy them.
― Laurell K. Hamilton, A Stroke of Midnight
I got the phone call to meet with gram’s caseworker "ASAP" this afternoon. Again. It was at least the 10th time in the last 2 years, since my parents moved her to MacClenny Nursing Center for the Elderly. Then they moved 4 hours away, into a small beach house, so they wouldn’t have to handle her. That left me to deal with her, since I lived the closest. I'm 22 years old. I have a full-time job, school, even a girlfriend now; needless to say, I don't have time for this shit.
I know how this must sound. The spoiled, good-for-nothing, millennial grandkid can’t be bothered to take care of her elders. If my grandmother was someone worth caring about, maybe I’d agree with you, or maybe I wouldn’t even be bitching in the first place. I didn’t understand why they felt the need to move and stick me with senile bat duty. I did, however, understand why my parents finally moved her out of their house, which was actually her house for her whole life: she’s mean.
Not “since she’s gotten old and crazy” mean, but “always have been, always will be” mean, and now it’s just gotten worse with age. I grew up in the century-old house with my mom, dad and gram, my mom’s mom. I know a lot of people would have given anything to live with their grandma. People picture baking cookies, cool stories, getting out of trouble with parents easier, words of wisdom that one doesn’t fully understand as a child, but holds onto well into adulthood. My gram wasn’t like that. She never gave hugs or kisses. She didn't smile. She liked to criticize and break people. I gave her the nickname of “gram”, just to make her seem cuddlier. And she hated it. “I am your grandmother!” she snapped at me one day ‘“Gram” is not proper. It sounds like baby-talk, are you trying to sound a simpleminded, little baby for the rest of your life!?” The admonishment hurt, of course, but I kept calling her "gram", hoping it'd grow on her. She only ever flinched with irritation at the sound of it.
She was always a complainer.
Wish I could say that complaining was the extent of her terror campaign. In recent years, she became violent. This is why I'm on the way to sort out things with the blue-haired-home, before she gets kicked out and has to live with me. There’s no fucking way that’s happening.. Apparently, she's still been assaulting the staff. The last time I had to make a case for her to stay, about a month ago, she made a young resident quit her job... and piss herself. While the girl was assisting to bathing her, gram grabbed both sides of her face and tried to pull her head-first into the tub. She even ripped out chucks of her hair. I saw blonde, jumbled locks still lying on the floor, half-inside of a puddle, when I passed by the door on the way to the caseworker's office.
Well, I say she’s become violent “recently”, but I mean towards other people besides me.
Feeling the now-shrunken scar on my right cheek, near my temple, I thought back to my 11th birthday. After much negotiating, mainly from my father (my mother was long-exhausted by gram's tirades and gave in to her will almost 100% of the time), she agreed to a few of my friends coming over for a party. We were to stay on the first floor, away from her. Fine by me. It was mostly a good day. One, my friends actually got to come over and play. Two, gram confined herself to her bedroom all day, while I had company. My mom couldn't even get her to come down and help sing “Happy Birthday” to me. It was getting late, and my friends' parents would be there to pick them up soon, so I suggested a game of "hide and seek". My logic being, if they were hiding, they wouldn't have to go home right yet. So the game was on, with me "it". I stood in a corner of the kitchen, counting, trying to listen for their footsteps, so I'd know where to look. Someone went into the living room and hid behind our huge, thick curtains. I could hear them scrape lightly along the walls. To my horror, I heard something else. The short, sharp creak of the fourth step of our staircase. Someone was going upstairs. Shit.
I didn't even finish counting, before wielding around and running through the short hall that connected the kitchen to the living room, and held the 3 stories of stairs between. I stood there for a second, wondering if it would be better to just let whichever friend meet their fate with my grandmother. I thought about going outside to the patio, where my parents sat, and alerting them to the rule-breaker, but then I would be known as a tattle-tale and no one want to come over again. If I left my friend to be shrieked at by my grandmother, it would get around at school that we keep an old witch in the second story of our house. Either way, it was social life suicide. My best bet was to quietly retrieve my very stupid friend.
I proceeded up, as silently and quickly as possible, avoiding the narking fourth step. Reaching the second floor, I considered going to my room, since that had to be where one of them was. My room was the only one up here that they were familiar with...unless... The attic!! I knew right then who was up here: Jackie. She had a fascination with how big the house was and always bugged me to go to the third floor, ever since I told her that an attic was up there. The third floor opened into a loft, rather than a hallway and had a small door on its far side. The door gave way to a few more steps and then the actual attic, the highest point in the house. Well, at least it wasn't the second floor, but we still had to get out of here fast. I rounded the case one more time and made it to the loft. The usually closed door was cracked open. I knew it. "Jackie, lets go, idiot! You're gonna get me into trouble!" I hissed. Not hearing a reply, I proceeded into the room.
Illuminated by a single diamond-shaped window with the twilight, I could just barely see inside. Not wanting to draw attention, I didn't bother turning the light on. It wasn't that big of a room anyway, I'd find her. I circled the room slowly, feeling my way through. My eyes were adjusting and I could make out shadows of forgotten, unwanted things. My baby crib. A large trunk of some sort. Then, my hands brushed over what felt like a small cabinet door. Gotcha. I yanked it open, but no giggling, stupid Jackie, only the rush of cold, damp air.
Oh, I remember this thing. It was an old laundry chute. My parents never let me up here as a kid alone, because they thought I'd try to slide down it, to my death. They even made sure to give me the room that wasn't connected to it.
There was a sudden rustle of fabric, and as I turned to tell Jackie to knock it off, I saw a figure much taller and wider than her. Not Jackie, not any of my other friends.. With my back to the opening of the shoot, the figure grabbed my throat with one cold hand, a heap of hair with the other, and shoved my head backward, hard. Trying in vain to steady myself, I slipped backwards into the chute, and down, down, down I went.
Like I said, it was mostly a good day.
I can remember hearing myself scream, banging into both sides of the chute, all the way down and smelling the dampness intensify, as I neared the basement. With a final crack, I tumbled on the right side of my face onto the cement floor, with only a small amount of laundry underneath me to break my body's fall. A light exploded before my eyes and the pain made me want to vomit. I don't know how I was still conscious, but I could have sworn....no. I know. I know I heard a voice coming from the opening above me hiss, "I told you, stay downstairs."
I passed out fairly soon after, Jackie finding me since she was close to the basement door, hiding in a small indention underneath the staircase, she heard the commotion. She "made the stair squeak on purpose" to mislead me, she sobbed, feeling like the jackass she was. (I milked that one for a while.) 10 snitches in my face and a night in the hospital for observation (I had a concussion.), and I was basically okay. I didn't tell my parents what really happened, what I had heard. Not only would they never believe it was gram, no matter how much they didn't like her, they would think I was just covering for one of my friends and get them into trouble. So I told them that I was looking down it and leaned too far in. Stupid kid stuff. They bought it.
And gram never did come to the hospital that night.
It was even weirder with Gram after that. Mostly, she acted as if I wasn't even present, whenever we were in the same room, which wasn't often. No criticisms. No snapping. One word answers and the occasional nod, when absolutely needed. I know she pushed me down the laundry chute. She knew I knew. I can only guess she figured that she wouldn't push my buttons and have me blurt out one day what she did. She meant to kill me, and when I lived, she had to change tactics. She was lying in wait. I started locking my bedroom door at night and made sure I was never alone in the house with her for long periods of time.
I guess I should have told someone anyway, it's not like it was the first time she had been physical with me. I had gotten my arms and legs smacked a lot, as a kid. She also pinched me when no one was looking. Not the "OH! Look at you, you're so cute!" pinches, but the kind that broke capillaries underneath my arms and stayed bruised for weeks. She never did it in front of my parents, but I never questioned it. I thought it was discipline for things like, asking too many questions, laughing too loudly, accidentally knocking over a cup on the carpet. It wasn't until after the laundry chute incident, that I knew none of her behavior was normal.
Here I was, yet again. I made my way to the nursing home, only about 45 minutes from my apartment. It was a ridiculously nice place, you know, for a nursing home. No bad reviews to be found and had fully accredited staff, according to my parents. And the price to keep her there was not cheap. I started getting the billing statements in the mail, instead of my parents, and I nearly spit the wine I was drinking across the room upon opening the first one. Calling my dad, I told him the unbelievable balance due, and he just replied, “Oh, we expected as much.”
“Isn’t insurance paying for this?”
“No, baby girl. It’s out of pocket. We arranged it this way, don’t you worry! It’s the very best for your gram.”
I fucking bet.
I pull in and see her caseworker, Dr. Ebbing. She was leaning into the trunk of a Buick, I guessed was hers. In her hands, was what looked like a dog leash of some kind. Maybe they do the puppy therapy here for the seniors. She stuffed it into her handbag. Dr. Ebbing was truly a sweet lady, soft-spoken and always smiling. I wondered how she ever managed to work among such irrational, dangerous people, like gram.
Parking and getting out, she spotted me across the parking lot and walked over. “Alexia!” she enthusiastically called, “I’m so sorry to bother you on such short notice, but we need to talk again… maybe about new arrangements.” Fantastic. I greeted her and followed behind, through the hallway, into the office. We sat, and she got right to business, “Your grandmother has been uncooperative, as of late. She’s been fighting the orderlies and refusing to sleep in her bed.” Well, this is a bit better than I imagined. Ebbing continued, “It’s really getting to the point where she’s disturbing the other, peaceful residents and becoming unmanageable. She was unmanageable a quite a few incidents ago… I’m trying hard to keep her here, but I’m pressured to find another alternative soon.”
“Well, I’m not a viable option. I’m not home all day and I have a single bedroom apartment. I-it’s not like I don’t want to [lie], it’s just not realistic or comfortable for an elderly person.”
“I thought you’d say that.” She seemed somber, fingering a small locket on a necklace that she tucked back behind her coat, when she saw me looking at it.
“Your parents won’t consider taking her either...” I didn't know if she was asking a question or making a statement.
“Nope. Probably why they moved so far. They didn’t want to be the ones stuck with actually making the decisions, just the payments.”
"I see." She sat, hands now folded on her desk, eyeing me intently for a moment. Right before it could become an awkward silence, she stood up and said, "Well, we will give it a bit more time, perhaps. So long as she doesn't injure anyone else, a short probationary period. It will help things simmer down here and maybe you will find an alternative."
Ha. Don't count on it. She's stuck here, lady, accept it.
Ebbing was smiling now, "Would you like to visit her?"
Gram is sitting on the far-side of a huge ballroom, probably used for Christmas pageants or "family days", but today it was filled old people and deathly silence. I can’t help but to think if one would have walked in blindfolded, they would think that they were all alone, it was so quiet. The only telltale sign of other life is the smell, intensified by how humid the room is. Most of the other residents are reading or staring off into a void. No one looks up at me, as I walk to the back of the room. How well-behaved these other geezers are. Trained, my brain muses.
"Hello, gram." I stand beside her chair, a few feet away, waiting to be acknowledged. She kept her gaze through the window. "It's Alex." Still no acknowledgment. "I heard you've been being mean to people again." Nothing. I finally move to squat in front of her, blocking her line of vision. She just stares through me. Her skin seems so paper-thin and her cheeks sunken. She’s fought people when they tried to actually style her hair, so now it falls over her face and down her back, straw-like and still blonde, like my mom's and mine. She has really lost her shit these last few years. I feel the smallest twinge of sadness. No one should have to spend life not knowing what the hell is going on, lost, confused. Not even you, you old bitch.
"The angel...", she spoke so quietly, I almost didn't hear her.
"What? The what?"
"The red angel. Little, little bitty angel."
“Okay.” What the hell are you talking about? Her voice is strained, hushed, but urgent. “The red angel. Theredangeltheredangeltheredangel.” Over and over, she repeated it like a mantra. She was looking at me now, her eyes look sad and wet. She starts to nod earnestly, as if we had just made some sort of agreement. Reaching toward my face, her misty eyes have spilled over onto her cheeks. I have never seen her cry before. I hesitate, feeling the twinge again. I let her put her hands gently on my cheeks. “The. Angel. It comes for me. It likes to choke with ropes and strings.”
I quickly glance about, making sure no orderlies are in close proximity to our conversation, just two other visitors, whispering just as quietly with a decrepit, wheelchair-bound man about 10 feet away. “Gram, is someone hurting you here?” “The.Red.Angel.”, she enunciates each word solidly, staring into my eyes. “Gram?” , I repeat. Her lip stops trembling, and her eyes suddenly come alive, “LIKE THIS!!” That’s when she moved her hands from my cheeks to my neck, faster than I would have ever thought possible. She is choking the shit out of me. "YOU CUNT. RED ANGEL." Despite her age, she is strong, and I try futile attempts to scratch her hands and kick her off. It takes all my energy to pry her hands from around my throat. Her face is inches from mine, still shrieking her nonsense, but she’s smiling widely now. I black out before the orderlies are able to wrestle her off of me.
I wake up to Dr. Ebbing leaning over me, in place of gram. "Alexia. Talk to me."
"Mmm... I'm here.", I manage to croak. It hurts to talk.
At first, I think I'm in an ER, because of the bright light shining down from the ceiling, but I look around to see that I'm actually back in her office. Part of me is actually relieved that they didn't call and ambulance or anything. "Here", she helps me sit up and hands me a small glass of water. Swallowing hurts too. As I drink, she leans over to support my neck and head, that's when I see it. On the locket of her necklace, there is a small, ruby cherub.
I knock the glass out of her hands and scramble to the other side of the room, the impact shatters it against the linoleum floor. "Alexia.", she says again, almost pleading. She's still standing in the same spot, making no attempt to come after me, her hands help up. "Alexia, I need you to listen, because you have a decision to make."
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HER?! You've been hurting her, so now she's completely fucking insane!" I don't try to control the level of my voice, hoping someone might overhear and come running.
Ebbing laughs humorlessly, "I didn't do this to her; no one made her this way. She's been like this all along, hasn't she? The treatment we've been performing is supposed to make her docile, manageable, gentle. That's how you have to deal with these kind of people."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I also couldn't believe no one had heard our commotion. Even if the orderlies were in on it, the other visitors had to still be here. "This place is a torture chamber."
"This place is a treatment facility. Violence with violence. That's the first language of each of our patients here. That's what their families pay for, what your parents pay for." I opened my mouth to tell her she was full of shit, but Ebbing kept talking, "It works well for most. These people were all abusers in one way or another, people who didn't necessarily get caught for their crimes back then, so we ensure the families that the patient makes up for the difference in their final days."
I want to vomit.
"As I said, for many, therapy scares them into submission successfully, and they are able to live out whatever life they have left in peace. We aren't vicious animals. We don't do what we do for the enjoyment of it, or at least some of us don't.... We stop when we have resolved the issues. But for the truly rotten, like your gram, treatment is continual."
I'm slouched against the door now, trying to catch my breath, trying to make sense of this "treatment". "So you just choke the fuck out of everyone here, and hope that they don't mimic what is done to them? You truly believe this is treatment?"
She's crouched down, picking up the glass shards now. "Well, not exactly. Depends on what the family requests. We incorporate their chosen punishment with our treatment criteria. In fact, your father requested suffocation of some sort."
"Your father, Alexia. He chose suffocation. It's certainly an option, but it's definitely not an option we use often. It's a bit pricier, but whatever keeps our costumers happy. Not that my personal opinion comes into play in regards to patient treatment, but I didn't have any qualms about it after he told me that she tried to kill you by shoving you in that garbage chute."
"Uh... i-it was a laundry chute, actually...." I might really fucking puke now. I cover my mouth and feel the putrid waves hit my esophagus. He knew? They knew?
"That's right! Laundry, not garbage, excuse me!" Doctor Ebbing had scooped up the last of the shards with a small dustpan and emptied the contents into a garbage can, "As soon as he found out, he began looking for retribution. We are a well-kept, protected secret, believe it or not, as we don't accept "normal" retirees. Luckily, your father had some friends in low places, because when he tried to contract someone to kill your grandmother, they suggested our center instead."
"How?", I asked, cutting her off. "How long did they know? I've never told them a thing!"
"Well, apparently, your mother has always known." Ebbing now sat at her desk, across the room from me, "Your grandmother told her the same night, and then her and your mother agreed it was best to not allow your father to ever find out, as he, obviously, isn't so fond of her. They covered it up together. He found out just before sending her to us. Her mind has been slipping the last few years, and wouldn't you know it, your father says that she just started to talk about doing it one day at breakfast with your mother, as if he wasn't even in the room. She outright asked "I killed Alexia that day when I pushed her down into the basement didn't I? She disturbed my rest and she was warned. Make sure she doesn't go up there today during my nap! I told you children are too damned noisy!" The only reason he knew it wasn't some senile babble was because your mother burst into tears and began begging him to leave her mother alone, that it wasn't her fault. YOU should have known better. That's what I've committed to memory, anyway. There's an "official" transcript somewhere in here, if you'd like to read it." She's smiling politely now, as if we were talking about nice weather. "I suppose he could have went to the police, instead of turning to such an extreme recourse, but without evidence and over an incident that happened a decade ago by an 80 year old woman? Besides, for many of our concerned families, jail isn't punishment enough."
I sat silent. I wanted to ask a million questions. I wanted to scream. I wanted to puke, still. But all I did was sit. My father did all of this. My father, who constantly opposed gram, but was the kindest person I've ever known.
Ebbing seemed to understand my silence, because her calm, "doctor" voice took over. I faintly wondered if she used this same voice while tormenting her subjects. "Look, Alexia, I know this is a lot to take in, but we need your decision today. Let's look at the factors. Your grandmother has escaped punishment for what she did to you. Remember that trainee that she assaulted? Before she pulled her into the tub, she said your gram called her "Alexia". She has tried to kill you three separate times. This is what we do to remedy what she's done to you."
She stopped to weigh my expression, then continued, "You may walk out of here freely today and go to the police, if you like, but they won't find evidence, I'm afraid. We are very, very careful not to leave physical evidence. All of our patients are very well behaved now. Their families have nothing but wonderful things to say, as well, of course. All they'll have is the word of a violent, old, crazy bitch. You father has paid well for her treatment that isn't working. He's sold everything, he moved far away to keep your mother in the dark about this place and our methods, as she kept him in the dark about you." She opens her handbag and places the dog leash on the desk in front of her. "He figured you'd find out, sooner or later, and he has left the final decision up to you. Do we continue, or do we find an alternative?"
My father did all of this. For me. I feel my way up the door, grabbing the handle to pull myself up. I finally stand staring at Ebbing. She stares back with a neutral face, yet eager. "Okay." My voice sounds more sure than I thought it would, "Let's talk about an alternative."
The next morning, I got the call about gram. She "passed away peacefully in her sleep". 81 years old. The next call I got was from my dad.
"Hi, baby girl. I know you'd make the right decision. I'm so sorry that I didn't know sooner. I'm so sorry. I know you probably have a lot of questions for me." His voice was breaking a little. "How are you holding up?"
"I'm alright, dad. We can talk about it more later. But right now, we need to make a decision about mom."
[This is the only second story I've ever shown to the public. It's just a fucked up thought I had floating around in my brain for a while. (: I hope it gave people some chills. Please, give me constructive criticism or tips. I want to be a stronger horror/suspense writer. Criticism helps with that! Thanks for reading!]