Astrid graduated with a Bsc Hons in Criminology and Psychological Studies in 2017 and currently works as a professional ghostwriter.
Oct 29th 1982
Mom was throwing up in the downstairs bathroom when I got home from school but that was nothing new. I cradled her from behind, pulled her hair up into a ponytail and looked into the toilet. Whatever was in her stomach was pink and I guessed it was Peptobismol. She coughed and wiped her mouth before splashing her face with cold water. There was a drawer of face cloths beside the sink and I did my usual routine of soaking one through with cold water before dabbing at her face.
"Thanks, kid. Really feeling it today."
I never knew what 'it' was but I could guess. Dad left just after Christmas and it had nearly destroyed her. She kept saying if it wasn't for me, she'd commit suicide. I didn't know what that meant at that age, but I just knew it was bad so I hung around the house a lot, hoping that she wouldn't do the bad thing she was so afraid of.
After dad left, she started doing weird stuff that she never did in front of him, like dancing like a maniac in front of the mirror with a bottle of whiskey in her hand or smoking in the bath. Dad hated smoking. He made a point that his new girlfriend didn't smoke, but I never wanted to hear about her because she had only left high school and was pretty much an idiot. Or maybe she wasn't. Maybe she's a nice woman and perfectly normal, but back then I just remember hating her so much.
Mom moved into the kitchen and slumped at the table. I remember the ashtray had completely overflowed because when I went to empty it, dozens of cigarette butts scattered onto the floor. I'd had to kneel down with a dustpan and brush to sweep them up as mom sat unmoving, unhelpful.
"You hear about Old Barner?" she asked.
What now? I thought. What else could he possibly have done?
The sight of those cows was still fresh in my memory and my stomach churned. I even thought I could still smell them.
"He okay?" I asked, although I'd never cared about him before.
Mom pouted and reached for her smokes.
"Don't know. Police seem to think he's missing."
I didn't know what to say to that. I had heard of people going missing before. These were people whose faces were flashed up on the news with their families crying. These people were mostly children who had been kidnapped, little girls who seemed so vulnerable. But Barner didn't seem vulnerable, and I couldn't understand why anyone would be worried about him going missing. Why would anyone kidnap him? It seemed laughable.
"The police were here?" I asked.
"Did they flash their lights? Did they have guns?"
"Yeah, they had guns. They also wanted to know if I'd seen anything."
"Like the big fire in the field?"
Her eyes were a little glazed over as she looked out the window toward the great, big circle of blackness among the corn.
"They just wanted to know where he was. Apparently after his daughter found all the dead cows, she tried to find him at the house but he wasn't there."
For some reason, I thought about the pine forest behind his house and imagined him straying in there like I'd heard old people doing when they went through their crazy phases. They could just take off and go wandering away into the middle of nowhere until someone finds them drooling on themselves. They'd be wearing nothing but an old dressing gown and mismatched shoes as they screamed at the yogurt in the grocery store. That's exactly what old Mrs Sullivan had done a few months before so I imagined Old Barner doing the same. He had to be just as old as her, if not older.
As I thought of this, I noticed mom had this weird puzzled look on her face and it was annoying me.
"Where do you think he is?" I asked.
Her eyes were still focused on the field.
"How should I know?"
And she said nothing more about it.
I grabbed some milk and headed up to my bedroom. Once at my desk, I tried to focus on my homework, but I couldn't stop looking out toward the field. In the distance, I could make out the shape of Barner's house. The cows had been taken away now, but I had no idea where to. I'd thought about asking Jeremy the next day. His dad worked at the hospital and was super-smart. There wasn't anything you could ask him that he didn't know.
Downstairs, mom was thrashing about the cupboards, probably in search of drink. Once again, I tried to focus on my homework, but something caught my attention. It was a feeling more than anything, an invisible sensation that throbbed within my head. It began to move down lower and lower until it was sinking somewhere in my gut. I didn't like the feeling because it felt as though it wasn't really a part of me. Like it was someone else's emotion and it was somehow invading my body.
It felt bad. Really bad. Like pure darkness.
It felt like a warning.
I found myself looking out over the field and seeing Old Barner's house. The more I stared the stronger the feeling got. But no matter how much I tried to pull my eyes away, I felt as though my body was forcing me to look. I tried to turn my head but couldn't. There were thoughts in my head that I didn't recognize as my own. There was the overwhelming urge to lurch forward and jump out the window so that I could venture through the field and over to the house.
Then as quickly as it came, it was gone, and I was staring down at my spelling homework thinking I was losing my freaking mind. I began to cry but carried on with my homework anyway. Downstairs, mom was starting to sing and a moment later, the music started. I imagined her in front of the mirror again with a whiskey bottle, and wiped away the tears.
© 2019 Astrid McClymont