Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!
Clara could feel it, caught in a state between dream world and reality. The dream was still her focus, but that world began to fade away as her senses bled through. She could hear her sisters slow deliberate breaths, an indication that were still asleep. In the background, she heard the grandfather clock’s counterweight swing back and forth, alas it was the urge to pee growing from within that chased her dreams away.
She rather enjoyed this existence between realms. Clara could look upon the world, mould it the way she saw fit while characters would obey her every wish. That is until she turned hoping to delay the inevitable journey to the outhouse and collided face first in with Dot’s elbow.
Her eyes opened wide and forced the waking world to come into focus. Right before her was her sister’s elbow, no more than an inch away from her face, and still saw streaks of purple from the impact. When she turned to look above, she was faced with the familiar yellowed ceiling and the fog from her breath.
Clara dreaded these moments, the early morning before her mother would get up to light the stove. That moment in time where hot stones warmed by the fire were now cold and the remnants of the fire were a distant memory. The ground outside was sure to be frosted over this morning and judging by the view the sun had yet to make an appearance.
The urge was slowly migrating from the back of her mind to the forefront. She looked at her two sisters, sleeping peacefully and for a moment felt deeply envious of their situation. Alas, what was a girl to do?
Clara lifted the warm layers of linen from her body, instantly feeling the chilled morning air come into contact with her skin. While gooseflesh appeared on her bare legs, her muscles tensed before she threw herself out of bed and onto the cold floor.
“Cold,” she said when her bare feet touched the cold floor.
Clara felt around for a moment to find a pair of woollen slippers. They were too big, but that was the burden borne by the youngest child, condemned to wear worn hand-me-downs of her sisters. Nonetheless, the need to pee would not be cast aside, cold or not, so down the stairs she went.
Despite being the only one awake, Clara crept down the stairs deliberately, careful to skip the second last step since that one creaked. The last thing she wanted to do was wake up her father a couple of hours before he had to head for the mine. That tended to make him cranky, which had a tendency to trickle down to her via her mother.
Once at the door, Clara noticed the sky was turning purple and red. She also noticed the door was not latched, something that was profoundly peculiar.
“Odd,” Clara murmured. “Had someone gone out and had not returned,” she wondered.
The last thing Clara needed was to wait for her turn. Just thinking about her freezing outside while waiting for the outhouse made her teeth chatter!
Clara slowly opened the door and attached screen door to avoid making a racket. Then with all due haste she ran along the frosted patch of weeds, hearing them crinkle with every step, a shame she needed to pee, this could have been a fun experience if she was appropriately dressed!
The outhouse was in view, the familiar half-moon opening was dark, a good sign that her parents were still in bed. Clara smiled as she approached, reached for the thick wooden handled and pulled open the door. While the door gave way easily, she found herself unprepared for what she would find.
At first she was confused, seeing her father there in his long johns, butt flap open and seated over the opening. He seemed to be there going about his business and yet his eyes were closed. Frost had built up on the the exposed skin and his lips had blued.
“Papa,” she said said softly. “I have to pee,” she exclaimed hoping this would resolve the matter.
There was no response, no hint that her father heard a thing despite the urgency oozing from Clara’s every word. Odd how he seemed to be out of place, as though he had been pushed against the wall out of the way.
Clara continued to examined the scene, waiting as patiently as any child could under the circumstances. Only after a few moments did she notice a few more details.
First and likely the most important detail noticed was related to his breathing or rather the lack of. While Clara could see her breath, she did not see his nor hear the rattle in his lungs that seemed more acute in the mornings, especially after a double-shift at the mine.
“Papa,” she said with more urgency even as her mind began to realise that her prompting would get her nowhere.
On the wooden planks covering the outhouse floor she saw blood. Some of it was black like tar, thick and frothy a sign that her father had a coughing fit recently. However there was more blood, seemingly fresher and a bright crimson, her eyes followed the trail until she spotted a gaping wound where his calf should have been.
Her perceptive mind could see every detail of the wound. How the bone had bite marks and was reminded her of the neighbour’s dog chewing a thick juicy bone. She saw how the flesh had been cut and torn off simultaneously, again reminding her of what a pack of wild dogs did to a carcass. Clara should have been quivering at the moment and yet her mind keep running over the details, busy committing every detail to memory.
That it until she heard it something. It was faint at first, almost unintelligible but the sound was persistent. It took a moment for her mind to register what she heard, but sure enough a distinct chewing sound originated from within the depths of the outhouse. It was not until she heard a loud and guttural belch which made the walls of the structure shake that her need pee took care of itself.
In a small company town, where everyone works and lived together, a screaming child will certainly get some attention. The first on the scene was the neighbour who came down in his camisole, wild eyed and alert. It took him no more than a minute to size up the situation and close the door to the outhouse.
As the rest of the community awoke from their deep slumber Clara’s mother ran out of the side door. She had the same bewildered look in her eyes that her neighbour had worn earlier, however she never got the opportunity to approach the scene. Their neighbour cut her off and before there were any protests they exchange some words.
Clara was not sure what had been said, but the effect it had on her mother was immediate and brutal. At first concern remained, she seemed restless as her eyes darted about. Then came the long dramatic pause followed by the look of shock washing over her face. It was the tears and her slow collapse to the ground which confirmed Clara’s suspicions. Her father would not walk away from that outhouse.
“Martha, get Clara out of here,” the neighbour said to his wife.
Clara turned around to find the wife, still in her nightgown, approaching from behind. The child had no intention of complying just yet.
“No,” Clara exclaimed. “There is something in there with him,” she added.
“What do you mean,” Martha asked while shooting a glance at her husband.
Clara saw the hidden exchange between the couple and wondered why neither seemed concerned by what had been said. What did they know?
Martha got on a knee to be at eye level with Clara before asking, “What did you see love?”
“There,” Clara paused unable to properly formulate her thoughts. “Something,” she blurted out. “Ate papa,” she managed to add although the words were a faint whisper.
Martha’s face lighten up and hugged Clara. It was bizarre how the woman seemed so relieved to hear those words.
“Oh love,” Martha exclaimed. “You let the imagination get the better of you,” she added.
Martha took Clara by the hand and took her home. From corner of Clara’s eye her two sisters were staring down at the scene from their bedroom. She saw how their faces were ashen grey; appearing as though they had seen a ghost.
“Now let’s get you cleaned up,” Martha said while they left behind a town full of gawkers and her grief stricken mother.
It seemed odd how no one had bothered to look inside the outhouse. Did they assume she was just another child afraid of what lurked beneath her bed? Or did they already know what would be found?