When Rachel was in sixth grade a boy told her that if she was ever all alone and felt like she was being watched, it meant that she was in presence of dead relatives whose souls had come back to judge her. She felt that way on the winter night that she sat in the upstairs bedroom of her house in the Dallas suburbs and forced her way through a reading of Beowulf for English class.   Bored senseless by the toils of a superhero who died fifteen hundred years ago, she kept lapsing into memories of childhood: sleepovers with pizza and two liter bottles of Dr. Pepper, summer days at Six Flags in Arlington, cardboard Pilgrims and gourds hanging on the wall of elementary school classrooms in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.  Now, at age seventeen, Rachel and her friends were shaving off their pubic hair and getting eaten out by their boyfriends, smoking joints at parties, and daydreaming about going off to college where they would be free from parental control.  As Rachel reflected on these vanished years she felt an otherworldly gaze bearing down on her.  It belonged to the dead relatives.  They all knew what Rachel had been doing with that adult body of hers and that an adolescent thing had slain and replaced the little girl they had wanted to live forever.  Their hateful staring made Rachel’s skin crawl.

She dropped Beowulf on the floor, peeled off her pajama pants, and got into bed.

Rachel’s parents had acquired the house at a state auction a few years ago.  Its first owner was a cocaine trafficker who barely had time to pick out furniture before he got arrested and sentenced to the penitentiary in Huntsville.  There was nothing wrong with the property; it was identical to every third house on the street except for the fact that some of the rooms were a little bit smaller.  The police never found anything illegal on the grounds, no known crimes were committed there, and it was like a criminal had never lived there at all.

Rachel looked up at the ceiling.  The peaks and ridges of the plaster segued into a dream about an immense salt mine in southern Louisiana.

Her eyes opened in the night and saw a cloaked man with a pointy black beard and skin the color of semen standing over her.  He pressed his palm into Rachel’s mouth.

“Be quiet and listen or you will be mutilated in your bed,” he said.

She squirmed loose and tried to roll across the bed but the intruder fell on top of her and drove her face into the pillows.

“Be quiet or you will die,” he said.

Rachel stopped moving.

“I’ve been watching you for some time now and have decided to satisfy a need in you that your mind hides from itself.  If you refuse my gift little children will be murdered, I promise you that” the man said, his low voice rising and falling like it came from a waterlogged tape recorder.

He continued:

“I’ve seen you put your womanhood on display with the clothes you wear and the caresses you have allowed others to enjoy in this very house.  Your mother, who you learned to do these things from, will be gone for the next several days.  If you want the children to live you will use her absence as an opportunity to seduce and make love to your own father.”

In those moments Rachel couldn’t comprehend the demand.  The tone and pattern of his voice was melting her brain down to black sludge.

“Yes, you are to offer your body to him.  I recommend you begin the process now, because a child will die before sunrise if you do not,” he said.  He released Rachel and darted into the bedroom closet, closing the door behind him.

“Daddy!” Rachel screamed.

Rachel wanted to flee the room then and there but somehow drew from a well of hidden courage and shoved the back of a wooden chair beneath the closet’s doorknob in an effort to jam it shut.  When she remembered that putting a chair there was useless because the door swung the other way, she started bawling and ran into the hall.  Her father met her there.

“Man in my room…  Man in my room…” she cried.

The police searched the house and the closet and found no evidence of an intruder.  Rachel told them about the children that he had threatened to murder but left out the rest of what the man said.  One of the officers asked her if she was the kind of girl who liked to make up stories.

After the police left Rachel’s dad made her some hot chocolate and talked about how sometimes people think they’re awake when they’re really still dreaming.  Then he told her that while she is probably too old to sleep in her parents’ bed that there are exceptions to every rule.  He was just being a sweet father; she couldn’t remember him ever being creepy or inappropriate, but his offer to let her share the bed made Rachel’s hands shake so violently that hot chocolate splashed out of the top of the mug.

She went to school the next morning.  As soon as Rachel entered the building she sensed a nervous buzz around her.  Then a girl Rachel didn’t know very well came up to her and said, “Oh my God, Rachel, have you heard?  Sarah Zane’s house was broken into and her little girl was murdered in her crib.”

Sarah Zane and Rachel used to be fairly close.  But Sarah ended up having a baby and falling into a clique of Christian kids that Rachel considered obnoxious.  Sarah was a hanger-on in this new group of friends, the sinner amount perfect people, and to compensate for this she adopted their air of moral superiority and combined this with the demeanor of a humiliated, knocked up teenager.  Rachel was alienated by Sarah’s new personality and the friendship fell apart.

“What kind of a psycho would do that to an infant?” the girl asked.

* * *

“Why don’t you tell coach you’re sick and spend the evening with your girl instead,” Rachel cooed as ran her fingers down Noah’s thighs.  They were parked at the high school’s football stadium which, like many such stadiums in Texas, was grand and expensive enough to host a Division III college team.

“I’ll never get into the NBA by missing games,” Noah said.  He was joking.  Rachel’s boyfriend was average height, white, and not exceptionally fast.  But he was a good shooter and did the little things right and had thus earned a varsity spot this year.

“I’ll let you have sex with me.  My body is aching for it now.  You can do anything to me you want,” she said.

“Goddamn, that is tempting.  Maybe we can do something now,” he said as he reached up her sweatshirt and into her bra.  Her nipple hardened.

“Not here.  At my house tonight,” Rachel said as she pulled his hand out.

“Maybe I’ll sneak out.  Man, I wish my parents weren’t such assholes about weeknights,” Noah said.  Rachel, desperate for a protector, wished the same thing.

“They have to understand that a guy needs to see his girlfriend on occasions other than his little brother’s birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.  You’re going to go, right?  It’s on Sunday.”

“Of course I’m going to go.  Zeke’s a cool little kid,” she said.

They made out for a long time in the front seat of Noah’s car, causing Noah to almost miss the team bus.  Rachel wondered if it was callous of them to fool around on a day that a classmate lost her baby, but Noah didn’t seem to mind.

She had been telling herself that last night was a weird prophetic vision and Blackbeard, the name she came up with for the intruder, was some sort of supernatural messenger warning of Sarah’s baby’s death.  The father stuff was nothing more than a wayward dream symbol, material for a psychoanalyst to interpret.  This explanation was an eerie one but it was palatable and believing it made far more sense than taking what seemed to happen in her bedroom as fact.

Her mother, who was still out of town, interrogated Rachel over the phone when she got home.  Her father ordered Chinese and asked her over lo mien if everything was ok at school and what her mood was like from day to day.   Rachel told him the news about Sarah’s baby and it made him grimace in a way that made Rachel wonder whether he was grimacing over the tragic death or grimacing because this was the sort of thing that might trigger another freak out in his daughter.  He asked her if she felt like she needed to talk to someone about “stress, or whatever.”   Rachel told her father that she felt fine at the moment and excused herself after the fortune cookies were busted open.

Despite her efforts to remain vigilant, Rachel found herself zoning out as she showered.  The steam and water tranquilized her; it made her want to sit down in the tub, close her eyes, and lose herself in its warm rainy womb.  Paradise was lost when the shower curtain swallowed Rachel up and the intruder’s hand covered her mouth once more.

“Do you still doubt me?  Do I need to provide further proof?” Blackbeard asked.

The shower curtain was the only thing between him and her naked body.  She felt the pressure of his left arm against her breasts, the front of his upper thighs against her ass.  She expected to be raped on the spot.

“There is no escaping me, Rachel.  The police will never find me in this house and further outbursts will only throw your own sanity into question.  Our contract is secret; if you continue to talk about it the authorities might find a keepsake of yours near where the next body falls.  What would they think of your stories then?” Blackbeard said.

He clinched her face tighter with his right hand and took up a shampoo bottle with the left.  He inverted it with his fingertips and squeezed shampoo into his palm.

Blackbeard rubbed the shampoo in Rachel’s eyes as he spoke, “You can end this all tonight.  Open your Bible to Genesis 19, verse thirty, for sacred inspiration and do what I have asked if you want to save the little ones.”

He left Rachel blinded in the shower.  She heard him flee into the hallway and desperately wanted to scream for help.  She didn’t dare now.  Not only did she believe that Blackbeard was capable of making good on his threats but the thought of summoning her father while she was naked and blind and alone filled her with a newfound dread.  So Rachel squatted there, flushed her eyes out with water, and sobbed.

After she rolled a dresser in front of the closet door Rachel sought out a crimson-colored Bible that lay entombed in a basket of fashion magazines.  Genesis 19 was the story of Lot, who fled Sodom with his family before God’s wrath destroyed it.  His wife, disobeying an angel, looked back at the devastation and was turned into a pillar of salt.  Then Lot and his two daughters sought refuge in a cave and the daughters, believing that every other human on Earth had died, got their father drunk and had sex with him.  The seduction resulted in the birth of a son for each woman.

Rachel went to school a zombie the next day.  The desks, lockers, cafeteria equipment, and people that surrounded her seemed to be a backdrop in a play; a facade that hide the dusty, impoverished space of an empty stage, a falsehood that anyone could knock over with a good hard shove.  By sixth period she found out that Caleb Watters, a young boy that Rachel once babysat, was found murdered in the bushes near his home.  The media was now speculating about the existence of a serial killer, cop cars were circling elementary schools, and a panic was overtaking the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.  Rachel ditched seventh period and started driving the freeways in random pattern.  She tried to talk herself into taking I-30 west to Abilene or I-20 east to Shreveport but was too afraid of the outcomes she imagined (would Blackbeard keep killing children until she came back and carried out the seduction, would he kill her parents out of spite, would she have to sell her body to survive in the new place) so she finally went to the house that had been transformed into a chamber of hell and entered her bedroom.

She spoke to the closet door.

“I’ll do it.  I promise I’ll do it.  Just please stop.”

* * *

That night Rachel waited until her father went to bed, snuck out to her car, and took Northwest Highway to an adult video and toy store that advertised on billboards throughout the city.  She navigated the rows of porn and dildos to the wig section, trying on a long black straight one.  It was as close as she was going to get.

Then she drove to a house in south Dallas that belonged to Seth, an upperclassman of hers who dropped out during Rachel’s freshman year.  Seth was big into drugs now; he was a dealer and boasted that he kept a loaded gun in every room of his house.  He still showed up at high school parties from time to time, where he made a strange point of avoiding the girls as if he feared a statutory rape charge was lurking around the corner.  Rachel took off her bra and left it in the car.

“So, I’m looking for something that relaxes people and makes them feel all sexy,” Rachel told him.

“Sexy huh? “ Seth glared at her, a hunting rifle hanging on the wall behind him.  The dealer leaned back in his leather sofa and said, “What do you want with something like that?”

“I just think it’ll be fun,” she said.

“Ok, but how do I know you’re not wearing a wire or something,” he asked.

Rachel lifted her shirt, giving him a good look at her flat belly and pear-shaped breasts.  “See, no wire.”

“Alright, I believe you.  You know I’m not supposed to look at girls your age, right?” Seth said.  He went to the bedroom, leaving Rachel alone for several minutes, and came back with a vial of powder.

“Now be careful with this.”

When she got home there was a picture lying on her pillow.  It was taken at a barbeque over the summer and was of Rachel, Noah, and Noah’s little brother Zeke.  On the back was a yellow post-it note that read:

“Not tonight, but maybe tomorrow.”

Rachel removed the note with a tissue, halfway planning to give it to the police.  She felt a presence with her and suspected that Blackbeard was watching; it was either Blackbeard or the dead relatives that Rachel’s classmate told her about years ago.  How would those dead relatives judge her now?

* * *

Of all her friends, Eve was the best choice.  The girl was a show off.  A summer or two ago Rachel was at Eve’s house and Eve kept talking about this guy who moved in down the street.  They came up with the strategy that they would put on their cutest swimsuits and invite him over to tan with them.  Eve made Rachel greet the guy at the door.  Then Eve made her grand entrance, sauntering down the stairs in a bikini that hadn’t fit her properly since eighth grade.

Eve said, “Hi, guys.  I know it’s kind of small but my other ones are dirty.  Sorry”

Even though the murders had put most of their classmates in a parentally-imposed lockdown, getting everyone to consent to letting Eve stay over was a breeze.  Rachel’s father was probably happy to have a third presence in the house to keep his strangely-behaving daughter occupied until her mother came home, and Eve’s parents, for whatever reason, tended not to worry about their teenaged children.  Because of the danger their community now faced, both sets of parents forbade any kind of going out, meaning the girls were to remain in Rachel’s house from sundown to morning.

Rachel’s father had gotten a case of expensive imported beer from a client a week ago and he had developed the habit of drinking a couple of bottles a night.  So, when the appropriate hour hit and Eve excused herself to the bathroom, Rachel filled a pilsner glass with beer, dropped a pinch of Seth’s white powder in, and took it to her father.

“You look like you need a beer, dad,” she said.

“I’m getting predictable, I guess,” he said.  “I get a glass too, very nice.”

“Yep, it’s a beer for the best father in the world,” she said.

“Ok,” he said.  Rachel saw a hint of wariness in her father’s facial expression but he took a sip anyway.  Rachel hoped to God that Seth’s mystery powder was the real thing.

Following Rachel’s lead, both girls lounged around her bedroom in t-shirts and panties.    Occasionally Eve would move her legs and Rachel would glimpse her friend’s crotch.  Eve was wearing a lacy white thong that resembled bridal underwear Rachel had seen on a mannequin somewhere.

Rachel looked Eve in the eye and said, “Have you ever found porn on your parents’ computer?”

“No, not so much.  Does your dad look at porn?” Eve asked.  Rachel could tell by Eve’s faint smile that her curiosity was piqued.

“Well, I was on the computer the other day and looked at his web history and there were a bunch of pictures of teens in sexy panties, flashing their asses and their pussies and stuff.  I think it was Girls Gone Wild, or something,” Rachel said.

“I would totally do Girls Gone Wild,” Eve said.  “I know it’s slutty but it would be fun.”

“I won’t do it now.  I don’t want my dad to see something he shouldn’t see,” Rachel said.  Both girls laughed and the conversation went elsewhere, but Rachel knew that her friend, who had long, straight black hair and a body that was a lot like Rachel’s, was imagining Rachel’s father looking at internet porn and that the idea appealed to her.

“I want to watch a DVD, do you mind, babe?” Rachel asked.

“Mind what?”

“Can you go downstairs and get it?  I don’t want to put my pants back on or move,” she said.

“I don’t even know where your DVD’s are,” Eve said.

“They’re under the TV in the living room.  You don’t even need to get dressed; my dad is probably in bed.”  She said “probably” to set the hook in Eve’s mouth.

“Ok, I’ll go.  Do you have any requests?”

“Anything is fine.  Get something good.”

Rachel mashed up a sleeping pill she had found in her parents’ medicine cabinet and dropped it in her friend’s soda.  She took a sip to make sure there wasn’t a discernable taste.  Eve returned blushing and her nipples were popping out of her t-shirt, which was black and had a glittery Eiffel Tower emblazoned across the front.   Rachel was disgusted.

“How about The Hangover?” Eve coolly asked.

By the time the credits rolled Eve was unconscious.  With absolute caution Rachel stripped away her friend’s t-shirt and underwear, put them in a plastic bag that she had stashed under the bed, and crept away to the bathroom.

* * *

Rachel was now Eve’s double.

The only lubrication Rachel had was a warming gel.  She rubbed a large bead of it into her lips so he would be able to get it inside her without any foreplay.  The pleasure of its tingling heat was hellish; Rachel did not want any part of the act to feel good.

Earlier in the day Rachel called Noah’s house from a payphone near the Irving Mall, muffled her voice, and left a message stating  that she was going to kill their little boy tonight.  She thought about not doing anything besides that, in the hope that Blackbeard would try to make good on his promise to kill Zeke and get caught by the police.  But she couldn’t bear the thought of Noah’s younger brother getting hurt.  And she wasn’t sure that the police could catch a man who was able to vanish in closets and spy on people in their own homes without ever being detected.  Consenting to Blackbeard’s dark demand seemed to be Rachel’s best chance to make the killing stop.

Rachel looked in the mirror at herself disguised as Eve and prayed that her father would remember what was about to happen as a powerful sex dream and that her friend would not stir in the night.  The dead relatives came out again, their eyes were everywhere and Rachel spent the next minute contemplating suicide.

Rachel opened the bathroom door and went into the hall.

Her father was in bed, passed out, a single sheet lying across his lap.  Rachel stood at the mouth of the master bedroom and suddenly wondered if her father really knew what was about to happen.  What if he and Blackbeard were co-conspirators and she was their prize?  Her father could be letting Blackbeard into the house and telling him where to hide and what to say.  Was he helping Blackbeard kill too, just so he could lure coerce his own daughter into an act of incest?  It was the darkest thing Rachel had ever thought, except for those times in the past where she herself had brief visions of fucking her own father.  These sudden fantasies, which first appeared during the earliest days of her adolescence and declined as she accumulated more and more sexual experience, dangled over an abyss of terror and shame while at the same time being strangely tranquil, making them similar to a Bible story or a monstrous rumor that schoolchildren would spread.  She wondered if God was now punishing her for all the foul, involuntary images that her brain had conjured.

Rachel made her decision.  She went to the foot of the bed and pulled Eve’s black Eiffel Tower t-shirt up, exposing her naked torso and lace covered crotch.  Then the two-shot derringer that Rachel had stolen from Seth’s living room and taped beneath her breasts came out and she fired it into the wicker closet door.  Whatever hid inside let out a weird moan and began slamming things around.  Her father had fallen out of bed and was crawling on the floor.

He looked up and mumbled “Eve?”

“No Dad, it’s me!  We have to get out of the house!” she said as she helped the drugged man to his feet.

When Rachel entered her father’s bedroom she saw herself as having three options.  One, she could commit incest.  Two, she could run back out, lock herself in the bathroom, and shoot herself in the head.  Three, she could bet on the fact that Blackbeard was in the room watching and fire the derringer at whatever seemed like the best hiding place.  Any of the three could have happened, one just as easily as the other, and she didn’t make her decision until the very end.

Eve was wandering the hall naked.

“Eve, we’ve got to get out of the house!” Rachel said.

“I’m not dressed though, Rachel,” she said.

“There’s no time.”

“Why do you have my shirt?  And black hair?  Are you fucking with me?” Eve, still drowsy off the sleeping pill, drawled.  She tugged at the back of the Eiffel Tower shirt, as if she was trying to rip it off and hide her body from the man who leered at her.

“No, we’ve just got to go.”

“What the fuck is the meaning of this?” her father demanded in a far-off voice.

Rachel got the pair to the staircase.  But as they descended Blackbeard was running up at them with a meat cleaver in his hand.  “Traitor!” he bellowed.  Blackbeard drove his shoulder into Rachel’s father and the three were knocked up, down, and across the carpeted steps.

Rachel felt a sharp pinch in her side; then someone grabbed her ankle and threw her thighs apart.  The white bridal panties were getting pulled down her hips on but Rachel didn’t care because her head was all wet.  Then there was a bang, a thunder of stomps and cries, and a sudden fadeout.

* * *

Eve didn’t come to visit her at the hospital.  Rachel’s mother told her to try not to worry about it, her friend was traumatized and needed space right now.  They said Eve shot off part of Blackbeard’s ear with the gun that Rachel stole and the distraction allowed her father to catch the intruder in a bear hug and leap down the stairs with him.  Blackbeard then split her father’s head open on the hardwood floor, collected the fallen meat cleaver, and ran out the front door.

Noah’s brother Zeke was alive and unharmed, but the party at Chuck E. Cheese had been postponed.

Her dad was in a coma for two days afterward.  He later said that while he was under he dreamt that he and Rachel were dwelling in an abandoned train station after Al-Qaeda destroyed the DFW metroplex with nuclear weapon.  He and Rachel played card games and speculated on whether or not there were any other survivors.  There were millions of swarms of insects in the train station with them, hiding under the floor and in the ceiling, constantly humming.

Soon the police came.  First, they asked Rachel if she had ever discovered any secret doors or passageways in her house.  It seemed that the previous owner had paid the builder to customize the walls of the house with a modest network of tunnels and access points.  Presumably he wanted to hide narcotics, guns, and maybe even himself on the property.  They had people in Huntsville talking the man about any former associates who may know about the house’s secrets, and it looked like the inmate was going to cooperate with them.  They were also talking to the builder, trying to figure out who physically worked on the house and if anyone in his office knew what had been done with the construction of that particular unit.  It was just a matter of time now, they told Rachel.

Then they showed Rachel two pictures.  One was a police sketch that Eve had provided.  It was Blackbeard; with his deathly skin tone and Satanic face.  She positively identified him.  The other was a black and white surveillance photo taken at a Greyhound station in Oklahoma City.  It was almost certainly Blackbeard, the face was less discernable than before but Rachel recognized the dark cloak.  His right ear was bandaged.

Then they asked Rachel to tell them what happened.  She only got out a few trembling words before she fainted.

The detectives then decided to hold off on telling Rachel the story behind the second picture; that on the day the surveillance photo was taken a young boy was found strangled in the Greyhound station’s restroom and the name “Rachel” was written in feces across the wall.

Jeremiah Granden had a supernatural encounter once. He was poking around a decrepit, rumored to be haunted, house in Roswell, Georgia when he saw a withered, skeletal figure staring out of an upstairs window. Seconds later, the figure dissolved.

He later learned that Chip Coffey, a native Atlantan and the psychic on A&E's "Psychic Kids," had once divined the ghost of a rail-thin, toothless murderer on that very property. The author's skin crawled and his eyes teared up a little when he found out that whatever he saw matched a known description, but he likes being scared so the experience made for an amazing night.

"Electra Complex" © Jeremiah Granden • Photo features Ding Dong Dead by Creep Creepersin • PLOTS with GUNS © Anthony Neil Smith