Charlotte hid in the closet. She carefully moved aside the plastic covered coats and dresses from in front of her hoping the crinkling of the plastic wouldn’t give her away. She wasn’t so little anymore and it was getting harder to find places to hide. Thankfully, the hangers slid silently to the left and she was still able to slide her skinny, sixteen year old body behind them. She then pulled them back into place cringing as each hanger slid across the metal rod, hoping the scraping noise wasn’t too loud. She backed up as far as she could into the corner and then slowly lowered her body into a squat. The musty stench of the old clothing crept up through her nostrils and permeated her every pore. A wave of nausea swept over her and she felt light headed. Her mouth became wet and she swallowed hard. “Hold it together Charlotte,” she mentally chastised herself, “You want to make it out of this alive don’t you?” Her gut told her this would be her final confrontation with Ruth. She looked around for a weapon but she only saw old shoes and shoe boxes. She was hoping for a golf club or a baseball bat but she wasn’t that lucky. She had hidden a couple of weapons throughout the house but this was a surprise attack and she wasn’t prepared for it. Ruth wasn’t there when she left in the morning but she was there drunk and waiting for her when she came home. Since her father and Paul were gone, Charlotte was her only target, her only prey. She heard a floorboard creak in the hallway. The footsteps had been very soft and quiet so Charlotte didn’t think they were close by. Obviously Mother was trying to be quiet so she could sneak up on her. Beads of sweat joined together on Charlotte’s forehead and slowly crept down her left temple. She didn’t dare move and wipe it off. Her bottom lip trembled and tears began to roll down her cheeks. Her teeth bore down upon her lower lip trying to hold in the cries that so desperately wanted to escape. She had learned how to muffle her sobs long ago. The footsteps stopped and Charlotte held her breath. She was sure her heart was beating so fast and loud that it would be heard. Ruth always found her eventually. The footsteps started again and continued down the hallway and away from the bedroom closet she was hiding in. She exhaled as quietly as she could. Her mind was racing; she was trying to think of what her next move should be and where the closest weapon was. She thought of Paul, her younger brother, and wished she could turn back time and grab his hand and run down the street and get away from Mother forever. A pang of regret and sorrow reeled through her body making her forget herself and focus on her grief. Her chest ached where the empty hole was. Her tears poured freely now and she put her head down into her knees to quiet her anguish. She still cried herself to sleep every night since Paul died. The harsh sound of Ruth’s voice permeated Charlotte’s thoughts and brought her back into the moment. “Charrrrrlotte I’m going to find you,” Ruth spoke each word in a sickeningly sweet, taunting tone. “You know I will. I always do.” Then Ruth was silent for a few moments. “Come on out you little shit!” Charlotte could tell Ruth was losing her patience. “I’m gonna make you suffer more now that you’re making me play hide and seek with you.” Ruth stopped and leaned against the wall, she lit a cigarette and let out an evil snarl. She chuckled to herself and said, “Okay then, I’m going to break two bones this time instead of one you asshole!” She became louder and louder with each word. “It’s just you and me now Charrrrlotte,” mixing the mocking sweetness with raw rage. “Just us gals.” “That’s it, gal pals,” Ruth laughed so hard it turned into a smoker’s hacking cough and Charlotte was hoping she would choke to death. Charlotte heard the crack of a beer can opening and then she heard Ruth stumble down the stairs. Charlotte was trembling so hard she put her hands under her knees and buried her face in her lap so she could muffle her sobs and quiet her body. Ruth was one of Mother’s personalities. She was a cigarette smoking, trash talking alcoholic looking for her next drink, her next tattoo or her next victim. How short her fuse was depended on how much she had to drink that day or how bad her hangover was. She made us wait on her hand and foot and we didn’t dare disobey her or she would make us pay. She struck quickly using anything she could find as a weapon. She had broken my jaw twice, once with a rolling pin because I didn’t clean the kitchen to her liking and once with a chair just because she was having a bad day and I got in her way. She broke Paul’s arm too. He didn’t pass her carton of cigarettes to her in a timely fashion. We ran, literally dropping everything, when she wanted something from us from that day forward. She got great amusement seeing us scurry about like little rats trying to heed her beck and call. It hadn’t always been this way. Mother got much worse after Grandmother died in the car accident. Mother was driving the car when it spun out of control and Grandmother’s side of the car hit a brick wall, killing her instantly. Grandmother was a mean old lady who didn’t like anyone. She hated people in general and if you were related to her and she had to deal with you she hated you even more. Mother’s childhood had been a revolving door of abuse. Her daily torture would differ depending upon which boyfriend her mother had at that time and what form of abuse he preferred. Sometimes they burned her with cigarettes to see her cry. Others would make her drink alcohol and one even gave her a shot of some kind of drug. She didn’t know what was in the syringe, but she woke up two days later naked on the couch. She knew she had been raped because there was blood between her legs and bloody handprints soiled the couch. Beer cans were littered all over the family room. She sprung into action immediately to clean them all up before she got in trouble for the mess. She counted 48 beer cans in all when she cleaned up the family room. That’s how she calculated how long she had been knocked out. It all added up to a case of beer a day. Out of all of the boyfriends the worst one was Roy. He was stinky, filthy and drunk most of the time. He smelled of cigarettes and beer and sometimes whiskey too. He was the one that liked Mother the most. One day he would sleep in Grandmother’s room and the next he would sleep in hers. Once he slept in her room for a whole week straight. Mother learned never to scream or cry because she would get beaten if she did. She learned to scream on the inside instead of on the outside. I understood this myself all too well and I’d become good at it too. It was hard to hide black eyes and split lips. Once Roy even broke her arm letting her feel the pain for a few days before she returned to school and the school nurse, along with the principal, ordered Grandmother to take Mother to the hospital. The emergency room doctor kept apologizing to Mother because he had to re-break her arm in order to set it so it would heal properly. She screamed so loud she was sure Roy had heard it all the way down Second Street. She could imagine he wore his disgusting, amused snarl and snickered to himself, mentally patting himself on the back for the damage he had done. Sometimes Grandmother would watch Roy violate Mother from the hallway. She never told Roy to stop or tried to help her daughter in any way. Mother knew when she was watching because she could smell the smoke from her cigarette. It would hit her nose and she would silently plead and cry for her mother to help her. After watching a while, Grandmother would just turn her back and continue walking down the hallway, shuffling along, a bottle of tequila in one hand and a lit cigarette, a pack of cigarettes and a lighter in the other. Grandmother was rotten to the core and Mother knew it. I heard all of these stories by listening to Mother talk to herself in her room. She would recite stories to herself as if she was on the outside looking in at someone else’s life. She spoke in two separate voices and asked herself questions to explain the story further, like she had never heard it before. I learned later that it was Wren talking to Ann, two of her other personalities switching on and off in one conversation. I didn’t understand why Mother didn’t tell Grandmother to get lost when she grew up and became an adult. I would have run as fast and as far as I could and never looked back. I guess Mother was just too broken to think she was worth fixing. She curled up to her abuse like an old, comfortable blanket. It was all she knew. I hated Grandmother for the way she treated Mother. I was sure Paul would still be alive if it wasn’t for all of the abuse Mother suffered. I felt sorry for her and tried to protect her for a long time but only until Ruth came along. Mother felt very guilty after the accident and missed Grandmother. I couldn’t believe she actually missed her. Everyone said a part of Mother died in that car accident along with Grandmother, but Paul and I knew different. Mother could put on a façade when other people were around. She was especially proud of herself after these performances and would point out to us how she could fool anyone. She threatened us that if we ever told her secrets we would regret it. We were too afraid to cross her and we didn’t feel any adults would believe us anyway, especially when she turned on “the actress” as she referred to it and made everyone believe her version of the truth. Her reality was all her own and no one else understood it or lived in it. She held on to it tightly and hid it from the world. Mother was in a coma for two months after the accident and emerged the same but also different. Two new personalities were born Adele and Ruth. We were used to the other ones coming and going, the young, innocent Nell, the recluse Ann, the enforcer Scott and the scared child Wren. Now there were two more to deal with. Mother was never one personality for very long and we learned how to adapt to them coming and going. We would figure out which one was there by her mannerisms, her language and her mood. If Nell was there she would want to play cards or go to the park or play hide and go seek with us. She would always wind up turning mean and nasty by the end of the game but she was okay I guess. There were definitely worse. Ann would want to stay in her bedroom reading books and didn’t want to be bothered. We were okay with that too. We would even get books from school for Ann to read just to keep her busy and away from us. Scott would make us clean the house and do our homework and yell at us for everything that annoyed him and Wren was afraid of everything and wouldn’t go out of her room let alone the house. None of them liked us and they didn’t hide their feelings about it. They tolerated us but wished we would just go away and never return. We were not the average teenagers. We were used to dealing with a mentally ill mother and an absent father. Our Mother robbed us of our childhood innocence and Grandmother robbed her of hers. All my brother and I had was each other. We went grocery shopping, cooked for ourselves and washed the dishes. We cleaned the house and made each other do our homework. We were each other’s everything. We actually liked Adele, the other “new” personality. She really seemed to like having us around. Adele liked to cook too. She would go to the grocery store and pack lunches for us. She would actually ask us how our day was. We had never had anyone do that before. None of the other ones cared about us. She would act like a real mother, like the ones that our friends had and would talk about. Our lives seemed almost normal when Adele was around. We always hated to see her go but unfortunately we never knew how long she was going to stay or when she would return. We always prayed she would come back soon. One afternoon I actually witnessed Ruth taking over Mother from Nell. I was sitting in the kitchen and I noticed the neighbor’s dog, Rocky, going number two on our lawn. I looked over at Nell, sitting in the family room, to see if she saw Rocky. Nell and the others had yelled at the neighbor a million times about the dog and I knew she would be upset if she saw him do it again. I looked at her out of the corner of my eye and that’s when Ruth emerged. Mother’s body language changed all at once. She sat up straighter and I saw her right hand grip the arm of the couch. Her fingers turned white from the force of her grip and I knew immediately what was happening. She whispered, “I’m going to kill that dog. I’m going to kill him and I’m going to enjoy it.” Her voice got louder with each word. She stood up straight, turned around and then glared at me. She met my gaze and I couldn’t move. My mouth hung agape. “What are you looking at?” she scowled. I couldn’t speak. “What are you looking at ugly girl?” spat Ruth. I pinched myself as hard as I could to bring tears to my eyes. I had to replace the fear with pain in order to speak. “I…I was looking at that nasty dog shitting on our lawn,” I stammered. Ruth liked it when I swore and used words she would use. She smirked and said, “Oh yah? Well, he’s gonna die today and we’ll be rid of him forever.” “I’m going to squeeze his throat until he’s a dead piece of smelly, old, doggie trash.” “He deserves it,” I said. Ruth liked when I agreed with her too. The words were hard for me to say but I would have said anything to keep her rage off of me and on to someone or something else. Ruth found a pack of cigarettes in a kitchen drawer. She lit one and cracked a beer open. She carried another with her for her long journey to the back yard. She called Rocky as sweetly as she could. “Come here Rocky Rocky,” you could tell the sweetness of the words curdled her blood. Rocky looked at her quizzically, wagged his tail and let out a little bark. In my head I was silently pleading with Rocky to turn around and run. He didn’t. He just kept looking at Ruth with his cute, little puppy face. You could tell he was pleased she was being nice to him and not yelling at him to get out of the yard. Ruth put her beer and smokes down on the table and sat down in a patio chair. She patted both hands on her legs to continue to draw Rocky over to her. “C’mon boy, C’mon, you little shit ball,” Ruth repeated this twice in her mockingly, sweet tone. Rocky had no chance after that. He ran straight to Ruth wagging his tail feverishly. When Rocky got within striking distance she lunged forward and grabbed his collar. She put both of her hands around the dog’s neck and sat on him, smashing his face into the pavement. She squeezed his neck harder with each second that he fought her. Her cigarette still dangled from the corner of her mouth. Rocky tried to flail his legs but it was no use. Ruth was too strong. He whimpered a bit but it didn’t take long for him to die. Ruth picked him up by the leg and went over to the pile of dog crap. She smashed his face in it and let out a victorious hoot! Tears rolled down my cheeks and my hand was covering my mouth. Ruth came back to the house dragging Rocky by the leg. His limp body bounced off the ground as she walked. I quickly removed my hand and wiped my tears before Ruth could see me. She turned around and looked at me through the sliding door, smiling an evil grin, obviously very pleased with herself. She asked me if I saw it and I gave her a thumbs-up. “Oh yah, I saw it all,” I responded trying to sound enthusiastic. I was thanking God Paul hadn’t been home to see this. After Ruth killed Rocky we had to move again. Mother was suspected of killing other neighborhood animals and the police said something needed to be done about Mother’s problem. Ruth heard them and came out swinging. It took four officers to cuff Ruth and put her into the squad car. She managed to break one of the officer’s noses before they subdued her. She spat at the officers through the window after they locked her in. She continued to scream and struggle and shout obscenities. After a few minutes she stopped altogether and turned her gaze in our direction. She leered at us through a dry spot on the window and mouthed, “I’ll be back.” I’ll never forget the ice cold, evil stare she gave us. I vowed that day to stop her. Ruth was going to kill one of us next if I didn’t kill her first. I could feel her rage escalating and I knew that there would come a time when animals no longer satisfied her thirst for blood. Mother went away that time for a whole month. When the time came for us to pick her up and bring her home, our father miraculously appeared. He took us to the Browerville Mental Hospital where Doctor Polaner greeted us and asked us to accompany him to his office. The doctor was very nervous-looking and told us he preferred to talk to us with out Mother in the room. He sat us down and told us she had something called Multiple Personality Disorder. Paul and I nudged each other when he was presenting Mother’s highly scientific diagnosis to our father. We could have told him that there were “multiples” but no one wanted to hear from us. We were just stupid kids. Doctor Polaner had met five of Mother’s personalities during her stay at the “psychological ward.” Apparently Ruth only came out once, and the doctor suffered a broken arm. She barreled into the doctor, knocked him over and pinned him down. Somehow she turned him over and twisted his arm behind his back until it snapped. They changed Mother’s medication after that and monitored her for another two weeks without incident. As usual we were unrealistically optimistic when she came home like we always were. No child likes to think of their mother as a sadistic sociopath, so we tried to believe things would be better. Our father was a traveling salesman and was almost never around. That’s how we were able to move all over and hide Mother’s illness from the outside world. Our father would come and go as he pleased and we didn’t much notice anymore. When he was home Ruth didn’t like him trying to run the show. She usually would come out when she knew he was coming home but unfortunately she didn’t always leave when he did. Eventually, one night Ruth came after our father with a butcher knife and tried to stab him. He told her she was a crazy bitch and then he ran to his car like a scared little girl. Paul and I always got a good laugh when we imitated him running away from Ruth. We had to find humor wherever we could. We never saw our father again but a check would show up every month. There was never any communication from him. No birthday cards and no letters. He didn’t give us a phone number or return address and he never asked about us and how we were doing. We were never really mad at him because we would have escaped if we had the chance too. Charlotte would dream that she and Paul had escaped Mother. Some nice family with a normal mother would adopt them and love them. The mother would be sweet and kind and the father would be home every night for dinner. They would have ice cream after dinner and watch a movie together, all of them sitting on the same couch. One day would look like the next and that would be fine with her and Paul. They would grow up together, marry and live in the same neighborhood. Their kids would play together and they would be great parents; nothing like their mother or their father. None of that was going to happen now. All of Charlotte’s dreams had been shattered on March 2nd, 1992; the day Ruth had murdered Paul. Paul fell down the staircase to the basement and broke his neck. He died instantly and Charlotte found him as she entered the door after school. She always entered by the side door, which was also the basement door. She had a bunch of books in her hand and couldn’t turn on the light. She tripped over something and she flew through the air scattering her books everywhere. The light turned on and she could see Ruth at the top of the stairs lighting a cigarette and staring down at her with an amused grin. She scrambled to get her books together and as she turned around she saw Paul’s body lying on the cold basement floor. His body was contorted at odd angles and blood was dripping out the side of his mouth. His neck was bruising and there were cuts and scrapes all over his face and hands. It was obvious he was gone. Charlotte let out a tortured scream, “No, no, no, no,” she repeated through her sobs. “No, no, no, no.” “You can’t leave me,” she wailed. “I need you.” “Please don’t leave me.” She curled up next to him on the cold cement floor and begged him to wake up. After what seemed like an hour Charlotte was done crying and now sat up and just stared at Paul. She brushed his hair back with her hand and told him it was okay to leave and she was happy he was at peace. Charlotte heard a noise and snapped her head around. Ruth was sitting at the top of the stairs lighting another cigarette. She had forgotten Ruth was even there. Reality was starting to set in and Charlotte turned around and stared back at Paul. Then she turned around and stared back at Ruth. Ruth had been watching her the whole time as she cried over Paul’s still, lifeless body. Ruth was at the top of the stairs and Paul was dead at the bottom of the stairs. Charlotte sneered at Ruth and got up off of the floor. She started to walk towards Ruth. Ruth said, “Easy there now Charlotte.” “Don’t go and do anything stupid,” Ruth sounded nervous as she looked at Charlotte. Ruth told her she had already called the police so Charlotte better pull herself together and not do or say anything stupid. “Hey, accidents happen every day, ” Ruth had gained her composure and sneered back at Charlotte. “You had better be careful cause you never know when one might happen to you.” She didn’t say a word as she walked up the stairs past Ruth. That day Charlotte started hatching her plan to kill Ruth. She didn’t know when and she didn’t know how but she would do it and she would get away with it just like Ruth had gotten away with killing Paul. They say time heals all wounds but months had gone by and Charlotte was still a wreck. She would picture Paul’s brown hair and brown eyes sparkling at her like they always had. Ruth disappeared shortly after Paul’s death and she didn’t return for a few months. Adele had showed up for a while and Charlotte soaked in all of the goodness she could while it lasted. The others were acting pretty normal. Well, as normal as multiple personalities could act I guess. Everything was calm until cash ran short and Mother had to decide between her medication or her alcohol and cigarettes. The latter won of course and Charlotte had no idea Mother was off of her meds. Ann was there lately and she was always very diligent. “Here I come gal pal,” Ruth snickered after she got the words out. Charlotte snapped to attention as she heard Ruth’s sluggish steps slowly coming up the stairs again. She had obviously downed some Cuervo when she was downstairs. Hopefully her inebriation would help Charlotte escape or better yet help her kill Ruth once and for all. Charlotte heard Ruth stop in the bedroom doorway again. Ruth gave birth to a resounding belch and was obviously very pleased with her performance. She started moving deliberately towards the closet. Charlotte silently stood upright bracing for the impending confrontation, her fists balled. She had no idea how she was going to kill Ruth let alone get out of the room, but she knew only one of them would survive. She was sure of it. Charlotte began to panic and feverishly looked around the closet again searching for a weapon. It was no use. There was nothing there she could use. She closed her eyes and screamed for help in her mind. She begged Paul to help her kill Ruth and finally escape all of the pain and torture. She needed help and she needed it now. Charlotte forgot all about being quiet and her sobs were loud enough for Ruth to hear. “Well, there you are hiding in that closet now aren’t you Charlotte?” Ruth stumbled over the edge of the bed as she slurred out the words. She sounded very pleased with herself for finding her prey. “I didn’t think you would be in there seeing you don’t have one of you hidden weapons in there,” Ruth laughed maniacally. “Oh yes you idiot. I found them all. In fact I’m going to use one of your hidden weapons on you right now!” Charlotte covered her mouth with her hands. She whimpered out loud and continued her silent plea to Paul for help. Please help me! Please help me! She’s going to kill me too. Please help me! Please help me! Ruth continued her drunken rant but Charlotte could no longer understand her words. A wave of peace washed over Charlotte and she opened her eyes. There he was. Paul was there. It was as if the outline of Paul was there and when he moved a certain way she could see the inside details of his face. He was holding his fingers to his lips motioning Charlotte to hush. She blinked her eyes in disbelief but every time she did so he still was there, smiling at her. Her heart filled with Paul’s love and she could feel it spilling all over her. Her eyes were filled with tears but she didn’t dare blink them in fear that he would be gone. He motioned for her to look up on the shelf above her head. She didn’t understand but she did as he asked her to. She didn’t see anything and she looked at him again questioningly. He smiled and motioned for her to look again. This time she reached her hand onto the shelf and that’s when she felt the cold, hard steel of the gun. She turned to look at Paul and he was smiling, shaking his head yes. Now she understood. God had answered her prayers and sent Paul to save her. She turned and reached for the gun. It was her father’s gun, a Smith and Wesson .38 Special, and they both thought he took it when he left. She turned again to look at Paul and to tell him she understood but he was no longer there. Charlotte smiled to herself and opened the cylinder. All of the chambers were full. Her father had taught her one thing and that was how to shoot a gun. She closed it and waited. Ruth threw open the closet door and began to swing the wooden bat at Charlotte.Charlotte pointed the gun towards Ruth and began to fire again and again. Ruth’s body lurched backwards with each bullet that tore through her flesh. She lay lifeless on the floor. Charlotte walked up next to her and said, “Go to Hell bitch!”
Each week authors will be given a new question to answer which will lend additional insight into their story and writing process. Do you have a question you'd like to see the authors answer? Tweet it to @aNextAuthor!