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Something Familiar

Stacy Lucas | Age: 28

Description: "This story was inspired by other stories from people I have met that have had strange experiences with rocks that they have found in their property. Some people have told me that they have had terrible nightmares, declining health, and even near death experiences after encountering strange rocks. However, the commonality if everyone's stories of "haunted" rocks seems to be that the rocks are in need if help and are not always malicious in their intent. I hoped to convey that in this story."

It was quiet and he was alone. He was alone with the blinking clock in the kitchen. He was alone with the sagging couch that still smelled like his wife. He was alone with the broken lava lamp still oozing blue liquid in his son’s room. He was alone with the rock that he did not want. Had it really only been four days since his friend had brought that rock? Had it really only been four days that he and his wife and his son had sat on that couch together? He could not remember a time before the rock. He could not recall his life before the sleepless nights and endless pounding in his skull. Every blink, every breath, every turn of his head brought the pounding. Pounding and pounding and pounding. A fist was in his skull, and he could not get it out.

Yes, it was four days ago at right around this time. What time was it? The sun had set. The crickets were blaring. It was sometime at night four days ago that his friend had called him. He was getting ready to go to bed because he had an early morning ahead of him and he wanted all the rest he could get. His cell phone went off as he was getting into bed. He groaned and muttered curses under his breath as he walked back to the parlor.

“Freddy? Freddy!” His friend’s voice came through after he pressed the call button.

“Brah, you know what time it is?”

“I know, I know, I know! Listen, Freddy, I really need your help-” Whatever he said after that was overtaken by the whooshing of the wind and the crackling of a bad connection.

“Look, just come my house tomorrow then we talk.”

“Yeah, sure, thank you! What time you –”

“I’ll call you tomorrow.” With a sigh he made his way back to his room, shaking his head and wondering how much helping his friend would cost him this time.

“Who was that?” his wife asked as he tried to go back to bed.

“Jackson said he needs my help. I told him come tomorrow.”

“I hope everything’s alright. He just lost his mom last month.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure he’s fine. Nothing to get worked up over.” He kissed his wife and wanted that to be the end of things. His body was heavy, and the bed was soft. He wanted to stay in that moment of in-between sleep, to feel himself drifting into the deep sense of safety that came as he fell to sleep, almost as if he knew that would be the last peaceful night in four days.

Jackson came by earlier than they had agreed over the phone. He was pacing back and forth on the sidewalk in front of Freddy’s house for almost forty minutes before Freddy finally came outside to wave him in.

“I told you I was having breakfast with my family. My son is back home from college.”

“Right, yeah, sorry Freddy! I just need to talk to you. I really, really need your help.” This time it seemed like Jackson was holding something back. His jaw was tense, and his face was glistening with sweat from the pacing. He was carrying a cardboard box no bigger than a microwave covered in packing tape. Freddy wanted to ask about the box, but he was getting the feeling that was the help Jackson needed. He brought Jackson around to the back porch and urged him to sit down.

“So, what is so important you have to call my phone so late and show up fucken early pacing in front my house like a chronic?”

“Shit, Freddy, I didn’t mean to piss you off.”

Freddy said nothing. He began to tap his foot impatiently as more sweat dripped from Jackson’s face. Jackson’s eyes darted back and forth, looking above him, to the side of him, behind Freddy, above Freddy, and then he finally looked Freddy directly in the eye. With a gulp, he started.

“Ok. This is hard to explain, but you gotta believe me–”

“Oh, boy. Here we go.”

“I’m serious, Freddy! Ok, so, I went to this guy’s house and worked in his yard for him. It was a big job, so I brought Chris them. We had to clear out a quarter-acre behind this guy’s place. After he paid us, I-” He paused and glanced down at the box then back up at Freddy, “I saw this rock that I liked. It wasn't very big, but it looked like it was real. I asked the guy if I could take it, and he said can.”

“When was this?”

“Last month.”

Silence fell on them. Freddy looked at his friend more closely. He saw the bags under his eyes, dirt under his nails, and the stains on his clothes. He looked at the box. The layers of tape were so thick it seemed rounder and almost crushed.

“Freddy, please take this rock from me.”

More silence. Was he being serious? Look at him, frantic and desperate. Unrecognizable. Unfamiliar. Could a rock cause a man so much grief? Grief, that was it. His mother had passed, and now he was grieving. That had to be it.

“Yeah, I can do that for you. Whatever you need.” Freddy had made a mistake.

The rock had been unveiled shortly after Jackson left. Freddy did not show his wife nor his son. He cut the box open quickly, yanking away at the layers of tape. A hiss let out as he cut through the last layer, but that could have been the wind striking through in the same moment. A rectangular standing rock sat before him. It looked about a foot tall and was covered in pores of all shapes and sizes. A glossy sheen covered the ebony rock from some sort of natural humidity it exuded. Freddy was captivated by the rock, but only for a moment.

He lugged the box across his yard to the plants that separated his property from his neighbor's. He placed the rock at the far corner and then walked back to his porch to examine his work.

"What is that rock?" his wife asked from behind him

"Jackson found it at a job. He asked me to take it."

Silence fell on them. Freddy stared at the rock trying to make out its features. The pores blurred together; he could almost see a face: the eyes looking up to the sky and the sun drawing the edges of a mouth growing wider and wider as it swallowed the midday light. It was shrieking. A ringing slowly built in Freddy’s head. His skull pulsed with the ringing as he continued to stare.

"Did you hear me?"

The ringing stopped. Freddy blinked and rubbed the back of his neck, "What?”

“You really didn’t hear a word I said?” She shook her head, crossing her arms. “Noah is only home for the weekend. We should go beach tomorrow. My sister wants to bring her kids too.”

“Yeah, and?” He still hadn’t taken his eyes off the rock.

His wife groaned, rolling her eyes as she started to go back into the house. “Your son is waiting to spend time with you before he leaves again. Whenever you’re ready.”

His son? Right. Noah. He was 22? 23? He graduated high school not too long ago. Maybe. He bummed around the house for a while until Freddy told him to go work for the fishing company all his friends’ sons worked for. Good money, lots of travel, “better than the military. Can keep your hair too if you like.” But did he care if his son would like it?

Freddy did not go into the house. He sat on the porch staring at the rock. His yard had a nice view of the mountains, and he could always go outside to watch the sunset. That day he

did not notice the sunset. The pink cotton candy clouds that reminded him of his wife’s smile made him feel nothing on that day. The birds chattering themselves to sleep in his neighbor’s mango tree that his son used to love to listen to did nothing for Freddy on that day. The pulsing in his skull resumed its beat, this time a bit quicker.

It was night and everything was quiet. Freddy sat on the end of his bed with his eyes wide and his hands clenched. His wife was asleep. Dinner had been tense. His family tried to joke with him, tried to bring up happy memories, tried to pry him open to tell them why he was so distant. Finally, they had left him alone at the table with his thoughts.

Except, Freddy wasn't thinking.

He was listening, but he wasn't hearing anything. He was looking, but he wasn't seeing anything. His head felt heavy. The throbbing was dull at first but steadily grew as he focused on it. When he finally glanced at the microwave clock, it read 4:00 AM.

Freddy lay in bed and forced himself still. Tried to relax his fists and keep his eyes shut. Sleep came over in waves as he imagined himself gracefully floating to the darkness of the deep sea. The waves tossed him gently here and there. He thought he had almost reached the bottom until he felt himself being sucked upwards quickly. He rolled and gasped for air as he felt himself crashing onto hard, wet sand. He lifted his head to see a rock sitting before him. His vision blurred and suddenly he was standing. He could make out a large hill in the distance as he tried to see across the shoreline. He blinked, and the rock was across the beach at the edge of naupaka hedges. He tried to run to the rock, but as he got closer, his vision blurred again, and the rock was standing in the thicket of a hala forest.

Freddy knew this place, but he didn't recognize it. He knew the hills and the mountains and the reefs, but something felt older. He continued to follow the rock for what seemed like miles. The rock led him to a coral road that passed through a forest of wiliwili with red leaves and seeds gliding to the ground like embers. The road was leading them to another forest of tall trees. The smell of smoke vaguely drifted from the forest, but something fragrant came wafting through in stronger gusts. Freddy stood at the edge of the forest and took a deep breath.

Is this what ʻiliahi smells like?

It started with the plants. When Freddy bolted awake that first morning, he felt compelled to race out to the yard to check on the rock. He didn't change his clothes. He didn't use the bathroom. He nearly took the door off when he rushed outside to see that all his ti plants had died overnight, leaves littering the yard. Freddy approached the rock slowly as if it were a wild animal. He was close enough to see that the ti plants closest to the rock had turned black and a rotten smell hung around them. Much to his family's dismay, he spent the rest of the day digging up the plants and watering anything that wasn't dead, and all while wearing the clothes from the day before. The sky was red when his family returned home.

“We missed you at the beach today,” his wife said as she came out to the porch.

“Yeah? I was busy.”

“Too busy to spend time with your family?”

“Where’s the beach gonna go? We can go another time. I’m busy.” He was rolling up the hose and trying to stay calm, but the sound of his wife’s voice was making his headache worse.

“Something’s wrong with you, Freddy.” She meant to sound concerned, but Freddy took her words as a challenge. “Yeah, I got a problem. Nobody helps me with the fucking yard! Look! My plants all make! You don’t care. Go beach, you say. Nevermind all the hard work it takes to keep these plants alive.”

“They were fine yesterday…”

“Nevermind that! They fucking dead today! You got eyes or what?”

“That’s enough!” Freddy’s son came out outside just then. His wife fled back into the house as his son rushed towards him. “Brah, don’t you fucking tell me ‘enough.’”

“No, you don’t talk to my mom like that.” They eyed each other out from across the porch. At that moment, Freddy realized his son was taller than him. He stared at the man before him and memories of playing in the yard with a small child that always had lots of questions flooded his mind, and then in an instant, he forgot whatever he was going to say next. The throbbing in his head returned.

“I came home to see you. I came back to show you that I can make you proud, but you hardly been around to see anything.” His son glared down at him, and Freddy started to blink at the pace of the throbbing in his head. He could not recognize his son. This was not the boy that had left, sullen and defeated, to go on a fishing boat halfway across the world.

“I’ll be impressed when you impress me.” He should not have said that.

His son threw his hands up and turned sharply back into the house. “Fuck you already!”

Freddy chased his son into the house to his room, and the shouting could be heard from the driveway in front of their house. Freddy’s wife was crying. She couldn’t stand the fighting, but it had never been this bad before. Freddy and his son traded insults and brought up every single bad memory they could think of. In frustration, they had started shoving each other in the cramped space of his son’s childhood bedroom. The lava lamp on the dresser teetered over and fell to the floor, glass shattered every which way and blue goo covered the floor around their feet. His son pushed past him and started for the front door.

“Wait, Noah, please!” Freddy’s wife shouted after his son. Noah grabbed his truck keys and said nothing to his mother. She followed him to his truck and begged him to stay. Freddy stood at the doorway of his son’s room mesmerized by the blue lava flow.

“He’s gone now,” his wife said still crying, “he went my sister’s house. I can’t believe you, Freddy. I really don’t understand you.”

Freddy said nothing. He walked past his wife as if she wasn’t there. He sat on the couch with his eyes wide and his fists clenched. The crickets began their calls as the sky turned from red to black. He did not notice that he was alone.

The dreams came every night. Every night it was the same dream. Floating in the ocean, washed up ashore, follow the rock through the forests, smell the smoke and ʻiliahi. Wake up. More of his plants died. On the second day he noticed that his grass had completely died, and as the day went on, the dirt in his yard started to change color. The rich, dark brown it had been was turning more and more red as the grass continued to die. White veins of dead grass stretched across his yard towards the rock. He watered despite this. He did not notice that his wife had not come to bed. By the third day, he could not even recall that he had a wife. All he could remember were the dreams. All he could think about was the pounding, throbbing, expanding brain in his skull.

On the third day, there was also blood. The yard had completely oxidized and red dust blew into his house, staining the carpet and couch. Freddy had awoken as he did the previous

days, bolt upright and gasping for air. He rushed outside to the porch to survey his yard. Thin sticks lined the yard where the ti plants used to be. They had lost all of their leaves and most of them had shriveled up to nothing. Freddy began his watering, first with the dead, rotting plants in the pots around the yard, and watering the barren and dry earth last. He stared at the rock while he watered. He stared deep into its pores. Everyday he watched and watched as the pores moved on their own to form eyes and a mouth. The ringing would start when he stared into the mouth, almost as if he should look away. The feeling grew on the third day, the feeling that he should look away, but he was stubborn. The ringing built in his head and sweat began to rain down his face. He could not even bring himself to blink as the sweat continued to drip into his eyes. Or was he crying? He felt a coldness rush down from his head out of his nose. When he finally blinked, he was sitting at the kitchen table, shirt covered in blood, and the microwave clock read 4:00 AM.

Now it was the fourth day. He could not remember getting out of bed. He could not remember why there were so many rooms, so many doors, so much furniture. There was only him and the rock and the pounding in his head. There was only inside and outside. There was only daytime and nighttime. On this day, he struggled to walk to the porch. The fist in his head was digging its knuckles into his brain. He thought there must be something trapped in his skull, or eating his flesh, or growing in his brain. The knuckles rolled around and pressed deeper into his flesh sending waves of heat and pain down his spine. He opened the door to the porch, but the hot air blowing through made him dizzy. He made his way to the couch and sat where he had always sat. The knuckles had stopped moving and kept themselves kneading into the back of his head rather than all over. He looked at the stains on the couch and saw two indentations. He stared, leaning down to examine them. He caught the smell of ginger perfume and remembered he had a wife. He remembered his son, and that he was supposed to be coming to visit them.

Why aren’t they here?

The breeze came through again, something fragrant catching his attention. Something familiar, something from a dream. He remembered that his wife had told him something about ʻiliahi. Something from a long time ago about fires and forests. He tried to recall when his wife told him that, but as he thought more of her, the knuckles started to dig deeper and deeper until he couldn’t think of anything else.

It was quiet, and he was alone. He looked outside to his yard and saw that the sky was turning pink knowing that soon the red sky would come; and then the nighttime would come, and he would have to endure the dreams again. He willed himself off the couch with one last look at the dips on the couch where his wife and son had sat and made his way to the porch. He stared across at the rock, this time trying not to focus on the pores so that the shrieking face would not enter his mind again. He stared at the rock until the sky had turned from pink to red.

I know what you want.

He dragged himself across his yard and picked up the rock. It seemed to weigh heavier than he remembered, but he could not trust his memory. He tried to think of the dream, the road and where he had walked. He lugged the rock into the passenger seat of his truck and left his house. He flew down the hill and onto the freeway driving straight into the sunset.

Time to go home.

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