William Falo – The Anti-Lullaby

William Falo writes fiction. His work has appeared in Newfound, The Ginger Collect, Soft Cartel, Fictive Dream, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and other literary journals. Twitter @williamfalo


The Anti-Lullaby

By William Falo

I watched the tourists line up at the entrance of the castle waiting for their chance to see and feel the horrors of the past with a chance to see a ghost. I knew they would see nothing, the only horror here was the amount of money they took from the people for the souvenirs of Dracula, who never even set foot here. I would soon learn the real terror was not in the castle, but it could be anywhere and inside anyone.

I walked so softly, people said I was a ghost, but when you walk like a ghost you catch people doing or saying things that they didn’t want you to see or hear.

I approached the employee break room, after taking a tour through the castle. I did take a tip, and laughed when a child asked if I lived here. It must be because of my black clothes.

I gave that small girl a black ribbon I wore and she did a little dance. I smiled.

I stopped outside the door when I heard laughter and I leaned against some black

curtains. I blended in and listened, maybe I should have just gone in, but I didn’t. I thought I was so tough that nothing could hurt me. I was wrong.

The voices filled the old halls like demons from the past.

“I can’t stand Anca. She’s always dressing in black, probably to get more tips.”

“I think she’s bulimic. I heard her throwing up in the bathroom.” I did, sometimes I do that, but I’m not bulimic.

“She is so anti-social. She thinks she is better than us.” I heard a few grunts agreeing with that statement.

“I hate her. I wish she would quit. She makes us look bad.” How did I do that?

“I think she came from an orphanage.” I gasped.

“I heard that someone bought her. A trafficker.”

“A sex trafficker?”

“Yes, but nobody wanted her, so they were forced to keep her.” I was too stunned to react and the fact that I thought it could be possible hurt.

I am tough. I carry a knife and I don’t back down to anyone, but the words got through my outer shell and pierced my heart. I slumped against the wall. A tear threatened to drop. That never happened before. Was I adopted? I often felt strange with my parents, like I didn’t belong and I didn’t resemble them at all.

I couldn’t handle it all and ran through the huge halls, past the rooms that ghosts were supposed to roam and the stairway that led to the dungeon where the guides tell gullible tourists many men died. I flew past the walls with red stains that are said to be blood.

Outside, the tourists stared at me as I ran past them.

Someone yelled out. “Look at her. She must have seen a monster.”

I stopped and turned. “No, I didn’t. The monsters are on the outside. They are everywhere.” I waved my arms at all of them.

I kept going and backed my electric scooter out of the garage and gunned it down the path until I reached the Transylvanian woods. I took the backroads to avoid seeing anyone, I couldn’t go straight home and face my parents. We’re they my parents?

At night, when I lay in bed, I often felt like I didn’t belong there. My father was often gone on long business trips. He said sales trips. I didn’t know what he sold, maybe girls. The thought made me shiver. My mother burned candles in the dark and always seemed distant, she claimed to talk to spirits of the dead. I struggled to keep away the thought it could be children she trafficked away that didn’t survive. What was I thinking?

The scooter hummed on like a beehive filled with angry bees. The backroads became dirt trails once used by people hiding from the communist government during the eighties. Many of them hid in caves around here. I sped on despite the dangerous curves and loose dirt causing the wheels to lose their grip on the trail. My mind was still filled with dark thoughts and images.

Suddenly, a large animal burst through the woods. It might have been a stray dog or a wolf. I couldn’t stop, but I turned the bike sideways and the tires slid in the dirt with me hanging on to if for far too long. It finally stopped against a tree and then the pain came and I yelled out.

The animal that ran out on the trail was long gone. After my scream, the woods became silent. My long pants saved me from any major cuts and despite never wearing a helmet, my head stayed off the ground long enough in the slide to not hit the ground with enough force to cause any major injury.

The scooter wasn’t so lucky, the wheel was bent and the handle bars broke in two and in these woods there was no cell reception. I was on foot. I saw a small game trail going through the woods, the same one the animal used to cross the road.

I followed it deeper into the woods in the general direction of my house, still not sure what I would do when I got there. It seemed to go on forever and my legs ached from the crash.

After an hour, I saw another path that led toward a hunter’s cabin. I needed a break and pulled my knife out and headed toward it. The door wouldn’t budge, but I heard a whimper and shoved it open. A scream came from the corner where a girl crouched down. She was tied to an old portable heater.

          “It’s okay,” I said and walked toward her.

           “Help me.” She begged. Her brown wavy hair dangled in her eyes. I could still see the terror making her brown eyes look large and alert.

           “It’s okay.” I used my knife to cut the ropes. “Who did this?”

           “Traffickers in my village. They promised me a job in the United Kingdom, but brought me here. They are going to sell me.”

           “When? Where are they?”

           “I don’t know.” She rubbed her wrists and hugged me.

           “I’m Anca. What’s your name?”

           “Nicoleta.”

Outside every noise became a threat. Wolves, bears, traffickers, and darkness came closer. I had to get her out of here. I led her back to the other path. We walked until we reached a crossing.

           “My town is close.” She pointed west.

“Okay.” We went that direction for an hour and I saw the small town. Much smaller than mine. Nicoleta smiled and ran to a house on a small street.

           I waited outside on a dried-up fountain with an angel in the middle of it. Cracks ran along the angel’s body and one wing was missing. I watched a horse and cart go by taking vegetables to a market. The horse glanced at me then neighed and continued on its way while an old man shook its reins. I thought of asking for a lift on the cart, but Nicoleta came toward me with a man.

           “This is my brother, Viktor.”

I backed up when he reached out for me. Maybe he thought I took his sister, but he grasped me and lifted me off the ground with a bear hug.

           “Okay.” I struggled to get free of his embrace.

           “You saved her.”

           “It was nothing.” I wanted to find my home before dark, but it was a long trip.

“You must come inside for some food and drink.” Viktor grabbed my arm and led me inside.

           “What about the police?”

           “We called them. We do have a picture of the kidnappers. We made them take it before they left as a memory of Nicoleta.”

           He pulled it out. I stared at it and my mind broke. I staggered backwards. “It can’t be.”

           “What?” Nicoleta was washing herself down with a cloth. She told me only her brother and her lived here. Her parents left them a long time ago for some job in another country which is why she tried to do the same thing.

           “I…” My mouth froze.

           “You know them?”

           “My parents. Maybe not my parents.”

            I slumped against the wall. The words from the castle workers came back to haunt me. Traffickers. Tried to sell me. Nobody wanted me. The orphan nobody wanted. The business trips by my father. What did he sell? Or who did he sell? The memorial of candles by my mother for missing people or children.

           I blacked out. When I woke up a woman police officer was sitting across from me.

           She saw me wake up and came closer.

“How are you feeling?”

“Okay. What happened?”

“I have bad news. Your parent’s house was burnt down, apparently by an unattended

candle.”

           “They’re dead?”

“No, missing. We have alerts out for them at all the border crossings.”

           “Are they really my parents?”

           “I don’t know, but it appears they could have sold girls from surrounding villages to other traffickers. You saved Nicoleta from being one of them. You’re a hero.”

           “No, I’m not. I’m nothing.”

           Nicoleta stepped forward. “You saved my life. You can stay with us now.”

Viktor nodded and they both hugged me. Where else could I go?

           They accepted me into their house, but I couldn’t accept the past, present, or future. I searched through the burned-out house and found some pictures that survived the fire. Their edges were burnt, but I could make out some of the faces. I recognized some as cousins, friends’ children, or other children they knew, or so they told me. None of it was true. I kept the pictures and returned to my new home.

I could barely eat. I still threw up a lot. Viktor bought me a new electric scooter and I flew through the woods. I still didn’t wear a helmet. Maybe I wanted to die, maybe the answers were there in another place. A fire inside me was still burning and I couldn’t sleep. The faces came to me in the quiet moments at night, like an anti-lullaby. I searched every path in the woods hoping one day to find the missing or the monsters like my so-called parents. I always brought the knife with me. I lived for the danger, because it made me feel alive.

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