Warning: this story contains graphic language, violence, and explicit content.

"I never thought I would return

To be consumed by you again

Think you're cured, you'd see it come:

The folly of a monster love like you."

- Monster Love, Goldfrapp


Alma thought about her mother at night and the story she used to tell about a young boy on the cusp of death and the deal he made with the ghost stealing breath from him as he slept.

When he died, he wanted his memories erased to keep him from lingering around his loved ones. In death, he roamed the world stealing the life from sleeping bodies to preserve his earthly state, until one day, he found his way back home and killed his family – mother, father, brother, and younger twin sisters.

Alma still held her breath when passing cemeteries, and the image of her dead relatives hovering over her as she slept scared her for years. More unsettling was the image of her own mother.

But the point of the story was that home, or the idea of it, was something precious: to be cherished like a fond memory immortalized into brick, wood, or stone where love was bred and nourished. The point was that people always found their way back home and – even in death – struggled with letting go and turning people into memories.

With the premature conception of Alma, the responsibility of another life sobered the young mother's spirit, and she left home to build a new one so closely following the death of her own father. Her world felt smaller, ephemeral, as thin and delicate as rice paper, but death did that to people: turned them afraid of that which once mystified them. Her charming nonchalance adapted into steadfast prudence, and she ensured Alma practiced caution in her life, regardless of time, place, or company: every experienced carried with it a lesson.

And she told her stories, those disquieting stories, to prove how man and monster were not so different, how fear and courage could not exist without the other, and death was as much a part of life as living. Only later did Alma realize she had been taught to guard herself against that which she could not touch, or control.

The prospect of college only lengthened the number of lessons.

The ridiculous incidents of campus life as told by her childless and unburdened friends fueled her insistence, and her stories evolved into horror movies and cautionary tales years later when Alma started high school, a far cry from the esoteric stories she heard as a child. But three rules remained constant: never take a drink made by someone else, listen to the brain before trusting a heart, and never be outside alone at night, and as Alma unlocked her bike outside the lecture hall under a full moon and flickering lamppost, the dark did not scare her.

Her mother died four years ago, mugged and shot midday in front of a grocery store.

The lesson learned was that there were greater things to fear than the nighttime, than strange drinks and poor judgment calls, than death and memories, and from that truth, she discovered the infallible loophole to her mother's paranoia. Alma was not fearless, but she was smart, and – even on a cruiser – more than capable of a hasty getaway.

No, the dark did not scare her.

Another cruiser occupied her bike slot outside her off-campus apartment, and while none of them were assigned to anyone in the complex, the luxury of parking in the same place every day structured her life in a way on which she relied as the years passed. She collected her bag over her shoulder, laden with more rented library books as finals approached, and searched for her keys.

Alma bumped into someone at the base of the stairs.

"Oh. Sorry."

Friends and family insisted her education preoccupied too much of her time for her to notice the seasons change, or any variant as a result of a demanding schedule, and she endured her fair share of oblivion because of it, so she shrugged off her inattention until the moment the stranger smelled her.

The shadow cast by the porch light sharpened his stature, and his hood eliminated all aspects that constituted a face; he stood there with his arms hanging at his sides, like a puppet waiting for the stage. His apparent presence crept and slinked over her skin, and when she moved to scale the staircase, his head jerked toward her, and again he breathed her in like the ghosts of her childhood.

She sprinted up the stairs, straining her unexercised lungs, only looking back when she reached the top.


She surveyed the immediate surrounding, with its abundance of shadows and bushes, as she found her keys and pushed herself into the apartment. She stared out the peephole expecting to see him – assuming, by the build of his silhouette – standing on the other side, but met with only an empty porch, she locked the door.

As experience turned into memory, she tried to recall the height of her neighbors, thinking maybe she mistook the stranger for one of them; while nothing more than acquaintances and peers, they exchanged pleasantries and spoke of the cruel labors of student life: the great equalizer of collegiate conversation, but for one of them to stand there with no words, with no purpose other than that of threat, seemed too out of character for any of them.

All three roommates stared at Alma when she turned around.

She said, "Some guy was downstairs just standing there."

As the words left her and she heard them aloud, she felt silly for assuming the worst, despite the experience fitting into the lengthening strange column of her life, particularly in the past month.

"What did he look like?" Diana asked.

"It was dark. He was wearing a hoodie."

"He could just be taking a break."

"Clear night, for once – he might be enjoying it."

"Maybe he was having a smoke."

Any of the scenarios could have been true, and for as unnerving as the encounter was, she realized her imagination got the best of her. She should have said nothing, or lied.

"Right . . . maybe."

"It was probably Rory. He does weird shit when he gets high," Diana said, peeking out the blinds of the kitchen window. "I can ask him about it tomorrow. I'm sure it's nothing."

I'm sure it's nothing.

That was the doctor's initial statement to her parents before they diagnosed Alma with acute insomnia. The planned trip to Disneyland for her 4th birthday was cancelled so that the doctors could conduct their tests to determine what kept the young child from sleeping, but no CAT scan or MRI argued anything was physiologically wrong. When the doctors, nurses, or her parents asked for a reason, all she could say was that something kept her awake, but at that age, she didn't understand the difference between something and someone.

Desperate and afraid, her mother cried as she tried putting Alma to bed, begging the child to tell her what was wrong, what it was that kept her from sleep. Only then did Alma point to her mirror: something in the mirror, she said – the man in the mirror, and months later, in a last ditch, frantic effort to solve the problem, her mother got rid of the very heavy and ornate mirror that hung on the wall, and – just like that – Alma was able to sleep again.

The presence at the base of the stairs, one familiar to the kind she experienced as a child, spiked a searing coldness at her core leaving her unsettled and anxious, not unlike an onslaught of the shivers, and Alma disappeared into the bedroom she shared with Liz, securing the two windows shut and pulling the drapes closed.

The hooded figure haunted the very little reading she managed to accomplish.

She secured her earbuds before bed and recalled the nights she required pure silence to fall asleep. Now, silence kept her awake. Small things, much like silence and bike slots, were just the beginning of her healing. In her college admissions essay, she compared the loss of her mother to a black hole into which her entire life – everything constituting who she was, what she believed, how she lived – disappeared, and in order to gain back some semblance of herself, she needed to study psychology. She never again saw that lost version of herself, and a mirror image grew in its absence, one that looked and felt familiar but retained nothing of the original, as if death transformed her as it did her mother.

Sweat prickled at her hairline and heat radiated around her, swallowing her into a womb made of fire. She tried but could not open her eyes; she was so tired and her body so heavy, burdened by the warmth enveloping her. Fingers of wind caressed at her skin, from the arches of her feet to the pulse in her neck. The symbiosis of her body and that which encased her synced heartbeats, and the seductive creation of their unifying force converged into a pooling warmth between her thighs, harmonizing each joint, every contour and curve, all the secret parts of her.

Burning and soft, a hand ran down the length of her side, and the shallow scrape of nails provoked the tiny hairs of her body to stand on end. A faceless mouth blew cold breath against the inside of her knee, washing over her skin in a cascade, surging like break waves, and as that torturous breath ascended her body, the hand moved up the inside of her quivering leg, her abdomen contracting in anticipation of its touch. Two fingers slid inside her, and she let out a bated sigh that reverberated in the space between her ears. The fingers danced, lithe and meticulous, forming melodies with her pants, a percussion to match the hastened rhythm. Her hips jerked against the motions, her body working in opposition to achieve fruition.

Controlled breath moved closer to her face, and just as a pair of lips met her eager and open mouth, they pulled away.

"I found you."

Her eyes opened and the hooded figure hovered over her.

Alma jerked awake with a sharp gasp, as if resurfacing from near drowning.

Blood rushed to her head, throbbing at her temples, morning light flooding into the bedroom and burning her vision. The curtains fluttered in the breeze of the opened window. Swallowing her cottonmouth, she noted the wetness between her legs, and she looked over to see Liz still sleeping, cooling her powerful blush. She reached for her phone just as the alarm switched on and put it on snooze.

She rubbed her hands over her clammy face, feeling that her earbuds had fallen out during the night – a night not long enough. She pulled the cord out from under her, but it was no longer attached to her iPod; she searched her bed and even got onto her hands and knees to see if it had fallen underneath, behind, or in between.

"Mal, turn off your alarm!"

"Sorry, Liz . . ."

Blowing hair out of her face, she gave up on her search, too frazzled to add frustration to her emotional repertoire for something lost in her sheets. The dream consumed her thoughts as she gathered up a change of clothes, having to go back into the bedroom twice for forgotten items before she could lock herself in the bathroom, relieved to wash away the night.

Her mind refused to dismiss it with such ease, and she wrapped a finger around the silver chain of the necklace she wore: her mother's necklace – the same one she had on when she died.

The dreams she had been having – walking alone on a snowy beach before a stone mansion, someone standing in the topmost right window, hearing only her heavy breathing – was metaphoric at best, but this one was real . . . too real.

Alma thought of the little boy and the ghost, of her dead mother, and wondered if it was easier to run from monsters, or live with them?

Welcome, readers, to Carriers – Follies rewritten.

When I first wrote this chapter six years ago, I had no idea where it was going, what I was doing, or why I wanted to tell this story. There will be plenty of changes to the original and already a weight has been lifted editing this chapter because I can now read it without throwing up in my mouth.

Happy reading, and please review!