The first time Annabelle’s son overdosed, there had been an outpouring of support. For her. For him. A community.
The first time Annabelle’s son went to rehab, there had been check-in texts, casseroles dropped at the door, stories of recovery and hope.
The first time Annabelle’s son relapsed, there were friends clucking maternal platitudes, invitations to go to Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, and whatever other hyphenated groups were out there.
This support continued for a while. But her son’s continued relapses burned it away until it evaporated into the cold, dark space of reality and froze into advice.
“You have to let him go.”
“You have to let God handle this.”
“You have to take care of yourself first.”
“Has he tried crystal healing yet? Have you?”
“Jesus Christ, Annie, just kick the little shit out of the house already.”
But even that evaporated. What more was there to say? What more was there to do? The casseroles would have overloaded the fridge at a certain point if her friends had continued to make them.
She didn’t see her friends much these days. Work was part of it. The call center had relegated her to the no-man’s land 11-7 shift after one too many FMLA requests (not that HR would ever admit that was the reason). But even if that hadn’t happened, it would have been the questions, the pregnant silences, the knowing looks, the whispers behind smiles behind hands behind backs…
It was just her and her son now. Against the world. Against the addiction invading his head and heart.
He often screamed in his sleep, so she didn’t think much of the howling that started one night and continued night after night, always at 1:44 am.
He often ripped his bedclothes, stained them with sweat and puke and blood and other fluids she pretended not to know about, so she didn’t think much of it when the holes grew bigger, when the stains grew darker and dirtier.
He often disappeared, sometimes for days at a time, despite her best efforts to keep him in the house. But he was an adult, after all. A poorly functioning one by any definition of the term, but an adult. She couldn’t abduct him and lock him in like a prisoner.
“Your son still needs some agency,” the psychiatrist had said after all. “He still needs privacy. You need to respect that. This is his journey, his burden. Not yours. Don’t try to control him. Just love him.”
Sometimes, he locked himself in his room, often for days at a time. And she gritted her teeth, shoved plates of sandwiches under the door, and did a verbal check-in to make sure he was still alive. She kept the key to his room around her neck, as much of a talisman as a practical tool. That was the agreement she had with him: If you’re home, if you’re alive, you answer. If you don’t answer, Momma’s coming in with the key.
There were days he didn’t answer. Days when she unlocked the door expecting to find him unresponsive on the floor like she had two years before, long past three sheets to the wind, but four sheets, five sheets to becoming a ghost. She expected it every time. But so far, she had found him merely sleeping or else gone altogether, having slipped out the window.
She didn’t try to stop him from using anymore – all the anon groups and therapy had taught her to stop tearing through his room like a raccoon in a dumpster. She had taken their advice but stopped short of kicking him out of the house. She couldn’t bring herself to do that. Not yet. Using or not, disappearing or not, locked door or not, not yet.
So she didn’t think much of it when his disappearances and his locked-door periods grew longer.
It was gradual.
The deepening of the nighttime howls, all at 1:44 am.
The worsening state of the sheets on the occasions he was out, and she was able to change them. The disappearances. The shut-ins.
She should have noticed, the neighbors and friends would all sigh and tut-tut later. Should have noticed the signs. But she was like…what was that animal? A frog. Yes, a frog. Boiling water and all that.
But surely, surely she should have noticed the fur, right?
They had a cat, didn’t they?
But what about the blood?
Blood is normal in users like that. You remember seeing his arms? All those track marks? The abscesses?
But Annabelle didn’t notice. Her son came and went outside as frequently as their cat. And when the cat didn’t come home one day and Annabelle tacked up posters around town and asked neighbors and made the mistake of posting to the town Facebook group where she was berated as a “dumb bitch” and a “terrible cat owner” who was likely responsible for her cat’s death, she found herself slamming the keys in self-righteous responses while privately crying her guilt in agreement that Onion Ring had likely succumbed to one of the normal accidents that befall felis catus who are allowed to roam the outside world.
And all the while, she distracted herself with her own mood-altering substances. Endless scrolling on her phone. Matching brightly colored candy pieces. Listening to jazz records because she liked them and her son hated them, and part of her was still angry with him, so, so angry, even though the therapist told her not to be. Watching faux outraged baking contestants competing to make giant dragons out of spun sugar. Reading books with poorly photoshopped covers of naked torsos in the rain about men (and the occasional woman) pleasuring their lovers in a way she knew she had never felt nor ever would feel.
Doing all the things to distract her from the memories of the before times.
“Look at me, Momma! I’m an astronaut!”
He had wanted to be an astronaut, remember?
No, don’t remember.
Wanted to see the moon and become the first man on Mars. Wanted to get high even then huh?
Wanted to learn all about space and time and neutron starts and black holes. Wanted to see what was inside a black hole. He found the inside of a different kind of void, didn’t he?
Swipe the candy. Shut up. Listen to that smooth, smooth sax. Shut up. Look – Martha fucked up the fondant again – how are the Sugar Babies ever going to get to the final four at this rate? Shut up. Her finger tips glimmered over his glistening torso, tracing ab lines cut as deep as the Grand Canyon. Shut up.
And so she didn’t see what was happening to her son.
Not at first.
It was a Tuesday.
Because these things always happen on Tuesdays in autumn and at night, don’t they? Nothing ever happens on a lazy Sunday summer day.
Annabelle had fallen asleep on the couch in front of the TV after an interminable day training new hires. One had quit before lunchtime, after a customer told him to put his dick in the Foreman Grill; she decided to return because it wasn’t in the color she ordered (even though Annabelle and the new hire checked, and it was exactly in the color she ordered). The howl woke her, wailing like a siren’s call.
She looked at her phone.
She had napped again and now she would be bright and alert and unable to sleep until an hour before she was due to get up.
The howl roared through the house again.
For the first time, a prickle of fear inched its way up her neck. Had her son ever sounded like this before? This…alien? It sounded different down here, just feet from his bedroom, than it did up on the third floor where she slept. Was it just the distance that made it sound different? Or was it different?
Hadn’t she noted that time for one of the last howls and maybe even another one before that? Normally, she was too groggy to bother checking the time, but this stood out to her now.
Growls now. Snarls. Tearing. Shredding. The noises of beasts.
He must be on something new, she thought. Something terrible.
Usually, his drugs of choice made him calm, sent him into a quiet stupor. Perhaps something was laced?
“Ethan?” she called. She stood from the couch, blanket shrugging off her shoulders behind her.
A guttural cry. More ripping sounds.
She crept toward the door, sweating. Why was she so afraid? This was her son, after all. Ethan. There shouldn’t be anything scary about him at all.
Of course, there had been those times when he had rifled through her purse, flipping out all her belongings like a pig rooting for truffles until he got to her wallet.
Of course, there had been those times when he had torn through all the boxes in the attic, looking for his grandmother’s silver candlesticks to pawn for cash.
Of course, there had been those times when his feral eyes had rolled at her, bloodshot, desperate with withdrawal, and he had seized her shoulders, begging for money.
But he had never been dangerous. Never tried to hurt her. He had stolen from her yes, broken her heart, trampled on her trust, but never hurt her. He loved her. Perhaps he loved the drugs more, but he loved her.
And she loved him.
So why was she so afraid?
Her hand trembled on the doorknob. Locked, of course.
The key. She pulled it off her neck, clammy hands slipping as she fit it into the lock.
She swallowed and crossed herself. She hadn’t believed in a very long time, but it couldn’t hurt. Whatever it was on the other side of this door, she could use help with.
The door opened.
Her son was gone.
There was only a beast. Crouched on the bed, shadowed by lamplight. Thick-furred, wounds and abscesses pitting its hollow frame. Fangs black and red, eyes like pits. Black. Large. An alien’s eyes. They drew her into orbit like a planet.
A black hole.
Twin black holes.
Ethan loved black holes, remember? Loved space and time and all those things. Wanted to get so, so high! High up in space, past all the stars, right to the center of the galaxy where scientists say there is a supermassive black hole. And there’s that special line you have to cross, remember?
You remember. You’re crossing it now.
The Event Horizon.
Once you go beyond it, there is no going back. Time slows down. Or does it speed up? Or does it do both? But at some point the gravity consumes you, stretches you, destroys you. Presumably. No one has ever gone into a black hole had they?
Event. A momentous occasion.
Horizon. The edge of the world.
That was what those eyes said to her.
I am the Event Horizon. For you. For your son. There is no turning back. There is no therapy or rehab or clinic or NARCAN or anything strong enough to stop this. You have passed the edge, and there is nothing but black on the other side.
The beast opened its jaws and howled. Screamed. Wailed.
She howled. Screamed. Wailed. Right back.
“What have you done with my son?”
But she knew the answer to that already.
She sprinted to him, tried to pry his raging arms away from himself, but he pushed her away, a claw scratching a vicious red line down her forearm. She hit her back against his closet, dropped to the floor, holding her arm, dripping blood, vibrating with terror as the beast consumed itself, teeth tearing at its wounds, making them bigger. It tore and tore and tore, blood spraying out from each bite, and it screamed and screamed and screamed even as it kept going. Inexorable. Like time. Like gravity. Like…
Don’t say it.
She stood and reached out her hands, in help or supplication, she did not know. But again, the beast that was her son knocked her back, tearing another gash, this time across her chest.
She closed her eyes.
It couldn’t stop.
She could hear it until there was nothing left to hear anymore.
And all was silent.