Author: Ken Carlson

I was scrambling around my apartment for my shoes. How does anyone lose his only decent shoes in a suburban studio apartment? That’s what Deanna would have asked before she walked out. How does anyone lose his shoes, lose his keys, lose his job, just lose all the time?

I tried to dress up a bit for Kelli. Kelli wouldn’t have cared. When you tell your sister you’re picking her up for dinner, you want to look nice. When your sister has to be signed out of her sanitarium for what might be her only time past the security gate in the next couple of months, well, I’m not sure how you want to look. In my car, I sped up to make up time.

Kelli’s my big sister. My parents weren’t much for reading bedtime stories or attending grade school band concerts. Kelli always made sure I had a good breakfast, and that my homework was done. When our folks died, she transferred home from college and did even more. I repaid her by going nowhere in my life and standing idly by while the State locked her up.

One morning she was driving into Pittsburgh for work; managing reading programs for underprivileged special needs kids around the city; a job she loved. That night state troopers found her wandering by the side of I-376; bruises and cuts all over her body; a stab wound in her thigh; wearing strange tattered clothes; filthy; malnourished from a drop of 30 pounds.

Doctors at the hospital wouldn’t believe me, or her frantic co-workers, when we argued this wasn’t Kelli’s regular state, a battered vagrant. She was Kelli McDonald, dammit! She had been fine yesterday; healthy, active, a leader in everything she did. The physical and emotional damage could have been attributed to an attack, but the layers of filth and decay to her body over the course of 24 hours was impossible. Her fingerprints proved it was her, but the rest…

Every time I visited Kelli, I could find bits and pieces of her trying to surface. As they wheeled her out to the lobby, her face showed elements of recognition, but not in a happy way.

I helped her into our parents’ Chevy and we drove past the trappings of which we’d been accustomed; the Eat n’Park we could only afford on special occasions, the Waffle House, cozily grubby for over sixty years.

She rarely spoke at all when we went out. To mix things I thought I would take her into the city, maybe drive past the ballpark and stadium. The radio was playing classic rock and I sprinkled in remarks about what we were doing when a song was a hit to try to get some reaction. Nothing.

We turned onto the highway toward the Fort Pitt Tunnel. Kelli shook her head slightly, focused her stare, and gave almost a wry smile.

“You think you’re ready for this?” she asked.

That was the longest sentence I’d heard from my sister in two years. I almost lost control of the car.

“Sh-sh,” Kelli said, “They’ll be here soon enough, and I’ll try to help you any way I can.”

As we headed into the tunnel, I was bewildered, mumbling questions. She spoke in a low, calm tone. “Just stay close. When we get out of the car, grab what you can from the trunk; a tire iron, maybe.”

Kelli’s eyes were dark and alert. She held her fists tight and whispered, “Watch out for their tentacles, swing as hard as you can, and go for the eyes.”