“I’ll bet Silas is one of the smartest boys you ever met, isn’t he?”

“Yes, Mrs. Porter,” Natalie answered quickly, not missing a beat. She knew the answer to the question, and knew she better say it without hesitation.

Mrs. Porter smiled affectionately across the table at Natalie and stirred her coffee slowly. She had recently taken to drinking it black, but always mixed in a few drops of vanilla extract, just to sweeten it up a bit. She brought the porcelain mug to her nose, checking to see if it had cooled, and took a sip. “Are you sure I can’t make you a cup?”

“No, thank you, Mrs. Porter.”

Mrs. Porter nodded. “You’re a pretty girl. I’ll bet you don’t want to stain those pearly-whites of yours.”

Natalie sat silently, her palms resting flat against the arms of her chair. The chair was old and made a strained squeaking noise when she moved, causing Natalie to fear the legs might give out—despite the fact she only weighed 120 pounds—leaving her sprawled on the floor in a mess of broken wood and red velvet. What would Mrs. Porter do then? How would she react?

“You seem tense, dear,” Mrs. Porter chimed, glancing at Natalie’s white knuckles. “Are you uncomfortable?”

Natalie’s voice cracked as she replied, “No, ma’am.”

Mrs. Porter flashed a knowing smile at Natalie and wagged her long index finger back and forth. Silas’s mother had always been so loving, so kind. Natalie remembered this from the countless times she had showed up at school, cheering on the basketball team, though Silas hadn’t made the cut, selling home-baked banana bread at a fundraiser for the debate team, despite the fact Silas had been forced to resign because of his social anxiety. The list could go on, but Natalie tried to shake the memories of Silas from her mind.

“I can always tell when you’re lying to me, sweetie,” Mrs. Porter said in a way that sounded like more of a threat than a kind sentiment. “A mother always knows.”

Natalie shook her head and forced herself to remove her hands from the chair’s arms, choosing to instead cross them over her chest, trying as hard as she could to appear more comfortable. She crossed one leg over the other and adjusted her skirt, pulling it down as close to her knees as she could.

“That’s much better, darling,” Mrs. Porter said, soft and kind once again.

Mrs. Porter stood from her chair, dropping her spoon into the coffee mug with a distracting clatter. She craned her neck towards the spiral staircase on the opposite end of the room and said with a huff, “I don’t know what’s taking that boy song long! I should go up and check on him.”

Natalie’s eyes widened and she could feel sweat building in her palms. “Mrs. Porter!” she nearly shouted as the woman strode towards the stairs.

“Yes, dear?”

“I know I turned down your coffee, but would you mind getting me a glass of water while we wait? My mouth is just so dry,” Natalie stammered, adding, “Nerves, I think.”

Mrs. Porter placed her hands on her hips—she wore a floral print Bouffant dress June Cleaver would be jealous of—and let out one of the most forced laughs Natalie had ever heard.

“Of course, sweetie! Why didn’t you ask earlier?”

“I just didn’t want to impose.”

“Of course you didn’t.”

Mrs. Porter made her way towards the kitchen, her clunky heels echoing down the hall to the point it sounded as if she was stomping on the hardwood floors the entire way. Natalie heard her pause, and the sound of her heels changed as she stepped onto the linoleum of the kitchen floor.

This was her chance. If Natalie was going to make her escape, it had to be now, while Mrs. Porter was on the opposite end of the house.

Natalie stood from the chair and walked as quickly as she could toward the front door, not realizing at first that her shoes, though not as loud as Mrs. Porters, also made echoing noises on the house’s floors. It was an old house, and it seemed as if every little movement caused some kind of creak or moan.

“Is everything okay in there?” Mrs. Porter called from the kitchen. She had definitely heard Natalie’s footsteps.

She froze in her tracks, looking around for any kind of excuse for having moved across the room. She couldn’t use the bathroom as an out this time; she had already tried that once and had found the small window above the shower sealed shut.

Glancing at a giant trophy case in the corner of the room, Natalie shouted, probably a little too loudly, “Yes! I was just admiring all of Silas’s awards!”

“Oh, Silas is so proud of his trophies and ribbons! I’ll tell you all about them in just a sec, okay?”

Natalie could hear Mrs. Porter once again walking across the kitchen, meaning she would be on her way down the hallway and back into the living room in only seconds. Without giving it a second thought, Natalie tore her sandals off, leaving them next to the trophy case as she bolted toward the door. She jiggled the old brass handle, but the door wouldn’t budge. She tried quietly at first, but after realizing the door had jammed, she yanked with all her might, falling backward when the oak door finally gave way and sprung open.

Wincing at the pain running through her back, Natalie could hear Mrs. Porter asking, “And just where do you think you’re running off to?”

The woman sat the glass of water on the coffee table and swished across the room to where Natalie had landed on the floor, stepping over her to push the door closed, turning the deadbolt with a final, dramatized click. Frozen in fear, Natalie didn’t dare try to stand as Mrs. Porter loomed over top of her.

“You girls are all the same,” she said, adding an annoyed, motherly tsk tsk click of her tongue to signify her dissatisfaction with Natalie. “Look at you, with your blond hair, short skirt, and a shirt that shows off more of your bosom than it covers. You should be ashamed of yourself. What Silas sees in you, I’ll never understand.”

“Mrs. Porter, let me…” Natalie began, but before she could finish her sentence, Mrs. Porter had grabbed her by one wrist and was dragging her across the floor, back toward the same rickety chair she had been sitting in before. Shocked at how strong Mrs. Porter was, Natalie didn’t even think to struggle and just let the woman pull her across the room, leaving her skirt covered in dirt and her legs scratched from the uncared-for wood floors.

Mrs. Porter pointed at Natalie’s chair and said, “Lift yourself back into the chair and drink your water while I get some ropes.”

“Ropes?” Natalie inquired, afraid she knew where this was going despite how insane it sounded in her own mind.

The look on Mrs. Porter’s face was unamused as she turned and walked toward what Natalie assumed to be the coat closet, and though Mrs. Porter blocked the view of what it held, she quickly turned around, a length of sinewy, tan rope in her hands.

“This should do,” she said monotonously. Natalie half-expected Mrs. Porter to be excited about the rope, but her cheery smile had faded to a frown, causing her face to age decades in only a few seconds. “I didn’t want Silas to see you tied down, but we can’t have you making a break for it, now can we, little birdy?”

Mrs. Porter had already started wrapping the rope around Natalie’s wrists, binding them to the arms of the chair, when Natalie opened her mouth to protest. As she spoke, tears began rolling down her cheeks, despite how hard she had willed herself to control them. “You don’t have to tie me down, Mrs. Porter,” she pleaded. “I don’t know what I was thinking when I tried to leave. I’m very excited to see Silas. Untie me, and we can talk about all his trophies and awards!”

“Oh!” Mrs. Porter gasped, looking over her shoulder at the trophy case, but continuing to wrap the rope around Natalie’s wrists. “I almost forgot!”

With the ropes secured, Mrs. Porter made her way back to the couch and brought her coffee mug back up to her nose to check the temperature. “It’s gone cold,” she whispered, sitting back on its lace doily without taking a sip.

“I’m sorry,” Natalie gasped, not sure if she was losing her breath because being tied down made her escape practically impossible, or because she was filling with anxiety over what would happen next. “If you just untie me, I promise I won’t try to leave again! I told you, I’m just nervous about–”

“Look at all those awards in that case,” Mrs. Porter interrupted in a nostalgic voice. Natalie instinctively—and not wanting to anger Mrs. Porter further—looked over at the case, filled top to bottom with gold trophies, yellow ribbons, and plaques.

“Silas always took the gold,” she continued. “Silver and bronze weren’t in his vocabulary. Of course, they were in his vocabulary, but I’m speaking figuratively. I think you know that. He scored so high on the SAT: 620 math, 700 verbal.”

Natalie nodded her head in agreement, trying to test how tightly Mrs. Porter had knotted the ropes restraining her wrists. They were tight, so tight she could feel them rubbing her raw as she attempted to adjust herself. The harder she tried, the harder it became to keep herself from wincing at the pain.

“He was very, very talented, Mrs. Porter.”

“Oh, I know,” Mrs. Porter replied, letting the frown overtake her face once more. Speaking of her son’s awards, his achievements, filled her with joy, but Natalie speaking of Silas in the past tense brought back emotions she could hardly control—had barely learned to control over the past three years. “He was supposed to go to Yale. Did you know that?”

“No,” Natalie whispered, looking down at her own lap, trying to avoid Mrs. Porter’s hurt, scornful gaze.

“Of course you didn’t. You were too busy preparing for prom and praying you made it into community college or cosmetology school to be bothered with Silas’s achievements.” Mrs. Porter paused. “Unless, of course, you were trying to ruin them.”

Natalie froze, wondering what exactly Mrs. Porter was speaking of. She and her friends had done a lot of bad things in the past, many of them to Silas, but she couldn’t think of a specific situation, not tied to a chair in Silas’s house, not while being lectured by his mother.

“What are you talking about?” she asked sheepishly. She glanced around the room, still not making eye contact with Mrs. Porter. Everywhere she looked, there was some sign of Silas: the trophy case, his senior photo framed on the mantle, a clay cast of his handprints he had made for Mother’s Day in second grade. Natalie remembered doing the exact same project in Mrs. Nesbit’s class.

Mrs. Porter let out an exaggerated sigh. “Don’t tell me you already forgot about awards night,” she accused. “Silas was being recognized as valedictorian. They were going to tell him he’d be the speaker at graduation…the principal even called me beforehand to see if I thought he’d be up to it. You know, to make sure he’d be able to give the speech without his anxiety getting in the way.”

“Awards night…” Natalie almost gasped to herself.

“That’s right, sweetie pie,” Mrs. Porter said in a sinister tone. “It’s all coming back to you now, isn’t it? I know it’s been a few years, but memories like that are hard to lock away, at least until you’re married with children of your own.”

“I didn’t do anything!” Natalie cried out, startling Mrs. Porter, but only momentarily.

Mrs. Porter rested her elbow on her knee, then her chin on her palm, waiting for Natalie to continue, but she didn’t. Tears rolled down the girl’s cheeks, her mascara running with them, but no more words left her mouth.

“Well, that’s the pity of it all, right?” Mrs. Porter asked in a high pitch. “Even if you didn’t do anything, you still did nothing. It was your friends who ruined that night for him, and every night before. It was your friends who tormented him at school, teased him, called him names. They forced him to eat lunch all by himself for years, made him feel less than human simply for being smarter than them. And they humiliated him on awards night.” Mrs. Porter, though visibly shaken, remained calm as she spoke, not raising her voice even once as she brought back all of Natalie’s worst memories, the memories she had tried so hard to forget over the past three years.

It had been awful, but she had moved on with her life. They all had.

They did all of those things, not me, Mrs. Porter!”

“But you did nothing. Nothing to harm Silas directly, but nothing to stop him from being harmed by the pathetic lumps of shit you call friends.”

“Please, Mrs. Porter, I haven’t even spoken to them in years, not since graduation. I pretended to be their friend for the last month of school after that night, but as soon as I got my diploma, they were out of my life. You have to believe me!”

Mrs. Porter believed Natalie, she truly did. And even as the girl sat tied to the chair in front of her, bawling her eyes out and pleading her innocence, Mrs. Porter felt bad for her, but the fact the girl was remorseful for what her friends did to her son didn’t change the fact that they did do it, and Natalie had done nothing to stop them.

“Take a breath, darling,” Mrs. Porter said, picking a handkerchief up from the table and dabbing at Natalie’s eyes. At first, she pulled away, but soon realized the gesture was genuine, and she was powerless to stop it even if it weren’t. “It’ll all be over soon enough.”

Natalie wondered what exactly “over” meant, but was afraid to ask.

“He killed himself that night, if you don’t remember, or if you’ve forced yourself to forget.” Mrs. Porter’s tone hardened once again as she stared past Natalie, though at what, she couldn’t be sure.

“Mrs. Porter…”

The woman clicked her tongue again, tsk tsk. “I’m telling a story, dear. It’s impolite to interrupt.”

The only sound coming from Natalie was from her attempts to control her crying; each time she tried to hold in the tears, she seemed to lose her breath, causing her to almost hyperventilate. Mrs. Porter, however, seemed to have stopped noticing Natalie’s emotional state as she continued her story. She was somewhere else now.

“Poor Silas rushed home from awards night, I assume, a blubbering mess like you are now. Although, Mr. Porter and I will never know for sure, seeing as how he beat us here and was dead by the time we finished speaking with the principal.” A tear appeared at the corner of Mrs. Porter’s eye, and she dabbed at it with the same handkerchief she had used on Natalie. “You see, Mr. Porter and I discussed what we would say to make him feel better the whole drive home. It was a pointless conversation, but we didn’t know it at the time. And though I was shocked to see him lying on the floor—this floor—with his brains blown out, I can’t say I was particularly surprised. Shock and surprise, they’re different, you know.”

Natalie remained silent, her tears now under control, her eyes focused on the top of the spiral staircase where she could barely make out a pacing shadow on the landing.

“But, you see, the story doesn’t end with Silas’s death!” Mrs. Porter announced happily. “Mr. Porter, not unlike Silas, was a bit of a genius in his day, God rest his soul. He couldn’t accept that Silas had killed himself, couldn’t accept the world would have to go on without someone born to do such great things.”

Natalie watched as the shadow moved closer to the top of the stairs, still not coming into the light. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she could hear it making some kind of noise, though it was mostly drowned out by Mrs. Porter talking.

“Mr. Porter decided he would put all of his knowledge of anatomy and biology and all those other sciences I never really understood to good use. He decided he would bring our beautiful Silas back to life.”

Natalie could definitely hear the shadow making some kind of noise now, as it loomed just barely out of sight at the top of the stairs.

“It didn’t work out exactly as Mr. Porter had imagined, I can tell you that for sure,” Mrs. Porter chuckled. “But it did work out.”

The shadow emerged into the light and began to descend the stairs on all-fours; Natalie couldn’t help but shriek.

“Don’t worry, little birdy. Silas used to get startled by the screams, but the more he hears them, the more he’s adjusted to them. I think Mr. Porter would be so proud of what he created, God rest his soul. I think he would have changed his mind completely about putting that noose around his neck, had he just given Silas a chance to grow on him like he’s grown on me.”

The creature making its way down the stairs, hunched over, leaving a trail of saliva in its wake, barely resembled the teenage boy Natalie had once known in high school. His hair was patchy and hung around his shoulders, his glasses were cracked, barely holding on to the bridge of his crooked nose. His mouth… God, his mouth, though partially blown apart from the gunshot wound he had inflicted on himself, still contained a visible tongue and jagged, sharpened teeth. Everything was there, just not in the right places.

“What have you done?” Natalie whispered in shock.

Silas dismounted the stairs and raised to a standing, yet still hunched position. His arms dangled at his sides, his knuckles scraping against the wood floor. What remained of his hair was tangled and matted with blood and, Natalie thought, brain matter? His clothes, tattered and molding, barely clung to his bony, emaciated body.

As the Silas-creature made its way closer to Natalie, she began to tug harder on her restraints uselessly, drawing blood around her wrists, but never able to free herself.

“Natalie, I think it’s important to tell you Silas and I considered leaving you alone, letting you go on with your life to bear your guilt as you saw fit. But it’s been such a long time since he’s had a real meal… we finished taking care of the rest of your friends months ago, and the birds and squirrels I catch just don’t satisfy him like they used to. It seemed like such a happy coincidence when I ran into you at the market this morning. I just knew it was fate’s way of telling me what I needed to do for my boy.”

“You’re crazy, Mrs. Porter! Let me go!” Natalie screamed. Silas was mere inches from her, sniffing the blood-stained ropes around her right wrist. Then, to Silas she whispered, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

Without warning, Silas lunged on top of Natalie, the weight of them both causing the unstable chair legs to snap, sending them crashing to the floor. Silas snorted and moaned as he tore away at Natalie’s throat before she could even open her mouth to scream.

Mrs. Porter watched her son affectionately as he devoured his meal, glad the terrible people who had caused him so much pain had finally been dealt with, even if it had taken three years. Of course, now there was the dilemma of where his next meal would come from, but Mrs. Porter would worry about that later.

“Silas, honey,” she said as he rabidly and noisily tore at Natalie’s now-mangled body. “Be sure to leave a trophy for Mommy to put in the case.”