Secrets of the Night (Short Story)

Two orange embers burned against the night as twin carbon plumes of smoke chased each other up in invisible glory. The smell was acrid, thick, and grey to its core. Not blue, never blue, despite the smoker’s claims. This was a dead thing of ashen grey and hopelessness. Eternal hopelessness, ever onward, and always upward. “Was it good for you?” she asked. “As good as always baby. You?” he answered. A heavy and soggy deep drag made one of the embers move in mesmeric little circles and blaze brilliantly bright—a challenge for the second glowing circle to do its worst. “Too bad you gotta leave,” he said. His own circle of fire moved through the solid black night, seeking his lips. The burning circle blazed a brilliant firey orange when as he took a drag. “Don’t start Jimmy. Hell, you knew what you were gettin’ into when you fucked a married woman. Jus’ be thankful for what you got goin’ for you, alright?” “I am. Jesus I am. I couldn’t find myself a better piece of ass if my life depended on it.” His grin remained invisible in the midnight black darkness they were lying in. His teasing words fell flat on his own ears, and he wondered how she’d take it. She wasn’t as much of a jokester as him, and his idea of a funny thing to say, seldom sounded funny to her. He hoped he didn’t sound like the jerk she was always saying he could be when he wanted to be. Jimmy stopped to consider how dark the night seemed as it rose up around him in elongated and accusatory shadows. Cold too, he thought. Dangerous even, his deep mind whispered. But before he could think much in the ways of what the dark night meant, he was cut off Lucinda’s not finding the humor in yet another of his teasing statements. “That all I am to you? Ass? Gee, thanks. Least I’m not just a good fuck too. Or was that what you really meant?” she said. Her bead of orange suddenly cut a sinister jag in the black dull shades that surrounded their nude bodies as she jerked herself up and out of bed. He had no way of knowing where she was—it was so dark—except for the bead of her burning cigarette smiling out at him defiant of the cold choking darkness. That burning cherry traced her every move, an extension of her hidden hands, as she went to work dressing herself. Jimmy’s fire was being crumpled in an unseen ashtray to the side of the bed as he followed her into the black madness of the room. Was it really that dark? He was breathing heavily; sucking in the air and huffing it back out. He coughed hard for a few minutes but managed to sit upright in the end, he was exhausted after spending all his energy satisfying the evil beast that sex always seemed to be for him and her. He felt he had done a week’s worth of exercise. Too many cigs, he thought, as he turned bare assed on the clammy sheets to face the object of his lust and her little dying bit of flame. He watched it as it danced and worked to the rhythms of her getting dressed, then worked its way back up to her mouth and came to a supernova of cancerous life. “I was teasing Lucinda. Just teasin baby, that’s all. You aint mad are you? Not for real or nothing, right?” She didn’t answer, not with words. Her fire shot back down to what Jimmy could only imagine was her ass. She loved it dark when they had sex, like she was ashamed of the adulterous hunger they were so desperate to fulfill. And why shouldn’t she be? She’d been married to a good man, a hard working and honest man. A preaching man. “Babe?” Jimmy got up and walked around to the side of the bed she had been sitting on. She was shaking when he found her, thin whispers of teary eyed sobs floating up on the cold night air. Her cigarette snuffed out for moments long unnoticed. “You crying Cin?” he asked. He’d never been in love with her, and he thought she understood that. But he did care for her, and he thought she had understood that too. It was never enough for her though, she felt dirty after doing what she really wanted to, and try as he did, he could never talk her into leaving the man she had married. Jimmy knew she would’ve been happier if she had done that, and in the end he wouldn’t be so upset about it either. Not really. “Don’t call me that, not right now. Don’t do it, ok?” she said, pulling away a little. Jimmy felt it and moved in closer, gripping her shoulder with his rough working hands—mechanic’s hands—in a way that let her know he was strong enough to keep her if he needed to. “Listen Lucinda, nothing we done here to be ashamed about. People fall in and out of love all the time. Not your fault. Hell, if the man spent half as much passion and concern on you as he did those damned high and mighty sermons of his, maybe you’d feel a little more strongly for him. But being as he doesn’t, he aint got no body but ‘imself to blame. If you ask me, that is,” Jimmy said. He was surprised she had let him say all that he had. He felt her body give a little under his wiry strong arm, lifting the tension just slightly. A good sign, he thought, scooting closer to her. A sudden chill darted down the spine of his back, black tendrils of cold dead electricity chased after it. Jimmy felt chilled to the core, and thought of his long deceased mother. What had she said? A goose just crossed over your grave boy. That was it. He shrugged it off and enjoyed the warmth of Lucinda’s body. “Besides, it aint like either of you have kids, is it? That might make things a little stickier, maybe, but, you don’t. So, there’s that. Right?” he said. He hoped he’d get through to her this time, but knew down deep he wouldn’t. That he couldn’t. Not until she’d let him; but in the end it would always be her decision alone to make. The warmth of her body felt colder than usual, faked if that were possible. And her skin seemed placid and almost manufactured. Not quite real, though he knew it was, it just wasn’t the same. He fought off the urge to push away, and as if in defiance of his own mind, held her tighter instead. “I gotta go Jimmy, he’ll be calling me soon, and I don’t think I could handle talking with him with you sittin’ beside me. Besides, I don’t feel so hot tonight, might be coming down with a cold or something.” “On one condition,” he said. The thought of suddenly being left alone was growing spiders legs and scurrying across his mind in black fury. He didn’t want to be alone, not tonight, not in all this thicker than normal dark madness. “What’s that?” she asked. “You give me a damn good kiss goodbye and promise me I aint got nothing to worry about when you leave.” “Oh Jimmy. You’re the one thing that keeps me sane. Down deep I mean. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have you to escape to,” she said. He felt her turn in the darkness and knew she was facing him now. He felt her moving and knew she was hovering near his face, looking at him maybe. The room tried to steal this kindness from him, swimming deeper down into the black abyss of night’s darkest hour. But he wouldn’t let it win, he wanted her, and wanted her to stay fiercely. What would it take, he suddenly wondered, to keep her hear with him? Their lust soaked room, stinking of sweat and passions burning fire, teased his mind one final time before she kissed him. Her lips felt wet with pulsing life and thick with desire. He enjoyed it more than he had ever enjoyed any other kiss she had given him and wondered why he felt so lonely when it ended. “He won’t be back from his big conference trip for a week. So, we got some play time if you want? Call you soon?” she asked, rising from the bed. She was leaving him, and more than ever he didn’t want her to go. But he couldn’t say that to her, he couldn’t voice such fear and loneliness could he? It was his toughness she had came to him for, his strength, not this soft side of him. He pushed it away and did the only thing he knew he could do. “You better,” he said. He followed her to the bedroom door, and intended to go further. Would have done just that, except all at once the world slowed down and everything good and normal—everything familiar—passed away. Slipped out of their hands like little children fighting a losing battle with a kite that tasted the sky. He didn’t know it then, but his world would never be the same. She stopped so suddenly in front of him, his nose and face smacked the back of her perfumed hair—hinting only slightly at the dirty sex they’d just shared. “What is it?” he asked her. She was silent; deadly silent. Silent as the grave his mind whispered in a harsh suggestive tone. He cursed that voice, demanding it to silence itself while he stood naked and still hoping for her to speak soon. For an understanding of what was going on around him? His mind felt slippery and wet, sliding further from his hopeful grip. He was just about to speak—feeling that if he didn’t he would go insane—when she suddenly cut through the thick blackness like a shark’s tooth and saved his sanity for just a little while longer. Her words were jagged and primal. “You believe in Hell Jimmy?” She was turning he felt, her hair tickling his nose as danced across his skin. She was facing him now, he felt her eyes considering him in their feline like way, but didn’t see. Sight was a distant memory in the hell of darkness that had possessed all he had known and twisted it in upon itself. There was only those eyes, those eyes he would never see so clearly, so filled with life, never again. Those eyes, the ones he couldn’t see, they were cutting him deeper and deeper; dissecting him like a pathetic green frog on a teenager’s lab table for science class. He felt them. They were burning him and whispering cruel accusations deep into his nude and defenseless soul. The darkness built to an epic storm around him, making him feel cold and caught. There was another feeling, a feeling of closing in and drowning in the tar thick void of nightmare insanity the night was beginning to take on. How was it this black all of a sudden? “Naw, not me babe, not my thing. Just a grease monkey with a year of college he still can’t afford under his belt. No theology though. Why?” She breathed on him, the smells of leftover cigarettes tainting what little air he found left in the room. She didn’t offer an answer, just stood there, stone still, breathing on him. He felt a little prickle of concern dance up his spine, and worry followed after. “Something I should know about Cin?” “All have fallen short of the Glory of God Jimmy, you ever think about that? We’re all damned…” She was really beginning to creep him out, her voice trailing with the morbid hint of dark secrets and something else. Something his balls picked up faster than his head, they were tucking in tight worried or fearful of some primal thing, some thing wicked and deep. Some thing that hid in the dark. Some thing like a troll hiding just behind the next shadow, hungry for human flesh. The room was warping around him, its thick shadows choking him, sweat popped out on his brow and bled down the crease of his forehead to burn in his eyes. “Cin?” he asked. The silence was deafening. He heard her breathing, but it seemed further away somehow. And then there was nothing except her breathing. The silence was perfect except for that. “Cin, quit it.” But she didn’t, she just stood there, as still as ice. Her breath growing calmer and calmer, as if she were dying or fading from existence. Jimmy took all he could then he spoke up in a weaker voice than he wanted. “Dammit you’re scaring me baby. And I don’t scare easy.” Not even her breath was upon him anymore, and without even having to reach out he felt her presence no longer there. Jerked away in a stale dead air, as if a crypt vault had been eased open and she were yanked in and away from him forever. Jimmy reached out and swiped the empty air anyway, his hands slid through the spot she had been occupying just moments before. He felt his guts turn into a tight knot of pain and nausea. What the hell was going on? “Ok Cin, ha ha, you got me. Come on baby, quit this shit, k?” he said. He turned to face the dark room behind him. A wave of searing and angry guilt burned through his head, but not knowing where it came from, or why, he shrugged it off and searched for any hint of Lucinda. He found none. The little bedroom was more than silent; it was unnaturally—as if haunted and waiting—still and deathly cold with decay and rot. The smell of sex was no longer fresh and pleasant in its salty undertones; it was now old and putrid. Left over sex always rotted faster than fresh lovemaking, but this, this was stale and old. Then, as if from nowhere, the shrill hint of a painful whimper and the sudden release of air came out of the night. Meaty sounding slash noises came up, one after the other with a somber splatter of some liquid upon the ground. Jimmy didn’t like that noise, it was evil to its core. It made his balls dig further up inside him, but they had reached their limit of just how far they could go. He was alone in the night and hated the darkness for its gripping hold on him. Jimmy turned toward the bed and tiptoed with a prisoner’s caution. One step before the other, he told himself. The creaking wood floor screeched up at him, driving his nerves to madness, each step a vicious bite of cold pain. His skin prickled and danced with gooseflesh as the temperature plunged deeper into the depths of a Hell even Dante in all his wild imaginings couldn’t summon. He swore once or twice his breath had to come out in plain view. Except there was no view. Open the damned windows, a voice in his mind screamed at him. He never noticed it, or even that he was obeying it. He just turned to face where the windows were and began to fumble and feel around. His big awkward hands hit the dresser and knocked a collection of Lucinda’s perfume bottles and other makeup off. Things she insisted on keeping in his apartment despite his feeble attempts at not wanting his world tainted with too strong of a woman’s touch. She had won, in the end. He had a special liking of her. But this time, it was him that had won; he had made the balance by crashing most of her fragile things to the floor in a glass shattering rain of noise. He jerked his hands back anticipating she’d give up the charade now and cuss at him for his fumbling mistake. He was wrong; she remained silent, too silent. Jimmy shivered in a mixture of cold and fear. He welcomed the growing fear with more ease than he had expected, standing nude in the cold black bedroom. His left hand brushed the cloth of red curtains—now turned an evil shade of black, as everything else had been—and with a wave of sudden excitement, he yanked the curtains back hard. So hard in fact, he heard the sickly sound of the fabric tearing loose and freeing itself entirely from the rod above. The lack of sunshine was expected. The void of glaring black desolation just beyond, was not. Jimmy blinked his eyes three times, squinting so hard the third, tears came burning up his wide open tear ducts spurting out little wet pleas for mercy. Jimmy leaned close to the frost bitten window and felt the coldness belch out at him, his breath steamed the glass as he gripped himself and fought off a shiver. He turned his head back and forth, looking for something familiar. He again found nothing, saw nothing, sensed nothing. That was worse. Sensing a void even before you could see it. “What the hell?” he said, half turning to consider the still hopelessly black room behind him. He saw no new details, and had no new reason to think he would see Lucinda anywhere. But he did hear something new, something bordering on the liquid like sounds of a drowning smoker fighting hard for their dying breath. “Cin? That you?” he called out in just above a whisper. He held one hand out against the blackness as he carved a thin path to the sound’s source. He never knew there could be so much terror in one man’s body until he felt it in his own. The sound was grating and harsh on his ears and felt wrong to him somehow. “Cin?” The sound grew thicker, and gained a deeper and more hellish quality to it. He was nearly to its source, fighting his own terror like a madman, seeking all the reservoir of strength his body had within him. His adrenaline coursing through his veins like heroin, burning with the cold cutting edge of a razor as it ate him alive. His eyes buzzed and blurred, filling the black void of his bedroom with fire bursts of red and orange ferries. He felt his outstretched hands brush the wall hard sending pain up his arm as three fingers nearly jammed on him. He hadn’t realized he was walking so hard. The breathing sound suddenly cut off in mid breath as if disturbed by something. He jerked his hands back, and felt the thick string of cold dead phlegm that had stretched out from the wall to his hurting fingers. He thought he would be sick if he didn’t get that shit off of him and quick. But it was thick like glue and hard as hell to shake free. He won that fight in the end, but paid a price for ignoring the room behind him. A loud commanding smack hit the floor hard, sounding muffled and strangely body like. He jumped and turned to face it, momentarily forgetting how poor his vision was. He saw nothing, but heard plenty. Terror choked his mind again as the fight or flight part of his brain kicked into high gear. He bunched his shoulders up tight, drawing his twin fists forward to meet the danger. It was the perfect stance of a fighter prepared—a thing he had done plenty of through his life was fight, and he’d be damned if he would let something take him in the sanctity of his own place. “Cin?” he called to the black graveyard silence of his bedroom. He knew it wasn’t her, not that sound. No way it could be. But some part of him wondered why it shouldn’t be her, and it was this part that kept his arms ever so slightly relaxed—just in case. The soft serpentine whisper of a scratching sound came shouting its horrible presence back up to Jimmy’s ears. They were clawing the floor, those deadly fingernails, his mind whispered. They’re scratching their way to you Jimmy, don’t you hear? He did hear, he heard each horrible scratch and the sickly wet slurping sound of a body being dragged just behind those damning nails. As if it were a body with no muscles anywhere except in those vicious hands, pulling itself closer and closer with each exasperated breath Jimmy puffed out. He suddenly wished he had a cigarette when an idea struck him. A horrible idea, as it turned out. Jimmy lunged across the bed, rolled to the opposite side and jumped straight up. He was close to the wall when he felt the rush of claustrophobia he had known as a nine year old boy locked inside his bedroom closet suddenly rose up and took him. He wanted to get away from that wall badly. It was closing in, he just knew it. He heard it. Felt it. Hated it. But there was another noise he heard that he hated more. Nails scratching, digging hard, and turning that wicked corpse like body his eyes had never seen but his mind had thoroughly painted over and over as being a nightmare of George Romero’s making. Jimmy snapped his mind free from the devilish daydream and thrust his hands to the bedside table in a flying hurry that toppled an overfilled ashtray to the floor. A little lamp (that wouldn’t work after five tries) was the next victim, its crunching death cried out across the almost perfect silence as glass shot out everywhere. The table shook hard as he searched through the disheveled mess, and then he found it. Jimmy held the little lighter up against the darkness and struck it. There was nothing, not even a proper flicking sound. He nearly lost his cool, forgetting those damn child locks they had put on the lighters now, then struck it again. He got the flicking sound and only a little spray of fire but no catch. It took at least eight good attempts—and one brief panic attack—before the flame caught and rushed yellow weak light out across the void. Shadows and black darkness darted away from the fire in what he hoped must’ve been a screaming fit. His sight was thin but much more improved than it had been. He searched the floor, unsure if this was a good thing or bad. Terror seizing his heart and threatening to stop it more than once. Jimmy felt his eyes ache as they returned to their former bulging seats of terror. He was creeping to the foot of the bed now, where the scratching horror was still working its way around. He leaned his head out and over the edge, peeking cautiously, his heart pounding hard, sweat driblets trickling down his heavily creased forehead. Jimmy shrieked at what he saw and in a fit of unholy terror worse than anything he even knew had existed, dropped the hot lighter. He was immediately punished by the return of a black night so foul, even Satan would have shivered in its wake. Jimmy didn’t understand what he’d seen, didn’t want to, but he had seen it and that was maddening. It was a woman, a mess of nude flesh, yellow tinted in the flame, and cruel black splotches of copper red lifeblood dried in chaotic poetry across her fully exposed and writhing back. Her hair clung to her upturned face in more of the drying life’s gift of blood, and tickled its way across the floor below as her two elongated hands scratched their way toward him. Her eyes were twin shadows, void of sanity and overflowing with demonic laughter as blood stained her skin and oozed from where each orb should have been. She was dragging herself, he saw, with a determination both admirable and terrible at once. He had jumped backwards, hitting the bedside table hard. He yelled out in a way he would never admit to if asked about it later. The fear was tangible now, as a huge bruise worked its way up his back from his confrontation with the table. Hot vomit freed itself from his mouth. He was splattered out on the floor when he turned his head and blew out steamy chunks of a dinner he didn’t even remember eating anymore. The scraping, clawing sounds of the gash covered woman was nearly around the bed when she spoke. It was the broken winded voice of a dying nightmare. Vaguely familiar, and never more than a whisper. “Jiiiiimy.” “No…” Jimmy said, holding his ears and shaking his head. “Jiiiiimy.” “No…no…no…” Jimmy said. “Why Jimmy? Why’d you let this happen?” she called, sounding more and more familiar as she spoke. “We’ve been caught. He’s found out. He’s found us out. It hurts Jimmy, oh God it hurts…” “No… you’re not real. You’re just not real damn it!” Jimmy shouted pulling his knees in close as the scraping sounds were blazing a snail’s furious path upon him. “Wasn’t I good Jimmy? Wasn’t I your best?” she said. “That must be why, has to be why he had this done to me. He killed me Jimmy, he killed me because of you!” Jimmy felt a cold chill—a goose stepping on his grave as his mother would’ve said—as the feminine voice spoke. He knew her, recognized her, but how? How could it be her? She was just here, and very much alive, not this mess of monstrous proportions. How? “Cin?” Jimmy asked the darkness as he heard the little lighter fly across the floor, she was that close, dragging her bleeding body behind. That close and what was he doing? Sitting there and waiting. “Oh Jimmy, why? How?” she asked. “How’d he find us out?” Get up Jimmy; get the hell up and run damn you! That nagging part of his brain bitched at him. He wanted to, but found himself glued to his seat as he sat there trying to figure the voice out. It was Lucinda’s, but older, raspier. It held a mysterious depth to it, more…dead…rotten. Jimmy felt tears flowing in shameless reverie. “Jiiiiimy? I’m almost there. I can feel your warmth Jimmy. It’s so cold, being dead, it’s so cold Jimmy. And lonely. Keep me company? Hold me?” she called. “He’s stabbed me. Oh God, I’m bleeding. My back, it hurts so bad. It hurts. It hurts so bad. So many hands, so many hands stabbing me. Ripping at me. Did you stab me too Jimmy? Did you stab me in the back too?” The long mournful scratching tug of her slithering body across the cold wooden floor was all it took. That and the frigid sensation of a lifeless corpse paw upon his left foot, and Jimmy was up like a bolt of evil lightning and half way across the twin sized bed. He had time as he rolled across it to take notice of how wet the sheets had felt. Wet and sticky. He shrugged it off the first time as just the remains of their lust making. But not now, it was thicker, stickier, almost congealed. Fate had conjured at just that moment that some netherworld version of the dying bloodshot moon should burst out from behind a pregnant cloud—a thing Jimmy would have never seen had the moon never been found—and revealed it’s sickly sweet madness to him. There was almost the tainted hint of soft wicked laughter as his eyes fell upon the stained bed, and sticky sheets below. Not sweaty yellow, but bloody red. And it was everywhere, soaked through the sheets, and deep in the mattress. Jimmy felt his eyes scream “no further, no further” as they ached and throbbed with his chaotic heart’s attempt of a rhythm. That’s when he looked down upon his own hands and the backs of his arms. The hard to look upon crimson had even reached there, a thing done as he rolled for his life. “Jiiiiiimy” the soft feminine voice called through cracked harsh whispers. She sounded frustrated, lost, and exhausted as he heard her clawing around, retracing her path. Looking for him, he thought. Jimmy squinted his aching eyes through the slightly brighter darkness and saw the room for the first time. He darted his head back and forth, and realized it was his room, but not. It was bent, warped, and jagged in all the wrong ways. Painted, as it were, by the hands of a demented artist. Blood streaked in sticky strokes up and down the walls on each side. He thought of himself touching it and suddenly wanted to vomit again. His room, but not his at the same time. As if it were conceived by the hands of a warped constructor. But Jimmy had no time to consider the off balance jigs and the off centered jags of his former bedroom. He had only enough time to see the sorry excuse for a door that meant hope. That meant safety, it was the door out. Jimmy ran as fast and hard as he could for that door, the scratching doppelganger of his former object of lust scraping her serpentine way across the wooden floor behind him as he ran. A flood of off white moon beam poured down on the floor and gave up the ghost of a crooked pair of deeply embedded scratch marks. Her former trail he saw with horror, long crimson stains stretched for small eternities behind those scratch marks—where her dead and still bloodied body pulled itself behind. Jimmy felt the frostbitten burn of the doorknob in the palm of his hand when she called out behind him. It was demonically warped and completely unintelligible. The closest comparison was to that of a cat being finely chopped up in a blender. He felt the cold knob and for one bitter moment hesitated. He thought of Lucinda, and all she had meant to him. Not loved, but deeply cared for. He could’ve loved her perhaps, if given enough time. Even a jerk like he was, could see that. He wished she was whole again, and wondered why such a thing as this had happened to them. But in the end, fear of what she had become pushed him forward. He yanked the door open hard and ran through into the just slightly less dark depths of his living room. He slammed the bed room door behind him and because it opened in upon the bedroom and not out upon the living room, he cursed it. Opening in meant no chair could be propped against its doorknob and properly jam Lucinda in. He didn’t want to hurt her, no matter what she’d become. There still might be some way out of this, he reasoned. But down deep knew better than to hope in such fables. He was screwed and she frightened the hell out of him now. What had she become and how had she become such a…a monster? He looked out upon the dark space before him, glad the moon still blazed down and gave him some light. Nothing in here seemed dangerous, but was just as warped as his room had been. Thrown off in the corners mostly, and crooked where it should be straight. Like a bent in upon itself sort of creation, ready to collapse under the harsh weight of God’s judgment. He shrugged the thought of God off and ran for the couch instead. Jimmy got behind the opposite end of the dusty three cushioned couch and with three heavy breathed huffs began to scoot the large bastard of stains and dirt directly in front of his bedroom door. It wouldn’t keep the door from opening, but just maybe it would keep Lucinda busy for a while so he could straighten things out. Jimmy had his back to the room he felt sure was safe, looking favorably at what he had done and so quickly, when a new noise made itself known. Not new, he corrected himself, realizing the noise had been there all along. Just quiet, and raspy, dangerously close to the breathing sounds he had heard in his bedroom. The noise, he remembered, he had heard just before Lucinda came clawing down upon him. But this time it seemed deeper, more determined even. More filled with death and destruction. Like the lungs of a smoker, who no longer cared for a last breath, but only a last smoke. “Hello?” Jimmy called out, unsure he was even doing it until he heard his own voice. The sound of his frightened tones scared him nearly as bad as the breathing did. Jimmy was met with the roar of silence, and the hinted whisper of that cougher’s breathing, but no word from anyone within. He gazed across the living room and into the shitty excuse of a kitchen beyond. It was really all one room, only separated by the tiling difference of the floor itself. The bathroom was to his left, happily situated just next to his single bedroom. The door was shut tight, and that was, for now, exactly as Jimmy meant to keep it. Everything else was more or less fully exposed. Except for the darkness. The darkness made what should have been painfully obvious less clear and hard to see. The windows—there were two behind where the couch had just been situated—were old fashioned, thin glass with the curtains pulled back wide. All the damp pale light of the bleeding moon above came dripping in upon the room, offering oh so little hope against the darkness. “Hello?” Jimmy called out again, his feet stepping out into the shadowed blackness that covered most of the floor below. Each step taken with painful caution, his arms half reaching out, half wanting to tuck themselves into his ribs and sides deep. Each step taught Jimmy a new lesson in morbid fear, a thing he thought he had learn well enough from what Lucinda had become in his bedroom before. He found the unknowing to be so much worse than having seen the monster and knowing it’s severity. With each slow step, he felt the cold darkness grow thick around him. It was a hungry mouth, his mind whispered, hungry and chewing him up with every footfall. It would swallow him soon; swallow him down to its icy cold depths, burning him with the frigid colds of the deepest and coldest Hell. THUMP! He jumped and spun around in a half circle to face the sudden noise. His eyes worked through the shadowy realm that not long ago was familiar. He saw no source for the noise, had no hint of where it had come from. His eyes bounced around, searching and hoping. Knowledge was power—a thing his ancient fathers had learned since the early rise of fire chasing the shadowy night away. THUMP! He jerked his head and eyes to where the noise had come from. His heart beat, previously going faster than it had ever done in his life, doubled. The sweat that was old became intermingled with the sweat that was new. Jimmy started to call out, but bit his lip. Silence was his greatest friend, his only chance to survive this demented version of his former safe place. His feet crept toward the bathroom door. That’s where it was, wasn’t it? THUMP! It might’ve just been Lucinda trying to dig her way out. He looked toward the bedroom door. She was silent, a lost soul swimming through the seas of black madness, all alone and with no sense of direction left to her. Choking, as it were, in the stomach of the Devil’s firm grip. THUMP! The damning noise came thundering its presence up from the silence, ripping a hole in what had been Jimmy’s private thoughts. He staggered backwards and nearly fell, the door had shook on its frame the thundering noise was so severe. And if it could summon such command from the solid built bathroom door, Jimmy was no longer sure he cared to know what it was. But he had to know, knowing meant survival and despite his own gut telling him it was a thing more than a person, he found his feet on a dead man’s trail of vicious ambition. Curse the curiosities of a mind left to wonder, he had to know, had to see, had to experience. If not to know—and knowing being the gateway of power—then to conquer. To see it, meant he could maybe grasp it and overcome it. To never see, meant to never know, and to never know meant to always be left under the devil’s grip. To hell with that, he thought. He’d face this son of a bitch square on and show it all the fury he’d ever known from life. He’d meet it square on and show this damned thing how he felt about what it had done to Lucinda—even if it hadn’t done a thing to her. He was going to unleash all the anger this night had built up in him, right smack dab on that damned thing just beyond. THUMP! Jimmy felt the cold knob of the door press into his hand when the last bright flair of self doubt came screeching up from his stomach to his head. Don’t you do it, that doubt declared. Don’t you dare. He did. He gripped the doorknob firm and with a bone scraping, gut wrenching, God cursing screech that tore through the nearly silent night of shadows and decrepit moon above, he turned the knob and pushed the door in upon the bathroom beyond. He half expected there to be a loud thump noise as there had been every other moment when the door was shut, but there was none. He had expected to be jumped upon by a monster of some biblically twisted fashion, or maybe even a long dead corpse from the imaginings of Poe, or Dante, or even the master of Horror himself, Stephen King. What he didn’t expect was the freezing cold draft of silent wind pouring over and drenching his ankles deep in the night river of black shadows and awful normality. The bathroom was still, calm, and minus the warped and just off enough to cause alarm angles, was bland. The tub sat on the opposing wall, its curtain drawn tight against him. The toilet sat in between the tub and the one piece sink unit that if he had chosen to he could’ve reached out and touched. He didn’t, he was still certain that something awful was just waiting for him to cross the unspoken line and enter its domain. The curtain, his mind screeched. He jerked his eyes to the drawn curtain and felt the buzz saw of terror crank up to a maniacal speed. As was fitting of all children and grown people alike, that one thing always forgotten and never once looked upon kindly was the grand orchestra of Hell’s musical tonight. It was drawn tight, and he—as no one ever does—didn’t remember pulling it shut. Then again, he had fewer and fewer certainties of anything as the damnable night tore on. THUMP! The noise came so suddenly and swiftly that Jimmy staggered backwards and fell over his own feet in a tight sprawl on his ass. He felt the burn of embarrassment despite the depths of terror that sudden thunder noise summoned. It had come from within, and he knew damn well from where, though he didn’t want to admit it. The curtain, that damned drawn curtain, the great symbol of horror since one was a youth. He spun around and reclaimed his standing, facing that devilish enigma the whole while. It was dirtier than he remembered, once white, it now looked dusty, dirty. Ancient, his mind whispered. He stood there for a moment not sure what to do, seal the door tight against the unknown, or confront it? He turned his head for a moment to consider the expanse of open room behind him. Those black sullen shadows seemed less threatening in the face of this certain mystery. He wasn’t looking for a threat though; he was looking for a weapon. A thing he finally found in the soon to be no longer useful TV antennae. He ripped it off with more trouble than he anticipated, and turned to face the curtain again. Jimmy looked down upon the thin piece of metal held tightly in his right hand, as if to ask it if it were ready. It had damned well better be. He wasn’t sure what might lie beyond that curtain, and after what he’d seen happen to Lucinda, he felt fairly sure it could be anything. He took a cautious step across the sacred line that divided the thumping noise’s domain from his own. He was quickly swallowed up in the too perfect silence of a room always gurgling, bubbling, or hissing one noise or another at him. It was only then that he realized just how silent the whole place had become, with its paper thin walls and nearly exposed wires running everywhere. It was maddening to hear this perfect of silence in a building this old. There were always fights to be eavesdropped upon, or the buzzing calls of electric wires and telephone lines just behind the walls. There was always that high pitched noise of monitors, TVs, Telephones, Microwaves and so much more. But not tonight, tonight there was only the rest in peace silence of the dead and damned. THUMP! The noise was so close it was damning, Jimmy just barely kept his sense about him, half turning and ready to bolt. His hand was so sickly close to the curtain when the noise came ripping out of the silence he nearly shrieked. He wanted to fall over, to get away, anything it would take to wake from this God despised nightmare. Instead, Jimmy did the most admirable, if not dumb, thing he could’ve done. He reached out and yanked the dirty curtain away. It clanked loudly in protest as each big metal ring raked the cold steel of its rod above. But Jimmy never noticed, he only saw the source of the mystery noise and felt sick revolting nausea overcome him. He turned and faced the putrid mess of a single man’s toilette and let his vomit find freedom once again. The thing he’d seen in the shower haunted his thoughts with each gag and stomach turning knot. It was another body. Dressed in a man’s suit coat and firmly pressed slacks, all black, red silk tie and a thick rope around its purpling swollen neck tied tightly around the solid looking shower head above. It was, he realized nearly instantly, the body of Pastor Theodore Peterson. The man Lucinda had been married to. Jimmy had never met the man before, and the man had never come snooping around his place either, as far as he was aware. He had, in fact, only seen the man once, in a picture Lucinda was less than happy had fallen out of her wallet one time. So why was the Pastor hanging—less than perfectly—in his tub? And how had the man so perfectly killed himself with his feet dragging the tub in a bent knee fashion? It wasn’t the drop, that was for damn sure, and there were no restraints on his hands, so he had to have died willingly. But how? Wouldn’t the body protest against something like that? Jimmy was caught in between heavy gagging and sick thin puke when he heard the noise from his side. It was no longer a thump, but a paper thin tearing hint of raspy movement. Jimmy heaved once more, turned his head cautiously to face the purpling body of the good Pastor. He knew what he’d see even before he did. But seeing, as they say, is believing. The good Pastor was wiggling, squirming and writhing from below the heavy rope. His feet kicking with less strength than that of an infant, each heavy well dressed foot came up and fell back down. Sick little thunks of sullen noise came dancing up from the echoing metal tub below. Then with more strength than he had previously shown, the writhing man of God lifted himself up on the tightly wound rope and collapsed below the strain of his endeavor. The sudden Thump of the damning fall rang an all too familiar resonance with Jimmy. Jimmy jumped to his feet, jaw swagging just slightly, antennae dropped and forgotten upon the floor. Their eyes connected for one lonely expanse of time. Dead eyes upon living eyes, stared with hatred; cursing, and something more. Jimmy stood there, hypnotized by the gurgling shadow of what had once been a man. The crimson wounds of a fierce stabbing came rippling through from the hidden surfaces below. He’d been killed first, Jimmy saw, then hung out to display upon that rope, like a wet pair of jeans on an old fashioned clothesline. And those eyes, Jimmy thought, there was something more in them, something murderous and evil; something writhing with raw cursing jealousy. The man had known, perhaps all along, Jimmy saw. Guilt washed in upon Jimmy and made his head hang low for a moment. “She was mine,” the Pastor whispered, barely audible. Jimmy wanted to say something back, but didn’t. Guilt had taken him like a puberty thick and pimple ridden virgin takes a cheap whore. “Every twisted sexual position you gave her, you cursed her to hell with,” the Pastor said. He looked tired and unable to breathe in deep enough, his arm shaking above him as he held the rope up high enough to speak. The Pastor’s body jerked and kicked feebly with the strength of the dead. His yellowing eyes, threatening decay, turned from green envy to red rage. His teeth bit down hard, the squeaking grit of their hatred was so fierce a tooth suddenly came flying out in a thick congealed spurt of blood. “He met me at the crossroads. Said you’d both would get what you deserved. Said she’d suffer first, would let you see her suffer. Said you’d both suffer something awful. It cursed me to have you cursed. It cursed me so fiercely. But it was worth it in the end. To see you punished for your sins,” The Pastor said. His hand gave out and he snapped down hard on the rope. A deep and heavy thump came bouncing up the dull metal and coughed out upon Jimmy’s ears. Jimmy couldn’t believe what he’d just heard from the former man of God. “You’re behind this?” Jimmy asked. The Pastor kicked and fought his desperate but hopeless fight, his eyes aimed soullessly upon Jimmy with acknowledgement and unhindered hatred. The choking laughter of a devil was all he gave Jimmy in the way of response. Jimmy put it together in his mind, not sure how the man had done this, or why to such a sick extent, but there was one thing Jimmy knew and understood. He was no man of God, and now instead of guilt, all he felt for this bastard hanging, choking before him, was hate. Cold, precise hate. The devil had won, be who the fuck cared? Jimmy had some words to give the thing before him before this night was over. “She told me she faked it with you, faked it every time. You were so bad. She had no choice. How she ever loved a man like you to begin with is beyond me,” Jimmy said. The Pastor’s laughter stopped immediately, his eyes bulged in a demented expression and with more fury than he had ever shown before tugged and yanked at the rope above him. Jimmy liked seeing this, but didn’t feel right torturing the man anymore than he had to. He turned to walk out of the bathroom when the Pastor pulled himself back up on his rope and spoke loudly, “I would do it all over again, would do it myself if I could. I’d show that lying bitch who owned her stinking cunt, and then I’d take care of you. That’s all I’m sorry for, that’s all I regret.” Jimmy turned, and looked upon the monster before him. He had never hated another man so thoroughly as he now hated this one. “I hope you burn in Hell you sick son of a bitch,” Jimmy said. He meant to say more, but before he could, the Pastor, in a flash of speed previously hidden, reached out and grabbed a hand Jimmy had carelessly held too close to the man’s body and yanked it in. The grip was cold and tight, the flesh of the corpse tore from the sudden swell of muscles. Jimmy was suddenly aware of his nakedness, terror was back with a bite and his heart threatened giving out on him. Horror was god in this universe, and it took it’s seat on the black Mount Olympus of the netherworld as he watched the corpse pull itself higher up on the long brown rope. Higher than it had ever done before, slowly, and calmly. The strength of that dead arm was absolutely horrific. There was a deep throaty gurgle as the Pastor prepared some awful thing to say, or worse yet, do. It was thick and liquid like. Insanity swimming in a sea of dead spit. Speech poured out of the mouth of the corpse, its yellow eyes flared up in the look of a thousand impaled Saints, the long burning anger of distant and ancient memories never forgotten. “Hell…is…hungry…” The corpse of the pastor gurgled. Jimmy yanked his hand free as the overextended strength of the pastor broke and sent Pastor’s corpse falling to the tub in a bone chilling thump. The Pastor would rise no more, not if there was a God in Heaven. He had, Jimmy saw, given up the ghost. The man’s eyes were dim, dead, dull. The soul of the man, his ghost perhaps, had vanished. Jimmy backed to the door of the bathroom and saw for the first time there were words written on the mirror in a red so dark it bordered on black. A red that could come from only one source. Blood. Cursed. Jimmy looked upon the word even as he stumbled his way out into the open space of his living room. The swishing sound of the smoky breathing was growing thicker, but he didn’t notice. Didn’t care. He saw the word even as it became obscured by the darkness that was bleeding in like a fog upon his world. He saw that single hexing word and like a glaring bare bulb against the night understood the whole awful night just a little more clearly. His memories had been locked up in a cage, perhaps it was insanity, perhaps it was delusions of grandeur, or perhaps it was spiritual justice—whose was open for debate, God or the Devil. He saw that word written in blood and understood it was speaking of him. And looking toward his former bedroom; her. Jimmy went to his front door, and seeing there was bloody words there too, turned away. These words were worse perhaps than the single word in the bathroom. He’d read it once in an ancient poem written by a man long ago. “Abandon all hope, all ye who enter in,” dripped down the back of his front door. He was doomed, he now understood, and having gripped that, he walked back to where the couch had blocked his bedroom and pushed it away. He grabbed the door and feeling only some fear at what he was doing, walked in. Lucinda was lying on the floor, waiting for him. She was a mess of ripped and bleeding flesh. But seeing her, he finally felt the one thing he vowed he’d never feel in all his life. He didn’t just care for her, especially not now when she and he needed each other the most. He loved her. Jimmy walked to the dresser where all her makeup had been before. She wasn’t moving behind him, not sure of what he was up to perhaps. He went to the third drawer down and opened it. He fished out his grandmother’s home sewn quilt and walked back to Lucinda. He, as gently as he could, placed the quilt across her tender back and took her in his arms. She moaned out in pain, but soon quit. She seemed happy, but for how much longer such a thing as that could exist in Hell, Jimmy had no idea. But he was going to face it as he should; with her in his arms. As a man accepting the things he was responsible for. “Cin?” he said, “I love you.”

Copyright (c) 2009 by Gregory D. Welch


~ by shadesoftruth on February 10, 2009.

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