Meet Aussie writer Silvia Brown. She’s an outcast, a traveler, a creative mind, and a published author. As a member of the Australian Horror Writers Association, she practices sharpening her craft with the help of mentor Alan Baxter.
I puzzled over the trail for weeks. Where was it coming from? What could make such a thing?
I decided the only thing to do was wait in the bathroom.
Wait, and watch.
It starts as a single black drop of goo coming out of the C tap.
Drip, drip, drip.
The stuff has the consistency of puss leaking from an infected wound. Soon, the drip turns into a steady trickle. And then a torrent. Soon it blocks the drain, and the level of gunk rises until it overflows its porcelain prison and dribbles down onto the sparkly-white tiled floor where it gathers in an ever-expanding pool.
It smells like stagnant water and festering shit.
You would think that would be enough.
If I stay long enough, shivering in the doorway, mouth hanging open and facial muscles twitching, I see the stringy black stuff on the bathroom floor begin to move and take shape. It writhes around in little currents, each particle seemingly following its own agenda as it moulds itself into a seething mass in the centre of the bath tub, all the while drawing more volume from the tap as it spews forth a steady stream.
I notice that whatever strange magic has taken over the C tap has also affected the shower head. Strings of the black goo are being drawn out of it some unseen force like matted hair being pulled from a drain.
I feel my stomach flip over and the strength ebb out my legs. I swallow back a mouthful of bitter bile as my supper tries to rise. I want to turn around, run away, but my feet remain planted firmly on the cold tiled floor. A cold shiver racks my body, my goose-pimpled flesh crawls.
I watch, transfixed, as the black gooey stuff in my bath tub gathers in mass and form. Now I can make out little, stubby arms and the beginnings of a head.
This is where my nerve generally deserts me. I back out of the bathroom, close the door and go back to bed where I huddle under the sheets. Eventually, sleep comes and in the morning, I pretend it was all a dream.
But tonight is different. Tonight, I cannot move. I want to see this play through to the end.
The thing now has a mouth, a huge gaping void. Black fluid spills out of it and down its emerging chin. It makes thick gurgling sounds, as if it is trying to say something. In spite of myself, I take a step closer. Some strange compulsion drives me forward. If it is going to say something, I want to hear.
It is much bigger now, and seems to be taking the form of a person hunched over, kneeling in the bath tub. It is shaking violently, as if suffering some kind of seizure. And still, those awful gurgling sounds…
I feel my face contort into a grimace as I lean closer. I hold my breath, but the fetid, heavy stench hanging in the air still brings tears to my eyes. I can’t believe this is happening. The world shimmers in and out of clarity, I feel woozy and nauseous. I sink to the floor next to the bath tub, hands and knees melting into the cold, congealing black mess that continues to spew out of the C tap and shower head.
I hear voices, whispering in my ear. But I cannot distinguish any words. It sounds like hundreds or thousands of people all talking at once.
Then there is a sound like a rush of water, a liquid roar, and struggle to raise my head. Instinctively, I know what made that sound. The creature in my bath tub is not kneeling any more. It is standing, towering above me.
I open my eyes, it’s like staring down a long tunnel at a single point of light in the distance. The point of light enlarges, bombarding me with fragments of fractured colour and shapes like a kaleidoscope. I see the a vast black tide descending to engulf me as the monstrosity in the bath tub flexes and wraps its arms around me as everything goes black.
About the author:The dark fiction of C.M. Saunders has appeared in over 30 magazines, ezines and anthologies, including Raw Nerve, Fantastic Horror, Trigger Warning, Liquid imagination, and the Literary Hatchet. He is a hybrid author with nine long-from releases under his belt, the most recent being the novel Sker House and the charity novella No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches. He is represented by Media Bitch literary agency.
Currently, Deadman’s Tome releases scary stories and demented horror every other day. Feeding horror fans and horror fiends alike with a daily dose of horror. While readers seem to enjoy the steady releases, perhaps it would be even more enjoyable with a bit of a tease. Instead of getting that horror fix on a daily basis, Deadman’s Tome will be that cruel mistress that makes you wait for it.
Starting now, Deadman’s Tome will offer two tiers of publication.
Top Tier: The lucky few will be featured in an electronic magazine available through Kindle. Print editions would soon follow. The authors featured will earn royalties (10% of net sales).
Bottom Tier: The rest will be featured on the site where they will receive exposure and chances to win prizes through various contest. See the Horror Olympics and the Story of the Week polls. Don’t fret, being a bottom isn’t always a bad thing.
This does not change current and existing contracts.
“I killed someone.” His voice was soft and distant as if he was unaware that he was saying anything at all. He spoke facing the window looking down across the hotel parking lot. It was full this time of night. Fellow sinners packed in like sardines trying to beat the weather that was moving in fast from the west. He was headed west. The desert.
The prostitute in his bed was about one drink away from blacking out. Five feet nothing and barely a hundred pounds, including make-up and piercings, she wasn’t much to look at but she had all the right parts and as far as he knew they were in good working order. He needed those tonight, the soft touch of a woman, and those warm juicy bits of humanity. He had picked her up an hour earlier downstairs in the hotel bar, which was no great feat in and of itself, two hundred dollars could buy just about anything here at this hour. Since then she had just been downing drinks while he stared thoughtfully out the window, lost in a world of his own creation, built with bricks of blood and pain. He wondered if he could ever be as numb as she was trying to get right now. Right now he felt everything. He was a raw nerve, exposed to the frigid air of the night. He didn’t think he could take it much longer. His confession had startled her out of her melancholy and she scooched over to the edge of the bed and sat her drink down on the faded, cum stained finish of the night stand. “Hell honey,” she said shimmying out of her cherry red panties and spreading her legs wide before him in the low light of the lonely room, “who hasn’t?”
The sex had been satisfying. That’s all he could think after they had finished, the thought lost somewhere in the back of his mind, like a faded memory quickly becoming replaced by the present. It wasn’t as if she wasn’t skilled at love-making. She had done things to him that a woman had never done, things that most people would consider sick, debaucherously impure or worse, perverted and unholy. But it was satisfying, the release, the distraction, the blood. The blood is always soothing. It comforted him and allowed him to get lost in the moment, if only briefly. Now that he was done and dressed he knew he couldn’t rest, not yet. There was no need to dispose of the body, no matter how practiced he had become, how meticulous and efficient he was now. He would never be here again in this place, in this time, in this den of inequity. No one would know what he had done to her. No one would know what he had done to any of them. That was his curse, his cross to bear. To serve his destiny, his purpose on this planet silently, without a name or a face to put with his violence. He was a cleaner. He swept up the dregs and the outcasts, the discarded and disgusting. But soon his job would be done, his hours put in. His time short, his days numbered. Soon he would clock out and allow the next cleaner to shine, to make his mark upon the face of the deep. It was hard being God.
Tonight would be his last job. The hotel, his last job site. He had everything he needed to perform his duties efficiently. He walked out of the bathroom, stepping over the hooker’s body splayed out on the bathroom floor, her body pale and blue in the filtered light of the room. He retrieved his bag from underneath the bed. He had stowed it there before he had went downstairs to the bar to find her, the list in his pocket folded neatly in half horizontally, crisp and safe in his jacket’s inside pocket.
He unzipped the dark, plain duffel and replaced the empty syringe back into its sleeve inside the top lining of the duffel. It had been filled with simple household bleach and placed beneath the pillows on the bed. He had used it all, injecting it into the hooker’s neck as she relaxed and stretched out on the bed afterwards. The shock of the needle and the intense burning that accompanied it sent her running into the bathroom, a primitive flight or fight response. In her confusion, she had run into a room with no exit and he had merely followed behind her and watched her writhe on the floor until her organs liquefied, white foam oozing from her mouth, her lips parted in pain.
He sorted through his bag, taking inventory of his utensils. There were a few knives, a cleaver, and a ball peen hammer with a wooden handle wrapped in electrical tape. Wood handles tend to crack and splinter, catching skin in their creases as the wood gave way and split under the pressure of contact with hard surfaces. Sometimes the surface didn’t give on the first blow causing the hammer to reverberate, sending shock waves down the short, wooden handle. Sometimes it took several blows to achieve the desired effect, to drive through bone and connecting tissue.
Along with the knives, cleaver, and hammer, his bag held a small box of latex gloves, a lightweight plastic apron, and a pair of cheap plastic goggles, the kind you buy for dips in your local pool. He didn’t believe in using guns for his work. He preferred the intimacy of bladed weapons and the force of hammers. He enjoyed the deconstruction of the human body. It was a job requirement.
He held the list in front of him, the one with the names on it that he kept in his jacket pocket. His bill of lading. His list of jobs. He perused the names on the list and checked them against room numbers. The next one was two doors down.
Several impatient strides brought Julio Rodriguez into the back room where he found his assistant hunched over in a corner, staring at his tablet computers with feverish intensity. Julio frowned. If it had been any other 22-year-old, he would’ve assumed young Mr. Running Deer was enjoying some internet porn on work time.
But in this case that just didn’t seem likely.
“Hector!” he said sharply.
The younger man jumped. His head jerked upward; he blinked. An instinctively guilty flick of the wrist turned the tablet’s screen blank.
“Our appointment—it’s time for us to go.”
“Right, boss.” Hector tucked the tablet under his arm and retrieved his raincoat. He followed Julio out of the office. It was pouring again and he ducked into the passenger side of his employer’s Lexus without delay.
Julio pulled out into the city traffic and headed for one of Metro Vancouver’s newest and most distinctly upscale residential developments.
“Why did she want both of us anyway?” Hector asked. “Is it some really massive collection?”
“Don’t know. But she insisted—two appraisers or nothing. Never heard of this Melinda Black, but apparently she has considerable resources.” Julio turned left and in a few more blocks to the right. “What was so fascinating online anyway?”
“Oh, that?” Hector shrugged. “Just reading a retrospective piece on the life of your friend—the one who died mysteriously six months ago?”
“Alexander Sung?” Julio frowned again. “That was strange. He always seemed the picture of health. Then they find him on his bedroom floor—alone and naked, except for a freshly used condom and stone dead, not a mark on him? But as I told you, we weren’t exactly friends. He was one of my first clients. Hired me to evaluate the antiques he inherited from his father. That was almost fifteen years ago.”
“But you saw him around pretty often? Socialized with him?”
“Sure, later on.” Julio stopped for a red light. “He dove into collecting seriously from then on—made it part of his rich playboy image. As an appraiser, I get invited to some of the same parties as those types. You will too, if you stick with it—make a name for yourself in the business. What with his heritage and his Dad’s business connections, he focused on Chinese art pieces.”
The light changed and they drove on.
Julio nodded. “At first—that had been his dad’s focus. Later, he expanded into other periods—developed a good eye, too. Soon he didn’t need an expert to tell him what was worth what. So we only saw each other casually, from time to time, and that was fine. I’ve got nothing bad to say about him. We just weren’t buddies.”
“But everybody comments on what a total charmer he was. Even what I was reading—”
“Was that article’s author female, by any chance?” Julio glanced at Hector’s uncomprehending expression and chuckled. “I didn’t have the right—uh, physical equipment—to merit being on the receiving end of his full, over-the-top charm.”
“Oh.” Hector shifted under his safety belt. “I understand.”
“Relax, Hec. You do know most folks aren’t obsessed with antiques to the exclusion of everything else? Even experts like us. You’re allowed other interests. And you really ought to find yourself a girlfriend—or boyfriend, if that’s your thing. Keeping everything bottled up inside, you might explode someday.”
Hector squinted out the window. “Rains finally slacking off,” he murmured.
“Plenty of nice girls around,” Julio persisted.
“Like the ones you go for, boss?” Hector snorted. “A new stripper every few weeks?”
“Hey, I’m not that bad! Anyway,” his employer admitted with a grin, “Vancouver’s a major hot spot that way—even a bit notorious, in certain circles. But there are lots of other places, other ways of meeting the right one for you.”
“I guess so,” Hector Running Deer said without enthusiasm.
In due course, they arrived at their destination. They buzzed, identified themselves to the same sultry voice that had made the appointment by phone—presumably Ms. Black herself.
They pulled up to a midsized mansion—only an average structure in that posh neighborhood. The automatic gates closed behind them. “Trapped,” Julio joked and stepped from his vehicle.
Julio thumbed the bell and the door opened almost instantly.
His eyes met hers and somehow he knew this would be no ordinary appraisal job. By any standard, she was stunning. Her flowing red hair contrasted impossibly with the flawless copper skin tones and distinctive facial features of a full-blooded member of one of Canada’s First Nations, yet somehow that only added to her unique and undeniable physical appeal. And there was more—something that went beyond her sleepy-eyed stare and crimson-lipped, vaguely predatory smirk. There was a sort of energy she radiated, just standing there. It was pure and raw, and dangerous. Sensuality incarnate, she posed before them atop a pair of bright red, spike-heeled, step-in pumps.
“Ms. Black?” Julio said after twice moistening his lips.
“Yes. And you must be Mr. Rodriguez,” she purred in that blatantly seductive voice—the words innocent enough, yet delivered with a tone dripping with random eroticism of the most primal sort. Then her head tilted, that weirdly wrong yet eye-catching hair tumbling with calculated allure as she refocused a near-hypnotic gaze on the clueless Hector. “And his assistant, I assume? You have the look of one of my People, young man. I’m so glad you both could come, as per my request!”
One of her fuck-me pumps shifted sideways, drawing eyes to the thigh-length slit in her dress and the lacy elastic trim atop a black silk stocking.
Business, Julio Rodriguez reminded himself and forced aside the utterly insane impulse to grab her by that inappropriate hair, put her stocking-clad knees on the plush, cream-white carpet and stick his dick down her throat, then and there. What the fuck? Julio asked himself. He liked women and loved sex, but wasn’t crude or abusive by nature. What’s wrong with me?
He shook his head, asked if they might see her collection.
“Ah, the job comes first for you? I like that. Deposit your raingear over there.” She pointed at a small, neat alcove. “Then follow me!”
She turned on those spiked heels then paused to glance in Hector’s direction. But the youthful innocence of Julio’s assistant combined with his fixation on the treasures of the past seemed to shield him, at least partially and momentarily, from her less-than-subtle erotic emissions.
Julio had no such inadvertent defenses, however. Her torrid gaze returned to him and his heart pounded in his chest.
She nodded and started down the hall, the provocative swaying of her ass affecting him—drawing him onward as no woman ever had before. The hallway was lined with assorted wood carvings, figurines and abstract paintings—almost entirely of Native American origins and all of excellent quality. At its end, two especially wondrous and absolutely authentic Chilkat blankets flanked the entrance to her living room. A third hung above the archway, the triangular point of its bottom fringe dangling within millimeters of 6-1 Julio’s head.
“These are magnificent!” Hector said his dark eyes alive with reverence as they shifted from one 6-foot-long, cedar bark fiber and dyed wool wall hanging to another then to the third. “Very fine—and old. My own people traded in these things, though never made them.”
“Oh?” Ms. Black arched an unashamedly thick brow. “Which of the First Nations might that be?”
“These days,” Hector said without prying his eyes from the mystical artwork, “we call ourselves the Nuu-Chah Nulth, what others call—”
“The Nootka,” she interrupted. “Yes, I know your folk well. I have a century-old Nootka Hat in another room. These are from other tribes, naturally—two are Tsimshian, the one overhead is Tlingit.”
“The people who allegedly originated this unique art-form,” Julio commented.
“Are you Tlingit, Ms. Black?”
“No, Mr. Rodriguez. Nor am I Tsimshian. And please, call me Melinda. You are Julio, I believe? And this fine young man is—?”
“Hector Running Deer,” the younger man said indistinctly, still spellbound by the Chilkats’ abstract designs and stylized animal figures.
“Hector, then. But do come along, please? These items—proud parts of my collection, to be sure—are nonetheless familiar to me. I know their worth. It is only a few recent additions—things I am uncertain about—that I wish you to evaluate for me . . . . ?”
She beckoned with an extended arm and the men followed her through three successive rooms that were decorated by more of the same, plus an array of exquisite wooden furniture of assorted origins. But all of it was quite old, authentic and beautifully maintained.
Finally she paused at a hand-carved Spanish doorway. “I very recently broadened my collecting interests, so to speak. And as such, I acquired some new pieces to reflect that—courtesy a very generous gentleman friend.”
Julio’s eyes narrowed, though not in surprise. Of course, he thought with lustful passion, she couldn’t be more obvious if she wore a neon sign flashing ‘High-Paid Whore/Mistress’ hung around her neck!
“But I know little to nothing about antique pottery of this sort,” she admitted, even as she somehow turned this declaration into yet another murmured come-on. “That’s why I summoned you two.”
Julio nodded to himself, swallowed hard and watched her round ass one last time as it led them into her bedroom. The pottery collection—arranged in haphazard splendor to either side of a woven bark basket atop her massive bedroom fireplace’s equally outsized mantle—was small yet unbelievably choice. Julio’s eyes lit up, as did his assistant’s.
They staggered forward, breathlessly beholding then carefully examining what was easily a million Canadian dollars’ worth of genuine Ming Dynasty vases and urns. All were expertly fired and hand-painted, and—for Julio—all ominously familiar. Midway through, Julio eased himself into a gorgeous, and of course genuine, Louis the Fourteenth chair. From this luxurious perch, he turned his head repeatedly—alternating between halfhearted agreement with Hector’s cries of delight and sneaking worried yet compulsive looks at Melinda as she stretched out on a high-backed, semi-circular, Persian bed.
That particular piece of exotic antique furniture was big enough for three, he noted almost against his will. The rumpled purple satin sheets shimmered invitingly as Melinda methodically eased back the hem of her black dress, revealing red lace garters from a previous age and a semi-sheer thong of equally vivid red silk.
“Consider the delicacy, the sheer artistry of this piece!” Hector gasped.
“Hmm. What? Oh, yes—yes, indeed!” He cleared his throat and made a show of examining the exquisite fired-glass incense burner cupped lovingly in his assistant’s hands. There was no doubting its origin—or its previous owner.
“Julio?” Hector squinted with abject bafflement. “What’s with you today, boss?”
The older man’s eyes betrayed him by shifting past his assistant’s elbow. Hector’s head turned. He saw Melinda’s bare ass-cheeks and the fire-engine red strip of lingerie between them.
“Wha—?” he gasped again and nearly dropped the near-priceless artifact. “Oooh!”
Hector got the incense burner safely back on the mantle somehow as Julio sprang from the chair and lunged toward their leering—and possibly homicidal—fuck-slut of a client. She turned over, swung a leg across the disheveled sheets and clawed the thong out of Julio’s way. Her neatly trimmed pubic hair was the same incongruous shade of blood red, with dewy folds of labial flesh protruding from it.
Julio was facedown in milliseconds, his chin beard and mustache tickling the flesh of her thighs. Melinda moaned as her folds opened and he tongued her pussy in earnest. A small but strong hand folded across the back of his skull; her pelvis rotated, grinding against him. Her eyes rolled back in her head and a couple random obscenities bubbled from her gaping, red-rimmed mouth.
A rasping sound came from somewhere nearby—Hector, unzipping his pants. Julio smiled against her crotch, pleased that his protégé seemed about to prove a fast learner in more ways than one. He continued teasing Melinda’s grateful vagina even as he became aware of the first inklings of a strange, giddy lightheadedness. His determined tongue action continued as Hector crawled past him. He crammed a finger up her rectum and Melinda arched her back.
Her mouth twisted almost grotesquely open and she arched her back, turned her head. She accepted the younger man’s member almost to the root with a single wet gulp and clamped her lips tight around it. Her eyes burned up at him and she sucked furiously as Hector seized a fistful of crimson hair by the roots.
Julio jerked his finger from her bunghole and levered himself upright on his knees. His hard shaft sprang free as she pushed Hector back with both hands. The younger man’s throbbing dick popped free and wobbled against her cheek.
“Condoms!” Melinda commanded and then her head darted lower, effortlessly taking Hector’s entire scrotum into her mouth. Painful yet exhalant passion appeared on Hector’s face and he swung his head.
Julio hurried to sheath his member and drove his latex-bound erection deep into her. He groaned, took three or four frantic thrusts then paused to pass a second condom into Hector’s accepting fingers. Julio fucked her with desperate energy, sweat pouring out and his heart racing. He felt like he was giving away his very life force and recognized the danger involved—whether she was truly Alexander Sung’s murderer or not. Yet he couldn’t seem to make himself care, or even slow his out-of-control rutting. He climaxed powerfully and shuddered, collapsed—but not onto her, as Melinda’s strong left hand guided him down beside her.
Likewise, the uncut tip of Hector’s cock pulsed and exploded into the air before his clumsy fingers could fit the second pale blue sheath into place.
Melinda wrinkled her nose at what landed in gooey lines and round specks across her forehead, her hair and the sheets they all writhed upon. Yet she guided the unconscious younger man down to her other side without open complaint.
Two hours later, Julio awoke with a groan. He nudged Hector, who responded similarly to regaining a degree of confused awareness.
“You both survived!” Melinda Black said with delight. “I should’ve thought to try this—spreading the risk—decades ago!”
“Survived?” Julio sat up and nearly toppled back onto the sheets. He rubbed his forehead, muttered vaguely. “Decades ago?”
She looked only a few years older than Hector!
“How do you feel?”
He blinked. “Trashed, but in a good way—kind of. Like I just had the best, most intense and satisfying sex of my life and—” He stopped short, narrowed and focused his eyes on her accusingly.
“—and it nearly killed you?” she completed the thought for him and nodded.
She had showered and changed more than her clothes as the men slept off their inexplicable experience. Melinda seemed stronger, yet calmer—less animalistic than before. Like a predator who just filled-up with a good meal and now can relax?
She turned her head toward the fireplace mantle and specifically the one item there not of Chinese origin.
“That basket?” He rose, looked over his shoulder to assure himself that Hector was also recovering. Then he swept past her. He seized it with both hands, brought it down and peered inside. Bones—very old, charred by fire. “Human?”
“My husband,” she confirmed.
“That is only my most recent name, of course.”
“Yeah? You’re—a Carrier?”
“That’s the common White People word for my Nation. We prefer Dakelh.”
“Carrier?” Hector echoed vaguely. He stumbled to his feet. “Oh, yeah—you’re an inland People. Mine traded with yours frequently, back in the old days.”
“I remember,” she said. “Then the whites came with their diseases, among many other things and took away our way of life, nearly wiped us both out.”
“You remember. But that was so long ago. You look—how old are you?” Julio pressed her.
“I was almost 23 when my husband died—in one of epidemics. As per the ancient custom that gave my Nation its Anglo name, I was expected to carry his bones everywhere I went in this sacred basket for the next three years, once they came out of the funeral pyre. And in this time of mourning, I was not to be permitted sex. I honored this obligation for two years and seven months—until I encountered Angus.”
“Angus?” Julio murmured.
“He was a big, strong, bearded Scotsman who worked on the Canadian Pacific Railroad through our country. He had the most extraordinary red hair.”
“Oh, no.” Melinda shook her head. “I was full-blooded Dakelh—my name then meant She of the Darkest of Black Hair in our language, and I took pride in it. I still do, secretly—why I frequently use the name Black now, I suppose.”
“I was 25, full of youthful passion. I let Angus—hell, I was entirely willing! But my late husband’s father was the village Shaman. He found out; cast a vengeful and monstrous spell upon me. Unawares, I lay with my white man again—both of us wild with passion, even greater than before! It was the spell’s work. And even as he died, I felt the intoxicating surge of power and vitality I took from him. And my hair instantly turned an even more vivid shade of red than his—my father-by-marriage’s warning to others that I was unclean, I think.”
She blinked, fell silent.
Hector staggered up next to Julio and she eyed him thoughtfully. “In your people’s tradition, the soul is pictured as a tiny, invisible duplicate of the person that resides atop the forehead—correct?”
The younger man nodded. “More or less.”
“When the soul is healthy, it stands there erect. If unhealthy, it sits—slumps in exhaustion?”
“But what if when so weakened it was sucked away from its very perch?”
Hector drew back a step.
“Yes. That is who and what I am.”
“A sort of sexual vampire,” Hector said, wide-eyed.
“You killed Alexander Sung.”
“And many others, Julio. But it’s not what I wanted.”
The senior appraiser snorted.
“The spell—the curse! I cannot eat normal foods. And if I don’t—consume the Life Energy of men, I starve.”
“Then choose to starve,” Julio suggested grimly.
“I’ve tried—many times in the last 125 years! The compulsion, the drive to feed is too strong—it gains control. The longer I go, the more intense the need and the instinctive, seductive aura I generate draws almost all the adult men I encounter, even if I struggle against it. Most often, I have simply accepted reality and gone ahead.”
Hector pursed his lips “Almost all?”
“Another aspect of my father-by-marriage’s clever spell. I am not drawn to my fellow Dakelh and find they are unmoved by my otherwise irresistible allure—even if I go without feeding more than six months, which seems my upper limit.”
“Hmm.” Julio replaced the basket on the mantle. “Meaning Sung was your latest victim?”
“Yes. I’ve tried many experiments. I thought perhaps I could stop partway through, take only some energy—sustain myself for shorter periods, but without killing. But once it started—no turning back. I thought less than full intercourse—but again, no.”
“The condoms?” Julio ventured.
“Covering a bit of skin might slow the process I thought. It’s also why I didn’t give either of you the chance to fully undress.”
Julio turned aside. “Sung was nude.”
“The second time, yes. He surprised me.”
“Explain!” both men demanded.
“I’d heard his reputation for extraordinary erotic stamina upon coming here. Legendary, almost. You understand why I must change locations every few years—before unmarked bodies begin to pile up and I am seen to somehow never age? I’ve been all over the world and only eight months ago returned to the Pacific Northwest.” She paused. Brushed crimson hair from her temple.
“Go on,” Julio urged.
“I arranged to meet him. He was attracted to me, like all the rest. The first time, he was mostly dressed and—to my pleased astonishment, he lived. Oh, he couldn’t walk without assistance for a week! But he lived.”
“And now he knew what you were?” the appraiser guessed.
“That man lived for danger. His pampered environment, all that inherited wealth. I tried to talk to him—dissuade him, make him wait a safe time and regain his strength. He—the second time he lured me—as if he was the predator and not me! He undressed out of my sight, donned a rubber and sprang upon me, dragged me into his bedroom.”
“Sung raped you?”
“Yes—and no. Although my need is controllable after feeding, it never completely goes away. Neither, it seems does the pheromones or whatever it is I put out that draws men to me—and if Sung was a fair example, having experienced the level of satisfaction that comes of being with me. Well, I wonder if it changes a man’s soul—having even a part of it drained away like that? Caught up in his blind lust, I didn’t struggle. I was strong enough by then to beat him off—as I could probably batter you both bloody right now. But—I did not.”
“Did you steal these pieces?” Julio gestured at the pottery.
“No. They were gifts from him—not the first admirers have given me, as you can surely tell. Some from before our first time and some from after, as he sought to encourage me to lay with him again. They were among his earliest pieces—from a dead relative, I understand. Parting with them was his way of showing how strongly he felt toward me.”
She shook her head again.
“Well, I can’t honestly say why I didn’t think to be with more than one man at a time before. The prospect, the certainty I would kill one at a time seemed bad enough. My experience with the extraordinary Sung—I reasoned it might be possible, after all. I felt hope—for the first time in decades. And here you two stand—weakened and I’m sure disgusted. But alive!”
“What makes you think we won’t reveal your secret?” Julio said slowly.
“Who would believe such a tale? And even if you were to convince the world—what then? Would they write new laws or find a way to prosecute me under existing ones? I don’t age, but can starve and be injured—even killed by violence, I think. At least then I’d have the solution—the way to escape the compulsion and the terrible pleasure that comes over me each time I fuck and kill!”
Hector met her eyes, stepped closer. His hand came up. It cupped a full breast through the fabric of her blouse.
“Please don’t,” Melinda Black whispered. She cast a desperately appealing look at Julio Rodriguez and saw only what she dreaded there. “At least wait till you’re both stronger?”
For the moment physically stronger than the two men combined, she pushed them back—once, twice and three times. But they just kept coming, insistent and breathing heavily, already sweating and hard. And maybe the matter of radiated auras or pheromones or dark, vengeful magic went both ways.
They tore every stitch of the fresh, clean and not especially sexy clothes Melinda Black had donned from her flesh—and she let them.
She responded in kind and suddenly all three were naked. Hector stretched out on the floor. Melinda placed herself on top of him, gave his member to her vagina. Julio straddled both and both men filled her, not even bothering with whatever minimal protection latex could offer in these unique circumstances. The men used both her lower orifices briefly, furiously.
They climaxed with the runaway passions of wild beasts, and she orgasmed with them. But only one rose up afterward. Melinda Black wriggled free from her first experience with outright double penetration and sighed. She felt good—horribly, wondrously, undeniably good—and stronger, even more alive than ever before. And she knew, deep in her dark and conflicted soul, she would feel that way again and again—every five or six months, perhaps—possibly till the end of time.
Leroy Tyrell’s mood descended as the lift slowly carried him to the fourth floor. Something had been niggling him from the moment he exited his car that morning, the distinct feeling that something wasn’t right. His dad would have probably described it as negative mojo, but Leroy wasn’t as superstitious as the old man. Still- it persisted as he straightened his pale blue uniform and made the short walk across the lobby of the Renfield Hotel he felt…lost. Was that right? Yes, lost.
The front desk had been unoccupied, not unusual for six in the morning, but a shuffling noise from the back office told him that Sadie was on shift, likely sorting out the box of faulty key cards that had plagued them lately. It was unusual that no light shone from under the closed door, but Leroy didn’t pay it much attention- he had other things on his mind. His polished boots clicked briskly across the polished floor to the security lodge, which was more of a cubicle than a lodge really. Here he sat, basking in the green glow of the security monitors as he read his newspaper, discarded on the desk as always by Larry from the previous shift.
Today’s headline, in bold lettering below the red top, described how a missing child had been found dead amongst the heather and shrub of nearby moorland. He quickly turned the page, trying to erase the image of the white police tent against the patchwork of purple and green. He’d experienced his own loss not too far in the past which still left him feeling raw and things like this only served to make him feel worse.
He ran a finger and thumb down his chin as he read the sports section. When was the last time he shaved? He couldn’t remember, but his face felt thin and gaunt. He supposed that this shouldn’t be a surprise- he hadn’t been eating very well lately. Just hadn’t felt like it. It was hard to eat when everything was so dark.
The Walkie Talkie that was clipped to his belt squawked into life with a blast of static and he flinched.
“Uhh, Leroy we have a bit of a situation up on the fourth floor. Over.”
He raised the radio to his lips, frowning.
“Situation, Sadie? Over.”
“Yeah. One of the rooms up there is listed as unoccupied but one of the guests in 456 says that they can hear noises coming from inside. Could you please pop up and check? Over.”
“Sure. Probably another one of those emo bastards on the wind up again. Over.”
“I hear that. Over and out.”
Leroy sighed and reluctantly rose from his chair with a resigned creak. He checked that his night stick was still attached to his hip and then re-clipped the radio. Since they had found the poor guy that had ended his own life in 454 and it had made the local news they had all sorts of crazies trying to book themselves into that room. Most of them cited the bullshit rule that a person has the right to take any suite providing it was unoccupied, and they had Stephen King to thank for that one. Still, the management refused to let the room out to anyone who appeared to have any other motive than a good night’s sleep.
This hadn’t stopped them renting out rooms on the same floor to the oddballs, though, and this was what was going through Leroy’s mind as the lift pinged and the doors stiffly opened onto the fourth-floor corridor.
Leroy squinted as his eyes adjusted to the dull strip lights. The hallway that led off into the distance was bathed in a milky blue. He raised the radio to his lips, “Sadie, could you please get maintenance to pop up to the fourth when they have the chance? It looks like the strip lights up here are on their way out.”
The speaker hissed and crackled in response, but no reply was forthcoming. She was probably in the back office again, he thought. No big deal, he’d raise it in person when he returned. He exited the cart and then stopped, the doors grated shut behind him and the lift hummed as it began its descent. The carpet on which he stood felt unusually sticky underfoot. He lifted his heel, feeling resistance and then placed it down again. How strange. It was like someone had spilt a considerable quantity of fizzy soda here and then left it to dry. He would have to report this too, of course.
The pattern on the thick pile beneath him was designed to conceal stains. It was a looping motif of blues and reds that curled and curved over one another like the perpetually shifting waves of an ocean, broken only by pale edges that looked a little like foam. It was the same carpet on every floor of this damn hotel, but in this light, it somehow appeared…different.
He squatted, leaning on one knee as he looked a little closer. It reminded him a little of those magic eye books that he had once bought back in the nineties when optical illusions were all the rage. The blues seemed three dimensional somehow, they shifted and rolled in waves of darkness. It was like he was stood on water, and as he looked up the floor appeared to bobble and undulate. Down between his legs, the pattern fell and then lifted, forming into what looked like a face, mouth gaping below wide eyes, and it was slowly rising from the murky depths to meet him.
Leroy closed his lids tightly and raised his fingers to the bridge of his nose. He had been through a very difficult period of time in his life, and the stress was getting to him. That was all- it was to be expected in the circumstances surely? When he looked down again the floor had stopped moving, the carpet was as it always had been- the tackiness was still there, though. The light above him whined and flickered. Leroy rose and progressed towards his intended destination, struggling to focus in the unnatural luminescence.
“Thank Goodness you are here, sir!” A voice suddenly exclaimed. A shadow emerged from the space in front of him, and into his field of vision.
“Can I help you?” Leroy asked, inhaling deeply to try and stabilise his stomach. He didn’t feel right at all. In another place and time, he might have considered the possibility of an onset of food poisoning.
“Indeed you can,” the man said. He was wearing a tuxedo, and this hair was greased neatly across his head. Leroy could smell Brylcream but there was also another smell, something that reminded him of the kitchen bin back home, and the pile of leaves disintegrating atop the compost heap.
“There’s a terrible mess in my room,” the man continued, the pencil moustache atop his lip trembled and twitched as he spoke, almost like it had a life of its own. “Admittedly it’s my own fault, but I’ll kindly reimburse the hotel.” He briskly turned off to the left like a soldier on parade and through an open door. More of the blue light spilt out into the corridor.
Leroy followed shakily, feeling like he’d inhaled a particularly shitty toke of bad pot. He crossed the threshold where the man waited with one arm out towards the bed, like a smartly dressed steward guiding a filmgoer to their seat.
Leroy’s eyes widened. He turned and vomited.
The centre of the bed was a writhing red mess- like the reject chute of an abattoir. Amongst the bunched and creased sheets tendrils of pinky-grey intestines squirmed and slithered around bloated organs. It took a moment for him to realise that the motion was caused by the hundreds of maggots that pulsed in and out of the carnage.
A woman’s head, eyes rolled to the ceiling rested on the plumped pillow as if it belonged there. Her mouth was open and the purple fleshy slug of her tongue protruded over her grey teeth. A lace bonnet sat atop her head. Within the mismatch of limbs and bones Leroy spotted a tiny arm and leg, starved of oxygen and almost as blue as the filthy light that they bathed in. It was an unborn child.
Leroy vomited again and then remembering his purpose, pulled out his nightstick. He spun to face the suited gentleman.
He was gone.
The room was gone.
He was outside the lift doors again, stood in a puddle of his own bile.
That’s why it was so tacky, Leroy thought, struggling to understand what had just happened. The door that he thought he had just entered was closed and a push confirmed it was indeed locked.
He replaced the nightstick and raised the radio to his lips once more. “Sadie? You there? Over.”
He received only a hiss of static in response.
“Sadie. If you can hear me I’ll be back down in a few minutes. We need a Cleaner on the fourth floor. I repeat. A cleaner on the fourth floor. Over.”
He listened to the white noise for a few moments before speaking again. “Tell Helen and Gemma that I love them. Over and out.”
Why did I just say that?
It was impossible to tell Helen and Gemma anything. He knew that better than anyone, though he still tried sometimes as he tossed and turned in bed at night, talking to the darkness of his empty bedroom. He stood as time stretched out before him, staring off into the middle distance. He could see a pair of lips that were once pink and full, now purple where the poison had done its work. He blamed himself. He immediately tried to focus on something else, the task in hand and wiped the tears from his eyes.
His heavy breathing caught in his throat as a scream sounded from down the corridor, somewhere beyond his line of vision. A cold drop of sweat inched down his spine, and his flesh crawled. Shaking the fever-like symptoms from his bones he ran through the eerie glow towards room 454, counting the door numbers as he passed as a way of retaining his grip on reality.
Reaching his destination, he stopped to catch his breath. He stood for a second with his hands on his hips, wondering how he had lost fitness so quickly. It was only last year that he had run 10k in thirty-five minutes, now he was struggling with thirty-five yards. He could no longer see the lift doors back where he had come from, only a smothering swirl of distorting blue fog. It was as if the other end of the corridor had ceased to exist.
The door of 454 was unremarkable- faux walnut with the numbers in shiny polished brass and a little peephole beneath. He put his ear to the surface. It was remarkably cold as if someone had left the air conditioning blasting in the room, which could have quite easily been the case. Aside from the seashell effect and the claustrophobic thud of his own heart beating he could hear nothing but a pregnant silence.
Across the corridor, the door opened and a young woman stepped out into the light. She wore leather boots and a blue denim skirt, a Sex Pistols T-shirt stretched across the small rounds of her chest ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ the famous logo proclaimed.
“Are you security?” she asked.
“Yes miss,” Leroy replied, “what seems to be the trouble?”
“I heard screaming coming from there,” she explained, nodding towards 454. A lock of her dark hair fell into her grey eyes and she swept it away with her hand. “I came to The Renfield to get away from my problems, not to encounter them. Got enough shit going on as it is.”
As if in response, a high pitched screech whistled like steam from an agitated kettle from somewhere within 454, rising with the hairs on the back of Leroy’s neck. There was a strange resonance to it, an echo that reverberated around the thin walls within. It sounded simultaneously very close, and also like it was traversing a considerable distance. He knocked on the door so hard that it warmed his cold knuckles. “Security- open up.” No response, silence had descended once again on the corridor.
He reached in the back pocket of his trousers.
“What you doing?” the girl asked.
“Double checking something.” He replied, putting the mobile phone to his ear. The signal was incredibly weak and popped and crackled but after a couple of rings, Sadie answered. “Renfield Reception how can I help you?”
“Sadie, it’s Leroy here.”
“Hello? Hello? Is that you Leroy? Signals not too good.”
“Tell me about it, can you just confirm that 454 is currently unoccupied?”
“Sure hang on.”
“Room 454 hasn’t been occupied for over a year now.”
He hadn’t finished speaking when the phone beeped three times to indicate loss of signal. He checked the screen and then replaced it in his rear pocket. When he turned back to the girl she was no longer there, but the sight of the closed door made Leroy’s temples throb.
He saw a blade glide across delicate, pale skin like an ice skater on the rink, leaving a thin, red trail behind. The trail inevitably darkened and bled out, spilling out into clear water where it transformed into beautiful candy cotton bursts of rouge. A pulse tick-tocked in that wrist, the same pulse that beat a rhythm in her neck, and that is where the blade was heading now, with serene purpose.
Suddenly the screech rose from the door behind him again, and his blood turned to ice. Pocketing the phone, he pulled out the master key and swiped through the slot on the wall. With a low click the lock released and the door creaked open.
It was dark inside, and very cold. The curtains had been closed and Leroy had to utilise his small pocket torch in one hand and ready the nightstick with the other before he entered. The LED beam cut a white path through the darkness and he could see that the room was in complete disarray. A bedside table had been smashed against the inside of the door and lay splintered across the carpet, the circle of light found a print of three trees on a riverbank that had been decimated and was hanging from one hinge, a pale mark behind it on the wall indicating where it had once been.
Leroy tentatively stepped further into the room, past the wardrobe on his right and the bathroom to his left. He could see the bed now, and for a moment he thought that an adult and a child lay side by side, perfectly still on top of the sheets. “Helen? Gemma?” he asked, his heart sinking. As he squinted the two figures faded from view and became the lumps and bumps of a duvet, which was half hanging off the bed.
I need to get a grip, he thought. The feeling of being on some sort of drug induced hallucination still persisted. Everything looked as if it was a clever piece of three-dimensional graffiti and if he turned his head a certain way he would almost certainly find that it was all just a picture- as real as those three trees behind the smashed glass. Except it didn’t. The torchlight penetrated into the shadows above the headboard and found weird shapes. Rusty brown coloured handprints covered the entire wall, some spattered around the edges, smeared in the same way that a Michelin star chef would spread a raspberry sauce across a plate. Leroy tried to swallow, but his mouth felt like it was fill of cotton wool.
A lump caught in Leroy’s throat, and he spun to face the bathroom door, which was now swinging outwards. A squeak echoed from inside the black void, and he thought, with some relief that it might just be a mouse. Rodents were not unknown in old buildings like this, he had only called Rent-a-Kill a few weeks before because the chef had found some droppings near the walk-in fridge, but no. This wasn’t the cry of an animal, it was the resistance of metal against metal.
Plumes of vapour poured from the void as the shower hissed into life, lit only by the torch beam and the weak light from the corridor beyond. Leroy through that it looked like smoke, poisonous smoke that filled young lungs with carbon monoxide as they slept. Except the policeman in the back of the ambulance told him that carbon monoxide was invisible, and that is why it was so hard to detect. The same round faced cop that told him that he was very lucky to still be alive.
Something shifted in the steam, a movement as subtle as a light breeze except the shape that it formed was recognisable and unnatural. This really was like a magic eye puzzle now as his eyes took in the curls and loops that the plumes were taking on. A man.
Leroy’s eyes widened with horror, and his mouth opened to scream soundlessly as the semi-transparent shape floated out of the darkness. A fat, shapeless head was cocked to the side at an unnatural angle, hands lying limply by its sides as it moved a foot above the ground, toes pointed downwards to the splinters on the carpet.
“Let me out,” it hissed at him in a voice that sounded weak and distorted. A scream then erupted, but not from Leroy’s parted lips, it came from within the billowing fog that was now reaching out two ethereal arms and floating towards him.
Leroy whipped his nightstick at his assailant, but it found nothing but the resistance of air. The two hands closed on his neck, hot and damp, condensation dripping down his chest and into his shirt. The grip began to tighten and tighten until he couldn’t breathe.
Is this is what it was like for them? He thought, looking up at the ceiling, at the misty noose that extended upwards above the creatures head like a small tornado, is this is what it is like to slowly suffocate to death? The image of his ten year old daughter flashed into his mind. It was the photograph that they had kept on the wall behind the television, pride of place. His baby-girl sat side-on in her new school uniform, royal blue, with that beautiful dark skin she had inherited from her father, eyes wide and alert, mouth raised in a cheeky smile. No more.
He could hear his wife’s voice from within as his vision started to fade out red around the edges. “Fight it, Leroy, fight it. It was not your fault! We didn’t have a chance, but you do! You do!” With his last ounce of strength, he dropped the torch and pointed a shaky finger to the corridor. “There…” he said weakly “…light…” The shape stopped and turned. Upon seeing the open door it released the vice-like grip on Leroy’s throat. As his back thumped against the thin carpet Leroy could see the steam roll towards the open doorway, as if caught in a crosswind and within a second it was gone.
He started up at the static ceiling fan, his windpipe throbbing and the rise and fall of his chest slowing. “Must fight it, must…” he thought, weakly. Then his world faded to nothing.
He woke to the purr of the engine, with his chin resting against his chest. His eyes were streaming and he couldn’t tell if he had been crying, or if it was the thick choking smoke that engulfed the entire space where he sat. Groggily he turned to face the passenger side door and saw the source of the toxicity. Surreally, it looked like a green snake, regurgitating poisonous clouds of grey cotton candy- but he came to realise that it was a hosepipe.
What the hell am I doing?
He unbuckled the seatbelt, gripped the door handle with as much strength as his weak hands could muster and spilt out onto the floor of the Renfield Hotel’s underground carpark, coughing and spluttering on his hands and knees. He was still in his uniform which was slick with bile and yesterday’s dinner. He felt like he was suffering from the world’s heaviest hangover but had to get outside, get some fresh air and clear his head.
Like a baby deer on ice, he shakily rose to his feet and then leaning against the brick wall he slowly made his way around to the exit ramp, pausing every few steps to breathe. Behind him the car idled malevolently, driver’s door still open and spitting out plumes of lethal smoke.
He ambled past the yellow and black striped barrier to the kerb outside and allowed himself to stumble forward and collapse on the lawn. Rolling onto his back he looked up the grey stonework of the hotel and into an azure sky where the sun shone like a beautifully bright penny. He breathed deep, his lungs hungrily consuming the fresh afternoon air, then picked up his radio and sent out an emergency callout to reception.
“I’m out back Sadie,” he said, his voice hoarse and gravelly, “Please send an ambulance. I need help…” His eyes fell to one of the windows on the fourth floor, and he could see a man with dark brown hair waving down at him from within. At the man’s side, a pale woman in a headscarf linked his arm- gazing into the face of her companion with clear admiration. Inexplicably and without thought Leroy reciprocated the wave, dropping the hissing radio to his side. There was something familiar about them, the man in particular, but before Leroy could decide exactly what, he was gone.
Leroy Tyrell cast his mind back to the moment when his feet led him to his car, garden hose coiled tightly in fist. Next to him on the passenger side seat, his wallet had laid open with the picture of his recently deceased wife and daughter. The images had been taken by him, only weeks before the faulty boiler had turned his entire life on its head. He saw those beautiful smiling faces, and his heart ached so deeply, an all too familiar emotion that shook him harder than anything the Richter scale could record.
The distant wail of sirens found him, interrupting the birdsong and despite himself, his lips formed into a bittersweet smile.
Leroy Tyrell figured that his world was in pieces- that much hadn’t changed, but at least he was still here to pick them up.
One piece at a time.
About the author: Gary Buller is an author from Manchester England where he lives with his long suffering partner Lisa, his daughter Holly and dog Chico. He grew up in the Peak District where the hauntingly beautiful landscapes inspired him to write. He is a huge fan of all things macabre and loves a tale with a twist.
The door creeps open and he greets me with that sympathetic smile. Like he cares for me in some way, but his compassion is transparent; a cloying mask that barely conceals his lack of emotion. He’s come to ask me more questions. The fact that I’m here at all is proof that the machine works.
“Do you remember Rose?” he asks. Of course I remember Rose. I am in love with her too. I just give him the nod. I should take him by surprise. Wrap my bed sheet around his neck until he no longer struggles, then make a run for it. But that would be useless. He will have changed the key code by now and being trapped in here, slowly starving to death, isn’t the best alternative.
“And our mother?” he says. “Do you remember her name?” I remember her reading to me every night before I went to sleep. How her kiss could heal a wound faster than any surgeon in the country. Even the ones deep down, like when Sally Baker told me she was going out with Tom Brody now, and she had never really liked me anyway. My mother… Our mother… kissed me on the forehead and told me that it would be okay. It was.
“Dawn,” I tell him. He takes a deep breath and pulls his lips in, before exhaling heavily through his nose.
“Do you remember everything?” he asks. I lift my head and stare into his eyes. “Right up to entering the machine?”
“Yes,” I say. “One of us walked in. Two of us walked out.”
“So you know what has to be done?”
I look down at the vents that will soon be letting in the gas. I haven’t been alive for long, I know that, but I have a lifetime of memories. I remember enough to know what has to be done.
“Yes, I know.”
I don’t want to die, but I know it’s safer this way, for both of us. If anyone ever found out, both of our lives would be destroyed.
“I’m going now,” he tells me. Tears form in my eyes. I swallow down the lump in my throat, grit my teeth, and hold his gaze as he backs out of the room. The gas begins to seep in through the vents, making me cough. My eyes are burning and I steady myself against the wall. He is watching me through the small glass window in the door and I can see sorrow in his eyes. Real sorrow. I stumble to the glass. I don’t want to die alone. He looks away and presses his right hand to the glass. I start to raise my hand to his, then stop. His sleeve has slid down, exposing the pale skin of his wrist, and there…
My tattoo! I have a tattoo on my right wrist. A yellow smiley face I had done in my college days. His wrist is bare.
“We’ve made a mistake!” I choke. The room is too bright, my head is spinning. I hold my wrist up to the glass, as I slide down the door. You need to look back. You need to see my tattoo. We’ve made a mistake.
I fall to the floor.
“I’m not the clone. You are.”
About the author: I’ve been obsessed with horror since I stole my dad’s vhs of Nightmare on Elm Street and watched it in secret. I’ve drawn, painted, and written about horror ever since. I live in Liverpool, UK. I have just turned 40 and was diagnosed with Asperger’s earlier this year (now I know why I lack social skills). I recently finished my first draft of an 80k manuscript, and have yet to have anything published.
“We’re so thrilled you’ve agreed to take on Jake, he’s been placed with four different carers in the last three months, but no one seems to want to have him.” Mandy, Jake’s social worker, looked down at her notes, “Such a shame. It’s usually the most challenging children that are the most rewarding.”
Kirsty cleared her throat and took a sip of tea from the chipped mug in her hands, “You said his mother is ill, what’s wrong with her?”
“I can’t say,” Mandy responded very quickly, she gathered her things and seemed eager to leave, “Good bye Jake,” She finished without looking back.
“Thanks again,” Kirsty called out after her.
Kirsty got up from her sofa and asked Jake if he was hungry he shook his head but Kirsty gave him a bar of chocolate which raised a smile. He took it and shyly sat down beside her. She got the remote and put on a kids TV programme, it had been Jessica’s favourite.
“I think we’re going to get on just fine,” Kirsty said. He was a very shy boy with dark hair and dark eyes, hopefully he liked football. It was Gary’s burning passion and Kirsty had brought this little boy into her home not because she wanted to care for him but because she needed glue to keep her fragmented family together, and Jake was just the thing.
Kirsty received a text halfway through cooking dinner, it was Gary saying he would be home late, he was going for a drink with the lads, again. Kirsty sighed and gritted her teeth, these days he was never at home, never around when she needed him the most. No doubt he blamed himself but she forgave him as she did every time he did something wrong. No one’s perfect she lamented, not even Gary.
Jake accepted his meal in silence and ate everything without protest, even the peas. Kirsty smiled he was a doddle to look after, this was going to be easy. Even when he was sent to bed there was none of the usual dramatics she had with Jessica.
“Jessie?” Kirsty whispered in the dark hallway as she waited outside an empty room that had been untouched since that day. She went back downstairs after seeing Jake to bed. There was nothing on the telly but there was a bottle of cheap wine in the cupboard so she took that out instead and sat alone at the kitchen table with one glass.
Kirsty must have been really tired because she woke up the next day still sat at the table, Jake was also sat next to her waiting with angry eyes.
“Jake, oh I didn’t hear you come down,” she quickly hid the empty bottle and glass before he saw and tried to act as if she was feeling on top of the world. He said nothing but glowered at her. “Do you usually have cereal for breakfast?” Kirsty inquired, she received no answer and turned round to see he had gone.
That was how it had started, Jake would not speak to her, would not go near her. Something in him had changed overnight. Kirsty rubbed her neck, it had been playing up again, a painful reminder of the day she had lost everything.
Gary was upstairs in bed snoring off last night’s excesses, she knew better now than to wake him, he had a terrible temper that had become much worse. It was mid- morning, there was nothing good on telly but she did find a half drunk bottle of whisky by the side of the bed. It was Gary’s but if she put the empty bottle back after she was done he’d just think it was him that drank it.
“You two are disgusting, you’re so embarrassing. Why can’t you be like normal parents?” Jake spat, he had been sat behind the sofa unknown to Kirsty.
Those words were all too familiar to her, “Jake, what are you doing behind the sofa?” Her words were beginning to slur and it was hard for her to act right.
Jake looked upstairs but made no move to come out, “Is he coming down too?”
“Gary? No he’s asleep. I didn’t realise that you had met each other. He’s really nice, do you like playing football. Gary loves football, he used to play professionally until he had his accident.” Kirsty stopped suddenly, “But don’t mention that to him, better to pretend you don’t know.”
“I hope you drink yourself to death, both of you.” Jake hissed as he ran outside to the bottom of the garden.
Kirsty hid her face in her hands, there was only one thing she could do to numb the pain and that was to drink a bit more until it went away. It seemed like he knew her already, he hated her already. Was this what he did when he was placed with new foster carers? Was he deliberately trying to push her away? She wasn’t going to give up, not like last time.
“We’re all hurting in this house Jake, but we can help each other. You can help me and I can help you. Does that sound fair?” Kirsty asked as she found him kicking about an old ball.
“You don’t deserve help,” was all he said.
As the day progressed Kirsty’s mind became clearer, this had been a big mistake. Jake was not going to bring the things back that she had so desperately wanted. They were not going to be a family, he was just another broken creature in a house of suffering. She made that call to Mandy who did not hide her disappointment in Kirsty’s decision to stop caring for the boy.
“I’ll come round tomorrow, give you a chance to sleep on it,” She spoke coldly.
“Can’t you come and get him now?” Kirsty pleaded looking out the living room window to the stranger in her garden. The line went dead, Mandy had hung up.
“What have I done?”
Kirsty couldn’t sleep at all that night, Jake had really unnerved her but at least he had put up no fuss when she sent him to bed early. In fact he had welcomed it, he must have been glad to be away from her. Kirsty sighed and rubbed her temples. Was she really so terrible a person?
Gary was down the pub again, he didn’t care for Jake. This had been one very big mistake. She got out of bed but she wasn’t going to drink this time. Her life needed changes she needed to stop it for good.
“I have a problem,” she whispered as she traipsed down the hallway. When she got to Jake’s room she heard a sound and paused. There was another muffled giggle, it sounded like a girls chuckle.
“I told her, I hope you drink yourself to death,” Jake giggled followed by more laughing. Kirsty was shocked that Jake was capable of laughter, he seemed such a sombre child during the day. Now, in the darkness he was unrestrained and free.
“She didn’t say anything back,” there was another pause. “No I didn’t get a smack either.” Kirsty leaned in trying to decide whether she could hear another voice, “I’ll make sure to stay out of his way.” Kirsty thought about going in and turning on the light but there was something that stopped her from doing so. She wanted to know who he was talking to, there was definitely somebody else in there with him.
“Jess, if you’re still feeling sore you can sleep on the bed and I’ll take the floor. I don’t mind.” There was a rustling of bed sheets followed by several soft creaks on the floorboards. “Of course you can sleep in with me, I’ll hold you tight.”
Kirsty took a step back and nearly fell down the stairs in shock. Quickly she went downstairs, luckily there was a can of opened beer that Gary had left on the kitchen table. He’d be mad when he would get in later and see it was gone, but right now, she needed it more than him.
How could he have known her name? Was it possible Mandy had told him? Surely it was a strange thing to tell a child? Was Jake really talking to Jessica? An overwhelming surge of emotion took over her like a rip tide pounding a beaten shore.. She had not allowed herself to feel anything for the last six months and now it, the very thing she’d been trying to drown, had burst through the dams. Was he really talking to Jessica, her Jessica? Her only child who tragically died six months ago. She saw it now, Jake was not the glue needed to hold this family together, but the bridge in which to speak to her daughter. She wanted to go up there now and speak to her, but she didn’t want to blow her chance.
Eventually Jake came down shortly after nine AM, Kirsty had refused any more alcohol after that beer and was completely sober, it hurt like hell but she was ready for it, ready for the suffering of the darkest dawn. Now Jake was here, she’d find a new day to begin again. With Jessica’s help also, she knew she could turn her life around.
“Jake what have I done to upset you? I only want to be your friend.” Kirsty had made him a special fried breakfast, she’d nipped out whilst he had been asleep to buy the ingredients needed.
“You’re mean,” Was all he said as he pushed the plate away.
“Look Jake,” Kirsty said taking hold of his shoulders in her grip, “I need to know. Were you talking to Jessica last night? Is she here? Please I need to talk to her. She’s my daughter.” Jake wriggled away from her with a surprising strength.
“Don’t touch me. I know what you did.”
“What do you mean? Look, can you speak to her or not?” Kirsty asked growing impatient, all she wanted was her little girl back.
“Yes I can, but she doesn’t want to speak to you and neither do I” Jake said retreating further back.
“But why?” Kirsty cried, the struggle to stay sober was getting too much.
“Because you killed her! She hates you.” Jake roared he added in a quieter tone, “She’s told me everything, that you two drove home after a BBQ. You let Gary drive even though you knew he’d had too much to drink. He crashed the car and she died, but instead of giving her justice, you lied and said it was you driving.” Jake threw up his hands in disbelief, “And you still love him, you still let him sleep here, in her home.”
“I don’t have anyone else now,” Kirsty whispered, she tried to get closer to Jake but he retreated further backwards, “Please ask her to speak to me. I’ll do anything.”
Jake shook his head unmoved, “She lives in the darkness now, where you put her. She only whispers in the dark.”
“How can I find a way to speak with her? Please Jake, she’s my daughter. I need her back, I can’t take this anymore.” Finally her resolve gave way and she collapsed in a pitiful heap upon the dirty cracked linoleum floor.
There was a knock on the door and Jake froze. There was a grim look on his face and mournfully he glanced upstairs. “I knew you’d do this,” He said knowing who was on the other side before he’d opened it. He smiled as if remembering a happy memory. “Gary won’t be waking up today.”
“Wait. Jake what are you talking about?” Kirsty fought down the urge to be sick as she raced upstairs.
“Hi Mandy,” Jake said cheerily, “I’ll just get my things.”
About the Author: Originally born in Cornwall, south west England, her childhood was surrounded by myths and legends and she has always been fascinated by anything out of the ordinary. It was in this strange and ancient land where she developed a passion for writing.
She loves writing short stories exploring dark fictional worlds and its mysterious inhabitants, and is currently working on her first novel. Her day job involves working as journalist for www.findahood.com and she also blogs on her sitehttp://www.sjbudd.co.uk
Her work has appeared in Sanitarium Magazine, Siren’s Call Publications, Deadman’s Tome, Innersins , Aphelion, Bewildering Stories, Blood Moon Rising Magazine, Shadows at the Door and Danse Macabre Magazine, The Wild Hunt and Morpheus Tales