Let me tell you a story...
The bathroom tile was icy on Sam’s feet. The room dark, gray, and desolate like the inside of a long-forgotten cave abandoned by miners eras ago. Sam leaned into the hollow wooden door—pressed her back to it. Her breath ragged and sharp as it hissed from her lungs. She attempted to blink away the darkness, but her eyes wouldn’t adjust. There were no slivers, no pinpricks of light seeping in from the moonless night. Sam’s lungs rattled like a beggar’s coin can. She covered her mouth with her hands—a futile attempt to stifle her terror. The floorboards in her bedroom groaned. A loud thud, followed by glass shattering, shoved Sam deeper into the recesses of the barren bathroom. Silence. A high-pitched squeak reverberated ominously in the darkness, and a rush of water began flowing into the porcelain bathtub.
Sam’s eyes darted blindly, seeking the hand that twisted the knob. Her ears perked, knowing everything inside the usually mundane room was wrong—menacing. The water wasn’t gushing forth as smooth and freely as water should. It was trembling, lazy. Sam tiptoed to the tub, two outstretched fingers reaching to the gelatinous sounding water. The liquid was warm, sticky. Sam jerked her hand away, holding her soaked fingers to her face. Emptiness, her hand was gone, disappeared into a wasteland of nothing. She whimpered and shuffled back to the door when she felt something, a piece of mutant ivy, grasp her ankle. Sam shrieked as she shook her foot furiously. Her body slammed involuntarily against the puny white door. The foggy claws released her, but around Sam’s ankles the evidence of invasion was clear. In the darkness, something inky—blacker than night—crept under the infinitesimal crack between the carpet and the door. The distorted, muddled shadow of tentacles seeped in, dragging themselves inch by gruesome inch. The rest was coming. Sam clutched her throat and screamed.
Fluffy white foam clung to Sam’s upper lip. She sipped absentmindedly at her caramel cappuccino—it’s sweetness tickled the tiny bumps on her tongue and scorched her esophagus. The café was filled with vibrations. Mismatched tea cups tinkled behind the counter, paper rustled quietly as book pages flipped, and the bearded hipster behind her punched typewriter keys. Jackie had been chortling about something for nearly twenty minutes, but the words were cluttered and chaotic. Sam hadn’t heard anything Jackie had said.
“Can you believe he said that? Sam? Hello, are you even listening?”
Sam used the heel of her palm and dug at her eye sockets. “Sorry, I’m just so tired.”
“You look like shit.”
“Thanks. Appreciate it.”
Jackie leaned in across her still steaming latte. “Are they happening again?”
“I’d rather not talk about it, Jackie.”
“Better out than in.”
“Yeah, ok. It’s been like, an every night thing.” Sam rubbed her eyes again and took another sip of cappuccino. She sat in the aluminum mid-modern chair as if she could tighten herself into a ball. As if the smaller Sam became, the less likely evil would be to find her. Crouched over, arms across her chest, knees tucked up—Sam was her own forcefield. Except that the monsters and demons and evil spirits were only an infection wreaking havoc inside her mind. None of them could touch her out here. “I don’t know. Maybe I need a med adjustment.”
“Those pharmaceuticals are nothing but trouble,” Jackie snorted and waved her hand in the air. “Tell me about them.”
“Come out with it. Leaving them roaming around in there isn’t going to help.”
“It’s just the usual. That weird monster thing—”
“I love the Lovecraft monster dreams.”
“Yeah,” Sam hissed, “they’re a lot of fun.”
“Just the usual.”
“I thought the dreamcatcher I got at that place in New Mexico helped.”
Sam winced, “It did. I don’t know why. Superstition probably. At any rate, it doesn’t now.”
“It’s been two years. Have you had it cleaned?” Jackie asked as she dipped a chocolate chip biscotti into her over-sized mug.
“Is that a thing?”
“Sam, honestly, Google is your friend. Yes, you have to have them cleaned periodically. They get full. I imagine yours is overworked, and as crowed as Penn Station.”
Sam twisted the leopard print key that opened her front door. It creaked open, she kept forgetting to buy WD-40 at the store. Sam stepped inside fumbling with the canvas tote on her shoulder—off balance with a gallon of milk, coffee pods, bananas, and the increased dosage of antipsychotics Dr. Black had called in.
The kitchen was dimly lit. The only window let in an awkward, lazy orange glow that shone like a dying spotlight on the kitchen sink. Sam shambled through the doorway and flicked the light switch—a fat calico, asleep on the kitchen table, startled and stared at her angry for the intrusion. It screeched, stretched, and leapt away.
“Sorry to disturb you, your highness,” Sam grumbled as she tossed the canvas tote on the table.
The milk jug was slick with condensation, the plastic had begun to warm, and Sam scurried to place it in the fridge. Her foot slipped in something slimy and slid clumsily away from her body. Sam righted herself and lifted her foot—concerned she had stepped in some horrid cat surprise. Strings of gleaming crimson stuck like taffy forming an intricate network of gore between Sam’s shoe and the sky blue tiled kitchen floor. It made a sticky peeling sound like elementary kids who have methodically glued their hands together. The color drained from Sam’s face leaving her wilted, a corpse in a casket. Her hands shook, and the sweaty jug of milk dislodged itself from her fist—it jiggled when it hit the tile and transformed into the White Sea as the fluid slithered across the floor.
Sam’s head shot up, interrupting her reverie over the milk puddle, when she heard a guttural growl emanate from down the hall. Now, she noticed more globs of viscous, bloody matter, like spackle, on the walls and furniture. The ruby red masses seemed to glow and pulsate. They oozed thick creamy blood that stained the surface they were fixed to. Sam sucked in jagged breath and turned toward the origin point of the menacing growl, leaving the milk to warm and curdle. As she moved, her shoe stuck to the tile as if there were a fresh wad of gum pulling at the sole.
A fuzzy bleakness had fallen over the skinny hallway that led to the bedrooms in the back of Sam’s house. Rich, black dust floated like snow from the ceiling. Sam covered her mouth, fearful of breathing in the alien particles. Unable to see in the darkness, Sam reached out and rattled the light switch. Her fingers brushed one of the illuminated cells. The domed light above Sam didn’t respond. Adrenaline began to rush through Sam’s veins, warming her body, making her limbs tingle with horror. Sam turned to recede back to the light of her kitchen. The hallway door slammed, and another grinding growl shook the closed hallway. Sam recoiled. Two yellow eyes glared at her from the smog inside her blackened bedroom. Between Sam and the yellow-eyed creature stood her little calico, Charlie. The cat growled again, its long, sharp fangs displayed as a warning to the shadowy monster.
Sam sneezed at the strange tickle on her septum. She reached up to rub her nose only for her hand to be met by a mound of fur and whiskers—a sandpaper tongue. “Charlie?” Sam groaned, and she stroked the fat, over-sized cat.
Violet stained light seeped in through Sam’s living room window. The television was silent—stuck on a screen that asked, “Are you still watching?” and Sam stared at the ceiling fan from her gray couch wondering when she had fallen asleep. She picked Charlie up and gave her a quick cuddle. The cat purred loudly. Sam relished the vibration against her chest—let it ground her in reality, the safety of her quiet living room. But she couldn’t go on existing with the line blurred between the waking world and the darkness of her nightmares.
Perhaps Jackie had been right about the dreamcatcher. Sam remembered when Jackie had given it to her. Jackie had gone to some New Age retreat—something about yoga or crystals or finding your Zen—maybe it was all the above. Jackie had traveled nearly 2000 miles from Pennsylvania to an isolated place in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Jackie had bought the handmade dreamcatcher, lilac ribbon wound around the outside and a shiny silver moon charm dangling from the woven center, from a Native American woman with a stand on the side of the road. Sam had never believed in superstition, but she accepted the gift. It was a pretty piece of art to hang above her bed. But the nightmares did seem to stop for a little while. Sam had felt so relieved. She could sleep, concentrate on work, and she was even able to lower her medication doses.
Sam scratched Charlie’s belly absentmindedly—the fat calico had been just a baby when Jackie brought the dreamcatcher to Sam—it gave her the opportunity to raise the cat to be friendly and warm. Charlie wasn’t evasive and stuck up like most cats. Sam reached for her laptop and opened the internet browser. Google is your friend. She typed, “clean dreamcatcher” into the search bar.
Sam received a litany of answers to her question. Most of them were answers that she didn’t think would be helpful in the long run. Websites that gave step-by-step instructions on gently hand washing a woven dreamcatcher. How to use apple cider vinegar, bleach, or some other household product to make the object sparkle again. No, none of this was useful advice. Sam didn’t want to disinfect the thing—not like that. Finally, on page three she stumbled upon a website that she thought seemed helpful. Zenith Starr, a self-proclaimed witch who seemed to know the ins and outs of the New Age/ Spiritual stuff that Sam was utterly unaware of. Sam scoured her website for contact information, decided to request a skype session with Zenith, and then went to the kitchen in search of something that resembled dinner.
“I just don’t see why on Earth you’d go and contact some random ‘witch’ on the internet when I know plenty of people.” Jackie chastised as she crunched away on her salad.
“I don’t know. I guess I was desperate. Her website looked legitimate.”
The two had met for their usual Wednesday lunch at The Olive. The cozy Mediterranean diner was quaint and vibrant. Art decorated the walls in color schemes that weren’t intended to match. Designs and patterns were uncoordinated causing patrons’ eyes to dart from one wall to the next. All of them were for sale. The waitstaff were all bright and chipper with glossy smiles. It was almost off-putting. The music piped in over the sound system was too loud for a lunch crowd—it seemed more appropriate for nightlife, but Jackie adored the place. Sam thought the food was palatable.
Jackie scoffed, “Oh, like that’s difficult. A legitimate looking website is pretty easy to come by if you have any kind of basic computer knowledge.”
“What can it hurt? Worst case scenario, I waste a half hour on a skype call,” Sam said through a mouthful of grilled chicken.
“Those type of people are scam artists, Sam. They prey on sick people. It starts off innocent and before you know it you’re giving her your credit card number in exchange for tarot readings and dream analysis.”
“Says the girl who can’t tell the difference between being awake and asleep.”
“I can tell.”
Jackie sneered at Sam and sipped her unsweetened iced tea. Tiny drops of water dripped onto her cleavage.
“I can,” Sam protested, “just as soon as Charlie wakes me up.”
“Mmmhmm. You have an unhealthy codependent relationship with that cat. Anyway, why don’t you let me introduce you to my guru, Mark? He could really help you.”
“You know I’m not really into all that stuff,” Sam muttered into a fork full of antipasto salad.
Jackie raised an eyebrow, “What time is your skype with the incredible, mystical Zenith?”
At 7:03 p.m. Charlie was kneading on Sam’s belly, purring rhythmically, and Sam was beginning to rethink her rendezvous with Zenith, when the screen on Sam’s laptop blinked and the white box emitted a ding alerting her to a call. Sam answered.
“Hello, are you Sam?” a pale-faced, black-haired woman said from the monitor. Her lips were stained a deep raspberry hue. She had what looked like tiny star tattoos around her left temple. A silver filigree ring dangled from her septum.
“Yes,” Sam hesitated, “you’re Zenith?”
“I am,” Zenith answered in a sweet relaxed voice. “You said in your message you had some questions about cleansing.”
“A dreamcatcher,” Sam blurted.
“You need to cleanse a dreamcatcher?”
“Yes. I think so.”
“What makes you think that?”
“My friend Jackie said they have to be cleaned or they won’t work anymore. I—I have nightmares. The thing worked at first, but it isn’t now. Do you know how I can clean it?”
Zenith sat silently on the screen, rubbing her hands together as she processed the information Sam had unloaded on her. “Well, that’s a lot Sam. First, where did you get the dreamcatcher? You know those store-bought ones are junk, right?”
“Jackie brought it back from New Mexico. She bought it from a Native American woman.”
“Power of suggestion probably isn’t the problem then.”
“What?” Sam asked.
“It’s probably not that it was junk all along and your brain finally worked it out,” Zenith explained. “What’s your diagnosis?”
“Your diagnosis, Sam.” Zenith said softly, tilting her head to the side, “What are they medicating you for?”
Sam quickly glanced around her. There was no pill bottle, no paper prescription, no evidence tossed aside that would alert Zenith of her medical status. “PTSD. Anxiety. They say I experience psychosis.”
“The nightmares are a symptom?”
“I see. Well, you can certainly clean a dreamcatcher. It isn’t difficult. You can smudge it yourself with some sage or have someone who’s done it before do it for you.”
“What does that entail?”
“Mostly just letting the sage smoke waft over it. Focusing on your intentions. Sometimes people recite a verse. The important part is the focus.”
“That’s it?” Sam asked hotly. She was more than a little annoyed that cleaning the thing sounded no more difficult than lighting a cigarette. Sam began making a list of herbal stores where she might purchase sage. Charlie hopped in Sam’s lap and pawed at Zenith’s face.
“Oh!” Zenith squealed. “Aren’t you something?”
Charlie meowed at her.
“Watch out for your mommy. Sam, it isn’t as easy as you think. Find someone to help, ok. If you can’t find someone local, you can ship it to me and I can cleanse it for you. I charge $50 for this type of cleansing. Contact me if you need to.”
“Thanks.” Sam said.
Sam disconnected the call. Just like Jackie warned, Zenith attempted to sell a service by the end of the call. Something so simple for a pretty steep price tag. The whole thing seemed pretty hokie, but it was worth a shot.
Charlie’s face hovered over Sam’s, her piercing neon green eyes stared ravenously into Sam’s dirty blue ones as if she were impatiently awaiting the answer to a life or death question. Charlie’s cotton candy nose twitched in the darkness, her whiskers tickled Sam’s cheeks. “Come on, Chuck.” Sam muttered contorting her face against fluff and lingering sleep. She hadn’t remembered a dream since she burned the white sage and cleansed the dreamcatcher. Sam wanted to linger in oblivion.
A worrying thump rebounded down the hallway. Charlie’s ears reversed—an attempt to decipher the noise. Sam stretched her neck, her eyes greeted by familiar blankness, and dropped her head back to her pillow. She fixed her eyes back on Charlie, reminded of her presence by the weight on her chest, and became acutely aware of a foreign patch on Charlie’s calico printed body.
“What’s on your chin, Charlie?” Sam whispered as she pulled a hand from under the comforter. Charlie stared, unmovable, as Sam wiped as her chin. The sticky substance was like blood, except that it was much darker. As if someone had been playing alchemist—mixing blood and black ink. Charlie sat upright and groomed herself.
“This isn’t real,” Sam said to herself. “This is a dream. Real Charlie is going to wake me up soon.” Charlie meowed indignantly then bounced from the bed to the floor where she waited with her tail pointed high in the air.
Sam rubbed her eyes. Her body was heavy, weighted deep in the cushion of the mattress. She didn’t want to pull herself from its safety. Sam knew that whatever Charlie was taking her to would be horrifying, but she also knew that if she stayed, it would come for her anyway. So, Sam heaved herself from the warm bed and into the frigid air. She found herself surrounded by a gray cloud tinged with the odor of tobacco smoke—fermented cherries, rotten wood, and overturned decaying graves. Charlie sauntered down the hall, and Sam padded after her.
The cloud and the scent followed Sam through the house. Charlie receded into the shadows, lost. In the living room the television flickered, the static on the screen jumping as if it couldn’t decide which channel of static it liked best. The pulsating globs clung to the walls, the couch, the doors and windows. Sam bypassed one and slid the curtain aside. Outside it looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off. Rubble was strewn everywhere. Cars lay on their sides. The only people to be seen positioned unnaturally like broken store mannequins—limbs fractured and lifeless.
Sam’s breath skipped as she inhaled. Her pulse raced. Another ominous bang resounded in her ear. She didn’t know whether it was Charlie or something more sinister. Sam moved lightly to the kitchen door. From the darkness inched misty black tendrils, creeping tentacles twirling and extending from an unknown host. Sam became stuck to the floor, unable to flee. Where would she have gone? Outside looked just as dangerous. The long gooey arms unfurled and curled, reaching, hunting for their target. The creature had been hungry for Sam. She knew it had wanted her, waited for her. Why wasn’t she waking up?
Sam felt the arms squeeze her ankles, leaving indents in her bare flesh. She trembled, willing herself not to scream. Charlie appeared suddenly, claws extended, fangs bright in the fog. The cat pounced drawing inky blood from the transparent monster. She tore at its flesh—flesh that Sam was sure didn’t exist—sending torn pieces floating in every direction. Sam and Charlie stood in a black pool of oily muck.
Orange light pierced the morning, flooding Sam’s room with warmth. Sam rolled in her bed protesting against daylight. She tossed an arm across the vast open space of her mattress and found soft fur vibrating next to her. Sam yawned and opened her eyes, Charlie slept contently stretched out across the blue sheet. Sam scratched Charlie’s belly, enjoying the feel of her fluffy fur, when she noticed crusty black stains on the cat’s white paws. Sam sat up to get a better view of Charlie’s mouth. Her chin was also black, caked in some kind of hardened goop. “What the hell?” Sam said aloud. She wondered what Charlie could have gotten into. Sam slid out of bed, her feet hit the floor with an uncomfortable crunch. She realized her feet, too, were crusted in dry ooze.
In the living room an ocean of dried black liquid and gummy tar stared at Sam as if they were old friends getting reacquainted. Sam furrowed her brow, she had never seen anything like this before in all her life.
#Dreamcatcher #HumpdayHorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
The neon pirate that hovered over the bar winked at Steve Cavanaugh as he tossed back the last of his whiskey and wiped moisture from the auburn whiskers that dotted his chin. Steve dug in the pocket of his dingy jeans and produced a wrinkled five-dollar bill which he threw on the reflective surface of the counter. The jukebox in the corner clicked as its long skinny arm reached for a record, a hiss resonated around the small smoky dive, and Bob Dylan began a hollow call for redemption.
Outside the sun shone so bright, reflected off an African dust cloud, that it looked like a white-out in mid-December. Steve Cavanaugh enfolded his crooked elbow across his face against blustery, searing August wind that threatened to pack his eyes and throat with debris. Steve’s boots crunched as he strode across the dusty parking lot of Cobra’s Bar, and he threw open the door to his black ’67 Chevy Chevelle—he slammed the door against the wind behind him. Steve reached into a specialty pocket sewn into the worn leather jacket he could always be found wearing. He pulled out a pistol and a long sleek silencer and placed them under the passenger seat. The horses that drove the car’s engine roared to life, and Steve Cavanaugh squealed out of the deserted parking lot leaving a river of dirt in his wake.
The headstones at Meadowcrest Cemetery were mostly ancient and unreadable. The marble had seen too many years of heavy rain and snow. Ice had formed in thick sheets and broken off, taking small sections of stone with it, until the surfaces of the markers no longer shined like well-oiled beauties in the sun. Steve Cavanaugh lurched among the old, wilting headstones taking note of a fallen angel or cradled baby as he made his way to a freshly dug grave at the back of the desolate landscape.
Cavanaugh stood with the toes of his black scuffed boots at the very edge of where the overturned dirt and crisp, green grass collided. His hands constricted and released in his jacket pockets, and Steve blinked thoughtlessly at a worm that squirmed against the sun and the wind. He inhaled sharply and said, “Well, that’s that then.” Steve turned and stepped casually when he heard an odd thud somewhere in the distance.
The wind and the traffic speeding on the interstate a few miles away created an ever- present hum, but Steve Cavanaugh was acutely aware that the sound did not belong inside Meadowcrest Cemetery. Steve became a stone, rigid and immovable, as his ears pricked up and listened. A muffled groan and muttering met his eardrum. In the distance, the silhouette of a petite woman came into view.
Better to remain a specter, Cavanaugh began retreating to his waiting car.
“Hey, mister, wait up.” Soft footsteps padded after Steve in the thick grass. She had removed her shoes, if she had been wearing any to begin with. “Hey you, buddy, hold on a second.” The girl yelled in a lilting voice as she ran after him.
Steve swallowed hard and slowed his pace but kept moving. He hadn’t spoken to anyone who wasn’t a client or didn’t work at Cobra’s in months. He was a ghost now. Steve Cavanaugh had relinquished his identity as flesh and blood when he signed on for the job. Every instinct he had told him slowing down would be trouble.
“Hi,” the girl said through gasps of air. She put a hand on Steve’s shoulder as if they were intimately connected and she hadn’t seen him since high school. “Hey, hi.” She repeated as she squinted in the colorless light.
“What?” Steve grunted.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” she said adjusting the purple dress that hugged her petite curves—silver heels dangled from her index finger. “Are you heading out?”
“Yeah. I have some business--” Cavanaugh started.
“Oh man, that’s great. Are you headed in town? I’ve been walking forever. These heels, they’re murder. You think you could give me a lift?”
“No.” Cavanaugh grunted and started walking again. The tiny woman scurried after him.
“Look, I have,” she reached into her bra with her free hand and pulled out some wadded- up cash. “I have ten bucks. It would really help me out.”
“You have money. Call a cab.”
“Do you see a pay phone around here?”
Cavanaugh surveyed the area knowing there was, in fact, no pay phone nearby. “Thumb it.”
“Isn’t that essentially what I’m doing here? I have cash.”
“I don’t pick up strays,” Steve stopped to give her a good once over. She halted and looked at him with her head tilted—her big brown eyes both piercing and pleading. She had her sun-lightened blonde hair tucked up, but it was wilting, tendrils dangling around her face and caressing her shoulders and back. Her lips were full. The way she parted them, just enough to see her teeth peek out between them, made hunger stir inside Steve’s belly. She was so small. She couldn’t possibly be a problem.
Steve Cavanaugh’s tongue traced his teeth, “Fine. Where are you going?”
She jumped up and down like a young girl skipping rope. “Oh, thanks a bunch buddy. Just to a hotel downtown. It isn’t far.”
“I’m headed downtown anyway.” Steve resumed walking toward his dusty black Chevelle. The car sat like a Rorschach Test on the horizon. It was Steve’s Fortress of Solitude—his Batcave—and he was admitting an outsider.
“Geeze, buddy, his that your car?” the girl said as she tottered after him.
“My name is Steve. If you’re going to keep talking to me I’d rather you drop the buddy stuff.”
“Nice to meet you, Steve.”
“You call this meeting someone?”
“What do you call it?”
Trouble, Steve thought. “A favor for a stranger.”
“Well, then how do you meet people?”
“I try to avoid it if it’s possible.” Steve opened the passenger door for Lilith. She tossed her glitter-soaked heels onto the floorboard where they immediately shed tiny, iridescent flakes. Then, she shimmied into the leather seat.
“I think you could use a new friend,” Lilith smiled.
Steve shut the door, “Like a hole in the head.”
Steve pulled into the parking lot of the Maplewood Hotel. It towered over the vehicle like a broken, ancient monster. It had two high, pointed turrets that poked the white sky as if they could punch a hole into an alternate dimension. Tall Victorian windows peered out upon the streets like spider’s eyes watching everyone’s movements—some of them boasted shattered glass. Those eyes were particularly proud of their age. Untreated pine boards had been carelessly nailed to the body of the hotel covering holes instead of repairing them. Haggard steps that didn’t look fit for traffic led to a peeling lavender door. A fragile sign knocked against it in the wind, “Vacancy—Cash Only”—it read.
“Jesus,” Steve said as he gazed up at the Maplewood Hotel. “You’re staying here?”
“Sure. Why?” Lilith said as she fumbled with her shoes.
“Is it even up to code?”
“What do ya mean?” Lilith smiled with her head between her knees.
“I mean is the water, water. Or is it mud?”
“I don’t drink water. I have some great gin in my room.” Lilith popped back up having put her shoes on and brushed her hands together. “You want to come in for a drink?”
“Not even a little.”
“Why do you think it’s haunted? Are you scared? The place really isn’t haunted.” She giggled and shoved Steve.
“No. I told you. I don’t do friends.”
“Doesn’t seem like anyway to live.”
“Who says I’m living?”
Lilith considered this statement for a moment. She inspected Steve Cavanaugh as if he were a Botticelli hanging in the Louvre. He had chin-length brown hair. He didn’t take much care in styling it and it had taken a beating by the wind. His face was prickled by a five o’clock shadow. His clothes were an effort to look hard, but his face showed all the lines of someone who had once smiled and worried and loved. “I think you’re plenty alive. You’re sitting there aren’t ya. You have a beat in your chest. My hand didn’t go straight through ya just now. So, come have a drink.”
“I can’t. Business.”
“Well. Alright, suit yourself. But if you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
Lilith leaned out of the car and skipped to the front door of the hotel as if she were on some sort of drug that made her think the run-down place were a bubblegum palace. Steve Cavanaugh watched over the dashboard of his travelling office before he sped off down the road.
Night had begun to fall, and shadows of signs and cars and people grew long and dark as the sun descended. Steve watched through a greasy diner window—a red and white menu obstructing his face. Coffee cups rattled, meat sizzled on a grill, and quiet voices chattered away inside Steve’s head, but he couldn’t shake the yearning that had been activated in his gut by Lilith. He had wanted to meander into that hotel room of hers. More than that, he wanted her out of Maplewood Hotel. It couldn’t possibly be safe. The whole structure looked like it might implode leaving tiny, helpless Lilith squashed like a gnat in the rubble. She needed to be saved, just like Amy had needed to be saved, but Steve couldn’t save either of them. He was just an apparition.
The brass bell above the diner door dinged and Steve peeked out from above the menu. A tall man in a faded green baseball hat and plaid shirt carelessly careened past booths and barstools and sat across from Cavanaugh.
“Evening,” the man said as he grabbed a menu and perused it aimlessly.
“Strange weather for Pennsylvania. Isn’t it?”
A middle-aged waitress in a faded blue uniform appeared next to the table. She was chewing a wad of gum and had tobacco stained teeth. “Can I get you guys something to drink?”
“Coffee,” both men answered without looking up. She cocked her head to the side, sneered, and left.
“You rang me four days ago. What took so long? Second thoughts?” Steve Cavanaugh mumbled.
“Damn wife wouldn’t get off my ass. Clean the garage. Fix the sink. Help Jimbo with his homework.”
“Anyway,” Steve said, “I don’t need your life story. You’re supposed to set the meeting up the moment I send word I’m in town. I should charge you extra for making me wait.”
“Look, I’m sorry about the hold up. If you had another job—”
“I don’t. Yet. Just give me the package.”
The man in the faded green hat pulled a large, yellow envelope out of his flannel shirt. His protruding belly shrunk considerably after its expulsion. The envelope exchanged hands discreetly under the table. Steve Cavanaugh put it into a backpack tucked into the booth next to him.
The waitress returned with two lukewarm coffees and a tin pitcher of cream. She eyeballed the two men who were still staring at the menus. “You two need a few more minutes?”
“Please,” Steve murmured.
The waitress huffed and stomped away as she tucked her pencil into her red curls.
“It’s all there?” Steve asked as he glared across the table—only revealing his eyes.
“Do I look stupid?”
“Hard to tell.” Steve stood up and heaved the backpack over his shoulder. The other man didn’t look at him, but kept his face buried in his menu.
“When will it be done?”
“As soon as I say it’s done.” Cavanaugh said as he walked out of the diner. The brass bell above the door announced his departure like bells in heaven announce anointed angels.
The black and white television in Steve’s motel room had a grainy picture that jumped and quivered as if it too felt the vibration of the Magic Fingers that moved his bed. When the gears stopped grinding and the motion ceased, Steve inserted another quarter into the face of the steel box.
A little girl with shiny chestnut hair and pigtails stared back at him with a gap-toothed grin from a photograph. Steve was using it to block out the caustic light that was screwed into the ceiling above the bed. Amy had once been the thing that brought Steve’s heart peace. Now, she was the thing that allowed battery acid to flood through his veins. Steve’s vision became distorted as he studied the angelic beauty. Objects in his peripheral vision failed to exist and were replaced by emptiness. It was the same vast chasm that had cracked and emptied his chest, leaving it a vacant wasteland. Steve Cavanaugh’s head felt like fire. Sweat began to bead and wet strands of his long brown hair. His palm tingled. Yet, this time, he recognized something different. The same strange hunger jabbing at his insides like a fire poker. It had existed since he met Lilith earlier that day. He knew she’d be trouble.
A knock on the door stirred Steve from his usual preparations. He crawled from the bed feeling woozy and disoriented. Steve stumbled toward the door but remembered the gun and silencer he had left on the small particle board table by the window. He wrapped it in a t-shirt and tossed it in a bedside drawer with the photo of Amy.
Steve opened the motel door with the gold-plated chain still attached. It jerked to an abrupt stop and he leered through the slivered gap. “What the hell.”
“What are you doing here?” Steve said as he unfastened the chain on the door. Lilith skipped in and pulled a half-empty bottle of gin from a patent leather bag.
“I was bored.” She smiled and flopped onto Steve’s bed. Lilith didn’t appear to dress down. This time, she was wearing a black ruched dress decorated with an uncountable number of sequins.
“How did you find me?”
“I just called around. You gave me your name.”
“I don’t use that name—” Lilith had already poured two glasses of gin and shoved one under Steve’s nose. “I don’t drink.”
“Liar! I saw a matchbook from a bar in your car.”
Steve sighed, “I only drink alone.”
“What’s the fun in that?”
“Who made the rule that drinking had to be a team sport?”
Lilith shrugged, “It’s just better that way.”
“You’re a real optimist, aren’t you?”
“What good is it being pissed off all the time? Really, I’m asking. You seem to be doing a fine job of it.”
“We don’t all have it easy.”
“And what? You think I do? I just prefer to look on the bright side.”
“Is the bright side in that dump you’re currently residing in?”
“It isn’t so bad. Better than some places I’ve been,” Lilith smirked. “Anyway, I don’t stay anywhere very long.”
“Yeah. Me either.”
“I have to hit the head.” Steve ran a hand through his hair and disappeared into the bathroom.
Lilith sat on the edge of the queen size bed. Her lithe frame was huddled over the photo of Amy—the drawer of the nightstand hung open. She hummed a haunting melody as she swayed to and froe.
“What the hell are you doing!” Steve shouted and charged across the room.
“It’s her isn’t it? She’s the reason you’re so angry.”
“It’s none of your business,” Steve said and ripped the yellowed photograph from Lilith’s skinny fingers. She looked at him—her giant chocolate eyes a church confessional. Steve sat on the bed next to her. “Amy, her name was Amy.”
“Was. What happened?”
“Yes. My only child. Her mother and I. Well, things didn’t work out, but I saw Amy every day anyway. Her mom never tried to keep me away. One evening, it was late October, Amy was riding her bike while I watched. A car came speeding down the street, swerving from one side of the road to the other. I screamed and ran to grab her, but I didn’t get there in time.”
Lilith gasped and clutched her throat. She put a hand on Steve’s shoulder.
“She was killed on impact. The guy driving—drunk. He got five years. He didn’t even serve the whole sentence. Can you believe that? He got off early for good behavior.”
“I’m so sorry,” Lilith said as she averted her eyes.
“Yeah. Well. That’s life isn’t it.”
Lilith pulled the gun and silencer from the drawer, “And this?”
“Business,” Steve cleared his throat and tugged it from her hands.
“Not for me.”
“I see. And that’s why you’re here?”
“I go all over.”
“Do you know them?”
“No. I just get a name. I don’t know anything about him or any of them. The people who hire me. They pay me to do a job. I do it.”
“When will you do it?”
“Does it matter?”
“I want to go with you.”
“Absolutely not,” Steve Cavanaugh stood up grabbing Lilith by the arm. “You know too much. You have to go. Don’t come back.” He led her to the door, but she dug her heels into the indoor/outdoor carpet.
“Wait, Steve. Wait.”
“I can help.”
“Your job. I know the guy. He works at the state store a few doors down from the Maplewood.”
“Thanks,” Steve said and pushed Lilith out of his motel room.
“Good morning,” Lilith chirped when Steve sat down behind the wheel of his Chevelle. The morning sun was still white and hazy. The wind had stopped blowing. Instead, the air was sticky and still.
“What the hell!” Steve shouted reaching for the pistol tucked into his jacket lining.
“I brought you coffee.” Lilith handed him a Styrofoam cup printed with the local coffee shop’s bright orange logo. Steam poured from the open plastic lid. Lilith smiled a broad, toothy grin. The rest of her face was hidden behind giant black sunglasses that made her look like a fly.
“How did you get in here?”
“Picked the lock.”
“Holy Hell. I told you to stay away.”
“You didn’t really mean that.”
“I really did.” Steve started the engine. It purred loudly and loose change in the cup holder rattled. “You’ll be an accomplice you know.”
“Have you ever been caught?” Steve Cavanaugh looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “I’m not worried,” Lilith smiled as she sipped her coffee.
They sat quietly across the alley from the state-run liquor store and watched Steve’s target, Joseph Bigby, unload boxes from a truck. The balding man with a prominent gut scuttled in and out of the building with his red smock blowing behind him. Steve licked his lips in anticipation.
It was noon before the truck left and big Joseph Bigby was alone in the store. Steve methodically removed his photo of Amy, studied it, and placed it back in his pocket. He had begun to feel the familiar burn of rage. Flashes of Joseph’s face popped like kernels of corn in Steve Cavanaugh’s mind. The first image was simply Joseph Bigby. The second, Joseph Bigby with a black, empty hole in the center of his forehead. Every image after became bloodier as Joseph’s memories and pain and love oozed out.
Lilith squeezed Steve’s hand. “What now?” he said.
“Steve. I can help.”
“I don’t think so. You’ve interfered enough.”
“I can help, Steve.”
“You are the most frustrating person I have ever met. What are you talking about, Lilith?”
“What if you didn’t have to do this anymore?”
“I like doing it.”
“Ok. What if I hire you?”
“Sure,” Steve chuckled, “right after I’m done here.”
“Seriously,” Lilith removed her sunglasses and squeezed Steve’s chin, forcing him to look at her. Lilith’s coffee stained irises were ruby flames licked by gold flecks.
Steve twisted in his seat, struggling to break free from her grip. Lilith’s fingers dug deeper into his skin until he held still. Steve breathed heavily, unable to look away. “Who are you?”
“I go by lot of names. I like Lilith for now.”
“What do you want?”
“I just want to help, Steve. That’s all I’ve been trying to do.”
“I’ll ‘hire’ you,” she used her fingers to make air quotes. “It’s a good deal, too. You don’t really have to do anything. Just stop doing what you’re doing. You’re sort of, messing with the natural order. In return, I’ll take your soul.”
“My soul. How does that help me?”
“No soul, no pain. You won’t miss Amy anymore. You won’t feel the need to do this, so quitting won’t be very difficult.” Lilith had taken a fifth of whiskey from her purse and sipped from it.
Steve considered the options laid out before him. He could suffer a lifetime of agony constantly mourning the death of his daughter. Battle overwhelming demons of guilt and loss and emptiness. Steve could go on hiring himself out as a private hitman, killing so that others could exact revenge, or he could sign his soul over to the pretty little blonde in his passenger seat. He’d never feel anything ever again. Either way he’d probably spend eternity in Hell.
“I can’t verify that,” Lilith said reading Steve’s thoughts.
“The eternity in Hell thing. I can’t confirm or deny it. I mean, you’re kinda living in Hell now, aren’t you?”
Steve shook his head—a futile attempt to shake out the abstract nightmare he seemed to be living in, but when he opened his eyes everything was still there. He sighed, “Ok. How do we do it?”
“Oh, yay!” Lilith squealed. “Just let me kiss you.” Lilith licked her lips and leaned across the center console. She pulled Steve’s face into hers and their lips met. Lilith pressed her slippery lips against Steve’s and slid them around. She parted her lips and sucked on Steve’s lower lip until it became painful. Then, she bit him. Steve felt a sharp pinch and the warm copper of blood against his tongue.
“It’s done,” Lilith wiped her lip with her index finger.
“That’s it? I don’t feel any different. I assumed I’d feel different.”
Lilith looked at the crimson blood smeared across her finger and crooked her head at Steve Cavanaugh. “It didn’t work.”
“You haven’t got a soul,” Lilith smiled. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“How is that possible? How does that happen?”
“I have no idea,” Lilith slipped the fifth of whiskey back into her bag. She opened the door of the Chevelle and flung one of her skinny pale legs out. “Sorry, Steve. Guess that’s the way the blood squirts.”
“Wait!” Steve called to her, “You can’t leave me. Lilith, I need you.”
“Sorry, can’t stay.” She closed the door and bent down through the open window, “Not a lot of room for friends in my line of work.”
Steve Cavanaugh sat in solitude as he watched the tiny woman disappear into dust and blazing sunlight—Lilith’s silhouette forever branded on his pupils.
#HumpdayHorror #MissingPieces Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Fresh snow smacked against the double-pane window. Fabulous flakes clung to the smooth surface as if they were holding on to the last threads of life until a strong gust of frigid wind blew them away again. They glittered as they tumbled in iridescent moonlight. Inside, the room was so warm it was stifling. Balmy air blew like a tornado from a vent next to the bed. Machines beeped and green computer-generated lines peaked and dipped and an IV bag filled with saline water drip, drip, dripped as it emptied into a tube.
At the end of the tube and wires Ruth Everly rested. Her black hair fanned out against a brick pillow and her big blue eyes were closed as she slept. Beneath the lids, Ruth’s restless dreams caused those eyes to dash and dart up and down, from side to side, as if she were watching an aerobatic stunt show. Ruth moaned and whimpered. A nurse scurrying by her door poked her head in, saw that Ruth was asleep, and continued with her chores. Down the street, the giant brass bell inside the steeple of the Methodist church began to gong the late hour.
The echo of footsteps reverberated inside Ruth’s lonely hospital room. There was a sharp clatter as the owner of well-worn wingtips dragged a blue cushioned chair to her bedside. An elderly man, wrinkled and weary, collapsed next to her. He paid little regard to Ruth’s slumber as he removed his wool jacket and cap. His white hair stuck out in all directions, but he made no effort to rectify its placement. The man rubbed his hands together as he blew into them, attempting to warm them from the chilly winter night. His nails were long claws, yellowed and dirty. When he felt his hands were the proper temperature, he lifted Ruth’s hand and held it. She moved her head from side-to-side but didn’t wake.
The elderly man and Ruth sat in silence, just this way, for quite some time. Occasionally, the nurse would appear, make a note on her chart, and leave. The elderly man would sometimes check his gold pocket watch. As the church bell gonged again, announcing another hour had past, another pair of footsteps echoed on the tile floor of Ruth’s hospital room. The elderly gentleman huffed in exasperation.
“Sorry I’m late.” The newcomer said as he strode across the room dragging a blue cushioned chair to the opposite side of Ruth’s bed.
“I was beginning to think you wouldn’t make it,” the old man wheezed.
“Small hold up on the way here. My apologies.” The newcomer smiled a shiny, wide grin. He was young and vibrant. His face was happy and kind with sparkling green eyes. As he removed his hat, his chocolatey hair was held in place as if by magic. The young man sat and placed a hand on Ruth’s. “Ruth how are you feeling, dear?”
Ruth’s eyelids cracked and struggled to focus. Her dark blue eyes glittered as they caught the reflection of the twinkling strings of Christmas lights in the hospital hallway. Ruth swallowed hard, her lips parted, and she whispered, “Why?”
“Well, dear, you’ve had an accident,” the young man said. “We simply wonder how you’re feeling now.”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know how you feel?” the old man said as he wrinkled his brow.
“Or you don’t remember the accident?” the young man suggested.
“I don’t want to talk.” Ruth said turning her head as she closed her eyes. She remembered the accident. The screaming. The hopeless, helpless shrieking after it was over, and the blood. There had been so much blood. Oh, how Ruth never wanted to think about it again, but even just before she had woken up Ruth had been dreaming about it. She had been reliving it in her mind.
“Unfortunately, we must talk Ruth. You see, we haven’t a choice,” the young man said.
“But you did. You still do.” The elderly man used his free hand to stifle a cough.
“What are you talking about, choice? I didn’t have a choice. I never did.”
“Life is full of choices, dear,” said the young man.
“Not for me.”
“That’s not true and you know it,” the elderly man said sneering across Ruth’s hospital bed.
“Ok. Life gives you two choices. One, you make every day. That is to simply carry on. The second is a choice you make when you can no longer carry on.”
“What choice is that?” Ruth asked.
“To go or stay.” The old man mumbled with his head hung low.
“Go or stay where?” Ruth said forcing herself up but crying out in pain. The electric monitors beeped faster. The lines on the tiny screens scrambled and jumped like little girls on a playground.
“You stay here on Earth, or you move on. The trick is, no one knows what is on the other side, Ruth. No one. If you stay here, if you’re lucky, you get a second chance. Sometimes, you’re stuck in the in-between.”
“What is that?”
“Half-way. You wonder around forever. Not feeling. Not being felt. Just roaming the Earth. Tethered here for better or worse. No one can get you out.”
“How do you know which you’ll get?”
“I won’t choose then,” Ruth said.
The young man tilted his head and smiled at the elderly one sitting across from him. He wanted to take over the conversation without interference. The elderly man often had a way of souring people to the issue, an issue most were already sour to, and the young man thought Ruth might need a heaping dose of sugar.
The young man rubbed Ruth’s hand gently. Her eyelids slowly drifted closed as if they were feathers floating on a warm summer breeze. Her mind journeyed through space and time, memories flashed by like film winding on reels at high-speed. Ruth landed on a memory that was hazy and out of focus. Her mind’s lens adjusted it and the slow-moving technicolor image jerked and came to life.
Ruth and Harry Montgomery sat on a swing set at Sunset Park. The summer sun beat down upon them so that they had to squint to look at each other. Ruth and Harry were each dressed in shorts and t-shirts. Ruth’s black hair was in long braids, a red satin bow tied around the end of each one. Harry’s dirty blonde hair blew back as he kicked his gangly legs back and forth, stretching them into the air. Ruth sat with her forehead against the chain holding the wooden seat aloft. It had created a pink indent in her forehead.
“Harry,” Ruth said as she watched him glide, “Lonnie Bradley said Jessica Baker told him you kissed her.”
Harry Montgomery kept kicking his hairless 12-year-old legs. “So.”
“I thought you were my boyfriend.”
“Well, because I let you kiss me behind Mercury’s Ice Cream.”
Harry Montgomery put his black and white sneakers into the dust and skidded to a halt. “Kissin’ doesn’t mean anything. Stupid girls always thinking too hard.” Then, Harry tugged one of Ruth’s ribbons from her hair and ran off into the summer while Ruth sobbed and tears stained her tanned cheeks.
Ruth sucked in a deep breath and her eyes shot open as if she had received a sudden volt of electricity. The two men were still at her bedside. She was still inside Mercy Hospital. Still connected to tubes and wires. The church bell down the street gonged two times.
“What an awful memory,” Ruth said as she looked at the brown water stain on the ceiling.
“Your first broken heart,” the young man said.
“I didn’t love him.”
“Of course you did. That’s ok. It’s very rare that people keep their first love here. The important thing to remember is that, at that time, you made a choice.”
“I never had a choice,” Ruth mumbled through tears that pooled in her eyes.
“You did. You chose to carry on, keep living, keep loving. It was a choice you made, maybe subconsciously, but a choice nonetheless.”
“I suppose,” Ruth said.
“Stop filling her head with hogwash.” The elderly man grumbled as her lifted his face to look at them. “He likes sunshine and daisies. Likes to make you believe choices all have happily ever after outcomes. Carry on and keep living, bah! Remember, Ruth, pain. You walk in it every day.” The old man patted Ruth’s hand and her memories darted by again.
Ruth stood in a line of people dressed in black. Her mother wore a pillbox hat with a netted veil draped over her face. Ruth watched as she dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. They were standing inside the hall of the Methodist church. The enormous brass bell in the steeple chimed as people Ruth didn’t recognize wept and hugged her and her mother. The scent of the room was over powering, lilies and lilacs and roses overflowed in waterfalls from every corner.
When the crowd cleared, Ruth’s mother took her hand and escorted her to the pine casket. It was lined in gold satin. Ruth’s father looked pale, sick. As if he were resting with a bad case of the flu. His hair was combed, and his head placed in a way that hid the bullet wound on the side of his head.
“You can touch him,” Ruth’s mother said.
Ruth stood rigid. Just a week ago her happy, enthusiastic father had been teaching her to drive his Chevy. She didn’t want to touch him.
“You can kiss him good-bye,” Ruth’s mother said with her hand pressed to the small of Ruth’s back.
“I don’t want to,” Ruth whispered.
“He’s still your father.”
“No, he isn’t.”
“Yes, he is. He loves you, Ruth. He just made a bad choice.”
“I don’t want to.”
Ruth’s mother forced her frail daughter against the casket. “You’ll regret not saying goodbye.”
Ruth reluctantly bent down and kissed her father’s forehead. It was cold and stiff and smelt of chemicals used to clean vomit in school cafeterias. Ruth’s lips never thawed out.
Ruth’s eyes popped open and the sound of the elderly man’s hacking cough bounced around the walls of her hospital room. The wet noise intermingled with the beeps and the drips and Ruth shook her head as she tried to remember where she was.
“Why would you show me that?”
“Choice,” the old man said.
“My mother left me with no choice.”
“Your father’s choice, I’m afraid.” The young man’s enormous smile had grown smaller. “He chose, in a brief moment, that he could no longer carry on.”
“He left us,” Ruth said flatly.
“It was his choice in the end. As I said, you’re only offered two.”
“Did he stay, or did he go? After, I mean.”
“That’s private,” the old man said.
Ruth looked down at the two men’s faces. Then, she drifted into her memory again. She saw the image so clearly. The deep cuts oozing shiny goo. It was hot, like freshly made cider. Rich like molten chocolate. Ruth marveled at the stuff for a brief moment before the panic and the fear overcame her. Before she heard her own voice scream. Then, she was cold. Lying on powder pink tile as her vision blurred. Ruth’s mother’s ancient shrieks resonated in her wilting eardrums. The rest came and went like heart beats. Flickers of memories bound with blank scotch tape. Rushed motions, clicks, beeps, pin pricks, voices that shouted words Ruth didn’t recognize.
Ruth opened her eyes. The two visitors stared at her. The church bell released three gongs. Ruth wondered how the world slept with a thing like that reminding them that time kept moving. “I want to stay.”
“But what if—” the old man started.
“I’ll risk it.”
“You can’t take it back, Ruth. Once you decide—” the young man said.
“I don’t care. I’ll carry on.”
The young man sighed. “Alright then.” He stood, adjusted his tie, and pressed a finger to Ruth’s temple. Ruth’s eyes slid closed. Her breathing was quiet, calm. The monitors beeped and the IV dripped. The snow drifted against the window outside.
The two men let go of Ruth’s hands. Her arms, dressed in bandages, bloodied in long stripes at her wrists, fell gently at her sides. The men gathered their things and replaced their chairs. They walked toward the door to Ruth’s room.
“Guess it runs in the family,” the old man said.
“These things happen.”
“Do you think she’d have chosen you if she knew?”
“What? That she is fated to die in a car crash in a week?”
“Why? She’d already chosen me.”
“That’s humans for you. Death seems appealing until life offers them one more chance. Some of them are risk takers, though. You always get a few.”
#HumpdayHorror #TheVisitors Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
I could see through my eyelids that the small room we were squatting in was still cast in darkness. No light from a new morning sun had begun to peek through the colorful tapestries that were tacked carelessly to the tall Victorian window. As I breathed in, my breath catching like Morse Code in the back of my throat, I could smell the dampness and lingering scent of stale beer and pot smoke. The abandoned house was still except for the other snoring squatters and a record player scratching down the hall. A boulder lay heavy on my stomach. I was already terrified of morning and I had yet to open my eyes.
A soft hand brushed stray strands of my long, tangled hair from my forehead. Thick, dry lips pressed against my skin and I breathed again, more Morse Code. Her breath smelled like peppermint, her body like patchouli. She always smelled like patchouli.
“Casey. Casey, it’s time to wake up.”
I groaned and shook my head ‘no’. I didn’t want to open my eyes. If my eyes opened, if I acknowledged the existence of everything outside my body, then it would start. The pain, the fear, the terror, the hunger, longing, regret, and the cast iron boulder would grow bigger and hotter and I would quiver violently until…
“Come on,” she leaned in and pressed her dry lips against my soft thin ones. “One foot in front of the other. At least open your eyes.”
I hesitated, but the fragile heart pounding like the hooves of horses at the Kentucky Derby in my chest wanted desperately to see her. So, I allowed my lids to crack open. Only the dull yellowed hallway light seeped infinitesimally into our room. It backlit Evie like some sort of earthbound angel. Her long cocoa dreads were tied back in a ponytail, but a few strays drooped around her face. She had a psychedelic scarf wrapped around her head. Her freckles looked like constellations on a bright summer day; out of place. Her lively green eyes crinkled on the sides as she smiled wide looking down on me. Our little calico, Charlie, sniffed at her chin, licked her, then bounced from her lap with a high pitched ‘Meh’.
“She lives,” Evie whispered.
“I didn’t ask to.”
“It’s still early, but I can, if I need to.”
“Or I could just stay in bed,” I said. I didn’t want to meet her eyes. Instead, I glanced around the room. I took stock of the plaster that had fallen from the walls and now sat in chalky clumps on the floor. The blue, purple, and tie-dyed tapestries that hung on the wall and from the ceiling, ballooned out like reverse tents, mountains that were falling in on me. I pulled the dusty quilt up under my chin and watched tiny particles writhe in the air, microscopic Janis Joplins strung out and heartbroken. Evie grabbed my chin and forced me to look her in the eye. “You can’t this early. You’ll be wiped all day,” I protested.
“Can you get up then? Everyone will be waiting. It’s our turn to do breakfast run.”
“Evie,” I groaned, “can you go without me? You know I just slow you down anyway. In this condition, we’ll never be back before the sun comes up.”
She was disappointed. Evie’s eyelids drooped and the corner of her mouth twitched. I knew what she wanted to do, but I wouldn’t have it. Not like this. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it. The bangles around her wrist knocked together and tinkled a cute little tune like summer before my head broke. Like back in Pennsylvania when I would wade in the little creek near my house in my pink one piece, build a dam, swim by the trickling waterfall and never consider the snakes hiding in the rocks. That was before I ran off to California. Before the whole world was terrifying.
“Ok. I’ll go myself. Why don’t you get up and get a bath now before everyone else wakes up? When I get back—”
“We’ll see,” I told her.
Evie kissed my cheek, my neck, my lips, my neck again—she lingered there by my clavicle a little too long. “Go.” I said and pushed her up by the shoulders.
Evie smiled and threw her big tote bag over her shoulder and yanked the quilt off me. Then, she disappeared into the golden hallway.
I stayed there exposed to the sticky air on the lumpy, sagging mattress unable to will myself to move. My legs stretched out from paisley panties and ended with toenails that were once painted blue, the polish now chipped and sad. If I tilted my head just right I could see the tiny brown hair that sprouted from my calves. The logo on the Zeppelin shirt I was wearing skipped every time I inhaled, S.O.S. I propped myself up on my elbow. My hands were shaking as if the San Andreas Fault were going to open up and swallow me whole. I reached for a baggy with a couple of pink pills sitting inside. I opened it, but thought better of it. It wouldn’t be good for Evie if I took them. Several more minutes quivering like a chihuahua afraid of its shadow and I found enough gumption to at least rise from my own personal crypt.
I grabbed my tattered bellbottoms and a fresh shirt and headed toward the light. A thick ball of saliva caught in my throat and I felt bile rise. My feet carried me swiftly back to the safety of the mattress. I closed my eyes against the light, shutting out the world that existed outside myself. The clothes on my lap reminded me of the duffle bag I had carried all my possessions in when I hauled ass away from Pennsylvania. That was right after my brain stopped working. Shadows had started twisting into monsters in the night. Footsteps that belonged to unseen spectres had begun following me around my apartment at all hours of the day. I had heard windows break in my sleep, felt the presence of intruders standing over my bed, putrid breath on my lips, death’s hands around my neck. I was certain if I didn’t leave, disappear, they’d kill me.
So, I packed up and thumbed it across the country. I crawled in the back seat of sedans crammed with families on summer vacation. Cabs of big rigs with scruffy drivers who eye-balled me ominously while Elvis crooned over static and dusty plains. I was never really sure if the next car I sat in would be the last. Then, one night while I trudged along Route 66 in a forgotten ghost town in New Mexico Evie pulled over in a grimy green Nova. She was with Benny and Lou. Evie looked like she had just come from a Dead concert, the boys had on leather jackets. They were more sinister, scrappy, like some 50s gang that got stuck in a time warp. Even then, I felt a warmth wash over me that told me Evie could make everything alright.
I opened one eye to the hall light and willed myself up from the mattress. I thought of Evie as my bare feet hit the worn carpet, and the battered floor beneath creaked and groaned in protest. My hand skidded against the falling plaster and exposed wood. The texture of the old walls was like an ancient maple tree. I did it to remind myself where I was, safe inside. Evie would be back soon. The hallway began to tilt like a tunnel in a funhouse, but I found the bathroom and threw myself inside before I got lost in the dark place. If I lingered too long on unpleasant thoughts, memories, visions and Evie wasn’t here to pull me out I might not find my way. I got lost once before. I stayed with the monsters for a week before Evie found me.
My eyes had big gray bags under them. My skin was so pale it was nearly blue. I smirked. The rose of my lips and the amber hue of my irises were the only indication I was actually alive. If someone came across me asleep somewhere they’d probably tag me and haul me off to the morgue. I shook like a squirrel who’d drank too much caffeine. Evie kept repeating, “if you’d let me…”, but I wasn’t willing to risk the consequences.
The toilet lid was up. No one in the house flushed. Water conservation, I rolled my eyes, they were too drunk or high to pay attention. The first person to use the bathroom for the day had to do the flushing. I sat down and flushed at the same time. Water droplets sprayed my ass. The knobs on the clawfoot tub’s faucet were loose and you had to wiggle them just right to get some warm water. It was never really hot, just tepid enough to not make you a living ice cube.
I stripped off my stinking clothes and crawled into the moldy tub. Someone’s cast off razor blade sat next to their razor on the edge. I leaned back, knees to chest, and studied it. The little piece of steel sat stagnant it the florescent light. Mostly dull, but still sharp enough to hint at a slight gleam on its edge. Specks of rust had started to form on the corners. I wondered if I could do what Evie did; release a little blood and drain out my sickness. Except, if I did it myself, Evie wouldn’t get sick for me. Instead, maybe I could just wash it down the drain. If it didn’t work, then maybe my hot blood and my fears and my terror would drain out and leave me hollow. I’d be an empty husk and whatever soul or life-force or thing that keeps our bodies moving would float up through the dark place and land somewhere nicer. Of course, it might not. I was never one for games of chance.
I heard the static on the record player down the hall stop. Some footsteps, banging around, clicks, the pungent aroma of weed began to waft down the hall. They were starting to wake up. I sighed and grabbed the razor, carelessly scouring the prickly brown hairs like cactus needles on my legs. Voices started to rattle down the hall.
“Casey, where is she?”
“Breakfast,” I squeaked and continued to stroke my legs with the razor.
Feet pounded down the hallway. “Casey. Are you deaf?”
“She’ll be right back.” My hands began to shake violently. It was Benny. He didn’t like waiting for breakfast.
“Casey! Answer me! I swear I’ll rip the damn door down!” he pounded so hard on the thing it shook on its hinges.
I jumped in the water clutching the razor in my fist, my entire body a magic fingers vibrating mattress. Thick crimson honey poured from a slice I had taken out of my leg. Cloudy water splashed on the tile floor and crawled toward the door. Benny stopped pounding. I could hear my heart beating, clicking like a detonator in my chest. Benny breathed hard outside.
The fragile wood exploded and splintered in every direction. Benny stood, muscles rippling under a black t-shirt and tight jeans, bare feet engulfed in bloodstained water. His blonde hair fell over his forehead soaked by beads of sweat.
“Benny,” I shrieked as I pressed my naked body against the cold wall of the tub. I was holding the razor out like a crucifix. Like somehow it would protect me.
“You should have went with Evie.”
“You made a little mistake there,” he said glancing as my blood-soaked leg.
“Evie can fix it.”
“Evie can’t fix you. You’re weak, she’s just prolonging your miserable life. It’s always been a matter of time, Casey. Let’s just let nature take its course.” Benny smiled. His long, white pointed canines glittered. “I’m real sick of that bottled shit anyway.”
Benny eased toward me as I cowered there unable to move or defend myself. He was right. Evie was special. She could feed off my blood in a way that cured my sick mind for a short time, but it was never permanent. The only way to fix it was death. If I let Benny finish me, if I succumbed to him, maybe he’d let me go peacefully.
I pushed my knotted hair to the side revealing my long, slender neck to Benny and I pushed it forward. My lip began to seep blood and I tasted pennies as my teeth chewed away it’s flesh; it was the result of both terror and an effort to keep it from quivering. Benny towered above me now. He wasn’t concerned with my nudity, only my blood and my fear. He clutched my hair in his fist and thrust my head back as he knelt in the water next to the bathtub.
“It will only hurt if you fight,” he growled, “but it does taste better when you’re scared. So, maybe—”
I closed my eyes and I felt his teeth pop the tender flesh of my neck. A warm sensation began to overcome me, like sunbathing on the beach. My body began to tingle as my blood flowed in a way it was never meant to. My heart raced, but different from fear. The sounds around me became distorted. I could have sworn I heard Evie calling my name until the whole world went black.
“Casey, you really need to eat.”
“Hmmm,” I moaned as I fluttered my eyelids. The room was dark and I glanced around at the familiar tapestries. Evie sat above me smiling, her head wrapped in a blue scarf, her chocolate dreads hanging around her face, she had some cuts and bruises. I sat up and touched them. “What happened?”
“Those are nothing. Just a little scuffle with Benny.”
Benny. I grabbed at my neck and felt the crusty remnants of two puncture wounds. “How long was I out?”
“Two days. How do you feel?”
I felt my body. I seemed to be intact. No pain. The cut on my leg was nearly healed. My head wasn’t foggy anymore. I wasn’t scared, there were no shadows, no monsters hiding in the crevices, everywhere I searched inside my head seemed free. Evie had clearly fixed me again, but I had wasted two days passed out cold. “I feel better. Thanks.” I leaned in to kiss her. Evie turned her head, looked down at her fingers. She was sick. That was the price she paid for bleeding out my demons.
“Casey, Benny really got hold of you. Why would you offer yourself up to him like that?”
“I don’t know. I was in a bad place, figured maybe it would be better to just let go. Then Benny busted in and didn’t give me a choice. I couldn’t fight him.”
“I guess not. It was dumb. You know how risky it is to shave or maybe draw blood when I’m not around.”
“I’m sorry. It’s all good now, though, right? I’m ok. Benny’s ok?”
“You don’t remember anything?” Evie asked as she pulled me into her.
“Just Benny. Why?”
“Casey, I got him off. It was a fight and he’s going to be mad for a long time. But he had done too much damage, took too much. I didn’t have a choice. It was one or the other.”
I lept from the bed and ran for the bathroom, “Evie, you didn’t!”
Her footsteps padded on the carpet after me. Pieces of splintered wood were still scattered on the floor, fragments of the door hung from oxidized hinges. I peered into the mirror. The bags under my eyes were gone, my skin porcelain like a doll’s, my cheeks rosy. My golden eyes sparkled as if I were lit by the lights from a Hollywood studio. Save the puncture wounds on my neck I was flawless, strong, clear. Evie stood behind me, a marble statue.
“What have you done?” I said to the mirror.
“You’re cured now. They’ll never come back to haunt you. Your mind is free.”
“Evie,” I held a shaking hand to my throat, “you let them out.”
#HumpdayHorror #DarkCorners Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Today. Today was the day I had been waiting for since the incident occurred nine long months ago. I had been ticking off days on my Hello Kitty calendar knowing that every ‘X’ I placed over Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday brought me one day closer to her. To that glorious bitch that taunted me with her pompous phrases and twisted plots. The blowhard who wrote people like me as if we were some sideshow attraction to be gawked and marveled at with no real feelings of our own. Today, I would get close enough to smell her breath. See my reflection in her emerald green eyes. My name would hover on the last breath that escaped her lips as I strangled her; her bloodshot eyes popping from her skull as she realized I was real. Her characters were real. Sickness is real.
I had come to the decision by total accident. I admit, I was a long-time admirer of the woman prior to the event. I had read Easy Does It and was a fan of her psycho, sexy male leads as much as any hot-blooded American woman might be. What can I say, I have a penchant for bad boys. I should also interject that I, myself, am living with bipolar disorder and I always found that I related to the characters in Samantha Riley’s books as they struggled to battle their own inner demons. My life, was a constant battle of depression that pushed me to attempt suicide by blade or by pill bottle on numerous occasions. I was saved only by the watchful eye of my nosey-ass mother who lives for unannounced drop-ins and had the bad luck of finding me marinating in pools of my own blood or vomit on more than one occasion.
In my manic states, I am unstoppable; a tornado of imagination capable of tremendous feats. I am a goddess of sexuality able to make men or women bow to my whims. I prowl around bars and seduce them until we are both hammered and unable to suppress our sexual appetites. This usually leads to all types of naughty exploits wherever is convenient. It was a manic state that led me to Strangle.
I had been enjoying the story, getting a great deal of amusement from exploits of the sexy, yet murderous protagonist. I was lying in bed after a long night of drinking and debauchery and giggled to myself as I read. On the morning of the event, November 16th, I took the book into the bathroom where I intended to read it as I soaked in the tub. The room was chilly. The bathroom was covered in floor to ceiling black and white tile, an old 30s style space that had never been updated. I ran steaming, hot water into the old porcelain claw foot tub and eased myself in once it was full. The wonderful thing about those old tubs is that they are so deep the water covers your breasts and knees at the same time. I was thoroughly encapsulated in the embrace of the water while the chilly air wafted around me. It was beautiful and relaxing. It was everything that bipolar is and isn’t. Without realizing it, I had soon drifted off to sleep, apparently dropping the book next to the tub. I woke up some time later to the sound of my intrusive mother.
“Katie. Katie where are you!” She shrieked frantically.
I could hear her footsteps banging away on the scratched and worn hardwood floors of my apartment.
“I’m in here, Ma,” I mumbled.
I was in a haze. Not quite out of my sleepy state. I pulled the plug and hoisted myself up on the side of the tub, reached overhead for a towel hanging on the shower rod, and stepped a wet foot onto the tile. As I tried to hurriedly wrap the towel around me, mother swung the bathroom door open. I was startled and lost my footing. I slipped, fell, and, mother tells me, hit my head on the toilet on the way down. I woke several minutes later with a loud ringing in my ears and heavy, syrupy blood dripping into my eyelashes. In front of me lay my book, ‘Strangle Samantha Riley’ neatly printed on the side. I stared at it as my mother shook and yelled at me to get up. I could hear her, but everything was muted – fuzzy. I suddenly understood my purpose; knew that I was receiving a message from some higher being. I had to make right the stereotypes this woman was perpetrating. The book told me right then: I had to strangle Samantha.
Today, August 29th Samantha would be at Fraiser’s Books doing a signing to promote her latest piece of shit. I sat in my bedroom on the corner of my rumpled bed. The single light that just barely lit the place swung gently back and forth in the breeze from my box fan. It lent an eerie yellow glow that illuminated the walls which were now covered in months of obsession. Riley’s smug face looked at me from glossy magazine pages and matte printer paper that I had tacked to the peeling white paint of my bedroom walls. Morbid wallpaper that served as a constant reminder to not abandon the mission that God had laid out for me.
Her eyes followed me like haunted museum paintings as I unraveled my bare legs and walked my slinky, sexy walk over to the mirror that rested atop my old beat-up dresser. I lifted a hand to my forehead and leaned in to examine my pink scar, the remnants of the event that reminded me daily of my brush with the divine. My eyes looked sunken, but the neon yellow of my irises was intense and cat-like. They could suck an unwitting partner in with a bat of my long black lashes; ease them into a trap like a canary into the jaws of a hungry house cat. My red hair cascaded over my breasts and made me feel, and look, both exotic and innocent. They joke that gingers have no souls; maybe I didn’t, or maybe I was doing this because my soul wanted redemption for everyone who had been wronged by a hack writer. I looked over at my alarm clock, 2:25 p.m. only a few more hours until it began. I should probably put on some makeup, just a little.
“Katie! Katie, come get something to eat.”
I rolled my eyes. That was my mother. It had been nine months since I fell and cracked my skull, her fault by the way, and she had basically been living here since. She thinks I am at risk for seizures, hallucinations, stroke, a damn aneurysm, or whatever else Dr. Google has told her I might spontaneously collapse and die from. I can’t get her to leave. It has made planning for today that much more difficult.
“Don’t you need to be at work in an hour? You should eat. You might pass out from malnutrition.” She barked as she barged into my bedroom as if I was 15 and not 26.
“Yeah, Ma. I’ll grab something in a minute.” I was still topless and had given up on privacy.
“Katie, I can see your ribs.”
“You wouldn’t if you’d knock first.”
“Oh, stop. I’m your mother. I’ve seen it all before.”
“Yeah, it’s just bigger now.”
“Exactly,” she looked around the room at the Riley pictures. “I don’t know what you see in her. Why not find a nice handsome man like that Jim Elliott fellow.”
“Sam Elliott, Ma.”
“That’s what I said. Come eat,” she backed out and closed the door.
My mother was a nuisance. She had no sense of personal space, and the only real reason she stayed with me was so that she could complain to her friends that she had to take care of me. I diagnosed her as having narcissistic personality disorder when I started therapy four years ago, but the problem with narcs is they won’t admit they have a problem.
By now you’re asking yourself how I planned to get close to Samantha Riley. Close enough to kill her. After the event, I did my research. I learned she was releasing a new book and was then going on a signing tour. I discovered Fraiser’s was a stop on the tour. I went down in December when they were hiring seasonal help and got myself a temporary position. I worked my ass off during the Christmas rush with all the angry old ladies who wanted sale prices a week after the sale was over and then wanted to speak to a manager. I worked double shifts. I didn’t take lunches. By the time the holidays were over the owners couldn’t imagine letting me go, and I secured a full-time position in the store. I secured a position that would get me close to Samantha. After that I let them catch me carrying around her books. I talked about how much I enjoyed her writing. I feigned being a writer myself, claiming she was a hero and inspiration in my own work. This built up a solid foundation of fandom. As the day of her signing drew closer I approached the owners to ask if I could work it. I fed them some bullshit about how much it would mean to me to meet my idol, bring her water. It was garbage, but they bought it. She’d be arriving at the store at 4:30 to begin her signing at 5:00. I would help set up and direct traffic. There would be hoards of idiots there to get some trash book she wrote signed—pay $50 bucks for a cheesy photo op. I was there to fulfill my cosmic duty. Poor Samantha Riley, I smiled at myself in my mirror, “You’re gonna die today.”
“Hey Ma, I’m probably gonna be late getting home tonight.” I said as I took giant bites out of the room temp turkey sandwich on the counter. The insides were warm and mushy, and the bread was stale. It flaked off onto the plate and my black button up shirt. I tried to brush it off and they fell inside scattering over my bare chest. My gold nametag jiggled.
“Why? I rented The Notebook. I thought we could watch it.”
“Ugh. Ma, you’ve seen that move a hundred times. It’s terrible.”
“It’s a great love story, Katie. You could use a little romance.”
“I get plenty of romance.”
“One-night stands don’t count as romance.”
“How would you know? You never had one.”
“I don’t need one. I hear what goes on in that bedroom.”
“You know how to alleviate that, right?”
“I turn up the volume on the TV already.”
“No, Ma. Go home.” I patted her shoulder and tossed my dish in the sink. “I gotta go.”
“You need me here. You would be lost without me.” She yelled as I closed the door and started down the stairs of the Victorian house my apartment was in.
I didn’t need her. What I needed was to get this job done. I needed to feel the release of every emotion I had been bottling up for nine eternal months. Feel my hands wrap around Riley’s neck and squeeze until her chest stopped rising and falling.
“Hey Katie, today’s the big day.” Nate, one of the stock boys, yelled out over his shoulder as I walked into Fraiser’s.
“Yeah,” I feigned a seductive smile and winked, “I’ve been dying in anticipation.” Nate was seventeen and had been harboring a secret crush on me. I liked to get him fired up whenever I could. He was cute with his blonde shaggy hair and pouty lips, but obviously jail-bait, and not even I would go there except flirtation that I knew ate at him all the way home.
I made my way passed customers lounging in overstuffed arm chairs fingering through new releases, girls with long dark hair trying to look inconspicuous as they perused the section where we kept our occult books, snot-nosed brats making a mess at “Kiddy Corner”. There was already a line of people in ‘Easy Does It’ shirts with giant, distorted character faces screen printed on them, white shirts with flashy writing that read ‘Samantha Riley’, and a bevy of other ridiculous, sloppy looking people forming a line to meet the woman. I rolled my eyes and then regrouped quickly before I pushed open the big wooden door that said ‘employees only’ at the back of the store. Matt and Jan, the owners, were standing there talking to Eric and Andy.
“So, you guys go ahead and get the banner set up. As soon as Katie gets here we’ll get her on…” Matt was instructing.
“Katie’s here,” I smiled and approached the group. I added an extra bounce to my step to look extra excited.
“There she is! How excited are you?” Jan walked over and wrapped an arm around my shoulders.
I absolutely hated being touched unless I was the one initiating the touching. Jan, I had learned, was a hugger. I had tried every method I could think of to get out of her grasp, but nothing ever worked. Once this woman had decided to hug you, that was it. I went to my happy place and grinned through it. It made every muscle in my body go tense. They felt like dry silly putty that had been pulled too far, like they might just snap.
“It’s very exciting.” I squeaked through gritted teeth and a distorted smile.
“Try not to flirt to hard, you. We don’t want to distract her from her signing.” Jan laughed a hearty laugh and shook me against her over-sized bosom. Then, she finally released.
Andy and Eric looked at me and smirked.
“I was just telling the guys to go ahead and put up the banner. Katie, can you get out the décor for the table and make sure the snacks and water are all ready for Miss Riley in case she requests something?”
“That’s what I’m here for.”
“Well, that’s kind of what you’re here for,” Eric mumbled under his breath.
I gave him a side-ways glance but laughed jovially at the jab. He had no idea how right he was in my ulterior motives. It was just that everyone in the store assumed I wanted to get Samantha Riley into bed, like I was some writer’s groupie flipping my hair and flashing my breasts for a few words inked on paper. It was so much more than that.
Riley arrived right on schedule. She was surrounded by assistants that ushered her in the back door to avoid the growing crowd of increasingly rowdy fans. I had no idea book nerds could be so rambunctious. I hurried to the bathroom to re-apply lipstick and stealthily unbutton the top buttons of my shirt. I needed to look attractive, feminine, and most of all, harmless.
When I walked back in the back-room Samantha Riley stood talking to Matt and Jan. They were exchanging pleasantries and the owners were attempting to fawn over her in just the right way—not to be off-putting but to be grateful she was visiting their little store. I stood back with a smile plastered to my face while I assessed my target. She was a slender woman and not much taller than me. I had read she was about 5’11”, I stood at 5’9”, so physically it was a pretty even match. If I caught her off-guard, surprised her, it would increase my chances of victory.
“Katie, hello, Earth to Katie.” Matt was trying to get my attention.
“Sorry Miss Riley. I’m afraid she might be a little star-struck. She’s one of your biggest fans.” Jan was smiling and laughing at Samantha by the time I snapped out of my assessment.
“Sorry,” I blinked and shook my head, “sorry guys. I drifted off for a sec.”
“That’s ok, Katie,” Jan was motioning for me to come over, “come here and meet Miss Riley.”
“You can call me Sam.” She smiled a broad smile revealing perfect, bright white teeth. She looked like the vampire she was; some mystical creature that sucked the life out of ordinary people and used their blood to pen her horrible stories. She extended a hand out to me.
“Hi, Sam.” I smiled coyly and batted my lashes offering her my hand. I flipped my hair as she leaned in and my shirt opened a little. “If you need anything at all, let me know.”
“Thanks, Katie. I’ll do that.” she said and pulled her lotioned hand away.
“We should get started then.” Matt said.
“I’m ready when you are.” Samantha told him.
They walked out through the heavy wooden door and up through the back of the store. First Matt followed by Samantha and her assistant. Matt stood in front of the table and addressed the crowd.
“Welcome everyone! Thank you for coming to Fraiser’s. We are very excited to welcome Miss Samantha Riley!”
Matt stepped aside, and Samantha stood and did a little princess wave to her audience. Her assistant asked that everyone stay in line and pay in advance if they were going to have a photo taken. I hung out behind the banner and waited for Riley to request a bottle of water and then played the part of eager gopher. My real scheme was to listen to side conversations. Wait patiently for someone to mention where Sam was staying. I knew better than to attack her at the store. I would have to find her at her hotel room. Get in. Take her where she wouldn’t see it coming.
Around 6:30 Sam paused for a 15-minute break. I escorted her and the assistants to the breakroom where I had set up fruit and vegetable platters along with champagne and water. I pretended to be attentive when one of the assistants asked if there were any bars near the Hyatt on 31st.
I turned to face her and cocked my head in curiosity, “Oh, is that where you guys are staying? That’s a spectacular hotel.”
“Well, it’s no Four Seasons, but it’s decent.”
“Yeah, I imagine,” I blushed. I had never been anywhere near a Four Seasons. “There is a really nice bar called Blush about three blocks from there. It’s pretty exclusive.”
“What do you think, Sam?”
“You guys go. I think I’ll stay in.” She was updating her social media and wasn’t paying much attention to her bored assistant.
I looked at her and raised my shoulders. A “you should go anyway” maneuver.
“Miss Riley. Sam. We should probably get back out there if you’re ready.” I whispered in seductive innocence.
“Lead the way.” She smiled at me, standing up and shoving her phone into her purse.
By the end of the night I had seen all I could stand of Samantha Riley fans. The men fawned over her. Women cried. Dudes gave her high-fives. Some of them cried. They posed for moronic photos. Ironically, some let her wrap her skinny hand around their necks and strangle them. I snorted in laughter at those and had to walk away to compose myself. The entire day was exhausting yet exhilarating. Everyone in the store poked and prodded me. They insinuated I might try to follow her home. They were almost right, but for the wrong reasons.
At closing time, when the store was finally empty, I went into the bathroom and changed out of my black button up and black dress pants. I slipped into a faded black vintage Journey crop-top and a pair of low-rise jeans. I tossed my hair around to give it a just-got-out-of-bed look. I liked to look like I put as little effort into my appearance as possible. It was easier to look aloof that way. It was easier to look inconspicuous that way. I slung my patchwork tote bag over my shoulder and yelled good-bye to everyone as I strutted out the door. I didn’t turn left toward home. Instead, I went right toward the Hyatt.
I walked through the rotating door at the entrance to the hotel and immediately knew I would draw attention to myself. Men with potbelly’s in three-piece suits waddled past escorted by women in gowns who looked like Hollywood starlets. Business men scurried along shouting into Bluetooth headsets. There was a giant crystal chandelier, a wall of mirrors, and a woman playing piano in the corner. I hurried through the lobby to the hotel bar and took a seat. I motioned to the bartender and asked for a cherry sour. He appraised me suspiciously but brought the drink over. I turned in my seat and there they were. Riley’s assistants having a drink in a corner booth. I dropped a ten on the bar and moved covertly to the booth behind theirs where I sat with my back to them.
“What a dump,” the blonde assistant was complaining in a high-pitched voice.
“Those employees were so weird,” responded another.
“The red-head was trying to get into Sam’s pants. I thought her boob was going to fall out.”
That was the brunette who asked about bars in the break-room.
“Shit. I forgot my lipstick in the room. I have to go back and get it.”
“We’ll wait here,” replied one of the others.
I watched from my booth as she got up and sauntered through the tables and into the lobby. I left my drink and hurried after her keeping my head down as I entered the elevator, so she wouldn’t recognize me. She got off on the 12th floor. I stayed far behind her, and when she turned around I leaned into a door and pretended to fumble with my room key. She disappeared into room 1226. I crept down the hall and hid behind a corner where I could see what she did next. When she emerged from her room a few minutes later she walked a few doors down to room 1232. She knocked a few times and the door opened, Riley was on the other side. They exchanged a few words and she walked away.
I leaned against the textured wall feeling the bumps press into my flesh like a gourd in autumn. I ran my hands along the wall imagining the bumps were excited goose pimples on Riley’s flesh. I wondered what her skin would feel like as it pressed against my palms. Would it mark my skin? Would I get a rash on my hands like the intentional flesh burns kids give themselves as dares on the playground? I wondered if I would carry her conceited energy in my hands for the rest of my life. I shook my head. It didn’t matter if I walked away with permanent scars. This mission was deeper than flesh. I had been sent from God. Received a personal message from God on my bathroom floor. Right the wrongs. Tell the truth where she had spread lies. End her.
I breathed deeply, counted to four, held it, released to a count of seven. My therapist had taught me that. He taught me how to center myself. I could feel the calm wash over me. I couldn’t do it if I wasn’t calm. I stood up and straightened my clothes; gave my hair a tousle. Then, I walked to room 1232 and tapped the door.
“Amy, I told you I’m good. Go ahead and go.” Riley said as she cracked the door.
When she saw me standing there she was taken back. Her eyes got big and she cleared her throat and licked her cotton candy pink lips. I assumed as a nervous response.
“Hi Sam. Sorry to disturb you, I--” I started stammering like a school-girl. “This is stupid. I’ll go.” I started to turn to walk away.
“It’s ok. Katie, right?” she opened the door a little further.
“Yeah, I’m sorry. I was just so excited to meet you. I had this story…”
“You wanted me to read it?”
“Yeah. I should have just emailed. I figured you get a lot of emails. This was dumb.”
“It’s a surprise.”
“I’m sorry,” I muttered, “I’ll go. This is weird.” I had no intention of going. If I hit a soft spot I wouldn’t have to force my way in.
“No, it’s fine. Why don’t you come in. I was just reading.”
I followed her into the hotel room. It was a suite; a little living area separate from the sleeping area. There was a bar in the corner. She walked over to it and poured herself a bourbon and soda. She asked if I would like one as well. I told her sure. No sense killing without a drink.
I asked her about her tour and she told me some stories about people she met at different stops. I asked her about her books, and she was happy to share some information about how she came up with her ideas. I scooted closer to her on the couch. I wanted her to let her guard down, and with every bourbon she drank and every inch I moved closer the looser she got. I was bridging the gap, creating a friendly, if somewhat sexually charged, atmosphere.
“So, where is this story you wanted me to read?” she looked at me, our lips so close I could smell the hot brown liquor on her breath.
“It’s just in my bag.”
I slowly turned away and rifled through my tote. I had done it. She felt safe, assumed I was some poor girl with a crush. It was really a shame. She had no idea that I wasn’t there because I had a story. No idea I wasn’t even slightly attracted to her. I felt a little dirty for the whole charade. It made my flesh crawl with goosebumps. A hard lump wadded up in the middle of my throat. I had to fight back vomit for reducing myself to poor pitiful girl.
I turned back around with foxlike speed. Before Riley had a chance to react my hands were wrapped around her throat, crushing the fragile windpipe that provided her oxygen. She grabbed at my wrists and tried to pull my hands away, but my veins were filled with adrenaline and I had the strength of a man twice my size. I sat on her chest with a knee between her breasts, digging into her sternum. Her legs kicked wildly like a bull trying to buck me off. I squeezed her neck like I was wringing a wet washcloth. My fingers dug into the smooth surface. Her skin reddened, and blood vessels broke and turned purple under my grasp. Her face was scarlet, and her eyes swelled in the sockets—her green irises pleading, begging for mercy. She choked and stammered as she gasped for the breath that I denied her.
“This is for all of us,” I growled through my teeth. “This is for everyone whose life you’ve made a profit from.”
She wheezed and whispered a faint “Why?”.
“God sent me,” I said flatly. Then, I squeezed her tighter, like I was juicing an orange, and watched as the last air escaped her.
Her whole body went limp, but I squeezed for a few minutes more, just to be safe. I put an ear to her chest and listened for a heartbeat, but there was only silence. I took some sanitization wipes from my tote and wiped off her neck and her hands. I washed the glass I drank from. I scrubbed the coffee table to be sure I left no fingerprints. I stayed behind a full 2 hours after Samantha Riley was dead to make sure every trace of me was destroyed. Then I gathered my belongings and left just as quietly as I had come.
“Hey Ma, I’m home.” I shouted as I walked into my apartment. My mother was sitting on the couch watching The Notebook.
“Katie, you’re late.” She had a wet tissue in her hand and her eyes were red.
“Ma, I told you not to watch that again. It’s garbage anyway. That isn’t real life.”
“It could be. Your father and I met like this.”
“Dad was an alcoholic and left you for a twenty-two-year-old woman, Ma.” I took the remote and turned off the movie. “Dad is scum.”
“Don’t talk bad about your father. He’s coming back. He’s just confused is all.”
“Oh, Ma,” I leaned down to kiss her head. I looked down at the coffee table and noticed Strangle sitting there. “What’s this doing out?”
“I tried reading it. What a nasty book that is. I couldn’t get through it.”
“Yeah, this stuff isn’t for you.”
I took the book and went to my room. Samantha Riley stared down at me from all four of my walls. Her eyes followed me as I shimmied out of my jeans and crawled into bed. I leaned into my pillows and opened the book to where I had left off nine months ago. I breathed a sigh of contentment and began reading.
#StranglingSam #HumpdayHorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Welcome to my blog. Sit back and enjoy a short story, a poem, or some flash fiction--whatever I have recently cooked up. I will post a new piece as often as possible. Check back once a week to see what's new.