Roland Allnach

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11
Roland Allnach, 2008
Published in Allegory, Fall 2008

Enjoy this short fiction and much more in Prism!

    

            Behold my life: it’s not the white walls that imprison me.

            He who writes this, he lives in fear.  He can feel it when he breathes, he can feel it when he eats, he can even feel it when he sleeps, although the fear hinders any full respite of consciousness.  The fear crawls over his skin, presses into his pores; sometimes he thinks it’s tingling in his ears, like little unseen insects crawling inside his head to drive him insane.  But for all its illusions and delusions, there is one thing that has always remained, and that is the fear.

It’s not a shapeless fear, nor an aimless one.  Carl knows it must have a name, but he prefers not to know it, because to name it would be to humanize it, and it’s human enough.  The fear is a man, and this man stalks him, stalks him without relent.  For what reason, Carl has on idea, but he accepts it, this embodiment of dread, because the fear is innate.

            He felt the presence in his earliest memories.  It was there in his neighborhood while he grew up, perhaps around the block, or on the next street.  It came to infect his nature.  All his life it seemed this human incarnation of his fear was just out of sight, just off to the side, just out of hearing range, but nevertheless always—somehow—there.  When he was little he would cringe in bed at night, dreading the next day, wondering when he would feel the cold tingle up his spine that told him he was being watched.  He considered telling his parents about his suspicions, but, when he considered the questions they would ask, and his empty answers, he knew the inevitable response.  What were they to do about someone whose name he didn’t know, whose face he couldn’t describe, whose only existence was verified by his swearing that he was being followed, stalked, hunted?

Such was Carl’s childhood.  There was little help for him, because in that time such things as he suffered didn’t receive serious consideration.  Bullying, and being bullied, was part of growing up.  Not only was it tolerated, it was considered to build character in its victims.  In that climate, how was he to explain his dilemma, or hope to get relief, or understanding?  For it wasn’t bullying, it was in fact predation, something yet to register in the realm of social conscience.  Yes, it was predation, because even then Carl deduced one thing with certainty: it was fear that he thrived on, the fear of the hunted, just as the lion’s heart swells before it springs.  It was a perpetual moment of suspense, one that could never end.

Nestled in that futile conclusion Carl found what he thought was his salvation, for he realized an ironic truth.  If the goal was nothing but the pursuit, then there could be no culmination—it was potential in a vacuum.  The fear evaporated, and, for the first time in his young life Carl felt free.  Even his perception of that nameless him was shed in a blissful epiphany.  It was one wonderful day; one that he thought would change his life.  He believed he would know days without nervous trepidation, he would know nights without nightmares and restless trembling.  Or so he thought, but he found he was to be proven wrong, that he would be taught a bitter lesson, that he would be levied with a grotesque punishment.

            The horror of it was there when he woke the next morning.  He went outside to feed his dog.  He heard the shouts from the front yard, because the neighbors had already found what was left of his dog.  Her head had been crushed while she slept.  The police came.  They looked, but they didn’t seem too interestedIn the end, it didn’t matter, because the message was clear.

Carl was on his own.

            He grew up in fear, always suspecting that some night might be his last—that he would be killed, just like his dog.  On the rare occasions that he slept, he often woke trembling with nightmares.  He couldn’t pay attention in school, so his grades plummeted.  His parents lost patience with him, perhaps assuming he was going through some kind of ‘phase’, because other than some meaningless reprimands, they did nothing.  What few social associations he had, he lost.  His world imploded.  All those things, those shiny happy things people get to remember from high school, he missed, hiding in his house, in his room, staring at the walls for hours wondering when it would come, when he would come after him, because Carl figured that sooner or later the thrill of the predation would lose its hold and he would have to act out once more.

It was intolerable.  Carl’s parents thought he was listless, lazy, but they had no idea how much energy he burned up in fear and worry.  He became emaciated as the fear consumed his body along with his mind.  The inevitable breakdown came one summer night after he graduated high school.  He raided his father’s liquor cabinet, drank himself into delirium, stood in the backyard, and screamed out a challenge: if he wanted him, come and do it.  Just do it already!

            The neighbors shouted for him to quiet down.  His father hauled him into the house by the collar, complaining that the police would come to the house on a domestic disturbance complaint.  Carl cared little for the embarrassment.  “Let them come, then they’ll see!” he protested in his drunkenness.  His father threw him in bed.  Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was his mental break, but he fell fast asleep.

It was the best sleep he had since the night his dog was killed.

            He woke up on the curb among flashing lights and chaos.  Firemen scurried about while the neighbors stood around in shock.  He had heard the challenge, and lashed out with vicious retribution once again, burning down the house with everyone inside.

Carl’s parents were dead.  Looking at the faces around that scene on such a dark night, he curled up in a ball, because he knew one thing, knew it with a dread that froze his blood in his veins and stilled his heart in his chest.

He was being watched, watched by unseen, laughing eyes that hid in the crowd.

 

***

 

            Carl moved around after that, living off the insurance money while it lasted.  It wouldn’t have been fair to call him a drifter, even though he appeared to be living as one.  He moved often because he had no choice.  He was on the run.  He had to run, as somehow, some way, he always managed to return.  Sometimes it took a few weeks, sometimes months, but one thing seemed certain—the more content and settled Carl was in his current situation, the sooner he arrived, and with more vengeance.  Complacency, it seemed, was the greatest offense.  He of course came unannounced, but the presence was unmistakable and undeniable.  Carl could feel it, could feel that malevolent gaze watching him, because whenever he was close the fear would boil over and consume Carl once more.

The times he tried to resist it, to deny it, only brought more destruction.  He adopted a little stray dog one time, but no sooner did she come into his life than he woke up to find her strangled outside his door.  He grew friendly with a waitress in a diner where he had a job washing dishes, but he killed her with equal disregard.  Her house burned down, too.

            Carl eventually found something that he thought would insulate him.  He took a job as a night janitor in a low rent building for students at an art college.  They were a tight-knit little group, so if anyone new came around, he would—should—hear some talk about a stranger, and might be able to elude the threat before it struck.  He worked at night, so he didn’t have to deal with too many people.  It suited him well.  He knew he had lost the ability to relate with people.  

Doing so seemed like he was condemning them to death.

Nevertheless he hated his job, despising it for its filth.  It was demeaning and unfulfilling, mindless and monotonous, reminding him with mounting bitterness that he was not, by any measure, a stupid man.  Every night Carl picked up his mop, or fixed a toilet, served as a reminder how that faceless he had taken his life away, how he had demeaned him, how he had ruined him.  In those moments Carl discovered a new realization, a new sense, that the fear was no longer alone, that something else grew with it, festering within him, and that thing was anger.

            Yet, for all the things he hated about his job, he began to think that maybe it was the very demeaning nature of the job itself that kept him away, that perhaps kept him amused enough not to inflict new miseries of torture or violence.  For, among the bohemian denizens he had to tolerate in that building, there were some who enjoyed making his life more miserable than it already was, rubbing his face in his sub-mediocrity in their own arrogant little art-house way.

There was one resident in particular that turned his stomach and boiled his blood.  His name was Michael Gibbs; ‘Gibby’ as the others called him.  He was the son of a wealthy family, in appearance a fledgling impressionist painter, but in actuality he was a flagrant womanizer, a misogynist.  A seemingly endless stream of women cycled through Gibby’s apartment.  Gibby wasn’t rude or condescending; rather, it was Gibby’s apathy that disgusted Carl.  Even so, Gibby both amazed and demoralized Carl.  There was a man dissolute, arrogant, conceited, and disrespectful of women, yet he had somehow managed to ingratiate himself to the point that he had been given his cozy nickname- Gibby was, in fact, popular among the residents of the building, at least in the sense of casual social acquaintances.

It was this seeming hypocrisy that led Carl to hate all the building’s residents.  Was he not polite to them, did he not tend to their needs, did he not answer their calls when toilets ran and sinks clogged?  Then again, did they not ignore him while cleaning up after their biological waste, after tending to their own human detritus clogging their building, neglecting him with as much forgetfulness as the feces they neglected to flush away?  Oh, how he grew to hate them, how the anger festered within him, mounting with counting days as he came across a new realization, a bitter irony that impaled him with his own cruel fate.  He was, in fact, important to only one person.  Just one.  Only that person was the specter of his nightmares, the embodiment of his fears, the one who had always been there, that person was—him.

Sometimes, though, Carl took pause, for there was one person that certain parts of his twisted self were compelled to exclude from his toxic emotions.  She was the pretty girl, the pianist—Marina Yotomo—who practiced every morning.  She lived right over him.  He often listened to the muffled chords of her piano while he sat staring at his walls before succumbing to his restless sleep. 

            As much as he found an inclination within himself to regard her with a certain interest, he was haunted by the memory of that unfortunate waitress he had once fancied.  It disgusted him, because he often amused himself with little flights of fancy involving Marina.  Nevertheless, she was the only redemption in that job, in that building.

She always said hello.

She was always nice.

But she was friendly with Gibby, and Carl couldn’t forgive that offense.

 

***

 

Winter break came.  The building was emptying for the end of the semester.  There was a big party at Marina’s, and it carried on through the night.  He could hear Gibby talking to her.  It disgusted him.  He thought of turning off the power to the building, turning off the heat, and a dozen other malicious things to ruin their party.  In the end he did nothing, instead sitting inept and alone in his little apartment in the basement, tortured by the merriment over him.  He fought to ignore it, tried to think of something else, tried to watch his little television with the grainy picture, but he just sat.

Until, that is, there was a knock on his door.  Startled from his bitter lethargy, he realized that the party had ended.  The building was quiet.  He rubbed his face and staggered to the door, hesitating before opening it.  When he opened the door he found Marina waiting for him, aglow with alcohol, the blush of her cheeks matching her red dress and the elf’s cap on her head, its fuzzy white ball jingling with two little bells she had sown into the material.

He was dumbstruck.  No words came from his open mouth.

“Ho ho!” she said, greeting him with cheer, but she had to force a smile in the discomfort of his detached silence.  “I baked these for you.  I hope you enjoy them.”  She offered him a paper plate covered with aluminum foil.  When he took it from her, not having uttered a word, a nervous shrug pulled at her shoulders.  “Okay, well, ah, goodnight then, I guess,” she said and turned away.

He closed the door.  He walked to his bed and turned off his little television before lifting the foil to peer beneath its cover.  She had baked him brownies.  He stared at them.  He was so bewildered by the very notion of his existence having entered her thoughts that he considered not eating them, just so he could keep them.  But in the end he did eat them, for the very reason that she had made them for him.  He believed he encapsulated that sentiment within him as he digested the brownies, assimilating the energy she invested in their making.  He gathered up the crumbs with due diligence, put them in a small zip bag to keep them fresh, and put them inside his pillowcase.

She knows I think of herHow?

He sat for some time, considering that, until he shook his head.  “Clever girl,” he said to himself and crawled into bed.  He pulled the covers up.  He breathed.  The building would be empty.  Only Marina and Gibby were staying for winter break.  He would almost have her to himself.  He knew what he would do, knew it with a welcome rush of anxiety.  He would approach her with old-fashioned respect and ask her out for dinner.  He thought of her smile.  It was going to be perfect.

For the first time in a very long time, he forgot himself, and drifted off to sleep with a smile on his face.

 

***

           

He woke to the siren scream of his alarm clock.  He dressed.  He looked out his little window to a pitch black, moonless night.  He sighed, opened his door, and went upstairs, only to find a phone on the hallway floor.  Curious, he picked it up.  The moment he had it in his hand it came to life, startling him.  He hesitated, but put it to his ear and said hello.  There was a long pause, and then he heard it, and when it came his blood ran cold, his heart froze in his chest, and his skin tingled with a cold electric spasm of terror.  He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t think, he couldn’t drop the phone, he couldn’t believe what he knew with insane certainty—it was him, it was his voice, rasping over the phone.

“Time to change the game.”

            Carl’s hand recoiled from the phone.  It tumbled in the air.  In a heartbeat he reconsidered, some decrepit part of him craving the contact, craving the moment in which he could substantiate the reality of his existence from delusions of fear to the tactile reality of a living, breathing entity.  Carl’s hand shot out and snatched the phone before it crashed to the floor.  He stood there, holding it, his skin crawling as if he held some venomous serpent in his grasp and not the plastic body of the phone.  His inhibitions, born of his fear, threatened to toss it down and run, but the urge to confront his tormentor after so many years won out.  Nevertheless, he was overwhelmed by a sense of perversion when he put the phone to his ear and felt its plastic body against his cheek.  In the tumultuous ebb and flow of his emotions his voice was lost.  His throat knotted.

            “Keep the phone close.  When I call, do what I tell you,” the voice in the phone ordered.  “Do you understand?”

            Carl’s teeth clicked together.  His gaze darted about.  He sank to the floor, curling in a ball against the wall as he clutched the phone to his ear and wrapped his other arm over his head.  His instincts distilled to one point.  He had to hide, but how could he hide from a phone?  He was raw, he was naked, he was defenseless; he was on the curb again outside the smoldering remains of his house.  All his fear, all his anger, all his bitterness, it all mocked him, leaving him a trembling mass before the one question that had always haunted him.

“Why?”

            “Because I can.”

            The call ended.  He scurried back to his room, locked the door, and hid in his bed, pulling the sheets over his head.  He lay there, trembling, until he remembered the bag of crumbs in his pillowcase.  He held them tight, and fled from his terror to his dreams.

 

***

 

            “Wake up.”

            His eyes popped open to a cold gray day of rain.  The phone was already at his ear.  He cringed, wincing at his hopelessness.  His voice seeped from his lips as a thin rasp.  “Leave me alone.”

            “I don’t like it when you sleep,” the voice said.  “Tell me what you were dreaming.”

            His heart raced.  Was he to have nothing, not even the freedom of his sleeping delusions?  His anger woke, snapping some resistance into him.  “Leave me alone!”

            “Tell me what you were dreaming and I’ll hang up.”

            He hesitated, debating with himself.  Could he make a compromise with him?

            “I bet I can guess what it was,” the voice said with cruel confidence.  “I’ve seen enough.  How were the brownies?”

He blinked before bolting up in his bed.  “How—how did you know about that?”

            “I know everything.  The dream?”

            He looked to his window.  He knows, oh God, he knows!  “I, I was with her.”

            “The piano girl.”

            He squeezed his eyes shut.  “I had her here, with me, in my room.”

            “Never going to happen,” the voice said, dismissing the notion with a mocking tone.

            His jaw clenched.  “No, listen!  I, I took her.  I took her, I grabbed her, and brought her down here, and I—I made her mine.  You couldn’t stop me.  I kept her here, and she learned to love me, and I kept her safe from you.  Now go away!”

            There was a long pause, and then, like a barb impaling him, came a single short laugh.

            He squeezed the phone in his hand.  “To hell with you!”

The voice returned, laced with a calm lethality.  “What do you think you’re doing?”

            He sank under his sheets, retreating into himself.  “I—”

            “Who are you to dream about having her?  You’re a loser.  Besides, you’re a little old for her.  But I have to tell you, she is a pretty little thing,” the voice said with perverse hunger.

            He sat up.  His heart raced.  “Stop!”

            Laughter mocked him once more.  “A real man would know what to do with her.”

            “Who are you to insult her?  Who are you to talk like that?”

            “Hey, it’s your dream.”

            “I—”  He froze.  He didn’t know what to say.

            “Answer me.  You want her, don’t you?”

            “Yes,” he admitted.

            “Oh well,” the voice said with a resigned sigh.  “Now I have to kill her.”

            “What?  You son of a bitch—”

            “Watch your mouth.  Shut up or she’ll be dead tomorrow.  I’ll rip her head off.”

            “Stop it!”

            “Make me.”

            He sobbed in desperation.  “Stop it, leave her alone, please?”  He put a hand over his eyes.  “Please, I’ll do anything, just don’t hurt her, okay?  I’ll do whatever you want, just don’t hurt her.”

            “Fine.  I’ll make you a deal, but first I want to tell you something.  Are you listening?”

            “Yes, yes.  .  .”

            “Listen!”

            “Okay, okay, I’m listening.”

            A deep breath sounded over the phone.  “I want to tell you what kind of life I have.  Did you know I’m married?  That’s right, I’m married.  She’s real nice.  We have two kids.  I’m an executive.  I travel a lot—that’s how I’ve kept up with you all these years.  I have a nice house—nothing too fancy, but nice enough, certainly nicer than anything you have.   In fact, that’s what it’s all about.  All this—my life—you know, it should be yours, but it’s all mine.  People think I’m a nice guy.  They look at you and see a creepy loser.  In my world, I have respect, I have confidence—I have powerI want you to know that I took all that away from you, that I’ve been taking it away from you since we were little, just because you’re stupid, weak, and pathetic.  But I’ve decided to make you stronger, because you’re so pathetic you really don’t entertain me anymore.  Torturing you doesn’t satisfy me like it used to.  Understand, I invest a lot of time into making your life miserable, time I could spend at home with the wife and kids, time I have to account for, so the least you could do is make it worth my effort.  I’m going to be generous and give you some tough love.  Are you still listening?”

            He sat in disbelief.  “Yes, yes, I’m listening, still listening—”

            “Stop that mumble-mouth shit,” the voice said with disdain.  “As much as it pains me, I won’t kill her yet, if you do what I tell you.  Are you going to do what I tell you?”

            He ground his teeth.  He wanted to die, he wanted to disappear, but he knew there was no escape.  There was only the fear, him, and a chance to control and contain them both “Yes, yes, I’ll do what you tell me.”

            “Good.  You know I’ve been watching that building you’re in, watching those bratty little art students go in and out, and some of them really annoy me.  Since you’ve made me sit through that, you owe me.  This is how you’re going to pay me back.  Next time I call, you do exactly what I tell you.  Do you hear me?  Exactly.  Say, ‘I’ll do exactly what I’m told to do.’”

            “I’ll do exactly what I’m told to do.”

            “Good.  Now go to sleep.”

            Hours passed.

            He woke in darkness.

            His hand shook with the phone.  He put it to his ear.  Perhaps, if he said nothing, it would end.

            “I can hear you breathe, stupid,” the voice whispered.

            He ground his teeth.

            “Do you know what my favorite number is?”

            Carl held his silence, but his eyebrows sank in thought.

“Get something to write with.”

            His hand groped about his end table before slipping under the sheets with a pen.  He stared at his hand, damning himself for listening, for having curiosity, for having any interest in any taste of his.

            “Write the number eleven.”

He wrote it in his palm for lack of any other place to write.

“Good.  Look at it.  Do you see what it is, two ones, one behind the other?  Split them up and add them together and you get two, but slide them next to each other, one behind the other, and you get eleven.  Eleven is a lot more than two.  The first one is just one until the second one pushes it over to be a ten, and then it still has its back.  One makes the other far more than what it was.  It even protects it, watches over it.  Do you understand?”

            He looked at his hand.  Despite himself, he was intrigued.  “I, I think so.”

            “Enough talk.  Get out of bed.  Make sure you have on those rubber winter boots.  Get your heavy plumber’s wrench.  Then go to the top floor and knock on the door.”

            He got out of bed.  He put his boots on.  He took the wrench in hand and went upstairs, to the top floor, to stand before a door.  He knocked.  Music played inside.  His hand trembled with the phone.  He put it to his ear.

            “You know what to do when Gibby opens the door?”

            He shrugged, not having considered what would come next.  “No.”

            “Take that wrench and smash his head.”

            He retreated from the door, shocked.  “What?”

            “Kill him.  He’s put in a lot of time with her.  You know what that means.”

            He slumped against the wall and shook his head.  “What—”

            “Think about it, and then smash him.”

            His gaze fell to the wrench.  His hand jerked back to let the wrench thud to the floor.  “No, I can’t, I can’t—that’s wrong!”

            “I saw them, you know.  But, maybe.  .  .”

Carl pressed his fingers to his eyes as he paced the hall.  Marina and Gibby?  No!  He wanted to vomit; he wanted to pound his head against the wall.  He clenched his fist, still pressing the phone to his ear.  A visceral, crime-scene curiosity budded within him, demanding to know the details.  “What did he do to her?”

“I don’t think you want to know.”

“Hey!  This time you answer the question.  This time you answer!”  He jabbed his finger before him.  “Listen, you know I have to know.  Now tell me!”

There was a pause before he got his answer.  The specific words failed to register, but he visualized that apocalyptic, pornographic scene in all its disgusting and degrading detail, fulfilling every worst nightmare of Marina’s corruption beneath Gibby.  His blood boiled.  “Son of a bitch.  That son of a bitch!”

“Then what are you waiting for?”

            He dropped the phone in his pocket and snatched up the wrench before pounding his fist on the door.

After several moments the door opened.  Gibby stood there, half asleep, rubbing his eyes.  “What gives, man?  Dude, like, you know what time it is?”

            He stared at Gibby.  It wasn’t a moment of hesitation; it was the moment he needed to refresh the vile image in his head to summon his boiling rage—until it exploded.  He swung the wrench.  It crashed into Gibby’s forehead with a wet crack, spraying blood across the ceiling.  Gibby dropped straight back to the floor.  He was on Gibby in a heartbeat, taking the wrench in both hands and raising it high to smash in Gibby’s face with a vicious blow.  Blood spattered in all directions, as if Carl had stomped a bag of ketchup.  He held for a moment, and then jerked on the wrench, its heavy end coming loose with a wet sucking sound from the shattered pulp of Gibby’s cranium.

Perhaps it was the sound, perhaps it was the sight of all those blood stains on the white walls and oak floor, perhaps it was the sound of his heavy breathing, but he fell back several steps, retreating from the mess in a trail of red boot prints.  The wrench clattered to the floor, his hand numb.  The phone vibrated in his pocket.  He put it to his ear.  He didn’t know what to say. 

            The voice came to him.  It was full of glee.  “Did you see how his head split open?”

            Carl vomited on the floor as realization collided with him.  He braced himself against the wall with his bloody hands.  “Wait, what did I do—what did I do?”

            “Tick, tick.  Get the wrench and get moving.”

He put the phone back to his ear, his head shaking.  “Get moving?  Where?”

            “Move.”

            He walked down the hall, paced down the stairs, and stopped at the bottom.  His hand trembled with the phone, and even though he turned it on, he didn’t answer, instead waiting before putting it to his ear.  “What?”

            “You’re at the bottom of the stairs, aren’t you?”

            He sat down.  “Yes.  Hey, how do you know all these things?”  He looked about the stairwell.  “How do you know my every move?”

            “I know everything about you.”

            “What?  How?  Is it cameras?  I know about surveillance, you know.  I’ve read all about that.  Cameras, everywhere.  The government, they can probably listen in on these phone calls, probably recording them right now.”

He jumped to his feet and dropped the wrench.  “I could call the police—that’s it!  Why didn’t I think of that before?”

            Silence.

            “Oh, I’ve got you now.”

            “Point at the phone all you want, you don’t ‘have’ me.”

            “What, watching me through cameras again?”

            “Whatever you say, sure, watching you through the cameras, fine.  Let them record the phone calls.  Nobody would believe I’d be involved in this mess.  Remember, I’m the nice guy with the wife and kids, not the creepy drifter with a trail of death behind him.  No, they’ll never find me—but they’ll find you.”

            Defeated, he sank back to the stairs.  “Why are you doing this to me?’  He sucked in a breath as realization collided with his awareness.  “Oh, oh no, I killed someone—I killed a man.  Shit!”  He clapped a hand to his forehead.  “Why can’t you leave me alone?”

            “Because you’re stupid and weak.  Who lives on this floor?”

            He closed his eyes, trying to forget the wrench on the stair tread next to him.

            “Come on, you know.  I wonder if she even liked Gibby.”

            He rose to his feet.

            “Yeah, I bet she did.  Accept it.  Next to him, you’re nothing to her.”

            “No, that’s not true.  She’s nice to me.  She likes me.  She talks to me, she—”

            “Really?  She tolerates you because you take out her garbage.  She’s too busy rolling in the gutter with Gibby to care about you.  He didn’t respect her like you do.  You wouldn’t treat her the way he did.”

            “That’s, that’s right!  I love her.  I would never—I wouldn’t!”  He snatched the wrench, cursing under his breath.  “You saw him in your cameras, didn’t you, saw him with her?”

            “As you say.  Do what you have to do.  Now it’s her turn.”

            “What?  I, I don’t understand, I—I can’t hurt her.”

            “She turned you into a murderer, and you can’t hurt her?”

            “No, no—you made me do that!”

            “If you didn’t give a rat’s ass about her, you still would’ve killed Gibby?”

            He started to pace.  “Yes—no—stop!  You’re turning everything around.”

            “Look what she’s done to you.  You’re standing there in the middle of the night with brains and blood splattered over you.  It makes me proud, but is that what you wanted, to please me?”

            He squeezed the phone in his hand.

            “Hey?  Are you listening?  Say no and she’s dead.  Do it, and you get a crack at me.”

            “A crack at you?”  His face flushed.  “You’re dead, dead, I’ll crush you, smash you—”

            “That’s it!  Now move.”

            He kicked the wall.  He cursed and growled, but knew he had no choice.  He had to obey, because it had to end, and he would end it, end it that night.

            He raced down the next flight of stairs.  He slipped with his blood-soaked boots and tumbled down the last set of steps to land in a pile on the floor.  The phone slid from his hand and clattered across the floor outside the stairwell.  He scrambled after it, flopping forward to slap his hand over the phone.  He sighed with relief, but then froze as he caught the sight of slippers from the corner of his eye.

He looked over and found Marina standing in the hall, staring at him in surprise.

            “Are you okay?”  She crossed her arms over her thick blue night coat, her dark eyes wide with concern.  “I heard some noise.”

            He stared at her.

            She pointed at the phone.  “Hey, is that my voice recorder?  I’ve been looking all over for that.”

            He drew the phone into his hand.  “No, that’s mine.”

            “Are you sure?”  She paused, her lips parting when she looked at his hand.  “Is that blood?  Did you hurt yourself when you fell?”

            “Are you hearing this?” he whispered to the phone as he stared at her.

            Her gaze fell to the gore-soaked wrench.

            “Marina—”

            She glared at him and fell back a step, then two.  “What’s going on?”  She retreated another step, her gaze darting to the unseen floors above.  “Gibby?  Hey!”

“Him, you’re calling him?”  His eyes narrowed to menacing slits.  “Gibby’s gone.”

            She gasped and started to retreat. 

            He ground his teeth before calling out to her.

            She broke into a run, screaming for help.

            He pounded a fist on the floor.  “You ungrateful bitch!  Do you know I’ve done for you?”

            He charged after her.  He slid around the corner leading to her door, only to see her slam it in his face.  He drew back and threw himself at the door, his shoulder pounding it open before she could secure the locks.  Knocked from her feet, she stumbled back and tripped over her shoes to flop on the floor, stunned her as her head smacked down on the old oak slats.  He kicked the door shut behind him with his heel, keeping his gaze on her as she propped herself up on her elbows, her eyes wide with fear.

Her coat fell open.  He could see the little lavender chemise that covered her bare body.

He began to tremble.

            She inched away from him on her elbows.  “Please, don’t hurt me?”

            He blinked.  “Why—why Gibby?  I wouldn’t treat you like some dime-store toy!”

            She winced at his outburst, raising a hand before her.

            He shook his fists.  “Get up.  Let’s go, get up!”

            She cringed beneath him.

He stepped back.  He glanced at her piano before returning to her and pointing to her piano bench.  “Play.”  He opened his hands.  “Come on, play!”

            She rolled over and scurried to the piano, her wide eyes fixed on him as she moved.  She watched as he looked to his hand, his hand then snapping up to his ear.  Settling on the bench, she lifted the cover from the keys, clenching her fists when she saw how her hands shook.  She looked back to him, fighting to find her voice.  “What, what should I play?”

            He stared at her.  “What should I tell her to play?”

            “What are you doing?” said the voice from the phone.

            “I want her to play.”

            “No.”

            “I want her to play!”

            “Music soothes the savage beast.  She’ll play and you’ll go all weepy and lame.  There’s no turning back now.  You’re a murderer.  You think she wants anything to do with you?  Look at her!”

            He shook his head, but he knew the disgusting truth.  Everything he did to have her made her unattainable.  His mind was torn in many directions at once.  He was terrorizing her.  It was insane.

His face bunched up.  “Close the piano.”

            “I thought you wanted me to play?”

            “Close the piano!”

            “That’s it,” he heard from the phone.

            She shrank against the keys, whimpering among her tears.  “Just tell me what you want me to do, okay?  Please, don’t hurt me, please—”

            “Listen to her,” he heard from the phone.  “Who does she sound like now, what pathetic loser does she sound like?”

            “What?” she said.  “I can’t hear you, you’re mumbling—”

            Carl waved her off.  “Shut up!”

            The voice skewered his ear.  “I told you I was going to set you free.  Look at you—she turned you into a worm, eating her dirt.  If it wasn’t for her, you’d still be in your bed.  Get it?  She’s the one that made you kill—she’s to blame!”

            She cowered, pleading her innocence between sobs.

            “She has to die.”

            “Please, don’t kill me, I didn’t do anything!”

            “Kill her and you get a crack at me.  Come on, I’m right here.”

            “I—”

            “Do it!”

            “I, I can’t, she’s been so nice to me, and all these years you’ve tortured me—”

            “Here I come, I’m here, time to face up—kill her!”

            Her gaze darted about as she cringed on her piano bench.  She tensed, her focus locked past him.  She pointed behind him, and let a piercing shriek burst from her lips.  “He’s right behind you—he’s right behind you!”

            He spun.  He froze.  The phone fell from his hand.  He lowered his head and launched himself.

            She put her hands over her face as his head smashed into the mirror on the back of her steel security door.  He stood there for a moment, leaning on the door as pieces of the broken mirror came loose and fell from the door.  Blood dripped down the door past his chin.  His gaze sank to the kaleidoscopic reflection staring back at him.

“Clever girl,” he mumbled and slumped to the floor.

 

***

 

            They tell me I’m getting better, because I no longer deny my crimes.

They don’t know the half of it.

Sometimes, at night, I wake and look at the number in my hand.  It’s because of that number that I still live in nervous anticipation, because I know one thing as sure as I know the sun will rise and night will come: he’s still out there, and he won’t stay idle.  I know this, more than anyone else, because I know now what we’re capable of.  He’ll find me—even in this place—he’ll find a way to come, a way to get me out of here, because there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, that no one can deny, that no statement can refute, that Marina couldn’t understand, that I didn’t understand until that night in her apartment.  It’s something that makes my heart pound, that makes me seethe with fury, but, at the same time, makes me feel more alive, more powerful, than I ever did before.

I crave my madness.

            I may fear him, but he needs me.  Eleven.  We can’t escape each other.

 

(END)

 

 

 
     
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