Jack’s Apartment (part 4)

Jack’s Apartment

(part 4)

by Thadd Presley

Jack’s mind screamed for him to leave, to run away — this was an evil place –and never return, but he couldn’t look away. The red shock of hair, which hung from the skull in clumps, was too hideous to be anything but real.

“My God, Adam, is that a little girl?” Jack’s voice was only a whisper. “I mean, she can’t be real?”

“No, she can’t be.” He took a small breath, and silence filled the apartment while both men stood silently looking at the skeleton. “But, she is.”

Adam was praying, but also trying not to comprehend that things like this happened all over the world. He didn’t want to know the evils that men wrought.

Jack stood beside him looking at the shackled child in disbelief. His mind halted at the implications, but he was once an evil man himself and knew too well the terrible things the minds of men brought into existence. Men kill innocent people every day. I am a murder myself, he thought.

As Adam prayed, trying to forget the image before him, Jack saw more and more of the room’s contents: a long, black stain ran down the wall behind the skeleton and another black stain was under the small writing desk. The wooden chair, was covered in the same blackness stain, broken to pieces under the desk.

The girl’s screams came to Jack, suddenly. He could hear a woman crying behind the screams. He could see what happened in that room. He was forced to watch.

The black stain, which covered a large portion of the wall, was blood that had dripped from the girl’s shackled wrists. Just a flash of the terrible events showed him enough for an eternity: the girl hanging in the shackles, crying softly, pulling at her own wrists. He saw the blood breaking through the skin, running down her white arms. Her wild eyes darting around, watching, her fear of being trapped… of being unable to escape before she was to die.

The bruises running up her arm had been put there by the woman who now wept for the little girl. The woman was much older than his friend Adam. She had beat the girl earlier with a broomstick and burned her with a hot poker, first sticking the poker to the girl’s legs, which began to blister immediately. Then the broomstick was used on rest of her. The girl screamed and cried as she was beat.

The words flashed in his mind. Help Me!

He knew the little girl’s fate better than he knew his own father’s face. Someone had tortured this girl, long and hard, until the girl found it necessary to saw her wrists on the very shackles that imprisoned her. He closed his eyes to the pain she felt. He didn’t want to see anymore. But, the pain and loneliness of the girl pushed in on his mind.

She was beaten severely before being put into the shackles and hung on the wall to starve to death and hang for eternity, but she ended the misery of hunger by finishing the job herself.

As he pushed the scene out of his head, his eyes fell upon an open book on the desk. From what he could see, it was hand written and in a terrible state of decay. The book interested Jack very much. He had to have to look.

“Do you think anyone knows,” Jack asked, starting into the room.

“No, please. Don’t go in there.” Adam backed away from the room.

“Don’t leave me,” Jack pleaded and grabbed the old man’s wrist. “I think there’s…I see –”

“We have to call the police, somebody.”

“But, there’s something else? If I can just get closer –”

“Jack, please don’t.”

“I have to. You don’t understand. They called me. It was this girl that called out to me. I know it sounds crazy, but it was her. She knew my name.”

Fear filled Adam. He didn’t believe in ghosts, and he certainly didn’t want to hang around while was happening. To even know this had happened ,long ago was to much to face. To know that there was someone in the world that did this sort of thing… and something that called to people and knocked on their walls at night. He tried to force it away, but he couldn’t deny what was right in front of him. This was too real.

Adam grasped his left arm.

Adam’s fall brought his head down on the electric heater and a red stain started to bloom on the carpet.

Jack quickly knelt beside his friend so he could check his heart, but before he could: We need you, Jack. Now.

Jack’s head jerked up, afraid he might actually see the skeleton moving. But his eyes adjusted to the gray figure he’d seen on the floor and realized another skeleton lay there. He could only see the legs sticking out from under the bed. He believed, for no obvious reason, that this was the remains of a woman. ‘We need you, now’ was enough to convince him. He got up so he could see better. Her dress had disintegrated over the years, and her bones had partially turned to dust. But, the two voices had been women, and these were they. He was sure of that.

But, this woman had been stuffed under the bed when she died.

How do you know that? He asked himself these questions knowing that there was no answer. He’d never heard about any of this. How did he know that the skeleton under the bed was even a woman.

It didn’t matter. He just knew. He’d seen it. She was the woman who used the poker to burn the little girl. It washer who beat the girl with the broomstick and put shackles on her wrists.

Again, a vision flooded his mind. This woman, who’d been killed and stuffed under the bed, spoken with a man who sat at the desk writing in the old book. He saw them together, speaking softly to each other so the girl couldn’t hear them.

* * * * *

“It’ll only be one more night,” the man said. He wore a tall hat and sat at the desk. The woman stood beside him. “Tomorrow will be the full moon. We can send her back through the gate.”

* * * * *

Suddenly, Adam’s phone rang again and caused Jack to jump. He looked down and saw the blood flower still growing under Adam’s head. He bent down to search for the ringing phone and tripped over Adam’s foot. He fell hard against the wall. Pain shot from his shoulder into his neck. It caught him off guard, and he found himself on the floor beside Adam.

Seeing the thick pool of blood and smelling the metallic odor, made him realize that it was much more serious than he’d first thought. Adam wasn’t just injured on the outside, the man’s eyes told him he might’ve had a heart attack. He knew he had to do something to help him. The fact of two ancient homicides, less than fifteen feet away, meant nothing to him. The only thing that mattered was Adam.

Moving as quickly as he dared, he felt through Adam’s pockets for the phone. Finally he found it inside the pocket of Adam’s jacket, but not before it had stopped ringing. He forced his eyes to focus on the screen and pressed the buttons to show the received calls. Pushing the ‘send’ button on the first listing, the phone automatically dialed. It was Adam’s wife.

“Where are you…” she started without saying hello. “Lydia, it’s Jack.”

“Where’s Adam?”

Fucking Bitch, he thought, shut up a minute and listen. And she was a fucking bitch. He’d known her for a year now, and his opinion of her never improved. She was a nag, a pessimist, and she always needed control over everything. She never gave Adam credit for what he had achieved, neither with the ministry, nor his work with the rehab center. She constantly put others down to make herself look good. Jack realized the way she was as soon as he had met her properly.

“Please, Lydia shut up.”

He heard her gasp and took the moment to keep talking. “I got a big problem here.”

“Where is Adam? Put him on the phone.”

“Did you hear me? I have a problem and I need you too…” The phone clicked in his ear.
Perfect, he thought. Just perfect. What a bitch. He looked at Adam. “You’re gonna make it pal. Just hold in there. You’ll make it just fine.” But the blood on the floor tried to tell him different.

The phone rang in his hand and he jumped. He knew it was Lydia. He answered, “Adam is hurt Lydia. I need you to listen.” She was silent. Good, he thought. “I’m calling the ambulance, but I need you here. Do you know where my apartment is?”

She was silent. “Do you….”

“Not really.”

“Come downtown. It’s right across the tracks at the Wartzburg building…”

“But…” Then she started to cry.

“Are you coming?”

The phone clicked in his ear. He lowered his hand and just looked at the phone. He didn’t call 911 right away. He couldn’t. What would he say? He didn’t know how to begin. He wanted to make sure Adam was awake when they got there, so he could explain the situation himself.

When Adam fell, the sharp corner of the heater punched into his skull. The bone was cracked open, but at least his brains weren’t o

zing out. Jack couldn’t leave him to bleed to death, so he pulled the quilt off the couch and put it under his head. Then, he pulled it tight and redoubled it, tying a bow with the corners to hold it in place. Tucking more of the blanket under the bow, he tightened it to be more of a tourniquet. He thought about using his belt to tighten it further, but didn’t think it would work unless he put it around his neck.

A cold draft forced his mind back to the dusty room and the decayed skeletons. He turned to close the hallway door and stop the draft, but it wasn’t open. The cold was coming from the room.

Help us, Jack.

Jack felt himself go a bit light headed, but he tried to stand up anyway. It was a maneuver he couldn’t manage without leaning against the wall. The cold was bitter and overwhelming. He felt it seep into him, chilling his bones, draining him of his thoughts and energy.

He slowly moved toward the room, admiring his handy work on the broken door frame. I’ll have to fix that, he thought and found it funny. The light-headed feeling had returned, or had never passed, and he found himself leaning on the wall again for support. His thoughts were on the woman and child. He thought of Caroline.

What state was her body in, he wondered. Probably rotting with worms eating away at her.

Suddenly, he was filled with an urge to enter the room, to get close to the girl. It was a feeling he found absurd, but, none the less, could not fight. The room and the girl were the most important things in his life now. He had to help her anyway he could.

The phone rang again. He knew it was Lydia, but didn’t see the point of answering it. She was either on her way or not, simple as that. He couldn’t make the situation any more clear to her. He’d forgotten to call 911 and wanted to, although, now he didn’t think he could. He had so much he had to do. They need me, he thought. They need my help.

He found strength in wanting to help them; enough to walk out into the hallway. He took the hammer out of his tool bag.

Moving slowly, walked across the threshold back into his room. Upon entering, the cold blasted through him again. In his mind’s eye, he saw the girl screaming and the woman crying. He wanted to help them. But he didn’t know how.

He did know that they would tell him.

It was so cold in the room that Jack shivered violently, and his teeth chattered.

* * * * *

A vivid scene embraced him. He found it impossible not to see the brutality of it all, and he knew he would never unsee it. It filled his aching mind. The man with the tall hat was beating the girl. She was chained to the wall, crying for him to stop. He was a brute of a man. He put his hands around the girl’s throat and choked her until her face turned blue. Then he laughed at her when she came to.

Then the scene changed and the man was dressed in a blood drenched smock, leaning over the red-haired child. She was tied down to a wooden table with leather straps. Jack watched as she screamed and kicked. The table rocked with her strength, and the man held a knife to her stomach, chanting in a language Jack couldn’t recognize. His voice rose in wild octaves, words he had never heard filled the room. It sent chills through him.
The man took the large blade and pulled it smoothly across her abdomen. It was a quick, deep cut that gaped open; his hand moved with the precise skill of a surgeon, but this man was no doctor.

The skin pulled apart on its own, and he reached into the incision, lifting out a gray deformed child. Blood dripped from the man’ s hands as he continued to pull. She screamed, and Jack tried to block the image.

Help us, Jack. We need you.

More and more the man pulled, until finally the large hands and feet of the child were free from her. A thick organ came into view, plopping to the floor. It was her placenta. The blood ran black, spilling from the table onto the floor along with some of her intestines. Strings of black and green hung from the child’s large head. As the man tugged, the girl kicked her legs and flexed her arms. She never stopped twisting on the table. His hands were back inside of her now, groping around. He had placed the baby on the table beside her.

Then, he smiled and the girl stopped moving. “It is working,” he told someone. Jack couldn’t see who else was in the room. “The gate is opening. Soon we will have the gate open and have our daughter back.” He withdrew his hands from the girl’s abdomen and shook them off, splattering the table with tiny clots of red and black. “A life for a life,” he told the unseen listener. “This girl for our girl.”

Jack could stand no more. This had to stop seeing this. He searched his mind for a way to save her; he realized he’d just seen an abortion. But the child was not human.

Then, as if answering the questions forming in his mind, the girl looked toward Jack. “We need you,” she said and passed out.
The man in the blood covered smock shouted. “Soon Tabitha will return. Our daughter will be with us again.”

Jack’s Apartment (part 3)

Jack’s Apartment

(part 3)

by Thadd Presley

He woke sitting up on his couch. The quilt had fallen in the floor and was laying too close to the heater. He could see steam rising from it. Sunshine streamed in through the windows, brightening his living room.
Then the knock came again. The same three booming knocks. He looked at the red, digital numbers of the clock blinking 12:47 PM

“Damn, the electricity must have gone out,” he said to no one. Then, to the knocking, he yelled, “hold on.”

“Jack,” someone called. It was a familiar voice. “You in there?”

“I said hold on. Just a second.”

Two sleepy steps brought him close enough to the only window for him to see the red pinto on the curb. It was Adam come to visit him. He opened the door.

“Mornin’ Adam.”

“Boy you’re a light sleeper,” Adam joked.

“Lucky I slept at all.”

“Sorry to hear it,” Adam sympathized. “I hope you feel up to coming to the food drive?”

“I had the craziest dream,” Jack began without being asked about the dream. “Something I hadn’t felt in a longtime.”

Adam saw the unsettled look in his eyes. “You have to give it time, Jack. It’s been a long time since you lived alone. It will get easier. Perhaps, it’s the temptation manifesting itself…”

“No, it’s not that.”

“Have you had urges…”

“Yeah, I guess, but that’s not it.” Frustration was already showing in his voice and Adam heard it easily.

“Well, tell me about it on the way to the church. We have a food bank to stock. I’ve got some coffee in the car. Maybe I can help you figure out something that will help you readjust to your new surroundings.”

“Do you believe dreams have a meaning,” Jack asked, turning from the door, allowing his friend to enter. Then, without letting him answer, “I mean, I know what it’s about. I remember it perfectly, but you think it might mean something in the real world?”

“Maybe, probably, maybe not. What was it about?”

“You’ll think I’m crazy.”

“You are crazy.” Adam said smiling. “Or, maybe you should be.” He put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. “Look, you probably just slept wrong.” He pointed to the couch as if it was proof.

“It’s not the couch, Adam. I’ve slept on way worse at the church and at the clinic.”

“Well, we’ll pick up my daughter’s old bed after the food drive just in case. I don’t want you sleeping on that old thing anymore. Who knows where it’s been. And then, tonight, we’ll have a few beers and talk about your new life. It’ll make a world of difference to talk about it and work out a few details of the coming week.”

“No, no, my stuff’s s’posed to be here today. Matter of fact, I should stay in and wait on the movers. Plus, I want to look around and see the best way to get started on the renovations.” But that wasn’t the only reason he wanted to stay. The dream was still fresh in his mind. He could hear the girl’s voice so clearly. He had to get that key, had to help her.

“Well, you going to tell me about the dream or not,” Adam asked, looking around the room. “It’s probably got something to do with this place.”

“That’s it exactly. It is this place. Maybe it’s the whole building.” He closed his eyes, trying to close out the locked door right in front of him, trying not to see his dream.

“Well, it’ll pass as you get used to it. Now, when do the movers get here?”
“Noon-ish,” Jack answered. “I just have the few things from the storage unit. No reason to pay forty bucks a month while I have all this room. I’ll wait on them and let them in.”

“Yeah, I suppose you should. Tell you what. I’ll give you a call tonight.”

“Just give me a few minutes before you leave. I want to tell you about the dream.” He was starting to feel uncomfortable again, claustrophobic. “I need to tell someone.”

“Wow, this is really got a-hold of you, huh?” Sweat was visible on Jack’s face, and Adam realized then that his friend was actually shaking. “Start from the beginning.”

Jack closed the door against the cold hallway. “You see that door?” He asked while Adam sat down on the couch.

“I do..”

“Well, I can’t open it. It’s locked tight, and I haven’t got a key.”
“Dorry does. She’ll bring it in a few days, I’m sure.”

“Huh?”

“The land lady, Dorry, she’s got all the keys.”

“Oh.” He paused, then started again. “I just don’t know what’s in there and…”

What about the dream, Jack?”

Jack held up his hand. “Hold on. This is gonna sound crazy enough as is, we can’t just rush into it.” He sat on the couch and noticed for the first time that it smelled bad, like old cheese and mold. The whole place stank, but he pushed that out of his mind and cleared his throat. “It all started because I thought I heard someone call my name. At first I just put it out of my mind, you see, but it happened a few times.

“Finally, after getting a bit spooked, I just listened, and I heard it again. That’s when I realized it came from that room.”

“You just scared yourself,” Adam assured him. “It happens all the time. It’s even happened to me a time or two. Once, when I was in college, I was to the point of sleep. You know that place where you’re in between. Like your still awake but unable to move?”

Jack nodded.

“Well, I thought the devil was in the room. I actually thought there were demons in the room. I felt them all around me.” He started to laugh. “I prayed and prayed, but nothing worked. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t move. It was one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me. Later in life, I learned that it’s called sleep paralysis, a common happening.”

“But the voice called out to me while I was awake, asking me to help them. ‘We need you,’ the little girl said.”

“But you were dreaming?”

“No, not then. I wasn’t asleep.” He started to rise from the couch. “I was awake. Fully awake and walking to the bathroom.”

Adam touched Jack’s arm and kept him from standing up. Goosebumps covered his skin. “It’s called sleep paralysis. Don’t work yourself up.”

“No, it wasn’t that. I could move. I sat straight up and looked around. Believe me, I know when I’m awake Adam.”

“Okay, then you were dozing and you…”

“Dammit, Adam. It’s more than that. It’s that room.”

The hard words were not what surprised Adam, even though he was twenty years Jack’s senior. After all, he didn’t expect the man to call him sir or pop. It was the fierce nature of the words that startled him. Jack had never spoken to him that way. “Well, maybe the answer is simple,” Adam said, thinking the room wasn’t the problem at all. “Let’s just pick the lock and solve the mystery. See what’s on the other side.”

Oddly, the simple solution of picking the lock hadn’t occurred to Jack, and he suddenly wanted to kiss the old man. “By Jove, you’re a genius.”

Adam winced at the word. He didn’t like people to use God’s name unless in prayer or bible reading.

Jove was, after all, a shortened version of God’s name.

“Sorry. It slipped,” he said, already off the couch and heading for the door. “Got a knife?”

“I have a credit card. Maybe we can slide it between the jam and get it that way. At least, I think we can.” The two men looked at each other, and Adam smiled. “I wasn’t always a man of God, my boy.” They laughed, and for Jack it felt good to laugh.

After the terrible night and feeling of loneliness the night before, happiness and laughter seemed very far from him.

As they tried to force the credit card between the door and the frame, Adam’s phone rang. He didn’t answer it. Another few minutes passed and they still hadn’t opened the door.

“Do you have a knife of any kind or a screw driver,” Adam asked.

“Yes, in my tool bag. Hold on,” Jack said and disappeared through the apartment door and into the hallway.

In the hall, Jack felt the cold, January chill on his legs, even though he was still inside the building. The night before suddenly came back to him. He smelled the steam from the quilt, the urgent need to use the bathroom, the face he saw in the mirror that looked so afraid, and the words: We need you, Jack.

It was too much.

He returned with a small, black, leather case and closed the door to the hallway. He didn’t want anyone to come up and see him breaking into the locked door. After all, didn’t she say that there could be treasure up here.

Adam reached out for the black case. “Getting cold again,” he said. “I’ll bet there’s a line a mile long at the church waiting for a hot meal.” He was looking at Jack, as if to say: this can wait. People are starving, you know? But, to Jack, this was the most important thing at the moment. Let them starve; let them freeze; just get that damn door open, he thought. “And there will be more snow tonight. We’ll probably be opening the auditorium to the homeless by sundown. We need all the people we can get.”

“Hope so,” Jack said matter-of-factly. “I love snow.”

“You got the gas on?”

“No, I’ll probably freeze, but won’t it be beautiful in the morning.”

“You should come down after your storage arrives and stay at the church. They’d be happy to see you again. They need you…”

“Don’t say that,” Jack snapped.

Adam looked at him. No, he leered at him, trying to see what was behind his eyes. Adam suddenly wondered if the man had been on drugs again.

“Just, don’t,” he told him. “That’s what the little girl was saying last night and kept saying it. Then, they called me by name.”

“I really wish you would come with me when we get finished here.” He didn’t want to leave him alone.

“You could just leave a note for the movers.”

“I might, Adam. Really, I might. And please,” he said, taking the old man by the arm. “I’m not crazy. I’ve never been afraid of anything in my life. Not before this.”

“We’ll get to the bottom of it, don’t worry.” He held up a flat head screwdriver. “If we can’t force it, we’ll take it off the hinges.”

Both men pried on the door. Adam went first trying to jimmy the lock, and then Jack tried to force off the hinges, but neither worked.

Adam turned to get the pack. “This door probably hasn’t been opened for twenty or thirty…” But his words were cut short when Jack kicked the door. “Hold on…” he said, but Jack kicked it again, and the frame cracked. “Now you’ve done it.”

“I can build it back,” Jack said, and Adam knew he could. He knew Jack was a great carpenter.

“Okay, finish her off, but do it with finesse.”

Another kick sent the door smashing open. Dust flew up and filled the air. The room beyond was like an Egyptian tomb, dust covered everything and the musty air took his breath away. For a moment, the room was nothing but a swirling mass of gray dust. Faint objects could be seen strewn everywhere, covered with an inch of dust.

Inside the room was an ancient iron-framed bed. A molded, rotting mattress had fallen through the frame and was decaying on the floor; beside the bed, a roll-top desk leaned to the left. It was covered with papers. Beside the desk were figures drawn on the wall.

What the two men saw next, which they saw together, was too frightening to comprehend.

On the wall, hanging with it’s wrists bound, was a skeleton.

“That can’t be real,” Adam croaked. He was gasping for air, whether it was the dust or the sight of a skeleton. “People liked to collect things like that in the old days. Oddities they called them.” Then, as he realized all the dust in the room was most likely the skin and rotted remains of the body, he covered his mouth.
The odor in the room was sickening and overwhelming. They could both taste the foulness of the place… taste the deadness in the air.

Jack’s Apartment (part 2)

Jack’s Apartment

(part 2)

by Thadd Presley

During the meeting with the landlord, she told him that the fourth floor had been used as storage area for years. She talked a bit about her father passing away and leaving the building to her. “My brother got the money, and the yacht, and the hotel. All I got was this run-down place.”

“But, why was the fourth floor empty?”

“He had plans for it, I guess. He was always a dreamer. Fact is, he won the building in a high-stakes poker match during one of the worst years of his life. He lost everything and bet everything he had on a single card.

“As you can see, he won.”

Jack smiled. He liked to hear stories of people making good on a million to one odds.

“Too bad, my mother told him. Looks like you lost more than you’ll ever know with that place.”

Jack wanted to ask about her brother, but she didn’t give him a chance.

“My father was into gambling and drinking. That is… until he met Adam. My dad didn’t go to church much, until the end, but Adam helped him to find God and so much changed after that.”

Jack thought it was a lot of information to be telling a stranger, but then again, they had someone in common. Through Adam, they were far from strangers.

“There could be rats or bats or anything up there,” she told him. “I haven’t cleaned the place or even been up there in over a year.” She looked out over the river that passed in front of the restaurant where they had lunch. “When you get your room finished, we’ll see what we can throw away, but you might find treasures up there.” She smiled. “I think the last tenant of the fourth floor was in his early seventies. He was a bit of a pack rat. He kept everything and I’m sure you will run into it.”

“Treasures would be great,” he remembered saying, assuring her he wouldn’t steal anything; he was afraid if he stole from her or lied to her, drugs and death were sure follow. He wondered what Adam had told her about his situation. “I don’t need anything fancy, mind you, just a quiet place where I can get used to being on my own again.”

She smiled at that and explained again that room wouldn’t be suitable for human occupation until he gave it a bit of love and care.

He liked that she used the word “love.” It gave him a warm feeling of acceptance, a thing he hadn’t felt in a long time.

*     *     *     *     *

We need you, Jack , the voice snapped again, sending a frosty bolt of lightening down his back, calling him back to the present. It seemed to come from all around. Goosebumps sprang out on his arms. The urge to pee suddenly returned, and he quickly turned from the sink, which continued to run nothing but cold water, and faced the toilet.

Once finished, he washed his hands and made his way to the kitchen, only looking into the living room to check the heater. Once in the kitchen, he knew he couldn’t stay and that he was going to call Adam. But, not quite yet. First he made a sandwich from the leftover macaroni and carried it to the warmth of the couch where sat down.

He used his foot to pull his small electric heater toward him and watched the locked door like it was going to crash open any minute. Listening for the voice, trying to steel himself against it if it happened again. He thought if he sat and waited, he would know exactly where it came from, but even before he finished his sandwich, he started to doze.

His dreams began immediately.

*     *    *     *     *

He stood in the stairwell that led up to the fourth floor. Looking down over the metal rail, he mentally counted the flights he’d passed. Was he on the right floor? Each landing looked the same. But, the door which opened on the fourth floor was painted green, where all the other floors had white doors. But, there was no door at this landing. He hadn’t seen a green door on any of the landings all the way up. He was lost, but that was impossible because there was only one set of stairs. He looked up, surprised to see that the stairs climbed higher and higher.

There wasn’t but four floors in this building.

Panic struck him then. Where was he? The wrong building? His eyes filled with hot tears. The feeling of loneliness suddenly encased him and pushed closer and closer, farther and farther into his mind. He was overwhelmed; he needed to find the door to his floor or the door to the street. If he was found in the wrong building, someone would think he was trespassing. The cops would be called and his probation violated.

His mind screamed the fact that he was alone in the world. He’d killed the only woman who’d ever loved him. Being alone had never bothered him before; it was the way he wanted it. But now the desire for someone to care for him, to love him; it overwhelmed his mind and flood his blood with fear. He would do anything to have someone love him, anything for a companion to sit through the evenings with him and read.

The climb up the flights was not a particularly bad one; he enjoyed walking, and this was a source of some much-needed exercise and another good habit he could take up. He assured himself that the next landing would be his. But, the stairs went up and up. They seemed to be never ending.

Before having to stop and catch his breath, he climbed twenty flights and never passed a single door.
He turned and began to start down when he saw the door. But, it wasn’t green, nor was it in the right place. It was one flight below him. He knew it wasn’t there before, but none of that mattered now. As long as it lead to a floor and to someone who would direct him in the right direction.

As he walked down the steps, dread began building up inside of him. By the time he stood in front of the door, he was afraid to open it. He couldn’t just stand there. He had to go through the door. He built up his courage and just as his hand touched the knob, it became the locked door in his apartment.

We are waiting, Jack. We need you.

To turn around and start back down seemed impossible. It would only begin his journey all over again, and he knew he couldn’t leave and abandon anyone, not again, especially if someone needed his help. Meaning if he could help them, he would.

“Who’s there,” he called and listened as his voice echoed off the concrete walls of the stairwell.

His hand was still on the doorknob.

We need you, Jack.

He jerked his hand away from the cold brass.

A moment passed, and he knocked on the door, then banged on it. “Hello,” he yelled and then listened as his voice echoed again and again in the endless stairwell. “Who are you? Where are you?”

Help us.

“I will, just….”

Just what, he thought? How could he help anyone when he was the one lost?

Everything in him wanted to help, whether it was the homeless at the food ministry or orphaned children in another country. It was in his nature; at least, it was a part of his new nature.
He put his ear to the door, listening for movement. He was suddenly aware of the silence. The terrible feeling of loneliness returned. He wanted to help them. Whoever they were. He felt, he needed their companionship as much as they needed him. After all, wasn’t he trapped as well? He pressed his ear to the door harder and listened with all his might.

Boom, Boom, Boom

The door rattled with thundering knocks which caused him to jerk his head away. His foot came to the edge of the steps, and he rocked on the edge for a moment; for a millionth of a second he floated there, not knowing if he was going to go over or keep his balance.     Then, as gravity would have it, he tilted too far and started to fall….
The slow, tumbling fall into forever brought him back to the real world with a jolt.

Jack’s Apartment (Part 1)

Jack’s Apartment

by Thadd Presley

Jack’s first day in the apartment was a new lease on life. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do first. But it was an answer to his prayers, and, yes, Jack was now a praying man. God wasn’t always on constant call when it came to Jack’s old life. However, since he began his life after drugs, he was in constant communication with the man upstairs. But, this was more than Jack could have asked for. He never knew gigs like this existed. The idea of “cup runneth over” truly had a meaning now, and Jack felt like a human being for the first time in years.

But, Jack was logical. He knew that it wasn’t all God. Jack owed a special thanks to Adam, the man he met while in the county rehab.

Adam was a preacher of sorts, who spent time with addicts and gave them hope. But Adam was much more than a counselor to Jack. Adam was a guiding light and a mentor. He helped Jack and gave him a chance to work at the church and prove himself as a carpenter, which had been instrumental in getting the job at the apartment complex.

He thanked Adam as he sat alone for the first time in a long time, with his dinner on his lap, and thanked God for his apartment, which was on the fourth floor of the Wartzburg Building. It was only a small, cheap, four-room cracker box, but he lifted his head toward the roof, as if he could see into heaven, and asked God to come into his home. It was a quick prayer, just something to bless his food and to invite good spirits to his new place. But he knew it was important, because he didn’t want to forget about all the good things that had been happening to him lately, nor did he want to forget what drugs had done to him.

Before he left the rehab center, he thought that he’d be happy out in the real world, away from the clinic and all the church meetings, away from all the drug addicts and the whiners. But, he wasn’t. Over time, he’d come to like working for the church and he liked the few friends he’d made while living at the halfway house. He liked that his life was on a new path, but he was more afraid everyday. Afraid that he’ d mess everything up now that temptation was at every turn.

What he felt then was suffocation. Anytime he thought about running into old friends or what he was going to do if he started wanting a hit, a panic quickly closed in on him and crushed his goodness. His ideas of a good life and of the spirit who he’d prayed for began to wilt as if something didn’t want him to have a good, new life.

He just felt so alone.

The apartment he picked out on the fourth floor had a small table in the main living room, where he sat with his macaroni. On his left was a doorway to the only bedroom, which was really small, and beside that, a door opened onto the bathroom. There was a fourth room, but it was locked and so far had been inaccessible. He had keys to all the rooms on the fourth floor since part of his rent was going to be repair work, but none of the keys opened this door. The lock was older, probably left over from a century before, and because it was his first day in the apartment, he didn’t want to be a pain to the landlady, especially if it meant she would have to drive all the way back into the city and open it herself. She would be back in a few days to inspect the work he’ d be doing and make sure he was as good a carpenter as Adam said. He could wait and ask her about the room then.

For a moment, with food paused in mid flight to his mouth, he thought about when he’d met her. She was younger than he’d imagined when Adam told him about her, and she was beautiful. She asked him questions about his past and where he used to work. She reminded him that the floor had not been used for thirty years, so he would have to wear a mask when he worked.

“Who knows what all is considered toxic these days. The paint is lead based, I know that for sure; the tile has asbestos in it, as does the insulation and ceiling tiles, and probably there would be more than that. Do you understand that you have to wear the mask? It is very important.”

“Yes,” he answered.

“Legally, no one can live on the fourth floor yet, but since Adam has been so good to us in the past, I’ve decided to make an exception. What we need to do is get your room up to code and as close to livable as fast as we can, both for your health and in case of any problems we might have with the inspectors.”

“I understand. I’ll start in the apartment and work my way into other areas.”

Then came the question he knew was loaded. This was where she would decide everything. “So how long do you think it will take to do the entire job. I mean, the floors, the doors, the trim and painting, we have to replace the ceiling and there will be more, lots more, when we get into it deeper?”

She smiled when he said, “four months should get us to a good point. After that we will know exactly where we stand.”

“I’ll know where we stand in one week, Mr. Solsbury. I want to start renting that floor as soon as possible.”

“Yes, ma’am. Four months is just my guess right now.”

They talked while they signed the last documents, which explained that he would not owe rent for the months he worked, but rules came with the room. No drinking or parties were allowed and no one could live with him. No one can be on the fourth floor, except Adam of course. And, by signing and shaking her thin hand, he became the sole tenant of the fourth floor. He felt like Donald Trump that day. He had an entire floor to himself.

He thought of all this while he ate in silence. With no television or radio, the feeling of loneliness had a tendency grew out of hand, and he found himself thinking of Caroline. He’d never felt so alone in his life, not even when his mother died. Since after high school, he always lived on his own and loved the solitude he had when he wanted or needed it. But since Caroline’s overdose, he’d found a real need for companionship and love. He hated himself for getting her hooked on pain killers and showing her how to shoot up. Her death was his fault; there was no doubt of that. It was as if he killed her the day he met her.

An hour later, having eaten what he could of the cold pasta, he was laying on the old couch, which looked as if it had been here through the thirty years of abandonment, half asleep thinking of Caroline and what his life would be like if she hadn’t died, whether or not he would have gone to rehab. It was her death that brought the police and the reality of drug use to his life. The more he thought about Caroline and what he did to her, the more he thought about whether death did for him. She never got a second chance like he did; she never got to learn a lesson. All she got was death, and he gave it to her in a needle.

He dozed and dozed…then he dreamed.

Jack.

A high pitched, hollow voice filled the room. It seemed to shake his entire being. He opened his eyes, completely sitting up, and felt for his phone. He’d set it on vibrate days ago and hadn’t changed it. He looked around the room, knowing he’d heard something.

No… someone, he told himself. It was a voice. He listened harder, trying to hear his neighbors below. He listened for footsteps in the hallway. Maybe it was someone in the stairwell and their voice had traveled. His eyes stopped on the locked door. He looked away, but somehow he could keep them from going back. The door was actually pulling his eyes to it. He felt panic beginning to set up in his muscles and chest. It would become hard to breathe, but he had to stay calm.

“Dude, calm down,” he said aloud. “It was a dream.”

He shivered. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so rattled. The sound of his voice calmed his nerves a bit, but he knew sleep wouldn’t return. He could only sit there and look at the door.

After a long while of sitting in the red gloom of the heater’s glow listening to the silence, he knew a trip to the bathroom was in order before sleep would return. He wasn’t old by any means, but the drugs had done their worst to his system. He knew he wouldn’t make it the entire night without a pit stop.

It took another five minutes and mighty strong convincing from his bladder to get him to leave the warmth of the heater. The gas on the fourth floor was turned off, so the only warm room in the apartment was the living room, and only in the vicinity of the heater.

He tested the floor with his bare feet and found it absolutely freezing. But it had to be done; there was no stopping nature. In the old days he would have used a bottle and tossed it in the morning, but he didn’t have a bottle, nor did he feel like living that way. After giving up everything in his pursuit to live a new life, such things now seemed out of character and would lead him right back to the past. He felt that a new life demanded new actions.

He crossed the room, only thinking of his urinary duties, when he heard the high-pitched, quick voice again, like the snap of a rubber band.

Jack.

Hearing the voice again and being awake when he heard it shook him to his bones. A bit of pee squirted down his leg and he had to squeeze everything together so he didn’t piss himself completely.

He walked faster and felt the burning urgency.

That voice was not his imagination, he nervously realized. “You heard that with your own ears,” he told himself in a whisper, “and it called your name.”

He turned and looked at the locked door.

Fear tried to grip him, but he fought it. He no longer felt alone, but he couldn’t let whatever it was scare him out of his apartment. What would Adam think if he called and said he couldn’t stay in the apartment because he was scared? He smiled in spite of himself, thinking how easy it was to frighten yourself. How many times did he do it as a child? Every night? Whether it was something under the bed or in the closet, something always seemed to be out to get him. And as he got older, the monsters just got scarier and more dangerous. A simple dream or a spooky moment had a way of sending the blackest fear upon him. It was worse now, since Caroline.

Help us, Jack.

This time he jumped hard enough for his feet to leave the floor. It was louder, closer, and there was absolutely no denying that the voice came from behind the locked door.

With a flick of his hand, the light in the bathroom broke the darkness, and he saw himself in the mirror. He didn’t like the look in his eyes and looked away. He turned on the water. It was as cold as he knew it would be.

As he waited to see if the water would get warm, he tried to push the idea of ghosts away. But, there was no mistaking that he’d heard the voice. It called to him three times.

The fear forced its way into his mind.

He let the water run and listened as it gurgled down the pipes. If it started to run red, he warned himself that it would only be rust. Not blood. That only happened in movies. Old pipes sometimes have rust in them.
The urgency of getting to the bathroom was gone, replaced with fright.

Murder To Save A Friend (part1)

Murder to Save A Friend
(part 1)

Everything about this situation looks so plain and simple from my point of view. John needs to see it for himself, not that it matter’s who tells him, only that he finds out before it’s to late. It’s true that I see things from my own perspective which comes with a certain light that most people are blind to, but it is illuminating and many people, including my friend John, would benefit from it’s intensity, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying he has ever listened to me. He rarely takes my advice, in fact, usually going in the direction I least favor, causing hardship on himself and those who love him.

The situation is so clear and easy, as I see it, but I know I can’t  bring the subject up to John directly. I shall have to leave the task, this minor act of discretion, to my butler, a man we both adore, who is cunning and knowing, and will slip my words into John’s ear without even a hint of force or embarrassment. To say Hamish knows people would be an underestimation of his agreeable talents, to say he knows exactly the right words to use in every circumstance would be a direct hit on his powers. He is a worldly, faithful servant, not because he needs to be, because he wants to be, and he has raised me from a colicky babe into the gentleman and friend I have become today.

John loves and respects Hamish as much as I do. As my constant companion through childhood and business partner in adulthood, we have both drank from the same trough of learning, which was constantly replenished from Hamish’s well of knowledge and wisdom. As close as brothers, we’ve been through thick and thin together, and we’ve never had a bad word between us. That is, until recently.

So, it shall be Hamish who sets into motion the only possible solution to John’s miserable existence, which is to murder John’s wife and liberate my dear friend from the hell he has been subject to these last six months. Even though, as easy as it shall be, I know John will suspect me and fight tooth and nail to bring me to justice. So, to remove suspicion from myself I set my plan into motion a fortnight ago by inviting John and his wife to dinner by way of telegram while they were away in Knoxville.

Of course, they received the telegram and accepted the invitation. John replied with happy sentiments, admitting that after a week of being away with his wife he was looking forward to Hamish’s cooking, writing that she destroyed a pot of Premium Oatmeal by arguing with him instead of watching the breakfast. And while John knows that his life with Rosa is not perfect, what he doesn’t realize is that it will only get worse.
So, because of my vision and from an act of love for my best friend, I have arranged an “emergency” to befall us on the road at precisely 4:45, while we are on our way from the offices to my house for dinner. A robbery will take place that will once and for all remove Rosa from John’s life.

The death will look accidental. I am sure no one will be the wiser once the excitement is over and she is found. To further confuse matters, I have elected myself to become wounded in the performance as well. I believe it will lend an air of reality to an otherwise fake event. My wounds will not be life threatening, I hope, but should be enough to remove all possible accusations from myself and place them on the thieves.

I realize that someone might look at my scheme and think I’m only being a jealous friend who has lost his playmate and will do anything to get him back, but it would be wrong to assume that. If only it possible to see what I see, why that person would volunteer for a part in my production, possibly even maneuver themselves into the position to pull the trigger and set John free by their own hand.

It is hard for me to look upon tonight without some feelings of guilt because it would not have come to this if I would have spoke up in the beginning. If only I had John’s ear and knew how to explain myself, I know I could have saved John and Rosa. But, it is too late now and to say that I knew what was awaiting John the moment we met Rosa is only admitting that I did nothing to stop it.

Did You Lock The Door?

Where do stories come from?

(there’s a story below, but first)

Where do stories come from? Where does the voice of each character come from? Where do they intend to lead us? Is this gift/curse of writing a manifestation of split personalities, fear, or just an over active imagination? Could it be a deeper understanding of humanity trying to make it’s way to the surface and into the world.

Of course, it could be all of these things and none of them. I know I often hear a dialog to begin each story, then I begin to see them living their lives. Mostly mundane lives, but it so clear I can write it down.

It’s not always something I want others to read. For many reasons, the story is just not for them. Many of my stories wouldn’t be fully understood by someone who doesn’t know me. They would think I was unstable.

Writing is a way I can release the mounting dialog welling up inside of me. There’s a torrent of voices from regular people living their regular lives in regular places making connections in my head. Murder is never the point, even in a murder mystery, and neither is the mystery. It all begins with a voice, a person asking a question about the life they are suddenly living. Something as simple as this:

“Did You Lock The Door”

1200 words

“Steve, did you lock the door before you came to bed?” She asked him every night if he locked it.

“Yes, Becca.” He was tired. The day had been long. Shopping and wrapping gifts had worn him out.

“Did you double check it?”

“I did.”

This was normal nightly procedure. She would remind him about the door a few times before bed, then ask a few times after getting in bed, never forgetting to add:  “you know, someone could just walk in off the street and do anything they wanted to us and we’d be laying dead to the world.”

The memory of her warnings rang loudly in his head. Steve had heard Rebeca go through her script nearly fifty times since they moved from Avalon Avenue to Mill Street and thousands of times before that. He’d heard it so many times that he never forgot to check the door. Especially since moving.

He had begun automatically locking the front door even when coming in from checking the mail.  And, by God, he knew he locked it before going to bed last night. There was no mistake. He remembered distinctly the door locking in his hand because even before removing his boots, he reached back and turned it. It was only a flick of the wrist.

He even rechecked it after his shower before going to the bedroom where Rebeca was already asleep. And then came the ritual. While getting comfortable next and snuggling close to her, soaking in her warmth, she stirred a little and asked, “Did you lock the door?”

“Yes, Becca, the door is locked. Twice checked.”

“OK. Thanks, Love you.” She pulled his arm around her and they settled into their new comfortable bed.

Everything in their house was new. At most, some of it was a month old, because they’d bought it in preparation for the move.

Suddenly, right before drifting off, the door came to Steve’s mind again and he smiled to himself. More and more, he noticed his wife’s OCD beginning to affect him. He tried to push it out of his mind, but since he needed a drink of water and was forced to leave the warmth of the bed anyway, he decided it wouldn’t hurt to check. She would probably ask when he got back in bed.

On his walk through the living room, he saw from the hallway by the blinking of the Christmas tree lights that the door was locked. But, to be sure, he crossed the living room rechecked the door.

On the way back down the hallway with a glass of water, he looked in on his son. Even at five years old, Steve knew the boy was going to have a snoring problem. It wasn’t loud yet, but it was one of his families traits. He stood in the boy’s doorway and made a mental note to see the doctor. It might lead to a discussion about surgery.

It was all so clear. There was no mistake. The door was locked. Son was fine. Wife was sleeping when he returned. But, none of that mattered now. It was only memories. From the warmth of his wife to the sound of young Max snoring, nothing but very detailed memories.

It was six in the morning when he walked back through his house. He woke because he felt the wetness and thought he peed the bed. He woke already embarrassed, but it became worse, even more embarrassing because his pee was sticky. Maybe he had one of those wet dreams he’d always heard about.

When he flipped on the bedside light, he got ready for his wife’s laughter and knew he wouldn’t live it down quickly. She would tease him about it and ask about the girl he had been dreaming of. But, there was no laughter, no questions. The dream had not been wet. The bed was wet with blood.

There was absolutely nothing he could do that would change the terrible facts. It was too late. Walking through the house, he replayed every move he made in his mind, but it didn’t help him understand what happened. Nothing would bring his wife and son back. Rebecca’s worst fears had come true. Someone had walked in off the street and done something to them while they were dead to the world.

Rebeca was dead in his bed, stabbed just inches from where he slept and his son had bruises around his neck where someone had strangled his weak little body until it moved no more.

“Je-sus,” he yelled in two penetrating syllables. She knew all along that this was going to happen. She had some kind of premonition a long time ago and knew it. “I’m sorry Becca!” He screamed it. “I’m so sorry.”

But, nothing would change anything now.  This was a concrete and unforgiving world. If life had suddenly become a game, he wouldn’t restart.  He wouldn’t want infinite lives. He would just turn the game off. He was tired of playing it.

It was too much to take, too much to describe, and no way anyone would understand if he tried. Christmas mornings weren’t supposed to start this way.  This week, this move, and the new year was meant to bring a brighter vision of the future.  Everyone had been fill with excitement, but now everyone was gone and he was faced with a nightmare. He was alone in a world where he no longer wanted to live. Steve knew he couldn’t go on. He wasn’t going to go on, not like this.

It was the end for him.

He didn’t own a gun. He didn’t have enough of the right pills to kill himself. There was no poisons he could drink that would definitely do the job quick and good. There was only a forgotten box of razors in the medicine cabinet, left by the family who lived here before them. He had seen them probably a hundred times over the last month and never threw them out. Neither had Rebeca.

That family had troubles as well, he’d heard. They were bullied into moving away. He didn’t know all the particulars, but nasty rumors were all over the neighborhood and Rebeca had heard more than was good for her.

Yes, the razors were still there. He took one out and removed it from it’s brown paper sheaf. It was shiny and sharp.  He pushed it into his skin right above his wrist and in one quick motion jerked it toward his elbow. The pain was non-existent. He wouldn’t have cared anyway.

The second wrist was harder to cut because seeing his blood made his fingers unsteady, but he managed to put a deep gash halfway from his wrist halfway to his elbow. Pain had began to pulse in his right hand. Then he felt the first wave of panic hit him. The blood flowed faster as his heart sped up.

He felt dizzy immediately, but it was just the thought of dying that scared him. It was only a mild fear compared to living without his wife and child.

He looked at the bathroom floor and was surprised at how much red had pooled under his feet. Dark red footprints tracked his steps back and forth in front of the sink. The mess would be terrible he thought and laughed a little. The sound spooked him and the world seemed brighter than it should, as if a spotlight was directed everywhere he looked.

He walked to the tub and almost slipped getting in. He turned the hot tap on full blast.  Then, reached out and turned on the cold tap. The temperature was just right when the phone rang.

He had no need to answer it and he didn’t care who was calling.

Slowly, he placed his wrist under the  faucet and watched the bath water turn from pink to red.

On the third ring the automated message answered in Rebeca’s voice. “You’ve reached the Mallory family.” Steve’s chest hitched up and he started crying. He would never hear her voice again. “We’re not home at the moment. Leave a message and we’ll get back to you ASAP. Have a blessed day.”

“Steve, Rebeca,” an excited voice all but yelled. “Pick up will ya?” It was the landlady’s northern accent. “OK, look, I just remembered that I forgot to change the locks before you moved in.”

There was a moment of quiet. “I’m coming over directly and do it. I’m sorry, but I can’t put it off. It’s very important we do it today.” There was a pause. “I’ve received word that Harold was seen in your neighborhood. He’s the son of the family who used lived in your home. He could be dangerous, so call me back. I’m on my way to your house to meet the locksmith right now.”

Steve did not hear the entire message. A warm darkness came over him. As he passed out, he wondered if he locked the door. Rebeca would surely ask him first thing.

The End

So where do stories come from? It is our own fears trying to warn us or is it just random thoughts and we string them into stories assigning voices and sentences and places in an attempt to make sense of them?

I don’t know.

Train Ride

Train Ride

by Thadd Presley

 

I met her on a train between Sussex and Hamby Abbey and
immediately had a connection with her. Even before she sat down, I was hoping she would speak to me. I was surprised that she chose my cabin to enter to begin with and it seemed my day was looking up already.

Train rides were always awkward for me. Meeting people and
having them ask you questions was the thing I hated worst than anything. I am shy and it’s always been hard for me to talk to girls. Especially, girls for whom I feel a connection. But, somehow, I knew she was different. I felt I could talk to her and I wanted her to talk to me.

“Hey, pretend you’re my boyfriend.” She said.

“Huh?”

“Pretend you are my boyfriend,” she said. Then, without a second
passing, she leaned over and kissed my mouth. It was a hot kiss that
made my blood boil. There was a bit of spit involved and it made me
tingle fro head to toe. My body was vibrating from the touch of her lips.

I was glad I didn’t have to answer her request, because I would have
messed it up. I couldn’t believe I had said , “Huh.”

While she kissed me someone opened the door and seen us.
While the kiss lasted, the door stayed open, then she broke the kiss with a pop and a small string of saliva bridged our lips. Faintly from
somewhere, somewhere far away, I heard the door close. “That was a close one,” she said. “Man, that guy has followed me four mornings in a row.”

To my disbelief, I almost asked “huh” again, barely
managing to stop myself. My face was still vibrating from the touch of her lip. I could actually feel her kiss on my lips.

“You saved me.” She said and smiled. “That guy was stalking
me.”

“No problem.” I said, trying to sound cool. “Do you want if I tell
him to leave you alone?”

“No,” she waved him off, “he got the message. He was only bothering
me because he thought I was an easy target. If He’ll leave me alone now. And if he doesn’t I have you.”

The words made me feel more alive than I knew possible. I was ultra-alive and we were connected. We were truly one with each her. Who have I ever kissed or felt this way with?

No one. I had never been so comfortable with anyone this
fast.

Who had ever made me feel this way?

No one, that’s who.

“I hope I didn’t scare you off with that kiss,” she said. “It was
all wrong. That wasn’t a good first kiss. I didn’t get to prepare.”

I smiled. “Are you prepared now?”
“Yeah,” I said. “This time, I think I am.” She leaned in and I got ready
for the greatest kiss of my life. A kiss with my soul-mate. This was really it, I thought. The special someone who I have a real connection.

I couldn’t believe my luck. She leaned in and my lips began to go numb….
BEEP — BEEP — BEEP — BEEP — BEEP — BEEP

I was suddenly awake, sweating, and lying in a steaming mess of
blankets and sheet. I suddenly knew where I was and I knew what had happened, but I tried to push it away. I tried to tell myself that she was real. But, there was no use, deep inside I knew that it was only a dream.
There was no girl, there was no kiss, nothing. And now, I
couldn’t even see her face.

Damn dreams!! Damn my dreams…

Damn!!

I rolled to the side of the bed and mentally prepared myself to
go to work. One thing was certain. I would definitely take the train into work today.

A Turn South

A Turn South

by Thadd Presley

“She’s worse, Pa,” Maggie said, coming down from the attic, “she won’t even touch the biscuits and I put jelly on ’em special.”

Of course, I couldn’t help it. When I heard that Angela wouldn’t eat, I started cryin’ and Pa tore off in a tantrum.

After Pa had left Maggie got up and took as if she was goin’ to slap me, sayin’ that I was drivin’ Pa to drinkin’ ag’in and that I needed to quit my cryin’. That made me feel worse than ever because all I ever wanted to do was help.

John came down from Angela’s room then and just looked at us. During the few seconds, where us girls just looked at john, he said, “Call Doc Morgan,” then he looked toward the window. “Tell him she has taken a turn south.”

June, the youngest of us, asked what “a turn south” meant and that made me start cryin’ again, because she was so innocent, but John didn’t answer. We all knew that Angela was gonna die and she would be with Momma in heaven. And although these two thoughts conflicted each other in emotion, they seemed to make the other worse; on the one hand, I felt so bad about Angela and I never wanted her to die, but I also knew she wanted to be with Ma and that she mourned her the most, being as she was Ma’s favorite, but I also didn’t want her to see Ma because that wouldn’t be fair. I also wanted to see Ma. So she couldn’t die, that was it.

John had the phone to his ear and I could see the disappointment in his eyes, and then his face seemed to fall, and I thought is this what the bible meant when it said that Cain’s countenance fell?” Somehow I knew it was right and John’s countenance had just fallen. Then John said, “the doc ain’t home, he’s out on a house-call.”

I thought a moment about praying, because Pa said prayer could make any situation better, but before I could a knock came on the door. Then Pa’s voice called out. “Might as well go on in doc, since as you done come all this way.”

“Thank you.” The doc said, and I heard the door handle turn. I looked toward John to see if he had realized and immediately knew he had. The doc was here. To myself I felt that the prayer was working and I hadn’t even said it yet.

The doc came in and went straight up to see Angela. He nodded at John, on his way, and smiled to us girls, but the smile was only for appearances. It didn’t show any of the doc’s real emotions. I could tell by his eyes and by the way he held is breath that something was bothering him.

He was always so nice, I thought.

Ten minutes after the doc had disappeared up the flight of steps going to the attic, Pa came through the door with a load of split wood. “where’s that quack at?” He bellowed, breathing hard from the chopping. “I got a supper to cook and you girls needs’da finish your outside chores.” He dropped the wood into the box behind the stove. “John?”

“Yes, Pa?”

“Are you going to tell me where the doc is, or do I need to smoke him out myself?”

“Oh,” he looked up the steps. “He’s in with Angela.”

“Bless that man for caring,” he said and looked at the roof. “Bless him for trying. But girls, and you John, you know what he is doing is tampering in God’s business, right? You know he is trying to be the Lord himself.”

I could see John’s mind turning over and over and I felt Pa’s words grow bigger and bigger in the air, just asking for someone to bust them so all the insides could fly out and make everything worse. “Yes, Sir.”

“‘Cause it’s the Lord that determines life and death. Just like before…”

“Before was different, Abe,” the doc said from the stairs, “and I thought you might have learned something from you wife’s,” he seemed to watch Pa, “condition. Why did you wait so long to call me?”

“What I want to know is how you found out?”

The doc finished the three last steps and came into the living room. “My wife heard it at church. During the women’s study group Yvonna asked for everyone to remember the little Ramsey girl. Of course, my wife told me, thinking I should check in.”

“Does she know how me and my family feels about good for nothin’ know-it-all’s meddlin’ in God’s business?”

The doc didn’t answer, he only looked at Pa. Then, he seemed to relax. “No, Abe, she does not,” he paused, “and the reason is this: I don’t think she could understand what you did.”

“Do you think she will understand it this time?”

“I think she would have a hard time believing it.”

“I am still firm in my belief, and I don’t want my daughter taking them elixirs and potions you’re cooking up down in town. You can keep it.”

“Abe, if you would have given your wife only a few doses of that bottle…just a few…” he hung his head. “Do you realize that she would still…”

“The Lord knows what He’sa doin’,” Abe bellowed. “You should know that. You went to school didn’ye?”

The doc looked at us kids, and then back at my father. “Damn you Abraham Ramsey, damn you to hell.”

John shot out of his chair then. “I’m sorry, doc, but they’s won’t be none of that. We don’t swear in this house.”

“Mind the children Shelby,” Pa said, as he stood up, “I’m takin’ this man to his horse and I’ll see to it that he gets down the road.”

“Let me do it Pa,” John said,” grabbing his hat. “I’ll make sure he get’s fer good.”

“Hold on,” the doc called, “now just hold on.” He looked at John. “We need to help your sister first. Now, I took on a hunch and brought the medicine she needs. She should only take two spoons a day until she gets better and then…”

“And then nothin’,” John said. “Now, get outside and on your horse.”

The doc turned and went out the door. His head was low and John was right behind him. “I will not have you deciding God’s fate in my home,” Pa said. “And that’s that. The Lord is something you can trust in.”

“You will live to regret your errors, Abraham, and you will never forgive yourself.” Then quietly, John and the doc walked outside.

I watched as John and the doc were in the window. Pa didn’t pay them any mind. Pa knew that John would get him on his way and that the doc would go easily. His face was turned down and I could see his lips moving. He was praying.

In the window, I saw the doc give John a dark colored bottle and John hid it under his coat. They shook hands and the doc left. Then John came back in.

He sat back down for a while in the living room, but no one said anything for a long time, and then he said, “I’m going to check on Angela.” Then stood up to go upstairs.

“Take that coat off,” Pa called.

“Yes sir,” John said, but walked on up the stairs as if he wasn’t disobeying a direct roder. When he vanished behind Angela’s door, I felt a lot better. I couldn’t help but to think, that if we would have been older and wiser last year, we could have saved our dear Ma.

A Band of Black (part 5)

A Band of Black

part 5

by Thadd Presley

“So, you were talking about psychedelic mushrooms, right?” He nodded. “I can’t wait to try one. I mean, I’ve heard of them for years, but never had the opportunity and I’ve always wanted to have a natural trip.”

Ozzy was watching me closely when I spoke. So close that it had an effect on my thinking. I realized, it was my accent that made him have to pay close attention to what I was saying.

“Psychedelic mushrooms are perfectly natural, aren’t they?”

“Yes, natural. Nick has an organic set up.”

“We have all the acid and ecstasy anyone could ever want back home, but no mushrooms. I’m sure with Nick at the helm of my trip through America.” I smiled.

“Pun intended,” Ozzy chimed in.

I knew we would get along. “I’m sure I’ll get a taste of my first American party, soon enough.”

“But first you should rested and meet a few more people.” He walked further into the house.

It was obvious that Ozzy was going to take me on the tour. And the first place he stopped was a poster hanging on the wall. This place was paradise. And just as all others, it had rules that had to be followed.

On the wall, written in large black letters was the “House Rules” followed by seven serious rules. The rules were written on a large piece of cardboard and sticky-taped to the beautiful marble walls of the foyer. It all seemed funny. The cardboard on marble was like a joke, but Ozzy’s body language and tone in his voice told me otherwise.

I glanced over the rules and smiled. All of them seemed sensible. Well, almost all of them. I had no intention of breaking any of them. Two of the rules stuck out immediately as probably not as important as the rest. Rule #3 was “No Females Allowed in the House” and Rule #7 “No Alcohol in the House.” I was surprised at these rules, but said nothing.

Ozzy did not read them to me. I’m sure he didn’t want to come across as one who lays down the law. It was as if he were saying “The rules are right there and if you are a wise man you will heed them.” Then, he opened the foyer door and continued the tour.

We walked from the marble foyer into a larger, more beautiful room where a stunning staircase rose gracefully from the floor up and up to an open, second story landing bordered only by a lovely and dainty wood and iron handrail.

Ozzy spoke in a normal volume, explaining how Nick was currently responsible for the house and essentially had become King of the Castle until Fall Semester, but as we passed from the marble foyer into the open room, the size of the room caused his voice to fall to a hushed whisper. The foyer door closed silently behind us and a quiet calm came over me

It was a feeling that told me I was in the right place for once, that coming to America had been the right choice.

I slipped my shoes off before walking onto the carpet. Although I’d never removed my shoes at the door at my own home and did occasionally when it seemed necessary at someone’s home. This house was different. It demanded respect. It was built and arrayed with upper-class values and manners in mind.

I asked Ozzy to tell me again how Nick had come into such a nice place and he laughed. “Yeah, crazy as hell, but it’s Nick’s for the summer. He’s fallen into graces with the Frat. The Alumni love and have high hopes for him. It was their decision to have him come to Tennessee.He has lived here since day one. When summer came and most of the student were leaving, the council voted him as a temporary Sargeant at Arms to watch over the house. Trust me, he’s got his hands full. It’s more of a curse than a blessing.”

“And he’s going to school?”

“Of course, he’s taking a full load. Chemistry and Physics and Botany. That where he got the strains for the mushrooms. It’s all done through the University as research. He’s growing them for use in the labs.”

“Just like back home. He’s always had this way of getting things other people could only dream about having.”

“Yeah, you’re pal Nick is smart as hell.  He came over here and took over the frat house and is now teacher’s pet to most of the important professors. He blows my freakin’ mind man.”

Ozzy was ahead of me and heading for the the stairs and I couldn’t see his face, but I could tell he was smiling.

Once we got to the top of the stairs, he pointed to a closed door. “That is your’s and Nick’s room. He wanted to bunk with you like in the old times back in…”  He thought.  “Where did you guys come from?”

“Wales.”

“No man, I mean, what town?”

“Oh, we grew up in different places. He is from Dartford, close to London, and I’m from Eastbourne, close to the Channel.” I opened the door and looked into the room. A set of bunk beds were against one wall. “Yeah, it’ll be just like old times. We slept in bunk beds while we were in a school.”

“You had beds at school?”

“It was a boy’s school. We lived there.”

He smiled again. “We call it reform school here.”

“No, no. It weren’t nothing like that. In England some of the children go away for school and stay until they end of the year. It’s like private school.” I looked around, noticing a pile of dirty clothes crammed into the front of a drum set. “Where is Nick now?”

“Um, today is Thursday, so he’s in school most of the day. He has at least one class everyday, except Tuesdays. But, he’ll be home in a few hours.”

I walked into the room and he didn’t. “Look, if I were you, I’d get some rest. You’ll need it to be ready for when the group gets home. I’ll show you the rest of the house later.” He turned to leave, but quickly turned back. “And remember, Tuesdays are band practice. So be ready.”

Band of Black: part 4

A Band of Black

(part 4)

by Thadd Presley

I stepped out of the cab in front of a huge, two story estate complete with four high-rising pillars and a circle drive big enough for ten cars. It was a brick house with six tall windows on the second story and eight on the ground floor. Eleven wide, concrete steps lead up to the front door where Ozzy was standing.

He had just opened the door when the cab came to a stop.

I imagined him looking down from one of the second floor windows at the immaculate yard when the yellow cab turned into the driveway.

Now we stood face to face and his smile was beautiful.

I already knew his name was Gerald Osbourne, but everyone called him Ozzy. I shook his hand and thanked him for meeting me.

“You have luggage?” He pointed to the car. “If not, he’ll still want a tip.”

“Not much. I have a little in the boot.”

“Money to boot or a trunk full of money?”

I looked at him confused.

He smiled. “My, you Australians really know how to…”

“No, not money, just a bit of luggage.” I walked to the boot, which was opening, and removed my bag. I then quickly walked to the driver’s window and handed the driver the fare and turned away. He drove away, knowing to keep the extra for himself.

“And not Australian, although I do appreciate you meeting me. Seems Nick has forgotten his manners.” I took a step back, now that the cab had gone, and looked up at the second floor windows. “This is truly a beautiful place.”

“It belongs to the University. Nick totally knows how to talk to these authoritarian types. He’s got the run of this place for the summer.” Then he looked at me again. He was certainly a beautiful man. He had perfect white teeth, blonde hair, a real tan, and blue eyes. It was so American of him. “It’s really good to finally meet you. Nick has told us so much that we feel like you are already part of the family.”

“That’s great of you to say. I’ve been quite nervous about all this.You really wouldn’t believe the emotions I’ve had.”

“Hold on!” Ozzy said loudly.

“Sorry?”

“No, no. Noel.” He pointed to his ear. “Sara is on the line and I…” He put up his hands as if in frustration. “Sara, you just made me yell at Noel and he’s trying to tell me about his emotions.”

He listened.

“Yeah, he’s right down your street.”

He listened and when he did I faintly heard Sara’s voice.

“He’s here in front of me and I’m trying to give him…” A moment of silence passed, while Sara’s tiny voice continued. Then he caught a second and spoke. “Yeah, well these English folk need to be greeted properly and you are interrupting our chat.”

It was then that I noticed a small black and blue plastic piece in his ear. It was smaller than a hearing aid.

“Sara says ‘hello Noel’ to you and you can’t kiss anyone. She says that she wants to give you the first kiss you get in America.”

I smiled trying to be cool, as if this was just another part of being me, but I felt my cheeks getting hot.

“And,” Ozzy continued, “don’t eat the ‘shrooms before she gets to properly introduce herself.”

I was beginning to feel very self-conscious. I didn’t know where to put my hands or where to look. I picked up my bag and set it back down again. I couldn’t help but wonder how she really felt about me.

“She says she wants you to play for her.”

“Play what?”

“Hell, I don’t know. The national anthem I guess.” He shook his head at me. “Look, I’m not being the messenger between you two.”

I heard her tiny voice raise a bit and then laugh. Ozzy joined in.

“You’ll have to wait until you see him to tell him that.”

I was extremely happy that Sara wanted to see me, but I didn’t want it to show, so I looked up at the house again. It was really a mansion.

“Sara wants to know if you will really play for her. The piano. She says please.”

“Yeah, but how did she know?” I began t ask, but I didn’t need an answer. I knew Nick told her.

“He says he will. Now I’m going.”

He listened.

“Yes, I will. Now, his majesty needs to be shown to his room.” There was another pause. “You can tell him all of that yourself. Bye. Do it when you get here. Bye.”

I didn’t see any obvious way he disconnected with Sara, but I could see the relief on his face. When he began speaking to me, it was in his normal voice again. “Ok,” he said, “I’m supposed to keep you off the ‘shrooms and show you around the house a bit. So, first we are going to the room where you can reset your jet lag.”

“Shrooms?” I asked.

“Yeah.” Ozzy smiled. “Oh, yeah.”

“Are they any good?”

“I’ll put it this way. Everything here is good. This has been the best summer I’ve ever had and it’s just beginning. We have some really great gigs coming up and with you on bass.” He smiled again, showing his teeth. “I hear you can really play the hell out of a bass.”

“I picked up a few things here and there.”

“So I’ve heard. Oh, and just so you know, the band is me, Nick, Sara and you. In case you’re asked, you’re not replacing anyone. Just come on board and do what you do. The band is called ‘Black’ but the fans usually referred to us as ‘A Band of Black.”

“I like that better, actually.”

“You do, do you?”

“Yes,” I said as a matter of fact.  I had a great reason to push against using “Black” as a band name. It was mine and Nick’s old band name, from our punk days in London and it didn’t seem right to use the name again. Of course, I didn’t tell Ozzy this small piece of history.

“Well, Nick wants the band to be called ‘Black’ and you know how Nick is when he wants something.”

Yes, I did know. I also knew that I liked ‘A Band of Black’ better than the one word. But I simply nodded and smiled, allowing the moment to pass without further comment, and followed him through the door and into the fraternity house.