Published by Dreadful Notions ®
Copyright © 2012 by L.K. Scott. All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction.
Cover design copyright © 2012 by Dreadful Notions
Dreadful Notions ®
© 2012 L.K. Scott
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Works by L.K. SCOTT
She Tried the Window
Murder After Sunset
The Spider and the Fly
By L.K. Scott
My head felt as if it had been cracked open, my eyeballs pushing themselves out of their sockets. I had woken up on the coarse wooden floors. I wish I hadn’t woken up at all.
An empty wine bottle lay on its side next to me. Not a drop left. The sun, if such a dark and dreary a thing could be called a ‘sun,’ had risen, but the change from night to day was imperceptible due to the grit permanently embedded in the room’s only window, a shade of jaundice. I had been sick for several days, not with a virus, but headaches caused by shame and by the wine I had promised myself I wouldn’t drink. The digital clock blinked 12:00 in bright red numerals. Flashing. Always 12:00.
I don’t feel guilty drinking anymore. It’s supposed to be a lovely weekend. TGIF. That’s what the apartment manager, Bill Williams, had said when he welcomed me in for the first time last night. I sensed a level of sarcasm in his tone. If I was back home with Seth we might have gone for a drive through the oak fields or toured one of the vineyards and tasted some wine. I had promised him I wouldn’t drink, but that was then and this is now. Living like this, the way I’m living at the moment is harder when I’ve lost my closest friend, a lover, my soul mate. The brightness in my life is gone. I wish I could turn off the sun. It’s exhausting when others are so flagrantly happy as I imagine he is now. In [_my _]home. In [_my _]bed. Having a drink on a patio where [_my _]roses brought a splash of scarlet against the russet backdrop of a mountainscape scorched by sun and withered by drought. It makes me feel bad I’m not joining in.
Usually, people have somewhere to go to cheer them up. I used to sit on the park bench with a book or drive to where the purple and yellow wildflowers grew over Turkey Flats, but I can’t bring myself to go outside.
I don’t know the other occupants of this apartment complex. Bill Williams tells me the list of improvements needed to renovate this place was longer than John Holmes’ dick and I was taken back briefly by his comparison, but I understood what he meant. This was a hairy place and needed a lot of work. Housing for poor and miserable souls. He had seemed in a hurry at the time and left me with my key and a can of Raid topped with tied with a red bow. I thought of my beautiful roses, so red and fragrant.
The quiet residents of Langham Manor had never indicated their presence through sight nor evidence of sound. I could have been the only tenant, though sometimes I heard a slight scratching and assumed a pigeon had perched itself upon my window. I don’t know if any of that made me feel better or worse. I couldn’t possibly feel more alone.
Bill is a strong-built man with skin blacker than oil and fists like mallets. A tough guy whose scratchy voice and short, crass words were evident of a rough life on the streets. I assumed the other tenants shared similar stories. Not me. I had a beautiful, happy life, and plans to get married. I lived well, nothing extravagant, but comfortable. Just an ordinary, optimistic woman with dreams of a family and a fondness for wine. Comfortable enough that Bill had appeared surprised when I arrived. I considered myself a stylish woman and that day my casual outfit was a sleek strapless black dress that hugged my body and pleated delicately an inch above my knees, and a cobalt scarf draped around my neck. My dark hair was flat-ironed, and I wore a pair of elegant sandals with blue toenail polish. To him, I must’ve appeared out of place, different than other women with jeans too tight, or too short, and bulky sweaters or bathrobes or lime green patent leather tube tops like I had seen on my way here. When I asked for a rental application he seemed even more surprised and told me he thought I was from the county, which was never a good visit. Bill was kind. A bit crass and one of the most intimidating men I’d ever seen, but kind and kindness was what I needed most right now. And a place to live. As of yesterday, I was homeless.
I pull myself into a sitting position still on the floor after my first night. I think of Seth and wonder if it’s his day off and if he’s lying in bed with his new girlfriend, or prepares a delicious breakfast of something French that I couldn’t pronounce. Or maybe they had gone to the coast for the weekend like we used to and made love in the hotel room that overlooked the beach as flocks of seagulls sailed by and boats moored in the bay. Maybe he took her to our special place where above the beautiful cliffs, the pastel orange sun sets behind the distant gray haze of the marine layer and the cerulean waves dance among the cyan rocks below.
I find a little vodka in the back of the freezer. Just barely enough for a shot. Still not enough to resolve this fucking hangover. Not enough to get me through the shame of another day. The heat is building. I check the time. 12:00, still Flashing. I wipe away the oily sweat pearling on my forehead.
I close my eyes and let the darkness swallow me until my feeling of sadness grows into a memory. Please, Seth. I need to talk to you, I’m so, so sorry. Please.
It’s going to be a terrible day. It’ll come in waves, stronger and deeper, as I sober up. Maybe there’s enough change in my purse for another bottle. Bill told me about the liquor store down the street that sold cheap red wine for three bucks. I’m not sure I have three bucks. Shame and anger and humiliation come in only the first wave when I realize I’ll have to start my day sober and that it might have to end the same way. There’s a lurching in my stomach. I take the final shot of vodka. It burns. My stomach churns, but not from the liquor, from shame.
There are boxes to be unpacked. Only five. Three were filled with books, one with clothes, and last was filled with some plants Seth had given me as a gift during one of our trips to the coast. He told me he couldn’t care for them; he’d forget to water and fertilize, so he sent them with me. I had no furniture, so I place them near the window. Still not enough light. They’d die within a few weeks. In next box, I see what’s inside and my heart palpitates and I believe for a moment I will pass out and die right here on the dusty, slivery floors. A photo of us at the coast with seals in the background, both of us making faces like we’re barking, our mouths rounded in O’s as we pretended to be elephant seals sparring. He’s a handsome man, pale with smooth skin, lightly freckled face and hazel eyes like gemstones. He kept the roundness of his chin sparse with scruff; he knew how much I liked facial hair on men. It made him look trendy and mature. In the photo, he is wearing his favorite tweed flat cap. I smile when I remember he calls them duffer caps before I start to cry. We’ll never have those days again. Such happy, romantic days. I let the photograph fall back into the box and clothe the flaps. There’d be no more unpacking today.
I tell myself I’ve done worse things. I’ve yelled at him in public, I’ve shoved him and I humiliated him at work when I came in wasted and demanded we talk about our issues all while he was in the middle of a dinner rush. On his birthday we fought in his hotel room and I came at him with an empty champagne bottle, bruising his temple. For weeks he could hardly open his mouth to chew. I don’t remember doing it or even why I did it, and like every other alcohol-fueled argument, I figured the reason wasn’t worth remembering. Only that it had happened, and it shouldn’t have.
I drink too much. I know I do. It gets worse. In the kitchen sink stained yellow and black and rusted, smelling of something rotten in the drain pipe, I find broken glass. I don’t own dishes. I don’t even own a single glass, so where did this come from? There was more beneath the window in the center of the living room wall. Quite a bit more.
My time with Seth was merely a beautiful dream. We had our occasional spats, some worse than others, but we had many good memories together more than bad ones, but for some reason, he chose only to remember the bad ones. Our fights always smoothed over and then for months we’d live in bliss before another alcohol-fueled fight made us both say and act in horrendous ways to each other. Life was different when I woke up. I learned that not everything can be forgiven, especially when mistakes are repeated and promises are broken. When that happens, life becomes broken, and a broken life is a nightmare and I wish I could wake up. I know I’ve done some things wrong, but I can’t always remember what they were. All I know is they cannot be put right.
“You need to be put in a mental institution, Cadence. You need to be in jail. Even your dad agrees with me. I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t help you. We’re not good for each other.”
I’m offended he brought my parents into this. My parents can’t help. I have two siblings, a younger brother, and an older sister. Both have steady jobs and families living a suburban lifestyle. I called my dad once not too long after one of my good evenings with Seth to check on my mother who had been recovering from rotator cuff surgery. My dad answered and mom had asked who it was. When he handed her the phone I heard him say, “It’s the middle disappointment.”
There’s dried blood on my hand from something I did last night, but don’t remember. If I had punched a wall, no tenant had called about a disturbance. If it had something to do with the broken glass beneath the window and in the sink, then it’s an even greater mystery. Then I remembered something strange. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but there was a particular expression on Bill’s face when I asked for this room. Not that he went pale, or that twisted face a person makes before a sneeze, but something similar, or somewhere in between. If I had been sober, I would’ve been nervous. Whatever look it was, it was one to be worried of. It should’ve been my first warning.
My apartment is on the fifth floor, room 503, second from the top floor. Supposedly there were occupants on either side, above, and below, but I never heard them. Or seen them for that matter. My front door went into the center of the hallway that smelled of musty old cigars and rotten wood. Cracks zigzagged across the walls, peeling of paint that reminded me of a color called Paris Green, which was no longer used due to the abundance of arsenic. The stench had nearly made me gag, but I said nothing.
Entering room 503, I came to the living room. The door directly to my left was the bathroom and just to the right of it was the door to the single bedroom where the only two doors led into a closet and the other, the bathroom. On the right side of the apartment, directly across from the bedroom, was the archway, which led into the kitchen. The living room itself was just a big, empty, dusty square with a single window. I had no furniture, so I slept in a comforter on the living room floor. My boxes I stacked in the corner near the kitchen archway. Sad-colored curtains half closed the window and could close no further. The odor in the apartment was less faint than in the hall but was still unpleasant. I hate that my life has come to this.
“If you need anything I’m in room 101,” Bill told me after I filled out the proper forms and handed him my security deposit. “It’s the first apartment when you enter the building. There’s a mail slot to deposit your rent check or if you need to write a complaint.” That’s when he handed me the can of nearly gift-wrapped Raid, and I figured pestilence was not a critical complaint to him. There was a doubtful intonation in his voice, which did not surprise me. I was wrong, however, because not long after discovering the broken glass beneath the window and in the sink, I made a complaint, which he determined to be very critical.
Nothing especially worthy of mention occurred during my first full day in room 503. I found a crumpled dollar in the pocket of a coat, and with that and some change I paid for a packet of ramen and a bottle of red wine at the corner store exactly where bill described. While I walked home I stopped in every shop to ask for job applications, though everywhere I went I was met with the same response: “We’re not hiring, but you’re welcome to fill out an application and we’ll keep it on file.”
I am exhausted, my head thick with sleep. My hangover subsided very little. I hated the sun and the heat and the musky air and the fact that I was sober.
When I return I see Bill on the first floor with a gym bag in hand. He asked me how my first night was and I respond, “Quiet.”
He gave me that strange look again, followed by what I could’ve interpreted as relief. I asked him about the other tenants, assuming they kept to themselves, omitting the fact I intended to do the same.
“Each tenant is different. Some more trouble than their rent is worth,” Bill said.
I gave a deep nod, forced a weak smile out of politeness, and headed to the elevator. As the doors close he watches me with concern.
I enter 503. It’s strange to call this place home. It doesn’t feel like home. It’s an empty, rotting shell. I place my job applications on the floor next to my blanket. From my bags, I unpack the wine and my only pack of ramen noodles when I realize I have no pots or pans to cook my ramen, a corkscrew for my wine, or even a pen to fill out my applications. I throw my arms over the counter and I begin to cry.
I went to the blanket with tears down my hot cheeks and rest my head on the pillow. I squeeze my eyes shut. Seth is opposite of me and I can feel his bare chest against my back as he snuggles me, and the weight of his leg across mine. It’s how we always sleep. I smile remembering those times I wake up before him and see him sleeping with his hand curled beneath his chin like a kitten. A loud noise crashes in my apartment. I blink hard and Seth is gone.
I’m still in my own blanket on the floor, my heart pounds in my chest. My eyes dart around the room to see if any boxes had toppled over, but they weren’t even stacked upon each other. I snatch air into my lungs and realize I’ve been holding my breath. I think I hear neighbors fighting. A man and a woman. They sound miles away yet I can barely hear them. There’s a slight echo in their voices.
I climb to my unsteady feet. I forget the tears drying on my face and I’m no longer concerned about the wine opener or my lack of cookware. The crash sounded like a hard banging against my window. That was impossible, of course. 503 was on the fifth floor and had no balcony. The window looked into a narrow alley only wide enough for a pair of dumpsters, and across was a big brick building, three stories taller than the Langham Manor. There were no windows on that side of that building and was without access. A pigeon, I told myself. A simple explanation for the crash. A pigeon had flown into my window. Still, though it didn’t seem quite right. The crash occurred with such force I thought the window would’ve shattered. A bird couldn’t do that. I was in my daydream when it occurred and perhaps I had not heard it as clearly as I thought. If not a bird, then someone else—another tenant perhaps—moving furniture. Or Bill working on some rigorous chore.
I was shaking and went to the kitchen to dip my face under the faucet and gulp the bitter city water. I could borrow a corkscrew from Bill, I decided. And a pen.
I was still unsteady on my feet when I moved to the boxes in the corner where I found my toothbrush and toothpaste. A full night and day had passed and I hadn’t brushed my teeth. My mouth felt disgusting as if my teeth were growing fur. I feel sick thinking how I’ve let myself go in a matter of days. I knew it would only get worse. I’d get fat from only being able to afford cheap junk food like potato chips and ramen, or I’d starve myself to death. I had hoped to drink myself to death before that happened.
In the bathroom, I brushed my teeth. The taste of the vanilla-mint toothpaste was almost enough to mask the chemical taste of tap water. When I finished I opened the medicine cabinet to store my toothbrush and noticed a prescription bottle sitting on the top shelf. I placed my toothbrush and the toothpaste tube on the shelf below the bottle and took the bottle in my hands, rolling it between my fingers until I read the name, Sally Jones. A prescription for Xanax filled eight months ago in October. I twisted open the cap and at least a dozen white pills rattled inside. Left behind by the previous tenant, I figured. I inspected the pills carefully ensuring they were, in fact, Xanax. I placed a single tablet in my pocket, placed the bottle back on the top shelf, closed the cabinet, and returned to the living room. I snatched the room key from the top of my box of clothes and reached for the door knob. When I began to close the door behind me, I heard angry footsteps rushing through the living room. I turned, but as suspected, I found the room empty. Just sad and empty. Welcome to your new life, Cadence Forster, on behalf of all the citizens of Langham Manor, as a reward for your deeds, here is the key to your city. Congratulations, Cadence. You’re officially fucked. A heavy sigh escaped my throat, I took the keys in hand, and entered the hall, ensuring the door was locked behind me.
The elevator, jarring as it descended to the first floor, reeked of rancid urine and ejaculate. The temperature was still hot down here, but not nearly as hot as my stale apartment upstairs. The increasing eagerness of the sun to linger in the sky as the hours passed, the extra scorch in the air, the oily scent of garbage baking on hot asphalt, and the sweat coating my neck—all the evidence of summer drifting into the dog days. The days would only grow hotter before they became cool again. Today, Bill was working in a tank top, opaque with perspiration, on something inside the wall. Many boards had been removed and were lying in a pile. He was a tremendous man and I couldn’t imagine how he worked so delicately in such tight places.
“Hot morning,” I told him. I felt stupid. I was not a social creature and had never been graced in the art of conversations. I was certainly skilled at ending them though, almost as well as ending relationships. Hell, I could write a fucking how-to book about it. Was there a demographic for the opposite of self-help books?
Bill grunted in reply and pulled back. I couldn’t tell if he was annoyed by his construction project or by my interruption so I intended to make this conversation as brief as possible.
“Not much of a morning,” he said. I realized I hadn’t known the time at all since the day I moved in. Time had no meaning when you had no job, no friends, or a relationship, and your only hobby was booze and books. “Hot as a slut’s pussy in Hell.”
I blinked several times. “Yeah, sounds about right,” I said as I try to force a chuckle. I wasn’t used to such crass language from a stranger, but the Langham Manor was just one step away from being out on the street and the streets, I imagined, were not inhabited by pleasantries and polite folk. Frankly, it felt kind of nice to be with someone who wasn’t judgmental. If you lived in the Langham Manor, you were no stranger to bad decisions and their consequences. That is, after all, why I’m here.
“I can see you’re busy, I’d hate to bother you—”
“Girl, if you got somethin’ to say. . .”
I nodded, muttered a quick apology. “Do you have a wine key I could borrow?”
He studied me and his expression softened. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hands and used a rag for his hands. When he looked back at me, all the irritation in his expression had changed to something softer. The wrinkles in his forehead disappeared, his jaw relaxed, and he stood in a casual stance. “Yeah, I got one. Bring it back when you can. I got an extra, but. . .” His voice trailed off which left me wondering what he had intended to say.
He gesticulated to his room where I followed. His apartment was furnished with only the basic essentials, a simple black couch, a black metal coffee table, two lamps, an ashtray filled with spent butts, and a water bong resting on the floor near a foot rest. The most extravagant item in the room was his fifty-eight-inch flat screen TV with about every video game console stored in the compartments below the stand. I noted how neatly the wires were twist tied. He told me to wait in the doorway and a moment later returned with the wine key. I noticed the look of pity on his face. He had seemed at first reluctant to lend one to me as if he didn’t trust me, but the expression dissipated. There was something he wasn’t telling me. I wanted to just return to my room and get started on that bottle, but my inquisitive temperament got the best of me and I asked, “What happened to the previous tenants in my place?”
His expression deepened. “Is there something the matter?”
“No,” I said, trying to keep my tone amicable.
His face relaxed and his eyes briefly flinched up and I could see that he was relieved.
I paused. “Why? Is there supposed something the matter? I found something that belonged to one of them.”
His countenance changed once again, this time with concern. His thick brows narrowed. “Look, girl, I just maintain this place. I’ve had enough trouble and I have no business frightening the tenants.”
“You won’t frighten me.” That was the truth. The only thing that frightened me was being out on the streets without food or money. I’d kill myself before that happened. Really. And if I didn’t find a job by next week, that’s exactly what would happen.
“I fucking hate this place,” Bill growled. “I’m sure you do too, and I don’t care much for reputations or superstitions, and I don’t want to frighten you, but this place is no place for a girl like you. If I were you, I’d move out immediately. Or at least to another room if one comes vacant. Might be soon too if that lazy sonofabitch upstairs doesn’t pay his rent. Asshole owes me for three months now.”
“Oh my God, why?”
“Because he hasn’t fuckin’ found another job. I only let him get this far because finding work in this neighborhood is damn near impossible. I’ve done and seen a lot of shit in my life, and I don’t want even more guilt of throwing anyone out on the streets. I’ve been out there already and I’ve seen some scary fuckin’ shit, girl. I don’t got the heart to do that to someone else.”
“I meant about my apartment. Room 503. Why should I need to move out? I have nowhere else to go but the streets.”
He nodded but did not ask for reasons why. “The last tenant moved out the first night he moved in. Haven’t been able to keep anyone in that room. If you stay tonight, you’ve made it longer than the others.”
“Some man. Didn’t even know him long enough to get his name. A Chinese defector I think. Paid in cash under the table.”
“What about the girl?” I asked, growing impatient. I started feeling this conversation was getting me nowhere and perhaps my frustration and boredom and mental breakdown of my collapsing life was making me see and wonder things I probably shouldn’t.
“What girl?” he asked.
Bill stood very still and I swear, even through his black skin, he paled. I had never seen that look on anyone’s face before. He appeared serious-eyed and tight-faced, and stood very still except for the trembling of his lower lip. I didn’t know if he was about to scream or cry. “Sally was a tenant who left about eight months ago. She had a husband and was generally a pleasant woman who loved to party. Sometimes she partied a little too hard, if you know what I mean. If she could snort it, drink it, smoke it, or ride it she would. One moment she was fun girl to be around, and a second later she flips the fuck out. Tore up her husband’s furniture, smashed a hole in the wall, fuckin’ ripped apart everything she touched, including her relationship with her husband. She earned the name Cyclone Sally from the fuckin’ mess she’d make after each one of her binders. As long as she wasn’t partying, she was the most pleasant woman you’d ever know. A good girl. Like you.”
I felt the ache of shame in my gut again and the mental agony that came with the guilt of doing something regrettable yet not having the memory of it. An itch I could not scratch. Cyclone Sally and I had more in common than Bill believed. I hoped to keep it that way. I was ashamed enough. I felt my eyes burn and I did not want to cry in front of him, but I could see that he could see I was upset, though not for the reasons he believed. The story did not frighten me. What frightened me was missing out on the future I could’ve had if I wasn’t such a fuckup.
“So what did you find?” Bill asked. His voice was soft now, and I could tell he didn’t wish to upset me any further.
“Just found some old clothes,” I lied.
“With Sally’s name on them?” Bill was doubtful.
I shrugged not knowing how to answer. “Well you bring them down to me and I’ll donate them to the shelter.”
“Doesn’t she plan on coming back for them?” I was growing ever more eager to leave. My eyes felt like acid trying to hold back tears as Seth’s bright face haunted me, but my curiosity held me in place like cement.
“No,” Bill told me. “She’s not coming back. Sally will never be back. Not ever. But I still think you should move out as soon as you can.”
I told him that I would not.
“Then you will damn soon,” he said, gravely. “Not much else I can do for you if you stay.”
I hesitated. “There is one more thing, actually.”
He raised a brow.
“Can I borrow a pen?”
There was nothing I could do about cooking the ramen so I crushed it in the bag with my fist and ate it dry and straight from the packet. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was, but at least now I had a wine key. Wine on an empty stomach was like drinking three bottles on a full stomach. As the ramen crunched between my teeth I went back into the bathroom and inspected Cyclone Sally’s Xanax prescription. It seemed strange that such an important item would be left behind, but from Bill’s story it sounded like she left in a hurry and, wherever she was, could get plenty more. Though, there was that other thing he said lingering in my mind. They way he said she wouldn’t be coming back. Ever. The only thing I thought he could possibly mean was Cyclone Sally was either in prison, or dead. In which case she wouldn’t be coming back for the Xanax after all. Finder’s keepers.
I took the bottle with me to the comforter where I sat and snacked on the dried ramen and drank from the wine bottle. I tried to focus on a coffee table book about traveling. Destinations that Seth and I wanted to visit together, maybe even move there. I found myself drinking more wine than eating more ramen and with each page I could feel my lungs struggling for air. That itching continued and I still could not bear to look in that box of clothes with Seth’s photo right beneath the flaps. I drank straight from the bottle. Two gulps. Three gulps. Four. I sat the bottle down feeling optimistic that so much still remained and that I already was feeling the pleasant buzz.
I looked at the job application papers stacked nicely beside me, careful not to spill wine on them, and wondered if I was wasting my time. Not one of those places was hiring, and every line, every question was a painful reminder of my predicament. My previous employer had fired me for refusing to pick up other employees shifts. I had a strict deal with them before they hired me that I could only work on certain days and no more or less. They agreed, so when they fired me, they broke the contract they arranged. I got nothing from them. Not even unemployment. The worst part was when it came to the references. I had none. Maybe Bill could be a reference. If he wanted me to pay my rent, he’d better agree. I could maybe use Seth, I was sure he’d be supportive, but knowing that I would have to speak to him beforehand punched my heart out of my chest. I didn’t want him to know how terrible I was without him. I wished I could lie to him, to tell him I was getting on my feet, but he’d hear it in my voice. You don’t live with someone for five years without knowing when they are lying. He wouldn’t care to hear from me. He made that very clear when he told me I had to move out. My distress would be an inconvenience for him.
My eyes feel heavy and I let that acidic sensation flow. I’m burning up so I remove my shirt and sit there in my black bra with the bottle of cabernet sauvignon in one hand and rolling the bottle of Cyclone Sally’s Xanax in the other. Between them I see an opportunity to escape. Just one day, I tell myself. Just survive one more day.
I know drinking the rest of the bottle isn’t a good idea, but I take three more gulps, and rest my head against the pillow. The clock flashes 12:00 still and I stare at it until my eyes close, happy to know there’d still be leftover wine when I wake up. I drift into an uncomfortable sleep. My shoulders ache from sleeping on the floor, and disturbing images swirl in my nightmares.
Movement through the room awakens me enough to remind myself I’m at home in bed and Seth has just come in from a late shift at the restaurant. I existed in hat place of sleep where you can hear and sense your surroundings, but can’t speak or move. I’m dizzy with drunkenness and I hear Seth’s footsteps come toward my bed. Relief overwhelms me when I sense him lean over me, like a protective shield, so close I feel his warm breath on my cheeks. He whispers: “Come to bed, sweetie,” and my eyes shoot open.
I’m staring at the strange, unfamiliar ceiling confused by where I am and the hair on my arms is standing straight on end. The presence is still here. There is someone in my living room. The floorboards creek and I am frozen stiff. I am sweating, but I cannot move from the blankets like a terrified rabbit in the eyes of a predator. My heart is pounding and I need to gasp for air, but I keep my breaths short and soundless. The room is black except for the flashing 12:00 and with each flash the room illuminates in a red glow, and I am certain I see a figure facing the corner when the light goes out. When it flashes red again, the figure is gone. I do not move for an interminable time, long enough for my breath to calm and the hair on my arms to settle. I ease myself into a sitting position. The room is still spinning. There is one light switch, but it’s across the room next to the front door. I’m in a crouched position before I sprint for my life and flip on the light expecting to see an intruder, but again I find the room empty, though the spoken words, “Come to bed, sweetie,” still float through my mind. Night number two. My conversation with Bill came back to me. I told him I would not move. “Then you will damn soon.” I was starting to see why the Chinese man never made it through the night.
I creep across the unpolished floorboards. Splinters dig into my sweaty bare feet. I move into the kitchen first, hiding behind the archway before I reach my arm around for the switch. A dingy yellow fills the kitchen making everything look sickly and sour, but uninhabited by any figure. I try to convince myself I’m not going crazy. That I had dreamed it. People dream weird things when they are in stressful positions and new places. I was not persuasive enough in my own argument. It would be totally understandable if I did go crazy. A lot of shit went down in my life in a matter of days.
I move back into the living room for the wine bottle and am glad it’s more than half full still. I take two large gulps in case I have to use it on the intruder and have to waste the rest of it. There was still the bathroom and the bedroom to check. Room to room I tiptoe, and in every room I switch the lights on, and each time I find nothing unusual, that is until I reach the bedroom.
The bedroom is just a large square room with a window, and for some reason my eyes focus on the warped floorboards below expecting to see glass like I found in the living room. A sparkle in the corner caught my eye. A diamond engagement ring, I realized, dingy with dried blood. Something told me not to touch it. A feeling of overwhelming, suffocating dread. Everything about this was wrong. The pill bottle, the glass below the window, and the bloody ring. How had the cleaners not have noticed these things? How had the Chinese defector not taken such a valuable item with him?
I was halfway through night two, still longer than any other tenant since Cyclone Sally. I decided right then I needed to speak to Bill; matters were not resolved.
Inside the ring, through the dried, brownish colored blood, read an inscription: Sally, always and forever.
I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep. The sun is down still and I can hear rock music playing from the many bars in the area. I assume it must still be early in the night. My heartbeat feels as though it’s in the base of my throat, and my mouth is dry. Between swigs of wine, nearly gone now, I dip my mouth under the kitchen tap and chase the sour water with another gulp of wine. I turn to the window. The music seems to echo louder in the alley, reverberating between the brick walls and my apartment. I bring my hand to my face and rub my sore eyes. I am filthy. Night two and I haven’t showered yet. My hair feels oily, and my skin is greasy. I imagine I look as shitty as I feel, but I have Sally’s ring. A diamond ring. A girl who has money, who can afford loads of cocaine and God knows what other drugs, a girl who has an under-the-table income that must pay damn well to afford her addictions, and so I could only feel excited that the diamond ring must be worth something. Cyclone Sally is dead. She wouldn’t need it and my times were ever more desperate by the moment.
Morality is telling me to hand it over to Bill, or even the police, but the ring, such a beautiful thing, was a shiny starlight of hope. I rationalize that perhaps Cyclone Sally, who had made such similar mistakes as I, would want me to use to better myself, to not end up like her. I know for certain I do not want to be in this apartment any longer than I have to be.
I can’t see much from my window, but when I place my face against the glass I can see people waiting outside of dive bars smoking cigarettes and holding hands and kissing. A hurtful, longing feeling takes over me and I remember when Seth and I used to be like them. We’d go wine tasting and gaze into the horizon, past the pier and watch the sunsets, we’d dine on fish tacos, and we’d hold hands as we’d walk home together, laughing and stealing kisses before the crosswalk light changed. We’d drink and maybe have a smoke on the patio at whatever bar we stumble upon. I try not to cry by looking at the ring.
I run my fingers through my greasy hair, and do my best to tidy it up. Pawn shops would be open this late. I wouldn’t dare take it to a jeweler. There’d be too many questions to answer. Pawn shops were discreet, and I imagined even more so in this neighborhood where black market stereos and stolen car parts served as currency. The poor and the desperate cannot afford to be moral, when the alternative was starvation and death. It was decided. I washed the ring in the bathroom sink as best as I could, using the sleeve of one of my least favorite sweaters to polish off the blood. I figured with the money I hoped to earn by selling the ring, I could buy a new sweater and some decent food and dishes to cook out of. Eventually even a new apartment.
Nervous to be out, I carry on past the second-hand clothing store next to Langham Manor, past another thrift store, and a rather sketchy looking gym filled with immensely sized men with angry expressions on their rough faces. I’m wearing a black sweatshirt with the hood pulled up to cover my greasy hair and to hide my face to avoid the pitiful and disgusted looks of the late night crowds. Someone shouts something at me, but I pay no attention. A proposition. How could anyone want this when I look so grungy? He must’ve been as desperate for sex as I was for money. I turned right, past the corner store where I had previously purchased my ramen and wine dinner, and entered the pawn shop across the street.
I’m starting to get nervous as I go inside. I see him standing behind a glass barrier writing something on a pad of notes. I am the only one in the store and I notice the abundance of security cameras on the ceiling. The exhibition of myself makes me want to shrink even further into my hoodie. The man looks up and I greet him with my warmest smile, grateful that I had brushed my teeth. In my better days, days not long ago, back when I was with Seth, I would’ve turned a few heads, but the look this man gave me read something grotesque. If I couldn’t use my looks, I knew I could summon my last ounce of charm. Life had stolen the rest from me.
“What do ya’ got for me?” He says. His teeth are yellow and I see that he is smoking a cigarette. He places it in the ash tray to let it burn. I tell him a close friend of mine passed away and she left me her ring. He didn’t bother to look at me and I figured he didn’t care to hear the story. He probably had seen and purchased seedier objects, and figured the less he knew the better. I took out the ring from my pocket and placed it in the tray beneath the glass barrier.
He lets the blue pen drop on to the pad and reaches for the ring in a way that indicated he’d sound hundreds more just like it, like it was nothing special. I watch as he performs his inspection. Weighs it. Pulls out some kind of eyepiece, meticulously scrutinizes it. He nods and I see a slight smile cross his face, which gives me a sliver of hope. His eyes are dull and gray and what’s left of his hair beyond the receding hairline has an ashy faded color from a shade that used to be brown. His ears stick out wide and he has a pronounced jawline. He opens his mouth to speak and I hold my breath.
He tells me it’s a fine piece and fortunately I caught him at the right time.
He asks, “How much do you want for it?”
“How much do you have?” I respond.
The man chuckles and says it’s a high quality ring worth more than what he can give me, but fortunately at the end of the night he hadn’t yet locked up the safe and could give me what’s fair. This reaffirms my hopes. I forget all about my troubles when he hands over five thousand dollars, cash.
Oh God, thank you Cyclone Sally. I greedily take his money and feel no guilt about pawning her wedding ring. I shove the bundle of money into my hoodie and make my way to the corner store. Tonight we’d celebrate.
I return with only what I could carry. I spent one hundred dollars on cheap wine, a bottle of vodka, some produce, sandwich making supplies, and milk to go with my cereal. Basic stuff to get me through the next couple days. I also purchased some cheap paper plates and plastic cups and a small frying pan that was meant for camping use. Tomorrow I’d go to a real grocery store and purchase the other things I needed. And hopefully a new apartment. Maybe even go to the library and hunt down a new city. Somewhere far. Five thousand wasn’t much, but it was enough to get me a little further from the streets and in a more suitable location. Preferably one with a stronger economy so that I could find a real job. The possibilities ran through my head as I walked home. I stopped briefly outside the used clothing store to grab one of the cans of gin and tonic I purchased and gulped half of it down on my walk home all the while wishing Seth was here to celebrate with me.
In my apartment I’m too drunk to care about the previous mysterious occurrences. I kick my job applications aside and let out a squeal of triumph. I knew I was over-celebrating. A security deposit in a new city, first month’s rent, and traveling expenses would consume a considerable sum. I’d want second month’s rent reserved as well in case it took me longer to find a job than expected. I hope that Seth sees how well I’m doing and takes me back.
I leave my depleted can of gin and tonic on the counter in the kitchen, put away only the groceries that needed refrigerated and returned to the living room where I remove two more cans of gin and tonic from the bags of liquor and snacks. I open the first and set it a foot in front of me. The second one I open and keep in my hand.
“To Cyclone Sally!” I say as I cheers the can in front of me. I end up drinking them both. This woman who I have never met had saved my life. She saved me from being on the streets. This woman, a woman I had never met, had become my only friend. “Wherever you are, thank you.”
As I sit there and celebrate with Cyclone Sally, imagining her in the room with me, I ponder the possibilities of a brighter future than the one I imagined yesterday. I am no longer the girl I used to be. I am no longer desirable, and I’m off-putting and my face is puffy from drinking and lack of sleep. Like I experienced tonight, people can see the damage all over me, and I can see it in my face, feel it in my innards, the way I groan and stumble around this apartment. Seth and his new girlfriend are happy together, they are what we used to be. They’re what I lost, but I know, because of Cyclone Sally’s gift, that I will get it back. I will get it back.
I maintain that optimism for only a few minutes until I’m cringing again. I try not to think of the worst days, but the memories creep into my mind like a stalker behind my back just before he plunges the knife through my heart. Once again I am weeping on the scratchy floor. There is a stinging pain in my foot and I see I have scraped my heel on the sharp edge of an uneven floorboard. Blood trickled from the wound. I don’t care. I’d smash my fists through the wall right now if it would help.
“I’m ashamed of you. I can’t even look at you,” I hear Seth say as I picture him standing over me, his eyes filled with the purest, darkest form of hate. “You’re such a fuckup, Cadence. You’re ruining my job, you’re ruining my life.” Those last days I had made a promise to him never to drink again, a promise that lasted two weeks before he brought a bottle of chardonnay home and offered me a glass. We were having a pizza dinner and my belly was full. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have just one glass. If he was testing me, I failed. I took that glass after I promised I wouldn’t and over time it escalated back to wine tasting and margaritas at the Mexican restaurant in the next town over. Happy hour kills me. Another fight. I’m not even sure what about, but I remember I took an hour for me to convince the police that I was not going to commit harm to him or myself. There are times when you should ask for forgiveness knowing what you did can never be forgiven, but you should still ask anyway and be sorry for the things you did—even if you don’t remember what they were.
I get bored sitting here, and Sally’s can of gin and tonic is nearly finished. I cry to her telling her how sorry I am for whatever she had gone through. I made a commitment then to speak more about it with Bill. I wanted to know her, I wanted to know her because she reminded me of me. Because she saved my life. Maybe she partied a little harder, but we were both gone from our homes. I imagine Sally with beautiful reddish brown hair with sleek blonde streaks and a body any woman would be envious of: lascivious curves of her breasts spilling from a dress with cleavage so deep it could’ve been worn during open heart surgery. I imaged she was leggy too, with cherry red full lips; a real knockout. I guessed she was too friendly with the other men for her husband’s comfort, and he was concerned of her infidelity. Or maybe he was into it. Who knows? Some people say there’s nothing worse than cheating, but suspecting the omissions of Bill’s recollections of her, I imaged there were worse things indeed.
I’m at the bottom of the can and I move to the kitchen to open up a bottle of wine. I shove a plastic forkful of potato salad in my mouth. The food is pre-made and shipped to the convenient store from some factory. Seth had spoiled me in every aspect of our relationship, especially food. Not even restaurants others considered decent were tasty enough for me. Just one more pleasure in the volume of pleasures I will never experience again.
I know I’ve had too much to drink and I can smell the stench of body odor wafting up my body. I can’t see the room properly and it tilts the side, I tilt with it and I tumble down. There are words in the books in front of me, but I can’t even read the titles. To focus I hold one hand over my eye. With the other hand I carry the bottle into the bathroom. I set the bottle of wine on the toilette seat and start the water. Rusty brown fluid comes out at first, and the smell reminds me of sewage. While the water runs I return to the living room to grab a box of clothing and bring it to the bedroom closet where I see a photograph on the ground. I am too drunk to steady myself and I tip over, and together we fall to the floor. The heavy thump! of my body echoed loud enough I thought for sure the neighbor downstairs would complain. Under the box I reached for the item—a photograph—that even in my drunkenness shocked me and I uttered a gasping curse word under my breath.
I feel sick and dizzy trying to focus on the man in the photo. I recognize Coney Island in the background and the iconic Cyclone roller coaster. Something is wrong with the photograph, but awash with alcohol, it takes me a moment to realize the man’s eyes had been burned through in almost perfect circles. Cigarette burns. Someone burned his eyes out of the photograph. I felt a wave of hot sick and wondered if this was Cyclone Sally’s husband. He was handsome and possessed an friendly All-American smile. Looking through the burnt out holes I knew something terrible happened in my apartment. I knew from my churning gut instincts, that Cyclone Sally was not in prison. She was dead. And she was here, still in this apartment. Sally, always and forever.
I stare at it for quite some time feeling my nerves prickle down my back and my buttocks has gone numb from sitting in the same position as I slipped. There’d be a terrible bruise on my right hip in the morning. I don’t know what to do with the photograph. I feel like maybe I should keep it in the medicine cabinet with the pill bottle, but I know if I did I’d forget it was there by the time I’m sober up, and the next time I opened the cabinet I’d cause myself quite a scare. I decided to leave the photograph on the floor where it belonged, as if I had discovered and desecrated some sacred shrine. I wondered if this feeling I had was how the Chinese man felt when he left on his first night. Just as I replaced it on the floor, I distinctly heard a groan, and a heavy, sluggish movement, the weight of something being dragged across the floor of the bedroom behind me. Instinctively I turned to look—though of course I could see nothing but an empty room—and remembered I had left the shower running. My body was cold, chilled to the marrow. My instincts told me to run, to get out, but I had nowhere to go. For some reason, I can’t explain why, but I said aloud, “I’m sorry,” and then left the closet with the door open, my box of clothing still inside.
In the bathroom the water was just warm enough to shed my clothes and step in. Oh, how wonderful the water felt! I could’ve stayed in there for hours. I only had one bar soap, which I would have to use to wash my body as well as my hair. Tomorrow I’d pick up shampoo and conditioner at the market—the good one—across the park from the Manor. Finally the water reached a comfortable temperature and the shower room filled with steam. I washed the soap from my body, but I could not wash away the chill. I opened the shower door and stepped out onto the cold linoleum floor. The steam from the shower billowed out and into the clear bathroom where I saw my reflection in the mirror grow cloudy. As the steam rose and smothered away my reflection I saw the word hello drawn across the mirror.
Someone had written on it while the mirror was still dry so that the cryptic greeting only appeared when fogged, like drawing on a ice-covered window and then breathing on it to make the image appear like I did as a child before my parent’s scolded me for smudging the glass. Except this was in my bathroom, and no one should’ve been here but me. Despite the hot water still coating my naked body I shook. I wasn’t alone. I could feel it. Something in the musty, stale air, something that carried a disturbing weight of dread.
I reached for my towel and wrapped myself. The bathroom door to the living room was open and from my position I could clearly see the room was empty still, and when I looked to my left, into the bedroom I had no time to be frightened of the man that passed by the doorway.
He moved in a casual way taking no knowledge of me. His shape was of average build, and couldn’t have been no more than a few feet feet in distance, yet all I could see was a shroud of blackness, merely a black silhouette against the glaring yellow light.
My blood turned to ice and in my drunken, panicked state I slipped on the bathroom tile, but caught myself on the towel rack with my right hand. Intense pain like lightning shot through my hand and up my arm and I sprinted towards the front door. To the elevator I ran and mashed the key frantically while watching to see who may step out of my room, certain the man would be after me. Click, click, click! I smashed the button until the elevator arrived. I burst inside, and felt quite ridiculous and terrified at the lengthy ride to the first floor. The elevator creaked and shook as it normally did, and when it reached the bottom, before the elevator doors opened, I hid to the side in case whomever was in my apartment had intended to catch me once I reached the first floor. When I peaked out I saw no one. I went straight towards Bill’s apartment and banged hard on the door.
The adrenaline had sobered me up somewhat, just enough so that I regained the stability of my legs, and brought me to the realization that I was about to meet my manager while soaking wet and naked under a towel barely large enough to cover me. At least I wasn’t reeking of booze otherwise I was certain he’d view me as just a crazy drunkard. I pounded on the door even harder, crying out with tears down my puffy red cheeks until finally the door burst open and a furious-faced Bill glared down at me.
“What the f—” he started to say. Upon seeing my state of shock and vulnerability he was silenced and his rage and groggy eyes grew wide and bright with concern. “Jesus hell, girl, what’s wrong with you? Are you alright? You’re bleeding.”
I had no idea what he meant until I felt the sting on my foot where I had slipped on the splintered floors had left bloody footprints all the way to his door and my hand, caught by the towel rack, had smeared my towel with bright red blood. “There’s someone in my apartment!” I cried.
“I don’t know, I don’t fucking know, I didn’t stop to ask for his goddamned name! But I saw him, in my bedroom, and words on my mirror and—” I could say no more. My body was shaking too hard and my emotions were pouring out faster than my mouth could keep up. All I could do was shake and sob in front of him like an idiot. A frightened, blood-covered idiot.
“Alright, hold on. Stay right there, okay?”
As If I had a choice. My muscles had locked up so tight if he nudged me even the slightest I would’ve fallen on my face.
Bill reached around the door and retrieved a metal baseball bat. In the hem of his pajama bottoms he carried a gun. “We’ll take the elevator, but we could miss him on the stairs.” His voice was calm, yet firm and serious.
I saw that I had left my door open once we reached the fifth floor. I stood with my back against the wall in the living room as he searched each room of the apartment, looking in every closet, cupboard, and even in the refrigerator. “Minimalist, huh?” he said.
I said nothing, but my dour countenance was enough.
“I’ve looked everywhere. There’s no place he could be hidden. Whoever he was, he’s gone now.”
“Who is he?” I crossed my arms in front of my chest. Anger had begun to replace my fear.
“How could I possibly know?”
“Don’t lie to me!” I unfolded my arms and pointed them down, straight at my sides as I stormed into the bedroom and snatched the picture of the man with the holes burned through his eyes.
“This was the man I saw. Now tell me everything. What happened in my apartment? Sally’s dead isn’t she?” I maneuvered around him so that I blocked the only exit. Bill was probably double or even triple my body weight and could’ve moved me with a single breath, but if he dared to touch me I would scream and slap him with the biggest lawsuit the country had ever seen.
He let out a defeated sigh and began his story: “Cyclone Sally was a partier, I told you that. A real heavy one. She knew everyone in this town, all the club owners, every bar. She hung out with some real dirty scumbags. Never known her to cheat on her husband though. I didn’t really care fore the man myself, but who knows if she really did. Decent guy and all, but kind of neglectful of her. Really, I guess they were inconsiderate of each other. Real heavy into drugs. Mixing shit that I couldn’t even tell ya about. Real fucked up stuff. They had some vicious fights. Cops called, jail time, you name it. Don’t really know what happened the last night they were here. Don’t really think anyone does. Must’ve been on some bad shit ‘cause a real combat broke out between them. I mean, I guess they were slammin’ on each other, knocking each other senseless. Fuckin’ bath salt crazy-ass shit. Like that guy who chewed that homeless man’s face off. Not sure how it went down, like I said. All I could get from the police was about 2:30 in the morning it looked like she tried to gouge his eyes out and he shoved her right through the glass and out the window. He died of his injuries in the bedroom before the police arrived and, well, if splitting her body open on the concrete wouldn’t have killed her, the amount of alcohol and drugs in her system would’ve. Sally was a sweetheart when she was sober, but she was a deeply disturbed woman.”
I’m shivering. I can hardly make out what he’s saying. I was still drunk, and I was sure there was some shock in me too. I stand there unable to move, my breath stuck in my chest and I think I’m going to throw up in his doorstep.
“Haven’t been able to rent it yet.” Bill continued. “Just that one guy I told you about. Didn’t even stay the night. Ran out of here shitting his pants.”
I had began to cry again and my voice came out hoarse and weak. “Then why’d you rent it to me?”
“You seemed like a nice, well put together girl who just happened to fall into hard times. Most of us around here don’t have a lot of potential, or opportunities, but you looked like you did. And like you said, ‘it’s either this or the streets’ and you know I couldn’t let that happen. Not to you, not to anyone. I thought things would be different. I’d hoped for it.”
Tears swelled in my eyes and I sobbed even harder. I could barely see him through the wetness clouding my vision. I hated myself for putting myself in this position, and I hated Seth for letting me. I know it wasn’t his fault I fucked up, but I had been making progress, every day I was a little better, and he took that from me. No, there was no use blaming him, or anyone. Me. Just me. I hated myself more now than ever.
“Look, why don’t you go back to your room, get some clothes or whatever ya need. I’ll sleep on my couch tonight, you can take the bed.”
I looked at him with genuine gratitude, but I wondered of the innuendo behind his invitation. I had barely known this man a few days and already I was about to sleep in his apartment. A new fear rose in my gut, as I reminded myself that I was standing in front of him in my current state: cold, vulnerable, wet, and naked with only a towel barely covering myself. What did he expect from me in return? Suddenly it felt like my apartment was the safer place to be. Be this man’s whore for the night, or face the wrath of Cyclone Sally?
“Look, girl, you are welcome to go back to your own room if you like, but if you stay here, I promise I won’t try anything if you don’t.”
That was enough reassurance for me. “I’ll go grab some clothes and my toothbrush.”
“Have ya eaten?”
“I’ve just been snacking. Had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich about an hour ago.”
“I got some Velveeta shells and cheese with steak still warm on the stove, enough for you if you’d like.”
I smiled through my tears and glanced over his shoulder, only for a moment, as a loud crash came from the television speakers. There was a cartoonish zombie heaving behind a man with armor surrounded by fireballs. The commotion made him glance over his shoulder too, then back at me. “Don’t be concerned. He’s a level 60 warrior. Now go. Go get your things. I’ll leave the door open for ya.”
I thanked him and headed back to the elevator. He watched me from the doorway until the elevator closed.
In my room I rushed to grab my toothbrush and toothpaste from the medicine cabinet along with the bottle of Xanax. In the bedroom closet I dug around for a clean pair of pajamas, not worrying about what to wear for tomorrow. I’d come back, grab what I needed, and head to the library to find a new apartment in a new city away from all this, away from Seth, away from Cyclone Sally. I pulled out a pair of shorts and a tank top, along with a pair of underwear, and ignored the burnt out eyes staring up at me from the floor. I nearly dropped my towel with the intention to put on my pajamas before I went down, but my skin prickled just as it did when I heard that man whisper into my ear as I slept. The same feeling before I saw Sally’s husband in my bedroom.
No way was I changing here. I just wanted to get out of this apartment as fast as possible. I’ll worry about everything else when I get to Bill’s place.
I scooped the clothes in my arms and that’s when I heard it come from my living room. Music. 1980’s or 90’s, not a song I was familiar with. Not very loud, but not so quiet I had to strain to hear either: If we could find a space, where we could both stretch out, roll like Coney Island Cyclones, no I won’t chicken out.
My skin crawled like a million ants had covered my body.
. . . roll like Coney Island Cyclones, no I won’t chicken out, no I won’t chicken out. . .
There couldn’t have been any possible source for the music except the radio of my clock, which had been covered under the blanket during my mad drunken rampage through the apartment. Like a cyclone, I thought.
I kicked the blanket aside to reveal the clock and let out an astonished gasp and blades of ice filled my skin, sliced through my muscles, leaving me frozen solid. The red flashing 12:00, always 12:00, had changed to 2:29.
I felt the chill fall through me like a tidal wave starting from the top of my head rippling through my shoulders, down my back and into my numbing legs.
“about 2:30 . . .she gouged his eyes out. . .he threw her out the window. . .”
The song grew louder and I felt as if my head was about to explode. I wanted to scream, I tried to scream, but only emitted a pathetic croak. I watched the clock change again. 2:29 to 2:30. This time I did. A weak cry, but a cry no less. A knock erupted from the front door that shook me from my daze.
I turned and had no time to scream. No time to breathe. Before me, standing at my height and inches away from her foul, rotten breath, was Cyclone Sally. She looked just as I pictured her in her sleek dress and groomed hair, except the dead woman before me had a body broken and twisted in unnatural angles, angles in places bones do not bend and had broken through her ripped skin. Her face had been smashed, her nose pressed inward and torn to the right, her skull cracked open like a smashed autumn gourd revealing muscle tissues and white bone and the gray matter of her ruptured brain. Her burst, protruding eyes, one pushed unnaturally to the right, the other straight forward, focused on me. In them I saw something darker than any human had ever seen. A bizarre sickness, an inky, oily, swirl of wild rage, darker than death itself. Her arms outstretched she rushed at me with an unnatural strength. Everything in my arms fell across the floor as I was thrown back. I was certain my ribs were broken and I felt the window shatter as my body was pushed through it. Shards shredded my skin, dug into my skull, sliced open my arm, sliced into my spine, and then I was falling.
Glittering in the dark night, illuminated by the strange bluish glow of the street light, the glass sparkled as it fell around me, with me. My towel unraveled and I saw it all as if in slow motion, my towel floating above me. Just before I struck the pavement, my organs bursting, my head smashing open and splattering across the alley, I saw him, the man with the gouged out eyes, Sally’s husband, looking down at me from the bedroom window with a sad, failed expression on his handsome face.
Now a sneak preview of Evilution by L.K. Scott available on Kindle, Shakespir, and Wattpad.
Travis Pates felt responsible for the end of the world—he never should’ve gone out for hot cocoa.
The morning the world took the first of its last breath a dense, silvery fine-grain mist flowed into the valley and coated the roads, slick with relentless rain. From the passenger seat of Rebecca’s Honda, Travis gazed first at the solemn rain against his window before noticing the man stepping blindly into the intersection. Speeding upon the Honda’s right side came a logging truck and just before it sped through the intersection, causing Rebecca in the driver’s seat to scream, the old man drew back against the hedge, held the coffee cup against his chest, and winced at the grinding shriek as it clanked passed in haste down the glassy highway and into the distance. Behind Rebecca’s little blue Honda, Travis watched with raised flesh, the black Chevrolet truck with lifted tires rumble almost kissing her bumper. In the side mirror, through the rain, Travis read: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.
Age was a difficult code to decipher in Bridgeport where the laborious industries of mining, lumber, and welding exponentially aged boys so that they were mistaken for middle-aged men with bloodshot eyes, craggy hair on their chins, and skin like beaten silver. The driver wore the serious expression discontent teenagers donned so well. Travis looked away from the pickup and forward through the windshield. “Dumbass kids. They think they can just live forever.” The rain came hard against the car and for a moment between them there was silence. Rebecca placed a gentle hand on upon his knee, her smile unwavering. Her carefree spirit was the trait he admired most about her. When it rained, she endeavored to dance in it. When the power failed during a spring’s storm, she romanced him over a novel by candlelight, and when some dumb ass kid nearly ran into them, her expression revealed a motherly forgiveness.
“No one lives forever,” Rebecca said. “And if they do, they are probably the kind of people who shouldn’t.”
Travis didn’t quite understand entirely what she had meant, but because she was smiling, that sweet, heart-warming smile, he smiled with her. Her hand warmed his leg beneath his fleece pajamas. The crosswalk sign changed. Pedestrians hurried across. At the front, a woman pushed a purple stroller. Once cleared, the crosswalk sign turned again and Rebecca guided the Honda into the grocery parking lot. The front of Safeway bustled with shoppers. Few appeared affected by the rain.
Tourists were easy to spot. They were the ones carrying umbrellas. Travis and Rebecca, like all locals, were stubborn to use them. They’d rather get wet than look incapable of coping with a bit of rain. A little rain never hurt anybody.
Without checking for traffic, a pedestrian stepped into the row. Rebecca barely had time to break as the car screeched to a halt. The woman in front shot Rebecca a nasty look, the word cunt written all over her face. Rebecca mouthed an apology, Travis gestured with his right hand.
“Stupid asses think they can live forever. Don’t know how they live as long as they do.”
Rebecca returned her hand to his knee and said nothing. The woman continued her ignorant strides as he watched in disapproval.
“Pedestrians do have the right of way, sweetie.” Her tone was soft and meek.
Travis replied masking the contempt in his voice with a lightness that made him sound less critical than he meant.
“Right of ways aren’t magical invisible walls that protect pedestrians from getting killed.” “If she lived she could sue us.” “Then you better hit ‘em hard,” he replied.
Rebecca laughed. It was a light and chirpy, dainty laugh that made Travis grin. He used the sleeve of his sweater to wipe the condensation from the window.
“Pedestrians don’t actually have the right of way. They have an equal responsibility as drivers. If a pedestrian illegally crosses a street or steps into a crosswalk while cars are whipping by and was struck, he or she is held responsible. Not the driver.”
Rebecca nodded, but said nothing. She slowed the Honda to make room for the Subaru backing out of a space. Instead of bringing the car into the parking space, her eyes remained fastened to her rear-view mirror. A thoughtful expression passed over her. Travis turned to see Rebecca looking at the driver of the Ford Taurus behind. An old woman sat eye-level of the steering wheel. Her hair, curly and white, pinned down by a cheap silk flower dotted with golden glitter glue. Even from the passenger seat, Travis could see the cake makeup of all the wrong colors on her face. Beneath her caked eye shadow, she squinted in search of a parking space in the crowded lot. Travis felt Rebecca’s eyes on him, a begging expression on her face.
“If I walked through the rain, would you walk beside me?”
He placed his hand on hers, and the parking space remained vacant for the old woman and her Sunday best. “What kind of person would I be if I made her walk in the rain?”
“Well, sweetie,” Rebecca said. “That would make you an asshole.” Rebecca laughed again, that same high chirp that made him smile once more.
She swung the car around but had to wait again when a shopping cart filled with groceries caught the rain-drenched wind and escaped the grasp from a chubby man in a wet t-shirt and mud-stained overalls. The cart gained momentum as it rolled across the parking lot towards an approaching car, and moments before impact the chubby man grabbed it. The man offered an apologetic wave to the driver who wore an expression of great relief, followed by a shake of annoyance.
As they circled down the last aisle and headed towards the exit, Travis noted the girl scout peddling cookies in the covered area at the entrance while her mother rang a bell like a charity Santa. Rebecca loved those terrible high-fructose corn syrup cookies, but always resisted for healthier alternatives. Instead, she’d always donate money equivalent the price of two boxes and never take a single cookie for herself. Girl Scouts were a corporation, she believed, and she would not support a corporation if she didn’t have to, but she could not say no to a child. Rebecca spotted the cookie girl just as a frumpy middle-aged woman with wiry brown hair toting her sopping miniature poodle handed over a large stack of bills in exchange for several Samoa boxes. Rebecca grinned, practically beamed, which delightfully unnerved him.
“Oh God, what are you thinking?” asked Travis. Rebecca’s grin widened. “Will I need to not be sober for this?”
Rebecca was ready to burst with laughter. Here it comes, Travis thought.
Rebecca looked at him, her eyes flashing. “What do you call a frozen dog?”
Travis shook his head. “Please don’t.”
“A pupsicle!” Rebecca replied, and then laughed—a dorky wail of laughter with shoulders dancing. He lowered his face into his hands wishing he could un-hear what he just heard.
“Is it too late for a divorce?” he asked.
“I bet his name is Frost,” she said.
Travis shook his head. “No. No. Please. I’m not doing this anymore, Rebecca. Seriously.”
“Because, Frost bites.” Rebecca burst out laughing and Travis groaned.
“I quit. I’m done. Let me out of the car.”
Travis pretended to open the door and jump for his life and their laughter continued until they finally exited the lot.
Available parallel parking spaces lined the streets of the residential area behind the grocery outlet with ample room along the sidewalk. Somewhere nearby came the sound of screeching tires on wet pavement and the honking of horns.
“Ready to get wet?” Rebecca asked.
Travis grinned perversely.
“We’ve got all day for that,” Rebecca replied. She reached for the door handle but then paused when she saw him staring at her, consuming her with his eyes. Her damp, strawberry blonde hair fell across her cheek. Beneath her rain coat, she wore only a diaphanous white spaghetti strap shirt that clung to her breasts, her nipples hard from the chill. Between them the silver locket he gave her as an anniversary gift dangled in the clefts of her skin. He could’ve taken her right there with the lust and passion he felt as a teenager. Her sage colored eyes revealed she wanted it to, but their desires were left wanting in long, open mouthed kisses that fogged the windows.
A frigid wet air sucked the heat out of the truck once Rebecca opened the door. Travis pulled up the zipper of his coat.
“I had a list somewhere,” Rebecca said when she eased herself from the car. “Just a few items. Those salt and vinegar chips you like and some onion dip and of course we need hot cocoa—”
A shining dark flash reflected in the side mirror. He had no time to process. Because in that instant, five thousand six hundred pounds of metal speeding forty miles an hour swiped the side of Rebecca’s Honda and, in a shrieking metallic roar she was gone, along with the door, followed by the crunching sound as his body slammed into the dashboard.
Sheets soiled by muddy boots and cargo pants from the day before wrapped around his waist as he reached above for the bottle of Four Roses on the nightstand, its contents dwindling as the soundless night exploded into a fiery dawn. Naked and chilled on the floor, he had at some point in the night pulled the blankets and pillows off the bed. He hoisted his achy body to a sitting position and felt the sting of dried blood crusted over split knuckles and when he rushed to the bathroom he found more vomit around the toilette rather than in. When he finished urinating into the putrid bile, angry pain hammered into his brain like a railroad spike cured by a gargle of water and two Scotch backs.
When he returned a line of daylight cut between the curtains and sliced through the dark haze of his bedroom, down the center of his face and chest. He shielded his eyes with his hand and stared into the hostile dawn before leaning back into the mattress. Through the empty liquor bottle on the nightstand Rebecca smiled at him from the photograph. These days her smile looked sad. Travis shut his eyes and waited for the pain to subside, but it never did. It never will.
It is a universal truth widely acknowledged that a man suffering the loss of his departed wife should wish above all else to have her safely returned. The world is different now than it used to be. People were still hit by cars, struck by lightning, dying of cancer and though the life was gone, the soul continues to suffer.
Rebecca was a slender and simple beauty, and genuinely kind with a passion for the wild outdoor as a country girl should. She possessed the skill of a talented abstract painter that he only came to appreciate when it was too late—after he had found the red crayon that had once saved them from the bitter cold of a last winter’s night. It had somehow made its way from her desk onto the cement floor. She had many red crayons but he knew this one in particular for it had been melted to a small numb, the paper burnt to black.
It was neither a bus nor lightning that killed Rebecca Pates, but a black 2000 Chevrolet Suburban driven by a college sophomore girl who had been looking at her phone instead of the road.
Janice Stanford, a self-infatuated twat 23 years of age from Shoreline College near Seattle was trying to get directions to her friend Margo’s place where they planned to spend the week on a group project. Janice repeated to the courtroom that she had ‘only looked at her phone for a second.’ Travis was baffled and offended by the stupid girl’s comprehension that only a second was still only a second too long. Travis wondered how such a likable, pretty and intelligent girl could still be so dumb and irresponsible without any regard to her actions. A mere slap on the wrist and Janice Stanford was sentenced to community service on the weekends to avoid disrupting her class schedule. Travis doubted she ever thought about the suffering and pain she’d caused him or Rebecca’s family. It’s in the past, it’s over and done with, can’t change it so no use worrying about it anymore. Janice Stanford never apologized, and she never took responsibility for what she did. He knew she didn’t really deep down believe it was her fault Rebecca was dead and would complain to her friends that the sentence was unfair. Kids today never accepted responsibility. Never knew when to accept they did something wrong, never knew how to apologize unless it was court-ordered. Travis never received closure. To Janice it was an accident, to Travis, it was negligence. The only woman he ever truly loved, the woman who made him whole, was murdered by a girl who still didn’t think she ever did anything wrong, and her lenient sentence was the salt in the wound. It made him feel as if neither the courts or Janice felt the grave weight of the many lives that were ruined, that her being on the cell phone as she drove over the broken body of his wife was no big deal.
It took days for the soreness in his back and neck to subside once he was released from the hospital, and a couple more weeks for the scrapes and bruises and broken bones to heal. He’d fractured a rib and collar bone which still caused him a fair amount of discomfort two months later, and he could still feel the line where his nose had broken across the bridge, but the worst wounds were the ones in his heart that would never heal. He’d live with that pain until the day he’d die, which he begged would come every day.
Medical bills lay on the counter, none that he could afford, and insurance refused to deliver what they owed.
Insurance companies were only good until you needed them, Travis thought bitterly. He took a mouthful of bourbon straight from the backup stash from the old steamer trunk at the foot of his bed.
Moving to the kitchen with the bottle in hand he noticed in the cupboards, above a counter littered with pizza boxes and a pungent dish collection, was a hole the size of a fist that wasn’t there the night before.
He chased the second gulp of bourbon with a tall glass of cold tap water that tasted strongly of iron reminding him of blood and, by the time he stepped into the shower, the queasiness had subsided—replaced by the slightest morning buzz.
For how long he stood staring into oblivion as the hot water steamed the air, he did not know, but he kept the bottle in his fist against his bare leg, covering the neck with his thumb to keep the nectar from being diluted, and took a drink whenever he needed, and eventually he placed his arm against the wall, beneath the showerhead, and stared down at his lonely, naked self, and the bottle which slowly drained as the minutes turned to hours.
When the water ran cold, he placed the bottle on the tank of the toilette and wrapped the towel around his waist. At the medicine cabinet, he stood to rub ointment over the cracked skin of his knuckles and then dressed in a clean set of cargo pants, a T-shirt with the acronym C.E.R.T. printed on the left breast and, just below, a name patch that read Travis. With twenty minutes to spare before his shift started, he reached for the radio transmitter in the duffel bag against the wall.
Fortunately for him, he was just on call which today meant he could stay home and listen to dispatch through the scanner while watching the Canucks game on television instead of going directly to headquarters. On previous days where he was on call, he carefully balanced sobriety and drunkenness with a steady buzz. Most of the time.
In the kitchen, he placed the radio transmitter on top of a stack of unopened mail between two plastic cups and a wilting spider plant before tuning the transmitter to the local frequency.
By one o’clock dispatch had reported a fender bender at county line and a half-hour later came the call of a young male hitchhiker, approximately 16 years of age who was spotted wandering down the shoulder of a highway. By two o’clock the sun had been swallowed by ominous gray clouds and a light spring rain began to sprinkle over the trees. Travis stood at the kitchen window with a cup of black coffee and another glass of water, his concerned expression in the window reflected back. A crack of thunder echoed in the distant mountains.
That was the thing about the weather in the Pacific Northwest. It was unpredictable and go from sunny and warm to a thundering downpour in minutes. On a hot July morning a few years back Rebecca had just finished hanging the laundry out back in their yard when the sky grew dark and hazy. The temperature had plummeted from seventy-six degrees to a frigid thirty-four in a matter of minutes. Before she could get the laundry off the wire, snowflakes billowed from the sky. Not just a little flurry either, but great big snowflakes the size of tea plates. Got an inch in twenty minutes. Mid-fucking-July. At the time Travis had been standing at the living room window which faced out to the porch and looked across the yard to Rebecca laughing at the sky with beautiful and wide pale eyes like a winter-blooming orchid. Travis enjoyed her care-free spirit. If it had been him caught in the storm, the laundry ruined, he would’ve cursed up a storm and kicked the side of the house. But not Rebecca. She danced and twirled with her arms stretched wide, an enchanting beauty.
After taking a sip from his coffee mug, he blew a breath of hot air against the window causing it to fog. At the moment she looked his way and spotted him through the window, he used his index finger to draw in the condensation a heart. Rebecca gushed and returned with a kiss. She withdrew the last piece of clothing, placed it into the laundry basket and lightly skipped up the steps. She let the basket fall to her feet at the top, shielded by the overhanging roof. Snowflakes clung to her strawberry blonde hair as it loosened from its tangled bun and her sun dress flared up showing off her silky thighs and the pastel pink panties she wore beneath. She reached for him to join her, guided him off the porch, and then, while she twirled and danced gracefully in the snow, he stood there like a damn fool—like he was back at his first school dance where he was just a shy little boy in front of the sexiest goddam woman he had ever known. Oh God, how he missed her.
A thundering crack jolted him from his colorful memory back into his bleak, dreary world. The thunder came close, followed by another brilliant flash of lightning. That’s when all hell broke loose.
From dispatch came a series of codes followed by a brief description of the situation. Lightning strikes blew out a power transformer, a chimney fire occurred on Gold Creek Loop, multiple car accidents on the main highway at the edge of town, a tree fell across Silke Road, and a toppled fence, blown over from the wind, allowed cows to escape a pasture. But it was the final alert that concerned him the most and he jumped into action. Flooding on Country Homes Drive, a residential district near the Middle School that was prone to flooding from the creek that snaked through campus, beneath the bridge, and into a low-lying residential area inhabited mostly by the elderly. He was certain the others could handle it, but if one of his teammates were swept away by the currents—or God forbid something happened to those children—he would never forgive himself.
The summer with his wife faded from Travis’s mind as he sprinted from the house with his duffel bag and into the storm.
At any moment the people of Country Homes Drive could be buried under a mudslide and Travis was stuck in traffic. Dispatch continued to shout emergency codes through the scanner now resting on his dashboard but the team leader, Travis’s boss, instructed differently.
“False alarm, Pates. Country Homes is in good shape, no need to respond.”
“Uh, yes, sir,” Travis said, hesitantly, but he did not release the transmitter from his hand. He peered up and out through the fogging windshield as the rain bulleted to earth. Winds rocked the truck. “You know what, it’s really coming down over here still. I’m already in my truck and my gear’s all packed up. Least I can swing around, see how it’s lookin’ over there.”
The reply was immediate.
“No need. Got the reports from the station, this should all blow over in a few minutes. Why don’t you have a look around your area—report any obstructions over the road—down power lines or trees, whatever you got. McFarlane lost some of his cattle in your area so keep a close eye out.”
Then Captain Danko added: “When you’re done come down to the station.”
“Sure thing,” Travis replied. He sat the radio transmitter on top of his duffel bag that sat in the passenger seat. As he put the truck in gear he couldn’t help wonder why he would be needed down at the station today. Something in Danko’s tone filled him with anxiety, like a child being called to the principal’s office.
Was it possible the captain knew Travis had been drinking? Had Travis’s words come out slurred and frivolous? He hadn’t had that much to drink. Not any more than usual at least. Though he managed to convince himself that it was impossible for his boss to know, the feeling of dread remained with him long after he pulled his little truck out on the highway.
Bridgeport was a small town, or some would consider it small, with a population just under 8,000 people, most of whom lived in the rural mountainsides, thirty and even forty miles from the city limits.
Towns were hours apart in the Olympic Peninsula, so if you ever drove through on your way to visit Forks or Hurricane Ridge you’ll want to gas up at the first opportunity.
Nestled approximately 1,000 feet above sea level, Bridgeport was one of the largest towns just off the coast enclosed by enormous silvery mountains with jagged peaks that remain snow-capped nine months out of the year. The town was barely a mile and a half in length and just under a mile wide with only stop light at the Main and Third intersection around the corner from the police station. Inside the two-story cement building was about a dozen offices. The local police worked downstairs and Travis along with the other C.E.R.T. members worked in their own special forces office upstairs. On a normal day some officers would be at their desks, rustling paperwork, discussing sports or rolling their eyes about some drunken misconduct issue from the weekend, but today the office was silent except for the receptionist’s clicking on the keyboard.
The receptionist’s age was impossible to tell. She could’ve been seventeen or thirty-seven and spoke in a nasal voice. A friendly girl, she would’ve appealed to more men if she hadn’t always donned bulky sweaters and unflattering dresses from the late 1980’s. Although kind and delightfully simple, she had the misfortunate of being named Fannie Wetter and had most likely suffered terribly for it. Though how anyone could be mean to a woman like her, Travis didn’t know.
“Lots of weather we’re having today, Travis. I made a thermos of hot cocoa in the break room. I even got little marshmallows.” Fannie rose to her feet when Travis approached. Truth was, he hadn’t had a sip of cocoa since before Rebecca’s death. Fannie continued, “I like the big marshmallows too but they take up too much room in the mug and it makes it hard to drink out of, but then if you wait too long you’ll have to eat it with a spoon because it melts, so I thought the little marshmallows would be better.” She smiled more with her eyes than her mouth.
“Sounds delicious, Fannie, thank you.” Travis wondered if he could sneak in some rum. He was coming down off his buzz and it would’ve made for a softer landing. He gestured to the empty office desks behind him. “Am I late for a meeting?”
Fannie gave him a curious look. “Didn’t you hear? Appleseed Creek flooded this morning so Captain Danko dispatched the team.”
“I thought Danko called off the alert. Said it was a false alarm.”
“Why would he tell you that?” Fannie asked.
Travis tapped his keys twice on the counter and said, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.”
The clouds had grown darker, black in the distance, and cloaking the mountains in rain and fog. Directly above a break opened wide enough let the sunlight through. Travis slipped on his sunglasses as he pulled out of the parking lot and headed up Main Street. A strong glare on the road reflected into the cab until he turned right on Country Homes Drive. The houses on this street were mostly 1930’s American Bungalow style each as similar in color and décor of littlest variation. Around the first corner, and a swerve to the left, he spotted the other C.E.R.T. vehicles parked horizontally across the street acting as a barricade from outside traffic. The water level had risen high enough that it spilled over the road by a foot and filled the ditch on the other side which ran past the school and entered a drain pipe.
The man standing amidst the hustling response team was Captain Danko, a former marine, chiseled and clean-cut man in his early fifties, shorter than Travis by nearly a head and powerful arms that could snap a beast in half, and possessed frighteningly intelligent eyes. He was pointing to one of the Charlie members carrying a sandbag and instructed him to drop it at his feet. The response team worked in syncopation, moving like cogs in a machine. Travis approached Captain Danko.
“I thought I told you to stay in your area,” Danko snapped.
“Everything was fine out there, you knew it was. Why’d you tell me this was a false alarm?” Travis knew the answer, but he wanted Danko to come out and say it. Tell him he didn’t want Travis there.
“We’ll talk about it later in my office. Until then go home.”
“These people need help; the creek is rising. Those sandbags are going to do a damn thing but give false hope to those families in those homes.” Water dripped from Travis’s face and he trembled unsure if it was from the cold, frustration, or withdraws.
“Pates, we got it. Rain won’t keep much longer and that hill isn’t going anywhere. Martha’s complaining that her new carpets got a little wet and Randy, you know the guy who owns that wood shop place on 3rd, got an apple tree across the hood of his beater truck but that’s about it.”
Travis shot him a look that told him he wasn’t going anywhere until he got some answers.
“Alright,” Danko finally said after some time. The sunlight was breaking through the clouds and, facing Travis, Danko squinted. “Some of the guys are worried about you. Hell, I’m worried about you and I know you can take care of yourself. You’re one stubborn ass, I’ll give you that. But going through the shit you’re going through now, it’s no wonder you’ve been a little off at work. No one expected you to come back so soon.”
“Is that what this is about? You guys think I don’t got your backs? I’ll tell you what I could protect this town a hell of a lot better than any of these guys. I’ve lived here my whole life—these people, they’re my babysitters, my teachers, my first fuck. These people I knew my whole life and no one on this team cares about this town like I do.” The strain in his voice caught the attention of the other team members. Some had been watching over their shoulders as they piled up sandbags and shoveled away mud. Danko was quick to respond with equal bravado.
“Jesus Christ, Pates, you lost your wife. Hell, if it were me I probably would’ve put a Glock to my head by now. We all loved Rebecca, she was a wonderful lady, but you need time to get yourself sorted out. She wouldn’t have wanted this for you.”
“I don’t need a break,” Travis quietly growled, trying to appear calm. Others were blatantly staring now. Losing composure in front of them would give them further reason to distrust him.
Danko took a step closer, nose-to-nose now. Well, Travis’s nose to Danko’s forehead since he was nearly a head taller. Danko had to peer up to look at him when they spoke, but that didn’t make the man any less threatening. It was power that made a man intimidating, not height.
“You’re drinking. You’ve been showing up to work shit faced. I can’t risk putting my men or this town’s safety in your hands while you’re drinking your life away.”
“I’m not shit f—”
Danko cut him off. “There’s bourbon on your breath and it smells cheap. Go home, take a few days off, get yourself cleaned up, talk to one of our counselors if you need to.” He took a deep breath. “The fact is I’m not going to be around forever, I got retirement coming up in a few years and these guys are going to need a new captain. I want to see you in that desk, but if you don’t pull yourself together it’ll belong to someone else.”
“You think I could be captain?”
“You’ll never know until you get your shit together. Listen here, Pate. I’m worried about ya, we all are. You’ve been like a brother to me and I don’t want to see you piss your life away. What would Rebecca think?”
Danko placed a caring hand on Travis’s shoulder, but Travis yanked it away. Danko expressed the slightest offense in the squinting of his eyes. “Go home, Travis. Take a few days off.”
“I told you I don’t need a break,” Travis replied.
“And I told you, you do. That’s an order.”
Travis glared at Danko. No use arguing any longer. Not at the risk of getting fired. In his peripheral vision, he noticed his team members had stopped hauling sandbags and were now standing at the tailgate of the nearest C.E.R.T. truck. Defeated, Travis went back to his Toyota and after a brief stop at the liquor store, he headed home to grieve.
The knock on the door came as an unpleasant surprise. It was quite disrespectful to interrupt a man mourning his late wife and half-drowning in a bottle of scotch. The young man on the front porch appeared no older than twenty-five, dressed neatly in a black business suit, well-built and spoke formally, without the slight hint of expression.
“Mr. Travis Pates, my sincerest condolences to you and your family. I know that nothing can take away the grief you must be feeling, but I hope this eases your troubles if only just a little.” He held out an envelope.
“What is this?” Travis grunted.
“You and your late wife’s generosity towards the community haven’t gone unnoticed. The company I work for wishes to send their deepest regrets and hopes that this will ease your troubles.”
Travis took the envelope. “How do you know my wife?”
“I regretfully have never met your wife personally. My employers said she was a generous investor.”
“Investor? We didn’t have any money, in case you haven’t noticed the house your standing in front of.”
“You have a beautiful home, Mr. Pates.”
“Yeah, it’s the fucking Ritz.” Travis took the envelope and the man nodded.
“Goodbye, Mr. Pates.”
Travis shut the door without a word. He took the envelope with him into the kitchen and sat down at the table with his drink in front of him then tore it open.
Inside was a simple spreadsheet listing the names of businesses all relating to Rebecca. Funeral arrangements, medical bills, even his antibiotics after the accident—all paid for by Omni Tech, a company Travis had never heard of until now.
How much had she invested? Was she wealthier than Travis realized? Why didn’t she tell him? The questions whirled in his head. Rebecca was a wonderful lady, a loving wife, and daughter, but neither of them was special with a profound impact on anyone outside of Bridgeport. At least that’s what he believed, but she must’ve been keeping something from him, why else would this company pay all their medical bills? What was his wife hiding?
He felt reluctant to be grateful towards their generosity, but knowing they had been provided for was a significant release of financial burden.
The days leading up to the funeral came and went like a haze with no clear memories at all. Before the accident, he drank his Scotch in moderation, usually in the living room beside Rebecca who spent her evenings sketching in her notebook. Afterward, he’d finish his glass and rinse it in the sink before leaving it on a towel to dry. During those dreamlike days and lonely evenings afterward, he sat at the kitchen table and, unsure of what to do with himself alone in the quite house, dishes piling in the sink and a wretched odor rising from the garbage, he had polished off the entire bottle by nearly six o’clock and was ready to open another. He didn’t care about alcohol poisoning and figured if he happened to drink himself to death, then so be it.
Travis and Rebecca’s family juggled finances and responsibilities for the arrangements. Dying was expensive and Bridgeport was poor. Her father, Alan Johnson, was as torn up about her death as Travis, and for a short while, Rebecca’s mother was practically catatonic. It was Rebecca’s younger sister, Shiloh, who stepped in and kept correspondence with the paramedics, dealt with the medical examiner and the grim responsibilities at the funeral parlor. Travis had spent the morning vomiting when he learned it would be a closed casket ceremony. He didn’t need to ask why, his imagination was an asshole, and when he couldn’t prevent the gruesome image of his loving, cheerful wife in a broken, dismembered heap of meat and bloody flesh, he ran to the back porch and purged all over the steps and into the grass. There hadn’t been any solid food in his stomach for days, just liquor, so it burned like hell and he wondered how he hadn’t yet died of alcohol poisoning.
He lost nearly fifteen pounds in ten days from consuming only alcohol and hardly anything but. Death had taken away his wife and his appetite. Now he only thirsted for bourbon.
Travis was shit faced when some of the boys on his team showed up with six pizzas and two grocery bags filled with expensive liquors and two more cases of beer three days after the funeral. He hadn’t eaten a meal in a week by then and still the thought of food made him want to wretch. The house was a disgusting mess and the overfilled garbage can spilled its contents on the floor, which wasn’t much more than paper towels, leftovers from the last meal he and Rebecca ate, and about a dozen empty bottles of bourbon. They had taken out the garbage almost immediately for him, turned the television onto the hockey game, Travis didn’t remember who was playing at the time, but Travis and his colleagues pounded the drinks and smoked cigars until the early morning hours. It was just before sunset when a couple of the guys found him in a crying fit and puking over the backyard railing. He couldn’t remember who had rubbed his back until there was nothing more to puke up, but almost immediately he felt soberer, which wasn’t a good feeling at the time. The drinking allowed him to expunge his emotions, a cathartic experience. Nathan Andrews, a tall and lanky bearded man—the Charlie’s explosive expert with long, narrow fingers tossed him a beer which Travis used to rinse out his mouth. He gargled and spat several times and chugged the last half of the beer. Nathan passed him another one.
Santiago Delgado, the Bravo’s communications expert, an immigrant from Argentina offered each of them fine cigars. Lean-faced with thick, well-groomed dark stubble and straight eyebrows over eyes that glowed a wolf-like yellow, Santiago looked like a centerfold model and was the source of distraction for the female officers, two of the males, and envy from everyone else.
As they smoked cigars they raised their beers in Rebecca’s memory. It was a sight to see, a bunch of drunk military men, some half-naked and fully hammered, bawling their eyes out in each other’s arms.
“When you’re hurting, we’re all hurting,” Santiago told him. The other men tipped their glasses again.
The rest of the night was spent in high spirits, laughing and sharing their favorite stories about Rebecca. Jonah Sedgewick, the chief medical officer for the Bravo team was an attractive short man, about the same height as Danko, and weighed no more than one hundred and forty pounds, practically just bones and skin with intricate and faded tattoos over his arms, chest, back and some on his legs. He looked like a hipster with his goatee and a handlebar mustache and a curly crop of hair neatly greased and parted at the side. He told his favorite story about Rebecca with the slightest hint of a northwest country accent, a beer in one hand, his dick of enviable size in the other as he urinated over a fern in the back yard, and a burning cigar wedged between his lips.
It was at the air show festival in Aberdeen back when Travis and Rebecca were still considered newlyweds. Jonah and a former Alpha member were the two pilots offering sky tours in the helicopter for four hundred dollars and Rebecca must’ve looked pretty official in her own jeans and camo shirt because, as she was chatting with Jonah, a father and his two sons approached them and proceeded to ask them when they planned on taking off. Before Jonah had a chance to explain that Rebecca wasn’t a pilot she quickly answered, “That depends on Pilot number 2 right here”—gesturing to Jonah— “as he blacked out last time and it appears that his heart condition is worsening.”
Travis didn’t get a chance to see the expression on the father’s face but from the stories they shared later he was sorry to have missed it.
“Should he even be flying with his heart condition?” the father of the two boys asked.
Without even a smile, and completely serious, Rebecca explained that the rapid decent engages the reverse rotor system and brings the craft relatively safely to the ground. At the very worst passengers may experience back injuries.
This was about the time that Travis had tuned in to their conversation and couldn’t help but to grin. He was aware Rebecca had a strange sense of humor, and her delivery made it even better.
The father of the two boys had his mouth open and his eyes darted from side to side in disbelief at their blasé demeanor. He then yanked the kids away yelling at her over his shoulder, threatening to get the police involved. To say the least, he was a little irate and when he was out of sight, they burst into laughter.
Eventually, things settled down around three in the morning and Santiago had passed out drunk and naked on the couch, Travis in very much the same state except in the bathtub, while Jonah and a couple of the other guys piled in the bed. When they had all left later that day the empty feeling which had briefly dissipated in the company of his friends had returned, and the leftover bottles of liquor and cans of beer were his only company. That was the night the nightmares came.
That concludes the sneak preview of Evilution! To read the full novel, visit L.K. Scott’s page on Shakespir, Amazon, or Wattpad!
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Works by L.K. SCOTT
She Tried the Window
Murder After Sunset
The Spider and the Fly
3 Minutes to Midnight (Coming Soon)
My head felt as if it had been cracked open, my eyeballs pushing themselves out of their sockets. I had woken up on the coarse wooden floors. I wish I hadn’t woken up at all. The quiet residents of Langham Manor had never indicated their presence through sight nor evidence of sound. I could have been the only tenant, though sometimes I heard a slight scratching and assumed a pigeon had perched itself upon my window. I don’t know if any of that made me feel better or worse. I couldn’t possibly feel more alone. Until I found the photograph in my closet. Someone had burned holes through where his eyes would've been. I knew who did it. The crazy bitch known as Cyclone Sally who had died in my apartment before I moved in. The problem is, she never left. And now she wants me out, except I have nowhere else to go. Not all our mistakes can be forgiven, especially when they are repeated and promises are broken. A broken life is a nightmare and I wish I could wake up. I know I've done some things wrong, but I can't remember what they were. All I know is they cannot be put right. Welcome to apartment 503, my home, my nightmare.