DEAD MAN’S CHAIR
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Copyright © 2016 K.A. Bettes
Case Publishing, USA
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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The old man at the bar reeked of bourbon and sweat. His gray hair was long, his beard even longer. Both were equally unkempt. Adam Davis watched as the man raised the glass to his lips and downed what was left of the drink. He then set the empty glass on the bar and asked for another.
“What did you say?” Adam asked. He’d heard the man clearly enough, but he couldn’t wrap his mind around the words.
“I said your girlfriend’s gonna die.” The old man didn’t even look at Adam as he spoke. He just sat there, watching as the bartender poured him another drink.
“How do you know that?”
“She’s sitting in Barnaby’s chair.”
“Barnaby’s chair?” Adam looked around the room and found his girlfriend Anna sitting in a chair in the front left corner of the bar. The chair looked like all the others. Old. Wooden. Worn. “Who the hell is Barnaby?” Adam scanned the room, studying the other patrons, looking for anyone who might be upset that their chair was currently occupied by a gorgeous, petite brunette named Anna.
“Where is he? I don’t see him. Is he the guy over there shooting pool?”
The old man laughed. “No, he ain’t in here.”
“Then how could he be upset about a chair.”
The old man swallowed a mouthful of bourbon before turning his head to look at Adam. “Barnaby Black is dead. And that’s his chair.”
It was at Anna’s suggestion that the two had stopped in to the bar for a drink. It was a place called Spades that neither of them had ever been to before. Adam told her to grab them a table while he went up to the bar for a couple of drinks. He was now wishing they’d gone somewhere else.
“Well if he’s dead, it isn’t exactly his chair anymore, is it?”
The old man laughed again, a coarse laugh that ended with a cough. “You’d think that, wouldn’t ya?”
“You’re not making any sense.” Adam dismissed the old drunk. He picked up the two cold bottles of brew from the bar and turned, planning to take the beers over to Anna and pretend the old man had never said a word. But the man grabbed Adam’s forearm and grew serious.
“Your girlfriend is doomed. She’s gonna die. She should’ve never sat in that chair.”
Adam jerked his arm free of the old man’s grasp and walked across the bar to where Anna sat waiting. He handed her one of the bottles of beer before sitting in the chair next to her. She must’ve been able to read his face, where the confusion was written in his creased brow and squinted eyes.
“What is it?” she asked. “What’s wrong?”
Glancing at the old man, Adam said, “Nothing. Just a rambling drunk at the bar.”
“What did he say?”
Adam shook his head. “Nothing you need to worry about.”
“Well it must’ve been something to have you so worried. What was it?”
Seeing that she wasn’t going to let the matter drop, Adam gave in and said, “He was just saying that you shouldn’t have sat in that chair. Apparently it belongs to some guy who’s not even here. Isn’t that stupid?”
Adam took a long pull from the bottle of beer. Then he noticed that Anna hadn’t laughed off the matter as he thought she would. She hadn’t said a word, in fact. When Adam lowered the bottle, he saw the concern on her face. She was using her thumbnail to pick at the label on the beer, a beer which she still hadn’t taken a drink of.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Everyone stared at me when I sat in this chair. And I don’t mean they just looked over at me. I mean they stopped what they were doing for a few seconds and watched as I sat down in it. I thought it was weird, but I shrugged it off. Maybe there really is something about this chair.”
Adam shook his head. “No. No. There is nothing wrong with you sitting in that chair. The old man at the bar told me that Barnaby is dead. So you can sit in his chair all you want if you ask me.”
“Yeah. Apparently that chair belongs—well, belonged to some guy named Barnaby. But he’s dead, so I don’t see what the big deal is.”
Adam took another drink of his beer, watching over the top of the bottle as Anna slowly took a drink of hers. He wondered whether or not he should tell her that the old drunk had seemed sincere when he stated that she was going to die. He decided to leave it unsaid. There was no need to make her worry over something so ridiculous.
The couple left the bar after just one drink, eager to be free of the leering eyes and judgmental stares. They went straight home and crawled into bed, where they fell asleep in each other’s arms, both trying to put the incident at the bar behind them.
The next morning, Adam woke just as the sun began to light the world outside. He blinked away the sleep and rolled over, intent on cuddling with Anna. He was surprised to find her side of the bed empty.
Anna never had insomnia. She never woke in the night with the urge to pee or rummage through the fridge. When she went to sleep, she was asleep till morning. This fact made her absence strange and unnerving.
Adam sat up in bed and stared at Anna’s empty spot beside him. Where could she be?
He looked at the door of the master bathroom. It was ajar, as it usually was.
“Anna? Anna, are you in the bathroom?” He waited for a response, but none came.
Slipping from between the covers, Adam stood. Clad in only his boxers, he went to the bathroom first, pushing open the door and peering into the room. No Anna.
Turning, Adam walked back through the bedroom, glancing at the empty bed as he headed toward the door. Looking at the messed covers, he faintly remembered something that had happened in the night.
“Adam. Adam wake up,” Anna whispered.
Adam rolled over, mumbling. “What is it?”
“Did you hear that?”
“Downstairs. A noise. Did you hear it?”
“I didn’t hear anything,” he grumbled, rolling back over and closing his eyes.
So she had heard something downstairs in the middle of the night. A noise of some sort. Knowing Anna, she’d probably gone down to investigate, determined to find the source of the sound.
Kicking himself for not waking up and going to look so his girlfriend could sleep peacefully, Adam walked out of the bedroom and headed downstairs. Halfway down, he froze. He blinked, hoping that what he saw wasn’t really there. But it was. Lying on the floor at the bottom of the steps was Anna, the love of his life. The woman he planned to wed. The woman who would bear his children.
“Anna,” he shouted. He ran down the rest of the stairs, taking them two and three at a time. He fell to his knees beside her, brushing the hair off of her face. His throat clenched at the sight of her unseeing eyes, her slightly parted blue lips, and the awkward and unnatural angle of her neck.
With a trembling hand, Adam reached down and pressed his fingers against her neck, just beneath her jaw bone. He felt for a pulse, though her cold skin told him he wouldn’t find one. And he didn’t. There was no pulse to find. She was gone. Anna was dead.
Just like the old drunk at the bar had predicted.
Adam walked into Spades the following Friday night. It had been one week since he and Anna had walked through the door of the bar. Six days since she’d died. Three days since her funeral. One day since he’d stopped crying.
“Hey, buddy. What can I getcha?” the bartender asked.
“Something hard.” With a nod, the bartender walked away to fill Adam’s order, leaving him to look around the bar in search of the old drunk from the previous weekend.
“Here ya go,” the bartender said as he placed a glass in front of Adam.
“Thanks. Do you remember when I was in here last week?”
“Of course. It’s not every day somebody sits in Barnaby’s chair.”
“Yeah, about that. What the hell does it mean? There was an old man in here that night telling me that my girlfriend was going to die because she sat in that chair. I thought he was full of shit.” Adam trailed off, looking down at his hands wrapped tightly around the cool glass of liquor.
“Was he full of shit?” Something in the bartender’s eyes said he already knew the answer to that question.
“No. Well, maybe. I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“No. I mean, my girlfriend did die.” He nearly choked on the words.
“She died later that night, after we left here. I can’t help but think about what that old man said to me. Was he right? Did she die because she sat in that chair?”
The bartender only stared at him.
“I mean, she fell down the stairs and broke her neck. That has nothing to do with that chair, right?”
The bartender shrugged.
Growing agitated, Adam rose his voice and said, “Tell me that her death had nothing to do with sitting in that chair.”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look, all I know is that quite a few people have died after sitting in it. Now, whether or not that has anything to do with your girlfriend, I can’t say.” The man walked away, leaving Adam with far more questions than he’d come in with.
Frustrated, Adam downed the drink in one gulp, slapped some money on the bar, and turned to leave. That’s when he saw the drunk old man, the very one who had warned him of Anna’s death. He walked through the door and straight toward the bar, parking himself on a stool next to Adam and ordering a bourbon.
Adam sat down on the stool next to the old man and faced him. He waited a minute for the man to acknowledge him, but when he realized that wasn’t going to happen, he spoke.
“Do you remember me?”
Without looking his way, the man replied, “Of course I do. Your girlfriend sat in Barnaby’s chair. Tell me. How’s the ol’ gal fairing?”
The man glanced at Adam before turning his attention back to the bar in front of him. “Can’t say I’m surprised. I tried to tell you.”
“No, you spoke in riddles. I had no idea what you were talking about. I still don’t. All I know is that after we left here, we home and went to bed. I woke up the next morning to find my girlfriend dead at the bottom of the stairs.”
“Ah. A tumble down the stairs. Haven’t had one of those in a while.”
“What do you mean? I don’t understand. What the hell happened to my girlfriend? What is it about that chair?”
The man took a drink of the bourbon as soon as the bartender set it in front of him. Then he turned to face Adam, giving him a chance to see his face for the first time. He had a bulbous nose with a red tip, the sure sign of a heavy drinker. His gums sprouted blackened teeth with gaps where other rotten teeth once stood. His lips were thin and cracked. There were deep lines growing from the outer corners of his dark eyes. It was the face of a man who’d seen a lot of things in his time.
“You ever hear of a man named Barnaby Black?”
Adam shook his head no. “Not until you mentioned him the other night.”
“He was a bad man. He robbed, raped, and murdered. Had a good run at it, too, before they caught him. Didn’t take long to find him guilty and sentence him to die. Before his execution, they gave him one last wish.” He took another drink of the liquor.
“What was his last wish?”
“He wanted a cold beer at his favorite bar.”
“Let me guess. This bar?”
The old man nodded. “You guessed it. They brought him in with shackles around his wrists and ankles. He sat down right over there.” He pointed at the chair in which Anna had sat. “He had a beer. Took his sweet time drinking it too. When he was done, he stood up and announced that anyone who ever sat in that chair would die. Then they took him away. He was executed the next day.”
“Were you here? I mean, it sounds like you were here when he was having his last beer.”
“I was.” The man nodded slowly. “I sure was. Seen him curse that chair with my own eyes.”
“Curse? You don’t really believe in that nonsense, do you?”
“You tell me. It’s your girlfriend that died after sitting in that chair. Do you believe in the curse?”
Adam swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded.
“I thought so. Well as you can imagine, it wasn’t long after Barnaby cursed it until someone sat in that chair of his. This is a pretty busy place. People coming and going all the time. They’ve gotta sit somewhere.
“A man named Paul Peterson sat in that chair first. He had his fun and left. Died in a car wreck on the way home.”
“That could’ve been a coincidence.”
“Could’ve been,” the man agreed with a nod. “Then a guy known as Cletus sat in it. He fell off a ladder and died at work the next day. After that, a man—I can’t remember his name—sat in it and had a tree fall on his house that night while he slept. Landed right on the bedroom, killing him dead. Still think it’s a coincidence?”
Without conviction, Adam said, “It could be.”
“It could be,” the old man repeated before finishing his drink and ordering another. “It’s funny that you don’t believe in curses, but you sure believe in coincidences.”
Adam said nothing.
“Since the night ol’ Barnaby Black cursed that chair, there have been forty-eight people die after sitting in it. Right after. And that’s just forty-eight people that I know of. I’m sure there’ve been more.
“Once folks realized it was cursed, it became sort of a game. People daring others to sit in it and the like. I’ve told ‘em time and time again to get rid of the damn thing, to put it up where no one can sit in it. They don’t listen. That’s part of what brings in their business, you see. They won’t get rid of anything that brings in customers. That’s why that damned pool table’s still here. It’s uneven as hell and the felt is torn, but they keep it because it’s the only place for fifty miles that a feller can shoot pool if he has the urge.”
Adam glanced over at the pool table, where two men were shooting a game while three others watched. He then looked back at the old man, who was downing his glass of bourbon.
“So you’re saying that anyone who has sat in that chair since Barnaby cursed it is dead.”
The old man nodded. “That’s what I’m saying. Because that’s the truth.” He pointed a crooked finger at Adam as he spoke.
“Why haven’t you destroyed it? If you know it’s true, if you know that anyone who ever sits in it is doomed to die, then why haven’t you smashed it to bits or burned it?”
“First of all, it ain’t mine to break. If I was to come in here and try to destroy the damn thing, I could be arrested.” The old man leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Besides, I did try. One time, I was here in by myself. It was the middle of a work day and no one else was in here at the time. The bartender went to fetch something from the store room. I saw my opportunity, and I took it. I picked that chair up and slammed it down on the floor. I slammed it so hard, it jarred my whole body. Would’ve shattered any other chair to bits. Didn’t do a damn thing to that one. So I slammed it again. And again. Nothing. Didn’t loosen a leg or anything.” He leaned back and ordered another drink.
“So you’re saying it’s indestructible.”
The old man nodded. “Seems that way.”
Adam looked from the drunk to the chair. He kept his thoughts to himself as he bid the guy farewell and left Spades.
It was in the wee hours of Monday morning, when Adam knew there would be the least chance of getting caught, that he smashed through a side window of Spades and climbed into the empty bar.
The silence inside was eerie. He’d only been there twice, but both times the place had been crowded and loud, with sounds of the jukebox blaring, billiard balls smacking against one another, and intoxicated patrons laughing and having a good time filling the room. But now, at half past two in the morning, there were no sounds other than Adam’s soft footsteps and his racing heart.
For the past two days, Adam had mulled over what the old man told him, trying to decide whether or not he should believe the old coot and what he could do about it if he did. Finally, after a lot of thought, he decided to destroy the chair just in case. If it wasn’t true, if the curse wasn’t real and all those deaths—including that of his beloved Anna—were coincidences, then all that was lost was a chair. But if the story was true and the curse was real, then he would be saving countless lives.
He found the chair easily enough. It was in the spot it always was. He got the feeling it never moved. It was almost as if everyone was afraid to touch it. He supposed many people were. But not him. If the curse was real, then this chair was responsible for the death of Anna. The rage that existed within him over the loss of his longtime girlfriend was astounding. He wanted to smash the chair until it was nothing more than toothpicks. He wanted to strangle Barnaby Black, the man who had cursed the chair. If he wasn’t already dead, Adam would’ve killed him with his bare hands. Anna had promised him a lifetime of happiness. They’d both been robbed of that happiness, and all because of a stupid chair.
The only light inside the bar was the pale glow of the neon beer signs hanging behind the bar. The blue and red neon mingled together, casting a shade of pale red light on the oak chair, giving it a ghostlike appearance.
Adam stood looking at the chair, letting his anger boil inside him. In his mind, he saw Anna sitting there, smiling as he walked toward her with their beers. She was beautiful. God, he missed her. If it wasn’t for this chair, she’d still be here.
Quickly, Adam grabbed the oak chair, raised it high above his head, and slammed it to the concrete floor. He watched as the chair hit the floor and bounced. The damn thing bounced. He stood the chair up and looked it over, using his cell phone as a flashlight. There wasn’t as much as a dent in the wood.
“What the hell?” he muttered.
Even if the chair was cursed, that shouldn’t make it indestructible. It should still break. And yet…it hadn’t. It had bounced off the floor as if it was made of rubber. It was just as the old man said.
Shaking his head, refusing to believe the chair was immortal, Adam grabbed it and slammed it again. Again, the chair bounced without as much as a scratch on it.
Fortunately, Adam had anticipated such an event. With the old man’s words in mind, he’d brought a hatchet along with him.
Raising the hatchet high, he brought it down hard, expecting the sharp metal blade to slice right through the old oak seat. He was surprised when instead of sinking into the wood, the hatchet bounced off the seat of the chair. Adam looked at the hatchet in his hand, shocked and confused. He swung the small ax again and again, but each time he swung, it bounced off the wood.
It seemed there was no destroying this chair.
“Bull shit,” he said. Through clenched teeth he said it again. “I will destroy you,” he shouted. “One way or another, I will destroy you.”
He tossed the hatchet to the floor and went to the front door. It was locked. To open it, he needed a key, a key he didn’t have. He was met with the same problem at the back door. The only other way out was through the window, but there was no way the chair would fit through the small frame.
Determined now more than ever to make sure no one else sat in that damned chair, he devised a new plan. He put his cell phone in his back pocket and went behind the bar, where he grabbed a couple of bottles of vodka. From a bowl on the bar, he grabbed a book of matches and tucked it into the front pocket of his jeans. He then stomped across the barroom to the chair that seemed to taunt him.
“I don’t care,” he muttered, referring to any legal repercussions. He planned to light that chair on fire and burn it to dust. There would probably be some damage done to the bar in the process for which he knew he would be held accountable. Most likely, he’d be charged with arson. He didn’t care. He’d pay the fine or do the time, whatever came his way. But that chair was going to meet its end tonight.
Adam popped the top on both bottles of booze and poured them on the chair, dousing the old wood with the flammable liquid. He then dropped the bottles on the floor and pulled the book of matches from his pocket. He plucked one from the book, dragged it across the flint strip, and watched the flame appear on the end of the match stick. He smiled at the sight of the ball of yellow fire. He was doing what should’ve been done long ago.
After dropping the match onto the chair, he stepped back as the vodka ignited and the chair became a ball of fire. A puddle of flames circled the chair on the concrete floor, burning blue at the edge and dark orange closer to the center.
As the flames grew brighter, taller, and darker in color, Adam smiled.
“Fuck you, Barnaby Black,” he said. “Fuck you and your dumb ass chair.”
The chair slowly became red, a sure sign that the wood was burning. Adam had stood around his share of campfires, watching the wood burn red until it turned black and became a pile of white ash where brown wood once was. This was similar to that, only different. The smile slipped from Adam’s face as he realized that the chair wasn’t burning at all.
“What the hell?” he asked, stepping closer to the fire.
The flames were as tall as he was, dancing in the air just six feet above the floor. He felt the heat on his face, smelled the smoke. Peering through the flames, Adam saw the chair, still glowing red, much the way a poker glows red when hot. And yet the chair remained intact. It was burning without being burned.
Just then, as Adam studied the fire and the unburning chair, the flames exploded, erupting into a massive fireball that blew up and out, reaching the walls and the ceiling.
Adam stepped back and gasped, watching in horror as the bar became engulfed in flames. He coughed and sputtered as he headed across the room and toward the window through which he’d entered only minutes earlier. In a matter of seconds, the building would be leveled by the fire, whether or not he was still inside. He had to get out.
With one arm covering his head, shielding his face from the fire, he made his way through the smoke, past the flames, and closer to the window. Or so he thought. He’d been certain he was heading in the right direction, but soon found himself bumping into the bar. He changed direction and took off, walking in what he was sure was the right direction this time. But when he ran into the pool table, he knew he’d been wrong again.
“Damn it,” he shouted.
He continued trying to make his way to the window, the only means of escape. When every way proved to be the wrong way, he fell to the floor, gasping for what little oxygen was left in the bar. The cloud of black smoke rolled above him, blocking out the neon signs, the flames, and the world beyond the bar. This was it. He coughed until there was no more oxygen for him to take in or sputter out. Then he died. Right there on the floor of the bar, only feet from Barnaby Black’s cursed chair.
The flames devoured the bar. Windows exploded. The roof caved in. Metal melted. It burned until there was nothing left of the bar except a pile of ashes on the concrete foundation.
And, of course, the dead man’s chair. It stood in the center of the rubble, totally unscathed. There were no scratches where the hatchet had tried to slice into it, no scorch marks from the fire that had consumed it, and no signs of the curse that it carried.
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About the Author
K.A. Bettes was born in Missouri on Thanksgiving Day, 1977. Bettes is the author of several novels and short stories. She lives with her husband and son in the beautiful Ozark Mountains of southeast Missouri, where she terrorizes residents of a small town with her twisted tales. It’s there she likes to study serial killers and knit. Serial killers who knit are her favorites.
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