ReBates

This story was inspired by a dream I had last night.  Enjoy!

I had been walking along this old, abandoned highway for hours. My feet were beginning to ache and my right shoulder trembled from carrying my pack. I knew that I would have to stop to rest soon, but where?

Ahead stood the dilapidated remains of a building. It had likely been here for decades, touched only by the elements. Its windows were long since gone, except for one round protector of what had once been the attic. It watched me with a blackened eye which had long since been imparted upon it by some high-spirited youth.

With a sigh, I knew that this place would have to do. While it’s true that I could see through the boards in the walls, and just because I could see the glowing eyes of an owl watching me from its perch inside a window on the second story, doesn’t mean that this was a bad place to stay, does it? After all, it does have a sturdy roof and judging by the ominous clouds rolling in, that would be very important in the next few hours.

I shifted my pack from my right shoulder to my left, groaning beneath its weight as I did so. It was a simple action, but it was also one that I had done thousands of times before.

“How long have I been walking,” I wondered to myself. Indeed, just as all dreams have that way of doing, I found myself unsure of how long I had been on this stretch of asphalt. For that matter, where the hell had I come from?!

A distant rumbling changed my line of thought and ushered me closer to this shelter from the past.

It was just a hundred feet from the road and I had to climb a few stairs to reach the top, but it was nothing more than I was prepared to handle. After all, I had come this far hadn’t I? However far that was, I had no idea, but this seemed as good a place as any!

This time I saw the lightning as it struck in the distance. It jigged and jagged out of the sky some miles behind the house, slamming angrily into landscape beyond.  It would be some seconds before the sound reached me, but by that time I would have long since forgotten it.

You see, the light had shown me the house, in all its unholy glory, and I suddenly found myself doubting my decision to stay here. My eyes darted to the right, searching for an old ice-machine, but there was nothing. Nor was there a small stretch of building with several rooms off of an empty check-in.

“For Christ’s sake,” I cursed. “That’s not even real!”

But the resemblance was uncanny. With the exception of some missing details, it could easily pass for the home that iconically stood over a certain motel in those black and white films from back in the day.

I laughed and proceeded up to the entrance. The door had long since fallen from its hinges and I had to walk over it as I entered. I gazed wistfully at the rotted staircase before me. There would be no climbing to the second floor, but it was just as well. I know that the moment I walked into one of those bedrooms at the top and saw the mummified corpse of an old woman in her rocking chair, I would lose my shit. Literally.

I quickly glanced down the hall to the left of the staircase, but the pile of rubble blocking off where the kitchen door used to be was all I needed to see. Not that there was any hope of getting anything to eat here anyways. Any food in THAT kitchen had long since become one with nature.

My only option was to go through the door directly off of my left and, if the layout of this house were as I remembered it, into the parlor.  The entrance was barred by two receding doors and with some effort I was able to force one open enough for me to enter.

A gasp escaped my lips, for even though the room was missing its picture window, it was completely untouched by time!  The walls were still covered in with flower decor.  The fireplace was full of logs just waiting to be lit!  My god, even the furniture looked new and inviting!  In the center of the room is a divan and recliner, both which are fung shui’d toward the fireplace.

Some things were obviously different from how I remembered them in the movies, but then again, this was MY dream here.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but you never do when you’re there, and I happily let my pack down onto the recliner as I opted to lay across the divan.  My poor feet!  They throbbed with every beat of my heart, reminding me that they needed to be released from their imprisonment.

As I removed my shoes, my eyes continued to roam over the room’s contents.  Some of what I saw, I had already half expected. Mounted on the walls are the preserved heads of various beasts; deer, bear, racoon, bison, bull…but I had my reservations as to whether the person who mounted them had actually taken down these creatures.

Something I didn’t expect was the partial bar across from the entrance.  There were even a few bottles stocked on the shelves behind it!  I shook my head in wonder as I pondered how this room could have remained so virtually untouched.  It just didn’t make sense!  Even as I sat here rubbing my tired feet, listening to the increasing storm outside and enjoying the cool breeze as it weaved its way through the wreckage around me, I couldn’t help but appreciate my newly found luck!

I had set my shoes down on the small coffee table in front of me several minutes ago, but it wasn’t until now that I noticed the unusual detail on its face.  Leaning forward, my aches and pains forgotten for the moment, I moved them out of the way so that I could make out what it was.

An electrical outlet?

What an odd feature for a building inspired in the fifties!  I grasped the table and tried move it, but it didn’t budge.

“That’s curious,” I muttered.

Leaning down, I noticed that the outlet seemed to match up with a central support on the bottom of the table, a support which was also bolted to the floor.

“Huh…”  I could only shake my head and grin.  “Couldn’t be…” My words trailed off as they faded back into thought and I looked over to my pack thoughtfully.

It had been awhile since I opened it, but now seemed as good as any.  I seriously doubted, as I continued to sit here in the lengthening shadows, that there was any way it were possible. But then again, what the hell, right?  What is that stupid acronym that the kids are using nowadays?  YOLO?

Excitedly, I leaned over and grabbed my pack.  Setting it between my feet, I quickly went to work removing its contents and laying them carefully on the table.  Cooling fan, laptop, keyboard, mouse, power cord…in a matter of minutes, I was ready to work.  All I needed was a power source to give my equipment life.

“No time like the present, I guess.”

As I held the plug heroically before me, I couldn’t help but imagine that my expression must have matched Arthur’s after he’d pulled Excalibur from the stone.  With a chuckle, I thrust my hand dramatically toward the outlet with little expectations of anything happening.

Lightning slammed into a telephone pole outside at the exact moment that I made connection with the plug.  At first nothing happened.  Well, almost nothing.  I expelled the air I had been holding with a sigh and slumped back in my seat.  As I landed against the soft cushions behind me, a surge of electricity danced across the power-lines, splitting off in several directions while a smaller one rushed along the line leading to this house.

At least, that’s how I would have pictured it had I seen it.  The air suddenly reeked of ozone as sparks leapt from the outlet I had just used. It only lasted a couple of seconds, but it was enough to put the fear of God into me. My heart raced faster than it had that time I had nearly fallen from the tree house I’d had growing up.

The metal glowed white-hot around my plug and I immediately feared for the safety of my computer.  Power cords weren’t easy to come by, especially to a drifter, and I didn’t know what I would do if it were to burn out.  My fears were unjustified however, as I discovered the cord to be cold to the touch.  ICE cold, in fact!

“I’ll be damned,” I praised to nobody in particular.

With only a moment’s hesitation, I reached over and placed my finger on the power button.  At first, nothing happened. Of course nothing happened!  I’m in a rundown house on the side of a highway, which probably hasn’t seen life in over fifty years!

But I was wrong!  My thoughts were interrupted by a light fizzle that directed my attention back to the outlet.  It was so faint that I might have missed it in any other circumstance, but luck was with me.  I watched in awe as the lightning bolt’s electrical leftovers crawled over the end of the plug and buzzed happily along the cord to where it connected with my laptop.

The internal fans came to life and much to my amazement, so too did the laptop!  It didn’t take long for it to run through the booting process, but my mouth hung open the entire time.  It wasn’t until I was staring at my desktop image that I finally came to my senses.

“This isn’t possible…”

As if to mock me, a small window popped up informing me that the battery had reached full charge.

This was getting to be just a little too weird.  Here I was, in the parlor of a fictional serial killer, which just so happened to be the only room in the house that has been untouched by time and my computer is being powered by lightning.  Weird?  Try creepy. But, it just so happens to be the type of environment that I find myself most inspired.  I may have been tired…hell, I was exhausted, but my passion overrides all other pains.

With a sigh, I knew what I had to do.  I reached down with my right hand and placed it over the mouse.  A well-practiced movement placed my cursor over the file and after a couple of clicks I was in.

The heavens threatened to unleash all their fury upon the traveler, but if he felt any fear, he didn’t show it.  His worn sneakers flapped softly across the concrete, punctuated by a light scraping from the peeling sole of his left foot.  His face was weathered by the sun, but he was by no means an ugly man. His was a rugged handsome….

The words poured across the screen and aside from the storm outside, the only sound to be heard was the rhythmic clacking of my keys.  It was easy for me to miss the sounds coming from behind the bar, but then again, I rarely notice anything when I’m in the zone.

The building stood atop the hill, lonely and forgotten.  It’s seemed to smile down upon the weary traveler, inviting him to enter, but each electric flash of anger from above showed him a different side of the wreck.  It was a rotten, evil skeleton of its former self and while he couldn’t see them, he could feel the anguish of the many souls which had been consumed…

From somewhere in the room, I could hear the light rustling of cloth.  It was a familiar sound, similar to one I may have just described in my story, but I couldn’t place my finger on it.  My attention was being pulled further and further into the story, as it always does when my fingers are doing the talking, and it would take much more than the scurrying of a mouse to take me away from it.  Was it a mouse?  Who the hell knows, I have other things to do at the moment.

The wood squeaked in protest as he stepped fully onto the porch.  The door stood before him, open and inviting, but at the same time, dark and foreboding.  A rat lazily climbed over the threshold, pausing only to consider the man before it, before turning and running off to his left.  It was a bloated, well fed creature and the fact that his presence did nothing to alarm it only further instilled his sense of dread.  He was tired, however, and if there was a chance that this place could offer him shelter, he was going to take it…

Something scraped across the surface of the bar, a long metallic scream that forced me back into reality.  I had returned faster than my heart, which came in a close second.  My face flushed, my hands trembled and I could do little other to hear anything over the rampant drumming in my ears.  Not that this was the most important thing on my list at the moment.  From behind the bar stood a tall figure, cloaked in shadows.  I could make little out of its details, whether it was man or woman, but what I could see chilled me to the bone.

A gloved hand was exposed by the dim light of my laptop.  In its hand was a rusted butcher knife.  It was walking towards the end of the bar, towards the small lift-up section that would allow it to enter fully into the room.

I was frozen.  Not by the cold air coming from the open picture window, but from a terror so pure that its grip had me chained to the floor.  There was no logic in what I was feeling, but then again, there was no way I could have missed seeing anyone back there either.

A bead of sweat formed just above his right temple and slowly ran down the side of his face.  The figure stood just out of range from the meager light his computer put off and for that he was thankful.  The musty scent of decay began to fill the room.  It wasn’t the pungent smell one would associate with a fresh corpse, but rather, the scent one would expect from an ancient tomb.

If my eyes could have opened any wider, they might have fallen out of my head.  My computer had decided that it’d had enough interruptions and was going to finish telling the story for me!  The words continued to pour across the screen, but I was no longer watching.  I couldn’t.  I had to find out who, or what, was sharing the room with me!

As if to affirm his thoughts, the room was suddenly filled with light as another bolt of lightning slammed into the highway outside.  Before him was a creature fresh out of his worst nightmares.  It stood over a towering six-foot, three inches, but it wasn’t the height which drew forth his screams.  It’s skin was mummified, shrunken and stretched tightly over its bones.  It wore a dark grey dress most commonly used for cleaning, over which was a yellowed apron.  Askew on its skull was a dark grey wig, which with each shuffling step toward him threatened to fall.

“Norman,” the creature suddenly croaked.  “Get that interloper out of my parlor,”   It’s voice was dry and inhuman in my ears and I had to mentally decipher each word in order to fully hear them. As it stepped into the light, I watched in horror as it lifted the ancient knife into the air.

batesMotel

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The Promise

Writing the forty-nine posts previous to this one have been fun, to say the least.  They were my buffer between the spoken and written word, and it has felt good getting myself into a place where I am comfortable enough to share my work with you, my ever faithful reader.  For the past few weeks I have been wracking my brain in an effort to come up with something a little…special for this post, and I think I finally have it.

The following is strictly a piece of fan-fiction. 

With the exception of the introduction, this work is completely original and has been written solely for the enjoyment of the author and his followers.  This post has been written as a complete story, and may be considerably longer then what you are used to seeing Beneath The Headstone.  In compliance with the author’s writing style, there may be elements of horror and some language which you may not be comfortable with.  Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

———-

Narrator: There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.

……….

“Ryan?  Honey, can you come here for a second?”

“Be right there!”

He was standing before the full length mirror, admiring his nude body when she called to him.  The years had been kind and all of the hard work he had put into himself had paid off.  Running alongside the river every morning for the last ten years had given him the muscle definition that most gym rats would kill to have and yet, there it was.  Above the light brown patch of hair on his chest and over his right pectoral muscle was a single white hair.  It grew longer then the rest of his hair, hair which had been there for most of his thirty seven years, and it stood in defiance to his youth, threatening him of what was to come…

“Ryan?”

“Getting dressed,” he answered in singsong.

As he slid into his running shorts, he paused to study the lines on his face.  There were only a few, mostly around his eyes, but they too promised of what his future held.  He smiled and picked absently at his teeth.  Like the rest of him, they had been well kept over the years and with a proper brushing they would shine.  His dark brown hair matched his eyes, but had recently begun to subtlety fade back.  While he was years away from going bald, if ever, it was yet another reminder of his own mortality.

He gave one last look at himself, grabbed a pair of socks, and hurried to meet his wife before she left for work.  It wasn’t very far from their room to the kitchen and a light jog closed the distance that much quicker.  As he entered the room, his gaze fell hungrily over his wife’s figure, devouring every delicious curve as she leaned over the counter to close the small window over the sink.

Much like himself, she was meticulous about her fitness.  She kept in shape with an hour of cardio at the office gym, followed by a run in the park after she got home.  This, combined with her vegetarian lifestyle kept her body toned and in the best shape of her life as well.  Her long sun-golden hair, when unfettered, hung down to her hips.  While it would have been more practical if she cut it, she found it relaxing to sit before a mirror and brush it before bed.

“Mm, shake that thang,” he crooned in a husky voice.

Oblivious to his advance, she turned and looked at him over her shoulder, her oceanic eyes blankly watching his every movement.  His eyes dropped to her ankles and trailed up the back of her legs as he steadily approached, pausing only to admire the firm derriere beneath her business skirt.   He was reaching out to place his hands on her hips when she suddenly turned, placing her right hand on his chest.

“I’m going to be late,” she said, annoyed.

He leaned forward, pressing his lips gently against hers as he moved his hands along her sides.  Just as he reached the underside of her breasts, she pushed him away and stormed over to her purse.

“Dammit Ryan, I said I’m going to be late!  Now I have to fix my lipstick,” she grumbled as she removed a compact and her makeup.  “I’m not going to be home tonight,” she said after blotting away the excess.  “and I’ve arranged for dinner to be delivered…”

“Again?  This is the third time in two weeks.  I thought we were going to spend some time together?”

“Yeah, well, something came up.”

“I’ll just bet it did,” he thought bitterly.  He quietly finished getting dressed as she inspected herself in the reflection on the compact.  When she next spoke, he was tying the laces on his right shoe.

“Don’t wait up,” she muttered coldly.

“What about dinner?  You want me to do anything special with yours?”

“I only ordered for you,” she answered with a huff.  He looked up just as the door was shutting behind her, his heart thudding angrily in his chest.  Her words had been cold daggers.  Her apathy, the hands that wielded them.  He ached for her, physically and emotionally, and it hurt that he didn’t know how they had ever reached this point.

……….

His feet thundered down the earthen path, kicking dust into the air and leaving a shallow impression with each step.  He was making good distance today, having already run four miles, and was now following a shortcut home through some little known hiking trails.  His mind was wandering, as it usually does in the mornings, and he had lost all track of time.

After warming up, he had left the house in a sprint; eager to put it behind him and ready to burn off some of the anger in his heart.  He blew past the other regulars in no time and soon found himself on the outskirts of town.

“You won’t ever cheat on me, will you Ryan?”

The question floated through the veil of his subconscious, surfacing from a memory of the night of their wedding.  It had been late in the evening and they were snuggling beneath the sheets when she asked him.  It wasn’t something he had been expecting her to say, considering he’d proclaimed his intentions to her through the vows he’d spoken earlier.

“O-of course not, Aubrey.  I married YOU, you know.”

“But…  What if you meet someone who’s prettier, or has more money?”

He still remembered the look in her eyes.  They were so large and fearful, so insecure. At that moment, only minutes after they had consummated their marriage, she needed more than anything than to be reassured.

“Aubrey,” he began slowly, “when I asked you to marry me, I didn’t just do it without putting any thought behind it.  I knew from the moment I first saw you that you were the one with whom I would grow old together.  In your eyes, I could see our children. Through your smile I knew eternal happiness.  Aubrey, I would never do anything to lose those things. I’m yours, always and forever.  Nothing will take me from you, ever.”

By the time he was done speaking, she had been in tears.  She pressed herself against him and soon they were making love for the second time that night, and unlike the first, this time was slow, deliberate and they had stared deep into one another’s eyes until the other was spent.  She had collapsed at his side, again snugging against him, and it would be several minutes before each had caught their breath enough to speak.

“Promise me,” she finally whispered.

“W-what,” he stammered.  He had been dozing when she spoke and the question caught him off guard.

“Promise me that what you said is true.”

A bitter smile crossed his features as he thought about it.  What he had told her was true, every last bit of it, but somehow he didn’t think that she had believed him. There had been a part of him that felt like she had only heard the things she wanted to hear and it had nagged at him ever since.

“Honey.” He reached over and lovingly caressed her cheek as he spoke.  “I love you more than life itself.  If I ever cheated on you, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.  To break that trust and destroy all these beautiful things about you; I couldn’t wake up every day and not see the purity of our love inside them.  I’d die of a broken heart.”

She’d laughed flippantly.  It was a sound of amusement, but the look on her face was of confusion. 

“That sounds silly.  To die of a broken heart, after cheating on your spouse?”

“When you put it that way, yes.  No, it wouldn’t be that simple.  My heart would break knowing that I had taken from you something you believed in with all your heart, only to threw it away for one passionate fling.  I would despair that I could no longer see our future in your eyes.  My will to live would vanish with the love of your embrace.  No, it wouldn’t be as simple as my heart ceasing to beat, it would be the catalyst.  I would rather end my own life than live a moment of it without you, as you are to me now and as you were the moment we first met.”

She had cried for nearly an hour.  In truth, he may have cried some as well and they had held on to one another as if afraid to let go.  Later, as they were both drifting off to sleep, she had quietly asked one final question.  It was barely audible and hardly more than a breath of air against his skin, but he had heard it nonetheless.

“What if I cheated on you?”

He turned his head and met her eyes before answering.  Unlike his previous answers, this was only one word.  It left his lips heavy, full of malevolence and a promise he didn’t need to finish.

“Don’t.”

……….

He burst through the light woods and into the far end of his property a short time later. By this time he was running at full speed, his arms swinging in time with legs which pumped beneath him like a well oiled machine.  The distance between himself and the house narrowed with each heartbeat and in less than a minute he was at the back door.

“Running a little late today, are we?”

He looked over at his his neighbor, James Munson, who always seemed to trim the hedges between their properties as often as he ran.

“Yeah,” he panted.  “I guess time just got away from me.”

“Better man than me.  But then again, my days of fitness are long behind me.”

He wasn’t kidding either.  James, retired for over a decade, was in his late seventies, but despite his mournful words he could pass for a man in his fifties.

“You work today Patterson?”

“Yeah.  Listen, I’ll talk to you a bit later James.  I need a shower before I go.”

The older man grunted in response but continued to stare at him as if he wanted to say something.

“Something on your mind?”

“You need to get your house in order, Patterson,” he answered cryptically.

“What’s that?”

He was halfway through the door when old man Munson spoke and his words stopped him dead in his tracks.

“Nothing.  Nevermind.  It’s not my place to say.”

“No, if you got something to tell me, just spit it out!”

“Listen, Patterson.  All I’m sayin’ is that you need to get your affairs in order.  A man should run his house as if it’s his castle, is what I’m saying.”

At that, James turned and left, leaving him standing there and shaking his head.  He stood there for a few seconds, absently scratching his head until the sound of his phone brought him back to reality.

“Shit,” he cursed.  He was already running behind; standing here like a goon wasn’t going to get him ready for work any faster!  He passed through the kitchen and into the hall that separated it from the living room, pausing only briefly at the phone to confirm who was calling; his partner Mike.

“Mike, sorry!  I’m running a bit behind this morning,” he answered, out of breath.

“No problem buddy.  I was just calling to tell you that I won’t be in today, so you’ll have to drive yourself.  I’ll still cover half for the commute, that way you don’t have to worry about coming up with the extra cost.”

“Aw, come on Mike.  You’re killing me!  That means I’ll have to take on that deposition by myself!”

“You’re a big boy, Ryan.  You’ve handled worse,” he answered with a chuckle.

“I know I have Mike.  But you also know that I’m handling the Westerson case at two thirty!  I’m only going to have an hour to prepare beforehand.”

“I’m sorry pal.  If I could come in, I would.  But what I got’s not pretty.  It’s coming out both ends-“

“Alright, alright,” he answered quickly, “I don’t need to know all the details.  But dammit Mike, this is the third time in two weeks I’ve had to cover for you.”

“I know, and I’ll make it up to you.”

He sighed into the receiver, frustrated, and looked at the calender next to the base. Every time his partner missed, he marked the day off with a large ‘X’.  Nearly a third of this year’s calender were filled with them.

“So are we good,” Mike asked as he was marking off today.

“You owe me, more than you’ll ever know,” he answered before setting the receiver back into the base.  A quick glance at the clock showed that he was going to be almost an hour late by the time he had showered and dressed.  If he hurried, he might be able to knock some of that time down.

……….

“Good morning Mr. Patterson.  Running behind today?”

Jenine, who was his secretary and had been with him since he and Mike opened this firm, smiled at him as he walked into the office.  Her green eyes studied him quietly from behind her glasses and before he could answer, she absently brushed a stray hair behind her ear.

“Yes, have there been any calls?”

“Only the D.A.  He wants a copy of your files on the Westerson case,” she answered.

“Hold him off ’til noon and then send them over.  Let’s keep him on his toes.  Also, I’ll be handling Mike’s deposition this morning.  I need everything you can get to me by nine. Until then, hold all my calls.”

“Yes sir,” she said, flustered.  “You do realize that only gives you forty-five minutes to prepare?”  His glare was answer enough.  As he entered his office, she scrambled to find what he needed.

Once he was behind his desk and getting prepared, he found himself staring more frequently at the clock above the door.  It was one of those black cat clocks, with the long tail and the venomous pupils which moved in sync and it taunted him with every second that passed.

“Mr. Patterson?”

Jenine’s voice resonated out of his phone’s speakers, startling him.  Reaching forward, he pressed the speaker button that would send his words to the next room.

“Yes?”

“I have the files, do you want me to bring them in?  Or, will you get them on your way over to the courtroom?”

“I’ll pick them up, thank you.”

He released his finger from the button and began to organize his briefcase-

“You need to get your house in order, Mr. Patterson.”

It was as if James had been standing behind him when he spoke, and for the second time in minutes, Ryan jerked in fright.  A bead of perspiration formed at the top of his right temple and began to slowly make its journey down his cheek, and when he finally got the nerve to turn around, nobody was there.

“Get ahold of yourself,” he muttered nervously.  “This isn’t the time to be losing it.”

After taking a moment to collect himself, he turned and did the same for his things before leaving the office.  Jenine, who never ceased to amaze him, stood just outside his door with a small bundle of folders.  He barely slowed down as he lifted his briefcase, opened and caught them in it as he passed.

“Sir?”

“Yes Jenine,” he asked over his shoulder.

“Good luck.”

He gave her a thumbs up with his free hand as he stepped into the elevator.

……….

Ryan was very good at his job and the deposition went as smoothly as if Mike had been there himself.  The judge had been lenient, despite protests from the other attorney, and had allowed him to fill in for his partner provided that he proved he was familiar with the case.  Of course he was.  There was little that he and his partner didn’t share with one another behind closed doors, and not only did he prove himself, but he was able to shave off time from the process as well.

Though it had only been a simple matter of questioning the deponents, something that he had done hundreds of times throughout his career, he left the courtroom feeling as if he had won some major ground.

His spirits were at the highest point that they had been since before parting with his wife, and the rest of the morning’s troubles were all but forgotten as he got behind the wheel of his black 2012 AUDI s6, a car he had only been able to afford after winning another high profile criminal case earlier in the year.

“You need to get your ever lovin’ affairs in order, Patterson.”

He had been about to merge into traffic when James’ voice spoke up from behind him and caused him to instead slam on the brakes.  Luckily, there was nobody behind him at that moment, or his new trophy car might have been totaled from the impact.  His eyes darted to the rear-view mirror as he hoped he wouldn’t see the speaker sitting there, but this wasn’t to be.

Sitting in the center of the back seat was his neighbor, whom kids were known to call Old Man Munson.  His skin was palid, his eyes sunken deep into their sockets, and he seemed to be lost in thought as he studied him.

“W-what the hell, James?  How did you get in my car?!”

He turned to look at him face to face as he spoke, but the back seat was empty. Panicking, he unsnapped his belt and leaned over to see if James had ducked into floorboard for some odd reason, but there was nobody there either.  Defeated, he slumped back into his seat.

“Maybe it’s none of my business, Mr. Patterson, but I think that a man should be in charge of his house and the things inside. You,” he slowly intoned, “spend too much time away from yours and are losing control.”

With a terrified expression on his face, Ryan slowly lifted his eyes to the rear-view mirror and met the scrutinizing gaze of the spectre Munson.  It stared at him relentlessly, never blinking nor turning away and within the burning intensity of its orbs was an emptiness that sent shivers down his spine.  Desperate to escape its cold indifference, he threw his hands over his face.

“Go away, I tell you!  Leave me be!”

His will was strong.  Over the course of his career, he had looked in the eyes of humanity’s worst.  He’d walked through the halls of the country’s most notorious prisons to speak with his clients and he knew the face which was the dregs of society.  His mind was specially tuned for dealing with the horrors of man, but there was nothing inside of him which could have ever prepared him for the visage of death now sitting behind him.

Ryan sobbed behind the cover of his hands, unable to utter anything beyond the terrified gibberish which spewed from his mouth.  His body spasmed helplessly as, for the next several minutes, he succumbed to emotions which swept over him and there was no other sound other than that of the cars passing around his.

……….

A short while later, (or had it been longer?), the ringing of his cellphone returned him to his senses.  His face was wet with tears, and the occasional hitch in breath betrayed the sense of calm making its way through his nervous system, but he was at last free from the hold that his panic had upon him.

Here we go Steelers,” continued to blare from the speakers in his phone, reminding him that his secretary was urgently trying to get his attention.  Slowly, he removed his hands from his face, careful not to look into the mirror where his neighbor had recently haunted him, and swiped the button to answer.

“Jenine,” he croaked into the phone.

“Mr. Patterson, where are you?  We’ve only twenty minutes before you’re scheduled for the Westerson case!”

“Shit,” he muttered, his recent fright all but forgotten.  “Have my papers ready and meet me there.”

“Sir?  Is everything alright?”

“Yes,” he answered as he slowly pulled into traffic.  “Just passing through some unexpected construction.”

He ended the call and without looking up, flipped the button on the bottom of the mirror, angling it so that it only showed a view of the ceiling.  Before long, his thoughts were on the afternoon ahead of him as he mentally prepared for his next case, and the apparition was all but forgotten.

When he finally returned to the courthouse, Jenine was standing out front with the requested paperwork and a worried expression on her face.

“Chin up Jenine!  I’ve been preparing for this for a long time.  We got this,” he said reassuringly.

“It’s not that,” she answered softly.

“Well,” he prompted, “come on then.  What is it?”

She didn’t get a chance to answer, for when they passed through the entrance of the courthouse a small mob of reporters stood before them.  Since his departure, dozens of members from the Press had arrived to cover the beginning of the trial.  Many more came to watch.  It was the most high profile trial of the decade, and the most important case of his career.  Once they were through the doors, they entered into a world where nothing else mattered but that which lay within.

……….

There wasn’t much time left in the day for anything to be fully accomplished in the courtroom.  With such a late start, each side was only able to present their case to the jury and begin describing the crimes of George Westerson, a man who had worked as a mechanic during the day and committed murder by night.  Over the course of eleven years, Westerson had killed dozens of people ranging from individuals to entire families.  He had no limitations to those whose lives he took, and after finally being captured, he confessed to not only enjoying the act itself, but to more horrific deeds as well. George Westerson, auto mechanic turned serial killer, was also a cannibal.

Until last year, he had been methodical with his victims.  Very little evidence had ever been left behind, and none had ever implicated him until after he had taken the son of a local policeman.  During the abduction, which had taken place from the victim’s own bed, he had dropped a lighter, upon which was a partial print.  From that point on, it didn’t take long for the law to shorten the leash between them.

He had narrowly avoided capture, but only because he had been watching TV while preparing meal.  The view had been from a helicopter, inside of which could be heard the excited prattle of a reporter who was sure that she was about to witness his capture.

He left without gathering any of his things.  The victim was still partially butchered on the counter when SWAT kicked in the door and for the next few weeks, the only news on the television was about what he had done.

The law finally caught up with him, but not for anything he had done.  It had been particularly cold the night he had been captured and he’d chosen to sleep in a nearby shelter for the homeless.  His face had been dirty.  His hair had grown long and was as bedraggled as the rest of him and nobody recognized him when he signed in while using an alias.  Later, as he slept on a cot, a member of Vice came in to speak with a contact and had recognized him.

And so now, several months later, he was to stand trial for the horrors he had committed.  Because of the carelessness with his last victim, he knew that he wasn’t ever going to see the outside again and had resigned to confessing his crimes.  He spoke fondly of the eighty-four people he had captured, killed and eaten as if it were no big thing.  When asked where he had buried the remains, he had replied; “There were no remains.”

George Westerson had become the worst monster in human history.  Some had labeled him as the next Jeffrey Dalmer, much to his distress.  He vehemently denied the connection, stating that unlike Dalmer, he was not a sex offender.  He never touched his victims in any way that would ‘spoil the meat’.  Each had been treated with utmost dignity, killed quickly and completely disposed of by consumption.  “They have given their lives,” he had said, “so that I may continue to live.”

Because his victims had been taken from many States, this case had made national news.  The lobby of the courthouse was literally packed shoulder to shoulder with reporters, journalists and those seeking for any scrap of information they could use in their press releases.  They listened to the court’s proceedings greedily.  Some were frantically writing in their notebooks, while others held their Dictaphones high as they attempted to record the proceedings over the rustle of the crowd around them.

Three hours after it had begun, the judge had called for a recess until nine o’clock the coming Monday morning.  Families of the victims, as well as the select few allowed to sit in on the trial, began to filter out of the courtroom.  Westerson had been escorted out of the building and was currently in route to be returned to his cell and for the next hour, the lobby was a scene of chaos as the Press began separating the families for questioning.

……….

“Thank you for staying Jenine.  I know you didn’t have to and when you get home, you make sure and tell Mark that I’ll make it up to you guys.”

They had slipped out the back exit to the courtroom and walked to a nearby diner to have some coffee as they waited for the crowds to clear out.

“Don’t worry about it, Mr. Patterson,” she answered with a kind smile.  “We both knew that today would be crazy and made preparations for dinner beforehand.”

They sipped from their cups in silence, watching the people outside the window and for a moment were lost in their own thoughts.  They would have been shocked to know that each thought of subjects which led to the same conclusion.

“Mr. Patterson,” she finally asked.

He had been absently looking through some of his paperwork when she spoke and glanced up to acknowledge that he had heard her.

“About this afternoon…”

 “Yes,” he prompted.

“Well…  While I was getting your papers together for the trial, I realized that I was missing some of your notes.”

“I thought I had them sitting on my desk?”

“Most of them, yes, but not the ones you had made from when you and Mike were going over the case.  You had left those sitting on the coffee table in his office.”

“Okay, so…?”

“When I was in there, I noticed something on the floor where he usually sets up his cot after a long night.  It was small, and it sparkled as the light from the window reflected upon it…”

He could feel his blood pressure slowly beginning to rise as he continued to listen to her continued circumlocution.  For the last few hours, he had been steadily getting ahead of the earlier events of the day, but now, as they waited out the media parasites outside, it was beginning to catch up to him.  His tie had been loosened after the first cup, and he had unconsciously run his hands through his hair as they spoke.  The effect was a complete transformation of appearance from a sharp looking businessman to that of a gambler about to lose five times the bet he had originally placed.

“What Jenine,” he breathed in frustration.  “What was it?”

He asked the question partially to end the dance she was currently enacting around the bush, but also to quell the sense of dread that had begun to rise from the deepest pit in his soul.  His mind argued against it, but it was the voice of Old Man Munson who spoke loudest.

“I think you know what I’m talking about, Patterson.  I’ve only been telling you all morning.  You need to get your house in order.”

He swallowed a large mouthful of air, sending his Adam’s Apple bobbing dramatically down and back into place as she reached into her blouse pocket to retrieve the item he desperately did not want to see.  Before he could react, before he could even protest, she had lain it on the table between them.

It was the missing diamond earring to a pair he had given Aubrey on their eighth anniversary.

Though he wasn’t aware of it at the time, his eyes had taken on the wild look of an animal backed into a corner.  They continued to widen until they felt as if they were going to pop out of his skull and roll across the table.  His gaze fixated on small piece of jewelry until it doubled, even tripled in size.  It continued to grow with his imagination until the diamond was the size of a basketball, and he was looking through the golden hula-hoop sized ring and into the sympathizing eyes of his loyal friend and secretary.

She spoke, but he couldn’t hear the words as they passed over her lips, lips which were now moving impossibly slow for reasons he could not fathom.  He threw his face into his hands to escape the surreal scene now unfolding before him, and furiously ground his palms into his eyes for the next several seconds.

“…you okay?”

There was a light ringing in his ears, but just beyond it the sounds around him slowly began to re-approach.

“Huh,” he asked in a daze.

Jenine had slipped around the table to his side of the booth and was gently drawing him into her shoulder, and once his head made contact, the flood began.  He was no fool.  He had long suspected that Aubrey had drifted away but he had never once thought that it had been to his best friend and long time business partner.

“Shh,” she whispered soothingly into his ear.  “It’s going to be alright.  Jenine’s here.”

They hadn’t moved for nearly an hour, and nobody disturbed them as he grieved. Some paused to look at the elderly woman and the sad young man whose tears dampened the shoulder of her blouse.  Most smiled sadly as they passed and mouthed words of comfort that only she could see, to which she would kindly smile in return.

……….

Once the tears had fled his body, so too did a powerful cluster of emotions which were now useless to him, as well as the two he’d most cared about.  In it’s place, inside the empty void they had once thrived in, remained a dark seed he had planted all those years before.

Slowly, he lifted his head from her shoulder and forced himself to make what he thought was an embarrassed smile, something which she might expect him to do after such a display of weakness.

“It’ll be our secret,” she said softly before kissing him on the forehead.  “You know, if you ever need anyone to talk to…”

“I’ll come to you.  Thank you Jenine.  I mean it.”

She picked up their bill and stood up from the seat they had shared, pausing to straighten out her clothes before gathering her things together.

“You get some rest, Mr. Patterson, and don’t you worry about a thing.  It’s the least I could do, for the horrible thing I had to show you.”  As she finished speaking, she glanced over to the object which had started all of this.

“I will,” he said with a crooked smile.

She paused to look around the table one last time, and once she was sure that she had gathered all of her things, as well as straightened out his papers for him, she placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, turned and left.

“I think you know what you have to do, Patterson.”

“Yes, I think I do.  I need to get my affairs in order, don’t I,” he said with a grin.

A malevolent shadow formed just under his eyes as he smiled.  It was a smile that if Jenine had turned around to wave at her employer one last time, she might have fled as if the very hounds of hell were on her heels.  A few patrons still in the diner DID take notice, and each quickly averted their eyes elsewhere as an evil spirit danced its way over their graves.

He gathered his papers together and carefully replaced them into his briefcase.  Then, after slowly rising to his feet, he smoothed down his hair, pulled the knot on his tie tight and left without so much as another word.

……….

Once again behind the wheel of his Audi, he placed his cellphone into the dash mount and activated the hands free controls.

“Call Aubrey,” he commanded once it was ready.

Several tones sang out from the speaker as the phone dialed her number, and he listened as the line on the other end began to ring.  She answered after the seventh ring, out of breath.  It wasn’t anything he wasn’t used to hearing at this time of day.  It was when she usually did her cardio, and another smile tipped the corners of his mouth upward as he pictured the ‘exercises’ she was doing.

“R-Ryan?”

Her voice was deeper than he heard in a long time.  He didn’t answer.  He only looked at the phone with feigned interest before returning his attention back to the road before him.  From the other end of the line he could hear the sound of a soft rhythmic clap, punctuated by a short rush of breath.  She could have been running on the treadmill in their home gym, but then he remembered that she had said she wouldn’t be in tonight.

“…would you stop for a second,” he heard her whispering.  It sounded as if the receiver had either been covered or she had turned away from it when she spoke.  Either way, he could care less as he reached over to press the End Call button.  That she would answer the phone in the middle of what ‘they’ were doing only proved how little their relationship meant to her, and it only served to fuel the apathy which grew inside of him.

It was a feeling he knew all too well.  He had seen it in the faces of rapists and murderers as he either sat next to, or across from them in the courtroom.  It was cold and lifeless, this feeling, and it was dangerous.  It nurtured that something inside of him which was so full of darkness and rage for the one who had betrayed him.  It suckled on his emptiness, filling the void with it’s raw emotion and it drove him to the very brink of madness, where he would have to carefully choose the next road he took.

“You’re a disgrace, Patterson.  How can you call yourself a man, when you can’t even take care of the things you own?”

“Oh, I’m going to take care of my business, James.  You’ll see.  And then there won’t be a fucking thing you can say about it.”

……….

It served as little surprise to him that he should see her car sitting in Mike’s driveway. She had pulled it off to the side, far enough that it was hidden behind the trees that followed the pavement up to the house and anyone who was just driving by would be hard pressed to see it.  But, he wasn’t on a leisurely drive and he knew exactly what he was looking for.

He cut the lights and parked at the end of the drive, content to creep the hundred or so yards to the front door, and quietly pressed the door closed after setting foot on the asphalt.  He was fully set on his course of action as he closed the distance between himself and the house, but he saw everything with an unusually high hypersensitivity. He was able to hear and see things better than he ever had, and if he hadn’t been in his current state of mind, he might have taken a moment to wonder at his new found abilities.

His leather A. Testoni Norvegese shoes creaked softly as he walked, a sound that somehow alarmed and comforted him at the same time.  Most of the lights were off in the front of the house, but this wasn’t where he was planning to enter.  Mike would leave the side entrance to the kitchen unlocked for the maid and it was here that he planned to enter.

The handle gave way to his gentle turn and he pushed the door open enough to let himself through.  Like the front of the house, the kitchen was also unlit, but he had been in here enough to navigate his way around.  With only the brief interruption to close the door behind him, he made his way through the kitchen and into the main hall that connected most of the rooms on the first floor, including the Master Bedroom.

He slowly moved through the shadows in the hall, walking against the wall to his right in order to avoid stepping on any loose boards that could give him away.  The door to the Master Bedroom was slightly ajar.  Soft candlelight fell through the cracks, followed by the soft scent of roses and something that was just a little musky.  His heart thudded in his chest, betraying the deadly sense of calm that had stolen over him, and his thoughts jumped randomly from one to the other.

Just as he began to think that he had made a mistake, that maybe the stress had finally gotten to him and he had begun to lose his mind, he heard it.  Aubrey’s voice wafted through the open door and into his ears.  It was just as he thought when he had heard it over the phone before; a sound which he hadn’t heard from her in many years.  The sound of the moan she uttered, as Mike pleasured her with his ministrations, finally murdered the last bit of empathy he had left.

Ryan stepped into the room and witnessed his wife as she lay beneath his best friend and partner.  Her eyes were closed, her face scrunched in ecstasy from what was happening beneath the sheets, and the only sounds were from their ragged breathing and their bodies connecting.

Ryan stood quietly in the doorway, a dark shadow that neither knew had arrived, and he watched for several minutes before quietly retreating from the room and retracing his steps to the kitchen.  There he removed a utility knife from the wooden block on the counter before making his way back into the room where his life, as he had known it, was ending.

His feet carried him to the foot of the bed, where again he watched as the couple upon it were nearing their impending climax.  His head cocked to the side, watching with the look of feigned interest of which his phone had very recently been on the receiving end.

Her breathing became more frantic, as did the thrusts of her lover, and he knew that the moment was near.  As each were entering the moment of no return, he quickly walked around the side of the bed and raised the hand holding the knife.  At that moment, they cried about beneath him, each trembling as waves of pleasure overtook them and as he tensed for the strike, Aubrey opened her eyes.

“Ryan?!”

The knife plunged into the middle of Mike’s right shoulder, piercing his flesh as if passing through soft butter.  Mike screamed in pain and rolled off to the side, lost somewhere between the uncontrollable spasms which still wracked his lower body, and the white hot fire now burning through his shoulder.  His eyes were wide with shock and he looked upon his partner as if he were looking upon Death himself.

“Oh my GOD!  Ryan!  What have you done!”

“I have kept my promise, as I said I would,” he said tonelessly.  His eyes were void of any feeling and at that moment, he stood before her a stranger.  The words were lost upon her.  She had long ago forgotten what they had shared on their first night together.

“What, promise,” she screamed in confusion.

“I meant what I said Aubrey.  I never once cheated on you.”

“That?!  That’s what you’re talking about?  That bullshit about how you wouldn’t have been able to live with yourself?  Really?!  Jesus Ryan, how the fuck do you think that would have worked anyways?”

Mike had begun to recover from the shock of being stabbed and was trying to crawl toward the other side of his King sized bed.  Ryan leapt upon it, standing over his wife with a defiant look in his eyes and planted his left foot squarely into the back of his best friend.

“When I married you, I promised you several things, Aubrey.  Of those things, I have given you everything you’ve ever wanted.  A house, car, money…children?  I gave them all to you.  You were always my first priority, my love, my soul.”

“You’re crazy,” she breathed fearfully.

“I promised you my undying devotion and I meant it.  I never strayed from you, but if I had, I would have fulfilled my other promise Aubrey.  You never would have known, except for that nagging thought in the back of your mind.  Had I cheated on you?”

He paused, taking a deep breath as he prepared to continue.

“It would have been an accident, or at least that what the authorities would have determined, and I would have made sure that you were taken care of when I was gone.”

He ground his foot into Mike’s back, pressing up and against the handle of the blade with the side of his ankle, causing him to again scream in pain.

“Stop it Ryan, you’re killing him!”

He leaned down, his face just inches from hers, which she turned to the side to avoid looking into his eyes.

“Look at me,” he ordered.

She turned her head slowly, just enough that she could connect with him by the corner of her eyes.

“Do you remember what you asked me that night, before we fell asleep?”

“No, how the hell could I,” she spat.

“But, you remembered what I said ‘I’ would do,” he droned sarcastically.  Mike screamed into the mattress as he grabbed the blade and began to wriggle it back and forth.

“Yes!  Goddamn you, yes!”

“Then you remember what I said, don’t you?”

She nodded slowly, her eyes darting between Mike and the monster that had once been her husband, standing above her.

“So, what then?  Are you going to kill me?”

He threw his head and laughed.  It was a manic sound, a heartless sound, and it chilled her to the bone.

“No Aubrey, I’m not.  You see, believe it or not, I still LOVE you!  No, I’m not going to kill ‘you’,” he said with emphasis.

“No, you wouldn’t dare,” she stammered.

In answer to her question, he violently twisted the knife ninety degrees to the right and ripped it out of the man’s shoulder.  Blood sprayed into the air, fanning out across her face and onto the front of his Armani business suit.  It arced into the air, following the path of the blade as it pumped first away from his victim and then back down into the back of his neck.  Mike’s body began to jump and twitch in the throes of death as the last bit of life left his body.

“I do so dare, and you, my love, are going to help me do it.”

As Ryan plunged the utility knife into the body of his partner over and over again, for the second time that night, Aubrey’s screams echoed off of the bedroom’s walls.  Only this time, they were the screams of someone who’s mind was about to break beneath the horror which was taking place.

Narrator:  Eleven years ago, Ryan Patterson and Aubrey Nielson discovered they were going to be parents to their first child.  Very much the young couple in love, and with their family’s blessing, it wasn’t long before they found themselves standing on the altar. What Aubrey didn’t know was that on the night that she exchanged vows with her soon to be husband, she had also entered into the Twilight Zone, a place where all promises are eventually fulfilled.