This is part two in an ongoing series of short fiction. Part one can be found here.
A chill met my cheek as I awoke to the sensation of a dozen screws twisting in my skull. The contents inside my cranium were soup. My brain had been melted and simmering all night. Everything was fire behind my eyes and they burned as I opened them. Then I saw. I saw where I was. I saw that I was lying on the cool tile floor of my bathroom, curled in a semi-fetal position around the toilet, pants half down around my legs, ass exposed. There was a crust around my mouth, heavier on the left side indicating the flow of drool and other fluids. I struggled to shuffle myself into a more comfortable position, as each time I shifted, my stomach revolted and I stopped. All movement ceased until the pain passed and I prayed it would only be gas, please let it be gas, no matter how rank, just let it be gas until I can rest my bare butt-cheeks on the seat of my toilet and evacuate the sickness that took residence in my bowels.
My mind was darkness and my memories were lost to a fog. I can only recall a phone call from Penny and a drunken adventure to find my keys. I must have found the keys because I’m in my apartment, unless I broke into somebody else’s place, but if that’s the case, why did they allow me to pass out in their bathroom? That logic doesn’t work so this must be my toilet. Smells like my toilet. And if it isn’t my toilet, it is mine now.
The phone call. What was it? Something about Lindon. Lindon was… dead. No, that was days ago. Something about his death. His dead body. His body! It was… missing. Somehow and they didn’t know. And when she told me this, I was in my apartment, standing in my living room, the world spinning. And as it spun, I saw things. Imaginary things. Things that weren’t there. Inconceivable shapes and shadows of phantoms, the lingering essence of specters and spirits in my presence with all that remains being stains and a scent. Something foul. More foul than what stirs in the bowl and what rumbles in my bowels. The smell of rot, of decayed flesh. Of a life no longer alive and dwindling further from existence.
And then my eyes locked on the source and the world stopped spinning, but only briefly. The shock of the sight of what occupied empty space, looking back at me, filled me with nothing less than terror, fright, and dread. That shape began to solidify into a grotesque form of shredded and slashed flesh, muscle detached and dangling from bone. And it was wearing an ill-fitting suit. Then it spoke. It said “Hello,” and the world spun so fast it flew off of its axis and crashed into the sun.
And I threw up and crumpled to an exhausted heap beside the toilet.
Standing up right brought new pain. Blood rushed up and I felt dizzy. Oxygen filled my lungs. With that deep breath, I took my first step out of the bathroom, crossed the threshold and then tripped into the hallway, crashing to the floor. I heard footsteps rushing to my location. Rolling over to look up, I saw Lindon standing over me.
“Dude, you okay? You look kind of pale.”
“That’s the shock. My head hurts.”
“I don’t think you hit your head when you fell.”
“That’s the alcohol. Alcohol is to blame for most of this. Gravity the rest. What are you doing here, Lindon? You’re supposed to be dead. And missing. According to Penny, your body never arrived at the funeral home and the theory is your body was either stolen or misplaced at the morgue. Also, is this a dream? Is this real life?”
“Well, it ain’t fantasy, I can tell you that much.” Lindon extended a hand, a frightfully mangled hand, bones peeking out, like exposed pipework in a ground excavation. The skin was grey, the flesh purple. Pulpy and shiny. Like glazed sausage. You know the kind you get at cheap continental breakfasts with the French toast you have reheat and those extra dense bagels. I took hold of it and while I worried that as he tried to lift me up, his arm would just rip off, I also tried not to think about how his hand felt like a tattered burlap cloth.
Despite my weakened state, I was able to prop myself into a crouched position thanks to Lindon’s assistance. I let go of his hand once I felt like I could wobble without falling down, relying mostly on the wall to keep me steady. “Just a second while I find my equilibrium, which is around here somewhere. So, uh… you’re dead. How’s that working out for you?”
“I’m not sure, because I don’t think I’m fully dead, given that I’m, you know. Here.”
“Yeah, that’s a kicker in the whole death thing. I guess you’re undead or something like that. You’re not quite a zombie. Are you a zombie? Do you crave human flesh or brains?”
“No, just White Castle.”
“Hmm… White Castle sounds good. Especially for a stomach full of booze and regrets. How did you get here?”
“What, to your apartment?”
“Well, I meant why you’re back from the dead, but sure, let’s get that out the way.”
“I walked here from the funeral home. So, my body did arrive, it wasn’t misplaced or lost. I woke up, saw that I was naked and put on the first clothes I could find.”
“That explains the suit. It looks like a tux, which begs the question of who gets buried in a tux, but I digress. So you figured out where you were and decided to come here first? Or did you try to go home?”
“No, I didn’t go home. When I woke up, I didn’t know what happened to me. I only remembered little pieces of what happened to me. Between then and when I came back, it was darkness. And I saw myself in the mirror, Cy, and all those memories came back. Everything. What happened. I saw what happened and to me and knew I couldn’t just go home. Not right now. So I came here.”
“How did you get in?”
“I… don’t know.”
“Well, to be honest, sometimes I don’t know how I get in here either, so I think we can agree that maybe it’s a small detail that doesn’t need a succinct explanation.”
“Yeah.” Lindon’s gaze turned to the floor. He was thinking and from the expression on what was left of his face, it wasn’t good thoughts. They were sad distressing thoughts. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Lindon, tell me. What happened to you?”
Lindon paused and stared back at me. His breaths were short, shallow, staggered. Each inhale was an abbreviated wheeze and his exhales were discordant rattles. I can only imagine the condition of his vital organs, especially his lungs. Once you’re dead and your system shuts down, your organs only have a short period of functionality before they aren’t even suitable for gym mat filler. Take into account that he is now in some state of reanimated existence, there’s no way his organs are capable of handling the necessary functions they once could.
He turned away from me, not in anger, but in retreat for comfort. For repose. He was defeated, emotionally and mortally. He walked to the living room and I followed him, keeping one hand on the wall and letting it lead me along. Lindon took a seat in the chair opposite me and I decided to lean against the wall casually. A part of me felt that if I took a seat, there’s the strong possibility I could shit myself and I’d rather not risk that. Lindon stared straight ahead and began to speak. “It was earlier in the week…
I was working late at the university, reviewing articles that would be helpful in backing up my research, as well as grading assignments from my students. The hour was creeping towards seven o’clock, so I wanted to wrap up quickly and meet up with my friends for a drink and board games. I decided to bundle up the last of the ungraded assignments in my portfolio and make way towards the front of the building. My office was located on the first floor and just down the hall from the entrance, so it would prove to be a quick exit.
I made my way out the front doors and locked them. I believed myself to be the only one left in the building, and probably the last person on campus. Once I heard the tumblers roll and click, I knew the locks were secure, and I turned myself in direction of the bike racks. As I turned the corner, I heard a very strange sound. Like a cat gagging or choking. I stopped took a glance over my shoulder. There was a man dressed in a black turtle-neck, gray slacks, and black wing-tips, crouched atop a protruding ledge affixed to the building. He was playing a trombone. He played it horribly. It was dreadful, an offensive tone to the ears and the heart of harmony. He was also wearing gloves and a mask, both looked black to me in the darkness. As I stepped closer towards him, I saw that the mask was actually a deep purple. His playing became faster, more erratic and still sucked quite a lot.
He stopped playing once I stood before him, and then he spoke. “You know, I just haven’t been able to get the hang of this damn thing! I mean, there’s so much sliding and blowing. Sliding and blowing. Slide. Blow. I don’t know… Maybe… it’s rusty! Hey! A rusty trombone!” He laughed a most foul laugh. It was horrid. Like gravel in a blender. But his speaking voice was smooth and sophisticated. Like an actor. Polished. “Hey, buddy. It’s not polite to stare. I’m gonna have to teach you a lesson.”
“I’m sorry, but…do I know you?”
“Well, you don’t but you should.”
“Are you a professor? Or a student?“
“Aren’t we all students of the earth? Of life? Of being human? Oh, you meant here. At this university. No. I’m not. For these purposes of me doing things to you, I am not a student here. Hell, I’m not even from here. This place. This earth.“
“What do you plan to do?”
“Well…” he paused to jump down from his perch. “Things.”
“What kind of things?” I gulped with dread at what words would fall out of his slit mouth. He grinned a Cheshire grin.
“That’s what I feared.”
“Well, don’t fear the reaper, baby. Now… let’s get down to brass tacks.” He rolled his head about his shoulders, cracked his knuckles, and shook his legs a bit. When he cracked his knuckles, it made a sickening hollow pop. Like the snapping of twigs or chicken bones. I did not know then what he had planned. I was paralyzed. You hear often of victims being helpless, defenseless because they are frozen in a state of fear and its true. Especially when you know there is probably no way out, its best to stay still and observe for a possibility. It was then that he produced something hideous from his pockets. They were bright and shiny. I like shiny things. Who knew that shiny things might be my end?
“Oh, you like these? I’m quite inventive. Or is it creative? Necessity is the mother of invention and I am a motherfucker!” He showed me what he had, much like a waiter shows you a list of wines. “These are top of the line, stone-sharpened 3-inch razor blades. They have been cut and sized to fit in this nifty leather strap.” He was in salesman mode. It was as if I was in a horror-film infomercial. “Take the strap and simply slide and tighten around the hand, make a fist and you’ve got yourself a very vicious weapon designed to slice, dice, slash, gash, and utterly destroy the body of your next victim. Welcome to my house, bub.”
“Snikt snikt, motherfucker.”
As soon as I could, I tried to run. I tried to run towards the main quad, where its lit and populated, but I felt something catch my shirt as I turned. It was him. He caught my side. My body twisted from the strike. The cut burned. It was fierce. I had no idea how deep it must have been. You have no conscious idea of these things. They are merely circumstantial. I stumbled forward a bit, losing my footing, and as I tried to balance myself, he struck again, about my shoulder, and I fell. I was grounded. Prone. I felt him upon me. I felt his weight. His girth. His heat. His firmness. He was stone. He was an entity. He was not man. I struggled with brazen might and reckless abandon. I don’t think he expected this. It did catch him off guard, but he quickly improvised and struck again, aiming for my torso. I put up an arm and blocked it. The price I paid was I took a hearty slash along my arm. More burning. Oh, how it burned, the flashing slice of a sharp blade across tender flesh.
I attempted to grab at his wrists, hoping to hold him still so I could twist myself or him, possibly snap them or break his arms. Whatever I could do to get out of this terrible jam. I succeeded. I had a firm grip on his wrists. He was surprised by my strength. I parted his arms and exposed his torso. I attempted to thrust my legs up and give him a sturdy kick back, to push him off of me and give myself a chance to burst up and run without expending energy. I had my opportunity and took it, but I could only manage to get one leg up. I planted my foot firmly in his chest. I took the wind out of him. He coughed and seized. He fell back and I saw my chance. I burst up, turned, and took flight towards the lighted quad, just beyond the guarding trees. I got up and took my first step, planting my right leg forward but I couldn’t get my left leg to go. He had grabbed my ankle. Without hesitation, I swung around and attempted for a swift kick to his head. I connected. His grip loosened. I was free. Or so I thought. We know how this is going to end.
As I connected my foot with his head, my free leg came down awkwardly and my body twisted in a manner most painful. You see, he managed to slash into my trapped leg as I came around to kick him. He was that quick. So, when I connected and he let go, that leg fell out from under me and I landed with full weight on my right leg. I was once again face to face with the ground. And I felt him on me once again.
He took time to slash at my back to weaken me. To punish me for my failure to comply and surrender easily. I tried as much as I could to push myself but, my body was quickly giving up. My strength was draining. I was sweating and bleeding; stung and burning. He turned me over and stared at me in a flash moment. I saw into his eyes. Black like night. His eyes were the abyss. And then his fist came down on my face. He reigned blows with the bottom of his fists, alternating with slicing at my face with his razors. The sensation was almost euphoric as my pain quickly numbed up. I could no longer feel.
It was quick. The death. I’m actually not sure what was the cause exactly. Maybe something burst in my brain. Maybe it was the moment he choked me and I didn’t have the capacity to breathe anymore. The blood loss. Maybe he punctured my heart. One way or the other, I was dying, and then I was dead. Though, as I lay dying, I managed to hear his last words to me.
“My friend. You feel me? I am the winner. You are the loser. This is the world. The fight is done. The day is gone. But my victory is sweet because I will get to see tomorrow. Watch the sunset. It is your last.” He stood over me, admired his work of violent art and made his way over to his trombone. He picked it and came back to my body. He squatted over me and began to play, the slide nearly hitting my face. He played for about a minute, with enthusiasm. I was surprised that he had any breath left in his lungs to play so triumphantly. He must have been tricking me earlier because he played the instrument like a master. He stood up and marched about, as though he was leading an imaginary band in an imaginary parade. Every so often he’d stop playing, march about and shout “I AM THE GREATEST!” before he marched off into the night.
I stared up at the sky, one last time and admired the starlight.
“And that was it. I was dead and the next time I was alive was today.”
I had no expression. My mouth was empty, my heart had fallen into my stomach and was dissolving. Shock. Utter shock at what my friend had told me. What he revealed to me about his death. That he could recall it all in such naked detail, like it had happened just now, just that day. I couldn’t muster a proper response. “Lindon… let’s get some sliders.”
He nodded in agreement, and off we went. “Oh, wait. I need to take a shit first. And maybe you need to borrow a hoody for, you know, covering up your corpse self.”
“I have some in the closet in my bedroom. Just grab whatever fits. I’ll be done defecating in a couple of minutes, hopefully.”
So he went to retrieve a hoody and I went to expel the pungent stew that rested in suspension in my bowels. After that, we left for White Castle.