Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tales of the Amulet: Behind Me

    I was angry.
    This was probably the seventh time in a month that the Buick took a shit.
    And for the seventh time the car sat lifeless on the shoulder of the road, releasing its soul in the form of dirty, gray clouds floating skyward from under the hood.
    So yeah: I was angry.
    And the real tasty icing on the crap cake was rolling in from the west: dark purple clouds with that unmistakable stain of ugly tan swirling around beside the oncoming wall. Thunder argued its location from the horizon and the flickers of lightening announced the bigger storm to come.
    Angry. But at least I had an umbrella, because yes: I had to walk. The road ran the rural outskirts of the city and from where I stood there wasn't a restaurant or a gas station for at least a mile. I was definitely walking.

    The drops began as soon as I shut the door; heavy, loud, and with a fury like the rain was mad at the ground. I popped the umbrella just in time as the downpour picked up speed sounding now like a waterfall splashing on a tent. I began my walk.
    The rain continued to pelt my meager covering like a barrage of water bombs. It was torrential for one minute, and an outright deluge the next. As I looked around with stunned wonder, I noticed immediately that the road's edge quickly became a running, muddy mess. And so I plodded on.

    Soon it became all too apparent that the arm not holding the umbrella - I rotated as frequently as my aching hands desired - was rapidly becoming a sodden sponge. It might have been an umbrella, but with the downpour, it was doing very little to deflect much of the torrent and bare!y kept me dry. I did my best to keep my mind off the drenching chill, and so I let it freely wander.
    I thought of my wife and kids warm and dry at home. I thought of my phone with its useless, dead battery. Why did I listen to music all night at work without charging? And so I walked and thought.

    Just then, something that most definitely wasn't the relentless rain caught my attention. I cocked my head as I continued my march through the deepening puddles. Then I heard it again. It sounded like footfalls beating in opposite rhythm to my own. Worse yet, they sounded agonizingly close.
    I breathed deeply and collected my thoughts. There was obviously someone behind me; someone near enough for me to discern their sounds through the ceaseless storm. I wanted nothing more than to stop and turn around, but half of me said not a chance, and forced me to keep walking even more quickly.
    My breathing came more rapidly, too, not only because of my pace, but largely because of my fear. Why was I so scared? I'm a grown man... And a big guy! So what if someone was following me? This was not the plot of one of those Slasher flicks In was so fond of. People don't just go around stalking and cutting up pedestrians! This was stupid!
    But that was just a bunch of macho bullshit because as the footsteps continued to match my pace, panic and blinding fear sank its claws even deeper. I swallowed hard enough for it to click in my throat and instinctively coughed, cleared my throat, and spoke aloud,
    "Guess I'd better call my wife!"
    There was no way my trail had any idea my phone was dead. I mocked dialing - knowing full well the lighted display wasn't glowing - and waited, pretending to listen to the nonexistent ring. And all the while the footsteps never faltered.

    My heart was hammering in my chest as I began to talk to no one,
    "Hi honey! Guess where I am!"
    I prayed for the plodding footfalls behind me to slow; to edge a little off their pace. But even as I carried on my fabricated conversation, they never once wavered.
    If possible, the darkness seemed to deepen around me. It felt as though its inky cloak was enclosing me so tightly I'd never be able to free myself. I tried to slow my laboring breath and forced myself to continue the charade I'd begun on my dead cell phone.
    "No, I've been walking to town. Yeah, it's crapped out again. No, I should be the..."
    I was abruptly cut off as the thing following me let out what could only be described as a laugh; a low, guttural chuckle.
    A cold bolt of fear lanced up my spine and I could feel its chill ring in my ears.
    I missed a step and nearly tripped. The night around me suddenly grew far warmer as the sensation of absolute dread made sweat bead all over my face and body. I juggled my umbrella from one hand to the other as my sweaty palms threatened to drop it entirely. I had sense enough to put my phone away before dropping it, too, since there was no reason to pretend any longer.

    I kept my pace, as did my persuer. By now my fear-heightened senses could clearly hear it breathing through the still-pouring rain. By now, the aching need to see what was back there was almost overpowering my natural fight-or-flight sensibilities. I had to know.
     I slowly - without breaking stride - turned my head.
    Just then my balance gave out and I stumbled over a rise in the road. My feet tangled and I fell over myself. I landed hard on my hands, both of which I managed to throw out in front of me to brace my fall. The umbrella cartwheeled down the road, and everything I had in my pockets jingled noisily across the blacktop; my key chain with my antique amulet bottle opener, my phone, my wallet... it all spilled onto the soaking wet street. I could feel the gravel as it stung deeply into my palms as the blood began to pool and trickle out.
    As I sat there on my knees, stunned, I looked desperately around trying in vein to locate any shadow or glimpse to show just who or what had been following me. But even as I shot my gaze as far as I could into the dark, rainy night... I saw nothing. I heard no sign that anything was ever there. By the time I scrambled to my feet and gathered my sopping possessions (the umbrella was a lost cause), I was drenched to the core. Heart thumping a hole in my chest, shivering from head to toe, and on edge like a startled cat, I continued fruitlessly to survey my surroundings. But still I saw and heard nothing.
    Nothing except my salvation:
    Headlights and an engine.

    The End

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tales Of The Amulet: Daddy

  Rachel sat down on her bed and yawned, stretching her arms high releasing some of the tension of the day. It was late. She'd been through the wringer today and could feel every second of it pulsing through her like hot, electrical wiring. Saying she was tired was an absolute understatement; she was exhausted and physically worn to her core. She peeled off her clothes, unhooked her bra, slipped into her favorite Monster Squad night shirt, and dropped to the bed like a sack of meat. Sighing deeply, she rolled to her side and managed to just get her phone plugged in when the blessed sensation of sleep swept her up in its warming embrace. Her last glimpse was of the digital clock on her nightstand: it was eleven twenty.
   It was the thud that woke her. It jogged her with such ferocity that her breath caught in her throat and she cried out a little. She lay there catching her breath and trying with staggering difficulty to understand if the noise was real or just a product of her sleep. But her question was answered for itself when the thud came again. Rachel squealed and felt the motion bounce her bed. She instinctively scooted her knees to her stomach and wrapped her arms around herself. The only light was that from her dim clock readout so she blinked and stared around the near-total darkness searching for sight. After a few minutes her innate bravery kicked in and she slowly undid her legs and made to step off onto the floor.
   THUD!! The forcefullness of the sound and its sudden, shuddering jolt nearly spilled her to the floor. It was then that it became evident that whatever it was had emanated from beneath her own bed. Rachel scrambled to the floor and stood idly by with pregnant anticipation. Another few minutes went by and she slowly made her way on tip-toes to her bedroom door. Just as she turned the knob, the thud came again with such force that she could actually hear the bed bounce against the floor. She yanked the door open, smacked up the light switch, and turned toward the family room. What appeared before her frightened her so instantaneously and completely that her comprehension didn't have time to catch up with what her eyes were trying to tell her she was seeing. She saw her father; her father dressed in his favorite T-shirt and sweats standing in the shadows cast by the bookshelf and the TV stand glaring at her with dreamy eyes rolled back into his sunken, pallid face. Yes her father who had died three years ago by his own hand right there in the family room. The spectral image seared itself into her psyche and the last sensation Rachel felt before black fog enveloped her was her knees buckling.
   A slice of dawn pierced beyond Rachel's closed eyelids and she winced, rolling away from the window. Then she jerked upright kicking the covers from her body. Her bed? No. Not possible! She knew with no doubt that she'd collapsed in the family room after seeing... Daddy. Impossible! It was obviously a dream. Absolutely without a doubt. Wasn't it? She sat there thinking past the fog that still blanketed her mind and stared off into the distance of her bedroom.
   Rachel's day was as hectic as all the rest -including a trip to the DMV to get her license renewed; a visit made all the more irritating by the jackass in front of her in line- and as she slouched into her front door the sensation of both being comfortably home and fearfully in a house that produced such a real-world nightmare that she'd felt it throughout the day hit her twofold. She dropped her keys in their pottery bowl, hung her jacket over the door hook,  and looked off into the dimly-lit room still safely alit by the wavering setting sun casting purple stripes through the blinds. She was dead tired, but at the same time had almost no desire to go to her room to bed. But it was finally common sense that made her roll her eyes and walk with trepidation to her room.
   Rachel once more began to undress; she slipped the disk-shaped medallion she frequently wore from her neck, stripped down to her underwear, and slid into her nightshirt. Slowly the need to sleep enveloped her and as she sunk beneath her covers, relishing the cool comfort, all thoughts of the previous night faded away.
   The first thud jostled her awake at a quarter to one. Her heart hammered a vicious drum beat in her throat and she quickly clamored out of bed. The thud rocked her on her feet and the bed shook violently. She whimpered and ran for the door. Back in the family room she was once again brought to tears by the horrifying apparition that hung in front of her disbelieving eyes. Her deceased father was both passing through the ceiling and passing into the room. His wavering shape blurred and cleared back and forth; he was both there and not there, recognizable and amorphous, her father and a mist. Her fear was at its zenith... and then the phantasm froze. It turned and looked directly at her, and through her. Rachel was paralyzed with terror.
   His mouth worked. It didn't make a sound, but it made the motions. It mouthed "You" repeatedly and held a finger accusatorially at his daughter. Rachel saw black for the last time. As she faded into sleep, her final rest, the last thought that passed through her mind was that of her dad, happy.