By Roger A Wilbanks
I'm walking blind, feeling my way down this hallway. Moments ago I was in a room surrounded by friends when the lights went out and the screaming started. The sounds coming from the darkness touch off some ancient survival instinct in me and I got out before whatever that thing is could get me too.
Charlie found this haunted house on a flyer he picked up on Greenville Avenue last night and brought us all out here. I think he was the first one that screamed when the lights went out. I had a funny feeling that this was some elaborate prank on his part; he has been known as a trickster in the past,H but that sound that came from his mouth was not one that could be easily faked. It was the sound of a man that has just come face to face with his absolute worst primal fear and seen that he was nowhere close to realizing how bad it really was. That was followed by something that was a combination of a dog crunching a chicken bone to splinters and the sucking sound congealed soup makes as it struggles to leave the can.
No. That wasn't faked. I know it. I feel it deep in my shivering bones. It was convincing enough to get me out of that room quick, fast and in a hurry and moving my way through the darkness hand by hand in search of the exit. The darkness here has a physical sensation to it, like a blanket thrown over my head. I almost feel it drape over my outstretched arms as I grope my way through the hallway.
That noise. There is something behind me. It sounded like a tree branch scraping a window on a windy night. It was some distance away from me down the hallway, but I am going to stop moving anyway. There is no need giving myself away here. I don't hear screaming coming from that room anymore. There is no noise now except for faint dripping and some soft rustling sound. That scraping sound just stopped. It sounds like it's pivoting…turning away from me.
My heart is a machine-gun inside my chest. It feels like it's pounding its fists against my ribcage, trying to get out. I tell it to calm down. It's no safer out here than it is in my chest. If it keeps this racket up, that scratching noise will know I am here and we're both screwed.
It begins scraping itself along the floor again but it sounds like it's moving away from me. I begin silently feeling my way down the hall again. I walked down this hallway just a minute ago in the full light. I know where the exit is. I just have to get to it before that scraping noise spins around and comes this way. If I can get outside in the moonlight, I know I'll be safe. I refuse to die in this moldy hallway…my insides slurped and my bones crunched to splinters.
I know this hallway was about thirty feet long and I have probably made it half that distance so far. I have fifteen feet to go to safety. The wall is wet here. It's a strange wetness. It was dry earlier, I'm certain of it. I remember the dusty mold on the wallpaper right where I am feeling now. The wall feels thick and cold, like old, curdled milk. I wipe my hand on my pants as the smell that wasn't there a second ago hits me. I've driven country roads before. I know what roadkill smells like, but this was worse by far than anything I ever passed on even the most brutally hot August afternoon. What I smell now is so strong and visceral it should have its own name. I'm sure it does, and I don't want to know what that name is. I retch and vomit where I stand.
The scraping behind me stops. I stop also. Tears swell my eyes shut as I choke down on my own vomit. I lose a moment of my faculties as my body struggles to recover from this revulsion. I turn my head as I wipe my mouth and aim my good ear in the scraping noise's direction as I try to gauge its location. It has stopped moving.
Tense seconds tick by in slow motion as I imagine both me and my shapeless foe waiting for the other to make the first move when I remember my cell phone. Many nights of stumbling have ended injury free because of that small but intense light. This is one of those times.
I have a decision to make now. Shining that light will give my position away. Do I illuminate my unseen foe or do I use that light to expose my exit to safety? I reach into my pocket and pull the phone out. I decide to reveal my foe first as I think it's better to deal with the devil you know rather than an unknown entity. I turn to face the source of the scraping noise and open the phone.
What sight greets me before I drop the phone out of sheer horror is soft and bruise-colored. It has several eyes of varying sizes and is covered with holes, some lined with sharp tiny teeth. There are appendages snaking from its ambiguous form that resemble tapeworms with suckers for mouths.
The light from this momentary illumination causes it to shrink back for a moment, but it recovers with unimaginable speed to grab the phone as it hits the ground and crush it into unintelligible pieces and once more drapes the hallway in dark. The scraping noise starts inching its way towards me, stopping a few feet from my shaking awestruck body.
My eyes are so wide now I am sure I can see even in this wet blackness. But still my unseen foe remains cloaked in darkness. I imagine it squatting before me as a lonely man with a dollar would before a nubile topless dancer who wants one. I then feel cold breath on my neck. It is breath exhaled from a body that doesn't know the warmth of life. The smell of rotting meat lingers as that soft hiss says, "So glad you…could… join us."
As the many unseen mouths that surround me surge into me and begin to gnaw and bite, the shock and severity of my flesh being torn from my body is nowhere near as surprising as the fact that that cold breathy voice that whispers to me is that of my good friend Charlie.
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