The Waiting List (Rough Draft version from 2013)
“How’s it going, Ricky?” Eddie Henderson shouted from the other end of the bar. Rick threw a nod in his general direction. It was early on a Saturday and his bartender and friend had probably not expected to see any patrons at The Oak Café, the most upscale bar and entertainment venue on the east side of the city. Just a few minutes from downtown, The Oak Café was a hotspot for live music, expensive drinks, good food, and mingling with some of the wealthier people in the city under the age of thirty-five. That included, on rare occasion, a handful of athletes from the local pro teams, a couple of well known actors and actresses, and a Playboy model or two that claimed the city as their home.
“Having the usual?” Eddie asked as he walked over to hand Rick Lewis the Saturday edition of the Enquirer.
“Of course,” he gingerly complied. “It’s the best thing on the menu here. Besides, it goes better with a bottle of Sam Adams than something tacky like chicken wings,” he said with a smug look on his face. He had made it to this neighborhood today for a purpose, the same purpose he had every Saturday afternoon. He would eat a decent meal, drink a few beers, and look through the listing of condos and apartments available in the wealthiest neighborhood in the city. It seemed like forever since he had first started looking for space in this section. He was on a million waiting lists by now, but he was hoping to land a condo on Whitmore Lane, a street at the end of one of the most sought after places by those in his age group and financial standing.
Rick had worked his butt off over the past five years to achieve the rank of junior partner at his investment firm. He was one of the most prized analysts in the business these days. He had turned down offers by Lehman and Bear Stearns before they became defunct entities left of the landscape of financial destruction that eventually comes around from time to time. He had also passed up on several good women that would have made him settle down by now. But he had no intention of settling down. Life was about money, not love. He relished in the fact that he who dies with the most toys wins. He even found it amusing to brag to his co-workers at the firm how much he was enjoying his heated steering wheel during the brutal winter months.
Eddie slid a hot plate of chicken alfredo in front of Rick as he scoured through the paper to find a place for rent in his favorite neighborhood. As many power players as he met in his line of work, he would not accept any other circumstance but to live in the same neighborhood as the city’s elite. This neighborhood was home to city politicians, wealthy families that made the difference in city affairs behind the scenes, corporate owners and leaders. He felt that to be elite meant that he had to live elite. He was miserable in his current living situation only because it wasn’t the East Eden Woods district.
“What brings you in here so early?” Eddie asked as he worked his way back down the bar to talk to Rick. “You usually wait until at least an hour before dusk to see the ladies parade in and out of this place.”
Rick looked up at him with a smile. He had managed to take a couple of those perfect blonde’s home with him in the past. Of course, he never intended on having anything lasting with the women he met in the bars. He was only looking for one night stands unless she proved worthy of a little more, even though he’d never take a girl seriously that he met in a place like this.
“I’m waiting on a call to look at a place over here, finally,” he answered.
“Hell, I’ve worked over here for six years Rick. Why do you want to live here so badly? The people are great in here when you serve them drinks but they’re stuck up as hell any other time you see them. There’s a ton of money here, but I’d rather have a ton of personality. Don’t you get that already over in Oakley?”
“It’s quaint over there, but I just feel like I need something more. Last week I was downtown and sat at the bar with the Mayor Quinn and tossed a few shots back while we talked about absolutely nothing. We talked some baseball, a little politics, a bit about the stock market, and a bit more about the busty brunette behind the bar that we both wanted to bed. Do you know how hard it is to get a membership to Stratton’s over next to Third Street?”
Stratton’s was a very upscale and expensive bar that was open to members only. Either you had to have an impeccable credit rating, a top notch referral, or both just to be a member. It was rumored that the owner of Stratton’s was a Mason and when it first opened it was only available to members of the same craft. After some time it was opened to a few more in order to be less exclusive. It also helped profits a good bit as well, one would imagine.
Rick felt that as his career grew, and his income, he was expected to be better. And perception is reality. He had to live in this neighborhood. It felt more like a calling than a desire. He would live here eventually even if it meant breaking his bank account just to be seen.
Eddie walked away from his friend when he heard Rick’s cell phone ring. The bar area was beginning to field a few more early afternoon imbibers, no doubt a result of the early June heat.
Rick was only on the phone for a couple of minutes before setting it down beside his empty beer bottle and taking a bite of the alfredo with a large grin on his face. Eddie could only assume that it was good news. Perhaps something had opened up after all this time of waiting to move to the other side of the tracks.
“From that grin on your face I guess that something nice opened up?”
“The place at the top of my list, Eddie. I’ll have to have you over if I end up moving in.”
“What do you mean, “if,” Eddie replied. “You know you’re going to take the first thing open over here,” he said with a chuckle. “So where are looking today?”
“The North Tower,” Rick answered evenly.
Eddie stared at his friend for a moment without saying a word.
“You can afford that kind of mortgage? Those condos are more than nice. I hear that Stephanie even lives there,” Eddie said referring to Miss October, the city’s most famous Playmate. Rumor had it that Playboy Enterprises even bought the condo for her.
“I don’t know if I can or not, but I’m going to find out. And if I can’t afford it, I’ll find a way, Eddie. I have to get to this neighborhood. I’m the most vain son of a bitch you’ve ever met to still be such a nice guy,” he said with a laugh.
Rick cleared his tab, leaving thirty bucks for a twenty-one dollar bill. He was used to tipping a bit more than the average person, another part of his vanity that he couldn’t deny.
Twenty minutes and six stop lights later he met Mr. Anthony Snapp in the lobby of The North Tower. Anthony was the general property manager of the upscale condominium building and had been showing the units to prospective buyers for the past decade. Although trying to appear upbeat about the meeting, Snapp was obviously exhausted. The bags under his eyes gave hint to a man who had not had a good night sleep in a long damn time.
“I’ve got a few minutes to show you the property,” Snapp quipped as they entered the elevator. “We’ve just finished all the repainting and touch ups of the condo, I’m sure you’ll find everything in pristine order when you see it,” he said, almost as if to force small talk.
Rick could only laugh on the inside thinking about what Eddie said about the personalities being void in this neighborhood. Snapp might be a nice guy when he was rested, but Rick found the man to be coarse and rude considering he had showed up to attempt to sell an expensive condo to a man driving a BMW.
Rick only took a few moments to look around the place before handing the application and non-refundable application fee to Snapp. There was plenty of room in the condo to more than compensate for his furniture, his 52-inch big screen television, and all the other things he’d managed to collect over the years. The monthly mortgage on this place would cost him over sixteen hundred a month, making him able to barely get by, but he didn’t care. Ricky accepted his vanity long before he ever moved to the wealthier section of town. It was about contacts and who to know, not about comfort. He’d worry about comfort in his later years, he figured.
Rick was startled back to reality with the loud slapping sound of Snapp’s palm hitting the wall. “Completely soundproof!” he barked. “However, if you have a large stereo system I wouldn’t try to press your luck too much. Most of the folks that live here enjoy the peace and quiet.
Rick followed Snapp down the hallway entrance into the kitchen area that overlooked the living room below. “As you see,” Snapp continued, “the kitchen is a bit larger than what you’re probably used to with apartment complexes in the area, and has a nice bar with a view of the living room. Although we don’t list this as a multi-floor condo, it is nice to have the living room a bit lower and a nice view of the park down below.”
Rick slowly descended the six stairs to the lower room and walked to the window. It was a spacious room with cream colored walls and a huge bay window where he could see across the park. It was filled with walkers, joggers, a couple of artists leaving their brushstrokes on canvass and several enjoying Frisbee and tossing baseball. It was just the kind of scenery he could have only hoped for. After walking through the condo he was more impressed with the place than he thought he would have been. The only problem would be affording it, but he knew he would find a way.
After the walk through, Rick jovially strolled out of the condo and agreed to meet Mr. Snapp the following afternoon to sign the paper work to secure his first major purchase, a condo in the most exclusive neighborhood in the city. Although he felt the immediate pinch on his wallet he felt like he had finally arrived at what he had worked so hard for…social status.
Anthony Snapp stood alone in the condominium listening intently to the silence and looking closely at the recent paint job on the walls, studying closely the white countertops in the kitchen. It was only six weeks before that he showed this condo to the previous tenant. He was surprised that the man had lasted that long. He had clearly been on edge, constantly looking over his shoulder and had the demeanor of a crazed man. He took his own life just two weeks prior in a bloody mess that looked like it came straight out of a horror movie. In his mind’s eye, Snapp could still see the lines of blood slung all over the walls and carpet. A cold chill went up his spine and he hurried out of the condo, locking it behind him.
It only took Rick a week to finalize the purchase and get his things moved into his new place. He could not remember a time in his life that he felt better about the direction he was going, even if it was going to be a strain on his finances. He spent the first weekend in the new place unpacking, decorating, and trying to discover the source of the faint knocking sound in the walls. Apparently the walls weren’t as sound proof as the site manager claimed. He could hear pipes knocking from somewhere. Just when he thought he had pinned down the source of the noise he heard it coming from an entirely different part of the condo.
Rick had managed to meet several of his neighbors during his first week. His new building had a bar on the ground floor where most of his neighbors met in the evening for small talk before calling it a night. “The Last Stop,” rightly named, was only open from eight in the evening until closing time at two-thirty. Rick had managed to stop in for a night cap each night during his first week in the building. It wasn’t until after he worked late on Friday night and fought some of the baseball traffic around the stadium, that he wandered in around ten o’clock and met Sean Tolliver for the first time.
Rick looked up at the television screen hanging over the center of the bar, above the premium whiskey, and noticed that the game was still on. “How are we doing tonight?” Rick asked Stu, the elderly bartended with the white shirt and bow-tie.
“Not so good, Rick,” the grey haired man responded. “The game got out of control in the third and we’re getting crushed by the Giant’s again. We couldn’t buy a run against Lincecum tonight.”
“I thought it had to be too early for the game to be over when I was driving past the stadium. Traffic was thick coming out there,” Rick said as he glanced at the score. “I guess I’d bail out early, too, if I were sitting through a ten to one shellacking.”
Stu slid a screwdriver on a coaster in front of Rick, as he remembered what nearly everyone drank as they came in during the evenings. Rick took a long, slow drink, savoring the taste of Stoly’s and sat his glass back down.
“Rick, have you met Roger O’Keefe?” Stu asked and made the formal introduction to the man sitting two seats to his left.
Rick turned in the direction of Roger and shook hands as the three began small talk. Rick downed three more drinks before he made his way to the elevator heading up to his floor.
“Hold the door,” shouted Roger as he scrambled into the elevator catching his breath. He had a few years on Rick and at least thirty extra pounds. As it turned out, he and Roger lived on the same floor and even worked in the same building. Roger had an office four floors below where he worked, operating as an independent compliance officer for several brokerage firms and investment advisor corporations in and around the city.
“What do you think of the new place?” Roger asked with a bit of trepidation in his voice.
“It’s nice, I love the place. Why do you ask?” obviously curious about Roger’s tone.
“I’ve lived on this same floor for nearly five years. Just curious, is all. The place has a bit of a history to it,” he said as they exited the elevator and stopped in front of Rick’s door. “I’m just down the hall in 7E. If you need anything just let me know,” he said and quickly walked down the hall.
“A history?” Rick asked a bit too loudly.
Roger stopped in his tracks. He looked back at Rick with a look of regret on his face. “Yeah, man. I’m sure no one would have mentioned it. But that condo has a history of people coming and going, so to speak. Maybe I see you downstairs at the bar tomorrow night before closing and tell you about it. Have a good one, Rick. I’ve gotta get some sleep.”
Rick bid his neighbor goodnight and disappeared into the confines of his newly purchased condo for another night of rest and curiosity about the strange knocking sound coming from within the walls. He had already called the maintenance man to check for knocking pipes but he found nothing of the sort upon closer inspection. He would lay in bed and listen to the faint noises until he fell asleep around midnight.
Saturday morning arrived and Rick woke early and got up and performed his morning rituals. After a vicious piss he had to brush his teeth, otherwise there was no point going on with his day. He was meticulous about his hygiene. After a lengthy mouthwash rinse it was directly to the shower. A hot shower was just what he had needed to shake off the cloudiness of one drink too many the night before. Vodka always stuck with him a little longer than most drinks. He shut the water off and reached out of the shower for the towel that should have been hanging on the wall rack only to find that it wasn’t there.
He slid open the shower door and stared blankly at where he put the towel last night before he went to bed. It was a ritual that he had gotten used to every night for years. He would brush his teeth, then grab a towel and washcloth, hang them on the rack in the bathroom, and then off to bed to fall asleep to either soft classical music or the sounds of talk radio, preferably Coast to Coast. The washcloth was there, he had used it. He slid the door open just enough to grab it from the rack as he rinsed the shampoo from his face.
He shook it off and blamed the mistake on the booze. He walked out of the bathroom, dripping wet, and stretched across the hall to the linen closet and grabbed a towel to dry off, being careful not to drip too much on the new carpet in the condo. He opened the clothes basket and dropped his wet towel onto the neatly folded towel that he could have sworn he hung on the rack the night before. Already soiled, he decided to leave the towel in the basket where he obviously put it the night before, blaming the miscue on the vodka.
Rick spent until nearly eight o’clock that evening wrapping up the finishing touches on the condo, getting the television hooked up, his landline phone installed, and unpacking the last box. Thankfully there was a private storage area at the end of the hall for his empty boxes and a few other items he wouldn’t need for the condo. He neatly packed them away and grabbed another quick shower before tossing on a pair of shorts, a button up shirt, and slipping into a pair of loafers and heading down to The Last Stop for a few drinks and hopefully an interesting chat with a few neighbors, especially Roger.
His first Saturday night at the new building certainly didn’t disappoint. Rick strolled in around nine o’clock and the first face he saw was the mayor, a familiar face he usually saw late night in a downtown upscale bar. It was a new fact to him that the mayor often stopped in early to meet with some of his wealthy campaign donors in the neighborhood. After they mayor did his courtesy round he passed a member of the Reds bullpen coming in as he was on his way out. Rick couldn’t remember his name, but knew the man to be a middle reliever and that he was having a bad year. He sat a couple of stools away from Rick at the bar and took up small talk, but Rick felt it best to avoid baseball as a topic for discussion. He seemed friendly enough and shook Rick’s hand after a couple of beers before retiring back to his upstairs condo for the evening.
It wasn’t long before Roger strolled in and pulled up a stool next to Rick and ordered up a bottle of Christian Moerlein. Rick did a double take at the dark bottle and noticed the colorful label, OTR Over the Rhine Ale. He could tell by the look on Roger’s face that it was certainly a fine ale. Rick nodded at the bartender for another of the same.
After a few minutes of small talk with Stu behind the mahogany, a few more of the residents began to filter in and out of the bar. Rick was relieved to see a few more folks coming in. He and Roger were seated at the far end of the bar away from the television so they could talk. Rick was interested in picking up where they left off last night.
“What did Snapp tell you about the condo when he showed it to you?” Roger asked curiously.
“Nothing odd that stuck out. Just that they had recently finished a complete renovation of the place including new carpeting and paint, new central air and heat. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
Roger wasn’t surprised that Snapp held back on him. After all, it was his job to sell the place to those looking at it and there was no stipulation in the law that required him to tell possible buyers about the horrific events that had happened inside those walls.
Roger started by telling him about the last guy that lived there, Tony. Tony Sellers was a decent enough guy. He worked hard and played hard, and enjoyed life just like most of the people in the building. He was the owner of a small accounting firm downtown, had just turned forty and was recently divorced when he and his ex-wife sold their house, she took the proceeds and he used some of the money he kept in the divorce to purchase the condo outright. After being taken to the cleaners in the divorce, he had sworn off all debt. And needless to say, Tony was still trying to climb out of the emotional gutter when he moved in. That much was obvious from their first meeting in the hallway one evening when Rick and Tony had both worked late that night and got home about the same time.
Tony had first moved in seven weeks ago to start his life over. And within a few weeks his life ended in what rumor had it was a bloodbath. Tony didn’t seem like one to drink much at all. He focused more on fitness, choosing instead a vegetarian lifestyle, morning two-mile runs, and a first a lot of tennis on the courts behind the building. But he soon looked very unrested, became socially withdrawn to the point where he wouldn’t acknowledge his neighbors when he saw them, and only showed up at the bar in lobby for the sole purpose of getting hammered before sloshing back upstairs to his condo.
Before the end came, Roger had spotted him in the hallway and was mumbling something to himself. He looked up at Roger just before entering his condo for the last time and said very clearly, “The damn thing just won’t leave me alone.”
That night he must have done something to freak out Stephanie, the young blonde living directly across from him. She led a quiet lifestyle, something he didn’t expect after finding out that she was a Playboy Playmate spending part of her time in town, and the other half in Las Vegas. He must have freaked her out the night he killed himself. The soundproof walls in the building kept the neighbors from hearing his screams that night, but Stephanie saw a deranged madness in his eyes as she peeked through the glass on her door to see a drooling madman standing in the hall inviting her over for a drink for the second time that night. She called the cops after that. When they showed up there was no answer at the door. Snapp showed up pale as a ghost ten minutes later and opened the door to what the police and the cleanup crew described as the bloodiest murder scene they had ever seen.
Tony had gone crazy and killed himself. But it was no traditional suicide that police and paramedics had ever seen. If it made any sense at all, the best way to put it was that Tony murdered himself with extreme rage. They found bits of his own flesh bitten off from his arms stuck between his teeth and razor marks across his forehead as if the only purpose of those wounds inflicted early in the murder was to watch himself bleed.
The police could only speculate that Tony ran from room to room, spinning in circles as he went in order to splatter as much blood on the walls as possible. It was almost as if he was trying to leave behind an abstract painting on every wall with his blood. When the police finally arrived they found Tony on the floor between his kitchen and dining area. He had finally fell over and bled to death on the floor, a smile on his face. Snapp, upon entering the condo with the police, found Tony’s severed left hand in the kitchen sink and a bloody butcher’s knife on the counter.
When Stephanie overheard two policemen in the lobby quietly discussing the bloody suicide the next morning, it must have hit her pretty hard. She moved out two weeks later and had movers ship all of her belongings to her apartment in Vegas. Her condo would be the next one up for sale.
Rick tried to hide just how disturbed he was at hearing what happened inside of his new home, but the look on his face gave it away. Roger wasn’t even done yet.
“That was bad enough, and I barely knew the guy. But that condo was empty for about six months before he moved in. One person after another came by to look at it. I know for a fact that Snapp had to have showed that condo to more than a dozen people before Tony moved in.”
“But before that, there was a girl that lived there. I never caught her name, but she was a bit older. Rumor had it that she was divorced from one of the executives at a major firm downtown and decided to settle into the neighborhood and start over. She was an artist of some sort, according to Stu. She seldom came in for a drink, but he had talked to her a couple of times when she wandering in around closing. She was a homebody, I think, because I rarely ever seen her leave or come in.”
The woman had lived there for nearly a year before the condo was empty again. She slowly went mad inside those walls. According to a friend of Rogers that works for the police department, they found the woman in very frail condition, maybe seventy five pounds left of her, hanging from the high ceiling fan in the middle of the television room. However, the police psychologist took photos of her paintings and copied her writings. The psychological profile was not very flattering, but the end result was a suicide and her belongings were given to her sister.
“What about before that?” Rick asked with trepidation.
“I really don’t know. I’m one of the residents that prefer to keep to myself. My wife and I are low key and really try to not pay attention to the drama of many of the neighbors. We moved here for that reason.”
“I’m not telling you this stuff to freak you out,” Roger said. “I just thought that you should know. I don’t know what drove those others to the edge, but you seem like a nice guy with a good future. If that place starts to get to you, then I suggest you get the hell out of there. If what happened there before is a coincidence and all things are normal, then write me off as a wee bit paranoid.”
The previous two owners of his condo had gone mad and killed themselves. It was a shocking revelation to say the least and Rick suddenly felt uncomfortable about going back home so early in the evening. Roger decided to stick around and have a few drinks with him. He figured that he could use some company after hearing about the deaths inside of his condo, so he cleared it with his wife to let her know that he was going to be home late that night, and that she was welcome to join them in the bar if she wanted. She declined, of course, opting not to hear the stories of the gruesome deaths again.
Roger got up to leave around midnight, but Rick grabbed his wrist before he could walk away.
“Thanks for telling me the truth about the place. I’d be a liar if I said that it didn’t bother me, but I have a hard time thinking that I’m an out of control ball of emotion and that I’ll kill myself…even if the place turned out to be haunted. If anything seems out of the ordinary I’ll let you know,” Rick said with a raise of his beer bottle. Roger patted his shoulder and walked out of the bar.
“Son of a bitch!” Rick swore under his breath. Although he had a hard buzz from drinking with his neighbor, it wasn’t hard enough not to realize that he stuck him with the bar tab for the evening.
Rick stuck around until nearly one in the morning, switching from beer to mixed drinks since there was no risk of driving. There were a few folks still coming into the bar and he was curious about who his new neighbors were so he hung around at the bar chatting with Stu whenever he had a few moments.
That’s when he noticed the blonde haired forty-something strolling in looking about ten years younger than she should. Karen Rice strolled in, the ex-wife of the state’s best prosecuting attorney, and guy that was on the up and up. Karen noticed him sitting alone at the bar and put her one hundred and twenty five pound, five foot eight frame right next to him at the bar and asked what he was drinking. Rick ordered her a screwdriver and looked her up and down with a passion he normally reserved for the twenty-something crowd downtown. Karen looked too good to not stick around a while longer buying her drinks, no matter how many guys she had done this to after coming home on a weekend.
“My name is Karen,” she said in a soft breath. Her voice was every bit as sultry as something from a Hollywood 1940’s film and her hips were begging for attention every bit as Lana Turner’s was on screen in the Postman Always Rings Twice in 1946.
Rick quickly introduced himself. She had correctly guessed that he was new to the building because she had never seen him here before, although she admitted that she doesn’t often stop by. They sat at the bar until nearly closing time. They were the last two in the bar when Karen said goodnight. Rick closed out his sizeable tab and strolled to the elevator where Karen was waiting for him, holding the door for her newest neighbor.
“Thank you,” he managed to say as he stumbled into the elevator, almost embarrassed at how much he drank. “Overlook me tonight, Karen. I’m just a little drunk,” he said with a wink. Nothing like alcohol to loosen him up to flirt with the prettiest girl in the room. Or for that matter, any girl in the room.
“No worries, Rick,” she said as she pressed the button for the fifteenth floor. “What floor are you?”
“Seven,” he answered and she pressed the button.
“You have to overlook me, too,” she said. “I get a little horny when I drink.” She pressed against him and let her lips sink into his neck as she grabbed his hands and placed them firmly on her ass as the elevator began to ascend.
They kissed passionately until the elevator stopped and the doors grinded open on the seventh floor. “Do you want to come in?” he asked. “I live there,” he said nodding to his door.
“You live there?” she asked as her face grew a little pale.
“Yes. Why do you ask like that?”
“Like there is something wrong with the place. You look afraid all of a sudden.”
Karen looked at Rick’s door with curiosity and nervousness, then looked back at the man she was thinking of going home with. “How long have you lived there?” she enquired.
“This is my first week here, actually. I moved in last weekend.”
She leaned in toward him with a worried look. “Is it true what they say about that place?”
“I don’t know. What do they say?”
“They say some bad things happened, that the place is haunted. What’s it like in there?”
“Well, Karen,” Rick said as he stole one more deep kiss from her. “It’s every bit as normal as your place, I would guess. I don’t believe in ghosts. I heard about what happened to a couple of nut jobs that lived there, but you’re safe if you’d like to come in.”
Rick knew that if he lived in any other condo he would have woke up next to Karen the following morning. But he could tell by the fear in her eyes that it was not meant to be.
“I’ll pass on the macabre tonight, honey,” she answered. “I always wondered if that place was haunted. Maybe you’ll have a ghost story or two to tell me next weekend over drinks,” she said with a wink and shrunk back into the elevator.
Rick stood alone and frustrated in the middle of the hall, not to mention being a little more drunk than he intended on being when he left the condo earlier that evening. It wasn’t the first time he’d gone home alone and he knew it certainly wouldn’t be the last. He staggered into his condo, stopped at the refrigerator and guzzled a small bottle of water, and then collapsed in his bed just before two in the morning.
After a night of tossing and turning, and a nightmare that he could barely remember, Rick woke up when he thought he heard someone talking to him. Barely conscious and immediately feeling the effects of a nasty hangover, he didn’t move a muscle as he lay there wondering if he was really awake or if his headache had invaded his sleep to let him know it was waiting for him.
“Wake up,” he thought he heard someone whispering from inside the room. It was the same voice from his nightmare, what little he could remember. A shadow on the wall of some form of a man with an elongated forehead and spiked hair. He could see the shadow of the figure motioning for him to follow him. “Wake up, come here,” it would whisper. Only it wasn’t motioning for him to follow with hands. This humanoid beast stood on hooves and crooked legs like a dog, motioning for him with webbed fingers that were twice as long as they should be.
“WAKE UP!” the loud blast rang through his brain. One second he was laying comfortably on the edge of the bed and the next he found himself wondering if the voice was screaming at him in his subconscious as he leaned against the wall below the bedroom window in a near panic.
He took a moment to catch his breath and realize that there was no one else in the room. The voice was a result of his strange nightmares and too much to drink after hearing about the self inflicted slaughters that happened in his home before he arrived.
Rick sat there on the floor for a couple of minutes to gather his bearings. Despite the temperature in his condo being set on 68 degrees for his kind of comfort, sweat was dripping from his forehead. A sign of the intensity of his own nightmares, he assumed.
His head ached for the rest of the weekend, but he labored through and with the help of aspirin he arrived at work barely on time on Monday after another round of bad dreams that had him awake for probably half of the night. By the end of the work week, after scraping by with the minimum amount of sleep for any sane human being, Rick began to regret meeting Roger to hear about the sorrows and slayings in his new home.
He was sure that the nightmares were a result of that, and that every odd knocking sound or whisper he swore he heard during the past few days was just a reaction of that. His normal routine was to leave a radio on in the bedroom while he slept and he left the television on while he was at home at all times until it was time for bed.
It was the little things during the second week that got his attention. His tendency was to hang his keys on the key holder on the wall by the door whenever he got home, but would often find his keys on the kitchen counter or on the coffee table. That Friday morning he had found them on top of a neatly folded clean towel in the clothes hamper when he lifted the lid to drop in a pair of socks.
At the end of the week he decided to hit the bar in the lobby once again. No matter how tired he was he was nervous about trying to sleep because of the dreams he had been having. The voices, the knocking, coming home to find his television on when he could have swore he turned it off before leaving for work. The little things were adding up in his mind. He believed that the only reason those little things were adding up was because of his lack of sleep and growing paranoia over the stories he heard the weekend before. He decided that to put his mind at ease he was going to do some online research to find out what really happened, or if the story Roger told him was just hear say.
After working late Friday night on a project he brought to the company for an initial public offering (IPO), he thought that he had done enough to at least foster an extra half-million in the bottom line at the end of the year and told his boss that he was exhausted. The move, the ongoing project they just closed…he was exhausted. He wanted a couple of days off. The owner of the company, Alan Eldermann, thanked the tired looking young man in front of him and told him to come back the following Wednesday. Rick obviously needed a break.
Rick changed clothes and as quickly as he could and closed the door behind him and pressed the elevator button to go down. As he stood waiting for the elevator doors to open, he could have swore he heard a voice in the hall by his door ask, “Where are you going?” in a hissing sound, barely audible.
His face turned pale and he looked down the long corridor. “Who’s there?” he asked. There was nothing but silence. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” he said just above a whisper. The elevator opened and he quickly jumped inside. After a long week he was glad to pull up a seat at the bar and watch the game. The Reds were still on a west coast trip, this time playing the Dodgers.
After a week of nightmares and his own growing paranoia, he was glad to drink a cold ale, courtesy of Stu. “That one’s on the house, young man,” the elder gentleman barked as he walked to the other end of the bar to take drink orders from a young couple.
Rick turned the pint sized glass up and took in as much as he could as fast as he could. He had a weeks’ worth of paranoia to get over. After watching what looked like to be a winning effort on behalf of the city’s baseball team on ESPN, he slowly finished his second pint of ale when Roger pulled up a seat beside of him at the bar.
“How we doing tonight?” he asked as he looked up at the big screen.
“We’re up by four runs going into the ninth. If we hold them off we’ll only be four games back in the central division,” Rick answered almost in robotic fashion. Much of his life, he realized, was spent following baseball when he was not at work or in a serious relationship.
“I know we don’t know each other well enough for me to say this, but you look like hell,” Roger quipped. “Everything go okay in there this week?” Roger had been curious all week, and the extent of his curiosity was written all over his face.
“Well, I wish you had never told me about what happened. I think it made me a bit paranoid, making me think I’m hearing things or experiencing things when there is probably a rational explanation for everything.”
“Don’t kill the messenger, pal. I asked myself if I want to know before I even brought it up to you.”
“I know,” Rick said somberly. “It’s just that the news hit hard. I’m going to do some digging into the local news and see if I can find out anything about the people that killed themselves in my damn condo. And then I’m going to try to come to terms that they must have been nuts to have done that, or at least had some extenuating circumstances that sent them over the edge. If I don’t, then I’m going to keep hearing things or imagining things and that’s not going to be very fun. I blew my entire savings to get into this building and live in this neighborhood. I couldn’t afford to sell this place and move even if I wanted to.”
“So you’re hearing things? What are you hearing? What happened this week?”
Rick looked soberly at his neighbor and leaned in close to avoid anyone overhearing him. “If I tell you what I experience while I’m here, you have to promise me something.”
“Sure, whatever you want.”
“I don’t want you to think I’m crazy as a shit house rat or anything. I also want you to keep it between us. Take notes if you want to, keep a record of what I say just in case. But when I debunk all this oddness for the crap that it is, you owe me one hell of a night drinking in this bar. All on your tab.”
Roger chuckled. He was wondering if Rick would bring up the fact that he walked out last weekend and forgot to pay his part of the bill.
Rick agreed to keep his own thoughts written down in a unused notebook that he kept in the drawer of his coffee table in the living room. That way, if anything did happen Roger would know where to find it.
He told his neighbor of the voice shouting him awake the weekend before. That was the beginning of it all, although he wasn’t sure that the voice wasn’t part of one of his bad dreams as he jolted to consciousness. He confessed to the odd movement of his keys, the voices he could swear he was hearing but blamed on his weeklong growing paranoid demeanor. The clean towels in his laundry hamper. It was an odd week with very little sleep, and Roger could tell. Rick was taking out his nervousness on the bottle tonight.
Roger had an odd look on his face after hearing about the nightmares Rick had during the week. The wild shadowed man with an animal’s legs, the smell of sulfur coming from the pale dead walkers in his dreams. The thought of an invisible eye focused on his every breath while he sleeps, making his sleep light and waking up often.
After a while Karen made her way back into the bar a couple hours before closing time in what was likely her usual jovial mood. She had been downtown at Scottie’s enjoying the best Italian cuisine in the city with the wealthy crowd she courted. She stood behind both of them at the bar and invited them to step down from their usual perch and join her at a table. The three of them sat down and Stu’s evening assistant, Mandy, brought out a pitcher of beer for Rick and Roger, and a Tom Collins for Karen.
Rick didn’t mind letting Karen into his newly odd world. He still held out some kind of hope that he would bed her eventually. However, she seemed truly interested in the paranormal and even confessed to watching every one of the copycat shows on television with crews trying to find some sort of proof of ghosts or evil spirits with their fancy equipment and recording devices. Like Rick, she was also a skeptic. She wouldn’t believe in ghosts or the supernatural until she saw it with her own eyes. Rick’s apartment was her biggest chance of seeing anything paranormal but she turned out too nervous to go inside once before despite how much her body wanted his. She was hoping to drink enough tonight to change her own mind.
After hearing a few more oddities from his week, the three of them cleared their tab and took the elevator together. Karen got off on the same floor and said goodnight to Roger as he walked down the hall and disappeared into his condo. Karen pressed up against Rick as he leaned on the wall beside his door. She kissed him, and gently bit his ear as she pulled away, giving him just a little touch of pain. She looked him in directly in the eyes when she whispered softly in the hallway.
“This is going to happen soon. But, at my place. I want to come back one day this week and look around if you don’t mind. Only in the daytime. Maybe Roger will come by, too. I have to get up early in the morning, but I will see you tomorrow night downstairs. I’m going to help you figure out what is going on if I can.”
Karen kissed him one more time, hard and deep, before slowly making her way back into the elevator, giving him every chance to stare at her hips as she walked away. “Foiled again,” Rick said jokingly as the elevator doors closed. He turned and walked into his apartment, took a cool shower, and crawled in bed to the best nights’ sleep he had since moving in. Exhausted long before he even got home, he had a peaceful ten hours of sleep before waking up to the sunlight trying to break through his bedroom curtains on a beautiful Saturday morning.
After waking up feeling refreshed for the first time in days, Rick showered and left his condo for a day out in the sunshine. The morning was unusually crisp for this time of year and he spent some time in the park reading before putting the top down on his convertible and driving to Kenwood to spend some time in a discount book store to find something new to read. An avid reader, he usually read at least three books a month.
After a silent late afternoon in the condo he descended to the bar in the lobby with a book he had just bought. He took what was becoming his usual seat at the end of the bar and ordered a screwdriver from Stu. The bar was mostly empty, the televisions in the bar on and tuned into different events. Golf on one channel, a national news channel on another, and another with the local access channel showing a documentary about the history of the city. However, when it was slow in the bar Stu preferred to have music come through the sound system, usually Dave Brubeck or Cole Porter. The soft jazz set the mood for the entire bar, and it was just as the portly bartender and the high class clientele preferred.
Before he could get settled in with his drink and the music, he felt a soft hand on his shoulder. He looked around to see Karen meeting his gaze and a slight grin on her face. “Stu, I’ll have one of whatever he’s having and if you don’t mind, we’re going to grab a table over in the corner,” she said with a touch of excitement. At first Rick thought that tonight might be his lucky night, but that fire was squelched as soon as they sat down in the dark corner.
“I called Roger and he’ll be down in a bit. We both have some questions for you. But I also spoke to a friend of mine today and asked him to come over tonight. I hope you don’t mind. He’s what you would call a ‘medium’ and has the ability to communicate with the dead.”
Rick just shook his head with an awkward grin on his face. He had no idea where this was going to go, but he suddenly felt like a circus sideshow freak. He was wondering if his head was going to have to spin around to impress the woman he wanted to go to bed with.
Karen came on hard the entire evening, but especially for the first half hour they sat alone at the table in the corner drinking screwdrivers. Wearing shorts, he felt her bare foot rubbing his calves, then his thighs and then…
Her flirtation was the only thing that kept him sane the entire evening. Roger showed up very enthusiastic to hear how Rick’s night went. His wife was kind enough to send down a few pieces of pineapple upside down cake that she made from her mother’s recipe. She didn’t bother to come down once again. Roger explained it away because she was devoutly Catholic and refused to drink. Therefore, she insisted on avoiding bars.
The three of them dove into the cake as if it was their last meal, and as soon as Roger got up to go take a leak Karen planted a deep kiss on Rick with the full taste of the blissful cake that he wanted to pick her up and carry her up seven flights of stairs to his bed. The chemistry was electric and he knew they would get together soon so he pushed the hormonal thoughts from his mind so as not to get too excited for something that wasn’t going to happen tonight.
Roger slid back into his seat with Stu on his heels with another round of drinks for the three of them. Karen drank half of hers in two gulps and looked at Rick with a hint of both excitement and caution.
“I hope you don’t mind, Rick, but I took some liberties to see what I could do to help you at least get some sleep at night. I have some friends that you would probably consider a bit crazy, but they are passionate about what they do,” she explained.
Karen had friends that would be considered a novelty to most. As it turned out, she had a big interest in the paranormal and had a friend who considered herself to be a psychic medium, someone that could sense the spirits of the dead still existing among the living. Another friend of hers, Mikey, considered himself a “ghost hunter”. Many such groups had popped up all over the country with the explosion of the popularity of television shows pertaining to the subject.
She borrowed a piece of equipment from Mikey but promised to return it to him during the week. She gave Rick a small recording device and told him to make sure he hit the “record” button whenever he felt that he was being watched, or to leave it on his nightstand while he slept at night. It was designed to pick up the voices of ghosts or spirits that people were unable to hear with their own ears. Rick took the device and after a couple more drinks they all went their separate ways for the evening. Besides, he was beginning to get tired and eventually found his way to his plush leather chair in the corner of his living room, turned the lamp on beside him, and began to read one of his favorite books that he had already read at least a dozen times, Cannery Row. Something about reading the classics soothed him.
He decided to play along with Karen’s whim and hit the record button and placed the device on the coffee table and sunk back into his chair to read. He got through the first six chapters before falling asleep in his chair. He woke up at three o’clock, turned the lamp off and grabbed the recording device and took it with him to his bedroom and quickly fell back to sleep.
He was thankful for another peaceful night, although he recalled having a dream where he was being watched by some sort of animal in the woods while he jogged the path in the park near his building. Although, it felt more intense than just being watched. It was more like being stalked. Something in the shadows was fixated on him and that made him wake up with a very uneasy feeling.
Sunday brought with it a late morning jog followed by a cool shower. Although he felt much better than he had the following week, he was still glad to have part of the week off to relax and catch up on some fun reading and sleep.
That afternoon, as he lay sprawled out on his couch, he thought back to his earlier jog. The feeling of something stalking him. Something in plain sight but that he still could not see. It was an eerie feeling to say the least. And as he jogged that morning, he could not help but think of a story he once heard on a news program or read somewhere about a guy who is the woods and crushed by a falling tree. His leg was trapped under the tree and he was unable to lift it. He knew his leg was crushed underneath and he had to do the unthinkable. He took out his knife and cut off his own leg in order to crawl away and live to tell about it. Rick seemed to have the need to keep asking himself if he were strong enough to make that decision if it were him. He shuddered to even think of the possibility.
After finishing another book that evening, a short novella by F. Scott Fitzgerald, he turned the lights out and made his way down the hall to his bedroom. The bedroom door was slightly opened as he reached out to push it further. He froze in his tracks as the door slowly creaked opened before he touched it, as if something invisible were inviting him in. He paused for a moment and realized that at the same time the door slowly opened he heard his central air unit come on. He reasoned that it had to be the air pressure change in the condo that moved the door open. It certainly wouldn’t be uncommon because the same thing had happed countless times in his previous apartment. Just in case, however, he quickly went back into the living room and brought the recording device he borrowed for another night of work while he slept.
Rick was disappointed that he couldn’t enjoy jogging in the park for the previous two days, he thought as he finished a two mile run on the treadmill as he looked out at the grey skies and steady rain. It wouldn’t be long until autumn arrived, his favorite time of year. It was already Tuesday and he was expecting company around noon. He was just hoping that Karen’s friends were not the freak show he was suspecting they were.
He showered quickly and as soon as he got dressed he heard the sound of Karen knocking on the door. Much to his surprise, Karen was standing with two very normal looking people. He almost expected to see an array or piercings, tattoos, and odd clothing fashions from the era of new wave music in the early 1980’s. It was a pleasant surprise.
Rick immediately noticed Karen’s very tan legs and her tight torso as she finally stepped into his apartment for the first time wearing a mid-thigh high thin pink summer dress. She gave him a brief seductive hug before introducing him to her friends.
Mikey gave him a meaty handshake and asked if it was okay if he walked around the condo.
“No problem,” Rick said. “Would you like me to give you the tour or do you want to just explore a bit on your own?”
“I’ll just explore a bit, if that’s okay with you.” He pulled another recording device from his shirt pocket and began to record. “If you hear me talking to myself I just want you to know I’m not crazy,” he continued. “When I use these recording devices I’ll ask questions and then go back and review the tape to see if anything responded. Ghosts or spirits may talk to us but in a range that we can’t hear with the naked ear. This device records on a different level, so to speak, that allows us to hear any responses.”
“Oh,” Mikey stopped before leaving the kitchen. “Did you get much use out of the recording device I gave to Karen?”
“I left it on while I slept, and at various other times. I didn’t think to try to talk to ghosts, though. I must admit, I’m still a skeptic.”
Rick picked up the borrowed recording device from the counter top and handed it to Mickey. “I haven’t taken the time to go back and listen to it yet.”
“That’s okay. I’ll download the data to my computer when I get home and review it for evidence of the paranormal sometime this week. I’ll let Karen know if I find anything. Hopefully the history of this place is just that…history.”
Maya, the other guest in his home, was very soft spoken and began to become more nervous with every second she was in the condo. Karen must have noticed it as well since she began took her hand and began their three-way conversation.
Maya explained that she had the ability to see ghosts and spirits since a young age. Her aunt was also fascinated by the paranormal and she taught her how to not only sense the spirits that are all around us, but that she also taught her how to be a medium, one who can communicate with the dead.
“So now that you’re in here, Maya, what can you see?” Karen asked.
“I don’t see anything with my eyes. Everything is hazy, but I do sense something here. Something really, really bad. How long have you lived here?”
“About a month or so,” he answered as she walked down into the living room.
“People have died in here,” she said flatly.
“Can you see them now?” Karen asked.
“I can feel them, just barely. They all died right here in this room. They’re distant now, being held down by the darkness…a cloud in this place. Something very bad has tight grip on this living space.”
“What do you mean ‘they all died’? There were only two of them according to Roger. They killed themselves.”
“No…I sense nine deaths in here. In this room,” she said as she stood rigid. “They were all overpowered by something and they died. I sense something about dreams, bad dreams.”
“You said you were having some strange dreams, Rick. Anything you want to tell us about?” Karen asked.
Rick thought back to the nightmare he woke from that very morning. He had no intention of sharing the dream with anyone because of the gruesome nature of his own death in the living room where Maya was standing. He had been gripped by an invisible force that shoved him to the wall and slowly picked him up, sliding up the wall until he was pinned with his feet dangling three feet from the floor. For some reason he had a meat cleaver in his right hand and was barely able to move his arm. An icy grip held firmly to his left hand not allowing him to move.
He remembered the hellish voice in his dream ask him, “Do you have the guts to do it before I get there?” Rick knew just what the voice had meant by asking that. He felt the presence of something coming for his slaughter and then Rick did it. He broke his right arm free of the grip and severed his left hand at the wrist, his body crashing to floor.
He remembered picking up the his severed hand and suddenly freaking out by seeing it, launching the bloody stump across the room and hearing the wet thud as it landed on the kitchen floor. Just remembering the dream nearly made him want to throw up.
“Rick, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he answered and looked at her with a smile. “Just a couple of nightmares, but nothing that I remember very well.”
Maya suddenly began to have difficulty breathing and suddenly left the condo, telling Karen on her way out that she would be waiting down in the lobby.
“What the hell was that?” Rick asked with a puzzled look on his face.
“She sees things, what do you want me to tell you?” she shrugged.
Mikey finally made his way back into the kitchen after a few minutes and promised to review the recordings this week and get back to Karen. She gave Rick another hug, and a moist kiss on the lips before leaving with Mikey to head to lobby and thank her friends for coming out.
Rick didn’t feel any better about having the visitors in his place, and couldn’t seem to shake what Maya said. How could nine people have killed themselves in this place and no one around here no anything about it. He supposed it could have happened over time, perhaps a few decades. It didn’t make any sense.
He was glad when Wednesday morning came calling. He felt well rested and was more than willing to sink his teeth into work once again and get his mind off of the oddities that seemed to be dominating his life outside of the office. He even stayed late to catch up on some work he left behind the week before.
Wednesday night he came home late, avoided stopping in the bar for a nightcap and went straight to his couch and kicked off his shoes. After some time of channel surfing he noticed that one of the ghost hunting shows was on and he decided for kicks to check it out and see what Mikey and Maya did for a hobby around these parts.
It was an entertaining show to say the least and he finally understood how the recording device he borrowed actually worked. Since he found himself slightly interested in the show he was glad to see that there were several episodes playing back to back tonight. After a couple of episodes he began to get tired. It was nearly his usual time to fall asleep and he had no intention of showing up at work again and barely being able to keep his eyes open.
Rick turned the television off and leaned forward to get up off the couch when he noticed the reflection in the television screen. He spun around and looked at the top of the stairs leading into the kitchen but nothing was there. He looked back at the television and the reflection was gone. Just like that. Suddenly he wanted Karen and her friends here. What he thought he saw, he knew had to be a figment of his imagination.
He could have swore he saw a beast on two legs, legs like the hind legs of a goat, standing upright on hooves, the torso of a man and the mane of a lion. He couldn’t make out the details from the reflection, but it resembled something of the sort. Rick nervously put it out of his mind as best he could and crawled in bed. He woke the next morning still seeing the vision of it standing by his kitchen and watching over him. He couldn’t believe what he was thinking, but for the first time he thought about trying to get out of his financial obligation, even if it meant bankruptcy.
“Screw it,” he said aloud before he walked out the door for work. “I’m getting the hell out of here as soon as possible!”
He thought he heard growling coming from inside the condo as he stepped into the elevator but was too freaked out to bother going back inside to check it out. However, when he got home that night from working late once again, he knew that there was something inside the condo and he could no longer deny it. He had angered it.
His furniture was moved randomly around the living room, the sheets ripped from his bed, kitchen drawers flung open and silverware sprawled all over the kitchen floor. His linen closet was wide open and towels had been dumped from every shelf into the hallway.
He leaned over the kitchen counter and nearly wept. Instead of standing there wallowing in misery he took his tie off and began to put the silverware back into the drawers and clean up the kitchen. The living room furniture was the next work he set his sights on and it didn’t take long to put everything back in order. Rick didn’t say a word while cleaning up the mess. Instead, once everything was put back in their proper place he changed into a pair of sweats and a t-shirt, grabbed his car keys and went back into the garage and slept in his car that night.
Friday was business as usual for Rick. His cell phone alarm woke him on time and he went upstairs to his apartment, found his towels thrown back in the floor, and grabbed one and headed for the shower. He quickly got dressed for work and left the condo as fast as he could. He worked furiously that day to try to drown the sense of dread that had been creeping up inside of him. For everyone else in the office it was Friday and the clock was moving too slow. For Rick, it was spinning at warp speed. He still stuck around long after everyone else had left.
Rick didn’t bother going to his condo to change clothes. Instead, after work he went straight to the bar. He had no intention of going back into his condo except to start packing. It would just be a matter of time before Karen or Roger stopped by and he would see if one of them would let him crash on their couch for the night.
After slamming back six beers in record time, some of the fright began to wane and he decided to go back to his condo to at least change clothes. Wearing a tie all day was not the most comfortable attire. He actually never enjoyed wearing a suit that much at all, even though he looked completely comfortable.
“Stu, would you mind keeping my tab open? I’ll be back in just a bit.”
“No problem, Rick. Are you okay? You’re looking a bit pale tonight…not yourself.”
“I’m fine,” Rick answered. “Never better!” But his eyes told a different story. Stu thought that he had the look of a man on edge and about to do something stupid.
“I’ll hold the tab. See you in a bit.”
Rick had just missed Roger as he stepped into one elevator in the lobby as Roger stepped out of the other on his way to the bar. It had been a long week and he was curious if Rick had any luck with his recording device.
“Seen Rick tonight?” Roger asked as he pulled up to the bar.
“He just left a minute ago. Said he’d be back so I’m holding his tab.”
Roger sat watching mind numbing television and sipping on a Michelob Light from the tap when Karen and Mikey roused his attention. He quickly joined them at what was becoming their usual table in the corner to see what was so urgent.
“Have you seen Rick?” Karen asked a bit panicked.
“Not yet. Stu said he just went upstairs for a minute and would be right back. He left his bar tab open.”
“Your friend is in a lot of danger in that condo,” Mickey interjected. “I finally got around to reviewing the audio of his recordings during the week and last weekend and the results aren’t pretty. There is something in there and it’s not a spirit of the dead. I think the condo itself is some sort of portal to a dark realm. Listen to this.”
Mikey made a compilation of the voice that had been speaking to Rick the entire time he slept, and sometimes when he was awake watching T.V. It brought him there for a purpose, it claimed.
After a few minutes of listening to the disturbing hissing and cursing and taunting of whatever was in there with him, Roger’s face became pale. They all clearly heard the threats, telling him to die, to go ahead and do it. Telling Rick that his soul belonged to it.
“Stu,” Roger spoke up. “How long ago did Rick leave?”
“Probably about forty-five minutes ago.”
“Shit!” Roger got up. “We need to get him out of there now!”
They made their way up to the seventh floor and rang his doorbell. Karen pressed her ear to the door but heard nothing. Roger knocked loudly but still not a stir from inside. After a couple of minutes of knocking on the door Karen decided to call his cell. They heard it ringing from the kitchen counter but no answer.
“What if he’s gone?” Karen asked. “Maybe he just changed clothes and stepped out for a bit.”
“I don’t think so,” Roger replied. “I have a sick feeling about this. I’ll run down to the garage and see if his car is still here. In the meantime, here’s my cell. Call Snapp and see if he will come up here. We may have an emergency.”
Roger found Rick’s car, but no sign of Rick. He went back to meet Karen and Mickey, both pacing in the hallway outside of his door. “Snapp coming up?”
“He is, but I had to piss him off to get him to come out. He’s not exactly the nicest guy in the world you know.”
“Oh I know!” Roger replied.
Just then the elevator door opened and Snapp joined them in the hallway.
“This better be good,” he said, his voice laced with annoyance.
Snapp knocked on the door. “Rick, it’s Mr. Snapp. I need you to open up.”
Nothing but silence from inside. Snapp pulled out his set of keys and unlocked the door. Roger, Karen and Mickey were practically leaning on him. “Step back, guys. I’ll go in and take a look. You guys stay right here.”
He opened the door and walked inside and looked to the kitchen area on his right. “What in the hell?” he blurted. The sight of the bloody severed hand at the end of a long streak of blood on the floor made his stomach turn. “Not again…”
A Man Called Doosh
(The Intro to the book.)
“Doosh! Doosh! Doosh!”
The crowd was relentless with that chant everywhere I went these days. To the casual passer-by on this hot Tampa night it would appear that I was the victim of crowd harassment as the large group filing out of the bar was calling me a “douche.” I hated the nickname but I got used to it early in life.
My head was bleeding and here I was standing outside of a bar after the fight got started on the inside. It’s me and two of my “weekend warrior” co-workers squaring off under the streetlamp outside of McKinley’s Irish Pub against two of the biggest pricks I’ve ever met. They also happen to be co-workers from my weekend job. When I say two of the biggest I do mean literally and figuratively. They are huge muscle-bound freaks that have the ability to be every bit as mean as the asshole who farts in the elevator on purpose while you’re stuck in the back.
We didn’t start the fight and we’re probably not going to be able to finish it either. I’m pouring sweat from wrestling around inside where I smacked my melon on someone’s beer bottle. I’m looking around at the swelling crowd when I noticed a local news group focusing on me. It was here to cover the church bingo and lottery across the street but somehow me and my merry band of bandits have interrupted a nice evening for the church going crowd and Channel 9 is now going to show it to all of Tampa.
Who could blame the camera man? If your choice was to film some nice elderly Catholics or film a crowd chanting, what sounds to your ears as “douche,” what the hell would you do? That’s what I thought.
“Can you believe these assholes!” Ramirez shouted to me.
Yes, I could believe these assholes, I thought to myself. Angel Ramirez stood next to me ready to brawl. He grew up in a family with nine brothers. He had to fight to get a bowl of cereal in the morning. I, on the other hand, grew up as an only child as was probably the biggest pussy on the block. I should have realized that before I took the weekend job as a wrestler with the Tampa Professional Wrestling Alliance.
“Doosh! Doosh! Doosh!” the crowd kept chanting. By now I could see the shocked looks on the faces of the religious devout across the street as they began approaching the mob scene outside of McKinley’s. Channel 9 was leading the charge to watch me get my ass pummeled in public.
At least I had friends. Ramirez and his in-ring tag team partner Alex Diaz had my back. Both of them grew up together and work as security guards for a local rent-a-cop company. In the ring they go by the tag team name Latino Heat.
How did I get here, you might ask? Well, one explanation is because I kicked the Heavyweight Champion in the balls. It was an accident, I swear! But let’s go back to the very beginning. I am here because that lying son of a bitch in the White House told me I could keep my health insurance, period. Instead, my three-month pregnant wife and I received our cancellation notice in the mail a few months ago. I wasn’t about to be coerced to buy a shitty policy from the government, so I had no choice but to pay twice the premium to keep our coverage with the company we have used since we got married. So I needed a second job and fast, something that would be weekends only.
Let’s go back to the day that our insurance cancellation notice arrived.
First, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Eddie Duchesne. It’s pronounced “Doo-shane,” for those of you not familiar with the name. And growing up you can imagine the nickname I had. I failed to earn even a remotely cool nickname despite being a solid player on the baseball team and having some experience on the wrestling team until I got tired of getting my ass kicked. In the annals of history my nickname will forever be “Doosh.” I hated being called that.
My wife hates to answer the phone when my friends call. “Is The Doosh there?” they will casually ask. Even they stopped laughing about the name years ago, but it still stuck to this day.
Now that it is her last name, too, I’d pity the poor bastard that calls her “Doosh” or “Mrs. Doosh.” Given her mood swings only being three months pregnant at the time this all started, I’d wager a guess she’d kill a man. Too bad she wasn’t in my corner when the bar fight started.
It was a Friday and I had just worked a ten hour shift at work as a customer service rep for a credit card company. If you have never worked at a call center then I highly suggest that you don’t start now. I earned my college degree in finance but this was the only job I could find coming out of college in this shit economy. I had student loans to pay and was a newlywed six months after graduation. I didn’t have the option of holding out until a better job came along, especially considering that half the folks my age were moving back in with their parents.
Melissa works at a small flower shop downtown. She loves working there and has seemed to have a green thumb since she popped out of the womb. Thankfully she didn’t have student loans piling up like I did. Just like most people in this economy we live paycheck to paycheck. By the end of every month our bank account was doing its best to crawl under a duck.
We tried our best not to let it stress us too much. We were well aware that most marriages end because of money or infidelity. In our case, if it ever did end it would be because of money problems. I couldn’t imagine cheating on Melissa. I couldn’t image her letting me get away with it without slamming my nads in car door, either. It was a nice balance to make sure I kept my pants on. Besides, now that she was pregnant her mood swings were funny and entertaining, or they were the stuff nightmares were made of. Secretly I referred to her as The Woman Who Must Be Obeyed when she was out of earshot. I wasn’t sure she’d appreciate the sarcasm.
We live in a small one story house near where I work mostly out of convenience to the grocery store and to avoid long waits in traffic when I get off at 4:30 each day. The flower shop is only a couple of miles away so it works out well for both of us so far. That is, as long as I can keep this charade up with my weekend job without going to jail for it. Having bar fights broadcast on Channel 9 News doesn’t help my situation.
But let’s stay on point. It was a Friday and I had worked a full week. I got home about 5:15 after getting stuck in traffic. I don’t handle traffic well and road rage is the norm. I’ve never hit anyone during a fit of road rage, but I have threatened to rip an old man’s grapes off and feed them to him for cutting me off in traffic. Hey, at least he was old and had no shot at kicking my ass. Well, maybe there was an outside chance. But traffic moved along and we didn’t have to find out. Besides, at his age they were probably hanging around by his knees anyway. I assume that’s just as bad as having them ripped off. Something else to look forward to as I age.
When I got home I found Melissa sitting on the couch holding a piece of mail. I could tell she had been crying. There was my little bundle of emotion and moodiness, her eyes red, holding the little pooch on her belly, her mouth agape.
To make a short story even shorter, the insurance plan I have through my work was being cancelled. Obamacare somehow made our perfect insurance plan illegal. Of course the plan wasn’t cheap, but it covered everything we needed. And we needed it now more than ever with a baby on the way. The letter informed me that we could apply for a new policy or go to the newly created state exchange.
So we looked to see what the costs would be. And the government was going to rape my bank account in order to pay for coverage. This so-called “affordable” shit offered lousy coverage, our doctors were not part of the plan, and I had to pay more than double the amount for my premium and five times the deductable.
“What a cocksucker!” I said.
“Who?” Melissa asked as she tried not to get emotional again.
“Pick a politician! I can’t believe I bought that ‘hope and change’ bullshit,” I rattled off sarcastically. “’Hope and Change!’ they said. ‘If you like your plan you can keep your plan,’ they said. ‘Period. If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor. Period.’ Lying pricks.”
I called my current insurance carrier to discuss other options to keep on their insurance rolls before the cancellation date. Unfortunately, my company was not going to be able to afford to keep any of us insured and we were all being forced onto the exchanges to look for other options.
After a sleepless weekend and much discussion about the issue, enough to make me pull my hair out until I started to show a small bald spot, The One Who Must Be Obeyed convinced me it was in our best interest to apply with the same insurance company. The premium was now nearly doubled, but we were both so pissed off at every politician that voted to make our expenses double, that we decided we would both rather be burned alive by meth-addicted midget devil worshippers than to be coerced by our own government to buy a policy we didn’t need and could not afford.
We were already living paycheck to paycheck and couldn’t afford the new insurance plan, but I agreed that I would find part time weekend work since the new Nazi’s have made this a part time work economy. I’d work weekends doing something to make the extra cash until something better came along. I certainly didn’t want Melissa working any more hours while she was pregnant, even though she selflessly volunteered.
I had some decisions to make. I bought a newspaper and drove around Tampa looking for Help Wanted signs while The One Who Must Be Obeyed searched the web for local job opportunities. She said any job was fine by her except being a bartender. Even though the money was good she didn’t want to wait up until late hours for me to come home. Eleven o’clock was plenty late.
I hated the thought of a second job, but I decided that whatever I did it must meet two requirements. At least pay me enough to cover the extra costs of health insurance and actually be something I like since the day job was sucking every ounce of life out of me.
That’s when I drove by an old brick building that doubled as a private gym and saw the sign. Immediately my heart raced and memories from my childhood television viewing came flooding back. I smiled and with delusions of grandeur I walked inside of the building and stopped at the front desk. A thick, meaty hulk of a man with a long blonde mullet looked across at me, not saying a word.
Because of phony politicians, and with a few simple words, this is how this all got started.
“I’m here to join the Tampa Professional Wrestling Alliance,” I said with a shit eat smile plastered across my face.
Below is a short story from Bedtime Stories for the Terminally Afraid titled Memory Lane. Hope you enjoy the free sample and check out my work on your e-reader!
Sammy Johnson stood alone outside of his old high school with fond memories of his younger years flooding into his mind. It had been twenty years since he had been back for a visit. He wouldn’t have even been standing here now if it had not been for overhearing a couple of people talking in line at a Shell station waiting to pay for gas. Sammy had never even given a second thought about returning to Richlands High School until then. He didn’t know if it was irony that there were a couple of folks far from home talking about the upcoming high school reunion, or if it was a matter of fate that he was there to hear it. He had not even received an invitation to the reunion. That wasn’t a surprise, though. He had not been back to his hometown or spoken to anyone from high school since graduation day.
Sammy stood at the end of the parking lot and took a long drag from his cigarette before dropping it and grinding it out under his shoe. He wasn’t sure if he was glad to have come back. He felt nervous about seeing old friends after all these years. He dreaded being asked why he never bothered to keep in touch. He knew that question would come up a dozen times. In his own defense, however, he never recalled anyone stopping by to visit him. After twenty years no one came around with a friendly word or to talk about the good ole’ days, as they were. And they were just that, the best years of his life. Although Sammy never bothered to look anyone up and stay in touch, he certainly was not hard to find.
He made his way inside and stood nervously in front of the gymnasium doors. Spread out in front of him were old high school yearbooks, photos from football and baseball games, including one of him standing on third base after he had just hit a triple in the state championship game his junior year. He loved playing baseball, and he was rather popular in high school. He found it strange and sad at the same time that the popularity you have as a kid ends the moment you leave school and enter into the rest of the world.
Sammy looked down at the name tags still on the table waiting to be claimed but couldn’t find his. He grabbed a Sharpie and scribbled his name on one of the blank name tags and said hello to the woman working the table and greeting people as they arrived for their twenty year reunion. Leslie Murray, or at least that was her name back then, looked in his direction but said nothing. Instead, she turned back to talk to the other two women from their graduating class, two women that he thought he recognized but had put on too many pounds over the years to be sure.
“Wow,” he mumbled. “She was a stuck up bitch in high school. She’s a stuck up bitch twenty years later. Some people never grow up,” he added as he strolled into the gymnasium.
Sammy had waited to show up fashionably late partially because he was never on time for anything in his life, but mostly because he was nervous to see how everyone else turned out after so many years. He was really nervous about how he would be judged in the eyes of his peers. When they remembered him, he was certainly a rowdy guy. He was popular, he was the star of the baseball team, and seemed to have a great future ahead of him. He let go of the baseball dream after graduation and just seemed to drift around since then.
The dance floor was nearly full with old friends and old flames gathered on the floor in their best attempt to dance like they were still seventeen. Sammy laughed at the sight. He looked around wondering if he was the only person in the gym who hadn’t gained seventy pounds. Women were dancing in groups together and giggling uncontrollably to Baby’s Got Back by Sir Mix-A-Lot and tossing some of their sizable asses around when the song suddenly change to I’m Too Sexy. Another roar of cackling and laughter rose from the crowd that rivaled the volume of the music.
“What the hell did I get myself into?” Sammy asked aloud. He looked around to see if anyone heard him but he realized that no one was paying attention to him anyway.
“Baby’s Got Back, alright. A whole hell of a lot of it!” Chris Redman said laughing out loud as he walked up behind Sammy and slapped him jovially on the shoulder.
“Quick! Man, I haven’t seen you in years! You haven’t changed a bit,” Sammy admired.
“Neither have you, buddy. But from the looks of things I think we’re in the minority about not changing,” he said as he nodded to Christie Blevins, the homecoming queen their senior year.
“Remember how smoking hot that girl used to be?” Sammy asked. “Now just look at her. You can’t blame those hips just on kids. I find that hard to believe.”
“No, but I bet you can blame it on donuts, and cake, and every other snack she probably claims she doesn’t touch. Seriously, I’d bet my bile duct that her ass looks like fifty pounds of chewed bubble gum,” Quick said laughing.
Chris Redman, also known as “Quick”, earned his nickname at a young age. Chris was called “Quick” in the same vein of irony that one would call a fat guy “Slim.” Chris was well known for always being late for class…every class. If dragging your ass was a lifestyle then Chris had mastered it by the ripe old age of five. Whenever someone would tell him to do something, be it his father, his mother, a teacher, or occasionally a local police officer, they would follow their plea with the word “quick!” The nickname stuck.
“Whew, they looked better when the danced back in high school!” Timmy DeLong said as he and Rick Malone slid up beside Sammy and Quick to survey the females on the dance floor.
“Some of them still look good, aged gracefully, but some…well, I’ll just keep my thoughts to myself in an attempt not to be rude,” Rick said as he handed a couple of beers to his friends.
“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that I ran into these two salty bastards out in the parking lot,” Quick said. Sammy took a drink from the bottle and shook hands with his two old buddies.
“So what’s the deal with everyone here?” Timmy asked. “I said hello to a dozen people on the way in here and all I get are blank stares. Did twenty years turn everyone into an asshole?”
“I got the same attitude at the check in table and was outside for at least ten minutes before I came inside. Of all the people that walked by only one of them looked my way and nodded. I thought we were friends with most of these guys,” Sammy added.
“Well, I thought this was supposed to be a party,” Quick said as he chugged his beer. “Where did you get this?” he asked.
Timmy pointed to the open bar on the other side of the dance floor. There were four giant plastic tubs filled with ice and beer in both cans and bottles.
“Hold this,” he said as he handed the empty bottle to Sammy. “I’m going to work my way through this crowd and get us another round.”
Quick began to snap his fingers and prance onto the dance floor in the most foolish sight that Sammy and the boys had not seen since high school. He stopped by a crowd of giggling women and mimicked their “rump shake” as best he could without hurting himself and trying not to look too feminine at the same time. Sammy laughed so hard that he thought his sides were going to split.
Quick then moved over toward Trent Belcher, a guy they used to all goof off with in Biology. The guy did not have a squeamish bone in his body. He was the first one to volunteer to dissect anything. In fact, Sammy had predicted at the end of their sophomore year that Trent would either be a surgeon or a serial killer. That comment on the last day of class got a laugh from everyone except Trent.
Trent was a chubby guy in high school, but since working behind a desk pushing insurance after dropping out of college, he had really let himself go. He was dancing with a woman that none of them could remember and the three of them began to wonder out loud which button was going to pop first. Would it be one from his tight shirt or the one on his slacks.
It only took a couple of seconds for them to realize that the buttons were not what Trent needed to worry about. He danced like someone out of a bad comedy movie, squatting lower every few moves. Quick grabbed his shoulders from behind and pushed Trent down into a full squat before he spun off of him and disappeared through the crowd of women dancing together. Trent had split his pants down the crease in the back all the way underneath to the inseam. The pink boxers were enough to turn the giggling crowd of their female classmates into a cackling group of women tripping all over themselves.
Trent stood up as straight as an arrow and quickly left. Sammy and the boys couldn’t stop laughing and wondering if Trent would actually come back after that.
Quick gently worked his way between two women dancing on the other side of the floor with his best cabbage patch move. One woman he recognized as the quiet girl in homeroom during their senior year. Her name was Rachel, but he couldn’t remember her last name. She wore a giant rock next to her wedding band, which did not surprise him. She was nice the few times they spoke and after twenty years was easily the best looking woman in the room. They looked each other in the eye for a brief second, each with a big smile on their face and having fun, before he gave her a wink and high stepped on over to the tubs of beer.
When he got back to the other side of the gym he found his friends nearly doubled over and laughing hysterically. They grabbed a table and sat down with a fresh round of beers as Rick wiped the tears from his eyes, a big goofy grin plastered on his face.
“You guys think that was funny?” Quick asked. “You haven’t seen anything yet. If these stuck up bastards keep ignoring me then I’m going to have to get really nasty and see how many other people can literally split their pants before I leave this party.”
They four of them sat there for nearly an hour paying no attention to the crowd at hand except to point out random moments of ridiculous dancing or assorted silliness. They took turns going on beer runs between telling stories of old times.
Sammy thought back to graduation day. It was a sore subject with the group so he didn’t bring it up, but it was one of the happiest days of his life. He was turning eighteen the day after and was anxious to get away from home. His pals knew that he didn’t have the best home life and needed out. Living there was a drain on his confidence and he had been battling depression because of the situation.
He had left home early that morning to go hang out with his best friends. By late afternoon they had already managed to use some of their graduation money to have a huge meal, watch the afternoon showing of Wayne’s World, and then jumped into Sammy’s Grand Am and hurried on toward graduation and the various parties that were going on all night.
For some reason that day, Quick had a real need to be on time for once. His mother said she would kill him if he was late for his own graduation. As they sped across curvy Kents Ridge Road, Quick continued to bitch because they were already late for lining up for the march into the gymnasium for graduation. Sammy tried to push it, but he realized he’d taken the curve by the old cemetery a bit too fast and lost control of the car.
When the car finally stopped rolling, the only sound in the ravine was the sound of air coming out of his tires, a constant clicking sound of metal on metal, and the sound of Quick blurting out a string of curse words and insults that were so impressive that it remained legendary to this day.
The four of them gathered their graduation gowns from the trunk of the car and walked to their graduation about a mile and a half away. They managed to sneak into the back of the gym and take the final empty seats unnoticed.
Timmy noticed that the atmosphere of the reunion had changed as the music became a bit less fun and took on a more serious tone when it slowed down to Arrested Development and Marky Mark’s Take a Walk on the Wild Side. A couple of their classmates had made their way to the microphone to make random statements of congratulations for someone that just had their third kid, another guy grabbed the microphone, half-bombed, and slurred out how nice it was to see everyone since their ten year reunion.
That’s when they noticed Brad Franklin strolling past them, the cocky bastard. He was the football coach’s son and was treated like royalty by some of the folks in this room despite being the biggest horse’s ass of the school. If there was such a thing as part-time bully, Brad was that guy. For no reason at all he would flip out and torture some poor kid that he knew wouldn’t fight back, or someone that he knew he could beat up. If you were a kid that could kick Brad’s ass, and you actually did, you had several other members of the football team that suddenly decided to make your days hell when they passed you in the hall or had a class with you.
“That pile of crap walked right by me and didn’t even acknowledge I exist,” Timmy said, obviously offended. “After twenty years!”
Timmy and Brad had a ‘history.’ Brad didn’t like Tim in the least bit. He decided back in the fifth grade when Tim got him out in a game of dodge ball during gym class that he didn’t like the way he looked. So he picked on Tim nearly every chance he got, especially when he had his friends around and his bullying was more intimidating. Tim played little league with all of us, but quit because Brad’s dad was coaching the team back then. The coach took his son’s grudge as his own and seldom played Tim except during mop up duty at the end of a game. So Tim decided that baseball wasn’t for him after sixth grade.
Tim got up from the table as Brad disappeared around the corner.
“Where are you going?” Sammy asked, almost worried.
“I’m going to wait until the big oaf is taking a piss and then I’m going to turn the lights out on him and run,” he said laughing. “You didn’t think I was going to pick a fight, did you? I’m not in the mood to have my butt kicked anymore tonight than I did in high school. But nonetheless, I will be right back,” he said as he jogged happily out of the gymnasium.
Timmy crept down the hall of his old high school until he stood outside the door with the sigh “BOYS” above it. Two guys walked out and he placed his finger over his lips to let them know to be quiet. He didn’t want Brad to know he was there.
Before he walked in the bathroom he noticed another one of his classmates, Brenda Tanner, standing at the end of the hall and looking out the window. She noticed him and turned and gave him a quick wave and a smile, probably realizing that he was up to no good. He hadn’t talked to Brenda since they were juniors. He kissed her once at a party after they had both had a couple drinks too many. He thought about walking down the hall to talk to her but she quickly turned her back to him and continued to stare out the window as if she were lost in deep thought and didn’t want to be bothered. He noticed that her reflection in the glass showed a very different picture than the pretty girl that just waved at him. He paused looking at her for a moment but then pushed it from his mind to focus on the task at hand.
Timmy slowly opened the door to avoid making any noise and walked into the bathroom. He must have made some noise because Brad took a look over his shoulder and looked directly at him and then went back to zipping up. Puzzled, Tim walked into the bathroom as if to take a leak while Brad was at the sink washing his hands. It was only then that Brad acknowledged that he saw him. Tim turned to meet his stare as he stood behind him, Brad locked onto him as he looked in the mirror to see Timmy standing there.
His expression went from relief after a huge piss to a nervousness that was unexplained. Brad bolted from the bathroom like a Kennedy after a car accident, not even bothering to turn the water off.
“Hell, so much for playing a joke on the guy,” Timmy quipped before rejoining his friends back at their table.
“What the hell did you to do that guy?” Rick asked when Tim sat down with a fresh round of beers for his friends.
“Nothing, I swear. He spotted me and then freaked out and ran out there like I was going to get medieval on his ass or something. I have no idea what freaked him out.”
“Well, whatever it was he was spooked about, he tore out of here like the seat of his pants were on fire,” Rick added.
Just then their senior class president, Allan Dalton, took the podium and got everyone’s attention with a spoon to the side of his wine glass. “May I have everyone’s attention, please.”
The crowd grew quiet although there was the constant chatter of the non-sober from the back of the gym and the gaggle of ladies huddled up on the dance floor. Allan gave a heartfelt speech about their high school years, but made mention that he was glad to see that so many had realized and lived their lives like the best was still yet to come. Allan, although a bit of an arrogant guy growing up, seemed more down to earth and bit like a motivational speaker than Sammy and the gang would have realized.
“And now for a toast,” he said and everyone raised their glasses and bottles in unison.
“To health and happiness,
To days gone by;
To fond memories of friends,
And to a tear in our eye.
To good fortune and cheer,
And to our class song;
To that place in our hearts,
For our friends who have long gone.”
Allan then reminded the group of the photos of their high school years posted up along the wall, along with a wall dedicated to their classmates who had passed away too early in life. Then he called the entire group over to a set of bleachers pulled out from the wall for a group photo. Lynna, the local newspaper operator, had made herself available to photograph the group and make the pictures available for everyone online. As the crowd squeezed together, Sammy and his friends each took a knee on the floor in front of the group.
After the group photo, Sammy, Rick, Timmy and Quick took a stroll down memory lane, laughing as they pointed out where they were in photos and reminiscing of those fun days. Then they made their way to the wall where photos hung of their friends that had died too early in life.
A gorgeous photo of Brenda Tanner hung on the wall. It was a picture of her in a evening gown competing for Miss RHS. She was stunning. Timmy touched her photo, remembering seeing her with a sad look and a forced smile earlier in the hallway. She had developed bone cancer shortly after her college graduation. She died before she could even experience the excitement of her first job.
Next hung a photo of Glen Stuart and Ashley Reynolds. They dated off and on in high school but had become engaged a few years later. They died in a water skiing accident at South Holston Lake a month before they were to be married. They found Glen floating on top of the water but her body was never recovered. She was wearing a life jacket but it must have come off at some point during the accident.
Sammy reached out and touched the last photo hanging. It was a picture he remembered posing for, and had that image burned in his memory for the past twenty years. Quick’s mother took that photo the morning before their graduation. The day of the accident. It was of the four of them laughing on the back deck at Quick’s house at Hidden Valley. One of the best days of his life.
Sammy turned and looked at his friends, his eyes glazed over. “It was good seeing you fellas again,” he said softly before turning around and disappearing through the gymnasium door. Quick, Timmy and Rick all looked at each, gave an understanding nod, and vanished just as he did.
“Hey Allan,” Lynna called across the gym as the crowd was beginning to thin out. He came over quickly and thanked her for helping out tonight and for taking photos.
“I just have a quick question,” she said. She pulled up the digital group photo and enlarged it on the screen of her camera. “Would you take a look at this? Who are these four guys taking a knee on the floor? I don’t remember seeing them at all when I took the picture.”
Allan stared at the photo, his face turning abruptly pale.
“What’s wrong, Allan? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”