Welcome to part twelve of the current long story cycle (Cracked Windows). The links will be laid out in sections to cut down the total number we see on each post. You will be able to follow from week to week as needed when new sections appear.
Darkest Light of Day
In the light of day, the cold had dispersed. Though, the summer air wasn’t quite summer, it no longer had the frigid bite he felt during the night. He felt foolish with the bottles of fuel he held in his hands. But maybe in the daylight, they would catch the house and he could end this nightmare.
He had left his winter coat open, the bottle of hairspray tucked into the left inner pocket. Not quite, easy access but still enough he could reach it if needed. The Remington rested in his right pocket. Its weight a reassurance. Though he didn’t think he would need it, not with all the fuel, it had become a security he hadn’t expected. The hairspray though, he couldn’t think of anything it would do to help him. It had become a touch of the absurd, something that fit the moment. In the middle of the day he planned to set the neighbor’s house ablaze. He couldn’t find the words.
Glass still littered the ground where he had broken into the house in the night. After he left, chased by his fears, the neighbor had tacked a board over the broken window. He couldn’t budge it.
In his original plan, he knew he would need to start the fire inside the house. It was his only chance to ensure the entire thing burned to the basement. He had thought a fire started outside would at most bring it down, but it would allow too much chance of the thing escaping before he could end it.
Jerome unburdened himself beside the door. The bottles that jostled in his arms had been placed on the ground. Out of his hands but not out of mind, a part of him was certain they might disappear or explode if he let them out of his sight for too long.
He sidled up to the broken window and turned his back to it. The skin at the nape of his neck bristled as a chill ran up and down his spine. Eyes followed him, he was sure of it. Either from the house or an errant neighbor watched his movements.
A deep breath in, then out again. A moment to strengthen his resolve. He couldn’t do it. He stopped, the momentum of the moment gone as the rising summer heat blasted against the cold he still felt deep in his bones. The whole thing, all of it could only have been a dream. An awful misguided dream he would wake from to find Ariel beside him in the bed. This couldn’t be the minutes left of the life he had lost already.
Her eyes caught him. Not the dead thing he had seen on the garage floor, but the way she was before. Her eyes had been the first thing that caught his attention when they met. He had told her something else in the past. Something stupid that he figured she would expect a guy to say. It was something stupid about her body. But it had been her eyes. Jerome wanted to spend the rest of his life as a hero in those eyes.
That all crashed with her dead on the garage floor. The viscous goo that had been her eyes, her beautiful eyes. Everything ended then. The fiery rage rushed through his body as he slammed his elbow into the boarded window. The board broke free of the window frame in an explosion of splinters. He couldn’t hear the echo of it as blood raced through his veins.
He twisted the door handle through the empty window pane and opened it just enough to wedge it the rest of the way from the outside. After he collected the bottles beside the door he wasted no more time to get into the house.
The world around him changed as he stepped through the door. The chill from before had come back full force. Even though daylight filtered through the glazed windows, the light that shone through had been weakened.
The room remained exactly as it had looked during the night. As he stepped into the dining room, that too looked as he remembered. But there was a slight change from his visit only a few hours previously. Jerome couldn’t feel the presence of the thing that had risen from the basement.
The air around him felt lighter. Something didn’t fill the space he stood in, aside from himself. When he had been in the room before, he could feel not only the thing but a weight in the air around him. The oppression of the night didn’t carry over to the next day.
It was wrong, all of it wrong. He was the intruder, he meant harm. He should never have come back. Jerome glanced back toward the kitchen. Freedom and absolution were not that far away. He could walk away from all of this now and no one would think the less of him. He pressed his resolve even as it felt to slip through his fingers.
Darkness rose from the basement, and oppressive pulse of black consumed what little rage he had left. The fatigue returned. The bone crushing tired of little sleep and fighting against fear and rage for so long. He had reached a point where all he could think to do now was to collapse at the top of the stairs. The strength to press further into the house had left him, let alone the will to flee.
The presence behind him barely registered. When the pain exploded against the side of his head he had lost any connection to what had hit him. And then the darkness filled his vision completely.
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