Welcome to part thirteen 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.
In the Dying Light
As he lay there, stiff carpet pressed tight to his cheek, a hand pulled at the collar of his coat. A moment in time that lasted forever, as searing cold cut through the layers of his coat and deep into his neck and shoulders. From there it radiated through his spine into his chest. A heart attack was the first thought that gripped his psyche. After all of this he would fall to a heart attack.
Rough hands pulled him up to his feet and held him. His legs buckled and nearly slipped out from under him but the hands kept him there. He couldn’t collapse, couldn’t fade away from what he knew would come for him.
No words were exchanged. The bitter cold had taken Jerome’s voice, and the other only pushed him forward, further into the house, into the basement. Slow going as Jerome fought to regain control of his legs. They felt like jelly, as he wobbled under the forced march forward.
Soft light filtered through the darkness from above. Through it he could decipher the outline of the table and chair the man dropped him into. His strength gone, lost to the cold, he couldn’t stand. He held a small candle of hope in his heart but without the ability to move on his own it was faint, fading, his resolve gone.
The neighbor took a chair opposite him. Still no words exchanged and no sounds as he sat. Jerome couldn’t see the man’s features in the darkness. Little more than a vague outline of the man across from him.
He wanted to speak, to scream, to argue, to beg for his life. But nothing came forth when he opened his mouth. The man’s touch had frozen his vocal cords. He couldn’t so much as croak at the man across from him.
“You should never have come here,” the words drifted across the table cold as a winter wind. “It was never for you to feed the hunger.”
Ariel’s corpse came to mind again, and the woman just down the road. Both dead, both fed the beast. Their sacrifice had left him to … to what…
“Who the hell are you?” The words came from somewhere deeper within him. The effort cost him more than just the breath to say them. Jerome’s voice cracked with the effort of words. More than that though, it felt like a fire had seared his vocal cords in the effort to speak.
The man across from him didn’t move, didn’t speak. His eyes held a deep red glow that must have come from the light above them. They were almost catlike in their reflection of direct light in darkness. Jerome’s blood ran cold. These weren’t the eyes he had seen so long ago, but the site of them… He fought against the bonds of cold that held him in place, fought for his freedom.
Adrenaline pulsed through Jerome’s body with a warmth he thought to never feel again. First his toes and then his legs broke through the chill, a crash through immobilizing ice. Hope of freedom kindled a fire, stoked the rage that had guided him earlier.
“You won’t make it back up the stairs.” The man’s voice had a weight to it, vapor that crusted the air between them. “My mistress won’t allow you out of the house a third time.”
The words stopped him. He had found the strength to stand, though his limbs were clubs of dead weight. But the last of what the man said bludgeoned him about the center of his mind. Jerome spoke and the words grated against his damaged voice box. “You’re mistress?”
Then he saw it, something he had missed in previous encounters. He knew this thing, this man that sat across the table from him. He had met him long before. Back when he was a child. Like the old woman who had once lived in the house, he had died here too. After everything Jerome had already seen before this moment, this was the thing that knocked the wind from his lungs.
“I couldn’t sell the house.” His voice sliced through the cold thickened air. “You didn’t sell your parent’s house either. You know what I mean. Say you understand. Tell me, you couldn’t part with what you had left of them either.”
Jerome had fallen back into the chair. What strength he had gained had fled with the realization. “But… you’re dead.” His face flushed with a heat he had forgotten. Foolish words for an absurd moment. Sluggish thoughts stumbled through his mind, not once could they connect to something useful to say.
Further back in the basement, something fell with a crash. Jerome searched the distance, his eyes straining into the darkness. When his focus returned to the man across from him he noticed the man’s eyes. Their glow had returned, a deep red in recessed sockets. Not quite what he had seen as a child but similar, so very similar.
“It’s too late,” the man said. “She’s awake. The daylight has ended.”
Jerome glanced at his wrist. He had left his watch at home on the night stand. It didn’t matter, his time gone. He fought against the cold, against the fear that held him in place. The struggles warmed his muscles and brought strength back to his arms and legs. He didn’t look back as he stumbled through darkness toward where the stairs should be.
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