Anno Tenebri

The sand was hot, and the merciless sun beat down without remorse upon the New Mexico desert.

The Man walked, plodding along slowly and methodically, seemingly unaware of the sun’s rays beating down upon his naked back, and the sweltering heat of the air. He rounded the top of the dune and came down the other side. Finally after days of walking, he had reached some sign of civilization. A dirt road broke up the wild landscape, winding in amongst some cactii, and a dilapidated old house of crumbling adobe sat next to one of its bends.

The Man reached the porch of the building. An old Mexican sat in a rocking chair, taking shelter from the sun beneath the shade of the veranda, and the brim of a straw hat which sat upon his head.

“Senor,” he said. “Did you walk here in this heat from the sands of the desert? That’s loco, senor. A man could die out there today.”

The Man said nothing, just came over to the rocking chair and bent down. The other watched in fear, transfixed, as he reached out his arm – his dry, pale arm, without a drop of sweat upon it – and placed his hand on the old man’s chest, above his heart.

No memories came flooding back, there was no bright light, no feeling of elation or hope; only darkness. The Mexican’s eyes rolled back into his head, and he collapsed back into the wooden embrace of the old chair.

The Man stood, and turned. He made his way back out to the road, and began following it to the capital.

Second Sight

I never asked to be this way.

It’s kind of ironic really. I actually hate other people. Or maybe I hate them because of it. I can’t really remember, it’s become sort of a chicken-and-egg thing.

Of course, if you could see what I see, you’d hate everyone too. Every brush of a sleeve, every touch on the hand, every tiniest bit of human contact, and it’s all there before my eyes: the sadistic boss fucking his secretary in the boardroom at night, then verbally and physically abusing her; the loving mother going home and torturing her five-year-old son, cutting him with jagged pieces of glass; the innocent teenage girl seducing an old man in an alley, only to stab him to death just for the few measly twenties in his wallet.

The train is crowded and I hate it. It lurches as it pulls into the next station, and a man in a ball cap and dark sunglasses falls into me. There is a bright flash – that’s never happened before – and then I see it all again: her body tied down on the table, the fearsome array of tools on the tray, the blades slicing, her screaming.

The man looks me in the face and I see nothing through the dark glasses.

“I know what you did,” he says, “And I’m going to find you.”

He disappears into the throng of bodies and out onto the platform. I try to follow but cannot; the doors close with a hiss and the train pulls away.

I was so shaken it wasn’t until I got home that I noticed he’d taken my wallet.

That Evening in the Restaurant

“It really does have atmosphere,” Cynthia Cruthers said, sipping her wine. “I can see what all the fuss is about.”

“Yes, I’m glad we finally got a chance to make it here,” Reginald, her husband of twenty years, replied. “It really is delectable. All the reviews I’ve read of the place just simply haven’t done it justice.”

“Yes, yes,” Francis said. Francis was a movie critic, and had joined the Cruthers only because they were the only way he’d ever get to eat at Le Chez des Desiree, given how new and trendy a restaurant it was.

Suddenly the garçon appeared, coming over while Reginald was in mid-sip of his chardonnay. He brought the tray, with one crisp white envelope upon it, sitting quite unnaturally in the center of the brown circular piece of plastic.

“Madames et Monsieurs,” he said, in an affected French accent. “This came for you.”

“Pardon mois?” Reginald replied, in an equally appalling fake French accent. “Mail? In a restaurant? How deliciously absurd! How could this be for us? Surely no one knows we are here?”

“Mais non, Monsieur,” said the garçon, continuing in the absurdity, “it is addressed to you and your wife. See,” he said, holding the envelope up to face them. “Le party Cruthers. C’est tu.”

“C’est vrai,” Mr. Cruthers replied, sighing.

“Knock it off, Reggie,” Mrs. Cruthers replied harshly. “Let’s see what’s in that envelope already. And garçon, bring me more of this pigswill you call wine.”

The garçon fumed and flushed a shade of bright red. “Right away, Madame,” he said, and turned, the coattails of his white tuxedo fluttering behind him. As he entered the kitchen he uttered a string of profanities reserved for Mrs. Cruthers and Mrs. Cruthers alone, mostly starting with the letter ‘c’.

“Open it, already, Reginald!” Francis said, lighting his pipe. “Whatever could it be? How unconventional, receiving mail in a restaurant while dining out, well I never!” He puffed and puffed.

Reginald Cruthers tore open the package as his fellow diners sat around him with expectation. Finally, the last bits of white envelope and came off to reveal…. a phone. A flat, candybar cell phone, the old kind that no one carried anymore these days and no one had for many years.

“How odd,” Reginald’s wife said. “Reggie, what is this? What does it mean?”

Suddenly, the phone rang loudly, its digital ringtone both oppressive and antiquated. Other patrons in the restaurant stared. A woman dropped her spoon back into her pea soup.

Reginald answered. “Hello?” he said, not knowing quite what to expect.

The voice on the other end of the line was cold and lifeless, and the words chilled Cruthers to the bone when he heard them.

“Reginald Cruthers,” the voice said, “in three days, you will die.”

Then there was the only the sound of the phone being hung up on the other end of the receiver, and the cold, heartless drone of its dial tone.

Blue Collar

“Come on down from thar, Buck!” Wayne Crenshaw hollered up to the roof from down on the grass. “Sometin’s wrong with Ozzie!”

Buck walked over to the edge of the sloping shingle, his safety harness following behind him like an obedient snake, to shout down to his boss.

“What?!” he hollered, orange nail gun still in hand.

“I said come on down from there! Something ain’t right with Ozzie.”

Buck took off the rope, something he’d normally never wear at a job out in the country, unless like now when the slant was very steep, and raced down the metal steps of the ladder, making them clang beneath his work boots.

“Where’s he?” Buck said, wiping his nose with his free hand.

“O’er here, c’mon.”

Oswald lay under the trees on the brittle brown leaves from the past autumn, heaving his chest up and down and uttering pained moans from dry, chapped lips.

“The hell’s the matter wit ‘im?”

“Fuck knows,” said Crenshaw. “He just fell down like this after goin’ the woods fer a piss. Reckon we should call an ambulance?”

Ozzie moaned louder, something like words.

“What?” Buck said. “What is it, Ozzie? You dyin’?” He leaned down toward the greening man.

Ozzie moaned again and rose from the leaves in a start, plunging his teeth into the other’s shoulder. Buck screamed and blood gushed from the wound, pouring down over his work shirt and staining the mouth biting him bright red.

“Jesus fucking Christ Oz! What’s got induya?!” Crenshaw took off his old ball cap and swatted at the man, hitting him in the face over and over to little effect. Buck continued to scream and struggle but it did nothing to loosen the vice grip of the teeth sunk in the meat of his shoulder.

“Get him off!” he screamed. “Christ, get him off! Fuck!” Buck punched Oz in the face with his other fist, over and over again, and blood poured from his assailant’s nose, mixing with his own.

Suddenly the stillness around the cottage was broken by a loud thwap, and Ozzie’s body fell back against the dry leaves again, making them rustle beneath it. Crenshaw stood, holding the nail gun limply at his side.

“What the fuck was that?!” Buck said, standing. He held his bleeding shoulder with his hand. Already his shirt was soaked with red. “I need to get to a fucking hospital.”

Wayne Crenshaw stared into the rustling leaves of the forest, then looked down solemnly to the lifeless body before him.

“Shut the fuck up, son,” he said, and dropped the nail gun onto the grass beside him. “Now we’s got ourselves a bigger problem.”

Somewhere off in the forest, a bird sang.

 

Shadowbanned

It started like a regular day at the office. But then when I went to the weekly team meeting, no one seemed to be paying any attention any to me.

I came in 5 minutes late and everyone just kept watching Darren make the presentation. No one made eye contact. And when I raised my hand to speak he simply ignored me. Later I started to talk – “Guys, I think…” – but no one noticed. Janet spoke right over me and the meeting continued.

“Guys, why aren’t you listening to me?” I said. The meeting continued as if I wasn’t there. This was surreal. “Hey, everyone!” I said, waving my hands. “What the hell, guys? I’m talking here!” Janet continued extolling the virtues of the new management framework she wanted us to adopt.

“They can’t hear you,” said a voice. I looked down to see a man sprawled out on the floor, dressed in office clothes like mine, only old and dirty. Where the hell had he come from? “Just like they can’t hear me.”

“What’s going on?” I said. “Why can’t anyone see or hear me? And how come you can? Are we dead?”

“We’re not dead,” he said, staring up at the ceiling. “Just different now. We don’t exist to them, only ourselves, and you’d never know it until someone told you. Took me a long time to figure that out. Guess you’re lucky that way.”

“How? How can this be happening?”

The man stood and stared at me. “You’re asking the wrong question,” he said. “There’s only question you should be asking and that question is not how, but ‘why?’”

Father & Son

“I don’t wanna,” Timmy cried, holding the rifle in his shaking hands. “I can’t…” His face was wet with tears and his cheeks flushed.

“Ya gotta,” said Pop. “Ya gotta, Timmy! Remember what I tolds ya. Remember what they is.” The man shook his finger at his reluctant son.

“But they’s people!” The boy sobbed. “They’s people, Pop! I can’t do it to them, I just can’t. They’s people!”

John Angrum knelt down next to his young son. He clutched the boy’s shaking arm around the wrist, the one closest to him, the one that sat beneath the forestock, and slowly brought it up, leveling the weapon at its end with the milling crowd in the distance.

“You know what they is, son,” he said, looking him in the eye. “Tell me what they is.”

“They’s dead, Pop,” Timmy said quietly. The metal of the barrel glinted in the noonday son. “They’s dead.”

“That’s right Timmy,” John said. “They’s all dead.”

Timmy closed his one eye, just as his father had taught him years ago, and pulled the trigger.

We’ll Meet Again

I saw him as soon as I came in the door. He sat at the bar, his arm bent at the elbow, clutching his cheap Mexican beer, staring up over the bottles of spirits behind the bartender to the glowing television screen above.

It was when I saw the tattoo that my body screamed for me to turn and I run. In that horrifying split-second I imagined that this is how a deer in the headlights of an oncoming Mack truck must feel; terrified but immobilized, knowing that something horrible is coming and coming fast but unable to move or resist or change the inevitable doom barrelling down upon it.

He turned to face me, slowly, so slowly, and the recognition washed over his face even slower than he’d turned. It was like he was expecting me. Slowly he stood, his giant swarthy form commanding the space around the bar stool. I was petrified. My heart screamed for my body to run but my legs were jelly.

When he looked into my eyes it all came flooding back: I saw the green leaves of the tall trees swaying in the humid jungle breeze, the angry cries of men beneath the din of automatic rifle fire, the explosions, the limbs flying clouds of power and dirt and gore, and the blood. Oh God, the blood. And I saw him floating above it all, not as he was now but as when he’d been then with that long black cloak flowing downward, untouched and unaffected by the bullets whizzing through the air, and his face a bleached skull of death, and his bony fingers outstretched, his hand pointing down from up above in that cloud of smoke. At me. Letting me know he was coming for me.

He smiled a wicked smile, showing all his teeth. “It’s been a long time, but we both knew this day would come,” he said. “Sit down, and share one last drink with me.”

I could only obey.