Chapter O

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
The quiet had been restored once more on the final evening of the Candlelight Dinner. The members have vacated, as have the residential employees, with the exception of Charlie Syverson, the club’s evening custodian. As Charlie nears the completion of his custodial duties, he encounters a disturbance taking place inside the large, stone fireplace of the Second Floor Lobby. Unfortunately, Charlie has unknowingly come face to face with the evil that lurks inside the walls of the Lake Shores Country Club.

Chapter O is the chapter not included in the novel: Feral.

Submitted: September 23, 2016

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Submitted: September 23, 2016

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Chapter 0

 

December 1985

 

 

 

The familiar late night calm was restored once more in the common areas of the Lake Shores Country Club. The closing night of the Candlelight Dinners drew to a conclusion, devoid of any noteworthy hitches.

Fueled by their preferred selection of alcohol, the residential employees were anchored in their Friday night ritual of roaming in and out of the liveliest dorm rooms of the third and fourth floor. The hallway walls buzzed from the onslaught of blaring mariachi melodies.

CHARLIE SYVERSON, or Chuck, as a handful of co-workers referred to him, was the lone employee in the common area. This was the ideal scenario as far as the evening custodian was concerned. Peripatetic co-workers were more of a hindrance than a benefit while he carried out his duties. The wiry, no-nonsense, grizzled six-year veteran of the Lake Shores Club was nearing the conclusion of his shift, nearing completion of his duties for the evening.

The bathrooms were mopped.

The entire first floor was vacuumed.

Fresh bags were placed in every one of the club’s assortment of garbage baskets.

Both of the locker rooms had been cleared of debris and abandoned clothing.

Cleaning The Lunch Box, also branded as the first floor kitchen by some, was the final task left on Charlie’s shift.

With the vacuuming of the second floor balcony complete, Charlie began the process of rolling up the exceptionally lengthy cord of the commercial-grade vacuum. In an effort to save wear and tear on his back, he routinely took to one knee while carrying out the tedious process. As he wound the black rubber cord around the cord hooks, he made one last visual inspection of the dining room. It was pitch black. That was a propitious sign, a clear indication that every one of the candles designated for the Candlelight Dinner was blown out and that the fireplace was turned off.

Hours earlier, the scene in the dining room was a direct contrast to its current setting. For the duration of the festival, only decorative candles, adorned with a green holly arrangement, and colored holiday lights, belonging to the Christmas tree and the modish Christmas garland, were implemented in both the formal Dining Room and the less formal Torrance Room. Accordingly, the radiance from the candle lights, in conjunction with the solid gold, satin linens, provided a soupcon of warmth and elegance that manifested without the milieu of a wedding or theme party.

The dining ambiance was further augmented once the four speakers, positioned in every corner of the box beam ceiling inside the Torrance Room, churned up holiday-themed orchestral symphonies regulated to a soothing level. It was the picture-perfect influence to complete the numinous sensation diners experienced, when on the rare occasion that they managed to block out resounding conversations from neighboring tables.

But the room was dark now, eerily silent. Once again, the formerly festive atmosphere had deferred to one of a creepy nature. The grand splendor affixed with the holiday décor invariably evaporated with the sequestering of light. The scent of lingering smoke, courtesy of the extinguished candles, served as the only vestige that any previous commotion had taken place.

Charlie’s attention was suddenly drawn away from the Dining Room when a substantial PLUME OF ASH escaped from the balcony’s massive stone fireplace. The plume embarked on a journey that consumed a majority of the previously uncontaminated air of the balcony. It spread evenly about the room, given that the fireplace was centered along the west wall. The edge of the plume managed to reach Charlie while he was still kneeling. The rubber cord slipped from his grasp—he coughed violently as he sprung to his feet. His arms went into action, vainly waving off the shifting plume. He inadvertently inhaled a substantial lungful of the polluted column. His ill-timed gasp left an intoxicating flavor of scorched cinders in his mouth, and it didn’t seem like it would depart any time soon. This was too nasty of a taste, even for the pack-a-day smoker that he was.

The timing of the plume seemed deliberate, translucently sardonic. He had just completed the final cleaning task of the second floor. The exploit had all the characteristics of a hoax. But his co-workers, mischievous as they were at times, could not have orchestrated a conscientious prank such as this.

Who in God’s name could position themselves up inside the chimney, anyway? And who would want to struggle to such extremes for a prank that would yield so little praise from their peers—and consequently, come up against Chuck’s wrath? When push came to shove, Charlie never backed down from anyone. He wasn’t in the habit of applying diplomacy in his efforts to illustrate his discontent with someone when he truly felt they were in the wrong. Moreover, in consideration of his essentiality to the club, it wasn’t exactly judicious to come to rest on the bad side of a houseman who could be of indispensable assistance with work-related predicaments.

Charlie’s nostrils flared as he loathingly stared back at the fireplace. He wasn’t necessarily recognized as having a low boiling point, but crap like this could agitate him to no end. Unfortunately, disappointingly, there was no one directly to blame for this agitation, no one for him to guide his displeasure at and subsequently assuage his simmering blood pressure.

Even the plume’s rarity was galling in a way; something so astronomically improbable could ONLY happen to him. This was the first time he had ever encountered anything of this nature, and he’d be willing to bet his life it had never happened to anyone else who worked at the club as a houseman.

It might have been something to chuckle at, had it not occurred on his watch. Had this occurred earlier in the day, during Uriel’s shift, the animation he would have let loose would have been a surefire treat for all to witness. Uriel had the wit and improvisational skills to amuse even the most steadfast of the grim-faced, and he possessed the full range of apposite facial expressions to complement his amusing lexis. He pitched a charming accent when showcasing his broad comprehension of the English language. Had Charlie been furnished with an audience, he may have paid homage to Uriel’s droll disposition by drawing humor onto the dilemma. But he didn’t even have a single soul around to point at the mess and say something akin to, Can you believe this shit—even the chimney needs to quit smoking!

The club was enormous. It required a lot of physical exertion for one houseman to straighten and clean. Sharp time management awareness was mandated. Any deviation from Charlie’s routine from unexpected sources could prolong his shift—and he detested that, even if it meant his shift would only be extended for a period of a few minutes. There was nothing to gain by dallying past the shift; management wasn’t in the practice of sanctioning unauthorized overtime.

The holiday season piled on additional responsibilities for the custodial housemen. Every function room of the club featured its own Christmas tree, with each tree flaunting its own unique flair. In total, there were nine trees requiring nightly inspections. The supporting decorations—garlands, figurines, and nativity sets—also mandated assiduity.

The nasty char taste continued to linger in Charlie’s mouth as he waited tetchily for the plume to settle. He needed to distinguish just how much of a film it would leave on the four mauve sofa chairs and the circular, almond-colored, marble top cocktail table that the chairs encircled, not to mention on the commercial-grade carpeting section that was exposed to the plume.

He desperately wanted to scurry to the nearest men’s washroom, which was only twenty steps away, and gargle vigorously with some cold water. Unfortunately, he would have to remain where he was and come to a decision whether a repeated cleanup was in order. And this could only come about after the descent of the ash cloud was complete. Agonizingly, he was at the mercy of an army of dust particles, flippantly prolonging their descent.

The film on the marble table became noticeable, even without the total mass of the plume having collapsed entirely.

Charlie snagged his dampened wipe-cloth dangling from his belt loop on the right side of his dark gray work pants. He folded it over three times, then seized the tiny spray bottle that also hung on a belt loop, but on his left side.

He sprayed the all-purpose cleaner onto the tabletop in a figure-eight motion and then proceeded to wipe the table clean, administering lesser force than with his initial cleaning.

The impermanent sheen returned to the tabletop once more, as did the scent of glass cleaner. Content, his eyes shifted away from the table and onto the carpeted area surrounding the sofa chairs. In the soft, artificial lighting, the chartreuse-colored carpeting, with its blue and amber-colored floral highlights, didn’t appear to have any palpable patches of grime.

It was time to address the potential scale tipper.

He stared intently at the chairs with agitated eyes, mulling over in his head whether or not they warranted another session with the vacuum. He could easily get away with not vacuuming the carpet once more—no one truly looked down at the carpeting for any extended period of timeespecially the area surrounding the Second Floor Lobby furnishings. But the chairs were a different concern all together.

Like moths to a flame, club members were drawn to the area in front of the fireplace, exploiting the restful setting for a variety of reasons. They sat in those chairs daily, carrying out their morning rituals of sipping coffee and reading the club-provided morning paper. They coordinated strategies for upcoming functions and galas. Even informal business meetings were conducted while seated on the soft, comfortable cushions the chairs tendered.

The thought of a club member—or two—sitting down in those chairs and kicking up enough dust to incite a series of coughs, or sneezes, didn’t sit well with Charlie. The scenario would be especially volatile if the member spotted an actual dust cloud ascending from the chair—a highly conceivable scenario when sunlight surged in from the giant West Wall windows. That development stood a ninety-percent chance of reaching management, by way of the disgruntled member.

Charlie’s central incisors dug into his lower lip. It was a habit he would subconsciously submit to whenever he mulled over anything he felt warranted meditation. Cleaning the chairs and the carpet involved rolling out that endless extension cord once again. And with the endeavor of vacuuming, the furniture would have to be shifted, as well—ONCE AGAIN. The cocktail table, with its marble top and iron legs, wasn’t exactly insubstantial in regards to weight. Moving it around always tested the potency limits of Charlie’s back. The endeavor also placed his shins on high alert, due to the dark, circular band of iron that was welded to the interior segments of the four legs.

Just how much dust could have possibly come out of the chimney anyway?

His shoes suddenly became a concern to him. The soles would have to be wiped down, just in case he had stepped in some of the dust. The last thing he wanted to leave behind for the morning shift to uncover was a trail of filthy shoeprints all along the front section of the upper lobby—and, on the majority of the steps of the main stairway. These were areas that came into eye level as one ascended the stairs.

As his brain advanced toward a final assessment, a SECOND PLUME OF ASH, similar in dimension to the first one, escaped from the fireplace and followed a similar path as the previous cloud had. It didn’t seem to bother Charlie’s throat as much as the first had done. Maybe his body was primed this time, or maybe he was so rapt with other concerns that he didn’t preserve the capacity to acknowledge the intrusion.

The decision of whether or not to re-vacuum was pretty much decided for him. He had no choice at this point; the omnipresent film was just too conspicuous, even for the faintest of eyes. He would now have to wipe the tabletop—for a THIRD time! It seemed, to Charlie, something inexplicable had just read his dithering thoughts, and decided to sway him in a particular direction. But there was a more pressing issue now at hand—what the hell was the source of the plumes, and when, if ever, would they cease?

As he reached for the bulk of the vacuum cord, a rustling noise from within the fireplace ensnared his interest. It was peculiar. Birds fabricating nests in the flue during warmer months wasn’t exactly implausible, but it was December; the fireplace was employed daily during the winter months.

He inched quietly closer to the massive fireplace. A faint disturbance, resembling hurried shuffling, released from the box. It had to be mice, perhaps even a pair of them. Multiple creatures had to be in thereno one mouse could dislodge a collection of soot that would set free that much dust. They must have seen him and ran up there to evade capture. The rustling noise could have been the direct result of the mice having to shuffle about in avoidance of lingering hot spots.

The shuffling diminished the closer Charlie edged toward the fireplace, as if the creatures were wise to his encroachment. He suddenly locked his legs in place, turned his head ever so slowly until his right ear lined up with the fireplace. He awaited the signature squeaking he had heard mice expel a number of times during his tenure.

Minutes had passed with Charlie holding his ground, yet the distinctive squeaking he was holding out for never returned. These creatures seemed well disciplined, and not eager to giveaway their precise local; it was a matter of survival for them.

There was a fleeting contemplation of turning the fireplace back on to resolve the matter once and for all, but it seemed too malicious even for Charlie. He figured frightening the creatures out from there would be the most humane thing to do, allowing them to meet their demise another day, at the hands of other employees, or predators. Besides, one could only imagine how horrific of a visual it would be to have mice corpses resting on the gas logs—and God knows what kind of stench that would discharge.

At this point, Charlie hoped they were mice—and not rats. Rats were the last thing he wanted to grapple with. Although he could not recollect anyone from the club—be it a member or staff—having ever seen rats on the grounds before, it wasn’t exactly implausible considering the profuse amount of discarded food sitting in the dumpsters at any given time. It was a detail the local raccoon population found immensely pleasing.

A THIRD PLUME shot out of the fireplace—followed promptly by a FOURTH, each surging out with greater velocity than the first two plumes had. Charlie waved his hands in front of his face like a pair of auto wipers set on the highest speed. He held his breath for a bit, hoping not to inhale anymore of that nasty dust, but it was in vain. The condensed dust particles had found a path to his airways, settling heavily in the back of his throat. He was going to have to cough some of that shit out.

He snagged the protruding tissue from the decorative, rectangular box of Kleenex resting atop the cocktail table and promptly hacked into it. His coughs only released more dust into the air, and a fair amount directly into his face, further vexing him.

He rolled up the tissue and buried it in his pants pocket, all while blinking incessantly in order to clear up his eyes.

The assumption that some type of creature, or creatures, were up in the chimney creating the plumes seemed reasonably convincing—at the outset—but the basis for the contrasting rates of speed between the first two plumes and the last two were difficult to rationalize. The recent plumes gave the impression that they had been inexplicably assisted in their acceleration. That was ostensibly unachievable for rodents, taking into account that a manipulation of the law of physics would have to have taken place in order to do so.

The acceleration couldn’t be blamed on a rogue gust of wind generated from outdoors for the incontestable reason that there had been no temperature fluctuations in any of the plumes.

Negative pressure couldn’t be held responsible as well, considering that was never an issue inside the club in the past; the building had a handful of locations that permitted external air to penetrate. Moreover, the plumes seemed to be exhaled directly out from the opening of the fireplace, rather than having been the upshot of downward crashing debris—which would require the plumes to land at the base of the box and then flow out of the opening—and considering the thickness of the clouds, the larger of the descending particles would have to had generated some evidence of an audible signature upon landing—which they hadn’t.

Thanks to these last two plumes, Charlie would have no choice but to wipe or even vacuum the soles of his shoes, as well as try to suck up any dust from his white uniform shirt.

He fought the urge to leave the matter alone and let Uriel tussle with it in the morning; based on Charlie’s track record, no one would ever truly suspect him of such negligence. In all probability, the club staff would theorize that the mess materialized during the wee hours of the night, long after Charlie’s shift had concluded, thus absolving him of any culpability. This would easily be confirmed with a morning phone call between the Assistant General Manager and Charlie himself. But Charlie was a dependable worker, not exactly a social butterfly—by any stretch of the imagination—but he was quite efficient and customarily accountable in the workplace. Furthermore, Uriel’s shift was more hectic than Charlie’s, a verity Charlie was sympathetic to.

He seized his compact Maglite from his pants pocket and twisted it into action. The yellowish illumination given off by the flashlight was anything but bright. He had put off replacing the batteries until the front desk staff replenished the battery supply: ‘Why should I have to pay for something that’s used for work-related responsibilities?’ This was a motto he often vociferously replicated to whoever would bother to listen.

He removed the Saints Gate fireplace screen and set it aside on the carpeted area that wasn’t affected by the plume’s signature.

The shuffling commotion ceased, just as he had anticipated it would, having just manufactured a ruckus of his own.

He shined the light onto the fireplace. The foundering glow bounced off the brick backing and back onto his face.

He leaned into the firebox, grasping the mantle with his left arm for support. He was careful not to upset the arrangement of the countless Christmas cards situated—ostentatiously— atop the wide, overly-protruding mantle. With the top of the firebox opening set nearly six feet high and the black, nearly-concealed hood dropping four inches beneath that, he was fortunate he didn’t need to drop to his knees for a peek inside.

He aimed the beam of light up into the smoke chamber and slowly maneuvered his head deeper into the firebox. The narrow, consistently jagged passage of the chimney was now directly in sight. His right hand quivered slightly. The quivering meddled with the battery contact, causing the already-meager beam to waiver. The abundance of cracks and crevices, available for the mice to take refuge in, made the search seem almost inane. Finding a needle in a haystack offered more promise.

This absurd campaign had the potential of requiring a substantial measure of time—a luxury Charlie wasn’t afforded. Furthermore, there was always the possibility that the campaign could end up fruitless. If that were the case, he would have no recourse but to turn on the fireplace and let the mice decide their own fate; there was no way in hell he was going to allow a fifth plume to blanket him and the Second Floor Balcony carpeting, along with all the nearby furnishings—once again. There was no guarantee there would only be one additional plume. Without intervention, this crap could go on all night.

He slowly leaned in even closer—AN ENORMOUS, EARSPLITTING GAS-FED FIRE BALL EXPLODED OUT FROM THE FIREPLACE and onto his face, hurling him rearwards into a frenzied backpedal. Shifting flames clung onto his clothing. The air he was desperate to inhale was scorching. He frenetically pounded his hands against his shirt to quell the flames, which spiked up onto his face. In his mad dash to quash the fire, and with his senses severely compromised, he had unwittingly back pedaled up to and over the bulky, mahogany hand rail. His legs swung over his body. His desperate, impetuous movements ceased as he crashed, face first, onto the Main Lobby floor.

The carpeting below had done little to cushion Charlie’s body from the abrupt sixteen-foot plunge. And, despite the momentous thud, the crash was not loud enough to capture the attention of his co-workers upstairs—then again, if the explosion failed to rouse attention, then how could a substantially lesser clamor be expected to do so?

Charlie’s lifeless body lay there motionless. There wasn’t even an involuntary flinch from his body. He was no longer ablaze. The descent and the lack of oxygen, in the gapless region between his torso and the carpet, had extinguished the flames. His arms were frozen in a splayed pose. His palms laid flat on the carpet. His fingers were extended and spread apart, with some of them bent abnormally, breaking their natural symmetry.

The left side of Charlie’s face was exposed, heavily blistered from the nose down, gruesomely singed above the nose and beyond. He was practically unrecognizable. The embroidered patch featuring his name wouldn’t help identification matters either, as it was destroyed, along with the majority of the hair on his head.

Thin, wavering wisps of smoke rose off his clothing.

The air was polluted with the scent of scorched flesh and hair fibers.

Blood began to seep out from his nostrils and onto the carpet, amalgamating with the undetected blood that seeped out from his right ear canal. The blood’s origins rendered the palpable injuries deducible; his shattered patella, pelvis and clavicle would require a closer inspection in order to be unearthed.

Charlie’s unfortunate passing had sealed the truth behind the chilling incident, indefinitely. Even the discarded damaged flashlight, lingering underneath the gas logs, would fail to provide sufficient elucidation. This tragedy, as with many of the others, would be perceived and dismissed as a freak accident. It would be shelved and set aside along with the rest of the freakish accidents that had taken place throughout the years. And the veracity of the incident, in due course, as with the others, would undergo extensive embellishments. Sadly, this was not to be the last of the calamities to take place at the ominous Lake Shores Country Club.


© Copyright 2017 James Borto. All rights reserved.

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