Frank and Serene

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
A man is set in his ways and takes advantage of some free time. He is pulled from routine without his consent.

Submitted: June 25, 2017

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Submitted: June 25, 2017

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1

The Gift of Time

 

On any other night Frank would be racing home. His stuttering Dodge Demon would be pushed to its limits, the bald rubber threatening to leave the pavement and the rusted frame groaning under its own weight. He would be batting the steering wheel and looking in his rear mirror for cherries and or blueberries, urging the straight six to push just a little harder. He would be doing these things because this time was his own and he would want to use as much as he could before the scornful alarm clock woke him the next morning, calling him back to the service station he worked at.

As it was, however, he need not hurry tonight. Tonight he was moving at a jolly pace. Really dragging his heels. And, why not? Tonight was only the first of three he would have to himself. He need not burden his Demon with excessive speeds. He would amble along at whichever pace he chooses and saunter into his apartment when he sees fit.

Earlier in the day he had not had such ambitions; earlier in the day he was under the impression that he would be in once more at eight the next morning, and therefore any time to himself would be found between 9PM and 6AM. Earlier in the day, Hope had not yet spoken with him.

Hope, the hapless owner of Hope Gas and Garage, had spoken to him on his way out the door and informed him of the three-day-weekend ahead. It was some labor law that Hope had overlooked and she was making up for it now. Whatever the reason, Frank did not argue.

Instead, he simply strolled to the Demon and went on his merry way. So too should he be merry, for he had not back-to-back days off in over a year. This would afford him nearly seventy-two hours allotted only to himself. Perhaps an hour or two here and there would go toward tidying the apartment or picking up groceries, but he doubted it.

Frank kept it five below the limit and drummed along on his steering wheel as the Blue Oyster Cult played through the Demon’s speakers. He would be home soon, and the time was his to waste.

 

2

To Want is to Waste

 

A brief time before the stove had passed and now Frank sat in a near coma before the TV, his Kraft Dinner congealing, forgotten, on the table beside his recliner. He was somewhere between a daydream and a doze, blissfully unaware of the family walking up the stairs to their apartment or the Wheel of Fortune episode playing out on the TV.

Frank lived alone, and when given the time to waste he took full advantage of it. If some observer were to query, Frank would smile slyly and tell them that he has a knack for slacking and nothing more than that. In high school his father had pulled him aside and asked earnestly if Frank had gotten himself into the drugs he was so concerned. Frank only laughed it off and asked if he could borrow the Demon for the night.

He had not since lost the knack, and here in the small, third floor apartment, he was putting it to full use.

The building was tucked behind a fisheries production plant and a number of other industrial structures, but the fish plant was the one that made the place stink to high heaven. The rent was cheap and Frank could have guessed why even at a mile away. Regardless, he had been there for three years now, enjoying the privacy of such a place. Remote, if not by geography, then by population.

Frank did not like the term habit, and therefore he would refer to his doings as a routine. Routine sounded cleaner and that was how he liked it. Nevertheless, should you call it a habit or a routine, Frank had one. It was chiseled over time and perfected, and Frank was now in the grips of it.

One of the many intricacies involved in his routine, in addition to re-watching old game shows and chowing down on whatever cheap meal came in a box, happened to be taking unscheduled naps. These naps were no more noticed than they were planned, and Frank was falling right into it. His eyes fluttered and the dimly lit room disappeared gradually. Goodbye stained shag, goodbye peeling paper, goodbye rat-chewed electrical wiring.

Frank slipped into his habitual sleep and the night grew dark around him.

 

3

Brought to Light

 

There is a place between sleeping and waking, a place where neither the dream nor the world is necessarily real. A place where one is neither living nor dead, both real and unreal. This place is not a matter of geography. This place exists only in time, and that duration in minor to say the least.

This place, this unreal place in time, is where Frank finds himself now. Only, by the time he realizes that is where he is, he is no longer there. The fleeting nature of a place and time that does not exist is…perplexing.

Frank sits up in the recliner, leaning forward and letting an unintentional stream of drool from his opened mouth.

“What the… ah shit.” He speaks in a slur, like a man in a dream. Frank wipes the fresh drool from his beard stubbly chin and looks around the dim room. Shadows creep in the corners and rats scurry in the walls.

Something has brought him from sleep, but he doesn’t know what. Not yet.

He gets to his feet, swaying as if drunk, and steadies himself. He wonders how the place could be so dark and filled with shadows when it is daylight outside. He wonders, but does not give it much thought. His mind is elsewhere, perhaps he is closer to the unreal time than we’ve been led to believe.

He heads toward to bathroom, shuffling his feet along the carpet rather than lifting them and feeling the shag against his skin where the many holes in his socks allow. He glances over his shoulder at the window looking out on King Street, seeing the light but not really registering it. He knows that it is too bright to be a streetlamp, not that there are any left with bulbs in tact, not in this neighborhood, but not caring. He is in his routine, and this step involves taking a piss. He can worry about the window later, if he remembers. In the meantime he is concerned with emptying his bladder and keeping as much off the toilet seat as he can.

After walking the distance of his one-room apartment in the time it should have taken to walk the whole block Frank was in the bathroom. His tattered boxer shorts were at his ankles and he was pissing without using his hands. Most made it to the bowl, but most is not all. He was, in fact, distracted.

The light pouring through the window had gotten brighter, somehow. Even in his routine daze he could tell that much. Hell, the whole bathroom was pretty well lit up.

He pulled his shorts back up without bothering (or perhaps remembering) to shake the last drops free and was rewarded with an embarrassing little wet spot on his shorts. That didn’t matter, though, because that light, whatever it was, was getting brighter.

Frank left the bathroom and crossed the apartment faster than before. He still did not pick up his feet, but surely nobody could fault him for that. It was, after all, routine. And routine set in stone over the years is not easily broken. It would likely be easier to go vegan than drop his routine at this point.

The grainy old TV was playing an episode of Cops over a stolen cable connection, the volume turned low. The screen made not a difference in the light of the room, for the light coming from the window now was all but blinding. It cast the walls with stark, ebony shadows; his recliner, the reading lamp, the torn curtains bordering the window.

With a queer feeling in his stomach he took the final, shuffling steps toward the window. But, before looking out, he had time enough to muse that this was most certainly not routine. Nor habit, for that matter.

Frank pulled the dingy curtain aside and peered out the window and into the brilliant white light. His pupils dilated to the size of quarters and he lost his senses. Frank was in the place and time that does not exist, or, near it.

 

4

The Approach

 

The world did not swim back to Frank this time, for Frank was not truly sleeping. The world instead simply was there. One second, not, the next, was.

He staggered a little when his body was once more his own, letting the curtain slip from his numb fingers and finally finding his balance. He looked around the room and back out the window, wondering why he was standing here and if he had fallen asleep. Perhaps he had been sleepwalking?

Either way, it didn’t matter. Cops was on, and he liked Cops. Not real cops, of course, but the show.

Had there been something in the window that called his attention? He didn’t think so. Then again, when he was in his routine his memory was not exactly the best. Comes with the territory, he supposed.

Frank made his way back across the small room, not yet taking a true step but instead dragging his feet, and collapsed into the dusty recliner. The seat creaked and moaned under his insubstantial weight.

As he was turning his head, so slow and steady, that much was routine, he heard a knock come at the door. Three loud, authoritative bangs.

He jumped in his seat a little and turned to the door, much more quickly now. He could see two shadow feet under the door, tired yellow light spilling around them. The clock on the wall told him it was just shy of midnight, but he hadn’t changed the batteries since last Christmas, so he wasn’t so sure he could trust the clock.

Forgetful, as was routine, Frank disregarded the person at his door and returned his attention to the TV. A young Mexican woman was kicking up shit because the cocaine in her car was, of course, not hers. He could relate to that. Not everything in his car was his own, either. At least, that it, if a cop’s the one asking.

The knocking came again, louder and more severe. It split into Frank’s muddied mind like a maul, making him jump right out of his chair, lifting his feet for the first time in hours.

“Uh-huh!” he called, even the two basic syllables coming out in a slur, “Just a sec!” Those were more like words, less or a marble-mouthed effort.

Who in the name of fuck might be at his door just now? He hoped for a Girl Scout. Not because he was some sort of kid diddler, but because those little bitches almost always had cookies with them. And, just because he wasn’t looking to diddle any kids didn’t mean he wasn’t ready to steal some cookies from them.

Frank teetered on shaky legs, flailing his arms for balance, when the third round of knocks came at the door, completing the dance and landing him on his bony ass. The shag carpet relieved much of the impact, not that he would feel much right now, anyway. He was, after all, in the throes of routine.

“Shit! I’m coming!”

And he was.

He had no more noticed he was on his feet and walking than he had a say in the matter. It seemed his feet had a better grasp on things at the moment and so he was happy to let them take over. They carried him to the door, dragging all the while, and planted him before it. He stood there now, face to face with whomever may be behind it, only an inch or two of cedar between them.

He looked down to see that his hands had moved into position as well. His left on the bolt and his right on the doorknob. Was all this routine? He didn’t know. It felt fine, though.

Then the light under the door caught his attention. The shadow feet coming through and melding with his own, casting them in shadow. The yellow light was dull and wavering, like the bulb was about to shine its last. He was more than curious now. Now he was a little bit frightened. Who could be at his door just now? Did anybody even know where he lived?

With an audible click, Frank swallowed. Dry mouth, dryer throat.

“Who’s there?” He asked through the door. His voice wavered moreso even than the yellow light from under the door. It was apparent that he was not only frightened, but terrified. This was most certainly not routine.

He let out a girlish yipping sound when the heavy beat came once more, the stranger’s knuckles cracking against the chipped wooden door. No more did he have a say in the matter. His body had taken over, first with the little scream, and then with the hands.

As Frank slid the bolt across and turned the knob, the light beneath the door grew a deep, bloody crimson. It came through the crack uninterrupted. There were no shadows made by feet and no waver from the bulb. The foreboding light spilled onto the shag without issue.

Frank, either blinded by fear or simply too far taken by routine, did not notice the color change.

He simply turned the knob and opened the door, ready, but not entirely willing, to meet whoever stands in the hallway.

 

5

Perplexing Serenity

 

 

Frank pushed the door open on screaming hinges, one hand held back in an instinctive fist, ready to bring the bony bludgeon down on any troublemaker. His heart pounded in his chest like a racehorse after practice, a cold sweat broiling on his hot brow. He could scarcely recall a more nerve-wracking moment.

Then his blood flushed from his face as he looked out into the empty hallway.

Some withering, brown plants stood sentinel by the staircase, but nobody was there. He could see the dark line under Mrs. Erwin’s door, as well as the flickering light of a TV beneath the Polanski’s, but nobody to blame for the knocking.

Had he made it all up? In the company of his routine he often mistook his imagination for reality, but that was almost always simply a matter of expecting the egg rolls to be in the fridge when he’d eaten them the night before or forgetting that he had not in fact lifted the toilet seat before letting go of his bladder. In other words, minor things. But a blinding light from his window and a knock at the door?

He did not feel like standing in the doorway much longer; the empty feel and the hollow, yellowish light coming from the dingy, fly-specked bulb made him think of a thousand old horror movies. It served only to raise his blood once more.

But…somebody had been there. Had to be. He heard it with his own damn ears.

He stepped further into the doorway, steeling himself as best he could. And, after clearing his narrow throat, he called out into the dim.

“Hello? Hey, is anybody out there?” His voice made no echo. It merely fell flat and dead in the barren hallway. Frank told himself that he did not feel a chill run up his spine, and, if he did, it was only the draft and nothing more.

When it became clear that he would yield no reply he turned to go back into his room. It was evidently a trick of the mind brought on by that ever menacing, so hard to drop routine.

Then a noise stopped him in his step, followed by another, louder noise.

He turned to look over his shoulder and knew at once that he was listening to footsteps. Footsteps on the wrought-iron staircase. And they were coming up. Coming toward him.

His stomach fell tandem with his groin and he knew it was really happening, whatever this was was happening.

With no say in the matter he heard his own, tired, scared voice speak out into the hallway again. “Who’s there? I have, uh, a gun…” It was unconvincing even to himself.

The footsteps echoed and carried as if through a crypt. Hollow and somehow damp. Hadn’t he just shouted and heard no echo?

Every inch of his rational mind, though diminished by the routine, screamed for him to lock ever lock on his door and call the police, but his body would not comply. Maybe on some level he didn’t want to comply. That would be, of course, the irrational level.

Less than a floor away now the steps grew louder and louder. It was as if the echo were in his mind and not in the hallway at all. They fell flat and hollow on the iron, carrying a grim ring to his ears.

“Hey, man!” He called, frantic and ripping at the seams, “This ain’t no game! Why don’t you just…” But there was no need to finish that one. In fact he could not even think of how he was going to finish it. Instead, he was staring wide-eyed at the man on the stairs. Only, he wasn’t on the stairs anymore; he was standing between the dead sentinels and looking Frank in the eye.

The man was tall, slender, and ageless. The lines on his face and the graying hair would suggest he is older. But…something about him shouted to youth. He wore dark gray coveralls that were stained with various paints and grease. His grin, which looked to house far too many teeth, was slanted and wrong.

Frank took a step back, not even noticing he did so.

“W-what’s up, here, man? Who’re you?” He could have been speaking through a throat stuffed with gravel. His voice was a cement mixer, utterly dry and without an iota of confidence.

The man placed a hand with many rings on the dead plant nearest him and took a step toward Frank. Frank could have sworn the plant shivered at the touch. His grin, maddening to begin with, widened.

In a voice that was dreadful velvet, welcoming and absurd all at once, the man spoke. “Is that your Demon in the lot, friend?” There was something about the way this man said Demon that did not sit well with Frank. Honestly it sounded repulsive from his mouth.

He was all but numb then, even moreso than any other night involving the routine. He could only hear his words, not feel his mouth form them. “Uh huh. It’s mine. Why?” A further step backward followed this, met in turn by a further step closer by the stranger.

He wore heavy work boots that clopped weightily on the floor, tracking more mud and grime than should have been possible. Hell, if this is how much was carried to the third floor Frank would hate to be the janitor taking care of whatever he left on the stairs.

The stranger waved a bony hand in the air as if to say oh no reason in particular, then proceeded to offer a reason regardless. “Oh,” he crooned, “It’s just that…I’ve had my share of Demons over the years…”

That smile again. The one that made you want to cry.

With lead in his veins and frost in his joints Frank tried his last to free himself of this man. He grabbed the door and stepped mostly behind it, saying, “Alright, man. Well it’s late so…”

Then in a span of time that should not have been possible the stranger was across the hall and his grimy, mud caked foot was keeping Frank from closing the door. His grin was looking Frank in the face, and the smell…

“Hey, man. What’s the…”

The stranger waited not for Frank to finish. Instead he pushed the door ajar with incredible ease, sending Frank stumbling back a few steps. Then he was in the apartment and had closed the door behind him. The stranger held his hands up as if to display harmlessness, though Frank got very little of that. If anything, the man seemed far more harmful now that they were in the same room.

He opened his mouth to speak and Frank was sure, utterly positive, that the stranger’s mouth had far too many teeth inside.

“You’ve witnessed an oddity this evening, haven’t you, Frank?”

Frank’s mind was reeling, unsure of what was and what may not be. But hell yes he had seen an oddity. He was looking at it right now.

The stranger laughed, bitter and as hollow as the echoing footsteps, as if he had read Frank’s mind. “No, no. I refer to the display about your window. It was bright, no? Rather odd in and of itself?”

God, Frank thought as he leaned idly against the wall, who the fuck is this guy? And how does he know about that light outside my window?

Once more the stranger chuckled. It was a creeping laugh, but somehow serene. Sanguine, even. He stepped closer to Frank, near enough for that smell to resurface. Through many teeth he asked, “Are you familiar with the Sirens of old, Frank?”

He shook his head on a neck that felt as rusted as the hinges on his door. He was not even sure he heard the stranger, but did not want to agree with anything this man said.

“Ah, well, never mind, then. Perhaps you are wondering why it is I’m here. Is that right?”

This time Frank did nod. This was something he very much wanted to know.

The stranger nodded as well, then proceeded to trace his hand along the peeling wallpaper which lined the room, walking as he did so. He was pacing like a prison guard with half his shift behind him. Neither hurrying now dallying.

“You hate your life. Isn’t that right, Frank?” He had stopped just inside the nook which Frank considered a kitchen and was looking over his shoulder for the nod or the shake. Frank replied with neither. Frank only looked on, wide-eyed and jaw-gaped. “That’s alright. You and I both know the answer to that one.” He picked up his pace and continued to round the room, tracing his skeletal hand along the wall as he went.

“I have been paying attention to you, Frank, for quite some time. In fact, I almost paid you a visit this past October. Alas, you woke up…”

A light flashed in Frank’s mind. The stranger had just shown his hand! He’d woken up! Of course!

Frank pointed at the stranger with both hands, the way one would after the name of a movie came to them after dancing on the tip of the tongue for days. “Ah-hah! I’m just dreaming. That’s all this is!”

The stranger laughed again, throatier and with more rasp than before. All the while he paced slowly around the small room and stroked the tattered wallpaper.

“Could only it be so,” he said smiling. “I’m here for you, Frank. They say that time waits for no man, and I suppose the same could be said of me. It only seems that you’ve taken the work from Father Time and hurried things along. Wouldn’t you say?”

Frank, still frozen in place, watched over his shoulder as the stranger rounded the final corner and then began pacing his way toward him. He was strolling behind his back but Frank was unable to turn.

“I don’t know wh-”

The stranger had closed the gap in another of those impossible moves and was now dropping his chilled, bony hands on Frank’s shoulders. The feeling was both weightless and crushing.

Frank managed to open his sandblasted mouth, but no words would come.

The stranger leaned in to speak directly in Frank’s ear, his breath cold on Frank’s neck and the grin on his thin lips. “The light, Frank. Was it brilliant? Serene?”

Frank nodded, blinking the tears from his tired eyes. “Ye-”

The stranger stopped his reply, planting his wretched hand over Frank’s mouth. Still speaking into his ear he asked, “We knew this day would come, didn’t we? It was always part of the plan. Part of the routine. It only took some time for all the pieces to fall into place. And, now that it’s here…”

The stranger wheeled Frank around on heels that felt not like his own and then they were eye to eye.

Frank saw nothing in those eyes, and everything. They were as flat as gray slate and as deep as the Mariana’s Trench. Transcendental reality swam in the iris while black death crept in the pupil. They were the eyes of every madman and lunatic to ever walk the earth.

“It’s late, Frank. And time we got going. We’ve put it off for far too long, and you’ve evaded me for longer still. Though, it’s not as if you haven’t called to me. Almost every night you courted my arrival, toying with me and only stepping back from the precipice at the last. Oh, but no more, Frank. Tonight we meet and cannot be unmet.”

The stranger leaned closer still, their brows nearly touching. He grinned and grinned, the pale, purple lips stretching to a sickly white. The many teeth bared, slimy and yellowing. The smell...whatever it was…filled Frank’s unwilling nostrils and lungs like ice water. Then the ageless man leaned yet closer, sticking a tongue festering with dull black spots between his teeth, and licked the sweat from Frank’s brow in one long, slow swipe.

Frank felt his stomach turn a final time and was unaware that his bladder let go. Never in life had he been so frightened as he was now. Never.

The man gave little space, licking his lips and seeming to savor the salty sweat on his leper’s tongue.

“Where…where are you taking me?” Frank asked, his voice a shallow whisper.

The stranger smiled. It was broader and more sour than ever.

“Not where. And not when. What matters is that I’m taking you and there is not a thing to be said to the contrary. It is, after all, routine. You of all people must understand that, Frank.”

Frank swallowed a dry lump in his throat, trying to resign himself to whatever it is this man meant, but unable to do so. He was petrified.

The stranger once more turned Frank, this time to the door, and began to walk with him hand in hand. When they reached the door the stranger turned to Frank, offering that dead man’s grin again. “Some call it serene. Perhaps you will, too.”

Then the door opened without a hand pushing it.

The light in the hall was no longer dim, no longer flickering. It was the deep crimson that Frank had not noticed before. It filled the space, more liquid than light wave.

They stepped into it and the door shut behind them, the hinges wailing in rusted protest.

From inside the apartment one would hear the deep, hollow echo of footsteps on the stairwell. From beneath the door came a thin stream of lazy, flickering yellow light.

 

 

6

Of This World

 

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Yes, hello,” said Wilmer Maple, “I’d like to report a dead body. It’s one of the tenants from a building I rent.”

The 911 operator audibly perked at this. “A dead body? Alright, sir. Are you sure they’re dead?”

Mr. Maple looked at the junkie in the recliner, then at the hypodermic and the charred spoon beside it. “Yeah. Damn sure. I only know because the neighbors reported the smell…”

“Alright, sir. Sit tight. I’ve got a squad car coming, as well as an ambulance. Just don’t touch the body.”

Mr. Maple need only to look at the strange, horrible grin on the corpse’s face to know he would not be touching it. He would not even get within ten feet of the wretched thing.

“No, ma’am. I sure won’t.”

 

Mr. Maple replaced the phone in its cradle and went back to the hall to wait. In the meantime, he could get a start on cleaning up all that fucking mud that somebody tracked into the hallway.

 

 

THE END.


© Copyright 2017 A.L. Paton. All rights reserved.