A Touch of Black

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: House of Ghosts


Is Phoenix Jordan crazy or was he really cursed by his former next door neighbor, Rasmus Gry. His pregant wife Brooklyn thinks he has lost it. The baby is due any day now and her husband chooses
now to crack up. Phoenix knows the clock is ticking. Will the next twenty-four hours pass without event or will his time on this earth come to a sudden end. Only time will tell.

Submitted: November 16, 2017

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Submitted: November 16, 2017

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Beware the Cosmari Omorfibus

This nightmare weaver can transform the sweetest

of dreams into a hellish affair. Coax an unsuspecting

victim with its nectarous tongue. Lure its prey into total

compliance with a satiny verse across a vast distance. Your

saccharine coated fears will be a nourishing treat as hallucinations

push your feverish brain to the brink.

...Or so legend says

 

 

 

 

 

The alarm clock blared at six am on the morning of Thursday, July 12th. The heavy curtains covering the bedroom window kept a great deal of light at bay, but sunlight still found a way to creep through the cracks. For the past hour, Phoenix Jordan had tossed and flipped more times than he wished to count.  A frequent occurrence this past month accompanied by a drenched white tee. Phoenix pressed the off button and gazed over at his wife. Brooklyn reclined in their old suede lazy-boy. A messy, curly cherry red bun sat lazily on her head. Her milk-heavy breast heaved softly in and out as she slept peacefully unaware of her husband’s restless night. Phoenix sighed. He had to prepare her, warn her some way without frightening her. Brooklyn's doctor ordered bed rest had taken its toll on them both. The past few weeks the only place she could fall asleep with some comfort was the lazy boy because she was able to lay semi-upright. The baby had given her terrible heartburn since her sixth month of pregnancy and it had gotten progressively worse with each passing month.

Phoenix checked the time on his watch, “6:05, guess it's time for me to get moving.” At least this is what his brain told him. His body had a different idea. July thirteenth would be here tomorrow. Where had the time gone? Maybe I'm worried about nothing. How could anyone possibly know this information? It's ridiculous. Right? The all too familiar ball formed in the center of his belly. There were just too many coincidences for the information to be false. The nightmares, moving to the city it all fit. Phoenix had known for months- six months to be exact- but it all still seemed unreal. He glanced at his watch once more and poured himself out of bed. Phoenix estimated twenty minutes in the bathroom. Another ten minutes to choose his attire. He would wake Brooklyn at seven so she could get ready for her doctor's appointment at nine. Phoenix stood on the side of the bed taking in his wife's sleeping form as their baby performed gymnastics in her belly moving it from side to side. He seared the image into his brain praying he could take it with him.

Brooklyn was already awake when Phoenix stepped back in the room.

“Hey, sweetie. I was going to wake you at seven,” Phoenix checked his watch and crossed the room to kiss his wife who was still sprawled out on the lazy boy, “Are you okay? Any contractions?”  he asked with concern.

Brooklyn scratched her forehead, “No, nothing to worry about. How are you this morning?” her bright honey eyes searching his face, for what he didn't know.

“I'm doing good, Brook it's you and the baby I'm concerned about. You sure you don't need me to come with you to the appointment.” Phoenix tried to remain cool while speaking with his wife. She couldn't afford to get excited at this point. On the inside, he was a jangle of nerves. Tomorrow. He couldn't think about it. Dwelling on it would do him no good. Phoenix had tried every conceivable- and inconceivable avenue he could think of and came up empty. Nothing. Zilch. He had searched the internet countless times and every so-called solution he found turned out to be bogus. Phoenix figured there weren't many practicing witches who actually performed real magic. The one real witch he knew was the reason for his anxiety. Rasmus Gry. The name rolling over his mind caused Phoenix to shiver. Rasmus had turned Phoenix's life upside down with a blast of dust and a few words. Phoenix tried to remember his exact words, 'For the pain, you inflicted on m-'

“Earth to Phoenix. Hello, did you hear a word I said?” A peeved Brooklyn stood in front of him with her hands on her hips, and prominent belly inches away from his own. “What is going on with you Phoenix?”

He hadn't heard a word Brooklyn uttered. Phoenix checked his watch. “Honey -”

“What is it lately with you and that watch! You check that thing every two seconds. Are you seeing someone else?” her bottom lip trembled and her swollen hands rubbed her belly.

“What? No, no of course not Brook. I would never.” Phoenix wrapped his wife in his spindly arms as best he could careful not to crush the baby during his embrace. Even after a night of sleep Brook still smelled of jasmine and lavender. Phoenix silently inhaled her delicate scent.  “There's a bucket load of mess in my head right now Brook, but another woman – no, never.” Phoenix grasped his wife tenderly by her shoulders so he could stare into her amber eyes. Brooks' eyes were red and a single tear inched down her olive cheek. Up close he could see her brown roots peeking through the red dye job. Phoenix wondered if not telling her was doing more harm than good.  If he skipped breakfast he would have a half-hour to spare before he had to catch the train. He nearly checked his watch again.

“Talk to me Phoenix. I feel like you're keeping something from me.” Brooklyn's airy voice trembled.

“Sit. Please.” he guided her with a gentle hand to the lazy boy, “You're gonna think I'm crazy Brook.  I need you to listen and wait until I'm done before you say anything, ok.” It was now or never he thought.

Brooklyn eyed her husband suspiciously, “I'm listening.” She folded her arms and rested them on her belly.

Phoenix sighed. Her mind was already closed.  How would he convince her? He guessed he would need to start from the beginning. “Do you remember our next-door neighbor from Belkin?”

“Yeah, that creep Rasmus. Whats he have to do with anything?” She reclined against the back of the chair.

Phoenix sat on the edge of the bed. The air conditioner sputtered on low with the heat of the morning threatening to overpower the cool breeze. A fine sheen of sweat covered his tanned forehead as his mind zipped through a million ways to explain.

“He's a witch and he cursed me.” he blurted out. This was definitely not the best way to do this he thought. He watched as Brook's eyes went wide with surprise, her mouth opened and closed a couple of times and then she shook her head. The thick red bun on top of her head dangerously close to unraveling. “I knew it, you think I'm crazy. You hafta believe me, Brook. It was that day with the snake. Do you remember?” Phoenix pressed desperately to convince his wife. He leaned forward and placed his hand on her knee.

“Phoenix this is ridiculous. I mean Rasmus was a weirdo and a real jerk. Remember, he used to call you penis instead of Phoenix. But a witch?” her expression had Phoenix was off his rocker written all over it, “is this because he's a gypsy, excuse me, Romani?”

Phoenix's angular face flushed red. He removed his hand from Brook's knee and rubbed the back of his tapered brown hair. 

“No, it's not because he's Romani. Do you remember that incident with the snake?  It was like a python or a boa, I don't recall which but that's not important. The snake was in the driveway and I chopped off its head and tossed it in the trash?” His leg took on an anxious shake. The urge to peek at his watch was overwhelming. The whist melodious tick pulsed up his arm and boomed in his head. The thick leather band itching for him to lay his round, mahogany eyes on the tiny screen if only for a moment. However, Phoenix didn't want to add to his Brook's anger and fought the urge with every ounce of willpower he possessed.

Brooklyn let out a heavy sigh, “Yes. I remember. That dag-gone snake nearly gave me a heart attack. What does this have to do with you being – cursed?” She asked with a note of skepticism in her brittle voice.

“That's the day Brook. The day he cursed me. I can't remember the exact words—but he-he did it. It's all coming true, Brook everything I dreamed.” Phoenix losing the minute grasp he had on his composure. He jumped up and paced the floor. Brook sat speechless, staring at her husband. Her honey eyes brimming with concern as they followed Phoenix's frantic steps.

“Maybe you should stay home today, baby.” She suggested after a long uncomfortable silence. Phoenix paced before her, with his arms folded, not seeming to have heard her suggestion.

“No – it was a python, I'm sure of it. I was just getting home from work. Rasmus was waiting for me at the end of the driveway,” Phoenix continued ignoring his wife's troubled stare, “I knew by the way he was looking at me something was wrong. I should have walked past him, I should have, I didn't—I stopped and I was nice, I was really nice. He said something to me, Brook, it was some voodoo chant or something and then he spits spoiled milk in my face- at least I think it was spoiled milk. Was he holding it in his cheeks? Where did he get the milk from Brooks?” Phoenix stopped and turned toward his wife, “My eyes burned for days, I tried to wash it off Brook, I tried. Then the dreams. So horrible.” He hoisted his arm to eye level checking his watch. “Oh my, I have twenty minutes left to get to the train station. The walk from here takes sixteen minutes and twenty-five seconds. I have to leave.” Phoenix turned abruptly and scooped up his jacket.

Brooklyn pushed herself off the lazy boy as fast as her encumbered body would allow. “You can't leave like this, Phoenix.” She pleaded with him. Her voice as wobbly as her walk. “You should stay home and we can call someone – a doctor maybe, to have a look at you.” Her pleas fell on deaf ears.

Phoenix stooped to kiss his wife's cheek, “I don't need a doctor unless you know a witch doctor—Brook, do you know a witch doctor?” His eyes widened with hope and then the spark dimmed, “Of course you don't know a witch doctor.” He checked his watch, “seventeen minutes, I have to walk quickly.” with that Phoenix tore out the house. Brooklyn stared at the door rubbing her swollen belly.
 

 

Phoenix bustled down the busy city street. Dodging distracted people on cell phones, stray cats hunting for their next meal, people doing the last minute jog like him and reckless messengers on bikes. He dipped in and out of the busy sidewalk traffic mumbling to himself and checking his watch. The train station was about six more blocks away, but it may as well have been twenty. The sun was blistering and it was only coming up on eight am. You could see the waves of heat bouncing off the sidewalk. Most people had shed their suit jackets and hung them from their arms. Phoenix zipped past a few with loosened ties and women with their hair pulled up in high ponytails off their necks.

When he finally reached the train station he was slick with sweat and was sure his shirt was drenched. He didn't dare remove his jacket. He would put his shirt under the dryer once he arrived at work.  Phoenix zipped past a filthy homeless man begging for change and jumped onto the train.

 

Brooklyn leaned back on her lazy boy with her eyes closed. They hadn't made love in a month is that the reason? Something wasn't right. Who could she call? Brook stood up and grabbed her cell phone from the dresser. She missed her old town something terrible. If they were back home, she could call Dr. Brandish and he would make a house call. But here in this city, everyone was so cold and stand-offish. The building they lived in housed twenty other loft-style apartments in addition to their own.  She hadn't met one neighbor she liked. They were all so snooty and self-absorbed. Brooklyn certainly wouldn't waste her time consulting one of these neighbors.

Her mom would be too busy bashing Phoenix to offer any real help. She'd go on and on about how Brook should have married within there own. Then she'd proceed to run down a list of eligible- no, she didn't have the patience right now. Brook was seized by a sharp pain in her back. She did her breathing exercises as instructed by her doctor. This was the second one this morning.

After the pain subsided Brook dressed. The medical transport would arrive soon. Maybe, on the way to her appointment, an idea would come to mind.

 

Phoenix dashed into the office building of Bailey’s Accounting Firm and made a beeline for the restroom. He peeked under the stalls. Both were empty. Phoenix removed his shirt waved it under the dryer. The silver contraption sprung to life. As Phoenix waited for his thin white dress shirt to dry he peered at himself in the mirror. His cheeks were gaunt and his arms thinner than normal. He hadn't been sleeping or eating well. That damn dream kept him up at night. It always began the same way. He

 

 was standing in a clearing with large white rocks and sparsely spaced trees, green grass and there was an eerie dark overcast on the otherwise beautiful day. A headless snake lay writhing in the grass spewing blood and guts onto the clean-cut green grass. The sour-milk and blood smell were horrendous. It reminded Phoenix of the time Brooklyn vomited a glass of milk she had drunk a half-hour beforehand. A rapid succession of dry heaves wracked his thin body. He used one hand to splash water on his face while the other kept his shirt under the dryer. In the dream, he was soaked from head to toe in snake blood. Most times he would tip the enormous head up to his mouth and drink. The briny blood would swish around in his mouth. Whenever he awoke the taste would linger on his sticky tongue.  All around him, indiscernible whispering could be heard. In the distance, between the tree's, he would always catch sight of a pair of coal black eyes. The eyes almost seemed to come from the tree. At this point in the dream, without fail, Phoenix would step -no, float over the snake toward the two black circles in the trees. The closer he got to the eyes the more he could make out the features. A pointy nose, almost shaped like a witch's hat, pasty skin, and messy raven hair. The short, skeletal body crept from behind the trees beneath the cover of dusk. He carried a large brown burlap sack in his hand. Once Phoenix was within reach the sallow creature would swing the sack with all his might and send a gust of curdled foul smelling thick white liquid barreling toward Phoenix's face. He would try to block it with the snakes head but it always reached him. Then he would be transported to a street corner in the city. He'd check his watch in the dream and it was always the same. July thirteenth at seven fifty-six pm. It was never a minute before nor a second after. A man in a mask comes full speed around the corner with a pistol in his hand. When he catches sight of Phoenix, he pulls the trigger. Without hesitation. Square in the middle of the head. At this point, he's startled awake; drenched in sweat. 

 

Phoenix shook the thought from his head and checked his watch. He was due to start in nine minutes. He put his shirt back on and walked to his desk.

Chayton Bailey was seated at Phoenix's desk in all his blonde-haired, blue-eyed glory. Hands clasped behind his head and feet propped on the desk. Chayton was an alright guy he guessed. When Phoenix had been transferred Chayton sent him a handwritten welcome letter followed by a home visit. When he first met Cameron he was little jealous because he seemed smitten with Brooklyn. His wife didn’t help matters by her friendly nature toward Chayton. Phoenix realized later he was being silly. The second time Phoenix met Chayton he was jealous still, but for a different reason. Not long ago Phoenix had been him. Happy, optimistic about his future, moving up the corporate ladder. Now –Phoenix had no future.

The office was spacious. He shared the space with three other men, Nate Brown in sales, Johnson Jackson in established accounts, and Joshua Armstrong in new accounts. He and Joshua shared new accounts while Johnson was training Joshua to move over to established accounts. When Phoenix first started he couldn't keep their names straight even though they looked nothing alike. Joshua was a small mousy white guy and Johnson this tall black guy, a former football mate of Chayton's, who looked like he could bench press Phoenix and Joshua at the same time. Aurora Dundey was the lone secretary at the small accounting firm. The petite blonde shared an office with Cameron. Phoenix was pretty sure they did more than field calls in there after hours.

Chayton saw Phoenix approach and stood to greet him. “Hey, Nixxy boy. Right on time.” Chayton extended his hand. Phoenix shook his hand with a grimace. He despised that nickname. Why can't people just call him by his given name? Phoenix isn't that hard to say.

“Hello, Mr. Bailey,” He moved past him to log into his computer. “Anything I can do for you, sir?” Phoenix checked his watch. He had to punch in, he only had five minutes left.

“You can stop calling me Mr. Bailey. Mr. Bailey is my dad,” Chayton smiled, however, Phoenix noticed a strained tone and a twitch of his lips when he mentioned his dad. “I told you when you started it's, Chayton.  I can't work in a stuffy environment, Nixxy. It makes me feel stifled and old before my time.” Phoenix turned to see what had Chayton's attention. He followed his gaze to the bookcase in the corner. There was a football trophy there from either Chayton's high school or college days. Phoenix had the feeling that last statement wasn't really meant for him.

“Sorry, Chayton. Is there something I can help you with this morning? I have a ton of work to do before...” the words caught in Phoenix's throat. Tomorrow. How would he be able to concentrate on work today, let alone get anything accomplished?

“Nixxy, I have a huge project due by tomorrow afternoon. I need all hands on deck. Particularly yours. You have a knack for numbers and I need these spreadsheets organized. I would do them myself but you know math isn't my favorite subject,” Chayton flashed a spectacular smile making Phoenix nauseous. Why does someone who despises math and has no head for numbers run an accounting firm? It makes zero sense. Besides, he can't take on a new project and finish his work too.

“Chayton, is there anyone else who can assist you? I really am swamped.” The last thing he needed is a project that should be handled by Chayton delaying his day. Phoenix checked his watch. He needed to start his work in the next ten minutes. He wanted to get home early to spend some quality time with Brooklyn. His eyes stung at the thought he wouldn't get to hold his baby girl.

The clock is ticking Penis.

Phoenix jumped. Rasmus. It can't be. His chocolate eyes scanned the dimly lit room and rested on the dark corner leading to Chayton's office. Phoenix's heart raced as a pair of eye-sized black circles drifted from the corner. His breathing quickened when he heard the hiss of a snake in the distance. Where? How? This can't be happening Phoenix thought as he scrunched down in his chair. The sound getting closer as he stared unblinkingly into the darkness.

“Phoenix?  Are you with me buddy?” Phoenix's head snapped to the side as Chayton touched his shoulder. His sudden jump in the chair caused Chayton to back away a little, his blue eyes wide with surprise, “Are you ok? I lost you there for a moment.” Phoenix looked from Chayton to the corner and then back to Chayton's stunned face. Chayton glanced at the corner as well and then back at Phoenix.

The hallucinations were getting worse. His mouth was as dry as a bucket of flour. He stared at Chayton for a moment not able to form words. Chayton seemed to be saying something he couldn't make out. It all sounded like gibberish. The central air was on full blast in the office, however, a sudden flash of heat caused a ferocious drip to stream from Phoenix’s armpits. He steadied his breathing and looked a noticeably uneasy Chayton in the eyes.

 

“I ah I, um, hm.” Phoenix's eyes darted back to the corner, “Sorry bout that Mr. Bailey – Chayton. I had a long night with the heat and all. I need a cool drink will you excuse me.”  Phoenix stood and knocked over the stapler sitting on the edge of his desk. It clattered to the ground. Phoenix stared at the fallen stapler as it lay open on its side on the floor. He scooped it up slamming it on his desk. Phoenix rushed toward the open doorway leading to the kitchen.

 “Ok, buddy,” Chayton said with a scratch of his head, “I'll leave the project on your desk.”

Phoenix had barely heard that as he traipsed off to the kitchen.

 

Brooklyn reviewed the list of therapists her gyno had recommended. She had already called a few and put some feelers out. The second one she had called, Dr. Chana Haitman, sounded like a good fit. A sharp pain emanated from her lower abdomen to her pelvic floor. The paper floated from her hand as her breath caught in her throat. One, two, three, whoosh. She counted in her head as the pain worked its way through her system. The doctor had told her to keep track of any contractions she may be having. He had checked Brooklyn’s cervix and she wasn't dilated. The doctor told her it was probably Braxton Hicks.

If this was false labor she was dreading the feel of real labor. Brooklyn rubbed her belly before squatting to pick up the piece of paper she had dropped. She needed to rest. When Phoenix arrived home tonight they would discuss the idea of a therapist. Once he warmed up to the idea, she would hit him with the list of therapist her doctor had suggested. It shouldn’t be much of a process, Phoenix always did as she told him.

As Brooklyn crossed through the cool bedroom to get to her favorite resting spot, chez lazy boy, she pondered Phoenix's claim. She could definitely understand why Phoenix would think Rasmus was a witch. He was a skinny, creepy bastard. Always staring and creeping. And that damn snake. Brooklyn was glad Phoenix had chopped off its head.  Brooklyn remembered the little piece of joy that wriggled into her heart at the sight of the snake's headless body writhing around in its own dark blood. The monstrous head had rolled down the driveway and settled near the trash cans. Phoenix had been horrified even though he tried to hide it from her. But not Brooklyn. She wished the execution had been recorded so she could watch over and over again.

Brooklyn flipped on the television. She refused to turn on the oven and steal away the cool that finally settled in the apartment. She would order dinner when Phoenix arrived.

 

Phoenix sat on the four pm train. The air inside was stifling. Body odors and various colognes and perfumes lingered in the stagnant air. The sharp odors mingled with the heat and sat like a cloud of noxious tear gas in the stuffy train car. Add to that the pungent smell of Chinese food someone munched on in the corner and Phoenix truly wanted to gag. The acid in his stomach threatened to race up his esophagus and spill onto the grimy train floor. How could anyone eat on this train?

 Phoenix checked his watch- it was fifteen past the hour. Fifteen more minutes until the train stopped and then he had a sixteen minute and twenty-five-second walk home. Phoenix eyed the passengers on the train. The people in suits were mostly the same who rode the train daily. There was a young couple groping and fondling each on the pole in front of him. He tried to avert his eyes but it was no use. Phoenix closed his eyelids and attempted to un-ruffle his thoughts. Rasmus's pasty pinched face invaded his lids, a regular occurrence these days. His eyes sprang open as he checked his watch again.

Chayton was going to be pissed that he left that project on his desk unfinished. The numbers were a huge blur by the time two o’clock had rolled around. He just couldn't.

Ten minutes later the train rolled to a stop. Phoenix stood, inched around the couple involved in the heavy PDA and exited the train. He scurried through the soggy crowd of people. The stress of the day displayed prominently on each of their faces.  Women with sagging ponytails swiped at errant strands of hair clinging to clammy faces. The men had ties and jackets swinging in their hands dragging dangerously close to the filthy ground.

He wondered how he appeared to the world? Did he appear as haggard as them? Or perhaps more because of the added burden. The walk home seemed shorter than usual today. The idea of facing Brooklyn after this morning seemed daunting. He would shower first. Wash away today’s crap. After a nice shower, he would be able to face anything Brook had to throw at him.

 

“A therapist! Are you kidding me, Brooklyn? I’m not crazy. I don’t need anyone else messing around in my head.” Phoenix shouted at the top of his lungs. This was the last thing he thought his wife would suggest. Why would he want some stranger digging around in his head? Not that it mattered much, he didn’t have the time to…

“Phoenix, lower your voice. The neighbors.” Brooklyn gave a nervous glance at the front door as the two sat in the kitchen eating Italian food. “You need help.” Brooklyn dropped her fork in her plate of salad. “You think I haven’t noticed you lately. You haven’t been eating or sleeping for that matter. I watch you at night sometimes, Phoenix. What are you dreaming about that has you so spooked? Sometimes, you call out for me. The baby will…” Brooklyn picked up her fork and shoved another forkful of lettuce into her mouth. “Our baby is due soon. I can’t afford to have you cracking up on me Phoenix.”

Her eyes resembled two saucers filled with honey as she pleaded with Phoenix to comply. Pleading with him to accept her choice as the best choice, the only choice. He didn’t understand why he was so angry about this. After tomorrow. Phoenix’s eyes drifted to the untouched plate of pasta with marinara sauce. It reminded him of his brains splattered on the sidewalk of the yet undiscovered corner of his death. He could never see the name of the street in his dream. Phoenix had googled mapped countless streets in the city. One street appeared as viable as the next street in the fruitless search for his death site. Phoenix shoved the plate of marinara away and picked at his Caesar salad. He felt awful upsetting his Brooks like this, but Phoenix was finding it difficult to hold his sanity together.

Brook stared at his untouched plate of spaghetti. Her lips tightened and she inhaled a sharp breath. After a moment of silence, she spoke again.

“Are you even listening to me, Phoenix?” Her fork hitting the plate with a resounding ring. Phoenix focused on her face. It was contorted into some form a grimace mixed with pain and disappointment. He didn’t know what to say.

“Brooks. I’m sorry I shouted. I don’t know how else to explain to you. Rasmus cursed me, Brooks. Plain and simple. I’ve researched and it's pointless.” Phoenix looked off to the side and then back at Brook,  “The dreams are so vivid and each time I feel as though…” Phoenix could see in her eyes Brooklyn doubted his story. How could he convince her he was telling the truth, hell, it had taken him months to realize his dreams were real. “You have to take my word for it Brooks. I can’t offer you any tangible proof.” His gaze dropped back to his plate of salad. Brooklyn had resumed eating.

What was she thinking? Would he wake up to find guys in crisp white uniforms, straitjacket in hand, waiting to take him away? The thought of being institutionalized frightened him more than being cursed. Maybe not more than dying but definitely more than being cursed. Having someone take your free will away from you.

Phoenix's thoughts drifted to the dreams.

The dreams had started straight after his confrontation with Rasmus. They began simple, not so nightmarish.  Right after Rasmus hit him in the face with that disgusting chunky white liquid, Phoenix knew that his job would transfer him to the city for a new position. It was the strangest thing. The spit filled concoction hit and boom an image of him heading to the city with all of his and Brooks belongings packed in a U-haul and them arriving at a building filled his mind.

Phoenix glanced around the opulently decorated apartment. A month after his confrontation with Rasmus, he and Brook arrived at their new apartment, for the new position he had been given by his company. It was this building he saw in that- vision. That was when he first began to believe in his dreams. The dreams escalated month after month. The last change to the dream had been him actually witnessing his death. But the dreams beginning never changed.

Always the snake.

The rancid odor.

The blood.

The coal black eyes.

The acid in his stomach pushed the few leaves of salad he's swallowed to the top of his throat.  Phoenix excused himself and ran to the bathroom.

Ten minutes later a pale Phoenix returned to the kitchen. Brook stood at the sink rinsing the dishes to be placed in the dishwasher. The table had been cleared of food. Phoenix took a few steps toward Brook. He intended to wrap his arms around her and hold her for the rest of the night. Sharing the lazy boy if necessary. Instead, he turned to the leather couch and sat down with the remote in his hand. After Brook had placed the last dish in the dishwasher she stood on the side of the couch. Hands on her rounded hips.

“Phoenix,” She began. Brooklyn let out a whoosh of air. “Have you tried calling Rasmus and asking him to,” Brooklyn placed her pruned hand on her forehead as if she wasn’t sure what to say next. “Have you tried asking him to lift, to lift the curse.” She said that last part with a roll of her amber eyes.

Phoenix was all set to argue why he didn’t need a shrink, but this, this threw him for a loop. Partly because he could see she didn’t really believe what he said, but a huge part of him was shocked he had never thought to do it himself.

Yes, he thought. I can beg for forgiveness. Offer to buy him a new snake to replace his lost pet. Maybe, maybe even offer him some money for compensation. Phoenix leaped from the couch and caught his tiny unsuspecting wife in a bear hug. This was the first spark of hope he had felt in months. All of his fruitless research. Never once did he think to just apologize and ask for the curse to be lifted. His Brooks was brilliant.

“Brooks. I know you don’t believe, but thank you. I never thought of this. It is so simple yet the most prudent course of action.” He kissed her on the mouth and checked his watch before dashing off into the bedroom.

Brooklyn stood there glaring at the closed bedroom door. 

 

Phoenix drove down the eerily deserted highway. He pressed a bit harder on the gas accelerating the car down the desolate road. The air smelled strongly of nectar. Sickly sweet. His eyes darted around the abandoned highway searching for a sign of life. He briefly admired the entrancing colors before him. The celestial sky reminded him of a bag of cotton candy with a mix of baby blue, soft pink, and bright white clouds drifting about in the distance. The oddly chilled air glued itself to his car leaving an icy sheen which sparkled like a sheet of diamond dust on the hood. Puffs of smoke escaped his dry mouth with each ragged breath. It was odd. He didn't feel cold. 

A disembodied voice called out to him.

“Who’s there?” The words shaking from his throat. He felt like an idiot because the road was deserted.

Why is the road so empty? Where is everyone?

Phoenix tightened his grip on the steering wheel and took another timid peek at the sky. The swirling clouds seemed to move with purpose. Dancing in and out the open spaces in the red-orange sky until the waltz came to a halt.

The cotton candy clouds slowly pulled apart creating an opening in the middle. The whole scene appeared hazy. Phoenix wasn’t sure if it was the cool mist coating the windshield of his bleary eyes. Maybe it was a combination of the two. Whatever it was, it made it difficult to focus on the scene unfolding before him. He released a hand from the steering wheel and used his sleeve to wipe the windshield and flipped on the wipers to clear the mist from the outside – the haze remained.

Phoenix focused on the object soaring toward him in the distance.

“Is that a bird?” A white shape descended slowly toward the highway. The closer the object got to him and the barren highway, the more he could discern the shape. It seemed to have a massive wingspan.

“What sort of bird is that?” he wondered awestruck. 

A roll of thunder rumbled in the background as a bolt of lightning cracked across the cotton candy cloud-covered sky. Well, that description was inaccurate. The sky wasn’t completely covered with the colorful clouds. There was a huge rift in the middle. The dark shade of night seemed to hover in between the thick clouds. As if someone had cut a hole in the sky revealing the tenebrosity of space.

Phoenix slowed the car to a crawl – searching the peculiar sky for signs of rain. His attention was drawn back to the figure making a slow descent toward the lifeless road.

“That is a huge damn bird,” Phoenix said in astonishment. By now he was at a standstill in the middle of the road. His breath caught. His head swiveled quickly from side to side.

 A dirt road? What the hell?

Movement caught the corner of his chocolate iris.

Tumbleweed?

A large cluster of tumbleweed rolled past his stalled car. The car, which even though he appeared to be in the middle of a deserted desert ghost town, still possessed a glittery ice coating across the hood.

“What is going on here?”

Clouds of brown dust whirled around as the boom of the thunder grew greater with each crack. It reminded him of a stampede.

Phoenix swung open his door and surveyed the foreign area. Nothing but dust, tumbleweed, and clouds. Plus that huge bird making its way toward the ground. The whole situation was strange. Phoenix blew smoke from his nostrils.

“How is this possible?”

Smoke coming from his mouth and nose in the middle of a desert. The sky looked like a bag of cotton candy being separated by – space. Not to mention the winged monster which appeared to get larger the closer it came. What did it plan to do crush him? Eat him? Phoenix didn’t know. He also couldn’t make himself get in the car and drive as fast he could in the opposite direction. For some reason, he had to stay. To see. To find out. He doesn’t even know how he got here. Where was Brooks? Phoenix vaguely remembered a highway at some point.

AHHHHH

Phoenix screamed in pain as he clutched his ears and dropped to his knees. The sound was deafening. He glanced upward. The figure was closer. It wasn’t a bird he thought horrified. His misty eyes could see clearer. The wings, my God, they were enormous! Spanning across as long as a football field from tip to tip. Phoenix closed his eyes and screamed. A warm liquid oozed from his ears. His headed pounded. The nauseatingly sweet smell lapped at the hairs in his nose, teased the acids in his stomach. His eyes sprung open as his face grimaced in pain, ogled the approaching figure. It was all white, the brightest of whites, carrying some sort of spear maybe, in its hand. The details of the winged creature were startling. Phoenix shouldn’t have been able to distinguish the features from this distance. The thing appeared to be marbleized, bare of clothes, riding an all-white steed. The powerful legs galloping in the air, but, wait, the steed –

“AHHH, my head! STOOPPPP” blood and tears oozed down his ashen cheeks. His teeth felt as if they would rattle out of his pounding head. The ground shook with such ferocity his Ford Escape bounced up and down as if he had hydraulics attached to his wheels.

Phoenix toppled over landing on his side. His trembling hands tried in vain to muffle out the thunderous blare threatening to burst his pulsating eardrums. He writhed in pain as the rumbling earth tossed him around like a fish on the hook fighting for its life on the deck of some fisherman’s boat. The roar reverberated in his head as Phoenix accepted he would die. The massive winged man on the steed landed unexpectedly light. Its gargantuan wing crushed Phoenix’s car as it lay at rest. Phoenix lay there unable to move. The shaking ground and thunderous roar had come to a stop, unlike the continuous ringing in Phoenix’s head. Blood oozed from his ears. His eardrums busted beyond repair.

Phoenix realized the man and steed were not two but one. A massive winged steed man. Phoenix stared into the face of his executioner or the spot where a face should have been. A blurry constantly changing image was in its place. The image was dizzying. Vomit spewed from Phoenix's mouth landing back on his face. The putrid upchuck coated his shirt and hair with the rancid smell of sour milk and blood which clung to his nostrils. The noxious odor was strong but not strong enough to overpower the unyielding stench of sacchariny sweetness that had invaded his senses since the mountainous winged steed-man had made his appearance. Although his blood and tear soaked eyes may be deceiving him, Phoenix could swear a luminous light surrounded its massive marble body. The golden object in the things hand caught a glint of light which beamed directly into Phoenix's eye blinding him.

His final feeling was the sharp blade slicing through his clammy skin with the precision of a scalpel.

Phoenix bolted upright in his bed. His shirt felt as if he had taken a dip in a tub full of ice water. He quickly poked the tips of his pinkies into his ear canal and yanked them back out.

No blood.

Phoenix swiped at his eyes with his damp t-shirt and held it out for inspection.

No blood.

His head, however, was still aching. Phoenix could hear his heart pumping in his ears. The artery in his neck pulsating. One phrase looped over and over in his brain.

You will die.

Two hours later, Phoenix sat at his desk glaring at the calendar. July thirteenth. D-day. He had left the house without waking Brooklyn. She looked so peaceful as she slept soundly in the lazy boy. His every instinct urged him to board up all the windows and all the doors. Wrap his thin arms around his Brooks and their unborn baby and never let go. Ride out this day surrounded by the warmth and comfort of her burgeoning body. Perhaps her love would keep him safe. He had read The Harry Potter series and maybe if a curse was real then maybe there was some truth to what Ms. Rowling had written. Maybe the power of his wife’s love could shield him from certain death. A shaky chuckle escaped his parched throat. That was insane. Harry Potter wasn’t real. Rasmus Gry was and he had to convince him to stop this curse.

Phoenix had called him last night and received no answer. Today he hadn’t worked up the nerve to dial the number. A pile of work sat untouched on his desk. Every five minutes he would steal a jittery glance at his watch. The minutes seemed to tick away at a rapid pace. His life slipping from his grasp with each passing second.

Phoenix’s breath quickened. He gripped the sides of his desk, his knuckles white. The air around him seemed to thin. The soft drone of his co-worker's voices boomed inside his head as if they had placed a tiny speaker inside his skull. His eyes tried to focus but the room seemed to tilt as black dots floated before his glassy eyes.

Joshua Armstrong looked up from his desk. He sat across the room from Phoenix. Joshua’s mouth moved but the words were nonsense to Phoenix. Sweat poured from Phoenix’s forehead as he fumbled at his neck trying to loosen his tie. Joshua bolted from his desk just as Phoenix stood and fell face first onto the ground.

 

Brooklyn paced the apartment. Phoenix had left without a word this morning. That wasn’t like him. She hoped her suggestion would dispel the awkward tension between them last night. She guessed it didn’t work. He had seemed so pleased though. He was always so easy to sway. Brooklyn wasn’t sure what had come over him.

A sharp pain radiated from her back to her belly. 

Brooklyn stopped mid-pace and held her breath. No. The doctor had told her not hold her breath but to breathe through the pain. She released the trapped air and counted. The contractions seemed to be coming at a steady pace this morning. She didn’t want to call her doctor and sound like a nervous mother. She had four more weeks. According to her book, Braxton Hicks were a common occurrence around this stage. Besides, her doctor had told her yesterday her cervix hadn’t dilated. That couldn’t change overnight so fast, right? The wave of pain passed and Brooklyn resumed her pacing. Phoenix was going to force her to do the unthinkable. Her power of persuasion over him seemed to be waning.

She grabbed her house phone and dialed the familiar number.

 

 

Phoenix awoke to four faces staring down at him. Aurora kneeled next to him pressing something cool to his head as Joshua, Nate, and Johnson hovered above him looking as if they had seen a ghost. He attempted to sit up but the spinning squashed that idea.

“What happened?” he asked

“Dude, you took a face dive a minute ago,” Nate snickered as Johnson let loose a chuckle as well.

“You guys this isn’t funny, Nixxy could have been seriously hurt,” Phoenix groaned at Aurora’s use of Mr. Bailey’s nickname.

“Aurora is right you two. I saw it happen. It wasn’t funny at all.” Joshua offered in his hushed tone.

“Are you in pain, Nixxy?” She asked her voice sounding like some woman in a forties noir film. He wanted to tell her to go screw herself with that nickname and then punch Nate and Johnson in the balls.

“I’m fine. I just want to sit up.” Johnson took a moment from his amusement to help Phoenix into a sitting position.

“Take it easy, Nixxy, Chayton went to call the ambulance-”

“NO,” Phoenix swiped at the cold compress on his head and scrambled to his feet. “Not the hospital. I can’t waste my time there, I have things to do before, before.” He had to get it together. People are going to think he’s nuts. He has to complete this day. If not.

“Tell Mr. Bailey I’m fine. It’s the heat.” The group standing before him stared at him strangely. Nate and Johnson gave each other a look and continued their giggle fest like two high school girls talking about their boy crush. Aurora called out to Chayton as Joshua help Phoenix steady himself. “Can you get me some water Aurora?” Phoenix asked taking a seat at his desk. Chayton Bailey came around the corner phone in hand.

“What’s happening out here? Nixxy, your awake.” He said with a genuine smile, “I’m on the line with emergency services they are going to send someone over-”

“No, Mr. Bailey, Chayton,” He corrected, “I’m fine. It’s the heat. Please tell them not to come. I have so much work to do. I can’t leave. I’m fine. I promise.” Joshua hovered next to his desk with a doubtful glare. Johnson and Nate had already ventured back to their desks with their cellphones in hand no doubt continuing their teenage girl behavior and tweeting about this Phoenix thought with a bitter glower at the two men.

“Are you sure Nixxy?” The phone hanging precariously between his ear and shoulder.

“Yes, completely.” Aurora rushed to his side with a bottle of water. Phoenix quickly twisted the cap and downed the entire bottle.

Chayton disconnected the call.

“You scared me there buddy,”

“Sorry, Chayton. Probably heat exhaustion.” Phoenix tossed the empty water bottle in the garbage and thanked his co-workers for their assistance. Phoenix watched as Johnson and Nate compared phones. They laughed and called Chayton over to see. Chayton checked out the phone and then glanced over at Phoenix. He smiled but didn’t laugh outright. Chayton disappeared down the hall to his office.

All the snickering from Johnson and Nate, Nixxy calling from Aurora and Chayton angered Phoenix enough to work up the nerve to call Rasmus. He snatched his phone and headed to the bathroom. Johnson advised him to keep his face out of the toilet bowl. This must have amused Nate because he howled with laughter.

Phoenix gritted his teeth and slammed open the bathroom door. He looked at his face in the mirror and noticed a bruise forming in the middle of his forehead. Smack in the middle. Phoenix checked his watch. Right where the bullet is set to hit in nine hours and fifty-five minutes. Panic converged upon Phoenix once more. He didn’t allow it overwhelm him this time. He turned on the faucet and splashed a bit of cool water on his face. Phoenix didn’t take another glimpse in the mirror. He concentrated on dialing Rasmus. If Rasmus agreed to lift the curse he would ask for the rest of the day off.

The phone rang twice before the shrill sound of Rasmus Gry's voice leaked through his phone.

“Yes…Phoenix,”  he hissed.

Phoenix nearly dropped his phone in the sink. How?

“Are you going to speak Penis or just breathe into my phone.”

His amazement flipped to anger. Again with the damn nicknames.

“How did you know this was me, Rasmus?” he’s a witch a real god, damn witch.

“This isn’t what you called to ask me Penis.” Each word sounded more like a hiss than an actual word.

“Stop calling me Penis!” Phoenix shouted into the phone. His eyes darted to the bathroom door. His chest heaved in and out. An adenoidal laugh pierced Phoenix’s ear through the phone.

“What are you calling to ask?” His shrill laugh replaced by his equally shrill voice.

Phoenix steadied his breathing. “I didn’t call to ask you anything, Rasmus, not really. I want, I want to apologize for killing your pet.”

“My pet,” If Rasmus was amused by his call before it ceased at the mention of his snake. “Li Li was not a pet. He was my friend.”

Li Li?

“How dare you call here and insult my Li Li’s memory with an indignant apology. I know what today is Penis. I know why you called. Even if you won’t admit it I know why you called.”

‘I didn’t mean to insult your, friend Rasmus. I just, dammit my wife is having a baby you bastard. She needs me, Brooks needs me. My baby needs me. Please, please. Just stop it, please. I’m not ready to die.” He cried into the phone.

Rasmus released a high-pitched laugh, which halted just a sudden as they began, “Do you recall my words? Do you?”

“I, no, but I’m begging-”

“Silence. Your blubbering won’t help. That bitch wife of yours is the reason my Li Li is gone. I hope she suffers today. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it all.” A throaty chuckle, unlike anything he had ever heard leave Rasmus throat crept into his ears. Phoenix felt trapped by his voice. He couldn’t remove the phone from his ear. He couldn’t speak.

“That serpent writhing around in your wife's foul whore belly won’t see the light of day. Your fate is sealed Phoenix. That mark on your forehead is like a painted bulls-eye for your killer.” The phone was silent save for Phoenix’s ragged breath.  “Remember my words,” Rasmus whispered.
A chilling menace encircled his voice. Phoenix heard the hiss of a snake cross his line. A shiver snaked down his spine. Then, an odd sensation took hold of him.

Phoenix tried to scream. Not a sound emerged. A single tear leaked from his eye. The sound of the hiss grew louder.

What was that? What is he doing to me?

A forked tongue snaked its way into Phoenix’s ear. Tunneling through his ear canal lapping at the wax. Hissing and pushing until it made its way to his eardrum. The tongue burst through sending waves of pain through his head.

Remember my words

The phrase echoed through Phoenix's skull. The tongue seemed to coil around his brain pulling and prodding.

What is it looking for?

Remember my words

Something in Phoenix's brain clicked. He was standing at the end of his driveway back in Belkin. Rasmus was waiting. Phoenix could feel the panic of the day. He remembered how anxious he was at seeing Rasmus standing in his driveway. Those coal black eyes. His large pupils nearly covering his entire eye. Reminded Phoenix of a demon. That pointy witch nose and pale skin. Rasmus was so thin he appeared to stoop over a little. His face was pinched and he looked pissed. Phoenix knew why. Maybe he shouldn't have thrown the snake in the garbage, he just wanted to get it out the driveway and out of Brooks sight.

Phoenix stood there longer than necessary checking his car and then his briefcase. He wished Rasmus would walk away, he couldn't face him. Phoenix glanced up once more. He sighed. Best to get it over with Phoenix thought and trudged up the driveway plastering a smile on his face.

“Hello, Rasmus. How can I help you?” he stood close enough to appear friendly but far enough to feel comfortable. Rasmus scared the shit out of him.

Rasmus glanced toward Phoenix's house before speaking, “You killed my Li Li,” Rasmus’ demon colored eyes bore into Phoenix's head as his tightly clenched fists lay flush at his sides.

“Listen, about that. I was going to stop by-” In one swift move, Rasmus was standing in front of Phoenix causing him to flinch. Phoenix recalled thinking Rasmus was going to punch him. He didn't have time to take cover.

Actually, he remembered feeling frozen in his spot.

 Just like now.

Rasmus was so close. The smell of spoiled milk permeating every pore in Phoenix's nostrils. His stomach gurgled as the rancid odor tickled the back of his throat.

“For the pain, you inflicted upon me and poor Li Li, I lay upon you the pain of knowing your last day and the agony of feeling powerless to prevent it.” Rasmus lifted his wiry arm stuffed something in his mouth then spewed a thick foul smelling liquid into Phoenix's face. It burned like hell. There was something else. Something he had never recalled until now. He remembered movement in his living room window. The moment after Rasmus's proclamation. The moment before the burning took control of his eyes.

In the window.

Brooklyn stood watching, smiling.  Holding her not yet rounded belly watching the entire scene.

 

Brooklyn paced the apartment. She was going to wear a hole in the floor if this ordeal wasn't over soon. Dr. Brandish had promised her this wouldn't happen again. An exasperated sigh escaped her lips. Brooklyn, she should have known better than to trust that imbecile. She had performed her duty to a tee.  Now what? The day is here and things aren't as tightly controlled as she planned. Brooklyn shook her head.

“On to phase two.”

 

Phoenix glanced at his watch. Only two hours and five minutes left until quitting time. He hadn't gotten any answers from Rasmus and he definitely didn't get a reprieve. All he had ended up with was more questions. Did he really see Brook in the window or had Rasmus placed some more mojo on his mind during that phone call? Phoenix squeezed his eyes shuts. At least if he couldn't get the curse lifted, his Brooks and the baby would be guaranteed full benefits. Only two hours and five minutes left for a complete guarantee.

She never mentioned witnessing the scene between him and their neighbor,  “When I mentioned it yesterday, Brooks didn't say a word,” a wrinkle formed in the middle of his face as he tried to recall the conversation.

“You say something Phoenix?”

Phoenix followed the voice. It was Joshua.

“Did you need something, Phoenix?” he asked.

“No, I'm just going over these numbers Joshua.” Phoenix lowered his voice, “Something isn't adding up.” 

“Do you need some help?” Joshua asked about to rise from his desk. Phoenix put up a shaky hand to stop him. The last thing he needed was someone hovering over his shoulder. He was nervous enough.

“I'm good over here, Joshua. Thanks for the offer.” Phoenix couldn't even fake a smile right now. He nodded his head and went back to work. He had to finish. The tick of his watch sounded like a tiny ticking bomb on his wrist counting down to the inevitable explosive end. Get your head back in the game Phoenix he reprimanded himself. If he left here on time he could avoid any suspicious street corners and lock himself in the house for the duration of the night.

If he wasn't outside how could he get shot?

Chayton rounded the corner an hour and fifteen minutes later with furrowed brows and a down-turned mouth. Phoenix knew that meant trouble. His leg began a nervous dance under the desk.

“Nixxy, I need those numbers. Are they finished?” Chayton seemed to be in a foul mood. His six foot plus muscular frame loomed over Phoenix like a detective in an interrogation room waiting for a confession.

Phoenix cringed in his seat as his empty stomach churned and gurgled. He tried to come up with an excuse. His mind was in overdrive about tonight. Phoenix drew a blank.

“No, it's not ready, Chayton.” Why him? Why does he need to do this crap? His eyes landed on Joshua. “Hey, maybe Joshua can help?” He gave Joshua a hopeful nod.

“Sure, Chayt-”

“No. It has to be Nixxy.” Chayton's eyes had a flash of anger and then something else. Phoenix couldn't quite figure out what. Chayton's features went dark. Phoenix shifted in his chair. His boss was making him uncomfortable. Phoenix stole a glance at his watch. “No offense Josh. I need Nixxy on this.” Chayton replied.

“No problem, boss.” Joshua shrugged his shoulders and continued working. The bile sloshing around in Phoenix's stomach was making a slow ascent up his throat. He couldn't get stuck at work. Not today. Not his last day. He looked into Chayton's sky blue eyes. They were unmoving and stony. So unlike his boss. Phoenix would just have to work quickly.

“I'll get right on it, Chayton.” Phoenix hung his head with a sigh. Chayton's demeanor seemed to change instantly.

“Awesome. Teamwork, Nixxy that's how we win.” He slapped Phoenix on his back knocking him forward and walked away.

“I would give you a hand, but Chayton doesn't seem to want me near it. Sorry, Phoenix.”

“It's ok, Joshua. I can do this. I have to.” Phoenix checked his watch and dug into his work.

 

Meanwhile, Brooklyn busied herself getting ready for tonight. She had all the necessary ingredients gathered on the table. Madame would be on her way soon. All that's left is for Phoenix to arrive.

 

Phoenix had just placed the last number on the spreadsheet when his work phone buzzed. It was Brooks she was probably worried. He hadn't called her to let her know he would be late. He checked his watch as Chayton rounded the corner.

“Fuck!” He and Chayton were the only two left in the office.

“Whoa, Nixxy. Still here?” Chayton had a pearly smile pasted to his chiseled face. Phoenix was in a near panic. He didn't respond to his boss instead he answered his phone. His hands trembled so badly the receiver nearly landed back in the cradle.

7:05 pm.

“Hey, Brooks,” His voice shook as he tried to normalize his breathing.

“Phoenix, you need to get home right away,” She breathed into the phone. He could hear the panic in her voice. Brooks must believe him now he thought excitedly.

“I'm going to do my best to make it home alive Brook,” Clayton raised an eyebrow as he stood next to Phoenix's desk.

“The baby-” Breathing and counting, “She's coming-” more breathing, “You have to get here now!” A grating wail ripped through the receiver.

“Wow, is that Brooklyn?” Chayton asked.

“Honey, my goodness, where are you? Are you home?” His panic shifted from his impending death to the arrival of his child. He couldn't believe his child was being born. His Brooks was -

“Phoenix! Stop daydreaming and get your ass here!” Brooks husky cry ripped him from his internal conversation.

Phoenix rose and tipped his chair over in the process. Chayton jumped back. “Where is here Brooks? Where are you? Home?” Phoenix checked his watch he would never make it there by train.

“I'm on my way to St. Matthew's Hospital,” breathing and grunting, “I'm getting into the ambulance- I have to go Phoenix. Meet me there- Now!” The phone disconnected.

“Brooks – Brooks,” Phoenix pulled the phone from his ear. He stared at it a moment before slamming it down and spinning toward Chayton. “My baby – she's on her way. I, I, I won't make it in time! The next train will be here in four minutes and thirty-five seconds – Chayton! It's a fifteen-minute walk and ten-minute run.” Phoenix gripped Chayton's muscular shoulders as his eyes frantically searched his bosses face for a solution.

“Easy, Nixxy, easy.” Chayton shrugged from beneath Phoenix's tight grip. “Congratulations man,” He shook his hand.

Phoenix's eyes widened. “Did you hear me? My wife is giving birth, I'm stuck here at the office. I need help, Chayton.” His entire body shook. Phoenix crossed his arms and searched the office. He had to find a way. His mind was zipping in a million different directions.

“Calm down, Nixxy,” Clayton's voice seemed to take on a calming effect. “I can help you do have an Uber app?” His voice tranquil and soothing. Phoenix seemed to be able to focus.

“No, I don't.” Phoenix took a few deep breaths. The color was beginning to drain from his once tan face.

“Ok, then you're in luck, buddy. I have a car service. A car is never too far from the office. I will give them a ring so they can send a car over stat and get you to that gorgeous wife of yours.” His smile seemed to lend Phoenix the right amount of reassurance. “Now gather your stuff, Nixxy. You're about to be a daddy.” Chayton slapped Phoenix on the back and sent him flying into his desk again. Chayton jogged to his office to call the service. The idea of his baby arriving today sent a chill up his spine. A tiny little life. Something he and his Brooks made together. A new fear washed over him. He checked his watch, “7:11pm,” a single tear slid down his cheek. How could life be so cruel? His baby was set to arrive and he was set to leave, forever, never knowing…

“All set, Nixxy. Go the front the car should be pulling up in five minutes. Good luck,” Chayton slapped his shoulder again causing Phoenix to wince as his boss strolled away whistling.

Phoenix checked his watch. It should be safe to stand in front. He rubbed his shoulder gathered his things and headed to the front of the building to await his ride.

 

 

The Uma stroked Brooklyn's damp hair. “It's ok chile, breathe. Concentrate. Ya can't break the connection.” The Uma rubbed Brooklyn's back with her wrinkled thin hands. She was ageless. With leathery dark skin and thick gray hair pinned up in a tight ball on the top of her tiny round head.

“I'm trying,” Brook groaned. Sweat poured from her forehead. A strip of heavy black cloth scented with a mixture of lemon, lavender and jasmine covered her shoulders. Brook concentrated on her focal point; a squat white candle burning in the center of the room.

“Good, dahling. Won't be long now,” The Uma checked the time, “Erethin is goin as it should, relax,” a light shoosh purred from her heavily creased lips. Her milky white eyes fixed on the candle as well. Brooklyn released a howl as the Uma continued to stroke her back. “Nearly time nahw, dahling. I need ya to use all your will chile, nahw,”

A jagged growl released itself from deep within Brooklyn. The Uma smiled in content.

 

Phoenix tapped his foot nervously on the carpeted floor in the back of the spacious black car. The driver had been bickering with someone on and off during the entire ride. Phoenix peeked at his watch. His heart skipped a beat.

7:49 pm

“I'm coming, I'm coming,” The driver began to slow and pull to the curb. “Listen, I have emergency. I can't take you no further,” He stared into the review mirror at Phoenix. The driver's brown skin glistened as his breathing quickened.

“What? What do you mean? Where am I?” Phoenix's heart thudded against his chest. His bladder suddenly felt extremely full. “I, I can't get out here,” Panic swelled in his chest. “My wife she's giving birth, I, I have to get there,” His frantic eyes swept the street. The sky was overcast. The block was sprinkled with people strolling along. Some had cold drinks in their hands a few licked on flavored ice from the street carts.

“Listen, I have to go, you, out, now,” the driver demanded as he unlocked the door. His eyes darted around the street. As if he was waiting for something to snatch him from the car. “OUT,” he bellowed.

Phoenix jumped and his breath coming in uneven spurts. Beads of sweat invaded his upper lip. His hand quivered as he grasped the cool handle. “Ple-”

“Out!”

Phoenix glanced at his watch.

7:51

He pushed open the door nearly slamming it into a stocky tanned male with a gold chain on his hairy chest.

“Watch it asshole,” the man shouted.

Phoenix exited the vehicle. He swayed to the side as his feet hit the sidewalk. The driver sped off without a backward glance. Phoenix clutched his suit jacket tight to his chest as he did an awkward dance down the block. His marble brown eyes watched each passerby with caution. Checking them for anything shiny that may be lurking in their palms. His throat was dry. His heart felt as if it may beat through his chest. Up ahead, across the street, a slovenly dressed fair-skinned man with a scruffy beard slinked down the block.

Faces flashed through Phoenix's head. Chayton's devilish smile, Joshua's downcast looks, Nate and Johnson's constant snickers, Aurora's bright eyes, his Brook's smile, but not the warm smile he had come accustomed too, no the sinister smile he had recalled earlier when he had spoken with Rasmus. The derelict continued to advance as Phoenix slowed his walk. He didn't dare take his eyes from the creepy guy, but he had to check his watch, he had too.

Those eyes

The closer the guy got the darker his eyes appeared.

Coal black

Like Rasmus

Was it Rasmus?

The rapid pumping of his heart resounded in his ears. He could hear the blood flowing through his carotid. Phoenix stopped. The street corner seemed to approach him. As if it had a life of its own. This was the corner. He was so close. The villainy looking guy glided toward him and then planted himself on the corner across the street. Glaring.

Phoenix clutched at his throat.

He couldn't breathe.

His jacket floated from his arms as he struggled with his tie. A sharp pain seized his chest. The scraggly guy on the corner stared at Phoenix and began to jog toward him. Phoenix clutched his chest as his breath caught and collapsed on the ground. 

 

Brooklyn wrapped the squirming pink infant in a soft receiving blanket and held her to her breast. The Uma cleaned the area as she recited a cleansing spell over Brooklyn and the new baby.

“We did it, Madame Clemence,” Brooklyn kissed the head of the babe suckling at her breast.

“No, chile you did it. I only tole you when to push,” The Uma let out a soft chuckle.

“You did a bit more than that.” Brooklyn smiled, she was exhausted moments ago but the completion of birth infused her with a rush of exhilaration and renewed strength. Everything had gone according to plan,  “I didn't think I had enough energy. We hadn't been intimate in weeks it was really putting a strain on my control over him.” Brooklyn gently massaged the baby's back. She needed to grant her a name. She would do it later, once she received the call.

“Your ma gonna be so proud. Not many of your kind can keep up that kinda control. Especially after no relations for a month. You kept a healthy dose of nutrients goin with those dreams chile.” The Uma offered as she busied herself getting things prepared for the new addition. “You really did a good job stokin his fear, Brooklyn. I neva seen it done betta.” Madame Clemence gave Brooklyn a small pat on the back.

Brooklyn placed the sleeping infant in the lavender bassinet the Uma had wheeled into the room. She and the Uma recited a prayer over the bassinet while sprinkling cinnamon, bergamot and lemon essence. After the apartment was cleaned and cleansed, Brooklyn checked the time.

“He should have called by now,” her face turned up in a frown. “I know it all went as planned,” She eyed the sleeping baby.

“I can't call it, chile. I do hafta get goin, iffen there's nothin else?” The Uma asked as she gathered her things.

Brooklyn folded her arms, her mind lingering across town. It took a soft tap from the Uma to bring her attention back to the apartment. “I'm so sorry madame Clemence. I just -” the shrill of the phone interrupted her comment. “This must be him,” A broad smile crossed her face.

“Ok, chile. I'm gonna skat. You thank that nice actor fellow for his work now. We may be able to use him for others,” Brooklyn grimaced at the mention of Rasmus. She had no intention of telling the Uma or her mother what she offered him in exchange for his services. Brooklyn wouldn't be able to pay his price. She would find another way to handle Rasmus Gry. Brooklyn waved the Uma off and picked up the phone.

“Phoenix, where have you been you missed the birth of our daughter?” 

“This ain't Phoenix sugar top. Things kinda took a bad turn.” the gruff voice on the other end offered.

“What do you mean? Where's Phoenix?” Brooklyn's breath hitched in her throat. Everything was fine. Everything was perfect. “What happened to Phoenix?” She whispered into the phone.

“I did everything you said, just like you said, lady. The driver guy dropped Phoenix off- more like kicked his ass outta the car,” a crude laugh crossed the line, “I caught lover boy's attention like you said. He was scared shitless, I thought he would piss his pants.”

“What happened to Phoenix?” Brooklyn asked through gritted teeth. This imbecile was grating on her nerves. She had made sure each layer of her plan had been in place. There was the one snag when she had to suggest Phoenix call Rasmus, but everything else. Right down to having Chayton offer his car service to Phoenix and paying his driver to leave him at the designated spot. Perfect.

“I think your prank was more than the little fellow could handle. He was white as a news reporters teeth when I started closing in on him. Then he grabbed his heart and fell over. I ran over to try to help. I'll have you know I'm trained in CPR. Anyway, I ran over but I don't know -it's like he was scared to death of something. The damndest thing. Anyhow, you might wanna call the city morgue. They took his body away-” Brooklyn dropped the receiver. The morgue. Phoenix. It wasn't supposed to go that far. He was supposed to be home in time for supper. To hold his little girl. She could hear muffled hellos coming from the phone and something about sending a payment to his Paypal account. Then a dial tone.

The baby needed to feed. The fear. How could she have known it was too much?  He didn't – he seemed fine. Brooklyn lifted the sleeping baby from her bassinet. She squeezed the tiny infant as tightly and gently as possible. Brooklyn cried silently into her daughters blanket. Weeping until the knock at the door arrived to inform Brooklyn of what she already knew. 


© Copyright 2019 Linette Dee. All rights reserved.

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