by Alan Dalby
Where do stories come from? Every story seems to have a slight ring of truth to it. A story begins with a single idea, a tiny seed that falls into the hand of the writer. Once the seed is planted, along comes the inspiration; the muse that sprinkles itself upon the soil and makes the mind fertile. Out pops a small green leaf from the writer’s brain. Now it is entirely in the hands of the storyteller to farm the land, to manipulate this small bud into a thriving organism; a living, breathing being. This will be his story, his creation that he will repot and set outside for all the world to see. Should he take proper care of it, the flowers will bloom and draw in the audience, make them want to get closer and smell the sweet aroma. Should the mind become clouded and overcast, the life of the story will take a much different turn. The darkness forbidding the flowers to bloom, sickly weeds shall take over and devour the story as its leaves turn brown and slowly die. Soon the once fertile land becomes infested with this destructive growth and impossible to farm. Now the landscape of the imagination has fallen victim to the worst of all possible conditions; writer’s block. The farmer must handpick each weed from the land, a long and dreadful process that can leave the farmer exhausted, but once again ready to plant the seeds and grow new life. Some decide to take a shortcut, spraying the land with poison in order to wipe out the infestation more quickly. This method can prove very effective. It can also prove to be very disastrous, and in many instances; dangerous.
The pain in my sides will not go away. I am awakened nightly by the screaming that echoes through my dreams. Unable to rest, unfit to work. Too miserable to live, too stubborn to die. Help me to ease this pain. Take it away and relieve my suffering. Set me free.
Winslow Elliot sat at his desk staring at his legal pad. His mind was blank. He read over these lines, this tiny beginning to his latest story. It had been written weeks earlier, and seemed like a good start. Then, the ink stopped flowing and his hand stopped moving. It was like rigamortis had set in. His entire body froze as the gears of thought stopped turning. Clenching tightly to his pen, Winslow read over the words once more. A sudden thud caused his legs to shift. His concentration being shattered did not matter. He tossed his pen onto his legal pad and reached down to pet the purring intruder.
“Hello Poe.” Winslow’s fingers ran across the cat’s shiny silken fur. This seemed to soothe the both of them. Gently Poe dug the tips of his claws into Winslow’s hips, nedding at his tan coterie pants. “Have you brought me any inspiration today?” His eyes met with the cat’s deep yellow gaze. Poe’s only response was to squint as he purred louder. Winslow rand his palm down the cat’s back and up to the tip of his tail. “Who is this person that occupies my pen Poe? Why are they in such pain? Where do I take them from here?” Winslow looked down at his yellow pad and short paragraph. “If only the pen would move on its own.” Winslow chuckled. “Perhaps it will. Who knows if this character exists in my mind, or if they truly live within the ink.” Winslow slowly lifted Poe up and looked into his eyes. “Once they figure out where it is they are headed, they will let me know. What do you think?” He asked of the cat. Poe was no longer content as he hung from Winslow’s soft grip. The cat began to struggle, and Winslow lowered him to the floor. “Go find my muse Poe.” The cat sauntered off, full of pride as always. As he passed by the base of the stairs, a beautiful woman appeared. She smiled, pushing her long soft hair out of her face.
“Have we been writing this morning?” The woman asked. Winslow looked his lovely young bride over from head to toe. He was still passionate for her, still madly in love after five years together.
“Not one word.” Winslow grimaced. “I sent Poe off to bring me back a paragraph, or at least a few sentences.” Kat stuck out her lip in empathy. She came to him and kissed the top of his head. She set her chin down on his shoulder. Her arms wrapped around his chest and squeezed him tightly.
“What can I do to help you, my poor uninspired artist?” Kat asked softly. “Perhaps I can find your muse for you.” Kat said as she kissed and nibbled his earlobe. Winslow closed his eyes and smiled. She knew exactly how to get her husband’s attention.
“You are my muse darling. You always have been.” Winslow opened his eyes.
“Then why are you so lost?” Kat asked. Winslow looked at his paragraph and took off his glasses. He leaned over and set them on his desk.
“This story has an ugly feel to it.” He said, turning to face his wife. He touched his fingertips to her soft cheek and smiled. “You inspire only beauty in me. I could never find unpleasantness when I’m with you.” The couple smiled. Kat giggled, a bit self-conscious as Winslow ran his fingers through her hair, his gaze set in her soft hazel eyes. They kissed with the uninhibited lust of newlyweds.
“I have to go to the store today.” Kat said softly as she pulled away from her husband. “Do you need me to bring you back anything?”
“Let me think for a second.” Winslow looked around the living room. “I think I have everything I need.” He said. Kat started to walk away. “I did order a refill on my pills. If you could pick them up for me, I would appreciate it.”
“Enough to take a little break from your book later?” Kat asked as she struck a silly yet sensual pose.
“For you, I would toss it all away and run off to the moon.” Winslow said.
“The moon? Wow, I’d love to go with you if you ever decide to visit the moon.” Kat giggled.
“You’ve never been?” Winslow joked. Kat blew him a kiss before running back up the stairs. Winslow heard the water running as his wife got ready for her day. Poe returned shortly after, strutting his stuff like a runway model before settling back into his favorite position on Winslow’s lap. “Did you bring me anything old friend?” Winslow asked as he stroked the contented cat. Poe simply closed his eyes. His small furry body went limp, spreading out fully across Winslow’s thighs. The troubled writer smiled as he looked down at his pet, feeling the gentle vibrations of his purrs. “Oh to be so easily pleased. If only I could slip on your coat of soft black fur for one day; clear my mind and find amusement in even the most mundane things. Then perhaps I could start back over with a blank slate and finish this story.” Winslow said. He leaned back and closed his eyes as well. The two rested, finding comfort with each other in their own different ways. Time became irrelevant. Soon Kat came back down the stairs, all showered and dressed.
“Look at you two.” She smiled. Her lips were now a deep red. They had a shine to them, like the sun hitting a fresh apple. “You look so cute together, father and son.”
“We do get along.” Winslow smiled. He ran his hand across Poe’s fur, causing the cat to stir a bit.
“Well, you take care of each other while mommy is gone.” Kat said as she walked over to Winslow. Her heels tapped loudly on the hardwood floor. “If you are good, maybe I will bring you home something nice.” She said, looking down at Poe. She kissed Winslow, then chuckled as she wiped some lipstick off of him. “I love you honey.”
“I love you too.” Winslow said. Kat then reached down to pet Poe. He reacted suddenly and violently to her touch. He struck her with his paw, his sharp claws slashing deep into the flesh on the fingertip. Kat yelped in pain, pulling her hand back and shaking it. Several drops of blood flew from her finger as she stepped back.
“What was that all about?” She asked loudly before suckling her wound.
“Are you okay baby?” Winslow tossed Poe aside. The cat landed with a hiss and took off running. Winslow stood and gently took Kat’s wounded hand in his. As the cut finger came out of her mouth, blood began to form once more. It dripped onto the floor from the small claw marks. “Let’s get some cold water on that.” He said as he led his wife into the kitchen. She stuck her finger back into her mouth as she waited for the running water in the sink to turn cold. Winslow kept his palm under it and waited. “Here we go. Come on over and stick your finger under the water.” He said. “I’ll go get you some disinfectant and a bandage from the medicine cabinet.”
“No.” Kat said in an oddly assertive tone. Winslow looked at her, questioning her with his eyes. “Don’t leave me.” Kat said. Winslow thought this reaction strange, but remained by his wife’s side nonetheless.
A little while later, Winslow found himself sitting at the kitchen table sipping a soda. Poe appeared for a brief moment, but took off again as Kat made her way back down the stairs. Her finger was now bandaged and she was once again ready to leave. Winslow stood up and left his soda on the table. He walked over to his wife and kissed her.
“I’m so sorry baby.” He said as he gently took her hand and looked at the bandaged finger. “I don’t know what got into him.”
“It’s no big deal.” Kat said. “That cat is definitely not getting any treats from me today.” She waved her finger at Poe who was peeking his head around the corner. “I will see you later.” Kat kissed Winslow once more. “If you think of anything else that you want or need, just call me.” She said as she headed out into the garage.
“Be safe.” Winslow waved her out. The door closed and he heard her engine start. Winslow watched as his wife’s car pulled out of the driveway and vanished down the street. He slowly wandered over and grabbed his soda from the kitchen table, then made his way back to his desk. He sipped it, sat back in his comfortable office chair, and started back into the seemingly impossible search for his new story. He leaned over to set his soda down. As he placed the can down on his desk, he noticed that a few drops of Kat’s blood had landed on his legal pad. He was surprised to find that they had hit just below his opening paragraph, and were sitting perfectly in place on the next line down. They were even indented. Winslow raised an eyebrow and grabbed his glasses. He slid the thin frames back onto his face and leaned back in his chair. He stared at the red droplets on his notebook for a while. Then, out of the blue, something amazing happened. Winslow felt new words begin to form in his mind. He lunged forward and grabbed his pen. He tried to write them down, but the sharp metal tip of the pen only scratched at the paper. He shook it violently, then tried again, but it was completely dry.
Winslow opened every drawer in his desk and tore threw them in a desperate search for refills, but he was all out. He tossed the pen aside and slammed his fist down on the desk, nearly spilling his soda. He rubbed his brow in frustration. Slowly he sat back in his chair and took a deep breath. As he exhaled, his eyes were drawn to the legal pad. He noticed that his outburst had caused the blood to shoot out a tiny line from the thicker droplets. Winslow grabbed his pen and slowly lowered the tip into the crimson liquid. He felt his hand moving. It seemed as if he had lost all control of his body. The tip of the pen moved fluidly, forming each new letter with perfection. Occasionally Winslow’s hand would be drawn back to the blood pool and dip the tip of the pen into it. Then the pen would return to where it had left off, continuing the story.
This went on until Winslow, filled with elation, found a brand new paragraph sitting right before his eyes. After two weeks of writer’s block, it seemed as if Winslow’s lull had at last come to an end. He called Kat’s cell to see if she could pick up some refills of ink for his pen. She did not answer. He left a message. The very moment he hung up the phone he noticed a small package with two refills sitting on his desk, obscured by a tiny trophy that he had won long before he had become an established author. “Idiot.“ He said to himself. He quickly unscrewed the tip of his pen and tore open the refill package. He let the empty plastic cartridge fall to the floor and stuffed the new one in like a desperate bandito in the midst of an intense gunfight. He screwed the pen back together and stuck the tip to the legal pad directly underneath the brand new paragraph. Slowly, his newfound joy began to fade. No words came out of him. The burst of thought that had suddenly come had now suddenly gone. His writer’s block had returned it seemed. After an hour, Winslow dropped the pen from his grip and stood up. He rubbed his face and cursed into the palms of his hands. A sharp pain hit him out of the blue, stabbing into his sides and his gut. Winslow grabbed his stomach and hunched over slightly. He waited for a few minutes, but the pain did not subside. Poe trotted around the corner as Winslow slowly headed away from his desk and struggled to climb up the stairs. The cat now had the house all to himself. He made his way over to an area on the floor where some of Kat’s blood had spilt and began to lick it up.
“Honey?” A soft voice found its way into Winslow’s dreams. “Baby, are you asleep?” Kat asked as she sat on the bed and began to rub his back. Winslow groaned and tired to speak, but only muddled gibberish came out. Kat chuckled at her husband’s groggy mumbles. “I got your soda, and your pills.” She tossed a small white paper bag onto the bed next to Winslow’s head.
“Thanks sweetie.” Winslow finally managed to say as he placed a hand on the bag. The crinkling noise pulled him further toward consciousness.
“I noticed that you called me. I tried to call you back, but there was no answer.” Kat set her purse down next to her side of the bed. “So, did you and Poe have fun while I was gone?”
“I wrote.” Winslow said in a louder voice as he began to wake up.
“What?” Kat said with enthusiasm. “You wrote?” She dove over and straddled him from behind.
“Yup. A whole paragraph.” He said. As Kat rubbed his back she could hear disappointment in his tone.
“That’s wonderful honey!” Kat said in what was nearly a squeak.
“I guess.” Winslow said.
“Why so gloomy then?” Kat asked as she slid off of his back and laid down next to him.
“It just stopped all over again. It’s just like before. It came to me. I wrote a paragraph, and then it just vanished. It’s like my imagination has narcolepsy.” Winslow stuffed his head down into his pillow.
“Oh honey, it isn’t the end of the world.” Kat said. “We’ve still got the moon.”
“Start packing your bags.” Winslow’s muffled voice said. Kat smiled and rubbed his back some more. Winslow’s head popped up from his pillow and he looked at her. “How was your day?”
“Lonely.” Kat said. “I missed you.” She moped.
“Maybe next time I’ll go with you.” Winslow said. Kat smiled brightly and closed her eyes.
“I’d like that.” She said. She then opened her eyes suddenly and jumped up onto her knees. “Come on. Let’s celebrate!” She slapped him on the rear end before hopping out of bed completely.
“Celebrate what?” Winslow asked. Kat put her hands on her hips and tilted her head.
“Your progress, that’s ‘what’.” She said before running out of the room. “Come downstairs!” She hollered back as she was halfway there. Winslow yawned and rolled out of the bed. He had fallen asleep while still dressed, his clothes were all wrinkled. He finished the job his nap had started on untucking his shirt and slowly stumbled out of the bedroom and down the stairs. He heard a loud pop and squinted at the sound. The pain in his mid-section had eased, but was not entirely gone. As he headed into the kitchen, he found Kat pouring wine into a pair of crystal glasses. “You’re such a sleepy-head.” Kat said as Winslow approached the counter.
“Alcohol probably won‘t help with that.” He said as she slid a glass over to him. “White wine?”
“Is there a problem with that?” Kat asked before taking a sip from her own glass.
“No problem.” Winslow smiled. As he lifted his glass, Kat clinked hers against it.
“Cheers.” She thought for a moment. “To inspiration.”
“Whatever you say.” Winslow said apathetically as he sipped his wine.
“Oh honey, cheer up.” Kat said. She walked past him, running her fingers across his shoulders as she made her way toward his desk. “Can I see what you wrote?”
“Go for it.” Winslow said, leaning over the counter. It was then that he realized he himself had not read the new paragraph.
“Where is it?” Kat asked as she looked over his legal pad.
“What do you mean?” Winslow asked.
“Your new paragraph. Did you write it down someplace else?” Kat sipped her wine.
“No. It’s right there on my notebook.” Winslow said.
“I only see the old paragraph.” Kat said. Winslow lowered his brow and made his way over to her. To his shock and chagrin, he found that his wife was right. “Where is the new one?”
“I…” Winslow was caught completely off-guard. “It was there this morning.” He said. He noticed that the blood droplets were no longer there either. “What the hell?” Wilson stepped back and rubbed his face.
“Maybe you dreamt it.” Kat suggested. Winslow was visibly upset. Kat went to his side and hooked her arm underneath his. She placed her head gently on his shoulder.
“This doesn’t make any sense.” Winslow said. “Damn it!” He jerked away from Kat and walked to the middle of the room. He stopped and pointed over to the legal pad. “I swear to God that it was there this morning. I didn’t dream it. I wrote it.” Winslow insisted. Kat slowly walked over to him.
“I don’t know what to tell you honey.” She said. “I’m so sorry.” She rubbed his chest and leaned in for a kiss. Winslow responded, and the kiss quickly escalated. The couple made their way into the kitchen, setting their wine glasses on the table. They then set themselves on the counter and began to undress each other. Kat straddled Winslow and pulled at the buttons on his shirt, undoing them as if it were an emergency. Winslow ran his hands up her legs, pushing her dress up her thighs and grabbed onto her well-toned behind. Kat suddenly yelped, and the passion came to a halt.
“What is it honey?” Wilson asked.
“Your damned cat again!” Kat got down from the counter and lifted her foot up. She set her heel down on the countertop and showed Winslow the fresh claw marks. The new wound bled onto the marble counter. Winslow leapt down onto the floor, barely missing Poe. He tried to shoo the beast away with his foot, but Poe had already taken off.
“I’m so sorry babe. Let’s get this cleaned up.” Winslow said as he touched his fingers gently to the flesh surrounding the wound. Kat took her leg down and crossed her arms.
“That cat is getting himself into very deep trouble.” She said. Winslow smiled a bit and opened his mouth. She stopped him from speaking by covering it with her hand. “If you make that joke about Kat not liking the cat again, I will slap you.” She said with a slight grin.
“Okay.” Winslow said in a muffled voice. Kat took her hand away. “Let’s go upstairs. We can get this all tended to. Maybe take a nice long bath?” He wagged his eyebrow at her.
“I think the mood is dead baby.” Kat said. “I’m sorry.” She finished off her wine, and then Winslow’s wine. “I’m going to go take care of this.” She said tilting her leg to showcase the new wound.
“Okay.” Winslow said. Kat walked off toward the stairs. “I’ll be up in a little while. I just have to kill the cat first.” He hollered.
“Make it slow and painful for me.” Kat hollered back as she headed up to the bedroom.
“I love you!” Winslow yelled. He waited, but received no reply. He poured himself another glass of wine and sipped away. He looked over to see Poe’s eyes glowing at him wildly. Winslow lowered his brow and took another sip of wine. “What are you looking at?” The cat closed his eyes, disappearing from view. Winslow slowly stumbled over to his desk and sat down in his chair. He took a few more sips of wine. The alcohol seemed to soothe his pain. Then Winslow noticed something odd about his legal pad. He looked around for his glasses, but could not find them. He picked up the notebook and looked at it closely. His second paragraph had reappeared. Puzzled, Winslow set the pad back down and finished off his wine. He picked up his pen and looked at it, a twisted idea formed in his brain. He unscrewed the tip, took out the ink cartridge, and then put the pen back together. He slowly stood and looked over towards the kitchen counter. He soon found himself standing over it, looking at the small blood pool that Kat had left behind. He had brought his notebook with him, and set laid it down on the counter. He dipped the tip of his pen into the blood, then waited as his hand took over. The tip slid across the yellow paper, writing a brief but very interesting sentence. Winslow looked at the fresh crimson ink and read the words silently.
She must not know that you know.
Poe had snuck in and was rubbing his body against Winslow’s legs as the bewildered writer stared at his legal pad. Winslow felt the urge to write taking him over once more. He looked at the blood on the counter. His arm began to shake, the pen clenched tightly in his hand. Winslow was giving in to the need that he had to continue his new story. As he did, he realized that he did not like what was happening to him. He dropped his pen just before the tip could dip into the blood. He wiped the counter off with his hand, lifting his bloodstained palm to his face. He looked the red liquid over as it permeated every detail of his palm. “What‘s happening to me?” He asked himself before wiping his palm off on the legal pad.
Right before his eyes, the red palm print on the page began to slowly change, forming into letters and words on the page. Winslow threw the pad across the room. He then picked up his pen and tossed it into the wastebasket. He grabbed the wine and sat down, drinking it directly from the bottle. Poe leapt into Winslow’s lap and reached his little black paw up, the tips of his claws clinked against the base of the bottle. Winslow looked down at his cat and raised an eyebrow. Poe meowed at him ominously. Reality began to twist and skew. Winslow’s eyes widened as he watched his world transform. It was not the alcohol affecting him. Winslow was familiar with the feeling of inebriation. This was something entirely new to him, something unsettling and dark. Poe continued to stare up at him and let out a low moan. Winslow stood up. He watched Poe jump onto the floor as the room began to fade away into an empty nothingness.
“Winslow?” Kat’s voice was loud, waking her husband very suddenly. “What are you doing down here?” Winslow looked around to find himself curled up on the living room couch. “Did you sleep here?”
“I must have.” Winslow said. He shifted a bit and let out a sound of pain as he wrapped his arms around his stomach.. Kat reached down and picked up the empty wine bottle.
“Looks like the party continued without me.” Kat smiled.
“Don’t remind me.” Winslow complained.
“Not feeling so good baby?” Kat asked. Winslow slowly sat up. He hunched over, his arms still holding onto his gut.
“Oh no, not good at all.” Winslow said. Kat sat down next to him and put her arm around him.
“You poor guy.” She kissed his cheek, exaggerating the sound of the smootch. “Do you want some ginger ale? Maybe some aspirin?”
“Maybe some tea or coffee.” Winslow said softly.
“Sure. I’ll be right back honey. You just take it easy.” Kat said. She got up and headed into the kitchen. Poe found his way to the couch and curled up next to Winslow. Kat set up the coffeemaker and left it to brew. She came back and saw her arch nemesis was now guarding her husband.
“Oh goody. My favorite cat.” Kat said. Poe ignored her.
“Maybe I should come into the kitchen.” Winslow said.
“I think we learned last night that the kitchen isn’t exactly a safe zone either.” Kat said as she walked away. Winslow forced himself to stand up. His head and stomach were both aching. He limped slightly as he walked, his legs feeling cramped. Kat set a cup of coffee and a pitcher of cream down in front of Winslow as he pulled his chair up to the table. She then placed a small napkin with two pills on it next to the steaming coffee mug. “There you go honey.”
“Thanks babe.” Winslow said as he poured some cream into his coffee.
“Oh, I’ll get you something to stir that with. Hang on.” Kat grabbed a small spoon from the utensil drawer and dipped it into Winslow’s mug.
“You’re stirring my coffee for me?” Winslow asked, feeling a little silly.
“I have to take care of my man.” She said. “Especially after letting him down last night.”
“How do you mean?” Winslow asked as Kat tapped the spoon against the rim of his mug.
“You know, blue balls?” Kat said as she rinsed the spoon of in the sink. She tossed it into the dishwasher.
“Oh honey, don’t be so hard on yourself.” Winslow said, realizing that somewhere in that statement was a dirty joke just waiting to happen. “I’m just sorry that Poe attacked you again. I just don’t get that cat. He’s never acted up like this before.”
“Well, he may be getting himself on my bad side, but I’m sure one day we’ll put it behind us.” Kat smiled. “After all, Kat loves cats.” Winslow giggled, but stopped quickly because it pained him to laugh.
“I see that you’re all dressed up.” He said. Kat struck a pose, then stepped forward and spun around, modeling her tight black pants and silky purple blouse for him. Winslow whistled at her. “You know what that was? A Kat call.” He giggled, forgetting about the inevitable pain in his sides.
“You’re always the comedian.” Kat said. “I have some plans today. I figured you’d appreciate getting rid of me for a while so that you can get some writing done.” Terrible thoughts came flooding back into Winslow’s mind as she said this. He frowned a bit and looked down at his coffee.
“I think I might just give up on that for a while.” Winslow said. He smelled the sweet aroma of the imported Italian coffee beans filling the house. It was refreshing.
“Well, maybe that is a good thing.” Kat said as she pulled out a chair and sat across from him at the table. “You know I support you no matter what.” She reached out across the table for his hands. Winslow didn’t notice. “Honey…” Kat pleaded. Winslow looked up at her.
“What?” He asked. Kat wiggled her fingers and gave out a pleading moan. Winslow finally got the hint and reached out, taking her hands in his.
“I appreciate your support more than you’ll ever know honey.” Winslow said. “I don’t think I would have survived in this life without you.”
“You would have managed.” Kat said. “I will say that you hit the jackpot when you met me though.” She said biting her lip into a smile that was cute and sexy all bundled into one ruby red package. Winslow smiled back. Suddenly, he felt the pain in his sides sharpen. He made a sickly face but quickly masked it with a smile to avoid worrying his wife. “Are you okay honey?”
“Perfect.” He said.
“It’s the hangover blues for you today.” Kat said. “Maybe while I am gone you can get some rest. This time on our bed instead of that lumpy couch.”
“Definitely the bed.” Winslow said.
“Okay, if you are all set, I am going to head out.” Kat said.
“I’m set thanks to you.” Winslow said as Kat stood up and walked over to him.
“I love you.” She said.
“I love you too.” They kissed and Kat headed toward the garage.
“Don’t forget to take your pills. I left them out for you.” Kat said as she opened the door.
“I won’t.” Wilson said as Kat stepped put into the garage and closed the door. He heard her drive away, and let go of his smiling façade. Aching all over, Winslow stood and slowly walked toward the stairs. He was headed for the bedroom, but something caught his eye. He stopped, holding onto the end of the banister. He was afraid to further investigate. Curiosity finally got the best of him and dragged him over to his desk. As he approached, his fears turned real. There, perfectly centered on his desk was his yellow legal pad. Next to it was his pen. Perhaps Kat had picked up the pad and pulled the pen out of the trash, but when she woke him she seemed as if she had just come downstairs. That didn’t give her time to gather these items and place them so perfectly on the desk. Winslow could not see the words as he hovered over his desk. His glasses were still missing, not that he had really looked for them. As he lowered himself down into his chair, the blurry red text became clear.
Winslow’s heart began to race, and sweat beads built up on his brow as he picked up the notebook. He did not want to read the words, but he felt compelled to; forced to. As he read on, Winslow’s face wrinkled into the face of rage. He began to breathe heavily. His heart beating faster, he clenched the notebook tightly, wrinkling the pages. Poe wandered in and looked up at Winslow. The black cat sat down and stared at Winslow knowingly with his vibrant yellow eyes. Winslow finished reading and set the crinkled notebook down on his desk. Poe jumped up into Winslow’s lap. Winslow ground his teeth together. A single tear ran down his cheek. “Do I dare finish it Poe?” Winslow asked. He then looked down at the cat sitting in his lap. “Do I dare finish writing the story?” Poe let out one strong meow, then licked his lips. In his little face Winslow could swear he saw something. It was as if Poe knew. Not only did he seem to know what Winslow knew, but this cat seemed to know much more. As Poe stretched out across Winslow’s lap and began to purr, the writer felt as if Poe already knew how the story would end.
Kat returned home later that night to a dark house. As the garage door opened, she noticed that Winslow’s car was gone. This was a very rare occurrence. She closed the door to the garage and felt around for the light switch. The living room lit up and Kat looked around. “Hello?” She called out. “Who am I talking to?” She asked herself. She turned on the kitchen light and poured herself a glass of milk. She heard a low growl and looked up to see Poe. He was crouched on the counter, his eyes open wide as he glared at Kat. She put down her milk and glared right back. “Piss off Poe. I’m in no mood for you tonight.” Poe hissed and leapt off the counter. Kat shivered as she sipped her milk. She was finding herself more and more disturbed by her husband’s pet. Worried about his absence, Kat took her cell phone out of her purse and dialed Winslow’s. It automatically went to voicemail. “Honey, it’s me. I’m home and all alone. Please call me when you get this message.” Kat closed her phone and set it down on the counter. She stood in the kitchen sipping her milk. Poe appeared on the stairs and began to growl. Kat looked at him and hissed. Poe did not budge. He simply crouched and glared at her, keeping Kat under close watch as she waited for Winslow to come home.
“Mm, Winslow?” Kat moaned as she turned over in bed. The sunlight was shining through the windows. Kat found herself feeling at a cold empty pillow. It was morning now, and still Winslow was missing. She got up and headed down the stairs. She found the living room and kitchen to be empty as well. Poe was sitting up on the couch, extremely alert and watching her every move. She ignored him and opened up the door to the garage. She found Winslow’s car parked next to hers. Curious, Kat stepped out and over to check the car out. It was empty and the engine was cool. Winslow had not driven it recently, so where could he be? Kat pondered this as she turned to head back inside. She was startled to the point of jumping and screaming upon seeing a figure standing in the doorway.
“Hello darling.” Winslow said in a voice so different from his own she had to squint to make sure it was him.
“Winslow? Where have you been?” Kat asked as she stepped cautiously toward him. His appearance was off. His hair was a mess, his clothes unkempt and wrinkled. He had heavy gray bags underneath his bloodshot eyes, and there were spots of what looked like dried blood on his shirt and pants. “Honey, are you okay?”
“I’m more than okay baby.” He said, his voice deep and dark, not at all his usual tone. He held out his arms, tilted his head and grinned widely at her. “I have a surprise for you.”
“Oh?” Kat said with a raised eyebrow. “What is it?”
“It’s far too great for me to spoil it by simply describing it to you honey.” Winslow said. “Trust me; you will want to see this for yourself.”
“Okay baby.” Kat said as she further approached him. His arms were still held out. Kat was unsure as she accepted his embrace. Winslow wrapped his arms around her and squeezed a little too hard. Kat patted him on the back. “Winslow, you’re hurting me.” She struggled a bit. Winslow released her and looked into her eyes. He was not her husband at that moment. Kat was feeling very uncomfortable. As he continued to stare at her and grin, Kat felt terror begin to grip her. She took a step back, but Winslow grabbed her hand and yanked her into the house. He slammed the door shut and locked it.
“Follow me Kat.” Winslow said.
“Where to?” Kat asked in a shaky voice. She was pulling away from him, but Winslow tightened his grip on her hand.
“It’s in the basement.” Winslow said.
“What is?” Kat asked.
“Your surprise.” He said. His eyes widened, as did his grin. Kat tried to pull her hand away from his, but Winslow would not let her go.
“Honey, you’re hurting me again.” Kat began to panic. Poe watched from the couch with a smile on his little face as she tried to break loose. “Let go of me Winslow.” Kat demanded. Winslow just grinned at her. “Let go of me!” Kat screamed. Winslow released her hand. Kat darted for the door. She managed to get it unlocked before Winslow grabbed her from behind. He wrapped one arm around her stomach, then covered her mouth with his free hand. Kat screamed, but her desperate cries were muffled. She bit his hand as Winslow hoisted her up a bit and began to carry her toward the basement door. Kat watched in terror as Poe darted in front of them. The door was cracked a bit, and Poe managed to push it open a bit further with his head. He then sat down by the side of the door and watched. Winslow kicked the door open all of the way. Kat flailed wildly, her teeth sinking so far into her husband’s hand that she tasted his blood. The basement was pitch black.
“Now, your big surprise isn’t completely ready yet.” Winslow said as he struggled to keep his hold on Kat. “So I’m going to need you to be patient and give me just a little extra time.” Winslow said. “Can you do that for me honey?” Winslow yelled angrily into her ear. Kat screamed as he removed his hand from her mouth. He lowered her down slowly as she continued to struggle. As soon as her feet touched the floor, Winslow shoved her with all of his strength. Kat screamed again as she went flying down the wooden stairs, different parts of her body smashing into each one as she tumbled out of control towards the unfinished floor below. When her head hit the pavement, the crack was so loud that Winslow heard it from the top of the stairs. “Ouch.” He said apathetically. Poe rushed down the steps, followed closely by Winslow who slammed the door shut behind him.
Kat slowly came around, one of her eyes opening all of the way. The other eye was swollen and she could only open it slightly. The view was the same either way. She found herself surrounded by darkness. She moaned and groaned a bit, finally realizing that she had heavy-duty electrician’s tape covering her mouth. She began to move, but could not. Every limb was covered in the same painful tape. It was also around her waist, her neck, even her forehead. She did not know what she was taped to, but it felt like very solid wood. The smell of fresh sawdust was all around her. She continued to moan and wiggle, but it only caused her extra pain; and she was already hurting more than enough as it was.
“Oh my how she struggled to break free of the ties that bound her body, but it was to no avail.” Winslow’s now nearly demonic voice echoed through the basement. Kat panicked and froze. Her good eye grew wide as she looked around, trying to determine where Winslow was. “She heard her husband’s voice and knew things were only going to get worse.” Winslow continued. “She prayed for help, but nobody was coming. No one could hear her now. It was just her and her husband in the cold darkness of the basement. He had a score to settle. Little did she know that he knew everything now. Did she really believe that she could get away with it? Did she honestly think that her sins would go unpunished?”
Kat once again began to struggle and moan. She tried screaming, but her throat was in wretched pain. With each jerk, each wiggle, every movement that she made; the tape holding Kat to the wood tore at her skin. She had lost many of the tiny hairs on her arms already, and as she continued to struggle, more were torn from her flesh. She moaned in agony, wishing that Winslow would at least remove the tape from her mouth so that she could try reasoning with him. She wanted to know, to ask him, what on earth was going on in his head. Why was he doing this to the woman that he told each day how much he loved her? Most of all, she wanted to scream as loud as she could for help. It wouldn’t do any good though. Her voice was out of order. Now, she could feel something moving across the room. Winslow had stood from his crouched position in the corner. She could hear the soft sounds of his movements. They were sporadic. He would walk a bit then suddenly stop. It sounded as if he spun around in place several times. His footsteps moved in every direction, like he didn’t know what his next move was.
“Kat begged silently for Winslow to turn on the light. She was frightened enough without being trapped in darkness.” Winslow said. “Now it was time for her to see the light. It was time for her to see her surprise.” Winslow said. “Her husband stepped slowly over to the switch.” Winslow said. Kat heard him moving again. “Let there be light!” Winslow hit the switch and the basement flooded with the illumination. Kat looked around and her terror intensified. She looked at the walls and began to struggle again. She was soon crying. Winslow stuck out his lower lip and walked over to her. “What’s the matter sugar?” He wiped her tears away with his thumb. Kat noticed her teeth marks on the palm of his hand. “I’ve never called you sugar before. I should have, but I never did. You see, I used to think you were so goddamned sweet.” His face drew in close and he scowled at her. “That was before I read the Gospel of Kat.”
Winslow stepped away and began to pace around her, admiring the fine job he had done on the wooden stand that Kat was now strapped to. Her arms and legs were spread out, adding to the pain she was in from her tumble down the stairs. Her head was cut deeply from crashing against the floor, her hair soaked in blood. Winslow figured she was probably in need of stitches. He was proud of his work. He had managed to injure her and keep her unconscious long enough to restrain her but had avoided killing her. If she had died from the fall, she never would have been able to see his masterpiece. There was a bucket on the floor. The red liquid on the side of it had dried into a rust color. The walls were covered in the same liquid. His hand had guided his fingertip across the walls as he wrote.
“This is my story Kat.” Winslow said. Kat looked at the same wall that he was admiring. “I ran out of paper, so I had to improvise.” He turned and looked at Kat. She begged with her eyes for him to take the tape off of her mouth. Winslow giggled. “Don’t repent your sins now my darling. It’s much too late for forgiveness.” Winslow said. “Do you want to know what I know?” He asked. “Of course you already know it, but I‘d like to read a few passages for you regardless.” Winslow said. Kat’s head was throbbing as he spoke. Winslow ran his finger over the wall and stopped once he found the sentence he was searching for.
“She brought home Winslow’s pills as she always did. Upon returning home, she kissed her husband on the cheek, then headed upstairs to make the switch. The following morning she watched as her husband swallowed his pills, unaware that he was actually ingesting a slow-working poison. Kat kept it hidden in a small bottle marked ’aspirin’ in her medicine cabinet. The days turned to weeks, and Winslow was suffering the affects of the poison building up in his system. Though he noticed the symptoms, he did not realize that he was slowly being put to death by the woman he loved; the person he trusted more than anyone on this earth. An unbearable pain often took over his body, disabling him. His mind froze and he was unable to concentrate, unable to think clearly, unable to write.”Winslow stopped and turned away from the writing on the wall. He looked at his wife. Tears rolled down her face, dripping quickly from the tape on her mouth and falling onto her pants. “How could you Kat?”
Winslow shook his head and sat down on the cold basement floor. He stared at the pavement. Several rust colored spots had fallen onto it as Winslow wrote. His mind was filled with the words that adorned the walls surrounding him. Every treachery, every stab in the back, everything his wife had done to him that he never knew about. He began to cry as Kat continued to do the same. The two of them wallowed in the silence. Poe sat in the corner of the room, silently watching and listening to everything that was going on around him. Kat looked straight forward and noticed a small ladder standing in front of her. She had seen it earlier, but had not paid any attention to it. Now she noticed not only it, but an object sitting atop it. She didn’t know what the object was, but it was covered in a thick cloth, and had an eerily familiar shape. Winslow stood and made his way over to the opposite side of the room. He sniffled and wiped his eyes, then began to read once more.
“So foolish she thought her husband to be. Why did he never question her when she went out? Why had he not caught on to her actions sooner? He was too trusting to think it, too stubborn to even try. He was ten years her elder, and had already become quite wealthy off of his novels before she met him. Did he really think that her interest in him stemmed from physical attraction? What aside from his modest wealth could have possibly drawn such a sexy young woman to his side? Why did he not think far enough ahead to get a pre-nuptial agreement? A fool and his money, you know what they say. Why did she wait so long to begin administering his slow death sentence? Why not get it over with early on? Why suffer through all of the unwanted sex that drove her to be physically ill? The very thought of his overweight hairy body sweating all over her flesh made her skin crawl. His breath was constantly rank. No amount of mouthwash or trips to the dentist could ever cure it. So why did she wait? She was waiting for her true love to find her. She was waiting for a man she could be with without throwing up at the mere sight of. She had finally found him, and was ready to share her life and Winslow’s money with him.” Kat moaned and tried to shake her head but couldn’t manage to move it even the slightest bit . Only her eyes could turn to plead with her husband, and he was not paying any attention to her.
“You know, there was one constant recurring theme that struck me.” Winslow said as he ran his fingertips along a certain sentence. “Above all of his attributes, Kat was drawn more than anything to her new lover’s deep blue eyes.” Winslow chuckled through a sniffle. “This is repeated over and over again Kat.” Winslow said as he walked over to her. “You must have truly adored his eyes.” Winslow said as he looked into hers. “It will be difficult to see them properly with this boo-boo of yours.” He pushed his finger into her swollen eyelid, causing her horrific pain. “You poor clumsy thing.” He said. “It must be a strain just to keep that sucker open.” Winslow reached into his pocket and pulled out a black object. “Not to worry my dearest. I have the perfect solution to your problem.” Winslow hesitated for a moment before bringing the black stapler into view. Kat began to scream and struggle as Winslow opened the stapler up. He reached out and forced the lids on her good eye open. Kat tried to shake her head, to close her eyes, to do anything to get out of this nightmare. Then, she felt the first staple go in. The pain was intense and horrible. Kat screamed and squealed, sobbing hard as Winslow put the second staple through her upper eyelid. “You may as well enjoy this one. The other eye is going to be the real bitch.” Kat screamed as hard as she could as a third staple pierced her eyelid, forcing it to remain open.
By the time her husband had finished, Kat was in such a state of shock and pain that she could no longer muster even the slightest complaint. Both of her eyes were now open wide, forced to stay that way by the sharp metal staples that Winslow had so generously applied. He wanted to make sure that her eyes stayed open, no matter how hard she tried to shut them. Winslow tossed the stapler aside. Poe remained still, sitting quietly in the corner, enjoying the show. Winslow stepped forward toward the ladder. He turned to face Kat and placed his hand on the top of the ladder next to the covered object that was directly in front of Kat. “All eyes on me now.” Winslow joked darkly. Kat just stared with emptiness in her pupils at the ladder. “What? I’m not the constant comedian anymore?” Winslow waited but Kat was not responsive. The fight had completely left her, and now she just wished that Winslow would finish her off. Unfortunately she knew that he was not intending on being merciful.
“You loved his eyes so much. I wanted to give you a present. One last gesture of kindness from your loving husband.” Winslow said as he touched his finger to the soft cloth covering the object atop the ladder. “I had to do some things to him first.” Winslow said. “I needed some of his blood. Well, a lot of it actually. I needed to make sure that this story was true. I needed to see if his ink told the same story as yours. Sure enough, it did.” Winslow said. “Naturally I wanted to kill him slowly. Then again, I needed him dead as soon as possible. It was going to take a lot of ink to finish the story, too much for any man to survive after losing it. So I made it quick. I sliced his throat, bent him over the bucket and let him bleed out. Then I took the knife and finished cutting until his head came entirely off.” Winslow began to pet the object through the heavy cloth. “I was going to offer it up as my final gift to you, but it just seemed so messy. So I boiled it until it was nice and clean, not a single piece of meat left on it.” Winslow said. “That is of course, with one exception.” Winslow yanked the cloth. Kat found herself once again alert as she looked straight ahead to the skull. Like Winslow said, it was completely clean, with one exception. Winslow had stuffed the eyes of his victim back into the sockets. The skull stared at her with full wide eyes, the teeth seeming to grin at her. With her eyes forced open by the staples, Kat was unable to get this morbid display out of her sight.
“Now I shall leave you two alone to reminisce.” Winslow said. “I have one added bonus for you before I go.” Winslow said. He stepped behind Kat and out of her view. Panic rushed through her. Each of his ‘surprises’ only got worse and more horrifying. Winslow stepped back into view. He had a tall adjustable lamp with him that he set up in front of the ladder. He aimed it directly at the skull. After plugging it in and turning it on, Winslow adjusted it so that it perfectly highlighted the big blue eyes. “I used a hundred watt bulb. I thought you’d appreciate that.” Kat squirmed as her husband walked toward the foot of the stairs. “Enjoy each other’s company Kat. He’s the one you truly wanted. Now, he’s all you’ve got.” Winslow said before shutting off the main light, leaving only the lamplight aimed at the skull on. Kat screamed and struggled as Winslow marched up the stairs with heavy steps. Poe walked over to Kat and smiled proudly with his yellow eyes. He then took off up the stairs, beating Winslow to the top. Winslow looked down at his wife one last time, his silhouette just barely within her view. “Goodbye, my love.” He said before slamming the door. Kat sobbed underneath the tape on her mouth and breathed heavily through her nose. She realized that her fate was truly sealed as she heard Winslow turn the bolt on the door, locking her down in this makeshift dungeon.
Winslow laid down on the couch in the living room. Poe quickly leapt up and stretched himself out. He nedded at Winslow’s chest and purred contently. Winslow found himself devoid of emotions. He forced himself to no longer feel anything anymore about Kat, her adultery, or her attempt to slowly poison him. Winslow looked over at his desk and noticed his pills sitting there in their clear orange bottle. He shooed Poe away and got up. He marched over and sat down at his desk. He picked up the bottle and shook it, listening to the pills rattle around inside. He then opened the bottle and dumped out the pills. They did not look right to him. He picked one up and compared the label on the pill itself to the label on the bottle. They matched. “She must not have switched this one out in time.” Winslow said. He took two and swallowed them. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. His chair rolled backwards, spilling Winslow onto the floor. He got up and pulled the chair back over to his desk. There he found his yellow legal pad. A surge of panic came over him as he began to flip through the notebook. Page after page that had been filled with his story, his writings, were now all blank. The only writing that he found was at the top of the very first page, in regular ink.
The pain in my sides will not go away. I am awakened nightly by the screaming that echoes through my dreams. Unable to rest, unfit to work. Too miserable to live, too stubborn to die. Help me to ease this pain. Take it away and relieve my suffering. Set me free.
Winslow stared at his old paragraph, then looked back at his pills. He suddenly noticed another bottle of the same pills sitting behind the little trophy on his desk. He opened it up and dumped it out. Once again, the pills looked different, and all had the same name as the name on the bottle; the same name from the other pills and bottle. “Poe, what is going on?” Winslow looked around, but Poe was nowhere to be seen. Winslow grabbed the two empty pill bottles and rushed up the stairs into his bathroom. He threw open his medicine cabinet. Much to his shock he found it to be full of the same pill bottles. He picked up each and every one of them, shook them, and then dumped them out. All were full, all were the same. So when exactly did Kat poison him? When did he take the wrong pills? Thinking back, he couldn’t remember the last time he had taken any medication at all. Winslow ripped everything out of his medicine cabinet, tossing it all over the floor. Then, he ransacked Kat’s cabinet to find the poison she had used. He looked over each bottle and opened each one up. He matched the innocent pills inside to the labels on their respective bottles. He then put his fist through the mirror hanging over the sink. Looking at his reflection in the shards of glass sitting in the sink, Winslow didn’t recognize himself. He looked at his bloody knuckles and pulled a tiny glass shard out of his hand. “What in God’s name have I done?”
Ever so slowly, Winslow unlocked and opened the door to the basement. He took each step carefully, walking toward the lamplight below. He could see Kate, but barely. Just the outline of her familiar body, taped to a hand cut slab of wood. Winslow then heard a faint meowing. He reached the bottom step, then found his feet planted on the pavement. To his left was the light switch. Winslow put his hand on it and paused. “Kat?” He called out. He heard no moans, no murmurs, no movement. A hissing sound came from the corner of the room. Winslow slowly began to notice the horrid stench that was filling the entire basement. It was like rotting flesh mixed with cat urine and feces. He plugged his nose and called out his wife’s name once more. “Kat?” Still no response. No sounds of movement, no signs of life at all other than Poe’s complaints. Winslow closed his eyes and flipped on the lights.
He was in silent shock as he opened his eyes. He looked at the walls of the basement. They were covered in bloody scribbling that made no sense at all. His story, his proof of his wife’s horrid acts, had it all been fabricated by madness. Then he turned his attention to his wife. There was her body, rotting away after being left in the basement for an unknown amount of time. The skull still sat on the ladder. The hot lamplight had thoroughly destroyed the eyeballs. Crouched in the corner was Poe. The cat looked horrid. His fine black fur was matted down. He looked much thinner than usual, his ribcage slightly popping out from his sides. Still, he had somehow managed to survive for however long he had been trapped down there. Then, it suddenly struck Winslow, and he realized exactly what the cat had been feeding on. Winslow’s mouth opened as he involuntarily vomited. Poe hissed and threatened Winslow by sticking his ears back and arching his body. The unkempt black fur stood up on Poe’s back as his wide yellow eyes glared at Winslow.
“I’ve killed my own wife.” Winslow said to himself. “For what reason?” He fell to his knees before her carcass and began to sob. “I’m so sorry my love!” He screamed through his tears. “I’ve done such terrible things, such unspeakable acts.” Winslow looked over to see his pen lying atop his yellow legal pad on the floor next to his bucket. “I now know how the story truly ends.” Winslow said. He stood and walked up to his dead wife, kissing her softly on her decaying cheek. He then made his way over to the bucket. He sat down against the wall and picked up his pen. He held it up, looking at the sharp metal tip. He scratched the crusted blood off with his fingernail, then stabbed the pen into his wrist. “It‘s time to finish it.” He said as he drug the pen tip down, slicing deep into the flesh of his arm. He felt the pain surging through him as the blood began to flow out of his wrist, down the flesh of his arm, and onto the floor. “I pray my soul find itself thrust into the deepest depths of Hell.” He said as he stuck the pen tip into his other wrist. “For I now know the sharp sting of its flames, and even they are too good for the monster that I have become.” Winslow finished slicing his other arm open and dropped his pen onto the blood-soaked pavement. He grabbed it and dipped the tip into his own blood. He then began to write one last time. Once he was done, he looked at the floor and read his words out loud.
“At long last my pain comes to an end. My blood flows thick though it pumps forth from a broken heart. This darkened demon‘s heart that destroyed my beautiful wife has condemned my tortured soul. Madness devoured my thoughts and my mind I know not when. As my story comes to an end, so my life must follow. I leave this world in ruin, a man shattered by his own despicable deeds. Slowly I fade away. If you read this ending, know that the villain has met his end at last, and above all else, waste not your time mourning for me. Be glad that I‘ve departed, and shed only tears for my dearest Kat, the woman who offered only her love, and in return met a gruesome end.”
Winslow tipped over and cracked his head against the floor. Poe trotted over and began to lap up Winslow’s blood; sinking his teeth into the slits on his wrists and tearing away tiny chunks of flesh. The cat savored the taste as Winslow felt the cold fingers of death wrap around him. As their grip tightened, Winslow took one last look at his wife. A single tear fled from his right eye as his life came to its end, splashing down into the widespread pool of blood beneath him.
© Copyright 2016 Alan Dale Dalby. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Literary Fiction
Poem / Poetry
Short Story / Horror
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