Con reached the bathroom down the narrow hall. The house was like a maze, it felt like there were too many rooms, too many doors squeezed into such a tight building. He passed two bedrooms on his way into what looked like a parlour with a set of carpeted stairs leading to an upstairs bedroom in the attic space. One of the bedrooms was completely empty, carpeted and painted in the same way as the rest of the house, the other was locked.
The parlour had a few black couch chairs and a pool table with what looked like a minibar in the corner. It had another set of glass doors which lead out into the yard and overlooked the pool. A big black ceiling fan span above his head as he stood, hands in pockets looking out at the pool.
He crossed the room past the pool table almost tripping over a black leather foot stool. He leant on the railing of the stairs looking up at the attic door. It looked locked too but it was worth a shot.
Just as he mounted the first step his ears pricked up to a muted cracking sound and brief fumbling from where he’d come.
He pulled his Glock 19 with a nervous jerk from the moulded holster on his hip and soft stepped around the pool table with the gun at his side. He shouldered up to the corner and took the safety off, he held his breath and rounded the corner with his gun high. The tight corridor was empty the door to one bed room still closed the door to the empty bedroom was open still. The closed door was closer on his left so he tersely slid along the wall keeping his eye on the edge of the hall where the sitting room was located. He got to the locked door and tried it again, it was still locked.
He popped out around the door of the empty bedroom and it was still empty. He continued at a quickening pace down the hall. He kept his breathing steady but his heart beat was fast and light.
He swung around the corner of the sitting room, it was empty. He did a further sweep to make sure there was no one in the kitchen or entryway. All the doors were closed and he opened them quietly one by one, revealing storage closets full of cleaning products and chemicals. The other was a study full of unopened boxes, a desk with a monitor on it, behind the last door was a tiny bathroom with just a sink and a toilet.
Making his way back into the sitting room he loosened his chest a little. The TV on the wall was cracked and there was a half-heeled shoe on the carpet without a foot. A couch cushion lay on the floor open.
He stalked into the kitchen and saw her lying on the floor, one shoe off. He swept to her side on one knee, his gun still in his hand as he felt for her pulse. It was weak but it was there. Her knight in shining armour breathing heavy over her, feeling nothing but burning in his chest.
His head got a little numb and he started to feel dizzy as he stood up. His tongue clacked dry, He pounded the side of his head with his balled palm around the butt of his gun. He opened and closed his eyes deliberately, as if his lids were glued together and he had to pull them apart.
He took a sharp snort of air and was straight again. His shoulders knotted up tight lifting the gun like his arms were on marionette strings. Wobbling slightly but long and straight and rigid. He took up his firing stance and paced through the kitchen trying to make as little noise as possible on the tiled floor.
There was a small alcove behind the breakfast bar adjacent to a set of two white wooden slated doors that probably lead into a small pantry. Con rounded the breakfast bar tightly, using his hand to toss himself around the sharp corner. He passed through alcove into a small carpeted anti-room. This room didn’t seem to have a purpose since it was too open and close to the kitchen to be a bedroom and too small to be another living room or sitting area. Despite that it had the same carpeting and the same type of ceiling fan with the daffodil shaped light fixtures. There was another alcove on his far left that fed back into the entry hallway, a door on the wall on his right which lead outside into the pool area. Another door in front adjacent to the pool was open at an angle.
He braced the ajar door and pushed it open with his empty hand, probing the stale air with the Glock. As the door opened he was in a small strangely angled smoking room with a large sixties style red stone fireplace. Against the back wall there was a beat up leather couch and a wood end table in front of the fireplace facing out. It looked out of place with the new coat of paint and the modern light fixtures running along the ceiling. There was a closed door on the right adjacent wall to the fireplace that probably lead out of the house functioning as a side entrance. The main focus was a strange door that jutted out into the centre of the room. The walls seemed to angle to meet it forming a trapezoidal shape taking up almost a quarter of the floor space. The door was so imposing it took all the focus off the bespoke fireplace and the entire room seemed to centre around it like it was a big flat screen TV.
Con glided over to the door, he gripped the knob and began to turn it, it was unlocked. He flung the door open and pressed against the doorjamb angling his gun through the opening.
It was black as pitch, a set of stairs faintly lit by the sunlight coming in from the window on the other side of the room. The stairs went down into a basement of some kind. Con craned his free hand around fumbling for a light switch. He got a nasty shock on an exposed wire and yanked his hand away like it was a rattlesnake bite. He fumbled around in his pocket for a moment before pulling out his cell phone. There was no signal, they must have been too close to the mountains, he didn’t remember seeing a single landline throughout the whole house. With the gun lodged tight to his chest he held the cell phone out in front of him as his only source of light and started down the stairs.
Predictably the first step creaked loudly and he had to stop for a moment to pick his heart up off the floor. After a moment of measured silence, he took another tentative step into the inky blackness and then another and then another. As he made it three quarters of the way down he expected another light switch but could feel nothing but bare cinder block foundations.
In the silence he could hear a dripping sound a light harmonic whistling, a clicking sound and then a bright flash of light.
The light was intense. Two flood lights angled on tripods pointing directly at the stairs blinded Con like the deer in headlights he most certainly was. The sound of the generator harsh and low.
“Toss the gun down!” The voice was light and curt without malice, the sentence punctuated by the sound of a shotgun racking. Con did as he was told. He threw the gun down in front of him but it made no sound as it hit the bottom of the stairs. “Good, now come down the rest of the way, slow”. Con did as he was told, his shoulders slumped like a naughty school kid caught peeing behind the bike shed. “Do you have another gun?”
“I believe you”.
Con made it to the bottom of the stairs and at that moment he realised why the gun made no sound on the earthen floor of the basement.
“Do you see the shovel by the foot of the stairs?”
Con’s eyes slowly adjusted to the bright light. He could make out the silhouette of Carter Sable sitting atop the generator powering the two large flood lights. He saw the shovel resting up against the wooden banister of the basement steps.
“Good” Sable said “Pick it up”
“You won’t get away with this” Con mumbled as he picked up the shovel.
“What a cliché’, I expected more from a fed. Is this the part of the movie where your partner miraculously saves you?” Con didn’t say a word, his eyes became cold and hollow as he stared at the dark figure between the two lights. “I’m afraid not, I shot her up with enough dope to knock out a baby rhino. Without a shot of adrenaline, she’ll slip into a coma within an hour.” He sucked his teeth and gave a breathy laugh “-and I’m afraid I’m fresh out”.
“What do you want”
“I want you to dig”.
Con breathed in and stabbed the shovel into the cold dirt of the basement floor at the bottom of the stairs.
“No not there! Move over there, under the steps, now start”.
Con moved further under the steps away from the only source of natural light and started to dig. The rhythmic shifting of dirt becoming a morbid metronome. Time seemed to go into the hole as he kept digging in the dark dank basement.
“That’s deep enough” Sable said as he watched Con stand upright in his shallow grave.
Sable shimmied off his generator throne keeping the shotgun fixed to Con’s back as he walked soundlessly over to him. Con stood facing the stairs, his suit encrusted with black dirt.
“Have you ever read the king in yellow?” He hissed.
A loud shot rang out in the cramp basement. The generator sputtered and died. The lights went out leaving the basement under a thick blanket of dank, deep, dark.
Harsh hard frantic breathes in the dead pan basement gloom. Dirt shifting under frenetic feet, scratching out a coffin song. A macabre dance of life and death punctuated by a bright flash of dragon’s breath and a loud boom distinct from the last.
Did someone leave a TV on?
It was hot, there was a fan on the ceiling but he couldn’t feel it’s affect.
It was so muggy he could barely move, his head felt dry and heavy.
He was lying down looking at the ceiling, he could feel the cotton sheets on his bare skin. He was lying on a bed but it wasn’t his own.
He could tell because the windows were on the other side and all the light was completely blotted out by a set of long red curtains. It was a room he’d never seen before. He couldn’t see much but the long red curtains and the fan which was illuminated by a pulsating white light.
The TV was on.
He turned his head to the side, which felt like a great effort. As if there was sand bunched up in the spaces between the bones in his neck, making it difficult to even turn his head.
It was an old wood panelled TV with a coin slot. It must have run empty because it was just showing static. He was alone in the room.
Some force of will rocked him up into a sitting position. This put him closer to the fan and now he could feel it as he sat with his head in his hand on the edge of the bed in the dark.
A cool breeze that lit up the cold patches of sweat and collecting on every hair on his back. It made his head feel lighter and he could feel his senses returning by increment. He really needed a drink.
He rubbed his face with his hand and took in a yawning breath as he looked around the darkened room. It looked like a hotel room. In the dark he couldn’t make out much and he couldn’t find a light switch. There were no bedside lamps, or switches of any kind. He could only make out the TV and the long curtains and maybe the silhouettes of some cheap furniture.
Just as he thought it a light clicked on.
It flooded in opening up a new section of the room. The room was small, and besides the curtains there was nothing of note in regards to the decoration. In front of the bed there was a now dimly lit small lounge area if you could call it that. He could make out the silhouette of a chair and a small table next to the long red curtains. The TV was placed centrally, in front of the bed on a rack with wheels on it. Moving to the right was what he could only surmise was a bathroom. That’s where the light was coming from and then the front door was on the adjacent wall to the right.
“Laura?” He called out the light as he rose groggy from the bed.
As he got up he realised he was shirtless but his pants and shoes were still on and the bed was still made. He must have just crashed on top of it. It was a queen sized bed with a wooden backboard. The sheets were a deep red faux satin. It was a tacky bed in a sleazy motel for sure.
“Laura?” He called out again. But as he got to his feet the door of the bathroom slammed shut and he could hear a bolt slide as if it was played on a tape recorder next to his ear.
James was still very groggy. The door slamming didn’t fully register and just as it happened the light went off and for a moment he caught himself. He blinked and thought about whether the door was closed from the start.
He got up and walked in front of the television, it still crackled with the sound of white noise. He was in front of the bathroom door, there was a faint smell like, sandalwood. He could hear light sobbing behind the door. He tried the handle but it was locked.
He thought to call out again but was interrupted by a knock at the door.
He shook his head and for a moment could almost feel a rattling. As if there was an unshaded light bulb in his head rocking back and forth about to go out.
James turned to the door. It was dark again but he could make out that it had a chain and a peephole with a simple bolt that locked with a key on the other side.
“Who’s there?” He said softly.
Just as he said it a note was slid under the door.
He braced himself against the door without making any noise and looked out of the peephole but he couldn’t see anything. It must have been broken. All he could see were thin shards of light coming through deep scratches in the glass.
He still felt a little shaky, He stooped to pick up the note his hand on the door to stop him falling.
It was a small section of lined notepad paper that had been ripped off a notepad, but it was now too dark to read it.
James went over and sat on the bed in front of the TV, in the light of the white noise he could see the phrase;
“SOMETIMES MY ARMS BEND BACK”
Written in red ink.
As soon as he said her name he heard a coin clinking into the old TV and a black and white image started to play.
First there was a large tree, that looked maybe like a cherry tree. There was a boy under the tree, he’s combing his mother’s hair.
Her arms are tied behind her head.
James closed his eyes as he felt a sinking feeling.
When he opened them again he saw the ceiling fan spinning.
He was hot but there was a cold sensation that ran up his left arm, the arm closest to the edge of the bed. It felt just like it did when he was in that machine, he couldn’t move.
He looked down at his feet, they were bare, there was a man in the corner.
He sat in the small living area of the room, his legs crossed one over the other in the only chair behind the small table.
His body was rigid like a department store mannequin and his face was a split mask. One side was an exaggerated smiled, the other a frown. He didn’t move but his voice resonated throughout James’ head.
He said; “You have a visitor at the door.” his voice seemed to vibrate but kept a steady timbre, a blanched monotone “She has dyed her hair red, just for you”.
There was another knock at the door, it was so loud it seemed to echo as if it was knocking inside his own head.
He shook his head from side to sound, a sudden frantic feeling reaching down into his gut, he felt like he couldn’t breathe.
He looked up, there was a woman straddling his waist. She was blank of all features and colourless. She was light and as rigid as the man that sat in the corner. It was a clothes store mannequin positioned over him, perfect and polished with red fingernail. It’s synthetic red hair moving with the motion of the ceiling fan.
Without warning her hands shot at James’s throat and she was choking him with those firm lifeless fingers. Cold plastic thumbs digging into his Adam’s apple. Those red nails biting at his soft skin. He blacked out almost instantly.
A world of sinking blackness. A warmth on his skin, a soft firm place to rest his head.
He opened his eyes.
He was in a large room, but it was unlike any other room he’d seen before.
The ceiling was made of stars and planets he didn’t recognise. The walls too were alive and moving as if he were floating through infinity. He couldn’t tell if he should believe his eyes or if they were just elaborate paintings brought to life by his waking light head.
He felt as if he sat upon a throne over a galaxy.
But he was not sitting, he was lying on his back on what felt like two rounded curbs on an impossibly thin stretch of road, possibly only half a foot in length.
He looked up and saw what can only be described as two perfectly formed alabaster hillocks. He goggled at them for a moment and when he looked around he raised himself with his forearms. He saw that he was indeed in the lap of a large statue of a full figured woman seemingly floating through space.
He looked up but couldn’t see a face past her breast and long hair.
Just like that he was falling, for what seemed like forever, soundlessly. All sensation robbed from him except that of intense heat, getting hotter and hotter, towards the flames.