From the Page
by J.D. Mraz
He stared out the window with silent contempt, examining the silhouette of his scalp bitterly by the glass’ reflection. How crude, he thought, that I must suffer here not only within but without. He ran a gentle hand over his head, shaking the strands with a down turned lip. Then again, he’d heard they had a habit of cutting the hair short. To keep from self-harm. He couldn’t recall exactly when they had, maybe when he slept. But why would he have admitted himself if he intended to do something? Not that he didn’t intend something. Still, it wasn’t all bad. He wagered he looked at least a couple years younger and as he watched a pair of athletic legs gossip past the courtyard below, he felt himself perk up.
He wondered why it was he who had to suffer this way. How childish it all was. The sadness of the mind is not to be trifled with, he recalled a TV doctor saying. Nonsense, nothing but a case of the blues, he thought. But if that was so, why did it bring him here? Again his eyes searched like a lighthouse in the day for a ship without need, finally resting at a woman on a bench. There were a gaggle of doves at her feet, cooing happily by her soft heels as she read and tossed small handfuls of seed. Now here was a woman who could cure all, he remarked. She was like a memory, something lost that can’t be found.
For a moment she glanced upwards, as if sensing him beaming down on her. But she instead regarded a male who approached from the building, in a white lab coat no less. He took a seat beside her. For a moment they spoke, obviously he had no idea what about, but the woman seemed to stiffen for a tick at something the man had said. The man seemed upset by this, but placed a hand on her shoulder for a moment before he walked on. For a while the woman did nothing but stare at the slowly diminishing gathering before her. Two men in white, after some time, appeared and walked towards her. It became obvious to him then that she was a patient as they escorted her away.
A knock came to the door suddenly and his own doctor, Matthews, came in with a smile. Matthews was a stocky man who sported a tan that, from the looks of a pale brow line, came from work in a home garden. His white beard and eyebrows contrasted greatly with the brown of his skin and the doctor took a quick glance at the chart he carried, nodding at its contents, and took a seat in the three legged stool by the man’s bedside.
The man looked to the lab coat, Matthews he was indeed and listened as the doctor said, “Mr. Donovan, it’s good to see you.”
“Likewise Doc,” Donovan replied with contempt.
The Doctor didn’t take offense and read from his chart, “Says here you admitted yourself with thoughts of suicide yesterday afternoon. What can you tell me about it?”
Donovan shrugged. “Not much to tell, if I’m being honest. I just feel out of sorts I guess. But maybe coming here was the wrong way to deal with that, though I doubt you’ll just let me walk.”
Matthews smiled, “On the contrary, you can leave whenever you want. You’re self-admitted, therefore, you have that right by default.
Donovan nodded at this, looking ahead and not at the doctor anymore, and said, “Well I won’t go that far yet. Maybe I do need help. Not that I would admit it much more than I already have.”
“A man’s pride.” The doctor grinned. “No need to worry Mr. Donovan, I won’t do any more than what you wish. But if I am to help you, you have to tell me… Why did you think of harming yourself?”
Donovan thought on this for a moment, searching the room as if it would tell him what to say. He shrugged again, and said. “I guess I’m lonely. I have been for a while.”
“That happens. But is that really enough?”
“Well…no, I suppose not.” Donovan sighed. “But its different Doc, I’m lonely but sometimes it feels like it’s a different kind of lonely.”
“How do you mean?” A white eyebrow cocked.
“Well I feel like something’s there, with me, but it makes me more alone because of it.”
“Where? Here? At Home?”
“At home…most of all when I turn the lights off. When the whole world around me goes to bed I feel…something. But there isn’t anything there. And even if there is, it’s like it doesn’t want me to be there, like it wants to get rid of me.”
“Now Mr. Donovan, this sounds an awful lot like something my children used to say when they were small and doing their darnedest to convince me to leave the closet light on. Of course, you don’t. Because the dark holds no more fear than you let it.” Matthews paused for a moment and continued. “I can give you something, help you sleep like a baby. If in a couple days you have any issues, call me and we can see what else we should do. As far as I’m concerned, from the look of you, I don’t know why they even bothered setting up the room.”
Donovan nodded, “Alright, guess it’s worth a shot.”
“You’ll be fine. Now please excuse me while I see to your discharge and get your things ready. I’m sure you don’t want to walk out there in that open backed gown.”
Donovan imagined his backside and all the times he had been complimented on it. That number being zero. “I suppose not.” He said.
Matthews nodded and closed the door with a reverberating thud. Donovan was alone again. The sun was now reaching its zenith. Donovan’s eyes searched for something to keep his mind off that fact but try as he might, he couldn’t. Because somewhere, something sat in the corner of a room and waited for him. That somewhere was home. And soon he’d have to face it.
The air was stuffy as he unpacked his luggage on the springy mattress by his street view window. With an effort he forced open the old sliding window and relished the smell of exhaust and springtime. From down the street he could hear Mr. Giovanni shouting. Kicking out another drunk probably, he thought. He pulled out a small bundle of shirts, why he imagined they’d let him wear his own clothes he didn’t know. But he thought of the bench woman. Why did she have her own clothes? Maybe she needed it to keep from snapping, he’d probably never know. Not that it mattered now.
His eyes fell to his bedside table. Her eyes glistened the same as the day they married, her face frozen in happiness. How funny it was that a picture could take you to a time of joy, but only for a moment. Reality came back as fast as it left and he longed again for the eyes ten years gone. Beside his beloved rested a book, left open. His eyes grew and he began to panic. ‘Never let light touch it,’ the man had said to him.
He touched the pages with caution and sighed happily to find they were not warm. No recent escapes. Good, he thought, just the one then. But one was more than enough.
Dinner went by quietly, the radio softly humming a tune and his glass slowly swirling in his hand as he warmed the brandy. His breath was quiet, it had to be. He was listening. From the back of his neck, at the prickling of his nape, he knew he was being watched. It was in the corner; this he knew for certain. It wouldn’t have risked coming out in the daytime. The light would have shot it back into the book, the store man said so. But maybe he was lying. Still, he’d only needed it at night. When the darkness reminded him of how alone the years had grown. How foolish he had been.
He swallowed and talked himself up to it, turning to face the whatever-it-was, but there was nothing. Not even a ruffle or a scurry. The wall was darkness and the books and rug by his reading chair remained undisturbed, unruffled. He shook off the gooseflesh and took a sip of warm liquid that burned its way to his stomach. Maybe liquid courage wasn’t the best way to deal with your problems. But he’d realized too late that neither was a cursed book. If he was going to deal with this he would need more than a little motivation.
Again, he felt the eyes on him. But looking around there wasn’t anything with eyes to see. The clock had a face sure, but he wasn’t in the mood for a riddle-joke. The faucet’s flow cut off the radio voices as he brushed the contents of his uneaten dinner down the garbage disposal without remorse. He wasn’t hungry anyway. Maybe an empty stomach would help.
Not if you get drunk you stupid idiot, he said to himself as his hands went to pour another shot.
He shook his head and placed the bottle back on the counter, his fingers rubbing his temples in the wake of an oncoming head-ache. A patter of feet rushed past him and his eyes shot up into the black. Nothing, but not nothing. His fingers went for a drawer, slowly, as if he wasn’t in control of them. Of course he was, and his heart nearly leapt from his throat as a giggle broke from behind his ear. With the knife in his hand he turned savagely, but of course it was a sound from the window. Two young girls stared up at the crazed man with half-amused, half-terrified grins and giggled once more as they passed. Shaking, he dropped the knife.
“Get ahold of yourself Joe…” He said leaning against the counter, his hands returning to his face.
“Sleep…that’s what I need.”
He made for the bedroom, ignoring the radio. It would be good to have something playing to rock him to sleep. Maybe it would keep his mind occupied. He looked to the pills on the table by his bed and held the bottle to the light. As he read the explicit instruction not to take them with alcohol he heard another rush of steps from the hall by the kitchen and the distinct snap of the radio’s power switch.
He cursed softly under his breath as silence surrounded the apartment. He tip-toed to the wall and made himself as flat against it as he could. He thanked himself silently for wearing black, but cursed in the same thought for not keeping the knife. The floor boards creaked rapidly as something ran to and fro in the room beyond, resting finally at what had to be the entrance to his room.
From the shadows a figure walked into the room, the light of the lamp post outside his window did nothing to reveal anything but the crudeness of its shape. It was pure darkness, only mimicking the limbs of a person. If only he had finished the words. What stood before him was a being that could grant its master only one thing. What that thing was, he shuddered to imagine. He could only recall the swirl of darkness that enveloped him as the creature emerged that short week ago and he cursing in the darkness of his closet at the store owner. How was he to know the words on the page would summon it if said aloud, even if incorrectly? But it was too late for it now. The hollow spaces where a man’s eyes would be scanned Donovan’s room meticulously.
The creature checked the closet, and the small half bathroom without turning on the light. It probably didn’t need it. Donovan took a moment to tuck himself closer to the floor. But that damned board! Why did it have to creak? The thing turned and looked to the wall, its head slowly moving down. Closer and close to its prize. His heart pounded, this was it. But a bird cawed loudly in the night and the figure stared out the window.
In the moment of distraction Donovan raced as quietly as he could to the kitchen. A rush of steps came from the room. It knew, he shrieked to himself. Rapidly he turned with the knife as a woman took his hand and caused it to clatter to the floor. She said nothing, but her red lips enticed the horrified man she held in pale fingers. He shook from her grasp; it was the thing no doubt about it. But he couldn’t resist himself. How long had it been since he looked into the face of his deceased beloved? How long had it been since she was nothing but a picture by his bedside? He felt himself nearing her, closing in against her lips and embracing with open arms.
As they departed each other’s grasp a horrible smiled stretched until it began to tear at his love’s cheeks. Her face melted away, the rest of the body falling to the floor with a gelatinous flop. Only darkness, a living shadow, remained. Donovan nodded to himself; he knew what had to come next. He closed his eyes as a horn blared from somewhere and the world was plunged into light.
He awoke at the table, the fresh dawn burning his pupils to a small thousand-yard dot. His head throbbed and he looked to his overturned chair and the empty bottle resting in his hand with confusion. The knife! He thought at once and shot his eyes across the floor, but there was no knife to be seen. The radio boomed in his sensitive ears and he groggily clicked it off. What happened, he wondered as he staggered to the sink, taking in two handfuls of water. He looked down at the street, the people passed as loudly as they had before, the cars honking louder still. Strange, he thought, as he turned and walked toward the bedroom.
His wife blinked happily from the bed, the shadows of the room surrounding her arms stretched wide in anticipation of his embrace. He backpedaled from her. The light of the window, he thought. Now’s my chance! But his eyes searched the room and to his horror he realized he was standing in front of it. The face tearing smile again crossed his love’s lips as the shades came crashing down, descending the room in darkness. He hadn’t even heard her stand.
“Wait!” Was all he managed to say before the arms seized him.
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J.D. Mraz is a husband and father of two. Writers Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick influence his work. He has eight published short stories to his credit.
2 thoughts on “From the Page”
There’s a good story here but the development of it lost me. What did that first woman on the bench have to do with the story, and that incident between her and the attendants – how did that enhance the story? Is his wife alive, dead, his imagination? I’m thinking, he killed her, and his conscience is bugging him?
The elements of a good story here in the description of a slide into ghoulish horror. It is marred though by a troubling awkwardness, beginning in the opening paragraph. A reflection in the glass would not be a silhouette. How would cropping hair fend off self harm? One can not admit oneself to a hospital; one can be volunteer for admission. In the second paragraph, ” his eyes searched like a lighthouse in the day for a ship without need” puzzles. The simile connotes little. In the third paragraph, “the slowly diminishing gathering” is obscure, though possibly a reference to the birds. Mathew’s reaction to his doctor’s “Good to see you,” “Likewise, doc.” is described as contemptuous, when is seems more sarcastic.”
Such oddities persist throughout and continue into the climax. “His wife blinked happily from the bed, the shadows of the room surrounding her arms stretched wide in anticipation of his embrace” is obscure, perhaps missing a comma between “her” and “arms.”
Polish would help realize the promise of this story. AGB