The Last Embrace
Last time I had gone inside “the house on the river’s edge“, if I noticed anything out of the ordinary, I couldn’t say. But this time, it was like I walked off into a dream, one that would change me forever, and one that I will never, ever talk about again. . .
The exterior door closed soundlessly. Seconds later the deadbolt clicked shut. I went to a window in the foyer, just off to the side, and pressed my palm against a layer of paper thin glass. On the gloomy, dead end street, the three ghost hunters moved between parked cars and onto the sidewalk. They grew hesitant. The one with the video camera panned to his right, now filming a different home. It seemed they had lost sight of us, even before we had entered the ghostly house.
“Don’t worry about them anymore,” Benny, ‘the cigar store Indian’ said, who was right behind me along with my lady friend(LF). The pizza and Chinese delivery guys(aka num and nuts) were a step further down the hall with the boy named James, who “lived” in the house.
“It’s pretty dark, I hope their film’s blurry,” I uttered, recognizing the elegantly furnished living room. On my first visit to the home, I had been so comfortable that I thought about nose-diving onto the plump-cushioned sofa. Now I couldn’t get my bearings. “But they might have been following us for a while.”
“None of it matters,” Benny said, leveling his tanned face up at me. His eyes were startlingly lucid. “This world hides its secrets very well.”
“It does,” James offered, a glint of red in his distant stare. He smiled up at me, then LF. The red was gone.
I shuffled into the living room. In the air was a soothing, minty potpourri scent. My focus was drawn inward, and I noticed two shadowy figures on the edge of my mind’s eye. One was square shaped. The other was tall and skinny, and wilted toward the squarish one in what I took to be fawning servitude.
They were demons who had toyed with me in the past. In particular, they had distracted me one day when I was out for a leisurely stroll in Brooklyn, and I had nearly been run over by an SUV. It was a clear message that they could kill me if they pleased.
Now it seemed they looked upon us through “a window ” in my head. From what I’ve been able to discern, they are fascinated with death. No one knows that better than Max Beckley, a Revolutionary War soldier they abducted, whom they still hold captive.
Dazed and calm, I couldn’t muster up the proper fear for LF. (She is my all, my everything, my one true path to harmony.) Her eyelids were nearly closed. Black hair angled from her shoulders to her plump cheeks that beamed from a recent salon treatment. Like all of us except for the boy, she clutched a wooden spike. “If your father could see you now,” I said to her, “he would put a dent in my forehead.”
Her eyes cracked open and she lazily smiled. “Joe,” she said sweetly as if she didn’t want me to wake her, while unable to fully meet my gaze.
“Probably deserve it,” I said and looked expectantly to num and nuts. Also bright-faced from the salon, their arms hung loosely at their sides, and they postured like two dog-tired children. They were too befuddled to chirp or nod in agreement.
“It’s too late to turn back,” LF said.
“It’s been too late for a long time,” Benny added.
“Just watch out for vampires,” James said. “They come out from places you’d never imagine.”
I eyed num and nuts again. The only reason they were in the ghostly home was because of their undying devotion to LF. It was good that they would be by her side. They provided a buffer, and could be taken first, until I had time to reach her in case a demon or vampire attacked. They were flotsam and jetsam.
At my feet was a wicker basket of dried flowers, fruit, and bark. I took in the couch, then the dining table off in the next room, and then another whiff of minty potpourri. This was a home, once, maybe. . .
I couldn’t shake the sluggishness. It felt like I OD’d on Ambien.
I headed back into the hall, and peered up the stairs. I told my friends not to move, and then ran up the stairs. I didn’t want James seeing anyone dead, especially his sister Lara. Spike at the ready, I check the rooms. They were all tidy. I thought James’ mother, after she had been turned into a vampire the previous night and possibly taken her own daughter’s life, had then set the beds, spiffed up the rooms, and disposed of her little girl.
(Camille Saint-Saëns – Danse Macabre)
“We’re going down the basement!” LF called up to me.
I chugged down to the first floor, and through an open door in the hall, then down another set of stairs, into the basement. It was cooler. Invigorating. A hazy light spread from the center of the room like a breath of tiny yellow stars.
Yet the basement was steeped in shadows, and I couldn’t see the far end wall. The floor space seemed much larger than the exterior of the home. The walls and floor were cement. Overhead ran wide joists. Pitched on an angle to my right was a dilapidated, wooden dresser with tools spilled across the top. In one corner was a furnace and oil tank. I was reminded again that the place was a home. But my feelers told me something different.
James ran his hands over one wall, and suddenly, an arched door appeared. He pushed it open, then moved through into a murky, arched corridor. “It leads out to the river,” he said.
“The East River?” I said, noticing Benny’s tensed expression, as if he was readying for something. Both he and James were not lethargic like the rest of us.
“I guess,” James said. “It’s not far.”
Now in my mind’s eye, it seemed my demon onlookers had moved closer. I reached out to them–to the stone wall in the corridor. For a second, it looked as if they were embedded deep in the stone. They had arrived to bare witness, but to what. . .
My eyes set on James. He had begun to stride in an odd manner–more like he was stalking. His back was hunched, and he held his arms straight down and pumped his fists. When he came to a door, he never tested the handle before he spoke. “It’s locked,” he said, and oddly, did not face us.
“James, what’s going on?” I asked. He shrugged, and it was then I noticed how stout he had become since we left the basement. His blazer and pants were nearly splitting at the seams. And a thick roll of fat folded over on the back of his neck. Was he growling. . .
“He’s a changeling!” Benny cried, then looked in the other direction. With leaping strides, James’ mother was flying down the corridor. There was a brutish look on her sallow face. Her eyes were lifeless and her mouth was open in an oval-shape.
“Kill her,” James said with a snort. I glanced back to see he had turned. His face was wrinkled like a bulldog’s, and his hands had become claws with deadly, sharp nails. “She’s a hog! Hog! Hog!”
Benny ran to the woman. He struck her with a fist, only at the last moment did he reveal the spike in his grip. I heard the unmistakable sound of the instrument slam through skin and between bone. Her arms wrapped limply around Benny’s neck as they toppled to the floor. A yellow-faced little girl in a dress hopped over the two bodies. It was Lara. She loped to me with open arms, opening and closing her hands. She wanted to jump in my arms.
Before I could consider what to do–I didn’t think I could strike her down with the spike–LF screamed. James had sprung up, and clutched LF’s neck. Head cocked, he bore his fanged teeth.
Adrenaline finally surged through me, yet was too little, too late, as there was no way I could stop the demon boy from biting LF. Num and nuts were a step away. Both their faces were white with terror, and they seemed to be screaming.
Yet in a split second, they “came to life” and pounced on the changeling with deadly ferocity.
“Turn, Joe,” LF huffed.
I wheeled around just as Lara leapt into the air, coming right at me. She had a sweet, vapid expression as she bore her yellow, fanged teeth. There was still a look of innocence on her face, which gave me pause. And she made it into my arms and snarled. It was her last embrace.
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Thirty-Four