“Don’t walk away from me, Jerome!” shouted Morton, his face gripped by jagged pulsing veins that shot from his temples like lightening bolts.
“There’s nothing more to say, Morton,” said Jerome, walking away from his brother with the clothes basket clutched near to his chest, tongues of cloths and towels licking over the lip of the overstuffed hamper.
Morton rashed beet red around the crust of his tan complexion, looking like a cherry about to burst. Jerome brushed past him, a cool tailwind sailing up the pulsing nostrils of Morton’s nose. Morton trotted up behind Jerome like a haunting specter, his shadow looking like a cartoon as it oozed over the wall.
“This thing isn’t over Jerome,” said Morton, emphatically; his face taut like stretched leather. “I want my fair share, little brother-and I’m going to get it!”
“That’s not what the lawyer said, my dear Morton,” said Jerome in an airy, pompous droll.
Jerome quickened his pace, but Morton pursued, his breathing growing quick and hot like a furnace as anger baked his eyeballs dark and stormy.
“I don’t care what the lawyer said! You’re not going to control my money!”
“The conservatorship wasn’t my idea, my dear Morton-it was mother’s. And she knew how you are with money. If you ask me, it was one of the wisest things she ever did.”
Morton seethed with red hot fury, the words on his tongue feeling like hot coals on a barbecue grill. He couldn’t believe that his mother had put his pansy brother in charge of all of her money. But then it wasn’t like it was a big surprise. She always did like Jerome better, momma’s boy that he was. And now it was him that was going to be dolling out money in little slivery annuities? He didn’t think so. No, not at all.
Jerome opened the apartment door. They lived on the second floor apartment of a two family house in the more affluent section of town. Mother had always been well off. Their father was a high roller in the market when he was alive, and several smart investments had paid off in spades and left his wife, Clara and two sons well provided for after his death. A heart attack ten years back. Mother had the big C chewing inside her the last five years now, and like hungry termites it finally gobbled her up a week ago to the shock of Jerome-and the hollow indifference of Morton.
Footsteps applauded over the wooden stairs like a drum-roll as Morton quickly pursued Jerome down into the basement where he was about to put in the days load of laundry.
“It’s my goddamned money!” chided Morton, flinging the words from his mouth like a slingshot. They pelted at Jerome like stinging pebbles. Morton was always an intimidating figure in his life. He was always the dominating one. And he had to admit that he feared bodily harm at times like this, when Morton was working his ire up to a full lather. He just never knew quite what his brother was capable of. But he had always feared that it could be worse than anyone could ever imagine. Much much worse.
“No one said it wasn’t partly your money, my dear Morton. It’s only a matter of amount.”
“Arbitrated bye you?” he growled, his nicotine yellow teeth grinding together like cogs. “Like hell!”
“So says the law, dear brother!”
“Fuck the law! I been getting the raggedy end of that old bitch’s apron strings for years. I want my fuckin money, Jerome!” groused Morton, his rough swarthy skin tightening over his skull like taut leather.
Jerome remained placid as he calmly emptied the hamper of clothes into the washer, cranked the dial around to LIGHT WASH and popped the knob out, letting a gushing stream of water fill up in the belly of the washing machine.
Then Jerome looked at his brother, the quivering face with the jagged features cutting through the shadows of the dimly lit basement. He was about to warn Morton to lower his tone because of their crotchety landlord, Mrs. Arbogast and her hair trigger eardrums. But then he remembered that Mrs. Arbogast was out of town for the weekend, visiting her sister. No bifurcating of the conversation here, and Morton was getting dangerously close to his snapping point. He could almost see it in the stretching of his tight, elastic face that he was going to go any second now-right off the deep end.
“Morton,” said Jerome, sedately. “Can’t we talk about this upstairs?”
“You’re damn right we’ll talk about it!”
Morton whirled around and mounted the stairs, taking the steps in gaping strides he made his way to the top.
Jerome closed the lid of the washing machine and followed. About halfway up the stairs, Morton stopped and swung around. There was the blur of something smearing through the air like runny watercolors, and then the solid, jolting force of a foot slamming into his face. Morton’s leg windmilled around and struck Jerome full face, the sound of his jaw rattling like nuts and bolts in a canvas sack. He toppled backward, the hamper flying into the air, and his arms flailing like chopper blades. He fell head over heals down the open wood steps, splaying out on the floor in a grotesque and fractured landing. The unnatural bending of his neck made it immediately apparent that he had broken his neck.
Morton watched his brother twitch and spasm as his body made contact with the cement. It reminded him of the squirming worms he saw in the driveway after a heavy rain. He egressed down the steps, breath feeling thick in his throat. He wondered if he was still alive. He looked at Jerome’s face-the bones all shuffled and fragmented like a jigsaw. There was a puddle of blood seeping from the back of his skull into an almost perfect circle on the basement floor.
Morton went to him and knelt down, eyes sweeping over the supine body. He touched him, skin cold and clay-like. The feeling of death. But he had to be sure. He leaned over and pressed his ear to the chest of his brother’s body and listened. Nothing-not a beat. He straightened himself and looked into the face, with it’s web of splattered blood tattooed across it. He thumbed open one of Jerome’s eyes and looked at it. No flexing pupil or response to light. It just simply looked back at him with the fixed, inanimate stare like a button. Morton shut the eye, uneasiness creeping in him at the dead stare that glared in cold accusation.
To his surprise, Morton did not feel in any great state of panic-or urgency. As a matter of fact he felt more frustrated than anything. He wasn’t quite sure what he meant to do when he kicked his brother down the stairs. That was to say that he couldn’t be certain that he meant to kill him. He certainly meant to hurt him-that went without saying. But the rage had shot out of him so quickly and fiercely that even he didn’t seem to have time to control it. It was more like an instinctive reaction than a thought out move of aggression.
But now Jerome was dead, and the question at hand was just exactly what to do with him. He was surprised at his calmness. He thought that when you killed someone you were supposed to feel hot panic, that your heart was supposed to race and sputter. Though, oddly-none of that. It was almost curious.
What to do?
Considering the fact that murder is a somewhat severe crime, and the repercussions of such an act are to say-in the least-very unpalatable, he decided it would be a good idea to cover it up. He had to hide him-somewhere! But where?
“Jerome, dear brother. Even in death-you cause me nothing but grief!”
He sighed, swiveled his head around perfunctorily as he sought out a place to hide him. It was almost serendipity that Mrs. Arbogast had gone off to see her sister in New York. That loosened the constraints of urgency enough for him to think things out clearly and with a more cogent mind. His eyes scoured through the deep, musty darkness of the basement, searching for a place to possibly hide the corpse. Maybe it could just be temporary, until he found a more permanent place for it. But then that would mean taking it out of the house and chancing some nosy neighbor seeing him. He couldn’t risk that. No-too dangerous. But where?
Something like the first signs of nervousness began to prickle all over his body. He looked around again-his brain straining for an answer. He looked down and saw a few loose floorboards and a memory sparkled back to him. Something he’d scene on TV a long while ago. He was a big mystery buff, and he remembered a show he’d seen once about a man who wanted to do away with his wife, so he built this wine cellar; called her down into the basement to look at it; clubbed her over the head and then buried her in it.
Well, he didn’t have a wine cellar, but he suppose that if he pried up some of those old boards, dug a good size hole and…
Yeah, that would do it.
He went to the corner of the room where an old shovel slouched against a warped wooden wall and picked it up. Then he went over to the floorboards and with the pointed tip of the shovel and pried up the loose wooden planks. Luckily the boards had been placed over raw earth in certain sections of the basement, so all he really had to do was dig. Given the way the foundation was sagging on the old house and the high water table of the year he could guess that the earth would be soft enough for him to dig into without much trouble.
After prying up the boards and impaling the earth with the first plunge of the shovel, Morton looked up and over to the spilled body of his brother lying on the floor about ten feet from him and said, “Rest easy little brother, old Morty gonna put ya to bed in a few shakes.”
He cackled tangled laughter that broke the still air and began to work. In a few hours he’d have a hole big enough for Jerome. He’d cover it back over with the boards and maybe put something on top of it to make it look less conspicuous. Then that would be that…
He’d really done himself in here. He for sure couldn’t get his hands on the money now. Not without Jerome. Not with his brother taking up permanent residency beneath the basement floorboards. That was a fine how-do-you-do. He supposed it was all his own fault for being so impulsive and violent to begin with.
Still the guy had it coming.
But other loose ends were dangling around. Things that needed to be addressed! Like what happened to Jerome? Mrs. Arbogast was sure to ask that one. Her being so fond of Jerome. In fact Jerome was the only reason that she had allowed Morton to move into the apartment. She thought Jermome was a fine, descent, respectable young man. Old Jerome really knew how to layer on the charm with the old broad; always dowsing her with a mouthful of compliments and considerations whenever she was around.
Oh, Jerome. You’re such a dear, sweet boy.
Her wizened face smiling that awful, prune-like smile of hers as her dentured teeth ejected like a cash register drawer.
Yeah, no doubt about it, the old broad was gonna start popping off questions like gun-fire eventually; when she didn’t see him around. And he knew he couldn’t just stall her forever. Too goddamned nosy, she was. Maybe he could make up something. Tell her that he’s moving out, maybe? Going out of state. Yeah, that might do the trick. At least that was good for starters. As long as she didn’t start getting too snoopy. He didn’t want to start prying up those floorboards again.
He wondered. When good old Jerome started decomposing, would she be tipped off by the smell. No. Probably not, it was a dank, musty, stinky place to begin with. She’d probably just think it was the oranges she bought wholesale from the market going over.
He’d stop worrying about it so much now, because what was done was done. The only big shame of it was the money, all that money. And no one to spend it.
At 11:30 he simmered some warm milk in a pot and went to bed. His bones were aching and his back muscles felt stretched and painful. All that digging in the cellar he supposed. Son-of-a-bitchin brother of his anyway. He laid down in bed, back spasms still gnawing at him. He reached over and turned off the light as darkness blotted the room coal black until his eyes adjusted to the atmosphere.
He laid there for a while, wincing in little pulses of pain. The sound of the alarm clock on the bed-side table clicked loudly in his ears as if somehow amplified by the silence. He lied there still, his eyes rolling around the room in their roaming sockets, his ears observing the sounds of the night until the anesthetic sleep crept into him.
Clicking, crickets, wind, and the far off bellow of a throaty train whistle as it moaned through the night like a giant, ghostly presence.
And then another noise…
The sound very faint at first, but then more discernible as he tuned his ear in on it.
It was the sound of something beneath him-something on the first floor. It was a weak and hollow kind of noise that was very faint and shuffling, but something about it was very definitive. One thing was for sure, it sounded like it was getting nearer. Almost like shuffling footsteps.
But it couldn’t be. There was no one in the old house. Mrs. Arbogast wouldn’t be back for at least three more days.
Settling, he thought, snatching at the brilliant thought like a child trying to capture a firefly in a jar. Yes, that was all it was, just the little stomach grumbles of an old house shifting on its foundation.
He nodded to himself, affirmatively.
Settling in under the covers now he draped his eyes closed and let liquid sleep drench his brain like soothing bath water. Thoughts began to swim off now as he sunk into his slumber, but before consciousness was fully submerged, he was startled again by the sound of something encroaching from the first floor.
Creaking, and the sound of what seemed like footsteps converged on his ears. Footsteps? Yes, that was it. The sound like weary, trudging footsteps rambling up the stairs.
But from where?
The Basement! came a startling thought that punctuated his fear with a cold, sharp shudder. Old brother Jerome coming up to say goodnight?
That was ridiculous! He rationalized the situation as best he could, all the time his head creeping off the pillow and his ear homing in on the odd, slumbering sound that came from the hall.
Just my imagination, he thought, reassuringly. Just a case of rattling nerves and paranoia playing with my head. Probably just wind pummeling the side of the house. A bit brisk out tonight, anyway. A restless mind stirs up the rest. Now that’s all there is to it!
But still he couldn’t deny the fact that whatever was making the sound out in the hallway, it appeared to be coming closer.
He let his head drop to the mattress with a flop. He clenched his eyes shut and every muscle in his body tightened like the strings on a tuned guitar.
Nothing there, he thought, willingly as fear wrapped around his throat like a gag. Just an old house and it’s creaks, that’s all.
He strained to listen again, to the hauntingly hollow footsteps that invaded the silence like an intruder. But suddenly, as quickly as they had come-they were gone. Vanished! There was no explanation.
He fidgeted under his bed-sheets, the grip of sleep now loosened from him somehow. He’d stay awake for a while now. A sort of disturbed insomnia taking over him now. For it couldn’t all have been his imagination, not so clearly. Not so seemingly real. Could it?
He didn’t know. He just laid there for hours, his ears perked for any little sound. But there wasn’t any for the rest of the night. Not anything that was beyond the sprinkle of rain on the window pane, or the scratching fingers of tree branches against the side of the house; blown by the wind. Eventually he drifted into sleep, but only after being worn down by the rigors of paranoia and the incipience of terror.
That was the first night.
The second night brought the tightening noose of fright back to him as did the third. Each time he would be on the verge of nodding off, when the creak would crack his blister of oblivion, like popping a bubble. It was the same time with each occurrence, the far off sluffing sound and the click of a door. The basement door it sounded like. As if something down there had woken up and set upon it’s midnight binge.
Jerome he though, or rather felt immediately. The mental image of a muscle woven corpse with a half rotted away skull skulking through the darkness of the old house on a course for vengeance against the one who had buried him in the basement filled Morton’s mind. And every night the footsteps got progressively closer, louder; the sound of them like a thick heartbeat growing in his ears. Until last night, when he heard them come up just outside his door. He wanted to almost scream, but his voice was caught in his throat and his whole body tingled with the sensation of sheer horror. He sat up in bed, ramrod straight as the sound of the doorknob twisted back and forth with quick, anxious movements. He thought for sure something was going to come in. He wished and prayed to himself, hoping to force it away by will of sheer conviction, but very definitely becoming sure that it was no longer a dream or an imagination. It was real!
Perspiration squirted from him like a sprinkler, his sheets soddened with the damp stench of fear. And then suddenly, as quickly as it had come. It went away. The nervous twisting of the doorknob was gone, as were the plodding footsteps. Maybe back down to the cellar. He looked at the clock on the night stand. 12:00, it read. Maybe, just like Cinderella, Jerome goes back to his grave at midnight. Instead of turning into a pumpkin, Jerome just turned back into a dead corpse? Ridiculous? Maybe. But right now he didn’t know just what to think.
he had balls of steel he’d get out of bed right now, grab a flashlight, and go down to that cellar and just have a little look-see under the floorboards-just to be sure. But he didn’t. In fact, a thought like that made him lean over and look under the bed-half expecting to see eyes poking out of the pudding darkness. He wasn’t going anywhere. He was going to stay right here…in his bed. He didn’t even want to get up and double bolt the door, because maybe if he did that he’d see the shadow of feet blocking off sections of the little strip of light under his door. Or maybe he’d be tempted to put his ear to the door and hear the hot, labored suction breathing of something waiting outside the door. No, he wouldn’t do anything. He’d just lay here in his damp sheets, waiting for the sweaty stink to dry. And he’d listen very carefully for the sound of the outside door opening, and a keen eye trained on the doorknob of his bedroom door-just in case it began to twitch.
His present location was a direct result of hysteria, fear and just plain intolerance of the whole matter that had been gauging it’s infliction upon him for the past several nights. Insomnia was only part of it, now the loss of sleep was beginning to affect his waking performance. Dozing off during the daytime had it’s drawbacks when you were a machinist; the possibility of personal injury skyrocketed and there was nothing short of prying his eyelids open with toothpicks that he could think of to do.
Dr. Willard P. Pennington, read the plaque on the door in embossed gold letters that poked at you with a sharpened air of erudition.
Morton didn’t like doctors of any sort, much less psychiatrists. But it was the feeling of coming to the end of one’s rope that made him grapple for even the most minute threads of salvation. Hence Dr. Willard P. Pennington with his astute certifications of aptitude bound behind glass frames across scoured walls of pure intelligence. You didn’t use that much glass unless you really had it up there! And Dr. Pennington seemed of the sort that had his share and then some of exuberant brain cells.
Morton sat on the cherry leather couch, awaiting the doctor’s arrival. The room permeated with the scent of wealth and stature, of a distinguished man with many accolades pinned onto his name. This was the life, thought Morton with dripping envy. This was the whole enchilada with all the trimmings. He could almost feel himself in this kind of mold; flashy clothes and big offices, but most of all respect; a sorely overlooked aspect of his present existence.
The door opened and a stately man of regal elegance strode in, an Armani suit garbing him in an almost palpable stature. He held a pen between his fingers, rolling it over the tips of them like an expensive cigarette. He looked at Morton and his brows flexed in mild acknowledgment. He sat down across from Morton, his demeanor light and polished as he introduced himself.
“Good evening, Mr. Deeves, I’m doctor Pennington. I hope I might be able to be of some service to you. Shall we start of with a little background?”
The words slid off of Pennington’s tongue like an unraveling scroll, and Morton knew that this was a form speech that was standard prologue to almost every new patient the doctor encountered. He cringed at such extraneous wastes of time-especially at these kinds of prices.
“Look, doctor I don’t mean to be rude, but I never have been much of a conversationalist or even a devout believer in psychiatry. But I do believe one thing. I believe I’m at the end of my rope and I need some advice. So if we could just cut to the chase here?”
Pennington’s expression twitched. Like a pebble being thrown into a still pond, his face wrinkled with disturbance like water ripples. It showed for only a brief flash, but it was long enough for Morton to see it-and to know that he had gotten the doctor’s attention straight off.
“Of course,” said Pennington, his voice seeming deflated somehow with his aback. “Now, what seems to be the problem?”
In fifteen minutes time, Morton told him of his brother’s passing, as he so euphemistically put it. He told him how they had been on poor terms and how shortly after his demise he had started hearing the footsteps. The night after night inculcation of fear driving into him like a spike. He told him all these things as Pennington sat back in his high-backed leather chair, pensively nibbling at the tip of his pen.
When Morton was done he looked to Pennington, who paused a moment as if sorting out his words before committing them to lips. For a moment Morton thought he was going to laugh at him. It was hard to tell what Pennington’s mouth was doing, buried under his bushy scruff of beard that tumbled down his face like a haystack.
Then he sat forward, clicking the pen shut as if to consummate his thought. His eyes seemed to point at Morton with glittering green acuity.
“Mr. Deeves,” he said with a sturdy tongue seeming to echo out of the canyon of his burly beard. “I can’t tell you how many times I have come up against just this type of scenario, and believe me there is nothing at all unusual about it. Trust me, your are not going crazy!”
Morton exhaled with a gust of relief, the tension that had been building up inside him suddenly alleviated with the caressing of Pennington’s words and his soothing voice.
“Then what the heck is wrong with me, doc?”
Pennington tilted his head back and folded his arms over his lean chest.
“I suspect that the impetus for such a delusion-and that’s what it basically is-would be a result of repressed guilt within your subconscious?”
“English, doc,” said Morton with a gruffly earnest tone.
The bushy beard twitched, probably a smile of amusement, and then Pennington continued.
“In layman’s terms, Mr. Deeves, you are experiencing nothing more than guilt complex. You see, while you are awake your conscious mind fights these guilt feelings by suppressing them. But when you go to sleep, you leave yourself open to the effects of those repressed feelings of guilt. Your subconscious takes over. For instance, you say that prior to your brother’s passing, you and him were on bad terms?”
“Pretty much,” said Morton, a little smile lingering beneath his skin.
I guess you could call breaking his neck being on bad terms.
“You see, there!” said Pennington, his hand jutting up anxiously, like an exclamation point. “You feel guilt for having not made up with your brother, and thus this unease is always dwelling in the back of your mind. And in your sleep it manifests itself as these footsteps you hear, footsteps that symbolize the guilt and remorse you feel.”
“But doctor,” said Morton, “When I have these…experiences. I feel fully awake. I don’t feel like I’m asleep or dreaming at all. In fact quite the opposite; I feel sharp as a knife!”
“The subconscious is a tricky thing, Mr. Deeves. True, you may feel totally awake and acute, but there is a sort of gray area between sleeping and wakefulness. A time when our mental state is most susceptible to the powers of the subconscious.”
“You man I might feel wide awake, but still be partially asleep?”
“Exactly!” proclaimed Pennington with a finger stabbing into the air like a man on the verge of revelation. “I experience this often myself. Several times I have woken up and thought I heard music-a band playing. And yet I know that no radios or television sets are on and nothing is outside my window. Still I hear it as truly as if it were real. It’s almost like the brain’s way of shaking off the residue of a dream. After all, we don’t suddenly go to sleep and wake up like flipping a light switch, do we. No, it is more of a gradual process, a sort of segueing back to reality if you will.”
Morton sat on the couch, absorbing the doctor’s words
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s say that is my problem,” he leaned forward with eyes like dark, heavy marbles dangling in his sockets. “Now what do I do about it?”
“You must confront the source of your guilt! Go to your brother’s grave site-even if you aren’t a religious man. Talk to him, tell him how you feel. At the very least this will alleviate the pressure on the subconscious by bringing it out into the open, thus vanquishing the delusions. I trust your brother isn’t buried to far away from you to visit?”
“No,” said Morton, choking on the edge of laughter. “Not far at all.”
“Very well then. You keep me informed on how things go, okay?”
“Sure,” said Morton, not meaning it at all.
“Good,” said Pennington as the two men rose. They shook hands and Pennington led him to the door.
“No offense, doc. But I hope I don’t see you again. Unless of course your bill gives me nightmares!”
Pennington popped laughter that erupted from beneath his thick beard. Pressing his clipboard to his breast he smiled-and closed the door.
Morton sat at the bar, the woozy feeling of drunkenness swishing around inside his head like water in a fishbowl. It was nearly eleven thirty now and he’d been here since nine, trying to suck bravery out of a bottle. He didn’t want to go home. Suppose the doctor was wrong? Suppose it wasn’t just delusions? Suppose…?
But he had to. He had to prove it to himself that it was just delusions. He’d have to go down into that basement and confront his fear-just like the doc said. Then maybe he could rest in peace? Maybe.
Reluctantly he slapped the shot glass down on the bar and layered out a ten to the bartender.
“Keep the change, Ralph,” he said as he doddered away.
“Bless your soul, Morty,” said Ralph with a loud, hearty humor.
He got outside and zipped up his jacket. Bracing his shoulders against the frosty breath of the night, he started off. It was a little bit of a walk to the house from the neighborhood tavern. Not long enough for him, though. Not tonight. He only hoped that he didn’t sober up by the time he got home.
He got to the house at quarter to twelve. He looked at the outside porch-light with it’s spooky amber glow and felt his stomach twist a little somersault. No use procrastinating, he thought. May as well get it over with.
He went to the back door and opened it up, the basement door stood adjacent to him upon his entrance, like the tomb door to some eerie sepulcher. He closed the back door and went to the basement door, hurriedly he lifted the bolt and began down the weathered stone steps to the belly of the basement. The light switch was at the bottom of the steps, so he had to walk in a little ways before he could even get the light switch on. He only prayed that he didn’t hear hot breathing, or that his jittery hands didn’t slap up against something cold and slimy there in the dark.
Stop that! Stop these awful thoughts!
He fumbled for the switch, hand grappling over bony stone until it fell upon the cold metal steel of the switch box. He only hoped that when he flicked it on he didn’t see a gaping hole in the floor with the floorboards set aside. Or a swampy figure with hot, glistening eyes standing in the corner; waiting for him; wondering why he hadn’t been so kind as to invite him in when he had taken the trouble to crawl out of his hastily dug tomb these past few nights to come and visit him.
No! Stop that! STOP THAT!! STOP THAT!!!
At last he flipped the switch and dim light ingratiated the room with a foggy, hollow glow from two pale bulbs that sprouted from the ceiling like nipples.
His gaze snapped back and forth with a rigid mechanical twitching. He eyes scoured the dark corners, making sure nothing was lingering in the shadows. Adrenaline charged through him with a sobering affect that seemed to make him sharply vigilant in an instant.
Slowly he went over to the spot on the floor where he had buried Jerome. He looked at the floorboards, scrutinizing them with keen eyes like sabers wielding through the pithy darkness. The floorboards were intact. For a moment he thought maybe they were slightly moved, but he wrote it off to paranoia. On second glance he decided that they were fine, just as he had left them.
“So your still in your place after all, dear brother!” said Morton aloud as a brazen confidence flooded his veins. “Just the way old brother Morty tucked you in huh?”
He spawned a jagged cackle that singed the naked silence and then said, “You know, I’ve been having the funniest feeling that you’ve been out of your bed? I even went to a shrink, and do you know what he said? Well let me tell you what he said? He said I should face whatever it is that I was afraid of! Can you dig that, Jerome? Me afraid of you? I must have been out of my mind to let things get to me like that! But I know better now. I know that you’re not going to bother me anymore, because you’re nothing to be afraid of. You’re just a dream, that’s all. And I’m glad I did what I did!”
With that soliloquy, Morton thumped the boards with his boot and began away. He flipped the light switch off and slogged back up the steps to the landing above, but before he closed the door he peered into the stale darkness once more.
“Sleep tight, sweetheart!”
He laughed all the way upstairs.
He opened the door to his upstairs apartment, laughter still vibrating in his ribs like the belated notes off a xylophone. His humor was so good that when the phone reeled out loud he didn’t even jump.
“Hello,” said Morton, picking up the phone by his bedside as he sat down upon his bed.
“Mr. Deeves, this is Mrs. Arbogast.”
“Oh hello, Mrs. Arbogast, and how are you? How was your trip?” his chipper nature was almost too blatant.
“Fine, thank you. Mr. Deeves, I don’t mean to be a busy body, but could please hold it down up there? I’m trying to sleep and the footsteps from upstairs have been keeping me awake for quite some time.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mrs. Arbogast. How rude of me. I’ll try to be a little more quite.”
“Thank you. Oh, by the way, tell Jerome I said hello. I brought him a souvenir from the city.”
“Oh, that’s fine, Mrs. Arbogast. I’ll be sure to tell him. I’d put him on but he’s…uh…he’s resting right now.”
“I understand, Morton. A body needs it’s rest.”
“Speaking of which, I must get mine. Goodnight Morton. I’ll be up to bring the souvenirs tomorrow.”
“All right then, Mrs. Arbogast. See you tomorrow…Goodnight.”
She hung up with a click.
He rested the phone in its cradle and then began peeling off his socks. The room was dark and cool, he didn’t feel like turning on the light. Too lazy. He only felt like resting there on the bed a moment. He swung his legs up onto the bed, his feet dangling over the edges in a carefree way.
He looked at the clock on the night-stand. 12:05 it read. It dawned on him, suddenly. After twelve and no footsteps, not a peep. Brother Jerome was down in his grave and everything was right as rain.
He tilted his head back and draped his eyes shut, the weight of Mrs. Arbogasts words suddenly sinking into him like quicksand. What was it she had said? The footsteps had been keeping her awake for a while? But he’d just gotten in? Old crackpot doesn’t know what she’s hearing. There couldn’t have been anyone up here to make any footsteps and…
Panic mixed with fear, and he suddenly felt uneasy. His breathing harsh and loud. Too loud. And it was a that precise moment that it dawned on him. The moment that something cold and slimy clasped around his bare ankle and a fear like a peach pit choked off the scream in his throat.
At that exact moment he heard the faint, cadaverous voice groan from just under the bed…saying:
“Let me tuck you in…dear brother!”
Copyright 2012 by Russell Huneke