The Thing

Here’s a short story I wrote this week.  For those of you who have read previous excerpts, you might recognize the character in this story.  For those who are new, enjoy!

Warning: If you live alone, take caution. My sister lives out in DC and couldn’t finish it right away because she said this is her worst nightmare.  But then again, she’s the biggest scaredy cat I know.

. . .

Jules smiled as she put down the phone but grimaced almost immediately.  The skin on her lip had cracked and a sharp sting made her bite down.  Checking herself in the mirror, she pulled her bottom lip up and could see the shiny pink flesh exposed in a deep crack under the layers of red lipstick she had applied throughout the day.  This new lipstick was drying her skin out.  She sighed while pulling on her mousy brown bangs, maybe it was time for a new look.

In the bathroom, she took a spoonful of fair trade organic coconut oil, letting the lump sit in her hand, absorbing the heat as it turned into liquid, before smearing it all over her face to remove her makeup.  She took extra care around her eyes and lips.  She was starting to get her mother’s crow’s feet and had even found another white hair the day before.  Yes, she thought, it was definitely time for a new look.  The hipster thing wasn’t going to work for her forever.

Her phone buzzed in her room.  It was a text from Max.  They had just spoken, finalizing plans for the next morning. “Are you still vegan or is turkey bacon ok?”  She quickly responded that after three days of the diet, she realized a life without meat or cheese wasn’t worth living.  That was Max, though, considerate, thoughtful Max.  He planned an Amelie theme for their fourth date after her favorite movie.  A week leading up to it, he dropped homemade postcards of a traveling gnome in her mailbox with the last one arriving the morning of their date.  The gnome was outside a sweet little French café Jules had admired on their first date.   After dinner at the café, he took her to Central Park where a photo booth was set up.  They left pictures strewn around the park for strangers to find.

Tonight, however, he was out with work buddies.  He hadn’t really asked her to come along but she gave him an excuse anyway, saying she had a lot of work to do, which wasn’t a lie.  She knew he was nervous introducing her to his coworkers.  Young brash cops and drinking didn’t mix well anyway and they had only been dating for two months.  Still, it would’ve been nice to give her a reason to procrastinate.  Instead, she settled into her living room, in front of her laptop, the last light of a long summer’s day slowly burning out outside her window.  She could see people streaming out from the subway right below her apartment building.  While most people were leaving work, Jules, a very easily distracted graphic designer, was just beginning hers.

Jules’ eyes didn’t open until 3am.  She had dozed off in front of her laptop but now, suddenly, she was wide awake.  The living room was dark save the blue light emanating from her computer screen.  She wasn’t sure what woke her up but then she heard it.  Someone was thudding and shuffling on the stairs outside her apartment as if moving something heavy.  She could hear it louder now, whoever it was had reached her landing.  Jules got up from her chair; maybe it was a drunken neighbor that needed help.  It wouldn’t have been the first time the woman from 6C banged on her door when she had trouble getting up the stairs after a boozy night.

She looked through the peephole but she couldn’t see through it.  Come to think of it, she hadn’t ever used the peephole before.   She made sure the chain lock was in place before she undid the deadbolt.  She’d take a quick peek through the crack to get a better look.  Opening the door slowly, Jules peered over the side but quickly slammed it shut.  Her blood turned to ice.  Someone was standing right in front of her door, pressed up against it, blocking out all the light.

She didn’t get a good look at whoever it was but he was big.  She moved back, her hand over her mouth to keep her from shouting.  Maybe if she stood still and didn’t make noise, whoever it was would leave.  She waited, her heart beating in her throat now.

The door knob twisted with only the chain lock in place.  She lurched forward to deadbolt it but it was too late, it was already opening.  Just as she thought to run and get her phone from the desk, the door shuddered against the chain and a hand slipped through, grasping it.  A large three-fingered hand covered in mottled grey skin with long thick talons.  The command to her legs to run was not being met.  The thing outside, for surely it was a thing, pressed against the door and pushed.  Creaking and groaning and splintering.  Jules stumbled back without taking her eyes off the door.   It broke from the chain that swung wildly and melodically and the thing stood in the doorframe.   Her phone seemed so far away now.  It was too dark to make out details but its outline filled the doorway, huge and hulking.  Its arms almost grazed the floor.  Slowly, the thing lifted its face up to the ceiling and took a great long sniff.

Jules’s body caught up to her brain.  She screamed and kept screaming as she turned and reached for her phone.   Even with her shrill cries ringing in her ears, she could hear it dragging itself across the floor, sniffing and panting as it went.  She stumbled over her couch.  It was right behind her now.  A three fingered hand grabbed her shoulder, twisting her around, and gripped her other shoulder, pulling her level with it.  Her voice caught in her throat.  Moonlight filtered in through the window and she could see its face now.  It had no eyes, just hollow sockets covered with skin, flat nostrils, and a gash for a mouth, a mouth it opened wider and wider until a long tube came out.  Jules closed her eyes and started screaming again, waiting for the pain but it never came.  Instead, the screams sounded different now as if they were echoing only in her head.   She opened her eyes but her vision was blurred and all she could hear was the sound of a rhythmic thumping.

She could tell she was still in her living room but the thing was no longer there.  She felt sleepy and confused as if a fog had entered her mind.  Why couldn’t she see properly and where was that drumbeat coming from?

She found herself getting up from the floor but she didn’t know how, she hadn’t wanted to.  Her feet dragged as she walked to the door and her hand clumsily slid the deadbolt in place against the splintered wood.  Jules tried to pull herself back to sit down for a minute and shake out the fog that seemed to be growing, clouding her vision even more, but her body wasn’t responding.  She wasn’t in control anymore, she realized.  That thing was.  It was inside her.   She was trapped inside her own head with only the sound of her own heartbeat drumming against the hollows of her mind.

The thing forced Jules back into her room and lay down on her bed.  If she could move to the forefront of her mind, push against the fog that seemed to be growing thicker, she could call for help.  But something was pulling her back into the recesses of her consciousness.  Images started flashing in front of her, snapshots of the past few days flitted across.  Memories, she realized, knowledge of her life, and the thing was consuming it, sifting through each cherished event as  if it were looking for something.  It lingered on a moment in Central Park, Max and Jules lying side by side in the grass.  It moved on to the phone call they had had earlier that evening, making plans to see each other for breakfast.  Next, Jules was walking, turning onto a familiar street and looking up at a familiar building, Max’s building.  Her heart started to pound harder and faster and louder now, the thing inside her was excited.  And Jules knew it was going to go after Max next.

If Jules had control of her body, she would be kicking and screaming.  Instead, all she could do now was panic.  Half formed thoughts raced around her and her fear grew.  All she knew was that she needed to warn Max.  If the thing had entered her mind, there had to be an exit.  She could feel her thoughts expanding, ballooning, filling with terror.  Her frenzy pressed against the vapor. The more hysterical she became the more it pushed against the barriers keeping her in. She felt like she was suffocating, soon there wouldn’t be any space left between her fear and the fog.  Just as she felt as though she was going to burst, the boundary gave way and she fell, or else, it felt like falling.  And then abruptly, she was in the dark.

She was somewhere cold and solid.  She could hear something breathing, panting heavily, an unnatural sound, something she hadn’t heard until that night.  The dark shifted into shapes, all the same shape she had seen in her doorway.  There were so many of them huddled in the black.  And she could feel the thing’s despair and helplessness.  She was in its memories now, floating through its mind.  They had been here for years, unending years, it seemed.  Miles underground, underneath the subway system where they were first discovered. And then they came, those men, Guardians of Peace, they called themselves.  But these things never knew peace at the men’s hands, just darkness pressing in.  They kept them there, hungry and trapped, until someone helped them escape.  A faceless nameless benefactor.  And they traveled far, past the boundaries of this world into the other.  But this one came back; there was work to be done, a battle to begin, and it would start and end here on this plane.  And it needed Max.

Jules knew she had to stop this thing.   But the fog was back and closing in.  The sound of her heart dulled and then disappeared completely.  Her own memories were fading fast and the harder she tried to hold on to them the faster they dissolved.  She had to do something but couldn’t remember what now.  Soon, she couldn’t remember where she was.  Or who she was.

She was no one.  And then, nothing.

The thing that was Jules lay on her bed as sunrays pierced through the blinds.  Yes, it thought, a new look.

. . .

So, does the thing get Max?  To find out, check out the excerpts below:

 

Part 1: What Was That Thing?

Part 2: Meet Andie and Max

Part 3: Poor Jules

Part 4: Two Worlds

Part 5: Meet the Rat King

Part 6: Let’s Go Mole People Hunting!

Part 7: Found: Mole People

Part 8: Shady Shit

Part 9: Home Sweet Home

Part 10: Meet the Parents

Part 11: Not Your Average Blood Suckers

Part 12: A Little Taste

Part 13: Danger Signs

Part 14: No Rest for the Weary

Part 15: Bestia Medicus

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