Tuesday, September 25, 2018
By Daniel Skye
Ronnie would have complained about the accommodations, but, what accommodations? This hotel was the very definition of “no frills.” The unremarkable beige wallpaper that would have looked more at home in his grandma’s living room. The predictable floral patterned carpeting. The acrid stench of bleach that the bedsheets carried.
The bed itself was lumpy and unpleasant. Ronnie laid down on it for two minutes and figured he’d be better off sleeping on the floor. But he wasn’t about to rest his face anywhere near that grimy carpet, so the bed would have to suffice for the evening.
Ronnie didn’t mind the exclusion of a mini-bar. The temptation might have proved to be too overpowering. That was about all he was grateful for.
He’d requested a smoking room and they couldn’t even be troubled to supply him with an ashtray. But that wasn’t going to stop Ronnie Wright from smoking. So he resorted to using the bathroom sink.
Of course, Ronnie Wright was just a stage name, a pseudonym. Ronald Dawes was the loving handle his parents gave him. But Ronnie Wright was the name he preferred. Ronald Dawes was a nobody who would’ve been stuck working minimum wage jobs to pay the bills. Ronnie Wright was a rock star, a legend, a God (in his own words).
Ronnie stood in the bathroom, taking drags from his cigarette and flicking the ash into the sink. His family and friends had begged him to quit smoking. But smoking was the least of Ronnie’s issues.
He’d clashed with addiction for most of his life. It came with the music industry. If you could smoke it, snort it, shoot it, or swallow it, Ronnie used to do it back in the day. Coke. Crack. Heroin. Ecstasy. Painkillers. Speed.
Meth was the bitch of the bunch. One bump was all it took to reel him in like a live fish. But the drugs carried him through the gigs, kept him going onstage, and kept him on the road 250 days out of the year.
At the height of his career, Ronnie took everything he could get his hands on. He played guitar on acid, high on coke, tweaked out of his mind on meth. He smoked joints after the shows or took painkillers just to sleep. In fact, Ronnie hardly even remembered the height of his career. So many gigs, so many venues, so many faces, so many faded memories.
But he’d cleaned up his act over the years. Caffeine and nicotine were his only vices now. No more drinking, no more drugs. But he needed the caffeine to perform onstage. Uppers were out of the question. Caffeine and sugar were his only options.
He extinguished his cigarette under the faucet, washed his hands, and dried them off with a coarse towel that also reeked of bleach.
Harry, you cheap bastard, Ronnie thought. You couldn’t have found a Marriot or a Best Western? I’d settle for a Motel 6 at this point.
He consulted the Magic 8-Ball in his duffel bag.
“Will the show go off without a hitch tonight?” he asked and give it a shake. Yes, was the 8-Balls reply.
“Will I be bringing a groupie back to my room tonight?” Most likely.
“Should Harry Fletcher go eat a bowl of dicks?” Without a doubt, the 8-Ball replied.
Ronnie set the 8-Ball down on the bed and went back to his bag. Ravensville was a small town in Pennsylvania with only one gas station on your way in and out. He’d stopped off for a pack of smokes and to load up on coffee and sugary drinks. The shelves of the fridge were stocked with off-brand cola. No Coca-Cola or Pepsi. No name brands. They didn’t have Sprite, but they had Spirit. No Dr. Pepper, but they had Dr. Spice. Instead of Mountain Dew, they had Mountain Rain. No Coke, but they had Jazz Cola.
The label boasted that Jazz Cola carried three times the caffeine of regular sodas. It was also not approved by the FDA. Go figure.
He popped the top on the can, sat on the bed, and flipped through the TV channels–all twelve of them. The rest were scrambled or you could barely make out the picture. There were a few adult films available for rent, which Ronnie considered purchasing and sticking Harry Fletcher with the bill.
The news was on channel four, which is what he settled for, but Ronnie was half listening. To Ronnie, no news was good news. Terrorist attacks, nuclear weaponry, school shootings. Bad news waiting around every corner. You don’t even have time to digest one story before they hit you with the next.
He waited for the bubbles in the can to settle and then he took a taste test. It wasn’t Coke or Pepsi. It wasn’t even Royal Crown. But it had a sweet aftertaste that Ronnie couldn’t deny. He took another sip and found it was even better the second time around. He took a bigger gulp and fished out another cigarette from his pack. He lit it and held it between his coarse, calloused fingers.
Guitar strings are not very kind to your fingers. And he vehemently refused to use a pick. The day he used a pick, he’d trade in his man card. Picks are for sissies, Ronnie thought. Actually, sissies wasn’t the word he was thinking of, but you get the drift. A real guitarist plays with his fingers. That was his belief.
He took one last swig of his soda and encountered some residue at the bottom of the can. The viscous substance slid down his throat before he even had a chance to react. He managed to spit up only a drop of the grayish sludge. He retched and gagged from the taste. He tried to force it back up, but this slimy substance wouldn’t budge.
The cigarette slipped from his fingers. Still choking on whatever he had accidentally ingested, Ronnie had enough sense to stomp it out with his shoe before it set the carpet ablaze. He scratched at his suddenly itchy throat. The unknown substance kicked around in his stomach, wreaking havoc on his insides.
He finally managed to catch his breath and set himself down at the foot of the bed again. “Am I going to be okay?” he asked, shaking the Magic 8-Ball. Very doubtful.
Unsatisfied with the answer, Ronnie tried again. “Am I going to be alright?” Ask again later.
Frustrated, he tossed the 8-Ball on the floor, and then plunged to his knees beside it. His clutched at his stomach, the pain excruciating and indescribable.
He could feel this substance, this thing, shifting around in the pit of stomach, twisting, turning, tearing at his insides. It was moving, growing. As malignant as a tumor.
It was spreading through him like a cancer. It wasn’t just confined to his stomach anymore. It was everywhere. He could feel it binding with his blood, ripping at his flesh, eating through his bones like corrosive acid.
Doubled over in pain, he managed to crawl his way past the useless 8-Ball, towards his duffel bag, where his phone was. He needed immediate medical attention.
Come on, you’re almost there, Ronnie said, trying to will himself on. The pain was insufferable. He was getting weaker, losing the fight. You’re so close. Just a few more feet. Just a few more–
Harry Fletcher arrived an hour before the gig to protect his investment. As both his agent and manager, he had a vested interest in Ronnie’s performances. And he knew how unreliable musicians could be. Harry was a veteran in the music industry. He’d dealt with the best and he’d dealt with the worst. He still wasn’t sure where Ronnie ranked.
Room 14. That’s where they told Harry he could find Ronnie. He knocked once, waited a moment, then knocked again.
“Ronnie, it’s me,” Harry shouted. “Open up. You don’t want to be late. Promoters hate that shit.”
He tried the knob. The door wasn’t locked, but something stopped him from going in. He watched as a gray puddle seeped out from under the door, slimy and viscous. An undetectable substance, unlike anything Harry had ever seen.
Harry wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to see what was on the other side. But he drew a deep breath, braced himself, and grabbed hold of the doorknob…
By Daniel Skye
18 consecutive hours of cruising the interstate, nothing but blacktop as far as the eye could see. Clive only stopped for gas when necessary, nothing else. He had two heated thermoses full of coffee, and a cooler packed with soda and junk food.
18 hours of subsisting on coffee, soda, and pork rinds. 18 hours of relieving himself in empty water jugs so he wouldn’t have to pull over to take a leak. 18 hours cooped up inside the cab of that eighteen-wheeler with nothing but the radio and the smell of his own farts to keep him company. 18 mind-melting hours. It was enough to drive any man insane.
But as an experienced trucker, Clive Jacobs was more than accustomed to life on the road. And it was a much needed break from Ellen. He’d called her several times from the road. Each time, she sounded more cold and distant than the last. Did she know? Was she onto him? Had she gone through his phone? No, he was careful. He always kept it set on Do Not Disturb, made sure to delete his text messages and phone call records.
But there was something in Ellen’s voice. It wasn’t in anything she had said. She didn’t even hint in the fact. There was just something about her tone, something about the way she spoke that tugged at Clive’s nerves. Could Ellen possibly know about her?
He’d know soon enough. He’d made all his rounds, all his deliveries, and now he was on his way back home. In less than two hours, he’d be walking through the door. There was nothing he craved more than a cold beer and a hot shower, and a good night’s sleep in his own bed. When was the last time he’d slept? He’d pulled into the rest area the day before and caught a few hours of snooze. He couldn’t remember the time before that. It had been a long, exasperating week.
And he still had no idea what he was walking into at home…
Ellen Jacobs stared intensely at the lime green door, her eyes like magnifying glasses under the scorching glare of the sun, threatening to burn a hole through the plywood. She didn’t move, she didn’t blink. She never took her eyes off that door.
She knew of Clive’s dirty little secret. She knew all about Sally Hamilton. And that made her wonder how many others were there? How many women had he picked up when he was on the road? How many countless hours had Clive spent driving that truck? How many weeks and months did it all add up to? She wasn’t going to let this go. She couldn’t let this go.
She had given Clive fourteen years of her life. Fourteen years down the drain. ’Til death does us part, Ellen thought, reflecting on their wedding day. So be it.
Clive came stumbling through the front door, cooler in one hand, his other hand gripping the collar of a dirty brown jacket draped over his shoulder.
“Ellen,” he called out as he walked through the foyer and towards the living room. “Are you home? It’s so dark in here.” He flung his jacket aside and slid his hand across the wall until he found the switch. The living room lit up and Clive recoiled, the cooler falling from his hand, Funyuns and pork rinds and Jolt Cola spilling out all over the floor.
Ellen was holding Clive’s pistol with both hands, the barrel aimed straight at his chest. Clive was quite familiar with the weapon and it took no more than a cursory glance to confirm that the safety was indeed off. Ellen’s finger tensed around the trigger and Clive took another step back.
“You son of a bitch,” she muttered. “You dirty, rotten, lying, cheating son of a bitch. How could you?”
“What the hell is going on around here?” Clive asked, feigning confusion as he raised his hands to placate Ellen, give her a sense of control. “Ellen, honey, baby, please put the gun down. You don’t even know how to use it. I’ve never shown you, I’ve never taken you down to the range. It could go off accidentally. And you don’t want to shoot me. I’m your husband and I know you love me as much as I love you. We can talk about this. Whatever I did, or whatever you think I did, we can work all of this out.”
“How dare you insult my intelligence by playing dumb,” she chided. “You know damn well what I’m talking about and who I’m talking about, you cheating sack of shit. How long has it been going on between the two of you?”
Clive cleared his throat, slowly lowered his hands and let them fall to his sides. “Do you really want to know the answer to that?”
“Yes, I want to know it all. Every detail.”
“About seven months. She came onto me, baby, I swear. I just couldn’t resist. I couldn’t help myself.”
“Oh, the classic, age-old excuse.”
“Ellen, please, tell me what I can do to make this right. Anything. You name it, I’ll do it. Please, honey.”
“Don’t you dare call me honey,” Ellen said, her eyes wide, her tone dead-serious. “Or baby, or sweetie, or darling. You don’t ever get to call me any of those names again. There is nothing you can do to make this right. Sally Hamilton was a dear friend of mine. At least, I thought she was. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about Sally. But I expected more from the man I married.”
“Ellen, I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am. I fucked up. No excuses. It was all me. I fucked up big time. But please lower the gun. I’m not worth a bullet. You want to kick me out, kick me out. You want a divorce, you’ve got it. But don’t kill me. It doesn’t solve anything. All it does is put me in the ground and put you behind bars.”
“It doesn’t solve anything,” Ellen concurred. “But it’s going to make me feel a hell of a lot better. But I have to know, how many others were there? Who else besides Sally Hamilton? I know there must be others.”
“Nobody,” Clive said, shaking his head ‘no’ as if to emphasize the sincerity. “Nobody else, I swear. Just Sally. And I haven’t seen here in weeks. I haven’t even talked to her. I was thinking about calling it off before you found out. The guilt, the secrecy, it was eating away at me.”
“What about Debbie Hathaway? Have you seen or spoken to her recently?”
Fuck, Clive thought. He almost slipped up and said it aloud. He was so busy constantly worrying about clearing his call log and text messages, he had completely forgotten about his email account.
“You forgot to sign out of your account,” Ellen added. “So, do you want to talk about Debbie Hathaway? Do you have any more excuses?”
“Nope. I’m all out of excuses. So if you’re going to kill me, then kill me. Fire away. Go ahead, darling. Make my day.” Just then, Clive started laughing. A loud, boisterous, obnoxious laugh. It wasn’t really even laughter. He was cackling.
“What in God’s name are you laughing about?” Ellen barked. “What could possibly be so funny at this moment?”
“On Monday morning, before I hit the road, I took the bullets out of that pistol. I remembered you saying that your brother and his wife were coming to visit on Tuesday. And I knew they would bring their son. I was worried about our nephew finding the gun and messing around with it. I didn’t want anybody getting hurt. So I took the bullets out. That gun isn’t even loaded.” Then he added, “But this one is.”
The .45 semi-automatic pistol was tucked into the back of his waistband when he came in. He reached around and drew his gun so fast that Ellen almost dropped the pistol she was holding. The .45 ACP was the gun Clive carried on the road with him. Years of being a truck driver had taught him the benefits of carrying a gun for his own protection. It was always better to have and not need than to need and not have.
“So what’s it going to be, Ellen? Where do we go from here? Divorce? Trial separation? Or do we just kill each other right here and now?”
“I like the sound of that last one,” she said, thumbing back the hammer of her husband’s pistol. “I know you took the bullets out of this gun. I saw you do it. I made sure to reload.”
A single gunshot rang out through the neighborhood, and the cops were on the scene in minutes.
Excerpt from the Daily Buzz newspaper:
Tragedy unfolded late last night in the small, rural fishing community of Eden Harbor, Long Island, as an apparent domestic dispute took a fatal turn. Police were notified at approximately 11:05 PM after multiple neighbors reported hearing sounds of a gunshot.
The victim, forty-three year old Clive Jacobs, was pronounced dead at the scene. The victim’s wife, Ellen Jacobs, was taken into custody for questioning, though it remains unclear at this time if any charges will be filed against her. Sources close to the local police tell us this may be a case of self-defense.
One of our reporters caught up with Sally Hamilton, a close friend of the Jacobs’. “I’m shocked,” Mrs. Hamilton told our reporter, but refused to speak on camera. “I haven’t spoken with either of them since before the shooting, but I know them as a happy, loving couple. They never fought or argued over anything. And I know that Clive was a good man. I don’t know if it was self-defense or murder, but the Clive Jacobs I know would never harm or threaten his wife. And I’m sure if Ellen could turn back the clock, she would think twice before pulling that trigger.”
Mrs. Hamilton refused to comment any further on the incident.
Monday, September 24, 2018
By Daniel Skye
Finally, Kyle Fisher was alone.
The door slammed shut behind his parents and he briefly shuddered at the rattle of those infernal bells.
They were his mom’s idea, of course. She had adorned every doorknob in the house with a cluster of jingle bells that dangled from strands of thick burlap twine. The twine was fastened tightly around metal rings that were looped to every knob or handle in the house.
It wasn’t the holiday season that had spurred Mrs. Fisher’s redecorating. The bells were not seasonal; they stuck around all year, every year. She thought of the bells as a makeshift burglar alarm; an idea she had borrowed from her own mother when she lived in Whitestone. If anyone were to break in through the front door–or the back door, for that matter–the ringing of the bells would rouse them from their sleep and alert them of any potential dangers.
But she had taken it a step further, placing bells around every doorknob or handle in the house. He kind of understood the front door, and the backdoor, but every door? She even had one hanging from the linen closet.
Who the hell is going to break in just to steal our towels? Kyle wondered.
The bells were a nuisance, and it didn’t take long for it to get on his nerves. And his father was a patient man, but even he had his limits. Yet, neither of them spoke up. Mrs. Fisher always had the final word. And the bells were there to stay until she said otherwise.
But now, the house was remarkably quiet. Kyle’s parents were on their way to the airport to catch a late flight. The last minute travel arrangements had cost them considerable amount, but the price was meaningless to Kyle’s mother, who was in a race against time to say a final farewell to her ailing father.
His parents had insisted on a babysitter, but Kyle was adamant that he could take care of himself. He was fourteen, going on fifteen in a few short months, and he believed he was self-sufficient.
It’s not like he was planning any wild parties or rowdy sleepovers. His plans consisted of eating copious amounts of junk food, drinking Mountain Dew Voltage, and playing Call of Duty until his eyes were sore from staring at the screen. Maybe he’d order a pizza or make popcorn and watch a movie On-Demand. And if anybody did spend the night, it would probably be his friend, Derek.
He waited thirty minutes after his parents left before he made the call. He wandered into the kitchen, set his phone down on the countertop, and put Derek on speaker phone while he perused the inside of the fridge.
“Yo, Derek,” he said as he grabbed a soda and then an ice cream sandwich from the freezer.
“What’s up, dude?” Derek said, a faint echo brought on by the speaker phone.
“Not much, bro. Got the whole house to myself until Sunday night. You feel like crashing here? Ask your parents if it’s cool.”
“No can do,” Derek sighed. “Stuck at home. Friday is ‘family night’. My dad insists on it.”
“Can you break away for a little while and get on Xbox Live? I’m about to play some COD.”
Kyle groaned. “Ah, that blows, man. Call me if anything changes.”
“Will do. Hey, I can probably stay over tomorrow.”
“Okay, text me later and let me know if your parents say it’s alright.”
Kyle ended the call and put COD on hold to order himself a pizza; half pepperoni, half bacon. He ate the ice cream sandwich in between. His parents had left him more than enough money for food, not like he needed it. Kyle was a gifted guitarist and gave lessons in his spare time. Most parents frown upon buying their kids a Fender for Christmas. But his father practically insisted on it. Kyle was musically inclined, a natural talent.
Romero’s Pizzeria was the only pizza place in town. And it was damn good pizza, but there was always a wait. They told Kyle it would be about an hour, so he decided to wait upstairs and start his game.
He was five minutes in when he was startled by the jingle of those godforsaken bells. They clanked together and chimed, echoing through the house. A chill shot down his spine. He tensed up, fingers tightening around his Xbox controller until the tips started turning red, then purple.
It’s just your imagination. Settle down. It could’ve been the wind. Maybe mom left a window open downstairs. That’s what he wanted to believe. But he had heard the unmistakable sound. And it hadn’t come from the front door, either. Kyle wasn’t sure, but he thought it sounded like the backdoor.
Footsteps padded through the kitchen.
All in your head, he thought.
He heard a creak at the bottom of the stairs. Undeniable. As sure as sunrise.
Calm down, he thought. It’s just mom and dad. They probably forget something. Mom always forgets her purse or her phone or her makeup.
His phone pinged and he dug one of his hands into his pocket to retrieve it. One new text from his dad’s cell phone.
It read: At the airport. Call us if you need anything.
His throat felt like a desert, dry and full of sand. He couldn’t swallow, couldn’t cry out for help. Even if he could, help wouldn’t arrive in time.
The sound of footsteps ascending the stairs, slowly creeping towards his bedroom door.
He was not alone, after all. His hands were frozen around the Xbox controller, his feet glued to the carpet, his eyes drawn to his bedroom door like magnets.
The footsteps stopped outside his bedroom. And that’s when he heard the ringing of the bells…
Saturday, September 22, 2018
IN THE DARK
By Daniel Skye
The face appears every night outside my bedroom window; grotesque, its features twisted and distorted. A face of sheer malevolence–and rage. Raw, unfiltered, unadulterated rage. Such anger, such hatred. Its rage is palpable. I can feel the venom coursing through its veins. I can feel the fire burning in the pit of its soul.
In the dark, I can see nothing but that hideous face and the glowing eyes of the demon staring back at me.
In the dark, I also hear the noises of the night. Distant sirens. The rumble of a passing train. The occasional car cruising down the block. A drunken neighbor stumbling home from the bar after last call. Noises that remind me I’m not alone.
But in the dark, with nothing but that face looming over me, I couldn’t feel more alone and afraid.
In the dark, the fear consumes me.
In the dark, I have no control.
In the dark, I’m utterly powerless.
But I never run. I never scream. I don’t even make a sound. I don’t approach it or attempt to reason with it. I tried closing the blinds one night, but I could still feel its eyes glaring at me.
I don’t know what it wants. Its motives remain a mystery. But I know that one day it will consume me entirely, if it hasn’t already. I cannot ignore its presence. This entity. This demon.
I cannot ignore the face outside my window. For it is not outside my window at all. The face is merely a reflection in the glass.