Tuesday, January 8, 2019

FOOTPRINTS


Genre: Horror


             

FOOTPRINTS
By Daniel Skye

           


Thor was acting peculiar, to say the least.

          Not that cats need an excuse to act strange. Cats march to the beat of their own drums. They come and go as they please. Sleep as much as they want, eat as much as they want. Sometimes they want our attention, and sometimes they mosey about as if they’re completely unaware of our existence.

        Cats are hedonists. Pleasure seekers. They exist only to satisfy their own impulses, needs, and desires. And Thor was no exception. But that didn’t stop Vincent Guillory from loving his feline companion.

            But Vincent–or Vin, as he preferred–was having a hard time deciphering the cause behind Thor’s behavior.

Thor was fixed on one corner of the living room. He was crouched, his tail stiff as a board, his ears drawn back.

            “What is it, boy? A mouse in the walls? I hope it’s not a rat. We can’t afford an exterminator. Not on an artist’s salary.”

            Thunder clapped in the distance. The rain was expected to last through the night. It splashed against the windows and hammered the rooftop. Vin looked out, but could see nothing past his weeping windows.

            He let Thor be and wandered into the kitchen, opened the fridge. Nothing but condiments, bottled water, a half-gallon of milk, and a loaf of moldy bread.

            “You’ve really committed to the whole ‘starving artist’ cliché,” he mumbled to himself as he slammed the fridge door shut.

            Vin considered himself lucky that he even had a place to call home. The house belonged to his parents, a summer house that they barely used. They owned four properties in four different states. So they let Vin stay there for next to nothing until he got on his feet. All Vin had to do was keep up with the monthly bills and his parents took care of the rest.

            “Thor,” Vin called as he returned to the living room. “Come on, let’s go upstairs.”

            Thor hissed. Not at Vin, but seemingly at the wall. He inched back, but his eyes stayed fixed on his invisible antagonist.

            “This is getting…weird,” Vin sighed. “I’m going upstairs to my studio. Feel free to join me.”

            And with that invitation, he left Thor to his business and retired to his upstairs studio, which was about as big as a walk-in closet. The doorway was so narrow it took him and a friend three hours to figure out how to squeeze his desk through. But Vin didn’t need require much space for his work. All he needed was a desk and chair to sit down for his sketches, and a canvas for his paintings.

            Vin was self-employed, as many artists tend to be when they start out. He sold his paintings online, at auctions, rented tables at craft fairs and showed up to every art show to promote his work, did drawings and sketches for the occasional comic book. He’d currently been working on some sketches for an unpublished horror comic. Whatever helped pay the bills, he thought.

            Vin spent about an hour on the latest sketches. He was deep into his work when something broke his concentration. The living room was right below his studio and that’s where the noise seemed to emanate from.

            “Thor,” he called out. “What are you doing down there?”

            Thud. Thud. Thud.

            “What the hell…” he trailed off as the sound continued.

            Thud. Thud. Thud.

           Heavy footsteps, pounding the living room floor like a sledgehammer.

            “Who’s there?” he cried out.

            No response.

            Thud. Thud. Thud.

            The sound reached the bottom step and continued as someone or something ascended the staircase.

            Sweat dripped from Vin’s furrowed brow. His throat was as dry as a desert. His hands trembled as he fumbled through his pockets for his cheap, off brand cellphone.

            “I’m calling the police,” he croaked.

            Thud. Thud. Thud.

            Thud. Thud. Thud.

            The footsteps stopped at the top of the stairs.

            The door to his studio was wide open. He always left the door ajar incase Thor felt like watching him work.

            The hallway was engulfed by a large, indistinguishable shadow. A dark figure lurched forward and stood accusingly in the doorway. Vin could not make out any features beyond its silhouette. It had a human shape, but he couldn’t see its eyes, couldn’t see a nose or a mouth or hair or clothing of any kind.

            The rumble of thunder gave Vin such a startle he was almost ejected from his desk chair. The lights blinked and the room went dark.

When they came back on, the shadowy figure had vanished without a sound.

            Thor was twitching at Vin’s feet.

            Vin went for his phone again and dialed his parents number.

            “Vin, is everything alright?” his mother asked. “It’s late.”

            “Mom, I need to know everything about the house. Who did you buy it from, who lived here before us? Did the realtor ever mention anything strange to you or dad about this place?”

            She recognized the trepidation in his voice. “Oh, God…” she said and trailed off momentarily. “I was hoping you’d never find out. Your father got the property for a steal. The realtor was upfront with us about everything. They told us about the incident. But we simply chose to ignore it.”

            “What incident?”

            “The family that lived there, their son died. The realtor said he had problems with drugs, that he owed money to a lot of people. There was a break-in when his parents were out of town. There must have been a struggle because they found blood in the son’s bedroom. Some of it belonged to the son, some of it belonged to a second party that they never identified. His body was discovered a few days later, dumped in a mud bank down by the edge of the river. Vin, I’m so sorry. We should have told you, but–”

            It was only then that Vin observed the muddy footprints in the threshold of the door, leading out into the hallway.

            “Mom, I’m gonna have to call you back…”

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