Monday, 19 September 2011

Shadow There: Part One

Here is a draft chapter of a work in progress -- intended to be a creepy Hallowe'en tale. ( I absolutely freakin' LOVE Hallowe'en...)

Shadow There

Chapter One

At one o’clock in the morning, just this side of Hallowe’en, in a dark and noisy nightclub, Lina’s husband stole a black umbrella.

A huge party was in progress and the music was loud. The club’s patrons were all dressed like freaks and pissed as rats, and Lina and Kevin were no exception. It was raining like hell outside and naturally the couple had brought their little collapsible umbrella with them. But somehow or other they had lost the umbrella at the club and they didn’t want to ruin their Hallowe’en costumes on the wet walk home. After a search of their seats and the surrounding floor failed to bear fruit, however, they were resigned to their soggy fate – until Kevin returned from a trip to the men’s room with the black umbrella.

“Someone just left it there, leaning in the corner of one of the stalls. It was … like … abandoned,” Kevin justified, trying to stand up straight. Lina, who was almost as drunk as he was, adopted an intoxicatedly self-righteous expression.

“That’s the same as stealing, what you just did,” she said unsteadily. “We should turn it in to the estabush... essablish… to one of the bouncers or something.”  Kevin began giggling at his wife’s slurred speech, causing her to shove him in the chest a little too hard. He staggered and clutched her for support, making them both laugh. Lina struggled for composure, and held Kevin’s shoulders as she spoke.

“It’s not abandoned, it’s lost… or forgotten. There must be a lost and found here, let’s turn it in. C’mon, I don’t care about my costume,” she urged, gesturing at her tulle and lace gown. The elaborate corseted creation had been deliberately torn and soiled with false blood which gushed from a “wound” in Lina’s neck. She did feel a pang of regret at the thought of spoiling her wig: a towering, white-powdered pompadour. (She had come to the party as Marie Antoinette, post-guillotine; Kevin was dressed as Wolverine from The X-Men.) The wig was expensive and the dress had taken her many hours to put together, and she had no desire to see either of them ruined by rain; but the idea of making off with this umbrella – a large, expensive-looking black silk affair with a long, curved leatherclad handle – did not sit well with her.

Kevin was young and cocky and drunk; he also loved his wife and didn’t want her to have to ruin the costume she had so painstakingly handmade; further, he was extremely unwilling to subject himself to a wet and drunken walk home with no protection from the elements. Glancing out the nightclub’s windows to the street below, he could see dozens of drenched people lining up for taxis and knew they wouldn’t have a chance of getting one for at least an hour; and oddly, all the friends from their habitual social circle had either left early or spent the evening elsewhere so there was no chance of snagging a ride from anyone they knew. He and Lina would have to walk, and they would get home soaked to the bone, their costumes destroyed. In his fuzzy-minded state he decided that since they had lost one umbrella at this nightclub, they were justified in taking home another, so he coaxed Lina downstairs to the street with the umbrella in his hand. Outside, he fumbled with the stylish accessory until he found the mechanism to open it. One touch of the discreet silver button allowed the shaft to pop upwards and permitted the metal ribs of the umbrella to snap open and spread themselves outwards to provide an a silent black silk shroud over their heads.

The young couple arrived home bone-dry and collapsed the black umbrella –  which retracted as smoothly and efficiently as it had expanded – giving it two careless shakes before leaning it against the wall of the little entry-way to the apartment they lived in on the top floor of an early 1900s townhouse. Lina and Kevin stripped off their boots and coats, and their wigs and costumes, and scrambled into the old-fashioned, claw-footed bathtub to wash their stage makeup off.

This clinical scrubbing in the bathroom turned into rabid, intoxicated lovemaking in the bedroom and much, much later the pair fell asleep in one another’s arms as the black umbrella dripped silently by the front door.


The two rose around eleven the following morning, much the worse for wear; but despite the crusty, achy inconvenience of their hangovers Lina and Kevin were very busy and productive that day.  After a cautious breakfast, queasily consumed, they recharged their batteries with lots of coffee and Advil.  Lina sat down at her drafting table and Kevin fired up the computer, and neither of them said a word to one another for the next six hours.

Lina was a fashion designer whose work was just beginning to get picked up by decent clients; Kevin and two of his friends were graphic designers and tech wizards who were using a business grant to develop and market what they were sure would be a very hot video game – “The next Diablo,” was Kevin’s optimistic prediction. Lina and Kevin were recently married, had little money and they had to live thriftily, but they were young, and savvy, and handsome, and knew the right type of people and spent their time being seen at the right places – they were sure their stars were about to rise.

This particular Sunday ticked by in silent toil, until the indignant miaowing of their two hungry cats stirred Lina and Kevin from their work. Lina pushed herself off the slant of her drawing-board and stood and stretched, listening to the cracks from her spine as she did so. Yawning, she turned towards the kitchen, the eager cats trotting a few paces ahead of her. She pulled a bag of cat food from the cupboard beneath the sink, and rattled kitty kibble into the empty bowls on the floor beside the wine rack.  Kevin had the refrigerator door open, resting an elbow on the top of the door as he leaned his lanky torso in to investigate the contents. He pulled out two bottles of Dutch beer and uncapped them quickly, handing one to his wife. She accepted it and gave him a kiss, and they lounged against the counter together, watching the cats wolf their food.

“How can they purr and eat at the same time?” Lina wondered.

“Dunno, but watching them eat is making me hungry. Do we have anything for dinner?”

“Mmmm,” she replied, taking a thoughtful pull at the bottle. “Not much actually. I don’t feel like making anything complicated. How about eggs and toast?”

“We had that for breakfast.”

“Fine then. I’ll trick ‘em out with veggies and cheese and make omelettes.”

“That’s just a fancy way of saying you’re feeding me eggs and toast.”

She raised a fine, elegant dark eyebrow at him over her Heineken. Making a point. Silently he grinned at her, and she shot him an amused glance as she turned to pull the egg carton and some other odds and ends out of the refrigerator. Watching her, her slim body and attenuated limbs making the most prosaic movements unconsciously elegant, Kevin felt a sudden yet familiar jolt hit his chest – that jolt that always drove home how lucky he was to have her, how lucky and perfect they were together. Quickly, lightly he hooked an arm around her long waist and pulled her against him, nuzzling his nose against the slender column of her neck where the short hair clung damp and wavy.

She started, then relaxed against him, laughing softly. “What gives?” she asked, gently disengaging his arms and turning around to face him. She tipped her forehead against his.

“I was just contemplating your loveliness. You’re the first woman I’ve met who makes a hangover look good.”

“I’m the last woman you’ll meet who makes a hangover look good. At least you better not be waking up with any other hungover women in the near future. Now get out of here, I have to concentrate. With eggs, the timing is everything, and I always screw it up if I talk while I’m cooking them.”

Kevin acquiesced, letting her go. “Okay. I’ll be watching TV in the other room if you need help.” He ambled off to collapse on the futon, his eyelids drowsing downwards even as he reached for the remote control.

The sounds of the six o’clock news drifted into the kitchen as Lina set out her heavy, white ceramic mixing bowl, found a whisk, and thumbed open the egg carton. She took out an egg, cracked it briskly on the rim of the bowl, and was about to drop the shells in the sink when the stench overwhelmed her. Gagging into her cupped palm, she turned abruptly away from the bowl and desperately swallowed back her nausea. Taking a deep breath, and holding it, she glanced into the mixing bowl. A glistening pool of clouded, greyish slime was puddled at the bottom of the bowl. Floating uneasily at its centre was a lump of dun-yellow yolk, shot through with bloody streaks. Desperate for air, Lina risked another breath and immediately wished she hadn’t: the reek was unbelievable.

Quickly she glanced at the date on the egg carton, noting that the sell-by date was good for another two weeks. She had purchased these only yesterday afternoon, and the ones she and Kevin had consumed that morning had been absolutely fine. Quickly, she carried the bowl into the bathroom and dumped the mess into the toilet, and flushed twice. Once back in the kitchen she thoroughly scrubbed the ceramic bowl with dish soap and her scouring pad, and set some incense burning in the censer on the windowsill to banish the smell. Mac, the surviving finch from a pair given to Lina and Kevin as a wedding gift, began fluttering and chirping loudly as the incense made its way up to where his ornate black wire cage hung from a hook and chain in the ceiling. Lina moved the censer so the smoke wouldn’t stupefy him.

She selected another egg, confident the bad one was an anomaly – after all, the four eggs they’d used that morning had been fine, hangover queasiness notwithstanding. Lina brought the egg sharply down on the edge of the bowl to crack it, and pulled apart the halves of the broken shell to dump the insides. The smell was a little better this time – barely so – but the egg’s contents (its guts, she couldn’t help thinking) were even more revolting, with purplish bruises clotting the yolk so that almost none of the yellow could be seen. This egg also rapidly met its destiny with the toilet bowl.

Stirred from his lethargy by all the running back and forth and toilet flushing, Kevin emerged from the living room to find out what the commotion was. Lina explained about the eggs, and Kevin told her he reckoned some of the remaining eggs must be okay since they had been fine that morning. He confidently picked up a new egg and cracked it open, and was soon swearing and gagging, blindly poking the goo down the sink with a spoon as he forced it on its way with jets of hot water from the tap. Lina resignedly threw the rest of the carton of eggs into the trash (but gently, so as not to break any more potential stinkbombs) and shook most of a box of baking soda down the drain to kill the odour.

A phone call was soon placed to the nearest pizzeria, and within half an hour Lina and Kevin were dining on a medium thin crust Mediterranean pizza with extra black olives and feta cheese. They watched back-to-back reruns of The Simpsons and were in bed, fast asleep, by half past ten. The couple’s two cats carefully selected spots near the foot of the bed and independently began kneading and purring their way to sleep.

A fresh rain, which had left off around four a.m. the day before, began marking time against the windows...a ticking unheard and unheeded by any living creature at on the top floor of the old townhouse.


To be continued...

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