And by “someone,” I mean me. Not sure what I did with it, but it’s not here and it’s not on my laptop… So change of plans folks, today we’ll go with the next installment of A Dance of Skin and Bone!
If you missed the first part, you can check it out HERE to catch up. It seems Thursday will be the finale, yay! As always, once the tale is complete I’ll post it in whole on my SHORT FICTION page, where you can find lots of fun stuff to read!
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His memory fell away as the low wheeze again shuddered through the darkness. Tom was drawing closer, slowly gaining the advantage of an easy shot with the nickel-plated Glock 9mm he carried. But the more terrible fact, it was drawing nearer too. Tom hadn’t seen it, didn’t see the empty hunger and rage in those pale eyes. So many eyes… Paul shivered a quiet breath, trying to overcome his growing panic.
“I can hear you breathing, Paul. I told you those cigars were no good for you, no matter how distinguished you thought they made you look. Shame you’ll never know if that awful wheeze is emphysema.” Tom’s laugh was dry and a touch excited. “If it’s cancer I’m only saving you a slow death.” Tom bumped one of the many stacks of boxes set teetering on aging pieces of furniture. “You should be thanking me!”
Paul shuddered as the thought of the thing flashed through his mind, the thing Tom didn’t seem to notice. Paul’s eyes were slowly adjusting to the darkness in the cellar; at least they were adjusting as far as they could. The human eye was never built to see in darkness this black. Though he could make out shapes, piles of old rugs, rickety chairs and bookcases, uneven stacks of boxes, he would never be able to navigate quickly enough once the bullets started flying.
How, of all the questions in existence, did he end up here? Paul couldn’t believe that it was Elizabeth Sanderson that played him for such a fool, not after what happened. Her brother Karl had to be the one behind it, but why? Why send him to a house to verify the family’s holdings, unless… No, that didn’t make any sense, Mr. Lamplighter was their Uncle. Could any of them know the thing was in here? Was Paul sent here to be victim?
Paul shut his eyes tight and held his breath, feeling it build to near bursting inside him. As his own heartbeat pulsed through his temples, he could hear not only Tom’s slow steps, but it’s sloughing and shuffling movements. Each step from Tom matched with the quiet sluicing and huffing from the thing with eyes that confused the brain. How under God’s blue sky could all those eyes set on such an incongruous and slick bundle of folded skin? When Paul had caught just the barest glimpse, it appeared as though eyes slid out from the endless rolls of flesh, bubbled on every lump and callous, and blinked out of sync with the others as it slimed its way across the upstairs hallway before pursuing him here. Strange that Paul wondered how distracted the thing would be when it reached Tom. Would he have enough time to make for the stairs? Did he have a chance to run across the expansive distance from the house to the dock? Could he find his way to the boat in the dark on this unfamiliar island?
What would it do to Tom when it got him?
The gunshot was loud and sudden Paul jumped. He couldn’t feel any pain. Is this what it feels like to be shot? He tried to catch his breath, feeling over his body for the blood that should be welling over his torn clothes, but found none. A second shot rang through the basement leaving his ears buzzing.
“This could have been so much easier, Paul.” In the dark the sounds of Tom’s leather soled shoes scraping the cement floor sounded like a saw cutting wood. “What the hell is this?”
As Tom began to scream, Paul jumped to his feet and ran. He vaguely remembered where the stairs were and prayed that he reached them. Tom was reduced to the faintest of moans and quiet sobs as Paul ran by him. The sickening wheeze from the thing came in excited rasps, despite the tortured labor of its breathing there was a sense of joy. The dull sucking noise that joined it was perhaps the most grotesque thing Paul had ever heard. It was like a toothless man mashing oatmeal in his gummy mouth; Paul could feel the bile in his empty stomach rising up his throat. Something wrapped tightly around his ankle and he fell. It seemed everything slowed down as he dropped, bouncing his head first off of a solid wood cabinet, then the floor. The darkness that followed was absolute.
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Paul watched as Alvin Prichard, the estate caretaker, loaded his bag onto the boat and stowed it in the cabin with Tom’s luggage. The sea air smelled crisp, with the spiced notes of salt, as he puffed on his cigar. Tom was already onboard and had kicked his feet up on the bench; he sat with a smile and raised a glass in greeting. Paul nodded and carefully stepped from the dock into the Sea King yacht, the dark wood shining in the sun. Prichard cast off the mooring lines and jumped aboard in such a calm manner, sure-footed and precise, then with a subtle wink from his clear eyes took the helm and started the engine.
Paul took a seat across from Tom and steadied himself as the yacht pulled away from the dock and into the harbor. They eased slowly by other boats as they cleared the marina, Prichard giving a casual wave to those they passed.
“So I hear the old man called you upstairs for a meeting. Simon said it was good news.” Tom kept his eyes fixed on the ice clinking in his glass as he spoke. “You’re not taking credit for other people’s hard work again are you? Meyers got fired for you closing a contract with one of his clients.”
Paul couldn’t help but smirk, “Meyers was an idiot. He sent the Rochette deal my way, asked me to review the claim. I just gave them a better write up on the contract than Meyers.” Paul took a slow pull from his cigar and pitched the nub into the water. “And no, that had nothing to do with why I saw the old man. He called me up on a personal matter.”
Paul watched with a growing satisfaction as Tom soaked up what he said. Paul stood and climbed the short steps to the helm leaving Tom with his drink.
“Mr. Prichard, how long of a trip is it to Tufton Isle?”
“Just Prichard,” he flashed his clear eyes at Paul. Those eyes were cold as an autumn wind, with every hint of leafless trees and overcast skies; it was like the man never looked at him at all. “Near an hour. Maybe more, maybe less.”
“What do you do for the Sanderson’s, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I take care of whatever they need me to.”
Paul watched each careful movement Prichard made at the wheel, not satisfied with the short answers. “How long have you worked for them?”
“Feels like forever, I get that. Have you ever met their Uncle?”
Prichard flashed those eyes at him again. “I spend little time on the mainland. You should take your seat; the water gets choppy out here.”
The boat lurched as a confirmation, but Paul was sure he had seen Prichard jostle the wheel and throttle. Clearly this was a man who didn’t want conversation.
At just over an hour, the yacht was steered through the tangle of cement pillars that served as a break for the single dock on Tufton Isle. Prichard pulled along the dock and dropped the bumpers over the side to prevent the dock from damaging the ship, then jumped down to secure the mooring lines. As Paul and Tom stepped onto the dock, Tom still a little green from the rolling of the sea, Prichard was already unloading their luggage. As they gathered their bags, Prichard was prepping the yacht to leave.
“Leaving so soon?” Paul asked, a little confused as to why Prichard wasn’t showing them to the manor.
“I live on the other side of the island, seven miles on foot.”
Paul nodded, “See you in a couple days, then. Thanks for the ride.” Prichard was already revving the engine and pulling away, Paul shrugged and looked to Tom. “Guess we’re on our own.”
“Shouldn’t be too hard to find the house, I hear it’s pretty big.” Tom was slowly getting color back in his face.
They surveyed what they could see of the island, a gravel drive led away from the dock into the interior. There was no sign of the manor house through the blanket of trees and bushes, not that the island was chocked with plant life. The vegetation seemed to be well manicured and the two could have walked easily through the woods, though with the suits they wore, both men opted for the road.
The gravel lane was wide and edged with Birds of Paradise, the taller trees along the road cast cool shadows and a calm breeze carried the scent of the sea through the fragrant woods. It was a short walk before the wooded island opened into a large clearing with the manor house at its center. The large white mansion was clean with sea green trim and Elizabeth waved to them from a widow’s walk, disappearing into the open door and billowing curtains when she saw them.
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