Good morning Everyone!
Today we learn how the tale ends, the final piece of this strange pie. If you’ve got the time you can read the entire short story, which I’ve posted on my SHORT FICTION page along with many others, or you can click this link: A DANCE OF SKIN AND BONE. If you’ve been following along, by all means read on and enjoy.
* * * * *
Paul started awake, and for a moment he was choking as if his breath had been taken from him. The room was dim, moonlight filtered through thin curtains and he could feel clean sheets and soft pillows. A slow breeze crept through the room as if it could be an intruder in the night, deliberate and ill tempered. The scent of damp earth and salt carried through the room, unfamiliar at first, though calming. Paul looked around the room; nothing was as it should be. Where were his Egyptian cotton sheets, his oak wardrobe, or his view of the city sky-line?
He climbed from the bed, feeling a dull throb ebbing through his face and head. He could see the swelled cheek even in the dim light, the harsh dark color of bruise. Paul’s heart began to thumb frantically in his chest, the horrible nightmare of his situation collapsing in around him as the realization that he was still on the island sank in.
It was quiet, the sort of stillness you would find in a mortuary. But wasn’t this place full of the dead? Karl Sanderson was slowly dying in one of the many rooms, he was sure the thing had gotten Tom. Elizabeth, poor Elizabeth. He hadn’t witnessed it as the panic grabbed him and he ran, but surely she was dead too.
For the first time since he woke, Paul noticed he had been re-dressed in night clothes, pale cream colored plaid with a neat pocket biased on the chest. His eyes darted around the room, the door was closed and still he heard no sound, but someone had fitted him into the pajamas and placed him the bed. He searched the bedroom, frantic to find his clothes, torn and filthy as they were they would be more suited to leaving than what he was dressed in.
He felt desperate, wild eyes rolling in his head as he tore through each drawer and closet. But there was nothing. Then he heard it, a gentle creak of wood; the groan of footsteps on old floors. There was another person moving through the hallway outside the room, deliberately drawing nearer. Paul ticked himself into a corner of the room beside the nightstand, forcing himself to be as small and quiet as he could. Even though he knew it wouldn’t be enough to save him.
* * * * *
Elizabeth let a small laugh slip from behind her cloth napkin, “You can’t want to discuss business during the meal? Really Thomas, this evening is for relaxing, other matters can wait until tomorrow.”
Paul shot a quick smirk to Tom as he set his silverware on the plate and leaned back from the table. It was rather large for only the three of them dining, leaving twelve empty chairs even though the place settings had been laid out for a full house. Elizabeth had been quite adamant to leave her brother’s place open at the head of the table despite knowing he couldn’t leave his bed. She sat herself on the right of the table head with Paul and Tom across from her.
The three of them had been in sitting room towards the front end of the hose when a small bell had sounded the meal, and when they came into the dining hall everything was set. There was no sound from staff, nor had they seen anyone but Elizabeth and Prichard since they arrived. Now Paul wondered who would clear the table.
“So Paul tells me your brother is ill? I’d like to meet him and perhaps pray with him, if that’s alright?” Tom held his well-practiced smile.
Paul made no sound, but inside he was laughing. He had watched Tom run his well-meaning-Christian-bit a few times before in the attempt to push a client to sign. Tom was no Christian; if he were he was one of the worst examples.
“Karl has expressly asked that no prayers be given for him; he has also refused the care of physicians. Keeping in with his wishes, I have to decline your generous offer. I hope you don’t think me rude?” Elizabeth folded her napkin and set it beside the plate. “Shall we retire to the lounge for a drink? There are many fine cigars if you’d like.” She was looking at Paul as she spoke.
Paul stood, ignoring the stare from Tom, as he made his way around to help Elizabeth from her chair. Not that he was trying to be a gentleman, it was more about trying not to lose his job; he knew he would have to play this thing out.
She led them through the archway into the foyer and across the entry hall to the lounge. It was everything Paul expected to see; thick and heavy leather chairs and sofas, mounted hunting trophies, a large fireplace against the wall, a well-stocked bar counter, and bookshelves packed full with old tomes. Mixed with the ever present smell of the sea, the room had a thick scent of old smoke and paper. This was clearly a room she had no hand in decorating.
“Feel free to set yourselves up with a drink, and there are cigars in the old globe by the chairs. I’ll leave you men to it; frankly the scent of cigars turns me a touch green.” Elizabeth smiled and slid the doors closed as she left.
Tom wasted no time, “She has been giving you the eyes. You must’ve worked some kind of magic on that piece of tail.” He gave a short laugh while he poured a glass of whatever brown liquor was on the counter. “This is going to make a great story for the guys in the office.”
“No stories, Tom; not this time. She’s the old man’s niece, that’s why Lamplighter called me to his office yesterday.” Paul flipped open the globe and the scent of rich tobacco filled his nostrils. He took out a Partagas Black Label cigar and struck a match, puffing lightly till it was lit. “This stays here, Tom.”
“I see,” Tom set his glass down with a sharp click and spun on Paul. “This is all about moving up in the firm. You’re fucking the family to get a raise, you son of a bitch! This stays here? Bullshit, this goes in a fucking memo. You’re just a corporate whore, Paul.”
“Look asshole, things are changing. Go with the flow or drown, remember. Your damn words when we first got hired.” Paul stubbed out his cigar in the ashtray on the coffee table and started for the sliding doors. “You should just go home; I’ll call Lamplighter and have him send someone else to verify the estate holdings.”
“Fuck you, Paul. I’m not going anywhere. My career gets a bump from this too, even if I’m not fucking the old man’s niece.”
Paul pushed through the doors and shut them behind him. From somewhere in the house he could hear talking, a woman’s voice, it was faint with a slight echo. He made his way to the staircase and climbed to the second floor where the voices were louder. There was a door cracked at the end of the wide hallway, a sliver of white light spilling across the floor.
He couldn’t make out what was being said, but he could only hear Elizabeth. A softer sound droned below the sound of her voice as he approached; a wet, throaty wheeze, a slight gurgle, and the soft whispered response.
Nearing the door he could just make out Elizabeth’s words. “…is a strong seed, it’s already taken root…”
He pushed the door open with his finger tips and cleared his throat to announce he was there. The room was lined with medical equipment, a brilliant white light hanging overhead, and taking up the center of the room was a bed entirely draped in thick white cloth. Elizabeth turned, casting her thick, honey smile upon him, golden and sweet as a summer day.
“Paul. I was wondering how long it would take you to leave Tom behind and find me.” She reached out and took his hand, drawing him closer to her before slipping her arm around his waist. “You’ll have to forgive not seeing my brother face to face, his condition won’t permit it, but never-the-less I’d like you to introduce you to Karl.”
“It’s a pleasure, Mr. Sanderson.” Paul smiled as he tried to see through the curtains that covered the bed. It was a strange feeling, even though Paul could see nothing with the thick layers of linen, he felt as if he was being scrutinized or judged, weighed by appearance alone.
It was barely audible, the labored wet sounds of a dying man, “The…pleasure…is…mine…”
* * * * *
Paul slid in the scattered brown leaves that covered the ground. He yanked Tom to his feet, dragging him along through the woods. Behind them, the glow of lights from the manor house was fading into the darkness of the night. The wind had picked up, the rustle of leaves and the roar of breaking waves made it hard to hear if they were being followed, but the feeling of being watched crawled across Paul’s skin like a swarm of gnats.
The one thought that ran through his mind, even as he tried to comprehend what had just happened, was the few words Prichard had said. I live on the other side of the island, seven miles on foot. Paul knew Prichard had the yacht docked there, the ship that would take them away from this island. Tom was shouting at him and Paul was drawn from his thoughts.
“What the fuck, man? Why’d you drag me from bed? What the hell are we doing out here?”
The images were still fresh in Paul’s mind. He had been in bed with Elizabeth right before the brown out, the power had flickered and in those few moments of darkness he had watched as Elizabeth vanished. In her place suddenly writhing and moaning atop him was- What? It didn’t make sense. Paul could find no rationalization for what it was. Tom would never believe him; hell, he didn’t even believe it let alone know how to describe it. He only knew they had to get off this island.
“No time! We’ve got leave now! Prichard has the yacht, trust me Tom!”
Tom yanked his arm free and stopped running. “Trust you? You’re fucking up my career asshole! This two day asset summary has stretched to nearly three weeks! Trust you?”
But then Paul was spewing a lie, even before he could stop himself. “Karl isn’t dying! He killed Elizabeth for fuck’s sake! I watched it happen, we need to leave! Now!”
“What the fuck?” Tom took a step back, “Call the fucking Cops, shit man, the Coast Guard, something!”
Paul reached for his pocket on instinct alone; his phone, his wallet, everything was still in the room. He wasn’t sure why he bothered to check, neither of them had been able to get a signal the entire time here. The only communication was the radio on the boat.
“I left my phone, shit I dressed running to get you from your room. We can’t go back there, man. Karl will kill us!”
“Fuck that! When you ditched me in the lounge I took a look around. There’s a gun in there, a silver handgun. We can just shoot that fucker and call it self-defense! You watched him kill his sister; we can say he came after us. No one will question it. Let’s go, man!” Tom was already starting to turn back towards the house.
Paul couldn’t let him go. Karl was frail and dying; he wasn’t a killer, he was a scapegoat because the truth didn’t make any sense. Paul would have to keep the lie going. “You can’t, we don’t where he could be hiding. He knows every inch of the house! What if he has the gun already? Are you even thinking this shit through? We’ve got to get to the fucking boat!”
Tom wouldn’t stop walking away. “Fuck that. I’m going for that gun.”
Paul couldn’t bring himself to follow Tom; nothing could make him go back into that house. He turned and ran as it started to rain.
* * * * *
The handle turned and the door creaked open, a shadow spread over the floor from the light in the hall. In the back of Paul’s mind he knew who had come into the room, knew who had cleaned him and dressed him and laid him here after losing consciousness in the cellar.
“The pleasure is mine. You remember when I told you that, Paul? I can smell your fear, it’s invigorating, but you have nothing to fret over. My sister wants you to stay you see, and so I comply with her wishes. Tom on the other hand, served his purpose. I feel like a new man thanks to him, the pleasure was all mine, I assure you.”
Paul couldn’t make out any detail but the sound of the voice, even without the rasping wheeze, was unmistakable for Karl Sanderson. Karl didn’t venture any further into the room than the doorway.
“You should be so proud, Paul. So happy. Do you realize you’re about to be a father? Your first should be birthed within hours. My sister said you had a very strong seed and it is breathing life back into our family. It’s been such a long time since we’ve had the opportunity to grow.” His slow chuckle was so abrupt and out of place that Paul whimpered. “Cheer up, you’ll see soon enough why your new life here is so important.”
In the smallest fit of courage, Paul spoke up. “What are you? Why not just kill me?”
“I told you, my sister like you. Elizabeth is the baby of the family and she’s only just come to the age to bear children. We’ve been searching for the right companion for her for decades, and Mr. Lamplighter has been a huge help, braving the world of all you strange little things to find the one that will benefit us all. My only hope is that your children have my sister’s eyes.”
* * * * *
Paul dropped to his knees in the mud, the rain sputtering around him, and stared. The hopelessness was almost too much to carry, a great weight that pressed down on him as he looked at the collapsed little cottage. The waves rumbled and crashed into the island, still dragging splinters of what was Prichard’s home. There was no yacht to be seen, the only hint of a dock was the cement pylons protruding from the raging sea like boney fingers. He sat for what may have been hours, terrified of the thought to go back to the manor house, but there was nowhere else to go. The image of throwing himself into the water briefly crossed his mind, Paul shuddered at the notion.
He forced himself to stand finally, and resigned himself to head for the mansion. If Tom were still alive he would have the gun by now, maybe he’d already killed the thing.
Paul was exhausted by the time he crept through the door. It was quiet and looked like every light in the large house was switched on. He listened from the door but the storm outside made it impossible to hear any movement from within the empty halls. He winced as his wet shoes squeaked on the floor, the squish felt almost deafening. He got to the stairs as quick and quiet as he could, thankful for the carpeting that hid most of his footfalls. Once on the second floor he did his best to stay pressed against the wall to search for any sign of Tom.
Tom found him first bellowing like a madman, “Hey! There’s no on here asshole! Elizabeth is dead, I saw it happen, fuck you! No body, no crime; I watch fucking CSI that’s how it works. You fucking lost it, Paul!” Tom was waving a nickel-plated Glock 9mm around like a toy from the end of the hallway. “This is a sick game. I thought we were friends!”
“Calm down, Tom. I can explain-”
“Fuck your explanation! Give me the damn keys to the boat, I’m going home. I’m tired of this shit!”
Paul wanted to tell him there was no boat, no keys; Prichard and the yacht were claimed by the storm, but then the thing spilled from Karl’s room. Pallid flesh that was pale as a corpse, yet shone with a slick film in the light. It seemed to twitch and undulate as it squirmed its way behind Tom, dozens and dozens of eyes covered the loose skin that hung in fetid rolls over its body. Paul could feel each eye burning through him, fixing on him as if he were a target. He lost all thought of Tom for a moment before a shot shattered into the plaster coated wall.
“I’m fucking talking to you! Give me the keys, Paul!”
Tom was screaming at him, but Paul couldn’t concentrate, the thing had consumed his thoughts by just being what it was, an impossible thing. Paul turned and ran.
* * * * *
Thanks for reading along folks! 🙂 Please feel free to comment below, I’d love to know what you think.
Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day!