The color washed out of Jack’s face as he watched the shadow retreat into the house. Suddenly all of his resolve fell away and he found himself alone on the sidewalk, the darkness of the night ever encroaching on him. At best, he was lost. At worst, he was confronting some maniac taunting him through unbeknownst, seemingly magical--or supposedly evil, why not both--means.
He began to walk toward the house, questioning every step. When he reached the doorstep, he hesitated. Inhaling sharply, he placed his hand on the cold metal handle. Immediately, a hazy memory from the drunken night before rushed into his brain.
After several double, double bourbons, Jack had found himself outside, involuntarily dancing in place as his upper body wobbled this way and that. He sucked on a cigarette until it was nearly spent, tossed it into the street, and then lit another. He coughed. The cold air seeped into his skin and burrowed under his bones. The sign above him creaked in the wind.
Fish sauntered up to him and plucked the cigarette from his mouth, a crooked smile spreading across her face. She inhaled a deep drag and brushed her dark curly hair out of her eyes.
“So,” she said slowly, exhaling, “quite a dream you had, Jack.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Jack stammered, lighting another, “there was a door and all the letters.”
“I know, I know,” she reassured him. “You told us all about it inside a few hours ago.”
“Thing is,” Fish continued, “you and I both know that was no dream.” She looked deep into his eyes and a shiver crawled under Jack’s skin. Had she been this sober all night?
“Your name’s not Fish, is it?” Jack toppled back into the brick wall, sinking onto the sidewalk.
Fish crouched next to him. “Of course not, Jack. I would never tell anyone my real name. Names have power, you know.” A plume of smoke rose from her lips. “Thing is, though, about that dream, you best be safe. You weren’t you in that dream, were you?”
“I’m safe!” Jack exclaimed to the air.
“Of course you are, Jack. But, here’s the thing: it’s drawing you toward it and it is going to hurt...a lot.”
A harsh wind burst through the streets and pulled Jack into the here and now. He felt nauseous and a little uneasy about his current predicament. But before he could convince himself to walk away, his hand was jangling the knob and finding it unlocked. The door creaked open and against his better judgment, his brain screaming at him to stop walking, his feet slid inside and his hand pushed the door closed.
It was exactly as he remembered it. Dark, stale air, with boxes stacked precariously in every corner. He pushed his back into the door and closed his eyes. Leave now, leave now, leave now, he pleaded but found himself shouting into the emptiness, “Hello? Anyone there? I saw someone in the window!” The house rumbled low, deep oscillations boring into his gut, the rustling of mountains shaking through the eons.
Jack wanted to cry but instead he removed his shoes and walked into the living room. He turned toward the window where the shadow had stood and peered out into the night. If he squinted, he swore he could see the city, dark spires rising out of the fog toward the moon and stars.
His pants vibrated. He looked down to see blue smoky letters flit out of his pocket and into the air. They twirled in front of his face before floating every which way in the house, changing shape and color as they bounced. Jack followed them, room to room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and then the office where on top of a heap of boxes a device blinked, green, on and off, on and off.
“Display,” Jack said, trying to choke back the words.
The device whirred and clicked and then lit up, images projecting themselves upon the walls and ceiling. “Play Nakanos 06,” Jack read off of the projection
The images blurred and swayed to the side and then a POV film cast itself throughout the entire room, every surface covered with the images recorded. Jack watched as someone, presumably someone from the Nakano family, walked up to the house. A woman stood in the doorway, beaming, her long hair blowing in the wind. The camera turned around to greet moving trucks full of boxes, each truck full of movers who lifted and carried boxes passed the camera and into the house. The boxes were packed neatly into corners and rooms, all preassigned and marked on their sides.
Cut, and it was dark. The camera swung from left to right, as though the one who brandished the device were panicked. It thudded down the hallway and then stopped, the camera pointed at the floor, two bare feet squirming in the carpet. Then the camera shifted up and looked straight into the long hallway before turning and settling on the wall.
Cut, and room was filled with a pair of hands and a saw, sawdust falling to the carpet as the camera shook with strenuous effort. Jack tried to not watch but his eyes would not close. A woman was screaming to “just goddamn stop it why are you ruining our home!?”
Cut, and the old curtains flitted in the wind. The camera looked out the window, down onto the lonely sidewalk that crept up to the home, where Jack had stood moments before.
“Off!” Jack yelled and the room fell dark and silent. He rustled his phone from out of his pocket and glared at it. Nothing but a dark screen and the warm vibration of electricity humming through its shell.
Jack turned and stepped into the hallway and stopped. There it was. The door, newly carved into the fresh paint and sheetrock, sawdust littering the carpet.
The door did not make a noise as he swung it open, the cold air from the steps below rising to meet his face. He inhaled deeply, the scent of dirt and worms filling his lungs. He closed his eyes and begged to leave while his right foot hit the first step. Then his left hit the second. His right hand brushed against the earthen wall. He held his phone in his left hand while it chirped awake and lit a path downward. With each step, the hairs on the back of his neck stood taller. The air felt thicker, heavier with each passing moment. And then there it was.
A door, this one made of older wood, patterns carved into its surface. The knob was small and ornate. He turned the knob, opened the door, and stepped through into a garage, devoid of anything but empty shelves that ran along its perimeter.
It felt much like any garage one would expect to find, except for the smell of rotting flesh, the constant drip of blood pooling in the center of the cement, and the low roar permeating the air. Jack coughed and reached back only for his hand to hit solid wall. The door was gone.
Jack fumbled with his phone, nearly dropping it into the sticky red puddle, and then plugged in, shouting at it for anything, anything to make this not be here. The smell, the sights, the sound. It beeped back at him and then faded.
Jack lurched forward through the crimson glow that seeped through the walls, his right hand tracing the shelves until he found an ordinary door on the other side of the garage. He swung it open and the stench doubled in magnitude. He nearly retched as he stumbled up the stairs and pushed his way into the hallway.
It was the same house. He could tell even from standing here, across from the office, the bedroom on his right, bathroom on his left.
Flies buzzed in his ears and nose. The sound of rushing air nipped at his ears.
He walked into the living room toward the open window and stopped mid-stride.
“At least I know where the Nakanos went,” Jack mumbled under his breath, “Jesus.”
Their bodies were spread out on the floor, limbs detached and repositioned into an arcane symbol, a pool of blood welling underneath them, seeping into the blue carpet, now a deep purple.
Jack’s phone vibrated, the scent of rose thorns and fire scorching his nose. One by one, letters danced in front of his face before swirling out of the window. “F I N D M E” he read. Jack threw his phone out of the window, stormed out of the house and down the lone sidewalk toward the dark spires that rose in the fog.
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)