The Realms of the Dead, p.25
If he hadn’t, however, he would have remembered something that Marilee had bragged about when she’s first begun assembling the box: that for her field certification tests she’d had to assemble a complete Faraday Cage in twenty minutes or less…while blindfolded.
As it was, he drove an elbow into the snout of a leaping dog. Its teeth scratched his forearm deeply enough to draw blood, but its body flew to the side without finding purchase. Now standing in the shadow of the tree, his shoulders rose and fell with each breath and sweat stung the myriad abrasions crisscrossing his arms and legs.
“Abigail!” His voice boomed like thunder. “Call off your dogs! If it’s me you want, come and fucking get me!”
Chuck stretched his arms out like a mock crucifixion and angled his head slightly back.
“Take me! I’ll be your damn juju horse. Just leave them the hell alone!”
Abigail’s head snapped downward and the flames in her pupils flared. As the tire swing swung forward, she released her grip on the rope and her body slid through the center ring so smoothly it almost looked as if she were going down a slide feet-first. As she flew through the air, she twisted and contorted in ways not physically possible, transforming her leap into a headlong dive.
With her hands pressed together and arms stretched before her, the little girl hit Chuck’s chest with a force that caused him to careen backward. The child, however, hadn’t simply slammed into the man. Her body disappeared into his torso and his arms and neck jerked with spasms.
He felt the spirit force her way into his head, its essence seeping into his brain cells as something that felt like burning tentacles spread throughout his body. Memories and thoughts flashed erratically through his head, some his own, others belonging to the little girl who now shared his physical form.
Chuck tried to summon his wall of numbers and equations, the same mantra he’d used to keep Marilee from prying into his thoughts. But quotients that had once made perfect sense to him now felt overwhelming and alien, like a language he once had spoken fluently but had long since forgotten.
He hadn’t expected her to be so strong. He’d thought that with Marilee’s implant out of commission, he’d be able to control Abigail once he’d invited her in. But second by second, Chuck felt himself being pushed back further into his own head. He fought for control of his arms and legs, demanding that they do his bidding. This, after all, was his body, damn it. It had to obey his commands. But he couldn’t so much as wiggle his pinky finger. Trapped inside his own mind, Chuck Grainger released a scream that never made it past his own lips.
Abigail’s hatred surged through his veins and his consciousness viewed the world as she saw it. Around every turn, under every rock, and lurking in each shadow was some nameless danger. Something that stalked her every step and infused her with a sense of fear and loathing that ate at her soul like an excruciating acid. Burrowed somewhere deep inside was a cold lump of condensed loneliness, a longing for the parents she would never see again. All of this was wrapped in a perpetual tantrum, a fit of inner rage for all the suffering, pain, and deceit she’d been subjected to. All due to the actions of one man…
Mr. Grainger? Marilee’s voice formed in his mind, her psychic fingers reaching out to verify what her eyes were no longer capable of seeing. Mr. Grainger, are you okay?
Chuck’s body spun around and a growl rattled his throat. Looking out through his own eyes was like watching a movie play out in the darkened theater of his mind. He saw what the spirit controlling him saw, but filtered through a sense of detachment.
The dogs had all fallen back into the grass, as lifeless as when they’d first entered this realm. Control was lying on the ground, her clothes ripped and tattered and stained red from the wounds covering her body. She lifted her head weakly and looked in his direction, her trembling lips trying to form words before strain and exertion caused her to collapse again.
Marilee stood in front of the cage’s open door and her eyes were two puffy slits amid bruised and swollen flesh. Her face was covered in streams of blood and one pigtail had worked free from its bands during the struggle, lending her head an unbalanced, lopsided look. She held her hands before her, blindly feeling the air.
Resentment tightened Chuck’s muscles as his body glared at her. This dark-skinned, blinded girl…what made her so special? Why did she get to play and laugh? Why did she get to be tucked in and kissed good night, why had she never been so terrified that she peed herself again and again?
Hatred shot through him like molten lava from a volcano, spewing into his mind and burning away all traces of compassion and reason. Someone had to pay. They all had to pay for what had been done to him. They needed to suffer as he’d suffered, to know what it truly and really meant to be afraid.
With fingers hooked into claws, Chuck’s body charged. He shouted instructions, demanded that his legs just stop, that his nerves and muscles rise up against their new overlord. He begged and pleaded with his own body, but it was entirely beyond his control.
Marilee loomed closer, her hands still searching the air, completely unaware of the evil bearing down upon her.
He would claw out her throat with his teeth and fingers, would pin her shoulders to the ground with his knees and spit her own blood back in her face as she struggled and screamed…
No! No, Abigail, no, damn it!
They would pay, they’d all pay…
His hands stretched toward the girl’s neck as wave after wave of hatred crashed over him.
“Now!” A raspy female voice close to the ground called out and the blind girl leaped to the side as a hand snatched his ankle. With as much strength as she could muster, the bloodied woman yanked back on his leg.
Thrown off-balance, Chuck’s body stumbled forward, no longer running but tripping over its own feet in a drawn-out, headlong fall. It crashed into something hard and unforgiving, cold metal that vibrated with the low hum that seemed to emanate from everywhere.
Chuck’s body whirled around and flung itself toward the opening just as the cage’s door slammed shut. A latch slid into place, but he could see the blinded girl through the window and he threw his body at the door, kicking and screaming as his fists pounded against the metal walls.
Marilee and a buzzing sound filled the chamber, rapidly raising in pitch as the air seemed to grow heavier. Tears of frustration streamed from Chuck’s eyes and his mouth twisted into a feral grimace as he screamed at the girl on the other side of the glass, his fingernails raking the door as if he could claw his way through.
The buzzing sound resonated through every bone in his body and he banged his head against the window with all his might, hoping that the glass would shatter, that he’d be able to snake his arm through the opening and snatch the girl’s remaining pigtail.
I’m sorry, Abigail. I really am. So very, very sorry.
The wordless scream burned his throat as Chuck’s body thrashed within the Faraday Cage’s interior. His palms pressed against his ears as if he could somehow keep the buzzing from vibrating through his skull and an ozone-like scent wafted in the air.
Suddenly there was a crackling sound accompanied by a burst of light so brilliant that everything was washed out in its glare. He collapsed to the floor and curled into fetal position, gasping for breath. Shivers racked his sweat-slick body as the buzzing lowered pitch, growing fainter and fainter until only the hum of the contraption’s power supply remained.
The door of the cage swung open and he blinked away the afterimages from the flash of light while clenching and unclenching his hands. Controlling his own fingers had never felt so damn good and Chuck laughed as he sniffled away the remnants of tears.
Beyond the Faraday Cage, Chuck saw the walls and floor of his office. The vast field with its brittle grass and collection of carcasses was entirely gone. Somehow, seeing these things felt like coming home after a long, arduous journey and a smile spread across Chuck’s face as he laughed again.
Closer to him
“Chuck…buddy…is that you?”
Chuck sat up and ran his fingers through his hair, carefully searching his own mind before venturing an answer. Only his own thoughts ran through his head. No matter what had become of Abigail’s spiteful spirit once the Faraday Cage had dispersed its magnetic field, Chuck Grainger was positive of one thing: he was alone in his own mind again…and that was exactly how he liked it.
“Yeah,” he croaked, “it’s me. Just me.”
He felt Marilee probing his mind, but allowed the girl free rein. After all, he couldn’t fault them for being cautious.
“He’s clean,” Marilee confirmed with a smile.
Picking himself up from the floor, he wiped sweat from his brow as he stepped out of the cage. His legs felt weak and he fell forward, but Control caught him in her arms. Together she and Marilee helped him to the sofa.
“It’s over,” he whispered. “It’s finally over.”
Chuck Grainger had shaken so many hands that cramps seized his palms at irregular intervals. A cardboard box sat by his feet and he glanced at its contents wistfully, allowing each object to conjure a memory and accompanying smile. Groups of people milled about on the platform around him, but their conversations were hushed and heads repeatedly turned to look in his direction. From an overhead PA, an electronic voice echoed through the tunnels: “ETA, three minutes and counting. Topside temperature, sixty-seven degrees. Chance of precipitation, thirty percent.”
Control and Marilee stood before him, their mouths turned up in smiles while concern tinted their eyes. What his mother had always referred to as putting on your brave face.
“You sure about this, buddy?”
Chuck took Control’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“More sure than I’ve ever been about anything, my friend. I just can’t do this anymore.”
“She was crazy, you know,” Marilee piped in. “I mean, certifiably. Everything that happened, Mr. Grainger…it ain’t your fault.”
Chuck took a deep breath of the cool, damp air and held it for a moment. This was an argument he’d gone over with himself a thousand times over the last few days.
“You know, kiddo,” he finally said, “it actually is. I failed her. Plain and simple. I almost failed you, too.”
Marilee lowered her gaze as her fingers toyed with the hem of her shirt.
“But you didn’t,” she mumbled. “Fail me, I mean. You didn’t.”
The trio stood in silence before Control finally spoke.
“So what are you going to do?”
“First thing? Get a nice, hot cup of black coffee and a dozen assorted donuts.”
“No, dummy.” Control punched him playfully in the arm. “Long term.”
“Dunno.” Chucked shrugged. “Get a bit of property? Maybe an alpaca or two. Hell, maybe a whole pack of alpacas.”
Control rolled her eyes and said, “You? An alpaca herder? Yeah, right.”
“I socked away a heck of a lot in my 401k over the years. Single man, no responsibilities with a modest apartment. You’d be surprised how much I put aside. And my stocks did really well. The point is, I’ve got a cushion. I’ll be able to figure out the what next? question in my own sweet time.”
“ETA, one minute and counting…”
People walked toward the edge of the platform with briefcases and gym bags in tow.
“You stay in touch, buddy, you hear? You got my number.”
The pair hugged and Chuck squatted down on the platform. Placing his hand against Marilee’s cheek, he looked the girl in the eyes and smiled.
“I’ll never forget you, Bloody,” he said softly. “You really are rare, you know.”
He kissed Marilee’s cheek and the girl blushed.
“I won’t forget you either, Mr. Grainger. Never.”
The squeal of brakes cut through the train’s roar and the doors hissed open once it had come to a complete stop.
“Now boarding: East 7th Street, Minnetonka Avenue, Pullman Square, and North Richardson.”
Gathering his box of personal belongings, Chuck stepped onto the secret subway one last time and raised his hand in a silent wave goodbye. The door slid shut but he remained there, gazing through the window at his friends on the platform. His reflection hovered in the pane of glass like a phantom trapped between two worlds; but for a fleeting moment, he thought he saw something else mirrored in its surface—a little girl whose glasses made her eyes look overly large and insectlike, running toward a radiance that may have only been the glare of overhead lighting. The image faded as the train sped into the darkness and Chuck closed his eyes, Control’s parting question repeating in his mind.
He honestly wasn’t sure. After roaming the realms of the dead for so many years, life itself had become a puzzle. But it was one Chuck Grainger was more than ready to solve.
For Carl Hose, Doug Campbell, and Vincenzo Bilof, who’ve supported my work since almost the very beginning…and became valued friends along the way.
BY WILLIAM TODD ROSE
Apocalyptic Organ Grinder
About the Author
WILLIAM TODD ROSE writes dark, speculative fiction from his home in West Virginia. His short stories have been featured in numerous anthologies and magazines, and his novels include Cry Havoc, The Dead & Dying, and The Seven Habits. For more information on the author, including links to bonus content, please visit him online.
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