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Timothy Fenster
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snakedreamd.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan © 2010

The Nightmare

 

Tim Fenster

 

Sandra would later admit that he was a mistake, like so many other men she’d come across in life.  She met him in a bar like so many of the other mistakes.  It wasn’t a typical night out for her, though.  She had a long rough day, working an eight-hour shift, with two hours of overtime, as a secretary for an office supply business downtown.  After the ten-hour shift, she came home to find her kitchen empty, so for dinner she went out to one of the finer restaurant/bars in her suburban town of Springville.

          She ordered and ate rather quickly and after her meal, she gave into her craving for a martini; dry, shaken and no salt.

          When the glass was nearly empty, a man with soft brown hair, who looked to be at least several years older than her, approached and calmly asked if she cared for another drink.

          “I can’t.  I’m driving myself home soon, sorry,” she said.

          “Then stay another hour, you’ll be fine.  Or we could split a cab, I bet we don’t live that far apart.”  He spoke with an air of confidence, probably too much for his halfway decent looks, she thought.

          “How would you know that?  Besides it’s a Wednesday night; I’ve got things to do.”

          “Most people at bars don’t have things to do.  Usually when I see someone sitting alone at a bar, they’re not about to rush off to work or pick up their kids from soccer practice.”

          As she took a sip from her martini, the man said, “Tell you what, I’ll order two rum and Cokes because I have a feeling you like rum and coke.  One will be a Bacardi and regular Coke for me and the other will be a Captain Morgan and diet Coke; you can have that one if you’d like.  If not, I’ll drink it.  Rum and Coke is one of my favorites too.”

         

The man, who revealed himself as Adam, finished half his drink by the time Sandra finished her martini and reached over to the Captain and diet Coke. 

          “So I guess you decided to have a drink with me.”

          “I guess I decided that if my favorite drink is on the house it would be a shame to let it go down someone else’s throat.”

          “Good answer,” Adam replied, smiling.

          “By the way, how did you know I like Captain and diet Coke?  It’s my usual drink, except when I’m in the mood for beers or a martini.”

          “I worked as a bartender for awhile so I saw lots of different people order all kinds of drinks.  You kind of get like a sixth sense about what people drink.  Little things like the way they look and the way the talk can give you hints about what they like.”

          His answer was so simple and so matter-of-fact that it felt like a lie, but he said it so calm and naturally that it seemed like the truth. 

After over an hour chatting at the bar, they took a cab home.  He was right when he said they probably lived close; their apartments were only four blocks away from one another.

         

          After three dinners together, and two nights at her apartment, Sandra admitted they were dating.  At times, Sandra felt as though their relationship was odd in some ways. He was a peculiar character who always seemed to be two steps ahead of her in conversation and always knew exactly what was going on, even when she didn’t.  It occurred to her more than once, that he had her hypnotized.  She liked the thought.  She was happy to finally be with someone who was fully tuned in to her.         

          On their sixth date, Adam admitted that he was interested in hypnosis and human psychology.  She raised an eyebrow in disbelief.  He was a businessman, the owner of three Subway restaurants, who said he’d majored in business during college.  That night he admitted he’d studied psychology as a minor and read all kinds of books about hypnosis and gypsy magic.

         

          As the weeks wore on, Sandra’s feelings began to change.  Sure, she wanted a man who was in tune with her, but Adam was too much.  Whenever she had something to tell him, he acted as though he weren’t paying attention, then provided such profound insight that she’d think he’d already put much thought into the subject, whatever it was.  He never missed a call and always responded to her texts within the space of two minutes, yet she never saw him with his cell phone.

         

One night after dinner in Adam’s apartment, he said he had something to show her – an experiment, of sorts, he called it.  She was reluctant at first, but finally Adam convinced her to give his attempt with hypnosis a try.

          “What will it feel like?”  Anxiety showed in her voice.

          “It will feel perfectly natural.  You’ll fall asleep just like normal but if all goes as planned—”

          “I’ll see you in my dream,” Sandra interrupted.

          “Please don’t put it so simply like that.  For centuries people have believed in gods and spirits occupying their dreams.  If I could forcibly appear in someone’s dreams it would be an incredible accomplishment.”

          “So will you write books about it?  Maybe turn it into a movie and make me famous,” she said, kidding.

          “Maybe someday.  People are always so skeptical of things like this that evidence of my power would have to be concrete for anyone to believe me.”

          “Well, I’ll believe you,” she said, giving him a kiss on his cheek, and thinking it would be one of their last.  He smiled but didn’t say anything.  He had her follow a pendulum with her eyes.  She didn’t even notice that she was getting tired, but she remembered that it occurred to her, just before she fell asleep, that at least this part of the experiment was working.

          Suddenly she began to imagine herself reliving the night she first met Adam.  The dream seemed an exact replica of her memory, though at times the night passed quickly and at times, slowly.

          However, one thing happened that was clearly different than what she remembered from that night.  On the ride home, when Adam stepped out of the cab, he grinned and said, “So what did you think of it all, Sandy?”

          She bolted awake and let out a short scream.  She told Adam it had been from excitement “because it was so amazing and beautiful.”  Her lie was subtle and she even faked tears of affection, but it was all to mask her true feeling of terror.

          Adam wanted her to stay the night, but she lied, saying, “the hypnosis made me exhausted” and drove home alone instead.  The next morning Sandra broke up with Adam, giving him the usual cliché lines she used to dump guys. 

         

Within a week of the breakup, the only times she thought of Adam was as she lay in bed, unable to sleep.  Specifically she thought about the dream he’d created for her, as he put it.  Even she would admit, what he did was something magical, but the thought of a man appearing in, and creating her dreams left her spine tingling and a knot in her stomach. 

         

Six weeks to the day after she broke up with Adam, she saw him again.  She didn’t see him on the street, in a department store or in some seedy bar.  She saw him in an unusually clear dream. 

In her mind, she was having dinner at a fine restaurant.  At the center of the porcelain red tablecloth were two tall candlesticks and an ice bucket with an open bottle of red wine sitting inside.  Across from her sat an empty chair with a cloth napkin sitting on the plate.  The napkin wasn’t folded and the chair was pushed back from the table.

          Adam, dressed in a tuxedo and with well-combed hair, crossed the room and sat down before her.  They talked and ate for what probably would have been hours in real time.  He charmed her in ways he never could in real life.  He had a great smile while his face seemed bright and alive. 

          Often when they ran out of things to say, Adam would strike up conversation about dreams.  He told her his worst nightmares, the kind that left him awake in a cold sweat, had been about being lost in the dark. 

          When Adam ran out of dream stories to tell, he raised an eyebrow in a charming way and said, “So I told you about my nightmares.  What are some of yours?”

Sandra sighed, looked off and said, “Oh I don’t know.”

“Come on, think of the worst, scariest dreams you can remember and tell me what happened in them?”

“Well I’m terrified of snakes and I can remember a few bad dreams about snakes, so of course those scared me.”

Adam smiled and nodded with a look of intrigue on his face, “What else?”

“And falling,” she added.  “It’s sort of a recurring nightmare I’ll have every month or two.  They’re terrifying; I don’t catch a wink of sleep after one of those.”

Just then the waiter brought Adam his 16 oz prime rib and Sandra’s grilled chicken over pasta.  She knew she couldn’t actually taste food in her dream, but somehow the meal seemed more delicious than anything she’d eaten in real life.

They continued talking as they drank their third cup of coffee each; it felt like about an hour had passed since the waiter cleared their dessert plates and forks.  In a brief silent moment, Adam gulped hard and prepared for the question he’d been waiting all night to ask.

“So what do you think?”

“About what?” Sandra asked.

“About us, Sandy.”

“I don’t think there is an us.  This is all just a dream.  Soon I’ll wake up and I probably won’t remember any of this.”

“I guarantee you’ll remember and cherish the memory.”

“Still, dreams aren’t real.  I gave you your chance in real life and I’m sorry but you didn’t live up to my needs.  I’m turning thirty next month, I need to look for men I’m ready to spend my life with.  Not just anybody.”

He hung his head and slowly spun his spoon around an empty coffee mug.  Sandra suddenly wanted the dream to be over immediately.

Eventually, Adam looked back up at her and said, “What about the dreams.  You’re just sleeping anyway.  If moments like this make us feel good, then there’s no reason we can’t meet in our sleep.”

“How do you expect me to go to bed with one man and think about another in my sleep?  I don’t want to see you controlling any more of my dreams.”

Suddenly all life seemed to leave Adam’s eyes.  Slowly he leaned forward and blew out the candle at the center of the table, leaving her in pitch darkness just before the scene disappeared and she woke abruptly.  She lay in bed until she had to get up or else be late to work.  The whole day she felt distracted.  Her lack of focus made her a hazard on the roads and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t concentrate on her job at the level she needed to.

 

That night she dreamt about walking through a town park alone.  She spotted Adam near a playground and he approached, asking her if she wanted to get ice cream or have a picnic.

“Leave me alone.  Please.  These dreams are mine.  Stay out.”

“But I love you, Sandy.  I just can’t be without you.”

“You have to because I don’t love you and I don’t ever want to see you,” she said sharply before turning and running.  No matter how fast or far she ran, she saw him at every turn, begging for her to give him a chance.  Promising her she’d be happy.

She awoke the next morning feeling the same way she did the day before.  She feared that if the dreams continued, she’d either die in a car wreck or get fired from work.

However, that night she slept calmly and didn’t remember one of her dreams the next morning.  She felt better and was able to concentrate more throughout the day, although thoughts of Adam’s dreams still lingered on her mind.

 

Several nights later she had a clear dream about relaxing at home with nothing to do.  She went to the bathroom to clean up and vaguely noticed the shower curtain was closed even though she always left it open in real life.  She checked inside out of superstition and found the shower dry and empty. 

After brushing her teeth and cleaning her face, she turned to leave the bathroom.  Just as she reached for the doorknob, a man she already knew was Adam leapt out through the shower curtain and grabbed her from behind.  He spun her around and stared close in her eyes.  “Read the paper tomorrow,” he said.  “Section B.”  A second later she was wide awake in bed, her alarm ringing.

Drinking two cups of coffee and skipping breakfast, she read through section B, the local news section which included death notices and obituaries. 

 

Man falls to death

Hundreds witnessed a man’s death after falling 20 stories from the roof of the Halstead office building at 560 State St.  Authorities presume his death to be suicide, but cannot confirm this as there is no solid evidence yet that his death was self-inflicted.

The man, 33, whose name is being withheld pending notification of the family, jumped at 1:04 p.m. Tuesday, stopping traffic on State Street for about two hours as authorities closed the road to clear the street.

           Paramedics pronounced him dead on arrival, while witnesses said he was dead as soon as he hit the ground.

          “I was just walking down the street when I glanced up and saw this guy standing on the ledge,” said Jerry Bolmer, a witness to the incident.  “My first thought was ‘oh my god, he’s going to jump,’ and just a second later, he did.”

 

Her jaw dropped and the newspaper slipped in her limp hands.  She suddenly felt cold even as she sipped steaming hot coffee.  She slowly stood up, walked across her kitchen and called in to work, telling her boss she needed a personal day.  She read the article again and knew in her heart, it was Adam.

That night she lay awake for hours, her pulse racing and her eyelids resisting the need to rest.  Around 3 a.m. she took twice the recommended dose of an over-the-counter sleep aid and quickly fell asleep to find herself in a very distinct dream about going out on a Friday night.  She walked down the street with two of her girlfriends who were perfectly silent even as they entered a bar Sandra had never seen before.

The entire bar was cast in a dull maroon light from small red bulbs embedded in the ceiling.  She looked up and noticed small white spotlights across the ceiling.  The spotlights turned on and off rather quickly, sometimes pointing toward the bar, sometimes following waitresses and sometimes shining on ordinary customers. 

          A young waitress with all-black hair, lipstick, eye liner and fingernails led them through the crowded bar to their table.  Sandra looked around the dark bar as they made their way through, noticing several small bamboo trees in cages.  She looked closer and noticed snakes twisting up and down the trunks of the trees.  She jumped back in fear and bumped into a patron, knocking over his beer and spilling it onto his plate of nachos supreme. 

          The large man turned, glared at her and said, “Watch it, Sandy.”

          “Sorry,” she said quickly and turned to race after her party but they were already lost in the vast darkness of the bar.  As she searched for her friends, it occurred to her that she recognized the man she’d bumped into.  It soon dawned on her that his name was Matt and a year or two ago she dated him for a few weeks before breaking his heart.  She couldn’t remember why she dumped him, but knew it had something to do with him under-performing in bed.   

          Unable to find her group, she sat at a 2-person table alone and waited for service.  Finally a waitress with dark red hair and black clothes approached her.  In the dull red light, Sandra couldn’t see her face but as she reached the table, the red lighting turned instantly to black lighting.  The entire bar was cast under black-lights and all white colors in the room turned a light shade of purple.  She could then make out the waitress’s face.  Sandra’s mouth dropped and she stuttered trying to ask for a diet coke with Captain. 

          “Enjoy it, bitch,” the waitress said as she spit into a bowl of moldy peanuts at the center of the table.  Sandra didn’t say a word and realized that she knew the waitress — her name was Michelle.  In high school, Sandra spent the night with Michelle’s boyfriend, and later got a black eye and fat lip for it.

          The waitress came back and slammed the drink on the table.  Sandra looked down at her drink and saw white letters written on the table, which she hadn’t seen under the red lighting.  “Welcome to my Nightmare,” it read. 

          Sandra jumped up screaming.  She knocked over the table and saw a heart drawn in white lines on the bottom of it.  Inside the heart read, “Sandy + Adam  4ever.”  It took every bit of her will to keep her composure as she backed away from the table quickly. 

          Suddenly a hand latched onto her, she glanced over and saw Matt, the large man she’d bumped into before.  “Relax, Sandy.  Take a seat with me,” he said.  She looked over toward the bar and there, in glowing white writing was a heart, inside it read, “Sandy + Matt  4ever.” 

          She struggled to break free from his grip, but he held her tightly.  “What’s wrong, Sandy?  This is your place,” he said laughing.  “All the best guys you’ve ever met are right here.”  His voice carried a sarcastic bite.

          She looked around and saw tiny white hearts everywhere, drawn on the tables, walls and chairs.  Each bore a different man’s name next to hers.  All broken hearts.  Half from guilt and half from terror, she pulled away until Matt let go of her wrist. 

She tore though the bar, running with such fear and adrenaline that she didn’t even stop when two Boas slipped out of their cages and blocked the entrance to the door.  She leapt over the large snakes and charged out the door.

          Escaping the bar, she became blinded by a powerful white light.  It felt odd since she’d entered the bar during nighttime.  When the light subsided, she found herself standing atop a large downtown building with the sun directly overhead.

          About a hundred feet away, standing near the building’s ledge was Adam dressed in a white-T and ripped jeans and appearing quite calm.  She approached him as he stood perfectly still, staring down.

          She touched him on the shoulder and he spun around quickly and grinned, “Hello, Sandy.”  She leapt back, not from shock but in terror.

          “You really, really hurt me when you dumped me.  You were cold, Sandy.  The pain was more than I could bear.”

          “Please just leave me alone,” she screamed and turned to run.  She sprinted over a dozen steps away, when Adam reached out stopping her dead in her tracks and spun her around to face him.  Her every muscle froze in horror.  Somehow she hadn’t moved an inch although she was certain she’d run from him.  She tried to scream but it came out as a soft whimper. 

          Adam pulled her in for a bear hug, as they stood precariously close to the ledge.  She shuttered and tried to resist but was powerless to fight back.  “I want us to be together forever,” he whispered in her ear.

          “Please don’t.”

          “It’s just a dream, Sandy,” he said and her fear subsided slightly.

          “But I’m scared of falling.”

          “I’m sorry.”  Holding her tightly, Adam leaned back until they were both soaring through the space between the twentieth story roof and the street below.  Her heart beat faster than a machine gun as a wave of terror enveloped her.

 

Local woman may have died in sleep

          A Springville woman, 29, was found dead in the bed of her apartment around 5 p.m. Friday when friends and co-workers checked her apartment after she didn’t reply to frequent phone calls, text messages and e-mails. 

Paramedics said the cause of death was a heart attack, which likely occurred while sleeping Wednesday night because there is no evidence that she experience pain or attempted to seek help.  Her name is being withheld pending notification of the family.

“What makes this even more painful is that she was young and healthy,” said a friend, who asked that her name be withheld.  “I don’t understand what could have caused her massive heart attack.  But at least we can all feel eased that she passed peacefully.”

                       

anoddjob.jpg
Art by Mike Kerins © 2011

An Odd Job

Tim Fenster

 

            Mr. John DiCarlo had a lot on his mind as he slowed his black BMW to a stop before the intersection.  He wondered why Sal had so little work lately, leaving him to find new “clients” to pay his extravagant bills.  He wondered who this “Spades” guy was.  And most of all, he wondered if “Spades” was a guy who knew how to keep his mouth shut.

          A dozen teenagers crossed the street wearing wife-beaters and torn jeans with the waistband halfway between their knees and hips.  He was hit with the notion that this wasn’t his neighborhood.

          He pulled his car into the driveway of a small brown house surrounded by a chain fence.  After a quick glance in the rearview mirror—to be sure no one was watching—he opened his car door.  His piece felt heavy on his shoulder sling.  Can never be too careful, he thought.  After all, he’d never actually met Spades.  In his line of business, anyone you didn’t know was someone to not be trusted.  Those who didn’t know this rule would be sitting behind bars within a week of the job.

          DiCarlo looked around the driveway for somebody, but the driveway was empty save for a few dry leaves and a black oil stain.  Reaching for his cell phone, a sudden roar cut through the calm air like a bullet through flesh.  A Rottweiler tore around the corner of the house at full speed.  The beast nearly toppled backward when it reached the end of its leash.  Droplets of spit leapt out from its snarling teeth and splattered on his pants. 

          A large man with a shaved head rounded the corner just as DiCarlo considered silencing the dog. 

“My bad.  Got to keep this bitch around.  Never know when someone’s going to break in here and steal my shit, you know.”

          DiCarlo sighed, and suddenly missed walking in the back door of Sal’s Bistro whenever he was called in for a job.  “It’s quite all right.  Let’s just get down to business.”

DiCarlo followed Spades through the front door and into the man’s living room.  DiCarlo sat uncomfortably on a crumb-ridden green couch.  Spades disappeared into the kitchen after DiCarlo declined his offer for a drink.

          Spades came back with a can of Steel Reserve and a small picture of woman’s face.  He set them both on the table and slid the picture toward him.  Spades cracked the beer and took a long sip as DiCarlo studied the picture.  A strange notion struck him, and he studied the picture longer than usual.

          “Everything cool?” Spades asked.

          DiCarlo shifted in his seat and quietly said, “May I ask why you’re putting a hit on this woman?”  He abruptly cleared his throat and added, “not that I need to know—”

          “She’s a witness,” Spades replied and took another sip.

          DiCarlo glanced down at the picture.  “I guess she hangs around bad company.”

          Spades lowered his eyebrows.  “What does that mean?”

“Never mind.  It’s just that I know this woman.”

          “Will that be a problem?”

          “No. . .I only knew her for a night,” DiCarlo added.

          Spades laughed and leaned back in his chair.  “Banged her, huh?”

          “One night stand.  She wanted more but—” DiCarlo cut off, reminding himself that Spades wasn’t a friend.  He was a client. 

          DiCarlo’s lips tightened.  “Now, you understand that I do not exist.  If the police arrest you and throw you in jail, you still don’t know me.”

          “Shit, man, I don’t even know your name.  I know your one phone number, that’s it.  Don’t worry ‘bout it.”  Spades sipped his beer, leaned back, and tried to relax.

          “You just need to understand that if I go to jail for this job, you will die.”  He set the photo on the coffee table and rested his hands on his thighs.

          “Okay, okay.  Just do your shit.  Do it right.”

          “I will.  I always do.”

          Spades exhaled and let his head fall back to the chair.  “Good shit, man.  Good shit.”  He stood up and wandered to the door.

          Sitting at his steering wheel in Spades’ driveway, DiCarlo took a long look at the picture of Drescher.  He swallowed hard and sighed.  A deep feeling that some would call love—an emotion he’d long ago replaced with cheap lust—made his heart feel heavy.  You made the deal on this job; and besides, you need the money, he told himself.  It’s just a job.

         

DiCarlo took a long sip of red wine—his third glass since dinner—and ran his finger along the rim.  His glance wandered to the blue cell phone on the table.  He’d always had between three and five cell phones, but blue was always the color he’d used for his personal phone.  It was the only phone he would answer with his real name.  The address book had less than ten entries, and Drescher’s name wasn’t there.  But he knew that he’d find her number if he checked the phone’s memory.  It seemed she’d called and texted him about a thousand times after that night. 

At first, it took much of his discipline to ignore her.  But, as always, her texts eventually turned from desperate pleas for another date to angry hate mail along the lines of, “stay away from me u bastard, cuz next time i see u ill kill u.”  Then, like always, it was simply a matter of deleting her texts and emails.

          One had to learn a certain skill for in this line of work: suppression.  Just as he often had to suppress his conscience, he also had to suppress his feelings.  He’d gotten perfectly used to both.

          Yet still the unprofessional—and extremely risky—thought of calling her lingered on the back of his mind.

 

          The next night, after carrying his landlady’s garbage cans to the street, he got in his car and drove past Drescher’s home.  Her car was in the driveway.  The light in the living room was on. 

          He went home and stayed up late, drinking coffee, watching TV, and reading newspaper websites.  Once the clock on his cable-box read 2:30 am, he got off the couch and gathered his tools.

          He parked his car on the side of the block opposite Drescher’s home.  The digital clock on his dashboard read 3:06 am.  His weapon was hidden and secure in the holster beneath his armpit.  He glanced in the rearview mirror and out each window.  The streets were as empty and silent as they ever were in the big city.  He stepped out of his car and closed the door quietly. 

He walked casually as he rounded the block on the dark, empty sidewalk.  A single car rolled pass as he neared the target’s house. 

He slowed as he approached Drescher’s white ranch home.  A quick glance over his shoulder confirmed that he was clear.  Moving quickly, he made a beeline across her front lawn and slipped behind her Honda Accord that sat in the driveway.  He checked the backyard for a leash or dog bowl, and found neither.  So there would be no unexpected canine guards for this job.  And she lived alone.  The job would be easy.

          Rounding the back corner of her house, a flood light turned on, illuminating the driveway.  He froze.  The thought of turning back crept into his mind, but he let it go.  She was probably asleep, as were most everybody in this neighborhood at this hour.  Bathed in white light, he slipped to the back door and picked the lock within seconds.  Before entering, he pulled a silenced pistol from his shoulder holster.

          The door opened, creaking softly, to a dark narrow kitchen.  He closed the door silently.  The room was black, save for the luminance of the flood light through the back windows.  The deeper he entered the house the darker the rooms became.  He moved up the stairs at a snail’s pace, ascending one stair at a time. 

          At the stair’s peak, DiCarlo froze.  He glanced left and right down the hallway, and wondered which of the half dozen doors led to her bedroom.  Closing his eyes briefly, he searched his mind for that far-back memory of the night she’d led him to her bedroom.

          His mind replayed the night they shared: the drink he bought her, his bad jokes and pick-up lines, her smile, and that seductive look in her eyes when she asked him “Are you as sick of sitting in this bar as I am?”  The story continued in his mind: the drink of wine they shared, their passionate kisses in the kitchen, her smile as she pulled his tie to lead him toward the stairs, and crawling up those stairs with hardly enough patience to reach the bedroom. 

          It hit him: her bedroom was the second door on the right.  He walked to the room silently and with his pistol raised.  Yet somehow, despite his better training and experience, he didn’t notice the sliver of light peering through the crack beneath her door.

          As he reached for the handle to her bedroom, the door seemed to pull away from him.  It opened to Drescher, who stood only inches before him in the open doorway.  The lamp beside the bed gave her enough light to recognize her attacker, though she didn’t see his gun. 

          DiCarlo froze the second he saw into her wide green eyes. 

          Johnny?  What the fuck?  What the hell are you doing here?  I’m calling the cops.”

          The last word from her mouth broke DiCarlo’s trance.  His pistol hand shot up.  A quick pull of the trigger and a soft phfft sound.  And she fell the same as they all do.  The motionless body was twisted awkwardly on the floor as blood pooled near the head.  A bad feeling crawled into his gut, but he ignored it as he began work on the final steps of the job.  He wrapped her head in plastic wrap to contain the slow flow of blood.  He threw her limp body over his shoulder and carried her out to the back yard.

          The job was practically over once he found her keys on a hook near the back door.  Then it was only a matter of stuffing Drescher’s body into the trunk of her car and driving it to a quiet place on the East River.  After unloading the cargo into the river, he drove back to Drescher’s house, slipped into his BMW, and drove off.

          Once he got home it was the same old routine: a shower, a glass of whiskey, and a long relaxing sit.  Yet this time he felt different.  Something felt amiss as hot water flowed over his tired and sweat-soaked body.  He couldn’t explain the feeling, but it seemed as though somehow the job wasn’t over.  All that remained was a call to Spades, but still, he felt there was something more. 

          DiCarlo slept through the morning and into the afternoon.  He called Spades to tell him the job was done before even brushing his teeth. 

That evening he joined Sal and his associates at their four-star Italian bistro.  It was a nice, casual experience—to be able to eat and laugh and relax, and not worry about completing another job. 

          DiCarlo chewed through a piece of rare filet mignon as the Sal told an anecdote about a recent encounter with a crooked cop.  He washed the steak down with a sip of ice water, and suddenly his lungs were heaving and he struggled for air.  Droplets of water shot out his mouth as he tried to suppress the coughs.  The drops splattered on his jacket, his plate, and the tablecloth.  Sal’s associates looked disgusted.  DiCarlo got his cough under control enough that he could at least suck in air between coughs.  Soon his breathing returned to normal, but still every breath was punctuated by a sharp cough. 

“Is it poison?” Tony exclaimed.  “Damnit, Sal, I told you not to whack him ‘til next week.”  Everyone laughed, except DiCarlo, who physically couldn’t.  

          “Someone going to have to do the Heimlich on you?” Tony asked.

          “No, I’m fine,” DiCarlo said as the coughing slowly gave way to normal breathing.

 

          After returning from dinner with Sal—filled with wine and heavy food—he passed out immediately upon laying down in bed. 

In sleep, he found himself standing on an empty beach.  All alone, he felt drawn to the water.  The sand sank with his every step, and as he neared the ocean, the sand sucked his feet in ankle deep.  He struggled through the sand until reaching the ocean.

A pile of black string, like seaweed, floated at the water’s edge.  Drawn to it, he bent over and touched what resembled a dark old wig.  Rank, wet hair slid between his fingers.  His hand shot back as a figure lurched up from the shallow water.  Before he could act or even speak a word, Michelle was standing before him.  He grabbed her by the shoulders and drew her in for a long kiss.  In that moment, he felt perfectly content.  But suddenly she was gone. 

DiCarlo was left holding seaweed as the water rose to his knees.  He glanced across the empty ocean looking for her, but his attention was soon occupied by a much more dire concern.  The ocean was rising.  The water rose at a tsunami pace, quickly rising past his hips and chest.   Within seconds, he was blowing air bubbles and gasping for oxygen.

DiCarlo’s eyes shot wide open.  His bedroom felt unfamiliar.  The dream felt like reality.  He sat up, pinched the space between his eyes, and shook his head. 

“What the fuck,” he uttered to himself.  The boy in him wanted to turn on the light, but he suppressed the irrational fear.  He lay back down and pulled the covers over his shoulders.  A cold chill ran through him, despite the late summer heat. 

Unable to sleep, he tossed and turned.  He eventually rolled over onto a damp patch of the sheets.  He leaned up in bed and ran his hand across the wet area.  It wasn’t the small puddle near his pants that he experienced often as a young boy.  Instead it was a thick, wide area of dampness.

He flicked on the lights.  A puddle—about as wide as one’s head—covered the pillow.  He threw off the blankets.  The puddle grew wider near his torso, and narrowed as it trailed down the mattress.  He stared, examining the damp area.  It almost seemed to be in the shape of a human body.  His blood was racing.  Heart beating like a machine gun.  A thought of Michelle passed through his mind, and then lingered on the back of his conscience.   

He tried sleeping on the dry side of the bed, but for the first time in years, sleep was impossible. 

 

Sometime in the early morning DiCarlo began feeling sick.  The symptoms weren’t horrible—he felt constant fatigue and had an unquenchable thirst.  Though he felt exhausted, he still couldn’t sleep.  Even a combination of Ambien, alcohol, and marijuana couldn’t put him out.  He spent the day in a kind of daze—somewhere between dreaming and reality.  And the whole day, Michelle lingered on the back of his mind. 

 

Around midnight, sleep crept up on DiCarlo as he droned off to a late-night cable news program.

He awoke feeling confused, and briefly wondered where he was.  The TV was set to some televangelist preaching about the Judgment and the Devil and God.  An icy breeze passed by and DiCarlo felt the need to look around.  He had the feeling that someone was with him.

As he crawled up off the couch, something caught his eye.  There was a small puddle of water on his living room carpet.  It was shaped like a footprint.

“What the hell,” he uttered.

A second puddle of water appeared right beside the first.  He blinked rapidly and rubbed his eyes clean.  There was now a third puddle—in perfect line with the other two.

He was struck with a sudden terror.  His chest heaved as he sucked in gasps of air. 

“Is someone in here,” he screamed.  “You better get the fuck out.  You picked the wrong person to mess with.  The wrong fucking person.”  

A fourth puddle.  A fifth.  A sixth.  All in a perfect line, like footsteps. 

DiCarlo grabbed his chest.  His heart couldn’t keep the pace his frantic mind called for.  Air entered his lungs through short hysterical gasps. 

A new watery footstep appeared every second.  DiCarlo crawled after them at a glacial speed.

The footsteps crossed the kitchen floor, entered the hallway, and turned up the stairs.  Frightened tears dripped down his face. 

The foot-shaped water splotches turned and began appearing on the stairs, slowly heading up.  DiCarlo followed far behind and stopped at the staircase.  He gripped the railing and pulled himself up the stairs—one at a time—like an infant. 

He prayed the water-footsteps would end at the top of the stairs.  They didn’t.  The footsteps trailed down the hallway toward his bedroom.  DiCarlo couldn’t quite make it to his feet, and instead dragged himself along the floor on hands and knees.  He found himself at a crossroads when he reached the bedroom door—he could either open the door or bolt out of the house screaming.  His every sense told him to do the latter, but as a man so accustomed to risk, he sided with his sense of wonder rather than safety.

He cracked the door open.  The water footprints ended at the bed.  Gripping the wall, DiCarlo pulled himself to his feet and inched toward the bed.  The left pillow was soaked.  He reached down and touched the wet cloth, and felt something that couldn’t possibly have been a pillow case.  It was moist, slimy, and stringy.  Like the wet hair of his dream.  He leapt back—crashing into the wall and sliding to the floor.  His hand was covered in blood and a putrid pink liquid.  He grabbed an undershirt off the floor and wiped off his hand frantically.

The wet footsteps appeared again on the hard bedroom floor.  But this time they moved away from his bed, and appeared much faster.  A thousand thoughts went through his mind as he sat panting on his bedroom floor watching the watery footsteps appear on the hallway carpet.  He considered waiting to let her leave when the blue cell phone in his pocket vibrated with a text message.  He checked the message as the watery footsteps turned down the stairs.  The message was from 1-917-688-3495—a number that he knew in his heart was Drescher’s cell. 

It read, “Remember when i said the next time i see u ill kill u?  ; ) C ya again soon love.”

DiCarlo’s heart kicked into top gear.  He looked at the watery footsteps heading down the hallway and glanced down at his phone.  Air fumed in and out of his heaving lungs.  The pull of her allure suddenly became irresistible.  DiCarlo could sit and wait for her presence to leave no easier than a man could sit and wait for a burning building to crumble beneath him.

He rushed through the hallway and down the stairs.  His backdoor was now open, swinging in the heavy wind.  The wet footsteps led outside.  He ran out, not even caring about the torrential rain from the storm outside.

He looked around, panting.  There were no visible wet footsteps anymore—everything was soaked and sitting beneath standing water.

Despite the solid, steady flow of rain, something—a clear, blank figure—broke the flow of water.  It was a slim, narrow body that moved slowly.  The figure headed across South Avenue toward the East river.  DiCarlo followed.  He ignored passing cars, and paid no heed to the fact that he was trespassing on riverside property.  When the figure reached the river’s edge, the water seemed to move along the contours of a human body, as if it were going under water.  After it was under, the water was still, save for the crashing waves and pounding rain.

DiCarlo approached the water’s edge.  The river was flowing faster than he’d ever seen.  The wind bent trees and blew over trashcans.  He heard a voice, and felt the grace of a woman’s touch.

“What do you want from me?” he screamed.  The voice ceased, but still he felt someone near.  “Just leave me be,” he whispered sheepishly.  “Please, we’ll just go our separate ways, please.”

“If only it was that simple,” the wind seemed to whisper. 

         For an instant, DiCarlo found himself in a trance.  He wasn’t sure whether he stepped or slipped, but the next thing he knew, the rushing water sucked him in and dragged him along.  He floated only a second before the water pulled him under.  His final thought: is the rushing water dragging me under or is that a hand at my ankle?
 
 
Tim is a young writer and journalist, majoring in Creative Writing and Journalism at The College at Brockport in New York.  He’s been a devoted writer for several years and has published several short stories. He is a proud native of Buffalo,  New York.

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