By Robert Pettus
fell peacefully from the roof down to the damp earth. It was autumn –
mid-October. The air – though at this time of year mostly crisp – still periodically
fluctuated back into the muggy swamp of summer, blasting a heated breeze into
Harold’s still-burned, freckled face. This year, the summer had lasted longer
than usual, pushing its way all through September and into October, but it was
leaves continued floating down. Tramping boot-steps from the roof shook the
balcony on which Harold was reading, as if their weight might dismantle the
seemingly fragile structure of the apartment building. Harold was leaning back,
relaxed in his outdoor lounge chair, reading his book: The Master and Margarita, by
Bulgakov. He loved everything about
it. Humanoid, catlike demons romping though the city, decapitating people with
their claws, decapitating people with public-transportation. It was a riot.
boots continued stomping on the roof. The ladder in front of Harold, which was leaning
on the cracked paint of his black balcony railing and leading up to the roof,
shook as one of the gutter cleaners climbed down:
be back!” he said, “I’ve got to go get it from the truck! I’ll be back!”
ladder continued to shake, though the gutter cleaner still hadn’t come into
Harold’s view. It was a tall roof. Cigarette ashes floated down with the
continuously falling dry leaves, as if at any moment to alight them and set the
building ablaze. They didn’t, though, they fell down just as apathetically as
gutter cleaner’s legs finally came into Harold’s field of vision. He was
wearing big brown shit-kickers. It was no wonder he was shaking the whole
building. Harold was surprised he didn’t fall through the roof. The apartment
building was populated mostly by elderly people, Harold remembered. He would
probably fall straight through the roof and into some old lady’s bathroom. She
would shriek as he crashed into her shower, just like that lady in Psycho. Hell,
an old lady probably
wouldn’t survive a diving dropkick from a pair of shit-kicker boots. It would
be very unlikely, to say the least. At that thought, a giggle – cracked and
muffled by paranoia – escaped Harold’s quivering, sweaty lips.
gutter cleaner made it to the ground without issue. Harold continued reading
his book. He kept thinking about how easy it would be for him to kick the
ladder out from the balcony as the gutter cleaner climbed back up. He would
fall straight back down, right into the bed of his truck, a look of horrified
shock on his face. Scared, but also comedic. It would be hysterical – like something
the demons in The Master and Margarita might
do. Just for kicks.
ladder began shaking again as the gutter cleaner and his shit-kickers climbed
back up to the roof:
right, I got it!” he said, “I’ll be back up in a second, hold your damn
ladder shook once more. Harold extended his leg, thinking hard about whether or
not he should create a little demonic mischief of his own. He then leaned
forward in his lounge-chair, reaching to the ladder and grabbing it by its
cold, hollow aluminum sides. His hands were sweaty. His heart was pounding. He
was excited. Briefly lifting the ladder from the railing and beginning to push
it forward, he saw the gutter cleaner’s forehead rise above the balcony floor.
He quickly retracted his hands, sinking back into his lounge chair and burying his
face in his book, using it as a shield. Squinting from beyond his manufactured
literary-barrier, he could see the remnant marks of his sweaty palms on each
side of the ladder. The gutter cleaner, now climbing past Harold’s balcony,
noticed him this time:
it going?” he said nonchalantly, “Ladder’s wobbling a little in this wind, isn’t
waiting for a response, he continued his ascent to the roof. The hammer
dangling from his belt rapped loudly against the hollow ladder, clanging like
an unwholesome dinner-bell. This irritated Harold. He winced – repeatedly
blinking and rolling his eyes – struggling to maintain focus on his book.
started falling again. So did cigarette ashes. A shovel even fell down, wedging
itself cleanly into the soft fall grass. It was rusty. Harold stared at it. It
pierced the ground, as if that was what it was created to do.
snapped back into reality. He started reading his book again. It was raining
cash at the theater in Moscow. The cat-demon, Behemoth, sawed off a man’s head
as part of a magic trick. A geyser of blood spurted from his headless neck,
before Behemoth twisted the head back on – the formerly decapitated man
miraculously returning to life.
It was getting sunny outside.
The bright light
gave Harold a headache. He winced again. The roof continued to shake.
about got it?” said one of the gutter cleaners.
quite,” said the other, “There’s a big clump of shit over here in this corner. Once
we clear that out, I think we’re good.”
shaking subsided. The gutter cleaners had moved to the far end of the roof. All
was momentarily calm. Harold could read in peace. Clouds temporarily covered
the sun. The air was comfortable.
shaking started again, though this time lighter – more of a pitter-patter, as
if a squirrel or a raccoon were on the roof. Harold ignored it. He liked
grew louder – scratching and stamping. It was directly above him. He still
heard the voices of the gutter cleaners on the other side of the building. They
were jovial, but the nearby scratching was irritating. Harold again winced. His
temporarily dormant – though always present – headache returned.
scratching and stamping drew closer, finally latching loudly onto the gutter
directly above Harold’s lounge chair. The gutter bent and rattled; it nearly
broke. A furry, purple leg momentarily swayed looping below the gutter. Harold
saw it. He thought he must be hallucinating. He had a tendency to hallucinate. It
was caused by his anxiety and paranoia, and it also caused even more anxiety
and paranoia. It was a terrible cycle.
“Not again…” He
shrank back in horror. Horrified of himself. He snapped up in his lounge chair,
gripping the arm rests, looking around in terror for his invisible enemy. There
was no one there. He forced himself to lay back and relax, a manic, wide-eyed
smile on his face. He wrenched open his book, struggling to read; the ink on
the pages seemingly smearing from his disturbed, blurred vision.
gutter cleaners were walking back to the ladder, characteristically shaking the
unstable building. It shook and shook. The scratching continued.
said one of the gutter cleaners, “That was a hell of a job! I wasn’t expecting
anything like that. Those gutters were dirty as hell!”
kept pace toward Harold. The scratching continued.
hell. I know! You don’t ever think cleaning gutters is going to be much of a
job, other than climbing up and down a ladder, that is – but man! Shit will
tire you out sometimes; that’s a fact! You’ll learn that soon enough, once you
get more experience under your belt.”
steps continued. The shaking grew dizzying. The scratching continued. Harold
could feel himself blacking out.
briefly saw a cloudy, shifting, dirt-filled claw clutching tightly at the
gutter above his head, scraping against the aluminum. Hallucinations.
sun shone brightly in Harold’s face. It made him wince. His head throbbed.
sat shaking. He closed his book; he couldn’t read. The book’s cover showed a demon-cat
wrapping up and clawing at the full moon. It looked crazed and angry. The
scrape of its nails – in Harold’s mind – sounded as if against aluminum. Harold
blinked. He looked up to the gutter. The purple leg was still there, hanging
lazily, but scraping in percussive rhythm against the gutter, as if intentionally
creating abysmal music.
we’re finally done for the day!” said one of the gutter cleaners, as one of his
shit-kickers lowered itself onto the top rung of the ladder.
ladder shook. His other leg twisted around the side of the roof and also stepped
into the top rung:
yeah,” he said, “Let’s get the hell out of here and go grab some brews! I know
a place with good fried pickles! You worked hard today; it’s on me!”
pair of shit-kicker boots continued their descent, rung after rung, from the top
of the roof into Harold’s field of vision.
was then a scuffle on the roof, followed by a pained, pathetic grunt.
saw – through the legs of the first gutter cleaner’s shit kickers – the figure
of the second gutter cleaner flying from the roof. He was thrown – like a line-drive
shot between short and third – between two branches of the ancient tree in middle
of the parking lot; its roots splitting up the asphalt as it continued its inevitable
gutter-cleaner’s skull cracked against its trunk. He fell to the ground. The
small lizards that resided in the old tree scurried frantically into its
other gutter cleaner, halfway down the ladder – his boots still in Harold’s
field of vision – turned around, bewildered.
scrambled down the rest of the ladder, stumbling and falling face-first down
the last four or five rungs. He collected himself in the grass and ran to his
coworker, who was obviously dead; Harold could tell that easily from his
elevated view – he didn’t need shit-kicker boots to notice that. Harold muffled
another giggle. He all at once felt giddy, crazed, sick, and horrified.
What?” The remaining gutter cleaner
said. It was all he could muster. He knelt next to his fallen comrade, sobbing.
was frantic. He looked for those furry, purple limbs. He listened for the
scraping against the gutters. He saw nothing. He heard nothing. He was
confused. He blinked and blinked again. He smacked himself in the head, as if
to help him snap out of it. He continued smacking, harder with each
unsuccessful attempt at mental escape. He closed his book with a thump and retreated
into his lounge
scraping on the aluminum, as if waiting for Harold to sit down, started again
as the furry purple leg showed itself.
time, the creature climbed down from the roof. Numerous other purple legs appeared
at every edge of the gutter, as if sprouting out of it.
massive, shifting head appeared. The legs, it turns out, weren’t legs, but twisted,
grotesque arms. It was a creature unlike anything Harold had ever seen. It
looked happy; it seemed crazed. It started laughing.
its long claws, it pointed to the parking lot, where the gutter cleaner and his
shit-kickers still knelt next to his dead friend. The continuous multiplying
creatures, now lining the roof, did the same. They all giggled in unison. The
demon nearest Harold climbed down onto his balcony, crawled into his lap, and
gazed into his eyes.
creature’s eyes were huge – far larger than human eyes. They shifted color,
from blue, to red, to purple, to black. It opened its vacuous mouth. A rancid
smell engulfed the balcony, swarming Harold. The creature spoke:
really do look like a hallucination!
Note my shadow in the daylight!”
looked to the floor of the balcony. There was no shadow. He gasped and tried to
wriggle away, flailing around in the lounge-chair, chaotically extracting and
retracting its foot-rest.
well, very well!” said the demon, its grin extracting and retracting much like
the lounge-chair, its dripping fangs bared, “I’ll be a silent hallucination!”
demon disappeared. The surrounding echo of the harmonious giggles from the roof
ceased. The surviving gutter cleaner, his blood-stained hands dripping, looked
up angrily at Harold from the parking-lot. The initial shock wearing off; he
was now fully realizing what Harold had done to his coworker.
shrieked and retreated into his lounge-chair, lifting his book to his face to
use as a shield. The sun shone through the waxy-thin, translucent pages, reigniting
Harold’s headache. Harold winced and shrank further away – his lounge-chair
again retracting – into a fetal-position. He buried his face in his book,
suppressing a giggle.
Pettus is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of
Cincinnati. Previously, he taught for four years in a combination of rural
Thailand and Moscow, Russia. He likes writing, but he never found the time or
the courage to try and regularly do it until quarantine forced him into a much
more isolated lifestyle. He was most recently accepted for publication at Apocalypse-Confidential,
Mystery Tribune, and The Green Shoes Sanctuary online journals. “A
Good Book” is one of the stories he recently wrote.