In His House
by Peter A. Balaskas
Table of Contents
Part 5 appears
in this issue.
His heart pounded again. “What’s wrong?”
Francis’ laughter became more menacing. “My painting. Of course. That’s it. That’s been it all along. Got to get back to work, brother.” He laughed insanely for a few seconds, then silence.
“Francis,” he hissed. “Francis?” Silence only answered him. He rubbed his temple to make certain the ring didn’t appear again. He breathed deeply and walked away from his friends. But as he came around the corner, he screamed.
Standing in front of him, blocking the stairs, were a scowling Cainye and Kat.
He breathed hard, unable to speak. They know. God help him, they heard everything.
Cainye’s mutilated ear remained bloody and jagged. His eyes widened and he quickly raised his clawed hands, palms out. “Hey, I don’t want to hurt you. Neither of us do,” he said in a tone that actually sounded cordial.
When he realized they didn’t hear his conversation with Francis, as well as waiting for his heart to slow down to a normal rate, he asked, “What do you want?”
The brute paused and grunted, “Well, I’m getting sick and tired of eating the same stuff I have in my room.”
“I only have oatmeal and water. Your food is probably better than mine.”
Cainye snorted, “Well, the fat boy did give us some good stuff, but nothing could top it off like a cold beer your friend has in his room.”
He looked at the monster with disbelief. “You want me to get you some?” After an awkward acknowledgment from Cainye, he laughed so hard the pain in his temple went to his diaphragm. He keeled over and tears came out. He couldn’t help but love the irony. When he composed himself, he added, “Are you out of your mind?”
Cainye gritted his teeth and Kat looked down in shame. He said, “Now, I know we had some problems... ”
“You almost tore me apart, so let’s cut the crap. Go get it yourself.”
Cainye pleaded, “He said anyone other than you walks around his wing he’ll turn ‘em inside out.”
He shook his head. “Even if I wanted to help you, Francis would know I was getting it for you. He won’t do it.”
“Well, if you’re smart as you think you are, you figure something out.” He stared at him, his fangs peeking out. When he received no reaction, he softened again and said, “How ‘bout this. You can have Kat back. She’s a little beat up, but she still squeezes a guy’s handle pretty thorough. She doesn’t mind.”
She looked up. All color left her face, but her brown eyes widened with hope. “I would love to be back with you, even though you have... other thoughts than me.”
His breath caught. Is she going to say anything about the photo? He looked into her scared eyes and when she turned away, the action alone answered his question. “Forget it,” he said trying to pass them.
When Cainye blocked his way again, he looked at the beast straight in the face and hissed, “Don’t do it. If either of you even think of forcing me, both of my friends will come after you in ways you can’t even imagine.”
The beast’s eyes widened with terror. Kat was the first to move away. Cainye soon followed.
After seconds of icy silence, he walked down the stairs, feeling good for the first time since The Event. He smiled as he heard Cainye rant, “You think you’re a big man, don’t you! Well, you’re a prisoner like everyone else. All prisoners! Just remember, your friends can’t protect you forever.”
He kept walking with a confidence that made the monster growl with anger even more until he closed his door behind him. He heard the clinking sounds from Kao’s room again. He looked down and his hands began to shake. Then came the pressure at his temple, pounding to the same rhythm as the clinking. The room spun as he fell on his mattress. He wrapped his arms around his head and screamed, “Will you shut the hell up, Kao!”
It wasn’t until the blackness came that the sounds finally stopped.
* * *
He didn’t return to the land of the picture; but he did see it up close, so close that the only thing he saw was her round, smiling, sad-eyed, face. The urge to comfort that face increased as he stared into those eyes. Her skin turned grey, then white. The picture started to move back and he realized the photo became black and white. It continued to drift and dance away from him in the air like a feather. He tried to grab it, but the air was thick and his arms moved in slow motion.
He now saw where he was: a white tiled room, clean and bright. The picture flew and drifted in the antiseptic air until it gently descended into a white, iron-clawed bathtub. He moved towards it; the tub was filled with water. The picture floated on the surface; her face still smiled with her sad eyes.
He was about to grab it when he realized he couldn’t move. Then, the picture began to sink. It folded within itself, sealing her in. The moment it reached the bottom, the water boiled in a fury. The purity of the water turned red and he smelled that familiar pungent odor of blood.
* * *
“No!” He woke up to a pair of iron-strength arms wrapped around him. His vision cleared and he saw Minque and Kat in his room, hovering over his restrained, supine form, courtesy of Cainye who was under him, intertwining his arms around his own. The beast whispered in his captive’s ear with spoiled breath, “Well, well. Where are your friends now?”
He yelled, “Francis! Christine!”
Cainye chuckled, “Don’t bother. We know about them. Oh yeah, today is a day full of surprises. Kat told us about your little secret. Minque?”
Her green eyes sparkled with desire as she reached down and unbuckled his pants.
He struggled, trying to kick her. “No! Get off, Minque!”
She cackled as she stripped him and gazed longingly at his manhood. She bent down and began to lick him until it began to stiffen. He closed his eyes and shrieked in outrage.
Cainye loved everything he was seeing until he scolded, “You stop that now, Minque. Business before pleasure. Kat?”
He opened his eyes and looked at Kat, whose upper lip quivered in uncertainty. She released a small sob as she knelt down and rummaged through his trousers until she grabbed the photo. She stood up, holding his treasure with both hands, glaring at the picture as though she was facing her husband’s mistress.
He scrambled in the big man’s arms, trying to get up. “Kat, don’t do this! Please! Don’t be like the others.”
She looked towards him; her scared eyes turned into black coal. She turned the picture around so it faced him. She muttered with a deadened voice, “We are like the others.” Then, using her index fingers and thumbs, she slowly tore the picture in half.
“No!” He heard the slow, agonizing tear transform into a scream. It was her; and she was being killed by her nemesis. He shut his eyes as the ring on his temple exploded in his mind. He convulsed and his body spasmed along with her laments. It ended, and as Kat tore the photo into pieces, more of her screams hit his body in waves until there was nothing more to tear up. He couldn’t open his eyes; he felt as if he had died, himself.
Cainye released his arms and pushed the limp body aside. He lay there in darkness until he heard the man growl, “Now, we got that over with.” A painful pause. He waited for more. “Hmm, seeing our friend in his new outfit here’s putting me in the mood. Party back up to my place. Sorry you can’t join us. Maybe next time.” He heard him laugh as they left him alone on the floor in total silence. Not even Manny was laughing.
But the clinking sounds from Kao began again, with more urgency than before.
* * *
He gazed at the torn pieces of paper as though they were fragments of the Earth’s crust blown apart by the Apocalypse. He was held suspended in misery, feeling nothing else. Drool and tears poured from him, and he continued to lie there until he closed his eyes, trying to make the house disappear.
He finally stood up and bolts of pain shot through his limbs. He held his arms out, trying to keep his balance. Francis and Christine. He knew they heard him. He staggered out and climbed the steps until he saw Kat staring down on him. The rims of her eyes were red with tears.
Boiling fury rose within him. But he wouldn’t release it. Not yet. He first craned his head upstairs, seeing both Minque’s and Cainye’s doors open. “Where are the others?”
“Outside. They wanted to see what it would be like screwing near the tempest.”
“Good.” He leapt two stairs at a time and tackled Kat on the landing. She wriggled under him and he straddled her, reached out and grabbed her chicken-thin neck. Finding her windpipe, he slowly squeezed. He focused on her eyes, wondering when she was going to change. They went black, but that was as far as it went. He said, “Not so easy to change when you can’t breathe. Is it?”
She croaked, “Please, I didn’t want to.”
“It was your choice to tell them. Funny how the choices you make seem to get you deeper into trouble. But this is the last time! Now we’re going to find out if everyone here is really immortal!”
“It wasn’t my idea! It was Leech!”
He unconsciously loosened his grip hearing the landlord’s name. “What?”
She gasped for a moment, trying to suck the stale air into her lungs. She labored, “Walked around. Found paper at the bottom of the upper steps. From him. Look in pocket.”
He dug into her pocket and pulled out a note with Kat’s name on the front. It read: Tell others about the photo. Francis and Christine are trapped. Do what needs to be done. Direct him to me. Leech.
He looked at the sobbing woman before him, who crawled away backwards until she hit the wall. Her eyes were normal again. She retreated into Cainye’s room and shut the door with her foot.
He shifted his attention to the second level stairs leading to the attic door. He stood up, note still in his hand, and walked to the steps. Without looking upwards, he tentatively took the first step and waited.
When nothing happened, he climbed the steps with steady caution until he reached the door. He touched the knob and his hand didn’t deflect like the previous attempts. He took a deep breath, opened the door, and what he saw made him drop Leech’s note.
In the center of what looked like a penthouse suite was a four-poster bed covered with the finest golden sheets and quilts he had ever seen. Ornate rugs adorned the floor and to the left of the bed was a bar that held many carafes of a variety of liqueurs. A victrola stood next to the bar, and along the wall was a bookcase that contained thick leather-bound volumes. Near the shaded window on his right was a solid wood dining room table decorated with china plates, crystal wine glasses and silverware freshly shined to a luster. A roasted chicken sat on the center platter and a bowl of steaming vegetables was placed next to it.
Carving the chicken and serving the food on two plates was Leech himself. He was an older man in his fifties; his shoulder-length, wavy, grey hair brushed back from a wide forehead, his eyebrows white and bushy, and his face slightly lined with wrinkles. He was dressed in a thick burgundy robe and a black ascot, and soft, leather slippers covered his feet. But it was the man’s build that was contradictory. He was as big and muscular as Cainye, with wide, firm shoulders and meaty hands that could crush wood. His was the body of a worker, not an aristocrat.
He found his voice and called out, “Mr. Leech?”
The landlord looked up, warmly smiled, and said with a baritone, British-accented voice, “It is indeed a pleasure to finally meet you face to face, young man. Please, join me for dinner.”
He squatted down and pocketed the note. It took all of his willpower to move his naked feet forward. The contrast from hard wood floor to plush carpet felt soothing. It enveloped his aching extremities and this comfort spread throughout his weary body. He closed the door behind him and as he treaded towards the table, the aromas coming from the food were causing his mouth to water. He inhaled so deeply he became light-headed. He leaned on one of the oak chairs to maintain his balance.
Leech placed down the carving utensils, wiped his hands together, and beckoned his guest to join him. His eyes were pitch black, like Kat’s during her transformation, but they were wide and cheerful. “I assure you this is not a trick. Just a polite dinner to go along with our hopefully polite conversation. Enjoy.”
Both men sat down and the flavor from the first bite was so luscious that it was almost painful to absorb the newness of the food. The chicken melted in his mouth, and he could taste the spices and butter seasoning within the morsel.
He looked at his host, who smiled back at him. “Almost decadent, don’t you think?” He answered with a nod and Leech delved into his serving. He washed it down with a glass of wine and added, “The house provides for all of our basic needs. And for those that are a little more complicated, I step in to lend a hand.”
He stopped in mid bite, realizing what had led him here in the first place. He laid down his fork and knife, keeping the latter close to him for when the time was right, and pulled out the note. He held it up. “Like this?”
Upon seeing the note, Leech sighed with regret, then resumed eating the chicken. In between swallows, he responded, “Well, I am relieved you were not permanently damaged by those callous mongrels; but unfortunately, tragic circumstances oftentimes lead to moments of clarity. I had to do what needed to be done.”
He watched Leech casually eat and drink without a care in the world. It sickened him. “What gives you the right to take control?”
The landlord glared at him in amazement “Why, The Event of course. I’m nice and safe here, and in very good shape, if I do say so for myself. Manny T has only his food, with his intestinal expulsion as a weapon to keep the others away when he feels like it.” He snickered. “Quite primitive, but effective nonetheless. And yet, he’s not exactly invulnerable.
“Kao has nothing the others want, so he’s left alone. I am not even going to begin to talk about that trio of rubbish out there, who have the audacity to think they rule this place,” he laughed, then drank more wine.
He casually covered his knife with his hand, lightly feeling its razor sharp edge. “What about Francis and Christine?”
Leech’s face darkened. “Yes, those two. I try not to think about them.” He paused and gazed at empty air. “They’re quite powerful with their new-found gifts, but they are not as strong as I. You’ve seen the proof.”
Leech turned his attention back to his guest, and displayed a malevolent grin; his teeth shone with an unnatural brightness. The stark contrast between them and his ebony eyes almost blotted out the rest of the room. “With all sense of government banished forever in a large whiff of green smoke, somebody has to be in charge. I cannot see anyone else suited for the job. I am actually quite proud of my accomplishments so far.”
He touched the knife’s point, almost pricking himself. “You like hearing the sound of your own voice, don’t you?”
The landlord smirked. “In my position, young man, I can afford such indulgences.” He then placed down his utensils and regarded his guest with a respectful nod. “Cheeky little bastard, aren’t you?” He laughed as he wiped his mouth with the napkin. “That is the one quality I admire about you. That inner spirit. That drive to seek the truth. Well, the reason why I called you here is to clarify that truth.”
Leech looked at him with compassion and understanding. “Son, you do have to realize there has to be order in this new world. Accompanying that order is harmony, a perfect balance of the scales. Think about it: society ends, but we survive in this sanctuary. Everyone has no memory of their pasts, yet we are awarded with powers. I have the most power, but everyone has the freedom to fuddle about day after day to their heart’s content, and I am left alone to mine. Again, harmony is maintained.
“However, when you found that photo, you found a link to your past, which is quite a tool to have. Remembering one’s past creates hope; and hope can drive a man to an unpredictable level of power, the power to change one’s reality. There can be only one person in this den of chaos to be deserving of such power, and I am afraid it cannot be you.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2007 by Peter A. Balaskas