You must login to vote
Christopher felt the beginning of a migraine coming on. He absentmidently reached into the middle drawer of his desk for the bottle of scotch. A storm had been gathering for hours, the black clouds looming over the city. This one’s going to be a good one, he thought and took a swill from the bottle. Out of habit, he looked towards the study’s open door. His wife didn’t like seeing him drinking like this, she said it made her think of her alcoholic father, always sneaking off to get a drink. He met him once at Thanksgiving. He used to store bottles all around the house and take sips whenever he got a chance. He put the bottle down on the desk and got up to take a look outside through the large window. The raindrops landing on it were slow but steady. He looked at the back yard and hoped that the rain wasn’t going to flood the basement again.
He was ashamed to realize how old and worrisome he had become. This wasn’t like him, worrying about weather and his precious basement. Hell, rain never put a dent into his plans, even if they included a trip to the beach. Rain was rain, nothing to be bothered by, nothing to ruin your day. But that was a long time ago. These days, his left knee hurt whenever the weather got wet.
He left the study and went downstairs, to the kitchen. His wife was out of the house today, giving him some much needed ’’me’’ time to try and get some work done. He opened the fridge and grabbed a bottle of water and an apple. His diet was another thing that was different these days, in accordance with the doctor's advice. He took a bit out of the apple and went over to the couch to watch some TV. There was a breaking news segment about a storm hitting the east shore. It looked bad. After Katrina, people got skittish when the weather turned like this, to the point when you never knew if the news reports were honest or bullshit. He decided it was the latter, put his feet up on the table and after a while, fell asleep.
When he woke up, night had fallen and the storm was raging outside. He glanced at the clock on the kitchen counter and rubbed his eyes. It was late in the afternoon. He wondered if his wife had come home and found him sleeping, but the dark house told him that wasn't the case. He got up and called out after his wife, but got no reply. She was probably visiting one of her friends. Didn't she say something about that? I guess I should have listened more closely, he thought as he walked around the house, turning on the lights. His knee was acting up, forcing him to walk with a slight limp.
‘’Getting old’’ he said, to the empty house. Somehow saying it out loud made it worse.
He took a look outside from one of the ground floor windows, but he couldn't see much.
He decided it was time to call Helen and found out where she’s been. He had to get dinner started and maybe she could pick up a movie from the video store. It wasn’t often they got a Saturday alone at home with each other.
He picked up the phone that was lying on the couch and dialed his wife's cell. The voice on the other end of the line said the number coudln’t be reached, so he hung up.
He started to get worried. He probably should have called her earlier, she was supposed to be back hours ago. Maybe the storm fell some trees and the roads were closed off.
He opened the door and was impressed by the strength of the wind. He went out to the porch and was about to open the screen door when he noticed what was happening outside. There was a minivan parked on their driveway. The minivan his wife drove.
So she did come home.
The headlights and overhead lights inside weren’t on. He waited to see if his wife would get out of the car but no one did. Then he noticed how strange the rain looked when it fell. Focusing the flashlight beam on the street, he could see how it was blotting out the white lines painted on there. He turned the light towards the minivan, which was now somehow painted black, from the original deep blue it was when they bought it two years ago. Even the windshield and windows were dark. The sight was absurd, the darkness and the storm making it hard to really see, but he was sure this was their car. The plate numbers matched and who else would have parked the same car but in a different color on their driveway? He was about to make a run for the car, but something about the rain made him think twice about it.
Then he saw the bird. It must have been a sparrow, but Jack didn't know what the hell it was now. It was completely covered by whatever the rain was carrying and it was struggling to take flight, but long strands of the black matter were stretching between its feathers and the ground. It looked like a bird trapped in oil, unable to open its wings or move. It was making spastic motions. It looked like the rain was trying to eat it. He shuddered at the thought.
He went back inside and after putting on a jacket and one of the raincoats, he opened the screen door and left the house. He made a run for the minivan, trying to avoid the puddles of black that were everywhere on his front yard. Whatever it was, it didn't prove too difficult to walk on, nor was it sticky as he feared.
He ran to the car and used one gloved hand to open the driver-side door. He threw it open, but the car was empty. There were shopping bags on the passenger seat, but nothing else. Then he noticed the smears of black on the upholstery and on the steering wheel. His heart sunk.
Christopher ran back to the porch and threw the raincoat off him. He looked out across the street and called after her. There was no reply. He called after her a few more times, his panic mounting. None of this made sense. The house was just a few meters from the car, where else could she have gone?
He took off his shoes and most of his clothes and let them fall on the wooden floor of the porch. He didn't want to bring whatever that black matter was, into the house. Once inside, he sat down, trying to ignore the panicked voice in his head that threatened to send him running outside again, screaming for his wife. He tried to figure out what was going on, what that black matter could be. The rain could have picked up anything: chemicals, nuclear waste, whatever. Chemical warfare?
He tried the phone again, but it wasn’t working. He turned on the TV, but the only thing he was getting on all channels was the emergency broadcast message.
This is not a test. Please stay indoors and don't leave your house for any reason, including looking for loved ones. Everything is under control. The police will be with you shortly.
Like hell. He had a wife and a daughter somewhere out there and was he supposed to just stay in the house?
He paced the house, looked out all the windows on both floors, but there were no signs of her. He could see a fire somewhere downtown, but couldn't make out what buildings were burning.
He sat down and put his head in his hands, unable to think clearly, feeling the migraine coming on again. Whenever he got one of those he was unable to do anything besides lie down and keep a pillow over his eyes to shut out any kind of light. So he tried to calm down. It worked, at least for a little while. It felt like he could hold it at bay if he didn't get too worked up or too upset.
He started at the TV some more, which was playing the same recording over and over again. He supposed the city was in a state of emergency by now. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good, judging by how that bird looked like after it came into contact with it. Scary shit.
He went upstairs again, sat on the bed, their bed, the bed they had shared for 25 years now. He knew something was wrong, no matter what he told himself, there was no reason for his wife to be wandering outside in this weather, no reason her car would be parked twenty steps from the house, unlocked and with her nowhere to be found. Something was wrong, but there wasn't much he could do except sit here and try and keep his headache at bay.
A sound came from above. It sounded like something scraping against the roof. They didn’t have any trees that were that high and he had never heard anything like that before. He held his breath, trying to hear better, but the storm outside made it hard. The sound was still there. Something was scraping against the roof, almost right above him. They didn't have an attic or even storage space up there. It was just empty space between the ceiling of their bedroom and the roof of the house. Almost against his will, he got up and approached the window.
He opened the window a little, holding it steady against the wind that threatened to throw it open against the wall. The sound of the storm was now much stronger, much closer to him. The air didn't smell the way it usually did when it rained. This rain, it carried something different. It smelled like ashes.
He could still hear the scraping sound, but there was no way to see what could be causing it without sticking his head out in the rain, so he closed the window again and just stared outside.
He turned around, ready to head downstairs, maybe try and go outside again, circle the house, knock on some doors, anything but staying in the house for a second longer, when a loud noise made him look back, towards the window. There, outside his second floor bedroom window, 20 meters of the ground, was his wife. He recognized her, even though she was completely covered by the dark matter that was still falling on her, drop by drop. He could see the red top she left the house wearing that morning, peeking from underneath the darkness and he could recognize the large hoop earrings he bought her as a gift on their last vacation. She was levitating outside their window, her mouth and eyes shut and covered by the oily substance. She was knocking on the window, almost like she wanted to be let inside. When Jack didn't move, she flew forward, crashing through the window. Her movement was erratic but effortless. The window exploded inwards, sending pieces of glass and wood to scatter around the dark room.
She came in, her feet still not touching the floor, just her toes dragging lightly against the wood.
She shrieked, then before his eyes the flesh of her forearms split open and a pair of fanged maws like those of venus flytrap protruded from her flesh. Within them, a dozen black tendrils flailed wildly, reaching out towards him.
Jack frantically tried to avoid her, falling down in his desperate attempt to get away from the thing that used to be his wife. He scuttled on the floor like an insect, until his back hit the closet door and he just sat there, looking up at the thing.
It spoke, its voice like the sound of gravel scraping against cement, like it’s teeth were all broken and floating around in its mouth.
‘’I can’t see...’’ it said and Jack winced at the sound, which still carried a small part of his wife’s voice. He crawled towards the door, but the thing seemed to hear him and moved closer to him, so he was still again.
‘Make a sound baby, call my name so I can find you… please…” the thing said, almost as if it was trying to imitate the personality that once belonged to the body it occupied. Jack felt the hairs on his neck stand up. He tried to think of a way out but couldn’t see how he could escape the room without letting the creature know where he was. The tendrils were now feeling their way around the room, touching the bed, their clothes, the walls of the bedroom, leaving behind dark smears.
He bolted out the door as fast as he could. The creature whipped its head around towards the sound at surprising speed and one of the tendrils managed to grab his ankle. The searing pain travelled along his leg and to his spine, but in his panicked state, he managed to kick it away and he stumbled free out into the corridor. He took the steps two at a time, grasping the banister with both hands and he reached the landing just in time to see the thing, now levitating at the top of the staircase.
He heard a sound behind him, something scraping at the front door, trying to get in. He dared not think what was behind that door, but he realized that even that escape route was closed off. He ran into the kitchen and picked up a knife. He didn’t know what good it would do, but he felt better holding a weapon. The pain in his leg was still present, but was beginning to fade. He knew he could get out of this if he just thought this through, but time was one of the things he didn’t have. He heard the creature shriek from the living room, only for the sound to be joined by the wail of whatever was outside that door, a mix of human crying and a howl. He remembered that his neighbors had a dog, a mean Rottweiler they kept in their backyard and he prayed to God that what he feared wasn’t true. One of those things with four legs and the ability to outrun him meant he was dead.
He hid behind one of the counters, trying to win some time, but the creature was already at the door. Its tendrils had grabbed hold of the doorframe, slowly pulling the body towards the opening, feet still not touching the ground.
‘’Come be with us Jack. Come be with your family’’. That sibilant voice again, like the sound of sand being carried by the waves. He knew what it was trying to do, but it terrified him that it was smart enough to try and deceive him by using his love for his family. It was smarter than he thought; god knows how smart it really was.
‘’Daddy? Please tell me where you are.’’ Even though the voice was low and guttural, he could still recognize his daughter’s speech pattern. They had her too. Whatever they were, his daughter was now one of them. The two people he loved in this world were gone and there was only one way to be with them again. He stood up and looked at the thing one last time. It looked different from his wife, but he tried to imagine her standing there, like she often did in the mornings, a cup of coffee in one hand.
Then he ran towards the back door and threw himself against the door, breaking the glass and falling outside on the sleek grass. Raindrops started landing on him immediately, one of them landing on his cheek, the rest across his arms and back and soon, he was standing on the rain with his face towards the sky, like a little kid playing in the rain. It didn’t take long.