So this next piece of writing began as a dream.
The sky above was dark, starless, and the moon was hiding behind thick clouds. At midnight, now, the only lumination came from a dim and flickering street lamp a hundred feet away. And so the front door remained in shadows. But that was no matter for William. He was used to these conditions – this scene was normal, mundane, routine. Tonight was just the same as a thousand others, coming home late from work to his empty, dark townhome on this empty, poorly-lit street.
Pudgy hands fumbled with a keychain, making a faint jingle that could be heard even at the streetlamp that hundred feet away, over the dull hum of the electric generators that lined the sidewalks and the soft whoosh of rank wind carrying the stink of God only knows what – some beggar’s coat or a dead cat or baby. None of which would have been a surprise to this street. William finally got his fingers around the key to his door. He moved toward the lock as a rustling caught his attention. He paused and listened, hearing nothing but his own breath, the streetlamp, and the rusty squeak of an old chain-link fence as the wind raked it back and forth.
He shook his head and the stuck the key into its lock, having to force the metal inside so that he could jiggle and wriggle the key and hope the tumblers fell into place just one more time, please, for him. Under the embarrassment of his dysfunctional lock, he gave silent thanks for the deep night that shrouded him. The lock finally turned and he stepped inside as he pushed in the door in one fluid movement, the let it slide lazily back to its place. He turned the lock, easy from this side, as if it were a defeated enemy yielding to the greater force of a conquering foe. But both knew that come tomorrow the tumblers would incite revolution and the war would be on again. So much the better, William supposed, shrugging broad shoulders; at least a small battle could be won at home even after all the largest had been lost abroad.
William stretched and let his heavy, hot coat fall to the floor – he didn’t need it in the warmth of the house and he would be better served to have it ready and waiting there in the morning. He walked to the back door of his home – sliding glass – and checked that it was locked. It was. There was no reason it wouldn’t be, really, but William had learned there was no such thing as too careful. He ran his fingers over the lock to make sure and then unlocked and relocked it for good measure. He leaned a hand and forehead against the glass and looked out into the night, feeling the cool thick glass on his skin. Unending blackness presented itself before him. He felt himself falling into it as he closed his eyes; he could feel himself drawn into bleakness, losing himself and becoming one with the nothingness. His memory conjured up an image of the same backyard with sun shining over spindly trees and great clumps of dead and dying grass all surrounded by an ugly, coarse fence. The illusion broke and his eyes popped open. Sighing, he stepped away, sloughing off his shoes in the process. His briefcase found a not so gentle landing on the kitchen counter as he passed by on his way to the stairs leading to the bedrooms. Climbing them, his breath took on the labored sound of a man decades out of shape despite his only being a couple old himself. He was only halfway up when he remembered his phone, lying dead in his coat pocket by the front door.
Agitated at his own forgetfulness, he turned back, allowing himself a flare of drama in the act, throwing his hands to the sky, and made his way back past the kitchen and his briefcase, through the living room and past the sliding glass back door. He almost stepped on his coat before he saw it. A moment of fumbling in the darkness later and he had a pocket in his hands. Wrong pocket. A quick flip of the jacket and he had the other pocket. Then the phone was in his hand and the coat back on the carpet; he figured the battery needed replacing – it had died quickly today.
He shivered and for a moment thought nothing of it – then he realized he had been sweating just a moment before. He turned and froze. Even in this grim absence of light, he could see his back door standing ajar, innocently letting the cold breeze in from the yard. His phone fell hard to the floor, making a muffled thump on the carpet, as he bolted toward the stairs, moving faster than he could remember ever having done. Heart racing, skin slick with sweat, he could feel the wrongness that permeated his house. He could smell the intruder in every breath that he took, taste him in every quick flick he made across his upper lip with his tongue. He kept focused on the heavy wooden baseball bat in his closet. His foot hit the first step as two heavy hands came down on his shoulders and yanked him down onto his back. He slammed into the floor, falling fast and sprawling across the tile of his kitchen, his back feeling cemented to the floor. He scrambled to his feet and tripped, succeeding only in introducing the floor to the skin of his face. He pushed himself up and to his knees with his hands, his eyes wide with a terror so complete that now he could think only of nothing.
A glove forced his chin up roughly, bruising the skin. A sharp bite flitted across his throat. He heard a wet gurgling sound. He realized it was coming from him. He prayed for God to wake him up, straining severed vocal chords to make any noise at all beyond the bubbling of air through a sluice of blood. A heavy boot shoved his back, forcing his face yet again to the hard linoleum of the kitchen. His eyes were glassy and his face contorted in a horror so pure, distilled as if from the river of fear itself. His sticky, red life pooled around him, free and chaotic as all sounds around him ceased. The back door was shut and locked again, with only the greasy marks of William’s hand and head to show any man had been there. The smell of loose bowels filled the house, mingling with the crimson copper, as the Tartarean darkness bled away into sunlight.