Open Windows-Chapter Four

Chapter Four

For three days after death hair and fingernails continue to grow but phone calls taper off.

-Johnny Carson

As I walked towards the table and the man sitting there, my footsteps echoing thru the room, I began to see there were others in the room now.

There was another thing too; it began to get lighter in there, as if someone was tuning the lights up a bit and yet it never got bright or clear enough to allow you to see anything in detail, the room stayed in dark sepia tones, much like an old photograph.

I knew that these people hadn’t been there when I walked in the door, but they were there now. I wondered then if I stepped back a bit would they fade as the town had as I approached?

Then I heard a trumpet or some kind of horn blow a few notes and the stage lights flickered on at the far side of the room.

There was a shadowy light thrown down for effect, some liquid in a bottle being shaken in front of a lamp, but when I looked up there where the lights should be, there was nothing and no light shown at all.

I turned back to see a man walk out then to some polite applause and stopped at the middle of the stage, he started making some really corny jokes then and the people that heard them started laughing and clapping every so often.

“Most men are lucky, their wives are always trying to lose weight!” He said before pausing, “Mine loses the weight and then goes and finds it again!” The crowd roared its approval and then he left, thanking us all for our appreciation, though I still couldn’t see where the applause was coming from. It sounded like the canned laughter they used on television in the early days.

There was an upright piano in the corner now too, the door broken off a long time ago, and you could see the keys flying as the man struck the faded ivories.

He was feverishly hunched over the keys, paying no attention to anyone or anything but the music, playing frantically, as if his life depended on it, though he wasn’t making any music and there was no organization to his efforts, he was just pounding at the keys.

He had a cigarette in his face, but it was all ash, and just hung there. I had an idea that it was more a part of his face though, and the ash would never fall off.

There was a woman standing next to the piano now too, she was a very large woman, standing almost six feet tall with wiry black hair which hung in curls about her face.

She was wearing one of those long dresses that women wore in the saloons, with lots of feathery trails that ran off it, and more feathers in her hair, she would have almost looked like Mae West but she didn’t quite have it, was her attempt some kind of style, but there is only one Mae West after all.

She had a wild look about her though, maybe because she was so tall, but she was stoop shouldered, as if she had wanted all her life to be as small as everyone around her so they might accept her.

I felt that maybe they had teased her without let up when she was a child, and while trying to find a silver lining in that cloud she discovered that she loved to sing, that it was her gift.

Then she found a passion for singing; it was her savior once she discovered she had a voice. Not just any voice of course, but such a voice that she once had a future as a singer, she had the voice of an angel.

She had started off alone, walking thru the back alleys of town and then singing gospel she heard on Sundays.

Maybe because she walked as she sang, her lungs developed quickly and she found she could sing high notes and really hold them, as well as “swoop down low” as she liked to call the lower notes.

Her talent didn’t go unnoticed though and she had been offered singing parts in some major plays in town, she was asked to sing with some traveling bands but she was afraid to step out of the shadow of this town and always found some excuse not to go.

But one day she fell in love with the wrong drug and eventually she became a shadow of herself, and as such, she had lost her voice; it was after all a gift she had been bestowed with, and when she turned to “other things” it was taken away from her.

Not just laryngitis or temporary, but really lost. She had paid the ultimate price to the devil.

Her penance was just that, her voice taken forever and yet there was the hope that IF she ever found it again, she would be released from this spell and set free even from the devil himself.

As such, she still was up there, literally to sing her heart out in search of it, though she knew it would never return.

It had started with a man of course; he was traveling thru town and was a heroin addict when they met, but she didn’t know until she was hooked on him, and by then it was too late and he had smooth talked his way into her deepest secrets.

As I watched as she was “singing” now, straining as hard as she could, her hands clasped in front of her and her head tilted to the right, sweat formed on her brow as she worked the notes only she could hear, she was straining so hard that both the chords in her neck and a vein on her forehead bulged or pulsed with her efforts.

Her face had turned a bright red, and though she had no voice at all no one seemed to notice or care, they still applauded her efforts when she was finished with each song as if they could hear them with her.

Now I could see most of them as I looked around the room, some of them were sitting at card tables and playing poker, though I noticed that some of the cards were facing out, instead of towards the player, some were upside down and some of them were worn so badly that you could no longer tell what the cards once were.

Others were either standing behind them and watching or just drinking and talking among themselves, though I noticed that almost everyone was looking around nervously, as if they were held in check by some invisible hand or a weapon.

There was a bartender now too, polishing the top of the bar with a dry rag, where all the se people were coming from was beyond me. It made a scratching sound as he wiped, and I noticed that he never took his eyes off of me.

He was tall, stood about 6’3 and had a habit of squinting with his right eye. No matter what light he was in. He was bald, and had been since he was fifteen. He never told anyone his story because he knew nothing would change it and no one cared to hear it anyway, he hated that but that was how it was.

All he ever did was take your orders and serve your drinks. No money was ever exchanged and the liquor never seemed to run out, much as the life of the town had shriveled to dust.

He looked enough like the man that owned that small market that they could be brothers, except he was much taller. And the squint made him look a lot like “Popeye” the sailor, not the detective. If he had a pipe in his mouth it would have been perfect under any other circumstance.

I looked around for his wife, but she must have been somewhere else. I knew that if there were a storeroom in the back his son would be there stocking the shelves and his sister would be out back having a smoke or something.

Then I saw her, coming out of one of the rooms at the top of the stairs with another man, she was trying to get more money out of him and he was just trying to get away now, as she opened the door he rushed past her and started towards the stairs.

As he passed me I heard the bartender say “Go on, she’s ready for another!”

I realized he was talking to me and I told him, “She’s asking you to come back, not me pal!”

But he told me, “No, once was more than enough, and I had my turn! More than enough for me” he said.

I turned away from him, not wanting any part of her and knowing maybe a little more about her than he did if she was at all like the storeowners wife.

I remembered something my brother had said once and everyone thought it was really funny. They were talking about his being caught with his pants down with one of the larger women in town.

“I like them with curves one of the guys there said!” To us, red faced, as if he was revealing some deep secret to us that we would not have seen on our own, he was very serious.

My brother was there too, and he said, “Yeah, maybe, but a big woman is like riding a motor-scooter, it’s a fun ride but you never want your friends to know about it!”

I laughed at the memory of that, though I didn’t understand it at the time, I think all women can be beautiful if they try, if they accent the better features they have and work from there. I began to look around the room again, trying to figure out what the hell was going on, where these people came from so suddenly and why they were here, was it for my benefit or to confuse me?

Behind the bar was a large mirror, and I could see the entire room from there. No one paid any attention to me but the bartender and my “host” and the rest were “extras” in this performance.

Now I really thought it would be a good time for Gary to walk in and ask for volunteers but this seemed to be all of the people in the town.

I sat down; trying to see into the face of my “host” but there was nothing there. He wore a hood that made a deep shadow, but beyond that it was too dark, as if the light was sucked away before it had a chance. It was an absence of anything, his personal black hole I thought to myself and chuckled.

This made him pay attention, his head snapped up at the sound of my laughter as if I had slapped him in the face. I mentioned that there were spots in that room that were warmer than others; this part got hotter right then.

But I took my glass and raised it, figuring on either starting a fight and ending this, or making him laugh so we could get on with the show, so I said, “To the hair on your mother‘s chest!” because it was all I could think of.

For a moment it got still hotter, but then he raised his glass and the liquid bubbled for a second, then he said “Many more of the same to you!” and we drank. To call this liquid awful would not do it justice; it stank and it seemed to burn my throat everywhere it touched. It was what I imagine tar would taste like if you drank it.

But it was what was needed for the time, the hot liquid easing my tension and making me feel as though maybe everything, including death was all right, maybe even better than what I was facing in my life. I felt relaxed and almost smiled when I felt the warm sensation as it spread thru my system and was pleasant after a few moments, though at first it made me gag.

He asked me then if I remembered the gunfight I had survived the last time I was here. The look on my face must have pleased him somewhat because he smiled then. He told me, “The man you fought was trying to live out a long-standing dream of his, though he was falling apart, he thought he could be a gunslinger, he said you were to be the first notch on his gun. “He would have won had he been able to hold himself together!” He said with a laugh.

His laughter was dry and brittle, and I noticed his body never moved as he laughed, almost as if it was a recording he was playing because he thought it was warranted for the moment, as if he was trying to break the ice and didn’t know how.

I had the immediate impression that diplomacy was not one of his strong suits and that he much preferred to torture and maim his victims before killing them.

“That man, in your world would probably be called a leper, but the disease that eats his flesh is not common in your world!” He continued, “We only keep him around for amusement, he is harmless unless he actually touches you!” He said with that same humorless laugh.

Then we made small talk; we talked about cards, and the ocean view. He talked of a place called California and said they had finally had the big earthquake, and the beach was a lot closer to the shore now.

I think he was struggling with English, maybe not used to using that language and I think he meant the quake had knocked the coast back to Arizona.

We spoke of blondes and warnings going unheeded and the lessons of life and the nightmares that you didn’t speak of in the dark because they almost always heard you, yet you could not speak of them in the light because that was your sanctuary and you dared not give that up.

He talked about names that you didn’t repeat out loud, though most of them I had never heard of and some made me shudder in spite of that.

He spoke to me about the mysterious deaths that still went unexplained, yet he wouldn’t elaborate, when I tried to ask him details about them he either changed the subject or stopped talking altogether.

I pushed him on that for a few moments and he got angry, I could again feel the heat as it radiate off him. “Why do persist in these futile attempts to rattle me?” He asked as he worked to regain control of himself.

“Why? Am I getting to you? I asked and then paused for a short laugh, though it was clear I had. “No reason other than simple ignorance!” I answered, not wanting him to know I had any common sense, that I might just be feeble-minded after all as he thought.

He sat back a bit and watched me, as if he was trying to make up his mind about that, and as if maybe it was something that he had not fully considered until that moment.

I knew that he had something to do with them and now I was sure they were not spontaneous after all. After a few hours, I began to talk to him and he answered in my head. It started suddenly yet I hardly noticed because it seemed so natural.

I thought this might a fun thing to do at a bar, or a party sometime, a nice “parlor trick” but I didn’t know I could do this until Erika had showed me, though in this world it seemed that everyone could all do it, because I could now hear everyone speaking inside my head at once, as if they were trying to do the same as the flowers and release some anxiety and years of frustration and anger.

I had to learn how to filter them all out by just concentrating on his words and focus on what he was saying, yet I couldn’t get too lost in his words because I thought he might be mixing lies in with the truth.

He had been speaking for a while before I could do that so a lot of what he said at first was lost.

At one point I thought about reaching across the table and pulling back that hood, the urge really strong and overwhelming.

But I thought I might get sucked into that void and who knew what was on the other side. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know what he looked like anyway, and it occurred to me that maybe he might not have a head after all, that the voice might be coming from down his throat and that what lie down there might even be a lot worse than I could imagine.

As I thought of that, the face Nemrul “shifted” and I thought it smiled at me. I could swear it had, but I realized I was looking thru his face to the back of the hood, and the smile didn’t fit, as if he was holding a picture of a smile in front of where it should be if he HAD a face, it was as “useful as boots on a whore“ as my Uncle Ray would have said.

But at that moment a woman appeared at my right, maybe considering all that had happened I shouldn’t have been surprised, but there was the woman from the store, the wife who couldn’t ever have enough men, she smiled the same way she did in the store, but when her mouth opened a black hole appeared instead, flies escaped the darkness in there blinded by the sudden light rushing out as if even they couldn’t stand to be in there.

She went on as if this was normal and who was I to argue, it was their world after all, was it not? How could I really expect it to make any sense to me?

Remembering the westerns I had seen all my life, I had been checking the mirror constantly and I still didn’t see her approach.

It was the “Wild Bill” lesson. Because a boy had shot him in the back supposedly after the boy’s father was a notch on Bill’s belt. That was the story anyway.

Everyone who has ever seen a western can tell you that all the real cowboys faced each other in the street and drew and fired when they were both ready, that this went back to the days of dueling and gentlemanly conduct, but the truth is, more men were shot in the back, or in their sleep. More often than not, when you waited for the other to be ready he fired first and you lost.

Most of the time they were lucky if they hit anything at all. They were usually either too drunk or too scared at the time, hands shaking so badly and out of control; it couldn’t be easy for any man to stand in front of someone else’s guns that way and have to face death knowing that this might his turn to win and not yours.

I remembered all of that and yet still didn’t see her coming, it was almost as if she had materialized out of the darkness there.

But she was holding a plate of food and was trying to serve us, steaming hot something or other. I at first thought it might be squirming or at least moving as I looked at it.

But it was rice beans and tortillas with some sort of liquid that I hoped was water but should have known better.

In this world they might get three things right and really screw up the fourth. This liquid just HAD to be that fourth one. Whatever the liquid was, it was brackish and foul, and I couldn’t touch it, let alone try and drink it.

To my surprise, I was suddenly hungry, as if I had been smoking a big fat one and had the munchies and just now realized that my stomach was growling. I had to admit that the food was good though, at least they got that part right.

I had to laugh at that, three out of four of the things I wanted or needed. I would have traded the rice for real water though.

I took a deep breath, rolled the tortilla and dipped it in the beans. Something I remembered doing but couldn’t remember when I might have, and I really could use a drink right then, just not the one in front of me.

Again, he must have read my mind or been waiting because he poured some more of that liquid into my empty glass, then he poured some into his own glass.

I hungrily wolfed down the rest of the meal, answering what I could either with a nod or shake of my head, or using telepathy or whatever it was, feigning ignorance of things I thought I should keep to myself and hoping he couldn’t know that too. Then he started asking more questions. “When had I killed my first and how old was I?” (Three months before I turned sixteen), I lost it and killed a man and that started it all for me)

Who was my teacher? Did I remember the face of my father? (That one threw me) Who was this man (Artemus) that I killed? And Why? As the questions grew in number, the intensity of them quickened also.

Some of the answers that came out of me seemed automatic, as if I knew this was going to happen and the answers were conditioned responses, meant to throw him off track.

Others seemed real to me, though they also seemed far-fetched, I grew up in the city, I remember that clearly but he seemed to think differently.

The maddening thing about saying that was, as I said that, my left ear spoke the same words as my mouth, but my right ear, in that one I heard myself say “On a ranch!” just as I was saying “city,” it scared me and I jumped back a little, looking behind me to see who had said that but there was no one close by. It was as if someone was giving me all the answers that I might not know, or telling me the things I was supposed to say, but because their answers conflicted with my own, it was confusing me.

Sometimes as quickly as I remembered or thought of the right answer, it was discarded and the next one came, as if he was tossing flash cards at me, and they kept coming at me in that fashion until it became too much to bear.

So many questions all at once, as a thousand voices slamming into my head all at once.

There was a movie called “Max Headroom” where they make “blipverts” that would send a thousand commercials into your senses at the same time, before you could change the channel and escape them.

Some would be overwhelmed and their heads explode, others would seemingly never notice as they sat there.

That’s what this felt like, and I felt as if I had exploded too, my head bursting at the seams until I blacked out with so many questions and I sat there with the top of my head open and all the inner workings exposed now.

He asked me about Erika, and that alone should have told me what I needed to know, yet it didn’t, and once again I ignored the big head and let the little one do the thinking for me and I tried to protect her for some reason.

Then he wanted to know how she had hurt me, and just as important to him, how we had gotten back together after she had hurt me like that.

He wanted to know what kind of man could forgive that kind of hurt, and how I had done that too.

I tried to tell him to ask her, but he pressed me on it and for some reason I couldn’t stop him, I couldn’t stop or avoid those questions.

One of the things that should have been obvious to me, though it didn’t occur to me then that he was telling me true when he told me that she as going to break my heart and stomp on it.

I tried to shut up then, to stop myself from giving him this memory but I couldn’t stop, and I told him then, how I had come to her house early, that I had good news about something and couldn’t wait to share it with her, and I even had a bouquet of beautiful flowers for her as I opened her door with the key she gave me just the day before.

I thought this was an image of our future together then, something he was trying to tell me and that maybe he was showing me how we would be happy and what kind of life we might have together, still not knowing where this was all going. The romantic side of me took over and hoped it was going to end happily ever after.

I told him how I ignored the sounds I first heard upon opening the door, though I should have just left then.

The squeaky bed, the soft music and the low moan which could only be Erika’s, I plodded on blindly, as if all this was natural. I called out to her softly and waited for her to answer, yet all I could hear were the sounds of people making love, or having sex in this case. I slowly opened the door to her bedroom, thinking that I must be in the wrong house, or maybe that she was just watching a video and waiting for me, though in my heart I knew better. When I opened the door, she was naked and on top of someone, in the throes of passion.

I almost shouted out at her, “What the hell are you doing?” But my instincts told me that was what she wanted me to do and I held back. I stood incredulous at what I was seeing then.

She still hadn’t even noticed me (or so I thought) and was grinding on him, moving her hips back and forth and moaning softly.

I stepped back out of the doorway, biting hard on my hand and trying to imagine what I should do about this when it came to me.

I shoved the door open hard and when she jumped, the blankets hid her lover as she moved to his side, pulling the sheets over her breasts and looking at me as if she didn’t know I would be there.

“Shit, I’m sorry honey, I didn’t know you were working today!” I said with a blank look on my face.

The look on her face was at first shock and then pure hatred, and that was what I wanted, but I wasn’t done yet, I had to shock him too and save what ever was left of my dignity.

I told her then, “Hey, don’t forget the light bill is late and we need that to get taken care of, so I hope you can make enough off this guy to pay at least that! And then next week the rent is due!”

But the last word was stuck in my throat then, because I DID shock the guy, he sat up when he heard my voice and the blankets and sheets fell away.

My brother looked at me as though he was shocked to see me, but it was more embarrassment at being caught with her, the woman he knew I loved and wanted to marry.

I turned then and left, out of the corner of my eye I saw the look of satisfaction on her face at hurting me, as she had wanted to, deep scars on my heart that would never heal.

But I also saw another look; one that she didn’t mean to reveal to me, and probably would have cursed at me if she knew I saw it.

She was also hurt, and she regretted what she had done as soon as she saw my face, and she knew at that one moment, that my love for her WAS real after all, and though I could never forgive her for what she’d done that day, and especially since it was my own brother, she wished she could have told me why, what made her do it and why she felt she had to hurt me so deeply that I would change my plans and leave her alone.

Later, after a few years of hurt I forgave my brother, he was after all, my brother and just her pawn in her sick game, and she was beautiful, he told me how sorry he was but also how hard she had pushed him to be there that day, though he didn’t know why, until he felt he had to have her then, he was crying and pleading for forgiveness and I felt so bad for him and so angry at the same time.

I told him that it was her plan to hurt me, and he really didn’t have a chance once she set it into motion, that she could be very persuasive, but I was letting him off easily, I knew he didn’t fight very hard but I also knew he was weak and she took advantage of it.

I told Nemrul that we had gotten back together after she found me again, that we were not where we had been before, but we could be, and that seemed to anger him, to make him burn a little brighter and he pressed me on that one, yet I had nothing to tell him because it was still new to me.

I also thought it would be premature to call what we were doing now as anything serious, she hadn’t told me anything yet and I knew what I felt could be just my imagination and maybe she didn’t feel the same at all. But I wanted him to THINK they might be. I think that maybe I was projecting my dreams, my hopes that it was going to be that way for us, after all, I had never stopped loving her and sometimes hated myself for that, but I knew it was true.

Then things got wild again, and I remembered “fingers” probing into different areas of my brain, finding answers and thirsting for more even though I had passed out and was now face down on the table.

Even as my thoughts faded to blackness, I felt as though those fingers had opened a hidden hatch at the top of my skull and were pulling pieces of my brain out and examining them, sometimes not putting the pieces back in the same order, or even the same place.

When I awoke, I was alone. No bartender. No singer. No bar maid. “Oh well, no tip for you then” I said and laughed.

The sound of my laughter was mocked by the darkness and died there, leaving not even an echo to be heard, it was sucked away into the darkness as if I was in a void now or a vacuum.

But I heard a soft moan at the edge of my hearing, just out of my consciousness, and had a vision of something that I didn’t yet know about, some vague feeling about it, though I couldn’t imagine what it might be and as soon as I tried to focus on it, it faded further and was gone.

The hairs on the back of my neck stiffened then. I knew it wasn’t over. Not yet anyway. “It’s my ‘spider sense” I said to no one there. Again there was no echo.

I rose from the chair and fell back again, though it made no sound at all when it hit either.

I fought off the nausea and shook my head to clear it. I could hear a lot of people outside, running away from the street to be anywhere but here.

They were running to safety before the big gun fight, or maybe because they had been “released” from whatever power had compelled them to come there in the first place.

But as soon as I remembered there were no one alive here so there could be no townspeople, all the noises stopped, as if they had turned off a switch.

I wondered if I had looked out the window if I would have seen anyone out there running around at all.

I was tempted to say “But there were some people in here!” Before running to the window to see if they would come back, but I decided I didn’t have time for fun, I knew something was going on and it didn’t feel good at all.

That scared me even more. I felt as if I could look into any of the storefront windows and would be looking into the eyes of something out there waiting for me. Something that was full of glee at my confusion. It was safe tucked inside and above it all, watching the drama unfold and not missing a thing. The feeling made my blood freeze, I could sit there and die, then maybe join the card game, learn the piano or sing a harmony with the non-singer, or I could get off my ass and give myself a chance.

I wasn’t one to sit and I wasn’t going to sneak around the back, I thought they would have that covered anyway and I wasn’t going to run from this guy with no head anyway.

As I stood, the room swam and then cleared, and as I walked I felt as if I was swimming rather than walking. I waited for my ears to pop but realized it was the room. It was holding its breath. Anticipation? I had no way to know.

I fought that off and forced myself to put one foot in front of the other until I was again at the swinging doors. When I was a few feet from being outside. I thought of that song by Alice Cooper:

“Step into the street by sundown

Step into your last goodbye

You’re a target just by living

Twenty dollars will make you die!”


Then, softly humming that song I swallowed hard and stepped outside into the bright sunlight of a new day, maybe my last.

My eyes had to adjust to the sunlight after being in the darkness and it took a few moments for that to happen, but it was too late to turn back now, though I knew I was a target while I waited but it was too late, I fought hard against the urge to run back into the room because I knew if I did and then stepped out it would be the same, they knew they would have the advantage because this was their world after all.

I wondered then that since they had set up this place, if there was nothing else here before I got here, so maybe with everything else they had done here, maybe even they moved the sun to the other side of the street somehow and made it rise in the west?

It gave them a hell of an advantage though, all I could do was close my eyes against it and then slowly open them, shielding my eyes from the sun and hoping they wouldn’t fire and for some odd reason they waited, I could start to see some of them as I adjusted to the bright sunlight, most of them seemed to be waiting for a sign or maybe some signal. As if they couldn’t act without it. They all had guns at the ready or rifles slung low, and they were all looking at me and then around at the others and I wondered what they were waiting for but I was also grateful since it gave a chance to adjust and set my targets as they stood there.

It was really crazy because I knew they were there to kill me, and I was powerless, could not find anything to hide behind for at least eight feet from where I stood, and yet though this was what they wanted and had seemingly planned and waited for, everyone was standing around and waiting, all were sitting ducks, me all alone and they standing together as if waiting for the dinner bell to sound.

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Graphic Novels
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Rating: 10.0/10

I noticed two things this time: first that the "quotes" are still in this copy, but in the book being sold, my publisher made me remove them because I didn't have permission (some of them are long gone) and the other is that this version still has illustrations but they aren't in the "available" book either, because the artist kept dragging his feet and never signed th release.
A Word from the Writer
Thank you for your interest and I hope you like this part as well. Some of the things mentioned in here are real, they happened either to me or to people I know, but the hardest part for me was where I wrote about my brother Ray, those are real memories, but the way he died, at the hands of a drunk are not exactly how it happened, it was a drunk, but he wasn't a stranger.
Published Date
11/4/2007 12:00:00 AM
Published In
Publish America