Σάββατο, 1 Ιουνίου 2019

Eyes For Holes, Holes for Eyes


 
Published in Issue 3, Volume 10 Schlock! Magazine 

The second time Alesha Newton saw Isaac Nielsen, she was rushing out from her monochromatic prison, blinking the memory of gunmetal-grey swamp water away from her carnivore-green eyes.
As usual, she pushed herself against the yielding membrane that was the inside of a flat-screen TV. She let gravity overtake her, allowed her body to flop halfway into reality. Alesha dragged her body across the hardwood floor and prepared herself to pounce.
When she looked up, Alesha saw a linen tablecloth and porcelain plates ringing a single licorice-scented candle. She caught the faintest whiff of fresh-cut roses and the scent of a man who was not pissing himself in fear for the very first time in decades.
Isaac Newton sat in his discount IKEA couch, bouquet of flowers in hand.
“Thought you might be hungry” he said. Alesha very nearly fainted.
***
Alesha’s manifestations had long since become a chore for her.
She would felt the short, forceful prodding of the endlessly repeating hell around her subside; the black-and-white loop that she had been mired in subsided, if only for an instant.
Alesha would feel herself drawn toward a viewer’s like a moth to a flame. Slowly, she would uncoil her body from the clawed her way back to the surface of scummy water, dragging the dumbbells strapped around her neck along for the ride.
Nothing worked as it should in Alesha’s personal hell: the water was gummy and malleable, like silly putty; the air was a malleable almost-gas that she could latch on to. She found great joy in distorting the landscape around her, twisting it into esoteric messages that her victims would obsess over before she pounced.
She would come at them like a stop-motion cheetah, moving deceptively slow, skipping frames in between blinks of an eye. One last game of green light/red light, before the bitter end.
Alesha didn’t kill through sorcery or with occult toxicity. She didn’t bare herself as the hellspawn that she was or force the beholder to stare into the red, glistening guts of the universe. She would only straddle them and whisper…
“Help me”
Over and over again, but all they would do is scream themselves hoarse, let their hair go white with horror, soil themselves as their hearts ceased to beat from the horror of the dead girl. Once the awful mess was done, Alesha would simply drag her dumbbell weights right back into the monochromatic hell and wait, in her perpetual swamp.
***
Isaac Nielsen knew that he was madly in love with Alesha Newton since the very first time he saw her crawl out of the TV screen and flop on his then-girlfriend’s carpet. Later, he would tell himself that it was Alesha’s almost spiderly grace that had drawn him to her, the erotic way in which her blue-black tongue lolled in her mouth when she moaned.
Wine bottle in hand, Isaac watched as the girl of his dreams straddled his ex and moaned against her face. The sight of her blackened teeth on her bloated, water-logged face sent blood rushing down to his cock.
A thought-shattering orgasm overtook him, as he watched Alesha kill his girlfriend by inches in her grasp. He blacked out halfway through his third release, coming back to his senses just in time to watch Alesha crawl feet first back into the TV screen.
Isaac checked the woman on the couch, her beauty shattered by the awfully hinging jaw and the shock of white where an auburn cascade of hair should be.
Later, Isaac realized that his most lasting memory of the day was how much Alesha’s hair smelled like roses spiked with freon.
***
Isaac went through the motions of testifying to the homicide department, consoling and being consoled by friends and family, being interviewed by every local tabloid. It gave him enough time to make the HR department pretend-fire him from his job, get away from his friends and use the tabloid royalties and his severance pay to try and find the girl that had crawled out of the screen.
Isaac looked for her by using the expertise of ‘ghost hunters’. He tried a séance, run by a jittery Roma woman. He consulted closet necrophiliacs with a taste for the occult, attended cult meetings and had long, soul-searching talks with paranormal investigators trawling for clients in anonymous internet boards. He hung around with people who claimed they could traverse the unknowable dimensions below through the use of illegal recreational drugs, got mired with a group of Deep Web pretend hackers with a penchant for tall tales, ended up stranded in a New England fishing town following a nonsense lead and finally settled for an off-hand purchase of a haunted DVD off a used pornography website.
The DVD was called the “Retch Reel”. It was delivered to Isaac’s address in a clear plastic case, written in felt-tipped marker. Its back was solid black, like an old console game.

Just finding it made Isaac so happy, he even visited his mother, just so she could hear the good news.
***
Isaac Nielsen had promised his hypochondriac mother that he would never get himself a credit card or ever use the ‘Internets’. Both of these things were the tools of the Antichrist, come to Earth in the guise of Joseph Reynolds, their next-door octogenarian neighbor.
His mother scoffed at him, staring through the hazmat suit visor she had forced him to wear. This week, she was convinced that she was dying from Beri-Beri disease, which she had caught from Thursday’s Ethiopean take-out. White noise was pouring from his mother’s hi-fi speakers, obscuring their conversation from the ever prying ears of Joseph Reynolds, born of Jackal and mortal woman.
“He watches, always watches, the Adversary…” his mother shouted in his ear “We must be ever watchful.”
“I met a girl mom. On the Internet.” Isaac shouted in vain.
“I saw one of his people today, watching me from the windows across the street. I think he was trying to read my lips.” she shouted conspiratorially.
“She’s really nice. But I think she could kill me.” Isaac said, unheard.
“They thought they would break my spirit, bring me over to their side with their false splendor. They called me the other day and wanted to give me a TV set, for free! Can you believe that? In exchange for my name and address, they would send me a brand new TV! I hung up on them, of course.”
“You ordered that TV a month ago, mom. You must have forgot about it.” Isaac said.
“They knocked on my door and tried to deliver it to me by force. Satan’s footsoldiers are always ham-handed beasts. But I held them off, I did. Kept myself pure.”
“You beat one of the delivery men over the head with your broom handle. You’re lucky he didn’t press charges.” Isaac corrected her, unheard still.
“You father would have let them bring it in, the weakling. It was his weakness that drove him out the kitchen window.”
“Mom, please. I need to talk to you about this girl…”
“Oh Isaac” his mother said, caressing the clear plastic visor with the tip of her fingers. “Thank God I was there…thank God I made you strong…”
“I might not be back mom. I love you.” Isaac blurted out, teary-eyed.
“Please, Isaac, I cannot hold you. Not with this terrible illness. Please, go. Go away.” she said.
Isaac half-ran all the way back home and began to plan his date.
***
Before placing the DVD in the player, Isaac went to his bathroom and shaved. He had long hot shower, spent two hours trying to pick an outfit, settled for a plain t-shirt and jeans and pressed PLAY.
A short clip, reproduced from an old VHS tape, played out on his screen. It was footage from a girl’s birthday party. Track lines obscured her face. A glitter-choked HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALESHA banner hung over her.
The girl looked down at her strawberry flavored birthday cake, examining the candle, shaped like an eight. A woman’s voice softly sang:
“Happy birthday to you…”
The candle’s wicker sputtered, before spontaneously lighting up. The girl looked up at the camera, her face going out of focus.
“Happy birth…day…” the woman’s voice petered out.
“To…you…” a man’s voice chimed in.
The candle was lit now, a tiny little flame burning at the top.
“Happy…birth…day…Alesha…” the woman’s voice was choked, terrified.
“Make a wish, sweetie!” the man’s voice blurted out, as the candle flame grew in intensity. The candle wax began to melt all over the frosting.
“How come no-one came?” the little girl said.
“Make a wish, sweetheart, blow the candles!” the man said, his voice demanding.
“Why didn’t no-one come to my party?” the girl demanded. The fire grew, melting away the layers of frosting.
“Please, baby, just…blow the candle. Please, sweetie…” the woman begged.
“Why does everybody hate me?” the girl asked.
“Just blow the goddamn candles!” the man screamed.
And then there was static. An awful whistling noise pierced Isaac’s ears. He was about to stop it, when he saw:
A great grey field, dead grey trees jutting from its surface, their dried branches reaching for the grey sky, a grey wind upsetting the waters of a grey lake.
A blue-tinted drowned dining room, a hundred-year-old child, a woman with holes for eyes, an empty chair where the father would sit, a broken window behind him, looking out to a drowned street.
A woman resting on a morgue drawer, prettier than Monroe, lustier than a pornstar, fingering the Y-shaped scar on across her chest, between her breasts, mouthing silent obscenities. Isaac found himself aroused at the sight.
Disembodies hands clawing, at the walls of a house hewn from bone.
A birthday candle’s flame, illuminating a dark room, infested with skittering, all-too-human things.
A sack, sewn with threads made of sinew, something small and helpless silently struggling to free itself from within.
A face looking back at him, infinitely reflected through a roomful of mirrors, its features distorted and blurring.
A woman, sitting on a high-backed chair in the middle of a room made out of eyes and hands and torsos. Faces creeping in from the edge of the frame to stare at him.
Static and a high-pitched wine, drowning out a voice that said:
“Help me”.
The ‘Retching Reel’ ended. Isaac found himself feeling uneasy, very much ill. He sat with his knees folded all the way up to his chest, staring at the empty screen. The DVD player’s tiny screen blinked at him menacingly.
The phone rang. Isaac squealed at the top of his lungs. He let it rig twice, before picking it up.
“Hello?”
The whine of static. “…me…” a girl’s voice, barely heard over the maelstrom of dead noise.
“Hello, can you hear me?”
“…please help…” the maelstrom subsiding, the voice heard more clearly.
“My name’s Isaac. Isaac Nielsen. I want…” he muttered, the words sticking in his throat.
“…Please help me…” her voice was barely above a whisper, the words crawling through the speaker and into his ear, laying there to nest.
Click.
“I want to see you…” Isaac said against the forbidding tone at the other end.
Isaac fought back the rising wave of panic, took a deep breath and then star-69’ed her call.
There was a ring on his phone, which seemed to echo through infinitely empty corridors.
Another ring, this one tinged with the purring sound of great cats on the prowl.
A ring that sounded like glass marbles, tumbling down the staircase the day grandma slipped and busted her neck.
And then silence, preceded by a click, the sound of a receiver picked up.
“Hello?” Isaac asked.
“Who is this?” a voice. A woman’s voice. Isaac’s knees wobbled.
“My name is Isaac Nielsen. I believe that you called me.”
“How did you even…” the woman stuttered. Isaac made his move before she could hang up.
“I saw you the other day. You crawled out of the TV screen and killed my ex-girlfriend.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t sweat it. Listen, can we like, meet?” Isaac said, his heart racing.
“See me? See me how?”
“Like, up close In the flesh? Dinner and a movie?”
There was silence for a while. Isaac realized he sounded ridiculous.
“I don’t do dinners.”
“Just a movie then?”
“Is this some sort of joke?”
“No. It’s not. This is just me, trying to ask you out on a date, not afraid to make myself sound like an ass. Throw me a bone?”
“I need to think about it.” And then the crash of an imaginary speaker on an insubstantial phone, followed by the wail of a call-tone.
***
Against his better judgment, Isaac went to tell his mother the good news. He made sure to pack his hazmat suit, so he could shield himself from his mother’s current bout of pretend-schistosomiasis. The speakers were blaring out Johnny Cash’s greatest hits, in an effort to drive away the Adversary.
“I’ve got a date, mom!” Isaac screamed at his mother, as she was busy running her fingers over her flaccid belly, searching for parasites nesting under her skin.
“Oh, Isaac, that’s wonderful!”
“I need some advice.”
“Just take her out for dinner and a movie.” his mother said, as she fingered her navel in search for parasites. “It’s not rocket science, Isaac.”
“She doesn’t do movies. And she’s not really big on dinners. Honestly, I’m stumped.”
“Send her some flowers, then. Call the radio station, tell them to play something nice for her. Could you pass me the boning knife, sweetie?”
“I don’t think that’s possible, mom. She’s kind of a loner.” Isaac said as he came back from the kitchen, Kutting Blok™ boning knife in hand.
“Don’t be silly, Isaac. She’s just playing hard to get. Just call her with some Presley playing over the speaker and her knees will turn to jell-o. Hold my blouse, will you, Isaac?”
“What if she hangs up?” Isaac asked, as his mother prodded her imaginary bump in her navel, boning knife in hand.
“She won’t if you go with ‘Love me Tender’. That’s how your dad got me.” Isaac’s mother said, as she plunged the boning knife all the way to the hilt.
“Thanks mom!” Isaac said. He let go of her blouse just as his mother dropped to the floor with 5 inches of steel buried in her belly. He tip-toed around the blood pooling in the carpet and head back home, just as Johnny broke into a song about a boy named Sue.
***
Isaac decided he didn’t want to come off too strong, so he popped in the “Retch Reel” and watched it. When the phone didn’t ring, he watched it again. After taking a 5-minute break, he want back in and put the player on repeat.
The phone rang at 3 a.m. in the morning, halfway through his two hundredth repeat viewing.
“Hello?” Alesha whispered from the other end.
“Hey there.” Isaac blurted out, hoping that the desperation didn’t come out too strong from the other end.
“Am I calling at a bad time?”
“No. My mom just died.” Isaac said, matter-of-factly.
“I’m sorry.” she said and Isaac said thanks, but neither meant it.
“I want to see you.” Isaac said “When can I see you?”
“You can’t. I’d kill you.” Alesha said, but she wasn’t sure she meant it.
“Oh come on.” Isaac replied, pacing across his living room. “It won’t be that bad.”
“You don’t understand. ‘ve never met anyone that hasn’t died, as soon as they saw me.” Alesha explained. Isaac browsed through his music folder and clicked on a song.
“Sounds like quitting talk to me, Alesha.” Isaac said, as Elvis Presley’s voice started to trickle through the speakers like honey.
“Isaac, I’m telling you…” she stopped mid-sentence. “Is that ‘Love me Tender’?”
“Yes, yes it is.”
“Is it for me?”
“When can I see you?”
“Isaac, I…”
“When. Can. I. See. You.”
“Isaac… tomorrow. Can I show up around 8?” she replied and Isaac could feel her blushing through the receiver.
“Sounds great.”
“Good night, Isaac.”
“Good night, Alesha.” Isaac said. He did a little jig before collapsing into his couch.
***
Isaac’s reverie was broken the following day, after being called in to the precinct to identify his mother’s body. He was later questioned by the detective who had taken up his ex-girlfriend’s case, who grilled him for the better part of six hours.
In light of the circumstances, Isaac lied: he did it with such gusto and skill, he even surprised himself, making sure to stick to hard facts without embellishing any of his excuses.
Yes, this was his mother. No, he did not know how that happened. Yes, his mother was not entirely sane. No, he did not bear any ill will toward her. Yes, his mother did suffer from chronic delusions regarding to her health. No, he had never once goaded her toward her delusions.
It was around quarter to 8 when Isaac finally realized that he was going to be stand up Alesha for their date, so he settled for an outburst of very convincing fake tears, before finally being excused.
***
When Isaac got back home at 9 o’clock, there was static on the TV screen. The room smelled like roses spiked with Freon. His phone was ringing furiously.
“You stood me up” Alesha said.
“I was in for questioning!” Isaac pleaded.
“Liar. You chickened out.”
“I was in the police station. I was being questioned for hours!”
“Why?”
“They think I killed my mother.”
“Did you?” Alesha said, excited.
“No, I just didn’t help her.” Isaac admitted and there was a warm glow in his belly.
“Alright. I’ll bite. Can I see you tomorrow?”
“No, they’re probably going to call me in again tomorrow. How about an hour from now?”
“All right. But that’s your last chance. Make it count.” she said.
***
All in all, Isaac did a great job of disguising his Italian take-out dinner for two into an actual home-cooked meal. Alesha didn’t have any, but he picked at it, for the normalcy’s sake.
They talked until morning, about the mundane details of each others’ lives. Alesha told him about her monochromatic prison and Isaac told him about life with his mother. She told him about the way the little people in her home town treated her, terrified of her power. He told her how his mother had driven his father to suicide.
She told him how the children in her home town had shunned her, when she made the writing on the blackboard dance in the middle of a pop quiz. He told her about Cynthia and her controlling attitude that had stifled him for nearly half a decade.
She told him about the mob that had come to her house to kill her, after she broke every bone in Diana Miller’s body. The homecoming queen had run over Alesha’s cat in her brand new convertible. Isaac told her how beautiful she looked that night.
When they were done reminiscing, they lingered in the calm of Isaac’s apartment, savoring the silence.
“I can’t stay here. Not because I don’t like you.” Alesha said, finally. “There’s something I haven’t told you yet.”
“Let’s hear it then.”
“I’m dead, Isaac. When the mob got to my house, they trapped me inside, set it on fire. I crawled out, but they wrapped dumbbells around my neck and drowned me in the lake. I only survived because I projected myself inside someone’s smartphone camera. They were recording the whole thing. I’ve been keeping myself alive by powering myself with rage.”
“Okay, but why can’t you stay?”
“Because I’ve been holding myself back with everything I’ve got, Isaac. If I let go, even for a second, my power would leave you severely brain damaged at best.” Her form wavered for a second, her face turning into a blur.
Isaac was silent for a while, then said: “What about your DVD, then? Can you control yourself in there?”
“Of course I can. But you can’t come with me, Isaac. Not in there.”
“What if I really want to?”
“Isaac, it’s hell in there. There’s no color, no sound. There’s only the trees, the lake…I couldn’t possibly ask you to move in there with me!” Alesha protested.
“But I’ll be safe in there from you, right? And besides, how bad could it be if we’re going to be together?” Isaac said.
“You’d have to die to be in there, Isaac.”
“Okay then. Will suicide do?”
“You’re insane.”
“I’m in love. Same thing, when you get right down to it.”
Alesha watched Isaac’s cocky grin melt away into a warm, reassuring smile.
“Allright.”
***
They found Isaac’s body two days later, his limbs contorted and his face twisted in a horrific visage. His partially censored mugshot made the rounds in the 10 o’clock news.
The forensic specialists ran the “Retch Reel”. All they got when they tried it was a constant loop of an endless gray field under a gunmetal-grey sky, with grey trees surrounding a lifeless lake with a small house set on its banks. The crooked chimney was smoking grey gouts of smoke. A distorted rocking chair was swaying in a silent breeze. A man and a woman stood with their backs to the viewer, their feet dipped inside the murky waters.
From time to time, the picture would distort; tracking lines would run across the image and then the man and the woman pop up inside the house. Other times, they would disappear altogether, leaving the trees twisted into strange, calming configurations.
In time, the DVD in police custody was also misplaced. Alesha Newton became a footnote in small town horror story. Isaac Nielsen was forgotten. Across the world, copies of the “Retch Reel” began to disappear. Those that remained, had been robbed of their gruesome charm.
All that was left of the terror was the occasional muffled ring of Isaac’s old phone, stashed under layers of old junk in some nameless warehouse.
It was said that every now and again, some stupid teenager searches for the phone and picks it up, as part of a dare. A man’s voice screams for the other end, before it’s vut off by a blood-chilling shriek:
“Help Me.”
The teenagers that don’t just drop the phone and run like hell, usually hear the distant sound of a man and a woman laughing their asses off, before hanging up.


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