A twilight stretches across my vision. Its horizon is an infinite distance away. The dark smothers me like a blanket. I feel myself begin to sweat. From nowhere, a cooler breeze rises to brush my skin. The beads of water fall down me, but harder now. Drops of rain falling from overhead. My attempt to look skyward stopped short by a stiffness I have just become aware of.
The feeling spreads across my body like a fungus. It grows in every muscle of my form. My lips go dry, attempt to part, to scream, and my hands beg to tear into my flesh to remove the creeping paralysis. My eyelids, pinned open, fight to shield my vision from the shadow before me. All of it is in vain. I am stuck; I feel my mind shutting off. Just before total oblivion, a light bursts forth from the horizon. It grows closer. I hear what sounds like gears turning, but softer, perfectly efficient. A metallic voice begins to talk.
The light swells to overtake the darkness fully. The rain cloud above disappears. I feel my clothes drying, my skin rejuvenated. The vision before me is a glow so comforting I forget the horrors of the dark, the immobility of my muscles transforms from terror, to the feeling of a first love in the prime of its innocence. It brings me to the verge of tears. The voice speaks louder. At first it’s unintelligible, but gradually I hear it, in front of me, inside of me, eons away.
“Clarence, Clarence,” it moans, “Clarence. Don’t forget.”
The words are rushing water across my body. More of the hum, like metal on metal. Together they course through me, carrying a scalding heat. The pain flows unceasing, yet everywhere the words touch, I begin to feel once more. I ball my fists, my toes curl. I’m still not blinking.
“Clarence, Clarence, Clarence,” it repeats. It begins to fade. I want to yell at it to stay. I want it with me here, forever. I stop myself.
“Clarence? Baby, are you alright?”
Finally, I allow my eyes a moment of rest. When they open again, a stodgy, almost empty room appears. I’m seated on an oakwood floor. Before I can take in my change of setting, there are fingers on my shoulder, slender and decorated. They’re shaking me slightly. I follow the arm down to a copper toned torso, then to a chest covered by a halter-top. The color of the shirt is a green like a mire bloated with the rot of creatures long deceased. My eyes trace an elegant neck to a face almost too beautiful. There are no flaws, every piece sits exactly in its place. I can’t tell if she’s real until her cadence reaches my ears.
“Hello? You’re starting to worry me. You’ve been acting strange since you came back from the bathroom. Are you alright?” she says, and her words are as soft as rose petals.
I begin to reply automatically, pushing her hand down onto her thigh.
“I think we’re having a great time,” I respond without knowing what the words mean or whether or not they answer her question.
“What? I think we are, too. We always have a great time. But you seem, I don’t know, distant now. Are you sure you’re alright, Clarence?”
She washes a flush from her face with a swallow of wine. Then another. I reach to take what I perceive to be my glass. Those slender fingers shoot out and lay gently on my hand. Her jewelry clinks and shimmers.
“Nope. Not ‘til you tell me what has you so upset,” she pauses and brings her hand to my forehead, then laughs. “Do I make you this nervous still?”
She laughs again and wipes her fingertips on my pants. The laugh smashes against the walls of my mind. It burrows into the inner chambers of my heart. It gives me the feeling of being stuck, like I was before, but now I’m in a bog. Brown sludge rises to my waist. The room replaced by mossy trees stretching to heights I can’t see. Mud is at my shoulders. The bronze and beautiful woman in front of me starts to deform. Her nose lowers, her flesh turns the color of her halter-top. Bags appear under her eyes. Her mouth fills with disease, rotting her tongue and lips. She’s laughing and laughing. The mud rises to my nose, and then over my head. As I try to claw my way out, desperately and to no avail, her laughter dies away. In its place is the humming of metal.
“Remember what we’d have you do.”
“I’m trying. Please stay,” I reply.
“We will, our love. We will stay. Remember what we’d have you do.”
“I’m going to!” I scream in frustration. “Stay with me. I’m begging.”
“Clarence…calm down. There is no reason to yell like that. I’m staying, you don’t have to beg. Let me help you, baby. Something is wrong. What do you need to make it better?”
I’m in the room. Hardwood floor. I see her through teary eyes. She’s paler, her hair tinged with more gray. The perfect face is more wrinkled now, it’s grimacing at me. My head falls into my hands as I rack my brain. What is it I’m supposed to remember? All I can tell is she’s involved. She’s too accommodating, too nice. There is something vile in her just below the surface. I raise my head and catch her staring.
“No. Why are you here? What do you want? I’m gonna question you now,” I snap.
“Clarence, you invited me here. You said we had to see each other tonight. We’ve been dating for four months, I want the same thing I wanted at the start. You,” she whispers in response.
Her eyes are slashed with sadness mixed with a look of queasiness. There is a tinge of panic in them. The fields of lilac that colored them were turning brown, as if the life inside them withered, then died. My heart begins to race. I brought her here. I’ve known her for months. An invisible force smashes into me and almost knocks me to the ground. I’m in my apartment, but before. I’m in the past. I see myself talking to them.
“Her image is a lie, Clarence. We’re the only ones you need. She is a twisted, vile witch!”
Then they repeat a set of words. Over and over again they say it and I watch myself fall in love, totally enraptured by their presence. I watch myself agree to their request. Burn the witch, they’re saying.
I shoot across the universe and back into now. The woman across from me has taken her true form. Ghastly, covered in sores, her structure so grotesque it makes me dry heave. I recover my senses and stand, my hand darts forward, I’m dragging her up by a wrist.
“Let go of me!” she screams, and her honeyed voice is now vinegar.
“I know what you are. You can’t hide from me anymore! I remember what they told me about you!” I shout triumphantly.
I yank her arm; she’s pleading, beginning to cry. What a dreadful sound. It’s the howl of the damned. With little effort, I pull her into the kitchen. Every flammable object I could find is stuffed into the oven already. I set it to the highest setting with my free hand. The witch is thrashing in my grip, so I throw her against the countertop and she falls. She hisses from the floor. Quickly I find my matches and strike one, ignite the box, toss it into the chamber of flames.
“Clarence, why? W-what are you doing? I need to leave. Please let me go. Oh God, is that gasoline?” Faux whimpers from an evil being. It’s not fooling me. I keep pouring and the fires grow.
“You aren’t gonna get out of this. They told me. I get rid of you, I get to stay with them. They told me all about the awful things you do,” I say.
The fires stoke higher and soon become ready. When I turn to grab the witch, she’s up and using my phone. Calling for her malevolent minions. I lunge at her. She lets out a blood-curdling cry. I rip the phone from her hand. She swings, but before it connects I bring the receiver down on her head. The plastic leaves a dent. Another crash to her skull, then once more after that. Three more swings and she finally slumps down, defeated. Her diseased and bloated body immediately begins to smell. Putrid muck pulses from her caved in head. Despite the stench, I can’t help but smile. The flames have eaten half the kitchen.
“I did it,” I speak to them as I haul the body towards the makeshift pyre.
Just before I toss the witches’ corpse in, the glow takes me. I’m more exalted than I’ve ever been. My knees buckle under the bliss until the light blows away like a flurry of snow. There are no sounds of gears turning exquisitely in their design. No tinny voice. Only the forever nightfall, and then not even that. I’m in my apartment. There is the slender body of a well-tanned woman at my feet. She is exquisite. A pool of blood washing over the floor. The fire is beginning to skulk toward us both. I drop to my knees.
“But…I did it,” I shout at the top of my lungs, “where are you?! You promised!”
No response. I call to them more. I beg. Each time, I’m met with silence. Orange and yellow flames run their tongues along my arm, but I don’t feel it. Only the pain of their abandonment. The blaze crackles. I’m sobbing as I reach out to take a lifeless hand. I can feel the light in it going out. Sirens wail somewhere in the distance.
A sickening mix between destitute and grandiose, Gregory Yelnish likes writing. It’s really the only thing he likes. He hopes you enjoy and curses you if you don’t. Follow this hopeless dreamer and hate-filled Neanderthal on Twitter here.