Dragging the Past Into the Present, Kicking and Screaming –
Widely considered the father of mysteries in English literature, Edgar Allan Poe died destitute at a relatively young age—his work hardly recognized for what it is today. If you haven’t already partaken, you may sample one of Poe’s renowned mystery stories here: The Murders in the Rue Morgue
Poe, a Personal Favorite –
Among horror authors whose work I admire, H.P. Lovecraft, Henry James, as well as Poe top my list. Inspired to detour off the beaten path of mysteries, I composed this short tribute piece to the genre in general and Poe in particular.
Something in the horror genre, this dark little tale of introspection clawed its way out of a dream—a dream I suspect we’ve all suppressed at one time or another.
Edgar Allan Poe, a remembrance
By Michael Allan Scott
“True! – nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” —“The Tell-Tale Heart,” – Edgar Allan Poe.
In Memory Of Malcom Daniels –
Malcom Henry Daniels was born August 30, 1946, in Phoenix. He passed away on August 30, 2012. The circumstances surrounding his passing remain unknown.
Services will be held at 10:00 p.m. on September 6 at the recently reopened House of Our Lord Ecclesiastical Church, 1919 W. Indian School Road, Phoenix.
I’m beat. The dinner shift at Mickey D’s was particularly brutal tonight. As I walk through CVS’s automatic doors, a shifting cloud of unease follows me in. The last few months it has been the faintest hint of discord, troubling me for a brief span on the road home—not on the way to work, mind you, just the road home. Lately, it has metastasized.
I lay a small bag of M&Ms and a box of CVS cough syrup on the checkout counter.
The surly clerk gives me a jaundiced eye. “You have a CVS card?”
I give her a sheepish grin. “Not with me, sorry. Look under Ella Daniels.”
She grimaces. “How ‘bout a phone number?”
“Oh, right … six oh two, five five five, five three five three.”
She turns to the monitor, punching at the keyboard with stiff forefingers. A smirk twists her face as she swipes my items and rings me up.
I feel properly marginalized, and at my age, it’s old hat. Am I that old? What was it my Ella used to say about getting old? Don’t dare go there. All that’s left is a dull ache and her urn on the mantle.
I wander back to the Mustang, my head filled with nothing—blank, distracted, as if I should know what was stolen—my thoughts, slipping away like a thief in the night.
I find myself back on Indian School Road, slowing as I pass the derelict church: 1919 W. Indian School. Not much of a church, really. Looks more like an old schoolhouse. Cinderblock walls slouch below a brow of curling shingles. A couple concrete sidewalks push up against its tired flanks. Probably built in the mid-sixties out of sparse donations from a devout blue-collar congregation. Abandoned long since—peeling paint and clumps of weeds poking through the patched asphalt parking lot hint at the depth of neglect. My indicator blinks as I start to turn in.
I suddenly see what I’m doing and jerk the wheel straight, downshifting and stomping on the gas. Sweating, I head for home. Another close call … too close. What the hell? Stay away from there.
Gnarled fingers work the worn key as the side door creaks open—the empty church having retreated into the back of my mind, a numb shadow for now. Nobody’s home. Nobody’s ever home anymore.
I set the CVS bag on the kitchen counter and stop to stare for a second, wondering what I forgot. The plastic butterfly magnet pins a crinkled note to the fridge. Neatly lined, her gently flowing cursive reads: yogurt, eggs, carrots, napkins … I remember now—the last thing she wrote.
I trundle into the darkened family room, fairly certain there was joy here once, but all that’s left is loneliness. The big payoff for a lifetime of toeing the line, doing the right thing. I keep telling myself I’ll retire again, but then what would I do? I hit the hall light as I head for the bedroom. Perhaps the reward is the journey itself. And here I am near the end of the trail. What would Ella say? Can’t seem to remember.
Groaning, I fall into bed. Anymore, bending over to untie my shoes is a chore. I think about reading that ponderous King novel I’m stuck in the middle of—not a chance. Ella used to tell me I snore. Hardly matters now.
I crouch down, wondering why I’m here. Dreaming, I must be. A sulfurous haze infiltrates the gloom as I squint, trying hard not to recognize the weed-ridden asphalt. I’m back. Every night it’s the same. Too real to be a dream, yet too surreal to be anything else. This can’t keep happening. This time, I must remember.
I snap awake, gasping—strangled screams startling me. Hideous, alien pleas from another world. A shudder rips through me, leaving a deep chill in its wake. Those hellish sounds must’ve been coming from me. Has to be, there’s no one else here. I squirm to the bed’s edge and sit, elbows on my knees, head in hands. Closing my eyes, I concentrate. What the hell was that?
Another nightmare, always the same—I never remember.
As I glance up at the time, the clock’s bilious green glow glares at me through the darkness, taunting me with 3:43 a.m. It’ll be another long day at McDonald’s working the lunch and dinner rushes back to back. A long fall from my project manager days at Honeywell. At least I have a job.
I trudge to my derelict Mustang, the Golden Arches grinning above me like a jackal closing for the kill. Lack of sleep and double shifts have twisted my mood into blackened tar, much like the night sky. It’s not that long a drive home, yet Indian School Road seems to stretch on forever—so slow, dreamlike. An endless circuit of mindless misery, will it ever end?
I find myself slowing. Hitting the blinker, I turn into the driveway like I’ve done countless times before. Home at last.
Thumping tires startle me out of a daze as I roll over clumps of weeds sticking out of cracked asphalt. I wonder what I’m doing here, realizing I’m a long way from home. Mine is the only car in the parking lot, all the more reason to leave, yet I stop and put it in Park. The old V-8 rumbles at idle, doubt swarming around me like a cloud of gnats. Swatting feebly at the pestilence, I attempt to put it in gear and go, failing miserably. Absently, I turn off the ignition. The engine ticks, dying in the creep of silence, its heat drained by the night’s empty chill. Odd that there are no lights, no traffic noise from the road.
I push the stubborn door open with an aching elbow, stiffly working old joints to climb out. Yellowish haze hangs in the night’s stillness like cobwebs. Shivering grips me to the bone, but it’s not that cold. I don’t know what I’m doing here; I should go. Yet there’s something hauntingly familiar about all this.
The car door swings shut with a whump, and the silence is complete. I hug myself in an attempt to stop the shivering. Turning, I take in the church. Its blank stare pushes my heart into my throat. Weathered block walls frame darkened windows. There’s something … someone pulling me in.
I’m drawn onward, terrified by what I might find inside those walls, yet knowing full well if I turn away, it will gnaw at me forever. My only chance: confront head-on that thing that drives me to distraction—haunting me, day and night—rid myself once and for all of this devilish business.
Leaden feet shuffling as I try to walk. I trip on the crumbling curb, straining to keep from hitting the sidewalk on all fours. Scrambling clumsily, I drop to the concrete, banging a knee. Stabbing pain erupts in my lower back. Shakily, I push off my knees, groaning as I work to stand. I glance around to see if anyone noticed as I pick shredded skin off my stinging palms. Standing up straight is impossible. I should go, get to an urgent care. My fucking back, I probably sprained it—my mind races with dire possibilities. However, deep down I know this is a feeble attempt, a weak-ass excuse to get myself off the hook. If I go now, I’ll never make it back—forced to live with grinding fear the rest of my days. I can’t do it. This has to stop.
Grimacing, I wrench my back as I hobble to the main entry’s double doors. Corroded door handles are bound in chains, secured with a heavy padlock rusted shut. I’ll never get in this way. No one has been through these doors for years. It’s hopeless.
Stepping back, I stare up at the church’s blank block face rising into the haze. Its cold countenance looms over me, indifferent to my dilemma, mocking me with an executioner’s cold, dead stare. I recoil as shiny black spiders crawl out of the mortar, scuttling into clumps, boiling over to cover the wall in a writhing blue-black sheen. Stumbling as my head spins, I gasp. I’m reeling with back spasms as everything goes dark.
Peering through murky shadows, I find myself inside. The main hall stands empty, dimly lit from the night’s ambient light filtering through grimy windows—the floor littered with trash. How did I get in? I must be dreaming.
Something rustles in the darkness. Can’t see, but I feel its presence. What was that? Panic shoots up my spine, freezing me solid. It’s in here with me. There it is again, closer … scrabbling in the rubbish. It stops… Where? I can’t hear it. Is it getting closer? Trembling violently, I stand frozen—my pounding heart and ragged breath the only sounds. Voices in my head scream, “Get out!” But I can’t move. Sweat rolls down my face—my hands and feet numb. I gasp as my stomach lurches into my throat. I’m going to be sick. My vision dims, closing down as the room whirls and goes dark.
I come to with knives in my back and my face sticky with cold vomit, face down on hard concrete. I shakily push up to my knees, then my feet, groaning as my back catches fire. Scraping the side of my face with my sleeve, I gaze up at the stark wall. Row upon row of cinderblocks stacked on top of each other, thrusting up into the dark night, towering over me, glaring—their silence, menacing. Yet I know it’s not real. Whatever it is, it’s behind that wall, where it hides deep inside.
I feel like an old fool, managing to injure myself for nothing—an empty church, abandoned for years. I need to see a doctor before my back gets worse. I turn toward the parking lot, bracing my back with my hands. Gingerly, I step off the curb. Glancing up to get my bearings, I stop cold. My Mustang is gone. Stolen? No. It’s used up and hung together with duct tape and bailing wire. No one would steal that old beater. Yet it’s gone. I should’ve known. Why else would I be drawn and yet instinctively repelled by this place? But it’s not the church, it’s what’s inside. Shards of dark terror ripple down my spine. I don’t belong here.
I hobble up the sidewalk, darkness closing around me as I head for the back of the church. An endless wall of solid block looms high above. It’s a long, painful hike, gritting my teeth as I grip my back with both hands. A web of alligator cracks scatter across the parking lot to my left, the husks of dead shrubs strewn along the narrow planter’s hardpan to my right. It’s taking forever. After struggling a few more feet, I turn, hoping beyond hope to catch a glimpse of my Mustang. The lot is empty. I force myself to trudge on, a nagging question clawing its way out and around the stabbing pains.
What if I can’t find a way in?
Rounding the back corner, I make out concrete steps in the thickening gloom. Drenched in sweat, I reach for the rusty rail—my heart pounding, nausea swelling into waves of dizziness. Steadying myself, I feel it coming, trying to cope with the pain. I slowly collapse, slumping onto the steps to lean against the rail, praying for it to be over as it all fades away.
Turbid haze shifts and eddies, chilling me to the bone as I stand frozen in the relic’s bowels. Too dark to see the floor, the walls, the ceiling, yet they must be there. Thick, musty odors fill my nose, my lungs—suffocating. Darkness deepens, hiding that thing that dwells in the absence of all light, twisting my thoughts into screaming knots of panic. I’m back inside, and it’s no nightmare—too real. But if it’s real, is the other life a dream? Am I passed out on the steps, or in here? If it’s real . . . Stop it! I’m not here—not really.
Yet here I am, driven half mad, drawn like a ghostly moth to an invisible flame as that thing mindlessly stalks in empty rooms. At the ragged edge of silence, behind the ringing in my ears, underneath my pounding heart, it lurks. It could be anywhere. Extending my arms, I blindly shuffle forward as the stifling haze constricts. I need to get out of here. Cold air rushes past me, and I bang my head—a dizzying blow, knocking me to my knees. I reach out, desperate to hold on to anything, but there’s nothing there. Electric, blue-edged lights flash, throbbing behind my eyes. I hit the floor.
Bright pangs of pain force me awake—a trembling heap on the back steps. An undefined terror throbs behind the agony, gnashing long, pointy teeth, gnawing my mind down to a bone of raw madness. The most horrible of deaths would be better than this.
Shakily, I push to my feet, clinging to the rail for support, feeble hands gripping, my heart hammering in my throat. One way or another, I’ve got to go. It has to be in there. I must hunt it down—the stalked becomes the stalker.
Purposefully, I take each step, clumsily climbing to the landing. I stand, panting, staring at the back door. Not much to see: faded grey metal, lockset corroded above a blackened knob. With my left hand gripping the rail, I reach for the knob with my right, struggling to keep my balance as daggers dig deeper into my spine. I try twisting the knob, but it won’t budge. Teetering, I bring both hands to bear on the doorknob. Nothing, it’s frozen—no good. I let go and fall back to the rail, hanging on to keep from hitting the concrete. Shuddering to catch my breath, I glance up at the night sky, hoping for a crescent moon, a wisp of clouds, a random star, any scrap of familiarity instead of this dead blackness.
A sudden gust and the door flies open, banging against the solid block wall, swinging savagely on shrieking hinges. Fits of wind bat at the door, then dissipate. The door screeches to a stop, wide open, revealing a black maw gaping beyond the doorway, beckoning.
Wind rises to a moan, the door twitching in its grip. Clutching the rail, I shiver, transfixed. Back with a vengeance, the wind begins to howl, tugging at my shirt, my pants, ripping the tears from my eyes as I painfully strip off my clothes. Naked, I stand up straight, letting go of the rail as I face the dark portal. I’m locked in place, hypnotized, like a rat captured in the viper’s glare.
It pulls, clutching me to its dead soul, whispering dark secrets in my ringing ears. I follow its siren call, numbly stumbling over the threshold into the House of the Lord. Though I know at my core this wicked hall was abandoned by God long ago. A deep chill raises bumps on my naked flesh as the door swings shut behind me. Startled, I long to flee, but it’s too late.
It leads me deeper into its labyrinth of empty halls. Musty with age, dead silent, haunting—intimate in its twisted way. I know this place, yet I know with equal certainty I couldn’t have been here before. Still, the question remains. What am I doing here?
Perhaps I’ve found my calling—garnered my inner strength to finally take a stand in this life. Yet, in reality, it seems more likely I’ve finally surrendered, succumbed to its wickedness, prostrate at its altar, resigned to do its bidding. It’s clear to me now, this will never end.
Thump … thump … thump … heartbeats are the only sound. My heart? It’s so distant it hardly matters. Drifting from room to empty room, I’m unaware of my legs, my feet, as though suspended in air. I wander the void alone, seeking what, I’m not certain, but I know it’s here. With resignation comes an inner peace of sorts, succor in the knowledge there is nothing else. Seeking, hunting … or perhaps I am the hunted—my flesh bared to its teeth. This is how I knew it would be. Seems I’ve been here before—a dim familiarity, as though a part of me has never left.
Hollowed out, a husk of its former self—the emptiness is palpable. The church of nothing, my domain. I know the place. I’ll stay here for a while, perhaps longer. It whispers—a faint whiff of fetid breath fluttering at the edges of consciousness, hissing, taunting hyena-like before erupting in earsplitting wails. I dare not turn around. It’s here, behind me.
I keep moving, out ahead of it or following along behind, I can’t be sure. On and on I go, searching for something half remembered, as though it will all come back to me. A dim hall, more empty rooms, the main chapel. Shades of black and blue hungrily consume light out of the very air, defining the absence of life. I remain alone, an integral part of death. I glide past the unseen dais, sensing by instinct or vague memory—this strange new land may not be so new after all.
There, to the left, a passage invisible to the eye, defying all sensibilities, demanding discovery. On entry, a hushed sigh echoes in the gloom. I encounter a spiral staircase, rickety wrought iron, as though built as an afterthought. Ascending pressure builds, and I’m thrust up the stairs into a tiny belfry. Thick with dust, the steeple was boarded up long ago. Nothing left but more emptiness. I pause to gather myself, suspecting I could wander through this vacant tomb for all eternity.
Drifting off, slipping away, spiraling down, I find myself floating above the stairs, all feeling drained away except distant urgings from swollen genitals. It’s nudging me, scratching in the darkness. Arms outstretched, drifting back down the stairs, fingertips reaching into the void—these empty eyes worse than useless.
The stairs corkscrew down, falling away beneath me, sinking into a winding maze of twisted corridors. I drift aimlessly, ever downward. The walls lean in at odd angles, narrowing as the ceiling squeezes down to a truncated door. A dead end. Fatigue permeates what little is left of me. I could stop here, lie down, sleep the endless sleep, never having to wake, never having to face it.
I watch, curious, as an ethereal hand reaches for the iron door handle. I’m closer as the door creaks to retreat into an earthen tunnel. A quick glimpse, a snatch of motion—no mortal thing. I long for it. Just a little farther … I wish I had a mind left to change. What have I become?
The tunnel kinks, and I wriggle through. There it is again. I’m gaining on it—nearly there. I smell it, its stench coating my tongue with a thick, bestial slime. Crawling as the tunnel narrows, clawing my way into a hole, panting for air as I squeeze through, I feel it, its very essence—the beast. It’s this way, just a little more.
I grab a hind leg as it tries to scramble out of reach—a low wail rising up from its distended belly. As its head snaps around, I stare into its wild eyes, and I am stunned. I’ve come so far to look the beast in the eye. An all too familiar face, it stares back at me as though I’m looking in the mirror—my face.
I’m alone in the darkness.
Copyright © 2014 by Michael Allan Scott
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