The stranger bashed the base of a small sculpture—an opulent copy of the Bust of Nefertiti—through the television screen in the living room as images of a car commercial flashed across it for the last time. His hand held Nefertiti by the throat, long and slender it was, and the follow-through gouged his skin all the way up to his wrist in dozens of places. Sparks and a brief shot of smoke blew from the tube and the glass of the screen burst outwards with a loud pop. The volume, that terrible squawk of voices and music, stopped immediately. But the static, that steady squall which brought metal grinding on metal to his brain, was not finished. He saw the blinking orange numerals of a digital display in the blackness. He reached for them and ended up yanking a stereo receiver from its spot on the shelf. Trailing cables pulled taut until they snapped from their connectors and the stereo unit was pitched to the carpeted floor. The room plunged into loud silence; the noise was at an end. It had become unbearable in his head, that static buzz, had strained inside his temples from that first moment, when he had landed across the bluish bedspread. He simply couldn’t take it any longer.
He turned—quiet was again his ally—and then collapsed onto a plush sofa-couch under the white sheer drapes of the living room window. Smearing tacky blood across the fabric of the couch, he brought a shaky hand to his head, leaned it against his palm, tried to steady it. And then, with his other hand—his left—he removed a .45 caliber derringer from the waistband of his wrinkled pants.
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By the time Sebastion heard more things being smashed at the front of the house, he had nearly summoned the courage to reach up and grab the telephone’s receiver from the nightstand. He would pull it down to his chest with the chord dangling up behind it. Yes, and then he would—No, dammit. That’s no good. He realized quickly, stupidly, that he wouldn’t be able to see the numbers to dial. He would have to get up onto his knees and turn about to look at the keypad. That would put him at risk. He pictured the bedroom door in his mind, standing just slightly ajar. It had moved a little when that stranger passed it. It had actually moved. He squeezed down and craned his neck towards the floor. Beneath the bed he could just barely see the door’s bottom edge and the dark crack of the hallway between it and the threshold. Whoever was in the house could actually be standing there at this moment. It sounded as if the living room had taken a beating but that was seconds ago by now. The stranger could easily be back down the hall and standing at the bedroom door. And even if he wasn’t standing there breathing on the door with his tasteless breath, the stranger was prolific; he could be all places at once. He was God.
Why had he even drawn the door shut earlier? He never closed that door, not since dad. But if he hadn’t, the stranger, when he had burst from the back bedroom into the hall, would have surely seen the light from Sebastion’s bedside lamp as he passed, would have even seen Sebastion himself sitting in bed, clutching the sheets. It moved—that door. It actually moved. He was that close to me. Just on the other side of that damn door. But why tonight? Why had it been drawn shut tonight? And why, goddammit, hadn’t he closed it tightly, all the way? Reaching up for the telephone, in view of the doorway, in view of the all-knowing, all-seeing stranger, that would have been easy right now if the door had been shut all the way. The numbers would already be dialed, quick as that, there’s only three to remember. And the police would be on their way. But now, now it felt too exposed to reach up there, like whoever was breaking things in the living room could actually be standing at the doorway, peering in. The intruder would see that hand reaching up for the receiver. There was no logic in that—how could the stranger see him—but the realness of it, the actuality, seemed undeniable. Why don’t I just go and close the door?
No. Too much time. It would take too much time to get up, cross the room, close the door, and return to the phone. It was the phone, he just needed to focus on that and nothing else. He needed to get up on his knees, whirl around quietly and dial those three numbers. He simply had to.
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He steadied his head. It was still buzzing a little, even since the TV had been silenced, even since the room had been darkened by its abrupt absence. But his hand was shaking—little droplets of blood from his wound were dripping onto the couch and growing like an ugly flower. The shaking would get worse. Just like the sounds would get worse, the light would get brighter and the pain would seer and burn. These wounds were going to be his undoing. And so would the sounds in his head.
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Sebastion realized that, not only had his breathing been sporadic at best, but his hands had become cold, dead cold. And they were both beginning to shake. He tried to steady them, rubbing them together. They sounded rough and dry, not prepared to do even the simple task he was about to ask of them.
But he summoned the strength of will, maybe the audacity, to finally spring upwards. He scraped a little against the wall, steadied his weight, then turned around to face the nightstand. He snatched up the telephone receiver, hit those three numbers in quick succession, and came back around, settling down on his lower spine on the carpet. Again he was nestled on a peculiar angle between the bed and the cool drywall.
There. That wasn’t so bad. That was okay. The tremors were running through his cold hands and he had to use both of them to hold the tan receiver to his ear. It rang once, on the other side. Sebastion heard it faintly, from a distance so unbelievably far away. At that moment, how could anyone so far away hear him? He held his breath. And the receiver gave an audible click.
“Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?”
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Moments passed. There was more light in the living room. It was still dim, but when he opened his dark, glassy eyes he could see outlines of furniture and picture frames on the walls. He sat back against the plush sofa cushions and held the derringer against his face. Its grip was wet with sweat and blood. Since the television had exploded he had been rubbing his hands together, had been pushing the heels of them into his eyes and across his moistened forehead, as if doing so would silence or even lessen the volume inside his skull. They were intensifying again, those sounds. Despite the new quiet, that buzzing inside this mind was growing. It was getting louder still.
And with that, he turned an ear toward the sheer curtain behind him. Out there, in the street, he heard the sirens again. More of them this time. The rising of their shrillness came again, like waves bringing the oil-slicked tide to a dry shoreline. His eyes narrowed. And his grip on the derringer tightened.
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“—No. Y—You don’t understand—” Sebastion’s whispers into the handset didn’t sound like his own. They were those of a stranger he had never met. Perhaps those of the same stranger in his house at this moment. The stranger was here—somewhere—and he didn’t know where exactly. He could be there at the threshold of this room, could be looking in at the crumpled sheets of the bed with Sebastion crowded into the narrow strip behind it. Sebastion didn’t know, hadn’t heard any more movement, hadn’t heard a sound at all in several minutes.
“—he’s in the house. Somewhere. I don’t know where. Jesus Christ. He broke the window in the back...and now he’s inside—” The operator was calm, almost too calm, Sebastion thought. It was as if she couldn’t understand how Sebastion knew the intruder was there if he couldn’t see him. It was like the whole world was against him, simplicity made into the marching enemy, idiots waving the flag with their brains removed, their eyes sewn shut, and their tongues pickled in a jar somewhere. All of them, every last man, woman and child, unable to understand bare bones explanations, even if Sebastion screamed it into their ears or enlightened them with color diagrams and scale models.
“—He just is. Please—goddammit. Please.” And with that, Sebastion added the detail he had not dared to think. The one forcefully pushed out of his head since this whole nightmare had started: “He might be armed.”
TO BE CONTINUED...MONDAY
My webserial of THALO BLUE is a fun challenge and partnership with historical fiction author, R.L. Jean. Her latest novel is Liberi. It's the sequel to her wildly popular book, The Noble Pirates, which tells the story of Sabrina, a modern gal transported back to the 1700s where she experiences danger and excitement with the notorious bad boy pirates of the age. Liberi promises more of the same kind of swashbuckling pirate adventure, I'm certain of it!