Icarus Transfigured by m. l. teague (page 19)

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Campus clock

Chapter Seven, Section Two

There was nothing to stop his descent except the idea of a dress in a chair. He could picture her snatching it up in defeat, and sending its static electricity, like a white conflagration, crackling across the dark living room floor rug. She had done as much in brushing his pants leg in the foyer. This thought invariably provoked the uncooperative television from its sleep. Its snowy screen reignited, and billowed as if made of satin itself.

Aloysius turned on the bed to escape the specter, not wanting one bad dream to provide the spine for another, but the light flashed again in the sill, and a rattle of the loose glass doorknob worked on his last nerve. What might have been a bump of fingers was certainly another mischievous draft. Convinced the wind succeeded in prying open the studio skylight again, the somnambulist was determined to sink back into his semblance of sleep. He drifted down into a hollowed-out place, where only his breathing marked it in any sensate way. His thoughts (perhaps his barebones awareness) were empty of content in anticipation of a partition falling away:

The door inched forward; the sun from the eclipse peeked out from behind the moon. Sickle-shaped bits of light dropped from the bedposts and crepitated over the spread and sheets. From his vantage they looked like tumbling wafers of ash, and offered more heat than illumination. Black bodies cleaved shadows around the bed, but did not relinquish their anonymity where they consumed the sleeper in a fire.

At last the elusive television image was emblazoned on his mind—a cocked mousetrap…

SNAP!

The loud crack drew Aloysius back to the threshold of consciousness. A mousetrap beneath the bed had tripped.

Clickety-clack! Clickety-clack! Clickety-clack!

The creature’s agony was insufferable to hear.

Clickety-clack! Clickety-clack! Clickety-clack!

There was no end to the torment as trap and mouse flopped over the floorboards.

Clickety-clack! Clickety-clack! Clickety-clack!

Then—with lightning speed—the ruckus intensified.

CLICKETY-CLACK! CLICKETY-CLACK! CLICKETY-CLACK!

The rodent was abruptly huge—as big as a man—and tumbling violently against the bed frame and springs!

CLICKETY-CLACK! CLICKETY-CLACK! CLICKETY-CLACK!

The vibrations became so strong so fast that Aloysius feared the molecules in his body would fly apart. Paralyzed, his breathing was excruciatingly thin—not deep enough for a cry…

Click.

The sleeper gazed up in a cold sweat to find the noisy camcorder had rewound and shut itself off. He reached over, quaking to the core, and switched on the lamp. After a few tense seconds, he assured himself it had only been another nightmare, so climbed to his feet to stir the oxygen in his head. He had no idea how long he had been standing there. Raising a foot, he was almost certain the ground still pounded against the bottom of it.

Aloysius pushed his legs forward on the floor, or at least willed himself in that direction. Grabbing a bedpost to steady himself, a check was made under the bed skirt. No mousetrap was seen, only the anathematized smoke alarm ripped from the ceiling the night before. This at least reinforced his sanity, as did the undisturbed chair. Regardless, trepidation compelled him to nudge aside the piece of furniture, crack the bedroom door, and leverage a peek.

The hallway was dark; no breeze emanated from the second flight of stairs.

Mustering courage, Aloysius flipped on the light in the hallway, which proved to work in relay with the switch in the attic. Though the studio door above him whined, no one stood in it. Bare footprints, however, led down from the top step. He saw them only because of their deposits of cinders, so believed they were his footprints after traipsing through the spilled contents of the suitcase. This was sound logic as far as it went, but these prints did not travel down the hall to his room but turned into the guestroom along the same wall. This elicited a shudder, and then sobering dread to suppose the diverging tracks were his in a sleepwalking trance.

Aloysius entered the second bedroom and turned on its bedside lamp; this offered light for the secret passageway. Nothing was seen in it at first, and then, just at the juncture of his closet, a wooden chair stood in the way. It was not unlike the one used to wedge his bedroom door.

The lamp was moved to an outlet nearer the closet and set in the floor—cinder prints proceeded in this direction, and perhaps went no further than the chair. He had assumed these tracks were his, yet slender arches supplied these outlines.

Aloysius braved to reenact these steps and approached the orphaned chair. One last footprint was planted in its seat. Immediately over it, studs disappeared into murky tears of cobwebs, leaving no obstruction to block view of another crawlspace between the second floor and attic. He stood beside the chair and called timidly into the opening, “Hello?”

The heavy air denied him both an echo and a reply.

The resident closed off all doors behind him and hurried downstairs to unplug the sofa lamp. With no wish to provoke his ghost further, he scampered back upstairs to the hall light switch. He must have passed it on the way down, but there, along the same wall where he found it the first night, stood the slat-back chair. There was no mistaking it. The footprint in its seat matched what was seen seconds before in the passageway.

Panicking, Aloysius returned to the guestroom and stepped into its closet. A chair was no longer in the narrow confine, although a single leg—white, blotched, and boneless—hung down from the rupture in the timber studs. It swung like the cord chain of a ceiling light fixture over the spot where the chair had been, and with its ankle and foot groping to locate the seat.

Aloysius stumbled back over prints he could no longer arrange in his mind, and unwittingly struck the lamp behind him. This sent it toppling out of the closet doorway. The last of its light scattered like pearls from a broken necklace in every direction.

Terrified, he raced to his room, grabbing the hall chair en route to re-barricade the door. He crawled on the bed, but shunned its covers. His palpitations were too pronounced to lie still, so he sat, fretted, and listened to the ceiling for the boney pads of un-shoed feet. A darker silence laid siege to the house. Daybreak was less than an hour away, yet no precursor of it was outside. The sky over his bed was black and shallow, and kept his fear, like a child sharing his pillow, close…

In quick succession, the table lamp on his night table flickered off and on. Each burst of light mockingly imitated his futile attempt to piece together an image from the channel knob on the downstairs television. Then—with a longer surge of the bulb—the chair seized where the jamming door convulsed behind it. The disruption did not overlap into the darkness that followed, and only erupted again during another flash. This force trying to get into the room was more aligned with the light than the darkness.

With palsy reaching through his arm and fingers, Aloysius watched himself, as if disembodied, lean into the lamp with the object to shatter it against the floor and hasten an end to his nightmare. Yet when the flash reignited, it did not issue from the lamp or dark room but from the hallway, where it grabbed the chair by its shadow from under the sill and tossed the shapes of its spindly legs to the far wall. They spidered to the cornice, and then over the bed like sable ink to betray not four—but six— limbs: four belonging to the chair; and two…

Flailing, the lamp spun off the table with a crash. The cracked face of a woman swallowed the ceiling in an instant—her disconsolate eyes billowed to catch the dying filament of the bulb—bedposts became her scything teeth—

“G   I  V  E    M  E    T  H  E    C  H  I  L  D  !”

The scorching words ejected him violently from the bed, leaving him looking at the clock—not the bed lamp—in the floor beside him; it flashed twelve. A blinding light now flooded the room, as if the giant uncovered the house in a flash.

One abandoned corner of the shadow remained in the bedroom doorway. It spoke. “I need you downstairs.”

Aloysius squinted through the glare of full daylight. The dislodged chair was now pushed free of the doorway. He gasped to understand it. “Wha…?”

The policeman was insistent. “Hello, Mr. Gauge, I need you downstairs.”

PART II: Chapter Eight/ Back/ Contents Page