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Something Inside Joe Mesh - Part 2

Behold the talking cat!
He had craved the taste of his very last bottle of beer waiting for him in the fridge the entire way home. By the time he placed his hand on the knob of the front door he could feel the lightly carbonated ale sliding down his throat, tickling his taste buds with an almost divine satisfaction. Stepping inside he wasn’t greeted by Charlie as he normally was. Although he found that somewhat odd, he paid no mind to it, strolling to the kitchen to fulfill his thirst only to find the refrigerator door wide open and a single bottle of beer broken and spilled upon the ceramic tile floor.

“Joe? Joe, is that you?” Charlie asked, cautiously stepping out from behind the garbage can.

“What the hell happened here?” Joe questioned with a slightly agitated tone.

“I heard it, Joe; the darkness; the Doom himself. I tried to hide in the fridge but I could still hear his footsteps coming closer and closer. It was him. Really, Joe, it was. I swear it.”

Joe held no compassion for his fury little friend. His eyes kept falling towards the floor at his craving spilled out in front of him and he lashed out in a violent rage, shouting hysterically at the top of his lungs.

“Look what you’ve done, Charlie! Look what you’ve done!

Suddenly, the door bell rang. It was enough of a distraction to snap Joe out of his frenzy as Charlie cowered back behind the garbage can.

He opened the door to find none other than Wilbert Finkle standing there in his usual unwashed attire holding his big black case.

As quickly as Joe flung open the front door, Wilbert pulled from his case one of his burgundy and blue leather bound encyclopedias displaying it in front of him with a nervous salesman’s pride.

Joe glared at him with stern eyes.

“H . . . Hello, my name is . . .”

“What!” Joe rudely interrupted.

“I . . . I,”

Joe’s demeanor suddenly turned wicked as if a switch had been turned in his brain, bearing his teeth and turning his brown downward above his bursting pulsating eyes.

“How many times do I have to tell you, Wilbert? I don’t want to buy any of your fucking books!”

He swung his hand violently upwards, smashing the encyclopedia into Wilbert’s face. Just as quickly as he had returned to his rage he snapped back feeling a sudden remorse as poor Wilbert stumbled backwards desperately cupping his hands over his nose gushing with blood.

Wilbert neither struck back nor said a word, cowering with his injury with one hand as he fumbled around on the front step for his book with the other. Joe, with a sudden spark of compassion, came to the rescue, retrieving his fallen book as he helped him back on his feet.

“I’m sorry,” Joe said, mildly ashamed at himself for soiling Wilbert’s shirt, jacket and tie with blood. “Come in. Get yourself cleaned up. The bathroom is down the hall and to the right.”

As Wilbert made his way to the washroom, Charlie slowly crept out from behind the garbage can to face Joe standing there at the kitchen entrance staring down at him. He glared at Charlie in silence with his mouth closed and his tongue still as if he was delivering a message of disgust with only his eyes. There he stood, frightening Charlie stiff until the bathroom door opened and he turned towards the hall.

Shaken up, Wilbert rushed past as Joe scurried behind him to see him to the door. Before he had a chance, Joe grabbed his black case and book form the front step and forced it into Wilbert’s hand as a desperate gesture of apology. But Wilbert seemed too startled by Joe’s remorseful touch, anxious only to escape from reach of his attacker.

“I’m sorry, again,” Joe pleaded as Wilbert hurried towards the sidewalk, wiping the last of the smeared blood from his chin with his elbow.

He passed by the kitchen stopping only for a brief moment to glare down at the garbage can that Charlie had once again retreated behind. His patients for Charlie’s mishap had worn thin. After all, tonight was something of a mild celebration for him; a celebration he would have gladly shared with Charlie if hadn’t been so careless — a nice cold beer, a prize for a job well done.

He wasted no time at the bathroom sink splashing water over his face to freshen up. It was when he reached for the hand towel to dry his face that he noticed the bottle of mouthwash on the back of the toilet was just slightly out of place from the perfect line up of other bathroom products.

After nudging it gently back in its place, Joe stormed to the kitchen. Still, Charlie was hiding out of sight, still frightened.

“How many times have I told you not to touch my things, Charlie!” he shouted violently at the garbage can. “Don’t touch another damn thing when I’m gone!”

He raced to the beer store with his foot pressed firmly down on the gas pedal without any concern for the police or children who might be playing in the streets. His face warned any who might have looked his way that he was to be avoided at all cost and the heavy screeching of his truck’s tires around every corner kept all other cars at bay. Yet somehow, the company of a fresh six-pack on the passenger seat floor beside him brought about a mild calm at least until he drove by the funeral home and noticed Bob’s car alone in the parking lot.

The air was completely silent when he walked in. There was no sign of life within except for a tiny ray of light peeking out from the bottom of the door to the preparation room. As quiet as it was, he knew very well that he hadn’t left it on when he had left earlier. He had made a point of leaving the room dark to let Mary sleep — as if the dead could slumber.

Slowly and light-footed he opened the door but Bob must have somehow heard him coming and there he was scrambling past the door as Joe slid by him into the room. He tumbled around as he hurried towards the door, scampering about as if he had seen a ghost. His extremely frantic behavior raised Joe’s attention and he quickly questioned him with a firm prying tone.

“What are you doing here?”

Bob was lost for words. However, he really had no choice but to stop in his tracks if only for a second to answer with something of a reply. There was a shameful yet devious glare in his eye as he spinelessly peeked around his shoulder at Joe, still bustling around as he continued to rush for the door. Surly, he hadn’t seen a ghost.

“I . . . I gotta go. I . . . I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As quickly as the words spilled from his mouth he was gone like a phantom in the night.

Joe had no desire to chase after him. Instead he turned around to Mary’s body still laid out on the preparation table as he had left it earlier covered with a now slightly unevenly placed white sheet as if it had been quickly thrown over her.

Even though his heart was pounding he made his way over to her with patients. Carefully he pulled the sheet down from her face and cringed at what he found. Her ruby-red lipstick was smeared across her lips, smudged around the edges of her mouth — the lips of another had ravaged the work that he had so proudly concealed under the frail security of a thin cotton sheet. His mouth quivered; eyes trembled back and forth as his mind began to spin. His emotion overwhelmed him and with a violent sweep of his arm he struck the small table of tools sending them flying across the floor in a storm of stainless steel as he hollered out loud with rage.

A sudden calm came over him as he gently began to wipe away the smudged lipstick from Mary’s face. He looked down at her as if to comfort her like a small child or injured pet — as if his faint smile and caring eyes would bring her some kind of peace.

“It’s alright,” he said to her with a soft voice. “You’re safe now. I’ll make it right. No one will ever hurt you again.”

The evening had turned into nightfall in what seemed like a blink of an eye for Joe. By the time he had parked his car three houses down from Bob’s century-old house the moon had replaced the sun and the few stars that could be seen beyond the clouded dark sky twinkled with a dull glow. He had been staring at the old weather-beaten white door surrounded by peeling white wood siding cradling a dilapidated wooden front porch for a good twenty minutes of more. Accompanied by a two-point chrome tire iron on the passenger seat, his intentions were anything but good. He snacked on gummy worm after gummy worm from a brown paper bag on his lap until he consumed the very last tasty sweet. It was then that he held the empty bag up in front of his chest, staring at it as his mind spun ideas of a very wicked nature.

Bob hadn’t the faintest idea that he was being watched, going about his usual routine of a can of cola and a family-size bowl of regular potato chips while he watched the latest game show. Alone in the darkness of his living room with only his television illuminating his old corduroy brown couch he giggled with a boyish joy as he answered question after question quickly and correctly of this evening’s episode of Jeopardy, stuffing his face with a handful of chips between the audience’s clapping. As he swigged back a huge gulp of cola his laughter came to a sudden halt to the sound of his old wooden floorboards squeaking somewhere in the darkness behind him.

Quickly, his head spun around, his eyes bouncing back and forth from the dimness to the television. It seemed as though no one was there; his mind simply playing tricks on him. As the show carried on, his attention swiftly shifted back to the television as the next round of questions fired off.

Before he could shout out his next answer, he heard another squeak in the floor, this one closer than the last. He turned around even faster this time, peering over the back of the couch like a frightened child, even releasing his grip on the chip bowl as he called out to anyone who might be lurking in the blackness around him.

“Who’s there?

No one answered. There was another squeak, this time slightly fainter than the last two.

“Who’s there?” he hollered out once more with an obvious sense of fear in his voice.

Immediately he reached for the end table lamp but three turns of its switch did nothing at all. It was him and the mysterious sound alone in the darkness of his living room and he was afraid — very afraid. Grabbing hold of his television converter as a weapon he slowly rose up from the couch and cautiously crept towards the pitch black wall. His nerves were flaring; fingers twitching as he tightened his grip on the remote.

“Who’s there?” he called out again as he glared through the blackness for any signs of life.

It was then that he caught a glimpse of something shiny. At first he wasn’t sure what it was but he was certain it didn’t belong in his living room. Before his mind could process past his fear he caught sight of a figure in the dimness who at first glance was unrecognizable yet somehow seemed all too familiar.

As his jaw dropped he saw the brown paper bag over the face of a stranger emerge from the darkness. With only two roughly cut holes the size of golf balls to reveal the face hidden within, it was followed by a single hard strike of the tire iron across his face. The blow was powerful and sudden, sending Bob dropping to the floor like a tone of brick. He cried out in pain as he cupped one hand over his wound and reached towards the couch with the other. Scrambling about on the floor, he turned over to gaze upon his attacker.

The dark paper bag eyes looked down at him without mercy or compassion. Blood slithered down the handle of the tire iron as the assailant raised it high over his head, preparing for a second whack. Bob pleaded for his life but it was useless. The tire iron came crashing down towards him as he muttered his last few words.

“Wait! Please, no!”

Joe returned home late that night. He entered the house calm and quietly as he always did, tossing his keys on the end table next to the sofa and placing his shoes neatly next to the front door. He only made one more stop on his way through. Atop of the mantel piece above the fire place he carefully put his freshly blood-splattered paper bag mask, standing it up to face the living room as if it were a decoration to be admired. He stepped back to stare at it for a moment, gazing into its hollow eyes as a very faint smile appeared on his face. As he passed the kitchen he stopped and looked down at Charlie, standing in the middle of the floor as if he had been waiting up for him. The furry little critter glared up at him with a look of concern that could be seen even in his little feline eyes.

“Where were you Joe?” Charlie asked with a slightly demanding voice. “What did you do?”

Joe hardly seemed to acknowledge him replying with nothing more than a subtle grin as he turned his head away and continued on his way to the washroom. Charlie raised his voice, unsatisfied with his response.

“What did you do, Joe? What did you do?”

After closing the bathroom door behind him, Joe lightly splashed some water over his face, brushed his teeth for exactly sixty seconds and then swished around a gulp of mouth wash for another thirty. Afterwards, it was off to bed where he dreamed of nothing, falling into a slumber deeper than any he could remember. Just when it seemed that his mind was completely at peace, he awoke to the presence of Charlie sitting upright on the foot of his bed.

“We don’t have to be afraid anymore,” Charlie said, his tiny furry mouth curling in what looked like an excited smile.

Joe could hardly open his eyes, still groggy and half in dreamland.

“All this time we were afraid of The Darkness but it was you all along. It was you, Joe. You are The Darkness.”

Joe rolled over in his bed, grasping the covers with his hands and scrunching them close to his head. If his nightstand was looking at him it would see absolute terror in his eyes. Even if it was indeed he who was The Darkness, he was still afraid of it; he always had been. The Darkness was something neither human nor spirit. It was everywhere surrounding his entire world. He couldn’t run from it or hide from its sight. It saw and heard all — an invisible terror more powerful than any man’s will.

The next morning was different than any other at the funeral home. For the first time ever, Bob’s car was absent from the parking lot. As unusual as it seemed, Fred didn’t question it, going about his daily rounds in the morgue, starting with a quick yet thorough sweeping of the floor. Setting the broom against the wall by the doorway he began to wipe down the cadaver drawers with a sanitized cloth. There were twelve in total, all across the back wall of the room, shining stainless steel without so much as a fingerprint upon them. This is why a peculiar red smudge on an unmarked center drawer suddenly caught his eye.

He rubbed it off with his cloth, pausing for a moment as his curiosity began to tingle. It took him a few seconds to place his hand on the handle and another few to slowly begin sliding the drawer out from the wall. Gasping with horror and confusion his neck jerked back at what he found laying inside — the bloody and pulverized face of an unidentified corpse. Any who had known him alive would have never recognized him as Bob.

“Good Lord,” he muttered to himself before turning around in a startled frenzy.

Before his body could catch up to his head, he was met by a dead-faced Joe standing before him. There was no time to mention his name or call out for help. Joe’s hand thrashed the steel scalpel within his grasp into Fred’s neck repeatedly, ensuring his silence. Bob would no longer be alone; not tonight. His company would be joining him before the sun set for the evening.

His white apron splattered with blood, Joe opened the door of the preparation room and a soft smile appeared on his hanging upset face as he laid his eyes upon Mary. There she was, in a seated position on a small wooden chair next to the table. Dressed in an elegant red dress she almost seemed to stare back at him with a pair of cold black embedded glass eyes. Lifeless and prepared like a piece of morbid artwork she sat as still as the chair did with her hands neatly placed upon her lap, prim and proper , just as Joe imagined her to be. He approached her with a giddy stride much like that of a young boy walking towards his school yard crush. Kneeling down in front of her he gazed into her eyes as he stroked his thumb across her cheek, leaving a trail of fresh blood upon it.

“Oh,” he gasped. “I almost forgot. I got you something.”

Quickly he rose to his feet and unboxed the gift from his bag on the table. Kneeling back down before her he came to gentle crawl to reveal a pearl necklace which he presented in both hands with an excited grin. Gently, he placed it around her neck, taking a step backward on one knee to admire the collaboration of her beauty and the jewel’s.

“Do you like it?” he asked, pausing for a moment as if he knew the answer was yes.

A truly boyish grin slithered across his face as he turned his head slightly and looked at her with a confident and playful stare.

“Is that a smile I see?”

It was only the two of them, alone in the funeral home the entire day; no visitors or clients or guests of any kind. They spent their time basking in each other’s glow, simply enjoying the moment, conversing — Joe doing all of the talking and Mary listening. By evening, Joe laid her upon the table and tucked her in under a white sheet before bidding her goodbye with a goodnight kiss on the cheek under the comfort of a newly purchased night light. He carried on his face a smile from ear to ear the entire way home, entering through the front door with a joyful, glowing presence like nothing Charlie had seen before.

“How was your day, Joe?” Charlie asked, perched up on the arm of the couch.

“Splendid, Charlie,” he replied happily. “Quite splendid, indeed.”

Just then the doorbell rang. Joe was quick to answer it, swinging the door open to find Wilbert standing there behind it.

“H . . . hello. M . . . my name is Wilbert. I was wondering if I . . . I might have a moment of your t . . .time to offer you the deal of a lifetime?”

“Why yes, Wilbert,” Joe replied with a slightly overly cheery voice. “Please, come in.”

With a nervous sense of excitement about him, Wilbert made his way through the front door and Joe offered him a seat on the couch. Before he could sit, Charlie pounced from the arm, scurrying off out of sight. Wilbert wasted no time delivering a timid stuttering sales pitch as Joe rested his bones on the opposite side of the couch beside him.

Opening the leather-bound cover of an encyclopedia, Wilbert spoke on about his product with passion and poise.

“A . . . as you can see, these encyclopedias are bound with precision and p . . . pride. Th . . . they come in a complete set; f . . . fifteen in all and are a . . . available in seven d . . . different languages.”

Joe appeared incredibly calm — almost smug and maybe he was. With a subtle grin on his face and a leaned back posture he emitted the illusion that he carried even the slightest interest.

“That all sounds very fascinating, Wilbert and I’d like to hear more. Would you care for a drink?” he said as he pounced up from the couch and made his way to the kitchen doorway behind it.

“No th . . . thank you.”

Passing by the fireplace Joe stopped in his tracks as he glanced over at the paper bag mask staring back at him, almost calling out to him. Suddenly, it was as if his mind was taken over by a force unknown. His voice slowed to an ominous monotone as he stood there focused on the mask as if hypnotized by its hollow black eyes.

Looking down at his feet he saw Charlie sitting there on the hardwood floor staring up at him whispering the words, “Do it, Joe.”

“Are you sure? Water, orange juice, beer?” he said as he gently placed his hands on the mask handling it ever so carefully as he slowly placed it over his head and then grabbed hold of a silver antique candlestick from the mantel top. All this he did behind the couch as Wilbert continued rummaging through his bag, seemingly oblivious.

“N . . . no thank you. I . . . I don’t drink a . . . alcohol.”

All of a sudden, as he was approaching him from behind, Joe stumbled on his feet. His mind began to spin as did the room. His fingertips and toes felt numb and the rest of his body quickly began to follow.

“Unlike you, of course,” Wilbert said, his voice suddenly changing — his stutter completely gone and his tone now deeper and more imposing. “You always enjoy a cold beer every evening after work. Don’t you Joe?”

Joe couldn’t respond; his tongue limp and his lips unable to do anything but cup a rapidly growing pool of drool in his mouth. His legs wobbling as he desperately struggled to keep his balance he fell forward, crashing his face against the end table where Wilbert was sitting. The next thing he knew he was laying face-first on the floor, unable to move a single muscle. Confused and disoriented, he had only the eyes of his mask to peer out from. The sound of footsteps slowly making their way towards him across the hardwood floor danced with the racing beat of his heart pounding against the wall of his chest.

Charlie was nowhere to be seen. However, he could see a tiny trail of blood across the floor leading to what looked like one of his teeth. With his view suddenly blocked by a black casual dress shoe he watched as Wilbert knelt down and picked it up from the floor and held it close to the paper mask’s eye hole twisting and turning it around between his thumb and his index finger.

“That sure is a shame. You always have been a stickler for oral health care,” Wilbert said as he placed the bloody tooth in his coat pocket and then leaned in to stare Joe dead in the eye. “Such a creature of habit you are. You always have been.”

Joe fought with all his might to move and scream for help but it was useless, his body paralyzed.

“Try not to fight it,” Wilbert continued. “It only makes it stronger. It takes a while to get into the system, a day or two, but when it does it hits hard. Tasteless and odorless; you would never notice it in a mouthful of water or juice, certainly not in a swig of mouthwash.”

Joe’s screams for help could only be heard in his own mind. His calls to Charlie, even if out loud, would only fall on deaf ears, for, Charlie was nowhere — a friend leaving another sprawled on the floor to die.

A playful dark grin appeared on Wilbert’s face as he looked into the paper bag with a greatly restrained excitement.

“Be afraid, Joe. Be very afraid, for, I am the darkness.”

A story by William Hache

Copyright © 2015

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