The Fallowing – Interlude III, Part I

by Steppen Sawicki

Novel: Occult Adventure

The clouds over Chicago promised snow soon to come, dark veils above the steel and glass and lights of the city.  The towering buildings cut out most of the sky as well, giving the impression that night was approaching even thought it was midday.  People were bundled in bulky fashionable coats, blue and green being the colors in fashion this year, as if they could recall the look of clear skies and fresh grass.  Instead there was the gray sky and brown snow swept to the sides of the road by the plows.  Here and there a snowmobile or hefty truck would roar by.

One of the crowd walked alone, clothed in a short blue down coat and black jeans.  His skin was coffee, his hair cropped short, and his lips were fixed in a slight smile that flashed white teeth whenever someone to his taste wandered past, which was often.

A woman with curls of yellow hair billowing out from under her faux-fur cap and emeralds hanging from her ears noticed his smile and winked in response.  He tracked her with his eyes, which despite the dark sky were shielded by sunglasses.  As she passed him she felt a chill, but not on her skin.  It was a deep chill as if ice had suddenly formed in her heart, and somewhere else too.  She shuddered, and the sting was not altogether unpleasant.

She stopped and watched him for a moment, but he kept moving.  He would have gladly stopped, would have reveled in that capture, but he had things to do, and little time to do them in.  He had the pocketwatch and, like the others, a strong sense of self-preservation.

He entered the streets where jaunty Christmas lights encircled bare trees, though it was not Christmas.  Where shops set out tasteful signboards with bright chalk that read “Fine chocolates” and “Sale on women’s boots.”  Upbeat music drifted through doors as people entered and exited.  There were no broken windows.  Even the snow was whiter, the gray gunk trucked elsewhere.

He turned to enter a double set of windowed doors, and the wizened and white-haired doorman graciously held one open for him.  He had only been coming and going to this place for a week or two, but the doorman recognized him at once, knew that he belonged there.  The doorman watched as he entered the elevator.  He knew the man didn’t really belong there, knew he didn’t belong anywhere.  He knew something was wrong about the man, but as soon as the elevator doors closed he put it out of his mind.  He looked up at the little stretch of sky above and wondered for the hundredth time that day whether it would snow.

The man exited the elevator on the fourth floor and walked the plush carpet to a door, passing dull scenic paintings that were sub-par, but still better than most that could be found these days.  He always thought these paintings a bit pointless.  After all, it was cold, and paintings were flammable.

He passed through the door into an apartment that weeks ago had been spotless, almost surgical with its angular modern furniture, all whites and beiges.  Now take-out boxes and food wrappers littered the tables.  Blankets and pillows were strewn about the floor wherever he had lain with whomever.  He had, more or less, been the sole occupant for nearly half a month.

A sheet still draped a figure where they had shoved it back against the wall of the dining room, or as much of a dining room as you can get in these silly open-concept spaces.  He flung the sheet off off Atsel with a flourish.

Atsel lay there, or lay as much as one could in his position.  He had been fighting their grasps and gesturing wildly when he had slowed again.  Now his back arched as if an electrical current had gone through it, his hands clutched at the air and at his throat as if what had happened were choking him, the fingers bent at wild angles.  His eyes were wide open, whites showing half-mad – or fully mad.  Who knew at this point?  Sections of his long matted hair still snaked into the air where it had seemingly frozen; the rest had been smoothed down by the sheet that had covered him.  His clothes were so old they looked as if they would collapse into dust if touched.

The man flicked a finger at a section of hair that stuck out.  It billowed lazily away as if underwater, coming to a stop after a few seconds.  He wondered what might happen if he punched the figure.  He had wondered this many times during the couple of weeks he had been in this apartment.  He was certain Cain had wondered the same thing, and had likely tested it too.

Amnon decided he’d rather not have Atsel angry at him.

He took the pocketwatch out, spun it on its chain a few times, not eager to start, not really caring.  Now that he was in the room he felt he had all the time in the world.  Maybe he could have had that blonde thing back there on the street.  He swung the watch once more and it hung at its apex, floated there briefly as if announcing 12:00.  Then he caught it in hand and tapped the dial down.

The figure on the floor came alive, writhing and screaming in a sudden chaos.  Amnon thought it looked a bit ridiculous.

“Come off it, Atsel,” he said.

Atsel flipped onto his belly, arms and legs out, like a startled kitten.  A scream moaned away in his throat.  He stared up at Amnon, eyes still wide, still half-crazed – or fully crazed.

Amnon dangled the watch on its chain, just within Atsel’s reach.  He wouldn’t have thought Atsel’s eyes could go any larger, but there they went as if the lids would split.  Atsel fumbled clumsily towards the watch, and Amnon pulled it away.

“Nuh-uh,” he said.  “Ground rules first.”