Black Heart – Chapter IV Part I
by Steppen Sawicki
This was something of a get-out-of-writer’s-block-somehow part. It’s kind of silly but I shoved a lot of useful information in it, so now I’m stuck with it.
He slammed the door shut behind him. He let his bag fall to the floor, making a soft whump. And then there was silence in the apartment. He didn’t turn the lights on, only stood in the hallway in the dark and the silence.
Hussein hadn’t taken his decision well. They had both of them tossed aside profession and shouted a barrage of curses at each other. Then they had momentarily thrown a barrage of punches at each other. Bryan might have clipped Hussein’s jaw. Hussein did cuff Bryan’s ear and struck his left arm straight on before throwing him out of the room. Bryan couldn’t remember much of what either of them had said, but none of it had been productive. Only on the train ride home did he realize he had wanted to talk with Hussein. He had wanted a real discussion about his decision – and it was his decision regardless of what Hussein wanted. But Hussein had objected flatly and Bryan had gotten defensive and it had all gone out of hand.
He passed his hand over his face and walked into the dark apartment, found the curtains and pulled them open. It was still dark out, but the city lights gave the room a dim glow. He looked at the gray washed-out city sky and considered calling Cam, but he knew he would still be working, busy like a Possessed should be. Not moaning about in his apartment in the dark. He knew he should eat, but he had lost all appetite. And besides, he was tired. Deathly tired, but only in body. His mind was still a mess, thoughts and regrets and dim memories swirling around in it.
He went into the bedroom, realizing that he hadn’t actually slept in his bed for days, realized that he could just lay on the couch staring at the tv again until he fell asleep. But he shoved that thought aside and crawled onto the bed, sitting cross-legged in the center of it.
He hadn’t meditated in months.
The idea was to empty out and quiet your mind enough to look inside and pick out what wasn’t you, what was lurking inside your mind that might be a remnant of some demon, or some demon trying to set up residence. It wasn’t required of most Possesseds, not outside of special circumstances. But it was recommended. This seemed like a special enough circumstance to Bryan. If Hussein hadn’t thrown a fit, he would have probably told Bryan to meditate in preparation of the interrogation.
Bryan wondered if Hussein might not tell anyone he had agreed. Bryan might have to go over Hussein’s head to tell them himself. Hussein might want too badly to be some sort of white knight fighting for his subordinates.
Bryan shook his head forcibly. His thoughts were still racing. He took deep breaths, focused on the silence in the apartment, tried to echo it in himself.
His left arm ached. He shouldn’t have tried to punch Hussein. Did he throw first? Or had Hussein? He couldn’t remember. But either way he shouldn’t have gotten physical. It wasn’t going to effect his career – Possesseds fought all the time and black eyes were a common sight in the halls at the Office. Hell he had fought Hussein before and gotten his ass handed to him. But this time it had been messy and neither of them had been in it fully.
He let out a harsh breath. He felt he would never be able to meditate again.
A memory of pale dead earth illuminated by moonlight flashed through his mind. He seized it, desperate, and threw himself into it. He heard the desert winds blowing, felt it brush his skin. Dead sand flurried in it and entered his mouth, and he tasted it and it hurt but he didn’t care. It was a horrible dead landscape, even the moon’s skull seemed to stand out, and he hated it and was hungry but it was home and he was satisfied. He drifted among it, over dirt and sand and gray waters, both repulsed and fulfilled, until he crested the top of a hill overlooking an empty plain. The moonlight spread out thick before him, and in the plain marched a line of hooded figures, and he knew that they were the same as he.
He woke violently hours later, thrashing his arms and looking all around him. There had been someone standing over him, watching him, and he hadn’t been able to move or open his eyes to see who it was, or he hadn’t wanted to open his eyes to see.
But daylight seeped through even the thick bedroom curtains and he could see now that no one was there.
Something banged outside the room, in the hallway. Bryan nearly screamed, and then realized that it was someone banging on his door. It was what had woken him. Had he been screaming in his sleep? It wouldn’t be the first time a neighbor had told him to knock it off.
He stumbled to the door, flicking on all lights as he passed even though the living room curtains were still open. He stopped in the hall when he noticed his bag by the door, a wild stray thought passing through his mind: the demon was knocking on the door.
Then the bang sounded again, and Hussein’s voice called “Bryan, you better be in there!” Bryan could tell it was him even though it didn’t really sound like him at all.
Bryan could see why when he opened the door. Hussein stood there, stooped over, pissed drunk.
“Bryan, there you are. Here, throw this away.” He handed Bryan an empty whiskey bottle. “No littering, you know.”
He brushed past Bryan into the apartment and looked around. “You’ve really made something of this place. It’s lovely. This.” He pointed to a framed picture on the wall. “Where did you get this?”
“Target,” Bryan said. “Hussein, it’s the middle of the day, what are you – ”
“Ohh, crap.” He clapped Bryan on the shoulder. “You were asleep.”
“That’s not the problem. I’ve never seen you this drunk.”
Hussein threw his arms wide. “I’ve never been this drunk!” he announced.
“Why are you here?”
“Is that it in there?” Hussein pointed to the bag by the door. “Is it in there? It’s all its damned fault.”
“If we could just set them on fire or shoot them or something we wouldn’t be in this problem. But they just hang around and we can’t do anything with them. What are we gonna do when the cards and matches rot and disintegrate? If you had just taken an office job any of the twenty times it was offered to you…”
Bryan watched his boss rave, noting the shadows under his eyes and the lines in his face that hadn’t been there years ago, when they had gotten drunk together but Hussein had always politely stopped at tipsy.
“You need to sleep,” Bryan said. “You look like you haven’t slept in a week.”
“Nonsense.” He grabbed the whiskey bottle Bryan had set on a table and put it to his lips before realizing it was empty. He put it back down crookedly and it fell to the rug. “I got three hours yesterday.”
Bryan put his arm around Hussein’s shoulders, noticing for the first time in a long time that he stood half a head above him, and led him to the bedroom. He glanced at the clock. It was two in the afternoon. “And you’ll get three more today if you’re lucky. Though it’s not going to help you much.”
“This isn’t about me. You…I didn’t mean to punch you.”
“I know. I didn’t mean to – ”
“But we forget how to talk,” Hussein interrupted. “These damned demons take it all out of us.”
“That doesn’t mean you had to get drunk.” He sat the man on the bed and he fell over on it before sitting up.
“I used to be a sensible man,” he said, pronouncing the words senslible min. “I was an architect. I was gonna build my own house.”
“Take your shoes off. I’m going to get you a bucket so you don’t puke in my bed later.”
Hussein grabbed his shirt as he started to walk away. “Bryan. Bryan, I’m not stupid. I know you have to do it. Or that you feel you have to do it. You know how bad things are. But you don’t have to.”
Bryan frowned. This felt like another fight coming. “Hussein, just – ”
“No, listen. It’s your choice. I just need to say that I don’t want you to do it. You’re like my kid. I found you and I pulled you into this business and taught you everything, and if this all goes to hell it’s me that failed you. And I’m worried I’ve failed you.”
Bryan couldn’t speak. These weren’t sober words. These were truths that only surfaced when you were drunk, words you weren’t supposed to say out loud. “I’ll,” he said, “I’ll be back with that bucket.”
Hussein patted his shoulder. “You know what to do,” he said. Bryan wasn’t sure whether he was talking about the choice he had made or the bucket.
When he got back, Hussein was passed out on the bed. Bryan had to take his shoes off his feet.