11 Jul Pale and Afraid
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"Pale and Afraid"Written by Mike Maxim
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Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
“Quick, grab some drinks and some seats, let’s go!” I yelled to Dominic as he fumbled through my uncle’s fridge. The night of the Super Bowl, I always like my drink on hand and a bag of chips before the game starts. Likewise, I prefer to send my best friend Dominic into the kitchen to do it for me. As a result, I was left sitting on the couch waiting for him to get back with the stash. That is, the snacks.
I heard the toilet from across the room, and the sink followed it. My Uncle Nate emerged from the restroom refreshed and ready for the game.
“Let’s go boys; time for some football!”
As my uncle declined from standing and flopped onto the couch, Dominic emerged with our drinks and tossed one to me. At fifteen, Dom and I probably shouldn’t have been drinking beers, but my uncle is just that cool. He did warn us that pairing the chips with beer and the various chocolate snacks he had laid out in front of us would give us vivid nightmares, but he didn’t know the science to prove it.
Dominic popped open his can of beer, and I opened my own. Oddly, Uncle Nate was sipping on a cola instead, but there was no reason to complain.
Three guys, drinking soda and beer, eating chips, watching the Super Bowl in a cardboard box of an apartment; it’s the American dream. This guy knows how to live.
“Alright, here we go!” My uncle grabbed some chips from the bag as the Super Bowl started.
“Shitty game, huh?” I yawned to Uncle Nathan. I turned to see him cleaning up the mess we had left; soda, chips, candy wrappers, and vomit. Don’t ask how the vomit got there.
“Yeah Jeff, but at least our team won.”
Dominic just laughed, “Uncle Nathan, the Browns versus the Bears isn’t exactly a great match up anyways. The Browns are the best in the league; the Bears are the worst.”
My uncle just snickered in attentiveness to the obvious mistruth of this statement. The Browns aren’t exactly a very talented bunch of athletes. That’s not to say the Bears are though. Let’s just say it was a sloppy, unexciting Super Bowl.
It took about ten minutes to relocate the disarray of the living room to the garbage can in the kitchen. We all pitched in, but all I had to do was wash the barf off the boring, brown and dingy carpet. Eventually though, we all retreated to our bedrooms for the night.
“I get the bed, Jeff!” Dominic shouted tossing his bag of clothes and video games onto my bed.
“I give you the bed every weekend Dom, you gotta let me sleep there this time!”
“Jeff, I’m the guest!”
“I am too!”
I picked up my pillow and whipped it across the room at Dominic, making contact with his face. It was just a pillow, so all it did was make him smirk and leap across the half-made bed to knock me over. It was a very unfair fight, as usual. Every weekend, we come over my uncle Nathan’s apartment, play games, watch sports, and when we get to bed, we find something to argue about and we wrestle. I can never manage to win, since Dom’s a beast. He’s not on any sports teams or anything at school, but I think he lifts weights. That’s enough to trump my nonexistent fighting abilities and lanky body.
The fight ended with me tapping out of a triangle choke, just as my Uncle shouted from the other room to “Go to sleep!”
“You really need to start working out, Jeff.” Dominic laughed matter-of-factly as he set up my bed and hopped into it.
“You need to stop working out.” I mumbled as I tossed some blankets and a pillow onto the floor.
It took about five minutes for Dominic to start snoring, but I was awake well into the morning. I checked my watch with a click of the glow button; one thirty. My left ankle itched a little bit so I scratched it with the sock on my right foot. I sighed and fluffed my pillow up against the leg of the bedpost. I figured if I curled up comfortable enough, and spaced out, I could lull myself to sleep soundly. It came as a surprise.
I didn’t remember falling asleep, but I shot awake out of nowhere. My eyes were blurry so I rubbed them in a startled search for some clarity. When they came to, I stood up and looked around the room. I didn’t know why, but I knew something was up. I kicked the blankets away from my ankles, as they were twisted haphazardly around me. The carpet felt rough against my bare feet. The sound of the wall clock was ticking sadistically against the silent environments. My ears began to pound. I was so preoccupied by the darkly vibrant room that I didn’t even react when the door to my room slammed shut. It took a moment, and then I panicked. I leaped across the room and ripped Dom’s pillow away from him.
“Wake up!” I shouted in a whisper.
“What the hell?” he moaned, “Are you insane? I was just getting the key to the city!”
“Quiet, you can get it later! Someone broke into the apartment!”
“Whoa, your dream was worse than mine,” he yawned, “Well, forget about it. I’m going back to sleep.”
I pulled the blankets off his body to assure he wasn’t going to do just that.
“Jeff, what’s wrong with y-”
The sound of some objects falling in the kitchen shaved the end off his sentence down a bit. He also appeared to come to his senses. He stood up in one whoosh of the bed sheets.
“I heard that,” he whispered, “does this room have a lock? Is that screen up in your window? We could make the jump; we’re only on the third floor!”
“Shut-up Dominic!” I hissed.
A quiet whistle-like, buzzing noise began to pick up all around us. There was now a darker hue to the room, only pierced by the streetlights pointing in from across the street. Everything looked almost grey, though, it’s hard to explain. It was like a dark grey veil was tossed over our room. The sound began to get louder. It escalated to the point where Dom and I had to cover our ears.
“What is that? Jeff, are we under a lock down? Why are you grey?!”
For a tough guy like Dom, this sort of annoyance was really pathetic.
“Dominic, calm down. We could just bang on Uncle Nathan’s wall to see if he’s alright.”
“What if whoever broke in hears us, and finds out we’re in here?”
“The door’s locked, and do you really have a better idea right now?”
Dominic just stared at me. He shook his head and dipped away from the wall to let me pass. I lined up my fist with where the headboard of Uncle Nathan’s bed was and gave it a rap. We waited. No answer. The buzzing began to numb my ears.
“Did he knock back?” Dominic asked.
I didn’t answer him. I knocked on the wall again with the same negative results.
“Shit!” I shouted, “Uncle Nathan, you in there? Uncle Na-”
Dominic curled his hand around my mouth, so I spit on it, seething a growl into his palm.
“You sick bastard!” he shouted, wiping his hand onto his flannel pants, “Are you crazy? Honestly dude, are you suddenly just insane?”
I just shook my head and frowned at him. Then, my face softened a bit and I sat down onto the bed, defeated and confused. Dominic continued.
“Look, we don’t want whoever is out there, to know we’re in here. They probably know by now man – shit! What are we going to do now?”
I looked toward the door. I spoke slowly but surely.
“We’re going to open the door, and get into Uncle Nathan’s room.”
Dominic chortled a bit, scathingly, “Jeff, how about you don’t call the shots anymore. I have an idea. I’ll go turn the light on first.”
He walked across the room and kept speaking on his way to the switch.
“This is why we need phones man; we would’ve had the cops on their way by now.”
He flicked the switch to the on position. Nothing. He flicked the switch off and on a few times as if it was on a fixed-ratio timer; still, no light. He turned around and laughed a little bit.
“I don’t know Jeff, I don’t know.” He said with his hands on his hips, while biting his lip, and shaking his head wistfully.
I humored him and responded, “Don’t know what Dom?”
He cut me off and screamed, “What the fuck is going on, dude?”
He sat down next to me, sweating and exhausted.
“Dominic, I’m going to open the door.” I picked my ear to no avail, trying to relieve the numbness that the buzzing had tattooed to my ear drum.
“Go ahead Jeff, I’m staying here-”
I pulled him up by his arm as I stood up as well.
“Stop being stupid, we’re gonna get Uncle Nathan, and we’re going to get out of this okay?”
He hung his head in defeat. We approached the door, frightened together.
We stopped just short of the door because I noticed something quite peculiar. A sound, emanating from the living room like a low rumble or a growl, caused my heart to skip a few beats.
“Holy…? Jeff, did you hear that?” Dom whispered to me.
He put his finger up for no other reason but to point out the silence that followed the sound.
“Dom, it’s nothing. It’s probably just the floors settling or something. Let’s go!”
I didn’t even think twice; I just swung the door open with hasty abandon.
“What?” Dominic gasped.
“What?” I mimicked.
“I thought you said that was locked?” Dom uttered in confusion.
“Sssh, let’s keep moving!”
We made an immediate shuffle toward the epicenter of our mission; Uncle Nathan’s room. The door was shut, which aggravated me highly. I tugged on the doorknob and of course it was locked. The doorknob appeared to chip away its gold paint beneath my determined fingers.
“Dammit Jeff, just knock on it,” Dominic shouted harshly in a sore whisper.
He began calling out my uncle’s name and slamming the agitated knobs of his fists against the wooden barrier between the bedroom and us. Amidst Dominic’s solo driven chaos, I began to hear something else. It was a quiet sound; breathy and heavy though and it seemed to pass back and forth. It startled me, because it was behind me. Then it stopped, but I could feel as if whatever it was still lingered behind us.
I grabbed his arms out from the flurry and shut him up.
“Dominic, on the count of three we turn around.”
“I don’t know what it is, but there’s something behind us. On the slow count of three, okay?”
He nodded. I started the count.
I felt the hair on my neck stand up, and tickle with the breath behind me.
Dominic took a premature breath.
We turned around.
From the perspective of Uncle Nathan:
I yawned through the early morning muck in my mouth and shuffled into the kitchen. I had a strange urge for a PB & J sandwich, which left me hungry and eager. I sifted through the fridge for the jelly but there was none left. Damn, I thought, Jeff told me there was some left. I laughed to myself. He did that on purpose. I switched my hand direction toward the bowl of salad in the front, but a wrong flick of the wrist sent it sailing to the floor along with the unopened gallon of soda.
“Shit!” I fumed, “Not in the mood.”
Though tired and groggy, I still managed to clean up the newly opened soda pop and now inedible salad. Satisfied with the spotless job I’d done, I decided watching some early morning TV was a better idea. I trotted contently into the living room and threw myself onto the cushiony couch with a plop. The remote, as usual, rested on the coffee table as so I didn’t have to get up to grab it. I pushed the power button. A low, irritating buzzing noise was all that I received. The screen had popped on but escaped speedily from the box leaving the strange noise.
“What now?” I mumbled.
Standing up was a chore, and walking over to the TV was overkill for my stubby, pasty legs. I checked the back of the box but nothing pointed to an issue. The sound got increasingly louder so I just unplugged the TV and stepped away after only a few minutes of investigation. The sound rang in my ears even after, if only as an aftershock on my eardrums.
As I walked back toward my bedroom, my stomach growled in hunger but I chose to ignore it. I looked toward my nephew’s bedroom. The dark of the apartment did not conceal the door’s closed position. I had shut it before going into the kitchen to block out Dominic’s loud, monstrous snoring. The snoring had ceased. I stood expressionless in front of the door, wondering if they were awake.
“Dominic, Jeffrey? You awake?”
No response. I opened the door and shut off the moving fan by the door. Dominic likes the fan on even in the cold of February. I turned on the light and looked around the room. I gasped in horror.
Jeff and Dominic were white as ghosts; bleached by fear. Their faces were shaped by fright; eyes and mouths open wide. Expert’s judgment: They died of fear, in their sleep.
Credit: Mike Maxim
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