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Like A TV With Curtains

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Clouds of grey ash are puckered lips that don’t so much blow as they do suck at the bushy clusters of trees that border the freeway.  Those lips look like they’re ready to spit.  Beyond the slabs of cement walls and a vast nexus of whirring electronic equipment that hums and buzzes in each hospital room, Mobey can feel the energy percolating outside.  He can imagine it, the electricity that preludes the first scattered droplets of rain that seem to be the sky’s way of testing the ground below, before the levees break.

A storm is promised, as Mobey cranes his neck and tries to raise an arm, as if to press it against the distant glass.  As if it’s not an impossible journey across the room, from a bed he hasn’t left for six days.  The doctors have stopped telling him to prepare for the long battle with physical therapy that lies ahead.  They have stopped telling him much of anything, which is better than the lies they tell everyone else.  He is never going to leave this bed and if only this damn window had any way of opening, of letting those rising gusts of summer’s tears melt across the stubble caking his face.

How many times did he complain as a boy about the weather as he stayed indoors, listening to his momma holler at the TV?  He’d stare at the gulps of water, churning the air thick with strange life while the woods drowned and he had nothing fun to do but draw and listen to the radio.  Oh how his daddy used to come home, meaner than ever cause of the rain. He’d strip partially down, slam his sopping clothing across the kitchen table and delay dinner sometimes whole hours while he waited and hollered at his family that they wouldn’t eat until he felt “dry” again.

Mobey first killed a man in the rain.  He didn’t intend it.  He meant to murder the guy but, the rain, heavy and stinking enough to drown out the reek of gunpowder, was unforeseen.  Something about that moment imprinted on him.  As his friends began to multiply and his respect become an intangible knot, he began to organize and schedule every murder and trade deal he was responsible for only during rainstorms.  As chaotically unpredictable and random as storms are, it became his motto to follow no set schedule.  Something about this struck the right chord in all the opposition, from the cops to Carlton across the river and those half-hearts from over the hills and outside the county. They all learned to appease him, one at a time.

What’s gnawing at Mobey, worse than the looming tumor in his belly that chews up and voids meaningless the pain meds, is that he can’t hear what’s going on outside.  It’s muted by the beeping robots on either side of him and the distant murmur from beyond his always-open doorway.  He’s relying on memory, now, for the smells and sounds.  What’s outside is just a moving picture. After waking up from the surgery he watched out for his boys’ pickup trucks on the highway as they came to pay their respects.  On that day, the window was just a panel of glass, separating him from everything he used to touch.

He told them all not to come back, to tell all the fools who didn’t yet come around to hold off.  Nobody will ever claim they saw him weakened and maimed.  During the initial visits it took every ounce of him to smile and kid around with the troop. They will remember him as confident, and fearless.  That first night he had a heart attack, but after living through the surgery, it was no thing, getting through it..  It’s a terrible thing, to give up control after having it for so many years.

His own body mutinied against him worse than any crank addled former employee.  Coming into the surgery and this last, failed fight, Mobey knew he’d be out, two for two, of both his kidneys, and that he would also never use his prick again.  He was always planning on killing himself, the real way, if he ever got out of here.  He just wanted the cancer to be beaten to a pulp first.

Somebody enters the room and softly closes the door but Mobey keeps his stiff neck facing the window.  He’s going to see the rainfall.  He’s going to see it, hear it, and taste it.  The glass aint nothing but a skinny stone.

“How many men have you killed?”  A whisper from Mobey’s left.

“Every one I intended,”  Mobey growls.  The clouds are moving into the room, dimming the fluorescent suns above.  The machines are beginning to hush.  Something grips the rails on the side of his bed, with a click, a latch like the snap of handcuffs.

“I’ve always been impressed by you.” The whisper surrounds him and if Mobey just turns his head, only a little, he’ll be staring into the black eyes of his visitor.  The cars on the freeway are slowing, cautious.  The traffic from the city in the distance will soon back up for miles, all because everybody’s afraid of a little rain and wind.

“Most men act out of reason, and necessity.  You go a step further.  You make it mean something.  When you kill a man, you sing his name louder than his dearest mourners.  You are devoid of cruelty but you’re merciless.  I’ve been waiting for you to slip up, since the eighth man.  To bend the line, to have a moment of uncertainty, or for your circumstances to make it so you had no choice but to sneer and be cruel.  Unwavering, right until now. How many more men do you think you’d add to your number if you managed to leave this room?” The visitor chuckles, a whispery cackle.  The hairs on Mobey’s arm are standing up, but that’s just from the storm, the electricity.

“I’ll do you, you show me a way I can do it without cracking my joints.”  Mobey would kill him.  This is what happens when you’er alone, and the end is close.  You get visitors that you can’t shake, can only turn away from.

“I know.  Most men would.  Men who have never even dreamt of violence would cut me down.  It’s a feeling I wish I could share.  This is all about you though, Mobey.  You united the Ashtons boys and the scattered crews from Derleth and you made something remarkable.  You conducted an entire war that newspaper ever mentioned.  You owned the cops, you didn’t touch anybody’s family.  You ran half a state and the FBI tucked their tail between their legs.  You should’ve joined the army, I’m sure they would’ve seen your potential.  You would’ve gotten healthcare, you did that too.”

“I didn’t think you’d be funny.”  Mobey isn’t laughing.  He doesn’t want the visitor to quit talking, though.  When he quits talking, that’s when the window show snaps out of focus like a cut cable wire.

“Of course I’m funny.  I’m the final punch line to the mighty and the meek.  I am the hospital king.  Nightmares and the devil are half as scary as me.  I’ve gotta be funny, otherwise all of life is just a sad display of lying to yourself so that you won’t be afraid of where your walking, even when your sitting, lying, oozing on the ground.”  Lightning blinks across the blackening sky.  Mobey holds his breath until the thunder roars.  More clicking from the handle on the side of his bed.  The visitor is leaning close, right to his ear.  The smell of antiseptic and his own shit bag become distant, as the reek of mothballs and eroding stone clog his nostrils.  The highway becomes alive with headlights.

“I think it’s time to look at me.”  Something cold and thin drags along Mobey’s cheek, like a tree branch reaching out through the dark.  More lightning, closer, but not close enough.  His fingers are shivering red and numb from the cold he is now aware of, the old, primordial cold that’s coming from within his bones.  He closes his hand over the TV remote.  The skeletal fingers around Mobey’s facing, interlacing with the stubble he never got a chance to scrape away, are beginning to force him to look away.

“Don’t be like everybody else.  Don’t be afraid.”

“Just.  Not. Here.”  Mobey reaches toward the window and flings the TV remote with one last jerk of his arm.  It bounces off the glass, like a curious, doomed bird.  The sky opens up and the downpour arrives. The window is blotted by long streaks of rain as the lightning flashes from every angle amidst a mournful bellow of thunder. Mobey can’t feel a thing, as he turns, of his own free will, to meet the ever grinning sneer of the nose-less one.

End

My writing has appeared in the anthologies Wicked Witches, Thuglit: Last Writes, Dread State: Political Horror Stories, Death and Decorations, and online publications such as HorrorClips, Shotgun Honey, Out Of The Gutter, and The Siren's Call. I'm currently earning an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing from Western Connecticut State University.

 

 

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