Until Next Time, My Love
By Clayton Stealback
Shadows grow darker in the corner of my room, creeping out, mounting over everything until shades of grey wash over all my objects of benign grandeur and splendour. Even the vibrant painting of Loch Ness with its clear blue waters and imposing ridges rendered masterfully, had been subdued to a crude granite-looking etching of its former self. Rather than inspire, the oil painting now dispersed an unprecedented feeling of emptiness, solitude, and prying desperation.
A droplet landed on the wooden oak floor just a couple of feet from an old armchair, confirming my suspicious that the high winds last week had torn a handful of tiles off the roof and somehow ripped through the lining. Looking up, I saw water collecting on the Artex ceiling, but it looked only to be forming in one place. Considering the deluge outside that had started two hours ago, I suppose it could be worse.
Rain pelted against the window, creating miniature gushing brooks that twisted and distorted the world outside. Apart from the surrounding noise of insistent hammering, the only other perceivable sound came from an old, antique clock on the wall. The ticking of the clock in one-to-two synchronisation with my heartbeat, but the time the hands told eluded me.
I glanced across at my dressing side table, its leading edge protruding out of the thickening gloom. On its surface – the only thing on its surface – was a pack of red pills which I'm sure had something to do with my heart's too-fast resting pace. But I was told I needed them, and since taking them I'd started to feel better; intangible things slowly coming within reach.
Outside, the sound of a car horn startled me. There was a brief exchange of uncharitable words then a screech of tyres that faded into the din. Then there was just me again, alone in this room.
I remember the day of her leaving, wheeling a suitcase behind her. She'd said she had to go away for a few nights to close a business deal. I'd believed her, of course. But I distinctly remember that look in her eye: a certain gleam, a certain sparkle. And then there'd been the size of that suitcase. It had literally been bursting at the seams!
Simon (a friend I'd known since secondary school) came round the house the other day, the expression on his face telling me all I needed to know about how I must have looked to him.
'She's gone, mate,' he'd said over coffee.
'She'll be back,' I'd replied.
'She's cheated before, remember? Cheated and come back with her tail between her legs!'
Simon had shaken his head at that. Shaken his head and finished his coffee. Seemed just lately that nobody wanted to spend any more time around me than what could be perceived as polite. Well, that was just fine with me. And how could he know that she wouldn't come back? He couldn't, could he? Not unless...
No, it was stupid to think like that. The thing was she was still calling me on her mobile phone. Mostly at night, true, but that was probably because of the time difference. And there must be a time difference.
Yet none of that really mattered. She will be back. I believe that more than anything. But until that time, I'll just remain here, swallowing my little red pills, plotting my sadistic plans.
A couple of shelves were fixed above the dressing side table. Books rested on the bottom of the two, holding knowledge about Egyptian mummification and the secrets to eternal life. I've been a keen student of the subject for many years and am ecstatic about my wife's recent insatiable interest in it all, pushing me towards my greatest acquirements and achievements.
The shadows in the room grow darker, obscuring the beautiful details of my newest acquirements. Those...acquisitions fit into this room perfectly, contrasting meticulously against my fine collection of solid oak furnishings. But they hadn't been my idea. No, they'd been hers: she'd always had a materialistic nature.
Thunder unravelled through the air from a distant source; a wave advancing over rocks, creating an elaborate crescendo of sound. Past the imposing tower block several hundred meters from my window, foreboding forks split cleanly through the air, cracking the dilapidating skies with the most intense white light. The ever-deepening shadows in my room remained static, but soon they would twist and writhe and take on a depraved semblance of life.
On the shelf above my collection of books, various glass jars containing the sensory organs I'd obtained from my acquisitions sat waiting. A man in the advanced stages of rigor mortis, sporting lines of slimy flesh dangling from eyeless sockets, sat slumped in an old chair opposite me. The tea-spoon I'd used to perform this deed (and it had worked pretty well, actually) lay on the floor beside his well-polished boot. Next to him a slightly fresher corpse lay on the floor with his back against the wall, his head nestled in his chest. I'd taken an ear from that specimen; a Stanley knife providing me with the sharpness needed to cut through the unyielding cartilage joining the ear to the side of his head.
Of course, none of this really tallied up with what was written in the books: for the most part, the Egyptians removed the internal organs. But my good wife had told me it had to be done this way.
The phone resting on the arm of my chair rang. I picked it up, the display with the name of the caller all too plain to see. It was my wife calling. She'd called me for the past three nights running now. That had to be a good sign. A sign that she was coming back.
'Susan?' I spoke into the mouth piece.
I just listened. Not being much of a talker myself I was happy to listen, letting her words fester at what little remained of my own conscious self. I felt them sinking down. Down into the deepest depths of my being, latching on, maiming as effortlessly as razor blades on skin. What they left behind was a deranged feeling of elation and urgency. Urgency at what she wanted me to do next.
I listened to the static, to the white noise, the sound infecting and controlling my insanity. A flash of lightning from outside lit up a corner of the room. Here, just over two weeks ago, was where I'd piled what they'd found of my wife's belongings. On a small round table, just to the left of that discarded pile, her mobile phone sat silent and unused. Yet from somewhere across that great divide she still called me with it. Somehow.
White noise buzzed intrusively through my head, filling me with repulsion and an indescribable desire to meet her demands. If I did what she said, she would return. I knew she would.
Thunder rolled once more. Lightning flashed, depicting demon faces in the contrasting glow of electricity against the boiling sky. The tower block loomed dark and solid, immovable and imposing. These benign things call to me; the static over the phone implores me.
'Tell me! Tell me what to do next?' I shouted into the phone.
A voice – her voice – came drifting out of the static: an amalgamation of sweet tenderness and infinite malevolence. To hear each sickening syllable pronounced was like having nails hammered into the base of my spine. But I had to listen. I had to obey.
Finally she was gone, the phone in my hand sounding the lifeless tone of having been disconnected. The thunder roared overhead. The room flashed, strobe-like, with another exuberant display of power. The clock ticked while the drip, drip, dripping from my ceiling onto my oak wooden floor went into a double-time rhythm. The putrid smell of the rotting corpses made me grimace.
'Until next time, my love,' I said into the phone.
Now I stand. I casually slip into my jacket and take in a deep breath before venturing out into the night to do my sacred bidding.