Robert Michael slowly walked the sidewalk of his Brooklyn neighborhood, four blocks away he started to dread the oncoming approach silently pleading to find a note from his wife saying she wasn’t ever coming home. He knew she was attending night class which Robert felt as a waste of money, draining his precious funds on something frivolous. Clara always refuted his objections by stating it was her own money being used and wasn’t taking away from their bills. He always thought that any income should go to the benefit of both not wasted on an unnecessary and silly class. Robert puffed the remainder of his cigar, spitting out tobacco saturated saliva, idling in front of the four story apartment building. Thoughts dulled the taste due to his disgust over the boring direction of his life and the hopeless promise of his future.
Almost every day he took the same route fantasizing about stepping into his kitchen and finding a ‘Dear Robert’ letter on the counter, explaining that she was not returning and he would never have to see her again.
The desire to finish his stogie drained, holding it between his fingers he started to turn it over in his hand letting the building ash drop to the concrete. Robert threw it on the ground letting it burn on the cold city floor emitting diminished puffs of smoke as the ember smoldered out.
‘Just like my life,’ he thought, ‘Burning until no more.’
John and his wife Clara lived on the third floor for over 12 years, the two of them and the people on the first floor were the only tenants in the corroding relic.
Each level was an individual apartment and Robert was pretty sure the people in the first were ‘professional squatters’.
He recalled stories of deadbeats who knew the system, they would find vacant rentals with landlords that lived out of state and stay there for as long as they could. If successful in not being discovered for an extended period of time it became difficult almost impossible to remove them.
The past couple of year’s lawyers and other city representatives came looking for them, always stopping by the third floor asking if Robert or Clara knew who they were and if there was any way to find them. .
An additionally enraging detail of his life, proving the unfair imbalance he faced everyday: lowlifes getting to live rent free, then on top of that his wife and those goddamn classes. When would be Robert’s break, an escape from the responsibilities of the world?
He unlocked the front door entering the stairwell leading to the landings for each apartment. The ground floor light was out and had been for some time, Robert attempted to fix it more than once but figured the people living on the first floor constantly broke it to prevent anyone from seeing who was coming and going. He climbed the stained carpet stairs to the second floor, the light in the hall worked but the bulb was covered with soot and dust giving off an orange and brown dirty glow. The door to the second apartment was directly at the top of the stairs, cracked at the frame with a rusted and shattered lock. Vacant for over 10 years, Robert could only imagine the appearance inside by the condition of the front door.
The stairs to the third floor were at the end of the hall, he walked down the gloomy passage then climbed each step looking up at his own apartment door. When he reached close to the top it was apparent the hallway was darker than usually, he thought at first that the bulb was out in his hall but saw that there was absence of light at the end of the hall casting shadows over the fourth floor stairs. Robert knew that the light up there must have gone out again, but decided it wasn’t his problem and chalked it up as another burden put on him.
“Goddamn building.” he muttered under his breath.
Looking toward the end of the landing, he could barely make out the railing to the stairs, the black space under the fourth floor steps was visible as well as the unmistakably thick tail of a large rat.
Robert stood at his door squinting to adjust his eyes to the dark end of the landing to see if the blackness was playing tricks on him, the light near his door revealed just enough for him to make out the black hairy rump protruding from the cavernous space. Robert wasn’t able to see the rest of the rat but he could tell from the back end the creature was close to the size of an adolescent dog.
“What the fuck?!?” Robert said in a loud whisper.
He was startled by the sight and obviously didn’t want to alarm the beast thinking it may be rabid with the propensity to attack.
It was one thing to have bed bugs and squatters in an old unkempt building but dog sized rats’ roaming around were frightening.
He stared down the hall waiting for it to move, clinging on the idea that the dim light was playing tricks on his eyes, rationalizing that the dark was making it appear much bigger than it truly was.
It didn’t move but spoke with a gruff and raspy voice instantly freezing the blood in Robert’s veins, pounding his heart hard against the ribs of his chest.
‘Good evening Robert’, the monster said.
Robert’s mind swirled, spinning his thoughts into pieces, he wasn’t sure how to react thinking he imagined the voice out of maddening manifestation from a broken mind. He considered that he was tripping from a cheap laced cigar sold by a sleazy bodega owner, with all these thoughts the monster called out to temper his boiling head.
‘I am here to help you Robert, do not be alarmed.’
“Help me with what?” he managed to say.
Overcome with the thought that he possibly lost his head, the only reasonable thing to do was welcome the madness and go for the ride.
‘You are very unhappy Robert and I can help you with your pain. I am a friend.’ It said from under the stairs.
“How can you help me?” Robert asked still standing at his door with key in hand. . If Clara came home and witnessed this he was unsure how she would react, maybe she would scream and demand to move out or order him to find something to kill it with.
The strange thought was he didn’t want to kill it, that initial fear passed once it spoke of wanting to help him.
He was reminded of a woman in Atlantic City who gave him a hummer in the back of a motel years back. Robert told Clara he was going away on a business but instead met some old college buddies for the weekend.
After losing most of his money at a blackjack table Robert finally walked away before all of it was gone, sobbing uncontrollably for some time next to a dumpster on the side of his motel, a women passed by the alley taking pity on him. Once she was done he attempted a smile and pathetically explained that he lost his money, she only smiled back wiping away the tears from one of his eyes and said it was on the house.
He hadn’t felt someone as sympathetic to his needs until now.
‘Tomorrow at work a friend will ask a favor. When you come home I will be here and will explain what comes next.’ Said the monster.
With so many questions swirling in his head Robert wasn’t sure what to ask first, he decided to just take it as it was.
“You should go before Clara sees you.” he said to the rat.
‘I’m talking to a giant rat’ he thought, marveling over the fact he completely lost his grasp on reality. He did consider the possibility that if he was asked for a favor he would know it wasn’t a hallucination and for some odd reason a guardian angel arrived in the form of a monstrous sized rat. If not he would come to accept that he may be losing his sanity and maybe embrace it for all it was worth.
‘I will see you tomorrow Robert.’ said the creature.
Robert entered his apartment closing the door behind him, with his back to the entrance, he had a sudden urge to rapidly swing it open and look down the hall to see if the rat was still under the stairs. The feeling passed and he turned to face the door grasping the small metal knob for the deadbolt locking the door.
A couple of hours later Clara came home from her class, she made small chitchat while unpacking her groceries and attempted to engage Robert in what he felt as obnoxiously mundane conversation. As always he was bored and uninterested in her constant yammering, doing his best to reply simply with one or two word answers. This routine has played out for a couple of years. Robert always tried to convince himself he should simply ask for a divorce, but he would cowardly let her go on about her endlessly boring day during which he was secretly thinking of how he could broach the subject of ending their marriage.
As typical to free himself from the ongoing sound he would retreat into the bathroom looking blankly into the mirror, feebly struggling to gain confidence building a backbone of courage.
He exited the temporary salvation and saw her throwing out a pair of stockings, she looked at him and explained that she ripped the seam on her way to class slipping on the pavement then continued to tell him how embarrassed she was at the thought of anyone noticing.
Robert didn’t notice if she had a cut on her leg due to the slip and with all sincerity didn’t care, he was on the verge of screaming at her that he didn’t have the slightest interested in what happened when he remembered the creature under the stairs down the hall.
“Did you notice anything strange coming in today?” he asked cutting her off mid-sentence.
She stood at the sink about to poor herself a glass of water from the tap, Clara stopped instantly not making eye contact.
“What do you mean?” she said holding the glass under the dry faucet.
“When you entered the apartment and were coming up the stairs, did anything seem strange to you?” prodding her to see if she saw it too.
“I noticed the light is out again on the first floor. Seriously when is Henry going to finally remove those people from down there? I hate having to walk into a dark stairwell. One of us is going to get hurt some day and he will have another problem on his hand”
Robert knew that if she didn’t see it and if she did it would have been the first thing to be spewed out of her mouth the instant she came home. He thought about going back into the hallway to see if it was still there, it was possible that Clara didn’t look down the hall and see the beast. Robert stared at the door in a trance for a few seconds when Clara broke his distraction.
“Everything alright?” she asked still holding the empty glass.
“Yeah, I thought I saw a cat in the hallway and didn’t know if you saw it too.” he lied, he thought the comment may entice her to go out and investigate herself instead it encourage her into another tangent of how it could belong to the people on the first floor and at least if there was a cat it would keep any pests away.
Her constant talking began to spin Robert’s head with anger, he did his best to block her out and ignore the insistent chatter, wishing sometimes he could just have silence.
‘Clara, I want a divorce’ he thought with a loud scream in his head, but as always Robert kept his mouth closed and just nodded every few minutes in her direction.
At work the following day he on usual track avoided work and interaction with others, keeping his head down in the cubicle, dodging mundane conversations caused by eye contact and fake smiles.
He clicked his mouse back and forth from news page to work email, reading the latest intently angering subject line to the header of an office memo duplicating the exact same memo he received the day before.
His back log from sheer procrastinating gave him anxiety, a self-serving effect of avoiding work due to the increased amount compounded by him avoiding work.
Robert looked at the corner of his computer screen and grudgingly realized that there were two more hours until lunch and another four hours after that until the end of the day.
Two hours felt like an impossible time, days like this in the office made him consider taking up smoking cigarettes to break up the monotony of sitting through the unbroken day in his cube style cell.
Robert reflected on the years he spent in the seat, getting by just enough not to get fired but never applying himself to be promoted. The job was boring but completely comforting, Robert was not a risk taker and never felt the need to show off and knew that in ten years he would be eligible to draw from retirement and do what he wanted.
What did he want? After years of just aimlessly following the flow of life and living up the expectations of a societal norm for happiness he never fully stepped back to ask himself what it was he wanted out of this system called living.
‘I want to be free’ a soft voice spoke from the corner of his head. It was a strange sound and not familiar to the normal narration he usually hears whenever he thinks but the sound was very pleasing as well completely right.
Opening up another tab on his screen he typed in Google Search for Divorce Lawyer and stared at the screen, two simple words he desired to explore though lacked the fortitude to click the ‘search” button.
Maybe he could just never go home, he could have divorce papers delivered to Clara and ideally they could hash it out strictly through lawyers. Clara would need to attain her own lawyer, so it wouldn’t be a single lawyer he was hiring but two.
Robert held the arrow over the button to search before quickly closing the screen, holding the mouse for a time trying to organize the variables bombarding together in his head.
“Hey man,” Eric his coworker said, startling Robert as he popped up from is desk revealing his upper torso over the top of the fabric wall separating their desks.
Robert jumped and stared up at Eric, he was eager to end the oncoming conversation and thought maybe if he didn’t reply it would deter Eric from talking to him.
“Eric,” Robert said in his normal monotone voice, peering at his screen pretending to be deep in work.
“Could you do me a favor? I’m leaving tonight for vacation and forgot about an order of my insulin that is being delivered here tomorrow. Think you could grab it for me and sign for it?”
Robert aimlessly moved his mouse around continuing to look directly at his screen, he refused to look up at Eric still going with the idea that if he ignored the man it would reduce the time of this unpleasant exchange.
“It’s a small box, I just need you to sign for it. You can leave it in the break room fridge and I’ll grab it when I come back next week.” Eric said trying to be polite despite the obvious rudeness.
“Yeah sure,” Robert said.
“I appreciate it, Thanks.” replied Eric.
The desire to end the conversation was mutual, and Eric quickly sat in his seat.
Robert thought about this ‘favor” and the inconvenience it was going to cause. Why did Eric ask him specifically? He knew he wasn’t the most popular person in the office, making it a point not to associate with office politics and drama and had a reputation for being unfriendly.
Looking at the waste basket under his desk he continued to work at avoiding actually by cleaning the area around his desk and hasten the snail’s pace time ticking off on the clock.
Instantly he remembered the thing under the stairs. There truly was an enormous talking rat under the stairs in his hall, not only that but it’s obscure prediction came true as well.
Robert sat up straight immediately checking the clock on his computer, only 3 minutes passed since the last time he looked. He had a very unfamiliar need to get home in order to verify the existence of what he suspected was an entity right down the hall in the building he lived.
He entertained the idea that arriving home he would discover the area under the stairs empty with the crashing idea that he was actually crazy.
‘If I am crazy then I could just kill her,’ thought Robert, rationalizing that a dip into insanity could easily justify homicide.
His mind couldn’t help hold the belief that it however was there, the answers of the unknown promise awaiting him in the darkness, held by a monster he never fully saw.
The subway on his commute home moved even slower than the clock at work, stops and delays combined with people blocking the door to let others in, even a drunk defecating on the platform at one of the stations.
Never once in all the years traveling on public transportation did he ever pay attention to the labor of others, but this time with the steady building of impatience, Robert scrutinized every move and every annoying action people made that slowed his ride home.
He didn’t even bother with his daily cigar, 4-5 times a week he would light it the instant he stepped onto the concrete sidewalk, and pushed his way past the slow moving strap hangers on the busy rush hour Brooklyn street.
Entering his building, an entirely different feeling washed over him. The anticipation and excitement was replaced with fear, a shroud of uncertainty blocking the excitement he felt for most of the day.
Standing at the bottom of the first floor landing, Robert looked up the stairs leading to the door of the empty second floor apartment. He wasn’t truly looking at the door though, he was considering that above him there possibly could be a creature beyond rationale and was unsure about his placement of dread. Was it fear of its absence or the terror of its presence?
He thought of the tale of the monkey’s paw, five wishes granted by a cursed relic, each granting a perversion of the original intention leading to dire consequences on the proprietor.
He forced his legs to the following step and onward but the feeling shrouded with him until finally stepping on level of the third floor.
Robert fixated his sight at the door, a small voice urged him to just open it and go in, to completely ignore the end of the hall.
Slowly pivoting his head to look toward the fourth floor stairs he saw the thick tale and back side of the large rat under the dark alcove.
“Hello Robert” it said in the unusual tone.
“I guess I didn’t imagine you.” he said.
Fear still gripped the pit of his stomach, a loud voice urged him to go inside and slam the door shut, but there was also a new found internal confidence growing off setting his fear.
“What did you find at work?”
“I was asked to accept a package as a favor,” he said wondering how much it truly knew and if he should elaborate more.
“Inside the package is insulin.”
“When it comes do not write your name.”
“What is the package for?” he asked, turning his body fully to face the end of the hall.
He stepped to move forward down the hall but the skin of his leg froze, the hairs standing up like rows of sharp sewing needles creating a pain from his toes up to his knee. Placing his foot back in its original spot, the cold dissipated leaving behind the static feeling of ‘pins and needles’.
“When Clara sleeps you will put the contents into her big toe.
Cover her feet with socks and you will wake to find that her heart has stopped.”
“Dead?” Robert said the word much louder echoing throughout the hall, he was hopeful that the squatters downstairs weren’t home.
“Freedom can be yours Robert, you just need to take it.”
The silence cloaked the hallway, he absorbed the information and thought about what the creature was saying, an easy out of an agonizing divorce, no awkward approach and uncomfortable ‘I don’t love you anymore,’ though he would have to kill his wife.
“I won’t be caught?” he asked.
“Remember my words and follow precise, it is all going to change.”
The idea that it was asking him to kill someone was eerily absent from his head, the destruction of life was not the issue but the possibility of being caught.
“Yes, I will.” Robert said definitively. Opening the door with a smile he felt the muscles in his cheeks stretch and mouth actually hurt from years of disuse.
He could hear the last statement echo down the hall and make its way through the closing door. With that fear was fully eliminated from his thoughts and he continuously heard the voice repeating ‘… going to change’ calling in his head. Robert felt that the world held such promises for him he would do whatever it takes to see through and ensure those promises came true.
The following day at work felt like being high on a dose of codeine syrup. Lunch came and Robert stayed at his desk to eat the usual soggy sandwich, feeling an almost anxiety for leaving his cubicle, an intense anticipation to see if the teller in his hall from the night before foretold true.
When the moment finally did arrive his grasp on reality changed, the cloud in his head liquefied clogging the scope of free will and the existence around.
He probably appeared actually drugged to the young man in brown who was holding the package and electronic signing board in front of him repeating over and over to sign.
Robert grasped the small package in one hand, it felt ten times the actual weight thinking he may drop it when the kid passed it off to him.
He tried not to let the styling pen slip out of his sweaty fingers as he moved his fist to perform a signature.
After the young kid walked away Robert stared at the brown box sitting menacingly on his desk, deciding if he should just put it into the fridge and forget about it, go home after work and ignore the creature under the stairs continuing on with things the way they were.
After a while when his head cleared slightly he reflected on the signature, unable to recall what he wrote. The event seemed a million miles in the past, forgotten through mental impotence. There was a memory of signing something, but he wasn’t capable of materializing a clear picture of what it said. .
There was a strong possibility Robert didn’t write his name, he could slightly recall writing a B instead of an R. Casually brushing off the importance of the detail he came to the conclusion that what he wrote could not be undone and preoccupied his mind by urging the clock on his computer to move faster.
The subway ride was quicker than the previous day’s, sitting with package in his lap it seemed like a feather on his legs and almost forget about it completely while holding it under his arm as he walked through the underground stations.
The trip through the Brooklyn streets passed in fast forward, people blurred by in tunnel vision with the noise of the busy New York avenue completely muted.
His body traveled involuntarily to the front door of the apartment, Robert climbed the stairs reaching the third floor landing, and he had the appearance of a man who ran a marathon with his mouth dry and palms clammy from perspiration.
The light over his door flickered, walking up the stairs he thought he imagined a pattern: light followed by two seconds of darkness then three short flickers. After the third Robert tapped the bulb and the dirty light continued without interruption. Hesitantly he turned to face the end of the hall, and there it was the partially revealed monster.
“Hello Robert,” it said from the dark crevice.
“I…I have the package.” Robert stuttered against dry mouth and cracked lips, air burning as it filled his worked lungs.
“You followed precise?” it asked.
He suddenly felt as a child in elementary school being asked if his homework had been completed, a judging figure holding the ability to see the turnings in your head.
“Place it in the fridge until she sleeps and remember to follow every step.” it said
Robert entered his apartment and immediately head into the kitchen putting the box in the fridge, and then opening the freezer he removed a chilled bottle of vodka. Took out a small glass from the cupboard, pored himself three shots worth of the cold clear liquid and inhaled the icy cold contents of the glass. He refilled the glass entirely then returned the vodka to the freezer and left the kitchen going in the living room to sink on his broken spring couch.
The spring nights grew longer each day, it was almost seven and the crimson glow of the setting sun remained, reflecting off the windows of the building across the street giving a red tinge to the darkening room.
He sat in the fading light absorbing the silence sipping his cold glass of vodka thinking of the setting sun as a bleeding orange painting the city streets with its powerful tint. Robert should have been reflecting on what was to come or what he could do to avoid the thing in the hallway but his mind was aimlessly tracking the glow of the setting sun against the walls of his apartment.
The sweet serene dumbness brought on from the alcohol was instantly crashed with the bursting entrance of Clara in the apartment. He thought he could actually here the popping sound of the quiet oblivion being filled with the presence of her voice, which would normally aggravate Robert but he was he was too fixated with glass in hand on the couch.
He looked lost to existence, holding an empty glass with the faint smell of vodka, a small corner lamp dispersed the darkness pushing the shadows every which way in the room.
Preoccupied with a conversation she started before even entering the apartment, she went into the kitchen, it wasn’t until she walked back into the living room that she realized the unusual manner of Robert.
“Everything alright?” she asked.
Robert heard her but like always did not listen to what she was saying, she must have asked the question again and the sound was muffled through his ears. After a third time he finally turned his head to look in her direction.
‘What?” he asked, looking at her as an apparition that suddenly appeared before him.
“I said ‘Robert is everything alright?” she repeated with an angry look.
He thought it was probably the first time in many years that she showed any emotion at all towards him, the look of anger almost sparked a resonance of the actual living thing that they would consider their marriage.
“Yes….I felt a little ill at work. Maybe it was my sandwich.”
He took in a deep breath about to smile at her until quiet was filled once again with her rampant rap on bad meat and shopping at a different grocery store. The words from her mouth didn’t penetrate him, instead they pushed him back in the deep black whole of uncaring thought that he was busy with before she came home. . Sweeping his mind into nothing, he continued to hear what she said but never fully absorbing it.
The night came and Clara went into their bedroom to sleep with Robert passed out on the couch. He envisioned of dark corners in decaying ancient buildings, dark halls lit with dirty light escaping from cracks in the dissolving walls. The halls had no doors and would lead to stairs descending down into black subway tunnels full of horrible squeaking.
He awoke in a cold sweat instantly sitting up on the couch looking around the room in order to get a bearing on his surroundings. He sees that their bedroom door was partially closed, the clock read past 2, and saw the empty glass on its side right at his feet. Debating his next move Robert sat up just staring off into the dark listening to the weirdly mute Brooklyn street, even at this hour the bar across the street would usually host a few drunks smoking their cigarettes out front.
Something internally told him to just go into his bedroom and fall asleep, but another voice speaking in a whisper commanded him to go into the kitchen. He rose from the couch then went into the kitchen turning on the light, and standing in the center of the kitchen,
Robert walked over to the fridge, opening to see if the voice was coming from within, opening it he found nothing but left overs and expired produce.
“What are you doing Robert?” that familiar voice spoke.
Startled he closed the door to the fridge to find sitting on the counter between him and the sink was the giant rat.
It’s black bristly fur was darker than any midnight cat, the thick pink rope tail looped around it’s round hide and hung over the edge of the counter. Its eyes were the most menacing part with dark oval eyes hinting to something deep almost archaic. He wasn’t able to see its teeth but when the monster spoke the long whiskers at its face appeared to move in various directions.
“Are you afraid?”
“Yes” he tried to whisper.
“Why are you afraid Robert?” it asked.
“I am unsure…”
“Get it done now Robert,” the thing ordered.
It was strange how at odd his thoughts were, a most unpleasing voice being emitted out of the most grotesque creature he had ever laid eyes on and yet was commanding.
He opened the fridge and took out the box, when he closed the door the monster on the counter was gone leaving behind the strength of its words.
Inside the box he found an empty needle cartridge and a medicinal vile of insulin, he held them both in each hand studying them. Then as though a second nature he prepared the needle full of the concentrated liquid. Robert had never seen someone being given a shot of insulin let alone the needle for it but he went through the routine as if he was a life time diabetic.
Leaving the kitchen he walked up to the half open door of the bedroom, placing his hand dead center of the paint peeling wood the door swung open without the slightest amount of effort from Robert.
The light from the kitchen revealed a king sized bed with a lump curled towards the lift side under thin gray sheets that was his wife. He could clearly make out each crevice of her shape and followed her bodily form with his eyes starting at her head on the pillow and descending down to her tiny feet barely covered.
“Do it Robert.” the voice beckoned.
He walked over and lifted the fabric exposing her feet, taking the needle quickly jamming it into her big toe pressing the end instantly with her big toe injecting the contents.
“OWW…” she screamed.
Instantly rising into a sitting position she looked at Robert with shock and confusion, Robert pulled the needle from her toe and held it with in sight for Clara to see. With a dumbfounded look he just froze thinking that maybe it wasn’t strong enough insulin, or maybe he should have done research to see if the plan would have worked to start with, he wondered how he would explain his actions if he was wrong. He dropped the needle to the floor and moved over to his wife sitting up in bed quickly grabbing her mouth with one hand then slamming her body back down against the mattress.
After a few seconds of fighting against her physical protests he could feel her breathing and screams against the palm of his hand begin to fade, her pulse beating rapidly and eyes turned revealing their whites. Robert let go of her mouth and stepped back to see that Clara was struggling to bring air into her lungs and had large beads of perspiration forming on her forehead soaking into the cover of her pillow.
Her hands grasped out holding on to the bed sheet, her grip tightened exposing every muscle in her hands and arms with even more sweat seeping through her skin. Her body seized uncontrollably, Clara closed her eyes tightly attempting to lift her head off the pillow then it fell back down and turned to her right, she gave one last effort to breath and then her body all together ceased to move.
Afraid to touch her Robert looked her over to get a clear feeling if she was alive or just in a coma. The initial shock still grasped him, a childlike guilt waiting for the parental figures to come home and catch him with the red crayon and a ruined wall. His mind began playing coordinated steps he needed to take next, these weren’t ideas but similar to memories that obviously never happened.
Robert followed the steps his mind held first picking the needle up off the ground, amazed that the glass didn’t break he went into the kitchen and put the needle and empty vile back into the box. Removing the garbage pail out from under the sink he threw away the box with contents in it, pulled out the lining trash bag and tied it closed. With trash in hand he immediately left the apartment,
The streets were unnaturally empty, or maybe for the first time in an eternity Robert truly felt alone. After walking many blocks from home he instantly stopped next a set of garbage cans waiting to be picked up the next day. Before placing the bag into the can he felt the urge to look up and saw the large bright wide face of the moon, it looked to be smirking at him in a mocking manner.
He threw the bag away, turning his back to the moon to make a retreat back to his house away from the judging spot light of the large sphere in the black sky.
After a few blocks the buildings blocked the accusing face hanging over him and Robert relaxed, reaching in his pocket for a cigar he realized they were back in the apartment.
With the garbage properly disposed of as well as the mean moon out of sight he felt his temperament cool and decided to roam a few more blocks to find a bodega for a cheap cigar usually used to smoke weed. .
Aimlessly traveling the blocks, crisscrossing avenue and consciously trying to lose the moon, full moons were said to be omens where madness reached its pinnacle point, people were at their utmost insane state of mind he thought.
What made the moon drive sanity from people? The current one didn’t make him feel any type of out of place or out of mind, just reminded him of the large face of a sentinel with an illuminating face exposing any dark crevice that a person may be hiding?
That could be the factor that drives people mad, the exposure of their darkest corners shined on and revealed by a hideously blue glow. People will protect with dire consequences their inner most secrets and to have it forcibly ripped out of them could bring out the inner monster for everyone to see.
Puffing on the damp end of the cigar he had the image of coming home to find Clara sleeping sound in her bed, the bright smile of the moon laughing with its evil light emitting through his bedroom window and revealing to Robert his own inner desires. What would the truth light of the moon reveal in Robert? Possibly a beast hiding under the forgotten reaches of crusted building?
Not able to stand the taste of the cancerous cigar he returned home and climbed the stairs to the third floor, when he reached the landing he again stood facing his door trying not to look down toward the end of the hall. He couldn’t help himself and finally faced the stairs to find just darkness. The light of the moon was truly revealing and it showed Robert that he was empty, no monster tucked away.
The remainder of the night he slept on the couch with all the lights on and the bedroom door closed. The next morning he opened the door and found Clara’s lifeless body cold to the touch, reaching for the phone he was about to phone the police but something told him to call an ambulance instead.
When waiting for them to arrive he saw Clara’s bare foot was exposed from under the blanket, there was a dot of coagulated blood on the big toe that he injected with the needle. Robert quickly opened up her drawer removed a pair of socks and put them on her feet, he stood in the doorway of his bedroom staring at the wall listening for the sound of the ambulance.
They marked time her death in the ambulance but he could read it on both the paramedics faces when seeing the women on the bed that any attempt at resuscitation was pointless and without a doubt she was dead.
They still went through the motions, performing CPR, even giving her the paddles a couple either for protocol or for appearance sake to show the oddly quiet husband they were doing their best to revive his wife.
At the hospital he was another shocked relatively added into the faces of others, waiting to hear the news regarding their loved one. Strange faces stepped in front of him, requesting signatures, asking questions and attempting to console him for his loss.
In truth he was absent, his mind clouding the outside world in front of him just waiting for the nurses to pass and move on from the current chapter he was slowly moving through. If there was a full moon the staff and patients alike o the hospital floor would be aghast with the void of thought and feelings staring at them from inside the mind of Robert Michael, a grotesque shape hiding in the dark shadows of an ascending stairs.
The doctors attempted at questions when he first arrived at the hospital with the ambulance team.
He could recall only a few things they said including: ‘if she ate anything before she went to sleep?’, ‘did she do drugs?’, ‘if there was a history of heart problems or strokes in her family?’-and so forth.
He was approached by a police officer to write up a report, the officer was either disinterested or hesitant to bother a mourning husband.
It appeared at first to the uniform that this was a tragic incident, though surprising in nature and rare it does occur statistically.
Later that night when filing the papers for the day he went briefly over the facts and could see there was no history of domestic abuse, no known drug habits, just a normal women with an average life who happened to have a hemorrhage while she slept. This case called for all signs that there was no reason to investigate further, but his intuition told him to put the file in a folder of “Inconclusive” on his desk and made a mental note to follow up later.
By the time Robert returned home it was night and he was exhausted from the time and paper work at the hospital, as well as phone calls he had to make to insurance companies and the two or three living relatives that Clara had. She was never close and since they were together neither of them made any attempt to include family in their lives so the individuals he did get in contact with gave them their sympathy and promptly got off the phone.
In the empty apartment he sat with just the light next to the couch on creating a circular glow throwing shadows everywhere.
The house was quiet, Robert waited not completely sure what he was waiting for. Maybe it was the familiar voice of the beast to tell him what to do next, or Clara to barge in and break the petrified feeling in the air. Perhaps he was anticipating the cackling laugh of the wide faced moon to comment on the current environment. Whatever it was never arrived and he fell asleep with his head bent back letting go of the folder he held, spilling the papers from the hospital with Clara’s death certificate all over the floor.
As he fell in the deep sleep of REM he could faintly hear the sound of wickedly deep squeaking in the far distance before his mind completely closed for the night.
He took a few days off from work using bereavement as an excuse to avoid any human contact, afraid to be seen by people for fear of exposing his lack of sympathy. For so many years his days were full of dissatisfaction, now that he removed the women he felt was responsible for that dissatisfaction there was a large hole failing to be filled.
So after sitting in his apartment for a time thinking of how to fill the unidentified emptiness Robert felt he should return back to work and pretend to be the saddened husband struggling to recover from a most unexpected loss.
The amount of sympathy and condolences he received was unbearable and exhausting, throughout the day the constant bombardment appeared to never end. People tenderly gave him comfort and their continuous offerings of empty assistance, as if any absurd request would be honored.
The one person who appeared to avoid him was Eric, who after returning from his trip left a card but never personally approached Robert in person. There was a hesitation and unspoken awkwardness, since Eric’s cubicle sat opposite Robert’s their interaction was unavoidable.
Fear had a most unwelcoming return when the two men finally made eye contact, imagining that Eric may pull him in close and whisper in his ear with the voice from under the stairs: “I know what you did.”
When preparing to make a quick departure Eric stood from his chair and looked directly his way, offered the standard line of bereavement and hesitated for a moment before speaking up.
“Hey, really sorry to bring it up but were you able to accept my package for me? I looked in the fridge and didn’t see it there.”
Eric was hoping to avoid this at all cost but knew that it was eventual, he though over his response for over a week and each time a different lame answer. Now faced head on he was tongue tied confusing different aspects of his multiple lies. “Sorry….that was the day I found Clara……” Robert chocked on his words, covering his eyes with his left hand to display the effect he was on the verge of crying.
“I missed the delivery….sorry….” he offered removing his hand form his face and turning his head to avoid meeting Eric’s eyes.
It was absurd and automatically knew the timetable didn’t work but he predicted Eric would avoid appearing aggressively insensitive towards a grieving widower and would not inquire into the details.
“If you want I can reimburse you for your medication if it was lost or thrown away. I truly am sorry.” he said putting a last nail into the coffin made of guilt wood. This statement alone he knew would guarantee that the issue of the delivery was dead between him and Eric.
“No,no,no.” Eric pleaded shaking his head and bringing his hand up in a stop motion,
“Do not worry about it man, I am sure someone else may have grabbed it. Besides I have plenty at home so I will be fine.”
“Are you sure?” Robert added.
“Yes of course, it is not a problem I swear. Hey did you receive the card I left you?” Eric said immediately changing the conversation.
“Yes, it was very nice of you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.” said Robert giving a half smile.
“Of course buddy, if you need anyone to talk to you know we could always go out for a beer and shoot the shit. I’m here if you need anything.” Eric offered.
“That’s very nice of you Eric. I’d’ like that.”
“Once you are in a better place I’ll gather a group of the guys and we could go out for happy hour.”
“Great, I’ll let you know.” Robert said removing the smile from his face.
Eric shook his head and the awkwardness returned, with little else to say between them Eric sat back down in his seat and Robert did the same.
‘The last thing I want to do is go out with that idiot for drinks’ he thought, but the conversation was successful and Robert knew that was the last he would hear form Eric and his package. The emptiness inside felt like it was fading and the burden on his shoulders from anticipation felt relieved until he thought of the signature. That single though dropped his heart to the souls of his feet, the blurred memory played in his head over and over, still unable to see the electronic pad or the name that he wrote.
Eric was not what he should have concerned himself with, he was now plagued with a series of ‘what if’s?’ and each burdened him with a heavier weight on his being and mental strength. He was not able to focus and the thoughts of uncertainty raced in his head again, he jumped out of his seat grasping the sides of his head. His sudden ballistic movement must have startled his surrounding co-workers, as he removed his hands and looked around he saw that they were staring at him afraid themselves to speak. Karen, a woman who sat diagonally finally spoke up and asked.
“Are you alright Robert?”
He looked at them all dumbfounded and unable to construct a clear sentence that would make sense, his tongue dried in his mouth preventing him to speak.
“I…uhhh…” sweat started building on his face and the few seconds that passed felt like hours.
“Can I get you something?” asked Karen sincerely.
“I just…I just need to go home. I am not feeling very well and think my vertigo is acting up.” he was able to manage out.
“Sure no problem, I’ll tell Donald that you needed to leave.” Karen said looking up at him from her desk. The other’s just nodded their heads and continued to look busy staring at their screens.
He quickly left the office anxious to get home, he felt that his answer would be there and that the unknown would reveal the unknown.
Reaching the apartment he barely realized the building was unlocked and the first floor door was wide open, abandoned by the squatters. He looked at the door to the ground floor apartment and then looked up the stairs next to the door
Robert lunged up the steps, the warped boards under the decaying carpet crying in objection as he ascended. Stepping onto the third floor landing he stood at the end of the hall looking down towards the fourth floor stairs to find the shadow filled space empty.
The moon truly was revealing and showed just an empty space and an empty man looking for something that possibly was never there. He began to grasp frantically at his hair then pressed his hands against the dust stained walls in order to balance himself against the spinning room.
The light began to flicker again, Robert steadily walked down the hall calling out to the darkness under the stairs.
As he stepped closer the black shadow revealed simply a dirty area under corroding wooden steps in a battered and forgotten building, nothing more.
Robert walked back to his door holding himself up against the wall, he decided to do the only thing that he knew would ease the pain. Going into the kitchen he removed the chilled bottle from the freezer and began to inhale the cool liquid down his throat. Looking at the few drops that were left he realized he would have to call for another bottle of cheap vodka from the delivery service and self-medicate his problems.
Night fell over the city, street noise through the dirty screen in the living room window entered the living room. The noise from the outside did nothing to affect a deeply drunk Robert, the delivery was a little less than an hour ago and the new bottle was about half way gone. Every so often he would sip the warm vodka holding the bottle in his hand, the thoughts ticked in his head and he kicked the bottle from the last bottle into the wall bouncing the plastic bottle every which way. His liquid amnesia was not working and realized with great aggravation that the current bottle he held was dwindling down and sooner than later would be finished also.
With three shots left he managed to call for another, and with great failure tried to make the remainder of vodka last. Finishing before the delivery guy arrived he lifted his wasted body off the coach, standing for a few seconds to get his bearings he went into his bedroom to look for a cigar.
It was the first time he entered the room since Clara died, Robert stood next to the bed on Clara’s side just looking down at the empty space and dirty sheets.
The events played out in his head in fractured pictures: the giant rat on the counter staring out at him, lifting the sheet revealing her bare feet, the voice beckoning him form the kitchen, the accusing and scared look from Clara and the dead body lifeless on the bed.
The bare feet was what he harped on, if she was wearing socks then what? Would he have attempted to take them off or just stick the needle through the socks? Too many ‘What if’s?’ building and not enough answers
He turned away from the bed and opened a box on the dresser taking out a cigar and lighter. He was set to put the cigar in his mouth when the buzzer rang for the front door.
Robert stumbled out the apartment and almost fell head over feet down the flights of stairs to ground level, standing straight as he could he opened the door wide for the confused looking delivery guy. Instantly snatching the bottle in a black plastic bag out of the man’s hand he then shoved money into the guy’s chest promptly slamming the door shut.
“Asshole.” said the man, faintly heard through the aging door.
Robert removed the bottle, dropping the plastic bag on the floor of the hallway. He opened up and took a quick gulp, while twisting the cap back on him turned and looked into the open apartment once occupied by the reclusive squatters.
Walking in he could clearly see the layout was different than his own, bigger too.
Turning on the light of the hallway he saw there was a bedroom off to the side and a hallway leading into a large empty living room then a door-less entrance into spacious kitchen.
Robert did his best to steadily down the hall into the living room acknowledging how clean the squatters kept the apartment, even though they were derelicts of society he was surprised that they kept such a tidy home.
He assumed that this was originally where the landlord lived before skipping out of town to avoid tax penalties and code violations.
He stepped into the open entrance of the kitchen, looking across the dark room he saw two shiny eyes and the silhouette of an enormous rat perched on the counter top.
His body stiffened and he dropped the bottle, the hard plastic hit the warped linoleum in a loud thud, rolling a few inches before coming to a stop.
Robert broke from his frozen panic, he looked down to the bottle then quickly back at the counter seeing nothing but a shadowy surface.
Stepping backwards out of the kitchen into the living room he pressed his back against the wall then inched his way to floor, tears falling down his cheeks in a silent cry. Robert closed his eyes with drops of tears rolling down his cheeks. Drifting out of consciousness he could faintly make out an eerie squeaking before fully falling into a comatose like sleep of nightmares and malicious promises.
Waking up on the floor of a strange apartment, his head burned from spent vodka. The sun’s light broke through the living room blinds hitting his face, increasing the pain from the hangover he currently suffered from.
Robert rolled to his side then laid face down on the floor, attempting to push himself up in a kneeling position he almost fell face down again when a sharp pain stabbed his head the instant he lifted it off the ground. Finally able to get up on his feet he looked around the abandoned apartment and used the wall to hold himself up trying his best not to vomit.
He looked at the opening into the kitchen, stepping up towards the entrance and searched floor for the bottle of vodka he dropped the night before. Locating it in the far reach of the corner Robert walked over and picked it up. Holding it up and looking it over for the first time he turned it to look at the label with the illegible Russian writing depicting the brand of ill quality liquor. Unscrewing the top he became mesmerized by watching the clear liquid swish against the clear plastic. Every fiber in his being told him not to take a sip, the idea made him partially gag and his head pound even more. Putting the end to his lips while holding his breath he upended the bottle filling his mouth full and instantly gulping it down. His stomach protested in disgust but his aching head breathed a sigh of relief.
He wondered what time it was and how late he was for work. Still wearing the cloths from the day before he wanted nothing more than to go back up to his apartment and sleep in his own bed, but he detested the thought of laying on the sheets and bed that stank of death.
“Fuck it,” he said as he took another mouth full of liquor, he put the open bottle on the floor of the living room and left the building for his commute to work.
The subway felt more like a wave ride at a water park following a large meal of ice cream and funnel cakes. The nausea racked his head with every turn and stop, few people made note of Robert’s disheveled appearance but to most on the mid-morning commute he was just another drunk to be avoided on public transportation.
In the office Robert needed the assistance of surrounding cubicles to help him get to his desk, he almost fell face forward in a female coworker as he mistook her area for his own.
He sat in his chair and smacked his head straight down on his desk, closing his eye the world instantly began to twirl. The phone rang only a few minutes after that and Robert looked at the identification tab saying: Human Resources.
“Oh shit,” Robert slurred.
Almost anyone who worked in an office understands that a call from Human Resources is never a positive one and despite his current state Robert was almost pretty sure why they were calling too. Someone probably ratted him out that he had a few drinks before coming in and looked on the verge of falling over getting to his desk. It possibly could be them berating him for leaving early yesterday without notifying management, whatever it was he was sure it was not a positive call.
“Yeah?” Robert said.
“Hi Robert, it’s Mike down at HR. Was wondering if you would mind coming in to discuss something.”
“Well I got some shit here I have to…”
“This is non-optional Robert.” the friendly voice quickly turned serious.
“Ok then.” Robert replied hanging up.
Maybe he could just leave and say he felt sick and needed to go home, whatever it was he felt as if he should just get it over with and take the tongue lashing he was about to endure.
Entering into Michael Stennet’s office he could see sitting in one of the two chairs opposite Mike’s desk with his back to the door was Donald Pleasence the President of the company.
It was guaranteed he was in some trouble now. Doing his best to hide his unstable gait he wasn’t sure the strength of vodka on his breath mixed with the amount of body odor he emitted. The more he tried to convince himself the seriousness of the situation the more he thought of how much he just didn’t care.
Robert sat in the seat to the left of Donald, slouching the instant his bottom hit the cushion.
“Hi Robert.” said Mike attempting to be cordial yet professional.
“Mike, Don.” Robert said acknowledging each with a nod of the head.
“Robert do you know why we called you in?” asked Mike.
“I have no idea.”
“Come on Robert!! I’m sitting right next to you, even Mike can smell you right now.” blurted Donald visually attempting to cool his anger.
Mike raised his hand trying to get Donald to calm and allow him to handle the situation. Donald was not easy tempered and it was an office wide fact how quickly he was to go off the handle.
“I understand things are tough with your loss. We have permitted you time off to get affairs in order, the company will give you the support you need but this is unacceptable.”
He looked at Robert waiting for a reply, when he didn’t receive one Mike continued.
“Do you need help? I can arrange for you to talk to…..”
“I don’t need fucken help.” Robert muttered under his breath.
“Ok!!! I won’t stand for this shit at my company. You have taken way more than enough time off, more than your work has justified. Coming in and smelling like a bar floor then almost falling into the lap of a female employee. I fire you for harassment on that alone. I should fire you…”
“Please Donald!” Mike interrupted. “Robert….we want to be sympathetic to your situation but you aren’t giving us much to work with here.”
“Am I fired?” asked Robert.
“We are going to suspend you without pay for two weeks” Mike continued, “During that time we want you to see some counseling there is a treatment center that will be covered by your medical…”
Robert got up out of his seat and walked around the back of the chair using it to hold himself up he began walking to the door and left without listening to the rest of Mike’s sentence. He heard Donald say something to Mike but drunken brain blurred the words making them incoherent.
The large room of cubicles around him was filled with bobbing heads doing their best to inconspicuously look up at him accompanied by the hushed gossip interchanging between the people at their desk.
Passing by his desk he saw Eric peak over the top of the cubicle wall at Robert’s direction. Robert stopped right before the opening to his area and stared right at Eric.
“Fuck you.” he said to him before walking off out of the building.
By the time he reached Brooklyn the onset of a hang was in full effect, moving from a steady throb into a full on pounding headache.
Stopping short of the stairs Robert looked into the open apartment of the first floor, remembering the vodka bottle he left. The dire call to fix his hang over and continue on with the torture of reality was too tempting.
He eased his way down the hall as if afraid someone was home. In the open living room he scanned the floor for the bottle, he could have sworn he left it right in the dead center but it was nowhere to be found. Facing the window, he turned in the direction of the wall he slept against and saw a black silhouette of a large rat against the sunlit wall.
His eyes grew in fast terror, twisting around he saw there was nothing there except for the midday sun. He ran out of the apartment, up the stairs to his floor, he could hear something big scurrying after him. Struggling to get his keys out of his pocket when he reached his door he saw that it was open, Robert slammed it shut behind him listening intently for whatever it was that was chasing him.
Leaning his head against the door he breathed in heavily struggling to catch his breath, nothing could be heard so he nervously looked through the peep hole into the hall. There was nothing but pitch black, unable to see anything his sight was blocked by something out there. He thought for an instant that maybe the light went out and that is why the hall was so dark. Grabbing the door handle he was close to turning it, instead he removed his hand from the knob and turned the padlock to securely lock the door.
Backing away Robert dropped to the couch thinking of what was waiting for him on the side, hoping if he didn’t come out that it would not attempt to come in.
He sat on the couch for hours; when the sun began to set he stood up and turned on all the lights in the apartment, except for the bedroom. He closed the bedroom door then sat right back on the couch staring at the door until exhaustion forced his eyes closed and he fell over falling asleep for the night.
Early the following morning Robert awoke to banging on his door, sitting up instantly he thought of the thing chasing him from the night before. He sat quietly listening as the insistent knocking continued, finally a man on the other side spoke up spiking his fear even further.
“Robert Michael this is the New York Police Department.”
Robert didn’t answer, he hoped that if he left their calls unanswered they would assume he wasn’t home. .
“Sir we know you are home, we need you to open up or we will be forced to come in.”
Robert got off the couch and walked over to the door, looked through the peephole and saw two men in uniform.
“What?” he asked.
“Sir we need you to open up, we have a warrant to come in.”
Robert turned the knob and opened the door, before he could get a word out of his mouth they pushed their way in and one grabbed his hand cuffing him and reading him his rights.
“Mr. Robert Michael you are under arrest for the murder of Clara Michael…..”\\
He fell into a dazed and removed state the moment her name came out of their mouth, he ignored the rest of their words and fell into the same blurry reality he succumbed to when the ambulance arrived to take Clara’s body away. It all seemed too distance, almost fake in substance like he entered a secondary universe that was a pseudo of his own.
Leaving the apartment he saw there was a single police car waiting for him, the lights weren’t even on. Robert felt that on the T.V. police always came to suspect’s houses with two or three police cars full of officers as back up. Maybe they didn’t for see him as a possible threat, he was only dangerous enough for one cop car with two police officers and no lights.
He was silent the entire way, the police were as well. No words exchanged, no questions asked, not even a single threat calling him a scumbag or low life. Maybe his appearance was enough of a testament to his character, they didn’t need to insult him at all his existence was an insult to the lot of them in the car.
At the police station Robert was finger printed and brought into an interrogation room, he was recommended a lawyer but he waived that right and the police proceeded to list off his charges. He already knew and didn’t need to hear the details, he signed his name and Eric reported the missing package to his insurance company prompting the insurance company as well as the authorities to investigate. All the ‘what if’s?’ were answered and Robert would sit in a jail for god knows how long with only his serene thoughts and lack of empathy to accompany him. During the explanation he thought of what would happen to his apartment, now it was really abandoned and maybe an entire new group of squatters would come and take over the third floor and possibly one of the squatters would come home to find a large rat under the stairs of the fourth floor. He smirked at the idea angering the officer across from him.
‘Do you think this is funny?”
The angry questions snapped Robert back into the situation and he stared blankly as the officer continued on with his scripted protocol speech.
They brought him down in the lower level with the holding cells, since he waived his right to an attorney and no judge was available to set bail he would have to wait a few days before they set trial.
The holding cell was a small area with three stone walls, a metal bed hanging out of the back wall and metal bars revealing a long hallway.
He sat slouched over on the metal bed and looked up to the sound of footsteps making their way down the hall. A man was heading down the hall towards him, a little older than Robert but in obviously better shape and very handsome, silvery grey hair with a deep black beard.
He stepped up to the bars with deep angry blue eyes burning down at Robert sitting on the bed.
“I said I didn’t want a lawyer.” Robert said.
“Why’d you do it?” the man asked.
“Hugh?” Robert asked looking up at the man with a deeply confusing look.
“Did you know about us? Two years….two years together and you kill her now? What did you gain?” he said fighting back oncoming tears.
“Who are you?”
The man held up a group of papers against the bars to Robert,
“We were close. Waiting for the papers then we were going to tell you together. She was going to give you everything you bastard.” he sneered the last sentence through clenched teeth.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“You took her from me, now your freedom will be taken from you. Rot in pieces Robert.”
The mystery man threw the papers to the floor of the cell and began to walk away, Robert lifted up the papers and began to read, looking up in disbelief as the man left the holding floor of the jail. Robert dropped the papers and stepped up to the bars grasping them with both hands.
“Who are you?” Robert called out to the empty hall. “Please….come back!!!”
The lights went out leaving Robert in total dark, blue streak of light from the moon fell through the street level window at the end of the hall.
“Please come back.” Robert cried with tears in his eyes.
A familiar deep squeaking noise came from behind him, Robert turned and saw the all too familiar sight under the metal bed. Trapped between his nightmares, Robert’s purgatory now held him in the awful freedom he previously prayed for granted by a malicious rat.