For my dad…
Mr. Priest sat on the end of his bed with his face in his hands. When you’re seventy-six years old, sleep can be fleeting but he always enjoyed the sleep he did get. In his life, he had so many sleepless nights; he loved to make up any he could.
He lifted his head and looked at the clock. Twelve forty-six. He had gone to bed around eight thirty and as soon as his old head hit the pillow, he was gone, sleeping a dreamless sleep.
Until an hour later when the music started. The deep bass from it pounded his walls along with his head. He had tried to cover his head with his pillows, from his side and his late wife’s, but it was no good. The sound and the vibrations penetrated the feathers and the cloth.
He stayed there holding the pillows against his head for over fifteen minutes when he gave up. He dropped the pillows and the sound became louder. With his eyes wide open, he lay in the dark hoping that he could fall back to sleep anyway, no matter the ruckus that was happening.
Nope. There was no chance. He just stared up at the ceiling, hoping the sound would just turn off all of the sudden and then he could get back to sleep and whatever sweet dreams that were being denied him by the sonic hell.
After another fifteen minutes, he decided his prayer wouldn’t be answered and decided to get up. He sat up slowly, feeling his old joints ache and the dull pain in his hip. Many years of hard work after his time in the lab had taken its toll. He could have had an easier life but that would have been against the promise he had made to his late wife and the promise he had made to himself.
He got up and put on his robe and opened the door to his bedroom. Waiting for him at the top of the stairs was his trusty companion in his later years, his black cat, Remington. Remy for short. Remy purred next to his leg and looked up at Mr. Priest.
“Can’t sleep, either, huh?” Mr. Priest said down to his furry companion. “They’re real close to upsetting me.”
He picked Remy up and carefully made his way down the steps to the first floor of his condo. As he came down, holding the rail with his left hand, he looked out the two small windows set in his front door. Snow was still coming down in droves like it had been when he went to bed. He got to the bottom of the steps and let Remy down, who scurried to his spot on the couch. Mr. Priest pushed the blinds away from the window next to the front door slightly. Outside the ground was covered in half a foot of the white stuff with more on the way. His wife would have hated it but he loved snow, even though the cold made his body hurt a lot more than it ever did. He still had a childlike awe when it came to snow. He especially loved to watch it fall.
Then he looked at the parking spaces. Normally there would be four empty ones, the unit on the very end was empty. Tonight, they were all full. There were even two cars parked in front of the others blocking them in, including his.
Mr. Priest shook his head and let the blinds go. He turned around and headed to the couch past the spot he used to put the Christmas tree up. He sat down and Remy joined him in his lap. He stroked the cat, almost to the beat of the music coming through the too thin walls. He couldn’t even hear the purr that he felt with his hand. Above him, there was a picture of him and his late wife and their three kids. They were all grown up and living in different states. He had hoped he would see them sometime this Christmas but it wasn’t looking good based on their last calls. It would probably be just him and Remy.
“And our neighbors,” he said to the black feline. He said ‘neighbors’ with a slight disdain. He didn’t want to dislike them but they honestly gave him no choice. They always seemed to push the boundaries of what they could do and then go past them.
The song changed again. And this time, it was the loudest of them all. The picture above him started to bounce against the wall. He thought about calling the cops but the last time he did, they never showed up and the music didn’t stop until early in the morning. Plus, now the weather was bad and he was sure the cops didn’t want to risk themselves because of a noise disturbance call.
Mr. Priest looked around at his living room. He had added the wall shelves that held most (but not all) of his books. He was quite proud that he had read every one of them, some more than once. He found reading and using them to escape helped him keep from thinking about the pain and anger from long ago. Now, he was watching three of his books creep toward the edge of one of the shelves. Maybe they were the right weight and not as wedged in as the others that caused them to get closer to the shelf edge with each and every bump of the bass coming from the other side of the wall. He watched two finally stop before they crashed down to the floor. But the third one didn’t stop. It hung for a second on the edge and then fell into the open space and hit the floor with no sound. Or no sound he heard.
That was three seconds before the picture above him jumped off the nail and landed on his head. Remy ran from his lap as fast as he could, tearing his claws into Mr. Priest’s thighs. He didn’t feel that as much as the pain he felt in his head. The glass had broken and had shattered all around him on the couch. He slowly lifted the picture off of him and gently placed it on the couch seat next to him. The pain was radiating down his head and down his back. He still hadn’t opened his eyes but when he felt something creeping down the front of his face, they slowly opened as he reached to touch his forehead. It came away bloody.
He felt the blood not only creeping down his face but felt it starting to drip, drip, drip onto his shoulder and his back. He reached up and felt something poking up from his scalp and when he touched it, a piercing pain caused blackness to roll over his eyes. He thought for a second and on a three count, he grabbed the piece of glass shard with his thumb and forefinger and pulled it out. That caused more blood to be released and the drip, drip, drip became a steady stream.
Mr. Priest knew he had to stop the bleeding. He tried to stand up but some blackness waved across his vision. He placed his hands down to steady himself. It worked more than he bargained for when his palm landed on an upturned piece of thin glass. It entered the center of his palm and without much resistance, it touched his middle metacarpal. Pain exploded in his mind. The burning of the pain, from his head, the cuts and the near concussion from the weight of the picture frame, the burning pain in his hand, the pain in his ears as the music caused one of the other two books that stopped finally coming loose from the invisible force and falling to the floor next to the other, and the embarrassment of taking all of this without standing up for himself. In his past, when his sweet wife was alive, he would have been out the door and banging on the neighbors so he could tell them to TURN OFF THE GODDAMN MUSIC OR HE’D DO IT FOR THEM!!!
Yes, there was a day in his younger years that he would have given them what for. It was another reason he worked in the lab. That’s where he met her. She had been assigned there by the powers that be and in turn, assigned to him. He saw the man he could be and with the magic, she had in her eyes and her heart, made him into the man. And that man he had been ever since…
…Until he turned his bleeding, pained head to see the picture that sat next to him on the couch. Without knowing it, he had set it down face up. His eyes were having a hard time focusing but when they did, for the briefest of moments, he saw his smiling wife. When she died, she had taken his heart with him, though he tried to be who she always knew he could be; calm and still, not a rage miscreation.
In the end, it wasn’t the pain in his head or hand that caused him to snap, it was the face of his long past sweet wife in the broken picture.
The pain disappeared, in his hand, in and on his head, in his ears, it all left in a heartbeat and was replaced with something else. And even though the blood still dripped down his forehead (it even had found a new path into his right eye), it had slowed remarkably fast.
And the loud music became a muffled, faraway sound as if somebody was playing it from their car with open windows as they drove down the road. The music had become almost nonexistent.
But it was still there. It still thumped against his wall like the heart of a monster.
Remy sat in a corner with his wide eyes staring at his human, his housemate. Some ancient trait came into his feline mind. He backed himself into the corner as far as he could. He did think well enough not to hiss or flee. He wanted to stay as quiet as possible until this unharmonious and odious sense in the air disappeared.
Mr. Priest did not notice Remy. Mr. Priest did not notice much of anything. He was feeling something that he hadn’t felt in a long time, something he had pushed away years ago and kept at bay. Now there was no reason to. Slowly he let himself go and he was enveloped in the blinding light. For a long hour, he sat on the couch, not moving. If someone had come in, they would have automatically thought he was dead. His chest only slightly rose up and down with his shallow breaths. And his eyes, even the one filled with blood, didn’t blink. He just stared out at a point past the wall he looked at. The term ‘thousand yard stare’ didn’t fit. It was more of a million mile stare.
He suddenly stood. Blood that had dripped into his lap fell to the floor with rhythmic splats. The crimson liquid had stopped moving down his forehead. And, though, it had filled one eye, he saw out of it perfectly fine as he walked with determination towards the front door. He didn’t stop to get his coat or even put on his house shoes. He just opened the door and walked out into the dark night with the falling snow.
The party was finally dying down during the hour Mr. Priest sat on his couch but that didn’t stop Mr. Priest’s neighbors from finally giving up. They kept the music loud and the drinks flowing. People that had been invited over had finally left leaving only the couple that lived there and another couple that didn’t want to go home. The owners thought that was just fine. With no job to go to the next day, they figured they would try and make it until the dawn. And they were doing their unlevel headed best.
The beer and liquor flowed until the empty bottles were on every level surface and on the floor, some turned over as the very last of its contents poured into the carpet. Then the drugs came out from their hiding places and were consumed, first with a delicateness and then in some sort of fever-induced quickness.
The man of the couple that had come to visit and to party was sitting in a chair in front of the window. The blinds were pulled open and he was watching the snow fall in his alcohol and drug-induced state. He watched with half-open eyelids and became almost hypnotized. His girlfriend came by dancing to the music, the last of the beers in one hand and a joint that was the size of a large football players’ middle finger between her fingers of her other hand. She kissed on his neck, spilling beer on his shoulder. He didn’t even stir, he just kept his eyes on the snowflakes. She gave up on him and joined the other two who were dancing together, basically dry humping each other. She joined in with their dancing and then all three moved in the rhythmic bass beats. They passed the large joint between them.
As the three started to slowly lose an article of clothing one at a time, the man in the chair slowly focused his eyes on something moving below his view. It was an old man walking past, heading toward the front door of the condo. He thought the drugs had finally cracked open his mind. There was no way this old man was out in this weather with no coat or shoes. Then he saw the blood on his head and his eye. He squinted to make sure he was seeing what he thought he was seeing. Just as he was about to open his mouth (though he wasn’t sure his mouth would work if he wanted it to) to say to the others that some old man was about to knock on the door, the old man knocked on the door.
But it was more than a knock, it was a hammering so loud, they heard it over the bass beat. It was as if Bigfoot had come out of the woods from across the street and decided to play drums on their front door. Three hard raps that caused the glass in the window next to the door to vibrate.
The threesome stopped their striptease and listened. The guy in the chair slowly turned his head towards them, not even concerned that his girlfriend had one of her breasts out and the other woman still had a hand on it.
“Some old dude at the door. A strange lookin’ old dude.” They could just make out what he had said due to his slurring and the loud music. A thin amount of drool ran out the corner of his mouth.
The couple that lived there looked at each other and thought. Then the man nodded, finally figuring out who it might be. He let go of the two women and slowly walked over to the stereo and turned it down.
That was when the door banged three times again. With the music turned down, it sounded like some B-movie monster wanted in and wanted in bad.
“What the fuck,” the man asked as he left the stereo and headed toward the door. The two women clothed themselves and walked behind the man. The man in the chair stayed where he was. Getting up might have been an impossibility at that moment and he didn’t want to try.
The man walked to the front door and opened it hard, hoping to scare their visitor. When he got a look at who it was, he sucked in his breath with an audible gasp. He had the right idea on whom it was but he didn’t expect him to look like this. Mr. Priest had always looked frail when he would see him walk up the front stairs to his condo. He would clutch his bag of groceries in one of his liver-spotted hands and grip the handrail with the other. He always looked like any moment one of his hips would crack and down he would go. Normally this thought would crack him up.
Not now. The Mr. Priest that stood in front of him was completely different. He stood taller and he seemed broader at the shoulders. The liver spots he had seemed to be gone. Even though he still looked like an old man, it was as if a twenty-year-old had put on a Mr. Priest skin suit and was standing in front of him. And the blood on his forehead was unsettling, not to mention the blood in his eye.
The man felt the women standing behind him, obviously seeing what he was seeing. He decided he wasn’t going to punk out in front of them. He had the chance to see his wife with another woman, while her stoned, idiot boyfriend sat in the chair, staring at the fucking snow.
“What the fuck do you want, Mr. Priest?”
Mr. Priest didn’t say anything. He continued to stand there looking from him and to each woman and then back at him. The cold breath coming from his mouth looked like smoke from a demon. The man felt a pang of fear. He hadn’t been afraid since he was a kid. This feeling felt alien to him.
“Can’t you talk, motherfucker?”
The breath from Mr. Priest stopped.
“Turn down your music.” It came out level with no sign of anger. But it was close to a deep sounding growl.
The man’s wife piped in then, apparently not realizing the fear that her husband had. “Listen here, old man, the music’s down. Now go back to your condo before we stomp your ass. You’re on our porch. That’s trespassing.” She threw her jaw out to emphasize the point.
“Keep… it… turned… down…”
Mr. Priest was finally getting a hold of himself then. Deep down, he knew he needed to leave this situation before it escalated. He had been a younger man when this feeling got to this level. He had been able to control it, he even lived with this level for a long period. That was before his late wife and when he loved the thrill of the rage. She had taken it away and rightfully so. Now he turned it down by thinking of her and the disappointment she might have felt. Mr. Priest closed his eyes and turned and walked down the steps.
“Fuck you,” the man yelled out behind him. He decided he had nothing to fear. This was an old man and he was walking away. It had to be the alcohol, the drugs, and the lust that had sent his emotions in the odd direction of fear. The women hurled insults at the back of the old. The man noticed that he still didn’t look frail as he normally did. This man was walking away slowly, almost in defiance. And another thing he saw was that the snow never touched Mr. Priest. It would fall toward him and seem to disappear as if there was some sort of invisible force field around him. The man looked down at the footprints Mr. Priest left in the snow on the sidewalk with his bare feet. The snow didn’t just look imprinted, it looked melted. Once he picked his feet up, the concrete below could be seen and only wet looking. He thought he saw steam rise with each step. But he couldn’t be sure.
He shook his head and turned. He had to be more fucked up then he thought. He pushed the women back so he could close the door.
The girlfriend of the man in the chair was still ranting. “Who the fuck was that crazy old man?”
The man ignored her as he held his hands up. “We are out of booze, herb, and the powder is almost gone. I suggest we head to your house and finish the night. What do you say?” He looked from one to another, finishing onto the man that still sat in the chair. The women nodded and the man in the chair turned his head away from the falling snow with difficulty. After a few seconds, he nodded also.
“Then let’s get the hell out of here.”
They started to get on missing clothes and then coats. The man that had been sitting in the chair was still absent in this reality. His girlfriend helped him get his coat on and laughed at him with venom when he stumbled toward the door. She looked at the other man and wished how the moment hadn’t been lost earlier because of the old man. She wanted to know what it was like to be with this other man. If being with his wife was the only way, so be it. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Mr. Priest didn’t go back inside. He walked back to his condo, climbed the steps and sat in one of the green chairs that sat on his front porch. He still wasn’t anywhere near normal and he didn’t want to scare poor Remy anymore than he already had. Plus, he hoped the cold air would help him cool off. His rage was still boiling.
As he sat there and as the snow gently blew under the eve over his porch and tried to land on his bare skin where it got within a couple of inches before it melted and disappeared completely, he slowly started to calm. Even the snowflakes started to land on the back of his hand and stayed, cooling his skin. His breath was coming back to steady. He thought about his wife and how when he started to feel the old rage build, just the touch of her finger on his hand or a slight caress to his face would make the rage disappear in a blink. As he sat in the chair, starting to feel the cold creep in on him, he felt a ghostly touch near his cheek, a special place where her fingers would seek late at night as they lay together.
Mr. Priest closed his eyes and saw his wife. She was there with him. She had always been there with him even after she left this world. He felt her presence standing near him, finding that place on his cheek. He turned to look at her in his mind. She was mouthing something. He furrowed his forehead, not understanding her voiceless words. He concentrated, trying to translate. It was just two words…
The neighbors left the condo and headed toward the van that the couple owned that always sat parked in front. They could never park it straight and more often than not, taking up two spots.
The man headed toward the driver side while the other three made their way to the other side. The man’s girlfriend went to the passenger door and the other two went to the sliding door that let them in.
The girlfriend pushed her out-of-it boyfriend toward the door and took a look back at where the old man had headed. She stopped and saw him sitting outside his condo in a chair looking in her direction. Even with her stoned eyes, she could see snow had started to cover his arms, his legs, and his bare feet. At first, she thought he was dead. The blood on his forehead and caked in his eye didn’t help. Then she focused and saw the frozen breath escaping his nose and mouth.
“What the fuck,” she asked out loud.
Her boyfriend was already in his seat with eyes slowly closing, his brain starting to shut down, desperately wanting to sleep. But the other woman and her husband heard her and looked. They saw what she did and stood in confusion.
The man slowly stopped his ascent into the van’s driver seat and came back to the front to get a closer look. He was confused and conflicted at the same time. There was a place deep down inside that called for him to go check on his old neighbor, to see if he was alright. But years of taking more than he should and living a selfish life had quieted those concerns. And if he had any echoing interest in doing the right thing, his girlfriend nipped those in the bud.
“Hey, old fucker,” she yelled. “I hope you freeze and die out here. That will shut you up for good.” Then she laughed. It was a laugh of intoxication and stupidity. But mostly, it came from a place of savage meanness.
The other woman joined in with the laughter. They sounded like two old crones hunched over their large black cauldron, watching the poison they concocted boil and become more potent, a vision you would think of on a Halloween night, not a couple of days before Christmas. Those laughs were filled with hate.
The man smiled in spite of the tiniest amount of sympathy he had for old Mr. Priest. Ever since he lost his wife, he had stayed to himself and never said boo to anybody. Before she died, they had always been smiling and said ‘hello’. Even to him. At that time, he kept his partying to a minimum, not wanting to disrespect this sweet old couple on the other side of the wall.
But time changes those with not enough willpower or caring in your fellow man. The man decided it wasn’t worth fighting to be nice and let his hate grow.
Who cares, he thought. It’s not worth it.
And he laughed along with the two women.
From inside the van, the stoned man quietly said something that the others didn’t hear because of their laughter. This man, through his chemical over-stimulated mind, had a two-second moment of clarity.
“You shouldn’t mess with that old man. He’s dangerous.” Then the chemicals found another foothold and put him back into his stupor.
The girlfriend of the man in the back of the van stopped her laughing and decided to gauge the old man’s awareness. She really wanted a reaction from him.
“Hey, you lonely old fucker. You’re going to be a dusty old popsicle.”
Nothing. He didn’t move one muscle. He continued to stare.
The wife of the man decided she could do one better. And she didn’t hold back.
“Your old bitch-prune of a wife died. You should, too.”
That got them both going again. The laughter was loud but didn’t seem to rouse anybody else from their beds.
But Mr. Priest heard it. It echoed around his brain. Even the image of his late wife heard it in his head. He could see her cringe at it. He could see it hurt her and he wanted to cry. He didn’t want her to be upset because of the ugliness of other people. She detested meanness, a reason he had changed.
She looked at him again and mouthed the two words a second time. And now he could hear her as if she was saying it on a quiet night when it was just the two of them, just inches from each other. The look on her face told him she meant it. It was permission to do what he might have done a long time ago. He didn’t question it.
From a place that he had locked away, came a grin. It was wide and toothy.
The two women and the man saw Mr. Priest’s face change. His eyes had been looking past them to some faraway place. And even though they never stopped looking in their direction, suddenly those eyes saw them. Those eyes were aware and present. Their laughter died.
The three of them felt a cold, sharp bolt of fear go down their spines. It was as if they had jumped into a hole in the ice. They all shivered with it.
They decided at the same time leaving was a good idea. All three got into the van with a hesitant quickness, part of them wanting to stay and let the meanness continue but the ancient part that’s built in from our so long ago ancestors, told them to vacate the danger; fight or flight. Flight screamed in their heads. The message was too overwhelming to ignore.
The man started the van and backed up out of the space, tires losing some traction in the snow.
Mr. Priest had got up from his chair and quickly walked down his steps and followed the van down the parking lot. If they had looked back, they would have seen this old man moving at a speed he should not have been able to produce. As a matter of fact, no person should have been able to produce this kind of speed. The snow that he had stepped in disappeared in a hiss of steam. And the snow falling, melted and hissed in the air all around him by three feet or more. Even his t-shirt and boxer shorts were close to smoldering.
The van slid out onto the unmarred roadway where no tracks had been made. Nobody in their right minds would have been out in this weather. The man got control and continued down the road at a too fast pace.
Mr. Priest stopped when he got to the center of the road, watching the red tail lights getting further away. The wide, toothy grin opened, letting out what was, not a cold moisture, but steam and smoke. He spoke in a voice that didn’t sound as if it was from this world.
“MY WIFE SAID, ‘DO IT’!!!”
The van suddenly stopped, throwing its passengers forward. Even on the snow, the van stopped on a dime. It was as if they hit a concrete wall or as if something huge and enormous grabbed them from behind. The man regained his senses and put his foot on the accelerator. The back wheels turned, spraying snow for a few moments until there was no more. Then the black tires hit the pavement and the rubber started to smoke, not getting any traction.
“Oh, shit,” the man yelled to no one in particular. The two women screamed but didn’t move, not knowing what to do. He continued to floor the gas pedal and turn the steering wheel from side to side, trying to break free from whatever unknown thing that was holding them.
He looked in the side mirror. In the distance, some two hundred feet behind him, standing in the road, was Mr. Priest. He could see the cloud of vapor rising from his mouth. It suddenly dawned on the man that it wasn’t frozen breath at all.
“He’s the devil,’ he whispered to himself. He could have screamed it and the two women would not have heard. They continued to scream. Their buzz was completely gone. Only the man in the back was still too overwhelmed by the chemicals of the narcotics to react in the way they were. But he did understand what was happening.
“Told you,” he said. He turned to look out the window next to him and watch the snow fall. Deep down, he knew this would be the last time.
That was when the van started to sink.
The road was slowly coming up to greet them. It was as if they were sinking into black lava. The snow had disappeared from around the vehicle from some great heat they could not feel. Steam rose into the air all around the sinking vehicle, making the windows fog with the water vapor from the superheated snow.
The three finally tried for the doors which would not budge. The van continued to sink into the road as the man tried to smash his window with his elbow with no success at all. There wasn’t even a crack. All he did was fracture the tip of his elbow that caused him to scream in pain. All the while, the van slid into the roadway with no effort at all. As it did, the women screamed and the man, through his pain and fear, tried the windshield with his feet. The man in the back never tried anything at all. He just watched the chaos of the other three as they screamed and beat against the inside of the van.
The van sank below the surface. Once the roof of the van and then the tip of the antenna disappeared, the surface suddenly hardened. After a moment more, the last of the steam lifted and dissipated into the air and the roadway became cold again and started to allow the fallen snow to collect on top. In less than thirty minutes, the snow completely erased what had happened. Even the tracks left from the van to the soon to be covered up spot was gone. All traces that a van and its passengers were there were gone.
The last of the four in the van to die was the man in the back. The drugs and alcohol kept him motionless for the next hour. He watched with calm observance the two woman scream until their voices ruptured and they coughed up blood. He watched the man continue to hammer the glass with his hands until they were broken and bleeding. At no time did the glass break. He didn’t move as he watched the other three fumble with their cell phones with no prevail. He watched them finally become quiet and despondent and finally stop altogether. Another moment of clarity came to him and he figured they died of a heart attack from fear.
He closed his eyes and eventually passed himself, all of the oxygen gone from the van’s interior.
And the van continued to sink further and further into the earth.
Mr. Priest was starting to calm. He had stood in the roadway watching the place where the van disappeared turn white again. After what felt like hours, he finally blinked. And a few moments after that, he felt the snowflakes land coolly on his skin once again. He turned and walked back to his condo slowly. When he stepped in the snow, snow was still there in his footprints. By the time he made it to his front door, he was shivering. The arthritis was starting to roar in his joints. He turned to look at the other condos in his building and the other buildings nearby. No one was on their front steps or looking at him through their open doors. Before the last bit of power seeped back into the spaces inside him, he sensed that nobody saw what had happened. Everyone that could have heard or seen was in their beds, sleeping the night away. If they didn’t hear the music, they sure didn’t hear what had happened.
He opened his front door and stepped inside. After some time, he found himself heading back to his bed after giving Remy a reassuring scratch behind his ears. He slowly headed up the stairs. He stripped down with joints crying and slowly got into a hot shower. He put his head under the steaming water and it washed the blood and the chill away.
As the water turned red and swirled down the drain, he thought back when he met his wife at the lab. If not for her, he might still be there. He wouldn’t have had the courage to make the doctors let him go and let him leave. They saw his power and feared it.
His wife showed him there was more to life than being a guinea pig.
Or taking shit from anyone.
Only until they promised to leave them alone did she ask to keep the rage under control. For her, he shut it away. For her, he would keep it locked away. Until she said he could unlock that door.
He dried himself off and got into some nice, clean pajamas. Then he climbed back into the bed where it was warm under the covers.
And he was asleep in no time. Once he settled into a REM state, he found his wife there. She held him and told him it was alright.
He slept with a less wide and toothy grin on his face. It was just a smile.
And all was quiet.