Christopher Fulbright is a journalist, a technical writer, and the author of more than 40 stories published in magazines and anthologies worldwide. His science-fiction novelette Sometimes Women Are So Cold is currently available from SST Publications in the UK, and his first horror novel, Of Wolf and Man was published by America House in 2003, available on Amazon.com. Christopher lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife and two daughters. Visit his website for more information: http://www.mindovermedium.com/chfulbright.
The pounding on the front door was insistent. Angry. It shook the stained glass and rattled the knocker. Someone with a heavy fist.
William Jacob was startled. He was sitting quietly on the couch in his bedtime robe, listening to the soft patter of rain and reading a book on psychology written by one of his contemporaries. It had been a quiet night. Until the pounding.
He got up and wrapped himself more tightly in his robe, flipping on the switch to light the foyer and the porch outside. Beyond the stained glass windows in his door, he could see the blurry figure of a white male standing on the other side, slightly hunched.
William opened the door cautiously, leaving the chain lock fastened.
His heart froze for just a moment. He caught his breath but made a quick attempt to hide his surprise.
'Jack,' he said.
Jack's face was drawn and pale. Black rings hung beneath his eyes. His hair was wet and mussed from the rain. He looked gaunt, as if he hadn't eaten in some time. He also looked quite ill, holding one arm securely about his stomach, as if he were going to vomit.
'Doctor,' Jack said in a breathless rasp. 'She's gone.''Gone?' William's heart leaped suddenly back to life.
She's left him. Finally. She's left ...
'Shelly.' Jack suddenly leaned heavily against the door. His eyes rolled in his head and he looked ready to pass out. 'Let me in ...'
William closed the door enough to slide the chain lock free and swung the door open wide enough to let Jack through. He wore a long black raincoat that dripped all over the tile. He held his stomach, limping through the entryway into the living room. William cringed as Jack fell into his spot on the couch, knocking the book from its perch and losing his page.
'Jack,' William said, 'Why are you here? Or ...' he gave him a meaningful glance as he took a seat in the chair across from him. 'Why haven't you gone to a doctor? Frankly, my friend, you look like hell.'
'My friend,' Jack hissed through clinched teeth. 'You are my doctor. Our doctor.'
'I'm your psychologist, Jack. I'm not qualified to help you with whatever-'
'Oh, I'm well aware of that, Dr. Jacob.' Jack snapped. His eyes flashed at William. 'I doubt you're qualified to do much of anything in a professional capacity.' Jack spoke the word 'professional' as if it were filthy.
William looked at Jack for a moment.
Does he know? William thought. No. He couldn't have known; they were always careful. Nonetheless, the thought that Jack might be aware of his indiscretion was frightening now, for the first time. He'd never seen him like this. So sickly. So ... angry.
Drugs, he thought. It's been drugs all along.'Jack, what's this all ab-' Then he stopped in mid-sentence, knowledge dawning in his eyes. 'Ahh. To lay the blame, right? I wasn't a good enough marriage counselor, so you're coming over to blame me for your failed relationship.'
'Oh,' Jack said, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. 'I'm quite sure that we're both to blame for my failed relationship. You only helped it along.'
Jack's eyes were black as ebony - polished chips of darkness that reflected pinpoints of light from the reading lamp nearby.
'Jack,' William said, tuning into his Dr. Jacob persona. 'Look, you were gone for days without explanation. Your anger came and went unexpectedly and you refused to deal with it. Your drinking-'
At the mention of drinking, Jack reached down to William's glass of bourbon on the table and gulped down the rest. He watched William closely as he did so. The doctor didn't react. He stopped speaking and chose a different tack.
'Shelly is hurting, Jack. She is a beautiful woman who loves you, and she needs love in return.' It hurt to say, but it was appropriate.
Jack spat. It smelled like whiskey. A spray of saliva speckled the table between them. He leaned forward slowly, still cradling his stomach, and reached into a pocket with his free hand. He pulled out a small tape recorder like reporters use for taking notes. Jack sat it on the table between them.
William's heart froze. Jack reached down and pressed PLAY.
Dr. William Jacob's voice came through the tiny speaker.
'-he's not treating you the way a woman of your caliber needs to be treated, Shelly. Really, I wish you'd consider going away with me. It's not as if ...'
'Oh William, you know I love you. But I can't just walk away after all-'
'What do you mean? Look at the way he just runs off without you for days on end. God knows what he's up to - probably out screwing around. Who cares about him anyway, Shell? I thought we loved each other. He doesn't have the guts to do anything about it-'
Jack reached down and shut off the tape with a click that echoed in the quiet. The soft patter of rain filled the room. Silence between them had taken on a new, poisonous air.
William just stared at the recorder. How?
'The day we both came in for counseling,' Jack answered the unspoken question. 'When I left so you could have your 'individual session' with Shelly. I 'forgot' my coat on the couch.' Jack seethed. He ground his teeth together in anger. He leaned forward in his seat, struggling with seeming pain in his abdomen. 'You're so fucking clever, Dr. Jacob.'
Jack's eyes flashed again. His breath was ripe with alcohol.
'You see, doctor, I'm something of a scholar myself.' He grunted and shifted on the edge of his seat. William resisted the urge to back away. 'Those days when I was away, I was studying. Practicing my ... art.'
A million thoughts rushed through William's mind like words on a scrolling marquee. That he really did love Shelly. That he only wanted what was best for her. That Jack was a worthless, gutless piece of shit. But something in the way Jack hovered near him told him all those things would be the wrong things to say. Jack had been awful to her. Now wasn't the time to debate that. Now was the time to reason with this madman in front of him.He looked Jack up and down. The dark rimmed eyes. The dilated pupils. The arm gripping his gut. And suddenly a thought hit him.
Perhaps he's wounded.
Perhaps he killed her. Or tried to. And she stabbed him.
His eyes grazed across the floor scanning for drops of blood.
'My dark art,' Jack whispered.
He was very close to William now. Neither of them moved for a moment.
Jack's claw-like hand snapped around William's wrist. William recoiled, but the grip was like iron.
'You noted that I had a lot of anger issues,' Jack hissed. 'I do. Oh you were right. I have rage issues. Rage that coils up inside of me and festers like a black cancer in my gut. But I've found an outlet, so to speak.'
Jack's face split in a grin. His teeth had blackened, and some had fallen out. His tongue was a pink, fleshy proboscis that flicked from between his lips and wagged like a serpent's kiss.
William froze. Nothing in his repertoire equipped him for this. His only thought was to attack. Hit him where he's wounded - oh God Shelly, what's he done to you?
The doctor's body would not obey his mind. Paralysis struck him at every joint. His muscles tensed. His mouth dried up.
Jack rose from his seat.
'And,' he growled, 'I certainly 'have the guts' to do something about it.'
Jack opened his black raincoat to expose his torso.
William saw what he'd been hiding from view.
Jack's abdomen was a writhing mass of fleshy tentacles. Coils of ropy gray intestines slithered from a wet cavity full of organs that shone with blood in the dim lamplight. All around the orifice were small, sharp teeth, veins and shreds of flesh that had assumed lives of their own, a ragged wound of unnatural origin. The tentacles hovered in the air between them, and the ends curled back to strike like king cobras, small teeth on their worm-like ends. Two more bluish veined tentacles snaked from Jack's midriff, thick as sausage and strong as steel. They secured Doctor Jacob's legs and his free arm, pulling him toward the gruesome maw.
William Jacob began to scream. He thrashed in the foul grip, but his resistance was short lived.
Tentacles punctured his body. Tiny teeth gathered at their gruesome ends to create needle tips and penetrate the soft flesh of his throat and abdomen. The intestinal tenticalia wove in and out of his chest. They chewed through his heart and lungs. They burrowed into the doctor's brain and emerged from an eye socket that burst in a flood of ocular fluid and gray matter.
Jack stood enthralled, tilting back his head to enjoy the pure venom of life that was sucked from the victim before him.
From the time it began until the time it was finished, only two and a half minutes had passed. The appendages drew themselves from the masticated body and receded into their bloody cave.
Jack gagged for a moment. He seemed nauseous and off balance but caught himself on the back of the chair. He clenched his teeth and hissed. Gurgling emitted from the place where his stomach used to be.
There was a knock at the door. Jack looked up.
The porch light was still on, and he could see a slender pale shape on the other side of the stained glass. A painful grimace crept over his face and melted into a grin. He made his slow way into the foyer and opened the door.
Shelly - wet and shivering - froze when she saw his face.
'Honey,' he growled. 'We were just talking about you.'
He pulled her inside and slammed the door.
(C) Christopher Fulbright 2004
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.