Friday 16 March 2012

Friday Flash - The Jar by the Door

The old stairs creaked with every step. Joseph grimaced, unable to decide what made more noise; the staircase, or his joints. He cursed the building between each laboured breath. Six floors of crumbling apartments above his own dingy quarters – and six floors of irritating tenants. Especially 5A.

Joseph paused for breath on the landing below the top floor – home to 6B. The current inhabitant took one look at the place seven months ago, and declared it perfect for her needs. Her long legs and narrow waist told Joseph she’d be perfect for his needs, but he was old enough to be her grandfather.

He hoped he might catch the leggy blonde stepping out of the shower, and propelled himself up the last flight of stairs. He reached her door, and rapped his gnarled knuckles against the flaking wood.

“Miss? Are you in? It’s just me, Joseph,” he called.

No reply. How typical. He glared down at the floor in the vague direction of 5A. The crotchety old bag complained about everyone in the building, but she complained about 6B more than anyone else. Suspicious noises, foul smells, dubious company – 5A filed a new complaint every day about the same things. Joseph knew he should have ignored her, but he wanted an excuse to ogle 6B’s cleavage.

Joseph raised his hand to knock again when the first whiff caught in his nostrils. He screwed up his face and bunched his fist up to his nose. Perhaps a rat had died inside the wall cavity. Or maybe he’d stepped in something. Against his better judgement, he sniffed again, and retched. The stench of rotting meat and rising damp came from beyond the door.

Joseph stuffed a tissue around his nose and fished his jangling bunch of keys out of his pocket. He fumbled with the correct one, eventually getting the ancient metal bone into the lock. The keyhole protested for a moment, as if aware that it was not 6B entering the apartment, but the door gave. Joseph gave it a hard shove, and stepped inside.

Newspapers covered the windows, with narrow shafts of light penetrating the occasional gap. The sunshine fell across bare floorboards covered in old clothing. Joseph glared at the mess, but realised the smell came from the bathroom. He felt his way through the apartment, stumbling over assorted junk and rubbish. He peered into the gloom and realised that 6B had very little furniture – in fact, there was nothing of her own, simply the battered basics he’d provided.

Something dark and sticky covered the floorboards in front of the bathroom door. Joseph gagged, and forced himself not to vomit. He pushed the door open with his elbow, desperate not to touch anything in this flea pit with his bare hands.

Mental note, I’ll serve her a termination in the morning. Just hope she tidies up before she goes, he thought.

Joseph froze in the doorway, jaw slack and eyes bulging. A sticky, red mess occupied the bath tub, all sinews and awkward angles. Crimson handprints stained the wash basin. Three suits hung from coat hangers dangling from the shower rail. More bile rushed up Joseph’s throat when he realised they weren’t suits – they were skins.

He stumbled backwards, willing himself to look away from the skins hung out to dry. He glanced in the mirror and saw rows of jars lined up on the shelves behind the bathroom door. A multitude of eyeless faces stared back from inside the jars, floating in dark green liquid.

Joseph wanted to scream, but a pain in his chest swallowed the sound. He dropped to the floor, his knees popping under the strain. One hand clutched at his shirt, twisted into a claw as if he sought to tear open his chest and free his burning heart.

Joseph slumped across the filthy floorboards. When his ribs stopped heaving, he looked for all the world like another pile of old rags.

* * *

The short man clambered up the stairs to 6B. He stared at the open door, and sniffed the air. Someone had been here. Not a stranger – no, the funny landlord. The landlord who stared and sprayed the air with pheromones. The short man screwed his eyes up as if to banish the mental image.

He crept into the apartment and sniffed again. No, no signs of life here. Recently, yes, but not now. He closed the door behind him and looked around. Across the room and down the hall, the bathroom door stood open. The short man made his way through the apartment, ignoring the darkness.

He found the landlord prone on the floor, one hand at his chest. The short man smirked, thinking of the man’s lust. Heartache after all, he thought.

The short man reached his fingers around the back of his neck and pried the skin away from a glistening spinal column. The skin peeled away easily, and the creature stepped out of the suit. It unfurled its long limbs and stretched, glad to be free of the short man’s prison. It crossed the corridor to the bedroom and hung the suit in the wardrobe, beside the tall attractive woman’s skin. Oh yes, the landlord liked that skin.

The creature returned to the corridor, and nudged the landlord with one claw. Satisfied he was dead, it gently peeled away its human face, and skittered into the bathroom. It deposited the face in the empty jar by the door, and took up the skinning knife from the cabinet.

The creature stood in the doorway, and looked down at the landlord. Yes, this was very good. The other tenants would let it in now, dressed as their landlord. The tenant in 5A would make a lovely new suit.

Light flashed on the creature’s blade. It swayed with joy, humming the opening bars to Eleanor Rigby as it worked.


Helen A. Howell said...

Oh Icy that was dark, creepy. I never guessed the ending at all, nice twist to a scary tale!

Larry Kollar said...

Brrrrrr! I kind of wish I'd waited until tomorrow to read that one!

Poor Joseph… he wanted to go out with a bang, but managed only a whimper. :-P

John Wiswell said...

Of all the details, for some reason I liked "she complained about 6B more than anyone else" the most. The notion of 6B as a person, or complaints directed at it so frequent that it had lost essential place-hood, is quite nice.

Tony Noland said...

Creepy, creepy, Icy. It would have been bizarre enough if you'd stopped with the death of the landlord, but going on to reveal the depth of the alien's (demon? earthcreature?) horror and perversion: old Beatles tunes.

Bevimus said...

Did not see that ending coming. Super creepy.

Anonymous said...

Shudder... really well done, reminded me a little of the train story in Clive Barker's Books of Blood, only better. I could SMELL that mess...

Anonymous said...

Would happily read more tales about this creature. I'm imagining Fringe detectives hunting him down as we speak!

Great stuff, Icy.

Tim VanSant Writes said...

Creepy. I was working on a piece just this morning that references the same line of that song.

Kath said...

Ew, reading this sent shivers down my spine. I like how you completely wrong-footed me a couple of times. I thought the landlord would find the tenant' body in the bathroom but instead he finds skins and eyeless heads and then the "tenant" returns and it's not who the landlord thought it was at all, and worst of all, it now has easy access to the rest of the tenants! Very creepy and very well done, Icy. Loved this.

Steve Green said...

very good concept, Icy. I thought it was a murder story, but it was much more, the mischief this creature could get up to is pretty much limitless.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, this gave me chills big time Icy. Fantastically dark and creepy!

Icy Sedgwick said...

Helen - I try my best!

Larry - Sorry!

John - It's all in the details.

Tony - I'm still not massively sure what the creature is myself...

Bev - Thanks!

Janet - I used to like Clive Barker but I occasionally felt there was something missing in his stories.

Jack - Hey, you never know!

Tim - It's one of those songs, I guess.

Kath - I do love to keep people guessing ^_^

Steve - Oh you know me, why do the obvious when the totally mental will do?

Deanna - Thanks!

Katherine Hajer said...

Really well done -- I could see it and smell it (like a classic X-Files episode). Loads of good bits throughout, but the creature's "another day at the office done" stretch when it takes its skin off gave it a nice extra nudge.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'm officially freaked out. That was spectacular, Icy. The whole thing is superb, but this line caught my eye, "eventually getting the ancient metal bone into the lock." Perfect.
Adam B @revhappiness

Anonymous said...

Whoa, Icy! My stomach is still quivering. Such vivid imagery and descriptions of the sensory elements. I'm not normally a horror fan, but you had my rapt attention. Thanks for this.

Take care,

tom gillespie said...

"Dear Landlord, please don't put a price on my soul" have supreme command of your craft extremely vivid and intense slice of panavisual horror...


nerinedorman said...

Nasty! I've got horrible wriggles now.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Katherine - Maybe I should do more X-Files stuff?

Adam - I'm fascinated by old keys. You always wonder what they're going to unlock.

Jessica - Sorry I freaked you out!

Tom - I don't normally write this kind of stuff but maybe I should do more of it!

Nerine - Sorry!

Craig Smith said...

I might be wrong but I believe the creature is a highly evolved cockroach!

Even though the other tenants were mentioned briefly I got a good layout of the place and who lived there.

Sonya said...

I'm beginning to think of your Friday Flash as "my weekly Good Scare" and I love it! This one was nice and super-creepy.

liminalfiction said...

I suppose the moral of the story is: beware those long legged blondes? The description of the inside of the apartment gave me the creeps, and then you delivered with the skins and jars. High quality horror piece.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Craig - I saw it as something quite 'insectoid' too!

Sonya - Hehe glad you're enjoying them.

Richard - Thanks!

Carrie Clevenger said...

[hands Icy back her horror writer card]

Yes, Icy. You are a horror writer, but you're more. This was shivery-creepy. [shudder] ;)

Virginia Moffatt said...

Very creepy. Excellent.

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