Where did June go? I meant to post this latest excerpt last month, but here it is the middle of July. Another crazy hectic summer. Hope everyone in my part of the world is surviving the floods, storms and tornadoes.
Here’s a horror short story I wrote a few years ago about a desperate young woman tempted by the dark side. Hope this excerpt proves to be a good distraction.
The Chicago River ran slow and murky with green dye, a result of the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Twilight had fallen and the wind had turned brisk, but still I walked the shadowy streets, feeling more alone than I’d ever felt before. More alone than when I’d first become an orphan at the age of five.
Four years ago Matt Sheridan had come into my life and everything had seemed right with the world. Matt and Cassidy, together forever.
Now everything was worse than wrong. I finally felt ready to accept the diagnosis I’d received in December.
“I’m sorry, Miss McClure,” Doctor #3 had said. “This type of brain tumor is inoperable.”
Six months, maybe. The headaches would get worse, and they warned me about other possible side effects – slurred speech, memory loss, blurred vision, loss of balance, etc.
What about hallucinations? That would be nice. That would explain why I’d seen Matt swapping fluids with “Trashy Tristan” in the shower earlier this evening.
My shower, technically, because it was actually my apartment. Matt had given up his place to move in with me not long after we’d met. Late last year he’d begun hinting at a Christmastime proposal, but then we’d gotten the bad news right before the holidays: I wouldn’t live to see twenty-nine.
I hadn’t given up hope on our future. Not even when I’d found the diamond engagement ring in Matt’s desk drawer right after Valentine’s Day. He was just waiting for me to be cured, waiting for me to find an alternative treatment. Then he’d propose.
Oh, how wrong I’d been. It was obvious now that Matt had already given up on me and moved on. Tall, dark, handsome Matthew had been seduced by the vacuous blonde his architectural firm had hired to answer the phones. I thought he’d have better taste. I thought he’d at least choose someone who looked like me – a statuesque, intelligent brunette who was filthy cute and Irish.
They didn’t know I’d seen them. I’d been in shock, unable to utter a sound.
I’d cut short my visit with a childhood friend who lived down in Joliet. I’d decided to come home, put on a fancy dress and join Matt at his office party. I wanted to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the person I loved the most.
But my boyfriend had other plans. I stumbled out of our apartment high rise on Lakeshore Drive and began walking around the Windy City, feeling like a zombie. I couldn’t even cry.
I followed the river, ignoring the Irish – and not so Irish – revelers hopping from pub to pub. Somehow I ended up in front of the office building where I worked as a CPA. How much longer would I be able to crunch numbers?
Why did I even care? Come Monday, I would hand in my resignation.
The sidewalks teemed with manic young people. Saturday night and everyone wanted to pretend they were Irish so they could drink a gallon of Guinness and sing like fools.
I threaded my way through a group of college kids smoking outside a crowded, noisy bar.
“Hey, baby,” crooned a guy with caramel-colored hair and peach fuzz on his chin, “you should kiss me ‘cause I’m Irish.”
I stepped past him without making eye contact. “Sorry, but that’s not a good enough reason.”
His buddies cracked up.
I could have been ruder and enjoyed it. Suddenly I felt like I could get away with anything – one of the perks of being handed a death sentence.
Darkness fell and my thoughts grew darker, too, as I continued to wander the gaslight neighborhood like a lost soul. Couples passed me, talking and laughing and holding hands.
The same question kept running through my mind.
Why, Matt? Why did you betray me when I needed you most?
I didn’t want to think about going home. What if Tristan were still there? I had no idea what I might do if I saw her wrapped around my boyfriend again. Although, scratching the bitch’s eyes out and kicking Matt in the balls sounded like a good plan. At the very least, I’d have to boot their asses out of my apartment.
I’d just rounded a corner onto Rodolfo Street, wrapped up in a revenge fantasy, when I happened to notice a trio of strange figures crouched on the roof above Finnegan’s Pub. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared, wondering if I was finally having a hallucination.
The three were dark and gargoyle-like. I let out a tiny gasp when the middle one suddenly did a swan dive towards the sidewalk, disappearing like a spirit inside an inebriated businessman who’d just stepped out of the bar. The man stiffened up straight as a board for a few seconds, and then relaxed. His face wore a pleased expression.
I watched him stroll jauntily out into the traffic, narrowly avoiding disaster before reaching the other side of the street. He ignored the horn honking and quickly entered a dance club.
I turned my attention back to the other two creatures that were still perched on the roof of the pub – just in time to see the one on the right dive feet first into a black guy who looked tall enough to be a pro basketball player. The possessed bar patron went rigid for only a few seconds. He then lunged forward and pushed an elderly gentleman aside, jumping into the cab the old man had just hailed. The taxi drove off in a hurry.
The bewildered gent caught my eye and shook his head in disgust. “Young people these days respect nothing and nobody – not even themselves.”
I nodded, but said nothing as he walked past me.
When I looked up again, the third creature was gone. I scanned the nearby rooftops but saw nothing unusual. Had I imagined everything? Was my brain tumor to blame?
I rubbed my aching temples and sighed. Why couldn’t I hallucinate a date with Channing Tatum?
“No such luck, Cass. You’ll be buying your own drinks tonight.”
A middle-aged couple glanced at me sympathetically as they ambled by, and I decided to stop talking to myself in public. Enough with the self-pity. I wasn’t in the mood for company anyway – but I needed a few Long Island Iced Teas. Hell, I deserved a reward for not killing my lowlife boyfriend and his little blonde slut.
I entered the cool, dimly lit interior of Finnegan’s Pub – a favorite haunt of mine. My foster parents had owned a bar similar to Finnegan’s. I’d practically been raised in it.
I paused for a moment near the doorway, my eyes searching the crowded tables and booths for an empty seat. The place was hopping, but at least the noise level was tolerable. I noticed a couple of empty stools at the far end of the mahogany bar, and I made a beeline for the last one.
I sat down and immediately heard a boisterous chuckle. Riley the bartender appeared before me with a thick-lipped grin on his face. He’d once been a heavy-weight boxer. Now he was just heavy.
“Doll face! It’s been a while. What’s my favorite Irish lass been up to, eh?”
“Oh, been busy. Life’s been throwing me a few curve balls lately.”
“Man, don’t ya hate it when that happens?” Riley finished wiping up a spilled beer and then grinned at me again. “Tell ya what – first drink’s on the house. You want the usual?”
“I’ll have whatever she’s having,” said a soft, husky voice.
Riley and I both glanced over at the slender redhead who’d just taken the seat next to me. She was dressed to the nines in midnight blue, and had on heels that were high enough to cause a nosebleed.
“Two Long Island Iced Teas coming right up.”
Riley went off to fill our orders and I suddenly felt too warm. I peeled off my tight-fitting white leather jacket and folded it across my lap.
“Hey, I’m Simone,” the redhead said, offering me her hand.
I shook it. “Cassidy. Cass, if you prefer.”
“Pretty name for a pretty lady. It’s a real shame.”
“That you’re dying.”
I stared at her, amazed and devastated to hear those words spoken out loud.
“How did you know that?”
Simone gave me a humorless smile. “Because I saw you looking at me, at us, on the roof a little while ago. Only humans who are close to death can see demons.”
I blinked. The lady was either pulling my leg or she was a total nutcase.
I cleared my throat, looking her straight in the eye. “You look like a human to me. Besides, brain tumors cause hallucinations. I might even be imagining this conversation right now.”
She chuckled and would have said something in reply if Riley hadn’t shown up with our drinks.
“I’ve got this round,” she said, paying him and adding on a generous tip.
Riley gave her a wide grin. “Thanks, doll.”
When he walked away, she took a sip out of the glass and then looked over at me.
“Riley knows I’m real. If you think about it a minute you’ll know how I borrowed this woman’s body. Remember what you saw outside?”
Yeah, I remembered – drunks being violated by monsters. I had to assume that drug addicts, and perhaps even sleepwalkers, were all easy prey for possession.
“So, you’re ugly and evil?”
Simone stared at me and for a brief moment her blue eyes glowed a furious red.
“Evil is simply a point of view. I would also say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I can’t deny that I gave up my looks to be Lucifer’s bitch.”
I took a gulp of my Long Island Iced Tea and shook my head. “This can’t be happening.”
“You’ve been in denial for way too long. It’s time you faced the facts and considered all your options. You’re lucky our paths crossed tonight.”
“Lucky? I’ve never been lucky, ever.”
“Exactly. What has God ever done for you? Has he ever answered any of your prayers?”
I’d only prayed once since I was a child. That was right after my diagnosis.
Simone watched the dismal play of emotions on my face and continued. “This world was created for His amusement. Humans are pawns in a game – He’s competing with Lucifer for your souls. You don’t have much time left, Cass, and God doesn’t care enough to perform miracles anymore. He isn’t going to cure you.”
“And the Devil will?”
“Think outside the box. My boss can be a lot more lenient and fair than Mr. High and Mighty. He is an angel, after all.”
“A fallen angel. What can he do for me and what does he expect in return?”
“He can give you the same deal he gave me a century ago. As soon as you die, you’ll become a chaos demon. You’ll have one thousand years to roam the earth before reporting for duty in Hell. You’ll be able to possess humans the way I can – enjoy all the pleasures you once enjoyed. Cause a ton of mischief and convert others to our side.”
“You make it sound awfully simple.” I downed the last dregs of my drink.
Simone’s sigh was nearly inaudible. “Well, there is one important, unpleasant detail I’ve yet to mention.”
I raised an eyebrow. “And that would be?”
“You’ll need to commit suicide.”
“Excuse me? Aren’t I already dying, and soon?”
“Yes, but we have no way of knowing which direction your soul will go once you’ve died.
Killing yourself is the only way to ensure you’ll end up on Lucifer’s team.”
“Lovely. Do I have to give you an answer tonight?”
“No, you can have a couple of days to think it over. Meet me here around the same time Monday evening. I won’t be wearing this body anymore, but you’ll know who I am.”