Sunday, December 13, 2015

In the Shadows-v2.0

(Author's note: This is a rewrite of a flash fiction story from 2009. Both the first version and this update are seriously dark and uncharacteristic of my usual crappy fiction. This weekend was busy and I had numerous interruptions preventing even the most basic proofreading.) 

As the late night thunderstorm raged outside her lakehouse, Donna Myers lay in her bed too terrified to sleep. It wasn't the storm that had produced the mind-numbing fear that clung to Donna' soul and caused her to break out into a cold sweat that had gotten so bad she could now feel the wetness seeping into the bed sheets. Donna was a far too rational person to be bothered by the whims of nature and understood the thunderstorm was just a product of the unusually hot and humid summer weather.

The storm had rolled into her area a few hours before she went to bed and stalled making it seem a pitched and bitter land battle was being conducted with numerous artillery pieces dueling for supremacy. After drinking several glasses of wine while listening to calming music, Donna believed she was ready for bed and walked up the stairs of her empty and silent house to the bedroom she shared with her husband.
Once in bed, the alcohol in her system caused consciousness to dissolve quickly and her last thought before sleep claimed her was a small plea to a deity she really didn't believe in anymore that the dreams would leave her in peace.

She wasn't that fortunate, sometime after dozing off Donna began hearing the screams of her first husband and knew in a way only possible in dreams that their two children lay next him as the serial killer that had once plagued the southeast region of the United States took his life. When Donna was able to break the grip of the dream the sounds of the thunderstorm greeted her return to reality.

It wasn't just at night that Donna was tortured, sometimes during the simplest daily activities she would be overwhelmed by the horrific visions of her dead children and husband. During those moments she would seek refuge in some quiet corner wherever she might be at the time. Several times she had been pulled from places like the storeroom of the nearby grocery store to an empty office in the public library. A longtime resident of Watertown area, stunned but caring residents would at first try to calm Donna then help her return to the lakehouse, the one place she felt safe during the daylight hours.

For those reasons Donna had become a recluse hardly ever leaving the Georgian-style home she and her new husband, Robert Myers, began building after they got married five years before. The house was a gift from Robert, a successful artist and her first husband's college roommate and longtime friend.

Eight years before, after Robert Myers heard of the death of his friend and his children he rushed to Donna's side to comfort and support her. Himself mourning the death of his best friend, Robert ended up clearing his schedule right after the murders and spending months in Watertown helping Donna to pick up the pieces of her life. Three years went by with Robert and Donna themselves becoming best friends as each helped the other find the courage to move beyond their shared loss.

Robert taught Donna the meaning of gentle patience, never demanding anything while always being there for her, even though it hurt his career, as the dreams began to plague her both day and night. Quite by accident Donna realized three years later that she had developed feelings for Robert. When told this, Robert confessed that he had fallen for her back during their days in college. That when Daniel and her became serious about their relationship he made a pledge to say nothing and just be happy for his two friends. After both confessing their mutual feelings the two proceeded slowly with exploring their growing attachment. Neither wanted to do anything that would seem disrespectful to the memory of Daniel or the children. But a few months later Donna felt she had to move on with her life.

A little over three years after the murders Robert proposed to Donna on the site where the lakehouse was to be built believing she was ready to have someone in her life again, Donna accepted without hesitation. Donna threw herself body and soul into supervising the construction and then the decorating of the new house hoping it would conquer the persistent nightmares that refused to release their grip on her. The only place Donna couldn't touch, or even visit, was the boathouse constructed on the lakeshore that Robert had built. It was his sanctuary and place where he did his work while at home.

For a while, all the planning and activity the construction demanded of Donna kept the dreams at bay to the point she began to hope that even that part of her past was beginning to fade. Which was a relief to Robert's agent who wanted the man to travel again because his prolonged absence was hurting his career.

Almost immediately after Robert resumed his travels the murderous dreams returned to haunt Donna both day and night. The only time they abated were the times Robert was home or the even rarer occasions when he took Donna with him.

As the thunderstorm continued outside the house Donna became uncomfortable with the emptiness on Robert's side of the bed. This time he was somewhere in Europe overseeing a showing of his paintings and sculptures and would not be home for over a week. Unable to sleep, she got out of bed with the intention of walking out on the porch and watching the storm. With the lightning cracking behind her she caught a glimpse of herself in the bedroom dressing mirror. She stopped to admire the tight and sheer nightgown she wore and the athletic body it revealed underneath.

After being married, Robert had strongly but gentle urged Donna to get into shape saying it would help her mental health and add passion to their sex life. Donna shivered in pleasure at the thought of Robert's eventual homecoming and the things they would do together. Part of Donna realized that their lovemaking was less a joining of two people celebrating their feelings but more a frenzied animalistic coupling whose only real effect has to hold her mental demons at bay for a few days.

Still looking at herself in the mirror, Donna saw how the periodic flashes of lightning illuminating half her body while leaving the other half mired in darkness. This caused her to reflect on the differences between the two men that she had married. Daniel had been a gentle, caring lover who only wanted to show his devotion to her. On the other hand Robert, not long after they had married, had begun asking Donna to experiment with her sexuality. She resisted at first, but Robert continued to be firm and it was out of fear of him walking out that Donna eventually surrendered. At first Donna just played along but under Robert's careful tutelage she slowly began to enjoy the new feeling and experiences he had opened up to her.

It was a massive crack of thunder that pulled Donna from her reverie. After grabbing her robe Donna hurried downstairs and went out onto the porch stopping briefly at the kitchen to pick up her cell phone. During the construction of the house she had insisted that the large porch that was supposed to only face away from the lake be extended nearly all the way around so she could sit outside and look upon the gentle waters of the lake and see the boathouse Robert used as his studio. During his days at home Donna would often sit on the porch and wonder what Robert was creating inside.

Taking a seat in one of the wooden rocking chairs, Donna look out upon the lake and dark boathouse. The storm had finally begun moving out with the lightning and thunder growing increasingly distant as the minutes passed. With the storm receding, the insects and frogs opened up with their eternal chorus bringing some peace to Donna's mind. A soft silver colored quarter moon sailed clear of the clouds providing an almost ghostly lighting of the area around the house.

Just seeing the boathouse did provide some extra relief to Donna but the menacing specter of her dreams never went away. Robert's hectic travel schedule was a mystery to Donna and she only vaguely knew that Europe was several hours ahead of the American east coast. Looking at the cell phone in her hand, Donna was tempted to call Robert just to hear his voice. Robert had never been away from home this long with seven or eight days to go before he returned.

Hoping she would not disturb him, Donna dialed his personal cell number and got only his voice mail. She tried four more times, leaving an increasingly desperate message each time pleading that he should call back so she could hear his voice. Realizing how she sounded, Donna became embarrassed and stopped calling and just sat in the rocking chair listening to the sound of a nearby bullfrog and watching the soft moonlight reflecting off the ripples in the lake. Under the influence of the peaceful setting, almost against her will Donna was overcome by sleep.

She again slipped back into the dream and found herself inside some sort of warehouse. As in all other times before, Donna was a formless entity that could see and hear everything but not intercede on events. In the dream Donna drifted towards the screams of her husband, Daniel and the children writhing in puddles of their own blood, their bodies grotesquely mutilated but somehow retaining the ability to plead for her to come save them. Despair welled up inside her bodiless form forcing her to retreat from the area. As in all the other times, Donna began to feel the presence of another entity, one that made her feel cold and corrupted. As she fled down the endless passageways of the warehouse, she could feel the dark force coming closer. Worst of all, as it pursued her, Donna would begin to feel a bizarre desire to become one with that darkness.

Donna suddenly awoke in the rocking chair momentarily not remembering coming outside at the end of the thunderstorm. When the disorientation passed she looked at the clock on the cell phone seeing only a little over an hour had passed with no messages from Robert. Still feeling as if the evil force in her dream was hovering not far away she began looking for another refuge.

Donna had no family or any real friends she could call. Her family never liked Robert and had drifted away as the years passed. What friends she did have weren't the kind who would come to her aid in the early, dark hours of the morning. The only place that did offer any hope was Robert's boathouse. While he had always made it clear that she was never to enter his studio, Donna figured it was the one place she could feel his presence and calm her panicked soul. With no where else to turn or run, she walked back into the kitchen and retrieved the set of keys to the boathouse Robert thought he had successfully hid from her.

Minutes later she is walking up the steps to the back entrance of the boathouse looking for the right key that would unlock the door. Robert was sure to be angry if he ever learned of her violating his privacy but Donna rationalized her trespass as a last desperate measure to save her sanity. She told herself that when she got inside she would use the time to calm down and wait for Robert to call, once he had chased away the demons she would leave making sure to leave no evidence of her presence. Despite the terror churning in her mind, a part of Donna was curious to see a place that had been forbidden for her to enter the entire time she was married to Robert.

After unlocking the door, she stepped inside and instinctively felt for the light switch and flipped it up. With the lights now on Donna saw numerous unfinished paintings along with with shelves with various supplies along one wall with a stack of blank canvases in one of the corners of the studio. To Donna most of Robert's works were highly abstract to the extreme and held little meaning for her. A few though, hanging on one of the walls were dark and sinister with glowing red eyes off in the distance watching an almost Norman Rockwell-like scene of happy and normal people. Donna had seen similar works when Robert brought her along on one of his promotional tours. Robert's paintings were often acclaimed by the critics for their primal, foreboding nature and she herself had come to enjoy the darker side of his character in their physical relationship.

As she studied the unfinished paintings, Donna noticed the door leading to another room of the boathouse. Figuring she had already violated the rule on entering in the first place, it mattered little if she unlocked that door as well and looked inside.

The room was windowless and the air inside was stale and heavy making it hard to breath. Turning on the light revealed a bookshelf with several rows of homemade DVD's stored inside neatly labeled cases. A medium-sized television was sitting on a small table with a cheap DVD player hooked up to it. Taped to the walls of the room were old newspaper clippings of various murder cases and crime scene photos.

Browsing the pictures on the wall Donna was shocked to find photos of her children and husband laying dead in the location their bodies would ultimately be found by the police. Confusion then a different fear welled up inside Donna as she realized that none of the photos were official police pictures, they all were taken with a cheap camera someone might buy at a drug store. Donna's mind went into overdrive trying to find a sane reason why Robert could possess such pictures. No longer worried what Robert might say about entering his studio, she tore through the collection of DVD cases looking for, and finding one with Daniel and the children's name attached.

She found the DVD case close to the end of the collection. Donna knew her marriage to Robert had long since changed her in ways that would have been inconceivable to the version of herself that had married her first husband all those years ago. But that morning the rest of her soul slipped away as trembling hands inserted the shiny disc into the player and turned on the television. Frozen to the screen, she watched and listened to Robert drag the unconscious bodies of Daniel and then the children to the place where they would be killed. His commentary a psychotic rambling of who he thought should live and who should die.

The actual murders of the her babies were relatively quick. But their screams of terror as the person they knew as “Uncle Robert” inserted the syringe into their arms that brought them to a final silence was everything Donna had heard in her nightmares. Robert didn't share that mercy with his supposed best friend, Daniel.

“You were never good enough for Donna,” Robert hissed as Daniel choked on his own blood from the near surgical cuts that his torturer had done on his body. “You could have done so much with her,” Robert continued on, “molding and shaping Donna to become a supreme individual. But what did she become with you? Nothing but a frumpy housewife, I'm doing her a favor by removing you and the children from her life. After you are gone and I send a few more sheep to the hereafter to throw any possible suspicion off me, I plan on going to her as the grieving friend looking just to help her through this nightmare. After that, she will be mine, I'll teach her things that you never could with your pathetic normal lives. She'll resist at first but I seen what lies deep within her soul, Donna is like me and I'll bring that out and we will live a full life together. Eventually, I'll bring her out on my little trips to further cull the sheep.”

Donna ignored Robert's continued rant and even Daniel's final moments on earth. Robert was right, he had ever so slowly but insistently changed her, molded her, and yes, brought out the lurking darkness that she knew always existed inside her. Donna's skin crawled to think not only what she had done to make Robert happy, but what she had come to enjoy. Donna felt more that violated, she felt infected by the monster that had taken the lives of her most precious family.

Donna knew she was ruined, her soul and spirit had long since been corrupted beyond true salvation. More than that, she knew Robert's last words were true, on a few occasions while accompanying him on his artistic tours, Robert had allowed her to taste ever so slightly the pain of others. She knew the cruel flame he kindled was not something that would ever go away. Her last revelation was the knowledge that the dreams that had plagued her for so long were not of her family pleading for her to come and save them. But one of warning, that she was being stalked by the creature that had killed them.

Donna knew her only hope of redemption was a plan that oozed like ice water through her mind, but it was the only way. She slowly left the boathouse, not bothering to either close or lock the doors she had opened. On the walk back to the house, she took time to enjoy the sounds of nature and the slight glow of light beginning to appear over the eastern horizon.

During her time in the studio Robert had left several messages on the cell phone, but she didn't bother to listen to them. Once back inside the kitchen she picked up the receiver on the phone mounted to the wall and dialed three numbers.

“Please come,” she said in an eerily calm voice, “immediately to the Myer's residence on Lake Shore Drive, in the boathouse you'll find evidence to the identity of the serial killer from five years ago. Remember, go to the boathouse, that is where all the answers lie.” The duty officer on the other end began asking question but all Donna did was to lay the receiver on the kitchen counter. Donna then calmly walked back up to the bedroom she shared with Robert and sat in the reading chair next his nightstand.

An eternity later she heard the sirens and the sounds of tires on the gravel roadway coming towards the house. She waited until the cars stopped and them listened to the police moving towards the boathouse. The chair was Robert's favorite place in their bedroom, from there he could look out the bay windows and see his studio. Once Donna saw the police step inside the boathouse she leaned over, opened the top drawer to Robert's nightstand, and pulled out the revolver. As the sounds of the monstrous discoveries inside the boathouse reached up to the bedroom, Donna slipped the barrel inside her mouth and pulled the trigger.


Pixel Peeper said...

I had my suspicions about Robert at the first mention of him.

Very suspenseful story!

Beach Bum said...

Pixel: This is the types of posts I write when I can't think of anything else. Now I have been wanting to redo this story for months since rediscovering the flash fiction version. I actually wanted to include the character of Robert in this version but both my wife and daughter kept interrupting me so I just when for a straight rewrite.

My idea was to have Donna start to panic after the dream but with Robert supposed to have returned home earlier that night. Donna ends up in the boathouse but Robert calls her after she discovers he's the killer. Donna would have then gone back to the house and grabbed the pistol and killed him in their bedroom once he returned. Oh well, maybe on the next rewrite.

I did at least make Donna slightly darker herself in this version.