tagNovels and NovellasBrick House Pt. 10 Ch. 12

Brick House Pt. 10 Ch. 12

bytedszabopub©

All content copyright 2012 Ted Szabo

This is part 10 of a longer work, "Brick House," and includes chapter 12. It does not include erotic content, but many other chapters do. It is included for the convenience of readers interested in the larger story.

*

Thanksgiving break rolled around and Kate and I embarked on our separate vacations. I was to spend the holiday with relatives a few hours from campus and Kate had plans to visit extended family out East. As the long weekend progressed we found ourselves missing each other quite a bit, but to my mind it wasn't the gnawing ache that would have been experienced by profoundly devoted couple—we just didn't have that kind of relationship. It seemed to me that neither of us wanted to wind up our senior year with any sort of intense emotional entanglements, and that we both looked upon romance as something that beckoned from the future, along with careers and families of our own, and wasn't really welcome in the present. By the time I hit the road and Kate took to the air we weren't even exclusive.

Just after midterms Kate had informed me that she thought it would be a good idea for us to see other people. She added that, no, this wasn't code for wanting to break up, she was enjoying being with me as much as ever, she just wanted to have a month or so where were both free to date whoever we wished without being forced to endure any guilt as a consequence.

I was disappointed--mostly because, of course, "see other people" almost always was code for breaking up, and I asked Kate whether she had met someone else. She told me she hadn't but confessed, a bit tearfully, that a guy she had gone out with a few times back home had asked her on a ski trip. Kate wanted to accept but also didn't want to have to be sneaky about it, or be ashamed about anything that might happen while she was away. It wasn't like she was really that into this guy--or at least that was what she claimed--there were just a lot of her old high school friends going on the trip, mostly as couples, and it was something she wanted to be a part of.

I agreed to opening our relationship but told Kate I thought we should put a time limit on it. If, by the end of February, we didn't both want to be exclusive again, I thought it would be best if we end things altogether. Kate agreed to the deadline, adding that she didn't see wanting to end the relationship (though it was an unspoken truth that, after graduation, it was probably over). Kate kissed me and thanked me for being so understanding, seeming genuinely grateful, and when we embraced she told me in a husky voice that she intended to make the whole thing seem worthwhile when she got back. "Any position, any place, in front of whoever you want," she whispered to me. "I'm going to be up for whatever that naughty imagination of yours can contrive between now and then."

Despite the adventurous direction our sex lives had taken earlier in the year, this surprised me somewhat. I wasn't really sure what I would even want to do that would be crazier than what had happened a few weeks before. I was still half expecting Kate to fly into some sort of delayed rage for mounting her, nude, in front of my roommates, and was continually amazed by the fact that she had pretty much accepted my circle of friends as her own without showing so much as a trace of awkwardness toward them.

Kate had even teased Al a few times for holding her leg while she and I climaxed, calling him "Mr. Sexnabler" to Lana's giggling delight. Lana occasionally chimed in with pet names of her own, such as "Mr. Sexnibbler" and "Dr. Sex-o-Matic." " Pubic Citizen" and, even more nonsensically, "Pubic Enemy Number One" were also favorites.

*****

I returned to campus on the Friday evening after Thanksgiving. The relatives I had been visiting had plans to take a lengthy vacation on the U.P., paying visits to members of the other side of the family, and I had decided to make the return trip early, while the holiday traffic was at its lightest. The campus was quiet, and fairly empty, and I was looking forward to a couple days of reading, video games, and general laziness.

The only other student left in the building was John, and we chatted in the connecting hallway for a while right after I returned. He had no extended family in the area and his parents were too distant to visit over a long weekend, so he had spent Thanksgiving alone. Despite this, my amiable, balding neighbor seemed upbeat and laughed frequently while we spoke, his guffaws erupting in great, breathy honks.

I spent Saturday pretty much as planned—in a state of studied, pre-meditated inactivity, sleeping late and then, after downing a few donuts and some Tang, sleeping some more. When I woke up from my mid-morning nap I started to work through a pile of paperbacks, mostly lurid adventure tales of one sort or another—re-prints of early 20th century pulps featuring larger-than-life characters like Doc Savage and The Phantom.

I ordered pizza for dinner and, after chowing down, paced the apartment, stretching my legs and having a spirited conversation with myself regarding the possibility of heading down the athletic center for a workout.

"Those triceps are starting to look a little flabby," I said, shaking a remonstrative finger at myself. "Use it or lose it. You need to put in some serious military press reps."

"Ah, perhaps that is true," I responded, "but one must be ever-vigilant against the dangers of overtraining. Besides," I told myself with a bold oratorical flourish, "a vintage horror movie marathon is starting forthwith."

"That's pure rationalization, you laggard. You could just record the whole thing and watch it any time."

"Ah, but is the experience really the same? To view sundry creepy crawlies and irradiated space lurkers at the same time as millions of others—granted, millions of other losers, will make you part of a collective unconscious, shuddering with both fright and laughter at the stunt-man-in-a-rubber-suit special effects. Do you really want to engage in a dumbed-down media consumption experience, watching some digitized, reconstituted version of the broadcast after the fact?"

"It's all digital anyway," I told myself in loud, disparaging, tones. Not that it's possible to tell the difference. That's just more rationalization—one more excuse to be a lazy-ass."

I discussed various compromise solutions, such as doing some pushups and sit-ups while I watched the first movies in the marathon's line-up, but found myself at an impasse. With the two sides so far apart was a diplomatic solution really viable? The argument grew increasingly emotional, with appeals to reason and calls to find common ground largely ignored. Gradually, the faction clamoring for a purer, more immersive sci-fi horror experience that involved copious junk food and an absolute minimum of physical activity began to win out.

Finally the debate concluded, with the lazy-ass side engaging in unseemly gloating and all plans for future talks scuttled.

*****

I flicked on the TV. The plasma wide-screen that Dean had bought had been damaged, apparently irreparably, in an ill-fated ash tray-tennis grudge match, so I was forced to resort to watching a venerable, faded tube TV that had been brought up from the laundry room. I laid out various junk food stylings across the table in front me and, deciding this was a good time to experiment with some novel combinations, stabbed a few sturdy, triangular Doritos into a fascinatingly gross pink Hostess coconut-covered half-sphere thingy.

First up was Killer Klowns from Outer Space, a fairly modern film that didn't really fit with the overarching 50s theme of the marathon, but which was still good for a few laughs. "Oh you Klowns," I said, addressing the TV, "you pretend to be so evil with all of the killing and the maiming and whatnot, but I know you're just lovable goofs at heart."

Next up was "The Fly," the original, which was actually pretty good and, for the period, pretty scary. The lack of any decent special effects technology had forced the director into an admirable forbearance, I thought, leading him to focus more on plot and less on flamboyantly grotesque visuals. One of the actors looked a lot like an uncle of mine—a likeable fellow named Meyer, and I found myself rooting for his character as a consequence, saying things like "You tell 'im, Meyer" or "Don't take any shit from those jerks, Meyer" or, farther toward the end of the film, "Damn, Meyer, that's gotta hurt—tough break, dawg."

After the movie completed, a lengthy commercial break commenced and I fired up my tablet, paging through my latest messages. I responded to some missives from family members, assuring them that, yes, I was fine on my own for the remainder of the break. Dean had Tweeted some pictures of himself bobsled racing in Austria, which apparently had some pretty good snow already, and I took the time to make a few encouraging, if snarky, comments.

I was just in the middle of teasing Dean about how cozy he looked with his male teammates hunched behind him there on the sled when I heard a loud noise--a sort of grinding, scraping reverberation--coming from the stairwell. What the hell? It stopped and, a few minutes later, restarted, this time culminating in a serious of distant, muffled thumps. Shaking my head, I decided to ignore the commotion (none of my business, whatever's going on), but after close to a half hour of annoying, start-and-stop noise decided I would have to investigate. Just as I began to stride across the cheaply tiled apartment floor, whatever was going on once again come to halt.

Moving next to the apartment door, I paused, listening. Nothing. I was pretty sure I hadn't imagined the commotion, but had no plausible theory as to what might have caused it. Could John have ordered pizza as well, only to have the delivery guy suffer some sort of mishap? I opened the door and, noting that the hallway was empty, checked the stairwell. It was empty as well. Hesitant, I wondered once more whether my fervid imagination might have somehow manufactured the whole thing. I thought it doubtful, and with no one left in the building except myself and John it seemed logical that he must have been involved in—well, in whatever it was I had heard. I traversed the connecting landing and knocked on the door to John's apartment. When, after a moment, there was no answer, I tried again, harder this time. Finally, shaking my head, puzzled, I crossed back to my place, entering it and then closing the door behind me.

The next leg of the marathon had begun, and involved the airing of another classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the 1956 version. I hadn't seen the film for years, and had forgotten how genuinely chilling it was. The fact that it was in black and white somehow enhanced the film's overall creepiness quotient and that, combined with the fact that I was pretty much alone in the building, and for that matter pretty much alone on the campus, began to make me feel genuinely edgy.

It was childish--absurd, I told myself. Here I was watching some hackneyed old horror flick, jumping at phantasmal sounds from the hallway and working myself into some kind of ridiculous creeped-out state. What was next, I wondered, checking for boogeymen under my bed? The next fifteen minutes or so were spent trying to keep my eyeballs from swiveling, seemingly of their own accord, toward the underside of my bunk, which did seem even more thoroughly obscured by shadow than usual.

As the movie progressed, so did its effect on me. The film's stark, haunting tableaus seemed to speak to fears with realizable potency rather than simple, fantastical menaces—a terror of unknown things that perched, vulpine, behind familiar facades of cartilage and motile flesh. No matter how many times I told myself "Stop being a lame-ass pussy, dumbshit," the general feeling of being unsettling and isolated persisted. The darkness outside the apartment windows seemed to stretch forever, a velvety shroud that was endlessly, subtly shifting, wrapped conspiratorially around unnamed things that lurked just out of view. I picked up handfuls of Doritos, munching them extra loudly just to provide some sort of noise outside the context of the movie. The Body Snatchers now had a serious foothold on Earth, and their numbers seemed without bound. The survival of harried, desperate, increasingly outmatched humans was seriously in doubt.

The doorknob to the apartment door turned, rasping loudly in its socket.

I jerked upright in my seat. I hadn't locked it—why bother? No one in the building ever locked the doors unless leaving an apartment unoccupied. Heart hammering, I considered leaping across the room and trying to draw the chain before anyone could enter, but was stopped by the feeling that doing so would prove, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that I was an utter, juvenile wimp. It was probably just John, dropping by, or maybe fucking with me a little—who else?

"John?" I said, trying to keep a querulous waver out my voice. "That you?"

As the body snatchers took another victim the doorknob twisted again, clockwise and back, twenty year old hardware rasping rudely. The skin on my arms prickled, hairs on end, and I thought I could feel a galvanic skin response rippling from shoulder to wrist. Sweat broke out on my face as I chanted softly to myself "Don't be a pussy. Don't be a pussy."

The doorknob completed a turn and the door swung open. As expected, it was John. He stood there in the entrance, facing me, dressed in a solid green T-shirt and faded jeans.

I breathed a sigh of relief. God, I was a wuss.

"What's up, oh neighbor my neighbor?" I said. "Hey, horror flicks and junk food. Want to watch?"

I expected to hear John's friendly, slightly nasal voice at that point, saying something along the lines of "What, no one colorized that thing?" or "Check out the cute possessed chick, I wouldn't throw her out of bed. What's a parietal alien parasite or two between friends?" but there was nothing. My normally garrulous neighbor just stood there, mute.

After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, interrupted only by the screams of a lonely, fleeing human coming from the TV, I spoke again. "Yo, come on in John, have a seat." It took several seconds for my normally friendly building-mate to respond, and when he did his voice was oddly flat and tinged with fear.

"Ted," John said, "I can't see."

I cleared my throat, my sense of relief retreating faster than a goat slathered in fast food meat sauce and tossed in a lion pen. Great, I thought, just what I needed—John performing some effed up prank that was guaranteed to make me more freaked out than I already was. "Umm, what?" I responded, not sure how to call John on—well, whatever it was he was doing.

"I can't see, man. I can't see!" John shuffled into the room, waving his arms in front of him and moving with an odd, stiff-legged gait. I shuddered. What the hell, man. What the hell.

John stopped after taking a few uncertain steps. His lower lip quivered. Unless the guy had decided to steep himself in some serious method acting, I thought, this was for real. He seemed genuinely terrified. Join the club. John was now close enough for me to see his features clearly, even in the uncertain, flickering light emanating from the aged CRT. A brief, oval face with a pale brown mustache positioned below a prematurely balding pate. For some reason John's eyes were pinched closed.

"John, just open your eyes," I said, voice shaking. There was no response. John stood there, completely still, mute once more.

"John, I mean it, just open your eyes! This isn't fucking funny." I was almost yelling at this point. A moment later John seemed enter a more alert, if no less disturbing, state. His eyes were still closed, but his head swiveled to a fro and his nostrils flared as he sniffed the air. He turned abruptly, shambling out of the room, and a few second later I heard the door to his place slam shut. I walked quickly over to the door to my apartment, immediately closing it and locking the door. My pulse was thready and my upper body soaked with sweat. I took a seat at my desk and sat there for a time, face in hands, composing myself.

Kate, I needed to talk to Kate—to hear her lyrical, alluring voice, cheerful and confident and familiar. I switched off the TV and tried to call her. What time was it in Aspen? I was pretty sure there was only an hour or two's difference. I wanted to talk to her, needed to talk to her, now.

There was no answer. "Come on," I muttered. "Pick up. Pick up. Pick up." Voice mail.

I tried again. Nothing. "This is the lovely and charming Kate Enfield," Kate's voice mail informed me. "If you're a friend, then leave a message. If you're a telemarketer, go do bad things to yourself."

"Shit," I said, after disconnecting. "Just shit." After performing my ablutions I settled into bed. How the hell was I going to get to sleep? I tried calling Kate again, holding the phone extra tightly in my white-knucked hand, as if that would somehow force her to answer. Not an effective technique, as it turned out.

The next morning I was more composed, but still unsettled. What the hell had that been about? What was up with John? In the days and weeks that followed, all became clear. My neighbor was a diagnosed schizophrenic. He had become involved with a group of religious fundamentalists and, swayed by their belief in faith healing, had stopped taking his meds. Full-blown psychosis had resulted, with fits of what had once been called "hysterical blindness." For no apparent reason John had hurled all of his belongings, and those of his roommates, out the stairwell window onto the front lawn.

The next time I saw John he was sitting on the edge of a bed in a mental ward. I went to visit him with his roommates and he said nothing to any of us. Perhaps he was embarrassed, or maybe his disorder had just rendered him incapable of speech at that point—I don't know.

Kate never did return my call.

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