Blackout

One minute, there was nothing.

No light.

No sound.

Absolute nothingness.

The next minute, I was lying on my back, the worn-out mattress digging into my back and it’s stink filling my nose. I open my eyes, see the sun streaming through the room’s filthy windows. I remember how, seemingly just the moment before, the windows had been completely in the shadow of the building. Then, the room had been, if not clean, at least organized. Now, the furniture and my few possessions were scattered around the room, and the one thing unmoved was the table in the kitchen. On it was a single piece of paper, with one line of rough-printed text on it:

I WILL FIND HER.

I WILL ENJOY BEATING HER.

I WILL KILL HER.

The first time it happened, I was getting dressed to go to work. I was pulling on my steel-toed work boots, wondering what would happen at the job site that day…then I was sitting at my kitchen table, and my wife was lying on the floor, her face looking like she’d boxed with a professional. I’d rushed to her, shaken her awake…and watched her shrink away from me, her face twisted in fear like she’d seen a demon. Slowly, she’d begun to talk to me, telling me how I’d come into the bedroom, my face blank, my head swiveling around like I’d never seen the room before. She’d told me how I’d ignored her questions, then left the room, and our house, without saying a word. Later, she told me, I’d returned, my shirt bloody but unharmed myself. When she’d asked me where I’d been, she told me, I’d rounded on her and begun beating her, hitting her until she fell to the floor. Then, I’d beaten her some more, pounding on her until she passed out.

I tried to tell her I didn’t remember anything, that I would never harm her, but she’d moved in with her sister that same night.

The next day, I’d come home to our house after work, begun to heat up a frozen meal…and then I was standing in a bar I didn’t know, a broken beer bottle in my hand, a bleeding man on the floor in front of me, and everyone else crowding the walls and acting like they wished they could pass through the walls to escape the room. I dropped the bottle neck and ran.

Back home, the dinner was on the table, it’s contents gone and a dirty fork lying beside it. But next to it was a piece of paper toweling covered in large, scrawled block letters. I’d looked at it, and the words were more disturbing than anything that had happened.

WHER IS SHE?

I WANT UR MATE.

I ENJOYD HITTING HER.

SHE SCREAMD REAL NICE.

TELL ME WHER SHE IS.

TELL ME!

It didn’t make sense. How could any part of my mind not know where my wife was? I threw the paper towel away, and for the next two days, my life seemed to go back to normal. On the third day, though…….

I didn’t remember waking up. I didn’t remember leaving the house. I don’t know how I found the place. The first thing I remember from that day was standing naked in a dimly-lite room with my house keys in my hand. The room itself was dominated by some sort of raised platform, almost like a huge table. But it was like no table I’d ever seen. There was a hole in one end, and the edges were covered in some sort of fabric-covered padding. There was some sort of mat or pad on the floor in front of me, and sticking out from underneath it was an arm. Slowly, I’d bent and lifted the pad…and on the floor was an naked Asian woman. She was covered in bruises, a still-bleeding wound on her back. Her head was resting at an odd angle…an angle it shouldn’t be able to be in. Then I’d noticed her eyes were open, unblinkingly staring at nothing, and she was not moving. She was dead. Then I saw money: five twenty dollar bills scattered on the floor around her, all of them covered in scrawled text I realized was written in her blood. I picked them up, and realized they formed another message to me:

THIS WAS FUN.

DO AGAIN?

Someone beat on the door, yelling in a language I didn’t recognize. My clothing was hanging from a hook on the wall, and I’d dressed quickly. The voice outside was louder, the door now shaking from the violence of the blows on it. Opening it, I was confronted by another Asian woman, much older, who pushed her way into the room, then she’d stopped and begun screaming.

I managed to stumble my way to an exit, finding a sign labeling this the “DeLuxe Oriental Spa”. I didn’t care, I just knew I needed to get away, fast. I pushed the door open and did the only thing I could think to do. I ran.

How I got to that place, I never found out. I found a bus and managed catch a transfer that got me close to my house. The door wasn’t locked, the lights were still on. Inside, the whole house was a mess. Tables were overturned, chair either smashed or their padding slashed and shredded. Every drawer was out, it’s contents emptied on the floor. The most chilling thing I found, though, was on the kitchen counter. A big butcher knife was lying on it in the middle of another ominous message:

YOU CANT HIDE HER FRUM ME.

YOU CANT HIDE FRUM ME!

I WANT TO KILL HER.

I WILL KILL HER!

YOU WILL SUFFER.

That day, I’d left my house, packing a few items of clothing into an old gym bag and making sure to secure the house. I didn’t know whether I’d ever see it again, but I wanted it safe so my wife could return to it.

It had taken me several hours to find the room I was now in. It was in an ancient apartment building that someone had turn into a ‘short-term’ hotel. They front desk clerk didn’t care that I didn’t give my real name, he acted as if he wouldn’t be too terribly disturbed if I had signed in as “Jack the Ripper”. I’d selected the hotel after being given a quick tour of the room I now occupied. It was perfect: a thick, solidly-built door that had key locks on both the outside and inside, windows that opened onto a sheer ten-story drop, in other words, a room with no way out but the door. I locked the door and hide the key in the bottom of the toilet tank. There was a small pad of paper on the nightstand next to the bed, and I wrote a simple note on it:

“I don’t know what you are, but I know you aren’t me. What are you?”

I turned on the old-fashioned TV, laid back, and settled in to wait. It wasn’t a long wait.

The football game was starting….then it was half-time. The only other difference was the pad. The note I’d written was gone, but scribbled on it was another note in the handwriting I’d come to recognize:

DEMON.

DEVIL.

TAKE PICK.

I CONTROL U.

I WILL MAK U KILL AGAIN.

LET ME OUT.

“Never.” I said to myself as I walked to the window. It was a struggle to open, but open it I did. The other good thing about the room was that most of the windows looked out on an shorter building with and alley between the two structures. I crawled out, sat on the ledge. “I won’t kill again.” I told myself as I leaned forward and fell.

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The girl at the top of the stairs

He watched as she appeared before me again, like a breath of warm air on cold day given first form, then color and finally features. Most people would have run away screaming in fear, but he stood and watched as her face became distinct, her warm smile causing me to smile in turn. I’d smiled like that since the first time he saw her, standing in this same spot at the top of the stairs. Then, she’d been standing, back to me, facing the setting sun with her arms outspread like someone taking in the warmth after a long spell of cloudy weather.

Vittario had known nothing of her then, she was simply a girl my age, black hair hanging loose to the middle of her back, and he’d decided I had to speak to her. He hadn’t tried to be silent as he approached her, but she didn’t hear me until he spoke. His voice had caused her to try to spin around to see who was behind her, and the spin had started to take her over the edge of the stairs. Instinct took over, my hand shot out, and I’d grabbed her arm, stopping what would have been a long fall. Vittario looked at her and saw a pale face with paler lips, a slender nose separating dark blue eyes that had opened wide in shock. She had looked at me, then at my hand as if she had never seen one before, then back at my face.

“How? How are you doing this?” she’d asked.

Not knowing what she meant back then, he’d made a throw-away statement about saving a beautiful young woman. She shook her head, and as she did, Vittario realized I could see the outline of the stairs behind her. She spoke again, but her voice was less speech then the echo of speech, like she were far away instead of standing in front of me.

“No, you can’t save me, I’m dead already. I am….I was Margaret, Margaret McCluny, and I died on these stairs.”

The sun set, and as it did, she faded away, leaving him to wonder what had happened, not just to him, but to her. He’d begun researching, looking for her name, for records of her at my school, looking for anything. Vittario also came back the next day…and the all the days after that. At first, he hadn’t known she could only appear for a short time at sunset, but over time, Vittario learned more and more of her.

Some of it was sad. He’d found her obituary online, all three sentences of it. Some of it was funny. Margaret had a sharp sense of humor, and while she couldn’t be seen most of the day, she was still around to hear all the gossip other girls spread about each other…gossip she enjoyed turning into jokes that deflated many of the girls that had intimidated him with their beauty and attitude. But last week, Vittario learned something about her he hadn’t expected to, that she had living relatives, children of the children of her siblings.

Yesterday, Vittario had gone to a retirement home to talk to Margaret’s great-grand niece. Even so many generations removed, the old woman had reminded me of her ghostly ancestress. The blue eyes might have been blood-shot and slowly clouding, but they were the same deep blue, the thin nose between them identical. Kathleen, her name was, and she also had the family’s same sharp sense of humor. She had regaled him with tales of her family, of it triumphs and failings, it’s joys and it’s tragedies. When he mentioned that he went to the same school Margaret had, she’d looked at me strangely before asking if he’d heard the legend. That’s when Vittario had admitted he’d never heard the legend, but he had seen Margaret.

Kathleen hadn’t believed him, but when he told her how her eyes were the same as her long-separated aunt’s, she’d gone pale. Finally, she had asked him to wait and walked away. When she returned, Kathleen was carrying a battered cardboard shoe box that she sat down in front of her chair and opened. After rummaging through the box, Kathleen produced an envelope gone brown with age and handed it to Vittario. “You need to read this.” she’d said,and I did.

Now he stood before Margaret, wondering if he should tell her what that faded old letter said. Perhaps his uncertainty showed, because Margaret’s smile faltered, then faded. Finally, she spoke, her voice stronger these past meetings was now the whispered echo of their first meeting. “What’s wrong, Vittario?”

He couldn’t stay silent. He had to tell her. “Margaret, I met someone yesterday. She was….she’s your great-grand niece. I went to see her, at her retirement home, to find out more about you, about your family. She had a letter, a letter that…I think it would be better if I read it to you.” Vittario pulled the folded copy of the old letter out of his pocket, and opening it, he began to read the neat, almost ornate long hand.

“AEF Field Hospital, France

Dear Mrs. McCluny,

I write you as the doctors have told me that my condition is grave, and I am unlikely to survive. The good Father who tends to us here has heard my confession, and he has agreed to write this letter for me. I write you in hopes that this confession to you will help me make amends for my wrongs, and they are severe.

You and your family lost your daughter, Margaret, at school. I know that stories have been told, that she committed suicide, but I know this is not the case. I know this because I am responsible for her death.

Margaret was the kindest, most generous soul God in His grace put upon this Earth. If not for her, my little sister Aida would not have survived the illness she suffered from the winter Margaret died. She tended my sister in her spare time, and it was only by that selfless care, I am sure, that she lives today. I cannot tell you the gratitude my family and I felt for her, and it was to express this that I approached her that day.

I do not know if she did not hear me, or if she were so entranced by the sudden burst of sunshine she was standing in that she did not hear me. Whatever the reason, she did not hear me, and when I spoke to her, she reacted in surprise, causing her to lose her balance and fall down the stairs.

It was all over in a second. I ran down the stairs to her, but I could see she was not breathing, and while her eyes were open, she saw nothing for she was dead.

Then I did something I shall be eternally ashamed of. There were no students around, but I knew there were still teachers in the building. Rather than go to them, to report what had happened, I ran away and left your daughter there. My cowardice was the reason your daughter was suspected of taking her own life, and for that I hope God does not judge me too harshly.

I do not ask you to forgive me, for I know I have no right to ask such a thing of you. I offer this confession in hopes that it will cause Father Anthony to reconsider his insistence that Margaret be buried in unconsecrated ground. I also hope that it will offer you solace to know your daughter died unstained by the sin of suicide.”

Vittario looked up from the page, and saw Margaret’s form was now faded, faded far more than it should have been. He had to tell her the rest, now, before she faded away completely.

“Margaret, the man this was written for….he was my great-great grand uncle. His sister, Aida….she was my great-great grandmother. I wish I could tell you how sorry I am…….”

Now her form was no more than a shadow, but from it came the same voice he’d grown to know. “It wasn’t your fault, Vittario, it wasn’t your ancestor’s fault. I remember now, I remember…and I’m free, Vittario, I’m free at last. Thank you. Thank you for freeing me. Goodbye, Vittario.”

Then she was gone, and Vittario was left to wonder: was he happy to have freed a soul long condemned to wander in this world, or should be be sad to have lost a girl he’d come to know. There was no clear answer, none that he could see as he walked down the stairs, walking away from a moment in time he realized he’d come to look forward to.