Editor’s Choice: Suspense Short Story
Wrinkles were settling on his face, making their way through his once firm white skin.
“Youth”, he told himself, “is gone since long.”
His mirror always reminded him of this gnawing detail. And as he heard himself in his mind, another voice reminded him of his loneliness. There was no one to tell him that he was still young, and maybe he needed no one. The only person he wanted to hear this from was gone, far away. And the rest, well… They were just there, calling, or dropping in from time to time. They were simply present, nothing more.
He sipped his tea, still looking for something in the mirror. His teeth had fallen, and a new pair of jaws was dipped in a glass of water. He had to put it back, if he wanted to eat the new biscuits his elder son had sent for him through a messenger. The yellow packet was on the table behind him. But he was too lazy to put on his teeth and go and open that packet, then crunch those biscuits with his loosening gums.
He threw himself onto the rocking armchair, and went to and fro. His hand automatically reached for his cigarette box. He found it at the usual spot, just on the right side of his chair. He took out one, lit it up, took a puff, and then looked at the case. “She’s smiling at me… I know she is.”
With a little strain, he stood up, and leaving behind his cane, walked to the window. A beautiful day shone outside, and the bright sunlight seeped in though the little space between the two curtains. He tore them apart. The light basked the room after a very long time. Layers of amassed dust shone over the furniture, like little pieces of glass crushed under the weight of something very heavy.
The lights pricked his ageing eyes, but he grew accustomed to it very soon. He was looking at a neglected pathway, where the grass had already flourished into a small jungle, where, had he been a small boy, he would have gone to look for the most formidable creatures of a miniature world. He had always been fond of small insects and animals. He was only a very small boy at that time, he remembered. Sticking his nose on the window pane, his face buried in his hands and his elbows striving to have a comfortable place on the very small ledge, he was waiting for the rain to stop. The sound of this rain made him happy, tripping over the glass pane, tinkling on the iron sheets over his head. A steady river trickled its way down the pane, from drop to drop, making a path for others to follow. Behind him his father opened the creaking door, a hatchet in his hand. He had just come from hunting, since the hatchet was still damp with hot blood. But his son was too busy to notice this all. The rain was far too interesting.
The tripping, tinkling and trickling… Then those shouts… Ominous shouts. He panicked and ran into the room, looking for his parents. His father stood there, face red with anger, eyes crimson, and a streak of steaming blood ran across his face. On the floor was his mother, lying in a growing pool of blood. Her hand wriggled, trying desperately to find something to clutch to, while another hand tried to hold back the stream flowing from her throat, down to her bare bosom, down her waist, and flowing down to the floor through the middle of her naked legs. Next to her was lying his uncle, as uncovered, lifeless, with gashes on his chest. The boy stood at the door, watched it all, and suddenly, he turned away and paced back to his window pane, humming to himself. A rummage through a drawer was heard, a cocking, then a shot, reverberating all around the little house. Then what remained was the tripping, the tinkling and the trickling…
The old grandfather clock made itself heard for the eleventh time. He was still looking outside. His eyes were starting to pain from the midday light. He reluctantly removed his hand from the wall, shifting all his weight to the already paining thighs. He wanted to go on. He wanted to see more of it, more of his life. He had tried many a times, seated on his rocking armchair, or before the mirror, but he had failed to bring back images as living as those he just had.
“Maybe that blinding light helped”, he said. But he hated that word – blinding. He was not blind. He saw everything. He knew everything. And perhaps, this was his tragedy.
A knock sounded at the door. “Come in!” he shouted. A young man entered, and throwing his overcoat over one of those dusty sofas, he said, “Hello pa! Had your lunch yet?”
The old man shook his head in a negative answer.
“You wanna com with us?”
He walked to the old man. “Pa! You can’t remain like this for always! It’s all over! You know we don’t have any grudge! You know that!”
The old man turned his face towards the window again. Something was hurting more than the light. A pause followed, and with a nearly imperceptible start, the old man croaked, “You no grudge, huh? Then why is your son and wife still waiting in ya car?” He paused, awaiting an answer, but as expected, none came.
“You still fear me! You still fear ma anger!” The tone rose.
“You hate me, huh? You think he’s jus ol’ shIt, won’t understand nothing!” He forced his vocal power. “But I need no one! You ge’ that? No one!”
The door slammed. He looked out through the window as the young man walked through the long grass, tapping away the dust on his coat. The latter stopped before his car, threw a brief look at the overgrown weeds, and then opened his door. The old man looked away, to avoid the glance of his departing son. “Idiot! Now he’s gonna send a gard’ner, and I’ll have to mak’im flee, just like tha’ housekeepin’ bi*ch.”
He returned to his mirror, with ears fixed on the silent roar of his son’s car, and lifted up the mug of tea which had now grown ice cold. A fly was attempting its last flap to fly away from the brown sea. In some seconds, it would float lifelessly in that half-empty mug. The image certainly crossed his mind, but he was not disgusted by it. He was disgusted by nothing.
This time aided by his cane, his weakening legs were pulled towards the window again, and he saw himself being pulled away by men in raincoat he did not know, but who called themselves his relatives. He was shouting, but his shrill voice of young boy was overwhelmed by the deafening outbursts of thunder. His tears, all lost in the crowd of raindrops. He resisted in every way he could: he bit, and kicked and shoved his feet into the wet soil. But they were too strong. Several pairs of hands had grabbed his arms and clothes. There is not a thing he remembered after that, not one of those houses, not one of his ‘parents’, not one of those evil kids who called him evil names, not even the one he threw from the top of the second floor. The only thing on his mind was the image of his father and mother being taken out by the front door, marred by their own blood. He did not even remember his father’s face. What he remembered was that vulgar mass of fuming minced meat mounted over a body that once belonged to his father. Everything else was just darkness.
The old man shifted uneasily. He went to his armchair, gave it a gentle push, and carefully leaned forward to take his cigarette case. He tried not to let out even the smallest moan of pain. But he failed. And failure was something he did not like. It could be seen from his face, as he removed yet another cigarette, put it in his mouth, and looked for his matches. Not in his pockets, nor on the table, nor next to the chair. Disgusted, he took out the cigarette, crushed it, and threw it away, by far missing the ashtray already full with half-smoked cigarettes. He looked at the case still in his hand, and went back to his window.
It was already midday, and he was hungry, but he wanted to see more. And he saw the weather had changed. He was coming back, young, and dressed in the most expensive suit he could have ever afforded in his life, the only suit he ever had actually. And together with him was the most beautiful lady he ever saw, dressed in white. She looked far purer than any water, far fairer than even milk, far more angelic than any angel. She was his wife. And she looked proud of it. They entered the house, smiling at each other, lost in each other’s gaze, and the old man lost them from view.
The grass grew momentarily high, then went back to its previous state as the couple reappeared at the gate. He was holding the hand of a little boy, and his wife was smiling at a baby in her arms. They looked so happy together, so divine. They walked towards the house again, giggling, talking about this new gift of love, but this time, some flashes punctuated their approach. He was now on the lawn, seated, covering his face from the innocent punches of his two sons. And they walked nearer. His wife was now helping him paint the gate, and he was laughing at the blot of white over her nose. And they walked nearer. His children were now adolescents, and his drunk elder was being led by his smaller brother down the pathway, on the lookout for any sign of parents. And they came to the door.
For the first time, one could see a faint form resembling a smile on the face of the old man. But it was soon drowned again in an expression nearing anger, with a tiny tint of grief. What he now saw was rain, terrible rain. The sunlight that had basked his memories seemed to be lost forever. A body was being taken away from the front door on a stretcher, and as it went, dripping drops of diluted blood left behind an announcement of its passage. For some unknown reasons, this path of blood seemed to resist the heavy raindrops, as if it did not want to leave. Just steps away, he was escorted by policemen out of the house. He could feel each drop of that rain on his body, as needles stinging him all at once, and becoming part of him as they flowed away. His hands were still red, contrasting with the shine of the metal handcuffs. He reached the middle of the path. His son, crying on the lawn, suddenly leaped for him, taking the policemen by surprise. He punched his father several times in the face, shouting out, “You killed her, freak! You killed her! You killed ma mother, and ma brother! You killed’em! Am gonna kill ya!”
The old man turned away. He did not want to see anything anymore, but that voice was haunting his ears. He wished it would be covered up by the sound of the rain, but it wasn’t. No tripping, no tinkling, no trickling was so powerful. No rain was so powerful. Neither was he. He realised he was squeezing the cigarette case as hard as he could, and his anger dissipated.
“You know it was not ma fault! You know tha’, dontcha?” His voice told he was on the verge of crying, and he did not like the sound of it. It was him weakening, and he knew exactly what he had to do.
The curtains were still drawn apart, and it was dark outside. All the lights in the house had been lit up, and they now revealed a home of fine choice, where luxury and simplicity found the perfect balance. It was an example of what one would have call modernity some decades ago, but it was certainly not antiquity. Not yet antiquity. What had appeared to be a well-lit shack in blinding daylight now revealed a forlorn cosiness. The subtleness of the tiny lamps revealed the minute details of the rocking chair going to and fro – men and women holding their faces, shouting out, fleeing in the midst of bas-relief flames. And on top of them, the old man was seated.
His bowl of left over noodles was on the table next to him, and his fork was down on the floor. But he did not bother to lift it up. He was thinking, his eyes fixed on the greying ceiling, and his left hand caressing the back leg of the chair. Puffs of smoke rising from his mouth formed dense clouds, then gradually dissipated into the misty atmosphere of the room. He puffed his last, waited, and suddenly stood up, cutting through the smoke. He let go of the cigarette, and instinctively crushed it with his feet. But it ached. He lifted up his cane, went to the dressing table, wore his teeth set, and walked towards the window. He was ready this time. He had the courage.
The open window revealed faint signs of lampposts along the roads ahead. The dead silence was disturbed only by the sounds of nocturnal insects hunting under the veil of the newly dark night. On the lawn was a shadow of him in the window, distorted by the different lengths of grass. Each and every blow of wind seemed to give a new dimension to that image, yet the core of the shadow remained very same – the old man in his window. And this time in his window, he saw his house, the inside of it. He had just come from work, various blood stains on his apron. The door opened silently as he stepped in. Whisperings and sobs were heard, from his room, and he stealthily approached. It was the voice of his wife.
“I had to tell you! You know that! I couldn’t let you believe that… that this monster…”
His son interrupted, in his sobbing voice. “But, why now mom? Why not earlier?”
A pause followed. The unusual silence of this moment was heavy. The brightness of daylight went gradually dimmer. He waited for an answer.
“I couldn’t have told you… You weren’t… mature enough.”
The day grew darker.
“And what now? What should I do?”
“Just know it son… just know…”
The man stood still. What could only be heard was the pounding of his heart against his rib, and the faded sobs of his son. Darker still.
“…just know that he is not your father…”
His eyes grew large, his breath momentarily stopped, then took off again at the speed of a tornado. His left hand clenched into a fist. At that very moment, he was red. He opened the toolkit still in his hand, took out his largest butcher knife, and let go of the rest of his toolkit. The loud crash attracted the attention of his wife and son. Darkness was complete.
What ensued was a game of blood. With the expertise of the ruthless butcher he was, he cut open throats and arms and chests. The old man knew he had done all this, but he did not see that. What he saw was the splashes of blood flying off in every direction, splattering over the walls, then streaming downwards. The guttering of overflowing blood, the snaps of the sharp fine edge of metal over the skin and the inaudible cries of the victims were being mocked at by the distant rumbles of a beastly thunderstorm.
This time the vision stopped without any intervention of the old man, but the weather remained unchanged. The storm which had been brewing up since the morning was now here. Rain was attacking the window panes with all its might, directed by the flashes of lightning high up in the skies. He wore a solemn look on his face as he watched the battle of drops. Then, unexpectedly, wearing the same expressionlessness on his face, he opened the first window, then the second. The smoke inside the house precipitated out, letting in the icy wind. Rain won the battle. Triumphant, water ran down the old man’s face and drenching his clothes. The old man had accepted his defeat.
As unpredictable as a lighting streak, a smile appeared onto his face. The battle was still not over. Leaving the windows open, he called his son.
No one answered, but someone could be heard shouting, “Darling! It’s your… your dad!”
“Hello pa?” came an interrogative reply. “This time of night? You okay?”
“Ya… Just tell ya ol’ gardener to come t’morrow morning. Ma lawn need some gard’nin!”
“Okay pa… Is that…”
He hanged up. That malicious smile reappeared. He went to his dressing table, rummaged through the drawer, and took out a pistol. Then he started back for his window. On his way, he bent down, lifted up the fallen fork, looked at it intently, then juggled it into its bowl. He stepped into the pool of water growing at the foot of the opening. Gazing at his own shadow, he slowly lifted up the pistol, whispering to himself, “No one gardens ma lawn. No one.”
The nozzle of the pistol was now at his temple. His finger was on the trigger. He was going to do it. Finally. But his hand trembled. His wrinkles altered their forms with every shiver of his eyebrows. A small tear formed at the corner of his left eye. He could feel it – hot and heavy, despite the rain drops around. As the tear went down, some force took hold of his hand, and despite his strong will, he lowered his pistol.
A few seconds passed, or a few minutes perhaps. He stood still, eyes shut, occasionally laughed at by the flashes of the sky, and perpetually assaulted by the raindrops. The wind blew into the house. He stood still.
Suddenly there was a bang. Loud, distinct pistol shot, piercing through the silence of night, silencing the hunters of darkness. His face once again bore that smile. He swooned down and gracefully splashed into the water. The pistol was still in his grasp. The rain gradually lessened and stopped, as his breath became harder and harder. Blood oozing out from his chest steadily flowed down into the pool of water, settled down as a layer, and finally made the invisible become red.
There was utter darkness outside, except for the light on the lawn, in the shape of the open window. Just the window. Nothing more.