Some things are better left dead.
All In The Cards
A Tale of Supernatural Terror
Jaysen Robert Wolfe
The frigid wind grasped her, sending air tendrils up and around the green, satin dress. Holding tightly to her hat to keep the rainy wind from blowing it away, and glancing to the left. A reflection upon the glass causing her to stop, or a movement catching her attention. Puzzled by the dark window, she notices a strange light shining through the blackened curtain. A low-hung sign above the door beckons to her with a creaking whisper.
"Come in, the water's fine...," a voice touching her mind.
"Just my imagination." she said aloud and realizing this, glanced around sheepishly to be sure nobody overheard her talking to herself. They might just lock her up in an asylum like they did her poor baby brother Jimmy. She could not, would not let it happen.
Curioso, the sign called to her and she thought aloud, "Curioso? What's that supposed to mean?" The wind seemed to pick up aggressively as she spoke the words.
Reaching for the antique brass handle, the door seemed to unlatch itself and open ever so slightly, a greenish sliver of light emitting from the darkness beyond. Pulling back in alarm as if she had touched something hot, she laughed to herself. Reaching for the handle again, the door opens wider with a moan creating a chorus with the torrent around her.
Pushing at the door, fingers mere inches from its surface when it opens fully, forcefully. Yesss..., come in, come in..." Looking around, as if expecting someone to be there whispering into her ear, "Just the wind," speaking to no one, "yes, only the wind." Drawing a breath, she steps into the gloom.
Slowly, her gaze becomes accustomed to the darkness. Standing among aisles of shelves containing various jars of strange things within, floating in an odd liquid. Leaning forward for a better look and noticing this jar holds something somewhat like a human fetus, yet what would normally be flesh, this thing inside the jar was encased in a lobster-like shell.
Slowly, cautiously she bows, her face nearing the abomination. Her nose almost touching the glass when it turns it's head and appears to actually look toward her direction, winking a whitened orb at her! Gasping in horror from a voice out of nowhere.
"Interesting, isn't it?"
"Wh-what? ummm..., yes, yes it is..." she stammers, her pulse reckless, adrenaline racing her heart. "Is it a lobster or something?" she asks, wavering.
The old man smiles as he examines her, "Yes, yes a lobster it is, but not one you've seen before, no?"
Her head tilts as she, in turn examines the old man, eyebrow raised . "No, I've definitely never seen anything like it before." She looks at the rest of the jars, noticing each holds a similar beast.
"No, I don't imagine you would, you see it is very rare, and very hard to find in your Americas. What may I help you with, young one?"
"My brother Jimmy's birthday is tomorrow and I'm looking for something unique, something special."
"I see..., something special...."
"Yeah, you know, something he'll remember for a long time." She looks at the anomalies surrounding her. She can't see her brother with one of these things.
Somehow sensing her apprehension, the old man speaks with a toothless rasp, "I don't believe these are what you are looking for then?"
"I dunno..., they're kinda..., weird."
The old man laughs to himself, "In all the places you will find on the road to hell, you shall not find one as special as this. I carry much more than you see here, and if I may be so bold, you will find what you seek within these walls..., Katherine."
A puzzled look draws upon her features, "How did you know my name?" she asks.
"I know many things child, more things beyond this world." He begins cackling which sounds to Katherine like nails upon a chalkboard. Her puzzlement now anger.
Sensing this, the old man says, "Be easy, I mean no harm. Your name is there on your handbag, dear."
She looks down at the red leather purse hanging like a gallows from her elbow. Written on its side is her name in bright metal script. She blushes, more ashamed at herself than embarrassed.
"Can you help me or not?"
"I believe so..., yesss..."
The old man turns and begins walking away toward a darkened curtain. "You are coming aren't you?"
Darkness creeps through the shadows, keeping to itself, daring to peek about in the open only when it is safe. The polished, white corridors, glisten from the reflections of safety lights upon the walls, causing the darkness to stay its place. A middle-aged man, dressed in ivory cotton limps to a heavy-looking metal door like a condemned prisoner on his way to an execution.
Harland Portier has been working night shift at the "hospital" for close to twelve years and has never felt a dread so complete but when he talks to Wallace, the patient he is retrieving from the "Quiet Room".
Placing his hand against a ring of keys on his belt he gives them a tug. Selecting the correct one, it feels heavy, cold in his hand like the skin of his dead wife. Even so, he trembles as the key finds its home.
Drawing a breath of air, his eyes close as he turns the key. The room beyond smells of urine, sweat and human feces. Harland flings his head back as if slapped, his eyes and nostrils stinging from the odor.
"Who dere?" a child's voice trembles from within.
"It's me, Cappy, your old pal Harland."
"You not my sista, you not suppos' ta caw me dat name. Katty caw me dat, not yew."
"OK, OK. I'm sorry. What shall I call you then?"
The voice is silent, then, "Jimmy, OK? Caw me Jimmy."
Okay, Jimmy. Listen, I've come to get you cleaned up."
"You're having a special visitor Jimmy. Can you guess who?"
"Your sister Katherine called and she'll be here in a few hours."
"OK. I get ready."
"Come on, let's get you ready then."
Two weeks in the "Quiet Room" has taken its toll upon James Wallace. He didn't know how to use the toilet there so he found a favorite corner which he used instead. He shambles out of the shadow, toward Harland.
"Good Lord, you need a bath. We'll get you all cleaned up okay? Put you in some real nice clothes."
As they walk away to the lighted end of the corridor, Harland can't help feel sorry for his friend of twelve years. "I hear it's your birthday today? Your sister says she's bringing you a very special present."
As the door closes, the darkness grows and fills the hallways behind them.
The room is white, almost too white and clean. The smell of disinfectant fills her nostrils, bringing on a grand headache. Katherine Wallace wishes she didn't have to come and see her brother in this place.
"A promise is a promise." she tells herself as they admit her through the fifth security gate. It is a promise she made to their parents and to her brother long ago, to always look out for him.
Harland meets her at the fifth and last security gate, ebony skin reflecting the florescent lights as he smiles and welcomes her. "Katherine! It is so good to see you again. How have you been?"
"Hi Harland, I'm OK, I guess."
"Fine, fine. Say, did you do your hair?"
"Alright, cut it out ya old flirt," She smiles, "What would Mrs. Portier say is she knew you were trying to hit on your patient's sisters?"
Harland laughs, "She would say the same thing you always say, 'once an old fool, always an old fool.'"
"Oh, c'mon, Harland," she laughs, "you're not that old."
They walk toward a shadowy section of the room, a silhouetted form sits at the table. Harland gets that feeling again, like something is definitely off and swallows hard. He regains his composure and speaks, the figure in darkness glances toward them, hands folded on the table. "Jimmy, look who it is, it's your sister, Katherine."
The figure seems to only stare at them. Harland looks at Katherine with concern. Smiling at Harland as she steps forward, he grasps her elbow lightly on reflex.
"Cappy? It's me, Cappy, your sis, Katty. Come here and give me a big hug little brother."
The figure rises and walks around the table, into the light. James Wallace places his arms around his sister, the bristles of his beard tickling her cheek with its scratchiness. "I miss yew Katty."
"Ow! I missed you too Cappy. I brought you something." she says, rubbing her cheek.
They walk to a lighted table, sitting across from each other. Reaching across the table, she brushes his blond hair out of his eyes. A green baseball cap sits lopsided upon his head, so she straightens it, and smiles, "There you go, good as new."
"Tank yew Katty."
"Hey, isn't that what a good sister does? Look here at what I've got for you little brother." James' gaze seems distant, as if someone has pulled the power on his mind.
Reaching into her purse, she produces an antique, wooden box with tarnished brass hinges and clasp. Engraved upon its surface are ancient writings of a warning Katherine Wallace would never realize. She places the box upon the table between them, and James' gaze immediately come to life, his gaze dropping to the artifact.
"Go on Cappy, open it." Harland says, just as curious of its contents. Shaking hands snake toward the clasp, and slowly open the box. A bead of sweat forms upon James' brow as he removes its contents.
Something rectangular, wrapped in a dark, black silk lay before James. He glances at Katherine, then back to the cloth-encrusted object. Nervously he unwraps his prize, palms damp with cold perspiration.
"The old man from the shop told me that each one has a different meaning. If you lay them out in a certain way, he said they can tell you things. I thought you'd like the pictures on them anyway."
One by one, James lays them upon the table in a pattern recognizable only to him. His gaze scans this pattern as if searching for answers, an odd expression forms in his features. Closing his eyes, he nods, as if receiving the answers he sought.
"They're Tarot cards, and they're supposed...," She says.
"I know what they are you little twit..." James begins, voice clear and strong, unlike the child trapped in his mind before. Harland instinctively grabs the whistle hanging from his neck in preparation for the worst. He looks at James hard, wondering, hoping he won't have to call for backup.
"What did you say?" Katherine asks, voice in amazement.
Reverting back to the child in his mind, he answers, the far-off look in his eyes "I say I know wut day are. I seen it on da tv. I get ta watch it when I'm good. Can I go ta my woom nowa, my head hurts, Arlan?"
Harland relaxes his grip slightly on the whistle, and motions for two other orderlies to escort James Wallace to his quarters. James wraps the cards in the black silk and gently places them within their box. It seems to Harland as if James is laying a casket to rest.
As the orderlies lead James to a white metal door, Harland pulls Katherine aside, the light of the midday sun glistening upon his brow. "I suppose you want to tell me just what the hell is going on?"
"I don't know what you..."
"Oh, come on now, Kathrine. You know as well as I do, your brother has a mind of a four-year old boy. At least he did until you brought him those cards."
"I don't understand. Did you see his eyes? My God, Harland, his eyes!"
Katherine looked at his feet, noticing they were in disrepair. "I want to tell him the truth, Harland."
"Now wait a second, Katherine. You know the rules about that. There's no way I can allow you to do that."
"Don't you see? You've been here for twenty years..."
"Twelve years, thank you very much. I've got a few more years left in me before they put this horse to pasture."
"Sorry, twelve years, and you've seen a lot of things that you couldn't understand."
"I'm just thinking that James doesn't need all those meds to make him function..."
Harland breathed a sigh, "You don't get it do you? That medication is the only thing keeping him dormant, under control."
She looked into his deep brown eyes, a tear forming in hers. "I want my brother back. I can't stand it here and I don't want him to be here anymore."
"Now Katherine. Would you listen to yourself? I know it's been hard since your parents died. Hell, I miss them too."
"No, you don't know how hard it's been." Tears rolled, blurring her vision. She could taste the bitter-salt at the back of her throat as she fought hard to keep them in."
"Hush now." He said, placing a fatherly arm around her. "You don't know what you're saying girl."
"Listen, I'll pay whatever it takes. I've been saving a lot of money. I'll take full responsibility, sign whatever papers you want me to."
"It's not that simple..."
"I thought you wanted him to be happy. You said he was your friend. I want my brother home, where he belongs."
"You'll be responsible huh? Will you be responsible when he does it again? What happens when they drag him away kicking and screaming, can you handle that kind of responsibility when it's you who'll be the one who pays?"
"I've been studying relapsed memories and I know I can help him be normal again. Just give me the chance to show him that he is loved. You owe him at least that much."
His gaze falls upon her eyes, so filled with hope, so trusting, yet so determined. His shoulders slump, which he does when he feels defeat. "I'll see what I can do."
"You don't know how much this means to me," She began. "You won't regret this, Harland."
"Now wait a second. I never said anything about...,"
"I promise you, Things will be alright. I know they will."
He thinks back to the day the authorities dragged James Wallace into his Ward at the hospital. The young man was five-years old then, drugged and bound so as not to "hurt" anyone, including himself.
The local papers told how the young child had "lost his mind" due to experimental testing done upon the boy's mother while she was pregnant with him. The toxicity of the drugs killed his parents, leaving him to the custody of his older sister, Katherine. Their deaths were too much for the child and he was admitted shortly thereafter.
Harland knows the truth, why the child was admitted, and why his sister wants to take full responsibility for her brother. Understands the value of a brother. Knows that she thinks she can control him.
"I tell you what, I'll push for his release. Only temporary, mind you. You have to promise me one thing, though."
"Sure, Harland. Just name it."
"Promise me you'll take good care of him." His gaze questions. "If anything, and I do mean anything seems off kilter, you give me a call, understand?"
"Deal. I won't let you down."
The house stands deathly still, badly needing a new roof and shutters. Thunder rattles the windows as Katherine climbs out of the shower, water dripping from her slender frame onto the cold enamel tile.
Shivering, she wraps a towel around her full breasts and walks to the curtains of her parent's room. Lightning flashes, causing shadows to dance erratically across the walls. They are asleep, but the normal sounds of sleep do not reach her ears.
Slowly, she steps toward her parent's bed, careful to not awaken them. Their bodies lay still, unmoving. A clock which she cannot see begins ticking, louder with every step.
Tick, tock. Tick, TOCK. TICK, TOCK!
Strangely, she notices only one body in the bed where moments ago there were two. "Mom?" she asks. "Dad? Are you guys awake?"
No response. A strange odor fills her nostrils. Something akin to rotting vegetation or stale corn chips fills the room.
A strange green glow emanates from under the covers. The towel slips from her torso, leaving her fully vulnerable. Ripe for the picking...
The coldness of a tomb engulfs her, causing goose-flesh to cover her body like a blanket. Her fingers stretch toward the still body. The blanket feels old and dusty under her fingers, and she begins to pull.
A skeletal hand, decaying flesh clinging to its bones drops from its resting place to lay against her flesh. She stifles a scream, biting her lip. A trickle of blood drips to her chin, warm and sticky.
She yanks the covers hard, screaming, "You're not dead, you're not, YOU ARE NOT DEAD!!!"
It is her own corpse she sees, rising from its casket, "Oh, but I will be soon, dear sister! I WILL BE SOON!"
There is a scream in the dark, one which jars James Wallace from his slumber violently. The screaming continues, a song of straining vocal cords, filling the darkness. They continue, until he realizes it is his own scream which force him awake into the world of the living.
He lies simmering in the cold sweat of his nightmare, a knock sounds at the door to his prison, hollow in this crypt of reality. A light glares at him, silhouettes forming like a milky tide. A now all-too familiar voice echoes into his mind, making this reality no stranger than the dream he left.
"James?" The voice seems faraway, as if calling to him through a tunnel. His ears strain to find its location.
"James...", more coherent now, the voice has entered into his realm. "Are you alright? I heard a scream."
"Kath-thy," he stammers, uncertain of the words he is forming in his mind. "I-I had the d-dream again."
"Are you OK, little..., I mean big brother?"
"I-I think so, yeah. I-I'm OK."
to be continued...