by Blizzy Fox
Horror Short Story (Five Chapters; 10k words)
“Amelie!” Jacob shouted. The streets of Town Salem ran like a maze, and constant heed was imperative upon treading each narrow and cluttered lane, for the hapless were bound to get lost. They ventured far out of their neighborhood and into the unfamiliar waters of the southern city fringes. Jacob had given up groping his way home, so his only task left was to find Amelie, who had once again run off on her own, chuckling as she did. She made what should have been a simple walk down town ten folds more complicated by turning it into a frantic game of hide-and-seek. Although Jacob had played such games bountiful times before, especially with Amelie, he would rather not be embroiled in one today. Amelie should know that he was physically drained, after witnessing him spending an entire morning doing house chores by looking up through his bedroom window. Jacob could boil it down to some sort of retribution act, the reason behind which he could not wrap his head around.
“What is she onto this time?” Jacob grunted as he jostled through the crowd. He crossed the town hall and entered the fountain plaza where the southern town was at its least claustrophobic. As he was catching his breath, he heard the bell chime from the top of the southern tower, the tallest artifact ofTown Salem. There was a huge line in front of the cathedral, ten-folds that of the northern church he attends. The low-lying fog dissipated, and the grandiose mansion poked its head from the masquerade, skulking behind what he assumed was the town’s parliament hall. People were gathering at the empty spaces; some were sitting by the fountain, resting; some were feeding the loitering mongrels with leftover meat; some were standing still on their feet, watching as a flock of pigeons circled around their heads, casting shadows of many changing patterns.
Jacob barely ever visited southern Town Salem. When he was young, he considered this place to be the stuff of legends, a mystical domain where countless benign spirits might as well live. To visit a place he thought he knew was enticing to him, even though at that very moment he could feel nothing but dread and desperation.
Jacob did not stay for long. He cleared his throat and shouted her name again as he stumbled down another random street.
Jacob and Amelie had been playmates for the longest time. They met each other at school when they were around the age of nine. Although everyone at their age was never shy to make new acquaintances, he knew that Amelie was no ordinary friend, and the feeling was mutual. They would spend the entire weekend in each other’s house and play all sorts of fun games and activities. Their other friends were envious of their special connection, but some deemed their friendship a beacon of light in a melancholy town. Now at the age of fifteen, the beacon continued to shine as very bright as ever before.
Jacob was very fond of Amelie, but in his eyes, she was an incredible friend, not a love interest, despite his teenage friends telling him otherwise. Who are they to tell him how he feels? Jacob denied all speculations. From Jacob’s perspective, there are two kinds of girls in this world, those that make Jacob fall in love with, and those that make him laugh, cry, rage, fear, and fret over their safety. Amelie unequivocally belongs to the latter.
This is what he loved about Amelie, the kaleidoscope of emotions she evoked in him whenever she was in his company. Unlike those saccharine girls who threw themselves after him, Amelie was not afraid to throw a fit, and she was not afraid to give him a good scare. He loved the extent to which she would go to elicit a funny response from him, and he loved being the recipient. He loved her character. He loved her energy. He loved her aura. He loved her, except he didn’t really.
Darkness fell. Streetlights illuminated the tenebrific world of restless vehicles and busy men, the gears of Town Salem still grinding and growling deep into the night. Jacob perked his ears, straining to pick up any faint hints of a female voice. The sound of the metropolis was deafening. He gravitated towards relative silence, be it brooding in the darkest dirtiest alleyways, lumbering as he carried his weary vessel farther to the town fringes. He found himself in a lonely street. The sign displayed the name. Avery Street. A figure crept into view, and to his utter delight and relief, he recognized the embroidered sweater, the ripped jeans, the blonde hair.
“Okay,” Jacob gave a sigh of relief as he limped towards her. “You’ve got some explaining to do.”
“How are you not dead yet?” the girl responded, her arms against her hips. “I would have gone further had I known you were such a fighter.”
“At least you should tell me what I’ve done, so we can settle like civilised people.”
“Well, are you really that stupid? It’s hidden in plain sight.”
She started walking down the street, with Jacob trailing a few steps behind her.
“Please enlighten me,” said Jacob incredulously.
Amelie did not answer. She waited a few seconds before turning to face him. He could see the anger simmering in her eyes.
“Why did you do it? Why did you kiss her?”
Oh, so that’s the crux of the problem, said Jacob to himself.
Two days ago, he was caught kissing a girl in the school library during a break. The news spread like wildfire. It must have bothered a lot of people, he reckoned, mostly people he didn’t care to know, especially girls with whom he unwittingly shared passing acquaintances with. What bothers him? The gossip that he played no part in? The enmity that he cared not to quell? The broken hearts that he was not inclined to rejuvenate? The triviality of explanations in the wake of a singular act! He intended to let them tell the truth amongst themselves. He opted not to speak, such that silence convinces and speaks for him.
What Jacob could not imagine was that Amelie, out of all the people, would pay heed to his affairs with a random girl in town.
“I guess an apology would be appropriate, but rather unnecessary,” said Jacob slowly. “I did not think it would bother you at all, and I still don’t. I thought it was commonplace, and I don’t need to explain…”
“You shouldn’t just go off with somebody else,” said Amelie, her voice cracking. “You just shouldn’t.”
Amelie refrained from answering, for she was on the verge of tears. As they proceeded down the street, Jacob quietly waited for her response, eyeing her curiously.
They were halfway through when Amelie stopped. She looked at the house to her right.
“What’s the matter?” asked Jacob. He scanned the vicinity. There was not a single soul on the street. The ambient noise of the town began to die down, leaving only the shuffling of fallen leaves as the wind grated them along the black asphalt. The air was cold and tense, a far cry from the snugness, warmth, and fervor that defined the northern neighborhood that Jacob was accustomed to.
Amelie continued to stare unflinchingly at the house. A flight of stairs, around six steps, led up to a single brown wooden door. The house itself was nothing special, a masonry wall painted white, with touches of flashing red on its features. Jacob had seen similar designs near his residence, and every house on the street looked more or less the same. The door, however, was rather oversized for a house of such unassuming scale. It felt incongruent; the surface too polished, the doorknob too immaculate, the carvings too fancy. All evidence pointed to the house being unoccupied, for the windows were blocked with planks, the chimney sealed with concrete, the verandah layered with dust. The white paint was shedding off, revealing a plethora of cracks and forming irregular patches outlined with mold. It was not a pretty sight to behold, and in normal circumstances, it does not entice the ordinary pedestrian.
“I heard a voice in my head,” said Amelie. “It spoke to me.”
“Are you sure it’s not just the wind?”
The sentence sounded better in his head. He came off as frivolous, but he was not joking, for he knew Amelie was in no mood for that.
“We should go,” Jacob spoke again. “It’s getting late, and we still need to find our way home. This place is giving me the creeps.”
“I’m not scared because you are here with me. And yet, you are scared and you are asking me to feel scared as well. What does that make me?”
“Apparently, it does not change you a bit.”
“Exactly. I am learning not to care.”
Amelie started up the stairs. Jacob felt anxious and worried, for the looming night, for the imminent homebound search, and most of all, for her rogue friend who was still determined to make him mad. The words left him empty and gutted, but he could not find the words to respond. He stared hopelessly at the back of her childhood friend as she ascended with no intent to stop.
“I’m sorry,” Jacob shouted. “Is that what you want to hear? Had I known it would make you angry and jealous, I would have chosen not to do it.”
“Jealous?” Amelie turned; her gaze interlocked with Jacob’s. He could see the searing fury flashing, carrying with it a tinge of sadness, the enduring agony of a betrayal. “There is no jealousy involved, Jacob. There is only rage, and the strong desire to consciously wrap my fingers around her neck and impetuously tear the pulsating vessels off her flesh, to enthusiastically savor the taste of blood dripping from my palm as she choked in it. Yes, it is easy to forgive, but what good is a world where anything is solved by forgiveness, a mere excuse for the person to suffer from more pain?”
She pulled away from his eyes and turned to face the door. She raised a fist and gave it a resounding knock.
The door blasted open. A powerful gust surged out of the darkness and into the open. Jacob barely managed to stay on his feet. He crouched over, raising an arm to cover his face. A brutal force grabbed and tugged against him, and a horrid stench of rotten flesh and mold assailed his senses. He gasped for air, but all he did was take in more of that thick scent, which was starting to creep up to his head. He blanked out. Reality had pulled the curtains on him, and he did not know if the world itself had turned dark, or if he was blinded by the intense sensations shivering down his nerves. When the pain abated, he came to his senses and blinked franticall. Everything seemed to have returned to normal. Houses around him sat solemnly at their respective spots. Street lights were turned on, and the moon was sidling up the night sky. It was the street as it was a couple seconds, or a couple hours ago. The door in front of him was now closed. Jacob looked around. Amelie was nowhere to be seen.
“Amelie!” Jacob shouted her name once again. He ran towards the door and looked through the peephole. He could not see anything. It was too dark inside. It was a world untouched by the fervid warmth of sunlight.
Someone let out a piercing shriek. Jacob could recognize Amelie’s timbre, although the sound itself was drastically different. It was low and croaking, carrying no resemblance of a teenage female’s voice. It slowly morphed into something far less human, the voice of an old toad, a stricken pig, a demented cow, until it finally settled on what was incomparable to any earthly being, be it the crying of an angel, or the choking of a demon, or the cooing of a god.
Jacob could parse, as he froze at the spot, the clear articulation of distinct words, spoken in a language he could barely comprehend.
“Come here, Jacob.”
Amelie’s face appeared through the view of the peephole. She was no longer the same, and a certain corruption had taken on her countenance. Her skin was peeled off, revealing beneath her a layer of molding blackness. Her eyes were replaced by bottomless holes. Her nose was reduced to bare nostrils, and her teeth were churned into charcoal. The only recognizable feature on that festering amalgamation was the hair, which still retained part of that golden hue, albeit not for long.
It was too much of a sight for Jacob to take in. He scampered out of the street with a scream and bolted towards the crowds from which he came from. Southern Town Salem never felt safer.
Jacob did not speak a single word to the police the day after Amelie’s disappearance. No one, including his family and friends, could pry open his tightly sealed mouth. Thus, the inexplicable case was never solved, and the police could do nothing to console the weeping parents of the girl. Jacob spent the next three years of his teenage life in a constant state of apprehension and alert. He grew quiet, as if he had lost a part of his soul that fateful day, and his friends could do nothing to help. Jacob entered his adulthood as a broken human being. He moved out of his family apartment and lived all by himself at the further north of Town Salem, a dirty and crowded area marked by vagrants and former criminals. He subsisted for another two years selling newspapers. One day, he saw on the front page something he had long dreaded – missing people cases at southern Town Salem, growing by the day. He read it in detail, and without hesitation threw the paper into the gutters, took every last bit of his savings, and set off to the far north. No one understood why he proceeded with what came off as a rash decision to many, for it was generally easier to make a living in Town Salem than in the northern cities. They didn’t know Jacob. He might have lost his voice, and perhaps his sanity with it, but he did not lose his wits.
The people in Diamond City did not care much about Town Salem. Both places were after all rather similar, in that they were bustling with urban activity. Jacob was glad that Diamond City was unmolested by the terrors brooding in his hometown. He could only imagine what it looked like back at home, and what had become of his hapless family and friends, along with the people he sacrificed by not giving them warning. He thought about them, and he thought of Amelie. He tried to forget the person he knew so well, for that final look of hers threatened to consume him. As the years went by, however, the nightmares were too prevalent that they failed to pester him anymore, while other memories were distilled out, putting the same person under a different light, which brought him new sensibilities he never felt in the past.
Jacob knew that his serendipity would not last a lifetime. It was fate that binds both the man and his hometown, and one day he was obliged to return to the loving embrace of Town Salem, although it took him some years to understand why he should.