I arrived home shortly after 4:30 a.m., turning my key in the lock. Once inside the apartment, I staggered into the kitchen barreling off walls in my drunken state. I opened the cupboard door and pulled out the Jack Daniels, taking a long and hard swig from the mouth of the bottle, hardly noticing the burn. “Just one drink, a cigarette, and a deep breath to steady the nerves,” I muttered to no one in particular. There’d be the usual trouble with Arielle tonight where melodrama played a vital role. A sad, haunting look of betrayal would cross her face and then, the wild accusations would start to fly. Then, as she rocked back and forth, I would listen helplessly to her heart-wrenching sobs which no amount of contrition could silence. She made me feel ashamed for who I had become. Worst of all, I was unwilling to change.
I promised the wife I’d be home for dinner. I seemed to make a lot of promises lately I couldn’t keep. I had a lot of explaining to do, but Arielle must never know the truth. I tried to make sense of the evening. It was all a blur. I could vaguely remember leaving the pub with Thalia shortly after closing time, and not much after that. Most likely, we had ended up back at her apartment. She was the best lay I’d ever had, but I’d resolved to break it off with her this evening. My marriage was on the rocks and Arielle would skin me alive if she ever found out about my sordid affair.
Knowing Arielle, she had gone to a lot of bother preparing a romantic dinner for two. Keeping the romance alive. Always trying so damn hard, if you ask me, when it’s as good as over between us. I was stuck in a dead-end marriage, and a dead-end job. “Welcome to my nightmare!” I muttered under my breath, peering into the dining room. A bottle of red wine lay on the table, a couple of glasses set out nearby. I caught a glimpse of Arielle’s slim silhouette in the candlelight. Her eyes glowed yellow with flickering flame. Arielle’s cigarette had burned down to the filter and she crushed it out in the ashtray as she shot up from the table. Her voice was low and gravelly, almost unrecognizable as though she were possessed by some unknown entity. “Nigel, how nice of you to join us!” she hissed. I expected to see her head spin around full circle as evidence of demonic possession. Knocking over the bottle of wine in her fury, its contents spilled onto the white tablecloth. Seeping across the table, the wine seemed to writhe as a snake, spelling out the initials:
Thalia Banks?! No…my guilty conscience wasn’t going to trip me up this easily! My imagination was playing tricks on me. I closed my eyes in the hopes that the mocking reminder of my infidelity would vanish from sight. When I opened them, the initials were still there. I’d definitely had one too many drinks and my paranoia was getting the better of me. I averted my eyes from the wine-splattered tablecloth as the figure slowly approached me from across the dining room table. Arielle put her hands on her hips, awaiting my pitiful excuses.
“Arielle, I…I…tried calling earlier, but the line was engaged. I met up with some old friends after my lecture at the University and we went out for a few drinks. I’m sorry. I guess I lost track of time and…” Breaking off in mid-sentence, I realized that anything I said would be held against me, or anything I didn’t say, for that matter. Arielle held my gaze fixedly as though she had me under a microscope, dissecting the contents of my discombobulated brain. I needn’t continue. She’d heard the same tired excuses time and time again. Like a condemned man, I awaited the verdict and for sentencing to be handed down.
Arielle’s sharp words sliced into the density of my clouded mind. “The truth is…you’re full of it!” Her shrill tone of voice escalated as she moved in for the kill. “You good for nothing, lying bastard. I know what you’ve been up to and you won’t get away with it this time! If you ever…” Her voice trailed off as the wine bottle rolled off the dining room table and onto the floor, as if possessed by some mysterious force. I welcomed the temporary stay of execution.
I watched the wine bottle roll back and forth against the leg of the dining room table and then with purpose and precision, it began to advance slowly in my direction coming to a full stop beside my shoe. I leaned over to pick it up and without any warning, the bottle exploded in my hand, wreaking its vengeance upon me. Jagged shards of glass pierced my flesh. Warm blood trickled down my forearm and oozed onto the cold white linoleum. Arielle let out a cry and huddled over me in concern as I slid in shock onto the kitchen floor. I observed my blood seeping into a puddle on the floor. It seemed to take on a life of its own as it spelled out the tell-tale words:
I tried to speak but no sound came out of my mouth. I let out a strangled gasp, pointing at the ominous shapes that took form. Arielle drew back in fear and then, shaking her head in disbelief, she quickly sprang into action, trying to will herself back to a world she identified with. She began gently picking shards of glass out of my hand, fetching a towel to wrap tightly over my gaping wound to stop the flow of blood. I took no notice of her, pushing her roughly aside. My bloody fingers reached out to touch the scarlet revelation in front of me. My fingers grew cold and the blood pulsing in my veins turned to ice as I fainted.
The call came about half past 9 the following morning. A gruff voice barked into the receiver. “Mr. Nigel Garamond?”
“Speaking,” I stammered into the telephone.
“This is Detective Grimes. I’d like to ask you a couple of questions. You were last seen with a Miss Thalia Banks at The Queen’s Head Pub last night. Is that correct?”
“Uh, yes,” I exhaled shakily.
“Mr. Garamond, do you recall leaving the pub with Miss Banks last night?”
“I believe I put her into a cab after the pub closed and we parted ways then. Is there a problem, Detective?” I asked, expecting the worst.
“Miss Banks was found dead in her apartment sometime after 4 a.m. this morning. You were the last person to see the victim alive and we intend to find out who or what killed her. Mr. Garamond, we’re going to have to bring you in this afternoon for questioning.”
“No!” I cried, closing my eyes. She was dead. A shudder assaulted my body. I began to shake in violent tremors as the vivid details of the previous night came flooding back to me. I couldn’t escape what I had seen. Something had reached out from beyond the grave. The cursed spirit had a name and a gaping wound for a heart. She hungered for me in the mouth of Hell.
My fellow inmate was one crazy bastard. He leaned over me to scream in my ear, “What are you whispering about, ya piece of shite?! Shut the hell up, or I’ll make you!” He hovered over me threateningly, clenching his fist. “Welcome to my fist. I’m gonna beat the crap out of you today and I’m not gonna use any weapons this time. One day, I’ll really kill ya!” he yelled. I pretended to be fast asleep. How I longed for oblivion! I lived in a perpetual state of fear from which there was no escape. My thoughts turned to Thalia. She had been transformed into a malevolent, devouring, otherworldly creature. She had formulated a plan for my slow and agonizing self-destruction. Her spirit rejoiced in my misery. I awaited the punishment which should not be long in arriving. She elbowed her way into existence again.
I am your conscience and your conscience is mine.
Let your god-forsaken soul sleep inside of me, excavating hell! I am psychologically rotten.
It was too late. I was a tortured man. My heart burned cold with remorse. I was haunted by the weight of my sin. Overcome with sorrow, the pain had renounced my mind. I was an organ forever useless. I began to choke on the presence of something inhuman inside my body that rose through my chest into my throat. Stripped of my soul, my entire existence passed over to the dead.