jimagain

Rants & ramblings of the disaffected

Archive for the tag “suspense”

The Devil in The Top Hat

A stranger steps out of the shadows in the night to accost a gentleman and his lady friend. The flickering glow of a street lamp casts the desperate scene in a surreal light. The intended victim is obviously a man of means and carrying a large bag, tightly grasping its handle. Apparently something valuable is inside. They are alone late at night meandering along a deserted cobble stone street near a shipyard. Not particularly smart of either of them; considering the hour is late, the fog heavy, and this is a crime-ridden area frequented by desperate men. The brute standing before them is brandishing a large caliber black powder pistol. A large knife is tucked in his waist band.

“Give me your money!” The demand, albeit lacking in eloquence, is simple and direct.

The traversing pair interrupted, immediately freeze. The lady in fear cowers behind the gentleman as he studies the menacing figure blocking their way. He grips his satchel a little more tightly. “A predictable request.” And then he adds in a more jocular tone peculiar for a man whose life is about to be cut short, “Are we to assume we are in some sort of peril?”

Not amused, the assailant points the muzzle of his weapon at them in response. “I too am a businessman,” he says. “And I propose to relieve you of that heavy bag you are carrying in exchange for sparing your life.” He points to the leather satchel in his grasp.

“It’s a viable offer but it would seem several assumptions have been made on your part, Sir. You assume because of my attire I am carrying a large sum of cash. And you assume it is we who are in peril and not yourself. Perhaps it would be naive of me to not anticipate that once I hand over my valuables, you nonetheless will kill me, leaving you at liberty to impose yourself on my fair young escort. After all she is a member of the weaker sex and with me out of the way you are at liberty to have your way with her? Is this not so?”

The man of the night grins toothily as he nods his large head, tipping his large top hat in a mocking gesture but in such a way as to not take his eyes off the prey. He is no novice to his trade.

The intended victim continues. “Now that we have established your intent let us dispense then with these assumptions. Since I may have arrived at the last hour of my life, I am curiously beset with an urge to negotiate with the devil in the top hat.” He then grinned and tipped his own top hat to his adversary. “I have a proposition to make you instead. I Sir, am a businessman, a merchant of sorts; not unlike yourself, since we both apparently deal in lost souls. Hence I have a counter offer to make you. What say you entertain my barter for your merriment? Suppose I were to offer you the objects of your desire but with one twist. In the course of this transaction, suppose we were to eliminate one integral part of your equation. I propose to give you my very large sum of cash as well as hand over my fair companion in full consent to the natural conclusion of the gratification of your urges. After all, the money is a goodly sum and she is very fair, a woman to fulfill your manly appetites. And all this is done without the commission of a crime on your part. In exchange, all I ask from you is that you to allow me to retain possession of this one paltry satchel with its …contents. Tonight, Sir, would appear to be your lucky night, would it not?”

The villain hesitates at the audacity of his victim, then counters.”And in the spirit of fair business, I propose a counter-offer; I will take your sum of cash, the girl, and the contents of that bag.” He fidgets, nervously brandishing the weapon. “It seems as if you have nothing left to barter with.”

“But I do, and with one remaining stipulation. If you allow me to retain my satchel then I will allow you to keep your soul. If you are unable, however, to carry out your transaction, then I hold your soul in default as collateral. Do you agree to my terms?”

This time the blood runs cold in the hasty assailant. “My soul?!!” For one brief moment he is seized with apprehension, as if now he is the one now being accosted. Valuable time has been lost and the thug is anxious to claim his bounty, a goodly nights haul by any means for a desperate man. He arms his weapon to broadcast the finality of his offer. “Hand them over, now!”

“Be that as it may,” he concedes. “Then may I present you with your newest acquisitions.” He slowly removes his wallet from his coat pocket and in one motion shoves it down the girl’s bodice. His mouth drops as he hands them both over in one move to the surprised thug. He grabs her, one burly hand grasping her petite wrist. That turns out to be a fatal mistake. She smiles coldly. As he reaches for the wallet, at the opportune moment, she strikes in one efficient lethal motion. A sharp knife she deftly procured from her nether garments quickly applied to his fifth rib, ends the robbery and his life. He collapses silently in a heap at their feet.

“It seems my friend, you made several assumptions tonight, all of which were wrong. It was you who needed protection …from her.” He reaches down to extract something that belongs to him from the would-be assailant. Reaching into the cadaver, he extracts a dark, shadowy object in the form of its previous owner, one that struggles to escape, like sheet in the wind. He placed the writhing entity inside the heavy bag he has been clutching. Reaching into his coat pocket, he retrieves a slip of paper which he presses into the palm of the recently deceased. He then tips his top hat to the fallen in a final gesture. “This, Sir, concludes our bargain. It has been a pleasure doing business with you.” Last seen, the pair step over the fresh corpse to continue their journey, disappearing in the shadows, reappearing at the next lamps’ dim glow.

The next morning…

… a crowd has gathered. The man leaning over the body lets out an audible gasp. “Here now, what’s this?!!

“What is it Inspector?”

“The eyes are gone from this one too! Ah! Another note,” he declares matter-of-factly as he reads out loud, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Good Night, Bob!

So much for normal…

Another night at the office working late. Twilight is falling, the sun is tottering on the horizon as if it were precariously perched on the brink of nothingness. Azure beams of sunlight stab between the blinds before surreptitiously fading into oblivion ten minutes later. I’m alone. As usual. The other career underachievers that share my office have long given up the appearance of effort, retiring for the day. It should come as no surprise as most my co-workers have opted to abandon productivity for a ride on the corporate welfare bandwagon all the way into retirement.

For them, work has become a vestigial appendage cast aside on the trek of corporate evolution.

Alan is always the first out the door and the last in. Counting down the minutes at the office from the moment he pulled out of his driveway this morning; his entire day was spent terrrorizing productive employees with random acts of unsolicited socialization. His arsenal includes personal matters, mundane questions, or any other pursuits of a trivial distraction not related to work that he can pursue; buzzing from cubicle to cubicle pollinating every conversation with his well-honed repertoire of irrelevant pander.

‘Eeyore’ has left as well; that’s what I call him. Don is the office gloom-monger-er. Parked beneath a perpetual black cloud, he patiently waits for something to go wrong. From there he typically launches into an extended tirade against technology before digressing into what’s wrong with society and politics and the rest of the world in general.

Two hours earlier you would have heard a spontaneous outburst erupt across the office, a shrill, high-pitched laugh that could only be described as a cackle. That would be the receptionist flirting with the deliveryman. This time next week, he will have been discarded as emotional flotsam for the next available fling. Not that we keep count but we’re already on no. 37 this season. Refer to the chart behind the door in the break area, the one with the stake through the heart.

Last to go was, Cynthia. I’m not sure I can explain how a ninety-eight pound female in heels can make such a clatter? Coming down the hall, she sounds like a Clydesdale on a cobblestone street; clop, clop, clop. She’s the overpaid Human Resources guru whose job it is to redefine success to an increasingly lower state of expectation thereby boosting morale. She cheerily spouts sporadic bits of pop-psychobabble like a jack-in-the-box wound too tightly and regurgitates them to employees at meetings or splashes them across bulletin boards.

It turns out we’re a random collection of dysfunctional misfits that researchers studying abnormal psychology dream about.

Welcome to my world.

I’m a draftsman pretending to be an engineer and this is our dysfunctional corner of the galaxy. In our cubicle zoo, a dysfunctional Dilbert-esque psychology has long since seized the occupants of this office like a grievous murrain. Ours is a place in the corporate universe occupied by chronic underachievers where now we subsist in an incapacitating state of sub-par mediocrity. Once we had ascended those lofty peaks of corporate success before slowly lapsing into a collective employee stupor that dissolves neurons, leaving us the impaired assortment of office zombies we are today.

Forty minutes earlier, I had looked at my watch. “About that time,” I announced to myself. “Any moment now…” Alan suddenly ducks his head into my partition. “Anything I can do before I leave?” It may as well have been a prerecorded messaged played back. We both know he doesn’t mean it. It’s just his signature exit before he departs the building. I utter some rhetorically random retort involving sheer absurdity just to see if he will respond.

And then its silent.

Back to the present…under the garish glare of a flickering fluorescent light, the office is cast in a surreal ambiance of artificial light.

I digress for a moment to that troublesome light. Earlier this week…I complained we ought to get that thing fixed. “I think the ballast is going out.” “Put in a work order,” they said. The last time maintenance checked it out he said, “can’t find nothing wrong.” I argue there is. He dryly states, “turn in another work order if you want it checked out.” And they will, four to six weeks later. That’s how we play the work order game here; a perpetual version of procedural musical chairs; a cyclic chase-your-tail series of pushing papers from in-basket to out, generating forms and excuses. Solving the problem has no legitimate place in the work order game.

Where were we? Oh, yes. Back to the abandoned office where now I can get some work done.

I sit fuming about that light as I plod on under the luminescent glow of the monitor beneath the flickering light. The light worsens to a phosphorescent stroboscope, an oscillating mental metronome of rapidly flashing light pulses with the intent of brain-washing that lulls me into an unnatural rhythm. Soon I lapse into a lethargic stupor. And I sigh out loud.

And that’s when I hear that familiar sound.

From within the employee break area, I hear the sound of a refrigerator door slowly creak open. The faint glow of dim refrigerator light scintillesces from the darkened room, followed by the sound of a hollow metal door being sucked shut as it closed.

I hear it coming. Like a lumbering run-a-way amoeba, lumping along tediously across the tile floor.

I can only describe the visitor as a gelatinous mass exiting the fridge, an amorphous blob of stray cytoplasm that oozes and wobbles and slides across the room. Toward me. It’s a bit unnerving the first time I admit when I encountered this phenomenon but I’m not fearful of the bizarre occurrence. Running away from a gelatinous blob isn’t a major concern should it suddenly turn malevolent. I have real feet and a musculo-skeletal structure; the blob only has pseudo-pods. The primordial protoplasmic creature lumbering along has no teeth but I suppose if you were to lay motionless long enough, he might eventually be able to engulf you by the process of exocytosis.

“Hello Bob,” I say casually as I continue to work, not bothering to look up.

Maybe I should explain more, in case you’re still freaked out a bit. Bob is a spore spawned from leftovers that have been leftover again in the employee fridge. Lurking in the stale, musty air on the back shelf which he shares with the fuzzy blue macaroni.

I simply call him, Bob. What ‘Bob’ is is a matter of taxonomy; you may prefer to categorize him a mycelium or some mutated form of spontaneous generation, an example of punctuated equilibrium; but I prefer ‘Bob’. I will leave that question up to the zoologists and the philosophers.

Bob slowly, tediously pulls himself up into the chair beside me. And he sighs. “Man. You guys have really got to clean out that fridge. Its getting rank in there, even for me.”

He slurs his words slightly but for an amoebic creature with no larynx, I think he articulates well.

“I told the cleaning lady to take care of it”

Bob has one appendage, a tentacle like protrusion he uses for grasping and occasional gesticulation for emphasis when making a point. “Jim,” he wraps his tentacle over my shoulder, “I think it’s time we got rid of Myrtle.”

Maybe you don’t routinely take advice from gelatinous masses inhabiting your fridge, but Bob’s opinion carries a lot of weight with me.

“It’s not my call, Bob. Somebody else has to make that decision.”

“They should promote me to office manager. I’d fire some people around here if I ever get the position.”

This whole scene isn’t nearly as bizarre as you may think. And Bob is actually a pretty nice guy, once you get to know him, in spite of being a mutated form of leftovers. Must have been those additives; some synthetic chemical reaction or something…or some random case of evolution, spontaneously generated. After all, a refrigerator would make a perfect incubator for evolving life with it’s controlled environment and a plethora of nutrients, and an ample light source to initiate a photosynthetic jump-start of bio-synthetic processes. And despite having jello for brains: No, literally, he has gelatin for brains; for a discarded, mutated leftover, he’s very intelligent.

We have frequent conversations when I work late. Tonight is no exception. We discuss things for the next hour before Bob yawns and announces he’s retiring to the fridge. “I’m starting to thaw out.” And then he adds, “Jim? Go home. You look like crap.”

It’s hard to argue with logic like that. “I rub my eyes and hit the save button before shutting down my laptop. “I think you’re right, Bob. I’m outta’ here.”

“See you later”, he says as he plots a course toward his habitat. “Oh, and leave the TV on, will you. I’m trying to catch up on my current events.”

“You got it, Bob. Good night.”

“Hmmmmmph.” And with that I hear the sound of a hollow metal door being sucked shut as it’s closed.

“Good night, Bob,” I say affectionately.

The Creaking Door

The Uninvited Come to Visit

Few sounds, so completely normal, sound so completely unnatural as a creaking door. Ominous. Foreboding. Eerie.

Here is the scenario; a man is working alone late at night when, for no apparent reason the door slowly creaks open. No one enters the room, there is no obvious physical cause that presents itself to explain how it happened. It just happened. I was that man and what happened afterward has forever blurred the distinction in my mind between the natural word and the unseen. A seemingly innocuous event would have not arrested my attention as this but this was no ordinary happening.

I suppose to a rational mind this would appear to be no conundrum, no dark sinister event but instead a simply explainable one. Before this night I thought myself to be such a person, not given to imagination or superstition but instead a possessor of a skeptical mind that investigated any apparent anomaly before flying off to a myriad of hasty conclusions. You see, I believe that in the physical universe every cause has effect, every action – reaction; but I have since learned that in the dimensionless realm of the non-physical, exist things which have no cause or explanation – only phenomenon.

I fancy myself to be a scientific man and logical. Surrounding myself with laws of physics which admittedly do not always function as I expect. I take refuge in the thoughts of men smarter than I. Tonight the theories and textbooks are no refuge. Hiding behind books and theories and a vocabulary of scientific terms, these primal fears still lurk under my bed or dwell in my closet. I thought I had evicted him a long time ago but beneath the facade of the rational, fear still resides as a tenant that refuse to leave, in some deep dark corner of my thoughts.

Only two hours before, all was bright. The world was a logical place. Then streaks of pastel hues slowly gave way to darkened skies. At first I watched as the twilight fell, the sun hung suspended between day and night. The sun locked in struggle between light and dark lay slowly dying. Struggling, it succumbed to the inevitable overwhelming, smothering blanket of night that soon will grip the planet under its cloak of blackness. Only slivers of light reflected off the moon’s surface prevent the entire earth from sinking into the empty black sea of night. The last stabs of light racing from 97 million miles away careen off the hemispherical horizon across a twilight canopy and then… darkness has fallen. Outside a dog barks in the distance. Leafless trees, like suspects apprehended in individual acts of felony; throw up their limbs as arms in surrender, against the spot light of the waning moon.

Of every sensation I’ve encountered, the sound of a door turning on un-oiled hinges as it slowly creaks open seems an invite, a portal into the unknown. I fear my door has become an unguarded passageway into the world of flesh and blood I inhabit, where visitors cross over to co-habitate my world.

Seemingly this coinciding of day and night has opened the door to a host of the dark domain to visit. Enter the denizens of the dark; under the canopy of inky blackness they are now free to flit about from shadow to shadow, stalking and lurking to their dark hearts content. These animate non-entities feed off fear, mocking the palisades of logic we hastily throw up in defense and then cower behind. Shapeless visitors roam and walk about at will. Tonight the world is their playground, we are their zoo as they stare and gawk and laugh. Most are mildly curious, content to be spectators watching, observing their pitiful counterparts of flesh and blood as we dawdle about. Some are a bit more mischievous; a thump or a bump in the night. Others unleash sheer moments of unbridled terror from random, unexplained events; knocking things over, objects falling, creaking steps, the clack of shutters banging, curtains flailing wildly from an open window. These are the physical entities they can control; the tools of their trade of terror. Outside I hear the wind moan and howl as gusts hurtle leaves wildly about as projectiles, dashing them against bricks or scraping them loudly against the concrete.

Working late at night, alone in a room with no one but a vivid imagination only elevates the feeling of dread that I am not alone; someone or something unseen has entered the room, is there with me. But who ..or what? And what is the intent of the visitor? Evil or malicious? Perhaps merely to frighten? My skin crawls, starting with a tingling up the back like a thousand tiny ants marching up my spine. Hair follicles stand at erect attention. Shallow heavy breaths flee my pounding chest… for a moment the entire universe freezes in suspense. pupils strain to see the invisible as my eyes dart rapidly back and forth… still nothing. But is it nothing …or some thing that light does not reflect? Fear grips my mind, The suspense of the unknown & the untouchable is palpable, akin to a thousand pin pricks prickling the skin, spreading from head to toe. As if an unseen visitor has entered the room; my heart stops, my ears lock-in to the faintest sound. my neck cranes, my head turns, and wide eyes stare to see …nothing. There is nothing there! Instead of providing relief, a pervading sense of indescribable fear replaces it, makes it seems all the more foreboding. A visible foe no matter how formidable is not nearly so fearful as one unseen. Has someone come to join me tonight?

I tell myself, this is not the case. Frantically, the rational mind searches for a rational answer. I too began searching but soon gave way to a desperate…groping; grasping at straws of logic. The obvious conclusion is the wind blew it open. Isn’t it? My conscious mind has a logical explanation for everything; yet my subconscious seems to perceive a different reality. On a level I am consciously unaware of, my subconscious knows a multi-faceted level of reality that my rational mind refuses to accept.

Inside my room, the opened door half ajar leaves a gaping hole of uncertainty. A long pregnant pause followed suddenly by a burst of noise; the sound of wildly flailing, thrashing, and banging erupt from inside the hallway! My heart races wildly beating in response before I recognize the sound of shutters and curtains driven by the wind. It is a long time before I return to a semblance of normality. I grin nervously, feeling infinitely foolish as I concede to myself that I’m a bit too skittish.

And then I see the intruder inside my office. How I had not noticed him sooner?!! There inside my room, a light burns but outside my reflection stops short at the window pane. A ghostly apparition that resemble my self stares back at me in dread; as if a soulless entity masquerading as me glares back at me like a sullen spectator. I stare at myself staring back at me. I cannot see out, whoever is out there can easily see inside. Perhaps even now is watching me as I slink in silent fear. Is it my reflection …or my uninvited guest?!!

What does this mean? Am I afraid of my self; a dark, inner existence of a baser, lower form of me that lurks within waiting to wrest free, as a modern day Mr. Hyde and overpower my conscious self? Or is it a fear of another creature that masquerades as me? Behind the facade of normalcy might be a malignant malovent being that maquerades much like a virus cloaks itself in the cells of it’s host? Who can tell?

I can only wait until the morning comes, when reason returns, and day prevails.

The Devil in The Top Hat

A stranger steps out of the shadows in the night to accost a gentleman and his lady friend. The man is carrying a large bag, tightly grasping it’s handle. Apparently something valuable is inside. They are alone late at night meandering along an alley near a shipyard. Not particularly smart of either of them; considering the hour is late, the fog heavy, and this is a crime-ridden area frequented by desperate men. The brute standing before them is brandishing a large caliber black powder pistol. A large knife is tucked in his waist band.

“Give me your money!” The demand, albeit lacking in eloquence, it is simple and direct.

The traversing pair interrupted, immediately freeze. The gentleman studies the menacing figure blocking their way. He grips his satchel a little more tightly. “A predictable request.” And then he adds, “Are we to assume we are in some sort of peril?”

He points his weapon at them in response. “I too am a businessman,” he says. “I propose to relieve you of that heavy wad of bills you are carrying in exchange of course for sparing your life.” He points to the leather satchel in his grasp.

“It’s a viable offer but it would seem several assumptions have been made on your part, Sir. You assume because of my attire I am carrying a large sum of cash. And you assume it is we who are in peril and not yourself? Perhaps it would be naive of me to not anticipate that once I hand over my valuables, you nonetheless will kill me, leaving you at liberty to impose yourself on my fair young escort. After all she is a member of the weaker sex and with me out of the way you are at liberty to have your way with her? Is this not so?”

He grins toothily as he nods his large head, tipping his large top hat in mocking gesture but in such a way as to not take his eyes off the prey. He is no novice to his trade.

He continues. “Now that we have established your intent let us dispense then with these assumptions. Since I may have arrived at the last hour of my life, I am curiously beset with an urge to negotiate with the devil in the top hat.” He then grinned and tipped his own hat to his adversary. “I have a proposition to make you instead. I Sir, am a businessman, a merchant of sorts; not unlike yourself, since we both apparently deal in lost souls. Hence I have a counter offer to make you. What say you entertain my barter for your merriment? Suppose I were to offer you the objects of your desire but with one twist. In the course of this transaction, suppose we were to eliminate one integral part of your equation. I propose to give you my very large sum of cash as well as hand over my fair companion in full consent to the natural conclusion of the gratification of your urges. After all the money is a goodly sum and she is very fair, a woman to fulfill your manly appetites. And all this is done without the commission of a crime on your part. In exchange, all I ask from you is for you to allow me to retain possession of this one paltry satchel with its …contents. Tonight, Sir, would appear to be your lucky night, would it not?”

The villain hesitates, then counters.”And in the spirit of fair business, I then propose a counter-offer; I will take your sum of cash, the girl, and the contents of that bag.” He fidgets, nervously brandishing the weapon. “It seems as if you have nothing left to barter with.”

“But I do, and with one remaining stipulation. If you allow me to retain my satchel then I will allow you to keep your soul. If you are unable, however, to carry out your transaction, then I hold your soul in default as collateral. Do you agree to my terms?”

This time the blood runs cold in the hasty assailant. “My soul?!!” For one brief moment he is seized with apprehension, as if now he is the one now being accosted. Valuable time has been lost and the thug is anxious to claim his bounty, a goodly nights haul by any means. He arms his weapon to broadcast the finality of his offer. “Hand them over, now!”

“Be that as it may,” he concedes. “Then may I present you with your newest acquisitions.” He removes his wallet and her petticoat. His mouth drops as he hands them both over to the surprised thug. He grabs her, one burly hand grasping her petite wrist, and then the wallet. That turns out to be a fatal mistake. She smiles coldly. As he reaches for the wallet, at the opportune moment, she strikes in one efficient lethal motion. A sharp knife she deftly procured from her nether garments quickly applied to his fifth rib, ends the robbery and his life. He collapses silently in a heap at their feet.

“It seems my friend, you made several assumptions tonight, all of which were wrong. It was you who needed protection …from her.” He reaches down to extract something that belongs to him from the would-be assailant; his soul. Reaching into the cadaver, he extracts a dark, shadowy object in the form of it’s previous owner, one that struggles and moves about like a sheet in the wind. He placed the writhing entity inside the heavy bag he has been clutching. Reaching into his coat pocket, he retrieves a slip of paper which he presses into the palm of the deceased. He tips his top hat to the fallen in a final gesture. “This, Sir, concludes our bargain. It has been a pleasure doing business with you.” Last seen, the pair step over the fresh corpse to continue their journey, disappearing in the shadows, reappearing at the next lamps’ dim glow.

The next morning…

… a crowd has gathered. The man leaning over the body lets out an audible gasp. “Here now, what’s this?!!

“What is it Inspector?”

“The eyes are gone from this one too! Ah! Another note,” he declares matter-of-factly. He reads out loud, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

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