SEAN M. THOMPSON’S THE DEMON
Slow day at the office was a goddamn understatement. Cort felt like his brain might leak out ears from the monotony of plugging in numbers into the spreadsheet, and it was only eleven o’clock. Behind him sat Jake, and secretly Cort hated Jake, and wished he’d die in a house fire. Jake never stopped talking about inane bullshit while Cort was trying to focus on numbers, or typing up work emails. And as if on cue…
“You hear that girl from accounting had sex with the boss?”
Normally Cort would try his level-headed best to ignore Jake, but he was almost done with everything he had to do for the day, so he entertained him this time.
“No. Which girl?”
“What’s she look like?”
“She’s the one with the huge bo – ”
“Hair color, Jake.”
“She pretty tall?”
“I think I know who you’re talking about. And who told you?”
“No one had to. I saw them walking together. It was written all over their faces.”
“What was written?”
“You know when you’ve been schtooping someone, how when you’re around them you act a certain way? Their body language alone told me.”
“I don’t know, man.”
Cort wondered, not for the first time, why human beings had evolved to have such minds, only to waste them on repetitive tasks for an arbitrary system of currency. He was far from immune from the culture, and participated along with everyone else. Video games, and brain melting reality television, and why beat around the bush, most of the internet. All because what, we couldn’t really handle thinking too hard? That had to be the reasoning. Why else would seemingly smart people intentionally drag themselves through the mud?
Take Jake for instance. Nice suit, and he seemed like a smart enough guy. Worked in outside sales. And yet all he ever did was gossip, and bitch about whatever woman was unlucky enough to be dating him that quarter. The man was so self-involved Cort wasn’t sure if he even remembered he was dating someone, and when his cube mate wasn’t being a rampant narcissist, he might as well have been a TMZ reporter, going over what “celebrity” of the moment was supposedly doing what.
A tap on his shoulder, and he flinched, made an involuntary noise like a wounded deer.
“I’d like to see you in my office, Cort,” said his boss, Gerald.
Inside his boss’ office were those obnoxious motivational posters with pictures of mountains that said something about climbing a mountain and how it started with a single step, and some other inanities he didn’t bother to look at. He always wondered why there wasn’t the cat hanging from the tree branch, though. That was always Cort’s favorite.
“This is nothing serious, Cort, just wanted to ask you if you still needed that time off in August.”
He didn’t like where this was going.
“Yeah. That’s why I requested it off two months ago.”
“See, the thing is, Cort…”
Cort thought of calming thoughts. A serene beach, the ocean waves lapping at the shore. Peaceful. Mmm. Perhaps a quiet forest, with nothing but the light chirping of birds. A lazy river at one of those water parks, cool, blended frozen boozy drink in hand, with one of those little umbrellas.
“We have a lot of people who want that week in August off in your department,” Gerald explained, and Cort lost it. He couldn’t help it.
“I’m going, and if you don’t like it, you can find a replacement for my position.”
Cort got up, and walked out.
Well, I might be getting fired, Cort thought, not for the first time in his career.
He really needed to talk to someone. It seemed like every year the fuse on his temper got shorter and shorter.
Janet proved to be as good a conversationalist outside of the party as she had been in. She was also cool with going on a date on a Monday, which Cort liked. She had one of those smiles which reminded him of the sun shining on a pastoral scene.
They walked along the waterfront, having gone for seafood a few blocks down at some restaurant called the Barking Crab. Cort wasn’t sure how a crab could bark, but he’d stuffed his face (diet still going nowhere) and was pleased that Janet ate just as much as he did. Nothing wrong with a diet, but it unnerved him when a woman wouldn’t eat much. Made him feel bad about how much he ate, so maybe that was on him. Still, he’d always thought those anorexic looking women looked like they were in a lot of pain. He understood societal pressures to stay thin, of course, but what was life without a chow off every once and awhile?
“You heard about that computer virus?”
He’d been swept up with the view, and the smell of the harbor. Hadn’t caught the question the first time. Asked Janet to repeat what she’d said. She did.
“Yeah. Yeah, I have a friend who has a friend he thinks went crazy because of it.”
“Woah, really? Who?”
He paused, debated not saying, and then decided starting to date someone on lies was doomed from the start.
They walked on, and he put his hand in hers. They moved in silence for a while.
“Let’s not talk about that, though. I’m sure it’s unrelated,” he said, finally.
“Probably, yeah,” Janet said.
A plane passed overhead, but the noise of them was so ubiquitous, Cort hardly noticed.
“Kinda crazy that hundreds of years ago they dumped tea in this, huh?”
“A little,” she said, and added “but then again, there might be a computer virus that drives people crazy.”
Back onto this again, he thought, enjoying the way the pink of the sunset cast a glow on Janet’s face, and the way she squinted in the light. Such beauty shouldn’t have been tainted by a conversation about crazies from the internet.
“I’m sure it’s unrelated,” he repeated.
A seagull cawed, pecking greedily at a discarded lobster shell on the pier. Pink meat stretched in its beak as it ripped it from the exoskeleton. There was something primal about the sight, which sent a chill down Cort’s spine. Nature dictated that you ate, and you did it by any means necessary. He suddenly wanted to get off of the pier, as soon as possible.
“Do you believe in portents of bad things to come?” she asked him.
“What?” Cort asked.
He wasn’t really sure if he’d heard Janet right.
“I said ‘do you believe that portraits are fun’? There’s a guy I saw around the aquarium who was drawing them. You know, the ones where you have a huge head, and are juggling, or something? Caricatures?”
“Oh. I…I thought you said something else.”
They agreed to meet the following Saturday for another date.
Scott came over, and they got drunk and made fun of a bunch of second rate thrillers. It being a Monday, Cort didn’t get too shithouse. He’d made that mistake a month back, and work had been miserable.
Scott, on the other hand…
“Hell yeah, Angelina!” Scott screamed at the movie.
“Collect his bones!” Cort shouted.
“I’ll collect your bone…er,” Scott said.
Cort threw an empty at him.
“You want some more salsa? I’m heading back to the kitchen.”
“Nah, I’m all right,” Scott said.
Cort pulled the glass jar out of the fridge, poured more into a bowl, absently staring out the window. He was thinking about his date with Janet, hoping he hadn’t fucked things up too badly. Wondering if he should go get a portrait with her. Seemed kind of random she would just bring that up. Maybe she was trying to give him a hint on what they could do on their next date.
There was a man on the street staring up at his apartment.
Cort couldn’t figure out why the man unnerved him so. He didn’t break eye contact, and the man was still as a statue. His features were hard to discern. Perhaps it was that the fellow was lit only by a streetlight in the gloaming. A ghost in the summer, produced by heat, and stress.
Cort waved, and the man turned, walked off down the street. He turned around the corner, and was gone.
“Some fucking guy was staring up at my place,” Cort said, walking back over to Scott.
“Probably wants your sweet booty,” Scott said, and Cort threw another empty at him.
“You can collect my bone!” Scott shouted at the screen.
“You’re an idiot,” Cort said.
He laughed, but couldn’t get his mind off of the man staring up at him. Cort could have sworn the guy hadn’t blinked once.
He walked the same pier he’d walked with Janet, only now he was alone. There was a quality to the light he couldn’t place. He looked off toward the center of the city. Buildings with broken glass, and fires all over. Yet he couldn’t see any people. Where was everybody?
He heard a man scream in pain, from the direction of the harbor. Cort’s hand made its way to his mouth to quiet his own scream.
The harbor was full of dead bodies of all shapes, colors, and genders. The corpses floated in the water, so much blood the waves churned red. The man in the waves stopped screaming, and Cort couldn’t stifle his sobs. Boston Harbor of the dead, the most awful thing he’d ever seen.
“There, there,” said a man’s voice from behind him.
Cort didn’t want to turn. There was something wrong with the man. Cort knew this, and wasn’t sure how he knew.
“You knew this was always in the cards, right?” the man said.
Cort wanted to run, to fight, but he couldn’t move. He heard the bodies thump into the dock with every churn of the water. And now the smell of gallons of blood hit him, copper in the salt air. Doom on the wind, an ocean of misery and madness before him.
“Had a little Tea Party of my own,” the man said, and laughed.
“Who are you?”
“I’ll see you soon, Cort.”
He couldn’t get back to sleep after the nightmare. Scott hadn’t said anything about Abie, or Katie, and it was Scott’s lack of discussion that really freaked Cort out more than anything. As if Scott somehow knew something Cort didn’t. As if holding out hope they’d find the missing women no longer made any sense.
He stared at the ceiling, and thought about how fragile sanity was. How intricate human thought was. How something as silly as a passing comment about the Boston tea party made him have a nightmare about such a terrible atrocity on such a grand scale.
Yet he kept going back to the man outside his window. He wondered, if he were to hear that man’s voice, would it sound like the voice from his dream?
“That’s quite a lot of food,” the waitress said.
“We have quite a lot of appetite,” the man replied.
She gave him a perplexed look, asked if he wanted another root beer, then left him to his own devices. He took a bite of his clam chowder, and forked a fried clam into his wide mouth.
Boston really was a lovely city. There was a rich history here, one which could be seen in the brick facades, and old cobblestone streets. The man made a note to explore a little more in the next few days, when other matters weren’t demanding of his attention.
He sat by himself on the picnic table, and watched the waves lap up against the boats docked. He’d always loved the water. It reminded him of things hidden. Reminded him of things in the dark depths.
Reminded him of home.
He looked across the table at a girl, who he guessed was about nine years old. She stared with the resolve of an impertinent child, never breaking his gaze. The child’s mother was talking with a friend, not paying attention to her offspring.
In his head, he heard the girl, whose name was Daisy, ask him Why do you look like that?
Ah, he did love the impertinent ones.
He thought in response: How do you mean?
Like you’re too big, Daisy thought.
The man thought: You’re very astute. Most people don’t notice.
Daisy thought: You’re not a man at all, are you?
He laughed, and the mother looked at him. He adorned his best embarrassed face, and saw the mother relax a bit.
He looked off towards the lights of the city. So wondrous, so chock full of bodies, of spirits. Soon, he would pry the city wide, like a clam shell, and dig his fingers in to pull forth the substance encased within. But not just yet. Better to be the stirring at the back of the room, than the cacophony. The loud outburst was dealt with immediately. The stirring wasn’t checked up on until it was too late.
So thinking, the man took another bite of his chowder, and chewed, relishing the texture of the clams in the broth.
Do you like truth or dare? the man thought.
He ate the rest of his friend clams, watching Daisy slowly walk out to the edge of the dock. Her mother didn’t notice her child had wandered off, and he was glad. It would ruin the dare. And that was no fun. No, that wouldn’t do at all.
He thought to Daisy: I dare you to hold your breath underwater for as long as you can.
He left cash on the table, and walked off down the pier before the screaming started.
To be continued
October 13th, 2016.