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It was raining when I went out to the beach last night, but it was a light rain, and I needed a smoke. Work had been hell that day, and I swear, if Thompson hadn’t wiped that shit-eating grin off of his face when he did, my teaching license would have been suspended before he hit the floor. Forty thousand dollars a year, and you’d think they’d try and actually learn something instead of making jokes in the back.
But I digress.
Like I said, it was raining, and there was a fair breeze out, so I had to cup the lighter in my hand to get the cigarette lit. This is important, because it obstructed my view of the beach for a few seconds, and that’s when he had to have arrived. I won’t ascribe anything more to him than I have to, damn it.
He was there when I finished lighting up, like he had been standing there before I had even gotten down to the beach. He was shorter, and thin, with dark hair cropped close to his skull. His eyes were strangely difficult to see, barely reflecting out of deep hollows in his face. If I’m entirely honest with myself, the first image his face conjured in my mind was that of a man dying from a lack of some vital thing, some essence, wasted away to little more than skin stretched on a wireframe of bone.
Startled though I was, I managed to say “Evening” to this man. He smiled back at me. At the time, I can’t really remember feeling unease, but looking back on it now, that smile he gave me when I spoke to him….
There were far too many teeth in that smile.
“Good evening!” he said, loud enough to make me jump. He was still smiling with his teeth out when he said it, making his words come out in a sort of sibilant hiss.
I got an odd feeling from this man, but I was starting to think that he might just be one of the people who came here in the summer, and rented out the large houses further down the beach, if a particularly eccentric (or drunk) one, so I asked, “Are you one of the summer people? I hate to ask so bluntly, but I can’t say I recognize you, and I’d like to think that I know most folks around here.”
He laughed then, a dry laugh, that made me think of the sound that dead leaves make when they’re swept across the sidewalk. I remember physically recoiling at this laugh, and immediately feeling stupid for doing so. He was just another drunk man out for a stroll along the beach, no doubt from one of the countless, never-ending parties that seem to go on at the summer houses.
“I wouldn’t call myself a local, no, but you could say I know my way around here.” He was still smiling while he talked, and now that I think about it, I don’t think he ever stopped smiling throughout the whole… Well, we can label it when I’m done writing and when this whiskey is gone.
Unnerved as I was by his behavior at this point, even suspecting that he might be on drugs of some kind, I felt the odd compulsion to continue talking to him.
“Alright, a seasonal, then. You come here every year?” I don’t remember wanting to actually know this, but the words just came out of my mouth, apparently of their own volition.
“In a way, I am always here, a part of me, always, but sometimes more than others.” His voice was simultaneous hypnotic and… Well, off-putting isn’t the right word, but it’s the first one that comes to mind. “You see, I know you, Frank, and it’s a shame you didn’t recognize me. It’s only been what, four years?”
I felt a pang when he said my name. The best I can describe it, it felt like an awful sort of vulnerability, knowing that some dark, terrible thing knows your appearance and location. I couldn’t recognize him at all, but the fact that he knew my name, and his behavior, were beginning to make me think this was a prank by one of my students.
“Ok, that’s enough. Who the hell are you? Thompson? I swear to god, if that’s you, I’m going to see your ass expelled, now I want you to sto--”
“Oh, come on Frank. You know Linda wouldn’t like you acting up like this. Why, the last time I saw her, she was so worried about you she couldn’t seem to make time to watch where her car was going. Isn’t that right? About four years ago.”
I couldn’t breathe.
Linda died four years ago, while we were arguing on the phone. I don’t think I’ve ever really put that down on paper before. I had been calling her and calling her all day about some stupid shit with the gas bill, and I finally had gotten her on the line, and I just started shouting at her... And then she ran through a red light, right as another car came through the other side. And now this man knew all of this, and I didn’t, and still don’t, know how he knew.
I was frozen there, my muscles not responding to anything I kept telling them to do. I should have been angry at him, for bringing her up, but more than anything, I was afraid, now.
He stepped closer to me, and there was this awful smell coming off of him, like rotten eggs. His mouth opened, as if to speak, and when the smile went away, it was as if there was some cavernous opening behind his teeth, and this horrible howling came out, along with a blast of dry heat and more of that smell.
“I was there, Frank.” His voice was booming, and seemed to reverberate inside my skull. “You knew she was driving, and that she was having a bad day. You knew she wouldn’t be able to argue back at you, you weak little bastard, you could never win a fair fight with her. You would always back off, like the coward you are. ‘Frank, your wife has you whipped!’ your friends would say. And you knew it, so you went after her while she was distracted. And you killed her.”
I still couldn’t move, and the only noise escaping my throat was a muffled sort of moaning, the kind you make when you’re in a deep nightmare and find you can’t scream to save yourself. I was more terrified at that moment than I had been at any other point in my life because of this… Well, I can’t really call him a man anymore, can I? The cigarette had burned away, to where it was beginning to singe my fingers. He seemed to notice this, and as his eyes flicked to my hand, the same burning sensation spread over my whole body, and his smile grew.
“She’s with me now, Frank. She’s, to put it like the singer did at the concert where you two met, ‘Burnin’ for you.’ Linda is mine, now, and soon, you’ll be mine too, Frank. Can you feel that? She died slow, Frank. She cried, she screamed your name, she called for her mother. But I was the only one listening. I am the only one, Frank. I’ll be there when you go, too.”
He seemed to tower over me then, and his eyes were finally visible: horrible, blood-orange points of light, lit from within by a flickering heat. His mouth opened wide, far, far too wide, and he swooped down with a foul wind of smoke and heat, and as he descended, I swore I could hear my dead wife, screaming my name.
I woke up on the beach just as the sun was rising. The tide was inches from my head, so I quickly ran back to my house. I couldn’t stop shaking. That was two hours ago, and since then, I’ve almost finished this bottle. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since then, while writing this, and I’ve made a few decisions.
I’m going to finish this glass, and then I’m going to sit down on the chair in the upstairs attic, and look at a picture of Linda. Then, I’m going to place the gun in my mouth, and pull the trigger. Since getting back to my house, I’ve been seeing a tall shadow in my peripheral vision, and I know he’s waiting for me. I’m not going to wait around for him to find me in some dark, vulnerable place. I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of watching me suffer.
I’m going to show that bastard that he can’t have me, and that I’m not afraid of him.