Horror Suspense

The pub door swung open and violated the quiet darkness of the downtown street. Light spilled from the open door, and with it the loud, buzzing, hive sounds of dozens of laughing, drunken voices. Like debris tossed onto the shore by a breaking wave, a man shuffled out into the night, smiling and waving back over his shoulder into the pub. The door closed, and the silent darkness swallowed him. His smile faded quickly, wilting against the chill wind. He pulled his long overcoat tighter against the wind, put his hands deep in its pockets, and began trudging the roughly half mile north to his apartment.  

Though the year was already deep into fall, practically knocking on winter’s door, the summer had been long in dying this year. It clung to life, struggling to make itself felt. And so, though it was bitterly cold, a fog had descended on the city. It was the kind of fog that refused to settle on the ground but floated above and brought low the ceiling of the sky, making the man feel anxious and claustrophobic. He walked slowly into the wind, which buffeted him like a boxer, dancing in to land a few swift, stinging strikes to the face before falling back, waiting for the man to lower the defenses of his coat collar.  It was a hostile cold, all the more jarring after the decadent, almost suffocating heat of the packed bar. Out here under the brooding fog, the world felt violent and hungry.  

As he walked through the still populous bar district, he assiduously avoided eye contact with the other walkers on the street.  Mostly couples walking excitedly to continue a night of drinking, or solitary men smoking cigarettes while waiting for their rides to take them home.  After a few blocks, the man had the streets to himself.  The pub scene quickly faded into an older, industrial neighborhood.  The man lived in a building in this district, an old bread factory that had been converted into fashionable loft style apartments.  He paused to light a cigarette, cursing at the wind as he struggled to light it between gusts.  

“Hey brother!”

A voice calling from the darkness to his left startled the man, causing him to stop and search with wide eyes for its source.  A homeless man, a drifter, stood in the doorway of an abandoned storefront, huddled against the cold and eyeing the man with evident desire.  

“Hey brother, could you spare a cigarette?” 

Though still startled, the man looked away and muttered something that sounded like an apology and continued at a slightly quicker pace.  From the corner of his eye, the man saw the drifter shuffle out from the doorway, dragging one foot with a scrape-slap to stand in the sidewalk.

“Come on brother, just one cigarette?” 

The man ignored this and continued to walk, picking up his pace yet again.  

“Huh.  Ok then, brother,” the drifter shouted behind him, “you ain’t read the Scriptures? Do unto the least of these, my brother! Jesus gunna judge you!  Fucking asshole!” 

The man continued on, and though he pretended not to hear the continued muttering  of the drifter, he was shaken. There were a lot of homeless in this part of town.  He had to cross railroad tracks to get to his apartment, and the old rail depot was a gathering place for the poor traveling through. He almost always saw a few on his walks home from the bar. He had never been accosted like that, though.  His brain screamed at him not to look back, to just keep walking, but he couldn’t resist.  Shooting a quick glance over his shoulder, he saw the drifter, still standing on the sidewalk, staring after him.  The man walked as fast as he could without breaking into a jog and took a long drag on his cigarette.  Between the cold air, the unexpected exertion, and the alcohol stupor still hanging on his brain, the smoke caught in his lungs and he coughed violently.  He grew lightheaded and had to stop, resting his hands on his knees to regain his balance.  

As he caught his breath, he heard it.  A scrape-slap, scrape-slap, scrape-slap.  It was the sound of slow, shuffling gate.  The drifter was following him.  Abandoning any concern for appearance, the man tossed aside the half-smoked cigarette and broke into a jog.  Passing the train depot, he felt unseen eyes watching him, but he could no longer hear the scrape-slap of the drifter.  His words, however, stuck in a loop in the man’s head.  Jesus gunna judge you.  Jesus gunna judge you. Jesus gunna judge... 

He did not slow until he caught sight of the silos.  His building was just on the other side of a set of huge, abandoned grain silos which cordoned off the gentrified building from the rougher, industrial part of town between the apartment and the bar district.  Finally, in front of the door to his building, the man took a moment to catch his breath.  Reaching into his suit jacket for his keys, he felt… nothing.  No keys in the other pocket either.  Or his pants pockets. Panic began to return as he felt nothing in his overcoat pockets either.  He realized he must have left his keys sitting on the console table just inside the door of his apartment.  The building locked automatically.  Though there was a keypad, the man had never needed to use it before, and had forgotten the code.  

Fumbling in his pocket for his cell phone, he pounded out a brief text to his landlord. “Locked myself out, cant remember passcode. Pls provide.”

Still winded from the jog, the man sat on the stairs in front of his building while staring at his phone, willing the landlord to respond.  He felt a chill then that made the sweat on the back of his neck grow cold.  It was not from the wind.  It was that sensation again of unseen eyes watching him.  Instinctively, he looked up at the old silos across the street.  In the low fog, he could not make out the tops of the silos, giving the impression that these old concrete cylinders ascended interminably up into the sky.  As he scanned the fog trying to make out the tops of the silos, something caught his eye.  Near the top of the silos was a rectangular outcropping, what he assumed must have been in the distant past some sort of maintenance or work room.  The old room had two sets of large, square windows, the glass of which had long been shattered.  In the first of these windows, the man saw a form.  It was difficult to make out clearly in the fog, but someone was definitely standing in the window.  And he could feel them staring down at him. 

The way the form stood, leaning slightly to one side, brought to the man’s mind an image he had not thought about in at least a decade.  The man’s mother, a devout Catholic, had always reserved a central wall in the family’s living room for the display of sacred icons.  One of her favorites had been an icon of Mary Mother of Sorrows.  The icon depicted the Virgin on her knees, with seven swords piercing her heart. She was leaned to one side, head thrown back toward heaven, weeping with an expression of utter anguish.   The image had deeply unsettled the man as a child.  For years, particularly when the man was feeling guilty for any number of real or imagined sins, this image appeared in his dreams. In these nightmares, the mortally wounded Virgin would appear, weeping and bleeding over his bed.  And now this shape, as of a person shrouded in a hooded coat or a blanket and framed in the shattered square window, was a mirror image of the old icon.  Feeling bile rise in his throat, the man sent another text. “PLS RESPOND, COLD AND LOCKED OUT.” 

It’s just another one of these fucking homeless.  Somehow they got into the silos and are hiding out there from the cold.  Just another homeless.  The man kept repeating this to himself to calm the beating of his heart, which felt as though it would pound out of his chest.  But another voice played in his head too, drowning out the other voices.  Jesus gunna judge you, fucking asshole.  Jesus gunna judge you.  The man forced himself to stare at his cell phone.  He would not look up at the silos again.  He pleaded at the phone under his breath, “come on, come on, come on.  Answer!” 

As the seconds passed and no answer came, his resolve weakened, and he cast another glance up at the window.  The form was still there, and somehow it felt closer, more immediate, as if the form had focused in on the man sitting there on the stoop.  And then, faintly, in the distance, the man heard it.  Scrape-slap, Scrape-slap, Scrape-slap.  The homeless man was approaching, invisible in the fog in the distance, but approaching nonetheless with that same, shuffling gate.  Jesus gunna judge you, brother, Jesus gunna juuuuuuuuuuuuudge yoooooouuuuu.  

The man stood, looking around wildly, and pressed the “call” icon on his cell phone screen.  After two rings, the man began to beat on the door to the building.  “Hey! Let me in! I’m locked out, and I need in! I need in!” The phone clicked over to voicemail and the man instantly hung up and called again, still beating on the door and shouting.  He still felt the eyes of the Mother of Sorrows, staring him down through her weeping eyes.  And in between shouts, he could hear it, closer now.  Scrape-Slap, Scrape-Slap, Scrape-Slap.  Another click to voicemail, and another redial as the man pounded and shouted louder. 

“Hello?” A husky voice murmured over the phone after the third ring.  

“Hello?!” the man shouted into the receiver, “Hello, I need the code for the Sunshine Lofts!”

“It’s one o’clock in the morning, who the hell…” 

“It’s Greg Adams from apartment 203 in the Sunshine Lofts! I’m locked out and I think someone’s following me and I need the damn code now!” 

“Alright, Jesus, its 9191.  What’s going o—” 

The man hung up and furiously punched in the numbers, though in his panic his thumb slipped and he had to try again.  This time the red light dinged green, and the door swung open.  Slamming the door behind him, the man ran down the hall to his apartment and crashed inside, locking himself in.  Slumping against the door, he ripped off his shoes and coat and fumbled into the kitchen to pour himself a large glass of whisky.  He drank half the glass in one gulp, letting the stinging alcohol burn spread down his throat and through his body. Finishing the whisky in one more gulp, he fell onto his sofa and quickly passed into a fitful sleep.  That night, for the first time in years, he had the familiar nightmare again.  The wounded Virgin stood over him, weeping.  This time, she spoke.  And she spoke with a familiar voice.  “Jesus gunna judge you, son.  Jesus gunna judge you.”

December 07, 2023 03:25

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Laurel Hanson
18:41 Dec 08, 2023

This is gripping. You are building the tension really effectively. And I really like the way you used the physical cold to also express the state of indifference in the face of human suffering, that other use of the word cold. Nicely done.


N.M. Stech
16:10 Dec 14, 2023

Thank you so much Laurel!! Very much appreciate the read and the encouragement!


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