Authors: Claude Lalumiere
Tags: #Speculative Fiction
“Dark Tendrils” © 2012 by Claude Lalumière
All rights reserved.
Published by ChiZine Publications
This short story was originally published in
The Door to Lost Pages
by Claude Lalumière, first published in print form in 2011, and in an ePub edition in 2011, by ChiZine Publications.
Original ePub edition (in
The Door to Lost Pages
) April 2011 ISBN: 9781926851952.
This ePub edition November 2012 ISBN: 978-1-927469-95-8.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Kurt was four years old when he found the rock shaped like a star. His grandparents lived next to a little beach. He spent that whole summer there, loving every moment of it. They built fires, waded in the ocean, hunted for seashells. For many years, even into adulthood, whenever he held the star-stone and closed his eyes, he would smell the ocean the way it had smelled to him then: like another world. Like the promise of magic. If such a majestic thing as the ocean were possible—if the world contained such an immense creation, and if that creation’s fragrance could be so intoxicatingly complex—then anything could be possible.
One morning, shortly after the break of dawn, while the rest of the family was still asleep, he had walked toward that vast expanse of water, eyes closed, letting the smell transport him beyond anything he’d ever imagined. Then he stepped on something that scraped his foot.
Startled, he opened his eyes and bent down to investigate. Half-buried in the sand was a lopsided, five-pointed star—a speckled rock, just a bit bigger than his four-year-old hand, sculpted into that shape by time and water.
He saw in that rock a mysterious, seductive beauty. He was convinced that his discovery heralded the promise of a wondrous future.
He kept it. He kept it for years.
Why had Kurt insisted that he and Holly go to that party at Carol’s? He’d forgotten why, but he wished they had stayed in—had sex, watched TV, played cards, whatever.
Carol’s spacious apartment overflowed with guests. The effect, oddly, was to make it seem even bigger, like endless catacombs invaded and overrun by a throng of decadent bacchants. Kurt knew about half the people there: a good mix of familiar faces and new people, exactly how he liked parties. Beer flowed. Joints passed from hand to hand. Smoke was blown from mouth to mouth. Flirtation was mandatory. At first, he’d been having a great time.
Then he noticed Holly chatting with Giovanni. At the sight of him he’d felt something slither down his back.
He didn’t think that Holly knew him. Certainly, he’d never mentioned him to her. He realized then that he should have—a long time ago, to warn her. But shame had proved stronger than caution. Kurt had met Giovanni about five years previously but it had been four years since they’d last seen each other.
Even from across the room, Kurt could spot the cruelty in his dark eyes. Giovanni had the blackest eyes, like gateways into something best left undiscovered. His face always seemed to be on the verge of a sneer. Once, Kurt had been attracted to that darkness, that condescending arrogance.
Kurt knew from friends that Giovanni still occasionally stepped inside the periphery of his social circle. It was inevitable that they would eventually cross paths again. Mark, Tony, and Jessica occasionally gushed over him, saying how charming he was. But they hadn’t known him back then; they weren’t from that old crowd—and those people Kurt had lost touch with. Whenever anyone brought Giovanni up in conversation, Kurt found a way to change the subject.
Giovanni had been older than any of Kurt’s friends back then and was older than anyone at the party that night. Late thirties at least, though it was hard to tell how old exactly; sometimes he seemed much older. Kurt used to ask him about his age, but Giovanni had never given him a straight answer.
Kurt saw Giovanni place his fingers on Holly’s bare shoulder. Kurt grew hot with rage. He wanted to grab Holly and leave the party. Get her as far from Giovanni as possible. But, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get near them, as if the crowd were conspiring to keep them apart. He tried to shout at Holly, but his voice was thin, raspy, muffled. The whole party became hazy, dreamlike, nightmarish.
Kurt had a high tolerance for alcohol—usually. He didn’t tend to get drunk, just jolly. That night, though, his joviality turned into mean drunkenness. He argued with everyone around him. Not making any sense. Being a jerk. The party had completely lost its glitter, becoming a blur of oozing anger.
The next thing Kurt knew, it was dawn, and he and Holly were walking home, shouting, fighting.
In their two years together, they had never quarrelled. Ever. On the rare occasions when a potential conflict presented itself, they’d always known how to talk things through calmly. He loved that about them, their relationship.
Kurt didn’t even really know what they were fighting about. Holly was questioning him about some teenager—a dark-skinned girl with long, multicoloured braids—he’d apparently been chatting up.
“She kept pointing at me. Whispering in your ear.”
“I can’t remember. I was drunk.”
“I saw her slip you a piece of paper. Her phone number?”
“I said, I was drunk—I don’t remember her. I don’t remember anything.” But Kurt fumbled through his pockets anyway. He found something: a bookmark. Holly leaned in to see, but Kurt pushed her away.
it read, in bold blue letters on a brown background, with the address in small green type.
, he thought, shoving it back into his pocket.
From that moment on they fought about everything and nothing. Every day. About the most inane things. Too quickly, arguing became their predominant mode of communication.
One evening, after five weeks of this torment, Holly stormed out after yet another screaming match. Something about the volume of the TV while they were watching the news. Stupid. Inconsequential.
Near midnight, she finally came home, with Giovanni in tow.
Giovanni, again. I should have guessed,
Holly didn’t say a word to Kurt. She walked right past him, without acknowledging him in any way. Giovanni greeted Kurt with a “Hello” whose a tone left him feeling exposed and vulnerable.
Then they started making out right in front of Kurt. On the couch. Taking off each other’s clothes. Fondling each other. As if Kurt weren’t there. Or maybe especially because he was there.
Kurt didn’t know how to react. He just stood there silently, stunned into numbness.
Holly continued to ignore him. But Giovanni kept stealing these cold glances at him.
At this stage, anger was pointless. The sight of them—the girl he loved giving herself to a man he despised and feared, to a man who reminded him of his own weakness, stupidity, and shame—filled him with hatred and self-loathing, but he felt compelled to watch.
When they positioned themselves in a sixty-nine, Kurt had finally had enough. He shut himself in the bedroom, closing the door quietly. He went to bed without bothering to take his clothes off.
Kurt thought about leaving the apartment, but, as painful as it was, staying also afforded him a measure of control; it allowed him to focus on the transgressions that were occurring in his presence rather than letting his imagination run wildly paranoid with much worse horrors. Holly and Giovanni went at it for hours, groaning and moaning and screaming.
Despite that, Kurt eventually settled into an unrestful doze.
When Kurt saw the first hint of dawn through the window, he decided to get up and go out. Have breakfast at The Small Easy. Try to get his head straight. Figure out what to do.
But he couldn’t budge.
Frustrated at being unable to get out of bed, he tried to move specific parts of his body, but he couldn’t even wiggle his fingers. His entire body was cocooned inside some kind of force field. It stung, producing a mild electric current every time he tried to move. The field pulled itself tighter against him, crushing his chest. He panicked, uselessly.
Kurt felt a presence—not so much with him, but directed at him. He could move his eyes, though not his head. He glanced around, but there was nobody. The bedroom seemed undisturbed. It struck him that he couldn’t hear anything—no noise leaking in from other apartments, no sounds from the city outside. Even this early in the morning there was always some kind of background din. The absolute silence—deafness?—made him feel intensely isolated, more than he would have ever guessed. The helplessness of being trapped in his bed combined with that sense of utter isolation from the world—it terrified him.
The pressure of the cocoon around him increased. His lungs were being squeezed; he could barely breathe.
He willed every part of his body to move. His terror gave way to rage, and he finally managed to open his mouth. Kurt focused all his energy on screaming. Although he sensed the beginnings of the scream in his throat and felt it move through his mouth, the scream hit the invisible cocoon and bounced back into his throat, choking him, without making the slightest sound.
Kurt intensified his efforts to break free, but he only succeeded in slightly budging his head. Some feeling of dread compelled him to look at the door; as he did, it opened slowly. Holly walked in, leaving the door open. She was naked, her short hair suddenly grown to shoulder length, her normally hazel irises a deep, unnatural black.
The cocoon crackled all around Kurt, squeezing him ever tighter, so tight that his rib cage contracted under the pressure.
Holly pulled the covers off him. She was smiling ghoulishly. Without a word, she unzipped him and worked on his cock with her hands. Kurt’s erection was hard enough to hurt him. He tried to shout at her to stop, but the cocoon allowed not even a whimper to escape.
She sat on top of Kurt and rode his erection, her black eyes laughing at him.
Helpless, he felt the semen begin to build and rise, but he didn’t want to come. Not like this.
Then, just as he thought he could no longer hold himself back, his consciousness was ripped out of his body. His incorporeal self rose rapidly toward the ceiling. A malevolent presence radiated from beyond that threshold, pulling him toward it. He resisted with all the strength his terror afforded him. He knew with utter certainty that he would not survive the crossing.
Below, the demonic Holly was still riding his cock, writhing in ecstasy on his inert body.
Kurt’s sense of time split in two: he experienced himself rushing toward the ceiling at tremendous speed, yet every second felt like hours. His fear increased with every passing moment, the malevolence ever more tangible. Calling to him. Wanting him. And just when he thought he could no longer resist—
—he landed in his body, screaming.
Of Holly, there was no sign. Kurt was fully dressed. The sheet still covered him. And the door was closed, as if he’d hallucinated everything. Or dreamt it. But he knew he hadn’t. He still felt the pain on his skin, in his throat, in his lungs.
Holly—wearing a tattered white T-shirt, her hair restored to its normal length, her eyes their natural hazel—ran into the bedroom, calling Kurt’s name with frightened concern. She’d never heard him scream before. She took his hand, caressed his chest. “Oh baby, I’m so sorry,” she said. “He’s gone now. For good. Please. I went crazy. That wasn’t me. You know it wasn’t.”
Kurt didn’t want to contemplate life without Holly, even after all this. He knew she wasn’t to blame. He knew what Giovanni was capable of. There was nothing to forgive.
Kurt told her what had just happened: the strange paralysis, her demonic doppelganger—all of it.
Holly held him silently for a few minutes, her hands under his shirt, against his bare skin. Her nails dug into the flesh of his back, and he felt closer to her than he had in weeks.
Then, she said, “I need to tell you something. You’re not going to like this.” Kurt didn’t have the strength to hear this, whatever it was. But Holly barrelled on regardless. “He kept asking about you, but I wouldn’t say anything. He said there was something you always kept hidden from him. Something that you’d invested with a part of yourself. Something that gave you the will to resist. But he never could figure out what. My eyes must have betrayed me—betrayed you—because he saw it. The star. On the mantle in the living room. And then . . . I don’t know why . . . but I told him the story. Your story.”
“Oh fuck, Holly. . . .”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. He took it. He stole it. He just laughed. I couldn’t stop him. I couldn’t even yell to warn you. I don’t know why. I just couldn’t. Something about those black eyes. . . .”