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Authors: Greg F. Gifune

Midnight Solitaire

BOOK: Midnight Solitaire
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First Digital Edition

Published by:

Delirium Books

P.O. Box 338

North Webster, IN 46555

www.deliriumbooks.com

Midnight Solitaire
© 2011 by Greg F. Gifune

Cover Artwork © 2011 by Daniele Serra

All Rights Reserved.

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.

For Nikki Grace

“Artists must be sacrificed to their art. Like bees, they must put their lives into the sting they give.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

ONE

There are no clocks here.

A young woman in a black skirt, white blouse and black pumps sits at a small desk at the very end of a long and narrow hallway. The walls are bare, and the low ceilings and floors match their stark white color. Everything is so clean it has an antiseptic, slightly surreal feel, as if people rarely come here.

The woman, in her early twenties, is tidy, well kempt and has the look of a girl-next-door straight out of Central Casting. Her complexion is flawless, almost eerily so, her hair is pulled back into a bun at the rear of her head, her makeup is applied with precision and restraint, and her fingernails—kept at a modest length—are manicured and painted with a shiny clear gloss.

Her desk, a small, sparse, white unit that fades effortlessly into the background, is completely clear but for a delicate teacup and saucer in its center and a red rotary telephone in the upper right-hand corner that is so bright it looks as if it’s been dipped in blood.

She sits quietly in the quiet hallway, back perfectly straight, eyes staring straight ahead at nothing, hands folded neatly in her lap.

After a moment, one of the small lights on the telephone begins to blink. She carefully lifts the receiver, places it to her ear then depresses the button. She listens then replaces the handset without saying a word.

She rises to her feet, and, taking the teacup and saucer with her, slowly makes her way down the long hallway, her heels clacking tile as she goes.

When she reaches the end of the hallway, she comes to a closed door. Without hesitation, she presses a series of buttons on a pad to the right of it.

The door opens silently, and she slips through into a small, dimly lit room. A long meeting table faces a large and long panel of glass. Six people sit at the table—five men and one woman—speaking to each other in anxious whispers, nervous with anticipation. Before each of them are open folders or briefcases, and although one of the men, the oldest in the room, is dressed in a military uniform, the others, clad in suits, appear to be civilians. The men and woman are older, sixty or more, but one—a dwarf—is a bit younger, perhaps in his late thirties. Beyond the large glass panel is only darkness, their ghoulish reflections barely discernable in the black glass.

The young woman with the tea moves behind them and carefully places the teacup and saucer down in front of a bloated gray-haired man with bug eyes and pasty, unhealthy-looking skin. Unlike the others, he is not engaged in any sort of conversation, but instead stares at the glass as if attempting to make something happen through sheer will. Next to him is a red rotary phone matching the one on the desk out in the hallway.

He does not seem to notice the woman has put his tea down for him.

She turns and leaves the room without comment.

It is only then that the man raises the teacup to his mouth, delicately, as if afraid he might break it otherwise, and takes a loud, slurping sip. He swallows, puts the cup down and leans forward on the table, resting his flabby chin in his hand and staring intently as ever at the glass.

“Your attention, please,” an unnaturally calm, monotone female voice says from a speaker in the ceiling. “It’s beginning.”

The others cease their conversations and focus on the glass.

Behind it, a light gradually appears and rises, revealing what lies on the other side of the glass.

A room that resembles an operating theater comes into view.

On a table in the center of the room is a nude dark-haired woman lying on her back. She is unconscious and intubated with a breathing tube that runs to a respirator.

And she is more than eight months pregnant.

 

 

TWO

The man runs as best he can, hobbling along on one leg as his other drags behind him; useless and flopping about like the snapped and mangled limb it is. He pushes on despite the agonizing pain, moving fast as he can, which is not very fast at all, and shuffles down the middle of the road, using the center lane as a guide in the dark so he doesn’t lose his way. Between night and the beginnings of snow flurries swirling about before his eyes, visibility is low. The storm is just beginning, but already skinny serpentine lines of snow slither along the pavement, snakes of salt sidewinding from one lane to the next. His heart pounds his chest and his lungs wheeze and burn in the bitter cold, but he struggles not to cough. Something has broken deep inside him and he knows coughing will only make it worse. He chances a look back over his shoulder into the darkness. No lights. No sign of life or anyone following. Just pitch black night littered with snow flurries and trails of breath escaping him in smoky spirals. But he knows it’s only a matter of time. His pursuer is back there in the dark, toying with him the way a cat allows a mouse to flee to the very edge of it’s reach before casually snatching it back and snapping its neck.

His dead leg scrapes the ground, the sound mingling with his labored breath and occasional groans of pain. The wind whistles, cutting through him like a blade as it echoes along the otherwise empty highway. An endless stream of frantic thoughts floods his mind.
Am I awake? Is this really happening? Where is he? How far behind me is he now? Why isn’t he still chasing me? What is he waiting for? Is he gone? Have I made it? Will someone come? Sooner or later someone will come, won’t they? A car has to come eventually. And—Carey! What about Carey? Oh God, Carey, where—where is she? Does he have her? Is that why he’s given up on me?

He stops a moment. Bent over and trying to catch his breath, he looks back at the long stretch of road from which he came. Darkness. Nothing. He begins to remember the attack, the car that seemed to come out of nowhere slamming into theirs, the screams, Carey being dragged off by her hair into the night as if the darkness itself had come alive and taken her, kicking and screaming for help that would never arrive. He recalled falling from the car, dazed and bloodied, his ears ringing and his vision blurred, and how again the black car had returned, exploding from the darkness and this time striking him. The unimaginable violence of the impact sent him airborne, and he remembers crashing back to the pavement like a ragdoll and laying there looking up at the black sky, wondering if this was where and how he would die. But then he’d remembered Carey, and he knew he had to get up, had to try to help her. He’d struggled to get to his feet, fighting to remain conscious, but by the time he was able to move and regain his bearings, she was gone, her screams no more. And just when he thought he was alone, the silhouette of a man emerged from the darkness, coming toward him with long, purposeful strides, the heels of his boots clacking pavement and the rustling of his long leather duster flapping in the wind. But what he remembers most are the man’s eyes, yellow and inhuman, glowing impossibly in the night.

His only memories from there are running, hobbling off as best he could, in shock, in agony and drowning in terror and confusion. What had happened, what
was
happening?

He looks out at the long stretch of road before him. Surely there must be a gas station or motel or something at some point on this godforsaken highway. But he knows he cannot continue on much farther. The pain is becoming too great, and he’s freezing and starting to shut down from loss of blood and the cold. He straightens up as best he can and wipes the wetness from his eyes.

Something separates from the darkness. But how could…

How did he get in front of me
?
He—He was behind me, back there in…

The same silhouette, same long strides, but this time the eyes are not glowing, they remain hidden in shadows beneath the flat brim of a western hat. His hands are at his side. In one he holds an enormous knife, the polished steel blade sparkling in the swirl of snow flurries.

He knows this time there is no point in trying to escape. There is no help. He is alone in the middle of nowhere with this man. He will die. Here, in this nightmare, on this lonely stretch of dark highway. And he will never know why.

“Where’s my girlfriend?” he asks hopelessly. “What did you do to her?”

The man continues toward him, saying nothing.

“Who are you? Why are you doing this? What the
fuck
is happening!” When he gets no answer he stumbles back a bit, holding his hands up in front of him as if this might somehow achieve something. “Wait, OK—just—you don’t have to do this, I didn’t do anything to you, I—come on, man, I don’t even know you! I’m only twenty-five years old, all right? My name’s Martin, my girlfriend’s name’s Carey and we’re getting married soon, I—
please
just
listen
a minute!”

In one fluid motion the man takes the final steps to close the gap between them and slams the huge blade deep into Martin’s gut. He holds him steady, clutching him by the throat with one gloved hand while tugging the knife upward with the other, viciously ripping his prey open with a nauseating tearing sound.

The man pulls the knife free, wipes the blade clean on his pants with two long, precise strokes, and then returns it to a scabbard on his belt. Although he never says a word, the man gently cups the back of Martin’s head and carefully lays him down on the road. He kneels next to him, positions him as if handling a delicate child, and tenderly strokes Martin’s forehead, looking deep into his eyes as he drifts off to another kind of darkness.

The last thing Martin sees are those eyes staring down at him from beneath the brim of that hat. No longer the glowing eyes of a demon, but the sorrowful and compassionate eyes of a human being powerlessly watching him die. In that strange and curiously intimate moment, all of Martin’s fears leave him, and he knows that somehow everything will be all right.

He’s the lucky one tonight.

* * * *

Suddenly, the snow turns to rain.

Night drapes the city and the rain keeps coming down, harder now, lashing the abandoned building and running noisily along the fire escape outside. No thunder or lightning, just the rain…rain and memories…rain and a deck of cards, the same deck of cards he’s carried for years now, worn and frayed but still useful.

He sits at a small table in what was once a kitchen, the flames from black ceremonial candles of some kind providing the only light. He pours himself another drink, notices the bottle of vodka is already half empty, and then shuffles the cards and lays them out once again. He checks his watch. Just after midnight. He nods in response to the memory then lets it dissipate like all the rest.

All the while, he plays the game.

It is automatic after all these years, has become second nature to him, something he can play without even focusing on the cards. Solitaire is just another ritual after all, one he often begins without even realizing he’s done so.

Sometimes he wins without remembering the moves that got him there, and sometimes even becomes stuck and starts a new game without realizing it. His mind goes elsewhere during his games of midnight solitaire, the repetitive motion causing him to slip into automatic pilot, a trance of sorts, where he looses track of time and place, only to emerge from the game hours later. If nothing else, it helps him teeter between his world and theirs, and passes the night.

The cards aren’t falling right, so he scoops them up, gives the deck a final shuffle then sets them aside. He throws back the rest of the vodka and listens to the rhythm of the rain. Staring down into the ice at the bottom of his glass, he takes hold of the bottle and pours himself another. Like most nights, he will continue drinking until the booze leaves him drowsy enough to approach something akin to sleep, though that outcome is still hours away.

BOOK: Midnight Solitaire
5.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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