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Authors: Greg F. Gifune

Midnight Solitaire (8 page)

BOOK: Midnight Solitaire
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Fuck comes anywhere near me again and I’ll put a bullet in his head.

Sounds so good he almost believes it. But the fear reminds him he’s vulnerable—they all are—and he realizes then just how quiet it is here. He looks to Doc’s gun bag. If need be he’s got additional firepower. The papers scattered across the floor and the knapsack on the couch distracts him. Who did they belong to? He wonders. A plethora of visions flood his mind, offering various versions of what might’ve happened, but he flushes them away and focuses again on the highway.

He’s out there somewhere, not so very far away. And he’s coming.

The Devil, Doc called him.

He reaches under his shirt and grips the silver crucifix hanging from his neck. He’s found comfort in it ever since he’s been a little boy. His mother gave it to him, and growing up he spent many nights clutching it and asking God for help, for rescue. When it didn’t arrive he pleaded for silence, for the sounds of his drunken father beating his crying mother to go away. Instead, he learned how to be quiet himself, to pull the covers up tight over his head and to close his eyes tight as he could. He learned to hide in the silence.

Luke blinks away the memories and the tears that normally accompany them. Rubs the crucifix. Watches the road.

And doesn’t make a sound.

* * * *

The wind comes in harsh, freezing spurts. Doc leads the way as he and Greer cross the lot and close on the long row of dark units. The snow, heavy, wet and falling fast, reminds them that the night is alive, and that while the property is eerily quiet and the highway is a dark and deserted expanse of shadows and swirling powder, they are not alone.

Two lonely vehicles sit parked and dark, slowly disappearing as little by little the snow covers them. Doc remembers the sign-in log: a single in Unit 14 and a double in Unit 10. He and Greer leave the dirt lot for a narrow strip of cement that runs the length of the units, and after passing the first nine doors, come to a stop.

Doc looks back at her, his long silver hair blowing in the wind. “You don’t want to see what’s in there,” he tells her. “Stay out here, keep your eyes open and watch my back. You see anything, start screaming.”

Greer nods but says nothing, shaking from the cold, fear, or both.

He slowly turns the knob for Unit 10. The door opens, as he knew it would. Steeling himself for what he is about to find, he pushes it open.

The room is dark. Holding the shotgun with one hand, he reaches in with the other and feels around until he locates a wall switch just to the right of the door. He flips it.

Even before he steps inside, he can see the carnage. Like all the times before, he tries not to look at first, but even in peripheral vision it is too horrific to ignore. He moves deeper into the room, lowers the shotgun and covers his nose and mouth with his forearm. The stench is unbearable.

The walls are covered with The Dealer’s handiwork, his ciphers and spells painted in blood and bodily fluids from one end of the room to the other. On the floor not five feet from where Doc stands are a pair of dismembered human legs. Bare and spattered with blood, they look like pieces from a mannequin lying there on the carpet. Until he looks closer and sees the painted toenails, the softness of the flesh, the gold ankle bracelet and the small four-leaf clover tattoo on the side of one calf. The rest of the young woman has been left on the bed, face-up, the arms removed as well and nailed to the wall above the bed to form a cross. Her eyes are gone, and her abdomen and vaginal region have been severely, brutally mutilated. There is an unlit black ceremonial candle inside her.

Doc guesses she’s twenty. Maybe.

He walks through the slaughterhouse, stepping over pieces of human flesh, internal organs and puddles of blood, urine and fecal matter until he reaches the bathroom. The door is open. The tiles are slick with blood, and what was once a young man is hanging upside down from a section of exposed pipe above the shower. His ankles have been bound with rope. He’s been skinned from head to toe, a raw, red, bloody wet mess. His ears are in the sink. Above the sink, written in blood, is a prayer in a language Doc cannot read and doesn’t understand but has seen The Dealer use before. He leans over the sink for a closer look. Something has been placed between the ears and partially burned. A playing card. The Ace of Hearts.

More rituals. More spells. More evil. More madness. More death.

He’s ramping it up, Doc thinks.

He leaves the room, closing the door behind him, glad to be out in the cold and snow again. At least out here the air is fresh and he can breathe. He leans against the building a moment and closes his eyes. Over time, like a hardened combat veteran, he has learned to handle the carnage and atrocities of such scenes. The Dealer leaves nothing but blood and death in his wake, and Doc has been swimming in it for longer than he cares to remember. He never vomits anymore, rarely cries—unless it’s a child—and generally manages to keep his wits about him. Just the same, each time he walks through a killing scene, it takes a little bit more from him, damages him just a little bit deeper.

“Are you all right?” Greer asks.

He nods.

“What’s in there?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“No, I don’t. But I need to.”

He looks at her. She’s white as a ghost and looks like she’s freezing, but he believes her. She’s tougher than he initially thought. “If you go through that door,” he warns, “you’ll never get what’s in there out of your head.”

She swallows. Hard. “Then tell me.”

“Young couple. Slaughtered. He’s on a feeding frenzy like I’ve never seen before, but there’s meaning behind it. There’s meaning behind everything he does.” Doc pushes away from the wall and starts toward Unit 14. “Come on.”

Greer follows. “What do you mean by feeding frenzy?”

“Just keep your eyes open.”

They arrive at Unit 14. The door is already ajar. Doc pokes at it with the barrel of the shotgun, pushes it partially open. Again, no light, he always leaves them in darkness. Doc draws a deep breath, paws some snow from his face then steps inside. He finds a switch in the same spot just to the right of the door.

Bathed in light, the room comes to life, but it is not what he expected.

No blood. No body. No mayhem. Just an empty motel room.

He takes it in, quickly, efficiently.

An unopened suitcase in the corner. A set of car keys on the bureau along with a wallet and a cellphone—no—just a cellphone case. The phone is in pieces on the carpet. The bed is made but the comforter is rumpled and bares a vague human outline. Loafers on the floor next to the bed. Balled up black nylon socks inside. A suit jacket over the back of the desk chair on the far wall. A small appointment book on the desk. A raincoat hanging in the open closet.

Doc moves to the bathroom. The door is closed, but seeping from the bottom of the door is what appears to be diluted blood.

He opens the door, finds a switch and lights up the room.

The remains of a man float face-up in the bathtub. Still fully clothed, he has been gutted from pubic bone to sternum and the water has turned an odd pinkish shade in some areas and a deep black in others. One of the man’s arms dangles over the side of the tub. His hand has been chopped clean off, the wrist a mangled bloody stump.

No other signs or evidence of ritual or magic.

He didn’t care much about this one, Doc thinks. He just got in the way.

He rejoins Greer outside. She stares intently at something across the lot.

“What is it?” Doc asks.

She shakes her head so subtly he barely notices. “I’m not sure, it’s just…what the hell is that?”

He follows her gaze. Something moves in the darkness, through the snow. Something perhaps twenty feet above the ground in the middle of the parking lot, gently swaying in the wind.

“Do you see it? There, it’s moving with the wind.”

“I see it,” Doc says. He follows the shape up higher into the sky and notices something else just barely visible in the darkness and snow. He looks to the road. Nothing. Without another word he starts off across the lot with Greer in tow.

Just before they reach the object, Doc steps in something wet and spongy that makes a squishing sound beneath his weight. He springs back and looks down at a human liver wrapped in several feet of intestines tangled about it like slimy lengths of rope. He looks up, realizes now that there is a flagpole in the center of the dirt lot he hadn’t before noticed. The snow has not yet managed to fully cover the entrails or the enormous halo of blood staining the ground at the base of the pole. Behind him, Greer gags. No flags fly, but the decapitated body of a heavyset man hangs upside down by his feet, arms dangling low and swinging in the wind.

Before Doc can get her out of there, Greer doubles over, vomits, and then staggers back in the direction of the motel.

She stops and turns back to him, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Jesus Christ! Where the fuck is his head?”

“He took it.”


“Body parts are very important in his black magic.” Doc starts toward her. “He’s building his power, consolidating it. He knows I’m close, he knows this is it for one of us. Showdown’s coming and there’s no way out.”

“This has nothing to do with me, I—”

“We need to get back inside.”

“I don’t want to be in the middle of this!”

“It’s too late for all that. He’s drawn to you, to all of us.”

“What the hell are you talking about? He doesn’t even know me!”

“He knows you enough. Trust me, he can smell you from miles away. He can see your nightmares while you sleep, hear your darkest thoughts when you’re awake. They draw him to you.” She looks at him helplessly. He’s seen it before in many others but can only hope this time things will end differently. “Greer, we need to get inside. Now. Right now.”

“But…” she points to the body without looking at it, “we can’t just leave the pour soul up there like that.”

“His soul’s not here anymore.” Pulse pounding in his ears, Doc grips the shotgun tight, takes Greer by the arm and keeps walking, pulling her along behind him as he goes. “It belongs to The Dealer now.”




Body aching, Luke moves back to the front desk and leans against it a moment. He runs a hand over his face. It comes back with flecks of dried blood from the bloody nose he had earlier and a patch of road rash on the right side of his forehead. He can’t remember the entire event out on the road but does recall the impact, how he just barely got out of the way before the van clipped him and sent him airborne. Throughout his life, Luke has been involved in numerous physical confrontations, and in some cases has endured tremendous beatings at the hands of other men. But never in his life has he been struck by anything with such violence. It is the closest he’s ever come to death, and he can still feel the residue of terror and confusion coursing through his veins.

Where is the sonofabitch? Is he really coming back or has he moved on, barreling down that dark and desolate highway in search of new victims? The tension is unbearable and reminds him of his time in prison when the block would become deathly quiet. Whenever the constant din in prison ceases, it means something’s about to go down. Something bad. Something violent. Everyone waits. Quietly. Knowing sooner or later the screams will come, the pleading and begging for mercy, and finally, more silence. And then comes the eruption, the screams of those who have survived and live on in this hell while the victim lies dead or dying nearby. They cling to the bars in their cells and holler like the mad dogs they’ve become, some in protest, some in fear, some with sadistic joy, all with violence and insanity and release, a human zoo of caged, primal lunacy.

Having watched the road for several minutes through the heavy snow, Luke’s eyes burn and sting, but his mind continues to race. How the hell did he end up here, in the middle of this mess? Just like that last cashier, he thinks, wrong place, wrong time.

He looks around the office, taking it all in with closer attention this time, occasionally glancing back out at the parking lot and highway beyond.

Same as on the floor, several sheets of paper lie scattered across the front desk counter. One in particular catches his eye. It takes a moment to register, but once it does Luke’s heart drops. How had he missed this before?

A shoeprint. Stamped onto the piece of paper.

Luke looks up. Drop ceiling.

He listens carefully for any sounds of movement or even breathing.


He follows the section of ceiling directly above the shoeprint to an air vent on the wall alongside the front desk. If a person stood on the counter, removed the vent cover and gripped the bottom of the vent, they might be able to pull themselves up diagonally then climb into the vent.

Luke takes a closer look at the vent cover. Although in place, it’s not secured with screws and is instead the style that is hinged and simply swings open with a pull. So had someone fled into the vent they could’ve easily closed the grate behind them, thereby leaving no trace of their escape.

He stares up at the slots in the vent cover. If someone were hiding in the shaft they’d be able to see him but he couldn’t see them.

BOOK: Midnight Solitaire
2.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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