I do like to make things subtle, if at all possible. Today’s story might be a little too subtle? I don’t know…you’ll be the judge, as is usually the case with this kind of thing.
I vaguely remember writing this back in ’91. Changed a few things in it…added the very last line. I love leaving things to the imagination. Sometimes it’s far creepier that way. I love this line that I added in my rework:
Sometimes they looked like people.
Isn’t that just creepy?
This story also reminds me of Ray Bradbury Theater…and hold on—no, I’m not comparing myself to Mr. Bradbury in the way you’re thinking! I found that, at least in the TV series, some of his stories were so “thinly written,” I’ll call them that they left a lot to the imagination. And I kinda liked that. That he’d given just “enough information” to get you to thinking…then he’d leave you high-and-dry to work out the depth of the story on your own. Almost like vignettes…short story vignettes, if that makes any kind of sense: like he’d written a short story, then cut out the real beginning and ending and just presented a portion in the middle of the story.
Anyway, here is subtle creepy story for you to also read just before going to bed. Gah! Maybe it’ll also give you the “chicken skin” I’m feeling crawling all over me now as I write this….
This story has never been published.
© F. P. Dorchak, 1991
Clarence McPeak had visions.
Not the kind of visions that foretold the future or anything, but the kind that occurred out the corner of his eyes. The kind that gradually caused one to backtrack and see if what one saw was indeed true. Indistinct, weird images…sometimes amorphous…sometimes they looked like people.
That last one was important.
Clarence had just locked his condo door and was on his way to his three-year-old Corvette coupe. He tossed his briefcase into the back, and jumped in. The throaty roar of the engine as he started the machine (it was far more than just “a car”) made him feel good…he loved the feeling of power. Maybe that was why he loved selling burial plots to people. There was such a feeling of power as he talked to families and couples into buying his plots. He was good, the best in the region, and he controlled his clients like mice in a maze. No one was allowed to deviate from the path Clarence McPeak blazed. He didn’t care if you needed the plot or not. If you came to him…you bought one. It was that simple. He was very tactful, if not forceful on that point. And if someone tried to deviate…well, they simply weren’t interested in what this Very Important Person had to say and he would spend no further time with them—thank you, good-bye.
As Clarence pulled the ‘vette out into the road and past his condo building, he glanced up to the door. As he turned away, a chill ran down his spine.
A smiling a man standing at his door.
And it was a smile that seemed too big for his face.
His entire body went “chicken skin,” and he slammed hard on the ABS, bringing his red beast to a halt. He shifted into reverse and brought his condo back into view.
No one. He saw no one—smiling or unsmiling—standing before his condo.
Clarence shivered and made an unintelligible sound.
“Goddamned it, not enough coffee in the veins….”
As he put it back into gear (in which he could easily hit fifty, he chuckled) and lurched forward, he thought it was probably just his neighbor.
But she was female.
Clarence opened his briefcase on the nearly unstable card table. This morning would be off to a slow, if somewhat boring start with a meeting from their regional head. Yeah, he was a “head,” alright…a pecker head (okay, he really wasn’t, but he just liked to think this when he thought of the term “head”)…he knew of no one who actually enjoyed these meetings, including those who gave them…but some things you just gotta do.
Leaving his card table niche, Clarence headed off for the bathroom and, later, coffee. Yeah, he needed more caffeine. Who didn’t?
People were starting to transition in for the honcho meeting (and, curiously, he did see more of his “shadow people” out of the corners of his eyes…but when he’d look back…they’d be gone…or a real person would be standing there, instead), so he was decidedly glad he got a relatively good seat before the best-seat rush.
“Clarence—how ya’ doin’, old buddy?”
It was Neil Furst. Gold chains, watch, and all. There was even something shiny in his teeth.
“How ya’ doin’, Neil,” Clarence said, dryly.
“Hey—why didn’t you wave to me the other day?”
Great, now he wanted conversation.
“Wave to you when?”
“Thursday. Up at Chapel Hills, around four-four-fifteen.”
Clarence stopped to think. He was surprised at himself that he was actually pausing to give Neil the time of day. Neil knew why people didn’t wave to him, knew damned well. They chose ignore him. It was always one’s best option. If you gave him the time of day…you couldn’t get rid of the man. Neil stopped and badgered people because nobody else would talk to him if he didn’t.
“Neil, sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about—I wasn’t anywhere near Chapel Hills Thursday. I was out of town. Utah, actually.”
Clarence wasn’t lying this time.
“Huh—no way, dude—”
“Dude” and gold chains. Bad combo.
“Look, Neil, baby, I gotta bad case of a loose lizard and I’m not about to argue with you, but I wasn’t in town this past Thursday. Really.”
“Huh. Well, okay. But someone was wearing your power suit and talking to that blonde. And what a looker you had there—”
“—it wasn’t me—”
“Yeah, but you woulda’ wished it was!”
Had he said that out loud?
No. Good. For now. Don’t push it “buddy”….
“Well, thanks for your vote of confidence. Gotta go meet some porcelain. See you.”
My suit? Blonde? Guess I ought to have been there, damn it….
The meeting went off without a hitch and Clarence was out on the streets within an hour and a half, selling plots to people who both did and didn’t need them. The rest of the day was rather slow and uneventful, but no one deviated from the Clarence McPeak Path of Fame and Power….
Clarence approached his condo door, and for the first time that entire day thought about what he thought he’d seen that morning. Grunting, he turned the key and entered. Nothing was out of place, and all the lights were off—
Except one. Putting his keys away he entered his apartment and closed the door. It was the bathroom light. Slowly walking to the doorway, he peaked around the corner.
What had he expected?
Clarence looked at his own reflection. Smiled.
Such a handsome devil.
“Well, what the hell. Left the damned light on again.” Turning it off, he returned to the living-room and removed his coat.
Clarence dreamed about the blonde he was supposed to have met. Dreamed about confronting the smiling man at his condo door. Clarence dreamed about himself doing things that he normally didn’t do…dreamed he was Clarence-but-not-Clarence…then dreamed about an accident in some other time that involved him. There were knives and monsters. Maybe a toy clown or two. Smiling.
The room was dark and there was a little moonlight poking through his mini-blinds. His mouth felt like he had sucked on bark all night, and he reached over to the nightstand for the red plastic cup he kept there, room temperature water waiting for him. He took one sip, then gripped the bed in terror.
Something moved in the hallway.
The cup spilled from his hands and onto the rug.
There it was again—a shadow!
Clarence bolt upright.
What should he do?
He wasn’t a Navy SEAL, like every hero in today’s world seems to be or have been…but he worked out and was in his early thirties.
What if it was nothing more than tree branches passing between the window and the moon?
He grabbed his Beretta from his nightstand and leapt out of bed. Grabbed his flashlight. Held it like they always did in the movies. Those Navy SEAL movies.
Yeah, that’s it, just a branch by the window. Sure, nothing else. This is silly. It’s only a branch.
But just in case, he undid the safety.
In the moonlight.
He had about ten feet before he even got near to a light switch. A lot could happen in ten feet if
someone was really out there. Clarence stopped and peered into the dark depths of his condo. There was no movement. Flipping on the flashlight, he ventured forward. Still no movement. Not a sound.
His feet hit something.
Directing the light down to his feet, he saw nothing, then swishing it back and forth found the small plastic cup his toes had hit.
Clarence got to the wall switch and flipped it on.
“Well what the hell’s going on with me? Nightmares?”
Switching off the flashlight, he picked up the cup and placed it on the sink. He walked through the rest of his place and found nothing. He was just about to hit the switch and return to bed, when he suddenly stared at the blue plastic cup that sat on the edge of the sink, where he’d just put it two minutes ago.
How did that get on the floor?
Clarence never made it back to bed.
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