THE SMUDGE
by Lamont A Turner

LOOKING OVER EDWARD’S shoulder, Amanda read off the screen of his laptop: ‘Dragging his crippled body to the edge of the bed, Taylor tried to ignore the pain and fight back the waves of nausea as he licked at her rancid hell hole.’ Crushing out her cigarette in the ashtray on the table with her left hand, she slapped Edward on the back of his head with her right. ‘What the fuck is that?’

‘My latest erotic story,’ Edward replied, continuing to type.

‘Erotic? It’s more like one of your shitty horror stories. Rancid hell hole? What if people think you’re talking about me? What the fuck is wrong with you?’

‘Why would they think that? Nobody knows who you are.’

‘Thanks,’ Amanda said, folding her arms across her chest. ‘Now I’m a nobody.’

‘You know I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just that none of my readers know you.’

‘Our friends do, and some of them read the shit you write. My brother reads it.’

‘You mean the brother doing a ten year stretch for selling meth to high school kids? I don’t think his delicate sensibilities will be offended. Does he really read my work?’ Amanda shook her head and sighed.

‘Either you start writing under a pen name, or you can find yourself a new rancid hole for the rare occasions you decide to come to bed at night,’ Amanda said before stomping off to the bedroom. Flinging herself onto the bed, she buried her face in her pillow and tried to remember when it had all gone off the rails. Edward hadn’t been like this when they first got together. He used to be normal. It wasn’t until he got the settlement money from that lawsuit and decided he wanted to be a writer that he started getting weird. Writing became a mania for him, which struck her as especially strange since he hadn’t expressed any literary aspirations before then. In the two years they’d been together she’d never seen him read a book, let alone show any interest in writing one.

Night after night, sometimes until dawn, he pounded away on his keyboard, sometimes reading the words aloud, assuming the voices of his characters. Several times she had climbed out of bed thinking he had friends over, only to find him alone. It was creepy, she thought as she slipped off her bra and kicked her shoes off into the corner.

 

Someone was ringing the doorbell. Amanda rolled over and tried to make out the room in the fading light from the window. How long had she been asleep? The doorbell chimed again, then again immediately after.

‘Ed! You got that?’ she shouted. The pounding on the door, interspersed with more chimes indicated he didn’t. ‘Damn!’ she muttered, clicking on the lamp on the nightstand and rolling out of bed to look for her slippers. Finding only one, she stomped off barefoot, cursing whomever was at the door, the cramps no amount of Midol had been able to relieve, and, most of all Edward.

‘What the hell do you…’ she got out before the sight of the skull-faced urchin looking up at her gave her pause. She’d forgotten what night it was.

‘I’m sorry. We don’t have any candy. Try the house across the street with the pumpkins and all that…’ She’d started to say shit, but caught herself before it slipped out.

The child said nothing. He stood there, his sack held out before him, his eyes hidden in the shadows of his mask. Shrugging, Amanda shut the door.

‘You forgot to turn off the porch light,’ Amanda shouted on her way to the dining room. ‘Ed?’

The light was on, and Ed’s laptop was open, but the room was empty. Maybe he went to use the bathroom, she thought, walking over to see what he’d been writing in spite of herself.

‘What the hell?’ she said, bending down to examine the greasy black smudge across the screen before jumping back when she caught the odour. Putting her hand over her mouth, she took a few steps back before shouting, ‘Ed! What the hell is that shit on your computer? It reeks!’

She waited a few seconds and then stomped toward the bathroom to pound on the door.

‘Did you puke on your laptop? Ed? Answer me! What the hell is all over it? Have you been drinking again? You promised to lay off the booze.’

Not getting an answer, other than a gurgling sound she assumed was coming from the toilet, she tried the knob and discovered the door was unlocked. She pushed the door open and immediately stumbled back, her arm over her face to block the stench. The thing seated on the toilet looked pleadingly at her with lidless eyes floating in bloody sockets. Barely more than a skeleton, its flesh oozed off of it like black candle wax. One hand clutched at its crotch, trying to prevent what was left from dripping into the toilet bowl, the other pointed to the open book at its feet with a bony finger.

‘Help me,’ it croaked. ‘The book—take the book!’

Amanda’s scream carried a stream of vomit with it that splattered on her bare feet.

‘Please! Take the book!’ the thing groaned. It kicked the book away from the toilet and slammed the door shut.

Amanda leaned against the wall, wiping her mouth on the sleeve of her robe. The book was smudged with black goo, speckled with blood, and had slid through her vomit. She stared at it for a minute and then prodded it across the hallway with her toe. Going into the kitchen, she grabbed two potholders from the drawer by the oven and scooped it up, turning her head away from it as she carried it to the other bathroom off the master bedroom. Dropping the book in the sink, she pinched it shut and dabbed the cover with a wet towel.

‘What is this shit?’ she asked herself as she paged through the book, trying to keep her hands from shaking. ‘It’s not even in English.’ Why was she screwing around with some old book when she should be calling an ambulance, she thought, dropping the book and rushing to the nightstand. Where the hell was her phone? She dropped to her knees and peered under the bed, finding nothing but half a dozen dusty socks and her other slipper. Maybe it fell behind the nightstand? She gripped the sides and started to slide the stand away from the wall when her phone began ringing from under the blankets. Casting the blankets back, she saw the word ‘Mom’ on the screen.

‘Mom! Something terrible has happened to Ed! I was just about to call 911,’ Amanda shouted into the phone, the words streaming out over each other.

‘I’m sorry for the subterfuge, but this isn’t your mother,’ said a man with the hint of an accent Amanda couldn’t place. ‘We need to talk about the book.’

‘What have you done to my mother? Where is she?’

‘Your mother isn’t here. I only made it appear the call was coming from someone you knew so you would be more likely to answer. Now, where is the book?’

‘What’s the deal with the stupid fucking book? My husband is on the toilet melting. I don’t know who this is, but I have to call for help.’

‘Only I can help you now,’ the man snapped. ‘Stop being a fool and listen to me. I lent the book to your husband with the understanding he wouldn’t use it on one particular night—this one. It appears he now knows why we have such rules.’

‘What’s happening to him?’

‘That depends on what he conjured up. What you should be concerned about is the location of whatever caused such an unfortunate transformation in your spouse. It’s quite likely still lurking about.’

Amanda lowered the phone and stared toward the bedroom door, suddenly wishing it was closed. The light in the hallway beyond was off and her gaze could not penetrate the darkness.

‘So, you’re trying to tell me my husband used this book to summon some kind of monster, and it’s running around loose in my house?’

‘Very good! You finally understand. Your husband—how should I put this—lacked imagination. He sought to use the book to conjure monsters and scenes of horror to populate his stories. I understand he was fairly successful. It’s too bad he decided to use the book the one night of the year when the demons would not be subject to his control.’

‘Halloween.’

‘Yes, Halloween. There are different rules on that particular night. Are you still there?’

‘Yeah. I just thought I heard something moving in the other room. What do I do?’

‘Is the book within reach?’

‘It’s right here,’ Amanda said, backing away from the book at her feet.

‘If there is an entity in your house it will seek to destroy it. I’m surprised it hasn’t already. You have to keep that book out of its reach until midnight. Once the midnight hour tolls, the demon will be bound by it and will be powerless against whoever holds it.’

Amanda checked the time on her phone. It was just a little past ten. Whatever was out there had turned Edward to jelly and she had to hold it off for almost two hours.

‘I can’t read this shit. It’s in some foreign language,’ Amanda said, scooping up the book and flipping through it.

‘You won’t need to read it. As long as you have it in your possession after midnight, nothing can harm you.’

‘It’s not midnight! What the hell do I do now?’

‘I suspect whatever your husband summoned has some limitations. That could be why it hasn’t already destroyed the book. It most likely has to interact with the physical world via a surrogate. It was probably trying to control your husband, to force him to destroy it, when its power proved too much for his physical form to contain. It won’t make the same mistake with you. It will try to derange your senses and manipulate you into doing its will, but it won’t try to possess you.’

‘Why don’t I just leave the book here and get the hell out? If it can’t touch it what difference does it make?’

‘You think it would let you leave?’ the man said, making no effort to hide his contempt. ‘I am on my way, but it will take me at least two hours to get there. Keep your wits about you and don’t leave…’

The phone went dead. Something was in the doorway. Amanda kicked the book across the room and jumped into bed. She pulled the blankets up to her neck, but didn’t dare cover her head no matter how much she wanted to. She had to see what the thing was going to do. It stood there, a vague man-like shape, wavering slightly from side to side. She could hear it panting. Sweat oozed from her forehead and ran down her cheeks, mingling with her tears, as she imagined its hot breath on her neck. The metallic taste of blood filled her mouth as she bit her lip, trying to stifle a scream. This couldn’t be really happening, she thought. Demons don’t exist. The guy on the phone was obviously some kind of crank. Yet, she’d seen what happened to Edward. There was no natural explanation for that.

‘Mandy girl?’ said the thing in the hallway. ‘You’ve got to help me.’

‘Daddy?’ Amanda asked. It had spoken in her father’s voice and used his pet name for her.

‘It’s me, baby. They got me after I died.’

‘How?’

‘It doesn’t matter. All you need to know is my soul is chained to that book. You’ve got to destroy it, Mandy. You have to set me free.’

‘You’re not my father!’ Amanda screamed. ‘Get the hell away from me!’

‘Remember that lighter and pack of cigarettes you hid in your dresser just in case your quitting didn’t take? You did good, baby. That was over a year ago and those smokes are still there. You’re free of your addiction. Now use that lighter to free me. Burn the book. It’s old and brittle. It’ll go up quick.’

‘Stop it! Stop! Go away!’ The blanket was over her head now.

‘I know you have your doubts, but what if I really am your dad? Can you afford to take the chance on letting me suffer forever? The man you spoke with on the phone was the real demon. How do you think it tricked you into thinking it was your mother calling? It wants to use the book for its own evil purposes.’

Amanda covered her ears, refusing to believe her father was reaching out to her from hell. She lay there, trying to listen over the frantic pounding of her heart for any sound that might signal the approach of the demon, but heard nothing over the hiss of blood in her ears and air rushing through her lungs. She was about to peek out from under the blanket when the blanket was yanked off of her.

‘You okay, babe?’ Edward asked, his brown eyes large with worry. He was himself again, not the thing she’d watched falling to pieces in the bathroom.

‘Oh God! It must have been a nightmare,’ Amanda said, grabbing Edward by the front of his shirt and pulling him down to her. He cradled her, his cheek pressed against hers as she sobbed tears of relief. ‘It was so real, you wouldn’t believe it.’

‘Everything’s going to be alright,’ Edward said. ‘We just have to destroy the book.’

Amanda’s limbs grew ridged. The book! The book wasn’t real. It was just a prop in her nightmare. Unless… She pushed Edward away and the flesh of his face stuck to hers, peeling off of his skull with a wet gurgle. As the thing pretending to be Edward stumbled back, Amanda clawed at the clammy strips clinging to her cheek and screamed. The demon answered Amanda’s scream with a laugh that sprayed droplets of black blood through the hole in its face. Still chuckling, it puckered its lips and bent over Amanda, its fingers digging into her shoulders.

The shot that ripped through the demon’s head, splattering Amanda with chunks of gore, also temporarily deafened her so she couldn’t hear what the man in the doorway was saying as he lowered the smoking gun. He was tall, and would have been considered handsome but for the hard sneer that creased his tan face. He wore a rumpled grey trenchcoat over an equally rumpled brown suit, and in the hand not wrapped around the revolver he held the book. The first sound Amanda heard as her hearing returned was the hissing of the demon. The man in the doorway had its complete attention, but he didn’t seem the least bit flustered. As the demon flung itself at him, he grinned and fired again. The demon, caught in mid-leap, howled as it landed on the carpet with a thud.

‘Silver bullets,’ the man said, waving his gun at Amanda. ‘They won’t kill it, but I’m told they sting.’

‘Who are you?’

‘Morrison—the man you talked to on the phone—sent me. He’s on his way, but I was closer. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to collect one of these over-due books for him. I wish he’d hire a new librarian.’ He gave a quick glance at the thing writhing on the floor before sliding back his sleeve to turn his gaze on his wrist watch. ‘Twenty minutes till midnight, but don’t worry. I have plenty of bullets.’

‘It does things to your head,’ Amanda said, trying not to look at the demon as it flopped around, groaning. It didn’t look much like Edward anymore. Now its skin was black and its limbs twisted and bent as though it had no bones.

‘Not to mine. I’ve run into these bastards before and know all their tricks. They aren’t particularly bright. Oops. Looks like I hurt its feelings.’

Amanda followed his gaze and saw the demon was gone. A second later the doorbell rang.

‘I’ll get that,’ the man said, spreading open his trenchcoat to shove his revolver in the waistband of his pants. ‘We wouldn’t want to scare any late trick or treaters.’

‘Who was it?’ Amanda asked when the man returned a few minutes later.

‘Our friend. I told you they were stupid. It was pretending to be Morrison. I stuck my knife in its chest before I slammed the door in its face. It’s got a silver blade,’ the man said with a grin. ‘Only ten more minutes to go, then I’ll send it back to hell and help you get rid of the mess in your bathroom. Of course we’ll have to think up a reason for whoever that was not being around anymore.’

‘Edward,’ Amanda gasped. ‘He’s really dead? This is all really happening?’

‘Looks that way,’ the man said, checking his watch again. Amanda noted he seemed somewhat bored.

‘Who the hell are you? Why is this happening to me?’ Amanda tossed the blankets aside and sat up in bed to confront this man who seemed to have all the answers. The reality of the demon was beyond her ability to process, but this smug bastard was within her understanding and she found herself hating him.

‘You can call me Rob, and this is happening because your boyfriend, or husband, or whatever, was a dip shit who played games he didn’t understand. That and Morrison has the stupid idea that you fund your crusade against the powers of darkness by leasing them out to said dip shits. You just need to stay with me a bit longer and it will all be over. You still won’t have a boyfriend anymore, but from where I sit that’s a win for you. Play nice and I might let you burn the book after I send our friend back.’

Amanda grabbed a pillow and clutched it to her chest. The man on the phone had said nothing about destroying the book after midnight. She studied the man, searching for some clue he wasn’t who he seemed. Was it possible he hadn’t come back from checking the door? Who or what stood before her?

‘Why did you say that?’ she asked.

‘Say what?’

‘Say we should burn the book.’

‘I never said anything of the sort. What the hell are you talking about?’

‘I just heard you say it,’ Amanda shouted. ‘What time is it really?’

The man sighed and tossed the book on the bed.

‘I see our friend has taken up residence in your head. If I were the demon, would I have been able to hold on to that?’ he asked, pointing at the book.

‘I don’t know what to think. I just want this to be over.’

‘Well, you’re in luck,’ the man said, glancing at his watch and then holding his arm up so Amanda could see it. He picked up the book and shouted: ‘It’s midnight. Out where I can see your ugly ass!’

Suddenly, the demon was standing at the foot of the bed. It was facing the man, but refused to lift its head to look at him. Amanda thought it looked smaller, shrivelled even. The man didn’t seem particularly interested in his captive. Slipping his gun in his coat pocket, he scanned the room until he spotted Amanda’s purse on the dresser. Turning his back on the demon, he emptied the contents out on the dresser and picked through them.

‘This will do,’ he announced, holding up a tampon in a pink wrapper. ‘In you go.’

The demon looked up and shuddered, its red eyes pleading. The man smiled and waved the tampon as though he were teasing a cat with a piece of string. Seeing there was no way out of its predicament, the demon vanished and the tampon jiggled in the man’s hand.

‘Hope this wasn’t your last one,’ the man said, dropping the tampon into his pocket to keep his gun company.

‘What are you going to do with it?’ Amanda asked.

‘There’s a convent not far from here where a certain very pious young nun happens to reside. Some say she’ll make sainthood one day. She’s a sweetheart, but she suffers when her time of the month comes around. She’s got a pretty heavy flow.’

‘That’s…’

‘The perfect sentence for this thing. It has to do as I command. With a little demon hocus pocus, this tampon becomes a cure, and permanently reusable. Our buddy will do the sister a good turn, and get to spend a lot of time at mass—at least till the sister hits menopause. Now let’s get that bathroom cleaned up. I’ll need trash bags and a lot of bleach.’

Amanda felt her stomach tighten as another cramp shot through her, and for once welcomed the pain. It was the only thing she could be certain was real.

 

 



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