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Where the Dead Go
Copyright 2014 Anthony Izzo
Mia saw the blood again. She saw it every night in her dreams. The walls had been painted with it. The cops had walked her out, an officer the size of a linebacker shielding her eyes so she didn't see it all, but she'd peeked, as kids were apt to do, taking in the great splash of it across the yellow linoleum floor. There was the blood and the sight of her mother's dead, white hand, two of the nails ripped off in the struggle to save her life.
That is what she'd seen this time; Xanax hadn't helped. Nor had Ambien or any of the other shit the doctors had prescribed for her.
Sometimes the dreams were about the blood. Sometimes there were gallons of it, sloshing down the hallways of her childhood home, drowning her, the metallic liquid filling her mouth and lungs, Mia awakening, feeling like there was something sitting on her chest. Other times she would bolt awake, hairs on her neck at attention, ice running down her spine, thinking she'd heard someone in the house, just as she had that night long ago.
She sat on the edge of the bed in her one-bedroom apartment. There was a pile of laundry that had taken on a peculiar funk. A half-eaten microwave pizza rested on a plate on the nightstand. Next to that was a piss-warm, half empty can of Busch lite.
Had to go to the budget beer. Cheap buzz. God I need to clean this place up.
Killer on the road. That's how they had referred to him, the man (or men) that had come out of the night like grim phantoms and left Mia without a family.
Shit, she needed a beer. The drinking had started in the past month, Mia sucking down cheap beer in the hope that a quick buzz would help with sleep.
She went to the kitchen, where three empties sat on the counter. She opened the fridge and found the empty twelve-pack of Busch. Shook it just to make sure there wasn't an extra beer hiding in the twelve-pack. But it was empty.
She looked at the clock. It was just past two in the morning. The Red Apple down the street was open 24/7. It wouldn't take long to walk down and pick something up. Just one to take the dead-as-dogshit taste out of her mouth. To quench her thirst.
Who are you kidding? That beer's to help you pass out and hopefully have a dreamless sleep.
The dreams troubled her, but there was something worse. The visions had returned. At twenty-nine, Mia had thought she was free of them. They had stopped a few years after her family had wound up butchered on the kitchen floor. But in the past few weeks she'd kept having the same one.
They would come at odd times, never predictable.
She would see a linoleum tile ceiling through clouded eyes. A liver-spotted hand with an IV jabbed in it, covered by tape to keep it in place. It had been someone in a hospital bed, and when the visions were particularly vivid, she would hear the muffled electronic beep of monitors and smell the piss from a catheter bag. These would come at inopportune times: when she was standing line at the bank; standing at the gas pump, the gasoline sloshing on the ground as she zoned out. There would be stares from strangers, because she knew she had mentally checked out during the visions and likely stood there like a zombie from a Romero flick.
Now, she crushed the Busch Light case and stuffed it in the overflowing garbage can under the kitchen sink.
She returned to the bedroom and threw on flip-flops. Pink sweatpants and a Buffalo Sabres hoodie rounded out her ensemble. When she was on her way out the door, she snatched her purse and entered the apartment hallway.
Based on the smell in the hallway, Mrs. Jenaway had fried fish again. The heavy, greasy odor permeated the hallway.
I've got to get out of this place.
She entered the Red Apple, glad to be away from the fish smell in the apartment hallway. Mia sniffed her sweatshirt and found the greasy odor had permeated her clothes. She walked to the back of the store and looked at the beer section. Heineken, Sam Adams, and Guinness were in the high-rent district. Labatt's, Molson, and Coors were in the suburbs. She scanned right and found her section: the ghetto of the beer cooler, populated by Natty Light, Milwaukee's Best, Genesee, and Busch Light. She grabbed a twelve of Busch Light and walked to the counter.
The clerk leaned on her elbows, bent over the counter. She had straight-cut bangs across a pimple-studded forehead. Her nose was bulbous and red. “Nice night for a walk.”
“Not bad out,” Mia agreed.
The clerk slid the beer across the counter. “The good stuff, huh?”
“Just ring it up, please. I'm kind of tired.”
“I’ll need ID.”
Mia fished in her purse, dug past a hair-clogged brush and a tampon, grabbed her wallet, and took out her license. The picture was eight-years-old. She felt as if she didn't really know the smiling, fresh-faced girl in the photo. The girl that had been asked to leave the University at Buffalo after it was found out she was spending her nights at her history professor’s apartment. He’d resigned. Last she’d heard he’d move to Cleveland and was working in real estate.
The clerk took the license, checked it, and said: “Holy shit, you're that girl.”
Yes, that girl with the hair and the two boobs. There's lots of us. We are legion.
“The Gordon House Massacre. You're her.”
This happened a lot, Mia getting recognized. She had been splashed all over the local news after the murders. In addition, she'd been on 20/20, 60 Minutes, and had been featured in a two-hour special on MSNBC. The local news had recently done a follow up story on the fifteen-year anniversary of the murders. If this was fifteen minutes of fame, she wanted no part of it.
“That's me,” Mia said.
“God, that was awful, what happened to you're family. I'm terribly sorry.”
Maria suddenly couldn't look the clerk in the eye; it was too much, too intimate. “Just ring me up,” she murmured.
She felt the cool plastic of the license being slipped into her hand. She slipped it back in her wallet.
The clerk gave her the total and Mia paid with a twenty. She took her change, her beer, and walked out into the night.
Back in the apartment, she sat in the darkness, moonlight coming in the kitchen window and spilling on the pile of dishes in the sink. The clock ticked on the wall, sounding as loud as a passing freight train to her.
She took a sip of the Busch Light. It was bitter and shitty, but it was cold, and she planned on getting piss-drunk and passing out until late morning.
That was when another vision struck, this time like a physical force inside her head, and she heard a sort of whooshing sound in her mind. This time there was a choking, gurgling sound that came along with the vision of the dotted ceiling tiles. It sounded like someone with a throat full of phlegm. After a moment, the choking noise stopped and she heard a grating voice say: I'm dying.
The vision faded out and she was left with her beer. When she picked up the can this time, her hand was trembling.
Karen Zelinski took her time walking down the hall to check on the patient in 1302; in ten years of nursing she had never had a patient give her the creeps like Edward Allen Gruber did. She thought about the need to buy a Halloween mask for Jason, her ten-year-old son. He wanted one of those Scream masks that filled with blood. She reflected that Edward Allen Gruber's face would make a terrific mask in itself. She'd seen plenty of dying patients, their skin pale, waxy, and yellow, but Gruber's was different; his skin was almost chalky, as if he’d been made up to look like a vampire.
She entered Gruber's room. He'd been circling the drain for the past twenty-four hours. His catheter bag had nearly dried up; the doctors had confirmed that his kidneys were shutting down.
Karen approached Gruber, the man with the Halloween face. His eyes opened as she stooped to check the catheter bag. It was pretty much dry. She looked into the watery gray eyes. They were much like that of a stuffed animal, devoid of life.
A steady gurgling came from Gruber’s throat, a death rattle. His mouth was open and even from several feet away, she could smell the rot on his breath. His pulse had dropped and his respiration was shallow.
She took her stethoscope and listened to his heart; the beat was there, if weak.
He had almost a full bag of saline, so there was nothing to change there. The doctors hadn’t much checked on Gruber. He had staggered into the emergency room coughing up blood and passed out soon after. Tests had shown stage four lung cancer that had metastasized to his liver, pancreas, and brain. There were no relatives to contact, only a driver’s license with a picture of Gruber that looked to be fifteen years out of date.
The social worker had attempted to find a next of kin or anyone who could provide any information on Gruber; so far they had been unsuccessful. No relatives, no kids. He had been born in 1900, but even in his poor state of health, Karen would’ve taken him for around eighty, not the hundred-plus years listed on his driver’s license.
As she stood at his bedside, he let out a long, low gasp. His eyes shot open, revealing little red rivers where blood vessels had popped. His lips curled back in a parody of a grin, then his tongue poked out and lolled to one side.
A long breath that reeked of rotten eggs spilled from his mouth. Karen clapped a hand over her mouth and nose to try and avoid the stench. The monitors started beeping and jangling.
If this guy dies, no one will miss him.
The lights began to flicker and give off a buzz-hum, and when the door to his room slammed shut, she felt a scream building but stifled it.
Gruber’s head slumped, his chin to his chest. The room was like the inside of a coal mine. She stumbled toward the door.
As she headed for the door, she told her self not to panic, to take deep breaths. A breeze must’ve slammed the door, and the lights were a fluke. Had to be.
She heard something hiss. It was like someone whispering too low to hear. She turned and looked at Gruber.
In the corner near his bed, something slithered in the corner, a shadow blacker than the darkness itself in the room. It was vaguely man-shaped, and she watched it drift across the wall. The shadow-thing kept up its chattering and whispering. Karen was tempted to plug her ears so she wouldn’t have to hear it.
Her guts felt like they’d been liquefied. She gripped the door handle and pulled.
The door would not open and she pounded on it, yelling as she did so. Someone in the hallway would have to hear her.
She glanced at Gruber. He sat up, yanking the IV from his arm. His eyes were still dead glass and his mouth remained open.
The shadow-thing, with spindly arms and legs, moved across the floor towards the bed. It crawled up onto Gruber’s chest and dammit if it didn’t force its way into his mouth. She saw his cheeks bulge and his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed whatever the thing was.
Jesus Christ if you’re going to do me one favor, let this door open.
She gave one final tug as Gruber fell back on the bed. The door opened and she stumbled into the hallway, nearly hitting an aide, who was wheeling a linen cart down the hallway.
This time, she let the scream out and didn’t stop until her throat felt as if it had been raked by glass.