Copyright © 2011 Kristopher Rufty
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Tonight David Barker planned to kill himself.
As he stood in the bathroom, gawking into the fingerprint-smudged, toothpaste-dotted mirror, his reflection gazed back through eyes a vacant shell of white. He didn’t recognize this person. The haggard, soundless face inside the glass showed signs of a soul suffering, and not the wholesome thirty-year-old man he was—or used to be.
That wasn’t David in there, not anymore.
Who was that guy?
The October wind gusted outside, causing the old apartment to creak and pop. He slowly exhaled through his nostrils, fogging up a small patch on the mirror. He wiped it away with a finger.
A few months earlier, he couldn’t have been happier. Things changed drastically in a short span of time. He’d gone from being in love with life, and a special girl like Samantha Corben, to hating everything affiliated with all of it. Being stuck in the same miserable routine day in and day out, not doing anything about it, had only made his condition worse. Drained him. Put him in front of this mirror, giving himself once last look at the pathetic inflammation he’d become before cashing in his chips.
David Barker is clocking out for the last time.
He glanced up at the brown splotches sprinkled across the ceiling and shook his head. Sam had been right all along. The bathroom really was in desperate need of a makeover. The paint that hadn’t peeled was fading fast. The floor was warped; the boards were loose and springy and sunk under each step. He often imagined himself one day crashing through the rotting wood and landing somewhere in the apartment below.
Sam had been after him for months to either fix up the place or move. She tried convincing him he could do much better. As she would sheepishly say—shack up with her, but when she’d discovered he wasn’t ready for that obligation just yet, she’d argued that if he was going to remain in that clammy apartment, he should at least make it livable. Sam had even gotten the landlord’s permission to do just that. The old man had agreed with all her grievances, going so far as to promise that if she kept the receipts he’d deduct it from the rent and also added an extra bit of news. He was planning to remodel the entire structure anyhow. So David had more than just his permission to revamp the apartment, he had his blessing.
What had stopped him?
Everything. And nothing. He’d never seen the point in fixing the place up because he hadn’t planned to be there long enough to enjoy the refashion. At the time, he was planning to move on to a better job, a bigger place, and a healthier life for the two of them. Now he realized it was a form of premonition, foreshadowing what he was meant to do.
Die, he thought, and felt the misting in his eyes.
David stepped away from the mirror and over to the bathtub. Much like the rest of the place, a cleaning was in order. Mildew lined the tile of the shower walls, and mold caked in the corners. It wasn’t quite an infestation yet, but was getting close. Leaning over the tub, he gripped the knob labeled Hot. It felt cold and clammy in his palm. He turned it. Water erupted from the faucet, the pipes groaning from inside the walls as they heated.
Almost immediately, the water was scorching. He twisted the Cold dial to help adjust the temperature to his liking. Why he was taking these extra measures, he had no idea, but it felt like the right thing to do. Finding the right balance, he stoppered the drain. Briskly, the water began to rise.
He stood up, flicking the excess water off his fingers. On his way back to the mirror, he removed his jacket and winced at the haggard appearance he saw in the reflective glass.
“That is the mug of a looker, ladies and gentlemen,” he muttered.
Dangling his jacket in front of him, he searched the pockets for his cigarettes. He found them in the left pocket, then tossed the jacket on the toilet. It slid across the lid, falling on the floor between the commode and wall. He cringed. His favorite jacket, a black, zippered hood, had landed in the dreaded pee spot. The area his streams would wildly spray while he tried to find the bowl in his groggy, middle of the night bathroom trips.
Not like he’d ever wear it again.
Hope to God I’m not buried in it, he thought. Buried in a jacket that smells like old piss.
Someone would wash it first, they’d have to. Then he realized how ridiculous it was to consider he could actually be buried in that old jacket, anyway. It is my favorite. He’d heard of people being buried in sports-themed coffins, old school jerseys, so the idea he could be buried in a jacket he liked to wear wasn’t too farfetched. Oh well, someone would surely smell that stench and toss it in a washer first.
David plopped a cigarette between his parched lips. They felt brittle and weak against the filter. He lighted it with the Zippo lighter Amber had given him as a thank you present. After a long day of accompanying his sister while she shopped—a dreadful task he wouldn’t wish upon his enemies—she’d repaid his humanity with a gift. The lighter. That was four years ago, when Amber had turned twenty, and he’d used it every day since.
Stainless steel, a Celtic emblem embroidered on the front. It was sad how much the lighter had become a part of him, a part of his life. He cherished the damn thing more than most would a pet. It had been just as loyal, and by his side more than most. Maybe he even loved it.
In the tub, the water was nearing the top and coming dangerously close to spilling over. He walked over and shut off the faucet. The rapidly flowing waters slowed to a drip.
He could feel the heat from the water warming the air around him. The steaming vapors beckoned him to get inside, to relax. His body was awfully sore, aching all over from a rough day at work. A hot bath would put his tense muscles at ease. It was tempting. But this bath wasn’t meant for leisure.
“Another one bites the dust,” he mumbled, and kicked off his shoes. Standing in his work uniform—a dark blue, button-up shirt, black pants and matching socks—a pondering notion nudged at him.
Is it really so bad? He’d spent so much of the last few weeks building up to this night that he could hardly remember what it was that had put him here at all.
Really? Not just her, there were other things too, right?
“That bites,” he said, reaching into the side pocket of his pants to remove his cell phone. Checking the missed call list, he saw there was none. No one had called. Wasn’t anyone thinking about him tonight?
He checked the time. 11:45pm. Sam should be off by now. Second shift at the hospital was usually over by 11:30. On most nights, she would drop in around midnight. Sometimes her visits would be just an hour, but more often than not she stayed the night, and David would find himself unable to sleep while staring at her resting frame, wondering how she could be at peace after what she’d done.
Another minute passed while he gawked at the digital clock on his phone. Time was running out. It’d be best if he hurried. So he placed his phone on the edge of the sink and returned to the tub.
He imagined Sam coming over, ready to unload her day’s events on him, and her words cutting short when she barged into the bathroom and caught him. That would be awful. He’d be mortified with guilt for being caught like that, and alive to live with the regret.
Oh sure, he could try again. But when would that time come? After that he’d never have another moment alone. Someone would always have to be by his side, or he’d be put on a leash so short, he wouldn’t be able to shit without permission. Plus, it had taken a lot to work himself up to this point, and he didn’t think he could again.
Maybe I shouldn’t try again. Be forced to wander through life, more lost than he had been before, and too scared to do anything about it.
Nope, it was now or never.
Barricade the main door.
He could do that. Pile a bunch of shit in front to keep Sam from getting in. Not a bad idea. It could work. By the time she’d find someone to help her wedge a way in…
It would be done.
He swished that idea around his brain for a moment before deciding it might be risky blocking her outside like that. His neighbors weren’t what most would call convivial. Some of the characters he’d seen roaming the building gave him the creeps. And it would haunt him, even in death, knowing that something had happened to her while she was trying to get inside to save him.
Something probably wouldn’t happen, he told himself.
But he still couldn’t bring himself to risk it. Not with Sam. Even after all that she’d done, he still loved her too much. More than anything. Including the stupid lighter he adored so much. She had been the other half of him, the better half, for far too long.
How could he not love her?
Should’ve never given her back the key in the first place, he thought. That was my own fault.
He shook his head, raised his leg, and placed a socked foot into the water. The water sopped up his pants leg, molded it around his calf, and tugged at his waist. Not caring to undress, he climbed into the water and sat down. The water swooshed against him, wrenching his clothes taut against his body, plunging him to the bottom of the tub like an anchor.
He leaned his head back against the sweated tile. Damp on his hair, beads of moisture sloughed down the back of his neck, under his collar, and down the curve of his back.
David glanced over to the corner of the tub where sat a white box he’d stolen from work and put there in preparation for tonight’s event. He snatched it and tore it open. Inside were five razor blade refills for his box cutter at the store. He removed one, chucking the rest over the side of the tub.
If George was to find out I stole some razors, he thought. And smiled. Being an assistant manager at Office Warehouse, he had access to items such as this. Even something so small, though, could get him fired for having taken it home, and George was always looking for a reason to let him go.
Fired? He wanted to laugh. Why should he be concerned about that?
Dim light reflected off the metallic surface of the blade. The chosen one. Gently, he glided his thumb across it, nicking himself on the tip. He pulled his thumb back, and sucked it into his mouth. The blood was warm on his tongue. His stomach turned at the coppery taste.
He popped his thumb out and examined the wound. A straight line was sliced up to the tip. Droplets of blood trickled into the tub. The small beads spread in the water, thinning to a red haze.
David held the blade between his index finger and thumb like a guitar pick. He raised his right arm to him; the under-surface was smooth and practically hairless. He flexed his wrist a couple of times. The veins jutted and fell with each bend.
He pressed the blade to the sleek skin under his wrist.
The want was there, but the nerve to do it wasn’t. Now or never, go time, and he was choking. He gnawed at his bottom lip, raising the will to go through with it. He tasted blood again and realized he’d pierced his lip with his teeth.
Without another thought, he sliced down in one quick motion. His skin slit open in a streak, projecting blood from the incision. Unlike the cut on his thumb, which was a dribble, this was a deluge. It flooded down his arm, off his elbow. Blood spattered his face. He gasped in surprise, but not pain. Amazingly, it didn’t hurt all that much. More of a sting than a throb.
The rapid loss of blood was making him woozy. He’d been drunk before. This was similar to a late-night drinking binge with Amber. Sleepiness mixed with alcohol, where all you craved was a bed to lie on, and a soft pillow to rest your head in hopes of stopping the spinning.
Like those nights in New Orleans, he thought.
Dizzy, he attempted to switch the razor over to his left hand. Blood had painted the metal in a layer of red, making it slippery. Add that to trembling hands, and the result was he couldn’t hold on to the blade. It slipped from his fingers, dropping into the soupy water. He looked down, his body nearly following his head all the way into the tub. With what bit of strength he retained, he jerked back hard with his neck, forcing his head to stabilize.
The blade was lost in the darkening bath.
David tried using the sliced arm to search, but it had become useless, weak. So with his left, he plunged. His fingers slapped and pawed at the enamel, brushing across the razor. Doing this reminded David of summers at Nick Donaldson’s house when they were kids. His parents had put an in-ground pool in the backyard, and they’d spent many of their days inside it, unwinding and just being kids. Nick, always the creative one when it came to their pool activities, introduced David to the joy of penny diving. They’d turn their backs to the water and toss the coins over their shoulders. The pennies would splash in the water and sink. Then, with their eyes closed, they’d leap in and swim to the bottom in search of the coins.
Whoever would come up first with one in hand was declared the champion. David didn’t win often, and the few times he did he hated to admit that it was because he opened his eyes under the water.
David smiled at the memory as his fingers desperately tried pinning down the blade.
I can’t get it!
David’s vision blurred. His eyes fluttered. His head pounded. A sharp ring screamed in his ears.
He was on the verge of fainting.
David collapsed backward into the tub, his head cracking against the enamel so hard his brain quavered. He immediately lost consciousness. Then he slid down the back of the tub and vanished under the water.
As if David were no longer one person, but two, he watched from the outside of his body. His shape, an immobile form, was floating in an abyss of red glop. Bent at the waist, the body’s arms hung loosely in front, the legs sagging down as if trying to tug him lower.
Suicides go to hell…
David realized that empty character was him. How was he seeing like this? Like a movie projected before him? In total stillness? His ears full, muffled by the thick substance submerging him? This must be what it’s like to drown, he thought. A panic, then quietness, almost melancholy.
He hated it. Silence. Ever since he was a child, it wasn’t the things that went bump in the night that gave him nightmares, it was the hush. If there wasn’t some kind of constant clamor, he couldn’t sleep. That stayed with him through all his life.
Now he was trapped in the most deafening silence he’d ever experienced. He was descending to hell, and he knew his punishment was this soundless chasm.
Then a muffled splash came from behind him.
In the stillness, it sounded like a boulder slapping against mud. A pale light began to shine, coming closer, thinning the darkness and growing brighter by the second. His eyes quickly began to hurt looking at it. He needed to turn away, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He clamped them shut. The light was still there on the other side of his lids, and now it was searing. He could do nothing to block it. A drum began piercing his ears. Sluggishly, it beat. Bwoom. A pause. Then bwoom, again. It slowly picked up speed, growing to a rapid thump.
He jerked back as if on a roller coaster that had just passed over the incline. His stomach seemed to be in his throat. Then as quickly as he’d begun his flight, he abruptly stopped. Jarred. His bearings, rattled and shaken, began to settle. He could feel his arms, his legs. The drumming, he realized, was coming from his chest.
He was freezing.
Then he felt a gentle, yet firm grip under his arms. His body began to warm where the hands held him, then slowly the heat traveled through his body as he started to rise.
He rose higher and higher. He felt as if he were flying through the murkiness. Quickly soaring to the top, he wondered how, and when, and if he would stop. Where would he be once he did? For a reason he couldn’t rationalize, he wasn’t scared anymore. In fact, he felt relaxed, peaceful. Somehow he knew he would be all right.
His speed accelerated to a blur.
Then he lunged out of the water, splashing bloodied streams everywhere. He was back in the bathroom, back in the tub. He drooped over the edge, resting his chin on the side. It was cold and wet against his skin. Coughing. Regurgitating water onto the floor, his lungs burned, his chest ached. From the back of his head and through his shoulders to his back, felt as if they had been pounded with a tack hammer.
Keeping his head still, he tried to settle his stomach. It didn’t work. He hung his mouth over the side of the tub and vomited onto the floor. He came back, sluggishly rubbing the thick saliva from his lips against the tub. When he was done, David looked around the room. His sight was hazed, foggy. But he could see enough.
He could see—her.