This weeks prompt: 19. Revise 1907 tale—painting of ultimate horror.
The Research:We Anti-Mused Now
Warning: This story contains instances of stalking.
Lenora Eckhart woke up in a room to find herself haunted. As she put on her office button up, it felt heavy and ill fitted, too long sleeves and too high a buttoned collar. The eggs she made with mechanical regularity were unpalatable, smelling ever so slightly of sulfur. The yoke was too runny, watery and sluggish. That would all be bearable, Lenora thought, if it weren’t for the boarish and booming snoring of her room mate. She’d have to find some cure today for Deliah’s sleeping problem. In such a mood, she headed out to work.
Walking along the moss and mist filled streets, Lenora wondered how it was that modernity had not made a mockery of the refuse. Eventually, she came to the train station, and found the benches crowded. The concrete slab that rose from the ground, cracked and encrusted with mold and muck, was crowded. And the rumbling grey train was crowded when it arrived. Waves of people trying to escape battered against the masses pushing in. Lenora stood in the sardine can as near the window as she could manage.
The bleak and broken buildings of Livingston began to give way as time rolled by. The train would click to a stop every now and then, and Lenora braced herself for the chaos. Otherwise, the ride was mostly silent, save the mumblings of mad men who stayed aboard the train or the cry of babes. As they rolled past the smoke spewing factories, the mass began to ever so slightly thin. And then he lighted aboard.
Lenora wouldn’t have noticed him at first, a man of middling height and weight, except he stumbled into her as the train lurched forward. Turning about, she barely gave him a second thought at first. A bureaucrat or functionary, in a black suit and with black parted hair and beady eyes. Had she recounted him then and there the most noteworthy thing perhaps would be his nose that seemed slightly askew. But her eyes found something else more worrisome. Something red was dripping from his right hand.
“Sorry, miss, ever so sorry. Still not completely steady on trains such as this,” the man said, smiling as best he could. It was a jagged smile, Lenora noted. Teeth like glass shards.
“Oh. It’s fine. Trains and all.” She said looking ahead.
“Yes, well, they are strange things aren’t they? Do you ride them often?” the man asked. Lenora could feel his eyes on her.
“Occasionally, every now and then when I need to get downtown.” Lenora said, focusing on the steel bars that served as ribs for the roaring machine.
“A lovely lady like you can’t drive all the way down?” the man asked. Lenora’s hair went on end as she felt a hand flop onto her shoulder.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?” she asked, pushing the hand off as she turned. She could feel something still itching there.
“Not yet, no I don’t think so. I go by Pete, but you can call me Peter.” He said, with that crooked smile. There was the click click of the train stopping. Glancing up, Lenora sighed with relief.
“Well, this is my stop.” She said, rushing out with the crowd. Over the mumble and mass, she heard Peter shout something, but she wasn’t sure what.
The building that housed her office was a devoid of any real color, instead appearing almost washed out. Or stained, stained grey with the refuse and detritus of destroyed dreams and savaged souls. Lenora paused. The thought felt alien, intrusive, a voice in her head she didn’t recognize. Scratching her shoulder she dismissed it and went in to the building.
The interior lobby was better, somewhat, than its wasted exterior. It was painted white with a peeling blue paint on the ceiling. The carpet was soft and only slightly covered in dust. The stairs up were wallpapered with faded birds and flowers. Lenora had wondered if they ever made wallpaper like that fresh, or if it came off the assembly line old and worn.
Her office was more a workroom, with lines and lines of tables. Paper palisades protected them from actually seeing each other, while the click-clack-ring of the typewriters beat on and on. Hers was nearest to the barred windows (supposedly to prevent people breaking in, though she suspected it was more to prevent people from breaking out), next to Daniel. Daniel was a bespectacled man, overweight and hunched. He had been in the office since it was a single story, since scrivener was a respectable position, since the sun actually peered through occasionally.
“Good god, Len, are you all right?” Daniel asked looking up as she squeezed past.
“I’m fine, Dan. Ran into a weirdo on the train is all.” Lenora said, sitting down. Daniel blinked a few times.
“And stabbed him?”
“Your shoulder. Len, you’ve got blood all over it.” Daniel said, pointing with a pen. Lenora pulled her jacket some, and sure enough something dark and red was resting there.
“What on – oh for Pete’s sake this was my good one too! Ah, nothing to be done. No, the freak was bleeding from his hand I think. Probably got it on me too. Health nuisance.” Lenora said, forgetting the matter entirely. She hung the jacket on the back of her chair and set herself to labor. The pitter patter of rain gave a rhythm to the work that was almost pleasing.
Lenora spent several hours copying along, form letter after form letter, letter form after letter form, until she heard something whack against the window. Blinking for a moment, her trance of work disturbed, she turned in time to see a stone smack against the glass. Leaning over she saw a figure in the rain and fog waving and smiling. Blinking, Lenora saw a familiar glimmer of red.
“Oh Christ, he’s down there.” Lenora muttered, turning back to her work.
“The man from the train?” Daniel asked, his concern having been worn down to apathy.
“Yeah, him. How did he even find out I was here?”
“If his hand is bleeding that bad he should be in a hospital, not out in the rain.” Daniel muttered, resuming his typing.
“No, but seriously, did he follow me? I didn’t even tell him my name.” Lenora said, glancing outside again. There was no sign of Peter, not a bit of the red blood. When she turned to type again, the letters looked suddenly strange. To beat of alien drums, strange glyphs impressed upon scroll – no, no Lenora thought rubbing her forehead. That made no sense anyway. It was a type writer, for god’s sake. And complaint response letters weren’t any more ‘strange’ than anything else. Whatever thing was making these thoughts, it needed to stop. Must have been the eggs this morning.
Or hell maybe it’s Peter. They had started once she’d seen him, maybe something about his eyes vulturous leering eyes like a cannibals was doing this to her head. Inspiration comes from strange places, though she wouldn’t call this inspiration exactly. No, it was more like interruptions, breaks from the flow of thought. Invasions might be better. Lenora focused as best she could on the letters, careful to keep her thoughts from intruding.
She found, in time, that she could scribble somethings on a piece of paper. Little drawings that helped focus her thoughts. The interruptions weren’t a problem if they slipped out of a pen onto the page, a self-done exorcism. As she finished a sketch of a skull full of spiders, in between the one hundred and thirtieth and one hundred and thirty-first letters, the door to the office opened again. Peeking over, Lenora already guessed who was there.
There standing next to a familiar suit and red hands was Mr. Levington, her manager. A recluse with a head perpetually bent upward and a hunched back, Mr. Levington rarely ventured out of his office except to give tours to visiting salesman or investors. And even then he avoided the utmost floors. Too dreary and his voice was already a tad depressing.
“And this is the main office. Not much, but it gets work done.” She heard Mr.Levintgon drone on.
“Ah well, what can you expect.” Peter’s said, droning over the typing and mutterings of dozens of clerks. Lenora ducked behind the palisade and quickly busied herself working again.
“You can expect higher profits Mr.Phrike. We process hundreds of notes like yours daily, and with so many clerks, working so fast, it’ll triple your returns.” Mr. Levington replied, footsteps tapping down the rows.
“And how do you keep the people so busy? Certainly there is some rest for even the wicked.” Peter said, a clop-clop steps matching the manager’s. Lenora fought the curious urge to glance up, staring into the black type so long that it flickered red. Red writing, bloody books bound in human hide, wonders of bygone times… Lenora suppressed the thought, moments before it absent-mindedly drifted on the reply to the customers complaint of a defective sink.
“Well, sometimes, yes, but you see coffee is a miracle!”the managerial voice continued on.
“It is indeed. But from heaven or hell, who can tell? Now-Ah! I know you, don’t I? The train this morn?” Peter said. Lenora kept her eyes locked on the paper.
“What is a man like you doing on the train?” Mr. Levington said.
“Well, there are times when traffic is awful, so occasionally I take one when going down town.” Peter replied. Lenora typed as calmly as she could, pretending not to have heard him.
“Punctual! A great trait in an investor.” Mr Levington replied. The clop-clop of Peter’s steps began again, and Lenora felt a familiar weight on her shoulder as Peter’s shadow fell over the typewriter. Something in the air smelled foul as well, like smoke wafting upwards from a blazing cesspit, a dread Gehenna born anew.
“Uh, sir, is there something you need?” Mr. Levingston asked. “We’d ask you not disturb the clerks.”
“No, nothing. That’s a lovely drawing, Miss. Might want to keep them up.” Peter said, patting her shoulder. Lenora winced a bit before continuing typing. Acknowledging him might be encouraging.
“Well, I’ll be seeing you. Now, Mr. Levingston, you said you did factory work?” Peter said walking off. Lenora’s throat closed as his fingers lingered a bit, and soon she was seized in a coughing fit. Her shoulder itched again, like a blistering bug bite a vampiric strain carried by hand. And there was that,that constant invasion of her thoughts and God dammit he had gotten more of that gunk on her, a red brand burning on her skin. It itched something fierce.
She focused though, through the stinging and the shaking. Lenora ignored pressing questions about chance and fate and destiny and how on earth had he found her? That had to have been him in the rain, but he’d have set up a meeting here for months. How long had he been following her? Had he only now decided to make his presence known? Why?