Why isn’t anyone listening? Hello?
The tombstone above my corpse is a blasphemous lie. My name is Duncan Marsh, and despite what has been chiseled into the marble slab, I am not a “cherished husband lost too soon”. I’m an innocent bystander who has fallen victim to the most heinous of acts: Murder!
I climbed off the Greyhound bus in late September with only my briefcase tucked beneath my arm. A warm breeze brought a subtle hint of campfire to my attention. I was content with the weather being mild as my suitcase, luck rarely being in my side, was sent to the wrong terminal. Despite the inconvenience, I was assured it would be rerouted to my final destination, Unpleasantville.
I casually made my way on foot to the Stay Inn Motel, where I had pre-arranged accommodations, but much to my chagrin, I found myself being drawn into the center of the town. The buildings cast strange shadows that corralled me down streets deprived of activity. An eerie hush weighed heavy in the autumn air. I had been warned of the strangeness of this place from acquaintances made in neighboring towns. It had been heralded as the mecca for unexplained accidents, which is a magnet for insurance salesmen like myself.
The shadows gave way to a sudden burst of blinding light. I stumbled into a low railing while my hand rushed upwards to cover my eyes. In that moment of confusion, I heard a collective hush and murmur cut through the unnatural silence blanketing the city. An icy chill ran up my spine.
I jumped backwards when I felt an arm snake around my waist. A feminine voice instructed me to not fret and explained she would guide me back to the main road. She spoke further, but due to my profuse apologies for my silly predicament, I regrettably drowned out the warning she had tried to give. For the briefest of moments, I snuck a glance backwards over my shoulder and had seen an immense obelisk radiating blackness. A congregation of men, women and children stood around it clutching onto each other. Their eyes were empty pools of shadows reflecting the obelisk’s void.
Her name turned out to be named Claire. She was a small creature with a fair complexion and dirty blond hair. Freckles dotted her cheeks beneath tired dark eyes, but she maintained a crooked smile that shined with kindness. So raptured was I with this young woman that I failed to notice her late-stage pregnancy. Her arms wrapped casually around a protruding stomach would have been a sure sign for one less foolish than I.
“You’re in luck,” I explained when I realized she was a mother-to-be, “I’m in town for only a short while to sell life insurance packages. We have some particular packages that would be ideal for a growing family like your own. Seeing how you’ve been so kind to me, I’d love to return the favor.” The cacophony of city noise erupted around us like someone unclicked the mute button of life. “Maybe there is a quiet place where we can chat?”
Her face scrunched and she began swaying side to side. “My husband is expecting me home shortly,” she explained in a meek tone, her eyes downcast. “I have a taxi waiting if you’d like to come along?”
I peered past Claire to see a yellow checkered cab that I was sure wasn’t there a moment ago. “Yes,” I said, trying to hide the peculiarity of its appearance. “That’s a fantastic idea.”
Silence filled the cab as we meandered across the small town. I watched as the bordering forest came into view and began to move towards us, or we moved towards it, it was hard to tell. The vehicle turned into a cul-de-sac nestled against the edge of the bordering forest and I got a distinct aroma of burning pine.
“Is that smoke I smell?” I tilted my head to study the horizon for clouds of ash.
“They’re part of the season in this area.” Her voice was distant and cold. “You learn to live with forest fires.”
“They ever reached the city limits?” I ask, knowing issues with insurance could arise.
“Never in the history of Unpleasantville,” she gave a curt smile and stepped out of the taxi. “They stay away …”
I crawled out of the taxi and cringed at the sight of the house: It was a single bungalow with peeling paint, broken eves, and boarded-up windows. Weeds stretched out of the sun-dried lawn to twist their thorny vines around unsuspecting ankles. I could already picture a giant red stamp labeling the home as uninsurable.
“Are you sure your husband’s home, Claire?” The house was pitch black and the surrounding area was noticeably silent. Anticipation hung in the smoky air.
“Oh yes, he’s been working day and night to turn our new house here into our home.” She opened the ragged door and gestured for me to enter. “He’s been waiting for you.”
I stepped past Claire to enter the home but froze before crossing the threshold. The day’s dwindling sunshine illuminated the interior of a home long abandoned. The dilapidated carpets stank of rot, the furniture was infested with rodents and insects and the walls were caked with thick mold.
“Claire, I don’t-”
Two tiny hands smash into my lower back forcing me to tumble haphazardly into the squatter drug house. I braced for impact but was caught midair by tendrils made of shadows. Their coils constricted around my flailing limbs before they sent viscous shadows down my throat to stifle my screams. They yanked me into the darkness with eyes wide with terror.
I still cannot recount what happened within the confines of that empty house. For when my consciousness returned, I had been severed from my lifeless body and bound for eternity to this plot of dirt. I know not the motivation for my death and the bones of the man with whom I share this coffin is remaining dead silent.
Travis Mushanski was born and raised on the Canadian Prairies where he works as a professional brewer in the craft beer industry. He graduated from the BA English program at the University of Regina where he focused on creative writing. He occasionally finds himself writing short fiction exploring the nightmares and horrors hiding just out of sight. You can find his other works in Schlock! Webzine, and horror anthologies from Gravestone Press and Hellbound Books. Of course, all of this is possible because of the support of his wonderful wife, Janelle, and beautiful daughter, Emma.