Colin knocked once on the door before Jaime opened. He welcomed the sight of beer, and the friend that came with it.
“Hey, man! Glad you could make it,” Jaime said as he let Colin into his apartment. “It’s really pouring down, huh?”
“No kidding,” Colin said, removing his soaked coat.
“Let me take those.” Jaime took his friend’s coat and walked into the kitchen. Meanwhile, Colin made his way to the couch and began to look through the pile of DVD’s on the coffee table, a collection which consisted mostly of splatter horror films from the eighties and Japanese titles with twenty-year-old girls in high-school uniforms, brandishing katanas in their hands. Nothing that really screamed “movie-marathon” material.
“Here you go,” Jaime said, handing Colin a cold one before he dropped himself on the other couch.
“Is this what you had in mind for tonight?” Colin asked, holding up “Amazing Vampire Schoolgirl Blood-fest of Death” (not the real title, but neither Jamie or Colin would have been able to pronounce the Japanese title if they tried).
“Only if there’s something you’re interested in. They’re the only horror movies I’ve still got. We could always stream something if you want.”
“Yeah, this is goofier than I had in mind. I was thinking we could play something that used to scare the shit outta us when we were kids,” Colin said.
“That’s cool. I’ll set it up,” Jaime said as he turned on his TV. “Oh, and we might have a friend of mine joins us. Hope that’s cool?”
“Nah, dude. That’s fine” Colin said, as he took another sip.
Jaime began to scroll through the selection of horror titles that were available. There was some of the old Universal stuff and a few Hammer horror titles. Colin tried to make his mind up, when nature began calling. “Hey, I gotta take a leak. Be right back,” he said.
“That’s fine,” Jaime replied, still flipping through the selections.
In the bathroom, Colin noticed some framed pictures he hadn’t seen before. One of Jaime with him mother at some kind of family get-together, another of a young woman with straight ebony hair, her arms around a big white dog, smiling at the camera. She was in the last photo as well, wearing a green bikini with Jaime’s arms around her. Colin made a mental note to ask him about her, just in case she happened to have any friends that were single.
After relieving himself, Colin walked past the kitchen. He noticed his coat sloppily thrown over a chair, dripping water down from it onto the floor. Granted, Jaime had placed it there himself, but it didn’t feel right just to leave like that. Some guest he’d be to leave his host with a big puddle of water in the middle of his kitchen.
“Hey, you in the mood for Carpenter?” Jaime called out.
“Yeah, sure man. Carpenter is cool,” Colin replied. He took his coat from the chair and looked around. He’d been to the apartment only a few times before, but he’d never hung his jacket anywhere proper. A place of this size must have something like a closet for coats and jackets?
Then he found it. A green door at the end of the hall, opposite from the bathroom. That had to be it. With the wet coat in hand, he made his way to the door, turned the knob and swung it open.
Darkness and fire stared back, welcoming him with a roar. A million eyes peering at him from every angle. A cacophony of screams, curses and the cries of suffering. Like needles digging themselves into Colin’s mind, the tongues of the damned lashed out at him. He felt his skin ablaze with the hottest of fires. His blood frozen by icy winds. Try as he might, he could not look away. For aeons he looked into the darkness and the nightmare that laid before him. Through the chaos and madness, a form began to take shape. A woman, bare breasted and bathed in flames, stood before him. She touched her own body as if to call him toward her. Then, in a swift and violent motion, her hand began to sink into her crimson skin. Violently she began to rip her flesh apart and bit into her own bloody remains, becoming a grotesque figure of pain and delight. Colin could only stare, both aroused and terrified, desperately trying not to scream at the horrific display before him. She looked up with her blazing yellow eyes, blood dripping down her chin. Her mouth opened widely, baring razor-like teeth.
“BLOOD! BLOOD FIRE TITS PAIN HOOKS LUST SHRED PAIN FIRE BLOOD TITS–,” her words echoed, speaking without moving her mouth, as if she send the word straight into Colin’s mind, accompanied with the images of a thousand terrors and a thousand atrocities. He watched her raise one clawed finger, small bits of torn skin and boiling blood still attached to it, and beckoned to him. “JOIN! PAIN BLOOD DELIGHT! BLOOD FIRE PAIN! JOIN!” she screamed at him once more.
Colin did not remember closing the door, and a whole five minutes would go by before he collected himself again and lumbered back into the living room.
“Hey Colin? Which one was “The Mist” and which one was “The Fog”? I get those mixed up all the time,” Jaime said, not paying mind to the way his friend slumped back into his seat. After not getting a response the second time around, Jaime asked what was wrong.
Colin looked at his friend. He tried to speak, but his tongue felt cemented to the roof of his mouth. His eyes were dry, as if he had cried for hours. Was he dehydrated? The beer perhaps? But he didn’t drink enough to warrant dehydration. He was barely tipsy, if you could even call it that. No, what he saw he had seen with sober eyes. He wished he was drunk. That would’ve meant that it hadn’t been real. Had he lost his mind? Had he succumbed to madness? Lost his marbles? Could he think of another metaphor for insanity before Jaime became impatient and he would have to say something.
“Hey, are you okay? Is something wrong?” Jaime asked concerned.
“I–,” Colin began, his hands shaking as he reached out to grab his beer. “I wanted to put my coat away, and–”
“Oh,” Jaime said in an understanding tone. “You opened the closet, didn’t you?”
Colin’s head jerked toward his friend Jaime knew about it? Then hadn’t imagined it. There really some sort of vortex of despair, pain and fire that had nestled itself comfortably in the hallway closet?
“Don’t worry about that,” Jaime said. “That’s just a little thing that came with the apartment. Just ignore it, and you’ll be fine.”
Colin couldn’t believe what Jamie just said. “Wait,” he began, trying to hold back a nervous stutter. “Came with the…came with the apartment?”
“Oh yeah, all part of the lease. The reason this place is so cheap,” Jaime said.
“What is it?” Colin asked.
“Not a clue,” Jaime answered. “I’m getting another beer. Are you still good?”
“NO I’M NOT–!” Colin began to shout angrily before he was interrupted by the sound of a knock at the door.
“That’s him. The guy I told you about. Gimme a sec,” Jaime said. He walked toward the door, leaving Colin to stew in his confusion. Why did his friend have…that his closet? And why was he so casually blasé about this little fact?
“Colin, this is Glenn. Glenn, Colin,” Jaime introduced him to his other friend, a well dressed, average looking guy in his mid-twenties with a friendly smile. He held out his hand to greet Colin, who took it, desperately trying to stop himself from shaking.
“Hey, how’re you doing?” Glenn asked.
“I–” Colin tried to speak. Words had failed him, as the woman’s cries still echoed in his mind.
“Colin had a bit of a scare. He accidentally saw it,” Jaime jumped in.
“Ooh, sorry about that man. We’ve been trying to fix it for a while back at engineering. A little glitch that happened when we first put some of our offices in the city,” Glenn said with a chuckle.
Colin looked at the strange man trying to make head or tails of what he had just said.
“Your…offices?” he asked.
“Yeah, we have a few all over town. Mostly places where our people work. But somehow this apartment has one stuck in its closet. We’re trying to fix it, so until we do, we cut a deal with the owners of this place to let tenants stay here at a reduced rate, while we pick up the rest of the lease,” Glenn explained. “We advise people not to look at them, as they…well, y’know,” he stopped to let out a chuckle. “Also, we suggest not to go in them. It’s messy, and we’re already up to ears in paperwork about this one, so please don’t, for your sake and ours. They just don’t make gates to the hellscapes like they used to.”
“Glenn, can I get you a beer?” Jaime asked.
“That’s be great. What’re we watching?” Glenn asked Colin, trying to start up a new topic.
“Ehm, John Carpenter flicks, I think,” Colin answered, having almost forgotten why he was there in the first place.
“Awesome. Love his stuff. Was it “The Mist” or “The Fog” that he did? I always get those mixed up,” Glenn said.
Colin didn’t answer. He looked at the strange man sitting across from him. Aside from the absurd story he had been telling him earlier, he seemed completely normal. Nothing unusual about him at all.
“So wait! What you’re saying is that you are–,” Colin began.
“That’s right. I’m in the music industry,” Glenn said. He smiled broadly, his canine teeth exposed, digging into his lower lip. For a second Colin thought this was some weird joke. An attempt at sarcasm to direct Colin away from any uncomfortable questions. But no, this man was completely serious and absolutely chipper about it.
Jaime walked in, carrying a beer for Glenn and a bowl of microwaved popcorn. “Pizza’s on its way,” he said as he handed his friend his drinks. “Oh, Glenn! You should tell Colin why you’re up for promotion. He’ll get a kick outta it.”
“Aw man. Do I have to? It’s getting embarrassing,” Glenn chuckled.
“All right, all right. Last time,” Glenn said. “So my boss is telling us our branch isn’t really making its mark anymore. We haven’t made anything that truly destroyed peoples intelligence, though mind you, we get blamed for doing that a lot more then we actually have. So anyway, I go home and toy around with some ideas when it hits me. Give the truly untalented the illusion of talent and skill by digitally “enhancing” their music. Flood the market with every teeny-bopper and failed talent show contestant there is so no-one will notice any of the actual good stuff anymore. I got some geeks to put a program together, threw it at our talents and BOOM!” he said, slapping his hand together in excitement.
Colin sat in silence, caught off guard by the sudden enthusiasm.
“He created auto-tune,” Jaime finished.
“To be fair, I didn’t think it would get as big as it did. But yeah, long story short I’m up to be head of the department,” Glenn added.
“Everyone ok with this one?” Jaime said as he pointed to the TV, selecting the movie.
“So how did you meet Jaime?” Colin asked.
“Oh, I started coming around as a token of goodwill. Come by every month or so, see if everything’s all right. Jaime’s the first tenant in years. This place was empty because the last tenant tended to look into it for hours on end for some reason. Went bonkers and decided it was a good idea to chop his wife and kids up with a meat cleaver. Nothing we could do, since he signed the lease agreement regarding the closet. He knew the risks of living with a gateway to the abyss,” Glenn explained nonchalantly, before he turned to Jaime. “With my new position, I might not make it by as often as I did.”
“That’s cool man. You can still drop by for a beer and a game,” Jaime said.
“Thanks man. I appreciate that.”
Jaime started the movie up and they began to watch. Colin sat in silence. He understood who this Glenn person was. But he had never imagined one of the denizens of hell to be so…normal? He didn’t speak of buying souls. He didn’t seem to relish in the agony of others. He was just Glenn. And that had become the most unsettling part for Colin.
“This was fun. We should do this again sometime,” Jaime said as he began to clear his coffee table of empty bottles and bowls.
“Hey, I got some tickets to next week’s Lakers game if you guys are interested?” Glenn suggested.
“Great! I’m in!” Jaime said with enthusiasm.
“Yeah. Sound’s great,” Colin said. He had become more comfortable after sitting through three movies and having gotten to know Glenn better. He was still a bit on edge after his experience with the closet, but at least he’d stopped shaking.
The three made their way to the door. Jaime handed Colin his coat, that he had dropped in the hallway. He apologized for not having warned him about the closet, but Colin brushed it off. “Don’t worry about it. Honest mistake,” he said with a weak chuckle.
“Oh, Colin! We still on for dinner at my Ma’s? You can meet Lisa,” he said.
“Yeah. I’ll see you then,” Colin responded.
“Bring a date if you like. G’night guys,” he said before shutting the door.
Colin began to walk toward the stairs when Glenn called out to him. “Say, for this dinner thing,” he began with a smooth tone in his voice, like the one a sales person would use when trying to make a pitch. “Do you happen to have a girl you’re thinking of bringing?”
Colin hesitated. Where was he going with this? “No. I don’t,” he said. “Why?”
“We’ll, the girl you met earlier told me she thinks you’re kinda cute and was wondering if–,” he began.
“Wait! What girl?” he asked.
“You know. The one you met earlier tonight? Red hair. Cute nose. She said she talked with you for a bit,” Glenn explained.
Cold sweat began to break out over Colin’s body. He’d put two and two together and realized whom Glenn was talking about. He hadn’t noticed her “cute nose” as he had been too distracted by her ripping and eating her own flesh.
He tried to stay cool. “Yeah, I remember her,” he said with a tremble in his voice.
“Splendid! Anyway, she asked me to give you her number,” Glenn said as he reached into his jacket and pulled out a card. Colin noticed it was a Cold Stone Creamery suggestion card, with a number written in green ink on the back.
“She’s a nice girl once you get to know her. In her spare time she acts. I think she’s in an off-Broadway play right now.”
Colin looked at Glenn’s smiling face, hoping to catch some sign that something was wrong, but again, all he saw was a friendly man eager to hook him up with a girl from work.
“What’s her name?” Colin asked.
“It’d be too hard for you to pronounce, unless I roll barbed wire over your tongue for an hour. Sometimes she goes by Miranda.”
“Ok, thanks,” Colin said as he put the card away.
Suddenly, Glenn grabbed Colin’s shoulder, gripping it tightly. Colin looked into the stern eyes of the strange man. His smile had vanished and his eyes dark with intensity.
“Before you call her, before you make any plans, you must know this–,” Glenn spoke in a deeper voice. He moved closer until he was barely half an inch away from Colin. “Should you seek to be with this woman–,”
“Yes?” Colin stammered.
“She’s allergic to shellfish, so please don’t take her out for seafood. She’s too polite to tell you, and then her face will swell up and it will be all my fault,” Glen said, returning to his cheerful demeanor. “You have a good one! Later!”
Colin looked on as the man walked down the stairs, whistling some tune he recognized from the radio. With shaking hands he looked at the card once again. I should throw it out. Destroy it. Burn it and send it back to hell. Forget what I’d seen in that closet and erase that woman from my memories.
He looked at the card one more time. He clenched his fist, ready to rip it to pieces.
Then again, that dinner is this Wednesday. He held the card up. Behind the number was a small message that read “Call me!”, singed with a little heart in green ink.
He opened his wallet and slid the card next to his Metro pass. One call couldn’t hurt.
Joachim Heijndermans writes, draws and paints nearly every waking hour. Originally from the Netherlands, he’s been all over the world, boring people by spouting random trivia. His work has been published with Fictionmagazines.com, OMNI, Kraxon, Stinger, 365 Tomorrows, Shotgun Honey, Gathering Storm Magazine and Every Day Fiction, along with an upcoming tale in Ares Magazine. In his spare time he paints, reads, travels and promises himself that he’ll finish writing that novel someday.