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Electric Avenue (or The Introduction of Pandora)

By KD Webster

 

 

Copyright 2020 by KD Webster

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1 – LONDON, JANUARY 1980

 

Edward Monty was having his usual pint in his usual pub sitting on his usual barstool. It was a Tuesday like any other Tuesday. No different from Monday. Not that it was a bad thing. Work was good. Money in pockets. Food on table. He was about to order another beer when he heard, “I’ll have what he’s having.” One of the most beautiful women he’d seen slid unto the neighboring stool and requested to join him. Who was he to say no? Not a bad way to cap off a Tuesday. Let’s see where it goes.

“Hi. I’m Dora.”

The conversation bounced from topic to topic. Edward couldn’t say he remembered the entirety of the chat, but he found himself talking a lot about himself. Could be how comfortable she made him feel. Or maybe it was the two pints. No. It was definitely her. She sported long purple hair past her neck that could have easily rested on her shoulders had it not been tied in the style of a ponytail. Edward Monty was used to seeing women with unusual colored hair. Obvious dye jobs. But on this person, this Dora, it looked natural. Even her eyebrows were the same color. The hue seemed to accentuate her olive toned skin. His best guess at her age was late twenties, early thirties at most.

He wondered why she had a white tee and jeans but no coat or jacket. At forty degrees, the weather was a bit nippy.

A dark-skinned man in his early thirties from British Guiana, Edward Monty moved to London twenty years ago.  He remembered telling Dora he was a singer. That he did gigs both solo and with a band. But he just couldn’t seem to find that breakthrough sound. Or that hit that would get him known. Most of the rest of the evening was more or less a blur. As if a faded dream where only fragmented images linger about. The next day he would have dismissed it as just that, but for what looked like a business card he saw on his kitchen table. It was then that he recalled a bit more about the night before.

He was told by the lady with the purple hair to go to the Stamford Hill neighborhood and look for the bakery with the picture of the golden cake on the window.

“Open the door and doors will open for you,” Dora said with a smile.

“But that can be any number of shops, ma’am. Can you narrow it down?” He should have asked what her statement meant, but he didn’t.

“Oh, trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.”

Something in the way she said it, that young woman. Despite her youthful appearance, her sultry voice and alluring eyes gave off a maturity that maybe she knew more than someone her age should know. Edward had no idea what gave him that impression. Perhaps a vibe she gave off. But he did remember thinking that if Dora had told him to take a long walk off a short pier, he would have given it serious consideration.

*****

He found the bakery in question on the third walkaround. Just in time, as the chill London air was seeping through his leather jacket. The place was just as Dora said. On the plate glass window, a painted image of a yellow sponge cake that was shaped for being snack size. It was split in half to depict white creamy filling within.

When he went inside a bell over the door jingled.

The inside had all the infrastructure of what a bakery should be. Yet there were no pastries, no cakes. Looking about the place, Edward couldn’t even spot a bag of flour or sugar. It was as hot as an oven within this establishment. So perhaps confections were being cooked in the back? But if that was the case, why didn’t he smell anything. More than that, there were no sounds customary for a service-oriented business. No ambient music, no voices coming from the back. In fact, the silence border on eery. But the warmth. At first, it was welcomed. Pleasant. Now it bordered on stifling. He unzipped his jacket and took a closer look around. Everything was so clean, so sterile. The walls, tables, and countertops were a dull white. He checked the display case for signs of previous delicacies but was hard-pressed to find even a crumb.

“Kenney does an excellent job with the cleaning, wouldn’t you say?”

Edward Monty almost jumped out of his skin. He wheeled around to see a man who wasn’t there just seconds before. A tall man, Caucasian, well-groomed. Dressed as if he just came from Sunday service, despite the day being Wednesday. It had been a few years since Edward had seen anyone in a zoot suit. He would have thought the style was out of fashion. Yet combined with the fedora covering his dark hair, the slender man wore it well.

"'Down to Gehenna, Or up to the throne, He travels the fastest, Who travels alone.' It's by Rudyard Kipling, you know." The man in the purple suit and fedora hat said with a grin.

"You like Kipling?" Edward Monty asked, wiping a bit more sweat from his brow. He wished his head was bald, instead of the Rastafarian dreads he sported. Why did it have to be so hot in here? Where was here? He was in a bakery, right? So, what happened to the windows? What happened to the countertops? Maybe it wasn’t a bakery after all. Oddly enough, Edward felt perfectly okay with it.

"Oh, I don't know, I never kippled," the man said with a laugh, twirling his pencil-thin mustache. "Relax, I say that to everyone that comes here. A way to break the ice. Though now in retrospect maybe that's not the best choice of words, huh? 'Break the ice', I mean. There's no ice here."

"The Dora lady said this is where to come to get what I want," Edward said sheepishly, pulling out the card she gave him. He wondered why, despite wearing a full zoot suit and hat, not a bead of perspiration crossed this strange man's forehead.

"Maybe a change of name is in order. I mean, yeah, it's been Gehenna for so many years. But you know, change with the times and whatnot. How does 'Electric Avenue' sound?"

"It's...uh...catchy, sir." Edward had no idea what this man was talking about. He should have asked for clarification, but he didn’t. He should have wondered why the walls now had a stone and granite appearance, but he didn’t.

"Sir? Sir is what people call my father. Actually, they call him Father. Call me...Scratch. So, Edward Monty...can I call you Eddie? Eddie, Pandora...that's Dora to you. She says you want to be famous. Well, I just happen to have a contract right here! Let's make a deal!"

 

 

CHAPTER 2 – DFW

 

He knew he shouldn’t have been looking at her at all, let alone staring. He was a married man, after all. Maybe was the pixie cut hairstyle. Maybe it was the purple hair. The almond-shaped cat-like eyes, perhaps. Whatever it was, Sean Landry was definitely staring. And now she was looking back. It was like something out of a cheesy romance novel. Two people throwing and catching glances in between flights in an airport bar. In this case, the airport was DFW. He finger-brushed his red mustache as he smiled.

“Been quite some years since someone look at me like that. A pub in London, I think. It’s okay, though. I like being watched.”

Her saying it aloud seemed to break whatever momentary spell he was under. That slightly tanned skin gave her a multi-ethnic look. Black? White? Asian mix? Didn’t matter. Whatever the ethnicity, it did right by her, Sean thought. He then realized he put way too much thought into a gaze.

“Where you headed?” She asked as she moved a few seats closer. Her voice was equal parts cordial and friendly. Like a helpful associate in a department store. She’s jeans and black shirt, but the purple hair just tied everything together.

“Denver, going for a job interview.”

“Long way from Dallas.”

He smiled in spite of himself. “Yeah, well. Gotta go where the jobs are.”

“What do you do for a living?” She asked. “That is, if you don’t mind me asking.”

“Oh, I don’t mind at all.” He instantly felt guilty. As if he’d just okayed her to drop his pants. Part of him wished his Helen were here. The other part was glad she wasn’t. “I’m a pipeline controller in the oil and gas industry.”

“Hmm…can’t say that I’ve ever heard of that occupation. What does it entail?”

Sean thought for a moment. Telling a person what he did for a living was one thing. Explaining what he did for a living was another.

“Basically, I monitor the movement of oil and gas as it comes from out of the ground, through the various pipeline systems, and to the processing plants. I make sure there are no pipeline leaks or ruptures or environmental issues.”

“Oh, now that’s different. Guys like you keep America running, huh?”

“I guess you can say that.”

“And fun? What do you say to fun? Based on the build, you strike me as the outdoorsy type.”

“Spent a lot of time outside in the military. Marines. But I like doing stuff like spelunking and rock climbing, the occasional hunt.”

“What were you in the Marines?”

“Well…ma’am…”

“Let me guess. A sniper?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Your hobbies aren’t the usual run of the mill. That tells me you’re a bit of a thrill seeker. What bigger rush for a Marine than protecting his men as a sniper. But I also know most Marines don’t like talking about that, so I understand.”

"Thank you, ma’am.”

“So, if you get the job will you be moving the wife and kids?”

Sean felt his face go flush, enough to match his red hair. He tugged on the lid of his backward turned cap. “How did you know I have a family?”

She glanced down at his hand. “The ring told me about the wife. I guessed at the kids.”

He grinned sheepishly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply…”

“Hey, it’s okay. I get it. Besides, we’re just talking here, right?”

“I know. I don’t know. I mean, I guess it’s not every day I meet and chat with someone as beautiful as you in an airport bar.”

“Aww…I’m flattered! My friends call me Dora.”

“Nice to meet you, Dora. I’m Landry. Sean Landry.” He had no idea why he just tried to make it sound secret agent-ish. In a flannel and t-shirt combo, no less. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

She took his hand to hers. It felt firm, but oh so soft. At the touch of her skin he would’ve sworn he smelled just the hint of lavender.

“How long will you be in Denver?”

“Just until Wednesday morning.”

It’s then that he saw something he hadn’t noticed during their entire conversation. She had a miniature box near her. Small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. A few inches long and a few inches wide. It looked like wood and antique by appearance with elaborate and intricate carvings woven about. A gate attendant announced the last call for a departure, which caught Dora’s attention. She flipped open the box and fumbled around within.

“That’s my flight. I’m on my way to Greece, but here, take this.” She scribbled something on what looked like a business card, except there’s nothing printed on it. Completely blank. The back and front a solid shade of royal purple.

Sean looked it over, even held it up to the light. “I don’t understand. I don’t see any writing.”

“No worries, you will. It’s written in one of those magical ink type pens and whatnot. Takes time to come through, you know. So, on Tuesday take a look at the card. I wrote an address on it. If you’re bored and looking for something to do, head over to Electric Avenue.”

“Hey, that rhymes.” Sean instantly regretted the words the moment they fell from his lips. Dora gave the obligatory smile as she got up to head for her flight.

“Ask for Scratch,” she said without looking back. “Tell him Pandora sent you.”

 

 

CHAPTER 3 – DENVER

 

The interview was successful. In fact, HR made the call before he even got to the hotel. One less worry. He’ll keep his family fed. Plus, continued insurance for Suzie Q. The Sheraton Hotel was located across the street from his new employer, so it wasn’t much of a walk. Both sat along the 16th Street mall, which wasn’t a mall, per se. About a mile or so of retail shops, coffee houses, restaurants, and small businesses. He thought about going to a nearby cannabis store. Marijuana was legal in Colorado, but not yet in Texas. Sean figured it was one of those ‘not yet but soon’ situations. As far as he was concerned, it wouldn’t be soon enough.

Susan Landry suffered from an acute sensitivity to bright light, causing severe migraines. Mom and Dad tried various drugs, but the medicines did not come cheap and the relief was limited. A friend once gave him a CBD/THC blend for Susan to try. The relief lasted much longer. It was the first time since her condition surfaced that the eight-year-old was able to play under the bright Texas sun without any pain whatsoever. His Susan was the main reason he’d hoped for the Denver position. Plus, it would give a fresh start for him and his wife Sharon. Things had been a bit - off - with them lately. Different, like they’d been unable to connect like they used to. Both noticed but neither seemed to talk about it. Not enough to get to the root of the matter. Maybe the move would be good for the three of them. Improve relations between him and Sharon, and see if medical marijuana could be a viable alternative for his Suzie Q.

Still, legal or not, best not to indulge. He’d go down to the hotel fitness center for some strength training and cardio. The family will be up here soon enough. He and Sharon could try one of those ‘gummy yummies’ he overheard someone at the airport talking about.

The airport.

The thought made him reach for his wallet and pull out the purple card the purple-haired woman gave him.

Dora.

Whereas the card was completely blank yesterday, now it had writing on it.

Well, I’ll be. She was right.

The card was English on one side and a language he couldn’t recognize on the other. It looked more like symbols than wording.

‘Cherry Creek and Colorado Blvd. Look for Electric Avenue’. Sean thought it odd that the address had no street number.

Maybe it’s one of those places all the locals know about.

He put the card on the table and dug into his travel bag for his gym clothes. He figured a good workout would burn away the pre-interview stress and anxiety that was still lingering about. But was that really what he wanted to do? He was up in Denver, all alone. Responsibilities were waiting for him in Dallas. They would still be there when he got back. And what was he doing on his one hall pass day of freedom? Going to a hotel gym?

Where’s my sense of adventure? Have I lost it? Guess there’s one way to find out.

He picked up the purple card again and reached for his phone. He pulled up a ride-sharing app and put in Cherry Creek and Colorado Blvd. To his surprise, the app gave him a time and a driver.

Three minutes to get downstairs. Good thing I’m already showered and dressed.

The driver had been a chatty one, but in a good way. Driver Dan had told about the best school districts, which hot springs to go to and which to avoid. He explained that a 14er was a term for hiking up a mountain, that the distance was an average of 14,000 feet. He explained why the cost of living was so high. Sean tried not to laugh when Driver Dan said, ‘it’s cuz of the weed, man’. There was no mistaking the gorgeous mountain views, though.

“If you ever get lost just remember, the mountains are always west,” Driver Dan added.

“Got it,” Sean replied.

“And here we are.”

‘Here’ appeared to be the corner of Cherry Creek and Colorado Blvd. There was a gas station on the right with a car wash next door. But there was a section, maybe fifty yards ahead of the car wash. Sean saw something that didn’t quite look right. Like the mirage on a deserted desert highway in the middle of summer. It was like there were rippling waves that were barely noticeable. But it wasn’t hot enough for mirages, plus the distorted heatwave placement was wrong. Sean’s two tours in the Middle East told him that much. He started walking to investigate, keeping his eyes trained on the thing that was there but not there.

The ripples of air led him to the automatic wash bay. Attached to the brick and mortar rests a mounted speaker assembly with a keypad, a credit card slot, and a button with a faint red glow. The button had the letters EA carved into it.

 

Electric Avenue, maybe?

He looked around and noticed no one was paying attention. Everyone walking to and fro, going about their day to day. He pushed the button. At first nothing happened. But then, as if on a time delay, the bay door silently rolled up. Sean wasn’t exactly sure what to do at this point. It wasn’t like he could exactly drive through. Still, the ‘Electric Avenue’ button did work, so there is that. He decided to go a bit further with it.

He stepped into the automatic wash, half expecting lights to activate. Who knows, maybe this was some sort of converted fetish club of some sort that catered to guests by invitation only. But no one appeared out from behind a curtain. No machinery whirred to life. People still went about their business. The bay door closed behind him, but there wasn’t much else. Just silence.

“Well, this is a bust. So much for an afternoon of adventure. Thanks a lot, Dora.”

No sooner had the name left his mouth when he looked around and saw what had escaped his attention when he first entered. In the tunnel of big brushes, between the conveyor chains, the ground exposed what looked like a good-sized sinkhole.

“Oh?”

Sean walked towards the gap in the ground to get a closer look. It wasn’t a hole, so much as an opening. The bay door was closed but there was still just enough natural light that he could make out the first layer of concrete and exposed rebar, then about two feet of packed dirt and soil, pipes, and metal fixtures. There on out consisted of natural stone and rock. But when Sean got to the edge of the opening, he saw something even more peculiar. Steps leading downward.

 

 

CHAPTER 4 – ELECTRIC AVENUE

 

Well now, this is different.

Sean Landry turned on the flashlight portion of his phone and scanned the area ahead and below. He was still the only one there. He counted 13 steps before losing the rest to the darkness. He inhaled deeply and took the first one down. It was real rock and stone. Stairs clearly carved into the Earth.

“I wanted adventure, let’s see how far this goes.”

He started his descent, sweeping the beam of light left to right. He numbered his steps but realized he had started over twice as soon as he got to six. When he hit 13 he thought he was at 27. By 50 steps in his count was at 34. At some point along the way down the path took a slight angle to the left. The deeper down he went, the warmer it got. This was reminding him of each time he goes cave diving. That initial rush of adrenaline before heading into the unknown.

Portions of stone took on a faint orange glow. Slight, but just enough of a glow to light his way in the gray darkness.

A remarkably effective way to use recess lighting.

He took a corner of his shirt and wiped the sweat off his brow just as he reached the bottom landing. The dim ambient light would have been enough that he didn’t need the illumination from his phone, but he kept it on anyway. He waved the beam around, trying to get a bead on his surroundings. Wall to wall of darkness and dark gray stone. During the countless steps down here, he thought it might be where the real party was at. Something niche, maybe fetish. But all around him was the same as the stairs. Very warm, dim lights showing through the rock and stone, and more of the big empty. So he was understandably startled when the next sweep of his phone light came across a wooded table and a man seated next to it.

The man was Caucasian like Sean, but dressed in a suit that reminded Sean of something out of the 20’s and 30’s. Even in the dim light Sean could make out the color purple. Same shade as Dora’s hair. He trained his light on the man’s face. Black hair, long pencil thin mustache, sporting a purple fedora hat.

“Hey there! You’re the first person I’ve seen down here.”

“'Down to Gehenna, Or up to the throne, He travels the fastest, Who travels alone.' It's by Rudyard Kipling, you know.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand,” Sean said.

“Well, there goes the punchline to that joke.”

“Are you…Scratch?” He asked, stepping closer to the table.

“Yes, indeed I am.”

“I was told to give this to you.”

Scratch took the purple card and held it up, as if examining it under a light that Sean couldn’t see.

“Well now, Sean Landry! What brings you here?”

Sean started to open his mouth, but then…

“Well, besides Pandora, of course. That’s Dora to you.”

“How did you know my name?”

“Why, it’s on the card, of course.”

“Of course,” Sean said. "I’m here in town for the day. Didn’t want to spend it stuck in the hotel. Your friend Dora gave me that card. Thought I’d check it out, see what it’s about.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place!”

“And just what is this place?” Sean asked, still trying to make heads or tails of what’s around him. The more Sean looked around, the more the place reminded him of a cross between a huge cavern and a long dark corridor made of stone.

“Welcome to Electric Avenue!” Scratch said with all the enthusiasm of a circus ringmaster. “It used to be called something else. But I figure a name change would give it some added color.”

“Isn’t ‘Electric Avenue’ the name of a song?”

“Is it? How bout that? Guess the chap from all those years ago pulled it off after all. But anyway. So, Sean Landry, feel up to a tour of the place?”

Sean nodded, still not sure what to make of this Electric Avenue. His eyes had gotten adjusted, but he still saw dull gray, giving off orange lighting here and there. Faint, but enough spots to provide needed illumination. And warm, so very warm. Sean was used to hot weather, being from Texas and all, but shouldn’t an indoor facility at least have air conditioning? Sean flashed his phone light towards the ceiling, which he noticed got lower as the two walked. From time to time it felt like he walked into a wave of warm air of some sort. He also noticed a lack of vents or anything in terms of circulation.

“Oh, you won’t need that,” Scratch said, glancing at the phone. “We get no signal this far down.”

“How far down are we?”

Scratch stopped and rubbed his chin. “You know, I never gave it much thought. But I suppose it’s safe to say we are where the sun doesn’t shine. Anyway, how did the interview go?”

Sean gave him a puzzling look. “How did you know about the interview?”

Scratch gave him an equally puzzling look. “Why, it’s on the card, of course.”

Sean figured that info was written on the back of the card in the language he couldn’t make out.

“It went pretty well. Landed the job.”

“Congrats! So, you’ll be moving here then?”

“Yes, gonna be making arrangements to move the family soon as I get back to Texas.”

“You’ll love it here. Plenty of stuff to do. Outdoors and indoors. Mountains and hiking. Hot springs and caves. That’s if you’re into that sort of thing.”

“Well, I’ve never been to a hot spring before, but I do enjoy the occasional spelunking.”

Scratch started laughing uncontrollably. “I think that’s such a funny word. Spelunking. I wonder if there’s even a word that rhymes with spelunking.”

Hearing the lighthearted tone in Scratch’s voice was infectious. At the very least, it made Sean smile.

“Oh, but what is this place? Hmm…well, think of it as one long cave," Scratch said. "But it’s much, much more than that. This is a place of dreams! Where dreams are born. Where dreams live. Where dreams die.”

“So, you’re saying this dark, hot place is like Fantasy Island?”

“Loved the show! Hated the movie. I mean, if they would have consulted me on the movie like they did on the show…but I digress.”

Sean Landry had always considered himself a reasonable and rational man. This strange man, dressed in a purple throwback suit from the ’30s, saying things that shouldn’t be making any sense. Ordinarily, he’d have turned around and gone right back upstairs. But something about this Scratch. He speaks with such confidence, so convincedly. It’s like he makes a person want to believe him. As it is, Sean was convinced that had Scratch told him the moon was made of cheese he’d wonder what flavor.

“So how big is this Electric Avenue?”

“You know, that’s a good question!” Scratch said. “As long as I’ve had it, I’ve never actually measured it. My father built it many years ago and gave it to me. I think I can safely say a person can spend eternity down here and never hit all the hot spots. You will, however, bump into a lot of people. And I do mean a lot.”

Sean looked around. “I don’t see anyone else here but you and me.”

“And him,” Scratch said, waving a thumb over his shoulder.

Sean turned and was startled at the sight. The creature was human in appearance, yet clearly wasn't. From what Sean could tell he stood almost seven feet tall. Thick, more muscle than mass. He had pale gray skin, almost off white in color. Glowing blue eyes with long snow-white hair. His mouth was full of sharp shark-like teeth. His fingernails were black and sharp. He was wearing black military-style boots, black leather pants, and a black leather vest with no shirt beneath, showing his massive muscular chest.

“Who? What?”

“Either. Or,” Scratch replied, somewhat nonchalantly. “His friends call him Kenney. Well, I call him Kenney. He has no friends.”

“Jeez, what do his enemies call him?”

“Well, there was this incident with a writer. A KD something or other. Called him the Fracking Wraith. Good thing you’re not a writer. I hate writers.”

“And who is this wraith…uh…Kenney to you?”

“That’s another good question. You ask the best questions! I never really gave him a title. He lives down here, but every blue moon he runs the occasional errand for me. I guess he’s the closest thing to a to a law enforcement officer we have down here. Officer Kenney, huh? Shame he couldn’t be in the military. Probably make a great Marine. Maybe a sniper like you? Nah, I’m thinking busting doors and busting heads. Army. Definitely Army.”

“How did you know I was a Marine?”

“Why, it’s on the card, of course.”

 

 

CHAPTER 5 – WHAT LIES BENEATH

 

“But as I was saying, the people you meet down here come in all different shapes and sizes and colors. Now, most come of their own free will. But a few here and there, they come to fulfill a contract.”

“Contract?” Sean asked.

Scratch rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I knew there was something I was forgetting to say. I specialize in deals. You have a problem, I solve it. Something you lose, I find it. Something you want, I get it.”

Sean let out a small chuckle. “Who are you, Mr. Roarke?”

“Hmm? No, I’m dear ole Scratch.”

Sean tried to clarify. “No, I meant that as a Fantasy Island reference.”

“Oh? So, it is! That’s one of the couple of things they didn’t take my advice on. ‘Leave my name’, I said. But they thought ‘Scratch’ was a tad bit too scary. Clearly, they never met Kenney here. And the suit. They went with white instead of purple. Oh well, in business there are always some trade-offs.”

The more Scratch talked, the more comfortable Sean was becoming around him. Like Scratch was a used car salesman putting him behind the steering wheel of the vehicle he’d always wanted.

He heard Kenney say, ‘Watch your step’. Sean looked but didn’t see anything to look out for or walk around.

“So, these deals? How do they work?”

“Well, you tell me what you want, and I make it happen,” Scratch said with a smile.

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

“And the ‘trade-off’, as you put it?”

“Oh, just your essence, which eventually comes down here.”

In which case, Sean still saw no one.

“But as it so happens, Sean Landry, you are in luck!”

“Oh, yeah? How so?”

“Every six hundred sixty-six odd days or so I grant a freebie to one person. Today is that day and thanks to Pandora, that’s Dora to you, you are that person.”

“Freebie, as in?”

“No trade-offs. You keep your essence. Whatever you want is yours.”

“You know you’re a very convincing man, Mr. Scratch.”

“Just Scratch.”

“But this is a bit hard to believe.”

“Proof is in the pudding, I take it?”

Sean nodded.

“Okay, tell you what. Tell me what you want. If I make it happen, you admit you’re a believer. If I don’t make it happen, I’ll send one of my clowns to your next birthday party.”

They both laughed at the thought of a clown dancing at a grown man’s party.

“Okay, I’ll bite,” Sean said. “So, here’s the thing. My daughter suffers from severe migraines and an acute sensitivity to light.”

“That’s called photophobia, right?”

“Exactly," Sean said. "We’ve tried different treatments and remedies. Nothing has helped. In fact, her condition has only gotten worse.”

“The migraines, they’re a symptom of the photophobia?”

“Yeah. At 8 years old, she should be engaging in afterschool activities with kids her age.”

“So, tell me exactly, what is it precisely that you want me to do?”

“I want you to give my daughter the ability to see normal. Just like you and I do.”

“You want her to see like you and me, correct?”

“Yes. Can you do it?”

“Consider it done, Sean Landry! Now, do you want more of the tour, or do you want Kenney to see you out?”

Sean looked again at the ghoulish wraith. Being a Marine, and a sniper at that, Sean Landry never intimidated easily. In fact, he hadn’t been intimidated since his football coach caught him with a six-pack of beer behind the bleachers. But this man-beast. Sean had never seen anything like him.

“No, I think I can find my own way. So, how soon will this…thing happen?”

“Well, how about tomorrow night? While the family sleeps. Fair?”

“Sounds fair to me.”

“Good! A gentleman’s handshake to seal the deal?”

It was the weirdest feeling. At the touch of Scratch’s hand, Sean felt this soothing sensation. He suddenly felt calm, relieved. As if he knew down to his core that Scratch would do as he said.

Sam didn’t remember how he found his way back to the stairs leading up to the car wash. He tried to count the steps. He felt he lost count at 543. Needless to say, it seemed longer going up the stairs than going down. He saw that it was nighttime by the time he emerged from the car wash. The crisp Denver air hit him almost immediately. It felt cool, washing away the humid heat he felt down in Electric Avenue. Seeing the cars on the street, the moon in the sky, the people walking to and fro.  The lights and sounds. It brought back to Sean a sense of normalcy. One ride share later and he was back at the Sheraton.

Sean Landry slept the sleep of angels that night.

 

 

CHAPTER 6 – DALLAS

 

Time seemed to blend from one hour into the next for Sean. His mind and body were back into the reality of the real world. Filling out the onboarding paperwork for the new job. Sharon busied herself with arranging a day and time for the movers. Sean had been gauging her expressions since his return from Denver. She seemed happy with the upcoming change. Perhaps this really would put their marriage back on course. She'd miss their friends, of course. They both would. But Sharon’s the outgoing and friendly type. Socializing came easy for her. And the alternative medicine for Susan. That alone made the decision worth it. That thought led to another. Scratch. Now that Sean was back in Texas, the whole experience with the man in the purple suit felt more surreal than anything else.

Maybe I had one of those gummy yummies after all. That would explain everything. Including the man-creature. And in a car wash, of all places.

Sean grinned at the thought.

He took the family out that night to their favorite restaurant, The Cheesepie Warehouse. They only visit the eatery on special occasions. The getting of a new job qualifies. They also never order the same thing twice. They ate good and laughed heartily. Even Susan enjoyed herself, despite wearing dark sunglasses. Sharon sat just a little bit closer. She laughed at all his jokes. So did Susan. But then, she always found his dad jokes to be funny. All in all, it was one of the best evenings the family enjoyed in a long time.

The night was capped off with some sensuous lovemaking. Sean initiated, but Sharon was very receptive. It was an intimacy the two hadn’t shared in almost a year. Sure, they had the occasional sex when alone time and adult moods happen to come together. But this one felt different. It was more sensual, soft, intimate, and melding. No words were said. It was all body language. Sharon was fast asleep afterward with a huge smile on her face. Sean wasn’t too far behind.

This time though, he did not sleep the sleep of angels.

He was back in Electric Avenue. The place looked the same, but it also looked different. Felt different, too. This time Sean couldn’t get a bead on the height and breadth of the place. He could see the walls, but they seemed wider and farther away. The same with the ceiling. It felt more cavernous. And the temperature. This time what Sean felt was heat. Not warm and humid, but hot and steamy. His clothes were drenched and heavy with sweat. Sean could hear Scratch talking. The whole conversation had a familiarity to it. But this time his voice had something underneath it. Sean didn’t know what it was. He couldn’t put his finger on it. But it was there. Like a frequency layered within the music of a song. It felt like whenever Scratch opened his mouth, it was all Sean heard. But that wasn’t all. Sean could see, but the place was noticeably darker. He found that the reason why was because his phone light stopped working. Had it even been working at all?

They weren’t alone. The man-creature, that wraith, he was there. But there were others. Thing is, their appearance was physical, yes, but more astral. A form but shifting ever so slightly. Appearing then disappearing. One such soul passed through Scratch and bumped into Sean. Sean wanted to speak but he instantly felt a sense of hopelessness, of despair. He heard the wraith say, ‘watch your step’, but it was too late. Another spectral image, this one of a young woman in Victorian age dress walked right through him. Sean felt a panic he’d never experienced before. As if his very person were being violated in ways he couldn’t conceive possible.

He saw scores and scores of images. Lava seeping between cracks of stone. People dressed in simple rags that look like torn bedsheets. Others dressed in suits and ties. Some figures he instantly recognized as celebrities and politicians who passed away months and years and decades ago.

He could hear himself talking with Scratch. Having the exact same conversation word for word, but it felt like he was speaking from a different position. Not different location-wise, but from a place of subservience. Like his voice was dependent upon Scratch’s very approval.

The people. So many persons. Or forms thereof, to be more accurate. It was like looking at a human form under murky water in very dim light. Some went about as if they didn’t see him. Some looked at him as if pleading for him. But they all acknowledged Scratch and the wraith that walked behind.

He felt Scratch reach out and shake his hand. He sees Scratch smile. He heard, ‘consider it done’ and ‘while the family sleeps’. But that smile, it was so sinister. Like the old cartoons where the villain ties the damsel to the railroad track. Right then and there Sean felt like the one in distress. He heard ‘Kenney, show him out’. He felt the massive hand of the Wraith on his shoulder.

Sean bolted right up in a seated position. The words ‘the fracking wraith’ escaped his lips before he realized it. He looked over at Sharon. She was still sound asleep.

He heard ‘Daddy’ from the other room.

Susan!

Sean jumped out of bed and grabbed the bedside bat. He dashed down the hall to his daughter’s room. He opened the door and saw a sight that terrified him.

“Dora?”

Pandora stood by the open window, the screen portion by her feet. She was dressed in the same outfit as from the airport.

“Shh…don’t want to wake up Sharon," she said with a grin.

He rushed to Susan’s side.

“What the hell are you doing in my house? In my daughter’s room?” His bat was poised to swing.

“Now, now. Language. I’m just the messenger here. Scratch says hello.”

Sean paused. My God. Is all this real?

Pandora flashed him a smile as she stuck her leg and half her body through the open window.

“We’ll be seeing you, Sean Landry. I mean, we’re still friends, right? I won’t tell if you won’t.”

Sean started to speak, but Pandora was gone before another word could be uttered. Sean went to the window but saw no one. No one walking, no cars pulling away. No sign of a purple-haired woman. He turned on the light and went to his daughter’s side once more.

In all of this, Susan seemed calm. As if taking it all in stride. The fact she wasn’t freaking out scared Sean as much as his dream did.

“Susie Q, are you okay?”

“The light, daddy.”

“Sorry baby, I’ll turn it off.”

“No daddy. The light, it doesn’t hurt anymore.”

“Really? That’s good news, baby girl.”

“Daddy, who was that woman with the purple hair?”

Sean didn’t know what to say, but he blurted the truth before he realized it.

“That’s someone daddy met at the airport. That lady didn’t do anything to you, did she?”

Sean held his breath, afraid of what the next words might be.

“She woke me up. I started to scream, but I couldn’t. She told me she was my fairy godmother. She said if I look in her little box that my wish would come true.”

“And did you look in her box?” Sean was trying hard to keep his voice calm.

“Yes, daddy. I can see without pain.”

I’ll be damned. Scratch kept his word. Sean exhaled as if he’d just surfaced from underwater.

“Yes, daddy. You are.”

“Huh? What do you mean baby girl?”

“Hey. What’s going on? Everything alright?” Sharon asked as she walked in.

“It’s okay,” Sean said, crafting the lie. “Babygirl had a bad dream.

‘I won’t tell if you won’t,’ he thought about Pandora’s last words.

“Daddy, there’s something else. That lady. I saw something. Something in her.”

“What lady?” Sharon asked.

“The bad dream, honey,” Sean replied.

“Black, so black, even in the dark of the room. Like I could see the blackness in her and her own skin at the same time. I think it was her soul. And seeing that blackness was like it was speaking to something in me.”

Sean put his arms around his daughter while at the same time trying to calm a rising fear within.

“What do you mean, baby?”

“Daddy, she looks young, but she is very, very, very old. Way older than grandmother’s grandmother. And she’s been to a lot of places.”

The fact that Susan’s voice remained calm and level throughout all this scared him all the more.

“There’s something else, daddy.”

“What…what is it baby?”

“The blackness I saw in the lady, now I see it in mommy. I never saw it before. I see it now. It’s speaking to me. It’s telling me that Uncle Mike slept on your side of the bed the other night.”

Sharon gasped with her hand to her mouth. Sean’s eyes bucked wide. He turned his sights toward Sharon. His fear starting to be replaced with seething rage.

That explains a lot. A lot of fucking lot.

 He clutched the baseball bat a bit tighter. Still glaring at his wife. His unfaithful wife.

“I see the blackness in you, too, daddy. I know where you’ve been. Daddy, why were you in hell?”