The Midnight Caller
A Short Story by Charles E.J. Moulton
It’s Friday the 13th. That shouldn’t be worrying me, I know, but he’s lurking in the shadows again, growling, and hoping I will come out to meet him. His withering carcass is out there. As he hides amongst the trees, he yearns for me to join him, decaying like he is, plunging down into hell like he is. Then, at least, he won’t be alone.
He needs to extinguish my inner searchlight, the part of me that hopes for the best. He doesn’t want me to hope for the best. Somewhere, somehow, even beyond death, he is still envious of what I have achieved.
He didn’t win against me in life, so he tries to crush me in death.
Me, Jenny, the sensitive woman, the architect with a literary interest. He, Roger, the sturdy English teacher with a passion for sex. We kissed under the moonlight, made love under the stars, fought in every room in the house, screamed at each other twenty-four hours a day, it seemed. We made up, we made out. We were passionate, we wanted fame. We were lovers, we wanted glamour. We were the perfectly imperfect couple.
Strangely enough, I loved him.
That was before my success, before the professional envy.
Maybe I still love him.
But Roger never expected me to become successful at something that was his dream. He was always envious of my success, you see. After all, he started out wanting to become a famous author. He worked his ass off, for years and years, to get anywhere. I just went along for the ride. When I started writing, though, I did it just for fun, just to pass the time. Nobody could have foreseen that I would be the one to become a rich and famous author. As I became more and more successful, my husband deteriorated, his mind withering, his alcoholism turning him into a madman, his envy turning him into a demon.
And I remember a relationship that consisted of equal shares of love and of hate.
It’s been a while ago now, but the rope still sways to and fro from the tree branch.
He is still in limbo, his decaying body too attached to me to let go.
I lift my cup, putting the porcellain to my lips, letting the liquid flow into my mouth. It slithers down my throat, like a snake slithering down a rabbit-hole. The road that leads into the forest meanders into its sinister, pitch-black darkness. I look up into the darkness, and find that face looking at me, from behind that tree with the rope hanging from its thickest branch.
“Come here, and join me,” the voice whispers in my mind, echoes of a gasp reverberating through my spirit. “Suffer. If you come and suffer with me, we can suffer together. That way, the burden will be lighter for me to bear.”
I stand up, pacing the livingroom, my mind fighting with my soul for eternity’s attention, its ransom being my soul. Should I grab the flashlight, and search for him once again? Do I want to join him? I stop close to the window again, standing sideways along my desk. Roger is out there. He’s looking at me, isn’t he?
He died, God damn it. Didn’t he? Didn’t he kill himself? Didn’t that God damn rope snap, and have him fall to the ground, and break his neck anyway?
My head involuntarily turns towards the window. I look out beyond the meadow, where the light of the full moon meets the darkness, and all I see, is the rope swinging back and forth in the wind. The rope is calling me. I can almost hear a mellow clarinet playing an eerie tune to the steady beat of a executioner’s drum. I try my best to find something else than fear, beyond that rope, but all I can find is darkness – and no Roger.
So, I go back to bed.
I crawl under my covers, and hope that Roger doesn’t crawl out from his grave tonight, like he did yesterday.
I woke up again. Somebody is screaming outside my window. It sounds as if it comes from the forest. Is that Roger?
I look out the window, trying to find him. That grimacing face, that came my way yesterday, running out of the forest, onto the meadow, and toward the house. A face, a carcass, a spirit, a ghost, no more. Call it what you want. It was a ghoul, seemingly able to fly, a body, rotting, but still intact, a soul, travelling the next world, going to hell and coming back.
I can hear the screaming souls down there. If I go down there, I think my heart will suffer for it. Together in pain. Why do I still love that demon that was my husband?
I see him standing there now, under the tree, the other half of the rope still around his neck, laughing, screaming, grinning, cackling. I cannot work when I am terrified. He knows that. He likes that. His chin rises and falls, rotted flesh mingling with loose teeth turning into dust.
Roger, is that you? Why did you rise from your grave tonight? I need sleep.
You don’t want me to sleep, do you? You want me to … suffer?
The face approaches again, faster than before. Even my heart beats faster than it did this time yesterday. No, Roger, God damn you, I want to go to Heaven. He seems adamant to run my way, grab me, and take me down to Hell.
He comes too close down the beaten path, under the bright full moon. The rope swings back and forth, from under that thick branch, as does the other half of the rope that hangs around his neck. I can’t look away. Those eyes, how they stare at me. That grin, how menacingly it wants my demise. I love him. And yet, I don’t want to die.
I get up out of my chair, screaming at the top of my voice, knocking the chair down in the process.. I grab my half empty teacup, and throw it against the wall. There is a knock on the window. I scream, I turn around. That rotting face is pressed against my window, the fumes of decomposing breathing steams up the glass.
“Honey,” I hear Roger thinking inside my mind. “Come with me, and I will show you a helluva time! I was the author here, God damn you. Do me a favor, babe, and give it up!”
I lose it completely, turning on all the lights in the house, the TV, the radio, the stereo, everything, until I stand there in the middle of my living room, jumping up and down, yelling like a convicted criminal on his way to death row. I am holding a can of beer right now, my trembling hand writing these lines between swills. Three machines are blasting out noises right now, but Roger’s face is still pressed to the window. He is still screaming at me to join him in Hell.
“No success for the person that stole my idea,” he croaks. “I wanted success, not you.”
“I have a right to be happy, you asshole,” I scream back, my face turning red. “I never should have married you, you insane drunk. Leave me be. You chose to kill yourself, you psycho. Now leave me be! Get lost!”
The face outside my window screams a silent scream, and disappears into the fog, the darkness outside overwhelming me. I stand there with the beercan pressed against my breasts, my gasping wheeze more resembling an asthma patient’s cramps, than a young woman’s dainty breathing. He is no longer by the tree. I suppose he circled the house, walking through the back wall into the house, just to find me frightened to smithereens.
“Where …” I wheeze, wondering if I missed something, “did you go?”
I feel his presence behind me, his slow, rotten breath dampening my neck, his fingers tickling my neckhairs. I used to love that, before he started drinking, before he started watching those horrible movies, before the cocaine, before the abuse, before … before … the …
I turn around, snap around, is more like it, my gaze seeing no more than a shade of something that used to be. I am seeing … a part of my past. Roger and myself, yelling at each other. Why was I getting so paranoid, he asks me? Why? I told him that I was worried about the late nights, the strange looks he gave me. It was the night he became a different person. It was the night I drove after him, in my Porsche, trying to keep a low profile, following him to places I would never have gone alone. Drugs? Well, if that had been all. I don’t know what they call those kind of places. Something with whips, anyway. It was the night I lost Roger to his lust. I witness a memory taking shape before me. A fading memory, one that is soothing me with perversion.
I am attracted by a creaking sound, witnessing an image from an earlier time, a picture of something that used to be. My husband, sitting by his desk, vital, potent, strong, like he had been when I married him. Young, vital, writing on his novel. I look at myself kissing his head, patting his back, and encouraging him to continue, so we can become rich, and famous. My other self walks over to the kitchen. On the way, that other self smiles at me, telling me to remember what I had, back then.
I shudder, because that persona again disappears into a foglike smoke. Once more, I stand in my livingroom, completely alone and isolated. Me, the woman who followed in her husband’s footsteps, and achieved the literary success he never had.
Me, the woman who constantly told her husband that he could have success, as well. Me, the scared woman who saw her husband deteriorate. Me, who kept on producing book after book, to an unsuspecting audience. An audience that thought my stories were just productions of a wild imagination. Me, the woman who spent years becoming rich, ultimately choosing to bury her husband in their favorite corner of the forest patch.
All alone. I am all alone. No one here. Maybe I imagined all of this. Maybe I am just tired. Maybe I just need sleep. I look out again, and see the rope swinging back and forth.
I leave the rope, the forest, and the broken tea cup behind me. This time, I really go back to bed. I sleep, without hiding under the covers.
But I dream about being in Hell.
I have a meeting with my literary agent today, so I better dash off. Before I do, though, I have to write down what I dreamed about. I dreamed that Roger pulled me down to Hell, only to tell me he was there on a mission to save lost souls. I laughed in his face, and left him standing there at the gates. I really don’t know what to make of this.
I am now sitting in a highway diner, a tastless breakfast digesting in my belly, and a Dr. Pepper causing me to belch. I try to make heads or tails of last night. I cry a lot. There can be no way to solve this mystery, but to make contact with Roger. I mean, the last month, since he killed himself, has been so turbulent. I have received a thousand emails from fans. It seems incredible that I am still living in this house. But I am. Roger has risen from the grave seven times now. I told my mother about it, but she just tells me to drink less, and sleep more. Anyway, it’s all very strange.
I have to get to my car now, and speak to my agent about my new book. Somehow, increasingly, these horror novels are becoming a nuiscance. I think I will switch to romance novels now. But my agent tells me that my horror stories will send me to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. But what about my sanity? Does that mean nothing at all?
This is getting very weird. Henry Gibbons, my literary agent, urges me to finish the last novel in my series of books about Hillary, the character I invented. She has so much potential, and the fans keep asking when the next installment will appear. My problem is that this story is just too close to home. I started writing this tale before Roger killed himself. Now, the story about the ghost named Hillary, who rises from her grave in order to torment mortals, is too creepy for me. I cried bitter tears in Henry’s office just now, telling him he will have a dead client soon, if he doesn’t stop bugging me to finish that damned novel. So what does the asshole of an agent do? He poures me a brandy, and invites me to a four-star dinner. Now I am fat and drunk, driving home again to an empty house. I am sitting here, in the same diner again, eating another steak, and drinking another beer. I am afraid that the police will either find me dead in a ditch, or take me into custody for drunk driving. Wouldn’t that be something for the yellow press to print on their front pages?
I know that Roger will rise from the grave again tonight.
If he does, and I take it my intuition serves me right this time, I will talk to him, asking him to go up to God, and just leave me to myself.
I am watching TV again tonight. Nothing very exciting. I don’t need “exciting” right now. I need calm. I need soothing. So I am watching “Little House on the Prairie”. God bless Michael Landon! God bless Charles Ingalls. God bless family entertainment.
Something has changed out there by the tree.
The rope is gone.
I am getting worried.
Roger is not far away.
Roger is back. Really. I am not kidding. He is sitting here right now, smiling at me, his rotting flesh falling down on the floor, his teeth falling out, one half of the rope around his neck, the other half in his hand. He tells me there is enough rope for me to hang myself.
My mind is in a daze. I really don’t know what to make of this. My Roger just told me he has been assigned to tutor lost souls how to work themselves into their next incarnation. That means that they have to perform good deeds in Hell, until another soul feels ready to give them a chance, and send them back to Earth. Well, Roger just told me that I can give him the chance to save his own ass, so to speak. I will have to die, though. If I do die, I can go to Hell with him, save some souls and be reborn as the same person. He will be there with me the second time around, he tells me. This time, there will be no hookers, no cocaine, and no envy. We will both be successful. I know he is lying to me. I know the story he is telling me, is as bogus as an article in the National Enquirer. But I will kill myself, so I can be with my husband. Damn the novels, forget my success. Hell, here I come, bogus story or not.
I will bring along my diary. That way, I can write down what I see in Hell.
If I ever do get back, maybe I will return as an author.
So here I am, that thick rope in my hand, the wind in my hair, Roger’s stinking breath making my neck damp, his whispers encouraging me to go ahead.
I leave the door, and the windows to my house, open. No use in closing them. Henry Gibbons will find the note on my table. In it, I say that I was sad that Roger died, there is no use in living anymore, lah-dee-dah.
The stars are bright, the moon throws a beam on the tree. The hangman’s knot is tight, the night is young and my soul is in torment. As I throw the rope across the branch, I cringe. Two bodies, two suicides, one goal: eternity. Roger helps me fasten the knot around the branch. I kiss him. It is a tasteless kiss, bits of his bloody and rotting mouth falling off onto my now unclean flesh. I somehow look forward to going through Hell with him.
So I climb up the tree for my Roger, smiling at him.
Maybe ghouls can have fun, after all, even if they lie to me.
I put the rope around my neck and jump down. Just as I jump down, I see that the man that I thought was Roger, wasn’t Roger at all. That man licks his mouth, cackling at me, happy that he could fool me into death, anyway. Roger stands behind that other man, screaming at the top of his lungs, red fire raging behind him.
As my neck breaks, I feel my soul plunging into the depth.
I still love Roger.
In spite of everything, walking through Hell with him will be like going back home.
We will be together.
This world of pain will seem like Heaven.