Scaly Surroundings: Part II

Fred woke up with a start.  He thought he smelt something strange – a burning cigarette, his brain identified once it had yawned awake. 

Marie slept hidden under the blanket with her knees pulled up and pointed towards him.
He was thirsty. The water bottle was unsurprisingly empty on the desk.
Fred was happy Marie was too asleep to say I told you so.  He got out of bed and as he walked by the window, he smelled the cigarette smoke again.  The air was still enough outside for smells to hang heavily suspended in the same spot.

He fumbled with the switches on each floor so he could see where he was going.  He ignored the skeleton who was still hanging out by the window in his room with damp shirts and vests.  Downstairs, the TV was glowing blue.  There was no other sound except for the muted mutter of whatever show was on.  Fred glanced at his watch and saw that it was almost 4 am. What in the world…

He opened the tap and filled his bottle. He had decided not to turn on the light in the kitchen because there was enough moonlight streaming in.  He saw the boxes of cigarettes right on the kitchen counter and realized someone must have gone outside for a smoke right by their window.  A moving shadow got his eye outside the window and Fred’s manly heart missed a beat like someonetripping over a misshapen curbside.  He peered out and realized it was just a cat; a very fat, black cat with glistening eyes slowly making its way into the backyard.

Fred turned around, half expecting Anthony to be standing right behind him, quietly observing, a sharp silver blade in his hand.
Stop it, stop it brain, Fred muttered, breathing out when he saw there was nobody there behind him. Of course because this isn’t some stupid horror film.

And now I need to pee. At least the bathroom is on my way.

Fred pulled at the string in the bathroom to turn on the light and stopped short halfway to the toilet.

It looked as if an operation had gone horribly wrong - the scene of a man turning into a scaly monster and throwing up all over the toilet seat because it couldn’t have been a pleasant experience.  Flecks of skin and other unidentifiable specks, white, red, brown, scattered the floor and the toilet seat.  There were two small stains above the toilet, dark red, like dried blood.  For a minute Fred wanted to turn right around and forget his bladder even existed.  But realizing that if Marie came in here she would pass out, and he didn’t want her to pass out on this skinscaped floor, he pulled up his sleeves, grabbed enough anti-bacterial wipes to cover his hand and cleaned up just enough that somebody wouldn’t throw up if they came in.
I’m glad boys can pee standing up, was his last thought as he washed his hands with boiling water and climbed back up to the room.

***
Marie felt something move in the dark and her eyes fluttered open, still half asleep, as a shape moved up from the foot of the bed, crawling towards her.
“Hey-?”
“Sorry, sorry,” Fred muttered, bumping his head on the low ceiling.
Marie leaned over to the side-table and turned on the lamp. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” he said in his evasive tone.
“Hey! What’s the matter? Where’d you go?” Marie poked his arm as he settled into the covers next to her.
“Well. Something weird happened-”

Bewilderment followed by disgust followed by a very strong feeling of uneasiness set in once Fred told her the story.

And then right after -

“Alright, let’s go to sleep.” And before Marie could nag or fret or talk more, Fred was breathing deeply, an almost but not quite snoring to indicate the veracity of his sleep.
Decidedly upset, Marie turned and twisted in bed and then picked up her phone to let the soothing bright lights of social media distract her.  A few minutes later, she clicked the lamp shut and pulled the blankets tighter around her.

It wasn’t much later when she heard the click of the door.
Somebody is trying to come in…
Marie tried to keep her breath steady but her heart pumped harder and faster, trying to escape its cage.  She heard the muted patter of feet walking gently on carpet, and desperately, she tried to nudge Fred but her limbs wouldn’t move.
Her eyes were shut but she could still see the dark shape leaning over her.
“Hello,” someone whispered, and he was smiling widely because she could see the white glisten of his teeth in the blackness above her.
Marie tried to scream her husband’s name but her voice was gone.  Her body was frozen and her screams echoed silently, flailing, failing.

The nightmare paled for a few seconds and then repeated, the sound of footsteps on the carpet, the darkness of a person standing above her over the bed, and then the shape faded into blackness.

Marie tried to catch her breath, still asleep but lucid enough to know it had been a dream. She was finally able to move and she moved closer to Fred.  

***

“I did not sleep well,” Marie stood by the window, rearranging their travel paraphernalia on the desk.
“Yeah, me neither.”
“Do you think we should move out earlier?”
“To where? It would be difficult to find a place right now. I mean, it is just one more night you know.”
Marie nodded, scrunching her nose. “I guess.”
The house was quiet as they walked down the steps and out the kitchen door.  Marie saw a small pot, meant for plants but full to the brim with spent cigarettes.  As she pointed it out to Fred, he nodded. “Explains a bit.”

Later that day, after a hearty breakfast of eggs, toast, beans and grilled mushrooms and a cup of strong black coffee, the couple decided it wasn’t an ideal situation, but it wasn’t as sinister as they were making it out to be.
“I mean, look at these reviews.  A couple of them mention Anthony being ill, but nothing else. Everybody who has stayed there has avowed the hosts’ niceness. Except maybe these two reviews. But anyways! We can ask him to get the bathroom cleaned if it isn’t already done by the time we get home.” And with that mature approach, Marie pulled out her list of Fun Things to Do in a New City.
Fred ordered another cup of coffee.

***

Anthony stood by his window, looking out at the couple as they walked down his street towards the bus stop.

He felt a loneliness spread inside.

His partner, a steward for a budget airline, had left for a three day trip to Barcelona and Anthony hated being alone. 

It was this same loneliness that kept him up all night.  And it was the same sadness that had made him go into their room last night.  He had just stood there by the door, not doing anything but listening to the sound of their sleep, their deep breathing calmed him. 

Maybe just for a while.

The street outside was empty.

Anthony moved away from the window, opened his door and slowly trudged up the stairs to the loft.  He opened the door to their room and paused for a while.  Then he went to sit on the sofa, flakes of dried skin disappearing into the carpet, floating slowly to settle on the red fabric of the sofa.


I think I’ll just wait here.

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