Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror

#69



"It was a dark and stormy night.  Suddenly a shock rang out!"  Oh, yes, and a shocking tale this is too, that comes to us courtesy of the horrific hand of new comer to PDF, Chris Burdett.  Our hero finds himself trapped in the date from hell, and he will soon wish he had done something safer with his evening, like sky diving without a parachute!  But don't worry, faithful fiends. if it gets too frightening, you can always...

 
 

Freeze Frame
(Part One of Two)

By Chris Burdett
About the author



A  CRACK OF THUNDER SHOOK THE HOUSE, making her jump and let out a gasp.

Lightning lit the sky, and through the dining room windows I briefly saw the outline of tree limbs in the backyard and the roof of the house behind hers.  I raised my eyebrows. "Wow, it's getting bad out there."

When I had arrived at her house a little before seven it had just started to rain, but now, as we sat at the dining room table with our cleaned-off plates and drained wine glasses before us, it was really storming. In the back of my mind I wondered if I could parlay this bad weather into an invitation to spend the night, but I knew that I shouldn't push my luck.

This was, after all, only our second date, and my first visit to her house. She hadn't yet come to my apartment; our first date had been on safe public territory.

Truth be told, I hadn't even kissed her yet.

Another thunderclap rattled the house. She clutched her hand to her chest and shivered. "I didn't even know it was supposed to rain tonight."

"It wasn't," I told her, "but the weather doesn't watch the weather report, you know?"

She smiled lightly and stood up. "Well, why don't we go watch the movie?"

We piled our plates in the sink and went to the living room. I had stopped on the way over and gotten The Unknown Sense, a supernatural thriller-type movie that had just come out on home video. I'd seen it in the theaters three months earlier, and I knew that it wasn't super scary but might be frightening enough to inspire a little comfort cuddling. Now, with the storm, I was sure of it.

I took the DVD out of the case and looked around on her coffee table. There was a big book of photographs of archaeological digs, several coasters, a box of Kleenex, and a candle. "Where's your remote?" I asked.

She looked at me. "Don't have one," she said. She took the DVD from my finger and went to her television set. She pressed the TV's power button, then pressed the little up-arrow button until the channels had cycled through to 00. Then she pressed the Eject button on the DVD player, placed the disc in the drawer, and pressed the button again.

She joined me on the sofa as the FBI warning about not making illegal copies of the movie came on. She sat at the opposite end of the sofa, not exactly leaning into the armrest like she was trying to avoid me, but not as close to me as I would have liked.

After a few more seconds the DVD menu came up— Play-Scene Selections-Special Features-Theatrical Trailer —and I looked around on the coffee table again.

"Do you have the remote for the DVD player?"

She hopped up to press the Play button. "No. It's, uh...I don't know where it is. I just got this a few weeks ago." She returned to her end of the sofa.

"And you've already lost the remote?" I said, and immediately regretted it. "Hey, do you want me to help you look for it? Maybe it's under the sofa." I started to get up.

"No," she said quickly. "No, don't worry about it. I don't like remotes. I just—"

Thunder exploded seemingly right on top of us, rumbling and echoing and shaking the walls. She let out a little cry and hugged her arms tightly across her chest. I sat back down and scooted towards her. "Hey, it's okay," I said. "It's just a little thunder. Lord knows we could use the rain."

"Yeah," she said. "I know. I'm sorry. I'm just a little jumpy."

The opening scene of the movie was playing, with credits in stylized text flying across the screen as a part classical, part industrial score buzzed in the background. The main character was creeping through what you are led to believe is an empty house, flashlight in hand, while in voice-over he talks about his best friend, Scott, who had died in this house in a terrible accident when the two were nine. When you find out later that it's all a dream sequence and none of it ever happened you feel a little robbed, but it's a chilling way to start the movie.

Another thunderclap crashed and reverberated through the house, and she let out a cry.

I scooted all the way to her end of the sofa. She leaned into me and I put my arm around her, my fingers resting gently on her shoulder. "Hey, it's okay," I whispered, my chin rubbing lightly against her hair. "It's just a little thunder."

"I know," she said. "I just get scared easily sometimes. And this is kind of a creepy movie. I don't think I like it."

"It gets better," I assured her. "This part is just a dream anyway. None of this actually happened."

"Really?"

"Mm-hmm."

Outside the wind blew the trees about wildly, but indoors I felt peaceful with her snuggled up to me, her head resting against my chest. There was another violent crash of thunder, another cry from her, and the television and the lights went out.

"Crap," she muttered. "They'll come right back on. They usually do."

"Okay," I whispered into her hair.

The lights didn't come right back on. We held our position on the sofa. I stroked her shoulder and arm lightly and nuzzled her hair and silently wished that the electricity would never come back on.

"I can hear your heartbeat," she said softly.

"Hmmm..." I said, and kissed her forehead.

"This is nice, isn't it?" she whispered.

I closed my eyes and breathed in the smell of her hair. "Yes. I'm glad you think so."

"Of course I do," she said softly.

While I debated whether to gently lift her chin up and move in for a kiss, a crash of thunder made her jump.

"God," she said. "It seems so bad out there. I wish the TV was on, just so we'd know if there are any, you know, tornado warnings or whatever."

She shuddered, and I squeezed her a little bit tighter. "It's probably just a thunderstorm," I said. "But would you feel better if we went down to the basement?  You do have a basement, don't you?"

"No," she said quickly. "I mean, I do, but let's just stay up here. You're probably right, it's probably just a thunderstorm. It'll probably blow over soon. We should light some candles, though." She pushed gently away from me and rose to her feet. "I have a few in the kitchen."

I followed her to the kitchen. She opened a drawer and took out a couple of candles and a box of matches. She lit a candle and I followed her into her dining room, where she retrieved a candleholder from her China cabinet. The candles glowing on the coffee table, we sat back down on the sofa.

She sat in a normal, slightly slouched, hanging-out-on-the-sofa position, not in the scrunched up cuddle-with-me pose I hoped for.

"I'm sorry about this," she said. "I didn't expect the electricity to go out." She laughed. "Well, of course I didn't. That was kind of a dumb thing to say, wasn't it?"

I laughed too. "It's okay. The movie's not that great anyway. We're probably better off not watching it."

"Yeah, maybe this is better than watching a movie. We can talk some, get to know each other a little better."

"Yeah," I said. "And, plus, it's kind of romantic." As soon as I said it, I waited for the giant crash of thunder that would ruin any possibility of a receptive response from her. No thunder came, though.

"It is kind of romantic, isn't it?" she said, her voice soft.

I made affirmative noises and scooted in her direction. She turned toward me and in the soft, flickering candlelight I could see her face turned up and her lips slightly parted.

The first kiss wasn't awkward at all; it was soft and warm and wonderful. I stroked her cheek lightly with the backs of my fingers and she had her arms around me, and when the thunder cracked during the second kiss she only shuddered slightly but didn't pull away.

She said my name softly, her cheek pressing against my chest, as I kissed the top of her head and held her gently.

"We're not going too fast, are we?" I asked after a minute.

"Are you kidding?" she whispered, and let out a soft chuckle. "I was wondering when you were going to try to kiss me."

"Try to kiss you?"

"Well, I mean...." She turned her face up to me and pulled me toward her.

Thunder exploded and she screamed, and I think I may have too. I could feel her whole house shaking. When the house settled down, she was still trembling in my arms.

"Oh, God," she said. "I'm sorry, I'm just so scared all of a sudden."

I stroked her hair and tried to sound comforting, though I was a little shaken up myself. "It's okay. I think that when the thunder gets really loud like that, it means the storm's almost passed. It will be gone soon." I made that up, but it sounded plausible, and I thought it might make her feel better.

"Okay," she whispered. "If you say so."

"I say so." I kissed her forehead.

We sat like that for several minutes, through more rain and a few more thunder crashes. Then she pushed slightly away from me and said, "Would you mind if I call my mom? Just to ask her about the weather, I mean. Since the power's out."

"Oh, of course. That's a good idea," I said, though I didn't really think it was. "She live around here?"

"About thirty miles away." She gave me a quick kiss and stood up. "Be right back."

"Okay," I said. "I think I'll get myself another glass of Port, if you don't mind."

She went to the back of the house and I heard a door close. I went to the kitchen and poured myself another glass of Port, then returned to the living room. The candles didn't give off enough light for me to look through her coffee table book, so I decided to feel around under the sofa and see if I could find the lost DVD remote control.

I didn't find a remote control, but I did find a small, hard almost-round thing. I was a little afraid to pull it out for fear of what it might be, but it was harmless enough: a little red and green cloth cat toy, in the vague shape of a mouse with little felt ears and a string tail. I looked at it for a minute and then put it on the coffee table and finished my glass of Port. I heard her door open, but the phone rang and it closed again.

She came back a minute later and sat down at the end of the sofa. She didn't say anything.

"Who was that?" I asked.

She looked at me and didn't say anything for a few seconds. Then she said, "Wrong number."

"Oh. Well, what did your mom say?"

I couldn't read her expression in the candlelight, but her voice was cold. "She says it's just a thunderstorm. It's almost blown over, here. She's just starting to get thunder at her house."

"See? I told you."

"Yeah, you did."

If not for the second glass of Port, I might have read the trouble in her voice then. But I didn't; I wasn't blitzed, but I was oblivious. "Hey," I said, plodding on ignorantly, "you never told me you have a cat."

She was silent for a few seconds. Then she said, "What?"

"A cat. I found this"—I picked up the little cloth mouse—"when I was looking for the remote control under the sofa."

Again she didn't say anything for a minute. Then, "Why were you doing that?"

"I just thought maybe I could find it for you, you know, help you out a little."

"I told you, I don't have the remote control." Now I could tell that she sounded upset.

"I thought you said you lost it."

"No, I didn't say that."

"Hey, I'm sorry," I said gently. "I didn't mean to upset you."

She wasn't looking at me now. Her breath came in the sharp huffs of someone who was fuming. But I trudged stupidly onward. "It's just, you know what they say about guys and remotes." That second glass of Port was really starting to hit me. I'm not much of a drinker, I'm afraid. "I just figured that, you know, me being a guy, maybe I could find it."

"Jesus, just drop it, okay?" she said, and it sounded a little like she'd been crying.

"I'm sorry," I whispered. "I didn't realize it was such a big deal." I wish someone had been there to shut me up. But nobody was. "What have you got against remotes, anyway?"

She stood up. "God. Look, I'd really just like you to leave now." She didn't even sound angry. She blew out her breath, and then sighed. She sounded tired.

"Hey, wait a minute. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, honey, I don't mean to be a jerk." I stood up, and almost fell down. "Whoa," I said, steadying myself on the arm of the sofa. "That second glass of Port is really hitting me. I shouldn't have filled it so full."

"Sit down," she said. "I can't let you leave. No, I'd better keep you here."

"I'm not drunk," I said.

She just shook her head and looked away.

I let out a deep sigh. "Okay, I am a little drunk. I'm sorry if I was a jerk. Maybe we can just talk."

She sat back down too. "Yeah," she said quietly. "Yeah, let's just talk. In fact, I'm going to tell you a story."

She didn't say anything else for a minute. Then she stood up and said, "I'm going to get some more of that Port myself. And then I'm going to tell you why I don't like remote controls."

She returned shortly with a tumbler filled with Port. She took a healthy swallow, coughed, and then took another. Neither of us said anything for a few minutes. I realized that there had been no thunder for a while, and the rain sounded much tamer.

"When I was in college," she said suddenly, "I dated this guy who went to Tech. His name was Jerry. He was a weird guy, but, well, he was the first guy who really seemed interested in me."

"How was he weird?" I asked.

"He had really long hair. I mean really long, like past his waist. And he had a thick beard, too. He had a funny accent, almost Scottish or something, but not quite. He never did tell me where he came from. He wore about five crystals on necklaces and another around his wrist. He was really into New Age stuff. That's how we met, when my roommate talked me into going to some meditation class with her."

She laughed, and in the dim glow of the candle I could see her shaking her head. "God, he was weird. He used to talk a lot about astral projection—do you know what that is?"

"That's like out of body experiences or something, right?"

"Yeah. He used to claim that practically every night his spirit left his body and wandered around the Earth. He said sometimes he could control it and sometimes he couldn't. He used to spend a lot of nights at our house — I rented this big house near campus, along with three other girls — and one day he apologized to one of my roommates for his spirit having wandered into her bedroom accidentally. It really creeped us all out."

"Sounds like a real weirdo," I said.

"And the thing is, he told her he liked her Winnie the Pooh nightgown, and there's no way he could have actually seen her nightgown."

"Geez, do you think he actually, like, astrally projected into her room?"

"There's not really another explanation. She always slept with her door locked because...well, because she didn't feel safe because I let Jerry sleep over."

"Maybe you had said something to him about her having a Winnie the Pooh nightgown."

"No. I'd never seen it myself. It was the first time she'd worn it. Her mother gave it to her for her birthday that year, but it was too heavy to wear until the weather got cold. I remember that in particular because he told us that when it was cold out, his spirit didn't usually go far. It usually stayed in the same house, he said."

"And you kept dating this guy?"

"Yeah. I knew he was weird, but when someone's really interested in you, and you're not used to that...well...."

She blew out a gust of breath. "Well, anyway, Jerry was a double-E major. He said he wanted to make electrical equipment for measuring and recording all those psychic phenomena he was interested in. But he used to say that if that didn't work out, he could always get a high-paying job designing stereo equipment."

She sighed. "Well, during my junior year he broke my heart. He decided to transfer to some school in California where they have a whole department for people who were doing the kind of thing he wanted to do. I said I would go with him, but he told me... he told me he didn't want me to go. He said it would be better if we didn't see each other anymore."

"Oh. I'm sorry," I said, though really I wasn't. She let out a little laugh. "Yeah. That was really rough. He was my first real boyfriend. I really hated him for a while.

"So, for about five years I didn't see or hear from him, until, suddenly, out of the blue, he called me a year ago."

"Oh?" I said. I wondered what all this had to do with her apparent fear of remote controls, but my head was clearing up and I managed to hold my tongue.

"He had just finished his master's degree, and he was going to move back here so he could start his own company."

"Because Pica, Georgia, is such a hotbed of psychic research," I put in.

"Exactly. But, here's the thing: he had heard through some mutual friends that I had a house and a good job, and he wanted to know if he could stay with me for a while. Just a couple of weeks or a month, he assured me."

"Oh, great," I said. "And I can tell from the way this story is going that you said yes."

"Yeah, I did. He told me how sorry he was about the way he left, that he knew he'd hurt me and he felt terrible about it, all the things guys say in a situation like that. And all the hatred I'd felt for him just melted away. So I told him, sure, come on.

"And he did. He drove all the way from California, and, when he got here, he drove up in a two-year-old Honda, rather than the VW Micro-Bus I'd expected, and he'd gotten his hair cut so it wasn't much longer than yours, and he just had a neatly trimmed mustache instead of that big old beard, and I figured he had gotten all the weirdness out of him in California. He had a cat that he brought with him, a long-haired tabby, but instead of some name out of The Lord of the Rings or Macbeth, he just called it Albert, after Einstein.

"So he got a job teaching part-time at the community college and started making plans for his company. He asked if he could set up a workshop in the basement, and I let him.

"So he set up a lab down there, with all kinds of equipment, a couple of computers, and about five little TVs and a stereo. It was like something out of a science fiction movie. "And...well, we started seeing each other again. Dating, I mean. I'd seen a couple of people since he left, but I wasn't seeing anyone then, and neither was he, and I guess it was easy for us to just, you know, pick up where we left off."

I nodded. "Yeah, I know how those things go."

"Well, anyway, he had this idea for something he said was going to change the whole country. He was going to build a universal remote control that could control your TV, your VCR, your stereo, whatever you had that used those kinds of waves or infrared or whatever it is.

"So, he's designing this universal remote control. Only it's got a difference: it's tuned in to your psychic waves, and you can use it to calm yourself down, pick yourself up, put yourself to sleep...he even said you'd be able to use it to sober yourself up if you needed to."

"You're right," I said. "He was one weird dude."

She didn't say anything. She scooted up closed to me and nuzzled against my chest, and I could hear her breathing. I kissed her forehead. After a minute, she said, "It gets weirder."

On to Part Two

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Freeze Frame is copyright by Chris Burdett. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)