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 Two of Two)

By Chris Burdett
About the author



I 'M LISTENING," I WHISPERED.

"After two weeks he said he had a working model, a...what did he call it? A paradigm?"

"Prototype," I supplied.

"Right," she said. "Prototype." She pulled gently away from me and leaned against the back of the sofa. "One Friday afternoon he brought it upstairs and he asked me to try it out. It was this big, ugly thing about three times the size of a normal remote control, with all these switches and dials on it, and electrical tape holding it together, and an antennae about a foot long sticking out the front.

"It also had a wire that went to this wrist strap that he had me put on. He said he had to tune it to me, and then tune it to my TV. The whole process took about half an hour, and when he said he was done, the stupid thing would turn on the TV, but it wouldn't turn it off, or change any of the channels, or anything else. I said, 'Sorry, Jerry, but this thing isn't working.'

"And he said, 'Well, try this,' and he pushed this green button on the side and started turning this dial, real slow. And I started to get...."

She shivered, and leaned back in to me. "I started to get scared. I can't explain it, but it was like something really frightening had happened, like I was home alone, and the electricity went out, and I heard these great thudding footsteps coming up the     basement stairs." She shivered again.

"Geez," I said, shivering a little myself. "That's creepy. I wish the power would come back on."

"No kidding," she said. "Well, I remember that I screamed and tried to throw the thing, the remote, but Jerry had a hold of it and took it from me. 'Jesus,' he said, and pressed the green button again. Suddenly I didn't exactly feel scared anymore, but I felt really drained and tired.

"He asked me what happened, and I told him. He said, 'That's not what it's supposed to do,' and I said I hoped not." She shook her head and blew out a gust of air.

"Well, I didn't hear anything more about it for a while. I thought we were getting pretty serious, even though we'd stopped going out on dates. I mean, at first we would go out to eat and see movies and plays and things. But we sort of drifted into a comfortable home life." She sighed. "I thought we were pretty serious, anyway.

"Well, about a month after the first remote control episode, I had to go out of town for a few days for a conference. I asked him if he wanted to come with me, but he said he couldn't cancel any of his classes at the community college. So I left on a Tuesday night for this conference, and I was supposed to come back Saturday night, but the conference wasn't very good, so I decided to skip the last day and come home Friday night. I tried to call Jerry to let him know, but I didn't get an answer. I didn't have an answering machine back then, so I just figured I'd surprise him."

I'd heard enough stories about people returning home early as a surprise to know where this one was going. Whenever the story is interesting enough to get repeated, it's usually the one who comes home early who gets the real surprise. I rubbed her shoulder and kissed her forehead.

She sighed. "Well, I surprised him all right. I came in Friday night and he was in the living room with some young blond girl." She shook her head.

"One of his students. I should have known."

"Sorry," I whispered into her hair.

She let out a noise that was half grunt, half sigh. "It's what I'm coming to expect from men."

"Hey," I said, "we're not all like that."

"Yeah," she said, "I'm sure you're right. Anyway, he had the remote control thing on her. This version was smaller and looked like it had fewer buttons, but it was still held together with electrical tape, and it still had the wrist strap.

"The TV was on, and this girl—she couldn't have been any older than nineteen—had this ecstatic look on her face.

"Jerry looked all nervous when he saw me, and he started fumbling with the remote. 'Oh, hi,' he said. 'I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow night.'

"Well, the girl started crying all of a sudden. She was really wailing, like something really terrible had happened to her. She said, 'Get away from me,' and she tried to grab the remote control away from him. She started pushing buttons, moaning, 'Oh, God, make it stop.'

"Jerry was trying to calm her down and watch me at the same time. The girl was pushing buttons, and Jerry started turning the dial, and he said, 'Linda, calm down, let me readjust this.' She was crying and moaning and pushing buttons, and then, all of a sudden, she just froze. She stopped moving or crying or making any noise at all. Jerry just stood there and stared at her.

"And I realized that he wasn't moving, either. They both stood there like statues, his arm reaching out to touch her, her with frozen tears on her face." She had her head back on the sofa, looking up at the ceiling. The flickering candle cast an orange shadow on her face.

"What did you do?" I asked after a minute.

She turned her head slowly to look at me. "Well, the first thing I did was turn off the TV. It was still on channel 99, which was a weather forecast. And then I walked around them and looked at them and tried to make sure they weren't playing some kind of freaky joke on me.

"It was totally creepy. Have you ever been in a wax museum, and seen a dummy of an ax murderer or Frankenstein or Hitler or whatever? You know how you realize they're just wax, but you still kind of expect them to jump out at you anyway? It was like that, only I really thought they were going to jump at me.

"I stayed there for—well, I don't know, it might have been five minutes, it might have been an hour."

"What did you do?" I asked.

She shook her head slowly, her eyes closed. "I just left. I ran out of the house, jumped in my car and took off. I didn't know what else to do. I was gone for several hours, and I managed to convince myself it was some kind of trick, or else I'd just imagined it."

"So you eventually came home?"

She laughed. "Of course I did. I'm here now, aren't I?" She sighed.

"Yeah, I drove myself home. And as I was coming home, it started to rain. I'd been gone so long it was getting dark. And by the time I got home it was storming just like tonight." She let out a deep, labored breath and shuddered.

"Well, I got home, and it was stormy like this...." She was breathing hard and tears were starting to flow down her cheeks.

"Hey," I said gently, "you don't have to finish the story." —though of course I really wanted to hear the ending— "Maybe we should go out, maybe go up to Starbucks and get some coffee or something. I bet they've got electricity, and the storm sounds like it's mostly over."

She took a deep breath, and then let it out. "No," she said, "I need to finish the story. I want you to know how this ends.

"So," she said, and let out a long breath. "So, I got home in the dark and stormy night, and the freaking electricity was out."

"Oh, jeez," I said.

"But I came inside. And I got a flashlight out of the kitchen drawer." She gulped. "And went into the living room." She paused.

"And?" I prodded.

"And they were still there, not moving. God, they looked so creepy in the dark there, with just my flashlight for me to see by. I screamed. I screamed loud and started swearing and crying, and I threw the flashlight at Jerry, but it just bounced off of him and landed on the floor, shining underneath the sofa.

"I turned around and ran back out and got in my car and drove through the storm to my mother's house. I didn't go back home for three days."

"Jeez, what did you tell your mother?"

She laughed. "Well, I didn't tell her the truth. I didn't even let myself think about the truth. I told her I'd had a fight with a guy I'd been seeing. Of course, I hadn't told her Jerry and I were involved again—she didn't even know he was living with me—but I was so upset that she didn'task me much about it.

"The whole time I was there I kept calling my house, hoping one of them would answer and tell me it had been a joke, or some kind of freak thing that had worn off, but they never did.

"When I finally went home, I was still half hoping that I'd imagined the whole thing. But I knew I hadn't. I was, well, sort of prepared for them to still be there."

I noticed that the candles had burned down several inches and were making wax puddles on the coffee table. I was too wrapped up in the story to say anything about it, though. "And they were there when you got home?"

"Yeah," she said. "Hadn't moved an inch. But the power was back on."

"God," I said. "Why didn't you call the police or something?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. I thought about it, calling the police or a doctor or my friend Karen, who's a veterinarian, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it."

"So what did you do?" I asked. "I mean, what happened to him?"

She looked at me, her face almost empty of expression, and blinked tiredly. "Would you like to see them?"

I felt myself involuntarily jump back, seated on the sofa though I was. "Shit," I said. "You're not serious?"

She nodded. "Yeah, I am." She stood up. "They're in the basement. Let me get a couple of flashlights."

"No," I said quickly. "No, really, that's okay." But she was already in the kitchen by then, opening the drawer. She returned a minute later, and, against my better judgment, I stood and took a flashlight.

We went down the steps to her basement, each of us with a flashlight. It was a little cold and musty smelling. When we got to the next-to-the-last step, before we would go around the corner and actually enter the basement, she turned and put her hand on my chest. "I'm really sorry about this," she said. And she raised herself up on tip-toe and kissed me gently. "I wish things could have turned out differently."

"It's okay," I whispered.

We went around the corner into the basement. We stopped at the end of the stairs, and she slowly played her flashlight along the far wall.

Suddenly in the light shone a man's face.

"Shit," I cried out, and gasped. "Oh, jeez." I took a step back and felt the cold cinderblock wall behind me.

"I know," she said, placing her hand on my wrist. "You get used to it after a while, but it's scary at first." She moved the flashlight a little to the left and there was a young blond girl's face.

"Oh my God," I said. My flashlight was pointed at my shoes. I pointed it at the frozen girl, and I saw that she stood just as she had been described, tears on her face, her hand gripping the remote control...only there was no remote control. Her fingers curled around only air.

"What happened to the remote control?" I asked. She didn't answer.

I played my flashlight around the room. I saw a table against a wall, still covered with electronics equipment. The flashlight beam reflected off of a computer monitor, and then illuminated a stack of books. And when I played the beam of light down toward the floor, I saw the gleaming eyes of a cat shine back at me, a long-haired tabby frozen in the act of cleaning a forepaw.

"Oh, God," I said, and turned to race up the stairs.

She was behind me, her flashlight still in her left hand. In her right hand she held a metal box covered with switches and buttons and dials, held together, it seemed, with electrical tape.

"I really am sorry," she said, raising her right hand.

My mouth was half open as I began to scream. It is half open still, and my eyes still look ahead in terror, unblinking, seeing only the gray cinderblock wall beside which she placed me and the back of the motionless head of the most recent man she brought home with her.

And here I have been for—oh, I don't know how long, because I can't lift my arm to look at my watch, or even move my eyes to try to find a clock.

I think it may have been months now. Perhaps years. And I can just stand here, unable to move, not able even to close my eyes so that I can go to sleep on my feet. I just stand here, telling myself this story over and over again, until I get to the last words she ever spoke to me: "That call earlier wasn't a wrong number. It was a woman asking for you. She said she was your wife."

And I ask myself: will I eventually die here, stuck in this position, or has even the aging process been frozen, so I will be here forever, immobile but alive and aware?

And now I hear the basement door open and I can detect an increase in light, as if from a pair of flashlights. I hear her voice say, "Are you sure you are ready for this?" and a male voice reply, "I think so."

Think again, pal. Think again.

The End.

Back to Part One

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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!)