Bleak Lives

A 9-Part Eerie Mystery

BY SCOTT H. URBAN
About the author


EPISODE 3: Life in Death

What do you deserve, Edward Bleak?

I . . . deserve the worst torture your power can create.

You do. But if you were offered the chance to return to the world of the
living . . . to try to atone for some of the misery you've caused. . . would you?

Yes.

Would you return . . . even if it brought you only more misery and pain?

Your will . . . not mine.

* * *

HE COULDN'T HELP RECOILING.

Edward Bleak knew he occupied the body of a dead man, but actually seeing his reflection in the store-front window was shocking. The contorted expression of rigor mortis--the pasty flesh beneath a smeared layer of dirt--the tattered burial suit--it was an image out of his worst nightmare. He had seen B-horror movies in which gape-mouthed zombies chased terrified heroines--and he had laughed. I never dreamed there was a chance I would actually become one of those shuffling monstrosities!

As he took a backward step, he bumped into someone. "Hello, my boy-o, watch yer step there!"

Bleak dropped his head and hunched his shoulders. He didn't want anyone to see this face.

The newcomer stepped around to get a better look at him.

Curse the luck! A beat cop!

"Here now, laddy, are you all right?" The stout, blustery cop was swinging his nightstick and trying to lean in to get a closer look at Bleak. "Had a little too many swallows of stout?"

Bleak shook his head and took a step away from the cop, trying to make an unobtrusive get-away.

"Hold it there a second. I want a better look at you. There're a couple a' McGuffins what I need to talk to for the trouble they're making in town. You wouldn't happen to know about any of that, now, would you?"

Bleak felt the nightstick shaft drop on his shoulder. He wants to talk! I can't let him see me like this--even Paddy'll know there's something wrong with me! He stopped and started to turn toward the policeman. . . .

Then threw his weight in the opposite direction and tried to run down the sidewalk. The best he could manage was a quick shamble, the left foot awkwardly dragging behind.

"Here now! That'll be enough of that!" The cop ran up and clapped a hand on Bleak's shoulder, spinning him around and turning his face into the streetlight.

"Holy mither of God!" Even the bull was taken aback by his appearance. "What happened to you, man?"

Bleak brought his hands up to try to hide his face. He knew he looked worse than that hideous creation in the James Whale Frankenstein movie.

The cop had a hand on his begrimed coat lapel. "What's your name, boy-o?"

Bleak opened and closed his mouth. He didn't know whether or not he could make this body talk yet. Dead men tell no tales, he remembered. He tried to gulp air into his lungs and then expel it through the corpse's vocal cords. He succeeded in making a grotesque "urp"-ing sound.

"Ah, you're drunk as my mither on a Saturday night," said the bull. "And you've been out rolling in a field somewheres. A nice long sleep in the tank will do you a world of good."

No! I can't be run in! Bleak knew that eventually someone would notice he resembled a man who ought to be dead--a man who nevertheless was walking on his own. He'd be inspected, and possibly dissected--and he wouldn't be able to complete his mission.

Bleak grabbed the cop's right wrist with his left hand and squeezed. The cop gasped in surprise and pain. "Now you better be lettin' go of my arm!" Paddy raised his left arm and brought the nightstick down on the side of Bleak's skull. Bleak felt the impact, but there was no accompanying pain. He brought his fingers together, and there was a stomach-wrenching pop in the officer's wrist. He squealed in agony as his legs gave out.

Bleak spun and tried to run away. The cop managed to draw his gun with his left hand. "Stop right where you are, laddy-o!" Bleak ignored the warning. Two ear-splitting reports rang out. First Bleak's shoulder, then his leg, kicked out ahead of the rest of his body, dropping him to the pavement. All of the sudden he was looking at the tips of skyscrapers rather than the sidewalk. It took him a second to realize he'd been hit, twice.

He levered himself upright. An alley led between two storefronts. He leaped into it, realizing his control of Roger McCutcheon's body was increasing as he spent more time inside it.

"No!" he heard the cop shouting. "No, you did not just get up after I put two rounds in you! You get back here! I got some bones I want to take out of your body!"

Bleak shuffled down the length of the alley, hopping over piles of trash and debris. He heard sirens wailing in the distance, and he prayed they weren't meant for him. He hadn't wanted to hurt the innocent policeman, but at the same time he couldn't let himself be detained. How could I explain a dead man walking around--and the fact that I'm not even that dead man?

He tried to put some distance between himself and the injured officer. He crossed several avenues, ignoring the quizzical stares of late passersby. I have to get cleaned up somewhere. I can't accomplish anything looking like . . . like I crawled out of a grave.

As he was heading down his fourth or fifth alley, he saw a flight of stairs leading down to a door just below street level. A basement apartment. The door was open and light spread up into the alley. Bleak heard rough voices and coarse laughter coming from inside. He crept down the stairs as quietly as he could. Peering around the doorjamb, he saw four men in threadbare slacks and workshirts playing poker around a rickety folding table. Beer cans littered the floor, while cigarette smoke drifted like spirits reluctant to fly away.

By this time Bleak realized the horrifying aspect he presented. He drew the cemetery night watchman's gun from his pocket. He hurled himself against the door, nearly splitting it in half, then threw himself into the room. He waved the gun in mid-air and managed to make a croaking sound that emerged sounding close to, "Out!"

The four card-players shot up as if they'd sat down in electric chairs. "Jeezus!" shouted one. "Take it all; it's yours!" cried another. "Don't shoot, don't shoot!" pleaded the third, his arms over his head.

Bleak waved the barrel in the direction of the door, and an instant later he was the apartment's only occupant. Cards were scattered across the table and the floor. Silver change and small bills were piled in the center. A radio against the far wall played Benny Goodman.

Bleak crossed to the door, shut and locked it. He took off his suit coat and sat in one of the four chairs. Peeling his shirt back, he found the first bullet had passed through the meaty part of his shoulder. The second bullet had entered his thigh and still seemed to be lodged somewhere in the flesh. Bleak couldn't feel it. The entrance and exit wounds were round, dark pits--no fluid flowed from them.

What . . . what has happened to me? Bleak longed to cry out loud.

He felt no pain, and his body couldn't get tired. But his thoughts and emotions were strained, at their limits. Edward Bleak, inside the body of a man dead and buried, put his head down on folded arms and let the darkness close around him.


Next episode ... BARED TO THE BONE

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Bleak Lives is copyright Scott H. Urban. 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!)