Bleak Lives

A 9-Part Eerie Mystery

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EPISODE 4: Bared to the Bone

Why didn't you throw me into the pit?

I have need of you.

What can I do that you cannot?

I can't atone for your sins.

How can I make up for what I've done?

You can't entirely.  But you can alleviate your punishment by administering my justice in the world.  You will be the instrument of my vengeance.

And . . . who are you that asks me to do this?


* * *

THE WORDS REVERBERATED IN HIS HEAD like the report of cannonfire:  . . . . the instrument of my vengeance . . . THE ONE WHO COMMANDS.

He brought his head up sharply, blinking rapidly.  He was Edward Bleak, but he wasn't in his own body. Instead he occupied the body of Roger McCutcheon--whoever that had been.  He was in a dismal basement apartment he'd usurped by chasing away its card-playing occupants at gunpoint.

And the body he was wearing was slowly decaying.

He didn't think he'd been asleep.  Sleep is for the living--the dead don't need it.  But he did feel like he'd been temporarily out of this body, away from earth, in another realm for which he had no name.  He'd been given a mission--a mission to set things to right, find justice for Roger McCutcheon.

Bleak realized he couldn't learn much in the state he was in.  He was caked with damp soil from the grave, and his burial clothes were in ruins.  He had to at least try to mimic life. The apartment was still deserted, but he realized it wouldn't stay that way for long.  The cardplayers had no doubt gone in search of reinforcements or firearms. They'd be back soon.

He got up and entered the cramped, filthy bathroom. A grimy mirror hung above a rust-streaked sink.  His face was even more repellent in the illumination from the bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling.  McCutcheon had been more stocky than Bleak had been in life.  His features might have been ruggedly handsome once, but now he was an object to inspire fear and repulsion.

Bleak turned on the water, pipes clattering and banging in the walls.  He tore off the already-ragged burial suit and stepped into the tub. He did his best to wash off all traces of the graveyard earth through which he had clawed his way to freedom.  His legs and feet were discolored from the settling embalming fluid, and his fingernails were black.  He couldn't find a towel after he'd turned off the water, so he dried himself off with some of the occupant's discarded clothes.

The basement apartment didn't have a separate bedroom; only a ratty mattress tossed in one corner.  The occupant's clothes were thrown in cardboard boxes.  Bleak pulled out a new outfit and slowly, haltingly, put it on.  The shoelaces and shirt buttons were the most difficult.  His fingers lacked the dexterity he needed for the tasks. Finally he merely tucked the laces down the sides of the shoes and pulled a long dark green overcoat around himself.  He dropped the cemetery nightwatchman's gun into one pocket.  Into the other he scooped the poker pot from the folding table. Lastly, he discovered a broad brimmed slouch hat which he could use to conceal his features.

As he worked, he practiced drawing air into his dessicated lungs and forcing it out.  He progressed from barking coughs to rudimentary speech.  He wouldn't be able to teach a class, but he could hopefully make himself understood.

Now to find out who Roger McCutcheon is . . . or was.

* * *

HE THOUGHT HE WAS FREE AND CLEAR.  He was about to open the door and head up the steps when he heard loud, excited voices in the alley.

"We got him now!"  "Careful!  He had a gun!" "Yeah, but now we do, too!"  "He ain't going anywheres!"

Damn!  There were windows opening onto the sidewalk, but they were too narrow to squeeze through.  He had his gun, but he didn't want to get into a firefight.  The cardplayers hadn't done anything wrong; he was the one who'd taken over their apartment.  By now he knew bullets couldn't hurt him.  But if enough of the men got a hold on him, they might be able to restrain him until the police showed up. He couldn't risk that.

I don't want to shoot them.  But maybe I can scare them off.

Next to the rickety stove, Bleak found some kitchen utensils, among them a carving knife. He opened the coat and shirt.  He placed the knife tip against his sternum and pressed inward.  He noted the pressure, but no pain.  He pulled the blade down his breastbone some seven inches, then cut horizontal flaps across his ribs.  He'd sliced two panels of epidermis into Roger McCutcheon's body.  Only a tiny amount of clear fluid oozed out of the incisions.

He crossed to the door, unlocked and opened it.  The mid-morning sun was lighting up the alley.  "Stop right there, freak show!" warned one of the men.  "We've got guns on you!"

Bleak started up the steps, his hands empty and his arms out to his side.  He forced air down into his lungs.  He brought his hands to the shirt and coat.  He expelled a strangled, inhuman cry.  He drew aside the shutters of skin, revealing gleaming bones, pink muscles and atrophying organs.  The cardplayers yelped, looking to each other, then back at Bleak. Their guns dropped to their sides, forgotten.

"It's a damn vampire!" shouted one.

"Zombie!  He's gotta be a zombie!"

"Who cares? Let's get outta here!"  The four poker pals turned tail and ran out of the mouth of the alley.

Bleak went back down into the apartment.  He took one of the occupant's dirty shirts and tore it into strips.  He bound the flaps in his chest closed, then tugged the shirt and coat tightly around his torso.  Nearly clothed and equipped, he went out to face the world.

* * *
BLEAK WALKED OUT ONTO THE STREET.  He wasn't sure how, but he knew he was familiar with New Regina.  He recognized some of the businesses and could orient himself. He started down the boulevard, and five blocks later stood before the imposing ediface of the downtown library.

"Time to start finding some answers," he told himself, and walked up the steps.

Next episode ... DYING TO BE HERE

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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!)