Bleak Lives

A 9-Part Eerie Mystery

BY SCOTT H. URBAN
About the author


EPISODE 5: Dying to be Here

He remembered:

Falling, no, plummeting, as if he had been taken up to the highest peak on earth, or perhaps even up above the atmosphere, and then dropped, gravity slowly yet inexorably taking hold; he was spinning, spiraling, twisting, clawing at the ether in an effort to avoid the inevitable impact, the force itself would have made him vanish, not even any stains to clean up after, all trace of him would be gone
forever. . .

And then he'd awakened in a coffin, in another man's dead body.

* * *

IT WAS STILL EARLY MORNING, BUT THE LIBRARY was already open; book lovers, school children, and folks just looking to get in out of the sunshine filing through the doors. Bleak pulled the hat low over his face and joined the stream. He had to do some research inside, otherwise there was no way to proceed. He needed to know more about Roger McCutcheon--and how he'd come to his end.

Bleak had always enjoyed libraries: row upon row of uniform and yet infinitely varied spines, containing all of the knowledge anyone could ever want to know. The large, spacious interior reminded him of a cavern in which the secrets of mankind were stored. Tall windows let in so much light it was almost painful to look around. He knew that in life, in his own body, he had patronized this library, and he was confident of his ability to find his way around.

Damn, forgot my library card back in my coffin.

Periodicals and newspaper were kept over to the left side. The previous week's worth of papers were placed in split cane rods and hung by the handles in a wooden rack. Bleak picked up that morning's edition and noted the date and bold-print banner headline: RACKETEER 'SPIKE' SALVATORE SOUGHT BY POLICE. Bleak recalled hearing stories of Sammy 'Spike' Salvatore, who was reputed to be a mobsman with fingers in most of New Regina's illegal activities, including extortion, prostitution, gambling and robbery. Local, state and federal authorities had been trying to pin him down for years. It looked like they were closing in on him.

But there won't be any information I need, Bleak thought, so he put that paper back and began looking through the issues for the previous week. Finally, in the edition for May 7, he found what he was looking for in the obituary columns:

Dr. Roger McCutcheon, 45, was found dead early yesterday morning. The cause of death was heart attack. McCutcheon was a family doctor who shared his practice with Dr. Phillip Easton. McCutcheon is survived by his wife, Dolores. Funeral services will be held. . . .

Now there was some information that he could use. Unfortunately, some of it had to be wrong. He, Edward Bleak, would not now be in this body if the death had been natural. Roger McCutcheon had been killed, and somebody thought he was getting away with murder. It was up to Bleak to bring that person to justice.

Bleak began to rise from his seat when a young woman approached him. She had striking red hair, an attractive figure, and penetrating green eyes. "Are you finding everything you need?" she asked.

"Yes, thank you," he managed to croak in his relatively unpracticed voice.

"Well, good. I'm Peggy Fontaine, assistant librarian." She held her hand out toward him. "And you are--?"

The request was implicit. He couldn't say "Roger McCutcheon," for fear that she might recognize that name as someone who had recently died. The only other name he could come up with on the spot was his own. He held out his lifeless hand and said, "Edward Bleak, pleased to meet you."

The librarian yanked her hand back before their palms could meet. An icy expression came over her face. Frowning, she said, "If that's supposed to be a joke, I'm afraid I don't find it very amusing. If you didn't want to talk, all you had to do was say so."

What's that supposed to mean? "Please wait," he managed to say, but she had already turned and walked back into the stacks she guarded so efficiently.

Something else is going on here. He continued looking through the papers, going back in time, skimming through local news articles, seeking his own name. At last, in a paper about three weeks old, he was startled to find his own image staring back at him--Edward Bleak as he had been in life. The photo was set underneath a caption that would have chilled his blood if he'd had any:

BUSINESSMAN COMMITS SUICIDE; LED GHOULISH DOUBLE LIFE

Many people knew Edward Bleak as a successful adman. He lived alone, didn't bother his neighbors, and paid his bills on time. But police have revealed that they suspect this innocent-looking businessman also led a ghoulish double life, seducing and killing young women in an unprecedented killing spree.

Bleak is now suspected in the disappearance of some ten young women from New Regina and the surrouding vicinities. As police authorities were closing in on him, Bleak evidently decided to take his own life, rather than face questioning.

Authorities state the investigation will remain open while they try to determine how many women Bleak might have murdered and what he did with their bodies.

Oh God. Although the dead body could barely make out any sensations, Bleak felt as if he had been slammed over the head with a crowbar. This was his life, this was what he had done. He had sought out vulnerable young women--plied them with compliments and drinks--and then, after he had had his way with them, he had murdered them.

No wonder he had taken his own life. It would have been better than the electric chair.

No wonder he had been shown the darkest depths of Hell. No matter what tortures were in place there, they were still not harsh enough for the pain and suffering he had brought into this world. He had created victims--so he had been turned into a victim himself. And charged with bringing vengeance to those who had killed.

The vengeance of The One Who Commands.

He wasn't sure how long he sat there, eyes shut, head in his hands. For a while he wasn't sure he'd ever be able to stand up again. Finally he arose and put the newspapers back in place. At a reference desk, he located paper, pencils and a New Regina telephone directory. He jotted down some addresses he'd need for his future investigations. Then he walked up and down the rows until he saw Peggy Fontaine. She was shelving books several yards down the aisle. He stopped some feet away so that he wouldn't seem threatening to her.

"I'm really sorry," he managed to get out. "I shouldn't have said that. I hope you'll accept my apology. Thank you for your offer to help."

The librarian turned up her pert nose and swung away from him in disdain.

Bleak knew he would never be able to approach a beautiful, desireable woman again. He would never know love, domesticity, the pure joys of family life. The wonders of growing old with a cherished spouse were forever beyond his grasp. Shadows, decay and deception were his only companions for however long the powers decided he should have them.

Now it was time to find out who had killed Roger McCutcheon.


Next episode ... SCARLET FAREWELLS

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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!)