The Haunted City

The virus had turned. Apparently, not content with forcing us to annihilate ourselves, the same force is beginning to make us turn on each other. Soon there won’t be many of us left. Tonight, curfew has been extended. No one is allowed out and the insect-like authorities are patrolling the streets. Even I’ve been sent home. This is good I guess, I’m tired of work. I return to my sparsely furnished apartment, with some shopping. Inside the bags I’ve bought some more food, canned soup, hard bread, biscuits and other long-lifers. Fresh produce items are hard to come by. My shopping also included tools, a new paint brush, black paint, a new drill and some masonry screws. The wood I ordered arrived a couple of days before. During my spare time, I’ve been blacking out the windows of my apartment, except some peep holes covered with black duct tape. I’ve also been blacking out other random apartments in building to give the impression during the day that multiple people are living here rather than the ghost town it really is.

Something has been itching the back of my skull the whole week. Some things are going to happen tonight which won’t be good and the less my place is noticed, the better I’ll be. I secure all of the locks and then begin screwing the planks of wood to my doors and windows. I know I’m a couple of floors up but I’m not taking chances.

My last purchase was three bottles of wine. Not good stuff, but enough to hammer me to sleep and not have a care if some maniac manages to get into my apartment. I plan to drink all three tonight.

I begin to pass out at around two-thirds through the second bottle. The wine is powerfully bad. Sometime passes and my bladder is the thing that gets me off the couch. It’s dark. The power must have gone out. I stumble to the bathroom and relieve myself. I’m still drunk and deeply considering that the empty cold steel of the bath is the next best thing to a bed in the presidential suite in the Matriarch. Wait. That’s gone. I finally finish aiming in the toilet bowl’s direction, pack my gear back in my pants, when suddenly I hear a noise. The fear is a strong soberer. I don’t know how they got in without a battering ram or small explosives. Maybe they cut the power to catch us unaware, search each apartment and take what they like. I creep back into my bedroom to my bed and reach under. I feel for the cold metal and pull hard to free it from the tape I used to keep it under. I pull out a shotgun I borrowed from an evidence locker. I also taped a torch under the barrel for such situations as these.

I sneak back out of my bedroom and stop near the entrance way to the main living area. I can’t hear anything. It’s very quiet. Maybe they know I know about their presence. Maybe they don’t exist at all and too much bad wine makes me paranoid. Fuck it. I’m not getting caught out. It’s almost pitch black. I step out into the entrance way and thumb the torch on. I freeze in terror. There in the illuminated dark is a man standing with his back to me. There is a hole on the back of his head. A gaping wound, which I can see gore inside. My hands begin to shake. He was staring at the back wall, but now he’s noticed the torch light and turned around. His rounding pock-marked face is laced with dried blood and bruising. Dark patches surround the faded blue eyes. He’s middle aged, the hair on top is thinning. He produces this smirk on his face and then points to the half-empty bottle of wine on the coffee table.

“You gonna drink that?” the man asks.

I can’t say anything, I can only shake my head, but it comes out as a nervous spasm.

The man with the hole in his head, reaches down and plucks the bottle up, noting the label, glancing back at me, “This is what you’ve been reduced to drink?

He puts the bottle to his lips and begins to gulp down the remainder of the wine in the bottle. As he tips the bottle up he tilts his head back. Whatever remained in his head dribbles out the hole in the back like runny jelly, hitting the carpet and spreading in a red stain.

While he drinks I finally come up with the brainpower to speak, “You’re a hallucination.”

His eyes look at me again, with the “wait until I finish feel about them”. Wine begins to dribble out of the corner of his mouth like a fresh red stream.

I continue to try to form words, “You’re guilt. I’m drunk and your guilt manifest, you’re not real. Just a figment of my imagination.”

The man has finished drinking, placed the bottle back on the coffee table and wiped the mouth with the back of his hand, and then his hand on his trousers. “Well this figment of your imagination just finished off your bottle of wine. Which was terrible mind you. Look, your still holding that gun at me. Get a lantern or something. This could be a while, and seeing as your stuck here, with me, I don’t want your arms getting tired,” the man said smiling and then pointed to the back of his head, “Besides I don’t think you can kill me the same way again.”

The dead man was right. The gun was getting pretty heavy in my arms, and with the lights out, I needed something better than a torch. I stumbled out of the room and found a battery lantern. Returning to the living room, the dead man had already taken a seat on my sofa and had opened up the last bottle of the wine.

I paused when I saw him again.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m letting it breathe a bit”

Setting down the lantern on coffee table, I pulled a chair closer and sat down. I stared the man for a while. For a hallucination he looked pretty convincing. He also realised that I was examining him and took a slight at it.

“What are you looking at?” He asked.

“I’m thinking,” I replied, “Why are you here?”

“I live here,” the man said rubbing the back of his head realising that he had a hole, he drew his hand to his face to look at the blood his fingers, “Or least I used to.”

He wiped his hand on my sofa and then reached for the bottle. “Okay, my turn. What are you scared of?”

As I began to explain, he poured the wine from the bottle into my glass and began to drink from it.

“The virus. It’s getting closer to me. It got Paul and he was – like me. This place, this whole fucking building, had the virus run right through it. And now with the others dead, I don’t have a chance to get out of the city. And the virus is turning. This whole city is now forcing us to kill each other. I don’t even know how they are circulating the notebooks.”

“Notebooks?” the dead man seemed terrified dropping the glass, wine pouring onto the carpet, “No. They didn’t leave this building. I thought I got them all.”

“What are you talking about?” I said.

Guilt seemed to wash the colour out of him, “My wife she had a tumor. Cancer. There was nothing we could do. One doctor suggested she write in a journal, everything she thought of, as some kind – I don’t know – coping mechanism. That red was her favourite colour”

“So she began circulating the books? Some kind of act of vengenance?”

“No!” the man blurted out, almost angry, “No. One day I walked by one of my neighbours and she was writing in a notebook, exactly the same as her’s. I don’t know where she got it. Soon the whole building has it. Writing all their thoughts down, their frustrations. Then it’s Valentine’s Day, and then, well you know.”

He seemed to choke up, but then continued, “my wife died on that day and a year later, all of those people.” Some of them died in this building. I found the books and hid them all. I know I did, I thought it was weird, but if I could contain it here, then it wouldn’t spread. But if I missed one, then this is all of my fault…”

An explosion suddenly happens outside shaking the building. I go to the window and peel back one of the pieces of duct tape to look through the peephole. A great fireball rising, rolling with black smoke into the sky briefly illuminates the entire city. Then it fades, leaving the entire area in darkness. I can hear sirens racing through the streets below.
I turn back around to find the dead man gone, although his blood and the spilled wine remained. I stare at the table and where he sat for a while. I thought about the weight of the shotgun and the painted rear wall, he was looking at. He hid the books. I went over to the coffee table and picked up the empty bottle of wine. Then moved over the formerly blood stained wall.

The neck of the bottle choked in my hands, I hit the wall with the base of the bottle. Again and again, hitting to break the plaster away. The was an alcove that was patched and painted over. After some blows the hole was big enough for me to see inside. Red Notebooks, dozens of them. All stacked neatly packed into the wall. I stood back from the discovery. The stain on the wall became clearer to me now, like a bloodied face, screaming in silence.

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