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This was quite a spur of the moment story - I had an idea, then went on from there. It's set in America, and I'm afraid my fiction leaves a lot to be desired but nevertheless, here it is - like everything I write on Ciao - it's just meant to be entertaining. If so, then it's a successful piece in my eyes! Enjoy -
Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. My name is Eddie Radford, and I am drunk. Dead Drunk. Legless. Try shitfaced, if you will and if you fancy it. I've been drunk before, sure I have - but never quite like this. I think clearly. I write clearly, and my thoughts aren't too slow, or at least, no slower than usual. My head don't hurt; my stomach's fine and my eyes stay still when you look at them. Oh, but I'm drunk for sure. Must be. I've had a few drinks that's all, and I imagined something. Or imagined I saw something. Or… or something like that. So I'm drunk, OK? Must be… right?
* * * *
It started at four. I work in the pepper mill on Carter Street, just past the old Ironworks. Every Tuesday, me and some of the boys go to Angus' place - one of the many locals in my town (It's full of local inn's and local local's - I've sculpted myself into one nicely, if I may be so bold as to say so myself). It was the end of the shift, and we were listening to some old tunes on the radio - some Beatles, or Rolling Stones or something - something easy but repetitive anyway. One of the lads brings a CD every now and again and when it comes to half three we stick it on and work the rest of the final hour to the mellow tones of dead or dying singers. I'm an Elvis fan myself, but only some of the mature employees seem to really get on board with that. Anyway, the music has become background. I'm busy concentrating on that minute hand going idly across the little clockwork face when I first hear the scratching. It's low - on the verge of hearing - so I think it's nothing and carry on with the assembly line. Lids come; we screw 'em on. It's a fulfilling job. But this scratching, it starts to get louder; and suddenly it doesn't sound like scratching anymore. It sounds like I can hear my name, no shit, coming from the old CD player we use to listen to the favourites. I look at the player and see the green LED flashing ('CD playing, don't open') and then up to the rest of the guys. Some of them have got their heads down, some are looking at the clock like I was, and some are mouthing along to the words while their fingers pick up the routine. No one appears to have noticed anything queer but me. 'Hey', I shout to Stan - it's his CD, 'what the hell is this?' He looks at me strangely and says, 'It's the Floyd, Ed. You know the Floyd' I know the Floyd and say so. 'What the fuck's my name on there for, you daft eejit?' This time more of the lads look up. A couple of them laugh and Stan looks at me with amusement. 'You been sniffing the pepper again, Ed?' he says. They want to play a joke? Fine by me. I can take it. The scratching has stopped now anyway and when it comes to four the whistle blows, we pack up our stuff, and the CD player is stored in Frank's locker until tomorrow.
Outside, the lads and I stop for a smoke. 'We going to Angus' as usual?' I say. 'Ayuh', says Stan, 'going home first though. It's my boy's birthday; I gotta eat with the family' A minute later, we're all heading home. I'm the most reluctant - there's nothing waiting for me there. For a while, I think I'll just wait the two hours out in the smokey bar, but the thought of sitting there alone makes me feel much older than I want to. So I head home, and open the door of my pretty little house (It was expensive - I lost a finger in one of the sorting machines about eleven years ago and got a pretty hefty settlement for it). Inside, I pour myself a quart and sit in front of the TV. I can wait the two hours out. Sure I can… pretty soon it doesn't matter. I'm asleep anyway.
* * * *
Scratch. Scratch. My face peels from the leather sofa and I look at the TV. It's not showing anything, but I don't remember turning it off.
Scratch. Scratch. And I remember what woke me up. That sound is louder now, like fingernails on wood - but rapidly. My thoughts go back to the CD player and before I can stand I hear my name again. 'Eddieeeee', the voice says. It's shrill and drawn-out. High pitched, but not really feminine. When it stops, there's a little chuckle at the end and two more rapid scratches at the living room door. My heart beats rapidly and I feel fear fluttering in my chest. 'If there's someone in my house, you better get the hell out before I call the police', I shout, my voice sounding much firmer than I feel. There's that chuckle again, but it's withdrawing, pulling away. When I eventually stand up, cross the wooden floor and pull open the door quickly, there's nothing there but the hallway. I look down, and see a muddy slime running from the window-doors of my kitchen to my living room. There's footprints in there, and it stinks. My hand goes to my mouth and I turn to the door. There are grooves in the wood from about halfway to the bottom. 'Where the fingernails were?' I think with horror and then stumble out of my house and down the street.
* * * *
By the time I'm halfway down to the local, I'm convinced that what I had seen and heard was a dream. I'd just been asleep, hadn't I? It's obvious when you think about it - probably brought on by nine-hour shifts and sleepless nights. With this echoing in my mind, I look up at Angus' bar window. A neon sign flashes 'Families Welcome!' in a jolly kind of way, but I'll be damned if I ever saw a family in there… or a woman, for that matter. These thoughts are comforting and I embrace them whole-heartedly. Just a dream. When I get around to pushing open the door, I'm greeted with 'hey's' and shouts that instantly dispel any unusual thoughts I had been having - same old bar, same old smells, same old drunks (although, as I said earlier, I prefer to think of myself as something of a local). 'Where the hell have you been?' Stan hollers at me as I walk to the bar. 'Been with your momma', I say and the boys laugh. The response is automatic though - really I am thinking 'Just where have I been?' It's near ten and we were supposed to be meeting at six. I got home at half four so… five hours gone like that. Sure, I had been asleep, but when I left the house it had been a quarter to six, or so said the clock on my mantelpiece. I look back at the clock above the pumps again - five past six, it now says. My hands drift to my eyes and rub them painfully and I stare at the clock, daring it to go back to nine fifty-something again. Suppose I must have been looking for a while 'cos Frank says, 'You OK, Eddie?' I look over and all the guys are watching me. I haven't even bought a drink yet. 'Yeah,' I say, but the word gets stuck in my mouth. Clearing my throat, I repeat, 'Yeah, I'm fine. Just a little tired, is all' 'In a world of your own, you mean', says Stan, grinning. 'Sure, I guess so', I say, and offer a smile back. I order myself a bourbon (not my usual drink but I fancy something a little stronger tonight) and sit at the smokey table. The guys are playing cards but they've already started and I'm not in the mood to play anyway. An hour later (I measured the time in whiskeys) Stan stands up suddenly. 'I fancy some tunes', he begins, 'Eddie, you're an Elvis fan, aintcha? Let's hear some of the King'. He stumbles over to the juke box and my muscles tense involuntarily. Stan slips in quarters. Before the music even begins I listen for those scratching sounds - maybe the sound of my name crooned at me. At first, nothing comes except for the dulcet melody of 'Love me Tender', but then it begins. The scratching, like someone dragging their fingernails across the speakers, is loud - almost completely covering the song. I want to put my hands over my ears but it's not done yet. 'Eddieeeee', the voice says, 'Nine fifty-three, Eddie'. My eyes are wide. I can feel them in my head and it's a weird experience. The guys are still playing cards, smoking, drinking. None of them are listening to the voice. None of them are hearing the voice, I suddenly realise. There's a pool of muddy water spreading from the bottom of the juke box across the floor to my seat. People are walking in it, through it, without looking down. Like the one in my house, it's shit-brown and stinks. There's something foetid and rotting about the stench. As quickly as it came, the voice disappears but the scratching continues. Not wanting to, but not being able to help it, my eyes roll sickeningly to the old ticking clock. Sure enough - little hand nine, big hand fifty-three. Then, I bust the hell out of there; spilling my drink, scaring the guys and not caring one little bit. After I've gone, Stan and Frank look at each other in shock. There's whiskey dripping from Stan's glasses. 'What the fuck is up with Eddie?' he says. His voice is unusually shrill. 'I dunno,' Frank answers at length.
* * * *
By the time I slow down, my heart is beating fast and fit to burst. Running like that was cleansing - I'm feeling much better and I've come to a pretty satisfying realisation. I'm drunk. When I came home I drank a quart, then I thought I saw something. OK, it's not a lot but I hadn't eaten since the previous day. Then, in the bar, I drank whiskey. Simple as that. It's only a few more steps before I notice some flaws in my solution. One; I first heard the scratching at the end of my shift - no alcohol there. Two; it doesn't explain the changing time on the clocks and three… the scratches in my living room door. What the hell made the scratches in my living room door? As I look up, it doesn't surprise me at all to see the faded brickwork of my pretty house. I've been running with no direction in mind, but still - I've ended up here. I walk up the drive and push open the front door. 'That's right', I think, 'it's unlocked. Almost killed myself running to Angus'…didn't think that an hour later I'd be running back home' I steady myself; ready myself to breathe in that stench and see those grooves, but when I enter the floor is clear - no puddles, no smells, no scratches or scratching or marks in the door. The absence is wonderful. But I knew I wouldn't find anything… right?
* * * *
Two hours pass. I drink in that time. I sit in front of the television and I listen.
* * * *
At some point, I crossed to the study. The water is back in the hallway and the smell is worse than ever. I had to leave the living room because of the sounds at the window. The scratching. My name. Some numbers, laughing, screaming. I can't tell the difference. When you listen to those noises long enough, they work inside your brain. And that's where you find me now, friends and neighbours. 'Pen in hand, tongue in cheek', as my old da' used to say. In my other hand however, is the rusting .22 from the top drawer of my desk. Another thing I inherited from my old da'. Funny I should be thinking of him now. No time to see if it works - God knows I'm sick and tired of that fucking scratching. Doesn't matter though, I'm drunk, right? As I stand up, I look at the clock on the table next to me. I head to the door, toward the noises, to the voice that is calling me. It's 9:53, and my time is up.