From the last one:
The Man smiles wider, revealing white teeth. The afternoon implodes. “Hello”, The Man says, taking his hat off to reveal lank, black hair and giving a small bow. Then he puts on his hat again. He looks up.
“Good afternoon Mr Henry. How may I kill you today?”
“Huh?” Mr Henry asks, straining forward, his eyes going wide for a moment.
“I said, what a fine day it is today,” The Man says. He adjusts his hat, pulls down his suit lapels in a precise manner, and stretches his suit over his bony frame. He flashes his teeth at Mr Henry in a dazzling smile; his teeth are white.
“Oh,” Mr Henry says, leaning back into the shade of his foyer, his eyes returning to normal, but his disbelieving scowl still on his face. “So it seems.”
The Man cocks his head and regards Mr Henry with his piercing eyes from beneath the brim of his hat. “Why do you say that?” he asks.
Grunting, Mr Henry ignores the question. “What do you want?”
The Man raises his ID card in front of Mr Henry. “My name is Sa’amael Jones, but you can call me Sa’amael. I am here on behalf of the Heart 2 Give Foundation. I am here for your heart.”
“No. I am here on behalf of H2G, and we specialize in heart-related research. May I come in?”
Mr Henry looks at Sa’amael for a while, considering his request and sizing him up, and then he grudgingly steps aside to let him in. Tipping his hat and thanking him, Sa’amael steps inside and enters the tea-room where Mr Henry had been. Mr Henry looks outside for a moment, not noticing the unusual lack of activity; even the birds are silent. The wind holds its breath. Then he takes his head back inside and shuts the door. He steps into the tea room to see Sa’amael standing and staring intently at a portrait of Eva hanging like that of an erstwhile school principal. In the portrait, she looks younger than her age when she had taken the photo before it had been made into a portrait; forty-eight. In the portrait, Eva is smiling; the occasion was the graduation of their only daughter, Dolores, eight years ago. She is wearing her favourite white dress.
Sa’amael disregards the waist-high wooden chest below the portrait littered with half-a-dozen bone china figurines, an old radio, two antique saucers wrapped in tissue paper, and some knitting magazines. Beside this, on Sa’amael’s right, is a small swivel chair, well-worn with age. At the opposite end of the room, behind Sa’amael, a white, old, PC rests on what is obviously a writing desk, sharing desk-space with a printer. A double window on the wall opposite the entrance is open, lazily letting in the rays of the sun onto the single, well-used and comfortable-looking sofa nestled behind the door, Mr Henry’s favourite chair, while throwing the 3-seat, embroidered lace-covered leather sofa which is beneath the window, in the shadows. On a stool beside Mr Henry’s sofa lies the remnant of his sandwich on a plate, an empty glass with the dredges of orange juice on the bottom, and an ashtray with at least 3 cigarette butts, while the paper that he had been reading is folded and on the sofa. The room has a cramped feel, which is further highlighted when Henry picks up his paper, drops it on the writing table, and sits down. He stares at the ramrod-straight back of Sa’amael for a moment, and just when he is about to ask Sa’amael to take a seat, he speaks without taking his eyes off the picture.
“You miss her, don’t you?” His voice is low, almost smiling.
“What?” Henry asks, not sure he heard well.
“Nice portrait of your wife,” Sa’amael says, turning around to beam a smile at Mr Henry. “How long ago was it taken?”
“Oh,” Mr Henry says, feeling a bit disconcerted by this stranger, but pleased nonetheless by the compliment. “I had the portrait made about 8 years ago at our daughter’s graduation.” He gestures at the 3-seat sofa. “Please, have a seat.”
“Why, thank you Mr Henry,” Sa’amael says, walking to the seat, still clutching his black satchel which he places between his legs after sitting down. He rests his hands on his knees and relaxes. The air around him grows darker, and Mr Henry attributes this to the sun. What he fails to acknowledge is the fact that the way the sun is falling should not account for the darkness of the air around Sa’amael, which is darker than the shadows; it is as if he is wearing a dark, inconsequential armour that is on the brink of shimmering out of existence
“Where did you say you were from again?” Henry asks.
“Oh, like I said before, I am from Heart 2 Give, and I am here for your heart. We specialize in heart-related research. I am sure you know all about heart-related problems. Your wife died from a bad one.”
Mr Henry’s brows furrow as he tries to make some sense of what he is hearing. “Pardon? What was that about my wife?”
“Oh,” Sa’amael says, still perky and smiling, “ I said she looks beautiful.”
Now Mr Henry is befuddled. “Now you are losing me Mr…”
“Sa’amael, Mr Henry. Am I?”
“Yes you are. Now I suggest you cut straight to the chase or I’m afraid I-”
“How’s Mirabel doing these days?” Sa’amael asks.
“Huh?” Now Mr Henry’s confusion is complete. Outside, the leaves of the tree begin to dance to an unheard and unfelt, terrible rhythm. There is a faint thrumming in the air, or so he thinks.
He also thinks it might be his heart.
“Mirabel,” Sa’amael continues, leaning forward like a shark closing in on its prey, bony hands clasped between his knees, eyes gleaming with a terrible and glorious anticipation.
“I- I don’t understand…” Mr Henry says, glancing up guiltily at Eva’s portrait; had her eyes been that clouded that day?
“I think you do, Mr Henry.” Sa’amael chuckles, a hungry sound. “I think you understand me perfectly. How long had you been giving it to her? Give or take 3 years? 4?”
“I think, Mr Sa’amael,” Henry says, his voice unsteady, “I think it is time for you to leave.” He starts to get up as he takes another guilty look at Eva’s portrait as the thrumming in the air becomes somewhat louder, deeper…more menacing.
Where had those frown lines come from? He can swear that she had been smiling in the portrait. Is that the beginning of a sneer?
Sa’amael laughs, a deep, throaty sound not unlike the wailing of a thousand anguished souls. “I think you mistake me for someone who gives a shit, Mr Henry.”
Outside, the sun still shines, but No 50 Donahue Street is being enveloped by unnatural shadows. The sound of sirens pierce the late afternoon air, but is muffled inside the house. Amber, the old lady in No 32 Donahue Street, has been discovered dead by her carer, who has called the EMS. She is guilt-ridden and scared about what this will mean for her job. Sa’amael feels her fear, and he smiles, his eyes clouding for a moment as though he is remembering a particularly fond memory.
Mr Henry’s legs tremble as he falls back in his sofa.
“You see Mr Henry,” Sa’amael continues, still courteous and smiling, “your wife found out about your affair with Mirabel.”
Mr Henry gasps.
“Oh yes Mr Henry, she found out. And she had her revenge. You see, she slept with Mirabel’s husband and had her car tampered with, which, sadly, didn’t kill Mirabel. And then she slept with every single one of your friends, in your marital bed.”
The air burns, and Sa’amael undoes the flap of his satchel. Mr Henry looks up at Eva’s portrait as Sa’amael calmly reaches in and brings out a scalpel. With tears of hurt, anger and shame burning on his cheeks, Mr Henry screams at Eva’s portrait. “I LET HER GO! YOU BITCH, I STOPPED THE AFFAIR!!”
Why are there flames in the background of the portrait? A part of Mr Henry asks. Why is Eva scowling? Why is there a murderous glint in her eyes?
Sa’amael stands, scalpel in hand. The shadows coalesce around him, and he squeezes his left fist. Behind him, outside Mr Henry’s house, the tree twists in agony. All at once, all the cats and dogs in the estate begin to wail as one. The sky is covered for a while as every bird in the estate takes flight, blotting out the sun.
Mrs Salma in No 29 is reaching behind her for a towel with which to wipe her hands after washing the dishes, and she slips on the wet floor, slamming her temple on the edge of the sink. She dies before she hits the floor.
Mr Patrick is splitting wood in the backyard of No 15 with an axe. He likes his real fireplace, and he loves the heft of an axe in his hands. Marty, his dog, darts beside him, wailing and violently brushing his leg while running for the fence, as the axe is coming down from the apex of its swing. This causes Mr Patrick to cry out in surprise, and then pain as the axe almost takes off his left leg cleanly, just below the knee, cutting through most of his bone. Before he passes out, his last thought is of his pie in the oven.
Kimberley is outside her home on No 45, trying to feed her pet parrot, Papi, in front of her house on No 40. She has been watching the Paramedics load up somebody covered in a white sheet, in the back of the ambulance, when Papi caws angrily, seizes her finger in its powerful beak, and wrenches it backwards. Kimberley stares unbelieving at the pinkish-white bone sticking out of her bloodied skin, not comprehending what she is seeing, the pain having not kicked in yet. Then the world goes black and red as Papi’s claw gouges her right eye in its angry flight. Her cries of pain are drowned out in the cacophony around her.
In No 50, Mr Henry looks back at Sa’amael, a terrible and powerful conductor directing a deadly orchestra.
“You see Mr Henry, Eva has come back a long way. She would have forgiven you the deed; she was pleasantly surprised that you had been faithful all those years, and had been hoping that you would continue to be that way. But you did the deed on your matrimonial bed, even when she was in the hospital. The same place she gave you her virginity. You desecrated her holy place over and over again.”
Mr Henry stands. The thrumming in the air is very audible now.
Sa’amael says “Hell hath no fury like a woman hell-bent on revenge.” And then he stabs the air with his scalpel and takes it down an arm’s length, as though he is drawing a line.
The line is pried back from within, exposing the Blackness within.
Mr Henry’s eyes go wide and his throat constricts. He is unable to breath.
The Blackness is alive and seething with malevolence. Sa’amael chuckles, and the Blackness roils and toils, a festering sore in the armpit of reality.
And then the eyes appear; first a pair, and then another, and another, and another until Mr Henry’s mind refuses to acknowledge them any further. The eyes are red, and they are the eyes of madness. And when the first black hand finally reaches out into the room, seeking for a hand-hold, something pries apart Mr Henry’s sanity and his bladder finally refuses to co-operate, letting go. His heart is holding a Rock concert for the dead. The hand is made of the darkest nightmares. Mr Henry’s gaze passes over the rip in reality, Sa’amael, and comes to rest on the portrait.
It is empty.
Mr Henry’s throat unlocks as he lets loose an ear-piercing scream, and then turns smartly on his heels with surprising agility, making for the front door.
The sound of breaking glass upstairs stops him cold in the foyer. A cold, grating voice like gravel calls his name, and his brain shuts down. Behind him the nightmares all come out of the Blackness, and a hand grips his shoulder from behind in an unforgiving grip. The air shrieks. Mr Henry doesn’t notice. The thuds of the footfalls coming from above and down the stairs are like hammer blows to his soul.
And then he sees her as she comes unto the landing, turns deliberately, and starts coming downstairs. First her sandal-clad feet, her legs, then the hem of her dress, and Mr Henry knows it is her favourite dress, the one in the portrait.
The one she was buried in.
Eva, his wife, dead 6 long years now.
Sa’amael turns and calmly stows away his scalpel in his satchel, whistling. Mary and her sentimental little lamb.
Eva stands in front of Mr Henry. She is cold and beautiful; haughty and ghostly magnificent. She calls his name softly, “Henry…” A breath from the lips of death.
Sa’amael picks up his satchel, still whistling and smiling, adjusts his hat, and walks through the Black shadows holding Mr Henry, and to the front door. He opens it, and all the cats and dogs cease to wail all at once. The light breeze falls dead on the ground. He looks up and lets the sun warm his face for a while, and then shuts the door behind him, leaving the tableau of death behind him. He leaves scorched foot-prints from the house to his car.
“I have missed you Eva,” Mr Henry says. He notices that the right side of her dress is stained with blood; she is holding a wicked-looking, jagged piece of glass in her bloody right hand. “You are bleeding,” he remarks, with a mixture of trepidation, hope and love. Eva raises her left hand tentatively and brushes his cheek softly; Mr Henry’s heart is invaded by cold and love.
In his car, Sa’amael puts his satchel back in the passenger seat foot-well, his ID card on his back seat, and then he brings out his address book from his suit’s inner breast pocket, thumbing through the pages.
Eva’s hand comes up, hesitates, and then she says “I love you,” and brings it down.
Mr Henry feels only surprise as the glass pierces his chest once, twice, thrice. The only pain he feels is in his heart. “E-Ev-a-a-a-a…” He starts to gurgle when the glass shard severs his carotid artery. All he sees is Eva’s cold, lovely, dead, smiling face.
Sa’amael starts his car, puts it in reverse, and drives past the Police cars and Ambulances rushing into the estate, leaving only panic and death behind.