A Body of Water
by Tim Simmons
Grayson Thorne, a super-successful software designer, has been funding his archeologist friend Jack Sheppard’s research. Jack has discovered the statue of an Assyrian water demon, and the inscriptions on the accompanying plates are said to hold the secret of immortality. Grayson is skeptical at first, but the ancient treasure seems to hold both a lure and a curse...
It was several hours before Grayson awoke from his nap. He had downed a glass of brandy and fallen asleep on the couch. He now sat up and was quickly reminded of the fall he had taken on his shoulder. He winced. “It seemed so real,” he muttered out loud. “I never had a dream like that before. I guess I had a panic attack and just fainted.”
He got up, walked into his study and turned on his computer. He waited for it to boot up, listening to the soft whir of the cooling fan and the chirping sound of the hard drive. He then logged onto the Internet to check his email. He downloaded the messages. The usual unsolicited solicitations, he thought. ‘Earn money QUICK!!!’ was the heading of the first email. Another said ‘Virus Alert!!!’
Then he spotted one without a subject line. He clicked on it. The message read:
19 hours left.
Grayson looked for the sender’s email address but there was none. He reached into his left jacket pocket for his pills but they were gone. “If this is someone’s idea of a joke, they better think twice before messing with me!” he shouted to no one in particular. He wondered how the message had ended up in his email without having a sender’s address.
He quickly deleted the message and abandoned the computer for the living room again. “Obviously, someone got my email address by mistake. Happens all the time.” He dragged both hands through his hair. My mind is tired. That’s all. Hell, I haven’t had a vacation in two years! I need some time off. Starting Monday, I’m taking two weeks off and I’m not taking a damn beeper, cell phone, laptop... nothing. Just me and the ocean. That’ll help me clear up my mind and get back to being my old self again. Then I’ll have to apologize to Jack for being such a klutz!
He walked down the hall toward the master bedroom and then into the bathroom. “A nice hot shower is what I need. It’ll probably do this shoulder some good.”
Grayson took his bathrobe off and placed it on the sink. Then reaching into the closet, he removed a big, fluffy towel and tossed it onto the hamper. Pulling the shower curtain back, he leaned over and turned on first the hot, then the cold and then turned the center handle, sending a strong blast down from the shower nozzle.
Suddenly, he lurched backwards and away from the tub, stumbling over the toilet, taking a tumble onto the floor. As he lay naked on the floor, he mumbled “... a body of water...” He crawled toward the tub and slowly reached in without pulling back the curtain and groped for the hot. “Uhh... there we go.” He then managed to turn off the cold. What am I doing? This is not real!
He stood up and looked at the mirror for a moment. Reaching into the towel closet, Grayson grabbed a hand towel and soaked it in the sink. After squeezing some excess water out, he closed his eyes, placing the steaming towel on his face. Grayson let out a low moan of pleasure. He began to scrub. He reheated with more water and laid the hot cloth gingerly on his injured shoulder. It did nothing for the pain. Must have sprained it, he thought and tried lifting his left arm. Grayson felt a jolt of searing pain shoot all the way up his neck. He eased his arm down. One more reheating and he laid the hot towel over his face again and let the warmth relax some of the tension in his face. Removing the towel, Grayson opened his eyes and looked straight ahead. He didn’t see himself in the mirror anymore.
A hideously disfigured apparition, floating and... bobbing, as if it was underwater, was now gazing back at Grayson — and grinning — a grin that seemed to clamp shut the arteries of Grayson’s heart. Hairless, white-gray folds of bulbous flesh surrounded its almost invisible eyes recessed in their sockets. Ears were nothing more than stumps of flesh on each side of its head. The nose, if that’s what it was, was an open hole, right where a nose should be. From this cavity, blood veins coated with a mucous-like substance hung down across its mouth, itself a gaping chasm, filled with nothing but blackness.
The sight was almost too much for Grayson and he stumbled backwards toward the tub. Regaining his balance, he stood shaking, waiting for something. It spoke.
Does my appearance shock you? I can make you see anything I want. I have crossed over into your realm of consciousness. Through the portal you created by summoning me, I can control your senses. Sight. Hearing. Everything. I can pierce your realm of perception at will.
The image floated and hovered in the mirror. Grayson remained mute. The creature continued. We made a bargain, remember? I have kept my end. You must keep yours. You have 18 hours left. Must I remind you of what will happen if you breach our contract?
Grayson slammed his fist hard into the mirror, sending shards of glass all over the bathroom and slicing his knuckles. Blood issued freely from the cuts onto the counter as he pulled open the medicine cabinet. “This is not happening. This is not happening!” he said aloud.
He rinsed his hand and applied the Band-Aids but the cuts still bled. He ripped off the Band-Aids, took a hand towel, and placing it over his hand, mashed down with his free hand for a few moments. What is happening to me? He removed the towel and put the Band-Aids back on. The bleeding slowed. He reached for his robe, shaking off some small fragments of glass, slipped it on and took a long step over the glass and out of the bathroom. He headed back toward the living room.
“I know what it is. I’m simply having hallucinations. My mind is tired. I had a bad dream. Now, I am seeing things. I wish I could call Jack, but I don’t want to bring him into this,” Grayson reasoned as he hurried into the kitchen. Can’t believe I lost my Xanax! Okay, just stay calm! I’ll be okay. I’ll get a refill tomorrow.
Taking a bottle of brandy from the cabinet, he poured a tall glass. “No, Jack would probably just laugh at me anyway, knowing him.” He managed to let out a short chuckle as he thought about the events of the evening. Walking from the kitchen, he sat back down on the couch and took a long drink. “So, why am I hallucinating? It’s never happened before. I know there’s some reasonable explanation. I just don’t know what it is. No need for panic. I just need to stay calm.”
After another long pull from his glass, he put it onto the coffee table, empty. He reclined. “Jittery nerves can make you see a lot of strange things. Am I going crazy? ...am I losing it? ...could this be real? No. It can’t be. I refuse to believe it. Just need a vacation. That’s all... a vacation... get away for a while... get ... some... rest...” Within minutes, Grayson dozed off on the couch again.
The phone rang, waking Grayson from a nightmare. He started and jumped slightly as he woke. The phone rang a second time. He glanced at the wall clock: 11:30 pm. Who could it be at this time of night? Maybe it’s Jack calling to check on me. Just calling to see how I’m doing. The phone rang a third time. Grayson didn’t want to think it, but he did. Perhaps it’s Hudor Diabolos. The phone rang once more and his answering machine engaged. Silence followed by a click.
Grayson got up, turned off the kitchen light and shuffled down the dark hall to the bedroom. Sleep. Just need some sleep. Reaching the bedroom, his right hand slid up the wall, searching for the light switch. As he turned the light on, the light bulb died with a loud pop and a flash of blue light.
“Damn!” He walked around the bed and turned on the reading lamp. Swallowing two sleeping pills without water, he lay down on the left side of the bed and let out a loud sigh. Even though he started off on his back, he usually ended up on his left side because he disliked having his back exposed at the edge of the bed. He reached over and turned the lamp off. As the sleeping pills kicked in, he began to cross that fuzzy boundary where thought turns into dream.
Just before he was completely asleep, he thought he felt warm air near his left ear, like a deep, heavy breathing.
He froze, muscles tensed. He didn’t dare turn his head or open his eyes. His heart pounded.
You must kill Sarah. You have no choice. The breath was hot and Grayson could smell a rotten, decayed odor. You made a bargain and must keep it. If you do not follow through, you will die a torturous death, filled with unimaginable pain. Grayson lay silent, immobilized from fear. You have 12 hours.
The feeling of someone — or some thing — being in the room lifted. After several moments, he reached over, groping for the small lamp switch. The lamp came on. The room was empty. “I am going crazy. No two ways about it!” Grayson laughed out loud — a horrible, nightmarish laugh. “Yes, water devil, I hear you. I believe you! Damn you! Damn you to hell!”
He turned off the lamp and tried to do likewise to his mind. He tossed and dozed periodically, fitfully, until his alarm brought him fully awake. He reached over and turned on the lamp.
It was now 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. He had wrestled with his nightmares all night and now felt half dead. Six o’clock. I only have six more hours. Without realizing, he had kept up with the timeline. “I don’t believe it. I’m talking about killing someone! Oh my god...” Grayson’s heart sank. The baby! He pulled at his face with both hands and screamed. “I can’t take this anymore. I can’t take it.” The screams broke down into sobs as he hit the bed with his fists.
A metallic click near the door made him pause. As he looked up, he saw the bedroom door slowly being opened. A muscular gray arm pushed the door into the room and its tall, misshapen body followed. Gray folds of wet, wrinkled skin hung from the creature.
If you ‘can’t take it’, the creature growled as it stood near the door, then why not keep your end of the bargain? Fulfill your end of the bargain and you will not see me again. That sounds pretty simple to me. The creature walked upright and began moving closer to Grayson.
“What if Jack is there?”
He is out running an errand. I made sure of that.
“How am I supposed to do this? I don’t even own a gun,” Grayson reasoned.
I suggest strangulation. It will be almost impossible to trace the crime back to you. Grayson’s eyes remained fixed on the creature. Call her and tell her that you need to come by and... talk.
“Yeah. I... I will do that.”
Keep your word, Grayson. Once you do, I will visit you no more. Call her... NOW!
“Yes! I will. Right now.” The creature turned and lumbered back through the bedroom doorway and disappeared. Grayson picked up the phone and dialed.
* * *
One Year Later
“Today’s forecast: sunny and hot with clear skies. High near 90 and a low tonight of around 58 degrees,” the television blared.
Grayson Thorne shuffled over to the kitchen window, parted the small curtains and gazed out into the Arizona sky. “No, no rain today,” he said as if to reassure himself. “But if it does, I’ll just stay inside. Yes, I’ll just have to stay inside until it blows over. Can’t be too careful these days.”
The doorbell rang. It was Wednesday afternoon and Grayson was not expecting visitors. He peeked out of the kitchen window again and upon seeing the weathered green Buick in his driveway, he wondered who it could be. He walked to the front door and opened it.
“Hello, Grayson. Mind if I come in?” Jack asked blandly, pointing the .38 caliber pistol directly at Grayson’s face.
“Jack! What the...” Grayson stumbled backward as Jack forced his way. “How did you get my address?”
“Shut up!” Jack screamed and pushed the gun closer. “You planned it all out, didn’t you?”
“Planned what out?”
“You came over looking shocked. You even went to the funeral. Then a few months later, you move here to get away from the scene of the crime. You killed Sarah, you son of a bitch!” Jack shoved the gun into Grayson’s face.
“Jack, wait! What are you talking about? I didn’t kill Sarah!” Grayson implored as he watched the gun hover just in front of his eyes.
Jack didn’t budge. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen these before?” Jack held up a small plastic bottle. Grayson recognized it. It was the bottle of Xanax he had lost. Grayson’s face contorted as he started sobbing aloud. Jack threw the bottle down and stared at Grayson.
“I did it, Jack. I killed your wife,” he sobbed. “But you can’t kill me before I tell you why, can you?” Grayson begged, visibly shaking. “Remember when we tried to summon the water devil? Jack, it worked!”
“It didn’t work! I was there, remember?”
“Jack, listen. While I was passed out, the water devil forced me into agreeing to kill your wife. If I didn’t follow through, it said it would kill me after twenty-four hours! I had no choice. You’ve got to believe me!”
“My god... You are truly sick.” Jack lowered the gun and leveled it at Grayson’s chest.
The boldness that Grayson had once felt when he first encountered the water devil resurfaced. “Go ahead then. It doesn’t matter. You can’t kill me, Jack. It’s all part of the bargain I made with the water devil,” Grayson jeered. He looked around. No water anywhere in sight.
But as the bullet entered his chest, warm blood quickly stained his shirt a bright scarlet. Grayson looked down at the spreading patch. “You promised!” he coughed as blood filled his lungs. His gaze shot toward the ceiling. “You said I’d die in water. You lied!”
Grayson slumped to the ground by Jack’s feet, his voice a light whisper. “You lied...” As Grayson’s life ebbed away, the water devil pierced through the realm of perception to whisper into his ear a final farewell.
Grayson, you are a fool just like all the rest! How can a man cheat death? Is it not appointed for every man to die? I have kept my end of the bargain. When I told you that you would die in a body of water, did it ever occur to you that the human body is almost completely made up of water?
A deep gurgling laugh, ancient and cold, faded away as the darkness of unconsciousness wrapped around Grayson like a warm blanket.
Copyright © 2008 by Tim Simmons