Inspired by “Aisha” by Death in Vegas
Britney Spears' latest hit wailed through the open windows of Aisha's car. “You drive me crazy!” she sang along. She had heard it a hundred times by now, but it still made her shift in her seat in time to the beat. She sang loud and carefree, “Crazy! I just can't sleep! I'm so excited! I'm in too deep!”
Aisha slowed and turned into the long driveway as the sun started to set. The drive was neatly kept with expensive landscaping lining it all the way from the main road. Huge maple trees created a canopy overhead. The leaves had just started to turn so that the canopy matched the blazing colors of the sunset. The wind blew through the open windows making her hair look wild. She relished the cool air that was so much cleaner than in the city. The driveway ended in a circle looping back on itself in front of the house.
“Nice,” she whistled as she circled around and parked. She cut Britney off mid-moan when she cut the engine.
The house was a large two story with picture windows and a solid oak front door. She mounted the steps and caught sight of herself in one window. Aisha turned this way and that admiring herself. The red dress matched her hair and plunged dangerously between her small breasts. She also wore a short jacket that covered almost nothing and was much too light for the season. The tiny purse and perfect shoes completed the outfit. Before she could knock, she noticed the note tacked to the door. It said simply:
Hello, Aisha. Come in and make yourself at home.
She breezed through the door and called, “Hello?” Her voice fell flat among the shadows and still air.
The door opened onto a large front parlor. To the right was a modest sitting room with a three-sided window that looked toward the highway and the winding driveway. To the left was a darkened spiral staircase. The inviting well-lit hall before her led her to the back of the house. The living room where it ended was high-ceilinged. Craning her neck, she thought she could make out a bedroom in a loft above. The back of the house was one large window stretching from floor to ceiling interrupted only by a glass sliding door. Bookcases covered the other walls. Orderly rows of books were interrupted by the odd bust or small artifact.
Aisha called again, “Cole? Hello?” Again there was no answer. Feeling slightly annoyed, she poked around a few crowded bookcases. She did not recognize many of the titles. Many of the spines were covered in languages other than English.
She picked up a small sphere of what looked like clear glass. As she peered closer, she realized it was a crystal ball. Cartoon images of gypsies floated through her mind. She squinted at the ball trying to see her future or even just her own reflection. Instead, she saw the fiery colors of the sunset blooming and swirling. The red slowly coalesced into two small eyes that locked onto Aisha's. She stood transfixed.
Shattering the quiet of the house, a phone rang nearby. Aisha yelped. Her heart hammered and her shoulders shook slightly. Laughing at herself, she turned and saw the old-fashioned rotary phone sitting on a small table behind the couch. Offhandedly, she replaced the ball on the shelf and reached toward the phone. She caught herself just before her hand rested on the handset.
“Cole, your phone’s ringing!” No answer. The phone rang again.
The sun sat in a brilliant fire of colors behind her. The large window let the blaze engulf the room save the small shadow Aisha cast against the wall. The phone rang and rang. She called out again in frustration. Finally she picked up the receiver.
“Hello?” Her voice was timid and quiet.
“Hello, Aisha.” The voice on the other end was low and gravelly.
Her mouth opened in an O of surprise, “Cole? Where are you?”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to meet you, Aisha.” He spoke slowly, unconcerned.
“Where are you?” she repeated.
“Aisha, we’ve only just met, and I think there’s something you ought to know.” He paused. The silence stretched out. She held her breath. Finally, she let out her breath and was about to speak up when he said, “I’m a murderer.”
He said it quietly, but it was as if glass had shattered inside her head. Aisha’s blood turned to ice. “That is not funny.” She whipped around to gaze out the window at the setting sun. It was almost below the horizon, and the fields were dark in the shadows of the hills.
“Aisha, listen to me,” his voice had not changed. She turned away from the window to steady herself against the table. He said, “There’s a portrait on my wall.”
She turned to her left and saw a nook she had ignored before. She could just make out a large framed portrait. She took a step closer so that it would catch the fading light. She caught her breath. It looked old. A man stood to the side of a leather chair wearing a suit like one she had seen in a Sherlock Holmes movie. He could have been Cole's great great great great grandfather still walking unaware of his death long ago, she thought. The man’s face was skeletal. What hair he had was wispy and far back on his skull. His high cheekbones made his cold eyes look small. His bloodless lips were pulled back into a toothless grin.
Cole’s voice brought Aisha back, “He’s a serial killer.” With a start, she realized she was standing mere feet from the portrait. The phone cord was stretched to screaming behind her. She did not remember crossing the large room. Looking back at the portrait, she shivered wondering why anyone would have such a thing in their home.
“I thought he wouldn’t escape,” Cole said.
Aisha furrowed her brow and shook her head. She was about to speak when Cole said, “Aisha.” His voice changed then, hardened. He was quiet for a moment. “He got out.”
Instinctively, Aisha turned to face the portrait. She moved closer for the light and screamed. Except for the leather chair, the frame was empty. Laughter crackled from the phone before the line went dead. Aisha dropped the handset and stood panting in the quiet house. Her eyes flicked to the ever-growing pools of shadow in the room. “Okay. Time to get the fuck out of here,” she said to herself. She started toward the hall back to the front parlor when she heard a solid thump from that direction. She was not alone. She stopped mid-stride and backed toward the sliding door. Another thump, this time closer and resonating deeper in her chest, spurred her through the door. Her first two strides on the back deck flicked off her heels. Two more strides and she was off the back deck and into the fields beyond.
Aisha threw herself into the twilight. She could feel the physical presence of the house behind her. It made the skin on the back of her neck crawl. Soon, the chill of the air penetrated the sheer dress and the encounter in the house wore off. She stopped at the crest of a small hill. She was not out of breath; six months at the new gym across the street from her apartment saw to that. She was coming to her senses, though.
“It was all a prank,” she muttered to herself. Cole was just playing a little trick on her. She did not know him well enough to rule out a lopsided sense of humor. “I’m sure he’s getting a good laugh.”
Just then she heard an explosion of glass breaking. It was the sliding door. It sounded as if all the windows in the house may have broken too. She held her breath. More glass broke. A noise in the darkness stilled her heart. She stood, waiting. Another noise, this time closer. She turned and, looking back down the hill, could just barely make out a form moving through the field toward her. Moonlight glinted off a nearly bald head. She gulped air and ran on.
He breathed the cold night air deeply through his nostrils. The cold filled him from his lungs, up to his throat, and chilled the roof of his mouth. He held the breath for a moment then exhaled in a long plume. He watched his breath expand into the air and dissipate as it rose, transfixed. He took another long breath; then another. Each time his cloud of breath extended further into the air and stayed longer. The cold filled him from the inside and it was beautiful. The cold was a novelty. Hot sun and sticky humidity seemed like abstract concepts. He was glad to have left them behind for the cooler climate. It suited him. He watched his breath become clouds beneath Orion’s sentinel stare until the cold became a thin shell around him.
Cole stood in a semicircle of worn gravestones. The moon reflected off the granite like low stage lights in Vaudeville. He stood center stage, his face illuminated. His hands lay at his sides He looked as if he had been standing there for an age and could keep standing there as the world died around him.
Cole smiled when he saw the shadow crest the hill below the cemetery. Eventually he could see the red-haired woman in the matching red dress clearly. She scrambled barefoot to the waist-high fence that marked the boundary between the farm and the graveyard. She stumbled and fell over it ungracefully, but he marveled at the speed with which she picked herself up and was running again. When she caught sight of him, her face was a mix of relief and confusion. He waved to her, “Aisha!”
She bent keeping a row of gravestones between them and rested her hands on her knees. Between gasps, she said, “Cole, what are you doing out here? What is going on?”
She looked up and saw Cole smiling at something behind her. She spun and gasped.
The man from the painting materialized out of the dark. She saw his nearly bald head first; he was sickly pale in the moonlight. His pronounced forehead cast dark shadows that engulfed his eyes. He stood before the fence unmoving; the dark sockets of his eyes never left Aisha. He slowly lifted one leg then the other over the fence. Mesmerized, she watched him walk stiffly around the perimeter of gravestones to stand beside Cole. He was about a head shorter and looked less real standing next flesh and blood; a shade of a man. Cole turned his head and nodded.
“I still want to be human again, Aisha,” he announced.
She straightened. “What? What are you talking about? What are you?” Her voice caught in her throat.
“What am I?” His voice was no more than a whisper.
The shade beside him echoed, “What am I?”
“I’m a murderer.”
Aisha’s breath caught. The shade slunk off behind a tombstone into the darkness. She knew he was moving in behind her and braced herself. Cole approached her picking his way between grave markers.
Cole tilted his head and looked at her fondly, “Oh, Aisha, you were so innocent.” He cupped her face in his hand. She was oddly calmed by the familiar touch of his skin and sighed. Her breath fogged out of her mouth into the cool air like her soul escaping her body. Abruptly, Cole’s hand twisted into her face like a claw and drew blood. She cried out and grasped his arms with her own, but she could not break his grip.
“Now look at you!” he spat into her face. “You are tainted. You are a blotch on the white robes worn by the chosen.”
“I don't know what you're talking about,” she sobbed.
“You know!” He roared. “You come to my house dressed like that. Of course you know. This is your own fault.” He pushed her away and turned. “Aisha, I’m confused.” His face contorted, and his body bent forward. He let out a great sob, bracing himself against a low gravestone.
Without a sound, the shade grabbed her from behind with arms that felt like steel cables. She struggled. He wrapped around her roughly and lifted her small frame off the ground. She kicked her bare feet against his shins and knees. His arms crushed the breath from her. Cole’s face became an explosion of stars as she almost blacked out. Before she could, she threw her head back into the shade's face. Her head hit with a crack as if she had whacked it against a cement wall. Then, she did black out.
Slowly, her vision cleared and she was looking down at a toppled tombstone. Strong arms kept her upright. Her tears and saliva combined in one gossamer drop from her face. The shade nuzzled his face against the back of her neck. His skin felt cold and reptilian. Her strength gone, Aisha shuddered in the sick embrace.
Cole righted himself and half sat on the gravestone. Behind her, the shade began to sigh and mumble incoherently. He drooled on her neck and shoulder. Cole began mumbling in time with the shade, repeating the same sounds. He swayed back and forth becoming more and more agitated.
Suddenly, he shrieked and leaped at Aisha. He grabbed her by the shoulders; his fingertips dug into her skin and drew blood. She screamed. Cole pulled her forward. The shade dropped lower and grabbed her by the legs. Together they flipped her over so she could see the blanket of stars above in the crisp night.
For a brief moment, everything stopped. Her breath became a long white cloud when she exhaled. It briefly obscured Orion’s shimmering belt. She remembered the countless times she had looked up at Him in the winter sky. Then she felt pain. She looked down into the hideously grinning face of the shade. Drool dripped from his bloodless lips. The moonlight glinted off his near-bald head. A low groan rumbled in his throat.
She tilted her head back and looked into Cole’s eyes. His face was contorted in pain. There was madness swimming naked in his eyes. Several emotions crossed his face then were replaced by rage. He screamed and, together, the two men hoisted her above their heads like a great offering to the stars.
Before the small stage lights of the reflected moon, they raised her up to the stars. Aisha screamed to an absent audience.