Elder Things - Episode Two
Herman tapped his toes anxiously, unaware this would be the last time he ever called his son.
Ringing, ringing, ringing.
The natural ringing in Herman's ears melding with the endless ringing of his son’s phone, droning on and on, until:
“Hi you’ve reached Alexander Hill, I can’t come to the phone right now, but please leave a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”
What was the point?
After the beep, Herman spoke in noncommittal pleasantries for the umpteenth time, explaining that he’s free for a call from his family whenever they might have the time.
A sinister voice Herman had become too familiar with reminded him that he was a burden, hidden away so as not to bother or horrify the family with his hideous age.
That voice got louder once he put the phone’s receiver back in the cradle.
Herman knew he was giving in to his age. The fight was almost out of him. Somewhere, he imagined Mickey and Penny having a quiet dessert in one of their rooms. Maybe they were even holding hands.
Elsewhere, Mirabell and the new gal Daisy were probably engaged in lengthy calls with their loving children.
The kids always love their mother more.
And here was Herman, cracking the window before shakily lowering himself back into his armchair, where he would inevitably spend the rest of the night. He’d fall asleep in front of the TV, and then he’d struggle back to his feet in the morning the way he always did, just eating a few meals before returning to this very spot.
Well…not tomorrow. Tomorrow he had a mission, of sorts. Tomorrow he had something important to do.
Herman shifted in his seat, bending in just the right way to send a bolt of pain up his back. He shook it off, closing his eyes.
There was a book waiting for him, full of proof of a murderous plot here at the home. An impossible plot, but a plot all the same.
Across the room, the window slammed shut, jolting Herman awake. There in front of him was the ghost of his recently deceased friend, standing at the window clutching his left arm.
Herman watched him with curiosity, disbelieving his presence though unable to explain it away. An omen? A vision of guilt?
Robert Dawson had died alone. Herman had just about sensed it.
Every night, the old people divide and head back to their chambers, and in the morning, everyone plays a game, guessing who might just be late for breakfast, and who isn’t coming back downstairs without an entourage of EMT’s.
Robert ran his life like he was still in the military. He was not the sort of man to be late. So when he didn’t show up to poker, the writing was on the wall. But it wasn’t just the probability game. Somehow, Herman had felt that Robert was gone.
He felt it, and he knew the groundskeeper was responsible.
Herman studied the ghost of his friend, picturing Robert Dawson’s journal, perhaps full of information that could help him avenge his friend’s death.
“Not my turn yet, Robert.”
Herman’s voice was barely a croak, but gazing through the heaviness of his eyelids, he could tell the ghost had heard him. With a shadow of a creak, Robert Dawson’s head swiveled to stare at Herman as if offended, before the ghost pivoted on its heel. In less than a blink, he was standing beside Herman, tall and proud like the military man he was. With another sound like branches snapping, Robert Dawson’s face leered impossibly downward.
Herman had never seen his friend carry anything but a stoic expression of strength.
“NOT YOUR TURN?!”
Robert Dawson’s grimacing eyes stared into Herman. He looked through Herman’s eyes, to the core of his being. Not the brain, something deeper. The soul, if such a thing exists. Robert Dawson was warning the ghost hiding inside Herman’s calloused and bent body.
“IT IS YOUR TURN, HERMAN. IT IS YOUR TURN NEXT AND IT IS GOING TO HURT.”
Herman felt his heart pounding in his chest. It had been brought to frantic life, beating in a way it hadn’t for decades.
He was speechless. Frozen. He tried to move, only to find he couldn’t. He could hardly think.
Robert Dawson’s ghost pressed down on him, it was all Herman could see.
“IT HURTS, HERMAN. IT HURTS WORSE THAN ANYTHING YOU’VE EVER FELT.”
Herman felt like he was at the bottom of the sea, buried under thousands of pounds of clear blue ocean.
“I WROTE IT ALL DOWN. HE KNOWS, HERMAN. HE KNOWS.”
Still unable to speak, Herman’s mind raced:
“It’s what I thought. It’s about the book. Why are you still here, Robert? Are you trying to help?”
“HE WON’T LET US GO. HE NEEDS US HERE.”
Sinking deeper: “I’m going to get him, Robert.”
“IT HURTS, HERMAN.”
The room darkening: “I’ll get your book.”
“IT HURTS WORSE THAN ANYTHING YOU’VE EVER FELT.”
Energy fading: “I’m going to stop it.”
“WORST THAN EVERYTHING.”
Lying to himself: “Not my turn.”
The ghost watched as Herman, sapped of energy, collapsed dead asleep. It didn’t move an inch. It stared as if half remembering that it was once alive.
The thing shaped like Robert Dawson could only remember pain.
The violence of an engine sputtering to life shook Herman awake. He nearly sat bolt upright before his body remembered it couldn’t bend.
Faintly, the memory of the night’s visitation returned to Herman. Real or not, he remained motivated to find Robert’s journal. Rubbing his face, he wondered if it had all been a dream.
And then he looked up.
“IT HURTS. IT HURTS WORSE THAN ANYTHING YOU’VE EVER FELT.”
Robert Dawson’s insane eyes bulged, only barely visible, begging Herman to seek a different end.
Herman would be dead by the end of the day.