Writer-In-Progress; Windigo Soul, written by Robert Brumm
June 30, 2014 Leave a comment
This month I bring you an excerpt from fellow Deadpixel Publishing author Robert Brumm.
The clock in the living room sounded two times and he sighed in frustration. It had been such a long day but it wasn’t nearly long enough. He’d run out of days. It was two hours past midnight on the fourteenth of May. Two hours into his sixtieth birthday. His final birthday.
He let out another long sigh and rolled over on his side, pulling the damp sheet away from his sticky skin. The dark outline of his wife’s body beside him remained motionless and her steady breathing continued. He almost reached out to squeeze her shoulder, to wake her up so he didn’t have to face his insomnia alone, but he let her sleep.
Hank quietly slipped out of bed and wandered into the living room, pulling a t-shirt over his head along the way. He pulled open the picture window curtains allowing the dim light from the street below into his home. He placed his palm on the pane of glass, clean on his side, filthy on the other, and looked down to the street. By his recollection, it had been well over six months since the landlord had the exterior windows cleaned. The build-up of grime and dirt relentlessly attacking the outside of the building left his living room window almost as cloudy as the frosted shower door down the hall.
He unlatched the window and pushed it open, the hinges groaning the whole way from years of neglect. Hank held his breath and glanced back at the dark bedroom, waiting to see if the noise woke Peg. Letting in the outside air, even for a minute, would send her into a panic. But Hank had to risk it. The apartment suddenly felt oppressive. His desire to breathe in the night air, overwhelming.
He leaned out the window and took a deep breath, covering his mouth and attempting to quiet a cough as the air burned his lungs. It had been unseasonably hot over the last few days and the air quality was the worst it had been in months. On most evenings it seemed a little cleaner and easier to breathe than during the daytime, but when it was this hot, there didn’t seem to be too much of a difference.
Hank watched as an affluent young couple crossed the street below, dressed in bright designer clothes, complete with matching face masks. They walked with light steps and light voices, laughing and holding hands as they rounded the corner and continued on to wherever it was young couples went after midnight.
He turned his gaze upwards to the sky, hoping by some miracle he’d get a glimpse of the stars or at least the moon. It would have been nice to at least see the moon on his final night, but the usual dirty haze hung over the city like a filthy blanket. Hank closed the window and shut the curtains. He rubbed his eyes and coughed into his hands, paying for the few seconds of unfiltered air, as he made his way to the kitchen. The faucet gauge reported just enough water left from the daily ration for a small glass. He waited as the final drops tapered off into the cup before taking a sip and reached for his tablet on the counter.
Hank pinched the cracked bezel in just the right spot, allowing whatever dodgy connection of wires beneath the plastic to make contact and light up the display. As usual, the desire to buy a new one crossed his mind before the grim realization took hold and he remembered he wouldn’t need it.
He flipped to his in box and read the notice for what must have been the hundredth time since it arrived last week.
Congratulations REED, HENRY. After a fulfilling life as a patriotic citizen of the State, your retirement has arrived. You are required by law to report to the Federal Department of Retirement Processing Unit, SECTOR 3, MIDWEST DIVISION, on MAY 14. 10:00 A.M. The United Federation of Nations thanks you in advanced for being prompt.
The rest of the message went on in a slew of sugar-coated propaganda, trying to convince him of the great patriotic duty he was about to fulfill and the future generations he was saving. He drained the glass and turned to see Peg standing in the doorway.
“Jesus!” The tablet slipped from his fingers and hit the floor despite Hank’s attempt to grab it in midair. He crouched down and turned it over, cursing under his breath at the spider web of cracks covering the entire glass display.
Peg caught her breath and squatted to Hank’s level, her knees popping like firecrackers on the way down. “I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to startle you.” She reached for the device and pinched the familiar magic spot but the screen remained dark. “Is it broken for good this time?”
“Looks like it.” Hank stood up with a groan. “We were past due for another one anyway. I pass a guy on the corner almost every day selling cheap knockoffs. They’re probably hot, but it would be stupid to buy a new one now.”
Hank regretted what he said the second it slipped out, and studied Peg’s face for a reaction as she stood up. She was having a hard enough time facing his mortality as it was, and the last thing he intended to do was remind her of her own. She ran her hand absently over the cracked glass and nodded.
Peg placed the tablet on the counter and dusted off her hands. “You’re thinking about tomorrow, aren’t you? Is that why you left me alone in bed?”
“Nah,” Hank lied. “Just couldn’t sleep. It’s too damn hot.”
“Maybe we should just stay up. Put on a pot of coffee and play some cards or something?”
Hank pointed to the dim CFL bulb humming in the light fixture above. “What, and sit on the floor squinting at the cards?” The kitchen and bathroom were the only lighting circuits active after nine o’clock. The latest mandate to hit in an attempt to save energy. “No, you need your sleep. Let’s go back to bed.”
He took her hand and led her back to bed. They laid in silence for a moment before Hank
turned to his wife. “Promise me you’ll move in with the kids, Peg. They said they’d be more than happy to have you. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about you buying stolen electronics on the street corner and sweating to death in this dump. You’ll be comfortable there.”
Peg inhaled deeply through her nose and let out a long sigh. “Honey, please. We’ve been over this a dozen times. I’ll be just fine here by myself, and John and Sara are just a few blocks away.
Besides, it’s just a couple of months before my time, too.”
“It’s four months and I’d feel a lot better if I knew you weren’t alone at night.”
“I don’t want to hear another word!” Peg flipped on her side and faced him. “I’m a big girl and I can take care of myself.”
Hank knew when to give up. Peg was a stubborn woman and he knew they could argue all night and it wouldn’t do any good. He nodded and gently placed his hand on her check, kissed her on the lips. His intended quick peck lingered into a deep kiss and he pulled her close. They made love and Hank fell into a dreamless sleep, still holding on to his wife. He opened his eyes as the living room clock finished chiming six times.
Robert Brumm lives in Southeastern Wisconsin with his wife and two children. He can be found during the day slaving over a hot server as a systems administrator. At night, if he’s not drinking beer in front of the television or taking his puggle for a walk, you just might find him writing in the basement.
Link for Windigo Soul: