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darkness wakes: Chapter one

by Tim Waggoner

The unmarked metal door banged open, and a short pot-bellied man stumbled out into the night. Eyes wild with fear, breath coming in ragged, phlegmy gasps. He wore a red polo shirt stretched tight over his protruding stomach and khaki shorts from which emerged a pair of surprisingly bony legs. Sweat streamed from the man’s body as if his pores were weeping, and his damp clothes stuck to him like a second sodden skin.            

He hurried across the sidewalk in front of the businesses in the shopping center and ran into the parking lot, sandaled feet slapping against the blacktop. He was in his mid-fifties, and though he’d gotten a clean bill of health during his last check-up, heart disease ran in his family. He could hear his heart pounding rapidly, could feel it slamming against his chest wall as if it were a terrified caged animal desperate to break free. He feared that his heart might burst before he could escape, but given how likely that was, maybe he’d be better off if his heart did pack it in. He was certain it would be a painful, awful way to die, but he was also sure it would be preferable to what his pursuers would do to him if they caught him.

It was after midnight, but the absence of sunlight didn’t do much to make the late July air any cooler. If anything, it seemed hotter and more humid than during the day. Breathing was like sucking in the air from a blast furnace, and he imagined it searing his throat and lungs, cooking him from the inside out.

Stop it! he told himself. Keep thinking like that and you’ll talk yourself into having a heart attack!

All he had to do was reach his SUV. Once he was behind the wheel of his Suburban Uber Vehicle, as he thought of it, he’d be safe. He’d drive straight out of town, not bothering to stop at his condo and park. He had an old college buddy in Kentucky that he went fishing with now and again. He’d head for Stan’s place – none of them knew about it, so they wouldn’t be able to find him there. He’d hole up there for a few days, maybe a week or two at the most until he could get his shit together and decide what to do next.

There weren’t many vehicles in the parking lot at this time of night, and he’d left his SUV – with vanity plates that read FOOTZEE – beneath a fluorescent light pole, so he had no trouble finding it in his panicked state. He headed straight for it, wishing that he’d spent more time in his life exercising than sitting on his fat ass watching TV or surfing the Net. Hell, right now he wished he’d trained to be a goddamned Olympic sprinter!

He hated to leave, though he wouldn’t miss Ptolemy. The town was little more than a stain on the southwest corner of the Ohio state map. And while he regretted abandoning his podiatry practice, the truth was he’d long ago gotten sick of treating in-grown toenails and bunions. He had no family and no real friends here, save for those he now fled from. The only thing he would regret leaving was Penumbra, and the dark ecstasy that he had found within its walls. The very thought of going without its fell bliss nauseated him, and he imagined he could already feel the first faint pangs of withdrawal.

He reached his SUV and jammed a pudgy hand into his shorts pockets in search of his keys. At first he couldn’t find them, and an icicle of fear pierced his gut. Had he lost his keys earlier in the club? Or had the others, somehow anticipating his failure tonight, stolen them from him? He didn’t see how the latter was possible, but that didn’t mean it was impossible. Not for them.

But he dug a little deeper and found his keys right where they were supposed to be. He pulled them out and fumbled for the car remote. He unlocked the car, gripped the handle, and threw the driver’s side door open. But before he could climb up into the seat, he felt a hand clamp down on his left shoulder. A tiny screech escaped his throat, a sound like a frightened little girl might make. His keys slipped from his fingers as he was turned around, and they hit the ground with a jingle. Excuses began to dribble from his lips like an idiot’s drool.

“I didn’t know she was strung out, I swear to Christ! If I had, I never would’ve brought her, never!”

“You should’ve checked her out before you brought her to Penumbra, Morgan.” Caroline’s voice was cold and without pity. She was the only one that had caught up to him so far, but though she must’ve run fast to catch him, he hadn’t heard her and she wasn’t breathing hard.

“What was I supposed to do? Take her to a clinic for a blood test?” He surprised himself by how calm he sounded, as if the fault for what had happened was theirs instead of his.

“If you weren’t certain, you shouldn’t have brought her. You know the rules.”

Morgan detected movement out of the corner of his eye. He glanced toward the open doorway that was the entrance to Penumbra and saw the others were filtering out one by one to join them. They didn’t run, didn’t even walk fast. They simply walked out of the club and into the parking lot as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Somehow, that was even more frightening to Morgan than if they had run. It meant they weren’t concerned about his escaping, that they’d never even considered it a serious possibility.

“But I couldn’t find anyone else, and it was my turn tonight.” He hated how whiny and pathetic his voice sounded, like a little boy trying to talk his way out of being punished. But he couldn’t help it. “I didn’t want to come empty-handed. Didn’t want to go without any longer. I . . . needed it.”

The others were coming closer. They were all there – Wyatt, Gillian, Trevor, Shari, Spencer, and Caroline’s husband Phillip – and they all shared the same grim expression on their faces.

“We all need it,” Caroline said. “Just as badly as you do. But the difference between us is that we’re still going to get it.” She stepped closer, smiled, and touched her index finger to his pudgy dry lips. “And you’re going to give it to us.”

Morgan cried out in terror and shoved her away. He knelt down to search for his keys. He saw them lying on the ground, reached for them, but Caroline kicked out and knocked them under his SUV with the side of her flip-flop. Morgan swore, crouched lower, stretched his hand under the car, fingers scrabbling frantically as he tried to grab hold of his keys. But even as he reached for them, he knew it was too late. Even if he managed to get hold of them, he’d never be able to get into his SUV in time, let alone shut the door and start the engine.

He heard footsteps on the blacktop draw closer, then stop. He turned his had and saw feet and legs of his friends and fellow addicts. He knew he should stand up and accept his fate like a man, but instead he collapsed to the ground and began to sob. Someone – Phillip and Trevor, he guessed, though he couldn’t tell through the tears in his eyes – grabbed hold of his fleshy upper arms and hauled him to his feet. And then they began escorting him back to Penumbra, walking on either side of him, holding tight to his arms so he couldn’t escape. He considered letting his body go limp, becoming deadweight. He was heavy enough that they would have trouble getting him back inside if he didn’t help them. If he could delay them long enough for someone else to enter the parking lot, perhaps a patrolling police car . . .

But Morgan didn’t do it. For with each step he took back toward the open doorway, his fear slowly receded to be replaced with the first faint stirrings of desire, and he was surprised to find himself starting to become erect. He knew he was going to die this night, and in a way far more horrible than most people could imagine. And yet, at least he’d get to be in its presence one more time, feel its cold loving touch . . .

Maybe it won’t be so bad, he thought. Maybe it’ll even feel good . . . better than ever before.

And so by the time Dr. Morgan Pierson, DPM, was escorted across the threshold and back into Penumbra, his fear had given way to anticipation. The last person to return to the club shut and locked the door behind him. And though no one outside could hear because of Penumbra’s soundproofed walls, several moments later, Morgan began to scream.

He’d been wrong; it didn’t feel good. Not for him, anyway.