Christmas Takeover 32 Pt 2: Matthew C. Woodruff: The Dark New Year

The Dark New Year

A Short Story by Matthew C. Woodruff
1,939 words

As soon as he woke, Jay knew something was wrong. Though he was yet to open his eyes, every other sense was telling him things were somehow different. The air felt oppressive, strange smells assaulted his nostrils and even the feel of the bed was wrong. Momentarily Jay felt befuddled. Finally he also noticed faint background sounds that he couldn’t quite recognize. All at once Jay realized he wasn’t in the same place where he had gone to sleep the previous night.

Today is Monday, New Year’s Day and even though he had partied with his friends and imbibed liberally the night before, Jay distinctly remembered going to sleep in his own bed. As he thought about the events of last night he could even remember the Uber driver’s headlights startling a small raccoon as he pulled into a parking space in front of Jay’s building.

Just as he was going to give into the desire to open his eyes, he heard a faint rustling sound from across the room. The unexpected noise caused Jay to stiffen and he quieted his breathing, straining to listen closer in the hopes of hearing more. There is someone or something in the room with me, he thought with a small jolt of fear.

He was loath to give away the fact that he was now awake because he did not know what circumstances he has found himself, or in fact, how he had gotten wherever he seemed to be. Suddenly Jay realized there could be someone watching him. His fear and curiosity increased.

Has he been drugged and snatched from his own bed? Did he suffer some kind of medical emergency, an aneurism maybe and he is now in a hospital where he may have lain in a coma for who knows how long? Has there been a natural disaster or even a nuclear attack and he was brought to a survivors’ center? His mind whirled, seeking an explanation that made sense. But without more input he just didn’t have enough data to form a justifiable conclusion.

Finally, and without moving his head, Jay slowly opened one eye just a crack.

From his vantage point of lying flat on his back, he would have only a limited range of view. Jay expected to see a ceiling and maybe part of an upper wall. He saw nothing however, only blackness. He opened his other eye, and slightly turned his head toward the earlier sound. Still only blackness surrounded him. He couldn’t even see his hand held directly in front of his face. Earlier he was feeling both curiosity and fear to the strange circumstance he had found himself in. Now the total darkness was leaching the courage from him completely. Jay wondered where he could possibly be, for he had no idea.

Jay was hearing heavy breathing now and soon realized it was coming from himself. He had to calm down. Jay attempted to control his breathing and slow his heart. He closed his eyes again automatically in preparation for a calming technique he sometimes uses, but soon realized it didn’t matter. There was absolutely no light wherever he was. His attempt at the calming technique was soon abandoned. Right now, he needed more information.

A new sensation started pulsing through him, one that caused him to flush with the heat of worry. He had to take a piss, badly. He also realized he was terribly thirsty. No doubt both extremes resulting from the partying the night before. If it had been the night before, he thought.

Soon Jay wouldn’t have the luxury of laying in the bed, thinking. He would have to get out and find out where he was. He again heard a noise from across the room, if it was a room. Jay knew he could not let his imagination run astray. That type of worry would not be helpful and, as his bladder was insistently alerting him, he had enough worries for the moment.

After a few more minutes Jay decided to sit up and swing his feet onto the floor, being driven by desperation more than anything else. There must be a bathroom. Every place had a bathroom, Jay thought trying to marshal his resolve.

Jay pushed off the thin covering and sat up swinging his legs off the side of the bed. The platform of the bed must be unusually high though because Jay’s feet did not touch the floor. As he performed this small movement, he again heard a noise from nearby. A rustle caused by the movement of someone else, he wondered. He was in complete and utter blackness, and so was whomever or whatever else was in there with him. The insistent pressure on his bladder increased with the movement.

Jay stretched out one foot as far downward as possible, still meeting no resistance. How high off the floor am I, he wondered. Should he just jump down? The obvious thing to do he knew, would be to toss something over the side and wait for the noise of it striking the floor. But what could he use? He had no jewelry, no watch and no wallet. In fact, he had on no clothes, just the boxers he normally slept in.

He got fully back on the bed, and slowly stood up, balancing precariously on the spongy surface. He reached out fully with both arms but encountered nothing but air. No matter how far he reached, there were no nearby walls nor could not reach the ceiling or underneath the bed. By finding the edges of the ‘bed’ he was on, he could tell it was possibly just a bit wider than twice his width and about a foot longer than his prone length. It seemed as if he was floating on a small island in dark space.

He sat back down with his legs over one side. There was nothing more for it now, he thought. He had to piss, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to piss on himself. He maneuvered himself to what he considered the foot of the bed, got up on his knees and eagerly and desperately pissed over the side. He was intently listening for the final splash as his urine hit the floor underneath him, but no sound ever came back.

Once finished, Jay lay back down on the bed with his hands behind his head. He felt an inexplicable need to masturbate but squashed down the desire. Fear does strange things.

Soon he considered that he must be being watched or otherwise monitored. What else would be the point to imprison someone in the dark with absolutely nowhere to go but to gauge reactions?

After thinking about it for some time, Jay thought that maybe the monitoring was physical. He felt all over his body, in front and back and was rewarded by finding a small dime-shaped object attached in the small of his back. It felt totally smooth but was somehow embedded in the skin. So, just as he had thought, it was probably a small monitoring device of some kind. Someone brought him here as a kind of a test. But who, and why and where was here? These were the questions that all swirled around in Jay’s head.

But still he had no answers.

At this point and after exhausting all obvious attempts to discover something about his environment and circumstances Jay determined his only choice was to try to communicate with whomever. Jay hated scenes in movies where a character heard a noise in his house and walked through it saying ‘hello?’ as if some burglar or serial killer would respond to the genial request for communication. He considered it weak writing.

As he lay considering this, Jay heard the same rustle of movement from across the way.

Jay’s heartbeat intensified. “Hello?” Jay said out loud, sitting up. The rustle of sound continued for a moment then died away, just like the previous times he had heard it.

“Hello,” he demanded, “Answer me! Why am I here? Who are you?”

No answer ever came back.

Jay didn’t know how long he was in that dark place for, but after he screamed himself out he had fell asleep again and woke again and again and again. No effort to communicate, no matter how loud, how insistent or how hysterical was successful. The noises form across the way came intermittently and died away just as inexplicably as they started. Jay slept, woke, wondered and pissed for an indeterminate cycle of time.

Soon, the blackness became all. Jay knew something had to change before he lost his mind completely and only he could change it. He had no idea how long he had been in the darkness. Days, weeks, months… he could no longer tell.

Finally, he came to a decision. Jay sat up and swung his legs back over the side of the bed. After a moment he turned over and laying on his stomach he inched down the side of the bed until he was only hanging on with his hands. Still he could not feel a floor.

Now was the time for action, Jay thought and before his courage ran out, Jay let go.

The ringing of his cell phone woke him up. He slowly opened his eyes to find himself in his own bed, at home. Jay was in his own bedroom which was flooded with morning light. It was just a strange dream then, he thought. A very strange dream. He rolled over and grabbed the phone off the night table.

“Hello?” he said.

“Jay, buddy,’ the voice started. “Where the hell are you?”

“Jackson?” Jay asked. Jackson was Jay’s best friend since they both started working for the same software developer three years ago. “What…what is it?” he asked.

“You aren’t at work, dude. Are you okay?” Jackson asked. “You aren’t still hung over from the other night are you?”

“At work”, Jay repeated, being unable to wrap his mind around his suddenly changed circumstances. Today should be New Year’s Day, a work holiday…unless…

“Dude, Its Tuesday, we have that analyst meeting in ten minutes. I’ve been trying your cell all morning. Are you still at home?” Jackson said with some uncustomary concern in his voice.

Jay paused, looked around feeling confused and finally replied, “Um, yeah I am. It’s Tuesday, you said?” he asked. “I will call you back.” Jay hit the end call button and tossed his cell onto the bed and ran into the bathroom, shielding his eyes from the uncustomary brightness.

He gazed at himself in the mirror. He needed a shave, but no more than a normal night’s worth. He desperately turned around to see his lower back in the mirror but was unable to get the correct angle. He opened and dug through several drawers until he found a handheld mirror. He turned his back to the wall mirror once again and gazed at it in the handheld.

He now had a small but noticeable scar in the small of his back. Suddenly the bright lights and left-over fear and adrenalin overcame his reason. Jay ran through the apartment, turning off lights, closing blinds and drapes, anything to block out the insistent, unforgiving light.

Still it wasn’t enough.

In pure desperation to be away from the light, Jay ensconced himself in the small hallway closet, used towels and pillow cases to block the slight light coming in around the closed door.

It wasn’t total darkness, but it calmed Jay down immensely. It would have to do.

The End.

Matthew grew up in upstate New York surrounded by books (and snow). After founding what became the most widely distributed alternative arts and entertainment magazine in upstate NY (based in Albany), Matthew moved to Greenville, FL where he accepted a position on staff at the University of Florida.

His first book, 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions, was inspired by his love of the macabre illustrations by artists like Edward Gorey. Selected as a finalist in the American Fiction Awards, 26 Absurdities may be the most unique collection of short stories ever written.

Matthew’s second book, Tales from the Aether, continues in the Dark Humor/Dark Fiction genre and is scheduled to be released November 1, 2019.

Matthew loves to be contacted by fellow authors and readers and can be found on Twitter or Facebook.

Christmas Takeover 32 Pt 1: Matthew C. Woodruff: A Christmas Tale to Chill Your Heart

A Christmas Tale to Chill Your Heart

A Short Story by Matthew C. Woodruff
2,183 words

The beauty of the late autumn day was in sharp contradiction to the chilling aura oozing out of the Arnos Vale Cemetery that day. Even though the unseasonably warm sun was shining encouragingly on the shoppers at the annual Arnos Vale Christmas Market, Meshelle felt only a foreboding she couldn’t define even to herself. To Meshelle the ancient Arnos Vale Cemetery could have been the setting for any number of horror movies, all of which would most likely end in blood-splattering and gruesome ways.

She hesitated just as she was about to enter through the towering and ornate classical Greek granite and wrought iron gates.

“Come on,” her friend said to her from a good ten paces ahead, turning around and wondering what the holdup was. By now Meshelle’s friend was used to her small peculiarities. Meshelle was sensitive to certain things, often had a sense of foreboding or a feeling of the imminent intervention of destiny into her own or someone else’s life.

“Shel, just take a look at this place, it’s beautiful,” her best friend said while motioning around at everything, walking back toward her while trying to sound encouraging.

In her mind Meshelle agreed. Arnos Vale Cemetery was a beautiful place, with its wide stone walkways, the immaculately kept trees and shrubbery, with the bright morning sun glowing through their branches. Even the statues and stone mausoleums had a grace that couldn’t be denied. But in her heart, Meshelle could feel that the cold hand of fate was about to close.

Meshelle swallowed down her misgivings and allowed her friend to pull her inside. As she stepped through the portal into this habitation of the decaying, a strong sense of Déjà Vu washed over her, causing her to stumble. Her friend looked at her with concern.

“You ok?” She asked.

“Yes, I’m fine,” Meshelle answered. “It’s just, well you know… I felt…”

Meshelle’s friend did indeed know, for she had heard the story before from Meshelle. In fact, it was one of the first things she learned about her. It had been Christmas Eve thirteen years ago. Meshelle and her mother had been on the High Street in London just having finished a little last-minute shopping on the cold and snowy day and were headed to a hotel for lunch when a sudden and terrible feeling of foreboding washed over young Meshelle. So strong was the feeling that Meshelle stopped suddenly shaking uncontrollably, dropping the few bags she was carrying in the middle of the street and into the dirty slush, scaring them both.

“Shel, whatever is it dear,” her mother asked seeing Meshelle’s face white with fear, looking around to see if something was wrong. Ten-year-old Meshelle fought back the tears, looking at her boots she said shakily, “I…I don’t know, Ma. I just felt…wrong.” She was unable to put into words then, what she knew so strongly now. Something terrible was going to happen. Her mother pursed her lips, worried but not understanding. “Come on let’s pick these up and hurry into the hotel,” she said.

They hurried across the rest of the street, fogs of breath streaming out and the dirty slush squishing out from the bottoms of their boots with every stride. Their target, the Milestone Hotel was a grand old place reminiscent of times that were more refined. The huge lobby was speckled with divans, chairs, tables and ottomans. Ornate Persian carpets had been scattered about as if on a whim. There were grandiose side bureaus astrewn with draping holiday arrangements and side tables seemingly without number that were home to delicate looking antique vases or lamps or small statuary.

Large chandeliers of cut crystal were hanging from the high vaulted ceiling, bathing everything and everyone in a mid-19th century like glow. The largest fir tree either of them ever saw dominated the center of the tall lobby, colorfully decorated gaily with balls, ornaments, ribbon and bows and all manner of Christmas decoration. A ‘Happy Christmas’ was on everyone’s lips and shared willingly with fellow hotel guests as they chanced to pass one another.

On any normal day Meshelle and her mother would both be awestruck by the display of ample wealth and elegance and the fabulous Christmas decorations. Today they headed directly into the little side café, peeling off gloves, scarves and coats on the way, getting lighter and lighter like quickly melting snowmen. This wasn’t a normal day though or a normal Christmas Eve and not just because of Meshelle’s earlier sense of looming doom.

This Christmas was meant to be unique and special.

Much earlier that year, when the first birds and blooms of spring were appearing, Meshelle had spent a day home in bed, shaking with an undefined fear and foreboding, only to find out later that she had lost her father to an accident at work. It was a tragedy and was an Augean task to come to terms with for them both. There were several dark months for them earlier that year. But as time passed and its healing magic did its work, life began to return and take on a new normal.

This was the first Christmas since the loss and since they had no other family, Meshelle’s mother decided to start a new tradition for just the two of them. Instead of spending Christmas in their little memory-filled country house, they would spend Christmas Eve, Christmas day and Boxing day in London where all the hustle and bustle happened, in the hopes of bringing at least some joy, novelty and frivolity into the season.

As they installed themselves at a little table near the warmly burning fireplace and draped their coats and scarves over the backs of the chairs, like some conquering army’s pennants, a young and handsome black-tied waiter appeared with two menus. “Ladies,” he started, his American accent unmistakable, “merry…er I mean happy Christmas!”

Meshelle’s mother returned the greeting with a smile, but Meshelle kept her head down, for she was shy, and the waiter was very cute.

“Can I bring you both some hot chocolate or eggnog?” He inquired of them, handing each of them a lunch menu.

“I think hot chocolate sounds lovely,” Meshelle’s mother said to him. “Is that ok, dear?” She asked Meshelle.

“Yes, please” Meshelle quietly replied still barely looking up. The waiter smiled and turned toward the kitchens, stopping to check on a lovely older couple’s table on the way.

“My, isn’t he cute.” Meshelle’s mother said to a blushing Meshelle, glad the day was returning to normal. “Any idea what you want for lunch, today?”

“Cheese sandwich on toast,” she answered glancing at the menu just to verify it was offered. “And tomato soup.” It was her favorite. It was what she always ordered.

“That sounds delicious”, her mother agreed “but I think I will have the chicken today with the soup.”

The waiter soon returned to place two large mugs of steaming frothy hot chocolate in front of them both, adding a cinnamon stick to Meshelles while giving her a little wink, making her blush even more furiously.

With an appreciative laugh her mother ordered and the day resumed, all thoughts of the strange, earlier incident escaping from their minds like the fog of their breaths had earlier from their mouths. They both sat silently and contemplated the coming celebrations and gifts.

Fifteen minutes later, Meshelle’s mother choked to death on her chicken sandwich, the young waiter standing by helplessly while other patrons attempted in vain to assist her.

Eventually, Meshelle ended up in the same foster home as her now best friend and her life once again resumed.

“Come on,” Meshelle tugged on her friend’s sleeve coming back to the moment, “Let’s forget about all that and do some shopping!”

“Right on, Girl,” Her friend answered, heading with her toward the first of the vendor stalls.

The Cemetery that day was a plethora of gift giving ideas. There were quirky handmade gifts for sale. There was jewelry, homewares and art prints featuring wildflower and British animal watercolour illustrations. There were also bath and body products, including Merino felted soap. For the dog lover there was handmade dog accessories and pet portraits and prints. There were bags and scarves and boots for sale. There were kitchen accessories and small appliances. Meshelle even bought a new carving knife for herself.

And there was food galore available, there was hot chocolate and hot dogs, there was ice cream and ice coffee, there was muffins and danish, croissants and rolls, there were hot pretzels and freshly popped popcorn. The list of gloriously unhealthy food went on and on. There was enough going on to make Meshelle and her friend forget the day’s earlier worries.

Mid-day found Meshelle and her friend wandering off the main paths of the cemetery into the older and less traversed areas. Here the sites were not so well cared for. There was broken and turned over headstones, grass and shrubbery needed to be cared for and a few mausoleum doors were broken and ajar. There was even one open grave with a nearby rusty pick and shovel moldering in the grass.

The sounds of the Christmas market were fading into the distance.

“Come on,” Meshelle said, “Let’s head back” not liking the eerie surroundings.

“Wait, I have to tell you something.” Her friend said in a strange tone, stopping.

Meshelle turned toward her and placing her bags on a nearby, broken bench, took her hands. “What is it?”

After a pause Meshelle’s friend said, “I’m pregnant.”

Momentarily Meshelle was surprised into silence. Her friend was a lesbian and had been in a serious relationship for several years.

“Oh my God that’s great, isn’t it?” Meshelle inquired, trying to gauge her friend’s feelings. “You wanted a baby, didn’t you?”

When there was no reply from her pensive looking friend, Meshelle continued with, “who’s the baby daddy?” trying to lighten the mood before her friend’s silence became over-whelming.

“Robert,” her friend stated quietly, not looking at Meshelle.

“Robert? You mean my Robert?” Meshelle asked incredulously, her brow furrowing and dropping her friend’s hands like they were loathsome things. She and Robert had been dating fairly seriously for five months. Meshelle had confided to her friend that she thought she was in love. Now she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“My Robert?” She asked again sounding a little hysterical before becoming increasingly angry at the thought of the monstrous betrayal.

“Shel, I am so sorry… I…we didn’t mean for it to happen, it was just… Robert doesn’t know.” Her friend’s excuses tapered away, while she grabbed ineffectually at Meshelle’s hand.

Shaking free of her friend’s touch Meshelle turned toward the bench to try to quiet her raging heart. Red filled her vision. Her friend’s voice saying ‘Robert’ swirled furiously around and around in her head.

She looked up at her surroundings trying hard to calm down but all she could see around her was neglected death. The earlier sense of foreboding came crashing into her. It’s all just too much, she thought to herself, I lost dad then mom and now this!

She looked back down and all she could see now was the carving knife in one of her shopping bags. She pictured in her mind how sweet the end would be when it was finally all over, no more loss and no more pain. She picked up the bag and removed the box the knife was in.

“Shel, you’re scaring me, what are you doing?” Her friend said, quietly weeping now. “It’s not that bad, we can work through it…”

“SHUT UP!” Meshelle screamed no longer wanting to hear her friend’s pathetic voice, finally extricating the knife from the box.

She quickly turned toward her friend and plunged the knife deep into her friend’s stomach, killing both her and whatever life was growing inside, blood pouring out onto the unkempt path. A look of horror and fear flashed across her friend’s face as she dropped dead to the ground.

A little while later, the red receded and some sense of sanity returned to Meshelle. She dragged her friend’s corpse into the cold open grave and using the broken shovel covered it over with dirt, weeds and rock. She did her best to clean up the knife and cover over the blood on the path. Not knowing what more she could do, she gathered up all the bags and headed back to the gate, through the crowds of happy Christmas shoppers. She took her mobile out and called Robert.

“Hey Shel, what’s up?” He asked with a smile in his voice. His voice grated in her ears now and eyeing the carving knife back in its box in her bag she said, “I really want to see you, let’s meet later at Arnos Vale. I want to show you something.”

As she exited the Arnos Vale Cemetery toward the bus stop, she heard “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” playing in the background.

The End.

Matthew grew up in upstate New York surrounded by books (and snow). After founding what became the most widely distributed alternative arts and entertainment magazine in upstate NY (based in Albany), Matthew moved to Greenville, FL where he accepted a position on staff at the University of Florida.

His first book, 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions, was inspired by his love of the macabre illustrations by artists like Edward Gorey. Selected as a finalist in the American Fiction Awards, 26 Absurdities may be the most unique collection of short stories ever written.

Matthew’s second book, Tales from the Aether, continues in the Dark Humor/Dark Fiction genre and is scheduled to be released November 1, 2019.

Matthew loves to be contacted by fellow authors and readers and can be found on Twitter or Facebook.