Behind Eyelids – Part Four (Final)

short story about computer games

Short Story

 

He pulled himself to his feet with help from the parking meter. Sand slid between his toes on the hardwood floor. A steamy cloud drifted over the mountain at the top of the stairs. Another pain fell over him. Phil kept to his feet, but stumbled against the doorway and gripped onto the wood with little more than his fingernails. As almost a separate impulse, he continued to key the abort sequence into his left palm with no result.

“Phil! Oh my god, what’s happening?” shouted Kelly’s corpse, speaking around her split tongue. More blood dripped from her bisected jaw. “Can you talk? Can you hear me?”

“I don’t know where I am,” he mumbled. “I can’t- I can’t find- I can’t…”

“It’s okay. Stay there. Don’t go anywhere. I’m going to call an ambulance.” The body tried to push itself to its feet, but the bolt-cutters still pinned it to the floor. Dead, burned skin fell off its face in sloughs.

“Can you talk? Can you hear me?” it asked. “Can you talk? Can you hear me? Can you talk? Can you hear me? Can you talk? Can you hear me? Are you ready? To talk, I mean? How was Florida?”

The standing Kelly, still at the stove, screamed in pain and staggered backward. She fell to the ground in a heap and was savagely beaten by an invisible weapon. Her body ripped open into gashes of blood and sinew as bones shattered and organs ruptured. Every blow sent fountains of gore flying through the air as she was ravaged by absolutely nothing. Her screams devolved into a solid, electronic tone that echoed through Phil’s mind. He tasted copper and smelled cooking pork.

It was Phil’s turn to start screaming. A pained roar erupted from his throat as he tore himself away from the kitchen and sprinted through the front door.

Outside, the daytime sky burned brightly with twinkling stars. Phil stood ankle deep in sand and stared out at the waves lapping the end of his driveway. A majestic range of cliffs and crags opened into a wide field that stopped just short of his front lawn. A sidewalk cut through the grass, dotted with parking meters, with one large pool of blood under an iron bar jammed into the pavement.

He doubled over at the blow to his stomach. He spun and struck again on his back with the flat end of the crowbar. Stumbling a few feet, he fell to his knees and met a swift boot-kick to his teeth that knocked him back again. Blood oozing from between his teeth, he grasped him by the hair and forced his mouth open with the pair of pliers. Gripping his tongue, he pulled it taught from his mouth and stretched it as far as it would go. He held the blowtorch to the underside and cooked the flesh to a cracking black.

He broke away and limped a short distance across the sidewalk, trailing blood like a slug. He strode behind him and hacked the hatchet into his upper shoulder, leaving it in place as his arm went dead. He spun around, holding out his hand, only to have it caught and bloodily torn off. A blow with the spiked bat collapsed his leg underneath him and sent him tumbling to the sand. The pain in his temple grew more and more excruciating.

He stood erect over him, grasping the heavy pipe with both hands. He shielded himself with his working forearm, but it was not enough to stop the crushing blow that caved in his skull.

Lieutenant Starling found it more difficult to elbow her way through the crowd of onlookers than it was to cross the police tape. She was already chewing on a toothpick as she strode across the lawn with a handful more in her pocket. Through all chaos, they always kept her focus direct and singular.

Crossing the threshold, she took notice of the thick footprints across the hallway and the small crowd of forensics investigators snapping pictures in the kitchen. Her attention drifted to an unkempt man in a dirty sweater smoking against the stairwell.

“Sergeant Morris?” she asked. Already mid-inhale on his cigarette, he simply nodded and held out his hand. As they shook, he turned his head and blew smoke as best as he could away from her face.

“That’s me. Mrs. Starlink?”

“Starling. I was hoping on getting here first. No such luck, I guess.” She shifted her toothpick to the opposite end of her mouth as Morris put his cigarette out with wetted fingers and dropped the butt in his pocket. Without another word, Starling turned and entered the kitchen, the forensics team parting aside.

“I was called in for the husband,” Morris said, jogging to catch up. “I’ve got training in home simulator malfunctions.”

“One step at a time,” Starling said, calmly. “What have we got on Jane Doe?”

“Kelly Whittle, maiden name Locke,” said one of the investigators. “According to the neighbors. Broken bones, contusions, bifurcated jaw, but cause of death was likely her fucking neck getting caved in.”

“Keep it professional,” Starling warned. “And we’re thinking the husband did it? With what?”

“99 percent, but…uh…that’s the weird part.”

Starling raised an eyebrow, but was pulled away by a tap on the shoulder from Morris.

“In here,” he said, leading into the living room. The second body sat reclined in a thick chair, hooked securely into a simulator set. Morris beckoned Starling to the right side. After putting on a pair of rubber gloves, he carefully lifted the headset. Underneath the trode was a small circle of charred skin.

“A short in the wiring kept this one going too hot,” Morris explained. “Cooked his brain from the inside out. It’s why you should always buy new.”

“Fascinating, but not the elephant in the room,” Starling said.

Stepping back, she gestured to the pair of bloody bolt-cutters stabbed into the body’s chest.

“What I want to know,” she said, “is who the hell did that?”

 

previous: BEHIND EYELIDS – PART THREE

all chapters: Behind Eyelids

more by WILL HEMLEPP

photograph by unsplash

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