Authors: Andersen Prunty
Published by Grindhouse Press
Morning is Dead
Copyright © 2010 by Andersen Prunty. All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction.
Cover art copyright © 2010 by Brandon Duncan
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author and publisher.
Also by Andersen Prunty
Jack and Mr. Grin
The Overwhelming Urge
Market Adjustment and Other Tales of Avarice
“And then he thought he saw a man walking along the edge of the little wood. In great strides, as if he didn’t want night to overtake him. He wondered who the man was. The only way he could tell it was a man and not a shadow was because he wore a shirt and swung his arms as he walked.”
A Hospital at Night
The steady beep in her right ear held April in a state of near hypnosis. Did she want it to continue beeping steadily or just stop altogether? The lights were off. Alvin lay in front of her, eyes closed, wrapped in gauze, tubes snaking out from his nose and mouth—feeding him, making him breathe, keeping him alive. She cradled her bandaged right arm in her lap, looked past the bed, through the darkness of the hospital room, at her vague reflection in the glass of the darkened window. Tears glistened on her cheeks. She breathed in a wet and snotty breath and sat back in the uncomfortable chair. She didn’t think she deserved comfort.
A gentle hand pressed down on her shoulder. She was too numb to be startled.
“He’s gone.” Mirabel placed her other hand on her other shoulder.
April was momentarily confused. Who was gone? Alvin wasn’t gone. The beeping told her he was still alive.
“I’m sorry,” Mirabel said.
Morning. She was talking about Morning. Brett Morning. “Brett” to April. “Dr. Morning” to Mirabel and the rest of the hospital’s employees and April when she was on the clock.
“When?” The mucous in April’s mouth had thickened. The tears came harder. She would have thought she had been saving it all up but it seemed like she did nothing but cry these past few months.
“He was dead when the ambulance brought him in.”
April shook her head. This was all her fault. Take her out of the equation and no one was dead. No one was dying. No one was being kept alive by tubes and beeping and the chilly sterility of an anonymous hospital room.
Mirabel slid a chair over beside April. She hadn’t even felt her hands leave her shoulders.
Mirabel sat down, placing a comforting hand on April’s thigh. “Wanna talk about it? I mean, I imagine you’re going to have to talk to the police anyway but, you know, wanna tell someone who’ll care?”
April nodded. She didn’t know if she
talk. “It’s a mess.”
“Honey, I think that’s a bit of an understatement. But there wasn’t a mess that couldn’t be cleaned up.”
April held her wrapped arm up to her eyes and let the gauze absorb the tears. She wondered if she would have a scar and knew she would and felt bad for thinking vain thoughts at a time like this.
“Were you and Morning…?”
“For the past few months.”
“I had no idea.”
“We did a good job of keeping it a secret.”
“Not from everyone.” Mirabel nodded toward Alvin.
“He was so messed up. I didn’t think he would notice, let alone care. Now they’re both gone.”
“He’s not gone yet.”
“Banks said he wouldn’t be out of the woods until dawn. He said it was unlikely he’d last until then.”
“Go on,” Mirabel said. “Talk it out.”
“I didn’t know he had problems when we got married. Maybe he didn’t. He never even acted very weird. But I’d find the shit all over the house… I started to notice the marks on his arms. He came back a couple of weeks ago and found the door unlocked. He acted like nothing was different, even though I didn’t know where he’d been for nearly a month before that, and he hadn’t really
there for at least three months. I… locked him out. Called the police. That was the last time I saw him before tonight. It wasn’t just the drugs. He had mental problems. I tried to have him committed but he would just check himself out a few days later.”
Alvin Blue stood on his back porch. He took a deep breath of the late September night air. It was dark and the neighborhood was asleep. It seemed like the neighborhood was always asleep. Traffic picked up at the beginning and end of the school day and when the bars closed around 2:30. But it was all just people racing to their houses. Rushing their children indoors to the controlled climate and television.
He didn’t know any of his neighbors’ names.
Sometimes he lifted his hand in a poor excuse for a wave but only if one of them had caught him staring. They never waved back. Just looked at the ground and walked quicker. Maybe pretended to cough in order to feign some preoccupation.
He looked around at his yard. It needed mowing. No time like the present. If anyone decided to complain about the noise he would relish the confrontation. The interaction.
Reaching his hand into the pocket of his old blue jeans, he closed it around the key to the utility shed and strolled out into the yard. He opened the shed and pulled out the lawnmower, a cheap green push model. He bent down and pressed the rubbery red button a few times to prime the engine. Then engaged the clutch against the handle, grabbed the starter cord, and gave it a yank. The mower roared into life.
He mowed the grass quickly and furiously, following the same exact pattern he had for the past five years. The street lamps provided enough light. It took him about a half hour. He broke a sweat and developed a great thirst.
He put the lawnmower away and locked the shed. He looked around the neighborhood. Their house sat on a corner lot facing Angler Street. Roughly a quarter mile long, Angler ran east to west, ending in an alley to the east and Thistle Street to the west. Thistle ran north to south and ended at Payne, a busy four-lane avenue that ran all the way downtown.
Where were the angry neighbors?
He didn’t even see lights on in any of the houses. Coma city.
He went inside to the refrigerator and grabbed a beer. He twisted off the bottle cap, tossed it toward the trashcan, missed, and left it there on the floor. He looked at the bottle. He usually drank Guinness. This was a Heineken. When had he bought that?
It was April, wandering downstairs. She stepped around the refrigerator, rubbing her eyes against the light. She wore a tight yellow t-shirt and white underwear. Five years of marriage hadn’t touched her. She looked as good as the day he’d met her. Better, probably.
“Yeah?” He raised his beer and took a healthy swig.
“Were you mowing the grass?”
“Yeah. It needed done.”
“It’s late.” She turned to look behind her.
“I know. I didn’t figure anyone would care.”
“Coming to bed soon?” She had her cell phone in her hand. She had become so paranoid.
“In a bit. After I drink this.”
“Maybe two or three.”
“Not enough time.”
“And that’s all you’re gonna do? Just drink a few beers?”
“Yeah. What else would I do?”
“You shouldn’t stay up so late.”
“I know. I’ll come to bed in a bit.”
He closed the distance between them and bent to kiss her. She blocked him with her hand. “I’ve been asleep. My breath is horrible.”
He pecked her on the top of the head.
“Night,” he said, rubbing his hands through her short blond hair.
She turned toward the living room. He listened to her footsteps fade up the stairs. She talked to herself as she went. He grabbed the rest of the six pack from the fridge. There were three other bottles in there. He opened the doors beneath the sink and reached into the little hole in the bottom of the cabinetry where one of the pipes ran down through the floor. He extracted a hidden pack of cigarettes and went back out to the porch. The neighborhood was still dead but, to him, the air was alive with the smell of fresh cut grass, the earliest hint of fall, and the hoppy scent of beer. He put a cigarette in his mouth and blazed up. He’d waited all day for this.
He sat down on one of the deck chairs, imitation wicker strung across cast iron, and put his feet up on the other chair. He smoked his cigarette, drank his beer, and listened to all the distant sounds—bottles emptying from the bar one street over, sirens, trains, airplanes overhead.
A half hour passed. Three beers and six cigarettes later, he felt a tingling glow throughout his body. And deep in the glow, he felt the anger. This was perfection. If everything could be like this moment, then life would be perfect. But it wasn’t. He’d lost his job at the Point. He hadn’t told April yet. He wondered if she knew. She hadn’t said anything if she did. He pretended to go to work. First he drove and then decided he was just wasting money on gas. So he sold the car and told April he was taking the bus. His days were foggy. A lot of things were foggy. And then other things, like now, like here, like sitting on the back porch in the crisp night air, were crystal clear. So clear they gleamed and shined and hummed through his bones.
He saw a man carrying a bow enter the alley behind the house.
This movement in an area of typical stillness was disconcerting.
The archer wore camouflage coveralls and a rotund pack on his back, a quiver of arrows jutting above his right shoulder.
Alvin’s heart thudded. Sped up. Blood rushed to his head and his ears rang. Then he noticed the archer didn’t have his sight on him. Still, he rose slowly, only a little wobbly from the beer. Beer never used to make him feel like this.
The archer moved stealthily. A large rabbit sat in the shadows at the end of Alvin’s lawn.
Alvin reached back and put his hand on the handle of the storm door. One could not be too cautious.
The archer raised his bow, slow and smooth, without making a sound. Alvin could just as well have been watching something on a muted television. The archer pulled back the bowstring and held it for just a second before letting go. The arrow moved so quickly, Alvin didn’t even see it. He heard a
and a small cry. Did rabbits even make sounds? He didn’t think they did. Not normally, anyway. He looked toward the end of his lawn at the rabbit squirming furiously, the arrow pinning it to the ground. The archer didn’t seem to take any notice of him and Alvin thought that was probably just as well. The archer reached into his pocket, pulled out a knife and flipped it open. He approached the rabbit, crouched down, put his free hand around the back of its neck and slit its throat.
Alvin wanted to throw a beer bottle at him but thought, in the end, he might find himself outmatched. What could he do? It seemed like he should do something. Call the police? No. It probably wasn’t worth it and, who knew, maybe the archer was just some homeless guy who needed the rabbit for food. The archer wiped his knife in the grass, removed the arrow and wiped that in the grass before replacing it in his quiver. He lifted the rabbit up and pressed his mouth to the underside of its neck.
Jesus, Alvin thought, he’s drinking its blood.
The archer kept the rabbit pressed to his mouth for nearly a minute before pulling it away and deftly opening his pack while it was still on his back. Then he stuffed the rabbit in and continued further into the alley.
Alvin cautiously crept down to the end of his lawn. The archer was about midway down the alley. He turned and shouted, “These are rock hard times, friend!” before turning and continuing on his way.
Alvin went back up to the porch and lit another cigarette. He needed it after that. Once finished, he chucked it out into the yard and hoped sleep would come quickly. He pulled the storm door open and turned the knob on the door.
Shit. It was locked.
He didn’t remember locking it. In fact, he usually took precautions to make sure it was never locked.
Oh well. He still had his keys in his pocket.
He reached his hand in. No keys. He definitely didn’t remember taking them out of his pocket. He didn’t have any reason to. He checked his other pocket to make sure his cell phone wasn’t in there. It wasn’t. He would have to beat on the door until April heard him.
Just as he started to really lay into it, he saw movement in the kitchen. The light was on. He hoped it was April’s shadow from the living room. Maybe she had had some kind of psychic calling or something.
He didn’t see her.
But there was still that shadowy movement. Maybe it was a reflection. He could even make out a face. There. On the other side of the glass. It kind of looked like him. Only it didn’t. Not really. The face was too sculptured and pale. Alvin blinked his eyes. Took a step back.
There was someone in the house.
Crazy panic shot through his body.
A man was in the house. A man who looked kind of like him only better. And he was better dressed than Alvin, wearing a well-cut dark suit. He didn’t look like a maniac but why would he be in the house?
The man made eye contact with Alvin.
Then he raised the index finger of his right hand and drew it across his throat. The gesture was childish and endlessly threatening.
Alvin wasn’t going to let this happen. He played with the pneumatic catch at the top of the storm door to prop it open. He grabbed one of the deck chairs and slammed it against the glass of the door. A crack opened in one of the panes. The man stood just on the other side of the glass, unflinching.
Alvin brought the chair back for another go when an amplified voice from behind him said, “Please put the chair down!”
He turned to see a police car, lights flashing, in the alleyway.
Good, he thought. Someone who could help him.