by Jim Turnbo
“Kuert! Kuert… where are you? This isn’t funny,” Felix whispered. “I’m gonna kill you.”
His right foot kicked something hard shooting pain up his ankle into his shin. “Kuert, is that you? Stop screwing around,” he said bending over and extending his hand towards the hardened object. “I’m gonna kill you. You think you’re funny.”
Felix bent trying to keep his balance, but the darkened room stole all sensory direction. Just as his extended fingers touched the large mass, he pulled back. “Damn that’s cold,” he moaned, and squinted as if his narrowing eyes would help him see. Then something wisped behind brushing his back. When he whipped his head around, he fell forward.
“Aah,” he shrieked and drew his hand back after as his palm rested on the frozen mass. His heart leapt into his throat as if someone squeezed his ribcage forcing it out his mouth. He squinted again searching for movement. After several seconds he let out a quick breath realizing he held it and closed his eyes for concentration, but more importantly for calming the storm of anxiety brewing inside.
One breath… two breaths… three breaths. He opened his eyes understanding how disoriented he was. The blackness behind his closed eyes wasn’t much different from the room he stood in. If nothing else, the room was darker.
Again Felix closed his eyes turning his head and focused on what ever direction his right ear faced. At first he couldn’t be sure, but swore someone was talking. The voices whispered inaudible words and the harder he listened, the more the words turned into sounds buffered behind thin walls.
“Kuert, I’m gonna kick your ass when we get outta here,” he said fighting off the impending anger. “Keep your cool Felix. Keep your cool,” he continued grunting.
There’s no way I’m going there, he thought and opened his eyes more relaxed… for a split second. Then he froze paralyzed by fear. His blood turned as frigid as his surroundings. “What the hell-”
Felix stepped back and tripped over his feet. When he fell to the ground, a loud oomph escaped as his rear hit the floor. Leaning back on his arms, he realized someone… no, something stared back. Eyes; yellowing whites with large black pupils hovered six feet off the ground and studied him.
“I gotta be losin’ my mind,” he muttered leaning his head forward as if trying to get a better view. “You’re not real.”
But they were real. Each eye blinked lazily as if working on a blinking delay system.
“You can’t be there,” he whispered as if convincing himself. The eyes blinked again. This time in reverse order and reflected some nonexistent light, which confused Felix. They shone back like miniature flashlights — the small types repairmen carried in their pockets to see into tight places, but bigger. The harder he focused, the more those eyes reminded him of his cat Oscar sitting at the top of the stairs in the darkened basement. The cat’s black body made him appear invisible. Except for his eyes…
Felix rubbed his face exasperated by this uncharted dream world he somehow ended up in. Kuert will pay, he thought. The very friend since childhood loved playing practical jokes. Ninety percent of the time Felix stood on the receiving end, but this was no joke. Couldn’t be. “You’re an idiot Kuert,” he yelled. “An idiot, and I’m kickin’ you in the nuts the second I see you.”
He turned his head away from the hovering eyes and turned back. They continued their unwavering hovering in the darkness. “Kuert, stop screwin’ around. I know that’s you.” Felix paused watching the eyes as they blinked again. This time both at the same time. “That’s it. I’m coming to kick your ass.”
Felix started to stand and pressed off the floor when he noticed his hands were freezing. How he hadn’t noticed them and stared at them even though he couldn’t see them. He bent over and ran his cold fingers over the floor and noticed a thin layer of…
“What is this?” he asked standing upright. As he stood something scurried overhead. He ducked and peered upward unsure of how high the ceiling was. Or if it was up for that matter. (For all he knew he stood on the ceiling in this bizarro place.)
Every part of him wanted to run. But where? his subconscious screamed. Felix searched overhead, then to both sides. The eyes disappeared. He bent forward with his arm extended searching for the cold mass on the floor when it happened again. Something wisped behind. This time making his long hair blow as if someone swung a bat at him barely missing his head. He spun around looking feverishly in both directions hoping he’d see something, and hoped he didn’t at the same time.
With hitching breaths, Felix needed to scream. No matter how hard he tried, nothing came out. He couldn’t get enough air and felt as if his heart would explode. The panic grabbed him by the throat ready to shake him awake. He searched. “Stop it,” he pleaded to whatever brushed passed.
“Come on man,” he whispered. “Don’t lose it man. Keep with it. Don’t let this get you again.”
He waited; his eyes closed and grasped for control. He couldn’t go through this again, he thought. They’d take him away forever this time. Lock him up in some cold dark room…
… did they already-
Felix tried every trick he learned over the years to talk himself off the ledge. But all his attemtps fell like dominos.
The muffled sounds from across the room returned, louder, more rushed sounding. He cupped his hands over his ears and pressed as hard as he could, trying to drown everything. “This isn’t real,’ he cried as tears formed under his eyes. Sobbing, he noticed a different sound penetrated his cupped ears and released the pressure.
Immediately the hairs on the back of his neck stood ramrod straight as gooseflesh raced up and down his spine. His heart raced, this time anger setting in making him want to fight. Felix punched at the darkness. Each swing moved heavily through the thick air. First a hard right, and then a left uppercut, follosed by as step forward. He felt like a shadow boxer going in for the knockout with his opponent on the ropes.
He repeated the pattern: Hard right, uppercut, step forward. Hard right, uppercut, step forward. Five times he repeated this and then stopped. His chest rose and fell in exhaustion as he searched the darkened room for something physical to unleash his anger on.
In a slow three-hundred and sixty degree turn, Felix searched when he stopped half-way in the turn. The eyes, they were back. Except now there were four. Each pair blinking the same pattern. The right one first, then the left one.
A chilled shiver shot through his body as a blast of intense air crystalized the sweat forming on his forehead. After several moments he blinked several times fast and breathed in long breaths. To his right a scraping sound pierced his ears. The two pairs of eyes shifted towards the sound as Felix turned his head. Again he cupped his ears and let out another scream.
The sound was too familiar and reminded him of elementary school when little Johnny Livingston drug his grotesquely long fingernails the length of the chalkboard. How he hated that kid. The smallest boy in class turned out to be the biggest bully and drug his fingernails across the chalkboard before Mrs. Shelton came in regularly.
Even now the sound curdled his blood.
“What are you?” he screamed. His rickety breathing returned as beads of sweat ran down his four-head even as the room’s temperature seemed to drop another 20°.
The wretched sound took him back to the front of the class when one day Felix had enough and confronted Johnny. It ended with Felix curled up in the fetal position after Johnny punched him in the gut. There he lay, in front of the chalkboard as their classmates laughed and pointed until Ms. Shelton walked in.
“None of this is real,” he cried.
Felix took a step towards the screeching. His quick breaths created clouds of frosty air in front of his face reminding him of days walking to school on a frigid winter morning. The room smelled of frozen death. Something decayed he thought. “I’m not scared of you,” he said and lifted his arms forward. “You can’t scare me. Nothing can scare me. I can do this,” he repeated in a chant trying to calm his nerves.
After several shuffling steps, he figured he’d cross paths with the mass on the floor. How he got here and what happened to Kuert all turned into a distant memory; an afterthought from a faraway place. The only thing he could think of was getting out and finding Kuert.
Kuert is behind all this!
Three steps later Felix found what he searched for when his left foot kicked something large enough for him to stumble forward. Before hitting the ground, he broke his fall with his hands and rolled onto his left shoulder. A searing pain shot through his shoulder. Dazed, he peered back at the object on the floor when he saw them.
Eyes. Tens… hundreds of eyes staring back at him from across the room. Felix pushed off using whatever he tripped over as leverage and stood running in the opposite direction. With his extended arms, he moved through the darkened space as cabinets and shelves jabbed into his legs and waist, eventually tripping over what he figured boxes on the floor.
Every part of his exposed skin felt cold and brittle enough to break. He moved looking over his shoulder when he ran into another shelf, but this one butted against a wall. Felix turned and faced the eyes. His back pressed hard against the cabinet as he stared at all the eyes glowing back at him.
“What do you want?” he screamed running his hands across the top of the cabinet. Its smooth metal surface stung his skin. He reached down, not knowing why, but found a sliding door and opened it. He stood there staring bordering hyperventilating.
Somehow, from somewhere there were more eyes, all blinking at the same time. Hundreds of little flashlights gleaming in the gloom. Each blinked at the same time bringing back the pitch dark for a moment. Then they’d open illuminating the room in a cascade of judgement no differnt than that of the kids who laughed at him in front of the chalkborad. Ecept each time the eyes opened, more pairs appeared.
Felix put his hands in the opened door and ducked. He never let his focus steer away from the eyes as he knelt squeezing his adult body into the small opening. The weight of his body pressed on the thin metal making it pop as he relaxed. After one last glance, he pulled the door closed and lay with his eyes closed.
His heart raced in his ears at the same rate his lungs breathed and exhaled air. “This isn’t real. This isn’t real. This isn’t real,” he repeated at least a dozen times. When his body finally settled, he opened his eyes and screamed.
Staring back were two red eyes the size of basketballs. Black verticle slivers served as pupils. Felix kicked pressing his body into the metal wall behind him. The thin walls crinkled and straighted each time he moved.
“Get away from me! You’re not real,” he screamed as the back of his head bounced off a blunt piece of metal with enough force that he felt funny. The world spun around him, and after a moment, his head fell forward. Over the course of three seconds the world around him faded into the darkness that surrounded him.
“Please, call me Kuert officer.”
“Okay, Kuert. How well did you know Felix?”
“Since elementary school.”
“Did he have any drug problems?”
“No. Not that I knew of. And we are… were always together. He takes prescription medications for his…”
“Yes,” the officer said raising an eyebrow.
Kuert hesitated searching over the officer’s shoulder towards the large food freezer. He couldn’t believe his best friend locked himself in a walk-in freezer. For a moment he tried to imagine what it was like — freeze to death. He shuddered and wanted to cry for his friend. I hope it was fast, he throught, but couldn’t believe it would be. What a lonely way to go.
“He was a Schizophrenic.”
Originally featured in The Weekly Knob‘s special prompt edition: October 19, 2019