An Original Short Thriller
A chair creaked back and forth malevolently through the hum of a mumbled mantra. The contents repeated itself in series of threes equaling sixes evenly between each breath until the dark room was filled with the echoes of it.
The man behind the murmuring sat stock-still through the creaking office chair. No light illuminated the space, but his eyes seemed to smolder through the darkness remaining unmoved from some unseen object.
“Power, power, power I feel power power power.”
This went on for what seemed hours until the night shook itself awake, lifting in time to release the first rays of the sun yawning over the horizon and threatening to leak in from behind drawn curtains.
In the growing glow, the man’s striking features took on a life of their own, his unflinching gaze never leaving the golden nameplate now manifesting in the growing deep blues of early morning.
Mr. Richards, Co-founder and CEO
There was nothing glorious in his stare, the hatred might have melted the plaque rising to meet his eyes and reflect them back beneath the engraved label. He fought the urge to lift his upper lip into crooked disdain.
Mr. Richards had a problem and when problems occurred for Alistair Richards the world might as well cease to exist around him. Unless it happened to be offering the problematic item’s head on a silver platter he wouldn’t be impressed by it. He’d worked to hard for the hounds to have found him in the beginnings of his solo enterprise.
The mantra fell silent at 4:11 AM, had he bothered to check the clock, he’d have realized the silence had gone on for another hour at the hand of his calculating mind. At 5:11 AM to the second, Alistair took a deep breath in, smoothing over his brown locks swiftly as he stood with purpose. He’d mulled long enough, it was time to enact the conclusions he’d formed.
Never leave anything to anyone else. He barreled through his agitation bound to end his session with clarity. No such thing as chance, just pawns with bad management… he concluded.
“Too good to be true, I knew better.” He growled outwardly.
The vein in his temple pulsated visibly through the mirror as he walked past.
Alistair had known better than to leave his stature to anyone. His image was his greatest creation in an empire of business, the shining score that blinked most to the less desirable traits he exuded. Above all things, he challenged himself to always find a way to speak the truth, even if it meant tweaking the overall story a bit…
But this specific problem had gone on for long enough, he would bury the tell-tale heart once and for all so he could move full cylinder away from the scene and on with his life.
He snarled his teeth from behind their fleshy holsters before releasing “Take me for a fool, you know nothing of what I am capable. I am capable.” The mantra poisonously through the room around him, following him into the hallway to disappear with his shadow as he neared the dim lit kitchen and virgin dining room.
“Power, Power, Power I feel Power Power Power.” He countered the anger encapsulating it into a neat string of organized words.
He pronounced each meticulously, and again for good measure, bearing down on the rage and energy building beneath them until he no longer felt as if he were drowning in the rage but rather walking atop it.
“Power Power Power.”
Do you really feel power Alistair? The fondue sentiment seethed into his mind like a silken line ready to entangle and strangle through the reflection he’d found himself staring back at.
Maniacle hands slipped through his hair, his fingers slowly restricted into clumps exposing the white of his strained scalp beneath. He pulled harder threatening to pull the strands from their roots.
“Power power power I feel…” he stopped repeating midway, and listened through the sleep-deprived ears of a man burdened and at the brink of one too many secrets, the effects settling into a subtle paranoia threatening to make its home between his eyes… For just a moment, everything was quiet, the hall surrounding his reflection basked in warm hues of the orange rushing to join in with the lightening blue, and yet all Mr. Richards could see at the moment was red. He shook his head furiously, rattling the day-old tie around his neck, as it began to feel more symbolic of a corporate noose by the second. He stopped shaking himself long enough to look into the mirror once more. Nothing. The voice had run quiet…
coward… Alistair snarled inward.
“WHERE ARE YOU, YOU SON OF A...” Alistair stumbled forward as he screamed into the morning light. He ended in a growl as he used the iron grip, still clenched around his soft curls, to toss his head around a few more times to be sure it didn’t come back.
Something Smashed to the floor further down the hallway snapping Alistair from his madness.
“I know you are here…” He choked in the suddenly abundant spittle flooding his scotch dried mouth.
He wiped the corners at the sticky corners of his lips and approached the dark mahogany banister leading around the corner. Each muscle gripped in the agitated anticipation of a fight. As soon as he touched the wood a shock of pain ran through him so deeply it felt as though lightning had struck him down to his toes, along with it came the memory haunting his every motivation. causing him to feel uncertain for the first time in his quite successful life. for once his actions had caught up with him in the most unexpected way.
He yelled out in anguish, retracting his hand from the textured handhold as though from a hot stove.
“I can’t do it… I can’t.” His defeated statement was met with silence. The most powerful man the city had ever known, reduced to a sniveling worm, at least he was in the privacy of his home, as any descent being should.
Alistair glanced into the glass covering of a framed picture resting on the wall in front of him, expecting to see someone other than his own refracted shadow poised in his direction, staring out at him. but again, as soon as it had shown itself the phantom was gone.
Still reeling from the painful sensations, his spirit felt less ready for a fight than moments before. As if a shock-collar had gone off, reminding him he didn’t hold the remote yet.
He wiped clammy palms over his dark gray slacks… The building heat reminding him of the paddle used by the doctor to bring him back only weeks before. His silhouette watched as its shoulders loosen. It was over, for now, the Vengeance was gone.
Though the storm had lifted it left him with a quivering face, anticipating another blow. Alistair listened, waiting, almost touching the wooden banister again. He hesitated through the residual fear from the shock administered last time he touched it held his quaking hand at bay, hovering just above the dark stain of the wood. Until he drove it downward forcefully clenching the wood until his knuckles went white.
Whether it was bravery, or desperation, no one but Mr. Richards would ever know. The two can look quite similar from an outside perspective.
The fear was dwindling, wisping away like the edges of a nightmare as Alistair brushed it under the bed once more suddenly allowing the morning sun in, leaving it to wander his lonely halls as a phantom until the dawning of the night and his return.
Alistair shook his head clear.
There was no time to think of that right now…
He straightened his posture, then loosened his necktie the way a proper man of his social standing would. A sly smile began to play at the edges of his lips.
I beat It… I won this round. the wily thought crossed over, delivering his attention to focus on the day to come. He looked around the space as he listened to the automatic coffee pot sputtering to life from the other room.
A bird was chirping its good mornings just beyond his open kitchen window.
Noise, noise… noise…
How is anyone to do anything with all this, noise… he raged behind his clenched jaw.
He walked into his kitchen without missing a beat, his pinpoint focus drew him toward the stand that held his Mercedes key FOB every day.
Routine is good… Good to stick with gold, if it works, it’s not broken, if it’s not broken leave it alone there are larger pictures to attend too. the positive thought echoed automatically over his mind on impulse.
The smile on his face had turned wicked as he approached the stand and pulled open the top drawer. Alistair pulled out his brand new, re-gifted, ‘for safety’ hand weapon. The sinister smile deepened… as the contemplated the terms surrounding the parting gift he technically hadn’t received yet, from the suit he was due to fire this very morning… It’s original owner, his recently departed business partner. Today would be the day it would all come together… His face hardened, it was the only real option…
In his current state, the melodic song of the red-breasted robin was simply noise, pointless squawking, just like everything else. Everyone else, He confirmed as he looked the piece over, just making noise, saying pointless things, full of pointless lies and pointless desires…
Noise, noise, noise! there’s no such thing as bigger pictures…
He walked casually back toward the open window, eyeing the brightly colored bushes sharp contrast to the cold colors inside his modern kitchen.
It was easy to allow solitude to swallow you in a house with so many rooms. That’s all this had been, he turned the cold metal over, admiring it’s weight as he continued the thought… restless nights with too much room to think that’s all that happened.
He played with the trigger flinching his cocked finger as if testing the weight of it too….
“Here tweety bird… tweet, tweet, tweety bird.” Alistair didn’t seem to realize he was talking out loud. His mind was thirty miles and fifty-six stories away. Sitting at the center of a large, grey room. Windows on all sides and a single leather armchair in front of an expensive mahogany desk facing the majestic skyline view he’d worked his way into…
“It’s mine… I earned it.” He repeated the thought that had started it all, the power of it resounded in his head as his fingers crumbled into white-knuckled coils of rage bottled and saved for crucial moments. In this instance, the lid was about to blow, something had to align or the massive rock was bound to fall down the mountain, his desire to hold it back had begun to wain… resulting in a tightly wound trigger finger.
Alistair rotated the revolver from side to side, inspecting the laser engraved initials of his former partner on its grip.
“Tweeterdee Tweeterdee” The Robin poked its head from between two larger branches extending from the bushes center. Almost as absently as he’d rotated the sleek extension, he lifted it level, holding it with a businessman’s grip and closing an eye the loose cannon pretended to pull the trigger. His negative intentions choked his finger just further.
The weapon kicked up in his unpracticed hand as feathers exploded into the air, erupting from their source like organic confetti.
Alistair gasped, rapid blinking brought his eyes back into focus from the loud crack that had left him breathless. After a moment once his heart was beating less quickly, he burst into a fit of laughter. The night’s terrors seemed further behind him in the wake of the bird’s sacrifice.
Though his mind barely acknowledged the extension, it had moved to more pressing observations…
“To think, I almost scratched my head with the damn thing a second ago.” He mumbled through an incredulous smile. Any normal human being may have been shaken, but it took more than a bird and an upset gun to get under Alistair Richards skin, it’s how he’d risen from where he’d come from to where he was. The smile solidified into a solidary angular feature that screamed confidence. I am meant to be here, he concluded.
“Damn right I feel it.” His murmur echoed arrogantly through the halls.
His heart was still racing slightly faster than normal as he took in a deep prideful breath and switch the safety on.
Just as he left his kitchen to prepare for his busy morning at the office he noticed his exquisite, full to bursting liquor cabinet. The inside illuminated with warm lighting to amplify the caramel of his prized scotches. A wolfish grin spread over his face as he made his way up the stone steps to his master bath. The perfect occasion for your gift… he tossed the thought sarcastically over his shoulder in passing, leaving it to meet him later in the evening, after he’d resolved this whole situation… dissolved the final bits of evidence and loose strings.
THE ELEVATOR door shot its mouth open, as if happy to be rid of the beast occupying its confines.
The office contents waiting to enter quickly parted as they realized who was about to exit, leaving far more room than necessary for his passing, just the way he liked it.
Alistair cracked a smug smile and readjusted his impeccable tie before removing himself.
“Good morning Mr. Richards,” The perfectly trimmed receptionist stood to greet him warmly… evenly, just the way he liked it.
“Your 10 O’clock is already in the waiting area sir.” He smiled pleasantly, throwing her a bone. At the bell her mouth may as well have begun watering, she sat straight in her luxurious desk chair to busy herself with the details of his day along with three others, just like her.
Alistair walked tall through the main area, commanding attention with each precise, yet easy stride. He passed the small offices at the mouth of Lanzcorp headquarters.
He strode importantly through the cubicle farm. Leaving the lively common break room quiet in his wake made his way to the other side of the building, without so much as a glance at the eyes that followed him.
He had more important things to do than acknowledge the admiration of those whose checks he signed, that was attention enough in his ledger. He pulled a key card from his slacks and grazed the lock pad to the right side of his door.
A green light appeared as he pulled the door latch open intuitively. The silent relief echoed through the main arena as he disappeared behind the heavy door. The office erupted with instantaneous movement, as the space returned to its normal buzzing.
The view from his office was unimaginable, an empire built in the clouds of his mind. Alistair set his briefcase neatly beside his desk and took a seat momentarily enjoying a deep breath to clear his mind.
Power Power Power I feel…
He continued the mantra quietly, under his breath, closing his eyes and allowing a picture of the seat before him to appear on the black slate he’d cleared within.
There was a problem, and Mr. Richards was going to fix it, that meant making sacrifices.
The bird flashed over his mind before he returned the palette to his chair. Sticks had been stacked around it and it glistened… He could almost smell the gasoline as he lit the match and tossed it into the pile. He watched the blaze burn through the leather upholstery hungrily casting the shadow of a figure beneath the flames to complete the picture. Take the ones who will go quietly… a rule of thumb so to speak.
He propped his elbows on the desk allowing them to come together at the arch of his fingertips as he disappeared into his mental image, words appeared beneath it. Problems are meant to be fixed.
Spiders, Squashed before their webs are spread… He finished.
This cycle had become his favorite part of the business. Keeping order, making peace, and harnessing situations that seem out of hand. Taking musings from wild mustangs.
At the top, you don’t have to worry about things like other people’s thumbs. When you are the most powerful man in an empire you’ve created from nothing, doesn’t that essentially make you a god of sorts? In any case, he was, at the very least, the thumb others in his industry line up to squeeze beneath.
He toyed with the idea, letting his eyes roll to the back of his head to check on the burning chair while breathing in deeply, still there. He smiled as he rested his head back on the leather.
The receiver on his desk flashed, breaking his reverie. He tapped the button and waited for the assailant to state their purpose.
“Mr. Richards, do you want me to send Mr. Kaiser back?”
Alistair showed teeth through his pyramid of fingers, tapping the pointers together thoughtfully. “Please do, be especially kind to him, hint at a corner office would you?”
“I will personally deliver him sir.”
He tapped the button once more restoring silence to his domain. Like any good business shark Alistair could smell weakness from a mile away. Unlike some, he never missed an opportunity to remind those he employed of his omnipotence, that no one was irreplaceable, no one beside him that is.
There was a light tap at the door. Mr. Richards adjusted his magnificent, dark tinted titanium nameplate before pushing the button concealed beneath his desk.
The oak door opened to the face of a well-stroked ego in a nearly fitted suit. It’s untailored dimensions off just slightly enough to put a man of true taste in a state of agitation. Alistair resisted the revulsion threatening to display itself openly.
The pretty receptionist smiled at Alistair. The wink he offered back was almost indistinguishable, but she caught it like a bone and turned quickly away, tail wagging. She closed the door behind Alistair’s unsuspecting victim.
Drake Kaiser had worked for Lanzcorp since the beginning. As a senior executive adviser, he knew more about the inner workings than most other employees combined.
At one point he may have been seen as an asset, but workspace whispers had reached Alistair’s ears. The chatter of traded secrets and under the table deals had lost more than a few moments of quiet for Mr. Richards.
It simply wouldn’t do to let the gossip go unpunished.
Drake made his way to the opposite side of the desk. He sat hard into the leather armchair standing between Alistair and his view.
An obstacle to be dealt with. Alistair smiled at the illusion through his fingers.
“I like what you’ve done with the place Al!” Drake said comfortably… too comfortably.
“Hasn’t changed much since the last time I was in here.” He looked around, pretending to notice differences, details that didn’t exist. Alistair knew better. His eyes never strayed from the target as he was reminded by the moment why he disliked the chairs current contents so.
“Sounds like you’ve got some big things on the agenda!” Drake continued, “The water-cooler crowd’s talking about acquisitions of some sort, all kinds of crazy things! That’s going to be a huge workload on your shoulders.” His voice conveyed insincere concern sprinkled in personal interests.
Alistair’s smile widened. This was going more perfectly than he had planned.
“Is that what they are saying?” He offered politely, leaving room for more juicy details to leak in.
“I figured that’s why you called me in here,” Drake said importantly, his voice full of expectation. “It’s already quite a load you’re carrying, now that Harry is out of the picture.”
Alistair found his word choice interesting. Though the hungry eyes attached pretended to offer sympathy. Mr. Richards watched his unconvincing display. He disliked the mangy dog more every time he bothered to open his mouth. Alistair was convinced he’d made a right choice, this man wore his weakness on his sleeve and would leak its contents for a price, Drake Kaiser was no better than the fleabag he’d called a partner.
“It’s a shame what happened to him,” he offered a grunt of surprise, “at least you made it out alive,” He looked Alistair meaningfully in the eyes for a pause, “No one can believe how quickly you recovered.” He added quickly. “We’re all really happy about that by the way.”
“Mmm.” Alistair nodded his head thoughtfully, looking past Mr. Kaiser. He allowed his eyes to play with the scenery, building the anticipation. In the moments fading between them, he had to wonder how he’d surrounded himself with such pitiful, helpless creatures.
Anyone willing to roll over on their back, exposing themselves, repulsed him. Exposing vulnerability while revolving their life toward someone else’s agenda. His upper lip twitched, threatening to betray his disgust.
yes, now is good… the instinct twitched into an amused smile instead, the moment was nigh.
“Mr. Kaiser, you’ve worked for me for quite some time.” Alistair offered with mock contemplative interest.
Drake ate every word eagerly, before spitting back, “almost fifteen years,” Without chewing. He was suddenly sure he knew exactly where the conversation was heading.
“Fifteen years…” Alistair repeated softly, he tapped his lips with his pointer fingers, still joined at the tips. The danger in his tone went missed by the man nearly bouncing in his seat before him.
Drake had his sights set on a raise, his mind was nowhere near the loop Alistair was about to take him through.
“Your yearly review landed on my desk at the beginning of the week, Mr. Kaiser.” He leaned forward, leveling Drake with a stare. “But before I tell you what I think, I would like to hear your analysis.”
Alistair picked a custom gold pen from the thick mahogany desk, tapping it slowly, twice for emphasis.
“What… I, think?” Drake seemed puzzled.
“Yes, Mr. Kaiser, what you think”
“Well, of course, I think I’ve been nothing short of a rockstar. I guess, my numbers are up, I’m taking on more responsibility daily.” He paused to straighten his posture and adjust his tie.
“I mean I think I can handle a sh…” Drake stopped himself before continuing more professionally. “I can handle more responsibility though Alistair.”
“Mr. Richards is just fine.” Drake frowned slightly.
“Oh, Mr. Richards, right.” He chuckled nervously, suddenly unsure of his prior convictions.
The anticipation thickened, leaving raw nerves at its edges, primed, waiting to be severed and left in shock.
Patience, Alistair reminded himself. Soon you will blast the little rat, just wait and hang him up in the noose he makes for himself.
Alistair stood and pushed his chair from behind him in one fluid motion.
“Names are a funny thing, don’t you think, Mr. Kaiser.” Alistair walked to the glass window extending from ceiling to floor. He paused, looking out over the city resting so far beneath them the business of them remained unseen
Drake hesitated. “I agree, they can be pretty entertaining.” The room seemed instantly colder, as Alistair stepped into the sun, absorbing the light and leaving Drake to the shadow he cast.
“Entertaining? That’s an unusual way to define it.” He began, “How would you develop that statement?”
Drake pulled at his tie, feeling claustrophobic in the realization that this meeting wasn’t going the way he’d planned it. He offered a nervous laugh and nothing more.
“Do you find yours entertaining Mr. Kaiser?” Alistair’s voice was void of emotion, cold, and distant like the clouds forming over the waterfront beyond the skyline of buildings.
“It means Emperor, or king or something like that.” Drake stammered. “In German, I think.” The sweat beaded ironically, as he rubbed his icy cold hands against the leather armrests.
“Do you feel like an emperor, Mr. Kaiser?” Alistair closed his eyes breathing in deeply, resurfacing with a wicked smile.
“It’s just my last name, I dunno, I guess I never really thought about it much.” Drakes unease elevated to anxiety.
“See, that is entertaining to me.” Alistair hissed, his voice seemed far away. “One of two things, you are given definitively at birth, and you’ve wasted it by not understanding how to use it, or what it really means to you. Why would I trust anymore of mine to you.”
“I’m sorry, Al…” Drake’s voice cracked slightly with nerves. “Mr. Richards, did I do something? Does this have to do with my yearly review?”
“My name holds Germanic roots to Mr. Kaiser. It means Brave Power or one who holds its likeness, I remind myself of it daily.” Alistair turned. “And look what it has done to return the favor.”
He smiled wickedly, moving slowly to the back of Drake’s chair, circling the waters.
“Do you think it is a fitting name for me, Mr. Kaiser?”
“Of course I do! You are the most powerful man in the city,” He stammered, “that goes without saying.”
Drakes adulation only fed the hungry beast rearing its ugly head, threatening to consume them both. The open wounds of an insecure man, who’d spent his life under any thumb rising above him.
“Mmm.” Alistair made his way to the front of the desk to overshadow his current victim. The final unwitting pawn in his ultimate power play. If he could fire Mr. Kaiser… It would prove no one was safe to those left, while at the same time ridding him of the only person capable of putting the pieces together. It didn’t matter to him whether or not Drake was guilty of the crimes whispered over… as far as Mr. Richards was concerned it was strictly business and he, unfortunate enough to be an easy target.
Alistair leaned back against his desk.
“You didn’t mention the fact that you’ve been a very busy man, Mr. Kaiser.” Alistair began again. “I’ve heard some interesting ‘water cooler conversations’ lately as well.”
Drake cocked his head, relaying his confusion.
“Sounds like you’ve been living quite the double life.” Alistair’s face was about as telling as a two-way mirror from the wrong side of the glass.
“Sycophantic banter isn’t your only specialization, apparently.” He flung a hand disparagingly between them, “I am surprised that your real skills went unnoticed by me for so long.” Alistair placed his hands on the desk, leveling Drake with a look of believable disgust.
“Mr. Richards, I have no idea what you are talking about. Real skills?” Drake shifted in his seat, flushed with discomfort over the looming humiliation.
The truth was, he had always admired Mr. Richards ruthless abilities and laser focus, he’d never imagined they’d be leveled at himself. After years of loyal service, how could Alistair think so little of him?
Alistair laughed cruelly.
“Kaiser, I have handled people like you my entire life, my empire is built on vision-less parasites, feeding their way to the top, or as close as they can get, desperate to have what I have.” Alistair spread his hands all-encompassing.
“Never satisfied but too weak and spineless to make what you want a reality on your own, so you try the back door, just in case it’s unlocked.”
His teeth showed mercilessly as he drove his version of things home. “and then try to take it.” He swiped out a suggestive hand before releasing it into a decisive finger, “but you don’t realize that lined up behind you are a hundred other little insects, ready to crawl into your spot, fill space.”
Drake listened, there was nothing else he could do, he felt powerless to the hand fate seemed to be dealing from left field, the blow had knocked him off guard. The dread building in the pit of his stomach threatened to up-heave his breakfast as he struggled to string things together.
“You know how the business works Drake, we’ve been together in this for fifteen good years, as you mentioned. So let’s cut to the chase shall we?” He pushed himself from the edge of the desk and made his way to the seat behind it. “So, how much did they offer you for my secrets? A corner office with bigger windows, thirty pieces of silver?”
Suddenly Drake understood. “Wait, you think I gave away company secrets?!” hearing the words he still couldn’t believe his ears.
“It doesn’t matter what I think Mr. Kaiser, we are in the middle of a continental shift. One that Harry couldn’t see happening, and I need a united front.”
Alistair tapped his golden pen on a neat stack of papers. He offered an insincere shrug. It wasn’t out of character for him to be calloused, but Drake had never seen him completely absent of guilt, he seemed to be enjoying the moment.
This wasn’t the same man who had hired him as a bushy-tailed consultant nearly fifteen years before.
Something had changed, Drake felt the blood drain from his head, recirculating to his gut, where it churned angrily for a moment. He was convinced he would lose his two eggs and coffee. In the end, his conviction not to make things worse won. Drake bravely swallowed the bile rising into his throat.
“So, you know what happens now right?” Alistair leaned forward and placed his elbows on the desk, landing his hands together at the tips once more.
Drake opened his mouth in protest but the expression Alistair wore convinced him that to close it was better. He rose, a broken roasted man unable to combat the moment through the haze of shock exhausting his ability to fight back.
By the time Alistair pulled into his personal drive, it was already twilight. He parked the car and stared at the dark modern windows his massive property was coated in. Eventually, he opened the car door and made his way to the front of the house, all the while watching the upper bedroom window in anticipation. Half-expecting to see the long dark shadow that had plagued his dreams for some months, stealing away the precious few hours Alistair had allotted to sleep. Since his final meeting with Harry the dreams it brought with, rendered sleep useless to him. and to top it off his victory was tasteless, numbing even. He’d tied the final visible loose end and still he felt as though he were holding his breath over something. just waiting…
Power Power Power I feel Power…
Each repetition drew him upward, elevating him to a higher playing field for as long as he could hold it hostage. Reminding himself of a time when he had felt nothing but potent vigor. the memory that came to mind was one between he and Henry, as his former partner present a gift wrapped in gold paper, tied with a bow beside.
Alistair closed his eyes, following his imagination to the contents resting place, the warm glow of the liquor cabinet’s display, revealing the gleaming centerpiece. He allowed his feet to navigate the path he’d trod a thousand times and they carried him loyally.
“Power Power Power I feel Power Power Power.”
He felt potential, this was true, but at its core power without control is empty and Alistair knew this to be true. Brute rage expended on meaningless arguments would amount to nothing. He would need to seal the moment with a good omen, one of luck and prosperity. That’s it, he thought more lightly, his target only moments away.
He repeated his mantra over again for good measure and pulled his keys from their place in his sport coat. As he pulled them from the pockets’ holster, his fingers did a funny thing. They fumbled, stumbling over each other while allowing their contents to fall to the ground in a sloppy bundle attached by a ring at their center.
Alistair bit down on his tongue, barring in the blazing commentary behind pinching teeth. He bent down to grab them and on his way back up his eyes found what they’d been looking for. Just beyond the main living room was a shadow, darker than the others, so dark it almost seemed light, like a flashlight in the daytime, only at the opposite side of the spectrum.
He stood frozen for a moment.
“Power Power Power I feel Power Power Power.” he repeated, daring to defy the paralyzing notion extending from the phantom.
When he blinked the shadow had disappeared, and with it the irrational fear it bred. Like a bad dream, Alistair blinked through the vision, substituting rationalizations until together they stuck. He didn’t have time for regret, or whatever this was. He had loose ends to tie up, aged celebratory scotch and superstitions to be had and toasted and sipped over.
He thrust a key into its matching hole and twisted to shift the lock. Suddenly convinced that Satan was just another name for fear. Show none and you will receive none. Mr. Richards burst in through the door and flipped on the entry light.
“Honey, I’m home!” He snarled, heading toward the kitchen for a rocks glass to calm the agitation still slicing through his voice.
The house remained deadly silent as Alistair Richards found his way through the expansive parlor, switching on lights as he went. He didn’t waste time looking for his unwelcome house guest, he simply pretended not to care one way or another. He should have known, anything with an ego half his size might find more offense in being ignored.
He found the kitchen exactly how he’d left it. Clean, efficient, and cold.
Just the way he liked it… the thought crossed as a single down feather drifted listlessly over the counter space, again reminding him of the morning’s dark comedic relief
Alistair released the clasped latch of the glass cabinet doors, unleashing a rich glow of crystal against caramel as it swung open.
Without hesitation, he reached for the gifted bottle of 50 year, Suntory Yamazaki. He took it with his rocks glass to the deep gray granite island in the center of the kitchen. Just as he was circling back for an ice cube a gust of wind blew in through the open window, the chill and suddenness of it caught him off guard.
Mr. Richards frowned. He never left the window open…
You’ve also never shot a bird from one directly outside of your kitchen either, he smiled at the intuition… get ahold of yourself, he finished, walking quickly to the sink to reach for the open window latch. For just a moment, Alistair paused, considering the coincidence of it all.
In a moment of clarity, everything was beginning to add up. Harry, the revolver, the bird reduced to feathers, Drake Kaiser reduced to a groveling rat convinced of his own assumed guilt and desperate, willing to do whatever it took to gain back confidence that had never been there in the first place.
A breeze gently played with his locks, bringing with it a sound… shrill noises. The sharp tones rustled from the bushes more than one and all in unison with one another. He turned on the light closest to the sink, illuminating the brush. There was a nest. Alistair squinted into the dwindling light.
“Well I’ll be damned.” He said incredulously. “Momma bird had hatchlings.”
The small piece of humanity Alistair had tucked away, tugged at his rotting conscience, inducing a pang of guilt.
You wouldn’t flinch over another man’s cold body, but for the loss of a few baby birds? The intuition dug at him.
Alistair’s answering laughter carried through the kitchen. He was thinking of the confetti of feathers, the irony of a life, for a life, and suddenly felt better. He’d been chosen, we’d won…
“You are already DEAD.” The sinister voice filled every inch of his mind, ending in a terrifying cackle. Alistair froze. The noxious quiet consumed the room.
He shakily dropped a cube into the crystal rocks glass determined to follow through with the ritual he’d begun. He opened the bottle unceremoniously and lifted it to his lips, wetting his suddenly dry mouth while taking in a third of the high-end scotch without the ceremonial glass. All a part of the gift, from Harry after their first year of partnership.
“Save it for a special occasion, partner.” The conversation echoed through his memory so violently, he could almost feel the accompanying pats offered his back. He threw the bottle back again, taking slug after slug in. He would take the day tomorrow, recenter himself and shelf this detestable state once and for all, purge himself of it in the safety of his own home.
The Intention was cut short with the sharp jab causing a shock of pain to rush between his lips, abruptly followed by the taste of betrayal. Betrayal and blood..
Damn bottle, Alistair managed to spit the last swallow into his rocks glass, unable to stomach the unexpected metallic flavor.
He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, noticing a moment too late that the caramel colored liquid was now tinted deep red void of the natural caramel coloring. The sleeve of his Burberry button down shirt was stained by a streak of red as well.
He brought a hand to his lip and pulled it away.
“What the hell?”
Alistair tore away a piece of paper towel and bunched, shoving the wad aggressively to his lips, muttering under his breath all the way as he stumbled to the off-kitchen powder room. Inspecting the damage through the dim lucency, not bothering with the light. There was a large slash of broken skin sliced over his upper lip.
“Where the f…” His voice trailed off as he caught the drop of blood trickling down his chin, threatening his already ruined shirt.
He had to get control, his power was meaningless, unless he held both components in balance with one another.
Alistair looked closer at his reflection. The gash was deep, but not deep enough to worry over. A little baking soda to stop the bleeding and the scotch would disinfect it. That wasn’t what caught his attention, upon further inspection he found himself staring into an abyss of cold blue, his pupils seemed to be all but gone.
“What the hell.” Mr. Richards blinked rapidly a few times, moving in closer, his vision went out of focus briefly as his stomach swirled. It’s just dark, he reasoned…
“You are already DEAD.” The phantom repeated itself before singing over the walls the echo of a new song, “Drink up ol’ boy, drink it till it’s gone it may be the last.” The refrain echoed off the walls, laced in a symphony of dark cackling that seemed to be coming from every direction.
Alistair hurled himself to the floor, violently wrenching the contents of his gut onto the closed toilet seat. The mostly-liquid contents ricocheted, exploding unnaturally red liquid in all directions.
“He is coming, he’s heading your way,” The evil echoes chorused over his mind.
“it will all be done soon, and all just to prove to you, even the mighty crumble, even you can be replaced.” It ended in a whisper as Alistairs heartbeat began to ring through his ears.
“Dead dead dead you are dead dead dead.” The malevolent Mantra mocked him following the frantic pounding of it.
In a fit of delirium, Alistair took up arms bravely.
“Who are you?” His lungs were suddenly on fire, a gurgle erupted from his throbbing throat as he finished the question.
A wicked laugh was the only return.
Alistair loosened his tie and stumbled to his feet.
“Who are you!” he demanded as blood bled down from his lips.
Silence. Alistair was a man who didn’t like to be ignored.
He stumbled out of the powder room and into the light of his kitchen dripping blood along with him as he realized the gash was deeper than he’d previously thought, through a cough, he shot a spatter of it across the island housing the last of the gift along with the untouched rocks glass meant for it.
Alistair couldn’t catch his breath, he sucked the air in through his blood covered mouth, old ailments forgotten in light of these new feelings. His vision came and went, blurred and heightened, flickering between him and reality as the pain was released to a state of alcohol and shock-induced numbness.
“Speak! I DEMAND IT!”
“I am here.” The phrase repeated itself terrifically from all directions.
The only sounds that followed her that of Alistairs shuffling, clumbsy steps as his legs threatened to fall out from beneath him.
“Do you feel it Alistair Richards…. Do you feel the power?”
The dark laughter rang through his ears. A light flashed through his open kitchen window, accompanied by the sound of a closing car door.
Alistair stumbled through the parlor madly, he felt his way toward the table holding his keys and yanked the drawer open.
“Do you feel it Richards?”
The voice was a mere whisper, a weapon on rapid fire, repeating time and again.
“Who are you?…” Alistair had the grip of the revolver he’d extracted blindly, pressed into his stomach, he felt as though he were melting from the inside out. He gasped, building his strength.
“He is here…” The dark voice growled.
There was a desperate knock at the door. Alistair stumbled backward, straining his bleary eyes toward the burnt orange glass of his front door in an attempt to see who offered the assault. Through the soft luminescence of the porch light stood a shadow, extending to the top of the elegant entryway, and beyond. It shifted slightly, raising something up.
“WHO ARE YOU! ANSWER ME!”
Mr. Richards was reeling through ringing ears and muffled noises beyond.
The shadow pounded against the door again.
Alistair Lifted the revolver with all of his might and tried to pull the trigger, when nothing happened he fumbled desperately with the safe.
“Do you feel like a Richards?” The dark voice’s sneer cut clearly through the chaos.
“SHOW YOURSELF!” Mr. Richards dry heaved deeply, firing blood and saliva from his mouth.
“WHO ARE YOU?!” His finger clenched the trigger hard. Smoke and lead discharged with a loud blast and the sound of shattering glass.
Fresh air blew in through the brand new opening, offering Alistair a moment of clarity as his wheezing breath began to slow.
Beyond the jagged remnants, where the shadow had once stood, a body slowly crumpled to the ground, one hand clutching his chest, the other weakly catching his fall. The man raised his head to meet Alistair’s eyes. Drake’s eyes watered holding contact as Mr. Richards stumbled to him.
He was trying to say something Alistair couldn’t understand. Drake reached his hand toward his back pocket, laboriously pulling from it a single picture, and offered it feebly outward toward his former boss.
“What do you want me to do?” Alistair asked, through a heavy wheeze. Drake fell to the ground and lay still. The night went completely silent, broken only by a soft breeze.
Alistair crawled forward reaching out to the picture through the pins and needles of broken glass shards as they scraped into his skin.
He retrieved it from Drake’s still warm fingertips, revealing a side of the man he’d never seen. A beautiful woman looking adoringly upward, a child no more than two in her arms, eyes caught on the woman in the same fashion, finger pointing upward in an attempt to touch her mother’s nose. Between them held with strong loving hands was a boy, no more than six, laughing into the camera.
“Hatch-lings.” The darkness hissed sardonically, sounding pleased and amused all at once.
“Who are you?” Alistair’s whisper carried through the still night, a defeated and broken man.
“I AM POWER.” The dark voice rang out.
The next few weeks were full of speculation, a man with a gun bearing the initials of a deceased partner. Another with motive shot through the chest on the doorstep , an open bottle of Malathion laced scotch. With no one left to answer the questions for themselves the stories spun and the potential grew.
The obvious fingers of treachery were left to point in whatever direction the imagination of the masses might dream of. While in its wake, a grieving wife, the most tragic loss of them all, a phantom of the woman she had been, left to believe her husband might be capable of anything but the goodness she’d known. Left with a million love stories untold, and countless sleepless nights to think of them. Had she known his venture to reclaim his rightful place, would have led to an untimely demise, she would have chosen to live an impoverished life full of love, than the one she was now forced to lead alone, caring for the only pieces she had left of her late husband.
A litany of vulturous media crews plagued the doorsteps of everyone who may have details, inside stories, driving the trauma as deep as the pockets who fueled them.
“A loveless power is vengeful and cruel.”