Editor’s note: Happy halloween!
Jacob woke up feeling like shit and guessing that he’d earned it. His mouth was dry, he couldn’t be sure where he was and he had the ominous feeling that he’d really messed up.
Eyes peeling open and adjusting to the dim early morning light, he relaxed a notch. He was home at least – and in bed – although he was fully dressed.
He slid out of bed and nudged his coat, which was lying on the floor, with his foot. He could feel his wallet in the inside pocket. Another tiny victory.
He staggered blearily to the window and pulled the curtain back an inch. The weird guy over the road was already at the window, waiting, staring.
What the hell was his problem? He’d fixated on Jacob as soon as they moved in, but the last two weeks it had got to the point where Jacob was ready to call the police. He didn’t know what he’d report it as, exactly. Just another odd, obsessive loser, looking to someone else for an answer.
And the endless, tuneless whistling. That was torture enough. Then there was Jacob’s favourite cigarette lighter that Tommy had ‘borrowed’ months ago. He’d never see that again.
Jacob went into the bathroom and pissed for an aeon, staring himself in the bloodshot eyes and extending his pale, foamy tongue. His reflection didn’t look good – still drunk, if he was honest.
Yes, this time it was bad. He knew that much from the tight knot of anxiety welling in his stomach, even if his brain couldn’t tell him exactly what he’d done.
He went downstairs, put the coffee machine on and sat there, in his small kitchen, holding his throbbing head and trying to put the fragments of the night before in order.
It had started with drinks after work which, once most of his colleagues drank one or two out of duty and left, turned into a serious drinking session with Eloise. She’d worked her way through the bar’s selection of expensive rums from around the Caribbean, and she was a lot of fun to be around at the worst of times.
They’d ended up flirting ridiculously, even with his boss standing right next to him.
“Oh Jesus,” he said to himself, and reached for the pack of cigarettes on the table in front of him. Anyone could have seen them, laughing together, Eloise leaning into him and holding his arm to steady herself.
What the hell was he doing? What had he been thinking?
No, only a fool would have shunned those advances, he thought. Eloise had always toyed with him, so this was how it was going to play out. And last night she was like a woman possessed.
He blew a dense cloud of smoke at his scowling cat, who reacted by darting anxiously out of his presence and up the stairs.
The growing sense of dread in his stomach creeping into his chest, Jacob rubbed his eyes and shook his head slowly.
He could remember the car park. Their drunken laughter turning into clumsy, foolish fumbling, and then an embarrassing cloud of shame enveloping them both. They had said stilted goodbyes and went to their homes to sleep it off.
Jacob thought of his wife, Laura, still asleep upstairs. This would end it. Things weren’t great and hadn’t been for months, but neither of them could bring themselves to start THAT conversation. They did what most couples did and soldiered on. Weathered the storm.
I put up with a hell of a lot, he thought. Maybe she should too.
The coffee machine bubbled and hissed. He poured himself a cup of too-strong espresso and carried it into the living room.
The oddball over the road was standing in his own living room, wearing a bandana and t-shirt, and looking straight at him. Surely the net curtain gave Jacob some basic human privacy? There’s no way that maniac could actually see him.
‘Tommy’. He had a record, Jacob was sure. He saw the social worker visit once a month, and he’d noticed the swallows on Tommy’s hands. Prison tattoos, for sure. Need to be careful around a man like that.
That was one problem in Jacob’s life, but right now he had a more urgent one to think about.
Tommy. It was a good enough name, not that names meant anything to him. So many names, so many faces, so many people. They all come and they all go.
None of them mattered. But this one? This one deserved to be taught something. Last night was fun, and now he had everything he needed to complete the transition.
Timing had been everything. Too often and he could break the subject. It had needed to be paced. Infiltrate the subject piece by piece. Incrementally possess the subject’s being until they no longer recognise the self they’ve built.
He stepped back from the window and blinked once. He walked up the stairs of the cheap, rented house, whistling the tune that the gods from beyond were singing to him, and entered the sacred room.
Jacob stubbed the cigarette out and went back upstairs to check on Laura. She was sound asleep.
He swept his jacket up from the floor and picked up his shoes, strewn next to it. He crept downstairs, cursing his run of bad luck.
It had started with the promotion he’d missed out on. All because of a technical mistake on his application. He didn’t see why he had to apply for it in the first place – he’d earned that promotion. To not get it because of some minor bureaucratic thing was a joke.
Pulling his shoes on, he stepped out of the front door and wrapped his coat around his shoulders. The wind was laced with cold drops of rain, and he braced himself against the biting chill.
He wanted to get out of there anyway. Even more so now, after this thing with Eloise. People would talk. He could already see the glances and suddenly hushed whispers when he walked into the office on Monday.
Jacob got into his car and breathed hard, staring at his letterbox reflection in the rear-view mirror.
No, he thought, it would most certainly be better to move on.
The window was taped and shuttered with black plastic so no light could enter, and five burning candles were arranged on the naked floorboards, in line with the ancient sign etched on the wood.
A cardboard box, overflowing with crumpled papers, sat in the corner of the room. The papers told Tommy everything he needed to know. Their job, their money, what food they ate, what their parents were called, where they’d been on holiday.
Everything about them was documented, discarded, and then collected by Tommy. Sifted through, sorted and studied.
Tommy knelt in the centre of the candles and closed his eyes. On the table in front of him was a photo of Jacob with his wife, a small bowl containing some nail clippings and a cigarette lighter.
Murmuring under his breath, he opened his eyes and marked his forehead with the sign of transition that the ritual began with.
Oh God. What on earth happened last night? I can’t remember a thing.
Where did I go? I remember the bar. Yes, of course. I remember everyone talking about leaving, and…
Who was I with? Oh, please tell me I haven’t been spiked.
I must have been spiked. I can’t remember anything. Oh Christ, am I ok?
Who was it?
The final part of the ritual was underway. It had finally come full circle.
Last night was fun. But it had taken a long time to get to that point, and a lot of work. He had waited patiently. Watching, collecting the requisite components – the papers, the trinket, the photograph. The nail clippings. That had been the hardest part. Sneaking into their home and sifting through the rubbish bags.
And then making sure they were Laura’s. It was very difficult to tell, unless you knew the individual. And the ritual would not work without the subject’s toenail clippings.
Last night was different. It was temporary. This would be permanent.
Now the end was in sight. The next incantation would take days and, when it was complete, Jacob and Tommy would begin a new life. Together. Without her.
Words: Joe Field