Short Story: Coil (Unfinished)

I was recently going through some old folders that contained stuff I wrote ages ago and came upon a bunch of stories and ideas I barely remember. Most of them weren't worth much (only writing exercises where I'd try different styles and such), but among them I found one that was . . . well, peculiar. It's called "Coil", and I seem to have written it sometime around 2009 (in my fifth or sixth semester in college).

I barely remember writing the opening scene while listening to Poe's "Haunted" (the references are obvious) and being inspired by the crazy metaphysics and surreal psychological horror of "House of Leaves". Other than that, I sincerely don't remember anything about this story, what it really was supposed to be about, or where it was going. I think I was trying to ape a setting, or a mood, but not a writing style. I'm 90% sure I wrote it during an ethics class while a teacher yammered on about Heidegger.

As you can tell from the title of the post, I didn't actually finish it. That being said, I wanted to share it. The style of prose used here is something I haven't really used again (mainly because none of the projects I'm currently working on are horror) so it's fun for me to read. I was thinking of finishing it. Picking up a story I really don't remember anything about, and then finishing it from there could be an interesting exercise.

Anyway, here's the unfinished "Coil". Tell me what you think. Warning: there's some college pretension peppered among the regular pretension.

* * *
COIL
by Diego Valenzuela


            She patiently stared as the man in black made music with his hands.
            Every prod of finger against ivory spoke in melody. All ten of them moved as if disembodied, each going by their own routes, all guided by artistic intuition, but all working to one single goal: enchant the dead environs with Bach’s Jesu.
            The room was large enough to make her wonder why the legacy of Johan Sebastian wasn’t lost to poor acoustics. She was in a library, as far as she could tell –thought if there were any bookshelves around her, they were hidden too far into the darkness to be seen. Pillars that came together in tall arches made a circle at the center of the chamber, where she sat next to the sole provider of light: an antique oil lamp flickering on a wooden table, only shedding its faintest on the pianist and his instrument.
            “Some musicians,” the man abruptly said after hitting one final note, returning the library to silence. “They say there are several points in that cantata that let you turn the whole thing into a cycle. Dangerous business, that. Who knows how long you could spend playing.”
She was uninterested in his words –indeed in nearly anything of his- yet was unable to do anything but listen.
“I have a fascination with cycles, dangerous or not. It’s a mystery why I’ve never meddled with that particular one.” He walked over to her. The stool twirled and rose in stature as he left it. “Amber?”
“Will you keep your promises?” she asked, eyes lost to the darkness.
“I wouldn’t dream otherwise. But you’re aware-,” he paused. “That you have to return?”
“It’s the road back that I’m looking forward to.”
“Very well,” he said. “Then let me begin.”
All she could see before being struck was a flash of light being reflected on slick metal –something he had produced from his coat; a knife, maybe. No, it had been a hammer, or a mallet. She heard loud crunches with every blow, but couldn’t perceive much more as her skull cracked.
And something else, a percussion, pitched. Melodic. It echoed in her head, coming from another world. Pa-ra-pa-pa.
Crack! Crack!
Pa-ra-pa-pa.

Her eyes were still cushioned with purple bags as life was drained from her. He avoided the sight of the cave in her head and waited for the Leave. Amber was truly beautiful. And it was the sort of beauty brought forth only by erosion, much like with the stone which had given her name.
The Yonder didn’t take long with this one, and he was glad; he hadn’t spent the entire day waiting only to wait some more. Even after having spent hours, days, months –perhaps even years- in there, these walls still whispered to him. They were the sort of whispers that were only understandable in their unintelligibility.
He placed the ornate hammer by the lamp, not bothering to wipe the remains of Amber from its blunt end. Then, he leaned down and put out the fire with a gentle blow, fading the chamber into darkness, leaving only thick ribbons of smoke coiling in the air. One ribbon remained as the rest faded; it danced, swirled and spiraled. One of its ends attached to the other, creating a Möbius strip. The visual spectacle did little for him, having seen it uncountable times before.
The strip disappeared. Amber came awake.
“Who are you?” he asked her as she left the deathbed of her previous occupant, getting no answer. As though the wound was summoning the flesh back, the spilled blood and cranium returned to their rightful place. “Who are you?” he asked again, once the entire wound was gone.
Marina,” she answered. “Don’t you remember me? I’m Marina.”

I
Nathan Cross hadn’t left his apartment for nearly three months. Not once.
It was a good thing that Mrs. Edwards, the caretaker, made honor to her title not only in job, but also in character. She took care of people, particularly Nathan, whom she looked after like her son. Catalina Edwards even cared enough for him to do his shopping, never asking for the reasons of his seclusion. That was a relief, Nathan thought, as he wouldn’t be able to answer if she did.
This seclusion had presented him with the opportunity to teach himself several things, most of which were useless in themselves, but a powerful means for distraction. Perhaps his favorite –and the one he was most skilled at- was the solving of jigsaw puzzles. His enjoyment was a strange business, even for him. Nathan didn’t enjoy so much the process as he enjoyed its end. Placing the final piece, often at the very center of the image (he chose to build them in a spiral, frames first and then making his way to the core), was delightful. He loved the feeling of an irregularly shaped part, meaningless by itself, clicking into place to complete an image. That feeling made the frustrating process a small price to pay.
Though his apartment sported cheap forgeries of Van Gogh and Monet, most framed images that hung on his walls were proud exhibits of his skill in puzzle solving. In one particular instance, his two interests –art and jigsaws- overlapped in thousand-piecer of Picasso’s Guernica. His most proud achievement, however, hung by his bed: it was a custom-made puzzle that displayed no image, but just a mid-tone gray. It had taken him over 4 months to complete and was the only piece of work which he’d be proud to show to others.
His lifestyle of loneliness, which he sometimes, in moments of deep catharsis, thought invited the presence of an ominous Raven, would be broken when the most unexpected message reached his hands.
It was a telegram. He had never received, indeed had never seen a telegram before. Even for a deliberate isolationist like himself, modern age left little to imagine in terms of communicational technology. But, as stated, more remarkable than the medium was the message:

In every corner do I hide,
By no law do I abide,
No more hope, my dying bride
Then I die, the rising tide

Deathly lullaby of Elle’s heart
It expects you, in the House.

A message from Elle. The Raven’s presence would’ve been less disturbing.
What business could’ve possessed her to contact him after so long, and in such a cryptic manner? Had he not known of Elle’s often futile attempts as a poet, he would’ve assumed this was someone else’s work –a tasteless prank, perhaps. Elle, however, presented a conflict. He had neither will nor strength to gaze upon her beautiful pale face again.
Until now, he had never looked back upon the memories of Elle, perhaps because he had very few, and those he did, were vague. He’d be prepared to think of the empty memories, but no part of him was trained to face this message. She expected him, it said, and clearly. In the House.
It took Nathan more than a moment to evaluate the meaning behind the poem, but it was that final line which he found most vexing. What house could she mean? Hard as he tried, Nathan couldn’t remember any particular house that had ever been of special meaning to them. Its capitalization made him think that it was something obvious he was forgetting, or perhaps some form of symbolism. But what could he be? He had forgotten so much.
Then, he remembered. It was such an obscure memory that he felt proud for having remembered it at all.
Nathan was the kind of man who, despite his treasured distractions and interests, found it difficult to rid himself of bothersome thoughts. Especially those of them regarding his past, which he fought hard to put behind. Thus, after just an hour of weary pondering as he tried to finish a puzzle that showcased a series of smiley faces, each in a different costume, he stepped out of his home, note in hand, with a very clear destination.

II
It was as though he had escaped into his past.
The House, the perfect image of an old, abandoned memory, was exactly as he had last seen it, down to the last detail of gathered foliage, worn shutters and missing bricks. Finding it there, just as it was that day when he and Elle had first laid eyes on it during a bike trip together around Baltimore, made the memories all the clearer. It had been a bleak November day, not too different to this. They had been sixteen years old and had recently ridded themselves of each other’s virginity. That particularly potent detail worked as a flow point through which he’d remember other things.
Nathan stepped towards the front door, looking up as the House seemed to grow. He considered calling Elle’s name from the outside, so he wouldn’t have to step inside. He didn’t want to. A memory he hadn’t yet recovered was warning him.
But, ignoring it, he did. With no knock or courtesy, assuming the residence was long abandoned, and unafraid of any illicit tenants, he opened the door. Twilight seeped from the inside like blood from a wound. Bluish gray light that seemed to make the place darker flooded through cracked, bordered windows.
Finally, he stepped inside, and the door closed behind him.
Noise that immediately echoed from upstairs after the shutting of the door made him hold his tongue. It had sounded like footsteps, or rather, the shuffling of feet. Maybe someone would come down to meet him, so he wouldn’t need to take a step deeper.
No one did. The sound didn’t return.
Looking at the dusty, dilapidated insides, Nathan fished Elle’s note from his pocket, only to find he had made a mistake. The note he held in his hand was blank. Crumpled and clearly worn, but blank. He wondered if he had indeed made a mistake or if there was a more spectral magic at work as the sweat of his hands moistened the paper.
“Elle,” he said, quietly. “Elle?”
“Nathan,” came a voice. Hers, perhaps. It was a woman’s voice, but a strange effect brought by the acoustics of the House had made an echo of her words. “Nathan,” it returned, same effect at work. He didn’t immediately recognize it, but it was familiar. He didn’t know how much her voice had changed in ten years.
“Where are you?”
This time, the response was the shutting of a door upstairs. Fighting hard to avoid menacing thoughts, Nathan moved towards the staircase and started up. The creaking of every step was identical to the last. No step in this flight was safe. Was Nathan a heavier man, maybe it would’ve given in.
He met a door at the top of the stairs and heard the footsteps of someone running at the other side. He opened it, expecting to see Elle at the other end, running away from him. It wasn’t her, but someone. Nathan could barely catch sight of a large man at the other end of the long hallway before he took a corner and disappeared. When the echo of his footsteps faded into silence, Nathan could hear –and feel- his own heart pounding in his chest. The walls were plaster, but not blank. Sixes and nines were crudely painted on the wall like a fresco.
Sixes and nines, sixes and nines.
“Nathan?” he heard again, this time the voice was crystal clear, as though the speaker was standing right next to him.
“Elle?”
“Yes! Nathan! You came for me!”
“Where are you?” he said, wiping inexplicable sweat off his forehead and giving a complete spin to scan his surroundings.
He heard a knock on the hallway door. “Here.” The knock came again. “I’m on the other side.” She knocked once more. Pa-ra-pa-pa.
Sixes and nines.
“Come here,” he said. “I don’t know this place –I don’t remember it.”
“Me neither,” she answered through the wall that didn’t distort her voice at all. “Go forward. We’ll meet in the end.”
“I don’t want to be here,” he said, looking at the wall, as though he was talking to the House itself. “Let’s go back, we’ll meet outside.”
But there was no answer. She had moved on. He considered the possibility of stepping out of the House and wait for Elle. But the fact that the door behind him was closed, when it had been open just a moment ago, made him doubt whether he could walk out at all. It was a terrifying thought, but his heart –or that insistent memory- pushed him forward. He’d meet Elle at the end of the hallway.
He walked towards the end of the passage, looking through the windows to his right, at the outside. He passed two windows before he noticed, in the third, that something was topologically amiss. He could see the withered lawn outside, but not one floor below. Nathan was looking out the ground level of the House. Impossible, he thought. It was as though he had stepped into an Escher. Nathan tried opening the window and failed. As his heart began racing, he broke the already fragile glass with his elbow and peeked outside, confirming the possibility of escape. He sighed. A backyard facing a higher street, perhaps, no architectural impossibility.
At the end of the hallway, as it twisted to the left, farther from the lawn, he heard Elle’s voice again. “Nathan? Are you there?” After he answered, she said: “You came for me, Nathan,” she said.
“Where are we, Elle? What are you doing here?”
“We’ll meet in the end,” she said.
Nathan scraped the plaster with his fingernail, trying to poke a small hole through which to see Elle. But the plaster was thick –thicker than the clarity of Elle’s voice would suggest. “Elle?” he cried out. No answer.
This time, he walked faster down the hallway, which was much longer than the last, longer indeed than the house seemed from the outside. In the end, there were two doors: one to the left and one to the right. Between the two doors, an old stained mirror showed Nathan’s face and the hallway behind him. He looked so tired, he thought, and opened the door to the left, finally reaching Elle.
The room beyond the door was so much darker, not having the advantage of windows. Still, despite the darkness, Nathan could still look upon old furniture, covered by dusty white sheets. He tried for a moment to discover the source of the dim light that allowed his eyes to see but failed. “Elle?” he said, before stepping inside.
“I’m down here,” he heard her say, less clearly but somehow closer than before. Carefully, as though he was walking among a pride of sleeping lions, afraid to make even the faintest noise, he started across the room.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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1 comments:

  1. This would make a great book! It's awesome!!

    ReplyDelete