Tuesday, 17 May 2011

FRIGID AIR by Steven Miscandlon

A warm welcome to Steven with a cold story....


 I

Locally, they call it The Murder House. Just like that, with capital letters – even when spoken aloud.

It's apt, I suppose. You know, what with the murders and all. In fact, the guy wasn't just a murderer.

Worse.

He was a cannibal.

News isn't really my thing, so I can't remember his name, or how many people he killed and ate.

Or how it ended.

Did he kill himself? Shot by police following a dramatic armed siege? Knifed by one of his own victims who finally found the strength, or luck to fight back before being turned into a Sunday roast? Like I said, news isn't really my thing, so I'm not sure of the details.

I do remember headlines with the word 'CANNIBAL' though. And more than once over the last few months I've heard people talk in hushed, scandalized tones about The Murder House.

Daft bastards.

Elsewhere, the house would have been boarded up and quietly left to rot. Or boarded up then not-so-quietly torn down with its only epitaph being a brief article in the local paper, finally putting the whole sordid affair to rest.

But not on this estate.

Here, the second the police and coroner and forensic types had done whatever it is they do in places where people have died the landlord had it advertised ‘to let’ again.

Which is where I come in.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not entirely without imagination. I've seen Amityville and The Shining and The Haunting of Hill House and all those other films about buildings where bad things have happened.

But, for a house this size, the rent is a bargain. Fully furnished too, including cooker and washing machine and fridge and everything. Sure, the cooker's hardly state-of-the-art, and the fridge looks vaguely like something from the Fifties, but they work.

And the fridge is massive. I've never had one like it, but then maybe they don't make them like that anymore.

Yes, it crossed my mind that these might be original fixtures and fittings. That ‘that’ fridge might be the one where he had kept the bodies, or parts thereof. That ‘that’ cooker might be where he had boiled up his stew made of Stu, or whoever.

No, I didn't bother to ask the landlord, but what are the chances? I don't know fuck all about police procedures, but surely anything like that would have been removed for evidence, then destroyed or auctioned or whatever they normally do with murderers' household appliances?

Right?

II

I awake feeling groggy, sore, thirsty and hungry. It's a couple of months since I moved in, and I swear to God I've never slept like this before in my life. I don't know if it's the bed, the room, or what – but every night I seem to be getting at least nine hours of solid, deep, uninterrupted sleep.

Dead to the world.

But still, every morning – every morning – I wake up feeling like shit.

Tell you what though, bleary-eyed and headachy and scratchy-throated as I am this morning … I could murder a pizza. A craving like you wouldn't believe, I can almost smell it. Pepperoni and olives and tomatoes and jalapeños.

I'm ravenous.

I drag my carcass out of bed and stagger downstairs to the kitchen. I need to eat something.

Anything.

I approach the fridge, none too hopeful about my prospects of a decent feed. I can cook, but this is a genuine bachelor pad, and besides which I'm really fucking lazy. In an ideal world, every night I'd be preparing spaghetti carbonara, or goulash, or enchiladas … in the real world, it's more likely to be cheese toasties, or beans on toast, or a roll and bacon, or... Well, you get the picture.

I pull open the fridge door and scrutinize the contents. It's only a couple of seconds before my eyes come to rest on two slices of leftover pizza resting on a plate. Pepperoni and olives and tomatoes and jalapeños.

It's a cliché, but I stand there for a minute scratching my head. I don't remember buying or eating pizza last night. Or at any point in the last couple of weeks, for that matter. I wander over to the bin and put my foot on the pedal, peer inside in a vain hope of finding an empty Domino's box that I might have forgotten ordering.

I must be losing it.

I haven't been drinking. Well, not heavily at any rate. But I just can't figure this out.
Resigned, I go back to the fridge and poke at the pizza, then snatch it up before it can disappear in a puff of over-active imagination.

A few minutes later, and I'm sitting at the battered kitchen table chewing on the pizza. Okay, this whole situation is weird. But I'll tell you this for nothing, my friend. It's delicious.

III

A couple of weeks have passed and things have been reassuringly normal. No more phantom pizza slices. In fact, I'm absolutely sure now that the whole thing was just a result of absent-mindedness. Obviously I'd ordered in a pizza the night, or a couple of days, before. I dare say I was drunk or tired or something and that's why I didn't remember. No other food has mysteriously appeared or disappeared. No cases for The Eggs Files here, I'm afraid.

Still, I've been sleeping as heavily – no, more heavily – than I had before. And that shitty morning feeling has been lingering further and further into the day. I'm headachy and cranky and miserable more often than not, and it's not much fun. No, I haven't been to a doctor, because … well, because that’s not what blokes do. I'll think about it if bits start dropping off, okay?

My appetite has been all over the place too. Some days I'm surviving on little more than a packet of crisps and seven cups of coffee. Other days I'm so ravenous I could eat a kid with a scabby head, piling food down my throat like nobody's business. And the cravings. Not pregnancy-type pickled onion and ice-cream cravings, just an insatiable, burning desire for some particular dish or other, and God help any fucker who stands between me and my meal of choice.

Yesterday it was burgers. This morning, having just woken, it's sausages.

Do I have any sausages? I had a fry up at the weekend, can't remember if I used them all. So I drag myself out of bed and downstairs to the fridge and open the door and, a minor hallelujah, there is the plastic package containing a single, blessed sausage. Only one, but one is better than none, right?

I reach for it but then stop.

I rub a hand over my bleary eyes, forcing them to focus properly.

Not a sausage.

It's a finger.

I back up sharply, knocking against the kitchen table. I look down at my hands, making sure all of my own digits are where they are supposed to be. It seems like the logical thing to do.

My mind is racing.

Okay, not my finger, so it belongs to someone else. I'm not sure if that's better, or worse.

So how the fuck did it get into my fridge? I do a quick round of the ground floor doors and windows. Front and back doors are locked. All windows likewise closed … except the kitchen window. Which is open, just a crack. So what does that mean? Did I leave the window open and someone sneaked in while I was asleep and left a finger in my fridge?

I look again at and around the window. I can't see any footprints, or other disturbance that would point to an intruder.

I need to sit down and at this precise moment the kitchen floor seems like a better option than a chair, so I let myself collapse down onto the faded linoleum. This is some serious shit, right here. What do you do in this situation? Call the police? Put the thing in a Tupperware box and take it to a hospital?

I need some time to think. But in the meantime, I have someone's finger starting to decompose in my fridge.

So I do the only sensible thing. I gingerly remove it from the fridge … and put it in the freezer compartment. It'll keep better in there.

IV

For the next few days I'm a nervous wreck. Nail-biting is a disgusting habit, but one I've taken to with aplomb. My own nails, I hasten to add.

Every visit to the fridge is filled with trepidation. I avoid it where I can, instead trying to survive on Pot Noodles and other foodstuffs that I can store in nice, safe places. Like cupboards. But every two or three days I steel myself and snatch open the fridge door, both dreading, and morbidly curious, to find whether any further gifts have been left for me.

It's a week after the ‘Finger Incident’ that the fridge presents me with a human heart sitting on a plate. I'm assuming it's human, but how the hell would I know? I wouldn't know a human's heart from a pig's heart from a rhino's heart. But I do know what a heart looks like, and that's exactly what that is, sitting on an off-white plate in just a small pool of semi-congealed blood.

For a second, I think it twitches and I start to hear a beating and I'm thinking oh my God I'm in The Tell-Tale Fucking Heart... But the movement is just a trick of the light, or of my own imagination. And the beating, well of course that's just my own heart. It's a reassurance to know that it's still securely nestled inside me after all.

Now, surely, this is a job for the police? But... But inevitably the finger of suspicion will be pointed at me. Just as I suspect the finger in the freezer is probably pointing at me, right now.

No, this needs to be played carefully. I need time to think. More time to think. So, a bit of cling-film and the heart joins the finger in the freezer.

V

The next week passes in a tangle of normality and insanity. At times I can convince myself that everything is perfectly normal. I can forget the fact that parts of a person have a home in my freezer compartment next to the petits pois and the choc-ices. Admittedly, copious quantities of alcohol help preserve the illusion, but what can you do?

At other times, I feel like I've descended into some previously uncharted circle of Hell. Between the crazily heavy sleeping and the headaches and the hunger (dear God the hunger) and, oh yes let's not forget the old Tell-Tale Heart and the Finger of Blame sitting in the freezer … well let's just say it wasn't the best of times.

From avoiding visiting the fridge, I've now taken to a routine of checking it at least twice a day, waiting for the next offering.

Almost needing it.

When it does come, I'm not sure whether to be more shocked, or accepting of it as the only logical next step.

It’s a head.

One of the shelves has had to be removed from the fridge to accommodate it. I've no idea where it's gone.

Nor do I recognise the head. Once again, thankfully it's not mine. The man's face doesn't look at all familiar. Or … wait … does it?
I push my face closer, looking at the sunken, yellowish eyes, the skin sagging slackly from the cheeks. There's something about the petulant lower lip, now hanging loosely and showing a ragged row of grey stony teeth. Have I seen this face before? Certainly not friend or family, nor a former co-worker or drinking buddy. But … perhaps a face I've seen on television? In a newspaper?

Nope, can't place it. Don't pay much attention to the news, anyway.

Right now I'm faced with a bigger problem. That sure as fuck isn't going to fit in the freezer. There's no way I can risk taking it, or the other bits, out of the house to try and drop them in a bin or in the canal or something.

So they can't leave the house. I certainly can't bring the police in. Not at this stage. Panic sets in and my skin is crawling and my heart thud-thud-thudding and all I know is I need – I need – a way to dispose of these things. Then it strikes me.

There's really only one solution.

And besides ... I'm fucking starving.


Bio:  'Frigid Air' marks Steven Miscandlon's return to fiction writing after a gap of many years.  His self-published short story collection 'Forever Lost' is long out of print, but he's now out of the wilderness and enjoying picking up the pen again.  Steven lives in Sunderland with his partner Julie Lewthwaite, and recently edited (and designed the cover for) her first novel 'Convictions' (published as Julie Morrigan).

8 comments:

  1. I love this story - great job, Steven. (Now write another one!) :D

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  2. Brilliant stuff. Love that voice. Love the understated humour, and the pacing is superb. Top stuff, Steven :)

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  3. Nice one. Enough funny lines to keep a smile on my face while reading it. Great ending too.

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  4. This was good. Bloody good.

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  5. Fantastic story, in fact it has to be the best thing I've read in ages. I must agree with Julie, write another one, several if you wouldn't mind as I'm dying to read more of your work!

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  6. This was just brilliant, kept me glued to the page and made me laugh as well. Love your writing, do write more!

    Helen from helen-scribbles.com

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  7. Thanks very much for the kind comments, folks – very much appreciated!

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