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Silently It Creeps
by Alan Draven

“You’ve never heard of the Guilt Reaper before?” Eric Jones said.

“No, what the hell are you talking about?” Stan Bailey said, losing his cocky smile.

The two lawyers had been discussing living with the guilt their livelihood involved just outside the courthouse in Bitternest, Louisiana. The sky was heavy with rain and lightning painted fissures in the heavens.

“The Guilt Reaper is the embodiment of guilt. Legend has it that if you go to sleep with a guilty conscience without looking under your bed, the Guilt Reaper will come for you after the stroke of midnight, avenging all those wronged,” Jones explained, a somber look on his face.

“You’re kidding, right?” Bailey said.

“Come on, Stan; your clients are the ones who are supposed to be superstitious and cowardly, not you. You’re the star lawyer here; you’re not going to let a silly myth scare you, right?”

“You’re forgetting that we live in Bitternest; weirder shit has happened,” Bailey said as thunder rang like a shot from a .44 Magnum.

“It’s not like it’s the Grim Reaper or anything; there’s a way to beat this thing: All you have to do is stay up all night and wait for dawn. It’s powerless in daylight. But if you fall asleep …”

“Oh, that’s reassuring,” Bailey said with a hint of sarcasm.

“This is creeping you out, isn’t it?” Jones was enjoying himself. “Don’t let it ruin your weekend, buddy. I gotta run; I’m having lunch with my wife. Have a nice weekend and I’ll see you on Monday,” Jones said, running for a cab.

Bailey waved goodbye and stood there for a few moments, thinking of the wild-eyed tale his colleague had just told him. The rain started falling; Bailey headed home.

Bailey stood staring at the pouring rain outside his living room window. Fists clenched, he did his best to regain his calm. He’d gotten into another fight with his wife Lara. She’d stayed at the office working late for the third time this week. He was paranoid by nature and he’d been suspecting Lara of cheating on him for quite some time. When he finally confronted her over dinner, she’d denied it and she’d brought up his drinking problem. It only fuelled his rage even more; he was over that, hell, he hadn’t touched a bottle in months.

They’d fought ferociously for the better part of the evening; so much that Bailey’s voice was hoarse from all the yelling. So many hurtful things had been said, and by the time Lara was gone, he couldn’t even remember what had triggered the whole argument. How had it escalated to this level?

Now he was alone and everything was quiet. Too quiet. He felt an unpleasant numbness all over his body. He often felt this way after drinking; cloudy memory, light-headed, and sluggish. He went to their bedroom at the end of the hall and unearthed a bottle of Jack Daniels from behind his dresser. He decided that if he was going to feel like shit, he might as well get plastered.

The wind picked up outside as the autumn darkness fell on the city of Bitternest like a veil on a bruised bride. The rain had slowed and the nightly fog hovered above the city like a vulture over a dying animal.

Bailey took a swig from the 1.5 Liter whiskey bottle and sat on the bed. He started thinking of Lara; where had she gone? Probably in the arms of some poor bastard cheating on his wife. It infuriated him to be this powerless when he was so used to being in control. As a criminal lawyer, he hadn’t lost a case in over two years, but when it came to his home life, it was a big old mess.

He’d defended the worst scum of Bitternest; the pimps, the dope dealers, pedophiles, and had even gone to bat for the Mafia on a few occasions. One didn’t do what he did without paying a price; when he first took on these cases, he couldn’t live with himself. Defending dirt bag after dirt bag while knowing full well that they were guilty; it got to him and began weighing heavily on his conscience. That’s when he became friends with Jack Daniel’s Old No 7. The bottle helped get him through the guilt; it allowed him to have a selective conscience, much like a light switch, turning it on and off at will. Eventually, work got in the way of his marriage and before too long, the bottle came between him and Lara. After much discussion (and arguments), Lara and he decided to seek couples counseling. Bailey had given another shot at life sober.

He’d spend long periods of time without a drink, but some days were more unbearable than others and that’s when he’d cheat and have a few mouthfuls. He laughed out loud at the thought; he’d cheated on Lara in a sense, telling her that he was off the booze when he was still drinking behind her back. Now the roles were reversed. She’d been cheating on him for weeks. She had to have been.

The grandfather clock chimed in the pin-drop silent house: it was midnight. It brought him out of his musing in a panic. He hadn’t looked under the bed before sitting on it. He chuckled at how silly he felt for even thinking about—what was it Jones had called it, the Guilt Reaper? Bailey considered himself a rational man, but part of him was inclined to A squishing sound coming from under the bed sent a chill down his spine. He suddenly felt more sober than he had any other time in the past two years. Guilt incarnated. Was this really happening? He had to get a grip on himself; Bailey was much too old to believe in the boogeyman and he knew it. A faint shuffling sound made him reconsider.

He was almost certain that he could hear breathing under there. I know it’s waiting for me to put one foot down so it can move in for the kill, he thought. Or maybe it was just Frisbee, his Golden Retriever, sleeping under the bed.

“Frisbee, is that you, boy?”

Nothing. He whistled and leaned over the right side of the bed. It was too dark; he couldn’t see anything. It felt as though something had moved beneath him. He glanced at the light switch six feet away from him; there was no way he was taking the chance.

If only Lara could see me now; she’d make fun of me for sure, he thought.

He had to do something; maybe call someone or try to jump out of bed and run for the front door.

“Frisbee!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.

This time he heard him bark at the other end of the house and he could hear the dog’s paws on the floorboards scampering toward the bedroom. When Frisbee got to the doorway, he stopped and sat hunched on his back legs.

“What’s the matter, boy? Come to daddy! Don’t worry; we won’t tell mommy you came into bed.”

Frisbee didn’t budge. He began growling, his eyes fixed at the bed.

The dog’s reaction was a dead giveaway. Now I know there’s definitely something under the bed, Bailey thought.

All I gotta do is stay awake until morning, Bailey thought to himself. He couldn’t believe he was letting Jones’ stories get to him.

The dog took a few steps forward and started barking. Bailey got the impression that the bed moved. He took a mouthful of whiskey. The bottle was almost empty. The dog whimpered and ran into the hallway. What had he seen under there? Beads of sweat dripped from his forehead into his eyes.

The gusts of wind grew stronger; they blew right through the trees on the front lawn, pounding their branches against the window. It was murky outside; he could barely see the house across the street. His thoughts returned to the room as he heard a low snarling sound from under him. He downed the remaining liquor and flipped the bottle around in his hand to use it as a club. His hand was shaking. He crawled to the foot of the bed, and lying on his stomach, he peered at the floor. It was quiet and still again. He looked around in the failing light to see if there was anything he could use to reach under the bed.

Nothing in sight. It was near pitch black in the bedroom and in the house; the only light coming from a lamppost in the street. On second thought, he wondered if it wouldn’t be better to just sit back, watch TV in bed, and try to stay awake until dawn. The trick was to keep his mind busy until the sun rose. The room spun when he tried to sit up too fast; he could already taste the hangover he’d have in the morning. His eyes felt like he had needles in them; it didn’t help trying to stay awake after a night of drinking straight up Jack Daniels.

There was a shape under the sheets and he saw it slither toward him. Bailey backed up to the wall, clutching his pillow. The shape was the size of a small puppy. He could feel its warmth—and its smell. A horrendous stench. It was getting closer and closer to him; it was almost between his legs. In a few seconds it would be on him. Bailey could hear his heart thumping in his chest, wanting to leap out. He slowly stood up in bed, and as it was about to jump at him, the sound of glass shattering woke him up.

He’d passed out. The bottle of Jack Daniels had slipped from his hand and smashed on the floor. Outside, the fog was still dense, but it was getting brighter and brighter. He checked his watch; it was almost 5 A.M. He managed to get a few hours of sleep after all. His head felt as if it was crushed in a vice, but at least he was still alive.

“All right, that’s it; I’ve had enough,” he said out loud.

Now that daylight was just around the corner, he didn’t feel so terrified anymore. Besides, he desperately needed to relieve his bladder. This waking nightmare had managed to get his mind off Lara. Now that he felt things were returning to normal, he began thinking of her again. A feeling of guilt washed over him. He missed her. In spite of everything, he loved her still.

With all the courage he could muster, Bailey threw his legs over the side of the bed, leaving them dangling in the air a few inches from the floor. One deep breath and he’d set his feet down.

The first thing he did was turn on the lights.

So far so good.

Now, to look under the bed. He took a baseball bat from the closet and got down on his hands and knees. He tilted his head and took a peek. At first, all he could see were dust bunnies. Then, when his eyes adjusted to the dimness under the bed, he saw a thick liquid oozing from a large garbage bag.

Hesitantly, he extended his arm and reached for it. The bag’s opening hadn’t been tied properly and something the size of a soccer ball rolled out, stopping at his knees. He froze with fear as he grabbed the round, hairy thing in his hands.

Then, he screamed.

Bailey dropped Lara’s head and ran out of the room, slamming the door behind him. His hands were smeared with blood. He sat on a chair in the living room as the pieces began fitting together in his head.

When Lara had gotten back from work yesterday, he’d been drinking for over two hours; so much that he couldn’t walk straight. He was angry beyond reason. He started yelling at her that she was cheating on him, and when she accused him of being drunk, he struck her in the face. She grabbed her coat and hurried for the door but he caught up with her. She kicked him in the testicles and he grabbed her by the hair, smashing her head on the wall. Lara collapsed, sobbing. That’s when he picked her up and pinned her against the wall, strangling her. Before he knew it, she wasn’t breathing anymore. The last thing he remembered after that was going to the garage to get an axe.

It is said that sometimes when one is faced with too dreadful a situation to cope with, the mind will do anything it can to preserve its sanity, acting as an instinct of self-preservation.

Bailey picked up the phone and dialed a number.

Mr. Serrano? Stan Bailey speaking. I’m sorry to bother you this early, but I need to call in that little favor with Don Clemenza. It’d be to get rid of a body …”

The End