This story is by Auman Landry and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sharp flakes of ancient metal crumbled to the musty floor, broken from their place by frantic hands probing in the dark. The hands of a man, desperate for sanctuary. Not for himself, but for his wife. Beth. She had already seen too much. Her mind, incapable of grasping exactly what she had witnessed, was failing her. Adam believed he could save her. He needed to believe. He owed her that much, as a loving and caring husband, for what had become of their daughter Amy, and for what he was forced to do.
Where is it? he wondered, haphazardly waving his fingers across the crumbling surface of the massive metal door he had closed. The intense strain of shutting it had robbed him of his vigor, but not his determination. He needed to secure the door. For Beth.
She stood by in silence, too frail to help. Swallowed up by the utter darkness, only the whisper of her shuffling gave any indication of her passage. Adam worried, however, that he was not the only one to take notice. He needed to find the latch.
Again he searched, but still nothing. Adam leaned against the door for a bit of respite, but he slipped. Curled fingers scratched at the peeling surface for support, shoving slivers of decaying metal deep beneath his nails. His hand jerked free from the rusting metal, sending him to the floor. He hissed aloud, doubling over in searing pain around his tightly clenched fist. The sibilance echoed throughout the room like snakes in every corner.
Afraid he had lost his bearings, Adam sat up and felt for the base of the door. There it was! The elusive deadbolt, roughly the size of a child’s arm. He rushed to test it. Despite its gritty patina of rust, it twisted easily enough, falling into place with a low thrum.
Excited by his success, Adam immediately reached for the top of the menacing portal, slathering it with the wetness from his injured hand. Another deadbolt! Just as he figured. Exactly like the first, except this one would not move. Slippery hands clawed at the resistant mechanism, struggling to maintain their grip, but it would not give.
A vicious cycle of frustration and rage grew from the relentless strain. The darkness hid the bestial fury swelling in Adam’s eyes. His pounding heart pummeled him from within. Muscles knotted. Lungs burned with exhaustion. Every sinew in his body threatened to snap…
Everything ceased to be, replaced by a blinding brightness, smothering Adam in a cloud of tangled cotton. His thoughts dissolved into the surrounding haze, and his will soon followed. He was now fading into the ethereal nothingness. A distant scream cut through the muffling tranquility. It was Beth. Not now, but from a memory. One Adam hoped he would forget. The memory of what she had witnessed. Of what their daughter had become. Of what he had to do…
Adam’s knees buckled, startling him from his cottony stupor. Pinpoints of shiny blackness rippled before his eyes. An instant later, he was back, standing in the dark, with both hands still gripping the defiant lock. A thick wetness streamed down his arm.
With renewed purpose, Adam addressed the lock once more. This time, it moved. Slickened by the warmth seeping from his ruptured fingertips, it acquiesced to his will. Without delay, he shoved the heavy deadbolt upwards and firmly locked it into place.
Adam turned from the sealed door and let loose a deep sigh of relief. His first battle was over. The next one was just beginning.
Lost in his moment of triumph, he brought up his injured hand as if to inspect his wounds. Shaking his head, he snickered derisively at the futility. The throbbing wetness, however, was enough to indicate a need for immediate care. He ripped a long strip from his grimy shirt and quickly wrapped his fingers as best as he could. Any fear of infection had long since expired. Adam now felt ready for the next task at hand.
Carefully, he pulled the brittle remains of a candle from his shirt pocket and gently set it on the floor. Next came one of his last two matches, carried separate from the striking box so as not to make any unwanted noise. With match in hand, he paused and listened…
Feeling confident enough to break the deathly silence, Adam struck the match, and it lit… barely. The yellow light struggled, strangled by the thickness of dust in the air. Shakily, Adam lowered the glowing match to the awaiting candle. Melting wax spilled onto the filthy concrete floor, but the wick would not ignite. Panic began to set, and Adam’s fingers started to tremble. The flickering flame reached his fingertips, but he held on… for Beth. He had brought her in here with him, promising he would keep her safe. He only needed a little light.
The burning pain became too much, and he dropped the match. Again, the darkness of the room took over. Adam struggled not to scream, not in pain but in anguish and frustration with his failure.
Beth broke her silent vigil with a muffled cough, echoing the bitter memories of a day long past. The day Amy started to change.
No, he chided. Not again.
Bolstered by desperation, he took out the other match and pressed it to the side of the striker box, this time with his bandaged hand. Holding his breath, Adam tensed up his entire body, thinking only of the match and not the raspy whimper of his shivering wife.
The match flared into life. This time, Adam quickly laid the blazing matchstick onto the wick itself before the wavering flame died down. It worked. Tiny sparks leapt from the candlelight, and the very darkness began to burn. Crackling ribbons of fiery coruscation spread throughout the air like cobwebs set aflame. What remained of the miasmic darkness now drifted to the floor like ashen snow.
Though its light was dim, the candle managed to cast its illusion of hope as far as the rear wall. The color of flame danced across the floor as well as the empty walls and ceiling. The room was a cubicle of concrete, caked with the filth of disuse. Its contents were obscure piles of things long forgotten, shoved into the furthest corners beyond the reach of the light. Despite the surrounding squalor, Adam unfurled a weak but genuine smile.
Tall and beautiful, Beth stood before him. Her long flowery dress clung to her lithe frame. Her slender arms glowed in the candlelight with a pale loveliness. Curly locks of gold trellised past her delicate shoulders, shimmering like liquid fire.
“We should be safe now,” he whispered. “For a little while, anyway.”
The silence mocked his confidence. He reached out to Beth with the intent of offering her comfort, but she gave no response to his touch.
“Beth, what’s wrong? I promise you nothing’s getting through that door while I…”
Adam froze. His weak smile faded with his confidence, and his entire face drooped with despair.
“No. No, it can’t be. It’s impossible! There’s just no way!”
Lost in disbelief, Adam stood immobile watching what once was his wife now contorting before him. Bones snapped, folding in on themselves, and snapped again, like twigs in the hands of a careless child. A twisted mass of crooked limbs now swayed eerily towards him, mimicking the once precious love of his life. Something dark and foul undulated beneath its skin, ready to emerge.
Silent prayers tumbled from his quivering lips. Prayers, he knew, even the darkest of gods would never answer. Dreadfully, he knew what he had to do.
Steadying himself for what he had grown regretfully accustomed to these last few weeks, Adam drew forth his ill-begotten weapon and began to strike down the now unrecognizable form of his one true love.
Long after the light had died, metallic thunks continued to ring in the darkness of the room with each swing of the grisly implement. That is, until Adam could swing no more. The heavy bludgeon fell from his bloodied hands, and he too collapsed beneath the weight of hopelessness. Again, he had failed. And again, he was alone…
With the darkness his only witness, Adam cried, kneeling in a puddle of blood and tears and candle wax.