These are the most testing times the human race have faced since World War II. This time the enemy is unseen, an enemy so powerful it’s forcing many of us to retreat back into our houses. It’s here that people will try to continue to live as normal a life as they can and it’s here that the wonderful art of storytelling may blossom. Be it, young children sitting in front of a parent, or a person sadly on their own listening to the radio, stories will be spread and remembered, to be told to future generations once this horrible virus has faded.
I wanted to be able to share some stories with the fiends of Kendall Reviews, stories to help people get through these difficult times.
I’m delighted to bring you a chilling tale from Thomas Emson.
In Sorrow Thou Shalt Bring Forth Children
By Thomas Emson
THE elevator JERKED, and the lights flickered. Jessup gasped, and a shudder passed through him.
“Wish it wouldn’t do that,” he said, gaze flitting around the elevator, “I hate these things.”
Confined spaces gave him the creeps. Buried alive and all that Poe crap.
A sweat broke out on the back of his neck. He tugged at his shirt collar to let some air in, but the air in here was humid.
“Come on, come on.”
The elevator hummed its way down. It clanked and jerked. Jessup cursed and reached out an arm to steady himself. This is getting reported, he thought; and the maintenance guy’s getting fired. Whoever he was, he should be on the phone to the elevator firm every day, stalking the hell out of them, threatening to kidnap their kids unless they get down here and fix this box of string and glue.
The elevator bumped and pinged its arrival in the underground parking lot. Jessup blew air out of his cheeks. The doors slid open.
He’d forgotten how dark it was in the parking lot. He squinted, peering into the gloom. He made out the pillars. He made out other shapes lurking in the blackness. He didn’t know what they were—trash cans, old TV sets, refrigerators, shopping carts, ghosts …
Jessup chuckled and shook his head; told himself not to be such an asshole. He stepped out into the darkness, eyes fixed on the pool of light a hundred yards ahead of him. The light fanned out of a bulb hanging from the parking lot’s low ceiling. It was the only source of illumination in this damn hole in the ground. Walk straight through that luminous pool, he thought, and I’m at the Toyota—and I can get the hell out of here.
He took a few steps then stopped. Hold on, he thought, and took out his cell phone. He stood in the dark and dialled.
“Maintenance,” said a craggy voice.
“Yeah, this is Mike Jessup—”
“From Rittle & Brande?”
“From Rittle & Brande, that’s right.”
“Everything okay, there? You seen all the apartments, now?”
“Uh, yeah—what’s your name?”
“Yes, your name.”
“My name’s Isaac.”
“Isaac. You’re maintenance guy here, right?”
“Sure am. Maintain; that’s what I do.”
“Well, you need to maintain better if you want to keep your job, Isaac. Do you want to keep your job?”
Silence, and Isaac breathing.
Jessup said, “You heard me all right up there?”
“I heard you all right, Mr Jessup. And, yeah, I need my job.”
“Good. Let’s get you doing it, then. It’s the elevator, Isaac. It’s, uh, clunky. Jerks a lot, and the light flickers.”
“Yeah, it’s old. Like me. I’m clunky, too. Jerk a lot. You get like that when you’re old, that’s all.”
“Well, that’s not good enough. We’ve got people coming in and out over the next few weeks. Rittle & Brande’s refurbishment guys. Architects, surveyors, construction foremen, exterminators. They can’t work with clunky and jerky, Isaac. Rittle & Brande can’t work with clunky and jerky.”
He heard Isaac breathe again, and after a few seconds Isaac said, “They ain’t gonna want me, then?”
“That’s not what I said. What I said is that these elevators, they need maintaining. You need to be on the phone with the elevator people—”
“The elevator people, they ain’t there anymore. I told you, Mr Jessup: everything’s old.”
Jessup tilted his head from side to side. “Yeah, well, you need to find some elevator maintenance guys. Check the Yellow Pages. We can’t have people getting stuck in the elevator, Isaac.”
“No one’s ever got stuck in those elevators. Not since I been here. And that’s forty years. They’re clunky, maybe, but they ain’t never given up.”
“That’s good to hear. But you can never tell. I want it seen to, so see to it. Rittle & Brande will need a maintenance guy here when this place is spruced up and the rich folk are living here, throwing tips around. You could be that guy, Isaac. But you need to clean up—”
“And not be clunky and jerky.”
“Yeah, not be clunky and jerky—oh, and Isaac … ”
“Yes, Mr Jessup.”
“We need another light source in the parking lot. It’s an abyss down here. I can’t see a thing. People can get hurt in the dark.”
Isaac made a noise and it sounded like he’d said, “Yeah,” but Jessup didn’t hear properly and said, “What’s that?”
“What about the light, then?”
“It’s always been dark down there.”
“Always just came to an end, Isaac. There’s no always anymore. It’s all change, now. Everything’s new.” He waited, then said, “Okay?”
“Sure. But you know … ”
“Know what, Isaac?”
The maintenance man hesitated, and Jessup wanted him off the phone.
He said, “Is there a problem, Isaac? Because if there is we can—”
“It’s just … the kids.”
“They always played down there. Down there in the dark.”
“Yeah, the kids.”
“There are no kids, Isaac. There are no residents. The building’s been empty ten years—rats and spiders and old TVs, that’s all.”
“The kids, though.”
“You’re talking about neighborhood kids?”
Silence again. Jessup imagined Isaac’s brain going around and around, grinding out an answer.
The maintenance man said, “I just mean kids. General, like.”
Jessup tutted. “They shouldn’t be playing here, whoever they are. It’s private property. Rittle & Brande own it, now, Isaac. That’s why we put signs out front saying, ‘Rittle & Brande. Private property. Do not enter’.” He blew air out of his cheeks and wiped his brow. Then he said, “If you know of any kids that play here, Isaac, you’d better tell them to stay away, find another garbage dump. Is that clear, now? I’m holding you responsible.”
Isaac sighed. Jessup furrowed his brow. He didn’t like the noise Isaac just made. He couldn’t say why he didn’t like it, he just didn’t, so he let it go and said, “Is that clear with you, Isaac?”
“Yes, Mr Jessup, guess it has to be.”
“Yes, it does have to be. You get on it, Isaac. Elevator, kids—you deal with it all and I’ll be in touch later in the week. I may drop by to see how you’re doing. Do it right and I’ll put in a good word for you with the hiring and firing guys.”
Isaac’s voice came down the phone, saying, “You be c—”, but Jessup cut him off. He smiled and thought: Have the last word, then slam the phone down on them; gives you the edge.
He slipped the cell into his jacket pocket and strode towards the light. He’d suggest to Rittle & Brande they get rid of Isaac. Forty years—that’s a good, long while to be at the same job. Time he scuttled off. Rittle & Brande could find a place for him in one of their retirement homes. Isaac could die there among his own kind; among the old and the “always” brigade.
It’s always raining in town.
It’s always busy on the subway.
It’s always been dark down there.
Jessup stopped. The pool of light lay ten yards ahead. He narrowed his eyes. What was that? he thought, convinced he’d heard a noise off to his left.
“Hello?” he said, and the darkness threw the word back at him, making it bounce off the concrete walls.
Jessup shivered. That must’ve been it, he thought—an echo. Maybe my footsteps. He blew air out of his cheeks and shook his head, thinking, You’re such a chicken-shit, Mickey.
He walked on and stepped into the light, and the tennis ball lobbed out of the darkness ahead of him.
Jessup stopped and his nerves tightened. Chills leached through his veins and he felt a sweat break out across his back.
The ball bounced past him. He turned to follow its course. It fell into the darkness, the plop-plop as it struck the concrete fading out into silence.
Jessup faced front again. He stared into the shadows. He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. He started to speak, but he had no voice. He coughed, clearing the debris from his gullet.
“Who … who’s there?” If there was anybody there, they didn’t answer. Jessup said, “Don’t mess with me. I do taekwondo.”
He didn’t do taekwondo, but Candice started classes last week and said he should come, lose some of that flab. But he never would. Not unless something happened. Something like this.
His legs felt shaky and he wanted to pee.
He said, “I’ll phone the cops. You’re … you’re not allowed in here, it’s private property. You’re trespassing. Rittle & Brande own it, now. You hear that? We own it and it’s out of bounds. There’s security. You won’t be—”
He instinctively ducked, but the soccer ball wouldn’t have hurt him. It looped out of the darkness and arced over his head. It bounced at the edge of the pool of light before bobbing off into the shadows.
Jessup’s gaze darted around. He panted, his heart racing.
“Okay,” he said, “I think we’re done, now. Game’s over. You win.”
The Toyota lay twenty yards ahead of him. He couldn’t see it, but he knew that’s where he’d parked it. Problem was, the joker throwing the balls was also in front of him; and probably stood between Jessup and the car.
Jessup reached into his pocket for the cell phone. Cops’ll deal with this, he thought; put the heebie-jeebies up these kids. He started dialling 911 and didn’t see the football spin out of the darkness on his right. It cracked into his wrist and he dropped the phone. Pain shot up his arm. He yelped and stumbled away. The football rolled out of the light.
Jessup cowered and said, “What the hell’s going on? You’ve broken my wrist. I’ll sue you. I’ll have you thrown in jail. You hear me?”
Jessup flicked his hand about. His wrist wasn’t broken but it hurt like hell. He squatted to pick up his phone. His eyes were fixed on the darkness.
This is not funny, he thought; not funny anymore.
Crouching, looking out for other missiles, he dialled 911 and put the phone to his ear.
Something cracked against the side of his head. He dropped the phone and toppled forward. For a moment he didn’t know where he was. Then he came to. His brain throbbed with pain. He groaned and touched the back of his skull. A warm wetness matted his hair. He looked at his hand and saw the blood. He almost fainted but managed to keep himself together. He scrabbled around for his phone.
But then he froze.
The baseball bobbled gently from side to side a couple of feet away. Jessup grabbed it. He sat, legs stretched out in front of him. He studied the ball. A blob of blood—his blood—stained the surface.
Fury swelled in his breast. He clenched his teeth and he could feel the blood rush to his cheeks. He got up, ignoring the dizziness. He darted looks into the darkness and lobbed the baseball up and down in his palm.
“You want this back, huh? You want it back, you bastard? Well take it, then—and I hope it”—he pitched the baseball into the gloom—“kills you.”
He heard the clip of bat on ball.
He gasped and ducked sharply. The baseball whizzed back over his head. It shot into the shadows behind Jessup and clanked against the elevator doors.
Jessup glared towards where he guessed the elevator would be. He breathed hard, sucking air into his lungs. Terror crawled over him. His skin poured sweat and pain pulsed through his head.
“Who are you?” he said, his voice high-pitched. Still crouching, he faced forward again. “Who the hell are you?”
Jessup tried to listen. Tried to hear breathing, or whispers, or giggling, or footsteps. But he heard nothing. He shut his eyes and dropped his head. He started to cry and that made him tremble.
“Let me get to my car,” he said through his tears. “Let me go home, please let me go home.”
He heard something hiss, and the hiss got louder, and the rock shot from the darkness. He dropped flat on the concrete and the rock flew over him. He leaped to his feet, anger chasing away the fear, and he said, “What the hell are you doing? You could’ve killed me. Balls are one thing; but rocks—”
That hissing sound again. He cowered, curled up into a ball. The rock whipped in from his left. It glanced off his elbow and jarred. Jessup yelped and dropped to his knees. His eyes flitted around, trying to see. He panted, and his heart bumped against his ribs.
The phone trilled.
It was on the ground. He dived for it and answered it while lying flat on his stomach. He didn’t wait to hear who it was, just said, “For God’s sake, help me. They’re throwing stones at me. They’ll kill me. Phone the cops, please phone the—”
“Mr Jessup, sir?”
“Oh, Mr Jessup.”
“Isaac, phone the cops. The kids, it’s the kids, they’re throwing stuff at me, Isaac. Baseballs, soccer balls—and now, they’re throwing stones.”
“Oh, Mr Jessup, I’m sorry.”
“You will be unless you phone the cops.”
“Cops can’t do nothing.”
“Cops can’t—what are you talking about?”
“Last time we was on the phone.”
“Just now, yeah. I was about to tell you, Mr Jessup, to be careful but you hung up on me.”
“Yeah, look, whatever—phone the cops, Isaac.”
“I said cops can’t do nothing.”
Jessup gasped. Anger boiled in his veins. He got up into a crouch and said, “Get down here, Isaac, and get these kids off of me.”
Isaac hesitated, and then said, “Can’t do that.”
“Can’t do—you do what I say, asshole. Get here and tell these kids that I’ll have them locked up for the rest of their lives unless they let me get to my car.”
“Mr Jessup,” said Isaac, a tremble in his voice, “it ain’t like that. You can’t lock ’em up, sir. They ain’t—they—they ain’t—”
The rock struck Jessup in the arm. He dropped the phone and scurried away. His arm ached, and he rubbed it, saying, “That hurts, you bastards.”
A second rock came whistling out of the darkness behind him. He ducked, but the missile’s trajectory was low, and it whacked his thigh.
Jessup hopped about rubbing his leg. He said, “Okay, that’s enough.”
He bent down and picked up the rock. It was heavy and jagged, the size of an orange. He tossed it and it clunked against metal. Jessup cursed, knowing he’d probably dented the Toyota.
Two rocks flew past his head, one from the right, one from the left.
“Where are you? Where are you, you little—”
He saw the rock coming but stood frozen. It smashed into his chest and sent him reeling. A jolt of pain burst through his breast and for a few moments he struggled to breathe. He rubbed his chest and started to cry, saying, “Stop now, please.”
A tinny voice drew his attention. He looked at the phone. Isaac still spoke to him, thinking he was listening. Jessup bounded to the phone and snatched it up. He put it to his ear and heard Isaac saying, “… so there’s nothing I can do, Mr Jessup. We’re all powerless, here—that’s how it’s always been,” and then Isaac hung up.
“Isaac … Isaac … Isaac, damn you, where—”
The rock cracked against his skull. Pain shot through his head. Stars erupted in front of his eyes. He stumbled backwards, arms out. His knees buckled, and he almost fell but managed to keep his balance. Blood poured from his forehead. He blinked it out of his eyes. He touched his head and saw his hand.
“Stop this, stop this, stop—”
And the whistle of stones made him cover his head. But too many showered towards him. They struck his body and he screeched, leaping about trying to avoid them. He ran this way and that way, trying to find cover. But the stones came from every direction, containing him in the pool of light. The pain was dreadful.
Stones broke his arms so he couldn’t raise them to protect his head and face. He begged them to stop but he got smashed in the cheek, and then the ear, and the shoulder, and then everywhere—all over his body.
He fell to his knees. He stared at the concrete. They pelted him, their missiles thudding against him. Blood spilled from him and splashed on the ground. He wailed, the agony unbearable.
The stones rained on him. The darkness fell on him.
Shapes, he thought, his mind slipping away; shapes lurking in the blackness—trash cans, old TV sets, refrigerators, shopping carts, ghosts…
Thomas Emson has published eight horror thrillers, including Maneater, the Vampire Trilogy (Skarlet, Krimson, and Kardinal) and Zombie Britannica. His short story collection The Trees And Other Stories is available in paperback and ebook. His non-fiction book, How To Write A Novel In 6 Months, a guide to help aspiring authors achieve their writing goals, outlines the method he used to produce his novels. His latest project is the ebook series The Prophet Wars, which are available on Amazon and as an epub on Smashwords and Draft2Digital.
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