The Worst Things
The day escaped, secretly and swiftly, like a phantom mistress. And the night returned upon its throne of Anchor Landing with a loud thundering noise. In the shine of the car’s headlights, Stevenson Cole could see the road shrink within the strands of light reflecting off the rain. The dark sky grew yet even darker until the darkest color of obsidian. The high beams of his Lexus instantly came on, and its strength sawed a hole through the night’s thick layers. He pressed on the gas pedal with a feeling of trepidation.
The only sound in the car came from the low hum of his measured breathing and the warm air traveling slowly through the small, oval vents. The time on the car’s stereo read 11:24 p.m., but there was just enough time to reach the old house before midnight.
In the rearview mirror, he could see most of the small town’s lights diminish, and as the distance continued to stretch out, the city fell away into the deep darkness. Cole allowed his thick hands to relax their tight curl around the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The rain had nearly stopped and was replaced by a restless, cold breeze. He observed the bend in the road that would lead him to the old house owned by his friend, Dubrecel.
He continued driving while sorting through a collection of thoughts about the possible reasons for his friend’s absence. Cole had overheard from a restroom attendant at work that Dubrecel had unexpectedly gone, returned, and gone again from a casino in Las Vegas, with all the visits within three days. Now, Cole wondered if Dubrecel was back in Houston. However, Cole didn’t count on it.
Although Cole still held many of these thoughts about his friend’s activities away, they all had become strangely secondary. From the moment he had ordered the hitchhiker, an old man, out of his car. Cole had seen him abandoned and shuddering in the rain. He felt compelled to stop and give him a ride. He never thought that he would come to regret this earlier rare kindness.
He drove on with apprehension and high speed and with the image of the old man sitting beside him while exiting the town of Anchor Landing.
Cole could still smell the repulsive, rotten stench of the old man’s wet, black coat. He had already driven past forty miles but could still hear the old man’s low and hoarse voice. Cole couldn’t recall much of anything he had said before harshly telling the old man to shut up.
The old man kept talking, repeating his reason for being on the road and stalking the solitary drivers of the late eleven o’clock hour. It had been a stormy night for the start of September, and the old man commented too on this fact, again and again. Cole had finally lost his patience and had enough of the disquieting speech and smell of the old man. He had also lost his generosity and slowed down the car, pulling up alongside the edge of the soaked pavement and stopping. Cole had pointed with his thick left thumb and index finger at the passenger door handle.
Now, the old man was gone. Yet, Cole couldn’t forget the last words he had spoken before stepping away off the road and onto the muddy shoulder. “It’s not the night. It’s daylight —. It always brings the worst things!” Cole just wanted to forget him. But the memory had the intention of staying awhile like the stench. He drove on anxiously, and his speed leaped ahead until the distance grew further, finally catching the bend in the road.
He recognized the name on the other side of the upcoming route, Tearsin. He pressed fast on his brake pedal and steered hard as he made his turn. The car gave a long, angry moan like a speed train passing.
The old house sat midway through the road length, and Cole noticed the wide, circular driveway lined with oddly orb-shaped lights. Cole parked and stepped out of his gleaming, crimson Lexus, and it was the only valuable possession left over after his recent divorce.
He leaned against the driver’s door with thick fingers tucked in his gray dress slacks. He took out the rectangular pack of cigarettes, pushed his middle finger into the corner, and tore it open. He retrieved the last hidden cigarette and threw the empty package between the polished, lion-shaped hedges. He yawned in tiredness, then peered at his pale fingers. He pinched and locked the end of the cigarette like a crocodile claiming its prey.
He pulled the monogrammed silver and gold lighter from his left pocket, another gift from his ex-wife. He pressed down with his thumb and the little wheel, and it spun and ignited. The light flared longer than shortened, watching it flicker as his fingers trembled from the chill. He brought the cigarette closer under the flame, and with his large body, he blocked the strengthening breeze and managed to light it.
Cole took a long cigarette drag before dropping it on the Mexican-style, pebbled pavement. He watched the cigarette roll away a few inches, losing its tiny orange ashes as its gleam faded. Cole stared down toward the fallen ashes that broke away, thinking of his ex-wife, Vendra. Cole realized he wanted nothing more than to keep her warm tonight. He stepped and scrapped the cigarette end against the square tip of his right designer shoe out of habit and headed toward the house.
Cole walked anxiously up the path and did not stop until he reached a tall, oak door with an almond-stained finish. He took out the house key and unlocked the door. He hesitated a few moments, then walked inside like the master and had done it a million times before. He ran his large left hand along the middle of the wall, found the square light switch, and pressed it in.
The hall unfolded like a castle’s drawbridge, and his brown eyes widened and moved upward to where all the light gathered most and beamed. Above him was a multi-colored glass ceiling, which shined with the patterns of male peacocks, gold and silver. Below and down at the end of the hallway was a yellow ivory Japanese vase, and across from this was a tall, standing lamp made of brass and crystal. The hallway opened to a grand room with figurines, mirrors, and painting decorations.
One of the painting’s caught Cole’s attention immediately. A large, gray Great Dane. It had a long snout that curled up at the edges like unruly waves. A large head tilted slightly upward, revealing its deep black and static eyes. The dog was deathly foreboding and made more so by the chrome-colored choke collar filled with dull rubies and a jagged railway of tiny diamonds. In the background of the painting were several wild orchids swirling with purple, brown, and blue colors. The orchids peeked out from the edges of large, chipped boulders.
A small waterfall flowed down between the bald crests of twin mountains. Cole’s gaze remained fixed toward the menacing snarl of the canine’s portrait. Cole observed the canine’s razor-sharp and oversized incisors concealed its drooling red tongue.
The phone rang.
“Dubrecel,” Cole said as he ran his other hand through his thick, ashen brown hair. “It’s late. Are you in Houston already?” Cole felt his courage return.
“Yes. Back home with my son. Are you there with her?
“No.” Cole trembled, and this time, not from the cold. “She will come tomorrow.”
“Katlyn or Evanna?
“Neither,” Cole moved toward the antique record player beside the grandfather clock.
“I need this favor. Cole, you must sell the house.”
“Ah, of course! Do not worry.” Cole pulled out a record from among numerous underneath the player. Its sleeve was smooth and glossy like his skin. He looked at the middle of the music record to read the song’s title but couldn’t. The words were too small without the reading glasses he remembered leaving in the driver’s side car door pocket.
“Vegas screwed me, seventy-grand, at a private poker room, Broke my own rule….When
I tried getting it back. My son wants a Jaguar. So, I dropped twenty-grand more.”
“I’ll get the deal done.” Cole stepped in front of the grandfather clock and caught his reflection. His eyes were the same ashen brown luster as his hair. His mouth is ample, like his eyebrows, and a chin dotted with thin prickly hairs like the kind on a cactus. “Look, I need that job at your uncle’s business. I will come through, guaranteed. Can I rest now?”
“Alright. There’s wine in the corner bar. So, tell me. Is it Rebecca, then?”
“Ah, Yes! She will give an offer. But not until tomorrow—.” Cole stepped back and dropped the record onto the turntable of the player. He watched the needle at the end of the lever move slowly over to the far edge of the music record and gently touch it.
”If not, you will experience a far worse misfortune than the divorce from your wealthy wife.”
“What do you mean? Dubrecel. Are you still there?
The silence broke off as the record began to play, the tune teased with seduction. It was their song. Cole’s legs weakened and warped like melted plastic in the sun’s heat. He stumbled onto the black leather chair by the fireplace as the song “Crimson and Clover” by artists Tommy James & The Shondells continued to play to the end; Cole felt feverish, and a rush of hurt filled his eyes, and he cried. He cried for the future he had lost with her and was solely responsible for that. He sang along to the last lyrics.
He heard a faint noise, rose from the chair’s softness, walked toward the record player, and turned it off. He looked fearfully around the large room. He heard the noise again, but this time he recognized the source, a domestic cat, meowing as if signaling the midnight hour somewhere in the bleak darkness outside.
Cole spotted the mini bar in the far-end corner of the room. It took him several minutes before he could ignore the last resistance that remained and walk over the expanse of the space. He took out a wine glass behind it. Cole desperately needed to numb the memories of Vendra. And all the uneasiness of the evening. He found a corkscrew and a bottle of expensive red wine hidden in a deep pocket underneath the bar’s marble top.
Cole quickly poured the delicious, sparkling liquid and watched it run down to the bottom and back up as it filled the glass. He pulled the neck of the bottle back up and then set it down. Cole’s pale lips trembled as he made to lift the glass to his lips to drink. Cole hesitated. He hadn’t taken a drink in over four years, faithful to his sobriety, until now. He decided he didn’t need the glass, he thought, since etiquette had no purpose anymore. Cole was alone, depressed, but worse was this new growing fear in his stomach of Dubrecel.
Cole drank from the bottle like it was labeled ruby tea until all of it was gone. When he picked up the filled wine glass again, he felt better because his mood had lightened, but the fear he felt was stubborn and stayed. Cole walked back over to the chair, pulled the ottoman closer with his large hands, and then settled back down again. He finished the rest of the wine in the glass.
One hour had passed. He lifted his legs onto the ottoman and stared at the empty wine glass. Cole thought of going up the staircase, but he was too drunk, and the morning would come in only a few hours more. He let his eyelids close from the heaviness caused not only by the one o’clock hour but by weeks of restlessness. Cole’s thoughts came back but slower, washing up like small pieces of driftwood on an isolated lakeshore. A large part of it was about the divorce from his wife, Vendra. It was his worst misfortune because the last months without her financial support caused drastic changes to his life.
He remembered his wife pulling the Lexus out of the first garage and putting it carelessly on the other side of the entrance gate to their house. His wife then taped the car keys with a note on the side mirror: Cole, my soon-to-be ex-husband, if you don’t understand yet. Indeed, you will. I have paid my last obligation to you with this car and a six-month stay at the Rose Tressel’s Town & Inn. Joyously, your free ride has ended.
Besides the luxurious mansion, Cole missed more profound than he imagined. Though his Vendra was indeed vengeful, yet so beautiful, her flaws had not mattered.
The house they shared was much different than this one in size and design. It was three times the size and had windows as large as those in Ireland cathedrals. It had elegance, history, and stately charm. This house was absent of grace but had an odd, cold formalness.
Cole presumed it had about twelve rooms, was custom built, and held a sharpened, contemporary decor. He surmised it must have a large pool because all wealthy people insist on such ostentation. Cole had allowed himself during his marriage to become obsessed with expensive possessions, taught by his wife for the most part, and the other source of his depression. However, the obsession of late had grown darker and haunted his dreams in the past weeks. The marriage to his ex-wife was short, one year, but had many moments of joy and contentment.
Though he took his wife for granted most of the time and instead delighted in all the other things like the money, there was plenty to distract him and control his other desires. Of course, until that one early sunrise, his wife told him she filed for a divorce. Cole opened his eyes, and the words from the old man returned again, It’s not the night. It’s daylight —. It always brings the worst things!
Cole met Dubrecel in the casino’s parking lot he got a job at. He was hired at first as a valet driver and became part of the extensive security crew of the casino. Dubrecel was a frequent guest that always arrived in his precious black Ferrari. He was a noticeable high roller because he always gambled alone and lost thousands each visit. Also, he liked to carry only one-hundred-dollar bills.
One evening, Dubrecel got wasted drunk. He left his black chips at his favorite card table to follow the curvy, blond waitress who carelessly passed him to exit her shift. Dubrecel demanded another drink served only by her and not an older replacement. Cole was given the signal from the pit boss to talk to Dubrecel, and calm him down. Cole possessed a natural charisma, a gentle manner, and a developed technique to handle such matters. Cole approached him and suggested there was a more refined drink at home; besides, his cinematic television at home was far better. Dubrecel had agreed and allowed him to be escorted to a cab. Cole gave him the cash for his chips and assured him he would personally drive his Ferrari safely home.
Dubrecel was well-known for his unpredictable temper, but his family was wealthy and generous with their money. The casino owners always cared for him, with no recollection of any terrible behavior, And Cole had become essential to someone again. This was the foundation of their unusual, new friendship.
Cole awoke abruptly. The wine bottle sat in the house of his shoe., and his cell phone, not as lucky, was covered inside a soiled trouser sock. He slowly stood barefoot, walked over, and pulled back the heavily hung drapes. The pool shimmered in the early morning mango-colored sun. He found the source of last night’s clamor, a black bobcat lying on its side underneath a yellow-striped lounge chair. The yard that encircled the pool had a line of precisely pruned pink camellias, and behind this shrub were several tall, white birch trees.
He tapped the glass door with his left hand. A cat jumped up before running off and vanishing into the significant shrubs that covered most of the iron fence that surrounded half the house. He dropped the drapes and walked over to the next room, the kitchen.
His stomach growled as he carefully selected spices stocked in the oak cabinets. He finally turned to the glass fridge, revealing every sort of food you can imagine. A long, rectangular table stood between the metal sink and the glass doors of the refrigerator. In the middle of this table sat a pineapple-shaped bowl full of various fruit. He grabbed some kiwis, bananas, and mangos and sliced them into thick chunks with a cutlery knife.
He turned on the electronic stove and plucked a large pan hanging from underneath the large cabinets. He dribbled some olive oil and a drop of honey onto the pan. He picked five plump eggs, soft cheese, and delicate green and red vegetables, tossing them in the crackling heat. Cole had a talent for cooking, and the Italian omelet was his specialty. He placed a piece of French bread he found in a bread box in the toaster.
The phone rang.
“Cole—. Why didn’t you call me?” Rebecca said.
“Good morning, Rebbeca. I got in really late,” Cole thought the excuse was relevant. He would have to smooth things over.
“Did you get my message?”
“No. I turned off my phone. Cole chewed into a chunk of mango.
“I talked to Dubrecel. I gave him my final answer.”.
“Wait. What time did you call Dubrecel?” Cole smelled the toast burning. He haphazardly unplugged the toaster. He pushed the frying pan away from the heat to keep the eggs from being overcooked.
“I didn’t call him. The prick woke me up at 1:00 A.M.”
“Rebecca, please. Dubrecel isn’t that bad. Well, what was the offer? Cole picked up a small beige towel to clean his hands off. “No, it doesn’t matter. Wonderful.”
“I’m sorry, Cole. I just couldn’t.”
“Why? He offered it at a bargain price to you. Because I—.” Cole was taken aback by what he almost let himself say. He was utterly confused by this and Rebecca’s previous answer.
“Love me? Dam it. Don’t you say it! Why must you lie now? I am not your gullible ex-wife,”
“Really, Rebbecca” Cole threw the towel down to the floor and retrieved it. “Well, I’m sorry. Please, just come over, and we will spend some time together. When you see the house, you will want to buy it.”
“I cannot come. Mother’s gotten sick. You can spend the time charming someone else. Find another buyer.”
“Ah, Anita, she will be well. If you must take another day,. Come and see the house.”.
“Well, I wish you didn’t give Dubrecel your answer without seeing it first. I know you will change your mind, reconsider. The furniture and art alone are priceless.” Cole caught the sweat from his hairline and stopped it from rolling unto his forehead.
“I have to go. Goodbye, Cole.”
The house appeared to darken and get colder. Cole shuddered and went back to close the drapes, but they were stuck on the rods, and he couldn’t pull them closer. He turned on the standing lamp and then went back into the kitchen. The vegetables in the omelet were still warm but were releasing heat fast, and the steam came up only gently. The kitchen smelled like an authentic Italian restaurant.
Cole wasn’t hungry anymore; his stomach felt awful. Like he had swallowed one of the boulders in the painting. He had to sell the old house, but he couldn’t think of anyone with the money to buy it. He used to have many more friends while married his attractive wife with an alluring personality that almost matched his own.
However, they were her father’s friends. So when the marriage had gone, they went too. Cole had to resign from his last job after the wedding was over. Later, he got hired at the casino’s annual hiring event in Anchor Landing. He had gotten promoted quickly because the guests adored him. He thought it was his lucky fortune that he met Dubrecel. But Cole realized the terrible mistake he made of befriending the unpredictable scoundrel. Cole couldn’t believe his naivety. Dubrecel was known to be a former criminal. Cole thought his illegal behavior was something in the past. Cole’s face grew paler as dread filled him and darkened his brown eyes. The rumors must be true. Dubrecel not only harmed his enemies but killed them.
Cole felt foolish to have accepted his help with a great job and title, Executive of Marketing. Cole had failed his true boss. But losing the new position wasn’t the cause of the sweat that now streamed off his scalp, forehead, and down his neck. Cole had come to the unsettling realization that Dubrecel had more than a potential for violence. He relied on violence; it was Dubrecel’s only way of coping with not getting what he wanted. Just like his obsession with money, a means of coping for him.
Cole knew he had to leave before Dubrecel arrived soon at the house. Cole threw the eggs in the garbage disposal; threw the toast in the trash. Blindly, he returned to the room, passing by the hung painting with the large, foreboding dog.
He sighted his shoes behind the ottoman. He grasped the empty wine bottle wishing some wine remained, but nothing! His eyes were pulled toward the devilish dog in the painting.
He snapped a picture of the dog and sent the image straight to Rebecca with a text that read, “I am more infatuated with you now than ever— Cole.”
He lost his grasp on the bottle at the doorbell. It fell and broke into large sharp pieces, scratching the mahogany hardwood floors. It mimicked the sound of last night’s thunder, plunged in his ears. Cole stood in the room with his arms paralyzed. It was Dubrucel’s clean-up men.
He ran to the kitchen when he heard the wrestling of keys in the lock. Suddenly, an awful sound of a dog’s whine and the clanking of a thick chain nestled in his ears. Cole shuddered relentlessly, just like the old man abandoned in the rain. He stood in front of the sink listening to the long nails of the canine’s paws scratching the surface of the hardwood floors as it moved through the hallway and into the other room he had left. The whine had silenced as the clanking grew louder and louder.
Cole’s eyes filled with terror as he met the static, black eyes of the Great Dane in the painting. Cole hurriedly found the cutlery knife he used for chopping the fruit and vegetables.
Cole reached for the frying pan he used for the omelet as another defense. But he stopped as the patter and clanking of the chain had stopped. The dog sat on its large hind legs. Its head was a lot bigger than the scale in the painting, and its ears looked strangely too short for the size of his head. The dog stood back up on all fours paws, then was pulled back down by a swift tug of the thick chain. Cole stood behind the bar stools of the breakfast island. The dog growled, revealing teeth shaped like lethal pillars, and around the corners of its snout were thick strands of foamy drool that dripped onto the triangular, green tiles. The dog pulled again at its chain and tried to move in closer, and he noticed one of its front paws was bloody, leaving a strangely smeared pattern of prints.
Cole instantly realized if he had even a slight chance to survive, he must find a path around the dog and escape through the vast hedges of the yard outside. Cole saw the open olive oil beside the frying pan, picked up the can of olive oil, and splashed it all out. He took out his lighter and spun the little wheel repeatedly, but nothing.
The dog was suddenly freed, and as it jumped towards him, Cole raised his knife, but the dog was too fast, and the cutlery knife fell. Cole’s instinctively put up his large, thick hands and found the dog’s neck. The Great Dane caught his sleeve as he snapped again it’s razor teeth caught hold of his upper forearm, and Cole lost his grip. The canine opened its snout wider and held with all its power. Cole screamed in the realization that he was losing everything he possessed.
“Jesus.” Cole turned his head in heightened terror. The dark kitchen grew yet even darker until the darkest color of obsidian. And in his utter anguish, he finally understood its true beauty. The canine quickly pulled him down to the bloody tiles beneath, and again he remembered the old man’s words one last time, “It’s not the night. It’s the daylight—It always brings the worst things!”