Lost Souls

Distant Voices

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Distant Voices

by Anthony Ferguson

A bead of perspiration ran down Frank's face as he watched the unmarked car recede into the night. Eventually, his heart stopped pounding and he allowed himself a dry, brittle cackle at the absurdity of the situation, a dead tail light of all things. The officer had made Frank get out of the vehicle and walked him around back to point it out earnestly. He'd muttered a sincere sounding apology and promised to replace it as soon as possible.

He shivered involuntarily at the memory of the cop's fingers trailing provocatively over the chassis, as if looking for another fault to upbraid him on. Frank's gaze had followed the wandering hand intently. If the uniform had made him pop the trunk he would have found her and it would have been all over.

The ligature was still in place as well. Frank sucked down the cool night air. He knew he better drive out to the wastelands tonight and put her with the others. No point taking stupid risks.

Frank shook his head as he kicked the car into life and cautiously eased back onto the tarmac. As he moved through the dim, greasy back streets into the nether regions of the city, he slipped into reverie. How long had it been and how many times? He remembered the first one like it was yesterday, his knuckles whitening as they gripped the wheel. It always started like this, an involuntary flexing of the muscles, head pounding as adrenaline and alcohol fuel raced through his veins.

Then he snapped back to reality with a jolt. Something seemed to be pulling at his left hand, trying to force the wheel. Struggling to focus through the gloom of the ill lit street he thought he felt whatever it was curl tighter round his fingers, making it difficult to steer. His blood surged as he tried to flex the hand and found it constrained by something web like and silken.

As the car passed beneath a street light, Frank caught a glimpse of the offending item. A few long thick strands of tangled hair wound between his fingers accusingly. He flinched and tried to shake them off through the open window, but they refused to budge, then something wet slopped against the back of his hand. He brought it up toward his face and recoiled. Attached to the tress wrapped around his fist was a small yet decidedly bloody patch of scalp.

He swung his arm in a violent arc trying to dislodge the thing from his grasp. As his anger mounted he inadvertently stamped his foot on the accelerator then swore as he hit the brakes with equal force. The car careered off the road and slid sideways into a disused car lot. He managed to bring it up just short of an old burnt out Ford. The whole thing was over in seconds, though it seemed like hours to Frank. He slumped, chest heaving, the grisly memento still trailing from his bloody fingers.

Gathering his wits, he gunned the engine but it was dead. Then he climbed gingerly out of the vehicle and scanned the road both ways, not a soul in sight. At least that was one good thing. The car was all banged up like a concertina. It wasn't going anywhere.

Frank wiped the sweat from his brow and spat out a wad of bile. He took in a few lacerating breaths and stood in the ghostly silence. It was then that he noticed it. Right across the street, with the clamorous veneer of brightly lit neon and discreet side alley entrance, a gentleman's establishment, the electronic sign flashed large and inviting, alternately appearing and disappearing through an eerie hiss of smoke and steam.

With some effort Frank straightened up and made his way painfully across, his mouth burning like fire. Strange, he'd been prowling these dark streets a hundred nights but he couldn't recall seeing this place before.

Frank elbowed his way through the door, seeking liquid respite and the camaraderie of familiar souls. Oddly, there was nobody barring the way, no hired muscle, nor gracious host. "Hello?" he whispered hoarsely and regretted it immediately, as an electric jolt zigzagged through his body. Cursing inwardly, he ventured inside. A narrow passage opened almost immediately into what appeared to be a reception area. There were a couple of other patrons seated around the place, staring listlessly into space. In the corner of the sparsely lit room, a poorly tuned television showed flickering images of a silent Bacchanalian orgy.

From somewhere beyond the narrow confines of the room Frank heard a growing cadence. A lilting tune seemed to carry through the thin plaster, beckoning. He glanced around at his co-tenants. They sat taciturn, their faces blank. He stirred as if to speak. Then thinking better of it he turned unsteadily, still shaken from the crash.

Following the melody Frank pushed his way through a set of double doors to a large room encompassing a bar and several performance areas. On each of the dimly lit stages scantily clad women performed a series of gymnastic gyrations, some free form, some around poles which emerged from the floor and disappeared into the ceiling. Several crawled across the tattered podium on all fours like animals while others hung upside down from apparatus as if in mocking parody of the crucifixion. Frank recognized this manner of entertainment, although he was not particularly partial to it, much preferring the type of encounter involving physical contact.

Strangely enough, even though the establishment was heavily populated, the male audience seemed somewhat subdued. They sat alone or in small clusters at various tables, staring wanly at the near naked performers, nursing their drinks. The sound of ice clinking on glass reminded Frank of his feverish thirst, and he moved up to the bar, trying to attract the attention of the solitary barmaid.

As he waited, it occurred to him that the music accompanying the erotic maneuvers of the dancers was somewhat inappropriate. One might even say doleful. Certainly it was hardly conducive to encouraging sexual excitement. Yet despite this he noticed that the dissonance complimented the resigned, miserable expressions on the girls' faces. Frank discerned a certain synchronicity in it. He was conversant with the notion of women being induced into certain acts against their volition. Indeed the thought of it would have given him cause to smile, if the action itself wasn’t so damn painful.

He turned back to the bar, and finding the attendant standing expectantly before him, Frank inhaled deeply and made his request. Except the words didn't come, and the girl looked at him disdainfully through obsidian eyes. Her lips, he observed, were painted blood red like a fresh wound. He tried again, to no avail. His hand shot up involuntarily to his face.

A wave of panic momentarily suffused him. The type one might experience when suddenly unable to perform a task previously taken for granted. But for Frank, this unanticipated loss of vocabulary was a personal affront to his manhood. He lowered his face and tried to force a cough from his lungs, biting down on the pain.

When he looked up, the girl had returned with a shot of whisky. Frank glowered at the glass and cast his gaze upon her but she had turned on her heels across the bar. Reluctantly, he seized the drink and poured it down his throat. It was a mistake, the whisky merely added to the blaze, and Frank doubled over in a wordless fury of agony, beating his hands against his thighs.

He staggered away from the bar with tears running down his face. Moving toward the men's room, he briskly shouldered his way inside. Gagging into the sink, Frank twisted the faucet to rinse his palate and sate the thirst that raged within him. Yet no matter how far he turned, no water spewed forth from the outlet. Furious now, he hammered the tap with his fists, then raised a heavy boot and kicked the spout clear of the pipe, still nothing. Frank stared down the jagged aperture, as if his impatient glare would bring the water bubbling forth. Then he stooped and removed his shoe, finding it filled with blood.

Confused, he slammed the door open and barged into the main room again. He moved toward the nearest male patron and grabbed him by the shoulders, roughly spinning him around. The man seemed to look right through Frank in a kind of stupor, staring dead ahead at nothing. Frank pushed him away and grasped another passing stranger by the sleeve, only to be met with the same open-mouthed stare.

He reeled across the room in mounting panic. The music seemed to be getting louder. He slumped against the wall for respite, finding none as the whole place throbbed and pulsed in discordant harmony. Head thumping, he encountered searing nightmare visions, countless images of torn and bloody women. Throats cut, tongues ripped from their mouths. Skulls dashed against rocks and brains running down their faces.

Frank looked around desperately. He was acutely aware they were all watching him now, milling around quietly, glancing at him then looking away, the doleful patrons, even the sad eyed girls on the stage.

Assailed by a multitude of wordless screams until he felt his head would burst, he lurched back through the double doors and into the waiting room. Yet as he scurried laboriously to the entrance, he quailed to discover it was no longer there. He stood, bewildered, staring at a solid wall.

Frank felt the motion of the doors opening softly behind him, and he turned and backed against the wall as they came through. The vapid clientele followed by an endless parade of women, bar girls, street-walkers, and so many others, gathering in the shadows beyond the reach of his despairing eye, until the place could surely take no more.

A range of lights flashed red and blue from somewhere beyond the window up above the commotion of bodies, the intermittent staccato played across the length of the opposing wall. Even as he turned and clawed the place where the door should have been, Frank could hear the remote wail of sirens and a buzz of static voices.

He tried to yell, but found he no longer had the power of speech. His tongue, a useless mass of swollen tissue, hung listlessly from the bloody ruin of his mouth. He brought a pulp-snared hand up to the orifice and probed helplessly within the silent void. Eventually he slumped to the floor as bitter tears ran down his face, and his final lucid thought was of how sweet those distant voices sounded.

Copyright Anthony Ferguson 2007

Anthony Ferguson is an indentured slave of the Australian government whose work has previously appeared in Suspect Thoughts, Camp Horror, and Lost Souls. He holds a BA and a Masters degree in Literature and Australian History, which qualifies him to work in any Burger King across the globe. He cites his main influences as Charles Bukowski, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and the Twilight Zone.

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