Updated: Aug 20, 2019
He backed up a step and contemplated what would happen if he turned around and took the stairs two by two, and just got the hell out of there…
Would those horrible near-invisible things chase him? Tackle him and drag him to some strange hell? Would she shoot him in the back?
“Don’t worry,” she said, her voice small but confident as if she heard his thoughts. “They’re not here for you.” She loosened the grip on the gun, allowed the barrel to aim for the floor instead of his heart.
“What…” He couldn’t decide which question to ask. …is going on? …are they? …happened to you???
A single tear rolled down her cheek and hit the concrete floor. At the very same moment the snarling beasts around her disappeared and he noticed the smell changed abruptly from wet dog to old basement. But she was still holding the gun, and he wasn’t sure what that meant.
“Are they gone?” he asked her.
She raised her eyes to meet his. “That would be convenient, wouldn’t it?”
Silence hung in the air between them like a single dim bulb that can’t cast enough light to make a difference.
“Look,” he said. “I don’t know what that was. I don’t know what I just saw. I don’t know what’s happening to you. Tell me… how to help you.”
“You can’t help me,” she whispered. “I need you to leave. I need you to leave and forget what you saw here today.”
He moved toward her again, and again she aimed.
“I’m not leaving you alone in this basement with a gun.”
“Your choice, I’ll shoot you if you stay.”
“No, you won’t,” he declared.
“I won’t? How do you know I won’t?” The way she asked raised the hair on his neck and sent a chill down his core.
“You’re not capable of killing anyone. Or anything. You won’t even kill spiders you find in the house. You let them go…” He realized he was negotiating with the shell of someone he thought he knew. This was not the woman who had loved the way the light came through the windows of this house, the woman who hung bird feeders and adopted dogs and hated movies where too much blood was shed.
“You have no idea what I’m capable of.”
With those words, she pulled the trigger and he crumpled to the ground. The reverberation of the gunshot stung his ears and he thought he felt his heart stopping. He didn’t feel any pain though; his mind did a check of his body and for a moment he guessed he was already dead.
Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame…
His ears were ringing as he heard the song in his head. He realized his eyes had been squeezed shut. He opened them to find her standing over him, the gun limp at her side. The air around her quivered again, and he flinched when the face of a black jaguar with emerald green eyes flickered into life, nose to nose with him, standing next to her and staring him down. It sniffed at his face as if it were hunting, bared its teeth in warning and in a shadowy blur jumped over him… his eyes followed the apparition and he realized he was way out of his league. The majestic shadow animal was now inspecting the body of something he couldn’t make out; some kind of being that lay lifeless on the floor between him and the door to the stairs. There again was the smell of wet dog, and now it was joined by the odor of iron and feces. Something was dead, but it wasn’t him.
“Get up,” she said. “Get up and go, like I told you. Leave, and never come back.”
He scrambled to his feet, confused and in shock. Dizzy, ears ringing, he stumbled past the mess of ethereal jungle cat and dead whatever-that-is and found his feet hitting the stairs like they knew better than he did what to do.
Trying to grasp the craziness he’d just experienced, knowing he was leaving his wife in the basement with a gun and a bunch of monsters and ghosts, he looked back down the steps… the jaguar was there at the bottom of the stairs, confirming the reality of things that didn’t make any sense.
His eyes locked with the cat’s for a split second and he swore the cat spoke to him… sang to him, really. Mocking him:
You give love a bad name.