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The surface of the desk was abraded, worn down to a pallid hue in some spots and splotched with colors in others. The antiquated wood was overwhelmed with decades of carvings –words, symbols, pictures, more words–, most of which were clustered near its edges and on its sides, where the corroding powers of skin and paint were not so evident.
He sat at the desk running his fingers through his faded blond hair. His other hand was preoccupied in turning a small piece of wood over and over in his palm. The wood was rough and dry like the skin of a tree lacking its protective layer of bark, and it was shaped like a human figure; a stump of a cylinder provided its torso, two thinner, longer cylinders served as its legs, which widened out at the bottom and became flat to enable the figure to stand, and for arms, it had two even thinner cylinders, to the ends of which had been glued small spheres to behave as primitive hands. A spherical head would soon be glued to the top of the figure’s torso, also.
Several more wooden figures, each nearly identical to the last, stood on the far end of the desk looking upon their blond-haired creator—but not really looking, because they had no eyes with which to do so—not even the ones he’d completed years ago, which had already been painted, dressed up in doll’s garb and left to collect dust upon the white shelves of an armoire standing against the far wall of the room.
While he always painted every inch of their bodies, he never liked to name them or give them faces. Only one of his creations had one.
This conspicuous figure, the only one with the face, stood taller than all the rest. Frail strands of gray-black hair were glued to the top of its head, and they hung down over the beady black circles that comprised the thing’s eyes. It was the only wooden “person” with a feminine demeanor, and the only one he ever touched. He tended to her, mended her joints, re-glued her, applied new layers of paint when needed and even changed her clothes. Sometimes he touched her simply to feel her. Other times, times when he could feel her accusing stare on his backside, heating it up and beginning to roast it as if her gaze could cast the blaze of the midday sun upon his skin, he had to turn her around.
His gaze shifted between the dull mass of wood in his palm and the fluorescent bulb attached to the smooth, white ceiling above him. It projected a distorted, glaring image of itself onto the large lenses of his glasses, behind which, squinted a pair of sunken, baby blue eyes.
The light flickered, and he groaned. He knew what was about to happen.
He stood the wooden figure up next to its brethren and slid off his glasses, placing them gently on the edge of the desk. Laying his arms out across the haggard surface of the wood, he let the weight of his head fall into the crook of his elbow and rested his eyes.
A rhythmic ticking was all to be heard. An antique of a machine, the grandfather clock standing next to the idle fireplace timed the spin of the planet in its perpetual fall around the sun.
The ticking accelerated subtly; however, the man sitting at the desk paid no attention. His focus was drawn to something more clandestine—something decidedly sinister was waging war on his nostrils.
The first, faint whiff of cancerous smoke had wafted its way to him, and it smelled to him as though the flames of Hell were licking at the pearly gates of Heaven. The smoke always inspired this thought, this mental image of an orange glow –the effulgence of diabolical flames– bouncing off immaculate, white clouds, calling for the collapse of all good and evil.
It always frightened him, tensed every muscle in his body—but he neither ran nor screamed. He only reluctantly, and with dread, accepted what was happening. There was simply no sense in trying to flee; a phantom could follow you anywhere.
The light flickered again. He could feel a headache setting in.
“She doesn’t love you, you know.”
It was the eloquent voice of a gentleman, and it preached conviction. It spoke with intellect and cynicism and empathy; it could probably convince a man to doubt his own existence, should it endeavor to.
He didn’t need to turn around –he knew all too well what his eyes would meet–, but he did, anyway.
A man dressed in black slacks and a navy blue dress shirt, bearing watchful, baby blue eyes and brown hair that seemed deliberately disheveled, was sitting in a lounge chair near the fireplace. He had a thin moustache on his upper lip, and a faint trail of gray smoke drifted from a cigarette between his fingers. His eyes scanned the blonde-haired man, scrutinized his dirty shoes and ragged apparel, his dry, peeling hands and apprehensive countenance. And his brow furrowed.
“She never loved you. She only wanted someone to watch over her in old age—to be her caretaker.”
The nervous man sitting at the desk bit his lower lip. He nibbled the tasteless skin between his front teeth. There was a clamorous chime as the grandfather clock reminded whoever might be interested that the world had yet to cease spinning. The ticks it counted came and passed so rapidly, it sounded not so much like the passing of moments, but more like the call of a locust.
“She never cared about your happiness. She only-“
“Stop!” the timid man snapped. “Just shutup! It’s not true!”
He thought he could feel the other man grinning. But he refused to lift his gaze from his own twiddling fingers.
“Is it? How often did she tell you to go have fun with your friends?”
Blood began seeping from the blonde man’s lip. He continued to bite away at it.
“Oh, I remember. You didn’t have any friends. Not a single one. She never allowed you to. And girls? They were out of the question. That narcissistic b**** never wanted you to care about anyone but her.”
A flare of anger shot up through the light-haired man’s body. It felt sensational.
He turned around and saw the gray-haired, makeshift wooden doll staring at him with sorrowful black eyes. He felt immediate guilt.
“Don’t look at her,” the eloquent voice commanded.
But he couldn’t help it.
The ceiling light flickered once more, twice, thrice more—and shut off completely. Even in the darkness, he could feel the sad and jealous and accusatory glare of the doll’s eyes. There was a roar as a sudden, wavering orange light illuminated its face, and he cowered back.
The smoke became increasingly manifest. He whirled around, anticipating the sight of Hell burning itself into oblivion, bringing the heavens with it.
But it was only the fireplace, the roasting of charred remains, now fresh logs, roaring and crackling and casting unsteady shadows across the walls, floor and ceiling. Firelight transformed the man’s eyes into gleaming red jewels.
“She never loved you, not even the day you were born—she cursed you because you were the spitting image of the man who abandoned her with so severe a burden as yourself. She despised you.”
“Shutup! Shut your god damn mouth!”
The man with the expensive-looking clothes and stunning blue eyes suddenly stood up, and the fire recoiled. It was dying.
“Yes,” he proclaimed. “Feel the resentment. Embrace it!”
“No! No, no, no… no…”
He wrapped his head in his arms and screamed. He was weeping.
The other man walked smoothly towards him. The further he grew from the fire, the more it languished.
The boisterous grandfather clock rang out once more. The ticks that kept track of the seconds, by this point, sounded more like a constant, inescapable vibration than anything else. His screams and the crackling and the ticking and the chiming all stabbed at his ears, tried to pierce his aching skull.
The man was standing above him, a vague and baleful smirk between his lips.
The fire died out. The vibration faltered and stopped, became a soothing ticking once more. His screams became sobs and his sobs became whimpers. His whimpers became deep breaths. His face was puffy—it was between his knees, and his eyelids were squeezed shut. He opened them and raised his head slowly.
The ceiling light glowed effervescently. There was no sign of the phantom.
He heard something creak; it was followed by several more similar sounds. His heart began beating heavily again. He licks his lips, rising to his feet.
There was a metallic squeak from the kitchen, then the sound of running water. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed man grabbed the metal poker that leaned against the side of the fireplace. He licked his lips again and made his way into the next room. It was dark, and he could still hear water running.
He flicked the light switch upwards with his index finger, finding the kitchen desolate. Approaching the sink, his heart sank into his gut and his eyes widened. There was a knife on the counter adjacent to the basin. Its lustrous blade glistened with fresh drops of water. In the sink, a pool of water stained red continued to grow.
He groaned and reached for one of the handles behind the faucet, but his hand slipped. They were both wet.
His index finger and thumb grasped the bottom of the knife gingerly and dropped it into a nearby trash can. Gradually, his eyes shifted over to the staircase.





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