Wednesday, February 1, 2017

4th Episode of Prequel to Ashes by Steven Manchester...

Episode 4: The Spiral (set in the world of Ashes)
“I know, Sue,” Tom said, reaching for his leather satchel, “I’ll be late for class if I don’t get moving. ”
“Actually,” she said, smiling from the doorway, “all classes have been cancelled for the afternoon.”
A rush of adrenaline traveled through Tom’s bloodstream, making him feel like he was in fourth grade again and school had just been cancelled due to another New England snowstorm. “Why?” he asked, trying to temper his excitement and appear professional.
Sue half-shrugged. “Campus maintenance,” she said. “From what I hear, the water main burst open and they need to repair it.”
“Isn’t that a shame,” he said, his joy offset by the rotting molar that continued to torture him.
Sue laughed. “Yeah, a real shame,” she muttered, looking up at the clock on the wall. “At least you have time to go see the dentist now.”
Tom nodded. “I suppose,” he said, weighing his fear of having a drill in his mouth against the chance at feeling some relief.
“Do you want me to call and see if I can get you an appointment for this afternoon?”
“No, I can take care of it,” Tom said, shaking his head.
Sue snickered. “Sure you will,” she said. “Will there be anything else then?”
“Go home, Sue,” Tom said, “and enjoy the rest of the day.” He glanced toward the window. “It looks like it’s going to be a beauty.”
Nodding her appreciation, she vanished from the doorway.
For a few long moments, Tom sat in his late-model Lexus, contemplating a dreaded visit to the dentist. I really should go, he thought, but... When the tooth acted up, the pain was excruciating, absolutely mind-numbing. But it’s on and off, he told himself, so it can probably wait. He started the car and considered how to spend his free afternoon. I could go get lunch, he thought, immediately realizing that his erratic tooth would limit his enjoyment. To hell with it, he decided, just go home and make a sandwich.
Tom pulled into his empty driveway and shut off the ignition. Carmen must be out shopping, he thought, heading to the house.
Closing the front door behind him, he threw his keys into the ceramic bowl when he heard movement upstairs. Maybe one of the kids stayed home from school, he thought. As he started for the kitchen, he heard the noise get louder, something rocking back and forth on the hardwood floor above. He stopped to listen.
“Yes,” Carmen called out. Although the voice was muffled, it was definitely hers.
Her car must be in the garage, he thought. That’s odd.
”Oh...” Carmen called out again, her tone sounding desperate—lustful.
Tom’s heart skipped a beat, plunging into his stomach. What the hell, he thought, already beginning to hyperventilate. Light-headed, he started toward the stairs.
The rhythm of the rocking picked up, as did Carmen’s cries of passion—both in frequency and volume. “Yes...yes...yes!” she squealed.
Oh God, Tom thought, please...not this. As he bound up the stairs, his mind was thrown into a terrible tail spin. He wasn’t three stairs up when his wife released a noise he hadn’t heard in nearly a decade; it was a cross between a primordial moan and a banshee’s scream. Something— or someone—had hit Carmen’s magic spot, releasing the beast in her. Strangely aroused by the old familiar howl, blood involuntarily filled his groin. This cannot be happening, he thought, and willed his legs to keep climbing. Maybe she’s just pleasuring herself, he thought, grasping for the thinnest thread of hope.
“Oh baby,” Carmen cried out from behind the door, “right there. Don’t stop!”
Tom’s heart plummeted into his socks, while panic shot out from his core—making his extremities tingle.
“Yes! Yes!” Carmen screamed. “Go!”
Tom threw open the door to see some guy’s naked backside thrusting hard between his wife’s elevated legs. For a moment—one strange, surreal moment—Tom stood in shock, watching in disbelief as his childhood sweetheart was getting ravaged by another man.
The lovers never heard him, and they never broke stride.
“Harder,” Carmen screamed out, “I’m...I’m almost...”
The guy obliged, picking up the pace.
“What is this?” Tom screamed, hearing his voice as though it was someone else’s.
In one quick motion, the guy rolled off of Carmen, grabbed a handful of sheets and covered himself. For a second or two, Carmen lay spread eagle, panting and covered in a film of glistening sweat. Then, as reality registered in her wide eyes, she scurried up toward the headboard, yanking her knees up to her chest.
Tom looked back at the guy. Their eyes locked, making them both swallow hard. Tom felt so enraged—a fury he’d never known—that he didn’t know what to do. Hit him, a voice called out in his head, while another voice countered, But what good will that do?
The naked man’s eyes pled for mercy.
Without another thought, Tom pounced on him and began punching.
“No, Tom,” Carmen yelled, “don’t!”
The guy immediately rolled into a fetal position, trying desperately to thwart off the fury of wild blows. At one point, he even screamed out like a girl, his eyes glassed over in terror.
Even in the chaos, this took Tom aback. He’d never been feared by another human being in his life.
“No more,” Carmen called out. “Stop!”
Tom halted long enough for the stranger to scamper off the bed, scoop his pants off the floor and run out the door—leaving the married couple alone.
Panting harder than his wife, Tom tried to clear his spinning head. Hoping to feel the slightest sense of pride or dignity, he felt neither. “You dirty bitch,” he gasped, his heart threatening to burst open in his heaving chest. “Right here in our house?”
Carmen wrapped herself in the sweaty sheet. “I made a mistake, Tom,” she said, minus any apology.
“How long has it been going on?” he asked, still fighting to take in air.
“Not long, I swear,” she said, confirming this had not been the first time.
Feeling nauseous, he glared at her—while a thick hatred filled his soul. What about our kids? he thought, even more panic filling him. Our life together?
Carmen stared at him, seemingly impatient to get the scolding over with.
“And it’s the last time, right?” Tom said, the question sounding pathetic to even him.
Carmen slithered out of the bed and hurried toward the bathroom. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, closing the door behind her—and locking it. “I made a mistake,” she said loud enough to be heard. “Can we just leave it at that?”
Are you friggin’ serious? Tom thought. Even through the haze, he realized she hadn’t answered the question. “No, we can’t just leave it at that!” he barked through the locked door.
“It was a mistake,” she repeated. “You’ve never made any mistakes, Tom?”
“No,” he screamed, “not like that.” Suddenly, the permanence of what had just transpired hit him like a wrecking ball and he began to cry.
Carmen snickered behind the door. “For all I know,” she yelled, “you’ve been sleeping with Sue for years.”
It was a complete spin, a malicious redirection, infuriating him more. Wiping his eyes, he shook his head. “You dirty bitch,” he repeated before kicking the guy’s underwear out of his way and storming out of the room. Carmen’s muffled voice was still spouting one lie or another but it didn’t matter what she had to say now. You just destroyed everything we built together, he thought, and there’s no coming back from this. The tears began rolling again.
Tom drove around aimlessly for hours, struggling to ignore his aching tooth, the calls from Carmen and the sudden impulses to jerk the steering wheel toward some ditch or jersey barrier. What happened to us? he wondered. Our sex life has been nothing to brag about for a while now, but I never thought she’d... He fought to stifle another round of child-like sobs. Did I lose my mojo? He shook his head at the absurdity of it. Whatever it is, it’s no excuse for betraying me in our own bed.
His cell phone beeped. He glanced down at the passenger seat. It was a text from Carmen. Come home. We need to talk about this before you do something foolish. He picked up the phone only to fire it onto the floor—where it bounced a few times. “Before I do something foolish?” he roared.
While he drove, he considered the devastating clues that had been left in his path; hints that he’d intentionally turned a blind eye to. When Carmen went on her diet, she dropped the weight like her life depended on it. Although his wife had begun eating less, she was working out like an animal, spending more time in front of the mirror than she had in years. I remember feeling so proud of her, he thought, feeling like a complete buffoon now. The new hairstyle, all the new clothes— she’d forecasted this. He shook his head. And then she was going out with the girls until all hours of the night, or at least that’s what she was telling me. He shook his head again, feeling both angry and embarrassed. How friggin’ stupid could I be?
His cell phone beeped again. Grabbing for his throbbing tooth, he ignored the newest text. He pulled into the college’s abandoned parking lot and shut off the ignition. Reaching for his cell phone on the floor, he collected himself with a few deep breaths before dialing his kids. Both calls went to voicemail, their obvious avoidance thrusting another dagger into his heart. This is unreal, he thought.
It took a while before Tom stopped pacing, wearing out the floor tiles in his office, and took a shot at getting comfortable on the small couch in the corner. Staring at the ceiling, he began his one-sided dialogue with God. As you know, things have been rough at home, but I never imagined Carmen would cheat on me... He stopped to beat back another overwhelming wave of emotion. It’s not bad enough I had to get sick, huh? He stopped and shook his head. I don’t know what to pray for right now. Part of me wants my family back, but I’m also smart enough to know that’s not going to happen—at least not in a way I can live with. He took a few deep breaths and looked toward the ceiling. Please bless Caroline and Caleb and keep them safe from any harm. And please help me to find peace in my heart. The tears rolled gain.
As the night grew long, Tom’s mind spiraled as quickly as his life. In the darkness, he took a painful inventory. Let’s see, he thought, my wife’s screwing around on me and my kids hardly know I exist. He looked around the small, drab room. And my job couldn’t mean anything less to me at this point in my life. He took a deep breath and held it for a moment. “Something needs to change soon,” he said aloud, “or I’m in real trouble.”

Episode 4: The I hope you enjoyed Spiral . I'll send out Episode 5 next week, returning you to Jason's dark world. 

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