Authors: Greg F. Gifune
THE BLEEDING SEASON
Greg F. Gifune
First Digital Edition
A Horror Mall Company
P.O. Box 338
North Webster, IN 46555
The Bleeding Season
© 2010, 2003 by Greg F. Gifune
Cover Artwork © 2010, 2003 by Alan M. Clark
All Rights Reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Thanks to my left-hand man, John Roux, for always being there. Thanks also to my family for their love and support. And special thanks to Shane Ryan Staley for his friendship, support, and continued belief in me.
This one’s for everyone on the old crew, dead or alive.
Here’s to the memories, good and bad.
And for Jimmy B., gone but never forgotten.
See you on the other side.
And as always, for my wife Carol, with love.
“You tell yourself it is a bad dream. You tell yourself you have died—you, not the others—and have waked up in hell. But you know better. You know better. There is an end to dreams, and there is no end to this. And when people die they are dead—as who should know better than you?”
I didn’t know it then, but it was impossible to survive the darkest corners of his mind without first surviving the darkest corners of my own. I was headed for the same depths of Hell he had descended to, and though we passed through those flames for different reasons, our journeys are forever entwined. His story cannot be told without also telling mine, and maybe that’s the way it should be. After all, Goodness is a state of grace.
Evil, is a state of mind.
* * *
There was a sudden intrusion to the darkness. A brief orange glimmer and the quiet hiss of a lit match faded quickly, leaving behind the scent of sulfur and a single burning ember like a dot on an otherwise murky horizon. I looked back at the silhouette on the bed, the cigarette dangling from her lips; fingers of smoke circling, caressing, and wondered if perhaps this time there was good reason to fear the dark.
Tired and still disoriented, I turned from her and attempted to focus the whirlwind of thoughts blurring my mind…
I guess I thought we’d be friends forever. Even then, it still seemed that way, like we were all joined at the cosmic hip, like somehow our lives existed as extensions or offshoots of one another. Whether we wanted them to or not.
Originally there had been five of us. Tommy was killed early on in high school. We’d hopped off the bus, not paying any attention as we walked into the road. The woman who hit Tommy later claimed she hadn’t seen the flashing lights and the stop sign on the side of the bus. One minute we were talking and laughing, the next there was a dull thud so unnatural that it didn’t register until I saw Tommy fly into the air, suspended in space while the car rushed past, so close I thought for a split-second it had struck me too. And then I staggered back as the body twisted and turned like some gymnast in the throes of demonic possession, the car screeching to a halt in time for Tommy to land against the hood. The braking motion launched him back into midair, a human cannonball soaring soundlessly above the ground, finally cart-wheeling across asphalt, his head striking, neck bending at an impossible angle, body tumbling and flopping about as if boneless, set to the chorus of flesh slapping pavement.
Life support kept his body alive for two days following the incident, but I knew Tommy was dead the moment he came to rest along the side of the road. Those quiet eyes staring blankly at a curiously beautiful sky, a trickle of blood seeping free from somewhere above his blond hairline, the deep crimson just one more contrast painting a face even then frozen in a knowing smirk.
Tommy died the same way he’d lived, like nothing was worth taking too seriously, like maybe you had all the time in the world, or maybe, just around the corner, your time was up. Like in the end none of it really mattered anyway. Ironically, there had always been something undeniably spiritual about him, like he’d been told something the rest of us hadn’t, and had then been sworn to secrecy.
Years later, even though life moved forward, as it always does, those visions—pictures of his face that day, of a casket draped in white carried to and placed before an altar of polished wood and sparkling gold—never left me.
I never mentioned to anyone that within days of Tommy’s death I began to feel his presence all around me. Maybe it was survivor guilt; maybe it was Tommy saying goodbye the only way he could. Maybe it was all in my head. Regardless, Tommy’s death served as a milestone in our lives. We went our separate ways for a while, like most people do once high school ends and real life begins. Bernard joined the Marines, Donald went to college, Rick wound up in prison, and I married my high school sweetheart. But within a year Bernard was home from the Marines, having badly injured his knee in an ill-timed drop from a training platform, and had a job selling cars. Rick had served his time on an assault and battery conviction; Donald had dropped out of college, and I was already working the same low-paying security guard job I’d held since not long after graduation. What had been a bunch of inseparable high school kids had become a group of young men struggling with the past, the present, and whatever the future had planned. Through good, bad, and the often-indifferent detachment tedium breeds, we remained close.
When I married Toni, Donald was my best man and Bernard and Rick served as ushers. That was the closest the three of them ever got to another wedding. Although Rick lived with one of his girlfriends for a few years, he found it impossible to remain faithful, and the relationship eventually dissolved. The others remained bachelors. Marriage wasn’t in the cards for Donald, and Bernard had never had much success with the opposite sex. He’d always been aloof when it came to his social life beyond our group, and although he often spoke of conquests we never actually saw any of them, and tended to write his stories off as just that. He lived at home with his mother until her death, and the bank had foreclosed on the property not long after. Bernard became detached and horribly depressed. He moved into the cellar apartment of his cousin’s house in New Bedford, about half an hour away, and due to the distance and Bernard’s increasingly dejected behavior, we began to see less and less of him.
Back in high school we had all purchased identical silver satin jackets and dubbed ourselves:
, the only gang in Potter’s Cove, Massachusetts; an otherwise quiet and unassuming working-class town nestled along the coast south of Boston. It was a joke, really, but it signified that we were one. Friends for life, always there for each other, the same blood brothers we’d become years before as kids, huddled in a tree house in Tommy’s backyard, nicking our thumbs and sharing blood like in the B-Westerns.
Nineteen years out of high school I found myself standing in our bedroom holding that old
jacket and wondering how we’d all managed to go so wrong.
And now, we were only three.
I slipped the jacket back onto its plastic hangar, slid the closet door shut and moved to the window. My hands were trembling.
I never heard her get out of bed, only felt the sudden warmth of her as she embraced me from behind. Her voice filtered through those whispering in my head; distracted me from memories and the beginnings of a sunrise.
“Why did he do it?” I heard myself ask. “Why didn’t he come to one of us?”
I replayed the moment the phone rang, jarring us from sleep, my startled and angry middle-of-the-night “Hello!” answered by Donald’s voice—cracked, uncertain, vodka-slurred and void of the confidence that often bordered on arrogance in his tone.
Alan, I’m—Christ, I’m sorry to wake you, but—Alan, something terrible has happened.
No longer worried she might see the tears in my eyes I looked at her and realized she was trying to comfort me, trying to be there for me, doing her best.
Her brown, doe-like eyes blinked, cleared. “You going to be OK?”
I touched her shoulder, so delicate beneath a plaid flannel nightshirt. Reminded of the nightmare Donald’s phone call had interrupted—one horror replaced with another—I drew a deep breath and tried to sort my thoughts. Bernard was dead and the world hadn’t even noticed.
hadn’t even noticed. “I have to meet Donald and Rick in an hour.”
She padded silently to the bed, plucked her cigarette from an ashtray on the nightstand and took a final drag before slipping her feet into a pair of slippers shaped like floppy-eared bunny rabbits.
I wanted to turn back to the window. I wanted to watch the sun come up, to wander into the living room, to slip the stereo headphones on and listen to
The Mamas & The Papas
sing about California and dreams and dancing in the streets while a thick and sloppy rain bled from gray skies. I wanted to forget the whole goddamn thing.
“You were having a nightmare,” Toni said suddenly, as if she’d just remembered. “I was about to wake you when the phone rang.”
I clenched shut my eyes. In those few short and blurred seconds before I’d escaped sleep and answered the phone, I’d already known Bernard was dead.
“He’s been dead for five days.” I focused on the slush sluicing along the window, rain becoming snow, night becoming day. “He didn’t even leave a note.”
“Come on,” she said, gently taking my hand, “I’ll make some coffee.”
On our way down the hallway, Toni promised everything would be all right.
We stood near the tracks talking; the whistle from an approaching train blaring in the distance as an icy wind blew through the tall grass surrounding us. The snow had again become a light though slushy rain.
Nothing seemed real.
Donald flashed an annoyed look through bloodshot eyes. “Is there some point to being out here?”
“Privacy.” Rick gazed through the grass, across the parking lot separating us from the diner, then considered his watch. “Besides, they don’t open for a couple minutes anyway.”
Fumbling through the pockets of his raincoat for cigarettes and a lighter, Donald rolled his eyes and sighed, his breath already converted to smoky plumes wafting about and tangling with ours like warring apparitions. “For Christ’s sake, it’s freezing out here.”
“Don’t be such a pussy, Donny.” Rick puffed his chest up like a rooster and folded his arms across it. “So what did his cousin say, exactly?”
I stuffed my hands into the pockets of my leather jacket, shuffled my feet, and exchanged glances with Rick, who seemed unaffected by the weather. Our individuality was more evident at that moment somehow, and I found myself wondering how we had managed to stay so close despite our glaring differences.
Pieces of the whole
, Tommy had said back in high school. Our original leader, long dead now, at some point replaced by Rick, the ultimate Alpha Male, always so happy to remind the rest of us how inadequate we were, how we were half the men we’d once been, yet always there to save us, to defend us if need be.
Donald struggled to light the cigarette against a mounting breeze. His eyes, saddled with heavy black bags, seemed more sunken than usual; his complexion more pallid, his frame thinner, bordering on emaciated. “I called him about ten o’clock.” He finally got the cigarette going. “I’d had a few drinks and I didn’t realize it was quite so late. I think I woke his cousin up, he sounded groggy when he answered. Bernard had called me a few times, left messages on my machine, but I hadn’t had the chance to get back to him and I wanted to see how he was.”
The train interrupted him, rushing past, its whistle deafening. We turned and watched the seemingly endless procession of boxcars until they had snaked off around a bend in the tracks. “Trash train,” Rick announced, as if this common knowledge was something only he possessed.
Donald’s wiry frame swayed with the wind as he smoothed his thinning hair with long, narrow fingers. “When I asked for Bernard,” he continued, “his cousin didn’t answer, and I thought for a moment maybe the line had gone dead. But then I could hear him breathing and I knew—I
something was wrong. He finally said he was sorry and that Bernard had passed away. Those were the words he used,
“I still can’t believe it.” Rick shook his head, drawing attention to the blue bandana covering it and the small gold cross dangling from his ear. With his swarthy good looks and athletic, muscular build, he looked younger and better than Donald and I did, and he knew it. He’d stayed in shape playing various sports and lifting weights, still had all his hair, didn’t smoke and rarely drank. Vanity, competition, sex with young women—those were Rick’s vices, and his job as a bouncer at a local club gave him the opportunity to pursue all three.