“That building across the street is another Freedom Tower, Carl, take a look at all the glass in front. See how the facade looks like a skinny pyramid, or a spaceship being launched?” Carl passes the fumes of a nearly empty gallon of Carlo Rossi back to his street friend Andy.
“Here dude, you need this more than me.”
Andy takes the last pull from the jug and wipes the cheap burgundy off his cracked lips, “You got to open up your mind, Carl-o.”
Part of controlling someone is telling them, “No one else will ever love you.”
After they got married, Jack would often say, “Even if you were lucky enough to find someone to replace me, in time, they’ll turn into a monster too.” At first it was sex and smoking in bed. Chloe believed everything Jack ever said.
When they’d finally married, started out, Chloe never asked for the perfect apartment. But, here it was, and it was theirs, 52 East End Avenue, Number 39, New York, 10028, on the Upper East Side.
They’d been awed by the panoramic view of the city, the East River, Brooklyn all from their small patio.
The apartment occupies the entire 39th floor of the building. The building is a modest 82 stories that points into the sky. 82 is the same number of moons that circle Jupiter.
It’s something he wanted to purchase, not Jupiter, the building, and the Subaru telescope on Maunakea, Hawaii.
When they’d bought their 2,700 sq ft. apartment, they’d noticed all fine artisanship and amenities. They especially the admired how the common living area featured an open, eat-in kitchen. Chloe had loved the casual dining, “It’s like Paris.” Each room is a jewel with an exquisite view.
They loved how the wrought-ironed fenced-in patio offered vistas as far as any telescope dreamed, up and down the East River. It was perfect for dawn and the sun, moonscapes, and the chivalry numbness of winter.
Come winter, Chloe fancied herself on a chair on the patio, listening to the built-in decibels of the alabaster snowflakes, each snowflake a gift from a dark cloud.
The living space, where the so-called living gets done, offers a breathtaking view of the Brooklyn skyline across the back of the silver scaled East River. On a clear day, you can bend your
eyes around the corner far enough to view the Freedom Tower. Freedom and self-discovery is what Chloe had been promised when they’d married.
Chloe’s childhood is in the Hampton’s, where it remains, and in Paris, in a meager flat her parents still own. Chloe is quite sophisticated but she’s not of the personage to display it. He finds that quite appealing.
The flat in Paris offers a view of Rue de Monnttessuy Avenue. The Rue intersects a street, just a block away from that skyrocket, the Eiffel Tower. Most of the family still summers in Paris.
Jack and Chloe met in college, Harvard, Boston. Jack paid his way by skimming the books of a moving company. He’s smart, received a degree in Operations Management in the high tech industry.
Today, Jack works for one of the top tech companies in all of New York. It’s headquartered in Lower Manhattan, near Broad and Wall next to where all the green gigabytes are stored.
Chloe received an unassuming Masters of Arts Degree in Education. Chloe worked in Harlem, with the disadvantaged, grades 4 and 6. Her life was this low-paying teaching gig that she’d loved.
Notwithstanding, Jack requested Chloe quit her job, a request fraught with the burden of cognitive dissonance on her part. He’d said he could advance his career if only his charming wife were at his side or at home in the luxury apartment. Stratospheric advancement, even a board membership was in reach of his ever-growing tentacles. She could have said no.
But, she really loved Jack, not so much his politics, or the smell of decay from his eroding character.
It wasn’t long before the couple had become perfumed in the stink of wealth. Jack grew dour. Wealth hadn’t filled his worldly appetite, nor did pot, meth, or heroin.
This Jack guy, this new corporate Jack, was the same guy who’d screwed Chloe’s brains out all night under a collision of sexy stars in the Boston Commons Park. Security had to remove them. They were damned near knotted and stuck together. It was after 3:00 AM before they had to leave. Jack loved Chloe. Chloe loves Jack, but less each day.
Everyone supported the lovely couple’s choices, including Chloe’s dwindling number of friends and her family. Jack had made sure of that. He’d provided her with everything she’d wanted, except a baby.
Chloe flops on the toilet to wiz. Her knees pleasantly stick together from Gucci Bloom Body Oil. She places her feet about a foot apart, barefoot toes pointed in. She’s model gorgeous. She’s holding a long cigarette between her fingers. It’s a Newport 100. She looks up at the exhaust fan in the ceiling as it adjusts the zoom. The tiny camera remains hidden behind the quickening blade passion. It takes pictures. It switches to video capacity, as the exhaust fan chops Chloe’s beautiful face into segments. It will practically drool over cut up clips later that night. Chloe imagines the walls having eyes.
Chloe lifts her delicate chin and bellows smoke into the fan in the ceiling. Chloe stands and swishes her paisley shirt as if she’s doing the Tango with a ceiling ghost. She flushes the commode, neglects the bidet, and saunters out of the bathroom suite.
A few of the screenshots he’s taken look promising. Maybe he’ll print out her face and nail it to his headboard, along with the other subjects.
There were formal Thanksgiving’s, spring vacations, back at the Hampton’s, and France of course, so that Chloe could catch up with everyone. Jack had found creative excuses for leaving their time together. He was always in demand somewhere, somewhere was always more important.
Each year, Jack made it more difficult for Chloe to recreate. Chloe missed her family, but she remained loyal to her skittered marriage.
Chloe had felt alone during the end of year holidays. Her husband had been away. It was just her and the snow in Upper Manhattan. A private birthday on a yacht along the East River in previous fall, their wonderful view out every window, their envious life, hadn’t been enough to fill her inside. Chloe felt she’d be less lonely if she were a shadow on the backside of the moon. She needed something more, it needed something more, his production was tanking.
One day, Chloe felt as if she could walk on water, right across the East River into Brooklyn. After all, she’d gotten the news that she was pregnant. Jack wasn’t at all happy, but he hadn’t rebuked her as usual. She was only human after all. So she’d missed a period or two, sometimes forgetting her birth control, he’d forgive her.
Her smile had returned. Her tomorrow’s were growing deep inside her. And then–and then in a matter of three years, she’d lost two nearly full-term babies, Amy and Josh. Chloe imagined her womb a turnstile of death and destruction. She and Jack had searched long and hard to find Babyland at Pinelawn. It was the perfect setting, a Memorial Park in New York City singularly for the unborn, infants and children. It was one of the few places Chloe felt comfortable visiting.
Her obstetrician had said, “Chloe, it’s your Endometriosis. We’ve been over this before. Our extensive imaging has revealed that the only thing growing inside you are tenticles.”
“You make it sound so alien, Doctor,” Chloe had said.
“Shall I refer you to a psychiatrist? Medication can do wonders. And, Chloe, there have been so many advances of late.”
Chloe had shaken her head back and forth, implying no! But she’d said, “Yea, sure.”
“Here’s her number, take it. Her name is Dr. Camille Stone. By the way, Camille means perfect in French. She owes me. Give her a call, Chloe.”
Each level of the building, each room overlooking the beautiful East River has eyes, millions and millions of lenses, impossibly so. Most of the lenses are low voltage, and consume infinitesimal bits of electricity. Every tiny camera is state of the art, distance, zoom, high def. Each monocle is wired to record on a designated DVR. Each DVR sits on a stand in his large, air-conditioned studio. The room’s thermostat is set at a perfect 33 degrees. There’s a lot to keep track of, but he’s very intelligent and up to the task, up there.
Each DVR saves limitless imagery: Credit card and banking account numbers, medical records, debit card pins. Each and every prying camera gorges itself until satiated on eBay, and Twitter accounts. He’s gotten to know just about everyone in the building quiet well.
After months of therapy and the right combinations of medication, Chloe seems less anxious. She thinks more clearly and has feelings again. That gnawing angst that has paralyzed her appetite has all but disappeared, at least for now. She’s gotten her weight back. Chloe chooses to read a lot. She enjoys staring out the patio door glass, onto the East River, and Brooklyn, and into the skyline that seems to blur itself into another universe.
Chloe has been accused of turning the plush modern sofa and the glass coffee table next to it into her personal office space, as if it mattered. And Jack isn’t kidding. His work doesn’t pay him for having a sense of humor.
One evening, after Chloe’s fixed Jack a wonderful dinner, she thought to chill in her designated landing space. She’d molded herself into a comfortable piece of clay on the gorgeous grey sofa. She fingered the mouse on her notebook as if it were her sensitive clit. She’d been given a new Lenovo ThinkPad, P15s, Gen 1-15.6. Somehow the electronic pheromones that it emits feel crazy good to Chloe.
Seasons laser across the patio door’s glass in the same direction as the East River, west. Nothing stays the same in New York City, including the years. Everything outside the patio’s large window seems to lust in direction of the cities harbor and into the Atlantic Ocean. The invisible wind, the sun, the clumsy dim-witted moon, all head west, month after month, out to the sea. Sometimes Chloe feels like moving along too in the direction of permanence.
Chloe exits her custom-built shower. It’s stereo surround sound in an onyx enclosure. The owner purchased the bath marble from the Carrara quarry in Italy. It’s the same quarry Michelangelo release David from. The dreamy shower is the size of a new Mercedes Benz, with all its whistles and bells.
Chloe straight arms the bathroom counter and stoops over the rim of the golden sink. She attempts to wipe away the steam on the mirror. She does this until her patch is mostly a circle and squeaky clean. She can see herself clearly through an opening she’s created. The opening view captures her lovely, vulnerable body. She cups her full breasts, still aching from her last miscarriage. Her nipples are pink spring rosebuds. Their darkness has dissipated. He’s dying inside, behind the mirror, to kiss each bud into bloom. He needs the numbers back home for the council. He has to procreate.
She presses closer as if to disappear into the mirror. There is a lovely pout on her lips as if her reflection is a new lover. He knows what she is thinking, says inside his skull, “It won’t be long, pretty.”
He stiffens his back as if he’s just had a hit of cocaine. He does everything he can to keep from igniting. There are times when the male gender can feel out of control.
Chloe moves out of view to fetch a luxurious towel. She doesn’t know how close he’s come to breaking the glass and entering her world.
Chloe has a diagnosis, one Jack isn’t sold on. She’s suffering from post-partum depression. Chloe disagrees and thinks post-partum depression is simply an expensive word you pay psychiatrists to pronounce. She quits therapy, and cancels any future psychiatry appointments.
Once she’s out of medicine, she takes over-the-counter Tylenol. Tylenol seems to work as well as Effexor. Actually, anything works. And so, she quits eating, again. At least Tylenol fills her stomach.
Defenseless, Chloe invites her morbid thoughts into her mind. It is in there, crawling around in the fissures. She can’t control the sensation, which is becoming an aphrodisiac. She wants to feel it.
It slithers on the scales of its belly ribs, and enters her thoughts. It probes, using its coiled fullness. It squirms and wriggles inside the folds of her gray matter, searching and waiting for the wetness. She grows completely comfortable, vulnerable to its girth and the fact that it exists in her thoughts.
They’d first meet on the elevator, the 39th floor, Chloe and the apartment complex owner. He was headed out of the building for the day. Chloe was off to her cute restaurant in the basement, the Cafe Chez Marie. She was dying for fresh coffee. This had been back in her teaching days.
“You are 39,” he quips. Chloe blushes and peaks up at his platinum hair. He is tall. He’s is as handsome as any model she thinks. He looks forward to meeting her husband. They share the usual introductory chitchat, but there’s something else going on here.
Later that evening in his expansive studio, he reviews the elevator video. He intermittently captures a screenshot and then Wi-Fi’s the pic over to the printer, over and over again. He uses a ruler to measure the distance between their hands when they’d clutched the guard rail in the elevator, on their way down to the lobby.
At the 1.02 point of action, he notices both of their hands gripping the elevator rail. He measures the distance. Their hands were exactly 23 inches apart when the elevator started. By the time the video’s action clip reaches 1.42 minutes, he measures the distance again. He’s determined that the distance between their hands had shortened to 17 inches by the time the elevator landed on the lobby floor.
Based on his calculations, Chloe’s hands had moved 5 inches in his direction. He smiles. He’s a chic magnet. He can almost smell the wetness of a new spawn.
It’s the third of March, almost spring. Chloe is browsing: Pinterest, Google, and something familiar on YouTube. It’s this guy who repairs and repurposes furniture. She’s been intrigued and impressed with his imagination and creativity. As a distraction, she’d booked a few of his videos. She loves Haden the Handyman. Haden’s channel is all about refinishing vintage furniture, and all the care and sanding that goes with handling raw wood. Repurposing feels right to Chloe somehow.
Chloe stumbles around on her computer, and trips over a new URL.
It’s as if someone or something is controlling her Google searches. She happens upon a men’s cologne add. It is for Creed Aventus Eau De Parfum 100ml. The imp in her wants to taste the model’s skin. He’s posed in black silk P.J.’s while sitting back in a leather chair in his master bedroom suite.
Directly behind him is an open black window in the background. Chloe imagines the background a celestial slate board rift with chalky bits of stars. Something inside her wants to enter his world out there.
His pajama top is unbuttoned. Luxurious fur runs the distance from below his navel to the beginning of his throat. He’s smirking at Chloe. She knows it. He’s looking straight through her. His hair is not so much silver-white platinum, but rather quaffed liquid mercury. Chloe’s nipples harden and pulse with life. Her skin is a river of goosebumps.
It’s only a start, but Chloe gets up and walks over to Jack, who’s working at the kitchen table again. She hesitantly taps him on the shoulder. Jack has brought work home he’s focused on, and so it takes a while for Jack to respond. He has a good reason to be distracted. Jack turns to Chloe. Chloe gestures at her notebook. Jack makes that clicking sound again, using the disgust he so often finds between his tongue and teeth.
Jack goes back to his laptop screen.
It watches and records.
Chloe drifts back to her accusatory office.
Not long after, Chloe is pleasantly surprised to discover Jack watching over her shoulder. Just maybe, she thinks, Jack will display some interest in this little nothing YouTube channel she’s discovered. It’s not like she wants to start a furniture repair business. She simply likes the idea of making something old turn newish again. She would like to share this with her husband.
Jack turns sour and says, “Ok Honey, furniture repair is unrealistic. The upfront cost alone certainly doesn’t justify the expense. Jack thumbs the stubbles on his chin, his new compulsion. “Chloe, what in the hell do you know about refurbishing vintage furniture? Jack demands.
Not waiting for an answer, Jack stomps back to his office at the aquamarine table.
The gorgeous dining room light, not quite grown a grown up chandelier, seems to warm the space, unlike its cold mini cameras that continue to watch the scene unfold.
Chloe gets up and slides the patio door wide open, next the screen door. She’s flushed and needs comforting, stands a minute, looks up into the stars.
After, she walks back to her intimate sofa, leaving the patio doors wide open. Chloe curls her socked feet under her rump. The same gorgeous rump Jack couldn’t keep his well manicured hands-off so very long ago.
Chloe gets up again, this time she walks in the direction of the second bath, near the elegant front door. Jack imagines her peeing, maybe crying again on the toilet, boohoo. But Jack’s mostly busy looking at a work email from a friend. His laptop wants Jack to Google skydiving deaths. Jack has deadlines to meet, God-damn it. Doesn’t anyone understand?
Chloe slowly returns to the sofa and sits. She looks long and hard at the moon. It’s platinum too. She insists on lettering the wind blow west in the direction of change. The opaque darkness and loneliness on the East River have never looked so beautiful.
A half-hour drifts into an hour. Jack searches and searches the entire house. Jack needs to remind Chloe how much pressure he’s been under lately, and how upsetting the thought of her new adventures have become to him, all stupid one day purchases, refinishing, sanding, and glazing. And those damned sales, just to get rid of a shit-load of wooden inventory nobody wants anymore. Jack’s mind is headed for a car wreck.
Chloe had no intention to open a refinishing business. Chloe had simply attempted to communicate with Jack, perhaps work on saving their marriage by sharing something, anything. All she wanted to do was to make sure they were still human, and not following out of love?
Jack walks out onto the patio. It’s freezing cold. She’s never left the door wide open before. Jack looks over the patio railing, straight down at the buildings flashing blue lights. Jack imagines the lights spinning clockwise, blue lights of madness. He’s a horrified child again, stuck on a shaky Farris wheel.
Jack refuses the uptake of reasonable thought. He tromps back inside, grabbing the patio door handle. He slides the door shut with a smack and locks it tight, unlocks it and locks it again.
Jack backs away from the patio door a few steps. Next, he becomes transfixed at his computer screens reflection in the glass panel, the stack of emails. He looks beyond the reflection into the impending darkness. His wife has committed suicide. Jack begins to dial 911 and hesitates.
In the windows reflection, Jack’s cursor is pulsating manically. The cursor, like the police cars lights, has turned cobalt blue. Everything is cobalt blue through Jack’s new crazy looking glass. Jack feels as though he has the spade of hearts stuck in his throat. He’s going to have to face everything alone now.
Who’s going to believe he hadn’t pushed her over the railing? Who’s going to download his Google searches? After all, Jack’s night hasn’t been all work.
Jack’s searches: How to best divorce your wife so she won’t take all you money. Pushing someone to their death/top ten dating sites/how to cheat the bitch out of her alimony? /how to tell your new love how much you hate children?/the deadly effects of Ricin?
Jack mulls over an email he’d received from a government attorney he knows, Mr. Tom Jennings. Mr. Jennings works for the Securities and Exchange Commission. “Heads up dude, call me in the morning, you’re going to be indicted for fraud and insider trading.”
Jack had opened and closed the email over an hour ago.
The cameras are viewing Jack’s behavior in real-time. Someone or something already knows the 411.
Jack’s hands feel clammy and sweaty. His guts are wriggling eels. He’s got acid electricity reflux. Epinephrine car jacker’s are running red lights through the intersections of his synapse.
Jack fixes his eyes on the patio door handle. His fingerprints overlap Chloe’s. It’s obvious who shut the door after Chloe jumped. Jack has an urge to wipe the prints clean. But that’s tampering with evidence. Jack chooses not to wipe. How about becoming a fox, and opening the lock with a butter knife? But that makes little difference.
Jack is saddened by a long buried thought. He remembers how his older brother had gotten himself written out of his mother’s trust fund. How Thomas had embarrassed her and tarnished the family name.
Jack is too aware of all the forensic evidence stored on his company’s hard drive, as well as well as somewhere far away in a data farm in Iowa or out in the Ethernet.
Jack’s laptop is stingy, it is holding back those sexy pictures of his hotel tryst, an affair he had affair with a coworker named Andromeda. The undercover photos had been taken and sent to Jack just like the shit-load of other incriminating emails. A private detective he’d hired had traced the emails to the Public Library on 66th street. From there, any further evidence had disappeared into some kind of black hole.
Jack and Chloe had recently upped their life insurance payout totals.
Jack opens the patio door again. His face is swollen and numb. His hands bloody from clinching his fists. He shuffles forward over the threshold into another world. Jack presses up against the rail, never thinking to look up again. His fingernails splinter against the iron rail like hickory kindling cut with a hatchet. Jack loses control of the steering wheel nearly half way down to his death.
Chloe Rings his doorbell. He takes the longest time to open his ornate entrance, not wanting to appear too anxious. He peaks through the vertical slit between the door and door jam, created by the hallway lighting.
Chloe blurts out, “What is that smell in your apartment?”
“I’m so very sorry,” he says, “I’ll open a window, come in. As he pivots in the direction of his massive studio, he adjusts his sclera from black to white, and turns off the ultrasonic sound.
Chloe says, “No, no, I didn’t mean…I love the scent of furniture wax.”
“39, follow me, take a quick look.” he insists. It loves control more than Jack ever imagined. Building worlds is in his wheelhouse.
It contemplates how the building’s complex has been blessed in a honeycomb of planned cells. Each cell a prismatic hexagonal chamber of wax meant for the incubation of mammalian larva.
In the expansive craft room, rest a pair of Antique French Nightstands. He refers to them as French Provincial Cane Bedside Tables.
Chloe stands mesmerized, as the building’s ownerexplains how the nightstands had been a bargain on eBay, costing only $4,995.00. The special furniture polishing wax is meant to be the finishing touch on the restoration project.
Chloe marvels how he’s going to give the two antiques to Goodwill Industries for their annual fundraiser raffle. Jack never gave anything of himself away.
Time is of the essences in the vast preparation room. It is a sexual monster and it shows.
Before Chloe knows it, she’s nearly chatted an hour away. There’s certain numbness around her swollen lips, this feeling of heaviness clear up into her tummy. It’s a good feeling though, she thinks, not a bad one. She’s pregnant.
With Jasmine, the modern on level 24, it had been more difficult. A full 2 hours had been needed, she was insatiable. Jasmine loves cooking, the smell of basil.
And Theresa, 18, last August, the perfume of espresso had lured her into his masterful, foul stickiness. Theresa’s downfall had been her lust for his La Marzocco Linea Mini Espresso Machine. Theresa is two months away from her birthing.
He had become well acquainted with Chloe, but, he’d taken his time to get to know her, like all the rest. After all, he reads everyone’s emails, and monitors there phone calls. And he knows so much more his assigned city.
He thanks Chloe for stopping over.
After the coupling, he walks Chloe back to the elevator. She admires the tall, dark and handsome stranger, as he gently places her finger on the 39th floor button.
Later, it will retire to the studio and pleasure himself over the day’s recorded videos.
He’ll watch the one with Chloe in the elevator and observe closely how she erotically sniffs at her armpits while on the ride down to her floor. It imagines she finds her new scent quite zesty. It slobbers as she touches her cheeks with her silken hands, cups one of her firming breasts. She’sblushing fuchsia. It watches as she tugs at her Cashmere sweaters V-neck, admiring her cleavage and dampness. How she waves her hands over her face, stoking the fires of submission.
Chloe Exits the elevator and slowly walks up to her apartment door. She unlocks it and enters. Chloe closes the thick door quietly. She then engages the deadbolt. She dares not disturb Jack, She’s sure he is still busy at work.
Chloe thinks this the beginning of the better part of her life.
It observes Chloe as she anxiously walks through the empty living space directly to the patio. She senses something alarming. At the patio she presses up against the railing and looks down.
It claws at an itch on the edge of a wing. Its brain is a fevered swamp of new life.
Chloe looks down at all the flashing blue lights. This time, the blue lights are police cars, not the flashing blue lights that warn pedestrians as a driver exists the underground parking. The signaling blue lights are meant to warn the homeless they are about to get run over. The building owner is delighted that the exit is dangerous, thus driving the homeless to camp across the street.
Her actions tell it that she is relieved.
Chloe walks back to her favorite sofa. She sits and thinks. Chloe dials 911. Of all her senses, her sense of smell is the most heightened. Everything molecule in her world is Carnauba wax and Google baby clothes.
Several stories up, in its studio, it continues to watch Chloe. It has met his world’s projected monthly quota. Soon, there will be a new one of them, and then Chloe’s disposal.
It is a rock star. Its appetite is insatiable. Its numbers are tops again. There will be another bonus. It is just one of many across the Promised Land. Who needs a spacecraft to create a new planet?
It smells more like a bat than artificial intelligence. It wishes it had teeth and didn’t have to suck like a leach. It hangs upside down, more than it crawls. It needs to procreate. It is looking over your shoulder. It is becoming a God of a new planet, his assigned city, The Big Apple.
“Andy, maybe you’re correct about that pointing spaceship Building. From the looks it,” Carl points across the street as FDNY hoses down the messy sidewalk, “I think one of your aliens dropped out of the sky last night.”
Dan’s most recent darkness has been published by Aphelion, BlazeVOX, Black Petals, Blood Moon Rising Magazine, Bull, Chilling Tales for Dark Nights Podcast, Cleaver, Close to the Bone, Coffin Bell, Dark City Books, Entropy, HorrorAddicts.net, Mystery Tribune, Suspense Magazine, The Yard Crime Blog, Variant, The 5-2. Dan has been nominated for Best of the Net and best micro-fiction.