Episode 4: Purgatory
The fourth story from Sean McBride’s published short story collection, A View of the Edge of the World. This episode is produced by Ed Robinson and read by R. Martin Klein.
This story has gone through more revisions than any other story in the collection. Originally called Atonement, I changed the name because I thought that might be too overt, but the basis of the theme remains. This is about a man who led a less than honest life and is paying the consequences for that.
People speak of redemption as if it were reserved for good deeds; as if the only way to be redeemed is to save someone or sacrifice yourself.Clark, however, knew of another way to reach Heaven, through a place in between Heaven and Hell; a place where redemption is not achieved by apologizing for transgressions, but by suffering for them.
Clarkapproached the house and thought of old clichés; the house looked like a face. The upper windows looked like eyes, a smaller grill a nose, and the large double doors a gaping mouth. Old films like The Amityville Horror where dread fills you as you walk to the house.Clark had to go in though. It was his job.
Clarkwas a real estate agent who got flaked on by his renovation crew. They never showed and they never called, they wouldn’t even answer when he called them.
“Some renovation company”Clarkmuttered as he clutched his car keys tightly in his hand, wrapping the key ring around his middle finger. He felt loathing and dread seep into his bones as he crept towards the house.
It was a pristine location; the woods were back just enough to give this Victorian a foundation and they fit snugly around the sides. A beautiful brick pathway lead from the back door to the guest house a few hundred feet away. The pathway had arched trees covering the delicately laid stones of the path. It was like something out of a fairy tale. The lawn and the pathway down to the guest house were groomed to precision. It seemed as if the vegetation only grew to a certain point and then stopped. It was supposed to be dilapidated and un-sellable, vacant for twenty years, but it looked as if someone had been here very recently.
Clarklooked back at the road, back to his car which was perched so nicely on the stone cut driveway, to the gazebo in the front yard, to the gothic statues displayed so delicately in the yard. He just had to wonder, what was wrong with the house? Why had the other company not sold it?
He walked to the front door and twisted the handle. He expected to hear creaking joints, a weathered metal on metal sound indicative of old hinges, but no sound came. The door slowly and smoothly swung open revealing how lazy the other real estate company had been.
He knew they recommended a renovation crew and this was obviously the reason why, the house was a shambles. There was graffiti covering the interior of the foyer, the floorboards were rotten, the walls moldy and everything just looked old. Wooden furniture was devastated by termites, white cloths were stained yellow by sunlight, dust and time covered what was not already falling apart.Clarkgaped in horror at the decrepit nature of the place.
He slowly shook his head in disgust, then turned to swing the door shut when he heard a guttural growl from outside.
Clarkfroze, imagining animals roaming in from the forest, in the night. Yet another reason why this place could’ve laid dormant for so long.
Clarktook a hesitant step towards the door craning his neck in an effort to see where the noise came from, all the while holding a firm grip on the front door so he could swing it shut in the face of anything that may come loping after him. He peered out but saw nothing. Then the growl came again, this time more urgent and closer.
Clarkslammed shut the door, picked up a nearby chair and propped it against the door handle. He backed through the room and looked around the room to see if he could find a window that would show the beast as it made its way through the foliage. There was no beast. It was a man running through the woods to the front of the house.Clarkfelt his first wave of terror as he whipped around to try and find a weapon and as he did so a figure passed through a hallway into another room.
“Hello?”Clarksoftly called out; his throat closing. “This is private property, you can’t be here.” It wasn’t an order.
Clarktook a step forward looking around the foyer trying to find some kind of weapon; he was in the middle of a robbery! He was sure of it! He needed to hide and hope that they’d hadn’t seen him.
He also needed a weapon. He looked around the room and at first saw nothing. He reached up to lean on the mantle to rest and come up with a plan, but when he did so he felt something in his hand poke him. His car keys. He had forgotten they were there; he slipped them off, put them on the mantle and rubbed his hand. Then, from the corner of his eye a bright glint of light caught his attention. He turned to look at it and saw the only thing that may pass for a weapon in this room.
He picked up an umbrella; a slight smile threatened his face then went away. The umbrella did have a sharp metal tip, but it wasn’t a suitable weapon andClarkknew it.
He pointed it like a talisman to the spot where the figure walked and went to the far wall while keeping an eye on the empty corridor.
When he got to the wall, someone started pounding on the front door, roaring in rage and frustration.Clarknearly screamed himself, but instead ran straight for the hallway that the figure had come from, hoping he wouldn’t come back.
The pounding on the front door stopped asClarkmade it to the bathroom.
He could hear his heart pounding. He shut his eyes and leaned back against the door wishing whomever it was would go away. He for several minutes, eyes closed and breathing lightly trying to keep a hold on his fear. He focused, listening intently for any movement outside the door, but he heard nothing.
He slowly opened his eyes and took a look around the bathroom. It was a Spartan normal bathroom. The walls were painted in a pale Seventies yellow with flower wall paper on the lower half. There was a small sink in front of him and a toilet next to that, with a standing shower in the corner. And a small elevated window behind him.
Clarkstood on his tip-toes, excited, thinking he may have finally found his way out. He flung the window open, threw out the umbrella and pulled himself up to the opening trying to pull himself out, but froze in horror.
Outside in the woods he saw another man walking through the shadows stop and looked over at Clark. Clarktried to scream, but instead he dropped back down to the ground whimpering. He felt isolated, surrounded. Clarkcould feel a cold sweat breaking out on his brow. Jesus, everything was so normal a minute ago! He thought. He looked around the room and made his decision. He would make a break for it. He slowly stood up trying to stay away from the window and went to the sink. He looked at himself in the mirror and was shocked. His face had taken a major deterioration, he looked like he hadn’t slept in days, his eyes were red and watery and his skin was pale.
He looked down to turn on the water, but stopped when he saw something moving in the drain. He bent down closer trying to determine what it was, hoping it wasn’t a rat. It wasn’t. The drain held a human eye. It moved as if it were looking about the room, then looked straight at him; then laughter echoed resonating in the pipes of the drain. It was steeped in madness.
Clarklunged backward and landed on his ass. He gazed about the room hoping for an exit to appear so he could leave this nightmare, but the only option was the bathroom door. He got up and slowly turned the handle inching the door open. He looked down at the empty hallway and let out a small breath. He was trying to be as quiet as he could, no sense in alerting anyone who might be in the house.
Clarktook a small step forward into the hallway dreading having to leave his sanctuary, but he couldn’t just wait for someone to root him out.
On his second step the doorknob to the front door turned.Clarkfroze. They were everywhere. He had to make a break for it.Clarkquickly walked down the hallway, keeping his head down and moving as silently as possible. He passed the room without any incident he felt good, now since the front door wasn’t an option he needed a back door or another window. Except there was someone in the woods and there was at least one more person in the house. With a second at the front door.
The hallway went another ten feet past the living room archway, with view of the front door, and turned to the right, leading deeper into the house. No windows in the hallway.
Clarkwalked forward and turned the corner and saw what he desperately needed; a window at the end of the hallway. An open window.
Clarkmade his way, same as before, and walked on to the window. Excited he swung a leg over the window sill, but paused when the door directly to his right opened. It was a kitchen bare and clean with a thin door that lead to the backyard. The door opened in and he could see a figure coming in through a blinded window. The man from outside.
Clarkthrew himself out the window as he heard someone walking to the window from the hallway behind him. He hit the ground outside and ran for the guest house behind. His heart was pounding and his lungs burned from the cold air, but he thought if he could get away and hide he could be safe; and what better place than the guest house, there wouldn’t be anything valuable in there for these thieves to steal. It would be empty. It had to be.
He got to the guest house and opened the door and saw the empty room. Then a terrible truth hit him. It was empty, but so was the house. These weren’t thieves; they weren’t here to steal from the house. There was nothing in the house. They were here for something else. He parked his car out front. They knew he was here. They would know he was out here and come after him. He needed a weapon.
He let go of the door handle and went stalking into the woods, hunched over. He was trying to be as quiet as possible, but he could hear someone back at the guest house. He turned to look behind him when he saw someone climbing out of the bathroom window of the house, looking at him. He only saw them for a moment, but he could tell they saw him; they ducked down as soon as he looked over.
These people were sadists. They knew he was here, but they weren’t doing anything to him. They were playing with him. He had to get to his car and get out of here.
He took a few running steps and he heard a car door shut. His car door. You’ve gotta be kidding me!Clark thought and sprinted at the car growling in anger. He heard the front door of the house slam shut and he stopped growling.Clark wasn’t fooled, he knew they were probably trying to set a trap for him in the house; which meant there was something wrong with the car. When he reached his destination he reached into his pocket to get the keys and froze. The keys weren’t in his pocket! He looked up at the house and the house looked back at him. The keys were on the mantle.
Clarkneeded a plan and fast. He needed to find a way in and get those keys back; he didn’t have any chance out here in the woods.
He circled the house on the opposite side of the sadists, hoping there wouldn’t be any more than he already encountered. He thought about the umbrella lying underneath the bathroom window, but knew they would be waiting there for him. Why were they waiting? Why don’t they come and get me? He had to do something they wouldn’t be expecting, he needed to go around to the kitchen and go in the back entrance.
When he reached the back corner of the house he took a deep breath in an effort to buffer his courage, and then made a crouched run for the door. When he got there he took another deep breath, mustering every ounce of strength and tenacity. Then opened the door. The kitchen was empty. It almost madeClarkcry. He slowly closed the kitchen door and got on his hands and knees. His breath was hitching in fear.
He had only traveled five minutes when a loud pound echoed in the room; almost as if someone hit the house.Clarkpanicked and opened the first doorway to hide from the assailant. It took him a good few seconds before he looked around to see where he was. He found himself standing on a staircase leading down into the basement. Dark and gothic with lit torches against the walls leading down, lightly illuminating the staircase.
He felt his mind slip a bit when he laid eyes on the staircase. This wasn’t part of the house description. There was no dark pathway leading to a gothic dungeon. But what was even stranger, a figure was walking down the staircase and when he looked closer his fear completely left him and his heart jumped. Something wasn’t right.
The figure was him.
He watched as his doppelganger exited the staircase and walked into the basement landing.
Before he realized what he was doing,Clarkwalked down after his doppelganger to the basement. It was dingy and poorly lit. Torches flickered in the room licking the walls with their dim luminescence. His doppelganger walked through the wavering light and into the shadows. It crossed the room and reached a ladder at the far side of the room and slowly started ascending. He almost reached the landing when he heard the door open behind him. His brain broke trying to come up with a reason for what was happening. Could this be it? Could this be the end of his fabulous career in swindling people into houses they couldn’t afford? He let his legs take him to the ladder and his eyes closed in terror. Whatever was going on it had to almost be over. He reached out and felt the harsh reality of the ladder, the coarse splintered wood, and started climbing.
When he looked up he found he was headed into a crawl space. There was a cylinder of light coming from a pipe above him. Purgatory is retribution, Clark thought as he placed his eye to the pipe; only to see himself in the house’s bathroom looking down at him through the sink, and repetition is hell.
Oh how he laughed…