Sometimes the man in the black suit enters the room backwards so that I hear him speak before I see the dreadful leer of his face.
There is, in the man in black’s face, something deeply…. unsettling. Beyond the constant expression it wears of mingled derision and sickly, unwholesome smile, there is in the features of the face itself more than the suggestion of deformity. Or maybe distortion, as a scrambled television signal, is a better word.
It is nothing easily identified; a certain asymmetry, perhaps. As if the face had been split in two and reassembled by inexpert hands. Maybe it is simply the dark and deeply set eyes like black holes in the skull, tugging at everything in the room, sucking even light into themselves…
Emma Jason paused, her black ball-point hovering over the page, considering what she recalled from this latest dream of the man in the black suit. He had been appearing in her dreams, and her journals, intermittently for years. Always he spoke to her, in a voice crawling with earthworms and subtle innuendo, and always she failed to comprehend the communication; as if he was speaking not English but some unknown tongue. Or maybe gibberish. The last few weeks had seen an unexpected and unpleasant increase in the dark man’s visits. Last night, for the first time she realized with some alarm, she had actually understood some portion of his sepulchral speech.
Her hand faltered and she rested the ball-point at the end of the ellipsis she had just jotted down... Damn if she could remember what she had finally understood! The words glinted in the shadows at the edge of memory, fading farther back into darkness even as she tried to draw them forth. It was maddening but she decided to let it go, confident it would come to her in time. Not that she was eager to hear whatever it was this sinister figure might be trying to tell her, but she knew it was probably important.
A sudden shrieking of tires somewhere nearby startled Emma to her feet. The sound, for some reason, brought Virginia flashing into her mind. Then she remembered that Ginny was driving to San Pia with her new girlfriend today. What was the blonde’s name? Amanda? Rachel? No… Rebecca! They’d left early that morning, or so Emma believed. She was also fairly certain that the girls would have been driving on the opposite side of Piney Oak to connect with the southbound freeway from their new place on Geometry Street. It was irrational to think that her daughter was in any way connected to the sound she had just heard. Yet, she found herself suddenly worrying about Virginia.
She reached down and closed her dream journal, dropping the pen on top of the black cover. It was quiet now. There had not actually been a collision of any kind, thank God. Only a near miss with squealing tires and, no doubt, copious amounts of adrenaline and expletives. Most likely, airbags had not even been deployed. Suddenly, she cocked her dark head, listening. Somebody was crying. A woman, out in the street.
As upon most weekends, this particular Saturday morning found Emma in the office; or The Stall, as she knew everybody but she called the small, anonymous storefront founded by her father more than half a century before. So it was that she left the desk where she’d been writing (Gordon’s space Monday through Friday) and, exiting the shop, stood out on Oak Street, listening for the sobbing that she still heard, though dimly now.
She looked up and down the street but there was nothing unusual to be seen. Cocking her head again, she determined that the sounds of distress seemed to be coming from her right. It must be fairly close to be as audible as it was. Somewhere on Bonner Avenue, most likely. Making sure the door was closed behind her (no need to lock your door in this town, but keep it closed or risk coming back to find raccoons setting up shop), she started down the block toward Bonner Avenue. As she progressed, the sobbing grew louder in her ears.
Then she paused, realizing quite suddenly that the sound wasn’t in her ears at all! Standing still and alert, she listened anew. The street was actually quiet; the only sound, birdsong drifting from the trees. None the less, she heard somebody crying. Telepathy? If so, it was the strongest and strangest she had experienced in her nearly sixty years. Sure, she had spoken to Angels and Demons, seen ghosts and UFOs, socialized with psychics of all kinds, but nobody had ever been in her head quite like this.
"Help me, Emma…”
The words rang like a bell in her head, a bell with an English accent! A bell that knew her name! Startled by the sound, or thought, of her name, compelled to move by the plea for help, Emma now broke into a run. Good genes, and the good exercise she got walking around town, kept her fifty something year old corporeal form in good shape. She reached the corner of Oak and Bonner in just a few seconds and still breathing more or less normally.
All sound in her head had stopped now. But there in the middle of Bonner Avenue was the car she had heard, a blue, four door sedan of some kind. In the car, hunched behind the steering wheel, a woman, her shoulders occasionally heaving as she silently sobbed. Hesitating only a moment, she had always been one to take charge in a crisis, Emma moved forward.
As she approached, the woman in the driver’s seat stirred and gazed in her direction. “Oh, thank God…” The voice, English accented, in her head again. “Please tell me what to do, Emma…”
Emma, circling around the front of the vehicle now, nearing the driver’s door, wondered what she was getting herself into here. She suddenly recalled the Tarot spread she’d thrown for herself two nights ago. The lightning struck tower. The Devil. Gripping the door handle, she gazed in at the tear stained woman in the driver’s seat – small, fine featured, coppery hair – and smiled. If this dainty creature was driving with The Devil, then perhaps Emma should take the wheel.