Here is the second and final installment of "The Locks", the short story I co-wrote with Benjamin Kane Ethridge. The first installment can be found on his blog: http://www.bkethridge.com/wordpress/locked-room-misery/the-locks-part-1/
The landscape had changed. A bone white polished surfaced stretched farther than his eyes could have possible seen. And there were black doors staggered everywhere. They stood upright, held by invisible frames. It was such a surreal display that Edwin checked his skull, thinking perhaps he’d hit his head when he fell off the wastebasket and only remembered the weird plateau outside from brain trauma. But he wasn’t hurt. And what he’d seen, he had a feeling was still there, just from the radiant glow from the window above. That brightness was the moonlight playing off the ghostly white floor.
He dragged the wastebasket back over to the door and slowly stepped up again. It was just as he thought. The endless field of doors was real. He scanned everywhere and noticed each door had an enormous padlock hanging from its handle. The metal was dull compared to the glossy floor beneath, but from the closest door he could tell the locks were engraved with ornate designs and large keyhole mouths opened in their centers.
“What is this shit?” His heart thundered.
He glanced down, about to step off the wastebasket, when he noticed the bathroom door had one of the same alien padlocks hanging there now. It hadn’t been there a moment ago.
Just on the other side of the door someone whispered, “It wants to see…”
“Hello?” Edwin said. “Hey! Can you—get me out of here?”
There was no answer.
He glanced down at the lock. Examining it further he noticed a small six inch dagger hanging from a hook on the side. Edwin pulled it up and watched the moonlight from outside play off the silver surface. Another examination below revealed the lock had a small porcelain plate the size of a dime resting at its base. He prodded an opening above the plate with the knife, thinking perhaps it was some sort of key. He didn’t expect anything to happen and his expectation proved correct.
Another once over of the lock, he noticed at the top of its brass arrangement of flames and starburst designs was a tear-shaped ruby. He ran his thumb over it and admired the penetrating dark burgundy color of the gem, like crystallized blood.
“It wants to see…”
Edwin whipped around and checked the stalls. He quickly took a knee and put his face sideways to the ground. There were no feet under any of the stalls.
“Come out,” he shouted, picking himself up. “I don’t need this crap.” He went to all three stalls and kicked the doors open.
Vicki could be cruel, but this cruel though? No. He didn’t, he couldn’t think that way.
Edwin stormed back to the door and pulled on the padlock. “—is this shit? Open the hell up! This is stupid! Whoever’s doing this—I’m gonna fuck you up! Hear me? My father’s a marine and he thought me everything he goddamn knows! I will make you hurt, I shit you not!”
A silent beat passed and he kicked the door. The lock lifted and smacked down on the wood with a thick bass sound.
He covered his face with his hands and realized he still had the dagger. In frustration he studied it and dropped it to the side of his leg, bouncing it nervously against his knee. He thought about lifting the door’s hinges but the blade wasn’t strong enough. It would likely just get stuck or snap. Anger built in him. He’d been working on controlling his impulses with the therapist, but here in this bizarre situation he felt entitled to embracing it. Plus, it wasn’t directed at Vicki’s meanness and controlling ways—it was all about the lock. The lock! He deserved to be fucking angry and want to stab someone for locking him in this weird place and kidnapping Vicki, if that’s what happened.
He appreciated the dagger’s sharp edge and shook his head. He could never really stab anyone—see their blood spill out over his hand. He lowered his eyes and fixed on the blood gem and then the small porcelain plate at the base of the lock. A dark realization formed.
“No friggin way. Crazy time here,” he muttered. The indentation in the plate was smaller than a dime and wouldn’t hold that much blood.
Edwin had been a serious cutter in high school during his dad’s worst PTSD times, when he thought there was no escaping the nightly screaming madness, and had no idea his dad would someday heal. So he didn’t flinch about what needed doing—he’d been here before. He placed the blade over the top of his hand and pulled back, making a semi-deep slice. The blood ebbed out and curled down to his fingers and he pressed them together to direct the flow onto the plate. The small indentation filled up with drops that soon expanded into a tiny puddle.
The lock rattled and bucked—then fell open, the heavy top portion dropping to the ground. Edwin squeezed his hand to stop the blood flow. After a moment he took his hand away from the wound, grasped the handle and opened the door.
Stepped out to the field of white.
“It wants to see…” said a voice.
He wheeled around to the empty bathroom. After a moment’s consideration, he slammed shut the door and slid the bolt lock in place. “Fuck whoever you are,” he whispered and turned back around. Doors. So many doors. So many locks. He stumbled from one to another and realized these locks had identical adornments at the top. It wasn’t the blood-drop gem any longer. This was a polished bone shaped diamond.
“No way,” he breathed.
Edwin didn’t know what to do, but hoped he’d end up in a place that made more sense, so he took off running. He went non-stop for ten minutes before his sides started cramping. His surroundings were exactly the same though: white polished terrain and countless doors trapped in empty space. And those locks. All the same. “No, no, no.” He sat down on the slippery cool white floor. “No,” he said again.
He closed his eyes and meditated. His dad had taught him the technique. The moon was still out when he awoke, bright and lighting everything. He got up, wincing at the throbbing cut on his hand and wandered around, checking locks to see if any were able to be pulled open. Every door and every lock was the same. This nightmare wouldn’t end.
A hand caressed the small of his back.
It wants to see.
He jerked around. Nobody stood behind him but he caught sight of a woman entering a door a few feet behind a collection of four others.
“Vicki, wait!” he cried and sprinted for her. The door closed and the lock leapt up and clicked shut. When he got there he beat his fists against the door and screamed her name again and again until his ears rang and his throat went hoarse. He closed his eyes to think, to awaken from this nightmare.
When he opened his eyes, he stared at the bone shaped diamond in the lock. His gaze fell away and rested on the small serrated dagger hanging there. Edwin reached out and pulled it free. He examined the teeth on the edge of the blade. Then he turned his hand over and looked at his fingers. The creases where they bent seemed to imply an outline for dissection, and he shivered at the idea. He’d known these fingers his whole life, seen them grow and used them every day for countless things. They were him. If he mutilated himself, what would come next? What would the locks need next?
A frigid wind lifted around him. He shuddered. His father had taught him the importance of sacrificing for what you loved, and Vicki was hopefully behind this door. But for how long would that be? He was standing around debating and she could get farther away.
Edwin put the teeth of the blade at the bending point of his left pinkie. It seemed the least damaging place to do it, but his stomach turned nevertheless.
He took a knee and pressed his pinkie against it. Going fast would be better, he assumed. Maybe that was true but it was still more painful than he could imagine. The blade was exceptionally sharp however and went through the bone easily. He bled but was surprised by how little the flow was compared to what he’d seen cutting deep as a young person. He applied pressure with his thumb, but knew it wasn’t enough.
It took about fifteen minutes in total to sever the end of his pinkie. When it was off, he placed it, sobbing and mumbling in the dish beneath the lock.
Through his pain and attempts to squeeze the wound, he didn’t notice immediately that the lock had not opened. His dizziness claimed him a second and he staggered back. No way in hell did I just do that for nothing!
Blood kept spilling forth, he put his severed digit under his knee to press it. He thought about making a tourniquet of his shirt but needed two hands to rip it and he wasn’t going to be able to pull that feat off. Then he remembered the necklace Vicki had gotten him when they broke up right before getting married. She’d essentially wanted him to give up his family for her—to prove she was worth more than anybody else. He’d fought back on that hard, and she’d made him pay for it emotionally ever since.
It was a New York Jets necklace because Edwin followed them sometimes, even though he wasn’t much into sports. It was his dad’s favorite team, and Vicki had known that. Edwin hadn’t seen his father in over a year, because she said she didn’t like his politics or how he smoked cigars in the house. But it was probably more that he was a free spirit and Vicki couldn’t stand how he influenced his son.
Edwin grunted and pulled the necklace off. He lifted his knee and was happy to see the blood only dripped out rather than jetted. He wrapped the silver chain just under the severing until there was an intense pressure and the flesh turned purple. He then did his best to tie off the necklace so it would do its job to stave off the bleeding.
His mind actually cleared a little after this and he returned to the dish. He picked up the piece of pinkie and considered where he’d done wrong. This thing wanted a bone, but this body part was still covered in flesh.
A wave of nausea held him a moment. He stooped and picked up the serrated knife from where he’d dropped it. Edwin then began the sickening task of removing the flesh and fingernail from the pinkie finger. He tried to think of it in the most abstract sense, but every now and then he’d remember this is my finger and he’d retch.
He got most of the flesh off the bone. He hoped it was enough. Then he dropped it on the dish.
The lock fell off and the door swished open.
Vicki stood there, waiting for him, tears in her red, swollen eyes.
He ran to her and she embraced him. It wasn’t his style, it wasn’t something he even remembered doing as a child with his mother (how he missed visiting her as well, even though they butted heads a lot), but he wept into his wife’s shoulder and it took a very long time to get control of himself.
“I was so scared I’d never see you again,” she told him.
“Me too, me too,” he managed and wiped his dripping nose on his sleeve.
“I don’t understand where we’ve gone.”
“Makes two of us.”
He searched out the nearest door. His eyes traveled to the lock. The gem was many shades of red, and heart shaped.
A devastating looking, three foot long saw hung from the side of the lock.
Edwin glanced at Vicki and could tell she detected the pain in his eyes, but rather than soothe him, she did what she always did. Her face darkened and judgment surfaced.
“Get us out of here, Edwin.”
He swallowed and tried to answer, but failed.
“I want to see what’s there,” she said firmly and her eyes doubled down with an unspoken threat. “Unlock that door. Show me…. Show me now. I want to see.”
If you want to read a longer collaboration from myself and Benjamin, please check out our mystery/horror novella LOCKED ROOM MISERY. http://www.amazon.com/Locked-Room-Misery-Benjamin-Ethridge-ebook/dp/B00L8BXD7W/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406112161&sr=1-3