Larpoll put three shots through the man, who toppled and spilled his guts all over the linoleum. His mouth leaked his last words before the light went out in his pale eyes.
In the heavy air, the sounds of Larpoll’s gunshots barely reached the back wall; the echoes fell limp into the carpet. A dark hallway stretched out before him. He sighed, relieved by the silence and the feeling that he was close.
The day stank of final exertions. Larpoll watched four men die:
– one squinting from the door as Larpoll emerged from an inky shadow across the street, collar pulled up around his face like a cut-rate Dracula; his unsteady two-step was a blessing, lending him a veil of threatlessness that dissolved after the squinting man’s skull cracked against the curb;
– two more at a poker table in the living room, both less interested in an intruder than in their game, as though they were playing poker at the end of the world—a final draw to sway the winds of the Apocalypse; the cards hit the table with a declarative “plap,” face down, and blood pooled around them—the winner would remain a mystery for all time;
– and the final man, in the kitchen, fumbling with the needlessly complex pull-tab of a beer he would never taste, his clawing ever more frantic as fate dawned on him, as though the pull-tab were a talisman that could ward off Death.
Each had reached for Larpoll at the last moment, eyes wide, capillaries burst in shock; each was further from him than the last until he might as well have been killing via remote. Larpoll walked further into the guts of the house, silent but for the skitter of beetles along the cellar floor.
Just a few weeks before, Larpoll had been content to eke out an existence free from the sort of forward-thinking that had doomed countless men before him. Expectation was anathema. But then the dame was on him, and sweat slithered down his back and he had no other choice.
She found Larpoll in the back corner of the cheapest dive, a pile of bones and dirty cloth. He nursed a jug of rotgut like a paranoid lover. He was motionless but for futile attempts at scaring off the battalion of rats that found his desperate clutching an irresistible challenge. She looked down at him with pity and recognition; he looked up at her and he saw his broken angel, her head ringed in red lights.
The corners of her mouth pointed to heaven. She pushed the matted hair off his forehead. Her fingertips brushed his cheek, and the future reached for him like ivy.
She took him to rooms full of warm light. At dinner, her hand lay in his lap, and he ordered for both of them. In cocktail lounges, they drank from each other’s glasses. She traced his jaw with the tip of her nose. Her fingernails danced along the back of his neck. Shadows played on her face; they deepened her smile and made inviting pools of her eyes. Her laugh was throaty, nearly a moan. As they slept, she shared her dreams. He woke up in the dead of night sometimes, his hand laced in hers. Often, he leaned in for a kiss.
But there were times when he couldn’t find her mouth, and he dared not look at her. In these cruel moments, her giggles and the way she touched his arm became condescension. Her smile was sharp and immediate; her eyes were twin voids. The red ring that had surrounded her grew until the room burned.
One night she’d whispered a confession so softly that he wasn’t certain she’d said anything. Her dreams hardened. They took on weight and desperation, and purpose. A secret in an old house, buried under squalor and decay—a story passed to her via mumbles and groans.
He built the scene in his mind: crouched over a trap door, he faced an ornate latch decorated with the devil’s grin. Whatever was inside glowed bright enough to illuminate walls hung with memories. Behind him he heard a pistol cock. She looked him hard in the eyes and even though he was convinced there was some love there, he braced himself for the exit wound.
No: Larpoll’s reflexes were quicker. She took one right between the eyes and the back of her head disappeared. All that was left was Larpoll, picking up the baton in a demented relay, playing out the beats of a story preordained and strangely colorless, faded under the dim light of obligation.
At the end of the hall, Larpoll saw the sparkle of a crystal knob. A faint outline stood before him. He turned the knob and stepped through.
Ahead of him lay a crooked staircase. It rambled on like the path of a mind gone senile. His feet slid along tilted steps. He trod carefully, his right hand wrapped tight around his pistol—useless in the darkness, but comforting. The walls were not bare, though whether they were decorated with glory or shame was anyone’s guess. The air was stale. The further down he traveled, the deeper the black became. At last, his foot hit solid floor. Drowning in darkness, he fell to his hands and knees, groping at the floorboards, sweeping aside scores of insects.
He saw a single shard of light at the limits of his vision; he dragged himself toward it. He crawled slowly, and his breathing grew shallow, until he was pulling his full weight along the floor with his elbows, ignoring splinters and insect bites, afraid to lower his head and lose the light.
At last, he reached it; the latch sparkled, and it lifted much more easily than he’d anticipated. Maybe a dream isn’t a premonition. A smirk hanged his mouth; he was ready for his prize.
There was no glow, and no promise. It was just another deep, black hole.
Manuel Chavarria is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Rough Magick, an anthology by Francesca Lia Block, and the upcoming CLASH Books anthology, Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey & Sylvia Plath, edited by Leza Cantoral.