Moving On: Purgatory

PORTALDOORIt was just past 1 am when the ocean breeze came pressing down, forcing rusty hinges on the porch to bend and squeal like aching joints. I was alone in my apartment, drinking Mad Dog from the bottle; listening to the cut and buzz of cables in the storm.

When out of nowhere came a clap so loud it set me rolling on my heels. I recognized that clap on spec, having heard it several times before.

I pulled the plug out on my Tiffany, assumed a foothold near the door. I pressed one ear up to the woodwork, genuflected on the floor. I swept both knees across the threshold, turned the doorknob like a dial. Then I eased the chain-lock open, slithered low into the hall.

It was out there – in the darkness – that my world, it set to shifting. And my head, it set to spinning, like a tape set on rewind. I was floating through the cosmos, flitting high above the jetties; past the coastline and the inlet, past December and the new year; past re-enrollment for the Spring term, past four buses every weekday; past student loan funds meant to finance, past mid-term essays meant to bolster; past the fall of Tonya Harding, past the death of Kurt Cobain; past preseason on the boardwalk, past one year spent dating Meghan; past it all until I drifted down into that pitch-black cauldron – a musty hallway where my feet went numb and my legs could hardly feel for burning.

I could smell the ripe asbestos now; could hear the dying smoke alarms.
I could feel the mounting pressure; could sense the stiff hairs on both arms.
The corridor ran 100 feet, with splintered doors down either side.
I swept the starboard with my fingers, caught the flood box with my arm.
I ran my palm along the base; found a button, pushed it hard.
What followed was a blunt-force clap, much like the punching of a card.

Then a blinding flash of light so bright, it took 15 seconds to adjust.
I turned one eye toward the entrance, saw a black man bathed in dust.
This man was wearing crushed velour, over cutoffs and brown Uggs.
He held one hand toward me; squared both feet upon the rug.
“Can I help you?” I then shouted, my body planted to the floor.
Can I help you?” I then shouted, a second time, and then once more.

The vagrant propped himself up, let out the snarl of a boar.
Then he let his weak hand falter, exposed a rash of open sores.
He was sweating like a hound now, charcoal embers through his pores.
And so I made a break for it; held that button, nevermore.
I was scrambling in cold darkness, tracing a hard line to my door.
Strobing freeze-frames marked each footstep, pounding boot-prints shook the floor.

He was ambling toward me, bone-snarl slow-building to a roar.
I caught the doorknob with my shirt sleeve, forced the issue with my core.
I dove head-first into my bedroom, pulled the chain-lock, tight and sure.
Then I fell hard to the carpet, crabwalking backward on the floor.
I could hear each boot-step fall now, could sense him circling the fore.
He was there now, waiting for me. He was the Beast of 1994.

***

(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB)

©Copyright Bob Hill