Omens & Signs - by JM Rosenberry

Artists to Authors is an exploration of the how art influences authors. Artist Grey Cross has opened his entire portfolio to any author who would like to choose a piece of art and create a short story around it. You can find more information on the project at: 

Four blank walls, a single dresser and a bed. You couldn't get more depressing that that. There was peeling wallpaper and dark stains on the floor and the place still smelled of old woman and shit. The bare floor had a handmade colorful rug that Trez was convinced had belonged to the last person to sleep and die in the small bed. He shuddered and tossed his suitcase down onto the lumpy mattress. He'd slept in worse places; in fact his favorite place to sleep when he got kicked out had been the cemetery. Placing two shirts and a pair of jeans into the dark wood dresser, he turned to look out the tiny window onto the alley below. He half expected to see bums huddled around a flaming barrel but the alley was devoid of life. As devoid of life as he felt inside. This was not home. Home was a million miles away and he would have given anything to be back there again. If only he'd ditched his plane ticket and called up Mia, perhaps he'd be perusing the dark isles of the pagan bookstore instead of sweating his balls off in an unknown city.
He should have been thrilled to be away from the cold Minnesota winters, but he hated heat as much as he hated cold so he would be uncomfortable no matter what. He watched a spider build a web on the glass and thought about calling him mother to let her know he was safely at his father's, if you could call staying at a boarding house your father owned staying with dad. Mom wouldn't be home of course, and dad was busy buying new furniture for his new house. He didn't even pick Trez up at the airport, telling him that they would have dinner soon. Trez had used Uber and had felt like they would go crashing into the back of another car at any moment. He had never been happier to get out of the little car that had been driven by the dark haired hippie who kept trying to sell him shrooms.
His stomach rumbled and he quickly ran a thin hand through white hair that was in need of a cut. Maybe that's what he needed to stop the ever consuming depression that he couldn't seem to shake. He needed to reinvent himself and forget the past, walk away from the crushing pain that wouldn't let him sleep. He would go out to find food and maybe pick up some hair dye and a pair of scissors. Trying to be quiet, he stepped into the dirty hallway that smelled even worse than his room and quickly headed down the creaking stairs. He shouldered his backpack, reached for the doorknob and froze as a voice cut the silence.
"We got rules, you know. Just 'cause you're his kid don't mean you can break em."

Mrs. Jean was seated on the old worn out couch in the parlor. Her voice, gravely from too many cigarettes and a lifetime of drink, sounded like a rusted hinge. The air around her head was blue and flickering from the light of the TV. "You don't be out past ten and you don't bring anyone back here with you. And I mean ANYONE. Don't care what they have under their cloths or how much money they throw at you. Keep your trash out of my home."

Trez forced a smile and pushed open the door. He had seen her for only a moment as she had pointed her cigarette stub up the stairs, telling him to go right at the top. Hers was not a face you could forget, and he could see the expression of disdain when she said the word anyone. He assumed she knew then. His father had probably told her before he arrived. Well, it didn't matter. He had come to get away from the stares and the accusations of being a murderer. He had no plans to hook up with anyone. He didn't think he would ever be with anyone ever again. He needed to heal, needed to forgive himself for being alive when so many of them were dead and it was partly his fault. No,m he wasn't a murderer by his own hand but he was surly as guilty as those who had committed the crime.

The street was slowly coming alive as he walked the few blocks down to the corner store. Thank god every town had a convenience store that would carry soda and snacks. It was no Quick Stop, but it would do. He had thirty dollars to his name after the Uber drive and even though he wasn't starving he wanted something to snack on later. He entered and made his way to the back of the small store. It was as hot in here as it had been outside and he could feel sweat trickling down his back. He was used to heat, but this much of it was a new experience and he didn't like it one bit. He also didn't remember seeing a fan or air conditioning unit at the boarding house either. He would need to get a fan, if he could get someone to donate to him that was.

Going to the back, he picked out an energy drink and shut the door. He almost fainted when he saw a face reflected in the glass. It was white with long white hair, bright blue eyes and a bloody smirking mouth. He could have sworn he heard a chuckle, but when he turned around there was only an old woman talking to herself as she picked up random items. Looking closely at each one before muttering and putting it down. If she had been buying cat food, he would have laughed. Shuddering, he tried not to feel the fear that wanted to make his hands shake. He was a million miles away from home and the twins were dead. The doctor had told him that this could happen, that he might see and hear things from time to time, but it was his own brain playing tricks on him and whatever he saw couldn't hurt him.

He had never felt more like a character in a Japanese horror movie than he did at that moment, afraid to move or look around in case the thing was standing behind him. He did move, but not in fear of the face he had seen but for fear of the old lady seeing him frozen at the drink case. He quickly grabbed some chips and made his way to the counter, telling himself that there was no hand print on the inside of the glass. He paid for his stuff and stood outside in the sun for a moment. 
The sun was setting as he made his way back to the boarding house. He went silently up to his room to finish unpacking. He took a dog eared King book from his backpack and laid on the bed. The sun was gone and the room was dusky when he put the book down and tried to close his eyes. He was drifting when the door to his room creaked open on its own. Trez sat up and was startled by the sound of footsteps. They moved to the bed and stopped. Scared, he reached for the lamp and was stopped by a light on the wall. It was pink and flashing off and on. He watched it for a moment more before turning on the lamp and getting up. The footsteps now forgotten, he looked out the grimy window to the alley below and wasn't surprised to see that the light came from a single door that was opening and closing as kids came to it.

They would come in pairs and even a few groups of four or five. The door would open and the pink light would be seen and then the door would close and the light would be gone. There was no sign to indicate that this was a club or even a bar. He would need blinds along with a fan. He laid back down, but the pink light drew him like a moth to a flame so he put his shirt on and padded silently down the stairs. The light in the parlor was gone, but he could see the tip of a smoke further down the hall in what he thought was the kitchen. He stepped out into the warm summer night and hoped that the door would be unlocked when he came back in.

There was a pair of girls going down the alley in front of him. They had the standard colored hair and short dark skirts full of black lace and glitter. He suddenly missed home, reminded of some of the parties he had tagged along to with Daniel and Zakk. The girls were let in by a skinny jacked up looking skinhead who glared at him as he approached.

"ID?" Skinny guy grumbled.

"I lost it in a fire." Trez grinned as he took his last twenty from his pocket. It was a lie about the ID, but his birthday wasn't for another six months and his actual ID was up in his room.
"Cool." Skinny guy waved him in without looking too closely at him.
Trez found himself in a long, dimly lit hallway that looked right out of a horror movie. The pink light was actually a pink flashing hand. It reminded him of something you would see at one of those phony psychic reading places. He moved down the dirty hallway with sagging walls and peeling paint, hurrying to the end until he hit a black cloth covering a door and found himself in a huge cavernous room. So it was a club of some kind. There was a long bar against one wall and a stage against the other. Loud techno music blasted from speakers over his head and Trez was again reminded of home and Prince's club, First Ave. He had spent too many all age nights at First Ave high on whatever pill was being handed out and dancing for what felt like years.

His heart twisted a little as he walked around the room. It seemed simple enough, but near the stage he found another curtained off area and what looked like a ball pit. This room was painted in neon colors and had a bunch of couches and foam blocks. The girls he had followed in were here and they giggled and whispered to each other. Trez had never felt so out of place. Everyone seemed either goth or emo. He felt like he needed to go back to his room and dig out the eye liner and hair gel.
He found his way out and watched the dancers a bit until he found himself at the bar. He bought a cheap watered down beer and stood close to the door. He eventually went back to the ball pit room and sat down. He was going to force down his beer and go home.

Home? The lonely, apparently haunted room? Sighing, he raked his hand through his hair and froze. They were standing in the fog across the room, grinning at him in all their bloody glory. Tall, white and hungry. They licked their lips and he shivered. He could almost feel their cold fingers on his hot skin, their long nails raking over his hipbones and their bloody mouths on his throat.

"Dude, you look like you're going to hork."
Trez looked over and his gaze was met by a kid who looked a hell of a lot younger than he was, maybe 15. He wore colorful clothes and had bright blue spiked hair and a warm smile. His eyes were green cat's eye contacts.
"I'm fine. This beer is shit," he lied, and was happy to see that the twins were gone.
"New here?" Emo boy handed him an almost full bottle of something as colorful as he was. Trez wanted to smell it first but took a drink anyway and was happy to find it to be a rum of some kind.
"How did you know?" Trez laughed and tried to hand the bottle back, but the kid shook his head.

"Your shirt." Emo pointed at the Carnal Slime shirt that Trez had on. Under the neon lights, the letters seemed to glow against the black of his shirt.

"Yeah, it was a gift."

"It's bad luck." Emo boy poked him in the chest. "You should take it off." 

"What?" Trez snorted and took another drink.

"It's true. Ever since his death, people don't wear his merch. Respect for the dead and all."
"Who's dead?"

"Holy crap, you are new. I'm Sky, by the way." 
"Skyqueen? I thought I recognized you." Trez nodded and took another drink. He certainly wasn't about to tell the kid he had seen all his videos, including the stupid gaming ones. 
"I don't do videos anymore." Sky's mouth pulled down at the corners. "After Rex a bunch of us quit our channels."
"That's stupid. You made great content and I love your artwork. Im Trez, and I think you're the first person other than the Uber driver and the landlady to actually talk to me."
"Oh god. You're at the boarding house. That woman is bat shit crazy!" Sky laughed, shook his head, and sat down. "If she hits on you, say no." 
"Ish. Not my type." Trez looked away with a grin.
"Oh? you got a type?"  Sky arched an eyebrow at him. "You look like an upper class straight kid on vacation and slumming it on your first trip to the big city."
"If you only knew."

"I know what I see, and I see a poser." Sky reached over to tug at the shirt, pulling it off of Trez and tossing it into the dark. "No tats, no piercings; makes for a very dull boy."

"My mom was anti everything but the bottle." Trez's voice grew soft. He thought about going for the shirt but didn't want to get up.

"Well, we'll need to fix that, now won't we?" Sky smirked. "What else don't you have?"
"Time. I need to get back." Trez stood up and set the bottle down. "Thanks for the drink."
"Like I'm going to let you vanish on me? Hell no. Drink with me."

"I really need to get back."

Sky was grabbing his hand,pulling him though the crowd to the bar before Trez could do much more protesting and bought two more rum drinks. The music thumped above their heads and Trez found himself being pulled along to a different room. This one was smaller with mirrored walls and a single bench. He didn't want to know what was staining the floor under his sneakered feet and didn't know what Sky was thinking. He thought about stopping but Sky had his hand in a death grip. He was yanked into the small space and pushed down onto the black leather seat.
"I used to be the best in the city, you know. Rex always said that."  Sky was suddenly on his kneels and tugging at Trez's jeans. "My friend Raven and I had this running bet..."
Trez stood up and grabbed Sky's arms, hauling  him to his feet. He looked into those exotic  green eyes and melted a little. "Stop. Neither one of us want this." That was a lie, but he wasn't going to tell Sky that, although he was pretty sure Sky could see his obvious need.

"You're not into it. That's cool. "Sky leaned in to kiss Trez's chest. "But I know you like me."

"Do you do this all the time?" Trez took a drink and tried to ignore Sky's wandering hands.
"Only with guys I really like, and I haven't done this since Rex died."
"Look. I just lost a lot of friends and someone I was close to. You don't have to do this."

 Sky's eyes grew wide. "Oh my god, you're him! You're the guy, the one Madame Black kept telling me to look for. Oh shit."

"Did this old lady tell you I'm cursed too? Everyone I meet ends up dead."
"We have to hurry and do it then." Sky grabbed Trez by the neck and pulled him in for a kiss.

It was sloppy and Trez found himself pushing Sky away in a panic. "Stop." His icy blue eyes squinted as he sucked in a breath of air, his hands flying up to his own bare chest. It felt like a knife or claws were raking the skin of his ribcadge. He hissed out a breath of air as Sky stood staring wide eyed at him. There were marks on his chest, lines of blood that spelled out MINE. Both boys were now scared and Trez was shaking hard.

"Holy crap!" Sky whispered.

"I told you." Trez's voice was soft. "He won't let me go."
"That's some freaky shit, dude."

There was a bang on the wall loud enough to make them both jump. Sky edged towards the door and Trez knew for sure he would never connect with anyone again. Not as long as he was being haunted by his past. Fighting tears, he drank down his drink and stepped out into the dark hallway. He smiled at Sky, wanting to touch him again but afraid of what might happen if he did, so He dropped his head, letting the white snowy hair cover his eyes and walked back down dark hallway to the main room. Sky didn't seem to be following, which made him feel worse.

People danced and the band played up on the stage. Everyone was having a good time and Trez was being forced to leave them. He would never be able to fit into their world. He found the exit and went out the way he had come. Skinhead was gone and There was a soft light in the eastern sky as he stood outside, breathing in the fresh air. The front door of the boarding house was open and the smell of bacon was drifting from the bright kitchen.

Even though his tummy rumbled, he went up the stairs. His head was pounding and he wanted to do nothing more than to cry himself to sleep. Tomorrow was another day in a new town. It was a new start and a new beginning. He would have to be careful, at least for now. Perhaps he could track down the woman Sky had talked about and see what he could do about letting go of the dead. Exhausted, he fell into bed with his shoes still on, dreaming of running though the corn with Jessie, but this time they didn't make it out.

J. M. Rosenberry is a Midwestern author and artist. A lover of all things horror and Gothic. J M has been influenced by the likes of Poppy Z. Brite, Stephen king and Anne Rice. She lives in Fargo N.D. with her husband, son three cats and her beloved Japanese Chin, Sookie and often dreams of escaping to her favorite city of New Orleans.

You can also find me on FB

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