An desperate alcoholic sees dead people whenever he tries to put the bottle away.
Download to your Kindle (eBook)
Above the Fold
Stephen Boone has a problem. If he doesn't stop drinking, he will die. But for this washed-up writer, putting down the bottle is not so simple. Along with the sweats and shakes of alcohol withdrawal, Stephen Boone sees dead people – ghastly images of the future where men, women and children are about to die horribly.
They appear at his sick bed, these victims of disease, misadventure and murder. Old women with twisted necks, infants dying in their cribs, anonymous people swinging at the end of ropes.
Stephen Boone is a man who knows too much. In the delirium of alcohol, a woman and child have come to him, the victims of a fiendish act. Stephen sees them, feels their agony, understands the horrific details of their deaths. And that secret knowledge has made him a suspect in the killings that have rattled this small Maine city. To prove his innocence, Stephen will have to put the booze down for good and face the grisly specters of sobriety.
Where The Sixth Sense meets The Lost Weekend come the horrors of Delirium Tremens. Maine author Mark LaFlamme presents a world where alcoholism is literally hell.
Were it not for pale moonlight beaming through the dingy bedroom window, Stephen Boone might never have seen the woman on the edge of his bed. He might have continued his sweaty agony alone, without the complications the old woman brought to his sick room. Had she remained hidden in shadows, Boone’s fever might have passed. Eventually, the sickness might have left him, and the others would never have followed.
The old woman’s uniform dress was white, but edging toward the gray of too many wash cycles. The face was lined with the intricate wrinkles of a rotten apple, but the eyes were stark and staring. White hair was pulled tight in a bun at the back of the head, which set oddly on a thin neck.
Oddly, yes. The neck was bent at an angle, like the limb of a fallen tree. The result was that the head jutted hideously over the right shoulder. It was an impossible posture, and yet the old woman appeared unaffected. She continued rocking back and forth, staring into darkness over Boone’s bed.
“The Lord God helps me, therefore I have not been disgraced…”
The voice was wet and ancient, as though the words had climbed from a swamp. The old woman rocked and nodded with conviction. She clasped her hands tight at her breasts and she stared with those black eyes.
“Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near.”
Coiled in the sheets, tucked into a near fetal position, Stephen Boone watched in horror. Whether it was fright that paralyzed him or the ravages of sickness could not be distinguished. Nightmares had come and gone. Sweat dampened the sheets. The racing of his heart had wakened him many times.
But what was sleep and what was wakefulness in the world of alcohol withdrawal? Boone had been in this condition many times, and yet the sheer annihilation of it never failed to astound him. Only hours after the final drink, he awoke weak and trembling. With midnight upon him and no liquor in the house, he resigned himself to his bed. No quick remedy in a beer can or vodka bottle. No instant calming of the body and steadying of the mind. He lay in bed without a drop and awaited further onslaught of the body’s revolt.
Boone awoke to the pounding of his heart. It battered at his chest and shook the bed. His skin was hot and he fancied bugs skittered across his chest. Weak, almost unable to move, he slapped at invisible creatures and tried to scream. The motion made his heart quicken and he stared around the faintly glowing room in search of a savior.
There was none. The only hope was the vestiges of sleep that never lasted long. Withdrawal was a gray place between the real and the unreal.
And now the old woman was with him, a corporeal weight on his bed. There was nothing dreamlike about her. He could feel the potato sack heft of her scrawny frame at the edge of the bed, just below his knees. He could smell the starch of her uniform, sharp and penetrating. And oh, how vivid she was to look at now. Her presence seemed more pronounced the longer he stared.
The neck was dark in contrast to the white dress and pale skin of the face. Boone fancied he could make out a bulge of bone trying to press through the taut skin. And still, the old woman nodded and still she rocked. Frothy spittle gathered at the corners of her mouth. Boone could hear the thin lips pull apart, and the gush of breath as she began again to speak.
“It is the lord God who helps me. Who will declare me guilty?”
He clutched the sheet in shaking fingers. A high, thin sound escaped his throat. His face pressed against the damp bedding, his head as immovable as his arms and legs. Adrenaline surged and yet his sickened body could not respond.
The old woman stopped rocking and became still. The shrunken apple head rolled on the grotesquely mangled neck. Her eyes seemed to fall on a place just above Boone’s face.
She smiled. Thin lips rolled back against gray gums, revealing a dark maw behind them. The eyes squinted and darkened. The lines of her faced pulled together as though a stray thread had been tugged. At the same time, she pulled woven fingers apart and stretched her hands out in the soft gesture of revelation.
When she spoke, it was in a brittle whisper.
“All of them will wear out like a garment,” the old woman whispered. “The moth will eat them up.”
She leaned toward Boone as if to kiss him. Or maybe to strangle him. Whatever her intention, Boone never saw it. He sunk his face into the stinking sheets and screamed with what force he could muster. Blood pounded in his temples. His entire body convulsed, with fear and malnutrition. He awaited the warm breath on his cheek or the cool fingers on his throat, and when those sensations didn’t come, the fever took him back down. He returned to the world of carnival dreams with weird velocity, as if tumbling down a chute.
Stephen Boone slept in the gray, lunatic land of delirium and dreamed of wild things. When the gray light of morning moved shadows across his room, and the haunting, late spring sound of a chickadee’s song whistled from beyond the window, he only twitched in his bed. He twitched and moaned and slapped at invisible insects that crept across his chest.