[Original Novella] The Epiphany of Mrs. Kugla, Part 2


Previous parts: 1

There were outlines of handprints to either side of it as if I needed help figuring out how to stand against a wall. I wiped the tube as best I could, put it in my mouth and puffed my cheeks. Kept doing it until my face turned red. Finally I heard the “ding” and the woman’s voice instructed me to proceed into the next room.

I envisioned the cold concrete rooms, laid out end to end in a line separated by the metal doors. Like a rectilinear centipede. I understood the lack of color but at least adding carpets didn’t seem like it would bankrupt them. The next room had a video monitor which flickered to life and at last gave me a face to put to the nondescript female voice which had ordered me through the process up to this point. Plain features, pointy nose, black hair down to her ears and a pair of horn rimmed glasses.

She instructed me to strip. I did so reluctantly, struggling to cover myself with one hand while putting my folded up shirt, pants and underwear into a cubby under the monitor. My shoes and socks next. I shuddered as my bare feet touched the floor. I’d anticipated it but it was still profoundly unpleasant.

I muttered. The microphone built into the frame of the monitor must’ve picked it up. She chuckled.

I shrugged, said and awaited further instruction. But she kept going on about rooms.

Her eyes widened. The edges of her mouth drew up into a twitching grin. The look of someone pretending to be happy at gunpoint. A maniacal, paranoid grin, like she was awaiting the punchline to a joke told by someone who meant to kill her. She started to laugh. Even her laughter sounded nervous and manic.

Her head began to lift up off of her shoulders on a shiny black helix of muscular flesh. The skin just ripped apart at the neck like tissue paper, the head slowly rotating as it ascended. The mouth hung open, shrieking almost musically until cockroaches began pouring out of it. Her eyes looked just like Mrs. Kugla’s when it happened. Wide open, pupils dilated as though noticing something vast and incomprehensible for the first time. But which had always been there.

I heard gunfire and screaming through the monitor. Then it broke up into static. The emergency lights in the room came on and the familiar siren sounded. Naked, cold and afraid, I waited for the doors to open. Then, although the monitor still displayed only static, I heard men’s voices.

A second deeper voice with a subtle drawl answered.

I struggled to follow most of it. A lot of the words were unfamiliar.

The voices drifted off as the two walked away from what I guessed must be the desk the woman I’d seen before was sitting at. I probed the edges of the room looking for a way out, shivering, until someone finally came for me.

Dad bellowed on the drive home. In his fit, the car strayed a bit off the road. The vibration of the markers at the edge startled him into returning his attention to driving.

Mom turned in her seat and doted on me. She still hasn’t really accepted it, or given up. I could see the symmetry in her face expressed as faint polygonal outlines. Something which happens subconsciously for others, never visualized. I blinked a few times to disrupt the effect.

I found out after I’d gotten dressed and ready for school the next day that there wouldn’t be any. Everyone who’d been in that classroom had the next three days off to recuperate. A gift horse I had no interest in inspecting the teeth of, as I whooped in excitement and tore out the front door before Mom could object.

The streets were uncommonly clear of traffic. In the distance I heard the faint echo of the emergency siren, and shuddered. The sun continued climbing overhead, with a couple more points of light towards the Eastern horizon. A cluster of stars some fool had forgotten to shut off before sunrise. Then the rain started.

According to one of Dad’s stories, it used to be that we’d all vote on when rain days would occur. But it took up too much time, there was too much contention between groups who wanted to schedule outdoor events on the same day, so eventually it was simply randomized. That made nobody happy, which I’m told is the sign of a successful compromise.

So I ducked into an open utility closet. What I thought was a closet, anyway. The door hung slightly open, inset in the side of an immense concrete stairwell up to the business district. Once my eyes adjusted I discovered a long corridor lined with wall mounted pipes of varying thickness.

I recalled some of the older kids claiming to have come down here to smoke. Rumors of a makeshift fort with some dirty magazines in it, but also that on occasion kids who came down here alone didn’t come back. I could see why just the appearance of the place might lead someone to make that up.

I could hear dripping, but didn’t see water. There was a constant gentle whooshing of air moving down the tunnel, carrying strange scents with it. The pipes would flex and rattle now and then as I explored, as if I were within some great beast. All concrete, unpainted of course as it’s already grey.

Nothing to write home about so far, but it beat sitting in class. I eventually reached a dead end. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t that. Why build a corridor with nothing at the far end? That’s when I heard the whisper.

I looked around. Seeing nothing, I began walking back the way I came. I took a second look around and this time noticed an eye peering through a wide crack along the bottom half of the wall. Between the pipes. Very easy to miss. I strongly considered making a break for it.

Just like that, he’d captured my interest. I knelt, peered back at the eye through the pipes and replied. I heard stifled laughter. In fact, I was.

I noticed as I listened that something was changing. The air felt charged somehow. My vision blurred slightly, and the world seemed to be rocking subtly beneath me. I at last identified the source of the dripping sound. Looking past the pipes, droplets of water were running up the walls and pooling on the ceiling before draining through a mess of thin cracks.

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