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In the House of Kali
“That is such a curious thing, Jonathan. Your watch—it runs in reverse. Strange I didn’t notice it before.”
“You’ve a keen eye, Eliza,” said Moyers, carefully presenting the olden pocket watch. Like its owner, the odd watch had a fair share of patina upon its worn surface. “She helps to remind me that I always have time left to find. Makes you feel a bit younger, no?”
Eliza took another swig of her gin and tonic. She couldn’t help but smile at Jonathan; his attitude was refreshing, invigorating almost. “It is a charming notion, no doubt,” said Eliza. “But no less so than yourself.” Eliza blushed at her forwardness. She was feeling loose and energetic. The thrill of the night had seeped into her and infected her soul. She hadn’t felt this way in a long time. “Lord, help me. If only Patricia could see me now,” she thought, pleased with her flattery.
Just then, the lights dimmed and the band cued again. The exotic young beauty, Kelly Burkman, emerged from the black curtains and took to the stage. She was an enchanting one. Her red dress glimmered like a thousand rubies under the spotlight, nearly blinding Eliza who was fascinated by her. Kelly marched with conviction to the microphone; her heels trampling the surreal mural painted upon the stage floor: a sprawl of men lying beneath her. At the fore of the stage, she stopped imposingly before the crowd, dug her heel squarely into the chest of the last painted man, and belted the lyrics--Time is running out.
Eliza took this as a sign. It was the height of her exuberance and she knew that this was her chance. “Shall we dance, Dr. Moyers?”
Moyers eyed her with a new, speculative countenance. He rose to meet her and she had not expected such fervor, as in one motion, he tossed his cane to the ready Burkman, and swept Eliza onto the dance floor. Moyers, it appeared to Eliza, had become suddenly more spry.
“You never used to be this way, Mom. I know Dad’s death was hard, believe me, I do. But, my kids are growing up and soon, if you keep making excuses not to see them, you are not going to have much of a relationship with them. If you let that happen, I swear to God I will not be able to forgive you.”
“You stop right there, Patricia Lynn – please. Firstly, I raised you better than to take the Lord’s name in vain. Second, don’t bring your father into it, rest his soul. I really don’t understand where all of this is coming from but I see your kids plenty. In fact, I think I have failing students who are more excited to see me than they are. All they want to do is stare into those little screens, tapping away their entire day,” deflected Eliza Charleston, tenured professor of World History and faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Okay, Mom. Seriously, stop with the gospel right now – you’re an adult, this is more important. Do you seriously not know where ‘this’ is coming from? What day is it?”
“Pat, I have things to do.”
“Things? Let’s talk about things. What day is it, Mother?”
31st, May. Now what of it?”
“Wow, I’m really disappointed in you -- Sarah’s graduation, Mom. She kept asking why her Gran wasn’t there. You know I couldn’t even come up with a decent excuse for you? I love you, but this has to stop all of the work: the writing, the grading, the late hours. You’re seventy-seven years old; you need to get your priorities straight. There isn’t much time left for fun, try having some while you can. And for God’s sake apologize to your granddaughter, you really hurt her.”
“Fun? Please, Patricia, all I have to look forward to now it seems is being saved from this wretched Earth when I join the Lord. I don’t even recognize this planet anymore; everyone is in such a hurry. I pray for you and the kids, Pat, I really do.”
“And I don’t recognize you anymore, Mother. God can’t always be the most important person in your life or you will be very lonely. Goodbye, Mom.”
“Fun,” Eliza scoffed. “Pay your father’s hospital bills maybe. Then I’ll have some time for fun.” Eliza mumbled the words into her dim, vacant office knowing full well Patricia could not hear her. She hung up the phone carefully as if she feared that any force applied to it would tremor through the lines, erupt through the receiver, and shatter what little relationship she had left with her daughter. Eliza knew she was wrong. What Patricia had said was true, she couldn’t seem to show it though, no matter how hard she tried.
Fun -- It was a concept that had long abandoned Eliza. She set her glasses down on top of the insurmountable mountain of final examinations that taken up residence on her desk, heaved a deep sigh, and rubbed her fatigued eyes. Pat’s lecture had worn her out more than she thought. Suddenly, Eliza could feel her age, deep within the pit of her. She gave a close inspection to her hands -- knotty and marred with a faithful, stubborn callous from her pen. “These used to be beautiful hands,” thought Eliza ruefully, feeling sorry for herself.
“All work and no play, Dr. Charleston? The kids just don’t understand how much time we commit to them do they? This place becomes home.”
Startled, Eliza knocked her glasses off of her desk. The voice came unexpectedly during the hard critique of her hands. She did not anticipate that anyone else would be in the offices. “Bless me, Dr. Moyers, is that you? You frightened me. What are you doing out there, eavesdropping?”
“Quite the contrary, Madame,” Moyers said, handing Eliza’s glasses back to her. “Happenstance -- I was merely walking by. Is everything alright, Dr. Charleston? You seem not quite yourself.”
“I’m fine. I just have so much work to do. This all seemed a fair bit easier back when.”
“Back when? Please, Eliza. That dates us. But, I do understand. If it is any consolation, I haven’t had a relationship with my children for a long time either,” said he, flashing an honest, nicotine stained smile. “Say, I have a keen idea. Why don’t you and I go have a drink if you’re up for it? I know a great little place might help blow off some steam, perhaps.”
This wasn’t the first time Dr. Moyers had approached Eliza like this. He was new to the faculty. Always looking so eager, he was clearly a lonely man with few friends left after his long years abroad in India. But Eliza always declined his offer.
“Though, in his own way,” Eliza thought, “he can be rather charming.”
Time was unkind to Dr. Moyers, his face was bloated and pink with glossy skin like a cheap latex mask. His skin flaked like a winter storm onto his shoulders It was particularly obvious as his choice of blazer came, apparently, only in black. That is not why she rejected him, though. He was too old fashioned; it made her feel her sullen and ancient. Tonight, however, feeling particularly lonely herself, Eliza accepted his invitation, in spite of herself, or in spite of Patricia—she wasn’t quite sure.
“You better be careful with Johnny there, Sugar,” said Kelly, protruding her tongue to add an expressive flair to her point. The reflection of her sequined dress cut cleanly through the smoky room. “Time seems to get away from people when they spend too much time with him.”
Eliza chuckled and rested her hand on Jonathan’s knee, “I can see that! We were just discussing the name of the lounge here. Kali, the Hindu goddess – Jonathan has just fascinated me with the mythology. It seems his years abroad have made Jonathan quite the story teller.”
“Myth, you say? I do believe that Kali has earned a fair bit more deserving title than myth, Doctor,” said Moyers pointedly.
“Legend, then. Time & death, it is all very fantastic you must admit,” said Eliza. “Personally, I subscribe only to the one true God.”
“Well,” said Jonathan abruptly, “That is really all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Please excuse me.” He got up suddenly and made his way to the bar.
The House of Kali - the place was a private club, almost like, Eliza imagined, a prohibition-era speakeasy. It was deep inside the sprawl of the port quarter, through the stygian ruins of the old cobbled streets. It was in one of those re-emerging neighborhoods that kept up the eerie turn-of-the-century façade from back when it was home to immigrants working the shipping yards. Eliza hadn’t been down to the area in years. The lounge itself was like a step back in time. Upon entering, Eliza noticed that the antique décor recalled a forlorn sort of nostalgia that was rather macabre in its devotion to bygone times. Nonetheless, she felt an inexplicable energy of uncertainty and excitement that she had been missing since her youth.
Now, Eliza was alone with her thoughts; Moyers was taking his time at the bar. Eliza knew she offended him but, like with Patricia, she could not openly admit her mistake. She couldn’t help but return to her hands. Much to her horror, she thought that somehow they looked considerably more weathered than she remembered. “Lord, how these hands are getting even older,” she thought dismayed. She forced herself to stop looking, though her stomach lurched and twisted at the prospect of her age. She decided to meander toward the trophy wall opposite the stage. The club had become more grotesque to her eyes as she moved around the patrons, who she noticed looked increasingly like hideous, garish caricatures of real people.
Once Eliza finally made it to the wall, she found that she could breathe more easily away from the jostling crowd and her looming guilt. She took a moment to examine the mottled old photographs mounted behind cloudy glass. “The House of Kali, it seems, has been a secret fixture here in town for more than a hundred years,” Eliza noticed.
She afforded herself a quick glance to the bar. Moyers was no longer in sight. That is until she returned to look at the photos. Eliza’s heart nearly froze in her chest. For captured within the pictures was a young man. This man looked exactly as Eliza had envisioned Jonathan in his youth. Her eyes darted from image to image and found that in each one the young man awaited her, holding his odd bronze pocket watch. “This can’t be right, I must’ve had more to drink than I thought.” Eliza chuckled nervously at her misgivings and resolved to lift the line of dust that had settled over the name placards to satisfy her curiosity. She gasped once she saw the name. Jonathan Moyers it read on each one: 1810, 1860, 1910, and 1960 – all the way until fifty years ago. At that very moment, fear exploded within Eliza. She wanted to escape the grim, yet impossible sight.
“Too much fun for one night, Eliza? I told you this place would help blow off some steam. Would you like for me to call a cab for you?” It was Moyers. He stood between Eliza and the door. In his hands he held another round for them. “I am terribly sorry for my behavior, Eliza. I know it sounds selfish, but I just didn’t want our time to run out. We’re having such a time, aren’t we?”
“Please, it is fine, Dr. Moyers,” said Eliza, trying to sound composed as she fumbled with her phone. “I’ll just call my daughter.”
“Eliza, what has you so startled? A cab really is no trouble, I’d be happy to cover the fare,” Moyers urged, showing Eliza his kind, twinkling eyes.
Eliza took a deep breath and checked her watch. It was nearly two in the morning. “Where has the time gone? He is right, Patricia won’t be awake now,” she thought. “I’m sorry, Jonathan. I’m feeling anxious. I think I’ve had a bit too much to drink.”
“There, there, Eliza,” said Moyers trying to pacify her.
Eliza fell into his arms, trying to collect her racing thoughts, wanting to trust him. As she did, Moyers gently pressed his lips to her ear. His breath was scalding almost, as if he mouth was a ruptured pipe, spewing hot steam onto her face. She tried to pull herself away from his grip but she could not overpower him.
“You are right to be anxious, Eliza,” he hissed. “I knew you had a keen eye, you saw my pictures, didn’t you?”
Panic plunged into her being, slicing coldly at her senses. “Jonathan?” she stammered.
As the words left her mouth, the imposing grandfather clock that towered behind Kelly Burkman grinded, struck the hour, and rusted in place. The jovial sounds of the band and Kelly’s voice ceased suddenly as all fell silent, as if suspended in time.
“All things must come to an end, Eliza. All things but me,” revealed Moyers.
Eliza could no longer move, her muscles felt frail and unsure. It was almost as if she were paralyzed. She could only watch the scene before her in terror as the House of Kali fell into a state of terminal and perpetual decay.
She noticed Kelly first. Time carved away at her young face as deep furrows ran through her skin, marring her beauty. Her black hair drained rapidly of color and life until only a few weak, dry strands remained dangling from her spotted scalp. Her body shared the same horrific fate, becoming twisted, crippled, and contorted until old flesh hung loosely from her diminished frame. Her eyes sank deep into their hollow sockets, and her red nails cracked and fossilized on her gnarled fingers. What Eliza noticed most, however, was Kelly’s once beautiful gown; it had wilted and become a tattered, threadbare rag clinging to her emaciated body, fully devoid of its luster now.
The wood of the stage under the ghoulish remnant of Burkman groaned and collapsed as moisture was stolen from it. Old light bulbs shattered into splinters, and the vibrant paintings faded and cracked within their frames. Even the patrons of the House buckled and fell to their knees. Each one moaned in agony until their throats had rotted into dust and could not be heard for long as they suffered the same fate as Kelly.
“What is happening?” Eliza managed to croak.
Jonathan turned back to her smiling. He had nearly transformed back into the young man Eliza had seen in the old photographs.
“This is what you looked forward to, Eliza. To escape this life,” Moyers said. “It is something I can never do – I persevere. I envy you, Eliza. Thank you for making this a night I will always remember.”
Time had been stolen from Eliza. She tried to scream, to run, anything. This wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted to see Patricia, Sarah, and Jacob. But she couldn’t do that now. Eliza managed to see through her blurring eyes, her hands, one last time. The flesh was rotting, falling away from the muscle to her bone until even those bones became brittle and crumbled into motes of dust.
Moyers stood there, watching Eliza die. He showed no sign of emotion -- He had done this too many times before. Instead, he merely checked his pocket watch as the hands began to click slowly back to life—clockwise.
Andrew is a writer and aspiring novelist. When not conjuring up spooky and fantastic tales, he spends his time brewing beer, playing with computers, and taking pleasure in the small beauties of life.
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