Following is the first chapter of a short story/novella I’ve been working on for a while. Any similarities to anyone living or deceased is purely coincidental. Let me know what you think of the beginnings of the tale. I’ve got a few more chapters written and may post them as well, depending on feedback.
Frank Dehoda worked hard as a janitor in the small Episcopal church located behind his little home. The church, built back in the late forties, carried a strong appeal for him. It reminded him of his own youth growing up in a small town, but this particular parish practiced a very conservative Anglicanism similar to his own beliefs.
Frank really wanted to be a professional musician. He played trumpet in a local jazz band which currently performed every Friday night at a local pub and practiced Sunday nights with the occasional Wednesday evening practice, especially when they had command performances or special gigs upcoming. But it was hard to make ends meet solely on the income of his trumpet, forcing him to find a job with hours amenable to his mostly night-time profession.
Right after moving into the little apartment house behind the church, he had made friends with the priest at St. Philip’s. Being pretty friendly and aware that others did not always share his passion for the trumpet or jazz music, he made sure to visit his neighbors and find out when would be reasonable times he could practice without interfering with their lives too much. The church had services on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings – times when Frank wasn’t usually going to be practicing at home anyway, but he had made a point to let the pastor know, just in case.
Father James seemed glad to meet Frank, and the two hit it off well. Frank occasionally would show up at special events at the church to support Father James. When the church’s old janitor moved away, Father James, aware of Frank’s financial situation, asked if he might try out being their janitor. It was not a glorious position or very high pay, but with the flexible hours and being right behind his home, he thought it would work well. That was two years ago, and Frank had gotten accustomed to the church’s needs and become pretty good at being a janitor/handyman in that short time, so much so that people in the church would even ask him to help fix things at their own homes.
Frank’s mother had always insisted he work hard no matter what he did – to give his best. He had worked very hard at being a janitor, and whenever he came across a problem he did not know how to handle, he became obsessed with solving it.
The day the furnace stopped working Frank became obsessed with finding the answer to its problem. He looked through all the troubleshooting books he could find, checked online and even called the local dealer to ask some pointed questions. Nowhere could he find a solution to the problem. The unit stopped working and would not function. All the parts were where they were supposed to be and in working order. All the wires were in proper order. Electricity was flowing throughout the unit, but it simply would not work.
Later that night while working in the basement, he disconnected the heating unit, and moved it away from the wall. He thought a full visual check might reveal the problem.
While scooting the heater aside, he noticed a strange marking on the rear wall. It looked like a child’s drawing. A charcoal-lined knight sat on a horse overlooking an archway on one side and a gathering of little stick-like creatures with big eyes and sharp teeth on the other. The monster-like figures stood outside a tall tower and some stood brandishing weapons while some of them were hiding behind crudely drawn trees with stick-like spears and swords at the ready.
Curious, he got on his knees and leaned forward. He thought it weird that such a simple drawing could evoke such an appearance of movement and life, but he could vividly imagine hearing their taunting jeers and hatred from far away. He reached out, brushing his hand against the knight’s black helmet, and felt a strange electric coldness rush up his arm, briefly numbing it up to the shoulder.
Startled, he jerked and stared at the drawing. Nothing had changed, but his entire body felt odd. He looked down and around the room to make sure no voltage was connected to the wall. Seeing it was clear he shrugged, thinking this artwork must somehow be connected to the problem with the heater.
Leaning closer to the drawing, he purposely, yet timidly, tapped the knight again with his forefinger. Again the strange feeling burst through his arm and body. He jumped backwards, nearly falling. The picture had changed, or at least he thought it had. Now, the creatures were looking away from the knight, and, though it seemed impossible, they seemed to be staring at Frank, spears raised, cackling laughter littered the recesses of his mind either from a cruel imagination or their strange little mouths.
Thinking he must just be too tired, he decided to touch a different part of the drawing. He stretched out and prodded the archway with his other hand. This time the numbing was much more intense. It felt to him as though he was being pulled bodily toward the drawing, and the room began to grow dark. His breathing became labored. He knew he would pass out if he didn’t do something quickly. He threw himself away from the wall, landing ungracefully against the heating unit, and slightly denting its side.
“Okay,” he said to himself, “I’m sure I didn’t have a beer before I came down here.”
Remembering it was late, he found it to be an excellent excuse to leave and not pursue the heating problem since he had a couple of days until Sunday anyway, and he really wanted to avoid this sudden weirdness. Rubbing his shoulder which still felt somewhat numb, he left his tools where they were, locked up and crossed through the garden behind the church and went home.