Winner - September 2012
R.G. Calkins - No Lights
Those incessant treble voices full of hope grate on my frayed nerves. They just keep coming. I’m following my rules, sitting quietly in the dark. No TV. No stereo. No voices. No lights.
I told everyone to stay silent when the little ankle biters came screaming for handouts. All roommates are doing their part remarkably well. We may escape to the party at the Tri Delta house without having to dig out a Tic Tac, much less a Reese’s.
David is in the corner glaring at me. Silent. Brooding. Crusty makeup. He’s taking the whole zombie apocalypse thing a little too seriously. If he even utters the word brains...
“What?” I whisper, annoyed.
No answer. Just a darker look. He’s been such a baby since I told him we should break up.
“Well, you better clean that ooze off the floor before it soaks into the wood, asshole.”
I have to hand it to him. His makeup looks really good. He’d better not win the contest though. My bloody Red Riding Hood costume is bad ass, especially the severed wolf’s head in the basket.
“I’m going to see what’s taking the others so long.”
I tiptoe out of the room and hope the floorboards don’t creak. A faint glow seeps from the crack under Nina’s door at the end of the hallway.
Really? Ugh, I said no lights.
I tap lightly and open the door. “Nina, what are you doing? I thought we agreed--”
“Marci, I just had to,” she rasps, “see how it makes the costume?” She turns on the vanity stool. A huge grin splits her face.
The glow does enhance the ghostly quality of her Victorian gown.
Nina grabs my forearm. “What do you think?”
“I think you should dry your hands better.”
She looks down at her luminous hands. “Oh, shit, this phosphorescent stuff is leaking everywhere.”
“Great, another mess to clean up.” I turn my back on her. “I’m going to find Greg.”
Greg’s door is ajar, so I push through. A small flashlight on his bedside table shoots a beam at the ceiling. Sheesh, doesn’t anyone do what they agree to?
He sits on the floor staring at his hands. A deep purple bruise peeks from beneath the rope around his neck.
“Hey, Greg, lookin’ good.”
He looks up, giving me the whole effect. His head flops to the side, tongue lolling. His makeup gives the appearance that one eye has popped from the socket, leaving a deep, dark hole.
“Thanks, Marci. Do you think this is too much?” He points to the stain at his crotch.
“I think you get points for realism, so...no.”
He smiles. “Awesome.”
“I think we’re about ready to go. While I round up Nick and Stacy, you grab Nina and David and meet us in the garage.”
Mark flashes thumbs up as I turn to leave.
I trudge back through the house and into the kitchen.
“No lights,” a voice wafts through the dark space.
“Okay, guys.” I laugh nervously, “Very funny.” Why do they have to give me a hard time about this?
I make my way to the basement door. “Nick--Stacy? Are you guys ready to go?”
A muffled giggle floats up the stairs.
Great, they’re indulging in their favorite pastime. At least they kept to the no light agreement. I break my own rule and flip the switch for the light at the bottom landing. Oh, well, it’s really dark. No need for me to tumble down thirteen steps. “I’m coming down. Get decent.”
More laughter. I’m so glad David and I are past this. In fact, we are so far past this relationship stage I might get the bed to myself soon. If only.
The door stands open. The light from behind me seeps into their bedroom. I make out shapes on the bed. “Guys, come on.” I glance in the direction of my wrist as if I could see the face of the watch there. “We’re going to be late to the party.”
I stomp past the washer and dryer to the doorway. I kick one of Nick’s snare drums in the process. Why is that on the floor?
Stacy and Nick lay sprawled on the bed in bloodied, flesh-colored unitards. The sheets are stained dark around them. Nick has a drumstick stuck to his temple that looks as if it’s been shoved in. Another protrudes from Stacy’s stomach. They have other ghastly wounds painted over their bodies. A gory testament to Stacy’s artistry. Her neck has the best makeup. It looks as though her trachea has been severed.
“That looks amazing, Stacy.”
Nick’s body shakes. Stacy smacks him on the arm. “We won’t win the contest, if you can’t control yourself.” She props herself on an elbow and looks at me. “Honestly, Marci, he never takes anything seriously.”
I shake my head. “He’s yours to deal with. I just hope you put a tarp under that before you poured paint on it.”
She grabs the edge. “It’s cool, all good.” She fingers the sheet. “See? Dry.”
Nick sits up, his leg at a weird angle. How does he do that?
“Hey, Marci, watch this.” Red bubbles escape his mouth.
“Baby, don’t waste it,” Stacy whines. Her voice sounds as if she’s trying to chew an epic wad of gum. Nick laughs and spews foam on her.
I roll my eyes. “You two deserve each other. Meet us in the garage in five.”
I leave the basement to the sound of more hilarity. Back on the main floor I check to see if David has moved. He’s so pissy that he might refuse to go to the party.
He still sits in the corner, knees pulled to his chest. The moonlight through the crack in the curtains gives him a sickly pallor. The dark around his eyes intensifies the drop-dead look he gives me.
“You know, you can give me the silent treatment and dirty looks all night, but if you’re going, you need to get out to the car. I’ll be right there.” Why David wants to hold on to our dying relationship is beyond me.
His shoulders lift in a slight shrug, and he turns his face away.
“Fine, I’m going to get my things.” I climb the stairs to our... my room to get my hood and basket. When I return, David is gone. I hear a motor running and hurry through the kitchen.
I hesitate before opening the door to the garage. Who’s whimpering? Silence, then a voice. No lights.
* * *
Dr. Jane Elliot and her post grad-students, Paul Morgan and Joe Carter, sit in the observation room. A large one-way viewing window is positioned so they can look down into the darkened padded cell below.
“As I was saying,” Jane states, “it’s her reading time. She’s allowed two hours, and that tiny light is all she requires.”
As if to prove she’s there, a small, bare foot appears over the book. The subject turns the page adeptly with her toes. The rest of her remains in the inky black.
“Is this all you do?” Joe asks. “Watch her foot float in and out of that circle of light?” He leans forward in his seat as if getting closer to the glass will help him see. “Flip on the light so we can watch her.”
Jane grits her teeth. This kid annoys the hell out of me. “We keep it dark because the light disturbs her. It is--“
Paul interrupts. “What’s she doing?”
They watch as her foot reaches out and repeatedly pushes something unseen from the page of the book.
“She’s told me, in previous sessions, that David tries to hide her words.”
Paul looks at his notes. “David Moss, the boyfriend.”
Jane nods in response then digs in the bag to the side of her chair. “Here, put these on.” She gets up and turns out the already dim lights. Through her night vision goggles, she looks at her students. “This is how we observe Marci Pierce.”
Jane turns up the speaker volume. Marci’s voice comes in clear, albeit soft. She is singing what sounds like a nursery rhyme.
“I told you once, I told you twice, turn off the lights and I’ll be nice. Turn them on and you are gone...” Marci turns her head and looks up. Her small face adorned with deranged, luminous eyes and cropped hair that sticks out in matted tufts.
“She’s so tiny.” Paul says. “The straight jacket dwarfs her.”
Jane leans forward. “When I first saw her, I thought she must be the victim.” She gazes at the young woman hunched over the book. Why can’t I reach you? Are you completely lost?
Paul touches Jane’s arm. “Dr. Elliott?”
“Oh, sorry, lost in thought.” Jane presses her lips together and then continues. “We could give her cloth books, but there aren’t many printed and she’s an insatiable reader. The jacket keeps her from hurting herself and others.”
“Oh, come on.” Joe snorts. “She couldn’t hurt a fly.”
Jane stares at him. He won’t make it in the world of the criminally insane. “Let me tell you how much damage this pixyish wraith can do, Mr. Carter.” She fishes in her bag and brings out an accordion file.
“I was called to the Oregon State Hospital on October 31st, 2011 to attend a young female patient. They told to me nothing, other than she had suffered a psychotic break."
Jane hands Paul a thin stack of pictures. The night vision gives them an eerie, surreal quality. They are horrific. The first one is Marci, covered in blood, wearing one of those skimpy Red Riding Hood costumes. She looked as if she’d gone bat-shit crazy on the Big Bad Wolf. He passes the photo to Joe, who still looks dismissive.
“That was taken at the scene,” Jane says pointing at the next picture in Paul’s hands. “The authorities found her on the kitchen floor, of the house she shared with her roommates, covered in blood, hers and her roommates’. Note the multiple cuts on her arms, thighs, and torso. She was still cutting herself while repeating the words, ‘No lights.’”
Joe turns in his seat. “What the hell does that mean?”
“Just that. The police learned firsthand when they switched on the kitchen light.” Jane takes a deep breath. “Marci screamed that mantra, while breaking the arm of the officer who flipped the switch.”
Joe slides back in his seat, a little more thoughtful.
Paul stops at another picture. “Is it true she didn’t kill this guy?”
“Yes, Greg Foster. The coroner determined he’d taken his own life earlier in the evening. He hanged himself from a beam in his bedroom.”
“Was there a note?” Paul asks.
Jane nods. “He’d been caught smoking pot by the basketball coach the day before and was kicked off the team. The school rescinded his scholarship.” She tugs at the hem of her jacket. “There was an apology to the parents for being a disappointment, etc.”
Paul nods and sorts through more pictures. He hands his discards to Joe who looks through them.
Jane knows exactly which one Joe will stop on. One that Paul didn’t flinch at. Even through the goggles, she sees the color drain from his face.
“Yes, Joe. Marci cut off Nick Callas’s penis then shoved it into his girlfriend’s, Stacy Moss’s, mouth. Marci was strong enough to break Nick’s leg and jaw, and cut through Ms. Moss’s throat.”
Joe sits up, drops the pictures and clutches his notebook to his chest.
“While the rest of the victims were in costume, Nick and Stacy were naked. Their deaths were so violent that the Adam and Eve costumes, hanging on the bathroom door, received a liberal amount of blood splatter.”
Joe’s hands shake, but Jane continues.
“Oh, yes. Marci was also strong enough to drive a drumstick into Nick’s temple and one into Stacy’s abdomen.”
Jane watches Joe. He’ll leave. The question is how much more can he take.
“The least violent of her murders was Nina Jessard. Marci pierced her jugular as she sat at her vanity and as she bled to death, Marci slit her mouth open from ear to ear. While she carved on Nina, Marci managed to cut open the glow necklace that Nina was wearing.” Jane looks down at Marci. “She refers to her as Shiny Nina.”
Paul speaks. “She’s talked to you about them?”
“Yes, she speaks about and to them.”
He peers into the room. “She’s stopped reading.”
Jane and her students listen.
“No, lights,” Marci whispers. She smacks the reading lamp with her foot. It flies across the room and lands at the door.
Jane sighs and turns down the volume on the speaker. “Before we listen to more, I want to tell you about David Moss, Stacy’s brother and Marci’s long-time boyfriend."
Both students nod.
“The police assume he was the first victim. They found his blood on the couch, but David was propped in a corner, knees to chest with his hands bound.” Jane swallows. “When the coroner untied his hands to lay him out for transport, David’s intestines spilled out.” Jane consults her notes even though she knows them by heart. “On David’s chest were carved the words ‘I hate your guts.’”
Joe releases a nervous laugh and bolts from the room. Jane silently triumphs. She knows she shouldn’t, but she gets so little pleasure from this job anymore. I’ve failed this girl.
Jane clears her throat. “Marci had a basket with her in the kitchen, part of her costume.”
Paul raises his eyebrows. “What was in the basket?”
Perceptive. Jane looks him directly in the eye. “David’s tongue.”
Paul’s brow furrows. Jane can see he’s working something out.
Movement in the room catches their attention. An orderly removes the book and lamp and hands them to someone out of sight. Marci turns and waits while the buckles are undone on her jacket, then wriggles out.
Paul’s voice pierces the silence. “Dr. E? Is it your summation that she wanted to silence him?”
In answer, Jane turns up the volume on the speaker.
“No, David, I don’t want to hear you sing.” Marci starts to rock. She puts her hands over her ears. “David, shut up.” She screams.
All is quiet for a few minutes. Marci lowers her hands. Without warning, she violently pounds her forehead with the heels of her hands. “Fuck, fuck, fuck--why did they have to sew your tongue back in?”
“What is she talking about?” Paul asks.
“David’s family made the request to have David’s tongue reattached before his funeral.”
“I see.” Paul scowls under his goggles. “Do you believe he’s really talking to her?”
Jane chuckles. “Sometimes she has me convinced, but no. Marci believes it though, and unless you have some new ideas on how to reach her, I’m afraid she’s lost in her world without light.”
Paul takes off his goggles. “I’ll go over your notes and see if I can think of something.”
Jane and Paul pick up the strewn pictures. Jane stows the file and goggles in her bag.
Paul opens the door.
Paul jumps and loses his grip on the door. “What was that?”
“Listen.” Jane says.
Marci’s angry voice screeches through the speaker. “David, do not turn on those lights. You know what happened the last time.”
About the Author
R.G. (Robin) Calkins has made up stories for as long as she can remember. It all began on the little, red timeout bench in the hallway of the house she grew up in. She spent time there--a lot, and made up tales to keep herself entertained.
Robin set her long-suppressed muse free in June of 2010 with a story that was sparked by a song. She put down the first words of that story and with the tutelage and encouragement of a writer’s coach and their writing group, finished her first manuscript in September of 2011. Discovering her masochistic side, Robin subjects herself to two critique partners and a local critique group weekly, to help polish her novel and work toward publication.
She is in the revision process with the above mentioned first novel, Wayward. Her poem, My Heart’s Song, was published in an anthology in 2000. Her winning short horror story, No Lights, will be published in a Darker Times Fiction anthology soon.
Robin’s greatest accomplishment to date is her two outstanding children, Dillon and Cassidy. She lives in Littleton, Colorado.
You can find out more about Robin at the following websites: