Disease, p.1Curtis Berry
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Curtis Berry. All Rights Reserved.
Published by Curtis Berry
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
A brilliant flash lit up the sitting room for, followed by an abrupt crack of thunder that shook the house, jarring him awake from his place on the couch. With considerable effort, he sat up and squinted, his gaze wandering across the darkened room before finding the window covered partway by burgundy draperies flowing to the floor like cooled wax. Sheets of water rippled down the glass, distorting the night into a colors that shifted and moved in the darkness.
He hadn’t needed to see the lightning, or smell the wetness hanging in the air, or hear the rhythmic, muffled patter of raindrops on the pitched roof to know it was raining. His bones told him. His body told him. He always knew.
The rain stopped, allowing him hear the crackling of the fire dancing in the hearth. He sighed, reluctant to leave the deep, plush sofa that held him like the caress of a loving mother. A mother’s love is what he longed for whenever the pain knifed through him like this. But the luxury of such a comfort had become a distant memory with the passing of the woman cursed to bring him into the world. Besides, a woman even as caring as her could never muster the compassion to comfort such a monstrosity.
Sleep only served as a temporary respite from the tormenting agony of a disease that consumed his body and his soul. Now, he needed something more. Once again, the time had come for him to use an artificial means to lessen his misery and endure his existence a little while longer. If only there was another way.
He rose with great care, a tall, thin man of such slightness that he appeared to be no more than a shadow. Only his black evening coat and trousers gave him form, clinging to his emaciated body like a shroud. His stark white skin stretched to the point of breaking over his long face, and the empty pits of his eye sockets consumed the fire, offering no reflection. Standing there, the haunting figure seemed ready to collapse in a pile of bones at the slightest exertion. Yet somehow, he remained on his feet.
He welcomed the searing pain shooting through his frail body with a sardonic smile. The pain was always there, sometimes a nagging reminder at the edge of his thoughts, sometimes a raging demon demanding his full attention … as it did now. He had become used to it after these many years, for what else could he have done with no other choice?
He regarded the small fireplace barely able to contain the blaze bouncing and popping with life. The hint of smoke, mixed with the thick humidity in the air, made for an aroma that triggered a deep and unpleasant memory of a time deep within his past. He fought to focus on the moment, shutting out the sorrow of the events that forever cost him his hopes and dreams, but it was difficult, sometimes impossible.
At times, he sat for hours before the fire, endlessly mesmerized by the undulating flames. They were ever alive without a care in the world, as he had been long ago. It was during those reflective moments when he contemplated death the most. How many times had he longed to throw himself into the flames and let them surround him, love him, release him? Yet each time, to his eternal torment, his desire to live had always triumphed. And for his weakness, he cursed himself.
He stepped into the hallway and followed the overhead lights to the stairs. The house creaked a little as if thankful that the shower had ended so it could begin drying off. Its tall, thin master of many years sighed too, but for an entirely different reason.
He made his way into the spacious living room, softly lit by a pair of antique oil lamps at either end. Sensitive to light, he preferred just enough glow to see and appreciate the décor. He stopped before a television set. Slender fingers, not unlike claws, turned a switch, bringing the magic box to life with colorful scenes accompanied by gunfire and the screams of dying people.
His eyes narrowed reflexively before slowly opening again as they adjusted to the bright light. For a few minutes, he took in the show, a look of tired regret spread across his sunken face. Such a wonderful tool used so frivolously. It never ceased to amaze him how hypnotized modern people were by this contraption and stories about death. They should be out exploring the wonders of the world in the short time they had within it. What a shame, he thought bitterly.
A second sparse figure, hunched with age, approached from a side door. He wore a butler’s garb, with every crease pressed and every button polished to perfection. The old man, only a narrow strip of white hair left along the back of his head, arrived carrying a silver tray. Upon it rested a tall wine glass of the finest crystal filled by a fraction with a vintage French Bordeaux.
“Pruitt, you’re becoming stealthier,” he spoke. And though his voice rose no further than that of a whisper, it still commanded attention. Reaching out, he took the glass from the tray with gentle care, his smile warm and genuine.
“Of course, Sir,” Pruitt nodded, his eyes lowered just a bit. “I have learned from the best.”
The master of the house grinned sardonically and rested a hand upon his servant’s shoulder. “You bring a smile to my troubled brow while taking better care of me than anyone ever has. What would I do without you, my old friend?”
The seasoned butler gazed into his employer’s dark, haunting eyes and nodded his appreciation. “You would find another, as you did when my predecessor passed on.”
The wine glass stopped before touching his thin lips, and he squeezed his eyes shut in memory of those who had come before Pruitt. All were good people and had taken him under their wings like an orphaned child, caring for him and comforting him in the face of his dire physical condition. He had loved them all as he now loved old Pruitt.
The glass tilted and the precious wine flowed into his mouth. He held it there, tasting and enjoying it fully. After a few moments, he kissed the tumbler once more, allowing the nectar to return. How he wished he could swallow the wine for which he held such a fondness. But the damned disease was a stern mistress who ever denied him even his slightest indulgences.
He squinted once more at the television screen, where a beer commercial had just ended. A busty blonde wearing far too much makeup smiled back at him. She read off a few quick headlines, stating that they would be covered in detail on the 11 o’clock news in the next hour. She finished her spiel and tried her best to look natural as she bantered with the weatherman, whose cheerful responses looked just as staged.
A wave of nausea washed over him, his head dropping into his skeletal hand as he began swaying. Moving with a speed that belied his age, Pruitt caught and steadied the sick figure.
“Thank you, Pruitt,” he nodded with thanks.
“Getting worse, Sir?”
With a great sigh, he nodded in exasperation while smoothing his head of jet-black hair. He hated for anyone to see him weakened like this, even his good friend. “I fear the time has come for me to step out and find something for my discomfort, lest I be consumed by it.”
Pruitt’s saddened eyes lowered in acknowledgment before he turned to the closet and retrieved a fine coat, hat, and umbrella. He seemed reluctant to bring the items to their waiting owner, but he did so dutifully.
With a grunt, he donned his black derby and matching overcoat, fishing a pair of leather gloves from the pocket and slipping them on. Each movement of his pain-stabbed fingers caused him to wince, but he simply set his jaw and pulled the gloves on tight. He could always endure it. He had had many years of practice.
“I won’t be too long, Pruitt,” he smiled thin
The light, muffled taps his footsteps made on the sidewalk were nearly drowned out by the rainwater dripping everyone onto the ground. An occasional car drove by, splashing through the rain soaked street. He continued on with long, measured strides, taking it all in.
The disease had somehow heightened more than just his sensitivity to pain. His sense of smell, his vision, his awareness had all become much more acute. For years, he sought to fathom the dark irony of how a withering physical illness
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