Gregor was still asleep on the park bench, tightly huddled in his raggedy blanket when the lawyer found him.
“Mr. Fischer? Officer Burksbury said that I’d find you here.”
Gregor slowly pulled down the blanket to let his eyes adjust to the midday sun. It just wouldn’t do to miss the only time of the day when he could feel his toes. Brushing snow off himself and the bench, he looked at the sharply dressed man.
“If you would accompany me sir, I have some business with you.”
“You won’t send me to jail. They’re all chock-full of real scoundrels. No place for two-bit twats like us. I tried, and the judge just keeps giving me warnings. How come rapists have four strong walls, while innocents like us are left to the mercy of the frost outside, eh? Tell me what you want, pappy.”
The lawyer stifled a frown at the ruggedness of the man’s speech.
“It is a bit of good news for you, I suppose, and a formality for me. Accompany me to my office, sir, we just have a bit of paperwork to fill, and you can be on your way.”
Shrugging, Gregor wondered if this man’s office would be warm, and whether he was finally getting sent to jail. Rubbing his hands, and tucking the blanket under his arm, he sauntered after the man who walked with habituated precision.
Three hours later, he stood outside a peculiar old apartment. It had so happened that Gregor’s uncle, Duncan Fischer, had passed away. Gregor didn’t remember much of him, his uncle was never big on family, and was rarely around. In fact, Gregor hadn’t seen him for years. He wondered what had happened to him. He wound back his memories to the hazy teen years, when his uncle got into a scuffle with Gregor’s alcoholic father. It wasn’t long after that Duncan Fischer stormed out the door, never to return. He had heard about his uncle’s job as a travelling salesman, and how he had married. The last time he was seen was at Gregor’s parents’ funeral.
For some strange reason, Mr. Duncan Fischer killed himself three months ago, and left all of his property to his family. His wife and kids, who lived in New Hampshire, received all of the inheritance. His wife tried to put the apartment room in Middlesex on the market, but rumors that it was haunted by Duncan surfaced, and she couldn’t get rid of it. Unable to sell it, and unable to live in it, she asked the lawyer to pass it on to the next closest living relative. After an extensive search by the zealous firm, they had located Gregor.
The lawyer told him that his uncle was a travelling salesman, and often used this apartment room on his journeys. In fact, his body was found hanging from the ceiling when the landlord broke upon his door to demand an explanation for the stink.
All of this didn’t matter to Gregor. He was just glad that he wouldn’t have to spend nights out in the freezing cold anymore. He hastily climbed the stairs to the first floor, where a new padlock on a nondescript brown door, greeted him. Turning the key the lawyer gave him, and slowly removing the padlock, Gregor gazed upon his new home. A simple wood flooring with thick walls. A metal basin in the corner, a small bed, and a dresser with a mirror were all that there was. There was a bulb above the dresser, but right now the room glowed with the soft light coming through the snow covered windows.
Most curious of all was a solitary rope descending from the ceiling, and ending with a noose, directly in the way of Gregor’s line of sight.
“Bloody lazy bumpkins” muttered Gregor, momentarily shaken by the strange object. “Dint even have the courtesy to take down the rope. “
He walked up to the noose, and just as he touched it, he felt the strangest sensation. The rope was warm, and as he grasped it, he felt a tingly sensation travel up his arm and settle a little short of his chin. He wondered what would have driven his uncle to death. He tugged at it, to see if it’d come down, and that was when he got a second shock. He could’ve sworn the rope tugged back.
Slightly perturbed, Gregor took a step back. The room was warm, but the rope was eerily warmer. Gregor felt uncertain. He wondered if he should take the offer, but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to survive this winter without a roof. Worriedly, he made up his mind to cut the rope later that evening. He wasn’t late for his evening shift at the factory, lifting crates, but sitting in a room with noose sent him into an uneasy state.
Heavy lifting, some cuss words and a few mugs of beer lifted the man’s spirit. He was looking forward to a good night’s sleep, without waking up to bones of glass. He managed to borrow a handsaw from one of the workers, and promptly cut off the end of the rope, and threw it out. He felt the strange tingle again, but dismissed it. He waved at the landlord, who stared disapprovingly at him, turning up his nose at the smell of booze. Not even pausing to take off his boots, Gregor tumbled onto the bed and snored.
He woke up gasping. He clutched at his throat, and started snatching at it, and after writhing in his bed for two full minutes, he gulped in air and lay still, gently exhaling.
He stared at the ceiling, the horror of his nightmare slowly fading. His consciousness was slowly cutting away at the dream like a sword swinging at a cloud of dust; yet in its wisps he could still grasp the fear. He could still hear the scraping of a chair being dragged outside his door. The rattling of his lock. The slow creak, as the door opened, but Gregor not being able to see who it was. He remembered turning and staring into the dressing room mirror, and being paralyzed with dread. The shadowy figure of someone setting up the chair. Climbing it. Setting up a rope. Wearing the noose. And finally. The picture that was burned into his head- His uncle’s smiling, unblinking corpse hanging, his eyes staring straight into Gregor’s through the mirror.
“Been a while since I’ve been in four walls” Gregor chuckled hesitatingly. He turned on his side, and as he looked in the mirror, he saw the noose was back in its spot.
Gregor could feel the noose clearly now. As he wandered the town, afternoon sun overhead, he decided not to go back. He had cut it again, and burned it, making sure it was nothing but blackened soot. Maybe he was letting the rumors get to him, but he could feel a rope on his shoulders, invisible and slack, yet slowly growing tighter by the hour.
“Don’t go crazy yet, old man” he muttered. He decided that perhaps he should go see the lawyer again.
When he found the firm, he heard the lawyer was out. Gregor waited in the chairs outside, wondering what happened. He thought about last night’s events, and in the clear headedness of day, they seemed trivial. What was he going to tell the lawyer? Perhaps he was just drunk, and dreamed he had cut the rope. It wasn’t impossible. How silly of him!
“I’m becoming quite a bumbling crone” he chuckled.
He stumbled out, not bothering to notify or thank the receptionist shooting him dirty looks. He decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at the local pub, going over the rumors and having a good laugh.
Gregor opened the door warily that night. He tried peering through a crack, but he didn’t see anything.
As the room slowly opened up, he gave a massive sigh of relief. The tightness of his throat was probably an allergic reaction. Giving a loud, satisfied belch, he climbed into bed, grinning about how he narrowly survived making a fool of himself in front of the lawyer today. He lay back, imagining ways of feeding the rumors, chuckling at the poor fellows’ faces as they turned paler and paler.
It was just then that he heard the scraping sound again. Gregor was absolutely petrified. It wasn’t just the scraping of a chair outside though. Clearly, someone was struggling to breathe, taking long, raspy breaths. Gregor stared in terror as his uncle’s face swam into view. He saw him huddling along, ignoring Gregor, till he reached the center of the room. Duncan Fischer’s face was contorted, the skin color a strange hue of red-purple. He saw his uncle barely manage to climb onto the chair, and string the rope up. Gregor could only watch, half-fascinated, half-emotionless, as his uncle stuck his head through the noose. The face immediately blossomed into bliss. The chair toppled, and his uncle’s dead eyes watched Gregor’s reflection in the mirror.
Gregor Fischer ran like hell’s hounds were snapping at his feet. He rolled down the stairs, and crashed into the snow outside. He kept on running, till he reached the police station.
“Sergeant ! Sergeant !”
And his voice cut off. The noose was strangling him. The rumors said that his uncle was seeing ghosts. They said that he used to have trouble breathing, and that it would never end until he the ghosts strangled him to death like they did. Why was he remembering them now? He collapsed onto the ground. It was driving him insane. He knew that his ordeal would end once he put the noose around him. Maybe he’d even survive. At least the death would be painless, and end his torment. Spluttering, he made his way back, just as the man behind the desk stepped outside to see who had called him.
The Dark Fisherman watched as his prey attached itself to the line. He reeled in the soul, leaving the shell on the hook, mildly adjusting it so it smiled. He put the soul, which was only just realizing what had happened, into his box, and set about preparing his bait for the next catch.