John woke one rainy morning and discovered the writing in the floor.
When his bare feet touched the cold concrete, he looked down to locate his slippers and saw the scribbled words. They weren’t written on the floor but were just below the surface, somehow part of the concrete. In sloppy cursive they spread across the room then faded at the lamplight’s perimeter.
Long unpunctuated lines, tightly stacked one over the next, slanted down like someone writing on unruled paper. John tried to make sense of the writing but the letters changed as he attempted to decipher each word. New lines scrambled to overwrite the others in a mad rush to communicate.
He got one phrase, or at least a part of it.
No, now the shapes were all wrong. The message had changed but he couldn’t exactly make it out. Letters morphed here then there. Small loops became large then reformed anew.
John was sure, though, that for part of a second, two words had been clear. The water. A warning perhaps, but he lived on high ground.
The words swapped yet again but were no more clear than before. He gave up on them and looked across the floor. Now he could tell that the writing came from more than one hand. Most of the letters sloped right but a few leaned left, many written large although several were cramped and tiny, and some screamed boldly while others appeared meek.
All were too hurried to be legible. Had emotion-charged fingers put them there? Or perhaps they were the direct thoughts, or more horribly the ravings of …
Special deliveries of the dead? Manic missives from deep space? Creepy crawlies through some rupture in the fragile membrane of reality? One thing seemed certain. Wherever the source, it must be crowded there.
He laughed nervously.
Whatever, this was pretty spooky.
John slid his feet into his houseshoes then donned his robe as he stood. He looked at the floor. The messages had disappeared. Curious, he sat back down. The writing reappeared, as frantic and distraught as ever. He stood and they vanished.
Heading for the kitchen, John was aware that with each step, he strode across a sea of words. A cup of stout coffee was called for. Something to bring him fully awake, because he must be sleeping.
When he clicked the light, he fell back and stared.
One of the dining chairs had been placed on top of the table. Balanced upon the chair was a tall stack of dishes, pans, and utensils.
John glanced at the locked back door, then searched for shadows poking from behind appliances. He listened for covert steps. Nothing. He realized that he’d stopped breathing, exhaled.
Sitting down, he inspected the high jumble of kitchenware. Piled haphazardly, it appeared so unstable that it didn’t seem possible someone had accomplished the feat. Gravity defied.
He looked at the floor and felt dizzy. Waves of cryptic script swept against the kitchen walls and surged through the hallway door, flowing toward the bedroom.
But something was different.
John dropped from his chair to more closely examine the scrawl, then gasped in surprise. Slashed across several lines was a single readable word. Printed in thick capitals, it ended with the floor’s sole punctuation.
What the hell did that mean? Wasn’t Set the Egyptian god of darkness and evil? Hadn’t he killed his brother? Something like that.
The silent chatter quickened, a frenzy of alarm. The ominous word remained, overwriting all others.
A sharp breeze blew across his face, ruffling his hair. Dishes trembled. The stack tottered then crashed upon the chair, the table, the floor in a cacophony of shattering glass, bonging pans, and jangling silverware.
John spun in a circle seeking an attacker. He was alone. He’d always been alone. Ever since…
Since Casey’s death. His son had died in a boating accident. Only 12 years old. The police were satisfied. But Sara had known. She’d looked into her husband’s eyes, saw the truth, and walked away. He’d been alone ever since.
Alone with the guilt.
An accident? He hadn’t meant it to happen at all. His patience ran out. His anger overflowed. He’d drowned his son.
Now he realized that they also knew. The words on the floor weren’t warnings. They were accusations. The water. Now he recognized the handwriting.
CASEY! Not Set but the final three letters of his son’s name.
Fragments of porcelain and slivers of glass started to jitter then swept round in spirals. As if caught up by a dustdevil, they rose into the air. The whirling column stormed toward John, enveloped him in a deadly deluge of debris.
Spinning knives gashed flesh through his robe. Tines and needles and shards punctured his skin then burrowed deeper. He sank to his knees, submerged under an ocean of pain. Blood pooled beneath him.
John collapsed facedown on the floor, too weak to resist. As he watched, the motion of the written lines slowed, ceased their relentless shapeshifting. In that instant, the words came clear.
come in dad the water is fine
John struggled to his feet, stumbled into the bathroom. Still dressed in robe and slippers, he stepped into the tub and sat. Turning the right tap full force, he leaned back, shivering. As the water rose, his robe floated up. He stared up at the ceiling as the water covered his face.
His son had lied. It was so cold.
The water chuckled.