The Disappearance of Mr. Becker, by K.R. Smith
“Yes, Detective, I know you wish me to tell the story again—about how Mr. Becker disappeared. I doubt, though, that you will believe me more than any of the others, for you have all decided I am mad. While there may be some truth to that, I can assure you I have done nothing to harm this man. If you insist, however, I shall recount the pertinent events that concluded on that most dreadful evening to the best of my ability.
“He was a curious sort—rather odd indeed, this Mr. Becker. Not long before winter, he had moved into the house across the way, an undistinguished brownstone much like any other on the street, bringing with him a minimum of furnishings and housewares, and little in the way of anything besides several boxes of books. By all appearances, he had neither wife nor family, nor friends of any sort as no visitor ever graced his doorstep as far as I could tell. During the first months of his stay, the few times we chanced to meet he said nothing, giving little more than a nod to any greeting no matter how cheerfully given.
“Yet in all, he was a good neighbor, keeping to his own company and causing little concern for those along my quiet street, and although not a friendly sort, was never truly disagreeable. Physically, he was of average height and appearance, and somewhat darkly complected, similar to those who live in the southern part of Europe. Other than his reclusive nature, however, he had no distinctive characteristics of which one might take any particular notice. Nevertheless, something about the man set me ill at ease. As I have said, he was a curious sort.
“The problem, if one would call it that, began in late December when I opened my drapes one evening and looked outside to find it snowing. This was not entirely unexpected as it had been quite cold and cloudy for several days. Through his front window, which sat directly opposite my own, I could see Mr. Becker seated at a desk with a lamp burning brightly in front of him. I watched for a moment, my intrigue about Mr. Becker’s behavior overcoming my manners, and it appeared he was reading out of a rather large book. The volume had an ornate cover suggesting it to be rather old, as those sort of artistic decorations seldom find their way onto modern tomes. Other than that, I could tell little else due to the distance involved. At first, I thought it might be a Bible, yet I had never seen the man attend our nearby church. In fact, I had never seen him out on a Sunday at all.
“He was quite animated as he read from the book, his hands moving about with great alacrity. Then he would walk away as if in disgust, only to return and read again. I was never certain as to why.
“After many weeks of this, I noticed he would leave his house on a regular schedule. Every Tuesday he would depart and not return for at least one hour. I cannot say where he went, but he often carried a small bag or box when he returned to his home. This regular schedule was what gave me the idea to enter his house surreptitiously in an effort to satisfy my curiosity.
“I remember the day I visited his home quite well. It was a rainy evening, and Mr. Becker had just left for whatever usual errand he had to perform. The incessant precipitation aided my bold actions as it assisted in hiding my movements; there were few if any people about in that miserable weather. To further reduce any chance of being caught, I departed out of the rear entrance of my house, made my way around the block, and then to the alleyway behind Mr. Becker’s address, which I deemed a more discrete path than to boldly walk across the street from my own residence. I took a brief glance at the nearby houses, and seeing no one, moved stealthily down the stairway to his cellar door. Knowing that many of the houses employ a simple skeleton key for use in such entrances, I had brought with me the key to my own door, and found that, indeed, the lock opened easily.
“As I had mentioned before, Mr. Becker had brought little with him, and I could see in the dim light that the dank cellar was quite empty. The layout of the house is also similar to my own, only reversed, and so making my way through the cellar to the stairs leading upward required little effort, even in the darkness. I walked up the stairs as quietly as possible for I did not want the neighbors to hear me, and fearing an intruder to be present, alert the police.
“Once on the main level, I went into the sitting room where the book sat open on the desk, just as Mr. Becker had left it. Due to the weather and the lateness of the day, I pulled the curtains to the room, noting their original position, and lighted the desk lamp, adjusting the flame to the lowest possible level at which I would still be able to read.
“The book, being quite old, was bound in leather with metal buckles affixed to straps to keep it closed and thus preserve the pages when not being read. Upon further inspection, I observed that the words in the book were very strange, with many in a script unknown to me. Next to the book were a number of papers with repeated lines that appeared to be an effort at translation, and one sheet held the name of a man, Abdul Alhazred, with which I am not familiar.
“I could tell that the writings on the paper matched a section of the book as if Mr. Becker was trying to determine how to pronounce the words, with the same phrase appearing many times in a slightly altered form. Viewing the corresponding words in the ancient book, I began to mouth them quietly. After several repetitions, I noticed that while I spoke the words I felt odd, as if floating or dreaming, the room seeming to distort and spin. My mind kept repeating the words as if they were the only ones it could send to my lips, with my lips forced to chant those same phrases which held no meaning for my mind. I cannot explain why they set me in such a mood.
“Soon thereafter, I began to hallucinate, or so I thought, with a nebulous distortion appearing in one corner of the room, gaining size as I continued to speak, a shadow that grew larger with each word. Whether this was some demon’s work or only the machinations of my confused brain as the chanting took over my senses, I do not know. Adding to these feelings were the strangest of odors, much like that found deep within the bowels of the Earth, dark and musky, with the foul smell of death hovering around my nostrils.
“Whatever the cause, my straining eyes detected a shape in front of me, moving toward me as if crawling out of a portal from Hell. It was like a man, but dark and rubbery in appearance, and had large unfeathered wings that seemed to twitch and move nervously in coordination with its pointed, serpentine tail. What sight pierced my soul with a cold dagger, however, was its face, for it did not exist, and yet it knew where I was as if there were eyes on that blank visage, turning its head toward the slightest movement or sound. I know the description is difficult for a sane person to accept, but I swear this to be what appeared to me on that night.
“It was at this point that Mr. Becker appeared, apparently returning from his errands. I cannot say if he returned early or if I was in such a state that my mind no longer understood the passage of time, but it is of little consequence to the outcome of these events.
“Mr. Becker entered the room between me and the black creature, his eyes wide with terror. He saw the creature, too, and turned to me screaming, ‘Stop! You must not speak those words! Do not call this creature into our world!’ Although I heard him plainly, I had no control over my actions, my mouth continuing to utter the phrases I had found in the book. He started to reach for me, but the creature took hold of him first, pulling him into the portal. Mr. Becker called out once more, his voice echoing in the void beyond what my eyes could discern, all the while descending into that abyss, the dark, clawed hands of the creature clutching his helpless prey.
“Once the beast had taken poor Mr. Becker, I felt released, no longer needing to recite the words that had accompanied his doom. The portal faded until there was no sign that anything unusual had taken place, with the room becoming silent.
“That, as you know, is where they found me—my finger on the page from which I was reading, my lips moving as if speaking, yet with no sound issuing forth. It seems the neighbors heard Mr. Becker calling out and asked the authorities to investigate. I do not remember any of that, though I have no reason to doubt this explanation. I know the events portrayed are beyond credulity for most, and I do not blame anyone for calling me mad, but these are the proceedings of the evening as best I know them.
“In any case, you can see I have little information that might be of use in your investigation, but I can assure you I have done nothing to harm poor Mr. Becker. His whereabouts are as much a mystery to me as the creature that appeared that evening.
“But it is now close to time for my evening meal and I should probably end this conversation. They shall be bringing it soon; something I can eat with a spoon, no doubt, as knives—or any sort of sharp implement—are strictly forbidden here.
“Then again, perhaps it would be good to have company as I eat, though as your host I can offer you nothing. If you would like to stay, however, and rest as I consume the meager rations my keeper provides, please allow yourself the luxury of the only seating this cell offers; I can make myself comfortable on the floor.
“As you can plainly see, they have allowed me only a minimum of personal belongings to accompany my stay here. They did, however, permit me to keep the book from which I was reading that night, as I seemed to be singularly possessive of it, and with no one else to claim it, no reason appeared for them to deny me this one pleasure. Although I have not opened it since that time, if you wish to join me, I shall read from it again this evening. I imagine it could be most entertaining. Would you like for me to begin?”
K. R. Smith is an Information Technology Specialist and writer, frustrated by his inability to get any meaningful programming code to rhyme and still function properly. While mainly interested in writing short stories of the horror genre, he occasionally delves into poetry, songwriting, and the visual arts. He recently had a poem, The Ballad of Drunken Jack, published in Gothic Blue Book III by Burial Day Books. Links to this and other works can be found on his blog at www.theworldofkrsmith.com or via Twitter at @wokrsmith.