The Night of the Invisible | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Horror Bookmark and Share

The Night of the Invisible

The Night of the Invisible Dallas Releford Horror Lynchville was a small town with a small jail. On that cold, rainy night in November 1963, there were two other guests in separate cells on the ground level with me. My name is Jim Leavitt and this was my first visit to a real lockup. I was waiting to see the judge on Monday morning because I got drunk and hit a cop when he tried to drag me out of that bar on Wilson Street. He only wanted to take me home. I didn’t want to go. I still hadn’t convinced Lisa Bright, one of the waitresses to give me what I wanted. Something told me that getting what I wanted would take a lot longer than one night. Lisa had a resistance factor that would stop cancer cold. Mark Ballard occupied a cell on one side of me and Jack Statum was a guest in the cell on my left. Mark beat his wife every now and then, except last week he put her in the hospital with a serious concussion and a broken nose. Accordingly, the cops put him in jail. Jack Statum was something else. It seems that Jack—according to him—killed a salesman. The salesman had been seeing Jack’s wife when Jack wasn’t home. He was big, well muscled and looked like a construction worker who worked out at the gym every night. Jack had broken the salesman’s neck. I didn’t doubt it. Jack was the biggest man I had ever seen until they brought in Jess Snow and threw him in one of the empty cells across the aisle from me. As rain poured down in torrents outside, you could hear him yelling and screaming the moment they jerked him out of that van. It took two local cops and two husky state troopers to get him in that cell and lock it. His feet and hands were almost as huge as my head. I noticed them first because he used them as effective weapons. Before they finally got him in that cell one of the local boys was on the hard concrete floor screaming. He had three broken ribs. When the cell door was finally secured they stood looking at him through the bars. Tension in that little jail was as heavy as the rain outside. Only the screaming deputy with the broken ribs finally got our attention. As one of the cops picked up the telephone and called for an ambulance, I motioned for one of the State boys to come over. As he cautiously approached, I asked, “Who is that brute?” The State man bent over and retrieved his gray Smokey Bear hat from the floor. They stood looking at me as if I were up to some kind of mischief. I guess it was that suspicious nature that all cops have that made him cautious. “Says his name is Jess Snow. He’s a mean son-of-a-bitch. Killed five men over in Taylor before we could stop him. Stay away from him.” The cop turned away leaving us facing a nightmare. All we knew was that he was a killer. And, that was enough to worry us, just a little. I was never afraid of other men too much. At six feet two and two hundred and four pounds, I was quite capable of holding my own in a fair fight. Except, the man in the cell across from me sent chills down my spine and made my blood run as cold as ice. It wasn’t his size that bothered me. It was something else. He was about the same size as me. His skin was as dark as a moonless night when you can’t see your hand in front of your face. His big brown eyes rarely blinked. It was apparent that his mouth hadn’t worn a smile for a very long time, if ever. Jess Snow sat on his bunk bed staring at the wall. He didn’t seem to know we were even there. Maybe he didn’t care. Jack Statum stood with his hands wrapped around those cold iron bars staring at Snow. Jack wasn’t the kind of man that liked to be ignored. He was like a damned politician, if he didn’t get attention, he would go after it. I could see hate in his eyes for a man he had never met. Before Snow arrived, Statum had considered himself the King of the Roost. I suppose a little competition put a dent in his prestige. Jacks’ picture had been in all the papers and the local television stations had even interviewed him. He enjoyed all the publicity. The very thought of someone else taking that away from him nearly paralyzed him. As I grabbed a copy of John Grisham’s book, The Innocent Man from the foot of my bed, I knew trouble was brewing. “Hey, Buddy,” Jack yelled at the top of his voice. “What’s the matter? Were those State boys too tough for you? You wanna’ your mamma?” As I sat back on my bed with my head resting on my pillow, trying to read a paperback, I knew as well as anyone that Jack wouldn’t let it go. He was that type of guy. Ballard poured a cup of coffee from a coffeemaker they allowed him to have in his cell (country jails are lenient in some ways, as long as you’re a good boy) and sat down to enjoy it. He was a likable man, when he wasn’t beating his wife. I read my book and tried to ignore Statum and the approaching storm. I never had liked him. He was a bully. I guess that was the only reason he had never bothered me. Bullies rarely pick on anyone as big as they are. Except, when they are challenged and their honor is at stake. They put on a show hoping the other guy will back down. I didn’t see Jess Snow backing down for anybody. “Hey, can’t you hear? Are you deaf as well as dumb?” Jack stared directly at Snow with slobbers running from his mouth—he drooled when he was angry—and his eyes wide. “Why don’t you just break them bars and come on out here? I want to talk to you, boy. Who are you? Why did you kill all those men?” We all wanted to know that, except we were afraid to ask. Ballard drank his coffee keeping a watchful eye on Jack Statum and Jack kept his eyes on Snow. I kept reading my book. Grisham was at his best. This story was about an innocent man accused of a crime he had nothing to do with. Somehow, I wondered if Snow might not be like that. Snow turned his head. His eyes were like two dark walnuts floating in a bowl of cream. Jack dropped his hands to his sides and backed away from the bars. “All of the men I kilt were criminals,” Snow said with his voice mellow, which seemed inappropriate for someone his size. “I gave them what they deserved.” “Nobody deserves to die like that,” Jack bellowed as if he knew exactly what Snow had done to them. His voice trembled a little as if the man in the other cell had threatened his life. “Nobody deserves to go like that.” “They all killers,” Snow reminded him. “Them boys sold drugs, ran prostitution rings and tortured helpless women for videos they sold to people who like that kind of stuff. They kilt some women who wouldn’t cooperate with them. I freed the women they hadn’t killed and killed those worthless drug dealers.” “Why?” Jack stepped a little further away from those bars just as if he thought Snow might come through two cells to get him. “It’s my job,” Snow replied with his eyes resting on Jack. “I kill the killers. You killed an innocent man, didn’t you?” Jack threw his head back and bellowed. His laughter echoed from cold, stonewalls. “Innocent? That bastard was poking my wife. I caught them in bed.” “And, you killed both of them with a shotgun, ain’t that the truth?” “Yeah, I guess so,” Jack admitted. “Like you said, they deserved it.” “The judge will give you twenty years, but you’ll be out in three. Just like those murdering drug dealers. If they had gone to court, they would have been out of jail in a few years too.” I put my book down. Even Grisham couldn’t top this. Jacks face paled as he realized something he had not thought of before. “Say, how come you know so much about me? Who are you?” All this time Snow had remained sitting on his bed staring at Jack. Now, he laid down on the bed resting his head on a pillow. Silence owned the room for a good two minutes before he finally spoke in a deep voice. “I know a lot of things, Mr. Statum. Enjoy the last hours of your life. At midnight, I’ll come for you. You will die. I think you should know that so you can prepare yourself. That’s more than you gave your victim.” Then, Jess Snow closed his eyes and snored. His dark body was almost invisible in the cell. Only the dim light from an overhead sixty-watt bulb in the hallway shone into his cell, as well as ours. Jess Snow slept in the shadows. At four o’clock on a Saturday evening there would normally be plenty of light from windows set high in the walls of our cells and from windows at the end of the hall. However, on this dark afternoon, a violent storm with lightning crashing, thunder booming and wind howling was drifting lazily across our little town. West Virginia didn’t have those storms often. I thought this one might be a fluke. As the storm lashed us, I watched Jack stumble over to his bed and sit down. “Guy has a lot of nerve,” he said as I tried to read my book by the dim light of a bulb high in the ceiling of my cell. I thought it might only be a twenty-five watt. I later found out I was right. “He threatened me, did you hear that?” Still immersed in my book, wanting to mind my own business, I glanced at him. “Leave him alone,” I warned, “he’s very dangerous. Can’t you see?” “What can I do? He said he was going to kill me at midnight. He’ll probably kill you and Ballard, too.” It was clear to me that Jack was trying hard to draw Ballard and me into the conflict hoping we’d help him. He’d forgotten all those times he had bullied, even intimidated us. Now that he had to swallow some of his own medicine, he didn’t like it. “I doubt that,” I said. “Just forget it and go to sleep.” None of us could have slept even if we wanted to. The storm was getting worse outside and another one was brewing inside the jail. I walked to the bars and peered at the clock by the jailers’ desk. It was five-thirty, feeding time. The Sheriff’s office was located beyond the small desk near the entrance where the jailer Silas Green or a deputy sometimes sat. When the cells were full, someone was usually seated there in case of trouble. I hadn’t seen anyone occupying that chair since I was arrested a few days ago. As I turned to go back to my bed, I heard a metal door slam. I turned around and looked up the hall between two rows of cells. “Chow time,” Silas Green yelled. A deputy walked beside him. They were carrying trays. “About time you fed us hungry boys, Silas,” Ballard replied. “When is that storm going to end?” They slid the trays under the bars. Cornbread, beans and coffee were on the trays waiting to be consumed by hungry men who wouldn’t complain. For desert we had cherry pie. “Weather people are saying it might last all night. Could have a couple tornadoes too.” Taking my tray, I put it on a nightstand next to my bed. I wondered if the old brick courthouse where the jail was located could survive such a storm. Probably not, I concluded and told myself I should say a few prayers. “Food is on the floor,” Green reminded Statum. “Better get it before the roaches carry it off.” That was one of his favorite sayings and it could have been true. Green and his wife—who did a good job as cook and assistant caretaker—kept the place spotless. I had actually seen few roaches since my incarceration. Jack groaned and sat up acting like he just woke up in time for dinner. “Hi, Silas. Can you do me a favor?” “I’ll try. I can’t let you go shopping though. What’s on your mind, if anything?” “Can you move me down the hall to that last cell?” “Jack, what brought this on? Can’t you get along with your neighbors?” Jack looked at me for a brief moment and then at Ballard. “Of course I can,” he insisted peeved because Green was insinuating that he was a troublemaker. “It’s not them. I just want to be closer to that window down there.” “Now, Jack. You know the rules. We want prisoners in plain sight of each other just in case something happens. What would happen if I moved you down there all by your lonesome and you had a heart attack?” “I know all that,” Jack grumbled. “Can’t you make an exception, just this once?” “Nope, rules are rules,” Green proclaimed. “I’m not one to break the rules. That’s why I’m out here and you’re in there.” Jack Statum sat down on his bed and stared at the floor. Silas was in his forties and it showed as streaks of gray above his ears and as long furrows on his forehead. “C’mon, Jack. What is this all about? I was looking forward to a quiet night. First, that storm hits, then the new prisoner comes in here like Joe Louis and now you. What gives?” Jack stood as a clasp of thunder rolled across the town and rain pounded the streets so hard outside we could hear it. “Okay,” he said. “If you really want to know, that man over there threatened me. He said he was going to kill me at midnight.” Like a little kid pointing an accusing finger at a bully who had just pounded him, Jack pointed across the aisle to the cell where Snow was sleeping. I had forgotten all about him. “Well, I’m sure you’ll be safe,” Green assured him. “He’s locked in his cell and you’re in yours, so what is there to worry about?” “I don’t know.” Jack stammered and his voice had a nervous quiver to it. “There’s something weird about him.” Green backed away from the bars and looked at the deputy holding a tray meant for Snow. “Nonsense. Well, Virgil let’s wake this bad boy up and feed him. We can’t starve a prisoner, now can we?” I guess we all stood up about the same time anxious to see the show. We knew something was coming besides the raging storm outside. Ballard, Jack and me watched as the deputy slid the tray under the bars. Normally, every cell had a ceiling light that stayed on all the time, except the light in Snow’s cell had burned out and it had never been replaced. You had to look through those bars and into the dim glow of the hall light that found its way into his cell casting shadows of the bars into the dark room to see what we all saw at about the same time. Green stepped up to the cell and wrapped his trembling fingers around the bars. Peering into the semi-darkness, he gasped and then glanced back at us. Snow was gone. Gone, like in disappeared, vanished from the face of the earth. We all felt the shock at about the same time Green grabbed his keys and fumbled with them for a long time before finally getting the cage door open. Virgil pulled his gun and covered Silas as he opened the door and looked inside. “Where is he? He was locked in here when I left with those State Troopers. What is going on here? This is impossible.” Virgil grabbed Silas by his arm and pulled him out of the cell. Silas was in a mumbling stupor. Virgil acted as if something awaited them in that cell. Who knows, maybe someone was in there and we just didn’t see them? We all were shocked. Then, I remembered that the last time I looked into Snow’s cell, all I had seen was a dark figure on the bed. It was as if Snow had become a shadow and floated through those bars like a misty cloud. How else could he have done it? All of us were right there and we would have seen him if he somehow managed to pick the lock. Even with the storm raging outside, we would have heard him if he had escaped from his prison. Jess Snow had disappeared into thin air. While the sheriff and his deputies combed the area with dogs and flashlights, Ballard and me tried to enjoy our meal. The beans and cornbread were excellent. Unfortunately, they were as cold as the rest of the jail. A sudden, unusual gloom had come over it and all of us. Deputies searched the cells and found nothing at all, not even a note from Snow wishing us well. Then, they put out a statewide APB and searched the town even though nobody thought Snow could get far in the storm. His vanishing act was as much a mystery to them as it was to us. With Snow’s threat looming over his head, Statum lay on his bunk staring off into distant space. The clock was ticking. It was eight o’clock and none of us came up with a reasonable explanation for what happened. As the hour hand crept closer to midnight, Jack became more restless. His incessant pacing around the small cell was getting on my nerves. Ballard walked over to my cell and peeped through the bars. His sullen face told me he was worried. “Won’t he ever stop? By the way he’s acting you’d think that he was going to walk that last mile to the gas chamber.” “Maybe he is,” I answered. “You never know what can happen in this world.” Ballard ignored me for a while and watched Jack. “Jim, have you ever heard of anyone vanishing like that? I mean, you read a lot and you seem like a smart guy and all. You must have some idea about how this happened.” “None,” I said. “All you can really know is that he was there and now he’s gone. Of course, that could mean that he wasn’t here in the first place. We all just imagined he was here. He is not like us, you know that, don’t you, Ballard?” “You think that he’s an alien, a ghost or maybe even the devil, don’t you, Jim?” When you’re digging for answers in an irrational situation sometimes the most absurd answer seems possible. “Don’t you remember that Snow said it was his job to punish killers? Why would he say that if he didn’t believe it? Since we can’t seem to find a logical answer ourselves—something that makes sense—then the illogical becomes more acceptable.” Ballard leaned closer to the bars and rested his head on them. “You’re saying he is from Hell or somewhere else and that he kills some murderers, but not all of them?” Statum stopped his pacing. I guess our conversation interested him. “What else is there?” I asked. “Can you think of anything better?” “No. What do we do? He might kill all of us.” Ballard walked back to his bunk and dropped down on it. Resting his head on his pillow, he stared at the ceiling. I got up and looked at the clock. “It’s nine o’clock now. We have three hours to figure something out.” “Get some sleep and forget him,” Silas Green advised as he gathered the trays. “There’s a logical explanation for his disappearance.” “Oh, yeah,” Jack Statum boomed. “If you know of a good explanation, then how about sharing it with us?” “Well, for one thing, Snow might have walked out when we weren’t looking. He could have picked the locks. We aren’t perfect, you know. Anything can happen. Wouldn’t be the first time a prisoner escaped.” “Nonsense,” Jack cried. “We all were watching him almost every moment. Now, what happened over in Taylor? How did he kill those men and why?” Green stacked dishes on a cart by the desk near the entrance. When he came back, he stood before Jack Statum and spoke. “According to those State cops he was picked up on a vagrancy charge. Snow wasn’t any trouble at all. He sat quietly in his cell. After everyone was settled in for the night, the deputy on duty heard a lot of racket and screaming coming from the cells. When he and another deputy ran into that confinement area, all of the cell doors were open and bodies were all over the place. Snow was strangling the last victim when the deputies called for help. Luckily, a State Police patrol was nearby. Several cops were in the courthouse. It took six officers to subdue Snow and put him in a cage.” “Now, that is a story,” Ballard said. “So, that’s why they brought him over here, to face the judge Monday.” “They felt we have a better jail,” Green bragged. “They never did figure out how he got those cell doors open. I guess they didn’t want to give him a chance to do it again.” Statum leaned on the bars gazing at Silas like he was his last hope. “How could he kill five people in a few minutes?” “Apparently, he broke their necks just clean as can be. He strangled the last one.” I watched Statum cringe as Green walked away. “Killed them at midnight,” he whispered. Then, he turned to me with tears in his eyes. “What do you think, Jim? Will he come for me?” I really didn’t care. Even in the short time I’d known him, Statum had bullied both Ballard and me. His attitude was threatening most of the time. Only the threat of death at midnight had obviously pacified him. I was tired of his complaining. I could almost taste his fear. I wanted him to feel terror, horror and I wanted him to endure the pain his victims had suffered. I was sure about something else too. Jack Statum had killed more than two people. In fact, I figured he was a serial killer who had not been charged with all his crimes. “He’s coming and there’s nothing you can do about it,” I admitted. “He’s only one of many like him. He’s an alien who prey’s on people like you because you generate a lot of negative emotions, like hate and fear.” “You’re just trying to scare me,” Jack said. “Snow isn’t here. Even if he is an alien, where is he?” “Invisible,” I warned. “They’re all invisible and you can’t see them unless they want to be seen.” “That’s more nonsense,” Jack cried. I thought he was ready to bawl like a baby. “That sounds something like a vampire story. Instead of feeding on blood, they feed on emotions.” “That’s the only thing I can come up with,” I told him. “Can you think of anything better than a race of other-worldly creatures that feed on emotion and are invisible until they take the form of some other creature?” “Naw,” Jack stammered. “I guess not. What am I going to do? I don’t want to die.” Before I could speak, the cell door across the aisle from us opened. None of us could see anyone. “It’s Snow’s cell,” I said. “He was in there all the time.” “Where is he now?” Ballard stood and backed up against a wall. I searched the cell and the aisle with my eyes and saw nothing. It was almost twelve. The storm outside was intensifying. Jack walked to the door of his cell and held it as if he could stop Snow from entering. “He’s here,” I announced. “I can feel him and I can see him.” “Hey man, how can you do that? How do you know he’s here? I see nothing.” Jack had a confused and frustrated look on his face. “Because we’re partners,” I said. “Look at me, Jack.” Of course, Jack Statum looked at me and saw nothing except an empty cell. I was one of the Invisibles. “Stop it, Jim. You’re scaring the crap out of me, too.” Ballard was pacing his cell looking for a way out, like a tiger in a cage. There was none. “Jim what is going on here? What are you doing?” “Sorry, Ballard,” I said. “It’s just as I said. We come from another world where we feed on fear and other emotions of lesser creatures. Finding this world where humans experience lust, fear, hate and love was a real treat. I’m the scout. I seek those who have killed and Snow follows, murders them and we absorb their feelings. Our bodies turn emotions into energy. It is the way we live.” Snow appeared in Jack’s cell just as he turned around to yell for help. Snow had his huge hands around Jacks neck just as a scream erupted from his throat. It was twelve o’clock. In the distance I could hear other voices and heard feet running down the hallway. I became invisible and let myself flow through those bars into Ballard’s cell. His face was pallid and his eyes were wide with horror. He knew I was coming for him. This time, we would not leave any witnesses. I won’t bother telling you the rest of it except for the fact that when we were finished, we didn’t need to feed for another week. If I told you everything, then you would most likely be consumed by one of us when you least expect it. If you’re smart, you’ve figured out that we could be anywhere. Be careful when you’re afraid or when you get angry. The people next to you might not be able to control their own emotions. Few of us can control ourselves when there is so much anger and hate all around us. The End
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