The ornate wrought iron and glass door swung open on silent hinges. The woman who opened it looked out on a man who appeared to be in his late forties.
He was dressed immaculately in a dark slate suit and matching tie. His white shirt, which was only slightly more pale than his skin, was brilliantly blinding in the Phoenix sun. He had a black cane, which was topped with a porcelain monkey’s paw, tucked under his right arm and a fedora, the same grey-almost-black as his suit, was perched on his head. Even his eyes were a dark misty grey. The only color on his entire person was a bright crimson pocket square, folded into a neat double triangle in his right breast pocket.
“You must be Mr. Jones.” Said the woman in that thick husky voice that only comes from a lifetime of smoking.
Where Mr. Jones was a study in monotone the woman was a cacophony of color. She was dressed in bright red pants and a leopard print blouse. Bottle blonde hair cascaded down around bright, red over-sized frames that encircled her violet contact-colored eyes. Her skin, which looked to have been stretched too tight over her face, was the weird orange-tan that only comes from a spray or a bottle.
She took a drag off the cigarette in her left hand and then held out her right, palm down, for Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones stared at her hand for a moment, his face a mask that barely concealed his repulsion.
“Yes, quite.” His voice was smooth and silken with only the slightest hint of the old country. “And you are Mrs. Anderson. If I may…”, he gestured with his left hand towards the open door, “I do detest the heat.”
Mrs. Anderson left her hand outstretched, but when Mr. Jones didn’t take it she pulled it back and grimaced.
“Of, course. Please come in.” She said as she stepped back into the house.
Mr. Jones stepped into the blessedly cool house. She then closed the door behind him.
“May I take your hat and your” Mrs. Anderson stopped in mid-sentence. Mr. Jones’ upraised hand had shocked her into slack-jawed silence.
“Ma’am. Let us dispense with the pleasantries.” A slight grimace showed what Mr. Jones thought of “pleasantries”. He continued, “You have asked me here for a job which I would like to complete post-haste. You have the payment?”
Mrs. Anderson was still staring wide-eyed at Mr. Jones. She had never been dealt with so succinctly before. She was still staring at him until he cleared his throat with a light “ahem”.
This seemed to shock Mrs. Anderson out of her stupor as she nearly bounded off into another room and returned with her Hermes handbag. She pulled a bulging envelope from within. She went to hand it to Mr. Jones but hesitated, stopping halfway.
“It’s all there. Twenty thousand in cash.” She then extended her hand out the rest of the way.
Mr. Jones reached out and took the envelope, carefully avoiding even brushing her hand with his own.
“You can count it. It’s all there.” She said again.
Mr. Jones smiled a smile that didn’t leave his lips. He quickly tucked the envelope into the inside pocket of his jacket without even a glance. It could have been stuffed with Monopoly money for all the care he gave it.
“That’s quite all right ma’am. Now that that unpleasantness is out of the way if you would tell me where I may find the room in question?”
“I can show you…” again Mrs. Anderson was left wide-mouthed while Mr. Jones held up his to silence her.
“I think not Mrs. Anderson. Please just tell me where the room is.”
“Up the stairs. Last door on the right.” She looked like she wanted to say more but Mr. Jones’ cold glare kept her silent.
“Yes. That will be enough. Please wait here or in the kitchen. I will return as soon as I am done. It won’t be long.”
Mr. Jones turned to the stairway and made his way up the spiral staircase. His feet sunk inches deep into the plush carpet.
When he reached the top of the stairs he made his way to the end of the hallway. As he walked towards the end of the hall he noticed that it was getting warmer. By the time he reached the last door on the right it was almost warm enough to be unpleasant.
Mr. Jones licked his lips and then flicked his tongue into the air, almost like he was tasting it, like a snake. He then opened the door, stepped into the room and closed the door quickly behind him.
Where the hallway had been mildly unpleasant the room was a raging inferno. Mr. Jones’ surmised, correctly, that it was much hotter in the room than it had been outside in the scorching, Phoenix, summer.
He pulled a snow-white handkerchief from his back pocket and dabbed at the perspiration that had popped up on his forehead. He had not been lying when he told Mrs. Anderson that he detested the heat.
For what may have been the thousandth time he wished that it worked like Hollywood thought it did. That when the other side was close things got colder and not hotter.
Mr. Jones sighed and then started to scan the room. Lost souls were usually bound to a location, though sometimes they would end up locked to a specific object, if it was something that they had held especially dear. He flicked his tongue into the air a few more times and then licked his lips again as he spun slowly around in the center of the room.
Finally he saw it, on the shelf. He couldn’t really describe what it was that he saw. It was almost like he caught it out of the corner of his eye. Almost like an impression of something that wasn’t really there. Whatever it was, though, he could find it. Always.
He walked over to the nightstand and picked up the object. It was so hot that he almost dropped it. So she was bound strongly.
Once long ago he had gone hunting for answers. He had spent years trying to find out why some souls got lost, or stuck and ended up bound to something before moving on, but he never found anything satisfactory. It was true, sometimes they were people that had suffered great tragedy or loss, but more often than not they were just regular people who died and then couldn’t move on.
Mr. Jones turned the small object around in his hand a couple times. He was now licking his lips almost constantly, like a child waiting for their ice cream.
Finally he held it up in front of his face and smiled a smile that was broad and wide and terrifying. It was a smile of pure ecstasy.
Mr. Jones then opened his mouth wider and wider and wider until it was a gaping maw that stretched his face into hideous proportions. His open mouth was a gaping tunnel that seemed to open into oblivion itself.
Then a sound began to grow. But it was a sound without a sound. It was like the voice of a million silent screams.
Then it was over. Mr. Jones closed his mouth and licked his lips one more time. He looked satisfied and filled and seemed less thin than he had been only moments before. The thin lines on his face had gone and the wings of grey that peaked out from under his hat had gone jet black.
The room was now blessedly cool and the small object in his hand was cold to the touch. Everything was as it should be.
Mr. Jones turned on his heel, made his way back to the door and opened it.
He called out, in a voice that seemed rather heartier than it had before, to Mrs. Anderson downstairs, “Your daughter, was she very attached to the porcelain cat on her nightstand?” Mr. Jones chuckled a bit at his own joke as he made his way down the hallway.
This story was written in response to a Flash Fiction Challenge by Chuck Wendig. I chose the title The Porcelain Cat (d.moulou).