The Bleeding Room
a novel by
Amelia Hartman is tired. A psychologist intern in the city of Detroit, she and her poet boyfriend Tony live paycheck to paycheck as they struggle through the attempt to survive. Meanwhile, Hector, lost in sybaritic orgies and the disillusionment that follows, realizes in a moment of desperation that Amelia, walking down his street, now belongs to him.
With each advance of this unknown stalker, Amelia sinks further into paranoia and dread, and Tony is willing to go to any lengths necessary to protect her – even if it ends up hurting her. Blood is traded for blood while the couple is terrorized by an opponent they cannot see, and as their minds begin to decay, it is only through violence, heartbreak, and horror that something close to safety can be achieved, no matter how much blood is spilled.
Tony walked down the sidewalk, with Amelia in one arm, the restaurant far behind them. The night was quiet. Though streetlights dominated them, stars assembled some interstellar framework, some astral blueprint for them to inhabit, shapes unseen but known, known to Tony, known for certain.
“See, I told you you’d like it,” Amelia said.
“I know, I know.”
“Had a great salmon. And the atmosphere was perfect.”
“Hey, you’re the one that really needed convincing.”
“Was too, I had to drill it into your head that you had time for a date. You been working your brains out at Sterling, need a rest.”
“Well, hopefully, that’ll end soon.”
“You do…you do want to go to Phoenix, right?”
Tony looked at her. “Of course. Yes, of course I do, honey, if, I mean…yeah, I do.”
“No, if what?”
“I just mean if…if you actually want me there.”
The night was quiet.
“Tony, what…what do you even mean?”
“I just mean, like…I don’t know, you always talk about Phoenix as a new start for us, but…I mean, we met in this city, Amelia. And now, hopefully – and I hope so, too – hopefully you’re gonna get a new job, new place, new whole environment, and I really am excited for that. I just, sometimes I wonder if I’m gonna be one of the things you’d rather leave behind here.”
“Why would I leave you here?”
“I don’t know. Just a feeling.”
Nobody had left the restaurant with them. They had walked out alone, on foot, the apartment just a couple blocks away.
“I just…don’t get it, why would I want to leave you behind? What reason would I have?”
“Just because you wouldn’t want to doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason. I mean, the move is going to be costly, more than I think you realize. And if push comes to shove, if you need to survive, and only one of us can realistically be afforded…I mean, I’ll be the first thing to go.”
“No, Tony, no you wouldn’t. A couch would be the first, a bed, even food. Those would be the first things to go, not you.”
“Do you believe me?”
“If you say so, I guess.”
The night was quiet but it also wasn’t.
“That doesn’t sound like believing me.”
“I mean, you can’t tell the future, you don’t know what might happen.”
“Neither can you. But you’ve already predicted I’m gonna leave you, so.”
“I’m just trying to examine all possibilities. It’s a possibility, you can’t deny that.”
“Yes I can.”
“Well, you’d be wrong.”
“No I wouldn’t.”
“I wouldn’t. I’m positive that’s not going to happen.”
The city was full of sounds and distant, flurried whereabouts, even at that late hour.
“You’re absolutely positive?”
But it was not one of those sounds…
“I’m certain of it.”
Tony squeezed Amelia’s hand.
She went silent. They kept walking.
…pat, pat…pat, pat…
…pat, pat…pat, pat…pat, pat…
Slow, careful, precise, timed at an identical tempo to the footfalls of the couple, with no way to discern between the synonymous rhythms.
Tony kept his pace, forcibly piloting Amelia with his arm while pulling her closer still.
“Don’t look now,” he whispered. “I think…”
He leaned in close to Amelia’s ear. His face was buried in an angelic scent he could no longer perceive.
“…I think we’re being followed.”
Amelia kept walking. Tony felt her neck just barely crane inward to listen for any footsteps.
“Who is it?” she asked under her breath.
“Hell if I know. I didn’t even get a good look.”
“Well, what are we supposed to do?”
“I’ll tell him to back off.”
“I, Tony…don’t, please.”
“What, just ignore it and hope he goes away?”
“No, just…I just don’t think–”
Step away, my angel.
Tony stopped, and Amelia stopped beside him.
“Did you hear that?” Tony asked through closed lips.
He turned, and she followed. There was no one there. The side of the building they were almost past was caked with black, the night hiding everything from view, aided sparsely by streetlamps and one of the shadows moved.
Tony inhaled sharply and squeezed Amelia’s hand harder. She gasped loudly, at the shadow or at his grip. It was barely perceptible. A black vat felt waves. A leviathan roared beneath depths in unseen mass. Tony squinted into the abyss. His lips spoke with vibrations.
“…I see you…”
Nothing happened. No one replied. For several moments, the faint footfalls and obscure motions of shadow grew more spurious by the second. Then, the darkness beneath a small portico of shade, between the circles of two streetlamps, shifted and stirred, took humanoid form, emerged.
Barely visible. Camouflaged seamlessly into the night. All black and hooded in concealment of whatever face may have existed. Hands stuffed into jacket pockets. More shape than body, more persona than person. Ill-defined, unbound by human limitations, darkness clinging to it as an empty cloak hides its hanger. Motionless. Unbreathing. Silent.
Sound evaporated between the three of them. Each pair of eyes devoured another. But some sinister, sovereign certainty rang out in unhallowed cisterns of Tony’s brain, a creature stitched together from a host of monsters living in his closet that at once became hauntingly real, that the eyes of the hooded figure were devouring Amelia.
“Wh…who are you?” Tony asked loudly.
The figure didn’t reply.
The figure didn’t reply. The only sound that could be heard from its direction was a deep, throaty growl, like metal grinding against metal, ascending in pitch until it reached helium proportions. Its head cocked slowly to one side.