The Dining Table with the Faces of the Dead
I was out shopping with my wife, looking for a new dining table set, when I spotted a familiar face in the store. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly where I’d seen him before, but as he got closer, and I saw a scar over his white cloudy right eye, it hit me.
Joe ‘Killer Eye’ Daniels.
I never thought I’d find an ex-convict crafting and selling furniture. I knew why I didn’t recognize him in the first instance. He wasn’t wearing the gray jumper and trousers that inmates wore. Instead, he had on the suit and tie of a salesman. He was a freeman since the prison had shut down about a decade ago, and I had lost my job as a guard.
The way he glared at me with his one good eye and his hands curled up into fists, I guess he had never forgotten about me. He greeted us in an upbeat tone, though I detected a hint of disdain. While my wife inquired about dining table sets, neither of said a word to one another. His face hardened every time we made eye contact, and when we did, I was reminded of the day that he got that cloudy right eye.
Whenever I had walked through the prison’s iron gates, I found myself in a whole different world. Within its cold concrete walls was a zoo. Growling, the animals paced back and forth in their cells. Once a day for an hour, we let these animals out of their cages and into the yard. They knew better than to cause trouble, but some of them just asked for it. And the soil and grass around the tree would get wet with their blood.
There was an oak tree in the yard. That tree held special memories for me. Inmates weren’t allowed to stand six feet close to it. My pals and I would hang around the tree, have a quick smoke and if we couldn’t get to the restroom in time, we’d relieve ourselves at the tree.
The tree also served as a good whipping post. The warden didn’t say we could, but he didn’t disapprove either. And Joe ‘Killer Eye’ Daniels was an undisciplined fool back then. He ended up at the tree quite a few times. I didn’t mean to whip his right eye blind. Like I said, sometimes some of them bring trouble upon themselves.
Despite our tense history, Killer Eye spoke with a gentle voice to my wife and walked us through the store. I must say that I was impressed with him. He crafted many of the furniture — cabinets, chaise lounges and sofas — from scratch, and some he refurbished. He was good at it. He showed us the different dining table sets available. My wife eyed each one of them with keen interest, but somehow, she thought none of them felt right; that nothing fit the style of our humble abode.
“Is this all you have?” she asked.
Killer Eye nodded. “Yeah, these are all it.”
“Oh, that’s too bad… We’ve looked at other stores and there’s just nothing that resonated with me.”
“Hmmm…you know, I think I can do something for you. Now, I’m the only one in town who offers custom-made furniture.”
“Well, that might be out of our budget.”
“Don’t worry about that, Mrs. Jones, it’ll be on me. Your husband and I are old dear friends, and I owe him a favor.”
He forced a smile on his face.
My missus’ eyes lighted up. “Really? How do you two know each other?”
I cleared my throat. “We were colleagues.”
“It was a long time ago.”
Though growing agitated with her questions, I answered as calmly as I could. “I think maybe when I started that construction job after the prison shut down.”
“Oh, I see.”
I wanted to get the hell out of the store. I couldn’t shake off that feeling that something wasn’t right. I didn’t like the way he smiled. I tried to convince the Missus that we could find another set somewhere else, and that I didn’t want to waste the man’s time giving us a brand-new dining set handcrafted by…him. There was something in it for him. I just knew it.
“Do we really need a new table, hon’?” I asked.
The missus was insistent, however. The table we had was full scratches and our rambunctious five-year old son had drawn on the surface with a permanent marker. And one of the legs was unstable, so it wobbled if we didn’t prop it with a folded piece of cardboard for balance.
A month later, Killer Eye personally delivered the dining table set. He did — I begrudgingly admit — spectacular work. My wife fell in love with it instantly. She caressed the surface and traced the carved intricate details of flowers, vines and leaves that wrapped around the legs and edges of the table.
I found myself liking it, too. The only thing I didn’t like were the long lines and swirls that marked the flat surface. They resembled ghastly screaming faces. Like Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” painting.
What I didn’t know then was that the dining table was about to tear my life apart. Nothing strange happened in the first few days. We ate our dinner there as a family and even used it to spread our board games on Friday game nights. But then one night, while I hopped down to the kitchen for a midnight snack, I heard the whispers. It couldn’t have been the wind; all the windows were closed.
Officer Jones… Officer Jones…
I swear I heard someone — no, not just one but several voices whispering my name, though I was the only one in the kitchen. People had broken in. From the corner of my eye, I thought I caught a glimpse of a passing figure.
Officer Jones… so nice to see you again.
The first thing I did was race to the study where I kept my handgun in a locked drawer. By the time I unlocked the drawer and took out the gun, the whispers had stopped. With both hands on the gun, I searched every room in the house. The closet in the master bedroom rattled. I tensed up. My heart pounded harder in my chest.
There was indeed an uninvited guest!
Slowly, I approached the closet. Then, I flung the doors opened and raised my gun in its direction — my heart screamed! Oh! Jesus! What I saw then was the face of my son, whose color had completely drained at the sight of the weapon between his eyes. My finger had pulled the trigger. But thank fucking God, the safety was still on!
He ran out crying and screaming, “Mommy!” I was still in shock and frozen in place with the gun in my hand, when she barged into the room and started yelling and sobbing until she had squeezed all the air out of her lungs and was blue in the face.
I didn’t tell her about the voices. I didn’t know how to explain it. There were other little incidents as well. All involved our new dining table. The table would shake and levitate a few inches off the floor before dropping back down, throwing off our plates and silverware. Since I didn’t believe in the paranormal, I thought that maybe the devil was having trouble sitting still in his chair. I slammed a fist on the table and shouted at my son to get his little ass down and eat the goddamn vegetables.
My wife hissed at me. “Be careful with the table!” she scolded, caressing the surface in a loving way. The faces suckled on her fingers, and she didn’t seem bothered at all by them. I grew jealous of the table. It had been weeks since she touched me like that.
The faces on the table grinned up at me. They were taunting me. They puckered their lips and made kissing noises.
Not long after, I started to see the shadows. They stood in dark corners and lurked behind doors. The back of my neck tingled whenever I got that feeling that someone was watching. But I’d find no one. Not a soul stood behind me, in a corner or behind any door. One night, I finally saw one of them standing at the end of the hallway. It was a man with a blood-red aura around his tall, wiry frame.
As he limped steadily toward me, dragging his oversized left foot. The glow from the yellow streetlight coming through the window shined on his face. Blood streamed from a gaping wound in his cracked forehead.
Once we were eye to eye, I was brought back to the prison yard.
Back to that tree.
I remembered the blood spattering on my face, and its metallic taste. I had used whatever I could get my hands on. A switch rod, a bike chain, a baton, and even a wired coat hanger from the guard’s locker room. Sometimes I just got carried away. I got into the moment. The thrill of power surged through my veins and pumped me up.
Now, I was looking into the eyes of Club Foot Gary. His swollen purple lips opened a deep chasm of darkness emitting a long, dreadful groan. Drawing in a sharp breath, I shut my eyes and then opened them again. Club Foot Gary vanished.
I wasn’t the only one who’d seen the phantoms. My son claimed he was too scared to sleep because in the dark corners of his room, there were men with bloodied faces watching him throughout the night.
Every single ghastly incident; all because of that damned table. I cursed the moment it came into my life. It had been hell. Or was I losing my mind? From that point on, things only grew worse.
My tabby hopped onto the table. He started scratching and hissing at the faces. I saw my poor little fur ball get eaten up. A hundred long tongues roped around him. And I tried to save him. I took an axe from the tool shed and slashed at the tongues and hacked at the wood. Their pained groans filled my ears. They started to bleed. All the blood poured out and spilled onto the floor. But I couldn’t save him. They had torn him to bits. But, somehow, he was still breathing, pawing at his guts splayed about him. I had to put him out of his misery.
Enraged, I marched into Killer Eye’s store. I demanded to know what kind of hell he had unleashed on me. I wanted him to take it back. I grabbed him by the collar and pushed him against the wall. I didn’t care that people were looking.
“Sorry, Jones, no returns on gifts,” he said. “This table is just for you. Do you know what kind of wood I used to make that beautiful dining table? I know you remember. The tree…”
Seeing my look of surprise, he grinned. “Yeah, that’s right. That grand ole oak tree in the yard. The men who died by your hands never forgot about you.”
I saw one of his associates pick up the phone and dialed a number — probably the cops. I let Killer Eye go and left the store.
I had no choice but to sell the table. I didn’t care if it’d rain hell on another family, as long as it wasn’t me. The problem was that my wife had completely fallen in love with the dining table. She was pissed off at me for the cuts and grooves I made with the axe — she got it fixed now with Killer Eye’s help.
I tried to explain to her what happened. But she didn’t give a goddamn bit that the table had eaten our cat. She’d scream and rage at me for not using a coaster under, or for spilling anything on the table. She polished the table every day. On a hot day, she did it without a shirt on. Her bare breasts pressed against the surface. She said she liked the cool feeling of the table on the skin. It was just too damn hot in the summer. She gave it sweet kisses, and the faces smiled and licked their lips and winked. To watch this scene was like witnessing her breaking our vows.
Then, one evening, coming home from a long day of work, I caught her butt-naked on the table entwined with the tongues that were as long and thick as anacondas. Her face was flushed, and her skin glistened wet from its pulsating saliva.
And that was when I lost it.
I don’t remember much what happened. I felt heat. I smelled smoke. Then, there was fire. Large flames that consumed my world. But the firemen came, pulled me out in time and put out the fire. The fire was determined by the firemen to be accidental. They found the charred bones of my wife in the kitchen, and later, my son’s in a pile of debris in his upstairs bedroom. All that was left still standing among the burnt rubble was the dining table.
To this day, I still have the table. Somehow, I can’t get rid of it. I’ve even given it away to charity, but it always returns. So, alone in my studio, I’d drink the days away at the table listening to the faces laughing at me and whispering me to ‘pull the trigger.’ The gun sits on the table, easily within my reach. Though my fingers itch to reach out and do it, I hold back.
I sit alone in the dark with only the ghosts of my shameful past as company.