Jaleesha Johnson tied her black work shoes, stood up, tucked her tan blouse into her chocolate brown slacks, grabbed her uniform blazer and hat, and left her small apartment. There was always a breeze, albeit today it was a warm one for an afternoon in late October, as she turned onto Woodward Avenue. She counted herself lucky to be working in the largest city in Michigan, let alone be able to afford a small place of her own around what was termed as the historic cultural district of Detroit. Wayne State University, museums and galleries set the atmosphere for an area that was urban eclectic.
The leggy, coffee-with-cream colored, young woman covered the city blocks with a stride that rivaled a man’s. She was blessed with her father’s height and her mother’s beauty. Even in her uniform and hat covering most of her short black curls, her good looks and curves refused to be hidden. Jaleesha had been conceived by her Columbian-born mother and African-American father prior to his being deployed overseas. Her father died without ever knowing she had been born, killed by a road-side bomb in Iraq. Unfortunately she never really got to know his side of the family.
She could see the gray stone building up ahead – the Detroit Institute of Art. She had been forced to leave school when her mother died of breast cancer. Jaleesha hoped to save enough money from her job as a security officer to return to her studies. For the time being, the museum satisfied her hunger for art.
“Miss Johnson, early as always,” commented George Appleby.
“Yes sir, Mr. Appleby,” Jaleesha responded, smiling at her supervisor. “I like being here on Mondays and Tuesdays when the museum is closed to the public. I can have some quiet time with the masters.”
George was as close to a father-figure as she would ever have. He took her under his wing when she first started and the two became fast friends. George often thought of her as an old soul, and definitely a girl who was raised to respect the people and things in her environment. On her days off he would often find her sitting quietly among the paintings. He felt blessed to have her working with his team.
“Jaleesha, may I ask you a favor? Ryan has been called out of town unexpectedly. Is there any chance you can work a double shift tomorrow? I’m not sure if I have coverage to give you time off at the end of the week, so we’re looking at overtime pay.”
She flashed a big smile and immediately agreed. “Of course, George, you know I have no life outside of here. I’ll be glad to cover.”
Before her shift started, she wandered up to the second floor, down the long promenade and to the European paintings. The Institute had a well-rounded collection which included Rubens, Monet, Van Gogh, among others. They ran the gamut from religious to landscapes, figurative to still art. While some gave her a feeling of peace, others invoked gaiety, and even others left her with a somber feeling. She also enjoyed the sculptures from around the globe, spanning the centuries.
Jaleesha walked slowly, carefully looking at the different styles and brush strokes. She adored the colors Van Gogh used and the way he used his brush made the scenes appear to be moving. She was in awe at how the impressionists could pounce color onto the canvas and yet standing back, those individual pounces of paint made a cohesive picture. Renoir’s landscapes were peaceful while the women in his paintings seemed very erotic. They were so different from some of the puritanical women depicted by other artists.
She walked by the sculpture of “Zephyr Dancing with Flora”. Was it just her eyes or was the marble actually swaying a bit? Jaleesha smiled and kept walking. She needed to see one more piece before starting her shift. Her favorite piece in the American Art collection was a small bronze named “The Freedman”. It depicted an African slave, naked except for a cloth around his waist, with only one manacle on his left wrist. He appeared to be wary of what freedom would bring. Jaleesha longed to touch his muscled body. She wanted to ease the frown on his face. This was her history.
Just after ten o’clock that night, Jaleesha was making her rounds through the second floor. She never lingered for more than a few seconds. Her job was to make sure everything was undisturbed and secure. Unsure as to what drew her attention to the eerie painting by Henry Fuseli, Jaleesha found herself staring at the images before her. Although the female figure was supposed to be asleep, Jaleesha thought “The Nightmare” reminded her of death. The vial on the table could have held a sleeping potion, or even poison. She wasn’t sure what the figure sitting on the woman’s chest was supposed to be, but Jaleesha knew she would find out when she Googled it tomorrow. She was an avid reader and loved research.
As always, the rest of her shift was uneventful, she reported to the next security guard. It didn’t bother Jaleesha to walk home at the midnight hour. She carried her keys so that they lined up in between her fingers. If anyone tried to approach her from the front, they would be scratched across the face. She was confident in the self-defense training she took, that anyone who tried to assault her would be very sorry for thinking she was an easy target. With her head up and an assertive walk, she sent the message that she was not one to mess with.
It was still unseasonably warm that night. The clouds seemed to have draped themselves around the moon. It was oddly quiet for a city as large as Detroit. Normally you would at least hear cars and trucks, but tonight there was nothing but the sound of the wind moving through the buildings.
“Jaleeshaaaaaaaaaa….,” the wind whispered.
Jaleesha stopped in her tracks, brought her hand and keys up in a defensive move and spun around. There was nothing. How stupid, she thought, it was the just the wind. She continued on with a faster pace.
“Jaleeshaaaaaaaaaa…,” again the wind called.
Goose bumps broke out all over her body as she now jogged the last few blocks home. Inside, behind her locked door, Jaleesha broke out in a cold sweat. What the hell was that? An overwhelming feeling of dread engulfed her. Try as she might to push these feelings away, they stayed with her until long after she turned out the light and fell into a fitful sleep.
The next day Jaleesha could hear the buzz of her alarm clock, but couldn’t seem to bring her mind into consciousness. Her brain felt cloudy, and try as she might, she couldn’t open her eyes. Blindly, she pushed the snooze button and drifted back to an unsettled sleep. Jaleesha pushed that button three more times before being able to peer out into the sunlit room. Struggling to sit up, she felt like she had been hit by a truck. Her chest felt like there was a huge weight resting on it. Where usually her mood was light, today she felt a foreboding. She prayed that no one would send her bad news.
Jaleesha spent the day wandering around the studio apartment, not being able to settle down to do any particular task. Reading or watching television was out of the question because her mind would wander. She had to remind herself to pack extra in her lunch because she would be working two eight hour shifts, starting at noon. She wasn’t getting sick, but she just didn’t feel right.
The walk to the institute seemed longer. The air seemed heavy. It was one of those days when you knew something was going to happen, and then were surprised when it did. Jaleesha reported to work on time, but it only took a glance for George to realize something was wrong.
“Jaleesha, what’s wrong? You don’t feel well, do you?” he asked, concerned for his young friend.
“I’m fine, George. Honestly, I am,” she replied, attempting to give him a smile. “I think I just didn’t sleep well last night. I’ll be fine.”
“Look, if you can’t make it through both shifts, call me,” George told her. “I’ll come in and relieve you at midnight, if I have to. If you can’t make until I get here at four, please promise you’ll call.”
“Will you stop being a mother hen?” Jaleesha teased. “I told you I’m fine. I’m going to take a quick walk and I’ll be back on time.”
She went directly to him. Walking around the pedestal, Jaleesha longed to trace his muscles with her fingers. She imagined what his large, rough, workingman’s hands would feel like on her body. Would his beard tickle as he lowered his mouth onto hers? Staring at The Freedman, she let herself get lost in her daydream.
The first shift came and went without incident. Jaleesha was writing her report when she heard, “Jaleeshaaaaaaaaaa….”
Jaleesha spun around to the grinning face of Marty, one of the maintenance workers. A mighty punch to his shoulder taught him that he had crossed the line.
“What the hell are you trying to do to me, Marty? Do you want me to have a heart attack? You’re damn lucky all I did was punch you. I should have thrown you down and…”
His grin got larger. “Had your way with me?”
Jaleesha tried very hard not to laugh at her openly gay friend, but couldn’t help herself. The two of them collapsed into a fit of giggles over Marty’s joke.
“I just wanted to say goodnight. George told me you were staying for Ryan. You need anything before I go? You’ll be the only one here until morning.”
Jaleesha smiled and said, “No, I’m cool. This place has been closed for two days, so I’m not concerned. I’ll see you soon.”
Jaleesha’s eyes began to ache from the long hours watching the security monitors. She looked at the clock – only four more to go. She snapped to attention as the lights in the European room blinked. She waited, but it didn’t happen again. Jaleesha wrote it off to a surge in the power, but kept closer watch every time the cameras swept that area of the gallery. It was getting closer to the time for her to make her rounds when the lights blinked twice in that room again. Jaleesha grabbed the nightstick before she left the security office.
She covered the first floor without a problem. The doors to the offices, lecture hall, auditorium, and store were still locked. Upstairs her rubber-soled shoes seemed to echo down the long hallway. She walked into the Great Hall, confident that everything was fine until the entrance on her left went dark. With the nightstick clenched in one hand and her cellphone in the other, Jaleesha made her way toward the European Room.
Every light in the room was out except for one, the one shining on Fineli’s Nightmare. Jaleesha scanned the area as she walked over to the painting. The eyes of the horse and the figure sitting on the reclining woman seemed to glow. A cold chill ran down her spine and then she jumped as all of the lights came on in the gallery. She mentally laughed at herself for being so silly. What could happen here with no one around? She finished her rounds and issued a report suggesting an electrician be called.
The rest of her shift went without incidence. While she made the rounds with George when he came in at four, Jaleesha waited to see if he found anything odd, but he said nothing. When she approached the Freedman, she could swear his eyes looked directly at her, through her. The older guard apparently didn’t notice.
Shortly after four Jaleesha exited the building and began her short walk home. The air was decidedly cooler, she thought, hugging her jacket tightly around her. It was quiet on the city streets, the buildings were dark, and their inhabitants asleep in the early morning hours.
Jaleesha’s heart began to pound as she took off running for home. She couldn’t remember ever being afraid walking alone before, but right now she felt like she had to run for her life. Up the half dozen steps to the door of her apartment building, she fumbled and then dropped her keys. With shaky hands she picked them up and was trying to push the key into the lock when she heard the sound.
It took her a moment but she recognized it at the same time she was able to push the door open. Terror overtook Jaleesha and she was barely able to get inside and slam the door closed behind her. She pressed her face against the cool glass and peered out into the darkness watching and waiting, but there was nothing. How could that be? She was sure she had heard the unmistakable sound of horse’s hooves.
Nothing. It was nothing she thought, riding the elevator up to her floor. What the hell was going on with her imagination? If she didn’t know better, she’d swear she had too much to drink. Right now though, that sounded like a good idea. Entering her apartment, she went straight to the cupboard and got out her bottle of Jim Beam. She poured a couple of inches into a glass and took a moment to savor its fragrance. Warmth filled her lungs and then her stomach as she downed the brown liquid in one gulp. She frowned, once again wondering what it was that was causing her to imagine the stupidest of things. Horse’s hooves in Detroit? Not likely.
Jaleesha took a nice hot shower, using her lavender gel hoping to calm down before bed. The water running down her toned body felt like fingers gently touching her. She took the shower attachment, switched it to pulse and then opened her legs. The pounding of the spray hit her clit and in no time she felt her legs buckle as her orgasm hit. If nothing else, she would go to bed relaxed and satisfied.
She pulled the black-out curtains shut and crawled into bed shortly after five. Snuggling down underneath her comforter, Jaleesha rolled on her side and cupped her breast with her right hand. Her eyes closed, her breathing became slow and deep, and she fell asleep rolling her nipple.
His mustache seemed to prick her skin as his teeth tenderly pulled on her nipple. Jaleesha moaned with pleasure when his mouth seemed to engulf her entire breast, sucking it, drinking from it. She tried to move her hands to touch him, but she couldn’t. She lay there with her eyes closed, feeling him satisfy her needs, and his.
In her mind, Jaleesha saw him kneeling between her legs. His hands felt hard and cold moving up her arms and then across her chest. He stopped to fondle, no – kneed her breasts. He pulled on her nipples, causing them to harden like stone. He ran his hands over her belly, across her body to her wide hips, gripping them while he lay down between her legs.
His breath felt cold, but it made her hot. His tongue almost felt like sandpaper, causing her to become even more excited. Never had Jaleesha felt so out of control, to the point that her juices were running down her crack to her ass. Still, he kept licking, holding her hips tighter as they involuntarily bucked with desire. Waves of pleasure started, threatening to drown her with ecstasy. In the quiet of her room, her moans seemed so loud. She wanted him more than she had ever wanted anything.
Suddenly, she didn’t feel his tongue, but she could feel a prodding at her dripping entrance. The hands that held her hips now raised them and pull her body to him. The penetration was sudden, hard and fast. He let go of her hips and seemed to rest his hands on her chest, pressing her into the mattress as he pounded her sex. Jaleesha gasped for air, feeling like she couldn’t take a breath. His cock was hard as steel and his thrusts seemed endless. Her body couldn’t help but react, releasing its fluids over his cock while she felt his seed enter her womb. Light-headed, satisfied, and exhausted, she fell into unconsciousness.
Jaleesha struggled to wake, the buzzer of her annoying alarm jolting her. She shivered, noting she had pushed her covers on the floor sometime during the night. She finally stood and walked wobbly to the bathroom. She was surprised that it stung a little when she peed and hoped she wasn’t getting an infection. When she stood and looked in the mirror, Jaleesha was shocked at her appearance. She looked like someone who hadn’t slept in a week. Her pallor was pale, there were dark circles under her eyes, and she was having hard time breathing. She thought she had slept well, at least she assumed she had, having no memory of dreaming. That’s odd, she thought while looking in the full-length mirror. What had she done to bruise her hip?
She felt slightly better as the afternoon went on. By the time she arrived at work, Jaleesha no longer felt like she was coming down with something. Before checking in, she ran up the stairs to the second floor to see him. As always, he sat silently on his pedestal. Jaleesha walked around and around, taking in every nuance of his body. When she looked in his eyes, she felt a warmth grow until she was blushing. She closed her eyes and offered a wish to any power that could answer, and then left the room to start her shift.
Shortly before midnight, the lights went out in the European gallery. Jaleesha checked all of the monitors before leaving the office with her nightstick. Through the Great Hall, she made her way to the darkened entrance of the room. She crept up the steps and peered into a room where the only light source came from the door ways. The hair on her neck stood up as she entered the gallery.
Jaleesha screamed at the moment all of the lights came on. She ran from the room, through the Promenade, down the steps and back to the Security Office. Leaning with her back against the closed door, she could feel her heart pounding and had a hard time catching her breath. No one would believe this, she already knew that. If this was all in her mind, why did it have to seem so real? For the rest of her shift, Jaleesha chose not to walk the Institute and only used the cameras to monitor the galleries. When midnight came, she called a cab to go home.
The phone woke Jaleesha before her alarm went off. It had been another night of erotic dreams. When she stood to answer the phone, it almost felt like her lover’s juices were seeping out of her.
“Jaleesha this is George. I didn’t wake you, did I?” asked the voice on the other end of the phone.
A wave of nausea swept over Jaleesha when she tried to answer. She leaned against the wall to steady herself as she became light-headed. “My alarm was just about ready to go off,” she replied weakly. She hoped George would understand if she told him she was sick.
“I hate to do this to you twice in one week, but I’m desperate. Tell me you’ll work the shift after yours. Ryan’s mother took a turn and he has to leave town. I can’t even get anyone to swap shifts with you because of Halloween, but I can give you off tomorrow. I’ll cover for you. What do you say, Jaleesha?” George begged.
Her hopes of crawling back into bed just died. She tried to sound as upbeat as possible and agreed. “You know I would do anything for you, George. It’s not a problem. Oh, and thank you for giving me tomorrow off,” she said, hanging up the phone.
Confident that a shower would help her to feel better, she stayed under the running water until it started to cool. Toweling off, Jaleesha stopped and stared at herself in the mirror. Her breasts appeared fuller and her abdomen looked bloated. It was too soon for her period, she thought. Boy, she hoped she didn’t get sick at work.
Soup, crackers and some tea before work seemed to do the trick. She felt almost normal upon entering the building. If George thanked her once, he thanked her a dozen times. To show his appreciation, he gave her a small plastic pumpkin filled with chocolate goodies.
Jaleesha’s first shift passed without any odd goings-on. Half-way through her double, she was surprised at how good she still felt. Whatever was wrong with her that morning seemed to have passed. She took her time making the midnight rounds. She didn’t feel any apprehension at all when she entered the European gallery. She stopped to take in the beauty of The Visitation by Rembrandt. In her opinion, no other artist utilized light the way he did. When Jaleesha looked at the Virgin Mary, a wonderful peace seemed to come over her. She made her way around the room and then stopped at The Nightmare. The strange gargoyle- like creature sitting on the woman’s chest seemed to be grinning right at Jaleesha. She quickly turned away and ran from the room to finish her rounds.
Jaleesha was starting to get very tired when it happened. One by one, each monitor on the security board went black. There was no alarm, just blackness on each screen. She looked at the circuits, and there didn’t seem to be a power outage in any area of the Institute. Following procedure, Jaleesha powered down the system to reboot. When in doubt, that was the first thing you always did – reboot. The system was slow to come up but when it did, all of the monitors came to life. Jaleesha scanned each security point and didn’t find anything amiss. To be safe, she recorded the incident and noted that she would begin rounds early, as a precautionary measure.
Room by room, locked door by locked door, Jaleesha painstakingly covered the first floor. Up on the second floor, there was nothing that looked out of place. For a moment, she wondered if it was her imagination, but she knew better. Still, the fact that the cameras went down concerned her. The alarm controls showed they never wavered. It was probably something way too technical for her to figure out.
She decided to switch up her path, check the stairs at the end of the Promenade and then enter the European Gallery from that point, instead of off the Great Hall. Silently, she made her way around the room until, “Jaleeshaaaaaaaaaa….”
She was standing in front of The Nightmare and the gargoyle could not be seen. A cold breeze passed over the back of Jaleesha’s neck as she screamed and the lights went out. The last thing she was aware of was cold hands taking hold of her.
When George arrived at work the next morning, she was not in the Security Office. Her partially eaten candy sat on the desk, the only evidence that she had been there. He called her apartment and even went by, but no one answered the door. After a week, he persuaded the superintendent to open her apartment to see if she was all right. There was no sign she had ever returned there from work, that Halloween night. The police took a missing persons report, but weren’t convinced there was any foul play.
They say George changed after that night. He wasn’t the happy-go-lucky guy he used to be. His superiors suggested that perhaps he might want to retire. When he told them there was no place he would rather be, they dropped the issue but suggested he talk to someone. Even on his days off, George could be seen sitting quietly in the American Art Gallery staring at a couple of small bronze statues. One of them was Jaleesha’s favorite, John Quincy Adams Ward’s Freedman. The second was an unnamed statue that had been anonymously donated, as a companion piece to Ward’s. It was the figure of a young female African slave, nude to the waist. Her hair appeared to be wrapped up in fabric, her breasts were full and round, there was a manacle on her right wrist, and her belly was swollen with child.
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