“So, am I correct in assuming that you only go for our white women?” Richard asked, spearing the slice of grilled pork with his fork and jabbing the meat into his eager mouth.
Here it was. The moment of truth that Nathan had been dreading since before he arrived. The question, delivered with such revulsion that his many hours of mental gymnastics had proven inadequate preparation for the sting once the words finally sliced through the tenuous air.
He shot a sly glance across the table at his host.
“Richard, it’s obvious you and I come from different worlds, but we’re not all that different,” Nathan responded, the frozen eyes from the faces of so many dead animal heads mounted on the walls staring down at him, urging him to continue. “In Philly, questions like that don’t get asked. It doesn’t matter how others live their lives. My guess is that if you look deeper into the well, you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
“You got that liberal north in you…boy,” Richard spat the last word.
Inside, Nathan’s stomach churned.
“It’s a simple question, with an equally simple answer,” the older man continued. “Let me show you how easy it is, Nathan.” Pausing. “Without a shadow of a doubt, I’ve never had any interest in any woman that wasn’t a white woman. My crayon box has no colors. So, I guess I can understand your particular…shall we say…fetish?” He finished, chewing on his words as much as the food in his mouth.
It had probably been a mistake to visit Christine’s father. Not to mention taking the 800-mile trip to southern Indiana without her knowledge. But, against his better judgment, Nathan had done just that. And he now found himself sitting at the dining room table with the man from whom Christine had spent so many of her own years running away from.
“For the most part, Christine and I feel it’s not what’s on the outside that makes us different. We also don’t necessarily agree about what’s on the inside,” Nathan said, thinking about the girlfriend he’d lied to about a last-minute business trip to L.A.
“That Christine… Always a bit of a wild hare. Gotta give ‘er that one! No matter how we tried, her mother and I never could seem to get her to understand the importance of tradition. Ever since she was little she went her own way. Even becoming a vegetarian; can you imagine?” Richard said, popping another bite of meat into his mouth. The trophy heads hanging on the walls of the room listened in silence. “Never raised her that way. Just up and changed — was the darndest thing. I blame the liberal colleges she attended.”
Nathan remained silent, non-committal.
“So, I take it you’re a hunter, Nathan. How does that square with Christine?” Richard asked, changing the subject.
Christine had shared many tales of her father’s exploits. Had explained how he prided his ability to track down and kill any type of game — the wilder or more exotic the better. The mounted heads of antelope, buffalo, kangaroo, and boar, along with the more mundane deer and moose that lined the walls of the dining room were testaments to her tales. From just above his own head, Richard’s pride and joy, a massive grizzly bear, growled down at Nathan.
“Why else would I be here, Richard?” Nathan responded, rhetorically.
“One time…many years ago, Christine brought home a Chinese boy she’d been dating. Again…back in college…the root of all her problems, I’m convinced. Didn’t raise her to associate with the others, but the free-willed person she was, she went on and did it anyway,” he finished, pointing his empty fork at Nathan, punctuating his words.
“I believe Jon was Vietnamese,” Nathan corrected him, remembering Christine’s account of her first boyfriend meeting her father. According to her, it hadn’t gone well. Nathan now understood why.
“Is there any difference? All Orientals…” Richard stated, matter-of-factly. “Did you see my oriental rug?” Pointing at the floor beneath the table. “It came from Japan. In the Orient.
“Anyway, that one, he didn’t last very long. Didn’t have the right stuff, I guess,” he continued. “Too much of the same color in his crayon box. Yellow, ya might say. That’s when I started questioning my daughter’s choices. So what makes you think you’ll fare better than he did?” He asked, sucking the meat from a rib, his lips smacking obscenely.
“Growing up in eastern P.A., I spent a great deal of time in the Poconos,” Nathan explained. “I know a thing or two about the hunt. I’d like to think I’m pretty capable with a gun…or a knife… Or anything else, for that matter,” he said, throwing a smirk at the older man, who refused the bait.
“That so…?” Richard stated, more than asked. “Guess we find out tomorrow. I believe maybe you think you’re gonna show me a thing or two. I can smell it on ya. Just a warning though, sometimes I don’t play fair…” Richard said, his voice all sincerity. “So, wake-up call’s 4:00am. We’ll see what you’ve got, City Boy. And, remember, winner takes all.”
“Winner takes all,” Nathan agreed.
They had driven to a location about 50 miles outside of town to a spot Richard claimed offered the best hunting around. Most importantly, it was far enough from the prying eyes of the law, he had explained on the trip into the country.
With the morning sun bleeding into the sky, the two men walked as quietly as possible through the dense forest. Each armed with their own Browning auto-loader, more than a few field dressing knives and enough ammunition to take down a whole herd if need be. Their meandering path through the woods kept them off the well-worn trails but close enough to see any movement on them. Speaking very little during the hour or so hike, they left all the talking to their footfalls — an ominous reminder to each why the other was there.
Richard broke the silence, his hand shooting into the air to halt Nathan who followed a few steps behind. Whispering, he pointed. “There, ‘bout 20 yards to the east, just beyond that copse of trees.”
In the distance, Nathan saw movement behind the brush — flashes of white, brown and tan among a sea of green.
“Looks like we got us a couple,” Richard said. “See there, a beautiful white-tailed doe out for an early morning stroll, with her magnificent buck in tow. No inter-species mingling goin’ on there,” he chided, almost chuckling at his own bad joke.
“Indeed, she’s a beauty. And what’s he, about a 4- or 5-pointer?”
Richard ignored the question.
Raising his rifle to peer through the scope, Nathan watched the magnificent creatures step from behind a stand of trees. He thought he noticed a slight twitch in the buck’s head, potentially signaling the hunters’ undoing. The moment passed, and they trotted on.
“We’re ‘bout to see what you’re made of, Mr. City Boy,” Richard said. “You got one shot. And remember, all or nuthin’.” The look in his eyes almost a gleam.
Nathan could almost hear the smirk in the old man’s voice.
“Gotta do this together, if we aim to bag ‘em both.”
“I’m with ya, old man,” Nathan said, aware that the shots, if not almost simultaneous, would spook one of the animals into bolting. And, considering he’d come this far, he wasn’t about to make a mistake, knowing full well the repercussions.
“You take the female. I’ll get the male. Okay?”
“Just as I’d prefer,” Nathan said.
“On three,” Richard’s voice barely above a whisper.
Nathan steadied the butt of the rifle against his shoulder and peered through the scope, positioning his magnified crosshairs on the animal’s chest.
Richard stared into the face of the buck whose brown eye blinked once before turning his head directly into the hunter’s sights, inadvertently lining up the shot on his own forehead.
The bullets flew from their chambers.
An explosion of red burst from the doe’s chest as Nathan’s shot entered just above her heart. The buck’s skull splintered as Richard’s bullet drove its way home. The female wobbled on unsure legs before bouncing into a tree and falling to the ground. The male collapsed where he stood, Richard’s aim point blank.
“Looks like you ain’t half bad with that rifle after all,” Richard said, almost congratulatory.
The hunters shambled to where their kill now lay on the ground. The male had died instantly. Richard grabbed his legs, flopping him unceremoniously onto his back. His head, lolling awkwardly from a lifeless neck, was a shattered mass where the exit wound had blown out the back of his skull. Nothing that taxidermy couldn’t fix.
Nathan’s female was drowning in a pool of blood, struggling for life. A few labored breaths bubbled red out of her nostrils and from between her lips. Unsheathing his dressing blade, he mercifully jabbed the sharpened steel into her stomach. With a motion more precarious than planned, he slid the blade through her rib cage and up to her gullet, splaying open her chest cavity and emptying its contents onto the ground. With the blood-stained point of his blade, he flipped aside her jogging bra, sending a spray of red into her blonde hair. Her porcelain flesh now exposed, Nathan sliced a large section of flesh from her breast and popped it into his greedy mouth, the areola bouncing between his teeth.
“Well, Nathan, even if you do look a bit like a raisin in the sun,” Richard said, “seems like we’ve got more in common than I thought. Guess it’s true what they say about a daddy’s girl. No matter what, she always finds someone who’s just like her dear old pa.”
For the first time that weekend, Richard Morgan smiled.
© Copyright 2013 DaemonwulfTM. All Rights Reserved.
Heed the Tale Weaver: Celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Damned. Through May 7, 2013, upon each new post, a comment you will leave. A package of ghoulish goodies tainted with an offering from every member of the Damned awaits one fated winner – glorious books, personalized stories and eternal suffering at your feet. Now Damn yourself, make your mark below! But remember insolent ones, you must leave a comment, a “like” will not earn you a chance at our collection of depravity. Do not make the Damned hunt you down.
I have a new roommate. And he’s the roommate from hell.
I realize that phrase is thrown around a lot, usually to describe housemates whose behaviors range from the mildly annoying peccadillo to acts of full-blown psychosis. You know the type. We’ve all had them. But this is different. I’m now completely convinced there’s a demon living in my apartment.
While no beauty by any measure, he’s not as repulsive as you might think. But he does have a slight odor, like a wet blanket left out too long in the rain.
His skin is nearly translucent — much like watered-down milk, and you can almost see the veins crisscrossing his body beneath. He appears cold to the touch, mainly smooth, but with a few wrinkles here and there, especially where his skin hangs loose on his bones. It flaps around as he moves — an altogether unpleasant sight.
He’s much shorter than I imagined a demon would be, and has a small, wide nose that’s almost squashed. Perhaps broken in some hellish brawl. His eyes are big and round. They’re slightly recessed and stare out at me from beneath an overly large forehead. A chubby belly jiggles when he waddles around the room on fat little legs that are out of proportion to the rest of his body. It’s amazing how quickly they can move, and he with them. Oh, and he wears short, yellow pants.
I’ve come to the conclusion that he believes I can’t see him. I know this because he engages in a host of activities that would normally be reserved for times of personal isolation. He frequently gnaws on his long nails, whittling them down so the nubs of his fingers are raw and then spitting the remains all over the floor. He also picks his nose and flicks the dried clumps of mucus through the air. And I have to say I was quite shocked the first time I saw him pull his little pecker from his pants and happily go to work on it.
When the demon isn’t gnawing at, picking in or jerking off his own parts, he can be found sitting calmly in the chair behind me — waiting and watching. Watching television. Watching me. Sometimes he’ll stare almost wistfully out the window, even though there’s little to see — buildings stretching to the horizon, their smokestacks belching exhaust into the haze-filled skies. He’s there right now, staring at me. Something tells me he has no plans to leave.
My demon’s started jogging. For the last three nights I’ve lain in bed listening to the patter of fast little feet as he runs the length of the apartment. He starts in the kitchen, races down the hallway to the front door, gleefully slides on the polished wood floor, spins and runs back again. When he passes the open doorway to my bedroom he’s little more than a blur. Only a few days ago I would’ve thought it odd for a demon to be jogging around my home. Now it’s become routine. His initial runs lasted for only a few minutes, but now he keeps it up for most of the night. He may be trying to drive me mad from lack of sleep.
Today when I came home from work, the front door was locked — from the inside. It took some doing before I’d succeeded in breaking the door frame and forcing my way into the house. Once I’d made it inside, the demon ignored me. He sat, nonchalantly rocking back and forth and swinging his short legs to and fro like a recalcitrant child. The half smile on his pale face was almost a sneer, and his mouth flashed rotting teeth. I have to admit, he’s beginning to frighten me.
I haven’t been outside in days for fear the demon won’t let me back in. Work stopped calling long ago. I’m sure I’ve been fired. And the food is running out. He has a voracious appetite, eating everything in sight. First it was the sweets — cookies, candies, cakes and all the sodas are long gone. Then he started in on the meats. He’s made the kitchen a filthy mess — countertops cluttered with unwashed pans, walls spattered with grease and foodstuff littering the floor from his failed attempts at frying, boiling, stewing and simmering everything in the house. I’m beginning to wonder how long I can take this.
Last night, while I was asleep, he took a bite out of my thigh. I don’t know how he accomplished it without my knowledge, but he did. What do I know about the anesthetizing powers of the supernatural otherworld? Whatever it was, it worked, and I woke up this morning missing a large chunk of my flesh that, I must say, I’d become quite fond of. I realize he’s not likely to go away on his own; I must do something.
Fever has wracked my body from the infection caused by his bite. I can’t even sit up to type. I think I’ll rest a bit longer today.
This morning I cut off my leg. Unable to control the spread of the infection, I had no other choice. I wrapped it in a dirty sheet and hid it beneath my bed. I hope he doesn’t sneak in while I’m asleep and make a meal of it. I want to keep my body parts as far away from his as possible. I hear him on the other side of the door. He’s giggling.
Yesterday my fever finally broke. And with my strength slowly returning, I started planning. After so many days locked in my room I’m badly undernourished. The flesh from my amputated leg will only sustain me for so long.
I finally did it! Last night I struck! With a knife I’d secreted from the foul-smelling kitchen, I fashioned a spear by duct taping the blade to the remains of my tattered leg.
Once the demon had completed several laps down the hallway, I went for it. As he passed the doorway, I thrust my makeshift weapon into his path. The blade caught him mid-stride, severing his Achilles tendon, causing him to scream in pain and sending him tumbling head over heels into the front door where he crashed with such a noise it startled me.
I warily crawled to his side. And when I was sure he was out cold I grabbed his fat leg and sunk my teeth deep into the meat of his upper thigh. I have to say he tasted a bit like chicken. When I bit down, I felt his bone splinter between my jaws.
My bite shocked him back into consciousness with a keening wail that I was sure would wake the dead. I didn’t care if it had, choosing instead to relish watching him scamper away, groaning in agony.
Things have been quiet. I haven’t seen the demon for more than 24 hours. Two days ago I heard the sound of breaking glass. I want to imagine he jumped through the window, meeting his death on the street below. But without the strength to check, I just lay here reveling in the fantasy. All that’s left for me to eat are the few remaining pieces of meat on my souring leg, and the horde of flies and maggots that have found a home there. I can only take a couple bites at a time, barely able to choke down the rotting pieces of my own flesh.
He wasn’t dead after all. Last night he started the fire.
The flames made quick work of my cheap bedroom door, allowing him to break through. When he crawled across the threshold, I could tell he was in bad shape. The infection from my bite had taken its toll. As he dragged himself through the flames I realized the source of the crash I’d heard. In his crippled and feverish state, he must’ve fallen onto the dining room table. Shards of glass were now embedded in his cheeks and protruded from his forehead, creating dangerous spiked horns where there had been none.
To an outsider we must have looked quite the pair. Two crippled souls laying on the floor of a rancid, smoke-filled apartment that smelled of waste and death. He slowly dragged his body forward through the filth. But due to his lack of nails, he was unable to gain much purchase on the slippery wood floor, the manicured nubs of his fingers offering little traction.
I saw the desperation in his eyes as he pulled himself toward me. That’s when I realized he was far too weak and broken. During my self-imposed isolation, I’d been preparing, sharpening my own talons. My clawed fingers, combined with the scales that undulate in waves across my body ensured that I’d be more effective at dragging myself along the floor and plucking those hideous blue eyes from his skull before he could get hold of my own beautiful fiery reds.
© Copyright 2013 DaemonwulfTM. All Rights Reserved.
I’m infected. Chewed up by an army of secrets, I’ve felt a thousand sets of viral teeth feasting on me over the years. I shouldn’t have let it happen, but there really wasn’t much I could do.
The noise surrounding me is deafening. It’s a tremendous ringing in my ears that pushes the memories of the many things I’ve done first into, and then out of, focus. At times, it seems almost a blessing that remembering has become difficult.
From somewhere far away, a woman’s voice calls out.
The veil of clarity parts, and I realize who I am.
My name’s Gabriel Merchant — of Hastings, Nebraska. I was a small-town, farm boy who once played wide receiver for the Kenesaw High Blue Devils. On the outside, I was popular — at least for all those things I allowed people to see. But on the inside, I couldn’t have been any more alone.
“Gaaaaaabe! C’mon in! Supper’s on the table…”
I see Mama. She’s standing on the back porch. A grease-spattered apron tied around her waist covers the house dress she’s worn most days since Daddy’s departure. Her sad eyes search the yard and periodically gaze into the cornfields as she nervously dries her hands on the filthy dish towel she keeps by the sink.
At my feet, the body of the dying calf convulses, belching its fluids onto the dirt floor of the barn. The slit I’ve opened in its belly is a jagged line connecting groin to gullet. Blood, bile and bits of undigested food create a stew of filth on the ground, while layers of exposed flesh, splayed open, begs me. It will need to wait. Mama’s calling…
I drop the still-warm carcass into the hole I’ve dug. It lands with a heavy thud atop the pile of rotting animal skins and maggot-scavenged bones of the others. Anticipation stirs my groin, promising more pleasure than any unfulfilled romance I’ve contemplated. And my insides quiver with the knowledge of what’s to come, feeding my illness.
Mama’s urgent calls echo in my head as I drop the cover on my secret grave. Before the plywood slams shut, I reflexively avoid the empty gaze of the human skull that stares up at me.
With Rusty my Pointer at my side, his tail battering my leg, I leave the barn. The mare in the corner stall snorts her approval of our departure.
Mama’s face fades. Rusty’s no longer there. Instead, I’m lying in the mud. It’s dark. It’s still raining. I’m back on the island. And there’s so much blood on my hands…
The clouds have been open for hours. And a cold wind blows across the field. The frayed leather chinstrap on my helmet tickles my right ear as heavy droplets of rain fall from the sky. They slap at my face and bounce off my helmet – a tinny metal drum that beats inside my mind.
Bullets whiz past my head. Incoming artillery fire spits mud into the air. It splashes in great chunks around me as I listen to the roar of the propeller-driven engines on a squadron of planes flying overhead. The earth rumbles, shaken by the impact of the payload dropping through the night sky. In the distance, explosions draw a hellish orange line that stretches across the horizon as far as my good eye can see.
My situation’s clear. I remember who I am. I’m Private First Class Gabriel Merchant, 4th Marine Division. It’s Wednesday, March 7, 1945. I’m on Iwo Jima. And I’m dying.
Tap…tap…tap…goes the drumbeat of rain on my helmeted skull.
My left eye looks out into a hazy world of liquid red.
There’s so much blood on my face…
I know its blood — I’ve tasted it so many times. What most people don’t know is that’s quite different depending upon how it’s drawn. Mine is warm and oily on my tongue, laced with the familiar notes of fear. It streams into my throat, and I feel it dripping out again through the hole in the back of my skull.
My disease is killing me.
This isn’t how I’d imagined my end would come. Not that I ever gave it much thought. But it never crossed my mind that I’d die alone, lying in the mud, in a place I’d never heard of, somewhere in the middle of ocean I’d never seen, and with my right arm holding my stomach tight to keep my bowels from escaping their rightful place inside my gut.
I didn’t see him coming. His first strike entered my body just beneath my right eye and continued on until it shattered bone at the back of my head. As he withdrew his weapon, my spine shuddered, his blade scraping against bone much like fingernails on a chalkboard. He offered only a momentary pause, before plunging it in again, this time deep into my abdomen.
Slamming me onto my back, he drove me into the mud with a force that ripped the M1 from my shoulder, shearing its leather strap in two. Now, my only weapon lay somewhere off in the darkness out of reach.
Amid the barrage of gunfire and the shouts of the others in my platoon frantically barking orders back and forth, a familiar odor assaults my nostrils. It’s the smell of cinnamon, or what I know to be the scent of death.
For the first time in my life, I realize how they must have felt.
There’s so much blood on my hands.
Back home, I was always the predator. Without much else to do, hunting was my life. I never tired of the comfort of a trigger or the satisfying kick into my shoulder as the bullet left its chamber. Maybe the only thing better was the heft of a knife and the satisfaction as it cut life short, shearing off the fingers that, inevitably, tried to fight back.
He stabbed at me with a fury I hadn’t thought possible. The speed and precision of his attacks were almost painless as he stabbed through layers of my flesh and into bone. The missing fingers on my left hand ache, having been sliced off, reducing my arm to a leaking stub that now spilled blood onto my chest.
Even through the din on the battlefield, I hear him breathing. While I haven’t seen his face, I imagine the look in his eyes. I sense his accomplishment as it oozes from his pores and slickens the skin beneath his clothing. Oh, the satisfaction. I know it all too well.
I became infected at the age of 10. It all began, innocently enough, with a rabbit in a trap. While only a few months old, it had so much zest for life that it nearly chewed through its own leg to escape. And, once released, it was barely able to move. But I followed it for nearly an hour as it dragged itself around the pasture. I’ll never forget the brightness in its eyes as I lowered my axe on its neck. I watched, intently, until its lights went out.
Afterwards, my disease quickly spread — my actions growing worse as each day passed. If Daddy had been basic training, the Marine Corps was my proving ground.
The bringer of my own death stands quiet. As he moves to my side, I see the outline of his body for the first time.
A criss-crossing pattern of tracer bullets strafe the night sky, cutting through the smoke from anti-aircraft fire. The shape of Death strobes in and out of focus. I find it hard to believe what I’m seeing. He’s much larger than expected. And he smells of shit.
The odor fouls the air. It takes a moment, but I realize it’s the smell of my own bowels as they evacuate my body for the last time.
In his left hand, Death carries multiple blades. They glisten with a mixture of blood, viscera and rain that courses off their impossibly sharp points.
Funny, I think, I’m left-handed too.
Thump… Thump… Thump…
My heart slows.
The rain falls harder. The bombers continue past.
How long has it been? Two minutes? Five?
Time no longer has meaning, but it’s the only thing left.
Breathing heavily, Death closes in, lowering his head toward whatever is left of mine. I can barely see him, but I smell his diseased breath. It’s sour with the same infection that feeds on me.
Thump……. Thump……. Thump…….
As my lungs drown in blood, Death kneels at my side. Rainwater streams off his contorted head and batters my face as he brings his nose close to mine. I see his eyes for the first time. They’re blue, like mine.
Thump……………… Thump……………. Thump……………..
Blood rushes into my throat. I spit it from my mouth. It splashes onto Death’s chin. An impossibly long tongue slithers from between his thick lips and licks it away.
His jaws open, revealing a maw of sharp, yellowed teeth. Their tips glitter in the darkness as long tendrils of saliva slip from his gums. The face of Death isn’t at all what I’d expected. Death wasn’t a man at all…
My heart stops. The final beat ends the symphony of rain, gunfire and battlefield shouts. Now there is only silence; and the blue eyes of Death staring into mine.
Then come the screams. They were the anguished howls and the cries of all the souls whose lives I’d ended. They pummeled me. Daddy’s was the loudest.
I’m no longer inside my body, but instead somewhere above, peering down at the wreckage of the life I’ve created.
Death calls me. I go.
Drawn into him, I’m instantly no longer alone. His eyes became mine. The talons on his hands move as my own. And he shares all of his memories with me, and I with him. There was a sense of communion unlike anything I had felt before.
Death had been the source of my disease. He was also my cure.
Looking down at my old self now, I watch as filthy raindrops baptize my broken body in the mud. I lean in closer, inspecting my farm-boy face. And with a new set of razors in my mouth, I strip the skin that was my mask from my one-time skull.
Bombs explode in the distance, ending uncounted lives and sending the fires of my new Heaven mushrooming into the night sky. With the flames dancing around me, I place upon my head the last remnants of the old me. And from behind my new, contorted features of shaved flesh and pure hatred, I howl at the rising moon.
I’d always thought I’d been infected. But after a lifetime of searching for a cure for my disease, I now realize I was always as I should have been.
I, Gabriel Merchant, am home. And along with all those who came before me, I’ve become Death. And together, we are the destroyer of worlds.
© Copyright 2012 DaemonwulfTM. All Rights Reserved.
Papa’s gone. And I’m alone. Again.
As dusk is swallowed by night, I peer through the glass of the front door at a world that carries on without me. In the dirty, etched glass that serves as my window into the world I rarely enter, the reflection I’ve grown use to stares back at me. As the years have passed, I’ve come to realize the face is mine. But I know it’s not the one I was born with.
There’s a smell in the air. It frightens me…
Outside, tall oak trees cast long shadows across the road that snakes past our home — sharp fingers scraping the pavement, desperate to crawl away from the setting sun. Their branches are engaged in an ages old battle, pummeled by the invisible fists of a foul-smelling wind. Between the rustle of leaves, I hear the roar of the metropolis that lives around me. It must now stretch for miles beyond our neighborhood – a secluded enclave reserved for the city’s elite. We were once the families of the ruling class – the wealthy, the industrialists, and ‘the ones with the most to lose,’ as Papa would often say.
Automobiles rumble by in the distance, their angry horns bleating dissatisfaction. A trio of motorcycles growl, carving their own paths down paved streets far beyond where my eyes can see. Overhead, gleaming airplanes leave white streaks in their wake as they crisscross the sky. The patterns remind me of Tic-Tac-Toe played on scraps of paper with Mama, so many years ago. The din of the sleepless city invades this home that Papa built, as he says, ‘to protect us from the evils that dwell beyond our granite walls.’
Inside, my guts churn. Something’s coming…
Papa is a good man — a proud man. But even though he doesn’t say it, I know he’s also a very sad man. There was a time when Papa feared nothing. Now, it seems, fear consumes him. Sometimes I imagine I can see the terror that hides behind his eyes — wicked shadows living just below their surface. I can’t help but feel that he wants to make sure his fears find a new home, somewhere deep inside of me.
Papa doesn’t want me to go outside alone anymore. He never explains exactly why, saying only that so many horrors ride on the back of every wind, and that they’re particularly dangerous for a ‘little boy like me’ — a phrase he’s very fond of using.
While I often ponder what Papa sees on the wind, something tells me I already know, without him having to speak the words.
When the wind blows, I believe I can sometimes sense Papa’s fears. I smell their rotten odors as they arrive on the slightest of breezes. And their stench grows stronger as frenzied gusts howl through the trees. I like to believe that what I smell is simply the decay of the city; but deep inside I know it’s actually something far, far worse.
The thought turns my skin to gooseflesh.
While known for his honesty, I don’t know if Papa’s been entirely truthful with me. If nothing else, I fear he’s keeping things from me, sharing only what he wants in order to protect me from what he’s sure exists outside – ‘evils too dangerous for a little boy like me.’
I can’t count the number of times Papa’s told me how much he can’t bear to see me hurt. I know he’s talking about something much different than scraped knees or broken wrists. And I can’t help but think it’s my ruined face that has him so concerned.
Rather than risk his pain, I now try to do as Papa asks. I stay inside as much as possible.
Here, locked behind the door, I stare through the window and wait, watching day bleed into night and then back again. It’s an endless procession of time that marches past in a world that has forgotten I ever existed.
The wind blows harder. And the stench grows stronger. Oh, Papa, where are you…?
Today had been the same as most. Papa was dressed in a meticulously appointed suit — the creases of his pant legs pressed so sharp they looked as though they could slice a finger. Like clockwork, he placed atop his head a matching black top hat. When he dressed this way it reminded me of the days when he used to work at the bank. That was when Mama was still around.
“Son, I’m off to pay a visit to the Goldbergs. You remember Samuel and Rita Goldberg, no?” Papa asked. I nodded, even though I didn’t.
“I’ll be lunching with the Rubensteins, and then need to check in on the Schultz sisters before returning. You know, they don’t have many callers these days, the poor, lonely dears.” I thought his last statement rather ironic.
This was almost verbatim what he said every day. Only the names changed from one to the next.
“And Robert, remember…stay inside. Don’t open the door for anyone but me,” he said, pausing. “You know how much I care for you, son. You’re all I have, and I don’t know what I’d do if anything happens to you…”
He stopped before uttering the final word, but I knew, even though unsaid, he meant to end his sentence with ‘again.’
Papa rubbed my head, mussing my hair.
“I’ll give Mrs. Rubenstein your best wishes,” he said, with a flash of a smile and a wink of his right eye behind which I was sure I could see the darkness that terrorized him. Then Papa was out the door.
He’s afraid. And so am I…
Hours had passed since Papa had left, and he was still not home yet. This was unusual, even for a man as busy as he.
Staring out into the dimming light, something felt strangely different about today.
That’s when I noticed the car approaching on the road. Anxiety chewed at my insides.
Oh Papa, Papa…you need to come home soon.
It was almost unheard of to have visitors these days. We never saw the friends or family who once streamed into our home for dinners, holidays, or simple chats. I suppose time takes its toll on everything, including the memories of those you once loved.
While not exactly out of the ordinary to see cars pass by on our private lane; it was a rare occasion when they actually stopped. Usually, they’d be filled with loud, drunken teenagers who’d roam across our lawn, not hesitating to relieve themselves behind hedges or at the base of our trees. This would continue until Papa grew weary of the cacophony and put an end to such escapades. He’d step through the doorway — voice booming — and send them scattering back to their cars where they were quickly on their way.
Taking special effort not to be seen, I hunkered down and peered through the bottom of the window in the front door. Through the security bars bolted to the outside, I watched the car creep into full view. It was one of the late-model sport coupes that interested me so; but it was badly in need of a wash. Beneath the grime I could tell it was probably a brilliant red.
I gagged on the decay…
I breathed a small sigh as the car continued past, sure it would be on its way. Then came the tell-tale flash of red that erupted from its back end as the driver brought it to a halt. My heart slipped into my throat. I slid to floor.
The car was still, its engine rumbling in the early evening. A fine mist of exhaust belched from the tailpipe.
Then it backed up to our concrete walkway.
It’s coming here…
The shadows of the oak trees threw the car’s internal compartment into darkness. Somehow I knew this vehicle carried no mischievous teenagers, but instead something far worse.
The air around me was heavy with the smell of rot. It squeezed my body in its tight grip, choking me and calling to attention the hairs on the nape of my neck. The last time I had this feeling was so many years ago it was barely memorable. But the reflection of the gruesome face staring at me in the glass broke the dam that held my memories in check.
Oh Papa, Papa…WHERE ARE YOU?!
The windows of the car were tinted. It almost impossible to see inside. I noticed movement behind the darkened glass. It was nothing more than a shadow turning to look at me. Inside the darkness, a set of green eyes stared out at door behind which I cowered.
Cold fingers scraped my spine as its gaze located me through the thin layer of glass. My reflexes slammed me backward, away from the window. I squeezed my body into the wall, willing myself flat, hoping to disappear and remain unseen.
In the few minutes that my heart threatened to jump through my chest, an eternity seemed to pass. Then, from outside, came the distinct sound of fallen leaves crushed by heavy footfalls as something crossed the lawn.
Then came the sound of leather soles on concrete.
Click… Clack… Click-clack…
No matter how much I willed it, I couldn’t summon the courage to peel myself from the wall and race to safety far from the door.
The shoes grew louder as they neared the door. Tears streamed from my eyes.
Then the crash came, reverberating the door and echoing through the house.
My body frozen, I watched the knob on the inside of the door turn slowly — first to the right, and then back again to the left, creaking with each movement.
Drums beat loudly inside my ears, and my thoughts were a chorus of screams.
Again, the doorknob moved — this time a complete turn.
And the door opened. A foot stepped inside. Followed by a leg.
The crease in the pant was as sharp as a knife.
I ran to Papa, grabbing him tightly around the waist — an act I’d normally think better suited for a child than for the full-grown 14-year-old boy I was.
Rivers of tears flooded from my eyes. They flowed over the rugged landscape of my scarred face, salting my gums and dripping onto my tongue through the hole where my right cheek had once been.
Cautiously, I peered around Papa. The car was gone.
It was my imagination after all… Papa’s fears HAD found a new home.
But in the distance, the flash of brake lights caught my eye in the night.
A new breeze blew across the threshold of the open doorway. I could taste the hint of rot as it dissipated into the cool, evening air.
It was then that I realized that Papa had been right. There are evil things in the world that are much too dangerous, especially for a little boy like me. And I knew it would be back.
(To be continued…)
© Copyright 2012 DaemonwulfTM. All Rights Reserved.
Everything I once had is gone. It wasn’t a lone thief who’d snuck in during the middle of a single night to clean me out. It was instead a series of small burglaries, committed by an efficient team over more years than I recall. Their robberies began when I was just a boy and when, like most children suffering from few friends and social isolation, I spent most of my time alone — hidden away in my room, surrounded by the few possessions that made life bearable. I didn’t realize it then, but it was this solitary life that offered the opportunity for the shadows to begin slipping into the world of walls that I’d built…
When I awoke this morning, my sheets were wet with sweat. It may have been due to the nightmares that had returned with renewed fervor, or maybe it was only my body signaling the return of the heat. The mercury in the thermometer was rapidly approaching the 90-degree mark; and it was only 9:00 am.
Outside, the Sun burned through a cloudless, blue sky. A single step onto the porch allowed the Michigan heat to wrap its humid fingers around my throat, squeezing the breath back into my lungs. Down the block, amid joyful screams and shouts much too raucous for early morning, a group of overheated kids cooled off in the gallons of water that gushed into the street from an open hydrant. Their shrieks turned urgent as a sad-eyed, pony-tailed lookout alerted her comrades to the approaching police cruiser. As the children scattered, I stepped back inside to begin what looked to be a long, hot and profitable day.
Even as a child I knew the shadows that haunted my nights were the manifestation of something very bad. They gained access to my room by flattening themselves as thin as pieces of paper and sliding silently beneath the door. As I cowered in my bed, with my sheets bundled tightly under my chin, I watched their darkness stream across my threshold. Once inside, they’d pick themselves up off the floor, some of them growing so tall that their jagged heads bounced off the ceiling. Then they’d creep slowly around the walls, slipping into the corners of my room where they’d wait, sitting quietly until my body was forced to accept the sleep that my will denied it. All the while, the shadows flashed gashes revealing stained teeth, and their yellow eyes glowed at me from the dark…
The years haven’t been kind to Detroit. The loss of jobs, home foreclosures and increased suicides as savings accounts vanished have made life hard and finances tight for those left behind in this dying city — myself included. While I rarely credit my painful experience growing up on the farm for much of anything, I do attribute that life to my enduring work ethic and the reliance on self that’s led to my having survived in the city all these years.
While I work hard when I have the work to do, my job itself is seasonal. As such, it’s important I take advantage of the warm months when fresh food is more plentiful and less expensive. Falling back on farm tradition, I still spend much of my time preparing foods to carry me through and earn extra money during this off-season, when I’ll sell some of the canned preserves, cured meats and pickled sundries I store in my pantry. It’s curious, but the demand for life’s basics never seems to dry up in the city.
Thinking back, I remember so many nights spent lying in bed in the farmhouse, the fear paralyzing my body, as I stared out at the monsters through squinted eyes. With my heart beating so fast I thought it would jump from my chest, I’d sometimes work up the nerve and risk a peek at the shadows that now shared my room. I’d look on as they tore themselves from the darkness, only to have some of them crawl onto my bed and stick sharp fingers in my ears or rub greasy palms across my skin, all while their slithering tongues dribbled hot spittle into my face. Others would go to work searching my room. They’d rifle through my belongings, snatching from me whatever they chose to make their own…
I can’t really complain about the work I do. Growing up without much of an education, I’m become quite satisfied with my how life has turned out. I’m my own boss. I control my destiny. I’m able to provide for myself well enough; and I still find the time to help so many.
While not very social, it’s rare that I get the chance to discuss my humanitarian passions with others. But when I do, people are rarely impressed. Nobody much cares about the needy anymore. So, when the topic is raised, I’ve learned to just say I work in heating and cooling. This keeps the pain of conversation short.
It wasn’t until sometime during my teenage years that I allowed my intruders to know I was aware of their break-ins. That’s when all Hell broke loose. Once the shadows realized I knew they were there, they began pilfering at an alarming rate. I suppose after so many years of my acceptance it was only logical their thefts would become more purposeful. And, unfortunately, I didn’t realize the extent of the damage being done…
Beyond the obvious wrinkles on my face, not a whole lot has changed in my life. I still spend most of my time alone, giving me plenty of time to think. I don’t much enjoy looking backwards. There are too many memories I’d rather forget. But I learned long ago that such is the way with life. It often has its own plans for us.
During spring and summer, I drive seven days a week, sometimes for up to 12 hours a day, and with only thoughts and music for company. The truck is old and the tunes play through bad speakers, often repeating the same few songs in what seems an endless loop. While not everyone’s cup of tea, my music has become the soundtrack for my repetitive life; and it does help drown out the many voices from the past that scream inside my head.
I realized several years ago that I had advanced well beyond any normal state of self-denial, choosing to believe I’d simply misplaced the things that, in reality, the shadows had stolen from me. With each incident of their private looting, I became more willing to overlook the evil taking place, choosing instead to leave them to their thievery in peace…
My best customers live among the idyllic, tree-lined avenues in places far outside the city. The streets here flow with enthusiasm as the residents embrace the hope that money and possessions instill. It’s in these bedroom communities where the financially fit make their lives meaningful, choosing to seclude themselves behind groomed hedgerows and manicured lawns where the darkest of life’s shadows often hide unseen.
I sometimes feel like a modern-day Pied Piper, stealing them away from the false pleasantries of pool parties, baseball games, family picnics and lives spent replacing nighttime fears with the daytime horrors of video games. They chase me down with sweat-soaked dollars gripped in eager fists and clamor at my window while the music explains how ‘Weasels’ sometimes go ‘Pop.’ Their voices bark orders, but instead I hear a cacophony of pain crying out for something they don’t realize exists. Sadly, my inventory of fudge bars, frozen treats and waffle cones offer only a momentary chill from the fires I know burn within them. But always among every group of smiling faces seeking sweet salvation from the ice cream man, there’s at least one child whose eyes melt from the heat of the same sadness I know all too well.
I suppose if I’d been a more capable person, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to be consumed by the shadows that have waged war on my world. Because of them I now live in a place of secrets filled with sorrow, lies and the searing pain they’ve brought. I no longer care that the darkness inside me has free reign. After all, it was I who allowed the shadows entrance in the first place. And it was I who let them rip me apart, slowly chewing me into pieces over the years, permitting them to ultimately take everything from me and leave only fire in their wake…
With the children long gone, their fires temporarily extinguished, I pull away from the curb as ‘It’s a Small World’ blares from the loudspeaker. Glancing into my rear view mirror, a pair of sad, fearful eyes stare back at me. The delicate gaze of the brown-eyed boy who’s wedged himself between the coolers in the back of the truck may fool some; but he doesn’t fool me. I’m all too familiar with the shadows that visit him as he lies paralyzed in his comfortable bed at night. I know how he yearns to be free of their thievery. And oh how he wants to beg me to extinguish the pain that burns inside him; but the bandana tied around his mouth doesn’t permit it.
Even through the mirror, I can see the dark faces of the demons reflected in his tear-filled eyes. The monsters don’t yet know it, but they’ll soon be evicted from their new home. Won’t they be surprised when I pluck his eyes from his skull and secret them away with the others inside the pickling jars that line the shelves of my pantry. I smell the flesh on his bones. It’s laced with fear, making it by far the best cut of meat for curing. And most importantly, the innocent little heart beating in his chest needs protection from the evil that seeks to steal it from him. It’s this delicacy that I’ll remove with utmost precision and all the tenderness that such an important possession demands. It’ll be stored away safely inside my airtight freezer, where its virtue will be forever preserved from the shadows that seek to cook it on a spit over the flames of Hell.
It is I, alone, who must save these innocents from the demons that intend to steal their souls, leaving them hollowed out and eternally incinerated on the inside. I just can’t allow the shadows to turn another child into the monster like the one they made out of me.
© Copyright 2012 DaemonwulfTM. All Rights Reserved.
A stale wind blew through the Appalachian woods, sending the branches of the trees into a frenzied dance and driving a flock of birds from their nighttime perch.
As they took flight, she coughed. And when she did, she coughed up blood.
Bitter warmth streamed into her mouth, pooling thick at the back of her throat, choking her struggling breath.
Behind teeth that ached with the pain from gums swollen by repeated blows to the skull, her bloated tongue tried desperately to form a sound. Willing her vocal cords to act — to speak, to scream, to do anything — all she could muster was a small whimper as her body ignored her pleas.
She was naked, bathed in fear. The threads of rope that secured her hands over her head burned, turning her wrists to pulp. A fallen tree branch stabbed into her side as the humid tongue of autumn licked at her exposed flesh and wet, blood-soaked soil sucked her backside and buttocks into its hungry mouth.
Amid the renewed hammering of her heart and the gurgle of blood and saliva bubbling over her lips, she thought about how her pathetic existence had brought her to this moment. She had despised her life in this small, North Georgia town. It had been one consumed with brutal drudgery and unbearable insignificance. But, somehow, it never seemed more precious to her than now as she lay on the ground dying.
Her body ached; bruises welling up on her legs. On her back. And on her arms. A swollen cheek squeezed closed her right eye, and a broken jawbone obscured what little view she had left of the world from which she’d spent so much time planning escape.
Through dwindling sight, she looked up into the face of her killer.
And he stared back.
His striking features no longer embodied the big-city charm and grace that had drawn her to him in the bar and later successfully encouraged her to his side as they left arm-in-arm. This man that she, for a moment, had thought could be her savior from small-town agony was now little more than a fluid silhouette fumbling in the shadows above, the faint glow of moonlight creating a shimmering halo around his dark frame.
His eyes gleamed from deep sockets, and gore-smeared lips smiled at her as he did little more than grunt, assessing her with as much significance as would a butcher to a hog.
Repulsed by the sight of her own fluids coating his face, she looked helplessly into the night sky. As a child she’d been fascinated by the stars – always a source of hope and the promise of far-off places. And there as usual, the bears – major and minor — glimmered in the dark expanse. Crouching nearby was Orion the Hunter, leading his rag-tag band of gods into battle with lesser creatures.
Her murderer breathed into her face, stealing away any thought of rescue from above. His was little more than a cruel wheeze, accompanied by the falling leaves that glided silently through the air, intermittently obscuring her view of the heavens. Several of them clung to his bare torso; her own blood serving as the glue that kept them in place.
Through tear-filled eyes, she noticed pieces of her self clinging to his chin. She thought he must have bathed in her, smearing her essence in great swathes across his body. Bloody handprints, like those of a child artist with bedroom wall as canvas, crisscrossed his chest and shoulders.
Squatting over her, his weight was immense. His powerful thighs rested on her own. He said nothing. Oddly observing. Burning menacing holes into her brain. Her would-be knight, was no longer the man he had appeared to be. He was, instead, an animal wearing the skin of her Lancelot.
Perhaps it was shock, or impending death playing a dirty trick on her mind, but behind him the darkness seemed to part; as the curtain of night was silently drawn back. A void appeared where there had once been only shadows, and through it stepped a small boy. His skin was smooth with youth, surely no more than 10 years old, and dark, unruly hair poked playfully from beneath the brim of a ragged baseball cap. The child’s shocking blue eyes glimmered from behind his caramel-colored features.
She felt an odd sense of calm in the young boy’s face.
In his right hand he carried a large coin, flipping it over and over, its silver guilding glinting in the moonlight.
First heads, then tails.
He let the coin fall to the ground. It landed with a dull thud that silenced the voices of the forest.
Once again his eyes met her’s, and he calmly said, “Last call… Looks like this time you’ve won.”
With the boy’s words, her killer plunged his hands into her body. The horror in her midsection was like a brush fire through dead wood. Flames of pain spread through her as his sharpness sunk deep inside her bowels. His was a penetration that was never deeper, a violation never more extreme. Oily pieces of her slipped through his fingers, and she shuddered as his rough hands snapped a rib.
She fought the urge to look down at her abdomen. Instinct told her to grab at the coils that now burst from her stomach like meat from an over-ripe melon and shove them back into her vented cavity. But the rope held her instincts in check.
An audible smack accompanied her intestines as they sloshed onto the soggy ground beside her. From the exposed mass, he retrieved an unrecognizable piece of her, something that vaguely resembled a photo she’d once seen in a schoolbook.
Vomit urged her throat open while the bears looked down from the sky. They snarled, ravenously. All of nature, it seemed, had turned against her.
He shoved the bile-coated organ into his mouth. And just before her eyes closed forever, she saw him flash a set of perilous razors as he bit off a section of raw meat, her juices spilling over his lips and dripping onto his chest as he chewed.
The boy standing beside her looked on quietly as the Liberator completed his task.
And somewhere in the distance, from the grainy speaker of a jukebox in a roadside bar, Charlie Daniels played a vicious, dueling fiddle.
© Copyright 2012 DaemonwulfTM. All Rights Reserved.