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.
The breeze, gentle at first, carries the voice to my mind. “No, not again!” I think, cupping my hands over my ears, trying to keep from hearing its taunting, knowing that I can handle only so much of this.
Night after night it comes, and even though I expect it to surround me, it finds a way to sneak in when my guard is down. I’m leveled by its assault, barely able to think, and unable to retain any semblance of vertigo. I fall to the carpet, writhing in pain, and my mind gets ever so close to the abyss separating sanity from insanity. Nearer and nearer I approach the gash dividing reality from what does not exist. And the drop from the precipice to what lies below is long and deep. Yes, it is like a bottomless well, devoid of water and waiting to fill itself with whatever it can.
“No, you can’t have me!” I shout. “Go away! Leave me alone!”
Laughter . . . laughter joins in with the whispered words, knowing I will crack, that it is only a matter of time. If anything, the laughter is worse, forcing its way on my entire body, its vibrations rubbing against my flesh, working along the distraught hairs on the back of my neck and radiating outward from there. I retch from the sensations of thousands of bugs crawling over me, knowing they will bite, but not sure when. The remembrance of biting bed bugs from a long ago place and time reach my mind, and I fear that they are here in my study and attacking me with their taunting presence before they bite and suck out my precious life-giving fluid.
Slapping wildly against the onslaught, I know I have stepped over the line when their teeth find their mark and my body convulses in the agony.
Just enough biting; just enough blood removed; and just enough crawling. Always the push is ever so close, enough to push me to the brink, but not all the way over. Yes, the voice knows; it always knows. Enough of the voice! I must defeat it.
“You cannot ignore me forever, you know,” the voice whispers in my ear, the words moving the bugs to the side. “You will listen to me; you have no choice.”
“No! Leave me!” I holler. “You don’t exist.”
Silence . . . blessed silence, but it does not last.
“Ah, but I do exist. I existed before, I exist now, and I will exist in the future.”
The present; the future. I must not allow this creature access to these two-time continuums. If I do . . . No, I cannot even think of what might happen.
I force myself up, working against the vertigo problems, not wanting to subject myself to attacks from above. No more can I grovel before the beast. It must be dealt with from a position of strength. Heh, heh. This is how I will defeat it.
A clap of thunder encapsulates my room, and a rumbling beneath me rises up and splits it in two. One of my feet is left on one side, and the other one struggles to maintain balance on the opposite side of the tearing. The chasm becomes wider, and I push off with my right leg, attempting to propel my body to the other side, but my efforts are not enough. My hands grasp the far side as I slip and slide back, reaching for a secure hand-hold but not finding one. Ever closer I get to losing my grip and falling into the darkness below. My body flails against the side of the abyss, looking for a place where I can gain a foothold.
None is to be found.
Blood pours from my hands as I pull myself up ever so slowly, getting away from the forces waiting below. Every hand hold comes with a price attached, my body wracked in pain from the physical assault and the tearing inflicted on me. Finally, with a last heave, my entire body is out, and I am secure under my desk. The two sides slam together in defiance, as if to show me the power still resides within the room.
This time I’m not in any hurry to get back up. My body is beaten down, and I need to recoup. There is more to come; there is always more to come.
The breeze switches to a gale-force wind and blows a dense fog into the room. This is no ordinary fog: I’ve experienced it before. Now! Now is the time to get up.
My head demands release from the torment, but my body is not cooperating. I bob and weave like a punch-drunk boxer having gone one fight too many. Yes, I can’t conceive of fighting even one more round.
The fog is up to my chest, concealing what lies beneath. More suspense; more agony.
Serpentine entities wrap themselves around my legs, squeezing, relaxing their grip then repeating their torture. The veins and arteries in my already pummeled legs scream out in pain, not knowing what the next moment will hold.
“I take it you’re not enjoying the massage the vipers are affording you?”
Staring into the coal-black eyes of the horned beast speaking to me, his prominent brow and deeply creased face glaring at me, the hairs on my body once more tingle. All the stops are being pulled out tonight.
“I’m talking to you, boy” he says, “And I don’t like to be ignored.”
Rage replaces my fear. “Fuck you! Your presence is unwelcome here.”
Lightning and thunder reverberate through the room, being the outlet for his anger.
“Not welcome here? You have no choice in the matter. You don’t dictate what happens. I do.”
Scenes from days gone by play like a panorama of horror against the walls, ceilings, and floors of my room. And then . . . and then they become alive once more, the dancing, naked bodies and their conjuration circle; the altar with a frightened virgin laid out upon it, her virginity attacked mercilessly as demon after demon take her and inject their seed into her, so many of them that the blood from her womb flows out onto the altar and then to the floor, the rivers formed from the confluence of blood and juices beating a horrid staccato against the floor.
And they come to me, tearing my clothes off and leading me to the altar. As before, I am always the last one to penetrate the woman lying before me. I cannot fight it. The forces against me are too strong. How I am able to rise up and perform as a man is a mystery. I am disgusted at what I am forced to do, and yet, at the same time, excitement bursts from my loins and I do what is demanded of me.
She stares at me, still in shock at what has transpired, but her eyes tell me she understands.
“You are weak,” the horned one says. You have always been weak. But that doesn’t matter. You were not conceived for the purpose of your own strength. Yours is another facet of birth.”
His words fly into my mind, knocking my mental stability down even lower, but the anger in me from what he has implied – no, more than implied – keeps me from going over the edge. What is he saying? I must know.
He laughs. “No need for you to speak to me. I know your thoughts. Ah, it is not for me to answer your questions tonight. She . . . she will answer them.”
My mind swirls from all I have seen and done, my eyes closing, attempting to refocus. When they open again, my study is as it was before anything happened, and I am clothed once more. It is as if everything that happened was only present in my mind.
But I know better.
The voice returns to me again, this time more insistent, not attempting to convince me now. Demands are hollered into my ears, my head shaken by the impact.
No more can I hide in my study. It is time to confront my demons.
I follow the voice to the cemetery. Yes, I know where it is coming from. As much as I have feared this moment, I realize it is necessary for me to attack the demons running rampant through my mind.
The mist, the same fog as before, has settled over the grave, but it parts when I arrive, exposing a shovel resting against the headstone. Trembling with fear, I take it into my hands and start digging.
With each pass through the dirt, the voice gets louder, telling me to dig faster, echoing its need for release. Sweat pours off me, my confusion and fear melding together. What do I do when the source from which the voice emanates is laid out before me? Releasing the demon cannot be a good thing but, then again, how do I silence the voice forever?
Shovel after shovel removes the dirt until I hit the top of the coffin. Instead of an increased volume from the voice, there is silence. A trick! Yes, this is a ploy. I am supposed to be lulled into a sense of false security, but that won’t work. I can’t be tricked that easily.
But what do I do now! I need to open the coffin and satisfy my curiosity once and for all. If nothing is here to worry about, then I can put my mind at ease.
Then again, the possibility exists that maybe all of this does reside entirely in me. Am I losing it? Is my mind going?
I must find out! I must!
With a vengeance, I tear the shovel into the coffin, not caring about any damage I might incur. What difference does that make? She is already dead. When I’m done, I’ll cover everything back up again.
I grasp at the last remnants of the lid and tear it off. I must see her now!
Looking down, a bright moon at my back, I stare at her and smile.
There’s nothing here to worry about,” I think. “She’s dead. As dead as they come.”
Starting to shovel the dirt back in on top of the coffin, I stop as soon as I start. She sits up, pieces of flesh dangling down from areas on her skeleton, teasing me with their very presence. The musky odor surrounding her almost forces me to pass out, and her eye sockets, long ago remaindered to empty holes, take on a red glow and stare at me. A smile breaks out on her skull, flashing those perfect teeth she always had when she was alive.
“I knew you would come, my son,” she says. “It took you a while, but my faith in you never wavered.”
My heart beats faster than it has ever beaten before. Never have I been so afraid. All the things happening around me when I was growing up are nothing compared to this. My mother, dead for five years, is still alive: if you can call her condition anything close to normal. All these years, she has called to me, imploring me to come to her, but I refused. Until tonight. My supposed closure is anything but.
“I gave you life years ago,” she says. “Now . . . now it is your turn to reciprocate. You will give me life.”
My mind reaches for an answer to what she is saying, but none is forthcoming.
“You are confused, my son. Don’t be. I pushed you out into the world forty years ago, and now you will do the same for me.”
Horror burns through every fiber of my being as she grabs me and pulls my body into what remains of her vagina. She and I both convulse as my adult persona is totally absorbed into her birth canal. She writhes in pain as the size of me works past her vaginal opening and rejuvenates her long dead body, bringing life back to her once more. My blood pours out of me and into her, supplying her with the precious liquid she so needs to live once more.
I scream out in pain, the sounds muffled between her thighs and that part of her expelling me so many years before.
She lies in the coffin a little longer, waiting for the pain to subside and the transformation to become complete. Five years is a long time to wait for a second coming.
“He was such a good son,” she says . . .
~ Blaze McRob
© Copyright 2013 Blaze McRob. All Rights Reserved.
The crack of the loudest thunder clap roars; my body vibrates with the echo, an untamed longing for more.
The joy washed away; a vile deluge now pouring, the razor’s slash of the cruelest tongue.
Pain inflicted with intent to harm; ripping at my sanity in an unjust tumult of words, the harshest weapons of all.
My mind torn to pieces; this voice carries devastation, wielded with nary a care for the moments yet to come.
A shattering silence; how loud the quiet has become, how lonely this false sense of solitude.
The patter of a different storm; a shedding that cleanses, gently this time in a subtle downpour.
If only you’d count the raindrops with me; do you see – they are beginning to fall…
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2013 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
The vestments were always a bit tight, heavy. With each attack upon my faith, they burned my skin and made bitter my memory. They were, however, my duty. The Vatican, my employer. No matter how many times I’d been spit at, violated, and broken, my goal was to cleanse the colors of evil from man’s palette.
“Father, oh Father. Thank God you have arrived. The boy, he’s grown worse.”
“Your name?” I had little time for pleasantries, but knowing the names of those that would serve as my assistants made the rites and rituals far easier.
“I am terribly sorry. My name is Isobelle. I am the Abbess of St. Belle’s Orphanage.”
“Do you know the Rite of Exorcism?”
The sister gave pause, looked at the cracked and aged hardwood floor at her feet. “I must apologize, Father, I do not.”
“Ignorance of the Rite was one of the hurdles of having such a secretive arm of the Holy See. It is not a problem, Sister, I will guide you.”
As I was taking off my rain-soaked jacket, a low, creaking moan filled the air. The ambient temperature noticeably dropped.
“We have carefully examined the files and recordings you sent. Have there been any changes?”
Sister Isobelle stopped. The look on her face was drawn and hollow. “Yes.”
I stared, waiting for the thought to be completed. The Sister remained silent. The low moan was joined by a chorus of hideous screams. As the retched sounds reached a fevered pitch, Sister Isobelle slapped her hands to her ears. Tears flooded her mottled cheeks.
“Sister, you must be strong. Now, take me to the boy.”
Isobelle pulled out a handkerchief, blotted her eyes, and blew her nose. The simple act was an island of genuine humility.
Sister Isobelle placed one nervous foot in front of another. At the end of the candlelit hall, Isobelle opened a flimsy wooden door. The creak of the hinges only served to add another layer of macabre to the horrific scene I was about to witness.
Halfway down the cellar steps, I could feel the change. It wasn’t just another drop in temperature; the air felt heavy, corrupt.
“He’s in this room.” Isobelle’s shaky hand reached out and unlocked the door. For some odd reason, I expected the heavy wood to be blown to bits as the demon-infected child sensed the presence of a holy champion.
Instead, there was only low, arrogant laughter. The laugh insisted itself upon me, made sure I knew whatever unclean spirit existed within the room had no fear of the Cloth of God.
“Please, won’t you come in Father.”
The voice was simple – but not that of a child. When I glanced at the boy bound to the bed, the laughter stopped. His oil-black eyes addressed me.
“Did you expect me to speak in tongues? Latin? Something older? I can see the disappointment in your eyes Father. This isn’t the movies. My head will not spin ’round, nor will I spew pea soup. But if it so please you, I can begin afresh the theatrics.”
I sat my bag down and began to pull out the tools of my trade.
“Ahh yes, the weapons of holy war. Sprinkle me with God’s water Father. Speak your clean words into the ears of this infested child. Fight me. Force me to begone. By the power of Christ, compel me! By the power of Christ, compel me!” The boy writhed on the bed as he mocked me and my position.
“Father… ” Isobella started to speak. I held up a hand to stop her.
“Sister, you should know better than to interrupt a man of the cloth when he is near a young boy.” When the last of the demon’s vile words spat from his mouth, the door to the room slammed shut, nearly splintering the wood.
“I can smell it on you Father. Delicious corruption. It was only a matter of time – ”
“From all evil, deliver us, O Lord. From all sin, your wrath.” I began the chant. The sister recited back the words.
The beast roared me to silence and, with little more than a glance, flung the sister across the room. The woman’s head roughly smacked the floor; she lay motionless.
“Sorry, Father. She was weak, and I wanted to have you to myself.” A vile smile slithered its way across the monster’s lips. “It was only a matter of time before the blinded Holy See would send to me a man with such a tenuous grasp on his faith.”
I continued my chant. “From sudden and unprovided death, from the snares of the devil, from anger, hatred, and all ill will, from all lewdness, from lightning and tempest, from the scourge of earthquakes, from plague, famine, and war, from everlasting death.”
“From child-molesting priests, from bigotry, from young men gunning down innocent children, from mothers beating their babies, from hatred, from homophobia, from lust of the flesh and the coin… Shall I continue Father?”
The look on the vile demon’s face was painted with arrogance as he tore his hands free from his bonds and sat up.
“Father, it’s time the truth be set free. I am that truth. I am The Way.”
“Lord, have mercy!” I called out.
“Lord, have mercy!” The demon replied with a laugh. “How can the Lord hand you mercy when he’s none to give? The Lord is a lie. In the beginning was The Word and the The Word was a lie.”
A splash of holy water danced across the flesh of the beast’s face. The demon licked his tongue around his lips.
“The taste of your Lord’s tears is sweet.”
“Do not keep in mind, O Lord, our offenses or those of our parents, nor take vengeance on our sins.”
“Silence Priest!” The demon raised a hand. A gentle calm overcame me. “Please, have a seat. I want to tell you a story.”
From my pack came the written word – the holiest of holies, entrusted to me by my Cardinal.
“Hide that book of filth and shame from my sight or I will burn you Priest.”
Waves of heat rose from the skin of the boy. I assumed the threat honest and tucked my Bible back inside my case.
“Everything you know is a lie. The words in your tomes are little more than trickery to blind you to the greater truth – that some day your kind will be nothing more than fodder for God’s cannon. Once upon a long lost time, God and Lucifer stood side by side. It wasn’t until God realized that all within his dominion saw he and Lucifer as equals, that he decided to cast the loveliest of Angels aside. The Great Fall was tragic and God knew he’d made a grievous error. The Light of Perfection, however, could not admit to his wrong doing, else his power be lost. And so, since that great gaffe, your God has been amassing souls in preparation for Lucifer’s return to the heavenly dominion.”
The lilt and melody of the voice held me fast. I wanted to weep, to fall at the feet of the demon, and beg for some mercy I’d never receive.
“Had I not found you, Priest, your never-ending soul would have joined the Army of God. That is not to be now. Instead, you will fight for the truest truth. My God has been waiting for this chance since before you were nothing more than a shot of sperm from the prick of a self-righteous, ego-maniacal man of the soiled cloth.”
“I don’t understand. Why do you need me to fight your unholy war?”
A great puff of sulfuric smoke spilled from the nostrils of the boy.
“You are going to help me into the Vatican. From within the Holy See, I will gain access to a very special tome. The ‘Santus Bellum’ – or ‘Holy War’. Within that book is the very plan for God’s war to be waged against Lucifer and the dominion of Hell.”
I stood, a righteous fury fueling my voice. “You will never gain access to the Holiest of Holies.”
The demon released a moan, his eyes rolled to gaze within. As the temperature in the room dropped, the boy floated from the bed and into a crucifixion position. Wind howled through the room and ripped pages from the Bible I had stowed away. The gilded paper lashed about the air, slashing the tiniest of paper cuts over my exposed skin. With each slice I could feel my strength drain. I had never experienced such power, such raw emotion.
As an atonal chorus sang an unholy psalm, I felt the demon attempt to enter me, to take root within my spirit, give succor to a wanton soul. The blessed core of my conscience fought back, until a singular memory boiled up from the recesses of my mind.
I was young, innocent, lost in my ways. Until I was found by Father Stephenson, my life was little more than thievery and corruption. The Father took me in, cured me of my indecent ways, and taught me… Taught me love.
The simple memory shattered my trust, my faith. Stirring at the core of my being, my spirit was released from The Way. As the memory was released, a peace I hadn’t known for such a long time encompassed my heart.
“I welcome you demon. I embrace your light. I pledge my fealty to your cause.”
My proclamation brought stillness to the room. The boy’s body dropped back to the bed, his countenance returned to innocence. Isobella roused from the floor, rushed to the boy’s side, and held him in her frail arms.
“You did it Father. You’ve saved the child.”
As I placed my hand on the handle of the door, the wood fell to dust. I left the room and my holy relics behind. My cause was clear. I was to serve the true King of Kings. It was time to arm the Lord of Loss and tilt the scales of righteousness back to the side of truth.
~ Jack Wallen
© Copyright 2013 Jack Wallen. All Rights Reserved.
A run; a run no different from any other morning that had come before. The sun groped with lazy fingers the mounds littering the reed-choked hills. Above the slickened grass, the evening gasped its last breath in wispy tendrils of fog. Boots pounded broken road; dew kicked up against sodden pants. A run; a run with the dirt-laden shovel cradled in his arms. The mounds forgotten at his back.
But on this morning the old-timer sat. Waiting.
He froze, keen to the presence of another set of eyes, sweat in long strands down his cheeks. Tongue darted corner to corner along his mouth, tasting, swallowing. He enjoyed the tang of his toil. Eventually he cocked his head. Saw the old-timer slumped within a rocker, set up on a sunken porch just off the lane. He stared the old-timer down. The old-timer stared back.
“Ayup,” old-timer grimaced, lips pinched by unseen fingers.
Gravel crunched beneath boots; slowly the shovel lowered from his arms. “What are you doing out here?” he uttered, stoic in the middle of the backwoods road.
Old-timer: “Naw much. Jus joyin anotha morn.”
Chest heaved despite his calm; he took a step closer to the old-timer’s ruined cabin. He had run past it a dozen times. Always seemed deserted. He regretted that he never checked. Never bothered to force his way inside. “Too chilly for your bones, don’t you think? A fellow your age should keep inside. Stay warm.”
“Wutha-man says gonna warm soon nuff. I believe in wut tha wutha-man says. Don’t ya?”
He looked around. Chewed at the bottom of his lip until it oozed coppery satisfaction. From the road: “I don’t believe in much at all.”
Old-timer: “Nope, I s’pose ya don’t. I s’pose ya don’t look tha type ta believe in anythin tha wutha-man might have ta say. Ya look a different type ta me.”
“And what type might that be?” The blade of the shovel tapped his boot; fingers squeezed upon its hilt.
Old-timer laughed; a warbled thing like a frog caught in death throes. “Type tha takes mattas into his own hans.”
He propped the shovel against his side, studied his hands. Nails chewed and rimmed with dirt, calloused palms caked black. Intrigued, he looked back up. “Never seen you before.”
“Were ya s’posed ta? Ya do nuthin but run. Run is all ya do.”
His eyes narrowed into slits. “So you’ve watched me.”
Old-timer: “Ayup. Lotsa times.”
He clutched the shovel again, scraped it along gravel in the road. “I enjoy my runs,” hissed through clenched teeth.
“Course ya do. Yer fit as a fiddle. I wus like tha once. Long time ago… long time.” Old-timer shook his head, jostling sparse white hair. “But things change afta long times go by, ayup.”
He stepped closer to the cabin’s decayed porch. “Time changes everything.” No bother taken to disguise the rattlesnake in his tone.
Old-timer, squinting: “Yer him, I’m sure ya are,” then swatted at ghosts circling his skull. “People been talkin bout ya ‘fore tha wutha-man comes on at night. Yer him, yessir ya are. Tha runner.”
Eyes drifted to his boots, laces awash in mud. “I told you, I enjoy my runs.”
Old-timer nodded, pleased. “Ayup, tha runner. Knew it was ya. Just knew all tha time. So tell me, runner, where ya runnin to?”
He stalked deliberately, leaning against the old-timer’s fence post, rotted and crooked as a hag’s nose. Shovel tap-tapped atop his boot. “I’m not running from a thing.”
“Nah, ya wasn’t hearin me. Ya wasn’t listenin careful nuff. Didn’t say ya was runnin from somethin. Asked what ya runnin to.”
Doubt lit his eyes. He always had answers.
“Man runnin from somethin is a man in fear. Man runnin toward somethin is a man ta fear. Ayup.”
Tongue slithered inside his mouth, toyed with a pulpy strip caught between molars. He had eaten not too long before; suddenly the urge to eat again seized him. He licked at his lips. “You have something to fear, old man? Maybe something like me?”
Old-timer quipped: “Fear ya? Not t’all.”
He always had answers. Now he searched for one.
Old-timer jerked his head. “Lemme see em.”
“Yer hands, course.”
Hesitation. Eventually he raised one above the fence. Old-timer, eyes sparkling a shade below madness, rose from his creaky chair. Head crooked atop stooped shoulders, old-timer hobbled down the porch steps, across the front path, alongside the fence. “Ayup, tha runner alright.”
“I’m getting tired of this,” he hissed, the shovel slowly ascending above his head.
With deceptive speed, the old-timer sprang over the fence, seized his free hand. “Tha runnerrrrr…” he cooed.
They remained that way, runner and old-timer, hands interlocked like lost brothers now found, eyes fixed and steely. The runner blinked first, noticing the old-timer’s chewed nails, crusty black around the beds, grime etched into wrinkled skin. The shovel lowered.
Old-timer’s hands. So much like his own.
He always had answers. Always, his victims spoke to him. Now he had none.
“I wus fit like ya once. Long time ago… long time ago.”
He jerked his hand back, but old-timer would not let go.
He glanced over old-timer’s shoulder.
“Somethin ya should know. Somethin ya should learn right quick.”
He looked beyond old-timer’s cabin. Glimpsed what had been hidden from his sight for so many runs. Glimpsed for the first time the uneven rows, the shovels pitched crookedly into the dirt, marking each grave.
Mounds littered the hills, both new and old.
“Ya see, I wus tha runner long before ya came ta town, son,” old-timer sang quietly. “And I gots no fear of ya t’all.”
He broke the old-timer’s grasp; shovel clanged to the road. For the first time, the runner ran from something. Ran, boots stumbling across divots in the backwoods road, rising sun looming large in his frantic eyes. Ran from old-timer and his dirty, chewed nails. Ran from old-timer and all the ghosts that kept pace at his side.
“Wus a runner long ‘fore ya came ta town,” old-timer continued to sing. He turned and hobbled back atop his porch. Hobbled into his chair. Sat. Waited. He had plenty of time. Even more shovels. “Be tha runner long after yer gone. Ayup.”
~ Joseph A. Pinto
© Copyright 2013 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.