Tod Slaughter's

Tod Slaughter's

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Sanguine Sea

     Marie saw the old spyglass in the window of that junk store on 5th street she liked to stop in after work sometimes. It was brass and had the natural patina of a couple of centuries or more, not like that fake stuff you find out of India. She walked inside, the door tinkling that familiar little bell overhead, and Mr. Nelson, the old guy who ran the place, shambled over from somewhere, some dark corner of musty books and unwound clocks.
     "Afternoon Miss Marie," he said. He was stooped over with the weight of ages. "Did you need something?"
     "I noticed that spyglass in the window. I haven't seen it before."
     "Yes, that is a special piece. I got it in only today." He shuffled over to the window display, his wake wafting a cobweb here and there, and retrieved the spyglass and its ancient leather case. The case was dark and stained. "There you are."
     She held it and it felt cold and heavy. The case had an odd smell but nothing some airing out couldn't cure.
     "Alexander would love this. It's his birthday today."
     "Is he your husband?"
     She paused. "Well, not exactly."
     "I see."
     "How much did you want for it?"
     Mr. Nelson put his craggy hands on hers and closed the case around the spyglass. "No charge dear."
     "Oh, Mr. Nelson, I can't just take it. Let me pay you." She reached for her purse, but he held up an admonishing finger.
     "I'll not hear of it. Now you run along."
     "Thank you, Mr. Nelson."
     "Thank you, dear." He moved off, back into the dim recesses of the bookcases and shelves that leaned at many and various angles, and she walked back out into the light with the musty leather case in her hands.
     When she got to the loft she shared with Alexander (what was it, five years now?) he wasn't home yet. She opened the patio door and listened to the waves on the beach across the street. He was out there somewhere, baiting hooks on the charter boat for drunken tourists, listening to them talk about whatever dentists from Minnesota talk about, lying about how he'd never had anyone catch a grouper that big on his boat.
     She mixed up some batter and got a cake in the oven and then sat down on the wicker swing out on the patio. Soon she was asleep.
     The smoke woke her up. "Damn it all," she said, jumping up from the swing. The apartment was full of smoke. She opened the over door, waving smoke around and grabbed the cake with a potholder. It was a charred brick now and while she was trying to figure out what to do with it, Alexander walked it.
     "Hey babe, having fun?"
     She smiled and said, "Happy birthday."
     "Should I blow that out?"
     "Would you? I'm sorry about this. I had grand plans." She dropped the cake in the sink and waved the smoke out of her face.
     "Thought that counts, right? What's this?"
     He picked up the leather case.
     She put a hand over her face. She hadn't wrapped it. Strike two.
     "It's your present. It was supposed to be a surprise."
     "I am surprised."
     He opened the case and took out the old spyglass.
     "Very cool," he said, pulling on the eye piece to extend it to its full length. He put it to his eye and something happened to his face, a tightening like he was in pain. He put a hand on the counter and steadied himself.
     "Are you alright?" Marie said.
     He nodded. "Yeah, I just felt ... sick. Out of nowhere." He put the spyglass down on the counter. "I think I need to lay down."
     He walked to the bedroom and she followed him.
     "Are you sure you're OK, babe?"
     He nodded again and got on the bed, still wearing his fishy clothes but she didn't say anything. She laid down next to him and traced a finger on his arm. It was brown from the sun.
     "Is there anything I can do for you?"
     He shook his head and closed his eyes. There were tears in hers from the smoke but it wasn't so bad in the bedroom with the fan on and the patio door open and the waves outside. She watched him sleep, wondering what could be wrong.
                                                                          - - -
     He was on a boat. No, a ship. He'd spent his entire life on boats but this wasn't a boat. He was on a bed in a cabin of some sort, a once ornate cabin that was now dark and dank. The wet bed smelled like a grave. He got up and lurched over to windows made of diamond-shaped panes of glass, throwing them open. The night sky was black and a full moon glowed low on the horizon, casting rippling luminescence on the dark waves. The air smelled like salt and copper.
    He leaned out for fresh air and a wave struck the ship, splashing him. It was thicker than any sea he'd sailed on and in the light of the giant moon he could see that he was covered not with water but blood. He could taste it in his mouth.
    Recoiling, he ran to the cabin door, yanking it open by the lichen-covered handle. Another wave struck the ship and he fell out onto a rotten deck. The sails flapped wetly. They hung heavy on the masts, like huge sheets of untanned flesh, and below the sheets were the oarsmen. They turned to look at him without stopping their eternal task. The sight of so many eyeless sockets, so many dripping bones, froze him motionless. Their skeletal fingers gripped the handles with the rigor of death and they pulled the heavy oars back against dripping rib cages while some unseen horror beat the rowing rhythm on a heavy drum.
     Turning, his eyes shot toward the helm. There was a bony captain at the wheel, an undead navigator who paid him no notice. The captain moved the wheel by degrees and reached into a leather case. It was then that Alexander ran to the moldering rail. He grabbed it and pieces of spongy wood came off in his hand, dropping into the sanguine sea. He took a last mad glance at the horrors of the galley and the captain looked at him. Those delicate bone hands shut the spyglass, the same spyglass Marie had given him, and tucked it back in the case, and Alexander cast himself over the rail into the irony filth below.
                                                                            - - - 
     Marie opened her eyes. She'd dozed off watching Alexander and for some reason she was soaking wet. "What now?" she said aloud, still half sleeping, and rolled over, throwing her arm over him. Alexander wasn't there though. Her arm landed in thick wetness and she woke completely, lashing out at the lamp and switching it on. Alexander was gone and she was covered in blood. Blood and something green. She screamed and tore it from her fingers. It was seaweed.



Sunday, July 26, 2015

Dream Girl

Here's a brand new one, a classic tale of a boy and a girl. - T.S.
                
                I’m not very good with girls. Ok, that’s not entirely true. I’m terrible with girls. My whole life it’s been that way. Just my luck that the first one I really hit it off with gets me fired, too.
                And I don’t know what to tell mother either. I mean, I just got this job. She said it would be a disaster, and was she ever right. She can be pretty overbearing, but I have to give her that. She’s always right. Mother knows best.
                But we were talking about the girl, not mother, right? You should have seen her. Linda was her name. It comes from Germany (I looked it up) and it means “soft” or “tender”. Linda was both of those for sure.
                She was perfect. I remember the first time I saw her. She came in where I work and I was really excited, but I made sure not to show it. That’s what they say in the movies, you know. Be cool. Play hard to get, whatever that means. I’m sure I made a mess of it, but she didn’t seem to mind. First day on the job and here comes this beautiful creature. It was a little much for a guy like me, not being used to these sorts of things and all, but at least she didn’t run off. Linda wasn’t like all those other girls, and in the end, I guess that was part of the problem. She wasn’t like them at all.
                One thing I liked about the new job, it was always really quiet. Linda didn’t seem inclined to leave right away, so we had the place to ourselves, just me and her. We talked for a while. Really, I talked for a while, and I opened right up. I’ve never talked to a girl like that before. I mean, I told her everything. We talked about work and mother and I even told her that I’d never … well, you know.
                And that’s what was so great about her. She didn’t mind any of it. She had these eyes you could get lost in, and after looking in them for a quiet moment, I decided to go for it. I reached out and put my hand on hers. I was holding a girl’s hand! She let me, too. She didn’t jump back or anything.
                Like they say, one thing leads to another. I’ve seen enough movies to know how it works. You kind of caress the hand a little, look her in the eye, smile a little half-smile, and lean in for it. Imagine my surprise when my lips actually touched hers! First job, first kiss … I was really moving up in the world. If only mother could see me … well, on second thought, that’s not such a great idea. Mother can be kind of Victorian if you know what I mean.
                She had the perfect lips. Linda, I mean, not mother. We kissed for a minute and then I tried the tongue thing. I don’t know if I did it right, but it sure did feel good. I even eased a hand up onto her … breast. There’s not a real good word for that. She didn’t seem to mind, but I had a little problem. Well, not that little. A problem down below, if you catch my drift. I didn’t know if I was supposed to unzip my pants or wait for her to do it or what, but after all that kissing I was about ready to explode. I got them off a lot quicker than you see in the movies and then I kind of moved in on top of her.
                I wasn’t really planning on all of this, and I kind of forgot to lock the door. I mean, it was actually happening! The thing I thought I’d only ever dream about. And who should come through the door but Mr. Lee himself. He’s my boss, the funeral director. He yelled something and charged over to the table, snatching me off of my Linda. He called me all sorts of names, kicking and punching all the while. And Linda never even said a word. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Hand in Hand

This one's a personal favorite. -T.S.


Just like before, I had waited in the parking lot until the time was right. Almost closing. The last customer left and I strode quickly into the bank and fired a couple of rounds in the ceiling. A woman reached under the counter and I waved the gun at her.
"Don't touch no buttons."
She nodded and I made quick work of the tellers' tills, ignoring the safe, and left less than two minutes after I entered. Smooth as silk, easy as apple pie.
The trouble all started with that damn sheriff. 
Random chance really, a cop passing by just as I fled the bank with a Thompson in one hand and a sackful of cash in the other, but it must have made a hell of a picture. The cruiser's brakes squealed, tires smoking as it wheeled into the lot. I fired a long burst in the cop's direction, the shells making dull thumps in the sheet metal, but the car kept coming, so I dove into the van and threw it in reverse, crunching the cop's fender. Bullets popped into the van, opening pinholes of light.
A quick glance in the mirror before I floored the gas showed the cop curse at his radio and hurl it against the dash. A bullet to the radio; maybe luck was swinging back my way, right? I tore out of the parking lot with the cruiser just behind me, racing toward the desert sun.
We roared away from the little town, the cat and the mouse, flying into the desolate sands. After a few minutes, I whipped the van onto a dirt road, the passenger side nearly leaving the ground. The cop plowed in right behind me, his rear tires kicking up huge rooster tails of sand as the back end of the car swung off the crude road. I reached over and picked up the big gun from the passenger seat, pointed it backward as best I could with one hand on the wheel, and pulled the trigger. It jumped around, blowing holes in all parts of the van, and when the drum was empty I let it go, clattering loudly on the van floor.
The road cut straight through a wasteland of flat sand and dry tufts of grass. I pushed the van up around seventy until a curve finally appeared. That's where the real trouble started.
As I slowed, the cop caught the rear corner of the van and pushed forward, spinning me around. I snatched at the wheel but over-corrected and the van rolled, throwing me out of my seat and hard into the roof. The desert day turned black.
"Wake up, boy," the sheriff said. Water splashed on me. One eye wouldn't open, but the good one saw black leather cowboy boots with silver tips, lightly sprinkled with dust.
"Stand up. Nothing funny now. Business end of a .45 looks like a black hole, don't it?" 
Indeed it did. The gun gestured, telling me to rise.
I shook my head a bit and slowly sat up. The sheriff waited a moment and kicked me hard in the thigh with the silver point of his boot.
"This just ain't my day," the sheriff said. "Lost my house keys. Dropped my phone in the station toilet. And now you."
The gun whipped out, catching the side of my head and knocking me back to the ground.
More water splashed down on me. "Get up. You're that Dollface, ain't you? We'll have to fix that." He clubbed me again. And again. A pistol makes a terrible sound in your head when it's beating on you.
"You had enough, boy? I told you to stand up."
I grunted something at him. 
"That's how people get false teeth," he said and brought the pistol down once more. Both my eyes were closed now, refusing to open even a sliver. A rough hand grabbed me by the collar and pulled me to my feet. A car door opened and the sheriff shoved me in the seat.
"I've heard you're a hard man to contain," the sheriff said. "You ride up front."
Shoes moved softly through the sand and the trunk opened. There were sounds back there, probably the bank bag and the Tommy gun. I felt around with blind hands, finding a ballpoint pen in the door pocket. As the trunk slammed I closed my fingers around it.
The driver's door opened and the sheriff plopped down, rocking the car. He slapped a handcuff on my left wrist, then attached the other end to his own right hand.
"Reckon we'll ride together."
The sheriff started the car and pulled it into drive, the movements tugging at my arm. We rode in slow silence back down the sandy road.
How far ahead was the highway? Five miles? Ten miles? How much time did I have?
Slashing over with the pen, I felt it strike flesh, burrowing in. I ripped it out and stabbed again, feeling warm blood in my fingers. The sheriff made some gurgling sounds and fought with me, but I forced the pen deeper and deeper. The steering wheel turned this way and that and eventually the car rolled to a stop.   
The sheriff wasn't moving.
I reached over to put the car into park and removed the key. It was a single key, attached to only a plastic tag. I leaned over and felt around the sheriff's waist, and my movements grew more and more frantic. 
What had the sheriff said? 
Lost my house keys.
The key to the handcuffs. It had to be with them. The sheriff wasn't worried. He knew there would be another at the station.
The car was hot and full of the coppery smell of blood. I pulled against the handcuff but it was tight around my wrist. I tried pulling the sheriff's end of the cuffs off, but even covered with the slick blood it refused. 
"Can't win for losing," I said, and my voice sounded alien. 
The car was unbearable, so I opened the door and drug the corpse out the passenger side with me. There was a little shade on that side of the car, and I slumped down in it, beads of sweat rolling down my forehead and over my poor swollen eyes.
We had driven off the road in the struggle and the sand was loose and warm beneath me. Which way was the highway? The town? It seemed like the sun was on my left, but then again, the sun seemed to be everywhere, even here in the shade.
The gun. The sheriff's gun. I unholstered it and positioned it on the sheriff's end of the handcuffs, bracing the dead hand against the wheel for support. One of his fingers, already colder than I thought they'd be, wore a fat ring, a hallmark of some faded high school glory. I pulled the trigger and there was only the click of an empty chamber.
I laughed, and it was a dry and deathly sound. While I laughed, I felt around on his belt for another clip and when I found one my fingers told me it was empty too. How many times had the damn sheriff fired?
When the laughter died, I looped my hands under his armpits as best I could and pulled him up, draping the body over my shoulders. If the sun was to my left, I would go right. I started walking.
The sheriff was a solid man. He weighed a ton. Thick, half-clotted blood ran down my back and mixed with sweat, sticking the shirt to my back. My face was hot and I lamented the loss of my shady fedora. 
The sandy earth was peppered with tufts of desert grass, each threatening to upset my balance, so I walked slowly, feeling ahead with my feet. Even so, I tripped over a shallow washout, spilling the dead sheriff to the ground, the body pulling painfully at my arm.
I should have reached the dirt road by now.
For a long while I stayed on my back, breathing heavily. My skin no longer burned and I couldn't feel the sun in my eyes anymore. A light breeze picked up and my arms broke out in goosebumps. Something I'd read in school so long ago. Something about the desert nights being cold. I should keep moving.
As I was already blind, the darkness was no more a hindrance than the day. Grunting, I hoisted the dead sheriff again, but I'd not gone far when the sounds came, high and keening on the night air. Yipping. Barking.
Howling.
I stopped to listen. Jesus Christ, what could that be? Wolves? Were there wolves in the desert? That didn't seem right.
No. Not wolves. The old man at the gas station, the one I'd filled up the van at before the bank job, he was cursing the coyotes. They ate my dog, he'd said.
They ate my dog.
What would they do to a dead sheriff?
Though I walked away from the sound, the howling seemed closer and I panicked, running, stumbling, fighting with the dead weight of the sheriff. Dead weight, get it? I fell, fought with the body, and ran some more, until finally I pitched over in the sand, breathless.
It was quiet now. I tried to close my eyes and laughed at myself, that hollow sound again. Close my eyes! I laughed and laughed and fell into a restless half-sleep. 
My body was a network of agony, all sore muscles and broken skin. I was cold, shivering. And what was that sound? It was wet and obscene. Reaching out an arm, my hand touched fur. I recoiled and the creature made some kind of noise. There were others too, and they joined in.
"Get away from here!" I yelled, thrashing my arms around, flinging handfuls of sand at the sounds. The creatures yipped and yelped and scurried into the night.
I stared at the backs of my eyelids and it seemed as though colors washed over them. The handcuff felt cold on my wrist and any movement brought a reminder of the package on the other end. After an indeterminable period of time, the colors of my eyelids changed to pale light and the air got a little warmer. The sun was out.
The first attempt to sit up brought dry, sputtering curses, but I worked my way up. My mouth was dry and foul. When I tried to stand I lost my balance, falling onto the sheriff, and as I frantically pushed off the body my hands felt raw, gaping wounds under the tattered uniform.
They ate my dog, the old man had said.
No. No no. It couldn't end like that. Eaten by some dogs in the desert.
"Not dogs, boy. Coyotes." It sounded like the old man's voice. What was he doing out here? I whipped my head around, still unused to the fact that I was blind, and I stretched out my free hand, feeling the air around me.
"Help me, please," I said, the words cracking against my arid lips, "help me."
No help came. Eventually, I stood and hoisted the sheriff again onto my shoulders. The body felt lighter than yesterday, but it was slippery with blood. For a moment my legs threatened mutiny, but I bent them to my will and remained standing.
Honestly, I had no idea which way I'd come from. The sun seemed to be on my right now. If I had headed away from it yesterday evening, I should head toward it in the morning. That made sense. I started walking, picking my way through the tufts of grass.
How long had I been in the desert now? Twenty four hours? Carrying around a dead body, no less. No food. No water. I should have come to the highway by now.
It felt like the sun was on top of me. I eased the sheriff down to the sand and sat beside him. There had to be a way to get free. I grabbed the handcuff around his wrist and and fought with it. The skin ripped and tore and yet the handcuff would not slide over his wrist. I felt around and found a small rock, bashing it against the metal and skin to no avail. A few tears squeezed through my swollen eyelids.
My stomach churned. I used my free hand to pull some dry grass loose from one of the clumps and slowly put it in my mouth. There was no saliva. Swallowing the dusty, tasteless grass was nearly impossible.
"They ate my dog," that voice said again. "They'll eat you." 
"The hell they will," I said, picking up the sheriff. He smelled loathsome and there were flies everywhere. I shuffled on, straining my ears for the sound of a car, but there was nothing save the buzz of flies and the sounds of my feet in the sand.
After an aeon of walking, I could feel night in the air again. My legs were done, so I bent and dropped the sheriff. Then I laid down next to him, propping my head on one of the grass tufts. Sleep washed over me and I dreamed strange dreams. It was long ago and the sheriff was my friend and we were playing in the park. It was night and we were camping together in my backyard. I had a pet dog and it was howling because it wanted in the tent.
Howling.
I woke quickly, my eyes darting around beneath my eyelids.
They were back.
I tried yelling at them, but found I'd lost my voice. Only a low rasping came out and the night creatures didn't seem to mind that. I threw sand at them but they growled at me. One sounded very close, inches, and I punched it. The creature bit me on the forearm, drawing blood, and then returned to the sheriff. A part of me thanked them for what they were doing. After all, the longer they stayed, the less he seemed to weigh.
"They'll eat you too," the voice said again.
"We're friends," I said, laughing, "but I never really liked him!"
I sucked at the blood on my arm, letting it fill the dry cracks of my mouth.
The coyotes grew bolder. They tugged at the sheriff, perhaps intending to drag him off somewhere a little more private, but I refused to go with them and they eventually gave up. I pulled him back toward me and now he moved easily.
Dawn broke once more, cold and gray. I ran my free hand over my face, pulling at my cauliflower eyelids. The right one separated and a beam of light broke through, a piercing ray that burned like fire. I screamed, a terrible cracking sound. 
But it was light! I forced the eye open, holding it until the blinding white resolved into an unbroken expanse of flat sand and grass. No distant power lines marked the horizon, no cars moved along some far off road. There was nothing.
Did I dare look at the sheriff?
I did. The coyotes had done terrible things to him. His face was a red mask of bone, and his stomach gaped empty save for a trailing intestine that pointed the way they had gone home. I let the eye slip closed again so I could tend to our morning ritual.
First I tucked what was left of his insides back in as best I could and, though he felt awfully light, still I struggled to lift him. Everywhere I touched broke open clotted blood and made him all slick and greasy. When I finally got him across my shoulders, he felt like a bundle of wet sticks.
I was a ghoul, a ghoul carrying my carrion prize through hell. My face and hands were boiled with sunburn, my torn clothes were a matted mass of gore, and everywhere was the stench of death. Occasionally I stopped and opened my eye to check on my progress, once spotting a few joshua trees in the distance. My heart leapt at this little variety and I walked faster, turning my path slightly to meet them. Hours later I arrived and sat among the stunted trees. Maybe I spoke with them. I know I wished them farewell when the sheriff said we should be moving on. 
After a couple of miles it began to get dark and for once I could see the sunset. I put the sheriff down and held my eye open, watching as the sky turned to orange fire and cooled to purple ash and then it was black, the blackness of infinity studded with a billion pricks of white. 
It was hard to sleep knowing they'd be back, and it wasn't too long before the accursed howling began. I could hear the pads of their feet on the sand as they got closer, and then I could hear their breathing. I knew they valued privacy, so I kept my eye closed while they spoke with the sheriff for a while. They wanted to talk to me too, but I thrashed around too much for their liking. When they left, I finally dozed off but it seemed only a few minutes before the first rays of morning fell on my tortured eyelids.
My right eye flickered a bit and managed to stay open. Ah, the sweet little victories that make us feel alive. The sheriff was gone, but he'd left his arm behind. It was still attached to mine, so I picked it up for him. He'd probably be looking for it.
Making sure the little joshua trees were behind me, I started walking again. Well, shuffling or hobbling is probably what you'd call it. I shuffled along, a bloody, bony ghoul keeping an eye out for my friend who'd lost his arm. Get it? An eye? One eye? It's not like I had an extra.
There were beetles crawling across the horizon every now and then, fast little beetles, some going one way and some going the other. Having nothing better to do, I decided to investigate. 
"Those aren't beetles, you idiot. They're cars."
Right you are, old man, right you are. Cars. But shouldn't you be worrying about those coyotes? I've heard they are notorious in these parts.
As the sun climbed, the road came into focus. Random chance really, that when I stumbled down to the ditch the first car that came by belonged to a policeman. I flagged him down, raising the sheriff's arm up for the extra height so he'd be sure and see it, and he skidded to a stop in front of me.
For some reason, the policeman was very angry. He pointed a gun at me and yelled something without meaning.
"I ... I could use a lift," I said. "My van's back that way."
He didn't seem to hear me, so I waved the arm at him. The long arm of the law.
"And I need to give this back. He lost it."
That only made him even more angry, but I walked toward him calmly. If I could just give him the arm, he might at least drive me around a little while to look for the sheriff. Maybe we'd even find my van. It was stupid of me to leave it out there in the desert. But he only yelled at me some more. I couldn't really understand what he was saying until I got a little closer and stuck the sheriff's hand out for him to take.
"You bastard!" he yelled. "That's my brother's ring!"
And then he pulled the trigger.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Tomb on the Hill

Wrote this one forever ago. If it sucks, bear with me; I was young and stupid. - T.S.

            Through drifting breaks in the gray night clouds, moonlight played on the few remaining leaves of what trees the loggers had left standing, dancing among denuded branches, breaking and rippling across the torn ground like alkaline water.
            “So it’s right around here?” Luke asked. He finished his beer and flung the can into the darkness.
            “Yeah,” Matthew replied, “We found it when we were cutting a hill today. Johnny's dumb ass hit it with the backhoe, but he didn't knock it down or anything.”
            The silence of the night seemed to kill their voices. What Luke couldn’t believe was that he was six miles down a pulp wood trail at 1:30 in the morning. Either it would be worth it, or Matthew would get his ass kicked back to the truck.

            A lone moonbeam pierced the clouds and shone through a fresh crack in the marble wall, a scar from the incident with the backhoe. The crack channeled the pale shaft of light, shooting a soft white replica of the crack’s jagged edges into the center of a room cloaked in darkness. It landed on a rotted wooden coffin resting beneath a fine film of dust on a massive stone table. Particles of dust, long resigned to a black existence, danced between the dark and the light.

            They rounded a bend and Luke saw the low hill outlined against pale gray clouds. At the top of the hill, next to a gnarled and dead oak tree, loomed the glistening white structure. Its marble walls gleamed like raw bone in the moon light. From its low roof, a cross pointed to the heavens. The ragged remains of a wrought iron fence careened close around the building at various angles, each iron bar topped with a dimly perceptible crucifix. There were no windows.
            "You drug me out here to see this?" Luke said.

            The crumbling, rotted wood of the coffin fragmented the moonbeam into a hundred pin-points, spraying them throughout the coffin’s interior.  Clouds rolled past, causing the light to shift and dance, a hundred little stars drifting in the casket dark like luminous plankton riding the waves of a black night sea.

            “Come on man,” Matthew whispered. Last one to touch it buys more beer.”
            “Why are you whispering?” Luke asked and his voice was loud in the stillness. I think you’re scared. I think I’m going to beat you up this hill. And then I'm going to beat your ass back to the truck.” He took off, immediately followed by his friend.
            They raced up the hill, the rippling moonlight showing the way, and the skeletal fingers of the oak tree beckoned with the breeze.
            To Luke’s dismay, Matthew was the first to the old fence. Matthew slowed to negotiate the rail and Luke seized his chance, grabbing the ancient iron with one hand and vaulting over. A rusty cross raked his forearm, but he lunged forward, slapping the white marble an instant before Matthew. Red rivulets ran down from a handprint of blood.
            “Jesus. Luke, look at your arm.”
            “Yeah. And look who’s buying.”

            Dancing light played on the inside of the coffin, moving back and forth over that which lay within. Through the tattered vestiges of black cloth, soft beads of moonlight played across pale drawn skin. A faint coppery scent wafted in from somewhere and a pallid aquiline nose drew in a deep ragged breath.  Thin colorless lips pulled back from pointed teeth and long-nailed fingers unfurled themselves from clenched fists.

           Luke lit a cigarette and took a long drag. They were standing in front of a heavy marble door which was attached top and bottom, and on both sides, by a gigantic iron cross secured to the marble walls with stout iron pegs.
            “Guess they didn’t want anybody getting in there,” Luke said, running a bloody finger along the metal’s edge.
            “Or getting out,” Matthew said. “You got any idea what that means?” He pointed above the doorway to a large marble plaque. Even in the flitting moon light, they could read the carved letters.

monstrum hic requiescit;
hoc sepulcrum neque luna neque sanguis numquam intrent

            Luke looked at for a minute.
            “Yeah, it means you owe me a case of beer.”

            Memories floated in on the moonlight. An angry mob of villagers, brandishing torches and pitchforks. Shackles and chains of silver.
            Through the cobwebs of centuries, it all came slowly back. In the light of day they had found his lair, cuffed his wrists with horrid silver. Thinking to kill him, they seized a chain and drug him into the light of the sun, but the mindless fanatics were fueled only by myth and superstition. The silver weakened his arms, and the sun’s rays burned his flesh and sapped his strength, but he knew he could never be destroyed. Kneeling on the sun-soaked cobblestones, he turned his head down to hide sensitive eyes from the blinding rays, awaiting their next efforts.
            A fat man, perhaps the mayor, with buckles on his shoes and his hat, drove a pine stake through his heart right there in the town square.  He laughed while the fat man swung the hammer, spraying blood in his fat face with each blow.
            They threw him over the trough that the horses drank from and the blacksmith tried to cut off his head with a handsaw. With each push and pull, the ragged wound sealed up behind the hacking blade.
            And so they sealed him here. They knew that without the light of the moon to wake him or blood to nourish his appetite he could not rise, and in so weakened a state he would be unable to break his silver bonds.
            But now, now he could no longer feel the toxic burning of the silver.  Through the dormant centuries, it had been coated with a thick shield of tarnish protecting him from the metal. 
            The moonlight. He could feel it dancing on him, and he smelled blood. Blood. With a push of his arms, he snapped the corroded silver bonds and threw the rotted coffin lid to the floor.

            Matthew and Luke leaned against the cold stone, watching the spectral oak’s talons weave in the night breeze. Despite the bandana wrapped around his arm in a makeshift tourniquet, Luke’s wound dripped blood onto the white stairs.

            A dull thud echoed from inside the crypt.

            Matthew’s eyes, wide with horror, met Luke’s and as they turned to flee the little hill, the cross-laden door exploded outward in a hail of marble, throwing both men through the air.
            Luke landed in a crumpled heap, rolled onto his back, and scurried backward, kicking frantically with his legs like an injured mouse. Looking to his left he saw Matthew bent backward over the iron fence at an impossible angle, black blood dripping from the corner of his open mouth.
            A cloud of moon-lit dust settled in the shattered doorway.  The massive iron cross hung away, bent to one side and curled outward. In the recesses of his mind, Luke realized that Matthew was dead and that he should run, flee, but another voice told him that escape was pointless. He felt beneath his hand a cold piece of metal, a cross broken from a rail of the fence.
            A demon beyond nightmares stood in the dusty entrance. Hair fell past its shoulders in long gray waves.  It stretched out its arms, and Luke could see the long points of black fingernails contrasted against the pallid stone. Rotted remains of an ancient burial suit hung in ribbons from a rail thin frame. Pale lips curled back, revealing gleaming pointed teeth.
            The clouds parted and a shaft of light fell directly on the demon. To Luke’s horror, the thing raised its outstretched arms. The deathly skin, riddled with blue veins, seemed to drink in the light. Its eyes fell on Matthew, and instantly, the creature was at his body without seeming to move. It bent over him, sucking and gurgling.
            And then it looked up.
            Its eyes fixed on Luke as a long tongue wiped gore from its chin.
            “Stop!” Luke shouted and thrust out the concealed cross. It was close to him now, the horror from the crypt, very close, and he had never seen it move.
            It plucked the metal from his hand. The bony fist clenched, shattering the iron to fragments.
            “A cross,” spoke the terror in a thick accent, its mouth dripping. “That has been tried before.”
            Luke made a strange whimpering sound. His knees shook as the creature reached out, cradling the back of his neck with an icy white hand. He stared blindly at the apathetic moon as the little daggers pierced his neck.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rearranged

Here's a fun one about the perils of Payday candy bars. -T.S.             

                I had taken a long lunch and didn't get back to the practice until 2. I used to bring my own lunch, healthier that way you know, but Brittany (she's the receptionist) thinks we're friends and it got to be rather unbearable.
                I mean, there is something about these kids, is there not? No concept of place. A complete lack of understanding boss and employee relationships, among other things. Many other things. A month out of college and they want to run the place. And what was I thinking hiring a Brittany anyway? Has that lamentable trend passed yet? There was a time I thought the only two names available were Brittany and Courtney. But hey, at least they don't have punctuation marks, right? Britn'y? Isn’t that what it's coming to?

                "Good afternoon!" Brittany said and popped her chewing gum. I glared at her and nodded toward the waste basket, and she leaned over and spit. Something about these kids.
                "Messages?"
                "Your 2:45 canceled because her chihuahua had a reaction to the gluten-free treats ..."
                "The gluten-free treats?" I said with slight incredulity, and instantly regretted speaking.
                "Yes, that Bingo Starr is such a darling little thing but his tummy always hurts. They thought it was the gluten, but now with the gluten-free treats he still..."
                And I supposed that's why I hired her. Brittany had the perfect combination of millennial entitlement and utter cluelessness that allowed her to easily relate to most of my clients.
                "I'm sorry, Brittany," I said. "Is this going somewhere?"
                "Of course," she said with a smack of her gum. "Angelica called. You know, the pretty one? She isn't scheduled until next Tuesday, but when I told her about the cancellation, she jumped right in. And I swapped the 2:45 out for Angelica's slot next Tuesday. Nancy is prepping the OR."
                "You are too kind." And actually doing your job. Perhaps today would be a good day.
                Angelica. Repeat customer. Young, rich, and beautiful. A good bit of insecurity about her nose though. That's what we'd be working on today, shaving the bridge down, a couple of cartilage grafts, sculpting the tip. A standard rhinoplasty. Another $6,750. Not bad for a late afternoon's work.
                As I entered my office, my phone vibrated. It was Dylan, my husband. Trophy husband, if there is such a thing. Twenty years my junior, and something of a gym rat.
                "Hey babe," he said, "got any time before the next victim?"
                "What did you have in mind?"
                There was some rustling as he turned his phone toward a radio. Poison. Talk Dirty to Me.
                "I hate that song. Reminds me of high school."
                "Before my time, babe."
                "I know."
                I don't mind telling you I look better than most women a decade younger than I am, but when you're a five-star plastic surgeon, you have to look the part.
                "I could come down there," he said, "shove everything off the desk, lay you up on it ..."
                "Sorry doll, I can't right now. One of us has to make money."
                "I'll just sit here looking pretty."
                "You do that. Now, I must go. Can't keep this generation waiting."
                "Bye, love."
                "Goodbye, Dylan."
                I heard the patient enter. Brittany took her information and escorted her back to the OR, and I followed soon after them.
                "Thank you Brittany," I said. "If we're not done by five, just pack up and head home. You too Nancy."
                "Are you sure, Dr. Peterson?"
                "Of course. A little job like this," I said and smiled at Angelica, "won't require any extra hands." And I don't want to pay your overtime. So go home. I can do a rhinoplasty with my eyes closed.
They left and I sat down with Angelica.
                "I just hate it!" she said, running a finger along the bridge.
                "Not to worry, my darling," I said. "Let's just slip this on and you'll have a new nose before dinner." Not that you ever eat. I pulled the mask down over her face. Her breath fogged the clear plastic. I smiled, turned on the gas and waited.
                She was a giggler, Angelica. She talked and she giggled, and just as I was about to open her nose up, she caught my attention.
                "Dylan would think it's hilarious," she said and giggled some more. I squinted my eyes at her.
                "What did you say?" I dialed the gas back. Didn't want her passing out now.
                She laughed loudly. "Dylan! He would think it's hilarious. Or would he? He told me, he told me not to come here! Joke's on him!" And she erupted again.
                "Dylan told you not to come here?"
                "Yes! He specifically said so. He said you can smell trouble. Smell trouble!" Peals of laughter.
                "And what trouble would I smell?"
                She pursed her lips in a comical pout. "He's ashamed of me. He doesn't want anyone to know."
                "Know what?" I asked though I of course already knew.
                "No, no. A lady never kisses and tells!"
                Indeed. She's lovely, isn't she Dylan? So young, so ... unblemished. The sun was just beginning its descent, and it cast red beams through the sheer window curtains. I turned the gas back up and she closed her eyes.
                "Now dear, let's see what we can do about that nose."
                The rage seethed inside me and I worked slowly. There were just so many things that needed fixing when you looked at it. The nose? I mean, upon closer inspection, not really worth keeping, was it? Better off without it really. And that pouty little mouth? Much too narrow for her face. It needed to be … wider. Wider by far. And bring the eyelids down. Add a little mystery. Nothing keeps a relationship alive like a little bit of mystery. Secrecy.
                I was finishing her right eyelid when I felt my phone vibrate.
                Dylan.
                "Hello love," I said.
                "Hey, I was just going to leave you a message. Don't you have a patient?"
                "Indeed I do. We're almost finished here though."
                "What did you want for dinner?"
                "Oh I don't know, surprise me."
                "I hate surprising you."
                "But you're so ... full of surprises." Not so much with dinner though. He'd bring Chinese takeout. I already knew it.
                Angelica started to moan a little.
                "Wait just a second."
                I pulled the mask back in place and turned the gas on again.
                "Where were we? Dinner?"
                "Yes," he said. "Do you need to go?"
                "Not at all darling. Pick something up and bring it by the office. I was thinking we might end the night with some ... action."
                "Really?"
                "Truly. Madly. Deeply."
                "You got it, babe. Light a candle. I'll be there shortly."
                I put the phone down and took the mask off so I could finish the other eyelid. Her nose, well, the place her nose used to be, was bubbling a bit, so I wiped it off too. When the eye was finished I took a roll of cling wrap from the cabinet and wrapped it around her, first pinning her arms and torso to the chair, then her feet. A gauze gag for when she woke. She'd have to breathe through her nose. It would be difficult, but she needed to get used to it anyway.
                Soft footsteps sounded on the thin hall carpet. Nothing to worry about though; I'd of course locked the door.
                A knock. "Dr. Peterson?"
                "Yes?"
                "Are you sure you don't need anything?"
                "Nothing at all. Taking a bit longer, complex bridge and all that, but I'll be done soon. You two just run along."
                "Ok, thanks! See you tomorrow."
                The feet retreated and I looked at my creation. She was exquisite. Her mouth was wide and showed her lovely teeth. It would always show them now. That horrid nose? Completely done away with. And the eyelid stitching certainly added a needed level of intrigue.
                Secrets. We all have them. I reached behind the ficus tree in the corner of the room and produced half a pack of Camels and a lighter. The smoking plastic surgeon. It was almost ironic, and what would Dylan say if he knew? After I was sure that Nancy and Brittany were gone, I wandered around my elegant little practice smoking and eventually drug another patient chair into the OR where Angelica was beginning to stir.
                "Uh uh uh," I said, waving my finger. "Not yet." I gave her more gas.
                The phone vibrated again. One word. "Here." Dylan, the ever verbose.
                I put the cigarette out in the steel sink, picked up a big red vase from the counter, and moved against the wall by the door.
                I'd always hated that vase.
                A faint but familiar creak told me Dylan had opened the entrance door. As he crossed the lobby and came down the hall, I could hear him humming something.
                "Ain't looking for nothing ... but a good time ..."
                More Poison. Odd that people can listen to the same song for a … lifetime … without it getting old. Not at all like people. No, the signs of age are much more obvious on people. If they weren't, I'd be out of a job.
                He knocked quickly and opened the door without waiting for an answer. As he came in, I clubbed him over the back of the head with the ugly red vase and he fell to the floor, cartons of Chinese food opening and scattering across the rug. Some sort of sauce leaked out of a package, and it was roughly the same color as the blood coming from his head.
                It wasn't easy getting Dylan into the chair. First I slipped on the sauce he'd spilled and we both went down, but after some wrestling and cursing I finally got him situated. He was out cold so I didn't give him too much gas. Just enough to keep him under. Angelica was awake now and she was making some kind of noise that made it hard to concentrate so I stuffed the gag in a little further and got back to work.
                Twin lovers. They were made for each other. Literally. By me. I gave Dylan the same nose job and widened his mouth out to match hers. I left his eyes open though. He'd want to see his darling Angelica.
                Speaking of Angelica, I needed to have a little talk with her. I plopped down in my rolling chair and scooted over next to her, leaning in by her ear.
                "I'm going to take this gag out and you're not going to scream."
                I pulled it out and there was a sharp intake of breath as the gauze caught on the raw edges of her new mouth, but to her credit she didn't scream.
                "So, you thought you'd have a little fun with my Dylan, did you?"
                She whimpered.
                "Uh uh," I said, waving my scalpel back and forth. "I'll do the talking. Since we're practically an item, sharing the same man and all that, I thought I'd let you in on a little secret. Would you like to know my secret?"
                Her eyelids twitched and she nodded a short jerky yes.
                "I'm crazy, my dear, crazy as a loon. The god complex, that's what they said. Or goddess complex, as the case may be. Narcissism, egotism, all those nasty isms. I need to ... control things. Why do you think I do what I do? I can literally create people. Make them perfect."
                I put a hand on her cheek and she turned away.
                "It's why I chose Dylan. Such an easy boy to control. Never made a decision in his life. Why, I tell him what to wear. He doesn't even realize it anymore. But now with you around, it kind of casts things in a different light. I honestly didn't think he had it in him."
                Dylan stirred behind us, so I moved to her side where I could keep an eye on him.
                "I really got carried away today," I said. "Aging, I suppose. I haven't been taking it well, and now with you swooping in and carrying on with Dylan, it just hasn't set well with me. But don't worry about the extra procedures; they're on the house."
                His eyes flickered.
                "Good afternoon darling," I said.
                He was woozy. "Where am I?"
                "In good company. There's someone here who wants to see you." I laughed at that for a moment. "I think you two might know each other."
                I reached in my coat pocket and tossed a vial of smelling salts into his lap.
                "Open that. You'll feel better."
                He clumsily took the lid off and spilled half of it, but when he inhaled his eyes lost some of their cloudiness. Then they widened and he opened his new mouth to scream.
                "No no," I said, gesturing at her neck with the scalpel. "None of that."
                "What ... what have you done?"
                The words sounded strange without lips to form them. So ... skeletal.
                "I have created you in my image, darling. Twin lovers, destined for each other. Who else would have you now?"
                A red rivulet ran down from his nasal cavity and onto his teeth.
                "Dylan?" Angelica said, and it too sounded strange. "It hurts. What is happening?"
                "Tell her Dylan. Tell her what you see."
                "No. I ... I won't."
                "I thought you wouldn't. Now, I want you to reach into her purse. Take out her phone and dial 911."
                He remained seated.
                "You will do it, Dylan." I moved the scalpel closer to her. "Call 911. I am not afraid. I'll never go to trial. Mentally incompetent and all that, you know? They'll send me to an institution for a while, and honestly, the people there, the sheep, they could use a shepherd. I'm quite sure it will be to my liking. But you two, why you'll spend eternity together. You were made for each other. And Dylan, you'll be her eyes now. I've given you authority. Power. You are my first disciple. Now get the phone."
                He rose and saw himself in the mirror, his new self.
                "You are magnificent," I said, reminding him of the scalpel. "Now get the phone."
                After a moment, he made it to her purse and rummaged around in it.
                "Dial."
                He dialed and when the 911 responder answered, he started talking. Slowly at first, then frantically.
                "Slow down, Dylan. Tell them the address."
                "433 Broad Street. Please come quickly!"
                "You idiot. That isn't the address. Give me the phone. And don't try anything."
                He moved toward me and then it all happened. So quickly. His hand flashed out and the phone hit me in the face and then he was on top of me, slamming my hand against the ground until I dropped the scalpel. His face was a red mask of death, a grinning demon from hell. He put a hand around my throat and there wasn't much I could do. I always liked a guy with big arms.
                "Now, open up," he said. I was gagging for air and my eyes grew wide when I saw what was in his hand. A candy bar. A Payday. He tore it open with his teeth and I tried to scream.
                "Angelica doesn't know about your little problem," he said. "I found this in her purse with her phone."
                He stuffed the Payday in my mouth, forcing the whole thing in, and then he took his hand off my neck and covered my mouth.
                "Eat," he said. "Eat."
                I could feel the shock almost instantly. Peanuts. He wasn’t quite as dumb as he looked. My skin burned, my face swelled. My heart pounded and pounded and I could feel it exploding in my chest. And as I closed my eyes, he never stopped smiling at me. That smile. That deathly grin.