It was a little after two in the morning. Pat was walking home. His hood was up and his shoulders were hunched against the cold. He uncrossed his arms for a moment to take his smokes from his pocket. Only three left, and one looked like it might be cracked. Fuck it, he thought. He turned away from the wind, hunched further and lit a cigarette under a cupped hand. He started walking again, faster than before. Pat looked up at the haggard buildings across the street, ancient and rotting rowhouses, inhabited by unhappy families and college students. On his right a chain link fence hemmed the cemetery. Pat took a quick look behind him, held the smoke in his lips and climbed over the fence.
He set off into the darkness, weaving his way between crooked tooth tombstones and tangled, low-branched tangles of dogberry and green alder trees. His ratty white sneakers scuffed through mats of tiny wet leaves and dead grass. He felt better in the graveyard. No police, no traffic, no risk of being jumped. No people. Pat, who was called Cake by his friends, parents, and even some teachers, was always nervous around people and with good reason. He was a magnet for police attention. They hassled him whenever they saw him at night. He’d been busted with weed twice over the summer, and once drunk. His mom had cried when they brought him home. He couldn’t face that shit again. He’d also been beat up by some older drunks once. She cried then too. Strangely, that was one occasion when the police were nowhere to be seen. Useless fuckers.
Beyond the standard dangers of being a 16 year old, there was the universal anxiety that had settled over the entire city during the past two years. Nobody went out at night these days, not if they could help it. A month didn’t seem to go by without a person disappearing or a body being found. There was no official line from the police and the media wouldn’t touch it, but to Pat and everyone he talked to, it was an obvious conclusion. Maybe it really was an unconnected series of accidents, murders and animal attacks. Whatever the case, at this hour he felt better in the graveyards, parks and back alleys.
Wind whipped around Pat in short frantic gusts, shaking the stunted trees in a frenetic dance. The chill November air soaked through his hoodie like water. His hands ached and as he tossed the remains of his smoke, he pulled them up into his sleeves and crossed his arms again. Above, clouds raced through the darkness, visible only as they passed under the moon. Pat broke from the main path, taking a narrow, overgrown and branch-crowded alley that led downhill towards the small west corner gate. As he turned, he was startled by a large dog about a dozen plots ahead of him. It was barely visible in the darkness, and it was more the familiar movement that Pat recognized than the shape. It was the rhythmic convulsions of a dog trying to work up vomit. Shoulders surging forward and head hanging low; he saw his own dog, Maggie, do it all the time. He paused, intimidated by the size of the beast, and not sure of the breed. It was side on to him, and if not for the shadows, he would have had a clear view of its profile. As it was, he couldn’t guess a breed, couldn’t even accurately estimate the size, let alone guage aggression or passivity on the dog’s face or stance.
There was a squelching wretch and a soft splash as the dog brought up whatever it had been struggling with. As the dog pawed at its own mess, as if looking for something worth re-eating, it dawned on Pat, even in the shadows, that he was seeing something wrong. The dog’s foreleg reached from the wrong position, the wrong angle. Curious, he stepped forward to get a closer look, and as he did so he stepped on a fallen branch. The dog heard the sharp snap and responded instantly with a low growl. Then it slowly stood upright, awkwardly unfolding its hind legs. That’s wrong, was all Pat thought as the creature rose. It was still unclear to him, still too dark to see, but it was clearly not a dog. It was more like a small child, but that was wrong too. The pointed head hung forward from the shoulders, like a hyena’s head. The arms were impossibly long, the back was rounded and the legs short. The creature made a harsh, rasping growl and then turned and disappeared into the darkness. Pat turned and ran in the opposite direction.
“What the fuck?” he whispered as he ran, over and over as if through repetition he could make some sense of what he’d seen. “What the fuck, what the fuck?” He passed through the main gate, a few minutes out of his way, and paused. He looked down the road, towards the west corner. The street glowed a dim and sickly orange, half lit by the street lights. Everything looked so normal, almost in defiance of the impossibility of what he’d seen in the shadows of the graveyard. He waited with his heart punching out blast beats in his chest, half from fear and half from exertion. His lungs were burning from running through the cold night air. There was no sign of the creature. Pat tested explanations in his head, trying to understand what he’d seen. Had he just seen it wrong? Was this some sort of prank, a kid in a costume? Was there some sort of deformed freak running through the graveyard every night? None of them worked for him. There wasn’t a explanation here that worked. Pat stepped onto the street and started walking. He stayed on the far side, away from the graveyard and took the first turn he came to. The whole way home, he didn’t stop looking behind him, but he saw nothing unusual.
Finally, with the door closed and locked behind him, Pat began to feel safe. He tried not to wake his mother, but with Maggie in the house he knew sneaking in was not an option. As he’d expected she was waiting in the hall. Maggie was an ancient beagle, stinking and obese,who had been a part of his family for as long as he could remember. She groggily got to her feet and hurried over to him, her whole body wiggling with the wag of her tail. Her excited breathing turned into a wheezing yap as he bent to scratch her. It was the next part that he knew would wake his mother: as he kicked off his sneakers, Maggie ran up the stairs and into his parents room. As he wandered to the kitchen, he heard the dog struggling to pull itself onto her bed. She would faithfully wait for him every night, then as soon as he was home, safe and sound, she was off to the comfort of a warm bed. His mom often joked that she’d only kept Pat this long because the dog would be devastated if they brought him back to the shelter.
The fridge offered a bleak showcase of condiments and eggs. Pat slathered some peanut butter on a slice of bread and began to devour it as efficiently as he could. As he forced the bland paste into his digestive tract, he thought about the scenario at the graveyard. Already his mind was convincing him that he was mistaken about the whole thing, that he’d somehow misunderstood something, some normal and explainable sight, and it would seem obvious in the morning. In the dull and comforting sanity of his home, things that didn’t fit into his accepted reality were once again slipping into the realm of fiction where they belonged. However, even as he began to disregard what he’d seen, he looked out the window many times before finally going to bed. The last time he looked out his bedroom window, just after three, he couldn’t help thinking there was something moving in the deep shadows beneath his neighbor’s hedge. Dismissing the thought, he rolled into his bed, masturbated, and slept.
When Pat got up it was close to lunch. After a quick piss he walked downstairs and poured a cup of badly burned coffee. Three fat spoons of sugar and a splash of milk couldn’t bury the dusty heater taste, but it would do the trick. He walked back to the living room and sat on the couch.
“Morning Mom,” he said. She was sitting in the armchair, Maggie in her lap, watching some reality show on TV.
“Hey Cake, how’s my boy?” He’d made up a hundred origin stories about where the nickname Cake had come from, but had never admitted to his friends that it had originated with his Mom. He’d been Cake to her since he was a toddler.
“Hung over?” It was a genuine question, no hint of accusation. Pat’s Mom knew he drank and smoked pot, but other than his problems with the police, which she found embarrassing, she didn’t mind. He knew to stay away from the harder stuff, and that was good enough for her.
“Nope,” answered Pat, “Just tired.” He shook the two remaining cigarettes from the pack, lit one and put the cracked one on the coffee table. Theirs was one of the few remaining homes in which smoking was still accepted.
“Coleen called,” said his mom with a knowing smile.
“Cool.” She was still looking at him. “What?” She kept looking. He felt his face getting red. He tried not to grin back at her. “What?”
“Just call her back.” She looked back to the TV, but kept smiling.
Pat cradled his smoke in the ashtray and looked for a rolling paper to doctor the cracked one.
The day passed and Pat thought little about what he had seen the night before. When he did think about it, he just filed it in the mental cabinet under shit he didn’t understand. It was an overflowing bin in the cluttered mess of his head. Not knowing if it was related to the scare he’d had, he found himself thinking more than usual about the murders. In the two years since they’d started, dozens of people had died. In some cases they just vanished, but most people assumed they were dead. Others were found, often torn apart. The attacks were brutal, splashes of blood and pieces of meat thrown dozens of feet in all directions. Limbs, organs and other parts were usually missing. Most of the time the weapon used had been something the killer found at the scene; people were killed with their own knives, scissors and tools. The police had no suspects, no leads, nothing. They hadn’t even acknowledged that there was a pattern. Everybody dealt with it the same way: stay inside and never alone if it could be helped, ignore the fear and pretend things were normal. The same way, he reflected, that he seemed to be dealing with seeing a weird little freak vomiting in the graveyard.
That afternoon he called Colleen, talking for half an hour about music and other people. He didn’t like the music or the people and he hated to talk on the phone, but he still refused to end the call. They’d just started texting when his phone had found its way into a toilet, and he was starved for some kind of social interaction. Not to mention, Coleen was easily one of the hottest girls he knew. They made a plan to hang out after school on Monday.
That afternoon, having pestered his Mom for ten ten bucks, Pat walked to the store to buy another pack. Even though it was still light, Pat walked quickly with many backward glances. He crossed through an overgrown vacant lot with a burned out shell of an old car in the middle of it. He couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was following him, just out of sight. How many of the murders, he wondered, had taken place in the afternoon? Not many. How many outside? Maybe half. He walked faster. On his way home he skirted along the edge of the lot, looking into the shadowy husk of rusted metal in the far corner. Something moved there, and his heart leapt at the realization, even as his mind denied it. When he saw that it was only a cat, he felt both embarrassed and relieved. Pat started to consider the possibility that he was a lot more shaken than he’d thought.
That night Pat had horrible dreams. He dreamt he had no control over his body, that he was doing horrible things to people, but couldn’t stop it. He watched helplessly from his own eyes as his hands cut flesh from a screaming boy’s arm in long strips. There was a bonfire nearby. He grabbed a branch from it and pressed the blackened end into the struggling child’s eye, stabbing slowly until he felt something give way beneath the pressure. The branch sank with a muffled hiss into the socket. A woman’s voice, soft and close whispered to him. “You belong to me now.” He was writing in sand with the black and bloody branch. They weren’t letters though, just a series of angled jabs. He woke up drenched in sweat and looked out the window. Again, he thought there was movement under the neighbor’s hedge. This time though, he felt it looking back at him. He sank back onto his bed and lay awake until morning.
After school on Monday, he and Colleen walked their usual route towards her neighborhood. They’d been spending a few days a week together for over a month now. Pat thought they both knew where it was heading, but neither of them were hurrying. He hated how lame it sounded and he’d never admit it, but there was something different about them. He liked to talk to her, to see her smile. Of course, he wanted to fuck her, but he wanted to make her happy too. Past experience had taught him that once sex came into the picture, friendship became a very complicated thing which rarely left the girl involved happy.
They talked about a lot of things, families and gossip and drugs. Who they hated, what they liked. The usual shit. While they spoke, Pat found the conversation being slowly pulled toward the dark anxiety he’d been feeling all weekend. He didn’t know if it was the murders, what he’d seen in the graveyard, or just a feeling of paranoia. He didn’t even want to talk about any of it, but it seemed the conversation was sliding that way. Downhill. Eventually, they were running over the familiar but unsettling ground of the murders. There was a new rumour making the rounds at school that suggested there were two killers. It wasn’t really new, it had come up a few months ago, but there was nothing to it. Neither of them bought it.
“Know who I think it is?” Colleen was sitting on the cement foundation of an unfinished building. Pat stood next to her, lighting another smoke. He’d already been through two, tossing the butts into the abundance of dying, dried out grass. The place was already littered with broken glass, coffee cups and a couple of limp condoms. A rusty shopping cart was embedded in the weeds a few yards past the foundation. Fucking romantic, thought Pat.
“Who?” asked pat. “What’s your new theory?”
“I think,” She said, pausing for dramatic effect “it was Melissa Parsons.”
“Seriously,” he answered, “That is a tired theory.” Melissa Parsons was the first known disappearance that people generally connected with this pattern. There was a lot of gossip, including allegations that her uncle Terry had been abusing or raping her. The original theory thrown around was that he’d been the one responsible for her disappearance, he was even questioned by the police. The theory was weakened when others started to die and it fell apart altogether when Terry was found in his basement and both of his legs had been cut off. He’d also been stabbed in the chest, throat and face with what was eventually identified as his own snapped tibia. The cuts to Terry’s legs had been made with his circular saw. The tibia had been “peeled” with vice grips and a box cutter. They were also his. Somehow, in the mess left by all this, the cops failed to find a shred of information about who had done it. This was when people first started whispering about Melissa being on the run and returning to kill people. For a while her house had been a major attraction for a lot of his friends. They were always daring each other to break in, but nobody ever did, partly out of fear, but mostly out of compassion for her mother.
“Come on,” he said, “you can do better than Melissa parsons.”
“You didn’t know her,” said Colleen. “She was a fucked up bitch. She scared the shit out of me! I saw her cut an upside cross into her own arm once! I almost threw up!”
“Yeah, but come on,” said Pat, “a sixteen year old girl overpowered all of those people, killed all of them, left no evidence or anything?”
“I don’t know, maybe she’s, like, possessed or something. Shut up! She was really into that Satan shit.”
“Yeah, you should go straight to the cops with that, they’re gonna take you completely seriously. We know who did it: a devil worshipping sixteen year old! Oh, yeah, why didn’t we think of that?”
“Fuck you,” Said Colleen, laughing a little. “Besides, she’d be almost eighteen now.”
“Why’re you so sure it was her? I mean, it made sense for her to kill her uncle, but what about all the others? And he wasn’t even the first.”
“Well, you know that last guy, they said he had the whole front of his head scooped out?”
“Yeah, what about him?”
“Well, I was talking to Meghan DeRosa, she used be in Melissa’s class, and she said Melissa used to draw all these gross pictures, all pentagrams and blood and guts and everything. Anyway, she said there was one of these drawings that what just like that, this guy with the front of his face cut off and it was just empty and black inside.”
“I see,” said Pat, “pretty solid evidence.”
“Yeah, well, whatever. Say what you want, it was her.”
“I think you’re the killer.”
“Yeah, Cake, you got me,” said Colleen with a smile. She hopped off the wall and jabbed a finger at his chest. “And you’re next, motherfucker.”
It was nearing dark when Pat got home. He said a quick hello to his mom and went upstairs to his room. He was feeling the full weight of his anxiety and couldn’t handle sharing or hiding it right now. It was hard enough to talk to Colleen and she offered ample visual distraction and motivation. He didn’t want his mom to worry, but figured she’d worry more if he tried to talk to her now. He wasn’t usually the kind of person who would spend hours alone in his room, and he figured his mom was probably freaking out about it. Pat decided to talk to her about it tomorrow, or at least come up with a good lie to explain why he’d been so withdrawn. He’d made a plan to meet Colleen again the next day, and he hoped he’d have a clearer head by then. He’d been feeling foggy for days now.
He put on some music and lay on his bed, to go over things in his head. He lit a cigarette, sat back up and grabbed an empty Big 8 can to tip the ashes into. He stood and crossed to the small desk and sat there. He was restless, wanted to do something but didn’t know what. “Fuck my life.” He grabbed a pen and scratched at the surface of the desk with his left hand. He needed a new phone. “Fuck my fucking life.”
Colleen wasn’t around at school the next day. He wished he could text her and ask if she was alright. At lunch he asked Nancy, a mutual friend of theirs, if she’d heard from Colleen, but she said no. She gave him a knowing, smug look, like she was some fucking genius for figuring out he had a thing for her. Clever. Clever and useless.
When school was over, Pat set off towards Colleen’s house. He didn’t want to intrude, but it worried him that nobody had heard from her at all. He took the same route they’d walked just the day before, winding through the twisted network of interlocking streets towards her home. He’d only knock once, he decided, in case she was asleep.
When he stepped out from a narrow path between two houses, the forgotten foundation where they’d talked yesterday, came into view. It was almost completely buried in tall weeds, all dying in the November cold. Pat was walking past it, paying little attention, when it occurred to him that the rusty shopping cart he’d seen the day before was missing. He might not have noticed except it had left a cavity of crushed weeds grass. There was also a vague trail of flattened and torn weeds that led back towards the cement shell. He started to walk away, but paused, looking again at the gaping cavity in the tangled overgrowth. Something he couldn’t nail down about it troubled him, resonating with the foggy anxiety he’d been feeling for days. He turned back, following the trail towards the foundation.
By the time he got to the lip of the concrete basin his heart was racing. The ground was lower on this side, so the wall was chest height, and it was lower inside. It was therefore not until he was within two feet that he could see the bottom of the aborted building. The floor, the inside walls, all the filth and debris and litter, all were spattered with blackish red and brown. There were two objects on the far side of the blood bathed bowl. One was the shopping cart, crushed and broken, rusting wire bent, spread and splayed like nightmare fingers. Although he could recognize no distinguishable feature, he knew immediately that the other was Colleen. He jumped into the pit, his sneakers making a wet sound as he landed. He felt vomit rising in his throat and tried to fight it down. He needed to find her phone and call for help. Even as he thought it, he dismissed it as stupid, knowing she was beyond help. Still, he kept looking.
When he came close, what he saw confirmed his sense of hopelessness. From the wreck that had once been a beautiful face now erupted a bouquet of rusty, gore-caked wired, recently ripped loose from the cart. Deep gouges scored her naked body and large prices of her skin and flesh had been hooked and pulled away. Her collarbone had been pulled until it snapped, leaving jagged white pincers of bone peaking from the smooth skin. Both of her breasts had been ripped away leaving dark gaping wounds. For a horrible, shameful moment Pat thought, fuck, now I’ll never see them. He expelled the thought instantly and felt an incongruous sense of remorse press through the horror and panic he felt. He was getting dizzy and had the grotesque sensation that he was inhaling particles of her blood and her flesh just being in this hellish pit.
The slices and scratches showed no discernible pattern except in one place. There, on her forearm, was an upside down cross, just like she said she’d seen Melissa cutting into herself. His head was spinning. He needed the police, his mother, somebody who could take control of this situation; somebody who would know what to do. Again, he felt himself dismissing his own thought. The police won’t have a fucking clue what to do, he thought. This shit’s been going on for years now and they haven’t done shit. They’d probably just arrest me.
He looked again at her arm. There was no way a teenager could be behind all this, was there? Maybe somebody had heard them talking the day before, had taken ideas from their conversation. Maybe Colleen had been targeted because of what she’d said. He couldn’t help but imagine a small half canine creature slinking through the grass while they’d talked. He put the thought aside, hoping it was childish, hoping it was as unrealistic as it had seemed yesterday, before this had happened.
Pat raised his head, looked straight up at the grey sky. It was the only place to look where he was not overwhelmed by the carnal mess of splattered viscera. He took a deep breath, trying to reconcile the reality of just a few minutes ago with this new world. He looked down again, trying to see past the mat of hair and skin on the wall, past the broken mess of fingers that has once been a hand, past the spider-leg burst of wire that was Colleen’s face, to see where her phone had ended up. It took him several minutes to find it, several minutes during which the images of his closest friend’s butchered remains took root in his memory and strengthened their hold. He picked up the phone, noticing in an abstract way that the green plastic looked brighter with the red smears all over it. He punched in the numbers, 911, hit send and
It was late when the police dropped him off. He’d been right about how useless they were going to be. One of them had made it clear they were going to try to pin this on him. He knew they wouldn’t, that the officer was fishing out of desperation, but the stupidity still enraged him. He’d told the cop to go fuck himself. That hadn’t really gone over well, but given the circumstances, it hardly seemed unreasonable to Pat.
They hadn’t told him much at all, but from the questions they were asking him, he could tell they were totally in the dark. He answered all their questions, over and over again, just like a cheap cop show on TV. He told them about his conversation with Colleen, everything they’d talked about. He talked for hours, and at the end he felt as if a part of him had been pulled out of his body by force. The only thing he hadn’t mentioned was the weird thing he’d thought he’d seen in the graveyard. When they dropped him off one of the two officers, the same cocksucker he’d yelled at earlier, told him not to leave town or talk to anybody about what he’d seen.
“Don’t be such a cliche,” said Pat, “fuckin’ retard!” He had planned to get out as he said it and slam the door of their car for effect, but realized he was locked in. He had to wait in awkward, fuming silence while the other cop got out, walked around the car and opened his door.
He went inside where his mom was waiting in a crushing stew of anxiety, questions and, most painful by far, love. The fucking cops hadn’t even called her. For the next hour he watched her pace, alternating between compassion for her traumatized son, and a vicious anger towards the police. She had taken her entire emotional response to the murder, her son’s connection to it, and the potential aftermath that might unfold, and laid it at the feet of the police as if they’d been solely responsible for all of it. Pat wondered if she was aware of what she was doing. He wondered if he had similar defence mechanisms of his own that seemed obvious to others but which he was clueless about.
After a while she fell asleep on the couch and Pat sat on the battered armchair, comforted by Maggie’s familiar warmth on his feet. None of them would go to bed tonight. He watched tv, trying to use the abrasive colours and movement to scour the scabbing afterimage of Colleen’s murder from his memory. It didn’t work. He knew his mother wouldn’t leave him, and neither would Maggie. He bent down and gave her a small scratch, was rewarded with a grunt and a rasping sigh. He could not feel comfort from their presence, but he knew the pain and fear and confusion would be worse without them. He thought he should feel numb, that an emotional deadness was expected after something like this. He stared at the television and waited to feel dead inside. It couldn’t come soon enough as far as he was concerned.
Pat had been having another dream when the scream woke him. Like the last dream, he’d been helplessly watching from behind his own eyes as his hands were torturing somebody he didn’t know. He was working his fingers under the skin of a man’s neck while the person screamed. His victim was being held in place by two small hideous creatures he could just make out in the darkness. They were each a wretched assemblage of misshapen limbs and swollen flesh. The aberrations gripped the man’s naked shoulder with hands that boasted seven or eight fingers each, some long and thin, others short and twisted, but each ending with jagged, thick, yellow nails that bit into the flesh. There arms and faces were swollen tangles of folded skin and bulging veins. Pale, almost white skin was mottled with yellow and purple bruise-like patches. Their eyes, wide with excitement and watching his furious efforts on the man’s throat, were small and pink with horizontal slit-shaped pupils . One of them had a wide mouth, bulging purple gums and scores of tiny yellow teeth jutting sporadically without rows. The other had a bulging mouth, almost like a muzzle. It had a bony growth sprouting from its jaw forming an inch long spike.
In his dream he raised his head to see some movement at the edge of his vision. More of these creatures were gathered around him, milling about in the darkness. Some squat and roamed on all fours, others simply hunched. He noticed one of with several limp appendages hanging from his torso like useless, boneless arms. Another, with a torso and neck of exaggerated length seemed unable to support his own weight and hobbled on its knuckles like an ape. In their midst he also saw the same skulking creature he’d seen in the cemetery. Again he heard the woman’s voice whispering, you are mine now, and they are ours.
Then he heard it. It was the worst sound he’d ever heard his mother make: a long ragged shriek. He was torn from the dream with a violent jerk that would have moved him from the chair had he not been pinned there by some unseen weight. Across the room, his mother was struggling on the couch. From where he was, all he could see were her frantically kicking legs and a bent dark shape on her stomach. Something was sitting on her, straddling her, its back and shoulders hunched over her, its long arms working furiously at something. It threw something aside and it landed on the floor with a wet slap. Pat tried to lift himself from the chair but couldn’t move. Pain bit into his shoulders. He looked down and saw the same deformed hands from his dream holding him down the way they’d held his victim. His eyes flew back at his mother while he struggled. The scream had stopped but she was still kicking and bucking her hips in an attempt to dislodge her assailant. One of her attackers arms flew upwards and something hit the ceiling in a spray of blood then fell to the floor. He couldn’t see what it was in the flickering light of the television. There was a harsh cracking noise and the screaming resumed, but muffled and wet this time. There was another crack and a wet crunching noise. The screams continued, but they were lower, between a howl and a gurgling whimper. Pat threw all of his weight forward but could not pull away from the chair. The figure hunched over his writhing mother sat upright for a moment and hurled another object. It hit the wall with a thud and dropped to the floor, a dark stain dripping where it had struck. Pat looked at the small spider-like object and realized it was his mother’s hand. Her legs had stopped kicking and were now slowly squirming back and forth, feet pressing against the couch and sliding across it. In different circumstances it would look like she was trying to smooth the fabric. Her assailant increased his pace and savagery, began to stab and slash at her with whatever weapons he held in his hand, swinging his skeletally thin arms wildly. Blood, skin and pieces of Pat’s mother were being splashed and scattered all over the room. She was still now, except the jerking motions caused by the blows from above. Still and silent.
After several minutes of cutting, stabbing, pulling and tossing, his mom’s upper half was strewn all over the room. The figure that had done the damage stood and turned toward Pat, and even in the darkness it was clear that this was the same creature he’d seen in the graveyard and in his dream. It limped closer to him, unsteady on stunted legs, and Pat looked at it’s grotesque face. It did hang forward from the shoulders like a dog’s head, like he’d thought, and it was flattened and sloped like a wolf’s as well, though lacking a full muzzle. The face was a an uneven mass of ravaged meat, a maze of scars with slits of nostrils and lidless black eyes. It smiled or grimaced at Pat and held up his mother’s jaw in front of its own face like a mask. Its naked body was covered in blood. It lowered its head and spit on the floor and then, half running, half crawling, it scrambled out of the room taking the jaw with it.
It took a moment for Pat to realize he was no longer being held. He moved to the side of the couch, though little remained of his mom. He led her one remaining hand, already getting cold, and said his goodbyes, to her and to the world he’d been a part of.
It was still dark, but morning was approaching. Pat was walking again, this time as far away from his home as he could get. Trembling, he took out his cigarettes and noticed he’d managed to get blood all over the pack. It was all over him as well. He walked without purpose or direction, but fast. He only knew that when his legs slowed down, his mind sped up and there was nothing to think about now that didn’t bring pain and fear. He felt entirely hopeless. There was nothing left to him except Maggie. He’d found her cowering in her own piss in the kitchen. When he left, he’d dropped her gently behind the neighbour’s fence. He didn’t know where he was going, but he knew he wasn’t going to be back and she wouldn’t be safe with him. Somehow, saying goodbye to Maggie was as painful as everything else.
He was walking shakily down the middle of the road, no longer worried about the murders, the police or anything else. Vaguely, he wondered why the creatures hadn’t killed him. As far as he knew, he was the only surviving witness to any of the “murders”. He also wondered if he was being followed and suspected that it was a feeling that might never end. Ahead of him, at the end of the road, leafless trees were silhouetted by moonlight. The wind, blowing hard shook them, blowing paper dry scraps of leaves and other rot around the road. He looked at the houses, wondering where he was. The neighbourhood didn’t look familiar, and it took a minute to register. He was walking down Melissa Parsons’ old street. Her house was on the left just a few doors down. He moved closer, looked at the house. It was clearly uncared for, needed a paint job and new windows, but it was still lived in. Pat thought back to the cross carved into Colleen’s arm, to what she’d said about Melissa. He was full of confused anger and he had no other outlet. Without thinking about it, without knowing why, Pat ran across the lawn to the house. He needed to see her room.
He tried the front door but it was locked. He crept to the back, but that was locked too. Between the house and its neighbour, was a narrow alley. There were no windows above ground, but there were two basement windows sunk into small wells. He tried one, was able to get a finger almost into the gap, and it wiggled like a loose tooth. He guessed nobody bothered locking this one because it looked almost impossible to climb down through and they probably didn’t own shit worth stealing. Who knew it would be this easy to break in, thought Pat.
Pat lowered his body, feet first into the well, twisting to get his knees, then his hips through the narrow gap. For once he was thankful for his scrawny frame. His back scraped painfully as he slid to the floor, but otherwise it was shockingly easy for him to break into a complete stranger’s house without even planning it.
He glanced around, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. There were a lot of cardboard boxes, old VHS tapes, and a huge old television. There were tires stacked in one corner, though he doubted there was a car anymore. A tower of lawn chairs was topped with a tangle of Christmas lights. It looked like a normal basement.
The house was silent above him. He made his way to the stairs, wondering if they had a dog. By the time he was at the top, stepping into the kitchen, he’d come to the conclusion that if there was a dog, it must be deaf. The kitchen was small and cramped, everything was white but broken and aged. The sink was packed with dirty dishes and the counters cluttered with food and wrappers and more dishes. He turned and walked back through the hall, his heart pounding. At the foot of the stairs he paused and listened. Nothing. He put his foot on the first stair, slowly leaned his weight on it, paused again after the creak. Still nothing. Nobody had heard him yet. He made his way up the stairs, keeping his weight on the outer edges to diminish the noise, pausing after each one. He tried to keep his breath even, but but he was shaking too much. Finally he stood in the hall at the top of the stairs. Still, nobody had risen.
There were three doors in the hall, two open, one closed. The first he guessed to be a bathroom. A quick glance proved him correct. He paused at the second, seeing only darkness within. Standing as quietly as he could, he listened and heard soft breathing within. He was suddenly terrified, but couldn’t turn back. He pressed on through the darkness to the the last door, the closed one. Up close he noticed that something had been scratched into the door and painted over. He looked closer to read it: “Fuck Off!”. Yeah, this was definitely the right room. He turned the knob and slowly opened the door a crack. No creak. He opened it just enough to slip in then closed it again behind him, leaned against it and let loose the breath he’d been holding.
It was a small room, walls painted dark, probably purple or blue. He could make out shapes and shadows by the light from outside the window, but all colours were reduced to shades of blue and black. It looked much like the rooms of some of his friends; metal posters, black candles, a shitload of cheap nail polish and makeup on the dresser. It looked as though Mom Parsons hadn’t changed shit since her daughter had died, which was just what Pat had been hoping for. Next to the bed was a stack of books and doll which had been painted over to look like a sexed out zombie. On the wall over the bed was a Mayhem poster that showed a shadowy church under the band’s logo. There was a complicated circular design, like a strange, asymmetric pentagram mutation, painted on the floor with an ancient stain smeared across the middle. He walked to the dresser and poked around, looking for a diary or something. There was nothing but disappointingly bland underwear, some cheap jewelry and a long double-edged dagger. On top of the dresser, in the back, was a framed picture of a girl, about Pat’s age, with black hair and a mischievous grin. So, this was Melissa. Kind of hot in a creepy way. Nothing scary. He picked the dagger up. It had a satisfying weight to it, but he doubted it was very sharp. All the same, he felt better with it in his hand. He wandered over to the books by the bed. They were all about demonology, but none of the Necronomicon bullshit you can buy at the mall. These were nothing like anything he’d ever seen before. They were old, and had titles he couldn’t understand. He picked up the top book. It was in a language he couldn’t understand, but also had scribblings and notes written in the margins. “Bullshit! cunts and candles”, read one, whatever that meant. “Only one kind of blood has power bitches!”, read another. Bitches was underlined several times. He flipped a few pages further and came across a picture of some strange demon. It was a woman with the head of a dog or a lion, and from her breasts hung a dog and a pig. For some reason the picture terrified him, but at the same time he felt an inexplicable stiffening in his crotch. He dropped the book and turned away, towards the closet. That’s where he saw a familiar form, squatting naked and watching him. The graveyard vomiter, still cloaked with his mother’s clotted, flaking blood, was grinning at him.
Pat made a move toward the window, which was now open somehow, but there he saw another creature lowering itself down to the floor. It was bleeding from its mouth, where it looked like the lips had been freshly ripped away. Raw gums and gleaming wet teeth shone red in the glow from outside. From one of its elbows hung two forearms, both with withered, flaccid looking hands. As if answering his observation, the stunted creature whipped the twin hands at the wall where claws caught the purple paint and transcribed a deep circle into the drywall. It swung the other arm forward, this one long and swollen with corded muscle, ending with a glistening knob of scab-crusted skin and protrusions of thorny bone. It leaned on this fist like a crutch and swung its body forward like an ape. Pat backed away, raising the dagger feebly, only to see there was another creature sliding out from under the bed. Another came in from the door. They were one him, a wave of stink and scar and pulpy flesh. He swung the dagger wildly, felt it hit home and expected a scream. Instead, all he was rewarded with was a throaty cackle and the dagger was ripped from his hand. He knew it was over, that he was going to be left sprayed over these ugly purple walls, and there was nothing he could do about it. He felt long, cold fingers scrape across his face, plunge into his mouth. He gagged and bit down hard, tasting blood mix with the salty filth and rot that invaded his mouth. He felt his teeth hit bone, but the hand pushed deeper, seeking passage into his throat. He wretched as the nails passed his back teeth, biting into the soft meat of his tonsils, pushing further, deeper into him. Vomit rose, flooded his nostrils with nowhere else to go. Pat couldn’t breath and he panicked. He flailed his legs and swung his arms, but could not break loose of the grotesque bodies that piled on top of him. Acidic bile burned as it erupted from his nose and flowed around the pulpy meat of the fist fucking his mouth and throat. It burned more as it flowed back, choking him and filling his lungs. It felt like a fire inside him, and there was no air coming in. Another hand gripped the front of his face, holding him still, closing his nostrils. There were black spots in front of his eyes and a terrible pressure in his chest. More hands were pressing the sides of his throat, crushing what little passage might be left between salty, grime covered fingers and vomit. He stopped seeing and the last flame of thought was snuffed out from him.
The first thing Pat knew, before he even realized he was still alive, was that his back was hurting and cold. His shoulders and the back of his head were being battered relentlessly. He opened his eyes and saw trees and grave stones, sliding past him at an alarming rate. The only stillness was the sky above. Grass slid past too, whipping his face as it went. The ground, cold and stony hard, slid past beneath him, grinding against his ribs and arms and skull. He felt an iron grip around each ankle and knew he was being dragged through the graveyard. They were pulling him faster than any man could run. Others were running beside him and behind him, squat knots of naked fleshy limbs gyrating and pulsating in the moonlight. He tied to roll, to fight or resist, but was powerless. His throat was broken beyond speech; a moan of pain was beyond hope, let alone a scream. There was no help, no hope.
The movement slowed and his feet tipped downwards. He was pulled under a knot of tangled alders that tore at his clothing and whipped his flesh. He looked towards his feet, summoning his final reserves of strength and will to lift his tilt his neck. Deep beneath the alder was an ancient toppled tombstone, and a small gap under one side. One of the creatures tilted the massive stone, lifted one edge and Pat felted himself pulled down into the dirt. It was a narrow, cold tunnel, the damp soil squeezing from all sides and painfully compressing ribs that already felt broken as he was pulled downward. Then the passage opened and Pat felt a new horror in the light.
The tunnel opened into a low ceilinged cavern, roots breaking in from all sides. Soil, stone, wood and rotting flesh formed all the walls and the floor. One wall was broken by the edge of a rotting, splitting coffin. The smell of bad meat filled the room, with undertones of shit and sweat. There was greasy smoke clouding the air and a small fire burned in the center of the chamber. It provided a dull glow not quite sufficient to illuminate the farthest recesses of this cave. Pat struggled to stand, but could only manage to swing his back upright leaning on the wet soil wall. He peered into the flickering red and black shadows. The walls, where he could see them, were not composed of dirt alone, but included the skeletal remains and decomposing bodies of dozens of corpses, knitted together to form a matrix of limb and bone and meat. Dozens of hunching creatures lurked in the shadows, scurrying like rats, crawling over one another, eating and fighting and sleeping. The passage, as well as its inhabitants, seemed to lead towards a focal point at the far end, out of his range of vision. Even corpses woven into the walls were leaning somehow towards it, their limbs like ripples on the surface of a river that flowed toward some unseen horror. The creatures, whether hunched or crawling or creeping, all watched that end of the passage, looking at something blocked from Pat’s sight by the glare of the fire. Even the litter of meat, skin, limbs and rags that covered the floor grew denser and more cluttered on the far side of the fire. The ground was sloped slightly in that direction, but Pat felt a pull towards it that was more than gravity, more than curiosity. It was an undeniable urge.
Pat struggled. trying again to get to his feet, but his limbs had no strength. He flailed and slid further down the wall, pain wracking his whole body. In addition to his ribs, one of his arms seemed to be broken and his limbs were littered with damaged muscles and tendons everywhere. His body was a shattered wreck. He was about to try again when he felt powerful hands close around his arms. With a rasping growl, the first creature he’d seen here, days earlier, lifted him to his feet. Pat tried to scream, but was rewarded only with a gurgling whimper. The pain was so severe he felt consciousness slipping away again, but the creature held him upright, holding him from behind. It pushed Pat forward and his legs started to gave way. He struggled, flexed his shaking muscles, and stood. With the support of the creature behind him, fighting the weight of crushing agony, he stepped forward. Shuffling, stumbling, staggering, he made his way past the fire, held from behind by the vomiter, watched by all the rest. The cavern wall on the far side slowly came into view. It was somehow brighter here, though Pat soon wished he could see less.
There was a separate set of bodies there, encased in the soil. Six of them, all men, standing upright with only their torsos and faces showing. But the mud they were trapped in was different. It was impossible to say where flesh stopped and soil began. There was a blend of blood, skin and meat, mixing as it decomposed with the soil, and all of it alive somehow, writhing and throbbing with life and corruption. The scraps of shredded muscle flexed and tightened around the men, severed hands clutched at empty air and the whole mass seemed to breath. Maggots swam in the festering fence of viscera. The reek was overwhelming, but Pat was drawn helplessly forward towards the quivering heap that held the six inert men. Their bare chests were bruised and scratched, but the worst damage was centered around their genitals, Their cocks were blackened with scab and bruise and rot, swollen and gangrenous. All six of them, even the clearly dead ones, were dripping a thick mucilage of yellow pus. Blisters and sores covered their shafts and testicles. Three of the men were obviously long dead, but all six were decomposing at the crotch, and the rot was spreading slowly through their torsos.
The first of the men, clearly dead longest, was becoming a seamless part of the wall. There was a gaping hole in his torso and a mass of pale maggots glowed inside, catching the flickering light of the fire. There was little skin left on the skull, and no muscle beneath. Black and empty sockets gaped wide and bone showed at the edges. The next, only slightly less deteriorated, was frozen in a rictus of agony. Its long dead face, what was left of it, was raised to the ceiling with its mouth widened beyond normal human range. The eyes were gone, but rather than gaping blackness, there was a grey, frothy soup overflowing from them like thick tears, the pools vibrating with countless tiny white worms. The third, though also badly rotted, was fresher than the others. Its face still had flesh and eyes, though all were pale and glazed with a slick layer of transparent slime. There were holes in patches all over it, but the worms had done little substantial damage. His face was still whole enough to hold an expression; it was grimacing, teeth gritted under drawn lips. The teeth were cracked, and the lips were split and blackening like his genitals below.
The fourth body looked to still be alive, moving rhythmically like it was breathing, but this could have been the pulse of the wall or maggots inside him for all Pat knew. The head hung low, long hair hanging limp in front of his face. The stomach had been cut open and stitched back up recently, and clear signs of infection spread from it. Blood, new and old, stained his body beneath the gash. Pat, barely aware of what he was seeing or thinking beyond the personal realm of pain that existed inside his own body, found himself imagining a rat being pressed into that wound before it was sewn up. He wondered again about the gentle heaving of this torso before being drawn away from thought by pain.
Numbly, still propelled by the beast behind him, he staggered on. The next body may have been alive, but it hung limp. There were fresh wounds, still bleeding, all over it. Deep scratches scored the chest, and there were several bite marks. The head, except for the mouth, was entirely encased in the wall. Folds of skin draped over the eyes and nose were held in place by tendrils that could have been veins or roots, all smeared in blood and mud and decay.
The last body in the line was the only one that was moving independent of the pulsations of the mass in which it was trapped. The muscles were twitching spastically. The man’s head was raised, looking forward. He was breathing heavily, almost panting. A string of thick drool hung from his clenched, grinding jaw. Veins bulged and muscles flexed, but he could hardly move through the black and bloody murk he was encased in. There was no thought, no awareness visible on his face, just tension and pain. He was staring forward, to a space just out of Pat’s line of sight. The wall of the cavern opposite the six men curved away, and the last man was looking at something just past the curve.
As Pat staggered forward, the spectacle came into his view. Lurching towards hims was another figure, bloated and grotesque. It was once a woman, but her body had succumbed to disease and decay. Her flesh had the uneven swelling and wrinkling masses of vein and skin that he saw on the creatures around him, but this thing was enormous, easily triple his weight. Her pendulous gut hung low, a darkened leathery sack swaying between her vein laden legs. Heaving white breasts with black nipples seeped thick yellow milk. Her limbs were so swollen that her hands and feet were almost swallowed by them. She looked directly at pat and smiled. Horrified, beneath the ravaging she’d experienced over the past two years, he recognised Melissa Parsons. Her body had been horribly transformed, but it was undeniably her mischievous grin leering out under tangled black hair.
She stepped forward and Pat realized he was no longer being held from behind. He stepped away from her and found his feet were sinking into the grime beneath him. He started to trip, threw out an arm to catch himself. He realized, as he fell, that his arm was sinking into the same wall that held the line of men. He tried to struggle, but found he was only sinking deeper into a mess of rotting flesh and earth. It was like quicksand; the more he struggled, the deeper he sank. He felt hands position him, and in moments he was trapped like the six men in line before him. His clothes were shredded and stripped from him by the chittering creatures that filled the cavern. They backed away from him, and he was left with nothing between him and the nightmarish creature that lumbered toward him.
He looked at the shuddering bulk before him, horrified. Beneath her hanging abdomen, sparsely haired lips wavered. Her thighs dripped with slick mucus. He struggled to free himself but knew there was no hope. He couldn’t move. She stepped closer, and he could smell her. She raised her arms, displaying two drooping pouches hanging from her rotting black fingers: Colleen’s small, severed breasts, already leathery with rot. He’d seen them after all. As he had in his dreams, he heard a soft voice whispering, not Melissa’s but something deep inside his own head. You belong to me now. He knew it was true, that he belonged to Her, and so did Melissa, and so did all of the creatures they would create. Against his will, he felt his cock stiffening as the gelatinous beast that had once been Melissa came closer. He could smell the corpse stench lifting off her, and somehow it filled him with lust. In his mind, he saw a woman with a hyena’s head suckling a dog and a pig. You are mine. They are ours. He felt the icy cold of Melissa’s cunt embracing him. Then everything went black as the wall covered his eyes with a veil of fetid meat. Mine forever.