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Friday, 12 October 2012

Payment Of The Field Guard

I've finally gotten around to uploading my latest work, Payment Of The Field Guard today. You can catch an excerpt right below
 Excerpt: Payment Of The Field Guard

The vocalization came to him as mysteriously as invisible ink acted on paper. First the lucidity, the clarity, but with time, the words written begin to fade, the solidness becomes hollow and the edges ethereal and substance quickly diminishes. Even under your astute watchfulness, you fail to pinpoint with certain accuracy the time the words disappear altogether and you simply stare at the paper in absolute curiosity and wonderment, if it’s your first time that is.
So the words were to Keith Garland, like a language spoken audibly into a whisper and had tugged at his mind for attention but because it was his line of duty and he had many frolicking thoughts upstairs, he generally dismissed it and tried to move to something kinky.
He instantly startled at the deep, gravelly voice. It’d scratched at his ears’ insides, tearing him from the fatuous musings that had led him to the very edge of sleep. He pushed a finger into his ear to rid it of the raspy echoes and unintentionally of building gunk. Where had the voice even come from?
He pushed his eyes open and twisted his neck to be certain the voice hadn’t been a product of some poorly suppressed unremembered thoughts, but even every thought he had going at the moment fled when his eyes fell upon a peculiar spectacle:
The creature was feminine, though looked almost neuter, genderless, and visibly bent and riddled with age. A face, pallid as the moon and as wrinkled as a paper bag that had seen eons of use, diseased by crumpling and part burning, glared at him through two heavily mismatched and deep-jaundiceyellow eyes; one was tightly half shut and the other was nearly vacating its socket. That face, with those eyes, was most capable of hiding all sorts of emotions she could effuse. God knew what went on behind them. Resting on a hooked nose was a large zit that hosted a smaller, skanky zit, the both of them relishing in the most repellant commensalism, their colors a stratified strain of black and brown that was darker than the gravelly surface upon which they rested in consummate firmness. Her (he was still unsure if that was wholly agreeable) lips, tightly jammed together, were curved downwards as if struck by an eternal unhappiness. Keith imagined that no pleasant sound could be issued from those lips. The way they were knitted together, he imagined the amount of force that would be required to pry them apart. Her frame was squat and her clothes a tad regal than rags, nondescript as she herself was, and frayed along all of its edges. They hung loosely on her skin like a long dress heavy with oiling. A scarf of the same color as her dress (a dirty colorlessness) covered her hairs, hairs that fell afore her eyes, stiff, dry and untogether like wasting straw. She was thin but her squat form made her appear otherwise; malnourished and withering however were clearly televised. One weak hand grasped a staff tightly while the other rested by her side. Her gnarled toes rested shakily on clasping flip-flops.
Keith was mightily flustered as he beheld her. She was like a wraith, a dying wraith come to life. She stood a few centimeters away from the patrol car he’d been nestled in since duty time five hours ago. His mouth held tight for lack of what to say for utter discomfiture. Gaping at her, he detected a quiver rising up her throat. She was about to say something.
Rather, she turned her face down and spat phlegm to the floor. What made him look at it, he didn’t know but the repellence tore his eyes away from it. The memory though lingered thrillingly. He saw the phlegm, an irritating string of saliva and hardening pus on the matter of his brain, washing, lubricating, and traversing watery paths of folding gyri and wrinkly sulci—
He looked up, feeling the saliva that clogged his throat gathering weight, or it could be the phlegm—
He immediately discovered she wasn’t looking at him anymore, rather her sight had been sent down the highway, off to the distant fields of corn; and the moment he looked in her eyes, he was shocked to find an emotion roiling in them—worry. No, worry was too deep. Concern? Yes, more like it, concern. That touched the surface, like the emotion in those eyes. He didn’t believe they went deep or they could go deep. Or was it in his head? But who was he to divine others’ thoughts. With that came the bitter realization he was being unkind and maybe unfair concerning her disfigured figure. She was just an old woman needing assistance, and wasn’t that what he was here for? What was it she said before? He tried to remember.
“There is a murder down there,” she suddenly repeated in her throaty voice and pointed with a clawlike finger to a distant part of the plantation that raged on either sides of the highway.
My God, is she a mind reader? Keith thought apprehensively. He followed that long-nailed finger and returned it back moments later for the fear of getting his eyes and mind completely lost and disoriented in the tempestuous sea of stalks of green. He turned back to her.
“Are you serious?” he asked but then felt a stabbing regret for asking it. Her face was resolute, firm. She’d come to him in complete seriousness.
“Would I come here to you if there wasn’t?” she responded, pushing the knife of regret deeper into his belly with effective results.
Keith turned from her and consulted the clock on his dashboard. Five forty-eight pm. This was new. The sun was just beginning to show signs of its setting. Why was there murder in broad daylight? And why hadn’t she called 911 first? There was probably no time.
“Get in the car,” he instructed as he got out but once again regretted giving the instruction; she took forever to get to the open door and after came a tough struggle of getting herself into the patrol car, most of the fuss due to that staff. Finally he had no other option than to get the staff away from her and place it in the back seat. She’d reluctantly parted with it. Queer old people and their third legs. He made sure she was properly seated before closing the door to get behind the wheels.
As he marched to the driver’s seat, he checked his .40 Beretta in his holster. The gleaming piece of weaponry had seen fair use in the three months since he’d applied for and obtained it, all of that use in target practice so he knew its 12 round magazine was fully loaded, but following his protocol, he checked it for assurance of that fact before returning it to its place.
Settling down behind the wheels, he made a mental note to call HQ for backup when he got to where she wanted to lead him to, of course if there was the need for that. Finally he turned to look into that hideous face, and for a split moment thought there was this glum expression of satisfaction playing in it. The expression disappeared the next moment. He turned from her and started the car.
SPRINGPLAINS BASE WAS A SMALL DEVELOPING COMMUNITY. It held at present no more than thirty thousand individuals in as much as six hundred households; the kinships of the community were tight bonds. Nuclear families were seen as peculiar and therefore unacknowledged and the extended family with the record highest number of males had their head the chief of the town. Pregnancies were ceremonies; male births were celebrations; female births were remitted heartfelt congratulations.
The community itself had gotten its name from a now defunct military base, a remnant of the American fleet from 1945. A journeying family had stumbled upon the area in one of their travels and impressed by the richness of the land, had decided to make the place their final settlement. Of course they’d met resistance from the base but they reached a compromise: they’d till the land and cultivate it and pay a tithe from whatever amount of produce they obtained from it. Therefore, the chief occupation within the area was farming. Its excellent, fertile greenery and then peaceful, pristine atmosphere made the place an unbelievable catch for the early people.
With time, other clans stumbled upon the area and it wasn’t long before the base was forced to move or succumb to the power of the growing population, thereby relinquishing control. Other occupations included churching, butchery, trade and theft, et cetera.
With the growing diversity came disputes of land settlements amongst clans, therefore the need for peace enforcers, which was henceforth created from the scraps of the defunct military base. They’d done well. Inasmuch as there was conflict arising somewhere within the town, things had never gotten so out of hand for murder to arise. Of course bloodshed could be mild.
Keith reduced the pressure on the accelerator as he looked forcibly through the windshield. Things had gotten strange much of recent. People were going missing. Was kidnapping becoming a new occupation? First there was Old Ogdens, the butcher. Keith had seen him times before during his patrols and boy, did that man like to slice and tear meat. He was a very fleshy man himself with a protruding belly a facsimile of a nine-month-old pregnancy but despite his bulk, he was extremely jolly, a cheerful friend to the people, ready to render help no sooner than asked. Just one morning, three weeks ago, when people weren’t receiving their weekly supply of meat, questions were asked and it wasn’t long before he was declared missing. Whereabouts unknown.
Next to follow was Maggie Haley, the town’s Daily, third wife to Patrick Haley. News travelled as fast as the falcon flew as long as the persons spreading it had their source as Maggie. She had an uncanny knowledge of all that went on in Springplains, from the hourly pooping of the baby just born in the Stevensons clan (two boys left to par the same number the head family had) to the very words, down to the last letter, conversed in the master bedroom of the Johnsons, the head family of the town. She was a renowned gossip.
Then there was Jerk. He was a vagabond. No one knew where he came from, what his actual name was, where he was going to, no home, nothing, save the rags around his sunburnt skin (of which there wasn’t much of, both rags and skin) and a filthy burlap bag that God knew what it held. He trampled around the town barefoot like a hobo (wait!, He was one anyway), the hairs on his head unwashed, unshaven and uncombed since birth, tangled and tousled than the roots of a mangrove tree. He wasn’t missed when he disappeared and nobody would’ve linked him to any of the disappearances had there been none.
The disappearances themselves had happened in the uncanniest of fashions. Like rapture. The people just went missing without a trace or a hint of struggle, suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth. Their houses had been in place; no sign of robbery, of kidnap, no call from the kidnappers even, just—vanished. And the wildest animals in town were the rabid strays and field vipers. Search parties and techniques had failed miserably.
Of course, a similar occurrence had happened last fall. The entire Martin household: papa, mama and two ill-fed boys, all gone. They’d had enough of the discrimination of the town’s inhabitants. They were leaving, in their truck. Only, they might’ve continued the rest of their way barefoot and unloaded of everything that would’ve given them comfort, safety, and suppressed hunger for the length of their journey. Their truck was found on the outskirts of town, deserted, gas already burned out but the engine in proper condition otherwise and their entire properties still intact inside. They never came back and no one had heard from them since.
“You live there?” Keith asked as he slid his foot upon the brake and applied pressure to bring the car to a full stop. Beside them, a thick overgrowth of healthy-looking cornstalks rose over six feet from the ground and clotted most tightly to form a makeshift impenetrable wall. The wall of rich green and faint light-brown was all they were allowed to see from the car but minutes ago, whilst the car slid down the steep slope that led here, Keith’d spotted a cottage, small and brick brown with a less noticeable chimney, very befitting of the woman, trapped in the midst of the stormy sea of stalks.
She gave a slight nod, yes.
“The murderer’s still in there?”
She didn’t answer him to his face. She instead turned to look in the direction of the plantation, hiding her face from his sight.
“You’ll find death there.”
It was a sentence, spoken with the brevity of a warning, accentuated by her guttural voice and punctuated at the end by an ominous intake of breath. Keith however found it all amusing.
I’ll find death there. He smothered a chuckle. She’d sounded threatening, eerily threatening, in a way he found cool. She had guts, he observed. It ought to’ve taken all of her to escape, trudge up the sloping highway to find him. But he had to admit: he never saw her coming. He’d simply closed his eyes one time, exceedingly bored, to have her voice pull him back to presentness.
Without warning, there was a sharp, forced twist. He believed he heard bones snapping as she turned to face him again. Her grimaced expression cracked her wrinkled face into a million sections, the lines of cracking traversing one another in a madman’s scribbled map, mismatched eyes flared with deep black flames. She suddenly looked like one of those witches in… there! He was being unfair again.
“Ok, ok, I’m going,” he responded, drawing his gun out. He checked the walky-talky on the left side of his left thigh. It was in place. He got out, then padded around to her side, looked through the window and stopped. He hadn’t decided yet on what he was going to do with her. He could leave her here and go inspect the plantation, maybe then the house but there was the fearful fact that the murderer, if any (he still had some reservations) and if they were still here, would’ve spotted him approaching and tracked him if he entered in order to make for the car, maybe kill her, definitely drive off. With that thought, he turned to look at the wall of luffing cornstalks, expecting to catch unfamiliar movements. They had the advantage being in there. Things were getting nervy. He discounted giving her the gun too. He didn’t believe she would be able to handle it and he had just the one he held now. Of course he needed it to guard himself while scouring the vegetation.
Which left him just one more option.
He opened the door. She scowled at him before making to step out of the car. And she took forever, of which Keith groaned.
She paused halfway between sitting and rising to pluck her staff from the backseat, then finally stepped out with the same lethargic slowness she’d started with, turned to face him and waited for him to lead the way. He closed the door behind her, clicked the lock button on the car key remote, locking all the doors at once and brought up his gun. Silently, he prayed she wasn’t going to slow him down. He had to cover this quickly and report back to HQ, if there was need to.
“Keep close behind me,” he instructed her.
After moving to the delimitation of the wall of stalks that stood two feet above his head, he turned around and found her almost upon him. She’d kept up unbelievably and unexpectedly well. And was there egging in that jutting eye?
He pushed the stalks apart, found inside to be a wilderness of green, so thick, so dense, so tight a path wasn’t visible, and entered. Then he kept them apart for her to get through and the moment after she limped in, he left them.
And they closed.

You can get the full book here:

Friday, 24 August 2012

Unexpected Repercussion

What would you do if you came across an unknown cemetery, say Matthew's Cemetery, and against all intuitive warnings and subconscious admonitions, you walk right in, pumped full of adventurous adrenaline. The cemetery is belly filled with shadows, all  jerking, kicking, trying to get off the ground-- or just your imagination. The full moon looms in the sky, bedded by heavy lumps of large, dark clouds. The kind of night that favors the darkest creatures fashioned from nightmares, revivified by fear.
And then you fall upon a figure, dark, squat, resting, hunched upon the thin side of a tombstone. Its legs are drawn up at a sharp angle to meet its face so that you imagine that if there'd been but as little as a shred of paper hanging between its legs and its face, you would've unsafely assumed it was deeply studying.
You walk right over, daring, audacious, defying all of your timid emotions and you try to push it over.
And suddenly the veil of darkness is blown away, as if by a cold wind, and your hands come in contact with white, creaking white and you instantly pull away and fall back.
Your heart beats as fast as bee's wings and as loud as claps of roaring thunder as you stare at the body, hypnotically fascinated. Lifeless, black sockets glare at you from this moon-white skull. The hole formed from its vomer appears to be sniffing you and the air you bring in with you absently. And ragged, uncomely teeth grin wickedly, accentuated by a liquid widening of the cheekbones. Your eyes meet bones, bones wrapped in black tattered clothes. Claw-like metacarpals are sticking out from its sleeves. Black shoes riddled with grime rests firmly upon the ground.
You shut your eyes tightly. You try to get the grim vision out of your head, try to dispel the image away from your thoughts, pinch yourself for good measure. But you open your eyes and you find its no vision. The cloaked bones are there, right there, waiting for your eyes to open so it can feed you the image once more. At that point you draw back, a lot of back. You turn. You head for outside, as far away from the cemetery as immediately possible. Now you're completely overcome by fear and you feel your conscience taunting you - I told you so. You spit back - "Shut up!" in anger.
But both you and your conscience are forced to shut up when you hear the sound of clicking rising behind you, a continuous scratching sound. Like a set of nails made to run over burnished hollow metal.
You turn sharply. Your stomach tighten convulsively. And your eyes meet an animation that surpasses your darkest visions.
For the cloaked bones begin to rise slowly, taking its time to get its bones into proper, or at least near proper erectness. The moon-white skull is bent low, meeting the chest, looking downward absently. Body, blacker than the moving darknesses of the graveyard, coiling, trembling, rise slowly through every chilling second. Joints squeak raspingly. Tearing morsels of clothing flaps, slithering like puny tentacles of snakes in the slow-moving mist-filled breeze.
And then its black sockets lift and you're spotted. And then its head tilts and bends as if trying to understand what breed of creature you are, might be. Its grin is ceaseless.
You are utterly terrified. But you get a grip of yourself. What do you do next?

Format For Answer

[Here's where you get creative:]

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

When Demon's Bite

CHRIS took a long bite off the cheeseburger and returned it back atop the spread handkerchief on the seat beside him, looking first at the speedometer, then to the fuel gauge and next to the clock. They were all displeasing. Then he uttered a sigh and looked through the windshield as if trying to calculate the distance per time left to complete the less than barren expressway. The fuel meter indicator had tilted towards the red bar.
He had been on the expressway for what seemed like an eternity, though only a couple of hours and hadn’t seen a single soul, save a few scraggy and empty-looking shacks, a couple of ranches, those tanned pigs, swards of grasses, a few short trees more or less strung together; most of the time nothing, just clear, bare, open ground laid in a way that it looked like it’d been spread for foundation – it seemed to have no end.
Yet the long stretch was nearly not on his mind. He remembered his one and only other time of taking this expressway. It was more than a month ago. Every mile per hour had seemed the longest distance per time of his life. The road brought back a legion of anguished, poorly suppressed feelings back to him, and they all had one thing in common.
She had meant the world to him. She still meant the world to him. It was a skimpy floral-patterned dress that started it all. Or was it his resolve to stop by at Ramíroz’s to take beer? Either ways, it turned out to become the best day, nay, night of his life. He remembered the sensual dark-brown eyes, her wide heart-melting smile, and the dimples that her smile always uncovered.
He quickly lost himself in thought.
IT was barely three years ago.
He was sitting in front of the counter, looking at and counting the brands of beer and whiskey at the rack. Most he knew of, others he was deciding when next to try them out. He had a half-filled glass of yellow liquor rolling in his palms. Surveying the rack, he barely noticed when she appeared beside him.
“Nice assortment, you think,” she started. They were her very first words to him. Her melodic voice fluttered in his mind, a perfect allure.
He turned his head in her direction. And kept it that way for a long time. She wore this pretty pink dress that stopped above her knee. He wasn’t a ‘pink’ person. He usually preferred deep red, somewhere near brown but not too near but right then and there, pink was the only color he knew. It was perfectly floraled too or at least that was the way he saw it. She crossed her legs to bare most of her thighs. He looked at her face and his face locked on there. Her eyes were the most beautiful he had ever seen. Somehow the world became clear, almost ethereal. The lines of her face were as smooth as mirror. They sort of reflected… so many things to him, some he hadn’t as yet understood.
“Yeah… exotic…” he said, barely knowing he mentioned anything.
“I’m Alice by the way,” she said.
He kept staring at her. After a few seconds, give seven, she continued, “And you are…?”
Still he kept staring at her face, in hypnotic fascination.
She looked at his glass, picked it and took a nip off it. “You know it’s here you get to tell me your name.”
Something held him stiff, blocked his mind from reception. He took a long gulp from his glass, rendering it empty, in order to bring in some form of perception.
“It goes like ‘I’m… something’ you see,” she said lifting her shoulders a little bit below her ears, “It shouldn’t be that hard.”
Still he made no reply.
“Suit yourself then,” she said, took a swig from a glass he hadn’t noticed her holding and turned to the other guy beside her. That ultimately jolted him into.
“Chris nice to meet you,” he said all at once.
She turned smiling, “Yeah, it always seems to work. Hi Chris-nice-to-meet-you. Nice beer.”
The bartender, a broad-shouldered, tidy, bald guy with a wispy accent Chris had long known as Bob made a timely show up and an opportune assistance.
“Anything else?”
“Yeah,” he said, his confidence recovering. “Um… Bob, I’ll have whatever the lady’s having.”
“Hmmm,” she said taking a long sip, “Sierra Nevada.”
“Coming up,” Bob turned back.
“How come I haven’t seen you around before?” she said looking at him.
“What?” He said knowing what he heard but barely understanding what she meant.
“No it’s that you seem to be regular and familiar with here. I stalk here a lot too but I’m just…” she explained.
“Yes. It’s actually… well… so… um… big place eh?” he mumbled.
“A bit I guess. So Chris-nice-to-meet-you, tell me about yourself.”
And so it began. At length, they talked through the night, mostly about beers as well as others. She laughed so many times it saved him from wordlessness. Her smile was gorgeous, very good-natured. They ended that night swapping phone numbers, e-mails, home addresses, and all those sorts of things.
They spent a date three days later on Miami Beach. It was the best day of his life. They shared a lot of things that day. That was the one and only day he had given any woman his heart on a platter.
HE recollected himself and looked at the fuel gauge again. It had fallen slightly. He picked up his cheeseburger and dug out another mouthful. He chewed for a few minutes then felt odd. The cheeseburger had picked another taste, a very disgusting putrid taste that left him feeling like gagging.
He rolled down his window and spat out the chewed cheeseburger. He looked at the one in his hand. It was the regular cheese with the other whatevers sandwiched with… there!
It was unmistakably dark brown, the half eaten cockroach. Its first pair of legs twitched for three seconds. Its antennae were still alive and the disgusting juices of its dark innards stained the cheese’s veggies. Its head with the loud compound eyes stared into Chris’ eyes like it had known his dark dirty secrets and he’d killed it for that.
The sight made Chris retch. The food inside him started to perform an anti-peristaltic movement up his oesophagus. It took a little of him to put it back in but he still had the sour taste in his mouth.
“Ok, what’s the idea?” he blurted and flung the remaining cheeseburger through the window as well. He picked up the lemon juice from a holder near the hand clutch, rinsed his mouth and spat out. Then he felt like gagging again and downed some more of the lemon juice.
“I’ll never buy cheeseburger again from a side stand,” he cursed. After another few minutes’ drive, he took another swig of lemon juice and drowned himself in his thoughts.
ALICE! They dated six years and some months. She had a sister and a father; her mother she’d lost in her preteens. Her father had made a name for himself in the military, a very respectable one too. The name Major General Edward Armstrong always sent a bolt through the stoniest of officers, including a handful of those above him.
His two daughters were his joy of living, his source of staying alive. Celine had a respectable sense of humor. She was four years younger than her sister and livelier. She was more than halfway through theater arts. Alice was through with law school.
The old man made acquaintances with him and put him through in his career, pulling some strings, even though he felt he was never really liked by the man, anything to make his daughter happy.
He was an architectural engineer with a Masters qualification. He had dreamed of finding a job, marrying a good wife, having wonderful kids and happily ever after. Alice was the key that opened that door to all of his life’s possibilities. Through her father, he got a contract and then contracts followed. They married a year later and had their first sex. It was the best feeling he’d ever felt, that very first time. She was the perfect woman.
How then had it all gone wrong?
OUT of the dipping sunset’s multicolored horizon, a black figure suddenly loomed. As he drew closer, he realized it was a Honda, and certainly broken down.
He reduced the car’s pace slowly till he stopped beside it. Its bonnet was open. There was a young woman standing beside the driver’s door which was also open. She had a purple shawl wrapped around her neck, down and across her chest. She wore a long navy blue dress, black boots and had her hair done up in a particularly fashion that reminded him of nuns. Her face was long, accentuated by a sharply pointed chin. She gave an uninterested look as Chris walked up to her.
“Nice afternoon,” Chris said.
“Uh-uh,” she muttered and nodded. “So you’re going to York.”
Chris nodded. “You seem to be having problem with the car.”
She nodded and cracked a smile through her rocky lips. “Yeah… the engines just stopped. We don’t know what’s wrong with it yet.”
“We,” Chris said, not surprised.
“Yeah, Father Psalm… he’s under,” and she pointed under the Honda. “We were heading to St. Monica’s before the load of metal just buckled.”
“Told you to stop giving my car names,” a fagged voice warned frivolously from beneath the car.
“It’s a small town further away from the expressway at a bend not too far away. Father Psalm was called to administer there. It seems to be some serious stuff going on there the way Father’s been going about it,” the lady continued.
“Hmmm,” Chris said and bent to look below the car. He could trace out the not too dark outline of a man. “Well done, Father Psalm, you need any help?”
“Who’s there?” the fagged voice called and a pair of glasses glinted towards the opening.
“I’m Chris, a fellow traveler.”
“Hullo to you. Um… I’m almost done here. I still need to hold this thing up but this’ll do till we get to St. Monica’s. Thank you all the same.”
Chris had no idea why he asked. He had very little knowledge of automobiles. Give him a car and he could draw it, its innards and its outside but fixing it, he was dull in auto DIY.
He pulled himself up to face the lady once more. “I was wondering if you’ll allow me drop you two off at this St. Monica’s. I’ll probably have to head there too. I reckon there’s a gas station there and you guys can find a suitable mechanic to come and fix the car good and proper.”
“Yeah, it wouldn’t have been a problem for me but Father… he has had an unimpressive history with hitchhikes. One time he did he said the driver, a guy, and the only other occupant, a lady, were doing each other. That was why the church got him the car. And yes, I think there’s a gas station there.”
“You can come along yourself and get back with the mechanic.”
“I don’t know…” the lady began.
“I think it’ll be a good idea,” Father Psalm chipped in from beneath the car. “This suddenly looks like it might take a while.”
“Ok… but hope you won’t need anything?”
“Where are the burger… and the Latin script?”
“They’re both at the back,” the lady replied. “And the coffee’s at the foot of the seat.”
“Then I’m good,” the Father said, “thank you, um… it’s Chris, right?”
“Yup,” Chris replied.
“Godspeed to you two and drive safe,” the Father said, “and Rosa, give me a call when you get there.”
“I will,” the lady called Rosa said.
Chris opened the door for Rosa but she didn’t enter immediately. She walked to the passenger seat of the Honda, took out her bag, walked back to Chris’ car and then entered. Chris closed it behind her and knocked on her window. She wound it down.
“Say, did you get that burger from a side stand?”
Rosa nodded.
Chris gave a ‘well I could’ve thought so’ look and turned to the Father’s car. “Father Psalm, do check the burger properly before eating it.”
Father Psalm mumbled something long that at the end sounded like ok. He probably had a screwdriver in his mouth. Chris entered into his car, started it and took off.
After a few minutes’ drive, Rosa broke the silence. “What was that about?”
“What?” Chris asked before finally understanding. “Oh… it’s… I bought this cheeseburger from a side stand. I’d eaten more than half of it and ate half a cockroach caught within the veggies.”
“Gross…” Rosa said as she half-contorted her face in disgust and half-chuckled.
“Yeah, it was pretty gross,” Chris replied. “I almost poured the whole thing out. It took almost all of the lemon to push it back in.”
Rosa nodded approvingly. “So… New York.”
Chris nodded. “It’s my… wife.”
“You miss her,” Rosa more of asked than said.
Chris nodded. “Who wouldn’t?”
A forty-minute drive later, a large metal-grey gate loomed into view. They were twenty minutes off the main road on a dirt path, partly swallowed by weeds. Rosa had made the best use of that time to sleep. The way it sprung before Chris gave it the reminiscence of grand ghost houses in horror movies.
It looked heavily corroded. The lower parts of the gate was covered in moss and climbers, particularly bindweed, that made Chris wonder if the town was so small they couldn’t get a gardener to weed the place regularly. The shrubs on the sides of the entrance were getting pretty bushy as well, very ill-impressing.
As he drove closer, he noticed that pieces of the gate had broken due to its rustiness. A fairly large wall formed a boundary and stretched deep till it disappeared behind the woods. The walls were rain-washed and coated with algae. A large colored wooden label hung atop the rusted gate, the label bearing, “WELCOME TO ST. MONICA’S”.
“Well it’s a small town,” Chris muttered as he halted a few meters from the gate. Rosa was still asleep.
He honked. Nobody appeared. He honked again, this time longer and waited. Still nobody showed up to open the gate. Rosa flinched lightly and mumbled some things Chris didn’t bother to try to listen to.
He released the ignition, got out of the car and slowly walked to the gate, quietly inspecting the surroundings. He got to the gate and looked through it. There was no one around, none he could see. He inspected the gate. It had been bolted tightly from outside with a huge chain wrapped around in a way that the gate seemed impossible to move, inside or outside. A big brass padlock was used to hook the chains in place. Chris wondered why anyone would lock the gate so strictly without keeping a watch.
“Hey! Is anybody here?” He called out and the wind answered back with a splash of chilly draft. Beyond the gate was a barren stretch of road just as much as outside was.
As he began to wonder on how to manoeuvre the lock, he heard a shrill cry. It came in a sudden, an instant, and died the next.
He turned to the car. He could but faintly make out Rosa in a fit of thrashing and struggling with what he couldn’t see or understand.
He covered the distance between him and the car in four quick steps and lolled into the car. Before he could sit, Rosa jumped out of hers and grabbed him with her fingers right around his neck, clamping them a little too tightly.
“You will not kill me!” she screamed. “You will not kill me, demon!
Chris struggled with her hands in vain. The more effort he used in trying to pry them off his neck, the tighter they became. The strength she used greatly left him flabbergasted. His breaths came in painful gasps.
“Rosa, what’s wrong with you? What…” he coughed.
Her hair was a tangled mess. Her eyes were bloodshot and the right one had a bleeding scar beneath it. When she cried, it was like there was another voice, a dark one, besides hers inside of her.
As Chris began to feel the air left inside him begin to churn, Rosa withdrew as if she’d come back to her senses before falling into another paroxysm of thrashing. She hurriedly loosed the scarf around her neck and tore it apart in a mad instant.
Chris held his neck and fell out of the car, gasping for air. He could scarcely believe what had just happened. His mind was reeling from the pain. Still he rose almost immediately to check on Rosa. She had stopped squirming and thrashing and was now breathing in low, painful, short breaths with her head hung low but still mumbling things.
Chris thought back over this event. Before he left the car she was quietly sleeping, maybe not too quietly but still… then a few minutes later, she became all enraged like a possessed child. Briefly, he wondered who he’d carried in his car. What the hell was she? A schizophrenic? He wasn’t sure. He gave her a few minutes to come to which turned out to be wise.
“Yeah,” Chris returned apprehensively.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah. I think so.” He brushed his hair with his fingers, “Are you?”
“Just…” she started to say but stopped and drew in short breaths. “Wha’ happened?”
“You tell me,” Chris replied. “I went to check the gate. It was locked by the way and then I heard your cry which didn’t even sound like you and you were flinging your hands everywhere and… it was scary. You also tried to strangle me, I should add. It’s like you were cool and asleep which I prefer now one time and in the next minute you became Hyde but now you’re ok again.”
“I had a dream,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
Chris faked a smile that rolled into real. “It’s ok. Must’ve been a hell of one. You weren’t yourself.”
As he was speaking, he noticed that Rosa wasn’t looking at him. She was looking behind him, straight towards the woods. Chris looked back, searched around and faced Rosa again. “What’s wrong?”
She looked at him and mouthed something quietly before she said, “Follow me,” and walked out of the car and strode towards the largely low-growing greenswards and sedges. Chris followed behind, the first impression upon his mind being to stop her. He neglected the thought though and simply followed. There had to be a reason. Their footfalls made sick crunching noises through the grasses.
“Why are we coming here? What are we looking for?” Chris whispered loud enough to beat the whistling of the breeze on the leaves.
Rosa didn’t answer him quickly. Rather she looked around the bushes and paused, looking from here to there intermittently. The leaves were beating against each other and against the breeze.
“I think… I saw something here,” she finally said. “It’s not something good.”
“You saw something?” He asked.
Rosa nodded. “It was like warning me not to come to… him. Something was chasing him. He was scared. The dark was coming and he screamed… for me to get out of there. He was swallowed by the dark… then it chased me… dug its claws on my shoulders…”
Chris could see it. She was visibly shaken, very terrified. “Maybe we should leave here,” he started.
“Do you smell that?” she said, wrinkling her nose in disgust.
Chris smelled the air. “Wha ---,” and then the wind coiled in his direction and he smelt it. It was disgusting. It was like someone had killed a big rat and pushed its carcass into an almost finished condensed milk tin, tightly sealed it and opened it after twenty days. It smelled rotten and decayed, very strong too. His stomach clamped together in irritation and he strongly willed his undigested food to remain where it was. He couldn’t speak out properly when he did try.
“What… the hell is this?” he said.
“It’s something dead. It’s horrible, I know,” Rosa replied.
“We have to find it.”
Rosa nodded and kept looking around. The semi-tall clumped grasses, shifting ceaselessly in response to the order of the wind, made it difficult to find anything in that hedge. However, they kept looking, advancing deeper into the hedge, getting closer to the trees, the smell getting stronger and more repugnant until Chris saw it.
The leaves parted somewhere close to the trees, making way for something within their midst. They both approached the parting and even when they got close enough to see whatever was there, Rosa had to fall back to a few seconds choking but Chris moved on and saw what it was.
It was horrible. It was feminine. She was decaying but she wasn’t the only thing decaying there. Not less than four carrions of vultures filled the dead space around her. One of them had its beak widely open. The remnants of their rotting bodies were splayed and were quickly being consumed by alopecia.
Parts of the woman’s waist had been, Chris hated to think it, eaten off her, dried blood, bone and ribs with protruding bloody entrails was all he could see. Two of the fingers of her one free hand which stretched out from her body pointing towards someplace were missing. Numerous flies were dead around her. In fact everything around her was dead, except the leaves.
This body was the source of the effluvium parading this place.
Chris was finding it hard to think straight. He surveyed her face, at least what was left of it. Her hair had turned mud-dirty brown but that was half of it. The other half seemed to have been ripped off by force. Parts of her skull could be seen amidst dried blood, nerve endings and severed muscles. The rip took one of her ears along with it. Her eyes… it was too much.
Chris lost it. This time he vomited, with wild vigor. Rosa had recovered from her choking and walked to the body. The body’s eyes, well she no longer had eyes now, just dead maggots poured from blank moist sockets. Rosa fell into another spasm and vomited on one of the vultures.
“Who the hell could’ve done this?” Chris asked after recovering, his face contorted.
“Let’s… let’s get away from this place…” Rosa whimpered. Chris couldn’t have agreed less. He took a last look at the body. There was a wide hole on her forehead. Dead maggots hung from the wound along with dried pus. That was enough. The little remaining sense he had pulled him away from there.
“There’s something there,” Rosa called and pointed to another parting. He’d had enough of dead bodies but already Rosa had begun to run to the parting so he followed. She stopped there looking at something but she wasn’t flinching so Chris rebuilt what plenty confidence that body had demolished and looked over.
This one was a man, huge and dressed in military camouflage. He laid face down on soft mud and sported a .44 semi-automatic pointing to his head. There were two holes, one on both sides of his head, Chris observed, one proportionately larger than the other. The larger one resembled the one the dead lady had on her forehead. His eyes were closed tight. A chunk of his neck seemed to have been bitten off and there was pus and dried blood all over the wound.
“He’s the one,” Rosa stuttered.
“He’s the ‘who’?” Chris asked.
“The darkness took him,” Rosa replied. “I saw him in my dream.”
“Well, the darkness took him all right,” Chris muttered, nearly beneath his breath. “Let’s get back to the car. We need to get inside and report what we’ve seen.”
Rosa shook her head in a ‘yes’ manner that was weak and not too assuring. As they were turning away from the body, Chris caught the glimmer of a bunch, about four keys beneath the belt.
“Seems the guy was the watch,” Chris said as he turned the body over. The smell issuing from this body was nothing compared to the lady’s. None of the scavengers/predators had found his body, save a few flies which were also lying in dead heaps but Chris knew that was only a matter of time.
He cautiously undid the man’s buckle and removed the keys, taking also the semi-automatic. He didn’t know where he got the feeling from that he would need it.
They both walked to the gate, their impaired manner of walking portraying the gravity of what their mind and eyes had perceived. Their minds were heavily troubled.
Chris fumbled with the keys before finding the right one that opened the padlock and then he undid the chains and opened the gates wide. It gave a metallic, squeaky sound, one he really, really hated. Then he walked back to the car.
“What do you think?” Rosa asked.
“I think you should call Father Psalm first,” Chris answered gravely. “He should know the best step to take.”
Rosa nodded and reached for her bag, got her phone and dialled. After a few minutes converse, she hung up.
“He said we should go in and report to the church first. They would in turn get security. Or we can report to any patrol we come across,” she explained. “He also said he will be joining us in fifty-three jiffies. It seems he has made progress with the car.”
In reply, Chris dove back into the car, started it, drove in through the gates and stopped a few meters from it. Rosa stayed back, locked the gate with the chains and padlock and hooked the keys on the rails of the gate in an easily visible place. There was no one in sight and it gave the place an aura of awkwardness that clawed at her flesh.
She joined Chris and he drove into St. Monica’s. The noon was already beginning to wear out. The sun had started to recede into the west and the evening air was beginning to grow thick, thicker than phlegm. Chris felt the chill. So did Rosa.
FATHER Edmond Psalm cut the phone and slid it back on the seat. He opened the back door and took out a dirty hanky with which he wiped his hands clean of grease, leaving worry openly shown. His round face was pale. His receding hairs were black and full. He adjusted his glasses.
He had heard everything from Rosa concerning the two fell bodies she and Chris had found and was gravely worried. Were the bodies related to the reason he was being called to the town? Rosa seemed pretty shaken about what she saw, he could tell. But she was a very strong lady and she had a wonderful gift.
The Father slid into the driver’s seat and turned the engine. It coughed briefly, then roared to life but after a few seconds fell silent again.
“Bother,” he muttered disappointingly. “At least it was an improvement. Might as well take a break,” he said. He searched the back seat, saw the burger wrapped up in a white opaque nylon and took it. He searched the foot of the seat and found his coffee. He removed the burger from the nylon and prayed over it. As he was about to eat it, he remembered what – it sounded like a warning – that young man Chris had told him before he left with Rosa. He took it apart and inspected all its veggies. Being assured there was nothing else apart from what was meant to be there, he ate up.
He was left standing on a path, the sides all bristling with thorns and thistles. He looked up. The sky looked intangible, devoid of clouds and stars; a large void waiting to engulf all that looked up to it. There was no one in sight. The breeze rocked with an eerie noise, like the rasp, sharp whistling of steam ejected from a kettle, only less intense but completely permeating. He caught a horrible stench of decay. It made him hold his stomach.
“Hullo,” he called, “anyone here?” Nobody answered. He looked around, left then right.
Suddenly the temperature dropped and went chilly and everywhere he turned, white began to grow. White flakes of ice began to coat the thistles.
He snuggled into himself, his arms clasped around his belly tightly. “What’s going on?” He turned around. He spotted something on the ground behind him. It was small so he crouched to get a better view. Its furry coat, dark brown stripes on dull grey – it was a Persian cat. It was dead and splayed. Its head faced the other side. The horrible smell pulsated through the air.
He tore off a stick from the thorns and poked the animal with it. It didn’t move. He turned the body the other side and almost immediately wished he hadn’t. A large chunk of its stomach was missing. Its dried intestines fell out, hanging over the edges of its revolting orifice. It’s dark, grim, yellow eyes were opened and it stared straight at the Father absently.
“Could it be alive?” Father Psalm asked himself whispers.
He turned quickly. Out of the misty atmosphere, a figure emerged. Having an aeriform outline at first, it advanced to display a morbid, solid figure.
It was a girl probably in her middle-teen. She was small and sluggish and had her hands held down like they were claws. She was shrouded in rags and had impaired walking. Her staggering footfalls were heavy; they reverberated through the air. Another irritating stench filled the air, this one thicker than the cat’s. She drew closer with every reverberating footfall and as she came close enough, she stretched her hands forward like she wanted something and wanted it very badly.
Her face came into view. It was beautiful but deeply scarred in several places. Her hair was a wet, matted mess upon her head, stretching to her back. A clump of it hung from the front, covering the left half of her face. Her right eye was red and inflamed.
“Uh… Hullo, lady. Is anything the problem? Are you okay?” Father Psalm asked.
She stopped, looked at him maliciously and tilted her head, stretching the left side of her neck.
“Are you okay? Um… do you know where you are… because I don’t,” Father Psalm muttered taking a step backwards.
The girl then stopped, turned her head up and uttered a shrill inhuman cry. As she cried, veins grew beneath the skin of her face but retracted with the cry that stopped almost as quickly and suddenly as it’d started. She began to quicken her pace towards the Father. He lurched backwards but he tripped over the dead cat and could’ve cursed. He looked up to see that the girl had crossed the distance between them in no time but the moment she got to where he fell, she fell to the ground on her two hands and knees, as if in supplication. Her hairs poured to the ground in an oily heap. She began to cry. The poignant smell was all too evident.
Courage and colour began to return to the Father’s face. Slowly and warily he stood.
“Help me!” the girl sobbed. “Please, help me! I’m tired of fighting.” She turned her face up to the Father and for the first time he noticed how very pale she was, how very red her only visible eye was.
“PLEASE HELP ME!!’ Her plea turned to panic-stricken scream. “HELP ME!!!”
Pity swept through Father Psalm’s heart. He wanted to help her. He had to help her… from whatever was haunting her. He stretched his hand to touch her shoulder.
“I will help you,” he said reassuringly. “I will help you. But I don’t know who you are.”
“I’m M… M…” she started to find it hard to talk.
He laid his hand on her shoulder and felt her shudder. “I will…”
He gripped the steering wheel tightly and opened his eyes. A splitting headache welcomed him. He looked around him to find he was still in the car, still on the expressway.
“…help you,” he finished. He realized he had been dreaming and already it was getting very dark. The sun was little to be seen. The sky was heavily stained with signs of twilight.
He got out of the car and went to the bonnet. There he calibrated the engine properly, tightened the battery and closed it. He returned into the car and started the engine. It coughed for a few minutes before it started and this time it stayed.
Heaving a huge sigh of relief, he released the clutch and jammed the gear into place and slowly kicked the accelerator. He looked at the time. He had spent about fifteen minutes sleeping. The half eaten burger had gotten stuck between the seat and the hand clutch. He returned it to the nylon. He picked up his coffee and very nearly dropped it immediately. It had become icy-cold. He drank it anyway.
As he drove, he thought about the dream and wondered what it portrayed.
“God help us,” he ended.