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  The Elevator
Posted by: BoonScrublord - 05-28-2020, 08:09 PM - Forum: Books/Stories - No Replies

[Image: attachment.php?aid=48]
The Elevator
by Indy McDaniel
 
Cover art by Bryce Wolfe
 
(originally published in SNM Horror Magazine – Issue 26, June 2010)


 
            The irony of the elevator being stuck between floors twelve and fourteen was not lost on Jim.  Just because the building didn’t officially have a thirteenth floor didn’t mean it didn’t technically have one.  The elevator had apparently decided to stall out somewhere between the metaphorical thirteenth and the technical thirteenth floor of the office building.  Jim would have expected something like this to happen in the old apartment building he lived in, but the office was modern, only a few years old.  Certainly not old enough to have an elevator just break down between floors.  Jim couldn’t help the uneasiness he felt at being stuck in the particular spot he was.  Despite trying to tell himself otherwise, he was rather superstitious.  Glancing over at the only other occupant of the elevator, he wondered if she was superstitious, too.  And if she’d taken notice of the floors they were stuck between.
            In fact, Melody hadn’t taken notice of what specific floors they were stuck between and she wasn’t overly superstitious.  Although she was claustrophobic.  It wasn’t unbearable enough to force her to take the stairs over the elevator, but now that she was trapped inside the cramped steel box, the phobia was quickly acting up.  She glanced over at the man standing across from her.  She’d seen him before, a couple times.  Actually, she was pretty sure she’d ridden on this very elevator with him before, although usually with other passengers.  They’d never spoken.  Just two different faces working in the same building.  Not even for the same company.  Now they were trapped in this damned elevator together.  Melody’s mind began to wonder how much air they had.  How long it would take the maintenance people to break them out.
            Trying to force the doors open had proved useless.  They seemed to be jammed shut somehow.  Jim had tried the maintenance phone next and felt dismay and a deeper twinge of superstition flow into him as he realized it was dead.  They weren’t just trapped, they were cut off.  Jim tried forcing the doors open again, straining hard but only managing to tire himself out.  Stepping away, he sat down on the floor of the elevator.  “Guess we wait for the cavalry...”
            Melody looked down at him, growing more unnerved by the minute.  Normally, she’d have been out of the elevator and in her office by now.  The longer she stayed in here, the worse she felt.  Her eyes darted from Jim to the walls, almost positive they were a bit closer than they had been a minute ago.  “Do you have a cell phone?” she asked, hopefully.
            Jim shook his head.  “Can’t afford one...  Although, at this point, I’d gladly take the extra bill...”  He looked up at her.  “You?”
            Melody shook her head, her blonde hair falling over her eyes for a moment before she brushed her bangs back behind her ears.  “Left it in the car...”  She began to pace, nervously.  “I need to get out of here.”
            Jim smirked, looking down at the floor.  “Me, too.  Can’t afford to get canned.”
            “No, I mean, I really need to get out of here...” Melody shot back, a bit angered by his glib remark.  She grabbed the maintenance phone and put it to her ear, not hearing anything.  She hit the call button several times.  Still nothing.  Frustrated, she threw the phone down.
            “Hey!” Jim exclaimed.  “Careful, that phone’s our only shot at letting someone know we’re in here.”
            “What good is it?” Melody shot back, turning swiftly on him.  “It’s fucking dead!  Just like we’re gonna be if no one finds us!”
            “We’re fine...  Unless it takes them like a week to find us and we die of dehydration,” he said, trying to calm the woman down.
            Melody glared at the man, even angrier at him for his calm demeanor than his smart-ass comments.  “What about air?  We’ve gotta be running out.”
            Jim motioned to the doors.  “Just because we can’t force those doors open doesn’t make them air tight.  Besides, they have to know the elevator’s stuck.  Even if we can’t call down to them, they’ll have to send someone up to get the thing open or running again.  It’s just gonna take a little time.  So why don’t you just relax?”
            Turning to the doors, Melody ignored Jim and moved forward.  Hooking her fingers into the center seam of the door, she tried to force her arms apart and pry the door open.  Clenching her teeth, she pushed hard, but it was no use.  Releasing the door, she began to pound against it, screaming and hoping that someone on the other side would hear her.
            “Would you shut the fuck up?  Christ!” Jim yelled over her.  He pushed himself back to his feet.  “Screaming’s not gonna do a goddamn thing aside from deafen both of us.  So why don’t you sit your fucking ass down and chill the fuck out.  Okay?”
            Melody stopped pounding on the elevator doors, her eyes narrowing before she turned to Jim again.  “You’re an asshole.”
            “So be it.  I’m an asshole,” Jim said, throwing his arms out to his sides in frustration.  “Now sit the fuck down and relax.”
            Continuing to glare at Jim, Melody did sit down.  But relaxing was the last thing she’d be able to do while trapped in this small, metallic, box-shaped tomb.  Leaning against the far wall, she set her purse on her lap and stared at the closed doors across from her.  Jim sat down in the corner, apparently content to wait things out, regardless of the superstitious area they were stuck in.
            Melody waited silently for several long minutes, squeezing her purse tightly.  Beads of sweat trickled down the back of her neck, although the temperature was still quite moderate.  She kept her eyes straight ahead, but she knew Jim was staring at her.  He wants to rape me, she thought.  He knows we’re never getting out of here and he wants one last fuck before he bites it.  Forcing a brief glance in his direction, she saw him looking down at the floor.  Probably had noticed her eyes shifting and had averted his gaze before she could catch him looking at her.  She kept glancing over to him every couple minutes, trying to make sure he wasn’t about to leap at her and tackle her to the floor.
            After about ten minutes, Melody noticed Jim’s eyes had fallen shut, his breathing slow and steady.  He’d drifted off.  Now was her chance.  Quietly, she opened her purse and dug through it.  She came up with a small switchblade, something her sister had given her to keep her safe.  Up until then, she hadn’t had a need for it, but now she was very glad she had it.  Looking over to Jim, setting her purse aside and gripping the switchblade firmly, she thumbed the button on it.  The sharp blade flipped out and Melody steadied herself, knowing that it was kill or be killed in this hellish box they’d become trapped in.
            Without warning, Melody launched herself at Jim, bringing the knife between them.  Jim’s eyes fluttered open as she collided with him, opening his mouth to ask what the hell she was doing.  Then a sharp pain dug into his gut.  His words were reduced to a grunt and he looked down, seeing Melody’s hand gripping the handle of a small knife which was now embedded in his stomach.  Looking from the wound up to Melody, his expression became one of pained confusion.  Melody hadn’t expected that look, but there was no turning back now.  She yanked the knife free and jammed it back into him, higher.  The narrow blade found its way between his ribs, puncturing a lung.  Jim felt a pressure in his chest, finding it hard to breathe.
            Melody wasn’t letting up though.  Pulling the knife out, she slammed it forward, again and again.  Jim tried to bring his hands up, to throttle Melody or punch her or do something to get her away from him, but the pain in his chest and the inability to breathe properly was making him weak.  After stabbing him a half-dozen times, Melody yanked the bloody switchblade out of Jim’s chest and slashed it across his throat.  It opened up and released a torrent of crimson liquid gushing down over Jim’s already blood-soaked chest.  Jim gurgled, bringing his hands up to his neck and trying to hold the blood in, but it was useless.  His face was growing more and more pale and now he found it absolutely impossible to breathe.
            Satisfied with her work, Melody moved away from him, bringing her knife with her.  Rising to her feet, she watched Jim finish bleeding out in the corner.  A large pool of blood was spreading out from him.  He looked up at her, his expression asking her why.  Why had she done it?  A triumphant smirk formed on Melody’s face, responding to him with an ‘as if you don’t know’ look.  Jim’s head fell back, his eyes growing vacant as what remained of his blood continued to spill out of him.  Melody felt relief flow through her as she watched Jim die.  Now she would be safe.  Folding the switchblade closed, she replaced the blood-covered weapon to her purse and picked it up, sliding the strap over her shoulder.
            Hearing the elevator kick back on and resume its journey upwards, Melody turned to face the doors, a satisfied smile on her face.  It was about time.  Now she could get to work.



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  The Memory Remains
Posted by: BoonScrublord - 05-28-2020, 08:08 PM - Forum: Books/Stories - No Replies

[Image: attachment.php?aid=47]
The Memory Remains
By Indy McDaniel
 
Cover art by Bryce Wolfe


 
            Arbuckle scratched at the ragged scar covering the right side of his face. He noticed it only itched when a case wasn’t sitting right with him. It made sense. It had been on a similar case that he’d gained the scar. After a month in a burn ward, he still didn’t have any answers. None that made sense, anyway.
            Now it was all starting again.
            There weren’t any charred bodies at his feet, and he was thankful for that small fact. But nothing about this murder made any sense. “What do you think?” he asked the young woman beside him. On some level, he hated her. It wasn’t a sexist thing. He was sure he’d hate her even if she had a dick. Partners just inevitably rubbed him the wrong way.
            “Suicide,” the young detective answered, surveying the hanging corpse in the middle of the small study. Arbuckle was about to chastise her for being an idiot. “Except, something’s not right.”
            “And that is?”
            “How’d the vic get herself up there?”
            It was a good question. The most important one, aside from who their murderer was. There was no chair, no footstool, nothing the dead woman could have stood on to slip the noose around her neck. There was a desk, but it was too far from the body. “Exactly.”
            “So it’s a murder,” she said. “Who the hell hangs someone? Seems like a lot of work.”
            “A hell of a lot of work, especially if your intended victim isn’t on board for the trip.”
            “She must’ve been drugged.”
            Arbuckle spotted a small bar in the corner of the room and went over, fixing himself a drink. Whiskey, straight up. “What was your name again?” He took the shot. It burned all the way down, just like good whiskey was supposed to.
            “Martelli,” the young detective replied. She found it hard not to stare at the older man’s scar. She’d heard stories about it, about Arbuckle, but now she was getting the whole show. “Neva.”
            “Well, Detective Martelli,” Arbuckle said, fixing himself a second drink. His scar was itching something terrible. “I’ve got a feeling her tox screen’ll come back clean.”
            “What makes you think that?”
            “History,” he said, taking the second shot. With an empty stomach, he could already feel the buzz working its way through his system. “You got here late.”
            “Sorry, traffic was a bitch.”
            “No, it’s fine,” he said, turning to her. He caught her looking at his scar. He didn’t blame her. “I only mention it because you missed the part where they had to kick in the door.” He nodded to the study’s door, the hinge splintered. “Door was locked from the inside.”
            Neva was silent for several long moments, looking around the room. “Where’s the window?”
            Arbuckle smirked, his scar curling obscenely. “Exactly.” He turned back to the bar. “It’s not over. There’ll be four more, just like there was thirty years ago when I worked this case the first time.”



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  Corner of the Eye
Posted by: BoonScrublord - 05-28-2020, 08:08 PM - Forum: Books/Stories - No Replies

[Image: attachment.php?aid=46]
Corner of the Eye
By Indy McDaniel
 
Cover art by Bryce Wolfe
 
(originally published in The Psyche Corrupted Anthology, Shade City Press)


 
            As much as you might not want to believe it, they do actually exist. Just because you can’t get a good enough look at them to tell exactly what the fuck they are, doesn’t mean they’re not real. You’ve seen them. I know you have. We all have. They lurk just out of your line of sight. That brief sense of motion you catch out of the corner of your eye. The darkness that seems to rush by, gone as soon as you turn your full attention on it. That’s them. They’re plenty fast sons of bitches, which is how they’ve stayed hidden for so long. Some myths, that’s all. Children’s stories, used to make bad little boys and girls behave. Don’t finish all your vegetables and they’ll get you. I’ve never heard of any actual accounts of that happening... but all those missing children have to go somewhere, don’t they?
            There’s a general consensus that the more people believe in something, the more true it becomes. That might even work for most things, but not these fuckers. Their strength lies in the fact that no one knows about them, and the few that may have heard about them don’t actually believe in them. Belief would kill these things, because then we’d know to trust all those times we thought we saw something lurking just out of sight. People would be on guard for them and it would make their jobs a whole lot harder. Maybe not impossible. I don’t know if anything can get rid of them permanently, but it would be a start if we only believed.
            You’re probably wondering what the hell they actually are. If I knew that, we’d already be well on our way to overcoming their evil. Put simply, they’re demons. Maybe not the traditional red-skinned, bifurcated tongued, pitchfork wielding assholes written about in certain books, but demons just the same. If that’s too Sunday school for you, then how bout we take it back just a slight notch? Evil. Pure evil is what they are. That simplifies everything just a bit. Thinking of them as demons only helps to personify and flesh them out, when it seems more likely than not that these things aren’t constructed of any kind of solid material. How else could they disappear so quickly?
            What they’re interested in is fairly simple. They’re fucking evil, after all. What the hell do you think they want? Whether it’s to wipe us off the planet entirely or simply pick off a few of us to torture, does it really matter? Regardless, there’s only one outcome. Bad. Does it matter of it’s large scale or small scale? I don’t think so. Judging by their numbers though... their assumed numbers... I’m leaning towards large scale. Genocide. Invasion. Assimilation. All things that are not good. All reasons that people need to realize that these things are real, they do exist, and they need to be dealt with.
            How do they affect us at all? Now that is a question worth examining. There are a few theories. Some think the reason you can only see them out of the corner of your eye is because they’re trying to sneak up close beside you. Once there, they’ll work their way into your ear and begin to whisper things to you, coaxing you into doing something horrible. This theory does a lot to explain why someone who was once sane commits heinous acts for no apparent reason. Another theory claims they affect our surroundings instead of our personal actions. The rogue banana peel that leads to someone cracking their skull on the floor. The car brakes that were just checked last week but suddenly refuse to work. Every single bit of bad luck. If that theory is true, then gremlins might just be the most fitting name for them.
            Which theory do I subscribe to? I believe it’s a little bit of both and a whole lot more. Coming back to the missing children, or missing people in general. There’s plenty of potential, most would say rational, explanations as to what might happen to the people that suddenly drop off the face of the world one day. Kidnappings, murders, runaways. And I’m sure there’s a fair number those apply to, but there’s still far too many cases where people just go missing. No suspects, no motives, no ransom notes, no troubles at home to run away from. They just cease to be. Those are the ones they take, I believe. Those are the ones that the bastards sneak right up on and decide they’re more useful gone than as some sort of deranged pawn in their game.
            Where do they take the people they choose? It’s impossible to say. One thing seems clear, though. When they take you, you don’t come back. Maybe that’s how they recruit more of their numbers. Maybe they take us into their ‘world’ and somehow transform us into them. A fate worse than death, I’d wager. Better to eat a bullet or take a razor to your wrists than let them take you. Even if you don’t become one of them, I doubt whatever else they could do to you would be very pleasant. After all, we are talking about beings comprised of pure fucking evil.
            Why are they doing this? Frankly, that’s a stupid goddamn question. Why the hell wouldn’t they? Maybe it’s how they feed. Maybe they take sustenance from evil deeds. Or maybe they just get their kicks from it. Causing mayhem and destruction might be like sex for them. Fun, addictive, and very messy for everyone involved. Does it really matter why? There are far more important things to consider, like how to stop them. How to keep ourselves safe from them. The first step has to be awareness. Without awareness, we’re lost. After all, it’s impossible to fight an enemy you don’t believe in.
            They lurk to the left and the right of you, waiting for you to drop your guard completely. Once you do, they move in. To whisper evil thoughts directly into your brain, to toss a banana peel in your path, to take you away to their world for some unknown devious purpose. Until we devise a plan to combat them, no one is safe. In the meantime, I suggest working on your reflexes and neck muscles. And the next time you think you see something out of the corner of your eye, don’t dismiss it. You just might regret it if you do.



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  The Price of Immortality
Posted by: BoonScrublord - 05-28-2020, 08:07 PM - Forum: Books/Stories - No Replies

[Image: attachment.php?aid=45]
The Price of Immortality
By Indy McDaniel
 
Cover art by Bryce Wolfe
 
(originally published in Fem-Fangs Anthology, Pill Hill Press)


 
            Aeryn took a drag from her smoke before tapping some ash into the tray set out on the table.  The bar had the traditional gloom and only a handful of people were sitting in various sections, some at the bar, a few in the booths that lined the walls.  Aeryn was situated in one of the booths at the back, where the shadows were even darker than the rest of the bar.  Anyone looking back from the front of the bar would only be able to see the glowing cherry of her cigarette, which was just the way she liked it.  Her slightly curly hair was a brilliant shade of red and came down just past her shoulders.  Her eyes resembled glimmering emeralds and at the moment they were focused on the person sitting across from her at the booth.
            The bar was a nice place to meet potential customers.  It was the type of place where you went if you wanted to keep a low profile.  Not lit well enough to remember any details of the customers and management that asked no questions about what shady business might potentially be going down as long as the bar tabs were paid up by the end of the night.  Aeryn enjoyed the place immensely.  It had made her job quite easy over the years, whether she approached a customer who seemed to be interested in what she had to offer, or if she wanted to meet someone she’d met outside the bar.  Her customer tonight had come into the bar a few nights back, looking particularly down on her luck.  Those were the best ones to approach.
            The hopeless ones.
            Aeryn had sauntered over to the bar and offered the woman a cigarette, which she’d accepted.  Flipping her Zippo open, Aeryn had lit the smoke for her before sliding onto the stool next to her.  They’d sipped at their drinks for several long minutes before Aeryn opened the conversation.  From her body language and the tone of her voice, anyone listening in would assume that she was looking to score some company for the night.  What Aeryn was after was something much more long term than a single night of carnal pleasures, although she wasn’t against it.  If she could manage to obtain that along with what she was truly after, all the better.
            The woman took interest, as they normally did.  The women were easier than the men, surprisingly.  With the men, Aeryn found it difficult to get their minds off of her body long enough to actually listen to the words that came out of her mouth.  Sleeping with them didn’t do much good, either.  Afterwards, they either just wanted more or they wanted to get out of her bed and down the road as fast as they could.  Either way, they were even less in the listening mood.  Seducing women first seemed to have the opposite effect most of the time.  Several of Aeryn’s deals with women had been struck during post-coitus chats.  With the latest potential customer though, it hadn’t gone down that way.
            They’d had several more drinks, moving to Aeryn’s booth after the first two so they could speak more privately.  The woman was at the perfect age.  Not too young, but old enough to notice what a bitch aging was.  Those were the ones that were prime for the picking.  When you start to notice those first few subtle wrinkles in the mirror, a mysterious woman offering you eternal youth is someone you want to listen to, even if you think she’s totally nuts.  They all started out unbelievers, but Aeryn had a way with words and an attitude that allowed people to intuitively trust her.  After all, she’d been doing her job for quite a while, so she had a great deal of experience when it came to selling people.  The first meeting, she only gave the woman the basic breakdown, the initial offer.  Tired of getting older?  Want to stay young and beautiful forever?  Never have to worry about wrinkles, grey hair, sagging tits.  Never have to worry about your boyfriend dumping you for some young bitch with a tighter ass than yours.  Wouldn’t that just be splendid?  Of course, it would.
            After some more chatting about things other than immortality, Aeryn paid the woman’s tab for her and saw her out of the bar, telling her to come back if she was interested.  Aeryn knew from the look in the woman’s eyes that she’d be back.  She’d found it was best to reel them in slowly.  Throwing the whole thing at them the first night was just a great way to spook them.  Just as she’d suspected, the woman returned the very next night, a bit earlier than she had previously.  Aeryn didn’t bother getting up from her booth, only giving the woman a casual wave to beckon her over.  There was no small talk on the second night.  The woman sat down interested in hearing more about Aeryn’s offer.  Aeryn smiled sweetly and lit up one of her cigarettes before offering one to the woman.
            The second night was the make or break night.  Aeryn told the woman a bit more about what eternal youth entailed.  Leaving your old life behind and starting anew.  Friends, family, lovers.  All of them would have to be left behind.  It would be hard at first, but better in the long run.  After all, if you’re going to be eliminating aging from your life, would you really want to watch everyone you cared about continue to grow older and eventually die?  Best to remember them in a more positive light.  Besides, they may start to become curious as to why you aren’t getting any older while they have to deal with more and more complications as their bodies break down over the years.  It would also mean not having any other kind of long term relationships with anyone.  Nothing more than a couple years.  Moving a lot and staying out of the public eye completely.  If you’re looking for fame, immortality is not the way to go.
            The woman was fine with all of that, being an only child with both of her parents already dead.  Her last boyfriend of five years had recently broken up with her.  “For some sugar-tit, bird-brained bitch?” Aeryn asked.  She didn’t even need to hear the answer to know she was right.  Liking the woman more and more by the minute, Aeryn continued.
            The next bit would determine whether or not they could actually do business.  After all, immortality comes at a price.  Twenty grand was Aeryn’s price.  The number made the woman go pale, her eyes widening.  Aeryn gave her a reassuring smile and reached across the table to rest a hand over one of hers, telling her not to worry.  Just because you couldn’t be famous didn’t mean you’d live in the poor house.  Immortality was a very lucrative business, after all.
            The woman finished her drink quickly and told Aeryn she’d have to think about it.  Aeryn nodded and said she understood.  It wasn’t a decision to be made lightly.  She watched as the woman headed away from her booth to the door.  She stopped just at the door and looked back at Aeryn.  She couldn’t see the woman sitting in the shadows, but if she could, she’d have seen Aeryn almost grinning.  That final look back told her everything she needed to know.  The woman would return, money in hand.
            It was only a matter of time.
            It had taken another two days before she returned for the third and final time.  She looked around nervously after sitting down across from Aeryn then reached into her handbag before withdrawing an envelope thick with money, sliding it across the table to the red-haired woman.  Aeryn picked the envelope up and quickly thumbed through the bills, already knowing it was all there.  Slipping the envelope into her pocket, Aeryn gave the woman a grin and told her to have a few drinks before they got started.  The woman didn’t argue, chugging down several whisky sours over the course of an hour.  The two women chatted some, more small talk now that their business had been dealt with for the moment.  Finally, Aeryn asked the woman if she was ready.  The woman nodded.
            Sliding out of the booth, Aeryn took the woman by the hand and led her to the rear exit of the bar leading out into an alley.  Once outside, the woman began to grow more nervous.  Aeryn tried to reassure her, but the woman was quickly realizing she didn’t know even remotely how she was going to be receiving this gift of eternal beauty.  Aeryn’s emerald eyes looked deeply into the woman’s, forcing a soothing feeling into her mind.  The red-head lifted a hand and brushed it gently across the woman’s cheek, causing her nerve endings to tingle with excitement and drew her in closer.  Moving up against the woman, pushing her back against the outer wall of the bar, she told her it was going to hurt a bit, but after that, she’d never have to worry about growing old again.
            The strange calm that had come over the woman cracked as she saw Aeryn’s mouth open wide, revealing sharp fangs.  Then Aeryn moved even closer, forcing her mouth against the woman’s neck.  Sharp pain stabbed into her throat and she felt the red-head begin to suck at the wounds she’d opened there.  The woman’s mind grew even foggier, her hands pressing against Aeryn’s shoulders in a futile attempt to push her away.  As she grew weaker, the woman’s vision began to fade, her arms sliding from Aeryn’s shoulders.
            Standing over the woman’s limp, pale form, Aeryn licked the remaining blood from her lips.  Looking down at the woman, Aeryn smiled, feeling quite satisfied.  She patted the pocket that held the thick envelop before kneeling down next to the woman’s corpse.  Using a nail, she slit open the veins on her wrist, dark blood oozing out, then placed the wrist against the woman’s slightly gaping mouth.  The next night, the woman would awaken again, her wish of eternal youth granted.  The only catch Aeryn hadn’t clued her in on was the whole thirst for blood thing.  The vampiress chuckled.  It was much more fun to let them figure that part out for themselves.  After all, they needed some surprises in their new life.



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  Skin Deep
Posted by: BoonScrublord - 05-28-2020, 08:06 PM - Forum: Books/Stories - No Replies

[Image: attachment.php?aid=44]
Skin Deep
By Indy McDaniel
 
Cover art by Bryce Wolfe
 
(originally published in Heavy Metal Horror: A Splatterpunk Anthology, Alter Press)


 
            Bodies needed skin.
            Detective Neva Martelli cursed and lit up a cigarette. Her partner, a clean-cut son of a bitch by the name of Karr, gave her a warning glance. The cigarette was against protocol, could potentially contaminate the scene. Rolling her eyes, Neva stepped out of the small shanty and headed back to the unmarked sedan they’d arrived in.
            Neva was grizzled. Ten years on the force, three in homicide. She’d seen her fair share of shit and – aside from a few recurring nightmares – come through it unscathed.
            But bodies needed skin.
            Neva knew the scene would be bad as soon as she’d heard it was another ‘Skinner’ case. The Southside Skinner – as the brilliant minds in the media labeled the killer – had left more than half a dozen skinless corpses in his wake since surfacing two months back. Proving once again that her luck was shit, Neva had gotten the first case. Now she had a stack of eight unsolved, de-skinned murders on her desk. Make that nine, she thought, taking another drag from her smoke.
            She had as many leads as the victims had skin. All the CSU nerds could tell her was that the murders and subsequent skinning of the bodies had been committed with a variety of weapons – primary of which was a razor-sharp blade, like a scalpel but not a scalpel. Beyond that, there was no physical evidence left behind at any of the crime scenes. The victims were all women of ill repute. Hookers or homeless or drug addicts or all of the above.
            Stubbing her cigarette out, Neva steeled her nerves and headed back into the shanty. She kept her eyes averted from the corpse as best she could. Over the years, she’d seen plenty of brutal violence, but the skinless bodies were something different. They disturbed her on a level she hadn’t thought possible.
            “Anything?” she asked Karr.
            He shook his head. “Zilch. Same as all the others.”
            “Beautiful.” Neva sighed. “Let’s send in the clowns. The sooner we’re done here, the better.”
            Karr took a lingering look at the dead woman lying sprawled over the dirty, blood-soaked blanket she’d used as a bed then nodded. As they left, the CSU team moved in to examine the body, collect whatever potential evidence they could find, and do whatever else the CSU geeks did.
            Stuck with the worst case of her career, at a total dead end as far as suspects or evidence went, and haunted by the grizzly images of nine skinless women, Neva could only come to one definitive conclusion.
            She needed a drink.
 
***
 
            “How do you skin a person?”
            Mary Robinson took a sip from her Corona and looked across the table to Neva. “I imagine it’s not that much different than skinning a cat, just bigger.”
            “That’s not what I mean,” Neva replied.
            Mary brushed a lock of her short red hair behind her ear and offered Neva a humorless smirk. “I figured. I was just trying to keep the conversation light.”
            “You’re military,” Neva prodded. “Have you ever heard of anything like this?”
            “I think you’re confusing me with one of those scary-ass, nutjob Black Ops people,” Mary countered. “I’m basically a glorified wet nurse. Closest I’ve seen to action is the time Wyldes busted his tail bone while trying to be Axl Rose in the mess hall.” It was a lie, but it flowed past her lips smoothly. And it sounded a hell of a lot better than the old ‘I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you’ line.
            Neva liked Mary. She was surprisingly cool despite the fact that their initial meeting had been more than a little awkward. Neva, in a slightly inebriated state, had attempted to persuade Mary into coming back to her place for a night of debauchery. After politely declining, the two had gotten into a heated discussion over Battlestar Galactica and become drinking buddies.
            “Alright, then,” Neva conceded. “How about some friendly hypothesizing?”
            “Always up for a good round of friendly hypothesizing. Shoot.”
            Neva pushed at the ashtray with her index finger, skidding it across the table in small increments. “What’s like a scalpel but is not a scalpel?”
            “Forty-two?” Mary guessed, raising an eyebrow.
            “It’s not forty-two, you square,” Neva shot back.
            “There’s Exacto knives, box cutters, razor blades.” Mary shrugged. “Plenty of small-sized, painfully sharp instruments to choose from.”
            Neva sighed and chugged down the last of her Jack and Coke. “I hate this case.”
            “Could be worse,” Mary offered.
            Neva lowered her glass and glowered at Mary. “How could it possibly be worse?”
            “At least the skin wasn’t chewed off.” Mary gave her friend a reassuring grin.
            Neva groaned. “On that note, I do believe I need more alcohol.”
 
***
 
            Mary swayed a bit as she made her way down the sidewalk. Her plan of keeping her drinking to a minimum was shot to hell as soon as Neva offered to buy shots. Six shots of vodka later and she was leaving her Aston Martin Vanquish in the bar’s parking lot and stumbling towards home. Honestly, she wasn’t drunk enough that driving would’ve been impossible. But, buzzed driving was drunk driving, apparently, so the car got left behind. Thankfully, her apartment wasn’t far from the bar. Not so thankfully, the path took her through the mostly abandoned industrial section of town.
            She pulled her jacket closer around her lithe form as a cool blast of air washed over her. The vacant storefronts didn’t usually bother her but all the talk of skinless women and sharp things that were not scalpels had her on edge. Mary slipped a hand inside her jacket and felt the reassuring weight of her Beretta 9mm semi-automatic. God bless concealed carry permits, she thought as she rounded a corner.
            Mary’s green eyes wandered up to the dilapidated signs advertising businesses that hadn’t been open in at least ten years. Long before she’d moved down from New England. She sometimes wondered what the shops were like when they’d been open. A jolt of revelation shot through her as her eyes focused on a sign that read ‘Snip’n’Clip Tailoring’.
            “Oh, shit,” she gasped as she reached into her pocket and grabbed her cell phone. She dialed Neva’s home phone and waited through the rings before reaching her answering machine. “Neva, you’ve seriously gotta join us here in the 21st century and get a cell phone. I just solved your riddle. What’s like a scalpel but not a scalpel? That would be a rotary cutter. It’s something they use in sewing to cut fabric.” She shook her head. “That doesn’t matter. It’s totally the weapon you’re looking for.  Maybe.”
            As she talked, Mary stepped closer to the abandoned sewing shop. From within, she heard a woman scream. “Son of a bitch,” she muttered. “Neva, I’m outside of this closed down seamstress shop on 18th street. Snip’n’Clip Tailoring. I just heard a woman scream from inside. When you get this message, slap yourself sober and get down here. I think I just bagged you the Southside Skinner.”
            She ended the call and slipped the cell phone back into her pocket before reaching for her pistol. Technically speaking, she wasn’t supposed to get involved in local police matters. Considering she was armed, trained, and relatively certain a woman was in mortal peril inside the shop, Mary wasn’t about to wait around. “Never a cop around when you need one,” she mumbled before reaching for the door leading into shop. Finding it unlocked, she eased it open and slipped inside.
 
***
 
            The answering machine’s incessant beeping greeted Neva as she entered her small, one-story home. Cursing, she fumbled with her keys, dropped them on the floor, and then swayed further into her house. She hit the play button on the machine and listened as Mary berated her for her lack of cell phone. She made a mental note to ask the geek squad if a rotary cutter would match the wounds found on the bodies.
            Her blood ran cold as Mary said she’d heard a scream from inside the sewing shop.  “Oh, you stupid bitch,” she breathed. “I swear to God, you better not decide to play She-Rambo…”
            Spinning around, Neva felt the effects of the alcohol fading with each passing moment. She scooped her keys off the floor and slammed the door shut behind her as she raced down to her car.
 
***
 
            Mary crept into the tailoring shop. Dust-covered sewing machines and knitting tables crowded the front room. It appeared as if whoever owned the place decided one day that the world just didn’t give a shit about custom tailoring and hand-made clothing and had taken off, leaving the shop to rot.
            After the initial scream, the shop grew deathly quiet. Mary fought against the desire to rush through and take out the sick son of a bitch she suspected was there. She was going in blind and more than slightly inebriated. Such hasty action could prove fatal. Confirming the front room was clear, Mary started towards the back.
            A flashlight would be nice, she thought, trying to force her eyes to adjust to the gloomy interior. As she stepped through the threshold leading to the back room, Mary heard odd noises. Wet tearing sounds permeated the air. The bizarre sounds put Mary’s skin on edge. She licked a bead of sweat from her upper lip. The salty liquid rested on her tongue and made her stomach sour.
            Mary paused as she remembered her phone did have a flashlight feature. She crouched behind a desk and worked the phone free of her pocket. Not wanting to put a bright spotlight on her position until absolutely necessary, she kept the flashlight off for the time being. Working her way around the desk, she spotted an open door leading into the inky abyss of yet another room. The sign above the door listed it as ‘Fabric Storage’.
            There was no doubt the disturbing sounds came from the dark room. Mary raised her gun towards the doorway and rested her wrists against each other, aiming the cell phone away from her with her thumb resting on the button that would trigger the light. The journey from the desk to the door was painstakingly slow. Every soft scuff of her shoes against the floor grated in her ears. She kept her breathing steady but her heart thudded rapidly in her chest as adrenaline rushed through her veins.
            Taking up position at the door, Mary readied herself for whatever might be lurking on the other side. She hit the button and lit up the small storage room in bright LED light. Then she froze. Her mind struggled to comprehend the scene revealed in the cone of illumination. She focused on the young woman first, mostly because it was the only thing she saw that made any kind of sense. The woman was young, maybe twenty-years-old. From the pile of shredded clothing lying next to her body, Mary deduced the woman had been a prostitute.  It wasn’t close enough to Halloween to justify such revealing clothing.
            ‘Had been’ being the operative phrase.
            Now she was so much dead meat, laid out for her murderer’s amusement. Mary attempted to shift her attention to said murderer but her brain still wasn’t up to dealing with the monstrosity so her eyes flicked back to the dead woman. The skin of her neck gaped open from the deep slash across it. Blood oozed slowly from the wound, telling Mary it was fresh. If she’d been only a few minutes earlier, maybe…
            Mary shrugged aside the thought. Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve wasn’t going to help anyone now.
            The miscreation crouched over the dead woman shifted, finally taking notice of the added light in the room.  Hunched over and facing away from Mary, all she could see was rippling back skin, criss-crossed with awkward stitch patterns. The variance in discolored skin tone told her the flesh had been ripped from multiple sources.
            Multiple victims.
            The thing lurched to its feet. Or rather, where its feet should have been. Instead, its legs ended in abrupt wooden stubs. The wooden legs were sculpted to resemble well-toned female calf and thigh muscles, joined by metal joints. The abomination twisted around in a disturbingly awkward fashion, like a newborn baby struggling with arthritis. Its jerky, stuttering movements lacked the fluid grace of a human being.
            Mary felt bile rise up the back of her throat as the creature turned to face her. The female attributes continued in a much more macabre manner. The legs fit into socket joints at the hips and that’s where wood merged with flesh. Just above the mons pubis, a ragged end of skin stretched taut to the wooden abdomen. More stitches crossed the patchwork, splitting the torso into a group of malformed factions, like a morbid geography map.
            The animated horror’s breasts – a stark contrast of milky white and chocolate brown – held a firmness that no human woman’s breasts had. No silicone enhancement in the world kept tits that firm. The skin had been meticulously but sloppily attached to the wooden frame underneath. Several tears showed the monster’s true form. Its lanky arms shifted up, the right covered to the wrist in pilfered skin while the left remained bare up to the shoulder. The ball joint shifted uneasily beneath the thin layer of flesh stapled to it.
            The wooden hands were tipped with a myriad of tools, all used for sewing. Mary spotted the bloodstained rotary cutter taking the place of an index finger and felt only a brief glimmer of satisfaction at having her suspicions confirmed. But even the creature’s vicious, blood-soaked ‘hands’ were nothing compared to the dreadfulness of its face. It had the general mold of a human face but none of the details. The expressionless face stared hard at the woman who’d dared to intrude on its grizzly work. It had no eyes but Mary was certain it could somehow see her.
            Choking down the scream eager to rip free of her lungs, Mary raised her weapon, sighted it on the center of mass just like they’d taught her in boot camp and pulled the trigger. The gun jumped in her hand, filling the small room with a deafening blast. Skin tore and wood fractured as the 9mm slug impacted the creature’s chest and put a hole through the pale breast.
            The Southside Skinner recoiled from Mary’s assault, lurching back on its stubbed feet before surging forward. Rusted joints thirsty for oil groaned as it stumbled and twitched towards her with surprising speed. Mary fired again. More wood splintered as the bullet punctured the thing’s midsection. In her rush to back through the door, Mary’s feet tangled against each other and she dropped. She winced as her ass knocked against the hard floor. A moment later, the monstrosity reached her.
            Mary cried out as the sharp tip of the seam ripper speared through the back of her left hand, sending her gun flying into the darkness. She dropped her phone, the light shifting to create jagged shadows across her attacker’s body. She reached for the seam ripper in an attempt to pull her hand free. Before her fingers closed the distance, the creature’s left hand came at her. She caught a quick glimpse of gnashing blades before the pinking shears closed on her hand. Her scream ripped through the air, mingling with the crunch of her bones. Mary’s pinkie, ring and middle fingers fell free from her hand, bounced off her chest and fell to the floor.
            The Skinner forced its surprising strength on Mary, pushing her flat to her back. She glared up at the thing through tearful eyes. It twitched and jerked on top of her, its movements conveying perverted excitement as it lifted its hand over her head. She strained to push the thing away, pressing her mostly fingerless left hand against its chest. In a horrifying moment of clarity, Mary realized she was cupping the curve of the monster’s perverted tit. She pushed harder but despite the thing’s unnatural convulsions, it held firm.
            Mary spat and covered the Skinner’s passive face with a thick wad of saliva. “Fuck you, you piece of – “
            Her curse ended as the point of the stitching awl slammed through her left eye. Mary’s body jumped as the thin rod of steel cracked through her sphenoid bone and skewered her frontal lobe. The Skinner stabbed deeper into her, twisting the tool from side to side and thoroughly scrambling Mary’s brain. She fell into a series of spasms not unlike those of her killer as what remained of her grey matter attempted to function.
            Yanking the gore-covered stitching awl free of Mary’s skull, the Southside Skinner leaned in close to her. It surveyed her slack face and unseeing eye, studying her with painstaking precision.
 
***
 
            “Goddamn one way streets,” Neva cursed as she came to a screeching halt in front of Snip’n’Clip Tailoring. She checked the magazine in her service pistol and chambered a round. Jumping out of the car, she spotted the door to the shop hanging open. She checked her watch as she headed for the entrance. Thirty minutes had passed since Mary’s call. A lot could happen in thirty minutes. The fact that her friend wasn’t sitting on the sidewalk, waiting for her to arrive didn’t bode well.
            Slipping her flashlight free of her pocket, Neva clicked it on. “St. Pete police,” she called through the open door. “If you don’t want your ass shot off, make your presence known. Post haste.”
            No response.
            No, that would be way too easy, Neva thought, entering the darkened shop.
 
***
 
            The Skinner worked its rotary cutter attachment around the top of Mary’s thigh. The razor-sharp blade easily sliced through her smooth skin. Only a minimal amount of blood slowly oozed from the cut. Hooking the tip of its seam ripper under the loose flap, the possessed mannequin pealed the skin away, exposing the glistening crimson of naked muscles.
            “Shit!”
            The Fabric Storage room contrasted greatly from rest of the dust-smothered shop. Neva’s high-powered flashlight left no corner of the gore-spattered room untouched. Strips of unused flesh adorned the blood-stained walls. A partially skinned corpse lay sprawled on the fabric table, while a second had been thrown against a nearby wall. The disheveled red hair of the body lying on the table gave Neva a horrifying clue as to its identity.
            “You son of a bitch!” Neva fired into the thing crouched over Mary’s corpse. The heavy slugs slammed into the thick wood of the Skinner’s back. The thing lurched up and spun around. As it moved forward into the beam of the flashlight, Neva’s trigger finger froze. Her heart thudded in her chest as she tried to accept the image before her. Stapled hastily over the front of the mannequin’s head, the mutilated visage of Mary’s face stared at the new intruder with blank, wooden eyes.
            The shocked hesitation nearly cost Neva her life. The sting of pain brought her back to the situation she found herself in. Her flashlight dropped as she pulled her gouged hand away, hot blood trickling down her wrist. She snapped her aim to the mannequin’s outstretched left arm and blasted its multitude of bloody tools into useless bits and pieces. Neva cried out as the scissors on the thing’s right hand punctured her stomach.
            Jumping back, the scissors tore free of Neva’s gut, leaving a deep gash. Falling backwards, she fired blindly, emptying her magazine. Several of the shots plunked into the mannequin’s torso but the rest went wild. In a horrifying moment of slow motion clarity, Neva noticed one of the slugs strike Mary’s body, plugging a dark hole through her side.
            Backpedaling, Neva crashed into a sewing table, knocking the unused machine off its perch and rolling over it. She hit the floor hard and winced as pain shot from her gut. Something slippery and snake-like bulged from the hole and she fought the urge to prod it back inside.
            The Skinner shoved the sewing table aside and launched itself at Neva. The detective gripped the thing’s wrist, stopping the rotary blade less than an inch from her nose. Sweat dripped into her eye and she blinked it away. Working her leg up, she planted her foot against the thing’s midsection and kicked out. It flew back, smashing into the wall and dislodging a framed picture. Glass shattered, underscored by the creaking of the mannequin’s rusted joints as it worked itself back to an upright position.
            Scrambling to her feet, Neva looked for her gun. Between the shadows and the clutter, it was impossible to find the weapon. The screeching of metal on metal filled her ears as the Skinner closed the distance on her. In a moment of desperate inspiration, Neva gripped the fallen sewing machine and hefted the weight. She spun around, bringing the machine up and slamming it into the mannequin’s face.
            A ragged tear opened on Mary’s stolen face and for the first time, the abomination paused. Not wanting to miss her chance, Neva launched herself forward, lifting the sewing machine high and bringing it down hard on the mannequin’s forehead. Neva heard a sharp crack and watched the thing stumble backwards before collapsing to the ground. Its limbs jerked out, even less coordinated than they had been originally.
            Dropping onto the thing’s chest, Neva let out a primal scream as she bashed the mannequin’s head in. Skin shredded and wood shattered with each blow until finally the monster was reduced back to the lifelessness it was meant to have. Neva let the sewing machine fall from her shaking hands. Cold sweat covered her wan face. Swallowing and taking in a deep breath, she managed to calm her nerves just enough to avoid passing out.
            Neva stared down at the shattered face of the mannequin. “What the fuck are you?”
 
***
 
            By the time Karr arrived with backup, Neva found an answer to her question. She doubted anyone would believe it. Hell, she had a hard time believing it, despite having just smashed the thing’s face into so much kindling.
            “Way to play things by the book, Martelli,” Karr called from the small office’s open door.
            “Eat me, Karr,” Neva shot back, her eyes fixed on the scattered papers covering the desk. Schematics of mannequins, lists of supplies, and step-by-step instructions on how to create a golem were the contents of most of the paperwork. They explained – albeit poorly – the how.
            But not the why.
            That Neva discovered in a separate folder. A death certificate for one Carol Ford, dated roughly three months ago. The timeline fit. But where was the loving husband? Fredrick Ford, owner of Snip’n’Clip Tailoring, was nowhere to be found. Hadn’t been seen since his wife’s untimely demise at the hands of a drunk driver.
            The throb in her gut told Neva the questions would have to wait. The department would sweep the whole ‘killer mannequin’ story under the rug. They’d probably even issue a warrant for Fredrick Ford’s arrest, citing him as the Southside Skinner. That was fine for the official record. It would clear the unsolved murders from under Neva’s name and free up her time to investigate the case unofficially.
            Setting the papers back on the desk, Neva cringed as she got to her feet. “Make sure the dorks in the lab coats bag all this shit.” She pushed past Karr and headed outside where the ambulance waited. Not waiting for the paramedics to slice her shirt into oblivion, she unbuttoned it and slid it off. Sure enough, a piece of her small intestine protruded from the vicious gash in her stomach.
            Lying back on the gurney, Neva let out a sigh. “Drug me up, stitch me up, and send me back out there, Doc. The game’s far from over.”



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  Nibbles
Posted by: BoonScrublord - 05-28-2020, 08:05 PM - Forum: Books/Stories - No Replies

[Image: attachment.php?aid=43]
Nibbles
By Indy McDaniel
 
Cover art by Bryce Wolfe
 
(originally published in SNM Horror Magazine – Issue 34, February 2011)
 


 
            If anything, the level of insanity at Jackson’s Halloween party had doubled since the previous year. It was a miracle the cops hadn’t shown up yet, with the thudding bass lines causing the penthouse apartment’s walls to vibrate. Already an expensive piece of art had rattled its way free of the screw holding it up and crashed to the faux hardwood floor. The apartment was crowded with decadence and debauchery. Drugs and alcohol flowed freely and everyone was partaking. Cheers and catcalls filled the air as one particularly inebriated young woman decided it was time for the top half of her Catwoman costume to take a hike. Light glistened off of her sweat-covered chest and the twin metal barbells piercing her nipples. And topless Catwoman wasn’t even the most outrageous event taking place.
            Instead of a place to watch action flicks in high-definition, the couch had become the center stage for an ecstasy-induced three-way. One lucky man and a pair of frisky females enjoyed the pleasures of each other. All three participants had lost the majority of their costumes. The man, who’d arrived at the party wearing a Jason Voorhees mask and carrying a blood-stained plastic machete, was down to his boots. The mask rested on the top of his head and the machete floated in the heavily spiked punch bowl. His stiff member was buried to the hilt inside the Bride of Frankenstein’s ass. Her shroud was open wide, exposing her milky flesh. Sweat caused her white makeup to run and by now her hair wasn’t nearly as erect as the man she rode. A female Harry Potter crouched between their legs, her shirt unbuttoned so she could tug at her nipples and her pants and underwear were bundled at her ankles. Between licks, she moaned into the Bride’s crotch as she used her wand as a masturbatory aid.
            The graphic three-way gained a group of drunken voyeurs, some of which had their camera phones aimed at the scene. Still more party goers danced to the beats the DJ blasted, bumping and grinding against each other. The party was the pinnacle of sin manifested. Not a soul was left out. Except for a single woman by the name of Frankie. She kept to the edge of the mass of insanity, watching the antics but only sipping at her Corona. Her costume was low-key in multiple ways. She wore a bright orange, long-sleeve shirt with ‘Cheap Costume’ emblazoned on the front in spooky, black lettering. Baggy jeans and orange Converse sneakers made up the rest of her outfit. A black masquerade mask obscured her face and finished off the ensemble.
            Frankie’s eyes lingered on the pleasure-filled face of the Bride. She wished she could cut loose like that. Strip down in public and fuck not just one but two people on a couch while a group of spectators cheered her on. But that just wasn’t who she was. If the Bride and Company were the life of the party, Frankie was the death. She didn’t consider herself a buzz killer – although there were others who might have disagreed – she just wasn’t the type to throw caution to the wind and lose control. Which raised the question, why the hell was she even at this damn party?
            The answer lay in a single person. Her friend and roommate, Julie, invited her. Knowing how out of control Julie could be, and having heard more than a few stories about Jackson’s previous Halloween extravaganzas, Frankie decided it might be best if she went along to keep an eye on her friend. So that’s what she was doing. So far, Julie had chugged down several O-Bombs, a couple Jell-O shots and flirted with about half of the people at the party but she’d managed to keep her clothes on. Knowing Julie, that was quite an accomplishment, especially considering the number of others who were in varying stages of nudity.
            Sipping at her beer, Frankie decided to have one more and then make her first attempt to disentangle Julie from her Knight in Shining Armor. Seriously, the guy was dressed as a Knight in Shining Armor. Frankie rolled her eyes and looked away from her friend shoving her tongue halfway down the Knight’s throat. Sometimes she wondered if she was the only sane person left in the world. Chugging down the last swallow of her Corona, Frankie turned and headed for the full bar. Jackson himself was tending. He seemed to be the only one besides Frankie content to simply watch the insanity unfold. She lifted the empty bottle up to him. “Need me a recharge.”
            “Sure you don’t want anything harder?” Jackson asked, a handsome smirk forming on his roguish face. The man was attractive, even Frankie had to admit that. And he knew he was attractive, that was clear. What she found strange was, of all the shit-faced, morally bankrupt women in his apartment, for some reason, Jackson was flirting with her.
            “I am immune to your good looks and witty pick-up lines, good sir,” Frankie said firmly with just a hint of playfulness. “Besides, I’m the designated driver. Beyond that, if I get smashed, who’s gonna make sure Julie doesn’t do the Time Warp in her birthday suit whilst attempting to discover how many hotdogs she can fit in her mouth at one time. And by hotdogs, I don’t necessarily mean the processed sausage links you’ve got in the fridge.”
            Jackson laughed, popping the cap off a fresh bottle of Corona and sliding it across the bar to Frankie. “It’s a party. More importantly, it’s a Halloween party. Most importantly, it’s my Halloween party.”
            “Not following your argument,” Frankie replied, taking a sip from her beer.
            Jackson leaned forward against the bar, locking his sparkling blue eyes with Frankie’s pale green ones. “I’ll break it down for you. Parties are about having fun. Halloween is about losing yourself, cutting loose, washing away inhibitions and exploring your darkest, most repressed inner urges. And my Halloween parties are the most extreme of both, blended together and sprayed over the walls like guts through an industrial wood chipper.”
            “Nice visual.”
            Jackson grinned. “Well, Halloween’s also about horror stories. All good horror stories have a bit of gore.”
            “Clearly, you’ve never been exposed to any true, old school horror,” Frankie shot back. “Light on the ground up guts, heavy on the atmosphere.”
            “I’m all about atmosphere, fair maiden,” he said with a wink.
            Frankie had to give him credit for his persistence. She took a long drink of Corona and glanced over to confirm Julie was alright. She had her hand buried in her Knight’s codpiece but aside from that, she seemed fine. Frankie turned back to Jackson. “Oh yea, man. You’ve got the atmosphere of a hardcore 70’s porno flick going on in here.”
            Jackson shrugged. “I can hardly be held accountable for the actions of my guests.” He sat up from the bar and extended an arm to the side, motioning towards a closed door that led to his bedroom. “If you’ll join me, I’ll treat you to a much more subtle atmosphere.”
            Frankie gave Jackson a skeptical look. She looked out at the party again, swigging more beer into her mouth. The buzz of the alcohol was starting to affect her. She’d skipped dinner and after a couple beers, she could feel the effects. She rolled Jackson’s invitation over in her head before turning back to him and giving a nod. “Alright. But just to warn you ahead of time, I know Kung Fu, motherfucker. So keep your hands where they belong.”
            Jackson laughed and led the way to his bedroom. Frankie chugged down the rest of her Corona and set the empty bottle on the bar before following after him. The transition from the chaotic living room to the bedroom was shocking. When Jackson closed the door, the music was nearly silenced. He hadn’t lied; the place was a prime example of subtle taste. The signs of Jackson’s inherited wealth were evident, as they were throughout his high rise apartment, but not blatant enough to seem condescending.
            Looking over the collection of art pieces, memories of the Art History class she’d attended in college fluttered through Frankie’s mind. The style of the decorations differed greatly from the public displays in the living area. The history of the pieces was more obscure but infinitely more intriguing. She leaned forward to examine a small statue sitting on the dresser. Before she realized, her fingers brushed against the polished ivory. “From Africa, isn’t it?”
            Moving beside her, Jackson nodded. “Yes, that was a particularly lucky find.”
            The statue was a female figure, her body naked and voluptuous. It would have been beautiful if not for the face. Constricted into an open-mouthed look of rage, the expression sent a shiver of fear trickling down Frankie’s spine. “I’m not familiar with this particular idol.”
            “No, you wouldn’t be,” Jackson explained. “It’s from an obscure indigenous tribe. This is their Goddess. The stories say she’s a powerful and vengeful woman, capable of asserting dominance over whatever she desires.”
            Frankie smirked, her finger running over one of the idol’s stiff nipples. “Now that’s the kind of power a girl can really admire.”
            “It’s said her mating rituals resemble those of the praying mantis,” Jackson said. He rested a hand at the small of Frankie’s back, his fingers rubbing against her through the fabric of her shirt.
            In her fascination, Frankie hardly noticed the physical intrusion. She leaned in closer, staring into the face, noting the razor-sharp teeth in the idol’s mouth. “You mean…”
            “After sex, she devoured her mates,” Jackson confirmed. “Still, it was considered an honor to be chosen for such an act.”
            “Twisted,” Frankie muttered, her voice slurring. That last beer was kicking in. Her head swam heavily. Her eyelids lowered and when she blinked she became acutely aware of Jackson’s hand on her. She turned to him, intending to smack him away, but as she looked up into his eyes, the urge faded. It had been so long since she’d let anyone get close. Hell, she hadn’t even had a decent one-night-stand in more than six months.
            Maybe it was the desire to end the drought of her sex life. Maybe it was all that talk about Halloween parties and letting out inner desires. Maybe it was the African idol and the feminine power she represented. Whatever the reason, Frankie’s actions remained the same. She leaned forward, arching onto the tips of her toes, and kissed Jackson on the lips. The kiss deepened almost immediately. Frankie placed her hands on Jackson’s shoulders, helping her stay on her toes. His hands slid down, cupping the cheeks of her ass and squeezing them.
            Frankie moaned into his mouth, feeling her brain grow foggy. It wasn’t until the back of her legs touched against the foot of Jackson’s bed that she realized they’d moved. He lowered her gently down onto the mattress. The soft fabric of his comforter tickled her skin. She reached down, trying to get her fingers to work the button on her jeans but found the task far more difficult than it should have been. Her limbs felt like they were filled with lead, her finger tips numb, and her head swam with happy thoughts and the urge to close her eyes and drift off to sleep.
            As she got her pants open, Frankie’s arms fell to her sides and her eyes slipped closed. Her breathing grew deep as she fell into a drug-induced slumber. Standing over her, Jackson surveyed the unconscious woman lying on his bed. Her peaceful face partially concealed by the mask she wore, lips parted slightly. Her short, dark hair lay messily around her head. With her pants open, he caught just a hint of her light blue panties, a stark contrast to all the orange she wore. Every year, he picked one lucky lady to join him in his bed. And while he’d decided on Frankie the moment he’d laid eyes on her, she’d been less than enthusiastic about his advances. The simple addition of rohypnol and ecstasy to her last Corona took care of that road block.
            Leaning over her prone form, Jackson pushed her mask up onto her forehead, revealing her face. He kissed her slack lips, forcing his tongue into her mouth and swirling it around for a moment before pulling back.  Taking up where Frankie left off, Jackson worked her pants further open. Slipping her Converse shoes off, he let her keep her socks, then slid her jeans down to her ankles. He hooked his fingers into the waistband of her panties, holding his breath as he slowly eased them down to reveal Frankie’s most intimate area. With her panties bunched up with her pants, Jackson pushed her milky thighs apart. He eyed her clean-shaven crotch, feeling a familiar tingling in his pants. She was perfect. Her skin flawless.
            Standing, he stripped out of his clothes, taking his time. He meticulously folded each garment and pilled them on a nearby chair. Finally, he stood nude before Frankie’s unconscious form, his cock standing firmly at attention.
            Moving onto the bed, Jackson positioned himself over Frankie. She shifted in her sleep, letting out a groan. Jackson froze, staring down at her hard. When he was convinced she wasn’t going to wake up, he lowered himself onto her. Gripping her chin, he forced her to face him and kissed her again. His other hand moved down between them. First, he rubbed between her legs, feeling the warm moistness of her drugged arousal there. Once he was satisfied with Frankie’s level of lubrication, Jackson took hold of his erection and guided the tip to her entrance.
            “If only you hadn’t been such a fucking prude,” Jackson snarled, his polite demeanor gone. “Then maybe you’d get to enjoy this.” He thrust forward, burying his full length inside her. Frankie released a soft moan and shifted again. Taking a moment to grow accustomed to her tightness, Jackson worked a hand up under her long-sleeved shirt. His fingers traced over her stomach, moving further north to the twin mounds of flesh on her chest. As his hand covered the cup of her bra, he could feel the hard nub of her nipple protruding against the fabric.
            Jackson wasn’t much of a tits man, hence why Frankie’s modest mounds didn’t bother him. And even though he could appreciate the inherit beauty of a well-formed ass, he could really take them or leave them. The one bit of the female form that absolutely drove Jackson wild was nipples. Each one was unique and just the sight of them sent him into a heightened level of sexual frenzy. And by the feel of it, Frankie had marvelous nipples. The kind that could cut glass. The kind Jackson loved most. But before revealing them, he wanted to feel them. To read her like a blind man read braille. 
            Tugging down the cups of her bra, he ran the tips of his fingers over Frankie’s right nipple. A look of confusion crossed Jackson’s face. Instead of the fleshy, pliant nub he expected, her nipple was as hard as rock. He began to trace over it, exploring the unnatural stiffness. Reaching the tip, he winced as he felt the sharpness prick his finger. “What the fu – “
            The tip of Frankie’s nipple parted open and surged forward, clamping down around Jackson’s digit. His words transformed into a shriek of pain as he lost half of his index finger to Frankie’s right tit. Yanking his hand out from under her shirt, he stared in horror at the bloody stump of his finger. His eyes shifted to the drugged girl’s chest. The mounds of her breasts undulated unnaturally under her shirt. Unable to accept the possibility that he’d just had half his finger snapped off by some bitch’s nipple, Jackson tugged Frankie’s shirt up.
            As he bared her breasts, Jackson let out a yell of shocked horror. Instead of natural nipples – the kind he enjoyed viewing, pinching, sucking and nibbling on – Frankie’s were comprised of three ivory fangs, coming together at the tip. Jackson watched as the teeth opened and closed anxiously, clattering together. The right one still chewed on the piece of finger it liberated from Jackson’s hand, crunching through the bone and shredding the flesh before sucking it down into Frankie’s breast. In her slumber, Frankie let out another moan, a small smile of satisfaction forming on her face.
            “What the fuck are you?!” Jackson yelled down at the sleeping woman.
            In response, her monstrous nipples snapped fully open. Demonic hissing came from their maws. Filled with a fear he’d never before experienced, Jackson moved back. His penis slipped limply free from Frankie. Before he could turn and leap from the bed to run screaming back to the safety of his Halloween party, tendrils shot forth from the open mouths of Frankie’s monstrous nipples. One clamped down over Jackson’s own nipple, small teeth burrowing in deep. The other – Frankie’s right nipple – snagged hold of his forehead. He screamed as razor sharp fangs bit into his face, embedding themselves into the bone of his skull.
            Jackson struggled to pull away from the tendrils. He grabbed hold of them and tried to yank them away, but the teeth were too snuggly entrenched. Then they gave a yank of their own, pulling Jackson back down on top of Frankie. Tears streaked from his wide, terror-filled eyes as he watched the tiny mouth on the apex of Frankie’s right tit part open further. He struggled and beat against Frankie’s chest, trying to get himself free.
            Forced to stare into the glistening interior of Frankie’s breast, Jackson saw row upon row of teeth protruding from the inner walls. The muscles twitched with eager anticipation as the tendril drew the man’s head ever closer to the waiting orifice. Jackson screamed into the gaping maw of Frankie’s breast, feeling a wave of humid air tinged with the scent of sour milk wash over him. Her flesh parted wider. Darkness filled his vision as the tendril pulled him face first into the cavernous breast and then released its hold on him. Jackson barely had time to realize his freedom before the toothy walls of Frankie’s tit closed around him.
            Jackson’s screams ended abruptly, replaced by a wet crunching sound as the majority of his face was ripped away. His body jerked as a large chunk of his frontal lobe was torn out. He fell limp against Frankie, giving off sporadic death twitches. Piss squirted from the tip of his soft penis, staining the expensive bedding. Frankie’s voracious breasts continued to feed, working the would-be rapist bit by bit into their gnashing mouths.
 
***
 
            Frankie yawned. She didn’t remember drinking enough the night before to warrant the painful pounding in her head. In fact, she couldn’t recall much beyond…
            Kissing Jackson?
            Her eyes snapped open and she immediately regretted it. The morning sun creeping through the blinds was enough to enrage her sore brain. Squinting, she looked around the room, confirming it was Jackson’s. With dread in her gut, she looked down. A crimson sheet covered her body. With the hangover and disorientation, it took her a moment to realize the sheet hadn’t always been crimson. Reluctantly, she pulled the sheet away. Underneath, she found herself mostly nude. Her shirt pulled up and her pants and underwear around her ankles.
            But that wasn’t the worst thing. Dried blood caked her chest and stomach. “Son of a bitch,” she muttered, shoving the sheet off the bed and sitting up. “Not again!” She looked down at the toothy protrusions on her breasts. The right one opened briefly to let out a soft burp then settled back down.
            Frankie didn’t know why she was different from other girls but she’d been living with the nightmare since puberty. While other girls shopped for push up bras, Frankie bought sports tape in bulk. Not knowing what to do, she’d kept her breasts taped down. She hadn’t discovered the true horror of the deformities until losing her virginity to Danny Dolan in the back of his Cadillac senior year. He’d been sweet. Even when she’d taken her top off and revealed her condition, he hadn’t called her a freak. It wasn’t until he was staring in horror at the bloody stump where his right hand had been that he used that term.
            Frankie had cried. Danny had died. After that, she hadn’t shown her breasts to anyone. Sex was a strictly shirt-on procedure and usually, she’d tape them down just to be safe. No tape last night. And now no Jackson in the morning.
            Placing her hands on her breasts, she hefted them, feeling the weight of their increased size. Starving them hadn’t helped. They hadn’t left so much as a scrap of Jackson uneaten. And now her once unassertive breasts were bordering on sleazy porn star size. They’d shrink eventually but in the meantime, Frankie would have to dig her heavy college sweatshirt out of her closet so she didn’t draw any unwanted attention to her bulging bosom.
            Frankie scooted out of the blood-soaked bed and took a quick shower in Jackson’s private bath. Once she was clean, she got her clothes back on and exited the bedroom. Hopefully, the bloodstains would be seen as part of her Halloween costume and not as evidence of the bizarre murder she’d committed the previous night. She found Julie passed out amidst three men, all of them naked. So much for keeping an eye on her, Frankie thought as she shook her friend back to semi-consciousness. “C’mon,” she said, pulling a stumbling Julie towards the exit. “Time to leave.”
            “Yea, alright,” Julie slurred, still drunk from the previous night’s indulgences. She tugged her top on and hopped on one foot as she slipped on her heels. “Hey, did you get a boob job last night?”
            Grimacing, Frankie didn’t reply. She pulled Julie into the elevator with her and hit the button for the parking garage. “I seriously fucking hate Halloween,” she muttered as the doors slid closed.



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  A Science Experiment
Posted by: BoonScrublord - 05-28-2020, 08:04 PM - Forum: Books/Stories - No Replies

[Image: attachment.php?aid=42]
A Science Experiment
By Indy McDaniel
 
Cover art by Bryce Wolfe
 
(originally published in Zombies Gone Wild! Anthology, Collaboration of the Dead Press)


 
            Tom was starting to rethink the decision to sell his body to science for extra money. At first, things had seemed relatively decent. He’d been taken to an examination room and given a full physical. The doctor – a woman named Julia Caine – had performed the physical, which had been a bit awkward. Normally, the only doctors Tom stripped his skivvies for were men.
            But Dr. Caine was the head of the project that Tom was going to be a part of, so she oversaw every aspect of it. It didn’t help matters that she was a rather striking woman. Tom kept his eyes averted as she examined him and tried to keep his thoughts pure. It managed to work and as soon as she was finished, he was quick to get his clothes back on.
            Tom hadn’t been on a date in almost a year since his last relationship fell apart. Irreconcilable differences, Becca had said. You’re a cheating bitch, Tom had replied. Friends and linen had been divided and everyone went on their merry way. Which was fine except that Tom hadn’t had as much as a one night stand in the year that followed. Maybe once the experiment was over he’d ask Dr. Caine if she was interested in getting a drink or two with him.
            That had been on the first day. Now it was several later and Tom could say, without a doubt, that he more or less hated Dr. Julia Caine and her stupid experiment. After the physical, he’d been taken into another room, forced to strip again and given a white jumpsuit. His street clothes were tossed into a small garbage bag and carried out of the room by an orderly. Tom hadn’t been too happy about that but at least he’d understood it.
            Being locked in a room with no windows or furniture aside from a small cot, a toilet, and a sink he didn’t understand at all. Isolation, sure. But not even a fucking window? Not even a book to read? Shit, even shitty roadside motels gave you a window and a worn out copy of the Bible. Every inch of the room was painted a bright white. Overhead were fluorescent lights that shone down on him all day until Dr. Caine or whoever was in charge of the lights decided it was time to go to bed. Then Tom was doused in darkness. One night, he’d been right in the middle of taking a shit. He’d yelled for them to turn the lights back on for another minute or two so he could at least wipe properly but if anybody could actually hear him, they didn’t respond.
            Orderlies delivered meals to him a couple times a day, or at least that’s what he assumed. Without a watch or a window, it was hard to tell time. And the meals were piss poor. If hospital food was bland – and it was – then the shit they were serving Tom was like bland’s inbred cousin from the Deep South – which it was. He’d attempted conversation with the orderlies the first few times they’d come in but it was like talking to a brick wall. Only the brick wall probably looked prettier than the fugly orderlies working for Doc Caine. When casual conversation proved fruitless, he’d attempted to goad them into some kind of response with insults.
            “You ever see that flick, CHUD?” he’d said to a portly woman who looked as though someone had taken a belt sander to her face. “Well, I’d sooner fuck one of those things than stick my dick anywhere near one of your orifices. I mean, seriously, where did that doctor bitch find you people? 1-800-Fuck-Ugly?”
            He hadn’t gotten a reply but he was pretty sure the orderlies started to spit in his food after that.
            Every once in a while, Dr. Caine would come to talk to him. She told him that she was sorry for making him wait but other aspects of the experiment were taking longer than expected to prepare. She assured him that they would need him soon and that his payment would be increased for the extended time he’d been detained. Tom didn’t much give a shit about the money anymore. Buying that kickass new stereo system he’d had his eye on didn’t seem nearly as rewarding now. He was going stir crazy and rather pissed off at having been held like a prisoner.
            Dr. Caine told him that it was necessary to ensure he wasn’t tainted in any way. The experiment required him to be in top shape and they needed to keep him in a controlled environment to do that. Another thing Tom couldn’t care less about. He was trying to remember why he’d found the woman attractive before. She was cold, haughty, and a real bitch. He’d told her as much one day. She simply nodded, made a note on the clipboard she was always carrying with her, and left the room.
            Tom couldn’t be sure but he assumed it took almost three weeks before Dr. Caine said they were finally ready for him. By that time, his mind was too shot from lack of human contact that he wasn’t even angry anymore. He didn’t care what they did to him at that point as long as they let him leave the damn room. Dr. Caine and two orderlies – one of them the ugly CHUD bitch – escorted him out of the room and down a series of hallways before they arrived at a set of double doors. Dr. Caine entered with Tom and the orderlies right behind.
            The room was a well-sized laboratory. There were machines and vials of strange liquid, none of which Tom knew anything about. Science hadn’t been his best subject in school. Dr. Caine moved over to a table with various instruments, Tom following along behind. The orderlies remained at the door, standing on either side. Caine picked up a bottle of iodine and a cotton swab, dousing the swab before wiping it against the side of Tom’s neck.
            Before he could ask what she was doing, she’d set the iodine down, tossed the swab in a small trash can, and picked up a large syringe filled with a blue liquid that seemed to be glowing slightly. She turned back to Tom and extended the syringe, jabbing the needle into his neck and injecting him. Tom stumbled back from her, reaching a hand up to his neck and placing it over the injection spot. Already he could feel the liquid burning inside him.
            In that moment, Tom lost it. The weeks of isolation and shitty food had built up his anger and now having some strange shit injected into him without so much as a word of explanation or, fuck, even warning had him seeing red. He lowered his hand from his neck, clenching it into a fist. His face contorted into a look of rage, focused solely on the bitch of a doctor before him.
            Tom lunged at Dr. Caine, grabbing for her throat. He didn’t know what the crazy bitch had put into him but he already didn’t like it. His fingers tightened around her neck. Her eyes went wide with shock, her fingers digging at his hands, trying to pull them away. Tom squeezed harder, wanting to choke the life out of the bitch who’d locked him up for who knew how long and then injected him with some kind of shit that would do who knew what to him. He saw her face growing red, her mouth gaping open, trying to suck in air through her constricted windpipe. Tom grinned like a madman and began to scream at her. “Die, you bitch! Fucking die!”
            Sharp pain flared through Tom’s head and he fell forward. His hands released Dr. Caine and he found himself falling against her. His mind vaguely processed that his hands slid along her breasts before he dropped to the floor, stunned. The orderlies stood over him, the CHUD-looking one holding onto a billy club. Tom swore he saw a look of smug satisfaction on her face. “I may have a concussion,” Tom muttered. “But you’re still too ugly to fuck.”
            The smug look transformed into anger and the orderly raised the billy club to strike him again. Dr. Caine coughed and sucked in precious air, rubbing at her bruised throat. She stepped between Tom and the enraged orderly before she had time to knock his skull in. “Thank you, Phyllis,” she said, her eyes locked on Tom. “Return the patient to his room. We should see the results shortly.”
            “What results?” Tom asked as the orderlies grabbed hold of him and lifted him to his feet. “What fucking results, you repressed bitch?!” Dr. Caine didn’t answer, watching as the orderlies dragged him out of the laboratory and down the hall.
            He was flung into his room and fell to the floor, feeling incredibly weak. His neck was throbbing painfully. He touched a hand against it. The skin was swollen and hot where he’d been injected. What the hell had she put in him? He could feel his head starting to pound as a vicious migraine started to torment him. Tom curled himself into a ball, wrapping his arms over his head in attempt to block out the piercing lights overhead. Squeezing his eyes shut so tightly that tears streaked from them, all Tom could feel was the pain in his head and neck. He wasn’t sure how long it lasted, but at some point he blacked out.
 
***
 
            When Tom came to, the first thing that struck him was a wave of nausea. Climbing to his hands and knees resulted in a blast of dizziness that didn’t help his stomach any. Scrambling for the toilet, Tom buried his head in the bowl and heaved, pulling up what little remained of his last meal. He continued to heave even after his stomach was empty, thick strands of mucus dripping from his lips into the bowl.
            Finally, when the feeling passed, Tom collapsed away from the toilet, back to the floor. The hell with flushing, let it rot in there, he thought. He quickly regretted the decision as the stink of his puke began to tickle at his nostrils. He attempted to reach up to hit the flusher but was too weak to manage it. Instead, he settled for rolling away from the toilet as far as he was able.
            The nausea was gone but now there was a sharp pain in his gut. His head was still pounding, although not as bad as before. His jumpsuit was soaked through with sweat which only made the already uncomfortable clothing that much more unbearable. He yanked at the zipper, managing to get it down and squirm out of it. The feel of the cool recycled air on his naked flesh was soothing.
            Touching a hand to his forehead he could feel he was burning up. Some kind of new virus was all he could think. That’s what the bitch injected me with. Biological warfare or some shit. Too weak to move, Tom lay there for a while before passing out again.
 
***
 
            Dr. Caine checked her watch. It had been almost twelve hours since her subject received his injection. The changes should have been about finished if things had gone according to plan. If they hadn’t…
            Well, wash, rinse and repeat.
            Finishing up the tuna sandwich she’d gotten for lunch, the doctor wiped her mouth and sipped some soda before getting up from her desk and exiting her lab. She could feel a tingle of excitement fill her. Normally, she was quite reserved when it came to most things but now she was almost giddy. She imagined it was only natural. After all, she’d been working on her experiment for almost ten years and now it might finally show some real progress.
            Stopping in front of the door that led into Tom’s room, Dr. Caine tapped in the code to unlock the door then grasped the handle. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, preparing herself for whatever might now be waiting behind the door. Then she opened it. Stepping inside, she let the door swing shut behind her. At first, she didn’t see her patient. Then she caught movement under the cot. He’d pulled himself underneath and curled into a ball. She took a step closer and spoke to him, her voice soft, although a bit hoarse from the choking he’d given her earlier. “Tom? It’s Dr. Julia Caine. Can you hear me?”
            The only response was an unintelligible groan and more shifting under the cot. Caine grew worried. Maybe the experiment hadn’t worked properly. He wasn’t supposed to be acting like this. She took another step closer. “Tom?” she tried again with a similar response. She had to see what had happened to him. Walking to the cot, she knelt down and looked under it at the naked man wedged underneath. His back was to her, which didn’t help. Reaching under the cot, she grabbed hold of his shoulder and tugged him towards her.
            With blinding speed, Tom spun around and lashed out at Dr. Caine, striking her across the face and sending her thick-rimmed glasses flying across the room to smash against the wall. She stumbled backwards, falling on her ass. Shaking off the shock of the hard hit, she pushed herself away from Tom as quickly as possible. Her vision was blurred without her glasses but she could imagine the details as Tom scrambled out from under the cot, rising to his feet.
            He was covered in a thick sheen of sweat from head to toe. His hair was a tangled mess. But those were the least dramatic changes. His muscles had taken on tone and definition that he hadn’t had before. Even the way he stood was different. Instead of the half-slouch Tom usually had, he was standing tall and poised to pounce at the nearest prey. And at the moment, the nearest prey was Dr. Julia Caine.
            Warm wetness dribbled down Dr. Caine’s face from the gash left there by Tom’s strike. As the woman crawled backwards, Tom advanced. It wasn’t long before her back pressed up against the door but she couldn’t bring herself to rise to her feet and fumble for the ID card that would allow her to escape. Through that door was a long, happy life filled with lucrative government grants and all the tuna sandwiches she could stuff into her mouth but at the moment, she didn’t care. Her mind was too full of amazement.
            The experiment worked. The injection transformed her patient into a wild beast, stripping his mind of everything but the base instincts and developing him into the peak of physical perfection. Dr. Caine doubted she’d be able to make it through the door even if she tried. Instead, she grinned widely and extended her arms outwards, encouraging her creation to come forth... and tear her asunder.
            Tom obliged her. He moved slowly forward, like a cat on the prowl. As he drew nearer, Dr. Caine was able to get a better look at him. She let out a gasp as she saw the raging erection between his legs. Well, she thought.  It is the most basic instinct.  All of her admiration fled as Tom leapt at her and tore at her clothes.  Her screams mingled with his animalistic grunts.  As the beast that had once been Tom shredded through Dr. Julia Caine’s pants and forced her thighs apart, her screams raised several octaves in pitch.
 
***
 
            After the tazer and mace proved ineffective, the orderlies were forced to shoot Tom.  Even then, he managed to take six shots to the chest and remain standing.  It was Phyllis that finally ended it, grabbing a shotgun from the weapons locker and shoving the barrel up under Tom’s chin.  She pulled the trigger and watched the asshole’s head disintegrate, spraying blood and brain chunks all over the wall.
            “Who’s an ugly CHUD-looking fuck now, cocksucker?” she snarled at the naked man’s twitching corpse.
            Lying in a corner, her body adorned with a myriad of bruises and scratches, Dr. Julia Caine watched her creation’s destruction and wept.  Not from the pain or trauma, but from the loss she felt at having only a brief period of time to observe what she had created.  Her hands clutched her bare midsection, wondering if the seed Tom had deposited in her would take.  And if it did, what would come out of her.



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  Be My Valentine
Posted by: BoonScrublord - 05-28-2020, 08:03 PM - Forum: Books/Stories - No Replies

[Image: attachment.php?aid=41]
Be My Valentine
By Indy McDaniel
 
Cover art by Bryce Wolfe
 
(originally published in Sinisterotica Anthology, Pill Hill Press)


 
            Sara Fielding kept glancing down the bar as she sipped at her Bloody Mary and smoked her clove cigarettes. It was nearing the end of another shitty Valentine's Day and the young Goth had yet to score. She shifted her weight on the bar stool, feeling antsy. Her eyes kept drifting over to the tall brunette sitting down on the other end of the bar. The woman looked older than Sara, but not much. Her brown hair reached down to the middle of her back and she wore a very low-cut black dress, providing ample view of her cleavage. And it sure is some delicious cleavage, Sara thought. The brunette had been sitting at the bar, sipping at martinis, since before Sara entered with the intention of getting good and drunk and hopefully good and screwed.
            This would be a whole lot easier if I could convince Pinkie to swing my way, Sara thought, tapping her cigarette against the overflowing ashtray. Her fellow Goth had the cute dork thing going for her but she was as celibate as a goddamn nun. Sara could understand, at least from a theoretical perspective, Pinkie’s disinterest in chicks, but her disinterest in all things sex was just baffling. More than that, it was frustrating. Especially given the itch Sara needed scratched.
            Downing the rest of her drink and stubbing out her smoke, Sara pushed off the bar stool and turned towards the tall, attractive woman. Nothing ventured, she thought, taking advantage of her liquid courage. She felt a wave of dizziness flow over her as her body realized just how drunk she actually was. Sara took a few moments to collect herself and regain her balance then moved towards her intended target. She slid onto the empty stool next to the woman and took a closer look at her. She caught the brunette’s attention and gave her a seductive smile. The two looked each other over for a few moments in silence.
            "Hey," Sara spoke, finally. "How're you doing tonight?"
            "I'm alright," the woman replied, giving Sara an uncertain look. "I don't think I know you."
            Sara gave a brief shake of her head. "You don't... but I was hoping  to fix that." Her smile widened and she held out her hand. "Name's Sara."
            The other woman looked at Sara's hand then shook it. "Despina."
            "That’s an interesting name... I like interesting names," Sara said, letting their hands remain entangled for a lingering moment. "So what's a lovely lady like you doing all alone in a bar on Valentine's Day?"
            Despina smirked. "I might ask you the same question."
            Sara laughed. "You might. Or we could head back to my apartment and fix both of our problems."
            The brunette raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think I swing that way?"
            The Goth girl shrugged. "Just a feeling. I happen to think you're fucking hot and I'm pretty drunk, so asking you to go have a freaky good time seemed worth a try. If you'd rather not, that's cool."
            Despina shook her head, smiling. "Why don't you just buy me another drink? We'll see what happens."
            Sara grinned. "Sounds like a goddamn plan." She flagged the bartender down to order some more booze.
 
***
 
            The apartment door crashed open as the two women came through it, their arms wrapped around each other and their lips locked together. One of Sara's hands shot out and smacked the door closed again as the two continued to kiss and moved further into the small apartment. Their tongues moved into each other's mouths, swapping a good deal of spit. Sara brought her hand around and gripped Des's ass, feeling the smooth curve of flesh under the dress. They reached the bed and Despina fell backwards onto it. Sara climbed over top of Des and straddled her waist. They took up their kiss right where they left off as their hands tugged at each other's clothes.
            Sara pushed the straps of Des's dress down her shoulders, allowing her magnificent breasts to spill free. She admired them as Des took the break in the make out session to pull Sara's shirt over her head. As soon as the shirt was over her head, Sara bent down to Des's chest and worked on her tits. She took the woman's nipple into her mouth, sucking on it. Her hands squeezed and caressed the large mounds of flesh. She bit down gently on one of the nubs and tugged, a feeling of satisfaction flowing over her when she heard the older woman moan.
            Despina pressed her chest up against the young Goth's face, relishing in the skill of her hands and lips. She gasped as Sara bit down harder on her nipple. Her own hands went to Sara's shorts, trying to undo her belt but not having much luck. Getting frustrated and unable to just lie there as the girl pleasured her, Des's hands moved back up and grasped the back of Sara's head, pulling her closer to her breasts. In response, the girl doubled her efforts at licking, sucking, squeezing, and biting. Despina tilted her head back against the bed and let the feelings of pleasure wash over her.
            Saliva coated Des's tits. Her nipples hardened into tight nubs, the pale skin around them covered in red bite marks. Sara slid down the bed. She tugged the bottom of Des's dress up her legs, bunching it around her waist. She smirked and looked up at the woman.
            "No panties?" she asked. "You really were cruising to get scored. Probably would've settled for the bathroom at the bar, huh?"
            Despina only looked down at her, sweat beading her forehead.
            Sara gave the brunette a flirtatious wink. "Maybe next time." Sara lowered her head between Despina's open thighs, eyeing her bare crotch. She ran her tongue up the length of it, tasting the wetness already there. The woman's thighs shuddered a little on either side of Sara’s head. She gave her snatch another long lick then moved in for some serious cunnilingus.
            The brunette's eyes widened and she let out a loud moan as the Goth's skilled tongue moved over her cunt, flicking at her clit and delving into her folds. Despina moved her hands to her breasts. She pinched and twisted her nipples, trying to match the waves of ecstasy shooting up from her pussy. Sara's hands slid between Des and the bed, gripping her ass as she ate the woman out. Despina squirmed and humped her crotch against Sara's face. The Goth was rewarded with a loud scream of pleasure and a gush of juices as she flicked her tongue back and forth over Despina's clit with lightning speed. Sara licked up the woman's honey as Despina lay back on the bed and breathed heavily in the aftermath of her orgasm.
            When Sara crawled back up, Des grabbed the back of her head and pulled her close, kissing her deeply and swirling her tongue into the Goth’s mouth, trying to taste as much of her own cum as she could. Sara made the job easier by wrestling her tongue into Despina’s mouth. They lay there, caught up in the passionate kissing. Despina rolled over, pinning the petite girl to the bed and giving her a wicked grin. "My turn," she said. Sara only smiled in return and made no move to stop her.
            Despina reached over to the nightstand and pulled the drawer open, retrieving a pair of handcuffs. Sara looked a little surprised. "How did you know I kept those in there?"
            Des smirked at her. "A spooky little girl like you always keeps a pair of bindings close at hand."
            Sara grinned as Des stretched her hands up towards the headboard of the bed. She attached the handcuffs to Sara’s left wrist then slid them through the headboard before attaching the other cuff to her right wrist. After she secured the cuffs, Des kissed Sara. With their lips locked, Des moved her head back, making Sara push hers forward to keep kissing her. When Sara couldn't stretch any further the kiss broke. Des looked down at the girl with a teasing smile.
            "Oh, you bitch!" Sara cursed, only half-seriously. Des moved back down to Sara's head, moving to the right side and ran her tongue along the girl's ear.
            The young Goth moaned as the brunette sucked on her earlobe and started to nibble on it. Des's hands moved to Sara's chest, pushing her bra down to squeeze her perky breasts. Despina rubbed her thumbs over Sara's pierced nipples as she sucked on the girl's ear. Sara moaned loudly as Des simultaneously bit down on her ear and twisted her nipples. She squirmed under the woman as she was molested.
            Des continued to twist Sara's nipples as she moved her lips to her neck and bit down, hard. Sara cried out and melted into Des's harsh touches. The older woman moved away from the girl, still twisting at her sensitive nubs. A red, agitated mark formed on Sara's neck where Des had bitten her. "You like the pain, huh?" Des asked with a wide grin. Sara looked up at her with lust-filled eyes and nodded. "Good," Des replied, simply.
            Despina moved off her young lover and stood at the end of the bed. "What other kinds of toys do you have around her?" she asked.
            The Goth motioned to a closet door. "All my fun stuff is in there."
            Des turned and walked towards the closet. Sara watched her as she went, her eyes wandering down to the woman's luscious ass. Plump and pale and flawless. I could eat that ass for days, she thought. Despina opened the closet door wide and looked in. She spotted a large box with plenty of toys. Some were just regular sex toys, whereas others were for bondage, and still others were ideally suited for causing pain. Des bent over the box, knowingly giving Sara a full view of her ass and pussy lips peeking through, just to tease the girl. It worked. Sara strained against her bonds, wanting to grab the woman's full, shapely rear.
            Des stood and turned back to Sara, holding up her find. Sara's eyes widened with excitement. "You're a mind reader!" she gasped, her eyes traveling over every detail of the paddle. It was made of dark wood, the handle wrapped with black leather. On the wider end used for spanking, half a dozen metal bumps protruded from it on either side. It was designed to give the spankee some major bruises and it was Sara's favorite toy in her whole arsenal. Des walked back over to the bed and tossed the paddle down next to Sara, moving over to the nightstand. She fished through it before coming up with the key to the cuffs. She unlocked one of them and Sara obediently turned over. Once her ass faced upwards, Des locked Sara to the bed again.
            The tall brunette worked her hands under Sara and undid her belt, pulling it open and undoing her shorts. Des tugged the tight shorts down Sara's pale, fishnet-clad legs, bunching them up at the tops of her boots. She grabbed the girl's black thong and ripped them off her body. Sara gasped as she felt the garment torn away. Before she could turn her head back to berate Des for ruining her underwear, there was a 'swish' through the air followed by a loud smack as the paddle landed on Sara's bare ass. Her mouth, already open, let out a surprised yelp. Burning pain radiated through her rear, streaking down her thighs and up into her lower back. Just as the pain began to dull, the paddle came down again, even harder than before.
            The mixture of pain and pleasure from the spanking flowed through Sara's young body. Her mouth emitted a constant barrage of moans, cries, yelps, and the occasional scream. The flesh of her ass, once as pale as the rest of her body, quickly grew bright red from the beating. Soon splotches of purple appeared. Sara clenched her teeth and squeezed her eyes shut, several tears escaping and streaking down her cheeks. After a full ten minutes of non-stop spanking, Despina dropped the paddle to the ground and moved to the handcuffs again. She pushed Sara onto her back and secured her again. She climbed onto the bed and straddled Sara's waist, reaching into the nightstand again, this time pulling out a pair of small clamps with sharp teeth.
            Des bent over Sara, taking each of her nipples into her mouth in turn, sucking them until they were achingly hard. Once they were, she sat up and pushed the clamps open, positioning them over the girl's sensitive skin. Then she released them. The sharp teeth bit deep into Sara's nipples. The Goth's head shot back and she let out a howl. She squirmed frantically as the painful sensations shot through her breasts. She bit down on her lip hard and let out a series of whimpers. Her pain-filled eyes locked with Des's mischievous ones. Oh God, she's good, Sara thought. Despina leaned down over Sara, kissing her. As their tongues found each other once more, Des slid her hand down Sara's slender stomach to her trimmed patch of pubic hair. She rubbed the fuzz, feeling the coarse hair under her fingers, before moving a little further down.
            Sara moaned into Des's mouth as the woman rubbed her cunt. Des pushed her fingers into the folds of skin and felt around, searching. She smirked when she found what she was looking for and pinched Sara's clit between her fingernails. Sara screamed into Des's mouth as sharp pain shot up from between her legs. She'd never been treated so roughly without having to plead and beg for it first, and even then, her lovers tended to be a bit more reserved. Best Valentine’s Day ever, she thought, soaking up the sensations. As the pain from the initial pinch mellowed, Des clamped her nails down again, even harder. The bound Goth screamed her lungs out as Des tormented the most sensitive area of her body.
            With pain radiating from her ass, tits, and cunt, Sara cried out as she came all over Despina's pinching fingers. Des brought her sticky hand up and held it between their faces. Sara and Des licked Des's hand clean then joined in another deep kiss. Sara felt ready to call it a night, until Des pulled back and she saw the enthusiastic look in her eyes.
            "You ready to go all the way, baby?" Despina asked the sweaty girl underneath her.
            Sara nodded without hesitation. She wasn't sure what Des meant, but the look in the woman's eyes said it wasn't something to be missed. Despina kissed along Sara's neck then moved down. She kissed down the top of her chest, through her cleavage to her tummy. She kissed over the girl's dark patch of trimmed pubic hair and buried her head between her thighs. Sara spread her legs apart as far as she could manage with her ankles held together by her shorts. She let out a long moan as Des's tongue moved over her. The brunette moved slowly and deliberately, picking out exact spots to touch with her tongue. Des spread the girl's pussy lips open and drove her tongue deeper into her. The sound of the handcuffs clattering against the headboard started as Sara moved around under Des's skillful tongue.
            Without warning, the brunette's tongue was gone, quickly replaced by her slender fingers. Des pushed two of her digits into the Goth's delicate cunt, feeling her inner walls. Sara moaned louder as she felt herself being penetrated. She pushed her hips upward against her lover's hand. Des slid her fingers as far into the girl as she could then slowly pulled them back out. A generous amount of Sara’s juices coated her digits. Des added a third finger and worked back into the girl. She found it a little bit tighter than before, but the more she pushed and forced her fingers deeper, the more Sara thrashed about and howled her pleasure.
            Sara's cunt stretched to accommodate Des's extra finger after a few thrusts of the brunette's wrist. Her pussy soaked with wetness. The lubrication encouraged Des to add a fourth finger. Again, it became difficult to force her way into the young Goth and her gyrations became more animated. Des didn't let Sara grow accustomed to her fourth finger for long before she worked her thumb into the girl's snatch. Sara arched her back and cried out as Despina forced her entire hand inside her. Once all the way in, she fisted the Goth for several minutes. Sara thrashed and howled in pleasure. She'd only been fisted a couple other times and she enjoyed it immensely. It didn't take long before her cunt clamped down around Despina's wrist tightly and her cum ran down the woman's arm.
            The Goth collapsed onto the bed, covered in sweat and breathing heavily. Her eyes slipped closed in exhaustion. She let out a soft moan as Des's hand moved around inside her a little. She tensed herself, getting ready for the woman to pull her sticky hand out. Her eyes shot open as instead the brunette’s hand moved the other way, deeper inside her. She cried out as the woman's fingernails tore through her delicate inner flesh. Sara looked down at Des, confused and in much less enjoyable pain.
            "What the fuck are you doing?!"
            Despina smirked at the bound girl. "You said you wanted to go all the way." She shoved her hand deeper, tearing into her intestines. Sara threw her head back and screamed, feeling fingers slide through her guts. Warm fluid backed up her throat and she coughed, blood spilling from her lips. She let out an agonized groan as Despina's hand traveled through her body. She gasped as a pressure built in her chest, followed by a sharp pain. In an instant, Des yanked her blood-covered arm out of the girl. Blood dribbled out of Sara's gaping vagina, staining the sheets underneath her.
            Sara’s heart rested in Despina's palm, still beating weakly, blood spurting out of the torn arteries. Despina held the heart up, looking it over. Sara’s horrified eyes locked onto her pilfered organ. Her face grew pale as her body went into shock. Blood spilled from her trembling lips as she watched Despina. The brunette lifted Sara’s heart up over her, tilting her head back. Her face shifted, transforming into a hellish visage of sharp fangs and glowing red eyes. Sara's already wide eyes grew wider as she discovered what her lover truly was.
            "Y-you're a... a... vamp..." she struggled to speak, but her dying body refused to let her. Her head fell back, the life in her eyes fading away. Her chest rose once more and then lowered, her final breath passing her lips. Then she lay still.
            Despina squeezed Sara's heart, letting the blood stream into her open mouth. She swallowed it and licked her lips. She looked down at the corpse of the girl she'd been having sex with only a few minutes earlier. Her eyes traveled down the body until she came to her crotch, still leaking blood. She tossed the crushed heart to the floor, moved down and lapped at the nectar in a perverse imitation of how Sara had eaten her out. She licked at the dead girl's cunt, cleaning the blood and cum away.
            Despina crawled up Sara's body to look into her blank eyes. "Happy Valentine's
Day, baby," she said, giving her a final deep kiss, taking time to lick the blood from her face. "You were great."
            Despina dressed and left the apartment, leaving Sara's bound body on the bed. Gotta love the spooky girls, she thought as she walked down the hall. They’re always good for a quick fuck’n’suck…



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  Fuel
Posted by: BoonScrublord - 05-28-2020, 08:02 PM - Forum: Books/Stories - No Replies

[Image: attachment.php?aid=40]
Fuel
By Indy McDaniel
 
Cover art by Bryce Wolfe
 
(originally published in MicroHorror, July 31st, 2009)


 
            Arbuckle stood over the smoking corpse.
            Damn, did it stink...
            He walked around the thing, trying to spot what had started the blaze but came up empty. No matches, no lighter... It was as if the fucker had just gone - poof - up in flames with no concern for proper cause and effect. One thing was for sure; Arbuckle didn't like it.          Not the smell, not the sight, not the girl sobbing in the corner.
            The hangover wasn't helping. He was starting to wish he'd just stayed in bed with Marie. Not answered the damn phone. But he was here now so he might as well make the best of it. He made his way over to the girl.
            "He just started burning," she said between sobs.
            Well, that at least confirms the gender, he thought. "Let's start with your name," Arbuckle said, trying to be as soothing as he could.
            "Julie," she replied, starting to calm down a bit.
            Arbuckle smiled at her. It was a start. "Okay, Julie," he said in the same soothing voice. "Let's go over it nice and slow..."
            "Carlton and me were just havin' a drink. The next thing I know..." She started to cry again. Arbuckle sighed.
            People just don't burst into flames, he wanted to tell her, but he knew it wouldn't do any damn good. Arbuckle turned away from the crying girl and back to Crispy Carlton.
            So what had lit his fuse then?
            The only thing not scorched was his left hand. Why his left hand and not the right? It was as if the fire had decided it had enough and put itself out. Right at his wrist.
            Screw it, he decided. Write it up as an accident and be done with it. Go home to Marie and some aspirin. But that damned perfect hand wouldn't let him walk away. It was like it was taunting him. Teasing him. Years later, in the 'Home', Arbuckle would still be talking about that damn hand.
            "Oh Jesus!" the girl started, her voice growing higher in pitch. Arbuckle looked over to her. Julie was staring down at her hands in horror. "It's happening to me now! I'm burning up!"
            Arbuckle moved over to the hysterical girl, reaching out to calm her down. "Hey! Easy!" he said to her. Arbuckle reached out, grabbed for Julie's wrists in an attempt to shake her out of her state of panic. He pulled back quickly, letting out a hiss of pain. Her skin was scorching hot. It was turning an angry red.
            Julie let out a shriek as she caught fire. In her panicked flailing, the back of her hand struck Arbuckle across the side of the face.  The fire scorched his flesh in an instant.  He fell back to the floor in agony. It took him a moment to realize the screams he heard were his own.
            The last thing Arbuckle saw before passing out was Julie's blackened skeleton falling to the floor.



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  Consumption
Posted by: BoonScrublord - 05-28-2020, 08:01 PM - Forum: Books/Stories - No Replies

[Image: attachment.php?aid=39]
Consumption
By Indy McDaniel
 
Cover art by Bryce Wolfe
 
(originally published in How the West Was Wicked, Pill Hill Press)


 
Redemption, Arizona.  1872.
 
            “Damned consumption will be the death of me.”
            Karver attempted to suppress a wet cough with little success. He brushed his stained handkerchief across his mouth, wiping away the specks of blood resting on his lips. Tossing the rag aside, he prodded at the bloated leech suckling at his wrist. “Little suckers give a pinch, that’s for sure.” He looked up, squinting across the shaded interior of his backroom at the figure sitting adjacent. “Must say, you’ve got some strange habits, missy. Most ladies would die of fright watching a good, ole phlebotomy. You look practically moist from the experience.”
            Shadows bathed Karver’s guest in lines that were both rigid and soft. He could spot her devilish smirk through the gloom but only because he knew right where to look. She struck a match against her thumbnail and brought the fiery tip to the end of her cigarillo. The sickly sweet aroma of tobacco wafted across the room and Karver had to refrain from sucking the scent in, knowing it would only lead to another coughing fit.
            “I’m not most ladies,” his companion said in her thick Irish accent and Karver knew that was the truth. She leaned into the light, allowing him a look at her intense features. She’d have been beautiful if she wasn’t so terrifying. The scar didn’t help. It started at her left temple, ran jaggedly across the bridge of her nose, made a curve at her right cheek and concluded just above the dimple in her chin. Almost as if someone decided to carve a big question mark right into her face. A question mark would be fitting for her, Karver thought, unable to take his eyes off the disfiguring streak.
            Karver’s head went light and he leaned back in his chair. He reached over to a jar of salt, unscrewing the lid and pinching out a nice dose. Sprinkling the white granules over the leech, he waited for it to squirm its way free of his vein before snagging it and tossing it to his enigmatic acquaintance. She caught it with one hand while the other tapped ash on the floor. She slipped the squiggling blood-sucker into the pocket of her duster and rose to her feet.
            “One of these days, you’re gonna tell me what you do with all the leeches,” Karver said, watching the woman head for the back door.
            The woman paused at the doorway, looking back to give him another of her frustrating smirks. “One of these days, I’m gonna want more than just a dirty, old leech.” She dropped the hood she wore, giving him a teasing glance at her curly red hair before slipping out the door and into the inky blackness of the night.
            Karver sighed, hacked up a wad of bloody phlegm, and went to bed.
 
***
 
            “Your pound of flesh.”
            Nessa tossed the wiggling leech onto the table as she stomped towards the collection of mostly empty liquor bottles collected on the dresser. She flicked a lock of her red hair over her shoulder and reached for the whiskey.
            “Someone so pretty should never quote Shakespeare, my dear,” the bloated man told her. His soft, British tone contrasted starkly with his sandpaper skin and vibrating jowls. He scooped the leech off the table and plopped it into his mouth, sucking noisily on the creature before chomping through it and releasing a gush of blood. He moaned with satisfaction as he slurped the crimson fluid down, chewing through the leech’s tough skin as he did. “Succulent, as always.”
            “You’re a bloody ghoul, Baxter,” Nessa grumbled, downing a shot of whiskey as she glowered at him from across the room. “Anyone had the stones to tell you that before?”
            Baxter’s beady little eyes drew tight on the pale Irish girl. “Taint my good name with slander such as that again and you’ll wish you hadn’t.” He spat the chewed remains of the leech onto the floor. Nessa gave it a glance and quickly regretted it. She turned back to her whiskey bottle and took another swig, doing her best to ignore Baxter the Blob. “You just make sure that old lunger keeps providing my snacks. I’d hate to have to send for our old friend, Mr. Phibes.”
            “Bloated bastard,” Nessa muttered into her bottle, soft enough that Baxter couldn’t hear her. She tilted the bottle back and attempted to drown herself in alcohol. It didn’t work, but it helped her refrain from puking when Baxter lumbered over and put his rough hands on her breasts.
 
***
 
            Karver dreamed.
            It was a strange occurrence, getting rarer each night. More and more, his sleep was soaked in impenetrable darkness. A hint of things to come, perhaps.
            His red-headed visitor hovered before him, her heavy clothing stripped away. Freckles covered her ashen skin like pepper over mashed potatoes. Her full breasts tipped with rosy nipples, puffing out from her skin. Karver found his eyes moving lower, to the tangled weaves of her pubic hair. The thick curls matched the fiery shade of her head; both enticing while warning of the heat contained so close to the mound. His eyes shifted in a flash, focusing on the woman’s face. If anything, her curious scar seemed more exaggerated, almost throbbing.
            And her scar wasn’t the only thing throbbing. Karver became painfully aware of the erection he had. If he had to wager, he’d say it was the most life his pecker had shown in five years, at least.
            Then the red-headed specter’s pouty lips parted, beckoning to him with beautiful, terrible words. Even if Karver possessed the capability of resisting her, he wouldn’t have tried. He floated to her, his body weightless and void of the arthritic pains he felt during his waking hours. As he entered her, a blast of pure light exploded between them, washing over their bodies. A riptide of pleasure crashed over Karver, soaking through his every fiber. The light slowly began to fade and in its place, he caught sight of something dark. He squinted his eyes, trying to make out what it was, but the thing was too far away. Still, it rushed headlong towards him and he had no doubt it would arrive soon.
            Then the pounding started.
 
***
 
            Karver cursed and sat up in bed. He wiped at the beads of cold sweat resting on his brow, still disoriented from the vivid dream. The pounding came again. Someone at the door. “Hold on a damn minute!” he yelled, kicking the tousled sheet off the bed. He felt a sticky patch at the crotch of his long johns and sighed. Climbing off the small bed, he grabbed a pair of pants and slid them on. Whoever was at the door was still pounding away.
            As he left the room, Karver snatched a mostly-clean kerchief. He could already feel the first tickle at the back of his throat. A forewarning of the coughing fit that would soon come. Crossing to the front of his small home-turned-doctor’s office, Karver ended the pounding by yanking the door open. “What?”
            “Jesus, Doc,” the burly man with the mustache on the other side of the door said. “Thought I’d have to bust the door down.” He waved to a pair of younger men behind him who carried a stretcher covered with a thick blanket into Karver’s office. By the look on their faces, Karver suspected whatever was under the blanket wasn’t pleasant.
            “Good morning to you, too, Sheriff,” Karver grumbled, eyeing the stretcher.
            “Y’know, the older you get, the slower you get,” Sheriff North cracked.
            Karver ignored North’s less-than-sly wit and turned to the stretcher. “What’s this? You’re going peculiar, you old bastard. I’m a doctor, not an undertaker.”
            “Don’t need an undertaker, Bill,” the Sheriff replied, stepping into the office. Once their parcel was delivered, the two deputies booked it out the door at a swift pace. “Least not yet.”
            “Christ, Jerry. You tellin’ me whoever’s under that blanket’s still alive?” Karver moved across to where the stretcher sat and yanked the cover away. The sight he found underneath the sheet chilled his blood in an instant. “What… who is that?”
            The thing on the stretcher had the general aspects of a man, but the details were all wrong. He was flatter, for one thing. As if someone had let all the air out of him. Dark bruises covered his skin. Irritated bald patches covered his scalp, the hair torn away. There was no way the mutilated sack of flesh could be alive.
            Except it was.
            Slanted eyes stared up at Karver, conveying just how much agony the deformed man felt. His flattened chest rose and fell slowly, each wheezing breath a struggle.
            “We figure it’s Chang.”
            “You figure?”
            “Hell, Doc, it’s not as if anybody who knows him could recognize him in this state.”
            “What the hell happened to him?” Karver knelt down to examine the man closer.
            “Thought that was your job.” Sheriff North crossed his arms. “The Lanx gal found him down by the river. Was still sobbing into her mama’s blouse, last I saw her. Don’t blame her. Sight like that…” He shook his head. “Let’s just say, I expect to have more than a few of them night frights after today.”
            “Nightmares, Jerry,” Karver replied, only half paying attention. He felt along Chang’s skin. It was squishy, lacked definition. He felt along one of the Chinaman’s arms, trying to find any sign of bones. There wasn’t any. “They’re called nightmares. Reckon there’ll be more than few for anybody who saw him.”
            “Now you see why we covered him up. Shit, figured he was dead first I saw him. Then he started making noise.”
            “What kinda noise?”
            Chang’s mouth sprang open, gasping like a fish out of water. Then the screaming started.
            “Just a bit like that,” Sheriff North said.
 
***
 
            “Who’s your friend?”
            Karver looked up from the leech to his nightly visitor. “Friend?”
            Nessa hooked a thumb towards the front room. “The human johnnycake out front. I sure hope that’s not how all your patients wind up looking.”
            “Why?” Karver asked, wincing as the leech suckled at his vein. “Planning on becoming a patient of mine?”
            Nessa shrugged, finding something of particular interest in the curls of her hair. “Anything’s possible.”
            “Ever seen anything like it before?” Karver pressed on. She was a strange one, for more reasons than he could count. It seemed like the more time he spent around her, the stranger she became.
            The redhead’s laugh cut through the air like a knife. “Love, I don’t think anyone’s ever seen anything like that before. Poor bastard’s got no bones.”
            Karver’s head shot up, his eyes narrowed on her. “How did you know that?”
            “Gave him a prod or two as I came in. He jiggles more than lard.”
            A pinch of salt and Karver tossed another bloated leech in his visitor’s direction. Her hand shot out, snatching the squirming worm without as much as a glance away from her tangle of hair. She slipped the leech into her pocket and stood. “Same time tomorrow, love?” She swaggered towards the door, shaking her plump ass enticingly. On purpose, Karver guessed.
            “No.”
            That took the swagger out of her step. She froze, hand on the doorknob. “What?”
            Karver pushed himself to his feet, fighting off a wave of dizziness. “How long you been coming here?”
            “What does that – “
            “Two weeks? Three?” Karver stepped towards her. “Every night. Every damn night. You show up, with a jar of fucking leeches. A miracle, you said. An honest to God miracle, delivered from on high into your pretty little hands. Only catch is, I gotta hand over the leeches to you when they’re nice and plump. Full of blood. My blood.”
            Nessa’s hand gripped the doorknob tighter. Karver saw it shake with fear. He felt a spark of pleasure from the tremor. Not so confident now, huh?
            “You fucked up, though. Picked the wrong sumbitch to play with. If you’d picked any other idiot in town with the wasting disease, maybe they would’ve bought it. But I’m a doctor. An old, broken down, limp-dicked doctor. But I am still a fucking doctor. And I know those leeches aren’t doing shit for what I’ve got.”
            Nessa turned her head, just barely. Just enough to catch sight of him in the corner of her eye. The fear was there, too. Just like her hand. She’d been caught. Now she had a choice. Bolt or fight.
            “So why is it that you picked me? You’re not stupid. Why is it that you show up here with one answer in hand and a thousand questions left unspoken? You work your charm, you shake your ass, and you keep saying persistence is the key. You promise a dying man salvation but you won’t even tell me your fucking name.” Karver was right behind her. He could smell her fiery hair. Evergreen and sulfur.
            “Nessa.”
            It was barely a whisper.
            “What?”
            She turned, looking up at him with those sparkling emerald eyes still tinged with fear. Still not sure if she should run through the door and out into the night. “My name’s Nessa. And the leeches are a cure. They’re just not your cure.”
            “Whose cure – “
            Nessa shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Not anymore.”
            “Like hell it doesn’t. I’ve had enough of the games.”
            She reached up, pressed a finger against his lips to silence him. Her touch sent a jolt through him, from his mouth down to his cock. “No games. I’m done playing.” Her lips replaced her finger and not long after, Karver found himself in the midst of his dream.
            Only this time, it wasn’t a dream
 
***
 
            Karver’s hand slid over the sheets, searching for his redheaded guest. The soft fabric still held warmth but it could’ve been from the sun shining through the window. Had it all been another dream? He wiped the sleep from his eyes and surveyed the room. No sign of Nessa.
            Karver spotted a dark spot on the floor and forced his tired eyes to focus. The flattened leech. The only evidence of Nessa’s presence. A flash of memory sparked in his mind. The two of them entwined, lips locked. Nessa’s hand slipped into her pocket and retrieved the squirming black worm, dropping it on the floor. The heel of her boot hovered over the leech then lowered down onto it.
            A pop and a splash of blood.
            Now the blood was clotted. And Nessa was gone.
            Karver sat up, surprised by how easy the movement came. With everything that had happened the previous night – assuming it hadn’t all been another vivid dream – he expected his bones to be aching in protest. But his joints felt smooth. The tickling sensation working its way from his lungs up the back of his throat remained, but even that felt duller. He jumped as the door opened, his eyes shifting.
            Nessa slipped in, dressed in a shear gown. It had belonged to his wife, back before the trip out west and a bout of dysentery left her dead. He’d kept the gown for sentimental reasons. Seeing Nessa wearing it, he felt a flutter of anger but it quickly dissipated. It hadn’t been a dream after all.
            Christ, she looks good.
            The garment left little to the imagination. She was nude underneath. Rosy nipples, fiery bush of pubic hair, and freckle patches across her milky skin. Just like the dream from the night before last. The striking visual kept his other senses in check for a moment, slowing down time, before everything crashed back. He smelled the coffee, freshly brewed, and the sweet aroma of maple bacon. She carried the tray of food over to him, setting it on the bed.
            “Sorry for snooping,” she said, indicating the gown. “I can take it off, if you like.”
            Karver smirked, lifting the mug of coffee to his lips and taking a testing sip. “Maybe later.”
            The coffee was good. The food was better. By the time the pounding started, Karver had just popped the last bit of toast into his mouth. “It begins.” He got to his feet and headed for the door, turning back to Nessa. “Might wanna stay back here. Unless you wanna give the locals a gander at, well… everything.”
            Nessa smiled and took a sip of her own coffee. “Maybe later.”
 
***
 
            A doctor’s work is never done.
            The Matheson kid sobbed, loudly and on the verge of hyperventilating. Karver didn’t blame him. By the look of it, his arm was broken in at least two places. His mother, on the other hand, was less sympathetic.
            “If I told you once, I told you a hundred times,” she hissed. “Quit playing in those Goddamn caves!” She smacked the injured child in the back of the head.
            Karver looked up from the broken arm. “Mrs. Matheson. Perhaps you should wait outside. I’ll need to set the bone and he’s not going to get any quieter.”
            Mrs. Matheson huffed, gave her son a final glare then turned on her heel and stomped out of the doctor’s office.
            “There, that’s better,” Karver said, trying to be as soothing as he could. He reached over to a small desk and pulled out the drawer. Reaching in, he snagged a small bit of wrapped chocolate and handed it to the Matheson boy. “Here, have some of that.”
            “Mama said I’m not supposed to have sweets,” the boy said, wiping at his cheeks with his uninjured arm.
            “What mama don’t know, won’t hurt her.” Karver gave the kid a wink and nodded. “Eat up. I reckon you’ll be hating me in a minute.”
            The boy snagged the bit of chocolate and tore through the wrapper. He slipped the small piece into his mouth, eyes shifting guiltily. While he was distracted, Karver went back to examining the arm. It was a bad break. If he could set it properly and infection didn’t set in, he might get to keep the arm. Full mobility was unlikely. Possibility of infection, with the hospitable environment of the small frontier town known as Redemption, was high. Already, Karver could see the outcome. A bone saw and another useless limb chucked out the back.
            “Your mama’s right, boy,” Karver grumbled. “You’re a damn fool to be playin’ around in those caves. Lucky Satan hisself didn’t pop out and drag you down to Hell. This arm’s about as bad as that, I reckon.”
            Just as he prepared to set the first break, the door to the back room opened. He turned and saw Nessa peek her head out. She was properly dressed, thank God. “I heard crying.”
            Karver gave the boy a glance, seeing the embarrassment on his face. “It was the boy’s mother. She’s a wreck. Had to step outside.”  He gave the boy a knowing wink.
            Nessa moved further into the room, looking the boy over. “What seems to be the trouble?”
            “Broken arm,” Karver said. “Nothing too bad. I’ll have him patched up in no time, just as long as he promises to stay the hell away from those caves.” It was a lie but he didn’t feel like telling the kid the chances that he’d most likely be losing his arm sooner rather than later.
            Nessa knelt down beside the boy, looking at his mangled limb. “Maybe I can do something.”
            “You a doctor?” Karver asked. The awareness that he knew very little about the woman came flooding back. “They got lady doctors back where you come from? Where was that again?”
            “Glasgow,” Nessa answered. “And no, I’m not a doctor.”
            Before he could stop her, Nessa grabbed the boy’s arm. His young face constricted with pain but before he could cry out, the look was gone, replaced with shock. Nessa gripped his arm tighter and let her eyes slip closed. A tingle shot through the air. The best way Karver could describe it was as if a thousand worms suddenly began to burrow just underneath his skin. Not painful, just… peculiar.
            And then the feeling was gone. Not more than a minute had passed.
            Nessa released the Matheson boy’s arm and sat back, taking in a series of deep breaths. The boy held his arm up and stared at it in shock. Karver stared, too. The arm was healed. Karver grabbed hold of it, feeling along the bone. No sign of a break, not even a fracture. His eyes turned to Nessa, who sat with a satisfied grin on her face.
            “No,” she said. “Not a doctor. Something better.”
            Karver found it hard to speak for several moments. When he did, he turned back to the Matheson boy. “Go on,” he said, nodding to the door.  “Tell your mama it was just a bad sprain. Looked worse than it really was. Favor it for a few days.”
            The boy nodded, still stunned, and hopped off the short stool. He moved towards the door at a slow pace, flexing his arm.
            “And stay away from those goddamn caves!”
            The boy paused at the door, then spun around and rushed back across the room. Nessa was just returning to her feet on unsteady legs and nearly fell over as the small child collided with her. He wrapped his arms – both immaculate, undamaged arms – around her legs and squeezed tightly. Then he let go and ran out of the office.
            Uneasy silence filled the room. Karver stared at Nessa, unsure of what to make of her. Nessa stared back.
            “So,” she said, giving a nonchalant shrug. “More coffee?”
 
***
 
            “What the hell are you?”
            “See? That’s not nice,” Nessa said as she poured herself a fresh cup of coffee. “Give alms to the poor, rescue cats from trees… perform one miracle and you’re labeled a witch for life.”
            “You’re a witch?”
            Nessa sneered. “Yea, because healing small children is most certainly what a consort of Satan would do.”
            “Then what are you?”
            Nessa gave him an uncertain look before sighing with resignation. She slipped her worn brown jacket off and tossed it aside before turning away from him. Her fingers worked the buttons on her shirt open so she could slide the garment down and expose her naked back to him. In the flurry of passion the night before, he hadn’t noticed the scars. Two ragged lines of tissue ran along her shoulder blades. But they weren’t just scars. There were two noticeable stumps protruding from each scar. Like an amputee. Only traditionally, people didn’t have anything on their backs to amputate.
            Which means she’s not a person.
            “No,” she said, turning her head to the side. That glint of fear in her eyes again. “Not a person.”
            “Goddamn,” Karver gasped, unable to look away from the scars.
            “Exactly,” Nessa replied, sliding her shirt back on.
            Karver’s mouth gaped open, his brain awash with a hundred questions and unable to focus on any of them for long enough to speak. Before he could, the familiar pounding started on the door. “Shit!”
 
***
 
            Baxter wiped at his brow. Already, his handkerchief was soaked through with sweat. His beady eyes turned sunward and he whispered a curse at the flaming orb. It wasn’t even noon yet and already it was sweltering. He turned back to the doctor’s door and gave a second knock, this time louder. Nessa, the emotional little bitch, hadn’t come back. It wasn’t hard to figure out where she’d spent the night. His expansive gut rumbled with hunger.
            Finally, the door yanked open and Baxter was greeted by the man himself. He forced a genial smile onto his face. “Dr. Karver, I presume. And let me start by saying, what a marvelous name for someone in a profession such as yours.” Do you recognize me, you old bastard? Does my face seem a trifle familiar to you?
            If the doctor recognized him, he made no indication of it. “I’m a bit busy. And it appears as if you can move around alright, so I suspect this isn’t an emergency. Why don’t you come back later?”
            “Oh, but this is an emergency, good sir,” Baxter said, his smile growing into a wide grin. “Absolute life and death.”
            Karver blinked, confusion flashing over his face along with annoyance. “What’s this about?”
            “Leeches, sir,” the fat man said. “Scrumptious leeches, bulging with fresh blood. Leeches I’ve been paying a good deal of money for. Leeches which a certain redhead was contracted to bring to me. Are the cogs turning, sir? Are the bells chiming?”
            Karver’s face went dark. He gave Baxter a deadly glare before pulling the door further open. “Sounds like we got a few things to gab about.”
            “Indeed.” Baxter gave his brow another wipe and stepped into the doctor’s office. He looked around the dusty interior. If there was one thing Baxter despised more than anything else in Redemption, it was all the damned dust. He let his eyes adjust to the gloom before giving the room a second scan. “Well, where is she?”
            “The redhead?” Karver asked, pushing the door closed. “Ain’t seen her. Was surprised when she didn’t show up last night.”
            “That’s a damn lie,” Baxter snapped, spinning on the old doctor. “She’s taken a shine to you. It’s a stupid thing, but she can’t help herself. See, she was made to love, unconditionally. It’s a right pain in the arse in our line of work.”
            “And what line of work is that?” Karver asked, slowly moving around Baxter. He didn’t like the man. He exuded danger, not to mention a rank body odor that would bring a tear to even the most grizzled gunslinger’s eye. Like rotting fruit.
            “Death.”
            Karver froze. His eyes shifted around the room, looking for anything he could use as a weapon. There were plenty of options but none of them were within reach.
            Baxter laughed. It was a deep, guttural, nasty laugh. “Don’t be so nervous, good sir! I don’t aim to harm you. Quite the contrary.”
            “Is that why you’ve been sending Nessa to collect my blood?”
            Baxter shook his head, his jowls jiggling with the movement. “Oh dear, she’s told you her name. It’s more serious than I suspected.” He turned to face Karver. “We are connected, you and I. For far longer than you could ever know.”
            “Connected how?”
            “Aren’t you just full of inquiries?” Baxter found a chair that seemed capable of supporting his impressive bulk and plopped down into it. The chair creaked with strain but held together. “Why don’t you invite the two-timing fallen angel out here so we can all have a nice, long heart-to-heart?”
 
***
 
            To describe the atmosphere of the room as awkward would have been a massive understatement. For several minutes, the three individuals sat across from each other in silence. Nessa’s face portrayed the quintessential look of nervousness as her emerald eyes darted from Karver to Baxter and back again.
            On the contrary, Baxter seemed smugly pleased by the situation. He leaned back in his chair and clasped his fingers together as he surveyed his two pawns. As if the situation he currently found himself in had all been part of his plan. Whatever the hell his plan was.
            Karver hacked a bloody wad of phlegm into his handkerchief and wiped his lips clean. “Someone don’t start telling me what’s going on soon, I’m getting my gun.”
            “No need for that,” Baxter replied. “At least, not yet.” He unclasped his hands and leaned forward, as far as he could with his distended gut in the way. He stared hard at Karver, the smile fading from his face. “You don’t remember me. Do you?”
            “Should I?” Karver shot back, curtly. He was sick of the games, of the lies, of the whole damn mess. Sitting in a room across from a fallen angel and the horribly bloated Baxter with enigmas fluttering all around was seriously trying his patience.
            “No, I suppose not,” Baxter said with disappointment, leaning back and giving a wave of his hand. He looked away, to the wall but his eyes saw beyond it. “After all, it was so long ago. And you’ve had so many patients over the years.”
            “You’re saying I treated you?”
            “Treated me?” Baxter let out a disgusted laugh. “Even using the loosest definition of that word, I don’t believe anyone could argue that you treated me.”
            “Then what?” Karver snapped. “What the hell did I do to you?”
            Baxter’s voice went soft. “You killed me, sir.”
            “Bullshit. I haven’t killed anybody.”
            Without warning – and showing a good deal more agility than a man of his size should’ve been able to muster – Baxter leapt up from his chair. “Twenty-eight years ago.” He started pacing around the room, his eyes going distant again. “You weren’t even thirty yet. Remember those days, Karver? Back when your dick worked and you had that pretty little wife hanging off you? She was a looker.” He let out a humorless laugh. “Hell, still is in certain circles.”
            Karver found himself on his feet before he realized he was moving. The rage boiled under his skin, fists clenched so tightly his hands shook. “You gotta story to tell, bud? Fucking tell it. You mention her again and you’ll see just how much life I’ve got left in me.”
            “Easy, doctor. Easy,” Baxter said, waving his hands in a calming motion. “Don’t get yourself worked up. I was merely paying your dearly departed wife a compliment. No reason to get upset.” He continued his pacing. “I don’t know if I was your first. But I couldn’t have been too far down the line. Came to you with a pain in my stomach. Left you in a pine box.” He looked to Karver, expecting some form of response.
            “So?”
            “So?” Baxter cackled. “I tell you I died and you reply with ‘so’?”
            Karver motioned to Nessa. “She’s an angel and you’re the walking dead. Either it’s true or I’ve gone stark raving mad. Either way, at this point, I think it’s best to just see how things play out.”
            “Good man,” Baxter nodded. “Not me. I wasn’t such a good man. Little boys, mostly. Although, I have been known to… expand my tastes under certain circumstances.” He gave Nessa a sidelong leer.
            Karver caught the look and scowled. “You son of a bitch.”
            Baxter’s eyes snapped over to Karver. “Guilty. Guilty as sin. Which is appropriate, given where I went after having the unfortunate luck of meeting you. Took damn near thirty years and a good deal of sweet talking to a certain lady who’d fallen from grace, if you’ll pardon the pun. But now I’m back.”
            “Why?” Karver asked. “Why hunt me down and take my blood?”
            “As I said, we’re linked,” Baxter explained. “Turns out, our fair Nessa here didn’t tell me all the details of our escape. While hers is of a more permanent nature, mine requires you. Specifically, I must imbibe your blood. If I go for too long…” Baxter shrugged. “Well, let’s just say, as damned hot as it is in your shitty frontier town, it’s pleasant compared to where I’ve been.” He paused, his head swiveling to eye Nessa. “Yes, she can be an underhanded little cunt when she wants to be. Don’t let the sparkling eyes and plump tits fool you. It’s not by accident we were sharing an eternity of torment.”
            “Shut up, Baxter,” Nessa muttered, only further gaining the fat man’s attention.
            “She thinks this is her second chance. A chance at salvation. A clean slate. She figures if she does enough good deeds in her lifetime, then maybe she’ll get back upstairs. Unfortunately, she picked the wrong soul to bust out with. And although she kept some secrets from me, I kept some from her.”
            “I said, shut up,” Nessa said, louder. Her hands gripped the arms of her chair, turning her knuckles white.
            “Because what she didn’t know,” Baxter continued, clearly enjoying the rise he got from Nessa. “Is that we had a silent partner in our breakout. She brought the knowledge, I made the plans, and my good friend Mr. Phibes provided the muscle. He’s a real bone-breaker when he wants to be. And very loyal. If little Miss Redemption gets out of line, all I have to do is call Mr. Phibes.” He chuckled wetly. “Really, you’d think a creature over four-thousand years old would be a tad less naïve. Just goes to show you, the pretty ones are never very bright.”
            “Shut your goddamn, fat fucking face!” Nessa screamed. She sprang from her chair onto the tips of her toes. An electrical surge permeated the air in the room. Karver’s skin tingled uneasily. A lump of fear lodged in his throat as he stared into Nessa’s eyes. They no longer shined with that beautiful jade color, flashing into a deep red. She brought her hands up to her sides and Karver noticed her feet left the floor. The fallen angel hovered several inches above the floor, her fiery mane flowing around her from the force of the summoned energy. Her deadly eyes focused on Baxter. Karver spotted the first hint of fear on the fat man’s face.
            Nessa’s hands clapped together with a deafening boom. Karver struggled to remain standing. Baxter had no chance. The large bulk of his body lifted off the floor and flew back. He smashed through the wooden examination table, into a shelf of various medical instruments and beyond. By the time the dust settled, and Karver managed to get his coughing under control, the noon-time sun shone through the massive hole in the side of the office. Karver looked from the hole to Nessa.
            Her arms fell to her sides and she let her eyes slip closed for a moment. When they opened, they were back to their natural color. She let out a breath and seemed to deflate. Her hovering body dropped and Karver barely managed to clear the distance between them to keep her from collapsing to the floor. He eased her back into her chair, amazed at how light she was. “Are you alright?”
            Nessa gave him a tired smile. “I’ve been wanting to do that since the day we broke out.” Her head fell against the back of the chair as she lost consciousness. Once he was sure she wouldn’t slide out of the chair, Karver turned back to the hole.
            Better go see if that sumbitch is dead, he thought, grabbing his Winchester rifle off the wall. He confirmed it was loaded and chambered a round. And if he ain’t, he will be soon.
 
***
 
            The crack of thunder as Karver stepped through the hole in his wall felt like an appropriately ominous bit of foreshadowing. You’re banging a fallen angel and about to square off against a dead man, old man, he thought as the sky grew dark overhead. If this shit’s not of Biblical proportions, what is?
            The sun was lost behind the thick, dark clouds swelling over the small frontier town of Redemption. With a flash of lightning, followed by a sudden boom of thunder, the rain started. The few spectators who’d come to investigate quickly scurried back under cover. Baxter lay in the road, clearly not dead. The mad cackling coming from his mouth was evidence enough to that. Karver shouldered his rifle and advanced on the fat man.
            Sheriff North intercepted him on the way over.
            “Shit, Doc,” he yelled over the pounding rain. He pulled his Stetson Boss hat down tighter around his head to keep the wind from ripping it away. “The hell’s going on?”
            Karver kept his rifle trained on Baxter. “Get your gun out, Jerry. This sumbitch’s dangerous. Hurts kids.”
            Sheriff North drew his revolver and leveled it on the fat man rolling on the ground, covering himself with wet clay. “I’ll take care of it, Bill. Go on back inside.” He started towards Baxter, who seemed oblivious to the fact that he had two guns aimed at him.
            “Careful, Jerry,” Karver called. “He’s gotta friend around here someplace. Think he’s the one to blame for what happened to Chang.”
            Sheriff North knelt down next to Baxter, muddy clay splashing against his pant legs. He reached down and grabbed the fat man by the neck of his shirt and yanked him up. As he did, Baxter sprang into action. His thick arms wrapped tightly around the Sheriff and pulled him down to the ground. His mouth gaped open, almost impossibly wide, and his yellowed teeth sank into North’s throat. A wet ripping sound – audible even over the thunderstorm – cut across the air and a crimson torrent of blood gushed from the Sheriff’s torn neck.
            Baxter laughed and licked at the blood, drinking it down. As Sheriff North went limp, Baxter shoved his body away and fell back against the ground. “Oh, you stupid bitch!” he yelled up to the sky. “Now you’ve gone and stepped right in it. He’s coming, girl! He’s coming!”
            “That’s enough out of you, cocksucker,” Karver muttered, taking aim and squeezing the trigger on his Winchester. Baxter’s laughter came to a sudden halt as the slug slammed through his forehead. The fat man fell back, landing with a splat. He lay still and Karver breathed a sigh of relief. “Here I was worried I’d need holy water.” Just the same, he racked the gun as he approached Baxter’s limp form.
            The thunderstorm grew worse. Wind whipped at Karver’s body, nearly knocking him over. Rapidly growing streams of water rushed through the small town’s streets. If it kept up, Redemption would be flooded within the hour. He reached Baxter and gave the man a hard kick. When he got no response, he kicked him again. Then he shot him through the head a second time. Better safe than sorry.
            A grating screech cut through the air. Karver spun around, chambering a fresh round into his rifle. From atop the general store, a black mass leapt to the ground. Water splashed as it landed. It had six legs, articulated not unlike an insect’s, but its center mass was thick and rippled with obsidian muscles. The round head focused on Karver with its six spherical eyes, glowing an eerie shade of yellow. Its mouth opened. And then it opened some more. Wide enough that it could easily swallow a man up to his chest if it wanted.
            Karver suspected that’s exactly what it intended to do.
            The creature released a dangerous rattle from its throat, a pair of long tendrils extending from its gullet and whipping around its head. Once its impressive entrance was complete, the thing advanced on Karver like a charging bull.
            “Mr. Phibes, I presume,” Karver remarked before firing his Winchester. If the bullet had an effect, it wasn’t noticeable. He backpedalled and fired again, emptying his rifle into the thing. It didn’t even slow down.
            The creature – Mr. Phibes – collided with Karver, sending the useless rifle flying. Pain shot through the doctor as ribs snapped like dry kindling and organs shifted in ways they weren’t meant to. The shock of the cold water splashing against his back as he hit the ground did little to combat the throbbing pain soaking through his body. Forced to stare down Mr. Phibes’ gaping maw, Karver saw his own death. He expected the viciously curved teeth to snap shut around his face but the danger instead came from the twin tendrils protruding from the mouth.
            New pains shot from his chest and left arm. Twisting his head forward, Karver saw the tendrils shredding through his flesh, burrowing down to the bone. He managed a single cry, abruptly transformed into wet hacking. The pain spiked as the tendrils connected with his bones and dug in. Once firmly attached, squirts of highly selective digestive enzymes coated the bones. They dissolved rapidly, allowing Phibes to drink up the bone-juice while leaving Karver’s vital organs undamaged.
            Karver blinked as rain fell into his eyes. His mouth gasped for air, bloody sputum running past his lips. The feeling of his bones being liquefied and drunk away was both excruciating and bizarre. It felt like he’d sprung a very fatal leak and all his air was draining out of him. Just like Chang, he thought. Images of the blob-like Chinese man danced in his mind, not dead but with no kind of life to look forward to.
            “No!”
            The scream cut through the raging winds. Karver tilted his head to the side and spotted Nessa standing at the hole in his wall. Her beautiful, terrifying features constricted into horrified shock. Her yell gained the attention of Mr. Phibes. The creature turned towards her, retracting its tendrils from Karver’s body. Facing down the scarred angel, it let out a chattering sound that Karver could only assume was its approximation of a laugh.
            “R-run!” he forced out. His chest was on fire. Between the consumption, the broken ribs, and the rest which had simply been sucked out of him, breathing was more than a little difficult. He tried to snatch the beast as it advanced on Nessa, his fingers running over the slick surface of one of its legs. He managed to turn himself half over but couldn’t move beyond that, forced to lie in the mud as Phibes closed in on his newest victim.
            About six feet away from Nessa, the creature froze. Its jaw stretched wide, releasing a stuttering cough. Its six legs swayed unsteadily as the coughing grew worse. It stumbled several more paces towards Nessa then spun around and started back towards Karver. Phibes’ back legs gave out and it dragged itself through the mud, black slime spraying from its mouth with each deep cough. The creature’s movements grew more sluggish and disjointed before it finally collapsed. It hacked up a large glob of greenish-black sludge then went still.
            Karver lay back, unsure of what he’d just witnessed but glad Nessa was safe. A moment later and she stood over him. He wasn’t sure where the rain ended and her tears began. Kneeling beside him, she slid her hands over his chest. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I’m so sorry.”
            “What happened?”
            “I used you,” Nessa admitted, her voice heavy with guilt. “Like Baxter used me. Your illness is very advanced. It’s gotten into your bones. I knew if Phibes fed off you, it would be fatal. I just had to bide my time and wait for the opportunity to present itself.” She fell silent for a moment, her eyes filled with regret. “I’m sorry,” she said again, hardly a whisper.
            “You did what you had to,” Karver said. “Just promise me one thing.”
            “Anything.”
            “Next time a demon comes to town, remind me that I’m a doctor. Not a monster hunter.” He attempted a laugh but it only sent fresh sparks of pain dancing across his chest. His head went woozy. Maybe I won’t end up like Chang. “Rescuing a fallen angel in distress means you get to go to Heaven, right?”
            “You’re not dying.”
            “You’re not a doctor.”
            “No. Not a doctor.” Nessa’s hands pressed harder against Karver’s chest. “Something better.”
            The tingle of energy he’d felt moments before Nessa sent Baxter through the wall returned. Only this time it grew much stronger. He felt pressure in his chest and left arm, along with an odd tickling sensation. He found himself staring into Nessa’s face, watched it scrunch up with pain as she forced whatever mystical energy she contained into him, forcing his body to stitch itself back together. Nessa’s jaw clenched tightly then sprung open as she screamed. It wasn’t a scream of agony or fear but angry determination.
            Karver watched as Nessa’s face split open along her facial scar, pure light blasting out and nearly blinding him. Her scream continued as the light enveloped her and then spread into him. Karver squeezed his eyes shut against the light. Nessa’s scream faded and then was gone. Karver opened his eyes.
            Nessa was gone as well.
            He sat up, realizing the thunderstorm had passed. A few grey clouds whisked through the sky, the last remnants being swiftly chased away. Karver looked down at himself. His clothes were torn, mud covered his body but his wounds were gone. Rising to his feet, he took in his surroundings. Baxter and the Sheriff still lay where they’d fallen. Even the hulking monstrosity that was Mr. Phibes remained.
            But Nessa was no more.
            Karver sucked a full breath of air into his lungs, held it in then released it slowly. No tingle. No sudden urge to cough. She’d healed more than his broken and dissolved bones. He felt a twang in his chest, but it wasn’t from his lungs. He turned his face upwards, squinting into the sun.
            “Hope you made it, kid.”



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