note: this is an unfinished novel and it could probably use a copy edit.
Snot was in a diner. It was glossy with orange Formica and hideous amounts of fluorescent lighting. The once checker patterned floor was now mostly a collection of yellowed paths with darker bits of yellow where black squares died. The place had the oily smell of decades old fryer grease. He hated eating in public, but with a five-hour drive still ahead of him he needed the sustenance.
Warm gooey fluid drizzled from his nose in a steady stream. He tried to stem the tide with psuedophedrine and codeine promethezine mixed in Sprite. Despite all his precautions and medicated safeguards it always won out and eventually flowed. A dollop of slime dropped from his nose and started the Formica sizzling. He tried to wipe it up with his hand, but only spread the muck around. A miniature canyon formed in the wake of his ministrations.
‘Burn them all.’ The shit spoke to him. It whispered things into his head, vile things about burning and screaming. It seemed to take special joy in lifting flesh from the bone layer by layer. It whispered things even as he sat in the diner just trying to get a bite to eat.
‘Come on, just the men, just one.’ He ignored its entreaties.
He sat in his booth feeling horribly exposed. His skin was rain slick from the damp air outside which only exacerbated his pulsing sinuses. He pulled a napkin from a dispenser next to him and tried to wipe the moisture from his face. He pulled his stringy blonde hair back into a ponytail and pulled his ball cap down to hide his pockmarked face. He didn’t ever shave, because his facial hair only grew in small desert-like outcroppings. The waitress appeared at his table and winced when he looked up at her. He ordered his food and ate hoping to God a big one wasn’t coming while he was here.
He silently chewed his food when two buck-toothed children appeared in front of him. They grinned at him and whispered to each other in between bouts of stupefied grins. Finally one of them spoke, “You’re Snot?” He had an impulse to lie, but the black stains he’d made on the table were difficult to hide. He reluctantly nodded. They erupted into high fives and hoots. “Could we get your autograph?”
Snot looked around the restaurant to see who else had noticed him and stared up into their apparent father’s face. “How ‘bout it. My kids are big fans of your work.” Their father was built from farmer stock, he wore overalls, and heavy work boots and his hair looked like it had been tussled with motor oil.
“No.” He said through a mouthful of hamburger. “Maybe when I’m done eating.”
“Look buddy we’re leaving now, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble. Like I said they’re fans.” The father stepped closer to the table.
“If you give two minutes to finish my burger I’d be happy to sign whatever you want.”
Something about his answer pissed the farmer off and he shifted uneasily. He leaned in close to Snot and whispered, “Look my kids respect what you do, but we both know it’s bullshit. So here’s what’s gonna happen, you’re gonna sign them damn autographs right now or I’m gonna shove that plate down your throat. Am I making myself clear Snot?” He spit the last word and a fleck of saliva landed on his burger.
Snot picked up his burger, the father’s eyes focused intensely on him. Grease slid through his fingers as he held it between him and the farmer. The ooze was bubbling in his nostrils. It was making his nose hair itch in anticipation. He slammed the burger into the father’s face as he rose from his seat. Snot’s hat went flying and the kids were no longer giggling, they just sat in stunned silence over the sudden violence.
Snot landed two quick shots to the man’s face before a punch was returned. It landed square in Snot’s face and his nose erupted like a volcano coating his hand in slime. He could already smell flesh burning as he wiped his nose and grabbed the old farmer by his throat. Snot leaned him against the bar with all the farmer’s weight balanced on his heels. His hand was a red mass of meat already and he gurgled as the acid bit into his throat and larynx. Snot dropped him and he instantly curled into a fetal position cradling his hand. Snot turned lifted his worn green John Deer cap and perched on his head. “You best get some milk on that before it eats it off.” Snot addressed the stunned restaurant before leaving. The restaurant erupted into chaos, women screaming the cook and some Good Samaritan tending to the farmer the kids crying and everyone trying individually to make sense of what just happened.
‘Beautiful!’ It spoke into his thoughts.
‘Fuck off.’ he thought back.
Outside the grey waste of winter was still and damp. The cold was welcoming after the heat from his nose consumed his whole body. He breathed in and held the air everything was silent. He popped a cig in his mouth and lit it up before getting in his car and blasting down the highway.
The VFW was filled with swirling nicotine clouds. Truckers, bikers, factory workers and barflies all assembled for the show. Patrons were separated from the ring by a steel barricade. The ring at the center of the room was an18 x 18 beast with barbed wire in place of the traditional rope. Inside the ring the Master of Ceremonies, a greasy bald man with pale skin and an ill-fitting gangster-like suit, addressed the crowd “Welcome to the Carnage! Mutations and monstrosities work this ring and tonight you will see things no mortal should ever bear witness to. This ring is a place of spectacles most visceral and horrors not of this world. Hold your loved ones close and prepare yourself for the odious ooze man, the murderous Mucus, the one the only Snot!” The crowd erupted into a cacophonous chant.
SNOT! SNOT! SNOT!
Snot heard his intro music flare up and he slithered through the crowd to the ring. Fans patted him on the back as he passed. He all but overdosed himself on codeine promethezine and Sprite; the purple drank, before each show. It slowed him down tremendously, but it kept the audience safer. His body felt plush as he oozed through the chains into the ring. He stood looking over the crowd wearing a demented grin. Even through the drugs he could feel the snot dripping, hear it whispering horrors.
SNOT! SNOT! SNOT!
“His opponents tonight will be not one, but two despicable villains. The Butcher! And his partner The Taxidermist!” The MC continued.
SNOT! SNOT! SNOT!
A lank referee slid into the ring. Snot licked his lips and raised his hands to the crowd. Their fervor increased, then the crowd reaction turned sour. Fans pointed and Snot turned in time to see his opponents rushing him. The Butcher was in a leather apron and a heavy wooden mask. He carried a massive meat cleaver and a collection of vicious carving knives. The Taxidermist was dressed head to toe in animal fur his face was obscured by some fox/polar bear/ wolf hybrid he’d cobbled together. He had tiger claws attached to his hands as well as a prosthetic jaw with a mouthful of misshapen metal teeth.
Snot was caught along the face with one of the claws as he ducked away from the Butcher’s cleaver. The shots came at him fast both the Butcher and the Taxidermist swung wildly at him. He ducked two shots and got struck by the cleaver in the meat of his shoulder. The taxidermist slashed at him and he got tagged twice and then fell against the ropes and over the top to the outside of the ring. The audience continued chanting as he pounded in the apron in frustration.
SNOT! SNOT! SNOT!
Inside the ring they waited for him. Snot postured to the crowd waving his arms like a maestro in front of an orchestra and got the audience chanting louder before rushing back into the ring. They came at him again, but Snot quickly fell into a flow dancing around the ring evading strike after strike. Snot was finally struck along the face with a claw and Snot followed the momentum and contorted himself along his spine. He twisted and planted his hands on the ground, lifted his legs into the air and fell into a somersault. The cleaver nearly caught him in the leg, but the Butcher was not finished with his assault he swung the blade at Snot again, he hit the canvass, and again, he got the blade tangled in the ropes. Snot’s movements were syrupy as he flowed from one move to the next, first the somersaults then into a cartwheel, followed by a leap over the Taxidermist. Snot grabbed him with his moist hands and they melted into him like he was made of clay.
SNOT! SNOT! SNOT!
The Taxidermist screamed and fumbled at his shoulders and fell to the ground. The Butcher was still a menace. Snot looked at him and cocked his head; the blade came crashing down on Snot. The crowd was hushed they watched the blade sink in and each person quietly waited for the blood. Instead the blade found its way into his chest, but Snot stood, his body uninjured around the metal. Snot reached out and grabbed the Butcher by the face the mask was shaken off in their struggle. Smoke rose at his touch and he pulled him in almost intimately, like a passionate kiss. At Snot’s touch the Butcher began to scream. He tried to pull away, but Snot’s grip was tight and his fingers were burrowing into the Butcher’s cheekbones.
SNOT! SNOT! SNOT!
He let go of the Butcher who fell at his release. Snot pulled the steel shank from his body and leaned against the chain, the buzz of the purple drank still radiating through his oozy body. The crowd wailed and threw beer cans at the ring. Snot turned and the Taxidermist had caught him full on the back, and again, slicing his arm. Snot fell out of the ring, the Taxidermist pressed the attack, but Snot landed a head butt that cracked his bestial mask revealing a wild eyed maniac with yellow eyes and a web of intricate facial tattoos. He followed the head butt with a dropkick. The Taxidermist landed hard against the barricade.
Snot charged him and took the fight over the barricade and into the crowded bar. They traded blows and took turns throwing each other into chairs. Snot was coming down, his head was throbbing and the mucus was crawling through his sinuses. Snot was drop kicked into a popcorn machine, beer spilled all over him, and cigarette butts caked to his greasy flannel. The Taxidermist’s hide was covered in a white yellow spray of vomit. Snot was dizzy from blood loss and drug withdrawal and the jelly in his nose was threatening to erupt. Snot slimed up his hand as he stood, he reared back and caught the Taxidermist in the chest. There was a distinctive sizzling sound as his hand seared through the wild man’s torso. The Taxidermist stood for a moment and picked at the wound in his chest, collected a chunk of viscera and worked it around his fingers. He grinned through gritted teeth and wiped the blood across his face in a lazy swipe before collapsing onto the ground.
Snot dragged him back to the ring flopped him over the Butcher who still lay there and pinned them. The ref tapped out a three count and raised Snot’s hand and the crowd erupted.
SNOT! SNOT! SNOT!
Snot limped away as the crowd cheered.
Backstage the Taxidermist and the Butcher were wheeled in behind Snot. “Those two dead?” Mildred asked, Snot nodded, “Fuck, I’ll get to them in a minute.” Mildred was the resident medic/faith healer/psychic surgeon and her job is crucial. If you want to run a blood sport where employees die nightly then you either need an infinite supply of fighters or a Mildred. Her face was a ghastly collection of disparate shades of rouge, lipstick and eye shadow and she forever carried the uneasy scent combination of piss, nicotine and some abhorrent flowery perfume. “They really cut you up?” She breathed out a whiskey-scented plume of air.
“Can you fix it?” Snot wheezed as he lit a smoke.
Mildred didn’t answer instead she puckered her wrinkled lips together and chanted something in an ancient language while she pried Snots wound apart with her long well manicured talons. The wounds sealed and she wiped the excess blood away before moving to the next abrasion, contusion, broken bone, etc. With Snot re-knitted she pushed him along and tended to the two lifeless wrestlers. They’d be up and walking before night end.
Snot was still sore from the fight as he made his way to his locker. Mildred was a potent healer, but her powers didn’t ever remove pain. Minimize it, yes, but the body still knew it was injured and the muscle was still damaged. Snot sat in front of his locker popped a couple of Sudafed and laid back on his bench. Burner was seated next to him pulling his bulky armor that was laced with re purposed burner coils and strapping it together. “Good match.” Burner stood up, “How’d you do that thing with the cleaver?” Snot shrugged and Burner didn’t have time to press the topic. He closed his facemask and began to glow bright red. “Time to make the donuts.”
Snot grunted to him as he trundled out of the room. He woke sometime later with throbbing muscles and a gummy mouth. A thin stream of snot had trailed down his cheek and burned a dime-sized hole in the bench, the floor below and into the pipes underneath. He opened his eyes all the way and saw Mildred hanging over him, her face inches from his. “I was just makin’ sure you were breathing. Can’t raise anybody else tonight.”
He made it to his car in a haze and collapsed into the backseat. The car, an old Chrysler New Yorker, was big, but still cramped as he pulled a blanket over his head and fell into a profound sleep. He tried to replay the day in his head, but the sleep was too heavy and the crowd’s chant echoed in his brain and muddied his recollection.
SNOT! SNOT! SNOT!
Rory Butler woke in a pit of broken beer bottles, soup cans and other rotten things. The smell of old beer and liquor infiltrated his sinuses. He could hear bugs winding around him buzzing and clicking as they crawled through the refuse, over his skin and under his wet sticky clothes. He saw a ugly glow just behind a barricade. He lifted himself slowly and found he was in a dumpster in an alley. Three men stood in a circle around a small garbage can fire. They wore make up, black and white creations that reminded him of Rorschach tests and Kiss posters. They were speaking quietly in a foreign language one had a goatee and wore a trench coat adorned with long metal spikes on his shoulders and forearms. Another was fat and nearly naked except for two gleaming chains crossed over his chest, spiked leather bracers and studded leather chaps. Shards of metal jutted from his skin at the elbows and cheekbones and his back was like a coat of shrapnel. The last one was skinny and covered in insects; his clothes were obscured by his collection of slugs, walking sticks, roaches, scorpions and a writhing mass of unidentifiable insects. His skin was candy yellow where insects or make up didn’t cover and he sniffed at a jar filled with foul brown liquid.
Rory slid back into the garbage and tried to assess his situation. How did he get here, who were these freaks and how was he going to get out of here? It started to come back.
He was going to get laid. He’d been hitting on Sharon Parker all night, she wasn’t the prettiest or the smartest girl on the block, but Rory wasn’t either so he figured he’d get his dick wet and slide her some cab fare when he was done. She was in the bathroom and he was ready to whisk her away to his place, a small efficiency over a tattoo parlor on old Main Street. He had some liquor and some weed at home and she had cocaine. Yeah it was going to be a hot night. He was smoking out front when the three freaks approached him. Even at a hundred or so feet something about them made him uncomfortable. He was about to re enter the bar when the goateed freak waved his hand at Rory. He suddenly felt very heavy and his limbs turned to putty. The freaks descended on him and the last thing he saw was a streetlight before everything faded away.
His courage was building and he was prepared for a run, he lifted himself again and realized the conversation had stopped. The flickering light had died a bit and he shifted upright. The trio had disappeared. He carefully pulled himself out of the dumpster, still nothing around him. He padded along the alley and then heard a voice, deep and guttural. He swept around to spot the source, but saw nothing. He continued down the alley and saw the street just ahead. The voice returned and was accompanied by other equally vile voices. Their whispers were barely audible. Rory picked up his pace and was within a foot of the street when he felt a massive hand grip him by the shoulder. He spun with a wild fist and caught the fat man in the face, but sliced his hand open along the metal edge jutting from his cheek. The fat man grabbed him by his scruff and turned him around to face him. Rory stared up at his broad face. Rory thrashed but the freak’s grip wouldn’t budge. The fat man grinned and some silver spittle rested on his lower lip.
“We need him Mads.” A voice said.
The fat man reacted to the voice, but didn’t seem to be swayed. The spittle began to glow. Rory could smell molten metal and could see the air quiver around the hot red pearl.
“Mads!” The voice yelled again. Rory twisted and saw the goateed freak. His hands were stuffed in his pockets as he stared at the scene. “We need a body.”
Mads finally turned and let the drool drip lower off his lip. It was dangling between he and Rory. “Just hurt, not kill.” The goatee shrugged and turned away. Mads turned back to Rory and let the drool fall.
Rory thrashed again, but the molten saliva dropped down his throat. He could feel the moisture in his mouth evaporate. He instinctively gasped which pulled the heated sliver deeper. The pain struck him fast and sharp. He could feel his throat blister and his lungs struggled to keep air as his esophagus began to close. Mads dropped him. Rory’s body was shivering viciously and his face was turning blue. He saw them standing over him and knew they were arguing. Rory closed his eyes and gave up. His last thought before he died was of a warm summer day and barbecue grilling out back while he and his brothers threw a football back and forth. The smell of cooked meat was filling his nostrils.
Mads knelt next to the body. He snorted pushed the lifeless husk aside. “Sorry Sigurd, I broke him.” Mads joked.
“We needed him.”
“Olaf is dead and gone we are wasting time.”
Sigurd stroked his goatee and looked at Gunnar, who was sniffing at his jar. “Gunnar?” His pupils dilated as he looked back at Sigurd. “Do you agree with Mads?”
He nodded drowsily “I miss him too, but Olaf is gone and this has become a fool’s errand.”
Sigurd nodded and left the alley. Gunnar and Mads grinned at each other. “How was that one?”
Gunnar’s teeth gleamed as a grin split his face. “I give you points for originality. I bet I can top it.”
Mads patted Gunnar warmly on the back as they trailed after Sigurd.
Olaf moved awkwardly down a sulfur-lit street, the warmth of the asphalt was soothing his bare feet. He could almost forget his situation as he shuffled through a cool autumn breeze, but the rancid odor of his own decomposition and the stiffness in his limbs was starting to get to him. He looked around at the double-wide trailers around him, the cars parked on either side of a long corridor of motor homes. Grill sets still warm from use, spilled over Rubbermaid containers filled with empty beer cans, the slow hum of bug zappers and the cracking sound of insects flying into them all combined to create a calm picture of Americana. Olaf limped down the narrow one-way street until he found what he was looking for.
Billy Pearlman burst into his trailer wild eyed and started cleaning. He threw dishes indiscriminately into the sink and filled a 55-gallon bag with everything that lay on the floor. He poured Comet over every surface in the kitchen and bathroom and scrubbed until his fingers bled. He swept with alacrity and poured a liberal helping of Pine-Sol on the floor before setting to mopping. Three and a half hours later the house was spotless. He finally sat and turned on the television proud of himself fro his hard work and played video games.
Olaf watched outside, crouched patiently under the trailer for his quarry.
Jolene painfully made her way up the steps with her baby boy in tow. Her body was still in the throes of post partum aches and she just wanted to sleep. She entered and was somewhat surprised to find the floors free of debris, dishes in the sink and the nostalgic reek of cleaners. Her husband was planted in his usual spot in front of the TV with his game controller in hand. He held a glazed expression and didn’t seem to be aware of her existence. She coughed lightly and he froze, carefully placed the controller down and turned to his wife. The baby cooed in its car seat and Billy fumbled over the couch to his newborn child.
Billy watched his son and his son’s unfocused eyes wandered from him to the ceiling to the floor then back to him taking in his new world and waving his arms about in jerky disorganized gestures. Jolene watched the father and son as she pulled a bottle from the cabinet. Billy turned to her. “Really?”
“It’s been nine months, I’m having a drink.”
Billy shrugged and cradled the baby while Jolene had a miniature party.
She lazily poured herself a shot of bourbon downed it, savored it and idly thought about the bottles she could finally unstash from the bathroom and bedroom. She poured another one and sat down on the couch next to Billy and the baby. “We should have a party.”
“With the baby?”
“Yeah, like a house warming party. We could get Colton to bring some weed and do it right. I need a party baby, you could too, you been playin’ those games non-stop lately. We’ll have Christy baby sit.” She nuzzled into his shoulder.
He grimaced, looked her up and down and then looked over at the baby. His shoulders sunk, “I suppose that’d be alright, show off Daniel and all.”
“Thank you, baby.” She snatched up the baby and Billy was left forlorn. He picked up the controller and started playing again. Jolene returned from the nursery without Daniel and she poured another shot before babbling her party plans to an unresponsive Billy.
Daniel was in darkness, an unforgiving draft flew over his hot newborn skin and he began to cry. His lungs pulsed and his face quivered, he needed warmth. A blanket draped over him and he was lifted from his crib, a hand cradled his unruly neck as it pulled him close. The smell was unfamiliar to Daniel and he was about to cry when the person holding him began to sway.
Olaf held the baby close and needed to keep him from crying, He began chanting softly making it into a kind of lullaby. The vulgar intonations were working their magic. Fleshy tendrils slithered from Olaf’s eyes and attached to the infant boy at the raw umbilical nub. He kept chanting and the baby began crying, loudly at first, but soon as the child’s strength left it became a whimper. Olaf’s body began to dissolve and he lost his footing, he almost dropped the host, so he sat against the wall and continued his low chant. There wasn’t much time, the baby was no longer crying but he could hear movement just outside the room. He didn’t have the strength to fight if he had to so he just crouched and chanted and waited. He heard the couple outside moving. He watched the thin line of light below the door. The door handle started to turn, and the light flickered on.
Billy toggled the light switch and was thrown into panic. The smell of rot seized him quickly and he reflexively covered his nose. Daniel was lying on the floor and the window was wide open, the screen pulled out from the outside. He grabbed his child. The boy’s belly was thick with red gelatin; Billy wiped the gunk away and brought the child to the kitchen for inspection. “Jolene, I think someone came in?” Jolene moved to the bedroom while Billy continued his inspection. Daniel just lay on the kitchen table staring at his father. His arms were still, his head wasn’t lolling he was just staring up at his father calm and serene. A chill crossed Billy’s back and he looked away for a moment and when his gaze returned to the boy the child was cooing and exploring again.
“Nothin’ in there, is he okay?”
He pulled the child to his chest and patted his back, “Yeah, he’s okay.”
“Good, I’m goin’ to bed. Could you feed him ‘fore you go back to your game.”
Billy nodded at her. Jolene smiled and left for bed.
Olaf had made it inside. He peered at the mother as she left and then back at the father. Now he would wait for the others.
Snot woke stiffly, the autumn sun peeled his eyes open. He had been dreaming moments before. The trailer park where he lived was breathing, the asphalt cracking with each breath and he saw a woman crying, but those were the only details he retained and even those were slipping away as he sat up in the car.
He popped some Sudafed, lit a smoke and started the car in quick succession. He kneaded a knot out of the back of his neck as he buzzed down the road.
As he drove south the heat crept back and the warm sun greeted him as he crossed through Tennessee. The sky was spitting lightly and he was sipping at his Easter colored concoction of cough syrup and Sprite as he drove through the mountains.
The syrupy quality of his drug-laced brain shaded the thoughts in his head towards the absurd. He reran the match in his head and intercut it with visions of breathing asphalt. The Butcher was more slug-like in his recollection and the Taxidermist more weasel-like. Each movement recalculated took on a strange balletic quality. He couldn’t fight the onslaught of images and the repetition became intrusive, uncomfortable. It consumed his brain, his stomach gurgled, his muscles throbbed, sweat poured in thick profusions and he lost track of where he was. The slime in his nose was running down his face and coating his neck, burning his collar and dripping onto the steering column.
Driblets of snot burned through the steering wheel and formed veins through the plastic until it found wires and metal and seared those delicate instruments. He was curving downward when he finally smelled the smoke. Shaken from his dream state he tried to locate the source of the burning. The steering column in front of him was birthing slender ribbons of black smoke. A tight curve ahead in the road got him to panicking and he torqued the unresponsive wheel. He slammed on the brake as he hit the guardrail.
Outside the car Snot popped a cig in his mouth and lit it up. The jelly was quiet. No whispers of destruction through the entire drive today. It hadn’t occurred to him until he was standing outside his teetering vehicle looking over a valley of yellowing trees. There was something strange on the wind, a smell, maybe, like the rot of a fresh corpse, he tried to pinpoint the odor and label it but it eluded him. He basked in the cold updraft of the wind against his skin.
At least it was quiet. At least he was alone.
Brielle March was curled up in the bathroom stall. Sunlight filtered in through the dust caked window and made a honey colored aura around everything. If Brielle could move past this panic attack she might even find it beautiful, but her heart was pressing against her esophagus and her mouth was pulled tight and she couldn’t bring herself to smile or frown or even scream, her face felt frozen. After the cold started burning her cheek she lifted herself up slowly and tried not to think about all the germs the floor was probably home to.
“Brielle?” A male voice called into the restroom. It repeated, “Brielle March?”
“Yes.” She croaked.
“Mr. Whitaker needs you in his office.” The door shut with a heavy thud.
Brielle choked hard, her throat was still being unruly. She quickly filled a sink full of water and stuck her face in, she screamed as loud as she could muster to exorcise the remaining stress from her system. The water smeared her makeup some, but she quickly fixed the issue and left the restroom.
The office was rustic, homey even, not the place that seemed to perpetuate stress and doubt, but she had been struggling. She took the country job to extricate herself from the rat race of the big city. Instead she wandered into the haven of a type “A” monster who found fault in everything with her name attached it seemed. She sat at her desk some days and wondered how it was this perfectionist had decided she would be a good fit for their bullpen, but here she was and the stress pressed against her temples and tightened her chest even now.
Mr. Whitaker was old school, his suit was rumpled and his body frail. His eyes always looked closed as if he were pondering the universe around him. His hands folded in a criss-cross pattern that looked unnatural from his rheumatism. “Please sit.” He said as she entered the room.
She sat in one of his uncomfortable plastic guest chairs. They reminded her of high school. Mr Whitaker took his time forming his thoughts, time slowed to a crawl making each moment a new continent of fear over the next more excruciating second. She couldn’t bear it anymore and spoke. “Is something wrong?” she tried to sound casual.
He opened his eyes. “Are you happy here?” He began.
“Yes of course.” She lied.
“Have you been under stress?” He continued.
Where was this concern two months ago, she thought to herself, and where is he going with this? “No, everything is great.”
“I need, I need you to provide a story.” he opened a desk calender. “October 1st was the last time you pitched a story, two weeks is far too long to research.” He looked up at her. “I’m afraid you will need to provide a story very very soon in order to remain employed here.”
She remembered this nightmare, every night for the last month she visited it. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything, bring me a story. Prove to me it was not a mistake to hire you.” His eyes bore into her.
“What is the deadline?” she gulped, she didn’t know people did that anywhere but the movies.
“Very soon.” he said. “Get to work.” he looked to the door indicating the meeting was over.
She left. Her palms were sweaty and her vision blurry, but she managed to find her way to her car. Her thoughts were rapid fire, first she thought about everyone she knew, then any events, any accidents, reports, rumors, her brain couldn’t focus on any of it instead she just kept returning to the ominous unknown deadline.
Her adrenaline spiked again, her brain was rolling over on itself and she suddenly couldn’t breath. Her hands fumbled with the clutch and she stalled the car. A car behind didn’t react quick enough and bashed into her trunk. She got out and turned to the other driver. “I’m so sorry.” she kept repeating as she looked over the damage. A tail light and a small dent on her fender, but his hood was crumpled, green fluid dripped from the front and his driver side head light was shoved to the side. “Are you alright?” He was blonde, his hair tied back in a pony tail and his Face was somewhat obscured by a faded green John Deer cap. He drew a cigarette from his soft pack and lit it before turning to her.
“I’m fine. Car was a loaner anyway, how ‘bout you, you okay?” He looked at her grimly, his eyes squinted like he was looking into the sun. definite cowboy, she thought.
“Yeah, I’m just, um…” It all hit at once the meeting, the deadline, the accident. She heard a vague pop and she just fell towards the car. She was on the ground and the other driver was standing over her for a moment his haggard appearance looked handsome silhouetted against the sunlight, her teeth were chewing idly, “I’m chewing…” she said dreamily.
“That’s you’re tongue.” He answered. Brielle nodded at the realization. “Let’s get you up.” He cradled her neck and lifted slowly at the small of her back. “Slowly now, careful.” a cop car pulled in behind him and he turned to address the cop leaving her to sit amongst the gravel, grass and garbage beside the highway.
The business was swift and soon his vehicle was towed and he was standing on the shoulder watching it get dragged off. She opened her car door and was about to leave, but instead turned back to the stranger, “I’m sorry, I never caught your name in all the chaos.”
“Snot.” He said. He didn’t move to shake her hand just chewed the scenery.
“That’s awful.” she was too exhausted to hold back.
“Well, it’s my name.” He answered.
She turned towards her car, but again stopped herself. “Um, can I give you a lift?”
He seemed to ponder for a moment, but nodded and turned to her “Sure.” he got in as she turned on the car.
‘Burn her’, the slime bleated. It quivered and pulsed in his sinuses. He shifted away from her. He shouldn’t have taken the ride.
He didn’t have the purple drank and only a few lonely psuedoephedrine tablets rolled in his diminishing bottle.
The silence was disturbing her. He would sniffle and lean further away, he clenched his left hand into a fist, then let it loosen, then tighten, loosen, tighten, loosen on and on. She wanted to speak, but talked herself out of it each time. She wished she hadn’t given him a ride. “So,… um, what do you do?” Fifteen minutes of silence was the tipping point.
She asked him a question. He startled, “What?” He wanted to tell her, to warn her about his powers and his dwindling willpower. Two accidents in twelve hours and little sleep left him receptive to his passenger’s needling.
He looked up a clear pearl of snot was at the lip of his nostril. He wiped it away with his sleeve.
“What do you do?” She repeated. She smelled something burning and looked towards his wrist in time to see him clap his hand over his sleeve.
“I’m an entertainer, a professional wrestler.” He reached into his pocket and pulled a bottle of pills, popped two quickly as he spoke. He felt her watching him. ‘She knows too much, give her to me, I want to hear her scream.’ It pleaded.
“Really.” She thought of her deadline, a profile piece. “Where do you do that?” she crossed her fingers that he was a house hold name that escaped her notice. With a name like “Snot” it was possible.
“Local stuff, VFWs, high school gyms, small stuff mostly. Travel sometimes.” He relaxed slightly as the Sudafed kicked in.
“I think we might be able to help each other.” Brielle was suddenly excited. It would have been better if he was a house hold name. “Local color could work.” she mused out loud.
“How’s that?” Snot asked.
“I’m a reporter and I need a story very soon. A local wrestler is a pretty good hook. Do you have a match coming up?”
“I have one tonight.”
“Excellent. Can I come? You have to let me come with.”
“Hold on. I haven’t actually agreed to anything yet. What would your story be about?” he was trying to wrap his head around what she was asking.
“You probably, wrestling in general. I won’t give away any tricks of the trade. I really need this. Please.”
“I’ve gotta think about it. My place is coming up soon, we can discuss it more there if that’s alright.” He banged his head lightly against the window.
They pulled into the trailer park. There was a group of guys camping out on a couch in their yard watching NASCAR. Across the park she could see two girls watching intensely as a third girl pulled a dirty matted plush cat from a puddle. Its paw dripped a constant thin stream of rainbow colored water back into the puddle. A woman slapped a guy whose head was initially obscured by his car hood. He reared back in a playful defensive stance, arms up, a grin plastered across his face. She was positively transfixed by the little moments. “We’re here. Third one up on the right.” Snot pointed.
He burst quickly from the car, left her in the dust.
Snot was pouring cough syrup into Sprite as he crossed the living room. He sat and drank. He waved her in.
Brielle moved into the trailer and immediately felt a sinking sensation, physically the floor dipped low as she crossed the threshold. Her spirit sank as she took in the atmosphere of the ratty double wide she was in. The trailer looked like a place squatters would hole up. The TV was precariously balanced on a milk crate and the back seat of a van sat in the center of the room where a couch would be. Snot reclined on a torn brown beanbag chair, small Styrofoam beads puffed out with each breath Snot drew. He reached for a roll of blue paper shop towels and blew his nose bringing a small snowstorm of Styrofoam beads. There was shag carpeting in the living room dotted with what at first glance looked to be cigarette burns, but as she stepped ever deeper into this hive were revealed to be Pollock-like scars winding their way across nearly every inch of carpet. Further veins crept across the peeling linoleum in the kitchen.
Burner sat at the kitchen table with a bowl of Froot Loops perched in his hand, spoon in the other. He crunched down a mouthful of cereal, the sheer size of the big Latino made her picture car crushers in junkyards. The room smelled like weed and the bong next to Burner indicated the source of the odor.
“Have a seat.”
Olaf mewled and gulped trying to produce a word. He flushed, but produced no more than a series of vowels. He grew tired quickly from the strain of it. His infant limbs gesticulated in baroque patterns. The muscle memory he had grown used to in his former body was raw in this new shell.
“What’s wrong buddy?” His “Father” asked. Billy watched his son’s brow furrow in concentration. His son stared back at him as if he was interrupting serious work. Every time he looked at his son since he arrived home he was either asleep or deep in concentration.
The trailer park yawned with each gust of wind. The detective wanted to throw up, but his pride wouldn’t allow him. He stared at the man lying in a pool of his own blood, his arm was degloved at the shoulder. The detective was tall and wide, a stetson sat on his head and a large shiny buckle in the shape of Tennessee held in his straining midsection. He looked over the room trying to make some sense of the scene in front of him.
The room was stagnant, the corpse appeared to be something of a hoarder, everything that wasn’t covered with blood was covered with dust. The linoleum in the kitchen was peeled back revealing the wooden floor, rancid food filled the refrigerator and everything had the faint reek of locker room socks. The rest was strewn with decades old magazines, soda cans, cigarette butts on every available surface, random musical instruments, decaying food, a collection of useless crap, the television was on, but muted and the blue light made the horror less real somehow. He swallowed hard and moved carefully through the scene.
Something kept striking him as he looked at the body. The skin at his stomach was loose and coiled and his face was frozen in a scream, his eyes were clearly fixed on his arm. He looked as best he could without touching the body for any other wounds, but he couldn’t find any, the base of his shoulder looked torn, like a ragged piece of leather. It reminded him in it’s way of his youth spent in his grandfather’s tannery. The place smelled foul and the gutted bodies of wildlife were slung hollow on racks. The stomach and arm both triggered his nostalgia and set his stomach reeling
He let his eyes fall on every surface. A small spot on the entertainment center was untouched by blood or dust, an elongated oval of clean space. A framed photo next to it showed the dead man posing with a girl, the now naked arm once had a tattoo, a naked pin up devil girl, and he was a large man, easily three hundred pounds. There was no sign of the girlfriend here, nothing feminine would survive in this hovel. He turned away and left the room. Police outside were ready to enter with their bags and paint cans.
The chill of fall greeted him. The trailer park was still, it was the middle of the night, somewhere a cat yowled, the detective lit a match waved the flame underneath the stub of a cigar and drew in.
“Rhiner.” He turned to see Unger, the coroner, running a hand through his thinning hair. Rhiner tipped his stetson towards him. “What have you got for me?” Unger asked.
“Dead body. His arm was chewed up real good. Not much to go on, why don’t you give me a second opinion?”
“What do you expect me to turn up. Nothing I do will help you this evening.”
“I don’t know, but that is some horrible God Damned shit in there and I don’t want to give whoever did it time to rest. I want him caught and hung by dawn if we can.”
The coroner shook his head and moved into the trailer. Rhiner lit his cigar again and puffed it to full burning life. He tasted the tobacco and slowly blew out, felt the tension drain from him at the first heavenly drag.
Unger returned as he finished his cigar. “The victim, died of blood loss from what I can gather, won’t know for sure until the autopsy, but he also lost a considerable amount of cellulite.”
“Yeah he lost some weight looks like.”
“No, I mean there are portions of fat tissue strewn along the floor with the blood. He looks like he was gutted.” Rhiner chewed on the information. Unger spoke again, “May I go now?”
“You’re dismissed.” He absently turned away from Unger, who stomped away.
Despite the motion of those around him flowing in and out of the trailer Rhiner’s eyes were drawn to the ground, a brief reflection of sulfur light, the ripple of a puddle, he looked at the ground and saw them. Little cat’s paws of blood anointing the asphalt at haphazard intervals. The size was not uniform, some smaller, some larger, but each seemed to follow a rough path.
He followed the path at a leisurely pace until it disappeared below a trailer. He dropped awkwardly to his hands and knees hoping to spot the source of the tracks, but there was only gravel. He made another trip around the trailer, but the trail was cold. When he returned the crime scene was fully secured, the body was removed and only a few officers remained to continue collecting, swabbing and bagging evidence.
He tugged at a uniform police officer, “Get some samples of these.” He pointed to the blood splotches on the asphalt. The officer nodded and set to work.
Rhiner went to his car to catch his breath. He hadn’t realized he was holding it until he sat in his driver’s seat. He was a homicide detective and had seen horrific crime scenes in his time. Tim Woolly took a gunshot to the face and compared to that this crime scene seemed tame, but it shook him worse somehow. The lack of other identifiable wounds first on his list, the torn flesh a very close second. The old girlfriend was obviously the first suspect, he would have to find her, but he felt a strange stirring in the pit of his stomach. The girl didn’t do it, his instincts told him, but the world he felt encroaching on him felt so suddenly alien. He got out of his car and instantly lost his balance, he fell to his knees on the asphalt.
“Are you alright sir?” an officer nearby asked.
Rhiner scooted to his butt and nodded to the cop. “Just lost my balance, I’m good.” he gave a thumbs up. His head swooned, he felt feverish, placed his palms firmly on the ground and he felt it. Suddenly and undeniably he felt the asphalt take a breath. He lifted his hand like it touched a hot pan. His eyes bulged wide and he rose from the ground as quickly as possible. Something was wrong, he was hallucinating, he slapped his face, grabbed hold of his car door everything felt real, solid.
He pulled out his cellphone, dialed and brought the phone to his ear. “Baby? Did I wake you?”
“Yeah, ‘sokay, what’s wrong?” His wife, Kimberly answered, he could hear in her breathing she was still asleep.
“I’m at the crime scene, it’s gonna be a while.”
“I love you.” he felt the words come and couldn’t stop them.
“I love you too. Is everything alright?” she roused a bit.
“Yeah, no everything is fine, just wanted to hear, I’m gonna go, sorry I woke you.” Sweat was pouring from his brow.
“I’ll see you when you get home babe.”
“Uh huh.” he hung up, wiped his brow and leaned his forehead against his car. He saw the blood again, leading away from his vehicle. He pushed himself off and followed it.
The trailer park was big, bigger than any he had been in before and it wound into cul de sacs and empty swampland at several turns, but the trail kept presenting itself to him, like a morbid gift whenever he lost it he would look around and find it again within moments even in the darkness. The path ended at a small trailer towards the back of the park, it’s west flank butted up against a gum tree.
He stepped carefully onto the tin stoop. The screen door hung open flapping with the wind and the interior door was open letting a sliver of gold light through. Overcast blotted out the light of the moon and left the street in darkness save for the ribbon of light. He drew his gun and placed his hand gently on the door. He heard a sound, like latex stretched too far, a faint squeaking sound. He pushed and the door swung open.
The living room was furnished with a couch, two recliners and a coffee table. The décor was sparse a painting over the couch a bowl of candy on the coffee table. A hairy man slumped in a recliner with a pocket knife sticking from his chest. Beyond him and the chair there was a shape moving, something slumped over crouching low. Rhiner lifted his gun and drew a bead on the shape when it moved into the light.
A woman, red skin, jutting enormous breasts, and devil horns holding luxurious black hair out of her face. The corpse’s tattoo brought to life stood illuminated in the gold light. It smiled and licked its lips as Rhiner stared at her. Her skin was impossibly smooth and seemed slick with oil. “Put your hands up.” He said without confidence.
She lifted her arms. Her back was still knitting over the lumpy corpse of the body she now possessed. She put her hands on top of her head and let them slowly move down her hair grasp onto her neck momentarily before descending to her tits. She lowered her head and stared at the detective eye to eye. She traced her aureola with one hand while reaching out with the other. Rhiner didn’t moved.
He was frozen in place, she reached towards him pulled the gun from his hand, he let her, laid it on the table, she pulled him in for a kiss, he didn’t resist. His thoughts drifted to his wife then were consumed by the salty sweet taste of the demon woman’s tongue. She pushed him into a chair. In this moment his adrenalin was at a fever pitch his penis was at attention nothing would move him from this spot. She could ask him anything, run away with her, kill for her and in this ecstatic moment he would say yes, it was the only thing he knew to say.
She put one leg up on the chair, flicked his stetson from his head and pulled his yellow tinted glasses off his face demurely. His eyes were fixed on her exquisite pussy, the dark mysteries he was about to discover. She pulled teasingly at her labia and leaned in towards him. Rhiner grabbed her thigh with one hand and her ass with the other. He wanted to take his time, to enjoy this brief moment before whatever consequences he had to face were upon him. He kissed at the thigh and moved quickly for the cleft between her pelvis and her leg. Nibbling and kissing in equal measure before moving to the vagina. He kissed it, made out with it tasting and luxuriating in its smell. Pulled back for a moment to look up at her, she had one hand mauling her breast and her head was thrown back. This gave him the drive to press on, he pulled the petals apart and flicked the clitoris, let his tongue linger there, hummed into it with longing and gave long strokes with his tongue. She had grabbed the back of his head and was moaning, the smell of her filled the room, may have filled the whole damned park for all he cared.
The demon girl howled, Rhiner grinned. He watched her tits sway and bob as her hips bucked against his face. The force of her thrust threw him away and split his lower lip. She looked down on him and curled towards him. Her tongue flipped out, its thin pink tip touched his lower lip and she drew a single drop of blood from the wound rolled it into her mouth. Her eyes fluttered, she grabbed Rhiner’s shoulder for balance. Her head rolled back for a full wide circle as she exalted until it once again stopped in front. They were eye to eye, she kissed him, just a peck and then smiled. It struck Rhiner strangely she reminded him in that very brief moment of his wife. Something about the crinkling of her eyes, the broadness of the smile pulled her image from his memory. In that moment he looked around, the room was a crisp, clean, the edges and distances were suddenly very clear, he was solidly in the moment. His fingers felt the texture of the chair he was sitting on, he smelled the dead body laying five feet from him, saw the blood and the silver glint of the pocket knife. The knife’s handle was edged with a thin coat of blood, Rhiner’s mind drew back to the oval shaped spot in the victim’s house. The tattoo stood over him, the man’s simple tattoo of a busty devil girl was in the room and was no longer smiling. The tattoo pulled itself from the corpse’s arm and left him on the floor to bleed to death. She put her hand around the back of Rhiner’s head and pulled him forcefully back into her sex.
Her labia opened to greet him its fleshy petals reached out to him. Rhiner was suddenly very aware of how strong she was and couldn’t find the leverage to pull himself away. He shoved a heel into the coffee table, but it slid leaving him more prone than before. He put his hands around her taught waist and pushed with all the strength he could muster. His gun was too far away to reach, his buck knife was within reach, but he feared if he moved a hand from her flank to his boot her strength would overwhelm him. He was locked in this grapple, the devil girl’s labia were reaching out for him stretching beyond human capacity, the horror of it sapped his strength long enough for her to fall on him. Her greedy snatch swallowed his face. Everything went black for Rhiner, the room was gone and all that remained was the musky darkness. His eyes bulged, he thrashed as he began to suffocate what oxygen he had was leaving him with his exertion. The grip from her hands and thighs held him fast. Rhiner’s struggles stopped as his last breath trickled away. She smiled ecstatically as she released her grip on him.
The devil girl dislodged the lifeless detective and perched Rhiner’s stetson on her head before she left the trailer. She whistled and skipped away from the trailer. The wind felt delicious on her new naked skin.
Gunnar inhaled deeply from the grime encrusted jar, he felt the sting in his nostrils followed by the wave of euphoria as the drug, jenkem took hold. African youths would piss and shit in a jar, let it ferment and then huff it killing brain cells and producing a high. Gunnar heard about it before the powers, but found the concept disgusting, now he couldn’t figure what his fussing was about. The powers changed them all, gave them new addictions, new cravings, uncontrollable rage and a ravenous blood lust. He thought idly about the new taste for jenkem, slime, insects, refuse, he loved the filth now, craved the odors of putrescence. He laid a banana slug across his cheek, recapped his lovely jar and let his eyes soak in the form before him. Murder was always better when he was high.
The woman, Mariana Louden, split focus between struggling against the nylon rope cutting into her wrists and trying to avoid the spiders, scorpions, cockroaches and God knows what else trying to root under her clothes, into her ears, mouth and eyes, stinging, biting, crawling over her moment after horrifying moment. Gunnar stared glassy eyed at her, his mouth agape. He brushed a toxic finger against her jaw, hives birthing as they crossed her skin.
“We haven’t got all day Gunnar.” Mads towered over him as he studied her face.
He looked up at him. “I am not a bully like you I prefer finesse.” He rose to his feet, cut her bonds and stepped next to Mads. “Observe.”
Her heart beat thump thump, thump thump. She shimmied to her feet and almost as quickly dropped to her knees. She threw up, insects poured from her mouth rolling in the vomit as she retched. Mariana forced herself to her feet holding the wall for support.
Thump thump. Mariana ran, she didn’t know where, but her body willed her forward. Her chest was tight, pain radiated out from it. Behind they were still with her, her running was not much faster than their walking.
Thump thump. She threw herself through a metal door and was outside. A country road in front of her and just beyond that dense trees and foliage enough to hide her she hoped. A semi blared down the road and her heart almost burst from her chest sending a new wave of hurt through her limbs that dropped her for a moment. They came out the door in slow pursuit, leisurely almost.
Thump thump. She found her legs again and pushed onward. She crossed the road when another round of vomiting hit her.
Thump thump. Her throat spasmed like she was about to throw up again, but something else, something large forced its way up through her esophagus skittering and biting as it came. Thump thump. Her heartbeat rose with the creature and tore from her body in unison. Thump thump. Mariana’s heart leapt to the ground, it had grown a mouth full of teeth and veiny legs, the queer thing shivered and gnashed its teeth at her, the whole time beating thump thump, thump thump. She reached for it like she was trying to reclaim it as she fell to the ground. Her captors were watching, standing on the road.
“You put something in, I take something out. Good, yes?” He elbowed Mads.
Mads pressed his heel into the heartbeast. “Yeah, yeah, good. My turn.” he headed back towards the building.
Gunnar knelt beside the girl, closed her blood red eyes, grabbed her hair with both hands and inhaled deeply. His eyes rolled back as he luxuriated.
Sigurd watched perched from his motorcycle. The trio had grabbed the woman from the side of the road as she was riding her bicycle. Sigurd initially objected, but relented for sake of morale. He felt something pulling him, but was still unable to distinguish the source. He felt Olaf trying to reach him, felt it, but couldn’t convince the others of it’s validity. So he let them play and watched idly as they blew off steam. Soon they would be uncontrollable if he didn’t find some direction for them and they would be out of time.
Burner and Snot sat in the front seat of the large Mexican’s weather beaten van and Brielle was stuffed in the back with the gear. They were mostly silent in the front , but still she strained to hear what little conversation they had without trying to look like she was listening in, but they were far too quiet to hear. The reporter eventually resigned herself to the long drive to whatever high school auditorium they were headed.
“Does she know?” Burner asked after a long silence.
“What, that I can burn her face off with a stray sneeze? No, I haven’t gotten to it yet.” Snot lit a cigarette.
“You better tell her man.”
“Hadn’t noticed.” Snot stuck his head as far out the window as he could muster and hawked a loogy at the asphalt.
“Watch it man.” Burner scolded.
Snot pressed his thumb and forefinger against his head and pressed lightly. “This is why I drive myself.” he mumbled under his breath.
“This could be really good for you if you play your cards right. Some recognition, better pay, this is an opportunity.” Burner continued. “Give her whatever she asks for man, don’t front.”
“I got it.”
To Brielle her hosts seemed less like two wrestlers and more like an old married couple heading to the grocery store. She watched them react to each other wordlessly, Burner would look over to the glove compartment and without prompting Snot would pull weed out, pack a bowl and hand it to his roommate. Snot would sniffle and Burner would pull a psuedophed bottle from his dash and hand it to Snot. They were in sync as much as any partnered couple she had ever seen, but it had seemed so mundane compared to their profession. It wasn’t necessarily unexpected, but strangely surreal.
“How much further?” she asked. Neither of them heard her so she asked again. “How much further to the event?”
Burner turned this time, “Another hour, little less maybe. Why? You gotta pee or something?”
They stopped at the next truck stop and all got out.