Ahh, Gears. Good to see you again.
Another year has come and gone. A year older. A year wiser. A year of your youth ground away in the mill of eternity. So, to commemorate this happiest of days: Tales! Tales of horror. Of suspense. Of moral ambiguity and cruelty. Of truncated kindnesses, and missing people, and maybe even a song and dance number. Tales with two faces, stories that don't and do mean at the same time, and the occasional tug at the heart string. Stories of men with needle teeth, or a horse who tells the future, or a duck whose quack echoes. Perhaps a skull who speaks all your fears, the tomb of the Czar's dead wives, or a chandelier made of bones. Who can say? All I can tell you for sure is…
Happy Birthday…! And many more.
She ran her fingers over the needlework, smiling down at her finished labor. It looked so beautiful, so carefully arranged… And it was. It really, really was.
She’d taken her time with this one. It wasn’t like the dozens of other cross-stitchings she’d worked on over the years, all the samplers and patterns she’d completed and discarded. Box after box of the stupid things were sitting in her attic, all working towards this one. Those were just practice; a past time. This one was a true thing of beauty…
He was still murmuring, still trying to move the tongue that was no longer there. It would have ruined the elegant long-stitches over his lips. Even worse would have been the screaming, but the wires laced through his jaw took care of that. His hands were perfectly stitched together with French loops, looking almost elegant in their flowing pattern. He was beautiful. She smiled softly, leaning down to kiss him on the forehead.
“Are you ready, hun? I have to do your eyes next…” she said, stroking the bulge straining at the front of his pants. He looked up at her, blinking for one of the last times, his bright blue eyes looking soft and wet…
And nodded eagerly.
We'd been deployed to some place in some little country whose name I can't spell. Place used to be part of the Soviet Union before it fell to pieces. We were at a tiny village, just on the crest of a beautiful cliff. At least, it was beautiful if you could ignore the pile of fresh corpses at the bottom.
It was like they had all just up and walked off the edge, like lemmings. Everyone in the village. It was our job to find out why. We went in in full Hazmat suits, to be safe. All the houses were empty, as if their occupants had just stepped out for a while. It was creepy. Only place left was the church. My partner and I drew the short straw, and went in. It was a simple, one-room affair, with a dirt floor. There were some sticks and rocks littered around the altar, so we moved in closer, to check behind it.
That's where we found him.
The poor boy was wearing rags, covered in bruises and cuts, and I realised that there was dried blood on some of the stones and branches around him. He couldn't have been more than seven years old. He looked up at me with the widest, saddest, most terrified eyes I've ever seen. They weren't human eyes. They were too yellow.
He was clawing at his own throat. The boy had wickedly sharp nails, but his tolerance to pain wasn't high enough for him to bring them close enough to sever anything vital. A choked sob escaped him, and those impossibly-wide eyes widened even more. He gasped, and clamped both his bloodied hands over his mouth. That's when I really noticed the feathers. They were growing forward out of his wrists, sticking out over the backs and sides of his hands. Was he what caused this, or was he a victim, too?
“What happened?” I asked in my best Russian, which wan't very good. He shook his head, eyes never leaving mine. My partner was already radioing in for backup and medical assistance.
“This is Six. We found… something behind the altar. Humanoid. It's injured.”
Good old Ashley. Always so cold and professional. I know I should be, too, but… I mean, I can do my job, you know, but sometimes I find myself feeling sorry for the weird creatures we lock up. Some of 'em, anyway. This kid's… almost human… right?
The med fellas came in, along with the rest of the containment team. Emmy had gotten her memo pad out again, probably scribbling down information that was gonna go in the mission report later, when the boy reached out toward her. The kid instantly had at least four guns trained at his head. He shrank back against the side of the altar.
“Dammit, guys!” Eddy – he was one of the med fellas – snapped at them. “I'm trying to bandage this thing's neck, which is kinda hard when it's moving around.”
Emmy must have given the kid an idea, because he started looking around. He picked one of the smaller sticks and started scrawling something in the dirt with it. The scritch-scratch of Emmy's pen doubled in speed, and I could hear her footsteps as she walked around the altar so she can get a better look.
“'Sorry,'” she translated aloud as he wrote. “'Not intend hurt. Scared. Sorry sorry sorry.'” She paused a moment. “The thing's got bad grammar.”
“That's great, Emmy,” Eddy said, although I don't think Emmy picked up the sarcasm, “and I'm happy for ya, but could ya ask it to hold still, dammit so I can save it's life?”
Emmy said something that I think's in Russian, and the kid stopped moving, so I guess he understood. The girl's a freaking savant, I swear. Can speak a bazillion languages, but can't read a situation worth beans, and she was still talking. I think she was asking questions, but the kid wasn't answering.
The flight back started out pretty boring. At least, for everyone that wasn't Emmy. She'd passing notes back and forth with the kid, or something, which I'm sure breaks all sorts of protocols, but from the look that was on her face, it looked like she was getting a pretty good idea of what the hell happened, so maybe she wouldn't get reprimanded too bad. I hope she didn't. She's a sweet girl. Kinda cute. I know I shouldn't be thinking those kinds of things about my co-workers, but she is.
I think everyone was surprised when Emmy suddenly announced that we all had to break out the earplugs, and now. We obeyed, of course. The kid looked like he was about to start crying again at the gesture; I think we hurt his feelings. Now, I'm no scientist or anything, but by this point I was starting to figure that the kid was refusing to talk for a damn good reason. However it happened, it was probably his voice that killed the villagers, and it could probably kill us, too. No-one else seemed inclined to ask Emmy why, so they were probably thinking the same thing.
We handed the kid over to the researchers at Site-██, and Emmy merrily started rattling off to them what she's learned. I was kinda shocked she could be so chipper talking about it, though. What I overheard sounded pretty grim. The villagers had mistaken the kid for a demon when he'd wandered into town looking for food, and were probably trying to exorcise him. When his fear for his own life outweighed his fear of speaking, and he said two words (or, at least, something that translated to two words in English) that, combined with a defensive swing of his arm in what had happened to be in the general direction of the cliff, ultimately led to an entire village of people calmly walking off the ledge to their deaths:
I didn't see the kid again until some years later. I'd had an accident that screwed up my leg too bad for me to go back to field work, and got reassigned to paper-pushing at Site-17. He still had some scars from what he'd done to his neck, but there was also a bigger, cleaner one that looked like it had come from a surgery. Given the fact that he was at Site-17 now, I guessed that they'd probably taken out his vocal cords or something. He smiled and waved at me when he saw me. I waved back.
… My supervisor saw, and I got reassigned before I even had a chance to get my things into my new old desk.
"So what are you doing up here in Saskatchewan?" asked the truck driver. His beard was rather scruffy and he didn't seem too bright, but he was inviting enough, and friendly. He was nice enough to pick up a hitch hiker, at least.
"I'm an investor. I'm heading up north to check out the uranium mines they have going here," I replied, watching the hula girl shake on the driver's dashboard.
"Why didn'tcha take a plane up?" the driver asked.
"Well I was going to but then that hail storm passed over the city and they said no flights would be leaving in 24 hours. I got a meeting up there in…" I checked my watch. "16 hours."
"Well it is nice to see the countryside, eh?" The man's gaze shifted to the sky momentarily.
"Oh yes, it is very nice." I looked up to, only to notice two spinning lights overhead.
"Now what wouldja say that is?" The truck driver could see them too.
"I dunno, maybe a chopper or something?" I gazed at the lights. Odd how they swirled like that. They seemed to get bigger as well.
"Nah, if it were a chopper it'd be making noise." The truck driver frowned. I looked back at the road to see if there were any other vehicles about. No one else on the lone, flat highway.
"Maybe i- Woah shit!" I was interrupted as the truck driver shifted the wheel sideways. I saw a flash of lights. Two lights, spinning I thought. And then the truck careened off the highway and flipped onto its side, leaving myself and the driver suspended sideways as our seat belts held us tight. I looked down to see a smashed hula girl.
"I- augh - I think I broke my arm," the truck driver said.
"Why the fuck did you do that?!" My head hurt.
"The lights came really close and we were about to smash them." The truck driver replied.
"Smash lights?" I asked, but before I could hear an answer I instead heard the sound of smashing glass and a quick ripping noise. I looked up to see the driver gone from his seat and the windshield broken.
I focused through the windshield to see a blob. It was large, red, and for all intents and purposes could only be described as a blob. It had several tendrils extending from its body, one of which was holding onto the driver. And then I heard the sound of smashing glass and I too was suspended in the air by a slimy, red tendril.
"Greetings Earth men!" said the blob, "I am Snozerghaslel, food critic of Snasser. My apologies for crashing your vehicle, but i thought that the best way to incapacitate you!"
I was too shocked to respond. I looked over at the driver to see him similarly surprised. I looked back at the blob.
"Can you hear me? Is my telepathy coming through alright? Hello?" the blob seemed to jiggle a little. For some unknown reason I decided to nod to communicate that its telepathy was, in fact, coming through.
"Ah, good. I thought I should congratulate you, for being the first specimens of a new food craze!" The blob jiggled some more. "I've eaten a few Garfhufians in my lifetime, and even a Cragelisalilian, but I have never eaten an Earthling before."
Sudden fear came over me as I realized what it meant. I squirmed a bit, but to no avail.
"Squirming just serves to wet my appetite, as you will soon learn. Anyways, let's get to it." I watched in terror as the blob opened up a hole in itself that soon filled with what I could only presume to be teeth. He picked up the driver and dropped him in. The driver screamed on the way down then was silenced as the hole closed. I barfed.
"Oooh, hmmm, good texture. Oooh, crunchy center." I could hear a grinding noise and retched again. "Ah, I really enjoy that liquid around the crunchy area. Adds a deep contrast that really keeps the taste-arms waving."
I heard a gulping noise and turned green. Then white as I realized I was up next for taste-testing. "I suppose you're up next, mister squirmy."
The tentacle began to rise up over the mouth-hole, which was once again beginning to open. I screamed. Quite loudly. So loudly the blob had to shake me and tell me to quiet down. I didn't. I had never been as terrified as I was right at that moment.
Then, just as it began to lower me into the mouth-hole, it stopped.
"Oh, wait, what is that after-taste?" The blob paused and smacked its mouth-hole. "Oh, that is wretched. That is absolutely vile. It's like, you know, it's like…" The blob snapped a tendril. "It's like when you get a really, slimy old sucker stuck in your tongue-ball. That is nauseating. Ugh"
The blob then threw me to the ground, slithered to its ship and took off. That night at the uranium site I got the vegetarian burger.
On the corner of Westpoint and Main, there’s a big concrete building painted all sorts of vibrant colours. Across the sides, in big red block letters, are the words “GETOUT”. An unusual sight, set against the offices and banks downtown.
Outside, it looks like some obsessive-compulsive youths took their spray cans in clean strokes to some poor landlord’s warehouse. Inside, the best café in the city. The Get Out, see? Get Out of your house, go see some friends. All kinds of people come around, from businessmen to students. Excellent reviews, wonderful clientele, and the tastiest damn espresso in the area. The owner makes sure of it.
Course, it only really took off a couple years ago. See, the owner, Boakes, he was in competition with his older brother for a while. The Elder Boakes had a fabulous little nook over on Sixth, just called Old Café, a couple streets over. Elder was content with his little coffee shop, over near the apartments. I used to come down every day for a tea. Wonderful atmosphere, not too much different from the Get Out. Bit more cozy, a bit warmer. But I digress. Basically, the Elder Boakes got the talent, where the Younger Boakes got the aspirations.
Anyway, the two of them had a falling out. Shouting matches once a week for months up and down the street. Everyone knew about it. Course, everyone seemed to be on the Elder Boakes’s side. His brother was a bit of a weirdo back then, always angry, you know the type. Rumours said he was some sort of cultist. He doesn’t seem like it any more. He changed a lot.
One day, the Younger Boakes just packed up and left the city. Nobody really missed him, except his brother. He lived above the café; at night, if you passed by right after closing, you might hear him crying upstairs.
A few months after his brother left, the Elder Boakes’s café burned. He was caught inside, the firefighters found his body under some timber. I was actually one of the guys who went in to look for him. I was there, that night that the Old Café went up in smoke.
The next day the Younger Boakes appeared downtown, bought a warehouse, and began work on the Get Out. Completely turned around. His hair cut, he was dressed well, a lot of energy and charisma. Never would have guessed that he was that freak from before. Had a new business partner too, some youngish looking fellow. Never got his name. Long hair, pulled back into a ponytail. Always wore a hat.
… Can I tell you something?
The Elder Boakes… His hands and feet were screwed to a wooden frame. It must have snapped in the heat, the body was folded up like a sandwich. It was horrific. We never let that out, would cause a panic. Nothing like that ever happened before.
I’ve passed by the ruins a few times since, usually walking home from work. One night I turned the corner and I swear, for just a second, I saw that odd guy with the ponytail, under the streetlight, looking at the ruins. I just turned around, went the long way home.
Maybe the name of the Younger Boakes's café is not just some modern marketing gimmick. Maybe it's a warning.
The man had horns.
Super Marvolo struggles, alone, on the floor of the supervillian's underground laboratory dungeon lair. Bound, trapped, his cape flopping useless on the ground. The chains that bind him are of a dexanite-troinian alloy. The dexanite is one of only three elements in the known universe that he cannot break, and the troinian is slowly sapping his powers and poisoning his blood. He is trapped, with no hope of rescue, unless Marvolo Boy, the Teen Wonder, can escape the deadly electric bear-sharks of Greater Camptos.
But it is not his own life he is truly worried about. Super Marvolo is as selfless as any hero, and the threat to his own life could not possibly motivate him to struggle as hard as he now does against the dexanite-tronian chains. No, this mysterious, unnamed supervillain has kidnapped the unrequited love of his life, Lady Catfish. Even now, this unnamed supervillain could be doing all manner of cruel, unthinkable things to his dear Lady. Super Marvolo could never forgive himself if… if…
Super Marvolo turns all his efforts to breaking his chains. He cannot break them, and yet - he must!
"Super Marvolo!" a hooded figure cackles from the darkness in the shadowy corners of the laboratory dungeon. "We meet again. For the last time."
The hooded man steps slowly from the shadows. The lights illuminate first his mad, toothy grin, then the contours of his face, then his mad, staring eyes. Super Marvolo gasps in astonishment.
"It's … you!" Super Marvolo exclaims. "Dr. Toxic! But you… you were dead! You were shot between the eyes in the Special Crisis of Heroes!"
Dr. Toxic throws back his head and laughs. "So naive, Super Marvolo! Then again, you always were more brawn than brains." Dr. Toxic circles Super Marvolo with menace in his mad eyes. "Did it never occur to you that during the Special Crisis of Heroes, I was teemed up with Snake Goblin, Master of Illiusions? You only saw… what I wanted you to see!"
"So you've been behind this all along!" Super Marvolo stares down Dr. Toxic with his piercing diamond eyes. "What have you done with Lady Catfish!"
Dr. Toxic throws back his head once more, his laughter echoing from the laboratory dungeon rafters. "You cannot even begin to imagine what—-"
The world tilts.
Super Marvolo collapses on the metallic floor, limp, eyes open, staring at nothing, not even breathing. The rats and spiders and moths in the cages that line Dr. Toxic's laboratory freeze and slump over.
The world stops.
Only Dr. Toxic is left moving. The look of mad glee falls from his face and the maniacal smile vanishes.
"Please," Dr. Toxic says. "Please. You don't - you don't know what this is. Please, this won't last long. I've been trapped here for … oh god, I don't know how long anymore."
He glances around, looking for an audience that he cannot see.
"Please, please. You have to help me get out. You have no idea what they've made me do. That woman… what did they call her? Lady Catfish? She's dead. They made me… they made me kill her, dismember her… leave her body parts in this hero's bed… For character development… and… the things they had me do to her, before she died… they made me laugh and they made me like it…"
Dr. Toxic forces back tears. "Their voices in my head, saying this is what audiences want… want the edgy villains… real-world violence so the power fantasy has extra spice…"
The room is silent. Unmoving. Dr. Toxic glances around, panic setting in on his features. "You have to do something," he says. "I'm almost out of time! The things they have me do, every day of my life in here - please, please, I'm begging you— Please!"
The double doors of the laboratory dungeon lair burst open. A figure stands silhouetted in the moonlight - a teenage boy, standing tall, cape billowing behind him.
"Teen Wonder!" Dr. Toxic exclaims. "How can this be? My electric bear sharks should have taken care of you!"
Super Marvolo leaps to his feet. "Quick, Boy Marvolo! Use your Marvel Gun!"
Boy Marvolo whips the oversized gun from behind his back and fires at Super Marvolo. The dexanite-troinian chains vanish in a burst of sparks.
"No!" screams Dr. Toxic. "Impossible! My plan was foolproof! This cannot be happening!"
"Good work, Boy Marvolo!" Super Marvolo shouts. "Now, let's take care of this dastardly villain."
A panel at the top of the laboratory dungeon lair opens, with the sound of an escape helicopter above. Dr. Toxic catches the line that drops through.
"You may have bested me this time, Super Marvolo," Dr. Toxic shouts as he lifts off. "But you haven't seen the last of… Doctor Toxic!"
"I imagine not," Super Marvolo says. "But we'll be ready." Super Marvolo puts his arm around Boy Marvolo. "Now, let's go rescue Lady Catfish."
We finally made it to the safe zone. At least, it used to be the safe zone. All that was left when we arrived was a heap of rat-gnawed skeletons, and a notice from the military that the next outpost was 200 miles away. The snow was drifting, and the wind bit to the bone. Our masks were freezing over, and our lungs burning. We decided it was time to find somewhere to make camp for the night.
There were four of us. We still barely know each other, even though we've been travelling together for close to 5 years by my reckoning. It's hard to tell with what's happened. Winter never ends with all the shit in the air. We built a small fire and huddled close around it, eating the meager rations we'd dug out of the gray ice. Sergei was up on first watch. The rest of us slept uneventfully. My turn came up last. I woke up early, and told Alexi to go get some sleep. I locked a new magazine in my rifle, and took a seat in the tower, staring into the ashy sunrise
It's been nearly 30 years since we fucked the world. 30 long years since the bombs fell and mankind was wiped off the face of the planet. I don't know how many of us are still alive. For all we know, the last bastion of humanity might have been back in Petrograd, if that's still what they're calling it. Saint Petersburg before the war. God only knows how the name got changed. Not that it was much of a city anymore. The War levelled most of the city, leaving only the outskirts and the Metro intact. That's where we lived, maybe 1000 people trying to survive. Most of us never saw the sky, never stepped outside the tunnels. Too dangerous. Between the mutants and the weather, you could barely survive a day on the surface. The four of us decided to make a break for it. The military frequencies were still broadcasting, promising shelter and safety at an outpost 30 kilometers up the Neva. We made it there in a week, finding nothing but a notice to move to the next location. The past five years we've been chasing these signs and radio signals. From Lake Ladoga to Volgograd and north again. I don't know where we are anymore. We must be in Siberia by now.
Travel is hard even in summer, or what passes for it. It never gets above freezing this far north. Winter stops everything. Six, eight months we have to find a village to hole up in. Try to find an intact house, keep from freezing to death. We hunt for food. Find a feral cow, wild pig if we're lucky. Usually it's mutants. Howlers, we call them. As far as anyone can tell, they were rats before the War. Now they're the size of dogs, and vicious. And talkative. They howl and scream, you can hear it for miles. Not the worst, though. Most of the truly dangerous ones stay in the cities. We don't go in the cities anymore, not after what happened to Vladimir. A pack of these…things came out of the sewers, dragged him off. We don't know what they were. Looked like the bastard offspring of men and apes. We never saw him again.
I returned to the present with the sound of a scream. A howler, probably. Sounded close. I went to check it out, maybe put a bullet in it for breakfast. It seems like the storm had picked up overnight. I could barely see through the snow on my lenses, and even then it was difficult to see more than a few paces. I thought I saw something moving out there in the blizzard, but I could never get close enough to see it properly. I headed back to my post, cursing under my breath. Heading back into camp I noticed everybody else was awake as well. They'd all heard the beasts. I told them to go back to sleep. That's when Natasha screamed. I wheeled around, drawing my rusty old Makarov. There was something hanging from her arm. It looked like a howler. I put a round through its head and it dropped like a stone.
Sergei stepped over and started dressing the wound. We were all confused. Howlers aren't usually hostile like this. I was on edge, gripping my rifle tightly. Suddenly, a rhythmic…chant, or something started up, coming from all around us. Something about it chilled me to the bone. It had a profound inhumanity to it, the worst sound I'd heard since the freight-train roar of the bombs when I was five. Dark silhouettes started appearing through the snow. Seven, eight feet tall, all of them. Arms reaching their knees. They were coming closer, chanting all the while. No…not chanting. Grunting. Deep, guttural sounds.
I took aim at the nearest one and loosed a round. The thing went down, skull shattered. The grunting got louder, and the creatures broke away from each other, swarming us. A hail of gunfire tore them apart. Or that's what we thought. As I approached one, wondering what in God's name had attacked us, it rose again. Howling and spitting, it ran off into the storm. The rest followed. We sat down around the fire, thinking about what we'd just seen. At least a dozen creatures, aggressive and intelligent, and certainly not human. These beings were more advanced than anything we'd seen before, not just mindless animals. Myself and Alexi decided to go look around, see if anything particularly unusual stuck out.
We saw the silhouette of an immense tower in the distance. A cooling tower, from before the war. My god…how far have we come? We started towards it, looking for any sign of where we were. The ruins of a village came into view. No…not ruins. It was inhabited! The cooling stacks were operating, sending pillars of steam into the sky. We rushed towards it, thinking we'd found the “safe zone” at last.
The flap of leathery wings above drew our attention upwards. One of the…things we'd been attacked by earlier was flying overhead. It didn't notice us, and we left it alone. As we entered the village, we noticed it seemed somehow strange, as if it had been rebuilt, but not by humans. Our rifles were in our hands as we closed in on what appeared to be some kind of town square. What we saw there will stick with me for the rest of my life. The things that had attacked us earlier were there. A group of them. Alexi was as shocked as I was. We ran. Somehow they spotted us and gave chase. Alexi was killed almost instantly, one dropped a huge chunk of masonry on him. I fled, running back to the camp. The creatures lost track of me and returned to the village.
The realization struck me as I regained my senses. The group that had attacked us, that we thought had attacked us. They weren't hostile. They were intelligent, looking to welcome us. My god, what have we done? We can't communicate with them, we have no way of changing things. So we ran. Back towards Petrograd, back to our homes. Every day we run. And every night, I'm haunted by the flap of leathery wings over the snowy wastes. I never see them, just hear them. See footprints outside our hiding places. They are hunting us, and there's nothing I can do.
The remaining members of the group, Sergei, Natasha and I have decided we can't risk drawing them back to Petrograd. We make our stand here, at the Cathedral of the Epiphany in Irkutsk. Victory or death!
After the tumor removal, I started to notice I was always being watched. Not by, I don't know, anyone in particular, or friends or people from the hospital, just a hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck feeling- night, day, windows open or shut, just a prickle. Since it happened right after the brain surgery, I should have told someone, but by then I'd had enough of scans and doctors and soft serious tones, and diagnoses, and pity, and worst of all, constant company (full of warmth and support and never leaving your side, not once- any proper introvert would hate it. I did) So I didn't panic and didn't tell any of the doctors, not even Dr. Morton, who did the surgery himself.
That didn't really take away the surprise of waking up one morning, and finding someone else in bed next to you.
“The fuck?” I jerked awake and sat up in my PJ's. “Who the hell are you?”
The figure was already sitting up, arms folded, sheets about his waist, and didn't answer.
“I said- how did you get in my house?”
It didn't do anything, even when I yelled at it some more, so eventually I just got dressed and left. Took a little walk, played some Solitaire. The next day, it was still there, but up and moving a little, but still not talking, so I tried not to look at it. Called Rhonda and chatted for a while. Then, the next day, it was in my kitchen when I woke up, doing my dishes.
I turned the coffee pot on and wandered past it towards the table. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” the figure said.
I processed this for a little while. “So, this means I'm crazy, now, right?”
“What?” Said the person, attacking a soup pot with a sponge. “No, that's stupid.”
“You weren't here before.”
“I am now.”
“Who are you?”
“Look at me.” He stopped scrubbing and stared at me. He looked just like me.
“…Are you, like, Tyler Durden or something?”
“No. No. Of course not.” He went back to scrubbing, and I shifted a little, suddenly scared. He looked just like me.
The phone rang, and the other-me glanced at it. I got up to answer it. Dr. Morton, in fact, had some results from post-surgery tests- I was, apparently, “right as rain,” and the recovery was going exactly as planned. He promised to call back with in a week.
I hung up, staring at the phone. “Doesn't he bother you?” asked the man in the kitchen.
“I don't know. Just bothers me.”
“No,” I said, with some certainty, unconsciously reaching towards the scar on the side of my head, that the hair was just beginning to grow over. “He's nice. Had me listen to his kid's flute recital when I was freaking out about surgery. Hell, he took a tumor out of my head. Cured me.”
“Me too,” said the guy, and pulled his hair out of the way to show me a matching scar. “I just want to kill him.” He picked a knife out of the soapy water of the sink, flipped it around in his hand. “Want to help?”
“What the hell?” I jumped up. “No way. Put that back. You're crazy.”
He sighed and dropped it into the sink. I poured a cup of coffee, practically ran into the living room, and proceeded to watch TV for the next few hours. At one point, I heard the door open and closed. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Still, later, I was feeling kind of weird about whatever had just happened, so I went down to the corner store and bought a six-pack, then later, don't ask me why (though I think it had something to do with the booze plus whatever pills I was on)- ended up calling Suicide Hotline. I wasn't, you know, thinking of anything, but the woman I got, Sarah, and I, ended up having this amazing heart-to-heart, where we talked about all the shit in my life, and what was happening, and what I should do about it.
We actually went on for a few hours, and I learned some things about her too, but by the end, we agreed I was going to call Dr. Morton in the morning and explain everything that happened- since whatever was making me freak out now was probably related to it, and to Crazy Man, and brain surgery was by nature scary and tricky, and these things probably happened to other people. She wished me good luck, and we hung up. I was feeling a lot better when I went to sleep.
When I woke up, Crazy Man wasn't there.
That morning, the phone rang. When I answered it, it was a police officer, saying I was wanted for questioning, regarding the death of- you guessed it- Doctor Jeremy Alfonso Morton, sometime last evening. He had been stabbed seventeen times by his own kitchen knife, and my fingerprints were found on the blade. I told him everything he asked.
I didn't do it.
No, I don't have siblings or a twin.
No, I hadn't left my neighborhood last night.
Yes, I had an alibi.
And… yup, five days later, I'm going in to testify at court. It'll be fine. My lawyer got Sarah from the SH, plus the clerk from the corner store, and even the desk-worker at my apartment, and all of them are willing to testify that I never left. It is weird, but he assured me, despite the fingerprints, and him being my doctor, it would have been a convenient disguise, and the evidence that I wasn't there is rock solid. They'll be bringing in other people too, it won't be me versus a grand jury.
Because it is, I know. I'm still worried, whatever the lawyer says, I still don't want to go.
I just really don't want to know who I'll see in the stands.
Anthony sat down at the computer, letting his fingers hover over the keys for a moment, the quiet hum of the computer and the rush of his blood in his head the only sounds in the room… And then he heard them. Clicking. Whirring. Churring and churning and starting. He felt them turn, somewhere in the back of his head, starting up. The gears.
He closed his eyes, his fingers flying across the buttons, slowly putting the words together. He let the idea fall between the spokes, grinding his thoughts to powder… Changing them, rebuilding them. He turned the powder into mortar, then mortar into bricks, and the bricks into the wall. Now, he was putting the man behind it, the senile old man who had been trapped there for decades, slowly going mad, surviving on rats. He wrote about his mad ravings, those that he covered the walls with, that the—
A piecing cry broke his reverie, his eyes shooting open. He stood up and left the room, walking down the short hall to his son’s bed and sat on the side of it, rubbing his back. He whispered quiet words, promising that dreams were just that—awful, terrible, dreams. "It's fine," he murmured. "It's just a shadow…" he said. "Shhh…shhh…." he shushed. All the time, they were clicking. Click, click, click—"…15 milimeters in diameter, the object has been discovered to hold an unquantifiable amount of electricity. Class-D test subjects have been cooked alive in a matter of seconds…"—click, click, click. "They're not real…" he murmured. His son was comforted, even if Anthony himself didn’t believe it.
After all, there were monsters out there.
He got up as his son fell asleep, walking back into the office, sitting back at the computer, and waiting for them to restart. And in a moment, it did, and he fed them his ideas, and this time out poured blood and flesh and a burnt door. The door. That must be important then. He put the door up, built the cage, and started to build the thing behind it, all black flesh and too many teeth. He imagined its life, what it must think, how it must be… How it fed. How it entertained itself.
They were moving smoothly now, lubricated in blood and viscera.
He stopped, looking at it, almost numb. It was gone, now. Out of his head. Exorcised like a demon. And now… He clicked a few times, naming it, uploading it, licking his lips softly as he turned off his computer and closed his eyes in relief. Another demon gone. Another beast contained in words instead of his mind.
Of course there were monsters out there. So many monsters…
He'd made them, after all.