THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Chapter Three, Part One
TEN DAYS AGO: WAXING CRESCENT MOON
Hank Frye stood at the head of the classroom, leaning on the instructor’s podium, looking out over the rows of desks, the faces of the students who occupied them, men and women of varying ages and appearances. The majority of them were there because the University required it, of course. A select few would be true students, seeking to learn. Looking to him to teach them.
Hank sighed. No, this wouldn’t be so different from medical practice. Both involved reaching out to people, striking the proper chord in their minds, seeking resonance. Whether to heal or to instruct, what difference did it make? Hank knew this new job, Head of the Psychology Department at the University of Alabama, was an important one, a job to be proud of. Why, then, did he feel like such a failure?
Too late to turn back now, he chided himself.
“Okay,” Hank said, laying aside his roll book. “Is everyone in the right place? Psychology 250: Psychological Aberration? More often referred to as ‘Serial Killers 101,’ or so I’m told.”
A few laughs in response. Hank smiled. “Yes? Well, let’s get started, then. We just have a few minutes, with these short classes.”
He stepped from behind the podium. “First, I suppose I should tell you a little about myself. I’ve been a practicing psychiatrist for 23 years. Prior to my coming here, I served as head physician at the North Florida Regional Hospital in Jacksonville. It was a minimum-security facility, before it was closed last year,” Hank said. “As you might expect, I met and treated some interesting characters there. It was the most challenging job I’ve ever had, without question.”
He paused. “Well, that’s not something to get into on the first day. Let’s just say it’s good to be home.” Hank cleared his throat, walked over to his desk and took a sip of coffee from his waiting mug.
“I thought we’d have a little overview of what we’re going to be covering this semester, to let you folks know what you’re in for.” Hank leaned on the desk. He felt looser, more at ease. Perhaps he would come to find something validating in teaching, something he needed.
“So let’s begin with a question,” Hank said. He crossed his arms over his chest, a little self-conscious about his love handles. “Tell me, folks. What is ‘evil?’”
The expected hesitation.
“Doing bad things,” someone offered.
“What makes something ‘bad?’” Hank countered. More hesitation. “How do we determine whether something is right or wrong?”
“Well, like, if you’re hurting people, it’s bad,” another student suggested.
“Okay,” Hank said. “But what about a police officer who shoots a dangerous suspect in the line of duty? Does that make him evil?”
“Action without conscience,” an older lady said.
“Ah.” Hank nodded. “And what is ‘conscience?’ Where does that come from?”
No one answered.
“Listen to the following quote,” Hank said. “Tell me what you think it means.” Hank glanced at his notes, looked up. “’Every man has a wild animal in him.’” Hank smiled, a tight-lipped expression almost hidden by his mustache. “That’s from a letter written by Frederick the Great in 1759, part of a correspondence with Voltaire. What does it mean?” No one volunteered an answer. “Anybody?” He shifted on his feet.
“Okay. Let’s see if the infamous Mr. Freud can shed any light on the subject.” Hank picked up a piece of chalk, turned to the blackboard. He drew a triangle with a line across its top, balanced on the point in a representation of a seesaw. At the right end of the line he wrote SUPEREGO, and at the left, ID. Above the center he wrote EGO. Hank put down the chalk, turning back to face the class.
“The word ‘Id’ is a mistranslation,” he said. “The English equivalent of the German word should be ‘It.’ The ‘thing,’ if you will. Freud said that man’s primal, bestial nature, his Id–I’ll use the familiar term for it–is always in opposition to his higher nature, the Superego. The conscience of man, in other words.”
Hank stood with his hands clasped in front of him. “This struggle is held in balance by the Ego. You could say that the Ego is analogous to the mind or intellect in modern man.”
“So, like, is the Superego another word for the soul?” a young woman asked, pretty despite her bad skin. “You know, as in ‘Mind, Body, and Spirit?’”
“You could say so.” Hank pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Although, like Freud, I believe the Superego is an extension of the Ego, the intellect, influenced by one’s culture, one’s interaction within the larger society.”
“Wasn’t Freud an atheist?” an overdressed young black man asked. His name was Arthur, if Hank remembered it right from the roll.
“Yes,” Hank said. “As am I, to be frank. Freud saw no need for some projection of an all-powerful cosmic father image to explain man’s higher moral nature, and I concur.”
“So what about the Id?” the same student asked. “What is it, then?”
“Well,” Hank said. “Man is still an animal, despite his larger and more refined brain. Despite having been to the Moon, despite Beethoven, we’re still beasts. Man was not fashioned by some divine agent out of the dust of the earth, a separate entity from the rest of the natural world. We are just the most evolved of a long line of progenitors. Their instincts are still inside us. But, unlike us, our earliest ancestors had no developed moral structure. The concepts of right and wrong didn’t enter into their consciousness until much further down the line.”
“So, you’re saying that’s why people do bad things?” another student asked. “Because we haven’t evolved enough yet?”
“Yes,” Hank said. “The concept of human evil, perhaps more than any other, has been a quagmire for the modern mind. We’ve created all make and manner of theologies and philosophies to try and explain it. The evolving brain of modern man struggling to understand its animal nature.
“Look at the western Judeo-Christian mythos,” Hank continued. “It’s no coincidence that the devil is so often portrayed in animalistic terms. A ‘roaring lion’ or ‘great beast’ or some such. Whoever wrote the gospels has Jesus telling his disciples they are ‘sheep among wolves.’”
The young black man raised his hand. “What about somebody like Jeffrey Dahmer, or Charles Manson?”
“Ed Gein?” Hank said. “Ted Bundy?”
“Right,” the student said.
Hank pointed at his diagram. “The failure of the Ego. The tipping of the scales toward the Id. Of course that’s a gross oversimplification. You have to take into consideration diseases and abnormalities of the brain, socio-economic factors, personal traumas relevant to each individual case, the salient points of…”
“But, for argument’s sake,” the young man interrupted, “say there is a God. Say the Superego is the soul.”
“Okay,” Hank said.
“What would that make the Id, then?”
“Ah, that’s cheating,” Hank said. “When we look to some supernatural, some external explanation for man’s dark side, we’re missing the point. The only devil inside you is the one you know very well, folks–yourself.”
“So, do you believe in evil, Dr. Frye?” the older woman asked.
“As a concept, yes,” Hank said. “But ask yourself this: when the lion kills the antelope, is the lion doing evil? Or is it just following its nature?”
“Maybe the lion is hungry,” the young man whose name might have been Arthur said. “What about something that kills for no reason at all, other than that it wants to, or likes to?”
“The one animal to engage in such self-destructive behavior on a regular basis is Homo Sapiens,” Hank said. “Though we, of all the animals, can make a conscious decision not to act on our primal urges.”
“But what about when you can’t?”
“Can’t?” Hank repeated.
“Can’t control those urges? Can’t control the Id?”
“Well,” Hank said. “Then you have a monster on your hands.”
Hank noticed a few students glancing at their watches, so he checked his own. “Okay, folks. That’ll do it for today. You might want to read chapter one of your textbook in preparation for our next meeting. Just a word to the wise.”
Hank gathered his things as the last of the students shuffled out of the room. When he looked up, a man stood in the open doorway.
“Lucas.” Hank stepped over, offering his hand. “What brings you to the hallowed halls of academia? Decided to pursue a real medical degree?”
Lucas Vale smiled. “Very funny,” he said, shaking Hank’s hand. “I thought I’d see if you were free for lunch.”
“You drove all the way up here to have lunch with me? I’m touched.”
“Are you free?”
“As luck would have it, I am.”
“I’ll buy,” Lucas said. “In exchange for some personal advice.”
“Oh.” Hank frowned. “Problems again?”
“Is that how you got that shiner?” Hank asked.
Lucas rubbed at the purple bruise around his eye. “Yeah. I ran into something.”
“Bad way to wake up.”
“Yeah. I’m having a tough time, getting enough sleep and all.”
“Well, I accept your offer,” Hank said. “Just keep in mind that I’m no longer a practicing physician.”
The two began their march down the hallway, congested with students en masse as they came to and from their respective classes.
“So, are your problems following the familiar pattern?” Hank asked as they passed through the exit, heading for the parking lot.
“Sort of,” Lucas said. “As of late, though, it seems that my nightmares–the ones I can remember, anyway–all have something to do with my brother.”
A taxi rolled to a stop in front of a brick two-story house, its right tire grazing the curb, its radio antenna scarce missing a mailbox. The driver, a young Latino, walked around to the trunk and unloaded two large suitcases, then continued around the car to the right rear door. Opening it, he bent over to help his passenger pry herself from the vehicle.
“Lord mercy,” muttered Mathilda Jackson, grunting with the effort. The driver cursed under his breath in gutter Spanish as he tugged on her meaty arm. With a concerted effort, Mathilda got her feet under her.
“Bless you, chile,” she said, counting out the money for the fare. She had just enough, minus the tip.
“Adios,” the youth said, not offering to help her with her bags. He drove away with a squeal of the tires. Mathilda walked up the sidewalk, edged by twin rows of peonies, the burden of a suitcase in each hand causing her to waddle with each step. She ascended the three porch steps with some difficulty. By the time she paused to ring the doorbell, the suitcases at her feet, she stood gasping for breath.
“Aunt Tillie?!” A pretty black woman, dressed in sweat pants and a T-shirt, opened the door, her eyes widening as they surveyed the old woman. “What are you doing here?”
“Tried callin’,” Mathilda panted. “Line was…always busy. Is Roosevelt at home? Don’t know…as I can carry these here too much more.” She indicated the suitcases.
“No, he’s working,” the woman said. “Aunt Tillie, how’d you get out of the nursing home?”
“Be obliged,” Mathilda said. “If I can tells you…after I’m a’ sittin’ down.”
“Oh,” the woman said. “Oh, sure. I’m sorry. Come on in.” She picked up the suitcases and set them inside, leading the old woman to a sofa. It creaked as Mathilda settled into it, the wood frame accepting the burden with reluctance.
“Let me get you something to drink,” the woman said. “Would you like tea, soda?”
“Water,” Mathilda said. “An’ ice, please.”
The old woman wore a single garment, a threadbare one-piece that looked almost as old as Mathilda herself. She’d confined her loops of cotton white hair with a hairnet, her feet covered with house slippers. When the younger woman arrived back with the ice water, Mathilda slurped it.
“Aunt Mathilda, how’d you get out of the home?”
“Walked,” Mathilda replied, having regained her wind. “If’n you remembers, Rebecca, I was the one what put myself in there, so I could just as easy take myself back out.”
“So they know you’re gone?”
“Told ‘em I was leavin’,” Mathilda said. “Made ‘em call me a taxicab. Couldn’t get a’ hold a’ you.”
“I’m sorry,” Rebecca said. “But, uh, why’d you leave? I thought you liked it there.”
“Liked it well enough,” Mathilda lied. “But I had to come on home. Won’t be for very long, chile. Don’t fret ‘bout that.”
“So you need to stay here?”
“Hate to impose,” Mathilda said. “But I ain’t got no choice. Won’t be for long.”
“Well, of course you’re welcome…”
“Much obliged.” Mathilda slurped the water. “You still got my steamer trunks, ain’t you?”
“Oh, yes. Of course. They’re in the garage.”
“I suppose we can put you in one of the guest rooms, but they’re upstairs…”
“Can’t be climbin’ no stairs.”
“Well, maybe we could set up a bed in the exercise room?”
“Be fine,” Mathilda said. “I’ll be needin’ my trunks.”
From a small device resembling a walkie-talkie, sitting on the coffee table beside the couch, emanated the sound of a baby crying, intermittent with static. Mathilda started.
“That’s the baby monitor,” Rebecca said. “Savannah’s awake. I’d better go check on her.” She headed for the stairs. “Aunt Tillie, is everything okay? You showing up here so sudden and all.”
“No, chile,” Mathilda said, finishing the water, filling her mouth with little ice cubes. “I’m ‘fraid things ain’t right t’all. Not a’ tall.”
It took Marley almost a minute just to get out of the car. Anyone watching would have found the spectacle entertaining. Chaney stood outside the open door, trying to lift her sister from the passenger seat, endangering her own lower back in the process, giggling, her pose and tight blue jeans providing quite the display to potential voyeurs. As it so happened, though, the parking lot was deserted save for them and a half-dozen empty vehicles. Marley got to her feet at last, Chaney leaning back on the Camaro’s pinstriped fender to catch her breath.
Marley took baby steps across the lot, pausing to wince at each flare of pain as a nerve ending fired or a muscle spasmed. Chaney helped her sister through the door of the office, a glass-fronted cube girdled with holly bushes. She lowered Marley into a seat in the waiting room, bringing her the required paperwork from the receptionist.
“You want me to fill those out for you?” Chaney asked.
“It’s not my hand that hurts,” Marley answered.
The receptionist peeked over her counter into the waiting area. “Are y’all twins?”
Both girls smiled. “Yeah,” Chaney said.
“I thought so,” the woman said, an overweight fortysomething with a cherub’s face and wire-rimmed glasses. “If y’alls’ hair was the same color, you’d be impossible to tell apart.”
“Almost,” Marley said, smiling at her sister, then looking down at the plump breasts that strained the fabric of Chaney’s T-shirt. Her own were not so prominent.
“Stop it,” Chaney whispered.
Marley giggled, then grimaced at the resulting surge of discomfort.
“Is there nothing to read in here but National Geographic?” Chaney glanced at the solitary bookrack standing next to a plastic banana tree.
“Sorry there’s no TV,” Marley said. “Or Playgirl.”
“Oh, bite my ass.”
The receptionist came through the room’s other door, opening between her window and a near-empty water cooler. “Come on back, Hon.”
Chaney helped Marley up. “You gonna be okay?”
“Yeah,” Marley said, following the other woman.
“I’m not gonna put you on the rolling machine, Hon, since you’re having so much pain,” the receptionist said.
“Oh, uh, okay.”
“Here, first room on the left. The Doctor’ll be right with you.”
Marley eased herself into one of the two chairs in the room as the receptionist closed the door, leaving her alone. Marley eyed the examination table. In truth, it looked like no examination table she’d ever seen, comprised of different sections of various sizes, padded on top, with cranks and handles. It occurred to her that the device might be something her sister would enjoy, and she smiled at the thought. Then she busied herself studying the various diagrams decorating the walls, numerous depictions of the human body and its skeletal structure.
The door swung inward, and a man stepped into the room. Wearing not the traditional Doctors’ white lab coat but khaki pants and a knit shirt, of average height and thin, somewhat handsome. His hair, short and wavy, had gone from brown to gray around the temples and sprinkled throughout, and had receded enough to form a widow’s peak. He regarded her with hazel eyes, one complemented by a fading bruise of similar color, from behind the lenses of his glasses. Marley recognized the expression well enough; initial surprise, followed by an awkward excitement. She’d seen that look on the faces of lots of men.
“Ms. Kidde?” He held out his hand. “I’m Lucas Vale.”
“Oh, so you’re the Doctor?” Marley asked. “I expected a woman.”
“You did?” He smiled.
“Did you know you’re listed in the phone book as ‘Lucille’ Vale?”
“No kidding?” He chuckled. “I guess I never looked. Are you, um, uncomfortable seeing a male Doctor?”
“Do I have to take my clothes off?”
“No,” he replied, averting his gaze. Marley noticed his face redden.
“No problem,” Marley said. Well, he is my type, she thought.
“Okay.” Vale raised the tabletop to an almost vertical position. “Here, lean against this. On your tummy.”
Marley limped over. “Oww.” She leaned against the padded table.
“Here.” He positioned her hands onto two special handholds. “Just relax.” He flipped a switch and the table lowered itself back down. “How’d you hurt your back, Ms. Kidde?”
“Marley, please,” she replied, turning her head to answer him. “I fell off a stage.”
“Yeah?” He started to go over her back with a large electrical massager. Once again, Marley thought of her sister.
“I’m in a band,” Marley said, loud enough to be heard over the machine, with her face snuggled back into the crevice on the table designed for it. “We play down at the View Carre. You heard of it?”
“Yeah. Somebody spilled their beer on the stage and I slipped.”
“Yeah. At least I didn’t break my guitar, though.”
The Doctor lay aside the massager. “Okay, take a deep breath and let it out.” Lifting her dark hair out of the way, he began to rub her neck. Without warning, he turned her head to one side, then the other. Marley heard her vertebrae crackle, but it didn’t hurt.
“I’ve never been to a chiropractor before,” she said.
“That right?” Vale did something to the table and it bowed up in the middle, causing her back to arch.
“Does that hurt?”
“Not too much.”
“Okay.” He pressed on her back and the table popped back down. Marley felt her spine move ever so little. Vale repeated the procedure.
“I have this thing about drugs,” Marley said. “I’m scared of painkillers.”
“That does seem to be the general practitioner’s solution to injuries like these,” Vale said. “Just to medicate. Okay, roll over onto your back.”
Marley complied with a groan.
“Can you lift your left leg?”
“That’s high enough. How about your right?”
“Okay. Let’s see what we can do for that. Raise your knee, like this.” He bent her leg at the knee, pointing it upwards. Clasping her side at the hip bone, he leaned on her leg with all his weight. Marley felt more than heard a crackling sound.
“You alright, Marley?”
“Uh-huh.” He is so enjoying this.
“Okay, now raise the other knee.” He twisted her in the other direction, resulting in a similar sensation. “Now raise your leg again.”
“Hey,” Marley said. “That feels better.”
“Try the other.”
“We’re forcing those cramped muscles to do their own work,” Vale said. “Taking the strain off the others around them. Here, let me help you up.”
Marley stood. “Hey, that feels a lot better.”
“You’re standing up straighter, too,” Vale said. Marley noticed the quick way his gaze ran up and down her, appraising her. She doubted his reasons were all medical. She turned a complete turn, both to test her range of motion and to offer the Doctor a self-gratifying look at her posterior. She chided herself for not having dressed better.
“Good,” Vale said. “But those muscles do tend to knot up again until they’re healed. If you notice any discomfort tomorrow or the next day, you might want to make another appointment.”
“I will,” Marley said. “Thank you.”
“Thank you for giving me a try. Chiropractic, I mean.” He shook her hand. Marley checked to be certain that his other hand, his left, bore no wedding ring.
“I might make the show tomorrow night after all,” Marley said. She smiled. “You a fan of rock music, Doctor?”
“Yeah, some,” he said.
“You should come by, since you made it possible.”
“I, um, maybe I will,” Vale said. “Thanks for the invitation.”
He led Marley back down the hall, gave the receptionist a folder. Marley began to dig in her purse.
“Oh, the first visit’s always free,” Vale said. The receptionist looked up at him, confused. He nodded at her.
“It is?” Marley asked.
“Most people are so satisfied with the results, they always come back. And they tell their friends.”
“I will,” Marley said. “Thanks.”
She stepped out into the waiting room. Chaney dropped a copy of National Geographic into the chair next to her, standing.
“All better?” she asked, coming over.
“Lots better, anyway,” Marley said. She looked back over her shoulder. “Doctor Vale, this is my sister, Chaney.”
“Hey, nice to meet you,” Chaney said.
Marley thought she noticed a glimmer of recognition pass over the Doctor’s face. Oh, great. He’s seen those damn movies. Then it vanished, replaced by a look of even greater surprise.
“Hey, you guys are twins!” Vale grinned. “I’m a twin, too.”
“Oh, yeah?” Chaney said.
“Yeah, identical. You guys are, too, right?
“Yep,” Chaney said, offering her hand. “Nice to meet you, Doc.”
“My pleasure,” Vale said, not making eye contact. “Hey, you two aren’t any relation to Gordon Kidde, are you?”
“Yeah,” Marley said.
“He’s our Dad,” Chaney said.
“Oh, wow,” Vale said. “I’ve read all your father’s books. He’s a fantastic writer.”
“Thanks,” Marley said. “We’re pretty proud of him.”
“Well, see you around, Doc,” Chaney said.
Marley crossed the parking lot with more ease the second time and got into the car without Chaney’s assistance.
“Guess the guy has the magic hands,” Chaney said, cranking the ignition.
“Don’t start,” Marley said.
“What? He’s kinda cute, even if he’s not in your age bracket. Older than dirt.”
“He’s about right,” Marley said. “Give or take a year or ten.”
“See,” Chaney said, adjusting the air conditioning but rolling the window down to let out some of the afternoon heat. “I knew you were interested. And he’s a twin, too. That’s kismet.”
“I don’t know,” Marley said. “I think he recognized you. From your leading roles, I mean.”
“Oh, please. Nobody knows who I am.”
“Everybody and their horny kid brother knows who you are, Sis,” Marley said.“Every guy, at least.”
“Come on.” Chaney fastened her seatbelt. “It’s just an urban legend that the great Gordon Kidde has a daughter who does porn. Nobody believes it.”
“Why, because you use a fake name? You don’t disguise your face.”
“It’s not my face guys are looking at,” Chaney said. “Besides, let’s say the good Doctor has seen my movies. So what? He’s read all of Dad’s books, too. He’s a Renaissance man.”
“Who’s seen my sister naked.”
“Well, seeing as we’re twins,” Chaney said. “He’s seen you naked, too, Mar.”
“Oh, shut up. I’m not gonna go out with him.”
“Why not? Because he might have watched a porn flick?”
“Look, Mar,” Chaney said, pulling out of the parking lot onto a street shaded by overhanging branches, crunching acorns beneath the tires. “There are no perfect men out there. Every guy has some bad habits. No matter how nice a guy might be, everybody–but everybody–has a dark side.”
As soon as Roosevelt Brewster opened his front door and smelled kraut and polish sausages, he knew that a shitstorm loomed on the horizon.
“This may not have been the best night to invite you for supper,” he said over his shoulder.
“Smells good to me,” his partner replied. Over a foot taller, the chunky Caucasian provided a near perfect contrast to his friend. Ron Whitlow had a mass of tangled brown hair and was clean-shaven, whereas Brewster, a black man, was bald and sported a goatee. Whitlow wore jeans and a pocketed T-shirt, Brewster a long-sleeved dress shirt and slacks. Brewster outweighed the other man by a good forty pounds, still possessed of the build he’d cultivated as a college linebacker, as compact as an anvil.
Both men wore their badges clipped to their belts, their 9mm handguns in holsters secured to the same.
“Becky wouldn’t be making my favorite food if she wasn’t trying to butter me up,” Roosevelt said.
“Whatever it is she did or she wants, I’m not gonna like it.”
“Well, if there’s gonna be fireworks,” Whitlow said. “Then I’m for sure glad I came tonight.”
Roosevelt grumbled, closing the door behind them. Rebecca stepped through the swinging door that led from the combination den/dining room into the kitchen. With her ebony curls pulled back and wearing an immaculate white apron, she might have stepped out of a painting of 1950’s Americana, the domestic bliss of a Norman Rockwell scene, albeit with an ethnic twist. Roosevelt didn’t buy it.
“Oh, hi, Ron,” she said.
“Becky, you look beautiful, as always,” Whitlow said. “When you gonna leave this loser and run off with me?”
“Baby, I made your favorite,” she said, smiling, ignoring Ron Whitlow’s familiar teasing. She gave Roosevelt a firm hug.
“Um hum,” he said. “I know. What’s the matter?”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t even,” Roosevelt said. “I interrogate people for a living, woman. You might as well spill it.” He glanced over at Whitlow, who struggled to contain a case of the giggles.
“Baby, why do you think…?”
“Because you hate polish sausage more than I love ‘em,” Roosevelt cut her off. “And every time you make it, I…”
The swinging door opened outward, the view into the kitchen beyond obscured by the form standing just inside, a body that must have had to turn sideways to fit through the door in the first place.
“It wasn’t any trouble,” Rebecca said, still smiling. “I had Aunt Tillie here to help me.”
The drums woke him, the voices. Chanting. His consciousness clawed its way up through the stupor of agony. He forced movement into his limbs. The pain made him want to scream, yet he did not whimper. The thing that had, once upon a time, been a man, arose.
Torches bobbed in the air, painful in their brightness. He squinted his eyes against the flames, their glare obscuring the faces beyond them, the men and women who each held one of the firebrands in hand. No matter. He knew the voices. The creature crawled forth, out of the depression he had wallowed in the sandy floor, his head bowed.
Someone came and knelt down before him. He recognized her scent. Susanna.
Hate boiled in his stomach, threatening to eat its way through, to hollow him out. Yet he could do nothing but bow his head lower in submission. His spine bent to the pressure of the drums in his ears. He lay his forehead against the floor.
“Good boy.” Susanna stroked his head, what had been his face. Her touch burned.
“Are you still in there, my pretty man?” she cooed. “Why do you fight? Let go of the pain. Let go of the flesh.”
His body moved of its own accord, in violation of his will, without deferring to the pain. He stood, hobbled a step, then took two more. He used the forelimbs that had once been his arms as might an ape, loping ahead on the weight of his knuckles, swinging his hind feet forward. The long claws that sprouted from between each of his toes raked the air.
“Your body is a temple, now,” Susanna said. “The temple of El Lobizon!”
Marcus Vale stood in the midst of a human circle. The drums beat against his skull, threatening to drive him down. But he did not fall. He could not. Someone–something–else held control of his physical form. What Susanna and the others had left of it, anyway.
“El Lobizon.” Susanna dropped to her knees, mimicked by the others. She cleared in his vision, painted and naked and beautiful, her nipples stiff and her eyes bright and wide. She leaned down and kissed one of his mangled toes.
“No longer will you be a slave to the Moon,” Susanna said. “Now you will walk the Earth clothed in new flesh, free of your bonds!”
He emerged from the building into the open air. He remembered coming to this place. His memory, faded like old photographs, yet still recalled the thrill of discovery. Perceived discovery. In truth, the temple had not been so very old at all. Neither had it been deserted.
The jungle stewed in the mists of nighttime. All the animals and insects held silence, yielding to the drums, cowering before his presence. The presence of El Lobizon. Marcus sensed it as well. A presence near him, inside him, inside his skin with him. Something angry. Something red and raw and hungry and cruel. Something getting stronger.
Above, seen through a hole in the canopy of the treetops, the sickle Moon burned white-hot. The being that had been Marcus Vale threw back his head and cursed at it.
Nothing escaped his throat but a piercing howl.
* * *
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!