THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Chapter Three, Part Two
[Note: When chapters are really long, I will be breaking them up into smaller sections.]
The Kidde home, located just within the city limits of Ironwood, off Randolph Street, would be difficult to find for anyone unsure of the local geography. A brick wall surrounded the large yard, with a wrought iron gate that opened to a long walk, shaded by oak trees marching parallel up to the house itself, a large two-story built around 1900 in imitation of older plantation homes. The driveway, also blocked by a gate, was located to the rear. Marley pressed the button on a small console mounted to her dashboard and the gate, this one common chain-link, slid open to allow her admittance, closing behind her.
She parked in the rear lot, outside the garage of more recent construction, and climbed the steps up onto the screened-in porch. She let herself in the back door.
“Bernie? You home?” She crossed from the foyer into the central great room, her father’s beloved grandfather clock on her left, a spiral staircase on her right. “Mom?”
“Oh, my baby!” A woman sprang up from where she had been kneeling at the front of the sofa, rushing over to Marley. Three sticks of incense in her left hand trailed loops of dark smoke, their ends aglow, dropping white-gray ash onto the maroon carpeting. She hugged Marley.
“Careful,” Marley said. “You’ll set my hair on fire.”
“My poor baby,” Bernadette Kidde said, releasing her hold on her daughter. “How are you feeling now?”
“A lot better,” Marley said.
“My chanting must have worked,” Bernadette said.
“I went to the chiropractor.”
“Oh, well, that’s good, too.” Bernadette looked around, sticking the incense sticks into the dirt of a potted fern beside the sofa. Her hair, redder than it had ever been before she’d started graying, lay on top of her head in a well-tended mound, with the occasional curly streamer dangling free. Pretty even without makeup to cover her wrinkles, she still held on to most of her figure. A few extra pounds accentuated rather than detracted from her curves.
“Sit down, baby,” she said, ushering Marley to a chair. “I made you a poultice for your back. I’ll go get it.”
“I just wanted to borrow the Ben-Gay,” Marley said.
“Oh, this is much better.” Bernadette started from the room.
“But does it smell much better?” Marley asked.
“I’ll be right back!”
Marley shook her head as a creak on the staircase caught her attention.
Marley turned. “Oh, hey, Dad.”
Gordon Kidde carried a book in his hand. Marley could recall few times in her life when she’d seen her father without a book in his hands. Tall and thin, good looking, Gordon still had all of his hair, even if it was streaked with silver in places. He wore spectacles and a neat mustache, and tended to overdress at home. Today proved no exception.
“Yeah. I went to the chiropractor.”
“Where’s your sister?” Gordon walked behind her, tousling her hair before taking a seat on the sofa. He lay his book down beside him.
“Little Miss Thespian? Three guesses.”
Gordon closed his eyes, removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He sighed. “Oh, Lord.”
“It’s your own fault,” Marley said, looking around to make certain they were alone. “Yours and Bernie’s. You should have known when you named her ‘Chaney’ you were destining her for a life in cinema.”
“It’s not funny,” Gordon said. “If you knew how much your mother and I worried about you two…”
“Leave me out of it,” Marley said.
Gordon replaced his glasses. He crossed a leg over the other. “You know, an old professor of mine stopped by this morning. Long since retired, of course.”
“Yeah?” Marley said.
“Yes.” Gordon nodded. “He was looking for you.”
Marley narrowed her eyes. “Hah hah. Very funny.”
“He looked tired. I think you’ve been wearing the poor guy out.”
“Come on, Dad,” Marley said. “I don’t date men that old.”
“Sure,” Gordon teased. “When you can go out to dinner and he gets the senior citizen discount…”
“Will you stop,” Marley said. “You don’t have to worry about me being taken advantage of. I’m not that young and naïve.”
“You’re too smart to be taken advantage of,” Gordon said. ”But I’d like to see you married to a guy who won’t leave you a widow by the time you’re thirty.”
“So who says I’ll be married by thirty, anyway?”
Bernadette entered from a side door, carrying a pickle jar filled with some dark liquid. “It’s been steeping all day,” she said. “It should be at its maximum potency by now. Pull up your shirt and I’ll rub it in.”
“Dad, Bernie’s trying to poison me,” Marley said.
“Just humor her, honey,” Gordon said, standing. He retrieved his book. “It’ll be less painful.”
“Some help you are.”
“I brewed up a bathtub full of this stuff,” Bernadette said. “It’ll sell like hotcakes at Miner Days.” She began to unscrew the lid. “By the way, kiddo, are you and your sister still going to help me down at the shop?”
“Sure,” Marley said.
“Where is your sister, anyway?” Bernadette asked. Marley bit her bottom lip, lifted her eyebrows. She cast a nervous glance at her father. “Oh, no! Is she off doing another one of those damn movies?” Bernadette demanded.
“Afraid so,” Marley answered.
“Oh, that girl!” Bernadette slammed the jar down on the coffee table with such force Marley was surprised it didn’t shatter. “What are we going to do with her?”
“Now don’t get yourself worked up, Honey,” Gordon said.
“I should have known, I should have known!” Bernadette rubbed her temples. “Her being born the way she was, feet first. It was a sign she’d be cursed with a restless spirit.”
“I’ll tell her to call you,” Marley said. She grabbed the jar, getting to her feet.
Bernadette wiped a tear. “Why can’t I get through to her?”
“Honey, settle down,” Gordon offered.
Marley made for the back door. “Love you guys.”
“Sex is something to be treasured,” Bernadette continued, directing her comments now at her husband. “Not thrown to the dogs!”
As Marley stepped through the door out onto the back porch, she could still hear her mother’s words.
“She’s running with dogs, Gordon! And she’s going to get bit! It’s just a matter of time. She’s going to get bit!”
Ron Whitlow and Roosevelt Brewster sat on the latter’s front porch steps, the former smoking a cigarette. Moths danced around the bright orange porchlight above their heads, while, far higher, a dark cloud spread across the Moon like an ink smear.
“Just tell her you can’t do it, Rosebud,” Whitlow said. “You don’t want her moving in, do you?”
“No,” Brewster said. “But what kind of Christian would I be, to go to church every Sunday and say I believe all of it, and then to turn away a member of my own family. And Becky is her last living relative.”
“It ain’t like you’re throwing her out in the street,” Whitlow said, tapping his cigarette against the concrete step to dump some ashes. “She’s got the nursing home. And besides, wouldn’t she be better cared for there than here? Can’t they take better care of her than you or Becky?”
“I guess, but…”
“She needs professional medical care,” Whitlow continued. “You two can’t give her that. Hell, you both work full-time jobs. And you got a kid to take care of, on top of that.”
“You’re right,” Brewster said. “You’re right. But I can’t help thinking, if it was me, I don’t think I could live in a place like that.”
“I thought you said it was alright?”
“Oh, they don’t mistreat the patients or anything,” Brewster said. “That’s not what I mean. The place is, I don’t know, just so sad. Every time we visit there, it’s like it just sucks the life, the hope right out of you.”
Whitlow finished his smoke, crushed out the butt. “Yeah, I guess I can understand that. But that don’t change any of the other circumstances.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Brewster said. He sighed. “What the hell am I gonna do, Ronnie?”
Whitlow shook his head. “Why do you think she got such a wild hair to leave the home in the first place?”
“I don’t know,” Brewster said. “Something crazy, I imagine. She always has been about half Moon-eyed.”
Chaney Kidde liked to fuck.
It was just that simple. And she got off on having an audience. Tonight, there were a couple more people in the studio than usual, so she put a little extra effort into her performance. The one poor guy, who’d come in to stock the soda machine and asked if he could stay to watch the filming, surprised to learn that he could, now looked as if he would pass out at any moment. The other guest, a woman, must have watched people having sex before. She looked bored.
“I need to take five,” the man on top of Chaney said, pulling free of her.
“Shit.” The director held up an open palm. “Cut. Jerry needs a break.”
Chaney sighed, sitting up. Jerry headed for the door, his large penis already going flaccid.
“Go pop another Viagra,” the guy behind the camera offered. Everyone who’d worked with him knew that Jerry preferred guys. He kept a stash of magazines in the dressing room, but that alone seldom proved sufficient.
“He’s gonna have a heart attack or something,” Chaney said. “He keeps chasing those things with Captain Morgan’s.”
“No great loss,” the cameraman, Bruce, said. Bruce had made it known he didn’t care for queers.
Chaney sat on the edge of the bed. The director–if you could call Sam that–walked over, offering her a stubby joint. She took it, held it while he lit it for her.
“You’re gonna make me, baby,” he said, lighting a joint of his own. “If I make it at all.”
“You will.” Chaney exhaled.
“Be your sweet ass that gets me there.” Sam was short and fat and was, Chaney felt quite sure, at least somewhat in love with her.
“I thought they fixed the air conditioning,” Chaney said.
“They said they did.”
“It’s still hot in here.”
Sam chuckled. “It’s just you.” He drew long on his joint. “I’m gonna go light a fire under Jerry. We’re burning money, here.” He hitched up his pants as he walked away.
Chaney stretched, enjoying the break, the heady feeling of the smoke. She looked down at her painted toenails, ran a hand through her hair. She smiled to herself. Here she sat, as naked as the day she’d been born, and the one thing she felt self-conscious about was her hair. And people had always considered Marley the outgoing one.
She looked over. The soda deliveryman stood nailed to the floor, staring at her. A man turned to stone.
“Hey,” she said.
“Oh, hi.” He tried to smile, his face going from milk-white to crimson.
The young man walked over. Chaney could tell from the bulge of his coveralls that he was aroused.
“Are you enjoying the show?” she asked.
“The show?” She inhaled one last toke, looking for an ashtray.
“Oh, uh, yeah.” He grinned, looking at his feet. “Yeah, very much.”
“Good.” She smiled, feeling a little guilty. This poor guy might not ever be the same. She chided herself for playing with him. But she did it anyway.
“You ever thought about getting into porn?” she asked.
“Oh, me? No, uh-uh.”
“Why not?” She turned on the bed, shifting her weight, pulling her knee up and resting her chin on it. The kid tried not to look. Rather, he tried not to let her see him look.
“I dunno. Never thought about it, I guess.”
“You should,” Chaney said. “Jerry does gay porn, too, and I think you’re his type.” The expression on his face made her laugh. “Would you get rid of this for me?” She handed him the stub of the joint.
“Okay!” Sam clapped his hands, preceding Jerry into the room. “Let’s get it done, people.” Jerry had his erection back.
“Sorry,” he said to Chaney.
“Just close your eyes and think of England,” Chaney said.
“Nothing. Just fuck me and get it over with.”
“Hold up,” Sam said. He pointed to the doorway where a woman stood, all bad skin, thick glasses and rolls of fat. Debbie, the business manager.
“Call for you, Candy,” she said.
“Shit.” Chaney rolled off the bed. “Sorry.” Candy was the name she used at work. Candy Paradise. In the porn industry she could get away with it.
“No sweat,” Sam said. “Somebody bring Jerry a magazine.”
Chaney followed Debbie down the short hallway to the tiny office. The entire building could’ve fit inside her parents’ house. She lifted the receiver from Debbie’s desk.
“Not answering our cell phone tonight?” Her sister’s voice.
“I’m working,” Chaney said. “What do you want?”
“I was ordered to check and see if you were still alive.”
“By who?” Chaney snapped.
“Who do you think?”
“You told them?!” Chaney demanded. “Why would you do that?”
“Hey, I’ve told you before, I’m not covering for you.”
“You know how Bernie freaks out.”
“Well, maybe you should have thought of that yourself.”
“You selfish bitch!”
“Me? What about you? You’re the one putting them through this.”
“And you love it,” Chaney said. “Because it gets them off your ass.”
“Whatever. When are you coming home?”
“I’ll be home in the morning. Bitch.”
“I’m hanging up now.”
“Okay. Drive safe.”
“Love you, too,” Chaney said. “Bitch.” She hung up the receiver.
“Let me guess,” Debbie said, standing in the doorway. “Your sister?”
“That’s a given,” Chaney said.
“Aw, that’s sweet,” Debbie said. “That she worries about you.”
“Well she’s going to have to get over it,” Chaney said. “I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”
“Maybe it’s the other way around,” Debbie said. “Maybe she needs you to take care of her.”
“Please,” Chaney said, heading back towards the overheated studio and the rolling camera and the hyperventilating deliveryman. “I can’t imagine Marley ever needing my help for anything. She’s never been in trouble a day of her life.”
“That just means she won’t be ready for it when it does come,” Debbie said. “She won’t see it coming until it’s too late.”
Sounds up ahead. Voices. Music. Running engines. A baby crying.
Smells. Exhaust, sewage, smoke. Beneath these, human sweat, food cooking, a hint of coming rain on the breeze.
His new senses were alive and afire. He emerged from the scrub brush growing along the ridge of a steep hill, the side eroded down to the bare rock. The village lay below him, unknowing, unseeing, and unsuspecting.
He could see people below in the streets, their bodies glowing with internal heat, defining them in rainbow colors. He watched them freeze in their motions, alert, afraid. Their colors changed, new hues of red and orange, as their heartbeats increased, body temperatures rising. He could smell the fear bleeding out with their sweat.
He charged, of no volition of his own. The being inside him controlled the movements of his body. Someone spotted him and screamed. A woman. She ran for the security of the nearest open door. Far too slow. He caught her by her long hair. His teeth were in her throat before she could scream a second time. The taste of her blood, hot, salty, filled his mouth. He swallowed, gulped it down. It sickened him, even as it excited the other inside him. He could not help himself.
A man’s shouts, equal parts rage and terror. The man, a blue-green specter, dashed back into his home, returning with something in his hands. A weapon of some sort, a rifle or a shotgun. It spat brilliant flame, its voice a thunderclap. Fired too fast, in panic, it grazed Marcus, the irritation of a bee sting. He ran towards the man, who raised the weapon like a club. His hands found the man’s throat. The thing inside him, the thing manipulating his hands, howled in exultation.
A few more died with comparable ease. By now, the whole village had been made aware of his presence. Brave men confronted him in packs, just to turn and flee–those still capable of doing so–as their companions fell before their eyes. The village homes offered no protection, the walls no more than cardboard to him, the doors ripped with ease from their hinges. Inside waited treats, the women, the children.
Some fled in their automobiles. He let them go. A few barricaded themselves inside the church, the one structure he felt a peculiar hesitation at entering. Perhaps the thing inside him could not; perhaps it just opted not to try.
All the people dead or beyond his reach, he turned on their livestock, their pets. He gorged himself on blood, vomited it up, gorged himself again. The being that had–until recent times, at least–been a man, recoiled. Yet his limbs refused to obey him. They moved to the patter of the drums, choreographed, at the whim of the entity inside him. His flesh was no longer his own.
Above, the Moon looked like a slice of melon eaten down to the rind. Even with its strength weakened, he felt his own strength increasing, the strength of the thing inside of him. A thought congealed in his fragmented consciousness. An epiphany.
It had to be killed, this thing inside him. Before it grew too strong to be killed. And he alone could do it. He alone must do it.
The creature that had once been a man named Marcus Vale now understood, there was just one hope, one last hope to save himself, to atone for the blood shed by his own hands.
Only in death could Marcus Vale find salvation.
Only in death could Marcus Vale kill the Beast.
The woods and marshes surrounding the little town of Ironwood, the deep coal tunnels beneath it, were haunted. At least to the town’s children they were. Lucas Vale had been no different growing up. His formative years had been spent in the midst of all manner of supernatural threats. The shadows bore teeth that all the parental reassurances in the world could not dispel. Many nights young Lucas would lay awake, his bedroom window open to let in the cool air, just a flimsy screen between him and the horrors of the southern Alabama flat country. Listening for the distant beat of voodoo drums, the soggy tread of the zombie across his backyard, expecting to see the gleaming eyes of the vampire staring in at him. But the fiend that frightened little Lucas Vale the most was the Hatchet Lady.
Which made it most disconcerting when he, now a grown man, awoke to find her in his bedroom.
A young pioneer woman, the Hatchet Lady had gone mad, butchering her husband and seven children before lopping off her own legs at the knees, bleeding to death in the woods. Her ghost had been said to wander, restless, ever since. Riding a black horse, her legs bloody stumps, carrying the head of her youngest son before her in the saddle. As an adult, Lucas recognized the obvious derivation from Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” That, coupled with the fact that no one, not even any of the historians of the region, could agree on the woman’s name or when it was she had lived, had gone a long way in quelling his boyish belief in and fear of the Hatchet Lady.
But there the bitch was, nonetheless, sitting astride her horse in the middle of his bedroom.
Lucas sat upright. “Wake up,” he said. “It’s not real. You’re having a dream, a waking dream. It’s not real.”
Hank Frye had recommended this talking to himself as an aide to overcoming his problem, a way to force his mind to full wakefulness. It must have worked, as the Hatchet Lady vanished from sight. Her horse left no stain of the carpet.
Lucas exhaled, wiping sticky sweat from his face. He swung his legs off the mattress, sitting on the edge of the bed with his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands. He glanced up at the alarm clock on the nightstand.
And saw his brother through the sliding glass door that opened onto his patio.
The thing that had been his brother.
“Marcus?” No. Not Marcus. Another dream. Part of the same one. Not awake yet. “Wake up,” Lucas repeated.
Marcus had the hindquarters of a large dog. He reared up against the door. His hands, no longer hands but paws, streaked bloody trails down the glass. He tried to speak, but the jagged steel teeth of a bear trap sticking out of his gums made it impossible to recognize the words. Lucas shook his head.
Marcus slammed into the glass, shattering it. With a bound he was across the room and on top of Lucas, pinning him down on the mattress. His breath blew in Lucas’ face, the stink of a week-old corpse.
“Wake up!” Lucas shouted, struggling.
Marcus leaned in, licking his brother’s face with a long, slick tongue. He tried again to speak. This time Lucas made out the words:
Lucas heard the beat of drums, wafting in through the shattered doorway. Marcus wept, the tears falling onto Lucas’ face. Not true tears, but drops of blood.
“Wake up!” Lucas screamed.
He did. Marcus was gone. The door had not been shattered. No trace of blood anywhere. Lucas jumped to his feet. He could still hear the drums.
No, no drums. The beating of his heart, pounding behind his eardrums. It had been a dream. Lucas clicked on the lamp at his bedside. The room filled with warm amber light.
“I am not going crazy,” Lucas said, reassuring himself. He looked at his bed, the sheets rumpled and damp with sweat, one pillow flung to the floor. He looked at the clock radio. He looked outside for the first light of dawn. But the Moon was still too bright. Despite the shadow that obscured more than half its face, still too bright.
He couldn’t see the approaching sunrise.
Juan Lopez tried to be a good Catholic. He did. It’s just that he didn’t have a wife, that was all. No woman would have him. He’d tried. He was a good man, a decent man. But, for whatever reason, he’d never found a nice girl to marry. If he’d been married, Juan knew, he‘d never have taken that first drive out to the whore’s place. If he had a wife at home to go to, he wouldn’t need to buy a woman to satisfy his needs.
Now, like usual, his conscience gnawed at him on the long drive back home. He loathed his own weakness, his appetite for the flesh. He couldn’t stay away from the whore, no matter how much he wanted to. Once a week, he traded his self-respect and a sizable chunk of his pay in exchange for carnal pleasure. Every Friday night, no exceptions.
This far out, there weren’t any streetlights or buildings. No one wanted to live out here. The few dwellings he passed were the occasional shanties of plywood walls and tarpaulin roofs, lit in his passing headlights, then lost again to the darkness of night. Clouds obscured the Moon and stars. He saw nothing save for the few feet of roadway in front of him. The drive back home led him through pristine darkness, suitable enough to shield his guilt from the world.
One of the front tires dropped into a pothole, bounced back out, shaking the entire truck. The empty trailer swayed behind him as he jerked the wheel to avoid a second, larger one. He shouldn’t take the truck out on his own time, adding wear and mileage, but his car was down at the garage, and he couldn’t miss his Friday appointment. He cranked down the window for some fresh air, turning up the radio to compensate for the wind blowing into the cab.
Something ran out into the road ahead of the truck. Lit for an instant by his high beams, just an impression of size and shape. Juan stomped the brakes, even as the grill of the truck slammed into the thing. It went down beneath the front tires, brakes locked, the wheels grinding it into the asphalt. The truck stopped.
“Madre de Dios!” Juan crossed himself. The thing in his headlights had looked like a man. He had killed a man.
Feeling sick, Juan slid out of the cab. He walked back, clicking on the flashlight he’d pulled from the glove compartment. His knees felt weak, threatening to buckle.
The thing lay in a dark clump a few feet behind the rear of the trailer. The asphalt gleamed wet in the glow of Juan’s flashlight, a smear of thick, pulpy, bloody tire tracks. Then Juan brought the flashlight beam to rest on the crumpled, mangled form.
The thing in the road lifted its head. It smiled.
“Thank you,” it managed, in a voice no more than a rasp. The thing trembled, one last breath escaping its lungs, then its head dropped to the highway, its dead eyes staring at Juan. It lay still.
Juan’s flashlight fell from his hand, the bulb shattering when it hit the blacktop. Juan crossed himself again, took a step backward, then turned and ran. He climbed into the cab and sped away, leaving the thing behind in the darkness.
* * *
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!