THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Chapter Two
FOURTEEN DAYS AGO: NEW MOON
A man and woman copulated behind the glass of a television screen, its maladjusted color-setting giving their skins an orange tint. The woman, on her knees, took it from behind, her face on the carpet, her large breasts spread beneath her like cushions, bleached hair spilling over her head as she turned to face the camera. Lucas allowed himself a moment of guilty viewing, imagined for an instant that he was the man thrusting into that soft, sweaty body.
“You know that’s Gordon Kidde’s daughter, don’t you?” The cashier sat on a swivel chair wedged between the counter and the folding table on which the TV set rested, flanked by stacks of books and boxes of magazines. He had close-cropped gray hair and thick-lensed glasses, skinny and well dressed, his appearance in contrast to his surroundings.
“The writer?” Lucas said. He allowed himself another glance at the screen. “For real?”
“Cute, ain’t she?” the cashier said. “’Course her old man denies it.”
Lucas laid his purchase, two comic books, on the counter.
“That all you could find?”
“Yeah.” Lucas diverted his eyes. He looked around the store. A couple of men roamed among the rows of videos behind him, oblivious. “This is the only place you can get these now. Around here, I mean. I was afraid I’d have to drive up to Tuscaloosa to find them. The comic shop in town stopped carrying them. Somebody complained.”
The cashier smiled. “Over these? Shit.”
“I don’t see how anybody could get offended by them,” Lucas said, pulling out his wallet. “They’ve won so many awards for story content. And it’s not like they’re selling them to kids.”
“Small town hypocrisy at work,” the cashier said. “Me, I don’t like how the Japs draw their women. Too cartoony.” He slid the comics into a plain paper bag. “You can’t fuck a cartoon character, right?”
Lucas nodded, looking down at the floor. He glanced back at the TV screen as he took his change.
“We got all her movies in stock,” the cashier said. “You wanna take one home?”
“Oh, uh, no thanks.” Lucas smiled, diverting his eyes again.
“Come on,” the cashier wheedled. “Live a little.”
“Do you, um…” Lucas cleared his throat. “Do you have that one, the one that’s playing?”
The man grinned. “Sure as shittin.’” He pulled a DVD case from a box behind the desk, punching keys on the cash register. Lucas paid, fidgeted while the man stuffed the video into a paper bag.
“Thanks.” Lucas took his purchase and started for the exit.
“New books come in first of the month,” the cashier said.
“See you.” Lucas walked away, but his eyes went back to the TV, to the naked girl with the orange peel skin. The camera moved in closer as Lucas backed away. He swallowed, his mouth dry. He took another step, and collided with something.
He turned as he spoke, just to have the apology slapped from his mouth. The hairy back of a large hand struck his jaw. His feet came out from under him and he fell, his head banging the tile floor, comics spilling from their sack.
“Come on, Leland!” The cashier stood. “He said he was sorry!”
Lucas’ face ached. His vision bleared. His glasses dangled from one ear. He pulled them back into place, his gaze even with a pair of mud-caked work boots.
“Little shit ought to watch where he’s goin’.”
Lucas looked up at the man. Way up. Almost as broad as he was tall, the man yet didn’t appear obese. Dressed in overalls with no shirt underneath, fuzzy arms as big around as Lucas’ legs. Deep-set eyes stared down at Lucas from beneath the brim of a Crimson Tide baseball cap. He grinned, revealing two rows of mismatched teeth in varying stages of decay, his mouth small in proportion to his sagging, stubbled jowls.
“Ain’t that right, hoss?” He winked.
Lucas didn’t answer. He got to his knees, collecting his magazines, the video that peeked, coy, from its sack. The big man squatted beside him, smacked his shoulder with an open palm.
“Tell you what,” the man called Leland said. “I’m feelin’ good today. Magnanimous. I’ll forgive your bad manners, runnin’ into me an’ all, if you’re willin’ to overlook my little spontaneous response. No need for apologies, even-stevens. What say?”
“He already apologized, Leland,” the cashier said.
“Stay outta this,” Leland said. “Me an’ the stud here’s talkin’. Ain’t that right, hoss?”
“Leave me alone,” Lucas said, standing.
“Be that way, then.” Leland pushed himself up with a grunt.
“You okay?” the cashier asked. Lucas nodded, making for the door.
“Hey, hoss!” Leland called after him. “You ain’t plannin’ on doin’ nothin’ un-Christian-like, are you? Like filin’ a complaint with the local constabulary?”
Lucas continued to walk away.
“Cause that wouldn’t be too smart. Get you on my bad side. You hear?” Lucas’ hand was on the door. “Answer me!” Leland bellowed. Lucas started, turned.
“You ain’t plannin’ on squealin’, are you, hoss?”
“No,” Lucas said.
“Better not,” Leland said. “I go back to jail on your account, ain’t no tellin’ what I’m liable to do when I get out again.”
“Cut him some slack, Leland,” the cashier said.
Lucas took advantage of the distraction, slipping out the door. He hurried to his car, locking himself inside. The interior of the Dodge was stifling, but he didn’t dare roll down the windows. He pulled out of the parking lot onto highway 63, cut it too close with an approaching SUV. A squeal of tires accompanied the long blaring of the other vehicle’s horn. Lucas sped away.
It was his own fault, Lucas figured. Going into a place like that. It appealed to the bad types, men like that thug. Leland, that was the name. As Lucas reckoned it, he was lucky to get away at all. A man like that, there’s no telling.
He stopped at the red light in front of Aldridge Propane, the northern border of the Ironwood city police jurisdiction. He rubbed his face, checking his eye. It still hurt. The light turned green but he didn’t notice. Another angry honk made him jump, and he spun his tires, pulling away.
Lucas Vale made it most of the way home before he started to cry.
Mathilda Jackson, at almost 500 pounds her last weigh-in, could still get herself to and from the toilet without anybody’s help, damn it.
But as she stood panting, leaning against the door frame to hold herself up, she didn’t feel quite so prideful.
A buzzer sounded out in the hallway, summoning nurses and orderlies, signifying that another of Mathilda’s peers had fallen or fainted or parted from the flesh. She expected the latter. It happened every day at the Ironwood Senior Care facility. Every hour, some days. A nursing home, they called it. Just a place where old people were sent to die, more like it.
Mathilda tried to catch her breath. Even the air smelled of death here. Death and antiseptics. She hated it here, hated what her life had degenerated into. Mathilda often questioned why the good Lord didn’t just take her on home to Glory, when dying would be preferable for her.
Step by step, with slow, deliberate caution, Mathilda made it back to her bed. She sat down, dropping onto the mattress. The springs protested under her girth. She poured herself a Styrofoam cup of lukewarm water from the plastic pitcher on her bedside table, gulped it down. Her breath coming back, she lifted the TV controller and clicked the power on. She wanted to check out the weather forecast.
God knows why, she mused. Don’t never go outside.
The telephone rang. Mathilda muted the TV. She leaned across the bed, groaning, to pick up the receiver.
“Mm’ello,” she huffed.
A pause. “Hello?” she repeated.
Another moment, then a voice. “Tillie.”
She almost dropped the phone. Her heart squeezed tight. She knew that voice; deep, commanding, stern. She’d know it anywhere. She knew it, even though she hadn’t heard it in over fifty years.
“Daddy?” she managed.
Fifty years since the man had died.
“Lissen up now, girl.” He sounded far away.
“Trouble’s a’comin’, girl. Bad trouble. You gots to get ready.”
“Yessir.” Mathilda’s hand shook so hard she had to grasp the receiver with the other to steady it.
A crackle of static. “Ol’ Devil’s hound dog done got off’n its leash. Y’hear now?”
“You gots to stop it, girl. You the only one what can. You knows what ta’ do.”
A dial tone answered her. Mathilda dropped the receiver, slid off the edge of the mattress. She hit the floor on her knees, the thin carpet offering little cushion.
“Lord mercy!” Mathilda fell forward on her palms, her belly and breasts rubbing on the floor. Beads of sweat formed on her mahogany black skin like tiny pearls. “Lord mercy!” She began to pray, her words mingled with the occasional groan, an intermittent sob. Her words flowed from slurred English into other, unintelligible sounds. The shift into glossolalia did not alter her tone; if anything, it intensified it. Mathilda’s desperation, grief and fear rang out with her prayers like accompanying church bells. Now Mathilda Jackson knew why God had not allowed her to die.
Now, more than ever before, she wished that He had.
* * *
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!