THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Part 47
Hank Frye had stopped believing in God around the same time he stopped believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Little Hank had embraced atheism before he’d even known the definition of the word or how to spell it, relegating the stories and lessons he’d learned in Church school to the realm of fairy tale, accepting their truths no more than the reality of Jack and his beanstalk or the Three Billy Goats Gruff. All foolishness to him. Hank had learned as he’d grown older that someone had pulled the teeth from those fairy tales, rendered them safe, palatable for children. In their earlier, truer forms, those stories reeked of horrors innumerable, as blatant as fresh bloodstains on snow.
Now, Hank knew, the same could be said for his Sunday school lessons.
Such thoughts swirled through Hank’s mind as he ran, keeping time with his heartbeat. He shoved through the crowd, kicked over some stacked squares of hay that had been placed as a partition to block the alleyway between the consignment shop and offices of Long and Long, Attorneys. Coming out the opposite side of the alley, Hank passed through the back lot of the downtown shopping area, now transformed into a miniature fairgrounds of inflatable rides and structures. Parents were coaxing their children down from the giant inflatable slide or off the ramparts of the inflatable haunted castle, climbing onto the giant pink trampoline to retrieve them. Others were racing in the same direction as Hank, the parking lot in front of the Methodist church.
Did they see it? Hank wondered. Is that why they’re so afraid? Hank clutched at his side, gasping for breath as he crossed the street and raced up the ditchbank towards the parking lot. No, they probably just heard the screams.
Without stopping, Hank dug in his pockets for his car keys.
*Not everyone has to see something to know it’s there.*
Hank unlocked his car door, climbed in and cranked the engine. He backed out of the parking space, bumping the fender of the black Volkswagon beside him, and squealed the tires as he pulled out onto the street. He honked the horn to scatter a group of gawkers.
“Come on, come on!”
Hank used the service road behind the furniture building to avoid crossing Main Street. Then he raced up Sycamore, through the stoplight and turned at the town library onto Maple, the post office ahead on his left. He had watched Chaney Kidde running in this direction. Or, rather, being chased in this direction.
It had been so easy not to believe in the devil they talked about in Sunday school. A caricature, pitchfork and pointed tail, trying to trick people or get them into trouble. Hank had laughed at it, even then. But he couldn’t laugh now, nor would he ever again. He had seen the unsanitized reality behind the fairy tale and moreso now than at any time in his life, Hank Frye knew what it meant to be afraid.
And then there it stood, right in front of him, for an instant defined in the glare of his headlights. Yet that instant would be enough to sear the image into Hank’s memory for the rest of his life, like the shadows of the victims at Hiroshima etched into the very concrete of the city streets. Could this be the werewolf of legend? It must be so, but the legends had done a disservice to the wolves. The Beast held but a passing resemblance to a wolf. In truth, it looked like no other creature alive in this world.
“So, Dr. Frye, for argument’s sake, let’s say that the Superego is the Soul.
What does that make the Id?”
Now Hank knew. But he wished he didn’t.
All this passed through his mind in that instant as, without conscious thought, Hank pressed down on the accelerator.
*Kill it. Have to kill it.*
The Olds Cutlass slammed into the Beast. Hank hit the steering wheel; it almost knocked the breath out of him. The car veered to the right, carrying the Beast with it. Hank saw another car in the flash of the headlights–a police car?–and then the two vehicles collided, the Beast pinned between them.
The crash lifted the police car almost a foot off the roadway. Hank pushed back from the steering wheel. His bruised ribs felt broken now for sure. He looked up just as the Beast’s claw raked his windshield.
Trapped between the two vehicles, standing on its hind legs, one arm pinned down, it flayed with the other, trying to reach him. Hank locked eyes with the Beast, those hellish Jack-o-lantern eyes, and he almost screamed. He looked away.
So easy not to believe in that fairy tale Satan.
The Beast hissed and growled, blowing steam from its nostrils. It lurched and Hank felt the car move.
*It’s going to get loose!*
Hank shifted into reverse and stomped the accelerator. The Cutlass reared back. Hank shifted back into drive. The Beast staggered, took a step away from the police car. But it did not fall down.
Hank gunned the accelerator. The car leapt forward, crashing into the Beast and the patrol car. Hank hit the steering wheel again. This time he did lose his breath. Yet he shifted into reverse and backed up. He paused long enough to fasten his seatbelt, then rammed the monster again. With a squeal of tires, he repeated the process.
*I have to kill it!*
Each impact drove the patrol car back several feet. It hit the curb. The next collision forced it up onto the sidewalk, the one after onto the lawn of a house. And each time the Beast took the brunt of it. The police car began to fold around the monster.
With a final effort, Hank backed up a little more than before and turned a little to catch the Beast with the corner of his front bumper. The crash shattered Hank’s windshield and dislodged the door of the patrol car, forcing the Beast almost into the latter’s back seat.
A few seconds passed. Hank unfastened his seatbelt and forced himself out of the driver’s seat. His ribs hurt like hell. He coaxed a few breaths into his lungs. Hank looked around.
“Dr. Frye!” A man approached him. A big, black man with a gun. Roosevelt Brewster. Hank hadn’t seen him until now. “You okay?” Brewster asked.
“You sure came along in the nick of time,” Brewster said.
Hank looked past him. “Chaney?”
Chaney Kidde ran up and hugged him. It caught him by surprise and hurt his ribs.
“You hurt?” Hank asked.
“No.” She sniffed, her face against his shoulder.
People were coming out of the houses on both sides of the street.
“Stay back!” Roosevelt Brewster shouted. “Everybody stay back! Police orders!”
“You saved us,” Chaney said, her voice muffled. She hadn’t let him go.
“It’s okay now,” Hank said.
As if to make a liar out of him, the Beast growled.
Chaney spun around. Hank pulled her behind him. Roosevelt Brewster began to load shells into his shotgun, dropping every other one. He stared, wide-eyed.
The Beast began to thrash. With a sound of groaning metal, Hank’s car moved.
“It’s still alive?!” Chaney said.
Hank watched. With its one free arm, the Beast shoved at the crumpled grill of his car. It moved a few inches.
“Shoot it!” Hank shouted.
Roosevelt Brewster stepped up and leveled the barrel of the gun pointblank at the monster’s head. He pulled the trigger. The Beast’s head snapped back. One of its gleaming red eyes exploded; flesh and fur peeled away to reveal grayish bone.
“Again! Shoot it again!”
With a roar that threatened to rupture Hank’s eardrums, the Beast reached underneath Hank’s Cutlass with its free arm and lifted the car off its front tires. With a shove, the Beast freed itself.
Brewster shot it in the chest. It recoiled, dropped down to all fours. He fired again as it leapt at him, catching it in the shoulder. The Beast swiped with a foreleg, knocking the gun from Brewster’s hands. Brewster yelped, backstepping. Chaney Kidde screamed. One of the people from one of the houses screamed.
Brewster screamed as he went down beneath the Beast’s charge.
And Hank Frye noticed that, somehow, his car’s engine had remained running.
“Get in!” Hank said, giving Chaney a little shove to get her started. She climbed into the passenger seat as Hank slid behind the wheel.
“Look out!” Chaney screamed.
The Beast leapt onto the car. Its head thrust inside through the broken windshield. Its jaws snapped down on the steering wheel.
“Jesus!” Hank stomped the gas as he shifted. The car raced backward, spinning. The Beast clung to the hood, one claw–more like a hand now–holding onto the dashboard. The jaws snapped closed an inch from Hank’s face, showering him with saliva.
“Fuck!” Hank punched at the face of the monstrosity before him, his foot still on the accelerator.
The car straightened out, speeding backwards and downhill. Hank had to lean to the side, his head almost in Chaney’s lap, to avoid those snapping jaws. The car bounced over a curb and crossed Main Street. It crashed into a booth of canned vegetables, grinding jars of green beans and tomatoes and okra under the tires, sending jars flying to shatter against street and sidewalk.
Hank’s car bounced up onto the sidewalk and through the plate glass front of the DOWNTOWN DOLLAR store. It toppled the gumball machines at the front of the store, plowed into a row of shopping carts, knocked over a rack of women’s clothing, coming to a stop when it crashed into the cubicle of jewelry cases.
“Out!” Hank pushed Chaney through the passenger door, crawling after her. The Beast freed itself from the front of the car and reached the floor as Hank got to his feet.
“Oh, God!” Hank muttered. The Beast stood up on its hind legs.
The few people who had been gathered inside the store now ran for the double doors in the rear marked EMPLOYEES ONLY. No one wanted to try for the front exit. But Chaney Kidde stood a few feet away. Either she was too dazed to understand the need to run away or she had determined not to abandon Hank. He didn’t know which. Nor did it matter.
*We don’t have a prayer.*
The Beast stood looking at them.
*What’s it waiting for?*
Hank saw the flesh around the thing’s exposed skull begin to ripple, to move. Like molasses, dark, thick liquid trickled over the raw bone, hardening. Hair began to sprout. A rupture opened, then blinked. An eyeball pushed out to the front of this new socket and flared to life.
Hank almost giggled. He saw no open wounds, no jagged bone sticking out through the shaggy hide, no injury at all to show from what they’d done to it.
*It can’t be stopped. Can’t. Can’t.*
The Beast cocked its head, growling.
“What?!” Hank said. “You wanna play some more?! Is that it?! You just playing’ with us?!”
Hank could’ve sworn it. The Beast seemed to smile.
“Yeah? Well, fuck you!”
The Beast lunged. Hank could not get out of the way. It bore him to the ground. It pinned him to the floor with its left paw on his chest, the pain and pressure unbearable and yet he had no breath to scream. The Beast drew back its right claw for the blow that Hank knew would crush his skull or tear his head from his shoulders.
In that second, all Hank’s senses became more acute. The bleached fluorescent lighting of the store hurt his eyes. The smell of hot radiator fluid and exhaust polluted the air, leftover cordite form the fireworks, stinging his nose and throat but not quite masking the rank animal odor of the Beast, the stench of the blood that soaked its pelt. The air-conditioning chilled his skin. He could hear it humming, even beyond the pounding of his own heartbeat, the hiss of the Beast’s breath through its nostrils. And the pain. Most of all, the pain.
Chaney Kidde jumped on the monster’s back, grabbing its upraised arm, her other arm around its neck.
“Leave him alone!” she shouted.
The Beast reared up and shook Chaney off with a shrug of its shoulder. Hank saw her hit the tiled floor hard and slide into a rack of school supplies marked 50% OFF! Several boxes of crayons fell to the floor and spilled. The Beast dropped to all fours, moving towards her. Saliva dripped from its jaws, hissing when it hit the floor.
Hank fought the pain in his side to get up. He looked around for a weapon. He grabbed a shard of glass lodged in the jewelry case–
–and worked it loose, cutting his hand in the process. He held it tight.
He ran at the Beast.
*I believe in You now.*
He shoved the glass shard into the Beast’s neck.
*Please help me.*
Then he jumped up onto its back, grabbing its ear with one hand, twisting the shard with the other. Trying to drive the shard in deeper, maybe hit something vital. Something that wouldn’t grow back. The Beast threw Hank and he hit the floor, rolled. Before he’d even come to a stop, the Beast’s jaws were closing on his head.
The Beast hesitated. It leaned back, jaws closing. Its nostrils dilated. It growled.
The Beast shook its head. Sniffed. Pawed at its muzzle. Sniffed again. Then it roared, a roar to make the whole world tremble.
The Beast spun around. Chaney Kidde screamed as it seized her in its jaws.
“No!” Hank shouted.
Then, lifting her, a fox with a chicken, the Beast raced across the floor and jumped through the shattered plate glass, leaving drops of blood like a trail of rubies across the white tile.
Hank limped to the window. Looked out. At the street where the happy couples should have been dancing, now strewn with corpses. The pavement smeared with pools of dark blood that reflected the spinning lights of approaching police cars and ambulances. At the broken glass and overturned booths. At the full Moon in its best mimicry of the sun, giving light to the whole horrid scene. He saw one massive pawprint on the sidewalk, stamped in a spill of strawberry preserves. These were all that remained to bear testament that the Beast had been among them.
But he could find nothing at all left of Chaney Kidde.
* * *
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!