THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Part Eight
SIX DAYS AGO: WAXING GIBBOUS MOON
The lunch crowd had cleared out of the BLUE PLATE CAFE. Country music emanated from the jukebox, contesting with the hum of the air- conditioner in the window, the racket from the kitchen. A busboy had started to sweep up, and a waitress lowered the blinds over the front windows in anticipation of the afternoon sun. Lucas Vale sat in the booth nearest the back wall, aware of none of the distractions, not much aware of the taste of his food. Marley Kidde sat across from him.
“I’m glad you came,” Lucas said.
“I’m glad you called,” Marley said, dipping a french fry into a pool of ketchup.
“I felt weird about it,” Lucas said. “But I just, uh, it’s nice to have someone to talk to.”
Marley smiled. Lucas held her gaze for a moment, then looked away.
“I’m so sorry about your friend,” Marley said.
“The police haven’t told you anything?”
“I don’t know if they have anything to tell,” Lucas replied. “If they did, I doubt they would tell me.”
“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Marley said. She took a sip from her iced tea.
“Thank you.” Lucas watched her. God, she’s pretty. He wished he could tell her that, but of course he wouldn’t dare. He wanted to tell her a lot of things. He would have contented himself with just sitting in her presence, but he felt awkward, uncomfortable. Marley looked at him, as if expecting him to say something, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. He’d called her, invited her to lunch, and now he couldn’t even talk to her. He stared at the cheeseburger on his plate, a bite missing, ketchup bleeding from beneath the bun.
“My sister does porn.”
Lucas looked up. He didn’t speak. The tabletop felt sticky beneath his hand.
“I didn’t know if you knew it or not,” Marley said.
“I, uh, no, I didn’t.” Lucas felt a pang of guilt at the lie. That video he’d bought of Chaney Kidde had been in a bag in his office when it burned.
“It drives my parents crazy,” Marley continued. “Hell, it drives me crazy. But there’s no reasoning with her.”
“So why?” Lucas cleared his throat. “How’d she, um, get into that?”
“She started out as a stripper,” Marley said. “Then she got into photographs. It was a natural progression, I guess, to start doing movies.”
“Wow.” Lucas tugged a napkin from the dispenser and dabbed at his mouth. “I guess she makes a lot of money?”
Marley shook her head. “She couldn’t care less about the money.”
“Hello,” Marley said. “Our father’s Gordon Kidde, remember? She and I have trust funds large enough to bankroll most Third World countries. She doesn’t need the money.”
“Then why does she do it? Oh, sorry, that’s none of my business.”
“I told you about it, didn’t I?” Marley smiled, stabbing a french fry with her fork. “I’m taking advantage of you, Doc. Someone to listen to me bitch about my sister. You don’t mind, do you?”
“No, of course not.”
“Good.” She swallowed, took a sip of tea. “I think she does it because she’s bored, to tell you the truth. It’s like her hobby.”
“Yep. Marley does music, Chaney does people.”
Lucas smiled. “Your parents sure got creative when they were naming you two.”
“No kidding. All in all, I think I got lucky.”
“Yeah. Mom loves Bob Marley.”
“Yeah?” Lucas said. “I figured your Dad got it from Jacob Marley. You know, Dickens, A Christmas Carol?”
“Nope. Mom named us. She also loves old movies. Silent films.”
“Phantom of the Opera?” Lucas suggested. “Lon Chaney?”
“You got it.” She sipped at her tea, the plastic glass half-empty.
“And no other sisters? No brothers?”
“Nuh-uh.” She smiled. “But Chaney has dated girls before.”
Lucas chuckled, looked off towards the front window.
“Anyway, that’s the skeleton in the Kidde family closet,” Marley said. “My one real concern, as it’s too late to worry about her reputation, is that somebody will recognize her.”
“That’s never happened?” Lucas asked, not making eye contact.
“Oh, I’m sure it has.” Something in the way she said it made Lucas suspect she knew about the video. But how could she? He took a bite of his cheeseburger.
“Nobody’s ever said anything, though,” Marley continued. “Anyway, I thought you should know.”
“Oh. Um, thanks.”
“Okay, your turn.”
“To dominate the conversation. To divulge your deep, dark secrets. My turn to listen.”
“Oh, uh, okay.” Lucas swallowed, coughed. “Well, let’s see, um, I’m prone to night terrors”
Marley cocked her head. “That’s like nightmares, right?”
“Sort of. It’s a sleep disorder, something children have in most cases. It’s unusual for an adult to have them. And I sleepwalk.”
“A somnambulist. Very interesting.” Marley smiled, resting her chin on the back of her hand, her elbow on the table. “Go on.”
Lucas couldn’t think of anything else he wanted to disclose. Not the blackout, for certain. That would be a guaranteed way to scare her off. He forced himself to make eye contact and hold it. Green. Marley’s eyes were green.
“And, um, I-I like you.” He paused, his face burning.
“Wow. I’m impressed. You said it out loud.” She let him twist for a moment. “I like you, too.”
“You do?” Lucas grinned, covering his mouth with his napkin, expecting he looked every bit as goofy as he sounded.
“Yep.” Another torturous pause. “So, anything else I should know about? Before we progress, I mean. You’re not married, are you?”
“No.” Lucas chuckled.
“Uh-uh.” He shook his head.
“No.” He smiled.
“Wanted by the cops? Ever been to prison?”
“No on both counts.”
“Ever killed anybody?”
A chill ran down Lucas’ back, settled in his belly like a lead weight. He tensed.
There is no way you could ever kill. Hank’s words. It just isn’t in you.
“No,” Lucas said, clearing his throat. He forced a smile. It just isn’t in you. “Not that I recall.”
Ron Whitlow had puked at his first autopsy.
The medical examiner present had laughed about it more than Whitlow appreciated. Thus, when he’d encountered the guy a week later at a bar frequented by off-duty cops and said individual had again provoked a few laughs at his expense, Whitlow had proceeded to loosen the man’s dental work with a stiff right. That had been a long time ago, back when Whitlow was a big city cop working out of Birmingham. But word got around. No one had laughed at Whitlow during an autopsy since.
But he still waited until the one today was finished before he came inside.
As Ironwood’s police department remained too small to operate a functioning crime lab, the procedure took place at the Ironwood Medical Center. Old Doctor Sullivan, who kept up a private practice and performed the occasional minor surgery, conducted the event. Whitlow stood back from the examination table. When Sullivan pulled back the white sheet to reveal the mortal remains of Felicia Stroman, Whitlow looked away. He had seen enough the day the body had been recovered. More than enough.
“Looks like a jigsaw puzzle,” Roosevelt Brewster said.
Whitlow nodded. A jigsaw puzzle comprised of pieces of ragged, scorched meat. Despite the heavy odor of chemicals and the humming vent overhead, the smell of charred flesh still suffused the room. Whitlow clenched his jaw, forced himself to look.
“Not a single print?” Roosevelt asked. He’d dressed like he’d come to a funeral, Whitlow thought. Even wore a tie.
“Not a single nothin’,” the Doctor said.
“What about the head?” Whitlow asked, his voice low. Half of Felicia Stroman’s face had remained unburned, the half that had lain on the floor. Her chubby cheek had lost its blush and her clear eye had gone milky, staring with a blank expression. Whitlow refused to meet its gaze.
“No,” the old man said, stiff and thin, his white coat starched. “No prints at all.”
“Shit,” Whitlow said. “The Chief ain’t gonna like that. He wants a suspect ready for trial by next week.”
“Anything you can give us, Bill?” Roosevelt asked the Doctor.
“Nothin’ that makes any sense,” Sullivan replied.
“What do you mean?” Whitlow asked.
“Looky here,” the old man said. “See those exposed bones? See those marks? Teeth marks. That bone was gnawed on.”
“Jesus Christ!” Whitlow said. Then, looking at Roosevelt, “Sorry.”
“The bite pattern is human,” the Doctor said, reaching to pick up a section of Felicia Stroman’s lower leg, holding it up closer to the stainless steel light casing suspended above the table, turning it over in the sterile white light. “But no human teeth could’a done that. Just look at these impressions.”
“What are you telling us, here?” Whitlow said.
“Damned if I know,” the Doctor said. “I just can’t see how a man could’a done it. Have to be as strong as an ape.”
“What do you mean, Bill?” Brewster said.
The Doctor pointed to the pieces of Felicia Stroman splayed atop the table, where he’d tried to piece her back together again. Two arms; one leg still attached, one separated; head; torso; one hand; one foot; what looked to be one of Felicia’s heavy breasts, roasted like a ham. Separate pieces, all.
“Wasn’t done with no weapon,” Sullivan said. “Whoever, or whatever, did this, he tore her apart with his bare hands.”
Lucas Vale went to bed quite early, about twenty minutes to six.
Eight minutes later, the Beast awoke.
He got out of bed, stretched, and went to the patio doors. The Moon, already up, looked dull and dead in the fading sunlight.
“Come on, bitch,” he said. “Give me some shine.”
He felt the power coursing through him, even now. Like liquid fire laced his bloodstream. His stomach rumbled, empty and angry. He willed the stiff hairs of his true form to pierce the prison of the man’s skin, his muscles to knot and swell and expand, his bones to stretch and thicken. Still too soon. Nothing happened.
Those fools before had tried to fashion a body for him, he recalled, had offered a man’s flesh for him to possess. But that man had fought him, destroying his own body rather than let the Beast claim it. That man had been strong, defiant. A warrior’s heart.
This man was not so strong.
Even the Beast could not be sure how he had found his way to Lucas Vale. Some connection between the two men, some bond of blood that he’d been able to follow like a hound on a scent. To enter this man had been so easy. Neither did the man’s soul struggle against him, like the other one had. It would be so much easier to kill the soul of this man. There was just room enough for one entity inside this flesh, and only one could master it.
This body wasn’t big enough for the both of them.
* * *
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!