THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Part Fifteen
Leland spent a couple hours running the necessary errands. He stocked up on groceries, lots of canned food, beer. All the things he’d need. He wanted to make it so he had to leave the house as little as possible. It would be the worst form of bad manners to go off and leave a guest.
He stopped by Willy’s Sporting Goods in the Piggly Wiggly shopping center and bought Candy a sleeping bag. He picked up a pillow and a cheap blanket at Wal-Mart. Leland felt pleased with himself at being so considerate. Now she wouldn’t have to sleep on the hard floor.
He drove out towards the cornfield on the edge of town to the military surplus store. The owner/operator, a survivalist still fighting the Vietnam War in his own mind, didn’t even raise an eyebrow when Leland made his solitary purchase. His secret weapon.
After that, he made one last stop at the Farmer’s Co-Op, getting there right before closing, then treated himself to supper at the Wagon Wheel steakhouse, complete with a trio of beers. He had to stop off at home to unload his supplies, change into a pair of coveralls and take a shit. By ten o’clock, he’d resumed his vigil at Candy’s house.
Leland chose a spot on a side street beside a wooden fence which surrounded a lot where a house had burned down. He could see the entirety of Candy’s street from where he parked. Coming or going, he couldn’t miss her.
Get the bitch when the dog’s not around.
Leland popped the tab on a beer. He picked up a picture from where it lay on the passenger seat. His other secret weapon. A Polaroid snapshot of a dog.
Wal-Mart kept up a special bulletin board for the Ironwood Animal Shelter, where they posted photographs of all the dogs and cats being housed and available for adoption. Leland had pocketed the picture of a large mixed-breed, all sad eyes and anxious.
Bitch is a dog lover.
Leland had everything down to the detail. The opportunity would come. Then it would all be a matter of timing. Leland slurped his beer, sucked at the tab, thrust his fat tongue inside the can as he drained it.
Come to papa, bitch. Come to papa.
Hank slowed, pulled off onto the side of the road, the Cutlass tilting on the side of the ditch. Lucas must have been watching for him. He approached from behind Simpson’s garage before Hank had even come to a full stop. A quick glance in both directions, checking for approaching traffic, and he sprinted to the car, climbing in the passenger side.
“Hey,” he said. He tried to smile.
“Hey,” Hank replied. “Are you hurt?”
“My leg. I don’t know what I did to it.”
“You jumped off a roof,” Hank said.
“I really tried to kill you, didn’t I?” Lucas asked, staring ahead.
Hank patted him on the forearm. “It’s going to be okay, buddy.”
Lucas nodded, still not making eye contact. “So what’s the plan?”
“I’m going to drive you up to Bryce,” Hank said. “Get you admitted. I’m going to oversee it all myself.” He shifted into drive and pulled away from the ditch. “I won’t leave you on your own again. Don’t worry.”
Hank pulled into the gravel driveway of the garage, turning around in the pool of orange light.
I hope we don’t run into any cops before we get there.
Lucas sniffed. “I’m so sorry, Hank.”
“You have nothing to apologize for,” Hank said.
Back through town. No way around it, without going fifty miles out of the way. And Ironwood’s ‘finest’ everywhere.
“Figures, huh?” Lucas said. “My life’s just starting to go somewhere. I met this girl, you know? Her name’s Marley. She’s wonderful. And now this.”
“Easy, buddy. Just relax, stay calm.”
We’ll make it. Stay cool. We’ll make it, no problem at all.
“How’d this happen, Hank?” Lucas asked. “Why’d this happen to me?”
“We’ll get it all worked out,” Hank said. “I promise.”
Hank reached over, turned up the AC. Even at night, it was too warm. The worst Indian Summer Hank could remember. The most uncomfortable, at least.
“I had a dream about Marcus,” Lucas said.
“Right before I called you,” Lucas replied. “I dreamed I saw Marcus. He talked to me. He said I’m not crazy. He said I’m possessed.”
Hank drove, keeping an eye on his speed. Not too fast and not too slow. Don’t do anything to attract attention. Stay away from downtown.
“What do you suppose that meant, Hank?”
“Hmm?” Hank looked over.
“The dream. What do you think it meant?”
“I’m sure we’ll figure it out,” Hank said.
“It feels like I’m possessed.”
Hank sniffed. Something stank all of a sudden. Somebody must have hit a skunk.
“I’m not feeling so good, Hank.”
Hank frowned. The stench had gotten worse. He rolled down his window to let in some fresh air. “Smells like a wet dog in here,” Hank said.
“My stomach hurts,” Lucas muttered.
Damn. Hank felt like gagging. What is that?
“Hank?” Lucas patted his leg to get his attention. “I think you’d better pull over. I think I’m gonna get sick.”
“Okay.” Hank sighed. They’d reached the railroad crossing, almost back to town. They couldn’t have picked a worse place to stop, but Hank didn’t want Lucas to get sick in the car if it could be helped. At least stopping would give him a chance to open the doors and let the car air out. That stench made him feel queasy, too.
The ditches leveled out near the train tracks, and a flat expanse of gravel and dirt with infrequent clumps of weeds retreated into the distance to both right and left, extending a good ten feet from the raised tracks. Hank pulled off to the right. He got out, walked around and helped Lucas from the car.
“Easy,” Hank said. Somehow the stench seemed just as strong outside the vehicle. Maybe stronger. Perhaps they were spreading chicken manure on a field somewhere, or doing something out at the mine?
Lucas retched, dropping to his knees. He clutched his abdomen, groaning.
He gagged, coughed, tried to vomit but nothing came out. Hank leaned over him, put a hand on his shoulder. A diesel truck, loaded down with coal mounding over the top of the trailer bed, passed on the road behind them, on its way to the Interstate. Hank hoped the driver wouldn’t pay them any notice.
Lucas seemed to have something caught in his throat. Strands of saliva, thick as melting rubber, dripped from his open mouth. His eyes bulged and he shuddered. His tongue protruded.
“Easy,” Hank said. “Come on, buddy. Just let it out.”
Two fingers poked out of his mouth.
Hank sprang back.
Lucas fell forward onto all fours. Two more fingers poked out. But they weren’t real fingers. They were black and hairy, and had long, pointed, yellow claws in place of fingernails.
Hank stared in mute disbelief.
Lucas jaw stretched open farther than should have been possible. He looked to Hank like photos he had seen of a small snake swallowing a chicken egg. An entire hand protruded from Lucas’ mouth, if you chose to call such a misshapen, swollen thing a hand.
No. Hank shook his head.
A forearm thrust out of Lucas’ mouth. Lucas reared up, eyes wide, arms thrashing. A hairy arm had grown out of his mouth.
That’s not possible.
Lucas crawled toward Hank, an expression of terror, of pleading on his face. Hank took a step back.
This is not happening.
The arm dangling from Lucas’ mouth came to life. It struck out at Hank, catching his lower leg. Those yellow claws tore through the fabric of his pants and into the meat of Hank’s calf as he jerked away. He felt pain, real pain. A voice yelped. Hank recognized it as his own.
The arm reached for him, raking the air. Lucas struggled against it, grabbing it with both hands.
It’s not real!
Hank’s leg throbbed and his shoe had filled with blood. He looked down at the ragged gashes in his calf muscle. He might need stitches.
Lucas picked up a large rock. With his left forearm he pinned the hairy black limb to the ground. With his right hand he pounded at it with the rock. Whatever instinct had compelled such an action also seized Hank. He rushed over and, with his uninjured leg, began to stomp on the arm. The arm withdrew, a few inches at a time, back into Lucas mouth. Lucas let go of it and it disappeared back down his throat. Lucas’ eyes rolled back to the whites and he collapsed onto his face, unmoving.
His heaving chest told Hank that he still lived.
Hank stood over him, looking down at him. A car passed on the road behind them but he gave it no notice. He gave notice to nothing.
After a moment, Hank sat down in the dirt beside Lucas. Waiting for Lucas to wake up.
Waiting for Lucas to tell him what to do next.
* * *
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!