THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Part Ten
FIVE DAYS AGO: WAXING GIBBOUS MOON
Roosevelt Brewster teased at his cup of coffee, the non-dairy creamer he’d emptied into it liquefying while he stirred. A cinnamon-raisin bagel, split in half and cemented back together with cream cheese, lay untouched on its saucer. Across the sticky tabletop, Ron Whitlow used his fork to vivisect his two eggs, fried, sunny side up. The yolks ran out to pool against his clump of hominy grits. The two men had been having breakfast together at the BLUE PLATE DINER almost as long as they’d been partnered. They sat at their usual table near the door, as far away from the jukebox as they could get. Sunlight blazed in through the windows. Roosevelt couldn’t remember a prettier morning. Nor could he remember one in which his spirits had been so low.
“You not eatin’ anything this mornin’?” Whitlow asked, pausing in his chewing.
“Don’t have much of an appetite,” Roosevelt answered.
“Guess nothin’ can curb mine,” Whitlow said.
“You were plenty green around the gills when we were visiting with Felicia Stroman,” Roosevelt said. He took the spoon out of his coffee and took a sip.
“Yeah,” Whitlow said. “But it always comes back. My appetite, I mean.”
Roosevelt smiled over the rim of his cup. “It shows.”
“Like you’re one to talk.”
“True enough.” Roosevelt paused, shook his head. “Damndest thing I ever saw.”
“The Stroman murder?” Whitlow said, swallowing. “You’ve seen worse, ain’t you?”
“Not around here,” Roosevelt said. “We average–what–one murder every two or three years?”
“Sounds about right.”
“And now?” Roosevelt sighed. “And Doc Sullivan says it ain’t even a human being.”
“Well, with all due respect to the Doctor,” Whitlow said, “I think he’s full of crap.”
“They got DNA off Felicia Stroman, Ron,” Roosevelt said. “Non-human DNA. From semen. That’s pretty damn convincing.”
“This case must be eatin’ at you,” Whitlow said. “You’re cussin’.”
“It is eatin’ at me.”
“Look, Rosebud,” Whitlow said. “Here’s the way I see it. We got ourselves a psycho, transient, just passin’ through. Likes to take his dog along with him, makes it do all this sick crap, something like that. But it’s the man we gotta worry about, not the dog.”
“I know that,” Roosevelt said. “But it don’t make me feel a whole lot better about it.”
Back in the kitchen, someone dropped a plate. Roosevelt tensed at the sound.
“This sort of thing just shouldn’t be happening in a place like Ironwood,” Roosevelt said.
“Don’t it always happen in your small towns?” Whitlow said. “All the crazy crap. Worst of it, anyway. Some quiet, out-of-the-way place where nobody ever expects it, and then ‘wham!'”
As if to punctuate Whitlow’s remark, Roosevelt’s cell phone went off. Dial tones chirping out the tune to “When the Saints Go Marching In.” He picked it up, glanced at the blinking face.
“The Chief,” he said.
“Oh, shit,” Whitlow said. “If he’s out of bed this early…”
“It’s something bad,” Roosevelt completed the sentence for him. “Real bad.”
No denying it this time.
He’d been awakened by the smoke detector, followed the smoke in the air to the bathroom where it had been heaviest, found the remains of his clothes in the bathtub, where he’d burned them.
And he was naked.
And his naked skin was painted rust red with dried blood.
Lucas Vale collapsed to the bathroom floor and vomited his guts up into the commode. He wept, wiping his face with bloody hands. His tears turned pink as he smeared them over his cheeks. He lay down on the floor and sobbed. He lay there for some time.
After a while he got up and went to the kitchen. He got a garbage bag and stuffed it with the remnants of his clothes. Then he climbed into the tub and turned on the shower, leaving the garbage bag in the floor. The dried blood washed away.
Lucas went to the telephone, still wet and dripping. Without thinking he began to dial. Nine. One. He hung up the receiver. He took a deep breath and dialed Hank Frye’s number. The machine picked up after the fourth ring.
“I’m coming over, Hank. If you’re already gone, I’ll wait for you.”
His own voice sounded strange. It didn’t sound like him. Lucas hung up the phone.
He dried himself off and got dressed. Jeans and a T-shirt. He couldn’t find his shoes. Maybe he’d burned them. He wore sandals instead.
Hank lived not too far away. Hank would know what to do. Hank was a doctor. Hank was his friend. If anyone could help him, Hank could.
If anyone could save him, it would be Hank Frye.
Leland couldn’t even sleep, he felt so excited. He came home from the mine and went right to work. He didn’t even bother to change clothes or shower. He’d put in for his vacation time; the foreman had been pissy about the short notice, but afraid to say too much about it. Leland didn’t give a shit if they fired his ass. He had more important business to attend to.
He already had the materials he needed, from back when he’d built the rabbit house. The old logging chain he’d kept around for years; he couldn’t even remember where he’d first obtained it. A little rusty from being left out in the rain for so long, maybe, but still solid and strong. A bull couldn’t break that chain.
Leland cleared everything out of the living room. He tapped on the floor with his hammer, locating one of the joists nearest the center of the room. He used his drill to get a hole started, through the planking of the floor and into the heavy lumber, the support joist, beneath. He took a large screw, nine inches long and as big around as his thumb, and shoved it through the last link of the logging chain, the octagonal head of the bolt much too big for the chain to slip off. Leland ratcheted the screw down into the floor, one turn at a time, on his knees, hissing and sweating with the exertion.
He screwed it in tight, the head pinning the chain to the floor.
Standing, Leland took the logging chain in his hands and tugged. He squatted, using his legs, and pulled with all his might. The wood crackled, the entire framework of the trailer creaked. But the chain held.
Could jerk the whole goddamn house off its foundation and not pull that chain loose.
Leland stood, dropping the chain. He bent backwards, hands on his lower back, stretching. He exhaled, satisfied, and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his arm; his sweat gray and dirty from the coal dust, looked like old mop water.
Close enough for government work, Leland chuckled. Then he went to go get cleaned up. Phase one of his plan completed, the laying of the groundwork. Time for phase two.
Time to begin the hunt.
Jimmy the Kid wished for the thousandth time that he’d just kept his big mouth shut.
He sat on the curb, his bicycle propped against it next to him, and watched the uniformed policemen stringing up the yellow crime scene ribbon. The grass, wet with dew, had soaked his pants, but the only other place to sit had been in one of the police cars. No thank you. Now, with the sun up, it was already getting hot. So far no crowd had gathered, but every car that passed slowed down to gawk and had to be shooed away by the policemen. Hanging from the handlebars of Jimmy’s bike, his bag of newspapers, rolled up and wrapped in clear plastic, waited to be delivered. Jimmy wanted to go home.
Behind him, in the yard, they’d used a white sheet to cover up the arm Jimmy had found.
He watched another car pull to a stop. Unmarked, but he bet the two men getting out were policemen. Why were his parents taking so long to come get him? Jimmy didn’t like the way the cops kept looking at him, like he’d done something wrong. He didn’t like being there. He never should have called 911.
The two men, one black and the other white, came over to where he sat. Yep. Cops.
“Hi, there,” the black man said.
“Hey,” Jimmy the Kid replied.
“I’m Roosevelt,” the man said. “And this is Ron.”
“Hey,” Jimmy repeated.
“They said you were the one who called for help?”
“Yeah.” Jimmy looked at his sneakers.
“You deliver the paper, right? Every day?”
“It’s my uncle’s route,” Jimmy said. “He just let’s me deliver the ones in this neighborhood. Says the route’s too big for a kid to do by hisself. My parents make me take the cell phone.”
“Right.” Roosevelt smiled. “And when you were riding past this mornin’…”
“I didn’t go inside,” the Kid said. “I saw the arm laying in the yard. So I called 911. They told me to wait here. I didn’t go in.”
“Yeah, you did right,” Roosevelt said.
“I didn’t see anything else. I already told ’em. The other policemen. I didn’t see anybody. Nothing but the arm.”
The big black man sat down on the curb beside him. “So,” he said. “You doing okay?”
“That’s an awful thing to find,” Roosevelt said.
“Yeah.” Jimmy kicked at an acorn.
“They said your folks are on the way to get you.”
“Yeah.” Jimmy swallowed. “I didn’t think it was real at first. The arm. I thought it was plastic. But then I saw that it wasn’t.”
The other cop had wandered away. Jimmy heard him somewhere behind them, talking. At least Jimmy figured it was him.
“Pretty scary, huh?” Roosevelt said.
“I guess.” Jimmy hesitated. “They said a dog or somethin’ had been chewin’ on it.Guess you’ll have to find the dog and shoot it, huh?”
“Maybe,” Roosevelt said.
“My uncle says you got to kill an animal once it gets a taste for blood,” Jimmy the Kid said. “Or else it’s just gonna keep on wantin’ it, once it’s got a taste for it.”
“I’m sick, Hank. I’m sick.”
Lucas Vale still clutched the garbage bag filled with the tatters of his clothes, the remains of what he had burned. The stench of smoke had seeped out through the cheap plastic, filling Hank’s living room.
“I don’t believe that’s true, Lucas,” Hank said. “But I wouldn’t be much of a physician, or a friend, if I didn’t say I was a little concerned. These waking dreams of yours are…”
“It wasn’t a dream, Hank! I was covered in blood!”
“I believe that you saw blood, yes,” Hank said. “And I believe you set fire to some of your clothes. But that’s still a long way from…”
“I killed somebody, Hank. Or something.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?” Hank said. “The last thing we need to do is feed these fantasies.”
“They’re not fantasies!” Lucas snapped. He looked exhausted, eyes red-streaked and glazed over, hair unkempt, several days’ worth of stubble. Green-blue veins stood out under his pale skin like a network of spider webs.
“Alright, Lucas. Just calm down.” Hank had to throw the little switch in his mind, changing from the concerned friend to the detached psychiatrist. He was worried. But he still refused to entertain the notion that his friend suffered real mental illness.
Lucas settled a bit. “Wasn’t there some case where a guy had this split personality?” he asked. “And he was a serial killer and he didn’t even know it? He even passed a polygraph, because he didn’t know the other personality was there?”
Hank forced a smile. “There have been a couple cases like that, yes,” he said. “But I don’t think you suffer from any such malady.”
“They found out about the other personality by hypnotizing the guy,” Lucas said. He seemed to be talking to himself.
He shifted his gaze, no longer staring into space. He looked at Hank. “You do that, don’t you? Hypnotherapy?”
“I have used it as a tool in the past,” Hank said.
“Can you do it now? Hypnotize me?”
“Lucas, I don’t know that that’s the sort of treatment you need.”
“Please, Hank!” Lucas looked close to hysterics. “Please, I’ve got to know!”
Hank sighed. “We don’t even know if you’d respond to hypnosis.”
“But you can try. Please, Hank.”
Hank raised his hands in mock resignation. “Fine, fine. I’m going about this ass-backwards anyway. If I was still practicing they’d yank my license.”
“Alright, what do I have to do?”
“You don’t do anything but relax,” Hank said. “I have to go get a couple things, then we’ll get started. If I can accomplish nothing else with this, at least I can put your mind at ease that you don’t have some alter-ego tucked away in your psyche.”
“But what if I do, Hank?” Lucas asked. He looked so sad, so desperate. Hank patted his shoulder.
“Well, then,” Hank said. “I look forward to meeting him.”
* * *
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!