The La Croix Fragments
By Kelly M. Logue
Copyright © 2016 Kelly M. Logue.
All rights reserved worldwide
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THE LA CROIX FRAGMENTS
Kelly M. Logue
“You are a disgusting human being…”
The thought just popped into his head, and Doyle wasn’t sure if he meant himself, or the old man who sat across from him.
The old man happened to be the last of a dying breed, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at him.
Doyle had been shocked when he first shook hands with the old man. Wilcox looked like he had just stepped off the set of some old Hollywood movie. Doyle could see this old man playing a kindly grandfather, or a priest hearing the confession of a dying man. Aside from a shock of closely cropped, white hair, and a few lines on his face, the years had been extremely kind to the old man.
The image hardly fit with what Doyle had had in mind. No the image he had of the old man was something more… seedy.
Doyle may not have known the old man on sight, but he knew the man by reputation. Wilcox was the bottom ring of the publishing world. If you could even call Wilcox a publisher—smut peddler would be more appropriate.
A smut peddler to those last few depraved souls who hadn’t yet discovered the joys of the internet. Wilcox had had enough business savvy to specialize, and tap markets that even mainstream pornography generally shied away from.
That instinct had allowed the old man to survive, even as printed world died a slow death all around him.
Doyle sipped his tea. The old man had made it himself, mumbling something about the secretary being out to lunch. Judging by the amount of unopened mail piled up by the door, however, Doyle thought that Wilcox probably hadn’t had a secretary for quite some time. Not only that, but the office looked cramped and cluttered, obviously lacking a woman’s touch. Despite this, the office was remarkably tasteful. A few nudie pics decorated the walls, but, otherwise remarkably conservative in taste in style.
As he stared at a picture of a nude woman, kneeling in front of a horse, Doyle had to confess that—with his thinning hair, pot belly, and large glasses—he looked more the pervert than this dirty old man.
The tea tasted like piss, but he had enough survival instincts to keep his mouth shut. He also had enough sense not upset a potential employer— especially one who could breathe some life into his flatlining bank account. Wilcox might be the bottom rung in the publishing biz, but Doyle, in his present state, was definitely a bottom feeder.
“Shall we get down to business, Mr. Doyle?” Wilcox asked. There was a trace of an accent that sounded vaguely Russian, but very clipped and refined over the years to sound generically American. “I have a proposal for you, which if profitable could lead to future work.”
Doyle started to speak, but the old man held up his hand to silence him.
“Of course I wouldn’t ask you to agree until you’ve actually heard all the details.”
Doyle quickly nodded, perhaps a little too eagerly.
“Don’t blow this,” he thought. “Keep your cool.”
“Publishing is a business where one is rarely standing on solid ground,” the old man said. “You constantly have to keep up with the latest trends. Would you believe me if I told you this company started out publishing comic books?”
Doyle shook his head in genuine disbelief.
“Yes, comic books were very popular during the war, all our heroes fighting Hitler and the Japs, you know…”
The old man trialed off, collecting his thoughts…
“But, after the war, well colorful heroes didn’t seem as important then, and by the time parents groups started to complain, my father could see the writing on the wall. When I took over the business, in the early 60s, we published exclusively girly mags, which the government or parents groups didn’t seem to have a problem with. In the late 70s I seized upon an opportunity to carter to, let’s say, an untapped niche market…”
Doyle let the old man indulge in this stroll in memory lane, but really was only half listening. Instead, he wondered how much this job would be pay, and wondered if the old man would advance him some money today. God, he hoped so.
The old man sighed.
“I’ve grown complacent in my old age,” Wilcox said, speaking it seemed more to himself. “Letting things slide, and this business has changed so much that I hardly recognize it anymore— what with the computers, and what not.”
The old man waved a dismissive hand, at the last comment, and Doyle almost laughed. Did Wilcox even know what the internet was? Maybe one of his grandkids had shown him, and that had set the old man’s wheels spinning.
Wilcox opened a desk drawer, and took out three paperback books, which he laid out nearly on top of the desk.
Doyle recognized the books immediately, they were his babies after all—the only successful ones. They looked brand new, and Doyle guessed that the old man hadn’t even bothered to thumb through them.
“You write horror stories,” Wilcox said. It wasn’t a question, more of a statement of fact, but the way the old man pronounced “horror” made it sound like “whore”, which was probably closer to the truth.
“Yes, I’ve had some success in the horror genre,” Doyle answered, quietly.
“Don’t be so modest Mr. Doyle,” the old man said, and then pointed to a quote above one of the books titles. “I see here that this book was a New York Times Best-Seller.”
Doyle nodded, and flashed a quick smile.
“Best seller twenty years ago,” Doyle thought. “And there are ten more that nobody gives a shit about.”
Doyle came to a sobering thought, that if it weren’t for those three books— The Chaste, Virginal Sacrifice, and Blood of the Maiden— and the cult following from them, he’d more than likely being living on the street right now. And, his cult was rapidly losing members with each succeeding generation.
“So it’s come to this,” he thought.
“I can write whatever you want,” Doyle said, quietly.
The old man burst out laughing.
“You misunderstand me, Mr. Doyle,” Wilcox said, when he had regained his composure. “I didn’t ask you here to write smut for me.”
“No,” Doyle said, confused.
“Of course not,” the old man chuckled. “I have a stack of people who can do that for me, and more submissions come in every day.”
Now, it was Doyle’s turn to laugh a little. Even in a dying industry there were still hopefuls trying to break in.
“No, I’m employing you for something you are uniquely qualified for,” Wilcox said. “I want you scare people.”
“What?” Doyle asked, surprised.
The old man avoided the question, and instead asked one of his own: “Have you ever heard of Arthur La Croix?”
Doyle racked his brain, but came up blank.
“Is he a pulp writer?” Doyle asked.
“Good guess,” the old man answered. “And you are correct. Arthur La Croix was indeed a pulp writer, specifically for Weird Tales. Though, don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of him. I don’t think his work has ever been collected. And, unless you were around to read the original Weird Tales issues off the rack you’ve probably never read anything of his either.”
“So you want me to edit a collection?” Doyle asked, taking a stab in the dark.
The old man looked at him, as if the idea had never occurred to him.
“Eventually, perhaps,” Wilcox said. “But, no. I have other plans at the moment. But first a little background. Did you know that La Croix was a frequent corresponded of H. P. Lovecraft?”
“Kind of like Robert E. Howard or Robert Bloch,” Doyle offered.
The old man nodded.
“But, here’s the interesting part,” Wilcox said. “Shortly, before his death, Lovecraft broke off all correspondence with La Croix. To a few close associates, Lovecraft mentioned that La Croix had become strange and bizarre.”
“Too strange and bizarre for H. P. Lovecraft,” Doyle chuckled. “That’s quite an achievement.”
“Isn’t it just,” the old man answered, also chuckling slightly. “All Lovecraft would say is that La Croix was ranting and raving about creating the greatest Weird Tale ever. A tale to warp the world.”
“I’m guessing he never finished that story, did he?” Doyle asked.
Wilcox shook his head, and then said: “No, after Lovecraft cut off all ties, La Croix went missing, and was never seen again. You know that old cliché. All he left behind were a few fragments, which have recently come into my possession.”
“And you want me to finish the story,” Doyle said.
The old man smiled, and nodded.
“My granddaughter has set up a site on the computer, where we can promote the mystery of Arthur La Croix, and build excitement for the launch of the book.”
“Have you read any of these fragments?” Doyle asked.
The old man shrugged.
“I have,” Wilcox admitted. “They are what you would expect from a madman, jumbled and incoherent. But, I really don’t have much of an imagination, so perhaps you will have better luck.”
Doyle nodded, and then said: “Sounds like fun.”
Wilcox reached into his suit pocket, and pulled out a small manila envelope. He slid the envelope across the desk.
“Based on your reputation, I’ve given you a modest advance…”
The old man frowned, and then added: “It’s probably not as much as you’re used to…”
“I’m sure it’s fine,” Doyle said, quickly pocketing the envelope.
“Inside that envelope you will also find a Xerox copy of La Croix’s final work, on which to build on.”
Doyle sensed the meeting was drawing a close. He had sensed right, as Wilcox stood. Doyle followed his lead.
“One final thing, Mr. Doyle,” Wilcox said. “Try not to let your imagination run too wild. We do have to make this book at least palatable for public consummation.”
“Rest assured, sir,” Doyle said, maybe more cocky than he should have. “I won’t warp the world or anything.”
Doyle had not escaped the office unscathed. The old man held out a standard work for hire contract to tempt him-- adding, jokingly, that there was still time to call the bank if he backed out. Doyle didn’t think it was very funny, but he signed anyway. Beggars can’t be choosers, after all. It meant no royalties if the book took off, but he believed the old man was genuine in his offer of more work. Wilcox had seemed sincere enough; of course this was coming from a man who dealt in smut. Still, his money was as good as anyone else.
Doyle told himself not worry about any future prospects, but focus on the project on hand. So, that’s what he did.
He sat in his car, and in the fading sunset read and reread the Xerox copy, Wilcox had given him. When the light outside became too dim to see, he set the pages aside on the passenger’s side, and started the car.
He pulled into traffic, and let his mind wander. Doyle hoped that by the time he got home, he’d at least have a basic framework that he could build on.
The old man had been wrong, in some respects, regarding La Croix’s final work. It wasn’t some much that the fragments were jumbled and incoherent. It was more that the ideas were completely random, with each idea disconnected from the next.
Some of the fragments were dripping with pulpy dramatics such as:
Who could possibly conceive the thoughts of an inhuman mind?
On the other end of the scale were oblique fragments like:
But, by then it was already too late…
The others, well there the old man had been right. The product of a crazed mind, no doubt, but La Croix was still a good enough writer that he could at least string two sentences together, and have it make some kind of sense.
The whole thing reminded him of this old kid’s book. Damned if he could remember the name of it, and booze had long since fried whatever part of his brain contained the knowledge. He remembered, there were captions onside of the book, and weird pictures on the other side, and you would basically have to fill in the rest of the story. Whoever had come up with the concept had been a freaking genius. Doyle wished he had come up with the idea. It was certainly better than the borderline clichéd crap that he had churned out over the course of his career. And, his books, especially the latter ones, now featured prominently at most 25 cents bins at thrift stores across the country.
Doyle, sighed, he couldn’t let himself go down that hole. That hole lead straight to the bottom of a glass of scotch. God, even as a writer he was a complete cliché.
He pushed these bitter thoughts away, and focused on the project at hand.
“It was like a jigsaw puzzle,” he thought, as pulled up to a stoplight.
He just needed something to put all the pieces together together. It had to be something that would tie all the stories together, and yet allow them to stand on their own two feet. What he needed was a framing device, something like in those old Amicus films: strangers meeting on a train, as Peter Cushing tells their fortunate, and the like.
His mind excitedly raced. “Yeah, that would work.” He thought. And if you wanted to publish the stories as stand-alones, all you would need to do is cut out the framing device.
He thought Wilcox would like the idea too. Not only would the old man be getting a book, but maybe ten or so stories that he could squish in-between the sticky nudie pics of his various magazines.
Who could possibly conceive the thoughts of an inhuman mind?
The thought was completely random, and just popped into his head.
“Weird,” he said out loud, and shook the thought away. But, the thought seemed to linger, just at the back of his mind, even as he began to outline the book in his head.
Lost in thought, Doyle blinded turned down a lonely street.
A few minutes later, he realized his mistake. Somehow, he’d gotten turned around, and was no longer in the city. Instead, of the familiar urban sprawl, he now drove down a desolate country road.
Trees surrounded him on all sides, but these trees were held carefully in check by a long barbed wire fence that ran the length of the road.
“Jesus, that was some wrong turn,” he said. He said it out loud, and laughed a little to steady his nerves. It didn’t help, and he was starting to feel uneasy.
There shouldn’t be a forest here, he thought, not this close to the city. The thought was one at the back of his mind, the more primate part that told him he should be afraid.
Doyle laughed nervously again, and then shook his head.
“You’re just being paranoid,” he told himself. “All that weird La Croix crap floating around in your head, it’s getting to you.”
He drove a little further, all the while searching the horizon for anything that seemed familiar.
“The city probably just opened a new road is all,” the more rational part of his brain said to him now. “That’s it. Nothing to worry about. Just look for a place to turn around.”
It looked like there was a clearing just up ahead, and he could see a place where the barbed wire fence opened a little.
His phone began to ring.
Well at least he was spared that horror movie cliché of having no service.
Doyle picked up the phone from the small self just above the radio.
The car suddenly jumped, as it hit a pot hole, and the phone slipped out his hand.
“Shit,” Doyle cried, as the phone fell under the seat.
He looked down, taking his eyes off the road for a second, to see where the phone went.
Seemingly out of nowhere, one of La Croix’s fragments popped into his head:
The bride had been waiting for so long that she had become one with the dust. She stretched out her arms to greet him, and the embrace was impossibly wide.
Whatever survival instincts he had kicked in, and Doyle jerked his head up.
There was a woman standing in the road! She held her arms out as if to embrace him.
Doyle slammed on the brakes. The car screeched to a halt, but the momentum continued to lurch him forward. He heard the glass crack, as his head plowed into the windshield. Then everything went dark.
He awoke, as the old cliché goes, with a splitting headache. He flipped down the shade, and examined his head in the vanity mirror. He had come through remarkable unscathed. There wasn’t even any blood.
“Just a few scrambled brains,” he thought. “Nothing serious.”
He’d probably done more damage from a weekend bender. These days, those benders were becoming more and more frequent, and more often than not he drank alone.
Doyle leaned back in his seat, but then quickly sat up.
Something white darted across the windshield. It was just at the top, and then disappeared. It reappeared in the corner, and just as quickly fluttered away.
When it reappeared again, curiosity got the better of him.
“It must be on the roof,” he thought.
Against his better judgement, he opened the door and got out.
It took a minute to comprehend what he saw.
He saw a wedding dress suspended in the air.
Someone had strung a clothes line across the road, and threaded it through the sleeves of the dress—which stretched the arms wide.
In an embrace, he thought. Though, the thought was not his own. That one belonged to La Croix.
The dress might have been white once, but it had grayed with grim and dust and Doyle several dark patches where moss had taken root.
“Kids,” he thought, as his rational part of his mind struggled to come up with an answer. “It has to be kids, playing a prank.”
It’s what made the most sense, but what didn’t make any sense was when the dress began to move. It began to squirm and twist, as if trying to break free of its bond. And, every time it moved, the skirt draped across the roof of his car.
“The wind,” he quickly thought. “It’s the wind.”
Nevertheless, he stumbled back, and felt his feet suddenly give underneath him.
He fell, landing on his back. The jarring motion caused his teeth to clamp down hard on his tongue. Blood poured from the wound, resulting in a violent coughing fit, as he tried to clear his throat.
When the fit finally passed, he sat up and leaned his back against the side of the car.
A random thought popped into his head. One of La Croix’s little fragments:
From the trees they watched, admiring their handwork with glee. The Lost People had struck again…
Something pinched at his leg, snapping him back to reality. When he looked down, he saw barbed wire twisted around his ankle.
He tried to pull himself free, but the wire felt impossibly heavy. He soon realized why. Following the wire, he saw it was still attached to a fence post. The fence post laid face down in the road, a few feet away.
“Shit,” he cried.
“Shit, shit,” he cried twice more.
His annoyance quickly fled. Fled, in part when he saw the other end of the wire carefully, wrapped around his front tire. And, fled even more when he saw that the back tire, had also suffered the same fate.
His hands shook, as he grabbed at the wire. He pulled with all his might, even as the barbs sank deep into his palm, and cut away at the flesh.
He freed himself, but had enough presence of mind to grab his phone from under the seat, before jumping back into the car.
He quickly locked all the doors, and a few seconds later shaky, sweaty finger pushed the buttons for 9-1-1
As soon as he heard the other line click, the story poured out of him in one big, incoherent mess.
“Sir,” the 911 operator said, “I need to calm down.”
“If I was calm I wouldn’t need to call 911, you stupid bitch,” Doyle screamed.
He regretted it immediately, and the operator remained silent for a long time.
“I’m sorry,” Doyle cried. “Please, I think someone’s trying to trying to kill me.”
“It’s alright sir,” the operator said. “Just tell me where you are, and I will send someone to your location.”
“I don’t know where I am,” Doyle sobbed. “I made a wrong turn…”
The operator fell silent again, and Doyle swore he could hear muffled laughter in the background.
“Are you laughing at me,” he asked.
“Sir, no one is laughing at you,” the operator assured him, “I’m attempting to track your cellphone location…”
He could hear the laughter again. It was louder this time.
“You are laughing at me, I can hear you,” Doyle screamed.
“Sir, I’m not laughing at you…” the operator started to say, but he didn’t wait for her to finish.
That’s when a random thought popped into his head:
The sisters of sin, had worked their magic, and lured another down the forbidden path…
He saw something out of the corner of his eye. He didn’t want to look, but something told him that he should.
Doyle turned his head, and looked out the passenger side window.
Something moved just at the edge of the tree line, but he had to look again, because what he saw couldn’t possibly be real.
A face popped up from the tall grass.
It wasn’t a human face. The head was too large, and its skin was a pale shade of white.
The face quickly disappeared.
“Sir,” he heard the operator say, “Help is on the way, just stay in your car.”
The head rose again from the tall grass. It was closer now.
“It’s a kid,” he told himself, “a kid playing tricks.”
Up close, Doyle could see the head was nothing more than a mask. The mask had large eyes, and painted on buck teeth, with a plastic mouth bent into a smile. Doyle could see that the white, artificial fur was soaked, and the large rabbit ears drooped with age. From the grass, the rabbit waved at him.
And, as a reflex he waved back.
The rabbit, seemed to take this as its cue, and now stood.
It wasn’t a kid.
It was a woman, and she was naked.
She cocked her rabbit head to one side, and pushed her chest suggestively forward.
That’s when Doyle saw red.
From his car lights, he could see a dark, red substance splashed across her full grown breasts.
She held her hands behind her back, but her body rocked slightly back and forth, as if dancing.
Doyle fingers scrambled for the phone.
“Are you still there,” Doyle screamed into the receiver.
He heard giggling laughter in response.
“Yes,” a voice whispered now. “We’re here…”
Soft fingers touched his ear.
Doyle, flinched at the touch, and now his eyes drifted toward the rearview mirror.
There sitting in the dark of the backseat, was another rabbit. She was nude like the woman outside, save for the white, furry mask she wore.
Doyle swallowed, and pushed down a lump in his throat. His hands shook, but he did his best to hide them, not wanting the woman to see. It was a strange sense of manly pride given his situation.
Neither man or woman spoke.
He looked out the windows, doing his best to avoid any eye contact with the woman in the back seat. The girl outside, had moved to the front of his car. Her young, lithe, body gyrated in the glow of his car headlights, leaving nothing to the imagination.
The girl in the back seat, sighed loudly, and Doyle’s attention drew back to the mirror.
In the mirror, he saw the girl cock her head slightly.
“Do you think I’m pretty?” She asked. Her voice was sweat like honey.
Doyle looked down, and all of a sudden he felt like a dirty old man.
“Do you think I’m pretty?” The girl asked again.
Doyle licked his lips, and cleared his throat. He had always been shy around woman, even as a kid. The only thing that ever gave him any sort of courage to go up and talk to them was courage of the liquid kind. Sadly, at the moment he was as sober as a judge. And, this was the type of situation that could only be improved by getting royally hammered. She waited patiently for him to answer.
Finally, he croaked: “Yes.”
The girl lowered her head.
“Are you sure?” She asked.
“Jesus,” he thought. “Kick her ass to the curb, already. This was obviously either some elaborate prank or you are about to get robbed.”
He was all set to tell her to get the hell out of his car, but he just couldn’t seem to get the words out.
Instead, he nodded in answer to her question.
He heard something thud against the side of his car. He turned his head to look. The girl from outside, now pressed her breasts forward, squishing them against the driver’s side window.
Doyle felt something cold press against his skin, and felt a sting in his neck.
He looked in the mirror.
The girl in the backseat, held a knife to his throat.
She had removed her mask, but all he could make out were her eyes. They were wide, and crazed.
“Now I’m going to make you look pretty,” she shrieked.
She turned her face, and Doyle saw that someone had slit her mouth open, stretching it into a hideous grin. The wound was long and deep, but worst of it all it was still fresh, and blood tricked down from the grin, splashing onto her chest.
Doyle’s hand shot out, and rested on the door handle.
His hand retreated, when the girl outside leaned down, and peered inside.
She too had removed her mask. And Doyle could see a fresh slit on the side of her face that mirrored her sister’s.
The girl outside tapped on the glass with the butt of a knife.
Doyle held up his hands in surrender fashion.
His only salvation now, was to hope the 911 operator was still on the phone listening. His eyes looked down to the phone. The screen was black. He didn’t know if that meant his phone had run out of power, or if the display had just gone dark.
Soon, such trivial things did not matter, as he felt the tip of the knife dig into the side of his face.
“You look so sad,” the girl in the backseat cooed. “Don’t worry, my sister and I will put a smile on your face.”
Doyle cried out, as the knife slowly dug into the side of his face.
For a brief moment, Doyle imagined himself the hero. He could see himself, in an amazing feat of agility, diving over the divide that separated the two seats, and with a cheeky wink opening the passenger side door, and then onward to freedom.
What, ultimately saved him was the sight of flashing blue and red lights in the back window.
The girl in the back seat screamed out in frustration. She then leaned in close, and whispered sweetly in his ear: “This isn’t over. It’s only the beginning.”
She slipped away, and soon Doyle heard the back door open.
The woman reappeared outside. She wore her mask again, as did her sister. They turned their heads to look back at him. One final look, and Doyle could almost hear them laughing at him. Hand and hand they skipped back into the tall grass, before disappeared back into the woods.
There was a tapping just to his left, and Doyle snapped his head in that direction.
The police officer on the other side of the glass made a motion for him to roll down his window.
Doyle quickly complied.
“Oh thank god,” he cried.
Then pointing to the woods, Doyle added: “Did you see them? The naked women in the bunny masks?”
The officer rubbed his chin, and then asked: “Have you been drinking tonight, sir?”
Doyle vigorously shook his head.
The officer shrugged, and then said: “Can you step outside your vehicle for a moment?”
Doyle debated whether or not he should. It could be another trick. Then a more sinister plot took root in his mind. What if it was the tea? Maybe the old man got his kicks by spiking people’s drinks with a little LSD, and then filling their head up with all that La Croix crap just to freak them out.
“Well, jokes on you old man,” Doyle though. “I’ve taken a hit or two in my day, and if I know anything about going on a trip, the best thing you can do is just go with the flow.”
Doyle got out.
The officer stepped back slightly, and a hand lightly tapped the revolver on his belt. It was hard to tell the officer’s age, given the darken shades that covered the man’s eyes. Doyle guessed, he was maybe around 30, as he didn’t have a young man’s voice, but instead something of a gruff, hurried tone.
When the officer saw that Doyle wasn’t going to give him any trouble, he stepped forward.
“Mind telling me what happened here?” The officer asked.
As calm as he could, Doyle answered: “I made a wrong turn, and somehow ended up here.”
“Let me guess,” the officer said, “you made a right at the highway extension.”
The officer shook his head, and chuckled.
“It’s alright,” he said, “it happens all the time. Good thing I was on patrol. Looks like you got knocked around a little bit there. Fence post jumped out in front of you, did it?”
Doyle smiled, and nodded his head. “Just go with the flow,” he thought to himself.
“Tell you what,” the officer said, “how about I give you lift back to town, and radio for a tow. Get one the docs to give you the all clear over at county general. Does that sound good?”
Doyle hesitated for moment. If they gave him a blood test, and it showed up positive for LSD, things could get a little awkward for him. He started to say something, along the lines of: “I’ll just wait for the tow truck thanks…,” but the officer held up his hand.
“It’s no problem, sir,” the officer said, and then smiled a wide toothy grin. “Right this way.”
Doyle stepped forward, and headed towards the patrol car. He could hear the officer’s heavy boots, stomping on the pavement behind him. Something didn’t feel right. It was the officer’s behavior. The officer just seemed a little too eager to help. And, that’s when a thought suddenly occurred to him:
Officer Smiley had long fought against his inner demons, but today he had lost the battle. And, he suddenly became possessed with the idea of skinning a man alive…
“La Croix again,” Doyle thought, as an uneasy feeling crept up and down his spine. He could feel his entire body tense. He did something crazy then, and that insanity is what ended up saving his life. Instead of turning around, he brought his leg up. Then with as much force as he muster, he shot his leg back.
Doyle heard the officer gasp in surprise. Taking a chance, he spun around. He had guessed right, the officer had been standing right behind him. The officer lay curled into a ball on the ground. He didn’t think he had hurt the man that badly, but was able to put two and two together, when he saw the giant tent sticking up from the man’s pants.
Somehow, Doyle’s fat ass was still standing, but if the man got up he was screwed. It didn’t manner how many karate classes he had taken as a kid, back when he had wanted to grow up to be a Ninja Turtle, there was no way he could fight the officer off mano a mano. He had taken the guy by surprise, and had maybe a minute or less before the guy started to recover.
Then Doyle had a thought, this one was one of his, not one of La Croix’s. With a courage that even surprised even him, Doyle snatched the officer’s gun out of the hostler. Gun in hand, he ran across the road, and slipped into the forest.
Laughter dogged his retreating footsteps.
“Oh yes,” the officer roared. “Do run. It’s so much more fun that way.”
Out of shape, and out of breath, Doyle collapsed in the woods. His eyes lit upon a hallowed out tree that had fallen over on its side.
He crawled over to it, and once safely inside gulped in air trying to catch his breath.
He wished he had never read those goddamn fragments. They had sunken in deep, and now leaked out into his reality. Maybe he was just going crazy, seeing things that weren’t there. He was having a flashback, yes that must be it. All hits of acid he done back in college were now coming to collect.
Wilcox words came back to haunt him now.
“Try not to let your imagination run too wild,” the old man had said.
And his own words, too cocky for his own good: “Don’t worry I won’t warp the world or anything.”
His mind raced, but suddenly La Croix took the lead, and a random thought now occurred to him:
It was old, when the trees were still young.
It stalked the woods in borrowed skin.
Its bones rattled as it drew near.
It had no need of eyes, as it was born in the darkness before the light.
It had no name, but responded to the shrill cries of fear and madness.
“Get out of my head,” Doyle shrieked. He was tired of La Croix riding shotgun in his imagination.
The forest went silent around him, which was never a good thing if horror movies were any indication. The only sighs of life were his labored breath.
Doyle strained his ears.
He heard nothing at first, but then, faintly, heard the sounds of trees snapping in the distance. The sound drew closer, and Doyle held his breath. They sound stopped just at the opening of the tree. Doyle saw a hand reach in, and the fingers stretch out.
It wasn’t human, as the creature’s skin hung loose around its fingers.
The hand waved from side to side, as if trying to feel any change in the air. The lose skin around its fingers gently swayed back and forth in an almost hypnotic fashion.
The hand closed into a fist, and then pulled back.
Doyle remembered the gun He brought it up, but it slipped from his hand, and fell with thud onto the wet grass below.
“Shit,” Doyle swore under his breath.
The creature’s hand reached in again, and its fingers rapidly snatched at bits of air.
“It’s blind,” Doyle thought, “it’s blind.”
If he had cried out, if he had run, if fired the gun, this thing would have found him immediately.
The hand snapped back.
Doyle leaned back, and huddling as best he could in the corner.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something peer around the opening. Doyle only caught a glimpse, before he turned away. A glimpse was enough, maybe even too much, and he didn’t think he would ever forget that thing’s face. It was as if the moon were made flesh.
Doyle closed his eyes. He had a very urgent need to take a piss, but he did not stir. The sensation soon left him, when he heard the rattle—the rattle of bones.
The rattle grew closer, but then it stopped, and the silence was the most frightening thing of all.
Something hot blew across his arm—the creature’s breath! Doyle nearly screamed, but bit his lip just in time.
His arm was on fire, and he could felt the skin start too waxen, and then melt.
It was driving him crazy, and there was no way he could hold out much longer.
His salvation came from an unlikely source.
“Come out, come out where you are,” Doyle heard someone shout. He recognized the voice, it belonged the police officer.
The creature heard it too.
Doyle could feel the ground shake, as its heavy body raced out the opening.
It was only when he heard the screaming, the very human screaming, far off in the distance, that he breathed a sigh of relief.
The burning pain in his arm brought him down to earth. He laid down in the wet grass, letting the condensation wash over him.
Doyle slipped from this world, as exhaustion took hold of him.
Doyle opened his eyes, and saw the light of the morning sun.
In that moment, he had never known such peace in all his life
The air around him felt calm and still.
“Like the eye of a hurricane,” the cynic in him thought, but he quickly pushed these thoughts away.
No this was something more, like a moment of clarity.
Maybe this whole experience with La Croix was his mind telling him that he had hit rock bottom, and that he had better turn his life around. This was his Ebenezer Scrooge moment, with all the nightmares and ghosts carefully designed to scare him straight
At least that’s the story he told himself.
And, he believed it, until he saw the gun.
Doyle picked the gun up, and could feel the weight of it in his hand.
“A toy,” he said to himself.
“Left behind from some school field trip,” he added, trying to fit this piece of nightmare into his narrative.
He pocketed the gun, and crawled out of the hollow tree.
He felt uneasy, and coughed—choking on his first taste of fresh air.
His mind grasped at straws, and the straw he settled on was that he wasn’t fully awake yet. He just needed to go home, pull up the covers, and write all of this off as a bad dream.
Without warning, the sun blinked out.
It was dark, an evening dark, and Doyle could hear the chorus of insects hum their nighttime song.
The hum came to an abrupt stop, as daylight returned a few seconds later.
Then the cycle repeated. It was night, then day, then night, and day again.
And, a horrible thought occurred to him, but this was one of La Croix’s:
The God of Whispers blinked, hoping that the horrible creature he had created was nothing more than a figment of his imagination. Upon opening his eyes, the whispering god saw it was not a dream…
Doyle’s eyes drifted toward the sky. The sky stared back at him with eyes that were bigger than the mountains, and with pupils that burned with fire, and irises that gleamed like the sun.
He felt small and insignificant in that unholy gaze, and wanted to run and hide, but he knew there was no escape.
This is until he felt the weight of the gun in his pocket.
An insane giddiness filled him, because there was a way. Yes, he had a one way ticket out of here.
And, whatever waited for him on the other side—be it the delights of heaven or the tortures of hell—had to be better than this.
He smiled, as he realized that his finally thoughts were his and his alone.
Doyle raised the gun to his temple, and his finger closed around the trigger in a tight squeeze…
But, by then it was already too late…
Cover: Allegorie der Tulipomanie by Jan Brueghel the Younger
Images provided by Wikimedia Commons
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
EXCERPT Did you know that La Croix was a frequent corresponded of H. P. Lovecraft?” “Kind of like Robert E. Howard or Robert Bloch,” Doyle offered. The old man nodded. “But, here’s the interesting part,” Wilcox said. “Shortly, before his death, Lovecraft broke off all correspondence with La Croix. To a few close associates, Lovecraft mentioned that La Croix had become strange and bizarre.” “Too strange and bizarre for H. P. Lovecraft,” Doyle chuckled. “That’s quite an achievement.” “Isn’t it just,” the old man answered, also chuckling slightly. “All Lovecraft would say is that La Croix was ranting and raving about creating the greatest Weird Tale ever. A tale to warp the world.” “I’m guessing he never finished that story, did he?” Doyle asked. Wilcox shook his head, and then said: “No, after Lovecraft cut off all ties, La Croix went missing, and was never seen again. You know that old cliché. All he left behind were a few fragments, which have recently come into my possession.” “And you want me to finish the story,” Doyle said.