They Eat Eyes
By Harry L. Thompson, Jr.
Published by Harry L. Thompson, Jr. at Shakespir
Copyright 2016 Harry L. Thompson, Jr.
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Dedicated to Sarah, Rose, and Robyn.
Without your unending support, none of this could be possible.
In Memory of H.P. Lovecraft, Ed Wood, and Hal Warren
Without your inspirations, this story would have never been.
I gave up driving rigs about two years ago. It gave me a reason to keep moving, to keep people away from me and away from my secret. However, everything just started to feel so hollow. After a lifetime of pushing people away, I finally found myself alone and wondering if I did the right thing. Sure, keeping America fed and well supplied by crisscrossing the country was a great thing to do, but when cardboard idealism blows over in the winds of early middle-age, you start wondering if you can’t do more.
I still went to the appropriately named Truck Stop Diner once a week. It gave my life a sense of continuity and let me enjoy the company of people without really having to interact with them. It was a clean place. The food was tolerable and Cheryl already knew me. She was the waitress and the closest thing I had to a friend, which was pathetic.
“What’s on your mind, Erik?” asked Cheryl. I knew it was an act. She was a waitress and she got paid to make you think she gave a shit about your well-being. Kinda like a stripper that keeps her clothes on.
“Meaning of it all, Cher. Just thinking about things, you know? Wondering why I’m here, shit like that.”
“Jesus gives us all direction in life,” she said passionately. “A life devoted to Him is a life well spent, that’s what I say. You’ll do something good for someone, and isn’t that the best thing we can do? If we aren‘t here to serve God, I don’t know what we’re here for.”
“Layin’ it on kind of thick, aren’t you?” I responded, causing her eyes to pop at my question. Her lips drew back, and she looked like she just found crap in her pudding cup.
“Just saying that Jesus can help you.”
“I don’t think I’m His type. I’ve always considered Him and me to be on different sides of the fence. I respect Him, don’t get me wrong, but He just isn’t the one for me.”
Her offense was written across her face and ran through her body. If you thought someone couldn’t pour coffee in a manner that expressed seething anger, she’d have proved you wrong. No spilling, no slamming, just a smooth, hate-filled pour.
“You know I’m not that kind, Erik, but that isn’t right to say. A man’s got to respect God.”
“Trying to recruit for the mission, Mama?” asked Froggy, squirming onto the stool next to me stinking of rubber, sex, and Old Mary. He was a slight manwhore with a stringy blonde goatee. Depending on who you talk to, he got his nick name either because of his looks or because of what he can do with his tongue. To me, he looked desperate, sad, and about a decade older than he actually was.
“The two of you? St. Francis Xavier himself would have his hands full with you both.” she said, bustling away.
“You shouldn’t piss off your waitress, you know. You won’t notice spit in your coffee, or worse. I knew this one guy, he pissed off a waiter and contracted Hep.” announced Froggy, his breath foul.
“Sure it wasn’t your fault?” I asked, hoping to lighten the mood. Froggy laughed it off then looked deadly serious.
“So, if you don’t believe in God, what do you believe?” he asked.
I was shocked, so stunned that I didn’t even notice the hamburger Cheryl deposited under my nose.
“I’d like to hear the answer to that one,” said Cheryl.
“I like to keep it to myself.” I answered, trying to be polite but curt; the conversational equivalent of putting up a sign that says “Trespassers Will be Shot” in bright orange letters. Unfortunately, it made Froggy just that much more curious.
“You don’t worship the Devil, do you?” he asked in the same tone that you’d ask some one “You don’t have any chocolate, do you?”
“I don’t see why this fascinates you so much. We hardly know each other.” I replied.
“I’ve seen you here at least once a week for the last year. You can’t be coming for the food, it isn’t that good compared to what you could get in town. You certainly aren’t coming for me. Guess I’m just curious.”
I mulled this over for a moment but my answer was interrupted. Some weirdo in an embroidered bathrobe pushed open the diner’s door.
“Go to your masters. Tell them what you have seen here today. Tell them that ruin is coming for your race.” said the stranger.
He looked familiar, but I never met him. His hair, parted to the side, was greasy and in need of a wash. His beard was long and black, his nose hooked like a bird, and his eyes were Manson-level crazy. Two rednecks near the door let out a hoot and started to laugh. The stranger produced a small gem from the folds of his robe; I could see that he wore ornate gold rings on most of his unnaturally long fingers.
“What you gonna do with that? Cast a spell on me? Well, bring it on Merlin,” said one of the redneck guys, grinning.
It surprised me that he still had all his teeth. Then, before you could say ‘fuck’ a beam of light shot from the gem, cutting through the guy’s head like a hot chainsaw through butter. The searing light burned through his torso, splitting the body in two. The air filled with the smell of cooked human flesh; it put me straight off my burger.
“Tell them death has arrived. Your dominion over this world has ended.” was the last thing he said, stepping across the tiled floor soundlessly as he left.
He could hear the screams that came from the first floor of the warehouse he called home. He knew that he should have regarded that dirty mattress with more suspicion when it showed up. He looked out the window of what had been the manager’s office and surveyed the scene. The girl was young, black, and about half the age he was when he met Dr. Mortis.
“Damn him.” Troy thought. Troy was what he remembered being called, but that was so long ago now. That was when he made his mistake. The girl’s piercing scream brought him out of his pitiful reverie. He knew what those two men intended, and she was only a child. His hunger grew; he imagined their blood and the warmth that would fill him when he drank it.
“Troy, you need to kill them,” taunted Agostine, a slender creature with the head of a goat and tail of a lizard. It was bound to Troy on the night he was murdered.
“I don’t need to kill them,” responded Troy, “I want to kill them.”
“How long has it been since you ate? A week? Two? You must be running a full pint low by now.” Agostine spoke with a silvery laugh, flicking his reptilian tail back and forth like an angry cat.
Troy’s eyes glowed red in the darkness, and he could feel the hate pour through the hoses that he had for veins. A snake-like, hydraulic hiss sounded as he stepped out of the office. Over-looking the warehouse from the mezzanine, Troy surveyed the scene.
One of the men, bald with a goatee, was holding down the girl while the other one unbuckled his belt. They were working by illumination of a flashlight. Troy could see the men clearly despite the poor lighting. They were more like animals than men, he reasoned, and it is okay to kill animals as long as you intend on eating them.
“Don’t kill ’em too quick. Make them suffer,” said Agostine as he crept behind Troy, crawling onto his back, hanging on with his long, barbed claws.
“What the fuck is that?” asked the man whose pants were undone.
“Shit Gerry, what are you looking at?” asked the one that was holding down the girl. He didn’t know that his partner could see Troy’s eyes glowing in the dark.
“Dude, that!” Gerry exclaimed loudly, pointing at the red eyes.
Troy leveled his arm, and fired a harpoon attached to a chain. It was one of several weapons Dr. Mortis had outfitted Troy’s body with. The harpoon pierced Gerry’s shoulder, passing through his flesh. With a tug, its barb dug unto Gerry’s back, causing him to scream. He collapsed instantly, clutching the harpoon.
“Help me Otis!” cried Gerry as Troy walked closer. The chain attached to the harpoon began to retract into Troy’s arm, pulling his prey closer. Gerry’s feet scraped against the ground as he pulled against the strength of the winching mechanism.
Otis turned, releasing the girl unintentionally. She fled in a panic. Otis groped for the flashlight he and Gerry had been using for a light source and flashed it in Troy’s direction.
“Oh my God!” he said while a dark, damp spot spread down the front of his pants.
Troy knew what Otis saw. He saw a machine made in the shape of a man that stood nearly eight feet tall with mighty silver tusks that jutted forth from a jaw with a severe under bite. Fine chain tipped with barbs were his hair, and an inverted pentagram was carved into his chest. Troy walked closer, his heavy iron feet pounding the ground in a slow, plodding rhythm.
“Help me! Help! Otis! Help! Oh God!” begged Gerry, struggling against the chain like a hooked bass. Troy stepped forward, his joints hissing as his foot stamped the ground not a yard away from Gerry’s legs. Otis held a gun in one hand, the flashlight in the other and aimed for Troy’s head. The bullet ricocheted uselessly against Troy’s iron body.
Troy took another step, his giant foot crunching Gerry’s tibia and fibula with a satisfying crunch. Gerry shouted with a scream that seemed inhuman.
“Oooh. I don’t think that feels too good,” said Agostine, whispering in Troy’s ear. “But I do wish he’d stop his whining. C’mon. Crush his grapes.” The eagerness in Agostine’s voice would have sickened Troy once, but he had all ready stopped seeing his prey as anything more than animals, perhaps even something less.
Troy’s next step silenced Gerry’s scream as he treaded on the criminal’s abdomen, producing a terrible, gurgling sound to issue from the body. With a sharp jerk, Troy pulled the hooked blade from Gerry’s shoulder. Otis was crying. He fired his gun three more times at Troy to no effect. He tried to run, but Troy was too fast. He managed to catch Otis by the wrist, wrenching the simpering criminal’s arm with a snap.
“Please!” cried Otis, falling to his knees. Troy’s hands clamped onto Otis’ shoulders. Otis impotently fired his gun at Troy pointblank and it didn’t even mar his body. Despite the futility of struggling against Troy‘s overwhelming strength, Otis tried to escape. Troy’s metal jaw extended downwards, his mouth opening wide. A thousand metal teeth inside Troy’s head began to revolve and saw. Troy couldn’t even hear Otis’ cries over the mechanized din.
“Eat! Eat!” screamed Agostine passionately as the teeth began their work, boring into Otis‘ head. “Bite it off!” After a few agonizing seconds, Troy’s jaw snapped shut, severing Otis’ head from his body. Troy felt happy as his cold metal body filled with the warm human blood. It was the only physical sensation he was left with and he reveled in it.
The high pitched giggling vexed Anastasia; she had gone to the book store as a way to divert her attention from a boring, rainy Saturday and found that her escape had been infested by those three girls. They were the kind that didn’t really fit in; they followed trends, hoping to find out who they were by trying to be someone else. Their current fascination involved witchcraft, which was something that annoyed Anastasia more than their giggling. She had been a witch since birth, and it wasn’t anything like what they taught in the books.
“Look at this!” exclaimed Vivian, holding a book that claimed to be a field guide to demons.
“It’s huge,” said Lori luridly, poking at the illustration of an incubus with her fat fingers.
“Gross!” said Marsha, her big teeth gleaming in an juvenile smile. Anastasia shook her head; if they knew what she knew about incubi, they wouldn’t be laughing. Incubi love the laughter of girls; it’s like the smell of sugar to a child. She tried to be furtive; she wanted to get over to the section beyond the glossy black witchcraft books by Silver Wolfwood and Mitchell Ravenryder; there, she’d find books about mythology by real authors. She wanted nothing more than to pass by unnoticed, but the girls filled up the narrow space between shelves.
“Look who’s here,” said Vivian, her face covered with corpse paint. “What‘s going on, Ana? Looking for the new book by LaVey?” Anastasia hated being called Ana, Stacy, or anything that wasn‘t her full name. Her opinion was that if you couldn‘t bother to say the whole thing, why say it at all?
“No.” said Anastasia abruptly, working her way past the crowd.
“Maybe she’s looking for a way to fill out her sweaters,” said Lori jovially. Anastasia simply rolled her eyes.
“No, she’s looking for a way to bring her mother back,” said Marsha. The other two looked at her, shocked. Anastasia raised her right eyebrow, her eye bulging slightly. She felt her body temperature rising; she knew a curse was growing inside her, and she longed to put it on this girl’s head.
“If you really want to know, I’m looking for a book about the Aztecs,” responded Anastasia maturely. The three girls seemed puzzled.
“You know, if you want to be part of our coven, we have a lot of books you can borrow,” said Vivian.
“Oh yes, I’m very interested in joining your ’coven’.” Anastasia’s face bore a terrible smile of insincerity. These three had found out that she was a practicing witch and longed to make her an accessory that the whole group could use. Having Anastasia in their clique would give them an air of legitimacy; everyone knew that Anastasia was a real witch, and they’d be thought of in the same way by association. At least that’s how Anastasia understood the situation.
She found some delight in knowing that she had something that these girls didn’t have, something that they lusted after. They could chant until their voices were horse, but they could never do what she could do. Anastasia was certain that real witches were born, not made. Even if someone could learn to be a witch, no one could do it through the dreck on the shelves those girls were looking through.
“We’re going to call down the moon tonight,” said Vivian, her voice quiet and serious. “It must be serendipity that brought you here.”
“Either that or it was the fact that you all were blocking the way to the books I wanted to look at in the only bookstore in town,” said Anastasia.
“But we could use someone with more experience; we’re kinda new at this and it’s supposed to be very dangerous.” said Vivian persuasively. ‘At least, that’s what Wolfwood says.”
“Yeah.” Anastasia wanted to laugh, but she stifled it. She knew an opportunity when she saw it, and this was a ripe one. It would give her a chance to get the girls off her back and show them how hollow their month-old faith was. “I know a spot. The gorge, overlooking the dam. It will be perfect.”
“Really?” asked Lori.
“Yes, really. I’ll be there at eight. The moon will be full and high in the sky by then.” Anastasia wondered if they could see the fey sparkling in her eyes, then she dismissed the thought.
“What do we do?” asked Froggy, breaking the silence. We’d been staring at the two halves of the redneck and Froggy’s voice jarred everyone out of the shock. I was surprised that he seemed to be the most okay with this, then again, he must have seen some weird shit in his day.
What happened must have finally registered in Cheryl’s head, because she screamed, loud and long, with all the gusto of an H-bomb. She wasn’t the only one in hysterics; the redneck’s buddy was trying to put the two halves of his pal back together. It took a moment before my cogs started turning, but when they did, my first thought was for my own hide.
“Leave,” I said, “and don’t come back.” I slapped my hat on my head and threw some cash on the counter.
“We can’t just leave him here. We have to tell someone.” entreated Froggy, his eyes red and watery. Something in the scene must have hit him hard, ’cause he was dead set on doing what he considered the right thing.
“We might not be able to leave that behind, but I can. I’m not hanging around. If that loon comes back, well, I like my halves together, you know?” I said. If there was one thing I wanted, being sliced in half was not it. I had enough to worry about in life without adding wizards to the list. I brushed past Froggy and he grabbed onto my arm.
“You can’t leave us like this. You’re one of us Erik. You’ve been coming here for years now. Even after giving up driving, you still come.” said Froggy, his lips flapping wide, showing his long, yellowy teeth.
“I come here because I don’t have anywhere else to go,” I replied, “There’s not much else to it. Sure, you and Cheryl are the best I got right now, but I’m not gonna get myself killed over you.” Froggy looked like I just shivved him in the guts. I felt bad, but not bad enough. Then, I looked at Cheryl.
She was sitting on the floor, her pink uniform skirt hiked up, make-up running, and her chest was convulsing from her sobs. She looked pitiful. She looked just like Hannah.
I had a wife once, a kid too. Both of them were beautiful; sky blue eyes and hair like flax. When I was away from home, it was tough on them, but driving was the best I could do with the threadbare education I had. We lived very frugally; that let us get a bit of the dream. We had a nice house, big enough to fill with a dozen kids, but we had only the one: Sophie.
I can still see the orange rug Hannah brought home from the department store. It was the first major purchase she ever made for the house on her own, and she was so proud. Apparently, despite looking like a sheep dog rolled in Kool-Aid, it was the height of style. I almost hit the roof when she told me how much it cost, but it made her happy. I did everything I could to make her and Sophie happy.
If I made more, if I was a shrewd bargainer, we might have been able to afford something in a nicer neighborhood. It wasn’t so bad at first, but as the years went by, I started to notice the decline. I think I noticed it more because I’d be gone for so long, come back, and see another pothole in the road, another house for sale, another broken window.
When Sophie was 10, things were getting really bad. She could see the squalor that surrounded us, and she wanted to leave. She started to resent me and her mom. Weird how kids can do that; you can give them all you have, even the blood from your veins, and they still want more. I know it was just a phase; she’d grow out of it eventually and learn that we were doing the best we could for her. We even saved enough to pay for most of her education in cash. We’d be able to get her educated, give her the hand-up we never had. However, we never got to.
When I left for a cross-country drive to Sacramento, I had everything, but when I got back, it was all gone. Sophie had been kidnapped while walking home from school. I got the news when I called from Sacramento. I started the drive back that night, but I couldn’t drive fast enough. I came home to the bitter smell of decay. Instinctively, I knew there was something wrong. Then, I found Hannah. She shot herself in the head. Her blood stained the faded orange rug, her body was still. Apparently, the cops told her that they found Sophie’s body in a dumpster and Hannah broke down. Left alone, even for just a few days, she wasn’t able to keep it together.
I walked over to Cheryl, past the body. I squatted down, then sat beside Cheryl. I put my arm around her and she buried her face in my chest. I could hear Froggy on the pay phone. He was talking with the police, telling them that there was a murder.
“Yes,” he said, “It was an, erm, shooting. Kinda. Well, yeah, it was a shooting. Of course. I’m sorry. Yes. I don’t know. Just get someone here.” Froggy slammed the phone down and its bell toned in protest quietly. “Goddamn cops. What the fuck am I supposed to say? A fucking wizard sawed a guy in half with light?” ranted Froggy. He stopped abruptly when he saw Cheryl and I.
“I thought you were leaving.” said Froggy, crossing his arms and tapping his right foot. The pointed Italian loafer clacked noisily against the tile.
“I need to get out of here,” I said, standing and helping Cheryl to her feet. She clung to me like a drunk squeezing a pillar for support. I could hear the police sirens in the distance. “You can come if you want.”
“Nah. I need to see this through. Make sure the cops know what’s what.” said Froggy.
“And if you end up in the booby hatch?” I asked.
“Well, at least I’ll be safe, right? Besides, you‘ll back me up, right?”
“Yeah Froggy,” I said, lying. I couldn’t chance crossing paths with the boys in blue, not after what I did to that fucker that killed my little girl.
Anastasia waited in the moonlight, listening to the rapid flow of water that poured over the rolling dam and cascaded amongst the rocks. She could hear the girls coming from a long way off; they were listening to their music loudly, and the bass thumping signaled their arrival long before they were in sight. Anastasia ran her finger along the leather grip of her short, obsidian dagger. It had been a gift for her first birthday, given to her by her grandmother, and it was something that she always carried with her.
The girls piled out of a Honda driven by Marsha. They were dressed in velvety gowns with low necklines and carried wands that they must have purchased earlier in the day. Their make-up was caked and dramatic. Anastasia, in her slacks, unraveling cabled sweater, and army boots, stifled a smile.
“Hi,” said Lori brightly. Anastasia could see the terror on the girl’s face. Anastasia wondered if she ought to do what she was about to do. She had been planning to harness the power of the moon to summon something minor from the near-outer realms. A Shambler of some sorts, nothing big. However, it would be much more than the girls had ever seen. Anastasia wavering ceased when she saw Marsha donning a red cloak; she looked like Wendy the Good Little Witch from the old Casper cartoons. At that moment, Anastasia knew that these girls were due for an awakening.
“We start with a circle,” said Vivian with an authoritative, pedagogical manner. “Then, we will call on the moon to offer us some of her power. Then, uh…”
“Then we’ll use that power to divine someone’s future,” volunteered Marsha.
“Will it be me?” asked Lori. She was talking with her eyes towards the ground and her fingers intertwined.
“No,” said Anastasia. “We won’t use the power so foolishly. The future is such a malleable thing there’s no real way to predict it. Besides, after the future is foretold, you can take steps to change it.”
“Isn’t that something you’d want to do?” asked Marsha. Anastasia tolerated ignorance fairly well, but this was pushing it.
“No. Because, within all likely hood, you’ll land yourself in a worse spot than you were intended to be in. Knowing the future is a heavy burden,” said Anastasia.
“Then what will we do?” asked Vivian diplomatically.
“We will call a spirit from beyond and go from there,” said Anastasia. “We can ask for a favor, if everything goes well.”
“That doesn’t seem to be a very concrete plan. Ravenryder says that you should always have a clear purpose in mind,” said Marsha.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass what Ravenryder says. Raven Ryder’s a bitch.” said Anastasia, provoking gasps from everyone around her.
“What do you mean?” asked Lori meekly. “Ravenryder is one of the best-selling authors of Wiccan books. He really knows his stuff.”
“Listen. Wicca is less than a century old. He may be an expert on Wicca, but what we’re dealing with are eldritch forces that form the very primal stuff from which the universe is made.” Anastasia spoke firmly, but perhaps a bit insensitively.
“What makes you such an expert? You don’t haven’t written any books, have you?” Marsha’s voice scaled higher and higher as she spoke. Her neck was getting red, a vein pulsed in her forehead.
“If you are afraid to do something real,” dared Anastasia, “you shouldn’t practice with me. If you want to stay in your fantasy world of faeries and glitter, I won’t stop you.”
The three girls looked at each other, then at Anastasia. Each of them seemed scared but determined.
“We’ll do it your way,” said Vivian. “You’re the expert. We trust you.”
“Okay. If you’re all serious, let’s form a circle. No need to hold hands.” said Anastasia, and the others did as she said. A nervous energy grew amongst the group, Anastasia could feel it. “Put those wands away and place your hands together, palms facing. The four of us are at the cardinal directions, each of us are one of the four winds. Here, where earth, water, air, and fire come together, we have convened.”
“But there’s no fire.” whispered Marsha. Anastasia disregarded the remark and continued.
“We form a circle of power, a circle to contain, and a circle to command.” The wind seemed to blow from every direction and a dust devil rose up in the center of the circle. The girls all gasped, impressed. Anastasia wondered if this was the most magical moment they had experienced in their lives. If so, she felt pity for them.
“Mother Moon in the sky, peer down on us. Enshroud us in your light, in your power,” commanded Anastasia. The universe was not something to ask favors from. You had to demand what was yours. Gazelles never offered themselves to lions, so why should reaping energy from the universe be any different?
“Is the Moon getting closer?” asked Lori, her voice quivering.
“It is,” said Vivian, her voice filled with awe.
“My hands!” exclaimed Marsha as smoke rose from between them. “My hands are burning!” She struggled to separate her palms, but she couldn’t.
“Calm down!” admonished Anastasia. “It’s the fire you were so impatient about. It seems to have an affinity for you.” A ball of whirling flame formed in Marsha’s hands, pushing them slowly apart but not burning them.
“Mother moon, give us your strength. Give us access to your roads. We seek a traveler,” commanded Anastasia. The fire whipped out of Marsha’s hands and whorled in a vortex at the base of the dust devil. In the waves of heat, Anastasia could see the face of a woman.
“Mother?” she asked, tears coming to her eyes.
“Yes.” said the face.
“Is it really you?”
“Of course, my treasure. Of course it is me.”
“Why now? Why after so long?” Anastasia’s tears were flowing freely, blurring her vision. She concentrated on keeping the gate open by focusing on the face. The eyes were almond shaped, blue, with dark circles beneath them. It was her mother, there was no doubt in her heart.
Screaming broke her concentration; the girls were shouting in pain. Shaking her head, Anastasia woke to a nightmare vision: a form with her mother’s face and a thousand lashing appendages had crawled from the gate. Its hands were tearing at the girls’ clothes, its claws and mouths tore at their flesh. The thing didn’t touch Anastasia; it just smiled passively.
“No! Stop!” commanded Anastasia. “By the strength endowed on me, I abjure you! Go and leave them behind!” A wave of energy flowed from Anastasia, repulsing the creature back a step. She wasn’t surprised that the abjuration failed; she needed to do more.
“Help us!” screamed Vivian as she tried to pull herself from the thing’s deadly grasp.
“Don’t struggle. Relax.” instructed Anastasia, rushing forward, grabbing onto Vivian’s hands.
“Help!” shouted Vivian again. Her long nails dug deep into Anastasia’s flesh. Her eyes were filled with fear. This wasn’t what Anastasia intended. Something like this should not have been dwelling so close to our world.
“You’re hungry again, aren’t you?” asked Agostine. Troy’s brain squirmed at the creature’s voice; it was sharp and unsettling, and just the sort of thing he didn’t want to hear. Troy turned over, tried to face away from the creature, but it continued nettling him.
“Only two. Granted, it was two full bodies, but only two. You need more. You’re a growing boy, after all. You need your Wheaties.” Agostine snickered at his own joke, and the truth of his statement cut Troy deeply. He was hungry. He wasn’t sure if it was because Agostine was making such a point of it, or if it was from longing for that great sensation of warmth.
Thinking about it made his body tingle with excitement. The gears, pistons, and hoses seemed to hum for a moment. They vibrated in anticipation. He shook his head, denying the feeling. His body ached in response. Troy was certain that it was just a phantom sensation; nothing could hurt him anymore.
“Someone’s coming. Can you hear them?” Agostine’s head perked up, his muzzle opening in a wild grin.
“Troy. Are you here, man?” asked a familiar voice. It was Karl. He was an older man; he wore a New York Nets basketball jersey and carried a white sack in his wrinkled hands.
“Aw. Crap!” lamented Agostine, knotting the fur of his chin angrily. “Wake me when the fun starts.” Agostine, in an annoyed huff, hurled himself into the shadows.
“I’m here,” answered Troy, his voice sounding tinny. His joints hissed as he moved to greet Karl. He was the only vestige of Troy’s old life that remained. Troy worried that he was a burden on his old friend, but he knew that it brought Karl a sense of purpose to try to take care of him. With his business failing and all his kids moved away, Troy thought that Karl needed all the purpose in life he could muster.
“I brought you some food, and some news,” announced Karl. “First is the word: Everyone’s talking about what you did last night. No one believes the girl, though. Once she mentioned you, all her credibility went up like a stack of old newspapers. Thing is, that wasn’t the only weird shit that went down last night. Apparently, someone blew up a museum down in Richmond. Everyone that talked to the police insisted that a wizard did it. Can you believe that? Well, I guess you could, huh?”
“Sure,” said Troy. His eyes were fixed on the bag; it squirmed slightly, which means it was something alive, but barely.
“Here, take this.” said Karl, offering Troy the bag. “It’s a rat. I got it with a mallet; it isn’t much alive, but it’s something, right?”
“Yes,” responded Troy. He took the bag, and without opening it, crunched it into his mouth. It wasn’t filling; in fact, it made Troy feel hungrier than he had before. “Thanks,” he replied.
“You know Troy, being alone like this doesn’t do you any good. You certainly haven’t become a better conversationalist.” Karl smiled warmly as he spoke, but the attempt at camaraderie was lost on Troy.
“I’m not alone,” said Troy, “I have my demon to keep me company.”
“I can help you overcome it. Let me do this for you, man.”
Troy briefly considered his options.
“I can’t endanger you like that. I can’t vouch for your safety if I were to live with you. Sometimes, it is just too hard,” Troy confessed. He could hear Agostine stirring in the darkness.
“Living here, in this dark old place, it can’t be good for you.” said Karl.
“No, but it’s good for people out there.” said Troy.
“I hate to see you here rotting away. If there’s anything left of who you were in there, you’d come along. You can do so much more if you were closer to people that you could care for. It could restore some of who you were. After what you did to save that girl, I know that there’s something of you left in there, something worth saving.”
“Hey!” Agostine’s screech filled Troy’s mind. He could see the demon loping out of the darkness. “He doesn’t smell right. Do you hear me? He doesn’t smell right!”
“I’ll do it,” said Troy loudly, causing Karl to jump with surprise.
“Good. We’ll fix you yet, man. We’ll get you help.” said Karl, but Troy wasn’t listening. He watched Agostine writhing in anger and frustration and felt a deep sense of fulfillment.
“This is wrong! There’s something awry! Aren’t you listening? Listen!” raved the demon, hurling its arms in the air. However, the creature’s protestations just confirmed Troy’s course of action. Troy figured that if it was something Agostine didn’t want to do, it must be a step in the right direction.
“Do you have something to cover up with?” asked Karl.
“Just give me a minute,” replied Troy before he went to find a large sheet of canvas he could wrap around himself.
“You can stay here,” said Karl. Troy was all ready out of sight, and Agostine was dumbfounded. “Without you, we’ll be able to use him much more effectively. Your kind are too wild to be trusted.”
“Me?” asked Agostine, pointing to himself. Typically, no one but Troy could see him. “What do you mean? That’s my body too, you know! I have a right to it.”
“That won’t do,” said Karl, producing a violet gemstone from his pocket. Agostine’s eyes widened when he saw it. The demon tried to spring away, but the pure light seared its flesh, driving it to the ground. Agostine writhed and yelped.
“Troy!” the demon cried, “Get back here, you bastard!”
“He can hear you, creature, but he won’t come to your aid. He has hope now, and with that, he has no room in his soul for you.” said Karl, sneering.
“You can’t destroy me, not forever. I’ll be back, do you hear me? And I will bring the righteous fury of Hell down on your head!” threatened Agostine. The demon’s body began to discorporate through the power of the gem; Agostine’s form bubbled and formed shadowy puddles that hissed and sizzled.
“I will be here for your return, but by then, all of this will be ours,” said Karl. Something in his countenance changed. Underneath his skin seemed to live something that was more than human, something that Agostine recognized but could not place. As Agostine’s eyes melted away, curses still flowed through his lips.
When Troy returned, he was wearing a canvas tarp like a robe, part of it pulled over his head like a hood. He didn’t hear Agostine’s cries, but he did feel an unfamiliar sensation of emptiness. He felt as though something were missing.
“That should be fine for now,” said Karl, filled with conviviality. “I’ll get you something better after we get you home.”
I sat in my pick-up, enjoying the night air. I could see the flashing lights of the cop cars down the street. Leaving Froggy in that mess made me feel like a rat, but at least I was a free rat. Cheryl was quiet, probably still trying to make sense of things. I guessed that she never saw something like that before and that it rattled her more than it did me. Not that I was ever accustomed to seeing shit like that.
“What was that?” she asked at last. “Some kind of laser beam?”
“That’s what it looked like to me.” I said. Truth be told, it befuddled me more than I’d ever admit. It was just a stone, a tiny stone, and it seemed to have so much power.
“Are we going to be okay? Are they coming back?”
“I don‘t know. I don‘t think that they‘ll be back soon.” Once again, I was talking out of my ass. I had a feeling in my bones that they’d be back sooner than I’d like and that I’d want to be as far away as possible when they returned.
“I’m cold.” she said, so I rolled up my window and absentmindedly covered her legs with a blanket I kept in the cab. “What is this? Is this fur?” she asked almost immediately.
I looked and saw that I hadn’t put a blanket on her at all: in fact, it was my cloak. It was one of my secrets.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to seem indifferent.
“I’ve never felt fur like this before. What is it?” she asked. I wondered if I should tell her the truth or if I should keep it hidden.
“It’s bear,” I said, “It was an heirloom.” I must have said it with a heavy dose of gravity, because she looked really serious all of a sudden. I was getting nervous; I felt like a kid on the diving board with no where to go but down.
“It’s nice,” she said, “Who left it to you?”
“It was my grandfather’s, and my great-great grandfather’s.”
“It has stood up well if it’s that old.” She seemed happy to be having this conversation. It took her mind off of the craziness in the diner.
“We’ve taken good care of it, I guess.” I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that it was magical. I couldn’t tell her that some distant ancestor of mine stole it from Dwarves on Walpurgis Night. I’d have to tell her something though. It was welling up inside of me; I just wanted to blurt it out. “Also, it has spiritual significance.”
“How so?” Her eyebrows flexed with the question and her head tilted in a canine way.
“Well, remember how I said that Jesus and me don’t get along? Well, that’s because I follow the old customs. My gods and your God don’t interact well.” An abyssal gulf of silence formed between us. She pushed the bear skin off of her body.
“So, you’re a, uh, Heathen?” she asked.
“I guess that would be fair enough. I don’t espouse the Christian God or His ideals, but I respect them. I appreciate the point of view.” I tried to bridge the gap between us, but she pushed me away with her words.
“Why would you do that to yourself?” she asked.
“Follow something so outdated, so wrong.” She bit her lip after she let her sentiment out. I wasn’t surprised that she said it. Most folks just can’t accept that newer isn’t always better.
“About five years ago, I had a family. They were taken away from me.” I proceeded to tell her the whole sad story, and she listened without saying a word. “With my wife and daughter dead, my world was empty. I spiraled into self-destruction and was saved only through the intervention of my grandfather. He came from Sweden, and while I was growing up, he taught me all the stories he had learned in his youth.
“We had grown apart when I was a teen, but when my family found out how I was living, he was the one they sent to get me out of my despair. My mom figured he’d remind me of times when the world held a lot more potential for me. What he did was much more than that. He awoke me to my real potential.
“He explained how our family hailed from a clan of great warriors. He told me how, once in every few generations, one of us would show the potential to wear the berserkr, the bear-shirt. Wearing the sacred shirt would allow me to tap into animal power that lived deep within my soul.”
“So, it changes you into a bear?” Cheryl asked incredulously.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Ah,” she said patronizingly. “Well, I need to get back to talk to the police.” She groped blindly for the door handle.
“You don’t believe me?” I asked. “Do I need to show you? I’m not crazy,” I insisted. I was getting pissed off. I had been awakened, touched by the gods. I journeyed to Valhalla where I saw the line of my ancestors stretching back further than I could see, and she thought I was crazy.
“No,” she said, “I really should go though.” With that, she opened the door and slid out like a snake. She darted down the road, making tracks towards the diner and the police. I pulled the door shut and started my truck, turning it away from the diner. I headed East at a good clip. As I drove, I thought about the last time I spoke with my daughter.
The plain called Vígríðr, was spread before me, lush and green, unstained and pristine. There, I saw Sophie proudly carrying Odin’s standard. She gazed over the field with a smile on her lips and tears in her eyes.
“You have come to see the end?” she asked me in a solemn tone.
“No,” I said, “My time hasn’t come yet.”
“Then will you avenge me? Will you murder my hated slayers? Will you carve the Blood Eagle in their backs? Father, do justice for me if you intend ever to come back to my side.”
Those cold commands were last words she said to me. Night after night, I’d return to Vígríðr and find her there, waiting patiently for me to avenge her. What choice did I have? What Father could say no to his daughter when she asked him something like that, and with terms like those?
“What is this creature?” Anastasia’s father had asked, pointing at an illustration in an old tome that looked out of place at the breakfast table.
“Munnin,” Anastasia replied. She was only eight years old, but she had already showed a lot of promise. Each day, her father nursed her magical studies by drilling her on extra-dimensional creatures and ritual calculations.
“What does the Munnin do?” encouraged her father. Her mother watched on disapprovingly; she never supported Anastasia’s education in the eldritch arts, wishing that she’d just be a normal kid. She could never understand that the power within Anastasia would find its way out eventually; training her was what would keep her safe.
“It eats your bwains,” said Anastasia, “An’ if you ah scawed, they get stwonger.”
“Very good, butterfly, very good.” congratulated her father.
“Just relax!” she shouted to Vivian. She hoped the other girls could hear her. Their screams had gone silent, and Anastasia hoped that it was because they fainted.
“Just give in dear,” said the Munnin. Anastasia couldn’t stand that the creature spoke in her mother’s voice, or that part of it looked like her mother’s face. However, she tried to control her emotions; the Munnin could feed off of them, and she didn‘t need it to get any stronger; Vivian was doing enough harm by herself.
“Please, save me,” pleaded Vivian, her eyes filling with tears. “It hurts.”
Anastasia breathed deeply, still holding onto Vivian’s hand. She cleared her mind and tried to focus all of her energy. The gate was still open, and she could smell a strange, acrid stench flowing from the shimmering portal. She was afraid of what would happen if she couldn’t drive back the Munnin and close the gate. She considered Marsha and Lori, and concluded that they were probably crushed by the creature’s tentacles; their bodies slowly melding with the Munnin’s as it absorbed their beings, mind and all. They probably weren’t alive, and if they were, they wouldn’t want to be for long.
“It’s not your decision to make,” said the Munnin sympathetically, “They’ll be fine; I’ll let them go if you let me stay.” It heard her thoughts and was planting doubts in her mind. Anastasia knew what she had to do.
“I’m sorry,” said Anastasia, twisting her arm out of Vivian’s hands. Closing her eyes, Anastasia quickly delved into a deep meditation. She calculated time and space, considered ley lines, and turned her body into a conduit for energy; her mind focused the wild energy with ease, molding it into a cone of light. When she opened her eyes, the Munnin was baring down on her. Its human face dissolved, exposing a tangle of small black eyes and a dozen sharp beaks.
“But Ana, I’m your mother.” said the Munnin in a sweet, familiar tone as its tentacles lashed out. Anastasia pushed the cone of energy forward, driving the Munnin back towards the gate. The Munnin’s many appendages lashed out; some reached for trees while others swiped at Anastasia. In Anastasia’s mind, the world had ceased to be. She didn’t think about the girls or her mother; there was just the creature and the gate.
Sweat ran into Anastasia’s eyes, and her head began to pound. The Munnin was putting up a hell of a struggle, but she was beating it. She saw Vivian tumble out of the creature’s grasp and fall to the ground. The girl crawled towards Anastasia.
“Stop! What are you doing? That thing has them!” shouted Vivian, straining her voice. She looked weak and pathetic; her expensive dress was torn, her toy wand broken, and her corpse paint was running in rivulets.
Anastasia’s training had lead to this moment. She ignored Vivian’s begging and forced the creature back through the gate. With a gesture, she slammed the trans-dimensional door shut.
Vivian let loose a miserable, wailing scream. She futilely pawed at the air, then ran trippingly over to where the creature was and searched the ground. Anastasia watched, her stomach sinking. She wanted to throw-up.
“Bring them back!” ordered Vivian. “Bring them back now!”
Anastasia felt dizzy; she had expended so much energy pushing the Munnin back that she wondered if she’d be able to walk back home, never mind opening a gate again and trying to save two corpses.
“No.” she said calmly.
“But you have to! You can’t leave them like that.” said Vivian. Her words made Anastasia feel ashamed, but there was nothing that she could do. It would take her hours, even days of recovery before she could open a gate without risking injury.
“I can’t,” she said, “There’s nothing I can do. It’s beyond me.”
“Then find someone who can!” said Vivian, pushing a finger into Anastasia’s shoulder.
“No,” responded Anastasia, “I can’t have someone go after that thing just to come back with a couple of corpses. I won’t do it.”
“You can’t do that! You can’t just give up on them like that. They might be alive.” Vivian’s neck was pink and her hands clenched like talons. “We trusted you!”
“I never said that you’d be safe,” said Anastasia coldly. She didn’t intend for this to happen, but she never guaranteed that she’d keep them safe. “They chose their paths, and they get what they deserve.”
“Please,” begged Vivian. “Please.”
“It used to be Jimmy’s, now it’s yours. I hope it isn’t too small,” said Karl, opening the door of Troy’s new room in Karl‘s small, mint green single-story ranch. The room had belonged to Karl’s son, but since the divorce, it had stayed empty, with barely a trace of its previous occupant left. “Is this fine?”
“It is good,” said Troy, “Thank you.” He gazed around the room; the wallpaper was covered with a repeating pattern of boxers slugging it out in empty space. The bed was small and Troy was afraid that he was too heavy for its wooden frame, not that he ever slept much.
“I’ll leave you to settle in. My home is your home.” said Karl, “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me, okay?”
“Yes,” replied Troy. “Thank you.” Troy walked over to a squat bookcase; a dozen misused comics were abandoned on the lowest shelf. If he could have smiled, he would have. They were the kind of horror comics he and Karl liked when they were younger; Jimmy must not have shared his father’s taste in comics. Troy peeled back the cover of one and imagined the musty smell of old newsprint. The opening page showed a demon, not unlike Agostine.
“Look, it’s you,” said Troy. “Did you hear me? It’s like you.” The silence irritated Troy, who was accustomed to Agostine’s constant, unwanted companionship. “Where the hell are you?” asked Troy. He looked under the bed and peered in the closet, but he couldn’t find the devil. Agostine never disappeared before, and Troy was growing suspicious. “Well, you can’t have gone far.” muttered Troy, making his way to the kitchen.
“Hey,” said Karl, looking up from the slice of bread he was spreading jelly on. “I’ll have to go out to find something so you can eat. Is there anything you’d prefer?”
Humans. The thought leapt out of the dark corners of his mind with the suddenness of a cat. Troy kept his mouth sealed, half-unable to believe that was his first thought. He didn’t only prefer eating humans, he wanted to eat them.
“Nothing,” said Troy. “I won’t be hungry for some time. I can easily go weeks without eating.”
“Well, if you want anything, just tell me. I’m here for you, man.” said Karl, digging his teeth into the sandwich.
“I miss that,” said Troy.
“What?” asked Karl.
“Tasting. Smelling. Feeling.” responded Troy. “I remember what things were like when I was fully human. I can rely on those memories sometimes, but as the years go by, I forget what some stuff was like. Like holding hands; something like that, something simple, I miss it.”
“That’s a sad lot, but it’s what you got. My grandma always said to do the best with what you got. Simple as that. Besides, at least you don’t need to deal with getting older. Shit, even now it’s hard to get out of bed some mornings, never mind when I’m eighty,” said Karl, taking a seat at the Formica table.
“Good advice isn’t the only thing your grandma gave you.” said Troy.
“What?” asked Karl.
“The table. I remember it from when we were kids. Remember sitting there, waiting for her to give us something good? Strawberry shortcake, ice cream, cookies; your grandma must’ve had an endless supply of snacks.” said Troy. He felt like he was smiling, but knew he couldn’t.
“Yeah,” said Karl evasively, “Those days are gone though. Grandma lives in the home now. She hardly knows me from Jimmy; sometimes she thinks he’s me.”
“Do you get to see him often?” asked Troy. “Does he come here?” he worried.
“Once a month or so. He doesn’t like staying here too much, so I humor him. I don’t want to force him into anything’, you know?”
“Yeah,” said Troy.
“So, what do you do with yourself all day?” asked Karl.
“I talk to,” started Troy, “myself, mostly. I just kind of relive my life. One step at a time. I try to remember every detail.”
“Is that all?” asked Karl, surprised.
“Mostly. There was a time when I used to read a lot, but it’s hard with these hands. I almost tore one of the covers off the Tales you got upstairs.” said Troy.
“Ah, well,” said Karl, searching for words. He seemed confused, but Troy dismissed it. “Just, ah, take care, okay?”
“Sure.” responded Troy.
“Do you want to watch TV? Six-Million Dollar Man is on.” said Karl.
“Funny,” said Troy.
“Oh. Yeah,” said Karl, smiling awkwardly. “I’m sure there’s something’ else on.”
“I’ll just leave you be,” offered Troy, “I have to rest anyways.”
“Okay. Just holler if you need me, okay?”
Troy went back to his room and closed his eyes. He delved into his memories and dreamed, if it could be called dreaming.
We were young. Cindy smelled like bubblegum and sunshine. She was confident; being with her made me feel like I could do anything. Her voice was melodic; when she spoke, there was always poetry about it. She convinced me to join everyone at that damn house. She said it was a rite of passage, that sneaking into the old Marsland place was a time-honored tradition. It was supposed to be haunted, but I didn’t believe in ghosts. I was in love with Cindy, and this was my chance to be alone with her.
It was dirty and dusty, clumsy and quick; we were teenagers and we were just learning. We slept in each other’s arms on a broken bed in the attic of the house. I dreamed of a little house and kids. I awoke to the feeling of a noose around my neck. I was being pulled, dragged out of the room. Cindy was dashing out of the room, hollering for the police. I fought, running at the man that was pulling at me; he stepped aside, yanked the rope, and tripped me. My head hit the floor with a dull thud. The last sensation I had was a sharp sting in my arm.
Next, there was nothing. No light, no darkness, no God, no Devil. There was nothing, it was like I hadn’t been born yet. I remember the nervousness I felt when I realized I was dead. I tried to will my body to move, but there was nothing. Then, the emptiness filled when I heard Agostine’s voice.
“No!” he shouted, “You can’t do this! You can’t bind me to this! I will drink your blood!” Much to my horror, the image of Agostine filled my mind. It was all I could see. “He did it! The fucker did it!” said Agostine.
“What?” I thought.
“Shut up,” said Agostine, “None of your business.”
Soon after, my eyes opened and Agostine was just a voice in my head. I could see a White guy, old and bearded. He looked like Gandalf, but his face was painted with strange symbols.
“It isn’t impossible, is it Electrobot? They said that it could not be done.” said Dr. Leon Mortis, my creator. My nemesis.
“What?” I asked, surprised to hear my tinny, robotic voice.
“You, my son, are the marriage of science, nature, and spirit. Your natural mind, your robotic body, your demonic soul: all combined together in perfect harmony.” he said lovingly. He was proud, and I was confused and frightened.
“You and me kid,” said Agostine, “We’re going to have fun.”
When Troy awoke, it was dark and he couldn’t move. He told himself that he was in Jimmy’s room, that he was safe in Karl’s house. He tried to lift his arm, but it wouldn’t heed his commands. He could hear voices filtering in from the kitchen.
“But will it work?” asked one voice, unsympathetic, inhuman.
“Troy trusts Karl. I will be able to get it out of him.” replied Karl’s voice.
“And the demon?” asked the inhuman voice.
“Gone. But we must act quickly if we want to replace it’s soul with that of the Lord from Beyond.” said Karl.
“Praised be the name of Yvomick!” exclaimed the inhuman voice, “Praise him and be glad of his return!”
My pick-up growled through the early morning hours as pines blew by in a blur. My brain was foggy; I hadn’t slept all night and I just wanted to cover some ground. Even if I could sleep, I didn’t think I’d sleep well. I rolled into a little town that had better days; from the looks of things, the interstate had done a fine job of killing the place. A white-washed convenience store gleamed at the bottom of a hill, glowing dully in the early dawn. I parked the truck and went inside. An old Indian was propped on his elbows, half asleep, leaning on the counter. He was festooned with turquoise and wore his graying hair in thick braids. The black and white television was playing The Star-Spangled Banner at the start of the broadcasting day.
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Evil wizards and beasts from beyond time and space have descended on small town America. It is up to a werebear, teenaged witch, and demon-possessed cyborg to save us all from their vile predations.