Part 4: Of Legends and Shadows

Chapter 2: Field of Screams

I remember, and quite fondly, the days following the conclusion of the Great Darkness. The entire world was balanced on the very lip of complete madness, as if secured only by a single strand of spittle, favoring the gravity of utter lunacy. However, it should be mentioned that the madness was not of the purest variety, but only the reactionary insanity that ignites from commonplace minds getting crushed into the spaces of ceaseless wonder, and without the slightest application of imagination for proper lubrication.

One of my favorite memories from that time concerned the “March of the Scaremen.” I remember precisely where I was when I heard the story come over the radio. The rain was only lightly falling atop the rooftop of the house I had entered, and I was enjoying the fresh food I’d discovered stuffed inside a refrigerator located in the basement.

The voice on the radio called them “unholy deformations of the human condition…congeries of twisted human anatomies assuming the most horrific shapes and positions one most likely couldn’t imagine, and all of them posed via the assistance of sharp implements and other stabilizing materials, like wooden stakes and barbed wire,” and then the voice went on to report that the sculpted bodies had been created “…for reasons that seem to relate to the scaring-off of persons, not unlike some kind of macabre scarecrows.” I sat in the shadows, wrapped in awe, when the static parted again, delivering me into the arms of an earthborn dream:

“Reports are still coming in, but preliminary reports put the number of the things into the thousands. From everything I’m hearing, It’s as if a nightmare has exploded all over the hillsides of Paleton.”

That very evening, after the occupants of the house had returned, I created an homage to the Scaremen of Paleton, who had marched wicked and silent from nightmare into waking.

I only mention all of this to express the pleasure I felt as I came upon a large cornfield filled with scarecrows. I could imagine their artificial bodies overfilled with ripening human meats, and surmounted by heads that partook from a multitude of completely unrelated sources. And as I came upon them, the fog retreated from me, giving the illusion that the fabricated monsters were on the march, shambling towards me through the cornstalks.

I was somewhere in the middle convoluted corn-maze when I heard a well-aimed whisper come to me from the fog-drenched spaces ahead of me.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” I responded with little hesitation. It was a sad little whisper.

“Come here,” the whisper continued, still sad.

“Certainly,” I assured the voice-in-the-fog as I moved towards the tiny utterance, further into the mist and corn.

The voice whispered to me again. “hurry up. Closer. Closer. You’re almost there. We’re waiting for you.”

Eventually the fog mixed with blood, and the corn turned crimson. Hordes of dead cattle, their insides scattered everywhere and anywhere, lied all around me. The whispered voice continued, “Don’t pay them any mind. He did all that, but he doesn’t want you, yet. So don’t worry, ok?” The whisper took great pains to inflect genuine concern through the narrow channel of air that it operated through.

“I rarely worry, little whisper,” I responded, matching the whisper’s level of concern with genuine honesty.

Eventually the corn hallways fell away and revealed an unobstructed view of a horse stable. The doors to the structure had been ripped from its metal hinges, and repainted in blood. “He did that, too,” the whisper indicated.

“I assumed as much. I will also assume that the all of the animals inside the stable are most likely quite dead, along with whomever owns this farm.”

“Oh yes. Their all quite, quite dead. But that’s what he’s like. Not much I can do about it anymore. He’s already killed me,” The little whisper said with no small amount of unhappiness.

“That’s too bad,” I offered.

The whisper led me into the farmhouse, and the bodies inside were almost unrecognizable as human, as they had been mindlessly disorganized. As I continued to follow the whisper through the house, I noticed that all the intervening doors had been blasted open, as if some gigantic creature had rampaged through the structure. There were even signs that the corpses and damaged objects had been gnawed upon.

“Just a little further, now. We’re almost there,” said the sad, dead whisper.

“Very well,” I said.

As I ascended the stairs to the upper levels of the farmhouse, I was passed by a small pack of red-mouthed coy dogs, apparently tempted into the house by a free meal. I followed the whisper to the third story, my journey occasionally punctuated by more ruined bodies and wild, hungry dogs.

The darkness clung to the hallway of the third floor as if it had dried upon its walls, floor and ceiling. The whisperer was still calling out to me, but made no additional sound as we moved ever onward.

I could barely see the ladder that led up into the attic. Whispers drifted down from above. “Here we are. Come on up. Its ok. You’re safe. We promise.”

As I climbed the ladder, I was certain that the smile stretched across my face was glowing.

As I emerged into the attic the darkness transformed into crows, which took wing into the sky through a large hole in the ceiling. Scattered all around me were the bird-pecked remains of more corpses.

“Up here,” The whisperer whispered from somewhere beyond the hole in the ceiling

“As you wish, Little whisper.” I quickly and quietly climbed through the hole in the ceiling, making my way to the rooftop.

The sky was a vault of deepest gray, and fell away into darkness in various places, where the night began to seep into the storm-greyed twilight.

“Now…look,” The whisper instructed, hissing out from somewhere deep within the chimney to my left.

I gazed out over the countryside, my vision pushing the shadows from its path. Then I spied all of the fabulous death. Spread all around the distant fields, glens, and meadows were the corpses of untold numbers of persons and animals. Fires burned in the distance, where lines of distant houses bled smoke into the blackening sky. Cars and trucks stood motionless in the middle of the one road that cut across the countryside, their operators crumpled beside them, red and ruined.

“He wanted you to see…and to appreciate what was coming for you. He said that he’ll be coming for you soon, but not quite yet. He wants you to have time to run. He really likes a good chase. I’m very sorry about all this, but we drew your name…”

“No apologies necessary, little whisper. I completely understand. But may I trouble you to send a message to the creature that killed you?”

“Yes, of course. What would you like him to know?”

“He drew the wrong name.”

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Things to come…
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An image of “Tom Hush” from the book “Folklore and Urban Legends of the Great Darkness”

 

Part 4: Of Legends and Shadows

Chapter 1: Of Myths and Men

The funny thing about the next name on the list was that it was already known to me, as it was to most people. Tom Hush lurked the labyrinthine hallways of darkest folklore, and had done so for as long as I could recall. My first inclination was to assume that some clever killer had taken the name for himself, spreading nightmares behind a mask carved from grin and bones (I wonder what such a thing would have looked like if that master-of-masks, Janus, had only been alive to create it), but I could think of no such killer, offhand. Of course, the title could simply belong to a man with a wonderfully folkloric name, having nothing in common with the antlered daemon at all. But the chorus of whispers that purred behind my thoughts said differently.

I had long shrugged off the lean shadows of Lastrygone, leaving it to the silence I had fashioned for it, and was making my way Westward. My hope was to learn more about the myth of Tom Hush, as my dreams had been disappointingly absent of any meaningful signposts, and merely consisted of the wonderful matters that would typically populate them.

As I passed town after town, deliberately avoiding any large cities as I find them loathsome, I began to analyze the arrangement that I had, perhaps far too unreflectively, entered into. I was now killing on a mystery’s behalf, and hoping that dreams would flood from the wounds I inflicted upon the Deadworld. But after the many, many deaths I’d fashioned with my own two hands, I could only feel the world congeal, ever-hardening for its absence of liquefying dream.

The Crucifier, The Mad Mercenary, a nameless wolf, untold numbers of living nightmares, an entire village of degenerate cannibals and their loping beasts; and the near-legendary Black Molly Patience, herself:

All of them, my beautiful bouquet of dead flowers, handpicked.

And now the Shepherd of Wolves would have me slay, what appeared to be, the living embodiment of one of the happiest, darkest myths I knew of. And through all of this, I had only the reddest dreams to assure me of the righteousness of my path, but while dreams have never misled me (despite what the Queen of Cannibals may have suggested to the contrary), I was growing more and more Leary of nightmares dripping with the skin of wolves.

After many days of wandering, I finally came upon a circle of trees, bent in stature and sallow of color, and completely denuded of their fall coats. I immediately realized that nightmares had routinely traveled through the small, leafless space, and that some of the dark visions may have actually become entangled within the grasping limbs, awaiting picking, like ephemeral, dark fruits. It was plain to see, that If I was to receive a proper dream it would be in this place, but I had to be careful not to allow my excitement to offset my tiredness, as my anticipation was nearly tangible.

As I entered into the crooked crowd, I could feel their cold shadows playing across my skin, trying to find a handhold upon my soul, so as to lift it from my flesh and use it cover their naked, emaciated frames. But my soul is anchored by shadows far fiercer than theirs, and their mad grasping proved futile.

I selected a location suitable for sleeping, and quickly passed into dream.

In the dream, I was walking through a dimly lit hallway, passing figures whose shapes were too wild to be described even by their own shadows, as the darkness abandoned any attempt to represent them where should have fallen at least a dark smudge of obstructed light. When I reached the end of the hallway I found a gigantic window, far larger than should have been admitted by the trim dimensions of the hallway I traveled. The window was focused on the entrance to a massive and feral woodland; it was one the most spectacular forests that I’d ever laid eyes on, inside or outside of a dream, as the trees seemed more like an army of leafy monsters that had paused, mid-march.

I gazed through the window for some time, searching the dense tree-line, following the wide beam of moonlight that moved among the treetops like a spotlight. And then, after a time of hopeful searching, something began to draw close to the edge of the forest; it was gigantic and terrible, and older than the light that tried, in vein, to penetrate the dense canopy of trees. First, the lesser creatures of the woods fled its approach, followed by the lean and ferocious barons of the forest; then the woodland exhaled its breath, expelling the wind from deep inside itself. Even the moon seemed to retreat at the thing’s approach. The wind returned as the forest inhaled, drawing the sides of its collective body inward, and then held its breath, waiting.

Something stepped from behind the curtain of silence….

And then, forcefully, even violently, I awoke to the sounds of gnashing teeth and throaty growls, as something ripped the dreams out of me.

The withering beauty of a fading dream is matched, if only in the metric of intensity, by the stark ugliness it leaves behind. I jumped up from where I lied, and opened my eyes to the hot light of the blazing sun, pouring around the empty arms of the sickly trees. Not a single, merciful shadow fell across me. I was in full view and covered in the sick warmth of unfettered daylight. I had been left like the debris of a wolf-kill—scattered, ravaged, and overexposed. And somewhere, far off behind my temples that thundered with so much pain and fury, I could hear the wet sounds of my dream being devoured.

I had yet to completely grasp the logic behind the game of dream-swapping, but I was sure that something had eaten the dreams right out from my skull. I was equally sure that the event was nothing less than another killer who had come to that point on his list where appeared my name. But this was no average killer; it was a true wolf. And from the sense I got…it was a big one.

Excellent.

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Tom Hush 1

 

 

 

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Tom Hush 2
Part 3: The Beauty Beneath

Chapter 19:The Last Supper

Miss Patience’s claws quickly became unwelcome tenants within the various rooms of my body, calling forth no small amount of blood. The cavern wall I flew into was particularly uncomfortable, and I could feel a number of my weaker bones crack and snap, as is always expected when bones pick a fight with stone.

I really wasn’t stunned by the blow (as I’m certainly no stranger to the occasional, and outlandishly powerful, impact), but my inaction seemed to please my opponent into thinking I was a bit more injured than really was (as it was my turn in the sequence of attacks, after all). In actuality, I was still processing all that the woman-thing had said to me. Could she even be trusted with the contents of her own story? Did she really know what had actually happened to her? Or, might she be so pure and beautiful a monster that there was nary a fiber of reality woven into the weave of her soul?

For the most part, her beauty lived in her appearance, if not her appetite (at least not the philosophy behind her appetite, as she presented it). Furthermore, I speculated that her strict diet of Darkness-infected meals was the means by which she acquired her most conspicuous and attractive features, as the Darkness must have progressively seasoned her soul (from the inside out) with its protean flavors of nightmare and wonder. If my thesis was correct (and I had no reason to doubt that it was), then Miss Patience would be better classified as a shadow, rather than the exclusive product of the Great Darkness or the Deadworld; effectively rendering her the offspring of both. (Granted, all of us contain shares of death and darkness, but with much less impressive potency.)

I was sure of it—Molly Patience was a hybrid of the Great Darkness and Deadworld.

This fact effectively nullified the cannibal’s previous contention—that the Darkness meant nothing to her, and thus causing her blindness.

Having untied the philosophical knots that Miss Patience had proffered, it was finally time for me to kill her, once and for all.

The giant cannibal lumbered after me, and with far less energy than she had previously demonstrated. (She may have healed quickly, but surely not completely.) It wasn’t terribly difficult for me to evade her clumsy lunge, and leap atop her back. My sisters weren’t long at their task of completely removing the monster’s eyes, and it took them only a few additional seconds to slide into the bleeding pits that remained. However, the size of the monster’s head made it difficult for them to complete their job, as her brain was tucked away quite deeply into her enormous skull.

And then there were those awful claws again, raking across the back of my head and tearing me from her back.

“My eyes were merely baubles. I’m fine without them. I’d rather be rid of the foolish things, honestly. They give the wrong impression, anyway. I can still see you little killer. You’re fires are still burning, and they’re plenty bright enough. And if you’d do me the enormous kindness of holding still, I’d like to eat you, now. It’s a long climb back to the surface, and I’m going need all the protein I can get!”

Her left claw only barely missed my face, and sank, alternatively, into the boulder beside my head (so much for the predictable result of bones picking fights with stone). Her clawed hand quickly returned from its recent failure, and managed to successfully wrap around my neck. Miss Patience lifted me from the ground and held me at arm’s length, hoping to disembowel me with her other hand while she denied me access to the stability of the earth and a good amount of my oxygen. My sisters flashed their metal smiles, and the cannibal’s hand that held me was no longer attached to a wrist, and so finally relaxed its grip around my neck.

“Was your hand merely a bauble, as well?” I asked, after I regained my breath.

“It’ll grow back. That’s not the first hand I’ve lost to a knife,” She returned.

The gigantic cannibal was very fond of charging at me when she was at a loss for a more nuanced battle strategy, and so she came at me, shrieking. Despite her lack of finesse, she succeeded at crushing me into the wall with her enormous bulk, pinning me between herself and the unflinching stone. (I’ll not belabor the obvious expression.) However, my own strength is not an inconsiderable thing, and so I thrust both of my gleeful sisters into the former human’s distended belly, all the while bracing myself against the wall. Finally, and with much force, I shoved myself towards her, simultaneously plunging my sisters even deeper into the folds of the creature’s gut, and sending her flying backwards. A number of the monster’s internal organs lingered upon my sisters’ stained smiles, and the cannibal toppled into fields of burning, fallen debris.

My father’s blackening shadow fell across the prone monstrosity, and seemed to add a substantial measure of weight to the Queen of Cannibal’s efforts to shrug off gravity. I strolled behind Miss Patience as she slowly, and pathetically, crawled through the piles of glowing embers and sizzling bits of metal, until she finally found a wall to lie against. The conflict was drawing to its inevitable conclusion.

“Born of nightmares and fresh apple pies, you are surely a perplexing creature, Black Molly Patience. I must admit that I’ve come to both loathe and admire you, simultaneously and in nearly equal parts. And while you may have once been an artifact of the Deadworld, your hunger has made you into a tar pit, of sorts, filled with the fossils of the bygone Darkness. You are, after all, what you eat.”

“HA Ha ha… I… suppose you might be right, at that. I really hope…you win this thing, little killer. By the way, you’ll find my kill-list in my sleeping chambers…provided you haven’t blown that to…smithereens, too. Although I have a feeling you’ll find it easily enough,” she hissed, pausing a moment to grasp at a second breath. “I really thought I was going to take the prize…I mean, that dream of starving wolves…Who better than me to appreciate all of that?…My poor, poor beasts…I suppose it’s better that you killed them all…I’d rather not have them outlive me…They’d have no hope of surviving without me. I’m truly sorry about the name-calling and whatnot. Just part of the game, you know? I’m actually flattered you held me in such high regard…I just wish that the Darkness had sunk a little more deeply into my old, wretched bones. Almost every time I sat down to a meal of madness and monstrosity, I could feel such wonder filling my jaws…But then I’d swallow, and it was all gone…And after the Darkness fell away, it became ridiculously hard for me to find meals like the ones I’d enjoyed…Eating became so horribly motorized…And I hate to admit it, but I forgot the words to my song…lost them behind the noise of all that chewing, I guess… So, I should probably—“

My Father was quick, and I doubt she even saw him coming. Black Molly Patience was, at long last, dead.

Her corpse was brilliant art, and I would take no credit for it. I left it where it lied, sprawled out and in the middle of a thought.

I made my way through the injured underground, and as I went I spied the furtive movements of ancient things, picking through the ruin for the ripening corpses of cannibals. Apparently, the Rot-eaters beneath the earth held no grudge against me for ruining their supply-line of foul and ruined meat, which was fine with me, as I was eager to be done with cannibals and ghouls and mutants.

A slight breeze had found its way into the cave I traveled through, and then I saw the kill-list blow across my boot, landing with its names clearly displayed. I picked it up, sat down upon a pile of old bones, and transferred the names to my own kill-list. I crossed-off Miss Patience’s less inspired name, and moved my eyes to the next name on my list:

Tom Hush.

I couldn’t wait to meet him.

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Molly and Company

 

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The Ravenous Mother

 

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The Queen of the Cannibals
Part 3: The Beauty Beneath

Chapter 18: The Cannibal’s tale, Final Chapter

I found the world much more to my liking, back then, when everything was simply meat and darkness. Even though I was built from Sunday shoes and daytime television, it was the absence of all those things that really cleared me up, and put a good, sharp edge on me. The Darkness made me aware of what I could be; my calling, I guess you could say. But all that was just a big pile of dry kindling for the fire in my belly, a fire that was just as gigantic as was the world’s supply of thick, delicious meat. The fire inside me burned so bright that I could actually see by it, for God’s sake. It was like the sun was all nestled up, deep inside my guts, shining across the world through my hunger, letting me see via the spectrum of gluttony.

My appetite proved contagious, too. Soon it spread to my new family. It burnt away everything that wasn’t needed—eyes, fur, memories, and all the other organs and tubers that were all pretty much useless. We were reborn in hunger, and we all loved it. You know that feeling you get when you’re starving, and then, finally, you take that first bite of your favorite food? Now imagine never being full, and sitting down to an infinite buffet table, filled with all kinds of delicious food; and then eating… and eating… and eating.
That first, glorious bite-feeling just lasts forever! We were like roaming, fanged voids, always gnawing away at the world. Hell, I’d have swallowed the whole damn planet if only I could’ve opened my mouth wide enough.

Eventually, I learned to detect all the empty mouths of the world, glowing like fires burning on faraway shores. I could see them below the earth, across the oceans, and even hiding behind dull, lifeless eyes, salivating from their salty tear-ducts. (I once marinated a woman in the tears of her children. She was delicious, if only a little bit on the salty side.)

I knew that it was my job to fill all of those mouths up. Just by aiming my hunger at them I could transform their smoldering desires, of any type, into a burning, single-minded appetite—for the soft whisper of sharp teeth gliding through tender meat, and the tasty little rivulets of blood that fill-up behind the lips and alongside the tongue.

I did it with you. Sure, you’ve tamped it down, but it’s still there, smoldering. I can see it plain as day. It’s never too late, you know? Go ahead and try me. I’m pretty sure I’m delicious. Now, I’m not as raw as some would prefer, but I’m probably no more than medium rare, at most.

Suit yourself, then.

Anyway, I’m surprised you still haven’t gotten it by now. But that’s hardly my fault. I’ve been pretty forthright with you all along. But since my life’s only as long as my story, I’m certainly not going to spell it out for you.

Now, I couldn’t make everyone hungry, mind you; but you’d be surprised at just how many I managed to convert into dedicated carnivores. Funny thing, hunger. All things boiled down, that’s all we really are: a collection of tiny, hungry mouths. I have a knack at consolidating them, is all. It feels like I’m making things right, putting all the teeth in a row, so to speak, where they all belonged from the very beginning.

On second thought, I guess I shouldn’t be so judgmental of you; I didn’t get it right away, either. And I suppose that brings my story right up to the close of the Darkness—when I realized what I was. It’s not that the epiphany meant much to me. I was too busy being what I was to really care about what I was, if that makes any sense to you.

My family and I were hunting the hollows of an old paper mill, where I knew lurked a thing made from meat and metal and paper and old ink. I’d seen it cross the black sky, one night. It flew on membranous paper wings, written all over with a black pen. Besides being made from paper and black script, it was apparently also a creature of habit, as it made the same trip every time I spied it. After I watched it for the umpteenth time, I followed it as it sailed the skies on its written wings, dripping the sweetest-tasting ink you can possibly imagine.

We were quite practiced at hunting by that time, but by no means had we grown so accustomed to hunting and killing and eating that we were bored with all of it. If anything, our song had become stronger, louder, and fiercer.

We were all smiles and saliva when we crept up the elevator shaft. I remember how my claws sank into the steel walls, how my family followed in kind, and how all our climbing claws sounded like a tiny army of madly-ticking clocks.

When we reached the top of the building, where the roof had been smashed open to reveal the sky, all we found was this little, frightened man. His skin was covered in tiny messages, all of which were written in ball-point. One of the messages written around his neck read, “Twist counterclockwise, and lift up.” He was laying facedown, all tied up with rubber bands, and inside what looked like a gigantic, paper nest.

For some reason he was barely visible to me (but, by that time, I’d known far more bizarre things, so it wasn’t all that big of a deal to me). Sure, there was a hunger in him, but it was different somehow. I didn’t think much on it. After all, meat was meat, I figured. But, as it turned out, I was wrong. The instant my teeth pierced his skin I nearly threw-up.

I demanded the little man to tell me what he was. As you’ve probably noticed, my speech isn’t exactly all that clear, so it took him a little bit to work out what I’d asked him. Eventually the little man stuttered-out, “I…I was a banker. Now I’m just scared. I don’t know what’s happened to the world. Please, please don’t eat me!”
That was all I needed. It just clicked. I understood, finally. I knew why I hadn’t gone insane like everyone else, and why I was able to eat.

I realized that I was a leftover from the old world. I was designed to indulge myself and grow fat, complacent, and stupid. I was the need to devour the Darkness—to guzzle molten potential like it was chocolate milk. My life—my ordinary, rote, little life—was too filled with ordinariness, you see?

I was proof against the Darkness.

And like anything one can’t understand, I wanted to destroy the Darkness, chew on it, swallow it into my guts and feel it scream and squirm and die, slowly. That’s why I became blind: the Darkness meant nothing to me.

I let the little man go. He was useless, after all. He apparently wasn’t quite ordinary enough to grow an appetite like mine, and he also wasn’t imaginative enough to work in the indoor roller-coaster industry, or even to secure himself a job as an usher within one of the very popular underground movie theaters. Also, and most importantly, when I bit into him he tasted awful. He tasted like he would have if I’d bit into him before the Darkness. So, off he went.
The Paper-monster never did come back to his nest of piled newspapers, but that hardly bothered me. I was too busy thinking about what I had figured out. But that’s not to say that my realization really shook me at all. Like I said before: it was all just so much kindling.

Do you finally see, Family Man? It couldn’t be more obvious: all things glittering are not always gold. And to think, you had a mind to admire me. Me!? HaHaHa!

I dreamed your dream, little killer. I saw how you pictured me and my kind. Do you still feel that our dead eyes are filled with oceans of precious autumn rain? And that concoction you made out of one of my slaves—what a joke! It was just a bunch of junk and corpses and weeds tied around a dead woman. Do you know that the woman you decorated with all that crap, once got herself pregnant, only so she could experience what it was like to eat her own child as she was giving birth to it? She only stopped chewing long enough to belch and laugh. And here’s another factoid about your little muse: she regularly slept where I so often squatted-out the remains of my many, many meals! And you think you made some kind of deep, meaningful art out of her? HaHaHa! You really should quit all this art business, Family Man! Your future lies in comedy!

Oh, one more thing I forgot to tell you, just one last bit before I conclude my tale. And here it is: I heal very, very fast…

The woman in the red sneakers.
The woman in the red sneakers.
The "Abomonaught":  A "Nether-mechanical" construct alleged to have been created during the Great Darkness. The "Machine" is also said to use the blood of criminals for fuel.
The “Abomonaught”:
A “Nether-mechanical” construct alleged to have been created during the Great Darkness. The “Machine” is also said to use the blood of criminals for fuel.
Cannibal revisited...this time in color.
Cannibal revisited…this time in color.
Part 3: The Beauty Beneath

Chapter 17: The Cannibal’s Tale, Part 3

Twitching arms, blinking eyes, quivering livers—you name the body part—were falling all around me as I ran. The sharp slapping sounds of flesh meeting concrete, and the dull, wet thump of bodiless heads crashing to the ground, erupted all around me. Blood splashed everywhere from the constant rain of limbs, and I was just covered, head to toe, in gore. I would have loved to ditch those damn slippers if I hadn’t needed them to run across the bloody pavement.

Squish-squash, squish-squash, squish-squash. (Ugh!).

I looked back over my shoulder. She was still there, smiling. And not so much as a drop of blood on her (of course her sneakers were already red). I didn’t really have any idea what she could do if she did catch me. She was all of my height—which wasn’t saying much—and about as beefy (again, not saying much). She didn’t have anything in her hand, no visible weapon at all, just a great big smile full of smoldering madness.

As I ran, the bones of my mind were beginning to snap and rub together. Little bits of pain began to pop and crunch inside my head. The insanity that had taken hold of the world was trying to get to me, smashing its shoulder against the door to my mind, but something wouldn’t budge. Some piece of stubborn sanity was propping itself against the door, firmly holding it shut, and forcing me into the role of a lost sunbeam wandering the night that wouldn’t end. I knew that the woman had been sent for me.

She was going to put with all of the other newly outdated relics: sunshine, morning strolls, coffee dates, and all the other staples of the previously-ordinary world. I was praying for a breakdown, for my mind to split open and spill hordes of flying, headless clowns into the slaughterhouse-for-a-sky; to laugh like I was breathing jokes. But I just couldn’t do it, no matter how hard I tried. There was one thing, though—one teeny-tiny sliver of notable change: I was hungry. I hadn’t been for weeks. I know I wasn’t supposed to be; it wasn’t part of my script. I’m sure I was intended to be busy piling Dung Beetles into mile-high pyramids, or something crazy like that, but all I really wanted to do was eat.

After a falling foot hit me directly on top of my head, I needed to slow down. I stumbled into the doorway of a laundromat. Blood-trailing limbs were still crashing down everywhere, and I could hear them beating-out a wicked rhythm above me; it was like God was using the top of the city as a gigantic bongo drum. I moved away from large windows at the front of the building, which gave me a far better view of the chaos outside than I was comfortable with. And then that nutcase came strolling through the downpour.

She was just calmly walking along, smiling her nuttiness into a world that was already clogged with the stuff, and staring at me through the gore and glass. The ‘rain’ was still avoiding her like the plague, and as she moved closer to me, blood started dripping from the ceiling tiles, and the number of bodies falling on the roof seemed to multiply. She didn’t even try to open the door; she just stopped in front of it and stuck her hand out again. And then it seemed like her smile was becoming brighter…more real. I know that’s a hard one to wrap your head around, but it was like her smile had been muted all along, barely visible from behind the thin, plastic curtain of our cheap little reality; and that it was somehow burning its way through the divider, showing its true colors.

And that’s when the severed elephant’s head smashed through the roof, taking out the door, and granting that grinning little lunatic access to the building. When the woman stepped around the head–and the arc of blood spraying about from its still-flailing trunk–I just screamed and ran out the back door (which, from the sound of things, met with yet another oversized, severed body part).

I ran until I finally crossed beyond the city and into the woods. Of course, the bodies were still coming down, and the only real changes were the sounds. The loud smashing got replaced by the rustling of bodies tumbling through the branches above me (limbs falling through limbs, I guess you could say), and then rolling through the brambles.

It wasn’t long before I found my salvation: a cave. I practically dove into the thing. I didn’t care who or what might’ve been in it, I just wanted to shut out the sounds of falling bodies. It was a huge cavern, and went far deeper than I expected. I walked (and squelched) until I hoped I would just dissolve into the darkness, and be done with everything, once and for all.

Well, I didn’t dissolve, but it did eventually collapse into a sobbing heap of blood-soaked ruin. And no, I wasn’t crying over my lost family, or the insanity that had replaced the world. I was crying because I had become so very, very hungry. It was like a blazing, ravenous fire was growing inside my belly. To my surprise, I had almost unconsciously began to stuff my mouth full of whatever moved on the floor of the cave. Be they bugs or salamanders—in they went. I did this for hours until I was full. It was a few minutes after I was done gorging myself that I realized I wasn’t alone. There were other things down there with me…

Animals of every stripe haunted the darkness around me. The poor things were horribly sad. The world had betrayed them; it had become unnatural, and as such there existed no place for them. No place, that is, other than at the bottom of a cave, sharing their misery with a bug-eating human whose feet squeaked when she walked. They just milled about, or slumped-up against the rocks. I was perfectly safe, mind you, as even the biggest bears and cougars were in too much shock to consider eating me. We all sat down there for quite a while (by that point, I’d long given up trying to keep track of time), slumped over one another, depressed. So I did the only thing I could think of to raise our spirits: I sang my little song.

Now, I wasn’t much of a singer, but the words were easy to find, and my throat felt so much wider; the song just sort of fell out of me. My new friends sang along with me. We sang louder and louder, and harder and harder, and longer and longer, until we were all screaming the words, in the languages of both man and beast.

What else could God sound like, if not the combined voices of his greatest creations?

My lord, did we ever dance, and roar, and spin! We were making such a ruckus, and we all thought, ‘To hell with the end of the world! We’ll just sing until there’s nothing left of us!’

Now, try and see if you can guess who showed up to try to spoil the party? Yup, the woman with the red sneakers had finally cornered me. I could see her by the light of our raging song. She was still smiling, still crazy. Suddenly I could feel the fire in my belly burning through my last meal of worms and lizards. I smiled back at her, and I could feel my lips and teeth playing at the limit of my own newer, greater reality. We were still singing…and then we were all rushing at her. Oh my, were we excited! We were just insane, I tell you! The foolish little thing had no idea what kind of a family we had become, what kind of song we were singing. We buried the woman under our combined weight.

I was still singing when I ripped and tore at the woman with my thin, painted fingernails. But there was something missing from my song, something that my new family had long understood, and that my stomach had been burning for. Then it came to me…and I plunged my teeth into and beyond the woman’s ruined breast…and ate out her heart.

You should have heard all of us howl! I was laughing and chewing all at the same time, hugging and kissing my new family, with blood all over my clothes, all over my hands, and drizzling down the back of my throat! I might have even thought about the world before the Darkness, about what I was doing only a few months before my most recent meal (grocery shopping, I’d guess).

But it didn’t matter anymore. None of it. I wasn’t scared anymore. I didn’t even miss the old world. In fact, I wanted nothing more to do with it. It’s surprising how quickly you can change when you have to. And that was just the beginning. We would change so much more by the time the rest of the world woke up. And speaking of changing, I finally got rid of those lousy, squelching slippers…The red sneakers were a perfect fit!

An Angel in the Attic
An Angel in the Attic
Art Piece: The Angel in the Attic Victim 31: Meredith Wilson, age 39, murdered in March 2007
Art Piece: The Angel in the Attic
Victim 31: Meredith Wilson, age 39, murdered in March 2007
One of the
One of the “Walks of Darkness.” The aforementioned term has come to generally describe any creature rumored to have slipped into our world from the collective nightmare that was the Great Darkness of 1999.
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Some notes on the Great Darkness, Part 2—The Obscuruum

After the close of The Great Darkness humanity awoke to the remains of a nightmare: abandoned cities raised from glass and bones; gigantic machines that were apparently powered by fully mechanized torture chambers, wherein pain became fuel; movie theatres tucked away deep beneath the earth; impossibly ornate thrones fit for titanic devils, carved into mountains of anthracite; amusement parks located within the deepest depths of isolated lakes; and countless other violations to common sense and cosmic law.

As humanity fully awoke from its collective sleep, it began to rebuild the world it remembered. However, the remains of the previous dark world that had been entirely forgotten, but whose evidence was everywhere, were shut-up into secret places, like traumatic memories sealed away behind layers of solid amnesia. It would be years until the world could finally confront its nightmare.

“The uncovered fields of the earth can only extoll the stale wonders of a placid world, now; as we have washed the world of that strange darkness we all once knew—from pits of nightmare once escaped and forgotten, for better or for worse.”

—Dr. Maxwell Jennings from his article, “Why Remember?”

As time began to transform trauma into morbid curiosity, a number of secreted vaults were opened, allowing humanity to once again gaze fully upon the remains of its solidified nightmare. Utilizing the common sterilizing technique of formal classification, science attempted to divest the artifacts of darkness of their inherent absurdity by labeling them. “Obscuruum” came to be the official title for all objects ridiculous and implausible (if not entirely impossible). Many Obscuruum (those that are small enough to move) are often reposed into structures referred to as “Museums of Darkness,” where they are displayed for the brave and the curious, and thoroughly studied by some of the world’s top “Dark Scholars.”

The following is an excerpt from “Memories from Nowhere” by Professor Harold T. Grapewether, formerly Curator in the Department of Ancient Curiosities at the September Museum.

“One of the more interesting Obscuruum is actually a lake that resides within Thunderburg, Ohio. The lake first appeared after the Great Darkness, and can be found where once there was only lush and abundant forest. City officials named the body of water, “Ghastur.” The name was taken from a popular story concerning a fisherman who allegedly heard the name being whispered from the waters just beside his boat. The story culminates with the man witnessing a monstrous eye opening up below his rickety conveyance—an eye that spanned the length of the entire lake. However, while scientists have never found evidence of such a creature, the “Lake of Ghastur” does possess many proven oddities. Some examples include: the unexplainable and putrescent green glow that the body of water seems to exude only at night; and the paradoxical patterns of movement exhibited by the lake’s surface, as the water can often appear turbulent when wind speeds are low to nonexistent, and absolutely flat and placid in the midst of a strong storm. The unique body of water is also clearly expanding, as the waters have been rapidly eating away at the land surrounding it (scientists theorize the lake may have a higher acid content than normal, even though no such levels have ever been formally recorded). Beyond the water’s peculiar properties, the lake is subject to rumors regarding bizarre horse-like creatures that have been said to gallop up from the bottom of the lake. These creatures greatly resemble the “Kelpie” of Scottish mythology—shape shifting water spirits that often possess an equine appearance—but there are some fundamental differences. Unlike the Scottish Kelpie, these equestrian beings often appear decayed and demonic, as well as glowing and secreting a putrescent green (not unlike the color of the lake) slime that is said to contaminate and even “possess” nearby wildlife. Many of these features figure prominently within a recent account (August, 5, 2008) concerning a woman that was taking a nighttime stroll along the shoreline of the Lake of Ghastur. Apparently, a short while after midnight, the woman encountered what she described as a decayed, horse-like creature that was covered with browning kelp, fish entrails and coral. Furthermore, the woman claimed that the beast was leading a motley of different animals—raccoons, rabbits, wolves, and beavers—into the lake’s putrid waters, where they all eventually disappeared beneath the glowing, green fluids.”

There have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Obscuruum found since the conclusion of the Great Darkness, and with each discovery, humanity finds itself becoming more and more uncertain of its place in the universe.