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.
Part 3: The Beauty Beneath

Chapter 16: The Cannibal’s Tale, Part 2

The outside was dark. Terribly so, actually. But despite all the darkness I could see, far and clearly. There was a sense of enclosure to the darkness, as if it was a structure built up around the world, providing shade. My feet were still tucked into my blood-soaked, wool slippers and they made a comical squelching sound as I tipped-toed around, and whenever they creased from my movement, little red bubbles spilled out. I remember that one point while I was wandering around, I noticed that the branches above my head were creaking from the constant breeze. But when I looked closer at all the pretty autumn colors I realized that the branches were moving all on their own; they were waving against the wind, probably trying to shoo away the gigantic moths that were playing about their branches.

There also seemed to be a kind of melodic absence tolling somewhere in the background of the world. It was tiny and very fragile, and the slightest thought could block it out. I think it was just a fancier form of quiet; it sort of reminded me of cursive writing made from silence. The air was also incredibly soft and forgiving, and I moved about as though I were in a dream, never worrying about tripping or falling. Lesser, technical issues were completely resolved during The Darkness; you never had to worry about splinters, tripping, swallowing wrong, stubbing your toes, frog-in-the-throat. It was as if all the jagged edges of the previous reality had been blunted, if not entirely removed. But that’s not to say that the darkness lacked subtlety. The nuances were absolutely exquisite, I can guarantee you. I could actually feel the shadows trickle over my skin, tickling like cobwebs against gooseflesh; and whispers could become a variety of different kinds of insects (I once whispered the story of Little Red Riding Hood to a pet of mine, and suddenly all these little red crickets were hopping out from the corners of the room. nasty-tasting things, crickets.) Anyway, enough of all that. This is my last story and I’ll hear it finished…before you cobble me into some kind of bone-gilded music box, or whatever you plan to do with me after I’m dead.

Where was I? Oh yes, I remember: I was walking down the sidewalk. As I snuck around the neighborhood, I could see a line of people twisting out from behind the brambles of what I remembered to be an abandoned house. The house was peeling paint and the lawn was wildly overgrown, and it had been the source of endless complaints by the neighbors. All the people were silent and apparently pretty happy, as everyone was smiling. I hoped that it was a crowd of neighbors waiting to receive rations, or something like that, from some form of emergency services group. I walked up to the back of the line, somewhat in shock from all that had already happened. I suppose I played-up my fright a bit, as I was in desperate need for some good ol’ fashioned pity.

When I wandered, sobbing and shivering, over to the persons at the end of the line they didn’t even look at me. They were all too busy staring at what looked like movie-tickets. They cradled the little things in their cupped hands, as if they were too precious to hold one-handed. In a somewhat breathless, exaggerated tone I questioned the woman at the end of the line about all of the darkness and insanity and what-have-you. She placed an index finger to her lips and shushed me. That’s when I noticed her footwear. I’ll never forget that pair of red sneakers as long as I live (which, I suppose, in view of my current situation, won’t be that long). She was one of the mutes that wandered around my bedroom, flinging bloody body parts all around! My little epiphany seemed to be the woman’s cue to activate her next level of weirdness, because just as I figured things out she curved her face into a dreadfully vapid smile: the sort you’d see stretched across a sugar-drunk child’s face. I quickly exchanged my indulged expression of horror for the real thing, and ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction. (Those stupid, blood-squishing slippers made a right-and-proper joke of my exit, by the way.)

I ended up squeezing myself into a small gardening hut in some random backyard. I just sat in there, scared like you wouldn’t believe, wondering how long I could stay hidden before some horrible thing or another prompted me to leave. Do you know that I stayed in there for two weeks? (Well, at least it seemed like a couple of weeks. Time was a tricky thing during The Darkness.) I never got hungry and I never had to powder my nose, so to speak; The Darkness was a wonderfully immaculate enterprise, at least as far as the more unpleasant requirements of the human body were concerned (another one of those dampened technicalities I mentioned before). I should also mention that sleeping was all but impossible, so all I could do to pass the time was hum old show tunes and talk to myself. At one point I began to sing a funny a little song. It was a really odd ditty, full of all kinds of cut-up and pasted together rhymes and songs I’d heard. I don’t know where it came from, but the more I sang it the braver I became. But just before I got up to leave, a small piece of paper was slid through the crack in the wooden door. It was a plain enough piece of paper and all it said was, “Louder, please.” I decided that it might be wise to wait a bit before leaving, song or not.

When I felt safe again, I crept slowly from the shack and skulked around the edge of the yard, on the lookout for people that wore familiar footwear, or smiled like psychotic idiots. I could see that the line of people had stretched into nearby streets, all of them clutching their tickets and grinning. I have to admit that I was pretty curious about the movie showing inside the once-abandoned house. I eventually decided that I needed a change of scenery, so I carefully made my way through side-streets and parking lots until I was closer to the downtown area, where I hoped to encounter sane individuals (I had no idea what a tall order that was).

When I arrived at the center of the city I encountered a throng of people, all of whom were carrying around metal fitting and various other mechanical odds and ends. This time I was a bit more careful about how I approached people, so I waited and watched. To make a long story short, they were building a rollercoaster inside of a gigantic skyscraper. It wound down from the top of the inside of the building, twisting into hallways, offices, up and down elevator shafts and stairwells, and presumably into the basement and then maybe even into the sewers. I could see the windows of the building light up and dim as the cars passed through the structure, and I could hear the screaming patrons as they zoomed around the interior of the building. Then this ridiculous little absurdity began to wiggle around inside of me: I desperately wanted to take a turn on the ride. But after a derailed car filled with screaming riders came crashing out of a thirty-story window, I decided to move along, at least until the roller coaster was completely put together.

After I figured out that the whole world had pretty much gone off the deep end, I decided to find a quiet place to relax. I was about to sit down behind a dumpster and read from a water-stained fashion magazine I fished out of a street drain, when I heard something from behind me. It was sneaker-woman, smiling so hard that she made my face hurt. She just stood there like some kind of demented doll. After I don’t know how long, she put her hand out like she was checking to see if it was raining. And then, across the entire city—it started raining bloody body parts.

The Carnivean:  A strange report came out of the Antarctic region of Greenland after the conclusion of the Great Darkness. According to Dr. Gerald Finsky, the sole survivor of this story, he and a team of fellow climatologists traveled up to Greenland's arctic zone in order to measure sea levels and ice thickness. Finsky said that on the third night of the expedition, the study team saw a vague outline of a cloaked figure standing atop a small mountain. Finsky claimed that he, and the rest of the study team, could hear a faint, inhuman voice echoing over the tundra. The sounds had become so loud and disturbing that the study team had decided to move their sites out of fear for their safety. It was at this point that the ground started to tremble, according to Finsky, and horrific bestial noises erupted all around them. Finsky said that within seconds, savage creatures seemed to emerge from the darkness and devour members of his study team. While it is unknown why he was spared, Finsky claimed that as he began to lose consciousness (from fright, presumably), he saw a behemoth creature rise over the mountain top where the team had previously seen the strange, chanting figure. When he awoke, there were no signs of the beasts or the study team.   Several years later, after Finsky had spent a significant period of time in the hospital (and after he had been exonerated of any crime in regards to the death of his research team), he traveled to Greenland for a climatology research summit. While visiting a small market in the city of Nuuk, Dr. Finsky swore that he saw one of the members of his deceased climatology team, Caitlyn Barnes. He stated that although "it" looked like Caitlyn, it surely wasn’t, as he had seen her torn apart several years prior. Furthermore, he claimed that although she looked the same, her movements seemed different, almost predacious. Afraid that she would recognize him, he left the store and caught the next flight to the United States and never attended a Greenland summit again.  Before Finsky died from a heart attack in 2008, he noted in his memoirs that he had discovered the identity of the gigantic creatures he had seen so many years before. He had apparently been invited to visit the famed "Tillinghast exhibit"—a museum that allegedly showcases, to only the select few who are invited, the fossilized remains of a gigantic and unidentified race of creatures—and was convinced that what killed his research team was very similar to the creatures in the exhibit. Although there were many different types of creatures on display, their stature was consistently massive, sometimes measuring over 100 feet tall. Based on the fact that all of the (supposedly) extinct creatures were carnivorous in nature, Dr. Tillinghast—the owner of the museum and discoverer of the titanic fossils—named the bygone beasts the “Carnivean."   Dr. Finsky died convinced that there were still-living Carnivean in the world, and that they were responsible for the death of his research team, so many years ago.
The Carnivean:
A strange report came out of the Antarctic region of Greenland after the conclusion of the Great Darkness. According to Dr. Gerald Finsky, the sole survivor of this story, he and a team of fellow climatologists traveled up to Greenland’s arctic zone in order to measure sea levels and ice thickness. Finsky said that on the third night of the expedition, the study team saw a vague outline of a cloaked figure standing atop a small mountain. Finsky claimed that he, and the rest of the study team, could hear a faint, inhuman voice echoing over the tundra. The sounds had become so loud and disturbing that the study team had decided to move their sites out of fear for their safety. It was at this point that the ground started to tremble, according to Finsky, and horrific bestial noises erupted all around them. Finsky said that within seconds, savage creatures seemed to emerge from the darkness and devour members of his study team. While it is unknown why he was spared, Finsky claimed that as he began to lose consciousness (from fright, presumably), he saw a behemoth creature rise over the mountain top where the team had previously seen the strange, chanting figure. When he awoke, there were no signs of the beasts or the study team.
Several years later, after Finsky had spent a significant period of time in the hospital (and after he had been exonerated of any crime in regards to the death of his research team), he traveled to Greenland for a climatology research summit. While visiting a small market in the city of Nuuk, Dr. Finsky swore that he saw one of the members of his deceased climatology team, Caitlyn Barnes. He stated that although “it” looked like Caitlyn, it surely wasn’t, as he had seen her torn apart several years prior. Furthermore, he claimed that although she looked the same, her movements seemed different, almost predacious. Afraid that she would recognize him, he left the store and caught the next flight to the United States and never attended a Greenland summit again.
Before Finsky died from a heart attack in 2008, he noted in his memoirs that he had discovered the identity of the gigantic creatures he had seen so many years before. He had apparently been invited to visit the famed “Tillinghast exhibit”—a museum that allegedly showcases, to only the select few who are invited, the fossilized remains of a gigantic and unidentified race of creatures—and was convinced that what killed his research team was very similar to the creatures in the exhibit. Although there were many different types of creatures on display, their stature was consistently massive, sometimes measuring over 100 feet tall. Based on the fact that all of the (supposedly) extinct creatures were carnivorous in nature, Dr. Tillinghast—the owner of the museum and discoverer of the titanic fossils—named the bygone beasts the “Carnivean.”
Dr. Finsky died convinced that there were still-living Carnivean in the world, and that they were responsible for the death of his research team, so many years ago.
Those Who Dwell in the Houses of Darkness:  Although tales concerning this group go back further than the Great Darkness, rumors concerning their presence became far more prolific after its passing. Not much can really be said about this mythical group, except that its members are said to possess beaming cobalt eyes and are known to cover their faces with ornate, pallid masks. While these beings appear only rarely, they always seem to be accompanied by strange, out-of-place houses (only seen at night) constructed entirely from solid shadow. Those that have attempted to visit these "shadow houses" claim that the structures move further away as would-be visitors attempt to draw near them, always remaining distant.  There have only been a small handful of sightings of these beings. The most notable occurrence took place in a small Russian town named Kashin, where a "Museum of Darkness"—museums that showcase artifacts of the Great Darkness—was broken into. According to witnesses, a K-9 unit responded to the call and entered the building, at which point multiple people claimed to have seen a tall, dark figure with a mask confront the officer. The eyes behind the mask were said to have momentarily glowed a dim blue, which subsequently released a horrible flood of screams. After a few moments passed, a horrible fusion of dog and man shambled out from the museum and began attacking the large crowd that had gathered outside. After mauling several of Kashin's citizens, the creature was eventually shot dead and burned for fear it might come back from the dead. Days later, the entire museum burned down, mysteriously. Museum officials never revealed the identity of the stolen artifact.
Those Who Dwell in the Houses of Darkness:
Although tales concerning this group go back further than the Great Darkness, rumors concerning their presence became far more prolific after its passing. Not much can really be said about this mythical group, except that its members are said to possess beaming cobalt eyes and are known to cover their faces with ornate, pallid masks. While these beings appear only rarely, they always seem to be accompanied by strange, out-of-place houses (only seen at night) constructed entirely from solid shadow. Those that have attempted to visit these “shadow houses” claim that the structures move further away as would-be visitors attempt to draw near them, always remaining distant.
There have only been a small handful of sightings of these beings. The most notable occurrence took place in a small Russian town named Kashin, where a “Museum of Darkness”—museums that showcase artifacts of the Great Darkness—was broken into. According to witnesses, a K-9 unit responded to the call and entered the building, at which point multiple people claimed to have seen a tall, dark figure with a mask confront the officer. The eyes behind the mask were said to have momentarily glowed a dim blue, which subsequently released a horrible flood of screams. After a few moments passed, a horrible fusion of dog and man shambled out from the museum and began attacking the large crowd that had gathered outside. After mauling several of Kashin’s citizens, the creature was eventually shot dead and burned for fear it might come back from the dead. Days later, the entire museum burned down, mysteriously. Museum officials never revealed the identity of the stolen artifact.
The Ill-Omen:  The Legend of the Headless Horseman extends as far back as the middle ages, taking various forms in Celtic, German and American folklore. In most myth cycles, the horseman is a headless man who stalks his victims in search of a replacement head. While few and far between, sightings of these hellish beings have been reported throughout the centuries (perhaps these sighting inspired the now popularized mythology of the Headless Horseman). After The Darkness, there were a fairly large number of Headless horseman sightings, and in each instance the creature exhibited far darker humors than were ever previously recorded into myth.   One story comes from the small Village of Darten, where a strange out-of-towner ran screaming down its main street. Shortly after the man was seen, the people of the small village noticed that their windows began to crack and a large number of birds fell dead from the sky. But before the hysterical man could find shelter, a large, flaming sword suddenly separated his head from his shoulders. Witnesses to the murder claimed the impossible—a horseman, with billowing blue flames rising up from where a head should have been, took the dead man’s head and placed it in the flames. Witnesses said that when the dead man's head was placed atop the horseman’s body, it briefly came alive, sobbing and screaming and poring sapphire light from its eyes and mouth. The monstrous creature slowly departed into the thickets, wearing a new head and leaking horrible screams and pathetic cries for help.
The Ill-Omen:
The Legend of the Headless Horseman extends as far back as the middle ages, taking various forms in Celtic, German and American folklore. In most myth cycles, the horseman is a headless man who stalks his victims in search of a replacement head. While few and far between, sightings of these hellish beings have been reported throughout the centuries (perhaps these sighting inspired the now popularized mythology of the Headless Horseman). After The Darkness, there were a fairly large number of Headless horseman sightings, and in each instance the creature exhibited far darker humors than were ever previously recorded into myth.
One story comes from the small Village of Darten, where a strange out-of-towner ran screaming down its main street. Shortly after the man was seen, the people of the small village noticed that their windows began to crack and a large number of birds fell dead from the sky. But before the hysterical man could find shelter, a large, flaming sword suddenly separated his head from his shoulders. Witnesses to the murder claimed the impossible—a horseman, with billowing blue flames rising up from where a head should have been, took the dead man’s head and placed it in the flames. Witnesses said that when the dead man’s head was placed atop the horseman’s body, it briefly came alive, sobbing and screaming and poring sapphire light from its eyes and mouth. The monstrous creature slowly departed into the thickets, wearing a new head and leaking horrible screams and pathetic cries for help.
Part 3: The Beauty Beneath

Chapter 15: The Cannibal’s Tale, or The Narrative of Poor Molly Patience (Part 1)

It was really just a splendid morning. At least that’s what I thought at the time. The birds were singing, I was just taking some muffins out of the oven, and my family was awakening to the smell of my masterful breakfast. My little ones were the last to drag themselves down to eat. I honestly don’t even remember what their names might have been. I think the tall one with the blue eyes wore glasses that didn’t fit quite right; her vision must have been fairly poor. She would have been fairly easy to sneak up on, I imagine. My husband was a nice man, thin with rangy arms, but he had wide, muscular calves—rare, that. I believe he might have been named after someone famous. Someone tall. After the table had been decorated with baked goods and fried delights, my family and I began our meal. I can only remember where everyone’s eyes were looking, and how far their hands were from the butter knives and expensive forks, and I can easily imagine how the little girl might have tasted. I should probably feel awful for thinking that, but it’s so, so true.

The little boy (I’m fairly sure it was a little boy) said something about having a nightmare. It’s always the children who know first. His hand was adorably tiny when he wrapped it around his fork and clumsily delivered his food into his little, messy mouth. I think I might have loved him, then. I might still, but I’m not sure. I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore, does it? My husband was talking to the little girl with the crooked glasses. His hands seemed so weak looking as they gestured alongside his words. As I picture them, they kind of remind me of a couple of dead, featherless birds. But there we all were, with our little, pointless words scattering across the breakfast table as we shared our morning meal. And at some point, as hard as it is to believe, I think I actually declined a plate of bacon that was passed to me, and then reached for a grapefruit! Can you even imagine such a thing!

I do recall there being a very steady breeze; the wind chimes never let up for even a second. I was passively trying to hear something behind the noise of the tiny chimes, something that seemed out of place on such a beautiful day. I remember that I needed to look out the window, and thinking of how odd an impulse that was, and how I had never in all of my life felt something so strange. It was as if something from a dream had taken over my free will. Right there, in the kitchen at breakfast, surrounded by greasy dishes and sunshine—the most unusual moment of my life (of that life, anyway). No one at the table had any idea how terrified I was at that moment. They just kept eating and talking and laughing. Beneath my clothing I began to tremble. I couldn’t speak. I just turned my head towards the window, and looked out into the yard. There wasn’t a thing amiss. Nothing. Everything was accounted for: trees swaying in the breeze, sunshine dappled patio, and a big blue sky. But then I realized, in the very second I turned away from the window, that something had indeed changed. The sound I couldn’t hear for the chimes had entered the room. It had to have come in through the window, naturally. I was still paralyzed. No one even noticed the invading thing. They were still carrying on as if the whole world wasn’t about to change. The little boy looked at me, and he tried to speak. (Yes, I’m sure now that it was a little boy.) His words, along with his entire body, just sank away into the sound of the soft breeze, gently, finally. Then there was darkness, everywhere, and I was still holding a grapefruit in my hand.

(I think everyone imagines The Darkness as an event that was visible at a distance, like some kind of apocalyptic tidal wave, rolling slowly towards land; and after everyone sees the wave rise up above the clouds they run screaming, falling over one another as they go. But it really wasn’t like that at all, at least not for me. Of course, it could have been different for everyone, so who can say?)

The world seemed so much smaller, more personal, like everything had been locked into a closet, but the darkness gave the impression that the closet might go on forever. I looked out the window, again. I can clearly remember staring at a tree that was all lit up by a stray beam of light that fell from somewhere above. Its branches were bizarre, wrapping around one another like eels in a bucket, and they were filled with the strangest, blackest fruits, each one the size of ripe cantaloupes. They looked absolutely delicious, but they were squirming every-which-way, like something might’ve been trying to get out of them, or the fruit itself was breathing; I really didn’t know which. But neither reason would’ve made me want to eat them any less, not even when some of the fruit fell off the tree and rolled into the darkness, where I swear I heard them scurry away on little feet. I couldn’t take my eyes off the tree until I saw my little girl walk up to one of the branches and sink her teeth into a low hanging fruit. Her glasses were gone, and she was looking around as if her eyes were working just fine. I think she looked at me briefly before she backpedaled into darkness, her smile all sweet and black from the fruit she was eating. I wanted to chase after her (almost as much as I wanted a piece of that peculiar fruit) but somehow I knew I wouldn’t catch her. I was quite a mess, then. Just a thing that cried and cried. When I finally turned away from the window I saw my husband, dressed for work and walking out the door with his briefcase. All he said to me was, “Don’t wait up, honey.”

I wandered around the house for quite a while, looking at familiar things. While I was sitting on my bed, staring at the cream colored walls, I thought I heard someone knock at the door. I hid under the bed at the sound of the front door opening up, and what could only have been the footsteps of a large crowd of people entering my home. Whoever they were, they came right up the stairs and into the room I was in. I could see quite the collection of footwear from where I was lying: dirt-encrusted boots, well-worn slippers, sneakers, even some very expensive looking high heels. There might have been twenty or so people in there with me, and besides the sound of them walking around on the wood floors, I couldn’t hear a single one of them so much as breathe. They just kept walking around, moving close to one another and then away, like a gang of socializing mutes. After a while little drops of blood starting falling to the floor from where the people were milling around. The mutes didn’t react to it at all; they seemed far too busy scuffing up my polished wood floors with their non-stop mingling. Severed fingers were next, then all kinds of body parts. The blood started to pool around me, but I hadn’t even the tiniest inclination to pop-up from beneath the bed. After many minutes’ worth of limbs and heads and whatnot hitting the floor, and long after it was obvious that there were far more body parts than could have been provided by twenty people, the strangers left the room (or at least their feet and ankles did; I can’t vouch for the rest of their bodies). Once they were all in the hallway and clearly moving down the stairs, I could hear them talking, incoherently. I suppose they were just your everyday, ordinary crowd of partygoers. They just stopped by to wander wordlessly around my bedroom, and shed thousands of pounds of mutilated, human body parts. Of course, that whole fiasco with the blood and meat has a completely different effect on me now, but I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that. Anyway, after I heard the front door close and the voices move out into the streets, I realized there was clearly no safety to be had inside the house. It took me some time to gather enough courage to leave, but finally I put down the grapefruit and made my way into the darkness of the streets…

The She'Mora:  Around the world, rumors have circulated about an underground brothel with a network that spans the globe. While little is known about it, various accounts describe an all-female prostitution ring of an "inhuman" or "supernatural" sort. Specifically, reports suggest that although these women do provide the ‘traditional’ services that one would expect from such an organization, it is said that any transgression against them, violent or otherwise, is often met with gruesome results. Stories abound regarding both ‘clients’ and aspiring pimps, alike, who have attempted to impose their will upon these women. However, each tale often ends with the aggressor either being found dead, or worse. Survivors (those who weren't mutilated beyond repair, or driven mad by the experience) claim that the women are not women at all, but instead are horrific creatures using the vices of men to carry out some sort of dark, inhuman plot. One such survivor said they called themselves the "She'Mora," but before he could divulge any more details he mysteriously disappeared from his hospital room and was never heard from again. Although no concrete evidence has ever been provided to prove the existence of these demonic sex workers, it has served as a cautionary tale for those considering the services of a woman of the night.
The She’Mora:
Around the world, rumors have circulated about an underground brothel with a network that spans the globe. While little is known about it, various accounts describe an all-female prostitution ring of an “inhuman” or “supernatural” sort. Specifically, reports suggest that although these women do provide the ‘traditional’ services that one would expect from such an organization, it is said that any transgression against them, violent or otherwise, is often met with gruesome results. Stories abound regarding both ‘clients’ and aspiring pimps, alike, who have attempted to impose their will upon these women. However, each tale often ends with the aggressor either being found dead, or worse. Survivors (those who weren’t mutilated beyond repair, or driven mad by the experience) claim that the women are not women at all, but instead are horrific creatures using the vices of men to carry out some sort of dark, inhuman plot. One such survivor said they called themselves the “She’Mora,” but before he could divulge any more details he mysteriously disappeared from his hospital room and was never heard from again. Although no concrete evidence has ever been provided to prove the existence of these demonic sex workers, it has served as a cautionary tale for those considering the services of a woman of the night.
Yy
The Wicked Man of Yvoirre : Shortly after the Great Darkness of 1999, rumors about a strange entity appearing in a small village in France started circulating. This creature or man was quickly given the name, “Le Mechant de Yvoirre”, which roughly translates into “The Wicked Man of Yvoirre.” (Yvoirre being the name of the town where the entity’s initial sighting took place). The accounts describe a very tall man possessed of long claws and large black holes for eyes, but perhaps the most distinguishing of the ‘man’s’ features is that he is dressed like a mime. Indeed, the initial sighting describes a mime-like man walking up to a young couple taking a nighttime stroll. Getting very close to the man, the strange mime began to act like he was trapped in an invisible box. The man and woman began to laugh, but the man soon realized that his girlfriend’s laughter was strangely mute. Indeed, when the silenced woman tried to walk away, she discovered that he was unable to, seemingly imprisoned by the very same imaginary box as the mime. The young man, according to the report, claimed that he could see his girlfriend screaming, but could hear no sounds. The witness went on to claim that the mime revealed a pair of inhumanly large claws, which he then used to eviscerate the woman. This last bloody act was also said to have been accomplished in complete silence. Soon after the story of the murdering mime broke, multiple sightings of the creature occurred all over France. In one of the most outlandish stories, a woman was said to have been dragged to her death by the strange mime creature, who had apparently “snagged” her with an imaginary fishing pole, and then reeled her from a passing crowd. All the witnesses claimed that the whole ordeal took place in chilling silence, as the woman’s screams could not be heard at all.
The Skeleton Kids:  Reports of the "Skeleton Kids" appeared on the first Halloween after the Great Darkness. After a long night of trick-or-treating, several families were reported missing. Eventually following up on these reports, authorities found the missing residents' homes to be the site of some truly baffling deaths: Police found nearly gelatinous corpses splayed out in the floor, each one still containing all of its organs, but absolutely no bones. Witnesses stated that it didn't appear the victims had even been cut open, but had somehow been relieved of all of their bones, leaving behind the victim’s wholly intact epidermis and internal organs. In many similar cases, witnesses have stated seeing an entourage of costumed children, all of whom wore skeletal masks, approach the victim’s residence only to leave moments later. While this is quite common on Halloween night, witnesses additionally reported hearing a dry "rattling" sound emanating from the departing children’s candy bags.  After the initial sightings, similar stories have been reported across North America every Halloween. Each case contains the same details-- houses full of emptied out human husks, and darkly costumed children accompanied by the rattling of stolen bones.
The Skeleton Kids:
Reports of the “Skeleton Kids” appeared on the first Halloween after the Great Darkness. After a long night of trick-or-treating, several families were reported missing. Eventually following up on these reports, authorities found the missing residents’ homes to be the site of some truly baffling deaths: Police found nearly gelatinous corpses splayed out in the floor, each one still containing all of its organs, but absolutely no bones. Witnesses stated that it didn’t appear the victims had even been cut open, but had somehow been relieved of all of their bones, leaving behind the victim’s wholly intact epidermis and internal organs. In many similar cases, witnesses have stated seeing an entourage of costumed children, all of whom wore skeletal masks, approach the victim’s residence only to leave moments later. While this is quite common on Halloween night, witnesses additionally reported hearing a dry “rattling” sound emanating from the departing children’s candy bags.
After the initial sightings, similar stories have been reported across North America every Halloween. Each case contains the same details– houses full of emptied out human husks, and darkly costumed children accompanied by the rattling of stolen bones.
Part 3: The Beauty Beneath

Chapter 14: A Reckoning Beneath the World

We led a tumbling parade of fire and stone into the smoking depths of the earth, wrapped around each other like two serpents seeking the death of the other. And making up the tail of our downward procession toppled all of the screams and corpses and cannibals and rotting houses that comprised the decadent city. I found it mildly ironic that the detestable creatures suddenly found themselves swallowed beyond the fiery maw of the earth, dinner to the greatest cannibal of all. But while the earth has ever been the eater of its own children, it has also been a shelter to the greatest walks of shadow and darkness, and I had betrayed too many of them to the carnivorous sun, which was now seizing the ancient shades by the neck, dragging them under the killing-gaze of a dead, burning star.

Even as we plummeted, Miss Patience was busy trying to work her enormous jaws around me, and I was doing my best to wrest her head from her thorny shoulders, plying all of my considerable strength to the task of expanding the wounds already opened by my sisters. We splashed beneath the waves of near-liquescent darkness, as the depth we achieved contained shadows sufficiently old enough to turn away the glare of the sun. Once the light had vanished, the silence of buried secrets rose up and stole the sounds of thunder and death from the air, plunging them beneath the unceasing knell of nothingness. We were alone in a void, and for a moment it seemed that we were no less than gods, floating within a primal darkness, and battling each other for the right to fill creation with our singular and inscrutable designs.
The fact that we survived the impact of our fall was even more evidence that a dream had been joined by our coming together, and that the Deadworld was denied the full measure of its power over our flesh and blood, allowing wonder to undo the work of wisdom. Burning debris rained down seconds after we crashed into the darkened earth, but the darkness fought back the fire’s light, begrudging it an impossibly small dispersion into the spaces of the underground. Miss Patience rose up from beneath a mounting pile of burning wood and fallen rock, throwing it aside with little effort. Her dead eyes, while incapable of affecting me with their hunger-inducing glare, bore into me with a hatred that almost set me aflame. And just before her hatred led her to attack me in another uncalculated charge, she paused, and for the first time reflected her human origins. Her teeth scraped violently against each other as she spoke, as her mouth was no longer designed for speech, and her tongue was occasionally impaled and bloodied as she struggled through her words.

“You’ve made a fine revenge of things, little killer. You have destroyed all that I’ve worked for, and now you’re trying to add me to your collection of artwork. I made a world within a world, and you simply destroyed it. I am carved from an inner darkness you can’t even remember, much less imagine. I’m a collage of grimmest truths, assembled by grinning poets that watch and laugh from behind this game of light and darkness—and like some angry child, you would break me apart and leave me in ruin? Destruction is the cheapest form of art, little killer. I wouldn’t hold my head too high, if I were you.”

“Hahaha, what do you know of art…Sara? You simply eat your own, and then, as if your actions warrant special attention, expect my admiration? You took a fragile darkness and filled it with petty evils, nothing more. What would your cult of well-wishers think if they could see you now? Would they see a great and dark mother of the underworld, or merely the breeder of freaks and fools, all of whom gather round their blind mother, crushing together into filthy holes that spiral beneath ruined shacks, and busy themselves appeasing the crawling worms of the earth with offerings of stolen, rotten meat? I’m going to do you the kindness of opening you up to the elder darkness, and release your stolen shadows to the bowels of the deep earth. Also, if your darkness proves precious enough, I might even redeem myself to the shades I’ve wronged this day. And then, Miss Patience, I have every intention of holding your head as high as my arms will allow.”

My father was already in my hands by the time Miss Patience realized I’d run at her. The scream she issued was almost as much a violation of natural law as was her alien sight. My father had reached beyond flesh and into bone, splitting her sternum and unrolling the sallow lengths of fat that curled beneath her unclean flesh. A vile fluid that must have been blood washed over me, and I resisted the urge to retch from the smell. The Mother of Cannibals then backhanded me into the air, dashing me against the unrelenting limestone. I slid from the wall and fell back to my feet, bleeding and doubled over. Then Miss Patience hefted a gigantic, burning plank and brought it down atop my head, hard. My hands and knees crashed into the stone floor. Finally, and with the most casual of efforts, she kicked me into a large fire that had fallen from the earth above, and then I watched as my clothing was set ablaze. She paused to enjoy the sight (or whatever sensations her eyes still afforded her) of my impending death. (I certainly wouldn’t have begrudged her a last look at me, as I was, after all, a blazing artist beneath the prehistoric earth. I would have loved to see what it all looked like, myself.)

“You remind me of your last work, little wick…all full of fire and failure, HAHAHA!” Of course, I rose from the flames and charged at her, but not so mindlessly as my opponent had done only a short time before. I had planned my next move quite carefully, while I smoldered beneath hatchling flames. When I collided with the under-witch she moved only slightly, laughing hard and horrible at my apparent failure. Nevertheless, while I was so close to her, and still slightly aflame, I wrapped my arms as far as they would reach around her bulk, and sank my sisters into her many layers of roiling flesh. Then, utilizing bones as handles for the second time, I lifted the giant cannibal into the air. I raced across the uneven stones of the cavern, holding Miss Patience high, both of us laced with flame. When the red-hot steeple—that had been protruding from a mass of raging flames—disappeared within her back, and then reappeared from without her flaccid left breast, hissing with boiling blood, I knew she was beyond the shelter of even a dream, let alone hope. I took off my burning coat and threw it to the ground, and watched as Sara Kain tried to pull herself free from fire and death. At some point she looked upon me with pleading eyes and held out her clawed hand.

“I don’t want to pass without telling someone…I’ll tell you…and then I can fade away. Please!” I waited until her flesh had crisped and blackened—sloughing off in places, and sizzling as it slid down between glowing embers—and then I pulled her seared body from the pyre, and laid her head upon the smoking remains of my coat.

“Tell your final tale, Miss Patience,” I said in frozen tones. “And should your story please me, I will spare it from the hungriest monster of all…oblivion.”

“Very well,” She said. Her teeth sounded out a terrible rhythm as they collided with each other, and her words dropped from her mouth like stillborns falling to the cold earth, naked and hopeless.

Next: The Cannibal’s Tale

A grinning cannibal
A grinning cannibal
A reckoning beneath the world
A reckoning beneath the world
Part 3: The Beauty Beneath

Chapter 13: Inferno

The subterranean world is undeniably home to the oldest and most beautiful specimens of darkness, as the sun has no place or power within its secreted depths, and so it was with a heavy heart that I did what I did. The explosives were only waiting to detonate, having been strategically dispersed across the cavern system, directly beneath the cannibal city. I departed the underground via the parched throat of an old well, and stood a relatively safe distance from the city that was about to tumble beyond the brink of living memory.

I watched from the very edge of the field where they first attacked me. I smiled beneath a slick of reddest twilight. I waited. For the briefest moment the city seemed to shrink down as if coiling hidden muscles, preparing to leap into the air. And then there was thunder. The city was lifted up upon flaming tongues that licked at the sky. The ground shook wildly, and fire chased the darkness from every secreted cave-entrance in and around the city, sending geysers of flame high into the sky. I quickly began to make my way into the city, as the second series of explosives was timed to detonate shortly after the initial batch: I needed time to reveal myself to the creatures, so they would know who it was that destroyed them. I walked in plain view as I moved towards the burning city. I passed raging fires and entered thick clouds of choking smoke, but a dream was upon me, and I knew I would endure. Once I entered the city of burning cannibals I could see that the wretches were trying to flee into the underground, finding only their fiery deaths. Screams—louder by far than any shrieks that had ever escaped the underground slaughterhouses—battled the smoke for dominance of the air, and the burning debris of flesh-eaters was everywhere, crackling. My laughter rose above the sounds of fire and dying as I waded into thick crowds of fleeing citizens, wielding my father, extinguishing the light of fools. Houses tumbled to the earth beneath the weight of the piling flames, thickets became bonfires, cannibals became tinder, and the shapes of forgotten gods moved within the smoke: my art had engulfed the town.

I stood amid the fires and bodies and shrieks, and I called out to the Mother of Cannibals. My voice rose with the smoke and fire, and then crashed down upon the burning city, cracking aged timbers and worrying the red-hot flames. It was from the entrance of a large barn they came—baying and hungry, blind and monstrous. This was the great and dire company of Black Molly Patience: atrocious creatures from the underground, all of them sculpted by the dusky hands of a blind god under the earth. There was a white, hairless and eyeless bear, equipped with claws so overgrown as to seem almost comical; alien wolves with their frosted eyes of lightest blue; and a lean, hungry cougar with a mouth that occupied nearly every inch of its head, evicting even its ears and nose in favor of jaws that could open wide enough to admit a small dog. My sisters moved to my sides; our laughter was growing with the fire. The wolves were the first to fall to us. The canines attacked as a single force, hoping to drown me in their numbers, but my sisters were like whirlwinds, twisting and turning with a maniacal precision, entering and exiting the beasts like wind blowing through tall grass. When the wolves fell again to the earth, they did so in pieces that quivered and whined. The gigantic bear-thing came next. My roaring father struck the fool-creature’s head with such force that it seemed to explode into a starburst of blood and brains, like the finale of a fireworks display made from gore rather than gunpowder. It was the great cat that managed to momentarily slow my progress towards my scripted opponent. It had attacked me from behind, seizing my neck in its enormous mouth. I reached back and spread apart the thing’s jaws until I heard the wet cracking sound of bones breaking deep beneath flesh. When the creature reared backwards to escape my grip, my sister glided across the big cat’s exposed underbelly, releasing a crimson tangle of gleaming entrails. The beast collapsed upon the street and was quickly set upon by ravenous flames. The fire seemed to join my side of the conflict, as it surged and roared across the streets, engulfing or routing the crowds of creatures and half-men that attempted to slow my pace. Then she was there, in the darkness and smoke.

I had no idea the Deadworld could encompass such a dream. She was a wicked song of teeth and claws, set to the awful melody of burning, sightless eyes. But while she was a living horror, an echo of dethroned beauty reverberated through her features, suggesting the distance the woman had once fallen from grace and dream. Blind though she may have been, some invisible emanation from her whited eyes plunged beneath my flesh, searching and summing. I could feel her conjuring alien hungers from the emptiness of my stomach, trying to fill me with forbidden appetites. Something about her eyes held an actual power, not some abstract force, but a tangible violation of nature, and it was trying to change me. She took a step from the smoking ruin of the doorway, as if looking more fully upon me would better allow her to focus her efforts to transform me. But my body kept its own secrets—and they would admit no mysteries besides their own. I could feel the searing gaze of my family as it met the sightless eyes of Miss Patience, and I could smell her fear.

I was airborne, my sisters laughing out in front of me, their metal teeth glittering with the lights of a thousand fires. Molly clutched my torso in a cage of claws, hoping to tear me from the smoky air, but while my body ceased to advance, my sisters’ journey was far from over; their laughter dimmed as it sank beneath filthy layers of cannibal flesh, severing the vital tubers of Molly’s neck. The monster quickly turned around to face the inside of the burning barn she emerged from, and threw me into and through a massive wall slathered with hungry flame. After I landed in a room filled with smoke and corpses, I rose up and prepared to receive the she-demon that came crashing after me. She lowered her antlered head and rammed herself into my chest, lifting me from the floor and pinning me upon her lethal horns. She charged mindlessly forward, smashing me through more walls, barreling into fiery copses, and finally crushing me into the side of an overturned and smoking truck. Somehow I still lived. I theorized that a dream had been born between us, and within its extents she and I were true monsters, beyond the call of conventional pain and fragility. I tore myself free of her evil headdress, snapping-off horns like twigs from a branch, and calling up screams from her hellish, gaping mouth. Her remaining horns functioned as adequate handles, and after I seized hold of them I began to twist Miss Patience’s head from her body. Shortly after her vertebrae began to crackle, she stood to her full height, some nine feet tall, denying me the leverage of the burning earth, and dangling me before her forest of teeth. I reached to my back and raised my father into the air. Miss Patience lunged forward with her terrible mouth yawning impossibly wide, revealing the path so many had traveled. And then the world became so much thunder and fire, and the ground opened up beneath us. The second group of explosives had detonated, and Miss Patience and I tumbled into the stygian darkness…

The Mother of Cannibals.
The Mother of Cannibals.
The Face of Hunger.
The Face of Hunger.