Without – excerpt 1
February 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
There was a smell around the base of the old house. It smelled like old vinegar, faint and enormously unpleasant. Kneeling in the dirt by the window, he ran his finger through a patch of soil near the grimy glass that looked down into an unfinished basement, sniffing. He didn’t know what could make a smell like that, but it set his teeth grinding against each other and he had to choke back a mouthful of saliva to settle his gorge. Turning his head to the side he reached up to push a shock of green and blue back out of his view and looked across the street at the old woman and younger man made silhouettes by the setting sun just behind the peak of a green shingled roof.
The woman, her face like carved wood, nodded once and a few wisps of faded yellow hair descended from her elaborate braid to dance in front of eyes that could outdo carved ice. The man with her looked barely out of his teens, he was shaking. He nodded as well, his hands balled up into fists.
Here’s hoping you people aren’t full of shit.
Straightening up, he walked to the front door, feeling the leather squeal across his shoulders. A recently painted white circle on the forearm, with a red cross over it, glistened in the light. The spikes on the right caught the red glare of the sun as his boots tapped against the front stairs. He reached a hand and pressed the doorbell.
Seconds passed. The sun continued to set, shadows deepening around the porch and trellis, a rosebush wrapped around the white-painted wood. The sound of someone throwing a chain and undoing a lock came, followed by the door opening a crack.
“Yes?” A woman’s face, slightly pale, dark brown eyes dilated in the shadow thrown by the edge of the door. “Can I help you?”
“I’m sure you can.” The deep rumbling of his voice, not wholly his at the moment. “I’ve come to speak with your tenants in the basement.”
“I don’t have any tenants. You must have the wrong…” He didn’t wait for her to complete the sentence and shut the door in his face. Instead, he pivoted and delivered a kick to the center of the wood above the mail slot, splintering it in half. The impact sent the woman crashing to the floor in a haze of curly black hair, and he stepped into the room while the chain fell, door fragment and all.
“Oh, did I say tenants? I meant bloodsucking monstrosities.”
The light of the sunset flickered across the walls as she stared up at him with eyes much darker than they had been, orange fire, while yellow canines slid past lips that were full, dark red, shocking on so pale a face. She rolled into a crouch, her body low to the ground.
“The sun’s not going to help you much longer.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” He took a step to the side, putting himself wholly in the shade thrown by the large church organ against the picture windows.
She flung herself at him, snapping from her crouching posture with the power of her curved limbs, her fanged mouth wide open to bury itself in his neck. Then a large leather-covered forearm crashed into her face before she could react, smashing her nose flat against her cheek and knocking a tooth loose to spiral in the air.
A hand grabbed the back of her head by her long mane and then she was spinning, and her head crashed into the carved wood above the organ’s keyboard, splintering the figures marching across the reddish scene. Even as she shrieked and keened, her head lifted back into the air and was crushed against the ivory beneath it, dark black fluid from her smashed face spraying in the air.
The sound, like a strangled moan over hammers coming either from her or the organ assaulted his ears.
Crushing back nausea, he drove her face into the keys again and again, until he smashed her head through the wood beneath them. Then he pulled her, writhing and gibbering, into the air and rammed her down into the massive instrument with enough force to cave it in around her.
Stepping back, he saw several jagged lengths of wood had been driven through her torso and chest, wet with the brackish, reeking fluid that took the place of blood inside her. Knowing that the noise would alert the ones in the basement soon, he placed a hand on each side of her motionless head and twisted sharply, ignoring the sounds of crackling bone and tearing flesh, twisted and pulled on the underside of the jaw until a snapping series of pops signaled the rending of the spine.
He tossed the head in the fireplace and straightened up, stepping away from the wreckage of the organ just in time to hear the sound of something scraping along the ceiling. Sure enough, he barely had time to turn his shoulder before a heavy, fleshy body dropped from the arched dome above his head and landed directly on the mass of spikes. They left a furrow of small punctures along the white cotton shirt the thing was wearing, dark and weeping that spoiled fluid reeking of vinegar that polluted the whole house.
A hand with jagged nails raked across his face, scoring his chin and neck with shallow stinging cuts. The thing on his upper shoulders had been a man once, and it was still wearing the uniform of its days as a man, a cotton wife beater and a pair of jeans, but its hands and feet were elongated and clawed, and as it hissed stagnant air rushed out of its mouth. Even as he twisted to throw the thing into the red brick fireplace alongside the head of the earlier one, he wondered to himself if they breathed out of habit or only so that they could make noise.
He pivoted on his left leg and lashed the space behind him with a kick, connecting with another that had come up from the small staircase in-between the kitchen and the living room. This one bore no obvious signs of change, no claws, no fangs, and the sound of a neck snapping from the kick indicated that it might still have been human. He didn’t let it bother him too much. Instead, he dropped into a roll that carried him across the fallen body and gathered up the baseball bat it still clutched in twitching hands, ending up in the kitchen.
Another was coming up the stairs, this one holding a hatchet. This one had a close-cropped skull shaped like a bullet, and the bat crashed down on top of the point of the head, caving it in with a satisfying cracking sound that was part bone, part wood. Also human, the axe fell from slack fingers as the eyes widened, and then the dead body fell down the stairs and tumbled.
Shit, I hope they don’t have a lot of these poor bastards around.
Distracted, he was tackled around the midsection by the one he’d thrown into the fireplace. The soles of his boots squealed against the linoleum and left long black smudges half the length of the floor. He brought a knee up into the thing’s midsection, knowing that the dead don’t need to breathe but using the sheer impact to knock it loose before it could try and rip at him with those claws or bite him. His left hand smashed hard into the thing’s neck, snapping its face to the side and knocking it back against the refrigerator, caving in the off-white door from the impact.
For a moment, nothing else happened. It twisted its broken neck back into place and worked its shattered jaw, staring at him with those orange-red eyes leaking light into the blue murky darkness of the room.
“What are you?”
“I’m the Welcome Wagon.” Shifting his feet, the big man choked up on the shattered bat in his right hand.
“I’m going to kill you, but before I do, you’re going to tell me who sent you, so that I can kill them slowly and eat their loved ones in front of them while I do.” Thin lips pulled back into a fang baring snarl, while it twisted its neck back into alignment.
“Honi soit qui mal y pense, you know.” Leather squealed and zippers rattled at the broad shoulders squared off and the large head with the mass of blue and green hair dropped, tossing to the side.
The dead man kicked off of the dented metal of the appliance he was half embedded in, clawed fingers punching through the plaster swirls on the ceiling as it clambered along, skittering like a spider. Flexing elongated toes, it grabbed hold and swung down, slashing a clawed hand down to rip across where a throat had been a few seconds earlier. The talons on the end of those deformed, stretched out digits ripped across the leather of his forearm, punching through to flesh and leaving the sleeve torn in ribbons.
The hand of that arm grabbed the dead thing’s neck and held on. Glowing eyes went wide as the other hand came into view, still clutching the broken baseball bat, splintered to a broad jagged point like a leaf-shaped sword. Before it could growl or hiss, the bat rammed forward, burying itself in the chest of the dead man just below the collarbone and slightly to the left.
Black fluid burst from its back as its feet spasmed, locking spiky claws into the ceiling, dangling there as it shuddered and sprayed and twitched. The man holding the bat held onto it for fear the thing would somehow dislodge it, even as the smell of spoiled flesh and tainted blood filled his nostrils, repeatedly swallowing mouthfuls of his own bile and sharp, acidic spit commingled with the remains of the morning’s breakfast trying to come up.
Finally, it stopped twitching. Stepping away from it, he saw that the moonlight illuminated the room through the window on the backyard, a sliver of silver light hanging in the electric blue light of dusk. Walking to the staircase, he picked up the hatchet one of the thralls had dropped and admired it. A nice rubberized handle, good weight, high carbon steel. He idly decided to keep it before walking back to the desiccated corpse dangling by its toes from the ceiling and hacking through its neck, then walking back out into the living room, where the previous corpse had leaked a pool of acidic darkness all over the remains of the organ.
He felt bad about ruining that organ.
The heads he gathered up and tossed into the gas stove. He was glad they used gas… this would have required a lot more work had they had an electric oven… and bent down beneath it to check the pilot. Seeing that it was indeed still lit, he smashed it several times with the hatchet until it went out and then turned the oven on.
Then he reached into his pocket and took out a bundle of M-80s wired to an electric timer, pushed a button to give himself five minutes, and placed the device inside the open oven alongside the severed heads, closing the door to the kitchen as he left.
Outside on the lawn the two who’d hired him were waiting.
“Back the fuck up, you two.” He growled. “You have a cell phone?”
“I do.” The younger man spoke up. “How do we know you did it?”
“Am I dead?”
“Then I did it. Where’s my money? And I said back up.” Stalking off of the lawn to stand under a street light, he turned to face the two of them, tossing long green hair out of his face with an impatient jerk of his neck. “You should be calling the fire department right about now. You told the neighbors to take the night off like I said?”
“Yes, Sarah and David went to see a show at Trinity. I paid for the tickets.” The older woman reached into the felted knit bag at her hip and withdrew a bank envelope while the younger man was dialing his phone. “Here you go.”
“Miranda, we should at least make sure he…”
“Michael, be quiet.” She passed the envelope into his large, black stained hand. He placed it into his inside jacket pocket without opening it. “You’re just going to trust me?”
“You’d be immensely stupid to cross me, and I don’t take either of you for immensely stupid.” The counting in his head reached 297. “Now.”
A dull woosh came from the house. In his mind’s eye he could imagine the explosives…about the equivalent of two sticks of dynamite…exploding in the stove. By themselves they’d just fuck the room up a bit, but combined with the gas…a gout of red and yellow light backlit the house, and the sound of glass breaking from the back yard confirmed to him that the kitchen was now blasted out and on fire. In minutes, the whole building should burn to the ground. He turned to face the younger man, who’d turned to stare at the house with real, violent hatred and joy mixed in his features.
“Sorry about your wife.”
“At least it’s over now.” Crying and smiling at once, Michael turned away from the house to meet his eyes. “I’m sorry I didn’t…”
“Don’t worry about it. No skin off my back. I’d better get going before the cops get here.” Feeling awkward now, the large man nodded to Miranda (always hating to know the names of the people who he dealt with in these things) and stalked off down the sidewalk, muttering a small hedge incantation out of the notebooks of Cornelius Agrippa to ensure no one would pay attention to the large green haired blood and black ooze stained man with a hatchet in his belt walking away from a burning house with two decapitated corpses in it.
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