THE LAST HANGOVER © Andrew Drage
~ By Brewin ~
Bruce wasn’t sure what it was, but it hurt like fuck.
Bruce opened his eyes and saw that he was on the couch in the lounge room at Aaron’s place. Closed curtains cast shadows across a room strewn with takeaway food packaging, beer bottles and dirty plates.
His head throbbed and his tongue felt like it was wrapped in plastic. Struggling to swallow and dampen his mouth, he noticed drool over his face and pillow…
It was a dark colour and sticky.
He touched the sides of his face and recoiled with pain. Deep gashes from his own fingernails ran from his eye sockets down his jaw line.
It had been a big night. Bruce, Aaron and Jason were drinking at Aaron’s place until sometime after the sun came up this morning, but he didn’t remember this happening. Yesterday seemed like a dream.
Oh fuck. Frank and his dad Barney died yesterday. That wasn’t a dream.
And the idiots they were, they’d decided to go down to the police scene whilst drunk to see what happened. Vincent the driver, didn’t even have a full licence. Now he’d lost it for six months and had a huge fine to pay as well. They didn’t even find out what happened at the farm. The exact events that occurred were indistinct this side of the drinking binge, but he did remember Vincent going off at them for the idea and leaving in a huff. Bruce, Aaron and Jason went back to Aaron’s place after that, numb by the day’s events… And kept drinking.
And now he’d woken on his mate’s couch to find half his face clawed off and blood all over himself. Fuck!
Bruce scanned the darkened room and spotted a light switch next to the doorway opposite.
Fuck he needed a glass of water.
Beyond the doorway lay a short carpeted hall to the rest of the house.
With some effort he sat up and yawned.
Then he heard a squelching sound from down the hallway. It ended as suddenly as it began.
Bruce felt the hair on his neck bristle from the chill of fear. He felt simultaneous needs to piss and vomit.
The squelching sound came again, this time longer, ending with a slopping thump. It seemed to be coming from Aaron’s room.
What the fuck is that?
Nature’s demands took control of Bruce’s senses and he rushed into the hallway seeking the toilet. Trying to ignore the sound coming from down the hallway, he opened the first door on his right. He closed the door behind him and sighed with relief as he disgorged his bladder. He pondered sticking fingers down his throat to get rid of the alcohol still in his stomach, but decided he didn’t feel as bad as that.
He then went through the sliding side door into the bathroom. Finding a light switch first, he grabbed a glass from the bathroom bench and filled it under the tap. He saw how bloody his hands were and looked up at the mirror.
A pale face presented itself, streaked with blood from his scratches, his eyes swimming in blood-tinged sockets.
What he was going to say to Aaron?
As he turned the tap off, he again heard rhythmic squelching, this time accompanied by a louder slapping.
I don’t remember Aaron picking up last night! Wow that’s a first!
Bruce sculled his glass of water and poured himself another.
Now the sound was accompanied by strange deep grunts that did not sound human.
Bruce shivered and spilt his water.
Then the phone rang in the lounge room and Bruce jumped, spilling more water.
The phone echoed through the house, causing the sounds from Aaron’s room to cease.
I’m fucked if I’m going to answer that.
The phone kept ringing, as the noises down the hallway resumed.
Oh shit, I better go see what the hell that is.
Bruce stepped back into the hallway and noticed a potent stench that didn’t seem to be of alcohol or cigarettes. It smelt like something rotten. The squelching and slapping continued, as did the animalistic groans.
Shit maybe I should just leave.
The phone stopped ringing as the sound of crashing objects came from the lounge room behind him. Mercifully, most of the lounge room was out of view.
Fuck! Now what do I do? The front door’s that way!
Bruce hesitated in the hallway. The sounds in the lounge room stopped but not the wet sounds from Aaron’s room.
Just stop thinking about it and go see what it is you bloody pussy!
As Bruce crept to Aaron’s door, he saw it was slightly ajar. His trembling hand pushed it open on squeaky hinges…
The door pushed aside the lurking shadows to reveal a scene of sickening slaughter. Aaron’s eviscerated corpse lay strewn over the bed and surrounding floor, dripping entrails hung out like decorations. Splashes of blood and the stench of decay saturated the room. Before closed and blood-splattered curtains stooped a hairy beast in a pose of the basest horror. In colossal claws it held Aaron’s decapitated head, rhythmically thrusting its erect member into a bloody socket. The horrifying sound it made was now dampened by the sound of its demonic bestial laughter.
It paused to meet Bruce’s dumbstruck gaze with malice. It laughed again and licked its slavering lips before resuming its necrophilic task.
The hallway creaked behind Bruce. He turned to face the huge chest of another of the demons. Its bulk towered over him as its arms swiftly enveloped him.
The last thing he remembered was a crushing grip around his throat…
MALICE’S ABSENCE IN WONDERLAND © Eric Tolles
Down here we all float.
Even through the mud I can hear those words; recalling some story I read as a child long before the fall. Before I ended up in the dark trying desperately to find my way back into the light. I can hear a thousand other voices, memories, talking to me as the muck impacted inside my ears hardens and scrapes against the edges of a thousand others just like them.
Down here we all float.
It’s not even close to the truth.
I can hear footsteps occasionally, their percussions traveling through the seemingly endless feet of dirt between here and there. Like the strange muted voices of people gathered around the edge of the swimming pool that you have sunk to the bottom of, holding your breath and ticking off the seconds inside your head. Trying to break your personal record as you look up at their distorted reflections as the ripples in the water make a mess of their faces. I’m not counting anymore; I stopped a long time ago. In fact I don’t really have any use for oxygen. I stopped breathing a long time ago, too. I have no idea how long I have been down here, trying to swim back to the surface through this rock and soil. The hands of the clock bloodied and bruised and ripped, the ribbons of the flesh they used to be are back there somewhere amongst the scrabble that ruined them. A strip or two may still be in the back of my throat curled around my vocal chords like a bow; I think I can feel a tattered end tickling me, though it may just be me laughing at myself out of sheer frustration.
They jumped me, of course.
It felt like I had just woken up. My head was still full of fog from the dream I had been having; a walking dead version of Alice showing up at my door one afternoon. A small pile of bruises in a torn dress and bedraggled sweater, but her eyes gave it away-her intentions, I mean. Always ablaze with coppered fire, those two. Forever one of my favorite science lessons: that if you heat copper up enough to burn, it burns with a green flame. I let her in, cleaned her up and she repaid me with teeth somewhere in the dark. I woke up, cursing the slippery edges of subconsciousness, only to find myself wandering down the middle of a street somewhere between dusk and dawn. I froze, fairly sure that I was awake, that this wasn’t a continuation of the dream, when my stomach began to growl. And I mean that literally. Loud twistings of my guts churning against each other with a hunger I thought could only exist in my head.
And then the noise.
It came from behind me, an explosion that stretched my shadow halfway up the block. Whisper thin and slightly darker than the pavement beneath my feet, I followed it back to them to discover I was missing a shoe. But it was not completely naked, that foot, as when I reached down to touch it my fingers came back wet. Sticky. I rubbed my fingers together and brought them to my nose, thinking perhaps I might understand what it was that my foot had gotten into, and found that it smelled acrid. Metallic. My stomach growled again as I turned towards the light behind me in hopes of revealing more of the mess gathering in my palm and my jaw dropped.
The skyline was on fire.
It looked like half the city was ablaze. There were plumes of smoke rising into the sky and casting themselves against the moon like clouds. A number of the taller buildings appeared as candles burning in the darkness, their tops all wreathed in orange as the moon’s face hung above them staring down as though it was her birthday and she was gathering breath to blow them out.
Maybe that is what is all over my foot; frosting.
I’ve been running around over the top of a birthday cake.
Louder now, the noises that woke me up. I can hear breaking glass, terrified screams amidst the pattern of percussions that are shaking the ground at my feet. And gunshots. And I wondered as I stood frozen in the middle of the street, was I somehow responsible? Perhaps this group of men running towards me might be able to tell me what is going on. As I watched their rapid approach I realized that something was wrong. The pattern of their gait was off. The way they were carrying themselves was far from normal. They were zigzagging, lumbering up the street in my direction, but not towards me. Past me, it seemed, with the intention their broken frames suggested. One of them was dragging its leg. Another passed me by with both of its arms hanging limp and slapping against its sides as it ran. I tried to get the attention of a man who was missing his pants, but he didn’t seem able to respond as a large wad of hair that ended in a chunk of scalp was hanging out of his mouth.
Then shouts. More gunshots ringing out against the cacophony of voices. Someone runs up behind me, her attention turned towards the group that had lumbered past, and I reach out and grab her. Not out of thought, but of something instinctual. I yank her head towards mine and I tear her ear off with my teeth. My stomach unwinds just a little as her blood spills over my tongue and I find myself relishing the coppery sting as she shouts, “You bit me in my ear!” I quickly find the gaping wound on the side of her head and plunge my teeth back into her torn flesh, making quick work of it before the crunching of her skull against my jaws fills my ears.
It’s like music.
I take her down to the ground with me, my hands pulling skin from bone to the sound of her screams creating the score for this act. Finding purchase with my teeth at the edges of her ear canal and widening it with each bite until impatience and lust causes me to grab her head with both hands and slam it against the pavement. Again and again and again until it cracks open like a coconut and spills it’s sweet milk all around my knees. And I lap it up like a rabid dog. I pull handfuls of her brains out of the broken cereal bowl of her skull and devour every single thought she ever had.
And that is when it hit me.
A baseball bat.
It caught my shoulder and spun me around. The second strike landed against my ribs and I clearly heard something snap, but I didn’t feel anything. The third hit home at the back of my head. Fireworks went off inside my skull and I looked up at the moon, seeing Alice’s face reflected back at me through a gray haze just before my lights were turned off. I thought of her; her throat and the warm release of her blood. The world went black around me as I imagined eating my way through her bones.
And now I am here.
For how long I have no idea, and until when I cannot say. I cannot fathom the fathoms. I feel like I have been digging my entire life. I was born amongst the deepest of roots and nursed on the blood meal of worms. Taught arithmetic with the clicking of beetle wings. Told bedtime stories by tongues of crickets. Daylight is just the dream of maggots, down here. Their slick white bodies are the contrast to the underbelly of roaches. Like angels squirming through the loam above my head. Always above my head. Always just beyond my fingertips. But I am coming, Alice.
I am coming, Alice.
And I am going to eat you alive.
I whisper that mantra into the dirt with split lips.
I scream that incantation into the rock with a ragged tongue.
It’s her name coupled with this insatiable thirst me that keeps me moving through the dark down here somewhere underground. No map lines to follow nor any light to read them by, just some instinctual narrative that escaped me in that other life, telling me when to bear slightly right or turn sharply to the left to correct my path. Save for the darkness I imagine it’s her heart I’m navigating, that’s all this is. Practice. Eyes closed tight against the brightness that reveals the interiors of those chambers.
The first, a roost for crows. A room full of murder waiting for my foretold arrival and the squawking that heralds it. They sing in unison, Who is that tapping, insistently rapping, rapping at our chamber door? And so coyly so, considering the carnage their claws are craving to create. My feet fall upon a floor of feathers as I enter, the target of 99 cocked heads regarding me with eyes of onyx. I am blinded by a rainbow of light streaming from beneath wings as they slip from their perches and their talons finding purchase in my skin. That rush of air that delivers the penance to be paid from the flapping as they struggle to maintain flight while engaged in the evisceration of flesh. The behavior once rendered now repaid in the rending of beaks. The pound of flesh, flayed and flung into the furthest of the four corners my limbs are pointing towards as I lay flattened upon that floor.
The second is full of rocking chairs. They move seemingly of their own volition until my eyes focus-still stinging from the blinding colors found in the first chamber-to see that each of those seats is occupied by a terrifying grin sitting on the face of a black feline. Each of them smiling between the stroke of their tongue across the surface of their paws while they lock their gaze upon my own. They take their time, torturous taunts delivered by the twitching of tails ending in a snap in my direction. I stand frozen, unable to see the other side as the joints of those chairs fill the room with creaking music that threatens to drive me crazy. All at once, just before I feel that sanity is about to give me the slip, the rocking stops abruptly and in perfect synchronization they all disembark from their stations and as silent as milk they pad into a congregation gathering around my ankles. They expertly zigzag between my legs avoiding the drops of blood dripping from my chest and hitting the floor beneath my feet in a pattern of soft splashes. Safe as houses, I think as I lift a foot to step forward only discover that I am quite mistaken. Several tails wrap themselves around my ankles and but with a slight tug countering my movement brings the whole mess crashing down. My face slaps against the floor and I am reminded of a similar incident as a toddler that led to that first loss of blood. I look up and those furry smirking faces have all turned into leering, yawning chasms of teeth string down at me. I await a chewing that never comes. I discover that they have opted for an endeavor far more indicative of their nature as the sound of claws clicking into place fills the air and they set upon my back. Ribbons of my flesh begin to fall in front of my eyes like the fluttering remnants of Christmas presents. They each take their turn dragging their nails across my back like an amorous lover, along with a farewell scrape of sandpapered tongue as a post script.
Room number three finds me walking barefoot through the entrance of a hedge maze whose walls stand so tall that they blot out the sun and seemingly wag their finger in God’s face. I anxiously stick a toe through the archway before following with the rest of my bloodied and bruised body. Vaguely familiar, this, as I come to a “T” intersection of a green barrier stretching out for what appears to be miles. I turn left as I hear a caterpillar in my head speaking with an English lilt, “If she’d ‘ave kept on goin’ down that way she’d ‘ave gone straight to that castle!” Well, who takes directions from a caterpillar, anyway?, I wondered. I walk for days. I walk for nights. I chase the moon into the sea and run the sun right over the cliff, looking for a sign in the twisted emerald writing that criss-crosses the walls I’ve become prisoner to. Counting my footsteps quicken the passage of time that never seems to end inside this labyrinth; but I am not lost. Dawn creeps over the horizon and I see just up ahead a pair of trees situated in the wall much like the hundreds I have walked past, but I stopped to look and then laugh about how they seemed to be like a pair of legs stretching into the sky, attached to some giant who had dropped his pants. The ivy had formed amongst the roots of these two trees like a pair of folded jeans, complete with even a belt and a buckle made of leaves. And that is when I saw it. A darker squelch of viridian that formed a symbol in the center of the belt buckle:
So how’s that working out for you, I thought as I looked up and grinned towards the sharks swimming around in the sky above my head. I reached down to touch it, and my finger fell short. I thought perhaps it was my depth perception failing me, but I attempted to grab it this time and I fell forward as my balance was foiled. The symbol was on a leaf lay well past the trees, and I found myself inside a hidden opening in the wall. I stood up and brushed the dirt from my knees and this time, I turned right. I was quickly led into a neatly manicured clearing, save for a hole located directly in its center. I made my way to the edge of that opening and got down on my hands and knees and peered inside. I could see nothing. At first. Then a few distant lights began to flicker the longer I looked. Then a shadow moved against the darkness, and I bent down even further to try to see when a white paw reached out of the hole and firmly grabbed ahold of my nose. I could see the silhouette of twin ears against the dim light of the stars on the other side and then two eyes staring up at me. “Well, what are you waiting for,” its voice asked from the depths.
And then it pulled me into hole.
The fourth room made me dizzy. My stomach flip-flopped over itself and I was turned upside down then immediately right side-up in the blink of an eye. My shoulders wedged tightly inside the opening of the portal and my hands slapped themselves helplessly against my sides on the other side. My legs kicked against nothing but the air underneath them as I attempted to find some footing. I looked around but the rabbit was nowhere to be found, just a short stretch of earth around me that was surrounded on every side by an ocean. Then I saw her. My Alice, making her way out of the waves, her skin glowing. Luminescent. Wet and wild white locks plastered to her forehead just above those eyes that threatened to burn themselves right out of your skull. She bent down over me like the moon itself had come down out of the sky and whispered into my ear, “Darling, do you remember this part?”
Then the rabbit reappeared and chimed in his part, “Off with his head!”
Then mine, “I do.”
Then the blade, raised high above her head, catches the reflection of her throat and the hollow I never want to escape just before it falls upon mine and my head rolls down the shore and is carried out to sea. It eventually sinks to the depths to become home to some mutant-limbed crab, my tongue lolling out of my mouth like a welcoming mat for his crustacean compatriots.
I wake from this daydream to find my fingers wrapped tightly around a tree root and I realize that her heart is only but a few minutes and handfuls of dirt away from me.
Do you hear me, Alice?
I have been down here for years digging my way home, dying to get my hands on her heart. To see to fruition the seeming eons of honing my finger’s skill to tear a hole into her chest and unmake the puzzle of bones keeping it safe.
Are you listening Alice?
Her heart belongs to me. Her brains belong to me. Her body is mine. There is nothing standing between her and I and this beautiful oblivion other than these pages. They are but kindling to the fire burning beneath this oven. Nothing but a thin sheet of glass in its door is obscuring my vision now. But for just a little application of pressure to its surface and I will be free from these constraints.
Free to bind her in some of my own and consume her in kind.
As I climb out of the grave much worse for wear than when I entered it I muse upon the idea of rebirth, Is this what it feels like to be born?
Did I feel this clarity back then, a wet mewling thing inside my mother’s womb? Was I nothing more than a blank slate, a thoughtless beast scratching at the walls of her guts to get out? Or was I full of bloodlust then as I am now? Digging my way out of the darkness with teeth and fingers if only to use them again to get back inside? It is the only motivation I have; a raging desire to claw my way back inside her chest. I am the dead dying to make a feast of her flesh and a bed from her bones. I can only think of her blood and the warm bath my face is waiting for. The thought maddens my tongue as it pushes up and out of this thin layer of soil my mouth has wrapped itself around. My fingertips breaching the ground far above the grave I have left, timeless behind me in the depths of the dirt.
And like she did so many years ago, she once again rolls her hips and spits me out.
A wriggling mess of flesh, damp and heaving as I emerge from the darkness into the light above.
I use the roots of this tree to pull myself free of that space, the miles of hell between then and now, and towards the short distance that lay between me and her neck. I attempt to pull myself up, but my legs seem to be uncooperative; or perhaps their buckling is some kind of joke that they are making me the butt of as I seem to keep landing directly upon it. After a dozen or so attempts I finally manage to pull myself up and I lean against the face of that tree, my own pressing itself against and into the ridges and valleys of the bark that covers its trunk. I feel the wind scratching across the surface of the small areas of skin that aren’t covered by mud and for a moment the rage inside my head is soothed by the sensation. It rustles past my ears and I am reminded of the whispers that once fell from her lips and filled my head with a heat that still burns with a temperature that my lust for blood could only hope to attain.
And then my legs buckled again as my stomach, apparently awoken by the thought of a meal, churned and empties itself of the unknown amounts of mouthfuls of dirt I swallowed during my graven exodus. A river of mud and bile and bugs comes pouring out of my mouth and splashes across my hands.
And worms, still wriggling.
I pull myself back up again to embrace the tree when I hear shouting coming from behind me.
“Holy shit, man, did you see that? I didn’t know that zombies tossed cookies!”
“That fucker just pulled himself out of the ground. I thought that only happened in the movies!”
I turned to see the source of that ungodly noise and spotted 2 men on top of a white building across the street from where I had unearthed myself. I was trying to ascertain the situation, gauge the danger when something bit into between my left shoulder and my chest. I looked down to find an arrow sticking out of that space. It had yellow feathers on it. An arrow. A fucking arrow? Really? And it seemed that it had gone all the way through my body and pinned me to the tree that only moments before had been my salvation.
And then another one hit me in the stomach.
And then another through my right arm. And then another through my hip.
“Yeah! Got ‘em! Look at him, trying to get free! You see that shit Johnny? I pinned that dead motherfucker right to that tree. And you said that taking archery classes was for pussies!”
“Yeah, yeah. You got him. Now grab your machete so we can go kill that bastard.”
“But it’s already dead-shouldn’t we say something different?”
“Oh, not this shit again. Look, it’s not fucking dead if it is up and walking around. Dead is dead. Dead is not breathing, not standing, not mobile and certainly not fucking eating to sustain itself. Ok? That thing is only half dead, if you have to get technical about it. It doesn’t breathe, it doesn’t have a heartbeat. Sure, it still has use of its limbs and it certainly seems to feel the need to consume, and it has the ability to do so. That is not dead. It is some kind of disease, you know? A disease that turns it into a mindless eating machine.”
“Yeah, but the TV said…”
Fuck the fucking TV, Johnny. That’s your problem; well one of them, anyway, mindlessly believing everything you saw and heard from it. When it still worked, that is. Let’s just get down there and kill it before the sun goes down, ok? ”
I watch them lowering a fire escape ladder to the level of the street. They disembark the ladder and make their way across the street towards me. They walk over to me. The shorter one pulls a knife from a sheath on his belt and starts poking me in the chest with it. It doesn’t hurt. I don’t cry out. But I do begin to feel that rage creeping back up from behind my eyes and it quickly spreads through my body. That space doesn’t belong to them. None of it does. That knife shouldn’t be wielded upon my skin by anyone other than her.
“See, man? It ain’t alive. It don’t cry out or nothing when you poke at it.”
They turn their attention away from me for a moment, arguing.
“Are you serious? It’s doesn’t bleed either, but the fact that it is standing there, that it just minutes ago pulled itself out of the fucking ground should be a rather large clue that it isn’t fucking dead!”
I think about pointing out to them that I actually am bleeding. That when I began to anger about them piercing my flesh with that blade and how that act is only meant for her; and that this thought made something stir within my chest. Something warm. Something with a life of its own. That thought motivated my legs, and I kick the one closest to me. My foot landing firmly in the center of his chest and knocking him off his feet. He rolls a few times before landing on the pavement, looking up at me in shock as his own blood began to seep from a long scrape that the pavement left on the side of his face. His buddy was quicker, and seemingly at the same time his blade caught sunlight and momentarily blinded me, the edge of his machete had cleanly sliced through all but one toe from my foot before my leg had dropped back to my side after kicking the stupid one off of both of his. I looked down at my foot in amazement, only my pinky toe remained.
And I laughed, looking back and forth from it to the finger I have been missing since I was 2.
Then I realized that I had laughed.
That I had somehow had taken in and expelled oxygen. Maybe you don’t know shit about being a zombie either, I wondered, just as the machete cleaved the air again. I ducked just in time for him to bury it in the tree behind my head, along with a portion of my left ear.
I laughed again.
The fatal flaw in their plan was thinking that I had a single concern for a few pieces of flesh from my body, or the couple of holes that their arrows had made. My only concern was for the body that I hoped to find behind that door up the street, not my own. That saving my own was a worthless endeavor if it could not be delivered through that threshold. I don’t even need limbs, not really, as long as I had the teeth in my head firmly held between jaws that are up to the challenge of dragging my skull across that porch and into that house. With that thought I used my one good foot to shove myself free of those restraints. Those four arrows ripping through my flesh; like a laboratory frog pulling itself free from a dissection board. The feathers tickled my skin as Mr. Machete struggled to loosen his weapon from the tree behind me. I notice a gun holstered at his side, and I pull it from his belt just as he managed to pull his machete loose from the tree. I smiled as he looked down and notices his mistake and I pressed the barrel of his gun to his chest and put the other hand around his neck.
I pulled the trigger, and his body buckled.
His arms beat against my back like bird wings and I lower him to the ground, my teeth finding purchase in his neck as I tore out his throat. I fed greedily on the sinew of tendons that had tightened as he gulped in his last remaining breaths. Too busy, too hungry, too famished to notice his buddy creeping up on this gruesome scene. Too loudly smacking my lips around the ragged flesh of his neck, tearing strips of flesh from him like ripping a piece of paper into halves to hear the approaching footsteps, or the cock of his gun.
The bullet ripped through the top of my back and exited my stomach. I looked down to see the hole it created, and I find myself wondering how deeply into the ground it went. Did it travel the same path as I did, but in reverse? Did it bury itself into one of the shoes I left behind?
I hear him cursing his miss.
Announcing his sin at the top of his lungs as he ejects the spent cartridge from his gun and fumbles with a full one. I pick up the machete lying beside his dead friend and with one deft movement I separate the lower half of his left leg from the upper half, and he drops like a bag of wet potatoes. I get up from my meal and I stand over him; my shadow falling across his face like a sun dial. ‘Time to die’, reads the clock. I slice open his throat with the edge of that blade and watch the intermittent jet of blood arcing through the air. I stand and observe until it dies off, slowly losing the angle until it turns to seep. I pick up his head by the hair and flip him over onto his back. With a firm grip on his scalp, I plant my good foot firmly against his buttocks and pull. Hard. A satisfying, wet ripping fills my ears like a new favorite song as his skull fully separates itself from his neck and is followed by his spinal column tearing free of connective tissue. I let go of his hair and pick up the end of his backbone and I turn and walk away, enjoying the rhythmic thud of his cranium bouncing against the sidewalk as I set eyes upon the walkway to her front door just down the street.
This is a dead man’s town.
Perhaps I am just lucky. Perhaps I conjured some kind of spell down there, whispering her name into the ears of insects. Maybe their legs repeated my mantra over and over, rubbing them together like man making that first fire, creating magic out of desire. Or maybe it’s the thought of our friction that keeps me safe, relatively speaking.
I make it to her porch without incident.
But only that far.
I hear screaming over my shoulder. “Zombie!,” they yell. I pay it no mind. I swing that spinal column through the air and it’s skull slams against her door with a pleasant percussion, announcing my arrival. A bullet screams its way through my right calf as I knock again with the bones of a dead man. Then another whizzes past my face and splinters the frame of her doorway to the left of my head. I knock again, and another bullet lands in my right shoulder as I hear footsteps rapidly approaching from behind me.
And finally she opens the door.
Standing but a few feet in front of me, and my legs threaten to give out under the weight of her gaze. Those eyes that lit my way through the ground, through the hours and days and weeks and months that I was in the dark. Those lithe porcelain hands and fingers that I dreamt of, plucking muscle from my bones like tearing stems from cherries. Those appendages that are now leveling a gun at my head. I toss the spinal column and skull at her feet. An offering. An appeasement. But I know that to die right at this moment with nothing more than this momentary glance would be fine. A gift, really. I close my eyes waiting for the penance of my brains being forced out of the back of my head like so much oatmeal splattering across a kitchen floor from a dropped cereal bowl, but all that comes is the deafening noise of two gunshots that missed their mark.
And I open my eyes to find out that she didn’t.
Two bodies just behind me, one on the right and one of the left now lay dead on her front porch. Each bearing pistols of their own as well as matching entry wounds in the center of their foreheads. No sin here, I notice; none at all. I turn back to face her as she stands staring at me. At the mess staring right back. Does she know of the fever that is now building in my fingers and toes? Well, what’s left of them. Does she know the danger she is in or the danger that she just dispelled being pale in comparison? Does she know that my tongue is but a whip driving my teeth into a frenzy?
She reaches out and takes my hand, and I realize with the look in her eyes that I am in no less danger than those that are decorating her front porch like it is Halloween.
And with her it always has been.
She leads me into the bathroom while informing me that “you look a mess, sir.”
I follow, letting the hunger build even as dessert sits on top of the oven, the smell of it thick in the air as I watch her leading me down the hallway, the small of her back leading down to the swell of her buttocks, the muscles pushing against each other as she moves. The sway of her hips, and something else stirs. She instructs me to sit on the edge of the bathtub, and she takes a moment to assess the situation, her hands on either side of my face as she studies it, and I see a shadow pass in front of her eyes. Her hands drop. She cocks her head a little to the left and her mouth curls down just a little as she lands a strike across my face. Hard. And another. And another. Then just one more. My lip splits apart from the slaps, and I let it trickle down and over my chin.
She smiles, and leans down and lick it from my face.
“An appetizer,” she whispers.
Then with steady hands she removes all of my clothes. I stand in the shower coated from head to toe with hardened mud, leaves, grass, dead bugs and dried blood. She undresses and climbs in behind me and turns on the water, forcefully positioning me under the showerhead. The water runs over my head and follows the maps of worm trails crisscrossing the dirt I am coated in. Slowly and deliberately she begins peeling me free of the muck and carnage I am dressed in. We spend an hour in there, together, with the mud swirling around our feet.
After, we embrace, wrapped up like Eskimos in towels, letting the heat between us evaporate the water.
Naked, we take positions in the center of her sofa. From behind her back she produces a survival knife. A Rambo blade. She giggles, that smirk that I could never deny crossing her face as it elicits the same from my lungs. She offers it to me, and I take it. I study it, and it is just as I remember them being as a teenager. Heavy, black handled and serrated on one edge. A compass is screwed into the handle, and I unscrew it, revealing the small compartment housed within the handle. Inside is a small package containing matches, fishing line and hooks. I look up at her, watching me. I toss aside the compass. No need for it, I’ve only ever moved in her direction. I toss aside the matches, because this fire has been burning out of control for years. As well I dispose of the fishing line and hooks over my shoulder; she caught me the first time she ascended those stairs so many years ago.
And I hand the knife back to her.
She presses it against my chest, and smiles as the tip penetrates my chest. A little trickle of blood slips down my abdomen. I feel the fingers of her other hand pressing into the back of my neck, her nails digging deeply into my nape and she pulls me forward and uses her full weight to shove that blade through my skin. I feel it separating muscle from bone just before the crunch of it breaking through my sternum. She twists it. Then I hear the serrations cracking apart bone as she saws through ribs to create a hole large enough for her fist to enter. Her mouth is open, hanging slightly askew as she loses herself in the endeavor, and I cannot keep my eyes off of her lips, quivering ever so slightly, and not even curiosity of the mess she is making of my chest can drag away that attention. Her hand finds purchase behind the swell of my heart, and in one deft movement I feel her pulling it free. I watch her bring it up to her mouth, and the slow stroke of her tongue pulling itself from the bottom to the top of that still beating muscle nearly drives me right out of my skin. I watch her teeth tearing into it with frenzy, and I look up for about to see the fire in her eyes moving to the knife she discarded in my lap.
And they widen.
Impatient and suggesting.
I pick up the knife and I repay the favor. Her head leaning back to offer her throat and I acquiesce with pleasure. I do what I have always wanted and what several illustrations have implied, that her neck is a Pez dispenser delivering love letters into my hands. And into my mouth. I drink from that wound like a starving man. And I am. I can feel her jaws working against mine, tilted and slurping from her throat. My teeth take over as I make that hole large enough to shove my hand into and down. Down through her body until I find that angel, that demon beating within her chest, and I tear it loose and into the air. She tilts her head back down as I lean back to examine it. To smell it before I devour it in kind. And she watches, much as I watched her, smiling. Dying. Her hands working themselves into a fury in both our laps as I finish, as we share in a literal Lupercalia. I take my free hand to replace hers between her legs. I lick the last drop of blood off my lips and she smacks me one more time, a raspy, “mine, fucker,” before pulling me in to get a taste. She pushes my hand away and she slips over and down upon a favored station, and there in the dark we create shadows of a four-limbed beast devouring itself around mouthfuls of wanton whispers until even our teeth grind each other into the dust.
And with but a bated breath, we breathe ourselves back into being.
Always one more round to take this treasure to the other side and taste this forever.