The Dead Parade, страница 30
The boy’s head rolled from side to side on the pillow.
A response. The first sign he had given that he understood. Holly kept her voice gentle. “I’ll just sit here for a while, then. If you feel like talking, fine. If not, that’s fine too.”
The boy’s eyes never left her. Holly thought she could see his body relax, just a little, under the hospital sheet and blanket. She picked up a magazine from the bedside table and pretended to read. She did not leave until she was sure the boy was asleep.
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GARY BRANDNER - THE HOWLING III
* * *
JAMES ROY DALEY’S - TERROR TOWN
~~~~ PROLOGUE: CLOVEN ROCK
The people that lived in Cloven Rock considered the town’s final Monday a beautiful one, like most of the days in the recent weeks. The sun was shining; the air was clean and warm. Flowers bloomed and birds sat among the branches singing songs only birds could understand. Dogs chased master’s Frisbees and people said hello to strangers, not to suggest that thousands of tourists roamed the beachfront or the area that passed as the downtown core. That wasn’t the case; there were only a few. If you asked one of the locals why things were this way, the answer would be simple: Cloven Rock was an inclusive town, an uncomplicated town, a town that didn’t encourage a vacationer crowd even though sightseers would have flocked to it religiously. Many residents thought the town was special and they were right. It was special. It wasn’t a small place trying to be a big place. It was a town without civic uncertainty.
The Yacht Club Swimming Pool, a Cloven Rock favorite, had a full house the day before the town was lost. They also had an open door policy; if you were respectful, courteous, and didn’t pee in the pool, you were welcome anytime. Also on that day, friends sailed the calm waters of Cloven Lake and children built sandcastles on Holbrook Beach. Kids played in Easton Park while the people on the large wooden deck at the Waterfront Café enjoyed the spectacular view. The post office closed early. An ice cream store called Tabby’s Goodies was doing good business and a mile and a half up the road the men and woman working at the Cloven Rock Docks fought for, and won, a fifty-cent raise. Spirits were high at the Docks, and the personnel were getting along just fine. It wasn’t surprising. Nearly half the workforce was related and the other half was considered family.
The Cloven Rock Police Department was not at full strength when things turned ugly. One officer was on vacation, one had gone home due to an illness in the family, and two had the day off. Of the nine remaining officials, only Tony Costantino, Joel Kirkwood, and Mary O’Neill, were on duty when the reports came in. The other four were either at home or on call. Normally this wouldn’t be deemed a problem. Most locals figured a thirteen-person police force was nothing short of overkill anyhow. The Rock hadn’t had a stitch of recorded violence in six years.
The community as a whole didn’t know horror, as most tight-knit communities can understand. It knew long days, family activities, and simple living. It knew Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. It knew family.
But sadly, like all communities, Cloven Rock had its share of tragedy.
2007 was a bad year.
It was the year a local artist named George Gramme had his hands caught in his motorcycle chain while he was working on it. He suffered two broken wrists and lost four of his fingers. He also lost his artistic spirit and the means to keep that spirit alive. In the weeks following, he put his motorcycle up for sale and fell into a state of depression that changed him into a different man.
Two weeks later the town’s senior librarian, Angela Lore, died from cancer on the same day that ‘odd-job’ Martin West fell off a ladder and broke both of his legs while shingling his neighbor’s roof.
2007 was also the year a car accident claimed the lives of three teenagers.
As the story goes, a half dozen youngsters were drinking on the unnamed road surrounding Holbrook’s pond. After several hours of alcohol consumption, the six youths plunked their butts inside two vehicles. In one car, Andrew Cowles and Dean Lee, a pair of borderline delinquents, drove home without incident and arrived safely. The second car, loaded with four of the sweetest kids you’d ever meet, weren’t so lucky. Two brothers, Guy and Henri Lemont, along with May Lewis and Lizzy Backstrom, the youngest of the crew, decided it would be a good idea to take a quick jaunt to Hoppers Gas on the 9th line. But on the way to Hoppers something stepped onto the road causing Guy to swerve left and lose control of the vehicle.
As luck would have it, Stanley Rosenstein, a foreman at the Docks and an all-around good guy, pulled his truck from his driveway the same moment Guy changed lanes.
Guy didn’t see the truck in time. The car clipped Stanley’s front bumper, veered off the road, rolled three times, and slammed into a large maple tree, roof first. The two brothers, Guy and Henri, were killed instantly. May Lewis spent nine days in critical condition before she passed away while her parents and grandparents watched. Lizzy Backstrom escaped with a broken back, three broken ribs, a punctured lung, two broken legs, and wide assortment of cuts, scrapes and bruises. Most figured she was lucky to be alive. A few figured she was unlucky to be alive. Once she was able to speak she said a bear stepped in front of the car and Guy swerved to miss it. There weren’t many bears in Cloven Rock so the statement generated a cluster of questions she wasn’t prepared to answer. She pushed the inquisition aside, saying, “It might not have been a bear but wasn’t a deer either. I don’t know what it was.”
Two months later, Lizzy broke down in tears, telling her friend Julie Stapleton that a monster the size of a tank stepped in front of Guy’s car and she got a real good look at it. She said the beast seemed like something from another planet and if Guy were alive he’d be the first to confirm.
Julie, sworn to secrecy, became worried about Lizzy’s mental wellbeing. She thought her friend had brain damage. Of course, Julie’s knowledge on matters concerning the brain could have been written on the on tip of her thumb, but that hardly mattered. She also didn’t know that Stanley Rosenstein––the man driving the pickup that fateful night––had a similar story. If she had known this little noodle of information she may have kept her big mouth shut. Or talked to Lizzy. Either way, that’s not what happened. Instead, Julie betrayed her oath, feeling it was necessary to tell Lizzy’s parents what their daughter was thinking. This forced a confrontation between Mr. and Mrs. Backstrom and Lizzy, who denied everything and never spoke to Julie again. Not ever. And a year later Stanley Rosenstein found himself separated from his wife, in rehab, and in need of psychiatric evaluation.
He thought there were monsters in Cloven Rock.
* * *
There were other tragedies.
Four summers before the heartbreaking car accident Simon Wakefield, the town’s only dentist, drowned in his backyard swimming pool while his wife Leanne talked to her sister not forty feet away. The year before that, faulty wiring caused a fire that burned Stephen Pebbles’ house to the ground. To make matters worse, his insurance expired the week before. Ironically, two weeks later the town was hit with a rainstorm that caused over two million dollars in damages. Stephen was quoted as saying that the rain should have come two weeks sooner; it would have saved his life’s investments.
The tales go on: tales of love gone astray, broken homes, poor health, and financial ruin. But these stories shouldn’t be focused on, even if they’re commonly considered the most interesting. Tales of sorrow don’t express the true face of Cloven Rock’s two hundred and nine years of existence. They pepper it in a negative light that was seldom felt or witnessed.
Cloven Rock was a peaceful community, a pleasant community. It was a place where folks could retire from work and enjoy a simple life. The town was good to grow up in, good to live life in, and good to grow old in. The problems were minimal and living was easy. People were friendly and the air tasted sweet with the spice of
On the eve of its extinction, nobody knew what was coming. The locals never expected terror to reveal its vile and horrid face. Not in Cloven Rock. Not in a town of 1,690. The concept seemed out of the question.
But they didn’t know the heart of Nicolas Nehalem.
And only Stanley Rosenstein and Lizzy Backstrom had seen the monsters that dwelled in the dark shadows beneath the streets.
Something from another planet, Lizzy had said. If Guy were alive he’d be the first to confirm.
Stanley Rosenstein would have agreed.
It was the first Monday of June when Cloven Rock began showing the world a different face. And for many of the people that lived in the undersized and joyful town, it would be the last Monday they would ever know.
This is what happened:
* * *
~~~~ NICOLAS NEHALEM
Nicolas Nehalem woke up from a happy dream and shifted his near-dead weight into a new position. His eyes opened and closed, opened and closed. He licked the dryness from his lips and ran his tongue across his teeth while forcing himself awake. The dream faded; he was some form of insect, if he remembered correctly, and upon awaking he noticed that his left hand felt funny. He could feel pins and needles pricking his fingers and a lack of sensation in his thumb and wrist. He must have been sleeping wrong, cutting off the circulation.
No biggie; it would pass.
The room was dark. A cool breeze blew through the open window, causing the thin off-white drapes to flutter. The clock on the nightstand said it was 4:08 am and while Nicolas was looking at it time moved ahead by one minute.
The babies were crying again. And they were crying loudly.
It was the crying that woke him. The babies seemed to cry more and more these days. He wondered if the girls missed their mothers. It was only logical if they did.
Nicolas sat up. He clicked on a lamp, grabbed his librarian-issue spectacles from the nightstand, and slid them on his face. He put his feet on the cold hardwood floor one after another. CLUMP. CLUMP. For no real reason he looked over his shoulder, lifted his feet, and dropped them down again. CLUMP. CLUMP.
The other side of the bed was empty. It was always empty.
He put a hand into the vacant space and squeezed the sheets with his fingers.
Taking care of the girls would be easier if he wasn’t alone with the job. Being a father was hard, and being an only parent was harder still. Some days he wasn’t sure if he could take the pressure of fatherhood. It was tougher than it seemed.
He pulled his hand away from the sheets and stumbled across the room. He entered the bathroom, washed his hands very thoroughly and poured himself a cup of water. The cup had a picture of a clown on it. The clown had a big red nose and was holding a balloon. The water inside the mug was warm but he didn’t mind. His throat felt parched and the liquid quenched his thirst nicely. He poured himself a second helping, re-entered the bedroom, and sat the cup on the nightstand, next to the clock and the lamp.
A brown-checkered housecoat hung from a shiny brass hook on the bedroom door. A pair of furry blue slippers sat near the dresser. He put the housecoat on and tied the cotton belt in a cute little bow. He slid his feet into the slippers and stumbled down the hall, rubbing the sleep-cooties from his eyes.
With a yawn and a burp he glanced into a spare bedroom.
The room was loaded with boxes. Not empty boxes. Full boxes. Boxes filled with goodies that go BANG.
Beside this room was a second spare bedroom. He stopped at the door and looked inside. There was no bed in the room. No dressers either. Nicolas had converted the room into his own private laboratory.
He was making stuff, just in case.
He had boxes of diatomaceous earth, sodium carbonate, ballistite, ethanol, ether, guncotton, sulfuric acid, oleum, azeotropic, nitric acid, and about ten other things that were hard to find at the local convenience store. He also had a large maple desk that housed a laboratory distillation setup. This setup included a heating tray, a still pot, a boiling thermometer, condenser, distillate/receiving flask, a vacuum/gas inlet, a still receiver, a heating bath, and a cooling bath.
Looking at his toys, Nicolas nodded and smiled.
They were fine; he was just making sure.
He entered the kitchen, flicked on the overhead light, and opened the refrigerator door. The inside of the fridge needed to be cleaned; it had adopted a funny smell. There were a few items that had really gone bad, including an old turkey sandwich that was sitting behind an empty carton of orange juice on the bottom shelf. The sandwich was nearly four weeks old and had turned green and black with mold. The spores inside the sandwich bag looked like moon craters.
Nicolas didn’t notice. Or maybe he didn’t care.
A bottle of baby formula sat on the top shelf, ready to go. In Nicolas’ current state of semi-awareness his fatherly duties just became ten times easier. It was a small victory but a good one.
The babies kept crying. Or was it just one?
Yes––one voice, not two. He wondered whose throat the wailing had spawned from.
Someone was being bad. Someone was being good.
He warmed the bottle in the microwave for two minutes and forty-five seconds while looking at his warped reflection in the kitchen window. His light brown hair was sticking straight up on one side, his eyes were puffy and his five o’clock shadow had become a three-day-old beard. He wasn’t extremely overweight, but the way his fat bunched around his waistline was far from attractive. He was thirty-eight years old but looked fifty or more.
Probably not getting enough sleep, he assumed.
A bell rang. He opened the microwave door and retrieved the formula. The bottle was too hot, way too hot. Crazy hot. He tested it on his arm and felt the milky fluid burn like liquid fire.
He opened the door to the basement, walked down a rickety staircase, and clicked on a florescent light, spooking a cockroach from its resting place. The roach scurried across the wall in an arched line and Nicolas tried to catch it between his finger and his thumb. He missed. The cockroach fell to the floor. Its tiny legs hustled towards a crack in the wall and in it went. The bug was gone.
Oh well, he thought. Better luck next time.
The basement smelled bad, much worse than the inside of the fridge. It smelled like piss, shit, sweat, blood, and rot.
The crying was louder now, much louder. If he had neighbors they’d complain for sure. This was a nugget of information that didn’t sit well with Nicolas, not in the slightest. Neighbors shouldn’t have to put up with such nonsense. It just wasn’t right. If he lived next to a noisy house he’d be seething in anger and out of his mind with rage.
Nicolas walked through a room that housed hundreds of shoes, countless jeans, shirts, socks, underwear, hats, wallets, belts, watches, and coats. He opened a cellar door and turned on another light.
The crying stopped immediately.
He walked down a second staircase. It only had nine stairs and none of them were very big. The unfinished room at the base of the staircase had a very low ceiling. Walking inside the room meant that you had to crouch down and tuck your head into your shoulders like a turtle. The room was cold; it was always cold. In the wintertime it was freezing. The walls were made of rock and seemed permanently moist.
The smell of shit and piss was strong now, strong enough to make a healthy man sick and a sick man pass out.
And there she was: Cathy Eldritch.
Cathy was thirty-one years old; her birthday fell on New Years Eve. She was right where Nicolas had left her… fourteen years ago––
Inside a cage.
Cathy Eldritch was naked and covered in scars. Her ribcage stuck out from her skin and her muscles had wilted to noodles. Her large and unsightly nipples were dry and cracked, centering breasts that were non-existent. Her arms and legs were nothing more then sticks, elbows, and knees. Her few remaining teeth were black and rotting; he
Nicolas named Cathy Eldritch: Kathy the Kitten.
She was a trooper and he knew it; nobody lasted fourteen years. It seemed damn near impossible.
Nicolas Nehalem approached the wire cage, which was nothing more than a modified, three-foot by three-foot square. He smiled a strange and outlandish smile, laced in twisted logic and perverted reason.
After opening a small door on the right side of the pen, he dropped the bottle of formula inside. The bottle rolled between two walls of wire and landed on the caged floor.
Cathy couldn’t reach the bottle. Not yet. Not until Nicolas released a lever that would unlock a small door inside the coop.
“What do you say, Kathy?” He adjusted his glasses and slid a hand beneath his housecoat. He began stroking himself calmly.
Cathy’s eyes were filled with starvation and madness.
At one time she wanted to kill this man, make him pay, make him bleed. She had despised him more than anything else in the world. Now she only wanted her nightmare to be over. She wanted to die. Not in theory, and not in some exaggerated way that people say it but don’t really mean it. She wanted to die for real. She wanted this life to end and whatever was waiting for her on the other side to begin. And she was close, so close. She had been clinging to death’s front door for as long as she could remember. All she had to do was stop drinking the formula and she would cross over. All she had to do was die. But she couldn’t. She just couldn’t. She was famished––and her hunger wouldn’t allow her mind to say no to the bottle. She needed the bottle, the formula. And for this reason she didn’t hate Nicolas. Not now. She hated herself for needing him.