Black-and-white-forest-1024x640She came awake gradual, eyes fluttering open lazily, confused to find herself standing, rather than lying down. She breathed deep, taking in the rich smell of earth, and this more than anything brought her to wakefulness. Not really standing, but upright, vertical, with dirt beneath and on all sides of her. The hole in which she stood was small enough that her knees hit the side and prevented her from sliding down. Checking quickly, she found herself naked, the soil soft and cold beneath her feet. She craned her neck, saw nothing but darkness overheard. She knew that up there, somewhere, was the sheet of plywood that kept this makeshift tomb closed. High enough that she couldn’t reach it, might as well be high as the moon for all it mattered.

She worked to fight the fear that was kindling in her heart, knowing that eventually she would be pulled out, roughly. This was the story she’d heard countless times, the story she’d told around so many childhood campfires, delighting in the thrill of the story, so long as it was happening to someone else, the friend of a friend, or the cousin of someone down the holler, not even caring if the story was true, secretly hoping it wasn’t but she knew, everyone knew, that sometimes folks went missing and they had to end up somewhere, and this was that place, that awful place, where bones hung from trees and the wind made them sing and ain’t no one ever come back from that.

She could feel the walls pressing against her; breath quickening and not a sliver of light to be found in the darkness surrounding her. She could smell the richness of the earth beside and beneath her, could hear the things that crawled and slithered through the soil, sightless in the eternal dark. Packed earth, cold and mean, compressed against her as she clawed, desperately, trying to climb through it, even as her frantic scrabbling brought rivulets of dirt down upon her, raining down into her eyes, her open mouth, tasting it on her tongue as panicked reality constricted her chest, straining her already overworked lungs, blood vessels and capillaries in full flow as adrenaline coursed through her veins, desperation taking the place of reason, bleak resignation not yet lurking on the near horizon.

She tried to slow her breathing, to take control of this most desperate situation, believing beyond reason that she could fix this, make it better somehow, make it all better, if only she could slow down and breathe. Little by little, she could feel herself relaxing, her respiration deeper now, less shallow, as she fought the greasy slick of terror that had settled in her mind.

She felt herself becoming lightheaded, and that’s all it took.

Being lightheaded meant suffocation, that much she knew, and the panic came raging back, a crazed bull rampaging through her chest, hammering against her battered ribcage, setting off another adrenal surge, more vicious this time, demanding its due like a demon rooked in a bad deal. Frenzied, she renewed her clawing at the dirt, determined to get out of this crypt, or die trying.

Heart beating so hard she heard it in her ears, she felt a fingernail crack and break as she dug frantically at her earthen tomb, the sheet of plywood too far overhead to reach, knowing that even if she could touch it, too much weight sat upon it to be moved. The narrowness of the hole pushed her into full panic, as small flashes of light sparkled like distant fireworks on the periphery of her vision. I’m dying, she thought to herself calmly, curiously, without emotion. The very thought was a crooked comfort, a sly, winking con man of a thought, the promise of salvation at a price because there was always a price, you goddamn well better believe it, but dying also meant release, not just from this damnable life, but from the daily reminders of choices made poorly and failures too many to number.

I’m dying.

And as it will, the acceptance of this simple fact caused the panic to ebb, subsiding like the tide on a distant shore, rolling back to the sea.

She was dying, her grave already dug, weary tears of understanding tracing clean lines down her filthy cheeks, which inexplicably turned upward in a graceful, grateful smile. This was the end, the end of everything, and she knew without knowing that her grave would go unmarked, that none would come to mourn, but the pain would be over, and that was worth everything. It didn’t matter, she would die as she had lived, filthy and unloved, stripped of warmth, denied happiness, and bereft of simple human dignity. She welcomed Death with weary arms and a loving heart, happy to be shut of all pain and heartache the world had put on her, that she had invited upon herself.

I’m dying, thank God.

storyWell, here we are again. Another year over and done, and a brand, spankin’ new one just ripe and ready for the plucking. Or so it would seem. Honestly, I’m just happy to see 2015 in the rear view mirror. It wasn’t a terrible year, but it was overstaying its welcome by around September. And now we prepare to take another trip around the sun, 2016 promises to be a good year, to eat all its vegetables, and to not make too much of a stink over an upcoming, dreaded milestone.

So yeah, I took a few months off, because I found myself at a point in which I felt I had little of value to say. Do I now? I dunno, but I feel like writing again so, you know, there’s that. And there’s also a renewed sense of purpose and direction, fueled by encouragement. Who’d have thought?

I was looking at my overall sales for Unworthy, and found that it’s doing some business. I’ve sold copies in the UK and Australia, which just has me shaking my head in disbelief and happiness. For such a uniquely American story, I guess there are some themes and ideas that cross the various cultures. And while neither Mr Fincher nor Mr Zombie have yet reached out for the film rights, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time, yeah?

I digress.

I’ve begun work on a new novel, and I’m pretty stoked about it. While I’m far too superstitious to give up the title or what it’s about just yet, I will say that this will be a far more personal story, and I can already see that we’re going to be swimming in some very dark waters (sorry Mom, I’m just wired this way).

So stick around, won’t ya? I promise I’ll be better at keeping in touch (like we’ve never heard that before), have some updates along the way, an excerpt or two, and maybe even some awesome news.

Stay sick, and keep reading scary stories. And hey, if you’re reading this and happen to have read Unworthy, drop me a line or leave a review, would ya? We’d sure appreciate it.

Cellar LightWe had to put Gramma in the cellar. We told ourselves it was for her safety, which was easier than admitting it was for our own.

Her ‘spells’ had been coming on more often, and with greater…passion. I guess that’s the word for it. There was no talking to her then, once she got it in her head that she was, well, once she got it in her head, is all.

We’d considered the attic, but there were too many chances for problems. She could have fallen or jumped out a window. Neighbors (not that there were many left) could have seen her up there and called the authorities, in some noble but misguided effort to help a crazy old lady they didn’t understand. And honestly, the noise wasn’t as bad when she was in the cellar. Call it callous, call it selfish, but you don’t understand. You can’t understand.

So yes, we decided, as a family, to put her down there. Because we couldn’t control her anymore. Because we love her. Because we deserve some goddamn peace. How the hell were we supposed to know what would happen? I built a bed, a solid pine bed, just for her. I sank the posts two feet deep into the earth of the cellar, so she couldn’t move it around. We put down a nice rug and made sure no drafts could get in.

She wanted her candles, but we knew better. Pa ran some basic electric down there, so she could have light to read her Reader’s Digest and bible stories, and we made sure to take her meals down every day. A hefty lock on the door helped us sleep at night. Routine settled in.

Days turned to weeks, then months and seasons rolled by, and we almost began to believe we were a normal family again. Except when Gramma had one of her spells. During those times, Pa and I dutifully took the van for the four-hour round trip up to the city, to fetch a playmate for Gramma. A playmate, for God’s sake. There wasn’t enough craziness in our heads to call it what it really was, and that’s saying a hell of a lot. Because it was the crazy that kept us afloat, kept us from coming completely unglued, kept us from calling the authorities, kept us from admitting that we were doing bad things. Really bad things.

That’s the power of family: It kept you doing things you knew were wrong, knew were bad, because there’s this bond that says family is more important than anything else. So you abide, and God only knows the depths to which you’ll sink to preserve that goddamn bond, even if it drives you to do the Devil’s work. Damn our souls.

So yeah, we took the van to town, and cruised skid row, looking for some poor drunk with one foot already in the grave. It’s a public service, we’d tell ourselves in the quiet, dark parts of the night. We’re helping those poor souls on the road to salvation. Because what they had to endure, we desperately hoped God would show them mercy, just as we knew He would have no mercy on us. We deserved no mercy, no salvation; we’d damned ourselves from the outset, booked our passage to hell because of family.

Gramma had come from the old country, making the passage across the ocean in the windowless hold of a wooden ship, with hundreds of others, all piled atop one another, with not enough room for all to sleep at the same time, taking shifts standing while others lay on raised planks, the floor covered in vomit, piss, and shit, all for the sake of escaping to the Promised Land, enduring Hell on earth as shipmates died from exposure, pneumonia, infection, beatings, and God knows what else, while those that lived choked on the stench of death and sewage in the hot, rolling chaos of the ship’s steerage hold. Food was scarce, causing some to shatter long-held taboos out of desperation.

Occasionally, a mate would open a hatch in the deck, allowing sunlight to stream in, fresh sea air mingling with the unspeakable reek emanating from below deck. When land was finally sighted, the dead were gathered up and unceremoniously dumped overboard, their tattered clothing and meager possessions long gone to the wretched horde, half-insane in the darkness of the hold.

Out of this waking nightmare came Gramma, not knowing that even then she was carrying the sickness in her gut like a despised parasite. Even at her tender young age, she came out of the darkness and brought with her a viciousness that few would ever live to see, and fewer still would ever believe.

Gramma, in her better days, would tell us her story, over and over, like a record stuck in a groove, as though we’d never heard it before, wanting us to understand the sacrifices she’d made, the things she’d had to do, to provide for us, to give us a chance in this place. To make us understand that we were beholden to her, forevermore.

So Pa and I would find a lost soul and bring it home. Send it down the cellar stairs, where we assured it that there would be food and drink, and a warm, safe bed. Our challenge was to get the door closed and bolted before the screaming started. Before the wet, tearing sounds found their way to our ears and burrowed into our souls, an ironclad guarantee of a sleepless night, fraught with images best left to a slaughterhouse.

Later, after Gramma’s hunger was sated and she was asleep, we would descend the stairs with the buckets and clean up what remained, thankful for the earthen floor of the cellar, into which the blood and other fluids had seeped, which fed an army of beetles and worms that kept Gramma fed and satisfied until the next time she had one of her spells.

I tried not to look at Gramma; we’d given up on trying to keep her clothed ages ago. Anything we tried to put on her would end up stained and shredded, as though the fabric on her skin was a sacrilege she couldn’t abide. The sight of her, covered in sores and filth, made my heart ache, despite the monstrous things she did. Her skin sagged, a testament to her years, its elasticity long since lost to the brutality of gravity and time. She stank of a dangerous musk that ran deeper than simply an aversion to bathing; though alive, a pervasiveness of decay floated about her like a dark and awful cloud. Stray teeth, blackened and jagged, glistened when she licked them with the remains of her tongue, chewed upon so much and so often that it had given up any hope of regrowth.

The madness of Gramma had forced Ma to flee while I was still a child, her teary eyes beseeching us to run with her, far from the grasp of Gramma, all the while knowing we would never, could never, leave her, not until the old woman died, which wasn’t going to happen any time soon. She’d already passed her one hundredth birthday, and seemed hell-bent on outliving all of us, despite the sickness that had ravaged her brain.

Ain’t nothin’ gonna stop her, short of a silver bullet,” Ma had wept, her breath hitching in her chest on that last night, rain coursing down her face as she stood in the doorway, taxi idling a few yards away. I remember her eyes then, soft and pleading, heartbroken and miserable, hating herself for the abandonment, but determined not to fall under the wheels of this inherited madness.

Those words resonated in my mind down the years that followed, as I scoured the land around our property for metals, slowly finding bits and pieces of what I sought, knowing that I could simply steal what I needed, but knowing too that, despite all the wrong I had done for the sake of Gramma, I couldn’t do the one wrong that might deliver us from her. By and by, I’d put together enough to melt down, the last of it coming from a small crucifix I’d found on the roadside, its tiny Christ shedding tears of pain and joy in his last torturous hours on this earth. I shaped the blob of metal carefully, burning my fingers time and again as I bled to make it absolutely perfect, leaving part of myself in it, as if a sacrifice was demanded as a means to this particular end. I carefully tapped the slug into a brass casing, already set with gunpowder and primer in place.

While Pa slept fitfully upstairs, I retrieved his rifle from the hiding place he didn’t know I knew about, and made for the cellar. Before opening the door, I racked my bullet into the chamber. I descended the stairs carefully and quietly, so as not to disturb Gramma.

Who is that?” she grunted, her words slurred, as if she weren’t accustomed to using the language, instead recalling it from distant memory.

It’s me, Gramma,” I said quietly, keeping myself in the shadows, hoping she wouldn’t see the rifle or, at the very least, not know what it was. “Just come down to tell you we’re making dinner. It’ll be here soon.”

You’re a good boy, Henry,” she said, her voice taking on a timbre and tone that I’d not heard in ages, sounding much like it did before she got so bad. Through my tears, I knew it was a trick of my mind, not to be taken seriously or given any semblance of meaning. Because while I knew I was doing the right thing, there was a still, small voice inside of me that thought I was doing bad, committing evil, despite the evil I sought to put down.

You abide by family no matter what, the voice said. At the end of it, family’s all you have. This was Gramma’s voice, echoing down the years. I knew its refrain by heart, and yet it caused tears to well up in my eyes as I shouldered the rifle.

I love you, Gramma,” I said quietly, my teary eyes sighting down the barrel, my finger on the trigger. I gently squeezed the trigger, just as I’d been taught.

The shot rang huge in my ears as the rifle’s recoil slammed it into my shoulder, instantly numb and deaf. Gramma slumped against the wall of the cellar, legs askew with no inclination toward modesty, the right side of her head blown to vapor, and I watched the last dim light leave her cataract-clouded eyes. A voice from the doorway above broke the silence.

You did good, son,” Pa said, his voice calm, without a trace of judgment or sorrow.

I watched our house burn from the rear window of the van as we drove away, into the cold light of a new day, the road stretched out in front of us.

Somewhere out there, I knew, Ma waited for us.

WindowShe sits in the window, a vague silhouette softly backlit from an unseen source. She sits there, day in and day out, looking out across the garden and over the fence at the streets of the town, always observing, but never participating. She stares without seeing, listens without hearing, as the rest of the world passes by, rarely glancing up.

The woman gazes out, recalling a childhood full of promise, full of possibility. She thinks of a time in which love was light and nothing hurt. A recollection of love unfettered, of proud teachers and adoring classmates. Ribbons and trophies, a precocious interest, a mangy stray, the slip of a knife. The curiosity of a child, with an adult’s desire to make something hurt. A horrifying discovery, a tearful admission.

A distant memory of a parent’s anger, remorse, for having brought such a thing into the world. The slam of a door and tires screeching off the curb, an engine revving off into the distance, not seen again. The unbearable knowledge that they left because of her. The lash of a belt, the loneliness of a childhood locked in the broom closet. Because she is mean, awful, terrible. Because she escapes and keeps on doing it. Because she cannot help herself.

She dreams from the window, remembering a time when she would go for rides in cars with boys, their voices filled with promises of everlasting love as their bodies made mad lunges toward things best left unmentioned. Desperate for their love, dying for it, she remembers the bitter anger in their voices as she pushed eager hands away, feels again the sting of hand on cheek. The salty taste of anguished tears as promises gave way to hurtfulness, showered and pelted by gravel as yet another car pulled angrily away, stranding her.

Abandoning her.

Discarding her.

The woman in the window thinks of the time she finally gave in, to the hot, beer-laced breath of an aggressive young man, deciding to go through with it only to give herself the illusion of having had a choice. She remembers her fingernails clawing into the grey upholstery, a thin trickle of blood from where she’d bit her lip in pain, the tracks of tears slowly descending her face. His anger at her awkwardness, his wicked words at her inexperience, his hand raised, illuminated in the moonlight, seeking to punish her for his hasty fumbling and quick expiration.

A hand in her purse, clutching the pommel of an old familiar friend, the glint of light on steel, the violation of penetration, red on grey, red on the windows, the dashboard. The sound of her laughter, as though coming from someone else. The feeling of absolute, electric life, of ultimate power, and ultimate release. Walking home that night, feeling a joy to treasure forever.

She was home long enough to pack a bag, and long gone before first light, taking the first bus to anywhere, still desperate for the love she now understood would never be hers, but taking solace in the knowledge that there were many more things for her to feel, things that were close to love, or at least close enough.

She remembers the infinite lights of big cities, the wee twinkling of small towns, and the world of possibilities that lay within all of them. She remembers a bathtub, anchored to the floor by iron claws, filled with the glorious red, splashing around like that woman she’d read about in another time, in another place, feeling life seeping into her very pores, filling her senses, overloading her mind.

The woman in the window feels every moment, every sensation, as though they happened yesterday. The garden far below her window grows lush and wild, fortified with the essence of long-gone lovers, each and every one of them holding a special place in her heart, each one a notch on the wrought iron fence that contains them.

In the still of night, the woman hears voices, interrupting her solitary vigil. She recognizes them, recognizes them all, and tries to understand their rage, their anger, their hateful words, their spectral threats. Of late, they appear nightly, screaming their pain at her, their outrage at the desecration she visited upon them. She usually bears them no mind, allows them their indignant ramblings, but tonight they find her weak, find her vulnerable. The rantings of the dead fill her mind, her heart, her very being with their sorrow, an emotion for which she has no understanding, having abandoned such things a lifetime before.

Tonight, the woman in the window stands, and pushes aside her chair, moves it aside and walks calmly to the other side of her sitting room and turns her back to the wall. She pushes off with her feet and launches herself at the window, legs pumping madly, hitting the glass with her feet off the ground, but while the window cracks, it does not break. She is cut and bleeding from the impact as she returns to the wall and propels herself, again and again, at the stubborn window.

On the fifth attempt, she finds success. The glass gives way and she sails out, weightless in the night, her arms out in front of her, as if in flight. Bits and shards of glass accompany her, and she believes she flies among the stars, that heaven and earth were made just for her. Then the ground beckons her, invites her closer, and she sees the wrought iron flour-de-lis that sit atop the fence-posts rushing to meet her, and in that last moment, the woman in the window understands.

She smiles.

 

You gotta start at the shoes. This here, right at the beginning, is where most people screw up. They think, “Oh, the head, the wig, that’s gotta be the first step,” but I’m here to tell you, they’re wrong and I guaran-goddamn-tee they ain’t here to argue the point. Everybody’s got their own ways of luring these creatures into the work chamber; myself, I tell ‘em there’s cancer babies that need balloon animals. Clowns eat that shit up and hey, don’t judge – the end more than justifies the means with this much at stake. You’ll see; we’re playing for keeps here.

Once you’ve got the thing strapped to your work surface, bring out the bone saw. Don’t take it out beforehand, unless you want to panic-fight Bozo, and ain’t a sane man on Earth wants to do that. That said, you want to keep it awake as long as possible, so never underestimate the importance of tourniquets. Keep buckets handy.

After tying off your tourniquets just above the ankle, go ahead and use the saw, below the tourniquet, to separate the feet and shoes from the body. Never attempt to remove just the shoes – there is far too much evil stored inside those oversized clodhoppers. Just dump the shoes and feet in the acid barrel and all’s well and good. The acid won’t destroy the evil, but it’ll keep things in check while you deal with the Satan spawn on the table.

This is the point where the costume needs to be removed. Just cut the damn thing off, sure as shit it ain’t being reused. Taking care to not let those fluffy pompon buttons touch your skin – that shit’ll burn you down to the bone. If it hasn’t started screaming yet, you’re doing great. Now, tie a tourniquet good and tight just above each elbow. If you want to use the saw, that’s your choice but me, I find the cleaver easier. More satisfying. Don’t fart around with the arms; just get ’em off and into the barrel, nice and quick. The subject may be going into shock, so be sure to keep smelling salts handy.

If it’s still conscious (and it damn well better be), the subject may be pleading, honking, for its life. This is a common ploy: do not fall for it! Deception is their stock in trade and don’t ever think that just because you’ve got its hands and feet that you’re free and clear. The worst is yet to come – all you’ve done so far is slightly minimize the risk.

At each step, be sure check the restraints. Safety is key here, so don’t let your guard down. It’s about to get all kinds of serious.

By now, you should have a reasonably docile and alert subject, a bit messy, but with minimal honking. Double-check the tourniquets and try not to get seltzer water on your shoes. This is the calm before the storm. Approach the thing from either side, making sure it sees you. Eye contact is critical at this stage; use tape or staples to ensure its eyes are open. Myself, I picked up an antique Ludovico device at old Doc Brodsky’s garage sale in Nacogdoches, and I use that. To each their own.

Using a finely honed scalpel, remove the hair by cutting along the scalp line. The subject may attempt to distract you by claiming it to be a wig, but don’t fall for it. This is simply a stalling tactic meant to put you off-task. Take care to keep blood and seltzer from getting in its eyes, and put on the chainmail gloves. Efficient and confident strokes are needed here; you don’t want to spend too much time this close to a clown. Last thing you want is one of these things in your head and that’s just where he’ll go, if given half a chance.

Now comes the moment of truth, that which you have spent all these bloody hours working toward. Grasp the nose firmly with one hand – do not be shocked if it honks – and with the other hand, cut away the nose as quickly as possible, keeping eye contact as much as safety will allow, while repeating the words, “Where are the clowns, there should be clowns, well maybe next year,” over and over.

Though a cunning and savage beast, the clown will never suspect that its nose, that bulbous red beacon of unrestrained evil, is the ultimate goal. It is within this seemingly innocent symbol of clownhood that the souls of its victims are kept, and this is why we do what we do. Remember that movie where Mork played a doctor with a clown nose? Think about that, let it soak in real good. Once you have grasped its nose, expect the subject to go thoroughly ballistic, screaming and honking and flailing about under the restraints.

Once you have successfully removed the nose, place it upon the table and strike it repeatedly with the Sanctified Squeaky Hammer of Ultimate Truth. This will release the souls contained within, resulting in a torrent of anguished cries of the tormented ones are finally given the freedom that all souls deserve, as they ascend to their heavenly reward. You know that scene in that Indiana Jones movie where the Nazis open the God box and all them spirits came out and made the bad guys’ faces melt? It looks exactly like that. I heard somewhere that Spielberg got to watch a disassembly once, and wrote that scene as a result. Makes as much sense as anything.

Now, you should have a half-dead pile of meat without menace. Carefully untie the tourniquets and let the monster bleed out. I’ve seen cases where even after all this, the clown still had some fight left in it, so stay vigilant and keep the restraints in place. Leave it as a message to some and a warning to all: No evil goes unpunished.

Okay look, I know I said I’d write, and the cold fact is that I didn’t.

I’m sorry.

There were the holidays, then my car took its final dive and that had to be dealt with and, you know, life sorta got in the way. In the midst of everything, I found I was being psycho-stalked on another social media platform, while getting nasty notes through WordPress, and that sort of thing…well…it hurt a bit, particularly since it was coming from people I know. Yes, they were hiding behind fake names and other faces, but really, it was idiotically simple to track it to them. Anyway, I’m not popping in to fan the flames of anger in the fragile minds of bitter trolls, so it ends here. Onward and upward.

The happy news is that Unworthy is selling. People are buying it, and while it hasn’t immediately swept the planet as I’d quietly hoped, people are reading it and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. For that, I am profoundly appreciative, and encouraged to continue with this writing thing.

I’ve begun research and writing on a new novel; I have no idea how long it will take, but I know that I want to take my time to treat the subject matter with the appropriate respect that it deserves. A while back, I posted a short piece called The Temple, and the novel will be a continuation of that. I’m really excited about it and even have a title but I’m not ready to talk more about it at this point. Suffice it to say, the main theme is something to which my generation has had an enormous amount exposure, with which many of us are sadly, intimately familiar.

Yes, it will be another horror story, because that’s the genre I love, and the area which best suits the things I want to say. I know that not everyone likes horror, and that’s okay. I just want to say the things I think are important and hope that it connects with whoever takes the chance and reads it.

To those who have read Unworthy: Thank you. Seriously, thank you. If you liked it, if it spoke to you, do me a favor and tell someone. Write a review at the site where you bought it, even if it’s just a few lines, because it matters. It really does.

So that’s the news from here. Nothing earth-shaking, but I’m okay with that. Take good care.

See you on the dark side.

They’d been in the jungle for three weeks already, their map having proven as useless as the intel that sent them on this fool’s mission in the first place.

“Locate and engage,” was the sum total of their orders. What did that even mean? Three weeks deep, MRE’s all gone, left to forage for roots and berries like savages, which was what they were on their way to becoming. Three weeks of sweltering heat, stinging, sideways rain, bloodthirsty mosquitos and leeches, three weeks bad jokes and old complaints and bullshit stories about the tail that Barnes had scored back in the world. Three weeks and counting, to locate and engage an enemy with neither face nor soul.

There had been a trail when they’d lit out, but it had been swallowed by the jungle weeks ago. They had an old, outdated map and a compass that was given to random twitches, as though they were walking across magnets. The dense foliage ruined any chance for sighting on the horizon, the heavy cloud cover made celestial navigation impossible. All throughout their trek, the jungle furnished its own soundtrack, the nonstop buzz of the insects, shrieks and calls of monkeys and birds in the trees, and the occasional lumbering crash on the ground to keep them alert and paranoid. By way of the endless visual and aural assault, it felt as though the jungle itself were conspiring against them, as if it were a living, sentient being, and nerves were starting to wear thin.

The men continued their slog through the marshy jungle, the mud sucking hungrily at their boots, sweat cascading across foreheads and down noses, onto rifles impossible to keep dry, patches of rust seemingly springing up in a moment’s time, dirty socks pulled snug over the barrels in hopes of keeping the worst of the mud and bugs out of their weapons because at some point, they might be needed. No idea when or where, or indeed if ever, the enemy was to be located. On the plus side, the men were hungry to engage, to focus their hopelessness and frustration at this chickenshit bug hunt and put a serious hurt on something, someone, whatever, wherever, just open up and unload a whole clip into the little pricks whose fault it was that they were out here in the first goddamn place.

McFarlane had taken point for the shift, and with a start he realized that the jungle had fallen totally, completely, stone silent. Rare indeed are the times in which this happens, and those are times in which no one is happy at the absence of sound. It takes something big, very big, or something bad, something very, very bad to shut down the complex network of shrieks and buzzes, mating calls and challenges, from bug to mammal to bird, to reach across the vast gulf of species and shake them into non-communication. McFarlane raised his fist, the silent signal to the others to halt in their tracks and quietly draw their weapons. Eyes open wide, McFarlane quietly walked a tight circle, scanning the jungle from floor to canopy, looking for something, anything, that warranted their attention.

Then he saw it, little more than a vague silhouette through the trees, but there it was – a straight, horizontal line, something rarely seen in nature because nature doesn’t follow the rules of geometry. Beneath the line was shadow, which indicated the possibility of something manmade, perhaps a structure, although how anyone could get in and out of this mess to find it was God’s own mystery.

“Pfft,” McFarlane whistled quietly while pointing forward, and the men instinctively fanned out behind him, advancing quietly, heel to toe through the tangled mess of roots, leaves, and mud, their training rendering them nearly silent. As they approached, form began to take shape and they could see that it was indeed a structure, built of chiseled stone, heavily and intricately carved, so much so that there wasn’t a blank space to be found. Moss covered many parts of what now came into view as a building of some sort, seeming to be maybe two stories high, with doorways and windows that appeared as blackened holes, like the missing teeth of a dangerous drunk. McFarlane signaled for the men to stay low as they approached the building; flashlights came out and were held at the ready, while curious eyes canvassed the structure for signs of activity, signs of life.

Barnes sidled up to McFarlane, whispering almost inaudibly.

“Sarge, I seen places like this before. This here’s a temple, one of them monk places. I think it’s where the targets are supposed to be hiding.” McFarlane nodded, and raised his fist again. The men went still as statues, straining their ears for any sound that would betray the occupants of the temple. His eyes played over the walls of the temple, seeing elaborate carvings of men and animals, some of the men appearing to have wings, others having more limbs than normal. While the temple looked as though it had been in this place since the dawn of time, the carvings were distinctly out of place for this part of the world. Hell, McFarlane thought to himself, there’s no place on earth where this would make sense. Bullet holes sporadically pockmarked the walls of the structure, a mute reminder for the team to be on their guard as they investigated. Bullet holes meant battle, which ratcheted the tension up several notches.

After several minutes of absolute stillness, they proceeded forward, their boots stepping onto heavy stones of the temple’s courtyard. As if triggered by their footfalls, the men became aware of an odor coming from the temple, a stench of decay that was more than just the mustiness of mildew and exposure to the elements. No strangers to carnage, they all knew the smell of death, and Death had visited this place, on a grand scale.

Tentatively poking their heads into the doorways, the men switched on their flashlights and listened intently for any sounds coming from within the darkened temple. Hearing none, they shined their lights inside and, with audible gasps, the combat-hardened team bore witness to that which they could scarcely comprehend.

There hadn’t been a battle here; this was an outright slaughter. The enemy had indeed been here, the shredded remains of their uniforms testified to that. For all the gore and viscera, there was little to the inside of this temple that appeared to be human until, McFarlane realized, this mess, this horror, was that of humans turned inside out, pulled apart and flung about like ragdolls, their blood and entrails painting elaborate designs on the walls and the ceiling and the floor.

None of the men had ever seen anything like the savagery of the scene; surely, they collectively hoped, no human would do something like this, no human could do something like this. This was not simply the beating of an opponent or an enemy; there was a fury to what had happened here, a rage that no one would willingly call human. And yet, seeing loops and swirls of blood on the walls, the dawning realization that whoever or whoever committed this brutality, they seemed to have enjoyed themselves immensely.

“No bones,” McFarlane whispered, his eyes not believing the truth that glistened wetly in the beam of his light. “There’s no goddamn bones. What the hell does this?”

“Another thing, Sarge,” Barnes said. “Ain’t no flies, neither. All this mess oughta have all sorts of critters gorging on…this, but there aint’ nothing here.”

With a shudder, McFarlane stepped into the building, his senses on high alert. Almost imperceptibly, he could hear a droning sound, very faint, from deep within the temple. He switched off his light.

“You hear that?” he asked the men, who nodded and strained to hear. “What the hell is it?”

No one knew, and they slowly walked into the building. In the immediate darkness of the temple, McFarlane cocked his head, moving slowly in the direction of the sound he couldn’t quite identify.

It was Rafferty who put a name to the sound. “That’s human, Sarge. Sounds like people chanting somewhere in here. Well, maybe it’s people, at least.”

McFarlane nodded, and in the dark stillness, he could see a dim, flickering light coming from somewhere in the depths of the building. The men fell into line behind their leader.

As they went deeper into the building, the dim light gradually brightened, while the chanting grew louder. Turning a corner, McFarlane saw a stone staircase cut into the floor, its outline illuminated from the light below. Quietly, and with weapons at the ready, the men descended the stairs, seeking whatever lay below.

Continuing from an earlier post called Bad Day at the Trailer Park

Buddy’s El Camino tore up the road at a furious pace, matching his mood. Not content for having gotten the better over Dean, Harley, and Monster, he turned his dark attention to Wanda Jean.

“Baby,” Buddy said, an edge of violence to his voice. “Tell me again what you done to them old boys back there.”

Wanda Jean rolled her eyes, careful to look away when doing so. “Honey, I done told you half a dozen times already, ain’t nothin’ more to say about it.”

“That’s for me to say, woman. Thing is, I’m leaning toward thinkin’ maybe you done a little more for them than just serve up some nasty rock.”

“Like what, Buddy? You think I screwed ’em? Is that it?” Like it ain’t enough that I went in there, alone, got them to snort death, and made it out with my skin in place while you just sat in the car, waiting?” Wanda Jean’s voice had taken a turn, her words laced delicately with spite. She hadn’t meant to taunt Buddy, but she was enjoying the feeling.

“The hellyou mean by that?” Buddy shouted, his face reddening with anger. “You callin’ me a punk for not tending to my own affairs?”

“Shoe fits, baby,” Wanda Jean said with a laugh, wondering just how far she could push the idiot before he went completely sideways.

Without taking his eyes from the road, Buddy’s right arm shot out, his fist exploding across Wanda Jean’s face. Neither shocked nor startled, Wanda Jean turned toward the window, spat out the remains of a tooth, before turning to look at the man behind the wheel.

“Oh baby, you done that good, didn’t you?” she asked, tauntingly. “You just uncorked one on me, and I reckon you feel justified in doing it, don’t you?”

“That weren’t my fault, missy. You made me do that, made me lose my temper, and I had to teach you a lesson. You learned, didn’t you?”

“That I did, sugar. I learned more than you think,” Wanda Jean cooed softly. “I learned what turns a man into a boy, I learned what sets you off, and I learned that you think it’s okay to put hands on a woman if you think she provokes you.”

“You listen to me now, bitch, and you listen good,” Buddy snarled, white knuckling the steering wheel. “What you just got was a warning, and it was about a six on the Buddy scale. You don’t never wanna see me take it to a ten.”

“Reckon I don’t, baby,” Wanda said quietly. “Now I know you’re a stone cold, natural born badass, and I done learned my place.”

Buddy laughed, the tension easing from his face, from his voice. “Ain’t that better? Now we understand each other.”

“Here’s what I want you to understand, Buddy. Them old boys back in the trailer? You’re right, I did more than give them that bad batch. Before that, I let them have me, all at once. And it was good, baby, so goddamn good. Better than you could ever be, that’s for damn sure.”

“You filthy-”

“ENOUGH,” Wanda Jean shouted, loud enough to hurt Buddy’s ears, loud enough to rattle the windows of the beat up car. Wanda leaned in close to Buddy, a sharp fingernail pressed against the side of his neck, blood pumping furiously through the artery beneath it. “You keep driving, and maybe I’ll let your sorry ass live. Maybe.”

Fear and rage fought for room on Buddy’s face. No woman had ever spoken to him like this, and damn if it was going to start now. “You ever raise your voice against me again, Wanda Jean, and I swear to you, there’s gonna be Hell to pay.” The menace of his words was betrayed by a tremor in his voice, a signal to both that while Buddy’s heart still believed he was in control, his brain knew better and just couldn’t give up the fight.

Wanda Jean put her hand at the back of Buddy’s neck and leaned in close, whispering in his ear. “Loverboy, you got but one last chance to say something decent. Just one.”

“You goddamn–”

Wanda Jean’s hand shoved Buddy’s head forward violently, his skull shattering the windshield. Stunned, Buddy’s hands gripped the steering wheel and threw a hard left. The car’s tires chirped against the asphalt in a desperate attempt to keep contact with the road, the rear of the vehicle swinging out and clipping a telephone pole, sending the car into a sidelong roll, over and over, down into a ditch filled with reeking sewage, where it settled on its roof.

Buddy never wore a seat belt, because he said that no man would ever tell him how to live his life. The crash had tossed Buddy around the cabin of the car like a rag doll while Wanda Jean, safely buckled in, laughed and laughed as his body rolled and rolled, bones breaking and joints snapping, cartilage tearing and flesh torn asunder.

When the El Camino finally came to a rest, Buddy’s breathing was wet and ragged, one lung collapsed and the other perforated by broken ribs as his body lay crumpled against the roof of the car.. Wanda Jean giggled to herself, upside down and suspended by the seat belt, giddy over what she had created. Even as he lay dying, Buddy attempted to talk.

“What…bitch…I kill you…who…are you?”

“Who, me? Lemme put it this way, genius: it weren’t no accident you found me at that titty bar, Buddy. Fact is, I was looking for something new, someone new, because I have work to do. I thought you might have been the one to stand by my side, but it looks like I was wrong, wrong, wrong.” She punctuated her words with pokes to Buddy’s chest, each causing him to shriek with fear and pain.

“Goddamn…bitch…” Buddy sputtered, blood bubbling at his lips.

“Even now, you just can’t let shit go, can you?” Wanda Jean rolled her eyes in disbelief. With the slash of a fingernail, she cut through her seat belt, her hands unbelievably fast, catching herself before she fell to the roof of the overturned vehicle.

“Aw shit Buddy, you done turtled your car!” she exclaimed, as she slithered out of the ruined car.  The smell of gasoline was strong; the tank had ruptured and fuel was dribbling out. Wanda Jean looked at the growing puddle of gas, cleared her throat, and spat at Buddy, who had by now also smelled the gas. Despite the angry protests of his ruined body, he was trying to claw his way out of the El Camino.

Wanda Jean stood and watched his pathetic struggle, still giggling at his pain. She’d put up with so much from this clown; the verbal abuse, the threats of violence, the leers from his degenerate friends, the hostility of his mother, living in that goddamn trailer, because she thought that he could be the one to stand at her side when she took her rightful place in the world.

“Not this time, shitheel.” Wanda Jean pulled a cigarette from its battered pack, struck a match on her zipper, and inhaled deeply. Nothing as satisfying as a smoke to help with life’s little troubles. One more inhalation took the cigarette nearly down to the filter, which she tossed absentmindedly at the puddle of gas.

The butt landed and almost went out; then, an almost inaudible foomp signaled ignition, as flames raced toward the tank. The sudden increase in heat panicked Buddy, whose screams  were those of terror, rather than simple pain and fear. The car erupted suddenly, cloaking Buddy in an envelope of fire, his screams silenced forever by the flames consuming his clothes, his skin, his muscle. Even as he burned, he tried desperately to pull himself out of the car, his pain sensors now completely shut down as his body went into full panic survival mode.

Wanda watched with mild interest, having seen such things before, so many times before. By and by, Buddy stopped trying, and once it was clear that he wouldn’t be coming back, she reached down and snapped off a couple of his fingers, and stuffed them in the pocket of her Levi’s jacket. She loved her barbeque.

Wanda Jean climbed up the embankment and onto the highway. She bent at the waist and fluffed her auburn hair, then stood quickly, throwing her hair back. After a quick adjustment with her bra (one of them had popped out in the crash), and she began walking, backward, her thumb raised, just a pretty girl in need of a ride.

Hope you guessed my name. Let’s party!

Ebola. The name’s Ebola, and the mere mention of it sends the mind into paroxysms of fear. For good reason: Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever is a particularly nasty illness, with symptoms straight out of a horror story. The mysterious disease that may have come from a cave in deepest, darkest Africa, which causes uncontrolled bleeding through all orifices, through the pores, the eventual liquefaction of internal organs, resulting in a painful, violent death aren’t symptoms that typically lend themselves to romantic notions; it is a mean, dirty way to go. It conjures up images of Richard Preston’s terrifying 1994 book The Hot Zone and its portrayals of the Reston, Zaire, and Marburg strains of the virus. Ebola is real, and it is a threat.

And now, it’s landed here in the US. To briefly recap, two volunteers from a Christian organization, working in Sierra Leone with Ebola victims, contracted the disease, which is a risk one takes with this sort of work (one could also snarkily note that as missionaries, coming down with the disease must be a rather ironic expression of God’s will, and who are any of us to question it?). Rather than leave them there, however, like everyone else in the area who has the disease, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta have brought these two people home to treat them. Needless to say, there is a bit of outrage over this: a seeming majority of Americans, doubtlessly educated by the movie Outbreak and quacks like Drs Mercola and Oz, are up in arms that our government would be so reckless as to transport people we know are infected and showing symptoms of the most terrifying sickness yet discovered, via airplane, to a continent with no known instances of the disease. It just seems like an awful lot of bad decisions are being made, and we don’t have any say in the matter. And I kinda thing we should.

I don’t begrudge the worries many people feel about this; after all our government, if we’re being brutally honest about it, hasn’t shown a lot of skill at keeping sensitive things under wraps and, this time, it could be the end of all of us. The fanatics are busily dusting off their “End is Nigh” signs, the preppers are at Costco stocking up for life underground, the conspiracy fantasists are choking the internets with “I Told You So” posts blaming the Knights Templar, Trilateral Commission, the Illuminati, chemtrails, the “Kenyan President” and who knows what else for this sorry state of affairs while not-so-secretly hoping a mass extinction event will happen, if for no other reason than to substantiate the lives that they’ve wasted while looking between the lines for their beloved, invisible boogeymen. Add to that the ever-increasing number of people who just want a ringside seat to watch the world burn, and you’ve got quite a party on your hands.

The latest additions to the conspiracy brigade is the army of Mommies who believe that childhood vaccinations cause autism, simply because the idiot known as Jenny McCarthy, whose only claim to fame is getting naked for money in Playboy magazine, told them so. The theory that vaccines cause autism has been roundly stomped out, no proof whatsoever that this actually happens, but the idiocy remains. If a vaccine for Ebola is ever developed, be assured that these folks will have no part of it.

The truth of the matter is that Ebola isn’t all that easy to catch. The primary vector for transmission appears to be via bodily fluids or blood, so avoidance is rather simple. Those in contact with infected persons need to exercise extreme caution when in the presence of them. The disease itself is not airborne but, since coughs and sneezes usually eject fluids, there is a possibility that this type of transmission can occur. Essentially, quarantine even those suspected of carrying the virus, treat them as Level Four contagions, burn the bodies of the dead, and all will be well.

And yet, there’s the still, small part of me that worries. What if there’s an accident? What if someone catches it by mistake and in a moment of hysterical selfishness, runs? What if the ventilation system is compromised, as it was with the 1979 Sverdlovsk accident? What if there’s a rogue researcher deep in the bowels of the CDC, just waiting for the time to be ripe to launch their Doomsday vendetta against the world? What if a shadowy somebody makes a researcher an offer they can’t refuse for the contents of the candy jar? And why on earth do they take samples of every awful pathogen known to man and keep them in storage? I want to believe that it’s in the name of stalwart research and working to eradicate disease, but as long as there are people involved, accidents will happen. Personal fears and prejudices will dominate and those on the raggedy edge between genius and madness will follow agendas the rest of us can only guess at.

What it comes to, as it always does, is for all of us, for it is in our best interest, is for us to educate ourselves responsibly, take whatever precautions that make you feel comfortable, discard fantastical or conspiratorial thinking for the garbage it is, and to respectfully demand transparency and accountability from the organizations that work for us, and to trust them until or unless they give us real, sufficient reason not to. Facebook groups won’t change it. Internet forums and bulletin boards only feed the crazies. Do not pay attention to Jenny McCarthy, who is an idiot.

Read and absorb the excellent information that the Centers for Disease Control is making available, and understand it’s bad business to allow the entire population to be wiped out. After this scare is over, we’ll all go out for a pint and have a laugh about all of this. Or we’ll all be dead and none of it will matter anyway. Either way, won’t you feel silly for not having read my book?

 

Jameson awoke with a start, checked the clock, saw that it was 3:37am. His mouth was throbbing; he reckoned that was what had stirred him from slumber. Cautiously, he probed with his tongue, hoping to find whatever was causing him pain. Delicately, he found a soft, tender spot on the roof of his mouth, along the right side. He pushed the spot tenderly, and was repaid with a dull ache; whatever it was, it appeared to be subsiding. He shoved the sheets aside and padded to the bathroom, swallowed a couple aspirin, went back to bed, and forgot all about it.

Two nights later, he was again awakened by the phantom pain in his mouth. Poking around with his tongue, the tip settled on the same spot as before. This time, however, he felt something shift, as though trying to move away from him. Cautiously, he opened his mouth and inserted a finger, and applied light pressure to the spot. Again, it felt as though there were something just beneath the flesh, trying to shy away from the attention it was receiving. This time though, he felt a sharp prick on the tip of his finger, almost as if it had been stung. It hurt for a moment, then went numb.

“Bloody fucking hell,” he said to the empty bedroom, his voice ringing loudly in the darkness, much louder than it should have. He jammed another finger into his mouth, this time stabbing blindly at the roof of his mouth in search of whatever was in there. Feeling a slight, shifting bump under his finger, he pushed roughly against it, and heard a faint pok as though something had burst. Instantly, his tongue was flooded with a viscous fluid, acrid and rotten tasting.

Jameson sprung from the bed, his lips clamped together even as the bile rose in his throat and he sprinted for the bathroom, flinging up the toilet lid at the last possible moment, and spat into the bowl. Successful at having not throwing up, Jameson raised his head and inspected the effluvia, a dank, clotted, amber mess floating atop the water. Recoiling at the sight and smell of it, he raised his hands to his mouth while his tongue poked bout his soft palate. This time, it found several small, stiff bristles jutting out of the tissue and almost instantly, Jameson found himself engulfed in a rage, the likes of which he’d never experienced before.

His mind raced, filled with images of incredible violence and brutality, the type of things he’d typically shy away from, but now, now, there was a phantasmagorical orgy of awfulness in his head, and he found himself enjoying it in ways that made him extremely uncomfortable. The sensation passed as quickly as it had come on, leaving Jameson tired and confused. On shaky legs, he returned to bed. “What is happening to me,” he sighed, as sleep claimed the night.

“Open wide, Mr Jameson,” Doctor Shyne said. “I can see a bit of bruising up there, but not much…oh, my.”

“Wha? Oh ma wha?” Jameson attempted to ask.

With a steel dental probe in one hand and a small mirror in the other, the dentist examined the roof of Jameson’s mouth, which now appeared to be undulating, as though many things bumped and writhed just beneath the surface of the tissue. He found the bristles that his patient had complained of, and saw that they were moving, moving in such a way that…they’re legs, he thought to himself.

The dentist took a syringe from his instrument tray, which his assistant had already filled with Novocain. As the needle neared Jameson’s mouth, however, Dr Shyne felt resistance, as if an invisible hand were pushing him away. The more he tried, the harder the resistance until, with a frustrated sigh, he put the syringe down.

“Mr Jameson, I’m afraid we’ve done what we can,” he said, whilst pulling off his latex gloves. “We’ll check the x-rays in the morning and see what we may be dealing with. I’ll be in touch tomorrow.”

*****

Jameson was back in the examination chair, Dr Shyne and his assistant attending. Jameson always felt nervous in the presence of the assistant; she was young and rather attractive, in a way that made him ashamed to have dental problems, that this pretty girl might find a man of his age appealing if it weren’t for the occasional cavity or, now, this unknown thing that was happening.

Today, he could not help but notice that she had failed to fasten the topmost buttons on her top, revealing her small breasts in a most lascivious way, cupped ever so gently in their cradle of purple lace, the lusty color mocking the austerity of her smock, as Dr Shyne settled in next to him. The dentist looked harried, like he hadn’t slept well the night before; his shirt was wrinkled and stained, his breath reeking of alcohol, cigarettes, and mouthwash. Jameson found it odd that he had been strapped into the chair, when they’d never done that before.

“Alright then, let’s see what we have,” Shyne sighed wearily, as he hooked his fingers over Jameson’s top teeth with his right hand, and the bottom teeth with his left. With a grunt, he pulled the jaws apart, the pain incomprehensible as Jameson’s facial muscles tore apart, his jaw separating from his skull with a sound of bone against bone, tendons stretching and popping, while his mouth filled with blood. Too shocked to scream, Jameson struggled against the leather restraints, blood gurgling from the remains of his ruined face, as he felt his upper palate tear open and something…something, emerged.

Jameson’s mind simply stopped working when he attempted to understand that which he was seeing, this awful, grey, alien, insect-like thing rising from within himself, its skin or shell or whatever it was glistening sickly in the fluorescent light of the dental office. Arms, so many arms, unfolded from it, the thin sticks playing over the wreckage of his face, surely and steadily finding their way toward his eyes…

*****

Jameson sat bolt upright in bed, his chest heaving with exertion, his body slicked with sweat. Never in his life had he experienced a nightmare so terrifying, so real, as this. Hesitantly, he brought his hands to his face, and found that his jaw and teeth were indeed where they ought to be, that it had been a dream, just a really bad dream, that nothing of the sort had actually happened.

In the stillness of the night, Jameson heard a rustling, wet and faint, and a tickle at the back of his throat. Absentmindedly, his tongue moved to the roof of his mouth where, instead of the familiar landscape of his mouth’s roof, he felt a writhing mass of hard objects, shells, carapaces, and the tickle of impossibly thin appendages picking away at the flesh, digging under his teeth and casting the unnecessarily aside, the pain unimaginable as whatever it was began the laborious process of the next step of its evolution. Blood, bile, pus, unthinkable fluids dripped from the corner of Jameson’s slackened jaw, while his ears dimly registered the sound of his front door being kicked in, the rough wood splintering in much the way that his sanity was splintering, his eyes registering but not quite seeing the two men wearing black suits and surgical masks approach him boldly, drawing pistols from holsters hidden beneath their jackets.

“Mr Jameson,” one of the men said, his voice strong and resonant in the near darkness, “You are in possession of something that belongs to us, and we need to take it back.”

“Bah…don’ noe…” Jameson said, his throat thick with gore while the things inside him dug their way upward, feasting on his optic nerves while his eyes sank deeper into their sockets, the pressure causing them to burst, while the bugs, if that’s what they were, fell onto the sweet jelly that had once filled Jameson’s pale blue eyes and still, he didn’t scream, not even as the things, burrowed through that last barrier and into his brain. Through the initial breach they filed, heading off into different directions, following the ancient code to their appointed places and, as they did so, Jameson’s arms and legs began to twitch, slowly and clumsily at first, but with a rapidly growing efficiency, as his legs swung over the side of the bed and his body, those things that were now in control of it, stood him up on his feet.

Throughout it all, Jameson had maintained consciousness, as if this awareness were some gift bestowed upon him by the invaders. He could feel every bite they took of him, every hole they made, every bit they took away, he felt it all but was powerless to stop it, powerless even to speak. Though his eyes were gone, he could still see but now, instead of two men in front of him, he saw two hundred, a hundred doorways, a hundred hallway lights, and it vaguely reminded him of a film he had seen as a child, about a man who could see through the compound eyes of a housefly, but still he couldn’t speak, he couldn’t ask, plead, demand, that the men, these men who had broken into his home, please kill me, just kill me, please make it stop, make me dead, happily and oh so joyously dead…

The first of the men stared at the ruins of the man jerkily approaching him and calmly raised his pistol, and gently squeezed the trigger. The small-caliber bullet entered Jameson’s skull just above the eye socket, but did not exit, instead rattling and bouncing around inside the cranium until the body fell unceremoniously to the floor. Standing over the remains of Jameson, the men both put several more rounds into Jameson’s head, their eyes unblinking, showing no expression.

The chirp of a mobile phone interrupted the stillness, and the second man fished in his pocket for the device. Bringing it to his ear he listened, nodded, and spoke to his partner.

“Drop the match and let’s get out of here. There’s more hatching down the street.”

As the men departed Jameson’s house, the fire inside was gaining power, growing in strength and purifying intensity. It was going to be a long night.