They come through us as if we were doors.
They open us up, they eat and kill, and then they’re gone. Just like that.
We’re left to pick up the pieces.
It’s turning out be a long dream, same time every time. 10:01 PM. He goes into the house one hot summer night. The clouds hold back some dry lightning. She can’t wait. He ties up the family. But she’s gone. High up, a shadow with wild limbs and grinding teeth. She screams, leaps at him. He can’t catch her, his arms are dead weight. They crash down upon the floor and he stabs her through the head. Everything is familiar and askance. Tinged in the hum of a red glass held over the night, shining through the dark clouds. Blood and a crawling darkness reach out for him. He hears the lightning.
We’re all victims.
He’s waking up but how long has it been? There’s a silent alarm clock on the nightstand. Cold sweat dabs the shirt he picks up off the floor and he showers off the stench. This is the winter chill of Carpocrates, the space heaters drying out the air; drying him in his sleep. With cracked lips and sour breath, he peers through the Venetians to the empty streets. Half-a-dozen cars pass by over the hour, like specks in the dark. A city of thousands reduced to hundreds since the Rapture.
This sound woke everyone up. Like a voice. Jarring and incoherent. Like a scream. The clouds opened up and they just floated away. Mothers clutching for their children, falling thousands of feet. Cars stirring into one another. Abandoned lovers searching for the dead in the wreckage. Even corpses. The dirt upturned. Coffins spilled across the graveyards.
They had been called. There is nothing that is buried that will not rise.
He’s taken by an urge and grabs his gun. The magazine loaded with blessed bullets. This is a real place, he prays, this is a real place. Click. Click. The safety is on, in his dreams it’s never on. In his dreams, he’s allowed to die. This weapon, an M1911 with a taped grip, is placed on the table. He puts on his black clothes, the urge still inside him.
Next time, he thinks, I won’t forget the fucking safety.
In the mirror he studies his wretched face. His wide, lofty brow that shadows his shadowy eyes. He frowns, flicks the bullet that hangs around his neck. “One for me,” he mutters. “This one’s for me.” If he ever succumbs to the Creatures. If the door in him opens up. There’s an itch, they say, a tingle on your tongue. That’s their hunger coming out. A metallic, blood and bitters taste.
It’s been weeks since the Venerated contacted him. The wall in his apartment has its usual stains. Nothing special. So he checks the moldy cup of black coffee on the kitchenette; but the signs aren’t there, nor are they in the formations of burns on his toast. The imagery of the television, antiquated as it was with bent antenna, shows only vague and weird faces lurking in the static–no call or summons. He has to reach out to them, he knows a place.
Waiting this long calls back memories. A year ago, half-mad on crystal Christine, when the lot lizard was splattered over the toilet stall between Austin and San Antonio. The Creature that did it chased him, floating with its disjointedly limbs. Riding a cruel air with a wide, gnashing mouth. It’s only become worse since the Rapture. They’ve only become more aggressive. Less people in the world, he guesses, which made more sinful victims.
We’re all victims.
He ran madly to Carpocrates and collapsed, mostly dead, on the steps of the Pentecostal House of the Chanting Angels. They gathered around him, he would come to know them as the Venerated. Old men in white suits. They healed his sick veins, made him sweat and die again and again until he rose clean, damaged and thirsty. They said they had work for him. He needn’t fear the things in the dark. His wrinkled mind directed toward greater violence; holy violence.
This night feels familiar and wrong.
I heard the call of the sublime thing, tossing stars like helpless ships on the black sea, an infinity of sweet torment. Husher, understand me. There is nothing that is buried that will not rise.
Is it all behind him? He stands on the once beating streets of Carpocrates. The hunt and the night are long. Husher stares up but there’s no sight of the stars behind the phantoms of grey sylphs, all shadows under the moon turned on its back, turned to a pale smile. Smiling at him. Wider, fuller, wilder than he remembers. The cold chills his breath.
Things dance in the foggy air.
Time in Carpocrates is measured in gasps between drowning benders. A long time ago he kicked the hard stuff, the killer stuff, and now addicted to violence and liquor he brews like a murder of clouds between each storm; each hunt. Yet now he only stirs, circling a drain. Composed of purpose, aimless on his course. Without the Chant, what can he hope to accomplish?
Medication let him see past the illusion, to the Creatures that live among the remnants of humanity. Pharma Cocktails impregnated his brain with the portents of seer-worms. His little prophets. When the abominations are near, they writhe in his thoughts. His eyes open up, open inside and out. Husher reaches into his pocket, but finds an empty orange bottle and a few loose bent cigarettes. He needs more, he has to reach out, without them he’s as helpless as any lamb.
Once there were people in Carpocrates. Night people, like him. He wades through the ghosts of their illicit steps. Burnt cigarette butts, empty half-shattered bottles. No voices call to him from the derelict alleys. He still fears the dark.
At the end of the road there’s a highway which for miles nothing lives but weeds, nameless stalks, and the distant rolling forests where deeper mysteries sleep. The border between Carpocrates and this highway is divided by the ruins of an old gas station, festooned with decay under an awning of piled debris, and a grimy glass box. The last payphone in Carpocrates. Maybe America. Maybe the Earth. Connected, somehow, to the Chant of the Venerated. He often goes to hear their commands, formulating the next pattern of the unending, holy crusade.
When they threw him out of San Quentin, he stumbled high and abused, mange ridden and deviant, across an expanse of dark places. Every stitch given to him in prison he unfurled back on himself, tenfold, and on others in the civilized world. Addicted as much to the degradation as to the meth which made it easy, which lost his soul in a swampy bowl of a burnt spoon. He roared like a foul wind through many lives. Until Carpocrates. Until his revelations by the Venerated. But…
The phone rings on the metal hooks and he wipes the past away like a breath on cold glass. Of all the nights, this one is different, and he feels it; something stirring. Pushing its way to the surface of his mind. He stares at the trembling phone. Everything seems different. He looks out of the dirty glass, to the starless sky, and he looks and he sees that the night is…
Husher grabs the phone and nearly tears it from the box. It’s pressed to his ear and he edges for that familiar static–but the line is dead. There’s a dial-tone, a sound behind it, and he listens hard for what that might be; it isn’t anything. No. His heart starts to race. He curls a fist and bangs it on the booth. His tongue rubs the front of his top teeth, curling over the yellowed lines, before he tastes something; something like blood.
Vision bore down to tunnels of small light surrounded in darkness. The pores of his skin open and sweat and blood come forth, drooling down his face and his arms from the old needle-wounds. Ancient scars hollowing back to life. Veins, vines, creeping agonies. Black ichor, putrefied and dribbling loose. It’s happening to him, yes, he’s changing, yes, it’s coming through and he tries for the pills again and turns his pocket inside out; coming up crumbs of smokes and that tumbling empty bottle. Flesh is like mud, his bones creak like wet branches yielding but unevenly. When he presses his hand to the glass, he watches his fingers began to elongate. He feels his jaw loosen from the hinges, dropping toward his chest. The worst pain of all is what it does to his blood; it’s boiling inside of him.
He screams and cracks the glass as he slams his fists. The fucking gun, he yells. Or someone yells. His tongue is long and lolling over teeth which are being pushed up out of his gums, replaced with fangs. They clatter to the ground. He goes for the weapon, one good hand left to him, though the thumb begins to grow. Don’t forget. The safety switched OFF. Place it to your head, place it to your head, squeeze and make a promise. He looks out behind the splintered glass.
There’s someone outside the booth. It’s the girl. In an old, faded white dress. She smiles, so young and pretty. But something is wrong with the lines of her lips and the color of her eyes.
HUSHER. A familiar, evil voice calls to him from the shadows.
Do you not hear the call? The door is open. Let us in. Let us in. LET US IN.
“Not me. Not fucking me. Fuck you!” He screams as his jaw distends. There’s a loud pop and his head snaps back and cracks into the side of the booth. Blood splattered over the grimy reflection. His body sinks. Curls up in the small space.
It’s turning out to be a long dream, same time every time.
But the girl is laughing.
She draws a smiley face on the misty glass. The dream is dying.