“Oh blessed God!”
Maya’s words accompanied the strangled gasps of Tisha and the quiet woman as they drew close enough to Enoch DeStiy to see his shattered head and disfigured body. All stood motionless in a grim silence that was broken only by an occasional cackling that came from beyond the door.
Harry and Daniel failed to shield the three women from the horror.
“How can this be?”
Tisha’s words were sobs. Harry’s hand reached behind him, found her arm and squeezed it. But his eyes were focused on DeStiy.
Then Ryland stepped directly in front of the hideous cadaver.
The recognition of Enoch DeStiy’s reappearance, together with its associated questions - how is it possible? reanimation? zombies? illusions again? what IS reality? - that crowded into his mind were irrelevant to Daniel Ryland.
What mattered now was that this man– no, to be precise, not a man but a cadaver, this cadaver that once was Enoch DeStiy– barred the way into Rick and Tracey’s apartment. He - It - was an obstacle, something preventing successful completion of this step of whatever mission they were on.
“Move away from the door, DeStiy!” he ordered.
The words were DeStiy’s. But the voice wasn’t.
Bone splintered like wafer. The handle pummeled down again, drilling brain tissue.
Everything became still.
Not even the sound of Tracey breathing.
Its body fell limply into hers.
She remembered to breathe, gasped, and tears flowed.
Its jaw juddered.
"Timmy eat Mummy!"
She pushed it away.
It clattered to the floor.
"Timmy kill Mummy" she heard again.
She knelt over it, knife in hand.
Blade above its throat. Sever the head. That would kill it, she knew.
But she saw the eyes in the Beast - and her son behind those eyes.
And she couldn't kill him.
Tracey looked down at the top of her little boy's head.
She didn't want to
but the pain was so intense
the serrated blade shimmered cold, his teeth tore a chunk of flesh at her stomach, her legs weakened
knife handle hard, recognised sounds of greedy slurping
its head tore flesh,
fallen to her knees, pain racked her body
Holding the handle of the carving knife in one hand, she raised it, blade upwards, into the air
Blow to the head. Make it unconscious. Make it - him -
And she hammered the handle forcefully down onto her little boys head.
The skin of its face reddened, grey-blue veins jeered from its neck and forehead. Its eyes became bloodshot and capillaries exploded within them, making them red. Rivulets of crimson ran from the corners down its face.
It leapt soundlessly, gripped onto Tracey's clothes around her waist and swung its hind legs forward, ripping her legs open as they slashed downwards from just above the knee. It pulled itself into Tracey's midriff, the legs scrabbling faster, digging ever deeper into the flapping flesh. At the same time its mouth closed about chunks of clothing at her stomach, tearing them away.
Tracey moved to one side as Timmy leapt at her. It was a movement of pure reflex: in her head she still felt overawed by the concept that this was all unreal and that very soon she would be killed.
The movement took the beast by surprise. Its scything arms were aimed at Tracey’s throat, but missed their target and only one claw sliced through the flesh on her forearm. Its body fell to the floor before swiftly righting itself.
The snarl was loud and angry.
It’s claws and teeth rent the air as it steadied itself for the kill.
This isn’t happening.
Smouldering flesh, small flames appearing and disappearing randomly on Rick’s blackened, coruscating mass.
This can’t be happening.
The beast’s snout turning towards her.
I have to run.
Oh god, my legs! My legs won’t move!
Sunlight catching wisps of smoke; blue, grey, black.
“Timmy want Mummy.”
How quickly blisters form.
On the shreds of burnt skin that were once its lips. Caught in the projectile blast of fire.
Blackened. Blisters already bulging.
Timmy not burn Mummy.”
“Come to Timmy."
The beast lunges forward.
"Timmy eat Mummy.”
The shock of his appearance prevented Maya saying anything, but she was the first to notice him, standing in shadow near the door to Rick and Tracey's apartment.
His head looked disfigured and dry blood caked most of his skull, though his face was unbloodied.
She saw the outline of his body sway. The dark of the shadow could not hide the fact that one side of his skull had smashed inwards, and only scab tissue and scraps of skin kept the splintered bone together.
But the eyes were bright.
As bright and malevolent as Enoch DeStiy's eyes always were.
Tracey marveled at how she felt.
Her horror so extreme, her fear so intense, she felt as if somehow nothing was real.
It's how it feels, she thought, for victims. It feels unreal. Like when you fall off a high place to certain death. Those few moments... You know it’s real, it’s truly happening, but it’s just so beyond experience that it feels unreal. You understand you’ll soon die, but it can’t be happening... can it?
as if watching a film
as it turned its attention from the burning flesh lying on the floor back to its mother
Harry saw the look on Daniel’s face pass from limp-muscled acceptance to tense determination. Veils of unawareness fell from his eyes, replaced by a knowing, excited glint, evoking a smile from Harry.
It bought Daniel up short.
“Nothing. Just welcome back.” Harry’s voice sounded louder because the noise had suddenly stopped. “Rick's! Go!”
Maya and Tisha followed them out the door. The whole apartment had fallen silent: there was a stillness in the air as if the whole building was holding its breath.
Step by step, breath by listening breath, the four made their way up the staircase.
Harry lunged for the door, pulling Daniel to his feet as he went.
“It's Rick!” he shouted at Ryland above the cacophony “We need to help him!!”
Daniel, eyes staring, couldn’t think. The noise battered him, almost pinned him into submission, but Harry raised him off his feet with one hand, decided against carrying him, and let him go again. Daniel almost slumped to the floor but through pure reflex he saved himself.
Another noise upstairs fuelled the confusion - a heart-quavering roar, which forced Daniel back to full awareness and reminded him, sound and smell, of a flame-thrower.
Excruciating noise powered down from Rick’s apartment upstairs.
For Harry, the previous few moments had been a blur: vision as if seen through smudged lenses; sounds as if heard by muffled ears. But nothing had any logical sequence in that unreal period, it was as if time itself had lost direction.
Things that he was sure had happened in sequence all occurred now, simultaneously. Day and night, darkness and light, changed haphazardly; the scream from upstairs that happened minutes, if not hours ago, still rang out. Banging and knocking, yells and roars, undecipherable, unworldly clamours filled the apartment with noise.
Tracey recalled her baby boy.
She knew something was wrong. She’d lifted him from his cot onto her shoulder and wrapped him in a shawl, rubbing his tiny back.
Mothers know, don’t they?
She saw in his face; and rushed for the bathroom.
And there the seemingly never-ending tube of milky vomit exploded out of him.
That was the scene she was reminded of when a projection of fire shot out of its mouth, equally tube-like but red, violent and fierce, into the room and plunged down onto Rick as he lay prostrate on the floor.
A grey, pitted tongue licked in and out of its mouth.
At first Tracey thought something was happening to her sight. Losing focus. Perhaps Fear was making her see things, for around its teeth small colours danced, some blue, some yellow, some red. They jigged around its teeth and jagged lips, dancing like so many tiny leaves on an autumnal breeze.
It took Tracey a few moments to wonder if it was fire, but only when flames lengthened upwards, catching hold of and burning the flesh on its cheek, was she certain.
It turned its head away to face Rick.
When Tracey waved the knife, Timmy stopped. Still on its hind legs, which Tracey realised with a shock that made her gasp, were now covered in scales, scabs and open wounds, it eyed her.
Claws on its feet scraped the floor and it looked down at them.
Tracey breathed fast– too fast. She must try to stay calm.
The thing looked up from its feet, its eyes boring directly into hers. His mouth had distended into a muzzle, tearing the blackening skin, which fell away revealing muscle and sinew. Then slowly something like a grin crawled over its disfigured face.
In his head, Rick was shouting. Though nothing came out of his mouth, there was an occasional twitching of his lips.
He was unaware that his face was red with effort, red with the effort of trying to move muscles that refused to respond, red like Tracey’s convulsing, swollen face.
Timmy stood still. Looked down at his feet. Then his head turned slowly to face Rick.
His tear-stained face smiled pathetically, a poor little boy, insecure and frightened, needing his mother, who appeared to reject him, or his father, who appeared to ignore him.
This wasn’t what Tracey saw.
Rick couldn’t see Timmy properly anymore, his back was towards him, but he could see Tracey and he had never seen her look like this before. It frightened him. There was fear there, her whole body was cloaked in it. It possessed her.
But it wasn’t just the fear. Her lips were curled back over her teeth, which ground together noisily as her jaw worked from side to side. Her eyes bulged, veins contoured out of her skull and her knuckles protruded white around the carving knife. Then she growled menacingly at her little boy.
She was possessed by hate.
Harry Danes wasn’t a violent man. But he was strong.
Professional weightlifter strong.
Amateur boxer strong.
But that was years ago, before the pounds rounded his hard edges. He could still workout in the gym, though, and a punch would still floor an ox.
So when he slammed his fist down onto the table, to shake everyone out of their torpor, he wasn’t surprised the wood split apart, that an explosion of splinters showered the floor.
As the others jumped, startled, Harry raised his fist to his mouth and quietly licked off the blood before removing a few large splinters.
A glimmer hesitated in a far corner of Harry's mind. A glimmer, faint, but real: almost shy, hardly more than an effort of will, it was so soft and slight and uncertain.
There was another word.
On the bland nothing of his mind, it assumed a position far, far distant from Torpor.
It glimmered– yes glimmered, another word rising out of the nothingness – with all the trepidation and uncertainty of… of one of Tisha’s looks, when her eyes flash a smile before running away and hiding, giggling, somewhere beneath her sheets.
Torpor was no longer master.
Tracey didn’t know she was crying.
Tears rolled down her cheeks like a river, but she wasn’t aware of them.
She didn’t know she was shaking either.
Although she saw the knife blade become an undefined blur in her trembling hand, she wasn’t aware that her whole body quaked in fear.
But she was aware that Timmy had reared up onto his hind legs like a beast about to attack. She was aware of the sneer that revealed elongated canine teeth.
And she was aware that the next few seconds would determine whether he would kill her. Or she, him.