Shallow Veins (The Obscured Book 1) (15 page)

BOOK: Shallow Veins (The Obscured Book 1)
10.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Kevin,” she says, repeating it a few more times like a mantra. “Kevin, Kevin, Kevin,” forcing herself to drive home.






As Mary pulls up to the house, the first thing she sees is the police cruiser parked at the end of the driveway. Panic grips her body in a moment. Her mouth dries up. Adrenaline threads through her arms and legs, the muscles tight and shaky, ready to fight, ready to run. This is it, she thinks.

This is the end.

She drives around the cruiser and into her usual spot as if everything is normal, and she reminds herself to act normal, pretend things are fine, but then she thinks, should she? Isn't it normal to be concerned about the cops showing up to the house? She doesn't know what to do with herself, how to act in these situations. She decides that light concern is the way to go. Everything okay? That sort of thing. She can do this, she tells herself. She has to do this.

Out of her car, up the driveway, legs like jelly, Kevin's face is at the doorway looking calmly down at a man in uniform crouched on the porch. The officer isn't moving, and she can only hope he isn't dead, and if he is dead, she hopes no one saw it happen, a thought that feels so foreign in her mind and yet comes so quickly.

Kevin doesn't notice Mary until she's just behind the officer, but even then his expression changes very little, playing it cool for show, as if everything is normal here, pretending things are fine, like her, and he looks from her back to the officer who she's thankful to see is alive. Breathing a little heavy, but breathing.

The officer stands but says nothing, his back to her. Silent seconds that last years.

What was it she came up with in the car? That phrase that sounded so natural. What was it she was meaning to say?

"Is everything okay," she asks. The officer spins, surprised by her voice, and in his eyes is the most haunted look, the most empty recognition she's ever seen, like the thousand yard stare so many soldiers find on the battlefield and a few of them bring back. His face is familiar. She glances down at his badge, remembers his last visit.

"The Sheriff's department is making house calls now," Kevin explains sarcastically.

"Oh," Mary says, hopeful. "Is that right?"

Officer Butcher nods. He blinks and clears his throat. "Yes, uh...yes, that's right. Some public relations." A drop of sweat trickles down the side of his cheek, and Mary watches it roll with breathless despair. The air is crisp, enough to redden noses and make breath visible, and that leaves one possibility.

He knows something.

"Why don't you come inside," Kevin asks her, his tone stern. Mary makes an empty remark about how tired she is and awkwardly moves past Officer Butcher and into the house. She joins Kevin by his side and goes in for a kiss, making things look natural, a happy couple happy to see each other, but before her lips make contact he turns and walks away from her, down the hallway, without a word.

She turns back to Officer Butcher, cheeks red with embarrassment, but he was too lost in thought to notice the strange moment between them. “I’m sorry my husband didn’t invite you in,” she says. “We’re very private people.”

Officer Butcher tells her it’s alright, no harm done, and after a few empty goodbyes he walks back to his cruiser. Mary waits until the officer pulls out of the driveway before she shuts the door and walks down the hallway to the computer room. Kevin is already back at his computer, writing code, ignoring her.

“What was he doing here,” she asks.

“He told you what he was doing here.”

“That was the same cop who was here that night with the other one. The one who…” She tastes acid in her throat. “He didn’t just show up out of nowhere. We have to call the party off.”

“It’s too late for that,” Kevin says, still typing at breakneck speed.

“The plan is too dangerous with that man around. I’m sorry, but it’s over before it started. We either have to come up with something else,” she lowers her voice so the walls can’t hear, “or we run.”

The typing stops. Kevin stands from his chair and moves to her. He towers over her, his size threatening in a way it’s never been before. He grabs her by the arm and pulls her toward him. “It’s too late for that,” he repeats, eyes gone cold.

“Kevin. Kevin you’re hurting my arm.” She tries to pull away but he squeezes tighter, pulls her closer, and she repeats his name like a mantra, Kevin, Kevin, Kevin, each time louder, more full of fear, while in the back of her head a voice echoes, a rising chant made up of voices echoing through her skull, alien yet sadly familiar- the sound of The Self. Surrounding them. Driving in.

His pupils dilate and his face, so aflame with anger one moment, the next slips back to the one she knows so well.

He lets go of her arm as if surprised by it.

“What’s wrong with you,” she shouts. He looks at her dumb-founded, unable to find his words. Before he can apologize she’s already out the door and running to their bedroom where she locks herself in. She sits on the edge of the bed and stares at the space between the door and the floor, in case something follows her in.

She watches for shadows, Kevin’s or otherwise.






Even though not many people come around these days, Father Curtis always makes time for confession. Between three-thirty and four-fifteen every day, the old priest sits in the enclosed booth and quietly reads while awaiting the penitent. Usually it's the Bible, though on occasion- and he would never admit this- he enjoys a good crime thriller.

To his surprise, the door on the other side opens. Someone enters and takes a seat. Father Curtis lays down his book, crosses his hands and says, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.”

A woman's voice says, “Forgive me Father for I have sinned, it's been a pretty long time since my last confession.”

He smiles. “That's alright, child. How long would you say it's been?”

“Give or take a few days, I would say...two hundred years?”

The smile dies on the priest's face. “Surely you're joking.”

“And if I'm not?”

“No human being has ever lived as long as that.”

“Not one entirely human, that's true.” By her voice he can tell the woman is the one smiling now. “Tell us where the book is, Father.”

“Get out of my church,” he grumbles, fire in his eyes.

“Tell us where it is and we'll spare Butcher's life.”

“It's you who should pray to be spared from him.”

The woman cackles through the lattice. “If that's so, why haven't you given it to him already? Are you afraid he can't handle its power?”

“All things in due time.”

“Interesting you should mention time, since you have so little of it left. This is your last chance to be among the saved. When my kind is victorious, we'll protect those who aided us.”

“Save your breath, I'm already among the saved.”

“You're being foolish, Father. One day you'll beg for this chance and it'll be too late.”

“That day will never come. As we speak the torches are being lit. One by one they will burn your kind and all the other Obscured to the ground. Your unwelcome stay here is coming to an end.”

An angry growl rises up from the woman's side. A loud explosion rocks the booth, wood shattered to sticks. The sound is amplified by the tight space. Father Curtis ducks down and covers his head with his boney fingers.

The woman nonchalantly stands and exits the booth, her high-heeled footsteps echoing across the small church. Only now, Father Curtis realizes her footsteps had been silent on the way in.

“You had your chance,” she says before leaving, “be sure to remember that.”

The priest waits a minute before exiting the confession booth. He comes out to the floor of his church blanketed in wooden splinters. The door to the other side of the booth is gone; ripped open with ease, like the flick of an eyelash.






There's something Franklin Butcher has never told a living soul. It's a secret even Elaine doesn't know.

Only once he said it aloud. It was to his father, at his father's grave, talking to a polished stone, and he got exactly the response he expected out of the conversation. He was two days too late having it, after all, a feeling he wouldn't shake for years.

He stands on the bubbling banks of Shallow Creek and takes a hard swig on his flask, then another, trying to imagine the whiskey flowing through him like the creek through the trees. The truth is, he's always drunk to get rid of these dark things inside. Ever since he was young, the anxieties, the thoughts, the invasive pictures in his head have been there, and over time he found he could wield the booze against them like a fire extinguisher to a flame. He whittles them down, first at the edges, the gross details, the sick flashes and then, when they're weakened, he finishes them off at the base, aiming for the center with a lethal attack until he can't remember what he'd been fighting against in the first place.

He doesn't believe that drinking kills brain cells, however. He could never be so lucky.

Since moving to Shallow Creek he's had more of these episodes than ever in his life, and yet it hasn't turned him off to the town like it might another man. When a person is prone to anxiety attacks he's found they tend to avoid whatever sets it off, yet for Butcher the opposite is true- he's drawn to them. His adult life could be described as a series of days in which he seeks out pain and then kills it. He knows the futility of this path, yet he's been unwilling and unable to veer from it, like a broken bone that's never fixed, just ignored and accepted, the limp a permanent addition to the walk.

And yet, what happened at the Robins house can't be accepted. It can't be ignored like a fracture, because it's as if his very skeleton was sucked clean out his ass. It was a lightning bolt of raw information, too much to process at once, and ever since he stepped off that porch he's been wobbling on his feet like they're made of cherry pie. How he ended up standing on the edge of the creek he can't even recall.

An image kicks him in the eyes, almost knocking him on his back. It's a flash of something he saw when he touched the doorway, but what is it? A blur. A shape. A hand. A hand outstretched, reaching for help. Wet sounds all around and a gush of crimson. The sick snap of bone. In the background, Mary Robins screams. In the background, Kevin Robins doesn't.

Butcher takes another drink and feels the burn in his belly. He doesn't plan to stop until he feels it in his skull.






Her eyes open.

Mary squints into the darkness, unsure of what time it is but certain it's late. The air has that middle-of-the-night feel she's gotten to know too well on the insomnia nights, when worries and doubts feel like deep sea pressure on her head, crushing her throat, pressing on her lungs until she can barely breathe. For a while those nights had faded into the past, a welcome abandonment, but something about a monster living in the basement brought them back.

The skin on her cheek is tight, and she rubs at it in the fog of half-sleep. She remembers crying but not why, shifts in bed and feels her clothes twisted on her body. Sleeping fully clothed isn’t like her. She has a nightly ritual before bed, and the very first step is changing into comfortable sleep clothes, with fabrics that breathe.

Then she remembers.

Kevin had acted toward her in a way he never had, such aggression she hadn’t seen in his eyes before. It feels like a dream now, a nightmare, and she searches her mind, tests it to check if it wasn’t a dream so real she confused it for reality, but she’s saddened to find the details check out. The memory holds up.

When they get away from The Self and out of this town, Mary knows they’ll have to do some serious work on themselves. It’s nice to think of a happily ever after once the dragon is paid its due, the two of them riding off into the sunset and so on, but the truth of real people is they don’t move on so easily. When there’s no fade to black, life just sort of continues, and that’s when the real problems start. Life is messy. She would love to think that sharing this experience, surviving it,will bring them closer together, but so far the opposite has been true. A wall has been built between them.

She makes up her mind. It stops now. Like Berlin, the wall must come down.

She turns to face Kevin, wake him up and talk to him, maybe make love, whatever it takes to rebuild their connection and their trust, but she’s met with an unexpected sight, a sight that puts her in an immediate and complete panic.

An empty bed.






His eyes open.

Blurry points of light against a black canvas. Tiny, glowing dots take up his vision, like bugs flying around his head, dodging and diving and swaying, never still for a moment, even when he tries to focus on one and get it to stop. It takes a good minute for the bastards to slow down enough that he can make them out for what they are: stars, pinpoint beams of gaseous light piercing the night sky. A din of crickets fills his ears; their legs scream for attention, and he does everything he can not to notice.

As the stars take their places, Butcher stretches his legs to test them, but they feel uneven, one heavier than the other, the movement all wrong, and finally, after more stretching and moving, he realizes his left leg is wet. Not just wet, underwater.

The creek.

"Ahhh, shit."

After he pulls himself out of the cold water, he makes a bold attempt to stand. He finds his head is too heavy for such fast movement, and he falls back to the ground head first to a faceful of dirt. The heavy smell of soil pushes into his sinuses. He groans into the ground, then flips onto his side and regathers himself, looking around at the thick night.

He's less than ten feet from his cruiser, parked where he left it at the top of the small hill, so Butcher crawls to his car on his stomach, arm-over-arm like they do in war, until he's close enough to put a hand on the driver's side tire and then, fingers clawing rubber, he pulls himself up and onto uneven feet.

He leans against the hood a while, playing a game of Keep The Head Straight. In the darkness the creek moves ever on, moonlit water sneaking around the bend and on through town. Focused on the sound, he imagines himself floating on the stream, carried through the entire town, past the school, past the cornfields, around the rocks and under the old, wooden bridges painted red.

A rustle in the trees. Something large moves in the canopy above. The leaves are loud from the heavy sway of shaken branches. He may be new to Shallow Creek, but Butcher has lived in places like this his entire life, and it doesn’t take long to learn how dangerous it can be in the woods after sundown- all the animals that come out to hunt, bearing sharp claws and sharper bites, the kind that, if they don’t kill a man, can give him a long, stinking, swollen stay in the hospital.

He pats his pockets for his keys. Nothing.

“Come on. I won’t drive, I promise.” He checks for them again in hopes that the negotiation has worked. Then, when it hasn’t, he scans the ground for the glint of metal.

More movement in the trees, this time lower. Fighting off a shiver, Butcher leaves his car behind to start the long walk home.






“What kind of book is it?”

Mary stands in the dark hallway, her back to the wall, the heart in her chest the loudest thing about her. She listens to Kevin in the computer room with the wet, undulating sounds of The Self under and over him.

"Itt is a book of words," a voice answers. Mary knows it too well from their conversation at the kitchen table.

"All this for a dictionary?"

"Itt is more than thiss, it is a list of ancient wwords humanns call magic. It is nnot magic. Humanns are idiot children."

"How do you know it's still here? It's probably a thousand miles from here by now. If they're trying to protect it they would take it far away."

"Itt is hhere. Itt is here because it is always here. Because it wwants to be here."

As they talk Mary inches toward the door, trying to get a look at Kevin to see if he's tied up or otherwise in danger. She can't imagine him choosing to sit up all night and talk with The Self rather than come to bed with her, and she knows the risk of being seen, but for Kevin she's willing to risk it.

Closer to the door. Closer. Another inch.

"They'll resist you," Kevin says.

"Theyy always do."



“They have weapons.”

“We arre weapons.”

Silently, almost there.

"I can help you."

Mary stops moving. She can feel her heart break, and she clutches at it as if trying to hold it together, like a cardboard box in her arms come apart at the seams, insides spilling to the floor. She can't believe what she's just heard, let alone from anyone but especially from the lips of her husband. Her Kevin, the gentle man she married, offering to help something which is down to its very atoms pure evil.

Her face falls apart. She doesn't hear another word, neither from Kevin nor the monster that has destroyed her. Quiet, numb, she retreats to her bedroom, this time locking the door behind her.

Back in the computer room, Kevin, wrapped in a cloak of putrescence, no longer needs to look at the screen to see it. His eyes are The Self, and they look from all corners of the room, tapping their fingertails in ancient Morse code to tell him what they see with their thousand, articulated snail's eyes stuck to the walls and ceiling, cilia waving in the wind. Thick skin tubes and vein wires flow from his neck to pass along what he learns.

The Self is learning, with Kevin its translator. Its filter.

A puddle of dark, grainy blood bubbles up from the floorboards behind him. Tiny bones scuttle to it on wispy daddy long legs, rushing to pile on top of one another in two parallel columns, then one large one atop those, up and up until they branch out into two, outstretched arms. The hollow bones at the floor, now vague feet, suck up the hot blood like a straw. At the top, over broad shoulder growth, they blow out the blood in a thick-skinned bubble.

A face forms at the front. "Somethinng will have to be done about her."

Kevin tilts his head in the direction of the bedroom. Through The Self's hidden ears, he can hear her sobbing.

"Leave her to me," he says, and gets back to work.






The front door opens one inch at a time, the hand that works it hesitant to let the morning sun push through the open space. Way too bright and way too eager, it lights up the one, squinted, bloodshot eye of Franklin Butcher.

There was a time, long gone now, when this was his favorite time of the day. These days, the mornings hurt. They hurt like Hell.

With the hood of his gray sweatshirt pulled up, Butcher sets out into the blinding light. He has another walk ahead of him- luckily he can recall enough of last night to remember where he left the cruiser.

Except he remembers more than the cruiser. He remembers the house, too. He remembers what he saw.

As Butcher walks along the side of the road, careful to stay in the dirt in case a car comes tearing around the bend, he has the vague sensation of a memory coming to the surface. It's the feeling of a half-remembered dream, something in the back of his mind that could have happened just as much as it could be a false memory; the brain remembering its own fiction. With the nights and dreams that follow a drink or seven, he knows either is possible, and he's learned to deal with deja-vu as someone might deal with a worn-down shoelace that keeps coming untied.

Except this time it's more vivid than most. The images come in flashes. After a bit he understands why the feeling is so pronounced: the dream was about the very road he's walking on. It makes sense- this road was the last thing he saw before he got home and passed out on the couch- but the memories have a chaotic sense about them. The road whipped back and forth, shaken like a wolf’s kill.

Ten minutes into his walk he comes to where the long driveway of a nearby widow meets the road. At the bottom, near the edge of the browned grass, a black mailbox lays on the ground. The post is snapped in two. The bottom half juts loosely from the earth another five feet further along.

“Hit-and-run,” he says to no one, though he doesn’t believe it himself- the dirt shows no tire marks for starters, and a car tends to spread the debris out as it bounces along and veers back onto the road. His instincts, always those of a cop first, are to alert the homeowner to the damage and ask if she wants to file a report, but he drops the idea when he thinks of explaining himself to Sheriff Green. Why he was out for a jog when he should have been driving to work. Why he parked so far from the scene. Why, why, why.

A flash. A mental image of a mailbox, this mailbox but in a dream, the ghosted image of it in his hands, gripped by the broken post. He looks up from it and into a blur, darkness moving in darkness, an aggressive presence. His ghost hands swing the ghost weapon and the blob of shadow backs away, then rushes forward on thick, black legs.

BOOK: Shallow Veins (The Obscured Book 1)
10.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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