Shallow Veins (The Obscured Book 1) (18 page)

BOOK: Shallow Veins (The Obscured Book 1)
2.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Amazingly, even with wet death falling over her, even with pushing dead pieces out of her way, April reaches the door. The only obstruction left in her way are the two, pristine legs of a woman in black nylons. She looks up to see who made it with her, knowing that whoever it is, and whatever they thought of each other before tonight, her and this woman will live out their days as the closest of friends. Mutual survivors of an unearthly massacre.

She looks up. And up and up. Atop Doctor Palamara’s naked torso- she sees that faded rose tattoo whenever the young hygienist reaches past her for a medical form- two dozen arms have sprouted from the muscle and bone. Their make-up is clearly human, though their shapes appear like a child’s drawings; no sense of proportion or anatomy, only the simplest understanding of function, and then, correcting its mistakes, a learning of the flesh, the bones inside pop and crack and reshape the arms until they’re just right.

“No,” April whimpers.

All at once, they grab her.






Under the typical Halloween music coming through the door, eerie keyboards and lyrics about ghouls and goblins, Butcher can make out other sounds. They're odd for a party, shouting and shuffling and knocking about, meaning either The Robins and their costumed friends are into some fairly aggressive dancing, or there's some serious trouble going down on the other side of the wall.

He knows which one he'd put his money on.

Butcher tries the door. Locked. He steps back and plants his rear foot on the porch behind him, ready to kick the door in, handgun gripped in both hands.

But something inside stops him. It's a gut instinct that says this is not a good idea, this will put him in a bad spot, an instinct which, if he didn't trust after years of being on the force, this past week would have done the trick.

You know things before you know them, he once told his son. As the boy was being tucked into bed he'd asked with big, brown eyes what it takes to be a police officer. The boy had nodded at the answer, as if he knew it before he heard it, pretending to understand.

In steady steps Butcher makes his way along the unlit porch and around to the side of the house by the kitchen, his gun down low, ears open to everything, from the faint music to the the buzz of beetles shouting to each other in the night.

The door here is locked, too, but something catches his attention- a sliver of light at the bottom of one window where the blinds haven't been pulled down all the way. He goes to the light, and he looks in.

Franklin Butcher's entire life can, if necessary, be divided into two distinct sections, not based on time, not based on health, not based on, as he would have guessed, the parts before and after the birth of his son. Rather, the dividing line exists between that moment before he looked in that kitchen window, and the moment after he did.

When he saw what was happening to April.






His ass in the cold, wet dirt and his back against the house, Butcher sits mouth shut and eyes wide. He would move except his legs are numb. He would speak except there are no words to express what he feels. Above all things, over all earthly hope, he wishes for one thing- that he hadn't left his booze in the car.

What he's just seen hasn't just shocked him, it's changed him. The sight of April being taken apart and put back together again has awoken something in him, an ancient fear, perhaps, a biological knowledge of the unknown that has been systematically removed by the joint efforts of science and adulthood, two pillars which, in all their well-meaning, act as mortar and pestle to the crystals of childhood fear. Yet in the backs of minds, in the lizard parts we haven't outgrown yet, there are those lingering doubts. Those voices that say yes, there are monsters in the world. And yes, they do want to hurt us.

As Butcher becomes aware of himself again, he begins to feel guilty for not trying to save that poor girl, let alone the others he saw. The mangle of people around and behind and above her, a web of meat and pain and horror. It's a heaviness in his soul, located specifically in that place where his badge sits on his chest. He took an oath some years ago, and tonight his fear beat down that oath.

Yet he still doesn't move. He sits against the house and he waits to wake up, waits for his alarm to go off and push him out of bed so he can get ready for work in a world where a roomful of arms and eyes don't do the things he saw, the things he imagined, didn't see, couldn't have seen.

"C'mon," he whispers booze into the sky. "Wake me up." He sits for a minute this way but nothing happens, no irritating sound blares down on him from the heavens to pull him from the nightmare, because there is no alarm.

Life has become the nightmare.

Butcher shakes it off and gets to his feet when he hears the front door open. He leans through the bushes to get a look at the people coming out, single-file, shoulders straight and eyes dead.

There's something wrong with the way they move. It’s not outwardly alien but just slightly off, and when seen all together there's a synchronicity to their gait. It's not that they move simultaneous, like an army march, but it has a pattern to it, as if each person is one leg of a centipede.

The night is dark. Butcher strains to make out their faces. He knows he'll need names when he gets back to the station-house, he just has no idea how he's going to tell the others about this. He'll have to worry about that later, though. For now it's faces. Identities. Take down the information, that's his job. Reconnaissance. Focus on the job.

He leans further to see their faces, careful not to disturb a single leaf. His hand finds something solid tucked against the house, a few of them, cold, waist-high metal, and he puts his weight on them to lean just a few inches further.

He sees their faces. He knows these people. They're the same who walked in this door not long ago, the co-workers of Mary Robins who showed up in costume. Now they're leaving in masks of a different kind.

The metal shifts under too much of his weight and collapses in a loud, tinny series of bangs.

Butcher's heart stops. He looks up to find a dozen pairs of eyes looking his way. After a moment of silence, they begin to walk toward him.

"Stay where you are," he warns them. They continue their creeping advance and he raises his weapon, repeats himself, this time identifying himself as an officer. "Stop moving and put your hands on your heads."

But they don't stop. Their eyes are so cold it shoots a shiver up his spine, and he backs up to match their gait. He steps out far enough from the house that a security light mounted to the house clicks on and floods the night with blinding white. His eyes adjust and he glances down at the pile of metal to see what it was that betrayed him.

Signs, not one but three. He makes out the words “For Sale” and “Maycomb.”

The shades on the window he'd been looking through are drawn up, revealing a black silhouette against the inner lights of the house. Whoever it is stares down at Butcher with such hostility that he can feel it in the back of his skull.

The silhouette raises its hand to the crowd. It gives the signal.

The crowd reacts all at once. They run at him, and he fires off a round, the explosion magnified by the quiet night. It catches April in the shoulder, knocking her back a moment, but to Butcher's horror it barely slows her down.

The insides of her shoulder aren't what they should be at all. Instead of blood and broken tissue there’s blackness like tar and burnt wings. Her face doesn't show pain at all, only hate and cold determination, and as she bears down on him he can see her wound is already closing up, stitching itself, swirling in and healing like water down some vast well.

He runs.

One foot after the other his boots pound the wet ground. He puts everything he's got into his legs, running faster than he has in years. Behind him all the way the partygoers from Hell pursue him, each of their dead eyes trained on his sweating back. His heart is in his throat, lungs in his ears, and he fires back at them once, twice, hitting two of them, one in the leg and the other the cheek.

Their flesh erupts in greasy clouds. The man hit in the cheek slows another one down, and the others run around him, leaving him behind, and the woman hit in the leg stumbles and falls to the ground, rolls in the grass, takes down another before the rest jump over her and continue on.

Butcher runs harder, pushing whiskey out of his pores, and he starts to gain a lead on his pursuers. Their odd way of moving- he doesn't want to compare them to his son, but they have that same, unsure quality to their limbs as when Jake learned to walk- is just enough to give him an advantage, one he bets won't last long. He makes a wide circle across the field and toward the street.

A hundred yards from his car, he engages the safety on his gun and stuffs it into his waistband. He crams his hand into his pocket, all the more difficult at full-speed, fishes out his keys and bears down on his car, remembering, double-checking, reassuring himself that he left the doors unlocked.

He allows himself a single glance over his shoulder, then wishes he hadn't.

With too much speed he slams into the passenger side of his car. It knocks the wind out of him but he doesn't have enough time to care, just enough to fumble the handle, open the door, throw himself inside, lock the door and scramble over to the driver's seat before the partygoers catch up to him.

They crash into the car, one, two, three, rocking it on its wheels, and he locks the driver's-side door and ignores their screams and grunts and wet growls and concentrates on getting the key into the ignition.

"Start, start, start," he shouts. The engine turns over with one flick of the wrist. He slams the car into drive and stomps the gas pedal down as far as it goes. The car fishtails in zig-zag patterns and burns rubber but he's able to keep it on the road.

He reaches for the radio to call for back-up but finds a tangle of wires and broken plastic in its place. It's been ripped out with such force the dashboard is cracked. Pieces of metal frame bent in half. His phone is gone also, missing from where he'd tossed it. Considering the guests were all inside the entire time, he appears to have been sabotaged by someone else.

This town, he thinks. Worse and worse.

He makes the mistake of checking the rear-view, giving himself a look at the angry, malformed faces he'll attempt to stop thinking about as he drifts off to sleep for as long as he lives.






In the pitch black of the musty closet, Mary's face is buried in clothes. Her eyes squeezed shut, her teeth clenched, she has the palms of her hands crushed into her ears. She wants to keep from hearing even one sound through the door and walls of a house she once wanted to spend the rest of her life in.

After a time, when the rate of her breathing approaches normal, she takes her hands from her ears. The house is quiet, and not just quiet but silent in a way she didn't expect it to be. She leans forward to hear.

A sudden banging on the door. Mary jumps, and a small cry comes from her throat. She grabs the closest thing she can find to use as a weapon, sifts through the pile of coats until her fingers hit something solid. It's a coat hanger. She bends the hook up into a point like she saw in a movie once, grips the handle in one, trembling hand.

The door opens. A dark, intimidating face appears in the opening. She jabs with her make-shift weapon, aiming for its black eyes, but a hand shoots out and catches it before it finds its mark. She kicks out at the attacker and falls to the back of the closet.

After a moment, her eyes adjust to the light. They find her husband looking back.


“It's over,” he says, looking down on her in the pile of clothes.

"Is everyone..." She can't bring herself to finish the thought. He simply nods, and holds out his hand to help her up.

She comes out slowly, scared of Kevin, scared of what she'll find, but finds a house spotless and silent. Not a single body, not a disembodied foot, not even a drop of blood to give away the scene which happened so recently.

She moves into the kitchen, peeks down into the basement, then comes back to the living room where Kevin stands at the middle, arms at his sides.

“Where did they all go,” she asks.


"In the yard?" She runs to the front window and draws the blinds to nothing.

"They're halfway to town by now," he tells her. "They'll go back to their families and sleep the night."

"And then what?"

He says nothing.

Mary breaks down, making sounds halfway between laughter and sobbing. She hadn't realized The Self would be putting people back together, going out into town, starting the process over. If she had known, she might not have agreed to all this. If she had known, she might have tried to kill it, burn the house down, do something other than feed the monster and set it free. "Nothing was keeping it here," she says through tired tears, "why didn't it just leave in the first place?"

BOOK: Shallow Veins (The Obscured Book 1)
2.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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