Authors: Brian Martinez
"Yourr brickss, yourr pieeccesss. Wantt your piecess to Sellff." The dead man's tongue pushes against the inside of his own mouth until it breaks through the soft flesh, growing longer and longer to reach out for Kevin's face. Mary screams at the horrid sight and Kevin pushes away with no effect. "Your pieecess too maaake Selff. Tooo joinn Selfff."
Up close Kevin sees that not just every piece but every bit, every centimeter of this creature is an amalgam of once living things- leaves, roots, teeth, connective tissue, hair, fingernails, antennae, cartilage, all making up a collective layer of detritus, and not all of it seems to know it's dead. Much of it wiggles and breathes, whether trying to help or trying to get free is unclear.
"We don't want to be a part of you."
“We don't want to die.”
"Yessssssssssss," it slithers, an excited sound, and from this alone Kevin realizes that this monster, whatever it is, however old it might be, is a thing not of survival but of pure evil, that it enjoys the kill, feeds on the fear like some men do, but this is much worse, not a functioning man gone wrong, some glitch in the upbringing or the chemical balance, but rather it seems to live for this purpose, come from this purpose, thrive on the pain and confusion of what it absorbs, the way it always has, always will, growing, overtaking, consuming, until that glorious day when there is nothing else, only Self, glorious Self, a world of one.
It occurs to Kevin, as if becoming aware of a dream, that these thoughts are more than he should be able to ascertain from one, simple word. He looks down to see that some of the smaller, hair-like tendrils of the creature have snaked their way across the floorboards like fast-growing vines and have begun to climb his shoe and wrap around the exposed bit of ankle above his sock. He shakes them off, rips the strongly attached ones off and with them some hair. The creature reacts around them, angry, disappointed, shakes and sizzles.
As soon as he removes the tendrils, the thoughts stop. It's some kind of connection, he thinks, and not a pleasant one. A fusing with the creature's mind, surprisingly strong for such a tiny flick of its tendrils.
The doorbell rings.
Like an exposed nerve the creature reacts, tensed and twisted, to the sound. Its tendrils turn to face the hallway, eyeless eyes peering at the front door at the far end, while the larger pile of its mass retreats back down into the hole it created. Mary gasps at the sight of the floor fixing, the wood returning shard-by-shard. It's a million piece puzzle, assembled with the help of tendrils and bone claws, while at the front of the house the heating element scrapes and pushes back into place.
She and Kevin exchange a look which says they no longer know where the creature starts and their house ends.
"Annnsswerrrrr," the corpse-head commands as it's drawn back into the pulse of swollen flesh.
"What will you do," Mary asks, but its too late- the head is swallowed up, the pile slipping back into the darkness as the floor heals around it, until there's no sign it was ever anything but a solid and unbroken plane. The doorbell rings again, this time twice, whoever it is getting impatient. Mary turns to Kevin. "Should we get it?"
"I don't think so." At Kevin's words a gurgling hiss fills the air out of the walls themselves, every sound they make heard by the creature, the house under and over and around them.
"It doesn't sound like we have a choice."
"Alright, listen," Kevin whispers, "the second we open that door I want you to run."
"What about you?”
"I'll be right behind y-" He grips his leg, his mouth screaming silent. Mary looks down to where a floor-mouth has opened up to bite down on his foot, wooden teeth dug into the shoe, splinters pierced through the leather and into the foot beneath. Before Kevin can scream, two fingers sprout from the mouth. Wet, bloody meat wriggles up his pant leg, under his shirt and out the collar. They wrap his mouth in slimy silence and slam him against the wall.
“Annnsswerr ffeemale,” the floor-mouth hisses.
Kevin nods, his mouth covered, his foot leaking blood and his back pressed to the wall, held hostage by the creature but still breathing, alive, and Mary knows he means more than answer the door, he means he still wants her to run, save herself, get help.
She shakes her way up the hallway, terrified to leave Kevin that way. She glances back to check on him but the finger-worms have him tucked out of view, only the dry shuffling of his shirt against the wall which she’ll have to accept as evidence enough he’s alive.
She wishes more than anything to see him now. Take strength from his face. Anything to help her walk up the endless hallway, push her toward the door where there’s knocking now, banging by the fist of someone who has no idea the horror they’re walking into.
The air is cool and the sun is friendly, the sky broken by a few puffs of low-hanging clouds. Officer Banks looks into the heavens. He adjusts his baseball cap and prays for the patience to deal with these people. Even though he’s off the clock he’s still an agent of the law, and altercations like the one he’s halfheartedly set on avoiding have a way of following a man back to the job, especially in small towns. He’d like to say that he’s always been this smart, that he’s never let his temper take him over, never punched a guy’s nose in to teach him a lesson. He'd like to say that.
“Answer your door, shit-heads.” He slams on it with the ball of his fist, BAM-BAM-BAM, checking the driveway for the third time to see that, yeah, their cars are parked there. The dog tucked under his arm struggles and demands to be put down. He grips it tighter but its too much to hold onto, and he’s forced to let go before the thing hurts itself.
The moment Felix’s paws touch the ground, he takes off running.
“Son of a-” Banks watches him go, one hand on his hip and the other scratching under his ear. Behind him he hears the door creak open, and he turns to find Mary peeking at him through the crack. Nut-jobs, he thinks to himself.
“Is there a problem, officer,” her voice cracks.
“Yeah, listen, I’m not here on a police matter, it’s just that your dog…” He looks back to find he’s alone, the mutt long gone. He shakes his head at what some people call dogs these days. “Anyway he’s gone now cuz you took too long coming to the door, but I was at home trying to relax and he showed up making a racket.”
Mary opens the door the rest of the way. “I’m…I’m sorry.”
“Sorry doesn’t get me my time back. Did you even know he’d run off?” Mary nods sheepishly. “And you didn’t think to go catch him? Maybe it’s different wherever you come from, but we have leash laws in this town. You can’t let animals wander around, free to bite whoever they like.”
She nods again, and he stops talking long enough to notice her eyelids are puffy, the whites of her eyes gone pink. With his anger dialed back to a dim, internal scream, his police officer's senses pick up a strange blip on the radar. He asks her, "Is something wrong," and her whole body stiffens.
"Of course not. You just caught me at a bad time." It sounds convincing enough, but the entire time she talks, she nods Yes. Yes, there's something wrong, in the body language of hostages.
That's when Officer Banks puts it all together. He could kick himself it's so obvious, yet all this time it went right over his head.
Kevin Robins isn't some loser weirdo.
Kevin Robins is an abusive husband.
Butcher hovers over the sink, nauseous from a heavy night, the kind that started with a victory which turned into an avalanche- he'd gone all day without a drink, and that deserved some celebration.
He splashes water on his face, careful not to get any on his uniform. He breathes deeply until the wave of sickness recedes. Once he's sure he won’t throw up he wipes his face with a few scratchy, brown paper towels, straightens his shirt and exits back into the station.
Ignoring a dirty stare from Officer Stroud- the only female cop on their team, a smart girl from a smart school who decided to slum it- Butcher returns to his desk where his coffee has gone cold. He takes a sip anyway on principle.
The front door of the station opens. He glances over and sees a familiar face. In fact it's the most familiar face of all.
Monton leans over the dispatch desk to look down at the small boy. "Can I help you, kid?"
"I'm looking for my dad," the boy answers.
"Over here, buddy." Butcher waves him over. Jake snaps to attention at the sound of his father's voice and runs over, his slightly-too-large backpack flopping behind him all the way. Butcher bends down on one knee and Jake runs into his torso and throws his tiny arms around him. Emotion wells up in the back of Butcher' throat, but he pushes it back down. "It's good to see you," he says. "Where's your mom?"
The boy pulls away from him. Instead of answering he drops his backpack on the floor, goes behind Butcher' desk and pulls himself up into the swiveling chair. He rifles through papers pretending he's a grown-up, miming what he sees them do, which is move stacks from one side of the desk to the other and line up pens.
Butcher stands, dizziness swimming in his skull. "Jake?"
"She's home." He doesn't look up from the papers, continues to move them around.
Butcher kicks the boy's backpack softly, moving it out of the walkway. "I like seeing you, but you can't scare her like this. It's not fair to her."
Butcher sighs. "I know the feeling."
His back pressed against the wall, Kevin listens to his wife talk to the asshole cop. He's never felt more mixed about a person on his doorstep- relieved someone might help them, might save their lives, any human being at all let alone a police officer, and yet disappointed that, of all the cops in the world, the one who showed up is the one who thinks Kevin is insane.
That fact alone might be enough to doom them.
The finger worms slide across his face, keeping his mouth shut tight with their slimy grip. Kevin grimaces at the taste they leave on his tongue, like rotten meat and slugs, and then realizes, not without some horror, that this might be what he tastes. A more disgusting captor he can't imagine, and yet with the ten foot fingers snaked up his clothes, up his neck and around his face, he can't help but feel fascination for the creature who lives in the walls and floor of his house. How long has it been there? Where did it come from? What does it think, feel, want?
Images. A flood of pictures needle his mind, painful at first, making no sense, alien thoughts incompatible with his, but then, like turning a radio dial from static to station, they come into focus.
The house explodes in slow-motion, an outward bomb blast into the vacuum of space and darkness, every stick and staple separating and drifting outward until only he is left at the center, floating in darkness. But he isn't he, he is the creature, the Self, one cell smaller than a grain of sand, and then with a violent surge the world snaps back into place to conceal the space, but not the world from before, not Kevin's house but an earlier time, and he sees it clearly, hears and smells it not at all like a memory but like a right now, existing in that time, all times, in different bodies and shapes and Selfs, connected as one and left to grow, mature, left by the original Self to become a new Self, to pass the legacy on as they know how, by consuming one cell until one cell becomes two, and those two consume two to become four, then eight, and on until one cell becomes a tangle of fibers, and that tangle of fibers becomes more, and more, and more, and the legacy of Self is to make more Self, make the world Self, so that nothing can stop it and them and Self, all connected as one, all connected as one.
Through this flood, this download, Kevin is aware of a tiny part of him which is still in control, watching from the remotest corner like a single lens. The pictures soak into his mind, and the more he stares at the pictures, scribed in the creature's pure, genetic material, he starts to notice patterns in the language. The passing familiarity of repeated pieces.
The creature floating in space becomes aware of him in his metaphysical corner, watching as a lens, and it becomes angry and turns on him. It floods him with new pictures, terrible pictures of Mary suffering, just one of infinite possibilities becoming more possible through Kevin's actions, through his act of defiance.
Kevin squirms. The air restricts from his lungs, the fingers tightened around his throat. The bodily panic brings him back from that other place into the here and now, the house where Mary is still at the door talking to the officer.
Mary is screaming inside.
Run, you idiot, go get help! There's something here, a monster that wants to eat us! Run and get help. Bring the police. Bring the army. Bring the president of the United States if you have to, but get out of here before you get us killed. and don't come back until you have a machine gun or a flame-thrower or an atomic bomb to drop on what it's using for a head!