Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It's Good to be Afraid -- 12, October


Midnight passed, and the world was a mess. Henry Talbot dragged himself across pavement and gravel with his one good arm. He was in a strange state now. His body was covered in fur, but his left arm was that of a man's. The upper teeth of his snout hung out in the air in a hideous overbite. A quarter of his lower jaw had retracted to the shape of a human mandible.

Footsteps were pounding the asylum parking lot behind him. Even now, with a bullet working its way back out of his skull, Henry knew the sound of an angry mob when he heard it. Blood spilled down his forehead, obscuring his eyes. His human arm was the only limb working, and he used it to blindly grope forward. He could sense the tree-line just ahead, could hear rain bouncing off the bare branches, hopefully washing away his trail of blood.

He still couldn't understand what had gone so wrong, or who had done this to him. The logic of the plan was simple enough. To protect the people of this town, the scarecrow had instructed him to check in to the mental institution on the cliff.

“How am I going to do that?”
“Simple enough,” the scarecrow had said. “Just tell them the truth.”
“It would be easier to get myself thrown in jail.”
“Easier in,” the scarecrow had pointed out, “But not so easy out.”
And so he had. He would spend the night in the cell, hidden away, and on the following day, Mr. Uzor would come to retrieve him.

The walls were heavy stone, the door was iron. It was the perfect place for him. Night came and the moon rose. Henry paced his cell. His metamorphosis had only begun when he heard the most terrible sound. The tumblers in the lock of his door disengaged.

In shock, he reached out, barely touched the door, and it swung wide. Outside, in the hallway, was the boy he had saved from the graveyard. Had Henry's vocal cords still been human at that point, he would have asked him, “Why?”

As usual, he had nearly no memory of the following events. Everything was a bloody mess. Metal grates were torn off walls, ceiling fixtures pulled down, office doors smashed in two, and everywhere bodies torn to pieces.

He fled the scene now the only way he could, one hand dragging him toward the oblivion of the cliff. Some wonderful person had gotten the sense to put a bullet in his head and cut short the rampage. His functioning left arm made one final heroic effort now, and his body tumbled unseen over the cliff.

Jack shoved the boy ahead of him. They stepped carefully over the bodies and took care not to slip in the blood, but they were in a hurry. To William's right, a man was pinned to the wall. The legs of a table had impaled his chest, and he was hung there like a fly in an insect collection.

“It's one of the things that makes him special,” Jack said. “He's not just a savage killer. He does it with art. Once a month, he's worth having around.”

William could only stare slack-jawed. Jack gave him another shove from behind, and they continued on. “This place won't be empty for long, lad. Keep moving.”
“I'm going to puke,” William warned him as they walked.
“Keep it in. Ye just have one more door to unlock before we're done.”

The two of them stopped at a hall intersection. Jack put his back to the wall and withdrew something from a bag. “Third door on your left. I'll keep lookout here. Just unlock it, and give this to him.” William looked at the object. It was a blank white masquerade mask, expressionless, the type you were supposed to paint yourself.

“Third door on your left,” Jack reminded him. “Go!”

At his urging, the boy ran. The hallway was deserted, but Henry had not been here, so there was no damage. There was nothing special about this third door on the left. Just the same, William stared at it for a moment. He had to wonder what was behind this one. Was this entire building a series of locked horror shows? He was completely trapped, though. The hospital staff would surely arrest him now. Jack was the only one who knew the way out, and the wolf man was still a deadly force possibly prowling the halls.
He turned the key in the lock and yanked the door open. A large man was standing only inches from the door. His hand was out immediately, palm up. It was huge and scared. He pressed the mask into the waiting hand. He had only the briefest glimpse of the man's unremarkable face before the mask was in place, and then William ran.

Jack smiled as he watched the boy dash past him. He took one look around the corner to see the Madman don the mask and begin to stride toward a fire exit. He signed with relief. “Your first Harvest, boy,” he said, even though William was long gone. “You won't forget it.”

William burst from the front doors of the asylum. Rain was poring down, and his surroundings were only visible during brief flashes of lightning. He was free, though. Jack had told him he was free to go after doing this, and their business contract was complete.

There was a crowd of people out here. They appeared to be searching for something. Heedless of capture, William charged through them. He slipped once and went to the pavement. In a spark of lightning, he saw it was a trail of blood leading to the treeline. William turned and fled the other way. He only had to find his way home now. He brushed past a man in his flight, then disappeared into the foliage.

“What was that?” asked Michael Samuels.
“I didn't see it,” replied the other man. “Come on, we have to find that thing.”
“I put a bullet in its head. We can wait for morning. We're not going to find anything but a dead body. Besides, I thought. . . I could have sworn I just saw son.”
The man looked at him with pity. “You have a lot to deal with right now, Mike, but your kid wouldn't be wandering around up here in a storm. The most important thing we can do right now is make sure that, wherever he is, that thing we saw isn't going to get him.”
Mike relented, but he couldn't help but think of what his ex-wife would say.

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