by Joseph Shaffer
The singsong scritch-scratch of Mil's pencil on the smooth, white paper was the only sound filling the autopsy room, save for the electric buzz coming from the lights overhead. All was crystal clarity thanks to those; there would be no dark rooms like in the movies, ones where you could easily make the slightest mistake. Her pencil traced out her observations. At this point, it was only the obvious she was recording: "Caucasian male, approximately 28 years, no external wounds, time of death unknown, cause of death unknown."
She had only arrived at work, and everything she was drawing up was as blank as the paper she had started with. The samples were already taken and ready to be analyzed. She only needed to slice open her new project and see what secrets he hid. The dead had a voice, and she was going to break the shell of this silent wonder if it meant probing deeper than any human would want to.
She sat her clipboard down and re-read it. No errors, nothing interesting. It was a bit hard to muck up the mundane, thank God for those little graces, but now it was time to get her hands dirty.
Mil reached for her scalpel, the blade gleaning under the brilliant, but soft lights. Her other hand fiddled with her voice recorder. She placed the scalpel on her John Doe's shoulder, ready to slice and see what he was made of after all, and hit the record button.
"John Doe, Caucasian male-"
She jumped, torn clean from her reverie by the tonal scream of the phone. She did not mar her subject's flesh with the blade. She hit stop, set everything down, and walked over to her phone.
Always at critical moments, always when I need to get something done, and never anything important.
She grabbed the phone, her hand shaking through the remnants of the jumpiness she thought she had conquered and the expectation of who wanted her at that late hour.
She hated that name, and her sister had a way of forgetting that. Deep within the basin of her sister's brain was a drain in which all vital information was flushed when she had another "episode." Mil knew that this was the case, and that rationality would not be restored to her over the phone, but rationality would also have to wait until a certain John Doe has been cut open and examined.
"Jonna, now is not a-"
"Mil, you have come here now! I had another dream!"
"Go back to sleep. I'll be there to see you after work. Stop calling me here!"
"Mil, please! You can't be there! I had a dream you-"
"Look, if you keep calling me here, it could mean my job. I am trying to get some work done right now. Get some rest and I will see you in the morning."
"No! Mil, please! You are going to-"
Click. Done. That's what Mil has been after six years of this consistent nonsense. She was done. Jonna's dreams were going to have to wait next to her absent rationality, beside her paranoia, and be good bedfellows with her hysteria. The last time she had received a phone call, it was because Jonna claimed there was someone trying to break in. After calling the police and wasting a great amount of their time, she found that she had only dreamed about a break-in, but was so convinced that these dreams of hers were utter truth. Again her rationality has been absent since…
Mil didn't care. She eyed the cadaver on the table. A once handsome man lied there; not to say great looking, but dangerous and rough. A bad boy, she thought. She had little interest in any of them, good or bad. She only cared about herself and her cat.
And for some reason, her idiot sister.
Mil returned to the room and grabbed her equipment once again, bellowing a yawn that stretched her jaw bone almost to the point of popping. She cocked her head few times to either side, and felt the brisk pops in her vertebrae. She once again hit the record button, picking up where she left off. She spoke into the microphone and pressed the blade back in flesh.
"Caucasian male, approximately twenty-eight years of age-"
You really don't want to cut here, Mildred Lancy. You really ought to mind your own business. Some voices should keep quiet.
She had only brought her blade about two inches across Mr. Doe's shoulder when she heard the voice from the recorder. She looked at her hand and noticed that the record button was still on, yet the voice came from the tiny speaker.
If you value your life and your sanity, put it all down, let it all go, and leave here with your two warnings.
Her mouth hung open. She gawked at the recorder, wanting to say something as if it might hear her. Her hand fell way from the scalpel, and she moved away from the body.
John Doe's powerful arm seized her wrist and squeezed. She heard tiny snaps and felt the searing pain of bones breaking under his strength.
Do not mistake this for an idle threat. Do not mistake this for a hallucination. All is real, but your life is not yet forfeit.
Mil leaped back from her seat, falling flat on her back. Her scalpel and tape recorder were on the floor next to her. John Doe lied upon the table, unmoved. Mil panted and held her hand up. There was no pain, but a faint ghost of neurotic sensations like one would experience after waking up from a lucid nightmare.
Slowing her heart, she returned to her feet with her recorder one hand and knife in the other, waiting at any minute for John's hand to grab her. He slept, undisturbed and peaceful.
Looking over the body, she noticed that her incision wasn't even present. She shook her head, squinting her eyes, and went back to work. She placed the blade in the region she had twice before and was ready to slice. She added pressure to it, marring his skin just a little. Her hand became irregularly clammy under the gloves, and a shake came on like junkie that skipped a fix. It was the insistent pounding of Mil's heart that bade her stop. She slammed the scalpel down and left the room, recorder still in her hand.
Her trip was not very far. Only to the ladies room to splash her face, and maybe try to tell herself to stop being so damned paranoid. She only had a small dream, even though she did not feel drowsy.
The women's bathroom was always dark. One single bulb lit four stalls. The darkness that coalesced on the wall seemed to want to stretch into infinity. Each stall always looked more like a closet or a coffin, so she avoided using this restroom as much as possible. Even the sink, clean and gleaming though it was, looked wrapped in shadows. She turned on the faucet as she got there, cupped her hands to receive the water, and threw it all on her face.
Mil lifted her head after letting it rest in her palms for about twenty seconds. She didn't drink anything with caffeine, so cold water on your face was about the next best thing. Feeling more awake, she gazed into the mirror to study her face and make sure she wasn't going completely nuts. Her blond hair hung in messy ribbons from the tail she made in a hurry. Wrinkles were starting to show under her eyes and her lips were cracked. Other than that, there was nothing to suggest insanity.
She breathed a little sigh and noticed something move in the mirror which deftly shot behind the stalls and out of sight before she could whirl around to find out what it was. She moved forward without a single worry, keeping a steady pace. She rounded the stalls and looked into the darkness, but saw nothing. Some tiny clicks resounded from within one of the stalls. Mil walked over to it, stopping just at the door. She tried to pry it open only to find it locked. She thought to knock, but knew that she was one of two (living) people still in this building, and the other was a man. Instead she knelt down and looked underneath the door. No legs. She moved closer, angling herself just so she could see the top of the toilet. No one was there. Clicks resounded now in the next stall over. She moved over to that and tried the door again, noticing it wasn't locked this time. Her breath quickened as she slowly brought the door open. It creaked, drowning out any clicks that may have resounded in that short window of time. Tired of this slow going, she threw the door open at once. Nothing was there.
Mil let out another long sigh and shook her head. What the hell was she doing, kidding herself like this? She stopped kidding herself a few years back, when her mother died.
When Jonna's dreams started.
Stop it. You're being dramatic. She just has night terrors.
The business stank worse than the restroom, and it was time to get back to the lab.
She left the restroom and traipsed down the hall. Her shoes clicked on the linoleum like the clicks she heard in the bathroom. No, the clicks she thought she heard in the bathroom. Keep it all straight. She had a job to do, and a man had a final chapter in his story to tell. That was her job, to excavate that story.
Mil rounded the corner and heard the clicks again, this time coming from one of the doors across the hall from her. She stopped, knowing that these were not the clicks that her shoes were making. She turned slowly, looking first over her shoulder. A door was open and light poured out from the room. She walked toward it and peered in. Nothing. She saw nothing. Just what the hell was going on?
Mil jumped out of her skin and damn near fell on her ass. She steadied herself against the door frame and saw that the custodian Henry was in. The stout man had to look up a small ways to make eye contact with her. He wore the same wizened smile, only this time it was more amused at her world class jump.
"Scare you, did I?"
"No Henry, jumping is usually my way of greeting people."
He gave a long and hearty cackle, and clapped his hands. He acted more like someone's uncle than a co-worker.
"I didn't see you in here when I first looked in," she said.
"Yeah, I was down on the floor. Some bastard was chewing gum and got it on the carpet. I tell you, you'd think some of the people who work here would be even more mature than they are. They still act like damn punk kids."
Mil nodded, agreeing for the sake of it. He's prone to rambling, but we love him anyway.
"Look, Henry, I'm going to be down the hall in the autopsy room if anyone needs me."
"Gotcher self another stiff, eh?"
"Yes, Henry. Hence my reason for being in the autopsy room."
Henry grunted and smiled, then turned and went back to his room. She didn't know who would need her, or why. She wasn't herself tonight.
She clicked her way back to the autopsy room. John Doe's peace was still undisturbed. She picked up her scalpel again, and her left hand had a sudden, lonely feel to it. She forgot her fucking recorder.
She set it down in the bathroom when she splashed her face. She groaned and put the scalpel down again and exited the room. Her motions were swifter this time. Before reaching the bathroom, she came back to the room that Henry was just in. She looked in and saw that he was absent again.
No response, save for the clicks that she heard in the corner. She walked in and headed toward them. Mil had seen a few horror movies, but could not stomach them. She thought they were all too unrealistic, too silly. They were films that served no use or purpose in humanity. She would not know about not investigating those strange noises, being as rationally minded as she saw herself.
The clicks continued and grew in intensity as she got closer. The room was full of tables, almost like a classroom or a lounge. There was no equipment in here, meaning it was likely not being used at the moment. Perhaps someone was readying it for use. After all, someone had been in here recently, otherwise where did the gum come from?
In the corner was one table that had a few papers on it. She knelt down and looked underneath. Nothing but darkness, full and complete. She shook her head, cursing this new wave of paranoia.
She stood up and aimed to walk away when pain wracked her ankle. She yelped and fell forward, almost hitting another table. She looked back and saw nothing in the dark, not even her own foot. The pain intensified, and she felt the cold, wet sensation of blood exiting a wound.
Mil reached forward, panic shaking her. She screamed for Henry several times. She tried to focus her eyes to what was in the dark. There was nothing there, but the clicking was getting louder and more rapid by the second, like a card trapped in bike spokes.
Hands fell on her arm and pulled her back. She looked up to see Henry standing there, holding her.
"What's going on? What is it?"
"I came in here because I thought... I... Something grabbed my ankle! I think it's..."
She couldn't organize her words. She examined the wound, only to find that it wasn't there. Again, the ghostly sense of a pain that no longer existed was there, as if the wound had abandoned its post and left the pain to deal with the issues. She had just awoken from another nightmare, one she didn't need to sleep to see.
"Henry, I think I'm fucking losing it."
"Yeah, I'd say so."
Mil went back to the bathroom and grabbed the recorder. She left it sitting next to the sink, still running on record. She did not even remember pushing the button. She hit stop and rewound the tape as she made her way back to the autopsy room. Once back in she rushed over to the body. Would she ever get to slice this guy open? Was he just going to lay there dead and unknown to the world? No more of these hallucinations, no more active imagination. Just get to work and get the job done.
The phone rang yet again. She knew it was going to be her sister, paranoid and hysterical again. Mil went to the phone again and answered it.
"Milly, please! You have to get out of there?"
"Stop calling me Milly! Look, Jonna, take your pills and get some rest. I'll be there in the morning."
Mil hung the phone up and walked away from it, back to her project. She lifted the recorder and examined it. When did she hit the record button? It was stopped when she left the room, she was certain.
She hit the play button and listened to the first few unsuccessful entries. Nothing worth remark. Afterward was a long period of silence. There wasn't a sound of the clicking of her shoes against the floor, nothing. The next thing she heard was the rushing of water. The sink, it had to be. There was a small splash, a pause, and then clicking; the same clicking she heard earlier. Her breathing quickened as she went through all the actions on the tape she did previously.
And then, silence. Long and unbroken. She thought it was done, but she felt that there was going to be something.
The clicking started again, only there was a voice this time to accompany it.
"Leave that body alone, daughter of men. Leave it alone for the sake of your soul."
She hit the stop button. Mil didn't believe in the supernatural. There was an explanation to all of this. She rushed out of the room, again, to find Henry. She would let him listen to this, let him know that someone else was in the building.
"I'm telling you, there was a voice on that recorder."
Henry regarded Mil with caution; perhaps sarcastic in doing so, but it was cautious nonetheless. He eyed her up and down, and even looked around the vicinity, as if waiting for a hidden camera to pop out. This was no reality comedy show, nothing was quite so candid. The only truth was that Mil was losing it, and not bit by bit, but all at once.
"Mil, dear, I think you need to take some time off."
"I'm not crazy!"
"I didn't say you were crazy, I only said you needed time off. Relax. Let everything roll off you."
She sighed and continued, "I can't afford time off. I need to get this body done."
"Bullshit. Someone else can do it. You're just over-stressing yourself. You need a vacation."
She didn't need anything except to get her work done, and do so without interruptions. She knew that Henry would not believe her. Hell, even she was beginning to doubt. Voices don't come and go, as well as phantasmal tactile sensations. Those things only happen in dreams and schizophrenia, and Mil began to question if the latter was more viable than the former.
"I'll... I'm going back to the room to finish up," she said, and left Henry to his silence.
She went back down the hall, listening for the clicks she had heard earlier, but they never came. She waited for the voice, anticipated the burning hold, but they, too, never came. Her only duty was to unzip the body and finish the matter.
After a few minutes, she came back to the body, her scalpel still on his chest. No matter how many times she played the recorder, in Henry's presence or not, she never heard the warnings again, or even her own voice. She rewound the tape and prepared to start afresh. She planned for Murphy's law to kick in, having hit the record button and placed the recorder next to Mr. Doe…
The phone rang, and she sprang on the instant to answer it.
"Jonna, if this is you again-"
"You're not cutting that body, are you?"
The voice was not Jonna, but the same deep, warbling voices she heard on the tapes, one that sounded like it came from an old vinyl record. Mil froze, her mouth agape, and spittle already beginning to drip downward toward her chin.
"The body is not yours to deface, daughter of men. Leave it be. Go home, and we will claim it."
"Who are you?"
"No one that you need to concern yourself with."
"I asked who the fuck you are!"
"No one that you need to concern yourself with if you want to live... if you don't want to die painfully."
Mil hung up the phone. She shook her head again and pressed her fingers into her bridge of her nose. She felt a splitting headache coming on, as if the man's voice had implanted wedge in the back of her skull. It was threatening to divide her, rend her sanity asunder, and leave her a blown out shell of a woman drooling on the floor.
She wiped the spittle from her mouth and looked over at the body. She didn't believe that this was anything more than a hoax. She wanted nothing more than to be left to her devices, she didn't care who was calling her or telling her to go to hell. Her gumption redoubled, and she marched out of her office, her pace nearly fast enough to send her coat flying behind her like a cape. She stopped short of the body, hit the record button, and grabbed the scalpel.
"This is Mil Lancy, performing an autopsy on a John Doe,
Caucasian, approximately twenty-eight. There are no external
wounds, so I will be making the incisions right now."
"You fucking whore! Leave the body alone!"
The voice rang out from the recorder. She looked at it, unshaken and sure.
"I'll be making the incisions right now, with or without interruptions."
The lights began to flicker all around her. Instruments on nearby desks began to shake. Mil made the first slices on his shoulders, making a Y-shaped incision on Mr. Doe's chest. She cut finely through the flesh and began to peel it back, wanting to know this man's story, to know his insides from his outsides, to see what brought him to this position in life.
Beneath the ribs, under all the bones, lingered nothing but blackness and the back of his ribcage. From the larynx down was nothing but a hollow mass. She did not understand, as the body showed no sign of being empty, didn't feel empty when they pressed down on the midsection, and one could even tell that there was a full set of organs by looking at the outside.
She dropped the scalpel and the recorder, the latter of the two breaking open at the battery compartment, the batteries flying out from the main body and scattering on the floor.
John Doe's story would be a little more complex, because most of it was blank.
Mil saw movement in the darkness within his ribcage. The darkness itself rushed out from John's empty insides and began to inundate the room. Quickly, the room filled with a kind of opaque fog, and in the gathering darkness she could hear the voice again.
"Thank you for ruining a perfectly good body. I hope you enjoy your torment."
Hours could have cleared, maybe even days. Mil didn't realize which it was. She awoke again in the room she had been working in, lying on the table. She tried to hoist herself off, but could not move. Sleep paralysis, she thought. She was no stranger to the condition, being as she suffered from it at least once a week. She could feel her arms wanting to move, but they wouldn't budge even the slightest. She could sense something in the corner, or was it underneath the table? Her senses were going insane, flashing wildly, and telling her that malevolence came from everywhere, and for all she knew it may well.
She was unable to look down at her body, or else she would have noticed that she was naked like her John Doe friend. She wouldn't need to see to know what would be happening next. A small fissure started at the top of one of her shoulders and worked its way down to her chest, followed by another on the opposite shoulder. With each cut, she tried to scream, but the paralysis bade her not. She felt the blood trickle down from each slit and pool on the table beneath her. Finally, another incision sliced its way from around her pelvis up to the conjunction of the first two, making a bloody Y. The cuts were not deep; at least, not enough to perform a true autopsy, but enough to torture a living person.
The cuts started again in the same order and along the same lines as before, only a little deeper. With each cut, she tried to scream harder, but found she could not.
Mil remembered that there was one thing she used to do to stop an attack of sleep paralysis. If she struggled, she really wasn't very likely to be released. She relaxed for a moment, gathering her patience and energy as much as she could despite the searing pain and cold trickles of blood. More of it poured out from her deepening wounds and collected on the table. She remained and still and calm as she could as the pain mounted higher and higher, slicing nerves and tearing away at tender flesh. Her mind was cleared and she grasped at some of the stored up energy and put it all into one of her shoulders. Pushing upward with all the might she had mustered, she tried to budge the shoulder up and break free of the paralysis.
She did, and toppled onto the floor leaving an enormous, bloody splotch. She laid there, panting and expecting to pass out from loss of blood. She lifted herself, still shaking under the pain of the Y-shaped slice on her chest. The blood she left was minimal, thank god. The cuts were not so deep; not enough to kill her. She got to her feet and looked around the room. Her clothes were missing in action, but there was a lab coat hanging on a hook in the back of the room.
Her vital areas now covered, Mil went to the door and out into the hall. The world she had known was nowhere to be seen That world had abandoned her.
The hall she stood in was the not the one she was familiar with. Where the clinic once stood was now a hollowed out husk. The building she was in had fallen into dilapidation. Words and characters were scrawled all over the walls amidst the dirt, grime, and wear. All along the place were intermittent globes of light let off by grimy bulbs that could barely be fifty watts.
She moved down the hall, exiting to the left and walking straight ahead. Her face swiveled from wall to wall, examining the passages that had been left by the bored and derelict, looking for something that would tell her where she could be. Nothing was discernible. She couldn't even recognize the characters that were written or even what alphabet they might belong to.
One globe of light about twenty feet down revealed a passage that she finally could make out. Of all the languages, it was written in English:
ALL HAIL THE NECROMANCERS OF NEUVILLE
Beneath it was a symbol she did not recognize, one of an O with an asterisk in it and what appeared to be an elliptical eye at the very center. It was a basic symbol, but one that seemed to bear a kind of power behind it. She could feel it watching her, like a surveillance camera.
In the darkness ahead she heard more noises, voices. She could stand the peering of the asterisked eye no longer. She figured that she wasn't coming out of this alive, and answers would at least give her some ease in death.
If only death was so easy for you, daughter of men.
The voice came not from the hallway ahead of her, but from within her own head. It carried the same warbling tone as the one on the phone, like a poor recording. She touched her hand to her head and limped along.
"What do you want from me?"
I already told you what I wanted. You could not obey.
"What the fuck do you want?"
Mil dropped to her knees. Tears finally ran down her face. She had been holding it in for too long, and despite being honest with herself on her chances of survival, she found that she wanted to believe that there was some way to pull out of this. There had to be some way out if she only pressed on. There had to be something more to this complex than surveillance and scrawlings.
The bastards want to play, she thought, Oh, we'll fucking play. You name the game and I'll-
Such insolence from one so intelligent. So much cynicism from one who used to be so pure. Why do you so hate the name Milly? Huh, Milly? Why? I would ask where your God is, but you don't have one. Not anymore, anyway. Soon, though. Soon, you will wonder where your God went, or perhaps your God wonders where you are.
The voice did not elicit any form of despair from Mil. She found it empowering. She would show this man that no God would get her out of here. She would do that herself.
And even while the laughter in her head continued, as if in response to the last comment, she pressed onward, seeking the noise she heard earlier. It eschewed out from a door, one that was hardly seen save for the dim light slipping out under the cracks.
In the darkness between globes was a door. She could not see it, but could tell that another of those symbols was drawn upon it; feeling the eye upon her again, watching her with detached interest. Little by little, she felt her dignity being stripped from her, as if this eye could see through all of her defenses and clothing, through the flesh and muscle and ever sinew and fiber of her existence and into the secret past she tried to run away from. It laid her bare, and now it was exposing that and trying to break her.
She refused to break. She would not, could not, and certainly will not. Not, at least, under the piercing gaze of this man who had chided her for doing her job.
She felt for a knob and turned it and into the room that was behind the door. The light spilling out from it revealed that she was right. The symbol sat upon the door, looking outward, and at the same time inward.
The new room she had discovered was unlike anything from the clinic, though it bore its displaced motif. Chairs were arranged under a dying light, yellow with age and flickering with the last of its strength. Next to them lied a worn out aquarium full of brackish water and strange objects floating therein. Upon closer investigation, she found that they were fish, dead and decaying.
Against a wall was a pay phone. She was relieved to see this, and at the same time crestfallen. She could only imagine what kind of trap was laid in this room, and especially the phone. The phone drank from her thoughts, or it must have, because it rang as she drew closer to it. Mil was reluctant. She knew that this was some kind of mind game concocted by her kidnapper. The voice took the opportunity.
Answer the phone, insolent whore.
She would not have done it under normal circumstances, but she felt a pull toward the phone that was stronger than the one telling her that she might even survive this with little more than a Y-shaped scar. Mil rushed forward and grabbed the phone. She pressed it against her ear hard enough to crush the lobe against her skull.
"Jonna... God, Jonna, you have to help me!"
"Milly... it... it... it..."
"Jonna! Please, listen to me! I don't know where I am! How did you get this number?"
"It... it... it... it..."
"Jonna... What's the matter, sweetie?"
Mil had not used such endearments since... Since...
Since that day? Since what day, Milly? Tell me. Tell all...
"Johnna, what's the matter."
"Milly... it... it hurts... it hurts..."
Dread filled Mil. The tone in her sister's voice was genuine. She could not bring herself to believe this was a trick; just a facade put on by her assailant. A tear rolled down her face as she listened to the sister she neglected fade from existence.
"It hurts, Milly! Oh god it hurts..."
In the background was a faint click, and then a whistle. And then silence.
Mil hung up the phone and fell to her knees.
"You're just trying to trick me, aren't you?"
Believe that if you want. Believe that if it gives you hope.
She believed it. Believed it just like she believed in nothing after death, or that destiny is a bunch of malarkey fed to the irresponsible like so much morphine in the face of the their follies.
She got to her feet and noticed that a phone book was hanging out, attached to the pay phone like a neonate attached to its mother. On the cover was a red mark like that of a V with a horizontal line through the middle. She noticed that there were words on the book the same as those in the hallway, but pictures she recognized from the Neuville phone book. She flipped through them and noticed all the old signs and sigils of the resident and national businesses. The logo for Cal's Calzones stood out with with the odd lettering underneath it, as did Neuville Realty. As she continued to flip her eye caught more red marking that stood out amidst the blur of pages. She caught the page and noticed that within the margins was written something that tore into her weakening mind.
His caress rots the earth, and his breath stales the air. He was to be present on the day of delivery, and yet there was a stillness there. Two taken, one prevented, one damaged, and another to be devoured, but he is corruption ever after. He is...
The red stopped. She knew not what to make of this, besides it being either a clue or a taunt. She let the book dangle from its cord and began to walk away.
He had seen her as she walked away from the book, the old fable puller that the master left behind. He cannot walk because his legs are destroyed; have been since the wreck, gods bless. They would never know atrophy or disdain or jealousy because their lives were taken along with their usefulness. And still they remained, a sardonic reminder of what he once had.
His touch on the ground leaves a shadow like the ones he'd seen before. There were shadows that the master could use that weren't shadows at all. Just lingering darkness. They were tricks, they were the special at birthday parties that made the kids gawk with wonder at how this man so full of magic could produce such things. It was nothing, really. That's what his look told. It said that this was commonplace, as was your resurrection... and you must kill her despite what the vestiges of your rotting mind will tell you.
She will be your bride in the dirt, six feet and full of stink just like your neighbors. It was she who would not relinquish the body.
He understood this now and crawled toward her. As he did, the shadows that weren't shadows at all rose up like dust in an attic, and fluttered like a snow globe.
Mil walked toward the door. She could feel a wind rushing in from nowhere-
from the dirt
Hell, could just be from the back of her mind. She didn't care. It wasn't making her shiver or anything. The wind was warm and soothing, almost like being in a womb.
Her fists clenched at the thought. She reached for the door to get out of this godforsaken place and find the exit to the building. A bug passed in front of her face and she swatted at it. As she did, more of them coalesced around her. She waved her hands to shoo them off, but noticed that as she did more appeared. She could not make out what the bugs were, but noticed that their numbers began to increase at an alarming rate. They didn't seem malevolent, but pesky was bad enough. Mil shifted in circles, hands still flapping, to find that the whole room was infested with these "bugs." Little globs of darkness hung in the air, some danced and others hovered or fell. The warm wind kicked up and threw a few of them around in every directions.
Without turning around, she groped for the doorknob. From underneath one of the waiting room chairs came a sound that made her skin crawl. It sounded like a moan, neither human nor animal, but something dead and overexposed. She looked around the place to find the source of the noise, but could not see through the haze of blackness. She waved her hands again, but the "bugs" continued to fly in her direct line of sight. There was one place where they were more concentrated, and she looked there for her answers. Without thinking, she moved toward it; an oblique, upward whirlwind of "bugs."
A loud slap on the waiting room chair in front of her caught her attention. She looked down to see a hand, putrid and rotting, was groping for leverage. She backed up and saw a face that pierced her mind just as deeply as the passage in the book. She could feel every facet of her psyche being invaded.
He grabbed the seat and pulled himself forward. Oh, what a surprise for her to see you. Oh, how long has it been? Maybe she will want a kiss. Maybe she has not forgotten. Oh, how could she? How could she ever forget the man she blames? How could she forget
Strands of deteriorating hair hung from his skull. His eyes were sunken back into a face that seemed little more than a fine layer of stretched flesh loosely glued to a bony structure. Dirt still fell from it, and she could even see some places where spiders and centipedes had taken root.
They don't take root in corpses, she tried to think to herself.
Howard's non-heart would have skipped a beat: to be dead and reunited with the love of his life at a time when the blackness beyond it gave no solace. His legs would not carry him to her. It was a great measure of devotion to have crawled from the cemetery all the way here, but he managed.
Mil did not lounge around and wait for her dead husband to nosh on her brains like any idiot in her situation would have- and some directors would like to believe should have. She took to flight, knowing full well the door would be locked and that she would be tortured only more. She was wrong. The door swung open and into the hallway she went.
Though Howard was without legs, he was not without power. The speed at which he could crawl was astronomical, given what he was.
I owe this to the master.
Before Mil could get through the door he seized her foot. She toppled to the floor face first, nearly breaking her nose. Blood ran from it and left a decent stain upon the floor. Just as she felt the warmth trickle from her nose, she felt a fiery blast engulf the flesh just behind her ankle as he dug his remaining teeth in. Her free foot kicked at her assailant,
the man who assailed you through years of your life, and the one you blame, the man
hoping, hoping, hoping that her kick is hard enough and that his skull is soft enough.
She did land a blow between the eyes, and enough for her to pull herself free and get to her feet. Her adrenaline coursed so quickly through her body that she could not feel the wound that was on her foot, only that she could not use it to its full extent.
On her feet and through the door, the din in her head thrummed with the beat of her soles upon the floor. She could feel pieces of rubble underfoot, some sticking to the sappy wetness of her sweat-caked feet. Just beneath the beating of her heart and feet
she could hear the distant patter of her dead husband's hands against the floor. He let out a shriek as he ran on his hands. Her mind, damaged as it was, felt another little kick. She stumbled, feeling her weight shift forward, but recovered and redoubled her strength. She panted even harder, not knowing where to go.
patta-ta patta-ta... patta-ta patta-ta
Mil could hear that she was getting further away.
The master had but one more blessing to bestow upon him. He felt two hard snaps as he pattered through the hallways. There was no pain; after all, what could be more painful than dying? At first, there was a great imbalance and his wife disappeared around a corner, giving her a resounding lead. After that, though, after the adjustment...
He could move faster than before. He did not know how, and did not care to look back and see the two derelict legs, useless though they were, lying forever lost in this place that is and isn't.
The patter picked up behind her and got closer. She couldn't jog much further. She had to find a door that she could use, but was too afraid to stop for even a second. She knew that the instant she did, he would be on her again. She rounded corners, but still heard him coming still, the patta-ta patta-ta on the floor became swifter by the moment.
Her mind, however frantic, was thinking of a way out. Her will to survive was strong. She always clung to something that would help her live, or discarded those that became of no use to her survival. All she had now were empty halls, doors without promise, and bits and pieces of stone, dust, and plaster. Mil was not about to let this be her tomb. She knew that it must come to blows, or there would be no solace.
The alternative was out of the question.
Mil scanned the floor as the patter became closer and the shrieks increased in number. She could find nothing useful in these halls, unless there was some way to bludgeon someone with pebbles.
After rounding one corner, she saw a pair of doors at the end of the hallway that beckoned to her. Neither of them had knobs or handles, but the easy push bars across the middle and a bright exit sign just above them, although the words on the sign were of a language she didn't recognize. She let out a small cry of relief and looked briefly over her shoulder. Howard was still far enough behind that if she was deft enough he would not get to her as she went through the doors. The doors would not stop him, but at least they would slow him.
Please, don't be locked! Let me through and slow him down, even just a little. Please! she thought.
The voice boomed in her head as it had before, bearing the same warbling tone.
And to whom do you call out, daughter of men? To the one that you have forsaken? Or has He forsaken you? If he truly has, then your path ends here, though I would like to have more time to delve deeper. You are… fascinating…
She threw all of her strength into her legs, her lungs, and every muscle. She yelled and charged at the door, slamming into the bars. The door she hit moved with ease, even though she nearly stumbled over it and spilled onto the floor. She recovered and kept running, the adrenaline now so strong that her vision was a stinging haze, so much that black spots formed all over her vision like pepper in the wind. At first, she thought these were more of the "bugs," but had come to find the truth as her adrenaline dissipated.
The doors slowed her husband enough for her lead to increase, but not enough to stop him. The corpse pressed beyond the impediment and increased the great strides of his transforming arms. Along the way, more of his lower body had fallen, and was still falling from him. The joints in his arms shifted and bent in different ways than before, like they were becoming the legs of a very short ostrich. His hands had gained claws and began to mutate inward like great cat's paws than human hands.
And he could move with such grace that closing a twenty foot gap between him and his wife on his hands was little more than a thought. Within seconds, he caught up and leapt through the air. He brought her down with his skillful pounce, pulling a quick scream from her, and began a new onslaught.
At first, she didn't struggle. She laid there and allowed him to sink his decadent teeth into the warm flesh of her left shoulder. He didn't want to kill her, not yet. This was just like foreplay; you don't want to go off just yet, you want to have a little fun first.
Had he still a tongue, he would have tasted her blood. Probably would have loved it. It flowed out bit by bit, and wet the inside of his mouth, making it sticky and moist. Her scream was the first symphonic pleasure he had heard since returning. He could not hear the scream since his eardrums were defunct, but could feel its vibrations rattle the remnants of his transforming body. Nothing else held such delights. The light and air he once breathed were devoid of their original pleasures, and he couldn't feel much beyond rudimentary tingles, so the breezes were nothing but a light push of air against his rapidly dissipating skin. Somehow, he was beginning to feel close to alive again. It eased the pain that came with dying.
He released her from his jaws and began to claw at her back, but she flipped over onto him. Such strength and fight left in this woman! Her right arm was up in and instant and at his throat. She shifted her body with enough power to turn over on him and begin pelting him with blow after blow. It hurt her knuckles, he could tell as he watched her wince and saw her knuckles begin to crack and bleed, but that mattered little to her. There was one thing cracking worse than her knuckles, and that was his face. With every punch she let out a curse that his dead ears could not hear. He knew the gist of them: that it was his fault. All of what she had was washed away, fading like his vision as she continued her own onslaught.
He reached out his now bird-like claws to rend the flesh on her face, but she brought down the two of her hands like an axe handle. There was the vision of her loveliness, rendered forever in terror and madness and dripping with her own vitality, and then there was blackness and the sense of caving in.
And finally, there was nothing; back to the grave, back to darkness and the cold thrum of what dwelt after life.
It was back to rest, to peace, and to tranquility for him, only now his pain subsided.
"Thank you, Milly."
She looked upon the remnants of her deceased husband, still panting and feeling the adrenaline slowly drain away from her. Her sobs and pants became shutters and twitches as her vision was restored. The haze that covered her eyes had dissipated as her brain calmed. She sat on a concrete floor with a column to her right. On her left was a maroon car waiting for its owner to return. It was not the only one in her vicinity. She really did make it out of the building.
Mil got to her feet and scoped the scene. She recognized this parking garage, because it was a tiny one that the employees of the clinic she worked at used. She knew damn well she wasn't in the clinic a minute ago.
She traipsed over to where she parked. Her mind was blank, and she wanted it that way. She thought maybe she could hide from the voice if she only kept it blank. Think of a whiteout, of white paper, of a blizzard. Put that in your head. Keep it there for a little longer, and try to remember where you parked.
She turned on her instincts to remember without fully thinking where her car was. It wasn't a very complex garage at all. There were only three aisles one could drive down, as not very many people worked at this clinic. It was bigger than most in the Neuville area, but still nothing remarkable. Her car should be, as Murphy's Law would dictate, the furthest aisle from where she had re-killed her husband.
She was now aware of her limp and looked down at her feet. An arching row of reddened teeth marks still stood behind her right ankle. She didn't have time to investigate if it was infected or not, nor did she put it in her mind to think on a high enough level to do so.
With her mind quieted, she found her way to her parking spot. She didn't see what was parked there until she arrived, and when she did her stilled mind went back into flashes of terror and confusion, and again the voice found her.
You're more of a survivor than I pinned you to be. You did, after all, survive what happened to the car that now sits in your spot.
Where her car should have been parked was an older black car. The model and the make were indiscernible, but she knew what they were, because she knew this car.
Is this not the car, Mildred Lancy, which changed your life? Is this not the one that you have tried to put out of your mind so you could blame your husband for the mishap that caused you to hate the name Milly?
The world around her swirled and bent in many directions. She felt a wavering sense of leaving her body, as if she had been drugged. Roofies. He has her down, and now he will have his way with her until the very end. He was viewing her as she had many others who had passed on. The world blurred in the process and became like a smeared painting, and then it went oblique and nothing was where it should be. Mil floated in the darkness and could feel herself drifting backwards. There was no noise here; not a bell, a whistle, not even a chime. Though, she did feel a prickling cold sensation build around her body, felt years plucked away from her.
Felt her abdomen getting larger.
She had no recollection of when the darkness dissipated, but Mil sat in a car huffing and puffing as the pains continued to wrack her body in the back seat of black BMW. A feeling of moisture lingered near her groin, one of her hands firmly rubbed her enlarged belly, and the other held the hands of her mother.
A cold terror built up within Mil. She was reliving the day that history died for her, the day her heart died. She tried to move, but felt that she was being guided in another direction, one that she knew she shouldn't go. She tried to call out to the people in the car with her, but failed to do that. Sleep paralysis all over again, only this time she was moving. She had heard of this state as being attributed to doing ether, of moving without controlling it. Perhaps this is what it was like, only her moves were rational and not random as she had heard.
"Keep breathing, Milly, you'll be just fine!"
Mil wanted relief, and hoped that soon she would be at the hospital. Howard sat at the wheel, guiding the rocket of a car down to the ER at what had to be "ludicrous speed." Mil continued her breathing, but didn't take this as a time to not peck at her husband a little bit.
"Honey, you're going to get us killed before we can even start a family!"
"Do you want me to drive slow? I can do that."
"Oh, shut up and keep driving," Mil's mother said, with a smile on her face. What little tension there was amongst them would not break the surface.
Mil had this whole occasion planned out and hoped it would go into effect. Her plan was to go into labor on March 15th, which would have been two days from then, drive down to the St. Gloria's hospital where she was born, have one of the few remaining nuns see her daughter, and have a baptism before long. The baby would be in the arms and eyes of the God that hung around her neck and dangled at the rearview mirror.
Despite the chiding, Howard never slowed. He had a predisposition to drive fast, even if it was to go to the store down the road for milk and eggs. The car had just come out of the shop, having its breaks repaired, and he had taken this broken water bit as a reason to take the old boy out for a real spin. Mil thought that this might be his last chance to feel young before he had a child and needed to settle down for good. The windows were rolled down and the breeze ran through his hair. She allowed him this, even though it did irritate her. To be able to bear this while at the same time bearing a child took astronomical patience. As always, she set her mind to blank, and set her instincts to "breathe like mom tells you." It worked out.
"I think we're almost there, honey," said Howard. The smile he wore was more than genuine excitement. It spoke of the future he'd wanted, and that he was ready to leave this life of reckless speeding behind. He reared down the hill, gaining speed as he went. The roads of Neuville at this time were so unnaturally empty that Mil had to wonder if there was some public function going on.
And then, the wheels of fate spun, and began with a strange noise.
"Honey, slow down!" she called to Howard.
Howard pressed his foot against the break, only to find that he wasn't slowing. He began to pant and cursed under his breath.
"What is it?" her mother asked.
"The… the fucking break…"
"I thought we got that fixed!" said Mil.
"Oh shit! Oh shit!" he said.
They careened toward the next intersection on a level part of the hill with a green light. Oncoming traffic whirred through, and Mil could feel the lump building up once again in her throat. They drew ever closer, and a movement stirred from out of her visual focus: a yellow light, just visible. Many vehicles sped through and a few slowed. As their car drew closer, Howard maneuvering around other cars to avoid a collision.
And finally, the light turned red. They sailed on through. Mil exhaled the lump like she knew she would. She knew what was coming, though. Fucking knew it.
Please, God no! she thought.
And then a laugh boomed in her head.