True Creature

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
A supernatural murder mystery two women must solve to survive. A series of suspicious deaths draws investigative reporter Deanne Mulhenney and medical examiner Sara Poole into a deadly clash of modern and ancient worlds. Set in the growing years of Phoenix, Arizona, four men are found dead during the creation of a massive water project meant to bring life and prosperity to the desert. Deanne and Sara soon find something sinister and very, very powerful may connect them all.

Submitted: March 16, 2019

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Submitted: March 16, 2019

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True Creature

Chapter 1

Paradise

 

Once you come to believe you have nothing more to lose, you’ll lose one more thing.

The spring in your step.  A few degrees of motion in your fingers, your knees, a measure of clarity in your vision. The loss is rarely sudden, more often something you become aware of gradually.

And, little by little, you’ll begin to realize that at one time, youth firmly in hand, you lived in paradise.

But you had no idea you'd been there until you looked back.

And now you wonder if others who began this journey with you knew just where you were. You realize that many must have. They knew, and they took full advantage of it.

But for you paradise wasn't to be found in the “here and now.” It was only to be enjoyed once you'd circumvented all the pretty traps and snares of the present. 

Back then you dreamed of, and lived for, the future.

Paradise.

But every day you lost a little more.

And finally, weary of walking toward a future that seemed ever more uncertain; you decided you had walked long enough, far enough.

And only when you were tired and old did the truth become clear…that this very time and this very place…

This is what you sacrificed paradise for…

 - Dark Warrior

 

 

 

Arizona

May 2, 1968

 

A breath! Air whistled down his sandpaper throat; another rattling and painful breath. Awake. His eyes were dry, his sight smoky, motes like large winged bats swirled across the narrow tunnel of his vision. Cold. His powder blue blanket, the one with the cowboy hats and lassos was gone.

Where was his bookshelf filled with picture books? Where was his fielder’s mitt?

He saw that shelf now at the far wall of the room. But who moved it?

Where were the curtains printed with drawings of other kids playing – figures that often scared him at night...because sometimes those kids seem to move...to really play.

The windows on the south side of his room were gone; only one thin window high up that far wall and fogged white.

This isn’t my room. It’s not my bed!

“Ma-” A cry for his mom couldn't escape his parched, cracked lips. His tongue was a leathery, useless thing in his mouth.

The hand he raised was fragile, the fingers long and white with knobby knuckles, barely more than bones with skin; not my hand.

This isn't me.

A brittle scream that couldn't possibly have come from him and then...darkness.

He dreamed.

No. He remembered…

 

 

 

June 2, 1953

 

Choking dust. Deep sand sucked at his sneakers, slowed him down, weakened him. But he kept pumping his arms, kept running. The full moon led him up and away from the others, guided him past the cactus and the sharp, unstable rocks. But it couldn't hide him because the moon led them too.

They'd seen him, and he had no idea where he was running to but the lake. And then what? What would he do? Swim away from them?

He had never run this hard. He was hungry and cold – with nothing inside to fuel him but terror.

The boy's legs pistoned and pumped and finally, failed him. He wasn't fast enough; he wasn't strong enough to escape.  He dropped to the sand.

The stench of decay, something dead nearby – a bird, a jack-rabbit…

“This way!”

Tommy! His friend stood atop a small mountain of boulders well-guarded by Cholla, what they called “jumping cactus” - the worst cactus of all – because Cholla needles were so long, so sharp, they were in your skin before you even knew you'd touched them.

“Through here! This way!”

Tommy waved his arm toward the awful stand of Cholla.

Joey stood, wiping the sandy snot from his face.  He couldn't make it through that cactus. No way. But he could hear the pounding footfalls behind him. He had to go somewhere! In the blink of the eye, Tommy was gone.

Why did he come here, what did he expect to see?

Nothing like what he’d seen tonight, nothing like this!

He heard his brother shout, “Joey, stop!”

His brother would be angrier than anyone if he caught him.

Tears poured down Joey’s cheeks. He sucked his lips into his teeth. And ran for his life.

Pain slammed his ribs. His fevered eyes saw only stars, and then...Chuck Webb, nearly twice Joey’s age and massive - the fetid odor of sweat and something the boy was far too young to know.

“You didn’t see nothin’! You hear me? You didn't see nothin'!”

 

 

 

The Lily Murders

May, 1968

Phoenix, Arizona

 

 

"Charlie?"

Melissa Webb swirled the plastic sword within her frosted glass and stabbed another salty olive, plucking it from the bottom. The martini was sour and not nearly dirty enough. Damn it. Vermouth should only touch the glass, be swirled for a bit and dumped out. It was the olive juice, the salt she savored.

"Charlie…"

Charlie knew better. What was he thinking?

She slipped from her sandals, relishing the feel of cool marble beneath her feet as she crossed the kitchen floor to the patio.

Beyond the sliding door, rectangles of aqua light from the pool danced along the terrazzo, painted the wrought-iron benches, the meticulously clipped lawn, and high stone wall that protected their yard and their pool.

And there was Charlie himself. King of his castle. Lord of his pool, his rotund form distorted by the sheets of water sluicing down the faux rocks above him, those beefy white feet dangling in the churning water. His martini rested safely just beyond the flow.

Melissa downed the last of her far-too-sour martini, slipped the robe from her shoulders and dove naked into the warm pool. Her breath slipped away in silver bubbles as she glided effortlessly across its length.

Charlie had been a varsity fullback when they'd met. So powerful, so handsome.

That was fifteen years ago. And here he was now…

Things had changed…Charlie had definitely changed. He'd grown fat and bald. To be fair, neither of them had lived up to their physical expectations she supposed. She'd miscarried the child who had tied them inextricably together back then and picked up thirty pounds of sadness herself from the experience…

But she loved big Chuck today the same way she always had.

Through the churning surface, through the bubbles, there were those big feet, the sunrise tattoo on his ankle glowed a garish purple in the aquamarine pool lights.

She clasped his tree trunk ankles in her hands and began to pull herself up to him.

His feet slipped from the ledge. Charlie's body toppled headlong into the pool.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

Ross Tennet worked so hard.

Jo Anne had cleaned the Burl & Tennet Agency office nightly for ten years, she'd  long ago stopped counting the times she'd found Mister Tennet asleep at his desk.

She knew he had children. She knew he'd been divorced – at least twice. Outside of that, she knew he lived only for the agency.

He was a quiet man, but a good man as far as Jo Anne knew. He smiled often.

She clicked off the vacuum before she made her way down the hall past the stone waterfall that trickled softly, beside his office. There was no need to wake him. The man was meticulous. Anything she found there she could handle just fine with a dust cloth and pan.

The clock near the bookshelf read 8:13 PM.

At 8:25 PM Jo Anne had swept, dusted, and tidied everything but Mister Tennet’s desk.  It wasn’t until she reached for his empty water glass that she realized Mister Tennet wasn't breathing.

 

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

 

Los Angeles, California

 

 

“What the fuck?”

Sara Poole raised her gloved hands.  The rotund, naked form on the examination table before her settled slowly onto his back.

“Is that a rhetorical question?” Ben glanced up from his clipboard.

“This wasn't an overdose…” she said. “I’m thinking murder.”

Ben shook his head, and read the report back to her again. "The deceased, Richard Bilken, was found in bed by his roommate with a needle in his arm.  He’s a known heroin addict.” He added, “with an arrest and conviction record longer than your girlfriend's clit."

Sara, a good four inches taller than Ben, her body molded by years of competitive diving and martial arts, smiled benignly at this attempt at humor from the squirrel-like twerp, as she usually did. In the macabre world of forensic pathology, you found humor where you could.

“I'm thinking he was drowned and placed.”

Ben tilted his chin toward the bags of clothing their customer had come in with, freshly bagged on the counter awaiting tags.

“His PJ’s are dry.”

“Come on. Give me a hand here.”

Checking a customer's back for signs of trauma was a necessary part of the Medical Examiner’s job, the “heavy lifting” part. Sara was strong enough, and with her natural leverage, a good steady pull of the arm was usually enough to roll a corpse, but Bilken was a large man. A large, dead weight.

“Take his shoulder. One. Two...three.”

With a gurgle and a moan, the dead man rolled toward her, a gory mix of water and blood sputtered from his open mouth and nostrils into the gutters...and just kept coming.  Two liters or more by the time he was done.

“Again...I'm thinking murder. By drowning.”

 

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

 

I seen her stuffin,' Alice. Candy - she’s hidin' it on you, sweetie.”

“I know that, Crystal. Where does she hide it?”

“Come on, sweetie...just a taste, okay?”

“Shit, Crystal...”

“I'm not a snitch, baby...you know I'm not like this -”

“Where, Crystal? Where does she put it?”

“I got two babies, Alice. I'm just...you know, I'm just messed up now, just now, you know?”

“I know...I know how that is, honey.”

Out on the floor where, at this moment, Candy was making sweet love to the brass pole under the adoring gaze of three fans, actual music played.  In here, Alice's “nest,” with its carpeted door and walls, there was only thumping bass, deep rhythm, a dark pulse. In here, all melody was lost and the only light was a watery purple glow from the aquariums.

The snow-streaked face in the mirror resting below him, the one with the rolled fifty dollar bill up its nose, mascara highlighting his long black lashes, that face didn't belong to him, it was an homage to his favorite act, Alice Cooper; a caricature of a caricature.

His real name was Cecil. That had become “Cee-Cee” early on. Now it was Alice.

Nothing was his.  Not even Candy. Not even the money she made off his good nature.

He ran the paper along the mirror resting on Crystal's backside, skimming the sweet powder, sucking its cold-burning life into his nose until a drop of red blood spattered the remaining dust.

Oh, feel that cold, medicinal, burn...

His lips curled, for a moment he could feel his gums pull back with them, felt his teeth grow long and sharp.

Oh, if only he could be that monster he wanted to be.

“Just a taste, okay. That's all I need, okay, sweetie? That's all.”

A ghost of a face, a flickering purple, a face that might have been that of a sweet child in the light of a summer not long ago, that face looked back at him with equal parts hope and terror.

He took two bottles from the shabby desk behind them. One, Peppermint Schnapps, the other, Tabasco.

“I'll give you a taste, honey.”

He dumped a white pile onto the mirror, swirled in schnapps, Tabasco, and his own blood...

Her eyes grew wide.

“Where does she hide it?”

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

 

The rat-a-tat machine-gun fire of southern California rain pounded against the metal door. Alice was spent, burning, freezing...and flying.

It had been a fabulous night after all.

Heartbreaking, yes. Candy had cut him deep. A love like that didn't come cheap. The breakup had been expensive in every way.

Oh, and it burned...it burned deeply, wonderfully.

He hugged the fiery, wet crotch of his slacks.

Well, passion burns, honey. And breaking up is very, very hard to do.

He found her stash afterwards. A pocket stitched into the black curtains backstage. Alice had some mending to do tomorrow.

Before that, he'd taken a good, solid fist of cash from the safe, and marinated it in his special love potion while Candy writhed through two turns onstage, and warmed the laps of her three johns in the private rooms.

Only then had he waved her, smiling, to his nest.

He yanked the door open and burst, arms wide, into the rain-filled night. She'd passed, screaming through this same door only moments before. The thought made him feel good, powerful. The sounds of his sweet revenge still echoed through the steely, rapid fire, of the LA torrent. That felt good too, cooled the burn.

The heavy rain had formed black rivers, they swept the trash of LA's backside, before him.

Wadded bills swept and rolled past his feet. The very thought of a trail of soiled bills stretching as long as Candy could waddle and run, screaming, hands plastered to her bottom, brought a snicker and a snort from him.

He let the bills go. At first he did.

The money wasn't important to him, not really. It was the pain she'd caused him, the lies, the disrespect. She’d stolen from him, taken advantage of his goodness, his charity, like so many had.

It wasn’t until he reached the dumpster behind the dilapidated club, where his VW love bus awaited him, that Alice finally bent to recover a nastily-stained $100 bill.

“Huh?”

A black raincoat rode along the surface of the river before him, sweeping that bill and several others with it. And just past the coat -

Alice recoiled in terror.

A tall, no, gargantuan man stood naked beside the dumpster.

Alice fled, sloshing through the rainwater, back to the door, his hands slipped, tugged, clawed at the knob.

Locked. Of course it was locked. It would have locked the moment it closed.

“Aa!” was all Alice could manage.

He looked back to see the man collapse in a splash of foam to the asphalt, like a wave crashing to a sandy beach.

He was gone.

Coke? What was in that fucking coke? Fucking LSD?

This was no fucking joke. The coke was fucking laced.

His knees gave way. He would fucking kill his pusher.  Lance was fucking dead.

No joke.

He fumbled for his keys, they dropped to the river of muck and bills at his feet and he stooped, quickly, to retrieve them, along with a few sodden bills while he was down there. His eyes blinked, raced from keys to dumpster, to sidewalk and to the refuse of East LA beyond.  No apparitions this time. No naked giants.

I don't deserve this!

I don't!

His keys sparkled in the slowly rising creek at his feet - but before his hand could scoop them up -

Another hand did. A huge hand.

It rose up to his face faster than his coked-up reflexes could dodge it, and then Alice was flying backwards. He slammed the metal door with rib-snapping force.

His scream strangled with water, his nostrils, throat, and lungs burned and filled with it. The water filled his lungs to the point of bursting, then beyond.

The creature's eyes, two blue stars of pain, stabbed into his.

And then there was only pain.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

“Got a real Sunday night special for you this morning, Sara. Meet, Cecil Benson, alias, Alice.”

Sara thumbed an extra dab of peppermint oil just below her nostrils, as she made her way between the tables. The oil didn't help.

“Peppermint won't help with this stinker.

“Thanks for that, Ben.”

“Probably, make you more nauseated than you already are.”

“Again, thank you.”

She'd had a good night, but a rough one too – last night’s White Russians mixed with the odor of mint intertwining with the powerful stench of feces and whatever devil's cologne the stinker had splashed on the day he’d perished nearly made her puke.

“Ah... let me guess,” Ben wafted the air around her with his latex-clad palm.  “White Russians?”

“I bow to your genius. What happened to his eyes?”

Ben nodded toward the cylindrical jar resting between the man's legs. Two brown eyes stared crazily at her from their formalin bath.

“I don't mean where are they now – why aren't they in him?”

The man’s empty lids, streaked with mascara and blood, had sunk deep into the pits beneath them.

“That is the real question. Cops had to chase them down the street before they saw El Segundo for the last time.”

Sara nodded, continuing down his body.

“Throat and abdomen are extremely distended, he lay face-down for a while, purple with lividity all the way down to...fucks' sake-”

The man's penis, still erect, was fiery red.

“And that is the primary source of today's atmosphere.”

“Jesus. What did he do?”

“Apparently he delivered a hot mint poker to a friend.”

“What the hell is that?”

“It's a mix of Schnapps and hot sauce. It’s a form of figging?”

“Figging?”

“That’s where you use a shaved ginger root for an anal plug. Keeps your partner from clenching – it was all the rage...somewhere back in the Renaissance.”

“Maybe that’s why I failed art history.”

“With a hot mint poker, one usually rubs the mixture over the condom, a gift you give, not receive. But...apparently, this one was a giver and a taker.”

“That can't feel good for anyone. I'd rip his eyes out too.”

“You never know until you try.”

“Remind me again why we don’t hang out after work. Oh, that’s right - you just did.

That's a weird scar.”

Just over the customer’s carefully-shaved pubis, a cluster of bluish lines, slightly raised. She moved her gloved index finger lightly over it.

“Yeah. Noted that. No stitch or burn marks. Could be a birthmark.”

“Huh. I think it's a tat, just really badly done. Likely caused an infection.”

“Nasty place for body art.”

“Well...I'd say this fellow wasn't too discerning. So who was Mr. Benson’s last date? Anyone out there missing a freak?”

“Perp wasn't hard to find. She showed up at Mercy Hospital with severe Colo-rectal distress at 2:12 AM, a few minutes after they found him.”

“Well...let's see what else she did to him,” she said, “Check his back, I'll get his arm.”

“Watch that hand...”

It too was bright red and stunk to high heaven.

“Jesus. What a bastard,” she muttered.

“This one could be messy inside. From the looks of him, she shoved a hand grenade up his ass.”

“Yeah?” Sara said, with a glance at his flaming erection, “She deserves a medal for heroism. One. Two. Three.”

The man's unhinged jaw flopped wide open; a torrent of water, mud and gore gushed onto the table, cascaded over the troughs.

The force of the liquid was so shocking that, for an instant, they both stood, flabbergasted, leaving the man on his side as the effluence fire-hosed out of him.

Just as suddenly, the filth and water separated, the water seemed, almost, to slither over the sludge.

Beneath the table, the five-liter collection bottle filled with it.

“Get another bottle!”

Ben crashed into the corner of the table. The cylinder with the eyes teetered, the balls inside twirling, and Sara caught it with one hand as she fought to disconnect the collection bottle, just as Ben slid a new one in place.

She capped it, or tried to. The cap didn't fit – no, it did – she just couldn't twist it down far enough to catch the thread.

“What the fuck is this?!”

Sara grasped it with both hands. She shoved down with all her weight.

The big plastic bottle swelled beneath her. Beside her, another bottle filled.

“Damn it!” It throbbed, pushed back against her as she forced the cap down.

Then it burst!

She shielded her face with her arms as the water slapped into her, knocked her back, painfully, against the next table. The second bottle exploded beneath the collection pipe, soaked her.

“Fuck!”

The water slid off her in one thick sheet then dropped to the floor.

“Plug the drain!”

Ben pulled the control with everything he had – it wasn't enough.

They watched helpless to stop it, as the water slid through the grate of the floor drain. And then the floor was dry, completely dry.

Sara looked at her gloves, her coat. Dry.

They looked at each other, stunned. From the table, the dead-man groaned as the eyeless corpse collapsed onto its back once again.

 

© Steve Zell, 2019, all rights reserved


© Copyright 2019 Steve Zell. All rights reserved.

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