Chapter 1: The Figure on the Road
It was cold and dry. The air hung heavy and smothering over the empty streets of the sleeping town. Clocks in every house read the same time, one in the morning. Then, all at once, the clocks jumped to life. Hands wound tight and screens blinked as each clock automatically reset itself to a random time. Five-forty three here, seven ten there; no two clocks read the same time.
A pair of gentle, silent feet shuffled down the street, balancing neatly on the thin white stripe that divided the main road of the small town. It was unclear exactly who the slow-moving shadow was. Male or female, young or old – it was impossible to tell.
All that was to be seen was a thin, frail, tall frame. The figure was all black, save for the empty golden bird cage it carried in its right hand. It was as if the cage itself glowed, the metal itself was alight. In the other hand, the figure carried a shovel. The shadow maintained its course, careful to let its feet touch nothing but the thin white dividing line. It hummed a cheery tune in a genderless voice, skipping happily on its way towards the graveyard.
The shadow melted through the chain link fence that was meant to keep fiends like itself out. The figure leapt up onto the head of a tombstone, balancing neatly upon it before hopping to the next one. A freakish giggle escaped the shadow's throat, and it set down the golden cage next to a random tombstone.
It hopped down and knelt over to get a good look at the writing on the stone.
A young man named Jameson Crutch killed by a drunk driver; only twenty-four years of age; married with one young son. This one would be fun!
The figure cackled and straightened up, clasping it's burned, bony hands together with joy. It stepped back a few paces, then struck out a long, thin leg against the stone, sending it toppling over and cracking into pieces. A few minutes digging, and there was a resounding 'crack' as the shovel struck the polished wood of a coffin. The figure tossed the shovel away and leapt down into the grave, wiping loose dirt away from the coffin.
Thin, bony fingers carved packed dirt out of the crevices of the coffin, cleaning it off as much as possible. Swift punches fell hard on the top half of the coffin, and the shadow cackled excitedly as the wood began to splinter under its barrage. Suddenly, the wood broke and the figure's fist punctured the wood and thudded into something cold and soft. The shadow pulled back the wood until it was just able to yank the thin body out of its resting place and toss it up to the surface.
The shadow knelt down and held the corpse of Jameson in its arms gently.
"I bet you had a beautiful voice." The shadow crooned.
Digging its fingers into the corpse's jaw, it forced the mouth open and grabbed its tongue, ripping it out in one fluid movement. Then, the figure opened its own mouth and yanked its own tongue out, sending blood splattering all over the corpse. The shadow shoved its tongue into the corpse's empty mouth, causing blood to dribble out all over its chin and down its neck.
Next, the figure pulled out a spool of silky red thread and a needle. It placed its hands on its head and popped its bottom jaw out of place, letting it fall down onto its chest. It carefully placed the corpse's tongue into its mouth and proceeded to sew it into place. Then, it jammed its jaw back into place and smiled excitedly at the corpse. It repeated the same procedure, cracking out the bottom jaw and sewing the tongue in place.
Then, the figure pulled out another spoon of thread, this one gold and glowing, like the cage.
The figure took out a thick, golden needle and attached a string of golden thread to it. It then dug the needle through the corpse's wrist and strung the thread through and around its wrist. It did the same for the other wrist, the ankles, and then strung another thread up through its skull and out the top of its head.
The figure then pulled each of the threads tight and proceeded to sew the ends into the fingers of its left hand. Then, the shadow then took the threads in its hand and held them up to its mouth, singing in Jameson's voice.
'Hush little baby, don't say a word. Daddy's gonna buy you a mockingbird.'
The threads began to glow and shimmer in the darkness, and the corpse suddenly sprang to life. It stood, crumpled over unnaturally. The shadow cackled and flicked its hand up, causing the corpse to leap into the air. The threads died down, their golden glow disappearing until the threads weren't even visible to the naked eye. The shadow picked up its golden bird cage and handed it to the corpse, moving its left hand to make the corpse received the burden.
"And now, to find that little mockingbird."
It had been one hour. And just as the figure left the graveyard, its puppet corpse trailing behind, the clocks all reset, and it was two o' clock in the morning in every household.
Chapter 2: Chasing Cars
Theresa lay down on her side of the bed, gently pulling the cool sheets about her. She habitually stretched her arm out to where Jameson used to lay next to her every night, even though she knew her arm would encounter nothing but empty sheets. But then, there was a resounding 'clunk' and she remembered she had put Jameson's old guitar on the bed. She sighed and pulled the covers back, standing. She picked up the acoustic guitar lovingly and carried it to the office, setting it down softly in the corner, right where Jameson would put it every night before he went to bed. Then, out of yet another force of habit, she poked a head into her son's room and looked in at his sleeping form. He was a tiny child, only two years old. In his crib lay an old teddy bear, Jameson's mother had given it to him. She had said that Jameson used to sleep with it when he was little. Next to the teddy bear sat a golden bird cage. Theresa paused. She didn't remember putting that there. Suddenly, there was a gentle stir and the characteristic sound of a guitar chord echoed through the little house. Theresa froze, her blood running cold. Silence. Maybe the guitar had just fallen over... She crept towards the office slowly and chanced a glance into the small room.
There he was, same as always, back against the wall, ankles crossed, guitar in hand. He had his head bowed and looking somewhat away so that Theresa couldn't see his face. A gentle, familiar voice echoed through Theresa's head as Jameson sang their wedding song.
'If I lay here, if I just lay here... would you lie with me and just forget the world?'
Theresa felt tears welling up in eyes and a quiet sob escaped her throat. She knew she was dreaming. She just missed his voice so much. What she wouldn't give just to have one more dance with her husband.
Jameson moved, setting his guitar down and standing up. He seemed to move as if supported from his shoulders rather than his feet. His head lolled back and he looked at his wife through sightless eyes. Dried blood caked his mouth and neck, dribbling down his chest and arms. She squeaked in fright, and began to back away.
She opened her mouth to scream, but a thin arm wrapped gently around her waist from behind, and she suddenly found herself silenced. Theresa gasped and clutched a hand to her throat, trying desperately to squeak out any sort of sound. Nothing came.
"It's not a dream, love." Jameson's voice whispered softly in her ear. She wriggle violently, but the arm that held her was firm as a metal bar across her torso. She watched as her husband's dead body, frail and deformed from going stiff in death, was forced loose again by some strange power, and now crumbled and collapsed in on itself unnaturally. He took a twisted step towards her, and his brittle knees finally gave way, shattering, and the puppet tumbled to the floor.
There was a sick, joyful cackle, and a mutated, disgustingly charred hand reached up to Theresa's mouth.
"You always had the most beautiful voice, love."
Chapter 3: Momma's Here
Theresa awoke to a screaming pain in her throat. She snapped her eyes open and doubled over, gagging up blood. Her mouth seemed... Empty for some reason. She tried to moisten her dry, crackled lips, and suddenly realized why.
"Oh, come now... Hush, hush. Momma's not gonna hurt you."
Theresa craned her neck over at her own voice coming from somewhere to her right. About ten or fifteen feet away at a wooden work table stood a figure. Her eyes widened in horror when she realized whoever, or whatever stood there, had in its hands, her son. She squirmed violently, pain racking hard through her body as she attempted to stand. A sudden, heavy jolt surged through her legs, and she tumbled back down to the ground. She tossed her head over her shoulder and realized her ankles were tied with some sort of glowing thread that was fastened to a golden cage.
"Oh, please don't do that."
She saw the figure turn towards her. It had a face, though the face itself betrayed nothing concerning whether the figure was male or female. Blood dribbled out of its mouth and down its chin and neck, splattering here and there with every word. It had a frail, sickly body and its skin was a disgusting pale-grey tan. It was clothed in a simple, filthy black cloak that clung to its body like wet paper. Two hands with spidery, long fingers were visible. Both were grotesque - hideously burned and blistered. A few short, silky spikes of hair grew from the figures head, and when Theresa looked in it's eyes, she saw shimmering gold and brass. And for a moment she was sure she saw the cogs and gears of a clock.
The figure knelt down and grabbed her ankle, yanking on the thread, causing Theresa to cringe.
"Now... Just sit still love. Be patient. There's a good lass."
The figure then turned its back on her and went back over to its work table, taking Theresa's son in is arms and pulling him closer. It seemed to chuckle, and moved so that it's body shielded the boy from it's mother's view. Theresa glanced about, trying to figure out where she was. All she could see was black. In the back of her head, ticking echoed rhythmically, growing louder then softer and louder again. Her body began to grow heavy and she had to roll over to spit out the blood that still gurgled up from the back of her throat.
The sudden cry of her child snapped her back into reality. There was a momentary silence, and the child wailed miserably again. Theresa thrashed wildly and pulled violently at her leash, trying to move the cage to which she was bound. It was impossibly heavy, and didn't even budge as the woman convulsed manically in a desperate attempt to get to her son. The horrible stench of burning human flesh came to her and she gagged, attempting to scream. The figure in black turned and smiled sweetly at her, cradling the young boy in its arms lovingly. Theresa saw her sons hand charred and bloody, burned like the fingers of the hands that held him. The child was sobbing horribly, it's tiny body convulsing as it cuddled into the safety of the warmth of another body.
'Hush little baby, don't say a word, momma's gonna buy you a mockingbird.'
Theresa heard herself sing, her own voice emanating from the throat of the twisted figure that now carried her son in its arms. Tear stung her eyes and ran hot down her cheeks. The figure just smiled at her.
"Hush, hush now."
Chapter 4: The Puppet Maker
Theresa's head throbbed wildly and she felt like she was going to throw up. The air was still heavy with the scent of burning flesh, and she felt horribly sick. Her body had finally begun to crack under the strain of the harsh reality she had been thrust into. She was dying. Her sight was cloudy and her limbs were heavy and useless. She had lost track of the figure and her son in her panic, and now all she had to hold onto was the tiny sliver of hope that her son might still be alive.
Her legs suddenly erupted into pain and she felt herself get dragged roughly across the floor as the figure picked up the golden cage in one hand and pulled her over towards the work table. It set the cage up on the table, then reached down and looped its charred fingers into her hair, pulling her up and flinging her onto the table. Some sort of grainy, guttural noise escaped her throat in place of a scream, and she landed with a hard 'crack', on the table, sending an unpleasant jolt of pain through her spine.
The figure shuffled about silently, concentrated on sorting its various tools, like a carpenter or blacksmith hard at work. Fumbled about until it pulled up a strip of leather and a pair of nails. Theresa squirmed violently, but the figure grabbed her neck with a withered hand. It tied the leather piece tight around her throat, leaving her hardly enough room to breathe. It picked up a hammer and place a nail on each side of her neck, digging them into the leather and piercing through to the table underneath so she was immobilized completely.
Theresa trembled and sobbed miserably. The figure just smiled at her, ruffling her hair playfully.
"There's a good lass." It said.
She watched as the figure threaded a thick golden needle with the same, glowing thread that was knotted about her ankles. She felt it's hand take her wrist and roll it over so her palm faced upward.
Had she not been so restricted, she would have wriggled disapprovingly, but her throat was so tight she knew if she let herself panic about she would suffocate.
She felt a tiny prick in her wrist, and suddenly the cold metal of the needle plunged into her arm. She felt it piecing through her muscles and veins and protruding out the other side. The figure yanked the thread through, wrapping it tight about her wrist a few times, then picturing another hole through her wrist and threading it again. If Theresa could've screamed she would've, but all she had the capability to do was sob violently.
The figure proceeded to string her other wrist, then strung more thread through her ankles and feet. Theresa was sure she was going to die now. But for whatever reason, she hadn't been killed yet. The figure put a hand on her forehead and brought the freshly strung golden needle up to her hairline. She felt it piercing her skin, sending blood dripping down her face into her eyes and mouth, but it didn't pierce her skull. The figure just pushed the needle up through her skin and pulled it out the top of her head, yanking out a handful of hair in the process. It then yanked all the threads together and leaned against the side of the table, seeing the threads casually into its left hand. It hummed to itself in Theresa's voice.
'Hush little baby, don't say a word, Momma's gonna buy you a mockingbird.'
Theresa felt a horrible burning sensation seep through her veins, growing stronger and hotter with every passing second. Her hands and feet fell limp, and her head began to ache horribly, she felt like she was going to die any moment now. Instead, the figure untied her bloody ankles from the cage and ripped the nails out from the leather strip that bound her neck to the work table. She sucked in air greedily, only to have it mocked out of her and the figure snapped its left hand across its chest and sent her flying off the work table and tumbling inelegantly to the floor in a battered heap of blood and bruises. Theresa coughed and spluttered, blood seeping down her throat and swimming through her eyes. She felt herself get yanked upright from the top of her head and cried out in agony. She opened her eyes to see the golden glow of the metallic thread that strung through her body had diminished. In a few seconds, she couldn't even see it, and it was as if nothing was even there.
The figure admired its new puppet happily, quite satisfied with its work. It moved its hand up slowly, forcing Theresa to rise to her weary feet and look at it. The figure smiled at her, and with the small amount of control she still held over her own body, she folded all of her fingers except into her palm except one and sneered at it, silently mouthing her curse before passing out into unconsciousness, not certain if she would wake up, still suspended in her animators grasp.
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