There was something on the other side of a wooden fence. He could hear it move beside him, keeping pace with a sweeping rustle. The boy’s gait slowed and he listened, ear pressed to a rough plank. The noise halted too. Holding his breath, he ducked down to peep through a hole in the board. A circular eye startled him, staring back. He jerked away in fear. It wasn’t a normal eye. The pupil was vertical. Like a cat. Or a reptile. Retreating, scooting crablike, he paused a safe distance and shoved to his feet then fled. He was racing along the fence. That was his initial mistake. His second was stopping to gape in terror when the fence ran out and the thing confronted him.
He was just a kid. A random victim. It wasn’t personal. An appendage flew forth, wrapping around his neck. Yanked toward jaws that seemed jacked impossibly wide, he was gulped within headfirst and pinned by fangs . . . as its gullet mashed his upper half to a soft consistency.
Sometimes we have no chance for regrets.
A dweeb, that’s how his peers perceived him. Mainly because he was scrawny and smart and had buckteeth. Oh yeah, and he carried a telescope everywhere. They called him Star Geek too. But one day a planet would be named after him, and then they would respect him. He’d be famous. The town would hold a parade in his honor, and everyone who teased him now would wave and smile and think he was awesome. Dreaming of that moment, he stubbed his toe on a crack in the sidewalk and pitched flat, pivoting his head at the last instant to avoid impact. His left cheek connected hard. His glasses had fallen off. He squinted at a shape next to the cement, thinking he must be hallucinating. Nothing could look like that!
Mismatched limbs sprouted haphazardly from a puffy cylindrical form. The head was scaly and lumpen, as if swollen with humongous bug bites. Surely it must be his imagination! Or his eyesight was worse than he thought! The boy gasped just before a nightmarish critter — wow, could it be from an uncharted galaxy?
— scrambled to latch onto his skull with a monstrous bite. He was too amazed at being swallowed by an alien to be afraid.
The neighborhood grouch, dubbed Mister Snotty behind his back for his habit of dabbing his nose with a handkerchief, hesitated on his morning stroll to lean across the rim of a low brick wall. What was that in the flowerbed? Colorful petals bobbed, leaves and stems swaying. He almost believed he had caught a glimpse of a thick sinewy essence writhing underneath. Nahhh. He shook his head. Probably a cat. Straightening, he was about to continue his jaunt but detected a slight popping sound. He bent forward again and received a whiff of foul odor reminiscent of sewage. Gagging, pressing hanky to nostrils, he wondered what kind of fertilizer these people were using! He should complain to the Board Of Health. It was likely toxic and should be banned! It smelled like Hell, like rotten sulphuric eggs, and the most disgusting gas expelled by somebody with a very dire case of dysentery!
Fanning air, he peered in horror as the source of the stench flared a multitude of dissimilar arms. A few wildly flapping tentacles seized him. He thrashed to extricate himself to no avail. Sniffles were no longer his biggest problem. The man was wrenched apart in blood-spouting chunks, crammed into a rearing mouth piece by piece and reduced to mush, then glugged to a gorged expansive belly.
Mister Snotty was no more.
The Girl Scout trudged down a sidewalk, pulling a red wagon stacked with boxes of Thin Mints and Samoas, bringing orders to the customers on a prepaid list. She felt like such a cliché, delivering cookies on a Saturday when most of her friends were still in bed or having fun while here she was, learning responsibility! It was her mom’s idea. Mom always knew what was best for her. But did the woman ever listen to what her daughter thought or felt or wanted? Maybe she felt ridiculous in a uniform, and didn’t like being part of a troop! Maybe she’d rather be free to simply hang out, minus all of the niceness and emphasis on merit badges! Could she wear those badges later in life when applying for a job or walking down the aisle or doing anything actually important? She failed to grasp that it wasn’t the badges, it was the skills they represented that mattered. Alas, this preoccupied mental hissy-fit would cost her dearly.
The girl was vaguely aware that a cropped hedge beside her had depleted. Instead of manicured shrubbery, something grotesque stirred at the side of the pavement. Her head turned. Eyes bulged. Lips parted to scream. That was the moment her mind flashed ahead to the recognition of her mortality. Youngsters rarely take it seriously. They don’t realize the years can advance in a blur, a chain of events that have hurtled past like the view from a spinning merry-go-round; the ups and downs of life processed as rapidly as a bumpy ride on a seesaw.
Well, she got it ever so briefly, in a burst of insight, before the thing slashed her with a razor whip. The lass’s head rolled to the gutter, toppled into a storm drain. There was a remote sploosh. Meanwhile, her slender body was slid to a cavernous maw and ingested.
Some dudes were addicted to video games. Others to comic books or a specific movie franchise. There were those who waxed fanatic about doing tricks on skateboards or bikes. Lucas Harmon loved cookies. Chocolate chip to peanut butter to shortbread, he did not discriminate. All denominations, from sugar wafers to gingersnaps and circus-animal crackers (plain or frosted with sprinkles). He was cuckoo for cookies, no questions asked. So when he spotted a wagon stacked with Girl Scout cookies, abandoned right in his path, what else could he do but rip them open and feast? Okay, he was supposed to be counting calories. And he hated being called Tubby by everyone, including his boss. But this was a sign, a gift from Heaven! Cookie crumbs flew as the thirtyish male dove into the pile of packages. Shiny wrappings tore. Plastic trays crinkled loudly. A salad was not food! Rice cakes were not a snack! A crunchy granola bar was not dessert! He was starved for cookies, the one thing that made being yelled at by his employer and mom and dad and granny fade from mind.
He was so thoroughly absorbed in this impromptu windfall banquet, he failed to register that a bizarre beast was sneaking up behind him. Until his left leg was lassoed. A lariat with teeth! “Ow, ow, ow!” he cried, unwinding the awful extension. He had no idea what it was attached to and didn’t care. Instinct compelled him to run. However, the cookies beckoned him to return and grip the wagon handle, then dash tugging his treasure. That was all he noticed.
Out of condition, yelling, he lumbered down the block. And could hear slappings and scrapings to indicate his assailant was in pursuit. Fortunately, the frightened guy was nearing home. He swerved across a yard, tripped on a row of hydrangea bushes, still awkwardly hauling the wagon. The huffing man climbed a grassy slope to the porch of a double-story house. He scooped an armload of boxes, deserted the wagon at the base of the steps. Panting, his chubby cheeks scarlet, heedful of slithering and thumps in his wake, he flung open a screen-door and charged inside as he hollered “MAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!” His mother didn’t answer. Nobody was home but him.
Frantic, Lucas rushed upstairs to his bedroom and spilled the packages on his bed. He slammed and locked the door, shoved a chest of drawers in front of it. Nothing was going to prevent him from savoring the precious cookies he had managed to rescue!
It didn’t come from outer space. Didn’t emerge from the ocean. And didn’t exist undiscovered in some jungle or tropical rainforest for millenia. It crawled up out of the sewer, and it was mad.
Once upon a time it had a name. It had a home and a family. But then Blinky went exploring, hunting, slipping into a wet basin, snooping down a tunnel where it wound up being whisked into a vast underground system of tubes and canals. There — nearly drowned, waterlogged and ill — it stubbornly thrived upon rats and waste, along with every chemical and biological hazard flushed via sinks and toilets, showers and tubs and storm drains to the sewers. Radioactive elements tainted rain and soil from the many nuclear-reactor incidents that were seldom reported. Over the years, served a rich diet of contamination, it found itself transforming. Evolving to something else. Something new. A misshapen trunk; a bloated torso from which stemmed an array of flippers and feelers, tentacles and pincers. As if a cosmic designer had gone over the edge and sprung a leak simultaneously and it was the result. A hideous creation like no other.
The physical alterations required adapting, testing capabilities then practicing. But at its core, the mutant retained its true nature and viewed the world as it had always done. Except for the anger. The vile, seething, boiling fountain of rage that began when whatever it had become wriggled and flopped its way out of a drain by the edge of a field — returning to the surface after being in the dark for years, hoping to locate its family out of a misguided sense of loneliness — and a group of children with sticks and mean streaks prodded and kicked and beat the deformed anomaly to a bloody pulp.
That was the end of Blinky (the name had never made much sense, for snakes have no eyelids). The act of cruelty would mark the birth of a monster. What remained: a twisted hate-filled mass of flesh that was hurt and oozing and seeing red.
Dragging itself back to the culvert, it waited for strength and healed with a vengeance.
Reclined on his bed shoes and all, the man moodily eyed an empty glass case. He should really get rid of that one of these days. Being a procrastinator, he had never bothered to remove it after his snake escaped five years ago. Nor had he bothered to search for the missing pet. It was mistreatment and starvation that drove the serpent to take flight.
Lucas had spent the majority of his life, probably all of it, dodging liability. The guy refused to accept blame, shirked chores of any type, and prized cookies above even female companionship. His folks, concerned they had erred as parents and neglected to instill proper values, belatedly brought home a baby python to teach him to be responsible. Needless to say, it didn’t work.
Mom and Dad deplored that they had created a monster. “A cookie monster,” quipped Lucas.
He had no clue that what was ascending the staircase, waddling on fin-like stumps to the barricaded door of his inner sanctum, was none other than his long-lost pet. The door rattled as the creature’s snout impatiently nudged. Lucas ignored it, secure in his refuge, feeding his face. Crumbs cascaded onto his chest. The banging grew more aggressive.
“Get lost!” growled Lucas.
This incensed the creature and it launched an attack, hurling itself repeatedly at the barrier.
Suddenly wood splintered, axed by a claw-pointed appendage. The door was torn off its hinges, then smashed to shards as the tentacle flailed to release itself.
Lucas sat up straight, a cookie dangling from his lips. The Thin Mint descended to his lap.
With a savage bellow of anguish and spite, the greenish-gray wretch entered the room, tipping the drawers, shambling like a sea lion.
Eyes narrowed in disbelief, Lucas uttered a single word: “Blinky?” It wasn’t that he knew. He somehow intuited that this ungodly beast had been the snake he shunned through indifference. As it scuttled in his direction, their eyes locked and a message was conveyed. That look of sheer loathing for humans, particularly this specimen of inhumanity, seared into the slacker’s brain like a red-hot poker. He had been judged and condemned in the space of several blinks, yet the creature’s accusative gaze was unwavering.
Lucas threw boxes of cookies. His sole defense, they harmlessly bounced off.
The mutant lashed out with its claw and nailed his pillow as he lurched aside. The talon stabbed the mattress, shaking off the pillow. Lucas dropped to the floor and squirmed below his bed. The beast raised it with several limbs, tossed it wrathfully against a wall, and surged to corner the creep who had been a miserable master — providing dead rats laced with poison, broken glass, nails and screws. The man had sought to dispose of a nuisance. But Blinky endured, regurgitating the bad.
Eyeing him malevolently, it cast tentacles to coil or pinch his arms. A second pair of limbs shot out to skewer him with spikes. The agitated creature chopped him down the center, flicking another limb. The halves were discarded in gestures of contempt. It was a hollow victory. It didn’t change things. Couldn’t make a sad life better.
One monster had been slain. The survivor, the avenger, shuffled away . . . to spend the rest of its days in darkness. The only place where a monster is truly at home.
© 2011 Lori R. Lopez
Read “Horrendus” by the same author: http://www.shortnscarystories.com/horrendus/
Check out story collections by Lori R. Lopez at Amazon:
CHOCOLATE-COVERED EYES http://www.amazon.com/Chocolate-Covered-Eyes-Sampler-Horror-ebook/dp/B00612RJ6E/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1320073031&sr=1-1
OUT-OF-MIND EXPERIENCES http://www.amazon.com/Out-Mind-Experiences-Thirteen-Tales/dp/1438216602/