The Fallowing – The First, Part IV
by Steppen Sawicki
Final part. Now onto the next chapter!
Novel: Occult adventure
Several carcasses lay in a widespread pile. A deer and a rat were the recognizable ones, and I suspect the largest was a wild cat. It was hard to tell most of them, because they lay flayed with their innards strewn about. Blood glistened, iced over the meat and the floor. I realized now that what I took to be carpet or rugs was in fact layers of torn skins.
It had slept here.
And God, it had been busy.
A crunch sounded from behind me. I spun, and I nearly shot him. He nearly sliced me with that knife – it whizzed through the air before me.
“You!” I said.
“You?” he said. “I thought you were…”
“What? It? With a flashlight?”
“Possibly. You don’t know a thing about these people, do you?”
“And what do you know?”
He stepped closer to me, keeping his voice low to a whisper. “I know that gun will not kill him. No weapon you have will. You noticed the blood trail stopped at this building?”
“Of course.” I stood straighter to meet his gaze, though he was still taller than me. Slightly.
“Did you notice on the way here the bullets that had fallen?”
“Out.” He indicated with his hand something falling from his chest. “His body discharged the bullets. And by the time he arrived here the holes had mended shut.”
Certainly I couldn’t have suspected something so outlandish. I gripped tighter the gun in my hand, as if I could will the bullets back to their place in that body. “How do you know this?”
“How do you not?” His eyes flashed, black again in the scant light. His voice was rough, gravely, mocking. “Haven’t you been hunting him? What do you know? How will you take him down?”
“I know that what it eats, it feels.” I walked around him, and he watched me circle. “It eats an eye, it sees everything that eye saw. Eats a tongue, tastes everything that tongue tasted. Eats a throat, can speak everything that voice spoke. Most importantly, should it eat a heart, it feels every love that heart felt.”
He didn’t pause. “Yet you don’t know how to take him down.”
“Tell me how to take him down then.”
He scoffed. “I’m trying to tell you to leave.”
“I can’t.” I stopped and looked again into his eyes. “That thing destroyed everything I ever had.”
He blinked. My ferocity had pushed back his wall of stoicism. This time he did pause. “He ate…”
“My father,” I finished.
“Then he’ll eat you too, if he gets a good look at you. If he ate your father’s heart, and if your father happened to love you.”
His eyes widened at this, and he thought it over. “And here you are. I’m impressed.”
I grinned at him. “Three years ago. I’ve been hunting it ever since.”
“There’s no need for that. I’m going to…” He was looking into the darkness when he trailed off.
At first I thought he had seen something. But I turned to look and there was nothing. When I looked back at him, his cool expression had been swept aside by melancholy.
Then he seemed to remember I was there. He shook himself somewhat and turned to leave the room. “You don’t need to worry about him. You’re wasting my time. Now go home. And forget all this.”
Had he not already moved away from me I would have slapped him. What home? I thought bitterly, staring at his retreating back. What home would I go to? Who was he to speak of home? My father was dead, his memories and emotions trapped in that disgusting thing’s belly. And now I had been wandering so long, where would I return to? Who would recognize me now? What job would they give me to do, as a hunter among dozens of hunters? What meaning would I have there, having slunk back tail between legs?
What did he know? I had to end this.
I left the room, and didn’t follow him. He didn’t know where he was going anyway. I went left, back the way I had come, then down a different corridor, further into the factory. I knew that the thing wouldn’t want to desert its lair so soon, that it even felt safe here, perhaps wasn’t even considering that it had been followed so closely. And more than this, I felt that it was here. This was its temporary home, and it would desire to remain here for longer than a mere few days.
Damn thing had more of a home than I did.
It was silent again, and dark. I hate these enclosed spaces. I was too used now to roving under the stars, and the remains of this building filled my nostrils, stifling me. I went up stairways and tried door after door – which ones were closed – and crept through the dirt and found little. The dust on the floor had been kicked up and tracked in, but there was no discernible pattern and it was just as likely that kids had run through these halls again and again over the years.
I opened one door and discovered a back stairway, down to the street. The snow on it was disturbed. Could it have gone this way? Or could someone else have passed through days ago? It hadn’t snowed recently.
He’s here, I told myself again. In the building. He’s here. I noticed with a start that I had thought of the thing as “he.” That fool was rubbing off on me.
I closed the door and continued through the building. Soon I had led myself to a walkway surrounding the main factory space. It was almost imperceptibly lighter here, the moonlight oozing through broken windows lining the walkway. Looking over the railing, I spied hulking machinery looming in the dark, pieces of them picked apart – panels ripped off and innards strewn, gears and screws and other dark components. I walked along a catwalk, sweeping my light among the wreckage.
I heard a grunt and tussling below, then a crash. A body hitting metal and a shout of pain. Right below me, under the railing, there was a fight going on. I leaned over and squinted and found them, bursting out of the darkness and wrestling for purchase, but they were tumbling over each other too much for me to accurately aim at either of them.
I ran for the closest stairway, and flew down them three at a time. I leapt down the last five steps at once and on landing caught the two in the beam of my flashlight. It was the man, of course, pinned down by the beast.
That thing was for all intents and purposes in the shape of a man, filthy blonde hair flying, blood-stained and tattered clothing, eyes wild and shining. But the teeth were yellowed and so large and long that the jaw was deformed and nigh detached. Flecks of saliva flew as it gnashed those teeth and snapped at the man, who brought up a hand that held that knife. It moved so fast I could only tell it by a movement of sharp light.
But the beast caught his arm in its jaws, and as the man screamed again blood and dagger flew. The latter skidded over the ground and landed some five feet from me.
I didn’t think much in those few seconds, it was all moving so fast. It was more instinct than anything else that led me. But a part of my mind knew that guns hadn’t worked, that if I shot again it might only run again, that it couldn’t be killed that way. And my mind knew I had yet to try knives. And I wouldn’t even have to draw my own – here was one right in front of me.
I snatched up the dagger and rushed forward. The thing looked my way now, distracted by my flashlight, but at the same time blinded by it. It did a poor job of ducking away. I thrust the blade into its shoulder.
It screamed. Howled like a siren. I had to resist the urge to cover my ears. It was the sound of a rabbit when injured, but multiplied upon itself until it rips the very air it’s carried in. It made me sick to my stomach. The thing stumbled back and, worried it would run, I thrust at its leg. Again it screamed, and fell, this time towards me, and I rolled away from under it as it snapped its teeth at me. That rancid stench fell from its mouth, so thick I nearly gagged.
“Give me the blade,” a frantic voice said from next to me. I had ended up next to the man.
“No way,” I said. “I got this.”
“You can’t – ”
Whatever he said next, I didn’t hear. I struck out at the beast again, this time striking the hip. It lashed out at me with an arm, knocking me back. I landed on the man as the thing turned to limp away.
I pushed myself up, ready to go at it again, but this guy hooked a bloodied arm around my waist and grabbed at the dagger. “You have to give me the blade,” he shouted at me.
“What are you doing?” I broke free of the wounded arm around my waist and pulled at the dagger. “I’m taking it down.”
“You don’t know how!”
Well all this time this man’s struggling with me, the thing’s dragging itself away from us.
Then his demeanor changed. Very calmly he said “You don’t understand. You have to shoot him now. You have to shoot him to kill him.”
“Shoot him?” I let go of the knife and brought my pistol back out. “Of course!”
I aimed the gun at the beast’s back and shot rapidly, just a couple of shots before the guy shoves me out of the way, using his whole body to knock me to the ground. I cursed at him but he was already closing in on the monster, who turned the corner of a towering machine.
I gathered myself and ran after them. I closed in on the sounds of their fighting and, rounding the corner, saw the man with knife raised above the beast. Before I could move further, he plunged the blade down into the heart of the thing.
As he did so, he shouted a word – a name – I would forget as soon as I heard it.
Another of those rabbit screams was cut short, and the thing’s limbs fell to the floor and it lay still.
I edged my way over to the two of them and peered down my gun at it. Its grotesque stretched jaw was now a regular jawline, its eyes blank and without note. It looked human. It had filthy hair and blood on its mouth and clothes and it smelled of death, but it looked human.
I turned the light to the man. He knelt over the monster, hands still on the hilt of the knife. He hadn’t moved. After a long moment he let go of the dagger and held his hands before his eyes. They were shaking.
I shone the light in his face and snapped my fingers before him. “Hey,” I said. “Anyone in there?”
His eyes darted to mine. They were wide, and those gray shadows in them seemed to whirl, so that I had to shake my own head.
He blinked and looked back down at the body.
“He’s dead,” he breathed, as if he couldn’t believe it himself.
I ran through the snow, ignoring the pathways in favor of how the crow flies. The two bottles in my hand clinked together merrily. The sky was a ridiculous array of colors, signaling that behind the haze the sun was coming up.
I bounded up the hospital steps and flew through the door. With it being so early, no one was in the lobby to greet me, but I knew where I was going. I navigated the corridors and entered the room holding the bottles high.
“And now,” I announced, “I know what we need right now.”
The doctor was just finishing up the bandage on the man’s arm. It was an extensive wound, but he had refused stitches. We had to pressure him into even allowing it to be cleaned, and he only relented when the doctor gave him some horror stories about patients dying from infected dog bites. He had a less impressive bite on his shoulder, and various small scratches here and there. A bandage covered his left eyebrow, giving him a quizzical appearance.
The doctor did a double-take in my direction. “I can hardly recommend that he have any alcohol right now. The blood loss – ”
“Has been stopped, yes?” I was already prying the caps off. I held one out to the man and he took it robotically. He had been out of it since the factory.
The doctor sighed and shook his head, and finished off the wrapping.
“Come on, drink up.” I drank from my bottle in example.
He did, slowly, as if only to placate me.
The doctor stood to leave, but before he did he pointed at the beer in the man’s hand. “Go easy on that.”
I pulled up a chair and straddled it in front of the man. “Don’t listen to him,” I whispered. “We’re celebrating. They’re out picking up the body now. I refuse any bounty but if you want to cash in you’ll have to speak up.”
He shook his head vigorously. “No,” he rasped, and took a slug of the beer.
“How long have you been hunting these?”
I nodded. “So there’s more than one. I thought you had said as much earlier.”
“What does it matter to you? The one you wanted is dead.”
“Yeah, by your hands. You took that one from me. You owe me.”
His eyes cleared a bit, and he finally looked at me. “I owe you?”
“Yup. Oh, and I believe I also saved you ass as well. You owe me twice.”
His brows attempted to knit but were encumbered by the bandage. “Saved me? You got in my way. And you want to get in my way again?”
“Who here has the gnawed arm? If I hadn’t been there to pick up that knife you dropped, you would have been chow.”
“I – ” He looked down at his bottle. “I was fine.”
“Look, you’ve been at this for three months. I’ve been professionally hunting for three years, not to mention prior training. You know how to kill these things; I know how to kill, and fight.” I pointed at him. “You need,” and pointed at myself “my help.”
His mouth moved but he couldn’t think of any words to put in it. I can be pretty convincing at times.
I stood and raised my beer. “My name’s Faye Fatima Assad. And you are?”
He sighed. “Sam,” he said wearily into his beer, and drank.
He really knew how to bring down the mood.