Saturday, September 24, 2011
Cover Art by Andrej Bartulovic
“Well, I am death
None can excel
I'll open the doors to heaven or hell”
-O Death, Appalachian Dirge
With the descending of the autumn sun, the neighborhood of ruin and neglect sank into an asphyxiated darkness, sliding down the unhinged jaws of the night. The glow of the neighborhood’s street lights barely kept the shroud of dusk at bay when it finally veiled the heavens.
In one foreclosed home, amongst a community of foreclosed homes, something terrible stirred in the suffocating dust beneath the floorboards. The parched earth trembled, slowly escalating into constant undulations as if the ground were laboring to breathe. This increased until the ground was heaved and split, pushing the damp soil to the surface, disturbing the legions of small lives that devoured and gorged themselves upon carrion. Hundreds of spindly-legged diggers and slithering burrowers fled in all directions from their fetid utopia as the grim secret tore free of the tarps and dirt of an unmarked grave.
With unnatural strength and fury she clawed and struck at the underside of the floorboards until the planks relented, allowing her corpse to drag itself out of the gaping womb where life simultaneously ended, and was now beginning. An inhuman howl of hunger and rage swelled out of a hallowed mouth that had been stilled for nearly three years. It was a birth cry of an abomination.
Staggering to her feet, insects and dirt rained all over the polished floor from a body that was a cobbled together ruin of rotting flesh and rags. Her head anxiously turned on a neck that cracked nosily, and her vacant eye sockets left her blind. However she could smell. She could smell like never before, and the instant the faint scent of a warm body alerted her senses, she was moving swiftly out the room, down the hall, across the living room. She smashed through the front window in mere seconds.
Unbearable hunger was a furnace barely containing the inferno that fueled her towards the scent. No other thoughts existed. No emotion but rage. Nothing else mattered as she charged through the night. Every step made the scent stronger and the hunger worse…
Walter Mason wanted to be an astronaut as a child. He told everyone and anyone who would listen about his big dreams. He often drew colorful pictures of rocket ships, read books about outer space, and went outside to the surrounding, local creeks to pretend he was a heroic spaceman exploring strange new worlds, all while managing to never miss an episode of Star Trek. Becoming a part of NASA was not a fantasy for Walter; it was a truth he just needed to be a little older to make happen.
The first signs of schizophrenia revealed themselves a couple of years after he began puberty. The symptoms were cracks in the foundation of his life that first marred his pristine academic performance. The damage spread of course, as it is prone to doing. These cracks deepened and ran through his life until only ruin remained for the bright boy with dreams of going to the stars.
The only family Walter had to rely on was his parents. However, despite their greatest efforts, they could not stop aging, and each year it became exceedingly more difficult to care for their troubled son. It broke their hearts but both parents had to eventually acknowledge that Walter needed more help than either of them could provide. It was His father who drove him to the institution to commit him. His mother did not accompany them on that first trip. She could not bear to see such happen to her only child.
Walter was supervised and medicated. His Father and Mother visited him often until each inevitably passed away. By then it was the selfish 80’s and the president decided some of the most vulnerable members of society were no longer worth protecting. So many facilities were unceremoniously closed. Thousands of mentally ill were released to whatever fates awaited them out on the streets. Walter Mason was one of these unfortunate souls.
Tonight he was wandering as he has been for many years as a weary nomad whose journey would never end as long as he drew breath. He was pushing a rusty shopping cart filled with all the things he had ever owned as an adult, and the cans he collected to purchase meager previsions. The chilly night had brought him to this community of foreclosures in search of temporary shelter amongst the empty homes that now stood as mausoleums of the 'American Dream'.
There was a strange sound several blocks away but Walter mostly ignored it, just as he ignored the church bell and baying dog somewhere in the distance. Occasionally he turned his eyes towards the sky where the cold glimmer of stars dwell. Walter mumbled aloud to no one, mixing and blurring his extensive knowledge of astronomy with a great deal of spiritual astrology.
His walking only slowed when he came to the end of the cul-de-sac. He dug through an old gray backpack until he found his bottle of water, unscrewed the top and took a long drink before putting it back. Walter gave the white and pastel green trimmed home a cursory glance. Momentarily leaving his shopping cart behind on the sidewalk, he hurried up the walkway, climbed the steps leading to the porch, and peered through the darkness past one of the naked windows.
It took a few seconds of peeking into the home to satisfy Walter’s inquiry as to its vacancy. He turned and hurried down the steps to retrieve his shopping cart. He never saw his attacker coming until she was atop him. The fall broke several ribs and expelled the air from his lungs in one great gush. He opened his mouth to scream but only a pained wheeze hissed forth. For the briefest moment stretching on beneath the faded despair of a street light, Walter caught sight of the terrible apparition atop of him even as the smell of rot and damp earth filled his nostrils. Hollow eye sockets stared down on him from a mummified face full of monstrous teeth.
The first vicious swipe caught him across the right side of his face before he raised his arms in defense. A merciless flurry of strikes swiftly followed. In no time his arms were dripping with blood and burning with pain. Walter finally managed to scream. Those same razor-sharp claws tore through the multiple layers of clothing keeping him warm and began ripping into his torso with each consecutive blow.
Pleading for mercy with the snarling thing a top of him, he thrashed about in a hopeless struggle to break free. Desperately, he shoved at her face causing her jaws to instinctively snap down on the ring and middle fingers of his left hand, severing the digits with an audible surrender of bone, then biting viciously at his right forearm. Walter struck her head, and yanked at the ragged hair, only worsening her fury as she continued cleaving and shredding him. His screams were violently choked off when she lunged forward with a shrill howl and suddenly bit into his throat, causing him to convulse beneath her.
Walter’s struggling began to cease as he released the rags hanging off the corpse, his arms fell outstretched onto the cold cement. Above, the night was infinite and the stars continued glittering as he stared at them in wonder. The world began growing faint as he felt himself being called to his beloved celestial patterns. He was at first fearful upon hearing voices whispering in his head. Then for the first time in what felt like forever, he somehow knew he could justifiably trust these voices as they grew a clearer. Releasing one last bloody breath that bubbled past his lips, Walter Mason died.
She did not notice any of this of course. Her mind was feral and empty of all but the instinct to satisfy the tormenting hunger within. She continued to relentlessly gorge herself on the hot blood pouring from the yawning wound in her prey’s throat. Satisfying that urge was beyond any ecstasy she had ever known. Intense orgasm after orgasm exploded within her core. At the same time a terrible agony raked over her entire frame of rapidly reviving, decayed flesh, decrepit organs, and rotten muscle. Euphoria and misery, agony and desire, torment and pleasure all poured through a screaming nervous system until carnality and suffering fused together to become something beautifully grotesque. It was impossible to know if she would cry or cum.
She rolled off him with the life blood she stole burning through her reconstructed veins, repairing the ruin of her once dead body. Her ravenous need was mostly sated and that internal screaming for substance was released. Her higher conscience returned, vague memories, thoughts and emotions rapidly ignited like hundreds of candles through her mind until it all became the light of self-awareness banishing the feral shadow.
Polly opened her newly reformed eyes to discover she was kneeling outside of a strange home in the dead of night. At once she came to multiple realizations. The first was that she had managed to escape and was now free. However, before the euphoria of such a discovery could wash over her, she glanced down to discover the mutilated remains on the walkway. Then she noted her dripping hands and realized she was the murderer...
“When I stroll in the gloom of the evening is that figure before me cast
With its strange and measured footfall, like the shadow of something past,
All through my summer wandering does it darken the light of the sun,
And it sits like a phantom to mock me when the work of the day is done.”
All through my summer wandering does it darken the light of the sun,
And it sits like a phantom to mock me when the work of the day is done.”
--Lennox Amott, “Shadow of a Life”
Though Polly’s tongue already confirmed her terrible discovery three separate times, she still brought her trembling left hand up to her mouth, and hesitantly began touching the predatory canines with her fingertips. It was clear her old teeth were gone; changed, or replaced by these new, sharp signs of her now monstrous nature. The remaining, graying rags of her once beautiful, black evening dress were all that covered her nearly naked body. She was saturated and sticky with the blood of the man she had violently murdered.
Worse, she was completely certain she knew the source of the savory but alien taste filling her mouth. Polly stood there for an indeterminable amount of time just staring down at her partially cannibalized victim. He was a dark skinned man with wild graying hair and beard. Long claw marks dug deeply across the right side of his face, partially destroying an eye, and his throat was nothing more than a ruined crater of flesh. His outstretched arms were ragged and torn with defensive wounds. The old green, brown and gray clothes were soaked in the blood pooling beneath him.
Polly felt both deeply confused and disgusted that she had a strong urge to drop upon her hands and knees to desperately lap at the sidewalk beneath him. Her mind was a live-wire of confusion and fears as she stepped away from the corpse at her feet. The joy of freedom was still within her but it was partially suppressed by this terrible thing she had done.
It suddenly dawned on Polly that someone could have seen the entire incident, causing her to anxiously look about the surrounding area, but in the place of any potential witnesses she found only dark windows and for sale signs. Besides the frequent baying of someone’s distant mutt, all was completely still beneath the shroud of night. Polly turned and began fleeing through the neighborhood in growing panic.
Polly was not sure where she was going. Her only thoughts were to put distance between herself and the incident. Nothing in the neighborhoods she passed through were even remotely familiar. Beyond her name, empty snippets of her life, and vague faces, most of her memories were still little more than curls of ash gray smoke offering her glimpses of times before the sudden interruption of an untimely death. She needed time to regroup, think and figure out everything that was needed.
While crossing through a nearly vacant parking lot of a strip mall, something caused Polly to pause and begin quickly look about. The unknown source of her building concerns sat there at the edges of her unconsciousness and instincts with a steadily building urgency. She scanned the entire area but only lamp posts and dark store fronts were visible. Even the one business, a large grocery store glowing with the welcoming light of its 24 hour promise, did not appear dangerous. That was what Polly realized she was searching the environment for, even if she did not know why.
As the eastern sky began to gently blush pink with the first promise of the coming dawn, she briefly felt some relief that the night was nearly at an end, and maybe her paranoia would fade with the shadows. However, when she looked towards the horizon an instinctual fear, something deep and primal, gripped her very soul. The source of her internal alarm was the sun itself. Polly felt too much dread to question or wonder why. The growing desire to hide, to be anywhere else but out in the light of day, caused her to begin running as if her very life depended on it.
Running harder and faster than she ever had before, Polly desperately searched for some place to conceal herself as the sky continued to slowly brighten. A church bell sounded in the distance, and birds began singing from their hidden perches amongst the trees lining the streets. Passing through the shadow cast by a large, old elementary school, Polly screeched in pain when she stepped out into the first rays of sun breaking over the rooftops, and flowing through the high chain link fence surrounding the school’s playground. Swiftly re-immersing herself in the buildings shadow, she stared down in abject horror at her arms, tops of her breasts and stomach as the flesh briefly but visibly sizzled with faint coils of smoke.
Polly’s stress was only re-doubled as she felt herself steadily growing woozy with the increasing light. All thoughts outside of finding shelter were faint as best. She fearfully searched the streets even as her eyelids grew heavy, and her body felt more sluggish. Her eyes came to rest hopefully across the wide street, divided by a grassy embankment with a line of tall trees, where a brief scattering of woods led to what appeared to be a fenced off waterway. There were no other options. No other possible routes of escape.
Polly half ran and half staggered towards her destination. Upon reaching the middle of the street she was met by the occasional rays of light that managed to fall through the spaces of the tree branches above, and each time they stabbed at her skin with all the cruelty of red-hot pokers. The pain, a grandiose torment unlike anything she ever felt, forced sounds from Polly that were not remotely human.
She fell down in the dirt and ivy just on the banks of the water way. Hurting, dazed and alone, her eyes rapidly searched for some place, any place, that could offer temporary shelter. The watery floor of the cement canal was strewn with debris such as rusted shopping carts, pieces of wood, papers and the occasional blown tire. Only when she spotted an overturned, brown and yellow deep freezer did Polly begin frantically crawling forward until she was heedlessly tumbling down the cement slope and splashing face down in the ankle-deep waters. She lay there amongst the refuse and trash for several seconds before finally gathering enough will to move.
The object of Polly’s desires was barely a silhouette in her fading vision. She sluggishly dragged herself along until she could finally climb inside the ruined appliance, then reached out and pulled the door shut. The interior, smelling of algae and rust, was cold, hard and wet. Within that confined darkness Polly was forced to draw her knees up to her chest and she hugged them for some miniscule measure of comfort.
Her body grew heavy until it went completely limp. Her heartbeats gradually receded then altogether stopped, and her breathing ceased with her dilated pupils staring off at nothing. Polly died there in the claustrophobic darkness.
“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.”
--Shakespeare, “Hamlet”, Act III, scene 1, line 66
“You know what makes Polly so different from all the other girls?” The graveled voiced man casually asked from her immediate left. Polly looked over to find a short, heavyset figure with a shaved head and partially graying goatee, sitting atop a black wooden stool. His expensive black silk shirt, dark brown slacks, and polished wingtips gave him an appearance that awkwardly straddled the area between business casual and modest pimp. Polly suddenly recalled his name was Bobby White. She had worked with him.
“What?” She somehow managed to ask despite her evident confusion. Glancing down, she found herself wearing a white lace dress and sitting in a plush, light flesh colored armchair with stitches running across its surfaces. A maroon marble floor expanded in all directions but seemingly vanished into an oppressive darkness behind the large throng of men and women, dressed in black formal attire, encircling Polly and Bobby like a makeshift wall. Polly became frightened when she realized that every face making up the crowd was completely blank of features.
“Who are these people? Where am I?” She asked after looking back towards Bobby. It was all so alien but familiar at the same time like a classic song performed with different instruments.
“Look at her.” Bobby seemed to ignore her questions. He subtly motioned ahead of them with a nod of his head. “Just look at her. I guarantee she’s going to be big in this industry.”
Polly’s eyes turned forward to watch her younger self naked, ass cocked high for the man tightly gripping her hips while ramming her from behind, as her head was firmly held by her hair between the lewdly spread legs of a plastic-looking blonde. Both wore alabaster masks that had tranquil smiles but no eyes. This scene took place on a motel bed covered with a cheap, multicolored comforter. A cold light without a source fell from the seemingly infinite darkness above to illuminate the scene.
“What about her?” Polly asked mechanically while staring in disbelief at herself being debased.
“She really enjoys getting fucked.” Bobby explained with a lecherous grin. “A lot of girls are a pain in the ass, you know? You have to get their asses liquored up. Or you got to have, or know someone who can score them some candy. That shit is irritating, mind you, but for a lot of them having a little something before filming helps cut through the whole performance anxiety. But not this beautiful girl. She genuinely gets some sort of crazy thrill out of getting nailed good and hard in front of a camera.”
Polly glanced over at Bobby who sat up straight on his stool while eagerly watching the scene play out. As if to confirm what Bobby was trying to explain, her younger self, on the bed, began visibly tensing up as her moaning changed into sharp grunts of pleasure, causing her head to lift from between the blonde’s legs as her back arched. The display only encouraged the man behind her to redouble his efforts.
“Not yet, you little, slut.” The plastic blond chided nastily from behind her mask while grabbing Polly by the hair and forcing her head back between her thighs. The woman gasped before resuming her loud crooning and accompanying hip gyrations against Polly’s mouth that expertly pleasured her. “Yes! Yes right there! This is what you are fucking made for!”
“Why’s that?” Polly finally tore her eyes away from the carnal scene to glance over at Bobby again. “Why is she like this?”
“What am I? Some sort of psychiatrist?” Bobby laughed humorously with a playful nudge of his elbow to her shoulder. “Damned if I know. Maybe she’s got some sort of weird female gland disorder, or she’s some sort nympho, or is just twisted enough in the head to get off on this sort of shit as long as there is an audience watching. Who knows or cares, right? You think I’m looking to cure the goose with the golden pussy?” Bobby laughed at his own lewd joke. “Plus, she’s exotic looking. I think she’s mixed with Black and some other shit, I don’t really remember but fans dig her.” He shrugged dismissively.
A collective chortle, cold and mocking, echoed from the surrounding crowd causing Polly to examine the scene again. She was startled to discover the once empty faces of the men and women surrounding her were now distorted by wide unblinking eyes, and manic smiles stretched inhumanly wide. They were all staring at the performance.
The stage ahead, where her younger image was performing, had also completely morphed during the scant seconds she looked away. The other her, wearing only a plaid red and black school girl skirt, continued lying prone on her back a top a large wooden desk. A large figure, wearing a mask similar to the pair before him, was actively thrusting his hips between her splayed thighs. Behind the grunting pair stood five large black boards covered with the line; “I will not be a cum slut”.
“I don’t want to see this.” Polly shook her head before averting her eyes to the floor.
“She was in only a single scene in that one compilation we shot a couple months back.” Bobby continued with proud enthusiasm. “It was her first movie. I swear to God, she’s never done anything before that. But that one bit part with Thor on that couch got an ass load of emails from people asking who she was, and were there any other movies with her in it.” He shook his head in amazed disbelief. “I’m telling you, Polly is going to be big in this industry.”
“This is crazy.” Polly quickly looked up at Bobby. “I’m Polly you stupid sonofabitch! That can’t be me if I am sitting here!”
“Too bad about what’s going happen to her.” Bobby sighed heavily and shook his head. “What a goddamn waste.”
“What?” Polly asked uneasily while staring at him. When her abdomen began feeling hot and wet, she quickly looked down, and to her horror, discovered several bloody spots blooming across the white fabric covering her breast and stomach.
“But,” She heard Bobby began again more sadly while still checking her torso for some sort of wounds. “I guess that sort of thing is bound to happen when a person does the sort of things Polly did. I’m not a dumb ass, you know? I get it’s a sort of an unwritten rule to not get involved personally with the girls in this industry. I get it. I do. But--as fucked up as she was, and as ugly as she could get, I also knew a different side, you know? I think--I mean, I would even say she was kind of a good friend of mine.”
“Bobby, what’s happening to me? Where the fuck is this blood coming from?” Polly looked up to find the spot where he had been sitting suddenly vacant. Standing from the armchair, she began searching about for Bobby but a scream from her younger self spun her attention back towards the large desk and there was no longer anyone there. Only a large old hunting knife, embedded halfway into the desk’s center, and a thick pool of blood remained beneath the cold light.
The chorus of mocking laughter began once more and the crowd slowly began turning their heads towards Polly. She hurried to the center of the room but there was no visible path out. The entire crowd took a single step forward with a loud bang then paused.
“Stay away from me!” Polly demanded with growing alarm and anger. The crowd took a second step forward in unison that echoed through the darkness. Their laughter only seemed to increase while closely watching her frantically search in vain for some way out. The crowd suddenly took a third, fourth and fifth step in quick succession but then froze as their laughter abruptly ceased.
“What do you want? Just…” As Polly looked from terrible face to terrible face their wide eyes followed her every move. Though she was frantic to escape, she did not dare move any closer to the crowd. In the slowly dying light, Polly looked at the darkness above, then at the strangers that were becoming a great deal more difficult to see. “You don’t have to do this. I just want to go--just--just stay the fuck back, and let me leave.”
Then there was an absolute darkness where only the sounds of her pulse and trembling breaths filled her ears. Polly tried to remain absolutely still. There was nowhere to go. The silence stretched on. She finally dared to look around however, it was in vain. Her heart thundered in her chest, and she drew her arms close to herself, the anticipation of something terrible happening made the urge to scream or cry unbearable.
There was the silence. There was the heavy darkness. Both felt unbreakable, infinite and cruel. Then the rush of charging footsteps and maniacal laughter came crashing in.
“Whatever wrong I have done
By thought, word, or deed
I ask for absolution.”
The ruined freezer containing the still corpse of Polly remained undisturbed for the duration of the day. Only a number of spiders, from various local species, dared congregate along the partially dented and rusted body of her makeshift crypt. The threads of silk they used to glide to their desired location glinted ethereal-like in the sun and danced on the air. These small predators, for reasons far beyond what their instinctual minds could ever begin to grasp, were drawn to her-- yearning to be near her.
The shadows of the trees grew eerily long and oppressive across the dull gray banks of the waterway as the sun sank further in the western sky with each dissolving hour. It was not until the final deep orange embers at the horizon began extinguishing beneath the flood of night, did the freezer suddenly jostle with activity. The door swung open, and Polly groggily emerged to the nocturnal world. As the once coagulated blood began to re-liquefy and rush through her veins again, she leaned back on the cold frame of the freezer to remain steady on her legs. Gathering herself and waiting for the strange daze to wear off, the dream, or more accurately the nightmare, was still vivid on her unsettled mind.
She managed to recognize that the entire experience was far more than just the screams of her tortured psyche. There were threads of memories and hints of the familiar laced in its twisted depiction. Fueled by the memories of the suddenly bleeding wounds in her nightmares, Polly tugged and pulled at the rags partially covering her torso until she could see the tops of her breasts.
The series of thick scars across her skin were confirmation to the importance of her near prophetic experience. She released her clothing as a wave of sadness and anger threatened to overtake her at the understanding that she had been brutally stabbed to death. Why? Who? Before she could fully examine the new revelation a stream of a new answers poured into her already stunned mind.
Pornography. Polly was once some sort of porn actress. That recovered memory made her feel empty and bitter. She strained her memory in hopes of understanding why she would have chosen such a path in her former life and how it could have led to her murder. Yet, regardless of how hard she tried, all that she could recall from scouring the scorched corridors of her mind were brief moans of various voices and a montage of naked bodies all garishly lit before the callous gaze of cameras. It was all very familiar but none of it was tangible enough to focus on.
The desire, that tormenting, aching desire to remember was overwhelming, but the ability to accomplish such was completely absent. The details of her life and death seem to hang just out of reach like words trapped at the tip of her tongue. Polly began pulling at her hair while wanting to scream beneath the weight of the mounting frustration. Then one solid memory amongst the confusion calmed her enough to lower her arms, and she anxiously began wading towards the cement banks. Bobby White. He was a director, she worked with him-- but there was something else that made the memory of his name both jovial and sorrowful to her.
The world appeared mostly still as Polly pulled herself free from the debris laden waters, and began to make her way back out onto the streets. Besides the small spiders that climbed unbeknownst into her wild mane of hair, she was not alone. This new, grisly hunger was already returning with steadily growing impatience. She paused in the concealing shadows of the small scattering of woods just outside of the waterway. Unconsciously, she placed her left hand over her aching stomach while pondering her latest dilemma.
Polly could barely focus on any other thoughts for long. She was so hungry and only painfully growing hungrier. She thought of food but it was as clear as the dry blood still beneath her nails that the old appetite had abandoned her to be replaced by something far more insidious. She required no one to tell her what she was. Not even disbelief or denial was there to warm her with their false comforts on that chilly autumn night. She was some sort of monster.
And then on cue as if fate itself was mockingly confirming her bleak revelation, a breeze brought a faint scent to Polly’s attention that made the craving rage and claw within until it was pure torment.
The scent was a heady mingle of nicotine, vanilla perfume, and sex-- of pulsing, hot life. The predator began swiftly overpowering the pitiful whimpers of a now submissive conscience. She became keenly aware the hurried footsteps were coming closer, accompanied by drawn breathes and a rapid pulse of mild exertion.
It was all the unintentional calling cards of prey.
Samantha Greene. Jessie Brown. Jeannine Simmons. Suzanne McCarthy. This woman, born as Melinda “Mandy” Greene, has gone by all these. Aliases created and shed for one reason or another while navigating the tangled boroughs and thorny hedges of the industrial prison complex’s immense bureaucratic and legal wilderness. She is a wounded chameleon with an ugly past well documented by law enforcement in Poughkeepsie, Reno, San Francisco and Van Nuys. Forgery, fraud, assault, theft, substance abuse and prostitution have all served as reasons spent in several county jails, and 2 private prisons that have stolen a combined 9 of her 39 years.
When did it all begin to go wrong for the little girl that would grow into the troubled woman? Was the biggest catalyst being born to a mother who frequently lost her battle against alcoholism while carrying her? Was it the career criminal father who was either only abusive or absent? Perhaps most of the blame can be heaped on the cop boyfriend of her mother’s that molested her repeatedly from age 9 to 15? Maybe all these and many other tragedies are like grains of sand spilling onto a scale until it finally tips, leaving no signal grain solely responsible.
FASD, or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, made Mandy a behavioral problem, and a “slow learner” few wanted to be troubled with. Most teachers sent her out of class, ignored her much as possible, or sat her in the back of the classroom. That is how it remained figuratively and literally. She fell further and further behind, deeper and deeper into the cracks, then all together vanished by 9th grade. Almost no one noticed.
School was never exactly a haven anyway. The girls frequently bullied or teased Mandy. The boys often showed her the attention she craved but rarely received. As long as she “did stuff” with them they stayed around-- at least until they were finished. Irritated teachers and administrators frequently asked Mandy, “Don’t you want better?” This single question, and its many incarnations, was asked time and time again, but an example of what “better” meant was never given.
Mandy did not move to this city. She crash landed here after fleeing an abusive boyfriend back in San Francisco. At first she could handle the occasional slaps when he became angry at her for, as he would say; “Being so goddamn retarded”. But when he began using his fists she knew it was time to leave. If nothing else she did not want to end up like her mother; beaten into a nearly unrecognizable mess left sprawled out in the kitchen.
Mandy has made several attempts to do “better”. She has made the efforts to go straight and improve her life. Each time has failed miserably for one reason or another. This cold autumn night is no different. Three Johns later and she now have $80 dollars.
She has her frequent regulars. It does not matter to any of these customers that such a harsh existence has eroded her once youthful appearance, resulting in a majority of observers estimating her age nearly 15 or 20 years older than it actually is. As long she does those derogatory things their wives or girlfriends will not allow them to do they will keep coming back.
Mandy is now tired and sore while hurrying along in hopes of catching her normal supplier before he closes up shop for the night. Edward becomes pissed when any of his “customers” come to his apartment after 9. He says it draws unwanted attention. She can still make it just in time if she keeps the pace.
With her arms folded tightly about herself she wishes she wore something warmer. Her dark hair is tied back from her face in a messy bun. Her purple and burgundy stripped dress, black coat and white heels do little against this bitter chill. However that discomfort is second to the unexplained disquiet creeping up her spine. Something feels-- off tonight. Despite having frequently walked down this particularly street time and time again, she feels ill at ease and increasingly anxious to return to the main roads. She finds herself oddly checking the deepest shadows as she walks pass, and looking about anytime even the slightest noises stirs through the sleeping neighborhood.
Just as she began passing the thicket of trees across the street from the old elementary, Mandy hears a low, guttural growl that causes her to freeze in place. She quickly scans the dark streets with news stories of stray pitbull attacks filling her mind.
Mandy hears the growl coupled with snapping twigs and crunching leaves. The moment she spins towards the tree line a dark shape darts from the shadows, slams into her, and they both topple to the ground together, her legs remaining on the sidewalk and her torso crashing awkwardly off the curb onto the street. Despite the pain and confusion Mandy fights back hard. She is no stranger to physical violence. She ceaselessly punches, kicks and wrestles to buck from beneath her attacker.
Reality is now only chaos and fear. Her back and the rear of her skull is throbbing with pain. Her cold knuckles sting from delivering repeated blows. Mandy releases a hoarse scream as she feels sharp claws repeatedly stabbing into her stomach.
The attacker has partially straddled her, constantly trying to reach her neck but Mandy keeps IT at bay, terrified as she hears its shrill cries and snapping jaws just inches away from her face. She has water dribbling in her eyes and lights dancing in her aching head making it nearly impossible to see. The form atop of her feels human but the sounds are unnatural. It is cold, wet, smelling of stagnant water and damp earth.
Agony repeatedly shoots through Mandy’s still shoving arms as IT begins viciously biting into them along the hands, wrists and forearms. She desperately attempts to jab her thumb into her attacker eye but the wrist is seized in mid swing, and slammed to the street so hard that a majority of the bones fracture upon impact.
As Mandy’s remaining, trembling arm fails, those snapping jaws of her attacker finally seizes her by the throat with a strangling grip, then while still on all fours, swiftly drag her kicking form roughly across the sidewalk and off to the concealing darkness among the trees.
For just a few seconds the violence has suddenly ceased. Mandy lies there on her back. Her face and chest is wet. Both arms, her stomach and throat burn with raw misery. The ground and air is so cold. She sputters a whine that was meant to erupt as a scream for help and her blurry vision frantically searches about. There is only the night sky, the dark trees, and the partial silhouette of a woman back lit by the orange-yellow glow of the street light.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Her attacker repeatedly whispers gently.
Mandy’s lungs struggle beneath the blood leaking into them and she coughs wetly while making a last sluggish attempt to move away. Her now heavy limbs only drag her hands and the heels of her feet through the dirt, leaves and twigs. Another attempt to scream barely passes her lips.
The woman scuttles atop her suddenly. Mandy feels her arms being pinned to the ground just as her throat is mercilessly torn into once more. To her increasing horror she can hear and feel this woman, this monster, ripping into her flesh, then drinking greedily from her exposed jugular.
Mandy can only gurgle when her limp, exhausted body is once more lifted by the throat then dragged further and further from the street. Everything is fading by the time she truly realizes she is about to die. The last sparks of her life ebbs out as tears of anger-- of regret-- desperation-- of dread.
Yet, as this troubled existence comes to an end and all pain dulls, something else comes into focus. It is all so utterly alien and indescribable that terrifies her in its unfamiliar immensity. That is, until she realizes that for the first time, it is freedom.
Mandy Green surrenders to it with one last bloody breath.
Despite the partially muted emotions, Polly knew killing the woman was wrong and tried not to look into her face while stuffing the remains into the ruined appliance she had just earlier taken shelter from the sun in. With little effort she flipped the deep freezer onto its door to ensure it remained closed and her crime hidden.
Polly used the algae and trash laden waters to wash away evidence of the stolen life from her hands, arms and face. Even then she could not help constantly returning her eyes back to where the corpse was hidden. Somehow, for reasons she did not understand, killing that woman felt a great deal more like cannibalism then the first act the night before.
Even after the blood had been washed away she could not bring herself to immediately leave. Polly instead sat on the ivy covered shore just several feet away from the deep freezer and stared at it. She was uncertain if she should feel relieved or horrified that there was barely any guilt. Then, when she felt the smallest pangs of sadness, she smiled a little.
“She drank from the carved out empty fossils of memory
aching for a long ago past
she refused offerings from the moon
turning into a hungry traveler
upon weary roads drenched by drought.”
aching for a long ago past
she refused offerings from the moon
turning into a hungry traveler
upon weary roads drenched by drought.”
--Imaya, “Cloak of Fears”
It was a couple of hours later when Polly came to the understanding that she could not sit there at the waterway all night. Nothing at all would come of it. Despite having little to no understanding what was happening, or having an actual place to go, her search had to continue.
She had only one partially clear memory outside of Bobby White and the previous night. That was the lightless and suffocating hell she had been condemned to after her premature death. Just recalling it made the taste and smell of bitter ashes and strangling ammonia uncomfortably vivid. She shivered folding her arms around herself despite not being cold. Though she did not admit such outright to herself, there was little doubt she would do just about anything never to return back from whence she came. Never to feel the shadow of the Overseer descending upon her again.
Despite her disheveled and nearly naked appearance Polly walked towards the street still deep in thought and trying to ignore the hunger. She needed to find Bobby. That much was abundantly clear. However she was at a loss at where to even begin her search. Like an unfettered ghost, she drifted beneath the sparse street lights illuminating the mostly still world.
Polly continued walking for a while in no particular direction. The passing vehicles and people were mostly white noise to her. Some stared as she passed but all soon dismissed her as just one more unfortunate junkie or homeless soul wandering the city’s night. She never noticed the looks of pity or disgust of course. She was far too busy contemplating and fearing her new existence.
“They really need to do something about their connections here. Some of those comps kind of drag ass.” A light female voice suddenly called out just a few feet in front of Polly, causing her to look up. A young, mousy college girl, with short brown hair, black frame glasses, a gray dress, boots and brown wool coat stood outside the doorway highlighted in the glow of a building.
“I thought you were getting your laptop fixed?” A tall skinny, dark haired guy in a black and white dress shirt, black slacks and sneakers followed her out carrying both his and her book bags. Three other college students also followed them outside the building in the middle of their own conversation.
“I am. Just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I called a few places but what I’ve found so far is that some are kinda expensive, and others are hella expensive.” The mousy girl shrugged with a brief laugh while walking backwards to talk with her companion.
“You should have just used the ones on campus. At least there you don’t have to spend 3 dollars an hour just to go online, or have to worry about some creepy dude trolling for porn next to you at some point.” The skinny guy added to the amusement of the small group.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. But I seriously wanted to go somewhere else for a little while. I needed a change of scenery.” The mousy girl smiled as the skinny guy linked arms with her and they began walking off into the night with their friends.
Polly turned her eyes towards the building and read its yellow and green neon sign promising coffee, pastries, and internet access 24 hours a day. Moving a little closer allowed her to peer into the cafe’s large window. It was an unimpressive place with pale yellow walls, a glossy checkered black and white floor, a big diner style counter, numerous booths, and four tables with several computers on them.
After gathering herself, Polly walked through the entrance of the mostly empty café. Something by Maroon 5 was playing quietly on overhead speakers. At one of the furthest computers was an old man in a Hawaiian shirt, black leather coat, driving cap, dark jeans and shoes. He smoked a cigar, laughing and speaking with a young man in Russian through some sort of video link. A young man, appearing disheveled in a burgundy knit wool cap, Army style coat, jeans and work boots, sat at an empty table near the window with a large cup of coffee. Behind the counter was a lanky, long faced, blond, college aged kid dressed in a white apron, light blue shirt and dark slacks. He ignored everyone while wiping off the yellow counter top in obvious boredom.
Polly looked over the various computers then walked over to the nearest one and sat on the wooden stool before it, causing water to drip into a pool on the floor immediately beneath her. Upon reaching out she began typing an URL into the browser without really having to think about it. It whispered faintly from the broken remnants of her memory with a sort of instinctual knowledge. Clicking ‘enter’ caused the browser to begin loading before her eager eyes.
“Excuse me.” The Clerk politely called over to Polly.
She completely ignored him as the site loaded a background of black lilies followed by a series of images of her wearing various sets of exotic lingerie revealing just enough of her glowing brown skin to entice a curious viewer’s desire to see more.
She stared at the screen feeling a familiarity and disbelief that left her muddled on what to do next.
“Excuse me, ma’am.” The Clerk partially leaned over the counter and called out to her a little louder. “Ma’am you need to pay before using one of the stations.”
Polly could not possibly deny she was looking at herself. It was the exact dark eyes, raven hair and elegant face but at the same time, the woman on the screen seemed like some sort of imposter or facsimile made to mock her. Scrolling down she found a message video just above the login in requirement. Polly stared at the small box for a few seconds before reluctantly clicking ‘play’.
“Hi guys!” The mirror image on the screen said cheerfully with a wide bright smile that just loved the camera. “First, I absolutely want to say I am super excited that so many of you have been coming to this little site of mine. You guys so rawk.” She laughed playfully and clasped her hands together between her black lace covered breasts with excitement. “I couldn’t possibly thank all of you enough for being such a devoted fan base.” A sly grin crossed her lovely face and her tone became much more suggestive. “Or, maybe if you come inside I might just find a way, or two, or three to show my gratitude. Thanks, again guys. And I hope you enjoy the hot scenes with me and my gorgeous friend, St. Anne”.
An attractive, slender, blond bounced suddenly into the screen from the left, kissing Polly on the cheek mischievously before then looking into the camera with startling green eyes. She had high cheekbones, full lips and a slightly upturned nose.
“Hi, guys!” St. Anne waved into the camera energetically. “And when you are done here, don’t forget to come visit me at my site where you can find me, of course, and a second half of bonus scenes of yours truly, and the exotic Polly here getting to know each other a lot better.” She waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
Polly stared at the woman as another faint echo of memories came racing through her mind in such a jumbled surge that it caused her to feel dazed. She tightly closed her eyes and placed her right palm to her head in an effort to remain steady. She could hear St. Anne’s laughter, whispering, conversations, and the image of the attractive blond, wearing a blue summer dress, raising her glass to Polly in a toast near a window with the sun partially in her eyes. Then it all rapidly darkened and shattered until only the blonde’s enraged face was visible. “I hope you die you selfish, back-stabbing bitch!” St. Anne yelled venomously before the stream of memories ended.
“Hey! Hey! You need to leave if you aren’t going to pay for the computers.” The clerk called more irritably from behind the counter.
Polly continued ignoring the kid after opening her eyes and scrolling down further to a link that immediately caught her attention. ‘Mademoiselle Videos’ brought back a brief whisper of more memories but nothing as tangible as those she had of Bobby and St Anne. Clicking the link brought up a corporate site displaying the dvd’s, downloads, and other products offered by the company, and its subsidiaries. Polly scrolled past the spiel about bringing the hottest adult entertainment, offers, and other such unimportance until she noticed a profile link. The familiarity was driving her faster than her own mind could process what and why she was clicking.
Then, amongst all the names and profile pictures, one instantly struck her; Bobby White, Director/Writer & Producer. She clicked his picture and began skimming for any information at all on how to find him or contact him.
“Ma’am, you are going to have to leave.” The clerk said angrily from where he stood just a couple of feet away from her. “You refuse to pay for service and you are getting water all over the place.”
“I’ll go after I find what I am looking for.” Polly responded with a low but tense voice.
“No. I need you to leave now.” The Clerk ordered firmly.
“Not until I find what I’m looking for. Just fuck off already and let me finish.” Polly replied flatly despite her growing agitation at being interrupted.
“Ok, lady. I’ve had enough of this crap.” The Clerk reached out and roughly snatched a hold of Polly’s bare right shoulder. “It’s already a long shift and-”
He suddenly yanked his arm back as if he had touched something hot. Looking down at the back of his hand he found three small, brown spiders biting at his skin. In a brief panic he swatted them away before looking over himself for more.
“I wouldn’t do that again.” Polly stated tensely without looking away from the screen.
“What the fuck, lady?” The Clerk asked with clear disgust while absently brushing at the hand that was bitten. “You’re dirty, wet and got goddamn fleas or some shit on you. I need you to get your homeless junkie ass out of this store!” Again he reached out and this time snatched her by the upper right arm.
It occurred so quickly that no one, not even the Clerk, would be able to later explain what exactly happened to the responding police officer. In a blur of motion Polly was off the stool, turning around, and smashing her fist into the left side of his face with an audible CRACK, lifting him clear off his feet, sailing backwards through the air, and slamming into the counter with jarring force.
The Clerk gripped at his face with both hands. The pain of two shattered molars and a broken jaw radiating through his entire body with such intensity that he screamed into his hands with his eyes shut tightly. Blood began oozing from between his finger as he rolled onto his side. The other two patrons stood from their seats but only stared in disbelief.
Polly took an unconscious step back while watching the Clerk with a mixture of surprise and anger as he continued writhing in pain. The smell of his blood was sharp on the air and it made the already building hunger gnaw at the pit of her stomach. It took a great deal of self-control to resist that voracious desire to cross the room to begin tearing into him for sustenance. Polly turned back to the computer, clicked the print tab and hurried over to gather the several pages of information.
The older Russian gentleman quickly moved over to the Clerk, carefully pressing the towel with which he had been wiping the counter to the young man’s bleeding mouth and telling him in a noticeable accent to hold still. The other man shrugged and turned back to his coffee with no further interests in the incident.
Polly snatched the papers from the printer and swiftly took off into the night. If she could not find Bobby White, she would go to Mademoiselle Videos to find someone who could.
“A something, not of earth or sky,
Beside me walks the ways I go,
And I--I never truly know,
If I am it or it is I.”
Beside me walks the ways I go,
And I--I never truly know,
If I am it or it is I.”
--Freeman Edwin Miller, “My Shadow and I”
‘The clothes make the man’, so the old saying goes. Society’s impression and opinions of a person are easily hinged upon what they are wearing and what the societal norms deem appropriate. A fine three-piece suit or baggy jeans, with a hoodie and pair of sneakers can raise suspicions or demand respect depending on where each are dawned. Clothes can also fool the less perceptive. Baggy jeans may often jack cars, fight in the streets and commit muggings, but many people often ignore or forget that expensive suits empty 401ks, abduct entire countries, and end the lives of thousands with a single crime. So it appears that the worst that humanity has to offer can often avoid detection with a simple choice of wardrobe.
Such truths were why Polly decided to sneak into the busy, 24 hour laundry mat and steal items to wear out of a dryer before anyone realized she was there. She needed to blend in. The clerk’s reaction brought her to the realization that ruined and ragged clothing is almost always a universal sign of desperation, or need, or possible mental instability. No matter which, all drew eyes and inspired grave mistrust. Spotting a public rest room partially hidden in the night time shadows of a park, she ducked inside to clean up and to change out of the impromptu death shroud.
The rest room was a small space of sickly green tile walls and stalls, gun metal gray faucets, and mud brown brick flooring. Bright florescent lights gave the interior a sort of washed-out appearance and the air was sharp with the strong bite of pine scented disinfectant. Using one of the two t-shirts she stole as a wash cloth with warm water from the faucets, and liquid soap from a plastic wall mounted dispenser, Polly bathed herself as best she could. By the time she was done several puddles soaked part of the floor and the sink she used was a mess of gray water, earth, and a few dead spiders.
Polly slipped on the faded blue jeans, black band-tee, and the baggy dark gray hoodie. The hoodie had a pair of white bands around both arms, a partially faded white skull on the chest, and numerous large safety pins through the fabric in several places. She had nothing to put on her feet but she was fine with that for now. Wringing her hair out in the sink one last time, she stood and began pulling it back when she caught sight of herself in the mirror, causing her to pause. Polly leaned in a little closer to stare into her reflection’s dark eyes. There was no distinguishable iris or pupil in the unsettling pitch black orbs that gazed back. The longer she stared at the reflection of her face the more it seemed like something was wearing an elaborate mask modeled after her profile.
Polly reluctantly opened her mouth again and despite knowing what she would find behind those disarming full lips. The row of sharp canines embedded in her gums horrified her. Reaching up with her left hand she carefully touched them again with her fingertips. For a brief moment she felt as if she could cry but despite the turmoil she was experiencing, her emotions seemed partially muted and dull.
The first few times the lights within the bathroom flickered she paid it no attention and continued staring at her reflection. When it grew worse she finally glanced up towards the florescent bulbs as they strained audibly. The lights went out, instantly dropping the restroom into a darkness where only the lone, yellowish, security light outside partially seeped in through the open doorway.
“Devourer.” A female voice, as regal as it was sinister, whispered from the surrounding darkness as an unnatural chill settled on the air.
“The one who siphoned your condemned soul from the hellish depths of the Abyss.” The female voice announced.
Polly involuntarily shivered as the presence only seemed to increase within the restroom causing the shadows to dramatically deepen and the chill to sharpen. “Who are you?” Was all she could think to respond with even as she considered making a break for the exit. At that moment a gripping terror began taking hold of her very core as she feared perhaps the jaws of the Abyss had finally returned to once again cradle her in misery.
“The hands,” The female voice slowly modulated to male's similar in tone. “, that can easily return you to eternal perdition if you are unworthy.”
“Please! Don't!” Polly begged as she continued frantically looking about for the specter. “Please. I'll do anything. Just don't send me back there. Tell me what you want and I will do it.”
“Of that I have no doubt.” The Voice replied. “Obedience is the toll you shall pay for your continued freedom from the Abyss,” The voice subtly modulated back to female. “Anything less will not be tolerated. Either you will exist to serve. Or you will exist to suffer.”
“Okay. Okay. You don't have to threaten me. It’s not like I said I wouldn't do what you wanted. Just-- just tell me what you want.” Polly bargained weakly while still searching the bathroom in vain.
“You have been resurrected for a task. I shall guide you to your new masters,” The Voice callously explained.
“Oh my god.” Polly whispered in disbelief and confusion. She folded her arms about herself but unconscious habit left over from her former life now offered little to no comfort.
“The privilege to cry out to God is lost upon you, Devourer.” The voice was male once more. “Instead, prepare to focus on your first task.”
“What is that?” Polly asked in defeat with her eyes closed.
“A test, Devourer.” The Voice shifted back to female.
“What sort of test?” Polly swallowed nervously.
The sound of swiftly approaching footsteps from outside reached Polly sensitive ears and she quickly turned towards the door. The longer she listened the more distinct the sound became. They were moving across the grassy earth with alarming speed. No, it was more than one pair of footsteps. Steadily growing closer with heavy breathing. Wait, the running had a rhythm. Almost like galloping. The sound of paws and panting. As Polly prepared herself the abnormally large form of a dog appeared but stopped just short of entering the restroom.
“Thrall will be your guide.” The Voice announced.
“My guide to do what?” Polly asked uneasily while closely watching the large dog. Though she was not completely sure, in the poor lighting, the animal appeared hairless.
“To where the test shall commence.” The darkness slowly began to dissipate along with the unnatural chill and the voice shifted one last time to male while fading out. “Be warned; failure will not be tolerated.”
The lights flickered and strained audibly before brightening the bathroom once more; forcing Polly to briefly shield her eyes with her left hand as they adjusted. Across the restroom, sitting patiently in the doorway was the large dog. Even in better lighting the animal's breed and sex was indeterminable despite its large jaws, short ears, sharp gold eyes, and sleek, black, hairless body.
Polly was not sure what she should do next as the dog continued staring at her for an undetermined amount of time. She was praying she would not have to fight the animal when Thrall swiftly turned about without warning and sprinted off into the night. Remembering that the Voice said the animal would be her guide, Polly could only reluctantly rush off into darkness behind it.
“Once I only wept the dead,
But now the living cause my pain:
How couldst thou steal me from my tears,
To leave me to my tears again?”
But now the living cause my pain:
How couldst thou steal me from my tears,
To leave me to my tears again?”
--Thomas Hood, “Forsaken”
Beneath the confusion, the fear, and even the steadily gnawing hunger that allowed her no peace, Polly felt something else while sweeping through the darkened city landscape after the strange dog. There was an undeniable spark of exhilaration smoldering amongst all her anxiety. The eventual realization that she was somehow managing to trail after such a swift animal for several blocks with only minor exertion while smelling all the scents resting on the night air mixed to momentarily make her forget her fears.
Polly had no idea just how late it was but the neighborhood through which she was moving appeared still in its slumber. Only an occasional flickering blue glow of a television in one of the dark homes’ windows was an indication of life in the surrounding environment. Thrall suddenly came to a stop on the corner ahead beneath a street light next to a large, parked utility van. Polly caught up with the dog and began looking about nervously as the reality of the situation returned.
“Is this where we are supposed to go?” Polly asked before she realized she was questioning a dog. The fear was creeping upon her once more as she stood there anxiously looking about for some sort of sign of what she should do next.
Nearly three blocks off, a figure appeared from a side street and turned walking further ahead. Thrall immediately began to trot along and Polly was inclined to follow. A cool breeze blew, bringing a scent of cologne and something that made her mouth water. The hunger rapidly expanded to a chasm in the pit of her gut, and Polly had the sickening feeling what was being asked of her. She paused beneath one of the street lights as a feeling of hesitation overcame her. Thrall stopped and turned looking back at Polly with a curious tilt of its head.
“Follow him.” The Voice, female once more, whispered to her as the street light dimmed above her with an audible buzz.
“Do you want me to--” Polly could not finish the question as she recalled the pair of brutalized corpse recently left in her wake. The excuse of not being in control of herself would not shield her this time. Yet, she felt the familiar and dark hunger lurch within her those moral reservations-- moral reservations already struggling at the mere memory of the horribly divine pleasure each kill imbued her with.
“Yes.” The Voice replied simply.
“But why?” Polly whispered weakly as she looked up towards the darkened street light as if maybe the specter was there. “Why do you want me to do this? Did he do something to deserve it?”
“You appear to be operating under the assumption that you are privy to explanations,” The Voice replied coldly then shifted male. “, I advise you to quickly abandon such misconceptions. Now return to your hunt.” The street light flickered back to life and the presence was gone.
Polly sighed deeply while gathering herself for what needed to be done. She began walking after Thrall as the dog started trotting once more. While trailing after the unknown man she pulled the hood of the stolen hoodie over her head, and slipped her hands into its pockets with the hopes of appearing more inconspicuous. Thrall and Polly picked up their pace until they could silently shadow him at just under two blocks distance. The entire time she wondered who he was and what he had possibly done to deserve what was about to happen.
Exiting the neighborhood led to a wide, multiple lane, boulevard where he briefly stopped at the corner to look both ways before crossing the street. Polly dramatically slowed her pace until he made it to the next block where he began cutting through a beige and gray convenience store's parking lot next to a large auto dealer's lot. A red car cruised by blaring loud rock music just as Polly began walking after her target once more.
By the time she reached the opposite street, he was halfway down the block outside the large white and red building of a bowling alley. Polly became alarmed when the man suddenly stopped walking and began feeling over his clothes. Hanging back and trying to quickly formulate a new plan, she was deeply relieved to see he was only retrieving his cell phone before answering it.
She did not immediately begin her approach again but Polly knew this was the moment. The streets were dark, businesses were closed, and no one was there to witness what needed to be done. She glanced down to find Thrall watching her as if it was curious to why she was waiting. She listened to the mumbles of the man's conversation and occasional boisterous laughter while she searched the immediate area but could find no weapon deadlier than scraps of paper.
Polly turned her eyes back to the man still talking with his back to her. Uncertain and nervous, she was also hungry and in fear of what the ghost was may be capable of if she failed. If it supposedly had the power to bring her back to life from the torments of Hell, she imagined it was probably also capable of far worse things. Polly began moving towards her target with cautious but swift steps while trying to figure out how she would bring him down. Finally she settled on the idea of leaping onto his back and biting into his neck from the side. Maybe if she bit deep enough he would die quickly without suffering.
“I know, right?” The man laughed into the phone once more as she drew closer. Polly tried not to imagine who he was or who he was talking to. It had to be done. It was her or him.
Polly crept across the sidewalk. Several feet away she could see his curly mop of dark hair, jeans and a brown leather coat. She could smell the cologne, smell the life, see the faint glow projected against the right side of his face coming from the phone's screen. Closing the last few feet made the fear, hunger and excitement increasingly rise towards unbearable. She darted forward and in a rush of movement, a sudden blow to the head caused a galaxy of bright lights and dazzling stars to explode through her vision. Polly grunted, felt the air whipping by, then crashed down onto the curb.
“Who the fuck do you think you are, lady?” The man exclaimed while standing over her with a boisterous laugh of disbelief.
“You--” Polly lost any and all sympathy for the stranger while awkwardly trying to sit up, then clumsily collapsing onto her back once more. “You--sonofabitch--”
“I wasn't even talking on this thing.” Unaware, or simply not caring that Polly was too dazed to see him, the man motioned to his phone with a laugh. “I heard your retarded ass a block back and was just waiting for you to catch up.” Shaking his head he put the phone away. “And just what you think you were doing, huh?”
The man stepped forward as she rolled onto her stomach and tried dizzily to pick herself up from the sidewalk for a second time. A sudden kick to the torso caused her to release a hoarse sound of pain, and the second definitely broke one or two ribs, causing a sharp agony to shoot through her. She clutched her ribs with one arm and tried to crawl away.
“Oh, I get it.” The man smirked as he followed behind her with languid steps. “You were planning to rob me, is that it? Another goddamn junkie. You diseased fucks been nothing but a problem since they opened that shit clinic to wean you miserable assholes off the crap you willingly took. So, I'm just out walking around, minding my own business, and enjoying this beautiful fucking night, then here you come. Planning to steal from me so you could go off, sell my shit, and get your worthless ass another smack of whatever you're aching for.”
Polly cried out when he gave her another kick to the ribs with a quiet laugh. The strength of his blows were horrible. She felt the torment of another rib having given under the cruelty being visited upon her.
“Well, you stupid bitch, I got good news and I got some bad news.” The man announced with another amused but brief laugh before giving Polly a kick to the stomach hard enough to send her sailing several feet until landing hard on her back. “The bad news is, out of all the motherfuckers you could have chosen to stick up tonight you made the worst possibly choice. Hell, you would have been safer whoring your ass out at random.” He strolled over with a cluck of his tongue and a shake of his head before suddenly stomping his boot down on her chest. She wanted to scream in pain but nothing came out. He stomped her torso several more times before speaking once again. “Don't worry sweetheart, the heel of my boot ain't the good news.”
The man violently snatched her up off the ground by the hair. Involuntarily, she gripped at his wrist with a whine of pain that was ended by a blow across the face. Though her legs buckled and her mouth filled with blood, he roughly held her upright and made Polly look him in the eyes. “The good news,” He repeated with a grin that revealed his extending, extremely sharp fangs. “Is that your junkie ass won't ever have to worry about trying to find a way to get high again.” He forced her head to the side with a hard yank of her hair. “And consider this a little something for wasting my time.”
There came a vicious growl before Thrall suddenly clamped its jaws down on the man's right arm causing him to scream in pain. Tossing Polly away, he turned to struggle with the large dog as it viciously shook the limb.
She could feel things broken and ruptured inside of her. The taste of blood, her blood, was heavy in her mouth. The sidewalk felt cool against her cheek as she continued lying there wracked by radiating pain. Somewhere between desiring to black out and wanting to get up and run, she could hear Thrall and the man struggling viciously; paws and boots scuffling over the cement. Unnatural growls and snarls filling the air.
The Voice was watching. Polly immediately felt its gaze resting heavy and cold upon her body. The scattered snippets of memories from her time in the Abyss, of the endlessly shifting tides of absolute darkness, ash and ammonia, of the countless souls mourning, begging and screaming in torment all around her rose unbidden to her consciousness. She fought through the pain and began pushing up off the ground, blood dribbled from her mouth, and things exploded in pain within her but she suffered it because the alternative was far worse.
Thrall swiftly returned to her side in a defensive manner. She glanced at the dog as it stood there with haunches raised, teeth barred and eyes aglow with fury. The man hissed as he came bearing down at Polly and Thrall with an unholy burst of speed. The dog was backhanded away in mid lunge, and the man brutally tackled Polly, landing atop her as she fell onto her back.
“When I'm done with you, bitch, I'm going to finish off that fucking familiar too.” The man snarled angrily before lunging for her throat. Polly quickly caught his face with both hands, managing to save her throat, but he began punching her ribs with both fist. She screamed in pain, and in a moment of pure anger and desperation, Polly raked the nails of her left hand down his face so hard it hurt her nail beds, causing the man to scream and yank back from her.
Polly quickly staggered to her feet as her target turned attacker remained crouched a few yards away gripping the wound gushing blood from his face. She glanced down at her aching, dripping hand to discover the bones had literally torn free from the tattered flesh of her fingers, to thicken, and extend into monstrous, serrated claws.
“Fuck! Fuck!” The man shouted in a strained voice over and over while getting back to his feet, still holding the terrible wound oozing and dripping from between his fingers. “I don't care who the fuck sent you. You're dead!”
The man came at Polly again, punching her across the face with his right before she could react, then following it with a blow from the left, causing her to stagger backwards, but there was no reprieve as he followed after her delivering another series of punishing blows to the head, ribs, and stomach. Another particularly brutal right hook whipped her around causing her to clumsily stumble away from him until she lost her footing and collapsed onto her hands and knees.
Despite being dazed and in terrible pain, she managed to partially stand and turn in time to see her attacker moving in for the kill. His violent haymaker only hit air as Polly ducked beneath it and ripped the new claws across the expanse of his stomach with as much strength as she could. Within his agonized scream there was also the unnatural cry of a wounded monster.
The man took several awkward steps past her, tried to catch himself on the tree near the curb, but missed and instead fell to his knees, clutching at his stomach in an attempt to keep his insides from spilling out all over the sidewalk. With ragged breaths he attempted to stand again but released another unnatural cry of pain and doubled over.
“No--f--fuck!” The man sputtered during a second attempt to reach his feet. “Christ. It’s not healing-- How--Wh--what the fuck are you? My fucking--” He could not finish as he began coughing up copious amounts of blood.
Polly stood there watching him. She was frightened and in a great deal of pain. Only two things kept her from taking her chances at running away. It was not the specter. Not even the threat of being returned to damnation entered the current equation. It was the bitter indignation of being beaten up, kicked, punched and treated like a whore holding out from her pimp. That very word: “Whore”.
Brief but very vivid flash of memories watching a woman, someone she could not identify but felt an intense stab of profound emotion for, being repeatedly hit. Even as the indignation ignited into a white hot anger that made her teeth grind, the second reason she was not running away began tearing from the pit of her stomach; a ravenous, screaming hunger. The man's potent blood filled her nostrils with a scent that was both poisonous and sweet on the night air. Both emotions were far too much for her to handle.
Polly came sweeping forward with an inhuman cry, leaping through the air, and colliding into her prey with such force it fractured bones in his back as he was smashed to the cement below her. Finally having the upper hand, she sank the terrible mouth full of canines into the back of his neck with the ferocity of a rabid animal. She tore, ripped and bit into him with uncontrollable savagery.
“No--god--no! You can't! You--bitch--you can’t--” The man struggled desperately to crawl from beneath her. His nails raked loudly at the cement.
Polly did not hear his pleads while drinking. When the man's continued resistance still did not cease, she became infuriated, snatching hands full of his hair with both hands, then brutally bounced his skull off the cement until the rest of the fight was knocked out of him. With an iron grip she was finally able to force his head to the right so she could bite into his jugular. He convulsed and gagged but could do nothing more.
As Polly sat up astride her prey's body draining him, a great rush of euphoria, a granted sense of revenge, and thrill of the moment all collided within her. Finally, after he had been emptied, she lifted her face to the night with her eyes closed, letting the orgasmic feelings wash over her in a bloom of indescribable sensations that, not only made it all worth it, but also made the last two kills pale in comparison.
In that moment nothing else mattered while the last shivers coursed through her being drawing from her a low, long guttural growl. Thrall, walked over and briefly watched her then lowered its head to carefully lap at some of the dead Vampire's blood. A strange chill formed on the air and it stirred Polly from her reverie.
“It appears you shall suffice.” The Voice, in its male tone, suddenly spoke up. “Despite being rather messy in your execution.”
“What does it matter if it’s not super neat? He's dead just like you wanted. Isn't that good enough?” Polly wiped some of the blood from her mouth using the sleeve of the hoodie then staggered to her feet with a wince of discomfort. Her insides hurt so badly from the beating that she could not fully straighten her back.
“I doubt your new masters shall see it that way.” The voice explained coldly.
“What the hell was he?” Polly asked while staring at the unmoving form. “Was he like me?”
“No.” The voice released a very brief but icy laugh of amusement. “He was a vampire. A young one. Inexperienced. Barely a few years into its existence.”
“Why the fuck didn't you at least warn me?” Polly asked with barely restrained frustration. “He almost killed me!”
“It was a test.” The voice said while shifting female. “It would have defeated the purpose to warn you.”
Polly looked down at the body again and was amazed to see it beginning to rapidly decay before her very eyes. The decaying suddenly progressed into a smoldering that released steady curls of smoke causing the remains to crumble into ashes and fiery embers which glowed like dying fireflies once the cold wind began to scatter them.
“You have much to learn if you are to survive.” The voice continued. “But if this is the apex of your skills then perhaps you are of little use after all.”
“Wait. Please, I--I will do better. I can still do whatever you need me to.” Polly quickly explained fearfully while looking about in vain.
“For your sake, Devourer, you most certainly shall.” The voice replied.
Thrall walked to her side with a faint whine as if to get her attention. Upon glancing down at the dog, Polly noticed it was looking towards the sky. She turned her attention to the eastern horizon that was slowly beginning to blush a soft blue diluting the darkness. There were so many questions still swirling through her mind as she looked over at the partially scorched clothing once belonging to the man she had just killed, then down at her own monstrously transmogrified left hand. The large bone colored claws sprouting from the uncovered muscles were segmented like fingers. She was able to bend and flex each with a mixture of awe and horror.
“Unless it’s your desire to waltz on the morning winds as a fine ash, I strongly advise you find shelter.” The Voice stated plainly. “Tomorrow night will bring more answers, Devourer.” Then its presence was gone.
Polly's eyes began quickly searching the area for some place to go. Her own internal alarm, that deep sense of dread, was slowly beginning to sound with the sun's inevitable approach. She briefly considered returning to the creek but the distance, and most of all, the woman’s stowed away corpse in the freezer, made her quickly dismiss such. Regardless of not knowing exactly where it was she was going, Polly began swiftly moving down the street because she definitely could not just stand there.
Thrall followed after her as she cut through the bowling alley's parking lot and quickly made her way down a side street. She imagined that the boulevard and main roads would offer no places she could remain undisturbed throughout an entire day.
Polly hurried along making her way towards the less incorporated areas of the city in hopes of finding much needed shelter. Even while moving to evade the deadly approach of the sun, and her mind racing with an assortment of questions, Polly would not forget or surrender her search for Bobby White and whoever was responsible for both murdering and damning her to this nightmare. There would still be a reckoning.
“Rise from your graves, ye dead!” Come from your earthly cover;
Ye wicked all the pangs of hell shall now discover.”
-Rise From Your Graves Ye Dead
Even the great flashes of searing lighting could not fully breach the swollen black clouds that hung heavy overhead as stagnant as they were infinite in all directions. The stormy sky only illuminated in occasional patches with each strike, and deep rolls of thunder reverberated through the clouds’ depths like growls of some titanic behemoth being slowly roused to anger.
Below was the barren surface as glossy and black as vinyl, but slowly heaving with all the difficulty of a living creature drawing eternal dying breaths. Some places were completely flat, and others bulged with webs of throbbing, tree trunk sized, veins hidden beneath the surface.
Cracks of various sizes suddenly split the ground but each time such occurred, it was more akin to deep wounds being cut into flesh by an invisible blade, revealing glowing organic tissue beneath that profusely pumped illuminated crimson streams to the surface before mending closed just as suddenly. These streams all oozed from near and afar, running their own courses before finally commingling to form a single rushing river surging on towards where the landscape abruptly ended at the terrible, and gaping maw which descended down into the impossible dimensions of the eternal Abyss.
After struggling and fighting against the current Polly, unlike many others, managed to drag herself out of the bloody river. She staggered upon its direful shores, and stared in transfixed horror at the hellish dimension surrounding her. Even as Polly's nearly crippled psyche continued trying to understand everything she saw, other unfortunate souls drifted by in the river, desperately holding their hands out to her while screaming in vain for help.
Polly ignored them not out of cruelty or self-preservation. Their cries simply could not penetrate the immense disbelief and fear shrouding her entire being. The icy winds made her shiver as she walked away from the banks of the river in a daze. Every other step was uneven with only one strapless heel on her right foot. She walked on auto-pilot for a short distance before partially tripping over one of the protruding veins.
She lost her footing and then stumbled forward onto her hands and knees. She did not try to stand. Rather, Polly remained there and at some uncertain point began crying as a crushing hopelessness descended upon her. She could not recall why. She could even remember how. But the spirit-breaking revelation she had at that moment did not require flames, brimstone and sulfur. She knew this place was truly hell.
The screams of a man shook Polly from her despair and she looked up to witness a wet, disheveled individual running towards her from several yards away. She was frightened by both his approach and the abject fear upon his face. She had begun to scoot backwards when the man suddenly reached down, causing Polly to scream in fear and began striking at him in defense.
“Not me!” The disheveled man screamed over his shoulder as he began trying to force her to her feet. “For Christ sake! Please not me! You can take her!”
“Get away from me!” Polly yelled as she punched and kicked furiously at him. Desperately attempting to snatch a hold of her flailing arms as he bent over her, he constantly switched between yelling for her to stop struggling and apologizing for what he was doing.
Finally, after she managed to place her heeled foot onto the disheveled man's chest, Polly mustered enough strength to shove her attacker away with a hard kick. He fell onto his back and she immediately continued scooting away until she looked up to discover what had been pursuing him. It caused her mouth to open, but no scream came.
A beast, that appeared to be nothing but one gigantic mouth, approached on several, pale arachnid like appendages that carried it swiftly over the land. Stopping several yards away, the mouth gaped open, allowing several long, pale arms to reach out. From their palms, ebony streams of webbing fired and began attaching themselves to the disheveled man before he could react.
The webs instantly snared parts of his arms, chest, legs and groin, sizzling with a harsh sound all the while adhering to his struggling form. Each arm that successfully landed its threads quickly closed its hand into a fist. The beast then began dragging the disheveled man away as he screamed and begged in vain.
After pushing up off the ground, Polly turned and began fleeing blindly in no certain direction, however, an identical beast fell out of the sky in front of her with its fleshy wings spread. Its jaws opened with a deafening cry as the hands all lurched forward at once, launching a barrage of black webbing that came rushing forward and stuck to her torso, arms, legs and even part of her face.
She screamed in agony while trying to pull away, but every attempt to tear at the threads scorched her hands. The beast opened its wings and took to the air with one powerful thrust. She was left with no choice but to remain suspended in the acidic coils of the punishing webs, sobbing and screaming in excruciating pain while her captor soared ever higher.
Through the haze of torment Polly could see the landscape swiftly growing further and further away until only the unnatural darkness of the abyss' entrance was all that was below and the storm clouds were above. When she finally came to understand what was coming next, she began begging in terror through her sobs. The beast took no notice of anything she said. It came to an abrupt stop, hovering in place as the arms retracted, the jaws snapped shut and the webs were all severed.
The icy air whipped by as Polly plummeted at an ever increasing speed towards the unbearable darkness.
“Never am I so alone
As when I walk among the crowd,
Blurred masks of stern or grinning stone,
Unmeaning eyes and voices loud.”
--Robert Malise Bowyer Nichols, “The Stranger”
Polly woke with a start and a scream caught in her throat. As the stolen coagulated blood began liquefying in her veins once again she groggily sat up. She pushed the hair out of her face, and revealed that her left hand, though coated by fine ash, had reverted to normal.
She was learning that even in slumber the damned will not find relief from what they are. Vivid but distorted memories of failures, mistakes, and torment all gather during the daylight hours like old friends at a wake. Polly did not immediately rise from the floor hidden within the dusty confines of the abandoned utility shed. She sat there hugging her knees while trying to gather the courage to face another night of this new existence.
Thrall lay several feet away with its head resting comfortably upon its large paws. The dog was still watching the door as it had done throughout the day. This duty was not as much guarding as it was a final resort in a possible worst case scenario.
Some of the local species of spiders had once again gathered around and within the dilapidated structure. Some were just content to be near but others yearned further, moving to find a place to conceal themselves in her clothes or hair so they could follow her. Evening twilight was steadily melting away and when the air within the shed dramatically chilled, Polly did not have to wonder why.
“Nightfall, Devourer.” The Voice announced in its male tone.
“I know.” Polly acknowledged flatly. Thrall lifted its head as if listening for several seconds, then quickly stood from where it was lying, hurried over to the chained shed's doors, and turned to look at her.
“Follow Thrall.” The Voice ordered in its female tone.
“Where to now?” Polly asked with a growing sense of dread at the mere thought of another possible confrontation.
“Where you are required to go next.” The Voice replied coldly before fading out.
Knowing there was not much choice, Polly resigned herself to another night. She rose from the floor, crossed the shed and began untangling the heavy rusted chains from the equally rusted door handles until they tumbled to the floor with a rattle and a thud. Polly easily pushed open the old, large pair of off-white doors causing them to simultaneously creak on their hinges and scrape the ground.
Thrall trotted out past her while Polly cautiously surveyed the area and dusted flaking paint off her hands. Besides the barest glow of deep reds and purples at the western horizon, the majority of the sky had descended into a darkness accompanied only by the ancient gaze of a partially full moon. Below was the grassy earth sprouting in dominance between the cracks of the cement path in heavy disrepair. Immediately to the right of the shed, an old pick-up truck sat without wheels, windows or doors, decaying into the earth as plants grew about its frame. A tree line surrounded most of the property and power-lines stretched rudely across its expense in a series of metal and cement towers.
Before Polly could fully get her bearings, Thrall was on the move. The dog's sleek form swiftly moved across the earth towards the tree line with an unnatural grace. Frustrated and annoyed that she was being forced to run so soon after just waking up, Polly reluctantly began running after Thrall, following it off the property and through the woodlands.
Only after leaving the last thicket of trees and descending the grassy hill leading back to the lonely stretch of asphalt road, did Thrall dramatically slow its pace to a leisurely trot. Polly reached the road shortly after the dog and began walking behind it.
“Shit, would it have killed your four-legged ass to walk here?” She said aloud to the animal. It only acknowledged her with a brief glance backward but its stride never ceased. From the elevated road, the lights of the city were completely visible and somewhere amongst the ambient sounds a church's bell tolled. For the briefest of moments, Polly stood there looking over the darkening landscape, wishing she could be any anonymous person out there, anyone but herself. After a short while, and with some reluctance, she turned to begin walking once more.
Polly caught up to Thrall, following closely from the rear-left while still trying hard not to think about where she was going, or what she would have to do once they arrived. Filled with both anxiety and fear, she pulled her hood up and slipped her hands into her pockets. This time it was more a comfort than an attempt at some sort of subterfuge. Occasionally a passing vehicle briefly lit the isolated stretch of road but Polly never paid any truck or car more than a mere glance before returning to her endless thoughts.
What was the Voice? And why had it chosen her for such a lonely, grisly existence? On one side, Polly vaguely remembered the Abyss and even as forlorn, confused and fearful as she was at that very point, she was still more than grateful to be free of the torment. But on the other side, she wondered if she was really free? At worst she was little more than a slave. At best an errand girl. Was the Voice god? Was it giving her some sort of second chance at redemption? Then again if she was truly in Hell, what if it was the devil who sprang her free to do its bidding before bringing her back to damnation?
By the time the pair left the road and began journeying through the side streets leading to the boulevard once more, Polly had forced her mind to stop racing and began trying to focus on her environment. The previous night had been a merciless teacher who's lesson she did not ever want to repeat. Now fully aware that she was not the only dangerous thing moving through the night, she remained on a stressful high alert. People and vehicles were active on the main streets. Each individual and crowd drew suspicious glances from her before she partially lowered her head again as if trying to hide.
The Devourer could smell their scents individually and simultaneously as the crowds blissfully walked past her to wherever they were going; revelers out for the night, employees heading home, visitors passing through, homeless roaming the city, and so on. When combined with the river of sounds constantly coursing from seemingly everywhere, Polly found herself having an extremely difficult time focusing. She felt she could almost drown in it all.
Then that scent, the very same sort of scent from last night filtered through all the others and Polly froze in place, quickly looking about for its source. It was one filled with life, indescribable in its unnatural potency and semi-sweetness. But as quickly as it arrived, the scent was gone. The growing fear threatened to make her panic, but Polly fought hard to remain calm, lowering her head and hurrying after Thrall who sat near a crosswalk waiting for her. Occasionally she looked up at the faces passing by in the night and feared any one of them could be another monster pretending to be just an average person. The irony could not be currently appreciated by her.
Again a similar scent, though more flowery, caught the Devourer’s senses as she passed a group of laughing and talking women dressed in nightclub attire. Even the mingled aroma of perfumes, lingering alcohol, and the warm bodies could not hide the fact that one of them was a vampire. Polly tried not to stare as the group strolled by. It was hard to fight the urge to see which amongst them was a predator.
It occurred several more times as she continued following behind Thrall, almost dazed and overwhelmed by such sensory chaos buzzing all around her like static interference on a radar. That scent was always the same but also slightly different each time. She caught a hint of it amongst a group of seemingly college aged kids sitting outside a coffee house, again near a patrol car two officers where climbing out of and strongly from a group of men who brushed rudely past her while talking to one another.
Polly was so distracted by her escalating fear that she did not realize the church bells had steadily grown closer until they were nearly right on top of her. When she finally paused and looked up to see where Thrall was leading her, Polly was surprised and slightly unsettled to see a large, white cathedral looming over everything surrounding it on a dead end street. The imposing stone edifice, with its four towering steeples topped by gold crosses centered around the large bell tower, appeared illuminated with lights cast upon it. On both sides of the steps leading towards the entrance were several elaborate angel statues posed with their wings spread upon tall cement daises.
The bells began fell silent. Thrall glanced back at Polly once, before increasing its pace, hurrying up the steps, and vanishing through one of the opened doors.
“Christ. You can't be serious.” Polly warily watched the large church with a growing apprehension that she would be asked to go inside to do something horrible. “What--what do you want me to do in there?” She waited but the voice never answered her. “Can you hear me?” She looked about in vain. “Please, can you just give me some sort of answer? Are you there?”
After waiting several more seconds Polly grew frustrated but bit her tongue before her anger caused her to say something the Voice may possibly find offensive. So, with a sickening feeling in her stomach, she began a reluctant approach towards the cathedral. As Polly drew near she noticed a growing line of people waiting at a simple wooden table behind which an older Samoan woman stood.
“Thank you all for your patience.” The woman politely announced to the group. Her hair was tied in a conservative bun and she was dressed in a simple dark blouse, sweater, skirt and sensible shoes. “We were running a little behind schedule tonight with Sister Melissa still out sick, but we will begin passing out the sandwiches in just a few moments.”
On closer inspection Polly could tell those waiting, and approaching, were from the forgotten parts of the society. They were the homeless, the addicts, runaways and others cast aside. They were those who frequently died but always remained less dead than others. Despite the various and sometimes unpleasant scents she picked up from each person, she was only too happy none of them was vampiric.
“Excuse me.” The woman turned towards Polly with a soft smile and inquisitive tone. “Are you in need of some sort of assistance, or help? Maybe food or provisions perhaps?”
“No. No, I,” Polly began nervously as she looked over towards the woman but purposely did not fully raise her head, keeping her face mostly concealed by the hood's shadow. If she was truly there for something terrible, she did not want to add “fugitive” to her list of problems. “Sorry. I think my dog ran this way. I'm just trying to find it.”
“Oh.” The woman replied with a brief sympathetic laugh. Polly was not completely sure but something about the woman's demeanor changed despite the fact that her smile never went away. “I understand. I believe it went inside.”
“Thank you.” Polly replied guardedly. She watched the woman just a couple seconds longer, then turned away and walked through the third entrance.
Each aisle of the dark floor, outside the rows of pews and pillars, was covered by red carpet. Both walls were decorated with three large stained glass windows, each depicting an individual virtue, and directly over the alter was the last and largest window depicting temperance. At the rear wall behind the altar was a life size crucifix crowned by a halo of sharp thorns, and a blood red cloth draped over the horizontal beam.
Only a few lights along both walls, dimmed to their lowest setting, sustained the glow illuminating a majority of the sanctuary. It was easy for Polly to spot an older man sitting at the front center pew. Drawing closer as quietly as possible revealed he was gently petting Thrall on the head as it sat there next to him.
“I see stealth is definitely not one of your strong suits, Devourer.” The older man suddenly acknowledged her presence with a voice that was as commanding as it was well-mannered and articulate. Polly froze watching him very closely. “Even without the arrival of your guide here I would have been aware of your approach when you first entered this sanctuary.” He ceased petting Thrall, and stood from the pew before turning to face Polly, revealing himself to be a priest. He was a Caucasian man somewhere in the twilight of his sixties, with tightly cut battleship gray hair and goatee, he was a lean figure in his black clothing.
“I invite you to consider,” His steely eyes briefly assessed Polly as he continued. “If an old man such as myself can detect you, how much easier it will be for an unnatural predator to sense the same.”
“Who are you?” Polly asked with a mixture of trepidation and curiosity.
“A bit rude to demand an introduction from me after having entered my home without as much as a 'hello'.” The priest chided in a very dry manner while placing both hands upon the top of the cane before him. “Wouldn't you say?”
“Oh.” Polly shifted anxiously on her feet unsure how to proceed. Nervous, and uncertain if the priest was a target or not, she stalled as best she could while hoping the voice would instruct her. “How do you know about the vampires?”
“Another question?” The priest laughed with a brief shake of his head. “Well, I cannot even begin to imagine how confusing your nights have been since returning.” He began a leisurely stroll up the aisle and Polly tensed in nervous preparation. “No need for that.” He dismissively made a brief hand gesture for her to relax. “You currently stand amongst allies, Devourer.”
“Oh.” Polly partially relaxed but continued closely watching the priest as he approached.
“Father Rick Fisher.” He offered his right hand upon arriving before her.
“Polly.” She introduced herself and reluctantly accepted his hand shake.
“A pretty name. A much better ring to it than 'Devourer'.” Father Fisher reached into his pocket and extracted a silver pocket watch to check the time. “Perhaps a walk is in order.” He returned the watch to its place and strolled past Polly on his way to the doors. From the front of the church Thrall trotted over to catch up with the priest.
“Where to?” Polly asked suspiciously.
“No destination in particular.” Fisher called back to her.
“Then you just want to walk around in circles or something?” Polly called back with some evident confusion.
“The nights are indeed longer at this time of year,” Fisher called back patiently. “But they hardly last forever.”
With nothing else to do and no further guidance from the Voice, Polly watched Father Fisher for a short while longer then began walking after him.