Don't scream. It only entices them, and when you stop, the real terror begins. In the moments between your cries, the monsters are released, profane and insatiable. Werewolves, witches, vampires and creatures never named prowl from the darkness. Soul collectors knock on your door while animals you won't find at the zoo slither through the yard around the dead bodies. Angels hover over your house, just in case. Behind them, in the bushes, demons wait for the same reason. A storm brews in the distance, ready to sweep you up and take you away, but to where? And would it be better than here where you're afraid to stop screaming and machinery hidden in the clouds has covered the sky?
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Martin Brawley sat in the police interrogation room smoking a stale cigarette. He could hear footsteps shuffling around outside the door and wished they would come in and get it over with. He wasn't going to tell them anything anyway. He couldn't if he wanted to stay alive.
The door finally swung open. Martin raised his head to see two men come into the room. The first was the one who had arrested him earlier in the day, Detective Ned Rothstein. Rothstein sported a wide body, too large for his small head. It made him look more than the twenty pounds overweight that he was. The second man wore an ill-fitting, brown suit with ashes from a cigarette dusting the jacket lapels. The man in the suit sat down, and Rothstein introduced him.
"This is my partner, Detective Smalley. He's going to take over the questioning, and I'd advise you to start telling the truth. Smalls here can get real pissed." Smalley stared at Martin with bored eyes. It didn't seem to matter to him whether Martin talked or not. Rothstein hitched up his pants and left, slamming the door.
"All right," Smalley said, as soon as the door shut, "let's get this over with. I'm going to ask you some very simple questions, and you are going to answer them truthfully, and then I'll go home and you'll go to jail."
"I told the other guy I don't know what happened."
"I haven't asked a question yet. Now, tell me, did you kill your wife?"
"No. I told the other guy that."
"What did happen to her?"
"I don't know."
"You were in the house with her."
"I didn't see what happened. I left the room and when I came back, she was in the chair, dead."
"Was she sitting in the chair when you left the room?"
"So, you leave the room, your wife is alive, sitting in an easy chair. When you came back, she's dead."
"You didn't hear anything, see anything?"
"What did you do when you came back into the room?"
"I said something to Jenny, but she didn't answer. I repeated it, and when she didn't respond again, I looked at her. She was slumped in the chair. I walked over to her and shook her, thinking she had fallen asleep. When she still didn't move, I checked for a pulse, but she was dead."
"Then what did you do?"
"I called the police."
"You didn't notice the five small puncture holes around her heart?"
The haze of smoke filling the room emanated from a long, thin, wooden box sitting on top of a small table. A stick of incense jutted out from the box at an acute angle, its end glowing red, smoke swirling into the air. The scent of musk hung heavy in the room, like a moisture-choked cloud.
Between the legs of the table, a bluish spider spun a delicate web with precision and patience. Her attention became briefly diverted when several strands of the half completed web moved as a long, thick python slid past, looking for a cool, dark place to curl up.
In the middle of the one room apartment lay a mattress. Stark lay on it, naked, breathing heavily, sweat glistening off the ridges of his well-muscled frame.
"One more," he muttered, and turned over onto his stomach. He lay still, regaining control of his breathing. On his back was an elaborate, vibrant tattoo of a Bengal tiger. The orange and black stripes blended together over his skin, stretching with his muscles. The texture and softness of the ink made it look like real fur. The big cat's face stared at the world with liquid brown eyes that melted out from the massive head.
Stark felt the first twinge, but held still. He knew she would free herself as quickly as possible. The tattoo moved, bulging outward as the tiger's face rose from Stark's broad back. One monstrous paw followed, and the tiger gave a deep roar before leaping to the floor. Stark remained lying face down, resting. The tiger nudged him, swiping her tongue over his face a few times.
"I'm all right, Shivra, just tired. It's been a big day. Tomorrow I'm leaving you all home."
A cacophony of animal voices rose in protest. Shivra roared, her great head swinging back and forth. A falcon sitting on top of a bookcase flashed his wings and screeched. A lynx paced back and forth, growling along with a yipping fox that sat regally in front of the door.
"Oh, shut up," Stark admonished. "What a bunch of babies." The din relented, except for one vociferous voice.
A wiry capuchin monkey still shrieked, running up and down the kitchen counter.
"Beebee!" Stark shouted at the animal. Beebee immediately sat down, nervously palming an object in her hand. Stark noticed it for the first time. "Beebee, what do you have?" The monkey leapt to the windowsill and then to a lamp pole. "Beebee! Now!" Stark yelled forcefully. One shriek of defiance, and Beebee brought to him what she held, dropping it into his outstretched palm.
It was a three-dimensional triangle, about half the size of Stark's hand. One side was black, and shone like a piece of coal. Stark turned it over and the next side was a deep metallic green, and the third sapphire blue. Stark looked at Beebee sitting beside him, an exaggerated smile baring her teeth and gums.
"You took this from the antique shop this afternoon, didn't you? What have I told you about stealing?" The monkey's smile faded a little, and she averted her eyes. "If you're going to steal, make sure it's valuable. I don't even know what this is."
Trey watched the first snake slither out of his stomach and smiled tiredly. Relief washed over him, momentarily masking the pain from slitting his gut with a shard of jagged rock. The snake's rapid movement tickled; a sensation he hadn't felt in a long time. They fell from his body and slithered into the desert. A few still clung to his stomach lining, wondering where the warmth had gone.
Brittle, cool air brushed through his insides like the probing hand of a lover. Trey sat up and stared at his distended belly and sighed. His breathing hadn't even slowed.
"Let me die," he pleaded quietly again, knowing his wish wouldn't be granted. The Lodi would not let him go. Trey fumbled for the rock again. He grasped it in his left hand and pulled it fiercely over his right wrist. Cut after cut, the edge went deeper into the soft skin until it ripped through. He brought the point of the rock down into the exposed vein and it burst, spraying him in the face with warm, red liquid.
A new grip of pain took Trey by the throat. His head fell back onto the hard-packed desert floor as the blood flowed steadily from his arm like death from a disease. The stream eroded into the cracked sand, forming a shallow bed. Slowly it crawled forward, widening its berth by a few feet.
Trey could feel his veins drying like dead worms in the sun as blood pumped from his heart and out his wrist. It drained from him until his pale body completely emptied. He lifted the fingers on his right hand and they poked through the thick plasma like the heads of the Hydra. Trey bent his neck to see that his carcass was the mouth of a river of blood, winding a tortuous path through the desert, moonlight shooting across the surface.
There was a meaty tearing sound, and the bones in Trey's right arm slid easily out through the hole in his wrist. His shoulder popped and followed. Trey watched his skin bubble with the movement underneath. The initial slice in his wrist splayed open like the zipper on a flesh costume as the skin tore up to his elbow.
The train of skeletal pieces serpentined into the river of blood. As each new bone tore free of its sinewy bonding of tissue and muscle, it fused onto the one before it. Trey, lucid as always, felt every brutal tracer of pain.
He screamed suddenly as his spine melded onto the bone-snake and slithered out of his sack of skin. Inch by inch Trey's body deflated like a balloon until every bone had joined together in a long, gnarled, reptilian beast. The new creature swam sinuously on the crest of the blood flow.
Trey's carrion was left behind to be picked apart by vultures, but his consciousness swam the sanguine river with the serpent. The pain became a low constant throb, which was a reprieve compared to the past hours, and the leisurely pace at which he glided through the desert rested his battered mind.