The Body in the Quarry

The needle had just traversed passed the last few bars of Hotel California when the knock at the door came. The record continued spinning, onto the next track, and I got up to answer.

I unlocked it and pulled it open. Behind the storm door stood Constable Rivers and another young policeman. The sky was overcast and grey, full with heavy clouds. It looked like it had been raining. The wet smell came in through the wire grill of the metal and glass barrier between me and the two officers of the law.

Pushing the door open, I greeted the Constable with a bright smile on my face.

“Tom! Hello! What brings you down to this neck o’ the woods?” Rivers’ expression remained deadly serious and he did not smile in return. The officer behind him, a lanky white kid with tufts of black hair peeking out from beneath his cap, looked nervous.

“Good afternoon, Chuck. Surely you’ve heard about what’s going on down at the quarry?”

“Of course, why everyone in town has! Terrible business what happened – that poor hiker finding the body washed up like that – or at least that’s what I heard.”

“Yes. You see, that’s why where here.” For the first time I noticed that Tom was holding something in his hand, it looked like a small scrap of paper.

“What do you mean?” My mind raced with thoughts about what the body in the quarry could possibly have to do with me. “Is this something you’re telling the whole town about? Some sort of community outreach?”

“No, Chuck, though I must say, I do wish that were the case.” Rivers’ face remained grave as a mortician’s. “You see, Andy and I here just came from the city morgue. We’re going to need you to come back with us, and then to the station, to answer a few questions.”

A hand grabbed my heart and squeezed. “Tom, surely… I… what’s happened?”

He held out the scrap to me, and I took it from him. I saw now that it was a Polaroid. It was pale and ashen, but the face of the corpse was one I recognized instantly.

“It’s you, Chuck,” Rivers said. “The body in the quarry was you.”

Downpour

The rain in spain
Falls mainly in the plain
Still, I feel I must explain
All of life is pain

Shards of broken glass,
axes and knives
these are the forces
defining hours of our lives

Life is hard
that’s why no one survives;
gotta get out when you know the getting’s good
no, gotta stay in time to sharpen our knives

It’s raining again
It’s raining again
The only constant is suffering
Forever changing

Abandoned

Captain Smith looked out over the roaring waves of the ocean. His face was still and expressionless, even with the cold sea air blowing fiercely, stinging his cheeks and making his overcoat flap behind him.

The men in the lifeboat rowed and rowed, and their oars plunged into the frothing icy water. Their muscles were burning with exhaustion but still they toiled.

“How much further, Captain?” shouted Winters, the first mate, from Smith’s side, such that the man could hear him over the raging winds. “I fear the men cannot keep up this pace and the storm will never subside. That monster – that thing – that sunk The Imperial must surely be in these waters still and giving us chase!”

The Captain raised the spyglass to his eye again, looking through the raging rains for that far-off piece of land that was to be their salvation.

On the island Smith saw gray trees blowing in the breeze, then rising into the air and twisting, twisting and roiling and elongating into thick black fleshy tendrils, and the rocks of the island shifting. As the leviathan plunged beneath the waves the last thing Smith saw was its giant eye, an eye that must have been as large as The Imperial had been herself, staring back at him through the glass.

“Captain?” Winters shouted again.

Smith lowered the telescope.

“Keep rowing,” he said.

Welcome to BigFuture™ BSI

One of the Birds bursts out of the flaming house, right through a fresh trail of flame Brick is laying down on the place, then tears off into the sky above, screeching and squawking like all hell. It’s a horrible thing, all gangly bones and green skin and that giant bony bill lined with razor-sharp teeth. Brick just caught it with the last coming out of his ‘thrower, and I can see through the mask of my suit the thing’s on fire now too, singeing from darkish green to black. It squawks and squawks and flaps its enormous wings; Brick’s throwing more up fire its way but the damn thing’s just out of reach. I hear the rest of the team screaming and hollering, then the sound of automatic fire as they let all hell loose its way.

“Burn it to the ground!” I heard Brick yelling over the din. “No survivors! Can’t let the infection spread!”

The family are running out of the house now, all on fire too: the father’s clothes are nearly burned away and the skin I can see coming through is all black; the mother’s hair is mostly gone and covered in soot and smouldering; and the small child being lead out between them is crying and looks like she crawled through a chimney a damn mile long.

The Bird’s flapping every which way, in its dying throes, slowly falling to earth; Brick finally catches it with a burst of fire and then the horrible creature’s fully ablaze. I look over and he looks back at me before letting another burst go. “What are you waiting for Sphinx, burn ’em! Burn ’em before they get away!”

The father is almost on top of me now and I can see his scared eyes grow wider as I pull the trigger. Flame engulfs him totally and he screams and the sound is horrible and higher pitched than thought it would be. The blast engulfs the woman and child too, and I can see them flailing within it, trying to run; arms, legs, faces, all turning black, skin melting away to charred muscle then bone beneath.

And then for a moment the bright light of them reminds me of my first day, of sitting in what seemed like an ordinary conference room in an ordinary office tower with a group of other ordinary people ready to join a completely ordinary company to work an ordinary 9-to-5 at an ordinary job, and me looking up into the flickering bright light of fluorescent tubes overhead.

A pretty black-haired girl with a short skirt had come in to us waiting expectantly. “Welcome to BigFuture™ BSI,” she’d said. “I am so excited to have all of you here joining us, and to tell you that for each of you, for all of you: your Big Future is a bright one.”

Deathlight

I first saw the light when I was 6, when we were gathered around my 98-year-old grandmother’s bed in the nursing home, surrounded by stale air and signs of old age. It appeared above her head and danced ever so slightly back and forth, like a tiny firefly.

“Do you see that?” I asked my kid brother, Jamie. Mother was holding Grandma’s hand. Dad was crying.

“See what?” Jamie said. Then Grandma let out one final sound and left us forever.

That was when I first knew I was special.

I’ve seen the light many times over my life since then, always appearing just before. I saw a dot of illumination right above Tommy Conway in 8th Grade, right before he got hit by a speeding car as we walked home from school. I shouted but I was too late. My parents said it was a miracle I survived.

I saw the light over and over in Afghanistan; above a new kid’s head right before he took a bullet from a sniper, hovering over Lt. Austin’s helmet while he tried to defuse an IED – my right ear still rings with tinnitus from time to time, above countless men on the other side before I watched them shot dead or blown into millions of pieces.

I’ve retired now, after all that happened, gone back into civilian work but a line no less dangerous. Some of it’s easy and safe, and some of it isn’t, but either way it’s never simple.

Brink and I are standing next to my car in an empty parking lot, the meeting point. One lonely streetlight far away casts the only brightness in a sea of black. He’s a little shaky – the men we’re to meet were said to have Cartel ties.

A Hummer pulls into the lot from the other end, loud rap music blaring out of open windows.

“You ready?” I say.

“Yeah,” says Brink.

I look down at my hands, and see they are shaking too – and faintly illuminated in the darkness with a dancing light from above.

The Three Sounds I Remember from Childhood

I don’t remember a lot from my time growing up on the farm, but I do remember some things, sights and smells mostly, and those three sounds.

I remember the sight of the old oil cans with fading labels in my father’s shop, of his tools hanging on the pegboard against the wall, and his trusty chainsaw on the workshop table, its teeth slighty rusted and dulling, uncared for by him.

I remember the smells: the smell of the oil and transmission fluid leaked out from the broken Chevy onto the garage floor, of cold rain on the wind and the hay in the barn, and of sawdust and sweat when my father came back in from a long day of cutting wood in the back lot.

I remember the sight of broken dishes on the floor, fallen from where they’d shattered on the wall, flung from my parents’ angry hands. I remember the deep red colour of my mother’s face, aflame with rage, and my father’s like stone as he walked out the door. I remember her look of disgust – who cuts wood at this hour of the night? she’d said – when she followed him out to the back lot.

I remember those three sounds, those three sounds that will forever be burned into my memory and never forgotten, no matter how hard I try: the sound of the chainsaw roaring, of my mother’s dying screams, and of my father’s evil laughter echoing out into the night.

Satan

Imagine my surprise when I went into Berenger’s office on Friday afternoon for our regular weekly meeting, and watched him swivel his big leather chair around for him to face me, like he did every time, only to find it wasn’t him sitting in it.

The same immaculate suit, the same cornflower blue tie, the same gold cufflinks, but instead of my boss, the suit was being worn by someone else.

The Devil.

I knew it was him, just as you know in dreams someone you’ve never seen before.

He was beautiful; his skin was perfect beneath his 5 o’clock shadow and he smiled at me showing rows of impossibly perfect white teeth. I was completely charmed and completely terrified.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said, placing his hands palm-down on the mahogany of Berenger’s desk. “I’m not here to harm you.”

“What… what.. what… do you want?” was all I could stammer.

“It is not about what I want,” Satan said, his voice smooth as silk. “It’s about what you want. And I know what you want.”

I swallowed. “You do?”

“You want her to die, don’t you? You wish she was dead, I know you do. You’ve wished it ever since that week you spent together in Cuba for your 20th. Well, my friend, I can make it happen. Do you want it to happen? Are you ready to make a deal with The Devil?” He chuckled at his own joke and grinned. He was beautiful.

“What’s the catch?” I said. “There’s got to be a catch.”

“You have to watch,” he said, still grinning. “That’s the catch.”

I swallowed again, hard. I thought about it. “Ok,” I said. “I will.”

“Do we have a deal?” Lucifer said, extending his hand.

“Deal.” I shook. His hand was as soft as a baby’s skin and warmer than a hand should be.

I knew there would be a catch. I should have known never to make a deal with the devil.

She’s dead, that bitch, and that’s what I always wanted, and now I’m free. But I had to watch her die. Every day I watch her die. Every time I fall asleep. Every time I close my eyes, even for a second, I see her terrified face and the blood and her wide eyes screaming WHY

When I went back into Berenger’s office again on Monday, it was empty.

In Memoriam

“He looks so peaceful,” my wife said, looking down, her face stained with tears.

Inside my mind I screamed:

I’M ALIVE I’M ALIVE
PLEASE GOD WON’T SOMEONE HELP ME