The Eliminating Angel

There is something different about Joseph, and I don’t like it. Knoxford is the kind of place that makes you think maybe God left it behind. And if you had the burden of dealing with Joseph, you might get a good idea as to why. Knoxford is a nasty, rural, mountainous area of loosely connected dwellings and the occasional coal mine. The people had the temperament of wolverines and the keen intellect of that quadrupeds stool. Among these corn-jack swilling salts of the earth, Joseph was the meanest and keenest of them all. Not that I had any choice in the matter when it came to dealing with him; he had the best moonshine around, all but forcing me to get it from him.

Well, at least he used to have the best. There has been something different about the brew and I suspect that it might correlate back to that devil himself. It doesn’t help that Joseph’s grandpa has been missing for awhile now and his excuses change every time I inquire. Not long after his disappearance was when I started getting reports that the liquor was different. Maybe that old pollock stuck his nose in something that didn’t belong. Now me, I am just a runner, but people are dying and I won’t have the axe fall on my head. This was the most reasonable explanation I had for myself as to why I was here at night spying on Joseph.

“Stupid old man. Sitting there screaming at me with words I can’t understand.” I froze in mid step. That was Joseph. I crept up to a hole in the wall and looked around. He was sitting on his porch with a pipe in his mouth yelling at the apple tree across the unkempt yard in an slurred, nasally voice. A blind man could see that he was beyond drunk.

“Now you’re silent, and I can finally relax!” He then formed a twisted toothy smile. “It’s a shame your old, sturdy bones put a chip in the head of my axe. I could have cut down that nosy bootlegger, asking about you.”

I was right, he did kill the old man. If he finds me then I will be next.

“Profit is profit. and no one gets in the way, of my money…” His ramble then came to a total halt before he spoke again with a completely changed demeanor.  “Nooo. No. Not again.” He muttered this to himself multiple times in a tone of disbelief. Even from about fifteen feet away I could see the fear mounting in his dirty brown eyes. I followed his line of sight across the yard to the old apple tree and barely managed to stifle my scream.

Standing over a patch of unusually dry dirt was a shadow shaped like a man covered in rags. It was darker than the night yet translucent, casting a murky gaze on everything behind it. I glanced back at Joseph who was looking at his bottle of gin before looking away and shaking his head. He sat there for a moment in silence, as if gathering what resolve the mere sight of that wraith had not snatched away from him. He then stood up, threw the bottle across the yard and screamed “It’s been almost a year you dusty bag of bones! It’s all my money, now!” He then stormed inside the house and upstairs to his bedroom.

With great apprehension I looked back to the tree to see that the shadow was still there standing hunched over what I now assume to be the unmarked grave of Joseph’s grandfather. I watched as its shrouded ‘head’ glanced up to me before slowly disappearing.

Coming to the conclusion that Joseph was in the comforting embrace of a liquor coma for the night, I lit the lantern I’d brought and finished snooping around the barn. Despite feeling like a chilled brick was lying in my stomach, I decided to finish what I came here for. This hovel of a barn was dingy, dirty, and neglected. The only thing that seemed to be given any habitual level of maintenance were his distilleries. I found myself surprised at how expedient my discovery of his compromised distillery’s alcohol were. Stupid hick was cutting good shine with anything he could find that would not arouse a stink. It was bathtub gin at best, diluted poison at worst. I also saw that one of the half dozen or so distilleries was damaged beyond repair.

Now I know why the old man had to go. It was at this point that if my foresight was as eagle eyed as my hindsight, I would have left that wretched barn. I would have went straight to my car hidden over the hill and drove as fast as what bits of reason I had left in possession would allow me to go. I continued wandering around the barn a bit more until I came across the murder weapon. Hanging on the wall was a rusty, stained axe with a split head. Located right in the break, was a chunk of molding bone. For some reason I felt compelled to reach out and grasp the only unburied fragment of the old man. When it was freed from the defective axe and in the palm of my hand, I began to feel a prickling of hairs across my body. Eyes felt like they were inspecting every aspect of my being. I could feel my legs telling me to leave, quickly and pleading with my head not to look back.

It is here. The shadow wraith of Joseph’s grandpa is here! The lightless areas around this corner of the barn took on a solid form and seemed to creep right up to the edge of my lantern. Despite my entire body being seized by the cold sweat of terror, I continued on this strange and abhorrent course I was on. I took the chunk of bone in my hand, walked out of the barn and on over towards the apple tree. All this time, the darkness stayed right on my heels, just outside of the lantern light. The dirt under the tree looked not to have been disturbed for almost a year, yet no life grew upon it. I could not conclude for certain, but I had the distinct thought that no worms or other lowly beasts crawled beneath it. It has been nearly a year. I sat the lantern down, and began digging through the dirt with my free hand, keeping a tight grip on the bone fragment. It felt unnaturally warm. Finally I touched a burlap sack and stopped digging instantly. My body sensing the threshold of what it should be allowed to know. I then took the bone fragment and dropped it in the small hole then covered it up again.

Maybe now the old man can rest in one piece. I found myself transfixed in morbid curiosity as the darkness seeped into the dead earth. I should have turned back. I should have left this cursed backwater of America and found work running shine elsewhere. Yet the same steadfastness in the face of apprehension that drives us all on unfortunately had me seeing this macabre spectacle to the end. A minute passed, then another, then a few more before the unthinkable began to occur. A solid black ichor began to bubble up from the grave, slowly at first but quickly gaining momentum. Before I was even completely aware of it, the shadow was standing once more over the grave. This time though, its form was as opaque as the oblivion it spawned from. No face, no features, just a raggedy misshapen form. Rationality finally taking hold, I began slowly backing away from this being. A deep, barely audible drone emanated outward from as it as it darted towards the house where Joseph slept. I felt compelled to follow it up the stairs where the door to his bedroom flung open with a bang, waking Joseph from his sleep. I heard him scream as he jumped from his bed, making a thud as he pressed himself against the wall opposite the shadow wraith.

Before either of us could react, it dashed straight towards Joseph and engulfed him. The last thing I – and Joseph, for that matter – heard was the sound of an old man laughing. In about the time it took for the wraith to engulf Joseph it had seemingly dissipated into the darkness of his unlit room. All that remained of Joseph was a pile of mangled, charred bones. In the following minute, there was nothing but absolute silence. My breath was caught in my chest. Then, the laughter returned. Deep, malicious cackling emanating outward in volumes that rose and fell with little rhythm. The shadow wraith started oozing out of the walls like molasses and pooling together over the remains of Joseph. Realizing how finite the time was in my situation, I turned, bolted down the stairs, through the house, and out the door. I ran unaware into the opaque embrace of the night, never returning from the cackling darkness.

The World Ender: A Short Story

I was a man.  But they took that from me.

I ran with The Sawyer Gang.  Chet & Amos Sawyer were brothers, and they were particularly savage creatures.  In the grand scheme of their gang, I found myself somewhere in the middle.  “The money crew,” as they called it.  Our main targets were banks and trains, but we’d hit anything that would put money in our pockets.  I would have knocked over a small child if it meant I could put a couple bucks in my pocket.  Hell, I probably did.

But the higher guys?  As near as I could tell, they would just rampage around the countryside, looking for people to kill.  Maybe they had their reasons.  Maybe they didn’t.  But that really was none of my concern.  As long as I kept pulling in money, they didn’t care who I was.

I wasn’t what you would call “happy,” but I was content.  I found something I was good at and I did it.  Isn’t that what happiness is?

That all ended when I met Myra.  She lived in town.  The Sawyers had a place about a mile outside, but I’d find myself in town about once a week.  I wish I could say my heart stopped the first time I saw her; that something within me changed immediately.  But that wouldn’t be true.  The truth of it is that I barely paid her any mind for a long time.  Hers was just another face I vaguely recognized.

The more I saw her, the more I paid attention.  A light seemed to shine from behind those pale blue eyes.
Our interactions started small.  I would tip my hat, she would smile shyly, look around and rush off.  Eventually I worked my way up to giving her a flower.  She abruptly turned around and walked as fast as she could in the opposite direction.  I watched her until her dirty blonde braid disappeared behind the side of a building.

I understood.  It was known that I was with the Sawyers.  And, though we never “practiced our craft” in the town, the people there knew who we were.  They were courteous, but only out of fear.  Every interaction was met with a tight-lipped smile.  I saw that face on every townsperson, and I saw that face on Myra.

I was undeterred.  All I wanted was a conversation.  After a few months, she started to warm up to me.  We exchanged pleasantries.  She allowed me to walk her home.  Eventually, she agreed to have dinner with me.

The Sawyers began to notice these interactions, and they did not care for them.  In their minds, if a man had someone to live for, it meant they might think twice when risking their lives for the good of The Sawyers, and that could not be tolerated.  I’m not a smart man, but I am a perceptive one, and I could feel the sword dangling over my head.

I met Myra for dinner.  She seemed happy.  Completely at ease.  I never thought I would find that.  I always assumed I would work my way up the ranks and die in a flurry of bullets, like every true outlaw dreamed of.  But if I ever was a true outlaw, that part of me had left.  I had to take my chance.

“Myra,” I said, taking her hand in mine.  “I know this is sudden, but I need to ask you something.”  Her eyes were wary, but not thrown off.  “I need to leave this place.  If the Sawyers find out about this…I don’t know what they’ll do.  They’ll come looking for me.  And as much as I would love it, I can’t ask you…”
She cut me off.  “I’ll come with you.”
I was completely taken aback.  I smiled bigger than I knew I was capable of.  “Tonight.  It has to be tonight.”
“Why not right now?” she asked with a smirk.  “This place has terrible service.”

We waited until dark.  Myra grabbed what she could and we rode out of town.  Together.  The thrill of it all was more than anything I had ever experienced.

We rode for days.  Weeks.  Months.  I lost track of time.  We rode until we were sure we were clear of the Sawyers and settled on some land hidden by trees.  We built a little house.  And we were happy.  Just us two.

It wasn’t long before “us two” became “us three.”  We welcomed Rosie into the world on a crisp August day.  She was everything to us.  She was beautiful.  She was perfect.  She was ours.

We had to expand the house to account for the little one.  One project led to another, and it got to a point where I couldn’t remember the last day I didn’t have a hammer in my hands.  It feels like all I did was blink and Rosie was right there next to me, swinging a hammer of her own.  She grew up quick, and life out there was tough, but she was about the sweetest, best-natured person I had ever come across.  She got that from Myra.  There were times I’d be building something with Rosie and I’d catch Myra out of the corner of my eye, just smiling.

Our life was perfect.  I should have known it wasn’t going to last.  Maybe I did and I just didn’t want to believe it.  A lot of people say they have premonitions about these kinds of things.  “I dreamed of a flaming horse riding through our house,” or something like that.  Maybe that’s true.  Maybe it’s not.  I know there was nothing like that for me.  One minute we were perfect.  And then all I remember were the flames.

The smoke was creeping under the door.  I smelled it, but I couldn’t immediately place what it meant.  By the time I reacted, it was already too late.

I can’t bear to relive most of the details of that night.  The sounds and smells are things I will never forget.  I watched as the light went out of Myra’s eyes.  And Rosie…I can’t even think about Rosie.  Then it was my turn.  I closed my eyes.  The last thing I heard was the voice of Chet Sawyer.  I can’t even remember what he said.  The words didn’t matter.  I felt cold steel against my throat and I slumped to the dirt, watching my blood mix with the dirt.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the sky. And maybe it was just the fire, but the sky burned a dangerous blood red.

I felt rage.  I felt anger.  I felt sadness.  Then I felt nothing at all.

They put me in the ground.  I don’t specifically remember it, but it must have happened as I found myself buried deep underground, without so much as a cheap wooden box to hold my body.  By the time I found my way to the surface, my house was nothing but a pile of ash.  It was cool to the touch.  How long had I been out?  And why am I not dead?

I reached up to feel my neck.  I felt dried blood and a deep wound.  Then I realized something else that I felt: my neck was cold.  I touched my face.  My arms.  My legs.  Everything was cold.  It dawned on me that the answer to the question “why am I not dead,” was easy: I was dead.

As I was attempting to process this information, I looked across the burned landscape that was once my home.  I noticed something caught in one of the trees, flapping slightly in the breeze.  I walked over and found it to be one of Myra’s scarves.  It had been burned in the fire, but only around the edges.  If I had been capable of tears, I can assure you at least one would have rolled down my cheek.  But I am not.  Not anymore.  I grabbed it from the tree and tied it around my neck to cover my scar.

My path was clear.  I would destroy the very mention of the Sawyers.  The name itself would die on people’s lips.  The mere thought of what happened to them would send shivers up spines.  I would take what they did to my family and repay it tenfold.  I would tear the world up until I had my revenge.

And so, with one last look at the remains of my home, I began walking.


Inspiration:

Transmissions from ScareFest 7

Most of these words are true.

On September 13, 2014, I attended ScareFest, a horror & paranormal convention held in Lexington, KY.  This is the 7th year of its existence.  I happen to live in Lexington, KY, and I have no excuses for missing the previous 6.  Before my Wizard World experience, I had never been to a convention.  I attribute my attendance to ScareFest this year to the great time I had at Wizard World.  Still, it’s ridiculous that this convention takes place in my town and I had never been.  I have brought shame upon my family.

Unlike Wizard World, I would be flying solo.  So I got up, threw on my Zombie Fights Shark t-shirt(seemed festive), and made the 10 minute drive to Rupp Arena.  Home to the Cats, and, on this weekend, home to the ghouls.

I parked a few blocks away and walked.  On my way through the parking lot, I passed many cars with bumper stickers.  The Misfits.  Necronomicon.  Michael Myers.  Jason Voorhees.  Zombies.  I looked around and smiled, knowing I was about to be among my people.  By the end of the day, I would be adding a new bumper sticker to my car, signaling to the others that I belonged.

Hail to the '01 Prizm, baby
Hail to the ’01 Prizm, baby

It wasn’t hard to find the entrance: all I had to do was follow the screams.  I found myself traveling in a group of people dressed as various characters from The Walking Dead.  “Those screams aren’t real, right?” I wondered aloud.  None of them looked up at me.  They just put their heads down and shuffled forwards.  If I were to die, I would do it with characters from a show I sorta-kinda like sometimes.

Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line were playing a concert at Rupp Arena later that evening, which gave the crowd a bit of a weird mix.  I saw people dressed as monsters, bloody clowns and zombies walking among people wearing cowboy hats, boots and tight jeans.  The Grim Reaper made small talk with John Wayne while waiting in line for food.  It was strange and beautiful.

I never did discover the source of the screams, but I found the ticket window, grabbed my wristband and headed through the doors.  A skeleton stared at me from above as I walked underneath.  I thought it kind of looked like me, though that could have just been my brain playing tricks.

sf-02-banner

 

I stepped inside the doors to find a young child being attacked by Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, while Billy the Puppet sat on his tricycle grinning like an idiot.  I thought about stepping in, but I’m only one man.  That kid lived enough of his life to enjoy it, but not long enough to be cynical.  I hope you find comfort in the next life, young man.

sf-03-child-attacked

 

As it turns out, I could probably find him in the next life, as the next thing I saw was a sign for the Ghost Hunter Shop.  Books.  Vests.  Smudge sticks.  If you’re looking for ghost hunting supplies, they had it there.  The Ghost Hunter shop is owned by Patti Starr, who puts on ScareFest every year.  They have a website as well as a physical location here in Lexington.

sf-04-ghost-hutner-shop

 

I poked around in the shop a little, but I had no haunting in my own home and had neither the time nor energy to hunt for them elsewhere, so I shoved off to the main floor.

Ah, the main floor.  What joys would I find there?  Would I find something to love immediately, or would I have to wait a while?

sf-05-beetlejioce-staypuft

 

I would find something immediately.  Just Betelgeuse and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man hanging out together.  I tried to get up close enough to hear what they were talking about, but I’m not good at sneaking.  I also couldn’t stop singing, “Tale as old as tiiiiiiiime.”

I thought ol’ Puffy would be taller, but I had only seen him on TV.  All celebrities are shorter in person.  Apparently Stay Puft and Keifer Sutherland are the same size.

sf-06-large-zombie

 

I found out early that security would not back down from anyone.

sf-07-me-mm

I happened upon Michael Myers.  I don’t even think it was someone dressed as Myers: I believe that this was the real Michael Myers.  I followed him around for a while, observing his movements.  He never spoke a word.  He walked around the floor, looking around him.  I can only assume he was looking for a gaggle of babysitters.  While he was stalking them, I was stalking him.  Eventually I walked up to him.

Me: Can I get a picture with you?
MM: [Nods head]
Me: So, you just don’t talk then?
MM: [Shakes head]

Me: Halloween: Resurrection was really terrible, huh?
MM: [Nods head violently]

Me: You…uh…you going to kill anyone here?
MM: [Dead silence]
Me: Alright man.  I’ll catch up with you later.

I saw him after that from time to time.  Still walking the floor.  Still not talking.  Occasionally he would stop for pictures with people, but he never spoke a word.  I saw a woman walk up to him and ask, “Can I get a picture with you, sweet pea?”  It killed me that someone referred to Michael Myers as “sweet pea”.

My encounter with Michael Myers spooked me a little, but it didn’t last long.  I looked to my left and saw the table for the Western Kentucky Ghostbusters.  I tried to calmly walk over, but I’m pretty sure I ended up awkwardly jogging.

“Hey.  Are those proton packs?”
“Yes.  For $1 you can wear one and stand next to Vigo the Carpathian.”

“You mean Vigo the Butch?”
I giggled and threw some money in the pot, and was then armed with my very own proton pack.  As I waited for the people in front of me to finish with their pictures, I kept repeating to myself, “Bite your head off, man.  Bite your head off, man.”

It was finally my turn.  I walked up, powered on my proton pack and said, “Only a Carpathian would come back to life now and choose Lexington, KY,” then muttered a few lines about Carpathian Kitten Loss.

sf-08-me-vigo

 

I tried to look tough, but instead just came off as looking vaguely indifferent, and quite possibly like I’m a little sick.  I think I looked quite dashing in that proton pack.

I walked off and came across two very pale people pushing a stroller.  “Oh, lemme see the cute little baby.  Who’s the cute baby?  Is it you?”

sf-09-babies
GAAAAAAAAAH!

 

While I was still trying to rub the evil out of my eyes, I felt someone push me in the back.  Before I could execute a super-sweet roundhouse kick, he was past me.

sf-10-sean-astin

 

It was Sean Astin, traveling with a security guard.  “Gotta get back to my table.  Mr. Frodo needs me,” I heard him say softly to himself.
“I kind of thought you’d be talking about D-Bob.”
“What?”
“Nothing, Mr. Austin.  Go tell them about how you hope they won’t be able to get their balls out.  Give ‘em hell, sir.  Goonies never say ah he’s gone.”

A voice came over the speakers.  “Cary Elwes is back at his booth, so if you want his autograph, it’s as you wish.”  I cackled loudly.  I looked around for anyone to share my laugh with, but all I could find was this guy.

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He didn’t find it funny, but I doubt he really found anything funny.  The blood of the innocent, maybe?

I saw Dick Warlock – legendary stunt man, and Michael Myers in the stellar Halloween II – wandering around his booth while wearing a terrific jacket.

sf-12-dick-warlock

 

I thought about trying to steal it, but I figured he would snap my arm in 6 places without breaking a sweat.  I backed away slowly.

I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to pay money to meet any of the celebrities today.  Sure, there were people I loved, but I didn’t feel like waiting in line and spending a bunch of money just to have an awkward interaction with someone I’d never see again.

But then, as I was walking along the back, I spotted Caroline Williams, most famous for playing Vanita “Stretch” Brock from Texas Chainsaw Massacre II.  There she was, standing in her booth all alone.  I had no choice, really.  I had to say hi.

sf-13-me-caroline-williams

 

I walked up and chatted with her for a while.  She struck me as a genuinely sweet and caring woman.  I got my picture taken with her and walked off.  I’ve always been a fan of her work, and I’m an even bigger fan of her now.  I now have an autographed picture of Caroline hanging out with Tobe Hooper, Tom Savini and Nubbins hanging up in my home office.  It makes me smile every time I look at it.

I made new friends (who would gladly kill me at a moment’s notice).

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sf-15-me-harry-warden

 

sf-16-me-predator

 

I found Salvatore blood.

sf-17-vampire-blood

 

How much do you think Salvatore blood goes for these days?  More than I thought it would.  Sure, it promises immortality, but there’s a decent change you’ll turn into some version of The Ripper.  Or, at the very least, have someone screaming, “FLIP YOUR HUMANITY SWITCH,” at you when you’re trying to go to sleep.  It’s my switch, buddy.  I’ll flip it when I want to.

I found the disembodied head of Bughuul.

sf-18-sinister-mask

 

I saw someone getting a picture with Nick King, the guy who played Bughuul.  “Do you want me to hold the mask?” he asked the person?  No.  I just want to take a picture with the guy who played Bughuul but have the mask nowhere in sight.  I’ll look back in a few months and think, “Who was this guy?”

I saw Universal Monsters rising from the ground…

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sf-20-wolfman

 

…and others trying to end their miserable existence.

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It’s not your fault you have an abnormal brain, buddy.  I’m sure you still have something to live for.  What about that girl you’ve been talking about?  The one with the cool hair?  Maybe try giving her a call.  I think you can build a life together.

I stopped to take a picture of an odd spectacle, only to have a fella in a Jayne hat come up afterwards and basically demand money for taking the picture.

sf-22-jayne

 

Jayne don’t mess with mudders.

I spotted a stormtrooper and Sam, just hanging out

sf-23-sam-stormtrooper

 

I wanted to get in closer to hear what they were talking about, but Sam tightened his grip on his lollipop.  I quickly turned and walked in the opposite direction.  I put a Jack-o’-lantern outside my house on Halloween.  I have no quarrel with you.

When I turned the corner, I ran into this:

sf-24-mystery-machine

 

“Hey Scoob!  SCOOB!  Here’s a mystery for ya.  Why did 6 hate 7?  Huh?  Hahahahahahahaha!  Try running around robbing banks all wacked off of…hey…I was having a conversation here, officer.  About what?  Well, that’s between me and my friend here.  Where are you taking me?  What is…is that a chloroform rag?  You’re not a real cop, are you?  AIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEE!”

The rest of the day was a haze.  I’m pretty sure I saw Corey Feldman walking around with a scantily clad angel, but I could be mistaken.

sf-25-corey-feldman

 

For all I know, I’m still there, somewhere in the halls of ScareFest.  Maybe I’ll be there forever. I don’t mind.  There are worse ways to spend eternity.  I’ll see you all there next year.