Hellraiser

Teri A. Jacobs is a horror author from the US with a special interest in ancient mythology, theology and the occult, as her first novel The Void (published in paperback by Leisure) testifies. Her short stories range from the creepy and subtle to visceral and extreme… You can visit her website at http://terijacobs.darkgriffon.net

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'The Wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye...'

The pages of Where The Wild Things Are turned without finger or wind, and the susurrous voice of dust read the words. Spiders and silverfish dropped dead from the attic rafters and walls, falling in a soft patter of applause.

In the far corner, veiled in shadows, a forgotten collection of meteorite fragments slid inside their box and snapped together. A lithic key formed. And the mysterious hand of deep space and time fitted the key, with its teeth of shining pyroxene, into a hole of darkness, unlocked the dreams and imaginations of those sleeping below and opened up another world...

 

Russell smoothed Owen's nightmare-damp brow.

'I dreamed about her again,' Owen whispered, his tiny fists clenching the blanket beneath his chin, his gray eyes round and glistening with unshed tears.

'Ssshhhh...' Russell kissed the top of his seven year-old's head, the salt of his sweat and terror on his lips, in his nose. His dream-incited fever warmed the air about his slight body like some humid aura.

'But it wasn't like a dream at all, Daddy. Mommy walked into my room, with dirt on her feet and hands, and in her hair and even inside her mouth. She touched me here.' Owen pointed to his nose. 'And I felt it. I think Mommy really dug out of her grave this time.'

'No, Owen. Mommy's never coming back.' Russell pulled his son against him, and, in the tight cradle of his bulky arms, rocked his small body. Owen wept, soundless, his whole body shaking, wracked in a grief Russell felt powerless to suppress or soothe, in a grief Russell understood all too well. Eyes squeezed shut, tension of tears dampened, he held onto Owen. His only lifeline after Karen died.

After a while, after an exhaustion of tears, Owen fell asleep in his arms, but Russell was reluctant to release him, always terrified of letting him go and never having him back. Like Karen, who had smiled sleepily at him, that alluring afterglow of their lovemaking on her cheeks and in her eyes, before she had closed her eyes forever. She had an aneurysm in her sleep. He had awakened though, with his arms around her still warm and supple body, unaware of her passing, trying for some ill-forgotten time to rouse her. The moment he had realized something was terribly wrong was the moment he had lost his mind.

Until the night And Owen had stood there in the doorway, watching his world fall maddeningly apart.

Russell slipped his arms from Owen, laid him gently on the bed, and tucked him in beneath the blankets. He looked upon his son with a pang of regret in his heart. Peace and innocence buried along with his mother, Owen no longer slept with the softened angelic features which once had Russell melting in love. Pain shadowed his face now, his face but a dark reflection of the ghastly dreams within him. 

Something else left a shadow on his face though.

Something too much like a dirty fingertip.

His heart hammering away, Russell reached down and wiped away the faint smudge from his son's nose. Owen stirred and murmured, 'Mommy.'

Footfall noises clomped upon the ceiling. He sprang from Owen's bedside and followed the sounds with his eyes, sounds which roved from corner to corner as if an intruder paced in the attic.

On impulse, Russell grabbed the little league bat and locked the door behind him as he headed toward the attic stairwell. Laughter tinkled through the darkness. Laughter he recognized, loved and missed. His hand trembled toward the light switch, and he hesitated, thinking perhaps it would suit him better to keep things in the dark, hidden from sight. He held his breath and flipped the switch.

Light burned his nighttime eyes, and Russell blinked in the glare, fearing every moment his eyes opened that she would stand before him, her graven face inches before his. But he saw only a dirt-strewn path going up and down the stairs. A path left by his dead wife, the shape of the footprints exactly like the ones Karen had sunk into sands, the mark of slender heel and toes, the middle missing because of her high arch.

Mommy's never coming back.

But she had.

Russell climbed the stairs, the cold grains of cemetery soil crumbling beneath his bare feet, the cold fear roiling through his veins. The laughter faded into sepulchral sighs. Knuckles aching as he gripped the bat tighter and tighter, he halted before the door and pressed his ear upon the panel. Such silence behind the door, ominous as if a predator waited with muscles coiled for that mortal spring.

'One, two, three, he counted in his mind, reverting to his steeling tool of childhood days of dares, when he would jump from the top of stairs or the highest point of the swing, when he would stick his fingers in snake holes, mud wasp hives, or between the chain links which fenced in the Doberman.

And he swung the door open.

And stared

And gawped.

Behind the door, the attic as he knew it had disappeared. The walls of plywood and stud planks and the pine floor had changed. Root tendrils veined every inch of the walls and hung from the steep-angled ceiling, dripping coppery sap. Mushrooms with caps of pink-moist flesh and chartreuse puss-radiant vines grew from the dark decay-rich ground that replaced the floor. Worse, the room seemed to exist without boundary, going on and on into a death-realm darkness which breathed, those chthonic winds blowing pages of his child's book around, rushing the picture of a little boy in a wolf suit upon him and whispering I'll eat you up...

Russell closed the door. Shivers down his spine, he turned back, headed down the stairs, and shuffled into his bedroom. He flopped onto the bed, settling stiff on his back, with his eyes fixed upon the swirling plaster of the ceiling, waiting to wake from this disturbing dream.

Waiting and waiting, while phantasms with weight thudded above him in malicious pandemonium.

He groaned and rubbed his eyes, his temples, the crown of his head, wishing that all that noise, those skittering whispers and wolfish cries would hush, wishing that Karen had never died and shattered his reality in the first place.

Her disembodied laughter echoed again. It drew him from the bed, into the hallway, and up the stairs, drew him forward as the moon drew tides from the sea. As if magnetized, his hand shot against the doorknob. Russell turned it without delay, thought or care, taking the dare carried along by strange winds and voices, and nudged the door open with the bat. He stepped inside. He stepped further and further, reeling with the putrescent sink of the ground beneath his feet and the chilling plop-plop of visceral amber on his face. Upon a backward glance, he watched the doorway diminish into a pinpoint of light and then blink away.

Darkness was not an absolute. Metallic-onyx mists cast everything in a macabre shimmer, of midnight and moonlight on tombstone-shaded snow, of abandoned and haunted silver mines, the twinkle against the dark granite chips of precious metal and tongue-polished bone. His imagination played tricks in this dark wraithlike lumen. Instead of root tips above his head, slaughtered bodies hung by the ankles, throats slit, abdomens gutted, their fluids draining down, their organs fallen and forming a slimy and pulpy path below. Slaughtered bodies that suddenly swung, wet limbs slapping against him and knocking the bat from his hand. Slaughtered bodies that suddenly screamed. 

Russell's own screams pierced the canopy.

From the stalactites of roots, ebon banshees dropped by the hundreds, dwarfish man-monkey breeds, eyeless, hairless, with lipless mouths baring the sharpest teeth. The hundreds of shrieking creatures launched toward him, swift-loping on feet and knuckles, snapping those sharp, sharp teeth.

Russell ran, ran as fast as his feet could cut through the bulbous and tangled growth. Which wasn't near fast enough.

The black fiends ripped into his ankles, calves, thighs, pulling him down onto the ground. He landed on his face. He snuffed in the dirt, in the detritus of the dead. That odor, unaltered and strong as road-kill on a summer simmering road.

Thousands upon thousands of padded fingers rolled him onto his back, and hundreds upon hundreds of night-terror faces leaned into him. Other smells struck him. Excrement. Blood. The foul florid exhale of shit feeding carnivores.

In a cacophony of hoots and howls, shrieks and shrills, the man-monkeys converged upon him, their lipless mouths wide, wide and widening. Then it was only teeth hailing upon him.

Russell threw his arms across his face, protecting his eyes, and twisted and kicked uselessly as the bites seized his soft flesh. Sharp teeth nipped and gnawed, shredded and tore his skin. Such places, like his thighs and abdomen, suffered deeper ravaging, the marbled meat of muscles and fat broken into. He wailed in agony. His body burned, third-degree excruciating and feeling as if all his raw blood-bubbly flesh were being stripped off.

Shock stole his mind away. Memories like snapshots flipped inside him, all the people of his life two-dimensional, smiling, and parading without animation, frames of his wife and son as numerous as the teeth. But then darkness replaced his memories and filled his head with her laughter... 

 

Eyelids fluttering, Russell came out of the darkness and into the blinding pain. Winds buffeted against him, stinging and needling into his wounds which was his flesh, crimson and seeping. His head lolled as if barely attached. His body hung limp, and his feet thumped and thudded along the ground, along ground littered with the battered bodies of the man-monkeys.

Something held his wrists together with one massive hand and dragged him behind it, all the while cackling hideously, reminding him of an opportunist hyena carting off another predator's kill.

In dread, he watched the mangle of discarded meat dwindle into the distance and knew without a doubt, his body too injured and weakened for a fight, he would be eaten alive. I'll eat you up...

Nothing more horrible, he shuddered and winced as the wind snickered and sipped into his gaping sores.

Scorpioid insects burrowed from the ground. Some combination of beetle and scorpion, with iridescent segmented shells, sickle shape-and-sharp horns, pincer claws, and erectile tails with venomous stingers. The Scorpio-beetles scurried after him, feeding upon the bits of grume and gore trailing him.

He turned his head from the following feasters. Several feet from him stretched a wondrous lake, frozen solid despite the heat, sparkling with the reflection of the pale azure sun like some humongous gem. But, beneath the pretty surface, blued amphibious bodies were suspended in the ice, many, many eyes pinned on the rictus hunt, capacious mouths in the stasis of attack. Russell feared swimming in that thaw.

Further ahead, beached on the shore, one of the alien amphibian dead had defrosted. The heat had melted the ice, ice which had expanded and exploded the cells, rendering it into an amorphous being, its tissues turned to cyanic slush.

Birds peppered the ground, hopped toward the carcass, and, with butterfly syphons, sucked up the nectarous remains.

In the ecru sands beyond the carrion, Russell spied the footprints of his dead wife. Steps going round and round and round, like her laughter going round and round and round in his head, making him dizzy and delirious.

His captor dropped him. Sands made shards of glass in his inflamed wounds, and he cried out, the first sign he gave of life. Russell cried out again when his captor came into view. Ogrish, gigantic, covered with the bristled hair of a boar, human contours of body and face, but with the teeth and claws of prehistoric beasts.

Six other ogres grunted, their meal disturbed. Heaped between them was another ogre, dead, murdered, its monstrous face hit with some weapon, rock, club, powerful fist, and shattered. The tip of a claw proved an apt scalpel, vivisecting the chest and revealing a cannibal bounty of meat and viscera.

But the giants stared at Russell with greedy eyes. Fresh and tender meat, he read in those black-iris eyes. We'll eat you up.

Seven ogres surrounded him, with their claws and teeth in vicious glinting spread.

'Daddy?'

Eight heads swiveled in the direction of the small whimpering voice.

Owen stood trembling, his pajama bottoms sopping and stuck against him, watching again his world fall maddeningly apart.

'I heard Mommy ...' his childish voice explained, faltered, as the ogres moved from Russell toward Owen, the most tender of all.

Russell couldn't scream, his terror too great for his voice to handle, and then he discovered there was something worse than being eaten alive.

 

 

(C) Teri A. Jacobs

 

 

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