Sean M. Thompson’s
illustration by Brendan O’Connell
Cort’s phone buzzed in his pocket. It caused him to flinch. The rectangle of glass and plastic vibrated like a thing alive, angry. He answered, never taking his eyes off Janet’s corpse.
“Hi honey, it’s mom.”
“Oh, uh…hey, mom.”
“How are you doing?”
He noticed for the first time there were scratch marks in the floor from her nails. Jesus, he couldn’t have killed someone, like, really fucking killed someone. Murder was an act criminals performed: drug dealers shooting rivals, madmen stalking prostitutes down dark alleys. Cort knew in his heart he wasn’t a criminal. And yet the body in his apartment, the dead woman staring lifeless, would suggest otherwise.
He felt sick all over again, and had to swallow it down.
“Mom, it’s, uh, not a good time right now. Can I call you back?”
“I haven’t talked to you in almost a month, Cort. Come on.”
“Mom, I’m really feeling sick. Please.”
“Oh. Well, promise me you’ll call me tomorrow.”
“Okay. Feel better honey. Love you.”
“Love you too, mom. And, uh, try not to use the internet.”
“Ask dad about it.”
“Okay. Talk to you tomorrow, Cort.”
“Love you, Mom.”
He hung up the phone, and now that the initial shock had worn off, there was a hurricane inside his mind. I need to get rid of the body, but no, what I really need to do is turn myself in!
He paced the room, grabbing his hair between clenched fists. This wasn’t my fault. I know I’d never kill anyone if I wasn’t being…swayed by whatever the hell was in that computer virus.
He nearly tripped on Janet’s body, looked into her terrified face, and started crying.
“No. No, no – ”
Why would I do this?
This woman, Janet, he’d dreamt of building a life with. Moving in together, long nights in, laughing and smiling, sharing stories. Making love, and the mundane stuff like going to pick out their first couch at Ikea, or meeting her parents. The visions now just so much mud smeared over a pastoral canvas.
Do you really want to go to jail? This was self defense.
“Bullshit this was self defense! Who’s in my head?”
Get it together, Cort, it’s just you. It’s always just been you.
“No. No, I can’t believe that!”
But the more he thought about it, the more doubts he had. She’d had enough fight in her to scratch into the floor, who was to say she didn’t force him to kill her?
“That’s insane. She…Janet loved me!”
Did she really love you though, Cort? She barely knew you. And you barely knew her.
The fact remained no matter what his reason had been, and no matter what was going on, he had to get rid of the body. Cort labored under no delusions: if he went to prison, he would be beaten, repeatedly raped, and would probably get hooked on smack to deal with the pain and the horror of the cage.
Most importantly, he didn’t think turning himself in made sense. When he searched his mind, he knew there was an unwanted visitor. But there was something the visitor didn’t want him to know. Sometimes, when he would think, he got the sense it wasn’t him thinking, and there would be a desperation to his thoughts. Almost like a thing inside was trying very hard to convince him he was thinking his own thoughts, only it kept failing to execute the illusion effectively.
“You’re failing. You’ve never had this much resistance before, have you?”
He had no idea how he knew what he did, but his instincts had always been strong.
This was not the time for introspection, though. If he was going to figure out how to beat this thing, how to warn others, if he could, he had to get rid of the body. And, God help him, he knew how.
It involved doing some stuff he was really not looking forward to.
Cort had bought the reciprocating saw to help Scott put up some drywall. Anything to help his friend save some dough, right? He’d bought a long blade, and this proved to be useful when he started in on the terrible work. The black trash bags he just had. He’d never liked the idea of people being able to see into his garbage.
The bleach was already under the sink, which proved useful on the tub. He threw up three times, and after the third found a stillness inside which allowed for the strength to finish, free of emotional turmoil. In this numb state, he bagged the rest of the pieces of the body, sans fingers and teeth, which he had cut off, and wrenched out, respectively, with a pair of plyers.
Almost done, almost done, he thought, over and over.
He made a stop at the kitchen to take a deep swallow from a bottle of Wild Turkey in his cabinet.
The furnace in the basement was the best option. Speed was imperative. Quiet was necessary, and he couldn’t run into anyone.
Breathing as slowly and deeply as possible, psyching himself up, with the two black trash bags in his hands. If he’d been struck with a fatal heart attack, or an aneurism at that moment, it would have been a blessing. Yet, his body was fine, save for the adrenaline responses, which were to be expected, and the shock, which too was expected.
Without meaning to, Cort burst through his front door, then slowed his steps, and made his way to the stairwell as quietly as he could. No one yet, thank Jesus, and he rushed, but in a measured way, so as not to seem too deliberate. A door started to open behind him, and he rushed around the corner, and increased his pace.
Just get to the fucking furnace. Just get there, and get rid of the evidence.
Even as he turned the corner into the basement proper, he realized the furnace probably wouldn’t entirely get rid of Janet’s body. There would surely be bone left over. Burning her body would buy him some time, though.
Maybe I should dump her remains in the harbor?
But there was that show he watched where the millionaire tried to do that, and the bags just floated to the surface.
Maybe I should do both?
No, that was stupid. He’d burn the remains as best he could. Besides, there were cameras everywhere nowadays. He was fucked if anyone even began sniffing around. This was a temporary solution to a problem that would require a better plan later, when the smoke had settled.
Pipes unfurled from the body of the giant stove like protracted limbs, snaking along the ceiling, tensed and ready to strike. Crazy or not, he pictured them smashing down, beating his flesh bloody; cracking and snapping his bones until he was just a screaming creature, all purple flesh, slack appendages, and unending pain, a bloody sack of bone shards, flayed skin, and burst organs.
The furnace, all gleaming metal and flames behind slatted metal teeth, inspected him with the indifference of a machine that lurked in shadow. A metallic beast, breathing fire, inhaling, and exhaling. The metal expanding, and contracting.
Cort was afraid to open the door.
An animal chittering behind him.
“Hello?” he called out, heart thumping in his chest.
Something scurried through the darkness.
“Is somebody there?”
A crash, and an empty soda can rattled out from the gloom. Was it a raccoon? Christ, what if it was rabid?
The furnace kept breathing. Cort opened up the grate, slow, unsure if the mouth of the machine would clamp shut, biting through the meat of his arms.
He tossed the bags full of Janet into the fires.
Another animal squeal behind him.
What he saw couldn’t possibly be real, absolutely not.
There was a creature, hunched, about the size of a big dog, standing on its hind legs.
“W-what?” was all he could manage.
Another creature appeared to his left. This was only partially obscured by shadow. Scaly flesh, almost reptilian, dark, practically black. A slit of an eye, the murky red of fresh blood.
Cort froze, not sure what to do. What did one do when faced with the impossible?
The furnace kept breathing.
The beings stood still, yet he could hear them hissing, mewling. One darted towards him, and he had to bite his lip to keep from screaming. The thing ran past him, opened up the grate to the furnace, and dived in.
Dumbfounded, all Cort could do was watch as the other creature ran past him, and also dived into the furnace.
They were sifting through something inside the flames, and at first Cort was too overwhelmed to piece it all together. Then, understanding locked into place, and his mind opened to pure, unadulterated terror.
The creatures were eating Janet’s charred bones.
The things were destroying any evidence.
He ran back up the stairs. When he finally got into his apartment, Cort locked the door after him. Terrified as he was, the second Cort’s head hit the cushion of his couch, he fell asleep.
Something was choking him.
His eyes adjusted through a crimson haze of burst blood vessels. A laptop charger cable was twisted around his throat. Gasping for breath, Cort wrenched the cord free. The cable led to a laptop, floating in the air before him. Its screen was bleeding.
All the love in the world, a stranger’s voice said softly in his head.
The sky was a dark lilac, the dirt a bleached pink. Things shrieked through the sky: laptops, a few tablets, and some smart phones, all flapping black bat wings.
Cort turned, and saw a creature, aqua blue skin, with a computer monitor for a head. A cable led from the monitor to its chest, where a massive port merged the cable with flesh.
All the while he felt a massive presence near, while the stranger’s voice reassured him –
All the love in the world.
In the logic of dreams, he was suddenly outside his apartment building, the sky around it still that dark purple, the dirt still that bleached-out pink.
On the roof, a rose colored creature, something like a pig – but where its eyes should have been, an inverted cross, an enter button. An extension cord for a tongue lolled out of its screaming mouth. Around the base of the apartment building were human faces, ethernet cables snaking out of their wide-stretched mouths, traveling into various ports on various floors of the building.
A rumbling, and the ground crumbled apart. Blue flames shot up from a freshly formed pit. And from that pit, a behemoth of plastic and flesh. Bone white, giant demonic black wings outstretched; two mammoth laptops on its right and left shoulders, attached to a computer monitor in the center. Every monitor had one enormous, unblinking green eye, a slit of black pupil on the screens.
All the love in the world.
His body broke out in sores, which burned him down deep, all over. And still the voice kept reassuring –
All the love in the world.
The giant, the same height as his apartment building, beat its massive wings, its obsidian eyes staring into the depths of him.
All the love in the world.
“All the love in the world,” Cort replied.
The pain was unbearable, but he couldn’t control his voice: he spoke, it spoke, something else spoke through him. He itched, and burned, and tried to scream, but couldn’t manage.
Massive ethernet cables shot from the blue flames around the computer beast, wrapping themselves around him. They dragged him towards the pit. Ever so slowly they pulled him towards the flame, and he fought, but they were too strong. The sores on his body opened up, and the massive blue flames drew nearer, the cables pulling him closer, ever closer.
All the love –
“In the world,” he coughed out.
This hatred we unfurl.
He dug his hands into the dirt, but it was no use. The heat melted his sneakers. The cuffs of his pants burst into flames.
Cort stared up, to the thing which blotted out the sky. To the towering demonic beast, which stared down with three monitor faces, bat wings, and unfeeling reptilian eyes.
Welcome to the Netherworld.
His flesh burned, and he couldn’t even scream.
He screamed, and gasped for air.
He sat at his kitchen table. There was a plate in front of him, and the lingering taste of something on his tongue.
He stared down at the plate and froze.
He would have recognized that thigh anywhere.
Vomit exploded from his mouth, and drenched the table, his shirt. He actually fell off of the chair from the force of his retching.
When had he put a piece of Janet in his refrigerator?
When had he cooked a piece of her flesh?
She was so delicious, wasn’t she?
She was so scrumptious, and you still have a few delicious bites for tomorrow.
“No, no, no, no, no – ”
He ran for the whisky as fast as he could. Desperate to find his couch, but it was moved again, this time it was in the corner of the room.
Cort dropped himself down onto the cushions, and drank deeply of the Wild Turkey. Yes, that was wonderful, he needed to just breathe, and everything would be okay, he just needed to slow down, he’d figure out how to beat this thing, but not now, now he just needed to relax, or he was going to have a heart attack.
That’s it, just relax.
But there’s no one to send out, dude. I’m you. It’s just you.
It’s always been just you.
“I wouldn’t do this! I…I would never!”
And yet you have.
To be continued
March 13th, 2017.