Sean M. Thompson’s
The rash bloomed down Cort’s shoulders and back, stopping short of his ass; raw red welts that formed a roadmap of pain along his skin. Things had been such a mess he’d hardly noticed when the rash had grown worse. His inner monologue had grown ever more alarming as of late: vile, deplorable acts popped into his mind unbidden; thoughts like sharpened razors slicing at his throat. His thighs were itchy with red scales.
Work had called and left a message, but Cort ignored it. He couldn’t afford to leave the house anymore, for his safety and the safety of others. He was doing the best he could to keep the urges at bay, but sometimes they just seemed so…tempting.
Cort couldn’t get over the sense that there were things in the apartment with him. He never saw anything, not clearly, but out of his peripheral vision he swore he detected almost constant movement. The feeling of being watched never went away, either. Drinking became an activity that started the moment he got up, and lasted until he went to bed. A liquor store down the street delivered; he was sure the delivery people thought he was nuts, but then again, maybe he was.
Sitting at the kitchen table, he ate from a microwavable chicken parm dinner. A glass of whiskey cooled his palm, condensation dripping down his arm. He sat in silence, afraid to turn on the TV in case something snuck up behind him.
But it’s nothing but friends here, Cort. Why worry about a little company?
This is my apartment. Unwanted visitors are not welcome.
You want them, though. You love the company.
No. The point is moot, there’s no one in here.
I can change that. I can go have some fun with a neighbor. Maybe just give a little knock, and see what happens.
I’m not leaving this apartment.
The immediacy of his thoughts – the depravity and strangeness of them, the lack of segues from one thought to the next – everything was really getting to him.
Cort felt his cell vibrating in his pocket. The caller ID read “Dad”.
“Shit,” he muttered, and hit the answer button.
“Cort! How are you doing?”
His father seemed more high strung than normal. Ordinarily he would start with a simple “Hey Cort”.
“I’m…I’m okay. How are you?”
“I’m all right. Listen, the reason I’m calling is – I don’t know if your IT department warned you yet, but you need to limit your internet usage.”
As if he had to ask. He’d been shocked word hadn’t spread faster of the virus. Cort knew he was far from the only one infected.
But I’m fine. I’m just enjoying myself.
“There’s a nasty virus going around. We’ve been trying to check the computers at work all week, but there’s no evidence of anything. Some of the team heard rumors the virus might some kind of cyber terrorism.”
“Yikes,” Cort said.
There’s some real pretty things in the building, I bet. Maybe I should go exploring.
I’m not leaving the apartment.
Cort couldn’t bring himself to mention anything about having already seen the red flashing screen. His father didn’t need to be dragged down into the filth with him.
“I never thought I’d say this, but the computer virus supposedly messes with your mind. I remember you asked me about it the last time we had dinner together.”
“Uh, yeah, that’s right. Okay, well, I’ll be sure to not use the internet as much. Do they say what you’re supposed to do if you get the virus?”
There was a shuffling of papers heard over the line.
“They say you should call a hotline they’ve set up. You want the number?”
“Sure,” Cort said. He jotted the number down, never planning to call it, and wished his dad a good night.
Cort was wandering back to the table to finish dinner, while a new onslaught of terrible thoughts streamed in. He countered each with a mental reassurance, a regrounding of himself.
I wonder what it’d be like to push someone into traffic? I bet it’d be fun.
I do not really want to push someone into traffic.
I should really visit a neighbor. I could stab them to death.
I am not a murderer.
I wonder if Stacy’s around. I’d like to eat her alive.
I am not a cannibal.
But you already ate some of Janet.
“Leave Stacy alone!” he shouted.
Maybe I should call that number Dad gave me.
Maybe I should go shoot up the mall?
Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with me? This is too much. This is all too much.
There was a knock on the door. It startled him from the chair.
“Who is it?” he called out.
No response. Cort walked to the door. Pressed his eye to the peephole, and looked through. There was no one in the hallway. He was going to open the door, when he realized he didn’t have a weapon. Cort grabbed a four inch knife from the block in the kitchen.
He creaked the door open. With trepidation, Cort exited to the hallway. He checked to his right. No one. Maybe whoever it was had had the wrong apartment?
Something tackled him from the left. Cort fell back through the door into his apartment. A woman’s voice hissed. When she’d hit him the knife must have connected with a part of her. Self-preservation kicked in, and he scrambled to his feet, lifting the knife, ready to defend himself. He looked down, taking stock of his attacker.
She had a cut in the right side of her pink t-shirt, blood soaking through the cotton. Cort dropped the knife, rushing over to make sure she was okay.
“Holy shit, Stacy, why did you tackle me?! What the fuck?!”
She simply smiled in response, real big. There was something alarming about the glint in her eye. Adrenaline surged through his bloodstream.
“Well, is the cut deep? Can I look at it?” He thought about calling 911.
“Sure, baby,” Stacy said.
She lifted her shirt off in one quick motion, and he coughed. She wasn’t wearing a bra.
“Uh, well, okay. Let’s see.”
Stacy yelled, and like a rabid animal she ran and tackled him to the ground. Her arms wrapped around his torso on impact. The contact with the floor sent a flood of hurt up his spine, her weight connecting with his stomach. Cort groaned, too stunned to do anything but stare wide-eyed at the events as they unfolded.
“Stacy,” he cried, “what are you doing?”
“What do you think?” she asked, and tugged his shirt up over his head.
Under other circumstances Cort would have been over the moon about Stacy being on top of him, grinding against his crotch. Her hair was wild, her smile was infectious. But something about her hiding from him beforehand, and the fact that she looked like an escapee from the loony bin ready to eat him alive made his physical and emotional reactions complicated.
Just enjoy her! You’ve wanted this for so long.
But not like this!
“Aren’t you in pain?” he said, in between her kisses. “I stabbed you!”
She grabbed the knife off the ground and jabbed it into his side.
Cort screamed, grabbing his side, hot agony flaring in the entry wound, his adrenaline surging. The laceration was a bright agony he knew would get worse once his endorphins leveled out. Shock set in almost immediately. Anger burned him up, set his hands curling into fists.
“There, now we’re even,” Stacy said, unzipping his jeans.
Despite the stab wound, Cort felt a renewed vigor. He pushed Stacy off him, wincing at a fresh wave of pain in his side. Ripping off her jeans, rubbing her; biting her hard on the neck, the lizard brain kicking in. Soon everything was lost in the steps of the rough dance of lust.
He awoke to a knock at the door. Cort desperately needed to sleep, but the knocking persisted. Stacy lay in his bed, naked, glistening with sweat. The sex had been the best of his life.
Of course, that’s because she’s possessed.
He got up, winced. He’d somehow forgotten the stab wound.
Passing through the hall towards the front door, he noted a small pool of blood on the floor in the living room. Common sense dictated he should probably clean up blood stains before entertaining guests.
“Just a second,” he called out.
He rushed to the kitchen, and grabbed the roll of paper towels. Wiping up the blood was harder than he thought, a stain left behind he had to hit with cleaning spray. He threw the paper towels out, and for good measure moved some other trash on top of them.
Is this really my life now? Cleaning up blood like it’s the most normal thing in the world?
This is your new life. Normal is relative, anyway.
Trying to seem as nonchalant as possible, he opened the door.
“Can I help you?”
The woman wore a faded brown leather jacket, a plain black t-shirt, dark jeans, and scuffed brown motorcycle boots. Her short strawberry blonde hair was messy on top, buzzed on the sides, looking slept in. The casual biker attire and messy hair didn’t match the hawkish way her eyes scanned him. A three inch scar ran from the lower part of her neck, presumably traveling to her chest, though how far was impossible to tell under the shirt. Her smile was slight, but playful. Cort sensed from the set of her jaw, and the somewhat emotionless expression on her face that the relaxed demeanor was a front. Lastly, he noticed the badge attached to her belt.
“Hi, I’m Detective Byrne. I was just wondering if you’d seen Janet Delacroix lately?”
Oh fuck, she knows. Shit. Going to have to kill her now. Fuck! No, I’m not killing anyone else! Oh, come on, Stacy could help you get rid of the body, and you know how you have your friends downstairs. No! Yes.
I need to kill the detective.
“You were zoning out.”
“Oh. Uh, sorry, what was the name again?”
Fucking hell, Cort, just kill her!
NO! I’m not killing anyone else!
“I haven’t seen her, no. If you want to leave a card, I can get back to you if I hear anything.”
Slice her fucking throat.
No-one else dies.
“You’re bleeding,” the detective said.
Cort looked down at his grey undershirt. Even through a bandage, blood was soaking the cotton in a Rorschach design.
The detective burst out in a laugh.
Detective Byrne pointed behind him. Cort turned, and made an involuntary noise. Stacy stood in the living room completely naked.
“Jesus Stacy! Put some clothes on.”
“You seem like you’re a little busy, Mr. Garcia,” the detective said through her laughter. “Just let me know if you hear anything.” She handed him her card.
“And if you get sick of him,” the detective said, directing her words to Stacy, “my number’s also on the card.”
With that Detective Byrne winked, and walked off down the hall to the elevator. Cort wasn’t sure if he’d dodged a bullet or stepped closer to the line of fire.
He shut the door. He turned to Stacy, not sure what to say. He noticed for the first time that she had a spattering of rash along her shins.
“What the fuck Stacy?”
“I got bored.”
He sighed, and rubbed his eyes with his hand. When had his life turned into a paranormal soap opera?
“Who was that?” Stacy asked, wandering over.
“Some detective,” he said, absently.
“She was cute,” Stacy said.
“If you’re into the tough tomboy thing.”
You’re going to have to kill her eventually.
I’m not leaving the apartment.
He’d completely lost track of the time, preoccupied with Stacy. Night had descended on the city like a cloak of obsidian. The apartment which had once seemed like a sanctuary now felt like a den of iniquity and madness. Perhaps this had been his destiny all along. Maybe this was truly how things were supposed to go.
It is glorious, isn’t it? Fucking my dream girl. I’m even getting away with murder, and that’s pretty fun, if I’m being honest.
Stacy caressed his cheek, and let her hand trail down his abdomen along the light tufts of hair.
What about Janet?
Exactly. WHAT about Janet?
Cort didn’t exactly form words, but the gist of his body language and grunts were assertion. Still, at the back of his mind, the nagging guilt.
An image in his mind of Janet, standing on the bright field, waiting for him.
They’d moved his kitchen chairs by the window to look out at the parking lot. Off in the distance, the waves of the Harbor swayed rhythmically. The lights in the lot were beacons in a sea black as oil.
Cort opened an expensive bottle of Scotch. He’d been saving the stuff for a special occasion, but all things considered, the day seemed pretty special.
They clinked glasses, which swirled the amber liquid. Cort took a sip, relishing the way it burned down his esophagus, warming his guts.
“You know it’s real, right? You’re not crazy,” Stacy said.
“Oh, because you’re the picture of mental health,” he said, barking a laugh.
“You have the rash. You can feel it. I have it too. It’s been slow to spread…I’m new.”
“So you just accept there’s a demon inside us?”
“Don’t you? You’ve seen things.”
“Things a crazy person would see.”
“You have him inside you, Cort. Those blessed with his presence can sense his touch.”
Stacy wore one of his old t-shirts for some local band he’d seen many years ago, the Rat Traps. The fabric bunched around her chest, keeping the bottom of the shirt lifted a bit, her belly exposed. Conflicting emotions pumped through him seeing her flesh. Cort wanted to lick the skin. Another part of him wanted to slice through the flesh, to rip the fat and muscle with his teeth, to taste the warm blood as it trickled down his throat. He wondered if Stacy’s blood would warm his stomach in the same delightful way the whiskey did. He also wondered if Stacy was thinking the same violent thoughts. Something told him she was.
He took another sip of the scotch, staring at the dark waves as they splashed on the docks.
“That cut I gave you looked deep.”
“It scabbed over pretty quickly.”
“Would that really be so out of the realm of possibility?”
“Well then why am I still fucking bleeding?”
“You ask too many questions, Cort. Anyone ever told you that?”
A few people had said as much.
Relax, just enjoy this.
“When are you leaving?” he asked her.
“Do you want me to leave?” she responded, in turn.
Cort swirled the contents of his glass, and downed the rest.
“No,” Cort said.
Everything felt so wonderful, so new, so vibrant. He finally felt alive for the first time in he couldn’t remember how many years. So why was he fighting at all? For some girl he’d barely known, who he’d only gone on a few dates with?
For the woman you loved, who the bastard made you murder and eat.
No, it wasn’t like that. She was part of the problem. Stacy and I, we’re the solution.
Cort lay on the bed, breath heavy, body sore but satiated. He had more energy than he’d ever remembered. Things were actually working for him, and he felt accepted, and loved. He was totally at one with his surroundings, and the urges within him.
“I’m going to take a shower, love,” Stacy said, winking at him.
“You’re welcome to join me.”
“I figured. No, I need a rest.”
“Suit yourself,” she said, and as soon she was out of sight he second guessed his decision.
When he sat up and the yawn hit him though, he knew he’d made the right choice.
Boredom got the better of him, and seeing Stacy’s jeans on the floor, he decided to go through her pockets. Cort wasn’t sure what compelled him to; perhaps it was merely curiosity, perhaps it was for a reason harder to define.
He found a cell phone, figuring he’d scroll through her photos. Maybe Stacy had some cheesecake stuff. He was of course correct in this assumption. There were a few good ones of her bending over in a skirt, a few of her in front of a mirror. The pictures changed from Stacy’s body to cats fighting, which he found pretty weird. He kept scrolling, saw a picture of his apartment building. She must have been tracking him long before she’d knocked on his door. Scrolling to the next picture, he cried out, and dropped the phone.
On the phone’s screen was a picture of a middle aged man with his eyes gouged out.
He bent, picked up the phone, and kept scrolling. Another disgusting tableau of a woman with her intestines pulled out of her body, wrapped around her neck. A panorama of man with his hands and feet cut off, stacked in a pile in front of him while he screamed, tears streaking down crusted blood on his cheeks. The next picture, Cort gagged, threw the phone away.
The screen shined with the image of a decapitated infant.
“Don’t like what you see?” Stacy asked from the foot of the bed.
Cort shouted, and jumped up with fists raised.
“How long have you been killing people?”
She took a powerful stride forward, limbs graceful, eyes full of menace. He scanned the room for weapons, and the best he could find was the desk lamp. He tried to calculate how much time it would take him to rip the cord and lamp from the wall before she charged; to his dismay, he didn’t think he’d have enough. Stacy could rip his throat out while he was still reaching.
“I may have misled you, Cort. I believe I told you I was still early stage.”
She laughed, abrasive as broken glass grinded in a trash compactor.
She broke the distance in seconds, pinning him to the bed. Her pupils were huge and black, irises like lost galaxies, fascinating him. Hypnotized, Cort couldn’t break her gaze.
“I’ve been like this for a month. The rash, it scabs over and flakes off after a few weeks. You had it right. I can heal faster than you. All of us with his touch can.”
“I can’t kill people,” Cort said, trembling now, unable to look away from her, though he desperately wanted to.
“Oh, can’t you? I think Janet would beg to differ.”
“That wasn’t me!”
“What, you blacked out? You think he made you do it? Cort, honey…he didn’t.”
“You’re lying!” he said, screaming at his body to move, just move. He needed to be ready to fight Stacy off.
Her face was inches from his own. A few hours ago he would have enjoyed this. There was something wrong with her eyes, and it took him a moment to understand. A certain light flickered in them. Cort blinked, focused, then realized what he was seeing.
There were flames reflected in each of her irises.
She licked the side of his cheek, cackling with laughter.
“Your tears are exquisite,” she said, squishing his cheeks together in her hand.
Cort hadn’t realized he’d been crying.
“You need to leave,” he said, still shaking, trying to hide it, to appear strong.
“No need to get bitchy.”
She grabbed her clothes off the ground, pulled on her jeans, and t-shirt. She picked up her panties from the ground, and tossed them at him.
“To remember me by,” she said, and laughed again, all teeth and snarl.
“Get the fuck out of my apartment,” he said.
He’d regained some degree of self control, of composure.
“I’m going, but I want you to know something,” she said, turning to face him, the front door in her outstretched hand.
Cort took all of her in. She was beautiful, in a feral way: wild and free. But feral animals were bloodthirsty, and that he couldn’t abide.
“With each day that goes by, you’re going to get more and more like me, like the rest of us. And when you finally come around, you’ll know where to find us.”
She dipped her head, vulpine in the scant light.
“We’ll be waiting for you.”
With that she walked out, and Cort didn’t know whether he should be thrilled or saddened by her departure.
To be continued
June 7th, 2017.