Sean M. Thompson’s
Work called and left a message saying he was fired.
Cort wasn’t surprised. He hadn’t bothered to check in with his employer in weeks. Also, he was pretty sure the entire office was possessed.
Far too damaged to do anything but cower in his apartment alone, it occurred to him that for all intents and purposes, he’d appear to anyone out of the know like an agoraphobic. This, of course, was a much better reputation to have than as a murderer and cannibal. The thought of Janet sent him into a tailspin, the familiar lump in the throat and hole in the chest when he remembered that someone he cherished so much would never be coming back, even if she was still alive in some other world.
Who was to say that hope wasn’t a terrible joke to the demon inside him? Its cruelty knew no bounds. Or, if not a product of the thing whispering in his ear, perhaps it was the part of his mind still clean producing a dream he needed to keep him going – to keep him fighting back, rather than collapsing onto the floor in a heap and letting himself waste away.
You could go visit Stacy and have some fun.
Lately he wasn’t sure just how alone he really was. The feeling of being watched was much stronger than ever before. And the multiple criminal acts he’d committed plagued his conscience, his culpability in them a needle slowly but consistently pressed into his brain.
To distract himself, Cort decided to check on his social media accounts. He needed an escape: welcomed the chance to focus on something else, to pull him out from the maze of his conscience.
Cort logged onto Facebook, and was surprised to find there were multiple posts going back several weeks.
Had the detective read this? Cort frantically scrolled through, deleting each status, but knowing that the damage had already been done.
He knew he hadn’t written them while awake, he hadn’t lost any time since this fucking thing had made him kill Janet.
Had he been writing these while he was asleep?
Somewhere back in his bedroom, a deep voice uttered “No.”
“Is someone there?”
He scanned the room. There was nobody there.
“Just…spooking yourself out.” The sound of his own voice comforted him, reassured him that he was still there. “There’s no-one here.”
Except a bunch of weird creatures in the basement.
The voice again, closer now. “We are everywhere.”
The thing inside him was making him hear the voices. They weren’t real. Nothing he had seen was real…
Unless it was all real.
The walls called to him.
“Come, Cort. Embrace the chaos.”
Why am I fighting at all? I just need to accept this. I’ll be happier.
“Shut up! You won’t get to me.”
Movement out of his peripheral vision. Cort turned, and saw nothing. Again, movement from the other side, just out view. He turned – nothing there. The room was normal.
Except, that wasn’t right. The couch was sideways, and the coffee table was at a different angle than before.
Stop what? Nothing to be afraid of. We’re all friends here.
“Whatever the fuck you are, you’re not going to beat me.”
Was that laughter he heard behind him?
But I’m you, we are us.
“No. This isn’t going to work. I’m onto you.”
What, did you not like Stacy?
A stranger’s voice laughed loudly in his head.
“I – ”
I’m in here with you, boy. I know how much you liked her.
“You’re not going to control me anymore.”
I’d like to see you stop me.
“I’m going to fucking kill you.”
The voice in his head ceased. A profound silence encompassed his entire being. Cort breathed in deeply, sighing with relief at a moment’s peace so desperately longed for. Maybe he did have some control over this after all. The blackouts had stopped entirely, unless he was still doing things when he thought he was asleep.
Maybe…maybe I can stop this.
Cort thumped onto the couch, leaning back, enjoying the way the cushion caressed his aching muscles. The stress of everything had tensed up his shoulder and back muscles.
I should order one of those back-massaging mats, Cort thought.
His gaze traveled across the room, off to the left, looking at his bookcase with its paperbacks and DVDs, taking in the picture of his parents and him on a whale watch on the second shelf he’d seen countless times before. He kept scanning to the right, noting the front door, a pair of sneakers tossed off to the left on a cheap welcome mat. Cort continued to survey the room, his eye finally stopping on the wall ahead of him. There was some kind of water damage, or other stain.
Cort slowly crept closer to inspect the damage, squinting to get a better look at what was wrong with the apartment’s wall. When he was close enough to touch the plaster he noticed what he’d taken for a stain was actually a shape.
A rudimentary human head was formed in the plaster. His heart palpitated in his chest. The materials of the wall gradually began to shift, transmogrifying into other shapes. Cort started to feel faint, acid rising up his throat. Yet he was frozen in place, paralyzed by fear. Two arms swelled from the plaster and wood, attaching to a neck leading to the head above. The rhythmic movement continued, a torso birthing itself from the wood, along with two legs which bloated out at the bottom.
In the wall before him, a crude mannequin was formed. A single slash at the bottom of the head split the plaster and wood apart. The opening stretched wider, wood cracking to accommodate, and spoke.
“Cort,” the person in the wall said.
Cort cried out, stumbled backwards. “No.” The demon was just messing with his mind, this wasn’t real. None of it had been real, save for the murder. He needed to hold on.
The man in the wall smiled, the wood splintering with the movement.
“You need to stop moving my furniture.”
“It’s not right yet,” the person in the wall said.
Cort ran for the door. Arms rushed out from the wall and grabbed him. Beige plaster hands and splintered wooden fingers held him tight.
I shouldn’t fight this, he thought. Then: Bullshit, yes I should!
But should he really? They just wanted to be friendly. Why was he being so standoffish?
His captor was another wall person with no eyes, no mouth, just a plain head, and simple body. The thing was still attached by an umbilical cord of plaster and wood protruding from the wall.
Cort pushed the confusion away. He continued to fight against his captor with all of his energy.
“What makes you think you’re so special? We’ve seen thousands like you. They all went the same way. You really shouldn’t fight him. He’ll give you pleasure you’ve only ever dreamed about. Gifts you never thought possible.”
“Oh, right, so I can kill people? So I can behead babies and take pictures?”
Cort punched at the wooden arms that held him. Despite his struggle, he couldn’t break the wall person’s grip. The one facing him continued.
“The thing about true power is the freedom to let go. Preconceived notions of morality don’t matter anymore. You are becoming something so much more than the rest of them. What are a few dead compared to becoming a force of nature?”
Cort grabbed the painted arm wrapped around him, and wrenched it down. A satisfying crack, the person in the wall moaning in pain.
He ran to the center of the room.
“We just want to play,” the one facing him said.
Two more materialized to the left and right of the first, forming like sculptures from clay. Four of them became six, then eight, then ten, until every wall had an identical human shape which surrounded him.
The mouths cracked apart, one after another in a crescendo.
“We just want to hold you,” they said in unison.
There arms began to stretch towards him, fingers elongated, wooden hands reaching out to crush him. There was nowhere to go. The arms stretched further and further. They lifted him from the ground.
“We see everything,” they said as one. “We’re always watching, gathering information. We can track, trap, kill. Ours is a mutually beneficial relationship.”
“What do you get out of this?” Cort asked, trying to buck free. The pressure on his chest made it hard to breath.
“We like to watch.”
There was no way to beat them physically. They defied logic. Human strength couldn’t compete.
But why do you have to compete? It’ll be easier if you just relax.
“I don’t want any part of this!”
You have a funny way of showing it, Cort. Sure seems to me like you were more than happy to let the things in the basement help you.
“That was different!”
And how was that different?
How was it any different, really? They were here to help him. It was silly to be so obstinate against help.
No. No, he needed to fight!
It seemed the monster inside him was done with the act. Hard to keep up the charade when there were men formed from his wall, holding him off the ground.
Don’t fight this, Cort. I have such wonders in store for you.
The great revelation that he’d been watched in his apartment all along filled him with horror. Who knew how long they’d been scrutinizing him? Who was to say they hadn’t always been there, just beneath the surface of his perception? He had no way of knowing if they’d been everywhere he went since birth. Perhaps they’d been watching him from the first day he nestled against his mother in the hospital.
Cort squeezed his eyes shut.
I’m done with this, he thought. I’m done with all of this.
His eyelids shut so tight he saw little white dots of light. Cort formed an image in his mind of the things holding him. He focused on the scene, the colors becoming brighter, the details coming into sharp relief.
Cort visualized the long wood and plaster arms breaking, one after the other. A light tingling sensation started on the tips of his fingers. He could practically hear the splintering wood, hear the people in the walls uttering deep cries of torment.
The image became brighter, details in his apartment became clearer still. His toes felt electrified, along with his fingers, and his forearms. Cort rewound the scene, starting it again from the beginning, replaying the images over and over.
A tingling sensation on the top of his scalp accompanied his arms and legs now. The sensations grew in intensity, electrical current swimming in his head like fish from lightless depths, acclimating to the change in pressure.
His whole body began to twitch, his back spasming, his arms and legs convulsing.
The images replayed in his mind, so clear. The energy grew in intensity. Everything happened so clearly in his mind: the arms cracking, the people in the walls howling, his body falling to the floor. As he let the scene go on longer, more details came into focus. Looks of anger on the plain mannequin faces of the people in the walls.
His teeth clacking against each other, his body shaking so hard he could barely keep his eyes closed. The shock spreading through his whole body. The tingling before a sneeze, but stronger. The sensation before an orgasm, but stronger. The charge inside him, the focal point behind his eyes, his whole body ready to unleash the energy it contained.
The scene replaying, over and over, gaining in speed before it began again. And he could almost feel the impact as his body fell to the floor. His mouth began to foam, and he felt a trickle of blood leak from his nose.
The voice in his head bellowed, deep as a bottomless pit.
YOU WILL BURN!
Cort’s eyes burst open.
One long beige arm cracked, a sound like thunder. The next arm broke apart. The rest broke apart, one after another in a circle. A deep rumbling cry of anguish all around him. Cort fell to the floor, knocking the wind out of him.
The voice in his head went silent. Like a circuit breaker flipped, the connection was no longer active.
Cort coughed, and rolled onto his back. His apartment was back to normal, no cracked wood or plaster on the ground, no things in the walls, none of it.
Slowly, he made his way to his feet. He wiped at his nostril, saw it came away bloody. His muscles ached, and he felt exhausted.
His cell phone buzzed in his pocket, and the dread hit him immediately. He knew it was going to be his father on the other end of the line.
“Cort, my boy, how are you feeling?”
“I’m fine, dad. What’s up?”
“I think you know what’s up, Cortland.”
His head swam in brackish water. His breath quickened, his ribs feeling like they might explode out of his chest at any second.
“Dad, no – ”
“It’s so wonderful with him inside you, Cort. Why are you fighting?”
There it was. The confirmation he’d been dreading.
“Christ. No. Dad…”
“It’ll all be alright, son. You’ll know where to go when the time comes.”
“Dad, wait – ”
The call ended, his breath went with it. The phone flew across the room as he screamed in anger. Storming into the kitchen, he yanked open the wooden cabinet next to the fridge, grabbed the bottle of scotch he’d opened with Stacy. He didn’t bother enjoying the taste this time around, just put the bottle straight to his lips and drank deeply.
He didn’t want to feel anything anymore. His system was entirely overloaded. All the fear, all the grief, all the pain, what the fuck was it for? Was life so precious he should bother to endure this any longer?
His back itched, and he yelled, scratched the inflamed section. Half the bottle went into his stomach in short order.
Cort took off his shirt, went into the bathroom meaning to shower. As he walked by the mirror something caught his eye, and he doubled back. On his chest, the rash was a deeper red than the other scabs.
The reflection staring back at him was a stranger. Deep purple bags under his eyes, and his hair was greasy, sticking up in tufts. He’d lost weight, his cheeks sunken in, looking hollow, the curves of his face now harsh and angular. His face was positively febrile, practically homeless. More mental patient than savior, who was he kidding.
Thoughts ceased when he saw the rash on his chest. Clear skin in a circle around it, one of the few spots not tender and pink, with scabs or inflammation. The rash lines connected, forming the shape of his undoing, the Fall of Man. He almost laughed at the absurdity of it. The message was clear. His place in the pecking order was cemented.
In that moment he felt more lost than ever. Abandoned by whatever good forces existed, if they ever had. Into black waters he fell, thrashing against the wake of a heavy storm. A storm set to destroy humanity – to usher in a new age of monstrous beings. Evil incarnate, the serpents rising from the depths, baring fangs set to sink in and rend innocent flesh off bone, down their foul gullets.
Formed on his chest, an upside down star within a circle. The Mark of the Beast.
The rash was a blood-red pentagram.
Did you really think you’d get rid of me that easily, Cort?
To be concluded
June 13th, 2017.