Sean M. Thompson’s
Groggy from lack of sleep, a presence seemed to be wandering around Cort’s thoughts. It wasn’t a mere string of thoughts – it was like a dream of a different mind, separate from his own, and the thoughts it might have.
His chest itched, felt irritated. He made a mental note to check out the skin on his chest by the end of the day.
About 7:30 he walked off to the train station. A wicked wind blew, the buildings acting as a wind tunnel. He did his best to appear cool and collected, having just murdered and ate another human being. Not just anyone either, but a person that he loved.
Not to mention having just seen little weird monsters eat her remains. No, I’m doing remarkably well. Pat yourself on the back, buddy. You are a model citizen.
The police station came up on his left. Cort stopped, and stared at it. He could just turn himself in. He gritted his teeth, and part of him knew turning himself in was the right thing to do. He definitely wasn’t fit to walk the streets. He’d assaulted an old man, and then gone on to kill a woman he’d been romantically involved with.
Despite his guilt, he kept walking.
Cort turned the corner, and saw the subway stop ahead. Something dark passed through his peripheral vision. He turned his head quickly to see, but he only saw pedestrians: nothing out of the ordinary.
There hadn’t been much snow, and the sidewalk wasn’t too bad. He’d made good time, despite being a bundle of nerves.
Down the stairs he descended. The journey lower felt fitting. A symbolic gesture, a subterranean landscape to match the black waters flooding his psyche.
There was something about the station which raised the hairs on his neck. It was a quality he couldn’t define, couldn’t articulate.
Everything appeared normal. The passengers all looked normal, acted normal. A guy playing an acoustic guitar strummed a remarkably boring, cliché song about working hard to earn money for his lover. Men and women in business attire. A few students with backpacks, or messenger bags. A typical scene for a Monday in the subway.
So why were his guts churning like he’d just found a bomb?
His train arrived. Cort took a seat at the far corner. The car quickly filled to capacity: a tall guy and a short Indian women having to stand, while a woman in a burqa sat near with a baby in a stroller.
I wonder what that baby would look like if I threw it onto the tracks –
The other passengers stared at him, and he realized he’d just said that out loud.
Oh Jesus, keep it together Cort, cool your shit, man.
He tried staring out the window instead, hoping the buildings and vehicles might get his mind off his fellow passengers. There was a reflection in the glass. A passenger sat behind him. Cort focused on this man – a black guy, pretty big from what he could gather. As he watched, the man’s mouth began to open wide. His jaw bones snapped in unison, and his arms and legs broke in tandem. The man slid to the floor in the reflection, and continued to slide over towards him.
Cort cranked his neck around. The seat across from him was occupied by a Chinese girl, who looked to be a student, reading an engineering textbook. She gave him pretty much the look he was expecting.
Cort turned back to the window, shutting his eyes tight, listening intently for his stop.
The office building looked like some kind of angry god of glass and metal, staring down at him with thousands of eyes. The angles were all wrong, the way the place tilted down towards him. Realistically, Cort knew that the building would have toppled over into a heap of rubble had it really been at such a pronounced lean.
The whole world had gone sharp and insane over the course of a few nights, and now he had to walk around pretending like he either wasn’t possessed by a fucking demon, or like he wasn’t so profoundly batshit that they should lock him up and throw away the key.
As he entered the building, he swore he saw an overweight woman on the street in a black dress and heels wink at him.
Once inside, the security guard looked normal, but many of the office drones stared at him with feral eyes, sizing him up. They looked like they wanted to devour him whole. The ones staring at him seemed to be whispering something, but he couldn’t make out what.
Cort rushed to the elevator, hit the button for the second floor. Many of the people in the lobby stared at him as the doors shut.
When he got to his floor, he rushed out, heading to the relative safety of his desk.
A short janitor, with a long scraggly beard and a blue baseball hat rolled a mop and yellow bucket on wheels into the elevator. He was whispering something, over and over, as he passed Cort. It sounded like the same thing the office workers downstairs had been whispering, but he still couldn’t hear well enough to decipher the words.
The janitor giving him one solitary wave, before the doors shut.
Cort walked by cubicles on the way to his own. Every employee stared intently at their computer screens, the glow off the monitors shining in their eyes. None of them were typing anything, or clicking mouses. They simply stared at the monitors, enraptured, moths hovering before a porch light.
He thudded into his desk chair, and rolled around to find Jake staring at him like an escaped lunatic.
“You know there isn’t much time left, right?”
Cort squinted quizzically. “What are you talking about?”
“I know you feel him inside you.”
Cort backed the chair away, as far back as it could go until it thumped into his desk. A cold weight was sinking in his stomach.
“I, uh, have to get some work done, Jake, so I’d appreciate it if you – ”
“You killed anybody yet?”
Cort froze. “What?”
“Oh, don’t play coy. I have. A lot of us here have. I’ve done so many things, Cort.”
Jake rolled towards him, and trapped, Cort could only watch in horror as his cube mate inched closer, and closer.
“Necrophilia, bestiality, cannibalism, these are a few of my favorite thiiiiiings,” Jake laughed in a sing-song voice.
Cort stood, and Jake grabbed him by the hips, forced him back to his seat.
“I know you killed a woman, buddy. And that’s okay. Because she was only a human. And the new world, the one on its way, it’s filled with people like us. People with his voice, with his will.”
“No…no. This is wrong.”
He tried to stand again, and Jake held his shoulders so he couldn’t.
“Wrong is a human concept, Cort. We’re better than that. We’re more than morality. We hail from a place of ancient decay and darkness, a spiritual plane as black as the dead stars in the frozen heavens.”
Cort stomped on Jake’s foot, and the man let out a surprised cry, which was filled with laughter, even through the pain.
“There’s nowhere to run, Cort. This world is ours now. It’s only a matter of time.”
He hurried to the elevator, feeling their eyes upon him, and hearing the same whisper, only now he could make out what the words were.
His heart thudded against his ribcage hard. They all stared at their screens, and there was no desire within him to stay.
He burst out the door, stumbling across the pavement.
He hailed a cab, told the driver his address. Out the window of the cab, the buildings sagged down towards the street, in a sky that was markedly darker than before.
Cort woke on his back. The sun was bright. His skin was warm, and a gentle breeze rustled through the field, a barely perceptible susurration of the flowers all around him. Someone called his name. It was difficult to see through the light, blurred by the glare shining through the cloudless blue sky.
“Cort,” Janet said.
Cort stood, the image of Janet clearing into focus with every second his eyes adjusted. They stood in a field of daisies that stretched far as he could see.
Janet being here seemed wrong. Cort couldn’t remember why. Something bad had happened to her, hadn’t it? Something terrible.
And then everything came back to him. Wracking sobs escaped his throat, as he struggled for air through his grief.
“Jesus, Janet, I’m s-so fucking sorry. I – I didn’t…”
Cort coughed, tried to steady his voice through the tears. His chest ached with sorrow. Seeing Janet brought everything to the surface. The distractions of all the craziness of the past few days washed away, and left only this. Only the terrible crime he had committed. Only the life he had taken.
“Cort, listen. You’re the only one who can stop him,” Janet said flatly.
He breathed deep, looked her in the eye. “What? I’m the only one who can stop who? I – Jesus, Janet, I killed you.”
She sighed. “You weren’t yourself, Cort.”
“I ate a piece of you!”
“That wasn’t…wow, really?”
“I blacked out, I – ”
“Look, that – that wasn’t you, Cort. That’s…that’s really fucked up, but that wasn’t you.”
“But they were my hands! I should have known – ”
“You love me, right?”
There was no hesitation. He loved Janet, and she’d been taken from him, by him. What was he going to do now?
“You have to make this right,” she said.
“How could I ever?” he asked.
“There’s a man in Boston who isn’t a man at all.”
“I don’t understand,” he said.
“No one knows his name,” Janet replied, beckoning him over with her hand.
They walked in silence for a time, the field of daisies sloping gently down, for miles in either direction. Cort loved her, and somehow she’d been returned to him. He didn’t deserve to ever see her again. He should be rotting in prison for what he did.
“Should I turn myself in?” he asked.
She held him by the shoulders.
“Cort, this is real. This is me. I’m not exactly sure how this works, but I’m alive again, in…this place. There are a lot of good people, innocent people, who need your help. You don’t want anyone else to die, do you?”
“No. I don’t.”
“Good. Because you need to avenge my death.”
“But…but I was the one that killed you!”
“For the last time, it wasn’t you, Cort! You have to believe me that I know you would never do something like that!”
“And how do I know that I’m not crazy? That I’m not just dreaming?”
She hugged him. Cort felt the warmth of her body as her arms wrapped around him. It felt real enough.
“You need to trust me, Cort. This is real.”
“Where are we?” he asked.
“I…I don’t know,” Janet said, though there was a tinge of apprehension in her voice.
“So you don’t know where we are, and you don’t know the name of this…guy I have to stop.”
“He’s not a man,” Janet said.
The flowers seemed to go on indefinitely. This place was beautiful. He never wanted to leave.
He tried to focus. Tried to piece everything together. All the concepts were muddled, like recollections after a drunken night. Nothing entirely made sense.
“If he’s not a man, what is he?” he finally asked.
“He’s the creature inside of your head, and he’s the one behind the computer virus. He made you kill me. He may not be a ‘he’ at all, but when he walks, he does so with human legs. His tongue is the Serpent’s, and his is the Voice of the Deep.”
Cort paused, feeling sick. “Satan?”
“No. Not him. He’s an emissary, a servitor. A soldier, leapt straight from Hell onto Earth.”
“So what am I supposed to do about it? I’m not exactly a master assassin! I’m not special in any way, Janet!”
His anger bubbled within him, boiling water left too long on the stove. Where the fuck was this, and why was Janet here? He was so confused, and scared, and full of grief and guilt.
Her death was his fault. No matter what she told him, it was his hands had done the terrible work.
“You are special, Cort. That’s the only reason you were able to travel here. That’s the only reason I’m able to talk to you now.”
He stared at her in confusion for a few moments, before finally sputtering out “What?”
She reached out, slowly, and placed her hands in his.
“There are people that inherit a certain…predisposition. Not many do. Don’t ask me how I know, I’m not entirely sure myself. But when I came here, I just…knew. Just like one person can grow up to be good at math, or can have a wonderful memory, others are able to see and process things most can’t. You’re one of those people, Cort. When you sense someone calling and know exactly who it is, that’s not a coincidence. When you somehow knew my hometown without me telling you when we first met, you didn’t overhear it. You just knew it. You were able to pick it out of my mind.”
“This is such bullshit,” he said, frustrated. None of this made any sense whatsoever. He was in an endless field of flowers with a woman he’d just murdered, (willingly or not), and now this dead woman, miraculously alive was telling him he was what? A psychic? Spiritually gifted? Had ESP?
That was fucking ridiculous.
“You can get inside his head, Cort,” Janet said softly.
“I work a low level data entry job, and I can barely remember to bring my wallet with me half the time. You’re trying to tell me I’m gifted? I have a hard time believing that. Granted, demonic possession is equally hard to wrap your head around, but being able to…what are you actually saying to me?”
“I’m saying you can travel, Cort. I’m saying you can find this thing that wears the flesh of a man, and get inside its mind.”
“To what end? Even supposing this isn’t just me being a crazy person, having a crazy person dream, being stuffed to the brim with delusions of grandeur – even assuming this is real, what could I possibly get out of hopping into the mind of a goddamn demon?”
She smiled, and motioned for him to sit. Cort did, sighing. Janet’s eyes held him rapt.
“The only way you can stop this is if you find him, and kill him. You’re one of the few with him inside your head who can actually fight back, who can block him out. The others can’t do that, Cort. You need to block him out, and you need to search for him.”
“And why can’t someone else do it? You just said there were a few!”
“Cort, they could be children. They could be elderly. I have no idea how many others there are, or how to access them. But I know you can do it. You need to have faith.”
“You’re trying to tell me in the entire city of Boston there’s not one other person who can do this?”
“I don’t think so, no.”
He sighed, rubbed his forehead. This was totally absurd. Was he supposed to believe that he was some sort of “Chosen One”, a Stephen King character? It was so out-of-the-question…and yet when he looked at Janet, there was such a real earnestness in her eyes that he couldn’t help but be moved.
After a pause, he said “How am I supposed to find him?”
“You’ll know when the time is right.”
They sat in silence. Cort leaned in and kissed her.
“I failed you,” he said, feeling the guilt well up in him again.
“You can make this right,” she replied.
“I miss you so much.”
This place was so beautiful. Janet looked radiant. Cort realized she was wearing the same dress he’d seen her in on the night they first met.
“If I’d only fought harder,” he said, feeling like he might break down again, “maybe you’d still be alive.”
She hugged him, and pressed her nose against his, so close her eyelashes tickled his forehead when she blinked.
“This wasn’t your fault, Cort. This thing…it’s pure evil, just like the Beast himself. The world is in danger. You have to fight back.”
“Will I ever see you again?” he asked, crying again, only distantly aware of the tears sliding down his cheeks.
“When your days are at an end. When you leave your first life for the next. When you pass over, you’ll see me again. And we’ll walk hand in hand, on this field that goes forever.”
They stood in silence for a time. And he kissed her again, hard, wrapping his arms around her. Cort prayed he’d never have to let go. He wished more than anything he could stay in the sun, in this field, with the woman he loved. He dreamt of a life with her here, and knew it would be a long time before he’d ever see this place, or her, again.
His work wasn’t finished yet.
“Forever,” Janet said.
The field blinked out of existence, and he fell through endless night; never stopped falling.
Cort came to, gasping for air, lying on the floor of his apartment. His chest itched like crazy. He got up, slowly, wandered to the bathroom. Took off his shirt, and stared at his chest in the mirror.
An upside down triangle of a rash was flaring up, a blood red.
Cort caught movement behind him, turned, but there was nothing there.
He rushed to the front door, and confirmed it was locked. Again, the movement of something out of his peripheral vision, by the wall. Yet, when he looked, nothing.
I wonder what Stacy’s up to, he thought, and the words felt like buzzing wasps inside his brain.
Leave her out of this! he thought, fully himself, confronting that other voice that mimicked his own.
And all of a sudden, a strange sensation. His inner monologue just…stopped. No thoughts, no voices. It was like someone getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar, freezing up. His mind was completely blank.
Cort sat on the couch, and gradually his thoughts returned. They seemed to be more or less normal.
Cort called the office and made up an excuse about an aunt dying, saying he’d need to use up the rest of his sick time for the next week. He assured them on the message he’d call them back tomorrow. Went on to say he’d email them to confirm.
Stacy’s probably home right now, he thought, and went to the kitchen to pour himself a stiff drink.
“That’s a whole lot of food, mister,” the woman behind the counter said.
Rosy’s was mostly empty, save for a few cooks in the back, and this girl, her nametag indicating her nomenclature was Shondra.
He stared at her, letting the silence work its magic. Silence was a powerful tool. Silence could kill a person slowly from the inside out, and make them do all manner of delicious things.
Finally, he spoke.
“Darrell, has he found a new job yet?”
“How do you know my husband?”
“Oh, I know a whole lot of things, Shondra. For instance, I know that Darrell has been working very hard, but not to find a job. Tell me, how well do you know Sofia?”
“My neighbor? How do you know about my neighbor?”
His smile could freeze the rain.
“Mister, you better cough up some answers. I got pepper spray in my purse, and I’m not afraid to use that shit.”
“Darrell has been working very hard with Sofia for the last month, sometimes twice a day. While you’re here, hard at work, trying to keep a roof over your head, over his head, he’s been fucking your neighbor. And he hasn’t just been fucking her, he’’s been falling in love with her. As we speak, they have plans to get married in the next six months, and he’s been trying to get up the courage to leave you for the last week.”
She started to cry, and looked like she was about to say something, and stopped.
Inside of her head, he continued.
Shondra, you deserve so much more than such a lousy deadbeat. So here’s what I think you should do. I think you should go home, and you should open up your closet. On the top, behind a box of old DVDs, there’s a small handgun Darrell purchased last year. The bullets are beside it. Now, Darrell will be in Sofia’s apartment, giving the old one-two to her, and he won’t hear you come in. If you aim at his back, you can kill two birds with one stone. Sofia has five thousand dollars stuffed into a shoebox under her bed. Take the money, and get out of there as soon as you can. You’ll have a few minutes. Your other neighbor, the elderly woman, she won’t be able to hear the shots, and the man at the far end of the hall has a warrant out for his arrest, so he won’t be inclined to tattle.
A dreamy look on her face, Shondra said aloud, “Why are you telling me this?”
He leaned in a bit, and in his eyes, Shondra saw flames. They were hypnotic, the way they danced, and they relaxed her. She could stare into his eyes for hours.
“I’m telling you this because no one deserves to be walked on, Shondra. Now, go tell your boss you have to leave early.”
She turned, and, suddenly thinking of something, he clapped his hands to get her attention. Shondra cried out, and turned back around.
“Almost forgot, can you put extra hot sauce in there?”
To be continued
April 13th, 2017.