Here’s a story I wrote back in October for a proposed collection of short horror stories collected from authors all over the web. Unfortunately, the guy organizing it turned out to be a flake and it never got anywhere. So I’m putting it here, for all to see! Feel free to comment, critique, or just give it a read. I’m going to look for a cover artist to whip up a simple cover, so if you have any suggestions for what should be on it after reading, let me know! When I get a cover, I’m going to put it on Amazon’s lending library.
The bullet in Joshua’s side caused him to twitch again. He gasped and his eyes snapped open. The trunk of an oak tree rushed to meet him. Joshua yanked on the steering wheel, narrowly avoiding the tree. The sudden motion caused pain to flare through his side again, and his vision blurred. He felt the Model A Ford bouncing on the rough dirt road, each jolt sending waves of agony through his body.
Joshua couldn’t slow down. They would catch him. They couldn’t be more then a few miles back. His revolver bounced on the seat next to him. It had been a gift from his boss, a few years back. It had an ivory grip, with an engraving of a little dancing devil.
Joshua’s eyes flicked to the mirror, searching for signs of pursuit. His reflection stared back at him. His dark hair was a mess. His normally bright green eyes were hollow and bloodshot. Sweat shone on his face, the pencil thin mustache he meticulously maintained stood out on his abnormally pale face. His shirt was stained with blood and sweat.
In the light of his headlights, trees whipped past uncomfortably close. Joshua felt dizzy again watching the trunks flicker by. The darkness of the forest seemed to crawl into the car with him, casting strange shadows on everything. He shook his head, refusing to pass out again. He told himself that it was just blood loss causing him to see things.
But it really did seem like a black fog was creeping over his eyes.
His body felt like ice as his vision dimmed, the trees racing by the windows vanishing into the night. Joshua began to panic, wondering if this was what death felt like. The air in the car was frigid now, each breath burning his throat. Joshua noticed however that there was no frost on the windows and he could not see his breath. His limbs felt numb. He concentrated as hard as possible on steering, but his hands fell away from the steering wheel.
Joshua could hear grinding in his head, like a saw was cutting through his skull. He felt a pain at the back of his head and a warm sensation as blood ran down his neck. As his vision disappeared completely Joshua heard a voice. Although he could not explain why, the voice felt wrong. It was made up of a language no human mouth could ever reproduce. He tried to turn his head, tried to shout, tried anything to dislodge himself from the black fog. All the while the insane gibbering continued behind his eyes. He felt heavy.Joshua was about to let himself slip away when the fog suddenly cleared. The pain in his head spiked and the voice in Joshua’s head whispered, “You’re one of us now.”
Joshua opened his tightly closed eyes just in time to see a boulder collide with his windshield.
* * *
Joshua could see the car from where he lay about 20 feet away. The passenger side had been crushed by the collision. The windshield had been shattered by his sudden exit through it. The single headlight flickered, casting the spot where Joshua lay in alternating light and darkness. He almost laughed at being alive, but the pain in his side turned it into a cough. The pain brought everything back to focus and he remembered why he had been running.
Joshua began to crawl towards the vehicle. His revolver should still be in there. He’d need it once they caught up with him. Each movement caused fire to shoot through his side. Recalling the sensation he had experienced in the car, Joshua paused to touch the back of his head. He felt something soft and moist. He jerked his hand away, the fingertips stained red.
It was then that Joshua noticed the figure sitting in the back seat of the car. A woman was in his car. Blazing, hazel eyes sat above a small, sharp nose. Her long, dark hair fell past her shoulders. Joshua began to moan as his eyes traveled down her face.
She had no mouth. Joshua saw no scars or any other evidence that there had ever been anything there other then unbroken, milky white skin. Suppressing a whimper, convinced that the crash had done something to his mind, Joshua was sure the woman couldn’t actually be there. He rubbed his eyes with an aching arm, praying that she would be gone when he opened them again. Taking several deep breaths and counting to three, Joshua opened his eyes and saw the woman staring back at him.
As their eyes locked, that horrifying expanse of flawless skin beneath her nose began to split. Starting in the center and spreading to either side, a thin red line began to appear. The line curved upwards until it nearly reached the woman’s ears. As Joshua watched, rooted to the spot by horror, the line began to thicken, as if the skin were being cut with an invisible knife. Blood began to run down her chin as the flesh parted, opening wider and wider. The new, lipless mouth revealed only a mass of bright red tissue, glistening and bleeding. A depression formed in the center and began to tunnel back into the woman’s head, as if someone was hollowing out a throat. Rows of mismatched teeth burst through the bright pink flesh on the edges of the newly excavated mouth with spurts of blood. Joshua gagged as they crowded each other haphazardly, the sound of teeth being forced from their sockets by their neighbors audible even at this distance. By now the horrible mouth had turned into a leering smile, filled with multiple rows of broken teeth.
Joshua attempted to rise on his battered legs. “What the hell is this?” he murmured as he lurched away from the vehicle. The woman’s smile widened, and bits of bloody flesh and teeth fell from her gaping maw.
“Oh Joshua, I’m here to help.” The voice was rich and beautiful. Joshua found it alluring and dangerous, the kind of voice that could capture a man’s heart with a single word. “I’ve come to get you Joshua. You’re finally ready,” she crooned. “Come with me.” A slender arm extended out the window towards Joshua. With revulsion he noticed that there were six fingers on its hand.
“I’m not going anywhere with you, freak.” Fighting to keep the pitch of his voice from rising, Joshua pointed back down the road. “You wanna help me, go get the guys that are after me.”
The woman tilted her head to one side. “You don’t seem to understand, Joshua. You don’t have to worry about them anymore.” She extended the hand even farther, bones cracking as the arm lengthened impossibly. A dim light began to glow in the woman’s eyes. “Now, come here.”
“Not a chance.” Joshua said, but it came out sounding a lot less confident than he had intended. He turned and began to stumble away from the vehicle. As he left the circle of light from the car’s headlights he was plunged into the darkness of the deep forest. He tripped on rocks and roots, slowing his progress. Strangely, the pain in his side had receded to a dull ache, but his shirt still felt slick with blood.
Crouching behind some bushes, Joshua hazarded a look back. The car was still visible through the trees. The woman was getting out. But not through the door.
The woman was gripping the edges of the shattered window, glass biting deep into her hands. She began to pull herself out through the small opening. Joshua was certain she couldn’t fit. When the car had hit the rock, the frame had been crushed like an accordion. There was no way she could get her whole body through.
As Joshua watched from the darkness, the woman’s head appeared through the window. Her eyes were now glowing a dull yellow, and her face bore fresh cuts from where she had scraped it on the jagged edges of the window. Her head swiveled unnaturally, the bones in her neck pressing against her skin at awkward angles as she turned to look at Joshua. The inky darkness seemed to provide no obstacle to her vision.
“And where do you think you’re going?” she giggled as though this were a game.
The rest of her body began to slide through the window. The jagged glass sunk deep into her flesh, tearing ragged gashes in her shoulders and chest. The bones in her shoulders snapped as she forced her way out of the car, her arms hanging uselessly at her side. The woman had to squirm the rest of the way out. The wriggling motion only caused more tearing from the glass, and by the time she had escaped the confines of the vehicle she was covered in long gouges which ran the length of her body. Flaps of skin hung like the peeled skin of a vegetable, the glistening muscle beneath twitching with every movement.
At last she slid free of the confines of the vehicle, landing on her side, her back to him. For a moment she lay still and Joshua wondered if she had succumbed to the pain of her cuts. Then her arms began to move, the many fingered hands still hanging limply as she began to stir. In a single fluid motion she rose to her feet. Silhouetted by the headlights her face was hidden in shadow, but two amber coals began to glow where her eyes were. Joshua felt them find him in the darkness, the evil gaze boring into his soul. “I know you’re scared Joshua, but there’s nothing to fear here.” she said spreading her arms, the bones snapping back into place.
Joshua did not agree with that statement and turned to flee deeper into the woods.
“You can’t escape Joshua!” Her beautiful voice rose to an angry screech, filled with pain and suffering.
Joshua didn’t want to think about what was happening back at the car, about what new and grotesque transformation was taking place. He imagined he could hear the sound of muscle and bone rearranging themselves. He screwed his eyes shut and wished the noises away. The light from the car was a hazy glow in the distance. The forest was completely silent but for his pounding breath. There was no sound of animals or even wind.
Joshua paused to catch his breath. He was feeling light headed and the pain in his side had started to return as he got farther away from the car. He leaned back against a tree and slid down to the ground, sitting in the dirt. His pants were ruined by the blood anyway, so he didn’t care. He stared at the plants around him, the night and the fog turning them into strange and unfamiliar shapes. The back of his head began to throb again and he was reminded of the voice he had heard before the crash.
With a start he realized that it had been the woman speaking in his head. Same voice, but a different language. His fingers began to tremble as he thought of the monster he had just seen. If he had really seen it. With everything that had happened today, the botched job, getting shot, the crash, he wouldn’t be surprised if a few of his screws had been knocked loose.
Joshua was struck with a bout of nearly uncontainable laughter. The insanity of what he had just seen- No, what he thought he had seen- made him break out in a fit of giggling. There was no way that woman was real. It was all just tricks being played by a bump to the head. He stifled his laughter and let out a deep breath. Joshua laid his head back against the tree and closed his eyes. The sharp pains in his side melted away, and the throbbing in his skull began to vanish.
No, there was no way she was real. And even if she was, there’s no way she could move very fast with her body all torn up like that. With his head still against the tree, Joshua looked up and stared straight into the faintly glowing pits of the woman’s eyes.
She was hanging upside down from the trunk of the tree, about ten feet above him. Her arms and legs had grown multiple knobby joints. They bent at grotesque angles as they wrapped around the trunk of the tree. The gaping maw was smiling down at him, a thin string of bloody drool dangling from her teeth. He thought he heard her giggle, but the wracking noise could have been anything as far as he knew.
She began to shimmy down the tree, her eyes never leaving his face. Joshua let out a cry as he turned to flee. Glancing back he saw that she had stopped her descent and was instead climbing backwards up the tree. In a moment she vanished into the canopy. Joshua barreled through the forest as fast as he dared, branches whipping him in the face and thorny bushes snagging his clothes. Above him he saw a dark shadow leaping from tree to tree and he heard the woman shriek, “It’s too late now, Joshua! You’ll never get away from me again!”
Joshua bruised his way through the underbrush, not caring where he went anymore. He didn’t care if he was crazy or not, he just wanted to get out of this forest. His heart was pounding as he crashed through another thicket, stumbling over a fallen log. He hit the ground hard, knocking the air from his lungs. He didn’t know why this was happening, this was like something out of one of those cheap novels about crazy monsters from the depths of hell. But those weren’t real. This wasn’t real.
He dug his fingers into the dirt and screamed in frustration. How could everything have gone so wrong? He felt eyes upon him and rolled over to see the woman’s head floating down towards him.
No, that wasn’t right, he thought to himself, and let out a little chuckle. He tried to stifle it, but could not. Her neck was extending. That was it! He could see her torso, clinging to a branch above him, quivering as it pumped out vertebrae after vertebrae from a ragged stump on its shoulders. How stupid of him to think that the head was floating! Who ever heard of a floating head? He failed to contain another fit of high pitched giggling. The impossibly long spine twisted and swayed as it reached out to him, shining with exposed veins. He could see them throbbing as they pumped blood to the head which was hovering ever closer to his face. Torn flaps of skin hung at the base of her head, testament to the once firm attachment it had shared with the rest of its body.
He couldn’t protest anymore. The string of obscene mutilations had broken his ability to deny them and he just accepted it. There was no way this could be happening, and yet here it was. The woman was smiling pleasantly as she brought her face close to his. Joshua realized with horror that he was smiling too, but a wave of giddiness swept the fear away. He had no more strength to resist. His mind was at war with itself, part of him yelling at his legs to run, at his arms to bat the hideous thing away, at his mouth to stop smiling and scream.
But another part of him whispered that it would be easier just to let it end here. There was nothing more he could do. He just had to give in and it’d all go away. Come. Join me.
“Me?” Joshua said out loud.
Joshua gasped as he realized that the woman’s lips were moving in tandem with his thoughts. When she moved her lips, they entered his head as his own thoughts, in his own voice.
“Get outta my head!” Joshua stammered, “I’ll never go with you. I’m not a freak! I’m not gonna become a monster!”
“Oh, but Joshua you already are. You’ve been one for quite some time now.” As she spoke, her body crawled down the tree trunk, the elongated spine sliding back in through the bloody stump with a sucking noise. “Or have you already forgotten? All the things you’ve done…” She smiled, the slit in her face splitting wider then before, blood dribbling down her chin, and tilted her head to one side. “Don’t tell me you don’t remember everything you’ve done with your little toy?”
Her torso had now caught up with her head and the two pressed together, a raw scar forming around the woman’s neck. She leaned backward thrust her chest upward. She shivered for a moment before her ribcage burst through her skin, each rib twisting to poke straight out of her chest.
Joshua twitched as blood spattered on his face. He stared in horror as the exposed ribs writhed like white worms, tiny fanged mouths on the end of each hissing in the cold night air. With a shriek the ribs turned back into the body, tearing away the skin and muscle, slashing deep into flesh. The worm-ribs were eating the flesh as they went, gorging themselves on the woman’s body.
Joshua cried for her to stop, to make it all stop but the wriggling ribs continued their bloody work until they had revealed the glistening internal organs. The woman haltingly pulled herself upright, an expression of exhilaration plastered on her face. The worms shrank back into her chest, mewling as they retreated. The woman bent towards Joshua, who whimpered as intestines and gore spilled into his lap.
“Come on Joshua, don’t say you’ve forgotten about this?” She whispered in his ear. Her breath was cold and wet. She leaned back, a glint in her eyes. From the empty cavity of her abdomen a slender arm extended. Seemingly composed of ropey muscle and sinew, the arm had six elongated fingers ending in narrow talons. Grasped in its hand was a pistol. As it raised it for Joshua to see, an engraving of a small devil could be seen dancing on the grip.
Joshua’s eyes filled with tears. He couldn’t make sense of anything anymore. He looked into the woman’s eyes and croaked, “I don’t understand.”
To his surprise, her eyes softened, and her face filled with pity.
“I know,” she said.
The bloody arm pressed the pistol to Joshua’s head and pulled the trigger.
* * *
“The Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation released a statement this morning claiming that the notorious mafia hit-man Joshua Savanti has been killed after a shoot out at a suspected bootlegger hide out. Savanti evaded Police capture at the scene but crashed his car soon afterward. Police say that Savanti was found in his car, killed by a bullet to the head. Officials continue to speculate on whether this was suicide or the result of a disagreement with another criminal. Police are still searching the area, but as yet have found no signs of any other suspects.”