Pallid and Pale (4 of 4)

After that night I was never the same. Even my closest friend, Hui, began to distance himself from me. ‘Hui! Let’s go run through the storm drains by Yongjin!’, I shouted, but he had already turned away. ‘I can’t today!’ he would yell back, without facing me, as he ran in the other direction. I became numb to the bleakness of being alone. In time, I embraced it. Mother attempted many times to bring new kids around, though they never stayed for long. They would simply vanish back to their happy homes and I wouldn’t hear or see them again, except for at school, where they – just like Hui – would run away from me.

The other kids never saw my creature, my true form, yet without question they were cautious, and decided it was best to avoid me. Sometimes I wish that it hadn’t chosen me, but it had, and that was that. Sometimes it showed itself to me – either in my dreams or when the lights were low – in complete darkness or out of the corner of my eye, a blur of grey motion, too swift to catch, a silvery shooting star. It would hum to me, ‘ 很快我们他们骨头舞蹈 ‘. At first it was frightening, but as the years passed, I began to find comfort in the strangeness of it all, to embrace it as a part of me, ‘ 知道很好一部分 ‘, and after enough time, I found myself yearning to understand the creature, to spend time with it, to nurture it as it had nurtured me, defending me from the cold with its heat and intensity.

Discounting my parents, all seventeen of my years had passed in near isolation.

But now, with father on the ground, extinguished, there would be no more hiding. I could feel the demon just below my surface, now, rising like a submerged titan which’d spent a thousand years under the sea, waiting for mother to return from her shopping trip. Looking out of the window and down onto Tianjin, I could see people from a great distance, moving about. These people had been silent persecutors and bore witness to my life of unwanted quarantine. The demon milled about, I could feel it pulling and pushing, propelling me, thinking that mother was not enough, and after all, she had been kind to me.

‘ 久 ‘

Yes, not for long. I spared one last glance at father lying on the floor – pitiful – as a smirk pulled one corner of my lips into a dimple. I stepped over him and opened the front door, walked out into the sunlight, and welcomed the first day of my new life.

Advertisements
Pallid and Pale (4 of 4)

Pallid and Pale (3 of 4)

My earliest memory was of visiting my father’s factory, on the outskirts of Tianjin, and watching how he used his muscle to move steel sheets into a massive cutting machine. I remember white sparks shooting from the metal as he pushed buttons and the machine went to work, following a computer program to precisely sear through the thick sheet.

‘You will never do this, Zhang Li. If you were a growing boy, you could do this. But not you. This work is for men.’ He said. I was four years old but already feeling worthless.

That’s when it visited me for the first time. That night.

‘ 红色的恶魔. ‘

I was moments away from falling asleep, my head soft on the pillow and thick with the fuzz of dream, when a pulsating hum surfaced my awareness. A construct, hunched over so as not to hit the ceiling with its head, began to materialize – soft at first, but mutating into a grotesque abomination in short time, covering the majority of a fifteen foot wall span. It’s face was a thing of nightmares, but as I was so young I can remember being unafraid, only curious.

‘Why are your eyes missing?’ I said to it. ‘Why are you on fire?’ Small, beautiful hot flames danced around the outside of its body, blue and orange, soft light in the dark room.

‘ 我为那些没有发言权的人发言。我是均衡器。我是红色的恶魔,恶魔,最古老的我是你的保护者,现在和永远.’ it said in a deep gurgle of hiss and spit.

I removed the covers and walked over to stand in front of the creature, staring up with clear eyes and reaching for its hand.

Pallid and Pale (3 of 4)

Pallid and Pale (2 of 4)

‘You will never be anything. You are nothing. We should have killed you like we killed your sister. You are worse than nothing, Zhang Li.’ I could hear him say, over and over, like it was yesterday. Even through the rain of years, his voice still poured down on my head every now and then.

‘Maybe he was right. No, he was definitely right.’ Mine will echo.

I sat cross-legged on the floor of my apartment, the coffee colored stain of the wood a stark contrast to my specter skin. It took me several minutes to calm myself down, to process what had just occurred.

His body in front of me lie still as a winter dawn, not a sound. ‘Not a sound, now, father.’ I whispered in my mind. His neck was torn apart with ghastly rends, as though a monstrous claw had swept his life away. And they were not fine slices – they were the work of a beast, a gorgon, a creature of the dark. Yet, I had no claws.

‘None that they can see, anyways. None that you can see, for that matter.’

Pallid and Pale (2 of 4)

Pallid and Pale (1 of 4)

All I’d ever wanted was someone to love me that much. To care for me that much. I stared at the Vizio panel in a state of numb acceptance, my breath coming in short exhalations as sweat beaded my forehead.

‘I must look like I’m ready to die. I’m very pallid.’ I thought.

Several weeks ago I found myself single again. Single and in the city. For one such as me – prone to the grey of isolation and the resignation of self-enacted serotonin release from things like first-person shooters or successful forum trolling – a relationship, whenever I fell into one, was always with the wrong person. This one lasted for a few weeks and quickly turned into soggy toilet paper.

Easily flushed.

‘I am very white, very pale. And my bones show through my elastic skin. I am unattractive.’

I was used to rejection. Perpetually shorter than most girls my age and with thin black hair that limped from my scalp and dry toe webbing that cracked and blistered every summer.

Pallid and Pale (1 of 4)

Francis the Master of the Dead End

Fixed in a fetal position with a small stream of dream spit bubbling from the corner of his mouth, Francis was fast asleep and in a dream world all his own, comfortably ignorant of the jet-black demon at the foot of his bed.

tickle

A single twitch from Francis’ shoulder caused the bed to bounce up and down, softly. A grey, silk-smooth, three-hundred-count comforter sheet blanketed him from neck to ankles. Orange earplug ends shot out of his earholes towards the ceiling, past a framed, lopsided poster of Hugh Jackman’s face as Wolverine.

Discarded, half-read comics were scattered across the room, superhero faces sinking into the carpet, an issue of The Walking Dead angling precipitously off the corner of a computer desk.

Light from a flat panel monitor gave off a callous glow, casting the room in a faint hue of cerulean and creating shadow outlines on the walls.

Francis’ rhythmic breathing gave his shadow a life of its own, a sea of miniature black bedcover mountains rising and falling against the door to his bedroom. The demon paid no attention to any of this as it brushed against Francis’ exposed ankle, lightly, with a long, cylindrical finger.

tickle

Francis moved, drool dripping off of his chin and roiling down the pillowcase, sleepily swatting at his kneecap before settling back into the dream with his hand limply returning to his distended beer-belly.

Matted brown hair limped from his head and onto the pillow in sweaty clumps.

Leading a life of quiet unobtrusiveness isn’t as easy as one might think, especially at the level with which Francis conducted his; day-in and day-out, perpetually spinning around in a security guard blender of day and night shifts, buying clothing that doesn’t stand out, on the cheap, from the Macy’s at the mall next door and, aside from the occasional family get together, rarely setting foot outside of his shabby, cloistered studio.

To Francis, the value of quiet comfort and routine far outweighed the potential for wealth or the strain required to succeed in any way that society would deem acceptable.

The demon knew this, and every night it feasted on Francis’ weakening soul.

tickle

Francis shifted to one side as his eyes slid open. “Who’s there?” he spoke, half in a dream state and without expecting an answer. If Francis would have opened his eyes further and glanced towards the foot of the bed, he would have seen the skeletal demon cloaked in black shadows tickling his right foot and slowly moving closer to the bed, inch by inch.

Nearly two minutes passed as Francis’ eyelids resealed. The thing lurched over the end of the bed, bending impossibly in an arc and blotting out the monitor light as Francis fell into the dark eclipse behind the monstrous form.

Francis sniffed at the air, hungrily, obese, and his nose twitched and curled into a bunch as though breathing in rancid meat. In a way, he was; but he didn’t know all about the history of the skin demons, their lineage, their hopes nor dreams, how and where they travel and the certain, witless souls they prey upon.

He was simply clueless to the fact that this particular brand of demon was the cruelest, and the hardest to get rid of.

No amount of séance or ritual ever extracted a skin demon. Once they found an acceptable target, with a weakened soul, mind and body, they were as immovable as a mountain.

tickle

And yet, within his dream world, he was safe. Or so he thought. The lurching demon stretched over Francis’ sleeping form. A rain of worms splashed from the skin demon down to the bed top as it moved, cascading off of Francis’ body and collecting into small pools within comforter folds, bouncing and squirming underneath the covers and onto the floor.

The temperature in the room dipped, heavily, so that Francis’ breath came shooting out of his nostrils in small puffs. A maggot crawled slowly upon his neck, moving around behind his jawline and seeking the warmth of his ear. It disappeared behind an orange earplug, sidling inside as though under directive, a miniature heat seeking devourer.

Francis’ left arm came flying from underneath the covers to swat at his head, haphazardly dispersing maggots around his room, the comforter flying off in a flit of panic.

The worm behind his earplug exploded as his palm landed on it, smashing it to pieces and causing him to bolt upright in the bed.

Darkness had overtaken everything, and what with Francis being none-too-bright and living with bugs for most of his life, it was only a momentary awakening that he’d had before pulling the cover back over his shoulder and returning his heavy head to the pillow.

The demon knew that, in order to fully capture Francis’ soul, he must find a way to bring the man close to insanity, to the brink, so that he’d willingly make the trade – just to get rid of the sense of doom and despair. The demon smiled, the tar-like film on its skull pulling back to reveal row after row of blackened gums. This was going to be fun.

An hour passed as the demon stood curved over the top of the bed, staring down at Francis and draining worms from its corpulent husk, onto the sheets and comforter, amassing and building a worm-cocoon around Francis’ sleeping form. Soon, they’d overtaken him entirely, the mass weighing him down and covering all but his head.

The skin demon looked somehow leaner, all bone and black shroud, a horrifying scarecrow of unreality, bent forward and satisfying its innate lust for conversion. Its head was massive, resembling the skull of a horse. As Francis’ breathing began coming in slower, pained gasps due to the added weight of a bed full of worms, his eyelids told the demon that he was back inside the dream.

A dream of terror, of pain and suffering, of infinite loss.

One that the demon had constructed well in advance. In fact, Francis wasn’t the first fool whom the demon had toyed with in this particular way; there were countless others throughout history – some of them important, some of them, like Francis, entirely forgettable.

As Francis dreamt the horror dream, a tongue began to slide out from the open space in the demon’s mouth, black and oily, eel-shaped, twisting roughly down and sliding behind Francis’ neck, wrapping around and around in a death spiral and tightening snugly into place. There it stayed for a while, feeling Francis’ heartbeat and the rhythmic pulsing of his blood.

Along the tongue were small, rough pores which began to open, dark red barnacles containing even smaller wire-like seekers, things that shot out and pierced Francis skin. Red, bead-like spheres pumped through the seekers, and within moments began filling Francis full of dark thoughts.
Francis thrashed suddenly, but the demon was prepared. The maggots would hold him, and it was only a slight reverberation of his dream which had caused him to turn and twist so. Francis was powerless against the ages, of times long forgotten but not entirely vanquished, of things that were lost to the memory of man.

The demon folded around Francis, layering him in a new blanket, the soft fabric of its being providing shelter and warmth. Like a lover, it nestled beside and over Francis as he slept and dreamt the dark dreams of murderous rage he would experience over the following weeks.

Throughout the night, Francis jerked occasionally as the emotions were fed to him, as his dreams spelled death, and his inevitable breaking floated in the air like a death rattle.

When the morning came, Francis yawned deeply and shuffled into the shower, letting the hot water scald his naked skin, washing the sleep from his eyelids and punching the snot from his nose. His morbid frame bounced and jiggled in the tiny compartment as his elbows struck the walls and curtain, and he swore under his breath and mumbled obscenities during the cleanse.

The demon watched, delighted, as Francis’ temper began to roil and rip, rise and fall, and it set the tone for the day to come.

Clasping a navy blue clip tie firmly in place on his security dress shirt, Francis moved to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator to grab the sack lunch he’d prepared the night before. He stood abruptly and smashed his head into an open cabinet door which the demon had casually exposed.

A small rivulet of blood began to make its way down Francis’ temple and into the corner of his eye, and it entered there, swimming and swirling around his retina until all he could see was red. He quietly closed the cabinet and jerked a paper towel from its roll, pressing it to his face as he slid out the front door on his way to work.

The demon would follow, as it always did now; a shadow in the corner of the parking garage or a quiet stranger working late in an office where Francis was patrolling, to ensure that he was well on his way to schizophrenia, paranoid that he was committed to a life of ruin and despair, and that his soul would be ripe for harvesting at just the right moment.

Throughout the day, Francis would reach behind his head to scratch the nape of his neck, certain that something had brushed his skin.

tickle

Francis the Master of the Dead End

A Problem in the Tool Shed

It was the middle of the night, and I was bored out of my fucking mind. I’d been clawing at sleep for hours, it eluding me like a glittering memory that’s just slightly out of focus. I could never quite reach it even as it tugged and pulled at my eyelids.

Windy rain was crashing hard against the house. Droplets the size of small ammunition rounds pelting the window next to my bed and rifling through my eardrums. “No sleep for you, fuckhead!” one of them screamed, smashing down mid-doze and reawakening me just in time to realize I should have taken some melatonin.

Even that wouldn’t have helped. I’ve developed a tolerance. You could drop an elephant with it before it dragged me under.

Sleeping alone during a rainstorm can be comforting. I like to take the entire blanket and wrap it around me, like I’m a mummy, trapped and alone in my own little coffin. Nobody can find me in here, not even the strongest shelling of rain can penetrate these pillowy walls.

Unfortunately, it was hot as hell. Summer was on the way, and it’d hit eighty degrees today just before the clouds rolled in. Hot, humid suck had welled up inside the house and I didn’t have the foresight necessary to drag my trusty Emerson room fan out of storage and set it up by the bed.

I gave up and tossed the covers aside, rolling out of bed. Bare, sweaty feet touched down on the wooden floor and I stood, moving to the window. I took a few steps before I realized I was completely naked.

When did that happen? I never sleep naked. And the fact that I was sweltering hot made no sense either. I didn’t feel sick. It was probably just the humidity of the day getting trapped up in this room, and it made me clammy, and I was half-dozing when I stripped off my sweats.

Not that it mattered. I have no neighbors, so nobody got a peepshow when I walked over to stare out at the woods behind my house, through the downpour and the cloudy, moonlit sky.

I scratched at my balls as I peered out, began to take everything in. The backyard was a total mess. One massive mudslide. I could barely make out the tool shed which stood flush with the edge of the forest, its white finish almost imperceptable through the rain.

The door of the shed was banging against its exterior hanging in the wind, I could see that much. Which didn’t make sense. The door is always shut tight and locked unless I’m doing yardwork.

Bang, bang, bang.

I realized that I was staring out the window, stark naked.

When your fiance of four years leaves you high and dry, you end up losing a little control of a bunch of small shit, including caring about propriety. Which brings me to another point: that door hadn’t been unlocked since before she left a few months ago, and I’m one-hundred percent positivo that the thing was secured.

I squinted, trying to make out the door latch, but I couldn’t see. The rain began to pick up, even stronger, and I stepped back from the window to grab my boxers off the floor. I pulled them on, and then my sweats.

4:01 AM.

I’d be at work in about three hours which meant that there was no point in trying to climb back into that steambath of a bed. Better to get the day started now and get tired by tonight, so that I could finally get some god damned sleep.

But life is funny. Things never go as planned.

I walked downstairs and threw in a Keurig cup, turning on the house lights. I could hear the shed door again, and reminded myself that I’d have to close it before I left for the day. Even though I’m pretty isolated up here in the woods, and I’ve got ten acres of nothing but trees and streams surrounding me, a man can’t be too careful when it comes to protecting his tools, right?

The Keurig finished brewing as I flipped open my Mac and began to surf. I’m in advertising. I do technical writing for websites and big companies who need to polish their public content. Really, though, I chose this career path because I could live where I want, work when I wanted to work, and keep my free time to myself.

I read a bunch of industry feeds every day to keep up on things, and so I started in with my routine.

My ex left me because I was so wrapped up in work. Or at least that was the numero uno reason she’d given me. I felt it was more about the lack of sex drive on my part, or my obsession with writing science fiction that would never see the light of day in a million years. But the one thing she’d instilled in me was a reinforcement to follow my dream, to be a writer, and to do work that made me better at that.

I still dream about her, even after all this time.

Something carnal, a tearing, roaring sound screamed through the morning air and I jumped, spilling coffee over the counter top and scalding my hand. I set the cup down and turned to the sound, in the back yard.

The shed door had wrenched completely free.

It was lying shattered and twisted against the trunk of a massive oak tree over thirty feet away from the white shed.

Deep rends were cussed into its metal frame, severe gashes which ran in parallel to one another in scores of five.

The banging had stopped, replaced with something far more menacing.

Light was beginning to peak through the clouds and began to glint off of the now door-less tool shed.

I felt a sudden urge to call the police, thinking that I might have been the subject of some wild, early morning vandalism, but I thought of how silly this would all sound.

“Hey, it’s been a rough couple of months.” our small town sheriff would say.

“Yeah, you’re right Evan. I know. I can’t get her out of my head. It’s the damned wind and rain keeping me up, and of course I’m still finding her hair on my clothes and in carpeted corners. Let’s grab a pint next week.” I’d say.

“Sounds good. Hang in there. And get that door fixed.” Evan would reply.

“You bet. First thing, chief.” I’d say.

And that would be that. And that sounded like a waste of everyone’s time. Looking at the shed now, I noticed something new. Something I hadn’t observed before.

Without the door, the white of the shed resembled a bleached-bone skull, with miniature eye socket windows spaced evenly about the top, and a gaping maw recessed into pitch black where the door used to be. That dark space itself seemed to pull at me. A kind of magnetism one might feel when a vault door is opened after a period of time so long that the people who put things in it are long gone, and nobody remembers what the contents were.

The rain slowed, I began to breathe normally again.

And then I saw it.

Almost invisible to my paltry human eye, a little red speck, deep within the shed, radiated a warm light like a Christmas bulb tucked up inside the branches of a tightly packed pine.

Was I going crazy? Well, yes. My therapist would most definitely concur. But… that red dot wasn’t moving. It was very stable. Like a laser, I thought.

Until it moved.

Subtle, at first, and in a gyrating fashion. Soon it was spinning fast, dancing about in a figure eight pattern with precise, high-speed revolutions. Another red dot joined in, and then another. Before I’d taken five breaths there were seven of them twirling in unison about one another, never crossing but instead counterbalancing each other.

There was a weight about it, a kind of gravity.

The rain became small pattering, which turned into a drizzle as I stood mesmerized looking out at the shed. The light show was now in full effect, tiny red specks moving in and out of view, interspersed with the darkness of the shed.

Within a fraction of a millisecond the specks converged, together, to form a single, larger speck. This speck in turn grew much brighter and cast a sullen red light about the contents of the shed.

Including the thing projecting the light.

Shadow outlines in reddish hue showed what could only be described as a “Metal Man” of some sort. A massive, twisted thing that looked human and not human at the same time, the red beam pulsing from its midsection. Barely a silhouette in the dusk and black and grey residue of the misty morning.

It shook for a moment and then began to lumber forward. As it stepped into the light, it began to expand and extend, to heighten. Bristling blackened steel plates cut at the sides of the shed as it emerged, further ripping and tearing the structure apart. At last it stood full, spindly and armored, the garnet hole in its chest seeming less pronounced now that it was exposed to the early light.

I was transfixed, immobile.

At least twenty feet tall, maybe more, I thought as it began to step forward toward the house. Actually, it didn’t step; it slithered. On a million nail-like tendrils that cut away at the ground like a rake. It wasn’t moving fast.

Massive arms, six of them, detached from its sides and fanned out. Dense, thick claws protruded from its forearm casings.

Its head, man. Its head was the freakshow. You know those Egyptian bird-daemon paintings you saw as a kid? Yeah, that. Like a hawk, but more human, as though a slip of black rubber was pulled over an enormous human skull with a hawk-like beak.

Metal Man was stuck in a constant state of rictus, he had no lips to cover his teeth, which almost exactly resembled a human jaw. Only much larger.

A ribcage was belted together with thick black shells of steel, descending south where it intersected with the leg structure, which in itself was intricate as hell. Intertwining gunmetal cables spun towards the ground like a beanstalk, thousands of them, and each of them had thousands of those nail-like tendrils which looked sharp enough to puncture a tire.

Or shred a shed door.

It stood still for a moment as though it were surveying, its ghastly head shifting side to side, eyeless sockets taking it all in.

I stepped back from the window and my motion must’ve alerted it because it immediately turned its gaze in my direction, swiftly pivoting its torso to face me. The pulsing garnet light in the center of its chest immediately blinded me, as a laser would, and for a moment I was stunned. My gut was telling me to tuck tail and get the fuck out of the kitchen, the house, take the Mini and drive.

I didn’t. I was frozen. In the end, I think that’s what saved me. I think standing perfectly still until the blackened skull turned away from me might have allowed me to live on.

Moving lithe as a rattlesnake through sagebrush, the Metal Man rotated further away and began hewing a path into the woods, thick trees falling as though cut down by a master ax-man, some of them teetering for a few seconds before tumbling down.

Within moments it disappeared entirely, sinking into the dark of the forest beyond.

A Problem in the Tool Shed

Voicemail from the The Sewol – Korean “Sinking Ferry”

Can anyone hear me? This is Keong Min, from 축구 그룹 6, soccer team.

I hope someone is listening. I am trapped inside now. I am in ninth grade and my moms name is Kyung Min, my dads name is Kim.

We were on top of the ferry when we saw it rising behind us, a big fish. Or at first, we thought it was a big fish, or a whale. After a minute of staring into the ocean, we realized just how big it was; almost the size of a mountain under the water. It was only when it surfaced next to us that we realized pure evil.

It didn’t look like any fish we have seen. The seawater was pouring off of its dark grey flanks and jet-black eyeballs at tremendous rate, as though rivers cascading from mountains.

(gasp for air)

We saw it coming closer to us and it was larger than the ferry. This is a big ferry, too, built by Seoul Commisandre and much larger than any fish. Or so we thought.

When it came near to us, moving through the water without swimming, just gliding, we could feel and see the water displacement against our ferry. Even from a few hundred feet away, the thing began to pressure the boat and cause it to sway. As it drew even closer, we could –

(gasp for air)

Smell it. It was the worst smell i have ever smelled. Worse than garbage left behind our house, or when fish goes bad in the kitchen. Also we could see that there were massive barnacles on the the sides of the thing, some of them looked to be small houses.

The eyeballs were –

(gasp for air)

were horrible. They saw us, took us all in. Even as I began to run below decks, towards safety and the lifeboat deck, when the monster got closer and the waves started to rock us, I could see in those eyeballs the devil. They were giant, they were pitch black dark holes of death. I have only seen that look once before, in my big sisters eyes right before she jumped. She had turned around and looked at me, hated me, hated my family, and then fell back off of our balcony. I had never felt anything more intensely than that look, until I saw the hatred in this monsters eyes.

I was already below the third deck and almost to the lifeboat section when it rammed us, hard. It was like an earthquake, I imagine. I slipped to the side and bumped my head on a steel ferry wall, only barely able to stand once the first round of shaking stopped. There were loud screams from everywhere, blood curdling screams of my friends and other people dying, or being swept into the ocean.

I turned around to see water rushing down the long center hallway at me – a river of blue ocean water, and it looked cold and deep. I ran on, into one of the forward rooms and shut the door, yanking on the seal so it shut tight.

(gasp for air)

I sat alone in the dark of the room for a moment, listening to the muffled shouts from outside the door. Through a thick glass peep-hole, I could see my teammate, Kyong Sul, flail towards the door and start pounding, but the dark blue water had already overtaken him, and the last thing I saw was his eye and cheek pressed up against the glass slit, before he was scraped away into the darkness beyond.

At this point, the ship began to turn on its side, and I had to navigate the storage containers here so as not to fall. Eventually, the ship turned all the way upside down. Now, I believe I am sitting on the ceiling of this storage room.

It has been too long, and I am scared. There is pressure in this room. I feel like if I open the door to that water, I will greet death.

I am not ready to die. I am only a ninth grader at Mokpo Standard.

There is only darkness in this room, and air pressure. I am having a hard time breathing, sitting here on the ceiling.

Is anyone out there?

(gasp for air)

Can someone come get me please?

Voicemail from the The Sewol – Korean “Sinking Ferry”