He sits in the bell tower: watching, waiting; scenting the air.
It has been far too long since his last meal, not because he hungers, but because he craves. So many years of eating spoiled meat, the rotted flesh of the dead; so much time held in subjugation, fearing the wrath of a god that does not exist – these things no longer shackle him, he no longer recognizes a master other than his own desire. The invasion of his privacy, his sanctuary, after the last frenzy came to light has forced him to stay his hand, to crawl back into the warren beneath the ground to avoid unwanted attention; as well as forced an unnatural silent abandonment of his home. This is his true birthplace – the place he shed the bonds of superstition and started living for himself; he is loath to leave it.
So he sits in the bell tower of the old church that boarders his domicile and he waits.
A fog lays heavy upon the ground this night, cloaking all but the nearest object, masking all but the loudest sound – but not to his senses. He sees and hears with a sharpness the pathetic human rabble can’t even comprehend. Frustration and anger setting in, he is about to descend from his perch when he hears it…
“Come on! I know you’re scared, but do you want to go back and let him beat you again?” The boy’s hushed voice asks, “I’m not gonna let him hurt me again, and I don’t wanna let him hurt you.”
Her small hand trembling in his, one only slightly larger than the other, she looks to her older brother through the mist with tears running over her chubby, flushed cheeks. “No… I don’ wanna let Uncle hurt you or me no more. But Mommy and Daddy said we should stay there. That man read it from the special paper. The paper that said Uncle was s’posed to take care of us until they came back.” Tucking her head into the dirty teddy bear she clutches in the crook of her arm, she begins to sob – small feet trying to keep pace with her brother.
“Look, Mom and Dad aren’t coming back. That man with the paper said they are dead – do you know what that means? Dead!” Hearing her wail even louder, he stops for a moment to kneel in front of her. “Look, I’m sorry I yelled at you, and I’m sorry I said mom and dad are dead so mean like that, but it’s the truth – I know you don’t want it to be true, I don’t want it to be true, but it is. So now it’s just you and me, and we gotta protect ourselves.”
“Uncle is s’posed to protect us…” she shouts, spittle flying from her swollen pink lips.
Jumping up and clamping a hand over her mouth, he tells her to hush. Tells her that if anyone hears them, they’ll be sent back to Uncle’s house and he’ll beat them for trying to run away. He tells her he’s bringing her to say goodbye to their mom and dad before finding them a new safe home where they don’t have to worry about being afraid of a backhand that will tear her cheek open, or a strap that will leave him too sore to sit for days. Gently rubbing his thumb over her injured face, he sees it begin to bleed again. “C’mon,” he yanks her small arm out of anger; anger at himself, anger at their parents for dying and leaving them on their own. “We’re doing this and you had better stop crying about it or I won’t let you say goodbye to Mom and Dad. Do you understand?” This last statement hushes her bawling, and she nods her head as hiccups and quiet shudders escape with her heaving chest and still watering eyes.
Feeling ashamed of scaring her into silence, he puts his head down and starts walking once more.
Listening all the while, the Ghoul’s quills vibrate with the stuttering rhythm of her nearly imperceptible weeping. They are headed his way; where else would dear old Mom and Dad be if not in his burial ground? One clawed nail rap-tap-taps on the exterior metal of the bell before scratching its way down the surface, sending out an eerie wail of protest from the bronze. He begins making his way to the ground.
“I can’t go no more,” she protests as she plunks herself down upon the sidewalk.
“We’re almost there,” he replies as he pulls on her arm trying to get her to stand. “I told you to put on sneakers not those silly shoes. Now, come on, get up.”
“I like my pretty shoes, momma gave them to me! She said they were my princess shoes!” The bear is thrown; her arms cross her chest in protest. Looking into her face, he can see he’s made another mistake; her lips are curling, cheeks puffing up, and eyes beginning to squint for yet another outburst.
“Shh.” Finger to his lips, he bends down. “I’ll carry you and you don’t have to worry about walking. Okay?” he pleads, hoping she won’t start screaming this close to their destination.
From the fog, another voice answers, “Let me. I’m much stronger and I believe where you are headed is just over to the left.” Both children freeze in terror, trying to peer through the dense fog to see who is addressing them.
Slowly, walking with a paced gate, a hunched figure begins to emerge. Holding the teddy bear out in front of it, it speaks to them once again. “I have your toy animal, would you like it back? And if you are tired, I can easily carry the both of you.” He comes into partial view – the boy pisses himself, the girl begins to giggle.
“Are you a giant talking puppy?”
The hair along his spine bristles in protest, “No child, I am not a giant puppy. I am something entirely other. But I can pretend to be a puppy if you’d like?” Sensing the boy’s need to flee, the creature reaches out a hand and lays it heavily on his shoulder. Addressing the little girl once more, he inquires, “Would you like to ride on me the rest of the way so that your pretty shoes don’t hurt your feet? You can pretend I’m a puppy, I don’t mind.” He grins, being sure to keep his lips sealed, hiding his teeth.
The girl leaps from the ground, and after reclaiming her teddy bear, climbs upon him. Gritting his teeth at the indignity, he allows the grin to slip as he stares the boy in the eye.
“Okay puppy, let’s go,” she kicks his flanks with her wooden orthopedic shoes and clutches tiny fistfuls of his highly sensitive hair. Bearing the humiliation, he nearly drags the boy along as they proceed to the graveyard.
Reaching the field-stone wall, he bounds over with the one child holding firmly to his back while tossing the boy onto the grass. Retrieving him once more, the Ghoul asks for the name of their parents.
The little girl pipes up that her mommy’s name is Rose as she pulls and stretches his skin with tiny digging fingers. Finding his humor for this game fading fast, he draws the boy close to his face and, with much malice in his tone, asks again for their parents name. The boy replies that it is Rose – their last name is Rose. Their mother is Christina and their father is Benjamin.
Breathing fetid breath into the boy’s face, he mocks, “I guess that makes you little Bennjie then, doesn’t it?”
“His name is Christopher… he was named after mommy. Do you want to know my name? Do ya? Do ya, puppy?” The growl that issues from his throat is not intended, but he does not bother to cut it short, either. The small girl stops laughing and becomes still. With his free hand, he reaches around and plucks her from his back. Lifting the boy with in his other hand, he begins to bound toward the portion of the cemetery where they may be interred.
Reaching the proper area, he slows and asks the boy where their marker is. There is no response. He glances down and sees the boy’s vacant stare. “Well, point then if you are too much a dullard to speak in my grasp.” The boy motions slightly with his head; the creature nods as he recalls the planting of the Roses’ and their elegant yet modest gravestone. Striding to where they rest, he tosses both children to the ground.
“Here you are children, reunited with Mommy and Daddy once again. I believe I overheard you discussing saying goodbye to them before moving on, is that correct, Bennjie?”
Rushing to her bother to clasp her arms around his neck, the little girl defiantly states, “I told you his name is not Bennjie! His name is Christopher!” Her face is red once more, in anger this time. “You’re just a big meanie – a monster that no one likes!”
A full grin splits the Ghoul’s face this time, his teeth glinting with saliva. The girl stares, not comprehending.
“I beg your pardon, my sweet one. I’ll ask again. Christopher, is this or is this not the grave of your parents?” He takes one knee before the children, placid, calm. Christopher nods once.
With lighting speed, the demon whirls and punches a fist through the packed earth, through the lid of the uppermost casket and rips dear mommy from the grave. Her putrescent corpse drips a trail of pealing tissue and carries a noxious fume as he holds it before them. Both stare in terror.
“Well go on, give mommy a kiss goodbye. That’s what you came here for, isn’t it? To say goodbye… here is your chance. You don’t want it? Don’t you think Mommy would like a hug and a kiss before you ungrateful little shits disobey her and your father’s wishes? Hmm?” He growls, “No takers,” and flashed his fangs in full display.
“Fine, I’ll just give your Mommy a goodbye kiss for you.” And with that, he turns and bites clean through the front portion of her skull, ripping the still clinging sinew and tissue away with a horrendous sucking sound amid the crunching of bone.
Turning back, he leers at both children before spitting their mother’s face onto the ground at their side.
The little girl begins to screech hysterically while clutching her brother. With a flick of his forefinger, he silences her by sending her tiny body tumbling several graves away. The boy has still not moved; he sits frozen, gaping at his decaying mother.
“Damn!” the Ghoul declares as he tosses the corpse at the boy’s feet. He stares at the small girl, hoping he hasn’t killed her. He detests eating dead flesh. After a moment or two, he sees slight movement and hears the beginnings of a groan. As the faint groan develops to a moan, adrenaline courses through him. In a leap, he is upon the child. He lifts her by her head and with two strides is back at her brother’s side.
She screams hysterically for Christopher to help her while clutching her auburn capped head. Growing tired of her ceaseless kicking and the cacophony emitting from such a small mouth, the creature starts to squeeze her cranium until she can no longer screech. The kicking – now only a spastic jerking motion. Easing his grip, her body relaxes but her feet continue their odd peddling.
Holding the child before his gruesome, viscera covered face, the Ghoul asks the little girl to tell him her name. Her blank stare gives him the answer he seeks – the child is no longer capable of comprehension, the pressure on her skull too great; it has deadened her brain. Wide eyed like a porcelain doll, she stares back at him, drool puddling in her gaping mouth, and overflowing her lower lip.
Without removing his eyes from the little girl, he asks Christopher to tell him her name. Listlessly Christopher replies, “Deborah. Her name is Deborah, but everyone calls her Orie.” The monster lets out a resounding cackle, leans forward and delicately pinches Orie’s pink tongue between his front teeth. Once he has a firm hold on it, he slowly pulls backward until it, and a portion of her esophagus, tears free from her tiny body. With a slapping sound, it strikes his chest. Slowly, sucking bite by sucking bite, he consumes the delicate morsel. The drool now runs red with blood.
Bending down in front of Christopher, the creature asks if the boy would like to say goodbye to his sister. Christopher turns his head away.
The Ghoul bites into Orie’s face as though it were a ripe tomato. Juice spurts in all directions. Holding the small body to his mouth, he sucks it dry until there is no more fluid to take. Wanting to get to the organs before they cool, he rips the stomach cavity open and begins plucking them out one by one; the smallest he grabs in handfuls like raisins. After finally sucking the bones clean of their marrow, he tosses them to the side and turns his attention back to Christopher once more.
Sounds echo in the distance, Uncle must have discovered them missing and assumed they’d run to the cemetery.
The blood smeared visage before Christopher speaks to him again. “You know your legs are useless. You know they, and your spine, were shattered on the grave markers as we traveled to this place, yet you didn’t tell your sister even when she begged you to save her. Why? Why let her die thinking you didn’t care?”
“Does it matter?”
Considering the boy, the Ghoul reaches out and rips off his left leg, then the right. He laps the blood pouring from the arteries, then just as with the girl, he slices the stomach and chest cavity open. The child’s heart beats at an alarming rate, his breath rapid and shallow, his lungs gasping for air as his mind tries to process what his body can no longer feel. Looking the demon in the eyes, he gasps his final words.
“At least I won’t go to waste, huh?”
With his hand wrapped around the boy’s heart, the beast replies, “No, you certainly will not. The trouble you children have brought me will force me back into the warrens for a bit. But you and your sister made for a scrumptious snack.” Leering in pleasure, he rips the heart from the boy’s chest, devours it whole, then fades back into the fog.
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