'Romeo is bleeding'
“There he is!” Dave said as he pointed over his Sikh billionaire boss’s shoulder.
“You littal caant!” Pete said as he cranked the pressure gauge in his custom air arrow launcher. He narrowed his eyes to keep track of a wily moving target.
The scope flitted around, trying to keep track of the ragged green form as it darted from cover to cover. “Keep still you little barstard!” Pete spat. “Think you can outrun me, you little facka?”
“He’s over there!” Dave screeched as he leant on the raised lip of the gun store roof.
Pete tried to steady his breathing; he tunnelled his vision down the scope of the rifle. A quick flicker of light and a sharp piercing feeling. Pete was sent reeling off his makeshift perch on the roof.
“What was that?” Dave said.
Pete patted himself down for injuries “Something came right at me.” He readied himself again at his perch.
“There!” Dave screamed. A lithe figure slipped through a gap in the wall of milling living corpses.
“You fuckin’ what?’” Pete said as he gritted his teeth, pulling hard on the trigger of the arrow launcher. With a satisfying release of pressure, an arrow soared into the crowd, just as the figure disappeared.
“Did you get ’im?” Dave said.
“I dunno,” Pete said as he lifted the rifle up and rested it against the wall.
“Who the fuck was that?” Dave said, feeling a little buzzed and drained from the excitement. As if, for a fleeting moment, the shoe was on the other foot, he glanced back to the spot where he’d last seen the cornered animal through his binoculars. He had to catch his breath despite not having moved an inch. “Hah, does that one kinda look like Burt Reynolds to you?” he said as he looked out over the shambling corpses on the other side of the street.
“Another caant like us, I reckon. Didn’t get a good look at ’im,” Pete said as he leant against the lip of the roof. He took out a hunting pipe and filled it with tobacco, lit it and took some measured pulls on the horn lip piece, with a faraway look on his face. He listened to the sound of his own heartbeat. As he put pressure on the wall, the other side cracked a little and pieces of mortar and brick crumbled.
Unnoticed by Dave and Pete, lodged a good four or five inches into the mortar was a shiny and very sharp-looking butterfly knife.
A sickly light trickled through the gaps in the shutters of an upmarket house on the more affluent side of town. The house was still and looked vacant in the bluing light of the evening. The night was on its way, bringing a much needed stillness to the busy town. The house was old-looking, reminiscent of some older New England town houses: a two storey affair, made of retouched white wood and roofed with grey tiles. The windows were partitioned with the same white wood. All the curtains and shutters were drawn.
Inside the house a deathly cold gripped the anterooms and the hall. A musty smell the owners must have gotten used to permeated the rooms. And the floorboards creaked like those in an old, haunted house.
The stairs were fairly grand, made of an elegant hardwood. They were cold as century-old bone to the touch. The faded blue light gave them a dreamlike quality, as if the whole house were some sort of display or diorama meant for looking but not touching.
Nevertheless, something lived there. Something stirred in the dull blue light. Little feet slapped the icy staircase as they descended, creating the slightest creaking noises on the old steps.
A little girl, maybe five or six, in a frilly night gown, descended the stairs, like a ghost. She held a stuffed iguana close to her little chest. She peered into the inky blue stillness of her home and saw a spark of light. There was a warm glow building in the furthest corner of her house, along with whispers and hissing sounds and a strange smell.
She tiptoed down the stairs, trying to make as little noise as possible. As she got closer the angered hissing noises continued. She could hear a few choice words and laboured breathing as she approached the light source.
The light was coming from her living room. A small fire had been stoked in the old, wood-burning fireplace. There was a man sitting in front of the fire talking to himself angrily.
“I’ll get you, you asshole, you just wait! I know where you are! I’ll get you and I’ll-ergh!” The man muttered to himself as he nursed a wound in his shoulder. A bloody arrow had been tossed onto the hardwood floor by the fireside. He sat on a large green army coat in front of the fire, rocking back and forth like a caged animal, a blood-stained kitchen knife clutched in his hand.
“Santa, is that you?” The little girl said as she saw his scraggly beard and long hair. “It’s a little early. Where are all the presents?”
“Presents?” Carpenter said, furrowing his brow in a confused daze. Caught off guard by the little girl in her pyjamas, he gripped the knife tighter. “I don’t have any presents.”
“Oh,” the girl said, taking it surprisingly well. “Well, could you help me?” she said as she tightened her face a little. “My mommy and daddy are sick.” Her voice caught.
“Shhhhh,” Carpenter said. He put his finger up to his mouth. “Take me to them.” He smiled broadly, exposing his yellowed teeth. “Santa has something for them.” He stood up shakily, sliding the knife underneath his belt.
“Are we there yet?” Sunday felt the breeze of the cool evening coming on and awoke. Her head rested on TJ’s warm, flabby back, which was damp with a heavy, nervous sweat.
The bike hissed and gurgled as if it was on its last legs. It struggled from the combined weight of its passengers and the little bump it had had earlier. TJ stopped it and forgot the kickstand. The bike jerked to one side and they both came to rest on the soft, unkempt grass of TJ’s front lawn. The evening winding down, they felt like a pair of bear skin rugs rolled out on a hardwood floor.
They lay there on the grass as the evening twilight mingled over head. The smell of exhaust fumes and hot rubber filled their lungs as the bike popped and squealed into unlife. TJ started to laugh. A thick belly laugh, his eyes closed, head on the grass, just laughing. Sunday looked over and watched his belly rise and fall. She smiled a little and rolled back onto the grass. Her little chortle turned into a full blown corpsing fit. She rolled onto her side and hissed in pain as she put pressure on her arm.
She turned back over and saw TJ’s doughy eyes sweeping over her as he sat up on the grass next to her.
“Yeah, I’m fine. My arm, I think it’s broken or something,” Sunday said. She tried to sound like she gave a shit about her own extremities, if just to put TJ’s restless mind at ease while his ass got damp and cold on his front lawn.
“Shit,” TJ said.
“Did we leave the door open?” Sunday said, feeling a little light headed.
“What?” TJ squeaked. He felt sudden showers of sweat coming from the back of his neck and his fragrant pits. He looked over at his front door and it was indeed ajar.
He peeled off across the lawn, like a man half his size, and burst through his front door.
“MOM? MOOOMMMMM? MOOOOOOMMMMM!” he screamed into his dormant house. The air felt still and stagnant. None of the lights were on. The house was dark, except for the evening twilight. TJ tore up the stairs like a man possessed.
Sunday walked through the front door slowly, as if coming home from a long day of work. Closing the door, she put the hall light on and paused. There was a mirror in the hall and, as she turned the light on, she saw herself. She sighed a little and turned away. Her face was drawn and bruised and bloody, and she felt worse than she looked.
She put the kitchen light on and sat at the kitchen table, nursing her arm in the cold room. And she waited for a scream that never came. Eventually she stood up and walked towards the stairs, cradling her arm. She walked deliberately, without turning on any more lights as she went, like someone expecting to stumble across a burglar in the dark.
The door to TJ’s mom’s bedroom creaked open. Sunday eased into the room. It looked empty, untouched. The only sound was the buzzing of an energy-saving bulb and a faint sobbing.
She came around the side of the bed. The closet was open. There was a chair with ropes strewn across it. They were neatly untied, not gnawed or cut. She saw the bed. TJ’s sword lay on top of the smoothly laid sheets, at a jaunty angle. She saw TJ first, then, cradled in his arms, his mother: no blood, no brains. His mom touched his face wearily as tears streamed down his chubby, reddened, neckbearded face.
“It’s me. Nothing’s wrong. Momma’s fine. Just kind of hungry. Yogalates really takes it out of you. How long was I in the closet? Never mind. I’ll whip us up something to eat,” TJ’s mom said between yawns. She sat up and looked at Sunday. “Oh, hello.”
“So you’re OK? Nothing happened when we left?” TJ chimed in.
“I didn’t even know you’d left. Did you get something to eat? No, nothing I can remember. There was a strange noise. But I haven’t heard it for a while. I just thought it was you, getting a snack or something from your room,” TJ’s mom said drearily.
TJ’s heart sank as he heard an unfamiliar tussling of feet in his room and a dull, sawing sound. It sounded like someone taking a hacksaw to some hard cheese.
“Yeah, like that” His mother said.
“Wait here.” TJ stood, picking his sword up off his mother’s bed in stoic silence. His face hardened. Trying not to do another Scooby doo-esque, loud, gulping sound, he marched out of the room.
“There’s something in your room,” Sunday whispered. She’d ducked out onto the landing without him noticing. Her voice sent a shock wave all the way to his sphincter, which he tightened as if he was trying to create fusion in his boxer shorts. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“I can handle it,” he said. He opened his eyes half-way, looking at his bedroom door. His sword rattled in its sheath.
Her arms crossed awkwardly, as she cradled her injured arm, Sunday leant against the banister in the darkened hallway. Light was coming from the crack under TJ’s mom’s door and from the kitchen downstairs. She watched TJ walk towards his bedroom door.
The sawing noises stopped and a heart-rending, fumbling noise came from under TJ’s door: stumbling feet and a gut-wrenching, wet, scratching noise, like a drunk trying to wake up. A thumping, latching sound came from beyond the door. TJ and Sunday breathed shallowly until the noises stopped.
Before TJ could think about it, his hand was on his doorknob. It was cold and felt wet in the dark. He turned it, painfully slowly, until the door clicked and opened with a greasy pop. He flung the door wide. The window was open and the wind slammed the door back against the wall. The only light came from the window. A dull moon coughed in the corner of the window shaking like a methadone addict.
The wind turned the blood in TJ’s veins into ice. His feet were rooted just outside his door. He flicked the light on.
His room looked like it’d been through a wood chipper twice: scratches on his walls, blood, his posters shredded, his bed tossed, his pillows and comforter torn apart, feathers, more blood. His little, bevelled TV had been smashed into oblivion. His room looked like like a giant hamster cage, all his clothes shredded. There were pieces of leather from his shoes, shards of denim, a chewed ‘My Little Pony’ poster on his floor and more blood. There were even scratches on the ceiling. The lamp shade on his light was hanging on by a thread. All his DVD cases lay opened and eviscerated. Chips of discs and the guts of his games console were splayed out over the floor, covered in yet more blood.
All this desolation became background noise as TJ saw that his red chest was untouched but for a few light scratches. TJ crossed to the open window. He looked out into the woods behind his house: empty and calm and black as pitch. He looked down at his backyard, lit up by the light coming from the kitchen. There was nothing there. He closed the window. And turned to the chest.
Floor boards creaked softly under little feet. The house was still cold. A rhythmic and melancholy banging could be heard from the top of the stairs: a soft, anaemic banging, like a tree tapping on the window in the wind.
The upstairs of the old house was like a meat locker. The little girl, in her night dress, saw her breath hanging in the air and thought about her warm, lonely bed. Her bare feet were like those of a stone cherub, poking out of a window of a gothic church. She tiptoed across the solid wood floors, pulling the monster she had found around by the finger.
His feet made a crunching sound as his bread wrapper shoes made contact with the floor. She giggled as she saw them and him, as he was without his coat. In the dim light of the moon, he was silly-looking, with his scraggly beard and unkempt hair. His shirt was ratty and bloody and torn. He looked skinny and worn, like an extra in a Charles Dickens film adaptation.
He cracked a smile, giving a small breathy laugh at himself, and felt a swelling feeling in his chest as he heard her laugh.
It felt like the banging was building as they got closer. Maybe, whatever it was, it could feel their warmth or feel their vibrations through the old floorboards.
“They’re in there?” Carpenter whispered.
“Uh huh.” She nodded and pointed, squeezing his finger with her other hand. “They locked themselves in there. They told me to stay away, but they didn’t know I had a key. I hid it.” The little girl fumbled under her night dress. A chain glinted in the dark as a shred of moonlight snuck in. Hanging from her neck, on a chain, was a small key.
The little girl held it out, pinching the top of the chain. Carpenter took it in his hand and looked at her little hand compared to his for a moment, before ripping the key off the necklace.
“Wait at the top of the stairs,” he whispered.
“Hnn” She nodded, chewing her bottom lip, but didn’t disagree. She walked underneath his lanky arm, clutching her little iguana plushie. He lifted his bony arm to let her through.
She stood at the top of the stairs, looking lonelier than a moment ago and clutching the toy for warmth. Still she looked unaffected by the cold, malignant air that had claimed the top floor of her house.
He grinned and raised a finger to his face.
“Shhhhhh!” he said as he slid the little key into the door.
A delicate clicking sound. It couldn’t have been louder than a mouse fart, but it dented the brittle air of the house and the banging stopped. Carpenter’s fingers fluttered around the handle of the kitchen knife, where it rested in his tatty belt. He began to apply pressure to the shiny copper doorknob. A single thread of moonlight pissed in through a crack in the shutter at the end of the hall. As the shutters vibrated from the wind, it flailed about as if it was being dragged behind a pickup truck after shotgun wedding.
A pleasant tingling in the back of his throat. It rose like the cusp of wave in some bargain basement copy of Beethoven’s Ninth, played on a Casio keyboard. It built to an intoxicating cacophony. He felt his hands moving on their own, his whole body numb and loose, as if he was sleep-walking. His hand slipped drunkenly off the doorknob, slick with his sweat and the door gaped open, like a silent scream.
The sounds of fumbling fast feet rushed over the wooden floor. A crescendo of hungry heels slapped against the cold floorboards. The little girl’s heart giddy-upped something fierce, but she stayed at the top of the stairs, watching, frozen with a sense of morbid fascination, and secure in her choice of monster.
Carpenter breathed deep, high off the dank smell of the refurbished old wood and the darkness building at his heels.
A grotesque head lunged around the door, looking like a Punch and Judy show put on for an audience of ghouls and necrophiliacs, itching in their Indian-style sitting positions. Carpenter snapped the door closed on its neck: a snake’s mouth snapping shut. The door pinned it in place, its limbs flailing fruitlessly. It got one arm through the door before he could slam it on the creature. It feebly attempted to grab up all the air in the cold hallway. The pressure from the door stemmed the flow of pumping blood.
Now it was trapped, he could get a good look at it: it was a woman; emphasis on ‘was’. Her head had caved in. A lover’s quarrel perhaps? She had a short, dark bob, matted with dried blood. Pulpy, viscous brain matter, like hair gel, surrounded a hole the size of a child’s fist. Her features were obscured by the blood, which was all over her face, in her eyes, and had gone a cloudy red colour. Her mouth opened and closed like that of an animatronic dog on a fairground ride. A cold wheezing sound coming from her chest.
Before he could get maudlin, Carpenter pinned her head to the side of the doorframe with his hand. Keeping his foot on the door to stop her from moving, he buried the kitchen knife in a nice soft spot behind her ear. She went rigid for a moment. He snapped the blade off at the plastic handle and she rag-dolled, like someone ripped out all her bones at once. For a moment he imagined she broke into glass shards as she hit the cold, wood floor, but she just lay there. As he looked up from her still corpse, he saw the little girl’s bare feet, no longer standing at the top of the stairs.
She stood over what he assumed was her mother and looked at her as if she was trying to identify the body. Still clutching her little plush iguana.
“That’s not her; that monster stole my mommy,” she said as she sniffed with almost-teenage angst.
“Yeah, I thought I told you to stay over there.”
She looked up at the dishevelled man and cringed a little before taking a few large theatrical steps backwards, to her spot at the top of the stairs.
Carpenter prodded the corpse with his bread bag covered feet. He opened the door a little again and pushed the dead woman back through it with his foot. As he edged her in, he caught a glimpse of the dimly lit master bedroom.
A night lamp had been knocked over. The room was trashed. All the sheets had been pulled off the bed. Blood and feathers were everywhere, as if she had gotten hungry enough to eat the mattress. The little girl’s father lay face down beside the bed. His gnawed organs were soaking into the rug next to the nightstand.
His neck had been chewed all the way down to the bone. His head was only attached by a thin flap of skin and a few useless-looking veins. Vicious stretch marks around his neck made it look as if his head had almost been ripped off. Looking back at the little woman at his feet, Carpenter stifled a cold chuckle before closing the door again.
He locked the door with a satisfying click and, turning to the little girl, he pulled the key from the door. He held his hand out as if he was feeding the birds in ’Mary Poppins.’
The girl wrestled with an anguished smile and walked over to get her key. He grinned like a grotesque and dropped the key on the cold wood floor just as she reached for it.
She screwed up her face and sighed with an exasperated tone as he ruffled her hair. He chortled and licked his yellow teeth.
“What’s your name, little girl?”
She looked up at him as she fumbled in the dark for the key. “My name’s Laura. What’s your name?”