SHADOW

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CHAPTER 28

WHO WAS THIS person?

How did he even get into their den? Or was it possible that he’d been there all along? The alley was a dead end, fenced on either side with cutting barbed wires; no way could anyone get there without coming through the front and going past them.

The boys craned their eyes and stared at the shadowy character to make certain the night and misty weather weren’t playing tricks; that in actual fact there was a person standing there.

The air was still and eerier. A thick rain cloud sailed across the night sky, momentarily crossing the path of the bright moonlight and casting an uncanny gloom in the den. For a moment, the figure seemed to disappear, fading into the night in that instant. But the next minute, he was there again, staring at each of them in the same cold, chilling manner.

“Hey, dude!” called the leader of the gang after a while, putting a step forward and manning up to the situation. “Who you?”

Silence.

“That you, Budd?” said another boy uncertainly, throwing up the name of one of their friends not there presently. “Stop fooling around, man.”

Chilling silence still.

Maybe it was a cop, thought the boys, as they grew even more nervous. But why wasn’t he saying anything?

No, not a cop.

Then the person on the couch got up. To the sheer surprise of the gang, he seemed quite large, almost a giant in size and looming over them like some grim undertaker. He began to move in a way they couldn’t make sense of immediately. It wasn’t anything normal; rather, it was as though he multiplied himself the same way a single mold can reproduce itself on stale bread, becoming dozens overnight.

That was the feeling the boys got as they blinked and craned their eyes in the foreboding blackness around them. And when they noticed what was happening, it drove the fear of God into their hearts.

The very darkness around the stranger seemed to be alive! It was growing, oozing, breathing ominously and hissing like abhorrent serpents from the pit of hell!

What the…!” the big boy holding a knife began to say…

The metal lid from a refuse bin in the corner, with its serrated and jagged edge, shot forward like a flying saucer and pounded into the boy’s throat, bursting his windpipe and almost severing his neck in the process. The boy gagged in surprise, staggered backward haltingly, the knife dropping from his limp grasp.

With stark horror in his eyes, he clutched his injured neck with the blood spurting all over his chest and onto the floor in great big slobs. He wobbled around for a second, tried to speak but only gasp of air came out of his mouth, letting out an incoherent, wheezing sound from his lacerated throat. Finally, he dropped dead on his knees before landing with his face on the floor.

It had happened too quickly for the others to actually see. Because the den was cut off from the street and pretty much cloaked in darkness, only a rare section of it was partially brightened by reflections from the moonlight or headlights from passing cars. When the big boy fell in a heap with blood gathering in a pool around the body, the rest of the gang was jolted back to life then, shaken to their bones and perplexed at the gory sight.

For a brief moment they were befuddled and uncertain of the next course of action to follow. One of them shrank back in panic and dropped the pocket knife he’d been holding, letting out a low, terrified squeal like a girl, all the toughness gone from his bowels. Then he backed up against the mesh-wired fence, where, before he realized it, a series of barbed wire snaked from all over the fence and latched onto his clothes and boots.

As the boy kicked and screamed dreadfully, the slashing wires wrapped around his body tightly, strung him up on the fence and chewed deeply into his flesh. With every movement he made, like serpents constricting a prey, the coils of barbed wire fastened around him tighter, cutting deeper through flesh. Blood drained steadily from all over his body.

Hanging up on the fence with his limbs splayed out, throat and bodies slashed through, he was dead within a few minutes, his body resembling a filleted fish stripped of its outer flesh that someone left out to dry in the sun.

The girls, screaming shrilly now, had quickly sprung to their feet in the horrific pandemonium, utterly dismayed but yet thanking their stars for the moment of respite. They dashed out of the den with their shoes and handbags left behind, running as fast as they could in the opposite direction and disappearing into the streets.

In the alley, the darkness kept hissing insipiently. It was truly alive in a creepy, otherworldly sort of way. The shadow was everywhere, heavy and unnerving, crawling towards the boys with long, diabolic tentacles like the thick roots of an ancient tree, writhing and wriggling forward on the concrete floor like huge worms.

With two down, one of the remaining boys suddenly jerked and came under a great fit spasm. He was stiff in a twinkle as an overpowering yet invisible force took control of his body and slammed him onto the side wall of the alley, almost knocking him out.

The boy gnashed with difficulty, tried to heave himself up from the ground, to get up on his feet. But he fell on his knees, subdued by an unseen power that had then gained control of his body. The look of consternation and desperate helplessness in his expression was stark. Standing nearby, the other boy stared wild-eyed with bewilderment.

“Hey, man!” he quipped uncertainly. “What’s going on with ya? Get up!”

The boy couldn’t speak even if he wanted to; his lips were sealed so tight it seemed there wasn’t a mouth there in the first place. Only the look in his eyes gave an idea how much physical torture he was enduring right then, until he fell, face-down, in a dead heap.

And then, mechanically, he lifted his head from the hard surface, turned slowly as though he was about to prop himself up as before, only for him to suddenly bang his head on the floor with such brutal force that might knock anyone out.

The result was a bruised, instantly swollen forehead. The boy groaned in anguish, but couldn’t control himself however as he did it again; smashed his head against the concrete floor. There was a dull, cracking sound; the flesh cracked wide open like some over-ripe fruit. More blood spilled out, covering half his face in a moment.

“Stop it!” cried the other boy hoarsely, terror-stricken. His gaze shifted rapidly between his tortured friend sprawled on the floor and the strange figure in the dark, knowing intuitively that there was a mysterious link between the two.

The head pounded the pavement a few more times, more vigorously. The skull cracked, and small bits of flesh hung loosely from his forehead and jaw; his entire face was a mess; the nose was crushed and lips busted. Still, he couldn’t stop slamming his head down on the floor, torturing himself as it seemed.

“Dear Lord! Stop it!” the other boy kept crying. “What’re you doing?!”

Finally, it was over. The head stopped pounding the floor; only the dying boy’s lower limbs were jerking intermittently at this point as he drew his last breath. A short distance behind the body, the other boy stood rigid, his expression torn between horror and nervous relief that it was over. It must have been tortuous for him as well to watch his friend bash his own head on the floor.

Who could ever do a thing like that to themselves?

Then suddenly, the body jerked animatedly and began to move again!

The zombie-like boy on the ground started to claw his way forward, awkwardly pulling himself along on his belly like an insect with broken appendages. When he got beside the remains of the first boy with the slashed windpipe, he reached out tremulously and took the knife beside the body.

Then slowly and agonizingly, as though fighting to break free from the force compelling him to destroy himself, the boy turned face upward, laying on his back, and swiftly plunged the flat, three-inch blade into his left eye, popping it like cherry. Blood spurted and rushed down the side of his face. His body jerked and kicked one last time in spastic attack before he became finally still.

The other boy let out a shrill and horrendous cry at once, hardly believing what he was witnessing. It seemed unreal, like something from a sick movie. At that point, it was very evident that he had peed in his pants.

That was when he suddenly had the presence of mind to flee for dear life. But he stumbled and tripped on the bin cover on the floor as soon as he turned to run, spraining his ankle in the process. He cried in pain, swearing loudly, and was scrambling to his feet again when the darkness reached out with several wiggling tentacles, coiled around his body and dragged him back into the den. Now trapped in the belly of the shadows, the boy felt the tentacles slithering all over his body and up his sleeves.

With nervous, terrified, whimpering breath, he lowered his eyes to see; what he saw everywhere around where he stood was a vicious army of black soldier ants converged in an impossible mass.

And climbing quickly up his legs, stinging him painfully with a force that raced up his brain, cutting his skin with razor-sharp pincers and stingers, the ants began to eat the boy alive. The boy knew it was the darkness; the darkness was cursed, and he shrieked hoarsely as the mass of ants covered his limbs and torso, quickly inching upwards to his face. The ants were an overwhelming horde, spreading mercilessly to cover his entire body from foot to head in an instant.

Then the ant-covered boy fled out into the silent, deserted street, screaming madly. Anyone who saw him then might easily mistake him for a demon unleashed from the darkest pits of hell, and would generally run in the other direction.

“Arrghhhhh!” he shouted. It was a gut-retching scream. “HELP ME!”

Within seconds he was transformed into a grisly, walking zombie, with the insects nibbling away on every tissue on his body, virtually harvesting his skin and organs, stripping him down to his bones bit by bit.

By the time the ant-covered gangster collapsed on the ground in the middle of the street a hundred yard or so from the den, under the weight of the merciless ants, he had already stopped screaming.

Through his gaping, twisted mouth the army of vicious ants crawled down his throat in their hundreds and through his nostrils, ears and eyes as well, burrowing a bloody path that led all the way to his brain and other internal organs!

Lights out.

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