Aaron strode through the night, his skin peeling and falling away in chunks as the tendrils that occupied his body burst through in coils, trying to prevent him from proceeding further. He could feel pain now too; searing agony ran rife through his body as the worms tore away his flesh and writhed tumultuously amongst his muscle fibres and neurons, their bodies scraping along ragged fibres and nerve endings sending electric shocks through his limbs, which jerked maniacally as he marched determinedly onward. The dark night sky was dousing the earth with heavy rain once more, every drop crashing down onto exposed flesh felt like a tiny explosion boring fiery holes into Aaron’s body. The soles of his feet were worn bare to the bone which scraped against the tarmacked road, loose folds of skin slapping down into puddles causing bloody splashes as he approached the Garden Lodge Motel; he was less conspicuous in the darkness now owing to the fact that most of his deathly white skin had been shed, lying in piles in his wake like a gruesome trail of breadcrumbs, and the stubborn areas that remained were now bloodied and dark. He kept to the far side of the road as he passed the motel but the fluorescent red light of its signage, and the harsh light from the attendant’s booth, glistened against the shiny tendrils that squirmed inside his open wounds; the light was dim at that distance but still illuminated his right side just enough for him to catch Elvis’ attention as he snuck past; the attendant had been more vigilant since the police had been called to investigate the murders in room 114, the guest who discovered the bodies having long left and the motel now sitting empty, and he dropped the magazine he was reading as he noticed Aaron shuffling by, staring dumbfounded at the figure, the red lights from the motel exaggerating his mutilated, bloodied flesh, the rain striking him as it fell, turning red as it splashed off of his shoulders. The clicking and scraping of the man’s feet on the concrete was audible over the sound of rain hitting the Perspex of the booth but he wore no shoes that Elvis could see. In fact, but for some dark blue-brown rags over his shoulders and black tatters hanging from his waist, he was naked. The man cast a brief glance in Elvis’ direction causing him to duck down under his desk in fear, but not before he saw the immersive darkness in the man’s eyes and instantly recognised who this was. Elvis kept low, moving to the back of his booth and into his office as the click-clacking of Aaron’s steps became quieter. He snatched up the phone and dialled the number on the card given to him by the police detective.
Aaron came across a path winding up a hill away from the roadside, it was an old cobblestone path with weeds penetrating cracks in the stones, some of which were missing, and which glistened in the rain, deflecting drop after drop onto the surrounding grass where they formed small streams that ran parallel to the path. Huge mesquite trees lined the cobbles on either side, their relatively bare branches meeting over the path creating an archway that swung in the wind like a poorly constructed bridge, shielding Aaron’s route from the moonlight and casting him further into darkness as he began his way up the hill. The stones were slippery, and the bare bones at the soles of his feet skittered over them, struggling to find grip, each step pinching exposed nerves between cobbles and bone and sending shockwaves of agony up his legs; his knees ached now, groaning with every stride, feeling swollen like they were about to eject their patellae at any moment, and his hips burned as the muscles there grew ever wearier, tearing as he pulled his legs forward one after the other. He could feel the tendrils inside him, viciously slithering amongst his muscles, hindering their function and exaggerating his pain, but he continued unwaveringly toward the chapel that sat on top of the small hill, his path only illuminated by the occasional fork of lightning overhead, the concomitant crash of thunder a deafening echo in his ears. Reaching the gate in the rickety metal fence that encircled the building Aaron pulled it open, causing a toe-curling screech from the hinges, and entered the grounds; there were no cobbles to follow here, just grass and tombstones, but he knew exactly where he was going. He made his way around the back of the church, through the mud that had been loosened by the rain and that yielded too easily under his weight, causing him to slip as he walked, steadying himself on the headstones as he passed them. He felt weaker than he had done for a long time, a result of desperation and ongoing blood loss, and took time to rest against a large gravestone at the summit of the hill, bent double and breathing heavily as rainwater flowed over him, dripping from the prominences in his face and slithering down his loose-hanging jaw. The grave against which he leant was that of a man, and it was badly worn, eroded by years of changeable weather, and poorly tended; the grass was overgrown, although now laid flat by the heavy downpour, there were no flowers, not even dead ones. The epitaph read;
Here Lies Lester Kelly
1959 – 1978
Taken Too Soon
Below the neatly engraved, ornate inscription were more words that appeared hurriedly and untidily etched;
Cometh good, so cometh the dark
Aaron felt the tendrils inside him become more vigorous, as if excited by their proximity to death, and so pushed himself wearily away from the grave against which he was leaning and began to make his way down the hill at the back of the church. There were fewer graves at the rear of the building, and the grounds fell away to a small stream at the base, running behind the chapel. The stream flowed more violently than usual given the weather, and rainwater pooled around Aaron’s feet on its way to join the torrent as he carefully made his way down. He made it half way to the stream before falling, his leading foot giving way in the slippery grass and sending him tumbling uncontrollably down. The cold, wet grass felt like he was having a thousand warts frozen off as it invaded his wounds, and his limbs and loose skin flapped wildly with his momentum until he came to an abrupt halt on his back at the bed of the stream. The grass was threadbare here, washed away by the weather and, lying half-in and half-out of the water, Aaron’s blood tinged the flow red as it passed under him. His face, turned back up to the church, was muddied from his fall, scant sprouts of grass wavering next to his mouth as he panted. He noticed something else in the mud next to his head, a small pale round dome protruding through the earth like a fleshy bubble, and slowly climbed to his knees to investigate; he straddled the small prominence as if praying before it and wiped away the dirt. He let out a cry as a face slowly appeared beneath the peat and, as he wiped away the last of the mud, he swung his head away, violently averting his gaze from the stained blonde hair and unblemished complexion as he vomited into the dirt. He recognised Melody as soon as he exposed her but his brain refused to acknowledge what he saw; her skin was grey and severely bruised at her left temple, a purple-black eruption besmirching her beauty and swelling beneath her skin. Her hair pulled easily from her scalp as he stroked it, sliding off into the mud in bloated, rotting chunks as he desperately tried to comfort her, sobbing as he did so. Her once-green eyes were open but lifeless and dark red where she had haemorrhaged into them, dirt had accumulated in their corners, and they stared past Aaron into the rain, focussed on nothing at all in a dreadful death-stare. Her expression had been frozen in one of horror, mouth open as if in mid-scream but now filled with wet soil which obscured most of her teeth. Aaron continued to stroke her face, weeping, and could no longer feel the tendrils inside him; he was overcome with despair, a void had opened up inside him and was sapping his energy from the inside. He felt weaker than ever, powerless to help his beloved wife. Her skin began to come away in oily sections as he continued to comfort the cadaver, exposing the underlying bone; her skull was broken beneath the large purple bruise, and a piece fell away into the mud with a sucking, squelching sound revealing a huge blood clot overlying her brain. Aaron scrambled for the slippery fragment of skull, desperately trying to put it back into place like a jigsaw piece when the memory of what had happened came to him. Sat upright, holding a portion of his wife’s skull, he stared into the distance as the scene played itself out inside his head; It was daytime and Mel was standing in front of him looking frightened, the memory was silent but she was clearly distressed, shouting at Aaron and holding Jemima behind her protectively as he drew nearer. The sun shone and it reflected in her blonde hair as she shook her head, crying, tears falling onto her flowery summer blouse. They were down by the stream, its clear waters shimmering in the sunlight, the reflection of the light dancing on a large grave by the water’s edge. The tears flowed down Melody’s cheeks as Aaron reached out towards her, and she pushed Jemima aside, screaming so intensely for her to run that the veins bulged in her neck. Aaron grabbed Jemima’s arm with his left hand and, with his right, took hold of his wife’s right ear and thrust her head violently into the gravestone to her left. A sickening crack penetrated the silence of the memory, but there were no other sounds even as he saw his daughter screaming, trying to pull away from his grasp, eyes wide with panic as her vision oscillated between her father and injured mother. Melody was on her knees, still conscious but clearly disoriented and bleeding from her left ear. Aaron again grabbed at her head and once more smashed it into the grave, there was another nauseating crack as Mel fell limply backwards, unconscious, mouth open and eyes rolled back into her head, her right side twitching. He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her into the middle of the river, still clasping his daughter tightly in his other hand, letting her fall into the water and placing a foot firmly in the centre of her chest as she inhaled and began to choke. Her unconscious reflexive efforts to find air were unsuccessful and after a moment or so she lay still again, unbreathing, the twitching in her limbs ceased and her eyes opened but she saw no longer. Jemima was still tugging at her father’s arm, trying to escape and avert her gaze at the same time, and he turned to her, taking hold of both of her shoulders and thrusting her down onto her back in the stream. The water wasn’t deep, and the flow wasn’t strong enough to wash Mel’s body downstream, but it consumed Jemima’s face, invading her nostrils as she lie next to her mother, holding her breath and fighting voraciously to be freed, thrashing her arms and legs to no avail. Her eyes were open and Aaron remembered her staring up at him, her gaze unwavering as her struggles became less forceful and she was forced to inhale, choking against the inrushing water at first but as her lungs slowly filled with it she gradually ceased moving completely, eyes still fixed on her father’s. He remembered looking into her eyes as she was dying and, as the life ebbed from her, he could see her face as a baby; happy, chubby and smiling expectedly at him to do something funny, not knowing of the evil that the world held, completely innocent. He saw her face drift further and further away from him as if she was sinking into the darkness of a deep sea and, as the life left her body, her bright blue eyes and smiling face slowly faded into darkness.
Aaron came to from his trance, dropping the piece of Mel’s skull and began rooting around in the mud that surrounded her body. His hands quickly found something cold and soft in the mud close by, and he hurriedly swept the mud away to find his daughter’s body, swollen and bloated buried next to her mother, distorted and ugly by the beginnings of decomposition but still indescribably beautiful to him. He collapsed listlessly into the earth between the two corpses, sobbing loudly into the dirt, his back hunched over and shaking violently as he wept; this couldn’t be his family, and he can’t have killed them, the thought filled him so completely with despair that he felt sick to his stomach. He began to pound the dirt with his fists, articulating his first words in days;
“No! Not them, no no no!”
He repeated angrily, striking the ground and grabbing at the tendrils still writhing amongst his tissues.
“Bring them back, please bring them back. I’ll do anything you want, kill anyone you want. Just bring them back! “
He sobbed the words into his own chest, addressing the worms as they wriggled inside him but gave no sign of response. Aaron waited a moment, staring at the wounds on his arms as if expecting a head worm to emerge to strike a deal, and when nothing happened he slumped heavily back into the dirt, face first with each arm outstretched, caressing his dead family. He lay for an hour, enjoying his final embrace and not caring that with each breath he was inhaling wet dirt, the damp, mossy taste filling his mouth. The rain had stopped and his wife and daughter’s skin was becoming sticky under his touch as it dried in the sun. He was utterly defeated, feeling hopeless, and wanted to join his family. Then it occurred to him that this thing, these worms, whatever they were, relied on him to do their work; without him this evil thing would cease to exist. Slowly, he removed his hands from the faces of his loved ones, a thick slime draping from his fingers as he did so, and pushed himself up from the dirt. He leant forward and tenderly kissed each of them on the forehead, liquefied flesh clinging to his lips. As he rose to his feet, the sun now shining brightly behind him, he could see the true horror of what had become of his family. He stood over them, surveying their clay-grey skin, the gyri of Melody’s brain now exposed through the collection of blood and Jemima’s veiny skin shining in the sunlight as it stretched over her bloated stomach, both of them still partly buried.
“I’m so sorry”
His voice was soft, steady and human.
“I know I can’t make this right, but I can try. I love you both so much, I’ll see you soon.”
As he made his way to the church building, the tendrils in his wounds and amongst his exposed flesh stopped wriggling and began to regress so that he now resembled a partially dissected body more than a monstrous perversion of humanity. The pain remained, and his flesh felt on fire as it burned in the sunlight, but he showed no sign as he steadily made his way to the cold stone of the chapel. His eyes, now their normal hazel colour, scanned the husk of the building, his tummy rumbling deeply as he focussed on a drainpipe halfway along the rear wall of the church.
“You just wait there, don’t go leaving just yet”
He pressed one hand against his abdomen as he made for the drainpipe, a wry smile of satisfaction distorting his dislocated jaw as he felt movement inside his stomach. His hands were slippery against the black metal as he clasped it, and his bony feet scraped painfully against the cold stone as he started to climb up to the roof. The drainpipe was still wet from the rain, and Aaron almost slipped and fell on two occasions whilst ascending to the roof, but the exposed bones in his feet made for good grip against the cement between the stones in the wall. The edge of the building was about fifteen feet high, and the roof was a pyramid of slate and stone that added a further ten feet to the height of the church. Around the pyramid was a flat stone ledge, about a metre wide, onto which Aaron hauled himself, swinging his legs up to meet his body and lying for a while on his back, exhausted from his difficult ascent. After a moment’s rest he rolled onto his front and shakily rose to his feet, the ledge boasted stone pillars at each corner of the building, each standing four feet above the ledge, and Aaron stumbled speedily into one to steady himself; he was usually fine with heights but after all he had been through and with the prospect of what he was about to do looming, he felt a little tentative. After catching his breath he stood tall and surveyed the grounds of the church, looking for a large ornate gravestone, the kind one might refer to as an obelisk, close to the building on which he stood. He found what he was looking for at the front left corner of the church, the edge closest to the gate; on top of a gigantic marble podium stood an angel, wings outstretched, holding a cross to her chest, head bowed solemnly. Aaron felt his belly once more, reassured now by the movements he felt within, and made his way sure-footedly along the ledge toward the corner above the angel. For good measure he climbed onto the pillar overlooking the grave with the angel and stood feeling the sun on his face, the pain he felt paled into insignificance at this final sensation of warmth. He closed his eyes to the treetops surrounding his perch, no longer focussed on the bright sunshine drying the leaves as it glinted off of them from the orange sky, and instead took in the reassuring sound of birdsong coming from all around him, a hundred sweet, tweeting conversations. He paused and inhaled deeply, savouring the smell of greenery after a downpour and, enjoying the promise of fun and happiness that came with each summer, Aaron dove backwards toward the marble angel below. He seemed to fall in slow motion, opening his eyes to look up into the sky he saw a dark cloud, blacker than anything he’d seen in his life and the size of a pillow, emerge from his stomach. Distressed by this evil thing’s escape, he tried to grab at it as he fell away but his hands waved helplessly through it as it hovered menacingly above him before darting toward the pyramidal roof. Dejected, Aaron turned forward to face the angel statue, expecting impact at any moment. Instead what he saw were his wife and daughter standing in a field of lush green grass, looking gleefully back up at him, arms extended. They looked alive, not as they had been in the graveyard, and were smiling cheerily up at him. He returned their smile and reached his arms out to Jemima, feeling the warm satisfaction and unrivalled happiness a parent feels when embracing their child as her arms folded around him. He did not feel his impact with the statue, his bones breaking or his skull shattering against the unforgiving marble, instead he died happily in the adoring arms of the two people he loved most.