Cometh The Dark

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Prologue

1978

Rebecca Myers awoke gradually. She was aware that she was awake though her eyes were still closed, and she enjoyed the stillness she felt around her; she lay on her back on the soft mattress, her form sinking slightly into the foam so that it felt like the bed was gripping her sides, nestling her and keeping her safe. The sheets draped over her had reached the same temperature as her naked body, and she couldn’t tell where her skin ended and the sheets began, the same was almost true of the mattress and Rebecca found herself in a cacophony of comfort.

The perfect feeling, she thought.

A scent meandered around her nostrils, misting its way across the philtrum of her upper lip and igniting her olfactory bulbs. It was a familiar smell, somewhat metallic with a hint of petrochemicals, and made Rebecca imagine someone nearby readying a petrol-powered lawnmower for an assault on a summer-long-grown lawn. The thought of summer brought a smile to her lips, remembering family outings to Maine, swimming and jumping off of jetties with her cousins, she swept her tongue across her upper lip, eyes still closed, as if trying to taste the memory that had been laid down by this subtle but heady aroma.

All around her seemed still, the room was almost silent except for the occasional sound of a car distantly cruising past, and in her state of blind contentment she found she could almost omit these sounds from her sensory cortex, leaving her completely alone with her perfect feeling and her memories. Yet she didn’t feel alone, she could feel a presence sharing the room with her, not necessarily a maleficent one but she had the distinct feeling that something was lying dormant close to where she lay. Thoughts of what this might be dissipated as she became aware of a dull ache in her groin, this was overlaid by a stinging sensation in her vagina; it wasn’t utterly unpleasant but it felt like the kind of sting one experiences in their nose when swallowing too much wasabi, only it was in her loins. Honestly, she thought, it felt like she’d had an enthusiastic lover aggressively pounding her for hours on end.

That’s when she remembered the guy from the bar, Lewis or Leslie, no Lester, that was it. She’d been out drinking at Pitcher-Palooza, her most local, and cheapest, cocktail bar, where “pitchers are scripture”. The place was a dive, really, but Rebecca liked it because there were no pretences; no one judged you for who you were, how you looked, nor how much you drank for that matter. It was the kind of place you could go to disappear for a while, like putting your life on hold while you rebooted your soul. Located in a poorly-lit back alley in a bad part of one of the worst neighbourhoods, it was the barely the size of a large bathroom, with a wooden bar than ran the length of the left-hand wall which was permanently tacky with sap-like goo, remnants of spillages past. Hung precariously over it was a homemade wooden rack from which an array of glasses dangled, none of which matched another in size or shape. Rebecca always made sure she could step back from the bar quickly if required just in case that woodshop-reject rack ever finally gave in to gravity’s relentless beckoning, though she imagined half of the people that sat at the bar in Pitcher-Palooza wouldn’t have noticed if half a ton of dirty, scratched glass had rapidly descended onto their skulls. The right-hand wall was a colour Rebecca always referred to as ‘hearing-aid beige’, with smoke stains distorting the confluence of the worn wallpaper. It was awash with faded memorabilia, mostly music related; old tour posters depicted the likes of Pink Floyd, Kiss and AC/DC in various macho poses, wielding guitars or gruesome expressions. There was also, inexplicably in the very centre of the wall, a colossal wooden moose’s head looming down over the bar’s patrons like an overbearing, mutant, paternal effigy to drunkenness. The back of the room tapered slightly into a corridor which led to the toilets, Rebecca had never used the toilets in Pitcher-Palooza mostly due to the crippling stench of old urine and putrid vomit that seemed to infest the nasal cavities of anyone venturing too close, clinging to the inside of their nostrils and refusing to let anything in except a suffocating, burning affront. The first time she had required the facilities and had approached the corridor she’d been hit square in the nose by this offensive odour, and that was enough to prevent any further toileting ventures. Such was the power of the stink it seemed to have a physical presence, and felt like somebody had slapped her in the face with a rotten fish. The moment that had happened she had nearly added to the accumulation of gastric contents exuded over the floor of the corridor, instead she had wheeled around, pushed her way through to the exit past almost equally malodourous drunkards, and found a dark corner in the alley outside to squat down on her haunches and relieve herself. Since then she had always made sure to empty her bladder before she left for the bar, or at least stuff a maxi-pad into her purse on her way out of the door.

Last night had been no different to any other; her friends had cancelled their plans with her in lieu of a nicer, swankier cocktail bar in the city. Rebecca hated places like that, they made her feel uncomfortable, like a prostitute on a Milan catwalk, so she went alone to Pitcher-Palooza. The place was pretty busy for a Tuesday night, patrons were almost shoulder to shoulder, some asleep on barstools with their heads buried in folded arms on the bar. Rebecca remembered affording herself a smile imagining them waking up and trying to unpeel themselves from the surface, stretching the skin of their comically stunned expressions like an episode of Looney Tunes. The music from the speakers was loud, as usual, and in accordance with Pitcher-Palooza’s ‘Tuesdays are Bluesdays’ policy, consisted mostly of skilfully executed, rhythmic, guitar melodies overlaid with hoarse, raspy vocals pining for lost loves or lazy days in southern American heat. Rebecca usually paid no mind to those who shared her little haven, preferring to lose herself in booze and music, but last night her gaze had been drawn to one man; sat at the very far end of the bar was a guy so pale Rebecca could identify his pallor even in the gloom. He was scruffy, like he’d been in a fight in the not-too-distant past, but his skin was clear of any abrasions to testify to that. His dirty blonde, shoulder-length hair grew wild in every direction, like the only comb it ever saw was the five-fingered one on the end of his arm. Despite this maniacal mane the man was clean shaven and, dressed in a crisp white t-shirt and stonewash jeans with no rips in the knees, unlike most of this bar’s patrons, appeared well groomed from the forehead down. He wasn’t particularly well built, he must’ve weighed no more than 160lbs, but Rebecca had the impression that he was strong. He exuded an aura the she couldn’t describe; he seemed to passively repel the other attendees and so was the only person in the bar not surrounded by others, and his insipid skin seemed to blur into the air around him almost as if he were part-ghost, part-man. Rebecca put this down to the rancid urine/vomit atmosphere at the far end of the bar, the air down there was almost hallucinogenic after all. This man, though, didn’t seem fazed by the stink at all.

Definitely a strong dude, Rebecca thought.

She noticed that man’s was breathing was very rapid and shallow, perhaps that was the secret. She continued to regard this intriguing figure, scanning his particularly average yet somehow imposing frame, when something caught her eye. A flicker of movement in the man’s right forearm which could have been a twitching muscle, but appeared far too large for that. A muscle spasm does not create a protuberance from one’s limb. This looked as though there was a finger under the man’s skin, sweeping over the tissue below before disappearing up under his sleeve.

Must have been a trick of the light, this place has a tendency to make the most normal occurrence seem supernatural.

Rebecca’s thoughts were now like a voice in her head, addressing her directly, and it sounded just like her mother. This freaked her out slightly but before she could make sense of this intrusion to her cognition, she locked eyes with the man. For what seemed like hours both she and this stranger stared at one another, Rebecca noticed the man’s eyes were quite beautiful; they were so dark that it appeared he had no irises at all and, contrasting with his pure-white sclerae, they seemed other-worldly. He held her gaze with intensity, like a jackal waiting for a pride of lions to finish with their latest kill so that he could pounce on the remains, but at the same time there was a softness to his stare, an inexplicable mix of sadness and regret. Rebecca thought she may have seen the beginnings of a tear forming along their rim before another flicker of movement, this time from the corner of the man’s eye, swept it away.

He must have a nervous twitch, her mother’s voice again, why not go and talk to the guy…..he seems, nice.

Almost without her knowledge Rebecca’s legs started moving her toward the stranger, who shifted in his seat, eyes widening briefly in a flicker of panic as she approached. It was a split second before he regained his composure but she had certainly unsettled him. He sat completely still watching her as she drew nearer.

He’s cute, her mother declared now clearer than ever in her head, and he’s definitely nervous……if you want him, he’s yours.

Rebecca wished this voice would stop; although it sounded like her mother the tone and intimation were far removed from the timid housewife that had raised her. She reached the bar and took the empty stool next to the man, his eyes still fixed on hers,

“Hey, I’m Rebecca”, her voice far more alluring than she intended.

“Lester”, the man replied. His expression was devoid of any emotion or fleeting panic now, and he held her stare solidly, not offering further by way of conversation. Rebecca felt oddly anxious to maintain Lester’s attention.

“So”, she said playfully, “are you going to buy me a drink?”

Lester smiled, then, a deliberately slow and disturbing movement of his facial musculature. He withdrew his gaze from hers to turn his head towards the barman, and as he did so Rebecca was sure she saw another flicker of movement in the dazzling white of his eye, another sweeping movement as if something was living behind there just out of sight, constantly sampling the world around the form in which it dwelled.

That was the last thing Rebecca remembered.

Rebecca’s recollection of the previous night faded, and she felt a smile extend across her jaw. Putting two and two together, it made sense that she and Lester had hit it off, found somewhere to go and fuck each other senseless all night. Though he hadn’t done a very good job, she joked inside her head, her mother’s voice was gone now, because her senses were alive and she was very much aware of the sexual devastation between her thighs. She emitted a slight giggle at this thought, and heard something stir in the far corner of the room to her left just beyond her foot. Her foot, she noticed, was cooler than the rest of her body; as if she was sat on the edge of a boat on a warm day in the Mediterranean, submerging it in the sea. She quickly realised that this was because it was not covered by the duvet, and that an air-conditioning unit was cooling the room to a significantly low temperature. This alerted her to her location; she must be in a hotel room since she didn’t have AC, and Lester hadn’t looked like the type of guy who could afford a place big enough to fit in the enormous bed on which she lay. The odour of the room returned to her but she still couldn’t pinpoint its source; it seemed unlikely she would be able to discern someone’s petrol mower from the room of a hotel, and by the distant sound of the traffic it was equally unlikely that she was sensing a nearby car. It was definitely some sort of petrol she could smell, but it was combined with a metallic, semi-sweet aroma that seemed familiar but was proving too difficult to pinpoint in the depths of her memory. It came to her in waves coordinated with the gust of the air-conditioning on her exposed limb.

Must be coming from inside the room then, what the hell is it?

She attempted to withdraw her foot back under the sheets but found that she couldn’t, something was holding her ankle tightly in place. She tried to sit up and quickly realised this too was impossible, since both of her wrists were restricted in the same manner, and she all but dislocated both of her shoulders as she began bucking on the bed, forcefully trying to free herself and sit up. Her eyes were open now, and she could just about contort her torso enough to see her restraints, her back and neck burning with pain as she flexed and extended them to their limits in order to investigate her plight; zip-ties held all four of her limbs to the bedframe so she was pinned in the shape of a human ‘X’, and had begun to cut into her wrists and ankles. The abrasions were not deep or profusely bleeding, and she could not feel any significant pain from them, but the skin around the restraints was raw as if it had been worn over a significant amount of time, like all night she thought. Her hands and feet were a deep shade of purple that reminded her of the old purple M&Ms her grandmother used to save up for her, and they felt heavy, dull, and slow to respond when she tried to move them, like the way her nose used to feel on cold days as it resumed its usual mould after she crinkled it. Pinpricks littered her skin as she slowly wiggled her fingers, urging the life back into them, and panic began to rise in her like a bilious burn from the pit of her stomach akin to the sensation that precedes a violent episode of vomiting. She writhed under the bed sheets trying in vain to free herself, the stinging in her vagina now forgotten; it was a feeling of far less consequence than her new found imprisonment. Her eyes darted around the room searching despairingly for some form of help or comfort, this was definitely a hotel room, and an expensive one by the look of it; crisp white walls surrounded her, dotted with the occasional painting of a fox hunt, or various portraits of fruit, animals and important-looking, well-dressed nobility hung in extravagant gold frames. There was a large golden-coloured chandelier that hung directly over her, and this was polished to a sheen she would not have thought possible had she not seen it with her own eyes. If she arched her back and strained to look at the wall behind the headboard of the ornate solid walnut bedframe that currently acted as her prison, she could just about make out two wall-mounted lamps that matched the chandelier in colour, style and sheen.

One of those would do for a weapon if I could get it off the wall, she thought desperately, if I could fucking move!

She found that she was crying then, as she felt tears well up in her eyes and stroll lazily down her cheek, and noticed that her breathing was rapid and shallow, though despite both of these afflictions she had yet to make a sound, to cry out for help. She had remembered the feeling of something sharing the room with her, and the sound of something stirring when she had giggled, and she’d be damned if she was going to draw any attention to herself in her considerably vulnerable state. Her vision began to blur as her ineffectively shallow gasps for air rendered her short of oxygen.

Don’t pass out, she willed herself, if you pass out you might never wake up again!

She swallowed hard, the procedure almost aborting as it hit a lump in her throat that seemed impassable, and slowed her breathing. She blinked the tears from her eyes which restored her vision enough to notice the figure of a man sitting in the far left corner of the room, where she had previously heard the stirring sound. The man was sat in a large, green leather wing back chair; the material of the head rest and arms was worn through years of use, and it seemed somewhat out of place in such a well-maintained room. His arms on those of his seat, the man’s head was bowed and he was still except for his seemingly unnaturally slow and deep breathing; it seemed as though he was almost completely deflating with every exhalation, his head nearly coming into contact with his knees before he would draw breath in and slowly become upright in his chair once more, head still stooped forward. He looked like a dead body bobbing in slow-motion, face down, in a swimming pool. He was completely naked, Rebecca could make out when his inspirations drew his torso vertical, and his skin possessed not only a ghostly pallor but also a dullness that didn’t seem compatible with living flesh. The figure was male, Rebecca could make this assumption due to his nakedness, although his penis resembled more a dried prune than a sexual organ; it was small, cracked and discoloured to a shade of purple-grey. Deeply wrinkled and uncircumcised, it resembled a miniscule elephant’s trunk. The man’s skin was riddled with wiry grey-blue veins, marking a vascular roadmap across his torso and limbs punctuated only by deep perforations the size of golf balls, some old and crusted with blood long-clotted and brown, some obviously recent still bleeding, leaving thin trails of bright red blood trickling over the erythematous, swollen skin surrounding each wound. It looked as though someone, perhaps even himself, had used a teaspoon to gauge at his body to try and remove something hiding deep in the flesh, like scooping deep into a tub of cookie dough ice cream to get at as many of the chocolate chip chunks as possible in a single swoop. Despite this, his blood loss appeared minimal; Rebecca would have expected a far more macabre scene based on the severity of these wounds but, apart from the thin streams of blood emanating from the more recently inflicted wounds, there was no gore to speak of. In fact, she would have put money on this man being dead if he hadn’t have continued that slow and unnervingly determined rate of breathing.

Drawing her thoughts away from what had happened to this man, Rebecca noticed that he was not bound as she was but sat freely in the chair. His head remained hunched forward, his dirty blonde hair falling raggedly about his shoulders.

Lester, she thought, did you try to protect me and suffer those wounds as punishment? If we ever get ourselves out of this I’ll…

Lester began to move, stopping Rebecca mid-thought and startling her somewhat. His movement was startling not because it was rapid or sudden, in fact it was quite the opposite; at the bottom of a deep exhalation, instead of rising with the next breath Lester’s back arched slowly to a dramatic concavity, bringing his chest forward towards Rebecca, his head still hung limply in front of him. As the weight of his torso shifted forward Lester was propelled slowly out of his chair, his feet shuffling under him awkwardly to keep balance. It appeared such an unnatural and uncomfortable movement that Rebecca felt goose bumps pepper her skin, starting at the nape of her neck and spreading like a wave down over her naked breasts, passing her slender abdomen on their way to terminate on the inside of her thighs. This reminded her acutely of the stinging in her groin, and she also noticed the bed sheet under her pelvis was warm and wet. She didn’t want to imagine why this could be, hopefully she’d simply unconsciously urinated knowing that access to proper facilities was impossible right now, but she couldn’t help feeling, her thoughts governed by her bleak situation, that something far worse had happened to her while she had been unconscious. She wrenched her thoughts away from their meandering and re-focussed on Lester; he now stood a couple of feet in front of the chair, legs still bent at the knees he was more squatting than standing. His back remained unfathomably arched, his shoulders pulled back so that his arms dangled lifelessly behind his protruded chest, and he continued his deep, bellowing respiration. There was an odour now too, one of sickly sweet formaldehyde and old dusty books. It seemed as though in moving, Lester had disturbed the still air around him and infected it with what Rebecca imagined an Egyptian mummy might smell like. She was studying his frame, identifying yet more gauged wounds that had previously been hidden as he sat, when Lester let out a noise. It started quietly, like a deep, tired yawn, but rapidly increased in decibels until it was loud enough that it would have drowned out anyone knocking on the door to investigate the commotion. As the sound grew in volume it also developed a hoarse rasping, which itself gave way to a putrid gurgling. It sounded like his soul had liquefied in his stomach, had begun to boil and was now escaping through his mouth. As he effected this otherworldly din, Lester began to move again; he straightened to his full height, back still arched and shoulders drawn back, puffing his chest out like a courting pigeon. Just as the yawning gave way to the piercing rasp Lester raised his head and looked at Rebecca. What she saw made her stomach do a backflip, she felt all her limbs lose their power at once and had to bite her lip to keep from crying. She fixed her eyes on Lester, eyes that were wide with disbelief and fear, her nostrils flared rapidly as her breathing hastened, and tears began to stream across her cheeks once more. Lester’s face was not human, his head had the normal cranial structure of a human, but what occupied the front of this skull could not have been conceived by humanity; beyond the tangles of dirty-blonde hair falling sparsely before his eyes, the skin was deathly grey, more pale and dull in colour than the rest of his body, and instead of the fine blue roadmap of veins on this face was an intertwining of distended vessels, the same colour as the surrounding skin, running from hairline to eyes and from jaw to mouth like a subcutaneous network of twisted, bulging power cables supplying Lester’s ocular and oral cavities. His eyes had completely changed, whereas before they had been white and beautiful they were now completely black; but for the sheen coming from the thin lacquer of film that covered them, Rebecca may have thought them to be absent altogether. The distortion of the skin above and to the side of each eye afforded by the insertion of those throbbing vessels gave Lester a caveman-like brow, the shadow from which only served to intensify the illusion that his eye sockets were empty. Below his eyes, Lester’s cheekbones were prominent mostly due to the absence of anything else in the centre of his face; there were no finger-like vessels here, and the skin where his nose should have been had sunken into a divot where, although intact, the skin appeared to be rotting. His jaw hung open as though no longer connected to the rest of his skull, like a snake devouring an ostrich egg whole. The protuberant vessels winding up from his jawline to his bottom lip gave the impression that his mandible was occupied by huge molar teeth, but as they curled into his mouth, pulling the skin down slightly where his lips should have been, further exaggerating his gaping expression, Rebecca could just make out that his gums were empty of teeth, and atrophied to the point that they were no more than thin, red-brown rims encircling a burbling void.

Lester’s face was expressionless but those black, dead eyes fixed her with a hungry stare. Rebecca could now hear his breathing, a deep bubbling within his chest coming with each outbreath, and as he began to slowly lurch towards her, feet dragging on the carpet like a drunk who can’t lift his legs enough to walk effectively, his jaw swung from side to side in rhythm with his clumsy gait. Making slow progress, Lester took an age to reach the foot of the bed, all the while his dark, vacant eyes were directed towards Rebecca’s sheet-draped groin. She was filled with dread once more, feeling as she does during a long-haul flight when the plane hits turbulence and feels as though it’s about to fall out of the sky, she began to whimper and cry, struggling against her restraints as the monster reached her exposed foot.

“Please, Lester, let me go” she sobbed, hair now matted to the sides of her cheeks, mucousy snot streaming above her lips as she begged.

“Lester, I know you’re in there. Listen to me, just let me go. Please, I won’t tell anyone about this. Please!”

Lester’s shoulders suddenly sagged forward and his back straightened, released from its painful arching to a more natural posture. He reached out an arm, the flesh of which was riddled with ping-pong ball sized holes, and touched her foot with thin, spindly fingers that moved with the dexterity of a surgeon who moonlighted as a concert pianist. The expert control of his digits seemed inconsistent with Lester’s lumbering gait, and although his touch was light Rebecca could feel his skin was as cold as ice. She tried to pull her foot away but was prevented in doing so by the restraints cutting into her ankle. Lester’s gaze never left her midriff as he slowly, delicately slid his grasp up her calf, his touch leaving a chilling trail as it passed her knee and settled onto her lower thigh.

“Oh God, oh God, please stop. Please let me go.”

Rebecca’s voice now quivering as she pleaded desperately. She lay completely still now as if in anticipation of something awful, trying to hide in motionlessness though she knew full well she was in plain sight, and in clear danger.

Lester tightened his grip, not aggressively so but enough to make Rebecca wince slightly. He held her left thigh firmly, just above the knee, and she could feel his cold skin squirming; his hand was still yet his skin was teeming with movements as if it contained something far more terrible than the humanoid figure looming over her. Rebecca had fallen silent, frozen in fear, only her tears revealed any emotion as she stared at the pot-holed arm lingering ominously close to her sex. Lester’s other arm moved over her stomach and grasped a handful of the bed sheets, he flung them off of her in a swift, deliberate motion as if revealing the prize in a raffle. As he did this Rebecca squeezed her eyes shut for fear of what would follow, but nothing did. The grip on her thigh remained, and the smell of preserved flesh continued to permeate the steady stream now flowing from her nose, but she could feel nothing else, no further physical contact or insult to her now fully exposed and naked form. She slowly opened one eye the slightest fraction to investigate, and saw Lester, through a film of tears he was only a blur to her half-open eye, standing over her frozen, as if in stasis. The bed sheets had been cast onto the floor and his free arm was still raised above his gaunt, demonic face. Thinking herself safe for now she fully opened both of her eyes and, raising her head from the pillow moist with sweat and tears, finally saw the cause of the stinging sensation she had experienced since waking into this nightmare; between her legs was an orange box the size of a lunchbox, it looked like a small petrol-powered generator, complete with a pull start on the back. Attached to this box was a serrated metal blade, and on spying this Rebecca recognised the contraption as a hedge trimmer, the kind you could buy at Walmart. The surrealism of what she was seeing baffled her slightly, and a quizzical expression flashed across her face briefly, before she saw the true horror of what lie beneath her; the end of the blade of the hedge trimmer was inserted into her vagina. She didn’t know how long these blades were but her best guess told her that she had about five or six inches of sharp steel inside her, and that the dampness she could feel around her pelvis was likely to be her own blood.

She screamed for help, she knew she was in a hotel and that other people must be staying in rooms nearby; if she could alert them then help would not be far away. She shrieked loudly, not articulating speech but trying her hardest to portray her fear in the hope that someone would recognise that she was in peril. Her screams seemed to awaken the Lester-thing from its stillness, it turned its head for the first time to her face and its jaw jerked maniacally as it let out several short, sharp, throaty sounds that sounded like a dog choking on a bone. Drops of spittle and thick bile flew from its mouth, spattering Rebecca’s stomach and breasts. It brought its hand down from above its head to settle it on the handle on top of the hedge trimmer.

“No, no, no, please. Don’t. Don’t, please.”

Rebecca lay as still as possible for fear of tearing into her flesh further than her struggles already had, but her eyes were alive with fear, darting from the handle of the machine to Lester’s own dark, empty eyes and back again. She doubted she could move anyway as she felt all the energy sap from her body, she felt her body relax so completely that she thought she might defecate, and she could feel the familiar sting in her throat as her stomach contents attempted to leave her body. Lester’s attention returned to Rebecca’s groin, he released his grip on her thigh and instead clasped the pull start of the hedge trimmer. Rebecca was now completely still and quiet save for the occasional sob, no one had heard her screams and no one could rescue her from what was about to happen.

As Lester pulled back sharply on the pull start cord Rebecca whimpered as the petrol motor gave a judder, shaking the blade inside her and causing a searing pain to radiate down both of her legs, like her skin was being flayed and her nerves were being tightened like guitar strings. The trimmer failed to start though, and a second tug of the starter mechanism sent a similarly excruciating wave up into her abdomen. This time Rebecca cried out in pain and, on realising the motor had again failed to start, began to cry more audibly. Lester was relentless in his work and hastily drew back the pull start a third time, after a brief splutter that again produced a cry of pain from Rebecca the hedge trimmer roared to life, the serrations of its blade rapidly oscillating back and forth. Rebecca’s screams were now exceeded by the noise of the trimmers motor as it tore into her from the inside; the blades at juxtaposition to her vaginal wall made short work of converting the elasticated, muscular structure into a mess of bloody ribbons. Warm blood spilled from Rebecca’s groin, saturating the bed and spraying from the frantically stuttering blade to douse her legs and stomach with a red milieu akin to a macabre Jackson Pollock painting. Rebecca was toiling at the machines whim, the pain coming from the gruesome show below was indescribable, and the radiations filling her abdomen and paralysing her legs felt like someone holding a flame deep inside her muscles. The machine continued to scissor its way into her, once it had penetrated her vaginal vault it began shredding at her cervix and, with a little downward pressure on the motor from Lester, forcing the blades upward, the inside of her abdominal wall. The infiltration of the latter caused Rebecca’s stomach muscles to tighten suddenly and involuntarily, and her head was thrust upwards off the bed as if struggling to perform a sit up. Her face was red with strain, her tear-soaked hair clung to her forehead and the veins in her neck and forehead bulged prominently from her skin. Her arms, still bound behind her, pulled her back down onto the bed with a thump and her screams lessened as she lost consciousness. Her body still vibrated from the movement of the hedge trimmer blades inside her, the blood spattered on her tummy was half-congealed and began sluggishly coursing down her sides. The blade of the hedge trimmer was now almost fully inside her, at least 12 inches deep, the anchoring of the blades on her internal structures having drawn it in further. Her blood loss was not life-threatening, but was plentiful, and as the trimmer drew further into her it cut into a large nerve, causing her left leg to jerk uncontrollably into the air like someone having a seizure. This continued for a matter of seconds before the nerve was severed and the leg flopped lifelessly back to the bed. Lester watched all of this in perfect stillness, showing no flicker of satisfaction nor guilt, his eyes fixed on Rebecca’s stomach and his hands on the motor of the trimmer. He too had been sprayed with blood, of course, and this served to worsen his already beleaguered appearance. He now looked like a demonic zombie who had stolen a t shirt and tried to remove the security tag and gotten sprayed with the resulting explosion of red dye. He stood for a brief period after Rebecca’s leg had stopped jerking, then suddenly lurched toward her and struck a hand violently across her face. She stirred for a moment but did not regain consciousness, so Lester took hold of the hedge trimmer and pulled it from the vast hole it had created. It was difficult to pull out at first, getting caught on ligaments and other nerves, one of which sent Rebecca’s other leg periodically into spasm. Eventually though it emerged, sending a river of blood out between Rebecca’s legs. Lester stood over his victim with the hedge trimmer, still buzzing, held aloft with pieces of flesh hanging from its serrations, some stubbornly clinging to the metal, others being flung to the floor by the to-ing and fro-ing of the blade. The entire machine was thick with bright red blood dotted with clots that slithered down toward the base as Lester held it over his victim. He turned to Rebecca once more, hedge trimmer in one hand, and pinched the nipple of her left breast between his fingers. Her breasts were not large, but they were big enough for him to pull on the nipple that he had seized and suspend it, raising the entire structure to something similar to a tepee in shape. He swept the hedge trimmer across Rebecca’s left breast just below where he had it gripped, and the appliance duly complied by slicing through the flesh, removing the areolar from its anchorage. At this Rebecca regained consciousness with a scream. She saw the missing portion of her bust drop from Lester’s hands and land with a spatter of blood and yellowed fatty tissue on the floor. She felt the warmth of blood flowing over her chest, but most of all she felt the intense pain that had caused her to pass out in the first place. It now seemed, though, that her entire body had been stripped of its skin and she was bathing in acid. She became woozy once more, and as her vision blurred and her thoughts grew distant again, she remained conscious just long enough to witness Lester thrust the hedge trimmer deep into her vagina once more, forcefully this time, until it moored into her pelvic bone and jutted relentlessly forward until its tip caused a bouncing lump in her abdominal wall and, just as the machine penetrated her belly, emerging before her in a shower of blood and shattered bone, Rebecca’s eyes rolled back into her skull and she died, still spurting gore from the ragged hole in her stomach.

Lester stood for a while watching the gruesome scene before him, until Rebecca’s heart had stopped beating and the blood from her abdominal wound had long since coagulated. His expression was exactly as it had been throughout; a steady gaze devoid of emotion with his jaw hanging loosely from his skull. When the last of the blood had congealed, Lester’s back arched once more, this time so severely that he nearly toppled over backwards. His jaw gaped even further as the thick protuberant vessels in his face began to pulsate vigorously, tugging at the poles of his face as if trying to split it across his nose. His arms rotated back as if someone were pulling them from behind, and began to shake. A low, eerie sucking sound began in his throat and made its way out through his wide-open mouth. This noise manifested into a shadow, withdrawing itself from the husk that used to be Lester Kelly and floating above him in the air as more and more of this dark apparition emerged and accumulated in a smog-like cloud amidst the ongoing din of a protracted guttural snoring. The light bulbs in the room burst in unison and the paint on the walls began to crack and bubble, leaving discoloured eruptions on the clean, pure white. The hedge trimmer, which had continued to vibrate and hack in a dead cavity, ceased all movement and became still, like a devilish flagpole in a war over a single female victim. As the last of the gaseous entity withdrew itself from Lester and amalgamated with the hovering shadow, his body fell lifeless to the floor. Lester’s body crumpled like a child’s toy as it hit the carpet, breaking many of his frail ribs in an unnerving crunch, and the whiteness returned to his eyes, before clouding and glazing over in a death stare. The roping vessels in his face slowly receded, and he appeared now more like a malnourished victim of a road traffic accident, but a human one at least.

The smog lingered above Lester’s corpse for less than a second, it was slowly shrinking in size, before darting out of the only window in the room. The window was closed and the entity passed easily through the pane of glass without breaking it or leaving so much as a smear. It raced through the night air high above the country roads below. Thin lanes snaking through the treeline displayed a smattering of headlights winding their way through the black forest below, the moon was full and red, and no clouds accompanied it in the sky. The shadow continued to diminish as it raced closer to the treetops, descending as it reached the edge of the woodland area. It was travelling extremely fast, disturbing birds in the canopies with its slipstream as it whizzed overhead, sending them fluttering toward the horizon. The canny eye would also note the tips of the leaves over which it passed curled and blackened ever so slightly. Animals on the forest floor below, from hedgehogs to wolves, scattered for their dens as the entity passed over, and even below the earth moles and worms paused, motionless until the shadow had passed.

There was a small country church on the outskirts of the woodland, made from irregular sized stones held haplessly together with a primitive mortar. Its grounds were less than an acre and, aside from the cobblestone path that wound its way up from the gate, it was filled with gravestones. The gate lay surreptitiously to the side of the main road leading out of the forest and its path led a tortuous climb up a slight gradient toward the large wooden doors of the church, which were reinforced with black iron crossbeams. The earth around the church, which housed approximately one hundred graves, was sparsely covered with grass, likely a result of the nearby trees spreading roots to steal nutrients from less imposing plant life. Inside the church was a simple affair, two aisles of wooden pews on a cobbled stone floor, with a walkway between them that terminated at a large wooden altar, over which was draped a white cloth with a purple cross in the centre, facing the pews. A wooden lectern stood to the right, with a drape that matched the altar. Candles burned silently at the ends of each row of pews, their flames undisturbed and relentless, and the smell of incense permeated the entire building. The eaves were quite ornate for such a small building; corrugated columns, also made of stone, began at each corner of the square building and swooped inward to meet in the centre, forming a large artificial stalactite surrounded by four arched antechambers.

The inside of the church was peaceful, remote, and holy. The shadow entity swooped effortlessly through the closed doors, and hovered for just a second in the entrance. It was far smaller now than when it had emerged from Lester, shrinking from the size of the man it had once inhabited it was now no larger than a hamster, but its foreboding darkness never relented, only its size lessened. It paused for a second at the entrance before racing through the air down the centre of the church, the flames of the candles quivering as it passed, coming to a stop above the altar. Now only the size of a golf ball, but still intensely black, the entity paused as if regarding the holy paraphernalia decorating the table; the holy cross, two golden candlesticks, and a leather-bound bible. With one final effort the shadow darted forcefully straight up into the eaves, blasting over the altar with the force of its take-off, knocking it over and scattering the sacred trappings over the floor in a musical din.

Reverend Evan Byfeld heard a noise from the pews, it was late and he had been sleeping, but given the limited size of his congregation he never failed in affording them counsel even at the darkest hours; he was God’s helper in bringing the light so when better to be at hand than when the world was at its darkest. He rose from his bed and donned his priestly robes; we wore the usual black shirt and collar but also found his impact more abundant with his purple vestment draped over them, besides, the large, ornately stitched golden cross across the chest of his garment always made him feel safe, especially in the dark. He made his way the short distance from his priests quarters to the main chamber of the church, passing through only one wooden doorway on his way, and emerged next to the altar. A chill passed through him when he saw how the altar had been thrown back away from the pews, he scanned the church but saw nobody. If anything this comforted him less than if he had seen a culprit fleeing the scene. He went about collecting his bible, a gift from the Archdeacon when he was ordained, his holy cross and two candlesticks from the floor. The candlesticks were more for show, really, but they were of the same golden shade as the cross on his vestment so he liked the motif he had created. As he went about tidying his apse, Evan could sense he was not alone, he paused and stood to scan his church once more, but could see no one. He thought himself silly to allow such fear into his heart, he brought the equipment to the altar, righted it, and placed the things back in their places. He looked toward the ceiling then, up into the eaves where shadows ruled, the candlelight could not reach so high, but Evan saw something. Deep within the shadows he had become accustomed to was a far darker shape; only a pinprick in the gloom, this area of intense blackness filled him with dread but he could not understand why. It was almost as if something had taken root there, waiting. Dormant.

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