SCORPIONS, ZOUNDS OF them, of various sizes and colors were crawling all over his legs, stinging him unceasingly. A bloated, rosy boa was firmly coiling itself around his throat, steadily wringing the life from him. Screaming voices echoed through his throbbing head. Screaming, screaming, and screaming. There was a cacophony of agonized screaming everywhere. When he tried to scream himself, cockroaches spewed forth in place of cries. Bloated, wriggling thumb-sized roaches—clicking madly—strove to escape his gaping maw. They’d begun to flow down his chest like living vomit, to mingle with the scorpions.
Just when he thought the snake was going to pop his head off his shoulders, he was suddenly released, able to draw breath and surrounded by the dead. Grotesque cadavers as far as the eye could see. Mountains, forests, and oceans composed of corpses: A landscape of death. JJ found himself half-buried in the chest of a large humanoid carcass, unable to move his extremities. A presence, ancient and apocalyptic, was observing him. Studying him. Laughing at him. That’s when the screaming turned to singing.
It began softly at first, barely a whisper, gradually growing as ear-splitting as the screaming. A children’s choir of mournful morbid cries. The tune was somber; alien and yet familiar to JJ. Suddenly two pale white children appeared next to him. A boy and a girl dressed in clothes circa 1800’s, with black pits for eyes. They turned their heads and seemed to regard one another, before focusing their attentions and intentions towards JJ. In unison the black-eyed children lifted their right arms, the flesh grotesquely dripping from their limbs, to point with skeletal fingers off toward the horizon. Letting their mouths fall obscenely inhumanly open they bellowed:
“He hides behind every corner and door,
To frighten you with a deafening roar!”
JJ experienced a most complete and utter bladder-releasing horror with the abrupt appearance of a rotting beast, snarling inches above his frozen form. Black ichor oozed from the creatures immense jowls, only to drip with a sickening splat upon the carcass plain. Vaguely resembling some sort of canine, though roughly the size of a wildebeest, the hellhound snapped at JJ’s face. A mind numbing stench visibly wafted from the creature. JJ turned his head away from the awful smell and noticed the black-eyed children had vanished. The beast’s yellow eyes gleamed ominously from its jet black head. Before the beast could devour him, a mote of sweet consciousness appeared. As the beast, the singing, and his terror quickly faded, JJ realized he was unable to draw a breath. Like in the really real world he was unable to breathe! Thrashing wildly, he tried to sit upright, but was restricted by several pairs of hands pinning him to the cold cement of . Out of the foggy confusion a soothing, echoing voice began to speak calmly into JJ’s ear:
“…okay son, settle down. You’re alright. Just stay still and breathe, buddy. Breathe.”
Only then, at the prompting of the disembodied voice, did JJ’s instinct and ability to breathe return to him. His vision began to clear and a semi-circle of faces swam into focus above him—including a squat, muscular off-duty paramedic, who was kneeling next to JJ and seemed to be taking his pulse. There was also a beautiful blond woman whom he recognized, but only vaguely—as if from a dream. As he stopped struggling and started breathing, the hands cautiously withdrew. JJ’s breath came in ragged gasps and his lungs felt on fire; but at least he was breathing. Suddenly, Curt was darn near nose-to-nose with him.
“Holy shit JJ. Damn, ninja. Are you alright kid? Shit, homie. I’m sorry, JJ. I’m so sorry. Ya know what I’m sayin’? There was this stupid fucking kid–”
“I’m sure your friend forgives you, but you need to back away son and let me finish evaluating his condition,” the burly medic ordered, grabbing Curt by his shoulders to maneuver him aside. Whether the boy wanted to move or not was not this man’s concern.
“Wuh habbin?” JJ mumbled.
“I’m not sure of the circumstances kiddo,” answered JJ’s Herculean caretaker, as he knelt down next to him. “It seems your face smashed against your friend’s windshield, when he apparently slammed on his breaks for a hallucination.”
“Oweth. (Ouch.) ’An I shhet dup? (Can I sit up?) Oh, n’d ’all ee ay-ay. (Oh, and call me JJ.)”
“What was that son, I didn’t catch that?”
“He said to call him JJ! What’re you Gigantor, deaf?” Curt interjected rudely, turning the last word into a blatant taunt. Not waiting for a reply he continued: “And he wants to sit up! And I didn’t imagine shit! Ya know what I’m sayin’? There was a little boy standing in the road. He was all pale with creepy black eyes and shit. All covered in blood and just fu—”
“Rude boy—STIFLE!” The bearish medic bellowed, causing Curt to take a step back and zip his lips. Turning back to his charge, the large man softened his voice, speaking to JJ in surprising dulcet tones. Helping JJ to a sitting position, the medic pronounced: “My name’s . Hello JJ, a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“E’llo Ent. ’Ell, an I o’tay? (Hello . Well, am I okay?)” JJ inquired of .
“Other than being bumped, bruised, and slightly concussed, it sounds to me like you bit your tongue a good one. I think you’ll live, but I want you to go to the hospital and have a Doc check you out. There’s a rig on the way now. How’s that sound? You ever ride in an ambulance, JJ?”
JJ didn’t answer right away. He didn’t want to go to the hospital, but couldn’t see a way to avoid the trip. Plus, his breathing was still a little labored and his tongue throbbed. So, words seemed too precious a commodity to waste on useless arguments at the moment. As he looked around, the crowd that had gathered began to disperse, murmuring discontentedly about dead children and irresponsible teenagers. Only Kent, Curt, and the strangely familiar, statuesque woman remained. Thankfully she chose that moment to address , giving JJ a few more valuable moments to collect his foggy wits.
“Will he be okay, sir?” The mystery woman asked . “He looked genuinely terrified while he was unconscious.”
“He will be just fine in a couple of days with some rest ma’am. Thank you for your concern.”
“It’s nothing at all. Thank the lucky stars you were here. When I saw the rude one there dragging his poor, bloody friend from his car I didn’t know what to think. Especially with the entire… hem… goings on lately,” the gorgeous woman added with a whisper.
“Right, ma’am. I can see how that must’ve looked disturbing. Miss, did you notice a bloody little boy in the street?”
“No sir and I would’ve seen him. I was coming out of my Aunt Karen’s house when I took notice of the scene I just explained. On this side of the street and at this angle, I would’ve seen a second bloody boy. I assure you.” The woman answered , while staring at Curt—who looked ready to go ballistic at any moment. “Will the authorities need to be involved? I can stay if I must, but I’d much rather be getting along. I’m late for work.”
“The incident doesn’t involve a collision with any other vehicle, person or, property…so I think you can go on your way with a clear conscience.” replied, flashing a toothy grin at the beautiful, mysterious lady.
As he watched her hips sway on down the road, JJ thought he once knew the woman’s name. She lived just down the block and around the corner, after all. They’ve had to of crossed paths like a hundred times. Hadn’t they? Sure: At the party store, the gas station, Simmon’s Café. However, he just couldn’t quite recall where it was, as he struggled to get to his feet.
“You probably shouldn’t stand just yet, JJ,” cautioned, placing a strong hand on JJ’s shoulder, preventing further extension.
“Naw, nime o’tay (No, I’m okay),” JJ gasped unconvincingly, struggling futilely against ’s Atlas-like grip.
“Just bear with me another minute JJ. Here comes the ambulance now.”
The ambulance pulled up, screeching to a halt. Within seconds, the EMTs scrambled to work. appeared to know them both, striking up an easy conversation with the two manic medics. He informed them of the events that transpired. Curt kept trying to say something, but JJ was a million miles away. He had just remembered where he recognized the pretty blond from, and it wasn’t the Faygo store.
THE DRIFTWOOD GAZETTE
Friday April 20th
Community in Mourning; Police Baffled Over Fourth Deceased Child
By Kyle Jefferies
, — homicide detectives are baffled by the recent, seemingly unconnected homicides of four local adolescences in five days, here in the northern community. The names of the children are being withheld while the authority’s preliminary investigations are still underway. Detective Cort Mooney, seventeen year veteran of the department, had no comments for this reporter beyond, “Wait for the Press Conference, ink slinger.”
The corners office is being just as tightlipped until the autopsies are complete and causes of death are determined. However sources close to this reporter claim the children died of asphyxiation. One source being so bold as to go on to speculate that the children could’ve possibly been suffocated.
resident Linda Grober had this to say: “This is a very sad time for our little community. Those kids were good kids; sweet kids. This is terrible, just terrible. I pray for their lost little souls.”
Our entire staff here at The Driftwood Gazette extends our deepest, most heartfelt condolences to the families of these children. We promise to continue to report any and all updates pertaining to this story as soon as they arise.
JJ dropped the newspaper to the cold linoleum floor of in disgust. Now four kids are dead, he thought bitterly as he waited for his mother to finish talking the doctor’s ears off. He wished Curt would’ve stuck around. But after the multiple ass-chewing’s he got from every adult within arm’s reach and having to explain the accident a hundred times, JJ couldn’t blame Curt for bouncing. JJ believed Curt when he said that there was a bloody kid standing in the road. Curt was a good driver. No speeding or parking tickets; no accidents, until today. But still. And that hot blonde lady, JJ mused. Like a dog with a bone, his mind wouldn’t drop the thought of her.
JJ was certain that he recognized the beautiful blonde from his nightmares of late, but he wasn’t even close to a hundred-percent sure that he recognized her from the really real world. Other than their brief encounter on the street today, that is. He thought he did, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on where. His head felt like it was stuffed full of cotton, everything was still a little fuzzy, but he knew he’d seen a younger version of the blonde lady. Knew he’s seen her in a picture on the mantel of the old Johnson place—when the Johnson place served as the setting for his nightmares. Ironically enough, the old Johnson place was more often the setting for his dreams, than not lately.
What’s so damn important about that old dump? JJ pondered.
The lawn was nothing but overgrown crab grass and weeds. No birds were ever seen nesting in the puny and withered dead trees. The place had been condemned before I was even born. And why would there be a picture of a younger version of that blonde chick? Who was she any—
“You are going to pick that up young man!” The linebacker-ish charge nurse seemed agitated, as though she had a thorny tree limb stuck up her ass that was impossible to remove, even with surgery. Startling him out of his own head and almost giving him a coronary, JJ quickly realized he wasn’t being asked a question.
“Oh, y-y-yes ma’am. I wasn’t going to l-l-leave it on the floor,” JJ was able to stammer, despite his tender tongue.
“That’s okay, JJ, I got it,” said, scooping up the paper. “All better Nurse Fuller? Catastrophe averted?”
“Now Kent Fraser, don’t you get all smart-alecky with me mister! Remember, I was the nurse on duty when you were born and I still keep in good contact with your mother.”
“Oh, Joan, I would never—”
“How dare you address me as if we were intimately close?” Nurse Fuller exclaimed incredulously. “You’ve never seen the inner sanctum of my boudoirs. Now keep Snicklefritz McGee over there from littering my hospital with any more newspapers. Thank you. Kindly.” Nurse Jones strode resolutely back to the nurse’s station.
“Don’t mind Nurse Wretched, JJ. She’s been at this job since Moses was left adrift in his basket,” said, taking the seat next to JJ.
“Yeah,” was all JJ could think to say. Which as it turns out was alright, because JJ’s mother Phyllis was done with the doctor and headed straight for them.
“Joseph Bruce Douglas, Jr., I wonder about you sometimes young man,” Phyllis pronounced as she jiggled to a halt. “What am I going to do with you?”
“I don’t know, ma.”
“You must be JJ’s mother,” proclaimed as he rose to greet Phyllis. “I’m Kent, Kent Fraser.”
“Oh, yes. Mister Fraser my thanks to you, thank you so much for saving the life of my baby boy. He’s all I’ve left.” Phyllis twittered clutching ’s hand to her breast, much to JJ’s embarrassment. “I’m Phyllis Douglas. You may call me Phee.”
“What a pleasure it is to make your beautiful acquaintance Phee. Please call me Kent,” he replied, doe-eyed, stepping into Phee’s personal space. “It was my honor, though JJ was in no danger of losing his life.”
“Still, after losing my eldest son to the horrors of , I could never prepare myself to lose JJ too,” Phee said, clutching all the more firmly.
“Well, JJ neglected to prepare me properly for your stunning beauty.”
“Oh , you’re going to make me swoon with all your sugary-sweet talk.”
“And make me hurl,” JJ muttered, not quite under his breath.
“JJ Douglas! Manners! It’s not every day a strappingly handsome man shows interest in your old mama.”
“May I offer you and JJ a ride home Phee?” inquired hopefully.
“That would be delightful , simply delightful. You’ll save us a ride on the SEPTA!” Phee replied with a true enthusiasm that JJ had thought long in the grave.
“Great! Just let me grab a wheelchair for JJ, so I can expedite our departure.”
“Oh,” Phyllis gasped. “Is that necessary? I thought he was alright.”
“He is Phee, don’t worry a hair on that gorgeous head,” said reassuringly. “It’s just Hospital policy.”
“Isn’t he wonderful JJ? He’s such an old fashioned gentleman.”
“Yeah ma, Kent’s awesome.” JJ answered halfheartedly, his head in his hands. “He’s a real peach.”
The kitchen clock read 5:17 P.M. JJ had been at the emergency room for nearly nine hours. The house was empty. His mother, Phyllis, having taken up on his proposition of dinner, left JJ alone to ponder the day’s events. He sighed. The pain in his head was returning. He wished his father and brother were still alive. There was another kind of pain that kept returning like a boomerang of infinite sadness. Joe senior would’ve been the picture of a concerned father, fervently praying over his Bible until he saw that JJ was fine, and then he would have laughed himself sore at the state of JJ’s face. Rob would’ve feigned sincerity, the whole time threatening to kick Curt’s ass. JJ sighed again.
JJ’s sadness and sense of loss slowly grew, and then began to fester as he grew older. First, the incident in with his half-brother Rob getting killed in action stunned JJ senseless. Then, with his father’s death at the hands of an “unforeseen accident” and mother’s extended bout with depression, JJ’s kind, boyish heart hardened. Sure it would be nice if dad and Rob were still alive. JJ could discuss these dreams with his father. Joe Sr. would make hot coco while quoting scripture that JJ really didn’t fully understand. Rob would make jokes about being a baby-pussy who can’t sleep through the night. Yeah it would be fresh if dad and Rob were still alive. However, the fact was that they were dead and gone; both from fatal gunshot wounds. One suffered at the hands of an Iraqi insurgent, the other at his own. JJ sighed again, rubbing his temples. And adding insult to injury, now he had to make his own dinner. Stale.
Normally, JJ relished fend-for-yourself dinner nights. He would grub on some Hot Pockets or make himself a peanut butter and maple syrup sandwich that would make Scooby Doo envious. Tonight, with the way he felt, food was the last thing on JJ’s mind. However, he found himself digging through the refrigerator anyway. The contents were nothing to get excited about: Leftovers, sandwich stuff, more leftovers. No way. Hot Pockets it is then.
Two minutes later the microwave dinged and JJ removed his meager meal. He went to the living room, plopped on the lumpy beige sofa, and began to eat. Chewing slowly so as not to aggravate his tender tongue. Staring at the blank television screen, JJ thought about Curt’s mysterious appearing/disappearing bloody boy. JJ didn’t recall seeing a boy, let alone one covered head-to-toe in blood.
If Curt said he saw a bloody boy, then there had to be a bloody boy, JJ mused between bites. But where was the kid during all the ruckus and fuss over me? Did he run off after almost becoming just another grease spot? Why was he all bloody in the first place? How come that smokin’ blonde chic didn’t see him? Why was this chick making guest appearances in my nightmares? Why does my food taste like monkey butt?
All these unanswerable questions were making JJ’s head swim so terribly, that he couldn’t finish his dinner. He left his plate and half-eaten Hot Pocket in the kitchen sink and went to his bedroom. He had no clue when his mother would return, but he wanted to be asleep before she did. Just in case she doesn’t go to bed alone. He was in no mood to listen to her screw anyone, let alone Kent the pumped-up paramedic.
Up in his room, JJ’s armory silently awaited him. JJ sat on the foot of his bed staring into his closet at his gruesome arsenal. He stood and carefully plucked the hatchet off the floor, expecting it to feel like a lead weight in his hand. To his surprise, the heinous hatchet felt as light as a feather in his grasp and oddly, unabashedly—comforting. He felt a strange surge of power as he wielded his rust-speckled weapon. JJ pondered for a moment over an engraving of what appeared to be a tree with wings etched upon the neck, just above the handle grip.
“Is this the mark of your maker?” JJ asked the hatchet in his hand.
JJ spun around and caught sight of himself in the mirror. He liked what he saw reflected there. I feel fucking awesome, he thought. But then, a sickening wave of dread washed over him, as he took a closer look at the stains on the wickedly sharp hatchet head. He let the hatchet drop to the floor where it stuck firm in the floorboard mere inches from his foot, when he came to the realization that those stains were not rust at all. They were blood stains. Fear seeped its way into JJ’s mind. With a grunt he removed the hatchet from the floor and, trembling slightly, returned it to his closet.
He tried to shake off the fear that settled over him, but it remained as JJ dressed for bed. After he shut off the light and climbed into bed, he felt the distinct sensation of being watched. He chanced a quick glance at the old tree outside his window. Nothing, it was just a tree. He tried to ignore the maddening feeling, but it just wouldn’t fuck off and leave him alone. He was in desperate need of some sleep. Finally, he got out of bed and reluctantly retrieved the hatchet to place it safely under his pillow. He felt like a jackass doing it, but he also felt better. More secure.
Slumber came swiftly and easily then. And with sleep, came the nightmares.