This is a story fragment… the first scene of a first chapter that will likely never be finished. Unlike most of the other “From the Archives” stuff I’ve posted, this one is relatively recent. I wrote it last year, shortly after returning from a trip to New Orleans. When I finished this bit, I was surprised at how dark it was… a good bit darker than the stuff I usually write, if you can imagine that. And if you can’t, then just read it for yourself. More details follow the story.
It was the car that caught her eye. Mercedes. One of the old ones… from back when they were the domain of people who actually WERE rich, rather than those who were merely trying to look the part. This one was in remarkably good conditionâ€¦ at least as far as she could see in the dimly lit hotel parking lot. It was evening, and the car had just rounded the corner from the hotel lobby. There was only one passenger that she could see.
The man who got out of the car was likewise of classic vintage, although he had apparently taken better care of the car than he had of himself. He was tall, but the beginnings of an old manâ€™s stoop had lopped half a foot off of his stature. He didnâ€™t walk with a cane, but the distinct limp in his gait told her that heâ€™d be using one in just a few more years. His hair was white and thinâ€¦ heâ€™d held onto it longer than a lot of other men, but now age was snatching it away in fistfuls every year. What he had left was styled conservatively.
Amanda watched the man wrestle an overnight bag and a garment bag from the back seat. Heâ€™d parked right in front of his room, avoiding the need to drag his belongings across the parking lot. Still, he didnâ€™t seem to be having any trouble with them until he reached the door. There, he dropped the bags and launched into a brief fit of coughingâ€¦ covering his mouth with one hand while fishing the plastic key-card from his shirt pocket with the other. The dry coughs ended with a loud, wet hackâ€¦ a contemplative frownâ€¦ and then a smack as he swallowed down what he had coughed up, licking his lips afterward as if heâ€™d enjoyed a tasty snack.
She watched his face as he fumbled with the keycard. It was a soft face. Old and wrinkled, but it was the face of a nice manâ€¦ a mamaâ€™s boy all grown up and on his own.
His eyes, thoughâ€¦ his eyes were a different story. They were small and sunken, like two black marbles dropped into flesh-colored pits.
Those eyes gave her pause, but when the plastic keycard slid into the slot, she saw her opportunity slipping away. She looked behind her, nodded, and then moved in.
â€œHey mister,â€ she said as she stepped out into the open. She hadnâ€™t been exactly hiding, but she doubted the old man had seen her as he drove past the dark rear corner of the hotel. She announced her presence before she got close so as not to spook the old mamaâ€™s boy. â€œMister?â€
The old man turned and squinted at her.
â€œHmm?â€ he said. Friendlyâ€¦ not suspicious. Good. â€œCan I help you?â€
â€œYeah,â€ said Amanda. She turned up her natural southern drawl. This man was from out of town. Out-of-towners loved the accent. â€œLook, Iâ€™m really sorry to be approaching you all sudden-like. I donâ€™t mean you know harm; Iâ€™m here with my little girl.â€
Amanda moved to one side so the old man could see the girl standing a few yards behind her.
â€œMy nameâ€™s Amanda and thatâ€™s Lucy. Sheâ€™s ten. Sheâ€™s my little angel.â€
â€œHi,â€ said the child. She gave a very slight, very brief smile, then averted her eyes. Perfect. The old man stared past Amanda, but couldnâ€™t possibly have seen her daughter clearlyâ€¦ not from the way he was squinting.
â€œMe anâ€™ my girl been livinâ€™ on the streets since Katrina,â€ Amanda proceeded.
â€œAhhh,â€ the old man interrupted. â€œIâ€™m sorry; I donâ€™t give money. Iâ€™m really sorry.â€
Amanda pausedâ€¦ not because she wasnâ€™t expecting this; sheâ€™d heard it a thousand times. But because the old man actually sounded genuinely apologetic. He really WAS sorry.
That was soâ€¦ rare.
â€œI donâ€™t want yer money, mister,â€ said Amanda. â€œIâ€™d take it if ya offered; I wonâ€™t lie about that. But thatâ€™s not what Iâ€™m askin.â€™â€
The old man looked at her expectantly, glancing past her at Lucy every few seconds. The girl hadnâ€™t moved, but Amanda stepped closerâ€¦ well within touching distance.
â€œLook, we just wanna use your room,â€ she whispered.
â€œP-pardon?â€ the man said, half-shocked.
â€œNot to stay,â€ Amanda added. â€œJust the shower and the nice soaps they put in there. Just a shower for me and my girl, that all. Then weâ€™ll be gone and wonâ€™t ask for nothinâ€™ else, I swear.â€
â€œThatâ€™sâ€¦â€ the old man thought for a momentâ€¦ and then a few moments more. He wanted to do it. He just had to convince himself that it was all right. â€œâ€¦I donâ€™t think so,â€ he said, tentatively.
â€œI tell you what,â€ said Amanda. â€œYou let me and my daughter clean up nice in your roomâ€¦â€ she continued in a whisper. â€œâ€¦and Iâ€™ll make it worth your while.â€
â€œWorthâ€¦ myâ€¦ ?â€
Amanda undid the top two buttons on her dirty blouse and pulled it open just enough to display her smallish breasts. She wore no bra, and there was a chill in the air.
â€œI know I donâ€™t have much,â€ she said, â€œBut I can make it real nice for you while my daughterâ€™s in your shower.â€
â€œI see,â€ said the man. He glanced only briefly at her exposed assets.
â€œI see yer travelinâ€™ by yourself; you must be lonely. Just this once and nobody needs to know. What happens in New Orleans stays in New Orleans, you know how they say. Just let us use your room.â€
â€œIâ€™mâ€¦ not interested,â€ said the old man.
Amanda pulled her blouse closed and looked away, embarrassed.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, I thoughtâ€¦ you beinâ€™ by yourself. Iâ€™mâ€¦ Iâ€™ll leave you alone.â€ She started to turn-
â€œYou misunderstand.â€ The old manâ€™s voice halted her. He hadnâ€™t said much, but Amanda had grown accustomed to the soft, apologetic mamaâ€™s-boy voice that he wielded with such charm. But that had changedâ€¦ now he addressed her in a hard whisper that was almostâ€¦ sinister. â€œIâ€™m willing to helpâ€¦ but youâ€™re not offering what I want in exchange.â€ She watched the old manâ€™s sunken eyes glide to one side until he was looking past her left shoulder. She glanced back to see whatâ€¦
She apologized to her daughter.
Told her that this wasnâ€™t what she wantedâ€¦ wasnâ€™t the way it was supposed to workâ€¦
But it was necessary. People in their situation did things they didnâ€™t want to do all the time because they had no choice.
It would be over soon. And she would be there. Mother would be right there the whole time.
The old manâ€¦ his name was Claudeâ€¦ made Amanda carry his bag into the room, then closed and locked the door behind them.
â€œBathe,â€ he said, giving a dismissive wave in the general direction of the bathroom. â€œGirl first.â€
Amanda glanced at Lucy, and nodded. The little girl scurried away.
â€œYou didnâ€™t seem surprised,â€ said the old man as he unbuttoned his shirt. â€œMust not be the first time.â€
â€œYes,â€ Amanda snapped. â€œIt is.â€
â€œNot mine,â€ he replied. Claude wore a plain white T-shirt beneath it, which he pulled over head. â€œGuess you can tell that.â€ He undid his belt and pulled it completely out of his pants, the trailing end making a flapping sound as it came free of the loops. He dropped the leather strap on the floor in front of him, then looked around the room.
â€œSmall room,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™ve stayed in hotels where the rooms were larger than most peopleâ€™s houses.â€
â€œIâ€™m happy for you,â€ said Amanda. She sat down in an uncomfortable chair against the wall. On the other side of the wall, the shower began to run. Lucy was getting cleaned up. Getting ready. Amandaâ€™s eyes never left the old manâ€™s. â€œMust be nice to be rich.â€
â€œIt is,â€ he replied. â€œAlthough, the illusion still gets in the way sometimes.â€
â€œThis notion that some people haveâ€¦ especially in â€˜civilizedâ€™ countriesâ€¦ that not everything is for sale. Clearly it is. Although not always for money. That little illusion gets in the way of so many things. Itâ€™s very annoying. Thatâ€™s why I prefer the third-world countries. THEY see things a bit more clearly.â€
â€œThat why you come here? Hurricane turned New Orleans into a playground for rich sickos?â€
â€œThis place always HAS been a playground,â€ said Claude. He undid his pants and let them slide to the floor. â€œYour little hurricane didnâ€™t change things as much as you like to think. Another little illusion.â€
Claude hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his undershorts, then paused, smiling.
â€œTell me honestly,â€ he said. â€œIs this really the first time? HER first time?â€
Amanda didnâ€™t answer.
â€œYou have the demeanor of someone whoâ€™s going to back out at the last minute,â€ said Claude. â€œThe outrageâ€¦ is that an illusion, too?â€
â€œMoney and a room for the night. Cash. Thatâ€™s the deal, right? Cash and the room?â€
Claude nodded. Still standing by the bed with his thumbs in his shorts, he looked like a kid striking the â€œSupermanâ€ pose for his smiling parents. But instead of an â€œS,â€ Claudeâ€™s chest was inscribed with liver spots and wild white hair. It was hideous.
The shower in the other room stopped.
â€œSo, about that cashâ€¦â€ said Amanda. She stood up. â€œShow me, or she comes out of that room full clothed.â€
â€œOf course.â€ Claude picked up his overnight bag and dropped it onto the bed. As he rummaged through it, Amanda stepped around behind him.
â€œHere-â€œ he pulled his hand out of the bag just as Amanda pressed the stun gun against his pale, mottled hide and hit the button.
The metal prongs latched onto Claudeâ€™s flesh with 15000 volts of low-amperage agony. His whole body spasmed, and the roll of 100 dollar bills heâ€™d been retrieving from his bag went flying across the room.
â€œAGG!â€ Claude tried to scream. Amanda kept her finger on the button, and the stunner continued to bark a rapid â€œclack-clack-clack-â€â€¦ each sound sending another jolt into the old manâ€™s kidney.
Claudeâ€™s ancient knees gave way and he hit the floor. He was still jerking and spasmingâ€¦ and pissing in his shortsâ€¦ when Amanda hit him with the stunner again.
Again, the old man tried to scream, but couldnâ€™t quite pull it off. His body was trying to move in eight different directions at onceâ€¦ and it was trying very, very hard. All control over-ridden by the random shocks from the device, Claudeâ€™s muscles contracted and released with no pattern or coordination.
When Amanda took the stunner away, he kept trying to moveâ€¦ but it was obvious that he wouldnâ€™t be able to for some time. He couldnâ€™t even breatheâ€¦ and his attempts to do so were growing weaker instead of stronger. It looked like he was dying.
Amanda hoped so. It would save her the trouble.
â€œYou think Iâ€™m stupid?â€ Amanda spat. â€œYou think Iâ€™m gonna whore my baby outâ€¦ or myselfâ€¦ for a goddamn shower!?â€ Amanda knelt beside the old man and held the stun gun in front of his eyes. â€œNot ALL of us were looting televisions and sixpacks. Some of us were thinking ahead. And to thinkâ€¦ I was gonna let you go. I liked your face; you looked like a nice man. A mamaâ€™s boy. But you wanted to deal. For a KID!? For a little GIRL!? MY little girl!? Uh-uh. No. No free pass for you; you get the same as everybody elseâ€¦ only worse.â€
Amanda stood up and kicked the man in the face. She didnâ€™t expect her sneakers to do much damage, but she did feel the manâ€™s teeth give way. Either that, or sheâ€™d kicked his dentures loose. She rolled the old man over and brought her foot down on his windpipe in a hard stompâ€¦
â€¦and she kept her foot there, putting all her weight on it. She was a small woman, but he was old and was half-dead already. His sunken, perverted eyes glared up at her and then rolled up in his skull. She applied her weight for a few more seconds, then stepped back.
Lucy came out of the bathroom. She paused when she saw Claude. She took a step back, then stared at her mother.
â€œIâ€™m sorry you had to see it,â€ said Amanda. â€œBut like I said: some things canâ€™t be helped. Iâ€™m sorry.â€
Lucy shuddered. This was her first time. Usually she waited outside while her mother took care of thingsâ€¦ but this time the man had wanted HER. And there he was. Dead. Right there on the carpet.
â€œSnap out of it and get that money,â€ Amanda pointed to the roll of bills resting on the floor near the foot of the bed. Near the body. â€œGet it.â€
Amanda dumped the contents of the old manâ€™s bag out onto the bed and began searching through them. She tossed the clothes and toiletries aside, but there was another roll of bills which she quickly pocketed.
â€œDamn, no laptop!â€ she hissed. â€œWho doesnâ€™t have a laptop!? Stupid old man!â€
She eyed the garment bag on the floor. If there was an expensive suit in it, she could sell it for more money. But was that worth the effort? Probablyâ€¦
She stepped over Claude as Lucy knelt down beside him and reached under the bed.
Amanda felt her ankle snap at the exact instant that Lucy screamed. For an instant there was a surreal juxtapositionâ€¦ as if Lucyâ€™s scream was her OWN. But it wasnâ€™t-
Reality returned as a waves of razor-sharp pain jolted up her thigh. She looked-
Claudeâ€™s fingers were wrapped around her ankleâ€¦ or what was left of it. He had squeezed it with such force that the bone had not just snapped, but had SHATTERED in his hand like a glass vase. Her dainty foot dangled loosely to one side, connected to the rest of her leg by pulped tendons and screaming nerve endingsâ€¦ both being shredded by shards of bone stabbing outward from the old manâ€™s iron grasp.
Amanda inhaled to scream, but the old man twisted and pulled. Hard. What little breath she had managed to draw left her lungs as soon as she hit the floor. Hard carpet over concrete didnâ€™t make for a soft landing, but all Amanda could feel was her foot being pulled OFF of her body with a wet crackle.
The world turned red. â€¦then whiteâ€¦ then she was looking across Claudeâ€™s almost-naked body at her daughter, also on the floorâ€¦ also with one of the old manâ€™s impossibly strong hands clamped to her leg. He had grabbed her right calf, and naked the ten-year-old was kicking him in the face with her bare left foot as hard as she could, as fast as she could.
â€œMama! Mamaaaaaa!â€ she screeched.
Strength surged back into Amandaâ€™s body. She couldnâ€™t stand, but she didnâ€™t need to. All three of them were still on the floor, and she managed to throw herself toward Claude. An instant later she was on top of him, clawing at his back. Claude jerked his elbow back-
And suddenly Amanda was looking at the hotel room from very far away. Dazed, but still awake, her attempts to peel the skin off the old manâ€™s back became a meaningless finger massage. He shrugged her off.
Helpless, she watched as Claude sat up. He released Lucy, who immediately tried to scramble awayâ€¦ but he suddenly lunged forward, like an alligator surging out of the water to catch its prey.
He threw himself across the girlsâ€™ body; his hairy chest smashed against her face pinning her down. Lucyâ€™s screaming continued, but they were muffled and weak. Sticking out from under Claudeâ€™s side, Lucyâ€™s legs kicked frantically. The old man didnâ€™t move. It looked as if heâ€™d died on top of her, and for a second Amanda thought that he had. His head, shoulders and legs drooped as if his entire body had just let go.
But they KEPT droopingâ€¦
Amanda watched the old manâ€™s back grow wider, the flesh of his belly unfolding around Lucyâ€™s struggling form. His shoulders snapped and fell out of place, moving to either side as his chest caved inward, forming a yawning mouth that stretched from the bottom of his throat to the middle of his gut. The old manâ€™s white boxer shorts split down the back as his buttocks went the way of his shouldersâ€¦ spreading and flatting until they were just lobes of flesh fluttering down around Lucyâ€™s legs.
Too dazed to feel either pain or horror, Amanda watched the sceneâ€¦ and Claudeâ€¦ unfold before her with just the barest hint of nascent curiosity. Something deep inside her was still trying to fight its way back to reality, but if THIS was what was waiting for her thereâ€¦
Lucy began to twist, scream, and fight-
Then Claudeâ€™s body pulled itself back into shape with a sudden snap. Lucyâ€¦. whoâ€™s upper body had been engulfed in that horrible second mouthâ€¦ suddenly stopped moving.
And then started again, legs kicking weakly as she tried somethingâ€¦ anythingâ€¦
Claude relaxed once more, his body spreading out around herâ€¦ and then-
A shape leapt out from Claudeâ€™s back. At first it looked like he was spawning some kind of tentacle, but noâ€¦ it had fingers. It was Lucy, reaching out from inside the man-thingâ€™s torso. The fingers spread, the arm jerked back and forth as a mewling animal sound began to rise-
Amanda reached outâ€¦ but she was too far away to do anything but look at her own bloody hand.
Lucyâ€™s struggling died instantly amidst the cracking and snapping of bones.
The thing that had identified itself as Claude continued to expand and contract sharplyâ€¦ a motion that Amanda, to her horror, realized wasâ€¦ chewing. The Claude-thing lurched upward once, and Lucyâ€™s legs were sucked underneath him, where they too vanished into the vertical mouth that had sprang open along his torso.
Tremblingâ€¦ Amanda just watched.
Later, when “Claude” finally stood, there was nothing left of Lucy except a pool of blood and bits of flesh on the carpet around his feet. The mouth that had consumed Amandaâ€™s little girl was gone. In its place was a ridge of bulging, misshapen flesh. Claude was a good ninety pounds heavier now, and the stomach that contained his latest meal was stretched to such a capacity that it stretched his entire torso like a giant tumor. Claude himself looked youngerâ€¦. His face had regained the mamaâ€™s-boy look that his older self had only hinted at, albeit strongly. His hair was brown nowâ€¦ not white. Liver spots and wrinkles were replaced with young skin covered with smears of even younger blood.
The eyes were the same, though. Sinister eyes. Inhuman.
Claude looked down at himself and was apparently not pleased with what he saw. As he frowned, the bulging gut pulled itself in with a long gurgle and a series of wet crackles, restoring his torso to something close to human proportions.
Then he began to get dressed. The clothes he had taken off no longer fit… so he donned new, larger clothes that he’d brought with him in the garment bag.
â€œYou saved me a lot of trouble,â€ said the Claude thing as it pulled on its trousers. â€œAnd for that, I thank you. Walking the streetsâ€¦ finding a whore with a childâ€¦ convincing her to take me to her home, or to bring the child to me. Thatâ€™s how it has to be done these days. At least here, it is. All of that takes time. Time that I can now use for other things, thanks to you.â€
Claude didnâ€™t bother buttoning his outer shirt. He left it open as he gathered the contents of his bag that lay strewn across the unused bed.
â€œThat was not the way I prefer to feed,â€ he said as he packed. â€œBut you did take me by surprise. No one has managed to do that in a very long time. I wonder what that meansâ€¦â€
â€œYouâ€¦ youâ€¦ ateâ€¦ my babyâ€¦â€
â€œOh yes. I did tell you, didnâ€™t I? Outside? I told you that I wanted to eat your lovely daughter. But you probably mistook my meaning forâ€¦ something else. But then, you had no intention of fulfilling EITHER meaning, did you? There was a time when a whore was content to be a whore. Now they aspire to be bandits and brigands. Stillâ€¦â€
Claude looked around and found the roll of hundred dollar bills that Lucy had been trying to retrieve when sheâ€¦ when heâ€¦
He picked it up and tossed it in Amandaâ€™s direction. Amanda was laying on her side, weeping, bleeding and trembling as she settled deeper into shock. The money landed on the carpet near her face, just below her chin.
â€œPayment in full, as promisedâ€ said the thing. Claude picked up his bags and walked out. â€œDo enjoy the shower.â€
So what do you think? Too dark?
Nah, I can definitely do darker, especially given my state of mind in recent years, but it didn’t quite fit with the REST of what was to follow.
And was WAS to follow?
I had an idea for either a novel or a series of short stories about a group of immortals. Each one was immortal in a different way. One guy just lived forever. Another one was reborn as an infant when he died. Another just hopped into the closest fresh corpse whenever his current body died. This guy here had conscious control over his body and could make it do whatever he wanted (like live forever), but the power was fueled by feeding on children. Literally. There were quite a few others, but I can’t remember them now. I don’t know what the actual STORY was going to be about, but it involved these immortals plotting against each other.
Incidentally, the guy in this story is not a new character. I’ve had him in my head for years. He appeared briefly in Crusade, and has been mentioned once or twice in that series. Although I don’t remember what I called him there, in my head, he’s simply the called the Pedophage.
Now you know why, when people ask me what I’m thinking about, I just shake my head and change the subject.