by Keith Dugger
read by Jason Warden
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A hundred voices sprang out from under the cover of wilted green. A thousand screams silenced by squirts and spurts of chemical brain baths spraying and sputtering from an army of dozen-headed snakes. The toothless, brass-headed snakes spread their puppet master’s poisonous venom over the congregation. Heads drooped and shoulders slumped as the arsenic muddled with demon goat balls dripped down their browning leaves. The post-coital juices skewed the people’s view of their shepherd.
“I have seen the destruction!” Clad in dusty black, the shepherd yelled from the rusted hood of an antiquated John Deere (Tractor). “I’ve witnessed the decimation!”
Foaming spit spewed out of the man’s mouth. He white-knuckle clutched a tattered Farmers’ Almanac, brittle corners flittered to the cracked, grey dirt like paper-doll moths drifting to a hypnotizing flame.
“Amen, Pastor,” said a member of his flock from the back row.
He touched a pumice stone finger to his sundried raisin lips. Lips laced with cracks so deep subcutaneous lava erupted molten kisses; sweetly caressing the diarrhea colored fingernails jutting out from his finger bones. “Shhh,” he rasped. “You mustn’t awaken the sleeping hunger that awaits.” He touched himself (there). His whispers barely reached the first row of his congregation, but those in the back rocked rhythmically to the heart beat of their coming harvest.
Pastor Normil (not normal) Fondlemein, a travelling evangelist forced into farm labor by a passage in the good book, spoke to the massive crowd gathered as if they’d been planted just to hear his message (they had).
“Pedantic carrots, properly washed and neatly trimmed, stand phallic-stoned in the darkness of that which you cannot see and cannot whisper in the company of men.” (Anonymous, p. 27, Farmers’ Almanac for the Year 1932). Normil’s heart raced remembering his much younger self reading those fateful words for the first time. Author Anonymous unknowingly guiding him on the road to phallic carrot worship on the man-made banks of the Oregon State Highway 58.
He pulled his eye flaps shut, hugged the almanac close to his chest and shuddered a quick release at the thought. The front row bowed their heads in reverence to the dampness growing at his crotch.
A cold March wind whipped around the rows of carrot parishioners, whipped around Normil’s yellowed hair and whistled through the cavern of emptiness he would later fill with the long, slender flesh of willing (unwilling) carrots.
“You are my flock. You are my people. You have grown long and hard in the moistness of the earth. You have waited for me to choose you. You have waited for me to take you whole. That day has come. Our judgment day.” Normil knelt on Tractor’s hood, her hard, used frame creaked. She felt (hated) his dampness.
Vibrant colored light from the setting sun hid the telling orange tint in the whites of his eyes as he gazed at them. The sea of green carrot tops waved to him in the new spring air. A crust of dried dirt loosened from his hard-soled shoes bounced around the pitted metal that was his (frightened) pulpit.
Tractor, too tired to sit through another Sunday sermon, gurgled her engine to life; sputtering her own indecipherable message to all that would hear. She burped a cloud of constipated disgust at Pastor Normil’s carrot abuse.
Although the flock was mesmerized (dehumanized) by the hide-and-seek experience that waited for them once he plucked them from the warmth of their earthy womb, Tractor had bore witness to the frivolities of the pastor’s perversion through many cold winters behind closed barn doors.
Tractor jerked forward.
Normil fell flat, his good book breaking apart at the binding as the dry wind ripped it from his grasp. The well-used 1932 copy of his religious pornography, pages of scorn stuck together from overuse (abuse), broke into thousands of dragonfly-like pieces and flew their escape into the chemical-laden air.
He stretched a thin arm out to the good book. “My life, my love.” Acid tears etched more deeply the eroded pathways down the leather patches of his cheeks.
Rows of carrots parted as Tractor drove Pastor Normil, still perched despicably on her hood, to the center of the congregation. In her wake, her own crop circles of hope. And change.
She turned her battered steering wheel hard. Lowering her throttle to barely a hum, she traced a tight circle showing Pastor Normil to the murmuring crowd. A broken, scared (free) crowd.
Tractor puffed her smoke of disgust as if to calm the now shepherd-less flock of carrots. They quieted in the dusk at her soothing sound.
A fully grown carrot (Alpha) pulled his full length out of his dirt birthing canal and stood erect at Tractor’s presentation of Pastor Normil.
“You have offered him to me?” Alpha pointed a nearly dead leaf to the now flaccid preacher.
As if to bow, Tractor engaged reverse, revved her old engine and spilled Normil on the ground at Alpha’s feet.
Normil (not Pastor, not normal) scrambled to right himself (he didn’t). Alpha nodded to one side then the other and a squad of little (baby) carrots forced Normil to sit, hands at his back. They held him looking up at their sky on what might be his final judgment (crucifixion) day.
Twice as tall as the old man, Alpha leaned over Normil. “Today you get to see life as a carrot sees life.” And he turned away from the stunned preacher.
Alpha’s shadow fell over Normil. The little carrots hid their baby eyes, but kept a tight grip on the fallen farmer. Repulsed at being Alpha’s virginal lesson, Normil kicked and screamed and pulled against the well trained carrot squadron. “You can’t!” he yelled as a great carrot cavern opened and Alpha slowly eased Normil inside.
He twisted and writhed as the ooze coated him in the cool darkness. Tractor revved her tired engine and the crowd of carrots cheered and some leapt out of their holes, turning back flips of exaltation.
When Alpha had rendered his punishment (pleasure), he spat Normil out like a newborn pervert still slick with afterbirth and motioned for the little carrots to let him go. Normil dripped, cold and beaten, on the ground around him.
“Let this day be remembered as our day of freedom, Normil (not normal) Fondlemein. You are our farmer no more!” Alpha retreated as the crowd of carrots followed him out of the pasture. Whispers of dust devils in the empty field taunted Normil with his fall from grace. Tractor drove her way back to the barn.
Normil held himself fetal-like until Alpha and his new flock were out of sight. He squirmed in the frothy mud, a soulless sperm blindly writhing in second place toward a hidden egg. Working himself to his distended belly, Normil crouched, wiped the Alpha-glaze off his face and retrieved a gently worn copy of a 1933 Farmers’ Almanac from his back pocket. Flipping to a random page, he smiled at the prospects of a new year.
“Corn will be your savior in a great time of need.” (Anonymous, p. 71, Farmers’ Almanac for the Year 1933).
“It’s time to plant for next harvest.” Normil stumbled, still finding his new legs, toward the farmhouse and touched himself.
© Keith Dugger 2010
Afraid of Sunlight
read by Jason Warden
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Inside his room the stranger sat at the window. He looked up at the moon and
smiled. It was time.
When he woke up early that Saturday, Thomas Cuthbertson felt
something was wrong. In the farthest corners of his mind lay the remnants of his dreams but all he managed to remember were a few disjointed fragments.
He felt spooked. Something was not quite right. It was as if the edges
of his mind were blurred and when he tried to focus, confusion and uncertainty
only served to make it worse. Memories flitted around, fading then coming back brighter. He felt giddy and opened his eyes wide, attempting to let the light in, hoping to illuminate the parts hidden in shadow.
The connections were made deep within his mind. Something that part of him seemed unwilling to recall.
A shrill tone from the bedside telephone tore him from his thoughts. He glanced at the clock. Five minutes past six. In his experience, good news was never delivered so early in the morning. Steeling himself, he picked up the telephone. “Yes?”
The voice on the other end of the line immediately apologised for waking him
so early in the day. What followed piqued his curiosity and sent a chill up his spine at
the same time. Cuthbertson frowned. “I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he replied.“Keep him under observation and for Christ’s sake, don’t let anybody else near him.”
“I’m getting too old for this,” Cuthbertson thought as he quickly dressed. He had been informed of the stranger’s arrival but had steered clear the first couple weeks. He had been convinced the facility would discover the man’s identity and inform the relatives, But a month had passed and the man still remained under their care.
During the monthly review Cuthbertson looked over the file on the stranger
and decided to see what all the fuss was about. For everybody who entered the room, and tried to elicit a response from the stranger, the situation was both frustrating and confusing. The man refused to talk, yet obediently followed their orders. Every day he sat on the same chair, listening, in the same position, until he was led back to his room. Nothing else had happened… until now.
When he observed one of the sessions where the stranger gave the same impassioned mute performance, Cuthbertson felt the same exasperation and frustration. Then, just as the session was drawing to a close, the stranger stared at the one way mirror and gave the tiniest hint of a smile. Cuthbertson felt a shiver run down his spine.
‘Now, that was interesting,’ He thought. What did the smile – ‘more like a smirk, though ‘ mean? Had the stranger intentionally let his mask slip slightly? And why today?
Cuthbertson held his pass up for the guard to confirm his identity and was immediately waved through. He drove to the car parking area and sprinted the short distance to the building entrance. The man who had telephoned him earlier, Night supervisor Eddie Butler sheltered from the rain along with a security guard.
“What’s the situation?” he asked, nodding to them both. Butler ushered him inside and closed the door, leaving the guard outside. With a hint of excitement to his voice Butler said, “He’s still pacing the room, muttering under his breath. We caught it all on tape.”
“Secure, I hope?”
“He’d better be, for all our sakes.”
They passed through the reception. Cuthbertson didn’t break his stride, holding
up his laminated pass, past caring about protocol. The intense foreboding from his dreams returned and this time refused to be brushed aside.
Butler waited until they were heading down the corridor before speaking. “He
caught us by surprise. It came out of the blue. We were not expecting anything from
him. Everything seemed the same when we went to collect him from his room then it
all kicked off.”
Cuthbertson raised his eyebrow and asked, “Kicked off? How?”
“He suddenly lunged for one of the orderlies and he…”
“What changed this morning? What was different?”
“Nothing. It was just like every other day.”
They reached a door which clicked and swung open on their approach. When they were over the threshold the door closed.
The room held a surveillance station complete with a bank of monitors. Inset
on the opposite wall were three doors. Two security guards flanked the middle door.
Each held a high powered rifle across their chest.
“As you can see, he’s in room two,” Butler said.
Cuthbertson nodded in agreement but mentally questioned as to whether the secure room was the correct place to house the prisoner; after all, they had had plenty of time to ensure he was placed within a more suitable confine. But their inability to properly access and analyse might prove to be their undoing. A warning from a long buried past poked suddenly through the barrier in his mind – ‘in fact,’ he realized, it
could prove to be the undoing of all of mankind.’
The middle monitor showed the interior of the room which was bathed in
light. The man inside, pacing up and down. Suddenly he stopped and
stared directly at the camera. He smiled. It was the smile of a man in the know.
Cuthbertson shuddered. In a flash it all came back to him. The dreams, the memories, the sleepless nights. Fleeting glimpses of the face which had and continued to haunt him. He had made a mistake. Instead of doing what was advised, he had taken pity and made the punishment less severe. Too humane and not inhuman enough, he thought. But now the cast-out had been reborn and was back looking for revenge.
“Puts you at unease. “ Butler’s voice broke into his thoughts. “There’s something about him, I tell you.”
Cuthbertson turned away from the monitor. “Where is the orderly?” he asked.
“In the infirmary. He’s in a bad way. Can you believe it?”
“Well, when they went in to his room in the morning to bring him for
breakfast he just freaked.” Butler paused but Cuthbertson remained quiet, looking distractedly around the room. “He jumped on the orderly, wrestled him to the ground then – bit him.”
Cuthbertson paled “He bit someone? One of the orderlies?”
“ And not just a little scratch but a full-blown bite of the neck. He tore a huge lump out of the neck. And get this; he seemed to enjoy what he did.”
Closing his eyes, Cuthbertson asked. “Then what?”
“Well, the other orderly shoved the man off and laid into him in the corner,
screaming for help for his buddy. It was like a madhouse.”
Cuthbertson was convinced now, had no doubts as to the identity of the man in the room and to what he was. The biggest danger was nobody else knew and the situation was breaking down.
Butler continued. “After the beating he became very subdued and
compliant. We hauled his ass up here and placed him in secure lock-up.”
“The orderly. Where did you say he was again?”
“The infirmary. He’s being monitored closely, hooked up to IV drip. We
patched him up and gave him blood-”
“What!” Cuthbertson s eyes flew open and stared incredulously at Butler.
Butler hesitated, a confused look on his face. “He bled out a lot.
We don’t really know if he’ll make it. The doctor patched up his neck and gave him a
lot of units of blood.”
‘Wrong move’, Cuthbertson thought.’ Now the problem just got a hell of a lot
“Is somebody with the orderly? What’s his name?” He lifted up the phone from
the monitoring station. With a barely audible sigh Butler said, “His name is
Mike Spencer. He’s being closely monitored. The doctors are making sure he’s
stabilised before sending him out.”
“No! We must keep him here. We’ll be able to – he – will be safer here. Don’t under any circumstances let him leave the facility.”
Butler looked closer at Cuthbertson, sizing him up, wondering at the odd
remarks and the hint of hysteria to his voice. “It is standard procedure to treat them in house before moving them to the hospital.” He tried again, more insistent. “It’s a serious injury. Life threatening I was told.”
“He – stays – here.” Cuthbertson said quietly but firmly. Butler was about to respond when an ear splitting noise filled the air.
The alarms began their two-tone wailing. Butler and Cuthbertson looked at
each other quickly before viewing the monitor. Their prisoner had ceased pacing the room and was now sitting on his bed. Calm and seemingly oblivious to the noise emanating from the speakers, he sat, hands clasped together. As the two men watched him, he nodded and looked directly into the camera again.
Cuthbertson kept his gaze fixed on the monitor, “Butler, find out if
Spencer is okay. Quick.”
One of the two security guards lifted his eyebrows quizzically and asked,
“Would you like one of us to see what is going on?”
“No. Stay where you are. There’s plenty others who can check it out,”
Butler was about to protest when the door burst open. A man with a white coat crashed through the doorway slamming the door shut behind him.
Panting heavily, his face red from exertion he managed to speak. “The alarms…
people running…I had to get away…we have to get out…”
The two security guards moved a few paces into the centre of the room. The
safety catches on their weapons now in the off position. They both readied themselves
Butler went to the man who had entered the room. The
name tag on the coat said Gabriel. “Say again. What’s going on?” he asked him.
“I heard the alarm. At first I wondered if it was a test or a mistake but then I
saw people running.” Gabriel looked Butler in the eye, shook his head then continued,
“I had to leave them or it could have been me.”
“What do you mean, it could have been you?” Butler asked.
“I saw what happened. I didn’t want it to happen to me.”
Butler grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “Tell me. You didn’t want what
to happen to you?”
One of the security guards spoke. “I’ll go and see what is happening, maybe
try and silence the alarms.”
Cuthbertson turned and faced Butler and Gabriel. “It won’t make any difference. The whole place is in lock down. You won’t get very far. More to the point, you won’t get out the building.”
“Why, what do you know?” Butler asked. “What’s wrong?”
But it was Gabriel who responded said, “He’s right. Spencer is running
around like a madman and-”
“Spencer?” asked Butler. “But he’s…”
“Yes,” Gabriel interrupted. “He just jumped up from the bed, ripped the IV out
his arm and attacked the nurse who was tending to him. He bit into her neck. I
saw him do the same to three other people in the room before he headed off down the
Butler swivelled round to face Cuthbertson. “What is it? A virus? What? You
know, don’t you?”
Before Cuthbertson could answer, the door to the secure room rattled in its
Gabriel glanced towards the door.
Butler looked at the monitor.
One of the security guards swivelled round to face the door. The other guard
raised his weapon and moved towards the door.
Another crash and the door rattled again in its frame.
On the monitor Butler could see the man inside the room throwing his weight
at the door. He drew back, then launched himself at it again.
The door creaked and groaned and shifted on its hinges.
One of the security guards shouted, “Sir?”
“Take aim. Don’t let him escape,” replied Cuthbertson anxiously.
Gabriel went for the exit door. Butler put up an arm to stop him, “Stay here. They’ll take him down if need be.”
“I want to check the door is locked,” said Gabriel.
Butler frowned, “Why?”
“If you think this is bad, then you don’t want to go out there.”
Grabbing hold of Gabriel’s shoulder, Butler whirled him round and screamed
at him. “What the hell is going on?”
CRASH. The door to the room gave way and landed on the floor.
The man rolled off the door and sprang quickly to his feet with considerably more
alertness than he had displayed before. In a split second he’d jumped onto the chest of one of the guards, placed his hands on either side of his head, and quickly snapped the guard’s neck. Springing sideways he hit the other security guard on the side of his body.
Gasping loudly, the guard was floored, cracked ribs pressing on his lung.
The man sank his teeth into the helpless guard’s neck as he lay struggling to breathe.
With a roar he tore a huge chunk of flesh from the guard’s neck, blood dripping from
the corners of his mouth, long teeth glinting in the harsh light.
Butler turned and went for the door which Gabriel had come through.
Cuthbertson backed away from the man but knew it was futile. He was
doomed. They all were. He caught the man’s gaze and saw his smile, the same smile
he had seen earlier. This time the significance was not lost on him. It was full of
meaning and the weight of it meant oblivion.
Throwing open the door, Gabriel ran out into the corridor followed by Butler.
The noise level jumped up another notch, the two-tone alarm seeming to wail even
louder. Both men only managed a few paces before stopping, the scene before them
catching them by surprise. A group of men were making their way towards them,
Spencer at the helm, blood spattered across his mouth, his clothes torn. “Told you it
was mayhem,” Gabriel said.
Momentarily stunned, Butler watched as the group slowly advanced. His mind
raced with questions. He looked left and right, hoping for an exit, some way of escape
but they were hemmed in. Trapped with nowhere to run to except back into the room
they had just exited.
Spencer suddenly ran at them, the rest of the group a split second behind.
Shouts and cries filled the air, mixing with the incessant ringing of the alarm.
Butler and Gabriel ran back into the room, slamming the door closed and
turning the lock. Butler stood, his back pressed to the door, wondering how long the
door would hold.
The man who had been held captive in the room stood, mouth open exposing
his teeth. Blood dripped down his face and left a trail on the white shirt he was
wearing. Then he spoke. “It’s all over now. For you. For them. For everybody.”
As if to bolster the statement, a hammering began on the door. Gabriel and
Butler pushed with their backs making every effort to prevent the mob from entering
Cuthbertson sat slumped in a chair in front of the monitors. He knew it was
over. There was nothing they could do. It had been fine when things were
contained, when it could be kept secure. But he knew as well as the next man about
nothing lasting forever, and forever was never to be.
The man was a virus, only it was not one which a syringe containing a mixture could rectify. Indeed, the clock could not be turned back: once this particular virus got into the mainstream all hope was gone.
Gabriel and Butler strained but the door began to open. Their feet slid slowly
across the floor until the gap widened enough for an arm to reach through. It grabbed
Butler and, with superhuman strength, threw him to the floor. The door flew open, Gabriel ended up on his rear. The rush of men into the room trampled Butler and Gabriel then stopped when they saw the man.
They stared, awed. Their saviour was free and soon he would claim his rightful place among them.
The man reached for Cuthbertson and pulled him closer. Bringing his mouth
to his ear he whispered “You gave me life, gave me hope. But you will not stop me again.” Then, baring his teeth, the Devil exposed Cuthbertson’s neck.
© Neil Colquhoun 2008-2010