by Vincent Daemon
Beneath The Shadows
The doctor’s car was warm, plush, and he had some music playing low in the background that John could have sworn was T.S.O.L.’s Beneath The Shadows album. It was soft, familiar–one of John’s favorite albums, in fact–far under appreciated for its time, he’d always felt. It comforted his jilted senses. Julie sat in the front passenger seat as the doctor drove, and John laid down in the back (at the doctor’s behest). Julie was enthralled with the man, asking him question after question, finding his odd life and past (or at least what he would cryptically disclose of it) almost wholly unreal. She was completely hooked into and believing every word.
Every word of which, in fact, was completely true. He was an intensely learned man who had seen lands another set of eyes rarely ever captured, and dealt with things called legend and myth, yet were merely misunderstood aspects of nature–structured as ‘religious/cultural’ mores and norms–concepts that indeed had evolved from the ‘lower’ animals themselves. He was immersed in all manner of strange dealings with the occult and cryptozoology. These were the sorts of things Dr. Chorn talked about, with a quite serious yet occasionally well-humored or flippant quip, as he was alternately just as much a skeptic as believer and seer. Julie couldn’t believe her luck at running into this individual as well as John and, well, just the whole damned weird scenario. Here she was thinking she’d be merely reporting on some silly parade and holiday history, screwed by the paper again; but this was fucking lunacy.
“John?” the doctor asked softly. “Could you sit up a moment? I’d like to know if this is around where you saw the looming shadow last night.” Darkness had already fallen, but as he sat up John could already tell. It was obvious to all in the car anyway, as there was an odd stench that started in the middle of the road (where Debra had been, most likely) and then veered off into the woods, almost like a path of unearthly stink. The still-falling snow seemed not to lay along this path from the side of the road, leaving an accidental natural pathway. It was merely wet, the snow melting as it touched the ground.
The doctor got out, then Julie. “C’mon John, we should get some air.” John got out of the back of the car to take in a deep breath of the crisp scent of the fresh fallen snow–that just wasn’t there. Instead, it reeked of noxious sulfur and other possibly toxic odors, burning nasal passages and throats upon taking their first few initial breaths. “Well, logic dictates follow the path,” the doctor stated as he led the way, holding his coat over his mouth and nose, suggesting John and Julie do the same.
The deeper into the woods they got, the more severe the scent, enough to bring tears to their eyes. They noticed other things as well, like the reek of almost frozen rotting meat, innards and bile. The trees showed signs of being torn into by something strong. Huge gouges ripped deeply into frozen-sap maples and oaks, the gouges getting bigger the further into the woods they ventured. What they eventually stumbled onto was not anything anyone with a heart and soul would have wanted to lay eyes upon. It also became rapidly apparent that this thing had grown somewhat since its arrival.
They had walked right into the twisted intestine-wrapped, ripped-limb remains of the deer family massacre. Everywhere there were piles of goo and gunk and shit and unrecognizable stink—the fetid leftover remains of the cosmic creature’s violent feats of careless, perhaps frightened, but definitely hyper-aggressive behavior—as the Doc had put it. Perhaps it was just in this thing’s nature to act this way, especially after considering the discovery of the ugly mess of deer remains and interstellar monster vomit strewn and spewed wildly about. Just what it was they may be dealing with, to the doctor anyhow, was not such the anomaly he initially thought, perhaps. This was something from deeper, darker, and long forgotten (i.e, buried) lore. If this was indeed that...they were near doomed. Not just the three of them, but essentially the human race, altogether. Not that Dr. Chorn would be all that broken up, but he was nowhere near that level of nihilism.
Amidst the wreckage of deer and forest, the Doc noticed the crackled remains of an interstellar shell, split in several pieces, and apparently popped from the inside, like some kind of over-boiled egg, which to the logical conclusion of all three, is perhaps what it actually was. But what? From where?
The Doc went and inspected the shell-comet remains, and with his experienced eyes noticed something odd. On the inside of one of the pieces of shell was etched strange hieroglyphs and cuneiform and what seemed like many other different forms of early “human” inscription, dating back to before even Babylonia or Sumer. There were figures and letters he couldn’t quite figure out, but he carefully picked up the stone with a hanky and placed it in his trench pocket, a sickening dread consuming his entire being before the mere sight of the small and dim reddish slab of ageless existence now tucked into his pocket. It was indeed that thing he so dreaded...a Demi-Ghoul.
“I can’t look at it any more,” Julie strained out with a dry heave while turning away from the ghastly mess and potent stink, nowhere near as bad as it could have been due to the bitter cold.
John put his arm around her instinctively, not knowing what else to do to for the highly upset, shaking and nauseated girl that he had developed a bit of a crush on. Perhaps more than a bit of. They connected. The doctor was right.
“Let’s go, quickly at that. If this thing comes back, we don’t wanna be here. Not only that, it was foolish of me to leave the Geiger counter in the car, damnit.” The Doc’s tone was deadly serious.
“The what now where?” Julie asked in a panic.
“Nothing, it’s not important. We just gotta go, now—to your place of employment, John.”
“C’mon, Doc, I’m tired, I feel strange, I’ve been up for a really long time man, it’s been a long fucking day...”
“Exactly, think about it, John...the fucking petting zoo.” Dr. Chorn turned and led the way back to his car post-haste, John following and steadfastly holding Julie’s shoulders, comforting her as much as possible.
John did think about it. Paisley, damnit! Gotta check on Paisley and Quacks. He knew just what the Doc was thinking. “Let’s do it.” Julie reached her right hand up to where John’s was on her shoulder and took it gently; the same comfort he gave her only moments ago, he was now feeling in return. It was something he was not used to. It surprised him a bit, and brought a slight grin that no one saw, even in the midst of this horrific scenario. Genuine affection’s a beautiful thing.
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