Hinnom maissue 002, p.10
Hinnom Magazine Issue 002, page 10
“That’s weird, huh? Just sitting here in the middle of nowhere?” Fred said.
“Yeah. Must have died and the owner didn’t consider it worth it to tow. It’s sure a good place to leave a vehicle if you don’t want it found.”
“The tags are still on it,” I said.
“She’s right,” Fred said. “New Mexico plates, but I can’t read the date on the tags.”
“Huh,” Dwayne said. His face got that blank look it always got when he thought deeply or worried. “I’ll write it down and we can pass it along to the next cop we see. Just in case.”
I looked at the now-sinister Jeep. I glanced in the back but didn’t see any contraband or bodies. Fred reached in and pulled a set of keys out of the ignition.
“Left the keys, too.”
“Any chance anyone lives around here?” I asked, feeling foolish even as I did. The Jeep was filled with dust and sand and looked as though it had sat there for a decade.
“If anyone’s here, I’d guess the Adams Family house up there,” Fred said, pointing at the large house on the hill. It was partially obscured by sand dunes.
“We can check for Morticia, but I doubt it,” Dwayne said. “Place looks just as dead as the rest of the town.”
I walked over to the general store and tried the front door. It came open with ease, a puff of stale, arid air blowing out. A smell like sawdust and faint corruption hit my nose. Despite the grime on the windows, they supplied enough light to see inside. A table sat in the middle of the floor, dust surrounding it. The countertop had a similar coating. Metal signs advertising coffee and medical cures hung on the walls, coated in rust. Another faded sign said: Conserve Water. Remember the Drought.
I took several pictures and even turned on the video function to get some footage. Only after I walked around the deserted store once did I see the markings on the floor. My own footprints were visible, but another set of footprints also showed up. It looked like a set of male shoes moving across the floor before it turned into a sloppy mess of smeared handprints and drag marks. It led to a large pile of dust in the corner. Something about the marks on the floor disquieted me, although I couldn’t put my finger on why.
“Find anything?” Dwayne asked, making me jump a little.
“Look at that,” I said. “Those haven’t been here since The Depression.”
“Probably another oddball tourist like us.”
“Maybe,” I said. I walked over to the pile of dust and kicked it apart. Beneath lay a pile of clothes. I picked it up and saw that it was a plaid shirt and jeans.
“Maybe the man came in and got naked.”
Dwayne shrugged. His face had that blank look again. I didn’t like seeing it. Underneath the shirt and jeans lay a pair of Nike shoes. I picked one up and looked at the tread pattern. It looked an awful lot like those treads in the dust.
“Where are the tracks back out?” I asked.
Dwayne looked around.
“I don’t . . . I don’t see them.”
I slung my camera around my arm.
“Okay, I think this is creepy enough for me. Let’s get out of here.”
Dwayne didn’t argue and we went back outside. Flying dust and grit greeted us.
“Where’s Fred?” I asked.
Dwayne pointed at the large house.
“He wanted to check it out.”
For an instant, I opened my mouth to say we should leave him, before simply cursing. Fred annoyed me from time to time, but I wasn’t going to leave him in some abandoned town because of some vague fears. Besides, we could see the main highway from here. Hell, we could walk up there in fifteen minutes if anything went wrong. I still had a strong charge on my cellphone and it looked as though Verizon got reception even here. We were okay. This wasn’t some teen horror movie.
“Let’s go get him. But let’s take the car. I don’t feel like walking that far.”
We jumped in the Stanza and slowly drove past the T intersection and swung around to the right. Part of me glanced back to make sure we could still see the main highway. It became obscured for a few minutes, until we turned up the small drive to the house, and then reappeared. I let out my breath in relief. Just seeing that road felt better. My mouth was too dry for more beer, so I grabbed a water bottle and drank that instead.
“There aren’t any living plants in the town,” Dwayne said. “But look around it.”
I panned my eyes where he gestured. Green, healthy woods surrounded us, but I couldn’t see a single green shoot inside the town limits.
“Some kind of toxic spill?” I asked, swallowing another mouthful of water. I was suddenly very thirsty.
“Dunno. Let’s get out of here, anyway.”
Again, I didn’t argue. We pulled up alongside the oddly regular sand dunes that spilled around the side of the house. There was just enough space for the Stanza to park. We got out and looked around.
“Fred! Where the hell are you?!” Dwayne shouted.
I winced. Again, the noise in the silence of the town filled me with dread, although I couldn’t have said why. He shouted again and again, but Fred didn’t respond.
“Where is that little prick? Looking for treasure?”
The front door to the house lay wide open. Fresh tracks lay in the dust and grit. They led into the house.
“Goddamn it,” Dwayne muttered. He reached underneath the car seat and pulled out a flashlight. “Stay here, I’m going to find him.”
“The fuck I will! I’m not staying here by myself!” I moved to his side.
“Nothing’s going to happen. It’s a deserted town.”
“Then nothing will happen if I go with you,” I said.
Frowning, but unable to stop me, he just nodded and headed into the house. The Maglite beam cut through the gloom of the old house, revealing faded, but surprisingly-intact carpeting and furniture. Nothing much even looked out of place. If it wasn’t for the layer of dust coating everything, I might have thought someone still lived here. The furniture wasn’t even knocked over or damaged. A glass kerosene lamp sat on the hall table, obscured by dust, but in one piece.
“Christ, it doesn’t look like anyone’s been in here for eighty or ninety years,” Dwayne, muttered as the flashlight beam panned around. A single set of footprints showed on the dusty rug. They headed down the corridor, past the stairs.
“Is it safe? Will the floor collapse?” I asked, my throat dry again. I took another sip of water. A few droplets fell into the dust and were immediately absorbed. The floor sucked them up.
“It didn’t collapse for Fred. Fred! What the hell are you doing?!” he shouted, his voice obscenely loud in the small space.
“Don’t shout so much,” I said.
“How else is he going to hear me?” Dwayne said.
Part of me wondered what else might hear him, but I pushed that thought deep down inside myself. That kind of thinking wasn’t helpful or rational. That’s what I kept telling myself.
We followed the footprints past a parlor clad in a century’s worth of dust and into a kitchen straight out of an antique dealer’s dream. Brick ovens and an iron-bellied stove dominated the room, along with an oak table. Antique chairs sat next to it. Fred’s footprints moved around the room and out again. There were smeared handprints on the table and a drawer.
“Fred!” Dwayne shouted again. “I swear to fucking God, if you don’t answer me, I’m going to leave your ass here!”
Nothing except the sound of wind sliding against the house. The sounds were magnified, perhaps. A storm?
Dwayne followed the footprints with a stream of obscenities. They moved into a dining room, only they looked sloppy and smudged, as if Fred had stumbled. Smeared handprints showed on the dining room tables and cabinets.
“What’s that asshole doing?” Dwayne asked, smearing his hand across the handprints. A moment later, he let out a cry of pain and pulled his hand away as though the surface was red hot.
“I don’t know.” He looked at the palm of his hand.
“No, I . . . don’t know.”
I looked at his hand. Where he’d touched the wood, it was cracked like a dry lake bed. Droplets of blood welled up from the cracks.
“Jesus!” I pulled out a tissue from my pocket and held it over the wound. Droplets of blood fell to the dust, where they disappeared in seconds. I looked over at where he’d touched the cabinet. There were a couple of fading spots, as if his blood seeped into the dusty wood. I swallowed, my throat suddenly like the Sahara. All of me felt like the Sahara.
“Let me try something,” I said.
“How about not?” he said.
Morbid curiosity, however, drove me to put the tip of my index finger against the dust-covered wood. A sharp pain caused me to withdraw with a faint sucking sound. My finger looked like his hand. A droplet of blood welled up from the cracked surface. The residue on the cabinet disappeared before I could be sure it was even there.
“There’s a chemical spill or something,” I said, not sounding convincing to even myself.
“Fred!” Dwayne shouted. The fear in his voice eclipsed the anger for the first time.
“We should leave,” I said.
“We can’t leave him here, baby.”
Several arguments against that warred in my head, but I knew he was right. My every instinct, however, screamed at me to get out of the house. Not just the house—the dusty, dead town. The thirsty town.
“Well then let’s hurry the fuck up,” I said, not liking the tinge of hysteria in my voice.
We followed the smeared foot and handprints along the floor and into the rear room. Sitting room? I didn’t know enough about older houses to say. There was a couch and loveseat illuminated by the diffuse light coming from the dirty windows. Must have been some cracks in the windows, because the dust sat twice as deep in here. Drifts of dust filled the corners. The winds battered the old panes with angry insistence.
The flashlight beam revealed Fred, sitting on the loveseat.
I opened my mouth to say something when my throat closed up and an incoherent choking sound came out. A similar sound came from Dwayne.
Fred’s skin wrinkled and cracked as we watched. The streams of blood ran down his face to the dust covering both him and the chair. His face became shrunken and wizened as it cracked, and even his staring, horrified eyes turned leathery and collapsed. The only sounds were the winds, the shifting of dust and a dry croak from Fred’s shrinking throat.
Dwayne finally broke the paralysis. He turned to me and shouted: “Get the hell out of here!”
Needing no further encouragement, I turned and ran back towards the front. The howling of the wind doubled in volume.
I got no further than a dozen steps before the flashlight beam went wild and I couldn’t see to run. I stumbled and fell onto the floor, which burned as terribly as the cabinet had. I let out a whimpering scream as my skin cracked and broke open wherever it touched anything. Fear drove me to my feet and I turned to see what had happened to Dwayne’s flashlight. I lay on the ground next to the dining room table, so I snatched it up in my bloody hands and pointed it back towards Dwayne.
The dust had him.
Tentacles of dust engulfed him from the corners of the room, sliding up his legs and beneath his pants. Wherever it touched, the skin cracked and bled, the dust sucking greedily at the moist liquid. Dwayne’s face was pale with horror and shock and he struggled to pull free, but it pulled the strength and vitality from him.
We locked eyes.
“Run!” he said.
I stood there, frozen.
“Run!” he said again. A single tear rolled out of his eye, only to be immediately absorbed. He tried to open his mouth to say it a third time—or maybe to only say goodbye—when tendrils of dust drove down his throat and he fell back into the thrashing dust.
The spell broke and I ran towards the front door with manic speed. I nearly fell three times, as the dust coating the floor became slippery and undulated. I had to grab a chair and a door to stop from falling, every touch burning me. The door remained mercifully open and I ran out of it into the swirling windstorm. It felt like no storm I had ever been in before. It didn’t feel as if a wind drove the dirt and grit, but as if the dirt and grit flew around with angry malevolence, heedless of wind currents. It burned at my eyes and I could barely see anything. I stumbled around for a few minutes before I caught a glimpse of blue-green paint. The Stanza sat where we had left it.
Staggering in pain and shock, I pulled open the driver’s side door—thankful we hadn’t locked it—leapt in and shut the door behind me. The dust and grit surrounded the car, battering and shaking it. Catching my breath, I looked to the right of the car at the sand dunes. They were being partially uncovered by the dust storm. Under each one, the dull gleam of automotive glass and steel appeared. Dozens of vehicles, buried under the sand. Like husks discarded from a spider’s web.
“OhJesusohJesusohJesus! . . .” I repeated, over and over, until I realized that Dwayne had been driving. I nearly screamed at that knowledge before I remembered I had a set of spare keys in my purse. I reached in the back seat, fumbling through clothes and bottles. My blood smeared over everything until my fingers closed on the leather of my purse. I yanked it open, dumped everything on the front seat and grabbed my set of car keys.
The Stanza rocked from the force of the dust outside. The shocks creaked ominously.
I shoved the keys into the ignition and cranked. A plaintive wailing came from the starter. It cranked and cranked, but didn’t want to turn over.
“OhJesusohJesusohJesus! . . .” I said, over and over. I’d never been particularly religious, but this seemed like an appropriate time to start. I caught sight of the highway we’d just left. I could see the goddamn highway. This couldn’t be happening. It was right there. Things like this don’t happen next to a major highway. Things like this don’t happen.
Only they were.
The starter cranked for a long time, sounding slightly weaker—or maybe it was just my fevered imagination.
“Battery’s dry!” I said and laughed hysterically. “Dry battery! Dry bones! ‘Dem bones!”
The engine jumped to life. I let out a whoop of triumph for a split-second until I realized I left the air conditioner on. My hand leapt to the controls, but too slowly. The sand, dust, and grit shot out of the air conditioner vents and drove into my face. I opened my mouth to scream, but the dust drove down my throat and nose. I couldn’t make a sound as it entered me and drank. I flailed around frantically, but not for long. It was very thirsty.
Charles D. Shell is one of the winners of the Neoglyphic Entertainment Short Story Competition with his story “Boneyard Prophet.” He also came in 2nd Place in the lulu.com short story competition for his story “Grass” and been previously published by A First Salvo Comic for Contract and Contract Solo Missions: Panzer. Several of his self-published novels are available on Amazon, including Blood Calls, Mettle’s Forge, Fourfold and Oath’s Journey. He lives quietly in Roanoke, VA, where he enjoys pen and paper RPGs, creates freelance artwork and waits for the transhuman singularity.
THE NOCTURNE OF MANIGAULT
By Joanna Costello
I never intended to return to this place. I wanted to stay away from it for as long as I was able. But the ties that are created in the course of one’s life will reach you despite the distance or time placed between. With age, we come to understand how memories are revived by familiar things or places—in my case it was the mists that settled over rolling hills. Heavy mists which soaked the grass and wooden posts of barbed cattle fences along the train track. I had worked hard at suppressing these memories. The sky ahead looked dreary and the outline of a great forest could now be seen. Its immensity and denseness made me shudder. I diverted my attention to the letter I held in my hand. The le
I sought out large cities and relished in the anonymity it offered me. I wanted most of all to vanish from the reach of those who insisted in keeping in touch with me. It took too much emotional effort on my part to maintain friendships and intimate relationships. Despite purposefully placed obstacles, the letter I held survived the complications of the postal service’s search for me. I was intrigued by the great deal of trouble the sender had gone through to find me and decided to read the letter straight away. I sat down at my writing desk with a cup of tea and opened the letter. I expected to be scolded for not keeping in touch than informed of the latest news from wherever it was I last moved from. I found that the letter was quite different and read as follows:
Come back to me.
In the few moments it took for me to read the letter, my worst fears had been realized. I had spent years attempting to bury my past. Now these fears were back with a fierce vengeance. I felt tears of frustration welling up. My instinct told me to run. I put the letter down on the desk and found myself preparing to flee out of habit. I headed for my closet to find my suitcase as I had done so many times before. Something made me stop midway to place the suitcase on the floor. For the first time, I found myself evaluating my actions. I felt conflicted about running. Seeing her handwriting struck a resounding emotional chord within me. The graceful flourish of ink across the page in her familiar hand was the closest I had been to her for many years.
I had never known a moment’s peace. Ramona is the closest I had come to anything like peace. It is because of her that I am able to enjoy early morning serenity, feel the mystical luminescence of the moon on my skin unafraid, or breathe the ocean’s breeze in deeply and know eternity. Her selflessness was the reason I was free. I recalled the last words she whispered to me before I left. “Jude, I want you to seek a life full of happiness and success. Go! I know you will return for me one day.” Freedom was granted through the actions of another person. I could pretend I never received the letter, rip it to pieces, or even burn it. I wasn’t capable of doing that. My love and appreciation for her was etched into the very marrow of my bones and I would never be able to forgive myself if I ignored her request. So, I found myself on a train back to a place I had tried to lock deep down inside. My body spasmed with resistance, my teeth clenched down tight, and my jaw ached with determination all simply to stay put in my seat. I was heading to the place I had almost managed to convince myself never existed.
by C. P. Dunphey have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes