Hinnom maissue 002, p.3
Hinnom Magazine Issue 002, page 3
My fiancé, Rob, had already left for work. I checked the fridge to see if he’d left me any notes but found none. I showered. Even after scrubbing and scrubbing, I could still feel the patient’s hand in my hair and his homemade knife at my throat but I couldn’t remember his name. I was too awake to even try falling asleep so I turned on the TV, hoping the sound would make me feel safe again.
I was in an endless black field. Or, maybe it was an ocean. It churned and rose and fell. But it wasn’t an ocean and it wasn’t a field. It was something awful and I didn’t want to see what it was. It was massive, it went on forever, and it was all around me. I didn’t want to see, I didn’t want to but I couldn’t close my eyes to it. I felt it closing in all around me and I opened my mouth to scream.
I woke with a violent start and found the TV blaring fake applause as a contestant correctly guessed an answer. I pulled myself up into a sitting position and checked the time. It was just past six. A voicemail waited for me on my cell. It was Rob, telling me he was going to be late.
I shivered and looked out over the back of the couch. The apartment was dark and empty. I went to the kitchen, turning on all the lights as I went. I double checked my work schedule on the fridge and was relieved to see that I was off for the next two days.
A heavy feeling of sadness hung over me, whether from the incident with the patient or from that fast fading dream I’d had, I couldn’t tell. I didn’t want to be alone. I tried calling Rob to see when he would be home but only got his voicemail. I tried calling a few friends and when none picked up, I felt this certain knowledge that everyone in the world must have disappeared while I slept. Disappeared into that vast darkness. I clutched at the counter, overwhelmed with that sudden wave of irrational panic.
The sharp, shrill jangle of my phone caused me to scream with fright even as I grabbed it in relief. It was Rob calling me back.
“Sorry babe, I know I’m running late. The CIO, CEO, and a bunch of managers didn’t come into work today and no one can seem to get a hold of them. It’s been chaos here. I’m just leaving now, let’s meet at The Cookery tonight, my treat, huh?”
I wanted to ask him to come get me. That I was too shaken to walk to the restaurant three blocks away but I held it in and just said yes. I got dressed and pulled on my jacket. Through the apartment walls, I could hear the TV of my neighbours. It felt like, with Rob’s call, the world and all its cacophony had come back again.
Wrapping my scarf around my neck, I left my apartment building and turned down the dim street. All around me, the words stood out in sickly yellow paint.
Despite being a Friday night, the sidewalks weren’t filled with people going to bars or restaurants or clubs as they usually were. The men and women I did see walked at a quick pace—almost a jog—clutching their purses or scarves tight as they rushed to get wherever they were going. Most kept their faces turned down to the ground beneath their feet but others were like me and stared at the words that marked almost every surface.
I heard the crisp crinkle of paper under my feet and looked down. I’d trampled a pamphlet. As I stepped off it, I stopped. Looking up at me in neat black ink was the mouth. Numb, I reached down and picked it up. In a simple font, GODMOUTH was printed across the top in capital letters. Then, underneath, was a detailed drawing of the mouth. Now I could see that what I had thought were teeth were really thick segmented tentacles that draped down from the spherical mouth.
I opened the pamphlet, hoping for an explanation but found only nonsensical gibberish. Over and over the words were printed, sometimes in capitals, sometimes in lower case. Spread throughout were sentences like GRANT US PEACE, RELEASE US, CLEANSE, PURIFY, ERASE, and WE ARE ALL EQUAL INSIDE.
I looked on the back for a printer’s logo and found only blank paper. I let the pamphlet drop and wiped my hand on my pants. I continued on my way and saw that the sidewalk was littered with those pamphlets for blocks.
I walked by an open alleyway and heard wailing laughter. I paused and looked in. Five young men and a woman stood in a circle around another woman who was kneeling in the refuse before them. It looked like they were carving something into her forehead with a small pocket knife. The woman looked up at me, said something to the others, and they all turned.
I could see what they had carved into the woman’s forehead clearly now because they had already done it to themselves. It was a rough copy of the mouth, standing out crimson with their blood. The woman with the freshly gashed brand smiled as the blood ran down her face. The men leered and began to walk toward me. I turned and ran. Their laughter chased me.
I didn’t stop until I was inside The Cookery. Rob was waiting at a table next to one of the front windows. I sat in one of the wicker chairs, the pristine tablecloth rustling against my legs. A tea candle in a pink glass holder flickered between us.
“Hey, sweetie,” he reached over and clasped my hand in his. I looked down at my hand in his as I tried to catch my breath.
“Hey, are you alright?” he made as though to stand but I waved him down again.
In short, choppy sentences, I told him what had happened in the alley on the way here. His face went ashen.
“Jesus, I’m so sorry. I should have picked you up, especially with what has been going on lately.”
I looked at him and he must have seen the confusion in my face.
“It’s been all over the news. They think there’s some new gang or something. It’s so strange though. I mean, normally gangs tend to stick to an age range or nationality but the members of this gang range from all over.”
The waiter walked over and Rob ordered for the both of us. We only ever got the same thing each time we came here; the Konnichiwa Hotdog with wasabi mayo, all beef sausage, bacon, tempura bits, and mayo for Rob and the Bishop Burger with bacon, cheese, panko crusted fried shrimp, the secret sauce, lettuce, and extra pickles for me. Both came with the house special sweet potato fries fried in duck fat. It was all sinfully delicious.
“I haven’t heard anything about that,” I said, picking at my napkin and tearing bits and pieces off of it.
“I’m not surprised, you never pick up a newspaper and you sleep through the news,” Rob laughed.
“Tell me about it then.” I wanted to hear him say the word. I wanted to see if it was haunting him like it was me.
“I don’t know. They just suddenly appeared, I guess. They don’t seem to be involved in drugs or any illegal activity really, besides the fact that they are vandalizing everything they can. One of them got my boss’s car two days ago, he was pissed,” Rob laughed.
“What—what are they writing?”
Rob shrugged and leaned back as the server brought over our beers, placing them on the table with two solid thunks.
“I don’t know, the name of their gang or something. Me and the guys think they’re some sort of cult like Marilyn Manson’s group or whatever.”
“Charles Manson,” I muttered.
I shrugged. I was disappointed. How could he forget that word? Didn’t it haunt him too?
“A cult makes more sense really. Especially what you said about those fucking kids cutting into their foreheads.”
I nodded and looked out onto the street. It was empty now. The twilight was growing thicker, darker. One by one, streetlights flashed on, flooding the street with weak yellow light. One illuminated a mouth drawn on the shop window of a boutique across the street.
“There’s no one out tonight,” I said.
“What?” Rob looked out, absently, his eyes glazed over in thought, “Oh, they’re probably out on Deusore Street or something.”
“I doubt it. I think all the sane ones are locked up safely in their homes, hoping to wait out whatever is on its way.”
We were both surprised at what I’d said. Rob looked at me long and hard with a worried glint in his eyes. I tried to smile, try to make it seem all like a little joke. Then the server brought us our fo
Sunday was bright and beautiful. It was usually the only day we both had off since I normally worked Saturdays. As a treat, Rob had ordered a gourmet picnic from some little shop on Deusore Street and we went to Warden Row Park for lunch. Even though the day was unseasonably warm and the birds sang in the branches above our heads, I felt ill-at-ease.
Rob was as oblivious as ever, in fact, he was even happy. He was convinced that the missing managers meant he’d be getting a promotion soon. He’d hated the missing CIO most of all since he worked directly underneath him. For Rob, everything was looking up.
But I’d seen the people hidden in the alleys, hunched over distinct pamphlets. I’d seen that word everywhere. It crowded out shop windows and blanketed walls, sidewalks, cars. The mouth gaped on stop signs and benches. The city was being swamped. Even the park was not untouched. I’d seen it on the beautiful fountain, the ugly word smeared on it like yellowed feces. Looking at it made me feel dizzy.
“I think I have a good chance at it,” Rob was saying, smiling.
“Hey, look at the fountain. Do you see that?” I pointed.
His brow furrowed. He turned and I watched the back of his head. I watched the wind caress his curls.
“I don’t know, it’s some graffiti,” he turned back, shrugging.
“Yeah, but what does it say? I’m curious,” I lied.
He glanced over his shoulder for a moment and then picked through the basket to grab another croissant.
“Who cares? Some shithead wrote something dumb.”
I stared past him. I could clearly read it.
It screamed at me from across the grass.
“Don’t you think, honey?” Rob asked and I nodded with a smile.
The day seemed to darken. I looked up into the sky, squinting against the stark daylight. There were no clouds but still there seemed to be a looming darkness that hovered over the city. And yet the sun still shone as if it wasn’t there.
I shook my head.
Suddenly, I knew we were being watched. I jerked my head and stared back over my shoulder. A woman turned away and bent down to pick up her dog’s crap. Beyond her, a man sat on a bench reading the newspaper. I turned my head back and looked beyond Rob. A couple walked by, holding hands. A mother pushed a stroller.
“Hey! Hey!” Rob snapped his fingers in front of my eyes.
I looked at him.
“Jesus, where are you today?”
“Sorry, I guess I thought I heard something.”
He studied me. I was relieved when his phone rang. I knew I would have to tell him about the word, about my experience with the dead woman, and the crazed patient. I’d point out the graffiti, the gaping mouth, the pamphlets that littered the streets. But would he think I was crazy?
Rob hung up and grinned.
“They want me in on Monday to talk about the position. I told you, I told you I was next up!”
I smiled along with him. We walked home together holding hands and I watched as he carefully stepped over the pamphlets without really realizing he was doing it. We walked past a dozen or so fresh graffiti marks. I didn’t point them out.
After we made love, I dreamed of that dark expanse that wanted to devour me.
I looked all around me and heard others but could not see them. I called out Rob’s name but did not hear him. It was closing in. Those dark, moist folds of darkness would wrap around me, and then what?
I woke as Rob pushed himself out of bed, turning off his obnoxious alarm. I felt fuzzy, things seemed out of focus. I tried to go back to sleep as he showered but couldn’t.
“Wish me luck, babe,” Rob tightened his tie and grinned.
I did so and watched him leave. I spent the day on the couch, watching TV. Normally, I used my days to visit shops, cafes, wherever I wanted but I saw that the streets were still empty this morning as they had been over the weekend. I didn’t want to go out there into the silence. I imagined how oppressing the silence would be, how unnerving the emptiness. I thought of the group of kids in the alley, carving simplistic gaping mouths into their foreheads and shuddered.
So, I watched the news instead.
“Police sergeant Roger Morris finally gave a statement regarding this new gang that some citizens have dubbed ‘The Mouthers,’” the pretty petite newscaster chirped.
The camera cut to an overweight, graying man in uniform leaning with a weary heaviness against a desk littered with crushed Styrofoam cups, coffee rings, and scattered papers. A crowd of reporters crowded him, microphones jabbing at his face.
“All I have to say is that the situation is being handled. This is not a serious issue.”
“What about the recent triple homicide? Weren’t the victims brutalized with the image of the mouth carved into their chests?” a reporter shouted over the others.
“Can you comment on the recent massive amount of disappearances in the city?” another reporter pushed forward.
The sergeant wiped his face and slumped further down against the desk.
“All I can say at this time is that the disappearances have not been exclusively linked to any particular event or group.”
“What about the murders? Isn’t it true the homicide rate is on the rise?”
“I have no other comment at this time except to advise the citizens of this city to stay indoors after dark, keep their windows and doors locked, and to avoid any situation that might place them in danger.”
The sergeant turned and waved away the bustling reporters that tried to surge after him. The camera cut back to the perky blonde.
“While the authorities won’t confirm that the disappearances that have been on the rise are related to the recent cultish gang activity, I think it’s safe to say that there must be some connection. Now, on to Jake with the weather.”
I switched it then and let a talk show host scream about the wonders of the new diet pill she had discovered while I waited to go to work. Rob messaged me once, confirming that he’d gotten the promotion. I had to wonder if it was any sort of an accomplishment to get promoted just because your boss had disappeared. Probably running around naked with a mouth cut into his forehead, I thought to myself and shuddered.
I didn’t relish the idea of walking to work in the empty streets as the sky dimmed but there were also no taxis in sight. I clutched my pepper spray in one hand and avoided all alley entrances, refusing to even look at them.
I arrived twenty minutes early, having practically ran the last block after someone, somewhere started shrieking. Ellen sat behind the desk, her face buried in her hands. The waiting room was as empty and as quiet as the streets.
The older woman jumped and looked up with eyes surrounded by the smear of old mascara.
“Oh, it’s you. Why did you bother coming in? There’s no one here,” her lip began to tremble and I was shocked to see the glisten of fresh tears in her eyes.
Ellen was like iron, I’d never seen her scream or yell or cry.
I reached out and touched her hand. Maybe she saw this as permission to be weak because she grabbed my hand and pressed her damp face against it, crying. I let her go on for a bit before pulling away. I circled around the desk and put my arm around her.
“What happened, Ellen? Where is everyone?”
She hiccupped and rallied, trying to put on the same mask she wore every day for her staff.
“Dead,” she said and shrugged, “or insane. This whole city seems to be going to shit.”
Her lip trembled again and she bit it, drawing blood, “My—my Kevin. He went over, he lost it.”
Her whole body began to shake and I pressed her tightly against me, trying to quell it.
“He brought home one of those ugly pamphlets. He kept saying how this was the solution everyone needed but didn’t know th
A man’s wedding ring glinted in the overhead fluorescent light. We both looked at it. The silence was heavy.
“Where are the other nurses, Ellen? Where are the patients?”
“Gone, I told you. Dead or . . . worse. Yesterday, when the sky went dark in the afternoon, everything went crazy.”
I thought about my picnic and the sun that struggled to shine through a dark mass that wasn’t there and yet, all the same, hovered over the entire city like a brief storm.
“Beth was killed,” Ellen mumbled, “she tried to stop all the psych patients from leaving. You know how she is, always sticking her nose in and meddling. The patient from room 204, Sandy Mitchell, she stabbed Beth in the eye with a pen. I don’t even know where she got it from.”
I was afraid to ask.
Ellen shook her head.
“Alison never showed. She didn’t answer her phone either. She’s missed two shifts.”
“Let’s go, Ellen. You should go home.”
“I can’t,” the woman broke down again, “It’s so empty there and I keep thinking he’s going to come back, but he doesn’t and I’m so afraid.”
So, I left her there in the empty hospital. The sun had fully set by then and some people were out. It was still so quiet. I pulled my pepper spray out of my purse again and made my way down the sidewalk. Several people had dried blood on their faces and clotted messes on their foreheads, where I assumed they’d carved mouths. Their eyes were raised to the sky; they smiled as if waiting for a great surprise. Others were like me, scared and twitchy.
Rob was on the couch, beer in hand, and watching TV when I stepped in.
“I thought you were at work,” he said by way of a greeting.
“No one was there except Ellen. All the patients and staff were gone.”
I felt numb, like I was walking through a dream and trying to figure out how to wake up.
“Yeah, we had a skeleton crew going on today too. It was exhausting having to deal with everything.”
by C. P. Dunphey have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes