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Hinnom maissue 002, p.4

Hinnom Magazine Issue 002, page 4

 

Hinnom Magazine Issue 002
 


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  “The city is going insane.”

  He looked over at me, his eyes lit up by the light of the TV screen.

  “Why do you say that?”

  “Are you blind? Don’t you see the people walking around with mouths carved into their foreheads? Haven’t you seen the pamphlets? The graffiti? It’s—it’s—” I struggled to say it but couldn’t.

  I tumbled helplessly to the couch beside him.

  “Jesus, hon. You’re starting to sound a little crazy yourself.”

  “You can’t not see it! It’s everywhere!"

  He just looked at me, concern and even a little fear on his face. We sat side by side on the couch, an old Western playing while he nursed a beer and I tried to figure out if I was, in fact, going a little crazy. Beyond the tinny sounds of the movie, I felt the overwhelming and horrible silence of the city. It lay in wait for the pauses between words to creep forward like a living thing.

  Later, after we’d brushed our teeth and Rob lay beside me, snoring, I listened for the silence between his breaths. I forced my clenched jaw to relax for the fifth time and forced my fists to open. I looked over and gazed out through the window. All the windows of the neighbouring building were dark. The air felt heavy, pressing down in me.

  I thought of the dead woman who spoke the word into my life the very first time. She’d stared up into the sky with a smile on her face. I passed the time until I felt asleep in my memories. It felt safest there. Then I dreamed of nothing but darkness.

  In the morning, I felt calm. I stood on our apartment balcony and leaned over the railing. Below I saw that the streets were full of people; it almost looked like a regular workday. Except that most of the people weren’t rushing to get to work. Most of the people were standing on the sidewalk or in the street, looking up to the cloudless sky. Most people were waiting.

  Rob came up behind me, frowning as he stared down at his phone. I noticed a glaring yellow mouth had been painted across the side of the apartment building across the street. I wondered if I just hadn’t noticed it yesterday or if someone had managed to do it just last night in the darkness.

  “I got an email from work, they sent out a company-wide mass email. They told us not to bother coming in today.”

  “Makes sense.”

  He looked at me. I saw the fear in his eyes. He thought I was losing it but I wasn’t. I shrugged and took his hand. I pulled him close against me and looked up. He looked up. It began.

  It started slow. The sky began to darken for no reason. If you weren’t expecting, you never would have noticed—not at first anyway. Then a great void yawned open, made up of coils of inky darkness, much like smoke. It stretched and stretched until it hung over the whole city. I heard the people on the street below gasp. The darkness became more solid, became more real. In the void, I saw the great, convulsing folds take form. The darkness roiled with fearsome life.

  Then four massive, thick tentacles emerged. They were segmented like that of a worm and were of a dusky, dark purplish colour that reminded me of a deep and old bruise. At the tips, the tentacles ended in a multitude of smaller, more flexible appendages that reached and twisted. The massive tentacles moved with a delicate and slow determination. I watched them stretch past buildings until I lost sight of the tips. I felt the impact though. Everyone did. Rob screamed and clutched at me, gripping the balcony railing with his other hand.

  “It’s an earthquake!” he cried.

  He tried to pull me into the apartment but I shrugged him off. I finally realized. Rob couldn’t see it. He thought it was an earthquake because he couldn’t see the Godmouth. He was blind. He pulled at my arm once before I jerked it away from him. I turned my back on him and stared up at the darkness. Car alarms blared, people screamed in the streets. I heard the apartment’s front door slam shut.

  I looked down and watched as Rob ran into the street, pushing those who stood still and calm, staring up. The tentacles strained. Their thick flesh bulged with the effort. Then Godmouth began to move. It began to pull itself down. The sun was gone, a false twilight fell upon the city. I felt that I should be afraid but was not. Below, the streets surged with those who were blind to the vast entity that bore down on our city. The drivers drove with desperate frenzy, crashing into those who stood waiting and those others who also tried in vain to escape. The great lips widened, stretched around to encompass the entire city.

  There was no escape. I turned and walked out of my apartment, but I did not descend the stairs as Rob had. Instead, I went to the roof. The roof door was unlocked, as always. I saw a few others from the building leaning against the railing, not talking or crying, just watching. I joined them. It was nice to be with people who understood.

  Together, we watched Godmouth draw itself ever nearer. I felt the draw of the terrible emptiness between the black folds in the mouth. There was a place for me there. There was a place for all of us there and we would all be made equal. The man standing next to me took my hand. I did not look at him but I was grateful. My hand was cold, his was cold.

  The great lips connected with the earth. The city was now trapped beneath the dome that was Godmouth. No escape. All one could do now was wait. But that was alright. I was alright. In the end, it came quickly. A horrible heaviness came first, a crushing weight, pressing down with intent. Then the unnatural silence of a whole city frozen in anticipation. Those massive creeping, undulating folds came down upon us.

  They opened and at that moment, looking up at what awaited me, my numbness finally broke and I screamed.

  P.L. McMillan is a Canadian expat living in the States, after having taught English for three years in Asia. She is a victim of a deep infatuation with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Algernon Blackwood. To her, every shadow is an entry way to a deeper look into the black heart of the world and every night she rides with the mocking and friendly ghouls on the night-wind, bringing back dark stories to share with those brave enough to read them. Some of these chilling stories have been published before with Neat Magazine, Fundead Publications, and Sanitarium.

  THE BLACK DOG

  by Max D. Stanton

  Clay Lachriman was alone in his house except for his dog, and he wasn’t entirely sure that the dog was real. It was a bony, foul-smelling little animal of no recognizable breed, with beady rodent eyes and matted, coal-black fur as thick as wire. Clay didn’t know how old it was. Sometimes it felt like the dog had been with him since the earliest days of his childhood, even though he was now pushing 40.

  The creature sat on the couch next to Clay, watching him keenly as he watched TV. It never barked or snarled, but the noises that it did make were intolerable.

  “You’re always going to be alone,” the black dog said. Its voice was sweet and deep and rich and foul, like a jar of poisoned honey. “Nobody will ever love you.”

  By force of habit, Clay reached over and scratched the mutt behind its ear. It nuzzled its stinking body up against his and wagged its tail happily.

  Every day of Clay’s life was more or less the same, and it was a bad day. An alarm dragged him out of a fitful sleep full of half-remembered nightmares. He performed his daily toilet, and choked down pills that were supposed to make thinking tolerable. He drove a grueling commute to a remote office park, where he processed paperwork on behalf of a vast international conglomerate. In the evening, he returned to his flimsy home in a cheap sub-development to sit before glowing rectangles, and occasionally masturbate. Periodic notices arrived in the mail, informing him of the size of his debt. Clay wholly expected this pattern to continue for the rest of his life.

  There were few other Lachrimans remaining. Both of his parents were dead and he had only one sibling, a sister, with whom he shared almost nothing in common besides predisposition to a few genetic diseases. There was possibly an uncle in Chicago, but maybe not. Clay hadn’t seen him for decades. Clay had known a good bunch of friends once, but over time they had drifted out of touch or moved to faraway cities or w
ere otherwise lost to him. Social media was a poor replacement. Seeing his old companions’ pets and children and vacations from afar brought him no joy.

  As the people Clay loved exited his life one by one, the black dog stepped up to fill the void they left behind. No other person seemed to notice the canine’s presence, although animals went berserk when they saw it. At work the dog settled in under his desk and dozed contentedly as he labored, sometimes whispering to him that his life was a meaningless failure. On the rare occasions when he went out on the town, it trotted unleashed by his ankles, offering its running commentary. Somehow it all seemed completely natural to Clay. He did wonder, once in a while, if he had gone insane.

  One Saturday, Clay overcame his torpor long enough to get out to a museum. He was inspecting some important French paintings of flowers when the dog presented its critique. “It’s funny to think that the frog who painted these dumb-looking tulips has been dead for centuries, but people still remember his name,” it said. “You, on the other hand—nobody knows who you are even though you’re still walking around. Why do you think that is?” The animal raised one of its rear legs and sprayed hot piss onto the marble wall.

  “Let’s just move on,” Clay said. “I don’t like still-lifes that much, anyway.”

  In the next gallery, a nude of a fleshy, rosy-cheeked wood nymph captured Clay’s interest. “Boy, I’ll bet the guy who painted this was balling his models bow-legged,” said the dog. “None of that for you, though. Like the sign on the wall says, you can look, but you don’t get to touch.”

  Clay couldn’t stand to look at the paintings any more. He gazed over at an attractive, prosperous-looking couple of about his own age that was walking the gallery hand-in-hand. The man had a pink-faced, cooing infant strapped to his chest in some sort of yuppie papoose.

  “Go home,” the dog said. “You don’t belong here and everyone knows it. The good people can’t enjoy themselves while a morlock like you is skulking around.”

  “Yeah, this isn’t my scene,” Clay said, and he packed it in early though he’d visited barely half of the galleries and hadn’t even made it to the special Egyptian exhibit he’d paid extra to see. Ventures to sporting events, restaurants, nature trails, and Christian worship were cut short in similar fashion.

  With the black dog by his side, looking at beautiful things stung Clay with painful longing, and so he came to look at ugly things exclusively. Being around other people only heightened his sensation of loneliness, and so he embraced solitude.

  Clay did not feed the black dog wet food or kibble or even table scraps but nonetheless, it thrived, gradually growing from the size of a toy poodle or large rat to about the dimensions of a cocker spaniel. Clay grew much larger as well, but not because he was thriving.

  Once Clay had been a reasonably tidy man, but dealing with the dog sapped his energy to the point where he began letting his dirty dishes and soiled clothes and garbage lie wherever they came to rest. His toilet broke but he could not bear to have a plumber see how grimy and seedy his home was, so he delayed calling one and implemented workaround solutions with plastic milk jugs that made the griminess and seediness so much worse.

  One day the black dog urged Clay to cover up all of the windows so that no sunlight could enter the house, and to draw strange symbols and formulae on the interior walls and ceilings with a black magic marker. Clay did not see the point of decorating his home with six-pointed stars and runes he could not read, but while he worked on this errand the black dog was blessedly silent. It had been so long since Clay had possessed the wherewithal for any sort of big project that the mere sensation of doing something was a pleasing novelty, even though the task itself was dubious and sinister.

  Clay sat on his couch surrounded by empty or half-empty fast food wrappers, smoking a cigarette and ashing into a bowl with dried soup still sticking to its rim. The black dog lay across his lap, contentedly licking at its master’s thighs. It was midday but with the windows sealed up they were in near-total darkness, illuminated only by the pale glow of the television set.

  Clay’s TV had been acting strangely ever since he had decorated his walls. Its sides had gone soft, the grey plastic taking on a texture not unlike flesh, and it had begun picking up channels that he had never subscribed to. On the other hand, the picture quality was still fine so he didn’t see any reason to replace it.

  An episode of the Brady Bunch was playing, a Thanksgiving episode. Onscreen, the eponymous bunch sat for the feast, the boys dressed as Indians and the girls as pilgrim women. The Brady boys were naked but for breechcloths and moccasins of uncured leather, with gaudy white and crimson war paint applied in wild spirals. They were each bedecked with garlands of ears and scalps, and Bobby wore an elaborate necklace beaded with human teeth. The girls’ costumes were plainer, more recognizable as holiday-special fare, but for the scarlet ‘A’ on Marsha’s breast.

  At the head of the table, Father Brady clutched a vicious-looking obsidian blade in one hand and a long fork in the other, and croaked out a benediction in some queer, pre-Columbian tongue, heavy on the glottal sounds and consonants, and interspersed with incongruous snippets of Latin. It was all incomprehensible to Clay but evidently there were punchlines in there somewhere judging from the gleeful reaction shots of the Brady brood and the harsh, insistent, hyena-like braying of the laugh track. Occasionally Clay found himself chuckling mirthlessly along with the canned laughter despite the language barrier.

  “I don’t believe that I’ve seen this episode before,” said Clay.

  “Shut up, dummy, I’m watching this,” replied the dog.

  Onscreen, Alice wheeled out a cart with Jan hog-tied atop it. “Hope you all like white meat!” she cheerfully announced. Then it was all shrieks and tearing. Clay looked morosely at the Brady blood feast on his television screen, and at the wretched canine sitting on him, and something within him shifted. He pushed the dog off of his lap. When it resumed its position, he pushed it away more forcefully.

  “Hey, screw you!” the dog snarled. “I was sitting there.”

  “Go to hell,” Clay said. “I have taken enough of your shit, and it has not done me any good at all. You are a bad dog.”

  “What, you think you ought to have the best in show? We get what we deserve in life. That’s why you’ve got me.”

  “I’m not going to listen to you anymore. Name one man of distinction who got ahead in life by listening to what his dog told him. Son of Sam doesn’t count. Your kind goes about in public naked and leashed, pissing on lampposts. Your counsel is not to be trusted.”

  “So, what are you going to do about it?” the dog asked, baring its teeth.

  “I’m going out for a walk,” Clay said. “And I’m leaving you behind.”

  It was a sunny day with a brisk, pleasant breeze, ideal for directionless strolling. The black dog slunk after Clay growling insults at its master, but it kept a longer distance than usual. “Don’t kid yourself, a walk in the park doesn’t change anything,” the dog said. “You’ll never be happy.”

  “Of course, I won’t be happy, if I sit around feeling sorry for myself and watching fucked-up TV all day. What I’m doing isn’t working, so I need to make a change.”

  “Change takes strength, you feeble little bitch, and you don’t have any. Clay, listen to me. You are well beyond redemption by now.”

  “That’s not fair. I know I’m not the best guy in the world, but I’m not so bad. The worst things that I do are eating too much crap and watching too much television, and last I checked those weren’t hanging crimes. People have done worse. I’ve got to stop being so hard on myself.” He took a deep breath and enjoyed the feel of the wind on his skin. The dog fell silent and stayed that way for the rest of the walk.

  Clay began jogging and lifting weights at the gym, and while he didn’t stick with the program as closely as he’d hoped he would, neither did he accept the black dog’s repeated invitations to abandon exercise entirely. A few pounds dr
opped off of his doughy frame, and his energy started to return. He made conscious efforts to care for himself, and even sought out the companionship of the opposite sex. For a while his experiences in online dating provided incredibly rich material for the dog to abuse him with, but then his co-worker Liz from two cubicles over set him up with a friend of hers named Kathy.

  Kathy was a recently separated woman, slightly older than Clay, who worked as a school administrator and adored dolphins and show tunes. On first impression, she was not a great beauty, but a closer look revealed that she had lovely grey eyes and delicate hands that could have gotten her a career as a glove model. Most importantly, she was wonderful company. In her presence, Clay did not feel ashamed.

  Clay never invited her to his home, of course, and was haunted by a terror that she would learn how he lived and leave him. But the terror was useful since rather than paralyzing him as fear usually did, it drove him to start the long-delayed process of cleaning the place up. Sometimes Clay looked at the eldritch graffiti all over his walls and wondered what he had been thinking when he put it there. He decided to have it painted over.

  Meanwhile, the black dog was sick. It looked like one of the traumatized pups from humane society ads, with its ribs clearly defined and its skin rotten with mange, except that even in its infirmity, nothing about it evoked the slightest pity. On some days, especially when Clay had a date planned with Kathy, the filthy animal slipped away to a secret place where Clay could not see it or hear it.

  One night after chain-restaurant Mexican food and a particularly heroic intake of margaritas, Kathy took Clay back to her place. The sex was fumbling and tender and sweet. Clay’s manhood had grown so used to the caresses of Madam Palm and her five ugly daughters that it barely remembered what to do with an actual woman, but it acquitted itself well enough regardless. Afterwards Clay lay in the dark enjoying the feel of Kathy’s head resting on his chest, and the adorable, whistling sound of her snores, and the smell of mingled sweat and perfume, and he wondered if his dog was finally dead.

 
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