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Hinnom maissue 002, p.8

Hinnom Magazine Issue 002, page 8

 

Hinnom Magazine Issue 002
 


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  I withdrew in horror and disgust across the room from the thing. I stood at my window looking back at it trying to understand what I had seen. I was breathing frantically. I tried to steady myself. After a few moments, I approached the table again, slowly and tentatively. I looked down into the jar. The tear in the dead creature’s skin was a little wider and cleaner now, and I could see that this was so because the smaller one inside had eaten away the edges of the wound. Shivering with revulsion I looked at it and in a moment its minute wriggling and writhing to feed revealed that it was an immature version of the dead thing which had served as its host. I clapped the lid back on the jar and withdrew again to my window. I sat at my desk, never taking my eyes off the jar.

  This was the creature’s nature. It reproduced itself by growing an embryo inside which slowly consumed the host body of the mother: a type of matriphagy as some spiders practice. Or perhaps this carcass was the father and the fertilized zygote is placed within him while he is alive, to grow as is seen in some marine animals, I believe. The males in nature are usually more disposable than females. This conjecture makes the most sense to me. And the growing fetus must be anaerobic if circumstances warrant even after it is viable, otherwise it could never survive in the alcohol.

  A knock at my door. “Mr. Jarre?” It was Mrs. Zell. “I have a letter here for you. Just arrived.” She pushed it under the door. “And Mr. Jarre, I have a young lady coming up from Cape Girardeau on Monday. Miss Connolly is her name. She is to be the new housekeeper at the rectory. I want her to have this room. I would be obliged if you could be out by the weekend.”

  “But I was counting on having the full month, Mrs. Zell.”

  “We rent by the week, Mr. Jarre. I can put you out at my discretion. By the weekend, if you please.”

  “I need more time, Mrs. Zell. I have nowhere to go.”

  “To be honest, Mr. Jarre, I regretted bringing you in here almost immediately. You have always been an ill fit. I don’t know why you would want to stay in a house or a town for that matter, where you weren’t wanted. I shouldn’t repeat this, but now I hear from Mrs. LaHaye that you have tried to sell goods to her husband which were obviously stolen from your last employer. She believes Mr. Karl has pressed a complaint against you, and the Sheriff has a warrant for your arrest which he will execute when he returns from that shooting business on DeCastres Island in a day or two. Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it but I have always spoken plainly, and you are hardly in a position to run away from the justice awaiting you . . . and I suppose you have a right to know. I will have no undesirables in my house.”

  I am to be arrested? The old woman’s words were like a judgment from heaven. It was like that moment on the transport ship when we realized that the war made us understand everything in a new way. The entire town wants me gone, and I have no means to go elsewhere. So, what will I do?

  There was a slight sloshing sound in the jar. I could see the gray, slippery body of the dead thing twitch a little as the offspring inside it fed. I arose and went to my door, picking up the letter Mrs. Zell had pushed under it. It was from Professor Stubbs at Carthesian. It said:

  Mr. Jarre:

  You claim to have been in a vertebrate zoology class of mine some ten years ago, but I have no memory of you. Your letter is obviously a hoax as the creature you describe is a biological impossibility, as someone with a true knowledge of natural history would certainly know. Please find better ways to occupy your time than by dreaming up nonsense to waste the time of persons more productive than yourself.

  Signed,

  J.S.

  So, there it is, George. I am soon to be homeless or arrested, and I have no prospects but to take this thing in its jar and try to show some scientific or academic person that it is real and I have made a great discovery. But who will listen? I am exhausted. I must rest.

  Dec. 7

  George: This will be my last letter. I will leave it on my table for Mrs. Zell to find. And what else will she find? I am not well. I am not strong, but I am content. I feel such peace now. I am holding a towel to my face as I write. My face is numb but bloody. Covered in blood. I slept a deep undrugged sleep last night. I scarcely moved all night and only awoke ten minutes ago. As I started to awaken, I noticed that the lower half of my face was numb, completely without feeling. There was a small weight on my chest and neck. As my eyes slowly focused, I was horrified to see the young creature from the jar sitting on my chest, just at the collarbone. Its dark eyes watched me indifferently. Its small body was a perfect copy of its dead parent except it had more fur. Its mouth and face were covered in blood. My blood! It had deadened my face with its stingers! I gasped and choked on the blood I inhaled with the breath. I jumped out of my bed and saw that the mattress was splattered in red. The little thing fell to the floor with a soft, flopping thud, and seemed unhurt and unperturbed.

  I pressed myself to the wall and moved away from it to my front door. I opened the door and looking out into the hallway, I could see no one was about. Mrs. Zell was probably downstairs and it was too early for the Morstan girl to come and clean. I slipped down the hallway to the lavatory and turned on the light. To my horror I saw that my lips had been eaten away in a ragged pattern revealing bloody teeth within. A little cry escaped my tattered mouth, spattering blood on the mirror.

  At first, I could not think of what to do. I could not think of calling Mrs. Zell, or returning to my room. After a few minutes, I made my way back down the hallway to my door. My fear and sense of revulsion had suddenly subsided. Now I could not define how I was feeling, except to say there was no panic. I was suddenly calm and clear-headed. I opened my door and edged into my room. The little creature was still where it had fallen, and seemed completely oblivious to me.

  I watched it for many minutes. It was cleaning the blood from the edges of its mouth. It seemed so purposeful and focused on its natural function, on the undoubted, perfect fulfillment of its nature: its God-ordained purpose, as the Bible says. I don’t know if I smiled at it or not as I peacefully watched it. If I did, it would not have been recognizable as a smile. I locked my door and braced my one dining chair against the knob. I sat at my desk and wrote this account for you. This action, this perfect, natural action had begun and I must not interfere with it. I am filled with the love of God at this moment, and so grateful for His blessing . . . George, my friend . . . or one whom I once thought of that way, a deep, deep sleep is what is needed, that I may better comply with my part in this. My bromide powder is on the table . . .

  John S. McFarland’s first novel, The Black Garden was published in 2010 to universal praise. His work has appeared in The Twilight Zone Magazine, Eldritch Tales, National Lampoon, River Styx, Tornado Alley, and in six anthologies, including A Treasury of American Horror Stories, along with work by Stephen King and H. P. Lovecraft. He has written extensively on historical and arts-related subjects and has been a guest lecturer in fiction at Washington University in St. Louis. He is a lifelong Bigfoot enthusiast, and Annette: A Big, Hairy Mom is his first novel for young readers. Its sequel will appear in 2017.

  VESSEL

  by Ibai Canales

  The first thing he thought was, “I must be dead. I must be having one of those out-of-body experiences people with near-death experiences talk about.”

  There was no other way to explain why he was staring down at his own face. How did it happen? He tried to remember, but it was all blurry. He had wanted to stay in the temple while all the others retreated to the camp to celebrate the finding, he remembered that much. He wanted to study the machinery and the . . .

  The bodies.

  What if they were still alive, as Alice had suggested? What if one of them had somehow woken up and attacked him? He had been, after all, trying to discern if the machines that encased them worked. He remembered having ran his gloved fingers carefully over the intricate hieroglyphs on what seemed to be the control panel when . . . When what? He could remember no more.

/>   He heard voices coming down from the shaft and felt a sudden burst of hope. He didn’t know what he hoped for, he doubted anyone on the team had the ability to re-insert his soul into his dead body, as impressive as everyone’s credentials were, but at least he wouldn’t have to face death alone.

  “Augie?” he heard Ryerson call. He hated it. His name was Augustus, and he was proud of it. “Augie, are you all right?”

  He tried to speak, but no sound came out of his mouth. Of course, now that he was a ghost, he would probably need a Ouija board to communicate with the living.

  The first one to come down the shaft and into the chamber was Ryerson himself, closely followed by Alice and Bellowo, the South African geologist.

  Ryerson, despite being the fine specimen of an American male that he was, square jaw and closely cropped blond hair included, looked smaller than usual. The horrified look in his face also made him look younger.

  “We picked up an energy surge coming from the chamber, did you? . . .” Alice suddenly stopped talking and mimicked Ryerson’s petrified expression.

  “My God,” the South African geologist whispered.

  They could see him? Maybe he was an apparition, floating over his own dead body. He was ready to consider that possibility, he had become surprisingly open minded in the last few minutes.

  “They’re still alive,” Alice said, instinctively seeking refuge behind Ryerson’s powerful shoulder.

  “No sudden moves,” Ryerson said quietly.

  What the hell were they talking about? He tried to ask them, but again, he found himself unable to produce a sound.

  “My god,” the geologist repeated. “He’s dead. They killed him.”

  “Stay calm,” Ryerson whispered, extending his arms as if they were a barrier to keep the two scientists away from him.

  “Calm?” Alice let out a nervous giggle. “They’re alive and they’re hostile . . .”

  “Shut up,” Ryerson grunted impatiently, “Don't startle him. Bellowo, go get the shotgun. Slowly.”

  Agustus watched Bellowo walk slowly up the shaft, and nearly tripping and falling because the geologist was unable to take his bloodshot eyes away from him while he did so.

  He wanted to ask them what they were so damn afraid of. It was him, good old Augustus Cripps, albeit in spectral form. He couldn’t look so bad, could he? Surely not something out of those horror movies his nephew liked so much . . .

  He raised his hands to look at them. He was half-expecting a couple of glowing, skeletal extremities, but instead, he found himself looking at what could only be described as black fins. Two black, shiny, shapeless lumps.

  Like the ones the corpses in the chambers had.

  “Oh God,” he thought. “Oh God, this can’t be happening . . .”

  But it was. He looked down at his new body. It wasn’t translucent or glowing at all. It was black and chitinous. He raised his so-called hands to touch his face, but he already knew what he was going to find: the smooth, featureless surface he had seen on the other creatures.

  “Oh Christ, I’m one of them.”

  How did this happen? He staggered toward Ryerson and Alice, raising his tentacle-like arms toward them. “Help me,” he tried to say, but the black plate he had for a face wouldn’t allow any sounds. Come to think of that, he wasn’t sure this new body he was in had any vocal cords. As he approached the pair, he realized he was now much taller. He looked down on them as they walked away from him, Alice frantically holding Ryerson’s arm.

  “Oh God, it’s coming after us!”

  “Bellowo!” Ryerson yelled, not taking his eyes away from Augustus’ now featureless face.

  “Here!” the geologist replied, and Augustus could see the Mossberg 500 shotgun fly down the shaft. Ryerson skillfully grabbed it in midair, cocked it and shot Augustus right where his stomach would have been. The shot made the ancient walls of the chamber tremble like a tuning fork.

  It didn’t hurt. It felt like a punch in the gut, but it didn’t hurt. Panic took hold of Augustus’ mind as he found himself flying across the room with a gaping, smoking hole right in the middle of his torso.

  “Oh my God, now I’m really going to die,” he thought. “I’m really going to die.”

  But he didn’t. He crashed against one of the glass niches that harbored the alien bodies and fell on the dusty floor only to immediately jump back up and run towards the lower levels of the temple. He didn’t know what he would find. He didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t know anything at all, except that he wanted to get as far as possible from Ryerson and his shotgun.

  Ryerson fired again. The shot made a good chunk of primeval rock fall over his black, armored head, which only stoked the flames of his terror. With the sound of the shotgun and Alice’s voice begging Ryerson to leave still ringing in his now non-existent ears, Augustus got lost in the darkness.

  He came back to his senses as a man who suddenly wakes up from a nightmare. He realized two things: one, he didn’t know how long he had been there, cowering in the darkness of the lower levels. Two, he was stuck to the stone ceiling like some kind of massive alien spider.

  He looked at the amorphous extremities that were his arms. They had sprouted long, curved claws that had sunken themselves in the stone.

  The shock of seeing that made his limbs go flaccid. He fell from the ceiling and onto the floor. Yet again, he felt no pain.

  “Is this normal?” he thought. “Am I supposed to be insensitive to pain now, or am I just in shock?”

  That reminded him of the gaping wound on his torso. Feeling the grip of terror again, he looked down at it. It was already closing. The healing process was so fast, he could actually witness as it happened, like a blood stain spreading in reverse. What had he become? And how did it happen? Suddenly, he felt a suffocating rush of claustrophobia, except it wasn’t the ancient, hieroglyph-laden corridor that was oppressing him. It was his own body. The black, chitinous obscenity he had suddenly found himself trapped in. Along with the claustrophobia, he felt a wave of repulsion. He clawed at his armored head, at his bulbous thorax. The wounds closed instantly as if they were liquid. He tried to scream, but couldn’t produce a sound.

  Out. Out. Out. He had to get out of that thing.

  “Calm down, old man,” he told himself, when the terror subsided, even though he couldn’t vocalize the words. “Think. Go back to the beginning.”

  He had wanted to stay in the temple a bit longer to study the hieroglyphs. They had spent six weeks in the desert, fruitlessly digging for any traces of the fabled god-like entities the natives talked about, and they had finally hit the motherlode. No, just five hours in that chamber wasn’t enough for him. He was on the verge of cracking the language. He was close to understanding what creatures—that had walked the planet eons before the first humans climbed down the trees—had to say. He was the best in his field, and he was about to prove it. Augustus Cripps, dead language expert, was about to decipher a language that was more than dead: everyone who spoke it had been grinded to dust ages before the first human being walked the Earth.

  Everyone except the dark, faceless creatures in the glass niches, of course.

  He now remembered he had made a substantial mistake: he wasn’t dealing with primitive humans. He was dealing with a species that was far more advanced than humans currently were. He wasn’t reading a story, the rise and fall of some mighty pre-human king, or the legend of their sun-god. This read more like . . . a user’s manual. He had a clear memory of his finger unwittingly pressing a rhomboidal knob on the dark metallic panel and then . . .

  He had woken up inside of one of the alien bodies encased in the glass niches. He had been unknowingly operating an alien machine. And it had somehow transferred his consciousness into this thing. Under other circumstances, he would have felt marveled at the thought of a species that had been able to unravel the mysteries of consciousness, to the point of being able to transfer it to . . . What was it that he was now anyway?
Some type of living tool? A battle suit, perhaps? Not only was he now impervious to pain and had amazingly quick healing capabilities, he also noticed that he hadn’t taken a single breath of air since he had woken up inside his new body (not that he would be able to, without the necessary orifices), so there was a fair chance that he was inside the alien equivalent of an extreme environment suit.

  But suits could be taken off, couldn’t they? If the machine had transferred his mind into this slimy, featureless monstrosity, maybe it could transfer it back to his old body.

  He needed to go back to the upper chamber, he needed to finish deciphering the instructions in the panel.

  And of course, he would need to retrieve his body.

  As he had expected, they had taken it with them, and of course, they had blocked the shaft that led down to the temple. Ryerson might have been a simple man, but he was no fool, and always prepared for the worst. They had driven one of the 4x4 Fords to the entrance and then they had flipped it over so the roof would cover it. Those 6000 pounds of metal posed an insurmountable challenge for anyone who tried to move them. Unfortunately for Ryerson and the others, he wasn’t planning on moving them. He was planning on going through them.

  He looked at one of his ever-fluctuating limbs and ordered it to change. Practice paid off, and it quickly became a long, obsidian-colored blade. He knew from experience that his claws could penetrate the stone and the alien metal of the inner chambers of the temple, so there was no reason why he couldn’t do the same to the roof of the Ford.

  He was right. His scythe easily went through the aluminum surface and lodged itself into the top of the driver’s seat. He retracted it a few inches, and then quickly drew a circle on the roof. He peeled the metal circle with surprising ease (he was much stronger now, as he had anticipated) and entered the vehicle. He smashed the windshield with one of his boneless elbows (which had become suddenly hard for the occasion) and stepped out of the mound in which they had found the ancient structure and into the desert.

 
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