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Hinnom maissue 002, p.9

Hinnom Magazine Issue 002, page 9

 

Hinnom Magazine Issue 002
 


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  Of course, there would be guards.

  The two bearded men instantly began yelling and pointing their antique rifles at him. Augustus immediately recognized them as two of the native carriers they had hired at a nearby village.

  He had been studying the local dialect during their flight from Paris, and despite the fact that he was still struggling with the pronunciation, he clearly understood that they were afraid of the sand demon that stole the souls of men.

  Had this happened before? Maybe some villager had discovered the temple by chance, accessed the corpse chamber and gone through the same body-swapping process he'd gone through? He wanted to ask them, but again, the smooth, featureless plate he had for a face prevented him from uttering a sound. He instead raised his formless limbs in a surrendering gesture, but apparently, that only made him look more menacing. The two men become frantic, their speech garbled and unintelligible, and before he could do anything else to calm them down, one of them had already fired his rifle. He felt the impact on his face plate and for a second, the world became fuzzy and sort of pixelated.

  “I'm artificial,” he thought distractedly. “I'm some kind of organic robot.”

  Then he heard the dribbling sound, looked to his left, and realized that the bullet had somehow bounced off his head and hit the Ford's gas tank. A puddle of fuel was forming in the sand right next to him.

  The men were still frantic. The one who had shot him cocked his rifle, ready to fire another round.

  Augustus raised his tentacles once again, trying to warn him. His panic turned them into a pair of grotesque, black trees.

  Both guards screamed in terror at the sight. They began shooting wildly.

  The Ford exploded.

  He was on fire. The thought repeated over and over in his mind like an insane mantra. I'm on fire. I'm on fire. I'm on fire.

  Engulfed in flames, Augustus ran mindlessly through the camp. He finally hit a tent and fell on the sand. He became embroiled in nylon, cord, and the smell of his own charred flesh (yes, somehow his new body allowed him the sense of smell, and it smelt surprisingly similar to fried calamari). The tent covering him combined with his frantic thrashing finally stifled the flames, which allowed him to recover a semblance of self-control.

  Giving thanks to whichever deity took care of alien artificial creatures for the absolute lack of pain, he stood up. Trying to ascertain the damage done, he looked down at his body. His flesh, which until a minute ago had been black and slimy, was now greyish and brittle.

  He heard a human voice roar. Before he could ascertain its origin, he saw a mattock descend and lodge itself into his chest. He became paralyzed with horror. His mind flooded with a silent scream. He was being stabbed. For some reason, the thought was worse than the one of being shot at or set ablaze. It was almost offensive.

  He was being stabbed, for God's sake!

  “Die, you bastard!” Ryerson screamed, as he drove the mattock into his chest, his left shoulder, his back as he instinctively turned away from the attack.

  He fell on his belly and tried to crawl away from the onslaught, but he could still feel the point of the mattock go in and out of his back.

  “Kill it!” He heard Alice say. “Remember what it did to Augie!”

  He was in the middle of pondering how long it would be before Ryerson found a vulnerable spot in his new anatomy when he heard Alice say his name. Something clicked inside his head, and he felt a sudden surge of rage amidst the cloud of terror that crippled his mind.

  My name is Augustus, you dumb bitch, he thought, as he ordered his left arm to become a scythe. He rolled over and drove it into Ryerson's chest as he was lifting the mattock for a new blow.

  The chief archaeologist fell limply beside him, raising a small cloud of sand.

  Alice began screaming. She screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

  For a second, Augustus had begun to feel a euphoric feeling of triumph: he had bested someone in combat, something that he, a bookish, sickly man, had only been able to dream of. Then, the sound of Alice's screams made his pride go cold and turn to horror once again. What had he done? He had murdered a man. He had taken a life. He was no longer innocent. No longer a good man.

  He had to do something about it. He had to make things right again. But how? He needed to think. But she wouldn't shut up . . .

  Without putting much thought into what he was doing, he raised one of his limbs toward Alice. It elongated and flew towards her, and it covered her mouth neatly, creating a perfect cast of her lower jaw.

  That didn't calm her one bit. Quite the contrary, actually, as she began convulsing and clawing at his grotesquely long forearm.

  Augustus raised his other tentacle and produced a morbid finger, which then proceeded to fall right in front of where his mouth was supposed to be, hoping to mimic the silence gesture.

  Alice rolled her eyes into her head and fainted.

  Augustus panicked again. Was she dead? Had he killed her?

  He retracted his tentacle and walked fearfully toward her. Dear God, maybe he had suffocated her. He didn't know what his body could or couldn't do. Maybe he had invaded her throat and choked her.

  He produced yet another finger and put it under her ear. No, her heart was still beating. She had just passed out due to the shock.

  He hated not being able to let out a sigh of relief.

  “Get away from her!”

  He turned around to face Bellowo. The guards had obviously run away, but they had left their rifles behind. Bellowo was holding one of them.

  “I won't let you hurt her.” He tried to sound stern, but his fear was palpable. Like himself, Bellowo was a scholar, not a man of action. He had probably never fired a gun before in his life, as his shaking hands showed. The barrel of the rifle danced almost comically.

  Augustus slowly walked away from Alice and raised his arms. Could Bellowo be the key to solving everything? He had only known him since the expedition began, but they had gotten along almost immediately. They were both middle-aged, single, and more passionate about their jobs than about their respective social lives. Neither of them really liked Ryerson.

  “What are you doing?” Bellowo asked nervously. “Are you . . . Are you surrendering?”

  Augustus had an idea. He kneeled and had his right tentacle produce a sharp tip. He dug it into the sand, and immediately heard Bellowo hold his breath. He could almost feel the geologist's thoughts. Was this some kind of cunning alien strategy?

  Augustus began drawing a big, capital I. Then an A.

  “Wait . . .” Bellowo lowered the rifle. “Are you trying to communicate?”

  Yes! There was hope after all. Bellowo would listen. After all, Bellowo was like him.

  He was about to finish drawing the big M when he heard shots being fired once again. He raised his head and saw a bunch of natives running toward them. They were carrying torches and more ancient firearms, no doubt leftovers from the last war.

  It seemed that the guards had not ran away after all. They had simply gone to get reinforcements. He could hear their angry voices, caught loose words, and they didn't sound particularly imaginative. They were, basically, out to hunt and kill the soul-stealing demon.

  Something whistled through the night air. Augustus felt the blow on his left shoulder and shortly after, he heard the shot. Then he heard the natives cheering. Alice stirred, opened her eyes and resumed her screaming the second she set them on him.

  Bellowo looked at her, then he looked at Augustus with a puzzled expression. He raised his rifle once again.

  “Don't . . . Don't move!” He said.

  “Kill it!” Alice demanded. “Don't just stand there, kill it!”

  Bellowo's eyes hardened, and Augustus knew he was beyond his reach now. Again, he resented the lack of a mouth which he, at the moment, would use to call him a bloody idiot to his face.

  The angry crowd reached them. They engulfed Bellowo in a tide of craggy, bearded faces and fiery eyes. August
us stood up, turned around, and ran as fast as his new, alien legs let him.

  Augustus watched the sun come up, and again, he noticed that he could not feel its warmth, same as he hadn't felt the grievous wounds that Ryerson and the others had inflicted upon him the night before. His state of physical numbness was only matched by that of his mind. He felt nothing. Was he becoming depressed? Maybe. Then again, his brain wasn't even human, so who could say? Maybe it was just a side effect of his new physiognomy.

  On a positive note, he didn't feel any thirst or hunger either (and he had been wandering through the desert for hours). He wondered how long he would last in his current state. Did this body have some type of battery? It definitely didn't require any nutrients to keep functioning. Maybe there would be some kind of power outlet, somewhere back at the alien temple . . .

  But was it worth it? Did he really want to live like that? Before he realized it, he was wandering again, this time, to the edge of the particularly steep mountain in which he had been hiding for the last (he calculated) two hours.

  What if he jumped? Would the fall kill him, or would his new body simply recompose itself as it had been doing so far?

  And what if it didn't? Was he ready to explore that final mystery?

  He began climbing down the cliff. His body was, it seemed, on autopilot. Maybe it really boasted that feature, or maybe he was just acting on instinct. He didn't care anymore. Nothing really seemed to matter now. He just wanted to move, like a shark. Do something. Go somewhere.

  He found himself wandering back to the camp. He climbed one of the low hills surrounding it and observed how a bunch of natives busied themselves rebuilding what he had unwittingly destroyed the night before. The armed patrols had doubled, making it impossible to infiltrate, at least during daytime. Not that he cared now.

  A black spot in the corner of his eye drew his attention. It was a column of smoke. He creeped to the eastern brink and saw they were burning something. He already knew what it was.

  They were cremating him, probably according to some local rite involving the victims of the “soul-stealing sand demon”. A native priest was chanting while his remains burned atop a makeshift pallet. He watched Bellowo comfort Alice, first putting his arm around her shoulders, then kissing her.

  Just as it had happened the night before during his fight with Ryerson, something clicked inside his head. It wasn't that he was attracted to Alice. He wasn't. But somehow, seeing the two together reminded him of what he had lost. That would never happen for him now. Not with Alice, nor with anyone.

  Suddenly, his numbness disappeared and he felt as if he had been submerged in ice cold water. Again, a silent scream filled his mind.

  The guard was sitting on the sand next to the burnt-out Ford. He was sucking on one of their exotic cigarettes, which, Augustus remembered, smelt vaguely like cinnamon. He crawled down the slope of the hill like a massive cockroach until his featureless face was right behind the guard's turban-clad head, and then he swiftly stabbed him with one of his blades. The guard let out a gush of cigarette smoke, then a gush of blood, and silently fell dead.

  Augustus landed quietly right beside what was left of the Ford and crept inside it, then into the temple through the hole he had opened in its roof.

  He didn't know what he was looking for, what he would find inside the bowels of the alien structure. He wasn't following any strategy. He simply knew that he was meant to be there. Down in the dark, with the dead things. And the rest of the monsters.

  Ibai Canales hides somewhere in the cold mountains of Basque Country, in Northern Spain, from where he occasionally descends to wreak havoc upon the civilized world with the stories he writes and the graphic novels he draws.

  DRY BONES

  By Charles D. Shell

  I would have never caught sight of the town if I’d been looking at the road ahead. It popped into view on the car’s right when a gap opened in the tree line.

  “Dwayne, stop!” I said, louder than necessary.

  The blue-green Nissan Stanza screeched to a stop, catching gravel on the edge of the highway.

  “What is it, baby?” Dwayne asked, worried.

  Cursing came from the back seat. Fred had been asleep and the sudden stop put him on the floor.

  “I’m okay. Just back up. I saw something.”

  Giving me an annoyed look, Dwayne backed up along the gravel until the town was revealed. I grinned.

  “What the hell?” Fred said as he sat up and looked around.

  “Tammy spotted another one,” Dwayne said. “Don’t ask me how.”

  I already had my smartphone out and looked at Google Maps. I frowned as nothing came up other than the road number. I did a little web search but so far as the internet was concerned, this place didn’t exist.

  “Whatcha got?” Dwayne asked. He shut off the engine and sat there, his arms crossed. His brown hair and angular face edged in sunlight, there remained a touch of annoyance.

  “Sorry,” I said. “Didn’t mean to freak you out.”

  “I’m used to it.”

  I slapped him playfully.

  “Turn the engine back on. It’s too hot without the air conditioning,” I said.

  “Your constant air-conditioning is killing our gas mileage,” Dwayne said.

  My normal websites had nothing on this town. From the look of things, it must have been abandoned at least since the early nineteen-thirties. Probably too small to register.

  “I got nothing. Slipped between the cracks.”

  “Want to check it out?”

  I glanced at it again. It had one main street, partially covered with overgrown weeds, blown earth, and sand. A larger house sat on a small hill at the far end of the street, surrounded by what looked like sand dunes. It was an impressive structure. Must have been a mansion in Depression terms.

  “Yeah. You think we can get down that road?”

  “If not, there’s enough area to turn around.”

  “Wonderful,” Fred said. “Another dead town. I’m so excited.” He dug around in the ice chest and pulled out a beer.

  “Don’t drink all the craft beer. I want to try some,” I said.

  “Firsties!” Fred said as he took a gulp.

  “Pig.”

  Dwayne guided the Stanza down the cracked asphalt with care. I took the time to check my makeup and clothing, not that anyone but Dwayne would notice, but I wanted to look good in the photographs.

  “Always good to be presentable in the dead town,” Fred said.

  I ignored him and ran a brush through my dirty blonde hair.

  The main street wasn’t as bad as it had looked from a distance. Despite a couple of scraggly trees pushing up between the cracks, it was mostly just a fine dusting of weeds. Even the Stanza could pass over it. I noticed the plants sprouting from the road were brown and sickly, perhaps from disease or lack of water. As if to reinforce it, a faded sign read: Drought Warning alongside the entrance into the town proper. Dwayne pulled up next to the general store at the corner and we got out to take a look.

  A dry, dust-laden wind met us, dragging the moisture from my lips and eyes. It elicited a cough from me. The sound of the cough in the deserted town was somehow alarming—like talking in church.

  Dwayne handed me a bottled water. I took a sip gratefully.

  “Thanks.”

  “Careful with this grit in the air.”

  “All we are is dust in the wind,” I said. He gave me a pained look.

  “I guess we can see why this town was abandoned,” Fred said, getting out of the car and stretching. He was a smaller, dark-haired man with a wiry build. “It’s a shithole.”

  I looked around at the Depression-Era architecture. Despite the neglect, the buildings didn’t look to be in that bad a shape. I pulled out my digital camera and started photographing everything. The general store’s main windows were somehow still in one piece, even if filthy. The grime obscured whatever lay within.

  “I’m going to
check down towards the highway,” Fred said.

  “For what?” Dwayne asked.

  “A good place to piss and maybe buried treasure.”

  “This is Depression Era. The only treasure you’re liable to find is rusty signs,” I said as I swung the camera around the street corner. An ancient stop sign sat there, barely legible. At a second glance, I realized there was something scratched on the surface of the sign. I zoomed in and read the words.

  It thirsts.

  I frowned and lowered the camera. I walked over to the sign and touched its weathered surface. Blowing sand and grit had left it smooth as glass, except for the words carved jaggedly into its surface, perhaps with a nail or knife.

  “It thirsts,” I said to myself. I jumped a moment later when Dwayne grabbed me around the waist.

  “Sorry. Wasn’t trying to scare you. What the hell does that mean? ‘It thirsts?’”

  “No idea.”

  “Sounds like a bad eighties horror flick.”

  I looked left and right at the two roads that formed the T shape at the end of the main street. My eyes lighted on a rusty Jeep. I walked over to it.

  “That’s not Depression Era. Looks like a model from the 1990s,” Dwayne said as he opened the vehicle door. A stream of sand and dust poured out, along with the ragged remains of some clothing. The black leather seats were cracked and desiccated.

  “Careful! Who knows what might nest in there!” Fred said as he came around the corner with a beer. “Might be snakes.”

  I involuntarily took a step back. I wasn’t terrified of snakes, but I could do without any closer meetings. Fred handed me a beer. I took it without thinking. The cheery craft beer logo on its label had a grinning moose. Tasted pretty good, though.

 
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