The sirens had been deafening. Still the screeching tires of the cavalcade of police cars had been heard over the wail. Blue shirted cops had spilled into every breach around the bank. Their first shouts ordering surrender were drowned out. The wall of guns they had leveled on the building from the parking lot had bristled metallically in the late day sun from the view inside of the glassed in bank lobby.
That had been where bank robber Carson Burns had found himself an hour earlier. Now he sat on a wet creaky log with damp green trees sagging in on him from all directions. The soggy puddle laden ground at his feet heaved with the life of frogs burping at him and plopping about his boots. He was still catching his breath as he recovered from slogging through dense swampland. His escape from authorities had happened at a break neck pace when he fled from the city limit forty minutes ago.
Less than an hour ago Carson had stood surrounded by a fearful crowd of bank patrons and staff that bowed before his revolver. The automatic rifles his two associates had waved freely inside the bank had backed up his threat. The three men had all been dressed in nondescript gray mechanic jumpsuits. They wore no masks but all had similar stern faces and brown haired crew cuts that the victims would have a hard time differentiating at a later date. All three robbers had been loaded down with sacks full of cash when they charged from the front exit of the bank shooting wildly. They had met with a hell storm of return fire.
Carson’s accomplice number two, Old Reggie, had sprayed off an indeterminable surplus of bullets at anything black and white or blue in the first moments of their exodus. It did not take long for him to be tagged in the forehead by a sharp shooter on the roof of a Cow Heaven burger joint at the end of the block. Old dead Reggie dropped his bank satchel sending hundred dollar bills into the wind and into the gutters. His left leg collapsed backward on him like a chicken wing as he folded. It would have hurt quite badly if he wasn’t dead Carson had thought at the time as time itself slowed down and he had felt like he could see the bullets coming at him.
Carson’s one dependable partner, Pete, had made spider webs of a few cruiser windshields as he fired the machine gun he carried across the police line. He took haphazard aim at the ubiquitous cops that dashed about the cars in explosions of glass and shrapnel. Pete’s cover fire had opened a gap for Carson to run the blockade. Beyond the cordoned off street in front of the bank, only a row of weather eroded graying town houses stood before a sweltering swampy woods. This is where bank robber Carson Burns fled lugging his twin bags of money and his revolver. He had looked back only once to shoot at the back of the police barricade that was turning on him even as it continued its volatile shootout with Pete.
Now as Burns sat on a mushy lichen coated log, he reloaded his .38 and focused on trying to find the sun through the obstructive tree line. Wilting wet tree branches curled in on him. He contemplated the situation as droplets of water fell from the leaves overhead and tapped him between his eyes. What became of Pete was unknown to Carson. Old Reggie had kept the keys to the getaway car and Carson thought he’d probably be buried with them. Thoughts of his partners ended when he suddenly heard a twig snap nearby. He was rattled back on the clock and spotted a policeman trampling through the tangled marsh woodlands. Leading the cop was a large German shepherd on a leash. The dog crammed its big black nose into the underbrush sniffing furiously. Carson made a run deeper into the tree columned wetlands.
The dog went mad barking when it caught sight of Burns, pulling the cop for a ride. The police officer shouted after Carson. The verbal warnings went from typical cop jargon to some craziness about not passing an evil railroad track. The strangeness of the cautioning actually caused Carson to stop dead in his path when he indeed came upon rickety train tracks whose railroad ties were predominantly broken or missing. The cop came up behind him with his excitable K9.
“Don’t cross the train tracks!” yelled the policeman. Carson realized how young the man was and managed a smile at him as he raised his revolver at the cop.
“What happens if I cross? Something like step’n on a crack and breaking my Mama’s back. I’ll tell you this wet ears, my dear mother has been bed ridden many a years already so I don’t think she’ll mind a bit.”
“That is the Greenspine Railway…it’s cursed!”
“Are you trying to apprehend me with a dusty ghost story? Kid, you are too funny. If you were older I’d shoot you dead. But I’m hoping you’ll see the error of your ways and at least be a dirty cop some day when you’re less optimistic about life. In fact I have twenty thousand dollars with me here in these bags. I’ll give you a stack of Franklins and you go away and buy Buster a bone.”
The dog leapt to the end of its slack on the leash and barked threateningly. Carson cocked the hammer back on his gun. The cop did not acknowledge the weapon and did not even attempt to draw his own firearm.
“You don’t know the true story of that track…everyone around here does…there are evil things in the marshes on the other side of it. Neither of us wants to go passed there, trust me.”
“Enjoy your life, junior.” laughed Carson as he stepped foot on the loose gravel between the metal rails of the old railroad track. The young cop gasped as Burns walked to the other side of the train rail. The hero dog put its tail between its legs and whimpered. It drew back against the policemen like a scolded puppy.
“You don’t know what you have done.” whispered the cop becoming pale with the features of his face seeming to have caved in.
“You two turn round and forget you saw me.” said Carson, writing his warning in the air with the tip of his revolver barrel.
Carson took a final look at the railroad track and absconded into the denser swamp forest at his back. His footing became muckier, with his boots sinking into the moisture soaked earth. He reached for branches to tug himself forward while struggling not to drop his cash sacks. The marsh was becoming more unforgiving the further in that he ventured. A veil of mosquitoes buzzed at the skin of his face with some among them landing for a blood meal.
Onward a leaf green snake watched Carson from an elaborate exposed root structure of a tree that was growing sideways. The great twisting tree roots looked like the arthritic ravaged fingers of an old man’s giant hand pushing into the soft mossy earth. The snake pondered Carson hypnotically before retreating to darkness in the hollow of the tree roots that was like a cave. He could have sworn that within the deeper recesses of the cavernous root structure he saw the twinkle of larger eyes than the snake’s looking out on him as he passed. When nothing came out of the hollow but a few fluttering white winged moths, he shook his head to ward off the peculiar feeling.
It was hard to keep track of time for Carson as he fought tooth and nail through the harsh swamp weighed down by the bank bags. He periodically turned around to look for any sign of the superstitious cop but saw none of him or his dog. Carson couldn’t see the sun from under the tree canvas but light strafing through the trees told him it was still there. He had sweated buckets in his escape into the heat of the swamp leaving his gray mechanic jumpsuit musty and black under the armpits. Mud caked him as he scrambled his way up a moss covered ravine wall barely holding on to his bagged bundles of money and his gun. Thorny brush tore and snagged his coveralls and slowed his progress as much as the weight of the money sacks.
When Carson finally climbed out of the thicket of the ravine he came upon a clearing with a very curious cabin. He was quite mystified, for he had not expected to find any semblance of civilization this far into the swamp. The cabin was predominantly assembled from splintered and faded lumber native to the swamp. But more strangely distinct to its construction were scavenged railroad ties merged into its very angular formation. A tall crooked cobblestone chimney rose from behind the cabin cutting the orb of the dropping sun and casting a bent shadow over Carson’s form.
The soiled bank robber led with his gun as he approached the ill shape of the cabin. He caught sight of mud stuck in the barrel of his revolver and set to knock the dirt and muck loose against his leg. Training the gun on the nearest window in the small strange house he made his way closer, noticing that the window was nailed shut by what had to have been an entire box of nails. As Carson rounded the front of the warped cottage he came upon a narrow tree stump in the yard split by a massive double headed axe. He scratched his head and tightened his finger on the trigger of his gun. Carson approached the cabin’s door, of which hung precariously slanted on loose hinges. The door was set between more windows nailed shut by an absurd amount of rusting nails.
Carson stood at the broken door of the cabin mulling over his next move. The heft of the bank bags was pulling him down with exponentially gathering gravity now. He was sore and tired from his exhaustive trek. He shrugged off any suspicion of the cabin, for it appeared abandoned to him. With his priority being shelter and a hiding place, Carson gave the warnings of the young cop no heed. He kicked the uneven door inward breaking its top hinge off and stepped inside the unknown space.
The interior was extremely rustic. It was only lit by the faltering sunlight coming through the cloudy glass of the nailed shut dirty windows. Four wooden chairs were pushed about in every direction with no one facing the other. A chipped white painted wooden table was knocked over against the far wall. Most of the floor was underneath a large dirty brown and red rug flaked with dry mud. Pots and pans set under holes in the roof were full of stagnant water and crumpled brown leaves. The receptacles were swimming with miniscule mosquito larva that darted through the water amid the rubbish of crumbling leaves. An extinguished gas lamp could be found on the floorboards near a fireplace. The gray stones of the hearth face were masked with black soot. There were blackened logs in the fireplace that made Carson wonder how long it had been since the last fire had burned out.
When twilight arrived outside the cabin the swamp came further alive with humming noises and nocturnal animal movement. Lying down on the floor near the cold fireplace Carson made a makeshift pillow out of his money sacks. The bank bags weren’t much for comfort when it came to a sleeping arrangement, but thousands of dollars worth of stuffing made up for the discomfort in his mind. His weariness got the best of him and he soon forgot any nagging thoughts that could hold rest at bay. Sleep won over the threat of police combing the woods for him, and sleep beat out any uneasiness as to the nature of the cabin. Nonetheless Carson fell asleep gripping his revolver tightly in hand. The night grew outside. The cabin lost all light.
Sleep was deep and Carson Burns believed he caught himself dreaming upon finding he was standing in the center of the single room of the cabin. It resembled the middle of the night to him with impenetrable blackness all around. He could barely make out the shapes of the strewn about wooden chairs and sidelong tipped table. Then the gas lamp on the floor by the fireplace acquired flame and dropped a low lying light over everything. The chairs took on wobbling shadows in the flicker of the lamp while the corners of the room fought off the light still.
Carson took a staggered step back when he saw something move in the darkest and farthest corner. The movement had been slow and methodical to the point of being almost imperceptible. The wavering light that could creep no deeper into the shadow danced on the edge of revealing what anonymous thing lurked there. Fear took hold of Carson, with the dream on the verge of becoming a terror of a nightmare.
The gun that never left Carson’s side was nowhere to be found. Trying to be logical and avert his misgivings, Carson concluded he had not dreamed it into being. Still, thinking of the gun did not cause it to materialize in his hand as he would have wished.
More subtle motion showed in the shadowed corner. Then a small dark blue bird flew out of the convergence of shadows. Carson sighed in relief. The calm that occupied him was short lived however when a voice spoke from the black corner that had been the origin of his fears.
“You’d do best to leave before he comes home.” said the darkened corner as the midnight hued blue bird flew back into its obscurity.
“He? Who the hell are you!?” demanded Carson.
“Me?” said the voice weak and ever slowly, “You know I had forgotten who I was for a very long time until you just asked me. You have sparked my dormant dusty mind. It has been an eternity since I even thought about the living life. I think I was a train conductor many, many years in the past. I remember a fiery train crash. Ah, yes…the fire…the burning flesh… and the screams. The screams still echo through this cursed place. I nearly lost who I was how ever long ago that was when he re-animated me.”
“Some of us on the doomed train… taken from the wreckage dead… were brought back to some imitation of life by him.”
“Your questions resurrect memories I thought were far gone. There was a thing that stood on the train tracks as my train powered forward unstoppable. We pulled the brake so hard the lever was near to breaking free as I saw the thing move closer on the tracks. It was a figure almost like a man, but like a bag of skin with arms and legs pulsing and bulging with serpentine shapes. The train screeched ungodly as we fought to stop her from colliding. Then she jumped the track and took every locomotive car with her in a chain of devastation. There was fire…fire and screams.”
“I knew this was some crazy damn nightmare.”
“Who knows when a man is truly dreaming? I may be sleeping now. Perhaps I have been dreaming all this time that I was brought back to life by these birds after I was dragged into the forest dead by him.” spoke the voice languorously, punctuated by a pair of tiny deep blue birds bursting into flight from the black corner. The little birds clipped Carson’s prickly hair near his ears as they drifted by. He jumped in surprise, scratching at his buzzed hair and grabbing a handful of his scrunchy scalp as they passed.
“Birds… bringing you… back to life?” said Carson in fragments, with each word more jittery as he stood on his tiptoes peering into the dark with a hard squint.
“The birds and him.” reiterated the other.
“And who is he?”
“Have you met Mrs. Dunbar?” said the voice from the shadowed perch speaking over him.
It was then Carson heard whistling from behind the side turned table. Its four wooden legs pointed rigidly at him like primitives with spears. A scuttle of some sort in back of the table slid it ever slightly toward him with an elderly female giggle ensuing.
“Mrs. Dunbar?” whispered Carson with his eyes growing wide.
A high pitched laugh broke out in the dark. Carson watched on pins and needles as a brown mouse crossed his path in the low light and scurried to the side of the overturned table. It scampered into the folds of a moth eaten lace petticoat that lay trailing lifeless on the floor from around the bend of the sideways tabletop. Suddenly the tattered underskirt pulled away behind the askew table. Carson sucked in his breath and trembled like no hardened man should.
“Ah, Mrs. Dunbar is hiding at the back of the table.” sniggered the voice in shadow. His gurgling chuckle sounded something like up spilling guts passing through a wetted esophagus on their way to pouring forth from a mortally sickened mouth. Carson felt like ensnared prey.
A gray mouse came to climb along a horizontally oriented leg of the side resting table, about waist high to Carson, until it came to the nub at the end of the spindle. There it sat and brushed its whiskers with its diminutive paws. Its little round black eyes looked up at Carson blankly, reflecting the light floating just above the floor where the gas lamp sat emitting its glow.
“She sees you with the rodent’s eyes. As I see you with the birds’ eyes. It is no longer possible to tell where the animals end and where we begin. Re-animated by their life force as we are.” said the disembodied voice of the shadows.
A quickened side glance by Carson’s fear heightened sight caught the nightshade blue birds flying in circles near the glassed in flame of the gas lamp. The birds broke off from the light source of the lamp and flew up the chimney unsettling soot and dislodging twigs and dry leaves from the flue. Shortly after they then returned down the stone chute in a coordinated flight that took them into the shadows where the voice originated in the corner. There was then a quiet grind of old wood on older wood as a slight chair leg came into the influence of the lamp light. The chair had sidled crosswise over floorboards just barely into the diminished illumination.
Carson broke his stillness and rushed to pick up the gas lamp. He stomped to the darkened secretive corner and shined the lamp on the hidden man in the shadows. There was instantaneous regret in his action as the horror he uncovered there made his blood go ice cold.
In the new exposure of weepy light it was revealed that the man he had been conversing with was a husk of a gray corpse. It was draped in nothing but a coarse tan blanket that was crawling with crickets and soiled by earth and dead leaves. The undead corpse had only one eyeball that was stained a sickly yellow. The bristles of a scraggly beard that jutted from its boney chin were traversed by a centipede. On its shoulder sat one of the dark blue birds. The bird wasted little time in moving to peck the centipede out of the dead man’s beard. The act made Carson feel ill as he saw the hundred legs of the creepy crawly insect struggle to pull against the beak of the bird as it was swallowed down whole. A chirping then came from inside the re-animated cadaver’s skull out of a hollowed out eye socket.
“The gift of life… who can turn from it?” said the living dead corpse as he contorted his head around with creaking exertion to show a bashed in skull open to the air. Carson blinked in disbelief as he saw one of the small dark blue birds busily poking around a nest inside the skull. Another bird like it swooped in from a hole in the roof and made itself at home inside the empty rotted out head. The corpse reached for Carson with a large bone hand that was like a rake. He grabbed Carson by his gray mechanic jumpsuit but then his hand went limp and fell to his own emaciated chest.
“We never know how much we will be able to move. There have been years I did not leave this corner.”
Carson backed away with his gaze locked onto the re-animate. His movement was stiff and disjointed. He withdrew the lamp light and the corpse was pulled back into shadow.
In stepping backwards Carson heard a crunch under foot. He bent over with the lighting of the lamp to find he’d crushed the gray mouse that had been watching him. A shriek erupted from behind the overturned table bringing Carson to shed the area in the light of the gas lamp. He was aghast to witness a shriveled old dead woman wearing a torn and weathered floral dress skulking on all fours on the ground. Her long opaque fingernails dug like claws into the brown and red knit rug underfoot as she strenuously crept passed the disturbed table and over the floor. Her scrambling on elbows and knees was accompanied by the sound of cracking bones and popping joints. She grabbed Carson’s ankle with a hand hanging with festering gray flesh. One of the rips in the filthy flower print dress she wore exposed a fleshless section of ribcage teeming with mice that set to pour out on the dead old woman’s back and onto the floorboards. Carson screamed loud enough to rupture blood into his throat.
Carson was frightened awake by his elaborate nightmare. He found he was bathed in muted daylight as he lay on the floor with his head still on his money bags. He sprang with muscles tensed to standing. Casing the room for ghouls he saw there were none. But he was alarmed to find his hand was empty of his gun even now in the waking world. He frantically searched his immediate surroundings for his revolver. Seeing it tossed in the fireplace in a mound of fresh ashes he ran to retrieve it. Leaning over the fireplace he saw that the blackened logs that were there the day before were reduced to cinders. There were still smoking wood embers under his revolver when he collected it from the hearth. The gun was smudged with ash but otherwise undamaged. Carson wondered who had been in the cabin messing with him while he slept his deep nightmarish slumber.
As far as the status of the rest of the singular room of the cabin went, the chairs were still randomly arranged and the table was still overturned. A few of the pots full of tepid water were spilled over leaving behind evaporating puddles with dried up mosquito spawn in them. As he paced the room, Carson noticed he wasn’t walking level and lifted his right boot to discover a squashed mouse jammed into the treads of his boot. He stared at it a long while until he couldn’t keep his balance any more and stood back on two feet. Carson questioned his sanity. He thought perhaps that he was feverish from something he came into contact with in the marsh.
Still rattled, Carson stripped a large share of mashed mouse guts from his boot sole by scraping it off against the side of one of the chairs. He hesitantly made his way outside the cabin toting his revolver in hand. He scanned the tree line of the woods.
“Is someone here to mess with me?!” Carson shouted into the outlying swamp forest. In frustration he shot his gun off in the air. When he was met by nothing but the droning noise of insects he shot the revolver twice more, this time into the ground. His face was turning red while the veins in his arms throbbed. He felt like his fingers might break as they tightened around the grip of the handgun.
With the subsiding of his rage he became aware of a rancid smell wafting from the grounds behind the cabin where he had not been before. The odor permeated the wind. Carson followed the sick smelling breeze. As he passed by the bisected tree stump that the double-sided axe had been embedded in he made a note that the hatchet was mysteriously missing.
Rounding the cabin Carson came upon many decaying deer carcasses, some strong bucks and some does. All were chopped in half in the middle and flung in two pieces a foot apart from their other portion and left to rot. Several stages of decomposition among the rotting lot showed some were long fetid while others were fresh kills. Deer entrails stained the grass red in their wake. Unrelenting clouds of flies flew over squirming masses of maggots on the placid remains. The glassy eyed massacred deer gawked at him in their frozen state of death. Carson could not fathom how he’d missed the odor of the killing field when he discovered the cabin the day previous.
Carson Burns withdrew to the refuge of the interior of the makeshift cottage. The putrefied stench would not leave him now that it had found him. He stood unmoving within the cabin but three feet from the ajar door holding out his gun in a barely defensive stance. Inside his mind he was locked away, disassembling the time that he’d spent in the swamp. Then a scratching stir in the chimney broke him from being lost in his confused thoughts. He saw a balled up piece of rot dangling in the fireplace from the narrow space of the chimney above. As it drew his further scrutiny, Carson saw it was a half perished foot missing all its toenails. Suddenly it slowly and brokenly kicked against the side of the flue almost as if it absent mindedly was looking to gain traction but was in no immediate need to push itself higher into the old chimney. Subsequently he heard birds chirping in the muffled stone space of the shaft. Moaning seeped out of its stone cracks and dust cascaded out the opening of the fireplace. Carson’s vision faded to black. He felt his body go limp and he collapsed to the floorboards losing all consciousness.
A hard rain storm hit the swamp in the lost time Carson endured upon blacking out. He awoke lying on the flooded floor in the deep of night to the sound of terrorized screams. The screaming broke through the maelstrom of heavy rain from out of the forest near the old train tracks. Rain water beat the roof and rushed in from widening holes in the shelter and battered off the shaped metal of the scattered pots and pans around him. Carson sat up and listened intently as more screams carried from out of the trees. They were the screams of many people in agony though the sounds themselves seemed ghostly and to loose cohesion now and again. But then there was a solid scream from out of the woods. It was a scream erupting from a physical cavity of flesh and bone, not a ghostly echo. The yelping of a dog then trailed off into still pounding strikes of heavier rain. Carson looked around for his gun but it was inexplicably gone again. The money bags lay across the submerged floor like a couple of waterlogged bodies offering only dead weight.
Carson frantically picked himself off the floor to stand versus the howling winds that tore through the busted doorway that framed the stormy night outside. The crooked door itself pulled off its last hinge under the assault of the tempest winds and set to boomerang out of sight into the black downpour. The shrieking wind buffeted off the glass of the nailed shut window panes. The old haunt of the cabin teetered some under the brunt of the blustering gale. When a collective gust hit the chairs bounced off the walls and rattled to the floor sounding like bowling pins. The table blew flat on its top and left its legs standing like splintered pillars. The flameless lantern rolled along the floor on its side and shattered its glass against the brickwork of the fireplace. Amidst all the chaos of the storm assailing the cabin, Carson struggled to keep his eyes open against the onslaught of blowing rain. It pelted him relentlessly with icy stabs from the fracture of the doorway. Rain fell in drops from his pained eyes like the tears of the scared boy resurrected inside Carson that the ever stoic exterior man would never give up.
Then it was there standing in the slant of the gaping door, a black outline of a warped shadow blocking the portal to the storm scoured night. The arrival of the nearly man shaped dark mass in the doorway came with the accompaniment of jarring thunder and was backlit by a bolt of searing electric blue lightning that forked off in the distance. The stooped phantom was dragging something behind it through the mud and rain saturated sod. In the split second luminescence of another slash of lightning it was revealed that the trailing object in its clutches was the missing two-headed axe. The behemoth clever had torn a scar across the water sodden field from the woods as it had been dragged along. The hunched black specter was huffing and wheezing; its labored breathing caused its entire form to contract and expand. It raised the double sided axe onto its shoulder and bowed further under the burden of the oppressive size of the murderous tool.
Carson searched the dark around him to find something to ward off the axe wielding stranger at the door. A jagged wooden plank blew against his leg within a circling gust inside the cabin. He seized the piece of scrap wood and held it up to the shadow. To Carson’s amazement the end of the plank took to a raging flame.
In the hellish light of the torch it could be seen that the ghoulish thing in the doorway had once been a man. But that had been when it had been among the living. The skin of his face was of a greenish translucent tone and scaly in patches where it was peeling off in layers. In taking in its whole figure in the fire light it was shown that dead epidermis clung to a full exposed naked body that mirrored the colors of the marsh. All it had on its form was the gigantic dual bladed axe that was slung over its shoulder.
Carson made himself step closer to the undead reptilian axe maniac to fend it off with the torch. But it did not move and he gathered that it had been the force to set the wood aflame in the first place and that it was not afraid of it in the least. In the new proximity a further level of detail came out. Strands of gray hair on his molting scalp were nearly invisible in their scarceness. The brow line of his skull was so thick and overhanging that his eyes could not be seen under the bony terrace. His lips were green and overturned into his mouth giving the appearance of some kind of mutated aquatic being. Then as it stared at Carson its mouth opened and a greasy blue snake swam out on a tide of oily saliva. The slick serpent climbed down the dead man’s torso in a leisurely spiral and then slunk off to a dark and dank spot concealed. Under loose folds of the pale green skin of the thing’s chest rings of internally slithering snakes could be made out crossing his insides. One black snake of solid girth dropped to the floor in a wet pile hissing and pushing off into the tall grass of the storm drenched field outside. Carson was repulsed to grasp that the snake had been expelled from the scaly dead man’s bowels. He thought he saw another snake about its lower body then realized it to be the dangling member of the nude dead thing.
“Shouldn’t have passed the train tracks…” blurted out the creature unleashing a wet hacking cough.
“I’ll leave.” was all Carson could think to say to it, shaking with humiliating fear.
The thing stepped over the threshold of the cabin wobbling on an under turned foot hanging with loose soaking skin like peeled down hosiery. In one slime coated ill defined hand it gripped the medieval axe handle. The axe rested against its bony shoulder with a gore stained twin bladed head bobbing in blood thirst. Its other scaly hand bore fused fingers that formed appendages resembling a clawed alligator foot. In that gruesome hand it held a glinting metal object. The shining token was tossed to the floor with a clatter. In the light of the torch Carson saw it to be a police badge. The badge was splashed with new blood that was making pinwheel trails in the flood water mounting on the floorboards.
“He came to find you. To help you really I think. He knew your fate beyond the tracks would be far, far worse than jail. He’s dead now. No further ahead than before he was born. And all the life he lived amounted to nuth’in. His head in the bog. His ragged arms thrown up in the trees. His body in the tall grass. And his legs I’ll shit out later.”
“Holy Mary…”whispered Carson.
“A lot of meat on a body, but not to worry it won’t go to waste. Mrs. Dunbar will love the leftovers.”
“We all do what’s in our nature don’t we, Carson? Chaos is the law of nature, Order is just a dream of man.” said the creature with a wet sucking sound stuck in its throat, as with water being pulled down a drain clogged with gobs of hair.
“Who are you?” barely spoke Carson.
“They say The Devil was a serpent, and that sounds about right to me. But you can call me Mossback.” imparted the reptiloid corpse.
Carson slowly retreated one step at a time further back into the cabin with plank torch still held ahead of him burning fiercely. Looking through the channeled curtains of rain that dropped in from rifts in the roof he saw the scaled face of the snake ridden dead man pinch into an expression of anger. The whites of its eyes were shown to have black diamond shaped pupils and pulsing red blood vessels.
The arched bone spurred curvature of the re-animate’s back bent and he swung the huge axe off his shoulder with a tight grip on the lacquered wooden handle. The axe head split the floorboards and sent wood shards breaking off everywhere along with a spray of water. Carson back stepped awkwardly into the wall just as his attacker pried the large cumbersome hatchet out of the damp floor. Then in a supernatural flourish the other took a great overhead swing with the axe that planted it into the wall next to Carson’s head.
“I’ve something to show you outside.” said Mossback in a voice that sounded like someone gargling broken glass.
The swampy zombified man wrenched the double-headed axe out of the wall and turned his back on Carson. With hatchet towed behind him again, he limped toward the open doorway where it could be seen the storm was now subsiding to a gentle rain in the dark night. Carson followed in the steps of Mossback, not wishing to cross the maniacal revenant of a man.
Outside in the pitch of night Carson’s torch was exceedingly brighter than the moonlight. The flaming board crackled angrily as raindrops threatened its fiery life. In the torchlight, just beyond where lumbered the slimy abnormal shape of Mossback, was a shadow of a man bent over in what looked to be prayer. Mossback looked over his bone perforated shoulder blade and smiled a sick smile that showed both yellow human teeth and one brownish fang with an evil curve to it. In the near quiet of the lessoning rainfall Carson could hear the hissing of a viper’s nest inside his guide’s cinched body. As they trekked toward the huddled over darkened silhouette of the praying man he saw numerous snakes moving underneath the greenish dead skin of the walking corpse stretching the skin then leaving it to deflate and recede back to shapelessness.
When they reached the high point of the field Carson brought his torch to bear on the shadow of the praying man. The bowing man was tied in the position of prayer by ropes and tent spikes. His hands were coupled by the rope in a steeple position and his knees were tied down to the muddy ground with lashings staked in the earth. The man’s face was bloodied and bruised and his mouth was gagged with fraying rope. The ever sputtering flame of the torch in the sporadic rain and the continual dripping of blood from the roped man’s forehead created a strange hallucinogenic blur of his face. Even so, a stunned Carson came to realize he knew the captive. It was Pete, his accomplice in the bank robbery.
Mossback lodged the axe in the mud before Pete’s ground anchored knees and turned to Carson. There was a nasty twinkle in his deep set eyes. The snake riddled re-animated corpse leaned into the tall grass and retrieved a bowed bone still holding meat and brown fur on it. He bit into its pink meat and gnawed on it. It was a dog leg.
“Don’t worry about old Buster, dogs do fine with three legs, he won’t even miss this one.” said Mossback as he chewed raucously on the bone then threw it away into the underbrush.
“I don’t suppose you want the money.” said Carson.
“It should serve useful in bringing in stray greedy types like you following the legend of the bank robbers that never came out of the swamp.”
“And what of more cops?”
“No one finds this place unless I wish them to.”
“How can you live like this?! Like that?! Like Birdbrain and Mrs. Dunbar?!”
“I can’t remember living any other way. It has been so long since I was like you. You, with a beating heart. There is no more blood in my veins, just the taste of it on my tongue. All of the breathing life is gone. A name given by a mother, a scar given by a father, and a fear of death, all gone with the power of the re-animation. And it is my power. I do not remember the name of the one who gave it to me, but I cannot forget he was given life by a thousand spiders.”
Pete began to struggle under his roped bondage. He attempted to curse through his gag. Mossback let his head fall to gaze upon Pete. He opened his mouth good and wide, almost as if he intended to close the stinking hole over Pete’s head and bite it off. The hissing of many snakes could be heard clearly inside him in his guts from out his agape mouth through the rain.
At the border of darkened trees came a gathering of strange shadows, almost human, but with less vitality. All seemed to be lugging tattered luggage by the shape of their silhouettes. One among them teetered out to the mud ridden clearing. It was a dead man, almost skeletal with sparse whitish flesh stripping off him. Wearing a trench coat, he carried two suitcases hemorrhaging clothes in each of his raggedy hands. His eye sockets were packed with black earth as were cracks in his skull and the cage of his ribs that hanged with pieces of long rotting organs. The rank soil of his eye holes and earthen stuffed ribs squirmed with night crawlers that dropped off his skull and bones into the mud as he approached. Through the moist dirt that melded to the dome of his smashed skull could be seen a shrunken gray brain whose ridges showed to be slipways for innumerable worms.
“Are we to get off at the next stop, Sir?” spoke the wormy nearly flesh bare skeleton, the rotten tongue behind his jawbone practically the only meat on him.
Carson raised his torch higher in expectation of a horrible turn of events. He watched in shock by the firelight as Mossback grabbed up the huge axe from out of the muddy ground and began lifting it high over Pete’s forced prostrating form. As Carson moved to stop the homicidal creature the backward arc of the axe’s overhead swing unexpectedly struck Carson’s shoulder. He was stopped in his tracks, agog at being cleaved by the hatchet. A lush splash of blood spurted from the shoulder blade of Carson when Mossback pulled the axe from his body with his back still turned to him.
Carson’s attempted intervention was only a momentary interruption in Mossback’s strike on his partner as once more the axe was held over Pete’s head. Carson could barely stand upright in the rain but steadfastly held his torch as blood bubbled up from his wound like a hot spring. He bled freely as he witnessed Mossback bring down the hatchet on Pete’s head splitting it in half. Multi-colored gore and skull bone fragments exploded all over their surroundings.
Carson held his hand over the yawning wound the back swung axe had given him. Blood gushed copiously from above his split clavicle. He stumbled, dropped his torch, and fell over into the grass gasping heavily. Lying on his back he raised his hand up to the scaly green man standing over him gripping a monstrous blood spattered axe. The headless blood drenched body of Pete remained tied steady in prayer. Mossback spoke down to him.
“See, your friend prays to me still.” It laughed.
“Please, no.” spat out Carson, his hand waving and wavering in front of his dimming vision as Mossback raised the axe over him. In his limited peripheral view he could see the stump of dead Pete’s neck draped with pieces of what was his head. A blue eyeball hung staring at him from an optic nerve at a place where his chin used to be. Blood dripped down all the rope bindings that held him. Blood traced the outline of the fingers that were tied in prayer even now.
“No?” said Mossback looking up at his raised axe.
“Why you are right… the axe is far too an unseemly and pedestrian a death for you Carson Burns. You should embody your namesake. It is a Viking funeral for you then. And Mrs. Dunbar does love barbeque after all.”
Mossback stood back from where Carson lay bleeding in the high grass as fire overtook the field around him. Spontaneously the flames grew; separate from the torch that was now extinguished in the mud. Even the rain and the wetness of the grass itself could not stop the field from igniting. The fire grew and closed in on Carson. His mechanic jumpsuit caught fire and soon he himself was burning inside it. He screamed horribly and begged to be put out, but neither the rain nor Mossback would grant him it. Though he writhed and cried out, his blood loss left him too weak to move further. Carson burned alive for sometime until he finally was nothing more than charred meat and bone that flamed out.
Dead Carson’s two burst blackened eyeballs in his burnt skull fixed on the stars in the heavens above as the rain halted altogether. Mossback came to stand directly over him in the scorched bald spot of the field. He no longer held the axe. Instead he held aloft a furious possum that was tearing about as he gripped its skinny prehensile tail.
“To eat you or revive you, Carson?” pondered Mossback, eyeing Dead Carson morbidly. He measured up the raging possum dangling in his possession.
“I wonder if I can fit this critter inside you.”
By John Prince