Authors: Christa Faust
Tags: #Supernatural Thriller, #Fiction
“Look,” Stacy said, getting to her unsteady feet and taking Tanya’s hand. “This is fascinating and all, but we can’t hide forever. We have to get you out of here. Out of Long Beach. Maybe even out of the country.”
Matt wanted to shake her. Tanya was a flesh-eating ghoul, and all Stacy could think of was trying to protect her.
“We’re all exhausted right now,” Matt said, stalling until he could figure out what to do. “Beat to hell and back, burned-out, and worn down. You shouldn’t be walking on that leg, at least not until the bleeding stops.” He gestured to the spreading bloodstain on the strip of shirt tied around her thigh. “And as for me, I didn’t sleep all night. If we keep running now, we’re all gonna crash—sooner rather than later. What we need is a little rest. You need time to prop that leg up and put some pressure on it. We can take turns on
watch.” He gestured around the mildewed cabin. “This is as good a place as any. Easy to defend. Only one way in or out. We can take off in an hour or two. Okay?”
Stacy looked down at her wounded leg, nodded.
“I’ll take the first watch,” Tanya said.
At that point, Matt had no idea if they could trust Tanya or not. She clearly loved Stacy and was willing to fight to be with her. Or so it seemed. But she was also a cannibal. A hungry cannibal who would be getting hungrier with every passing hour. What were they going to do the next time she got hungry?
He sat down slowly on a short stack of wooden pallets covered by a folded canvas tarp, his body battered and aching from the fight. He didn’t think there would be any way that he could possibly sleep with all these questions flapping around inside his head like a colony of rabid bats, but now that all the jangling adrenaline had burned off, he was exhausted and deep-fried. He was out cold less than a minute after his eyes drifted shut.
* * *
Matt woke to find himself in the bed he’d shared with his wife, Janey, in the cabin he’d built for her, in another lifetime. The worn, comfortable sheets were still fragrant and warm from her body, and her scent enveloped him, as cozy and familiar as the faded quilt she had inherited from her grandmother. Her scent was not so much a single perfume as a kind of olfactory song composed of many harmonious notes. Her spicy-sweet sandalwood shampoo. Her favorite handmade olive oil soap. Her special eco-friendly
laundry detergent that she insisted on buying even though it was more expensive than the regular kind. Her hand lotion and her lip balm. Her body. Her breath. Her life.
He’d had a really rough moment when her hospice care aide tried to wash the sheets she’d died on and he nearly punched the poor guy in the face. He was that desperate to hang on to his wife’s elusive scent. But of course he couldn’t, and it faded away and was gone. Just like she was.
Now that smell was back, and breathing it in sent a warm endorphin rush through his body, coalescing into a hot flush of blood between his legs. He rolled, gathering the sheets up under his chin, and when he turned toward the window, she was standing there silhouetted against the sunrise. They’d had this ongoing mock war about leaving the bedroom curtains open or closed. She felt suffocated if she couldn’t have an open window while she slept, but he felt it was safer and more private to keep the curtains shut. Even though their nearest neighbor was three miles away, he still felt worried in an abstract kind of way about someone trying to peep on Janey. Looking at her then, standing there in her girlish cotton panties in front of the wide-open window, he was glad he’d let her win. Her hair was sticking up all funny in the back, and her eyes were still a little squinty from sleep as one hand slid idly over the contour of her belly, toying with the waistband of her panties. She was so beautiful. His love for her felt weighty and raw inside his chest, like a second heart.
“Come back to bed,” he said.
She smiled that slow, sweet smile, her eyes telling him she knew exactly what he meant, but she stayed by the window. The gentle flush between his legs turned hard, urgent.
Looking back over her shoulder at the open window, she skinned her panties down her long, lean legs and tossed them at him, laughing and doing a crooked little catwalk twirl like she was daring the world to peep on her. Gently teasing him for his worries about the open curtains, but somehow it didn’t bother him at all.
“Come on, Lady Godiva,” he said, clenching a fist around her discarded panties. “Don’t make me come get you.”
“Fine,” she said, mock pouting with her arms crossed over her breasts.
She came over to the bed, sliding under the covers beside him and turning away as if she were just going to go back to sleep. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close, belly to back, pressing his face into the fragrant tangle of her auburn hair. She purred and snuggled into his embrace.
There was this spot on the back of Janey’s neck right beneath her hairline that was intensely sensitive. A spot that they jokingly referred to as the shortcut, because all he had to do to get her in the mood was run his fingers lightly over the back of her neck. He pressed his lips to that spot, flicking his tongue lightly over her soft, slightly sweaty skin. She shuddered and let out a sweet, effervescent giggle.
“Cheater,” she said, back arching and legs parting slightly as she pressed back against him.
He slipped a hand down between her thighs. She was already wet.
He held back from entering her for a moment, eyes closed and gorging himself on her scent. Wanting that moment to last forever. But it wasn’t long before he couldn’t wait for one more second.
As he thrust deep into her, an awful kind of dissonance shuddered through him like a klaxon alarm, a strident warning cutting through the familiar warmth and comfort of Janey’s body against his own. There was a new smell, something burned and spoiled, like rancid pork fat clinging to a dirty barbecue grill.
He woke with a half-formed shout, shoving Tanya away.
“What the fuck,” he said, half sitting up and crab walking backward away from her. He was furious and still ferociously turned on in spite of his revulsion.
“What’s the big deal, baby?” Tanya smirked and shrugged. “I’m hungry. So are you.”
“I’m not…” Matt said.
Tanya arched an eyebrow at the very obvious evidence to the contrary.
“I mean…” He twisted away from her, struggling to get his jeans buttoned. “I was dreaming. I’m not like you.”
“Yes, you are. We both came back from the dead. We both see things the rest of the world doesn’t see. We’re both killers.”
“I’m not a killer,” Matt said.
“Tell that to the thugs you butchered with that ax of yours.”
“I kill people who have been corrupted by evil because I have to. To stop them from hurting others.”
“Of course. You’re a hero, not a monster like me.” She smirked. “Right?”
“I’m not a monster.”
At least not yet
, he thought. If he kept going long enough, would he turn into something like her? Or something even worse? He couldn’t help thinking of Abbey…and Barnabas. Dead like him…and yet evil like Tanya.
“You’re a homicidal walking corpse, just like me. The only difference is that I’m honest about what I am.” She leaned in close, rank breath hot on his neck. “Why can’t you admit that you like killing? Doesn’t it feel good when you lob the head off an evil ‘monster’? Doesn’t it make you just a little bit hard?”
“Get away from me.”
“Aw, come on, lover,” she said. “Don’t be that way. Just give me a little taste. It’s not gonna kill you.”
“Don’t touch me.”
She reached for him, and he tried to shove her away. She would not be shoved, climbing into his lap and wrapping her powerful legs around his waist. She was a determined and experienced grappler and unnaturally strong. Trying to get free of her embrace was like trying to wrestle four pythons at the same time. The two of them fell together off the edge of the pallet, rolling across the grimy deck.
“Get the fuck off me,” he spat, struggling to free his right hand from where she’d pinned it against his chest.
“You like hitting women, Matt?” she asked, grinding her pelvis against him. “Go ahead. I can take it. I
She sank her teeth into the meat of his trapezius muscle, and any thoughts he might have had about not hitting women went right out the window. But he didn’t have to hit her to get her off him.
The second she bit into him, she instantly recoiled and rolled away, retching as if she’d just bitten into maggot-infested roadkill.
“What the fuck is going on here?”
Matt looked up at Stacy standing over him, eyes narrow and suspicious. She ran to Tanya, crouching beside her with a hand on her lover’s heaving back.
“What did you do to her?” Stacy asked.
“What did I do to her?” Matt touched his bleeding shoulder. “She bit me!”
him?” Stacy frowned, looking from Matt to Tanya and back again.
Her expression seemed more jealous than concerned for Matt. He had no idea how she would react if he were to mention the other things Tanya had been trying to do to him.
Tanya had been down on all fours, hair in her face, but she lifted her chin to Stacy, eyes full of confusion and remorse. A thick, clotted dribble of brownish fluid bubbled from the corner of her mouth.
“I don’t…” She swiped at the trickle with a shaking hand. “Jesus, I don’t know anything anymore. I’m just…so hungry…”
“Let me talk to her,” Stacy said. “In private.”
He wanted to shout at her not to be stupid. To scream that she was having a private moment with a monster. That they should be trying to find out how to kill her, to teach her dining etiquette. But he knew it would be useless.
The two women walked together through a curved doorway, arms around each other and heads leaning close together, whispering. Excluding Matt completely. He sat back down on the stack of pallets, fists pressed to his throbbing temples.
He couldn’t let Tanya continue like this. It was only a matter of time before Mr. Dark’s virulent evil overpowered any vestigial emotion and connection she might have with Stacy.
But what if he was wrong? Stacy’s love was so strong—could it possibly be strong enough to keep Tanya from slipping completely to the dark side? And if it could, wouldn’t that mean it was possible that there was another weapon for Matt to use in his war against evil besides his ax?
Because Tanya’s whispered questions were still echoing through his head, playing right into all the doubt that had been simmering underneath the surface all along. He’d known what it meant to be a good man once. Now he had no idea what that meant.
And if he wasn’t a good man, or even a man at all anymore, then exactly what was he? Was he a monster? An unnatural abomination? A voracious, bloodthirsty killer? As he became more detached from the life he used to have, more isolated from the rest of the day-to-day world, would the line between him and Tanya become blurred? Disappear altogether? Would he become what he hunted?
Or had that happened already?
He could hear the sounds of a muffled argument coming through the hollow steel walls of the ship.
“…you come to me, do you understand? Come to me!”
Then more unintelligible words, the tone anguished and desperate. Then silence.
Matt thought of all the times trusted friends tried to take him aside and tell him that Andy was a liability. How he would never listen. And how deeply it hurt, knowing they’d been right all along. Andy, who had been abused just like Tanya. Who never got a
fair shake in life and was always treated like trash. Who just needed someone to give him a chance. And in the end, it all went to shit. Just like it would with Tanya. Sooner rather than later.
Matt stood, pacing. Tense and conflicted. But there was no other option. He had to take Tanya out before she killed anyone else. Stacy would hate him for it, but that was unavoidable. He’d just have to reconcile himself to being the bad guy. To making the hard choices and accepting the consequences. Because sometimes you had to do bad things for good reasons. And because in the end there were no good guys. There was just him.
He got his ax and went looking for Tanya and Stacy.
When he found them, he thought for a moment that they were having sex again. Tanya’s head was between Stacy’s wide-open legs. Stacy was gripping Tanya’s tangled hair in shaking fists, head thrown back. But the expression on her face was a grimace of agony, not ecstasy.
When Tanya heard Matt enter, she turned her head. The whole lower half of her face was lathered in dripping blood, inconsolable tears making clean tracks down her cheeks. When she moved her head to look at Matt, she revealed that she’d unwrapped the bandage on Stacy’s leg and had been chewing on the wound beneath. What had started out as a two-inch-long wound was now a jagged, gaping hole on the inside of Stacy’s thigh.
Stacy showed him her palms, supplicating. Her face was icy pale and sheened with cold sweat.
“Wait,” she said. “It’s okay. I want this. I
Matt felt a wave of despair wash through him. He’d allowed himself to hope that Stacy’s love for Tanya could bring her back from evil. But instead it led her to forgive the evil, to embrace it and give herself to it. In the end, even this great love was just another piece of humanity that could be corrupted and used to destroy. He knew what he had to do. And from the tortured look in Tanya’s eyes, he could see that she knew too. She hung her head and dropped her arms to her sides.
“I’m sorry,” Matt said, raising the ax.
“No!” Stacy screamed.
But it was too late. The blade of the ax sank deep into Tanya’s already broken neck, slicing easily through the rotted tissue and crushed vertebrae. A second stroke took her head clean off her shoulders.
For an awful, frozen moment, Tanya’s headless body remained upright, kneeling between Stacy’s splayed legs and half-turned toward Matt. Her arms shot involuntarily upward like those of a person who realized too late that the wind has blown her hat away. A trickle of yellow bile mixed with some sludgy black dribbled from the stump, but nothing resembling warm, living blood. Tanya’s body curled slowly in on itself and then collapsed into Stacy’s lap.