Read The Death Match Online

Authors: Christa Faust

Tags: #Supernatural Thriller, #Fiction

The Death Match (8 page)

BOOK: The Death Match
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“Come back anytime,” she said. “My offer is always open.”

“Thanks,” Matt replied.

He walked away without looking back. He could feel Stacy watching him as he went. He hoped that she would be all right.

* * *

Flame was thrilled to see him and kissed his face so many times that she rubbed off all her lipstick and left him looking like he’d been attacked by a giant squid.

“I had this awful feeling that something bad was gonna happen to you that night,” she said. “And I ain’t never been wrong when I get that feeling. I was sure I’d never see you again. Look at you.” She went on the attack with more kisses, and Matt laughingly fought her off.

“I’m fine, honest.” He wiped his face on a bar napkin. “I just came by to pick up the rest of my things and say good-bye.”

“Love ’em and leave ’em, huh?” Flame pulled a compact from her giant purse and started slathering on more lipstick. “Fine. Break my heart—see if I care. You men are all the same.”

Matt laughed and shook his head as he gathered up the rest of his meager belongings, a spare shirt and some clean socks and a novel with a broken spine that he kept meaning to finish. Nothing really valuable, but when you own almost nothing, the few things you do have seem much more important.

“Thanks for everything,” Matt said.

“My pleasure, honey. You take care out there.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Matt was about to leave when he nearly ran right into Lenny, the crotchety old guy who’d had only twenty-four more days left at Long’s shipping company. The older man was already plastered, and the sun was just starting to go down.

“Whoa there,” Matt said, gripping Lenny’s arm as he staggered and nearly fell flat on his face.

“The lousy rats,” he was muttering. “The bastards. I only had twenty-two days left and they went and shitcanned every last one of us. Every last one.”

Matt wasn’t surprised. With Long dead and his twisted underground death matches put to a stop, there wasn’t any point in keeping his dummy corporation running anymore.

“Sorry, Gramps,” Matt said, helping the older man to a barstool.

“I just went over there,” he said. “Wanted to take a piss on the gate that locked us out of our jobs. Show them what I think of their… Anyway, I go over there, and what do you know? They got cops all over. Found a guy dead. ‘A guy?’ I say. ‘What guy?’ Well, it’s my buddy Glen. Some kinda dog attack, they said.”

“Dog attack?” Matt repeated, frowning.

“Worked for DS&T longer than I did. I guess he just wanted to get a few things out of his locker after they shut the place down. He was kind of an asshole sometimes, but we used to eat lunch together. We ate lunch together for sixteen fucking years. He liked a tuna melt.”

“I’m sorry,” Matt said.

“Sorry?” Lenny gripped his arm like a crab. “Sorry? Don’t you get it?”

“Look,” Matt said, trying to extract himself from the old man’s clawlike grip. “I better—”

Lenny pulled Matt closer, his breath a noxious cloud of booze and bad teeth.

“There ain’t no dogs,” he whispered. “There ain’t no dogs. No dogs.”

Lenny’s head sank slowly toward the bar as he repeated himself over and over.

“I’ll call his wife to come get him,” Flame said with a knowing shake of her spiky orange head. “He’s been like this ever since they laid everybody off.”

Matt nodded, sympathetic but also knowing that there was nothing he could do to help the old man. He had other things on his mind.

He thanked Flame for all her help, shouldered his rucksack, and headed over to the pier to see what was going on.

Across the street was a small group of curious onlookers, mostly drunks from the bars and a few curious dockworkers. Cops had the entrance to the pier cordoned off and were keeping the crowd at bay.

“Was it a pit bull?”

“Partially eaten, is what I heard.”

Partially eaten.
Just like those students on the mesa. Just like Oscar Amezuita. There were clearly no dogs to blame here. No hungry sea creatures like the ones that had supposedly snacked on the dead dockworker. In all the frenetic activity surrounding their failed attempt to rescue Tanya, Matt had almost forgotten about the corpse that had brought him to Long Beach in the first place.

Matt had a sinking feeling that both bodies had in fact been eaten by a human. Or something that used to be human. Something not unlike the corrupted archaeologists on the mesa.

Could some of Long’s scarred fighters or tattooed henchmen have escaped the fire at Long’s compound and returned to the only familiar place they knew, the DS&T pier?

A pair of crime-scene techs were stretchering the corpse from the pier to a waiting meat wagon. They’d done a pretty half-assed job of covering the man’s half-eaten face and torso with a stained plastic tarp. Both arms were visible, covered in bruises and scratches, but no Ouroboros tattoo.

He had to warn Stacy. Whatever was going on, it obviously wasn’t over yet.

* * *

Matt knocked several times on Stacy’s door. He could hear music playing inside the apartment, but there was no answer. He reached out to test the doorknob but swiftly recoiled.

There was some kind of pungent reddish brown sludge smeared on the knob. Like someone had been Dumpster diving behind a Chinese restaurant and didn’t wash their hands before opening the door. Sudden concern for Stacy’s safety overcame his disgust, and he pushed the door open.

Inside, the burned-garbage smell was even stronger, almost overwhelming. The apartment was dim, lit only with scented candles that didn’t stand a chance against the toothy stench. Ax in hand, Matt crept down the hallway toward the bedroom door.

There were sounds coming from the other side of the not-quite-closed door. Familiar sounds, not of fighting, but of an altogether different kind of grappling.

As soon as Matt realized what he was hearing, respect for his friend’s privacy made him take an involuntary step back from the door. But his gut was still telling him that something was wrong.

He made himself peer through the crack of the barely open door. His first reaction to what he saw in Stacy’s dimly lit bedroom was immediate and intensely physical.

Stacy had a visitor. A female visitor. They were both naked, and in the dim lighting it was difficult to tell them apart. It was just a fleshy kaleidoscope of glistening curves and sweat-damp hair and tense, quivering legs and secret flashes of things Matt knew he wasn’t supposed to be seeing, but he couldn’t seem to look away.

Matt felt a guilty flush of embarrassment for peeping on Stacy like some kind of pervert and was about to slink away in shame when the other woman threw her hair back from her face, twisting toward the flickering light in unself-conscious ecstasy.

It was Tanya. And she was dead.
Very dead.

CHAPTER TEN

Matt took half a step back, his hands gripping the ax handle so his knuckles strained through the skin. Tanya was not just corrupted with secret rot that only Matt could see—she had gone full-on
Night of the Living Dead
. A charred and decomposing zombie with an obviously broken neck. Her nude body was riddled with catastrophic injuries, any one of which would be impossible to survive. Exposed teeth gleamed through her flayed and shredded cheek muscle. Sheets of crumbling black skin hung from her shoulder blades like burned wings. It was utterly repulsive and deeply wrong, what he was seeing, but underneath that revulsion and horror was another, more complex emotion. Something so dark and awful that it made him physically sick.

What if…

“Just ask,” said that jocular, intimate voice inches from his ear.

He spun, ax raised and ready.

It was Mr. Dark. He was wearing that same Tapout T-shirt and a smug grin.

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

Mr. Dark shrugged, turned away.

“You know what I’m talking about. But maybe you don’t really want it bad enough.”

Matt lunged forward. Mr. Dark flickered like a shadow and was gone.

The soft sounds from the bedroom were getting louder, more emphatic.

Matt pressed a shaking hand to his temple. He knew exactly what Mr. Dark meant, but it was so terrible he could barely stand to think it, let alone say it out loud.

If Tanya could come back, could his wife? Could Janey?

“No problem,” Mr. Dark said, answering Matt’s unspoken question. “All you have to do is ask.”

“Bullshit,” Matt said. “What’s the catch?”

“Catch?” Mr. Dark arranged his leering features into a wide-eyed parody of innocent disbelief. “What makes you think there’s a catch?”

“There’s always a catch.”

“I’m sure that we could work something out.”

“Fuck you,” Matt spat.

“No, thanks,” Mr. Dark replied. “You’re not my type. What else have you got?”

“Fuck this!”

Matt pushed past Mr. Dark and kicked the bedroom door wide.

Tanya leapt off the bed in a heartbeat, naked body in a ready crouch, with her fists raised. When she saw that it was Matt, she relaxed a little, but not completely.

“Your timing,” Tanya said. “It is terrible.”

Stacy was much slower to react to Matt’s intrusion, almost like a sleepwalker who’d just been shaken awake. She looked at Matt, then down at herself. She gripped a handful of the twisted, sweaty sheet and pulled it up over her breasts.

“I…I thought…” She looked at Tanya and then back at Matt. “Is this…real?”

“I don’t have a clue what that word even means anymore,” Matt replied. “But I see her too.”

“Then…” She turned to Tanya. “You’re really here. You’re alive!”

“Well,” Tanya replied with a smirk, “I am here—I’ll give you that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you understand? I came back for you. Because I love you, Stacy.”

“How can you say that?” Stacy asked, turning away with a sheen of unshed tears in her eyes. “I killed you.”

“You had no choice,” Tanya said.

She sat down on the bed beside Stacy and took her hand, making no attempt to cover her burned and naked body.

“There’s something broken inside me,” Tanya continued. “It’s been broken ever since I was a little girl. When you are broken, evil can come in through the cracks. Do you understand?”

Matt thought back to what Mr. Dark had said back in the underground arena.
Trauma is a zipper
. He shuddered.

“But I found a way to fight it now,” Tanya said. “I want to. To be with you. Because when you looked at me, you never saw trash. You saw the good in me. You see
me
.”

“I’m so sorry,” Stacy said, knuckling away her tears and pulling Tanya close.

“I know, baby,” Tanya replied.

“Jesus,” Matt said. “Stacy, listen to me. You have to see… This is so wrong.” The words thudded into the room, as useless and disconnected from the world as one of Ward
Cleaver’s sermons on the show Matt had loved to watch as a child. There was no easy way to say this. “You’re fucking a corpse. A rotting, dead thing is fucking you. Is that what you want?”

“Fuck off, dead man. You are just as wrong as me.” Tanya looked at Stacy and smirked at her shocked expression. “What, he didn’t mention that little detail when he was pouring his heart out to you?”

“You’re like her?” Stacy looked up at him, eyes hurt and full of questions. “A rotting, dead thing?”

“You don’t see what I see,” he said. “She’s corrupted. Don’t believe her. She’s still evil.”

“I never said I wasn’t corrupted by evil,” Tanya said. “But I’m fighting it. I’m here now, right? And at least I’m honest about what I am. What are you, Matt?”

Matt didn’t have an answer.

“This doesn’t concern you,” Stacy said. “Get out.”

Matt backed away from the door, and Stacy stood, reaching out to slam it in his face.

Torn, Matt backed into Stacy’s living room, feeling helpless and conflicted. He couldn’t just leave his friend alone with that unnatural monster, but at the same time, who was he to say that Stacy and Tanya couldn’t be together? After all, he was just as much an aberration as Tanya. A walking corpse. A monster, some might even say.

He walked to the front door and gripped the knob but couldn’t make himself turn it. He couldn’t leave Stacy, and he couldn’t leave the mystery of Tanya’s resurrection and the implications it might hold for his own deathless state.

He sank down on the sofa, head heavy with unanswered questions.

What are you, Matt?

He curled up on his side, pulling a dusty cushion over his head to shut out the renewed sounds of lovemaking coming from Stacy’s bedroom.

What are you?

The question echoed endlessly in his head through the long, sleepless night. He never found an answer.

* * *

When the sun came up the next morning, he finally gave up on any hope of sleep and staggered to the bathroom. He found it occupied, the sound of the shower running audible through the closed door. He could smell coffee. It all seemed so normal, he could almost convince himself that he’d imagined the horror of the night before.

He drifted into the kitchen, where Stacy was blissfully burning French toast. She looked calm and content, all the leaden grief and fear and uncertainty lifted from her features. When she saw Matt, she smiled.

“I’m not much of a cook,” she said, nudging a blackened wedge of gooey bread in her frying pan. “But there’s plenty to go around, if you’re hungry.”

“Where’s…?” Matt was almost hesitant to say Tanya’s name, in case it had all been some kind of crazy dream.

“She’s freshening up,” Stacy said.

There wasn’t enough deodorant in the world for that task, but Matt didn’t want to go there. Instead he tried to find a way to make Stacy see what was really at stake here.

“Look,” he said. “I know you love her. But you have to ask yourself, who brought her back and why?”

“Who brought you back?” she said. “And why?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “And that troubles me more than anything else. Why doesn’t it trouble you?”

Honestly, Matt didn’t even know why he was bothering with this debate. As far as Stacy was concerned, she’d been given a miraculous second chance to be with the woman she loved. Nothing was going to make her give that up.

BOOK: The Death Match
9.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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