Authors: John Skipp,Craig Spector
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Horror
Rudy smiled boyishly, biding his time. “Then take the stake, hotshot,” he said. “You’ll need it.”
“C’mon. Take the stake.” Rudy slowly proffered it, point first. It looked extremely sharp. Ian eyed it nervously; every muscle in his body tightened.
And then he remembered his knife.
, man?” Ian roared, “Don’t make me laugh! You say that you’re a terrifying vampire? Ha! I wanna see some fireworks!”
“Let’s see you turn into a bat, okay?” Rudy looked uncertain; Ian pressed on. “Surely you can pull
one off. It’s the easiest trick in the book! Or how about a wolf, or a weasel, or a wombat? Boy, I’d
to see a wombat right now, if you could swing it.”
“Shut up.” Rudy’s voice was a menacing hiss.
“Hey! How ‘bout a rat?” Ian yelled, undaunted. “You’ve got all the requisite character traits…”
WHAP! Ian didn’t even have time to see the left hand come up and smack him across the face; it was that fast. He staggered backwards, his mind gone white-hot and blank for a minute. Then his vision cleared, and the pain set in.
God, that mother is strong!
he flashed, and then Rudy was advancing again.
“That’s it,” Rudy snarled. “No more games.” He took another two steps forward. “It’s time for you to die.”
Ian backed up and into something large and solid. He jumped; his hands jerked back to see what he’d hit.
, he noted.
The first one. Oh, boy
. Automatically, his right hand slipped into his back pocket and wrapped around the hilt of the stiletto. He hoped that Rudy wouldn’t notice.
Slash him and run
, he thought, even as his voice said, “Get out of my face.”
“Time to join your girlfriend,” Rudy drawled malignantly. “Won’t that be fun?”
” Ian yelled, all the air rushing out of him.
“She’s mine now,” Rudy hissed, watching the way that Ian seemed to deflate and loving every second of it. “I got her…”
” Ian shrieked, whipping out the stiletto. He made a roundhouse swing, the blade flicking out about midway to the side of Rudy’s head and gleaming in the darkness as…
…something much too quick for the eye to catch whooshed between them, striking Ian’s hand with sledgehammer force. The knife went spiraling crazily off into the dirt. Ian stared in shock and pain at the stake in Rudy’s hand, its point now hovering between their faces. Rudy had disarmed him with it, and brought it back around, before Ian even knew what happened.
Rudy lowered the stake and took a step forward, grinning.
, Ian’s mind informed him in a voice that was strangely calm. His body started to twist away in a last desperate attempt at flight.
And something punched in through his belly.
Ian let out a strangled yelp of agony; his body doubled up slightly, then sagged and slumped back against the tree. His bulging eyes stared down in disbelief at the foot and a half of wooden stake that protruded from his belly, the oil-black gouts of blood that drenched the stake, Rudy’s hand, the ground at their feet. His own hands came up weakly to clutch the wooden shaft. Rudy twisted it ever so slowly, pushed it in another inch.
Ian tried to scream; he gagged instead, and thick freshets of blood streamed out from his mouth and nose. He choked again, the pain receding now into merciful shock, his eyes glazing over. He looked up into Rudy’s face. The image grew hazy, distorted, then blank…
…and he was watching a stranger named Ian Macklay: an old man on a porch swing, with a corncob pipe in his hand and a gaggle of wide-eyed grandkids at his feet, spinning a yarn that held them in joyful captivity. He watched the man grow magically younger, slip backwards through a life that was marked by love and laughter, dance madly past the marriages of children, the births of children, the man’s own marriage and then further back, further back, to a barroom where the young man sat with his good friends Allan and Joseph, to a bedroom where he coupled with a lovely young lady named Josalyn Horne on a hot, muggy night that seemed so far away…
He saw all the things that would never come to pass.
“Now,” the voice hissed, right next to his ear. Ian jerked back instantly, the clouds rushing away. Much too clearly, he saw that Rudy’s face was only inches from his own. He saw the eyes, bearing down on his like crimson headlights. He saw the teeth; they were the ones from the dream.
So long. So sharp.
“No,” he burbled through a mouthful of blood. It sprayed in Rudy’s face, sent tiny rivulets trickling down the cheeks and forehead. He brought his left hand up to Rudy’s face and tried to hold it back. Rudy pushed forward, forcing the hand back slowly, until Ian could feel the cold breath on his throat.
And with his last dying effort, Ian brought his right hand up to grab Rudy by the balls and squeeze them with all his might.
Rudy bellowed and squealed and twitched like a bird on a high-voltage fence. Ian had just enough time for one tight-lipped grin of victory. Then Rudy’s arm slammed forward.
And the point of the stake ripped through Ian Macklay’s back, sinking four inches into the great oak behind him.
Josalyn sat at her desk, trying vainly to concentrate on her work. The typewriter was silent before her, a blank piece of paper jutting impotently from it. A Number 2 pencil, extremely sharp, trembled in her hand above some scratchily rendered notes.
All day, Josalyn had been unable to think straight. Ever since Ian awakened her this morning, and her eyes opened to see his tired-but-smiling face, the image had imposed itself at every opportunity. It simultaneously frightened and delighted her; her little heart was all a-twitter.
She’d spent the day making the apartment look nice, cleaning and rearranging things with almost maniacal fervor. At a certain point… just as she’d caught herself rearranging the throw pillows on the couch for the fourth or fifth time… it had occurred to her that she was acting very strangely, not at all like her usual self. That was when she’d realized how much he’d come to mean to her, in just a very short time.
Then, after an hour of prettying herself up, she’d decided to do some writing while she waited. There was an hour to kill before he was due, and she couldn’t just spend it twiddling her thumbs… although, as it turned out, that was exactly what she’d done.
It was now 10:40, and Ian was just slightly more than an hour late. Despite herself, she had begun to worry. There was probably a reasonable explanation, she knew; as crazy as he was, it wouldn’t surprise her if he turned out to be one of the world’s least punctual guys. But all the fears that she’d spent the day repressing bubbled up to the surface, unstoppably; her worst fantasies came to visit her, one by one.
I just wish he’d call
, she thought,
and let me know what’s going on. Even if he said that he wouldn’t be able to make it, at least I wouldn’t have to worry. This is crazy. Why doesn’t he call?
When the phone rang, she almost flew out of her chair. The pencil slipped out from between her fingers and went cartwheeling through the air.
she thought, the first traces of a smile taking shape in either corner of her mouth…
…as she watched the pencil embed itself point first in the hard wooden floor, sticking straight up like the needle of a compass facing north. Trembling for a moment. And then standing completely still…
The phone rang again.
, her mind whispered.
The phone rang again.
“I will not answer the phone,” she said, under her breath. “I will not answer the phone. I will not. Leave me alone.” She backed away, shaking her head violently. The phone rang again. And again. And again.
You were expecting company?
whispered a voice from her past: a horrible, sneering, mocking voice that laughed and laughed and laughed…
The phone was still ringing when she hit the floor, unconscious. She didn’t need to take the call.
She’d already gotten the message.
Stephen was dreaming about a cold stone passageway in the bowels of an old dark castle. Thick chain clinked against the manacles that bound his wrists, echoing in counterpoint to the sound of their shuffling footsteps.
The men who dragged him forward, digging into his biceps from either side, had been dead for a long, long time. The flesh had rotted and fallen away in chunks, leaving a clotted slime coating on the bones, made of moldering muscle and sinew. Only the eyes had resisted decay; they flashed and gleamed like brake lights in their skeletal sockets. Stephen was too terrified to do anything but obey them as they pressed on down the corridor, escorting him with hatred in their death’s-head grins.
Deep in the darkness ahead, he spotted the door. Light shined through the tiny window in its center and streamed onto the floor in a twisted rectangle, crosshatched with shadow cast by the window’s metal bars. He heard the creaking of ancient machinery, the moaning of souls in pain. It was coming from there.
Stephen Parrish began to shriek and squirm. His heels dug at the stone floor with no success. The dead men’s hands tightened around his arms as he struggled, puncturing the skin and digging into the meat. He yowled and went slack, blood running in jetties down his arms, his feet dragging behind.
As they moved toward the door.
On the other side of the Atlantic, in a small Parisian sidewalk cafe, a creature of extreme longevity and evil sipped quietly at a snifter of expensive brandy and contentedly beamed at the world. Life had been wonderfully good to it, for well over 800 years. Life had succored it in style. Life had sated it, again and again, with beauty and bounty to spare.
It thought back to a day, some five hundred twenty-one years before, when it stood before a great roaring fire, the light dancing merrily in its eyes. The fire burned outside the Transylvanian city of Sibiu, and nestled deep within that howling inferno were three hundred-eighty chaste maidens of Sibiu, hair crisping and fat bubbling in those charring flames. The Mad Prince himself had ordered this blaze, and three others just like it, spaced a quarter mile apart across the valley, having deemed it unseemly that virgins be exposed to undue humiliation. Those whom his soldiers had so rudely deflowered upon entering Sibiu were no longer chaste, and thus were free to join the remainder of their townfolk, who writhed on stakes, arranged in festive displays for the amusement of Prince Vlad the Impaler.
The ancient creature smiled. All in all, it had been a merry day. Vlad and an army of twenty thousand had crossed the border of Romania and attacked Sibiu for no apparent reason. The slaughter was impressive: ten thousand dead or dying. And the carnage was just now winding down, chiefly for lack of victims. The wind shifted slightly, bringing a cloud of stinging, acrid smoke into the creature’s face. It’s attendants coughed and sputtered and moved away, but it remained transfixed, eyes absorbing every pitiful movement from within the flames.
The ancient creature stepped away from the pyre. It strolled through the neat rows of stakes upon which the citizenry now twisted in their death throes. It marveled at the audacity of Vlad Dracula, at the increasingly ambitious displays he undertook in an attempt to curry its favor. Such a zealous pupil. So eager. It chuckled, low in its throat.
Vlad is a fool, it mused. Earlier that day the prince had personally decapitated the mayor and the city regents, their heads coming away like ripe melons plucked from the vine, and placed the heads on spikes outside the front gate. And when the creature had refused to acknowledge this bid for approval, Vlad had very nearly soiled his tunic. He later executed the men who witnessed his terrible secret.
Now, sitting at a sidewalk cafe in the oh-so-civilized twentieth century, it laughed and sipped its brandy and thought of how the great and dreaded Vlad Dracula, the Blood Count of Transylvania, was absolutely terrified of vampires.
A lovely French girl appeared at its table, her waitress’s outfit flattering her form. The creature shrugged and grinned like a child, indicating that it was fine, its glass was full, it was happy. The girl nodded, a trancelike expression muting her features.
Later, after closing, it would have her for dessert.
But for now, she was allowed to wander back through her other tables, tending to mortal patrons with an uncharacteristic sluggishness. The ancient monster was in no hurry. It knew, without question, how little time means.
It sipped at its brandy. It stretched and sighed. It looked back over centuries of blood and growth, over wars and revolutions and breakthroughs in brutality that transcended it’s wildest, darkest expectations. And it realized that it had never been happier.
Oh, things are just dandy
, it mused with glee.
There aren’t any heads on spikes any more… sometimes, I really miss those heads on the spikes… but all in all, things are going just marvelously. The new dark days are here, and I love them so much
, it thought, sipping again at its brandy and smiling.
For some reason, its mind traveled back to New York City, its so-recent vacation. It wondered about the little seedling it had planted there… Rudy, his name was. It wondered how Rudy was doing.
He was a strange one
, it recalled.
Not built to last, but quite intense, all the same. He may well have caused some interesting trouble by now. It might be entertaining to check on him.
I think I shall.
It settled back in its chair then, eyes closed, relaxing completely, easing into that state where all physical laws are suspended and all barriers removed. There is a gateway to that realm, that reality: an imposing gateway, shaped entirely of fear. The monster passed through it effortlessly.
The monster began to fly.
Curled up on the floor in a trance, Rudy Pasko was in his glory. Though he still cupped his testicles gingerly in his hands, there was no pain. Gone, also, was his fury at having let Ian slip away into death so easily. All earthly cares were forgotten in the dreaming.
In the sending of dreams.
He watched from behind the Iron Maiden as Stephen was dragged into the chamber by the two rotting guards. It all looked suitably abhorrent: the guards, the victims, the layout of the torture chamber itself. Stephen, too, looked suitably terrified.
Which is just as it should be, Stephen
. Rudy chortled in silence.
Since I’m doing this just for you
Rudy straightened his robe, brought himself up to his full height, and prepared to make his grand entrance. In his dreams, he was king. No one could cheat him of victory. No one could get off a cheap shot to the balls. No one could sully his vision or rain on his parade. And no one could resist him. He was master. He controlled.
He was not aware of the eyes that watched him with wicked and boundless amusement.
Ian was skewered to the wall, his feet dangling a few inches above the floor. It was the first thing Stephen saw as he entered the room; the steady pok-pok-pok of Ian’s blood against the pavement drew his attention like a charm.
He looked away quickly. For a moment, it seemed that Ian had twitched; he didn’t want to know if it was true or not. But the next thing he locked eyes on only worsened his terror. And the next one was worse. And the next one was worse.
Here, the death by boiling oil. Here, the beating and flaying alive, hung by the thumbs over a slow-burning fire. Here, the thumbscrews. Here, the rack. Here, the ancient Chinese “Death Of One Hundred And Twenty Cuts.”
To his right, in the corner, a man sat chained in an upright position. His body kicked and flapped in spasms. A cage full of starving rats had been placed over his head. The rats were no longer starving, and the man no longer screamed; but he continued to jerk at his chains and convulse in a hideous puppet’s dance, while crimson seeped down his bare chest and back.
Stephen screamed. He screamed again. He continued to scream as the guards led him forward, past the man with the hot irons thrust into his eyes and the woman with her entrails laid open for the dogs. He was still screaming as they hoisted him up over a crossbeam three feet in height, thrust his head and hands onto the grooves of an old-fashioned pillory only two feet high, and secured him there with his ass in the air and his legs waving uselessly behind him.
He looked down. This time, the scream froze solid in his throat. At the foot of the pillory, right under his face, there sat a basket full of severed heads and hands. Something moved inside the basket, and Stephen closed his eyes to blot out the horror.
The slamming of a huge iron door snapped him out of it. A muffled scream rang out and died in an instant. Stephen looked up, over the basket and straight ahead, at the Iron Maiden, with her inscrutable expression and the blood rolling out through the drains at her feet. He knew where the spikes were located; he did not need to see.
said a voice from behind the Iron Maiden
. And welcome to my humble abode.
Rudy stepped into view, resplendent in a full-length robe of black and red velvet. A pair of dead children, very much like the guards in terms of appearance, bore aloft the great folds of streaming fabric behind him as he approached.
This is darkness,
Rudy said, gesturing expansively to indicate the whole of their surroundings
. Not your penny-ante, long-suffering darkness of the mind, mind you. Not your minor-league depressions and sorrows. This is the real thing: no bottom, no end.
I wanted you to see it.
Rudy moved closer, stooping for a better view of Stephen’s face. Stephen struggled against the pillory, trying to slide his hips off either side of the crossbar; all to no avail. The guards grabbed hold of his legs and held them steady, stretching him taut as Rudy squatted directly in front of him and riveted him with luminous eyes.
I’m going to break you in now, Stephen.
Rudy cocked his head to one side and smiled, appraising the reaction
. I’m going to let you know, once and for all, who is the master and who is the slave. You see, there are only two ways to approach the darkness: either you serve it, or it devours you. Your companions, here, are all doing the latter.
But you, little Stephen,
he said, tweaking Stephen’s cheek painfully
, are going to serve me well.
Rudy rose to his feet then, his robe falling open. Stephen saw that Rudy was naked beneath it; the pale scrotum and thin, white erection dangled freely, only inches above his forehead. He watched as Rudy fondled himself for a moment, then walked around behind him.
At that moment, his own pants were wrestled from around his waist and dragged down to his ankles. There was the sound of tearing cloth and clinking steel. The pants were replaced by ankle chains that spread his legs apart painfully. In horror, he realized that his own phallus had swollen to the bursting point; to find himself aroused, in the face of such abomination, was the most debasing moment of Stephen Parrish’s life.
Then Rudy was behind him, between his legs. He felt the cold hands drag along his inner thighs, sliding up over the tensed buttocks and then going off on separate missions: one to take his cock in its grip, the other to part the mouth of his rectum. Air hissed between his teeth; the screams of the dead and dying caromed off the walls and into his mind, mingling with his own as he waited for the first icy thrust…
…as a monstrous voice boomed, from out of nowhere,
WHO IS THE MASTER, AND WHO IS THE SLAVE?
And suddenly Rudy was splayed out beside him, the screaming face and knotting hands run through an identical pillory. Because his head movement was limited, he couldn’t see anything that went on behind; but he knew that Rudy had somehow been ripped out from between his legs and deposited in the selfsame position.
By something far more terrible.
LIKE A LITTLE GIRL, RUDY.
The voice was like thunder
. AGAIN AND AGAIN, IF I WISH. AND FOREVER.
Rudy’s shoulders slammed rhythmically against the back of the pillory as something pounded into him from behind. He whined and mewled like a wounded animal, struggling desperately against his bonds, gasping in time with the brutal strokes that cleaved him over and over and over.
Stephen watched, slack jawed and dumbfounded, his own predicament forgotten. He saw the tears of rage and humiliation that streamed down Rudy’s cheeks as the rape mounted in intensity. He looked into the eyes of the defiled and saw madness there: the same blend of self-hatred, pain, terror, and violence that had blown through his mind when Rudy’d been about to mount him.
THERE IS ORDER IN CHAOS. A DARK HIERARCHY OF POWER.
The floor shuddered in sync with the words and the thrusts. It had all become mechanical, lifeless.
THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS YOU MUST LEARN, MY PETITE ONE. AND THE FIRST OF THEM IS THAT…
Rudy howled in agony at some secret torment, hidden behind the wooden shackles.
…I AM THE MASTER. AND I ALWAYS COME FIRST.
The room started to fade. Stephen felt the pressure slip away from his extremities, as if his restraints were vanishing by degrees. His sight went out completely, but his mind was still flooded with the sounds of the torture chamber: Rudy’s keening wail, that horrible voice, the screams of the dead and the dying. The tone of the latter had drastically altered.
It sounded like cheering.
Then Stephen drifted off completely, leaving behind him the frenzied applause of the damned as Rudy let out a final shriek…
…and the three of them awoke, simultaneously, from the dream: Stephen, caked with sweat and nocturnal emission; Rudy, with a very sore rectum to go with his very sore balls; and the ancient creature, who decided to let the little French waitress go home unharmed.