Authors: Tim Waggoner
Thoughts like these are the reason God locked us up alone inside our own skulls—to prevent us from inflicting our deepest ugliness on one another.
* * *
3:14. The crashing noises begin again, right on time. I wonder if the men are doing the same bizarre acrobatics or if they’re performing an entirely different routine. Just like before, Liana sleeps through the noise. I lie in the dark next to her, trying to take her advice, trying to ignore them. But it’s impossible. It would be one thing if the noises were random and meaningless, but I know they’re doing it on purpose, as a way to lash out at us, to show their displeasure at their Desiderata deserting them and taking up with another man.
The Sons of Babel might be content with just making noise right now, but how much longer will it be until they decide to take a more direct hand in getting Liana back? For that matter, why haven’t they done so before now? They could snatch her at any time, throw her into the back of their van, and drive off. What’s stopping them? Certainly not me. I’m not exactly the most imposing of physical specimens.
Maybe they don’t want to force Liana. Maybe they get off on the idea of her choosing to return. Or maybe for some reason, they
force her, and they must wait for her to return to them of her own will. I’m not sure how and why that would work, but it feels right to me. I suppose that should reassure me, but it doesn’t. They’ve done things to her, bad things. And they want her back so they can start up again. The Spindlekin and their Desiderata.
I’m not going to let that happen. I’m going to make sure that Liana never has to worry about the men upstairs again. Somehow.
I continue to lie awake, making and discarding one plan after another, until finally the crashing noises above us lull me to sleep.
* * *
I get up early the next morning and tell Liana I’ve got a photography gig in a nearby town. I don’t bother to shower, just give my face a quick wash, comb my hair and brush my teeth. Breakfast is a cup of coffee in a travel mug. I don’t ask Liana if she’d like to accompany me today, and luckily she doesn’t invite herself along. I grab a couple a couple cameras to make it look good, though I’m only going to need one. I wonder if she suspects what I intend to do. If she does, she doesn’t say anything. I tell her I don’t know how long I’ll be gone—could be the better part of the day—then I give her a kiss and head out the door.
I haven’t heard the sound of the men clomping down the stairs, but I’m relieved when I step outside and see their van still parked in front of the building. Good. I’m not too late. I have no idea if Liana is watching me through the bedroom blinds, but just in case, I get in my car, start it, and back out of my space. I’m tempted to wave goodbye, but I resist. I don’t want to overplay this. I drive to the other end of the building, pull into an open space there, and leave the engine running. The only way Liana will be able to see me is if she steps outside and looks in my direction, so I feel safe enough.
A few minutes later, the men leave the building and pile into the van. The engine makes its odd ratcheta-clank sound and coughs out purple exhaust as they back out of their space and head off in the opposite direction from where I’m parked. I quickly follow, making sure to leave enough room between us while still keeping their vehicle in sight. After lying awake for so long last night planning, I really don’t have a specific goal for my amateur surveillance. Oh, in my fantasies I wait until we’re on some back road where there aren’t any witnesses. Then I run the motherfuckers into a ditch, confront them, tell them to move the hell out of their apartment and leave Liana alone or I’ll kill all three of them. I imagine gripping a crowbar as I threaten them—not that I actually own one, but you can do whatever you want in a fantasy, right? And if any of them try to get tough with me, I wield my crowbar like King Arthur with fucking Excalibur and crack open their heads like ripe melons.
But the closest thing to a weapon I have with me are a few catsup packets from a fast food joint that I left in my cup holder. So much for macho daydreams.
So like I said, no real plan, except to follow the Spindlekin and keep an eye on them. Maybe I’ll catch them doing something illegal, something I can get a photo of and show to the police. It’s a thin hope, maybe even a desperate one, but I have to do something. Besides, I’m a photographer. Watching is what I do best.
The first stop is a small shopping center in a seedy part of town. Half the businesses have been closed for a year or more, but one establishment is thriving—A-1 Liquor and Spirits. If you want to start a business and stay in business, sell cheap food or cheap booze. It’s too early for the store to be open, but the men pull their van around back anyway. I can’t follow them into the shopping center without risking being spotted, so I pull into a gas station on the corner and park next to the air hose. I have a fairly decent view of the back of the liquor store from here, and I watch as a pudgy, balding man comes out the rear entrance carrying a cardboard box full of assorted bottles of booze. Metal-Face takes the box and puts it into the van while the liquor store employee goes back inside. Three boxes later, the Spindlekin are fully loaded. Gray-Hair gives the pudgy man something I can’t quite see—cash, I assume at first, until the man shoves the object into his mouth and begins furiously chewing. Whatever it is, it must be damned good, because the man’s eyes roll back in his head and his body quivers all over. The man stumbles back inside, obviously not in full control of his limbs at the moment, while the Spindlekin drive off.
I pull out of the gas station in time to follow them. They drive to a different part of town, one that’s a bit more upscale, and pull into an office park. There’s no good place for me to observe them from across the street, so I risk pulling in after them. I slow down to allow some distance to build between us. They head to Ash Creek Veterinary Clinic and, as with the liquor store, they pull around to the back. I can’t follow without being seen, so I pull into a space in front of an accountant’s office next door. I don’t need to see what’s going on. I think of the bulging trash bags they brought home yesterday. Bags filled with empty beer and liquor bottles and small, hard shapes of various sizes. Objects that I now realize were bones. The Spindlekin have been lining up their supplies for the day. They hit the liquor store for their drink, and they’ve dropped by the vet’s for their meat. I imagine one of the clinic’s employees repeating the scene I saw behind the liquor store, except the man or woman here is probably bringing out plastic bags instead of boxes, bags containing the corpses of euthanized pets and aborted kittens and puppies. Good eatin’.
I wonder if Gray-Hair pays their contact at the vet’s the same way he did the guy at the liquor store. Probably. I wonder if they’re using some kind of drug as payment. The idea of the Spindlekin being drug pushers seems almost disappointingly mundane, but if I could get some proof—a photo of them dealing, maybe even a sample of the stuff—then maybe I’d have something that would make the cops sit up and take notice. Especially when they learn the men are also buying dead animals from a vet.
Suddenly my surveillance trip doesn’t seem as ridiculous as it did when I started out.
I take out one of my cameras and snap a couple shots of the front of the vet’s office, and when the Sons of Babel van comes around the corner, I take a couple shots of it, too. These pictures aren’t proof of anything, I know that, but they’re a start. I decide that the next time the men stop and conduct a transaction, I’ll risk getting close enough to record images of the whole thing.
As we head back onto the road, I’m excited. For the first time since these bastards came into my life, I’m getting some measure of control back, and it feels damned good.
But things don’t work out the way I hope. Evidently, they are fully supplied for the rest of the day because they don’t stop at any more businesses. Instead, they head to a park. I know it well because I used to bring my daughter here when she was a little girl, but I haven’t been back here in years. Thinking of Emily makes me wonder how she’s doing. I haven’t called her since Liana moved in, and I used to call her every couple days. She hasn’t tried calling me, but she’s young, and her classes keep her busy. I try to imagine introducing Liana to my daughter, but my mind balks when I try to picture the scene. Liana isn’t all that much older than Emily, and she’s not…typical, to put it mildly. Emily will probably think I’ve gone nuts. When I think of everything that’s happened since I met Liana—and what I’m doing right now—I can’t help but wonder if Emily would be right.
The van enters the park, but I go on past. I circle the block before pulling in. I can see the men are parked by the playground, so I drive deeper into the park and stop by the small fish pond. I park, grab my camera, get out of my car, and start walking toward the playground. There’s a group of trees between the pond and the playground, and I use the cover to my advantage as I make my approach. It’s chilly out, but my black hoodie keeps me warm enough. But I have to step carefully because the ground is covered with leaves. Luckily, it’s rained over the last couple days, and the leaves are more wet and limp than crunchy. When I reach the edge of the treeline, I take up a position behind the trunk of a large oak tree and lean around just enough to watch the Spinklekin through my camera’s display screen.
At first is seems as if all they’re doing is inspecting the equipment. Gray-Hair is checking out the swingset, which has metal busts of the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Cowardly Lion attached to the top. My daughter always found them to be kind of creepy, and so did I. Mr. Mustache is standing in front of a green-painted metal object that resembles a large spider: eight legs, two cartoon eyes painted on to give it the suggestion of a face. The spider’s about the size of a table, and it’s designed for kids to climb on. My daughter used to sit on its back and pretend the spider was giving her a ride. Metal-Face is over by the slide. It’s an odd sort of thing, with a series of metal rollers instead of a smooth surface, so when kids come down, it’s like they’re rolling along a factory conveyer belt.
I wonder if the men are actually going to do anything but stand there. Maybe they’ve come here simply to check the place out as a possible hunting ground. They’ve abused Liana, and while she’s an adult, that doesn’t mean they won’t prey on children, too. Maybe they’ve given up on getting Liana back and are hoping to find a replacement. Someone young enough to train. The thought nauseates me, and I take a few pictures to document their presence here. I don’t know what evidence the police will be most interested in, so better to gather too much than not enough.
While I’m taking pictures, the men go to work. Gray-Hair steps forward and places his hand on one of the swingset’s metal supports. Even with my lens at full magnification, it’s hard for me to make out fine detail from my position behind the oak, but I think I see a brownish stain spreading outward from Gray-Hair’s hands across the metal. It keeps spreading until it covers the entire swingset.
Mr. Mustache presses his palm onto the back of the spider-climber—on the exact spot where my daughter once sat—and a similar brown stain spreads across its surface. In addition, two of the spider’s eight legs snap, causing the whole thing to list to the side. Metal-Face runs his hands down the roller slide, and the rollers spin for a couple seconds before turning brown, slowing, and then stopping. I now know what the brown stains are. As impossible as it seems, the Spindlekin have somehow caused the playground equipment to rust, and they did it in a few seconds.
They look around as if checking their work and then, satisfied, they leave the playground and head for the trees, coming directly toward me. It’s a bit of a hide-and-seek scramble for me to keep from being seen, moving from one tree to another, but I manage to keep them from catching sight of me. As they move among the trees, they stretch out their hands to brush fingers against bark, and everywhere they touch, blight erupts and spreads. They continue to the pond and walk to the water’s edge. There are a couple ducks in the water that haven’t gotten around to heading south yet. They notice the three men and eye them warily as they begin to paddle toward the opposite shore.
The Spindlekin unzip their pants, pull out their penises, take aim, and piss thick streams of urine into the water. Their urine is a strange color, though. So dark it’s almost black. A slick rather like oil forms on the surface of the water and rapidly expands. The men keep pissing, their streams never slackening, almost as if their cocks are water hoses. No wonder they drink so damned much if they have this kind of pissing to do.
The slick quickly covers the entire pond, reaching the ducks before they can get out of the water. The birds quack in dismay as black gunk covers their feathers, and they try flapping to get it off, but it sticks fast to them and like tar, it weighs them down, and they soon slide beneath the water’s surface and are gone.
The men piss a bit more for good measure before finally finishing, giving their dicks a couple shakes to get the last few drops out, putting their equipment back in their pants, zipping up, and turning away from the pond, which now smells like an open sewage pit. They head back through the trees, touching more as they go, infecting them with blight. The trees they touched on the way here are almost completely infected now, their branches beginning to wither and snap off. I wonder if the blight will spread to the rest of the trees. If I come back tomorrow, will they all be dead and fallen to the ground, their once strong wood soft and rotting?
When the men walk back through the playground, the equipment has mostly disintegrated into piles of reddish-brown flakes, and I’m sure the rest of it will be gone soon. I think of the slogan on the Spindlekin’s van