The monster had to be fed regularly.
His apartment was on the ground floor, in the back corner of the building that faced the alley. It was a plain-faced building with eggshell colored walls. At night, the only working light of the two that flanked the main entrance would shudder and flicker.
His feet were heavy. He told himself that it was the job that left him sore. He told himself that things would be better once his opportunity came around. However, his reassurances were hollow and there was no comfort in his voice. He promised himself things that would never pass and was unable to wring any convincing tone from his words.
Inside his apartment, the door was secured by a flimsy chain. The light switch next to him clicked and a lamp blazed to life. The chair closest to the door was his favorite, a worn relic left by his absent father. The cracked leather was cool under his fingertips. He took the time to remove his shoes and set them to the side. He peeled his socks off, folded them neatly and laid them on top of the weathered shoes.
Pushing back into the comfort of his chair, he stared at the back wall of the apartment.
The light from the single lamp fell short of one corner, tracing a line of unbroken illumination across the floor, never revealing what lurked there. Occasionally on long nights, he would see the end of a serpentine tail, or the glint of a sharpened talon as it came close to the edge of the shadow, but never long enough to distinguish absolute detail.
As he tried to get comfortable in the chair, he listened to it breathe: a sickly, wet sound that was altogether inhuman.
He fumbled with the remote and the television flared to life. The TV sat next to that corner. The way it was angled cast the light into his face, further darkening that corner and somewhat masking the uncomfortable sound. He had no delusion that it watched him, but he chose to ignore it, hoping that in a few minutes his attention would be distracted by...
That word always caused him to tense up, knuckles buckling white as his fingers gripped tight at the arms of his worn leather chair. He clenched his teeth and released, mustering the courage to speak.
"W... What's that?" He could barely manage above a whisper. "It's too early isn't it?"
The voice would never sharpen in intensity or grow louder with anger. It was patient, almost distant, but immediately insistent. He knew he could not resist its hunger. He absently rubbed the scars on his left forearm thinking about that the time tried to resist. The scars were deep. He hadn't tried a second time.
Rising unsteadily to his feet, he took slow steps towards the edge of the light. Beside him, the TV chattered happily about cleaning products and dog food.
He stood facing the corner, still unable to pierce the darkness with his tired eyes. He expected that was the only thing saving his fraying sanity from completely unravelling. He'd had one good look, he remembered as fingers gripped the scars on his left forearm, and it had been too much. He forced himself to swallow as he turned around slowly until he faced his chair once more, his back now bared to the line between light and dark.
Immediately he felt the cold breath against his neck, enough to raise gooseflesh. He could not shiver, however, because his body was already taut with anxiety. A hand closed around his left shoulder, a grip that could be neither resisted or broken.
How many fingers were there? Six? Three? He didn't dare look.
The other hand tightened around his right shoulder and the tiny part of him that knew what was coming drew in a sharp breath, as if to scream. There would not be a scream, though. His throat had already constricted into a tiny knot.
The breath drew closer, stirring the tiny hairs on the back of his neck. He could feel something not unlike sharp fingernails scrape a tiny line from the top of his shoulders to the base of his skull. There were already two wounds there, scars that never healed, scabs that never faded. He'd measured them once and they were scarcely larger than the width of his smallest finger. Normally his hair hid them, but he could always feel them. They were always itching, always hot.
It hurt little more than a sharp pinch, as he felt the wounds violated once more. Inside his skin, he felt something move, twisting like serpents, feeling like thin worms sliding past his spine into his head. The motion bordered on sexual, but the feeling was neither comforting nor pleasurable.
His memory flares. He remembers vividly a shiny red balloon, its thin rubber skin refracting sunlight to cast ruby colored shadows on the ground. He remembers laughing and running, his tiny legs carrying him further and further from his father. He remembers the smell of freshly cut grass and newly blossomed flowers. His memory of that moment is blindingly bright like the spring sun of that distant afternoon.
And then it was gone, suddenly and completely.
Whatever had filled his head just that second before... vanished altogether. He struggled to remember, but his head was swimming and the only sensation he could understand was the trickle of warm blood on his neck and the gentle release of the pressure on his shoulders.
He stumbled forward a step or two, his hand finding some balance on the TV stand. He heard his heart racing in his ears and felt it flutter madly in his chest.
What was it? He feels the pain of loss, but cannot remember losing anything. The chair feels comfortable. That sensation is close and real. He sinks into the chair and watches as the TV mentions something about a certified way to lose weight, or gain money.
He promises himself that some day he'll be in one of those commercials... talking about his success.
In the darkness of the corner, it dwelled, waiting to be fed.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
The print edition of Tales of Yhore is now available on Amazon.com and for order at fine brick and mortar booksellers everywhere. Thanks everyone for your interest and support.