The echoes of her moans grew more distinct as I followed the abandoned mineshaft to the pit where my pa held her captive. The cool, humid air tasted slick and dirty, like oil with a hint of rottenness seeping up from undigested victims long trapped in the bowels of the earth. Crumbling black walls of coal sucked the intensity from my headlamp, and smudged my t-shirt, jeans, and the industrial nylon of my backpack as I repelled foot-by-fist into the chamber no man had entered since the day they struck pure chaos nineteen years ago. She’d been here all that time. People’d heard her, sure enough. But nobody dared to wonder if she was more than a ghost or a warning to their ears for getting too close to a place where thirty-two men lost their minds, and their shit, and tore each other to pieces.
The infinitesimal significance of my own existence thickened on me as my fancy Mago Scarpas touched down on the floor of the pit. He was here. Probably hibernating until the time was right. I could see him looming in the shadows if I wanted, but I didn’t go looking.
Naked and caked in soot, she stooped on a heap of coal and rubble. Left arm flung across her waist. Her slight form rocking as her body attempted to cry or scream. She couldn’t manage it, though. Only those moans sighed out, soft and desolate, like a faun who’d lost her mama and was slowly starving to death. Except she couldn’t die like I knew she wanted to.
She still looked a girl, not a day older than seventeen, with matted blonde hair that draped in clumps around her shoulders and hung halfway down her spine. Aside from her belly she was thin, but had enough meat on her bones to pass as healthy if she weren’t so filthy. Clamped around her left wrist was the heavy, two-inch long metal cuff with strange symbols embossed on it like I remembered. I didn’t know how it worked. I didn’t know why she was special, why she hadn’t gone stark raving mad long before I was born. I only knew I was almost a man now, and I couldn’t ignore her pleading thoughts in my head no more.
“It’s you.” The cherubic whisper of her voice was thick from unseen cosmic static filling the air and blanketing her mind. Her right hand rested on her knee, clutching a rusty spike that dripped blood to a tiny splatter sunken in the dust by her foot. A long pink seam in the flesh of her swollen belly was the only testament to her desperation.
“You called me.”
She turned her head slowly to meet my eyes, as to a great dark fiend, such as I was. Her lips quivered and stretched into a strange, limp smile. I couldn’t quite discern from her thoughts whether her fear or her wonder governed this expression. Perhaps they were one in the same. “You’re still alive. I haven’t seen you in a long time.”
“Twelve years,” I said.
“How old you now?”
She swallowed. Her doe-brown eyes glistened and pinked in the light of my headlamp. Her voice hushed to a whisper, “I think she’s coming tonight. Could you take her away with you? I can’t stand to watch it again. Not this time.” She held out a blood-caked hand to me. “Help me?”
I licked my lips. I didn’t want to touch her, fearing I’d drive her mad if I messed with her head, even just to induce her and block the pain. But I couldn’t say no. This was what I’d come for. “I’ll try,” I said. I took her hand and bled my thoughts into hers until she’d settled down on the ground, contracting in hushed, noiseless breaths.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The body came out first. It was full-term, but withered and blue, slimy with blood. Headless. The little she-thing wriggled and kicked in my hand as I pulled it to me in shock. The head came out separate a minute later, a tiny, faceless orb of overgrown skin, cartilage, and tentacles that had parasitized itself clean off.[/pullquote]
The body came out first. It was full-term, but withered and blue, slimy with blood. Headless. The little she-thing wriggled and kicked in my hand as I pulled it to me in shock. The head came out separate a minute later, a tiny, faceless orb of overgrown skin, cartilage, and tentacles that had parasitized itself clean off. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that Ma and Pa were of vastly different species. It just wasn’t right, wasn’t fair.
“Can I see her?”
“She’s dead, Ma,” I whispered. “She didn’t stand a chance.”
The temperature of the air dropped, filling my chest with the tang of needles and turning my breath to mist. That eldritch force crawled across my skin like ants tearing flesh from a corpse one tiny bite at a time. I hated my flesh. My mother’s conscience burned within me whenever my thoughts turned dark and apathetic. Her own suffering was so senseless, yet she called me back from the void of a universe that I knew felt nothing for the life it excreted into existence. I saw glimpses of it from time to time, but I cared only because I cared about her.
I let the two lumps of infant corpse slip from my fingers and pressed my palms, slicked in Ma’s blood, to the front of my skull. If I didn’t let myself molt, I’d go blind with rage and terror in about a minute. An icy burn seared my flesh as it melted into a rubbery, knotted texture like porpoise skin studded with grain-sized barnacles. My nails grew out, curled and blackened. Claws extended through slits I’d already made in the fabric of my shoes. The tentacles normally suppressed by my human genes snaked out around my lips and throat. Sliming my clothes was about as pleasant as shitting my pants, and equally humiliating. Coupled with the fact that human emotions were poorly adapted to handle shifts in physical identity, I could either cut them off or remain at the mercy of the greater fiend stirring in the darkness where I dared not make my presence obvious by looking.
Ma pulled one of my remolded, talon-like hands into hers and squeezed. “It’s alright, Eustace. Go now. Go before he gets you…”
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, coming in April from Cold Fusion Media!